Sunday, February 07, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Afternoon: Capitals 3 - Flyers 2

The Washington Capitals made it a “super” Super Bowl weekend by completing a sweep of back-to-back games, beating the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon.

Just as they did when the clubs met on the Verizon Center ice sheet on January 27th, the Caps spotted the Flyers the first goal.  Shayne Gostisbehere faked a shot from the right point and sent the puck across to Michael Del Zotto at the opposite point.  Del Zotto fired a shot that hit defenseman Matt Niskanen’s skate on the way through, bending the shot just enough to elude goalie Braden Holtby and give the Flyers a 1-0 lead with just 1:39 left in the first period.

That lead stood up well into the second period, but did not hold up to the end of the middle frame.  With less than five minutes to go in the second period the Caps tied the contest.  After a faceoff in the Flyer end, T.J. Oshie hounded Radko Gudas into sending the puck around the boards in a clearing attempt.  The puck made it only to Karl Alzner at the left point, who gathered up the puck and whipped it toward the Flyer net.  On the way through, Alex Ovechkin managed to get the blade of his stick on the puck and redirect it past goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-1 at the 15:56 mark.

Barely a minute later, the Caps had the lead.  Andre Burakovsky walked the puck up the wall in the Flyers’ zone and fed Dmitry Orlov in the middle of the ice.  Orlov stepped around Brayden Schenn, whose stick broke, and Nick Cousins tried to annoy Orlov from behind.  Orlov would have none of it, circling in and firing a shot that beat Mason to the stick side to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at 17:05 of the period.

It took the Flyers less than a minute of the third period to tie the game, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare winning a faceoff back to Nick Schultz at the left point.  Schultz fired the puck through a maze of bodies and beat Holtby on the glove side 51 seconds into the period.

The game-winner came on what Caps fans might call end-to-end magic by Matt Niskanen, what Flyers fans might describe as $#@%ed up defense.   Niskanen collected a loose puck and started up ice.  He made it all the way to the Flyers’ blue line where he darted between Jakub Voraceka and Wayne Simmonds.  Continuing forward, he worked his way between Gostisbehere and Del Zotto and found himself on the doorstep.  He flipped the puck under Mason’s left arm, and the Caps had a 3-2 lead at the 5:24 mark.

That left things in the capable hands of Braden Holtby, who slammed the door over the last 14 minutes, and the Caps had a 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps hit the 80-point mark in their 51st game.  Last season they did not get there until Game 65.  In fact, the earliest the Caps reached the 80-point mark before this season was in 2009-2010, when they hit the 80-point mark in Game 55 on their way to a 121-point season and the Presidents Trophy for the league’s best record.

-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist gave him points in seven straight games (6-3-9), although his goal-scoring streak ended at five games.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal, making him the third player in NHL history to record 30 or more goal in each of his first 11 seasons.   Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner are the others.  Ovechkin is the only one to do it with one franchise.

-- Dmitry Orlov’s goal gave him 19 points on the season, tying his career high set in his rookie season of 2011-2012.

-- Matt Niskanen’s goal was his first game-winning goal as a Capital.  He also led the team with seven shots on goal, a season high for him, set just five days after his previous season high, five shots on goal against the Florida Panthers.

-- Karl Alzner had his first two-assist game of the season.  It was his first two-assist game since he had a pair in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 16, 2014.

-- Odd fact…three centers did not have a shot attempt: Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Richards, and Michael Latta.

-- This was the third straight game in which Braden Holtby allowed two goals.  His save percentage over those three games (.929) is his season save percentage (.929).

-- The Caps went 0-for-2 on the power play, making it 0-for-17 over their last five games.

-- Washington was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, the first time this season they held an opponent without a power play goal when facing five or more shorthanded situations.

In the end…

The Capitals have opened up a 17-point lead on the rest of the Metropolitan Division with every other team having played as many or more games than the Caps.  They are now 7-0-2 in their last nine division games.  Now they face a different kind of test.  They go on the road to face three Central Division teams – the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars – teams that are a combined 47-24-6 on home ice.  This might be the Caps’ biggest test of the season coming up.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

Week 17 was a topsy-turvy week for the Washington Capitals, starting with an unpleasant loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers, followed up by a gritty win over the New York Islanders, and ending with a lose-a-lead-come-from-behind trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils.  It was a week that had just about everything.  Well, almost everything.

Record: 2-1-0

The Capitals returned to their weekly winning ways in Week 17 after a .500 record in Week 16.  They now have 15 winning weeks and two .500 weeks so far this season.  It was not an outcome won easily, though.  The week started with a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers that might some cause for concern.  After beating the Panthers in their first meeting of the season, a 2-1 overtime win in Florida, the Caps have lost both meetings since by a combined 9-3 margin.

The Caps followed up that defeat with a couple of come-from behind wins.  They spotted the New York Islanders the game’s first goal before overcoming the deficit in a 3-2 win.  Then, the Caps lost a 1-0 lead by allowing a pair of third period goals, tying the game late on Paul Carey’s first NHL goal.  The more skilled Caps then won in a trick shot competition, 3-2, their third win in the Gimmick in four tries this season.

Offense:  2.33/game (season: 3.26 /game; rank: 1st)

It was a light week for the league’s top scoring offense.  Who they faced in goal had a lot to do with that.  The Caps opened the week against a hot goalie in Florida’s Al Montoya, who was 5-1-0, 1.74, .933, in his previous eight appearances.  They ended the week against an all-star goalie in Cory Schneider.  In between they faced nemesis Jaroslav Halak.  In retrospect, a comparatively light week in goal scoring was not surprising.

The Caps were lied in goals by Andre Burakovsky, who had goals in each of the week’s three games to extend his goal-scoring streak to five games, a career high.  He was joined by Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3) with three-point weeks to lead the team. 

It was a week in which the Caps lacked for secondary scoring.  The top line had three goals, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Backstrom each recording one.  The second line had Burakovsky’s three goals.  The bottom six, however, could only contribute Carey’s game-tying goal in the contest in New Jersey for the week.  The defense did not contribute and goals and had single assists from only Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.24 /game; rank: 2nd)

The week might have been a lot worse but for the fact that the Caps did a good job in limiting shots on goal.  They allowed their three opponents just 69 shots on goal for the week (23.0 per game), the first time they held three consecutive opponents under 30 shots since Games 15-17 in mid-November.  In only one of the nine regulation periods for the week did the Caps allow a double-digit shot total (12 in the third period against the Islanders). 

An odd thing about the goals against on-ice for the Caps.  By the time the Panthers had a 3-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of the first game of the week, 13 different skaters were on ice for the Caps for the goals allowed, the maximum (the Panthers scored one of those goals on a 5-on-3 power play).  For the week, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt had a difficult time of it, being on ice for five goals against and four goals against, respectively.

