Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Washington Capitals: Ten-HUT!!!

Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a hockey game by taking a hit for his team. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard take a hit for his team. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about the Caps not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the contest, is a lot of horse dung. Caps traditionally love to fight. All real Caps love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball player, the toughest boxer. Caps fans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Caps play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost...and laughed. That’s why last spring Caps never lost and will never lose a playoff series this spring.  Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Capitals.

Now... a hockey club is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, skates as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for NHL Network don’t know anything more about real hockey games than they do about fornicating.

We have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. You know, by God I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to check the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to tape the blades of our sticks. We’re going to hit those lousy Hurricane bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Hurricanes are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Check them into the boards. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face...you'll know what to do.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let Carolina do that.

We are advancing constantly, and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy.

We're going to hold onto him by the nose, and we're going to kick him in the ass.

We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time, and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose.

There’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, "what did you do in the great Stanley Cup playoffs," you won’t have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in DC."

Alright now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh...and I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle – anytime...anywhere.

...that's all.

Off Day: The Cousins Look Back on Game 6 and Ahead to Game 7

For the 12th time since 2007-2008, the Washington Capitals will play a Game 7 in the postseason, thanks to their dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 on Monday night.  The Caps overcame some bitter history last season when they won Game 7 of their Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay on their way to a Stanley Cup championship.  But this year, they have some demon spirits that have crawled into their game, not to mention a feisty Carolina team that looks hungry and determined.  The cousins have some thoughts.

Peerless:  Game 7.  The ultimate test.  Does last year’s win over Tampa Bay give the Caps something to build on here?

Fearless: Every team is different, but this team is less different than last year’s team and less different than most defending Stanley Cup champions.  So, the reflex answer is to say that yes, this team has lessons learned from last year that can help them.  But those come in two parts.  For instance, if that game is a template, then one thing to remember is the importance of early pressure.  The Caps scored first, just 62 seconds into the game to put Tampa Bay on their heels.  But pressure means pressure at the other end, too.  The Caps allowed the Lightning only ten first period shots and 19 shot attempts. 

There was being disciplined.  The Caps did take three penalties in that game, but two were coincidental with Tampa Bay penalties.  The Caps would go shorthanded only once in that game, a third period penalty by Matt Niskanen when the Caps were already up, 3-0.  Then again, you have to kill those chances, and the Caps did so effectively, denying the Lightning so much as a single power play shot on goal in two minutes on their only power play opportunity.

There was balance.  Three Caps shared in the four goals in that game, and seven players combined for nine points.  But the stars have to be stars, too.  There was Ovechkin’s early goal.  There was Nicklas Backstrom’s empty netter to seal the win with under four minutes left.  There was John Carlson with an assist and a plus-3 rating, best on the team.  On the other hand, there was secondary scoring.  The difference in this game might have been Andre Burakovsky’s two goals.  Tom Wilson had a pair of assists. 

And, of course, there is goaltending.  Braden Holtby was in a zone, stopping all 28 shots he faced, extending his consecutive shots stopped streak to 78 over the last 159:27 of that series.  But there is also keeping the pressure off the goalie, and the Caps allowed only seven shots on goal in the third period of that Game 7 against Tampa Bay, none in the first ten minutes of that period, never letting the Lightning get a glimpse of a comeback.  This isn’t a bad template for a victory on Wednesday night, and hopefully it is still in the Caps’ individual and collective memory banks.

Cheerless: Well, that was impressive, but I’m thinking “dance steps.” 

Fearless: You know what he’d talking about, cousin?

Peerless: I have no clue…

Cheerless: Hey, over here, guys.  Look at their recent history of Games 7.  2009 against the Rangers…win.  2009 against the Pens and 2010 against Montreal…losses.  2012 against Boston…win.  2012 and 2013 against the Rangers…losses.  2015 against the Islanders…win.  2015 against the Rangers and 2017 against the Penguins…losses.  You guys ever hear of a “waltz?”

Fearless: Why cousin, I never thought of you as a Johann Strauss, the Younger, fan.

Cheerless: I was thinking more Bill Monroe and “The Tennessee Waltz.”  But back to the series, it’s been win-loss-loss, win-loss-loss for this team in Games 7.  Last year was a win.  You do the math…er, steps.  Then there is the place.  Last year, the Caps won their Game 7 on the road.  It evened their record in Games 7 on the road at 2-2 since 2007-2008. 

Home has not been kind to the Caps in these situations, though.  In fact, it’s been downright ugly.  Grandma before she puts her teeth in ugly.  The Caps are 1-4 in their last five Games 7 on home ice.  They’ve been outscored, 16-5 in those games.  They haven’t scored more than two goals in any of those five games, and they were shut out in their last two losses.

There is the power play.  It has been OK for the Caps in this series, going 6-for-21 (28.6 percent/fourth of 16 playoff teams), but in seven home Games 7 since 2007-2008, they have one power play goal, and that one came against the Flyers in 2008 (they lost in overtime…on a power play goal).  The Caps are without a power play goal in their last six Games 7 on home ice.  The Caps might have learned lessons in last season’s Game 7 in Tampa Bay, but class isn’t over.  There is the home ice final to deal with.

Peerless:  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have certainly stepped up in a big way.  Backstrom has five goals in six games, matching last year’s total posted in 20 games, and just one short of his career playoff best (six in 13 games in 2017).  Ovechkin has four goals, on the same pace he had last year when he put up a league leading and career high of 15 goals in 24 games.  The nine goals the two have are more than half the team’s total of 17 goals in this series.  Stars have to be stars in big games, but who else needs to step up in this Game 7?

Cheerless: Calling Evgeny Kuznetsov…Calling Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Yeah, he’s a star, but he ain’t been stepping up.  He has five assists in six games, the same pace he had last year (20 in 24 games), but he does not have a goal yet.  He had 23 goals in 63 career playoff games before this season, a 30-goal pace over 82 games.  Maybe he's been playing hurt, but if he’s got a goal or two in him, now would be a good time to play it or them.

