Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Kings, February 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps are back at it after a three games in four nights run that left them with three more wins, six more standings points, and a whopping 14-point lead over the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division. So, things get easier, right?


Tonight’s opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, have already beaten the Caps this year, and they did it rather rudely – 5-2 (although the last two for Los Angeles were of the empty net variety).

"Peerless, you need to spruce up your adjectivory descriptivations."

Well, if it isn’t Don King. Don, you’ve got to be a Kings fan, right?

"The thought of lending my rooting interest to the Los Angeles Kings violates my finely honified sense of egalitarianism and fair-mindedosity."

In other words, you’re not a hockey fan.

"That would be a less erudite and intellectualistic way of stating the facts."

Don, Don…this game was made for you…all the fights and all.

"Peerless, the sport of hockey is but a pale imagification of the sport of the squared circle. "

Are you saying guys like Donald Brashear or Jared Boll wouldn’t measure up if they stepped into the ring?

"Oh, quite the contrary my pronostificasizing colleague. They are wasting their prodigious pugilistic talents by skating on ice and carrying sticks."

They should be…

"Yes, managed by me, the poohbah of promotion, the master of marketing, the hero of hype, the…"

OK, OK, we get it; now let’s get to the game…

The Kings are something of an enigma. If you look at their numbers…

…you wonder how it is they are sitting 12th in the West (although they are only six points out of a playoff spot). They struggle some on offense, but they are a respectable defensive team (one with considerable potential, in fact). They have decent special teams.

But one thing does come skipping off the page. If they give up the first goal, they’re toast. The Kings are tied for the worst winning percentage in the league when giving up the first goal. But even there, Los Angeles is an odd sort of team. They’ve only fallen behind first in 21 of 49 games. That doesn’t look like the profile of a team that is limping along in 12th place in the Western Conference.

"….the Prince of Pomp, the Marshall of Media…"

OK, Don, we get it.

The Kings also have an odd record in looking at “goal games.” The Kings are a team that earns points in the close ones – they are 9-6-7 in one-goal games. They are also a team that does well in blowouts – they are 10-6 in games decided by at least three goals. But if they are in a two-goal game? 2-7.

And, as befits a team with a 21-21-7 record, they can’t find any traction as far as consistency goes, either. The Kings are 5-4-1 in their last ten games, but that stretch includes a four game losing streak (one of them coming in a shootout), and a three game winning streak. Even going back to when the Kings beat the Caps a week before Thanksgiving, they are 13-13-5 in 31 games since.

This is a strange team to try to figure out.

What the Kings do seem to have is a few underperformers among their skaters. Off of a 22-31-53 year last year, one might have thought Patrick O’Sullivan would take the next step in his progress. He rather seems stuck in place at the moment: 11-16-27, which is slightly behind the pace he set for himself last year. What’s worse, he is only 2-2-4, -5, in his last 14 games. He has one goal in two career games against the Caps, that one coming in the November game.

Anze Kopitar has a different set of issues. He is behind his scoring pace of last year, but more than that, he has been a progressively worse plus-minus player in his almost three seasons (-12 in his rookie year, -15 last year, and currently on a pace for -17 this year). Part of that is that he is playing on a team that has struggled, but his is the worst such mark on this team for players dressing for more than 20 games. Offensively, the decline in his production appears to be a function of somewhat weak output on the power play. Last year, he led the team in power play scoring (12-22-34). This year, he’s on a pace to go 5-20-25.

Otherwise the Kings have players who are filling their roles, within their career contexts of numbers – guys like Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll are having years that are roughly consistent with their recent past. But if guys like Kopitar or O’Sullivan can’t find the next gear in their games, this will be a team that struggles for consistency on offense.

As for the defense, all you need to know is this – their ice time leader is a kid who just turned 19. Drew Doughty (a second overall pick in last June’s draft) has played well, very well in fact. But he probably shouldn’t be, at this stage of his career, taking on all those minutes. Next in line is Kyle Quincey, a 23-year old former member of the Red Wings, who until this year hadn’t played more than six games in a season. Now, he’s logging almost 22 minutes a night. Matt Greene is 25 and getting more than 20 minutes of ice time a night (fourth on the team). The Kings do employ Sean O’Donnell – a player with almost 1,000 games of NHL experience, but he seems ticketed for trade to a contender in a few weeks.

In goal, the task apparently falls to Jonathan Quick. What happened to Erik Ersberg, you say? The goalie who held the Caps to two goals (on 21 shots) in November? Well, since then, he’s been rather inconsistent. He is 3-4-2 in 11 appearances since that win. But for every 33 save in 34 shot performance he’s had (against Minnesota on December 13th), there is a three-goals-on-seven-shots performance (against Tampa Bay on January 12th. Ersberg hasn’t appeared in a game since January 17th, a product perhaps of what has been reported as a "lower body injury."

