Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 65: Capitals 5 - Blue Jackets 3

The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets locked horns tonight at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and in a fight-filled contest the Caps came out with a 5-3 win to take the season series from the Blue Jackets.

It did not take long for things to get started in this one.  Alex Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season in the fourth minute of the game when he set up in the slot and deflected a drive from the left point by Brooks Orpik past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Eric Fehr doubled the Caps’ lead late in the first period, taking advantage of a loose puck off a shot from Tim Gleason.  Standing to the right of Bobrovsky, Fehr was left unattended, and before Scott Hartnell could close the distance to tie him up, Fehr snapped the puck past Bobrovsky from the edge of the blue paint of the crease.

That would do it for scoring in the first period, but Columbus halved the lead early in the second on a slap shot from the top of the right wing circle.  The one-goal margin lasted less than a minute.  Columbus was caught with too many men deep in the Caps’ zone, and when the puck squirted out to the top of the zone, Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson were off on a two-on-one break.  Chimera’s tried to deke Bobrovsky to the ice and curl the puck around him, but Bobrovsky made the initial save.  Trailing the play, Wilson popped the rebound into the back of the net, and the Caps were up 3-1.

Scott Hartnell scored for Columbus at the 15:03 mark on a redirect from the high slot of a Jack Johnson shot from the left point to make it 3-2 heading into the second intermission.  Ovechkin got his second of the game in the fourth minute of the third period on a power play when he one-timed a shot from the left circle that seemed to handcuff Bobrovsky.

Hartnell returned the favor on a Blue Jacket power play six minutes later, and that is as close as Columbus would get.  Marcus Johansson scored an empty net goal as he emerged from the penalty box after a Blue Jacket power play in the last minute, and the Caps had their 5-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- With two points apiece, Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) took over the league lead in scoring with 67 points apiece.

-- Jason Chimera added a pair of assists for the Caps, his second multi-point game in his last four contests.

-- The Caps and Blue Jackets had four fights in this game.  That makes seven for the season between the two clubs, one fourth of the Caps’ total for the season (28).

-- Ovechkin’s second goal was the game winner, giving him game-winning goals in consecutive games and three game-winners in the Caps’ last four wins.

-- Tim Gleason and Michael Latta were the only Caps not to record shots on goal, and Latta skated only 3:38, departing early in the second period with an injury.

-- Curtis Glencross had an uneventful debut for the Caps.  He had two shots on goal (no points), three hits (led the team), and two blocked shots, but he was on ice for Columbus’ first two goals.

-- Each team had 40 minutes in penalties for the game, but there were only four power plays, two for each team, each team converting once.

-- Tom Wilson’s 17 penalty minutes was a season high, and he is now third in the league in PIMs (145), trailing only Steve Downie (191) and Cody MacLeod (167).

-- Tim Gleason’s assist on Eric Fehr’s goal was his first point as a Capital and broke a personal 15-game streak without a point, including 14 in a row with Carolina.

-- This was Washington’s 17th road win of the season, matching their total for all of last year.

In the end…

It was a rough and tumble game, but it was a good win for the Caps.  It enabled the Caps to close to within a point of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division and to within a point of the Detroit Red Wings for fifth place in the conference.  The nine goals scored over the last two games is the most over consecutive games in two months (ten in wins over Florida and Toronto on January 4th and 7th).  It sets the Caps up well for the remainder of the week, games against Minnesota and Buffalo that are certainly in the winnable category.  On this night, though, the Caps did what they had to do – deal with a struggling opponent effectively and move on to the next opponent.

Experience and Partnership: The Effects of Recent Events on Mike Green

Over the past few days, the topic of defensemen has figured prominently here and here over at Japers' Rink.  The point being that the Washington Capitals have a sixth defenseman, and one that adds experience to what is already a much more experienced group than the team dressed last season. 

However, there is another point to this that we would like to explore.  Over the first 63 games of the season, that sixth defenseman spot was one that might have made the fifth defenseman – Mike Green – feel as if he was engaged in a speed dating session (even if it did last 141 days).  The first pair of John Carlson and Brooks Orpik was a stable offering on a night-to-night basis, as was the second pair of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen.  However, until the Caps obtained Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes this past weekend with the aim of filling that role, Green had a lot of suitors sitting in that chair across from him in an effort to be that sixth defenseman.

For Green, the stability that comes with knowing who his partner would be on a consistent basis was absent from his game this season.  How has that instability manifested itself?  There is the immediate notion of partner time shares.  If you look at the pairs, consider first the share of 5-on-5 ice time through the Caps’ first 63 games spent with other defensemen by the Carlson-Orpik pair (all 5-on-5 ice time numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com):

Carlson and Orpik have logged the most 5-on-5 ice time individually, and more than 80 percent for each one has been spent with the other.   Even with the preponderance of ice time spent with the other there is something to note about their time spent with Green.  Carlson has a history with Karl Alzner, his partner of years past; Orpik has a familiarity with Matt Niskanen, who came with him from Pittsburgh as a free agent.  For both, though, their third most frequent partner is Green.  This should not be all that surprising, given that these five defensemen lead the team in games played (Carlson, Orpik, Alzner, and Niskanen played in all 63 games covered in this review; Green played in 54 contests).  And, it is certainly possible that the ice time totals for any partner other than their regular partner has a certain amount of noise associated with ice time shared during changes on the fly during games (this might account for some of the “righty-righty” ice time of Carlson and Green, for example).

As for the second pair of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, a similar pattern applies with respect to their time spent together and with others:

Again, we have individuals having spent more than 80 percent of their time with each other, and we have the flip side of the discussion above, that once you get past the familiarity each member of this pair has with their second most frequent partner (Carlson for Alzner, Orpik for Niskanen), there is Mike Green.

Which brings us to Green and that well-frequented spot on his left.  Let’s look at Green and the other defensemen to have dressed for the Caps this season and their respective 5-on-5 ice time:

First, there is Green’s ice time.  Whereas each of the defensemen in the top two pairs have spent more than 80 percent of their 5-on-5 ice time with their principal partner, Green has not spent half of that (as a share of total ice time) with any defenseman.  The majority of his 5-on-5 ice time (about three-quarters of his total) was roughly split between Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen, one a youngster in his development phase, the other a depth defenseman of modest achievement and whose presence in the Caps’ lineup was intermittent (his longest streak of games played this season was 15, largely the product of Schmidt sustaining a fractured shoulder blade after he was reassigned to Hershey to benefit from more ice time). 

There is also the nature of Green’s partners.  In years past, whether that partner was a Jeff Schultz (with whom 58 percent of Green’s 5-on-5 ice time was spent in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons) or a Karl Alzner (with whom Green spent 78 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time in 2012-2013), Green has had the benefit of a stay-at-home partner that gave Green a measure of freedom to exhibit his offensive gifts (his bouts with injury seemed to interrupt his performance more than his partners).

