It doesn’t get any easier, either. Tonight’s opponent – the Carolina Hurricanes – are 4-0-1 in their last five games. There is a lot of that going on lately . . . recent opponents are clubs that have playoff aspirations, and they’re starting to play up to that.
Special teams have carried the day for the Hurricanes in this five-game set. The power play has converted seven of 29 opportunities (24.1 percent), scoring two power play goals in three of the five games. It was the one game in which the Hurricanes failed to register a power play goal that serves to blemish their five-game record (a 4-3 shootout loss to Atlanta). The penalty killers have killed off 19 of 22 man-short situations (86.4 percent).
As one would expect, the five-game surge has been fueled by contributions from Carolina’s scorers:
Erik Cole: 4-4-8, +5
Ray Whitney: 2-5-7, +2
Rod Brind’Amour: 0-7-7, +3
Eric Staal: 2-3-5, +1
Justin Williams: 4-1-5, even
In 177 career man-games, this quintet is 70-81-151 against the Caps.
Cam Ward would appear to be the choice in goal tonight (he backstopped John Grahame in the Hurricanes’ last outing). Ward is playing to a high level himself – 7-3-1, 2.22, .931 in his last 12 games. Having picked up four points on first-place Atlanta over the last five games, the ‘Canes are humming right along.
On the other hand, the wheels are coming of the Caps’ little red wagon – literally. Mike Green is sidelined, as reported by Tarik El-Bashir this morning, after taking a puck off the left foot Tuesday night in Ottawa. George McPhee characterized is as “a little more than day-to-day.” That, kids, is McPheese for “can you say, Barbaro?” Green’s injury means that the Caps have a yard of defensemen – three feet – on the shelf. “Yard?” “Three feet?” Three guys with injured feet? I kill me this early in the morning.
Not coincidentally, the Caps have seen their defensive statistics plummet since John Erskine, Bryan Muir, and now Mike Green have taken one in the boot. Okay, who ever thought the loss of Erskine or Muir would be cause for concern? It is a commentary on the state of the Caps, Caps fans, and even the odd (very odd, Peerless) blogger that such a statement could be contemplated. Nevertheless, since the Caps started down this path with Erskine’s injury against the Flyers on December 16th, the Caps are 4-10-0 and have given up a whopping 52 goals in those 14 games (3.71/game). They’ve also yielded 17 power play goals in that span in 63 shorthanded situations . . . 73.0 percent. For the casual hockey fan, that statistic can be described as “yeesh.” You might keep this in mind, along with Carolina’s 24.1 percent pwer play conversion rate in their last five games, when viewing tonight. If the Caps are going to turn this pig around, it’s going to have to be through reversing their recent penalty killing trend and snuffing out Carolina’s power play. Even though Mike Green does not log much ice time killing penalties, the mounting injuries are no doubt going to mess with Glen Hanlon’s mind in coming up with pairings, which can’t be a good thing for the defense.
Another word for “challenge” is “opportunity.” I learned that in some goofy management class, somewhere. What the Caps need is more this . . .
. . . and less this . . .