Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 32: Capitals 5 - Avalanche 2

The Washington Capitals bounced back from their 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night with a convincing 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night. 

First Period

It did not take the Capitals too long to open the scoring, Jakub Vrana doing the honors.  Taking a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov as he was skating through the left wing circle, he snapped a shot that hit goalie Semyon Varlamov in the shoulder and snuck under the crossbar on the short side at the 5:25 mark.

It would be all the scoring in the first period.  The only penalty of the frame was charged to the Caps at the 20-minute mark, John Carlson getting the gate for tripping Gabriel Landeskog after he lost the puck in the defensive zone.  The teams spit 14 shots down the middle, while the Caps enjoyed an 18-15 edge in shot attempts.  Jay Beagle was the only player on either team with more than one shot on goal (two).  Matt Niskanen was the only player on either club with more than one of his attempts blocked (three).

Second Period

Colorado tied the score in the fifth minute of the period on a broken play.  Matt Nieto controlled the puck behind the Capitals’ net and tried to feed it out to Blake Comeau at the doorstep.  Matt Niskanen got enough of his stick to keep him from getting a shot off, and the puck slid through to Colin Wilson, who had just jumped off the bench and was filling in on the weak side.  Wilson chipped a backhand past goalie Braden Holtby at 4:13, and the game was tied.

The Caps regained the lead late in the period when Varlamov made an error.  Tom Wilson tried to send a pass across the ice from the right side, but it was muffled and settled at Varlamov’s pads, but he could not control the puck.  An attempted clear by Tyson Barrie up the middle was picked off by John Carlson, who leaned into a shot that sailed past Varlamov’s glove and into the back of the net to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at the 17:42 mark, a lead they took into the second intermission.

Colorado had three power plays in the period, failing on the first two while the third carried over into the third period.  The Caps were still waiting on their first power play of the evening.  The Caps had a 10-7 advantage in shots on goal for the period and had a 17-16 edge in shot attempts overall, despite spending 5:08 killing penalties.

Third Period

Washington took a two-goal lead 5:15 into the third period on a delayed penalty.  With the Caps having a sixth attacker on the ice until the next whistle, Madison Bowey had the puck in the right wing circle when he looked off Varlamov and fed Brett Connolly in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat Varlamov before he could scramble across the paint.

With the teams skating four-a-side late in the period, the Caps put an end to the suspense.  Off a Colorado turnover in their own zone, Kuznetsov ended up with the puck on his stick and skated in to Varlamov’s left.  Just out of the goalie’s reach, Kuznetsov wrapped a pass around his body and out to Matt Niskanen trailing on the play.  Niskanen wasted no time planting the puck behind Varlamov to make it 4-1 at the 16:19 mark.

Colorado scored with 1:03 left on a shot by Tyson Jost on a shot just under the crossbar, but the Caps answered with an empty net goal by Devante Smith-Pelly with 45 seconds left for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Madison Bowey broke a 13-game streak without a point with a pair of assists, his second career multi-point game and first since he had a pair of assists against the Edmonton Oilers back on October 28th in a 5-2 win.

-- Brett Connolly’s goal was his fourth in December on just seven shots on goal (57.1 percent shooting).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists, his ninth multi-point game of the season.

-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist on the Caps’ fourth goal, his 100th point in the NHL.  He became the 77th player in team history to hit the 100-point mark with the club.

-- The Caps won for the 13th time on home ice this season to tie the Tampa Bay Lightning once more for the league lead.

-- It isn’t often that a center leads the Caps in shots on goal, and if they do, one might think it would be Nicklas Backstrom.  Rarely will it be Jay Beagle, but he was the leader with four shots on goal.

-- The Caps held the Avalanche to 24 shots on goal, the second-fewest allowed this season on home ice.  Washington allowed the Florida Panthers 23 shots in a 4-1 loss on October 21st.

-- John Carlson wins the all-you-can-eat buffet coupon for this one.  He had a goal, finished plus-2, took two minor penalties, had two shots on goal, seven shot attempts, two takeaways, and three blocked shots.

-- The defense contributed two goals (Matt Niskanen, Carlson) and two assists (Bowey).

-- Braden Holtby shook off what was his shortest stint of the season last night (21:34) to post the win.  In three games following those in which he was pulled early, he is 3-0-0, 1.67, .947.

In the end…

A solid win, giving the Caps an 12-2-0 record in their last 14 games on home ice.  It was another shared effort with five goals scored by five different players an ten players sharing in the points.  The Caps played a bit dangerously in allowing Colorado four power plays, but in one of their most dominating efforts of the season did not allow the Avalanche a power play shot on goal in 6:25 of shorthanded ice time.  It was not flashy, just a solid, all-around effort of the sort the Caps can build on as they take their show on the road to Boston on Thursday.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Islanders, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It has been almost two months since the Washington Capitals played consecutive games against Metropolitan Division rivals.  That streak will end on Monday night when, following up on their 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Caps will visit Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders.

The last – the only – time that the Caps faced division rivals in consecutive games, they beat the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, in Newark on October 13th before dropping an 8-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in South Philly the following night.

The Islanders come into this game losers of three straight (0-2-1) and coming home after what must seem a disappointing four-game road trip (their only win coming in a Gimmick in Florida against the Panthers to open the trip).

Home is a different story, altogether.  No team has played fewer games so far this season on home ice than the Isles (11), but they have made it count when they did, posting a home record of 8-1-2.  They did not suffer a loss in regulation time until dropping a 6-5 decision to the Ottawa Senators in their last contest on home ice, back on December 1st. 

That they have been successful in their limited home ice opportunities is a reflection of their offense, which has 51 goals in those 11 games (4.64 per game), and that starts with John Tavares, who is 9-9-18 in the 11 home games, the team leader in both goals and points at Barclays Center.  Tavares, who is one of the real bargains in the league with a $5.5 million cap hit, is in the last year of a six-year deal.  Overall this season, he overcame a sluggish start, one in which he was 2-1-3 in his first seven games (all of those points recorded in a 6-3 win in the Islanders’ home opener) to go 15-13-28, plus-4, in his last 22 games.  Over that span he is tied for the league lead in goals (with Las Vegas’ William Karlsson) and tied for fourth in points.  In 31 career games against the Caps, Tavares is 13-15-28, plus-6.

Over that same span over which Tavares has been among the hottest scorers in the league, Anders Lee has 14 goals of his own, third in the league over that span.  Lee had something of a breakout season in 2016-2017, posting 34 goals, tied for tenth in the league.  He might also be shaking off the last of the inconsistency in his game, his goals having swung from 25 in 76 games in 2014-2015 to 15 in 80 games of the 2015-2016 season to that 34-goal total last year.  This season he has 17 goals in 29 games, tied for third in the league overall.  Six of those goals have come on home ice, second on the club, while his 14 points at Barclays Center ranks third with the Islanders this season.  Lee is 7-2-9, plus-1, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Through Saturday’s games, 43 goaltenders logged at least 500 minutes in ice time this season.  Jaroslav Halak ranked 27 in that group in goals against average (2.93) and 30th in save percentage (.905).  And he was the better of the two Islander goalies in that group, Thomas Greiss ranking 42nd in goals against average (3.78) and 39th in save percentage (.890).  Halak’s success, such as it has been this season, has been entirely a product of support on the offensive side of the ledger.  He opened the season with a 5-2-0 record in his first eight appearances this season, with a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .916.  Decent, if somewhat middle of the road numbers on his own behalf.  But in his last nine appearances he is 3-5-1, 3.17, .896.  He is 8-8-0, 2.75, .902, with one shutout, in 16 career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  If you are going to beat the Islanders, chances are it won’t be a blowout.  Only two teams have had fewer losses by three or more goals than the Islanders (3) this season – Tampa Bay with two and Los Angeles with one.

