Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the ice on Wednesday night to do something they have not had to do in almost two months and to avoid something that hasn’t happened in more than 11 weeks – break a two game losing streak and avoid having it climb to three.

They will seek to get back on the winning track in one of the most inhospitable venues for visitors in the NHL against a desperate team. Beating the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo is never easy, but the Caps will be facing a club that has to climb over three teams ahead of it to become playoff-eligible.

The Caps are coming off a pair of one-goal losses since their bye week ended, a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings and a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Those losses mean that by the time you read this (if by “the time,” it is after 11:00 on Tuesday night), the Caps might no longer be the top team in the NHL standings. Washington leads the Eastern Conference by a healthy margin (five points over the Pittsburgh Penguins), but they have a one-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the league rankings. The Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night and could take over the top spot with a win.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have been doing a long slow bleed out of their season. Back on December 14th they were 19-10-3, carrying a ten-game winning streak, and just two points out of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference standings. Since then, however, Philadelphia is 9-14-4, just one win in regulation on home ice this month (2-2-1 overall), and has sunk to sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia’s problems over the last 27 games come down to two. They can’t score, and they can’t keep their opponent from scoring. Theirs is a whopping goal differential of minus-1.22 goals per game over that stretch on a 1.74 goals-for per game and a 2.96 goals-against per game. The goals-against problem isn’t that they are allowing opponents unfettered access to their net; the Flyers are allowing just 27.7 shots per game in that stretch. Nor is their penalty killing all that bad, going 80.2 percent in that stretch.

Goaltending is another matter. Steve Mason (3.08 GAA/.892 SV), Michal Neuvirth (2.30/.909), and Anthony Stolarz (2.62/.904) have not exactly been a brick wall in front of the Flyer net over the last two months. In fact, neither the Flyers’ regular goaltenders – Mason and Neuvirth – have a save percentage as high as .900 this season (although Mason’s is .89991). Neuvirth appears to be the preferred choice for the moment, since he has had the call in each of the Flyers’ last four games, in three of which he allowed two or fewer goals (there was that six goals on 25 shots stinker against Edmonton last Thursday. The former Capital has two career appearances against his old team with a record of 1-0-0, 2.44, .914.

Twelve players in the NHL have a plus-minus of minus-20 or worse. The Flyers have four of them. Say what you will about plus-minus, but as they say, “that ain’t good.” A trio of forwards are at minus-20: Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that this trio also comprise the only trio of forwards in the league on one team with 20 or more power play points apiece. The Flyers are one of two teams in the league (Dallas is the other) with two players with ten or more power play goals, Schenn (14, leading the league) and Simmonds (12) doing it for Philadelphia.

Schenn, now in his sixth season in Philadelphia after spending his first two in Los Angeles with the Kings, has seen that power play goal total increase over each of his last five seasons from two in 2012-2013 to the career-high 14 he takes into this game. However, his even-strength goal scoring has fallen off a cliff. After hitting double digits in even strength goals in each of the last three seasons (15 last year, one off his career high), he has only four in 56 games so far this season and only one in his last 27 games. He also appears to be one of those players of whom it might be said, the less seen of him, the better. In 22 games this season in which he logged 17:57 or more of ice time, the Flyers are 5-14-3. They are 22-9-3 in his other 34 games. Schenn is 3-5-8, minus-4, in 21 career games against Washington.

Over the last four seasons, including this one, Wayne Simmonds has scored more goals (114) in fewer games (297) than Phil Kessel (109/304) and has more goals overall that Brad Marchand (111) or Jeff Carter (108), testimony to his durability and performance. He is also ornery. In those four seasons he is the only NHL player with at least 100 goals and at least 400 penalty minutes (405). This season, he is on a pace to finish with a career-high 35 goals, although he has some way to go to catch his career high in penalty minutes. He is on a pace for 120 PIMS, and his career high in that area is 147 set last year. Simmonds has goals in four of his last five games and eight of his last 15 contests. He is 5-8-13, minus-4, in 26 career games against the Caps.

1.  Those 47 goals scored by the Flyers in this 9-14-4 slide that began in mid-December is fewer than any team in the league over that span.

2.  If the game is close, it could favor the Flyers. Of their 28 wins this season, 17 are of the one-goal variety, second-most in the league (Chicago has 20). Then again, almost half of the Flyers’ games this season (29 of 59) were one-goal decisions (17-5-7).

3.  If you are thinking it’s a blowout, take the Caps. The Flyers’ 2-7 record in such games is the worst winning percentage in the league (.143).

4.  The first period could tell the tale. Only Colorado and Vancouver have scored fewer first period goals (30 and 28, respectively) than the Flyers (31), and the Flyers have a minus-18 goal differential in the first period, second-worst in the league (Colorado is minus-31).

5.  One has to think goaltending is really sinking what could be a decent season for the Flyers, if you take the view that possession numbers matter. Philadelphia ranks fifth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.56 percent). Then again, in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone, and venue, they rank just 19th (49.70 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Of the Caps’ last ten losses, nine have come by one goal, five in extra time, four of them in the trick shot competition.

2.  Lollygaggers! Eleven of the Caps’ 12 losses in regulation this season have come in games played at or under two hours and thirty minutes. In games taking longer than 2:30, the Caps are 22-1-6. Motto: more faceoffs, longer commercial breaks.

3.  More is not necessarily good – or bad – when it comes to special teams. The Caps are 4-2-2 in eight games this season when they have five or more power play opportunities, but they are 10-2-0 when allowing five or more power play chances. Oddly enough, the Caps have not played a game this season in which they had both five or more power play chances and allowed five or more.

4.  The Caps are the only team in the league to have allowed fewer than 50 total goals in each regulation period this season.

