Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, March 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

More than 150 years ago, America went through a bit of nastiness that is often referred to in places below the Mason-Dixon Line as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It seems fitting that a hockey team representing a city in which many of the “blue jackets” worn by the northern aggressors were manufactured should be invading Verizon Center on Thursday night in what will be a pivotal battle in the war to finish atop the Metropolitan Division standings and perhaps in the war to capture the Presidents Trophy as the team that finishes at the top of the NHL league standings for the season.

And so it is that the Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Washington Capitals on Thursday night in what could be a game that will leave one or the other on top of the division and league standings at the final horn. Columbus will have played the previous night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a win in that game would tie them with the Caps in standings points going into the Thursday night matchup (edit: Columbus was defeated by the Maple Leafs, 5-2).

The Blue Jackets are the team that just won’t go away. One might have written off their 16-game winning streak that ended in Washington on January 5th as one of those things that happens, that the team would then fall back to earth. But Columbus is 20-13-2 since their big winning streak (still a 98-point pace). They come into this game winners of seven of their last eight games and have not lost consecutive games in six weeks (an overtime loss to Pittsburgh and a loss to New Jersey on February 3rd and 4th).

Over those 35 games since their big winning streak, the Blue Jackets have taken a collegial approach to scoring. Five players – Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and Alexander Wennberg – all have 20 or more points in that span. Three – Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Boone Jenner – have ten or more goals.

Cam Atkinson, the only player who shows up on both lists, is the team’s leading goal scorer over the last 35 games with 15. Three of them are game-winners, two of them in overtime. It is part of what has become a career year all around for the six-year veteran. Atkinson already has career highs in goals (33), assists (27), and points (60); and he is at the moment a career-best plus 14. His ten power play goals on the season almost equal his total in 159 games over the preceding two seasons (11). His 15.6 shooting percentage is another career high at the moment, and he is averaging more ice time than in any of his previous five seasons (18:10). He is that rare player who has been more dangerous on the road than at home, at least when it comes to goal scoring. Of his 33 goals this season, 19 have come on the road (in 35 games) to 14 at home (in 36 contests). Atkinson is 8-5-13, plus-3, in 16 career games against Washington.

Brandon Dubinsky, who hardly needs an introduction to Caps fans from his years with the New York Rangers, leads the team in points over this 35-game stretch (8-15-23). It has been quite a change from his first 34 games of the season, over which he was just 3-12-15. Long known as an ornery player with a talent for getting under the skin of more talented players, Dubinsky seems to be returning to those roots. He is on a pace to finish with more penalty minutes than he has had in any of the last two seasons, and with a big night or two could finish with his first 100-minute season of penalties since 2011-2012 (110 in 77 games with the Rangers). When Dubinsky does get on the score sheet he, like good secondary scorers, makes it count. Columbus is 25-3-3 in games in which he recorded a point so far this season. He is also equally efficient on the road as at home, going 6-13-19 in 34 road games and 5-14-19 in 35 home games. Dubinsky is 6-13-19, plus-2 in 32 career games against the Caps.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has come back to earth…well, closer to earth…since he went 15-0-1, 1.68, .939 from November 25th through January 3rd. Starting with his loss to the Caps on January 5th, he is 14-8-2, 2.20, .927 with three shutouts in 24 games. It is not bad, by any means, but that GAA is 10th among 50 goalies playing at least 500 minutes in that span, and his save percentage is sixth. Those numbers are more in line with his season numbers on the road (16-5-4, 2.26, .920, three shutouts), which are quite different than those he has at home (23-8-0, 1.88, .939, three shutouts). He is on another lengthy success streak, going 9-1-1, 1.45, .954, with three shutouts in his last 11 appearances. Bobrovsky is 6-6-3, 3.16, .899 against the Caps in 16 career appearances.


1.  Since their 16-game winning streak ended, Columbus is 12th in the league in goal differential (plus-12), fourth-best among Eastern Conference teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, behind the Caps (plus-50), Pittsburgh (plus-28), and Boston (plus-17).

2.  One noticeable problem area for Columbus since the winning streak ended is their power play. During the streak, their 28.2 percent power play was second in the league (Calgary was 33.3 percent over that same period). Since then, it is just 12.9 percent, third worst in the league over that span.

3.  The Blue Jacket penalty kill, on the other hand, has actually improved since the streak. After going 79.6 percent in 16 straight wins (19th in the league during that period), Columbus is at 84.3 percent in the 35 games since (fourth).

4.  The before and after with respect to the end of the streak has one entirely expected component. During the streak the Blue Jackets shot 12.1 percent as a team, second-best in the league (Minnesota was 12.3 percent over the same period). Since the streak, Columbus is shooting 9.2 percent, 15th in the league over that span.

5.  Columbus is not an especially effective possession team at a high level. They rank just 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 this season (50.26 percent). But adjusted for score, zone and venue, they rank fifth overall (51.34 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  California looms large in the recent fortunes of the Caps, but if you hold that trip harmless as another in a long history of unproductive trips to California, the Caps aren’t doing badly. If you take that three-game road trip out of their last 11 games overall, the Caps are 6-2-0, averaging 2.88 goals per game, allowing 1.88 goals per game, and have a special teams index of a whopping 119.2 (26.9 percent power play, 92.3 percent penalty kill). Moral?...no more games in California.

2.  In those eight games, the Caps have had a dominating 268-214 edge in shots on goal overall (SF% of 55.6) and have recorded shots in three of their last five games not played in California (okay, all of them were at Verizon Center).

3.  The Caps have allowed opponents a single power play opportunity in each of their last three games.

4.  Washington is tied for the league lead in first period goals scored this season through Tuesday’s games (74)…with Columbus. The edge the Caps have is that they have allowed the fewest goals in the league in the first period (34), six fewer than the second-place team…Columbus.

5.  The Capitals have the third-best adjusted Corsi-for (score, zone, and venue) in the league at 52.66 percent, behind only Boston (55.07 percent) and Los Angeles (53.66 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

Since November 29th, when the Columbus Blue Jackets started their 16-game winning streak, Seth Jones is tied for tenth in the league among defensemen in scoring (7-26-33, the same scoring line as Kevin Shattenkirk it turns out). He is one of five defensemen over that span to record two overtime game-winning goals. Over those 51 games he is the team’s leader among defensemen in goals (seven), assists (26), points (33), and ice time (23:14 per game). He is the only Blue Jacket defenseman this season to average more than a minute per game on both the power play and the penalty kill. Jones, who was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 entry draft by the Nashville Predators, is fifth among all players taken in that draft in scoring (122 career points) and well ahead of the second leading scorer from that draft among defensemen (Rasmus Ristolainen with 109 points). Even though he has played just 106 games for Columbus in his career, he is tied for ninth in career goals by a defenseman (12, with Nikita Nikitin), 11th in assists (47), and 11th in points (59). Among Blue Jacket defensemen having played at least 100 games for the franchise, Jones ranks third in plus-minus (plus-7). He is 1-3-4, even, in six career games against the Caps.