Fearless: We’ll go off the board here and say the Matt Niskanen/Dmitry Orlov defensive pair.  Carolina has 13 even-strength goals in this series, and that pair has been on ice for six of them.  If they are the top defensive pair on this team, they have to make sure the defense is applied.  That neither has a goal in this series is something Caps fans would like to see remedied, but if Carolina does not score with that pair on the ice, given they are 1-2 in even strength ice time per game, the chances for the Caps winning improve.

Peerless: Bottom line, who wins?  OK, we know who wins, but will it be a short night (a blowout) or a long one (overtime…s)?

Fearless: The Caps have won three home games by a combined 14-5 score.  Two of the wins were of the multi-goal decision variety.  The Caps have six first period goals in this series on home ice.  They are 5-for-12 on the power play on home ice (41.7 percent).  They are 12-for-13 killing penalties at Capital One Arena (92.3 percent).  Caps win…short night.

Cheerless: This is the seventh time in franchise history that the Caps faced a team in a Game 7 on home ice for the first time.  Nothing in the previous six suggests this will be anything but a tense, if not a long night. Islanders in 1987…four-overtime loss.  Flyers in 1988…overtime win.  Devils in 1988…one-goal loss.  Penguins in 1992…two-goal loss, but a Penguins empty netter in the last minute.  Rangers in 2009…one goal win off a third period tie-breaking goal.  2010 against Montreal…one-goal loss, featuring a disallowed Capitals goal in the third period that would have tied the game.  Maybe the Caps’ history will change based on what they learned last year, but it would not be the way to bet.  Long night.  Long, long night.

In the end…

We’re at the end…of this series.  For all the words above, this series comes down to one club.  Carolina has had a reasonably consistent level of effort over the six games played so far.  But wins and losses have come down to how the Caps have played and their intensity level.  In the games in which intensity has been high and effort significant, they won.  When they looked as if they were having a skate at Washington Harbour and letting Carolina dictate pace and tempo, they lost. 

The added “X-factor” here is whether the Game 7 history on home ice creeps into the arena in the form of the Caps squeezing their sticks too tight.  In seven Games 7 on home ice since 2007-2008, the Caps have never scored more than two goals.  Braden Holtby will have to continue to be as sharp on home ice as he has been so far in this series (3-0, 1.65, .943, one shutout).  But the Caps will have to break the “two-goal hole” to advance.  It might not be a short night, but it will be a happy one.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2

Monday, April 22, 2019

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 6: Hurricanes 5 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals took the ice in Carolina on Monday night looking to eliminate the Hurricanes in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.  The Caps played well enough for one period, held their own (barely) in the second, and then they suffered another poor third period.  It was a recipe for a 54-2 Carolina win, sending the series back to Washington for Game 7.

First Period

If the first goal in a game matters, and it has in this series so far, the Caps got it early on.  Andre Burakovsky carried the puck down the right side into the Carolina zone.  Stopping along the right wing wall, he fed it deep to Lars Eller, bu the puck skipped to the end wall.  Eller fished it out and sent it to Brett Connolly below the goal line on the other side of the net.  Connolly stepped out and snapped a shot over the glove of goalie Petr Mrazek on the far side to make it 1-0, 5:06 into the period.

Carolina tied it up five minutes later. Warren Foegele netted his fourth goal of the series when he jumped on the rebound of a shot by Dougie Hamilton, turned, and fired a shot past a screened Braden Holtby at the 10:35 mark to make it 1-1.

From his own blue line, Matt Niskanen fed the puck forward to Dmitry Orlov, who relayed it to Alex Ovechkin on the left side.  Ovechkin skated down the wing, and as he was skating through the left wing circle gave indication he was going to pass.  But he pulled the puck back and wristed a shot that beat Mrazek on the short side to make it 2-1, 15:12 into the period.  That would close the scoring for the first period.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 15-7, and out-attempted them, 28-8.

-- Carl Hagelin was the only Capital with more than one shot on goal (two).  Those two shot attempts also led the team.

-- Tom Wilson led the team with five credited hits.

Second Period

Carolina tied the score less than two minutes into the second period.  Caps defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler coughed up the puck to Sebastian Aho behind his own net, and Aho fed it in front to Teuvo Teravainen for a quick snapper that beat Holtby 1:56 into the period to tie the game at two apiece.

Washington would then have the benefit of two power plays. They could score on neither of them, managing only two shots on goal in the four minutes of man advantage.  They were opportunities passing by, and the teams went to the second intermission tied, 2-2.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 9-7, and out-attempted them by a 16-12 margin.

-- The fourth line did not have a shot attempt through two periods: Devante Smith-Pelly, Nic Dowd, and Andre Burakovsky.

-- It is one thing for Tom Wilson to lead the team in hits, and he did through 40 minutes (seven), but Carl Hagelin with six?  That was more than any Hurricane.

Third Period

Carolina scored early in the third period to break the tie.  A Justin Faulk drive from the right point was stopped, as was a rebound attempt by Brock McGinn.  But Jordan Staal had position behind both Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and batted the loose puck past Holtby from the top of the crease at the 3:51 mark to make it 3-2.

The Cap appeared to tie the game in the 11th minute when Alex Ovechkin jumped on a rebound and stuffed it under the pads of Mrazek.  But after review from Toronto, the play was ruled “no goal” for Ovechkin having pushed Mrazek’s pads and thus causing interference.

The Caps paid for Toronto’s eyes.  Justin Williams scored moments after the ruling, tipping in a Brett Pesce shot down and through Braden Holtby’s pads at the 11:58 mark.