That changed some last season when Green spent the largest share of his 5-on-5 ice time with Dmitry Orlov (41 percent), more of an offensive defenseman than previous partners, but last year Green started seeing significant shares of his ice time spread among more defensemen.   In addition to that of Orlov, Alzner occupied about 20 percent of Green’s 5-on-5 ice time as a partner, Nate Schmidt about 18 percent, and Jack Hillen about 11 percent.

Looking at things from the other side of the ice, the other four defensemen that were not part of a steady pair and who were paired with Green intermittently – Schmidt, Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Cameron Schilling – had Green as their principal partner in each instance.  All had Green as their partner from 59 – 67 percent of the time at 5-on-5 (although in the instances of Schilling and Oleksy the total 5-on-5 ice time for each amounted to 35 or fewer minutes).  It almost seems that, at least in the case of Schmidt, Oleksy, and Schilling (a combined 92 games of NHL experience coming into this season), there was a revolving mentor/apprentice relationship that characterized the third pair more than a steady relationship built over the course of a season.

This year, Green has lacked the steady partnership that characterizes the top two pairs.  That matter has, as the Caps and their fans hope, been rectified by the acquisition of Tim Gleason from Carolina.  It might be that Gleason’s contributions are meager, at least from a top end numbers perspective.  However, what might bear watching in the new relationship is how the partnership affects Mike Green.  He will have that regular stay-at-home partner that he has not had over the past two seasons, and it might be that having that sort of got-his-back partner will once more open up Green’s 5-on-5 game and give the Caps an added dimension to an attack that has enjoyed considerable contributions from the back line this season.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 65: Capitals at Blue Jackets, March 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals enter the post-trading deadline home stretch of the season on Tuesday night when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.  The Caps will be looking to build on their 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, while the Blue Jackets will be checking another game off the calendar of what has become something of a lost season.

The Caps have lost three straight games against Metropolitan Division opponents, but have a 2-1-1 record against the Blue Jackets this season.  This contest will wrap up the season series between the two teams.

Columbus (26-32-4) comes into the game in free fall, having lost six in a row (0-5-1), scoring just 11 goals over those six games while allowing 22.  It is a far cry from last season at this time, when the Blue Jackets were 32-25-5 after 62 games and tied for third in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers.

The Blue Jackets might have equaled that mark of last season had they won instead of lost those last six games.  Scoring has been an issue.  The 11 goals have been spread among nine players, Nick Foligno and Marko Dano the only Blue Jackets with two goals in the six-game losing streak.  Foligno, one of two Blue Jackets named to the 2015 All Star Game roster, has had a rather consistent season.  His 24 goals in 60 games leads the team, and he has six in 16 games since the All Star break.  He is 4-3-7 in four games against the Caps this season and is 6-10-16 in 22 career games against Washington.

Dano was a 27th overall pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2013 entry draft who has split time between Columbus and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL.  With Springfield he was 10-8-18 in 37 games.  He has spent two separate stints with the parent club this season and is 3-3-6 in 16 games overall.  He has not yet faced the Capitals in his brief career to date.

Columbus was active in the run up to and on trade deadline day, moving defensemen James Wisniewski and Jordan Leopold, injured forward Nathan Horton, and a third round draft pick in separate deals for Rene Bourque, William Karlsson, David Clarkson, Justin Falk, and a pair of draft picks.  Clarkson will be looking for a new start after a two disappointing seasons in his hometown of Toronto.  In 118 games with the Maple Leafs over those two seasons he had just 15 goals, only one of them in his last 25 games with Toronto.  He will be trying to regain the scoring touch that allowed him to record 45 goals in 128 games over his last two seasons in New Jersey before signing a seven-year, $36.75 million deal with Toronto.  Clarkson has yet to light the lamp in two games with his new club.  He is 5-3-8 in 27 career games against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams stack up against each other overall:

1.  Columbus has a fairly efficient power play at home this season (21.9 percent/8th in the league), but they do not get to unleash it as often as they might like.  Only six teams have had fewer power plays on home ice than the Blue Jackets (96).

2.  On the other hand, Columbus probably spends too much time on the other side of the special team divide on home ice.  Only five teams have been shorthanded at home more often than Columbus (104).

3.  The Blue Jackets tend not to finish games well.  The 70 goals they have allowed in the third period this season is the fourth-highest total in the league.  Perhaps it contributes to their 27th-ranked 1-25-1 record when trailing after two periods.  No team has earned points in fewer games when trailing after 40 minutes (tied with Buffalo with two such games).

4.  Columbus has the third-highest average penalty minutes per game (11.6) in the league, surpassed only by Winnipeg (14.0) and Pittsburgh (14.3).

5.  As one might expect for a struggling team, Columbus is having a rough time of it in their possession numbers.  They rank 26th overall in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (46.7) and 25th in Fenwick-for percentage (46.8).  The Blue Jackets are worse in close score situations – 27th in Corsi-for percentage (45.5) and 27th in Fenwick-for percentage (45.7; all numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  Last season the Caps took nine bench minor penalties, a small indicator of a lack of attention to details.  This season they have only four bench minors.  Only four teams have fewer (Columbus, San Jose, Nashville, and Edmonton).

2.  Three 5-on-3 power play goals might not sound like a lot, but that number for the Caps ranks fourth in the league, behind only Pittsburgh, Colorado, and the New York Islanders.  They have allowed only one such goal; only five teams have allowed fewer (Nashville, Boston, Ottawa, San Jose, and Arizona).

3.  The Caps lead the league in road hits, and not by a small margin.  Their 983 hits away from Verizon Center is 29 more than the Winnipeg Jets (954).

4.  The Caps are ten points ahead of their 2013-2014 pace after 64 games.  Last season they were 29-25-10 at the 64-game mark; this season they are 34-20-10.

5.  The Caps rank 11th overall in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 in road games (49.7), 11th in Fenwick-for percentage (49.6).  In close score situations they rank 12th in Corsi-for percentage (49.4) and ninth in Fenwick-for percentage (49.7; all numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky

The Columbus Blue Jackets lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury (392 as of February 28th).  None of the missed games have been more important to the Blue Jackets’ fortunes this season than the 17 missed by Sergei Bobrovsky since he suffered a groin injury against the Winnipeg Jets on January 21st.  Columbus was struggling even with Bobrovsky in the lineup, but in his absence the Blue Jackets have gone 6-10-1 and have sunk to 13th in the Eastern Conference while allowing 53 goals in those 17 games.  Bobrovsky had been having a very uneven season leading up to his injury, having allowed one or fewer goals eight times in 33 appearances, but allowing four or more ten times.  He could return against the Caps, against whom he is 4-1-3, 3.06, .908 in nine career appearances.

