Friday, December 19, 2014

A TWO-point night -- Game 31: Capitals 5 - Blue Jackets 4 (OT)

The Washington Capitals took a measure of revenge over the Columbus Blue Jackets for their 3-2 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets last week by skating off with a 5-4 overtime win in Columbus last night.

It was a back and forth affair with the Caps taking a two-goal lead in the first period on goals by Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. Ward took a feed from Eric Fehr at the top of the right wing circle and snapped the puck past the blocker of Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at the 9:51 mark. Chimera converted a nifty backhand feed at the top of the crease by Michael Latta to put the Caps up, 2-0, with 37.9 seconds left in the period.

Columbus stormed back with the next three goals – Jack Johnson and Nick Foligno scoring power play goals in the second period, and Foligno getting his second of the game in the first minute of the third period. Washington tied it when Karl Alzner grabbed a loose puck in the high slot, skated in, and wristed a shot through Bobrovsky’s pads seven minutes into the period.

The tie lasted until the 15:35 mark of the period when Michael Chaput scored his first NHL goal, an odd ending to a play in which a shot by Matt Calvert from the right wing wall ricocheted off teammate Jared Boll in front of Braden Holtby and out the other side to Chaput waiting in the left wing faceoff circle.

The goal call over the public address system was still echoing in the arena when the Caps tied the game once more.  Just 1:25 after the Chaput goal, Troy Brouwer made it 4-4 when he redirected a Mike Green drive with his skate past Bobrovsky.  The play was reviewed, the goal was confirmed, and the game went to overtime.

Eric Fehr ended it 42 seconds into overtime, taking a pass from Mike Green in the slot and slamming it past Bobrovsky as he was being taken off his feet by Brandon Dubinsky.  The Caps earned the extra standings point with the 5-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- Deuces were wild for Mike Green (yes, the player to ponder in the prognosto).  Two assists, two points, two shots on goal, two shots blocked, two hits, two big time plays.  The first came on the Brouwer goal to tie the game when he broke up a centering pass from Nick Foligno to Matt Calvert, recovered the puck in the corner, then skated the puck all the way to the Columbus zone before peeling off and threading a pass to Brouwer (well, his skate) for the goal.  The second big time play came in overtime on another rush, this time skating the puck out of the Caps’ zone down the right wing and into the Columbus zone.  He faked a slap shot, then circled to the goal line before sending the puck back out onto the tape of Eric Fehr’s stick for the game-winning goal.  Oddly, he did not merit a star in the eyes of the folks who do the selecting of the three stars. 

-- It was one game, but it was satisfying to see the Caps push back – hard – when the Blue Jackets started getting frisky in the second period.  At one point, four Caps were in the penalty box, all for aggression penalties (Tom Wilson and Michael Latta for fighting; Troy Brouwer and John Carlson for roughing).  Brouwer would take another aggression penalty – fighting Michael Chaput – later in that same period.

-- The two power play goals allowed was the first time the Caps allowed two or more since they allowed three to the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-3 loss on December 2nd.  They had been 13-for-14 killing penalties (92.9 percent) over a six-game stretch coming into the game with Columbus.

-- Eric Fehr now has goals in three of his last four games and four in his last seven contests.  It was his first multi-point game of the season and his first since recording a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over Carolina last April 10th.

-- Jason Chimera also had a multi-point game (1-1-2), also his first of the season and his first since also going 1-2-3 in that April 10th game against Carolina.  His two points last night also broke a four-game streak without a point; his goal broke a ten-game streak without one since he scored in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on November 20th.

-- Karl Alzner scored his second goal of the season, equaling his career high.. Yes, it was his first multi-point game of the season (he assisted on the Joel Ward goal to start the game) and his first since recording two assists in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last March 16th.

-- Michael Latta…two points (assists on the Chimera and Alzner goals)… first two-point game of this season… first multi-point game of his career.

-- Lost in all this is the fact that in a game in which the Caps scored five goals, neither Alex Ovechkin nor Nicklas Backstrom recorded a point.  This despite the fact that between the two of them they had nine of the Caps’ 36 shots on goal and 20 of the Caps’ 67 shot attempts.

-- Speaking of attempts, the Caps steamrolled the Blue Jackets in Corsi with 67 shot attempts overall to 41 for Columbus (62.0 percent Corsi-for).

-- Maybe it was a scoring thing, but the Caps were not charged with a single giveaway.

-- In his first 15 appearances this season, Braden Holtby was victimized for only a total of five power play goals, and in no game did he allow more than one.  In his last 11 appearances he has allowed nine power play goals and allowed two or more three times, including the two last night.

In the end…

Pretty?  Not really.  But it sent a message to a team that had been lurking one rung down the standings ladder (now two as the Caps jumped over the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division with the win).  The Caps can take a figurative punch (or a literal one) and get back up.  Now, can they do that on a night-to-night basis?  We will see.  And, the club showed that it can produce when the big cannons are silent.  But for now, Caps fans, just bask in the glow of a 5-0-2 run, all of it against Eastern Conference teams.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Blue Jackets, December 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the ice on Thursday night to face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the middle game of their three-game road trip.  The teams played just a week ago, but the intervening seven days have been, shall we say, eventful for both teams.

The Caps played two game since losing to the Blue Jackets in overtime last Thursday, taking three of four points from Florida teams – a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning (completing the sweep of a two-game set played over a four day period) and a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Florida Panthers that featured a record-setting 20-round trick shot competition.

Over on the other side, the Blue Jackets have played twice since facing the Caps, and both of their games went to extra time, both to the freestyle competition, beating Pittsburgh (4-3) and Detroit (1-0).  The two Gimmick wins extended to four the number of consecutive games played by Columbus that went to extra time, and five of their last six games.  One odd part about the run is that the Blue Jackets won all five games settled in extra time, three of them in the Gimmick.  Another is that the five games in six settled in extra time follow 24 games to start the season in which Columbus was involved in only two extra time games.

It would appear likely that Sergei Bobrovsky will get the call in goal for Columbus in what would be his eighth straight appearance.  Why not?  He’s on quite a roll.  In seven appearances since the start of December, Bobrovsky is 7-0-0, 1.63, .950.  That 7-0-0 run coincides with a month of December in which Columbus has risen from dead last in the Eastern Conference when the month began to fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, six point behind the fourth-place Capitals, and 12th of 16 teams in the conference.

Not that the Columbus record in December is pure, unalloyed gold.  Consider their opponents.  In addition to playing games on the margin (six one-goal wins in seven victories), their colectio of opponents has ranged from “meh” to depleted.  Columbus has beaten Florida twice (ok, the Panthers beat the Caps), a team that, it should be remember, has lost 16 of 29 games.  They have beaten Philadelphia, a team that has lost 19 of 30 games.  They beat Pittsburgh when the Penguins had seven players out of the lineup, including Sidney Crosby.

What the Blue Jackets have done in the seven-game streak is display a certain consistency on offense.  Embedded in the streak is another one in which they scored three goals in regulation or overtime in five straight games.  Drilling down, though, the offense is anything but balanced.  Boone Jenner (5) and Nick Foligno (4) have combined for nine of the 17 goals scored in the seven-game winning streak.

