Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 44: Capitals at Penguins, January 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet on Monday evening in the last of their four regular season meetings this season.

There has not been a lot going on since the Caps and Pens met last Wednesday in a 5-2 Capitals win.  That’s not to say that nothing has gone on.  For instance…

-- Washington extended their winning streak to nine games with a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday…

-- Pittsburgh is now on a three-game losing streak, starting with that loss the Caps.  They dropped a 4-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators and a 6-3 decision to the Detroit Red Wings, both on the road.

-- Washington lost John Carlson to a “lower-body injury” in the game against the Flyers.

-- Pittsburgh lost top defenseman Kris Letang to an apparent knee injury early in the first period of their Saturday night 6-3 loss to the Red Wings (he did return for a short shift ten minutes after suffering the injury but could not continue). 

-- The Caps scored 11 goals against Chicago and Philadelphia.

-- The Penguins scored four goals against Ottawa and Detroit.

-- The Capitals allowed no goals to the Blackhawks or Flyers.

-- The Penguins allowed ten goals against the Senators and Red Wings.

-- The Caps were 1-for-2 (50.0 percent) on the power play in their two games since beating Pittsburgh.

-- The Pens were 1-for-7 (14.3 percent) on the power play in their two games since losing to Washington.

-- The Caps killed seven shorthanded situations (100.0 percent) against Chicago and Philadelphia.

-- The Pens killed six of nine shorthanded situations (66.7 percent) against Ottawa and Detroit.

-- Washington outscored Chicago and Philadelphia, 10-0, at 5-on-5.

-- Pittsburgh was outscored by Ottawa and Detroit, 7-3, at 5-on-5.

-- The Capitals out-attempted the Blackhawks and Senators by a 95-89 margin at 5-on-5.

-- The Penguins were held to a 83-83 split of shot attempts by the Senators and Red Wings.

-- The Caps out-shot their two opponents by a 48-36 margin at 5-on-5 in their two games.

-- The Pens were out-shot by their two opponents by a 54-47 margin at 5-on-5 in their two games.

-- Alex Ovechkin is 3-4-7, plus-7, in his last five games.

-- Sidney Crosby is 0-4-4, minus-1, in his last five games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom is 4-7-11, plus-7, in his last five games.

-- Evgeni Malkin is 3-2-5, minus-4, in his last five games.

-- Washington has an 11-4-4 record in away games this season, sixth-best in the league.

-- Pittsburgh has an 18-2-2 record at home, best in the league.


The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh:  Olli Maatta

With Kris Letang perhaps missing some substantial time with a lower body injury, some of his offensive responsibility from the blue line seems likely to fall upon the shoulders of Olli Maatta.  The fourth-year player has battled injury and illness over the past two-plus seasons, and whether that is a reason or not, he still has had disappointing numbers this season (0-4-4 in 40 games).  In fact, it has been a struggle to measure up to the numbers he posted in his rookie season (9-20-29 in 78 games), one in which he finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie-of-the-year.  In 127 games over his last three seasons he is just 7-25-32).  His streak without a goal has reached 61 games, since he scored last February 8th against Anaheim.   Maatta is 1-5-6, plus-5, in 11 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Nicklas Backstrom

No player in the NHL this season has more points against the Pittsburgh Penguins than Nicklas Backstrom (3-8-11 in three games).  With two more points he would tie the highest point total scored against the Penguins in a single season in the post-2004-2005 lockout period (Simon Gagne was 7-6-13 against the Penguins for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-2006).  The 11 points scored by Backstrom against Pittsburgh is the most by a Capital against the Pens in this era.  In fact, in Capitals history you would have to go back to the 1988-1989 season to find a Capital who scored more points than Backstrom against the Pens in a single season (Mike Ridley, 7-5-12). Lately, it hasn’t mattered who it is that Backstrom lines up against.  He has points in his last six games (3-7-10).  He is 6-38-44, plus-7, in 37 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

Streaks are odd things.  Whether a winning streak or a losing streak, you can get a sense when one is coming to an end.  Teams on losing streaks might play well without reward until they finally break through with a win.  Teams on winning streaks will start to show cracks and maybe escape with a win or two before their roll comes to an end.  The Capitals’ winning streak has reached nine games, and they have won their last three contests by a combined score of 20-3.  The Penguins certainly are capable of ending this streak for the Caps, especially since they have the league’s best home record.  But based on their recent play, it is really hard to pick against the men in red.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2


A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 43: Washington Capitals 5 - Philadelphia Flyers 0

The Washington Capitals made it nine wins in a row, taking over the top spot in the league standings, when they shut out the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon.

The Flyers held the Caps to a scoreless tie for the first 29 minutes of the contest, but the Caps broke on top in the 30th minute of the game.  With Jakub Voracek in the penalty box and the Caps on a power play, Andre Burakovsky took advantage of Michael Del Zotto whiffing on a clearing attempt from between his own hash marks, picking up the loose puck and rifling a shot past goalie Steve Mason at the 9:08 mark of the period to make it 1-0.

That was the margin heading into the third period, but the Caps broke things wide open early in the third period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov tied up Sean Couturier long enough on a faceoff to allow Justin Williams to dart in to move the puck to Marcus Johansson below the Flyers’ goal line.  Johansson started to circle around the Flyers’ net, but he sent a pass out the back side to Williams closing on the Flyer net.  Williams beat Mason on the short side to make it 2-0, just 1:36 into the third period.

Less than two minute later the Caps struck again.  Ivan Provorov could not collect a pass at the Capitals’ blue line, and the loose puck slid into the neutral zone where Nicklas Backstrom picked it up.  Skating to the Philadelphia line, he saucered a pass to Alex Ovechkin for what looked to be a one-timer from the left wing circle.  Everyone in the building was waiting for it, even goalie Steve Mason, who slid across the crease to defend the shot that never came. Ovechkin fed Matt Niskanen driving down the middle, and Niskanen had an open net to shoot at, making it 3-0 at the 3:20 mark.

Less than three minutes later it was Niskanen again.  Jay Beagle fed Tom Wilson at the Flyers’ line, and Wilson carried the puck down the left wing and around the Flyers’ net.  Coming out the other side, he sent the puck out to the right point where Niskanen one-timed it to the Flyer net where it handcuffed Mason and trickled in to make it 4-0, 5:47 into the period.

Less than a minute later, the Caps had their fourth goal of the period.  Justin Williams kept the puck in at the left point and fed it across to Alex Ovechkin.  From the top of the offensive zone, Ovechkin dropped it for Brooks Orpik at the right point.  Orpik skated the puck down the right side and fed Nicklas Backstrom in front.  Backstrom deadened the puck, then fed it back between his legs to Williams closing on the weak side.  Williams had a slam dunk into the open side, and it was 5-0 at the 6:36 mark.  Philipp Grubauer slammed the door from there for his second shutout of the season, the Caps winning going away, 5-0.

Other stuff…

-- This was the third straight game, and the sixth time in nine games, in which the Caps scored five or more goals.  They have averaged 4.44 goals per game in that stretch.

-- This was the eighth shutout of the season for the Capitals, tops in the league (three teams have five).

-- The two-goal game was Matt Niskanen’s second of the season and the third this season by a Capitals defenseman.  Niskanen’s first was in a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on December 13th; John Carlson had a two-goal game in a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 23rd.

-- Niskanen had five of the Caps’ 22 shots on goal and 10 of their 48 shot attempts.  Both were tops on the team for this game.