The Caps had a pretty good week in terms of possession, although on an individual game basis it was more feast or famine.  Washington book-ended a 37.0 percent Corsi-for effort at 5-on-5 against the Islanders (their second-worst of the season) with a pair of 60-plus percent games (67.2 percent in the loss to Florida and 62.3 percent against the Devils to close the week).  Overall they were 53.5 percent to the good and finished the week 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.5 percent (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.61 /.882 (season: 2.12 / .926 / 2 shutouts)

Uneven is perhaps the best description of goaltending for the week overall.  Looking at it by goaltender, it was a good week for Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.92, .920), not so good for Philipp Grubauer.  Perhaps it was time after a string of fine performances by Grubauer that he would struggle, as hard as it is for a backup goaltender to get into any comfortable playing rhythm.  But struggle Grubauer did against the Panthers in the first game of the week, allowing four goals on 14 shots in two periods (18 shots faced for the game).

As for Holtby, the good overall mark could have been better had he been sharper in the third periods of games.  He was a combined 13-for-14 for the week in the first period (.929 save percentage), a perfect 14-for-14 in the second period, but just 17-for-20 in the third period (.850).

Power Play: 0-for-13 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.5 percent; rank: 1st)

What else does one call an 0-for-13 week than a bad one.  Thirteen opportunities with the man-advantage over three games is a luxury for the Caps these days (they rank 22nd in total power play opportunities), and to have taken the collar on the week is opportunity lost.  Part of the problem was timing.  The Caps enjoyed eight power play chances in against Florida in the first game of the week, a season high in opportunities.  However, they were missing their most potent power play goal-scoring weapon with Alex Ovechkin serving a suspension for missing the All-Star game.  He was on hand for the last two games of the week in which the Caps combined for five opportunities, but it did not make any difference in the end.

As it was, the Caps were not very efficient with their man advantage.  They managed just 11 shots on goal in 21:15 of power play time for the week (0.52 shots per minute).  None of those shots on goal were registered by Ovechkin.  John Carlson led the team with three power play shots on goal.  In a week in which there was almost everything for the Caps, a successful power play was not in the basket.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-8 / 62.5 percent (season: 83.5 percent; rank: 5th)

It was not a good week on the other side of special teams, either.  The 5-for-8 week extended a string of lackluster performance that have reached a combined 21-for-28 (75 percent) over their last eight games.  They have allowed at least one power play goal in six of those eight games.  Two of the power play goals against came against the Panthers in four chances, and the Caps tightened up a bit to kill three of four to end the week.  In that sense the week was another case of opportunity lost, holding opponents to under three chances a game over all and still allowing three goals.

Faceoffs: 86-for-176 / 48.9 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 16th)

The Caps did not have a bad week in the circle in Week 17 until you look at how the results fell out among the players.  The scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom (42.3 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (47.4 percent) – combined to go 40-for-90 on draws for the week (44.4 percent).  The centers taking most of the draws on the bottom six – Mike Richards (51.4 percent) and Zach Sill (52.9 percent) – combined to go 27-for-52 (51.9 percent).

Then there were the results by zone.  The Caps managed to go one-better than 50 percent in the neutral zone (31-for-61/50.8 percent), but did not reach that threshold in either of the ends, going 34-for-69 (49.3 percent) in the offensive zone and 21 for 46 (45.7 percent) in the defensive zone.  It was not a bad week, but the weakness (and the absence of the very proficient Jay Beagle) was felt in the end of overtime against the Devils when Evgeny Kuznetsov and Mike Richards lost consecutive draws to Adam Henrique in a span of six seconds in the last 15 seconds of the period that led to dangerous situations for the Caps.  T.J. Oshie finally put an end to that, winning a draw with Henrique with four seconds left to push the game to the Gimmick, where the Caps prevailed.

Goals by Period:

It is not often that the Caps fail to win a period for a week, but it happened in Week 17.  They were outscored in the first periods of games, 3-1, a product of that week-opening game against Florida in which they were outscored, 2-0.  They held their own in the other two periods overall and kep the Devils from securing an extra standings point in an overtime period, but the best that can be said for that is that they ground out a winning week in spite of it.

In the end…

It is a hallmark of a good team when they can grind out wins when things do not come easy.  Little came easy for the Caps in Week 17.  They were missing their top goal scorer in the first game of the week, couldn’t score a power play goal in more than a dozen chances for the week, and had to deal with an annoyingly suffocating defense against the Devils to close the week.  And, they were still missing their top faceoff player (Jay Beagle), a top pair defenseman (Brooks Orpik), and a solid contributor in the offensive end (Marcus Johansson).  Still, the Caps came out of the week with two wins in three tries.  They now seem to have their skating legs back under them, a good thing given that in the coming week they will play four games, a matinee at home against the Philadelphia Flyers followed by a three-game trip to Nashville, Minnesota, and Dallas.  It will be quite a test.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Andre Burakovsky (3-0-3, plus-1, 13 shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, 4-for-8 on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, even, 21:32 average ice time, 11-for-21 in offensive zone draws)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3, plus-1, 9 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Flyers at Capitals, February 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

No rest for the wicked, or more precisely, the filthy, as in the freestyle goal scorers in the Washington Capitals’s 3-2 Gimmick win over the New Jersey Devils yesterday.  T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin made sure the Caps had a happy Saturday, but now they return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Verizon Center.

The Caps dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Flyers on January 27th and will be looking for a measure of payback.  The Flyers come into Washington having played a Gimmick game of their own yesterday, dropping a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in Philadelphia.  The loss snapped a three-game winning streak that started with that win over the Caps 11 days ago.

In those four games, the Flyers outscored their opponents by a 16-10 margin, the 16-goal output being a bit unusual for a club ranked 25th in scoring offense (2.38 goals per game).  The Flyers are led in goal scoring over those four games by Wayne Simmonds (four), but he was hit with a match penalty in yesterday’s game against the Rangers for intent to injure Ryan McDonagh.  The match penalty means Simmonds is suspended until the Department of Player Safety issues a ruling on his actions on the ice.

That leaves Brayden Schenn as the top goal scorer over the last four games (three) who is likely to take the ice this afternoon.  Schenn has become something of a reliable half-point a game player for the Flyers, having hit or topped that threshold in each of the last four seasons, including this one.  He has been an even more productive player of late, going 4-3-7 over his last six games.  Schenn is 2-5-7, minus-3, in 17 career games against the Caps.

Shayne Gostisbehere has more than twice as many points from the blue line than any other Flyer defenseman, and he has done it in just 32 games.  He is also leading all rookie defensemen in goals (nine), assists (17), and points (26), despite playing in 20 fewer games (32) than the second-place rookie scorer among defensemen (St. Louis’ Colton Parayko: 6-13-19).  He is 1-5-6 in the Flyers’ last four games to lead their defense in scoring, including a pair of assists in the 4-3 win over the Caps on January 27th in his only career appearance against Washington.

Michal Neuvirth won that overtime decision over the Caps 11 days ago, and since Steve Mason got the call in yesterday’s loss to the Rangers, he might have been called upon again for this game.  However, he is out with a groin injury, and Anthony Stolarz was recalled from Lehigh Valley in the AHL to fill in.  He has not yet appeared in an NHL game. 

That might leave things up to Mason in the end.  He stopped 26 of 28 shots in the shootout loss yesterday.  He has been solid of late, going 4-2-2, 2.22, .932, with a shutout over his last eight appearances.  He is 7-4-2, 2.83, .904, with two shutouts in 14 career appearances against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1. The Flyers have allowed the second-highest number of shots per game in the league (32.4).