Washington: Curtis Glencross

Washington needed a scoring line winger; they traded a pair of draft picks to Calgary for Curtis Glencross.  Are those two facts related?  As the saying goes, “time will tell.”  What we do know is that Glencross has been a reasonably reliable 20 goals-per-year sort of player (he averages 22 goals per 82 games over almost 500 NHL games).  He has done so as an efficient sort of shooter, bringing a career 14.5 percent shooting rate to Washington over his career.  Since his first full season in 2007-2008 he ranks 20th among forwards in shooting percentage (minimum: 250 games played).  While his percentage slipped this season (10.3 percent through 53 games), it is something that argues for his being tested on a scoring line for his new club.  He is 6-6-12, minus-3, in 23 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

Winning in Columbus has been a challenge for the Caps.  They split two games at Nationwide Arena this season, winning a 5-4 overtime decision on December 18th and losing, 4-3, on January 27th.  Washington has not won in regulation in Ohio since they took a 4-2 decision on New Year’s Eve 2011.  They are 3-4-1 in their last eight games in Columbus.  The Blue Jackets are a team in rapid decline this season, though.  In their six-game losing streak, five of the losses have been by more than one goal.  Even the potential return of Sergei Bobrovsky in goal is unlikely to turn things around for a club that is looking toward next season.  This is another case, as was Toronto on Sunday, of a team that the Caps need to deal with expeditiously and move on.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 1

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 64: Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 0

When you find a team that is struggling, that is playing out the string, that is, well…bad, you get on them early, stand on their throats, and don’t let them up.  The Washington Capitals did that in sending the Toronto Maple Leafs to their second straight 4-0 defeat on Sunday evening at Verizon Center.

It started just 33 seconds into the game when Alex Ovechkin took a nifty set pass from Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Toronto blue line, backed off defenseman Korbinian Holzer, cut to the middle, and snapped the puck through goalie James Reimer’s pads for the early 1-0 lead.

That would be it for the first period scoring, but Ovechkin made it 2-0 early in the second.  With the Caps applying heavy pressure in the Toronto zone, an attempted clearing pass by Leo Komarov made it only to the blue line where John Carlson gathered it up.  Carlson slid the puck to Brooks Orpik on the right point, and Orpik fired a shot at the Leafs’ net.  Reimer left a rebound in the slot that Backstrom could not control, but Ovechkin circled behind him and backhanded the loose puck past Reimer’s right pad to make it 2-0 just 5:30 into the second period.

The Caps scored twice in the third period, the first coming on a power play.  An Ovechkin one-timer was stopped by Reimer, but no Maple Leaf bothered to clear the rebound.  Troy Brouwer jumped on the puck and slid it across to Marcus Johansson at the top of the crease to Reimer’s left.  Dion Phaneuf failed to control Johansson’s stick, and Johansson was able to redirect the puck past Reimer to make it 3-0.

Joel Ward closed out the scoring with 4:53 left and the Leafs’ net empty when he took a pass from Eric Fehr just outside the Caps’ blue line and flipped it the length of the ice into the open cage for the final margin, the Caps winning by that 4-0 score.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist, his 11th multi-goal game of the season (tops in the league) and his fifth three-point game of the season (tied for sixth in the league).  The three points left him with 65 points, tied for the top spot in the league with John Tavares, Jakub Voracek, and teammate Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin is technically the leader by virtue of his having the most goals of the four.

-- Holtby’s shoutout was his seventh of the season, breaking a logjam for second place with Carey Price, Ryan Miller, and Devan Dubnyk.  Holtby is one behind Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead.

-- Iron figured prominently in this game.  Ovechkin hit the upright and the crossbar on a shot that might have given him a hat trick.  James van Riemsdyk and Richard Panik both hit iron for Toronto when the game was still in doubt.

-- Tim Gleason played well in his debut for the Caps.  In 18-plus minutes he had two shot attempts (one on goal), three hits, a takeaway, and a blocked shot early that took a bite out of his left arm but was an important play at the moment.

-- Ovechkin had six shots on goal…yawn.  Jay Beagle had six shots on goal…say, WHAT?!

-- Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward each getting their 15th goal of the season makes it six Capitals with 15 or more goals this season.  No team has more 15-goal scorers (Nashville and Ottawa both have six as well).

-- The Caps were not entirely buttoned-up on defense, especially on the defense.  Ten of the 16 giveaways charged to the Caps were by defensemen and goalie Braden Holtby.

-- Toronto is 0-for-2015 in road games.  With the loss they are 0-14-2 for the new calendar year and have not won a road game since beating the Boston Bruins in a trick shot competition, 4-3, on New Year’s Eve.

-- Ovechkin’s goal at the 33 second of the first period was the quickest goal scored by the Caps from the start of a game this season.

-- Another odd Ovechkin fact for this game... two even strength shots on goal, two goals…four power play shots on goal, no goals.

In the end…

Toronto was just what the Caps needed, a team that has the look of one that cannot wait until the season is over.  And it is important to note that the Caps, while not playing a perfect game, took advantage of Toronto’s vulnerable position.  Tim Gleason slid right into the third pair with Mike Green, who (along with other Caps defensemen) freely jumped into the play time and again.  It is the start of a portion of the schedule that the Caps can, and frankly need, to take advantage of in their pursuit of a playoff spot.  Columbus, Minnesota, and Buffalo are all opponents that the Caps can dispatch before they host the Rangers in ten days.  But like they say, you have to take them one at a time.  This one was a good one for the good guys.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

You hope it does not happen, and for the Washington Capitals it had not happened since Week 4 – a pointless week.  As in Week 4, the Caps went 0-3-0 in Week 21.  It is not as if the result put the Caps in imminent threat of being overtaken in the standings, but they did see their points lead over eighth-place Boston shrink from seven to five points from Week 20 and, more important their lead over ninth-place Florida shrink from 11 to nine points. 

Record: 0-3-0

The week was spent entirely in the Metropolitan Division.  Going into it one might have thought – might have expected, in fact -- that the “3” would be wins, or at least include wins and extra time losses.  Philadelphia was fighting an uphill battle to become relevant in the playoff race, the Caps had won three straight against Pittsburgh and outscored them in the process by a 10-1 margin, and Carolina was long gone as a post season contender.  Instead, the Caps gave up the first goal in all three games, trailed at the first intermission in two (tied in the other), and lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time in almost four months.

Offense:  1.67/game (season: 2.87/game; rank: 8th)

Offense?  What offense?  Five goals in 180 minutes of hockey for the week, no player recording more than one goal, only one player recording more than two points.  What was most surprising was the utter lack of contributions from the guys who are counted on to make contributions.  Among Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, one point was posted – a late power play goal by Ovechkin in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Penguins in the middle game of the week.  The other goals were scored by grinders Tom Wilson, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer; and John Carlson got the fifth one.  Carlson led the team in points for the week with three (1-2-3); Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera getting a pair of assists apiece.  Part of the problem was getting shots to the net.  The Caps managed only 75 shots on goal for the week while 96 attempts failed to find their way there. 