So, what about Quick? He’s 8-6-0, 2.36. .919, with three shutouts in 16 appearances. He is 4-1-0 in his last five games, 2.61, .917, including a shutout of Ottawa in his last outing on Tuesday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick/Erik Ersberg

We’re thinking Quick will get the call, but it might not matter. Verizon Center has been a house of horrors for visiting goalies this year. The Caps have scored 3.52 goals/game at home in 25 games. After winning nine in arrow at home, the Caps lost a pair, but now are on a three game home winning streak in which they’ve scored 13 goals against Boston, Detroit, and Ottawa. And, as was the case with Brian Elliott and Ottawa on Sunday, the Caps have now seen Ersberg. If he gets the start, he might find (as Elliott did) that things don’t go quite as swimmingly against the Caps as they did at home. As for Quick, he has that shutout against Ottawa in his last start, but before that gave up 11 goals in three games and has not yet faced the Caps. As if that’s not enough, there is the matter of Alex Ovechkin looking for his 200th career goal. Good luck, kids.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Laich scored a goal, his first of 2009, by getting to the front of the net. He had six shots on goal in the game against the Devils, his highest shot total since January 19th against the Islanders. Only one of those shots was from outside of 13 feet. When Laich is working in his office at the corner of Goalie and Crease, good things happen. Crowding a young goalie with a crowd roaring sounds like a plan.

This is the middle game of a five-game road trip for the Kings. According to the Pasadena Star-News, this trip is a bonding exercise for the Kings. Well, the Caps might be looking to exact a measure of revenge on the visitors and not allow them to bond so much as “spot weld” them to their end of the ice.

Caps 5 – Kings 2

"…the Admiral of Advertising, the Commodore of Communication…"

Turn out the lights when you’re done, Don.

Russian Machine

We were doodling around on looking at some of the game reports that are available, and after a few minutes of that got to thinking about goals. Specifically, those scored by Alex Ovechkin this year. This is a player who eats up ice time in large chunks, and we were curious as to how deep into games and shifts he scores all those goals. What we found was rather interesting.

In the NFL, commentators often remark about running backs that they get stronger as the game goes on. Well, Ovechkin certainly gets more productive. Of the 36 goals he has scored this year, here is how they breakdown by period:

1st: 7
2nd: 11
3rd: 16
OT: 2

Those 18 goals he has in the third period and overtime are especially interesting. Obviously, there is the matter of his stepping up his game in its later stages. But more than that, there is the matter of when he scores them. We had to throw out the third period goal he scored against Detroit last weekend, because the reports did not have shift reports available for that game. But looking at the other 17 goals, they were scored an average of 49.7 seconds into his shift.

Let’s keep in mind that Ovechkin is second in the league among forwards in average time-per-shift (1:04). He’s expending a lot of energy in games, generally, but he has enough juice at the end to be scoring late into his shifts. Even taking the empty-net goals out of the mix (he has three), he is scoring goals on average 49.2 seconds into his third period shifts.

Overall, for the 34 goals we looked at (the two against Detroit not having shift data available), Ovechkin is scoring on average 50.8 seconds into his shift. To put that into perspective, 43 of 548 forwards dressing for games this year have higher average shift times overall. Only six of the top 20 goals scorers (23, with ties) have average overall shift times over that which it takes for Ovechkin to score.

Ovechkin also has had a fair share of “megashifts” that have resulted in goals. Of the 34 goals we looked at, 11 of them were scored more than 60 seconds into his shift, and five of them were scored more than 90 seconds into his shift (four of those were on power plays).

He also has a knack, not just for scoring goals late in games, but late in periods. Of his 34 goals scored in regulation, 14 of them have been scored in the last five minutes of a period. Ten have been scored in the last two minutes of a period, including the three empty netters he has (he can also strike quickly – nine of his goals in regulation have been scored in the first five minutes of a period, four in the first two minutes).

Despite his remarkable consistency in scoring, total points-wise, he (as do a lot of goal scorers) scores goals in bunches. He has 11 multi-goal games this year (including two multi-goal periods). He also has three different streaks of scoring goals in at least three consecutive game. His longest is a five-game streak in mid-November that came immediately after a nine-game streak without a goal. Since that nine-game streak without a goal, he has 34 goals in 39 games played. If he was to keep that pace going, he would finish the year with 62 goals.

