Monday, November 05, 2007

A NO point night -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, November 5th

Carolina 5 - Washington 0...

There is nothing to take away from this game, and that being the case, The Peerless really doesn’t have much to say about it, other than from the drop of the puck, the Caps looked as clueless about what was going on around them as any Caps team we’ve seen, well, maybe ever.

And you know what?...I don’t think that one’s on the players.

There really isn’t anything in the numbers worth pondering, the competitive portion of the game being so short (8:32 – the time it took for Cory Stillman to score a hat trick, on the only three shots of the game that he took). Everything that followed was window dressing.

Here is your stat to take to bed with you in anticipation of tomorrow’s game in Atlanta…the Caps have made the playoffs 18 times. In none of those years did they have ten losses in their first 15 games…


Sweet dreams, Caps fans.

Anatomy of a Mugging

Any wonder how the Hurricanes got out to a 3-0 start against the Caps tonight?...

Check the shot graph* (that's the Caps on the left). The Caps bombed away from outside with 19 shots, accomplishing no more than to bruise Cam Ward's sternum...the 'Canes had ten shots....with three layups among them.

* shot graph at

While We're At It...Attendance

While we're looking at the first 13 games, as in the last entry, let's look at something else...attendance. The Peerless will wager that pretty soon, we're going to see someone mention that attendance is up over last year, and in fact, it is. As you will see from the table below, attendance through six home games is up 1,543/game over the six-game average last year. That's a 12 percent increase for those of you scoring at home...a good thing.

But if you look a little closer, there is the suggestion of a problem that hasn't gone away (we must caution that there aren't very many events to analyze here, so beware of drawing too firm a conclusion). There are two very clean comparisons in which one might have interest with respect to these numbers, and they speak to rivalries. There is the "new rivalry" group that is comprised of the Southeast Division opponents. Then there is the "old rivalry" group comprised of the old Patrick Division opponents. If you look at the three years since the lockout, they breakdown as follows:


Southeast: 12,132
Patrick: 10,577

In this set, all three SE games were played on weekends (including a Friday night game), and both Patrick games were played on weekdays, including a Columbus Day game


Southeast: 12,891
Patrick: no events

The Caps opened the season with five straight games against SE opponents, four of them weekend night games.


Southeast: 13,469
Patrick: 15,123

What is notable here is that two of the three Patrick games were held on weekends and included a sellout (Pittsburgh) and the third highest attended game in the six held so far (the opener against Carolina was the second-highest).

We do not cite these numbers to state one way or another if Caps attendance is trending upward, downward, or hovering around a constant figure. There isn't enough information to reach any such conclusions. What we do wish to do, though, is get the reader to thinking...can the Caps make a go of it -- rivalry-wise -- against Southeast Division opponents? Or, do the longer distances between cities and the lack of playoff history among the clubs argue for continued struggles at the gate against these teams? Given that the Caps play 16 of 41 home games against these opponents, which question gets answered in the affirmative will go a long way to determining whether the early attendance gains can be sustained or built upon.

Lucky 13...

No, it’s not a plug for a Don Cherry video, it’s a look at the Caps after 13 games…that’s more than 15 percent of the season, and this year the Caps have five wins in those 13 games.

Not too lucky, if you ask The Peerless.

They had five wins in the first 13 games last year, too. But in doing so, they were 5-4-4 for 14 points. This year, all the losses are in regulation, leaving the Caps with ten points and gasping for air.

In what other respects has the Caps’ performance changed over a year ago? Well, the Peerless has a look…

Goals For/Goals Against (real goals, not that shootout crap):

2006-2007: 43/42
2007-2008: 33/35

That’s a 16.7 percent improvement in goals allowed. Given the consensus among observers of the Caps coming into the season – that they would struggle in that regard, the defense still being quite green – that is a major plus. But a 23.3 percent drop-off in goals scored...that was not part of the plan, not with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin being joined by Viktor Kozlov, Michael Nylander, and Tom Poti. Of course, sustaining 14 man-games lost to injuries hitting Semin and Poti wasn’t in the plan, either.

Shots-per-Game/Shots Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 27.8/36.5
2007-2008: 28.2/29.5

That seven shot-per-game improvement in shots allowed is important. Consider that in the context of Olaf Kolzig’s performance so far. His save percentage is .920. If he was to save that percentage of the extra shots he would face if the Caps were giving up 36.5 shots per game, it would mean an extra half-goal per game added to his goals against average, and the Caps would be far worse off than they are at the moment. You get the feeling that defense, generally speaking, is not the Caps’ problem.

