Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 34: Red Wings at Capitals, December 19

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals conclude a three-game home stand on Monday night when the Detroit Red Wings come to town.  The teams go into this game headed in opposite directions.  Washington is 6-1-0 over their last seven games and have climbed to within one point of a wild-card position in the standings.  On the other side, Detroit, which started the season with a 13-7-5 record in their first 25 games, comes limping into Washington with a five-game losing streak.

Detroit has been outscored, 19-7, over their five-game losing streak, allowing four or more goals in three of those games.  On the offensive side, they were shut out once in the five games and scored once in two other contests.  This is a team whose wagon wheels have gotten wobbly.

Detroit has goal scoring balance this season – 22 of 26 skaters to play so far have at least one goal.  But they lack a dominant, go-to goal scorer.  Dylan Larkin and Dominik Kubalik are tied for the team lead with ten goals apiece.  Larkin has seemed to be a player ready to break through into the upper echelon of scoring forwards for a few years.  He posted 32 goals in 76 games in 2018-2019, and he had 31 goals in 71 games last season.  He just has not been able to get that final push into the conversation of who are the dominant goal scorers in the league. 

This year appears to be one in which he is headed to the “almost there” category once more. With ten goals in 29 games, he is on a pace to finish with 28 goals this season.  It would be the third season in eight in which he topped 25 goals, but he remains something just short of being the dominating scorer the Wings do not have at the moment.  He has been more efficient on the road so far, though, posting six goals on 39 shots (15.4 percent shooting) in 13 road games (four goals on 57 shots in 16 games – 7.0 percent – at home).  He has been in an overall slump, though, with one goal in his last ten games despite recording 34 shots (2.9 percent).  Oddly enough, though, it is his assists that more closely track with winning than his goal scoring to date.  While Detroit is 5-3-2 in games in which he has goals, the Red Wings are 9-3-1 in games in which he has assists.  Larkin, who comes into this game nursing a hand injury and, after skating in a non-contact jersey in Friday’s practice, making his availability uncertain, is 4-7-11, even, in 17 career games against Washington.

Kubalik has to be thought of as a surprise to tie for the team lead in goals and is quite the overachiever.  He was a seventh round (191st overall) pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 Entry Draft.  He never played for the Kings, traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in January 2019 for a 2019 fifth-round draft pick.  He played three seasons for the Blackhawks, where he immediately showed promise as a goal scorer.  In 202 games with the Blackhawks he recorded 62 goals, a 25-goal pace per 82 games, including 30 in 68 games as a rookie in 2019-2020 when he finished third in Calder Trophy voting.  It was not enough for the Blackhawks to tender a qualifying offer to retain his services, allowing him to leave as a free agent, whereupon he was signed by the Red Wings last July to a two-year/$5.0 million contract.

This season, Kubalik is on a pace to finish with 27 goals, which would be his highest total since his rookie season.  He already has five power play goals this season, a career high, and with seven power play assists he is closing in on his career high in that category as well (ten in 2020-2021).  He is getting more ice time with Detroit (16:29 per game) after recording diminishing per game ice time over his three years in Chicago.  He is in a slump, however.  Over his last 12 games he has one goal and five points while posting a minus-9 rating.  He comes into this game without a point in his last three road games.  Kubalik is 2-2-4, minus-2, in four career games against the Capitals.

With the Red Wings on a five-game losing streak and having given up 19 goals in the process, the spotlight gets turned on goaltending.  Alex Nedeljkovic got one of the starts in that stretch, and he allowed five goals on 41 shots in a 5-1 loss to Florida.  Magnus Hellberg got a start and allowed three goals on 21 shots in a 4-1 loss to Minnesota.  It was Ville Husso who got the biggest share of the workload, getting three starts, going 0-2-1, 2.97, .897.  For Husso, it is hitting a wall after a good start to the season over which he was 11-4-3, 2.54, .916, with three shutouts in 18 games.  Only once in that span did he lose consecutive games in regulation and did not lose more than two in a row, and once lost three consecutive games (0-1-2 from November 8 – 15).  Workload has been a bit of an issue with Husso, but this is primarily a product of his playing in four extra time games (all of which he lost).  In 11 games facing 30 or more shots, he is 5-2-4, while in ten games facing fewer than 30 shots, he is 6-4-0.  If he gets the nod, and Detroit can keep things to regulation, it might be a good evening for them, given his 11-6 record in games ending in 60 minutes.  In three career appearances against the Caps, he is 3-0-0, 1.34, .951.