2.  No team has taken fewer leads into the first intermission than the Flyers.  They are 7-1-0 in those instances, but eight leads at the first intermission is far behind Toronto, with the second-fewest instances (12).

3.  Not that the Flyers do all that well when they score first, either.  Their .640 winning percentage in such games (16-6-3) ranks just 23rd in the league.

4.  If the Caps’ power play is going to get well, it might come at Philadelphia’s expense. The Flyers rank 24th in road penalty killing efficiency (78.5 percent).

5.  Philadelphia is not an especially good team on the road in terms of possession, but neither are they especially bad.  Their 49.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall ranks 12th in the league (numbers from

1.  Winter Storm Jonas seems to have swept the “power” out of the Caps’ power play.  Before the storm hit, the Caps had been on a 10-for-29 run over nine games (34.5 percent).  Since the storm, and the postponed games against Anaheim and Pittsburgh, the Caps are 0-for-15 in four contests.

2.  Penalty killing has not been a lot better lately.  The Caps allowed a power play goal to the New Jersey Devils yesterday, making it six games in their last eight in which they allowed at least one power play goal.  Their penalty kill over those eight games is 21-for-28 (75.0 percent).  Their special teams index over their last four games (power play efficiency plus penalty kill efficiency) is 69.2.

3.  The Caps come into this game as a top-ten team in goals scored in each of the three regulations periods, 43 in the first period (6th), 55 in the second period (55), and 62 in the third period (2nd).

4.  The Caps remain the only team in the league to have allowed 40 or fewer goals in each of the three regulation periods (36 in the first, 33 in the second, and 40 in the third).

5.  Your odd Corsi fact for the day… the Caps are 9-1-1 in the last 11 games in which they were below 50 percent in Corsi-for overall (numbers from  This is not likely a sustainable outcome.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Jakub Voracek

Jakub Voracek scored the game-winning overtime goal against the Caps on January 27th.  Starting with that game, Voracek is 2-6-8 to lead the Flyers in overall points during that span.  He has closed to within two points (8-34-42) of Claude Giroux (16-28-44) for the team lead in total scoring, and his 34 assists is tied for seventh in the league overall.  He comes into this game on a six-game points streak (3-8-11) and is 7-20-27 in his last 21 games.  He is 11-7-16, plus-7, in 23 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

When Andre Burakovsky nudged a loose puck past New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider in yesterday’s win, it was his fifth consecutive game with a goal.  Until this streak he had not had consecutive games with a goal in his young career.  It is not just his goal scoring that make him one of the hottest players in the league.  He has points in six straight games and in eight of his last nine contests (6-6-12), four multi-point games among them.  That stretch included a ten-shots on goal effort in the Caps’ 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers five days ago, a career high in shots.  He is 2-0-2, plus-1, in four career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

Both teams are coming off trick shot games yesterday.  The Caps have the advantage of having slept in their own beds last night and have some incentive to repay the Flyers for the overtime loss they suffered in the last week in January.  They will be facing a team that has been hot at the offensive end of the ice in recent games, and this could put a premium on the Caps finding a way out of their power play slump.  The Caps have been a particularly resilient team of late, though, fighting off power play issues and unimpressive possession numbers to chug along with a 4-1-1 record in their last six games.  Good teams find a way to get things done when some of the particulars aren’t going so well.  The Caps, through those speed bumps and potholes, have been a pretty good team.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 2

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Devils, February 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals head to the Prudential Center in Newark to take on the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.  This will be the Capitals’ first visit to “The Rock” this season, and they will be looking to improve their record against New York City area teams from the 3-1-0 mark they have against the Rangers and Islanders on their ice so far this season.

The Caps got back to business in an important way in the win against the Isles on Thursday, holding an opponent to fewer than three goals after three straight games of allowing three or more, the first time they did so this season.

The stinginess might be returning just in time for Washington.  They will be facing a team that is 5-1-1 in their last seven games, outscoring their opponents by a 20-12 margin.  Over those games the Devils are 6-for-20 on the power play (30.0 percent) and 19-for-24 on the penalty kill (79.2 percent).

Holding their opponents to 12 goals in seven games is largely the product of the performance of Cory Schneider in goal.  He appeared in six of the seven games, posting a record of 5-1-0 with a 1.98 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.  Schneider, like his counterpart Braden Holtby for the Caps, ranks highly among the league’s netminders.  Among 36 goalies with at least 1,200 minutes played, Schneider ranks as follows:
  • Games Played: 43 (T-2nd)
  • Minutes: 2,569 (2nd)
  • Wins: 23 (T-6th)
  • Shots Faced: 1,224 (4th)
  • Saves: 1,137 (4th)
  • Goals-Against Average: 2.03 (3rd)
  • Save Percentage: .929 (6th)

Schneider has found New Jersey to his liking.  Since moving their from Vancouver for the 2013-2014 season, his .925 save percentage is second among 31 goalies appearing in at least 100 games (Carey Price is first: .931).  His goals against average of 2.11 tops that group.  What he has not done is beat the Caps with any regularity.  In eight career appearances against Washington, Schneider is 3-4-1, 2.22, .918, with one shutout.  He has had particularly bad luck against the Caps in a Devils’ sweater.  In six appearances he is 3-3-0, 1.93, .933, but he has held the Caps to one or no goals in four of those six appearances.

In their 5-1-1 run, 16 different skaters recorded points for the Devils.  And it is a bit of an odd list, one with names the might be unfamiliar to Caps fans who have followed this rivalry over the years.  Take Joseph Blandisi.  A sixth-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012, he was ultimately not offered a contract by the Avalanche and was re-entered into the 2014 draft.  He was not selected, but he signed a three-year entry level deal with the Devils in January 2015 and later that year had the honor of finishing second to Connor McDavid in voting for the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player.  He worked his way up to the Devils this past December, and after a slow start has come on of late.  His five assists over the last seven games ties for most in that span with Travis Zajac, and he is 2-5-7 overall in those games.  This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.

Then there is David Schlemko.  An eight year veteran who spent his first seven seasons knocking around the Western Conference (six seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, then three teams – the Coyotes, Dallas Stars, and Calgary Flames – last season), the defenseman had not produced much in the way of offensive numbers.  In 231 games coming into this season he was 9-41-50.  However, in 44 games with the Devils he has a career high in goals (six) and points (15).  Over the Devils’ last seven games he is 2-4-6.  In three career games against Washington, Schlemko has one assist.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  New Jersey is the only team in the league this season not to have lost a game in regulation when scoring first.  The odd part of that is they rank only eighth in winning percentage in those games (17-0-4/.810).

2.  Only one team has more losses in regulation when allowing the first goal than the Devils.  Their 20 losses in 35 such games is one less than the Columbus Blue Jackets in 30 such games.

3.  New Jersey has had only 76 power play opportunities on home ice, the fifth fewest in the league.

4.  Only the Arizona Coyotes (10) have allowed more shorthanded goals against than the Devils (7).

5.  New Jersey is probably going to struggle making the playoff-eight in the Eastern Conference if they do not improve their possession numbers, particularly on the road.  The Devils rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for overall in road games (45.1 percent; numbers from

1.  This will be the 200th regular season meeting between these two clubs.  In 199 previous meetings the Caps hold a 99-74-13-13 edge.

