Friday, December 02, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Capitals at Lightning, December 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to avoid a three-game losing streak in regulation for the first time almost two years when the visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.  The Caps, losers to the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders in their most recent contests, have not lost three consecutive games in regulation time since dropping games to the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Carolina Hurricanes in Games 61-63 in the 2014-2015 season.

The Caps will be facing a Lightning team that is either very ornery or very ripe for the picking.  Tampa Bay is on a four-game losing streak, allowing five goals in three of the losses.  The last three of those losses came on the road, so a return to Amelie Arena might be just the tonic for that team.

On the offensive side, the problem for the Lightning has been consistency over the four-game losing streak.  The first and last games in that streak, the Lighting scored three and four goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues, respectively.  However, they were held to a single goal in the middle games in losses to the Boston Bruins and the Blue Jackets. 

Consistency has not been a problem for Nikita Kucherov.  The fourth-year forward is 2-2-4 in the four-game losing streak with two-point games (goal and assist in each) in the first contest against Columbus and against St. Louis in the Lightning’s most recent game.  The odd part of it is that the middle two games of the streak, the losses to Boston and the second meeting against Columbus, represent the first and only time this season Kucherov was held without a point in consecutive games.  Kucherov has been able to parlay that consistency into second place in the league points standings (12-16-28), trailing only the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (11-23-34) through Thursday’s games.  He is 3-3-6, plus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.

At the other end of the ice, Ben Bishop is experiencing that thing every goalie does from time to time – a slump.  It is not so much that he has been consistently bad as much as he has been inconsistent.  He won three of his first four decisions this year despite a .885 save percentage and allowing at least three goals in each of the four games.   The underlying numbers came back to show up in his win-loss numbers, though.  Since those first four games, Bishop is 4-8-0, 2.81, .908.  The thing is just how unsuccessful he has been when allowing more than one goal.  When allowing a single goal (he has no shutouts so far), he is 3-1-0, but when allowing more than one goal he is 4-8-0.  That speaks as much to the goal support he is getting as much as it is his own performance.  Bishop is 1-6-1, 3.74, .880 in nine career appearances against the Capitals.


1.  Two years ago, Tampa Bay had the best home record in the league, the only club to win at least 30 games on home ice (32-8-1).  Since then, they have (as most teams do) won more than half their games on home ice, but they have not been dominant.  Last year, they were tied for seventh in home wins and finished tenth in standings points earned at home (53 on a record of 25-13-3).  So far this season, the Lightning are 6-3-1, tied for 21st in home wins and 23rd in standings points earned at home.

2.  Only twice in ten home games so far have the Lightning allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal).  They are 6-1-1 in those games.

3.  Tampa Bay does not have a player ranking in the top-60 in scoring on home ice.  Nikita Kucherov 4-5-9), Steven Stamkos (3-6-9), and Victor Hedman (3-6-9) are tied for 61st in home ice scoring through Thursday night’s games.  That might be a product of so few home games played by the Lightning so far (ten); only ten players having played in ten home games or fewer have more points.

4.  The four-game losing streak Tampa Bay brings into this game has been characterized by slow starts.  Opponents scored first in each of the four games.  Only once (and not in their last three games) have the Lightning scored in the first period, and they have been outscored, 9-1, overall in the first periods of those four games.

5.  Tampa Bay is something of a middle of the pack possession team with a 49.70 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (16th in the league), 50.61 percent at home (13th in the league; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  In their first five road games this season, the Caps allowed opponents an average of 26.8 shots per game and went 3-1-1 in the process with a goal differential of plus-4.  In their last five road games they allowed opponents an average of 36.2 shots per game and went 2-2-1 with a goal differential of minus-5.

2.  That seven goal outburst against Pittsburgh on November 16th is looking like an outlier.  In the ten games out of the last 11, not counting that win over the Penguins, the Caps are averaging 1.7 goals per game and have scored one or fewer five times (shut out twice).

3.  If there a power play causing more mystery than that of the Washington Capitals, it might not exist in the NHL.  Consider the Caps at 5-on-4.  Their shot attempts per 60 5-on-4 minutes is fourth most in the league (105.23).  Even their shots on goal per 60 5-on-4 minutes is highly ranked (52.87/fourth in the league).  But their goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 are near the league bottom (3.66/27th).  Their ratio of shot attempts to goals (28.75:1) is the worst in the league.  Compare it to Columbus, who scores a goal every 8.93 shot attempts at 5-on-4 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

4.  Maybe it’s an intermission thing.  The Caps have a plus-13 goal differential in the first period, tied with Columbus for best in the league.  After the first intermission in the second period the Caps have a minus- 4 goal differential, and after the second intermission in the last 20 minutes that goal differential is a minus-3.  Only six teams have allowed more than the 24 third period goals allowed by Washington, and every one of those teams has played at least one more game than the Caps going into Friday night’s games.

5.  The Caps have the best Corsi-for in the league on the road in tie games (56.92 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).  That number drops ten points when they are leading in road games (46.92 percent/9th in the league). And it is 50.74 percent when trailing (23rd).  Maybe the motto is…always be tied on the road until the end?

Tampa Bay: Victor Hedman

The last three seasons before this one, two defensemen recorded a total of at least 30 goals, 100 assists, and finished higher than plus-30.  The Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty is one of them (31-103-134, plus-44, in 242 games).  Victor Hedman is the other (33-107-140, plus-38, in 212 games).  All he has to show for it, recognition-wise, is a ninth-place finish in the Norris Trophy voting in 2014 and an seventh-place finish last season.  Over those same three seasons, Hedman has the seventh best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 among defensemen with at least 2,500 5-on-5 minutes (54.95 percent).  This season, Hedman is tied with Montreal’s Shea Weber for fourth in total points among defensemen (18).  He might be the most elite defensemen who is not described by the term.   Hedman is 2-9-11, minus-1, in 27 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Justin Williams

How unlucky do you have to be to be on the doorstep for a perfect pass from a teammate, to redirect the puck perfectly behind the goaltender into the net, only to find that the clock ran out on the period literally as the puck was on the goal line on its way into the net?  That, in microcosm, is Justin Williams’ season so far.  With two goals this season on 49 shots, he ranks 259th among 280 forwards (25 shots minimum) in shooting percentage (4.1).  And if you go back to last season, Williams has five goals on 115 shots (4.3 percent) in his last 47 games.   He almost had his third goal of the season and sixth in 47 games when the scenario described above played out as the first period ended in what would be a scoreless first period in a game the Caps would lose to the New York Islanders, 3-0.  The odd part is that Williams remains a fine possession player, fourth among the team’s forwards in individual Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (54.56 percent).  You might thing Williams could get well against the Lightning.  He is 15-17-32, even, in 44 games against Tampa Bay, but he went without a goal in all three games in which he faced the Lightning with the Caps last season.

