Yesterday’s Game of the Day, contested between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues, was our second straight shutout victory for the home squad, as the Notes beat the Bolts 2-0.
Scott Gomez’ goal, assisted by Colton Parayko and Troy Brouwer at the 15:59 mark of the first period, was his first with St. Louis and the eventual game-winner. The lone insurance goal was an empty netter scored by Brouwer, assisted by Alex Pietrangelo, with only 41 seconds remaining in the game.
First star of the game Jake Allen earned the win by stopping all 26 Lightning shots, while Ben Bishop lost his yearly homecoming game by allowing only one goal on 23 shots (95.7%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-5-3, still favoring the home squad by 11 points.
After a busy 10 game schedule yesterday, the writers at Down the Frozen River invite you to sit back, crack open your beverage of choice and relax this evening, as there are only three games on the schedule tonight. Instead of frantically checking your phone every five minutes to check scores, you can chill out, knowing that all three games will be on national TV in their home nation. The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. eastern when the Calgary Flames visit the Canadian capital to take on the Senators (TVAS, SN1). The capital theme continues half an hour later, when Pittsburgh visits the American capital to play division rival Washington (NBCSN). Finally, at 10:30 p.m. eastern, the squad representing the capital of Tennessee, the Nashville Predators, will visit the county seat of Santa Clara County (So, like, the capital of Santa Clara County? YES, THE CAPITAL OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY!) to play the San Jose Sharks (NBCSN).
Of these three, one is a divisional rivalry (Pittsburgh at Washington), and none that features two teams that are currently qualifying for the playoffs (San Jose fell out of position last night with Vancouver‘s win over Montréal). Therefore, I expect the Pittsburgh–Washington game to be the best game of the night.
The rivalry between these two squads is well documented. In fact, this season is the tenth anniversary of the rebirth of the rivalry, as both teams’ captains began playing for their respective teams during the 2005-’06 season. In their history, the Penguins own the all-time series at 131-110-16 but, as should be expected, the Capitals own a better record when playing in front of their home crowd (63-58-9).
We first take a look at the visiting team. While offense is usually the first thing to come to mind when thinking of a squad with both Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have strongly relied on their defense (especially Ian Cole, who has 25 blocks so far) and Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to achieve their 4-4-0 record. The only goalie to put on the pads for Pittsburgh so far this season, he’s given up 16 goals so far this season, six under the league average. Even when a man or more down, the Penguins have still found a way to keep the opposition off the board, as they’ve only given up four power play goals (one less than the league average) to maintain an 84.62% penalty kill rate, exceeding the league average of 81.43%. Fleury’s .932 save percentage also exceeds the league average by 1.7%.
In comparison to both their defense and Penguins teams in the past, the offense has been fairly lackluster. The club has only tickled the twine 13 times, nine goals below the league average. Part of the problem has been the poor results on the power play. In 28 attempts, the Penguins have only scored two goals (three below average), for a 7.14% power play. What’s most frustrating for the team is their lack of offensive success hasn’t entirely been their fault. Pittsburgh has shot the puck 261 times in eight games, 16 more times than the league average, but has only scored on 5% of their shots.
Turning our attention to the home side, we find a 6-1-0 Capitals side that we at Down the Frozen River think has the potential to represent the Eastern Conference in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Washington is a well rounded team that is a threat to score on one end of the ice, and has full capabilities to stop the opposition on the other end.
Beginning with the offense, the Capitals have scored 29 tallies so far this season, seven goals above league average (Ovi leads the way with five goals this season). Seven of those goals have been on the power play. What’s most remarkable is they’ve had extra-man success (two more goals than league average) on significantly fewer opportunities (six less, to be exact). What the kids that can do quick math have figured out before I tell you is that Washington‘s power play percentage is much better than the rest of the NHL’s. We’re talking so good, that the Caps score on almost a third of their man-advantages (31.82%, to be exact). The league averages only 18.57%… for sake of argument, we can almost claim that Washington scores two power play goals for every one scored by the average hockey team. Or, in other words, the Penguins would be very wise to not commit any penalties.
The biggest fallback of this offense? They don’t put as many shots on goal. They’ve only fired 207 pucks so far this season, 38 under the league average. But, they score seemingly all the time, which has given them a 14% shot percentage, 5% over the league average.
So, if the offense is so good, opposing teams should just get into a barn-burner with the Caps and hope for the best, right? Bad idea, mostly because Washington doesn’t share very well: the Caps are the only ones allowed to score. In addition to their successful offense, the Capitals have only given up 18 goals this season, which is four under the league average. Specifically on the penalty kill, the Caps have given up one fewer goal (four) than the league average, and on fewer opportunities too. Their 83.33% penalty kill rate exceeds the league average by 1.9%. And its not just Goaltender Braden Holtby, either. The defense has also held their opposition to only 167 shots, 76 under the league average. Karl Alzner has led the charge in blocks, with 18 to his credit.
Tonight was also supposed to be the return of RW Eric Fehr to the Verizon Center, but he is still in the final stages of recovery from elbow surgery and does not expect to return until this weekend. He played nine of his 10 seasons with the Caps (spent the 2011-’12 season in Winnipeg), and signed as a free agent with the Pens this offseason. His return will be postponed to January 24. In replacement, we get to celebrate Kris Letang’s 500th game of his career.
Last season, the Caps won the season series 3-1-0 after shutting out the Penguins twice. The Pens‘ lone win was a 4-3 thriller in Washington, with Chris Kunitz scoring the winning goal.
Some players to watch in this one include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (one shutout [tied for sixth in the league] and four wins [tied for eighth in the league]) and Washington‘s John Carlson (eight assists [tied for seventh in the league]), Holtby (five wins [tied for second in the league]) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 points [tied for fifth in the league] and eight assists [tied for seventh in the league]).
Although the Penguins may have won their last game in this arena, I fully expect Washington to beat the Penguins easily, as the Pittsburgh offense will not be able to keep up with Ovechkin and the Capitals.