Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 7: Capitals 3 - Islanders 2

The Washington Capitals started the middle two-game set of their six game homestand when they hosted the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.  In a hard fought game that seemed sure to be headed for another overtime, the Caps got a late goal to break the tie and beat the Isles, 3-2, for their seventh straight game with points earned.

 

 

First Period

The Islanders had the first shot on goal, but the Caps answered with the next seven shots in less than a minute early in the period.  The teams settled down after that, until the Isles took the game’s first penalty, Matt Martin going off for tripping at 10:12 of the period.

John Carlson converted the chance for the Caps.  Nicklas Backstrom started the play by looking over the ice for a possible shot or pass into the middle, but he fed the puck out to Justin Schultz for a one-timer that handcuffed goalie Semyon Varlamov.  The puck popped up and to Varlamov’s right, where Carlson was waiting, and the defenseman wasted no time snapping the puck behind Varlamov to give the Caps the lead at 11:06.

New York tied the game at 15:33, Noah Dobson sneaking a shot from the right point that was deflected by Anders Lee and then by Caps defenseman Brenden Dillon before it eluded goalie Vitek Vanecek, Lee credited with the goal.  That would do it for the scoring in the first frame.

-- Washington out-shot the Isles, 17-11, in the period and out-attempted the visitors, 31-15.

-- Twelve of 18 skaters had shots on goal in the period, five of them with two apiece (Schultz, Panik, van Riemsdyk, Sheary, and Carlson).

-- Sheary led the Caps in credited hits (two).

-- Nicklas Backstrom was five-for-seven on faceoffs in the period (71.4 percent).

Second Period

The noteworthy moment in the early going of the period was when Nicklas Backstrom took a puck off the stick of Adam Pelech in the left cheek at center ice.  Backstrom immediately headed to the locker room for attention.

New York got their first power play of the game when Carl Hagelin was whistled for boarding, 7:19 into the period.  The Isles failed to convert on the power play, but they did take the lead at 10:01 of the period when Zdeno Chara thought it would be a good idea to send the puck up the middle and managed only to put the puck on the stick of Mathew Barzal, who took advantage and beat Vanecek to make it a 2-1 game.

The Isles were given another man advantage 13:24 into the period when Nicklas Backstrom was sent of for interference.  Washington managed to kill off the penalty with no damage suffered.

Daniel Sprong got the Caps even with his first goal for the club, taking a feed from Daniel Carr in close quarters and snapping a shot from between the circles over the right shoulder of Varlamov, tying the game at 2-2, 17:21 into the period.

New York got its third power play of the period in the last minute, Lars Eller going off for tripping with 57 seconds left in the frame.  The Caps kept the Isles off the board for the second period portion of the penalty, 1:03 carrying over into the third period, the teams going off tied, 2-2.

-- New York out-shot the Caps, 14-9, in the second period and out-attempted them, 25-22.

-- John Carlson led the club with three shots on goal through two periods and led the club with seven shot attempts.

-- The Caps were not credited with a takeaway through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The Caps skated off the remainder of the Islander power play to start the period, and the they had the period’s best scoring chance with a three-on-two advantage, but T.J. Oshie was not able to convert the opportunity.

Neither team mounted much of an attack through the middle of the period, but the Caps were given an opportunity when Leo Komarov was sent off on a five-minute major for boarding Lars Eller, who made his way delicately down the tunnel for attention.  Washington recorded one shot on goal in the five-minute power play, not finding the back of the net, and the teams continued tied.

The Caps finally found a hole in Varlamov in the last minute.  Garnet Hathaway and Justin Schultz worked a give and go at the offensive blue line, Hathaway feeding Schultz, who fired a shot low to the far side that beat Varlamov past the right pad with 26.4 seconds left.

The Caps skated off the last seconds and made it seven straight games with a point with the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The seventh straight game with a point is the longest such streak for the Caps to open a season since they went 7-0-0 to open the 2011-2012 season.

-- The Caps out-shot the Islanders, 36-34, and out-attempted them overall, 72-58.

-- Brenden Dillon and Garnet Hathaway were the only Caps not to record a shot on goal; John Carlson led the team with five.

-- Carlson led the team with nine shot attempts.

-- The Caps were credited with no takeaways for the game.

-- The Caps rolled lines. T.J. Oshie led the forwards with only 18:40 of ice time.  A result made necessary with the Caps losing centers Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller to injury for stretches in this game.

-- With 32 saves on 34 shots faced, Vitek Vanecek is 77 for 82 in his last two games (.939 save percentage).

-- The Caps got multi-point nights from two defensemen – Jahn Carlson and Justin Schultz were each 1-1-2.

-- Daniel Carr, getting his first action as a Capital – 0-1-1, one shot on goal, two shot attempts, two blocked shots, plus-1 rating.

-- This was the Caps’ third win of the season when scoring three or fewer goals (not counting Gimmicks).  Last season they did not get their third win when scoring three or fewer goals until Game 20.

In the end…

Was this a character-building win?  It might be too early to tell, but it sure felt like one.  The Caps had 92 goals from last season and their starting goalie on the bench.  They lost two more centers for chunks of this game.  And still they prevailed.  If you want to pick nits about this game, feel free, but these guys deserve credit to grinding a tough win out against a team against whom such wins are hard to come by.

 

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 7 and 8: Islanders at Capitals, January 26/28

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals continue their first home stand of the season with the New York Islanders coming to town for Tuesday and Thursday games at Capital One Arena.  The Caps enter the contest with points in each of their first six games on the schedule, while the Islanders come to Washington on the second stop of a five-game road trip, losers of their first contest on the trip, a 2-0 blanking at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

The Islanders rank dead last in the NHL in scoring offense (1.80 goals per game), so it is hardly surprising that only five of 19 skaters to dress for the club so far have posted goals.  Four of those players – Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle – each have a pair, which Jean-Gabriel Pageau has the other.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Anthony Beauvillier, who has a lone assist after five games after posting 18 goals for the Isles last season, his third straight season posting at least 18 goals for the club.  Beauvillier is one of those late first round draft picks who can get lost in the noise of more celebrated members of his draft class, especially given he was the 28th overall pick in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel draft of 2015.  Nevertheless, he ranks tenth in his draft class in game played (291), tenth in goals (66), 17th in assists (62), and 14th in points (128).  He did it over his first four NHL seasons with a healthy shots per game average (1.82 per game) and respectable shooting percentage (12.7).  This season, however, Beauvillier recorded an assist in the season opener in a win against the New York Rangers, but he is without a point since, and he has only four shots on goal in three games.  He left Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils in the second period with an undisclosed injury after logging only seven minutes of ice time.  Beauvillier, who is 2-6-8, plus-5, in 15 career games against the Caps, is part of the secondary scoring the Islanders have not had and will miss in his absence.

Josh Bailey is another Islander whose output has been disappointing in the early going.  Through five games, Bailey has but one assist, a slow start for a player who comes into this season having posted four consecutive 40-plus point seasons for the Islanders.  His slow start stands in stark contrast to the start he had last season when he went 6-6-12 in his first 14 games.  What might be of some concern for the 13-year veteran is that since he posted a 71-point season in 2017-2018 (18-53-71 in 76 games), his goals, assist, and point totals have dropped in each year since (16-40-56 in 82 games in 2018-2019 and 14-29-42 in 68 games last season).  Bailey is the active leader among Islanders in scoring against the Caps, posting a 5-15-20, minus-14, scoring line against Washington in 48 career games.