2.  It has been almost 18 years since the Caps won as many as five games in a row in this rivalry.  They did it in December 1987 – March 1988.  They can do it again on Saturday afternoon.

3.  Both of these teams came into the NHL in the 1974-1975 season, the Devils doing so as the Kansas City Scouts before becoming the Colorado Rockies, then moving to New Jersey in 1982.  Strangely enough, the Capitals have more franchise regular season wins than the Devils (1,451 to 1,372).  The Caps also have more 50-win seasons (3-1).  The Devils lead the Caps in Stanley Cups, 3-0.

4.  The Caps have scored more power play goals on the road this season (38) than any other team in the league, despite having the ninth fewest number of chances (152).

5. The Capitals have shown a glimmier of lifting themselves out of the possession funk they have been in for a couple of months, at least at home.  In their last seven home games they have an aggregate overall Corsi-for of 53.4 percent, an improvement over the 48.0 percent they had in the preceding eight home contests (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Lee Stempniak

New Jersey has been the fountain of youth for right winger Lee Stempniak.  In 52 games with the Devils this season he has 15 goals (third on the club), as many as he had last season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, and more than he has had in any other season since he had 19 for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-2011.  His 38 points this season is eclipsed only by his 52-point campaign with the St. Louis Blues in 2007-2008.  He is the leading goal scorer and point producer for the Devils in their recent 5-1-1 run (5-3-8).  In 16 career games against the Capitals, Stempniak is 4-6-10, plus-1.

Washington: Jason Chimera

It would surprise no one to know that since the 2004-2005 lockout, Alex Ovechkin leads all current Capitals (and non-current ones, too) in goals scored against the New Jersey Devils (18 in 38 games).  It might surprise some folks that Jason Chimera is second on that list (nine goals in 21 games).  This game might set up nicely for Chimera, and not just for the opponent he will be facing.  Of his 13 goals scored this season, ten have been on the road, including six of his last seven tallies.  Oh, and the Caps are 12-0-1 in games in which he recorded a goal so far this season.  Career-wise, Chimera is 9-2-1, plus-6, in 26 games against New Jersey.

In the end…

The Capitals prevented a Metropolitan Division rival from inching closer when they dispatched the Islanders on Thursday night.  They have the chance to do so once more on Saturday afternoon against a team that is tied with the Isles in points (although the Islanders have three games in hand against the Devils).  However, if not exactly a “trap” game, this contest does pose a challenge as the first in a set of back-to-back games, the second of which will be played against a Flyers team that beat the Caps ten days ago.  If the Caps look past this team just the slightest, they could be in for a Devil of a time.

Capitals 2 – Devils 1

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 3 - Islanders 2

The Washington Capitals went into Thursday night’s contest with the New York Islanders trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. The matter of that result was in some doubt as the teams were tied with three minutes left in regulation, but Alex Ovechkin broke a 2-2 tie with 2:40 left to give the Caps a 3-2 win.

It was the Islanders getting off to a lead in the second minute of the contest. John Tavares walked the puck around the back of the Capitals’ net, and when he came out the other side he worked the puck to Travis Hamonic at the left point. Hamonic fired a one-timer that was blocked in front. Josn Bailey took an unsuccessful whack at the rebound, but Mikhail Grabovski stepped up and stuffed the puck past Braden Holtby to make it 1-0 just 1:55 into the game.

Washington tied the game less than six minutes later. The Islanders’ Ryan Strome fired a shot that went wide on the far side of Holtby and rattled around the boards out of the zone. Nicklas Backstrom caught up with the puck and skated down the right side and into the Islanders’ zone. Putting on the brakes at the bottom of the right wing circle, he found T.J. Oshie filling in behind him. Oshie one-timed Backstrom’s pass past goalie Jaroslav Halak to tie the game at the 7:28 mark.

Late in the second period, the Caps took their first lead. Dmitry Orlov poke checked the puck of the stick of Brock Nelson just inside the Caps’ blue line, then kicked the puck to himself to start a 3-on-2 break. Orlov fed Jason Chimera, who skated the puck up the right side. Chimera and Orlov worked a give-and-go, but Chimera received the return pass too deep and fanned on his shot. Chimera recovered the puck behind the Islander net and threw it in front. It slid under Halak and stopped in the blue paint where Andre Burakovsky was waiting. Burakovsky tapped it into the net, and it was 2-1, Caps with 1:18 left in the period.

New York tied the game in the sixth minute of the third period. The Isles did a good job of keeping possession of the puck in the Caps’ end, and it eventually found its way to the stick of Marek Zidlicky. With Tom Wilson hounding him from behind, Zidlicky skated the puck through the right wing circle, then left it in front where Josh Bailey found some room in a clot of Capitals to snap it past Holtby to make it 2-2 at the 5:38 mark.

That left things to Ovechkin in the late stages of the game, although it was the result of some hard work along the boards by Oshie and Backstrom. Oshie outdueled Calvin deHaan for the puck along the end wall and slid it to Backstrom along the right wing boards. Backstrom spied Ovechkin in the high slot and fed the puck to him for a one-timer. Red light…game, Capitals winning by a 3-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Capitals had just 43 shot attempts for the game, Ovechkin had ten of them (five on goal, one goal).

-- The Islanders had 71 shot attempts. They had a whopping 58-34 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (that would be a Corsi-for of 37.0 percent for the Caps).

-- T.J. Oshie extended his points streak to four games with his goal. It was his first two-point game since January 10th.

-- Andre Burakovsky’s goal made it five games in a row with points, four straight with a goal. He is 5-6-11 in his last eight games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, extending his points streak to five games (4-3-7).

-- The Caps had almost as many blocks of Islanders shots (33) as they had their own shot attempts (38). Fifteen of the 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot. Matt Niskanen, T.J. Oshie, and Nate Schmidt each had four to lead the club.

-- With an assist in this game, Dmitry Orlov is within a point (4-14-18) of his career high in points (3-16-19) set in his rookie season in 2011-2012.

-- The 37.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was the second worst such performance of the season for the Caps, surpassed only by a 36.6 percent result in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 14th (numbers from

-- Maybe it’s just the Islanders.  The teams split four power plays, the first time the Caps and their opponent each managed just a pair of man advantages in a contest since January 7th…when the Caps beat the Islanders, 4-1.

-- After a string of iffy performances, Braden Holtby was solid in goal.  He allowed 12 goals on 105 shots in his last four appearances (.886 save percentage), but he stopped 24 of 26 shots against the Isles (.923).

In the end…

It was a solid, workmanlike effort by the Caps.  Not dazzling, but that was not needed or called for.  A win was.  And the Caps managed that to avoid losing their third consecutive game for the first time this season (Washington remains the only team in the league not to have lost consecutive games in regulation time).  They got scoring from players who came into and left the game on hot streaks, and they reminded the Islanders, bidding to become the Caps’ closest pursuers in the Metropolitan Division, that there is still a substantial gap between these two teams.  They now have an opportunity to send a similar reminder to another Metropolitan Division pursuer on Saturday when they head to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Islanders at Capitals, February 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The NHL is settling into its schedule rhythm after the All-Star game break, and that means the Washington Capitals get an opportunity to wash the taste of their 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night when the New York Islanders visit Verizon Center on Thursday night.