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 2.46/game; rank: 9th)

It was not that the three opponents for the Caps in Week 21 pummeled them with shot attempts (though there was some of that at even stength) as much as it was shots finding their way to the net and to the back of it.  Over the three games, the shot attempts overall favored opponents by a 173-171 margin.  However, the shots on goal favored opponents by a 92-75 margin.  When opponents shot to a 10.9 percent rate and the Caps to just a 6.7 percent rate, the week’s fate was sealed.

As far as possession was concerned, the opponents had it, the Caps did not.  The Caps were consistent about it, too, and not in a good way.  Washington’s Corsi-for percentage overall at 5-on-5 against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Carolina was 47.0, 47.0, and 47.4, respectively, making for a 47.1 percent week.  Fenwick for was worse – 46.5, 46.8, and 45.5, respectively.  Close score situations were worse still – 41.7 percent Corsi-for percentage and 42.2 percent Fenwick-for (all numbers from war-on-ice.com).  It was not a good week.

Goaltending: 3.14 / .901 (season: 2.39 / .916 / 6 shutouts)

Braden Holtby was the goalie of record for Week 21, and chances are he’d like the record expunged.  He dug himself an early hole against the Flyers to open the week, allowing two power play goals on 11 shots in the first 21:34.  He allowed three goals on 12 shots in 23:16 to open the game against Pittsburgh.  He allowed two goals on 13 shots in the first 30:15 against Carolina.  His overall performance against Carolina probably deserved better – he stopped 35 of 37 shots and kept the Caps in the game in the last half of the contest until he was pulled with more than three minutes left.  Still, a 21-for-25 save record in the first period of games (.840 save percentage) made things difficult for the Caps and for himself in Week 21.  There has to be some concern at this point about his workload.  Holtby leads the league in goalie minutes played (3,169), more than 500 more than he played last year in what was his career high season (2,656).  With 19 games left to play, it is not hard to think he will get another 900 minutes (15 games), pushing him past the 4,000 minute mark.  Think on this.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, there have been 37 seasons of 4,000 or more minutes by goaltenders.  Only one – Jonathan Quick’s 4,099 minute season in 2011-2012 – ended in a Stanley Cup.  Only one – Quick’s – ended in a Stanley Cup final.

Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

Not the best of weeks for the power play, despite twice enjoying five or more in a game.  Against the Flyers and Penguins the Caps had a total of 11 power plays, scoring just one goal.  It was a far cry from the last time the Caps had 11 power plays in consecutive games, in Week 20 it turns out, when the Caps went 5-for-11 against the Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets.  It is hard to be successful on the power play if no shots are on goal.  Against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Caps managed only eight shots on goal in 19:02 of power play ice time and allowed a shorthanded goal to the Penguins.  To end the week the Caps managed just a single power play against Carolina, the least penalized team in the league (169 minors in 60 games before facing the Caps).  Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson managed the only shots on the lone power play, so it was not all that surprising that the Caps came up empty.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12 / 75.0 percent (season: 81.1 percent; rank: 17th)

It was not much of a week for the penalty killers, either, especially early – in the week and in games.   Philadelphia scored two power play goals in the first 21:34 of the first game of the week to put the Caps in a 2-0 hole out of which the Caps could not climb.  Pittsburgh scored a power play goal 3:16 into the second period of the middle game of the week to put the Caps down a pair of goals after the Caps regained a measure of momentum with a last-minute first period goal.  Other than that, the penalty kill was not that bad, which is small (to the point of being microscopic) consolation.  The Caps allowed 19 shots in 19:38 of penalty killing time, that minutes number being key.  The Caps spent 10:32 killing penalties against Pittsburgh, all in a second period in which Washington took seven minor penalties, six of which resulted in power plays for the Penguins.  The Caps shutout the Hurricanes in the last game of the week on four shots over two power plays, but the week’s damage to the penalty kill had been done.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 4-6 / minus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 14th)

It was not an altogether bad week at even strength, but it was bad where it should not have been.  The Caps won the even-strength goal battle against Philadelphia (2-1) to open the week, but those two power play goals and the hole they left proved too deep.  And, it was a late third period even strength goal that was the difference for the Flyers.  Washington held the Penguins even at even-strength in their 4-3 loss, but it was a third period even strength goal that provided insurance for the Penguins (the Caps later scored a power play goal) in the 4-3 Penguins win.  Against Carolina, a team that entered their game with the Caps ranked 27th in the league in 5-on-5 goals ratio, outscored the Caps by a 3-0 margin at evens.  At even strength, the Caps had a poor sense of timing in Week 21.


If there was one area in which the Caps did well in Week 21, it was taking faceoffs.  They won all three zones for the week and finished with a 55.1 percent success rate overall.  Six Caps took at least ten draws, and all of them finished over 50 percent: Troy Brouwer (60.9 percent), Jay Beagle (57.1), Nicklas Backstrom (56.7), Evgeny Kuznetsov (56.0), Michael Latta (53.8), and Eric Fehr (52.5).  Backstrom’s week was of particular note in one respect.  Only six players having taken more draws than Backstrom (1,238 draws) have a better winning percentage for the season than his 53.9 percent: Mikko Koivu (55.3 percent on 1,398 draws), Ryan Kesler (55.7 percent on 1,279 draws), Claude Giroux (55.9 percent on 1,509 draws), Antoine Vermette (56.0 percent on 1,381 draws), Jonathan Toews (56.2 percent on 1,325 draws) and Patrice Bergeron (59.8 percent on 1,395 draws).

Goals by Period:

It was the first periods of games that did the Caps in for Week 21.  They were outscored by a 4-1 margin overall, failed to score first in any of the three games, and trailed at the first intermission in all three games.  The third period was not much better.  Washington failed to score in the third period against Philadelphia and Carolina, and while they managed two goals against Pittsburgh, neither of them tied the game; they merely brought the Caps to within a goal.  It was the goal allowed between those two goals that gave the Penguins their margin of victory.

In the end…

On the one hand, weeks like this will happen over a season that lasts six months.  On the other, this is poor timing for the Caps, who after Week 20 were challenging for the Metropolitan Division lead.  Now, with an oh-fer week, there is the faint sound of hoof beats behind them from teams trying to gallop back into the post-season discussion.  A lot of things broke down in Week 21 – scoring from the scorers, goaltending, discipline, timely saves and goals.  And still, the Caps had two one-goal losses in the three-loss week.  In a perverse sense, it suggests that the Caps remain a pretty good team. 

