Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The February

February – the longest month of the year, I swear – is finally over. The Caps had a very good month as it turned out, finishing 9-3-1. What was good, what was bad, and what was ugly?

The Record:

The Good…The Caps were 5-1-1 against teams that tonight are in the top-eight of their respective conferences.

The Bad…The Caps again showed a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent when not playing a top-notch team. Going 4-2-0 against teams not in the playoff mix is not awful, but elite teams usually do better. The Caps did, however, beat up on those teams when they won – three of the four wins were by at least three goals.

The Ugly…Losses to Los Angeles and Colorado, both at home, were tough to swallow. And, giving up nine goals in the process made it harder.

Special Teams:

The Good…The power play was humming along nicely, thank you very much. At 18-for-53 for the month (34.0 percent), it was the most power play goals scored in any month this year (they had 17 in December) and the most efficient month of the year on the power play (they were 17-for-56 in December – 30.4 percent).

The Bad…The Caps allowed power play goals in nine of 13 games for the month.

The Ugly…70 shorthanded situations faced for February (5.4 a game). If you’re looking for a silver lining there, it is that the Caps killed 59 of them – 84.3 percent. Maybe practice makes perfect. Well, if not perfect, then at least better than their season PK number (79.9 percent).

The Record II:

The Good…The Caps did not lose a road game in regulation in February (4-0-1).

The Bad…They lost three home games in regulation in a single month for the first time this year.

The ugly…They lost to the Flyers at home. That will be “ugly” any time until the sun goes dark.

The Players – Goaltender Edition:

The Good…Michal Neuvirth was 2-0-0 in his first two NHL appearances (2.00, .929). What might be most impressive is the way he’s started those games. One might expect a rookie who hadn’t played in the NHL to have some jitters starting games. He saved 23 of 24 shots in the first period of the two games.

The Bad…Jose Theodore. OK, these things are relative. He was 6-3-1 in January (2.18, .919). He was 6-3-1 in February, too. His save percentage was not much changed (.915), but his GAA rose some (2.66). He had four games out of ten appearances where he allowed more than three goals, compared to one in ten appearances in January. His overall performance wasn’t much off that of January, but what he didn’t have in February was consistency.

The Ugly…losing Brent Johnson to a hip injury after he played one game in February.

The Players – Skaters Edition:

The Good…The Young Guns had quite a month. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom were a combined 32-40-72, +17, with four game-winning goals and 13 power play goals. They spread the goodness around, too. Ovechkin led the group in goals and game-winning goals. Green led in points and power play goals. Backstrom led in assists and had a point in 11 of 13 games in the month.

The Bad…19 goals from the rest of the skaters, combined. And after Eric Fehr’s seven goals are accounted for, that’s a dozen goals for the month from the other 13 sport among the skaters.

The ugly…actually, that last one is pretty ugly, too.

Boyd Gordon Edition…

The Good…Gordon won the majority of his draws in nine of the 13 games he played in and was a reliable penalty killer.

The Bad…In the last nine games of the month, he was an uncharacteristic minus-5.

The Ugly…two points for the month (he’s only had four in the new year).

Tomas Fleischmann Edition…

The Good…Plus-7 for the month to drag his season number into positive territory.

The Bad…Seven points in 13 games. After giving indications he was ready to step up and be an offensive contributor, he took a step back.

The Ugly…Two goals in 13 games for the month. After getting 15 in 41 games before February, that has to be a disappointment.

Some other good, bads, and uglies…

The Good…It’s always good to beat Pittsburgh, especially when it’s by at least a field goal, and goodly good when Sidney Crosby can complain about something in its aftermath.

The Bad…Seeing four on-ice officials miss Ovechkin getting whacked in the chops with a high stick in the Atlanta game.

The Ugly…Losing to the Flyers in the next game after beating the Penguins.

The Good…Eric Fehr’s getting seven goals for the month (7-4-11, +6, with a game winner). He picked up where Fleischmann left off.

The Bad…Karl Alzner played in only three games in February before being sent back to Hershey. He was a minus-4 in those games. That’s OK, he’ll be back.

The Ugly…Delay-of-Game penalties. In the last 11 games of the month, the Caps were whistled for that infraction six times.

