Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Edmonton Oilers at Washington Capitals, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If it’s a weekend, the Washington Capitals must be playing back-to-back games. For the second straight weekend and the third one this month, the Caps get a set of back-to-back games, starting with a visit from the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

Washington will be looking to extend its home winning streak to 13 games and its points streak to 15 contests. They will also be looking to extend their streak of home wins scoring five or more goals to 12 consecutive games, which would break a tie with the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins for the most such consecutive games in NHL history.

It will not be as easy as it seems, given the opponent, for these are not your older brother’s defense-challenged Oilers, not even last year’s 27th-ranked scoring defense. This year’s edition of the Oilers has shaved almost a half goal per game off their goals allowed total, from 2.95 per game last season to 2.54 this year, ranked 7th in the league.

Edmonton comes to Verizon Center with a 5-2-0 record over their last seven games, outscoring opponents by a 20-18 margin (not including the shootout goal they scored in a 1-0 win over Montreal to start this run).Connor McDavid, as you might expect, has had his fingerprints all over the score sheet in those seven games with a hand in eight of the 20 goals (2-6-8). In his two seasons in the league, only Patrick Kane (1.17) and Sidney Crosby (1.14) have more points per game than McDavid (1.09). Only Erik Karlsson (0.77) has more assists than McDavid (0.75). If he continues to score at the pace he has so far this season, he could finish the year trailing only Sidney Crosby among active players who scored at least 140 points in their first two seasons without having reached their 21st birthday (Crosby had 222 points in his first two seasons; McDavid is on a pace for 139). In two career games against the Caps, he is 1-3-4, minus-1).

While McDavid leads the team in points over this recent 5-2-0 run, he doesn’t lead the club in goals. That honor is held, surprisingly enough, by defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who has three (3-3-6). The fourth-year player from Karlstad, Sweden, has already set career highs in goals (11) and points (26), and he is just three assists shy of tying his career best in assists (18). What he has done to ramp up his offensive production is increase his shot frequency – a lot. Two seasons ago he recorded a career high 98 shots on goal in 60 games. Through 61 games this season he already has 156 shots on goal. Only five defensemen in the league have more shots on goal, and of that group, only Brent Burns (27 goals on 242 shots) has more goals than Klefbom (11 goals on 156 shots). What Klefbom does not have is a career goal against the Caps. He is 0-2-2, minus-4, in four career games against Washington.

There is a familiar face among those posting good offensive numbers over the last seven games for the Oilers. Center Mark Letestu (1-4-5 in the last seven games) spent parts of his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before moving on to Columbus and then to Edmonton last season. He has carved out a niche for himself as a reliable contributor as a bottom-six forward. In seven full NHL seasons he recorded double digits in goals and assists in six, and at least 25 points in each of them (including this season with 11-17-28), except for the 2014-2015 season (7-6-13) in which he was limited to 54 games by a groin injury. Letestu is 2-2-4, minus-3, in 13 career games against the Caps.


1.  This is the first time in ten years that the Oilers have an average under 30 shots allowed per game (29.9). They had 29.7 shots allowed per game in 2006-2007. It is the only season since the 2004-2005 lockout that they have averaged more than 30 shots on goal per game (31.0; they averaged 29.8 shots on goal per game in 2005-2006).

2.  This is the first season since the 2004-2005 lockout that the Oilers’ power play on the road is over 20 percent (22.8). Their 2011-2012 team was at 19.5 percent.

3.  On the other side of special teams on the road, this is the second-worst squad in road penalty killing (78.7 percent). Only the 2010-2011 team was worse (73.4 percent).

4.  On the good side of penalty killing, they don’t have to do it much. Their 9:24 in penalty minutes per game this season is the second lowest since the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2014-2015 team averaged 8:15 in penalty time.

5.  Edmonton is a decent, though not great possession team. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue (by Corsica.hockey), their 59.75 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is 12th in the league.


1.  Comparing the Caps on the basis of their post-2004-2005 lockout team numbers, this team has the second-lowest shots allowed per game (28.0). The 2007-2008 team allowed 27.5 shots per game.

2.  Only two teams in this period have had better home penalty killing than this year’s team (85.1 percent). The 2010-2011 team (86.0 percent) and last year’s team (87.3 percent) were better.

3.  This is the least-penalized team in the current era for the Caps (8:48 average penalty minutes per game). Last year’s team averaged 9:10 in penalty minutes per game.

4.  Even though this club is on a pace to match the franchise record in wins (56, set last season), it isn’t as adept at winning when scoring first as you might thing. The 2016-2017 Caps have the third-best winning percentage when scoring first (.810) in this era. The 2014-2015 team (.860) and last year’s team (.895) were better.

5.  The Caps have the fourth-lowest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 on home ice (52.94; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Cam Talbot

One could argue that the Edmonton Oilers have been looking for decent (not elite, just decent) goaltending since the 2004-2005 lockout. Until this season, 21 goalies recorded a season with at least 1,000 minute for the Oilers. Of that group, Dwayne Roloson had the best goals against average in a season (2.43 in 2005-2006), Devan Dubnyk had the best save percentage (.920 in 2012-2013), and Roloson and Mathieu Garon had the most shutouts in a season (four – Roloson in 2006-2007 and Garon in 2007-2008). So far this season, Cam Talbot has topped them all in 3,200 minutes of ice time – a 2.36 GAA, a .921 save percentage, and five shutouts. Unsurprisingly, he also tops all of them in wins, too, with 31. It is quite an improvement on Talbot’s first season in Edmonton after arriving in trade in June 2015 from the New York Rangers (21-27-5, 2.55, .917, three shutouts). And he seems to thrive on volume, too. In 20 games in which he faced 30 or more shots he has a record of 15-1-4, all four extra time losses coming in the Gimmick. He is 2-2-0, 2.25, .927 in five career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

