Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Islanders, January 15th

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

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 14

Week 14 was not a good week for the Washington Capitals.  Their return to contests against Metropolitan Division teams – Columbus and Philadelphia, both below them in standings – was an opportunity to keep their recent momentum, advance in the standings, and put some more distance between themselves and teams below them in the division.  It did not turn out entirely as Caps fans would have liked.

Record (1-2-0)

The Caps opened the week in promising fashion, scoring the game’s first goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets less than three minutes into the contest at Capital One Arena on Sunday.  But that would be all the Caps would get, and despite holding on for a 1-0 win, the writing was on the wall that this might be a week in which they would struggle.  When the Caps faced the Philadelphia Flyers in a home-and-home set of games to close the week, they had a chance to take advantage of a club that, despite the fact that they had a successful run of late, that they were still seventh of eight teams in the Metro.  Losing both games by multi-goal margins was concerning, especially since the Caps had been 10-3-0 in the previous 13 meetings of the teams dating back to March 2021.  Instead of finishing the week in third place in the Metro Division, had they swept the Flyers, they finished the week as the first wild-card team in the Eastern Conference and only four points ahead of Pittsburgh, lurking just outside the playoff-eligible group of teams in the East with the Penguins holding three games in hand.

Offense: 1.67 /game (season: 3.20 / 15th)

Five goals in three games.  Five different goal scorers, which might not have been a bad thing but for the fact that none of them had more than one.  And there was the lack of shooting balance.  Alex Ovechkin had his customary place at the top of the shots on goal rankings (16), but no other Capital has as many as ten (T.J. Oshie had nine), and only six Caps had more than five.

There was also the matter of points overall and the fact that Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd – fourth line forwards – were the only Capital skaters with more than one point for the week (each player had two).

Erik Gustafsson was the only Capital to record a goal for the week, his strike in the first three minutes of the Caps/Blue Jackets contest being the only goal scored in that game.  Only three Caps defensemen would record points in Week 14, Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary recording single assists.  Jensen’s assist against Philadelphia in the 5-3 loss on Wednesday extended a decent run of assists – five assists in seven games.

Defense: 2.67 / game (season: 2.76 / 9th)

Shots on goal can be a funny thing.  On the one hand there were the Flyers, who averaged allowing 33.0 shots per game for the week but finished with a 3-1-0 record.  The Caps also allowed 33.0 shots per game but finished with a 1-2-0 record. 

And it was not all that bad a week for the Caps at 5-on-5.  Only four teams allowed fewer goals at fives than did the Caps (five).  The Caps allowed only 137 shot attempts at 5-on-5, eighth-fewest in the league.  No Capital was on ice for more than two goals against at even strength, but having Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov be two of those skaters, especially when each player was on ice for only one goal for at even strength, speaks to whether on the basis of scoring outcomes they should be on the same line.  Garnet Hathaway and Marcus Johansson did not have a goal scored against them on ice at evens for the week, and Nic Dowd was on ice for only one such goal.  It was a decent week for the bottom six forwards, but that is not the highest praise.

Goaltending: 2.38 / .929 (season: 2.56 / .915 / 4 shutouts)

Darcy Kuemper took all the minutes in Week 14, and he might have deserved better, at least in terms of scoring support.  He pitched his league-leading fourth shutout of the season to open the week, and while he stopped just  53 of 60 shots in the two games against the Flyers (.883 save percentage), it was not a bad overall week.  More of one in which an extra win might have been squeezed out with more scoring support. 

Kuemper’s week was characterized by comparatively slow starts, at least in the two games against the Flyers (.850 save percentage in the first periods of the two games) and stronger performances as the games went on (.939 save percentage over the last 40 minutes of the three games overall).  What might be of mild concern is his uneven performance on home ice in recent games.  Of 58 goalies with at least 250 minutes on home ice, his .910 save percentage ranks 24th, while his .925 save percentage on the road ranks seventh of 70 goalies with 250 minutes played in road games.

Power Play: 0-for-6 / 0.0 percent (season: 21.4 percent / 17th)

Few chances, four shots on goal, no goals.  It was an awful week for the power play.  The first time in 14 weeks that the Caps were shut out on the power play.  And this despite 11 Capitals logging at least one power play minute of ice time.  At least Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom, both coming back to the lineup this week after spending the first half of the season rehabilitating injuries, had shots on goal (one apiece).  There just is not much to say about what might have been the worst week for the power play this season.

Penalty Killing 8-for-11 / 72.7 percent (season: 80.6 percent / 11th)

The Caps did themselves no favors on the other side of special teams.  The 3.67 shorthanded instances per game were fifth-most in the league for the week.  Only three teams allowed more power play goals than the three allowed by the Caps.  Wek 14 broke a streak of seven straight weeks over which the Caps had penalty kills of 80.0 percent or better (49-for-58/84.5 percent).  It was also the third week in the last five in which the Caps faced at least ten shorthanded situations. 

Faceoffs: 86-for-162 / 53.1 percent (season: 49.7 percent / 17th)

The Caps are getting better at this part of the game.  On November 22nd, they were 25th in the league in faceoff winning percentage at 46.8 percent, but since then they rank tenth in the league at 52.3 percent.  In Week 14, three of the five Caps taking at least ten draws overall finished at 50 percent or better, led by Lars Eller (64.0 percent).  Eller had a very good week in the defensive zone, winning nine of 13 faceoffs (69.2 percent).  Evgency Kuznetsov was a surprising 12-for-20 in the offensive zone (60.0 percent).  Overall, the Caps were 50 percent or better in all three zones for the week.

Goals by Period

How bad was Week 14?  The Caps came into the week with 58 second period goals, second-most in the league to Seattle’s 59.  At the end of the week, the Caps still had 58 second period goals scored.  It was the hole in the donut (they had three first period goals and two third period goals) that might have cost them a win; they were outscored, 2-0, in the second periods of games in Week 14. 


The Caps are holding on to a pace that is not all that different from last year’s team as theyhit the 45-game mark.  The principal difference in record is that this year’s team has swapped in a few more losses in regulation for losses in extra time to account for most of the points difference between last year’s team and this year’s.  Scoring offense, scoring defense, shots per game, penalty killing, shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 are all close to one another on a year-to-year basis through the same number of games.  The power play is better, both in terms of generating opportunities and efficiency.  The number of shorthanded situations faced is significantly higher this season and bears watching as the Caps move forward.

In the end…

This was a week one would like to forget but probably shouldn’t.  It was an opportunity missed, mostly because the Caps’ offense dried up.  Perhaps this is the price the team is paying to re-integrate Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson into the lineup and figure out what line combinations work.  But the Caps do not have a large margin for error in the standings, which suggests that the time for tinkering might be short.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Darcy Kuemper (1-2-0, 2.38, .929, one shutout)
  • Second Star: Garnet Hathaway (1-1-2, plus-3, no goals against on-ice at even strength, seven hits, three blocked shots, no giveaways)
  • Third Star: Erik Gustafsson (1-0-1, plus-2, one game-winning goal, seven shots on goal, no goals against on-ice at even strength, 20:36 in ice time per game).