The Capitals will be looking to avoid consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season and a third straight loss for the first time this season, while the Islanders look to build on their 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

For the Islanders, that win over the Wild extended a pattern of alternating wins and losses over their last five games (3-1-1).  In outscoring opponents 16-11 in those five games, it was plainly a case of scoring to win.  In the three games the Islanders recorded three or more goals, they won.  In those in which they did not, they lost.

John Tavares leads the overall scoring over the last five games for the Islanders (2-4-6).  In what has been an off year for him, compared to last season, Tavares has been streaky of late.  In five games from December 21st through January 2nd, he was 2-4-6, plus-1.  He followed that up with a three games stretch without a point, going minus-4 in the process.  In his last six games he is 2-5-7, plus-3.  An odd Tavares fact…four of his first 11 goals this season were game-winners, recorded in 21 games.  He does not have a game-winning goal among the six he has in his last 24 games.  Tavares is 10-10-20, plus-2, in 22 career games against the Capitals.

Brock Nelson leads the goal scorers over the Isles’ last five games with three.  Those three tallies got him to the 20-goal mark, tying a career-best set last season in 82 games.  He has done it by ramping up his shooting percentage.  Among 391 players recording at least 50 shots on goal so far, his 17.8 percent shooting ranks eighth in the league.  He has seven goals (including a hat trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 12th) over his last eight games on 24 shots (29.2 percent).  Nelson is 1-2-3, even, in eight career games against Washingon.

Is there a goaltender controversy brewing in Brooklyn?  For the Islanders’ last contest against the Minnesota Wild, head coach Jack Capuano reached past Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss to pluck Jean-Francois Berube out of Bridgeport in the AHL and send him between the pipes.  There was some speculation that this was prelude to a trade, but Berube acquitted himself well in stopping 40 of 43 shots in the Islanders’ 5-3 win.  He was the fourth goaltender to appear in a game for the Islanders this season (Christopher Gibson appearing in one game on January 2nd, a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins).

It would seem, though, that one of the two principals will get the call in this game.  If it is Greiss, the Caps will be facing a goalie they have no book against, a goalie with one career appearance against Washington (a 39-save effort in a 5-3 win in February 2012 when he was tending goal for the San Jose Sharks).  However, he is the sort of player who Caps fans might familiar in his off-ice experience

If it is Halak, the Caps will be facing a goalie who has been steady, if not spectacular, since the calendar turned over.  In his last four appearances he is 2-1-1, 1.72, .940.  It might seem a bit surprising to Caps fans that he has only 11 regular season career appearances against the Caps in which he is 6-5-0, 2.70, .899.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Look out for those last 20 minutes.  Of the 16 goals scored by the Islanders over their last five games, 10 came in the final 20 minutes.

2.  Power plays are an unfamiliar concept to the Islanders on the road.  Only the Anaheim Ducks have had fewer power play opportunities on the road (54) than the Islanders (57) this season.

3.  Still on special teams facts, only four teams have allowed more shorthanded goals overall than the Islanders (5): Colorado (6), Dallas (7), New Jersey (7), and Arizona (9).

4.  Those ten third period goals in their last five games is no fluke.  Only three teams have scored more in the third period this season than the Islanders (54 goals): the New York Rangers (56), the Caps (60), and the Dallas Stars (68).

5. New York is not a particularly adept team on the road in terms of possession.  They rank 19th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (47.5 percent), 16th in score-adjusted Corsi (49.5), and 22nd in close score situations (46.6; numbers from

1.  The Caps went 0-for-8 on the power play against the Florida Panthers in their 5-2 loss on Tuesday.  What a difference just one power play goal might have made.  The Caps are 22-0-2 in the 24 games in which they recorded at least one power play goal.

2.  More on the power play… the Caps have more games played this season with two or more power play goals scored than any other team.  Their 11-0-1 record in those 12 games is better than the 8-2-0 record the second-ranked San Jose Sharks have, the only other team with ten or more games of multi-power play goals scored.

3.  The Caps and the Minnesota Wild are the only teams in the NHL to have allowed fewer than 40 total goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.

4.  Washington has the best record in the league in one-goal games this season (13-2-4/.684).  They have the second-best record in games decided by three or more goals (15-5/.750).  They can win close or win big.

5.  The Caps finished their 5-2 loss on Tuesday with a Corsi-for of 67.2 percent, their highest such mark of the season.  Seven times they have hit or passed the 60-percent mark, and their record in those games is 4-2-1.  They accomplished the feat five times at home, going 3-1-1 in those games.  Oddly enough, the only team against which they did it twice was the Florida Panthers, and the Caps recorded an overtime win and a regulation loss in those games (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Mikhail Grabovski

When the Capitals signed Mikhail Grabovski as a free agent before the 2013-2014 season, it was to give the center a bigger role than the bottom-six role he was chained to with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Oddly enough, his average ice time with the Caps was barely distinguishable in his only season in Washington (15:45) than what he averaged in his last season in Toronto (15:34).  Now, having moved on to the Islanders, his ice time is shrinking once more – 14:16 in average ice time last season and 13:54 in 48 games so far this season.  If he continues on that pace it will be his lowest average ice time for a full season in his career (he averaged 13:18 in three games in his first season in 2006-2007 and 11:14 in 24 games the following season).  Despite the comparatively limited exposure, Grabovski is fifth on the team in total points (23) and sixth in goals (8).  He and Kyle Okposo are the only Islanders to record an overtime goal this season.  Grabovski is 3-10-13, plus-7, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Except for a brief stint in the first round All-Star game against the Atlantic Division, Braden Holtby will have had an eight-day break since his last serious action (a 28 save effort in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on January 27th), and that game will have been his only game in 16 days.  He has a career 25-13-4 record on three or more days rest, a somewhat lower winning percentage (.595) than his record in other games (106-43-17/.639).  The Caps will be looking for him to play the role of stopper in this game to prevent the team from losing its third consecutive game for the first time this season.  In 11 career appearances against the Islanders, Holtby is 8-1-2, 2.11, .936.

In the end…

The Caps are entering a part of their schedule that features more intra-divisional matchups.  Starting with this game, the Caps play three straight against Metropolitan Division opponents.  Beating the Islanders would be a good start on driving a stake through any hopes any Metro team has of overtaking the Caps this season.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

A Picture is Worth...

...a thousand words.  So let's get right to it.  See anything odd about last night's Capitals shot chart on the power play (thank you,

No??  How about NOW?!

What seems to be missing??

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Panthers 5 - Capitals 2

It was a contest between two teams that could lay claim to being the hottest club in the NHL over the last month. When the final horn sounded, one team could still make that claim. The other was left wondering what hit them. Unfortunately, it was the Washington Capitals looking around and doing the wondering as the Florida Panthers scored two goal in each of the first two periods to take a 4-0 lead, then coasted to a 5-2 win at Verizon Center.