5.  Washington is now third in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5, adjusted for score, zone, and venue (53.00 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux

The last of the “Minus-20 Trio” of forwards, Claude Giroux is having, for him, a lackluster season. But it is not as if this has not been going on for a while, either. In 2012-2013, he was a point a game player (48 points in the abbreviated 48 game schedule). The following season he was 28-58-86, plus-7, in 82 games. Since then, however, his goals, assists, points, and plus-minus have declined in each year. He was 25-48-73/minus-3 in 2014-2015, 22-45-67/minus-8 last season, and he is on a pace to finish 17-42-59/minus-28 this season. His even strength goal scoring is in particular decline, on a pace to finish with just ten even strength goals. If that holds, it would be Giroux’ lowest total for a full season since he had eight even strength goals in the 2009-2010 season. Trouble is, for the Flyers it matters. The Flyers have not lost a game this season on those rare occurrences he does score an even strength goal (5-0-0), unlike those instances when he registers on the power play (2-2-1). Giroux is 16-16-32, minus-1, in 31 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, Alex Ovechkin has played in Philadelphia 21 times. He has goals in 14 of those games. No player has had more games with a goal in Philadelphia over that span than Ovechkin. He has 17 goals over those 14 games, but in one of those odd little twists, the Caps are just 5-3-6 in those games. But before you think what Ovechkin does doesn’t matter, the Caps are 2-4-1 in the games in which he did not score a goal (odd that in 21 games in which Ovechkin played in Philadelphia in his career to date, the Caps are 7-7-7). What is suggests is that Ovechkin is a necessary, but an insufficient ingredient to success for the Caps in Philly. Other players – the secondary scorers or the support group or whatever you want to call it – matter. Cheerless is in the corner rolling his eyes as if to say, “ok, now tell us something we don’t know.” Ovechkin is 31-18-49, even, in 43 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

Caps fans will remember a night back in early November 2013. They stormed into Wells Fargo Center and lit up the Flyers for seven goals in the first 45 minutes of the game. Then something happened. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was something, but before the game reached its 46th minute, the Flyers (or more precisely, goalie Ray Emery) lost their minds and took 29 minutes in penalties, including Emery’s leaving the crease to pummel Caps goalie Braden Holtby in what amounted to an assault of a bystander as another fight was going on (Tom Wilson and Wayne Simmonds, later to be followed by Alexander Urbom and Brayden Schenn, and then Steve Oleksy and Vincent Lecavalier). Since that fracas, the Caps are 0-3-2 in Philadelphia, including a 3-2 Gimmick loss back on December 21st, and have been outscored in hockey goals by a 19-12 margin in the five games. The last time the Caps had a winless streak longer than five games in Philadelphia, they went 16 games (15 losses and one tie) and almost nine full years (January 1998 – November 2006) without a win up there. It won’t come to that.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 19

Week 19 was one of sun and fun for the Washington Capitals, who took advantage of their league-sanctioned bye week to bask in the glow of their top spot in the league standings.  And when it was over, the Caps did play a game.  It made for a non-winning week, but a non-losing one as well, taken from a certain point of view.

Record: 0-0-1

When last we saw the Caps, they were 39-11-6, nine points clear of their closest pursuer in the Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who ended Week 18 with a 35-14-5 record.  The Caps were also six points ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the league rankings, the Wild with a 36-12-6 record.

When Week 19 ended, the Caps suffered a 3-2 trick shot loss to the Detroit Red Wings, bringing their streak of winning weeks to an end at six, over which time they went 18-2-1.  The rest of the league had yet to catch up with the Caps, though.  Pittsburgh leap-frogged the Blue Jackets into second place in the Metro, but their 80 points on a 36-13-8 record was still five points behind the Caps.  The Wild went 3-1-0 for the week, but they were still a point behind the Caps in the league standings with 84 points, the Caps holding a game in hand.

Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.39/game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps ended the week where they started it, behind only the Penguins in scoring offense.  The two goals they scored against the Detroit Red Wings was just the 20th time this season that the Caps were held to two or fewer goals.  They have a record of 4-10-6 in those games, five of the extra-time losses coming in the freestyle competition.  The two goals also broke a streak of four straight games in which the Caps scored five or more goals. It was an odd occurrence for a club that has scored more goals in the 2017 portion of the season than any other team, their 4.41 goals per game almost a full goal per game more than the Minnesota Wild (3.64).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.09/game; rank: 1st)

For the 35th time this season, the Caps held an opponent to two or fewer goals in the hockey portion of the game.  The odd part in the 3-2 Gimmick loss to Detroit was that they did not win.  The Caps are 29-1-5 in games when they hold an opponent to two or fewer goals.  Five of those extra-time losses are in the Gimmick.

Making it doubly strange was that the Caps held the Red Wings to fewer than 25 shots and still lost.  Washington is now 16-2-1 in the 19 games in which they held their opponent to fewer than 25 shots on goal.

Goaltending: 1.85 / .913 (season: 2.00 / .927 / 10 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had a solid effort in the 3-2 loss to the Red Wings, but the loss did end his personal streak of 14 winning decisions.  Nevertheless, Holtby did finish the week fourth in the league in wins (29) despite ranking only 12th in minutes played (2,593).  The Caps remain the only team in the league with a tandem of goaltenders each with at least 750 minutes of ice time and a save percentage of .925 or better.

Power Play: 0-for-5 / 0.0 percent (season: 21.5%; rank: 8th)

The Caps failed to take advantage of that rare occurrence when they get five or more power play opportunities.  The five they enjoyed against the Red Wings was just the eighth time in 57 games this season that the Caps had that many man advantages.  It was the fourth time they failed to convert any of their opportunities.  The oh-fer also broke a streak of three games with power play goals, over which they went 4-for-7.  The Caps are still 18-for-60 (30.0 percent) on the power play since January 1st.

Penalty Killing: 1-for-2 / 50.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 5th)

The Caps are holding their opponents to fewer chances – the two power play the Red Wings had making it three straight games allowing an opponent just two power plays – but it was the second time in three games the Caps allowed a power play goal.  Still, they are 14-for-16 killing penalties over their last six games, the 87.5 percent penalty kill being something that would be a plus if sustained.

Faceoffs: 33-for-73 / 45.2 percent (season: 50.0 percednt; rank: 16th)

It was not so much that the Caps won just 45 percent of their draws against Detroit, but how they got there.  Jay Beagle, who started the week seventh in the league in faceoff winning percentage (57.5 percent; minimum: 500 draws) went 7-for-20 against the Red Wings and dropped back to eighth in the rankings (56.9 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps started and finished the week with the fewest goals allowed in the first period, but they did allow one to the Red Wings.  It did not eat much into their first period goal differential, which remains best in the league (plus-37), that differential being greater than the total number of first period goals scored by six teams).

In the end…

The league’s bye-week experiment seems to be one for which the main outcome has been teams losing upon their return to action.  The Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Red Wings might be considered a victory of sorts, teams combining for a record of 3-12-4 (0-8-4 in February) in their first game back after the bye.  As always, the trick will be keeping “one” from becoming “two.”  Losses, that is.  The Caps have done a very good job of precisely that, avoiding consecutive losses in their last 23 games.  Week 19 might have been a welcome week off for the players, but it did interrupt momentum, and a loss of any kind is not what either players, coaches, or fans expect or settle for.  But in the grander scheme of things, it was not the worst of all possible outcomes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, February 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a week without hockey, the Washington Capitals get to play two games in less than 24 hours, following up their 3-2 Gimmick loss in Detroit to the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon with a 12:30 start in New York against the Rangers on Sunday.  This will be the Caps’ first visit to Manhattan this season, having dropped a 4-2 decision to the Blueshirts at Verizon Center in the teams’ only meeting so far this season on October 22nd.