-- Carlson left the game after the first period with what is described as a “lower-body injury” and did not return to the contest.

-- Justin Williams recorded his second two-goal game of the season, his other one coming on December 7th in a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.  Williams now has 11 goals in his last 19 games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom ran his scoring streak to six games with a pair of assists.  It was his fourth straight multi-point game.  In 23 games since Thanksgiving, Backstrom is 7-17-24, plus-12.

-- Alex Ovechkin extended his scoring streak to four games.  In his last 19 games he is 9-10-19, plus-10.

-- This was the 11th game this season in which the Caps allowed their opponent five or more power play opportunities.  It was the fourth time in those 11 instances in which the Caps denied their opponent a power play goal.

-- It was Philipp Grubauer’s second shutout of the season and his sixth straight win.  In his winning streak he has a goals against average of 1.56 and a save percentage of .942.

In the end…

There is a long way to go in the regular season, but the stinginess of the Caps is becoming quite a thing. With this shutout, they are allowing 1.91 goals per game.  That is, by far, the lowest in team history (next best is last year’s 2.33 goals per game, which tied the 2010-2011 mark), and it is just the second sub-2.00 goals against per game of the post-2004-2005 lockout era (St. Louis allowed 1.89 goals per game in 2011-2012).  Marry four shutouts in their last six games to the recent trend of five-plus goal games on offense, and the Caps are certainly on quite a roll.

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

If the Washington Capitals had a more dominating week in recent history than the one they had in Week 14, it does not immediately come to mind.  A perfect record against three high-caliber terms, a power play that finally showed signs of life, an amazing week at 5-on-5, and a milestone achievement for the Captain against the team’s – and his – most bitter rival.  In the regular season, it doesn’t get any better than this.


Record: 3-0-0

With three wins for the week, the Caps extended their season-long winning streak to eight games, their longest since a nine-game streak in Games 28 through 36 from December 12-30 last season.  And when the Caps defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the final game of the week, the team became the second-fastest to 60 points in team history, hitting that milestone in Game 42 (they did it in 39 games last season).  The three wins for the week were especially noteworthy for who the Caps beat.  In taking down the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Blackhawks, the Caps beat teams that closed Week 14 with a combined record of 80-35-16. They didn’t exactly beat a trio of tamata cans.


Offense:  5.00/game (season: 2.98 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Pittsburgh Penguins might not have an elite scoring defense, but the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks are top-ten scoring defenses.  The Caps lit all three up for at least four goals and for a combined 15 goals for the week.  Nine skaters recorded the 15 goals, and 16 different skaters had points.  By the time the week was over, the Caps had four or more goals in three straight games and six of their last eight contests (averaging 4.38 per game, all of them wins).

Nicklas Backstrom tied for the team lead in goals for the week (three) and topped all Caps in points (eight).  He had points in all three games, extending his personal points streak to five contests (3-7-10).  He had goals in all three games for the week, the first time he had goals in three consecutive games since Games 43-45 (January 19 – February 2) last season against Columbus (two goals), Philadelphia, and Florida.

Alex Ovechkin tied Backstrom for the team lead in goals, one of them coming just 35 seconds into the first period against Pittsburgh to give him 1,000 points in his career.  He added a goal for good measure and finished the week 3-3-6.

A club doesn’t get to averaging five goals for a week with just primary scoring, and the Caps got some from unusual places in Week 14.  Jay Beagle had a pair of goals to begin and end the Caps’ scoring in a 6-0 win over Chicago.  The odd part of that game, as much as the two goals, was his recording a career high eight shots on goal.  Brett Connolly also had a pair of goals for the week, recording singles against Montreal and Pittsburgh.   Tom Wilson chipped in his third goal of the season in the 6-0 win over Chicago.  Lars Eller got his fourth of the season and first in ten games in what might have been the oddest goal-scoring play of the week when he chipped one off a Penguin stick, off Kris Letang’s helmet, and into an empty net to close the Caps; 5-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Defense: 1.00/game (season: 1.95 /game; rank: 1st)

In an odd way, the Caps underperformed their outcomes on defense.  The 1.00 average of goals allowed is impressive, absolutely, but the Caps skated much closer to the margin in terms of shot attempts allowed.  They finished the week with a 50.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey), the relatively low number being largely due to the shot attempt advantage at fives that the Penguins had in the middle game of the week (45-35).  The shot attempts did not turn into shots on goal though, as the Caps held an 84-62 edge at fives for the week (57.5 percent).  Overall, the Penguins did manage 32 shots on goal, the only time the Caps’ defense has allowed more than 30 in their last nine games.

There wasn’t much to talk about in terms of on-ice victims of goals allowed, although it was a bit odd that three players – Matt Niskanen, Daniel Winnik, and Jay Beagle – should be on the ice for all three goals scored on the Caps in Week 14.  Why?  They were killing penalties.  The Caps did not allow a 5-on-5 goal for the week, which might be the most amazing number of them all in a week full of them.

Goaltending:  1.00 / .962 / 1 shutout (season: 1.87 / .933 / 7 SO)

Braden Holtby announced with authority that he is back in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy this season.  His overall numbers were amazing enough, but he was a perfect 55-for-55 stopping shots in the first and second periods of games, and he was a mind-bogglingly perfect 62-for-62 stopping pucks at 5-on-5.  When he shutout the Chicago Blackhawks to close the week, it was his third shutout in five games, his fourth in ten appearances, and his fifth in 14 contests.  Over those 14 contests, Holtby is 9-2-2 (one no-decision), 1.34, .950, with those five shutouts.  In his last five games, since being pulled after 20 minutes against Toronto, he is 5-0-0, 0.60, .978, with three shutouts.  Among 39 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes this season, he is now second in goals against average (1.85, to Devan Dubnyk’s 1.77), second in save percentage (.933 to Dubnyk’s .940) and first in shutouts (six).  His even strength save percentage (.945) trails Dubnyk by just two points (.947).  OK, so his 6-for-11 when shorthanded (.545 save percentage) might need some work.

Power Play: 3-for-6 / 50.0 percent (season: 18.0 percent; rank: 16th)

Three power play goals marked the most for the Caps in a week’s worth of play since Week 10, when they went 5-for-13.  It was just the fourth time in 14 weeks this season that the Caps had at least three power play goals in a week, while the 50 percent conversion rate is a season-high.  It might have been better had the Caps been awarded a power play against Chicago in the last game of the week.  It was the second time this season that the Caps did not have a power play chance, the other one also at the hands of the Blackhawks in the Caps’ 3-2 overtime win on November 11th. 

As for the games in which the Caps did get power play chances, they were 50 percent against both Montreal (1-for-2) and against Pittsburgh (2-for-4).  Alex Ovechkin had two power play goals for the week, his first one (in the Montreal game) breaking a ten-game drought without a power play strike.  His power play goal against Pittsburgh gave him his first multi-goal game since he had a hat trick against the St. Louis Blues on November 23rd, breaking a 21-game streak without a multi-goal game.  Nicklas Backstrom had the other power play goal of the week for the Caps.

Overall, the Caps were reasonably efficient in what power play time they had.  They scored their three goals on 12 shots over a span of 7:45 in power play time.