The Panthers got on the board with goals a little more than four minutes apart in the first period, first when Jonathan Huberdeau scored from point blank range off a pass from Jaromir Jagr, then on a 5-on-3 power play with Aleksander Barkov taking a behind the back pass from Nick Bjugstad and snapping the puck past goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Florida doubled their lead in the second period, first just 21 seconds into the period on a what might be termed a softie as Vincent Trocheck snapped a harmless looking shot from deep along the right wing wall under Grubauer’s pads. Huberdeau got his second goal of the game just over 15 minutes into the period on a power play when he snapped a shot from the top of the right wing circle off the pipe to Grubauer’s left and in.

The Caps had their fans inching up in their seats in the first two minutes of the third period when they struck for two goals.  Nicklas Backstrom notched his 17th goal of the season as a power play was expiring just 34 seconds into the period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, still occupying the low position to the left of goalie Al Montoya, tried to thread a pass through the crease to T.J. Oshie, but the pass was interrupted by defenseman Erik Gudbranson.  The puck bounced to the edge of the crease near the post where Backstrom gathered it up, pulled it to his forehand, and tucked it past Montoya’s left pad to make it a 4-1 game.

Andre Burakovsky struck 79 seconds later.  Kuznetsov controlled the puck below the Panthers’ goal line and slid a pass between two defenders to Burakovsky in the left wing circle.  Burakovsky drew the puck to his forehand and whipped a shot past Montoya’s blocker on the near side to make it 4-2 just 1:53 into the period.

That would be as close as the Caps would get, though.  Quinten Howden scored into an empty net with 1:53 left to give Florida a 5-2 win and put the Caps off on the wrong foot to begin the post-All-Star game portion of the season.

Other stuff…

-- Andre Burakovsky’s goal (his eighth of the season) bumped his goal-scoring streak to three games, over which he has doubled his season’s production.  He also has points in six of his last seven games (4-6-10, plus-5).

-- If you didn’t look at the scoreboard, you would swear the Caps beat the Panthers by a touchdown.  They doubled Florida’s shots on goal (38-19) and out-attempted the Panthers, 65-30.  That’s right, the Caps had eight more shots on goal than the Panthers had total attempts.  Stick that in your Corsi.

-- Stanislav Galiev did not do himself any favors in this game.  Playing in place of Alex Ovechkin (suspension) on the left wing of the top line, he recorded one shot on goal, two attempts, and two giveaways.  He recorded three shifts in the third period, only one in the last 13:14 of the game, that coming in the last minute with the game decided.

-- The new calendar year certainly agrees with Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Already named player-of-the-month for January, he started February as if he wanted to make it two months in a row.  His two assists made it four multi-point games in his last six contests, and he is 4-14-18, plus-8, in 11 games so far in 2016.

-- It was going to happen sooner or later. The life of a backup goalie is not easy, not being able to get into a regular playing rhythm.  In his first start in more than three weeks, Philipp Grubauer was as sharp as a cheese spreader, which is to say, “not much.”  He allowed four goals on the first 13 shots he faced over 35 minutes and change.  Low shot volumes faced, getting a start for the first time since people were still thinking of going to the gym to honor their New Year’s resolutions?  Bad mix.

-- With his goal in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom extended his points streak to four games.  That, in and of itself, is not unusual for Backstrom, but four of the five points he has in those games being goals is.  He has six goals in his last nine games and is now on a pace to record his second career 30-goal season (he had 33 goals in 2009-2010).

-- Back to Burakovsky.  Ten shot attempts, ten shots on goal.  This guy would be something at a state fair shooting arcade.

-- Matt Niskanen also had ten shot attempts.  His five shots on goal is a season high for him.

-- Wouldn’t you know it?  The Caps were awarded eight power play opportunities – a season high (all in the first two periods) – and Alex Ovechkin is in the press box serving a suspension.  The Caps went 0-for-8, including drawing a blank on a 1:17 5-on-3 opportunity.  Florida scored two power play goals in four chances, including one on a 5-on-3 advantage.  There was your game.

-- Think the Panthers went into a shell late?  They recorded five shot attempts from Burakovsky’s goal at the 1:53 mark in the third period until Quinton Howden’s empty net goal at the 18:07 mark, a span of 16:14.

In the end…

Repeat after me…”it’s only one game…it’s only one game.”  One game, indeed.  It was the first game for the Caps in six days, only their second in two weeks.  That’s a beer league schedule.  And for all that, the Caps outplayed the Panthers, but the visitors did better as, well, predators (it’s a big cat thing).  They scored on the man advantage, the Caps did not.  Some of that can be attributed to their big power play weapon being out of action, but eight chances and no goals?  The guys who were on the ice own a big piece of that result.

The Caps get a chance to get back on track on Thursday against the Islanders, who are looking to leap over the New York Rangers as the closest divisional pursuers to the Caps.  If Washington “plays” as well as they did against the Panthers, they should have a happier result, but nothing is guaranteed in this league, not even for the team with the league’s best record.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Panthers at Capitals, February 2nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The prelude and parties are over, the “first half” of the 2015-2016 NHL season in the books and the All-Star festivities in Nashville a memory.  Now, it’s down to business.  For the Washington Capitals, who recorded the league’s best record in the pre-All-Star portion of the season, getting back to business starts with a challenge and perhaps an unexpected one if you think back to early-season prognostications.

The Caps open the post-All-Star portion of the season hosting their closest pursuers in the Eastern Conference race, the Florida Panthers, in a nationally-televised game on Tuesday night.  We use the term “closest pursuer” advisedly, the Panthers being 11 standings points behind the Caps as the NHL resumes play.  Here is the thing, though.  When the Caps beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 14th and overtook the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Eastern Conference, they held a 12-point lead on the Panthers.  Since then, the Caps are 14-2-2.  The Panthers are 15-3-1.

That the Panthers would be this good over this much of the season was not what was envisioned for that club as the season dawned.  Sure, most folks thought a Florida team would be the class of the Atlantic Division, but the consensus was that the team would be the Tampa Bay Lightning, a club that reached the Stanley Cup final last season.

The Panthers road to that 15-3-1 record since mid-December has been uneven, to say the least. “Streaky” would be a better description.  They started that seven-week run with a 12-game winning streak, longest in the league this season (since tied by the Chicago Blackhawks).  They followed that up with a four-game losing streak (0-3-1), but come to Washington on a three-game winning streak.

Those last three games should be cause for concern for Caps fans, for the wins were not of the “squeaked-by” variety.  Florida beat Chicago, the Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs by margins of at least three goals in each victory, outscoring the trio by a combined 14-3 margin.

The goal scoring was led by Reilly Smith, who has three of those 14 goals scored by the Panthers in their last three games, two of them game-winners (in the 4-0 win over Chicago on January 22nd and the 5-2 win over Tampa Bay the following night).  Smith will bring a four-game goal scoring streak into this contest, tying his longest of the season.  With that streak, Smith lifted himself into the team lead in goals scored this season (16), and he is closing in on a career high (20 goals in 2013-2014 with Boston).  In eight career games against Washington, Smith is 0-1-1, minus-3.