New York has made themselves relevant in the Metropolitan Division race again, putting together a six-game winning streak before dropping their last game, a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.  They have inched to within four points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place and are five behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the division.

It has become a cliché to say that the Rangers will go only so far as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will carry them.  Lundqvist stopped 32 of 34 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 11th in a 4-2 win to become just the 12th goaltender in NHL history to win 400 games in his career.  Of those 12 netminders, Lundqvist is the only one to record all of his wins with one franchise.  The win comes in a season that has the ominous look of the beginning of, if not the winter, than at least the autumn of his career.  His 2.69 goals against average is the highest of his 12-year career, and his .911 save percentage is the lowest in his career.  It comes off a 2015-2016 season in which no goalie in the league saw as many shots as did Lundqvist (1,944) and in which no goalie made more saves (1,788).  No goalie has had more seasons with 3,500 minutes or more in total ice time than Lundqvist since he came into the league (eight).  He has been much better of late, going 8-2-0 in his last 11 appearances (one no-decision), with a 2.11 goals against average and a .934 save percentage with one shutout.  In 33 career appearances against Washington, Lundqvist is 20-9-4, 2.63, .907, with four shutouts.

J.T. Miller just gets better and better.  At least that is what his year-to-year numbers say.  Now in his fifth season, Miller has improved each season in games played (from 26 in his rookie season to 82 last season and all 57 games this season), goals (from two in his rookie year to 18 – a 26-goal pace – this season), assists (from two to a career-high 28 this season), plus-minus (from minus-7 his rookie season to plus-19 so far this season).  The three shorthanded goals he has this season (tied for the league lead) are the first three of his career.  In the Rangers’ recent 6-1-0 run, he has had a hand in ten of the Rangers’ 23 goals (2-8-10).  He’s been a good-luck charm this season, the Rangers going 29-5-0 in games in which he recorded a point.  Miller is 2-1-3, minus-4, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Seven Defensemen have appeared in more than one game for the Rangers this season.  All of them have at least one goal.  None have more goals than Nick Holden.  Holden, an undrafted free agent originally signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, came to the Rangers ion June 2016 from Colorado for a fourth-round draft pick in 2017.  The nine goals he has this season is one off his career high, recorded in 54 games with the Avalanche in 2013-2014.  He is one of the unknown commodities on the blue line in the league, averaging as many goals per game over the last four seasons as Duncan Keith and Mark Streit and more than Alex Pietrangelo and Nick Leddy.  However, his goal in the Rangers’ last game against the Islanders was his first goal in 17 games.  In six career games against the Capitals, Holden is 1-0-1, minus-2.

1.  Since being shut out by the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-0, on January 25th, the Rangers have scored four goals in each of their last five straight games at Madison Square Garden (4-1-0).

2.  New York has won four straight on home ice, but not because they limited opponents’ shots on goal.  Calgary (32 shots on goal), Anaheim (44), Nashville (37), and Colorado (34) averaged 36.8 shots on goal.

3.  Caps fans will be concerned if there is any 4-on-4 time in this game.  The Rangers are tied for the league lead in goals at 4-on-4 (six), while the Caps have yet to score in that situation this season.

4.  Only two teams in the league have fewer penalty minutes per game than the Rangers (6:58) – Chicago (6:43) and Carolina (6:15).

5.  The Rangers are not an especially formidable possession team on home ice.  They rank 23rd in the league in home Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.87 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Getting power plays on the road is an infrequent occurrence for the Caps, relative to the rest of the league.  Only three teams have had fewer power play chances than the Caps (77) – St. Louis (74), Columbus (73), and the New York Islanders (71 – and only two teams have spent less time on the power play than the Caps (123:46) – Columbus (114:24) and the Islanders (110:56).

2.  The two goals the Caps allowed in the Gimmick on Saturday made it nine goals against on the road in the freestyle competition this season.  No team has allowed more shootout goals in road games.

3.  The Caps have four of the league’s top seven scorers since the calendar rolled over to 2017,  Since January 1st, Nicklas Backstrom leads the league in points (31), Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied for fourth (25, with Mark Scheifele), T.J. Oshie is sixth (24), and Alex Ovechkin is seventh (23, tied with Connor McDavid and Nazem Kadri).

4.  The Caps are one of four teams in the league to shoot over ten percent on the road (10.1).  The others are Columbus (10.5 percent), Minnesota (10.7 percent), and the Rangers (11.5 percent).

5.  Washington has the third-best save percentage of shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the league in road games (.963).  Only the Rangers (.964) and Minnesota (.966) are better (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

Michael Grabner has worn the number “40” at each of his four stops in the NHL – Vancouver, the Islanders, Toronto, and the Rangers.  This season he is trying to match his goal total to that jersey number.  With 26 goals in 56 games, Grabner is on a pace to finish with 38 goals.  And, he has been coming on stronger of late on home ice.  After going 17 games with just one goal at Madison Square Garden, his has goals in four of his last five contests on home ice and points in all five (5-2-7).  The odd part is that he has goals in just nine of 30 home games he has played this season (12 of his 26 goals).  The Rangers are 8-1-0 in those games, though.  Grabner is 2-3-5, plus-1, in 20 career games against the Capitals.

Washington:  Evgeny Kuznetsov

It is a measure of how deep the Caps are and how talented Evgeny Kuznetsov is that a second line center should be in the top-five in scoring since January 1st.  In 22 games in the new year, Kuznetsov is 9-16-25, plus-15 (a 34-60-94, plus-56 pace), and he is tied with Nicklas Backstrom for the most even strength points in the league since January 1st (21).  The Caps are 13-1-1 in the 15 games in which he recorded points in the new year, 7-1-0 in the games in which he recorded a goal.  He has been doing it with considerable efficiency, too.  He has not logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in a game since December 3rd and hasn’t skate more than 19 minutes in a game in this calendar year and is averaging just 15:54 per game.  Kuznetsov is 2-6-8, plus-4, in 10 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

The Caps are 19-2-2 since the last time they lost consecutive games, back in Games 33-34 in late December.  They have not lost consecutive games on the same road trip since Games 14-15 back in mid-November.  This is a team that can take care of business on the road and put losses behind them.  The Caps take a 10-11-2 record at Madison Square Garden since the 2004-2005 lockout into this contest but are 10-6-1 in their last 17 visits to MSG, including wins in their last two games there.  If we had a Magic 8-Ball, it might say, “signs point to a win.”

