Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Senators, December 22

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

While Santa goes over his final checklist before loading up the sleigh and setting off on his big trip, the Washington Capitals will be in Ottawa to take on the Senators to complete the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule.  The Caps head to Canada on a 10-3-1 run over their last 14 games, a stretch that has them on the edge of the group of playoff-eligible teams in the Eastern Conference.

On the other side, the Senators’ season mirrors the Caps’ to date in that they dug themselves an early hole (6-12-1 in their first 19 games) but have slowly been climbing out of it since, posting an 8-4-1 record over their last 13 contests.

The Senators have turned things around largely because of improved play on the defensive side of the puck.  Since allowing 3.58 goals per game in their poor 19-game start, (28th in the league in scoring offense) they shaved almost a full goal per game off their scoring defense in their last 13 games (2.69/tenth in the league in scoring defense over that span).

You would think that the improvement was the product of a reversal of fortune in goal, but not so.  In 19 games through November 24th, Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg shared almost all of the goaltending duties, although Talbot was lost for the first month of the season with an upper-body injury and did not make his debut until November 3rd.  The absence limited him to six starts and eight appearances in that opening 19-game stretch over which he was 1-5-0, 2.83, .910.  It was not as if he was overwhelmed by a high volume of shots faced, he averaged 31.2 shots faced per 60 minutes over his eight appearances.  Since the Thanksgiving break, Talbot started ten games, but his underlying numbers have improved a bit, at least in his goals against average 2.62) while his save percentage did not budge (.910) He was rewarded more in the win column, going 7-3-0 in those ten starts, but the difference was in shots faced.  In those ten starts he averaged 29.1 shots faced per 60 minutes, a 2.0 shots per 60 minutes reduction, which might not seem like a lot, but that is what makes for the difference in goals against average (0.21 lower goals against average).  In 13 career games against the Caps, Talbot is 4-7-0, 2.62, .911.

Meanwhile, Forsberg has had two different seasons.  In the for 19 games of the season, he started 12 times with 13 appearances overall, going 4-7-1, 3.43, .904.  It was a period dominated by a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) to end October and begin November over which he allowed four or more goals four times and stopped just 170 of 190 shots overall (.895).  Since Thanksgiving, he started three games, going 1-1-1, 2.60, .914.  The big difference in his before and after is in the volume of shots faced.  In those first 13 appearances he faced 35.8 shots per 60 minutes, while over his last four appearances he faced only 30.3 shots per 60 minutes.  Forsberg is 4-1-0, 3.07, .900 in six career appearances against the Capitals.

Ottawa has been a consistent team on offense this season, recording a 3.05 goals per game scoring offense in their sluggish 19-game start and 3.06 goals per game in their last 13 games.  There is quite a difference, however, on home ice.  Over those first 19 games the Senators recorded an impressive 3.64 goals per game, the eighth-ranked scoring offense at home at the time.  Over their last 13 games, that output dropped to 2.80 goals per game, tied for 19th in the league over that span. 

One big difference in the home ice offensive output over those last 13 games has been that of Brady Tkachuk.  In his first 11 home games before Thanksgiving, he was 5-10-15, averaging 1.36 points per game.  In five home games since the holiday, he is 2-1-3, averaging 0.60 points per game.  Five games is a small sample of his season, especially when he is having his first season of his career in which he is averaging more than a point per game overall (13-23-36 in 32 games/1.13 points per game).  Tkachuk is known as something of an ornery player (to his fans), perhaps too often playing on the other side of the rules and good sportsmanship.  Leave it that he’s never going to be a Lady Byng Trophy finalist.   

But being feisty has not exactly been rewarded with marks in the win column.  Tkachuk as taken at least one penalty in 14 games this season, and while that feature of his game corresponds to personal success (points in 11 of those games and 7-11-18 overall), the Senators are just 6-7-1 in those games.  It is hardly a departure from his usual style of play.  Since coming into the league in 2018-2019, he has complied the third highest number of penalty minutes (412), trailing only the Caps’ Tom Wilson (415), and Los Angeles’ Brendan Lemieux (417).  It is in goal scoring in which his positive performance is tied to good fortune for the team.  He has goals in 11 games this season, Ottawa with a 9-2-0 record in those contests.  Tkachuk is 1-6-7, minus-1, in nine career games against Washington.

If one thinks of offensive defensemen in the NHL, the names that might spring to mind include Cale Makar, Roman Josi, and even the Caps’ John Carlson.  It makes it easy to overlook Thomas Chabot.  But since his first full NHL season in 2017-2018, Chabot has 49 goals and 206 points in 339 games.  That is 0.61 points per game, as many over the same period as Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton; and more than Aaron Ekblad (0.60), Charlie McAvoy (0.59), and Mark Giordano (0.55).  Chabot is not an elite scorer from the blue line, but he is a consistent one.  While he had a career year in 2018-2019 (14-41-55 in 70 games) with Ottawa, over the last three seasons he settled into the mid-30’s in points per season (108 points in 179 games).  However, with 18 points in 27 games he is on a pace to challenge the 50-point threshold once more. He comes into this game on a roll, going 5-8-13 in his last 14 games overall.  Chabot is 2-5-7, minus-4, in ten career games against the Caps.

1.  Ottawa is one of seven teams to average more than 3.00 goals scored (3.38) and more than 3.00 goals allowed (3.13) per game on home ice this season.