It would be hard to think of how a goalie can get off to a hotter start than that Semyon Varlaomov has had to open the season for the Islanders.  He is tied for the league lead in wins (three), ranks first in goals against average (0.33), ranks first in save percentage (.988), and is the only goalie with two shutouts so far.  Part of his success might be facing relatively light workloads (averaging 27 shots faced per game), but it is an impressive start nonetheless.  Since finishing second in Vezina Trophy voting in 2013-2014 on a record of 41-14-6 (league leader in wins), 2.41, .927, with two shutouts with the Colorado Avalanche, Varlamov was up and down with the Avs before signing with the Islanders as a free agent in July 2019. His first season was respectable (19-14-6, 2.62, .914, with two shutouts), but still failed to approach his best performances in Colorado.  He is off to a much better three-game start than last season, however (1-2-0, 3.15, .905), which makes him a key element for the Caps to solve in this contest.  The former first round draft pick of the Caps (23rd overall in 2006) is 4-6-1, 2.74, .924, in 11 career games against Washington.


1.  The Islanders are the only team in the NHL currently averaging less than two goals scored per game and two goals allowed per game.  Don’t count on this being how the Islanders finish. The last time it happened was in 1935-1936, when the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers all finished under two goals per game on both sides of the puck.

2.  The Islanders lead the league in faceoff winning percentage (58.0).  Makes one wonder just how many draws the Caps (28th in the league) will win.

3.  The Islanders are one of two teams (Nashville is the other) having played as many as five games with only six 5-on-5 goals allowed.

4.  New York has nine goals so far – five at 5-on-5, four at 5-on-4.

5.  The Islanders are the top team in the East in blocked shots-per-60 minutes (17.60).

1.  Washington ranks third in the league in hits-per-60 minutes (29.66).

2.  The Caps lead the league through Sunday’s games in first period goals scored (nine); they have allowed more second period goals (ten) than any team in the Eastern Conference.

3.  Only Montreal has more goals scored at 5-on-5 through Sunday’s games (18) than the Caps (16).

4.  Washington is 1-0-3 in games in which they led after one period, their .250 winning percentage ranking 28th in the league.

5.  Only Montreal has scored first more often among Eastern Conference teams (five times) than the Caps (four times).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Nick Leddy

The New York Islanders have a tradition of fine defensemen – Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, Ken Morrow, Tomas Jonsson, Stefan Persson among them.  Nick Leddy has quietly climbed the ranks of the Islanders defenseman rankings over seven seasons since he was traded to the Islanders from the Chicago Blackhawks in October 2014.  Leddy ranks tenth on the all time list of games played by an Islander defenseman (467) and will likely become the eighth defensemen in team history to suit up for 500 games later this season.  He, like the rest of the Islanders defense corps, has not yet registered a goal this season, and this could be a point of concern for a club lacking in offensive depth.  Leddy posted 36 goals in his first four seasons with the Isles, but had a total of only seven in 142 games in the two seasons preceding this one.  He is tied for the team lead in assists and points among defensemen (three, with Noah Dobson), and he is the only Islander defenseman with a personal shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 over 50 percent (52.9).  But conversely, he is below 50 percent in on-ice goals for percentage (33.3).  His performance, like that of the Islanders generally, has been a mixed bag.  Leddy is 1-7-8, minus-9, in 29 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

When the Capitals lost the services of four key players as a result of COVID protocol violations, it would be reasonable to expect that Nicklas Backstrom would have to step up and assume a bigger role than the large role he already plays for the Capitals.  But the thing is, Backstrom has stepped up since the season opener.  He recorded a goal and an assist in the season opening 6-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres, and he has points in five of six games to date.  His four goals leads the club, as do his seven points.  He has half of the team’s power play goal total (two of four) and leads the Caps with three power play points.  What is unusual about Backstrom’s output so far is not just his goal production but that he has not assisted on an Alex Ovechkin goal, while Ovechkin has assists on two Backstrom goals.  Backstrom is off to a hotter goal-scoring start than he was last season, when he did not post his fourth goal of the season until his 18th game of the year.  It took him 16 games in 2018-2019 to get to four goals and 28 games to get to that number in 2017-2018.  A cooling off period might be coming, Backstrom posting a 23.5 shooting percentage through six games, but he has been quite productive in the early going.  He is 11-37-48, plus-13, in 47 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

Let us face it, the Islanders are just the kind of team that gives the Capitals fits.  They counterpunch, they play deliberately, their underlying numbers do not impress, but somehow they grind out wins by bending the style of the game to their liking.  With a lot of the Caps’ offense on the shelf for this two-game set, perhaps the Caps will matchup with the Islanders in a way that is less to the Islanders’ liking.

Tuesday: Capitals 2 – Islanders 1

Thursday: Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 6: Sabres 4 - Capitals 3 (OT/Gimmick)


The Washington Capitals closed out their second two-game set against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 4-3 Gimmick decision to the visitors.  Nevertheless, the Caps extended their season-opening streak of games with points to six.



First Period

The teams went back and forth in grinding fashion over the first third of the opening frame, and it was the Caps’ grinding effort that resulted in the game’s first goal.  Garnet Hathaway started the scoring play without touching the puck, flattening Taylor Hall in the corner to the left of goalie Linus Ullmark and forcing Hall to fire the puck around the end boards to the opposite point.  Justin Schultz settled the biscuit and fired a shot that seemed to clip Nic Dowd on the way through, sneaking through Ullmark’s pads to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 6:58 into the game, Schultz credited with his first goal as a Capital.

Connor McMichael had a chance to get his first NHL point late in the period, setting up at the top of the crease for a redirect attempt, but instead of converting that, he was whistled for his first NHL penalty moments later.  The Caps successfully killed off the ensuing power play, thanks largely to some fine netminding by Vitek Vanecek.

Neither team was able to mount much of a consistent threat over the last few minutes of the period, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.

-- Buffalo double up on the Caps in shots on goal, 16-8, and they out-attempted Washington, 25-16.

-- Conversely, the Caps out-hit the Sabres, 10-3.  Garnet Hathaway led the team with four, and Richard Panik added three.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the club in blocked shots in the period with three.

-- Connor McMichael’s first period in the NHL…one shot on goal, two shot attempts, a minor penalty in 4:56 of ice time.

Second Period

Washington enjoyed the rare Sabre penalty early in the period, Jake McCabe going off at 1:23 of the period on a tripping call.  The Caps managed four shots on goal on the power play, none of them eluding Ullmark.

The teams traded two-on-one breaks in the eighth minute of the period, but Vanecek foiled the Sabres’ chance, and Ullmark got enough of his glove on a Nic Dowd attempt to keep it a one-goal game.

Buffalo got their second power play of the contest when Zdeno Chara took a tripping call 8:20 into the period.  With Trevor van Riemsdyk losing his stick and using Lars Eller’s, Buffalo converted, Colin Miller firing a one-timer through a clot of players past Vanecek’s left arm to tie the game at 10:07 of the period.