In the end…

It is said, misery loves company.  Well, here are two teams generally thought of as contenders to come out of the Eastern Conference as a Stanley Cup finalist that are having what passes for them as a miserable stretch.  The Caps are just 5-5-1 in their last 1`1 games and losers in their last two contests, while the Lightning are losers of their last four games and five of their last six.  The Caps hold the first wild-card spot going into Friday’s games, while the Lightning hold the second wild-card spot, one point behind Washington (the Caps have three games in hand).  Both of these teams would be a good bet to right themselves at some point and challenge for their respective division leads, perhaps even for the top spot in the conference.   But only one team will turn themselves around in this game. 

Capitals 3 – Lightning 2

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 22: Islanders at Capitals, December 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end their longest hiatus of the season to date (four off days) when they take the ice against the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Verizon Center.  The Caps will enter the game winners in two of their last three games and four of their last six, but they will be trying to avoid losses in regulation in consecutive games for the first time since Games 5 and 6 of the season in late October.

The Islanders will be coming to Washington as a team in crisis.  They went into their Wednesday night game against the Pittsburgh Penguins off a 2-1 overtime win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night, but they had not won consecutive games since their own fifth and sixth games of the season in late October.  The Isles are 4-7-4 since those consecutive wins.  Their road record is dismal as well, a record of 1-6-1, their lone win coming in a 2-1 Gimmick decision in Anaheim against the Ducks on November 22nd. 

The Islanders have what one might consider balanced scoring – 20 different skaters have recorded goals for the club so far this season.  What they lack, though, is anyone stepping up as a go-to goal scorer.  John Tavares leads the club with six goals, but that total is tied for 76th in the league going into Wednesday night’s game against Pittsburgh.  What Tavares has been, though, is consistent as a point producer.  After going without a point in each of his first two games this season, he is 6-11-17 in his last 19 games and has not had consecutive games without a point.  It just has not translated into big nights for either himself or the club.  Tavares has points in 14 of the 21 games in which he played, but only two of them are multi-point games, and the Islanders are just 6-4-4 in games Tavares recorded a point.  In 26 career games against Washington, Tavares is 12-12-24, plus-3.

The disconnect between Tavares’ production and the team’s success suggests that other Islanders just are not stepping up their games.  One player who might qualify as a disappointment so far is Andrew Ladd.  A member of two Stanley Cup winning teams (Carolina in 2006 and Chicago in 2010), Ladd has been one of the most reliable goal scorers in the league over the last six seasons entering this one, averaging about a third of a goal per game each year (a range of 0.29 – 0.38 goals per game and 26.9 goals per 82 games overall).  This year, however, Ladd has just two goals in 21 games, none in his last seven contests, and is on a pace to finish with eight goals, his lowest total since his first NHL season, when he had six goals in 29 games with the 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes.  Ladd is 14-19-33, plus-13, in 43 career games against the Caps.

Another player in the “disappointing” category might be an old friend of Caps fans.  Jason Chimera was signed away as a free agent by the Isles last summer, and he started the season with his new team with his new head coach having the idea of using him on the top line  Chimera did have points in three of his first five games, but that mini-run came to a screeching halt.  In his last 15 games he is 1-2-3 (the goal being his only one of the season so far).  None of this should surprise Caps fans, who watched Chimera display an odd “saw-tooth” pattern to his scoring.  In his six full seasons in Washington, Chimera’s goal totals were 10-20-3 (in 47 games of the shortened 2012-2013 season) -15-7-20.  With one goal so far, he seems on his way to a seventh year as a prisoner of that pattern.   Chimera is 1-2-3, plus-2 in six career games against the Caps.


1.  The Islanders have but seven wins going into their Wednesday night contest against Pittsburgh.  Only one of them has come against an Eastern Conference team, a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 30th.

2.  New York special teams are struggling individually and together.  Both the power play (27th) and penalty kill (23rd) rank in the bottom third in the league, one of five teams to rank in the bottom third in both categories (Winnipeg, Colorado, Arizona, and Calgary are the others).  The Islanders have the fourth-worst special teams index – the sum of power play and penalty killing percentages (92.9) – in the league going into their Wednesday night game.

3.  Through Tuesday night’s games, there are149 players in the NHL with five or more goals scored this season.  The Islanders have two of them, John Tavares (6) and Brock Nelson (5).  No team has fewer, and only Detroit has two of their own.

4.  Speaking of “bottom third,” the Islanders find themselves in that position in a lot of categories… wins (7/30th), scoring offense (2.38/21st) scoring defense (2.95/T-23rd), shots on goal per game (29.0/24th), shots against per game (31.7/25th), faceoff winning percentage (48.9/23rd), wins when trailing after one period (0/one of four such teams), wins when scoring first (4/tied for 27th), one-goal wins (4/tied for 22nd), overtime losses (4/only three teams have more)…the Islanders do not come upon their record accidentally.

5.  Possession seems to be a four-letter word in Brooklyn. The Islanders are 29th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (46.07 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).  They are 28th in this statistic on the road (44.61 percent).

1.  Washington allowed the first goal of a game only four times so far this season, fewest instances in the league.  By the same token, they are tied for fewest wins when allowing that first goal – one, that one coming in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on November 5th when the Caps allowed a Jared McCann goal to open the scoring.  Washington scored three unanswered goals in the third period for the win.

2.  Nicklas Backstrom is plus-3 for the season, which puts him at plus-99 for his career.  Only Rod Langway had a better plus-minus as a Capital (plus-117).

3.  Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson are tied for second in the league in game-winning goals (4), two behind Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter.

4.  The Caps have only one one-goal loss in regulation time this season.  Only two teams have yet to suffer a one-goal loss in regulation (Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay).