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

A ONE-Point Afternoon -- Game 57: Detroit Red Wings 3 - Washington Capitals 2 (OT/Gimmick)

If you are a Washington Capitals fan, you might look upon this afternoon’s 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings and think, “well, it could have been worse.”  The Caps came back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game late in the third period before coming up short in the freestyle competition.

Detroit opened the scoring mid-way through the first period on a power play. Working the puck from behind the Capitals net around the perimeter, the Wings finally got it to Henrik Zetterberg low on the right side.  Zetterberg fed the puck to the net, between the legs of Justin Abdelkader and to Frans Nielsen to the right of goalie Braden Holtby.  Nielsen’s first attempt hit the post on the near side, but he get a second whack at the puck, chipping it over Holtby’s pad to make it 1-0 8:13 into the contest.

There was no further scoring in the first period, but the Wings got another early in the second.  John Carlson tried to chip the puck forward from outside his blue line, but it was blocked by Anthony Mantha at the red line.  Mantha skated the puck down the left side into the Caps’ end and found Zetterberg to his right.  Zetterberg moved in, but instead of shooting left the puck back for Tomas Tatar filling in late down the middle.  Tatar ripped a shot past Holtby to make it 2-0 at the 3:33 mark.

Late in the period the Caps got one back.  Thomas Vanek tried to play the puck from just outside his own blue line up the middle, but the pass was intercepted by Lars Eller.  Circling to his left to draw the defense to him, Eller saucered a pass to Zach Sanford on the weak side.  Sanford snapped the puck past goalie Petr Mrazek, and the Caps were on the board with 1:14 left in the second period.

Daniel Winnik tied the game for the Caps late in the third period.  Picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone, Winnki fed T.J. Oshie on the right side.  Oshie circled through the right wiing faceoff circle and got off a shot that Mrazek stopped.  The rebound popped into the air, and Winnik swooped in to whack it out of the air and into the back of the net to tie the game at the 15:12 mark.

The teams went through a scoreless overtime to bring the trick shot competition.  Vanek scored in the first round for the Red Wings, and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the second round for the Caps.  In the top of the fifthg round, Zetterberg scored for the Caps, leaving it up to Alex Ovechkin to keep things going.  When his shot was gloved down by Mrazek, the Red Wings had the extra standings point, 3-2.

Other stuff…

-- Braden Holtby’sstring of 14 straight winning decisions came to an end.  He still has not lost a game in regulation since he dropped a 4-3 decision to the New York Islanders on December 27th.  He is 14-0-2 since then.

-- Nicklas Backstrom extended his points streak to eight games with an assist on the Winnik goal (4-10-14).

-- The Caps had five power play opportunities, just the eighth time this season they had that many or more.  It was the fourth time in eight tries they had five or more power play chances and failed to record a goal.

-- Washington faced just two shorthanded situations, the eighth time in nine games they faced fewer than four such situations.  They did allow a goal, making the penalty killers just 18-for-24 (75.0 percent) over those nine games.

-- Jay Beagle lost 13 of the 20 faceoffs he took, a high for the season in faceoff losses.  He is 15-for-40 in his last two games (37.5 percent).

-- The loss was the fifth in the Gimmick for the Caps this season.  Only the Toronto Maple Leafs have more (six).

-- Brooks Orpik earned his second fighting major of the season when he took on Steve Ott in the last minute of regulation.  This is the first season he had more than one fighting major since the 2007-2008 season with Pittsburgh, when he had three.

-- Alex Ovechkin skated 21:11, breaking a streak of eight games in which he did not hit the 20-minute mark in ice time.  It was the most ice time he logged since he skated 21:57 in a 3-2 overtime win over Buffalo on December 5th.

-- Marcus Johansson took a penalty, the first time that happened since December 23rd.  He also had five shots on goal to lead the team in this game, his highest shot total for a game this season.

-- The Capitals closed their history visiting Joe Louis Arena with a 16-15-6-4 record.  The Red Wings move to Little Caesar’s Arena next season.

In the end…

They got a point.  That’s better than most teams have done coming off the bye week this season (3-9-1 going into today’s play).  The rust showed early, but the Caps did demonstrate they were the better team late.  It doesn’t get easier, though, having to get right back to it on Sunday in a matinee against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  Welcome back.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 57: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, February 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the Washington Capitals, the 2015-2016 regular season enters its final phase on Saturday, when the Caps head to Detroit to take on the Red Wings as their bye week ends. For the Caps, their only visit to Joe Louis Arena this season is likely to be the last one as the Wings prepare to move on to Little Caesar’s Arena for the 2017-2018 season.

The Caps, to refresh your memory, will bring a six-game winning streak to The Joe and will be looking to win consecutive road games for the first time since January 19/21, when they beat the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars on their respective rinks. The Caps beat the Montreal Canadiens in their last road contest, 3-2, on February 4th, extending a trend of alternating road wins and losses over four games.

For the Red Wings, the second oldest NHL rink in the league (Madison Square Garden being the oldest) has not been a comfortable home this season. The 11 wins they have on home ice is the second-lowest home win total in the league (Colorado has seven home wins), and they come into this game 1-3-1 in their last five home contests.

Offense has been a clear problem for Detroit this season. The 2.37 goals scored per game is the lowest for the club in the post-2004-2005 lockout era. In fact, you would have to go back to the 1976-1977 season to find a Red Wing club with a more anemic offense (2.29 goals per game for a team that finished 16-55-9).

The Red Wings have one scorer in the top-50 in the league…barely. With 41 points, Henrik Zetterberg (13-28-41) is tied with Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators for 49th place in points. He did have a goal in the Red Wings’ 6-3 loss to the Caps On February 9th and does have a goal and an assist in three games since that meeting. Zetterberg is 7-6-13, minus-3, in 19 career games against the Caps.

One of the disappointments for the club this season has to be the production of Riley Sheahan. After posting modest, but respectable goal totals in the previous two seasons (13 in 2014-2015 and 14 last season), he has yet to light the red lamp in 55 games this season. No player in the NHL has taken more shots on goal than Sheahan (76) with nothing to show for it. He is one of just ten skaters of 814 to have dressed this season with a plus-minus of minus-20 or worse (he is minus-20). He comes into this game with one point in his last 12 games, over which he is a minus-7. Sheahan is 0-2-2, even, in 10 career games against the Caps.