2.  Score first, and win.  The Islanders are the only team in the league with a perfect record when scoring first in games (10-0-0).

3.  The Islanders are among the least penalized teams in the league, one of only seven teams averaging less than eight minutes in penalties per game (7:57).

4.  The Islanders are the second most efficient team shooting the puck this season, scoring goals on 11.43 percent of their shots so far.  Only Tampa Bay has been better (11.68 percent).

5.  Home cooking has done little for the Islanders penalty killers.  They have the fourth-worst penalty kill on home ice this season (73.7 percent).

1.  Odd as it is, the Capitals have played only seven games against Metropolitan Division teams so far this season.  Only nine teams have had fewer meetings against teams in the Metro through Saturday’s games.  Stranger still, perhaps, three of those teams are Metropolitan Division teams themselves, the Pittsburgh Penguins (6), the New Jersey Devils (5), and the Philadelphia Flyers (4).

2.  Washington is going to have to ramp up its effort on the penalty kill against Metropolitan Division teams.  In seven games they are just 16-for-23 killing penalties against teams in the Metro (69.6 percent).  If there is a silver lining in this game, the Islanders are worse (13-for-20/65.0 percent).

3.  The Caps have the second-best road power play in the league at 27.8 percent.  Only Pittsburgh is better (31.4 percent).

4.  Washington is also an efficient team shooting the puck on the road, fourth in the league with a 10.6 percent shooting percentage in road games.

5.  The Capitals could use improvement in their road possession numbers.  They have the fifth-lowest shot attempts-for percentage in the league in close situations in road games (46.29 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Nick Leddy

Nick Leddy has quietly assembled a rather impressive body of work as an NHL defenseman.  Ove eight seasons, four with the Chicago Blackhawks and now in his fourth season with the Islanders, he has steadily improved his offensive numbers from the blue line.  His point totals have increased in each of the last four seasons, and he is on a pace to do so again for a fifth consecutive season.  Through Saturday’s games, Leddy’s 24 points (6-18-24) ranks second among league defensemen, topped only by Dallas’ John Klingberg (25).  He has been hot lately, going 3-11-14 in his last 13 games with points in ten of those contests.  Leddy is 1-5-6, minus-2, in 18 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik has one of the most bizarre statistics in the league since the 2005-2006 season.  In that time, only four players have had more games in which they registered a point without recording a shot on goal.  Orpik has done that 65 times in that span, a number exceeded only by Henrik Sedin (120), Joe Thornton (111), Mike Ribeiro (91), and Bryan Campbell (78).  He has done it 15 times as a member of the Caps, more than any Capital in his four years with the club except for Nicklas Backstrom (22 times), Tom Wilson (20), and Karl Alzner (16).  He leads the club in such instances this season, having recorded a point in five games in which he did not have a shot on goal.  His ice time has made a difference this season as well, the Caps having a 10-2-1 record in games in which he recorded more than 22 minutes of ice time, although he is just 0-2-2, plus-2 in those games.  In 37 career games against the Islanders, Orpik is 0-7-7, minus-9.

In the end…

The Caps have had reasonable success as guest of the Islanders in recent years, although not without effort.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 13-8-3 in 24 games on the road against the Isles, but seven of those 13 wins have come in extra time.  The Caps have done well to avoid having to resort to extra time to settle outcomes this season, going to extra time just five times, although they do have four wins in those five instances.  So, will the Caps, who have gone to extra time ten times in their last 19 visits to Long Island, need extra time to subdue the Isles?  Given New York’s iffy goaltending and the Caps’ recent success on offense – four straight games with four or more goals – we’re thinking it will not be necessary.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

For the Washington Capitals, Week 10 was the best week of the year, a perfect 3-0-0 week that represented their first unbeaten week since going 2-0-0 in Week 1.  They scored early, scored late, beat teams from three different time zones, and  did it all in multi-goal wins.  If you were to draw it up at the beginning of the week, it would have looked a lot like this.

Record: 3-0-0

When Week 10 started, the Caps sat in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the first place Columbus Blue Jackets and one point ahead of the sixth place New York Rangers.  At week’s end, despite a perfect week, they made up two points on first place, finishing the week in second place, two points behind the Blue Jackets.  The win over the Rangers to end the week left the Caps with a 5-2-0 record against teams in the Metropolitan Division through Week 10.

The 3-0-0 week was the first in which they posted as many wins without a loss, either in regulation or extra time, since they posted four wins without a loss in Week 26 (the last full week of the regular season), last year.  The three wins extended the Caps’ winning streak to four games, all of the wins by multi-goal margins.  It is the last time that the Caps recorded four straight wins by more than one goal since they recorded that achievement in Games 53-56 last season, all of them at home, as they did in this instance.

Offense: 4.67 /game (season: 3.06 /game, rank: T-10th)

The Caps had 14 goals spread among nine players in Week 10, led by Tom Wilson with three in the three games.  Wilson had a career week with points in all three games, one of them a four-point effort against the Chicago Blackhawks (2-2-4), his first such game in the NHL.  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brett Connolly each had two-goal weeks that were noteworthy for each. 

For Ovechkin, the two goals gave him 21 for the season and left him as the 11th player in NHL history to record 20 or more goals in each of his first 13 NHL seasons.  He also finished the week at the top of the goal scoring rankings with 21. 

When Backstrom scored the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle game of the week, it snapped a 21-game streak without a goal for the center.  He added a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end the week, the first time he scored goals in consecutive games since early October, the last goals he scored before his 21-game drought.

Both of Connolly’s goals came on power plays and extended his goals streak to three games before it was ended in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the New York Rangers to end the week.  It was the first time that Connolly had goals in three consecutive games since last February, when he put together a three-game goal streak against Los Angeles, Carolina, and Detroit.

Meanwhile, Jay Beagle built on a fine record when he hits the score sheet.  When he posted an assist in the win over San Jose to open the week and a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end it, it made the Caps 76-9-7 in games in which Beagle recorded a point over his career and 38-1-5 in games in which he recorded a goal.  As for points, 13 different Caps posted points in the three games, led by Wilson and Ovechkin with seven apiece.

