Friday, January 22, 2010

Sittin' at the End of the Bar

Thinking about last night’s game…

-- There is a widely-accepted narrative that the Caps lack the defense and goaltending to go deep into the playoffs. The Caps are currently allowing 2.78 goals per game. Last year’s Stanley Cup champions? 2.84 for the season.

-- But in those numbers is a caution in the form of a question… “do you get it?” After the Penguins made a coaching change in mid-February, they averaged 2.40 goals/game allowed for the remainder of the regular season. The light went on over their collective heads – “tighten up.” They got it.

-- Of the teams that took the ice at Mellon Arena last night, the one that should perhaps be concerned about its defense at the moment might not be the Caps. Since the beginning of December, the Penguins have allowed 3.00 goals per game (24 games), the Caps 2.74 (23 games). Perhaps more ominously, four times since January 1st (covering 11 games) the Penguins have allowed at least six goals, and they have four losses by at least three goals this month.

-- On the other hand… the Caps have allowed opponents two or fewer goals 13 times in 23 games since the beginning of December, six times in ten games this month.

-- Jose Theodore has allowed more than three goals in a game once in his last 14 appearances. Three-or-more? Not lately.

-- Top-six defensemen… Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jay McKee, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski. Or… Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, Brian Pothier, John Erskine (we did not include Karl Alzner here because of fewer games played than Erskine). Advantage, who? Whatever your opinion, both teams are going to be looking to shore up their blue line.

-- There is another narrative out there that says that a team relying on so much offense such as the Caps can’t win the Cup. Well, this might not be your average season. The Caps are currently first in the NHL in offense, scoring 3.74 goals per game. San Jose is second with 3.25 goals per game, a 0.49 goal per game advantage for the Caps. The last time a team had a greater than half-a-goal per game higher scoring average than the next highest team was in the 1993-1994 season, when Detroit scored 356 goals in 84 games (4.24/game) to 306 for New Jersey (3.64/game). Detroit lost in the first round of the playoffs that year, ironically perhaps to this era’s early exit specialists, the San Jose Sharks. OK, maybe there is something to that narrative.

-- Last night, the Penguins skated without Marc-Andre Fleury, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, and Maxime Talbot. The Caps skated without Mike Green, Brian Pothier, and Semyon Varlamov, and they iced two defensemen (Karl Alzner and John Carlson) with a combined 50 games of NHL experience. Who had the worst of it? Fleury’s absence is probably the trump card here, but not by a lot.

-- Sidney Crosby lost 20 of 30 draws last night. How bad was the abuse? Well, he came into the game having won at least half of his draws in 14 of his previous 15 games, and the 33.3 percent winning percentage was his worst for a game this season.

-- OK, the Caps have now beaten in succession: a) the team that eliminated them from the playoffs two years ago, b) the team that played in the last two Stanley Cup finals, and c) the team that won last year’s Cup and eliminated the Caps on their way there, scoring 14 goals in the three games, giving up eight. All in all, a good week.