Niklas Kronwall missed the February 9th game against the Caps, but he has been in the Red Wings lineup in the three games since, returning from a lower-body injury. Kronwall comes into this game having played in more games for the Red Wings as a defenseman (771) than only three defensemen in team history: Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564), Marcel Pronovost (983), and Red Kelly (846). This season, the 36-year old blueliner is having quite a struggle. In addition to being limited to 33 games by injury, he has yeat to score a goal this season (he has never gone an entire season without doing so), has just six assists, and his ice time is under 20 minutes per game (18:26) for the first time since he averaged 13:51 in 20 games in his first NHL season in 2003-2004. And, the Wings are just 11-17-5 in those games in which he did appear so far this season. Kronwall is 1-4-5, minus-6, in 17 career games against Washington.

1.  The Red Wings are tied for the fewest wins in the league when leading at the first intermission (six). Then again, they have taken a lead into the first intermission just 12 times in 57 games. Even so, the .500 winning percentage when leading after 20 minutes is second-worst in the league (New Jersey is .476).

2.  Maybe it is just the playing-with-a-lead thing, but the 12 wins Detroit has when leading after the second intermission is tied for third-fewest in the league, and only Colorado (.615) has a worse winning percentage than the Wings (.667) when leading after 40 minutes.

3.  And, to complete the thought, Detroit’s .455 winning percentage when scoring first is worst in the league. Only Colorado (nine) has fewer wins in those situations than the Red Wings (ten).

4.  Only Philadelphia has fewer wins by three or more goals (two) than Detroit (four).

5.  The Red Wings are not generating much offense on home ice. Their 49.90 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is third-lowest in the league (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  You look at the 14 wins the Caps have in one-goal games, which ranks tied for 12th in the league and might think, “wish that number was higher.” Then you look and see that they have just four regulation losses by one goal, a number that is less than all but two teams (St. Louis with two and Pittsburgh with one).

2.  And, chances are you are not going to blow out the Caps. Only five times this season have they loast be three or more goals. That is fewer than all but three teams: Edmonton (four), the Rangers (four), and Minnesota (two).

3.  The Caps have won 30 games this season when leading after two periods, five more wins than Minnesota. Then again, they take a lead into the third period so often – 32 times in 56 games (30-1-1).

4.  Every Capital to have played in more than 25 games this has recorded at least ten points, 18 in all (Zach Sanford has two points in 21 games).

5.  The Caps have the second-best goals-per-shot-attempt on the road this season (4.90 percent). Only Minnesota is better (5.39 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Dylan Larkin

If there is something to the idea of a “sophomore slump,” it might explain the season Dylan Larkin has had for Detroit. In a loaded rookie class last season that included Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Artemi Panerin, Larkin finished third in his class in goals scored (23), 11th in assists (22), and sixth in points (45). His plus-11 tied for fifth in that group, and only Panerin (seven) had more game-winning goals than Larkin (five). This season, he is limping along with a scoring line of 12-7-19, minus-18, in 55 games played. His minus-18 is second-worst on the club, and he has just one game-winning goal. He has not scored a goal over his last ten games and has only one point since then. Larkin is 1-1-2, plus-1, in five career games against Washington.

Washington: Barry Trotz

You have a team scattered to the winds for five days, get one good day of practice, then have to send them out on the ice on the road in their first game back together after the bye. This is one example of where one can see just how much a system and a philosophy has taken hold, the extent to which players play on physical and mental instinct through the rust. It’s not a vote of confidence in the coaching abilities of Barry Trotz, just an indicator of how much of what he has been preaching is now a part of the players’ DNA. Trotz is 6-2-0 against the Red Wings as coach of the Caps. A win would seal his first season sweep of Detroit behind the Washington bench.

In the end…

When you go on a week’s vacation after a long grind at the office, it probably takes you a day or two to get back into the rhythm of work. Now, imagine doing that while your competitors have spent that week grinding away at the job. And the Red Wings are going to be in an ugly state of mind, having lost five in a row (0-4-1), including that loss to the Caps on February 9th. It is a proud bunch that has less and less to play for in any practical sense, being as they are last in the Eastern Conference. This should be all a matter of how ready the Caps are to play after their hiatus. They tied the Red Wings in their first visit to that storied arena on the Detroit riverfront back in 1980.  There are no ties in the NHL anymore, so the Caps will just have to scratch out a win.

Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 18

Week 18 was “Getaway Week” for the Washington Capitals, the last week of play before their league-approved bye week in the schedule.  And a good one it was, the third time this season that the Caps swept a four-game week and the fifth time this season they won all of the week’s games.  When it started, they had a five-point lead on the Metropolitan Division and a three-point lead on the rest of the league.  When it ended, the lead was nine points in the division and six over the rest of the league.  Hard to argue with those results.

Record: 4-0-0

The Caps faced a mix of teams in Week 18, two Eastern Conference teams on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and two teams from southern California trying to maintain their playoff spots despite spending a lot of time on the road by the time they arrived in Washington.  The Caps began and ended the week facing the teams from SoCal, both of which presented the challenge of playing a “heavy” game that could compete with that of the Caps.  What the Caps had that the their physical opponents did not was speed and depth of skill, both of which were on display as the Caps inched closer to a .500 all-time record against Los Angeles (22-23-7-1) and hitting the .500 mark all-time against the Ducks (8-8-0-1).

The games against the Hurricanes and Red Wings in the middle of the week ended as one might have expected with a team near the top of its game playing the two teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.  The Caps wrapped up their season series against Carolina with a 5-0 win that was their third in a row following a 5-1 loss last November, the Caps winning those last three games by a combined 15-4 margin.  Their 6-3 win over the Red Wings was their second in the three-game season series, which will wrap up when the Caps return from the bye week next Saturday.

Offense:  5.50/game (season: 3.41 /game; rank: 2nd)

With 22 goals in four games, the Caps are rushing up the league scoring offense rankings, finishing Week 18 second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring offense.  They scored five or more goals in all four games for the week, extending their streak of such games on home ice to 11, tying the all-time record for consecutive games on home ice with five or more goals, the record having been held by the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins.

Twelve different Caps recorded goals for the week, T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson leading them with four apiece.  Johansson had goals in each of the week’s four games, the first time he accomplished that feat in his seven-year career.  The thing about goal scoring for the week generally was the balance among the forward lines.  There were 14 5-on-5 goals scored by forwards in Week 18, three from the first line, four from the second line, six from the third line, and one from the fourth line.

The Caps had 18 different skaters share in the points for the week, Johansson (4-4-8) and Nicklas Backstrom (2-6-8) leading them with eight apiece.  Backstrom’ output enable him to reach the 700-point mark for his career.  With 702 points, Backstrom ranks fourth in team history in points, trailing only Mike Gartner (789), Peter Bondra (825), and Alex Ovechkin (1,017).  He finished the week tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for second place in the league’s points rankings (60), just one point behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.  Washington got points from four defensemen for the week, Matt Niskanen (0-3-3) and John Carlson (1-2-3) leading that group.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.09 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps had a very good week playing defense, at least in terms of allowing opportunities.  They did allow the Los Angeles Kings 38 shots on goal, a total exceeded by only one opponent this season (Winnipeg had 45 shots on goal in a 3-2 win over the Jets on November 1st).  But the Caps allowed the last three opponents a total of just 62 shots on goal, holding each of them to fewer than 25 shots.  The three straight games holding opponents under 25 shots was the first time this season the Caps did that in three consecutive games.  And, there was a consistency in it.  Washington held their last three opponents to ten or fewer shots in every period, nine straight in all.