5.  The Caps are a very efficient team in one respect.  Well, two actually.  At 5-on-5, Washington has the third-best Corsi shooting percentage (goals as a share of shot attempts) – 4.58 percent.  They also have the fourth best Corsi save percentage (saves as a share of shot attempts) – 96.80 percent (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  Are those numbers sustainable?  We’ll see.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: The Goalies

If there is a situation that seems to capture the mess in which this club finds itself at the moment, it is the goaltending situation.  When the season started, there was the appearance of a hierarchy with Jaroslav Halak as the number one goaltender (he started and finished four of the first five games of the season) and Thomas Greiss as the backup.  By the end of October, though, the situation was in meltdown mode.  It started when the Islanders claimed Jean-Francois Berube on waivers in October 2015 from the Los Angeles Kings. The move was seen as a bit of an insurance policy against the possibility of injury to Halak, who did spend some time on injured reserve in the 2014-2015 season and whose availability to start the 2015-2016 season was in some doubt.  The injury fears played out as Halak missed the last 17 games of the 2015-2016 season to a groin injury.  What that led to was a three-headed goalie monster to start the 2016-2017 season – Halak, Berube, and Thomas Greiss – the second year the Islanders would go that route.  Those situations almost never work, and it did not in Brooklyn.

Halak wasn’t happy about the goalie rotation last season,  Berube wasn’t getting any work this season (he has yet to appear in a game), and Greiss seemed to be the goalie in front of whom the skaters performed best.  It got worse.  Allan Walsh (who also happens to be Berube’s agent) took to social media to stir the pot, questioning the wisdom of carrying three goalies, upon which it became known that the club let the other teams in the league know that Halak was available in trade.  Then, head coach Jack Capuano started Halak in seven straight games.  Halak was just good enough to be not terrible.  He went 1-2-4 in those seven games, two of the extra times decided in the freestyle competition.  His own numbers were not sterling (3.01/.910), but not really indicative of a six-time loser in seven games.  Greiss got the call in the last two games, allowing only four goals on 54 shots (.926) while splitting the decisions (1-0-1).

Washington: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson is tough (played in every game in three of four seasons, including all 21 games this season), ornery (507 penalty minutes and 36 fighting majors in four seasons, both among the top five in the league over that span), and plays with a physical edge (697 hits, tenth among forwards over those four seasons).   That’s not bad for a young player who might be a fourth-round draft choice getting third line minutes, but Wilson is a 16th overall pick who was drafted with the idea of having “power forward,” with the scoring contributions that come with that, as his description.  His offensive development seems frozen in amber.  After posting career highs in goals, assists, and points last season; he has one goal – his only point – in 21 games this season.  That one goal is his only goal – his only point – in 35 regular season games dating back to last season.

You could argue that Wilson is still only 22 years old, certainly young enough to grow into a player who can contribute more in the offensive end of the rink.  And, his propensity for fighting has dropped off somewhat (one fight in his last 18 games), suggesting a growing maturity from which those offensive contributions might also grow.  On the other hand, Wilson does have more than 250 regular season games of experience on his resume and just 15 goals (strangely enough, 16th in his draft class, the same position at which he was picked).  Part of the problem, at least in recent games, is just not getting pucks on net.  He has five shots on goal in his last eight games and was shut out in five of them.  Wilson is 1-3-4, plus-3, in 13 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

On the one hand, the Caps will be playing their first game in five days.  On the other hand, the Islanders are a team that is in a bad place, and we don’t just mean dead last in the league standings.  They aren’t getting much in the way of scoring, their goaltending is a mess, they have key pieces out of the lineup (Mikhail Grabovski and Dennis Seidenberg are on injured reserve), and they can’t win on the road or against the East.  If the Capitals do not take this club lightly, they could put the game away early.  Then again, if they get off to a good start and think, “this is in the bag,” or if they just think the Islanders are not in their class, it will make for a lot of grumbling after the game in Capitals Nation.  Never underestimate the pride of hockey players. 

Capitals 5 – Islanders 1

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 7

Week 7 for the Washington Capitals was a busy week with four games and an holiday to boot.  The holiday part, as well as the traditional games the nights before and after Thanksgiving, were happy.  The games to begin and end the week were a good deal less so, and overall there were ominous signs in what would be a .500 week.


Record: 2-2-0

When Week 7 began, the schedule looked accommodating to the Caps.  They would play three of their four games on home ice, and three of their four opponents were outside the playoff eligibility window, only the St. Louis Blues being a playoff-caliber club as the week began. When it was over, the Caps handled the Blues, although not without some drama (we’ll get to that problem in a bit), and they subdued a Buffalo Sabres team missing arguably their best player in Jack Eichel, who has yet to dress for a Sabres game this season (high-ankle sprain).

It was the first and last games of the week that bedeviled the Caps. And in those games, an issue bubbled to the surface.  In the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs, you have two relatively young teams (the two youngest teams in the league at the start of the season).  Both have a measure of speed with some skilled youngsters.  And, they are hungry, trying to rise to the competitive elite in the Eastern Conference.  That combination in both teams seemed to catch the Capitals at their lackadaisical worst, especially late in those games in which both the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs scored a pair of goals in wins.


Offense:  2.75/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: 12th)

A 2.75 goals-per-game week is not bad when you consider that the Caps were missing their number two goal scorer as the week began in T.J. Oshie (eight goals).  On the other hand, the Caps did face two backups, both of whom they defeated (four goals on St. Louis’ Carter Hutton and three against Buffalo’s Anders Nilsson).  The managed only four goals combined against the number one goalies they faced for the week, Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, both losses.

What is more, the secondary scorers did not step up in Oshie’s absence.  Alex Ovechkin finished the week with more than a third of the team’s goals for the week (four of 11), three of them in a hat trick performance against the Blues, his 16th career hat trick.  Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had a pair, but after that, it was three goals in four games from the support troops.  One might explain that away with the fact that the Blue Jackets and the Sabres are, perhaps surprisingly, in the top ten in the league in scoring defense, but getting goals from six skaters and points from 12 skaters cannot be considered either prolific or balanced offense.

Defense: 2.75/game (season:  2.24/game; rank: 4th)

The 2.75 goals against per game number for Week 7 is not what one would consider good, but neither was it as bad as it looks.  Let’s do a little unpacking.  First, there were the two teams to whom the Caps lost. Columbus and Toronto, with all those precocious youngsters, are both top-five teams in scoring offense in the league.  What’s more, they made offense count when they had it.  Both Columbus and Toronto entered the week having lost just one game in regulation when scoring three or more goals, not exactly a rarity in the NHL (there were 22 such teams at the end of Week 7, including the Caps, who have yet to lose such a game), but when the week ended, both still had one regulation loss when scoring three or more goals as both did to the Caps.