The Good…51 goals scored for the month (3.92/game)

The Bad…26 goals allowed in eight home games (3.25/game), this after allowing only 49 in 24 home games before this month.

The Ugly…
Thanks for coming, and don't forget to tip your waitress!

The Levitator

"That was one of the luckiest shots I've ever seen. It was about three inches off the ice until it was halfway to me. Then it just started to lift."

-- Boston goalie Tim Thomas

"As a goalie, looking at the puck, it went back up. I know it doesn't look good, but it's a tough play. It's not a good feeling for a goalie."

-- Washington goalie, Jose Theodore

"[I] was tired and trying to shoot the puck in the zone. [I] was a little surprised, but sometimes it happens."

-- Caps forward, Alexander Semin

All of them are describing what would prove to be the game-winning goal, scored by Semin 22 seconds into overtime of this afternoon's 4-3 win over Boston. Rick Vaughn had "The Terminator" fastball in the movie, "Major League." Semin can now name one of his shots...

"The Levitator."

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 4 - Bruins 3 (OT)

Two heavyweights slug it out for 15 rounds – like Balboa and Creed trading haymakers – and the fight ends on a knockout coming on a jab to the shoulder.

That’s what it was like at TD Banknorth Garden, as Alexander Semin ended an extra-session contest between the Capitals and the Boston Bruins with a 70-foot slap shot that somehow snuck past Bruin goalie Tim Thomas. The shot that came 22 seconds into overtime gave the Caps a 4-3 overtime win and allowed the Capitals to win the season series against the B’s, 3-0-1.

It was a game that had something for everyone (ok, except a fight – there were no bouts). It had goals, outstanding saves, big hits, big performances by big players, and the weird ending…

-- Need the big players to come up big? Well, Marc Savard wasn’t even supposed to play in this game for the B’s, but he ended up getting three assists and winning a majority of the faceoffs he took. Zdeno Chara got the Bruins even in the third period with a goal coming off a bad angle shot that Caps goalie Jose Theodore frankly should have turned aside. Semin had two points for the Caps, Mike Green had a pair, and Alex Ovechkin had another goal from his left wing faceoff circle office.

-- Theodore did, however, have a number of big saves – a robbery on Patrice Bergeron by skittering from one post to the other as Bergeron was taking aim for a one timer on the short side, a stop of a Shawn Thornton attempt off a rebound. Thomas had his share, too – twice making saves on Semin as the Caps forward broke in alone after sprinting past Bruin defenders and denying breakaways by Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr.

-- Theodore didn’t get an assist on the first goal – a power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom – but it was his having the presence of mind not to freeze the puck after a David Krejci shot at the other end, moving the puck to the side boards for Alex Ovechkin to start the play the other way, that ultimately led to the goal.

-- Tomas Fleischmann ended a seven-game streak without a goal (one in his previous 17 games coming into this contest), banking one off defenseman Dennis Wideman and past Thomas. Hey, you have to stop a slump somehow. Usually, it’s an ugly goal that does it.

-- Ovechkin’s goal (his 45th for the season) makes 18 in 19 games since January 14th.

-- Semin had an assist to go with his game-winning goal. That makes 58 points in 44 games, and he has gone as many as two games consecutively without a point only once this season (February 18, 20 – against Colorado and Montreal).

-- Speaking of Semin, here is your fun Alexander Semin stat. With a goal and an assist, Semin is now at 58 points, good for 21st in the league. That might sound nice, but when you consider that his 44 games played is fewer than those played by the top 135 scorers in the league, it is amazing.

-- Backstrom’s goal gave him points in nine straight games (4-8-12), tying a career best.

-- At the other end of the spectrum, Matt Bradley had an assist – his first point since January 10th against Montreal.

-- Two-for-five on the power play gives the Caps eight for their last 23 (34.5 percent) over their last four games and an 18-for-53 mark (34.0 percent) for February.

-- This was the Caps 40th win, making this the fastest-to-40 team in franchise history, achieving the feat in 63 games. The 1985-1986 team won its 40th game in game 64 of the schedule.

-- Perhaps the oddest line on the entire scoresheet belongs to the Bruins’ Michael Ryder. He allegedly played 13:40 in this game, and other than a minor penalty, what he had to show for it was…nothing. No shots attempted, no hits, no takeaways, no giveaways, no blocked shots. Nothing.