Brian Campbell, along with Smith (3-1-4) and Olli Jokinen (1-3-4) has four points over the Panthers’ three most recent wins (2-2-4).  For Campbell is it part of a four-game points streak that he brings into this game (2-3-5, plus-4) after registering just a two points (both assists) over his previous 13 contests.  The two goals he scored – in the wins over Chicago and Tampa Bay – interrupted a 23-game drought in which he failed to record one.  The recent point spurt was a welcome occurrence in light of his performance over the past four seasons over which his points per game dropped from 0.65 per game in 2011-2012 to 0.33 last season.  Until this five-points-in-four-games run he was averaging 0.31 points per game.  Campbell is 4-18-22, minus-15, in 42 career games against the Caps.

The question in goal for the Panthers might be whether head coach Gerard Gallant calls on Roberto Luongo after his all-star turn this past weekend.  He went into the break on a roll, stopping 87 of 90 shots over three games (all wins). Among goalies with more than 1,200 minutes of ice time, Luongo ranks tied for sixth in wins (22, with New Jersey’s Cory Schneider), fifth in goals against average (2.08), fifth in save percentage (.930), and tied for third in shutouts (four).  He has yet to allow more than three goals in consecutive games this season.  He is also 12-2-1 in his last 15 appearances with a 1.65 goals against average, a .944 save percentage, and three shutouts.  If there are hotter goalies in the league, it is a short list. Luongo is 20-10-0, 2.29, .926, with two shutouts in 36 career appearances against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Florida spreads their contributions around in one respect.  The Panthers have 14 different players with game-winning goals, led by Aleksander Barkov with four.  By comparison the Capitals, with nine more regulation/overtime wins, have the same number of players with game-winning goals (14).

2.  If one was to ask, “who leads the Panthers in power play points?” would you answer “Jaromir Jagr?” If you did, you would be wrong.  Ditto for Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Brian Campbell, and Nick Bjugstad.  The winning answer is “Vincent Trocheck,” who has nine (4-5-9).

3.  Florida is 15-0-0 in the last 15 games in which defenseman Aaron Ekblad dressed.

4.  If the Panthers trail at either or both of the intermissions, it will not be a good sign for them.  Florida ranks 26th in winning percentage when trailing after one period (1-9-2/.083) and 27th in winning percentage when trailing after two periods (1-13-1.0.67).

5. Are the Panthers looking at a correction?  Over their last nine games, Florida has a Corsi-for in close score situations of 44.7 percent at 5-on-5, and three times they were under 35 percent (numbers from

1.  The Caps lead the league in players with a plus-10 or better. They have ten of the 61 players in this group. 

2.  Washington has five defensemen with ten or more points this season (John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt).  Only one team, the New York Rangers, has more (six).

3.  This will be the eighth game Alex Ovechkin will miss in his career due to suspension (this penalty for being absent from the All-Star game).  The Caps are 4-1-2 in his previous seven absences due to suspension.

4.  Washington is the only team in the NHL with an average goal differential of greater than 1.00 goals per game (1.13).  It is almost twice that of the second-place club (Dallas Stars: 0.58).

5. The Caps are going to be looking to improve one possession number in this contest.  Over their last four games going into the All-Star game break, the Caps had an aggregate close score Corsi-for of 41.8 percent at 5-on-5 (numbers from 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Jaromir Jagr

The last time the Caps faced the Panthers, we pondered Jaromir Jagr.  At the time we said…
“He has just two points in his last six games and does not have a goal in his last eight contests.   What is more, the shots are drying up.  He has two or fewer shots on goal in his last eight games, and only once in his last 18 games (24 shots on goal overall).  At the age of 43 it would be reasonable to wonder if the run is starting to come to an end.”

A lot we know.  Jagr had a goal in that contest against the Caps (in a 4-1 Panther win), and starting with that contest he went on a 7-5-12 run over his next 14 games with 29 shots on goal to boot.  Not bad for a 43-year old.  However, since that run he went 0-1-1 in six games leading into the All-Star game break.  Did the break rejuvenate him, or is this a wall the soon-to-be 44-year old (February 15th) is hitting?  Jagr is closing in on 1,800 regular season and playoff games in his NHL career.  His 1,596 career regular season games leads all active players by a wide margin (Jarome Iginla is second with 1,444).  It might be a fool’s errand to count Jagr as slowing down, but he has been an important ingredient to the Panthers’ success this season; they are 17-6-2 in games in which he recorded a point this season.  Can he sustain that level of contribution down the stretch?  That is something that bears watching as the Panthers try to dig in to the Caps’ lead in the Eastern Conference.  Jagr is 31-60-91, plus-15 in 79 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin is sitting out this game under suspension under league rules, Marcus Johansson was banged up in the Caps’ last game against Philadelphia before heading into the All-Star game break.  This is where a player like T.J. Oshie has an opportunity to step up.  And it would be just in time.  Oshie has been in a bit of a shooting slump lately.  He comes into this game without a goal in his last five contests, one goal in his last nine games, and two in his last 15.  Over those 15 games he is 2-for-23.  It is not a god-awful shooting percentage (8.7 percent), but that 1.53 shots per game average over that span is a bit unsettling for the top-line right winger.  He had one or no shots in nine of those contests.  In Florida he has found a stubborn foe.  In ten career games against the Panthers, he has yet to record a goal (0-1-1, plus-3).

In the end…

Florida has missed the postseason in 14 of the last 15 seasons coming into the 2015-2016 campaign.  These Panthers are not those Panthers, though.  With their next win they will hit the 30-win mark, one that has been reached by only four other teams to date, including the Caps.  They are the kind of club that will bore you to death, thoroughly capable of winning close, low-scoring games (the Panthers rank fifth-lowest in total goals scored by both teams per game: 4.83).

The Caps have just two goals scored in regulation time this season against the Panthers (they scored another in overtime in a 2-1 win on Hallowe’en).  Three of the last five games between these clubs went to extra time, two of them to the Gimmick.  In four of those five games the losing team was held to a single goal.  This does not promise to be a game of fireworks, especially with the Caps’ leading goal scorer sitting it out.  That is going to put a premium on fundamentals, defense, and goaltending.  Three things that the Caps have been pretty good at for most of this season.

Capitals 2 – Panthers 1

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 16

Week 16 for the Washington Capitals was as light a work week as one gets for an NHL team.  Postponement of their contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday made for a one-game week, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.  It was not the way the Caps might have wanted to go into the All-Star Game break, but the break came at a welcome time.

Record: 0-0-1

The overtime loss earned the Caps a point for the week, but it was still the first non-winning week since they went 1-1-1 in Week 5.  It did not keep them from going into the All-Star Game break with the league’s best record at 35-8-4.  Their 74 standings points are four more than the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Caps have six games in hand.  Their 1.57 standings points per game is well clear of the second-place Dallas Stars (1.34).

If you are trying to divine anything out of this, consider the history of teams leading the league in points at the major season breaks (All-Star Game or Olympics) since the 2004-2005 lockout:

Let’s think of this as an incentive to buck the trend.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.32 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps headed into the All-Star break with the league’s top scoring offense, a ranking they have not finished a season with since they led the league in 2009-2010 with a scoring average of 3.82 goals per game (still the top scoring offense of the post 2004-2005 lockout period).  It is a 12.2 percent improvement on the scoring average they took into last season’s All-Star game break (2.96).