1.  From November 17th through December 6th, the Red Wings went 4-0 on the road and outscored their opponents by a 21-9 margin.  Since then, they are 0-2-1 on the road and have been outscored, 12-4.

No Red Wing has a multi-goal game in December. The last Red Wing to record a multi-goal game was Oskar Sundqvist, who had a pair of goals in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Buffalo Sabres on November 30th.

2.  Detroit is one of those teams who have been weak on both sides of special teams.  Their 19.8 percent power play (24th in the league) plus their 76.4 percent penalty kill (22nd) add up to the 22nd-ranked team in special teams index (96.2 percent).

3.  The Red Wings are tied for 25th in the league in road scoring defense 93.50 goals allowed per game).

4.  Of 26 skaters to play for the Wings this season, 16 have minus ratings; only eight have plus ratings.

5.  Detroit has only one one-goal win on the road this season, a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers on November 6th.

1.  The Caps have four one-goal wins this season.  Only four teams have fewer – Columbus, Dallas, Detroit (three each), and Buffalo (two).

2.  At the other end, the Caps have ten wins by three or more goals, tied for third most in the league (Dallas has 12, Buffalo has 11).

3.  Washington needs to do a better job when scoring first in games.  Their 9-4-2 record is tied for 22nd in winning percentage (.600).

4.  High shot volumes have not translated into wins for the Caps.  They are 4-5-1 in the ten games in which they posted 35 or more shots on goal.

5.  On the other side, high shot volumes allowed has mattered, the Caps going 2-5-1 when allowing 35 or more shots on goal.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Jakub Vrana

When the Washington Capitals drafted Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick of the 2013 Entry Draft, they might have been looking ahead to the day when he would become the designated sniper, a player with speed, good hands, and a lethal shot.  In four-plus seasons with the Caps he posted 76 goals in 284 games (a 22-goal pace per 82 games), topped by a 25-goal season in 2019-2020, his last full season in Washington.  The following season his progress stalled with 11 goals in 39 games before he was traded with a second-round draft pick in 2022, a first-round draft pick in 2021, and Richard Panik to the Detroit Red Wings for Anthony Mantha. 

Since moving to Motown, his on-ice performance has been uneven.  When he was in the lineup to finish the 2020-2021 season and then in his first full season with the Red Wings, he recorded 21 goals in 37 games, a 47-goal pace over 82 games.  But the key there is “37 games.”  He missed 56 games last season to a shoulder injury, but he answered the bell to start this season, posting a goal and an assist in his first two games.  And then came the news on October 19th that he was entering the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program for an “indefinite period.” 

Vrana has been inactive since his admission to the program, but he was cleared to enter the follow-up care part of the program and rejoined the team on Friday.  He is eligible to play, although he has been practicing in a non-contact jersey as the team eases him back into on-ice competition.  It might be a long shot that he plays against Washington, and it might be that Detroit would like to give him more time to get back to playing shape, but a member of the Stanley Cup winning club of 2018, even a former Capital, is always welcome.  Vrana has yet to face the Caps in his career.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

In his first tour with the Washington Capitals, covering the first seven seasons of his career, Marcus Johansson’s role was to provide some offensive pop and play a variety of forward spots.  He had five 40-plus point seasons in that span, fulfilling his role as a “1-A” level scorer – not necessarily a “go-to” scorer, but one on which the team depended on for success. 

In his second tour with the Caps, Johansson, now a 32-year old/13-year veteran of the NHL, is more the knowledgeable pro who has seen a lot of on-ice situations with a lot of teams (six) over a lot of games (786 regular season games).  He is not likely at this point to be the 40-plus point scorer he was in his youth; he is more the veteran who can play any position on any of the first three lines and contribute. 

And he has done just that, to a point.  He has seven goals – singles in seven games – and the Caps are 4-2-1 in those contests.  However, in 13 games in which he has points, Washington is 6-5-2.  On the other hand, the Caps are 5-1-1 in those games in which he logged more than 18 minutes of ice time.  There is an odd symmetry to his game this season, going 5-2-7 in 15 home games and 2-5-7 in 18 road games.  He has been a surprisingly effective scorer at home on the power play, where all three of his man advantage strikes have been recorded this season.  His point production has edged up a bit recently to almost half a point per game over his last 11 contests (2-3-5, minus-1).  If there is an odd feature to his recent scoring, it is that he has five goals in his last 12 home games, but he does not have an assist.  In fact, he has assists in only one of 15 home games, a pair of helpers on October 17th in a 6-4 win over Vancouver.  Johansson is 4-10-14, plus-6, in 27 career games against Detroit.

