“Whoa, déjà vu.”
What did you just say?
“Nothing, uh, just had a little..deja vu.”
What did you see?
“I read your blog post, then…and then another that looked just like it.”
How much like it, was it the same blog post?
“Might have been, I'm not sure.”
A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix… it happens when they change something.
“Dude, what are you talking about? Aren’t you the only one here?”
Yeah…maybe I had too many adult beverages watching the game last night.
And will you stop bending all my spoons?!
Well, it’s not quite déjà vu, but it is a second game for the Caps inside of 24 hours after having dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in Buffalo last evening. Tonight’s opponent is the Atlanta Thrashers, who played a game of their own last evening, losing 4-2 on home ice to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the Thrashers will, like the Caps, be playing in their third game in four nights. So, the teams are starting even on that score.
The Thrashers are not starting even with the Caps in many other facets, though. They trail the Caps by eight points in the standings and have lost four of their past five games (1-3-1), outscored by their opponents by 17-13. The overall numbers look like this…
In the 1-3-1 run on which the Thrashers find themselves, they have had a difficult time stopping opponents on the power play. They were able to kill off only eight of 14 shorthanded situations over those five games (57.1 percent). The best thing that one can say about the Thrasher penalty kill lately is that they haven’t had to use it much – fewer than three times a game in the last five games (and the fifth fewest power plays allowed per game for the season).
With Ondrej Pavelec having played last evening in goal, it is likely that Chris Mason will have to serve as the Thrashers best penalty killer tonight (if you subscribe to the goalie having to be a team's best penalty killer). Mason was excellent in the first meeting of these clubs on opening night. He came into the game in relief of Pavelec when Pavelec collapsed on the ice less than three minutes into the contest. He stopped 29 of 31 shots to earn the win in the 4-2 final. Since then he hasn’t been as successful – 5-5-1 in 11 appearances with a 3.82 GAA and .900 save percentage. The problem is not entirely his, however. In the 11 games he played after defeating the Caps he faced an average of 38.3 shots per 60 minutes. Way too much for any goaltender to have to handle (by way of comparison, tonight’s goalie for the Caps – Michal Neuvirth – has faced an average of 29 shots per 60 minutes). Mason is 3-1-1 in his last five decisions, though (3.06, .919).
So far this season, Evander Kane likes playing against Washington. In two games against the Caps he has a pair of two goal games – four of the seven he has overall. The flip side of that is that in nine games since last facing Washington, Kane is 2-4-6, minus-9. We was held to a single shot on goal in each of his last two games.
Rich Peverley is 1-1-2, minus-5 in his last five games. Not that it matters. In 12 games against the Caps as a member of the Thrashers, Peverley is 3-7-10, and he has a pair of assists in the two games so far this season. But it probably says something about the state of the Thrashers that Peverley is centering the top line with Andrew Ladd and Niclas Bergfors on his wings. More that he centers the top power play unit. He has only four power play points this season, seventh on the club. That the Thrashers are fourth in the league on the power play suggests he’s more of a space eater who provides cover for defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byguglien (himself quite a space eater), who are one-two on the club in power play scoring and in the top-ten in the league in man-advantage scoring.
Speaking of defensemen, it is worth noting that only one Thrasher defenseman is a “plus” for the season. Brent Sopel, part of the great Blackhawk southern migration last off season, is a plus-3 in 16 games so far. Sopel is something of an odd duck in the way he is deployed on defense by Atlanta. He is dead last among the eight defensemen having dressed for the Thrashers this year in even-strength ice time per game, suggesting he is more of a third-pairing type of defenseman. But no Atlanta defenseman gets more penalty-killing time per game than Sopel’s 3:38. It is more than Nicklas Lidstrom gets, more than Zdeno Chara gets, more than Mike Green and Chris Pronger get.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Atlanta: Nik Antropov
Last season, his first with Atlanta, Antropov put in a claim to be among the better centers in the league with 24 goals and 67 points in 76 games, with a plus-13 thrown in on what was not a strong club. But he got off to a grisly start this season – 0-1-1, minus-3 in his first eight games. He has shown more of a pulse lately (4-2-6 in his last eight games, but with a minus-7), but it is not the sort of line the Thrashers can afford to have him sustaining if they are to be a playoff contender. He is 7-14-21 in 30 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
It says something that the third leading scorer in the league does not look quite right, but subjectively speaking there seems to be a lack of a dynamic aspect to Alex Ovechkin’s game. He is getting his points, but he is doing so in what, for him at least, is a subdued fashion (when was the last time you saw him jump into the glass after a goal?). Perhaps it is maturity, perhaps it is recognizing the wealth of talent around him and forgoing doing most of it by himself, maybe he is just saving himself by parceling out his expenditure of energy to have more left later in the year. But there have been few, if any instances in which he has taken over a game. There will be times when he has to. This game might not be (in fact, shouldn’t be) one of them, but it would be nice to see the old “Ovie” from time to time. Still, it would be hard to feel too bad about a player who had an eight-game points streak snapped last night (5-10-15, plus-8 in those eight games), and he is 28-32-60, plus-6 in 38 career games against Atlanta.
1. Uneven-Steven. The Thrashers have four players in plus territory this season, and only one of them (Brent Sopel) gets more than 15 minutes of ice time a game. Atlanta has three defensemen that get more than 18 minutes of even strength ice time a game (Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian), and they are a combined minus-12. There is little wonder that the Thrashers have been outscored 38-29 at 5-on-5. The Caps are just about the mirror image of the Thrashers, outscoring opponents 36-29 at even strength.
2. Catch a couple of stripers. No, not rockfish in the Chesapeake, but the guys wearing the orange arm bands. The Caps have a top-ten power play, one that is 9-for-23 (39.1 percent) over its last seven games, but the problem is that 23 power plays number (3.3 a game). The Caps don’t get enough opportunities to take the greatest advantage of that advantage. They recorded only a single power play opportunity in each of their last two games. So, despite the efficient power play and the improved penalty kill, the Caps are still only a plus-2 on special teams (13 PPG against 11 PPG allowed). They need to force the action to draw more fouls.
3. Finish strong. Only Carolina has allowed more third period goals (26) than has Atlanta (23). Only Vancouver has scored more goals in the third period (23) than have the Caps (22). Pittsburgh lit up the Thrashers for three goals in the third period last night. The Caps are certainly capable of doing the same tonight, especially against a team going on the road for its second game in two nights.
In the end, the Thrashers have done the dance of inconsistency, swerving from streak to streak. After defeating the Caps on opening night the Thrashers lost two, won two, lost three, won two, lost, won, lost three, won, lost. Such is life for a .500 team (7-7-3). They will be coming to the hardest rink in the Eastern Conference for the visitor to win. The Caps are 8-1-0 at home and have scored at least four goals in four of their last five home contests. For Atlanta, a team that has allowed the fourth highest total of goals on the road in the NHL so far this season, the task is daunting. The Thrashers played the Caps close and tough in the first two games of this season’s series, winning one and losing the other in overtime. But talent is finding its appropriate level as the NHL approaches the 20-game mark, and the Caps simply have too much for Atlanta to cope with.
Caps 5 – Thrashers 2