2.  The Senators are a top-ten team at home on power plays (26.5 percent/tenth in the league) and a bottom-ten team killing penalties on home ice (76.3 percent/25th)

3.  Only Florida and Pittsburgh average more shots on goal per game on home ice (37.3 and 36.0, respectively) than Ottawa (35.6).

4.  In 16 games on home ice this season, the Sens have one one-goal win (3-2 in their last home game, over Montreal).  No team has fewer (tied with Buffalo).

5.  There is a symmetry to scoring first at home for the Senators.  In 16 home games, they scored first eight times and trailed first eight times.  The are 5-3-0 when scoring first (.625 winning percentage), 3-5-0 when trailing first (.375) for an 8-8-0 overall record.

1.  Over their recent 10-3-1 run, the Caps scored first seven times and were scored upon first seven times. It hardly mattered – 5-1-1 when scoring first, 5-2-0 when trailing first, a .714 winning percentage in each instance.  Over the same span, only the Pittsburgh Penguins and Caps have winning percentages over .700 when scoring first and trailing first (the Pens are 5-0-1 when scoring first/.833 and 5-2-0 when trailing first/.714).

2.  The Caps put together that record without having the benefit of many power plays.  Their 2.79 power play chances per game over that stretch rank 28th in the league.

3.  If the power play has not had many chances for the Caps, neither have opponents had many man advantages against the Caps, who gave up 2.57 power plan chances per game over that span (tied for fifth-fewest in the league with Vegas).

4.  Of their ten wins over their last 14 games, the Caps won seven by three or more goals, tied with Winnipeg and Tampa Bay for most in the league. 

5.  The Caps have finished strong in those last 14 games.  They have a plus-2 goal differential in the first periods of those games, but they are plus-8 in the second periods and plus-6 in the third periods of those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Alex DeBrincat

Since he came into the league as a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks (39th overall in 2016), he has more goals scored than Mikko (Rantanen: 166), Mika (Zibanejad: 166), and Mark (Scheifele: 159), and more goals than Brad (Marchand: 168), Brayden (Point: 165), and Bo (Horvat: 143).  Alex DeBrincat’s 169 goals scored rank tenth in the league since 2017-2018.  Twice he posted more than 40 goals in a season (41 in each of the 2018-2019 and 2021-2022 seasons), one of eight players to post two or more 40-goal seasons over the five years preceding this one.

So why would the Blackhawks trade a 24-year old player who was among the most effective goal scorers in the league for essentially futures (a first-round draft pick in 2022, a second-round draft pick in 2022, and a fourth-round draft pick in 2023)?  Chicago had the sixth-worst record in the league last season, so perhaps they were engaging in a preemptive tank of the 2022-2023 season to secure a higher spot, perhaps the top spot, in a highly regarded 2023 entry draft.  If that was the aim, they are succeeding, if it could be called that, the Blackhawks holding the worst record in the league at the moment.

Meanwhile, DeBrincat is doing his thing in Ottawa, just not quite as frequently yet.  In 32 games he has nine goals, his 8.0 shooting percentage well under his career 14.7 percent.  It has not been a matter of venue; DeBrincat has five goals on 63 shots (7.9 percent) on home ice, and he has four goals on 50 shots (8.0 percent) on the road.  It is not a matter of his getting power play ice time pared back; his 4:26 in power play ice time per game is the most of his career (he had 3:49 per game with Chicago in 2020-2021).  The power play does bear a closer look, though.  He has five power play goals to date, and his shooting percentage on the man advantage is the first time in six seasons he has been under 20 percent shooting on power plays, but it is his assists that are noteworthy here.  He has 14 assists on power plays so far this season, which ties his career high in just 32 games (he had 14 in 82 games with Chicago last season).  DeBrincat comes into this game 4-13-17, minus-4, in his last 13 games overall, and he brings a four-game points streak on home ice (2-5-7, even).  In eight career games against the Caps, he is 6-4-10, plus-1.

Washington: Trevor van Riemsdyk

Trevor van Rimesdyk might be a defensemen with modest offensive numbers, but he did set a career high in points last season (17).  This season, he is on a pace to top that, not to mention obliterate his career high in goals.  His four goals in 34 games is just one short of the five he recorded with Chicago in 2016-2017, and he is on a pace to finish this season with a 10-10-20 scoring line.

Three of those four goals to date have come in the recent 10-3-1 run the Caps have put together, and he did it on just 11 shots on goal.  Only Erik Gustafsson has more goals among Caps defensemen (four) than van Riemsdyk since the 10-3-1 run started.

But it is not just the scoring.  No Caps defenseman has more takeaways over those 14 games than van Riemsdyk (six, tied with Gustafsson), and he is one of three defensemen with at least 20 blocked shots over that period despite averaging just 17:47 in ice time per game, sixth among the nine defensemen to skat for the Caps.  And about the ice time, he leads all Caps defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game over this stretch, averaging 2:22 per game.

On the road this season, van Riemsdyk has modest sconing numbers – two goals and four points, but you might say he pick his spots.  He has only 11 shots on goal in 18 road games, but that makes his 18.2 shooting percentage best among Caps defensemen on the road.  If there is anything that smudges his recent performance a bit, it is that he is the only skater with a minus-goal differential at even strength over the 10-3-1 run (minus-1).  Van Riemsdyk is 0-3-3, plus-3, in 17 career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

If things go right on Thursday – a Caps win and a New York Islander loss of any kind – Washington will find themselves in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, a spot fans might not though possible a month ago.  It says something about the veteran makeup of this team and its resolve as it heads into Game 35 of the season. 

Capitals 4 – Senators 3