In the end…

This has the potential to be a “trap” game, one in which the Caps might take lightly an opponent they are facing in the last game of a home stand.  There is the fact that the Red Wings did a good job of shutting the Caps down, holding them to a single game-opening goal by Alex Ovechkin before coming back with three of their own in a 3-1 win in Detroit on November 3rd.  But again, these are teams headed in opposite directions at the moment, and when the final horn sound, the distance between them will have only widened.

Capitals 5 – Red Wings 2


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

The Washington Capitals had a good week, a good week indeed.  Three wins and a one-goal loss.  It brought them to the brink of playoff eligibility in Week 10, and given the injury situation, things could have been much worse for this club at week’s end.  They have been a resilient bunch, and now one with some wind in their sails moving forward.

Record (3-1-0)

A second straight three-win week and their first set of consecutive winning weeks since Weeks 2-3 earlier in the season.  The first two three-win weeks of the season, in fact.  It extends a longer run of good fortune for the team; since November 23rd, the Caps are 9-3-1.  No team has earned more standings points (19, tied with Pittsburgh and Toronto), and their .731 points percentage ranks sixth.  This despite playing eight of their 13 games in this stretch on the road, where they were 5-2-1.

And not only have the Caps won, they won in dominating style.  Seven of their nine wins in this 13-game stretch were by three or more goals, tied with Tampa Bay for most in the league over that period.  There are those two losses of the three in regulation by three or more goals, but on balance, Caps fans will take that trade-off.

Offense: 4.50 /game (season: 3.03 / 21st)

Eighteen goals for the week.  Quite the production for the Caps, who went from 27th in the league in scoring offense (2.83 goals per game) at the start of the week to 21st in the league (3.03 goals per game).  Eleven different Capitals had goals, led by Alex Ovechkin, who had four, including a hat trick against Chicago to bring him to 800 career goals, the third player in NHL history to reach that milestone.

The surprise, however, was who were the runners-up in goals scored for the week.  Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk had three, getting single goals in three of the four games for the week.  He had only one goal for the season coming into Week 10.  The other three-goal scorer was defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who had a hat trick in the 5-2 win over Toronto to end the week.  It was the first hat trick of his career and only the second multi-goal game of his career (February 2, 2018 versus Minnesota).  It was the third hat trick by a defenseman in Caps history, the other two by Kevin Hatcher (January 13, 1993 versus the New York Rangers in a 5-4 loss), and Sergei Gonchar (January 4, 2000 in a 6-1 win over Montreal).

Seventeen of the 20 skaters to dress for the Caps in Week 10 posted points, led by Ovechkin with six (4-2-6).  Four other Caps had four points apiece – Sonny Milano (0-4-4), Conor Sheary (1-3-4), Anthony Mantha (1-3-4), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4).  In an unusual area, the Caps had four skaters finish the week with ten or more shots on goal – Dmitry Orlov and Ovechkin leading the team with 15 apiece, John Carlson with 13, and T.J. Oshie, who left the contest against Toronto early with an injury, with 11.

Defense: 2.25 / game (season: 2.85 / 12th)

It was a solid week for the defense.  They allowed 123 shots on goal for the week, the 30.8 shots allowed per game just a tick over their season average (30.7).  The 36 shots they allowed Toronto to end the week was the first time in seven games they allowed more than 35 shots and only the second time in their last 15 games.

What the Caps did not do well against Toronto was limit shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps were just 39.4 percent in that game, but teams generally do not do well in this area against the Maple Leafs, who lead the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (60.9 percent).

Goaltending: 2.28 / .926 (season: 2.62 / .914 / 2 shutouts)

Once more, it was The Charlie Lindgren Show, and he did not disappoint as Darcy Kuemper continue to recover from his recent injury.  Lindgren has not only been excellent in his relief of Kuemper, he has been consistent (with one exception, which we will get to).  In six of his last seven appearances he posted save percentages over .900, five times over .930, including .944 against Toronto when he faced 36 shots.  That was the highest shot total he faced in a game since facing 38 shots in a 6-3 win against New Jersey in his second game of the season back on October 24th.