Penalty Killing: 8-for-11 / 72.7 percent (season: 86.1 percent; rank: 3rd)

Week 14 was that rare occurrence this season when the penalty killers were outperformed by the power play.  The three power play goals allowed was the most the Caps let through since they allowed four in going 13-for-17 in Week 7, the only time this season in which they allowed more power play goals than those allowed this week.  The 72.7 percent kill rate was the lowest weekly number for the season.  The two power play goals allowed to the Penguins was just the second time in 22 games that the Caps allowed as many as two power play goals in a game and just the third time all season they did so.  Oddly enough, all three of those instances have come at home.


Faceoffs: 101-for-170 / 59.4 percent (season: 50.7% / rank: 10th)

What makes the faceoff numbers noteworthy for the Caps in Week 14 is that they actually lost the first game of the week, winning only 27 of 58 draws to the Canadiens.  Against Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Caps went a combined 74-for-112 (66.1 percent).  Not that any of the three opponents were among the best in the circle (Montreal ranked 15th at the end of the week, Chicago 23rd, and Pittsburgh 26th), but it was still an outstanding week. 

It was a big week for three of the big four taking draws.  Nicklas Backstrom (63.0 percent), Lars Eller (69.0 percent), and Jay Beagle (61.5 percent) all finished over 60 percent for the week.  Backstom had a most interesting line in the Pittsburgh game, winning 12 of 13 draws against Sidney Crosby.

By zone, the Caps did well in all three.  They went 35-for-53 (66.0 percent) in the offensive zone, 32-for-59 (54.2 percent) in the defensive end, and 34-for-58 (58.6 percent) in the neutral zone.

Goals by Period:


As with much of the week, it would be difficult to do better in the scoring by period than the Caps had in Week 14.  They scored first and in the first period in all three games for a 5-0 edge in goals, then they followed that up by shutting out teams in all three games in the second period while adding two goals of their own.  That put games out of reach, but the Caps still managed to outscore opponents by an 8-3 margin in the third period, one of the goals scored an empty netter.

At the end of the week, Washington was first in the league in first period goal differential (+24) and fourth in third period goal differential (+14).

In the end…

Week 14 was arguably the best week overall for the Caps this season.  It was a dominating week – all of the decisions by three or more goals – and it was achieved at the expense of some very good teams.  There were a lot of excellent performances, the number of which might overshadow good ones, like T.J. Oshie going 1-4-5, plus-5; John Carlson getting three assists; or Karl Alzner recording his 500th consecutive game played.  A week like the one Evgeny Kuznetsov had – a goal and two assists to bring him to 2-17-19, plus-8, in his last 19 games – can get lost in the wash.  It is the good sort of problem the Caps would want, where they are getting contributions from up and down the roster on a game-to-game basis.  It might not be the sort of week that can be sustained, but it did offer a glimpse into just how well this team is capable of playing.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-3-6, plus 5, 1,000th career point, 14 shots on goal, 22 shot attempts, three hits)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-5-8, plus-5, 34-for-54 on faceoffs (63.0 percent), 17th career four-plus point game (1-3-4 against Pittsburgh, tying Ovechkin for third most in the league since Backstrom came into the league))
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.00, .962, one shutout)


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 43: Flyers at Capitals, January 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It is a marquee matinee matchup as the Washington Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers in a 12:30 puck drop at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon (note: game time has been changed to 1:00).  The Caps will be looking to extend their season-long winning streak to nine games.

This is the second of four meetings in the regular season between the teams, the Flyers having won the first meeting, 3-2, in a Gimmick back on December 21st.  Life has not been kind to the Flyers since then, the orange and black going 2-6-2, since then, including a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.

In their last ten games since defeating the Caps, the Flyers have done one thing well.  Their power play is 8-for-29 (27.6 percent).  That power play will come into the game with the Caps with goals in each of its last three games (5-for-10/50 percent).

Not much else has gone right, though.   Philadelphia has been out-scored , 38-21, in those ten games, despite outshooting opponents, 313-289.  Their penalty killing has come up short stopping opponents, going just 27-for-36 (75.0 percent).

For Jakub Voracek, the team’s leading scorer, it has not been so much a lack of production as it has been being victimized by opponents when he is on the ice.  Voracek is 2-4-6 in the Flyers’ last ten games, but he was a minus player in eight of those games, going minus-7 overall.  What has been missing from Voracek’s game, though, has been goal-scoring.  The two goals he had against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on January 4th are his only goals in his last 15 games.  Voracek is 11-8-19, plus-6, in 26 career against the Caps.

Another Flyer whose goal scoring has dried up is their leading goal scorer, Wayne Simmonds.  In his first 28 games this season, Simmonds potted 15 goals, a healthy 44-goal pace.  However, he has just three goals in his last 17 games. It hasn’t been for lack of shooting.  Those three goals have come on 50 shots (6.0 percent).  One thing on his record he might not want to which he might not want too much attention paid is the fact that he is one of just two players this season with two games of 15 or more penalty minutes (Dallas’ Antoine Roussel is the other). He had 15 minutes in a 4-2 win over Dallas on December 10th (much of it part of a slashing duel with Roussel in the last moments of that contest) and 16 minutes in a 4-0 loss to New Jersey on December 22nd.  Simmonds is 5-8-13, minus-2, in 25 career games against Washington.

With Michal Neuvirth getting the call against the Bruins on Saturday, it would seem Steve Mason will be the netminder of choice on Sunday against the Caps.  At the moment, Mason has some things to sort out.  In his last eight appearances he had save percentages under .900 six times and posted a record of 0-5-2 (one no-decision), 3.78, .860. Mason is currently tied with Roman Cechmanek and Bob Froese for fourth place in all-time wins for the franchise (92).  A win against the Caps would lift him into a tie for third with Wayne Stephenson, trailing only Bernie Parent (232) and Ron Hextall (240).  Mason is 9-5-2, 2.65, .911 with two shutouts in 17 career appearances against the Caps.


1.  The Flyers have their troubles early and late in games.  Only three teams have fewer first period goals than Philadelphia (26), and they have a minus-10 first period goal differential.  Their third periods are the same in a different way.  Only Vancouver has allowed more third period goals (52) than Philadelphia (50), and the Flyers have another minus-10 goal differential in the final 20 minutes of games.

2.  No club has allowed more goals this season at 5-on-2 than Philadelphia.  Their 94 goals allowed is tied with the Colorado Avalanche for most in the league.

3.  That goals against problem extends, oddly enough, to the Flyer power play.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals this season that Philadelphia (eight).

4.  On the offensive end, scoring first comes infrequently to the Flyers.  Only 16 times in 45 games have they scored a game’s first goal (9-4-3).  Only Vancouver (15) and Colorado (13) have scored first fewer times than the Flyers this season.

5.  It is not as if the Flyers are a poor possession team.  They do rank 11th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall this season (51.14 percent), and they are eighth overall on the road (51.65 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Where the Flyers are weak early and late, the Caps are strong.  Washington is first in the league in first period goal differential (+24) and fourth in third period goal differential (+14).

2.  There are only two teams in the league this season who have not had games with two or fewer penalty minutes charged to them – the Anaheim Ducks and the Caps.

3.  Only the New York Rangers (96) have scored more 5-on-5 goals than the Caps (90; tied with Pittsburgh going into Saturday’s games) this season.