Here is how the number compare overall between the teams…

1.  Columbus is 5-for-22 on the power play (22.7 percent) on their seven-game winning streak, and they have a 21-for-25 penalty kill (84.0 percent).  Bobrovsky has been good, but the team has enjoyed a rather favorable special teams effort as well (106.7 on the special teams index).

2.  That PDO number has been pretty good, too.  At 105.2 overall in the seven-game winning streak (10.2 shooting percentage, 95.0 save percentage), the question becomes one of whether the Blue Jackets are in for a correction.

3.  Jack Johnson had a four-game points streak stopped in Columbus’ 1-0 Gimmick win over Detroit on Tuesday.  It was his longest points streak since he put together a six-game streak, December 21-30, 2010 (2-5-7).

4.  Only Arizona has scored fewer third period goals (18) than the Blue Jackets (19).  Of course, it was a third period goal against the Caps that forced overtime in which Columbus won.

5.  In the seven-game winning streak, Columbus has been outshot by a whopping 242-166 (34.6-23.7 per game).  Almost half of that 76 shot deficit came in a 4-3 Gimmick win over Florida in which Columbus was outshot, 55-20.

1.  Once upon a time, the Caps were denying teams shots.  December did not start that way, the Caps allowing 30 or more shots on goal in three straight games, the first time this season they allowed 30 or more in three straight contests.  In their last three games, however, they are back to allowing less than 30.  Unfortunately, the Caps lost two of those games, both in extra time.

2.  When the Caps lost to the Blue Jackets in overtime last Thursday, it was the first Washington loss to Columbus on home ice since they dropped a 5-4 decision in overtime on November 1, 2009.  When visiting Columbus, the Caps have not fared as well.  They lost their two most recently played games in Columbus by a combined score of 10-3.

3.  Yup, the Caps are still last in the league in road power play opportunities. Washington has had only 31 power play opportunities in 15 road games, but they are tied for 16th in road power play goals scored, courtesy of a league-leading 35.5 percent road power play.

4.  The Caps are 13-1-2 when leading after two periods.  Only three teams have more wins when leading at the second intermission.  The other side of that is that the Caps are 1-9-4 when tied or trailing at the second break.

5.  Alex Ovechkin has an odd scoring split in games so far this season.  He has 13 points in 14 wins, he has 13 points in 16 losses. Nicklas Backstrom’s is similarly odd – 15 points in 14 wins, 16 points in 16 losses.  Either the Caps need to get secondary scoring to win games, given the consistency of the two big guns, or the big guns need to produce more to push the Caps into the win column more often.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Ryan Johansen

For a while there, Ryan Johansen was scoring points in bunches – two against Tampa Bay on November 8th, four points against Philadelphia on November 14th, three against Boston on November 21st.  That three-point effort against the Bruins on November 21st was Johansen’s last multi-point game.  Since then he is 2-2-4 in 11 games, and he is without a goal in his last seven contests.  He is still tied for the team lead in points, but one has the feeling his production is going to have to improve if the Blue Jackets are going to continue climbing back up in the standings.  He is 3-2-5, plus-1 in seven career games against Washington.

Washington: Mike Green

Mike Green has once more had to deal with the injury bug, most recently missing seven games to an upper-body injury.  Still, Green is without a point in his last six games, and he is without a goal in 17 straight contests, his last one coming on October 22nd in a 3-2 loss to Edmonton.  The subject of, if not loud, then persistent trade chatter, Green has assumed what amounts to third-pair minutes for the Caps.  He is fifth among defensemen in even strength ice time per game (16:44), with only partner Nate Schmidt logging fewer minutes per night at evens (14:06) among defensemen appearing in at least 20 games.  With the emergence of John Carlson, the arrival of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and his missing more time to injury, Green does not cast a large shadow on the blue line these days.  Although Green has been a dominant player in a subtle way, it would be nice to see some of the old Green come out to play from time to time.  He is 1-4-5, minus-3 in 10 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

Last Saturday, the Caps had to deal with a Tampa Bay team bent on revenge for a loss pinned on them by the Caps.  Now, it is Washington playing the role of the team looking to settle a score after dropping the 3-2 overtime decision to Columbus last week.  The Caps have the incentive of trying to extend a nice streak of games with standings points earned (4-0-2) and have a chance to stop the Columbus advance up the standings in its tracks.

Capitals 3 - Blue Jackets 2

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 10

Week 10 looked a lot like Week 9 for the Washington Capitals, and that is not a bad thing at all. For the first time since Weeks 1 and 2, the Caps put together consecutive winning weeks.  Let’s take a look at how they got there in Week 10.

Record: 2-0-1

The Caps came into the week teetering on the edge of the playoff mix, sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division but ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.  But they were also coming into Week 10 on a two-game winning streak.  They made it three in a row with a win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday to start the week to match their longest winning streak of the year.  The Caps could not make it four, though, dropping a decision in overtime to Columbus.  The Caps made it two in a row over Tampa Bay to end the week on a high note, giving them a 4-0-1 record over their most recent five games, their best five-game record of the season.  It also lifted them into seventh place in the conference standings, their highest conference ranking since they stood in seventh place on October 27th.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 2.90/game; rank: T-10th)

It was a week for the top line, even if it came with a bit of a smudge on the record.  Alex Ovechkin had a pair of goals in the first game against Tampa Bay in Week 10 and a pair of assists in the rematch to end the week.  Nicklas Backstrom had pair of assists in the first game against Tampa Bay and recorded a hat trick – his first career regular season hat trick – in the second game against the Lightning.  Tom Wilson had an assist in the first game against Tampa Bay and a pair of helpers – his first career multi-assist game – in the rematch.  However, the top line was shut out on points in the overtime loss to Columbus despite 12 shots on goal from the trio (nine by Ovechkin, three by Backstrom).

The Caps did get some scoring from down the line, though.  Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Eric Fehr combined for five goals for the week.  The defense did not have much by way of goals (Matt Niskanen has the only one), but they did chip in six assists, three of them by John Carlson, who is on a tear of late (2-8-10, plus-11, in his last eight games).

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.66/game; rank: 16th)

The eight goals allowed in three games probably looks worse than it was.  One of those goals came with four seconds left in what would be a 5-3 win for the Caps in Tampa to start the week (the Caps got an empty netter with less than a second left for the final score).  Another came on an overtime power play for Columbus, a 4-on-3 situation that the Caps nearly killed off, the goal coming with just 19 seconds left in the extra period.

As far as the goals against/on-ice record goes, Brooks Orpik was on ice for five of the eight goals against and Matt Niskanen four among the defensemen.  Brooks Laich was on ice for four goals against among the forwards.  Sixteen different skaters were on ice for goals against.  Mike Green, Andre Burakovsky, Michael Latta, and Jay Beagle escaped notice in that regard.

What it was not was an especially good week for possession at 5-on-5.  The Caps held their own against Tampa Bay to start the week (Corsi-for: 53.9 percent) and broke even against Columbus (50.0 percent).  In Saturday night’s game against the Lightning, though, the Caps were dominated (39.2 percent).  A PDO of 101.3 helped make the week better than the underlying numbers might have suggested. 

