Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Panthers

In case anyone is paying attention, that’s 6-3-1 in their last ten games, seven of them on the road. It was a very efficient game (except for those 45 shots on goal, but we quibble) the Caps played in beating Florida, 4-1. But let’s take a look at that larger picture for a moment . . . what jumps out of the numbers? Well, they’ve been shorthanded 53 times in that span (5.3 per game). Compare that with 41 in their first seven games (5.9 per game). That’s an improvement of more than ten percent. The number is even more striking in the last five – a total of 23 times shorthanded (4.6 per game).

Think that doesn’t matter? In those first seven games, the penalty kill was 33 for 41 (75.6 percent). In the last ten, it’s been 45 for 53 (84.9 percent), and in the last five 19 for 23 (82.6 percent). Fewer chances mean fresher penalty killers means more effective penalty killing. While it’s nice to see Alexander Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus potting goals, and Matt Pettinger taking up where he left off last year, efficient and effective penalty killing will likely be a more important ingredient to success this year over the long run, given the way the game is played these days.

As for the game, again it was the Alex and Zubie Show . . . Ovechkin with a goal and a helper, Zubrus with a pair of goals. But how about a tip of the hat to Alexander Semin? If you were watching carefully on the Caps’ third goal, there was Semin with the puck along the left wing boards at the Florida line. He braced himself to take a hit and still managed to whip the puck backward through his legs to Ovechkin, who created some space to send a diagonal pass to Zubrus, who had merely to rifle the puck into the open net from low in the right wing circle. That gets the play of the game and a slice o’ pie from The Peerless.

And, in case you’re still paying attention, Olaf Kolzig is (with the loud exception of the Ottawa game) in something of a zone. In his last seven starts, he is 4-1-1 (he got a no-decision against Ottawa), 2.56, .938. He’s faced 41.1 shots per 60 minutes over that stretch, which is quite a workload. If that was 31.1 shots per game -- with the same save percentage -- that GAA would be 1.83 (something to think about).

Brian Pothier watch . . . no missed shots last night.

John Erskine watch . . . two hits, three blocked shots, and a penalty . . . it’s not the stuff of an “Erskine Hat Trick,” but it was a nice game.

Chris Gratton won 14 of 18 faceoffs. This, no doubt, will spur calls of Caps fans to “get this guy, McPhee.” The Peerless would sooner gargle with battery acid, but that’s just him.

All in all, it was one of those games where the goalie shined, and all the skaters played their roles. It’s hard to argue with that as a road recipe for success. Next up, the Bruins at home and a chance to see how Zdeno Chara looks in black and gold.