The Caps got their second power play chance 10:45 into the period when Rasmus Ristolainen hauled down Nicklas Backstrom behind the Buffalo net.  Washington converted when Justin Schultz took a feed at the top of the offensive zone, stepped up and fired a shot that was deflected by T.J. Oshie past Ullmark to make it a 2-1 game, 11:51 into the period.

Washington went a man short shortly after the tie-breaking goal, Nic Dowd going off for tripping, the fourth tripping call of the contest (two apiece).  The Sabres converted, working the puck smartly down low, Victor Olafsson converting a pass from Sam Reinhart to tie the game at the 13:04 mark.

The Caps took their third tripping call of the period when Jonas Siegenthaler was sent off at the 15:46 mark.  The Sabres tried several attempts to set up Olafsson for one-timers, but to no avail.  The Caps killed the penalty.

The Caps had an excellent chance in the last minute with Lars Eller leading a two-on-one entry into the offensive zone.  He fed the puck across to Richard Panik for a one-timer, but Ullmark smothered the attempt.  The teams left the ice tied, 2-2, after 40 minutes.

- The Caps were out-shot, 19-9, in the period and out-attempted, 29-13.

- Eleven of the Sabres’ 19 shots were on power plays.

- Nicklas Backstrom led the team in shots on goal through two periods (three) and was tied in blocked shots (three) with Justin Schultz.

- Through two periods, the Caps were not credited with a takeaway, and Buffalo was not charged with a giveaway.

Third Period

Less than two minutes into the period, Schultz had an excellent chance from between the circles, but the shot was smothered in front as Ullmark was sliding across his crease.

Washington took the period’s first penalty when Nic Dowd was called for cross-checking 6:03 into the period, his second minor penalty of the game.  Eric Staal made the Caps pay, firing a one-timer from the right wing circle over Vanecek’s left shoulder on the short side to make it 3-2, Sabres, at the 7:24 mark.

The Caps went on their own power play less than a minute later, Brandon Montour going off for interference.  Nicklas Backstrom converted when he pulled a loose puck away from Ullmark at the goal line and snapped a shot from below the line off Ullmark’s pad, off the far post and in to tie the game, 3-3, 9:28 into the period.

Just past the half-way mark of the period, Taylor Hall got behind the Caps’ defense and drew a penalty shot when he was prevented from a scoring chance.  Hall’s attempt hit the post to Vanecek’s left and out – no goal.  Although Buffalo dominated territory over the last half of the period, the teams finished regulation tied, 3-3.

Overtime

Jack Eichel was a one-man stickhandling show to start overtime, and he almost won it when he toe-dragged the puck through John Carlson and tried to feed the puck between Vanecek’s pads, but the goalie prevailed.

Eichel had another chance in the third minute, but his one-timer as the late arriving forward was gloved down by Vanecek.

Justin Schultz had his own chance to win it for the Caps, taking a feed as he was steaming down the middle, but his snap shot was gloved by Ullmark.  Backstrom had his chance on a first shot and rebound on a break, but he was stopped both times by Ullmark.  That would be the last, best chance as the teams went to…

The Gimmick

  • Carlson: save
  • Eichel: goal
  • Oshie: save
  • Mittlestadt: save
  • Backstrom: save

Sabres win, 4-3

Other stuff...

-- The Caps went to extra time for the fourth straight game, the first time they went four in a row since late in the 2010-2011 season, when they went 3-0-1 over a four-game extra time stretch, losing in a Gimmick against Carolina before taking three decisions over Columbus, Buffalo, and Toronto.

-- This was the third Gimmick for the Caps in six games.  Last season, the Caps played their third Gimmick in Game 20.

-- Only five rookie goalies in Caps history faced more shots in a game than the 48 Vitek Vanecek faced, and the last one to do it – Al Jensen – did it in February 1982, when he faced 56 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota North Stars.  Bernie Wolfe is the only Caps goalie to face more shots as a rookie on home ice, facing 54 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers in December 1975 in a 7-5 loss.

-- Buffalo out-shot the Caps, 48-31, and out-attempted them, 78-54.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with six shots on goal; Justin Schultz led the club with nine shot attempts.

-- Trevor van Riemsdyk was the only Capital not recording a shot attempt.

-- The Caps allowed three power play goals, the first time they allowed that many in a game since they allowed Tampa Bay three power play goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning on March 20, 2019.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist for his 247th career multi-point game.

-- John Carlson logged 28:52 in ice time to lead the team, but it was Justin Schultz who led the team in even strength ice time (20:46).

-- Connor McMichael’s first game line… 9:54 ice time, 0-0-0, even, one minor penalty, one shot, two shot attempts, won only faceoff.

In the end…

Six games, six games with points.  Frankly, things could be much worse for this club, but they have shown a resiliency in grinding through difficult situations.  It gets harder from here with the New York Islanders coming to town, but even with today’s result, the Caps are finding a hard-edged character that might do them well, in a few months.

 

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 2

Week 2 was a disappointment for the Washington Capitals on more than one level. They opened the week with consecutive extra time losses to their hate rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, before salvaging the week with a Gimmick win over the Buffalo Sabres to complete the week.  And, there was the matter of four players breaking COVID protocols, one of them contracting the virus and two others testing positive for COVID-antibodies, earning all four players a four-game absence for quarantining purposes.  Finally, there was Tom Wilson missing the last third of the week’s final game with a lower-body injury that might keep him out of the lineup for a time.  But the Caps did avoid suffering their first regulation loss for a second week, and in a short season banking those points is gold.


Record: 1-0-2

The Caps played three extra time games in Week 2, the first time they went to extra time in three straight contests since Games 12-14 last season when they lost to Edmonton in overtime before winning consecutive games against Vancouver (in a Gimmick) and Toronto (in overtime).  The two consecutive extra time losses to the Penguins to open the week snapped a two-game winning streak the Caps brought into the season against the Pens.

The extra time win over Buffalo to end the week was the Caps’ third win over the Sabres this season and extended their streak of games without a regulation loss to the Sabres to five games (4-0-1) dating back to last season.  The win in what was also the home opener for the Caps extended their fine record in home openers to 16-1-2 in their last 19 games to open the season in Washington.


Offense: 3.33/game (season: 3.60/7th)

Ten goals in three games, especially when recorded as consistent a fashion as the Caps did (twice with three goals, once with four) is a solid team performance, especially given that Alex Ovechkin had only one of those goals and missed the last game of the week for violating the league’s COVID protocols.

Seven Caps shared the ten goals for the week with Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Nic Dowd each getting a pair.  Thirteen Caps recorded at least one point for the week, Wilson leading the team with four (2-2-4).  Three other Caps had three apiece – Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana, all of them going 1-2-3.

Kuznetsov and Ovechkin led the team in shots on goal with eight apiece, while Conor Sheary was the only one among 21 skaters for the week not to record a shot on goal (in one game played).

The Caps did get points from three defensemen (John Carlson with two, Zdeno Chara, and Brenden Dillon), but all points came on assists, not goals.

Defense: 3.67/game (season: 3.20/T-20th)

In the early going of the Peter Laviolette era, the Caps are a team with defensive issues.  Be they “defense,” broadly construed, goaltending, the new aspects of systems, or a combination of the three, the fact is that the Caps have allowed three or more goals (not including Gimmicks) in four of their first five games, including all three in Week 2.  What it does not appear to be is a product of shots on goal allowed.  The Caps allowed 30 of fewer shots in all three games for the week (all of them settled in extra time), and in four straight after allowing 31 shots in the season opener.  They allowed more than ten shots on goal in three of nine full periods of hockey.

