The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return from New York and their 4-0 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night to start a three-game home stand on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators at Capital One Arena. The Caps are on a five-game winning streak, their second five-game winning streak this month, and their 13-3-1 since November 23rd is the second best record in the league over that span.
Ottawa has been the epitome of a streaky team. Starting with a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on November 19th, the Senators have gone 18 games over which they have had either consecutive wins or consecutive losses, save for an odd 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on November 30th that was sandwiched between two two-game winning streaks, and a 3-2 Gimmick win over the Boston Bruins in their last contest that followed a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).
The Senators are 9-7-2 over those 18 games, leaving them mired in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and ten points out of a playoff spot. Over those 18 games the Senators have struggled to score, their 2.1 goals per game ranking 26th in the league in scoring offense over that span.
Drake Batherson has seven of the 47 goals scored by the Senators in this stretch to lead the team, bringing his season total to 12 goals in 34 games. For the fifth-year right winger, this could be a break out season. Following a pair of 17-goal seasons with abbreviated schedules (one to COVID, the other to an ankle injury for which he missed 28 games), he is on a pace to finish with 29 goals this season. And, depending on what Claude Giroux (14 goals) and Brady Tkachuk (13 goals) do over the rest of the regular season, he could be only the third 30-goal scorer for Ottawa since 2011-2012 (Tkachuk and Josh Norris did it last season), when Milan Michalek (35 goals) and Jason Spezza (34 goals) did it for Ottawa.
Another number that would (and as the moment does) represent a career best (or worst) is his minus-23 rating. That is the second-worst among 817 skaters to play this season and is a minus-55 pace over a full season. Only ten skaters have been on ice for more even strength goals scored against the Senators than Batherson (39 goals against). Unsurprisingly, the Senators are 3-14-0 in the 17 games in which he posted a negative rating (1-4-0 in the five games in which he posted goals). Only three times in 34 games did he have a positive rating and none since November 10th when he was plus-1 in a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey. What he brings to this game is that he scored goals in each of the first two meetings of these teams this year – a pair of power play goals less than two minutes apart in a 5-2 loss to the Caps on October 20th and a goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Caps on December 22nd. In six career games against the Caps, Batherson is 6-1-7, plus-2.
Nick Holden has been around. The 12-year veteran has played in 618 games for six different franchises. And now, in his second season with the Ottawa Senators, he finds himself as the oldest player to skate for the team this season (he will turn 36 in May). Holden has been a defenseman who managed to carve out a long career without the advantage of being much of an offensive contributor. Since he came into the league in 2010-2011 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he is one of a dozen defensemen to have logged more than 600 games while posting fewer than 50 goals and fewer than 120 assists.
This has been a rather typical season for Holden (1-5-6, minus-7, in 29 games). But he has done well, or more accurately, the team has when he had heavier ice time loads. In ten games in which he skated 17:30 or more to date, Ottawa is 6-4-0, while they are 7-9-3 in the 19 games he skated less. He is not an especially physical defender, but in 13 games in which he was credited with two or more hits, Ottawa is 8-3-0. The Sens are 6-3-2 when he had two or more blocked shots. His numbers might not show up in the post-game credits, but if he is posting decent totals in underlying numbers, in the grittier, less-rewarded elements of the game, it might be the difference between winning and losing for the Senators. Holden is 2-2-4, minus-4, in 19 career games against Washington.
Ottawa has dressed three rookies this season for more than 30 games apiece. Only Montreal has done so with as many. Centers Shane Pinto (34) and Mark Kastelic (31), and defenseman Jake Sanderson (34) make up the trio. Pinto leads the group in goals scored (ten, tied for second among all rookies) and points (16, tied for sixth among all rookies). A second-round (32nd overall) pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, Pinto spent two seasons with the University of North Dakota hockey program, going 31-29-60 in 61 games with the Fighting Hawks. Over the following two seasons he played in 17 games with Ottawa (preserving his rookie status for this season), posting a goal and seven assists.
Pinto was fast out the gate to start this season. After going without a point on Opening Night, he recorded single goals in each of his next five games and six of seven overall. Ottawa was 4-2-0 in those games. It might have been a signal that he was going to be a scoring force to be reckoned with and an indicator of team success with his scoring, but he has cooled off considerably since that hot start. In 26 games since, Pinto is 4-5-9, minus-11, and the Sens are just 1-1-1 in the three games in which he posted goals (4-1-2 in the seven games in which he had points). Of note for this game, Pinto has not scored goal on the road with November 10th when he had a pair in a 4-3 overtime loss in New Jersey to the Devils. Pinto is 1-1-2, plus-2, in two career games against the Caps.Ottawa comes into this game with a 6-8-2 record on the road, tied for 27th in the league in points earned (14) and tied for 25th in points percentage (.438).