4.  No one has more wins than the Caps when out-shooting opponents.  The Caps are 19-5-3 in those games.

5.  Teams have scored on just 2.72 percent of their shot attempts at 5-on-5 against the Caps at Verizon Center this season.  That’s the third-best record in the league (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia:  Ivan Provorov

Last season, it was Shayne Gostisbehere as the “it” guy as a rookie on the Flyer blueline.  This season, it’s Ivan Provorov, especially with Gostisbehere suffering through something of a sophomore slump.  Provorov is second among rookie defensemen in total scoring this season (3-17-20), trailing only Columbus’ Zach Werenski (6-20-26).  He is third in that rookie class in average ice time (21:23), trailing only Boston’s Brandon Carlo (21:31) and Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev (22:24).  More ice time is not necessarily a good thing, though.  The Flyers are just 9-8-4 when Provorov skates more than his game average, 13-9-2 when he logs less than his average.  He did not record a point and was plus-1 in his only career appearance against the Caps.

Washington:  Daniel Winnik

There are 13 players in the league this season who have appeared in 30 or more games, average less than 15 minutes per game, and have a plus-minus of plus-10 or better.  The Caps have two of those players – Jay Beagle (13:13 per game/plus-13) and Daniel Winnik (12:21 per game/plus-11).  Winnik has quietly put together a pretty good season for a player getting fourth line minutes.  His goal scoring pace (0.19 per game) is the best of his career, and he has a pair of game-winners among the six goals he has this season.  He has been extraordinarily efficient shooting the puck, his 15.8 percent shooting on 38 shots being the first and only time in his career he has been over ten percent shooting the puck.  And back to that plus-minus, Winnk has been a minus player only once (minus-1 against Toronto on January 3rd) in 32 games this season.  The Caps have yet to lose a game in regulation when he records a point (9-0-1).  He is 1-1-2, plus-3, in 15 career games against Philadelphia.

In the end…

A team giving up almost four goals per game over their last ten contests like the Flyers is going to get a handful in the Caps, who have outscored opponents by a 43-17 margin in 11 games since they lost in a Gimmick to the Flyers, 3-2, back on December 21st.  The Caps, who seem impervious to getting too high for games these days, do have the added incentive being able to jump over Columbus for the top spot in the league standings with a win (the Blue Jackets lost to Florida, 4-3, on Saturday night).  It does not mean all that much in January, but it is a useful marker on just how well the Caps have been playing of late as they look to extend the league’s longest active winning streak by one more game.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 42: Washington Capitals 6 - Chicago Blackhawks 0

If seven was heaven, then eight is great.  The Washington Capitals made it eight wins in a row on Friday night with a surprisingly easy 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center.  The loss ended a four-game winning streak on the part of the Blackhawks, while the Capitals extended the league’s longest active winning streak, five more than the three-game streak held by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Washington scored the game’s first two goals in bang-bang fashion in the seventh minute.  It started with a car wreck just inside the Chicago blue line that had several Caps and Blackhawks tumbling over one another.  Out of the commotion, Daniel Winnik picked up a loose puck at the far edge of the left wing faceoff circle and fed Jay Beagle filling in behind him.  From the top of the circle, Beagle let loose with a shot that squirted between goalie Corey Crawford’s pads at the 6:04 mark. 

Fans didn’t have time to settle back into their seats before the red light came on again.  Matt Niskanen started the rush with a cross-ice pass from his own blue line to Alex Ovechkin heading up the left side.  Ovechkin beat Jonathan Toews along the wall into the Chicago end and spied T.J. Oshie charging down the middle.  Ovechkin hit Oshie in stride, and Oshie relayed the puck across to Nicklas Backstrom on his right.  Backstrom found himself with all but an empty net at which to shoot, finding the back of the net at the 6:17 mark to make it 2-0.

Brett Connolly got his sixth of the season late in the first period.  Some hard work by Andre Burakovsky got the play started.  Carrying the puck to the Blackhawk blue line, he got position on Richard Panik to give him an opportunity to send it in deep.  With the puck eluding anyone’s control behind the net, Burakovsky followed up and hounded Tanner Kero into giving it up along the end wall.  It came out to Lars Eller who could not get a good whack at the bouncing puck.  He got enough of it to move it across to Connolly circling out from behind the net to Crawford’s right. Before any Blackhawk could get over to defend him, Connolly swept the puck behind Crawford, and it was 3-0, 17:49 into the period.

The score remained that way for most of the second period, but Tom Wilson added to the lead late in the frame.  Eller started the play by picking up a loose puck in the Washington end and skating it out and down the right side.  He fed it ahead to Nate Schmidt closing on the Chicago blue line.  Schmidt darted down the wall, slammed on the brakes, and even as he blew a tire and started to tumble to the ice, he snapped a pass to the front of the net where Wilson was arriving.  The puck was slowed ever so slightly by defenseman Brian Campbell, but not enough to keep it from getting to the blade of Wilson’s stick, and it’s next stop was the back of the net to make it 4-0, 17:01 into the second period.

Mid-way through the third, the Caps scored off a rush yet one more time.  It was Schmidt starting things by skating the puck out of the Washington end up the left wing.  Just before hitting the Chicago line, he fed Nicklas Backstrom in the middle.  Backstrom slid the puck across to T.J. Oshie on his right.  What Oshie intended from there wasn’t entirely clear.  He chipped at the puck in what looked like a half-pass, half-shot, but it deflected off defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and past Crawford’s glove to make it 5-0 at the 8:11 mark. 

Jay Beagle, who started the scoring, ended it for the Caps in the last 90 seconds when he puit back a John Carlson drive past Scott Darling, who had come in to relieve Corey Crawford after the Oshie goal.  It sne fans off into the night in a happy frame of mind on a 6-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- The six goals scored by the Caps was the most allowed to an opponent by the Blackhawks this season.  It was the fourth time this season that the Caps scored six or more goals, the first time against a Western Conference team (the others were against Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Toronto).  He has both of his two-goal  games this season and half of his goal total against Chicago.  And here is the oddest Beagle fact of all… In the three games in which he has points against Chicago, his scoring line is identical among them: 2-0-2, plus-2.

-- It was Jay Beagle’s fourth career multi-goal game.  The Caps moved to 29-1-5 in games in which he scored a goal in his career, 58-6-7 in games in which he recorded a point.

-- Beagle led the Caps with eight shots on goal, a career high.  He became the 15th Capitals to record eight or more shots on goal in a game since the 2004-2005 lockout (Alex Ovechkin has done it 122 times). 

-- Eleven different Caps recorded points, and with that, every Blackhawk finished in minus territory for the night.

-- Karl Alzner played in his 500th straight game and played a thoroughly Alzner type game.  He had one shot on goal, no points, one blocked shot, and finished a plus-4, tops on the team.

-- Nicklas Backstrom finished with a goal and an assist for his tenth multi-point game of the season and his third in a row.  He now has a five-game points streak in which he is 3-7-10, plus-7.

-- T.J. Oshie had his eighth multi-point game of the season (1-1-2) and extended his points streak to three games.  He is 4-6-10, plus-9, over his last seven games.

-- The Caps scored their first goal on their 13th shot attempt in barely six minutes of play (on their sixth shot on goal to go with six blocked shot attempts and one missed shot).  When Jay Beagle scored that first goal, the Caps out-attempted the Blackhawks, 13-3.

-- The Caps allowed the Blackhawks just two power play opportunities, the fewest allowed in a game since the Caps allowed the Philadelphia Flyers a pair of chances on December 21st.  It broke a string of ten straight games allowing opponents three or more power play chances.

-- The shutout continues quite a run for goalie Braden Holtby.  Over his last 13 appearances, he is 9-2-2 (one no-decision), 1.34, .950, with five shutouts.  In five games since he was pulled after 20 minutes against Toronto, he is 5-0-0, 0.60, .978, with three shutouts.

