Friday, December 30, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 39: Canadiens at Capitals, December 31

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals ring out the old year on Saturday afternoon wanting to ring the nasty stains of a fall-from-ahead 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.  The Montreal Canadiens will arrive at Capital One Arena to provide the opposition.  Despite the overtime loss to the Senators, the Caps will go into the 2022 finale on a six-game points streak (5-0-1) and, with a win, could still finish December with the best record in the league for the month (currently 10-2-2, one point behind Carolina at 11-0-1). 

Montreal might be coming into this game thinking the Stanley Cup final they played in two seasons ago was in 1921, not 2021.  Since then, the most celebrated franchise in the NHL is 37-67-14, their 88 standings points earned tied with Arizona and Chicago for fewest in the league.  Montreal has made progress this season, but they still have a long was to go to be competitive.  At 15-18-3, Montreal is in eighth place in the Atlantic Division and 11 points out of a wild-card spot. 

The Canadiens struggle to score, their 2.61 goals per game tied for 28th in the league in scoring offense.  Only two skaters have reached double digits in goals through 36 games.  Cole Caufield is one of the players around whom the Canadiens hope to build in the seasons ahead.  The 15th overall pick of the 2019 Entry Draft, Caufield is one goal short of posting his second straight 20-goal season (he had 23 in 67 games last season).  He is on a pace to finish this season with 43 goals, which would make him the first 40-goal scorer for Montreal since Vincent Damphousse finished the 1993-1994 season with 40 goals.

While Caufield has been productive in his goal scoring overall, there is a definite home tilt to his production.  In 16 home games to date, he is 13-3-16, minus-5; while he is 6-6-12, minus-4, in 20 road games.  His goal scoring matters, the Canadiens going 9-5-1 in the 15 games in which he had goals, 6-13-2 in the 21 games he went without one.  More to the point for this game, Montreal has not lost a road game in regulation in which he had a goal (4-0-1).  On the other hand, he comes into this game on a four-game streak without a goal on the road, the Canadiens losing each of those games (0-3-1).  In four career games against Washington, Caufield is 2-1-3, minus-3.

Nick Suzuki is the other double digit goal scorer for the Canadiens with 15 in 36 games, and his 31 points leads the team.  On September 12th, he was named the 31st captain in Montreal history, following Shea Weber in the position.  At 23 years of age, he became the youngest captain in franchise history.  The 13th overall pick of the 2017 Entry Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, he was traded to Montreal in September 2018 with a second round draft pick in 2019 and Tomas Tatar to the Canadiens for Max Pacioretty.  In four seasons with Montreal, he has improved steadily, going 13-28-41 in 71 games as a rookie in 2019-2020 to 15-26-41 in 56 games in 2020-2021 to 21-40-61 in 82 games last season.

This season, Suzuki is 15-16-31, a 34-36-70 scoring pace thqat would make him only the second Canadien over the last 13 seasons to record 70 or more points (Max Domi had 72 points in 2018-2019).  Unlike Caufield, Suzuki’s scoring has been balanced between home and road venues – 7-8-15 in 16 home games and 8-8-16 in 20 road games.  What Suzuki has not been is hot lately.  After posting points in five of six games to end November and start December, he is just 1-1-2, minus-8, over his last ten games.  He has really cooled off on the road.  After going 8-8-16 in his first 15 road games, Suzuki is on a five-game streak on the road without a point and has gone seven straight road games without a goal  He is 3-3-6, minus-4, in seven career games against Washington.

You would think that a team trying to rebuild and climb back into the playoff conversation would be giving young players a long look.  In the case of the Canadiens, you would be right.  Montreal has five rookie skaters this season with more than 30 games played.  Defenseman Kaiden Guhle leads that group, the only Montreal rookie to appear in all 36 games so far this season. He leads all rookie defensemen in games played, and only Dallas forward Wyatt Johnston has appeared in more games as a rookie to date (37). Guhle, another first round pick (16th overall in the 2020 Entry Draft), is tied for ninth in scoring in his draft class this season (2-12-14) and the leading scorer among defensemen. 

Guhle’s season started in modest fashion, going 1-2-3, minus-3, in his first 11 games.  But starting with a two-point night against the Vegas Golden Knights on November 5th (a 6-4 Montreal loss), he is 1-10-11, minus-11, in his last 25 games.  And yes, that minus-11 does stick out, but he is one of four Canadiens in double digit negative territory in that category, including Caufield (minus-10) and Suzuki (minus-12).  His home-road split is significant.  Although he has yet to record a goal on home ice, he has nine assists in 16 games.  On the road, he is just 2-3-5 in 20 games.  He has, however, raised in road production a bit over time.  In his first ten road games, Guhle was 1-0-1, minus-4, but over his last ten road contests, he is 1-3-4, minus-4.  He was without a point and posted a minus-2 rating in his only appearance against the Caps to date.

1.  As the Canadiens prepare for their last game in the calendar year, their 30-45-10 record is 29th in the league in points earned since January 1st (70) and 28th n points percentage (.412).