Carolina added an empty net goal by Dougie Hamilton, and that ensured there would be a Game 7 in Washington. 

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had another off finish in this one.  Three third period goals allowed, one an empty netter, makes eight third period goals allowed in six games (nine in the other two periods combined).  This after allowing 92 third period goals in the regular season, seventh-most in the league and most among playoff qualifiers.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s misconduct penalty at the end of regulation was the first misconduct penalty of his playoff career.  He had 12 penalty minutes for the game, more than doubling his previous career high of five, also in this series, the result of his fighting major against Andrei Svechnikov in Game 3.

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 65th career postseason goal, breaking a tie for 22nd place all-time with four other players.  Next up… Joe Nieuwendyk, Denis Savard, and Sidney Crosby tied at 19th place with 66 playoff goals.

-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist on the Brett Connolly goal.  That was his first point of this postseason.  Not a good night for the fourth line generally.  Two thirds of it – Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly – did not have a shot on goal.  Dowd did not have a shot attempt and was minus-1.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was minus-3, the first time in 122 career playoff games than he had a rating of minus-3 or worse.

-- Tom Wilson had nine hits, but he had no shots on goal and only one shot attempt (miss).

-- Chandler Stephenson took a penalty in the third period.  It was his first penalty since he took one in Game 4 of last season's playoff series against Pittsburgh.  Counting regular season and playoff games, by our count it was 1024:50 in ice time between penalties for Stephenson.

-- Carolina finished with a 36-25 edge in shots on goal and a 63-38 advantage in total shot attempts.

-- No Capital taking more than one faceoff finished over 50 percent for the evening.

-- If going home makes a difference for one player, it might be Braden Holtby.  Three games in Carolina: 0-3, 3.75, .894.  Three games in Washington: 3-0, 1.65, .943, one shutout.

Other stuff…

The lackluster play, the iffy call, the bad third period…it’s over.  It is now down to this.  Play like champions, play more hockey.  Don’t, and break out the golf clubs.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 5: Capitals 6 - Hurricanes 0

After splitting the first four games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup, each team winning both games played on their respective home ice sheets, the Washington Capitals returned home to host the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 on Saturday night.  The Caps scored early, applied pressure when they could, killed penalties effectively when they had to, and used a lethal power play to put Carolina on the brink of elimination with a 6-0 win.

First Period

Carolina did not score in the first minute, which might have been progress for the Caps, but when provided a chance to do more good, they failed to cash in on an early power play. Nevertheless, the Caps dominated early.  The teams settled in a bit until an exchange of penalties a minute apart around the five-minute mark.  The first penalty was taken by Brett Connolly, a hooking call at 4:41.  Carolina could not solve the penalty kill, and when Lucas Wallmark took a penalty at 5:42, it negated the man advantage. 

When the Caps went on the power play on the expiration of Connolly’s penalty, it was Carolina that had a chance despite Washington having a man advantage.  There was the opportunity for a 2-on-1 , but Alex Ovechkin broke up a cross-ice pass at the Caps’ blue line.  John Carlson picked up the loose puck and started the other way, finding Tom Wilson curling down the left side.  Wilson skated into the zone and returned the puck to Carlson in the middle.  Carlson fed the puck across to Nicklas Backstrom, closing through the right wing circle.  His first shot was stopped by goalie Petr Mrazek, but Backstrom slid the rebound through Mrazek’s pads, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead, 7:33 into the period.  That would begin and end the scoring for the period.

-- The Caps held the Hurricanes without a shot attempt over the first 4:09 of the period.  The first shot attempt for Carolina was credited as a shot on goal from 128 feet.

-- Washington out-shot the Hurricanes, 10-6, in the period and out-attempted them, 18-15.

-- The Caps were credited with 21 hits in the period.  Alex Ovechkin had five, and Tom Wilson had four.  Carolina was not credited with a single takeaway in the first period.

Second Period

There was only one shot on goal for either team in the first four minutes, an 89-footer by Carolina’s Justin Williams, and indicator of how tough this game was being played in all three zones.  In the fifth minute, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent off on a high-sticking penalty.  Carolina managed only one shot, that by defenseman Jaccob Slavin, and the Caps skated off the disadvantage.

The Caps were sent shorthanded less than two minutes after the Kuznetsov penalty expired, John Carlson charged with goaltender interference for being pushed into Mrazek (sarcasm).  The Caps killed that one off without allowing a shot on goal.

A third penalty was charged to the Caps, this one a hooking call on Jonas Siegenthaler 12 minutes into the period, putting the ‘Canes on their third power play of the period.  Carolina did apply more pressure – three shots on goal – but goalie Braden Holtby was up to the task, turning all of them all of them aside.

The inability to convert bit the Canes shortly thereafter.  Alex Ovechkin circled up the right side of the ice from his own blue line.  Upon gaining the offensive zone, he laid out a saucer pass to Nicklas Backstrom steaming down the middle.  Backstrom snapped a shot over Mrazek’s blocker to make it 2-0, 14:21 into the period.

Less than two minutes later, the Caps upped their lead.  From his own blue line, Backstrom sent a pass up to Alex Ovechkin, but the puck slid by.  Dougie Hamilton went after it, and whether he thought it was icing or he looked over his right shoulder and saw Ovechkin barreling down on him, he stopped, allowing Ovechkin to retrieve the puck and sent it out front.  Brett Connolly snapped up the present and rifled a shot past Mrazek before he could react, and it was 3-0 at the 16:11 mark.

Sebastian Aho was sent off on a tripping call with 53 seconds left in the period.  Washington was unable to convert on that amount of power play time, but the man advantage would carry over to the third period and the Caps holding a 3-0 lead.

-- Carolina, owing to a significant power play ice time advantage, out-shot the Caps by a 15-7 margin in the period and out-attempted them, 28-15.