Washington: Justin Williams

Although the Caps seem to be righting themselves after that sluggish return from the February break, one player seems to have been left behind a bit. In 16 games since returning from that break, Justin Williams is 2-5-7, minus-1. Those two goals are as many as Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik have (a pair of fourth liners), and as many as Jakub Vrana has (in just nine games). It is not that Williams has been gun-shy; he is averaging a little over two shots on goal per game. But he is shooting just 5.9 percent in those 16 games compared to 13.4 percent for the season. For the Caps, his production matters. Washington is 16-1-1 in games this season in which Williams scored a goal and have not lost any of the ten games on home ice in which he scored a goal. Williams is 9-13-22, plus-12, in 31 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

To continue the Civil War analogy, think of this game as the equivalent of the Second Battle of Manassas. In the First Battle of Manassas, early in the conflict, the Union thought the Confederates would be easy pickings. They were wrong, as the Confederates dominated the battle and sent the Union forces into a disorganized retreat. Columbus came to the First Battle of Verizon Center on a 16-game winning streak last January and was feeling pretty good about themselves. That ended smartly, the Caps posting a pair of first period goals and winning, going away, by a 5-0 margin to end the streak.

Given the way these teams have dominated first periods this season, the Second Battle of Verizon Center will be one to watch early. Which team do we think will dominate?   Well, at the Second Battle of Manassas, the Union didn’t fare any better than in the first battle. Back to the north where you came from, damn Yankees…

Capitals 5 – Blue Jackets 2


A TWO-Point Night -- Game 72: Washington Capitals 4 - Calgary Flames 2

It was a big night for the top line as the Washington Capitals defeated the Calgary Flames, 4-2, at Verizon Center. It was the second line that got the Caps off and running, though, early in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau was trying to weave his way through the neutral zone with the puck, but when he tried to spin away from Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky picked his pocket and headed the other way. Circling into the offensive end to his right, Burakovsky found Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net. Kuznetsov pulled the puck to his backhand and with goalie Brian Elliott faked to the ice, he flipped the puck into the open net 6:47 into the game to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Just over three minutes later, Calgary tied the game when Sean Monahan took a cross-ice feed from Gaudreau and snapped a shot past Braden Holtby’s right shoulder at the 10:06 mark. That would be how the teams went to the first intermission.

Late in the second period the Caps took the lead for good. Nicklas Backstrom took a feed from Dmitry Orlov at the right wing wall and circled out around the top of the right wing faceoff circle. He then threaded a pass through a maze of Flames to Alex Ovechkin low in the left wing circle. Ovechkin wasted no time getting the puck to the low slot where T.J. Oshie redirected it past Elliott, and it was 2-1, 15:51 into the period.

In the dying moments of the second period, the Caps struck again. With Dougie Hamilton in the penalty box on a tripping call, Kevin Shattenkirk launched a drive from the right point on the power play with ten seconds left in the period that Elliott blockered into the Olympia corner. Alex Ovechkin collected the puck and whipped it in front. The puck caromed out to Shattenkirk, who stepped up and fired a shot that trickled through Elliott and crawled over the goal line with 2.9 seconds left in the period to make it 3-1.

Calgary got back to within a goal late in the third period, courtesy of former Cap Troy Brouwer, who cut to the net on a Flames rush and converted a nice Deryk Engelland pass through the legs of Holtby, making it 3-2 with 4:56 left in the contest.

The Caps sealed it on another power play less than two minutes later. Shattenkirk faked a one-timer off a feed from Nicklas Backstrom and slid the puck to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and fired a shot that beat Elliott on the far side at the 19:09 mark to give the Caps their final 4-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists, the third time in four games he had three or more helpers. He is now tied for the league lead in assists (57) with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and is fifth in overall scoring (78 points).

-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, giving him his fourth three-point game of the season and his fifth two-assist game.

-- T.J. Oshie’s goal was his 30th of the season, the first time in his nine-year career he hit the 30-goal mark.

-- Braden Holtby played in his 300th game as a Capital last night.  He became the 154th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 300-game mark and the second Capital to do it.  Olaf Kolzig played in 719 NHL games, 711 of them as a Capital.  Holby won his 186th game last night, tying Ron Tugnutt for 95th place in all-time wins among NHL goalies.  He is 21st among active goalies in wins, two behind Brian Elliott, the goalie he bested last night.

-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist last night, giving him points in both games since his return from injury.  He seems to be picking up where he left off.  With the assist last night he is 6-10-16, plus-15, in his last 16 games.

-- After a four-game slump without a point, Evgeny Kuznetsov might be warming up at the right time.  His goal makes him 2-1-3 in his last five games, and his three shots on goal against the Flames equaled his total over his preceding three games and was the most he had since he had three in the 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on March 9th.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk was credited with his first goal as a Capital.  We say that because on the replay, it sure looked as if Backstrom nudged the puck the last couple of inches before it crossed the goal line.  In any case, it was Shattenkirk’s first two-point game as a Capital, as he also recorded an assist.

-- Ovechkin had 11 shots on goal, the first time he did it since he recorded 15 shots on goal in a 1-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 10th, 2015.  It was the 23rd time in his career he recorded 11 of more shots in a game.  That total is more than the next seven players in the league have since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (22).

-- The Caps went 2-for-3 on the power play, the first time they recorded two power play goals in a game since they had a pair in three chances in a 5-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on February 7th.

-- The Caps won the battle of the underlying numbers, recording 55 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 49 for the Flames (52.88 percent Corsi-for) and a 35-25 advantage in shots on goal.  Still, the Flames held the Caps even in goals at two apiece (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

In the end…

This was the sort of game that could have bitten the Caps in the backside, playing against an opponent with whom they do not have a particularly intense rivalry and with a division rival in spitting distance in the standings coming to town on Thursday.  That they did not fall into that trap speaks well of their attention to detail, especially given the fact that the Flames were 13-1-1 in their previous 15 games coming into this one and had not lost a game in regulation on the road since dropping a 4-3 decision at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers on February 5th.  That’s all history now, though, as the Caps must prepare for the Columbus Blue Jackets, coming to town on Thursday. With two points separating three teams in the Metropolitan Division, there is barely time to take a breath before the next challenge presents itself.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 72: Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals, March 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Tuesday night trying to maintain their razor-thin edge at the top of the league standings when they host the resurgent Calgary Flames. The Flames, stuck at .500 as recently as January 24th (24-24-3) after a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, are 17-3-1 in their last 21 games. They have climbed from fourth in the Pacific Division and eighth in the Western Conference on January 24th to third in the Pacific Division, just one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for second place, and fifth in the Western Conference.