What appeared to be a problem for the Caps was yielding shot attempts in close game situations.  Overall, their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 for the week was unimpressive (48.1), but it was worse in tied game situations (45.6).  The odd part of this statistical area was that the Caps did well in terms of shooting plus save percentage at fives (102.9).  Defense is, to date, very much an unsettled matter for the club.

Goaltending: 3.45 / .869 (season: 3.09 / .887)

While the defense seems to have issues through which it needs to work, goaltending for the Capitals has to be better.  Five games in, and four instances of a goaltender finishing his work with a save percentage under .900.  Vitek Vanacek was the exception, posting a .968 save percentage in his NHL debut in Week 1.  In Week 2, Ilya Samsonov stopped 24 of 27 shots (.889) in his only appearance, a 4-3 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh to open the week. That would be his work for the week, he being one of the COVID Four to be suspended from play for four games for violating protocols. 

Vanecek finished the week stopping 49 of 57 shots over two games (.860) in posting a 1-0-1 record.  Even though it was a two-game week for Vanecek, he had his ups and downs.  Although his save percentage in each game was under .900, how he got there took two different paths.  He had a very good even strength save percentage against Pittsburgh (.923), but allowing two power play goals on three shots did him in.  He was not so fortunate at evens against Buffalo to end the week, posting a .864 save percentage, the same as that posted by Samsonov against Pittsburgh to start the week.

Power Play: 1-for-7 / 14.3 percent (season: 22.2 percent/16th)

Well, at least they got more opportunities in Week 2 than in Week 1, so that is progress.  On the other hand, the Caps managed a 4-on-3 power play goal last Sunday against the Penguins, but were otherwise blanked with the man advantage.  This despite recording a respectable ten power play shots in 10:56 of total ice time.  More disappointing, the Caps failed to convert a 54 second 5-on-3 opportunity against Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week, and then failed to convert the rest of the 5-on-4 in what would end as a 5-4 overtime win for the Pens.  Despite dressing for only two games in Week 2, Alex Ovechkin led the team with three power play shots on goal.  Nicklas Backstrom had the lone goal on two shots, and Justin Schultz added a pair of power play shots.

If there was an odd result for the Caps this week, it was in power play ice time.  Fourteen different skaters logged time on the man advantage.  While some of that is transition at the end of a man advantage (Zdeno Chara had nine seconds), ten skaters logged more than two full minutes for the week, three of them defensemen (John Carlson – 6:57; Justin Schultz – 4:58; and Dmitry Orlov – 2:23).  Nicklas Backstrom was the ice time leader with 7:50 in power play time.

But what was the low point of the week for the Caps came on its 5-on-3 power play in Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh.  Holding a 4-2 lead and 54 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, with the chance to put the game away late in the second period, they allowed a Teddy Blueger breakaway 3-on-5 shothanded goal that started the Pens on a three-goal run, the last in overtime, to steal a 5-4 win and an extra standings point that the Caps left on the table.


Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.3 percent/T-11th)

It was an “Oreo” penalty killing week for the Caps – two perfect penalty killing efforts sandwiching a gooey mess in the middle.  The opened the week killing all five shorthanded situations they faced against Pittsburgh and holding the Penguins to only four shots on goal in eight minutes of power play time.  The Caps ended the week blanking the Buffalo Sabres on both of their power play chances and allowing four shots on goal in four minutes of Sabres power play time.

The middle game of the week did not go so well. There was that 3-on-5 shorthanded goal that the Pens scored to start their late game run, but in the midst of that the Caps allowed the Pens a pair of power play goals on three chances.  It is worth noting here that the Pens’ last four goals of that game were scored: power play, shorthanded, power play, 3-on-3 (overtime).  Not good game management, and the penalty kill was right in the middle of it.  The Pens had only three shots on goal in 3:15 of power play time, but that was enough to do damage to the Caps’ chances.


Faceoffs: 77-for-186 / 41.4 percent (season: 44.2 percent/28th)

Faceoffs continue to be a blemish on the Caps’ weekly performances.  Only Carolina had a worse winning percentage in Week 2 (33.3), and they played only one game.  The 41.1 percent winning percentage even looks better than it was, the Caps finishing an abysmal 36.4 percent in the offensive zone and 41.1 percent in the defensive end.  The neutral zone wins (46.9 percent) did little to lift the overall result.

Nicklas Backstrom had a particularly frustrating week in the circle, managing a 29.8 percent win mark overall (31.6 in the offensive end, 25.0 percent in the defensive end).  None of the five Capitals taking ten draws or more overall managed a winning percentage in the offensive end.


Goals by Period:

Overall, the week might be described as being what the Caps earned in the first period, they gave away in the second.  A 6-3 edge in first period goals gave way to a 4-7 deficit in second periods overall (only Vancouver allowed more second period goals (11) for the week).  What made it an odd result is that neither the Caps nor their opponents scored any third period goals for the week.  The Caps were the only club to go the entire week without a third period goal scored or allowed.


Year-over-Year:

What one might notice first about the year-over-year numbers in Week 2 is the almost docile approach to shooting so far.  The Caps are down 24 shots, year-over-year (almost five shots per game), and they are down 33 shot attempts at five-on-five (almost seven per game). The drop in shot attempts has been matched by a substantial increase in shot attempts allowed, leaving the Caps a net minus-51 in differential, year-over-year.

There is also the matter of power plays – opportunities to be specific.  The Caps to date have fewer than half the opportunities (nine) than they had through five games last season (20). A better conversion rate (22.2 percent versus 20.0 percent) makes no difference if the opportunities dry up.


In the end…

Only points count in the standings, and the Caps have points in all five games they have played to date.  Banking points is important, especially in a short season, but perhaps just as important when the underlying numbers just do not look very good.  Perhaps the rough edges are to be expected, what with the absence of preseason games and a new coaching staff.  But this is a veteran team, too, one with a considerable amount of talent.  They have a difficult stretch to come, with four players still on the shelf for disciplinary reasons and another key piece who might miss some time to injury.  Week 2 was an example of a team grinding through adversity to earn success in spite of it.  But these are issues the Caps will have to work through quickly if this season is to be successful.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (2-2-4, plus-1, seven shots on goal, 18 credited hits, only forward to average more than 1:00 per game on both power play and penalty kill)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (1-2-3, plus-3, six shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Nic Dowd (2-0-2, plus-2, tied for team lead for week in goals, 11 credited hits, no giveaways)

 

Friday, January 22, 2021

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 5: Capitals 4 - Sabres 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals opened the home portion of the 2020-2021 season hosting the Buffalo Sabres in a rematch of the two-game series the teams played in Buffalo to start the season.  It was a back and forth affair, but the Caps prevailed, 4-3, thanks to an expected source in a very unexpected situation, John Carlson getting the game-winner in the Gimmick.

First Period

Jack Eichel had the game’s first scoring chance all alone at the top of the crease about five minutes into the contest, but he snapped a shot high over the crossbar; he had another chance on a wrap-around almost ten minutes in.