Then there was the 5-on-5 aspect.  The Caps actually won the week in that regard.  In fact, they lost only one game at fives, 3-2 to the Maple Leafs to close the week.  They held Columbus even (1-1), and beat St. Louis (3-1) and Buffalo (2-1).  Holding three teams to a goal apiece at 5-on-5 is not, on its face, indicative of defensive or goaltending breakdowns.  But there is more to this, and we’ll bet to that…in a bit.

Goaltending:  2.78 / .904 (season: 2.09 / .924 / 2 SO)

If hockey games were 40 minutes, Capitals goalies would have been brilliant in Week 7.  All in all, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer were 34-for-35 in the first periods of games (.971 save percentage) and 32-for-33 in the second period (.970).  That third period, though.  Grubauer was fine, allowing only one goal on 15 shots (.933), but Holtby was just 23-for-29 (.793). 

That pattern was reflected in the even strength goaltending as well.  Overall, Holbyt and Grubauer stopped 82 of 89 shots at evens (.921 save percentage), but that broke down into 53-for-55 in the first two periods (.964) but only 29-for-34 in the third periods of games (.853).

The bright spot was Grubauer, who stopped 32 of 33 shots overall in the Caps’ 3-1 win over Buffalo on Friday.  It was the fourth time in five games this season in which he allowed two or fewer goals, and it was the fourth time in those five games in which he posted a save percentage of .920 or better in a game.  When the week was over, the Capitals were one of two teams (Buffalo was the other) with two goalies having appeared in at least 300 minutes with a save percentage of .920 or better (Holtby: .920; Grubauer: .936).

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season: 15.6 percent; rank: 18th)

If there was a ray of sunshine in Week 7, the power play was it.  A 23.1 percent power play efficiency rate might not be all that impressive in the context of the Caps’ power play in recent seasons, but given its struggles so far this season and the absence of T.J. Oshie from the lineup for all four games, it was a good result.

It was hardly a result that Alex Ovechkin led the team in power play goals (two) and shots (seven) for the week, but it was Brett Connolly who scored the other power play goal and had four power play shots for second-most in Week 7. The Caps had eight different players record power play shots on goal for the week and managed 21 shots in all in 19:52 in power play ice time (1.06 shots per minute).


Penalty Killing: 13-for-17 / 76.5 percent (season: 82.6 percent; rank: 16th)

And they were doing so well, too.  After a five-week stretch over which the Caps went 42-for-48 (87.5 percent) on the penalty kill, they struggled in Week 7.  You could almost see it coming.  The four clubs the Caps faced in Week 7 all were in the top dozen power plays in the league with the Blue Jackets having the most efficient power play in the NHL.

The Caps’ penalty killers were not quite up to that challenge, allowing power play goals in three of the four games, blanking only Buffalo while allowing a pair to the league-leading Blue Jackets.  The Caps did themselves no favors, though, by having to skate off 17 shorthanded situations in the four games.  It was, by far, the most shorthanded situations faced in a week by the Caps this season (11 in three games in Week 6).

The Caps spent more than a full period of the week killing penalties (21:34), and it could have been worse.  The Caps allowed Columbus, the league’s best power play, only three opportunities.  A good thing, since the Blue Jackets converted two of those three opportunities on just three shots in only 2:25 of power play time.  As it was, the Caps allowed four opponents four goals on 24 shots on goal in 21:34 of shorthanded ice time.  It was not a good week.


Faceoffs: 128-for-248 / 51.6 percent (season: 51.1 percent / rank: 8th)

It was an uneven week in some respects for the Caps on faceoffs for the week.  They alternated games with better than 50 percent winning percentages (against St. Louis and Toronto) and less than 50 percent (against Columbus and Buffalo).  And, they were a better than 50 percent club for the week in the offensive zone, while losing more than 50 percent in the defensive end. 

Of four players taking more than ten draws for the week, three of them finished Week 7 better than 50 percent.  Nicklas Backstrom was 35-for-65 (53.8 percent), Lars Eller was 19-for-37 (51.4 percent), and Jay Beagle was 38-for-62 (62.3 percent).  Backstrom had a particularly odd week.  He was 17-for-26 in the offensive zone (65.4 percent) but just 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) in the defensive end.

Goals by Period:


Well, here we are “in a bit.”  The Caps allowed 11 goals for the week.   Only one of them came in the first period, only three of them in the second period.  But that third period…woof.  Seven goals allowed, four of them in the last five minutes of the period, three of them in the last two minutes of regulation time.  Sure, two of those goals scored the last two minutes came when the Caps held a 4-1 lead over St. Louis, but if Week 7 has a take away, it was the incomprehensible inability of the Caps to put games away and finish them strong, especially as one of the best scoring defenses in the league overall. 

It seemed as every game had its third period disappointment.  The Caps blew a 2-1 third period lead in losing to the Blue Jackets, 3-2. They allowed two goals in the last 75 seconds to turn a mini-rout into a nail-biter against the Blues.  They allowed the Sabres to claw within a goal before scoring a late power play goal to win, 3-2.  Then there was the third period goal scored by Toronto barely two minutes after a Nicklas Backstrom goal to get the Caps within 3-1 and threaten to make a game of it to close the week.  When it was over, the Caps were tied for having allowed the tenth-most third period goals for the season.  Of the ten other teams with whom the Caps are tied or who have allowed more third-period goals, nine of them are outside the playoff eligibility window.  This is not a good neighborhood in which to find oneself.

In the end…

Beating St. Louis was an encouraging sign for the Caps, defeating a club with the second-best record in the Western Conference and one that had been on a four-game winning streak.  The rest of the week was not confidence inspiring.  The Caps beat Buffalo, a team that they should frankly have dominated, the Sabres’ surprisingly efficient scoring defense notwithstanding.

The loss to Columbus, coming as it did a week after giving up and third period lead to lose in overtime, then doing it again (with the loss coming in regulation) was frustrating.  The loss to Toronto, even in the back-half, road-portion of a back-to-back set of games, seemed like the sort of game that the Caps would put away efficiently last season.

Then there is the third period goal problem.  Seven goals in four third periods for the week is a problem that needs to be corrected.  Quickly.  That is the kind of thing that can become a bad habit or a characteristic that could rear its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, like trying to close out a team in a series-clinching opportunity in the playoffs.