Defense: 1.67 / game (season: 2.93 /game, rank: 14th)

It was not a bad week on defense, given the nature of the opponents.  Chicago and San Jose were, by week’s end, among the top ten teams in the league in shots per game, the Blackhawks fifth (34.8 shots per game) and the Sharks tenth (33.0).  But where the Caps did particularly well was in shutting things down late.  They did not allow any of their three opponents as many as ten shots in the third period for the week and held those three teams to a total of 23 third period shots on goal.

Oddly, perhaps, but the week was not especially good from a shots attempts point of view.  The Caps were under 50 percent for the week in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (46.97 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), and it might have been worse but for a good effort against the Rangers to end the week (54.17 percent).

Goaltending: 1.67 / .946 (season: 2.76 / .913)

It was a fine week all around for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in combining for the three wins.  Grubauer opened the week by following up a strong 25 saves on 26 shots performance against Tampa Bay in his previous start with a 24 save effort in the Caps’ 4-1 win over San Jose.  Two straight wins for Grubauer after going 0-5-1 in his first eight appearances (two no-decisions) was a welcome sight for Caps fans.

Braden Holtby got the call in the other two games in Week 10, and he built on a strong run of late.  With 64 saves on 68 shots (.941 save percentage) over the two games, it brought his record to 5-1-0, 2.34, .926 over his last six games.

Grubauer and Holtby combined for strong first periods in games in Week 10, stopping 32 of the 33 first period shots they faced (.970 save percentage).  That save percentage dropped off somewhat from period to period (.946 in the second periods of games, .913 in the third periods of games), but it was still a solid week overall for the Caps in net. 

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season: 21.2 percent, rank: 7th)

The Caps were effective and efficient on the power play in Week 10, posting their fifth straight week at 20.0 percent or better on the man advantage.  They achieved that by pummeling opponents for 22 shots with the man advantage in 18:47 of power play ice time.  Washington has now gone 16 games without having recorded consecutive games without a power play goal.  Over those 16 games they are 13-for-56 (23.2 percent).  Not a spectacular power play (ninth-best over that span) but solid.

One of the encouraging things about the power play this week was in the unexpected sources of goal scoring.  Brett Connolly had a pair of man advantage goals, and Jakub Vrana had the other.  In a reversal of roles, Alex Ovechkin had a pair of power play assists, bringing him to within two of 200 career power play assists (he is the only non-center among the top dozen in power play assists since 2005-2006).  Seven different players recorded points on the power play.  One of them was Nicklas Backstrom, who with an assist on the man advantage finished the week with 256 career power play assists, by far the most in the league since he entered the NHL in 2007-2008 (Joe Thornton has 217).

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8 / 100.0 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 20th)

The Caps were perfect on the penalty kill for the second straight week, the first time this season they went consecutive weeks without giving up a power play goal.  They went the entire five-game home stand without allowing a power play goal and extended the consecutive games streak without having allowed one to six.

The penalty kill was impressive in its efficiency as well, holding three opponents to just eight shots on goal over eight power plays in 14:23 of shorthanded ice time.  As a bonus, they recorded a shorthanded goal when Tom Wilson flicked a shot the length of the ice to seal the Caps’ 6-2 win over Chicago in the middle game of the week.

Faceoffs: 98-for-179 / 54.7 percent (season: 52.2 percent, rank: 6th)

As with most other aspects of their week, it was a good one in the circle for the Caps overall, even if they slipped under 50 percent in their 6-2 win over the Blackhawks in the middle game of the week (44.8 percent).  They were 54.7 percent overall, and they were 50 percent or better in all three zones – 55.8 percent in the offensive zone (24-for-43), 50.0 percent in the defensive zone (33-for-66), and 48.6 percent in the neutral zone (41-for-70).

Individually, the top faceoff guys were top faceoff guys.  Each of the four players taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (29-for-52/55.8 percent), Lars Eller (21-for-38/55.3 percent), Jay Beagle (19-for-36/52.8 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (21-for-40/52.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The dominant week extended to domination by period, the Caps outscoring opponents by at least two goals overall in each of the three periods of the week.  What is more, the Caps scored the first goal in eight of the nine periods played in Week 10, allowing the period’s first goal only in the last period of the week, when the Rangers tied the game, 2-2, 9:37 into the third period of the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Of note is the continued good fortune that the Caps are enjoying early in games, outscoring opponents by an 8-2 margin over the last two weeks to open up a plus-9 goal differential in the first periods of games overall this season.  With five first period goals in three games this week, the Caps now have 32 first period goals this season, tied with Tampa Bay for third most in the league.  In holding their three opponents to just one first period goal, the Caps jumped into the top ten in fewest first period goals allowed (23/tied for eighth fewest).

In the end…

Three wins for the Caps in Week 10 left them with a 4-1-0 home stand, and 12 home wins this season.  Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more home wins (13) in the league, and only the Los Angeles Kings have a better record over their last ten games (8-1-1) than the Caps do in theirs (8-2-0).  Since November 1st, the Caps have the second best record/points total in the league (13-5-0/26 points), topped only by the Nashville Predators (13-3-2/28 points).

However, the injury T.J. Oshie suffered in the 4-1 win over San Jose to open the week looms large for the Caps, who did get Andre Burakovsky back off the injured list to wrap up the week.  Oshie’s absence is important in a broad sense, given his contributions at even strength and on the power play, and in his energetic style overall.  It was encouraging to see Brett Connolly step up to contribute on the man advantage and for Tom Wilson to make a difference on the right side of the top line.  Spreading out the contributions can make up for a player’s absence, at least in the short term, and will undoubtedly make the Caps a better overall group when Oshie returns. 

In the meantime, the Caps inched up the standings, finishing the week in second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.  However, just five points separate the top six teams in the division, meaning that even a short slump can leave a team looking up at several teams in a very crowded division.

The Caps now face the challenge of taking the momentum they built with their four-game winning streak on the road, spending six of the next eight games away from Capital One Arena.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (3-4-7, plus-6, 11 PIMs, 1 SHG, first career four-point game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-5-7, plus-6, 2 PPA, 2 GWG, 15 shots on goal, 25 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-5, snapped 21-game goalless streak, 55.8 percent faceoff wins)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Rangers at Capitals, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their five-game home stand on Friday night when the New York Rangers visit Capital One Arena.  It will be a contest of two teams on fire.  Washington will take a 7-2-0 record in their last nine games into the contest, while the Rangers will be sporting a record of 6-1-0 in their last seven contests and 12-3-0 in their last 15 games.

The Rangers were stuck in a deep hole on October 28th when they dropped a 5-4 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.  At 3-7-2 they were tied with the Buffalo Sabres with the fourth-worst record in the league.  They were leaking goals, having allowed, with the Canadiens, the fourth-highest number of goals in the league (42).  Their penalty killing was poor (77.7 percent/25th), and they were an iffy possession team (48.61 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5/22nd).