The Sabres cashed in with the game’s first goal in the 13th minute, but not from Eichel.  Eric Staal tok a feed from Victor Olafsson, who pilfered the puck from Zdeno Chara behind the net, and he snapped it past goalie Vitek Vanacek before Vanacek could fend it off with his blocker.  Buffalo, 1-0, 12:33 into the period.

The Caps gained a tie late in the period when Nicklas Backstrom scored.  Brendan Dillon threw the puck at the net from the left point, but it was muffled on the way through.  The puck trickled through the low slot, and Backstrom fought off Rasmus Dahlin to backhand it past goalie Linus Ullmark’s left pad.  Dillon and Tom Wilson were credited with the assists.

Washington took the game’s first penalty later in the frame when Conor Sheary was whistled for slashing.  Vanacek save a goal on a slick three-way passing play by the Sabres, stopping an Olafsson try from the side of the net with his left pad.  The Caps killed off the rest of the penalty without damage.  The teams went to the locker room tied, 1-1.

-- Caps out-shot Buffalo, 11-7, and they out-attempted the Sabres, 18-16.

-- John Carlson and Tom Wilson led the team with two shots, apiece.

-- Nic Dowd (4-for-6) and Brian Pinho (2-for-2) were the Caps over 50 percent on draws in the first period.

-- Jonas Siegenthaler had a good period in his first action: two credited hits, two blocked shots, and a shot on goal in six minutes and change.

Second Period

Caps fans might not have thought “Nic Dowd” to break the tie, but that is just who did just over four minutes into the period.  He started his own scoring play by accepting a Brenden Dillon pass below the blue line and circling behind the Sabres’ net.  Dowd tapped the puck to John Carlson, who fed it down to Tom Wilson in the corner.  Wilson spied Dowd jumping into the play between the tops of the circle and fed it through, Dowd snapping a one timer past Ullmark at the 4:14 mark to give the Caps the lead, 2-1.

Jeff Skinner got another Sabre break near the ten-minute mark, but a snapshot was foiled by Vanecek’s blocker into the far corner.

Buffalo tied the game a bit over six minutes later, Dylan Cozens skating down the right side into the Caps’ zone and firing a laser of a shot over Vanacek’s blocker on the far side and just under the crossbar at 10:43.  It was Cozens’ first NHL goal.

The tie lasted less than four minutes.  Zdeno Chara collected the puck along the left wing boards and fired it at the net.  Ullmark made the save but left a rebound to his left.  Jakub Vrana pounced on the bouncing puck and chipped it past Ullmark at the 13:07 mark to make it 3-2.

The Caps’ lead lasted less than a minute.  Riley Sheahan walked the puck out of the corner, and with a clear lane to the net took it all the way in and tucked it around Vanacek at the 13:49 mark.

Vrana had a chance in the last minute, breaking past the defense in the offensive zone, but he mis-hit the puck off the heel of his stick, and Ullmark smothered it.  The teams ended the period tied, 3-3.

-- Shots were 14-11, Sabres, in the period, and Buffalo won the shot attempts, 27-14. A dominating period for the visitors.

-- The Caps were smoked in the circle in the second, going 10-for-28 in the period (35.7 percent).

-- Short bench for the Caps…through two periods, six forwards had less than ten minutes of ice time.

-- Lars Eller was the only player for the Caps without a shot attempt through 40 minutes.

Third Period

With T.J. Oshie in the box five minutes into the period, Lars Eller had a semi-breakaway shorthanded, but one last stickhandle rolled off his stick before he could wrap the puck around the right skate of a sprawled Ullmark.

The Caps drew a penalty in the last minute, Rasmus Ristolainen hauling down Oshie, and the penalty carried over into the overtime, the teams tied, 3-3.

Overtime

The Caps had 1:50 of 4-on-3 power play time to open the extra period, and John Carlson had a chance from between the hash marks, but he and the team failed to convert the man advantage.

The Gimmick

Oshie: save

Eichel: miss/off the post

Backstrom: miss/off the post

Hall: save

Vrana: save

Cozens: save

Carlson (Carlson?): GOAL!

Reinhart: save

 

CAPS WIN!

 

Other stuff…

-- This was the Caps’ third straight extra time game, the first time they had three straight since Games 12-14 last season against Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto, over which they went 2-0-1.  It would be the best chance in a scoreless overtime.

-- John Carlson’s Gimmick goal was historic… became first Caps defenseman in team history with two Gimmick goals (2-for-4 shooting), first Caps defenseman with a game-winning Gimmick goal.

-- The Caps’ lone power play was only the sixth time this season the Sabres went shorthanded.

-- Jakub Vrana brought the numbers… 1-1-2, plus-3, three shots on goal, five attempts, one blocked shot, and a penalty for good measure.

-- Brian Pinho was the only Cap taking more than one faceoff to finish over 50 percent (5-for-8).  As a team, the Caps were 24-for-60 (40.0 percent).

-- Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary were the only Caps without a shot on goal; Carlson led the team with six.

-- The Caps out-shot the Sabres, 32-27, but were out-attempted, 57-52.

-- Vitek Vanacek improved to 2-0-1, 2.90, .898 in his first NHL home game and first NHL Gimmick performance.

-- Tom Wilson’s last shift of the contest ended at 3:42 of the second period. He has a lower-body injury and will be re-evaluated on Saturday, per the club.

-- Garnet Hathaway had five credited hits to lead the team; four Caps finished with four blocked shots.

In the end…

Tough win, gritty win, needed win.  Putting two points in the bank with four players – four key players – sitting this out, plus another missing the last third of the game, is huge with a capital “HUGE.”  When all is said and done, that Carlson sneaky shot through Linus Ullmark’s five hole in the Gimmick might be the most important “goal” the Caps score this season.

 

 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 5 and 6: Sabres at Capitals, January 22/24

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals raise the curtain on the home portion of their 2020-2021 season on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena.  The Friday-Sunday two-game set with the Sabres will be a rematch of the two-game set that the teams played to open the season last week, both games won by the Caps.

Buffalo is a team that seems in a perpetual state of rebuild, having failed to reach the postseason in nine straight seasons coming into this year.  They have a foundational piece they hope to build around in Jack Eichel locked up through the 2025-2026 season ($10 million salary cap hit) and a top-end talent in Taylor Hall, those two players tied for the team lead in points through four games (six points apiece).  The production drops off a bit from there, with Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart tied for third on the club in points (both players 2-1-3, minus-3, so far).

Olofsson is something of a tale of perseverance.  He was a seventh-round (181st overall) draft pick of the Sabres in 2014 and remains one of only five players taken in the last round of that draft to play in the NHL.  After he was drafted out of MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik in Sweden, he spent two more seasons with MODO before moving on to Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League.  Two seasons with Frolunda, and then it was off to the Rochester Americans in the AHL for the 2018-2019 season, where he went 30-33-63, plus-12, in 66 games in his only season in the AHL.  He had six “get acquainted” games with the Sabres in that 2018-2019 season, posting a pair of goal and four points in six games.  It was all prelude to a fine rookie season in which he went 20-22-42, minus-1, in 54 games and finished seventh in Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year.  It was a bit of a long road for Olofsson, who was the oldest skater receiving votes in Calder balloting.  In four games to date, he has alternated games with scoring goals, opening the season with a goal against the Caps and scoring a goal in the first of a two-game set with the Philadelphia Flyers.  It might be said that at least so far this season, Olofsson is entirely an offensive player.  He had minus-ratings in three of his first four games (minus-3 overall) and has yet to be credited with a hit, which might not be surprising given his somewhat smallish stature (5’11”/176 pounds).  Olofsson is 2-1-3, minus-4, in four career games against Washington.