In the end…

The Capitals dominated early, late, and in-between.  How bad did they make it for the visitors?  It was the most lopsided loss suffered by the Blackhawks in more than five years  This was as complete a game the Capitals played this season. They won the shots on goal (34-24), the shot attempts (60-55), possession (52.38 percent at 5-on-5, according to Corsica.hockey), and of course, on the scoreboard.  The one thing they didn’t do was draw a penalty to get a power play chance, but the flip response to that was that the Blackhawks never really got close enough to a Capital with the puck often enough to commit an infraction.

That the Caps are putting this streak together against the quality of competition they have faced suggests it is the best hockey the club has played since perhaps the 2009-2010 season, if not longer.  These things don’t last forever, so enjoy it while it’s taking place.  And hope they can call on some of this in a few months.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 42: Blackhawks at Capitals, January 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their thrilling and historic 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals get right back to work on Friday night as they host the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center.  The Capitals, already carrying a season-long seven-game winning streak, look to make it eight at the expense of the Blackhawks.  For their part, Chicago is bringing a four-game winning streak to Washington, all four of the wins earned in the friendly confines of United Center.

That four-game Blackhawk winning streak is one of those things in which where you stand depends on where you sit.  The four-game streak is the third this season for the Blackhawks of four or more games.  On the other hand, of the four wins, three of them were of the one-goal variety, two of them won in overtime.  None of them were earned against a team currently eligible for the postseason (Buffalo, Carolina, Nashville, and Detroit).

Perhaps predictably, Patrick Kane is the top point-getter in the Blackhawks’ four game winning streak (1-7-8, plus-3).  It is hardly a new role for the ten-year veteran.  Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only three players have more points – Alex Ovechkin (803), Sidney Crosby (761), and Evgeni Malkin (719) – than Kane (708).  Over the last five years, including this one to date, only Crosby (374) has more points than Kane (339).  He has made those points count, especially when he records multi-point games.  Chicago is 24-4-2 when Kane records at least one point, 9-1-0 when he records at least two.  His performance on the road is a bit more mixed this season, though.  In 19 road games, Kane is 5-10-15, minus-7, and he is a plus player in only two of those 19 games.  He is 3-4-7, minus-8, in 11 career games against Washington. 

Chicago has two of the five oldest defensemen in the NHL to have dressed this season in Michal Rozsival (38 years old/3rd oldest) and Brian Campbell (37 years old/5th oldest).  Rozsival has been a healthy scratch much of the season, appearing in only 12 of Chicago’s 44 games so far.  On the other hand, Campbell has been in the lineup night in and night out (42 of 44 games).  Now in his 17th NHL season, Campbell ranks third among active defensemen in career games played (1,044), trailing only Zdeno Chara (1,313) and Nick Schultz (1,053). The odd part about his longevity is that his durability improved with age.  Campbell completed five consecutive seasons appearing in every regular season game through last season.  Oddly enough, the streak (which reached 423 consecutive games played) ended with a healthy scratch against the Nashville Predators on December 29th, one of two games he missed this season.  His numbers and ice time have dropped over the last several years, from 52 points and almost 27 minutes per game with Florida in 2011-2012 to 12 points so far in 42 games and an average of 18:45 in ice time per game this season with Chicago.  In 44 career games against Washington, Campbell is 5-18-23, minus-16.

Corey Crawford probably does not get enough credit for the job he does as the number one goaltender for the Blackhawks.  He is rarely included in the discussion of the league’s elite goalies, but there he is, just about where he always is – tied for 12th in wins (16), 14th in goals against average (2.35), 8th in save percentage (.925), and tied for 11th in shutouts with two (minimum: 1,000 total minutes played).  Not “elite,” perhaps, but certainly a solid and consistent performer.  And, there are those two Stanley Cups over a four-year period on his resume.  Only five goalies over the last four seasons, including this one, have more wins than Crawford (198), and all of them have appeared in more games.  He has been amazingly consistent over his last eight games, allowing no fewer than two and no more than three goals in any of them, posting a record of 5-2-1, 2.64, .918.  In eight career appearances against the Caps, Crawford is 3-3-2, 3.26, .890.


1.  Chicago is the only team in the Western Conference having two players with more than 40 points.  Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin each have 44.

2.  Only the Los Angeles Kings have scored more goals in overtime (eight) than the Blackhawks (seven).

3.  Chicago leads the league in one-goal victories (17).  Including extra time games, they have also lost 11 one-goal games.

4.  Only two teams in the league have a larger positive special teams time differential (power play time minus penalty killing time) than Chicago (+34:58) – San Jose (+45:29) and Philadelphia (+38:54).

5.  Some folks might be surprised that the Blackhawks rank as low as they do in shot attempt shares at 5-on-5, but they rank 14th overall in Corsi-for at fives (50.33 percent). 13th in road games (50.57 percent), and 20th adjusted for score, zone, and venue (49.31 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  The Caps have allowed just one shorthanded goal this season.  Only Columbus and Buffalo have allowed none.

2.  Only two teams – St. Louis (92) and Calgary (77) have been shorthanded more often on home ice than the Capitals (76).

3.  You can probably bet there won’t be a fight in this game.  Only three teams have fewer fighting majors than the Caps (five).  Chicago is one of three teams tied for fewest with four.

4.  If Nate Schmidt and Brooks Orpik were to record a point, it would give the Caps 14 players in double digits in points.  Last season the club had a total of 16 players with at least ten points.

5.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have spent a lot of their respective careers together on the ice, but here is an odd illustration of it.  Both are averaging 18:21 in total ice time per game.  And, they are separated by just one second per game in ice time, Ovechkin with 14:26, Backstrom with 14:25.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Ryan Hartman

If Caps fans were to name a Chicago Blackhawk, they might immediately respond with a Patrick Kane or a Jonathan Toews.  Maybe even a Duncan Keith.  Prompt them with “Ryan Hartman,” and they might respond, “who?”  Well, listen up.  In the Blackhawks' four-game winning streak, Hartman leads the team in goals (four), and he is tied for fifth on the club in goal scoring this season (10).  Taken with the last pick of the first round in the 2013 entry draft by the Blackhawks, Hartman did show some goal scoring potential in juniors (48 goals in 108 games over two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers) and in the AHL (28 goals in 130 games over two seasons with the Rockford iceHogs).  The ten goals in 39 games this season from the only native of South Carolina to reach the NHL might be a bit of a surprise, though.  He had his first NHL hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators last Sunday, and he has five points in his last two games.  He has no points in one career game against the Capitals.

Washington: Tom Wilson

When Steve Oleksy nearly took out not one, but two Capitals (Dmitry Orlov and Marcus Johansson) with knee-to-knee hits in Wednesday night’s 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, one might have expected to see Tom Wilson on the ice to take a pound of flesh for those potentially dangerous plays.  In previous years, one might have counted on it.  This year, Wilson is not the marauder across the landscape of previous years.  He still leads the Caps in penalty minutes with 38, but he is on a pace to finish the season with a total (76) that is less than half what he posted last season (163).  And, he has just four fighting majors this season, continuing a downward trend from his rookie season in 2013-2014, when he had 14 fighting majors, through last season, when he had just seven.  It speaks to a growing maturity in Wilson, who appears more inclined to pick his spots to be ornery, and who (perhaps with more than gentle prodding from the coaching staff) is learning that time spent in the penalty box is not productive, especially when you’re the only one heading off. 