If Week 7 was not quite a going-through-the-motions sort of week, it looked a lot like a team that thought a little too much of itself and its confidence to turn on the afterburners when it counts.  That’s the sort of thing out of which .500 weeks are made.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-2-6, plus-3, 16th career hat trick, one game-winning goal, 16 shots on goal, 31 shot attempts, six hits)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-2, 180th and 181st multi-point games of his career (tied Joe Thornton for fifth-most since Backstrom came into the league and third in Caps’ history), 53.8 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (1-0-0, 32 saves on 33 shots in win over Buffalo on his birthday)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Blues at Capitals, November 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice on Wednesday night in their annual Thanksgiving Eve game, this year hosting the St. Louis Blues at Verizon Center.  The Caps come into this game on a bumpy road, going 3-3-1 in their last seven games.  On the other hand, the Blues might be righting themselves after a rocky start.  After going 7-6-3 in their first 16 games, the Blues arrive at Verizon Center winners in three straight.

The wake-up call for the Blues might have been an 8-4 pasting they took at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on November 12th.  It was after that game that the Blues started their three-game winning streak. And, they have done it with defense and goaltending.   Jake Allen authored all three of the wins in goal for St. Louis, allowing just four goals on 86 shots overall (.953 save percentage).  His effort has allowed him to jump up to 17th among 39 goaltenders with at least 400 minutes played in goals against average (2.31) and 21st in save percentage (.910) after going 2.63/.896 in his first 12 appearances this season.  Allen assumed a larger work load in each of his first three seasons in the NHL, going from 15 appearances in 2012-2013 to 37 in 2014-2015 to 44 appearances last season.  It inspired enough confidence for the team to trade Brian Elliott – last season’s save percentage leader – to Calgary this past June.  Allen has one career appearance against the Caps, a 32-save shutout in a 4-0 win at Verizon Center last March 26th.

Vladimir Tarasenko has been a model of consistency in his offensive production for St. Louis in the first quarter of the season.  In 19 games, he has 19 points and has been held off the score sheet only six times in those 19 games.  He has points in seven of his last eight games, over which he is 3-7-10, plus-2.  If there is an odd fact about his season so far, it is that he had a hand in all four goals (goal, three assists) in the 8-4 loss to Columbus that shocked the Blues into their current three-game winning streak.  And, all four points came on power plays.  He is tied for fourth in the league in power play points (2-7-9).  Tarasenko is one of the most prolific goal scorers in the league.  Since becoming a full-time player in 2012-2013, he is tenth in the league in total goals scored (105).  In five career games against Washington, he is 3-1-4, plus-5.

In a league where the attention on defensemen focus on players such as Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and Drew Doughty, there is Kevin Shattenkirk, the “Energizer Bunny” of defensemen.  Take away the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season and his point totals are borderline bizarre – 43 in 2010-2012, flowed by seasons of 43, 45 (after the lockout season), 44, and 44 last season.  With 14 points in 19 games so far this season (4-10-14), he is on a pace (60 points) to shatter his career best.  He is something of a power play specialist, too.  Since arriving in the NHL in 2010-2011, Shattenkirk is tied for sixth with San Jose’s Brent Burns in total power play goals scored (30).  In nine career games against the Caps, he is 1-4-5, plus-5.


1.  Three is the key number for the Blues.  When they score three of more goals, they win.  This can be said generally for most NHL teams (NHL teams are 238-30-22 in such games though Monday’s contests), but the Blues are 8-1-0 in such games, the only loss being the 8-4 misfortune against Columbus.  They are 2-5-2 in games in which they score two or fewer goals.

2.  Only five teams have scored fewer 5-on-5 goals through Monday’s games than the Blues (27) – New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche, and Buffalo Sabres.  Only the Devils hold a playoff eligible spot among those teams, the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

3.  On the other hand, the Blues are one of just three teams with two 5-on-3 power play goals this season (Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins being the others).  They also have the fifth-most 5-on-6 goals (3).

4.  If you are going to get the Blues (or give the Blues the blues, or…never mind), it  will be in the second period.  With 23 goals allowed, only two teams have allowed more scores in the middle frame – Winnipeg Jets (28) and Dallas Stars (24).

5.  St. Louis is the top possession team in the league as measured by 5-on-5 Corsi-for (54.13 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).  They do it, as many Ken Hitchcock-coached teams do, by denying shot opportunities.  St. Louis’ shots attempts allowed per 60 minutes is the lowest in the league, the only team to allow fewer than 50 5-on-5 shot attempts per 60 minutes (48.48).

1.  On that three-goal thing, the Caps are 9-0-0 when scoring three or more goals.  But here is an odd thing about scoring two goals. Only four teams have scored two or more goals less often than the Caps (13 times, 10-2-1) – Buffalo (10), Ottawa (10), Colorado (11), and the Blues (11).

2.  For whatever reason, and there might be some bigger issues going on,  Alex Ovechkin’s shots are down significantly.  His 4.17 shots per game is his lowest since the 2011-2012 season, one in which he recorded “only” 38 goals in 78 games on 303 shots (he averages 5.02 shots per game over his career).  This is despite his efficiency (12.0 shooting percentage) is not far off his career mark (12.4 percent).

3.  No team has allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals so far this season than the Caps (22).

4.  Fifteen times in 18 games, the Caps have scored first (10-3-2).  Only Montreal has done it as often (13-1-1) in 19 games.

5.  The Caps are seventh overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.97 percent) but tenth overall on home ice (52.48 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester played in his 1,000th NHL game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 1st, one of 17 active players hitting that milestone and one of 102 defensemen to reach the 1,000 game mark in NHL history.  He is among the most durable and consistent defensemen of this era.   In 12 full 82-game seasons prior to this one, Bouwmeester appeared in all of his team’s games nine times and hasn’t appeared in fewer than 72 games in a full season since his sophomore season in 2003-2004, when he appeared in 61 games.  While he has never quite lived up to the offensive promise his third-overall selection in the 2002 entry draft might have suggested, he has become a foundation player in his own end, and his consistency and durability have allowed clubs a certain comfort that he would be there on a night-t0-night basis, freeing them up to concentrate on other areas.  If there is a concern at this point in his career, it is in his offense, which has dropped significantly since his first full year in St. Louis (2013-2014: 4-33-37, plus-26). In his last three seasons, including this one, spanning 163 games through Monday, he is 6-29-35, minus-1.  Bouwmeester is 6-15-21, minus-4, in 46 career games against the Capitals.