-- With all the Carolina power plays, Ovechkin skated only 5:36 in the period, 1:36 of that to close the second period.  Backstrom skated only 5:39, also with 1:36 of that to close the period.  Rounding out the big three, Kuznetsov skated only 5:55, 58 seconds of that to close the period.

-- Backstrom led the club with three shots on goal through 40 minutes.  In a role reversal, Ovechkin had only one shot on goal through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The Caps made short work of converting the carryover power play.  As the clock ticked past one minute into the period, an attempted clear by the Hurricanes was flagged down by John Carlson.  From the blue line, Carlson sent the puck deep to Kuznetsov at the top of the crease.  His attempt was foiled, but Tom Wilson was right there to use his reach to sweep a shot back at the Carolina net.  It might not have crossed the goal line on its own momentum, but defenseman Justin Faulk kicked it the last three feet to give the Caps a 4-0 lead at the 1:04 mark.

Mid-way through the period, Dougie Hamilton slashed Nic Dowd’s stick on a breakaway, and Dowd was awarded a penalty shot.  Dowd skated in and busted an old Matt Hendricks “Paralyzer” move before snapping the puck through Mrazek’s pads, 8:57 into the period.

Less than two minutes later, Brock McGinn was about to break in alone on Holtby, but Wallmark hooked Dmitry Orlov to keep him from getting into the play, putting the Caps on a power play.  It took the Caps two seconds to convert.  Backstrom won the draw to Kuznetsov on his right, who sent the puck across to Ovechkin for a one-timer from the office to make it 6-0, 10:14 into the period.

The Caps shut the Hurricanes down from there, and they skated off with the 6-0 win, the fifth time in five games that the team scoring first won.

Other stuff…

-- Backstrom finished the game with four points (2-2-4), his second career playoff game with four or more points, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the franchise lead.

-- Ovechkin had three points (1-2-3), the seventh time in his postseason career that he recorded three or more points.  He is second in franchise history to Backstrom (nine games, including this one).

-- Washington recorded three power play goals in four chances, the third time in their last four home playoff games, dating back to last spring’s Stanley Cup final, that they had multi-power play goal games.  The Caps are 8-for-17 in those four games (47.1 percent).

-- John Carlson had two assists, his sixth career two-assist playoff game, one behind the all-time franchise leader, Calle Johansson.

-- Braden Holtby finished with a 30-save shutout, his seventh career postseason shutout, breaking a tie him with Olaf Kolzig for most in team history.

-- Washington was credited with 48 hits in this game and put more pressure on the Hurricanes in Carolina’s defensive zone.  Every Capital except John Carlson recorded at least one. Ovechkin led the team with 11 hits.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 30-28, and the clubs split 110 shot attempts down the middle, 55 apiece.

-- Tom Wilson had a fine game, recording a goal, an assist, six hits, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and a win on his only faceoff.

-- Devante Smith-Pelly was solid in his return.  In 10:43 of ice time, he had a shot on goal, three shot attempts, and five hits.  The Caps won their fifth straight playoff game with DSP in the lineup.

-- Three Caps did not have a shot attempt, all of them defensemen – Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, and Jonas Siegenthaler.

In the end…

There is a fine line between playing angry and undisciplined, and playing angry with focus.  The Caps of old might have been the former, running around looking for retribution for the hit on T.J. Oshie that likely ended his season.  This team played the latter and made an emphatic statement that any path deep into the postseason is going through Washington.  Hopefully, the next time that path winds its way to Washington, the Caps are hosting a second-round playoff game.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Off Day: The Cousins Look Back on Game 4

The Washington Capitals held home ice advantage with two wins at Capital One Arena to open their first round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.  Carolina then did their part to force the Caps to try to maintain that advantage by winning two games on home ice at PNC Arena.  So, the Caps still have the edge, right?  The cousins aren’t so sure.

Peerless:  Let’s get to the big question.  Who has the edge in what is now a best-of-three series?

Cheerless:  Dang if sports doesn’t have some of the goofiest sayings.  One you hear everywhere in a series like this is “a playoff series doesn’t start until the home team loses.”  That one’s been around for more than 30 years (Thanks, Google).  Well, that’s crap.  Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Martinook, Micheal Ferland, and T.J. Oshie would say the series started (and ended for at least one of them).  Then there is the “you dance with who brung ya” line.  Well, the Caps were brung here…

Fearless: That’s “brought,” cousin.”

Cheerless: …was BRUNG here by seven 20 goal scorers. Three of them – Jakub Vrana, Brett Connolly, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – don’t yet have a goal.  Tom Wilson and Oshie each have one.  The Caps are averaging 2.25 goals per game.  Only three teams have a worse scoring offense, and two of them – Tampa Bay (2.00) and Pittsburgh (1.50) are playing golf.  After scoring three goals in 18:05 to open the series, the Caps have six in their last 223:48, one of them an empty-netter.  They have six goals on their last 91 shots in that 223:48.  It is not so much that Carolina “has” an edge as much as that the Caps are not playing “with” an edge.  The results look like the product of the sort of effort one might see on a Tuesday night in January, not the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fearless:  No team has fewer shots on goal in the playoffs than the Caps (100).  Only twice in 12 regulation periods of hockey have the Caps recorded more than 10 shots in a period.  Only Pittsburgh and Calgary have fewer 5-on-5 goals (four and three, respectively) than the Caps (five). Only Pittsburgh has fewer third period goals (one) than the Caps (two).  No team has fewer second period goals than the Caps (one, tied with the New York Islanders).  The Caps are minus-73 in 5-on-5 shot attempt differential, worst in the league by a couple of zip codes (Calgary is minus-47).  And, it is a product of attempts.  Washington has only 129 shot attempts of their own, last and 21 fewer than Columbus in as many games.  The good news… it has to get better.  This team is too good, too deep to continue playing like this, right?   …right?