With Matt Niskanen – one of the team’s two right-handed defensemen – injured and on day-to-day status, the question becomes who will take over responsibility for manning the team’s second unit power play from the top of the offensive zone? Dmitry Orlov logged 1:47 in power play time in the 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night from which Niskanen departed. Orlov does get a surprising amount of power play ice time as it is (averaging 1:24 in power play ice time so far this season, the most he has averaged in any of his five seasons). He also has six power play points this season (1-5-6) more than his total in his previous four seasons (0-5-5). How he performs is not going to be the determinant in whether the Caps can keep up their blistering pace of the last two months, but a good effort in Niskanen’s absence won’t hurt. Orlov is 1-0-1, minus-3, in three career games against Edmonton.

In the end…

Edmonton is the kind of team that can expose a team’s weaknesses if left to run a game at a pace of their choosing, which is to say, “up-tempo.” Being smart with the puck, especially at both blue lines, preventing quick transitions, forcing Edmonton to play a harder 200-foot game can grind them down. You know, the stuff a veteran team like the Caps should be able to manage. And hey, why not a new record, too?

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 59: Washington Capitals 4 - Philadelphia Flyers 1

The Washington Capitals snapped a two-game losing streak on Wednesday night, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. With the win, the Caps became the first team in the NHL to reach the 40-win mark.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring for the Caps in the game’s seventh minute. T. J. Oshie was able to peel the puck off the right wing wall and away from two Flyers to Backstrom skating into the right wing circle. Then, using defenseman Radko Gudas as a screen, Backstrom snapped a shot past goalie Michal Neuvirth, off the crossbar, and in to make it 1-0.

Ten minutes later, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter of the Flyer zone to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the right side. Kuznetsov stepped up and wristed a shot from the faceoff dot over Neuvirth’s left shoulder and in on a the short side to make it 2-0 at the 16:28 mark.

The Flyers halved the lead early in the second period when Brayden Schenn redirected a Brandon Manning drive from the left point past goalie Braden Holtby. The Caps restored their two-goal lead when Kuznetsov got his second goal of the game late in the period. Taylor Chorney smartly moved the puck up to Justin Williams exiting the Capitals’ zone. Skating the puck down the right side and into the Flyers’ end, Williams sent the puck across to Kuznetsov for a one-timer that appeared to surprise Neuvirth, sailing past him at the 17:59 mark to make it 3-1.

Oshie capped the scoring in the third period. Alex Ovechkin started the scoring sequence by picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone and sending it across to Nicklas Backstrom in front of the players benches. Backstrom skated the puck into the Flyers end and fed Ovechkin cutting to the net. Pulling the puck to his backhand, Ovechkin tried to sneak the puck around Neuvirth but was foiled. Oshie followed up and stuffed the puck in to make it 4-1 at the 14:43 mark.

Other stuff…

-- All three members of the top line – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie – finished with multi-point games. It was Backstrom’s 16th multi-point game of the season and the 14th for Oshie and Ovechkin.

-- Justin Williams also had a multi-point game.  His assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first goal of game was his 400th career assist in the NHL.  He added another assist on Kuznetsov’s second goal for good measure.

-- In allowing just one goal on 34 shots, Braden Holtby’s goals against average for the season dipped under 2.00, and his save percentage climbed to .927.  There are three goalies in the league who have played more than 750 minutes, have a GAA under 2.00, and have a save percentage better than .925.  The Caps have two of them – Holtby (1.99/.927) and Philipp Grubauer (1.98/.932).  Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is the other (1.96/.934).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had his second two-goal game of the season, the first coming in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th.  In the 2017 portion of the season, Kuznetsov is now 11-17-28, plus-15, in 24 games.  Only four players in the league have more points than Kuznetsov since January 1st.

-- One of those players is Nicklas Backstrom who, with his two-point night, is leading the league in scoring since January 1st (9-24-33, plus-13, in 24 games).

-- With his two point night, Alex Ovechkin is tied for sixth in the league in scoring since January 1st (10-16-26, plus-9), and his 16 assists is tied for tenth in that span.

-- Taylor Chorney recorded an assist in his first game since January 26th.  That point is the first one Chorney recorded in a road win this season.

-- The Caps were a dismal 22-for-65 on faceoffs (33.8 percent).  No Capital taking a faceoff managed as much as 50 percent, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov (no, that’s not a typo) was over 40 percent (5-for-12/41.6 percent).

-- The Flyers rode three waves – to start the game, mid-way through the second period, and over the last ten minutes of the contest – to a 54-46 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  The second line of Kuznetsov, Williams, and Marcus Johansson took it in the teeth, going a minus-12 in shots attempts at fives.

-- John Carlson wins the all-you-can-eat buffet coupon.  In 27:37 of ice time, he had an assist, was plus-2, led the team with five shots on goal, had nine total shot attempts, a hit, two giveaways, a takeaway, and two blocked shots.

In the end…

It was not the sort of game the Caps were playing before the bye week, but there was a sense of things coming together after the layoff.  Faceoffs and possession were an issue in this game, but of more immediate concern is the injury to Matt Niskanen that limited him to just over ten minutes of ice time for the game.  His “lower body injury” will be re-evaluated on Thursday.  It is the latest in a series of incidents that has tested the Caps’ depth and could necessitate the call-up of recently acquired Tom Gilbert as the Caps head into a set of back-to-back games this weekend.
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