Since that loss to Montreal on January 24th, the Flames have the most standings points earned of any team in the league (35). They have built their 17-3-1 record since then on a stingy defense that allowed just 46 goals, their 2.19 goals allowed per game average being lowest in the league. And that stingy defense starts with goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the league in wins since January 24th (15), is second in goals against average (1.88 to Jake Allen’s 1.81 with St. Louis), and is third in save percentage (.935, behind Allen at .938 and Anaheim’s Jonathan Bernier at .936).

Elliott will be coming into this game on a roll that could only be explained in a way Caps fans would understand as “Holtbyesque.” He has won 11 straight decisions and is 12-0-1 in his last 13 appearances, over which he has a GAA of 1.67 and a save percentage of .942. Only twice in that span of 13 games has Elliott allowed more than two goals, five on 28 shots in a 6-5 win over the Nashville Predators on February 21st and three on 35 shots in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 13th. He does, as one might expect, have a weakness on the road this season, going 10-7-3, 2.82, .897, although he has won his last four road decisions, including a 3-0 whitewashing of the Winnipeg Jets in his last road game on March 11th. Elliott is 6-4-0, 3.24, .887 in 12 career appearances against the Caps, those GAA and save percentage numbers being his worst against any team in the NHL.

On the offensive side of the puck the Flames have not been quite as impressive at the team level (11th in goals scored since January 24th), but Johnny Gaudreau has. In the Flames’ 17-3-1 run since then, Gaudreau is 6-17-23, plus-14, leading the team in assists and points. Gaudreau, the smallest skater in the league to dress for a game this season (157 pounds, officially), has put together an impressive resume since being taken in the fourth round (104th overall) in the 2011 entry draft. IN that draft class, Gaudreau ranks ninth in goals (71, tied with Columbus’ Boone Jenner), seventh in assists (124, tied with Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau), and seventh in points (195). The odd part of his numbers this season is that his scoring line is precisely the same on the road as it is at home (8-18-26), although he has been slightly more productive on the road, where he has that scoring line in 29 games compared to 33 home contests. Gaudreau is 0-2-2, minus-2, in five career games against Washington.

Micheal Ferland is the answer to a trivia question. “In the Flames’ 17-3-1 run, who leads the team in goals?” Bet you would have gone a long while before coming up with “Micheal Ferland.” A fifth round draft pick of the Flames in 2010, Ferland is in his second full season and third overall with Calgary. His 14 goals and 21 points in 67 games are career highs. He has done it without getting a ton of ice time. Only three times in 67 games this season has he topped 15 minutes in ice time, and none of those times on the road. In fact, among 18 Calgary skaters appearing in at least 30 games this season, Ferland is averaging the least amount of ice time per game (11:20). What he has been is efficient with the time he has had, best among those 18 skaters in shooting percentage (15.1 percent). Ferland, who is listed a "day-to-day" with an illness, is 0-0-0, minus-3, in three career games against the Capitals.


1.  If there is one thing Calgary has not been particularly adept at in their 17-3-1 run, it is getting and converting power play opportunities. Okay, that’s two things, but the Flames have had just 54 power play opportunities since January 24th when they started this run (sixth fewest) and their 16.7 percent conversion rate ranks 21st.

2.  Their penalty killing has been better, but not extraordinary. Over those same last 21 games, the Flames killed 83.9 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced, sixth in the league in that span. Their skill has been in avoiding those situation. With 56 shorthanded situations in their last 21 games, they have had fewer than all but three teams since January 24th (Sane Jose (54), Chicago (54), and Edmonton (49).

3.  Calgary also has put that 17-3-1 record together without managing to put a lot of shots on goal. With 630 shots on goal in that span, they rank 29th (Detroit has 585 shots on goal).

4.  Calgary has had a certain scoring balance in their 17-3-1 run. Nine different players are in double digits in points; 17 different players have goals. They spread the ice time around, too. Only two forwards have averaged more than 20 minutes per game (T.J. Brodie with 23:47 and Mark Giordano with 23:26), while no forward has averaged that much (Gaudreau averaged 18:05).

5.  The Flames have been a middle of the road team in terms of possession on their long run of success. They rank 15th in SAT percentage over that span (50.30), although their SAT percentage in close situations is ranked much higher (sixth at 51.98; numbers from NHL.com).

1.  Nicklas Backstrom has been a monster at home, his point total (45) being head and shoulders above his teammates (Alex Ovechkin is next with 34 points).

2.  T.J. Oshie is another player who really likes home cooking. He has 16 goals on 58 shots, the 27.6 percent shooting percentage being best on the team at Verizon Center and best in the league in home shooting efficiency among players with at least 25 shots recorded on home ice.

3.  Washington has 28 wins on home ice and 15 different players with game winning goals. Alex Ovechkin leads with six.

4.  No player has taken more minor penalties on home ice this year than…Brett Connolly (thought I was going to say “Tom Wilson,” didn’t you?). He has taken 13 minors in 28 home games this season.

5.  The Caps are eighth in the league in SAT percentage at home this season (51.59) but just 11th in close situations (51.71).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Mark Giordano

Over the last five seasons, Mark Giordano is sixth in goals among defensemen (62), tied for eighth in game-winning goals (11, with Roman Josi, Duncan Keith, Dougie Hamilton, and Justin Faulk), tied for 18th in assists (138, with Shea Weber), and is tied for 12th among defensemen in total points (200, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan Suter). His 24:29 in average ice time in those five years ranks 12th among all defensemen. He keeps pretty good company. So why doesn’t he get more attention? Maybe it’s a Calgary thing. His numbers are a bit off this season (12-22-34 in 72 games versus 21-35-56 in 82 games last year), but in one respect they are not. His plus-23 is the best of his career and is tied for ninth in the league this season (with Dennis Seidenberg). He has had only two “minus” games in his last 21 contests. His scoring matters to Calgary’s success, the Flames going 9-1-1 in the 11 games in which he has goals this season and going 20-5-1 in 26 games in which he has a point. For this game, watch his ice time. In games in which he skated more than 25 minutes this season, the Flames are just 12-8-4. Giordano is 2-3-5, minus-2, in nine career games against Washington, the team against which he has the fewest appearances in his career (tied with nine games against Philadelphia).