Peerless:  The injury to T.J. Oshie could be season-ending.  First, should it be a suspendable offense for Warrren Foegele?  Second, just how big is it?

Fearless: Yes, it should be suspendable.  There are three parts to this.  One is the act.  Foegele trailed Oshie across the ice and cross checked him in the back ten feet from the side boards, propelling Oshie head first into the boards.  Oshie was attempting to take possession of a loose puck and could not see Foegele behind him.  He had no opportunity to brace for the hit, not being able to see Foegele and thus know when it was coming.  He was not close enough to the wall to be able to brace against it as the hit was delivered.  It was a textbook example of a player in a vulnerable position being taken advantage of.  Two, there is the result.  This is likely a series-ending, season-ending injury for Oshie.  This generally has some weight in the league’s deliberations.  Third, and for Foegele the mitigating factor, there is the history as a repeat offender.  Foegele is not generally thought of as a dirty player.  He had 20 minutes in penalties 77 regular season games, all the product of minor penalties.  The standard here is the suspension handed down to Nazem Kadri, who was suspended for the remainder of the first round after his hit on Jake DeBrusk in retaliation for deBrusk’s clean hit on Patrick Marleau in Game 2 of the Toronto-Boston series.  The league’s explanation of that hit focused on several factors – that it was not accidental or incidental (e.g., his stick riding up DeBrusk’s), it was retaliatory, and Kadri has an “extensive disciplinary track record

Foegele’s hit on Oshie was not of the deliberate sort Kadri’s seemed to be.  It was not retaliatory, and he does not have an extensive disciplinary track record.  So, for Caps fans thinking he should have the book thrown at him, that’s not going to happen.  However, it was reckless, it caused serious injury to the player in the context of his further availability, and it is an opportunity for the league to send a message about hits such as these being unacceptable, even in an intense playoff environment.  Foegele should be suspended, but if he is, it will not be for the duration of this series.  Well, that is unless the Caps win Games 5 and 6.  We’re thinking he could get two games.(UPDATE: Foegele will have neither a hearing, nor supplemental discipline applied).

As for how big?  This is an instance in which it is as much as who steps up as it is who is lost.  Oshie is a heart and soul kind of guy, and that is hard to replace.  Perhaps the team will rally around him in his absence.  The nuts and bolts consideration is who steps up to provide Oshie’s production.  Brett Connolly immediately comes to mind as the first player to step up a line.  He, being a right winger, had production similar to Oshie on a per-minute basis.  The Caps do have some options here, though.  If they do not want to break up the third line of Connolly-Lars Eller-Carl Hagelin, they could take a chance on Andre Burakovsky, who has been getting fourth line minutes.  He would be playing his off wing, but he has played some on the right side in the past.  If the Caps wanted to go way off the page, they could promote Devante Smith-Pelly from Hershey (which seems a real possibility anyway...UPDATE; DSP has been recalled).  Since he was sent down, DSP is 6-8-14, plus-2, in 20 regular season games, although he had only one goal and two assists in his last 12 games.  For the Caps, someone is going to have to rise above their comfort level to replace Oshie, and the player who replaces that player is going to have to contribute.

Cheerless: What Fearless said…

Peerless: We’re back to it.  Game 5…at home.  In the Rock the Red era of Caps hockey, Washington hosted 11 Games 5 through the 2016-2017 season.  They won eight of them.  The problem is that the Caps lost four of those series.  Last season, the Caps had two Games 5 on home ice, won both, and won both series, closing out the series against Columbus and Pittsburgh in the next game, played on the road.  The question is, which Caps team is going to show up?  The one that couldn’t close out a series with consistency, even with a Game 5 win, prior to last season, or last year’s team that won Game 5 at home and then closed out the series smartly?

Cheerless: The Caps have won five straight Games 5 on home ice and eight of their last nine (they won the series in which they lost Game 5, in 2016 against Philadelphia).  That after going 5-12 in Games 5 in their first 17 Games 5 in postseason history.  Looking at those five straight wins, three times the Caps won that Game 5 after losses in Games 4.  This has been a tough and resilient bunch in this part of the playoffs lately.

Fearless:  There is a “who” element that cannot be overlooked here.  Look at those last five Games 5 on home ice.  In those games, the Caps scored 19 goals.  Who led them?  Oshie (four).  He’s gone.  But who is next?  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom with three apiece.  Backstrom has contributed in this series against Carolina to date.  Kuznetsov hardly at all.  There will be a spotlight on him.  Another player who is going to have to show up here is Tom Wilson, but the good thing here might be in his weak baseline.  He does not have a goal in any of the four Games 5 on home ice in which he played among the five most recent ones played by the Caps.  Any contribution he might make could fill in for what is missing in Oshie’s absence.  

Boiled down, in the last five Games 5 at home, the stars played like stars – Oshie with four goals, Kuznetsov and Backstrom with three apiece, Ovechkin with two.  They have to be heard from.  But others are going to have to step up, and that is where the other 20 goal scorers – Wilson, Vrana, Connolly – have to contribute.  The other part of this is at the other end.  Braden Holtby has been the goalie in each of the last five Games 5 on home ice for the Caps.  He is 5-0, 1.92, .937 in those contests.  Whether Holtby plays to this level or at the level he played in the regular season (2.82, .911), which is pretty much where he is in the playoffs (3.00, .905) is going to go a long way toward whether the Caps can put themselves in a position to clinch the series in Game 6.