In 15 games since, the Rangers are no better a possession team (47.20 percent/26th), but they have allowed just 38 goals, tied with Tampa Bay for second-fewest in that span.  Is it goaltending?  Perhaps.  Henrik Lundqvist started the season looking as if at age 35, the back side of his career might be in sight.  In that early rut in which the Rangers found themselves, he was 2-4-2, 3.12, .900, with one shutout.  Since then, however, Lundqvist is 11-2-0, 2.36, .927, with one shutout, more “Lundqvistian” numbers.  He is doing this despite a heavier workload in shots faced, seeing 31.16 shots per 60 minutes in his sluggish opening and 32.34 shots per 60 minutes on his hot run of late.  In 36 career games against the Caps, Lundqvist is 21-11-4, 2.61, .909, with four shutouts.

After making 14 straight appearances, Lundqvist was unable to go against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday due to the flu, leaving thing to Ondrej Pavelec, who presumably would get the call if Lundqvist is still under the weather.  Now with his third team in an 11-year career (two franchises, since he was with the Atlanta Thrashers when they moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets), Pavelec’s career arc has been descending into that of a backup for more than a few seasons now.  He appeared in a career high 68 games in 2011-2012 with the Jets and led the league with 44 appearances in the next, abbreviated 2012-2013 campaign.  His appearances diminished thereafter, from 57 in 82 games in 2013-2014 to 50 the following season, then 33 in 2015-2016 (he missed 33 games to a knee injury) to eight last season (another 24 games missed to injuries). 

Pavelec has never been an especially efficient goaltender at this level, posting a save percentage over .915 just once in 11 seasons (.920 with the Jets in 2014-2015).  He has just one season with a goals against average under 2.70, that in the same 2014-2015 season when he finished with a 2.28 GAA.  He is not having a particularly noteworthy season as Lundqvist’s backup, going 2-4-0, 3.45, .899 in seven appearances.  He is 10-15-2, 2.89, .907, with three shutouts in 29 career appearances against the Caps.

The Rangers have really spread things around, scoring-wise, on their 12-3-0 run, nine different players with points in double digits.  Mats Zuccarello leads the club with 14 points in that stretch (3-11-14).  He is looking to have a bounceback year after seeing his goal total drop from 26 in 81 games in 2015-2016 to 15 in 80 games last season, even if his points fell just two, from 61 to 59.  Zuccarello’s problem last year was efficiency.  He recorded more shots on goal last season than in the one before (189 to 166) but saw his shooting percentage cut almost in half, from 15.7 percent to 7.9 percent.  He has been streaky on the road this season, recording a four-point game in the Rangers’ road opener this season, in Toronto (an 8-5 loss to the Maple Leafs) and a two-point game against the Penguins on Tuesday, but he is also without a point in five of nine road games overall.  Zuccarello is 1-8-9, even, in 18 career games against Washington.

1.  The Rangers have outscored opponents by a 56-38 margin in their 12-3-0 run.  Seven of their 12 wins were by multi-goal margins, and they are 4-0-0 in extra-time games in that streak.

2.  No team has played fewer games on the road this season than the Rangers, going 4-5-0 in nine games away from Madison Square Garden.  Four teams have 12 road games on their record.

3.  The road has not been kind to the Rangers in terms of possession numbers.  They rank 301th of 31 teams in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (45.75 percent), ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (43.49 percent; numbers from NHL.com).

4.  The Rangers have four players with five or more goals in their 12-3-0 run.  By way of comparison, the Caps have only five players with five or more goals overall for the season (although they do have five players with four).

5.  Remember when the Rangers were a bunch of shot-blocking freaks?  Well now, not so much.  They rank 21st in blocked shots this season (393).  In the other grittership category, they rank 19th in credited hits.  The low rankings might be good if they were masters of possession, but as we have seen, they are not (47.78 percent overall in shot attempts-for at fives, home and road).

1.  Alex Ovechkin has not gone consecutive home games without a point over his last 11 contests at Capital One Arena (6-6-12, plus-1), and he has points in his last three home games (3-4-7, plus-1).

2.  When Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal the other night, it broke a 21-game streak without a goal.  With four goals, he is still tied for sixth on the club (with Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, and Alex Chiasson). 

3.  When Tom Wilson recorded a four-point game against Chicago on Wednesday night, it was his first multi-point result since Game 10 (2-0-2 in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins on November 4th), and it was as many points as he recorded in his previous nine games.  He has four goals this season on 34 shots, a career best (to date) 11.8 shooting percentage.

4.  That 6-2 win over Chicago on Wednesday evened the Caps’ record at 7-7 in games decided by three or more goals.  Their 14 decisions in such games is second-most in the league, trailing only the 17 such decisions the Winnipeg Jets have (11-6).

5.  Only two teams have more blocked shots on home ice than the Caps (245).  The Rangers have 260, and the Montreal Canadiens have 293.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

In the Rangers’ 12-3-0 run since late October, Michael Grabner has ten goals to lead the club.  It largely negates a sluggish start in which he recorded just one goal in his first ten games of the season and puts him on a pace that could mean a career high before the season is done.  That career high was set back in 2010-2011 with the New York Islanders, his first full season in the NHL after playing 20 games with the Vancouver Canucks the previous year.  That 34-goal total was a hard thing for Grabner to live up to, as his goal totals sank like a stone in the five years thereafter, settling at nine goals in his only season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-2016.  He rebounded last season in his first year with the Rangers, finishing with 27 goals in 76 games.  He is currently on a pace to finish with 39 goals.  What he has not yet done this season though, is make much of a dent on the road.  Only one of his 13 goals have been scored away from Madison Square Garden.  Grabner is 2-3-5, minus-1, in 23 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Chiasson

It will no doubt seem odd to Capitals fans, but Alex Chiasson is averaging more power play ice time per game this season (1:03) than is Jakub Vrana (1:01).  After all, this is a player who does not have a power play goal in his last 173 games, not since he potted one as a member of the Ottawa Senators in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes back on November 7, 2015.  He does not have a power play point this season for the Caps, despite getting, if not top minutes, than substantial time on the man advantage.  He does, however, provide two attributes that at least suggest he get some time on the power play.  He is a big body that can screen goaltenders (6’4”/208), and he is a right-handed shot, a plus playing in the middle on a 1-3-1 power play that the Caps feature.  What he does get is more ice time killing penalties, ranking second among Caps forwards with 2:16 per game in shorthanded ice time, trailing only Jay Beagle (2:50).  It is some note than more than a quarter of his ice time per game (3:19 of 12:41) is spent on special teams.  He is the only forward on the club who can make that claim.  In eight career games against the Rangers, Chiasson is 1-4-5, plus-3.

In the end…

The Caps are firing on all cylinders at the moment, their 14 goals over their last three games representing the first time this season that the Caps scored four or more goals in three consecutive games.  And they have spread things around, too, with eight different players sharing in the goal scoring, 16 different players recording points.  It will be a challenge against the recently hot Rangers, though.  Let’s just see if the Rangers are all that on the road, where they have just two wins in regulation this season.  Okay, so they happen to be in their last two road games.  Still…

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 29: Capitals 6 - Blackhawks 2

The Washington Capitals made it seven wins in a row on home ice against the Chicago Blackhawks when they took down their Windy City visitors by a 6-2 margin on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game.