In 47 games to date the Caps scored five or more goals 12 times and have a record of 12-0-0 in those games.  In the 22 games in which they scored four or more goals they are 21-0-1.  Compare that to last season when the Caps scored five or more goals seven times in 46 games going into the All-Star break with a record of 5-1-1.  In 16 games in which they scored four or more goals they had a record of 12-2-2.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.19 /game; rank: 2nd)

If defense wins championships, the Caps have one capable of achieving that outcome. Had they not allowed the goal in overtime to the Flyers last Wednesday, the Caps would have the best scoring defense in the league.  As it is, they went into the break with the second-best scoring defense, the 2.19 goals per game they allowed substantially better than their second best performance since the 2004-2005 lockout (2.33 goals per game in 2010-2011).

The Caps possession numbers to date have far underperformed their win-loss record, and that might be the biggest concern at the break.  Washington ranks 14th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (50.4 percent), eighth in score-adjusted Corsi-for (52.0 percent), and 16th in close score situations (49.6 percent).  Those numbers are a bit under the ones the Caps posted heading into last year’s All-Star break – 51.5 percent overall, 52.3 percent in score-adjusted Corsi-for, and 52.7 percent in close score situations (numbers from

Goaltending: 3.98 /.875 (season: 2.08 / .928 / 2 shutouts)

At this year’s All-Star game break there are 35 goaltenders who have logged at least 1,200 minutes of ice time.  Of that group, Braden Holtby ranks at or near the top in a number of categories:

  • Wins: 30/1st 
  • Goals-Against Average: 2.07/4th
  • Save Percentage: .929/7th
  • Even-Strength Save Percentage: .937/7th

He has been the key part in the Caps’ goaltending profile that is flirting with a team goals against average of 2.00 per game and a save percentage bumping up against the .930 mark overall.  Holtby is, at the break, on a short list of candidates to win the Vezina Trophy. 

What the Caps have had in addition to Holtby’s excellent start is fine relief goaltending.  Philipp Grubauer shook off a sluggish start to go 5-3-1, 2.12, .925 in 11 appearances.  He has been even better of late.  In his last six appearances covering 265 minutes of ice time, Grubauer is 3-1-0, 1.36, .955.

In both Holtby and Grubauer the Caps find themselves in better position at the position than they were heading into the All-Star break last season.  Holtby was having a fine season, posting a 22-9-8/2.26/.921/4 shutout record at the break.  What they were not getting enough of was solid netminding in his absence.  Justin Peters was 2-4-1/3.52/.864, and those numbers dragged the overall goaltending numbers to 2.47/.913.

The better backup goaltending has not made an appreciable dent in Holtby’s workload, though.  Last season he had 40 appearances in 46 games heading into the All-Star break, logging a total of 2,332 minutes.  This season, through 47 games going into the break, he has 39 appearances  and 2,264 minutes, about four fewer periods of hockey.  Even in shots faced, Holtby’s workload is similar to last year’s.  At this time last year he faced 28.8 shots per 60 minutes.  At the moment, that number is 28.9 shots per 60 minutes.

Power Play: 0-for-2 / 0.0 percent (season: 26.8 percent; rank: 1st)

Week 16 might have been one game’s worth of action, but it was representative of the team’s power play in a strange way.  At the end of their 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers, a game in which they had just two power play chances, the Caps ranked 24th overall in power play chances for the season.  They ranked 28th in power play chances on home ice.  That they would still lead the league in total power play goals scored (38) and rank third in power play goals scored at home (23) says a lot about the most efficient power play in the league overall (26.8 percent) and on home ice (30.0 percent).

The total chances do, however, represent a bit of an improvement over where they were going into the break last season.  At this time last year, the Caps had 135 power play opportunities in 46 games.  At the moment they have 142 opportunities in 47 games.  They are more efficient with those opportunities, posting a 26.8 percent overall power play this season compared to 24.4 percent at this time last season.

The big difference, year-to-year, is what the Caps have done with those power play goals scored.  What they have done is win more often.  In fact, the Caps have yet to lose a game in regulation when scoring a power play goal (22-0-2, including 13-0-0 at home).  Last season at the All-Star break they were just 13-8-7 in game in which they recorded at least on power play goal.

What is perhaps most encouraging about the power play improvement is that it is not a function of the production of Alex Ovechkin.  At the All-Star break last season, 12 of his 27 goals were scored on the power play.  As of this weekend, 11 of his 28 goals scored this season were recorded with the man advantage.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 84.7 percent; rank: 4th)

The difference on the other side of special teams from year-to-year at the All-Star break boils down to one word – discipline.  Through 47 games this season, the Caps are tied for the sixth fewest number of shorthanded situations faced (144).  Through 46 games at the break last season the Caps had faced 156 chances, a reduction of better than eight percent.  It has been part of a significant improvement in penalty killing efficiency.  At the All-Star break last season the Caps were killing penalties at a 79.5 percent rate.  Today, they rank fourth in the league with a penalty kill more than five percentage points better.

Success on the penalty kill seems to bear little relationship to wins and losses this season.  The Caps are 20-5-1 when posting a perfect penalty kill, 15-3-3 when they allow the opponent at least one power play tally.  Instances of shorthanded situations are a bit of a different story. The Caps are 26-6-2 when facing three or fewer shorthanded situations, 9-3-2 when they face more than three such situations.

In the end…

The All-Star game break provides an opportunity to take stock and see just if, where, and how the team has improved on a year-to-year basis.  The Caps have that gaudy record that looks like Secretariat’s stretch run in the Belmont Stakes in 1973.  They have not done it the way the new generation of methodologists would argue is key to success, by dominating possession statistics. In that regard, the Caps are a rather ordinary team.  This should give fans pause who want to find a place to set up their lawn chairs for the championship parade in June.

What they have done is avoid the hills and valleys (mostly the valleys) that a team usually encounters over the course of an 82-game season.  It is a team that can be characterized as “taking care of business,” and that shows up in a couple of performance statistics – early game performance and goal differential by period.  The Caps have displayed a talent, not just of taking a lead (they have the seventh-highest rate of leads taken to games played – 55.3 percent),  but in holding it.  Their 25-1-0 record when scoring first leads the league in winning percentage (.962).  And, they have yet to lose a game in regulation when leading after one period (17-0-0) or when leading after two periods (26-0-1), the only team in the league that can make that claim.

The goal differential by period reflects a certain focus, a “60 minute” approach that has been lacking among many previous editions of the club.  Until they allowed two goals to the Flyers in the lone game of Week 16, the Caps were the only club in the league with a plus-10 or better goal differential in each of the three regulation periods.  As it is, they are plus-9 in the first periods of games, and their plus-22 in each of the second and third periods of games is tops in the league for both.

It is hard to say that there is room for improvement for a team with a 35-8-4 record at the All-Star game break, but the possession numbers do stand out as something to follow as the stretch run begins on the 2015-2016 season.  If those measures improve, the Caps will be an even more formidable team than the one that dominated in the pre-All-Star game portion of the season.

Three Stars at the Break:

  • First Star: Braden Holtby (30-5-3, 2.07, .929, two shutouts)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (15-34-49, plus-24, 3 game-winning goals)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (28-14-42, plus-20, 5 game-winning goals)