Wilson seems to have taken this rambunctious energy and used it to become an effective part of the regular rotation of penalty killers – he ranks third among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:22).  What he is still searching for is some consistency in his offensive game.  With two goals and two assists at the half-way mark of the season, he is on a scoring pace (4-4-8) that lags well behind his scoring last season (7-16-23 in 82 games).  He does not have a point in his last five games, and he does not have a goal in his last 14 contests.  Wilson does not have a point in seven career games against Chicago.

In the end…

The Caps are in a particularly rough portion of their schedule.  Over their last six games they played Ottawa twice, Toronto, Columbus, Montreal, and Pittsburgh.  That is a group that has a combined record at the moment of 119-54-27, and only Toronto is not a playoff-eligible among them.  It is no small thing that the Caps won all six games against those teams as part of a seven-game winning streak.

And now, they get the Western Conference leading Blackhawks on a bit of a roll, a team with a very respectable road record (10-8-1), but one that has not been on the road for a bit (the lost to the Blues in St. Louis, 4-1, on January 2nd).

It is a lot to expect the Caps to keep dialing up superior performances against this level of competition over a long stretch, but that is just what the club has done.  Chicago poses something of a unique challenge.  Washington will come into this game having won four straight meetings against the Blackhawks and seven of the last nine contests.  Few teams can say that over the past few years.  Such things do not seem to faze the club these days, though, so why not bet the streak?

Capitals 3 – Blackhawks 2



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 41: Penguins at Capitals, January 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Two of the hottest teams in the league – well, the league’s two hottest teams – renew an old and bitter rivalry on Wednesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Verizon Center to meet the Washington Capitals.  Pittsburgh will bring the league’s second-longest active winning streak to the contest – five games, trailing only the Caps, who have wins in their last six contests and points in their last seven.

As you might expect, Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins in both goals and total points in the five-game streak (3-4-7).  In one of the odd circumstances of his season so far, his league-leading 26 goals in 33 games is a 65-goal pace per 82 games (the number of goals Alex Ovechkin scored for a career-best in 2007-2008 in one of those Kennedy-Lincoln/Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences, in a manner of speaking).  Crosby has also shown a certain “Ovechkinian” consistency in his goal scoring, too.  He played his first 23 games this season without suffering consecutive games without a goal, and his season high streak without one is three games, a number he could tie if the Caps can keep him from finding the back of the net on Wednesday night.  Crosby is 19-36-55, plus-1, in 39 career games against the Caps.

Defenseman Kris Letang has points in seven of his last nine games (1-9-10).  Trouble for the Penguins is that he has only played in nine games since December 1st, missing seven games with a lower body injury.  It is his second bout with injuries this season, having missed five games to an upper body injury in late October.  And now, he is listed as "day-to-day" with what appears to be the flu.  His availability will be a game-time decision.  It is not as if the Penguins have suffered much in his absence, though.  The Penguins are 18-6-3 with Letang in the lineup; 8-2-2 when he is out of the lineup.  What might be of some concern to the club is the dropoff in his goal scoring from the blue line.  After posting double-digit goal totals or on a pace to do so (as in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) in each of the last five seasons, he is on a pace to finish with eight goals this season.  He has one goal in his last 15 games.  Letang is 4-9-13, minus-15, in 29 career games against Washington.

With Matt Murray injured and in “day-to-day” status (he has not played since December 28th), the goaltending duties are squarely on the shoulders of Marc-Andre Fleury again.  He is riding a personal five-game winning streak into this contest with a 1.84 goals against average and a save percentage of .941.  He has been streaky this season, though.  Over his last 19 games, Fleury has a three-game winning streak followed by a six-game losing streak, then another three-game winning streak followed by a two-game losing streak before embarking on his current winning streak.  One thing that hasn’t been streaky, at least not in a good way for the Penguins, is his road record.  He is 2-3-3, 3.83, .886 in ten road appearances this season.  Against the Caps, Fleury has a career record of 20-11-2, 2.56, .914, with three shutouts in 35 appearances.


1.  Pittsburgh it taking a page from the Caps’ 2015-2016 notebook.  They have yet to lose consecutive games in regulation time this season.  Last season the Caps went the entire 82-game schedule without losing consecutive games in regulation. 

2.  Over their last 11 games, Penguin penalty killers are 31-for-34 in killing penalties (91.2 percent).

3.  Pittsburgh will pose a special challenge to the league’s top scoring defense.  The Penguins are averaging 4.38 goals per game over their last 16 contests and have scored more than five goals five times.

4.  Who scores first hardly seems to matter to the Pens.  When scoring first, they are 13-4-3 (.650 winning percentage).  When opponents score first, they are 13-4-2 (.684 winning percentage).

5.  For their sterling record, the Penguins are not an especially dominant possession team.  Overall, they rank tenth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.40 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), but they do seem to tighten up when on the road (52.50 percent/4th).

1.  On Thanksgiving, the Metropolitan Division standings looked like this:


After Monday’s games, the standings looked like this:


The records of the teams between Thanksgiving and Tuesday morning looked like this (ranked in order of points earned):


The Caps, playing at a slightly better pace (121 points) than they played over 82 games last season (120 points), lost ground to Columbus and barely tread water against Pittsburgh and the Rangers.  Is the Metro bonkers, or what?  You could have a Stanley Cup final four of these teams, at least the way they’ve played over the last six weeks, and not be cheated in terms of worthiness or talent.

2.  In the six-game winning streak, the Caps have outscored opponents by a 20-9 margin, are 2-for-14 on power plays (14.3 percent), and are 28-for-31 killing penalties (91.2 percent).  That minus-17 differential in power plays-to-shorthanded situations is a problem.

3.  The Caps are tied for first in the league in wins when outshooting their opponents (18, with Pittsburgh).  Both teams also happen to have seven wins and four losses in regulation when out-shot by opponents.

4.  For all the shorthanded situations faced, the Caps still have the sixth-fewest penalty minutes per game in the league (8:37), largely a product of there being only two teams having taken more major penalties than the Caps’ five such infractions (Chicago and Carolina with four apiece).

5.  Odd fact…only one team in the league (Colorado) has skated fewer 5-on-5 minutes than the Caps this season (1,800; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz

Time doesn’t wait for anyone, and it doesn’t seem to be inclined to wait much longer for the end of Chris Kunitz’ career.  After scoring a career-high of 35 goals in 2013-2014 (nine more than his next highest season and only 30-plus goal campaign), the 37-year old veteran of 13 seasons and almost a thousand regular and post-season NHL games has a total of 38 goals in 187 games since.  Once a very efficient shooter (he had only one season in his first nine full seasons below 10 percent shooting and that, in in 2009-2010, was 9.9 percent), he is down to 10.0 percent in his last two-plus seasons and currently at a career-low (for a full NHL seasons) 6.7 percent.  He has shown signs of life recently, recording goals in two of his last three games.  On the other hand, he hasn’t scored a goal on the road in more than two months (in a 5-0 win over the Sharks in San Jose on November 5th, his only road goal this season).  Kunitz is 10-8-18, plus-7, in 31 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson’s mystery season continues.  It is not his worst scoring season, but it has so far interrupted the incremental progress he made in goal scoring and points on a per-game basis over the previous six seasons.  He is not having his worst plus-minus season, but it is a drop-off (plus-7) from what he posted last year (plus-16 in just 56 games).  It is not his worst possession season, but he is under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.45) after a pair of seasons over 50 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).  He is not logging an inordinate amount of ice time, his 23:23 in average ice time exceeded by last year’s average (23:42) and that of 2013-2014 (24:31), and is about one shift per game more than his career average (22:47).