The teams felt each other out over the first half of the opening period, but then the Caps broke through.  Nicklas Backstrom broke a 21-game streak without a goal at the 11:54 mark.  Tom Wilson picked off a pass in the Chicago zone and fed Alex Ovechkin at the goal line to the left of goalie Anton Forsberg.  Ovechkin bump-passed the puck to Backstrom in the slot, and Backstrom snapped a shot past Forsberg’s blocker to give the Caps the lead.

Three minutes later, the Caps had a two-goal lead. Tom Wilson got one of his own when he took a pass from Christian Djoos on the far edge of the left wing circle, turned, and wristed a shot that eluded Forsberg, certainly a chance the goalie would want back.

The Caps poured it on less than a minute later when Wilson got behind the Chicago defense.  With three defenders in pursuit, Wilson broke in and tried to split Forsberg’s pads, but the puck was kicked back out by the netminder.  The puck slid between the skates of Artem Anisimov onto the stick of the trailing Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t miss.  His shot beat Forsberg on the glove side, and it was 3-0, 15:22 into the period.

Chicago got one back before on a Lance Bouma goal, and things settled down after that through most of the second period.  However, late in the middle frame Brett Connolly restored the Caps’ three-goal lead on a power play.  Failing on two attempts to clear the puck, Chicago was left to defend an Ovechkin shot from the top of the left wing circle.  J-F Berube, in relief of Forsberg, kicked out the shot to his right, but Connolly was in perfect position to collect the puck and wire it past Berube on the short side to make it 4-1 with just 1:28 left in the period.

Mid-way through the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov got on the board, converting some back and forth between Ovechkin and himself.  From the left wing corner, Ovechkin paddled the puck back to Kuznetsov coming down the wall.  Kuznetsov sent it back down the wall to Ovechkin behind the Blackhawk net.  As Ovechkin was receiving the puck, Kuznetsov darted to the net, putting himself in position for a return pass from Ovechkin that he snapped past Berube to make it 5-1 at the 10:23 mark.

Jonathan Toews made things a little more respectable for the visitors with under four minutes left with an unassisted goal off a breakaway.  It got Chicago close enough to pull their goaltender late on a power play, and Wilson made them pay for it, flicking the puck from the left wing circle in his own end the length of the ice and in at the 17:40 mark for the final 6-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Tom Wilson recorded the first four-point game of his career (2-2-4) and the 45th in Capitals history.  He joined Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov among Capitals with four-point games this season.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was the game-winner, his 97th career game-winning goal, breaking a tie with Guy Lafleur for eighth place, all-time.  Next up, Jarome Iginla with 101.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had his third game this season with three or more points (1-2-3).  Only Ovechkin (79) and those two centers from Pittsburgh (Sidney Crosby: 96, and Evgeni Malkin: 72) have more such games since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008 (67), Backstrom breaking a tie with Patrick Kane in the process.

-- Ovechkin had his 23rd career game of four or more points (1-3-4), second most since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (Crosby: 30).

-- Perhaps odd for a team that scored six goals, but only 12 of 18 skaters recorded shots on goal for the Caps.  Three of them were defensemen – Dmitry Orlov, Christian Djoos, and Brooks Orpik.  The other three were nominal centers – Chandler Stephenson, Lars Eller, and Travis Boyd.

-- Matt Niskanen became the second player this season to record a plus-4 in a game for the Caps.  Ovechkin did it in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 28th. 

-- The six shots on goal recorded by Ovechkin led the team and was the ninth time this season that he finished with more than five shots in a game, breaking a tie with Vladimir Tarasenko for most in the league.

-- Chicago enjoyed a big advantage in shot attempts at fives (59.65 percent Corsi-for, from Corsica.hockey), but…score effects?

-- Devante Smith-Pelly did not record a point, but otherwise gets the buffet coupon for the game… two shots on goal, two missed shots, two credited hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, three blocked shots and a faceoff taken (lost).  All in just 11:03 of ice time.

-- John Carlson skated 25:47, the 23rd time this season his ice time exceeded 25 minutes.  That ties Minnesota’s Ryan Suter and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty for most in the league.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots, leaving him with a .937 save percentage on home ice this season, third best in the league among goalies with at least 200 minutes played on home ice (Sergei Bobrovsky: .942; Aaron Dell: .941).

In the end…

It is hard to find a lot to complain about in this one (well, you Corsi-freaks might have some things to chew on).  The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Wilson top line had four goals and 11 points.  The power play scored a goal (1-for-3); the penalty killers were perfect (4-for-4).  They got out to a lead, built it, and stifled the Blackhawks when they might have gained some momentum with their late first period goal.  They took advantage of a team with issues in goal, with Corey Crawford out for the Blackhawks, chasing one goalie and taking advantage of his relief, even if the chances were not as plentiful.

The Caps are now 3-1-0 on this five-game home stand and have climbed to within a point of the Metropolitan Division lead.  Their 15 wins in regulation or overtime are tied with Pittsburgh for most in the division (four teams have 14).  They will get to do some direct damage on the division in their next contest, one against the New York Rangers to close out what would be a very successful home stand with a win.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 29: Blackhawks at Capitals, December 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off an impressive 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, the Washington Capitals return to Capital One Arena ice on Wednesday night against another Western Conference opponent.  The Chicago Blackhawks come to Washington in what has become a most surprising rivalry.  The Caps have a six-game winning streak against the Blackhawks on home ice dating back to November 2008.  The last Chicago win on this ice sheet was a 4-3 overtime win on January 10, 2006.

The Caps are on a roll at home with a record of 9-2-0 in their last 11 games on home ice.  Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are struggling of late, losers of four in a row (0-2-2) and with a 6-5-3 record on the road this season.

The four game-losing streak the Blackhawks bring to Capital One Arena look like a run of bad luck as much as anything else.  Three of the losses were by one goal, one in overtime and one in a Gimmick.  The other loss was a two-goal loss to Los Angeles in which the Kings scored an empty net goal late for the final margin.

The odd thing about the four-game losing streak for Chicago is that while they have spread their goal-scoring around – eight different players have goals – none have more than one in that stretch.  One of those players is a forward who seems to have been playing in the NHL forever but is not yet 30 years old.  Artem Anisimov is with his third NHL team in the Blackhawks (Columbus and the New York Rangers being the other), skating for his third season in Chicago.  His goals per game, assists per game, and points per game have improved with each stop along the way, averaging 0.19-.025-0.44 per game in 244 games with the Rangers, 0.24-0.26-0.50 in 168 games in Columbus, and at the moment 0.32-0.29-0.61 in 168 career games with Chicago.  His 12 goals in 27 games this season puts him on a pace (36 goals) that would obliterate his previous career high (22 goals set with Columbus in 2013-2014 and tied with Chicago last season).  It is more than a bit surprising that over the past two seasons, Anisimov’s 34 goals is second-most on the club, topped only by Patrick Kane’s 44 goals (he leads the club this season).  And if you are thinking that ranking is more a product of Artemi Panarin moving on to Columbus, Anisimov’s 34 goals come in 91 games, while Panarin’s 31 (third-ranked over the past two seasons) came in 82 games.  He is 3-6-9, minus-2, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Cody Franson is the only Blackhawk defenseman with a goal in this four-game losing streak for Chicago.  Franson is another well-traveled player, this first season with Chicago being his fourth stop in his nine-year NHL career (Nashville, Toronto, and Buffalo being the others).  That goal he has in this streak is the only one Franson has this season, not an especially surprising state given that his career high in goals is eight, recorded with Nashville in his sophomore 2010-2011 season. 

