Pittsburgh Penguins Gameday 64: Washington Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins (42-17-4) @ Washington Capitals (30-25-10)
ROOT, NHLN-US, CSN-DC – 7:00 pm/et 
Verizon Center – Washington, DC

Image Credit: ep_jhu on Flickr

Are you ready for a back-to-back against the Capitals followed by a back-to-back against the Flyers later on in the week? Well you'd better be. A good portion of the Internet may not make it to next Monday.

The man of the hour in Washington is Evgeny Kuznetsov, but we're more focused on Jaroslav Halak. Remember him?

From our 2010 series recap against the Montreal Canadiens:

Chances were there. But the story, in the end, was Halak. He was brilliant. He robbed Crosby and Malkin point-blank.

Halak was a monster. The Montreal gameplan revolved around him making unreal saves. He did. Gives "hot goalie" a whole new meaning.

But it wasn't just Halak and the Habs that gave the Penguins trouble. From November 2013 and a St. Louis Blues game recap:

Not many goalies own Sidney Crosby, but Jaro Halak has some real estate in Crosby's head.

Obviously the Capitals aren't a defensive powerhouse and Halak won't make them a Cup favorite overnight, but you're fooling yourself if you don't think that adding Halak makes them better. How much better remains to be seen.

The Caps are pushing to make the playoffs, so they'll bring everything they have to these next two games. The Penguins will need to match them if they hope to win. 

Two charts from Extra Skater give us some potentially interesting information going into this game:

Those charts show the team's cumulative Fenwick Close. What does that mean? Here's an explanaton from "The Puck Stops Here."

Today I want to look at "close Fenwick". This is a number some people believe is the best indicator of how good teams are. I have written a bit about Fenwick Numbers in the past. This is an alternative to the Corsi Number which uses only shots on goal and missed shots as events. A +/- rating type stat can be kept for a team or an individual player based on Fenwick events.

Close Fenwick is defined as the Fenwick number when the game is within one goal in the first or second period and tied in the third period and overtime. This number is usually reported as a percentage of Fenwick evens that a particular team gets. Thus an average team has a 50% close Fenwick.

For a quick definition, we look to McKeen's Hockey which says:

Fenwick is the differential of shots on goal and missed shots towards the opposition goal minus the same criteria at the team’s own goal. The feature here is set as a default to the situation as ‘close’ meaning these values are calculated when teams are within one goal through first two periods, or tied in the third.

Basically, those charts show how many shots on goal and missed shots (but not blocked shots) each team generates in close games. As you can see, the Pens' number has been dropping all season while the Capitals' has bounced around and now appears to be on the rise.

Of course, while the Pens are falling and the Caps are rising, the Pens' number is still above 50% while the Caps' is below it. The trends, however, are interesting and the fact that the Pens' number has been dropping pretty consistently doesn't look great.

Finally, from Habs Eyes on the Prize:

Fenwick has a great correlation with scoring chances, meaning a team that dominates unblocked shots is usually generating more scoring chances, and has a much greater chance of scoring, and therefore winning, the game.


Leading Scorers:

Penguins: Sidney Crosby (29G, 55A: 84P)
Capitals: Alex Ovechkin (44G, 23A: 67P)

Starting Goaltenders:

Penguins: Jeff Zatkoff (9-3-1, 2.75 GAA, .910 Sv% )
Capitals: Jaroslav Halak (25-9-4, 2.22 GAA, .918 Sv% * TOTAL)
            (1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .939 Sv% * WITH CAPITALS)

Last Games:

Penguins: Defeated Anaheim Ducks 3-2 [SO].
Capitals: Defeated Phoenix Coyotes 3-2.

Previews from Team Websites:  [Penguins] [Capitals]

Line Combinations and Notes: [Part 1 of Back-to-Back Caps]

Opposition Blog: [Japers' Rink]
What They're Saying: "Evgeny Kuznetsov or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Guy"

There's no question that the 2013-14 Caps have a number of problems on which to focus (and we've focused on them quite a bit over the course of the season). There are holes and deficiencies that will take much more than a deadline acquisition or late-season rookie addition to overcome. Systemic issues, personnel issues… it's completely true that none of these things are getting solved when Kuznetsov first steps on the ice in a Caps' jersey.

But why do they have to be?

We have become so programmed to focus on the negative, so trained to complain and find fault, that somehow we've managed to overlook the fact that this is a pretty exciting moment. It's a moment almost four years in the making, one that's been eagerly anticipated and teased for the better part of two years, and one that we weren't sure would ever come. It's a big moment. Being excited about it doesn't mean you have to agree with what George McPhee did or didn't do at the deadline, or that you like the team's defense as configured, or that you're willing to overlook the other problems – and it certainly doesn't mean you have to suddenly declare the Caps to be Cup contenders. The fact is they're probably not… but who cares?

What Happened Last Time: January 15, 2014 – Pens won 4-3 [Our Recap]

It is almost like Shero and Bylsma are seeing how terrible they can make the lineup and still keep winning. That obviously isn’t what’s happening, but it sure seems like it.

Penguins Player(s) to Watch: Jeff Zatkoff. This is probably the biggest test of his NHL career 

Capitals Player(s) to Watch: Evgeny Kuznetsov, because we've heard a lot about him.

Gif that Seems Appropriate for Today's Game: