Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Predators at Capitals, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to make it five wins in their last six games as they wrap up their abbreviated two-game home stand against the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.  This will be the Caps’ last contest against a Western Conference opponent this season, unless they should advance to the Stanley Cup final. The Caps come into this contest with a 12-12-3 record against the West this season, a 6-7-0 record against the Central Division, and an 0-1-0 record against the Predators, having lost a 4-3 decision in Nashville on January 16th when the Preds overcame a 3-2 deficit with two goals in the final five minutes of the contest to take the victory.

Nashville comes into this contest with something of a rocky 2015 portion of the season, although the Predators seem to be righting themselves at the right time.  Their streaks since the new year began look like this:
  • January 3 – 16: 6-0-1 (ending with the win over the Caps)
  • January 17 – 30: 1-2-2
  • February 1 – 17: 8-1-0
  • February 19 – March 17: 4-9-2
  • March 21 – 26: 3-0-0
That 22-12-5 record overall has left the Predators at the top of the Central Division and with the second best record in the conference (46-21-8/100 points), one point behind the Anaheim Ducks (47-22-7/101 points).

Nashville has struggled on the road recently, even through their streaks, posting a 3-4-0 road record in March.  In those seven games the Predators have been outscored, 17-11, and their special teams have not been very special.  The power play is 2-for-24 in the seven road games (8.3 percent), while the penalty kill is 15-for-21 (71.4 percent).

Scoring has come hard for the Predators on the road in March.  Only once in seven away games have they recorded more than two goals, and only Paul Gaustad has more than one goal for the Predators in those seven games.  Those two goals doubled Gaustad’s total for the season, the four goals being a career low for a season in which Gaustad played in at least 50 games.  In 24 career games against the Capitals, he is 2-2-4, plus-5.

Taylor Beck is in his first full season with the Predators after being taken in the third round of the 2009 entry draft.  He also happens to be Nashville’s leading scorer on the road in March with four points (1-3-4).  It is something of an unexpected outburst from Beck, who for the season is 7-8-15.  He is something of a road warrior, though.  Of his seven goals, five have come on the road, and 11 of this 15 points have been recorded outside of Tennessee.  He has appeared in just one game against the Caps so far in his career, finishing without a point.

Perhaps lost in the hoopla that surrounds the season of Montreal goaltender Carey Price, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is putting together a season that would appear to make him a contender for one of the other finalist spots for the Vezina Trophy.  Rinne is tied with Price for most wins by a goaltender (40), is third in goals against average (2.08), is fifth in save percentage (.927), and has four shutouts.  His .935 save percentage at even strength is fifth among goaltenders appearing in at least 20 games this season.  He has done his part on the road for the Predators in March, although his record does not reflect it.  He is 3-3-0 in March road games with a 2.02 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.  In one of the odd instances of the Caps-Predators rivalry, Rinne has appeared against the Caps only once in his career, that coming in November 2011.  He made 39 saves in a 3-1 win in Nashville.

Here is how the teams’ numbers compare overall:

1.  Nashville is something of a slow starter in games, having scored only 54 goals in the first periods of games this season.  They do close with a rush, though.  Of their 200 goals scored in regulation, 146 of them (73 percent) have been scored in the final 40 minutes.

2.  Only the New York Rangers have a larger ratio of goals scored to goals allowed at 5-on-5 this season (1.37:1) than the Predators (1.31:1).  The Rangers have a goal differential of plus-44 at 5-on-5, while Nashville has one of plus-41 (the Caps are plus-7).

3.  The sweet spot for beating Nashville is the two-goal decision.  The Predators have the third-best winning percentage in one-goal games (.674/29-6-8), and they have the third-best winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals (.667/12-6).  In two-goal games they are 5-9 (.357 winning percentage).

4.  Those first period goal totals suggest that Nashville is not an especially adept team at front-running, but watch out if they do get out to leads.  They have scored the first goal only 32 times in 75 games, the seventh-fewest amount of first-goal games in the league.  However, when scoring that first goal, Nashville is 26-2-4, their .813 winning percentage third-best in the league.  Similarly for first period leads, the Predators have led after 20 minutes just 22 times in 75 games, 12th fewest in the league.  They are, however, 19-1-2 in those games, their .864 winning percentage ranking third in the league.

5. Nashville’s possession performance in March road games has been very different in 5-on-5 situations overall and 5-on-5 close score situations.  Overall, the Predators’ Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages at 5-on-5 are 50.2/49.4.  In close score situations those percentages jump: 55.0/53.6.

1.  Nashville does not score much in the first period of games, and the Caps are stingy in allowing goals in the first period of contests.  Only five teams have allowed fewer first period goals than the 50 allowed by Washington (of course, Nashville recorded one of those goals in the first meeting of the clubs).  The Caps have, however, been a bit less stingy at home, allowing 25 goals in the first period of 37 home games (12th-fewest in the league).

2.  If PDO is, in part, “puck luck,” the Caps don’t seem to have it late in games at home.  They have a 5-on-5 PDO at home of 101.9 in the first periods of games (seventh-best in the league), and a second period 5-on-5 PDO of 101.6 (eighth).  The third period falls off – 98.3 (23rd).

3.  The Caps have won four of their last five games, but they have not been doing it with offense.  In those five games they have only 11 goals, and their power play is 3-for-11 (but 0-for-8 in the last three games).  They have played on the margin, too, winning two games in extra time and another by one goal.

4.  Washington still needs to improve on those one-goal games, though.  The Caps rank 18th in one-goal game winning percentage (.452/19-13-10).  Decisions by more than one goal are not a problem (21-11, including a league best 12-4 record in games decided by three or more goals).

5.  In their recent five-game run of good fortune, the Caps’ possession numbers have been generally solid.  At 5-on-5 overall their Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages are 56.0/54.6.  In close score situations they are 55.3/53.9.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Seth Jones

Learning to play defense for a defenseman in the National Hockey League is a process, not an instant mix in which you just add talent, even for a fourth overall pick like Seth Jones.  Last season – his rookie year in the NHL – Jones was on ice for 76 goals against in 77 games (1,511 minutes played).  Only Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba was on ice for more goals against among rookie defensemen (77).  This year, in 75 games, Jones has been on ice for only 56 goals against (1,466 minutes played).  He has managed this improvement with almost identical offensive numbers: 6-19-25 last season, 6-18-24 this season.  It is the difference between being a minus-23 last season (last among rookie defensemen) and being a plus-6 this season.  Jones is 1-1-2, plus-3 in two career games against the Caps.

Washington: Joel Ward

Joel Ward has never scored a goal against his old team, either before he joined the Predators when he played for Minnesota (he never faced Nashville as a member of the Wild) or since joining the Capitals (no goals in five games).  Of more immediate concern, Ward has gone seven straight games without a goal, and he has just seven in his last 52 games dating back to November 28th (an 11-goal season pace).  It is a symptom of the lack of secondary scoring the Caps have had.

Ward has been something of a slow finisher in the regular season over his career.  In the last ten games of each of his six full seasons before this one, he had six goals in the 60 games.  Getting more production out of Ward – and the bottom nine forwards generally – will be key in whether the Caps advance to the post season or find themselves coming up short.  Ward is 0-1-1, minus-1, in five career games against Nashville.

In the end…

The playoffs start early for the Caps.  Despite holding a five-point lead over both the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins for one of the two wild-card playoff spots, the Senators hold a game in hand and, more important, the schedule to close the regular season is sprinkled with playoff-eligible teams throughout for the Caps.  It starts today against the Predators.  Fortunately for the Caps, history would appear to be on their side.  Washington holds a 7-2-0 all-time record against Nashville at Verizon Center and have a four-game home winning streak against the Preds.  It seems likely to be a game that fans of the game within a game – goalie vs. goalie – will like, but one that will feature little offense.  Pekka Rinne will be hard to solve, but a power play goal, a deflection, and an empty netter might be the formula here.

Capitals 3 – Predators 1

Friday, March 27, 2015

Down the Home Stretch: March 27 Update

After last night's games, here is how the three wild-card contestants in the Eastern Conference find themselves...

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 74: Capitals 3 - Devils 2 (OT)

The Washington Capitals shook off the rust of having had four days off from game action just in time to escape their contest against the New Jersey Devils with a 3-2 overtime win on Thursday night.  Matt Niskanen did the honors for the Caps, firing a slap shot from the left point that was redirected off a Devils player and over the glove of goalie Cory Schneider 1:13 into the extra period (NOTE: the goal has been awarded to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who redirected the Niskanen shot).

The game up to that point was a close affair, closer than one might have imagined it would be early on.  Karl Alzner got the Caps off and running less than three minutes into the game.  The scoring play started when Marcus Johansson walked the puck around the top of the zone to the top of the offensive zone before backhanding a pass to Niskanen at the right point.  Niskanen reversed the flow and sent the puck to Alzner at the left point.  With the Devils defense having shifted en masse to the right side of the ice, Alzner had room to step up and let fly with a shot from the left wing circle that beat Schneider cleanly over his right pad on the short side.

That would be all for the first period scoring, but Washington got on the board with another early goal in the second period.  In the second minute of the period the Devils were having difficulty clearing the puck from the own zone.  Eric Gelinas tried to clear the puck from  the crease by shooting it off the side boards but managed only to put the puck on the stick of Eric Fehr at the right point.  Fehr sent the puck right back at the New Jersey net and off the post past a startled Schneider to make it 2-0 just 1:35 into the period.

The Caps let the Devils back into the game late in the second period when, on a power play, they allowed the Devils to break cleanly out of the defensive zone.  Patrick Elias skated into the Caps’ zone, pulled up, and fired a shot that goalie Braden Holtby stopped with his right pad.  Travis Zajac followed up on the play and batted the rebound through Holtby’s pads for the shorthanded goal, halving the Caps’ lead to 2-1.

That might have been all the scoring, but the Devils had one more strike left in them.  In the last minute and their goalie pulled, the Devils worked the puck behind the Caps’ net.  Scott Gomez found a passing lane from the end wall to Steve Bernier standing at the edge of the blue paint just off the post to Holtby’s left.  Bernier slammed the pass from Gomez past Holtby’s left pad before the goalie could get across, and the game was tied, 2-2, with just 29.2 seconds left in regulation time.  That left it up to the Caps, and Niskanen (uh...Kuznetsov), to end the game 73 seconds into the extra period to give the Caps the extra standings point in the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The overtime goal was the 13th 4-on-4 goal scored by the Caps this season (second in this game), tied for second-most in the league.  The Caps have out-scored opponents by a 13-2 margin at 4-on-4.

-- After recording six game-winning goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, Matt Niskanen recorded his first game-winner as a Capital.

-- It was a Devils sort of game with shots and chances at a minimum.  The teams combined for fewer than 100 attempts, the Devils finishing with 50 and the Caps with 47.

-- In addition to his game-winning goal, Niskanen added an assist, giving him two multi-point games in his last four contests (1-4-5).

-- Karl Alzner also finished with a goal and an assist for his second multi-point game this season (he had a goal and an assist against Columbus on December 18th).  The Caps have had 33 multi-point games from defensemen this season.  It is the second time this season that the Caps had multi-point games from at least two defensemen against the Devils.  Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Mike Green each recorded a pair of assists in a 6-2 win over New Jersey on October 16th.

-- Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, and Tom Wilson started together as a line, and they were active.  The threesome combined for 11 of the Caps’ 47 shot attempts, four of the 24 shots on goal, and Fehr’s goal.

-- Maybe it was an odd night, or perhaps the official scorer was a bit too focused on one statistic, but the Caps were charged with 16 giveaways to the Devils’ seven.  John Carlson was nicked for four, Matt Niskanen for three.

-- The Caps were five over .500 on faceoffs for the game (31-for-57), but they were 13-for-21 in the offensive zone.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov earned the second assist on the game winning goal, giving him points in six of his last nine games (3-4-7...edit: 4-3-7).  He is now ninth among rookies in points (9-22-31...edit: 10-21-31).

-- Braden Holtby has found himself in a rhythm of late.  This was the third straight game in which he allowed two goals.  In his last 12 appearances he is 7-5-0, 2.08, .931, with one shutout.  Three of those five losses came in games in which he allowed, yes, two goals.

In the end…

On the one hand, a win is nice, especially when Ottawa lost in regulation, and Boston lost in extra time.  The Caps now have a five-point lead on both clubs with eight games left to play.  And it was their fourth win in five games.  On the other hand, getting out to a two-goal lead, then allowing a shorthanded goal off a sloppy line change and a goal in the last half minute to tie the game…really?  The adjectives head coach Barry Trotz used after the game – “poor”…”lucky”…”average (at best)” – were apt.  As he put it, “I know I wasn't happy with that game, and I know they shouldn't be.  If they are, then we’re fooling ourselves. We didn't play very well.” 

No, no one should be happy, and no one should fool themselves that the Caps were anything but fortunate to play that sloppily against a team that can’t score and has little but pride to play for, and yet still come out with a win.   They will be tested more severely when Nashville comes to town on Saturday and again when they head to New York to face the Rangers on Sunday.  They need to get back into a playoff mind set, or playoffs might be something they watch instead of something in which they participate.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Devils at Capitals, March 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Thursday night to host the New Jersey Devils in the last meeting of the teams this season. 

Despite this being the fifth meeting of the season between the Caps and the Devils, it will be the first since the Devils decided to employ a two-headed head coaching framework, one of those heads belonging to former Capitals head coach Adam Oates. 

The Caps return home after a 2-1-0 road trip and clinging to a three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators for the first wild-card spot in the post season.  The Boston Bruins are just four points back, threatening to push the Caps out of the playoff picture altogether.

Meanwhile, the Devils are already out of the playoff picture, for all intents and purposes.  With nine games to play, New Jersey is 12 points behind Ottawa for the last seat at the post season table.  A so-so March (5-4-1) has done them in.  It is part of a longer, not quite good enough record the Devils have posted since instituting the coaching experiment (19-14-4).

The March record has featured a lack of goal scoring, for and against, as the Devils have outscored their opponents by a 23-21 margin in ten games.  Their power play has been decent overall (4-22/18.2 percent) but has dried up of late – both in number of opportunities and conversions – going 1-for-11 in their last seven games.  The penalty kill is 12-for-24 in March (87.5 percent), but it has allowed power play goals in two of the Devils’ last three games (6-for-8/75.0 percent).

Adam Henrique leads the Devils in goals and points in March (4-4-8), pushing him into the team lead in points overall (16-24-40).  Until coming up empty in his last two games, Henrique had points in six of seven games.  He has an assist in three games against the Caps this season (0-1-1, minus-4) and is 2-4-6, minus-7 in 13 career games against Washington.

It is no small surprise that the Devils’ second most frequent goal scorer in March is Jordin Tootoo (3-1-4).  Through 59 games Tootoo has nine goals, his second highest total in an 11-year career and exceeded only by an 11-goal season with Nashville in 2007-2008.  His 15.0 percent shooting percentage is a career high, and when he recorded a power play goal in the Devils’ 3-2 loss to Columbus on March 6th, it was his first power play goal in three seasons and just his second power play goal over a ten-season span.  Tootoo is 1-0-1, minus-3, in 11 career games against the Caps.

Cory Schneider is among the league leaders in most goaltending categories – fifth in goals against average (2.17), third in save percentage (.928), tied for seventh in shutouts (5), third in total minutes played (3,614).  He is second in the league in save percentage at even strength (.936) among goalies playing in at least 20 games.  What it has been for Schneider, however, is a frustrating year.  Despite the fine individual numbers, he has just 26 wins, 15th in the league.  The frustration has spilled over into March.  He has good individual numbers – a 2.08 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in eight games – but his record is just 3-4-1.  A certain inconsistency has crept into his game, though.  Over his last ten appearances he has allowed fewer than two goals five times, but he has also allowed three or more four times.  In seven career appearances against the Caps, Schneider is 3-4-0, 2.10, .924, with one shutout.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  New Jersey has the seventh-worst goal differential in road games this season (minus-22), largely a product of having scored the third-fewest goals on the road (79).  Only Toronto and Buffalo have scored fewer goals on the road, not exactly the neighborhood in which one wants to travel.

2.  Scoring against the Devils early is a chore.  No team has allowed fewer first period goals than New Jersey (35).  That stinginess has not carried over into the last 40 minutes of games, though.  New Jersey has allowed 63 goals in the second periods of games, and the 77 goals allowed in the third periods of games is tied for the sixth-highest total in the league (with Columbus).

3.  New Jersey does get out to leads – they are tied for tenth (with Chicago) for most first scores in the league.  However, they do little with early advantages.  The Devils have the fifth-worst winning percentage when scoring first (.575/23-9-8).

4.  The Devils have an odd offensive profile in one respect.  Despite ranking 28th in scoring offense (2.19 goals per game), they have 19 players with ten or more points.  By way of comparison, the Capitals (eighth in scoring offense with 2.85 goals per game) have 17 players with ten or more points.

5.  New Jersey struggles with possession.  The Devils rank 25th in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (46.9).  They are slightly better in close score situations, ranking 23rd (47.7).  They have not been any better in March, posting a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 46.5, 48.0 in close score situations (numbers from

1.  The Caps could benefit from stepping up their game down the stretch.  They are 6-4-0 in March, outscoring opponents by a 27-18 margin.  They have just four goals in their four losses, three of those losses coming at home.

2.  Washington’s power play is 9-for-24 in March (37.5 percent), but “only” 3-for-13 (23.1 percent) in their last five games.  The penalty kill has been deceptive.  Overall, it is 27-for-33 in March (81.8 percent), but three of the six goals allowed came in six shorthanded situations in a 4-2 loss to Dallas on March 13th.

3.  Scoring first continues to be just about the best indicator there is of what a Capitals result will be.  Washington has the league’s best record when scoring the game’s first goal (32-3-4/.842), but they have the league’s fifth-worst record when scored upon first (7-22-6/.200).

4.  Tom Wilson has more penalty minutes recorded over the last two seasons (306) than all but two players in the NHL – Antoine Roussel (335) and Steve Downie (329).

5.  Possession has not been a problem for the Caps in March, at least overall.  In ten games Washington has a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 60.4.  In close score situations that percentage is 54.5.  Of course, two of those games in March were against Buffalo, and both times the Caps had Corsi-for percentages at 5-on-5 over 60 percent (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Andy Greene

Andy Greene is not generally thought of as a prolific offensive defenseman.  In nine seasons, including this one, he has topped 30 points just once (31 points in 2009-2010) and has never recorded more than eight goals in a season (eight in 2013-2014).  However, he started March on a tear, going 1-5-6 in six games to open the month.  Add in a game-winning goal to close February, and Greene was on quite a roll.  His scoring is tightly bound with Devils success, too, the team going 12-5-2 this season in games in which he recorded at least one point.  However, he cooled off of late, going without a point in his last four contests.  In 28 career games against the Caps, Greene is 2-6-8, minus-12.

Washington: Mike Green

Mike Green (no relation) seems far removed from those days when he was potting power play goals, finishing overtime games, and generally performing as the top offensive defenseman in the game.  This season he is 23rd among league defensemen in points (39), and he is tied for 56th in goals (6).  He has just one goal in his last 23 games and has ten points over that span.  He is shooting in poor luck, that one goal in 23 games coming on a total of 49 shots (2.0 percent), and his 4.3 percent shooting percentage for the season is his lowest since he shot 2.9 percent in 70 games in 2006-2007.  In 26 career games against New Jersey, Green is 7-9-16, plus-5.

In the end…

Scoreboard watching will be tempting over the next three weeks, but as long as the Caps tend to business they control their own destiny.  Part of that is dealing with teams that have dropped out of the playoff race, and the Devils are in that category (though they have not been technically eliminated).  New Jersey is one of those nuisance teams that is a pain to play against, one against which offensive opportunities are scarce and even when presenting themselves are usually foiled by an excellent goaltender.  That speaks to the need to play with 60-minute focus.

The Caps have been successful against the Devils this season, posting a 3-1-0 record in four games and outscoring the Devils, 14-4.  The Caps have been especially adept at shutting off the Devils power play, killing all 11 shorthanded situations faced in the four games.  That sounds like a good enough formula to make it four wins in five games.

Capitals 4 – Devils 1

Down the Home Stretch: Schedule for the Eastern Conference Wild Card Candidates

Here it is, the last 18 days of the 2014-2015 season, and three teams are fighting for two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference -- the Washington Capitals, the Ottawa Senators, and the Boston Bruins (our apologies to the Florida Panthers, but in a team where three-point games are not uncommon, making up six points with nine games to play to overtake Ottawa is a tall order).  Here is how the schedule plays out...

Some things to note...