Power Play:

2006-2007: 15.9 percent (11-for-69)
2007-2008: 16.1 percent (10-for-62)

Penalty Killing:

2006-2007: 83.1 percent (64-for-77)
2007-2008: 80.6 percent (54-for-67)

Taken together, the special teams are a mixed bag. The Caps’ have sustained fewer man-short situations so far this year – a good thing – but that’s a function of how they play outside the penalty killing situation itself. As we noted in the game-day post, the magic number there is five. If they give up fewer than five power play chances, they’re successful…4-1-0 this year when doing so, 1-7-0 when they don’t. The power play is marginally better, but they have been particularly successful in drawing penalties. One might think that if they had the puck more often, and infractions are more commonly called in the defensive end of the ice, then the Caps would do better in this regard. Thus far, it’s been a disappointment, both in the frequency of power plays and their success rate. Missing Alexander Semin is a consideration regarding the latter, but as to the former, that will bear watching.

Shots Attempted For-per-Game/Shots Attempted Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 55.2/65.5
2007-2008: 57.2/50.1

That the Caps are “out-attempting” opponents this year is a good thing. But a problem lies buried in those “for” numbers. Shots missed and shots blocked are both up. That the Caps would have 43 percent of the shots they took in the last two games blocked in unsettling. Perhaps more indicative of the difference between this year and last in terms of style is the difference in the number of shots the Caps have blocked. Last year through 13 games, the Caps blocked an average of 16.2 shots a game…this year, 10.9. Last year by this time, the Caps had eight games in which they’d blocked at least 15 shots…this year, once. It is only one indicator, but perhaps one worth noting of either paying the price in the defensive end, or just not having the skill to succeed at this facet of the game. Not everyone can be Anton Volchenkov.

Hits For-per-Game/Hits Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 18.2/16.3
2007-2008: 21.2/20.2

“Hits” is a rather subjective measure, but at the moment, Milan Jurcina is more than a third of the way to his total of last year (35/103), and John Erskine is almost half-way to his total (25/52). Here’s the thing…the Caps are 3-5 this year when “outhitting” their opponent, 2-3 when they don’t. Draw your own conclusions.

Turnover Ratio:

2006-2007: 0.86
2007-2008: 0.92

The ratio is computed as:

(Caps takeaways + Opponents giveaways) / (Caps giveaways + Opponents takeaways)

That the ratio is better this year is an improvement, but given that this club is banking much of its success on the ability to maintain possession of the puck, turning it over more than your getting it turned over indicates that there is some work yet to be done in this area. Most troubling, the top four Caps in terms of giveaways so far this year are defensemen – Jurcina, Brian Pothier, Mike Green, and Shaone Morrisonn. Green and Morrisonn appear to be on approximately last year’s pace in that regard (although Green is getting more ice time than last year). Jurcina’s pace is substantially higher than last year, and when accounting for Pothier’s fewer minutes (five a game at this point), his pace is higher, too.

Faceoffs won:

2006-2007: 49.7 percent
2007-2008: 52.8 percent

This is a substantial improvement over the same point a year ago and is an important ingredient to the puck-possession game the Caps want to play. But it is not the be-all and end-all ingredient. The Caps have been 50-percent-or-better in 10 of 13 games this year. They are 4-6-0 in those games.

So, there it is, a thumbnail sketch comparing this year to last by the numbers. By most measures, the Caps are better, and that is an encouraging sign. The problem – predictable at this stage of the season from The Peerless’ chair, has been the offense – the Caps just haven’t yet been able to score goals consistently on a game-to-game basis. The thought here has been that a slow start offensively would give way as new players become accustomed with their new teammates. That might take, oh, 15 games or so. We’re getting to the end of that, and the situation is one of growing concern. The Caps are 14th in the Eastern Conference this morning -- tied with Atlanta but with a game in hand. That is a lot of teams to hurdle, and some of them – the Lightning, Devils, and Sabres among them – would be expected to be climbing out of their own doldrums, too. Like we said in another entry, “start’s over.”

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, November 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And the Capitals are set to take on Carolina in the front end of a three-game road trip. Hurricane season might be over, but the Hurricanes are blowin’ pretty strong down here. And who better to get the latest on the Hurricanes from than hurricane expert and hockey fan, Remy Day.