It has been an odd season for Franson, extending back to the off-season.  An unrestricted free agent, he was signed to a professional try-out contract by Chicago in early September.  He showed enough for the Blackhawks to extend to him a one-year contract with a $1 million price tag.  He sat for the first three games this season, the odd righthanded defenseman out.  He appeared in just two of the Blackhawks’ first 11 games, but since getting a sweater against the Colorado Avalanche in the last game of October, he sat out just one game (against New Jersey on November 12th).  Franson is 4-5-9, plus-1, in 20 career games against Washington.

In the storied history of the Chicago Blackhawks dating back to 1926, Corey Crawford is third on the all-time franchise list of goaltenders – 80 in all – in wins (225).  He is 12th on the wins list among active goaltenders.  However, Crawford is on the injured reserve list at the moment with a lower body injury, which could leave the netminding duties in the hands of backup goalie Anton Forsberg.  It is an unfamiliar situation for Forsberg, who has just 18 games of experience on his NHL resume over four seasons, the first three of which he spent in Columbus after being taken in the seventh round (188th overall) by the Blue Jackets in the 2011 entry draft.  He has already posted a career high of eight appearances this season with Chicago, but his career numbers (2-11-3, 3.57, .896) and 2017-2018 numbers to date (1-3-3, 3.04, .914) remain modest.  Forsberg has one career appearance against the Caps and an historic one at that.  On January 2, 2016 he relieved the injured Curtis McElhinney in overtime of a 4-4 game.  He stopped all six shots he faced in the last 4:05 of the extra frame and stopped two of three trick shots to earn the win, the first goalie in NHL history to earn his first career win without playing in regulation time.

If not Forsberg, it could be Jean-Francois Berube, recently of the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.  His route to the Blackhawks was even more circuitous than Forsberg’s, having been drafted in the fourth round (95th overall) in the 2009 entry draft by the Los Angeles Kings, but never playing for them, waived by the team in October 2015 after the Kings signed Jhonas Enroth to be their backup.  He was claimed by the New York Islanders, for whom he appeared in 21 games over the last two seasons, going 6-4-3, 3.11, .900.  After last season, his career path took an odd turn.  He was an impending Group VI free agent based on a limited number of games played and was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last June, a selection based on a trade between those two teams that involved promises, an injured center, and draft picks.  Less than two weeks later he signed as a free-agent by the Blackhawks.  Since then he has toiled in the AHL waiting his first appearance with Chicago.  Perhaps this will be the night.  It would be his first career appearance against the Caps.

1.  Chicago brings a bit of a leaky defense to town.  Through Monday’s games, only two teams – Anaheim (36.3) and Florida (35.6) – have allowed more shots on goal per game than the Blackhawks (33.7).  However, they do have decent shot attempt numbers at fives, ranking ninth in shot attempts-for percentage (51.38 percent).

2.  The Blackhawks bring the league’s third-best road penalty kill into this game (87.9 percent), pending Tuesday’s results, trailing only Toronto (89.4 percent) and Los Angeles (91.5 percent).  Much of that is an early season phenomenon, though.  Chicago was 20-for-21 over their first four games on the road (95.2 percent).  Since then, they are 31-for-37 (83.8 percent).

3.  Chicago has a very odd penalty profile on the road.  Their 128 penalty minutes in road games is just 18th-most in the league.  Their 63 penalties ranks eighth.  However, 62 of those 63 penalties are minor penalties – third-most in the league.  Chicago and Carolina are the only two teams in the league without a major penalty on the road.

4.  Maybe it’s the arena lighting that is more to their liking at home, but the Blackhawks have the sixth-worst shooting percentage on the road (7.9 percent).

5.  Chicago has 12 wins but game-winning goals from only three players, and two of them account for 11 of the total – Brandon Saad (six) and Artem Anisimov (five).  Lance Bouma has the other one.

1.  The last Chicago win against the Caps in regulation in Washington was a 4-3 win on March 12, 2004.  For those of you who don’t remember those heady days of Caps' struggles, here was the lineup that day…
  • Bates Battaglia
  • Rick Berry
  • Josef Boumedienne
  • Owen Fussey
  • Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre
  • Jeff Halpern
  • Craig Johnson
  • Joel Kwiatkowski
  • Brooks Laich
  • Kip Miller
  • Brad Norton
  • Stephen Peat
  • Matt Pettinger
  • Todd Rohloff
  • Alexander Semin
  • Brian Willsie
  • Brendan Witt
  • Dainius Zubrus
  • Olaf Kolzig
This team Caps team is probably better, but then again, so is Chicago’s.

2.  Only three teams have more power play chances on home ice than the Caps (56) this season – Ottawa (57), Chicago (59), and the New York Rangers (67).

3.  On the other hand, only five teams have been shorthanded more than the Caps (47) on home ice.  Not good, given that the Caps rank 23rd in the league in home penalty killing (76.6 percent).

4.  The Caps are in the top ten in credited hits at home (318/9th) and blocked shots (225/7th).  That might be a credit to grittership, but it also might be a reflection of ranking 24th in shot attempts-for percentage at home (48.12; numbers from NHL.com).

5.  Washington has the third-best faceoff winning percentage on home ice (55.5 percent), trailing only Nashville (56.0 percent) and Philadelphia (56.4 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Alex DeBrincat

If good things come in small packages, Alex DeBrincat is a fine package.  Of 762 skaters to dress in the NHL this season, DeBrincat is the second shortest at 5’7” (Colorado’s Rocco Grimaldi is one inch shorter), and at 165 pounds, only seven players weighing less have appeared in an NHL game.  Nevertheless, DeBrincat’s 11 goals trails only Vancouver’s Brock Boeser among rookies, and his 19 points rank fourth in this year’s rookie class.  He has been very efficient in doing so, since he ranks just 30th in average ice time (14:25) among rookies appearing in at least ten games.  He is one of three rookies this season to record a hat trick (Boeser and Adrian Kempe being the others), that coming in a 7-3 Chicago win over the Anaheim Ducks on November 27th.  The four points he recorded in that game is just one of four such games by rookies this season (Boeser and Kempe with four point games, Mathew Barzal with a five-assist game against the Colorado Avalanche on November 5th).  This will be his first career appearance against the Capitals.

Washington: Christian Djoos

Christian Djoos is one of the few players in the league as slightly built as Chicago’s DeBrincat, and although his rookie footprint is not as deep as his counterpart, it has been a decent opening in his NHL career.  He is one of just seven of 39 rookie defensemen to record two or more goals (he has two), and his plus-4 is tied for seventh in his rookie defenseman class.  What is more, he has improved in that last statistic, having recorded just one “minus” game in his last 14 contests (minus-1 in the 4-3 win over Columbus last Saturday).  He has had relatively sheltered minutes, particularly at home where he has topped 15 minutes played just once in ten games at Capital One Arena.  This will be his first career appearance against Chicago.