  • Seven times, including the last day of the regular season, all three teams will be in action. 
  • On that last day of the season, Ottawa has a 12:30 game, as do the Caps.  Boston faces Tampa Bay in a 7:30 game.  Maybe that game will mean something, maybe it will not.
  • All three teams have two back-to-back games left; all of them have an away/away and a home/away set of back-to-backs.
  • The Caps finish up the last week with a light, two-game schedule, both games at home.  Both Ottawa and Boston finish on the road, the Senators with their final two games on the road and the Bruins with their last three away from Beantown.
  • Six of the Caps' last nine games are against likely playoff teams, two others against the other wild card contenders, Boston and Ottawa.
  • Ottawa plays five of its last ten games against likely playoff teams, plus a game against the Caps.
  • Boston plays four of its last nine games against likely playoff teams, plus a game against the Caps.
  • Washington and Ottawa each have five home games remaining; the Bruins have four.
We will be updating this from time to time, hoping it will all work out in the end for the Caps.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

In Week 24 the Washington Capitals found themselves at the top of that roller coaster on which they have been riding over the last seven weeks.  A heavy workload (four games) and a good record (3-1-0) left the Caps on the brink of making reservations for the playoffs. On the brink does not mean circling the dates on the calendar in pen, though, not just yet anyway.

Record: 3-1-0

This was the Capitals’ fourth three-or-more win week in their last seven weeks.  The difficulty with that is that the club keeps alternating such weeks with those in which they have one or fewer wins.  This was a satisfying week in that the Caps started the week by salvaging a disappointing home stand with a gritty shutout win over the Boston Bruins, a team that had been closing on the Caps for the first wild card spot in the playoffs, then following up that win with a pair of road wins.  The trick shot win in Buffalo was scarier than it probably should have been, but then again, the Caps have not won a game in regulation in Buffalo since February 2011 and were 2-2-1 in Buffalo (both wins in extra time) since that win.  It has not been the easiest place in which to earn a win.  The Caps then won their first game ever at Xcel Center in Minnesota before dropping a 3-0 decision to Winnipeg to close the week.  That loss was disappointing for its intensity level, but in the larger picture, the week went well.

Offense:  2.00/game (season: 2.85/game; rank: 7th)

It was a light week at the offensive end of the ice, even accounting for the fact that the fourth game of the week ended in a shutout against the Caps.  It was one of those “on the one hand, on the other” sorts of weeks. 

On the one hand, the Caps opened the week facing a goalie – Boston’s Tuukka Rask – who was 6-1-1, 1.59, .950, with one shutout in his previous eight appearances.  On the other, the Caps had been Rask’s personal tormentors over his career, Rask struggling with a 1-4-1, 3.13, .883 career record against the Caps.  The Caps got a goal in each of the first two periods and groundout a 2-0 win over Rask.

On the one hand, the Caps faced a Sabres team that had been leaking goals all season and had traded both of their goaltenders away.  On the other, as we noted, the Caps have not had much success recently in Buffalo. They fell behind twice by a goal, took a lead, but could not add to it, relying on the trick shot phase for a win.

On the one hand…well, there is no such thing in the game against Minnesota.  Wild Goalie Devan Dubnyk had allowed as many as three goals in a game just once in his previous 14 appearances.  The Caps scored two goals less than a minute apart in the second period against Dubnyk, added one in the third period, and pinned on Dubnyk just his sixth loss in regulation in 28 decisions with the Wild.

In the last game of the week the Caps came out fairly well, but slowly had the air leak out of their balloon, several shots hitting iron further frustrating the club before they finished against Winnipeg shut out.  It was the fourth time the Caps were shut out this season.

As it was, eight goals was a light week for the Caps, made lighter by the fact that half of the goals came from Alex Ovechkin (two) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two).  Only one other goal came from a forward (Curtis Glencross).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.41/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps’ defense was probably good enough to win all four games in Week 24.  The shots allowed was an average week of sorts (29.8 allowed per game), but it was possession numbers that were noteworthy.  Washington won the possession battle in each game and overall.  Their 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentages were north of 50 percent in each game and for the week was 56.6.  Those trends were maintained in close score situations with the Caps winning each game and finishing the week with a Corsi-for percentage of 55.3.

That is where the fickleness of hockey makes its appearance.  Consider two goals, both in the game against Buffalo.  One occurred when an innocent enough backhand shot by Cody Hodgson was stopped by goalie Braden Holtby, but the puck popped straight up into the air.  When it came down it did so on Holtby’s back, then trickled over the goal line.  The second goal (Buffalo’s third, and the game-tying goal) came on a redirect by Johan Larsson of a shot from the point.  Redirects involve some measure of skill (and, in this case, some measure of poor defensive positioning to allow Larsson position to execute the play), but they involve some measure of luck given the respective shapes of the puck and a hockey stick.  If a floating puck lands at Holtby’s feet instead of on his back; if a redirect goes just wide of instead of just inside the post, the scoring defense numbers look more like the possession numbers.

It was a difficult week for John Carlson.  He was on ice for four of the seven non-empty net goals scored against the Caps, although he skated in iffy circumstances.  For example, it was his partner, Nate Schmidt, who was victimized by Larsson’s game-tying goal in the Buffalo game.  On the other hand, he could not fight his way around Larsson on Tyler Ennis’ power play goal on a give-and-go that gave the Sabres their first goal in that game. 

Joel Ward also found himself on ice for four goals against (including the empty netter scored by Winnipeg).  As it was, every Capital skater dressing in Week 24 found themselves finishing the week with at least one goal against having been scored while they were on the ice except Chris Conner, who managed to avoid that problem in the two games he played.

Goaltending: 1.72 / .941 / 1 shutout (season: 2.34 / .918 / 8 shutouts)

Another week, another Braden Holtby production.  Holtby took all the minutes for the Caps in Week 24 and played very well overall as the top line numbers above suggest.  By period he was fine as well, posting save percentages by period all in excess of .920 (.921/.949/.947/1.000).  He finished the week in the league’s top ten in wins (35/3rd), goals against average (2.18/7th), save percentage (.924/8th), and shutouts (8/3rd).  He is 11th among goalies appearing in at least 20 games in even strength save percentage (.930).  The one area in which Holtby had issues this season – shootout save percentage – was one in which he was perfect for the week.  He came into the week with a .667 save percentage in the trick shot phase (the league average is .700), but he turned away all three attempts to seal the Caps’ 4-3 Gimmick win over Buffalo.

Power Play: 3-for-10 / 30.0 percent (season: 24.9 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Capitals certainly have dialed up their power play in March.  Coming into Week 24 they were 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) in six games.  They actually fell back a bit in Week 24, going 3-for-10 (30 percent).  What made the week a bit stranger was that Washington converted each of its first three power play opportunities of the week before going 0-for-7 in their last two games.  The odd thing about the week, and the three goals, is that none of the goals – none of the points, in fact – were recorded by the league’s leading power play goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin.  Nicklas Backstrom, who finished the week tied with Ovechkin for second in power play points in the league, managed only one assist among the three goals scored. 