Washington:  Zach Sanford

After 18 games, Zach Sanford is the only forward appearing in more than one game this season not to record a goal.  When he does, it will be his first in the NHL.  Part of the situation is opportunity.  Skating just 10:24 per game in 16 games, he does not get a lot of minutes, and what he does get are generally fourth line minutes, almost all of them (all but 5:26 of 166:26 in total ice time) at even strength.  Those situations do not afford him much in the way of shooting opportunities, reflected in his recording 13 shots in 16 games.  He has shown a versatility so far, getting most of his minutes as a winger but filling in at center when Lars Eller went down to injury.  When he has had better linemates, he has not been a liability, at least in terms of possession.  For example, in 40-plus minutes skating with Eller and Justin Williams at 5-on-5, the line has a 56.34 Corsi-for at fives (numbers from Corsica. Hockey).  He shows signs of being the product of a fine program in college (Boston College), with the need to develop a stronger foundation of experience before Caps fans see what his potential really is.  This will be his first appearance against St. Louis.

In the end…

The Caps are in a rut, treading water over their last seven games.  Except for their seven-goal explosion against Pittsburgh, they are having trouble scoring, three times in seven games scoring a single goal, twice scoring only two goals in regulation, and getting shut out once.  That they recorded standings points in three of those six games (a regulation win, an overtime win, and an overtime loss) is a reflection of just how well their goaltenders are playing and how well the Caps are tending to business in their own end.  But that kind of play places a strain on goalies and defenders, and provides a slim margin for success.   St. Louis, even if they are coming to Washington to play the back half of a back-to-back set of games (they will be in Boston to face the Bruins on Tuesday night), will provide quite a challenge to reversing that trend.

Capitals 3 – Blues 2

Monday, November 21, 2016

A NO-Point Afternoon -- Game 18: Columbus Blue Jackets 3 - Washington Capitals 2

In the first period of yesterday’s contest between the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets, It all looked as if it would be a blowout.  In the first ten minutes, the Caps had scored on their first shot on goal, out-shot the Blue Jackets, 7-5, and out-attempted them 16-10.  The Caps were tilting the ice toward the Columbus end on a pace to record nearly 100 shot attempts.  But the Caps could not extend their advantage, and as often happens in such games when early pressure does not turn into early goals, the Blue Jackets righted themselves and eventually scored goals in the first and last minutes of the third period to escape Washington with a 3-2 win to piggy-back on last Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Caps in overtime.

Nicklas Backstrom scored on Washington’s first shot of the game when he flagged down Jack Johnson’s attempt to clear the puck up the left wing wall out of the Columbus zone.  Controlling the puck inside the Blue Jacket blue line, Backstrom glided down the wall and sent a harmless looking shot at the Columbus net.  The puck his Johnson’s stick and took enough pace off the puck to handcuff goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the puck going between his pads to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:11 into the game.

The Caps could not increase that lead, despite applying considerable pressure on the Blue Jackets following the Backstrom goal, and the teams went to the first intermission with the Caps holding the one-goal lead.  Columbus tied it six minutes into the second period when, on a power play, NickFoligno’s attempted pas through the blue paint hit John Carlson’s skate and ricocheted into the net past goalie Braden Holtby to tie the game.

Washington regained the lead four minutes later on their own power play.  Backstrom was orchestrating things from the right wing wall and tried to find a passing lane to Alex Ovechkin on the opposite side.  After inching up and down the right wing wall, he sent a pass across that was muffled by Matt Calvert’s stick, but not enough to keep the puck from reaching Ovechkin.  He still managed to one-time the puck past Bobrovsky to put the Caps back in front, 2-1, at the 10:31 mark.

The third period was owned by the Blue Jackets, early and late.  Brandon Dubinsky scored just 14 seconds into the period, taking advantage of another puck off a skate.  A centering pass from Brandon Saad from the Olympia corner wound up in the skated of Cam Atkinson and bounced to Brandon Dubinsky, who curled around Holtby and tucked the puck past his left pad to tie the game.

It remained that way until the last minute of regulation.  With Backstrom in the penalty box for (allegedly) high-sticking Foligno, Columbus broke down the Caps defense smartly, after Tom Wilson could not get the puck up and out of the zone along the wall.  Zach Werenski kept the puck in at the left point and fed Sam Gagner in the middle.  Gagner dished the puck to Foligno who spooned it across the low slot to Alexander Wennberg all alone on the right side.  Wennberg had nothing but net to shoot out, and he did not fail, scoring the game-winner with 53.6 seconds left to give the Blue Jackets the win.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom insisted he did not touch Nick Foligno to draw the penalty that led to the game-winning goal.  “I didn’t touch him.  It was really weird I got a penalty there.”  Barry Trotz remarked that Foligno’s Academy Award-worthy effort to draw the penalty was “a little bit disrespectful to the game.”  Even Dale Hunter might be shaking his head at that one.

-- This game broke a five-game streak in which Braden Holtby allowed fewer than three goals.  As it is, he has allowed more than three goals only once in 14 appearances.

-- The two power play goals scored by Columbus was the first time this season the Caps allowed more than one power play goal in a game.  There are now just three teams in the league that have not yet allowed two or more power play goals in a game (Carolina, San Jose, and the New York Rangers).

-- The power play goal by Washington was just the fifth 5-on-4 goal scored by the Caps this season, pulling them into a tie for 29th (last) in the league with Ottawa.

-- The Caps had 21 shots on goal, tying a season low.  The concern about that is that the Caps set that season low just eight days previously, in a 5-1 loss to Carolina.

--  Of those 21 shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin had five of them.  As a group, the remade Capitals forward group had 19 shots on goal (Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie out with injuries).  The defense had only two shots on goal (Matt Niskanen and John Carlson).

-- Backstrom had his fourth multi-point game of the season, tying him for 13th in the league in that number.  Three of the four games have come on home ice.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a strange line in the score sheet.  And by “strange,” we don’t mean “good.”  In just less than 15 minutes of ice time, he had one shot attempt (blocked) and lost his only faceoff taken.  That was it.

-- Brett Connolly’s line was even stranger.  In just less than 11 minutes, he had two minor penalties and…well, that’s it.