Sam Reinhart was taken in the same 2014 Entry Draft in which Olofsson was taken by the Sabres, albeit at the other end of the spectrum – second overall after defenseman Aaron Ekblad by the Florida Panthers.  Reinhart has had a fine early career for the Sabres.  Since he came into the NHL in 2014-2015 he ranks second on the club in goals scored (111), third in assists (147), and second in points (258).  He has 37 power play goals in that span, second to jack Eichel (40), and his 76 power play points ranks third on the team.  Only Eichel has more game-winning goals (24) than does Reinhart (15).  However, what Reinhart has not yet done is break through to elite scorer status.  Only once in five full seasons had he finished with more than 50 points (65 in 2018-2019, although he does have two 50-point seasons).  Reinhart did not light the lamp in either game of the two-game set against the Caps last week, but he did post a pair goals, including the game-winner, against the Flyers in the Sabres’ lone win to date, a 6-1 win over Philadelphia on Monday.  Reinhart is 5-5-10, minus-6, in 16 career games against the Caps.

If the Sabres have a “grand old man” on the roster, it would be defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, despite the fact that he just turned 26 years old in October.  He is the active leader in games played for the franchise (497) after having been drafted eighth overall by Buffalo in the 2013 Entry Draft, the third defenseman taken after Seth Jones (Columbus) and Darnell Nurse (Edmonton).  Ristolainen has an unfortunate distinction in his draft class.  His career minus-143 rating is more than twice as bad as the next player on the list (Bo Horvat, minus-66).  Nevertheless, Ristolainen is a top-ten defenseman, or close to it, in many career categories for the Sabres – games (497/11th), goals (43/10th), assists (185/seventh), points (228/T-seventh with Jim Schoenfeld), power play goals (13/ninth), power play points (104/fourth), overtime goals (four/first), game-wining goals (six/T-ninth), hits (1,180/first since 2005-2006), blocked shots (782), and takeaways (116/third).  Unfortunately for Ristolainen and the Sabres, what he does not have, even as the active leader in regular season games played, is a single appearance in the postseason.  He had a goal against the Caps in the second of the two-game set last week his only point of the season to date.  Ristolainen is 1-8-9, minus-6, in 18 career games against the Capitals.


1.  Buffalo has 11 goals scored in four games this season, but ten of them came in two games – a 6-4 loss to the Caps and a 6-1 win over the Flyers. 

2.  The Sabres have allowed only 25.3 shots per game in four games, fourth fewest in the league.  On the other hand, teams are shooting 11.9 percent against Buffalo.

3.  Only Chicago has lost more games when trailing first without winning one (0-3-1 in four instances) than Buffalo (0-3-0 in three games, tied with Edmonton) when giving up the first goal of a game three times.

4.  No team has spent less time per game killing penalties so far than the Sabres (2:15/game), more than a full minute less than the next team (Nashville: 3:20/game).  That is a product of being shorthanded 1.25 times per game, fewest in the league.

5.  Only four teams playing four games have allowed more third period goals to date than Buffalo (six) – Columbus, Arizona, Detroit, and Chicago (all with seven).

1.  The Caps started the season without a regulation loss in their first four games.  The last time they had a longer streak without a regulation loss to open the season was 2014-2015 (3-0-2).

2.  Washington leads the league in first period goals (seven).

3.  The Caps are tied with the Flyers for third most goals scored to date (15), behind Montreal (17) and Vegas (16), and no team has as many 5-on-5 goals scored (12).

4.  Washington has a losing record when leading after one period (1-0-2).

5.  Some things don’t change.  The Caps rank 27th in faceoff winning percentage (45.3) and next to last in offensive faceoff percentage (41.3).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Pick a goalie

In four games, the Sabres have employed three goalies – Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark, and Jonas Johansson.  None have been especially impressive.  Hutton has the most minutes (158:29), but he is underwater on save percentage (.899).  

Ullmark has an impressive goals against average (2.07), but his save percentage (.905) is a reflection of facing only 21.7 shots per 60 minutes.  Johansson has only 19 minutes of ice time, so his 3.15 goals against average and .889 save percentage can be reasoned away by low ice time volume.  Hutton has been something of a disappointment since he was signed to a three-year/$8.25 million contract as a free agent after putting up career year numbers in St. Louis in 2017-2018 (17-7-3/2.09/.931/3 shutouts).  He will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.  Ullmark has run hot and cold for the Sabres over his six-year career, and as a result has a 41-42-10/2.80/.911 record with three career shutouts.  He will be an unrestricted free agent after next season as well, and it would seem he and Hutton have much to prove to merit consideration for a contract extension for either of them.  

Johansson was a third-round pick by the Sabres in 2014, taken more than 50 spots ahead of the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, for what that might be worth.  But he is off to a slow start in the NHL phase of his career, with a record of 1-3-1, 2.95, .894 in seven games this year and last.  Johansson is a restricted free agent after next season.  The goaltending competition is on in Buffalo.  Hutton is 3-4-2, 3.39, .881 in ten career games against the Caps; Ullmark is 1-3-0, 2.98, .897 in four career games against Washington; and Johansson has not yet faced the Capitals in his career.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

No goals, no assists, no points, two shots on goal, and a minus-4 rating in four games.  His personal shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 of 45.0 percent his worst among defensemen.  At least he has not yet been charged with a giveaway, but Dmitry Orlov had not had a good start to the 2020-2021 season.  And then…this.  It is yet to be determined how much, if any time Orlov and other members of the merry band will miss (it will be at leas four games), but when he does return, he has to be better – a lot better – than he has been so far.  

This is especially true insofar as Orlov has had a certain, “wind him up and let him go” consistency over the years. He plays every game (dressed for every game since the 2015-2016 season), he gets 27-33 points (his range over the last five seasons).  He was a player a coach could depend on not being an issue to be addressed.  Well, now his absence for at least four games will have to be addressed.  Fortunately, the Caps can plug in Jonas Siegenthaler, who has not yet taken the ice this season but who played in 64 games last season, his first full season in the NHL. 

In the end…

As if it was not difficult enough that the Caps were competing in a loaded division, trying to assimilate new systems and schemes under a new head coach on the fly without the benefit of any preseason games, of dealing with age creeping up on the roster.  Now, some players have violated COVID protocols and will miss at least four games, and one of those players has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

At least four games will be missed by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov.  Seven percent of the schedule, two games against Buffalo and two against the New York Islanders.  Years ago, there was a thought in the NFL that elite teams needed an offense built around a top-echelon quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.  The Dallas Cowboys were the example often cited.  Imagine those teams (when they were truly competitive) without Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.  The Caps will be missing an elite left wing, a gifted center, a solid top-four defenseman, and their number one goaltender.  How is that supposed to work?