Goaltending: 2.61 GAA / .908 SV (season: 2.59 / .906 / 1 SO)

Braden Holtby figured in all three decisions for the week, making it 12 straight decisions for Holtby.  Over those 12 games Holtby is 7-3-2, 2.35, .920.  In Week 10 he was sharp when he had to be and ended up with numbers that might not look as good as his play might have suggested.  It was in the second period of games in which he stood out in Week 10, stopping 27 of 28 shots (.964 save percentage).  It was in the third period that he was spotty, but owing to score effects. He allowed three goals on 28 shots in the two third periods he played against Tampa Bay, one goal coming in the last four seconds and the other two with the Caps holding a 3-0 lead when the scoring began.  He was a perfect 27-for-27 in score-tied situations, including stopping 11 straight shots in the second period of a scoreless game against Tampa Bay on Saturday (including a 5-on-3 Lightning power play) before the Caps registered their first shot on goal of the period.  On balance, Holtby had a very good week.

Power Play: 2-for-12/ 16.7 percent (season: 26.5 percent; rank: 1st) 

Week 10 was unusual for the Caps in one respect – power play opportunities.  Washington had 12 man advantage situations, making it the first week they hit double digits in power plays since Week 5 (4-for-10) and their highest volume week of the season.  The six opportunities they had against Columbus in the middle game of the week was the most the Caps had since Game 9 against Detroit on October 29th and tied the most they had in a game this season. 

The power play in Week 10 reflected the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.  In one respect the Caps were very efficient, recording 31 shots in 20:36 of power play ice time (1.5 shots per minute of ice time).  In another, the Caps were very ineffective, recording only two goals on those 31 shots, including going 1-for-18 against Columbus, arguably the difference between a 2-0-1 week and a perfect week.  And, one of the most unusual parts of the week was where the power play goals came from – Matt Niskanen and Eric Fehr, who are not generally thought of as consistent power play contributors.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10/ 90.0 percent (season: 77.0 percent; rank: 26th)

It would have been a perfect week on the penalty kill, had only the power play done better against Columbus.  The Caps were 9-for-9 in regulation time in the three games of Week 10, but they allowed a power play goal in overtime against Columbus for the only blot on the Week 10 record.  Here, the Caps were both efficient (12 shots in 17:38 of ice time; o.68 shots per minute) and effective (stopping 11 of those 12 shots; a .917 save percentage). 

The pivotal point of the week came in the second period against Tampa Bay on Saturday night when the Caps killed off a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play.  The Caps allowed four shots in those two minutes, but only one of them from Steven Stamkos.  Braden Holtby stopped them all, and less than two minutes later the Caps broke a scoreless tie on their way to a 4-2 win and a winning week.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 9-7 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.96; rank: 20th)

Win the even strength goal matchup, win the game, win the week.  The Caps won both ends of their two-game set with Tampa Bay in part by winning the even strength goal battle, 4-3 on Tuesday and 4-2 on Saturday.  Washington lost the even strength battle against Columbus on Thursday, 2-1, and lost the game in overtime.  It was a close week in even strength shots, the Caps winning that battle only once, oddly enough in the overtime loss to Columbus (21-20).  They were outshot at evens in both Tampa Bay games, 33-30 on Tuesday and 22-19 on Saturday.

The Caps have done a somewhat better job in the 5-on-5 battle recently.  Winning Week 10 is part of a run in which the Caps won or tied the 5-on-5 goal scoring battle eight times in their last 12 games.  Given the Caps’ power play abilities (their problems getting opportunities notwithstanding), this kind of a trend could spell a good run of success for the Caps if they can extend it.

Faceoffs: 94-for-173 / 54.3 percent (season:  percent; rank: 11th)

It was a good week in the circle, the Caps finishing 50 percent or better in all three games overall.  That’s not to say it was a great week.  The Caps’ 54.3 percent winning percentage for the week was inflated some by a 63.5 percent winning percentage on neutral zone draws.  They were at 49.2 percent on offensive zone draws and 51.7 percent in defensive zone faceoffs. 

On an individual level, 11 different skaters took at least one faceoff, three of them taking more than 25 overall.  Three of the four players taking more than 20 draws finished over 50 percent for the week: Nicklas Backstrom (68.8 percent on 48 draws), Eric Fehr (55.6 percent on 45 faceoffs), and Troy Brouwer (60.9 percent on 23 draws).  Only Michael Latta was under 50 percent, and that was by a single draw (10-for-21).

Goals by Period:

The Caps won or tied all nine periods in regulation time in Week 10, winning three periods and tied in six.  They lost their only overtime period.  Overall, they won each regulation period: 3-2 in the first periods of games, 3-1 in the second periods, and 5-4 in the third periods of games.  It was not a dominating sort of outcome, but its consistency is a result to be hoped for and, hopefully, extended.

In the end…

Two straight winning weeks, a 4-0-1 run in their last five games, and all of it against Eastern Conference teams.  The Caps now have a three-point lead over the New York Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division (the Rangers hold two games in hand) and a six-point lead over fifth-place Philadelphia and New Jersey (the Caps hold two games in hand over the Devils). 

There remains work to do; the Caps are still ranked in the lower half of the league in scoring defense, 5-on-5 goals ratio, and penalty killing, for example.  Nevertheless, the Capitals are in as good a place as they have occupied all season, especially because they are putting this run together against Eastern Conference teams.  Now we will get to see if they can continue this good fortune with the spotlight on them in the run up to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-2-5, plus-2, hat trick, 1 GWG)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, plus-4, 23 shots on goal, 37 shot attempts, 14 hits)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (0-3-3, plus-3, 10 shots on goal, (23:51/game ice time)

A TWO-point night -- Game 29: Capitals 4 - Lightning 2

The Washington Capitals did something that they had accomplished only once in more than a month when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting, 4-2, last night at Verizon Center.  They won at home.  Since beating the Columbus Blue Jackets by the same 4-2 margin on November 11th, the Caps had won just once in five tries on home ice – a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on November 26th – before the win last night.

The Caps and Lightning played to a scoreless first period and ten minutes of the second period.  Then, the Lightning made the mistake of taking an icing call at the 10:27 mark.  Nicklas Backstrom won the ensuing faceoff to the right of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, drawing he puck back to Nate Schmidt at the left point.  Schmidt slid to his right and flung a wrist shot at the Tampa net.  The puck did not get through, it being deflected to Bishop’s right.  Backstrom was quick on the loose puck and from the inside hash marks of the faceoff circle let fly with a backhand that eluded Bishop to give the Caps the lead.

That was just the start.  And it was Backstrom starting things again. Skating through the neutral zone, Backstrom fed the puck ahead to Tom Wilson at the Lightning blue line.  Wilson skated in, then dropped the puck for Backstrom trailing down the slot.  Backstrom’s drive was stopped by Bishop, as was the rebound attempt by Alex Ovechkin.  Bishop could not secure the puck, though, and with it lying at the post to Bishop’s left, Backstrom threaded it between a diving Bishop’s glove and the post to make it 2-0 with just 80 seconds left in the second period.

Backstrom completed the natural hat trick, the first regular season hat trick of any kind in his career barely two minutes into the second period.  It started with Backstrom leading a 3-on-2 rush through the neutral zone.  At the Tampa Bay line, Backstrom fed Alex Ovechkin on his right.  Ovechkin returned the puck to Backstrom heading to the net down the middle.  Collecting the puck after an attempted poke check from Andrej Sustr, Backstrom snapped the puck past Bishop to start the hats raining down.

