Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Jets at Capitals, December 23

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return from cold and snowy Ottawa to cold and icy Washington on Friday to wrap up the pre-Christmas portion of the 2022-2023 schedule.  The Winnipeg Jets will make their only visit to Washington to wrap up the two-game season series, the Caps winners in Winnipeg on December 11th by a 5-2 margin.

The Caps went into Ottawa on Thursday night with a 10-3-1 record in their last 14 games since November 23rd, while the Jets come to DC as winners of three of their last four games and a 10-4-0 record in their last 14 games before taking on the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

The 5-2 loss to the Caps as part of that 10-4-0 run notwithstanding, Winnipeg has been strong on both sides of the puck in their recent success.  The Jets averaged 4.07 goals per game since Thanksgiving through Wednesday, the third-best scoring offense in the league over that stretch.  The Jets’ scoring defense has been almost as good, allowing only 2.43 goals per game, the sixth-ranked scoring defense over that period.

The Winnipeg offense has been the beneficiary of a very efficient power play, the fifth-ranked team with the man advantage since their 14-game run started (31.7 percent). It might have been even more productive had the Jets more opportunities, their 2.93 power play chances per game ranked 22nd in the league.  What is noteworthy about that power play is that only five players share the 13 power play goals scored by Winnipeg over their last 14 games.  It is a group led by Mark Scheifele, who has four of those man advantage goals.  It is quite an improvement for Scheifele, who had only two power play goals in his first 18 games this season.  He is on a pace to finish with 15 power play goals this season, which would be a career high (he had 12 power play goals in 82 games in 2018-2019).

Power play goals are not strangers to Scheifele, whose 66 career power play goals rank second on the all-time Winnipeg list.  It would seem unlikely, though, that he will ever catch the leader, Ilya Kovalchuk, who had 115 power play goals for the franchise when they played out of Atlanta as the Thrashers.  He has been hot overall in the Jets’ 14-game run, going 9-4-13, plus-4, over that stretch.  It is not surprising that his production should coincide with team success.  Scheifele has been a bellwether for the club this season.  In the 13 games in which he has goals, the Jets are 10-3-0; 14-3-0 in games in which he had points.  Winnipeg depends on his offense.  Scheifele is 8-6-14, plus-1, in 17 career games against Washington.

Kyle Connor is the leading scorer overall for the Jets over their 14-game run, going 9-13-22, plus-9, over that stretch.  He might be winding up his production after a slow start to the season.  He had only two goals over his first 14 games this season.  He broke out of that slump with a hat trick against Anaheim on November 17th that started a run of six goals in six games.  After going without a goal in three games to follow, he has seven goals in nine games going into Thursday’s action.  Even though he has only 15 goals in 32 games to date, if he keeps up the pace he set over his last 18 games (13 goals), he could top last year’s career high 47 goals and challenge the 50-goal mark. 

Connor has been something of a homebody in his goal scoring this season with ten in 17 games on home ice but only five in 15 games on the road.  But even that is deceptive.  He failed to record a goal in his first eight road games this season, but he has five goals in his last seven road contests (he has an eight-game road points streak going into Thursday’s game).  His overall goal scoring as been timely, too.  Of Winnipeg’s 21 game-winning goals this season, Connor has five of them to lead the team.  It has been a feature of his goal scoring profile.  His next game-winner will be the 40th of his career, tying Ilya Kovalchuk for the all-time team lead in that category.  Connor is 4-5-9, minus-3, in 11 career games against the Caps.

He is 32 years old. He does not score much (27 goals in 765 career regular season games).  He does not put up a lot of points (only two seasons with more than 20 points in his 12 seasons in the NHL).  But Brendan Dillon seems to be doing something right in Winnipeg this season to average more than 20 minutes per game (20:08), the first time he averaged more than 20 minutes a game since 2013-2014, when he averaged 21:06 per game with the Dallas Stars.  And, he has nine points in 32 games this season (all assists).  That is a 23-point pace that would be a career high in points (he had 22 points in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 with San Jose).  You have to figure, though, that a goal is coming.  Despite having a career high of just six goals in a season (2013-2014 with Dallas), he has never gone a full NHL season without scoring a goal.

It is in the grittier areas of the game in which Dillon makes his contributions.  Winnipeg is 8-3-1 in the 12 games in which he has taken at least one penalty.  The Jets are 17-5-1 in those games in which he was credited with at least two hits.  They are 10-3-0 when he recorded at least two blocked shots.  Od Dillon fact... The Jets are 7-1-0 in the eight games in which he has points this season, the only loss coming in his only multi-point game.  He had two assists in a 6-5 loss to Vegas on December 13th.  Dillon is 2-2-4, minus-1, in 15 career games against the Caps. 