In the end…

The Caps have had uneven and inconsistent efforts in this series so far, both at a team and an individual level.  But except for the 5-0 blowout in Game 3, they have not been dominated by the Hurricanes (their shot differentials notwithstanding, but that has been a feature all season).  The Caps will miss T.J. Oshie, both in terms of the intensity he brings to the ice and his production.  The former cannot be duplicated if other players do not possess that effervescent trait, but others can – and have to – step up to provide the production.  And that is going to have to come from players who have not yet been heard from in this series.  That will be the difference between going back to Carolina in a position to clinch the series or going there with their status as defending champions on the line.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 4: Hurricanes 2 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes faced off in Game 4 of their first round playoff series on Thursday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Carolina parlayed an early goal in the first period and a late one in the second, plus solid netminding from goalie Petr Mrazek, to take a 2-1 decision to tie the series at two games apiece.

First Period

It took Carolina 17 seconds to break on top.  Warren Foegele continued his assault on the Caps in this series. Justin Williams started the scoring play by skating the puck into the Caps’ zone and feeding it to Jaccob Slavin darting down the middle.  Drawing the Caps defense to him, Slavin slid the puck to Foegele closing from the left side, and Foegele snapped the puck into what was an open net past goalie Braden Holtby to give Carolina the early lead.  The early lead held up for the rest of the first period, the teams going off at the first intermission with Carolina holding the slim lead.

-- The Caps out-shot Carolina, 9-8, and they out-attempted them by an 18-14 margin.

-- Jakub Vrana and Carl Hagelin led the team in shots on goal with two apiece.

-- T.J. Oshie led the club with four of the Caps’ total of 14 credited hits.

Second Period

The Caps looked slow and discombobulated in the first period, and as the second period started it seemed clear they needed a break. They got it in the ninth minute of the period when Teivo Teravainen was sent off on a hooking penalty.  With the ensuing power play about to expire, Dmitry Orlov faked a shot to lure goalie Petr Mrazek out and into a defensive position.  Orlov slid the puck off to Alex Ovechkin, and the captain’s one timer beat Mrazek cleanly on the short side at the 10:35 mark.

The Caps grabbed some momentum from the tying goal, but gave it back in the last minute of the period.  Sebastian Aho was nudged off the puck as he entered the Caps’ zone, but Nino Niederreiter collected it and found Teivo Teravainen cutting through the middle.  Teravainen caught Brooks Orpik flatfooted in a no-man’s land between Niederreiter and Teravainen, resulting in the latter having a clear path to the net.  He snapped a shot past Holtby’s glove with 28 seconds left in the period, and Carolina had a 2-1 lead going to the second intermission.

--Washington out-shot the Hurricanes, 14-9, in the period and out-attempted them, 21-20.

-- The goal for the Caps snapped a streak of 90:35 without one, going back to the overtime goal in Game 2 to win, 4-3.

-- Through two periods, Matt Niskanen, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Andre Burakovsky did not have a shot attempt.

Third Period

The Caps lost the period.  Not because anyone scored – neither team lit the lamp – but because the Caps might have lost T.J. Oshie for a while.  With just under five minutes left, Warren Foegele trailed T.J. Oshie, and as the two skated toward the right wing wall, Foegele ran Oshi head first into the boards.  Oshie was down for quite a while, and when he finally got to his feet, he skated slowly to the tunnel with his right arm cradled in the other.  Foegele was charged only with a two-minute boarding call.  Washington failed to convert the power play chance, and their last chance to make a game of it drifted away.  Carolina skated off with a 2-1 win to tie the series that returns to Washington on Saturday.

Other stuff…

-- After dominating over the first two periods in shots and shot attempts, the Caps managed only 16 shot attempts and eight shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.

-- John Carlson led the team with five shots on goal and seven shot attempts.

-- Carlson also led the club in blocked shots with five.

-- Last spring, the Caps trailed after 40 minutes only four times in 24 games (they won once).  This was the second straight game in which they trailed after two periods.

-- Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetesov were the only Caps not credited with at least one hit.

-- There were only 44 faceoffs in this game, the Caps winning 23 of them (52.3 percent).

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 23rd career playoff power play goal, tying him for 24th place all time with Joe Nieuwendyk and Brian Bellows.  He is third among active players, trailing Evgeni Malkin (27) and Patrick Marleau (24).

-- The Caps were credited with only three takeaways in the game.  Carolina recorded 15.

-- This was the 25th time in his career that Braden Holtby faced 24 or fewer shots in the postseason.  He is now 13-12 in those games.

-- The Caps failed to record an even strength goal for the second straight game.  It is the first time this season that happened.

In the end…

First minute goal in one period, last minute goal in another.  Game.  This series has taken an ominous “time machine” quality in which Caps fans of a certain age can remember journeyman goalies going all Jacques Plante or Ken Dryden against the Caps in the postseason.  OK, it isn’t yet at the “Halak” level of 2010 headscratchiness, but one can glimpse the summit.  Perhaps it’s goalies whose last names end in “K.”  Whatever, the Caps are going to have to deal with the potential absence of T.J. Oshie and find a way to get some production at the offensive end of the ice.  The bottom six forwards have to contribute something, and in this regard they resemble the squads that lost to the Penguins in consecutive years, not the group that skated last season.  Fourteen of 20 skaters to dress for the Caps have not recorded a goal in four games.  That number needs to be whittled down, or it will be a sad April for the Caps.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Off Day: The Cousins Look Back on Game 3

Game 3 was the sort of game for the Washington Capitals for which tapes should be burned and logs erased.  The 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was perhaps the worst overall effort by the club since sustaining a similarly underwhelming 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal game in 2013.  The cousins were unhappy with the result then, and they are unhappy with last night's outcome that should serve as a wake-up call for the defending champs.

Peerless: Where does this rank in playoff game efforts for the Caps?

Fearless: I’m not sure this one ranks “top-five” in worst evers.  There was that 5-0 loss to the Rangers in 2013.  The 2-0 Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 7 in 2017. The 3-0 loss to the Penguins in Game 7 in 1995.  The…

Cheerless:  We get the point.