Then again, being a pretty good team is no guarantee of making the post-season.  The upcoming week is one in which the Caps can make hay while the sun shines (so to speak, this being winter still).  Toronto, Columbus, and Buffalo are weak teams and/or teams looking forward to next season.  Minnesota is a team hanging by a thread in the playoff race in the West, but the Wild is not a team that should be thought of as superior to the Caps.  We will see whether Week 21 was a speed bump on the road to the post-season or evidence of deeper problems that threaten their arrival at their post-season destination.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (1-2-3, 8 SOG)
  • Second Star: Eric Fehr (two assists, 52.5 percent faceoff wins, plus-1 for the week)
  • Third Star: Jason Chimera (two assists, one punch decision over Zac Rinaldo in fight against the Flyers, 7 shot attempts against Carolina)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 64: Maple Leafs at Capitals, March 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center Sunday night to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle of teams on opposite sides of the playoff divide.  Caps fans will be hoping the the team can return to winning ways after suffering first streak of three consecutive losses in regulation and winless week in almost four months. 

The three losses the Caps bring into this game came against Metropolitan Division opponents in each case. There are two things that the Caps need to address off the top.  One is surrendering first period goals. In their three straight losses they were outscored, 4-1, in the first periods of games and trailed at the first intermission in each one.  The second thing is special teams.  Washington was just 1-for-12 (8.3 percen t) on the power play and allowed a shorthanded goal in their three losses, and they were an equally poor 9-for-12 killing penalties (75.0 percent).

Part of the problem is that the big names did not play big in the three losses.  Alex Ovechkin had one power play goal in three games (his only point), Nicklas Backstrom went all three games without a point, as did defenseman Mike Green, and goalie Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 25 shots (.840 save percentage) in the first period of the three games.  Having no Caps with more than one goal for the week, and having Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera leading the forwards with two assists apiece was not a recipe for wins.

While the Caps had to deal with the unusual circumstance of a losing streak, such occurrences have become far too regular for the Maple Leafs.  Toronto had a six-game winning streak in December that left them 19-9-3 and only two points out of the Atlantic Division lead. Since then, the Leafs are 6-23-2 with losing streaks of 11, five, three (twice), and two games.  They will come to Washington having lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-0, breaking their first winning “streak” – two games – since that six-game streak in December.

As befits a team having long dropped out of playoff contention, Toronto has been moving assets – Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh for Zach Sill and two draft picks; Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for Olli Jokinen, a prospect forward, and a draft pick; David Clarkson to Columbus for Nathan Horton. 

For Toronto the future certainly is not “now.”  And for Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak – the top three scorers for the Leafs – the future might not be in Toronto.  All three have been linked to trade rumors of one sort or another, Bozak to Edmonton, van Riemsdyk generally (although the thinking is he could be a part of the rebuild), Kessel to…well, perhaps lots of places

None of the three have had a big month of February, as one might expect with the weight of potential trades pressing on their shoulders.  Kessel has two goals in 11 games this month and is a minus-7.  Van Riemsdyk has one goal for the month and is minus-6.  Bozak has had the best scoring month of the three – 3-3-6 – but he carries a minus-8 along with that scoring line for February.

If you look at the players who departed in trade, Daniel Winnik, David Clarkson, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson combined for 34 of the 167 goals scored by the Leafs this season, more than 20 percent of the total.  One wonders where the scoring will be made up.  Chances are it will not.  The new guys – Jokinen and Sill – have combined for one point in seven man-games.  Which brings us to Nazem Kadri.  He has been the focus of trade stories as well, but at age 24 and the number four scorer on the team (15-19-34) he might be considered part of the rebuild going forward as well.  He has only two goals for the month, but being “even” in plus-minus over 11 games for the month almost qualifies him for Selke consideration for this team.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  The Maple Leafs are a team that gets behind the eight-ball early.  Only four teams have scored first fewer times in games than Toronto (27), no team has allowed more first period goals than the Leafs (63), and no team has trailed in more games after the first period than the Maple Leafs (27).

2.  One thing about the Leafs, they do not play games close.  No team has played more games to decisions of three or more goals than Toronto, who takes a 15-15 record in such games into their contest with the Capitals.  Here is the odd part about that statistic, though.  While the Maple Leafs have a three-or-more goal decision in roughly one game out of every two (30 times in 62 games), they have had only three such decisions in their last 15 games (1-2-0, both losses on the road in New Jersey and Montreal).

3.  Odd stat…with David Clarkson now in Columbus, only one Leaf has more than one fight this season.  Dion Phaneuf has five bouts.

4.  If there is a shorthanded goal to be scored in this game it would not be a surprise.  No team has had more combined shorties for and against than Toronto (16).   Only three teams have more shorthanded goals scored than the Maple Leafs (7), and no team has allowed more shorthanded goals (9).

5.  As one might expect, the Leafs are a team that struggles with possession.  They are 27th in the league in 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (46.3) and 27th in Fenwick-for percentage (46.4).  They are barely better, from a ranking standpoint, in close score situations – 26th in both Corsi-for percentage (46.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.6; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  About those shorthanded goals.  No team has participated in games with fewer shorties than the Caps (5) – three goals scored and two allowed.

2.  Even with the four first period goals allowed in the three games the Caps lost coming into this game, they have the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the first period this season (42).

3.  Only three teams have committed more minor penalties than the Caps this season (242) – Columbus (243), Pittsburgh (270), and Winnipeg (303).

4.  No team in the league has taken a lead into the third period more times this season than the Caps (30).  Only Tampa Bay has more wins in those situations (27) than the Caps (26), and Washington has lost just one game in regulation when leading after two periods.

5.  The three-game losing streak for the Caps has been a possession nightmare.  Even accounting for the small population size of events, the Corsi-for (47.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.2) at 5-on-5 was poor.  It was worse in close score situations, a Corsi-for percentage of 41.7 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 42.2 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer

Playing goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like trying to turn back a tsunami with a bath sponge.  The combined save percentage of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer is a not-awful .912, but their combined goals against average of 2.87 is not conducive to winning many games.  Even if their combined save percentage was .924 (the save percentage of Washington’s Braden Holtby), their combined goals against average would be 2.47 (Holtby’s is 2.20).  Bernier took the call in each of the last three games for the Leafs, including last night’s 4-0 loss to Montreal.  It suggests that Reimer will tend goal for Toronto against the Caps.  The trouble there is that he has struggled.  “Struggle” might be too weak a term.  In his last 14 appearances Reimer is 1-10-0 (three no decisions), 3.06, .903.  Take out the no-decisions, all of them in relief of Bernier and all of them perfect in save percentage, his save percentage in full games over that stretch is .896.  Reimer is 2-3-1, 2.62, .922 in six career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Tim Gleason