The Lightning made things interesting with goals less than two minutes apart in the back half of the third period by Tyler Johnson and Matt Carle.  That was as close as Tampa Bay would get, however.  In the last minute John Carlson backhanded the puck out of the Capitals’ zone to relive pressure from the Lightning.  At center ice Valtteri Filppula and Jason Garrison ran into one another, both tumbling to the ice.  It left Eric Fehr all alone to fire the puck into the empty net for the final 4-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps’ 4-0-1 run over their last five games is their best five-game stretch of the season.  Perhaps most satisfying is that in doing so they have allowed only ten goals, only once allowing three goals in regulation, and that was in a win in which the third goal was scored with four seconds left.

-- The hat trick might have been Nicklas Backstrom’s first in the regular season portion of his career, but he also has a playoff hat trick.  It was his hat trick goal in overtime that beat the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup playoff series (the Caps lost, four games to three).

-- The Caps held the Lightning to two shots on goal in the first period, Mark Barberio and Tyler Johnson recording them.

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded seven shots on goal, the third straight game in which he recorded seven or more (23 in all with two goals) and the first time this season he recorded seven or more shots in three straight games.  It was the first time he did so since a five game, December 27 – January 4, last season (42 shots, one goal).

-- It was the top line’s night to shine.  In addition to Backstrom’s hat trick, Ovechkin had a pair of assists, was plus-3, and had five hits. Tom Wilson had a pair of assists (his first two-assist game of his career), was a plus-2, and traded punches with Brenden Morrow less than two minutes into the game.

-- Does plus-minus mean anything?  Well, John Carlson was a plus-2.  He is plus-11 over his last eight games.  He is tied for 17th among defensemen in that statistic for the season (plus-9), and his assist on Eric Fehr’s empty-netter left him tied for fifth among defensemen in total scoring (4-18-22).

-- Ben Bishop has faced Washington more than any other team this season – three times.  It has not turned out especially well for him. The Caps are the only team against which he has as many as two losses in regulation, and in giving up three goals on 27 shots his save percentage against the Caps this season sank below .900 (.899).

-- The game might have turned 6:49 into the second period when Mike Green took a hooking penalty, and Alex Ovechkin took a roughing penalty to give the Lightning a 5-on-3 power play for two full minutes.  Two minutes later, Tampa Bay had shots from Victor Hedman, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, and Steven Stamkos and no goals.  Less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom scored to make it 1-0, Caps.

-- When the Caps get everyone going in one game, it is going to be a thing to behold.  While the top line had a big night (a combined 3-4-7, plus-7), the second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson had no points and only three shots on goal (all from Kuznetsov, but only one of those at even strength).

-- Andre Burakovsky has a bit of a hill to climb, ice time-wise.  He skated just 8:35, less than six minutes of that at even strength (5:45).  Only twice this season has he skated fewer total minutes.  He is 1-0-1, minus-5 in his last 11 games.

In the end…

This was another good win against a quality opponent in the Eastern Conference.  The 5-on-3 penalty kill was the inspiring sort of effort that can propel a team forward, and it certainly appeared to do wonders for the Caps.  The top line did what a top line has to do, and the Caps got solid play from the folks asked to keep the other guys’ top line from doing what they have to do.  The Caps are about to enter what looks like a bit softer part of the schedule teams that folks might normally associate with being winners.  Florida?  The hapless Panthers?  They’re 12-8-8.  Columbus?  They’re on a six-game winning streak, including an overtime win over the Caps.  Ottawa?  They’ve climbed back to .500.  OK, New Jersey is struggling, but the truth is, it really doesn’t get any easier.  The difference is that the Caps are playing solid hockey and seem equal to the task.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 29: Lightning at Capitals, December 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Look, these guys just played last Tuesday, and both teams played one game since, so if you think we’re writing 1,200 or so words about this matchup again, think again.*  Look at our prognosto and game wrap for Tuesday's game for some background.  We do have some more thoughts about this game, though…

-- The Caps are 1-1-2 in a rematch against an opponent they beat the first time they squared off this season.  Washington beat Carolina on December 4th after beating them in overtime on November 8th, they lost to Columbus in overtime on Thursday after beating them on November 11th, the lost to Calgary in overtime on December 4th after beating them on October 25th, and they lost to the New Jersey Devils in regulation time on November 14th after beating them on October 16th.

-- On Tuesday, Braden Holtby faced 23 shots on goal in the Caps' 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus.  It is the seventh time this season that he faced fewer than 25 shots in a complete regulation or extra time game (that is, not counting partial games played).  He is 2-2-3 in those games with a save percentage of .892 and has allowed three or more goals in four of those decisions.  It is quite a drop off from his career record in such games coming into this season (6-3-2, 1.78, .912).  It seems that Holtby, who still has only 128 regular season appearances in the NHL has a bit of work to do on this part of game management.

-- The Caps are the only team Tampa Bay has faced over the Lightning’s last nine games to score more than three goals against them, the 5-3 win on Tuesday.

-- Odd fact… the Caps have not lost this season when scoring four goals (4-0-0).  However, they lost two of the four games in which they scored five goals (2-1-1).

-- The Caps scored a power play against Columbus on Tuesday night and lost.  It happens more often than you might think.  Washington is 8-6-4 when scoring a power play goal.  On the other hand, they are 4-7-3 when allowing a power play goal, which is probably what many folks might expect.

-- John Carlson has points in six of his last seven games (2-7-9, plus-9) and is now tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen (4-17-21).

-- The Caps are 5-5-4 at home this season.  Through 14 home games last season the Caps actually lost six times in regulation.  They won the other eight games.  Here is the thing about those eight wins, though.  Four of them came in extra time, three of them in the Gimmick.  That’s how thin the margin can be in earning standings points.

-- Jason Chimera had been such a good fella, too.  His straying from the rule book was described in fine form at Japers’ Rink here.  He’s had an odd season when it comes to infractions.  In his first 16 games he took seven minor penalties, never more than one in a single game.  Then he ran off a string of 11 games in which he took just one penalty.  Then came Thursday night and taking a pair, including that penalty in overtime….ugh.

-- Don’t let Tampa Bay get to “four.”  The Lightning are 15-0-0 when scoring four or more goals, and only two of those wins are in extra time.

-- The Caps have a very respectable 9-5-2 record against Eastern Conference teams.  It is, however, something of a split personality.  Washington is 6-1-2 against Metropolitan Division teams, but only 3-4-1 against teams in the Atlantic Division.  Tampa Bay is in the Atlantic Division.

In the end…

The trick about losing streaks is nipping them in the bud before they become streaks.  Only once this season have the Caps had a losing streak longer than two games (a five-game streak, October 26 – November 4), so they have been fairly good at avoiding prolonged slumps of that variety.  On the other hand, they haven’t had a winning streak of longer than three games (twice, the more recent one snuffed out in the loss on Tuesday).

If the Caps can win three of every four games (they are 3-0-1 in their last four contests), it will make for a happy spring, certainly.  But the more immediate chore is to keep from getting that second straight loss.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 2

*  OK...734 words.