As it was, there were three different power play goal scorers for the Caps – John Carlson, Curtis Glencross, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.  It was Matt Niskanen who had the only multiple assist week on the power play (two).

As one might expect from the results, the efficiency of the power play broke into two pieces for the week.  In the first two games the Caps were 3-for-3, scoring three goals on seven shots in just 3:48 of power play ice time.  In the last two games the power play was 0-for-7, failing on all seven shot attempts in 13:15 of man advantage ice time while allowing a shorthanded goal in a 6-on-4 situation late in the 3-0 loss to Winnipeg.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-13 / 84.6 percent (season: 81.2 percent; rank: 17th)

Week 24 was a good, if not great week for the Capitals. The odd part of it was that the power play goals were scored by Buffalo (30th in the league in power play efficiency/29th at home) and Minnesota (27th overall/14th at home).  Not that Boston (19th overall/25th on the road) or Winnipeg (14th overall/17th at home) are especially prolific on the man advantage, but it was a bit of an odd week on the PK. 

It was not a bad week, efficiency-wise, but it might have been better.  The Caps gave up two goals on 24 shots (score one for goaltending on the penalty kill, a .917 save percentage) in 22:34 of penalty killing ice time.  Fourteen of those 24 shots (seven apiece) were recorded by the low-ranked Sabres and Wild in just over nine minutes of ice time.  You never know who it is you are going to struggle against in this game.

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

It would have been a pretty good week but for that Winnipeg game.  The Caps were outscored, 2-0, at evens against the Jets to leave them even for the week.  It was a deceptively poor sort of result in Week 24 for the Caps, who out-shot their opponents at even strength by a 110-93 margin and out-attempted them by a whopping 227-173 at even strength (5-on-5, 4-on-4).

The problem seemed to be more on the offensive end, where the Caps shot to just a 4.5 percent efficiency rate at evens for the week.  And there was the goal scoring.  Alex Ovechkin had a pair of even strength goals (both against Minnesota), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had one.  That did it for the forwards.  Mike Green and Nate Schmidt added one apiece from the blue line.  Secondary scoring was more a rumor than a fact at evens in Week 24.

Faceoffs: 109-224 / 48.7 percent (season: 51.5% / rank: 10th)

This was not a particularly good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle.  They were one win over .500 in the offensive end (43-for-85), and they lost both the defensive zone (36-for-73) and the neutral zone (30-for-66) for the week.  Further, it was the guys taking the heavy workload who had off weeks for the most part.  Among Caps taking at least ten draws, Nicklas Backstrom finished the week over 50 percent (51.5) on the strength of winning in the ends (56.7 percent in the offensive zone, 64.7 percent in the defensive zone).  Otherwise, Troy Brouwer (43.3 percent), Eric Fehr (44.2 percent), Evgeny Kuznetsov (44.9 percent), and Brooks Laich (47.4 percent) struggled.

Goals by Period:

While the week finished even overall for the Caps – eight goals scored, eight allowed – the periods were a bit of a different story.  The Caps lost the first (2-3) and third (2-3) periods, but won the second periods (4-2).  It was not as if the Caps were giving up an inordinate number of shots in the first or third periods.  Not counting empty net shots, the Caps allowed 38, 39, and 38 shots in the first, second, and third periods, respectively.

As it is, though, the Caps are the most consistent team in the league in one respect, unchanged from when the week began.  Washington is the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-10 or better in each period in the 2014-2015 season to date (plus-10, plus-13, plus-11, in the first, second, and third period, respectively).

In the end…

Sure, a perfect week would have been nice.  As it was, the Caps ended their homestand on an up-note, then they went off and won two of three on the road.  In a sense, the road loss was unexpected since it was Braden Holtby taking the loss in Winnipeg, a city in which he had never lost as a Capital (4-0-0, 1.22, .962, with two shutouts against the Jets).

The Caps started the week tied with Boston in standings points and holding the second wild card spot, six points ahead of ninth-place Florida.  At week’s end the Caps held the first wild card spot, four points ahead of the Bruins.  They were just two points behind Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division and four points behind the New York Islanders.  In that sense, Week 24 was a good week, further solidifying the Caps’ playoff position.

The season has now come down to less than a month and fewer than ten games for the Caps.  If one was inclined to play that “if they go…” game, then if the Caps go .500 in standings points over their last nine games they will finish with 97 standings points.  In that instance, Ottawa would have to earn 14 points over their last 11 games to catch the Caps, 15 points to pass them, assuming the Senators, with 31 wins in regulation and overtime, cannot catch the Caps in that category (Washington has 35 such wins).  And even with that, the Bruins would need 13 points in their last ten games to catch the Caps to earn the other wild card spot.  We are now at the points where it would take a most unlikely coincidence of events to keep Washington out of the post season.

But not impossible.  There is still work to do.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, minus-1, 24:09 average ice time, seven blocked shots)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (3-1-0, 1.72,  .941, 1 shutout)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even, 1 GWG, 21 shots, 52 shot attempts, nine hits)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Programming Note...

We will be off the air for the next few days.  Not that Caps fans have any shortage of places to find news, notes, and highlights.

We will be back on Saturday.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 71: Capitals 4 - Sabres 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals opened their three-game road trip with a visit to Buffalo on Monday night to face the Sabres.  It was the Caps coming out on top in a surprisingly difficult contest, 4-3, that was settled in a trick shot competition,

The teams split four goals over the first two periods.  Buffalo opened the scoring on a power play early in the first period.  With Alex Ovechkin serving a double minor for roughing (Buffalo’s Mike Weber got two minutes for roughing), Tyler Ennis and Rasmus Ristolainen worked a fine give-and-go in the middle of the ice, Ennis finishing the play for his 18th goal of the season at 5:02.

The Caps evened things up on a power play of their own just over four minutes later.  A drive by Matt Niskanen was redirected by Joel Ward in the high slot, handcuffing Sabres’ goalie Anders Lindback.  Unable to control the loose puck, Lindback could not prevent Curtis Glencross from poking it over his left pad and in to make it 1-1 at the 9:23 mark.

It took Buffalo just 45 seconds to break the tie.  Cody Hodgson recorded his fifth goal of the season when his backhand shot was fought off by Braden Holtby, but the puck popped straight up.  When it came back down it hit Holtby in the back and tumbled across the goal line to make it 2-1 at 10:08.

That was all the scoring in the first period.  In the second, Mike Green tied the game for the Caps six minutes into the period when he jumped up on a loose puck deep in the right wing circle and pounded it over a fallen Lindback in the Sabres crease.

Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their first lead on a power play 5:55 into the third period.  He cut to the middle of the ice, trailing Curtis Glencross, then dialed up the snap shot he has used to great effect in the Gimmick.  He fired it low over Lindback’s right pad before the goalie could flinch, and it was 3-2.  He would return to a similar shot later, in the freestyle competition.