When the Caps swapped defensemen with Carolina – Jack Hillen (and a draft pick) for Tim Gleason – the Caps upgraded their “sturdy” quotient on the blue line.  Despite playing in just 55 games with the Hurricanes he led the team’s defensemen in hits (133) and is in the top-25 in the league (23rd).  This is the second straight season that Gleason has been traded in-season.  On New Year’s Day 2014 the Hurricanes traded Gleason to Toronto for defenseman John-Michael Liles and a prospect (he re-signed with Carolina as a free agent before this season).  What the Caps will not get in the trade is offense, although perhaps strangely Gleason does have a goal this season (Hillen did not with the Caps in 35 games).  Since scoring a career high five goals in 2009-2010, Gleason has a total of five goals in 317 games over five seasons.  He is 0-3-3, plus-6, in 11 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

You would think this would be an easy one for the Capitals to win.  The Leafs can’t string together wins, they are selling off pieces, they give up a ton of shots, they have been a poor possession team when whole.  Then you remember that the Caps allowed a season-high six goals to Toronto back on November 29th.  Washington is 23-11-6 since that loss, including a 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs on January 7th (a team high in goals scored this season for the Caps), but that loss in November serves as a reminder that any team, even one as wounded as the Leafs, can be dangerous.  And if that isn’t enough, the Caps have been in a rut over the past week that needs to be addressed.  The imminent trading deadline of 3 p.m. on Monday is a distraction, but that is part of being a pro – dealing with distractions.  This game might have its annoying moments, but it should be one in which the Caps return to winning ways.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 2

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Long and Winding Road of Jaromir Jagr

Oh, what miles he has traveled.  Even William Shatner is going, "whoa..."  Jaromir Jagr has been there, done that, over and over in the NHL wearing the jersey of seven different teams in his 24 year professional hockey career, with a detour to Russia along the way.  Now he will head to his eighth NHL team, the Florida Panthers, after the New Jersey Devils traded him for a pair of draft picks yesterday.

It is hard to believe that it was almost 14 years ago that Jagr dropped in on Washington for almost three of those 24 seasons (between Pittsburgh and New York, in case you have forgotten).

And who knows, with Jagr set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and showing no signs of hanging up his skates, perhaps there is a new city to add to his impressive resume.  There are, after all, 22 franchises for which he has yet to play in the NHL (some, mostly Caps fans, would argue that there are 23 on that list, that he did not really play for Washington, at least not seriously).  He might even become the captain, one day, of an expansion franchise in Las Vegas, which would be an interesting capstone to his career.

Until that day, however, if and when he moves on once more, we must be content to ponder with awe and humility the map he has traveled in his legendary career.

Safe travels and fair winds, Jaromir.  Long may your baggage arrive safely at your destination.

(click on picture for larger image)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63: Capitals at Hurricanes, February 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the show on the road on Friday night when they travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, to lock horns with an old and familiar rival.  The Carolina Hurricanes, once of the Southeast Division, are no longer division-mates of the Caps, but they remain familiar to the Caps and their fans.

One of the things that has become too familiar in Canes Country is missing the playoffs.  Carolina has the fourth-worst record in the league and is all but guaranteed to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.  Carolina is on their third head coach (Bill Peters, following Kirk Muller and Paul Maurice) since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

February has not been all that unkind to the Hurricanes, all things considered, unless the object of the exercise is to maximize one’s chances in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.  Carolina is 5-4-1 this month, although they have been outscored by their opponents by a 30-28 margin.  Special teams have been just that in February for the Hurricanes, the power play going 8-for-33 (24.2 percent) and the penalty kill going 20-for-22 (90.9 percent).

Carolina’s February goal scoring is led by Jeff Skinner, who has five for the month (5-0-5), all of them over his last seven games.  His outburst comes after going ten straight games without a goal and 19 games having scored only twice.  Skinner has had something of an odd season in that his points scoring at home has been comparatively sparse.  While going 8-7-15 in 30 road games, he is just 7-2-9 at home.  On the other hand, while he is a minus-1 at home, he is a minus-15 on the road.  Fortunately for him, and the Hurricanes it would seem, this game will be at home.  In 23 career games against Washington, Skinner is 7-11-18, even.

It might be a measure of the Carolina scoring problems (they rank 27th in scoring offense) that defenseman Justin Faulk leads the team in February scoring (1-8-9) and for the season (11-27-38).  He is tied for 12th overall in scoring among league defensemen, but Faulk tends to get his points in bunches.  He is tied for third overall in multi-point games by defensemen this season (11).  It is his ability to distribute, though, that makes the Hurricanes successful.  He has eight assists in 37 losses this season, but he has 19 helpers in 22 wins.  Faulk is 2-5-7, even, in 16 career games against the Capitals.

The Brothers Staal – Eric and Jordan – are not quite the east coast version of the Sedins in Vancouver, but they have similar scoring lines for February.  Eric is 2-4-6, minus-3, for the month, while Jordan is 3-3-6, minus-1.  Neither is having what one would consider close to a career year.  Eric has 18 goals, which is on a pace to leave him with more goals (27) than he has had since the 2010-2011 season (33), but he is also on a pace for 27 assists, which would be his lowest total for a season since his rookie year in 2003-2004 (20).  He is 16-15-31, minus-11, in 41 career games against the Caps.

Jordan is just 4-11-15, minus-1, in 23 games this season.  He lost the first 35 games of the season to a broken right leg suffered in the preseason against the Buffalo Sabres.  He has been better of late, as his February numbers attest, but he is still on a pace to finish with the fewest goals in a season in his career (eight) and the fewest points for a season (30) since he recorded 28 points in 82 games with Pittsburgh in 2007-2008.  He is 7-3-10, minus-6, in 31 career games against Washington.

In goal, Carolina has alternated Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin over the last seven games, but much of that is a product of back-to-backs, Khudobin playing the back half of those sets twice in the space of a week.  That suggests Ward will get the call.  Ward was the goalie of record in the Hurricane’s 4-1 win on Tuesday, his 500th game in the NHL and his 240th career win, all with Carolina.  He has won five of his last six appearances (5-1-0), posting a 1.98 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.  He is 16-12-4, 2.56, .921, with four shutouts in 33 career appearances against the Caps.  He has not faced Washington this season.

Here is how the teams’ numbers compare overall:

1.  Carolina has a respectable power play (18.5 percent/14th in the league) and an excellent penalty kill (88.0 percent/1st).  So, what gives?  The Hurricanes are awful at even strength.  More to the point, they cannot score at 5-on-5.  With 89 goals this season, they rank 28th overall in 5-on-5 scoring.

2.  The even-strength battle really has not gone any better in February for Carolina.  They have been out-scored by a 28-19 (0.68 ratio of goals for/goals against) margin at evens, and only once in ten games did they outscore an opponent at even strength (2-1 in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 over Philadelphia in their most recent game, last Tuesday). 

3.  Scoring offense has been a problem for Carolina over all 60 minutes.  No team has a tighter spread of goals scored in the three regulation periods than Carolina: 42 in the first period (24th in the league), 44 in the second period (28th), and 43 in the third period (26th).