It made for a good possession week, especially as the week went on.  Los Angeles dominated the Caps in 5-on-5 shot attempts, 65-31, even as the Caps outscored the Kings, 5-0, at fives.  In the last three games of the week, Washington had a Corsi-for of 58.54 percent at 5-on-5 and held opponents to just 41.10 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

Goaltending:  1.75 / .930 / 2 shutouts (season: 2.01 / .928 / 10 SO)

It was a bit of an odd week for the Caps netminders, or more specifically for Braden Holtby.  It started, though, with a superb performance by Philipp Grubauer against the Los Angeles Kings, a 38-save shutout.  Grubauer seems to be getting back into a groove since he allowed three goals in three consecutive appearances in January.  In his last two outings he stopped 64 of 66 shots (.970 save percentage), even though he split the decisions. 

Braden Holtby started the week in a style to which he and Caps Nation has become accustomed – a 23-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes, his seventh of the season, tying him for the league lead with the Kings’ Peter Budaj.  Then he hit a skid.  In the last two games of the week he allowed seven goals on 39 shots (.821 save percentage).  It did not keep him out of the win column, and the three wins for the week made it 14 wins in his last 14 decisions (he had two no-decisions in that run).  Over those 16 appearances, in addition to the 14-0-0 record, Holtby has a goals against average of 2.01, a save percentage of .924, and four shutouts.  Having allowed almost a quarter of those goals (seven of 30) in his last two appearances suggests that the bye week might be coming at a good time for him. 

As it is, the Caps still have the only two goaltenders on one club with at least 750 minutes played and a save percentage higher than .925.  The two shutouts for the week made it ten for the season for the Caps, a new team record, eclipsing the nine shutouts the team recorded in the 1995-1996 and the 2014-2015 seasons.

Power Play: 4-for-9 / 44.4 percent (season: 22.1 percent; rank: T-5th)

The Caps have slowly and steadily been inching up the league power play rankings, and Week 18 was another rung on that ladder.  Going 2-for-8 for the week lifted the Caps in to a tie for fifth place (with Montreal) in the league on the power play and with a better overall percentage (22.1 percent) than they finished with last season (21.9 percent).  It has been part of an extended run in which the Caps are 17-for-45 (37.8 percent) over the last five weeks spanning 17 games.

The Caps got solid work out of their number one unit, getting two of the goals from T.J. Oshie and one each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.  Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, Johansson and Matt Niskanen each recording a pair, and Ovechkin getting one. 

Overall, the Caps had a modest week in terms of efficiency, getting 12 power play shots on goal in 14:45 of power play ice time.  Two-thirds of that total came from Ovechkin and Oshie (four apiece), with Andre Burakovsky, Marucs Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson recording one apiece.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-11 / 90.9 percent (season: 84.5 percent; rank: 3rd)

Week 18 was the best week of penalty killing for the Caps since Week 12, when they killed all 17 shorthanded situations they faced.  Going 10-for-11 on the penalty kill only begins to illustrate how good it was.  In four games, the Caps allowed a total of just four shots in 20:17 of shorthanded ice time.  They had more shorthanded shots on goal (three) than the Ducks had power play shots on goal (two) in the 6-4 win to close the week.  One of those three shots was a shorthanded goal by Daniel Winnik, the Caps’ fifth shorthanded goal of the season.

Faceoffs: 95-for-224 / percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 15th)

It was not a good week in the faceoff circle for the Caps in Week 18.  The bet they could muster in any of the four games was splitting 62 draws down the middle in the 6-3 win over Detroit in the third game of the week.  They were clobbered by Carolina (36.4 percent wins) and Anaheim (38.2 percent) and were easily bested by Los Angeles (44.2 percent).  The Caps did not win any of the zones for the week, winning just 39.5 percent of their offensive zone draws, 46.8 percent of their defensive zone faceoffs, and 42.4 percent in the neutral zone.  The only zone they won at all was going 11-for-18 in the neutral zone against Detroit.

No Cap taking ten or more draws finished the week at 50 percent.  Nicklas Backstrom (35.6 percent), Lars Eller (46.5 percent), Jay Beagle (45.2 percent), ahnd Evgeny Kuznetsov (40.0 percent) had tough weeks.  Backstrom really took it in the teeth against Carolina, winning just one of 12 faceoffs.

Goals by Period:

The goals by period for the week were typical, if in an exaggerated way, for the Caps.  In each of the four games, the Caps recorded multi-goal first periods, getting three against Anaheim in the last game of the week.  Detroit managed to post a pair of goals in the first period of their game against the Caps, but that only tied the game after 20 minutes.  It left the Caps with a plus-38 first period goal differential for the season, easily the best in the league (Columbus is plus-24).

The third periods of games were almost as dominant, the Caps outscoring opponents by a 9-3 margin.  Only Los Angeles held the Caps to fewer than two goals, but the Caps did manage to get one as part of a week in which they scored in the third period in each game.  Washingtons’ plus-29 in the third periods of games for the season ties them with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the rankings.

The second period was not as dominant, the plus-2 differential being the product of low scoring on the Caps’ part.  They held opponents to just two second period goals but scored only four of their own.  Those two goals allowed came in the Anaheim game to end the week.  As it was, the Caps scored goals in 11 of the 12 periods for the week, getting shut out only in the middle period of the 5-0 win over Carolina last Tuesday.  On the other side, they shut out opponents in eight of the12 periods in Week 18.