-- Despite the early pressure by the Caps, Columbus finished with 51 shot attempts overall to 43 for the Caps.

In the end…

Not nearly enough guys stepped up to fill the void left by injuries.  Backstrom, Ovechkin, and even Paul Carey (in a fill-in role) played pretty well.  Justin Williams did have three shots on goal.  After that, the forwards seemed to struggle.  Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were conspicuous by their absence on the score sheet.  That is not going to do going forward, although the Caps were a phantom penalty call away from getting at least a point out of this game.  If one game matters, we know that Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie matter to the success of this team.  Now, we need to know about the depth the Caps have to weather injuries to those players.  This game doesn’t get a good grade on that aspect.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

The Washington Capitals bounced back in Week 6 to gain points in all three games and posted a 2-0-1 record.  The week had something for everyone – a pasting of a bitter rival, a nail-biter against one of the league’s elite franchises, and for those who like to complain about something, a blown third period lead that led to the only blemish on the week, an overtime loss.


Record: 2-0-1

For the third time in six weeks the Caps avoided a loss in regulation time and left the Caps one point behind last year’s points pace after 17 games (11-4-2 versus 12-4-1).  The win and an overtime loss against Metropolitan Division opponents left the Caps with a 2-2-2 record against divisional opponents.  The two consecutive wins to close the week were the first consecutive wins for the Caps since they put together a five-game winning streak in Games 7-11, ending on November 5th. 


Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: 13th)

The Caps had a measure of balance in Week 6.  Seven skaters shared in the nine goals scored for the week, and 14 different skaters recorded points.  Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie shared the lead in goals for the week with two apiece; Backstrom and Jay Beagle had the game-winning goals for the Caps.  For Beagle, his game-winning goal against the Red Wings to close the week was his second of the season, tying a career high in game winners (two).  Both of those game-winners have come late in the third periods of games, the first with just 30 seconds left in a 3-2 win over Winnipeg on November 18th, and again this week with 5:11 left in the 1-0 win over Detroit.

Nicklas Backstrom also had a pair of goals for the Caps in Week 6 and led the team in points (3-3-5), five of them of them coming in the Caps’ 7-1 win over Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week.  It was Backstrom’s fifth career five-point game against his fifth different team (Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers being the others).  It was the first time he had two goals in a five-point effort. 

T.J. Oshie was the other Capital with two goals for the week, both of them also scored in the win over Pittsburgh. It was Oshie’s second four-point game as a Capital (the other coming in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last December 18th) and fourth four-point game of his career.  The week did not come without a price for Oshie, who left the game against the Red Wings with an upper-body injury that is described as “week-to-week.”

Defense: 1.00/game (season:  2.12/game; rank: 2nd)

After allowing opponents more than 30 shots on goal in consecutive games for the first time this season in Week 5, the Caps returned to their stingy ways in Week 6.  Opponents averaged just 26 shots on goal per game in the three games, and all of them failed to reach the 30 shot threshold.  By the end of the week , the Caps allowed the sixth-fewest shots on goal per game in the league (27.5 per game).

There weren’t many goals scored on those shots, but Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson saw them all.  Both were on ice for all three goals scored against the Caps in Week 6.  Otherwise, it was a pretty good week for the Caps in terms of suppressing opponents’ pressure.  The Caps were 53.0 percent in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

Goaltending:  1.00 / .962 / 1 shutout (season: 1.93 / .929 / 2 SO)

It was a fine week for the goaltenders. It was the first time that Caps goalies allowed one or fewer goals in regulation time in three consecutive games since Games 33-35 last season when they Beat Carolina, 2-1, defeated Montreal, 3-1; and shutout Buffalo, 2-0.  And, as in that instance, the wins were split into two for Braden Holtby (the second one, as in Week 6, a shutout) and one for Philipp Grubauer.

Holtby was especially impressive in the final two games of the week.  In beating Pittsburgh and Detroit, he stopped 50 of 51 shots (.980 save percentage).  It is the last fine performance in a recent run of them for Holtby.  Since allowing four goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on October 26th,  he is 7-1-0, 1.70, .942, with one shutout.  The shutout, a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings to close the week, was Holtby’s 24th in team history, second only to Olaf Kolzig (35).  Since coming into the league in the 2010-2011 season, those 24 shutouts are tenth-most in the league. 

Philipp Grubauer opened the week against Collumbus, a challenge by head coach Barry Trotz to the skaters to play better in front of him than they did in a 5-1 loss to Carolina to close Week 5.  They responded, as did Grubauer, who stopped 24 of 25 shots in regulation before allowing a Cam Atkinson goal in the first minute of overtime to come up short on getting the second standings point.

Overall, Holtby and Grubauer stopped every shot they faced in the first and second periods, 47 shots turned aside in all.  Even their 27-for-29 performance in the third periods of games (.931 save percentage) – one of those goals a shutout-spoiling goal by Phil Kessel when the Caps already had a 6-0 lead over the Penguins – was very good.

Fun goaltending fact: The Caps were the only team in the league after Week 6 with both primary goaltenders with a goals against average of 2.00 or lower for the season.

Power Play: 2-for-11 / 18.2 percent (season: 13.7 percent; rank: 23rd)

The best one could say for the week was that it amounted to “baby steps.”  The worst one could say was, “inconsistent.”  The Caps went 2-for-7 against Pittsburgh in the 7-1 win, the first time since Game 3 ( a 3-0 win over Colorado) that the Caps recorded more than one power play goal in a game.  The Caps went 0-for-2 in each of the games bracketing that win over Pittsburgh.

It was not an especially efficient power play in terms of shooting.  The Caps had 19:33 in power play ice time for the week and managed only 12 shots on goal.  If there was an encouraging sign there, it was in Justin Williams getting three of those shots (one goal) and T.J. Oshie getting another (one goal), players who had not had many opportunities in the middle of the 1-3-1 power play scheme.


Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.6 percent; rank: 12th)

It is hard to do better than 11-for-11.  It was part of an impressive run for the Caps that has seen their penalty killers skate off 31 of 34 shorthanded situations over their last 11 games (91.2 percent penalty killing).  The penalty killing was especially impressive against Pittsburgh, holding the Penguins to a single shot on goal in 6:47 of shorthanded ice time.  Overall, the Caps held opponents to 12 shots on goal in 19:48 in shorthanded ice time.