2.  Montreal’s 2.85 goals per game ranks 26 in scoring offense in 2022.

3.  The 3.86 goals allowed per game in 2022 leaves Montreal as the 31st-ranked scoring defense in the league this calendar year.

4.  Canadiens’ special teams struggled in 2022.  Their power play ranked 31st (15.1 percent), their penalty kill ranked 21st (77.0 percent), and their special teams index (92.1) ranked 29th.

5.  Montreal was 9-27 in games decided by three or more goals, their .250 winning percentage ranking 29th in the league in 2022.

1.  Washington goes into their last game of the calendar year with 98 points earned, 18th in the league in points (44-33-10), and their .563 points percentage ranks 18th as well.

2.  The Caps’ 3.15 goals per game in 2022 is the 17th-ranked scoring offense, and their 3.01 goals allowed per game ranks 13th in the league in scoring defense in the calendar year.

3.  The 21.0 percent power play ranks the Capitals 20th in the league in 2022, their 80.3 percent penalty kill ranks 13th, and their 10.3 special teams index ranks 17th.

4.  Washington has 3.23 power play chances per game with one game left in 2022, the fifth-most power play chances per game.

5.  The Caps have just 171 5-on-5 goals in 2022.  The are one of two teams (Winnipeg is the other) to have a scoring offense of at least 3.10 goals per game and fewer than 175 goals at 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Jake Allen/Sam Montembeault

Old or young, veteran or inexperienced, Jake Allen or Sam Montembeault?  There has been little difference in the performance of the Montreal goaltenders this season, which is not to say that either Allen or Montembeault have been great, or even good.  Much of that might be a product to a young team in front of them, but their numbers, while very similar, are not among the league leaders. 

Allen, 32 years old with ten seasons and 377 games in the NHL, has had the lion’s share of starts (24 in 36 games), posting a record of 9-14-1, 3.29, .900.  Those 14 losses in regulation are tied with Anaheim’s John Gibson for most in the league.  His goals against average ranks 46th among 65 goalies with at least 500 minutes played, while his save percentage ranks 39th in that group.  Montembeault, 26 years old with 75 games played over four seasons, has 12 starts, going 6-4-2, 3.23, .904.  His goals against average ranks 43rd in that group of 65 goalies, while his save percentage ranks 35th. 

While Allen has been more of the “home” goaltender (14 of his 24 starts were at Bell Centre), Montembeault has been almost the designated road goalie, ten of his 12 starts this season coming on the road.  But the odd part of that is his road record is not very good – 4-4-2, 3.49, .898 – while he is 2-0-0, 1.96, .934 in his only two starts on home ice.  On the other hand, Allen is 4-5-1, 2.70, .923 on the road and just 5-9-0, 3.72, .882 at home.  Allen is 3-3-0, 2.97, .902, with one shutout in six career games against the Caps, while Montembeault is 0-2-0, 4.40, .859, in three career games against the Caps.

Washington: Aliaksei Protas

Last season, Aliaksei Protas was 3-6-9, plus-4, in 33 games.  So far this season, he is 3-4-7, plus-1, in 38 games, one of nine Capitals to appear in every game to date.  He has gone long stretches without points this season, recording two streaks of six games without a point and another eight-game streak.  If he goes without a point against Montreal, he will add another six-game streak to this year’s log.  He does not get much in the way of scoring line minutes, and he is averaging about a minute less per game in ice time this year (10:58) than last year (11:50).  

It makes Protas’ relatively unchanged stat line from last year to this look unsurprising.  But despite his modest production to date, there is the “canary in a coal mine” aspect to his game that one might remember was a hallmark of former Capital Jay Beagle’s game.  When he puts crooked numbers on the score sheet, the Caps win.  They are 3-0-0 in the games in which he had goals so far and 6-0-0 in games in which he had points.  It was much the same last season, when the Caps went 3-0-0 in games in which he had goals and 7-1-0 in games in which he had points.  And while he is not an especially physical player, the Caps are 10-4-3 in games in which he recorded at least one hit.  Protas’ production on home ice has lagged, going 1-1-2, plus-1, in 18 games, while he is 2-3-5, even, I 20 road contests.  He is 0-0-0, even, in two career games against Montreal.

In the end…

One bad loss is bad, two against a pair of non-playoff teams to end the calendar year would be worse.  The way the Caps lost to Ottawa, giving up a two goal lead and losing in overtime on home ice, had to sting. But is not as if the Caps have dominated this team on their rink.  The teams split their last 20 decisions in Washington right down the middle, each with ten wins.  And, the Caps’ offense over those 20 games has been a dry well, averaging just 2.70 goals per game.  Fortunately, their defense has been better, allowing the Canadiens only 2.25 goals per game over those 20 contests.  After going dormant late in the game against Ottawa, a fast start in this one would not be surprising.  It certainly would be welcome.

Capitals 5 – Canadiens 2