Rainy…we’re glad you could join us…

“Remy…it’s Remy…Ray-Mee…why does everyone call me ‘Rainy?’”

Just a weather joke to break the ice…

“So, you’re a comedian AND a prognosticator?...what, you don’t have a day job??”

That’s a pretty stormy attitude…

“Can we PLEASE knock off the weather jokes?”

OK, so…the Hurricanes. You’ve been tracking them all season…


Why are they off to such a scorching start?

“Well, leading the league in scoring with 3.79 goals a game doesn’t hurt, and they’re even a little better at home with 3.83 a game. And, they’re really dominating at even strength. They lead the league in 5-on-5 efficiency. They’ve scored more than twice as many goals at 5-on-5 than they’ve allowed – the only team in the league that can say that.”

How are their special teams?

“Hot and cold….geez, now you have me doing it.”

Give in to it…you know you want to…

“The power play is hotter than Phoenix in July….24.7 percent success is second in the league.”

What do you attribute that to?

“Global warming…no, seriously, they really spread things around…nine guys have power play goals so far…”

Geez, the Caps only have five with goals, and only two with more than one.

“That’s right…the Hurricanes have 19 power play goals to ten for your guys…if the Caps are short handed…scoring warnings will be posted up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

You said they were hot and cold on special teams…

“Yeah, well…the penalty kill is colder than International Falls in January…73.2 percent success is 28th in the league…worse than the Caps, if you can believe that. If you compare the two special team squads, it’s almost a wash…”

What do you mean?

“The Hurricanes have scored those 19 power play goals, but they’ve given up…yup…19 power play goals, and they’ve given up a shorty, too.”

Who should we be watching for the Hurricanes, tonight?

“Well, Rod Brind’Amour, of course. Not only is he a Cap-killer – he’s 36-38-74 in 87 career games against the Caps – he’s 5-4-9, +5 in his last five games…and there’s Justin Williams…he always seems to find a way to get onto the scoresheet against the Caps, 13-16-29 in 32 games against Washington.”

The Hurricanes have scored 27 goals in those last five games…who else is coming in hot?

“Matt Cullen is 1-7-8, and Eric Staal is 3-4-7. But one of the most underrated guys in the league – Ray Whitney – is coming in 5-3-8, +4 in his last five games. The big guys are all on a hot streak right now.”

Well, Rainy…

“Remy…RAY-mee…it that so hard?”

Remy…it’s always a surge of excitement when you stop by…

“yeah…it’s been a category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale for me, too.”

As for the Caps, this probably isn’t the sort of game they’d have picked to start a road trip…or maybe it is. They shut out the Hurricanes in their only meeting so far this year, they generally play Carolina even in Raleigh (3-4-1 in their last eight games there), Olaf Kolzig has had a large measure of success against the Hurricanes over his career – 25-11-8-1, 2.16, .926.

If you’re looking for hot Caps, Alex Ovechkin is always the place to start the search. He’s been hot, and he has had success against this club. He’s 11-8-19 in 17 career games against Carolina, and he comes in to tonight’s contest 4-3-7 in his last five games. You’d also think Michael Nylander would be a guy to watch…9-14-23 in 25 games against Carolina, and he’s 2-5-7 in his last five. The problem for the Caps will be the players likely to be out for this one…Chris Clark is 8-6-14 in 19 career games against the Hurricanes, and Alexander Semin is 8-7-16 in 14 career games against Carolina. If you’re looking for perhaps an odd player to crack the scoresheet for the Caps tonight, watch for Donald Brashear…he’s 2-7-9 in 40 career games against Carolina.

Tonight, though, the magic number for the Caps is this…five.

The Caps are 4-1-0 when allowing the opponent fewer than five power play opportunities (killing 94.4 percent of their shorthanded situations in such games). They are 1-7-0 when giving up five or more (killing 75.5 percent). The Caps would still have to contend with Carolina’s formidable even-strength record of success so far this year, but they can’t make it easier for the Hurricanes by chasing them around killing penalties all night, either.

So…can the Caps play a disciplined game and escape with a win? Well, the Caps have been shorthanded five or more times in 15 of the last 17 games played against Carolina. But, they were only on the short end three times the last time these two teams met, and the result was a 2-0 shutout (the only time the Hurricanes have been shut out this year). It’s certainly in them to do it.

And do it they will…a combination of that and Kolzig’s history of success here will (as you’ve probably guessed) result in a close win for the Caps…

Caps 3 – Hurricanes 2.