4.  You would think that a team that has struggled as the Hurricanes have this season would have a lot of three-or-more goal decisions, especially losses.  They do not.  In fact, only four teams have fewer such decisions than Carolina (16): Florida (12), Los Angeles (15), New Jersey (14), and Washington (12).  Carolina does not even do all that badly, all things considered.  Their 7-9 record in those games is 22nd in winning percentage (.438).

5.  There are things that just do not make sense about Carolina, and possession is one of them.  The Hurricanes rank 12th overall in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.3 percent), although they do rank 18th in Corsi-for in close score situations (50.4 percent).  However, what stands out is their PDO number (save percentage plus shooting percentage).  They rank 29th at 5-on-5 overall (97.1) and dead last in close score situations (97.4).

1.  When the Caps lost to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night it marked the first time that they lost consecutive games in regulation time since January 16/17 at Nashville (4-3) and at Dallas (5-4).  It was only the second time they did so in almost three months, dating back to November 29/December 2.

2.  The Caps are back to their one-goal game ways.  With three straight decisions by one goal (1-2-0), the Caps once more lead the league in one-goal games (38).  Unfortunately, they rank 22nd in winning percentage in those games (16-12-10/.421).

3.  At the other end, the Caps have the best winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals (10-2/.833), and their two losses are less than half as many as the closest team (Nashville: 5).

4.  It seems clear that to guarantee a win, the Caps need to finish a game with the same number of shots on goal as their opponent.  They are one of seven teams with a perfect record when shots on goal are equal, and no team has more wins (6).  In fact, none of the other six teams has more than three wins (Dallas).

5.  The Caps could use a little more puck luck on their end in close score 5-on-5 situations.  Their PDO is in the middle of the pack (100.2/15th), but the shooting percentage component of that is just 7.3 percent, 22nd in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Alexander Semin

Steve Austin was “The Six Million Dollar Man” of whom it was said, “we can rebuild him…we have the technology…we have the capability…better than he was before.  Better…stronger…faster.”  OK, so Alexander Semin is “The Seven Million Dollar Man,” under contract with that average annual value through the 2017-2018 season.  To date as a Hurricane, Semin is 37-63-100, which would be an excellent scoring line over a full season.  Over 144 games, not so much, especially since his points per game have gone from 1.00 in his first season in Carolina to 0.65 last season to 0.40 this season.  He has appeared in only 35 of Carolina’s 59 games this season.  Fifteen of those games were lost to a variety of injuries, but he has been sitting as a healthy scratch from time to time as well.  He comes into this game with points in consecutive games (0-3-3) and five points in his last six games.  However, he has just one goal in his last 15 games.  Semin is 3-6-9, minus-3, in 11 career games against his former team.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich had a modest two-game points streak stopped when he went scoreless against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.  Even that modest streak could not hide the fact that he is without a goal in his last 23 games.  Part of it is getting shots on goal.  His 34 shots in those 23 games is a shots per game average (1.48) that is considerably lower than what his career average was before that 23-game streak (2.02).  It has not, however, been that much different than it had been this season before that 23-game run (1.46).  For Laich, the shots just are not coming.  Whether it is deployment, opportunity, or performance, his offensive production has been a disappointment so far this season.  He is on a pace to finish the season with seven goals, which would be his lowest total for a full season since his rookie season in 2005-2006, when he had seven goals in 73 games.  Laich is 8-9-17, minus-1, in 48 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

We have a game that should provide a demonstration of the Capitals’ ability to deal with an inferior opponent and move on.  This game actually opens up a comparatively weak portion of the schedule with games against Toronto and Columbus to follow, then a game against Buffalo after hosting Minnesota.  Still, Carolina is a team whose numbers look better than their record, except for that whole even-strength scoring thing.  The Caps should win the even strength battle in this game, which is where it is likely to be settled.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

As the Trading Deadline Approaches, Beware What You Ask For

We are in the last week of the National Hockey League’s answer to the bazaar, the intra-league trading period that will expire at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) on March 2nd.  Social and mainstream media are doing a volume business in passing along rumors, tid-bits, and opinions about who will go where, and for whom as the deadline approaches.

For the Washington Capitals, it likely means being a buyer in the 2015 market.  The Caps, who are in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and hold the first wild-card spot in the playoff rankings as of February 25th, have holes to fill and decisions to make with respect to roster players.  The big roster decision involves defenseman Mike Green, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.  Green’s destiny is no doubt an interesting topic of discussion, but not one that we intend to pursue in this space.  Our focus today is on the history of roster trades in the modern era of Capitals hockey.

The “modern era” of Capitals hockey, defined here as that which started with the signing of George McPhee in June 1997, has a rich trading history.  In 15 trading deadline seasons (there was no such thing in the lost season of 2004-2005), the Caps have participated in no fewer than 50 deals (trades made within four weeks of the trading deadline), based on information gleaned from the Capitals Media Guide.  What is noteworthy about them is how few of consequence involved moving a roster asset (or more) in order to obtain a roster asset (or more).

Such deals are of particular interest here, not for the possible return, but for the assets that might be moved and the effects, some of which might not be anticipated.  When moving a current roster asset for improvement at the trading deadline, there is more than numbers at play.  The player (or players) moved have banked a lot of games, made a lot of contributions (or provided a lot of disappointment), and have made a mark in the locker room that they were about to leave.  This raises the touchy subject of “chemistry,” and whether the trade that looks so good on paper has the potential of blowing up in the team’s face because insufficient attention was paid to the effects moving a player might have on locker room dynamics or the effects the new player might have on same.

When one looks back at the history of trading deadline deals in Caps history, one notices that there have been few “roster-for-roster” deals in that history.  We found four (from the Capitals Media Guide).  Let us take them in chronological order (all trade information from hockey-reference.com).

March 13, 2001 Caps acquired Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus and a 2nd round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft (later traded to Tampa Bay, Andreas Holmqvist) from Montreal for Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 1st round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft (Alexander Perezhogin).

This is, bar none, the poster child of deals that looked good on paper and were something else on paper as it played out.  The run-up to this deal and its aftermath provide an interesting, and cautionary, historical context.  Starting with a win in Tampa against the Lightning on January 23rd, the Caps went 17-2-2 up to the trading deadline, including one of the more inspirational regular season games in their history, a 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators in which the Caps trailed, 5-2, entering the third period (this was the Caps’ last game before the trading deadline).

At the time, the Caps had young assets in Jan Bulis or Richard Zednik (the players sent to Montreal), who were 22 and 25 years old at the time, respectively.  More important to the moment, both were making contributions for the Caps at the time.  In the 21-game run up to the trade, Bulis was 1-9-10 in 16 games; Zednik was 8-7-15 in all 21 games.