In the end…

Out of adversity comes opportunity.  With Andre Burakovsky still sidelined and T.J. Oshie joining him after sustaining an injury Monday night, the Caps will be just that much thinner among the forwards.  This is where we say it would be a good time for Nicklas Backstrom to break out of his goal-scoring slump (21 games and counting), and that would be true.  But it is also a chance for others.  For instance, Jay Beagle has not scored on a goaltender since Game 8, a shorthanded goal against the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-3 win (his two goals since were of the empty net variety).  Tom Wilson doesn’t have a goal in his last 14 games.  Madison Bowey is looking for his first NHL goal, while fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen is looking for his first one this season.  There is room for folks to step up and fill in with a couple of key contributors out of the lineup.  They will have to against a struggling, if prideful bunch such as the Blackhawks.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 3

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 28: Capitals 4 - Sharks 1

The Washington Capitals took the ice with a rarely-faced rival on Monday night in the San Jose Sharks, but by the time the contest was over, a well-earned hatred might have set in between the clubs in the 4-1 Capitals win.

It started late in the second period when T.J. Oshie was finishing a check on Logan Couture.  In doing so, he appeared to lose his balance and Joe Thornton, following in on the play, clipped Oshie’s head with his hip and jamming it into the boards.  Oshie stayed down on the ice for several moments before being helped up and off the ice, not to return.  No penalty was called on the play.

Justice was meted out early in the third period when Tom Wilson challenged Thornton to face the music.  Thornton got a couple of early blows in, but Wilson finished him with a straight right that dropped him to the ice.  Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer took exception to Wilson challenging Thornton, but Thornton shrugged it off. 

Losing Oshie for any length of time would be a high price to pay, indeed, for a win such as this, even one against a club the Caps rarely beat.

Other stuff…

-- Rarely?  Absolutely.  This was the first Capitals win over San Jose in regulation since they beat the Sharks by the same 4-1 margin on October 15, 2009.  It was just their second win in regulation against San Jose in more than 18 years, dating back to February 1999.  After last night’s win, the Caps are 4-19-3 against the Sharks in their last 26 games.

-- The scoring started late in the first period when Jay Beagle fought off Justin Braun below the Sharks’ goal line to get control of the puck.  He exchanged passes with Alex Chissson before getting the puck out to John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson’s first attempt at a shot was flubbed, but he took another swing, guiding the puck to the San Jose net where Devante Smith-Pelly redirected it past goalie Martin Jones at the 16:49 mark.

-- The Caps took a two-goal lead in the eighth minute when Alex Ovechkin interrupted a pass to Brent Burns for a one-timer, Ovechkin kicking the puck to the blue line where he hunted it down and took off on a breakaway.  Brendon Dillon chased furiously to try to at least take away Ovechkin getting position to pull the puck to his forehand for a shot, and he managed to do so.  But Ovechkin angled his body to protect the puck and lifted a backhand over Jones’ blocker to make it 2-0, 7:11 into the period.

-- Timo Meier got the Sharks within a goal four minutes later when the puck caromed strangely off the end boards right onto his stick in the low slot.  However, the Caps got a late second period goal for the second straight game, courtesy of Brett Connolly, but not without a little controversy.  The play started on a Caps power play when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hit to make a play, knocked to the ice by Dylan Demelo at the Sharks’ blue line, but still managing to chip the puck to Ovechkin on his left.  Ovechkin found Connolly going to the net, and Connolly roofed a backhand that at first glance seemed to hit the crossbar and carom out.  Play continued for a few more seconds, during which Ovechkin rang another shot off the crossbar, before the referee stopped play.  Video review clearly showed that Connolly’s shot hit the white framing bar under the net past the crossbar, thus making it a good goal, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead with just 52 seconds left in the period.

-- Jakub Vrana ended the scoring on another power play mid-way through the third period, a goal illustrating the virtues of patience.  As several Caps and Sharks fought for possession of the puck in close to Jones’ right, Vrana waited patiently, stick on the ice, at the top of the crease.  Eventually, the puck squirted out to him, and all he had to do was snap it into the back of the net before Jones could reposition himself. 

-- Travis Boyd made his NHL debut in this game and recorded one shot on goal in 9:10.  He became the first player in franchise history to wear the jersey number “72” in a regular season game.

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 20th of the season, making him the 11th player in NHL history to score 20 or more goals in each of his first 13 seasons.  He added an assist for his 302nd career multi-point game, extending his franchise record (Peter Bondra: 208).  Since the 2005-2006 season, he is second in that number only to Sidney Crosby (314).

-- The Caps, as they did against Columbus on Saturday, spread things around, nine players sharing the ten points recorded.  Four different players had the goals.

-- Washington had two fights for the first time since October 13th against the New Jersey Devils and the first time this season on home ice.  In addition to the Wilson-Thornton fight, Alex Chiasson and Barclay Goodrow went at it in the third period after Goodrow high-sticked John Carlson.  San Jose would be hit with a third major penalty late when Brendan Dillon slashed Madison Bowey with just seconds left in the game.  He also received a game misconduct.

-- Lost in the noise of the scoring, the fighting, and the concern over Oshie might have been a 24-save effort by goalie Philipp Grubauer.

In the end…

On one level, it was nice to see the Caps perform well and stand firm against a team as difficult historically as the Sharks.  But if it means that T.J. Oshie misses any significant time, compounded by the continued absence of Andre Burakovsky (who might return next week), it is a high, perhaps too high a price to pay for the good feeling such a win provides.

That said, this was a game that could be significant on several levels.  The obvious element is winning.  One regulation win in 18 years is quite a hurdle to overcome.  But there were other elements, in combination, that might signal something.  Ovechkin got his goal, his 20th in Game 28 (he did not get his 20th goal until Game 41 last season, and in his last 50-goal season two years ago did not hit that mark until Game 35).  But there was Devante Smith-Pelly getting his second goal in four games, as did Jakub Vrana.  Brett Connolly had a goal in his second straight game.  The team spread their contributions around.  They stood up for one another. 

Maybe, just maybe, they are forging an identity here.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Sharks at Capitals, December 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief departure in the recent schedule that allowed the Washington Capitals to take on a Metropolitan Division rival over the weekend – a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps go back to facing non-divisional opponents on Monday night when the San Jose Sharks come to town.  The Caps will be looking to get past the .500 mark on their current five-game home stand as well as notch their tenth win on home ice this season.

San Jose comes to town to wrap up a four-game road trip on which they are 2-1-0 with wins over Philadelphia and Florida before dropping a 5-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.  The Sharks are among the better road teams in the league, their 7-3-1 record being better than their home record this season (7-6-1).  They have not lost consecutive road games yet this season, although they are in jeopardy of doing that for the first time when they face the Caps on Monday.