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

Which Capital has the best plus-minus on home ice this season?  Which Capital defenseman leads the blueliners in goals scored on home ice?  Which defenseman leads the Capitals defense in penalty minutes at Verizon Center.  If you said “Dmitry Orlov” to all three, you win (okay, so he’s tied in goals on home ice with John Carlson).  Orlov is plas-21 in 36 home games, has five goals, and has been charged with 23 minutes in penalties.  In fact, Orlov is second among Capitals defensemen in goals scored at home since he came into the league in 2011-2012 (17, trailing John Carlson’s 33), and he has four game-winning goals, second only to Carlson’s seven in that span of seasons.  This season he has points in 14 home games in which the Caps are 13-1-0, and the Caps are 4-0-0 in home games in which he scored a goal.  Orlov is looking for his first point in his career against Calgary, going 0-0-0, plus-2, in four games overall against the Flames.

In the end…

This is pretty much a trap game for the Caps. One, they don’t play Calgary often enough to spin up a healthy hate. Two, it’s easy to overlook the Flames because of their recent history, missing the postseason in six of seven years entering this season. Third, the Columbus Blue Jackets are looming on the horizon, visiting Verizon Center on Thursday. If you look at their underlying numbers, you might conclude that the Flames have out-performed their production. Their possession numbers are uneven, as are their special teams, and their offense doesn’t generate much in the way of chances. What they have done is get excellent goaltending from Brian Ellott, the league’s third star for last week.  But Brian Elliott has not fared well against the Caps in his career, and unless the Caps do enough to beat themselves (not impossible; it is a trap game), he will not improve his numbers in this game.

Capitals 4 – Flames 2

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 23

Week 23 had it all, a sad end to a road trip, a solid win over a team they might meet down the road, a tough loss after giving up a lead, and finally a good win after a second straight game surrendering a lead.  For the Washington Capitals, it was a busy week indeed.


Record: 2-1-1

Week 23 was the eighth four-game week of the season for the Capitals and the sixth in which they posted a winning record.  When they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last game of the week, the Caps hit the 100-point mark for the tenth time in team history and for the third season in a row, the third time in franchise history that the Caps posted three consecutive 100-point seasons.  The closed the week with points earned in their last three games after opening the week with a 5-2 loss in Anaheim against the Ducks to close their annual California trip.  The three consecutive games with points was the first time the Caps did that since Games 62-64 to close February and open March.  When they beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, last Tuesday, it was their 45th win of the season, the 11th time in team history that the Caps hit that win mark.


Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.20 /game; rank: 3rd)

It was an uneven week in the offensive end with the Caps alternating poor outcomes and good ones.  On average it was a pretty good week, although still a bit below the season scoring average to date.  The Caps still finished the week as one of six teams averaging more than three goals per game, and they did finish the week with a pair of games with four or more goals after going six straight games with two or fewer.

T.J. Oshie led the Caps in goal scoring for the week, getting all of them in the 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to finish the week.  It was the second hat trick of the season for the Caps and the first on the road this season (Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick on November 23rd in a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues).  Oshie added an assist against the Lightning to make it five games this season in which a Capital recorded four or more points.  Oshie joined Nicklas Backstrom in having done it twice.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has the other instance. 

Backstrom had a three-assist game against Minnesota and a four-assist night against Tampa Bay on his way to an eight-point week (all assists).  He became the 11th player in the league to record four or more assists in a game this season and became just the second player in the league this season with four games with three or more assists (Tyler Seguin is the other).  John Carlson was the other multiple goal scorer for the Caps in Week 23 (two) and led the defense with four points.

The best news on offense might have been from a player who registered only a single point.  Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a hand injury, over which the Caps went just 7-6-2.  He had an assist and seven shots on goal in 15 minutes of ice time against the Lightning.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.17 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps had a good week holding down shot attempts.  In each of the four games they held their opponent to less than one shot attempt per 5-on-5 minute.  Overall they held the four opponents to 50.16 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  It helped hold the shots down, none of the four opponents managing to get as many as 25 shots on goal at 5-on-5, although two opponents did outshoot the Caps at fives.  It just so happened that those two opponents were Anaheim and Nashville, the sources of the losses this week.  As it is, this team is still in a position to record the lowest average shots allowed per game in franchise history since the 2004-2005 lockout.  This club is allowing 27.7 shots per game; the 2007-2008 squad allowed 27.5 shots per game.

Goaltending: 2.99 / .897 (season:  2.06 / .925 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby played all the minutes in goal in Week 23.  It was not an especially good one for him, and it is part of a longer run of sluggish play from Holtby.  In his last six appearances, he is 2-3-1, 3.51, .875.  This week, Holtby strugged at even strength with a save percentage of just .904, 18th among 26 goalies facing at least 50 even strength shots. 

It was a case of declining save percentages as games went on for Holtby.  His first period save percentage for the week was an excellent .947 (36-for-38).  That dropped to .909 in the second periods of games (40-for-44) and to .848 in the third period (28-for-33).  He allowed one goal on two shots faced in the overtime loss to Nashville. 

As it is, Holtby allowed more goals in his last six games (19) than he did over his previous 11 contests (18).  Still, the Caps remain the only team in the league with two goalies having faced at least 400 shots with a save percentage of .925 or better.  Both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have save percentages of .925 for the season.

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season:  21.4 percent; rank: 8th)

Consistency is a good thing, and the power play is no exception.  The Caps recorded three power play goals for the week, one in each game.  Now, if the opportunities were as consistent.  The Caps had five power play chances in each of the first two games of the week, at Anaheim and at home against Minnesota.  They were successful once in each game, John Carlson against the Ducks and Evgeny Kuznetsov against the Wild.

In the second half of the week, Washington was held to a total of three chances in two games, failing to connect on their only opportunity in their 2-1 overtime loss to Nashville and getting a pair of chances against Tampa Bay to close the week, T.J. Oshie finding the back of the net on the Caps’ first opportunity on Saturday night. 

Getting five chances in a game is a comparative rarity for the Caps this season, Week 23 seeing the 12th and 13th times this season the Caps had as many or more.  Getting volume such as that is no guarantee of success, though.  Washington is 7-4-2 in games this season in which they had five or more power play chances.  Their chances came with a fair amount of pressure, getting 22 shots on goal in 19:40 of power play time, but that included a failure to get any shots on goal in their 2:00 of power play time against the Predators.


Penalty Killing: 12-for-15 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.7 percent; rank: 8th)

A less-than-typical effort killing penalties held the Caps to barely 80 percent on the other side of special teams and only allowed them to break even on special teams goals for the week.  The seven shorthanded situations they faced against the Wild in the second game of the week was the second-most situations faced this season (they were shorthanded nine times in a 6-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve).  They were almost as frequent in shorthanded situations in the opening game of the week, skating five times a man short and once two men short, the Ducks converting just after their 5-on-3 power play expired.