In the end…

Week 18 had a lot going on.  The Caps kept that offensive juggernaut going with four more games with five or more goals on home ice.  There were the two shutouts, but there were the two games in which the Caps allowed opponents to come back after taking a lead (twice against the Red Wings, and against Anaheim after twice getting out to three-goal leads).  There was the rare absence of an Alex Ovechkin shot on goal in a game (against Detroit, the first time in almost four years and only the seventh time in his career).  There was a special guest of the club.  There was Marcus Johansson scoring in every game.  There was Andre Burakovsky suffering and injured hand blocking a shot against the Red Wings that will put him on the shelf until mid-March at the earliest.  There was the stinginess in shots allowed, but there was the odd domination of attempts by the Kings.  It was a lot to take in for the last week before the bye week.  A lot to chew on in addition to all the free and discounted food Caps fans could take advantage of in Week 18.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Marcus Johansson (4-4-8, plus-4, eight shots on goal, three hits, one blocked shot)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-6-8, plus-2, 700th career point recorded, four hits, two blocked shots)
  • Third Star: Brett Connolly (3-3-6, plus-5, seven shots on goal, four hits, one blocked shot)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 56: Washington Capitals 6 - Anaheim Ducks 4

The Washington Capitals made it six wins in a row and 12 wins in a row on home ice with a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

An early power play got the Caps on the board first.  The Caps probed the Ducks defense from the right side until Josh Manson backed off, allowing Marcus Johansson to ease in from the goal line extended to goalie John Gibson’s left.  Freezing the Ducks’ defense, Johansson fed T.J. Oshie between the hash marks, and Oshie snapped a shot past Gibson at the 6:45 mark to make it 1-0.

Nicklas Backstrom doubled the lead eight minutes later.  Oshie beat Cam Fowler to a loose puck in the corner to Gibson’s left and slid it around the boards where Backstrom picked it up.  From behind the net, Backstrom fed it out to the front, but it pinballed through a maze of bodies and snuck out to Gibson’s right.  That happened to be where Backstrom was circling, and he was free to sweep a backhand into the open side of the net to make it 2-0 at the 14:35 mark.

Tom Wilson made it 3-0 before the first intermission.  Daniel Winnik stepped out from below the goal line to Gibson’s left and, with the Ducks defense closing on him, fed Wilson on the opposite side for a layup that gave the Caps a three-goal lead with 2:12 left in the first period.

Anaheim started their comeback in the second period when Jakob Silfverberg took a pass from Andrew Cogliano at the right point and wristed a harmless looking shot that sailed over the right shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby and under the crossbar on the far side at the 7:16 mark.

Daniel Winnik restored the three-goal lead with the Caps down a man.  On a Ducks power play, Corey Perry batted the puck from the left wing wall out to Antoine Vermette at the top of the left wing circle, but the pass was off the mark.  Vermette tried to flag it down, but only managed to redirect the puck out toward the blue line where Daniel Winnik picked it up.  Winnik carried the puck through the neutral zone, split Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm at the Ducks’ blue line, then skated in and blew a shot over Gibson’s glove to make it 4-1, 12:18 into the period.

Lindholm got that one back on a goal upheld in a coach’s challenge.  John Carlson tried to bat an airborne puck back into the neutral zone, but only got a piece of it as Silfverberg was crossing into the offensive zone.  He took a pass from Vermette low in the left wing circle where he left it for Ryan Getzlaf.  Circling behind the net, Getzlaf sent the puck out to Lindholm, whose first whack at it was stopped by Holtby.  His second swipe found the back of the net at the 17:36 mark to make it 4-2.

The Ducks got a pair of goals in short order mid-way through the third period to tie the game, one at the 9:38 mark when the puck slid off Dmitry Orlov’s stick as he came out from behind his own net, found its way to the stick of Cam Fowler, who fed Ryan Kesler for a drive from the high slot that snuck through Holtby.

The other came just 2:10 later when Cam Fowler sent a long lead pass from below his own goal line to Ryan Getzlaf busting down the middle.  Getzlaf was all alone on a breakaway and beat Holtby to the glove side to tie the game at the 11:48 mark.

The Caps took the lead back for good late in the period.  Matt Niskanen started the play by looking over the layout from behind his own net, then sending a long pass up and off the left wing boards to Zach Sanford.  The puck was nudged along to Brett Connolly cutting into the Ducks’ zone, and he advanced it down the wall before stopping at the edge of the faceoff circle.  Spinning back, he found Sanford cutting down the middle, and the rookie one timed the puck off Gibson and in for his first NHL goal.

Marcus Johansson closed the scoring with an empty netter with 12.9 seconds left to give the Caps the 6-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- This made it 11 straight games with five or more goals on home ice, tying an NHL record held by the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-point night (1-2-3) extending his points streak to seven games, three of which were three-point games.  He is 4-9-13 in that seven-game scoring streak, and he reached the 700-point mark in his career tonight.

-- Every skater for the Caps recorded at least one shot on goal.  Backstrom an Daniel Winnik led the team with four apiece.

-- The top line of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie was on the ice for three of the four Anaheim goals scored, as was the defensive pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

-- The Caps have outscored opponents by a 60-18 margin in their 11-game streak with five or more goals on home ice.  However, it is worth noting that the Caps have scored five or more goals in 15 of their last 22 games overall, over which they have outscored opponents, 101-46.

-- The Caps were 1-for-3 on the power play, their third straight game with a power play goal.  Washington has not gone consecutive games without a power play goal in their last 17 games, over which they are 17-for-45 (37.8 percent).

-- Washington held the Ducks to 22 shots on goal, the third straight opponent they held to fewer than 25 shots, their longest such streak this season.

-- Daniel Winnik had his third multi-point game of the season (1-1-2).  The Caps are 12-0-2 in the 14 games in which he registered a point this season.

-- T.J. Oshie had his 13th multi-point game of the season (1-1-2).  In the 22 games in which he recorded a point, the Caps are 21-0-1.

-- Marcus Johansson recorded his fourth straight two-point game, all of them featuring a goal and an assist.  He reached the 40-point mark for the fourth straight season and the fifth in his career (19-21-40)  His next goal will tie a career best.

In the end…

It is tempting to say that the bye is coming at a bad time, what with the Caps on a six-game winning streak, scoring goals by the bushel, and chain-sawing their way through the standings.  But this is also a team that allowed seven goals in their last two games.  Braden Holtby has now won his last 14 decisions (in 16 appearances) with a 2.01 goals against average, a .924 save percentage, and four shutouts.  Then again, he stopped just 32 of 39 shots (.821) in his last two games.  The bye might not be the worst thing for the Caps who, while still basking in the glow of a six-game winning streak overall and a 12-game winning streak on home ice, might benefit from a chance to recharge and reset.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 56: Anaheim Ducks at Washington Capitals, February 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play their last game before their league-approved bye week when they host the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center on Saturday Night. The Caps continued their sparkling play of late, defeating the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, 6-3, their fifth win in a row, their 11th straight win on home ice, and their tenth straight game on home ice scoring five or more goals. They became just the second team in NHL history to accomplish that last feat, the only other team to do it the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins, who did it 11 straight times.

Anaheim comes into this game having won the first game in the Eastern time zone since December 19th (when they beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto, 3-2), besting the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, on Thursday night. To be fair, they have played only six games in the Eastern time zone since that win over Toronto, but the 1-1-3-2 is not for the scrapbook.