The skaters here have a combined 2,436 regular and postseason games in their careers, which suggests unvarnished stupidity on the part of the players.  They’re not kids.  But, as they say, it is what it is, and the first consideration is the health of the players, coaches, staff, and families.  Still, the on-ice challenges for the club just got harder.

Friday: Caps 3 – Sabres 2

Sunday: Caps 4 – Sabres 2

 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 4: Penguins 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their four-game road trip to open the season and their two-game set with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night with 5-4 overtime loss.  It was a case of failing to capitalize on good fortune – getting out to a 3-1 lead, having a three-on-none breakaway with that lead that could have put the game away and failing to score, failing to covert either half of a 5-on-3 man advantage, and the home team forced to go with just four defensemen after losing a pair to injury.  It was one of those games where Caps fans will mutter, “no way…no way they should have lost.”  But they did, and getting a standings point out of it looks an awful lot like a half-empty glass.

First Period

After the first game in this two game set, in which the Caps mustered only 23 shots on goal in a 4-3 Gimmick loss, one might have expected that getting more shots to the Penguins’ net was an objective in the back half of this set.  The Caps started well in that regard, putting 11 shots on goal against the Pens in the first 20 minutes.  They would score on three of them to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

The Caps opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game on a play started by Richard Panik.  Collecting a loose puck off a long rebound from a blocked shot, Panik turned from just inside the defensive blue line and fed T.J. Oshie breaking into the neutral zone.  Oshie skated the puck down the left side and checked up when he gained the offensive zone.  A passing lane opened up, and Oshie found Lars Eller at the top of the right wing circle.  In one motion, Eller swept the puck past the left arm of goalie Casey DeSmith, and the Caps were up, 1-0, 4:55 into the period.

The Caps dominated the next 12 minutes in terms of possession, but the Penguins tied it at 16:52 when Colton Sceviour found a loose puck that goalie Vitek Vanecek could not find, and slid it under the sprawled goalie.

The tie lasted six seconds.  The Penguins won the ensuing faceoff at center ice, but Alex Ovechkin jumped on the loose puck, skated it to the blue line, and fed Tom Wilson on the right side.  Wilson snapped a shot off DeSmith’s left shoulder, the puck popping into the air and dropping behind DeSmith over the goal line to make it a 2-1 game.

Wilson struck again in the last minute of the frame.  John Carlson took up the puck at the center red line and skated it down the left wing boards into the Pens’ zone.  Looking for help behind the play, he found Wilson darting to the net.  Carlson put a backhand pass right on Wilson’s stick blade, and it was only for Wilson to redirect the puck past DeSmith, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead at 19:43 of the period.  That was how the teams went to the first intermission.

-- Washington out-shot Pittsburgh, 11-5, in the period and out-attempted them, 16-13.

-- Lars Eller won four of six faceoffs, while the rest of the team went 4-for-14.

-- Daniel Sprong was the other Capital to post two shots on goal in the period.

-- Brenden Dillon had one hit, one blocked shot, no shot attempts, but was a plus-2.

Second Period

The Caps put themselves in a hole early in the period when Dmitry Orlov and Lars Eller went to the penalty box 39 seconds apart to give the home team a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:21.  The Caps skated the two-man advantage off, but the Penguins cashed in on the 5-on-4, Jake Guentzel finishing off a fine passing play from the doorstep at 5:45 to make it 3-2, Caps.

The Caps restored the two-goal lead less than three minutes later.  A Jakub Vrana shot from the left point was waved at on the way through by Daniel Sprong looking for a redirect, and it might have distracted DeSmith, who did not stop the puck cleanly.  The puck dribbled out to his left, and Evgeny Kuznetsov pounced on it, snapping it into the back of the net before DeSmith could recover.  The Caps were up, 4-2, at the 8:16 mark.

And then, things took a turn.  The Caps got a 5-on-3 man advantage of their own when Jake Guentzel and Chad Ruhwedel were sent off 1:06 apart.  You would think this would give the Caps a gift-wrapped chance to bury the Pens.  Well, yeah, except DeSmith played a puck from his own crease out of the zone and onto the stick of Teddy Blueger, who broke cleanly behind the Caps’ defense.  He converted the breakaway, and it was now a 4-3 game 15:07 into the period.

The Caps couldn’t stay out of the box themselves, T.J. Oshie going off for an interference penalty late in the frame.  Evgeni Malkin made the Caps pay 36 seconds later, and the game was tied, 4-4.  That would be how the teams went to the locker room when the period mercifully ended.

-- The Caps had a 3-on-none break in the fourth minute of the period and failed to convert.  The Pens outscored the Caps, 3-1, over the next 14 minutes – two power play goals and a shorthanded goal.

-- The Pens out-shot the Caps, 10-7, in the period and out-attempted them, 19-15.

-- Despite only 7:54 in ice time through two periods, Daniel Sprong led the team with three shots on goal.

Third Period

There would be no scoring in the period, ensuring that the Caps would earn a standings point for the fourth consecutive game. 

Overtime

Crosby… Sidney #@$% Crosby

Other Stuff…

-- Wilson had two goals on two shots in the first period.  He did not have a single shot attempt in the first game of this two-game set.

-- Wilson’s night left him with his seventh multi-goal game of his career, tied for 41st on the Caps’ all-time list with Scott Stevens, Eric Fehr, Randy Burridge, and Ulf Dahlen.

-- The Caps were outscored, 4-1, over the last 37 minutes after they blew a 3-on-none break in the second period that would have given them a 4-1 lead.

-- The Caps could not take advantage of the fact that the Pens were down two defensemen (Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola) over much of the second half of the game.

-- John Carlson led the team in ice time with 22:10.

-- Pittsburgh scored two power play goals on three shots, the Caps had no power play goals in three shots.  Add to that the Penguins scored on their only shorthanded shot, and they wer 3-for-4 shooting on special teams.  Not good.

-- Alex Ovechkin… two shots on goal, one blocked shot, three hits, and an assist.  A rather quiet night for the Captain.

-- At the other end, Evgeny Kuznetsov had six shots on goal, two attempts blocked, a goal, a blocked shot, and won six of ten draws.  All in just 14:31 of ice time.

-- Kuznetsov and Lars Eller were the only Caps not credited with at least one hit.  Tom Wilson led the team with ten.

-- The tens hits credited to Wilson marks the second time in his career he had ten or more hits in a game.  He had 13 against the Penguins in a 4-3 loss on February 2, 2020.

-- As good as Vitek Vanacek looked in goal in his NHL debut against Buffalo, he looked very much a rookie goalie in this one, allowing five goals on 30 shots and suffering from a lack of consistency more than lacking sharpness.

In the end…

The Caps earned a standings point in their fourth straight game.  But before Caps fans get all cocky about it, they should be 3-0-1 (if not 4-0-0), not 2-0-2, and this year’s start is the same as last year’s start (2-0-2).  There is much work to do before the home opener against Buffalo on Friday.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 1

The Washington Capitals got off to a good start in Week 1, what might be an important factor for success in a short season.  The two wins over the Buffalo Sabres on the road allowed them to keep pace with the Philadelphia Flyers in the East Division, winners of their first two games at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.