The Caps did better in the second half of the week, facing a total of two power plays (one each) against Nashville and Tampa Bay, although they did allow the Lightning to convert on their only chance in the 5-3 Caps win.  For the week, the Caps allowed three goals on 21 shots in 20:16 of shorthanded ice time.  Not a poor week, but not a great one, either.


Faceoffs: 118-249 / 47.4 percent (season: 50.1 percent; rank: 13th)

It was not an especially good week in the faceoff circle.  The Caps were over 50 percent only against Tampa Bay, although that game was not without incident as a result of a lapse in one faceoff moment.  Jay Beagle lost a faceoff to Brayden Point with under two minutes left in a 4-2 game, and the draw went back to Nikita Kucherov, who slammed home a shot to make it 4-3. 

The Beagle lost draw late against the Lightning was part of a week in which the Caps were under 50 percent in the defensive end (40-86/46.5 percent).  They were equally weak in the neutral zone (30-68/44.1 percent), where they were under 50 percent in all four games.  Washington did manage to finish one over 50 percent in the offensive end (48-95/50.5 percent) but almost gave that up with a 7-for-21 performance in the offensive end against Nashville.

The big four – Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – were a combined under 50 percent in all three zones for the week and overall (46.1 percent).  Of the four, only Beagle finished the week over 50 percent (32-58/55.2 percent).

Goals by Period:


In a week with a total goal differential of even, the fact that the Caps were mostly that by period is no surprise.  Also no surprise, the Caps won the first periods overall by a 4-2 margin.  That made them plus-40 for the season in first period goal differential.  It would have been better but for an uncharacteristic two goals allowed – after taking a 2-0 lead, to boot – against Tampa Bay in the last game of the week.  Those two goals left the Caps with 33 goals allowed in the first periods of games this season, fewest in the league.

They held their own in the third period with five goals scored and five allowed to finish the week plus-30 in third period goal differential.   Those five goals allowed were a problem, the difference between finishing the week with the second-fewest number of third period goals allowed and finishing tied for fifth.

The second period continues to be a problem.  Washington finished just minus-1 for the week, but that is also where they are for the season.  Teams have been able to erode first period advantages for the Caps in the middle period, a matter that needs to be addressed in the last few weeks of the season.

In the end…

There are two good things that can be said about Week 23.  One, the California trip is in the rear-view mirror.  The Caps were outscored on the trip by a 13-6 margin, including the 5-2 loss to Anaheim in the first game of the week to end the trip.  The second thing is that the Caps managed to start and end the week atop the league standings.  However,  their margin was shaved by a point down to two points over the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that just doesn’t want to go away.  Pittsburgh and Chicago lurk just one point behind Columbus, three points behind the Caps.

Nevertheless, the Caps became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs with their win over Tampa Bay to close the week, the 27th time in 43 seasons of team history the Caps will head to the postseason.  That might be the best news to come out of Week 23.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-8-8, plus-2, three power play assists, nine shots on goal, 18 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-1-4, plus-3, hat trick (first in regular season as a Capital), seven shots on goal, 16 shot attempts, 6-for-9 on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, minus-1, 13 shots on goal, 28 shot attempts, 22:56 average ice time)

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 71: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, March 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, mired in a 1-4-1 slump over their past six games, head out on the road to face the very definition of a desperate team on Saturday night when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on the gulf coast of Florida. The Caps, who could take the ice on Saturday night behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in the league standings should the Blue Jackets win on Saturday afternoon, will be playing the Lightning for the last time this year in the regular season, hoping to take the season series. Washington lost in a Gimmick, 2-1, back on December 3rd in Tampa, and then they defeated the Lightning, 4-0, at Verizon Center on December 20th.

Tampa Bay, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, is on a roll. Although they were thumped by a 5-0 margin by the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, the Lightning have won four of five and are 12-3-3 in their last 18 games, over which they have not lost two in a row.

If there has been a player whose game has fit the nickname “lightning” over those last 18 games, it is Nikita Kucherov. Not only does Kucherov lead the club in goals (12) and points (24) over that span, he is tied for fourth in goals and is fourth among all players in the league over that span. However, that lighting-like run might be coming to an end. When he was held without a point in the 5-0 loss to Toronto on Thursday night it was his second consecutive game without a point after getting points in nine of ten games preceding that (10-10-20).   He has been a remarkably consistent player over the last three seasons in goals (29-30-31), assists (36-36-38), and points (65-66-69). With 12 games to play this season he could obliterate his career bests to date in those categories. Kucherov is 4-3-7, plus-2, in 10 career games against the Caps.

Two other Lightning have averaged at least a goal per game over this 18-game run, although they have done it in different ways and with different presences. Victor Hedman is 7-11-18 in those 18 games and has risen to third overall in points this season among defensemen (59), trailing only Erik Karlsson (63) and Brent Burns (70). His 45 assists trails only Karlsson (50), and no defenseman has more power play points this season than Hedman (27). He also has two of the team’s three game-winning overtime goals in this 18-game run, the first two overtime games of his eight-year career. Your odd Hedman fact…he has as many career points (288) as the Caps’ Kevin Shattenkirk, although he’s done in in 59 more games. Their scoring lines are almost identical: Hedman is 63-225-288, Shattenkirk is 66-222-288. Hedman is 2-10-12, minus-3, in 29 career games against Washington.

Then there is the missing player, Tyler Johnson. He has averaged a point a game in the 12 games he appeared in among the Lightning’s last 18 games (3-9-12), but he has dealt with two bouts of injury. His most current, categorized as a “lower body injury,” has kept him out of Tampa Bay’s last four contests. The Lightning are 3-1-0 in those games, but he is 3-5-8, plus-4, in ten games against the Caps. If he is missing, he will be…well, missed.


1.  Since February 4th, when Tampa started this 12-3-3 run, only the Chicago Blackhawks have earned more standings points (28) than the Lightning (27).

2.  No team has been involved in more Gimmick decisions over that span that the Lightning, who are 2-1 in three games decided in the freestyle competition.

3.  One thing Tampa Bay has had a problem with in those 18 games is penalties. Only four teams have taken more penalties than the Lightning (79).

4.  Only one team has fewer blocked shots than Tampa Bay (206) since the Lightning started their 12-3-3 run. The Florida Panthers have 178 blocked shots.

5.  The low blocked shot total over their last 18 games would appear to be the classic, “we have the puck, so we don’t block shots” situation. Their shot-attempt (SAT) percentage of 53.02 is third best in that span of time, behind only the Boston Bruins (53.22) and the Los Angeles Kings (57.32; source: NHL.com).

1.  Over their last six games, over which they are 1-4-1, the Caps have allowed 21 goals. Only two teams – the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders – allowed more (22 apiece).