-- The Caps lost the faceoff battle by a close 29-31 margin. But within that, the Caps were only 5-for-17 in the offensive zone and only 8-for-19 in the defensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedeorov were a combined 4-for-19 in the offensive/defensive zone draws.

-- The teams combined for only 18 turnovers (takeaways plus giveaways)

-- The good and the bad about penalty killing…the Caps took only four minors, but three of them came in a less than eight-minute span of the third period. The Bruins scored the tying goal on the last of them.

We’ve now completed the regular season body of work for these teams, and since it is a good possibility that they will meet in the playoffs, that body of work merits a look…

The teams have played evenly, with three games settled by one goal and the other virtually a one-goal game, the Caps securing a two-goal win with an empty netter late in the first game played between the clubs. There are perhaps 30 or so games to be played before these teams might meet in a conference final, but you get the feeling that if they do meet, it will be one helluva series. In the meantime, nicely done boys.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Bruins, February 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a two-fer weekend as the Caps head to Boston to take on the Bruins in the front half of the back-to-back weekend fun. It is the last chance for the Caps to take a pound of flesh out of the Bruin hide, for the regular season anyway, and shave a couple of points off the nine-point lead Boston holds over Washington. To get some perspective on the mind of the Bruin and how an opponent might find an advantage, we’ve asked one of the most famous bears around to join us and offer us some insights…

Smokey Bear, you’ve been an icon in American culture for more than 60 years. You’ve seen a lot of bears come and go, and you might know better than anyone what we should look for. So, what do the Caps need to beware of this afternoon?

“Well, you can’t play with fire around the Bruins. They are fourth in the league on the power play overall and second in home power play conversions. They are six-for-20 in their last five games, three–for-six in their last two games, both played in front of the home fans.”

It is an impressive record. How do you address that if you are the visitors?

“The obvious thing is to stay out of the penalty box. The Caps have had trouble doing that, I see. In February, they have been shorthanded 66 times in 12 games – 5.5 times a game. If they do that against Boston, they’re going to get torched.”

Does Boston have a weakness?

“If you look at their team numbers, you’d have to say ‘no.’ They are top-five in everything except winning when they score first, but they still win more than 70 percent of the time in that situation…”

You sure do keep up with this stuff. But if the Caps win, they will achieve their second-highest number of wins in a month this year (nine), not bad for a short month. This is a big test, though. Is there any one thing the Caps can do to give themselves an advantage in this one, Smokey?

“I’m glad you asked…Have you read my ‘Wildfire Pledge?’

Not since I was a cub.

“Cute…I get it…bear joke. Have I shown you my claws?”


“OK, well…we also have a ‘penalty killing pledge…”

I pledge to be smart whenever I go on the ice:

* To use caution and common sense before I might commit a penalty.
* To understand that any penalty I or my teammates take could result in a goal.
* To understand and practice proper guidelines of our system whenever I or my teammates take the ice to kill a penalty.
* To never, ever leave an opponent in the defensive zone unattended.
* To make sure any penalty that I or my teammates commit is properly and completely extinguished before moving on.
* To properly clear the puck on the penalty kill and not shoot it over the glass.
* To be aware of my surroundings and careful when playing defense during periods of penalty killing so I don’t put my team at a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
* To step in and defend my teammates when I see someone taking liberties with them.

Not bad, but let’s hope no one has to recite the pledge too often this afternoon. The Caps have had a problem staying out of the box in February, but they have been slightly less inclined to do the perp walk in road games – 21 times in four games (5.25 shorthanded situations per game). Here is the kicker, though – they are 19-for-21 on the PK in those road games (90.5 percent). The difficulty for the Caps is of the four opponents they faced in those road games, the highest ranked power play at home was that of New Jersey (16th). Tampa Bay (23rd), the Rangers (28th), and Florida (29th) are among the league’s bottom feeders in the measure. This will be different.

Another problem for the Caps in this one is the second intermission. Only Chicago (33) has taken a lead into the second intermission more times this year than have the Bruins (32). No team has more wins (29). Conversely, only two teams have trailed at the second intermission fewer times than have the Caps (San Jose, and Boston). But while the Caps are ninth in winning percentage in such situations, winning 18.8 percent of the time is not generally a reason for optimism.