A ONE-point night -- Game 28: Blue Jackets 3 - Capitals 2 (OT)

Sometimes, you really do run into a hot goaltender. The Washington Capitals did just that, failing to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night at Verizon Center.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 39 of 41 shots, including 17 of 18 power play shots, in throttling the Caps. It was on a power play that the game’s scoring started, courtesy of Eric Fehr just over three minutes into the game.  After some deft passing in and through the Columbus zone, Fehr redirected a John Carlson drive through Bobrovsky 3:19 into the game. 

It might have signaled a big night for the Caps, but they could not pull away.  Columbus tied the game at the 15:36 mark when Nick Foligno recorded his 12th goal of the season by ringing a wrist shot off the pipe and behind goalie Braden Holtby.

After a scoreless second period, one in which Bobrovksy turned away 15 Capital shots, Washington regained the one-goal lead 9:20 into the third period.  Troy Brouwer got his eighth goal of the season on another redirection, this one coming when he circled all the way around the Blue Jacket net, appearing to Bobrovsky’s left just in time to get his stick on a Matt Niskanen drive from the right point to make it 2-1.

That might have been it, but an old bugaboo bit the Caps – allowing the quick goal after a score of their own.  Just 1:39 after Brouwer’s goal, Kevin Connauton tied the game with a long range shot that squirted through a disbelieving Holtby’s pads, the goalie staring down at them for several seconds after the puck settled into the back of the net.

That left it up to overtime to settle things, and Columbus did just that in the last half minute of the extra session when Foligno got his second goal of the game, one-timing a pass from Jack Johnson on a Columbus power play to end it at 4:41, Blue Jackets on top, 3-2.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin… nine shots on goal, 16 shot attempts…no points. It was one of those nights for the captain and the team.

-- Marcus Johansson has a thing for the Blue Jackets. He had a season high eight shots on goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win on Veterans Day. He had four shots on goal last night, his third highest shot total of the season. He also had no points.

-- The 41 shots on goal was the second time this season the Caps topped the 40 shot mark. It was also the second time the Caps lost the game, the other time coming on November 22nd when the Caps had 44 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

-- The 23 shots Holtby faced was the fewest he faced in a full game since he stopped 19 of 23 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary on November 4th.  He is 2-2-3 this season in full games in which he faced fewer than 25 shots on goal with a save percentage in those games of .892.

-- It was target practice for the Caps on the power play.  Nine different players recorded shots on goal, but Eric Fehr’s was the only one of 18 shots to get through on what would be his only power play shot on goal.

-- The Caps were clearly out of practice on the power play.  They had six chances, the most in a game for the team since they went 1-for-6 in a 4-2 loss to Detroit on October 29th.  Going into this game the Caps had two or fewer power play chances in eight of their previous nine games and had only six chances combined over their previous three contests.

-- Corsi-haters will love this one.  Shot attempts… Caps: 73, Blue Jackets: 49.

-- Columbus made up for their lack of shooting with a high volume of hitting.  They were credited with 30 hits, perhaps just another way of saying the Caps always had the puck.

-- More of the little things the Caps did well…faceoffs.  Nicklas Backstrom was 13-for-19; Eric Fehr was 8-for-13; Troy Brouwer was 7-for-9; Michael Latta was 5-for-7.  The Caps overall won 36 of 62 draws.

-- Not the best of nights for Jason Chimera against his old team.  Two shots, no points, and two penalties, including the interference call that led to the game-winning goal, and barely ten minutes of ice time.

-- It kind of figured that Brooks Orpik and John Carlson would be on ice for the game-winner against.  They rank third (15) and fifth (13), respectively in power play goal against on ice among NHL defensemen.

In the end…

The Caps did everything but win this game.  More shots, more power plays, an avalanche of power play shots, more faceoff wins, perfect penalty kill in regulation.  That is the unique difference a goalie can make in a single game.  Bobrovsky was the difference for Columbus.  He could have been named all three stars for this game.  For the Caps, it’s deal with it and move on.  They still have points in four straight games and are 3-0-1 in their march through the Eastern Conference portion of their schedule to close the year.  It does get tougher, though, as a Tampa Bay Lightning team bent on revenge for the loss the Caps pinned on them last Tuesday come to town on Saturday.  Time to get back to work comes soon enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Blue Jackets at Capitals, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home Thursday night to face the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Caps are back at Verizon Center after completing a perfect three-for-three road trip over three Eastern Conference opponents: the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, and Tampa Bay Lightning.  In the three wins the Caps outscored their opponents, 11-5, sported a 33.3 percent power play (although it was two goals on just six opportunities), and a perfect penalty kill on five shorthanded situations faced.  At no point in any of the three games did the Caps trail, and they “won” five of the nine periods of hockey, playing even in the other four.  It would be hard to draw up a better road trip than that.

As for the Blue Jackets, all of a sudden they are relevant once more.  A team that started well (4-2-0), then stumbled badly (2-13-2 in their next 17 games), the Blue Jackets come to Verizon Center winners in their last four games.  They won the state of Florida, beating the Panthers in a home-and-home before dispatching the Lightning last Saturday.  Then they beat Philadelphia on Tuesday in overtime for their 10th win of the season.

On an individual level, the standout in this four-game streak has been Boone Jenner.  He had single goals in each win to give him five on the season.  Jenner had not shown any special tendency to goal scoring, having totaled 17 in 84 games before this breakout.  He has not yet scored a goal against the Caps, but he does have three assists in four career games.

Seven other Blue Jackets have a single goal as part of the four-game winning streak, but Kerby Rychel leads the team in helpers with three in those four games.  The four games constitute the entirety of his NHL career to date, having only been called up to the big club less than two weeks ago.  Rychel, a 19th overall draft pick in 2013, will be meeting the Caps for the first time.

Sergei Bobrovsky had a bumpy start to the season, a 5-8-1, 2.95, .907 record in his first 14 appearances and a stint on the injured reserve list with a fractured finger sustained in practice.  He was the goalie of record in each of the four wins in the recent winning streak and posted excellent numbers in the process, a 1.70 goals against average and a .948 save percentage.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  In their four-game winning streak Columbus has eight goals scored at 5-on-5.  Even with that mini-burst, the Blue Jackets rank 29th in goals scored at 5-on-5 (37).

2.  On the other hand, through Tuesday’s games, no team scored more 5-on-4 goals than the Blue Jackets (22, tied with Detroit).  Part of that is a good power play (23.0 percent, fifth in the league), but part of it, too, is getting chances.  Columbus is tied for sixth in total power play opportunities (100).

3.  If the Caps have had their issues with scoring third period goals (and they have), Columbus has issues on steroids.  The Blue Jackets have scored only 16 third period goals this season, tied with Winnipeg for last in the league.

4.  That third period goal scoring makes for a ghastly goal differential (minus-22), because no team in the league has allowed more third period goals than the Blue Jackets (38, tied with Dallas).

5.  This game could turn on which team scores first, or more accurately, which one allows the first goal.  Columbus is 29th in the league in winning percentage when allowing the first goal (.071/1-12-1), while the Caps are 28th (.077/1-9-3).

1.  Coming off that last Columbus random fact, the Caps have the third best winning percentage (.857/12-1-1) when scoring first and are tied for the fifth highest number of wins (12).

2.  Washington had a one-goal win, a two-goal win, and a three-goal win on the road trip.  That lifted them to 22nd (.375/6-6-4), a tie for 11th (.600/3-2), and a tie for 7th (.667/4-2) in winning percentage for each category of win.