Fearless: And those were shutouts in Games 7 of a series.  The point is that the Caps have come up flatter in more desperate situations when you would think effort would be at a maximum.  That is not to excuse what happened last night.  In some respects it was a “top-five” poor effort.  The big thing was the shots on goal.  The Caps harp a lot on “quality over quantity” when it comes to such things, but Petr Mrazek is a goalie who has faced more than 30 shots in a postseason game only three times in his career, including Game 2 of this series, and he lost two of them.  But in the four games before last night in which he played the full contest and faced fewer than 20 shots, he had a shutout and allowed one goal in another.  The Caps had a record of 8-14 before last night in games in which they recorded fewer than 20 shots.  It is no surprise that they lost.

Cheerless:  It might not have been the weakest effort ever, but one shot in 40:20 of ice time from the first period to the third period?  The Caps had five shots on goal in the last minute of the third period.  Without those, they would have had 13 shots on goal, the second-lowest shot total for a Caps team in playoff history (they had 11 shots on goal in Game 4 of their conference semifinal against Ottawa in 1998 – the Caps won that game, 2-0).  And, the silence was loud.  As Peerless pointed out last night, “five Caps did not have a shot attempt – Nick Jensen, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd.  Four others – Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos, T.J. Oshie, and Brett Connolly – had one shot attempt.”  The flip side of that is that three players – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson – accounted for ten of the 18 shots and 23 of the 43 shot attempts.  Shoot, the Caps had more hits (34) than shot attempts (33).

Peerless: The fight.  Alex Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov squared off in the first period.  They had been going at one another with love taps for much of the period, and then Svechnikov appeared to be the one who asked for the escalation in hostilities.  Sometimes fights have an inspirational effect.  Did it?

Feerless:  I don’t think…

Cheerless: How come he always gets to go first?  He’s always…

Feerless: Perhaps because it takes you a half hour to form a coherent sentence.

Cheerless: Oh, yeah?

Feerless: Good comeback.

Cheerless: Why you…. You wanna go?

Feerless: Any time…

Peerless: OK, guys. Thanks for the dinner theater version of “How a Hockey Fight Starts.”  Can we get back on track?  You go first, Cheerless.

Cheerless: I forgot what I was gonna say… Oh, yeah… Well, it did, just not the way the Caps would have liked.  This was a pretty typical Caps road game until the fight, almost 11 minutes into the period.  They were down a goal, but the shot attempts were even, and folks always say that on the road, try to keep things close early, and don’t let the fans into the game.  In the last nine minutes of the period after the fight, Carolina out-shot the Caps, 7-2, and out-attempted them, 11-6.  Carolina didn’t score over the remainder of the period, but they did have momentum that the Caps seemed to have in the first five minutes.  They did not give it back.

Fearless: I think it certainly did, but in a subtle way.  Cheerless almost got there with his mention of momentum.  The turning point might have been less than two minutes after the fight when Jordan Staal was sent off on an interference penalty.  One of, if not their best penalty killer, off the ice in a one-goal game, it might have been a chance for the Caps to build off Ovechkin winning the fight.  But the Caps’ top power play scorer was in the box as a result of the fight, and the power play looked awful, a couple of shots from defensemen and a couple of misses.  And it was Carolina who grabbed the momentum thereafter.

Peerless: To which we can segue into the special teams.  Washington scored on their first two power plays of this series, back in the first period of Game 1.  They have been shut out on ten power play chances since.  After facing it for seven games, four in the regular season and three in the postseason, has Carolina figured out the Caps’ power play? If they have, what can Washington do about it?

Fearless:  It is hard to say.  Since they scored two goals those first two power plays, the Caps have no goals on 15 shots on eight power plays.  They have four of those shots from Alex Ovechkin, four from John Carlson, two each from Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Matt Niskanen.  Lars Eller has the other.  So, while one might quibble over whether it matters that Evgeny Kuznetsov does not have a power play shot on goal over those last eight power plays (any, in fact, in this series), the Caps have spread things around fairly well in terms of shooters.  But it just looks slow, or at least slower than when it is clicking.  Passes are made neither timely nor crisply.  Is that system, or is it execution?  Perhaps it is opportunity.  Through three games in the first round last season, Washington was 6-for-17 against Columbus (35.3 percent).  They are 2-for-12 through three games in this series (16.7 percent).

Cheerless: I ain’t an “x’s and o’s” guy...

Fearless: I thought those were the only two letters of the alphabet you knew…

Cheerless: haw-haw…fuh-nee.  As I was saying, I ain’t an “x’s and o’s” guy, but maybe the Caps are just stale.  But here is a weird fact.  Petr Mrazek played in his first postseason game in 2015.  In five postseasons starting with that one, Mrazek is second in save percentage against power plays among 23 goalies having played in at least ten games (.923).  Only Cam Talbot has been better (.926).  The thing with him is, though, when he has been bad, he has been awful.  It just has not happened often.  In 14 postseason games played, Mrazek has been perfect facing power plays 11 times.  The other three times he allowed a total of six power play goals on 16 shots.  He has been something of a home cooking guy defending power plays.  He allowed three goals on ten shots in a 2016 postseason game against Tampa Bay, but in five other playoff games he played on home ice, including Monday’s game against the Caps, he has keep the net empty, stopping a total of 23 shots in those five games.  The Caps haven’t lacked much for chances, their 12 power plays tied with St. Louis for seventh-most among the 16 playoff teams.  But more opportunities couldn’t hurt, if only to make Mrazek work more for his success.  And that means forcing play more than they did against Carolina on Monday, where the Hurricanes dictated pace and flow.