Logan Couture leads the Sharks in goals (13) and points (21) overall, and he leads the club in road goals (6) and points (10).  While that road scoring line does not look especially impressive at first glance (he ranks tied for 60th in points in the league in road scoring), those ten points have come in just 11 road games, the Sharks having played the fewest road contests in the Western Conference (Ottawa (10) and the New York Rangers (8) have played fewer in the East through Saturday).  With 13 goals in 25 games overall, Couture seems well on his way to posting his seventh 20-goal season in as many full seasons (he played 25 games and had five goals in his first NHL season, and in 2015-2016 he had 15 goals in 52 games in a season cut short with a fractured leg and a lower body injury).  If there is an odd Couture fact this season it is that he does not have a point in the four games in which he logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.  Couture is 4-6-10, plus-2, in 11 career games against Washington.

Brent Burns is a perennial among Shark scoring leaders from the blue line, but Justin Braun might be a bit of a surprise as the second-leading scorer among San Jose defensemen (1-9-10).  His plus-7 is tied with Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the team lead in that group.  He would seem to be on a pace to top his career bests in assists (22 in 2014-2015) and points (23 in that season and the 2015-2016 season), and he could top his career-best of plus-19 in the 2013-2014 season.  That career started in unremarkable fashion as a seventh-round (201st overall) draft pick by the Sharks in 2007.  It would be three more seasons before he had his first taste of NHL action, getting 28 games in the 2010-2011 season.  Since then, only once in eight seasons, including this one, did he fail to reach double digits in points, going 0-7-7, minus-5, in 41 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Braun is 0-1-1, plus-3, in nine career games against the Caps.

Martin Jones gets little in the way of Vezina finalist love, but he has been just fine backstopping the Sharks.  The numbers are more solid than elite for Jones in three years with the Sharks, his 2.32 goals against average ranking 11th among 54 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes played over that span and his .916 save percentage ranking 18th.  He is one of 11 goalies in that group with at least ten shutouts over the last three seasons, which would be more than Henrik Lundqvist (8) or Pekka Rinne (7).  This season he ranks fourth in GAA among 37 goalies with at least 500 minutes logged, and his .926 save percentage ranks seventh through Saturday’s games.  His road numbers are even better, a 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.  Of particular relevance to this game, Jones has shut out the Caps in each of his last two appearances against the team in Washington, the only goalie over the past three seasons with two shutouts against the Caps in Washington.  He is 4-0-0, 1.00, .963, with those two shutouts in four career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  San Jose is quite adept at clamping down on opposing offenses.  The 29.7 shots on goal allowed per game is second-best in the league, while their 52.79 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 ranks fourth in the league through Saturday’s games.

2.  The Sharks are also disciplined within the rules.  They have been whistled for 90 penalties this season, fourth-fewest in the league, and their two major penalties are tied for fewest in the league.  They have only one fighting major (Joe Pavelski, of all people), fewest in the league.

3.  San Jose blankets teams early.  They have allowed just 18 first period goals this season, tied with the St. Louis Blues for third-fewest in the league.  They are not bad late, either, allowing just 16 third period goals, second-fewest in the league (Los Angeles: 12).

4.  The defense helps the Sharks dominate opponents on the scoreboard, their six wins by three or more goals tied for fourth-most in the league.  They have a 6-3 record in such games.

5.  If there is an odd feature to the Sharks’ behavior early in games, it is their comparatively ordinary record when scoring first.  Their 9-5-1 record in such games ranks 22nd in winning percentage (.600).

1.  Braden Holtby is fourth in the league in save percentage on home ice (.935) among 37 goalies appearing in at least five home contests.

2.  The Caps have three players in double-digits in home scoring so far: Evgeny Kuznetsov (5-10-15), Alex Ovechkin (9-2-11), and John Carlson (2-9-11).  Lars Eller has nine points, and both Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie have eight to be next in line.

3.  Plus-minus might not be the most informative statistic on its own, but it can be an odd one.  Jakub Vrana and Brooks Orpik lead the team in home plus-minus at plus-7 apiece.  Andre Burakovsky, who hasn’t played a home game since October 21st, is a team-worst minus-3 on home ice.

4.  The Caps have not done a very good job coming back in games late.  Their 1-9-0 record in games in which they trail after two periods is the sixth-worst in the league.  Not that last season was much better, despite the much better overall record.  The Caps were 3-14-5 in such games last season, 19th in winning percentage (.136).

5.  A win on Monday would be the Caps’ tenth on home ice this season, making them (pending results of other games) the fourth team in the East to hit double digits in home wins.  The Rangers lead the East with 11 home wins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Brent Burns

Last season, Brent Burns recorded 29 goals, the most goals by a defenseman since Mike Green recorded 31 goals for the Caps in the 2008-2009 season.  Over the previous four seasons, Burns recorded more than 20 goals four times and averaged 23.8 goals per season.  No defenseman came close to the 95 goals he recorded over the previous four seasons (Shea Weber had 75).  So far this season, the defending Norris Trophy winner has one goal in 25 games, that one coming on November 24th in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.  It is not as if his shooting frequency is off.  Burns is averaging 3.92 shots per game this season compared to 3.90 shots per game last season when he led the league in shots on goal with 320 (he is seventh this season with 98).  And on a team that does well in possession numbers overall, Burns is part of the pack among Shark defensemen, ranking fourth among the six defensemen having appeared in at least 15 games (55.49 percent) in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5.  He is 6-9-15, plus-3, in 14 career games against Washington.

Washington:  Dmitry Orlov

A lot of Capitals have had their frustrations against the San Jose Sharks, and Dmitry Orlov is no exception.  That frustration has spread, to an extent, to his overall production so far this season.  After posting a career year last season (6-27-33, plus-30) in 82 games, he is just 2-5-7, plus-1, in 27 games so far this season, despite playing a career high 23:30 a game in ice time (he averaged 19:36 in 2013-2014). Those two goals do happen to be tied for the team lead among defensemen (John Carlson and Christian Djoos being the others).  And, both of his goals and three of his five assists are on home ice, with a plus-2 in 14 games on Capital One Arena ice, so there is that going for him.  What he has not had, like a lot of his teammates, is much in the way of success against the Sharks.  Orlov is 1-0-1, minus-6, in eight career games against San Jose.

In the end…

If the games against the Kings and Blue Jackets last week were, even if head coach Barry Trotz hates the term, “measuring sticks” for the Caps, the game against the San Jose Sharks on Monday is one of a different sort.  This is a club that the Caps can’t beat when they stink (0-2-1 when the Caps were coming out of the 2004-20015 lockout and still rebuilding), when they are competitive (3-5-2 between October 2009 and February 2013), or when they are dominant (0-4-0 over the last two seasons, ones in which the Caps won the Presidents Trophy for the best regular season record in the league).  That they are 3-7-3 in 17 games against the Sharks since the 2004-2005 lockout (two of the wins in extra time) – 1-4-3 on home ice – speaks to more than a little frustration.  Win this game, and perhaps this Caps team has a little more resemblance to teams of the past few years than fans might have thought.

Capitals 3 – Sharks 2