3.  Washington is one of five teams this season to have scored at least one 5-on-3 power play goal but not to have allowed one.  Chicago, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota are the others.

4.  The Caps were outshot in all three of their wins on the just-completed road trip.  Might have been a good thing.  The Caps are 27th in winning percentage when outshooting their opponent (.333/5-7-3).

5.  The Caps have no participated in a trick shot competition since Game 5, a 3-2 win over Florida.  At the time, it was their third freestyle competition in their first five games.  By the time the Caps reached Game 28 last season (the game they play on Thursday) they had eight Gimmick decisions, posting a 6-2 record in them.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Nick Foligno

Ryan Johansen had a lot of drama attached to his contract situation before the season got underway, and he is generally considered, if not Columbus’ best player, then in sight of that target.  But here is Nick Foligno, 26 games into the season, leading the Blue Jackets in goals (11) and in the midst of a productive, if a bit odd season.  Foligno opened the season with points in his first six games (3-6-9), then went three games without one.  Since Game 10, though, he is 8-7-15 and recording points on generally an every-other-game basis (literally, over his last ten contests).  What might be a bit odd for a team-leader in goals, Foligno does not yet have a game-winner this season (let’s hope that continues one more game).  He is 2-7-9 in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

In a development that Caps fans might not have expected, at least until it become clear Dmitry Orlov would not be able to answer the bell for the start of the 2014-2015 season, Nate Schmidt has played in each of the Caps’ 27 games to date.  Marc Staal (33), Zbynek Michalek (35), Jonathan Ericsson (34), Andrej Sekera (33), Zach Bogosian (50), Andy Greene (34), and Kris Russell (41) are the only defensemen having taken more shots than Schmidt (31) without yet finding the back of the net.  He has been solid in a somewhat sheltered role (14 minutes a night and generally paired with Mike Green, when the latter is healthy).  What he has not done is try to play outside his comfort zone, and that has helped him avoid mistakes leading to goals, as his plus-4 suggests.  He is 0-1-1 in three career games against Columbus.

In the end…

This will be an interesting test.  The Caps have a so-so home record (5-5-3, fifth-best in the Metropolitan Division) and would like to get off on the right foot in an abbreviated two-game home stand.  Then there is the fact that like the Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Caps beat on Tuesday and play again on Saturday, the Caps face the Blue Jackets in this game, then travel to Columbus next Thursday in a rematch.  It is an opportunity to make a statement as to the pecking order of teams in the Metro, one that involves the Blue Jackets looking up at the Capitals.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

A TWO-point night -- Game 27: Capitals 5 - Lightning 3

“Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”

So said Michael Corleone in “The Godfather, Part III,” but Caps fans might have been thinking that late last night after the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3, at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

It was a night for the stars to shine and the secondary scorers to contribute.  It got started early for the Caps when Alex Ovechkin finished some fine work by Tom Wilson behind the Lightning net, taking a feed from Wilson to the right of goalie Ben Bishop and sliding the puck under the Bolts’ goalie to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the game.

Then the teams started exchanging goals.  Brain Boyle scored on a deflection for the Lightning at 13:49, but the Caps got that one back just 34 seconds later when Matt Niskanen wired a one timer past Bishop’s blocker on a power play to restore the Caps’ one-goal lead.

In the second period, Steven Stamkos scored on spin-o-rama forehand from the slot to tie the game at two apiece just 47 seconds in.  A little less than four minutes later, Brooks Laich gave the Caps the lead once more with some deft stick work in close, pulling the puck from below the goal line to his forehand at the post and swatting it past Bishop to make it 3-2 at the 4:36 mark.

The Caps finally got a two-goal lead mid-way through the third period when Troy Brouwer, who had been foiled on an earlier breakaway, beat Stamkos down the middle on a Caps rush, took a feed from Marcus Johansson, and flipped the puck past Bishop at 10:52 to make it 4-2, Caps.

After that it was a bit of window dressing.  Valtteri Filppula made it a one-goal game with 3.2 seconds left.  Ovechkin got the last one and his second of the night with less than a second left for the 5-3 final margin.

Other stuff…

-- The two goals for Ovechkin ended a four-game streak without a point. It was his fifth multi-goal game of the season and 90th of his career.

-- Backstrom’s two assists give him ten helpers in his last nine games.  It was his 91st career multi-assist game.

-- Marcus Johansson ended a four-game streak without a point with two assists.  In four-plus NHL seasons, Johansson now has 15 multi-assist games.

-- The Caps shut the Lightning out on the power play on three tries.  Part of the success was holding Stamkos without a power play shot on goal.  Tampa Bay managed only three shots on goal in six minutes of power play time.

-- On the other side, the Caps did manage a power play goal (Niskanen), but it was their fourth straight game and eighth in nine in which they had two or fewer power play opportunities.

-- Stamkos was a minus-3 for the Lightning, his worst plus-minus for a game this season.  We anticipate much media angst over this development.

-- Ovechkin getting seven shots on goal is not a big deal.  John Carlson getting seven shots on goal is.  It was the fifth time in his career Carlson recorded seven or more shots on goal in a game (for the record, Ovechkin has 176).

-- Brooks Laich’s goal made it three goals in four games.  It is the first time he pulled off that feat since scoring three in four games, March 10-16, 2012 against Boston, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

-- The win makes it a three-game winning streak for the Caps, tying their longest of the season (November 7-11 against Chicago, Carolina, and Columbus…score one for the “Three C’s”).  Caps fans might be forgiven for thinking it has been a long time since the Caps won three in a row on the road, but they did it last April, beating the Islanders, Blues, and Hurricanes in the dying days of the 2013-2014 season.

-- Too bad about that last Tampa Bay goal in the last seconds.  It was their third against goalie Braden Holtby for the night and their third even strength goal.  If marked the first time since November 4th against Calgary (four ES goals allowed in a 4-3 overtime losss) that Holtby allowed three or more even strength goals in a game.  It broke a 12-game streak allowing two or fewer even strength goals.

In the end…

Any way you slice it, this is a good win.  The top line produced, the secondary scorers contributed, the penalty killers did their job, and Braden Holtby was strong in net when he had to be.  And, it is now a three-game winning streak, all of them on the road, giving the Caps a respectable 8-5-1 record away from Verizon Center.  It also allowed them to climb into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Boston Bruins and holding a game in hand.

The job now is to bring that good effort home for games against the suddenly resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets (four straight wins) and these same Tampa Bay Lightning, who will have this game fresh in their memories.  The Caps are pointed in the right direction and got good efforts in this game from players from which they need good efforts on a consistent basis.  Getting Brooks Laich engaged just helps that much more.  Maybe they’re on to something here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 27: Capitals at Lightning, December 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wind up their three-game road swing against arguably their stiffest opponent on the trip when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa.  The Lightning come into this contest with the best record in the Eastern Conference (through Sunday’s games), 18-7-3, and the second-best record in the league.

Tampa Bay has yet to lose consecutive games in regulation time this season, an important note for this contest since the Lightning lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-1, in their last outing.  The Lightning have been especially formidable at home, where their 11-3-1 record is, again, best in the East and second-best in the league.  Until they lost to the Blue Jackets last Saturday, Tampa Bay had reeled off five straight wins at home, outscoring opponents by a combined 20-7 margin.