That shorthanded ice time is the one area of concern for the week.  The 11 penalty killing situations the Caps faced in Week 6 is the most they faced in any week this season, both in total and in average per game (3.67).  Even for a team whose penalty killing is improving by the game, that is getting into territory the Caps would prefer to avoid.


Faceoffs: 95-for-190 / 50.0 percent (season: 51.0% / rank: 9th)

The 50.0 percent for Week 6 is a bit misleading.  The Caps dominated the Penguins in the middle game of the week, going 45-for-80 (56.3 percent).  The other two games of the week were not as successful, going 27-for-56 against Columbus (48.2 percent) and 23-for-54 (42.6 percent) against Detroit.  It was also a case of neutral zone dominance (53.6 percent for the week) while less impressive in the offensive zone (50.7 percent) and defensive zone (46.0 percent.

At an individual level three of the four Caps taking at least ten draws were over 50 percent for the week – Nicklas Backstrom (35-for-65/53.8 percent), Lars Eller (14-for-24/58.3 percent), and Jay Beagle (26-for-39/66.7 percent).  But there is an issue here, and that is Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He was 16-for-46 for the week (34.8 percent), under 50 percent in all three zones.  If possession matter, it matters from the drop of the puck, and Kuznetsov ranks 115th of 119 players having taken 100 or more draws this season (40.9 percent).  That’s a tough place for a top-line center to be.

Goals by Period:

What stands out this week is that the Caps did not allow a goal in either the first or second periods of games.  With none allowed in the first period of three games, the Caps ended the week tied for second (with San Jose) in fewest first period goals allowed this season (eight), and their plus-11 first period goal differential was tops in the league.  And, for a team that struggled with allowing second period goals early in the season, the Caps finished the week tied for the fourth-fewest second period goals allowed (13).

Conversely, if there was a concern, it was allowing a pair of third-period goals and an overtime goal.  It left the Caps in the middle of the pack in third period goals allowed (tied for 11th-fewest). 

On the other side, the three goals the Caps scored in the first period were all in the game against Pittsburgh.  It did put them in fourth place (with Florida) for fourth-most goals scored in the first period this season.  What was more impressive was the four third period goals the Caps scored (three against Pittsburgh) that was more than a third of the total they had in the season coming into the week (11).


In the end…

It was a good week in that the Caps overwhelmed the Penguins, but that might overstate the quality of play for the week.  Not that it was bad, but an overtime loss and a 1-0 win on a late goal does not scream “dominating,” either.  What this week was about was banking standings points when, in a larger sense, the Caps were not quite hitting on all cylinders.  And that is a good thing, given that the Caps lost three forwards in the Detroit game, two of them – Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie – who will be out for a bit.  Those players represent the first man-games lost to the club to injury this season, but that won’t be on the record until Week 7.  That is what the 82-game grind of a season is about, though.  Injuries are a part of it, and it gives the Caps an opportunity to see what others can do with some more responsibility.  Think of it as training for next spring.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 0.50, .980, 1 shutout)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-3-6, plus-3, 53.8 percent faceoff wins, six hits)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (2-2-4, plus-5, 11 shot attempts in two-plus games, four hits)


Saturday, November 19, 2016

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 17: Washington Capitals 1 - Detroit Red Wings 0

Sometimes, one is all it takes.  The Washington Capitals got one goal in their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, and goalie Braden Holtby made it stand up as the Caps made it two wins in a row, beating the Red Wings, 1-0, at Verizon Center.

For more than 50 minutes the teams battled back and forth without a goal to show for it.  As the clock ticked down toward the five-minute mark in regulation, the teams were fighting for the puck in the corner to the right of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.  Tom Wilson tried to send tht puck out from below the goal line, but it ended up on the stick of Tomas Tatar, who tried to backhand it off the side wall and out of the zone.  The puck made only so far as Dmitry Orlov.  From the left point, Orlov sent a drive to the net that Howard stopped, but the rebound came out to the low slot where Jay Beagle was waiting.  From one knee, Beagle snapped a shot under the glove of the diving Howard, and the Caps had the only goal they would need.

Other stuff…

-- Braden Holtby secured his first shutout of the season by stopping all 25 shots he saw.  In his last eight appearances, Holtby is 7-1-0, 1.53, .942, and now one shutout.

-- After a brief hiccup in which they allowed 34 and 38 shots on goal in consecutive games, the Caps allowing the Red Wings just 25 shots on goal was the third straight game holding an opponent to fewer than 30 shots.

-- Last season, the Caps beat the Red Wings, 2-1, in overtime in Game 17 of the season to go 12-4-1.  With last night’s 1-0 win over the Red Wings in Game 17, the Caps are 11-4-2, just one point off last year’s pace.

--  Lars Eller lasted one shift.  T.J. Oshie lasted three.  Andre Burakovsky skated seven shifts.  All sustained upper body injuries that took them out of the game, leaving the Caps having to use just nine forwards for more than two periods.

-- Even with the three forwards out, Alex Ovechkin skated just 19 minutes.  That didn’t keep him from posting nine shot attempts (four shots on goal) and dishing out four hits.

-- There was a subtle change on the blue line in ice time.  Matt Niskanen got 3:45 in power play ice time; John Carlson got 1:35.

-- Speaking of hits, anyone have “Nicklas Backstrom” leading the team?  Well, he did, with five.

-- Brett Connolly, not thought of as an especially physical forward, had four credited hits in 15 minutes of ice time with no shots on goal.  The 15 minutes and changed was more than three minutes more than his previous high in ice time this season.

-- With the game-winning goal in this game and an assist in the previous game against Pittsburgh, Jay Beagle is almost half way (4-4-8) to his career highs in goals, assists, and points in a season (10-10-20 in 62 games 2014-2015) after just 17 games. 

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov wins the buffet coupon after last night’s game.  No points, but he had two shots on goal, six shot attempts (two other blocked, two misses), two hits, three giveaways, two takeaways, a blocked shot, and he took 14 faceoffs (3-for-14).

In the end…

This could have been a letdown game after the big win against the Penguins on Wednesday.  The Caps caught something of a break facing a team struggling to score goals, but they still managed to grind out a win when their own scorers were having problems.  And then there were the injuries to Eller, Oshie, and Burakovsky that took out much of the scoring punch that the Caps have on hand.  A timely goal and some stout goaltending gave the Caps what they needed when the other pieces were missing.  That’s what makes for a good win on a tough night.