More recently, the Ducks are just 3-4-1 in their last eight games, and they trail the San Jose Sharks by two points for the top spot in the Pacific Division (San Jose has a game in hand through Thursday’s games). The 20 goals scored by the Ducks in those eight games was shared among 12 skaters, three of whom had three apiece – Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, and Jakob Silfverberg.

Even with the three goals in the Ducks’ last eight games, this is has to be a disappointing year for Perry. With just 11 goals in 56 games this season he is on a pace to finish with 16 goals, which would be his lowest total (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) since he had 13 in 56 games in his rookie season in 2005-2006. On a per-game basis, his 0.20 goals per game thus far is his lowest in 12 NHL seasons. Whether luck or poor execution, it is his shooting percentage that has fallen off a cliff. A 13.6 percent career shooter coming into this season, he is shooting barely half of that – 7.2 percent – through 56 games. It would appear a betting certainty at this point that he will finish the season with fewer than 30 goals for a full season for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, when he had 27 in 82 games. Perry is 6-8-14, plus-1, in 13 career games against the Caps.

At the other end of the achievement spectrum is Rakell, who has 22 goals in 45 games this season, already a career best (he had 20 in 72 games last season). His 17 even strength goals puts him in the top ten in the league, and his 33 even strength goals in the last two seasons ranks him in the top-25, tied with the likes of Phil Kessel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Justin Williams. His goal scoring matters, too. In the 20 games in which he recorded a goal this season, the Ducks lost just twice in regulation (13-2-5). However, his goal scoring, despite the three goals in his last eight games, has been doing a slow leak from month to month. He had nine goals in November (he did not appear in any games in October), seven in December, and then five in January. Rakell has yet to record a point in three career games against the Caps and is a minus-1.

Silfverberg has been a reliable, if unspectacular producer as a goal scorer. He has finished in double digits in each of his five seasons, including this one (16), although this season might be a breakout year of sorts. With 16 goals in 53 games, he is on a pace to finish 24 goals, which would be a career best (he had 20 last season). His success is the mirror of Perry’s disappointment – shooting percentage. A modest 8.0 percent shooter coming into this season, he is shooting 11.2 percent so far this year, the only season in which he topped ten percent. Silfverberg is also getting more ice time, which might explain his increased production, the 18:26 he averages per night being 1:28 more a night than he averaged last season, his highest average ice time for a season at the time. In nine career games against the Caps, he is 1-2-3, even.

1.  In their eight-game slide in which they are 3-4-1, the Ducks have been outscored, 22-20. Their special teams are good and bad, or rather bad and good. The power play is limping along at 17.4 percent over those eight games (4-for-23), while the penalty killers have been a superb 92.9 percent (26-for-28).

2.  Watch out when the Caps have a power play. Only two teams have more shorthanded goals than the Ducks (6) this season – the New York Rangers (7) and the Calgary Flames (8).

3.  Then again, no team has been shorthanded on the road more often this season than the Ducks. Their 112 times shorthanded is four more than the Winnipeg Jets (108).

4.  Then there are the fights. Anaheim leads the league in fighting majors, and it’s not close. They have 34 fighting majors so far this season to 25 for the Dallas Stars. Since the 2005-2006 lockout, the Ducks have been hit 635 times with major penalties of all types, almost a hundred more than the next highest ranked team (Philadelphia Flyers: 556). This is an angry bunch.

5.  The Ducks are not an awful possession team, but they’re not good, either. Anaheim ranks 19th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.70 percent), 16th when adjusted for score, zone, and venue (50.24 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Only the St. Louis Blues have had more shorthanded occurrences on home ice (105) than the Caps (99).

2.  Washington is credited with more takeaways (448) than all but two teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs (458) and the Carolina Hurricanes (524).

3.  The recent offensive explosion by the Caps vaulted them to the top of the shooting percentage rankings.  They are at 11.40 percent to 11.37 percent for the New York Rangers.

4.  The Caps lead the league in wins by three or more goals, the 18 wins being almost half of their total for the season (38).

5.  For all the goals scored on home ice, the Caps are not an especially efficient team in generating shot attempts on home ice, at least at 5-on-5.  Their 56.17 shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives on home ice ranks 18th in the league (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim:  John Gibson

For three seasons, the Anaheim Ducks were keeping the number one goalie seat warm for the time when John Gibson was ready.  Three years ago it was Jonas Hiller in that spot, and for the past two seasons it was Frederik Andersen getting the bulk of the games.  Hiller is now playing for EHC Biel in Switzerland, and Andersen is in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.  Gibson is now the unquestioned number one netminder in Anaheim.  He has not disappointed.  Gibson ranks fifth among 44 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes in goals against average (2.29) and 12th in save percentage (.920), with three shutouts.  He has been sharp of late, too.  In his last 14 appearances he is 8-4-1 (one no-decision), 1.67, .939, with two shutouts.  Gibson is 0-1-1, 2.93, .900 in two career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson is on a nice little mini-run at the moment.  In each of his last three games he had a goal and an assist, getting his three goals on just five shots on gosal.  And when Marcus scores, the Caps win.  They are 14-1-0 in games in which Johansson scored a goal this season (including those last three).  With 18 goals in 55 games, Johansson is on a pace to finish with 27 goals, which would shatter his personal best in his seven-year career (20 goals in 2014-2015).  He also could set a personal high in game-winning goals.  He has five through 55 games, and at that pace he would finish with eight (he had seven last season).  But what has been remarkable so far this season is his shooting percentage.  Among 440 skaters with at least 50 shots on goal this season, he is second in the league with 22.5 percent (by the way, the top spot is occupied by T.J. Oshie at 23.4 percent, and Brett Connolly is fourth at 21.4 percent).  Johansson is 1-2-3, minus-1, in eight career games against the Ducks.

In the end…

This opponent brings a set of challenges that the last two opponents did not for the Caps.  First, the Ducks are just a better team than either the Carolina Hurricanes or Detroit Red Wings.  But this is perhaps the original “heavy” team, one that brings a physical edge that the Caps haven’t seen in a while.  But there is a bit of a “bully” aspect to the Ducks, too.  Sure, they can beat up on Colorado or Buffalo, both of whom gave up five goals to the Ducks.  But speedier teams with skill – Edmonton, Tampa Bay, the Rangers – pretty much stymied the Ducks in recent games (three goals scored by the Ducks over those three games).  Pace, then, will be an important consideration, and even with Andre Burakovsky on the shelf and Brett Connolly dinged up, the Caps are likely to have to press the Ducks with speed and precision.

Capitals 3 – Ducks 2