The formula for that five-game home winning streak was simple: do everything well.  Special teams… power play went 6-for-19 (31.6 percent), penalty kill went 13-for-15 (86.7 percent).  Even strength?  Tampa Bay outscored opponents, 14-5.  Goaltending… .940 save percentage.

Suspects usual and unusual contributed to that five-game winning streak.  Among the former, Steven Stamkos was 3-6-9.  Tyler Johnson, who is apparently suffering no “sophomore slump” after his Calder Trophy-finalist season last year, was 1-3-4, as was Valtteri Filppula.  Perhaps unexpectedly, Nikita Kucherov had a pair of goals in the five-game home winning streak, allowing him to match in 24 games overall the nine goals he recorded in 52 games last season.  Ryan Callahan, not normally thought of as a big scorer, was 4-5-9.

Backstopping all of this in goal was Ben Bishop, who earned the decision in each of the five straight home wins.  In addition to being 5-0-0, Bishop recorded a goals-against average of 1.40 and a save percentage of .940, along with one shutout.  In five career games against Washington, Bishop is 1-2-1, 4.14, .884.  That lone win came in a 4-3 win on November 1st against the Capitals in which he stopped 28 of 31 shots.

Here is how the teams compare in their overall numbers:

1.  Some teams play suffocating defense like a boa constrictor, squeezing the life out of a team.  Tampa Bay is more like a Gatling gun that doesn’t ever seem to run out of ammunition.  The Lightning lead the league in scoring offense, but they have a certain relentlessness in doing it.  Tampa Bay is the only team in the league having scored 30 or more goals in each of the three periods of games this season.  Their 30 first period goals ranks tied for third in the league, their 31 second period goal ranks tied for fifth, and their 34 third period tallies ranks tied for second.

2.  The Lightning have scored more even strength goals this season than any other team, and it’s not all that close.  Their 69 goals is a healthy margin more than second place Calgary (64).

3.  Blowouts?  Yeah, the Lightning can do that.  No team has more wins by three or more goals (they are tied with Chicago with nine), and their .750 winning percentage in decisions of three or more goals is second in the league to the Blackhawks.

4.  As prolific a team as Tampa Bay is on offense, you would think them a capable come from behind team.  They are not, at least when it comes to comebacks from deficits at the second intermission.  Tampa Bay (0-7-0) joins Columbus (0-11-0), Buffalo (0-13-0), and Arizona (0-11-0) as the only teams not to have earned a standings point when trailing in games after two periods.

5.  There are 34 players in the league with a plus-10 or better.  The Lightning have six of them: Anton Stralman (+17), Tyler Johnson (+15), Ondrej Palat (+15), Nikita Kucherov (+14), Jason Garrison (+11), and Ryan Callahan (+10).

1. The Caps have the third-best winning percentage in the league when scoring first: 11-1-1/.846, behind Toronto (11-0-0) and Montreal (9-0-0).

2.  Maybe it’s the travel that brings out the Caps’ ornery side, but only four teams (New York Islanders, Ottawa, Buffalo, and Winnipeg) have been credited with more hits on the road than the Capitals (380).

3.  Washington is one of only six teams with a positive turnover differential on the road this season (takeaways minus giveaways), and their +15 is best in the league.

4.  Sure, the Caps have the fifth-fewest shots per game allowed in the league (27.7), but they have outshot opponents only 15 times in 26 games and have the league’s fifth-worst winning percentage when they do (5-7-3/.333).

5.  Last season the Caps were whistled for nine bench minor penalties.  So far this season they have been charged just once.  Only Calgary and St. Louis have escaped being charged with a bench minor penalty.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Ryan Callahan

When the Tampa Bay Lightning traded Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, a first round draft pick in 2015, and a second round draft pick in 2014, the Lightning might have thought they were getting a heart-and-soul guy who would leave all of his effort on the ice every night.  What they might not have counted on was goal scoring.  Through 23 games played so far this season, Callahan has 11 goals, a 37-goal pace that would obliterate his career high of 29 goals in the 2011-2012 season.  His 11 goals in 23 games matches the 11 goals he recorded for the Rangers last season in 45 games before he was dealt to the Lightning.  He has hit a bit of a soft spot, though, having gone his last four games without a goal, his longest streak without one this season.  Callahan is 12-7-19, plus-9 in 26 career games against Washington.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

With four shots on goal (one goal) against the New Jersey Devils last Saturday, it marked consecutive games with shots on goal for Evgeny Kuznetsov for the first time since November 14-15 against the Devils and St. Louis.  It was the first time he recorded consecutive games with multiple shots on goal (he had two against Vancouver a week ago) for the first time since November 2-4 against Arizona and Calgary.  That is what a promotion to the second line and power play time will do.  He has goals in two of his last four outings after going 11 straight games without a goal.  Kuznetsov has an assist in two career games against Tampa Bay.

In the end…

The Caps have not played many games against Atlantic Division opponents, but what they have faced has not provided much in the way of happy endings.  The Caps are 2-4-1 against the Atlantic so far, their wins coming against Boston and in a Gimmick against Florida.  They lost to these same Lightning, 4-3, back on November 1st.  Since then the Caps are 8-6-2 overall, two of those losses coming in the only games they played against the Atlantic, to Buffalo and to Toronto.  This will be the first of two meetings against Tampa Bay in a four-day span, the second game to be played on December 13th in Washington.  This game, and the one to follow, provides a good benchmark for evaluating the Caps as they approach the one-third mark of the season.  On paper, Tampa is the stronger team at both ends of the rink.  However, while Tampa Bay stumbled in their last game against a weaker Metropolitan Division opponent, the Caps gave hints in their last two games, both of which they limited their opponent to one goal, that a run could be coming.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 9

The Washington Capitals started Week 9 with an air of uncertainty, having played their previous three weeks to a combined .500 record (4-4-1).  It was getting time to show that they were comfortable in a Barry Trotz scheme and that they could turn that new found comfort level into wins.  By the end of Week 9, three were signs that the light was going on over the collective heads of the team.

Record: 2-1-0

When the Caps ended Week 8 by dropping a decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs by their largest goal margin of the season (6-2), they had the look of a team that was lethargic and lacking focus.  Then the Caps fell behind the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1, in the second period of their first contest of Week 9, it looked as if the Caps were in a full dive.  Starting with John Carlson’s goal late in that second period, though, the Caps outscored opponents, 8-3 over the next seven-plus periods of hockey and won or tied each of the six periods in the last two games of the week.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.81/game; rank: 11th)

Week 9 was a strange one, considering that the Caps averaged a healthy three goals per game.  None of the nine goals for the week were recorded by the top line.  The Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin-Tom Wilson line finished the week with two assists (one for Backstrom, one for Wilson).  The threesome combined for a total of 16 shots on goal in three games, and unexpectedly low share of the 82 shots on goal the team recorded for the week. 