Lindgren was excellent in the first 40 minutes of games, posting a .957 in the opening periods of the four games (44 saves on 46 shots) and .953 in the middle periods (41 saves on 43 shots).  However, he was 28 for 33 (.848) in the third periods of games.  Much of that might be score effects and low shot volumes (he faced more than ten third period shots just once), but the two goals allowed on seven shots against Dallas were the blemish on what might have been a perfect week in the win column.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 21.8 percent / 17th)

Week 10 was an illustration of the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.  A 28.6 percent power play is efficient – only four teams in the league finished the week with a season percentage over that mark.  But seven power play chances is not that effective in adding to the offensive output (yes, we might be greedy, given the Caps averaged 4.50 goals per game for the week).

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin recorded the man advantage goals for the Caps, and five different Caps had power play points for the week.  Speaking to the depth here, Sonny Milano and Conor Sheary were two of the other three players posting power play points (each with an assist).  John Carlson had the other point (an assist).

Perhaps it was a reflection of teams paying more attention to Ovechkin in the left wing circle, but it was Kuznetsov who led the team in power play shots for the week (four).  Ovechkin was on ice for 12:31 of power play ice time for the week, 99.2 percent of the Caps’ total.

Penalty Killing 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season: 80.7 percent / 9th)

It was a good, if not great week for the Caps on the penalty kill.  That they allowed only 2.50 chances per game for the week (they are averaging 2.82 chances against per game for the season/fourth fewest in the league) might have been the best aspect of it. 

Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson were on ice for both power play goals scored against the Caps, which was a bit of a surprise, since they finished third and fourth, respectively, among defensemen in shorthanded ice time.  At the other end, the leaders in shorthanded ice time, Trevor van Riemsdyk (2:25) and Nick Jensen (2:21) had a clean sheet on power play goals against.

Faceoffs: 94-for-200 / 47.0 percent (season: 48.4 percent / 23rd)

It was, by season standards, an average week for the Caps, who had been improving in this area in recent weeks.  It was a week played close to the break even point in all three zones, the Caps being three faceoff wins under 50 percent in the offensive an neutral zones, and right at 50.0 percent in the defensive end.  The Caps had a bit of a tilt to the defensive end, where they took 72 faceoffs compared to 64 in the offensive end.

On an individual level, Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves mention here.  He was under 50 percent for the week (17-for-36/47.2 percent), but since he went a ghastly 1-for-11 (9.1 percent) against Calgary on November 25th (tied for the third-lowest winning percentage in a game this season for any skater taking at least ten faceoffs), he is 64-for-116, a 55.2 winning percentage, and has been over 50 percent in eight of 11 games.

Among other individual skaters in Week 11, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd were the skaters taking ten or more draws to finish over 50 percent.  The good part among the four Caps to take at least ten total faceoffs was that three of the four finished over 50 percent in the defensive end.  The flip side of that, however, was Dylan Strome going 1-for-6 (16.7 percent). 

Goals by Period

One of the positive takeaways from the week was the Caps having positive goal differentials in each of the regulation periods for the week – plus-2 in the first periods of games, plus-6 in the second period, and plus-1 in the third period.  This is the kind of consistency that speaks to a solid full-game effort, although the third periods might have been better, and will be important to the team going forward in the weeks ahead.


The Caps of this season are not close to last year’s in win-loss performance, but that is hardly a surprise given the injuries with which they started the year and that they have had to contend with in-season.  The club does have a positive overall goal differential, although they remain a net-24 behind last year’s pace.  Special teams have been a two-edged sword, power play chances up significantly, but so are penalty killing situations.  What bears watching is something that looks like a “scoring” effect.  Hits, blocked shots, giveaways, and takeaways – all are up significantly this season over last.  Given the somewhat arbitrary nature of what constitutes an event in these categories, one does wonder if it isn’t more the eye of the scorer than objective increases in these areas.

In the end…

That Caps are through Week 10 with the record they have, hanging close to the playoff mix, is laudable, given that they finished the week with only nine players having appeared in every game this season and their number one goalie on the bench with an injury for the last two weeks.  They will be tested in the week ahead, though, depending on how serious the injury to T.J. Oshie is and how long it will keep him out of the lineup.  But this team has responded to adversity with resolve, something that they will have to sustain to make the jump into the playoff-eligible group of teams as the year winds down.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-2-6, plus-3, 29th career hat trick, 800th career goal scored, 15 shots on goal, 28 shot attempts, eight credited hits)
  • Second Star: Erik Gustafsson (3-0-3, plus-6, first career hat trick (broke 31-game streak to start season without a goal), one game-winning goal, nine shots on goal, 16 shot attempts, three takeaways (tied for team lead))
  • Third Star: Charlie Lindgren (3-1-0, 2.28, .926, second among all goalies in save percentage for the week)