Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ten...


We’re down to the last ten games – four at home, six on the road.

If you’re thinking “best case scenario,” it might be helpful to look at the best ten-game stretch in the Caps’ season to date. That would be the ten games starting with the 8-6 win in Ottawa on December 29th and ending with a 6-5 shootout win in Pittsburgh on January 21st. All told, the Caps were 8-2 in that run, with three extra-time wins included (two shootout wins and an overtime victory).

What did the Caps do right in those ten games?

Well, they sure didn’t lack for putting the puck in the net. 43 goals were scored in those ten games. Even accounting for the eight in Ottawa that started the streak, 35 in nine games is a very productive rate.

The hand in that glove was consistency…only twice in those ten games did the Caps fail to score at least four goals in a game. They scored goals in 21 of the thirty periods in regulation in those ten games.

The Caps were 12-for-46 on the power play (26.1 percent). And again…consistency. They scored power play goals in seven of the ten games.

12 players scored the 43 goals, 19 skaters had points. As one might expect, Alex Ovechkin led the goal scoring (12), but three other Capitals had at least five goals – Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov, and Mike Green. Similarly, Nicklas Backstrom leading the assist total with 12 is not a surprise, but five other Caps had at least five – Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, Tomas Fleischmann, Jeff Schultz, and Boyd Gordon (keep the last three names in mind).

The Caps spread it around, but the big guns stepped up in a big way, too…

Ovechkin: 12-7-19
Green: 6-8-14
Backstrom: 3-12-15

It didn’t seem to matter if the Caps scored first or not, either. Five times they scored first (4-1), five times they didn’t (4-1).

So...what went wrong? Well, on the defensive side of the ledger, the 36 goals was problematic, although Ottawa (three times), Montreal, and Pittsburgh are top-end offensive teams, too (accounting for 20 of the 36 goals in five contests). The penalty killing was, to be charitable, challenged. 30 of 42 on the penalty kill (71.4 percent) was cringe-making.

Oddly enough, while the Caps were enjoying their most successful ten-game stretch on the scoreboard, Olaf Kolzig was enduring a stretch of less-than-Kolzig like play. He appeared in eight games in this ten-game stretch, going 6-1-0, 3.83, .852. Five times in eight appearances he gave up more than three goals, including four in 16 shots in 26 minutes of work in a 6-4 loss to Philadelphia. Brent Johnson had three appearances, going 2-1-0, 2.34, .916.

This stretch of games saw the last games played this year (so far) by Chris Clark and Michael Nylander. Clark, who has played only one game since November 28th, played in the Philadelphia game on January 13th, registering an assist in nine minutes of play. Nylander played the first six games of this ten-game stretch before succumbing to the shoulder injury that had impaired his play for quite some time. His last game also was the Philadelphia game, in which he was 1-1-2 in 20-plus minutes.

So…is there anything one can take from the best ten-game stretch of the season as the Caps head into their last ten regular season games? Probably not, at least not in ways that are obvious.

But there are some underlying things in these numbers to watch out for…

Balance and balance…there are two kinds reflected in the numbers that the Caps would hopefully emulate in the final stretch. The first is the ability to spread things around. Getting 12 players with goals and 19 with points is impressive. So is the fact that the Caps had nine players with at least five points. Balance among the players was – and probably will be – important. There was also the balance between the heavyweights and, for lack of a better term, the support players. The Caps, within the context of team wide support, still managed to get big numbers from their big guns. They – Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom – stepped up (please note, average age: 21). They’ll probably have to step up in the last ten as well. And Viktor Kozlov – who is 3-4-7, +10 in his last seven games – might be added to that mix.

Resiliency…the Caps were 4-1 in games in which the opposition scored first. Three times they gave up the first two goals and came back to win. So, a little adversity might come their way, but they have the capacity to deal with it. That might be especially important on the six-game road trip that starts next week.

Good-enough goaltending…One definition of good goaltending is giving up one fewer goal than your team scores. That was the case in the play of Olaf Kolzig in the ten-game stretch. Now, he is back to the “Godzilla” fans are used to (6-2-2 in his last ten decisions, 2.17, .923). To this add Cristobal Huet – 2-2-0, 1.91, .925 in four games since coming over from Montreal. Brent Johnson, who has had to sit lately, is 7-8-2 this season, but a respectable 2.67, .908 to go along with it. One would have to think that the Caps will have more-than-good-enough goaltending.

That stuff over on the right side of the scoresheet…the goals, assists, points, and plus-minus are things that folks pay attention to. But there is that stuff over on the right side of the NHL score sheet – the hits, takeaways, blocked shots, faceoffs – that will loom large in close games. The Caps have a tradition of being a lunch-pail, grind-it-out kind of team. While they have more skill now than in the days that reputation was forged, they still have to get that kind of effort…guys like Quintin Laing, Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Shaoen Morrison…they’re going to have to populate that “right side” of the score sheet.

The pleasant surprise…Brooks Laich has 10 goals in his last 12 games. If you’d bet that result in Vegas, you’ve probably quit your job by now. It wasn’t the kind of thing one would have expected. In the last ten games, the Caps could certainly use another dose of unexpected pleasure. If you’re looking for some of that late magic, it would be nice to get it from a Tomas Fleischmann, an Eric Fehr, or a Boyd Gordon.

The point of this is that the Caps have it within them for a strong finish. 16 points in ten games has been a part of this season; it can be again. But you can’t get to 16 until you get to “2”…and that starts tomorrow.

1 comment:

breed16 said...

Nice breakdown. If we can get great goaltending I think we can do it, even with minimal contributions from the "fringe" guys. About time I started feeling comfortable with a 1-0 or 2-1 lead mid-way through the 2nd.

That said I hope this is the stretch when we see big things from Fehr. He showed what he can do during that Flames game. I'm excited about seeing him healthy next year with a full offseason under his belt.