Record: 2-0-0

Two wins to open the season might not seem like a lot, but the two wins in regulation over Buffalo was the first time the Caps won their first two games of the season in regulation since 2009-2010, when they beat Boston, 4-1, and Toronto, 6-4, to open the campaign.  That start propelled the Caps to a 54-15-13 record that season.  It is far too early to talk about similar results, but not too early to dream about them.  The two wins against the Sabres extended the Caps’ streak of games with points earned against the Sabres to four (3-0-1), and it snapped a two-game losing streak to the Sabres in upstate New York.


Offense: 4.00/game (season: 4.00/T-5th)

Eight goals in two games is good, balance is better, and this despite the fact that none of the goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin.  Seven different Capitals shared in the eight goals, with Jakub Vrana the only Capital to get a pair in Week 1.  Vrana had a goal in each game, repeating the feat he accomplished last year when he opened the season with a goal against the St. Louis Blues on Opening Night, his overtime goal spoiling the Blues’ Stanley Cup banner raising celebration, and with a goal in Game 2 against the new York Islanders in a 2-1 win.

Speaking of Ovechkin, he took on the role of playmaker in Week 1, notching a pair of assists to tie for the team lead with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.  Backstrom and Oshie added goals of their own to finish the week tied for the team lead in points (three apiece).

When Brenden Dillon scored on Opening Night in Buffalo, he snapped a personal 35-game streak without a goal to wrap up the 2019-2020 season.  It was also his first point as a Capital after going without one in ten games to close last season.  Dillon also led the team with a plus-4 rating for the week. At the other end of that spectrum, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov were each minus-3.  Carlson did have a goal and an assist to lead the defense with two points.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.50/T-10th)

The Caps did a reasonably good job of limiting shots, holding the Sabres to 57 shots in the two games.  The 28.5 shots against average ended the week 11th best in the league.  Nine Capitals finished the week without suffering having been on ice for an even strength goal scored against.  That group included four defensemen – Nick Jensen, Zdeno Chara, Brenden Dillon, and Justin Schultz. That left John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov as the only defensemen on ice for all four Buffalo even strength goals scored in Week 1.

In terms of shot attempts, the best that can be said for the week was that the Caps were consistent.  They had a minus-2 differential in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in each game against the Sabres.  It left the Caps with a 48.6 percent result for the week, ranking 19th in the league.  Nevertheless, the Caps never trailed at 5-on-5, so they did manage to escape danger from an iffy week in this area.

Goaltending: 2.50 / .912 (season: 2.50 / .912)

The Caps got some excellent play from a young goaltender in Week 1, just not the goalie they thought it might be.  Vitek Vanecek took the ice in his NHL debut in the getaway game of the two-game series against the Sabres and stopped 30 of 31 shots to earn his first NHL win, a 2-1 victory over the Sabres.  Vanecek was sharp early (11 for 11 saves in the first period), sharp in the middle (15-for-15 in the second period), and but for a goal 31 seconds into the third period by Rasmus Ristolainen that clipped Tom Wilson’s leg on the way through, redirecting the puck past Vanecek’s left pad, the rookie might have had a shutout in his NHL debut.

In the opener, Ilya Samsonov had moments of bliss and moments of blech in stopping 22 of 26 shots in a 6-4 win.  That the Caps led the game for all but 1:45 of the last 54:17 of the game after Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring made things a bit easier on Samsonov, but allowing a goal in the last two minutes of the second period and another just 20 seconds into the third period to make it a 4-3 game gave the Sabres life when they were about to be taken off life support.  Another goal in the last two minutes of a period cut the lead to one goal one final time before Garnet Hathaway iced the game, and Samsonov and Caps fans could breathe a sigh of relief.  What is a bit disturbing here is that since Samsonov won his first ten road decisions in the NHL, he has stopped only 110 of 125 shots in his last four road games (.880 save percentage) dating back to last season.

Power Play: 1-for-2 / 50.0 percent (season: 50.0 percent/3rd)

Two man advantages in Game 1, none in Game 2.  They did get a nice distribution of shots in that first game, John Carlson and Jakub Vrana getting a pair apiece, and Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie getting one apiece, Oshie with the lone goal.  And, the six shots in just 2:59 of total power play ice time was a welcome development.  Two games with two or fewer power play chances looks a bit too much like last season, when the Caps had 27 of 69 games finish with two or fewer chances.  Not that it mattered much; the Caps were 20-3-4 in those games last season, and they are 2-0-0 in such games to start this season.


Penalty Killing: 7-for-8 / 87.5 percent (season: 87.5 percent/12th)

The flip side of the special teams coin is the penalty kill, and the Caps going shorthanded eight times in two games to finish with a minus-6 special teams opportunities differential is a dangerous way to play the game.  Still, the Caps did hold the Sabres to 11 shots on goal in 14:18 of shorthanded ice time and stopped the Sabres on their last seven power play chances.  In spite of the special teams opportunity differential, the Caps have managed shorthanded volumes reasonably well.  They went shorthanded three times on Opening Night (one goal allowed) and another five times in Game 2 (none allowed).  Last season, the Caps were 32-13-5 in 50 games in which they went shorthanded three or more times, 10-4-2 went they were shorthanded five or more times.


Faceoffs: 52-for-106 / 49.1 percent (season: 49.1 percent/18th)

The Caps were not a good faceoff team last season (48.3 percent/28th), and they are not off to a great start in that category this season, although they were over 50 percent on Opening Night (50.9).  Granted, they lost only two more draws than they won.

What sank their week was their performance in the offensive end, where the Caps won only 12 of 30 draws (40.0 percent).  It dampened a decent performance in the defensive end (19-for-37/51.4 percent) and the neutral zone (21-for-38/53.8 percent).

Of the three Caps to take at least ten draws for the week, Nicklas Backstrom finished at 50.0 percent (12-for-24), while Lars Eller was at 62.5 percent (25-for-40).  Eller was especially dominant in the defensive end, winning 14 of 20 faceoffs (70.0 percent).  The third Cap with at least ten draws was Evgeny Kuznetsov, who continues to have issues in this phase of the game.  He finished the week at 37.5 percent (9-for-24).

Goals by Period:

The Caps were consistent in scoring by period for the week, winning the first and second periods (both by 2-1 margins) and finishing even in the third period (three for, three against).  The issues, though, seem to have spilled over from last season – goals allowed very early (twice in the first minute of periods this week) or very late (twice in the last two minutes) of periods.  Starting and finishing games strong is important, and starting and finishing periods strong is an important part of that.


Year-over-Year:

There is little wisdom to be found in looking at year-over-year results after just two games, but one thing does stand out – offensive engagement.  The Caps are down 13 shots on goal after two games this season from where they were at that juncture last season, and they are down a whopping 26 shot attempts at 5-on-5 from the same point last season.  One would expect those differences to drop as the schedule moves along, but it might be something to watch.

In the end…

Two wins are two wins.  In a short season, banking four points on the road, and taking care of business against a weaker opponent are gold.  It was not the prettiest of starts for the Caps, but going on the road without the benefit of any preseason work, while a new coach patrols the bench no doubt had much to do with the lack of style points.  On balance, it was a good week.  They will just need to be better in Week 2.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Vitek Vanecek (first NHL win, 30 saves on 31 shots)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (2-0-2, plus-2, six shots on goal, one game-winning goal)
  • Third Star: Brenden Dillon (1-0-1, plus-4, four credited hits, five blocked shots (led team))