The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up a four-game run against Metropolitan Division teams on Monday night when they visit UBS Arena to take on the New York Islanders. The Caps will be looking to fight off a losing “streak” of two games in regulation, the first time they lost consecutive games in regulation since losing Games 17 and 18 back on November 13th and 15th to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, respectively.
The Islanders come into this contest dealing with struggles of their own. A 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens stopped a four game losing streak, but the Isles remain a club that has had trouble scoring. Over their last eight games, they have a total of 16 goals, but six of those came in a 6-2 win ovr Vancouver to open the 2023 portion of their schedule. In none of the other seven games did they score more than two goals. Even with that six-goal explosion, the Islanders have the worst scoring offense in the league (2.00 goals per game) over those eight games.
Mathew Barzal has four of the 16 goals scored by the Islanders to lead the team over those last eight games, bringing his total for the season to 11 goals in 43 games. It has not been the easiest of seasons for the seven-year veteran. Barzal signed an eight-year, $73.2 million contract extension with the Islanders on October 4th, and the pressure that comes with such a signing seemed to weigh on him early. He did not record a goal in his first 18 games, going 0-for-47 shooting, although he did have 19 assists.
Barzal broke the drought with a pair of goals in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on November 19th, and since then has 11 goals on 57 shots (19.3 percent shooting). But back to those two goals in a loss to Dallas. It is odd that while Barzal has goals in nine games starting with that two-goal contest, the Islanders are just 3-6-0 in those nine games. They are 16-12-0 in the 28 games in which he recorded a point this season. Ice time has not been kind to him or to the Islanders this season, either. In the 23 games in which he skated at least 18:45, New York is just 5-15-3, while they are 18-2-0 in those games in which he skated less than 18:45. And his shooting, or absence of it, has an odd relationship to outcomes. New York is 8-3-1 in the 12 games in which he recorded one or no shots on goal. In 25 career games against Washington, Barzal is 5-16-21, minus-4.
At the other end of the scoring over the last eight games is Brock Nelson. He has none of the 16 goals scored by the Islanders in that span and only three assists. Nevertheless, he is still tied for the team lead in goals for the season (15, with Anders Lee). For a franchise with as long and successful a history as the Islanders, Nelson has quietly moved up the leader board in a number of categories – ninth in team history in games played (720), 11th in goals (220), 20th in assists (206), 15th in points (426), 11th in power play goals (48), tied for second in overtime goals (six), ninth in game-winning goals (36), tenth in first goals scored in games (36), fourth in empty net goals (12), fifth in empty net points (22).
The odd part about Nelson’s scoring this season is how much more productive he has been on the road (10-12-22, even, in 23 games) than at home (5-12-17, plus-2, in 21 games). All three of his power play goals have come on the road, and his 18.2 shooting percentage on the road dwarfs his 7.0 percentage at home. He is on an eight-game streak without a goal on home ice going into Monday night’s game, although he does have six assists. He has been another player for whom ice time and outcomes have a somewhat odd relationship. In 22 games in which he skated at least 19 minutes, the Islanders are 9-11-2. Nelson is 12-10-22, minus-5, in 39 career games against Washington.
The Islanders have not made much use of rookie talent this season, the team dressing four rookie skaters for a total of 45 man-games. Forward Simon Holmstrom has 17 of those games. He might have had more, but he spent six games on injured reserve in late December after a hit from Florida’s Sam Bennett in a 5-1 win on December 23rd. Holmstrom was a 23rd overall pick of the Islanders in the 2019 entry draft, taken two spots ahead of Connor McMichael by the Caps.
In 17 games to date, Holmstrom has not had eye-popping scoring numbers (1-1-2, minus-1), and he was not a big scorer in parts of four seasons with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport (27-43-70, minus-27, in 153 games), but he is seen as a promising playmaking winger who can play responsibly at both ends of the ice. Of note for this game, Holmstrom is still looking for his first career point on home ice as an Islander. If he gets a sweater, it will be his first career appearance against the Caps.
1. Brock Nelson is one of 12 players this season to record 10 or more shots in a game, posting ten shots (two goals) in a 4-3 overtime win over Columbus on November 12th.
2. The Islanders have struggled to score on home ice this season, their 2.95 goals per game ranking 24th in the league in home scoring offense. On the other hand, their scoring defense has been smothering, their 2.19 goals allowed per game at home ranking second in the league.
3. New York has the best penalty kill on home ice this season (90.7 percent).
4. In 21 home games so far, the Islanders scored first in only nine of them (tied for seventh-fewest in the league), but they are 8-1-0 in those games, the third-best winning percentage in the league (.889).