The Caps could not extend the lead, and it cost them late in the third period.  Johan Larsson beat Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt across the slot and had a free chance to redirect a Chad Ruhwedel drive out of mid-air down and past Holtby’s left pad to make it 3-3 at the 13:50 mark.

That would do it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the contest.  Evgeny Kuznetsov opened the trick shot competition with an almost hypnotic stroll into the zone before snapping the puck like a cobra strike past Kindback’s blocker, similar to his goal-scoring effort in the hockey portion of the evening.  That was enough.  Holtby stopped all three Sabre freestyle attempts, and the Caps escaped with a 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Mike Green’s goal broke a 20-game goalless drought dating back to January 28th when he had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh.

-- Curtis Glencross’ goal was his fourth in six games (4-2-6).  And it was his driving the middle that opened a shooting lane for Kuznetsov’s power play goal early in the third period.

-- With three goals scored against the Caps in regulation and overtime, the Sabres have scored more goals against the Caps this season (6) in three games than Boston and Pittsburgh have scored in six games against the Caps, combined (5).

-- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with 22 shot attempts – nine shots on goal, 10 shots blocked, and three misses.  There are 59 skaters having dressed this season who do not have a total of 22 shot attempts

-- With his goal in the hockey portion of the contest, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 2-2-4 in his last four games.  He is now tied for second in the league in trick shot goals (6).

-- Are the Caps hot on the power play, or what?  Going 2-for-2 makes them 3-for-3 in their last two games and 9-for-17 in March (52.9 percent).

-- The Caps had 38 shots on goal, their lowest total against Buffalo this season.  They finished the season series having strafed Buffalo goalies for 127 shots in three games.  The Caps out-attempted the Sabres by a 238-144 margin (plus-94 differential) over the three games.

-- With two assists, Matt Niskanen recorded his fifth multi-point game of the season and his first since January 27th in a 4-3 loss at Columbus.

-- Kuznetsov was the only Capital to win more than 50 percent of his draws (8-for-15).

-- You could say with some conviction that the only difference between last night and tonight for Braden Holtby was a measure of luck.  One goal off a pop-up that hits him in the back on the way down, another off a give-and-go that was a product of his defense allowing too much time and space for the Sabres to set up, and a third goal on a redirect out of mid-air.  It was not as if he allowed any softies.

In the end…

The Caps played at 33-1/3 while the Sabres played at 78 (it’s a vinyl thing, kids).  If the Sabres had more talent, this would have been a blow out, but good on them for their effort for 60 minutes.  The Caps?  Well, they didn’t have the same focus they had against the Bruins.  That it did not cost them an extra point can be called a good thing, we suppose.  Good teams have to fight through those kinds of games.  But we recall what Braden Holtby said after the 2-0 win over Boston, that his father told him it is okay to have a bad game, just don’t have two in a row.  That will be the object when the Caps head to Minnesota on Thursday.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 71: Capitals at Sabres, March 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Monday following their 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on Sunday evening.  The three-game road trip starts in Buffalo, where the Caps will face the Sabres at First Niagara Center.  So let's go to our abbreviated prognosto...

This, the third meeting of the seasons between the clubs, will be the last until next season. The Caps and Sabres split their first two games of the season series, the Sabres taking a 2-1 decision on November 22nd, the Caps winning the second meeting by a 6-1 score nine days ago.  Not much has changed since the last time these two teams met, so check our prognosto and game summary (at Japers’ Rink) from the March 7th game for some particulars.

Since then, here are some random facts to ponder…

-- The Caps are 1-2-0 since beating the Sabres and have scored just five goals in those three games.  It is the second time in a space of ten games that the Caps have been held to five goals over a three-game span.  They scored five in three consecutive losses, February 22-27: to Philadelphia (3-2), to Pittsburgh (4-3, and to Carolina (3-0).

-- Buffalo has lost both games played since losing to the Caps nine days ago, to Toronto (4-3 in a Gimmick) and to the New York Rangers (2-0).  The Sabres have lost six in a row coming into this game (0-5-1).

-- Buffalo has not scored a power play goal on home ice in a month.  Their last power play goal at First Niagara Center was scored by Nikita Zadorov in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia.  Since then, the Sabre’s power play is 0-for-10 on home ice, 1-for-23 overall (4.3 percent).

-- The Caps scored on their only power play against the Bruins on Sunday night, making it power play goals in six of their last seven games (7-for-15/46.7 percent).

-- Washingon’s penalty kill was perfect against the Bruins last night (4-for-4).  The Caps are 27-for-32 (84.4 percent) over their last nine games, three of the five goals coming in a disastrous penalty killing performance against the Dallas Stars last Friday.

-- Buffalo’s penalty kill might be characterized lately as “deuces are wild.”  The Sabres allowed two power play goals in three of their last six games and are 15-for-22 in that span (68.2 percent).

-- Buffalo is one of only four teams without a 20-goal scorer (Arizona, Carolina, and Edmonton are the others).

-- Washington has only one 20-goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin with 45), but they have five players with a chance to hit that mark: Nicklas Backstrom (18), Troy Brouwer (18), Eric Fehr (18), Marcus Johansson (17), and Joel Ward (16).

-- Washington ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense (2.40 goals per game).  Last season they ranked 21st (2.79 goals per game).  The Caps have not ranked this high in scoring defense since they finished the 2010-2011 season fourth in the league (2.33 goals per game).

-- Buffalo ranks 29th in scoring defense (3.32 goals per game).  The Sabres have not allowed fewer than 2.70 goals per game for a season since 2009-2010 (2.45 goals per game/4th in the league).

-- Buffalo is a bottom-third team when it comes to allowing goals in the first period (56/9th worst in the league), but it does not compare to the horror shot that is their second periods of games (81 goals/2nd worst in the league) and the third periods of games (87 goals/3rd worst).  No team other than the Sabres has allowed 80 or more goals in both the second and third periods of games played this season.

-- Washington is tied for the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the first periods of games this season (47, with Montreal).  The Caps are one of six teams to have allowed 60 or fewer goals in each of the three periods of games this season (Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Montreal, and the New York Rangers are the other five).

-- Tyler Ennis leads the Sabres with 17 goals this season.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 17th goal in Game 36 this season, a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on December 29th.

In the end…

You are tempted to write a “W” in ink next to this game, but the Caps have had their moments against inferior opponents this season, including a 2-1 loss to this very Sabres team on Verizon Center ice back in November.  Upstate New York has not been hospitable to the Caps in recent years, either.  They do not have a win in regulation in Buffalo since February 20, 2011, a 2-1 victory.  Since then the Caps are 2-2-1 in Buffalo, but both wins have come in extra time.  This might not be as easy as the respective records of these clubs might suggest.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 70: Capitals 2 - Bruins 0

The Washington Capitals salvaged the last game of their five-game home stand in fine fashion, shutting out the Boston Bruins, 2-0, on Sunday night.  It was the second shutout in as many games against the Bruins this season for the Caps.