But something seems, well…off with Carlson.  Perhaps it is his suffering in comparison to Mike Green as a power play quarterback, at least in fans’ eyes.  Perhaps it is unfortunate timing, his being on ice for critical goals (the Caps are 4-6-2 when he records a “minus” game).  Perhaps it is a lingering hangover (or injury) from his World Cup participation.  His ice time has been reined in a bit; he has had more than 24 minutes only twice in his last ten contests.  But that ice time does seem to matter somewhat, if only coincidentally.  The Caps are 12-3-1 in games in which he skated 23 minutes or less; 14-6-4 in games in which he skated more than 23 minutes.  In two games against the Penguins this season he skated more than 24 minutes in each, the Caps winning one and dropping the other in a Gimmick.  Go figure.  Carlson is 4-8-12, plus-7, in 26 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

When the Penguins take the ice on Wednesday night, they will have played one game of hockey over the first ten days of January (a 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Sunday).  Rest or rust?  No matter.  The Caps need to jump on this team early, just as they did with a three-goal first period on their way to a 7-1 victory over the Penguins on November 16th.  And as for that five-game winning streak the Penguins are bringing into this game, they beat New Jersey in both ends of a home-and-home, Carolina, Montreal (in overtime), and Tampa Bay, Montreal the only one of those teams currently playoff-eligible.  They haven’t beaten a playoff-eligible club on the road since before Thanksgiving, when they beat the New York Rangers, 6-1, at Madison Square Garden on November 23rd.

The difficulty for the Caps, as it always is against this team in particular, is that they don’t know the difference between embracing the moment and getting lost in it.  Add in the attention being paid to Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of his 1,000th NHL point in front of a national television audience, and being able to distinguish between the two and playing appropriately matters even more.  Lately, the Caps are a team that plays with focus and resolve, going 13-2-3 since they lost to the New York Islanders, 3-0, back on December 1st, the last time the Caps lost a game by more than one goal.  This could be a nail biter of a game.  Then again, it might not.  We’ll go with the latter.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2


A TWO-Point Night -- Game 40: Washington Capitals 4 - Montreal Canadiens 1

The Washington Capitals went to Montreal with the mission of extending their winning streak to six games, tying their longest of the season.  Mission: accomplished.  The Caps scored three third period goals to break a 1-1 tie and defeat the Canadiens, 4-1, on Monday night at Bell Centre.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring mid-way through the first period.  He started the play by digging out a loose puck in the corner to the right of goalie Carey Price and sliding it out to Alex Ovechkin at the left point.  Ovechkin leaned into a shot that Price stopped.  The rebound leaked out into the top of the crease where Backstrom was arriving.  He took the puck on his backhand and wrapped it around Price’s left pad to make it 1-0, 11:03 into the period.

That was where the score stood until the third period when the Canadiens tied the game on a power play, Tomas Plekanec solving the chaos in front of goalie Braden Holtby to stuff in a loose puck at 7:18 of the period.

Less than a minute later, the Caps had the lead for good on a sparkling play by Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Working his way around Max Pacioretty to collect a loose puck just outside the Montreal blue line, he then dangled around defenseman Jeff Petry to break in on Price.  He lifted a shot past Price’s blocker, and the Caps had a 2-1 lead 8:12 into the third period.

Brett Connolly increased the lead less than three minutes later.  Carey Price was a bit too lackadaisical in leaving the puck for Petry at the goal line to his right.  It was just the opportunity Kuznetsov took advantage of, darting in front of Petry to collect the puck and circle around the Canadiens’ net.  Coming out the other side, he spied Connolly coming into the offensive zone.  Connolly took Kuznetsov’s pass and snapped a shot past Price to make it 3-1 at the 11-minute mark.

The Caps closed the scoring late in the third on a power play.  NIcklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson exchanged passes on the right side before Backstrom stepped out and sent a pass across to Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle.  Ovechkin settled the puck and in one motion snapped a shot that snuck through and eluded Price’s glove on the far side to give the Caps a 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The win allowed the Caps to jump over the New York Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division and tie the Pittsburgh Penguins in points (57).  Metropolitan Division teams now occupy the top four spots in the Eastern Conference standings.

-- Alex Ovechkin had a three point night (1-2-3) to bring him to within one point of 1,000 for his career.  It was Ovechkin’s first two-assist game of the season.  His goal was the 544th of his career, lifting him into a tie with the legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard for 29th place all-time in NHL goal scoring.  Next in Ovechkin’s sights in the all-time rankings is Michel Goulet with 548 goals.

-- Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had two-point games.  For Backstrom it was his eighth multi-point game of the season, tying Marcus Johansson for the team lead.  It was Kuznetsov’s seventh such game.

-- Liam O’Brien saw his first action of the season after his recent call-up from Hershey.  He skated eight shifts and was the only Capital without a shot on goal (he did not have a shot attempt in 6:08 of ice time).

-- Brett Connolly’s fifth goal of the season came in another win.  That’s 5-for-5 for Connolly in terms of goals and wins, and the Caps are 19-5-2 with him in the lineup.

-- The Caps enjoyed a 39-23 edge in shots on goal, their biggest shot differential on the road this season.

-- Karl Alzner had a good night in the underlying numbers, finishing a team-best plus-3 and blocking six of the 24 shots the Caps blocked on the evening.

-- The Caps were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, extending their recent run of success to 56-for-59 in their last 14 games (94.9 percent).

-- Braden Holtby’s shutout streak ended at 167:18 when Tomas Plekanec scored in the third period.  Nevertheless, he is 5-0-1, 1.11, .957, with two shutouts in his last six games.

-- The Caps enjoyed a 68-62 overall shot attempt advantage over Montreal, 56-47 at 5-on-5 (CF% of 54.37 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

In the end…

Even with T.J. Oshie out with an injury, the Caps kept humming along in one of the less friendly venues for road teams in the NHL.  If anything, the Caps got stronger as the game went on, dominating the shot attempts from the 30-minute mark on.  If there was a dark spot in that regard, it was that the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson, along with the defensive pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, were all under 50 percent CF at fives, the only Caps to do so.

Nevertheless, the Caps took advantage of a depleted team and abused goalie Carey Price far more than they did in their previous meeting, when the Caps managed only 21 shots in a 2-1 loss.  The four goals allowed by Price tied his season high, while the 39 shots the Caps fired at him was the fourth-highest total he has faced (it might be worth noting that in the three games with higher shot totals, Price was 2-0-1). 

It was a good start to the week, but now things get harder with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town on Thursday night.  It will present an opportunity – two in fact.  Alex Ovechkin could reach the 1,000 point mark in his career, and more important, the Caps could jump over the Penguins into second place in the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets the only team remaining between them and the best record in the league. 


Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 40: Capitals at Canadiens, January 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals reach Game 40 of their regular season on Monday night when they visit Montreal to face the Canadiens at Bell Centre.  The Caps will be looking to extend their current winning streak to a season-tying high of six games, while the Habs will be trying to win their fourth straight game extend their points streak to seven straight games.

Both teams have been experiencing one-goal decisions with frequency in recent games.  The Caps have had eight such decisions in their last 11 games (going 4-2-2, one of the losses a 2-1 decision at the hands of Montreal on December 17th), while the Canadiens had five straight extra-time decisions and six straight one-goal games before taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-3, on Saturday night.