On the other hand, the Caps got scoring from some unexpected sources.  Jay Beagle had goals in each of the two games to end the week, the first time in his career he scored goals in consecutive games.  Brooks Laich scored a pair, his first two goals of the season.  John Carlson had a two-goal game, the first multi-goal game of his career.  Add in single goals by Karl Alzner (breaking a 42-game streak without one), Evgeny Kuznetsov (promoted from the fourth line to the second in place of scratched Andre Burakovsky against New Jersey), and Eric Fehr (breaking his own six-game streak without a goal), and it was a week for the support troops.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.65/game; rank: T-16th)

It was something of an odd week for the Caps and a lesson in looking at numbers at too high a level.  Looking at the possession numbers at 5-on-5, the Caps had their best game of the week in their lone loss, finishing with a 55.88 Corsi-for percentage in their 4-3 loss to Vancouver.  Their worst game of the week came against the New Jersey Devils – a 37.50 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (numbers from  That New Jersey game dropped the Caps from a 53.74 Corsi-for percentage for the first two games of the week at 5-on-5 to 49.01.  When tied, though, the numbers behaved as one might have expected.  The Caps were below 50 percent against the Canucks (49.06), while they did well in their two wins (58.06 against Carolina, 52.08 against New Jersey).

As for the on-ice damage, 15 different Caps were on ice for goals against in Week 9.  John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, and Troy Brouwer were victims of three of the six goals against for the week.  In the case of Carlson and Orpik, all of them came in the 4-3 loss to Vancouver, all of them on the penalty kill.  Brouwer was the victim on the penalty kill twice in that game.  The only Caps to find themselves on ice for even strength goals against in Week 9 were Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Andre Burakovsky, each on ice for two goals against.

Goaltending: 2.02 GAA / .938 SV (season: 2.58 / .905 / 1 SO)

It was another good week for Braden Holtby.  In what has been an inconsistent season for the Caps, Holtby is settling into a consistent rhythm.  Consider his last four weeks:
  • Week 6: 1-1-0, 1.52, .944
  • Week 7: 2-1-0, 1.65, .937
  • Week 8: 1-1-1, 3.32, .893
  • Week 9: 2-1-0, 2.02, .938
In his last dozen decisions Holtby is 7-4-1, 2.11, .930.  It has lifted him into 14th place in goals-against average overall (2.34) and 22nd in save percentage (.916).  What set Week 9 apart for Holtby was his even-strength save percentage.  Stopping 81 of 84 even strength shots (.964 save percentage) lifted him into 16th place in even strength save percentage among 38 goalies appearing in at least 10 games.

The flip side of this is that Justin Peters has not started and finished a game since November 15th, a span of nine games and 21 days.  Given the importance of the upcoming schedule (ten Eastern Conference games to end the calendar year, seven of them against division rivals), Holtby is likely to be leaned on heavily.  That he is in a good place, consistency-wise, is a good sign as the Caps plunge ahead with that schedule, but Peters needs to demonstrate he can provide reliable relief, too.

Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20.0 percent (season: 28.2 percent; rank: 2nd) 

Three games, five chances, one goal.  In no game did the Caps have as many as three power play opportunities.  Since November 1st, the Caps have had two or fewer power play opportunities nine times in 17 games, and only Boston has had fewer power play opportunities overall (66) than the Caps (71).  Too much of anything is a bad thing, or so the story goes, but the Caps haven’t had enough man advantages to make their power play the advantage in games that it could be. 

Although Week 9 was an efficient week in one respect – 20.0 percent, making it eight weeks in nine that the Caps were 20 percent or better – it was not in others.  The Caps were 1-for-7 shooting in 9:46 in total power play time.  The takeaway number here might be “1.”  Alex Ovechkin managed one power play shot on goal in 9:27 of power play ice time.  It would be Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov leading the team in shots with two apiece (Kuznetsov getting the lone goal).  What makes this worthy of notice?  Those guys play the right wing wall on the power play, suggesting that teams are giving away the shot from that side to prevent the back door one-timers to Ovechkin.

Penalty Killing: 3-for-6 / 50.0 percent (season: 75.3 percent; rank: 28th)

The Good… denying the Carolina Hurricanes as much as a single power play opportunity and allowing the New Jersey Devils only two to end the week. 

The Bad… the second straight week that the Caps were at or below 50 percent on penalty killing overall.

The Ugly… allowing the Vancouver Canucks three power play goals on six shots in 4:48 of power play time in the first game of Week 9.

As a Caps fan one would like to take away the fact that the week ended a lot better than the way it started.  It does not hide the fact that the Caps finished the week 28th in the league in penalty killing, and Braden Holtby is 27th of 38 goalies appearing in ten or more games in shorthanded save percentage (.855).  It is not that he has faced uncommon shot burdens.  He is 23rd among that group of goaltenders in total power play shots faced (76).  If there is an aspect of Holby’s game that can use some shoring up, this is it.  He is, after all as they say, often required to be the team’s best penalty killer.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 8-3 / plus-5 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.96; rank: T-19th)

It was a very good week for the Caps in this regard.  They upped their total number of 5-on-5 goals for the season by more than 15 percent (from 38 to 44).  They also displayed a consistency on the other side of the ledger, allowing just one even-strength goal in each of the three games. They won or tied in even strength goals in each of the three games as well.  If that is a trend, it would be a good one to have, if the Caps can maintain a dominant power play and improve their penalty killing.

Faceoffs: 94-for-189 / 49.7 percent (season: 50.7 percent; rank: 13th)

Week 9 was a bit of an odd week in the circle for the Caps.  Sure, Nicklas Backstrom took the lion’s share of the total draws (69 of 189, of which he won 37: 53.6 percent), he usually does.  It was the rest of the team that looked a bit odd.  Eric Fehr, the converted winger, took the second highest number of faceoffs (43, inning 20 for a 46.5 percent win share).  The second line?  The week split between Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov in that role, but between them they took only 16 faceoffs, winning seven (43.8 percent).   Meanwhile, there was Michael Latta taking 26 draws from the fourth line, winning 12 (46.2 percent).  It was quite a bit to go on in a week in which the Caps were one draw under 50 percent.

Goals by Period:

The Caps came into the week as a team that did not perform as well late as they did early in games.  Going into Week 9 the Caps were a minus-5 in goal differential in the third periods of games.  What they did was win the third periods, 3-2, and the second periods for good measure, 4-2.  That was the difference in the week for the Caps, who got the game-winning goal late in the third period of their win over Carolina (nullifying the goal the Hurricanes scored earlier in the period to tie the game) and getting a pair in the second period against the Devils to put New Jersey behind the eight-ball going into the last 20 minutes, down 3-1 in what would be a 4-1 Caps win.  It was evidence, at least late in the week, of playing the “60 minute game” with more focus.

In the end…

Maybe Week 9 was a tease, maybe it was the first step in that long-awaited winning streak the Caps have hinted at from time to time (and failed to produce).  Either way, closing the week outscoring opponents 6-2 in two games, being perfect in limited shorthanded situations faced (2-for-2), and getting a power play goal in four opportunities, while finishing on the good side of the close-score possession numbers is what you are looking for to sustain a level of success.  And, the Caps did this largely without much in the way of offensive contributions from it first line.  In that lies a caution.  Secondary scoring is “secondary” for a reason.  Sustaining a level of success will be difficult if the “primary” scoring is lacking.  That will be something to look for in Week 10.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, plus-6, 23:32 average ice time)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 2.02, .938)
  • Third Star: Jay Beagle (2-0-2, one game-winning goal, tied career high in goals scored, season (4))