We’re not suggesting that Ovechkin is the only goal warrior out there, but it’s probably a short list. Caps fans are no doubt happy the “Russian Machine” (never breaks) is doing it here in Washington.

Groundhog Goal

"[Alexander Semin] sauced it right onto my tape. I just had to go upstairs with it."

-- Mike Green, commenting on the goal he scored last night seems to happen a lot.

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Devils 2

Give and take.

There’s your theme for last night’s 5-2 Capitals win over the New Jersey Devils, ending the Devils’ eight-game winning streak with an exclamation point.

Give… If the Devils were going to take away Alex Ovechkin’s shot (he had a season-low one shot for the game – he hadn’t had fewer than four in a game since December 13th), then he was going to give the puck to others. Ovechkin assisted on the Caps’ first two goals, the second being a pretty feed from deep in the right wing circle to Brooks Laich at the top of the crease. Goalie Scott Clemmensen was so overplaying Ovechkin for the shot that Laich was left almost untouched to tap in the goal.

Take… as in, “take the shot!” Michael Nylander, who is of the “pass first, pass again, pass some more” school, took two shots. He scored on both (his first multi-goal game since Prohibition… ok, since December 29, 2007, when everyone seemed to get in the act in an 8-6 win over Ottawa). His first goal of the game, a backhand into an empty net – Clemmensen had played himself to a prone position to the right of his net – was the game-winner. And he even got a roughing minor. We’re combing the morning paper for “man bites dog” stories.

Give… as in “give up another power play goal.” In fact, both Devil goals came on special teams. Brian Rolston got the Devils on the board with a 5-on-3 power play goal mid-way through the second period, and Jamie Langenbrunner scored a shorthanded goal in the first minute of the third period to make things interesting.

Take… the opening when it presents itself. Mike Green did that thing he does, pinching down on the right side on the power play while four defenders are watching a Cap (in this case, Alexander Semin) over on the left wing boards. Do teams not have film on this? Green took a nice pass from Semin and snapped a wrister cleanly over Clemmensen to open the scoring.

Give… Eric Fehr credit. For three games, now, he’s looked like a more assertive player on offense. He had a couple of good chances again last night and was finally rewarded with an empty net goal. Four shots, a goal, a hit and a takeaway (on a night when the official scorer was frugal with passing out hits, giveaways, or takeaways). He had a good night.

Take… territory. Keep pushing the opponent back. The four goals against Clemmensen were all scored within 22 feet (Green’s being the furthest in terms of distance). The Caps did a better job than on most nights of crowding the opponent’s net.

Give... the bench credit. When Viktor Kozlov went out with a groin injury early, the Caps lost a guy who does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of puck control. The Devils are still the sort of team that plays defense in a way that takes advantage of indecision with the puck, but the coaches recombined some things and gave some guys some additional time they might not otherwise get. Boyd Gordon – almost 16 minutes – was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the available time. He was also the one who dug out the puck that ultimately found its way off of Nylander’s stick into the back of the net for the game-winner.

Take… Brooks Laich took advantage of the opportunity presented when Ovechkin occupied the Devils so much. In addition to the goal off the Ovechkin feed, he finished the night with six shots on goal, one off his high for the year. Only one of them was outside of 13 feet. If Laich does this often, the Caps will win... often.

Give… me a break. Jose Theodore gave up two goals on 29 shots to the Red Wings, two goals on 34 shots to a team on an eight-game winning streak, playing in their arena, and doesn’t have so much as a third star for either effort. The two he gave up last night came on: a) a 5-on-3 power play on which he was screened, and b) a breakaway. Otherwise, he had some excellent saves to keep the Devils from getting back into the game.

Take… as in, I’d take Travis Zajac in a heartbeat. He’s turning into a very fine all-around player for the Devils. An assist, a blocked shot, ten wins on 15 draws. The Devils are trying to recapture youth (Holik, Shanahan, Madden, Rolston…all over 35), but Zajac (23) is the real thing.

Give… I’ll give you a moment to ponder that the Caps converted three of four power plays, scoring those three goals on a total of four shots, none of them taken by Ovechkin. When was the last time you could say the Caps had four power plays and Ovechkin didn’t have a single shot on goal on any of them? I think I’ll let you look that one up.

Take… some minutes off Ovechkin and spread it around. The 18:29 of ice time he had last night was the first time he’s been under 20 minutes since December 13th, and was his shortest stint since November 12th.

Give… yourselves a round of applause, boys. It was a very fine effort to make it 2-0-1 against Boston, Detroit, and New Jersey over the past week – some pretty high-flying teams these days. Now, there’s this unfinished business concerning the Kings on Thursday…