5. New York has the fourth-best winning percentage on home ice in one-goal games this season (.833/5-0-1) and are one of seven teams yet to lose a one-goal decision in regulation on home ice.
1. Matt Irwin is the only Capital to appear in more than five road games without recording a point so far this season.
2. Of 28 skaters to dress for at least one road game for the Caps, 20 of them have at least one goal, and 23 have at least one point.
3. Of 28 skaters to appear for the Caps his season, six have appeared in all 45 games to date. Through 45 games last season, only one Capital (Alex Ovechkin) appeared in all 45 games.
4. Only Vancouver and the Islanders have allowed more shorthanded goals on the road (six and four, respectively) than the Caps (three). Only Minnesota has scored more shorthanded goals on the road (five) than the Caps (four).
5. Only three teams in the league have more empty net goals scored in road games than the Caps (six) – New Jersey (nine), Pittsburgh (seven), and the Islanders (seven).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Ilya Sorokin
He is third in the league in goals against average among 69 goalies with at least 500 minutes (2.25). He is second in that group in save percentage (.927). He is tied for second in shutouts (three). He is tied for fifth in starts (31). So why is Ilya Sorokin’ win-loss record just 15-14-2? Goal support is the easy answer. The Isles do not provide goalies with a lot of goal support, and they average 2.94 goals per game in his 33 appearances overall. Twelve times in 31 starts the Islanders scored two or fewer goals when he appeared; twice they were shut out. He is not exactly playing with much of a margin for error. But except for an eight-game stretch over which he was 0-6-1 (one no-decision), 2.97, .903, with one shutout, he has been successful on his own terms despite the lack of goal support.
Sorokin might be the “other goaltender” in New York, with the Rangers Igor Shesterkin getting more press attention, but his record of 54-38-13, 2.31, .924, with 13 shutouts over three seasons compares favorably with Shesterkin’s 82-35-13, 2.34, .925, and nine shutouts over four seasons. And perhaps it was a product of the pecking order of attention the metropolitan New York teams get that when both goalies received Calder Trophy votes in 2021-2022, Shesterkin finished fifth in the voting with a 16-14-3, 2.62, .916 record while Sorokin finished tied for 15th (with fellow goalie Kaapo Kahkonen) with a 13-6-3, 2.17, .918 record. This season, while Shesterkin has a 20-6-6 win-loss record to Sorokin’s 15-14-2, Sorokin has an edge in goals against average (2.25 to 2.44), save percentage (.927 to .917) and has three shutouts to one for Shesterkin. For the moment, Ilya Sorokin seems to be the “stealth” goalie in the NHL, a top-end performer who gets little attention. In three appearances against Washington, Sorokin is 1-2-0, 2.70, .917.
Washington: Martin Fehervary
After 45 games last season, rookie defenseman Martin Fehervary dressed for 42 games (he missed three games to COVID protocol) and posted a scoring line of 3-3-6, plus-15, averaging, 19:24 in ice time per game. He averaged 8.31 hits per 60 minutes, showing a physical dimension to his game, but doing so within the rules (he had only six penalties in that number of games).
Through 45 games on the Caps’ schedule this season, Fehervary has dressed for only 33 games, missing time with an upper body injury. His offensive output is higher on a per-game basis (3-4-7), and his ice time per game (19:40) is virtually unchanged from last year at the same point of the season. His on-ice goal differential of plus-13 in 42 games at this point last season was better than his differential so far this season with 33 of 45 games played (plus-4), his on-ice goals for to goals against share at even strength (60.354.2 percent) last season better than this season (54.2 percent) but that share this season is still fifth among all Caps defensemen, a respectable ranking for a player who is third among defensemen in even strength ice time per game.
This season, Fehervary has been a more productive offensive player on the road (3-1-4, plus-4, in 16 road games, 0-3-3, even, in 17 home games), more disciplined (four penalty minutes on the road, ten at home), more engaged offensively (27 shots on goal on the road versus 18 at home). He comes into this game 3-1-4, plus-4, in his last four road games. In six career games against the Islanders, Fehervary is 0-1-1, minus-3.
In the end…
The Metropolitan Division is tightening up, and the Caps have not been as successful in their recent games against division opponents than they might have liked, to put some distance between themselves and teams knocking at the door of playoff eligibility. That is what makes this game important. A three-game losing streak in the division would not crash the season, but it would be a matter of concern. That the Caps will have to turn things around against a team that can make opponents miserable trying to move freely about the ice makes things just that much harder.
Capitals 3 – Islanders 2