2. The Senators’ 2.75 goals per game on the road is the 24th-ranked scoring offense in the league.
3. On the other hand, the Senators’ road power play has been formidable, their 30.9 percent success rate tied for best in the league with Dallas.
4. Ottawa’s penalty killers are one of one of five teams this season yet to allow a shorthanded goal on the road.
5. Only Boston and Chicago have scored first in road games fewer times (four and twice, respectively) than the Senators (five times in 16 games).The Caps have allowed 2.53 goals per game on home ice, the sixth-best scoring defense in the league.
2. Washington’s 85.0 percent penalty kill on home ice is fourth-best it the league.
3. Only the New York Islanders have scored fewer first period goals on home ice (six in 17 games) than the Caps (nine in 17 games).
4. Only five teams have allowed fewer goals in the first period on home ice than the Caps (ten).
5. Only four teams have had fewer shorthanded situations faced on home ice than the Caps (2.35 per game).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Claude Giroux
Well, he has held up his end of the bargain. When Claude Giroux signed a three-year/$19.5 million contract with Ottawa last July, he was returnng to the province in which he was born. Although he is still just 34 years old, it had a bit of the last, play out the string feel as a contract. But Giroux isn’t playing as if he is ready for retirement soon. He leads this years Senators team in goals (14), is fifth in assists (15), tied for fourth in points (29), tied for fifth in power play points (11), has one of the two overtime goals scored by a Senator this season, and is tied for second in game-winning goals.
But what is lost in his contributions is that they have largely gone for naught. He has at least one goal in 12 games this season, but Ottawa is only 5-7-0 in those games (3-4-0 on the road). He has points in 19 games, but the Senators are just 8-10-1 in those games (4-4-1 on the road). He logged at least 17:30 in 21 games, the team is just 6-12-3 in those games. They have won only once in eight tries when he has at least four shots on goal (1-6-1). What is more ominous for the Senators, his production has fallen off after a fast start. Giroux was 8-10-18, plus-2, in his first 17 games (the Sens were just 6-10-1 in those games), while he is 6-5-11, minus-2, in his last 17 games (the team is 9-6-2 over that span). Odd Giroux fact… he has never had a game-winning goal against Washington, something none of the other 14 active players with more than 30 career points against the Caps can say. In 58 career games against the Caps, Giroux is 24-28-52, plus-8. Only four active players have faced the Caps in more regular season games, and only four have recorded more points against Washington.
Washington: Garnet Hathaway
After a brutal start in which he had two goals and four points in his first 30 games, Garnet Hathaway is showing signs of being the contributor he was last season when he had a career high in goals (14) and points (26) in 76 games played. Over his last seven games, Hathaway is 1-3-4, plus-4. He has not forsaken his lean toward mischief in doing so. Over those seven games he is tied for 11th in the league in credited hits (21) and is 14th among 508 players appearing in at least five games in hits per 60 minutes (14.12). But he has been playing in the rules, too, earning just one minor penalty in those seven games.
Those penalty minutes are noteworthy in the overall context of his season. He does have 37 minutes in penalties this season, but almost half of them were earned in a single game, the product of a five-minute fighting, a ten-minute misconduct, and a two-minute minor for tripping in a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on November 11th. He earned single minor penalties in ten other games. Given the results of those games, the Caps would just as soon he took none. Washington was 2-8-0 in those ten games.
It would be better than Hathaway maintain the momentum in the scoring aspect of the game he generated over his last seven games. The Caps are 5-1-0 in the six games in which he had point so far this season and are 40-12-4 in games in which he posted at least one point in his four seasons with the Caps. Hathaway is 1-0-1, even, in two career games against Ottawa.
In the end…
After dominating wins in their last two outings against two of the league’s better teams – Winnipeg and the New York Rangers – the Caps enter a soft spot in the schedule with nine consecutive games against teams currently out of the playoff mix. That string starts Thursday night against Ottawa and is not a time to think about easing off the throttle.
Capitals 5 – Senators 3