2.  Over those same six games, no team has had more power play chances than Washington (23, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers), but only five teams have a worse power play (13.0 percent, tied with the Flyers).  Then there are the penalty killers. They have been on ice more frequently than any other team, and it’s not close – 27 times (the New York Rangers have been on 21 times).

3.  There is no Capitals on this team who has more than two goals against Tampa Bay in Tampa in seven games over the last five seasons.  Alex Ovechkin, Jay Beagle, and Marcus Johansson have two apiece.

4.  The Caps have the fifth-worst special teams index over that period: 90.8 (power play: 13.0/penalty kill: 77.8).

5.  Ray of sunshine or blowing smoke up your sleeve… The Caps have the sixth-best SAT percentage over their last six games (54.76). Then again, that number drops to 14th-best in “close” situations (50.63; numbers from NHL.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Brayden Point

So, you spend your 21st birthday in Manhattan, playing a game at the world’s most famous arena – Madison Square Garden – and you score a pair of goals, one of them the game-winner to break a 2-2 tie in the third period, in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers. Do birthdays get any better than that? Maybe not, if you are Brayden Point, but that’s how he spent his 21st birthday on Monday. Point, a third-round pick by the Lightning in the 2014 draft, is very much an unrecognized talent from that draft, ranking 16th in games played in that class (56, all of them this season), 13th in goals (12), and 12th in points (27). In this year’s rookie class he has as many goals as Matthew Tkachuk and more points than Jimmy Vesey. How many fans could pick him out of a lineup, though? Point is one of six players in double digits in points in this 12-3-3 run over the last 18 games (7-3-10) and is tied for second in goals with Victor Hedman, behind Nikita Kucherov (12). He has been unsustainably efficient, scoring those seven goals on just 26 shots (26.9 percent). He does not have a point and is minus-1 in two games against the Caps.

Washington: John Carlson

If you look at the Caps-Lightning series over the last five seasons, it would be no surprise to see Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each having scored 20 points in 15 games against Tampa Bay.  There is, however, another player on this team that averaged a point a game in the 15 games he played against the Lightning.  John Carlson is 3-12-15, plus-13, in those 15 games, his dozen assists second only to Backstrom (15) in that span.  Carlson, in fact, leads the team in points against Tampa Bay on the road (0-7-7), and his plus-6 is far and away tops on the team in those seven games (Nate Schmidt is plus-3 in four games).  He has the rather impressive feat of having recorded at least one point in each of the seven games in which he played in Tampa in his career, and he has points in 13 of the 15 games overall in which he faced the Lightning, including the last eight contests.

In the end…

This is one of those games of which the term “possible first-round matchup” applies.  On February 3rd, the Lightning were dead last in the Eastern Conference, albeit just eight points out of a playoff spot. Eighteen games later, they have jumped over six teams and have but two more to climb over – the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs – to grab the second wild card spot. And keep in mind that they have done this without Steven Stamkos playing as much as one second over that period, Stamkos having been out of the lineup since mid-November with a knee injury that required surgery.

The key in Tampa Bay’s recent success, and in fact perhaps the key in this game, might be found in the play of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has stepped up his game, now that he is firmly the number one goalie after the Ben Bishop trade to Los Angeles. Vasilevskiy appeared in 11 of the 18 games in the 12-3-3 run and posted a 6-2-3, 2.04, .936 record. When he allowed four goals in 26 minutes of the 5-0 loss to Toronto on Thursday night, it was his first loss in regulation in his last eight decisions, in five of which he allowed a single goal, and it was his earliest hook in a home game this season. Given the Caps’ recent offensive struggles, it makes for a formidable challenge, but then again, that’s what this time of year is about overcoming.

Capitals 3 – Lightning 2

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A ONE-Point Night -- Game 70: Nashville Predators 2 - Washington Capitals 1 (OT)

The Washington Capitals squandered a chance to put some distance between themselves and their closest pursuers in the league standings on Thursday night, leaving a standings point on the table in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center.

The Caps did get the early lead in this one mid-way through the first period.  Lars Eller hounded Kevin Fiala off the puck in theNashville end, and Jakub Vrana picked it up in the right wing faceoff circle and fed Brett Connolly backing through the low slot.  Connolly’s one-timer beat goalie Pekka Rinne, and the Caps had a 1—0 lead 11:41 into the period.

That would be all the scoring until the late stages of the second period when the Predators tied the game.  James Neal and Fiala played give-and-go in the neutral zone, and Fiala returned the puck to Neal just as the pair was crossing the blue line into the Capitals’ end.  Neal, using Dmitry Orlov as a high screen, wristed a puck that Braden Holtby misplayed, whiffing on a glove save attempt, and the Predators tied the game at the 18:56 mark of the second period.

The teams played a scoreless third period, leaving the matter for extra time.  In the five minute overtime, Viktor Arvidsson took a Ryan Johansen pass at the red line and circled into the Caps’ zone on a 2-on-1 with P.K. Subban. Arvidsson showed pass, then wristed a shot past Holtby’s gove and just inside the far post at the 1:05 mark to give the Predators a 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Frankly, the Caps looked bored for most of this game.  They had the look of a team playing a weeknight game late in a regular season.  It was not a good look.

-- Second periods continue to flummox the Caps.  It is not that the Caps have allowed a lot of goals in the middle frame (only five teams have allowed fewer goals), but they have allowed so many (61) relative to what they allow in the opening period (none tonight, 31 for the season).

-- Tom Wilson had seven penalty minutes, putting him over 100 minutes (106) for the fourth time in his four-season career.

-- Jakub Vrana’s assist on Brett Connolly’s goal was his first assist since December 13th, a span of 13 games without one.

-- Vrana did not have a shot attempt in the game, one of three Caps who did not have one.  Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov were the others.

-- The Caps held the Predators to one power play opportunity, the fewest allowed since they held Edmonton without a power play chance on February 24th.  That game against Edmonton was the only other time this season the Caps held an opponent to one or fewer power play chances at Verizon Center.

-- Brett Connolly had an odd game.  He had the Caps’ only goal on his only shot attempt of the game, and he skated just 8:25, fewest minutes on the team.

-- The Caps had 23 shots on goal, and that was not a good sign.  It was the 16th time this season that the Caps had fewer than 25 shots in a game, and they are now 9-5-2 in those contests, 6-3-1 on home ice.

-- Washington held Nashville to 24 shots for the game and saw their record in games in which they hold an opponent to fewer than 25 shots fall to 17-5-2.

-- Braden Holtby should have had his ninth shutout.  The Neal goal was a save he makes 99 times out of 100.  As it was, it was the 24th time this season that he held an opponent to one or fewer goals in regulation time.  It was his first loss in the five-minute overtime this season.