Montreal comes into this game a team crippled by injuries.  Six players are currently on injured reserve who account for 27 of the team’s 123 goals scored so far this season (22.0 percent).   And, the absences have been spread around the roster - defensemen Greg Pateryn and Andrei Markov; forwards Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, and Brendan Gallagher are, for the moment, on the shelf. 

That has placed a premium on defense and goaltending, and that means the focus, even more than usual, is on goaltender Carey Price.  He certainly seems up to the challenge.  His 2.06 goals against average matches that which he had last year, although he was limited by injury to just 12 games last season.  His save percentage is at .930, to date his third straight season with a save percentage of .930 or better.  Of 58 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes over the past three seasons, Price leads all of them in goals against average (2.00) and save percentage (.933).  He ranks fourth in shutouts (13), but his shutouts per games played (0.12) is well clear of every other goalie in the group.  He has been un-“Price”-like lately, though.  In his last five games, he is 2-1-2, 2.94, .904.  Price is 6-9-4, 2.97, .900, with one shutout in 19 career appearances against the Caps.

One Canadien doing his best to cope with the injury plague is Max Pacioretty.  Montreal’s leading scorer at the moment (19-15-34) is one of three players to record a five-point game this season, recording four goals and an assist in a 10-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on December 10th.  His four goal effort in that game is one of just two such games this season (Toronto’s Auston Matthews has the other in what was his first NHL game back on October 12th).  Pacioretty has been quite productive of late.  Since December 4th, he is 14-5-19, plus-2, in 16 games and has points in eight of his last ten contests.  In 24 career games against the Caps, he is 2-9-11, minus-2.

So, how’s that trade looking?  That would be the trade of defensemen the Canadiens and Nashville Predators pulled off to send P.K. Subban to Nashville and bring Shea Weber to Montreal.  At the moment, Weber has the superior numbers, ranking second among league defensemen in goals (10), fifth in total points (26), and tied for seventh in plus-minus (plus-17), while Subban is 7-10-17, minus-11.  Weber has the distinction of being the only Canadien defenseman to appear in all 40 games this season, another indicator of how the impact of injuries is running through the team.  He comes into this game on a four-game points streak (1-5-6) and points in six of his last eight contests.  Weber is 3-7-10, plus-2, in 13 career games against the Capitals.


1.  The injuries seem to be a recent phenomenon for the Canadiens.  According to mangameslost.com, Montreal has lost 118 man-games through Saturday’s contests, 13th most in the league.

2.  The three-game winning streak the Canadiens bring into this game is their longest such streak in almost two months, when they had a four-game streak from November 5th through November 12th.   That they are still 25-9-6 is largely a product of their 13-1-1 start to the season.  They are 12-8-5 since.

3.  First intermissions matter to the Canadiens, at least when they trail.  The have just one win this season when trailing after 20 minutes and have the fourth-worst winning percentage (.111/1-6-2).

4.  This game is not likely to be a blowout, but if it is, it might not end well for the Caps.  Montreal is tied with Minnesota for the league’s best winning percentage in decisions of three or more goals (.900/9-1).

5.  Montreal is one of the league’s best possession teams.  They are third in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (52.58 percent), fourth in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone and venue (53.09 percent), and third in Corsi-for at fives at home (53.13 percent; numbers form Corsica.hockey).

1.  The Caps have allowed two or fewer goals in five of their last six and six of their last eight games.  They have three shutouts in that eight-game span, all of them authored by Braden Holtby.

2.  At the other end, the Caps have 20 goals in their last five games, their most prolific five-game stretch of the season.

3.  If you are looking for a comparison to Montreal in man-games lost this season, mangameslost.com indicates that the Caps have lost just ten man games lost this season.  That will increase for as long as T.J. Oshie is out with his “upper body” injury.

4.  The Caps have the second-best record in the league in one-goal decisions (20-3-3/.769), trailing only the Columbus Blue Jackets (21-3-3).

5.  The Caps take a pretty good possession record on the road. They are sixth overall in Corsi-for at fives in road games (51.86 percent) and are second in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone, and venue (54.74; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Alexander Radulov

It took a while, but perhaps at the age of 30, Alexander Radulov has finally found his place in the scheme of things in the NHL.  Once upon a time, he was a 15th overall draft pick of the Nashville Predators (2004), and when he posted 26 goals and 58 points in his sophomore season in 2007-2008, big things were expected of him.  However, in the summer of 2008 he signed a three-year contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL, despite his having time remaining on his contract with the Predators.  It made for a contentious summer between player and NHL club, eventually resulting in Radulov’s suspension without pay by the Predators.  Radulov went on to play four years in the KHL before returning to Nashville for the end of the 2011-2012 seaosn.  It didn’t go well before it got worse.  Radulov went 3-4-7, plus-3, in nine regular season games, but it was what he did off the ice that threw sand in the gears of his career.  He and a teammate were seen at a bar in Arizona in the early morning hours before a playoff game against the Coyotes.  For the Predators, it was enough.  He (and the teammate) were suspended, and the club declined to extend Radulov a contract offer.

Radulov returned to the KHL to play for CSKA Moscow on a four-year deal.  One might have thought that his NHL days were at an end.  But last summer, he signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens.   Montreal would seem to have few regrets.  Radulov is second on the club in total scoring (31 points) and is one of four players with ten or more goals.  He is second on the club in power play points (10), and he has appeared in 38 games, no mean feat on a club that seems to be losing players on almost a daily basis.  He does not have a point and is minus-2 in two career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Jay Beagle

If the Washington Capitals have taken over the mantle from the New York Islanders of having “The Best Fourth Line in Hockey,” it is due in no small part to Jay Beagle. Through 39 games this season, Beagle, who has a scoring line of 6-9-15, plus-11, is well on his way to having a career year.  He is on a pace to finish with 13 goals (his career high is ten, in 2014-2015), 19 assists (his career high is ten, also set in 2014-2015), 31 points (he had 20 in 2014-2015), and a plus-23 (he was plus-6 in 2014-2015).  He has always been something of a good luck charm, and that trend continues this season.  The Caps are 5-0-0 in games in which Beagle has a goal and are 11-1-1 in games in which he has a point.  That ups the overall record to 28-1-5 in games in which Beagle recorded a goal in his career and 57-6-7 in games in which he recorded a point.  And, he is the go-to player when it comes to taking draws.  He is fourth among all players in winning percentage among those with at least 400 faceoffs taken (59.2 percent), and he has been under 50 percent on draws in only six of 39 games this season.  Beagle is 4-1-5, plus-2, in 17 career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The quirky bit of trivia surrounding this game is that if the Caps win, they will leapfrog Montreal in the standings, and the top four spots in the Eastern Conference standings will be held by Metropolitan Division teams.  Given that the Metro went 3-1 in Sunday night’s games (the only loss by Philadelphia to division rival Columbus), winning means keeping up.  This promises to be a close, low-scoring game.  That has been the recent history of this series.  Of the last seven contests played between the clubs, six were one-goal decisions, three of those settled in extra time, two in the Gimmick.  The Caps are 3-2-2 against the Habs in those seven games.  Twice, the winner scored just one goal in regulation (Montreal won a 2-1 game in a shootout and a 1-0 game in overtime).  Yes, this should be close and low scoring.

Capitals 2 – Canadiens 1