Boston has assembled an impressive record on the basis of talent, sure. But they have also accomplished this as a product of health and balance. As to the former, the Bruins have dressed only 26 skaters this year. Seven players have dressed for every game (by way of comparison, the numbers for the Caps are 33 and 2, respectively). But the Bruins might be missing top scorer Marc Savard (who is one of those who has played in all 62 games this year) and top hitter Milan Lucic. Both have “upper body” injuries. Blake Wheeler, another player with 62 games under his belt, will likely be skating with a sore foot, thanks to a shot taken off the stick of Chris Pronger.

As for balance, try 18 players with at least ten points, 11 with at least 20. They have nine with at least a dozen goals and 16 players with at least one game-winning goal. They have 13 players with at least one power play goal and 11 players at plus-ten or better.

But it is a team that has struggled to score against Washington. In three games they have a total of five goals. Perhaps ominously for Boston, two of them were by Savard and one by Lucic – Shawn Thornton and David Krejci getting the others, Krejci’s actually being a deflection off of the skate of Shaone Morrison to give Boston a 3-2 overtime win the last time the teams met.

If one looks at the Bruins individually, there aren’t many players there who can be said to have had successful careers against the Capitals, assuming Savard is out (he is 9-35-44 in 34 career games against Washington). If there is one player to think about in that regard, it might be Michael Ryder. He is 9-6-15 in 17 games against the Caps, but the odd thing about that is that all of his scoring was done as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. He has been held without a point in the two games he’s played against Washington as a Bruin. In fact, the leading career scorer against the Caps for the Bruins dressing for this game (again, assuming Savard is out) will be defenseman Zdeno Chara – 5-14-19 in 39 career games.

Boston comes into the game having had a somewhat indifferent February. The Bruins are “only” 6-4-2 for the month, but they put up a half dozen goals in each of their last two games – a 6-1 win over Florida and a 6-0 whitewashing of Anaheim. It is worth noting that both of those teams are in the lower half of the goals-per-game rankings, so for the Bruins this will be a step up in weight class, too. That 11-goal differential in the last two games is the difference for the month as the Bruins have outscored opponents by 36-25 in 12 games. The 25 goals allowed is evidence that defense and goaltending has not been a problem for Boston. Time Thomas is 6-3-0 for the month and six times has allowed one or no goals (1.55 GAA, .943 save percentage). Manny Fernandez is 0-2-1 for the month, 3.22, .855.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Phil Kessel

Kessel has played in only one of the three games against the Caps this season, assisting on the only goal in a 3-1 loss in Washington in December. He hasn’t had a lot of success against the Caps (1-1-2 in nine career games), and he has been in a prolonged slump otherwise lately (2-4-6, -1 in 19 games in the 2009 portion in the season). He also is part of a rumor concerning a trade for Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger. An awful lot of stuff going on for a 21-year old.

Washington: Jose Theodore

This is more or less “game one” of a playoff series against the Bruins, and in the playoffs, success starts with the goaltender. Unfortunately, Theodore does not have an especially noteworthy record of accomplishment against the Bruins – 9-12-2-1, 2.53, .917. But here is the odd part of that record – since the lockout, Theodore is 3-0-1, 2.00, .924 against Boston. What he hasn’t had is a good February, or at least not a consistent one. Theodore is 5-3-1 for the month, 2.95, .904. He’s allowed more than three goals four times in 12 games and has done so against teams who shouldn’t have that kind of success – Colorado, the Rangers, and the Kings.

One would have to think this is going to be a low-scoring game and closely fought. Since the lockout, the teams have met 15 times. The Caps have a 5-4-6 record in those games. Including Gimmicks, 12 of them have been one-goal affairs (the Caps are 3-3-6 in those games), and only one of them has been settled by more than two goals (the 10-2 win over Boston last March). In only three of the 12 have there been more than a total of five goals scored. This year, none of the first three games in this series had more than five goals scored, and in that one it took an overtime to do it. We suspect this one won’t be any different. Any last words, Smokey?

“Uh, only YOU can prevent penalties.”

Caps 2 – Bruins 1