In the end…

Let us not make too much of one game.  Yes, it stunk on toast.  It was the biggest negative goal differential for the Caps in a playoff game (minus-5) since that 5-0 loss to the Rangers in Game 7 in 2013, the only times in the Ovechkin era that the Caps were as bad as minus-5 in a playoff game goal differential.  But it was one game.  What the Caps could do without is the drama of Game 3 – the fight, the Canes getting sucking it up even while short two forwards, the dead power play – and just play a nice, boring, put ‘em to sleep road game in Game 4.  It was a key for the Caps in tying a league record for postseason wins on the road last year (ten).  Do that, and they will return to Washington in a position to end the series.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 3: Hurricanes 5 - Capitals 0

The Washington Capitals embarked on the road portion of their opening round series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.  It was among the stranger and uglier games in Capitals postseason history, the Caps dropping a 5-0 decision to leave Washington with a two-games-to-one lead in the series.

First Period

The Caps dominated early, but Carolina took their first lead of the series mid-way through the period.  It was a self-inflicted wound that started when Christian Djoos took a pass from Brooks Orpik in the faceoff circle to the right of goalie Braden Holtby and promptly coughed it up to Warren Foegele.  The puck slid off Foegele’s stick behind the Caps’ net where Brock McGinn scooped it up.  McGinn sent the puck to the right point where Justin Faulk one-timed a shot to the Caps’ net.  The puck struck Foegele, who was battling for position with Djoos.  The puck popped up and over Holtby, dropping behind him and over the goal line before Djoos could scoop it out, and the Hurricanes were up, 1-0, 9:43 into the period.

Things got interesting about a minute later when Alex Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov squared off.  Ovechkin made short work of Svechnikov, landing three right hands and sending the rookie to the ice.  Svechnikov was on the ice for some time and was clearly woozy from the scuffle.  The Caps would suffer from Ovechkin’s absence when they were awarded the game’s first power play.  The Caps did get shots from Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, but they failed to convert.  Carolina did likewise with their lone power play chance late in the period, and the teams skated off to the first intermission with the Hurricanes on top, 1-0.

-- Carolina outshot Washington, 15-9, and out-attempted them, 24-19.

-- Ovechkin had three shots on goal to lead all Caps, and his five shot attempts led all skaters for both teams.

-- Tom Wilson led all players with three credited hits.

Second Period

It was Carolina’s turn to dominate early, and they had the Caps back on their heels for the first six minutes.  The Hurricanes capitalized on the pressure they exerted when Foegele scored his second goal of the game.  Teivo Teravainen took advantage of two Capitals – Dmitry Orlov and Brett Connolly – stepping up on him just inside the Caps’ blue line, and as both Orlov and Connolly fell to the ice, he fed the puck across the ice to Sebastian Aho in the left wing circle.  As Matt Niskanen slid on his stomach to try and prevent an Aho shot, Aho fed Foegele all alone at the doorstep to put the puck home at the 6:09 mark to make it 2-0, Carolina.

Less than six minutes later, with Nicklas Backstrom in the penalty box, Carolina scored a power play goal to extend their lead further.  From the left point, Jaccob Slavin fed Jordan Stall in the high slot.  Stall slid the puck back to Dougie Hamilton, who leaned into one and sent the puck under the crossbar at the 11:40 mark to make it 3-0.  The Caps avoided further damage, but the damage at this point might have been sufficient.

-- Washington did not record their first shot on goal until the 15:13 mark of the period, 23:04 of ice time between shots on goal going back to the first period.

-- Carolina outshot the Caps, 18-1, in the period and out-attempted them, 25-9.

-- Ovechkin was the only Capital with more than one shot on goal through 40 minutes (four).

Third Period

Things did not get better for Washington.  By the time the Caps recorded their first shot on goal in the period, 12:29 into the period, Carolina had added to their lead on Dougie Hamilton’s second power play goal of the game.  Carolina added another, by Brock McGinn, before adding a few shots on goal to pad an anemic total in what ended as a 5-0 loss.

Other stuff…

-- The 45 shots on goal allowed tied for the most allowed in a regulation game in Caps postseason history as is the most allowed in a road game in regulation.  The Caps allowed 45 shots in a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Washington in Game 4 of their opening round series in 2012.

-- This was the first game in Capitals postseason history that they allowed more than 40 shots on goal and recorded fewer than 20 shots on goal of their own.

-- John Carlson recorded a shot on goal at 12:09 of the first period.  The Caps would go 23:04 before their next shot on goal, that by Alex Ovechkin 15:13 into the second period.  They would not get another until Dmitry Orlov was credited with a shot from 84 feet, from the neutral zone, 12:29 into the third period.  That was one shot on goal in 40:20 between the Carlson and Orlov shots.

-- The shutout was the first time the Caps were blanked in a postseason game since losing Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals, 2-0, to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It was the first time the Caps were shutout on the road since dropping a 1-0 decision the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

-- This was only the second time in the Caps’ last 24 postseason games that they allowed more than four goals.  They allowed six in a 6-4 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup final.

-- Carolina out-attempted the Caps, 69-43.  Alex Ovechkin had ten of the Caps’ 43 attempts and five of the 18 shots on goal.

-- Five Caps did not have a shot attempt – Nick Jensen, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd.  Four others – Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos, T.J. Oshie, and Brett Connolly – had one shot attempt.

-- Turning point.  At the 10:59 mark of the first period, Carolina has a 1-0 lead, and shots on goal were tied, 8-8.  Then, Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov had their fight.  After that, Carolina outscored the Caps, 4-0, and out-shot them 37-10, and five of those Caps shots on goal came in the last minute of the contest.

-- The teams were credited with a combined 86 hits, Carolina with 52 and the Caps with 34.

-- That was the first time in Braden Hotlby’s postseason career than he faced more than 40 shots and allowed more than four goals.  Before tonight he faced 40 or more shots in ten postseason games without allowing more than four goals.  It was the first time Holtby faced more than 40 shots in a postseason game and took a regulation loss (five wins, five overtime losses before tonight).

In the end…

Take the tapes, and…