In the end…

The Caps cannot be happy with this one.  They looked to be playing at about 85 percent for most of the evening with too many passes, too little urgency or pressure in the offensive zone, and a predictable ineffective result on the score sheet.  These things happen, but you expect them to happen more in December or January than you do in March, when teams are starting to focus on the postseason run and getting things in order.  The top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie got off to a particularly slow start and never seemed to be a factor, although they did account for eight of the team’s 23 shots on goal.  It was not the sort of game one might have expected of a team that might have been looking to get some revenge for dropping one of their worst games of the season last month in Nashville.  There needs to be some attitude adjustment before the Caps take the ice in Tampa on Saturday night against the Lightning, or they can expect a similar fate.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 70: Nashville Predators at Washington Capitals, March 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off breaking a four-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, get a crack at redemption of sorts on Thursday night when they host the Nashville Predators in the Preds’ only visit to Washington this season (unless, of course…). The Caps dropped a 5-2 decision in Nashville back on February 25th. The Caps will be looking to avenge that loss and win their second consecutive decision against Nashville on home ice (they beat the Predators, 4-1, last March 18th).

Nashville has struggled since that win over the Caps last month, going 4-2-2 since then, two of those wins coming in overtime, providing an interesting symmetry – two regulation wins, two extra time wins, two regulation losses, and two extra time losses. In those eight games, the Predators outscored their opponents by a 27-26 margin, an unsurprisingly narrow margin given that six of the eight games were one-goal contests. Interestingly enough, the other two decisions would have been one-goal decisions but for empty net goals, one scored by Chicago in a 5-3 Blackhawks win, the other by the Predators in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Eights run wild for the Predators in the eight games since they faced the Caps. Three skaters lead the team in points over that span, all of them with eight, although they have done it in different ways.

Filip Forsberg, who had a goal and two assists in the 5-2 win over the Caps on February 25th, is 5-3-8 in the eight games since, the five goals leading the club. He has slowed a bit though, with just two goals in his last six games after scoring one on Edmonton and then two against Buffalo. And, he has slowed down in the midst of a healthy volume of shots, scoring those two goals on 24 shots in those last six games. Look out if Forsberg scores a goal. Nashville has not lost a game in regulation in which he did so since December 29th in a 3-2 loss to Chicago. Forsberg has 21 goals in 15 games since then, and the Preds are 12-0-3 in those games. He is 5-4-9, plus-3, in five career games against the Caps.

Ryan Johansen has a bit more of the playmaking contribution to his eight-point total over the last eight games than a goal scoring contribution. Johansen, who has points in five of the last eight games, has three multi-point games in the group and brings a modest two-game goal-scoring streak into this contest. What he has not been is much of a shooter in terms of shot volumes. Only once in his last 15 games has he recorded more than two shots on goal, that coming when he scored the game-tying goal on four shots in Nashville’s 5-4 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. Johansen is 4-9-13, even, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Roman Josi arrived at his eight points over eight games in the most charitable way imaginable. He did it with eight assists. Josi’s output over his last eight games has lifted him into a tie for 13th in the league in assists among defensemen (31, with Florida’s Keith Yandle and Washington’s Matt Niskanen) and into 12th place in points among defensemen (42) despite playing in only 60 games, at least five fewer than any of the 11 defensemen ahead of him in points. Josi’s production is slightly off last year’s pace, when he finished with career highs in assists and points (14-47-61 overall), but he is still on a pace to finish near 0.20 goals per game (slightly ahead of last season, more than half an assist per game (slightly off last year’s pace) and morethan 0.70 points per game for a second straight season. Josi is 4-2-6, minus-1, in eight career games against Washington.


1.  In eight games since they beat the Caps, the Predators (4-2-2) rank tied for 12th in wins (4), with five other teams, including the Caps, and are tied for 11th in standings points earned (10), with St. Louis and Carolina.

2.  Nashville is 7-for 24 (29.2 percent) on power plays in their last eight games, but three of those goals came against Edmonton, who they played immediately after facing the Caps. Since that game (in which they were 3-for-5) the Preds are 4-for-19 (21.1 percent). Nevertheless, the seven power play goals is exceeded by only three other teams in that span: Los Angeles (10), Tampa Bay, and Buffalo (seven apiece).

3.  How do you score seven power play goals and still end up with an “even” goal differential on special teams? A lousy penalty kill is how. The Predator penalty kill has been awful since shutting out the Caps on their only opportunity back in February, killing just 13 of 22 shorthanded situations (59.1 percent). The Preds did score two shorthanded goals, so that gets them back to even…barely.

4.  Speaking of those shorthanded goals, Nashville leads the league in that category this season with ten. Five at home and five on the road. The Preds are just 2-1-2 in games on the road this season when they scored shorthanded.

5.  Nashville is eighth in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 this season (51.27), one spot behind the Caps. They’ve done it mostly with offensive pressure, ranking eighth in the league in shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes (58.78; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Washington is 8-3-0 in 11 home games against Nashville all time.

2.  In those 11 home games against the Preds, the Caps enjoy a whopping 342-287 edge in shots on goal and have outscored them overall, 33-26. Only three times in the 11 games did Nashville reach the 30-shot mark. The Caps did it six times, and their 48 shots in a 1-0 win on November 26, 1999 stands as the tenth highest shot total on home ice in the last 30 years of Caps hockey in Washington  and the most shots ever recorded on home ice with only one goal to show for it. It is also the most shots the Caps ever recorded in a win on any ice surface, home or away, in team history.

3.  The Caps have had the advantage of a penalty prone Nashville team in this building. In 11 games they recorded double digits in penalties eight times and at least 20 minutes in penalties three times. The result is that In those 11 games they the Caps have 11 power play goals and have power play goals in nine of the games (but the Caps do not have a power play goal in either of the last two games played at Verizon Center). They have 13 special teams goals scored (11 power play, two shorthanded) to eight for Nashville (seven power play goals, one shorthanded).

4.  Seven of the 11 games were of the one-goal variety (the Caps are 5-2 in those games), while there were four games with a three or more goal final margin (the Caps are 3-1 in those games).

5.  Two of the 11 games went to a Gimmick in the home portion of this series for the Caps. Both times the Caps won when future Capital Martin Erat could not score to keep the fun going (a 4-3 win on October 28, 2008 and a 3-2 win on October 17, 2009).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: James Neal

Since 2008-2009, you have your elite goal scorers – Alex Ovechkin (390) and Steven Stamkos (321).  You have your consistently superb goal scorers – Corey Perry (285), Sidney Crosby (274), Jeff Carter (272), Patrick Marleau (266), Phil Kessel (264), and Patrick Kane (260).  Then there is a collection of very good goal scorers who must be (or who once were) accounted for when an opponent faces them – Joe Pavelski (259), Rick Nash (257), Evgeni Malkin (248), Jarome Iginla (247), and Jonathan Toews (244).  Why isn’t James Neal on any of these lists? 