At the offensive end it was a record-setting night.  It was fitting in one respect, odd in another.  Mid-way through the first period, Brad Marchand took a roughing penalty when he retaliated against Tom Wilson for Wilson’s hit on Ryan Spooner in open ice.  With the Bruins down a man, the Caps worked the puck around to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer.  It went wide on the short side, but Troy Brouwer recovered it behind the Boston net.  Brouwer reset the play, sending the puck around to Nicklas Backstrom, who fed John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson one-timed the puck through a maze of bodies and past goaie Tuukka Rask to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. 

The assist by Backstrom was his 419th as a Capital, passing Michal Pivonka for the franchise record in assists.  The fitting part of it was Backstrom earning the assist on a power play; the odd part of it was that it was not Ovechkin finishing the play.

There would be no more scoring in the first period, but there would be some in the second, courtesy once more of a defenseman.  Nate Schmidt recorded his first goal of the season for the Caps when he capitalized on a fortuitous bounce.  Backstrom sent the puck around the end boards and along the right wing wall where Tom Wilson ran it down.  Wilson threw the puck at the net, but the shot was blocked by Zdeno Chara.  The puck caromed off Chara’s shin pad directly to Schmidt just inside the Bruins’ blue line.  Schmidt teed it up and let fly with a slap shot that deflected off the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell and past Rask to make it 2-0.

After that it was up to the Capitals to button things up in their own end and Braden Holtby to stand tall in goal.  Both he and the Caps did just that, and the Bruins were blanked by the Caps for the second time this season, 2-0.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom finished the game with two assists, giving him 420 for his career (tops in Caps history), 53 for the season (tops in the league), and his 16th game with two or more assists (tops in the league).

-- Tom Wilson had an effective game from the right wing of the first line.  He had an assist, was plus-1, had two shots on goal (three attempts), six hits, and drew a penalty that resulted in a power play goal.

-- Holtby’s shutout was his eighth, breaking a tie for second place he shared with Montreal’s Carey Price.  He is one behind Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury.

-- Holtby’s win was his 33rd of the season, lifting him into a tie with Olaf Kolzig (twice – in 1997-1998 and in 2002-2003) for the fourth-most wins in a season for a Capitals goaltender.  Next on the ladder with the third-most wins in Caps history for a goaltender is Jim Carey’s 35 wins in 1995-1996.

-- More Holtby… The shutout reduced his season goals against average to 2.17.  If it holds up for the remainder of the season, it would be a franchise record for lowest GAA.  Olaf Kolzig holds the record with a 2.20 goals against average in 1997-1998.

-- No Capital taking more than one faceoff won more than 50 percent of the draws he took. Brooks Laich was the only one to reach 50 percent (6-for-12).

-- Heavy teams play heavy games.  Both teams were credited with more than 30 hits, the Caps winning that duel, 33-31.  Twelve Cap skaters and 13 Bruin skaters were credited with at least one hit.  What might have been the best “hit,” though, was not credited.  As Milan Lucic was trying to track down a loose puck beneath the Caps’ goal line, Braden Holtby beat him to it, and for good measure hip checked Lucic into the end boards as he was sending the puck around the wall.

-- The 38 shots on goal was quite a change from the first time the teams met in Game 2 of the season back in October.  In that one, the Caps managed only 21 shots but scored four goals.  Low shot or high shot totals, the Caps have been Boston goalie Tuukka Rask’s personal nightmare.  The loss left his career regular season record against the Caps at 1-5-3, 3.00, .893.

-- There was one power play chance for the Capitals in this one, making it three times in their last eight games in which they were held to a single power play opportunity.  It was the 11th time this season that the Caps have been held to one or no power play chances, and their record in such games is 6-5-0.

-- Chris Conner had an interesting game, and perhaps not in the best of ways.  In his debut as a Washington Capital, he skated just 7:32 and took two minor penalties, but he did have an excellent scoring chance that required a superb glove save by Rask to keep from hitting the back of the net.

In the end…

It was not flashy, but that’s what playoff hockey looks like, and this looked like playoff hockey.  These two teams do not play against one another very often, but it seems there is no love lost between them nevertheless. 

Braden Holtby remarked after the game in an interview on national television that his father instilled in him the idea that it is alright to have a bad game, just don’t have two in a row.  Holtby struggled against Dallas in his last start, the first time he had been pulled in a game he started since Game 3 of the season.  He did not allow it to become two off nights in a row, as he was sharp throughout. 

At the other end, Nicklas Backstrom had quite a night…or is that a “quiet” night?  How often does a player set a franchise record and do it was quietly and efficiently as Backstrom did on this night?  Backstrom appears poised to break the 60-assist barrier for the fourth time in his eight year career.  If he does, he would be just the third player in the league to do so four times in that eight year span (Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton are the others) and just the 16th player to do it four times in any eight year period in the history of the league (although Sidney Crosby could beat him to that 16th to do it spot).

They were two fine performance from two players who do not get as much attention, perhaps, as they should.  But they are players who will be absolutely essential to any success the Caps have as the rest of the season unfolds.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 23

Week 23 was not kind to the Washington Capitals.  It extended a disconcerting trend, one of alternating good and bad weeks.  Since Week 18, the Caps have alternated winning and losing weeks, Week 23 being the second winless week in the last three.  It is not the sort of trend one would want to see as the season heads into it final weeks.

Record: 0-2-0

Week 23 was the second week in the last three that the Caps failed to secure a win.  They are 11-9-0 since setting off on this on-again/off-again alternating weeks of good and bad trip over the last six weeks.  The Caps have not beaten a playoff-eligible team since they took down the New York Islanders in a Gimmick on February 21st.  They have not beaten a playoff-eligible in regulation or overtime since they beat Winnipeg, 5-1, on February 19th.  You could say that the Caps haven’t played very many playoff-eligible teams since that win over the Islanders – three teams in nine games.  True, but the Caps are 0-3-0 in those games and 3-6-0 overall in those nine games.  Week 23 just added to the slump.

Offense:  1.50/game (season: 2.90/game; rank: 7th)

It was a poor week at the offensive end of the ice for the Caps, especially for the guys who have been here a while.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in scoring for the short week, going 1-2-3 in the two games.  Curtis Glencross had one of the other two goals, while Andre Burakovsky added an assist. That’s two rookies and the new guy from Calgary doing their part.  After that, Alex Ovechkin had a goal but had his four-game goal scoring streak stopped against the Dallas Stars to close the week.  Joel Ward had a goal, but otherwise the third line was not heard from.  Troy Brouwer had an assists, and that was it from the second line.  It was not a good week for the guys on offense.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.44/game; rank: 7th)

One of the things that has become common to playing playoff-eligible teams is the Caps being out-shot.  When the Rangers out-shot the Caps by a 31-29 margin on Wednesday, it was the fourth straight game that Washington was out-shot by a playoff-eligible team.  And, the two games in Week 23 in which the Caps were outshot overall, It made it four games in five overall in which the Caps were out-shot and six in seven in which they allowed 30 or more shots.  The only interruption in either of those streaks was the Caps out-shooting the woeful Buffalo Sabres, 45-17, on March 7th.