However, with a playoff run looming, getting veteran help was attractive, especially veterans with playoff experience.  Dainius Zubrus, who was just 22 years old himself at the time, was a veteran of 24 post season games with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a Stanley Cup final in 1997.  Trevor Linden was in his 13th season in the NHL, despite being just 30 years old, and had himself appeared in 73 post season games with the Vancouver Canucks, including a Stanley Cup final in 1994.  Even though Bulis and Zednik were roster players, the Caps were clearly trading futures for a chance to win at the moment.

It did not turn out as hoped.  The Caps lost the first five games they played after the trade (scoring only six goals and getting shut out twice), went 4-7-2 to end the regular season, and succumbed to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in six games.  As for the new guys, Zubrus went 1-1-2, minus-4 in 12 regular season games and did not record a point in six post season games.  Linden went 3-1-4, plus-2 in 12 regular season games and did not register a goal in six post season games (he did have four assists).  For Linden it would be his lowest points contribution in the post season in his eight trips to the playoffs to date.

Even the aftermath was checkered in this deal.  Linden lasted 16 games into the following season with the Caps before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks (the team that drafted him in 1988) along with a second round draft pick for a 2002 first round draft pick (that become Boyd Gordon) and a third round draft pick that would be later traded to Edmonton with a second round pick for Mike Grier. 

Zubrus would play another four-plus seasons with the Caps, but he did not reach the potential envisioned for him as 15th overall draft pick in 1996 by the Flyers any more than he did with Phiadelphia or Montreal before arriving in Washington, or in Buffalo or New Jersey, for that matter, after he was traded to the Sabres in 2001 with Timo Helbling for Jiri Novotny and a first round pick (that first round pick would later be traded to San Jose for two second round picks that took on lives of their own to become, eventually, Eric Mestery, Phil DeSimone, and Dmitry Kugryshev).

What looked so good on paper at the time, trading futures for veterans of the playoff wars, ended up being one of the most consequential trades in team history, and not in a good way.

February 26, 2008 Caps acquired Matt Cooke from Vancouver for Matt Pettinger.

When Matt Pettinger scored 20 goals as a 25-year old winger with the Caps in 2005-2006, then followed it up with a 16-goal season in 2006-2007, Caps fans might have thought that the team had a player who could contribute at the offensive end and rile opponents at the other end with his hard-nosed style of play.  Then the 2007-2008 season came along, and while the Caps were finding their legs for a long run to the playoffs under new coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over in late November, Pettinger was a player being left behind in terms of his performance. 

After recording just two goals in 56 games he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for deadline rental Matt Cooke.  It was another case of a deal looking good on paper, an underperforming forward for a veteran who had the “grit” a team could use in the post-season (Cooke’s brand of “grit,” which often crossed the line of gentlemanly play, notwithstanding).

Cooke ended up being a decent contributor in the 17 regular season games he played for the Caps, going 3-4-7, plus-5 in 17 games, but doing most of that scoring damage against the weak competition of the Southeast Division (two goals, two assists in eight divisional games).  In the post-season, he was a ghost. No points and a minus-1 in the seven game series loss to Philadelphia in which he recorded only eight shots on goal. 

And, as soon as he arrived, he was gone…to Pittsburgh…to win a Stanley Cup the following season.  That is about as bad as it gets for Caps fans in terms of return on trade.

March 3, 2010 Caps acquired Joe Corvo from Carolina for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala and a 2nd round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (later traded to Calgary, Tyler Wotherspoon).

If you looked at this trade through a polarized lens tilted a certain way at the time, it made some sense.  Brian Pothier, who was signed away from Ottawa to a four-year/$10 million deal (when the Caps could not come to terms with Pothier’s teammate, Zdeno Chara, on a free agency deal), would suffer a concussion in early 2008 that kept him out of the lineup for more than a calendar year, contributing to his never performing to the level his contract suggested.  Oskar Osala was once thought of as a potential power forward but appeared to have plateaued in the Caps organization at the AHL level.

The return – Joe Corvo – had a reputation as an offensive defenseman, but the magnitude of his problems in the defensive end of the ice could only be appreciated seeing him up close in a Caps jersey.  Corvo would go 2-4-6, minus-4 in 18 games with the Caps to close the 2009-2010 regular season and would go 1-1-2, minus-2 in the seven-game upset loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the post season.  He would be on ice for 22 goals against in the 18 regular season games he played with the Caps and another five goals against in seven games in the post season, despite skating far fewer minutes and with lighter responsibilities than defensemen such as Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, or rookie John Carlson.  At the end of the 2010 post season, Corvo returned to Carolina as an unrestricted free agent.

February 28, 2011 Caps acquired Jason Arnott from New Jersey for David Steckel and a 2012 second-round pick.

You would have had to have been sailing on an ice floe not to know that Jason Arnott was on the Caps’ radar leading up to the trading deadline in 2011.  Filling the second line center role behind Nicklas Backstrom was proving difficult.  Marcus Johansson…too young.  Mathieu Perreault…too inconsistent.  Brooks Laich…maybe better suited to wing.  Boyd Gordon…lacked the skill set to be a scoring line center. 

When Jason Arnott was acquired from New Jersey for checking line center David Steckel and a draft pick, it seemed like an eHarmony match.  When Arnott displayed talents at being the “Semin Whisperer,” communicating with and coaxing an additional level of performance out of the mercurial Alexander Semin, he seemed even more the perfect fit.  Then he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for a brief spell but which bothered him through the playoffs.  Nevertheless, Arnott was 1-5-6, plus-4, in nine playoff games for the Caps.  That the Caps were swept by Tampa Bay in the second round could not be laid at his feet (0-3-3, plus-2, in four games), but neither was his effort enough to prevent that second round elimination.  Arnott would not return to the Caps when his contract expired at the end of the season, choosing to sign with the St. Louis Blues, where he played his final NHL season.

Perhaps the Washington Capitals were just not very good at this whole roster-for-roster deal making at the trading deadline in the modern era.  While there is a new brain trust to manage the run-up to this year’s trading deadline, it is not all that different from what preceded it, since general manager Brian MacLellan has been with the club for 14 seasons, seven of them as assistant general manager for player personnel before ascending to the first chair in the front office.

It might cause some trepidation among Caps fans when one hears that a Curtis Glencross or a Jordan Eberle might be available to the Caps, especially if a roster player (or more) is part of the price of the deal.  The delicate chemistry, so difficult to quantify, that takes place over 60 games of a regular season can be undone by deals that look good on the printed page.  When your team has a checkered history in making such deals in its recent history, it should make one stop and think whether moving a Troy Brouwer or a Karl Alzner, or even a Mike Green, is in the best interests of the club beyond what the box car and underlying numbers might say.  It is not to say that such deals are doomed to failure for this club, but neither should anyone think that they are slam dunk deals to be made.  The hockey gods are not to be trifled with by making such assumptions.