Sure, he has 235 goals since he came into the league in 2008-2009 (15th in the league), and when he recorded 40 goals with Pittsburgh in 2011-2012, it looked as if he was on his way to becoming one of the elite, or at least a consistently superb goal scorer.  But he hasn’t.  Only once in the five seasons since that 40-goal year has Neal reached the 30-goal mark (31 in 2015-2016).  Only one other time did he reach the 25-goal mark (27 in 2013-2014 with Pittsburgh), and it is not certain he will hit that mark this year (he has 20 goals in 60 games, a 24-goal pace).  What happened?  Part of it was injuries.  Since that 40-goal season he has missed 50 games to injury (another five to a suspension in December 2013).  Neal does have goals in his last two games, and goal scorers being streaky by nature, maybe it is a signal he is about to go on an extended one.  Then again, he had one goal in his previous 19 games.   He is 9-5-14, plus-5, in 17 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nate Schmidt
Hard work is its own reward, but marry it to a result, and the reward is a bit more tangible.  When Nate Schmidt took the ice against the Anaheim Ducks last Sunday, it was his first action since in March, since he skated against the New York Rangers in a 4-1 win on February 28th.  When he scored the game’s first goal in the Caps;’ 4-2 win over Minnesota it was the kind of result that has been a long time coming and, frankly, infrequent.  Schmidt finished the game with his second goal of the season on a total of 55 shots, lifting his shooting percentage from 1.9 percent for the season to 3.6, which is still 434th among 503 skaters and 101st among 160 defensemen in shooting percentage (minimum: 50 shots).  But rewarded he appears to be, getting a sweater for this game, even as Kevin Shattenkirk (who has taken ice time Schmidt might otherwise have had) returns from his two-game suspension.  He has hardly been a liability when in the lineup, at least in terms of wins and losses.  The Caps are 25-7-4 in the last 36 games Schmidt saw action.  For himself, he is 2-8-10, plus-16, in those 36 games.  Schmidt is 1-0-1, plus-2, in four career games against the Predators.

In the end…

Washington answered the call on Tuesday night after a bad road trip, a return trip across four time zones, a change to daylight savings time, and the noise from a storm coming through the area that disrupted routines across the region.  They had their nail-biting moments, but the Minnesota Wild is a talented team, too.  So are the Nashville Predators.  The Caps have the added incentive of seeking repayment for a sad 5-2 loss in Nashville last month.  With Kevin Shattenkirk returning to the lineup, Alex Ovechkin breaking a long goal drought, and the team finding both its offensive and defensive mojo, at least for that night against the Wild, perhaps the Caps are regaining their stride.  Couldn’t come at a better time.

Capitals 4 – Predators 2

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 69: Washington Capitals 4 - Minnesota Wild 2

Capitals Nation can breathe a bit easier tonight, the Washington Capitals’ four-game losing streak is over.  The Caps defeated the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, on Tuesday night to end their four-game losing streak and retain their top spot in the league standings.

It took most of the first period for the teams to break the scoreless tie, but the Caps did just that shortly before the first intermission.  Nicklas Backstrom skated the puck into the Wild end and, after carrying the puck into the corner to the left of goalie Devan Dubnyk, slid it to T.J. Oshie.  Taking a bump pass from Oshie on the return, Backstrom skated the puck around the Wild net and fed it in front to Alex Ovechkin closing down the middle. The puck eluded Ovechkin but came out to Nate Schmidt high between the circles.  Schmidt slammed the puck past Dubnyk with 11.7 seconds left in the period to make it a 1-0 game.

Late in the second period, the Caps padded their lead with a pair of goals.  Alex Ovechkin scored his first even strength goal in more than a month when he converted a John Carlson feed from the left wing circle to make it 2-0, 14:52 into the period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov made it 3-0 just over two minutes later.  John Carlson collected a loose puck in his end and fed the puck up to Nicklas Backstrom along the right wing wall just outside the Minnesota end.  Backstrom pulled the puck back out of the reach of Wild defenseman Marco Scandella and fed Kuznetsov skating into the offensive zone.  Kuznetsov stepped up and wristed the puck past Dubnyk’s blocker on the far side to make it 3-0, 17:08 into the period.

Minnesota made a game of it early in the third period with a pair of goals. Matt Dumba converted a feed from below the goal line by Mikael Granlund to make it 3-1 just 37 seconds into the period.  Four minutes later, Eric Staal scored just as a 5-on-3 power play was expiring to make it 3-2.

The Caps tightened up after that, and Jay Beagle provided the insurance.  Taking a feed from Dmitry Orlov just outside the Wild blue line, Beagle circled in and wristed the puck past Dubnyk’s glove on the far side to give the Caps their winning 4-2 margin at the 14:19 mark.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin snapped a ten-game streak without a goal and an 18-game streak without an even strength goal when he scored late in the second period.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, his 61st career three-point game, fifth most in the league since he came into the NHL in 2007-2008.  It was his 34th three-assist game in that span, most in the league.

-- Ovechkin had an assist to go with his goal, his first multi-point game since he had a pair of assists in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on February 22nd.  It was his 294th career multi-point game, second in the NHL since he came into the league to Sidney Crosby (300).

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists.  It was his first multi-point game since he had a goal and an assist against the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-2 Gimmick loss on February 9th.

-- The four goals for the Caps gave them 31 games this season with four or more goals, tying them with the New York Rangers for second most in the league, behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (34).

-- Jay Beagle had a goal, the Caps had a win. That makes the Caps 33-1-5 in games in which Beagle recorded a goal in his career.

-- The seven shorthanded situations faced by the Caps was the second-most they faced this season.  They were down a man or more nine times against the New Jersey Devils in a 6-2 win on New Year’s Eve.  Oddly enough, the Caps are 6-3-0 this season when shorthanded six or more times.

-- This was the 12th game this season in which the Caps had five power plays.  They are 6-4-2 in those games.

-- The Caps had 40 shots on goal, the fifth time this season that they hit or topped that mark.  It was just their second win in doing so (2-1-2).

-- The Caps won the 5-on-5 battle, out-attempting the Wild, 48-36 (57.14 percent), out-shooting them, 32-22, and out-scoring them, 3-1 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

In the end…

Tending to business might be the best description of this game.  This is the sort of effort Caps fans were accustomed to before that god-forsaken break in February.  A very good team comes into Verizon Center, and although they are having struggles of their own, the Caps played (for the most part) a solid 60-minute game.  Those seven shorthanded situations are far too many, though, and it is something the team is going to have to address.   But stepping back and looking back at this game as a whole, it is something to build on as the team enters the final few weeks of the regular season.