Illness and injury threw the Caps’ defensive pairs into turmoil, forcing the team to mix up the first pair (with Brooks Orpik out) and the third pair (with Mike Green out) for the game against the Rangers to start the week.  Green returned for the game against the Stars, but there were still after-shocks.  As it was, John Carlson, who was paired with Nate Schmidt in place of Orpik at even strength and with Tim Gleason on the penalty kill, ended up being on ice for five of the seven goals scored against the Caps in Week 23.

Possession was an odd thing, not all that surprising in a week of light work where variations can be magnified in small populations of games.  The Caps had a 53.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall, a product of out-attempting the Rangers, 52-34, at 5-on-5 in the game to open the week.  In close score situations, that Corsi-for number was a lot different: 38.6 percent.  What accounts for the difference?  The Caps out-attempted the Rangers, 31-7, at 5-on-5 overall in the third period of their 3-1 loss, which does not show  up in the “close score” number.

Goaltending: 3.56 / .887 (season: 2.38 / .917 / 7 shutouts)

The news this week in this category boils down to a single number: 33:54.  That was the ice time logged by Braden Holtby against the Dallas Stars before he was relieved by Justin Peters, having allowed four goals on 22 shots in the Caps’ 4-1 loss.  It was the first game that Braden Holtby was pulled early after starting the game since he was relieved after giving up three goals on seven shots in 9:34 of work in a 6-5 loss to the San Jose Sharks on October 14th.  He had gone 55 consecutive starts without being relieved (he relieved Justin Peters for a period in a 6-2 loss to Toronto last November 29th).

Holtby has been slipping lately.  Since winning three in a row and allowing just four goals on 85 shots in mid-February, he is 3-6-0, 2.63, .913, with one shutout (two of the wins came against the imploding Maple Leafs and the ghastly Sabres).  If it is a slump, that is one thing.  Slumps have two phases – a downward one and then an upward one when one emerges from it.  If it is his workload showing, that might be a different matter.

Justin Peters got mop-up duty against the Stars, his first work in almost a month.  He stopped all nine shots he faced in almost 24 minutes of work, the third straight appearance in which he stopped at least 90 percent of the shots he faced (.915 save percentage overall) after having a string of five straight appearances in which he failed to meet that 90 percent standard.

Power Play: 1-for-6 / 16.7 percent (season: 24.6 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps came into the week on a power play tear, going 6-for-10 over their previous six games dating back to the third period of their 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on February 25th.  The Caps made it 7-for-11 when they scored on their first power play of Week 23 in the 3-1 loss to the Rangers.  That would do it for the week on the man advantage, though. 

The Caps wrapped up the week shooting blanks on their last five power plays.  Overall they finished with one goal on six power plays, converting that single goal on ten shots in 10:25 of power play ice time.  The efficiency for the week, and the week itself, might have been less disappointing if not for a single one of those shots.  On a 5-on-3 power play against the Rangers, with New York holding a 2-1 lead, Nicklas Backstrom took a nifty through-the-top-of-the-crease feed from Joel Ward and had an open short side at which to shoot.  His wrister was gloved down by Ranger goalie Cam Talbot, and the threat passed, the Caps’ best chance to make it a game.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-9 / 66.7 percent (season: 81.0 percent; rank: 16th)

It started well enough for the Caps killing penalties in Week 23.  They we perfect in three shorthanded situations against the Rangers.  It fell apart against the Dallas Stars.  The Stars scored on their first power play, scored on the front half of a double minor penalty to Joel Ward, then scored on what was their  fourth power play 14 minutes into the second period, taking a 4-1 lead and ending the competitive portion of the game.

Part of the problem against the Stars was luck (the first power play goal was a deflection off Curtis Glencross’ skate), poor positioning (Tyler Seguin could have written an opera with the time he had to set up to take a slap shot from the left wing circle), and fate (the Stars scored on a 2-on-1 rush after Eric Fehr shot wide on a good shorthanded scoring chance).

As it was, the Caps allowed three goals on 13 shots in 15:37 in shorthanded ice time.  It was not as much an inefficient week (shots per minute of shorthanded ice time) as ineffectiveness that might have been a product of unfamiliarity.  John Carlson and Tim Gleason were a pair victimized twice by Dallas extra-man goals.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 2-4 / minus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.08; rank: 13th)

It was not the what, but the when.  Four even strength goals allowed is not an awful week, but allowing three of them to the Rangers in the first game of the week, while getting none of their own, sank the Caps in the first game in the week.  And, allowing just one was not enough in the second game of the week when the penalty kill was being shredded.

At the other end, Curtis Glencross and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the only even-strength goals for the Caps in Week 23.  Kuznetsov’s was technically an even strength goal, although it was scored with the Caps’ net empty for a sixth attacker late in the 4-2 loss to Dallas.  It was hardly a surprising result, give that the Caps were out-shot by a 35-19 margin in the first and second periods of the two games for the week (only one even strength shot from Alex Ovechkin in the first two periods of the two games).  That kind of anemic production at evens did as much as anything to ruin the week for Washington.

Faceoffs:73-130 / 56.2 percent (season: 51.6% / rank: 9th)

Well, there was one good thing about the week, and it was largely wasted.  The Caps dominated faceoffs in all three zones.  It was largely due to Eric Fehr, who had a monster week in the circle, if a meek one (no points) in the two games this week.  Fehr was 22-for-29 overall (75.9 percent) and was well over 50 percent in each of the three zones – 70.0 percent in the offensive zone, 66.7 percent in the defensive zone, and 90.0 percent in the neutral zone.

Nicklas Backstrom had what for him was an off week.  He managed only 16 wins in 37 faceoffs, coming out on the losing end in each of the three zones (44.4/42.9/42.9 in the offensive, defensive, and neutral zones, respectively).

Goals by Period:

The Caps took it in the teeth in the first and second periods of games for the week.  They took a 2-1 deficit to the locker room at the first intermission of both games.  The Caps being a team that entered the week with a 2-9-4 record when trailing after one period, that was not a good sign in either game.

The Caps could not make up for it in the third period, recording only a late extra-attacker goal in the 4-2 loss to Dallas.  It was another example of a thin week on offense for the Caps.

In the end…

Do you remember those B-movie adventure flicks when some poor unsuspecting soul would wander into a pool of quicksand and be slowly, inexorably sucked into its pit?

The Caps have that look at the moment (minus the shrieking).  They are not awful, but they are slowly slipping in the standings, making things a lot more suspenseful than fans would like. 

The schedule to close the season does the Caps no favors, either.  Six of the Caps’ last 13 games are at home, and the schedule is sprinkled with teams that are currently playoff eligible or closing on the Caps for that position: Boston twice, the New York Rangers twice, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Nashville, Montreal, Detroit, and Ottawa.  If the Caps continue as there are, there is still time for them to sink under the quicksand.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-2-3, even, nine shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, five hits)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2, seven shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, ten hits)
  • Third Star: Justin Peters (9-for-9/1.000 save percentage in 23:56)
The stars were a bit dimmer this week…