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.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