1.  The Jets are averaging just 27.3 shots per game on the road, the fifth-fewest in the league.

2.  Only the Seattle Kraken have a worse faceoff percentage in road games (41.4 percent) than the Jets (42.8 percent).

3.  Winnipeg has allowed only 14 goals in the third periods of road games this season, tied for sixth-fewest in the league.  On the other hand, they scored only 14 third period goals in road games.  Only five teams have scored fewer.

4.  The Jets scored first ten times in 15 road games through Wednesday.  Seven of their nine road wins came when they scored first in games.

5.  Winnipeg averages only 5.29 takeaways per 60 minutes on the road, third-fewest in the league.

1.  Milestone watch… Evgeny Kuznetsov, with a power play goal, would tie Scott Stevens for 19th place in team history in power play goals (Stevens had 46).

2.  If Kuznetsov scores in overtime, he will tie Mike “Game Over” Green for third place in overtime goals in Caps history (Green had eight).

3.  If John Carlson nets the game-winning goal, he ties Alexander Semin for tenth place all time in game winners (Semin had 28).

4.  With five shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin will become the all-time league leader in shots on goal (Ray Bourque: 6,209).

5.  If Ovechkin is charged with five minutes in penalties, he ties Mike Gartner for eighth-most in Caps history (Gartner had 770 minutes).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Pierre-Luc Dubois

Pierre-Luc Dubois has had an odd, V-shaped career to date.  He started his NHL career as the third overall pick (after Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine) in the 2016 Entry Draft, taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He joined the club for the 2017-2018 season, posting 20 goals and 48 points in 82 games and finishing eighth in Calder Trophy voting as the top rookie that season.  He followed that up with 27 goals and 61 points the following season, but his production slowly declined year-by-year thereafter: 18-31-49 in 70 games in 2019-2020 and 9-12-21 in 46 games in 2020-2021.  He missed a bit of time with COVID related issues over that timeframe, but his production was not improving.  Then, having played in just five games to start the 2020-2021 season, with only one goal (his only point) on his record, he was traded to Winnipeg with a third-round draft pick in 2022 for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

The move has been aggreable to Dubois.  He finished the 2020-2021 season 8-12-20 for the Jets, but his production has been increasing since the move.  He was 28-32-60 in 81 games last season, and he is already 15-22-37 in 32 games so far this season, tied for second on the team in goals scored and third on the club in points.  His six power play goals is tied for the team lead, as are his 14 power play points.  His 18.8 shooting percentage is second on the team among skaters recording at least five shots on goal.  He has yet to go consecutive games this season without a point.   Of particular relevance to this contest, Dubois has points in four of his last five road games, all of which were multi-point efforts (5-4-9).

The odd part about his goal scoring, though, is that while he has goals in 13 games through Wednesday’s games, Winnipeg is just 7-6-0 in those contests.  The Jets are 17-7-0 in the 24 games in which he recorded points.  Dubois is 3-4-7, minus-1, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Sonny Milano

Answer to a trivia question.  Two Capitals are averaging more than a point per game on home ice this season.  One is Alex Ovechkin (1.13).  And yes, the other is Sonny Milano (1.10).  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov has more even strength points (11) than Milano (nine, tied with Ovechkin).  He is shooting 23.1 percent on home ice, second on the team to Nic Dowd (27.3 percent).  He averages just 1.32 giveaways per 60 minutes on home ice, fourth-fewest among forwards playing in at least ten home games.  He has a plus-4 goal differential at even strength on home ice, second-best among forwards (Kuznetsov: plus-7).  Milano has done all this while appearing in only ten of the Caps’ 16 home games to date.

Milano made his Capitals debut on November 5th with the team struggling with a 5-5-2 record.  Washington lost to Arizona, 3-2, in his debut with the club, but since then the Caps are 12-6-2 with him in the lineup.  There is a distinct home-road split to his production, though.  On the road, he has only three points in 11 games (all assists) and has a minus-7 rating.  At home, he is 3-8-11, plus-4, in ten games.  All of those points have come in his last eight games at Capital One Arena.

Ice time has been a good indicator of personal and team success with respect to Milano.  In ten games in which he skated more than 13:30, he is 2-6-8, plus-4 (he does not have a minus game), and the Caps are 8-1-1 in those contests.  In the 11 games in which he skated less than 13:30, he is 1-5-6, minus-7, and the Caps are 4-6-1.  Milano is 1-1-2, plus-1, in six career games against Winnipeg.

In the end…

It is cliché to say that a win makes going into the holiday break that much more joyful.  But this game will have standings implications for the Caps, who are on the edge of playoff-eligibility.  They handled Winnipeg rather easily in their last meeting.  This game will likely prove to be harder to manage to a victory.

Capitals 4 – Jets 2