Friday, January 29, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Panthers 1

You know, we would like to think we have a fair command of the English language, but frankly we are running out of adjectives.

Gritty, diligent, hard-working, explosive… we’ll think of some more. But for now, let’s just look at tonight’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers and apply some of these adjectives…

Gritty… The Caps knew coming in that this could be a bit of a slog. Tomas Vokoun came into the game as the hottest goaltender in the league – 7-3-2 for January, a 1.41 GAA, a .958 save percentage, and three shut outs. If the Caps were going to solve him, they were going to have to work for it, and that they did, getting two on Vokoun on 26 shots in the first two periods, then two on their first seven shots in the third to break the game open.

Diligent… crashing the net, the forwards getting back on defense (a few times it was Ovechkin covering the man heading to the net, instead of the second defenseman), winning battles along the walls, doing the little things was key to not giving the Panthers many chances.

Hard-working… Name a Cap who wasn’t. Even losing Mike Green to an injury 16:51 into the second period didn’t affect the level of effort.

Explosive… Florida scored its lone goal at the 4:22 mark of the second period. The Caps scored 25 seconds later (again, Wes Johnson barely got the name of the Panther goal scorer out of his mouth on the PA announcement). Then, two goals in less than three minutes early in the third. Consider, this was against a team that allowed fewer than two goals in four of its last five games and has given up more than three goals only once this month.

Other stuff…

-- Jeff Schultz completes the set. Every skater who took the ice tonight, except for Schultz, had at least one goal this month. Schultz drove one through a Brooks Laich screen to give the Caps an insurance goal.

-- Coulda-woulda-shoulda… Dominic Moore gets a breakaway in the first half minute of the game, rings the puck off the post. That could have played with goalie Michal Neuvirth’s head.

-- Kanoobie is one happy ugly goal rally mutt. Mike Knuble gets a goal from the door step and another on a wrister, sort of soup-to-nuts, Knuble style. That’s 11 goals in his last 12 games and two game-winners in his last three games. How does that signing look now?

-- The Caps had as many shots shorthanded (five) as the Panthers had on the power play.

-- Speaking of the man advantage, that’s eight straight games with a power play goal (11-for-29/37.9 percent) and have scored at least one in 12 of 14 games in January (17-for-49/34.7 percent).

-- The Caps went 5-for-5 on the PK… that’s 32-for-36 at home this month (88.9 percent).

-- Neuvirth (finally!), Knuble, and Backstrom got the game’s three stars, but here’s a doff of the prognostatorial cap to Brian Pothier, who we thought had a fine game. He moved the puck smartly, had a couple of blocked shots, had four hits, and his two giveaways were inconsequential (in fact, he was credited with a takeaway immediately after committing a giveaway).

-- If you want to quibble about Neuvirth’s rebounds early, go ahead. But since he was pulled from the game the last time these teams met, he is 3-0-0, 1.20, .963 in four appearances. He was 17-for-17 in the third period.

-- Florida isn’t going to last in contention until they can improve their productivity. 17 of 18 skaters managed at least a shot on goal tonight (36 in all). It was only the second time in ten games the Panthers could manage more than 30 shots on goal, for all the good it did them.

-- From our perch, the hit by Dmitry Kulikov on Mike Green was a clean hit, merely unfortunate circumstance that led their knees to collide. In fact, we were more worried that Green was concussed. It was just Green in a vulnerable position, and Kulikov executing a good open ice hit.

-- The evolution of the Caps as a complete hockey team continues. John Erskine finished the game with more ice time (17:43) than did Alex Ovechkin (17:27).

-- Here is another example. The Caps had five players with eight shots on the power play. Two years ago, if the Caps had eight shots on the power play, Ovechkin had six, and Mike Green probably had the other two. Nicklas Backstrom had three tonight (one goal)

-- Jeff Schultz is back on track – plus-5 in his last three games after a plus-1 tonight. But we thought he was struggling to get the puck out of the defensive zone, and we thought he could have moved the puck along the boards more assertively on a couple of occasions. Truth be told, Mike Green was having the same sorts of problems.

-- Are the coaches confident in the defense? The five defensemen who skated in the third all had between eight and ten shifts. There was no shortening of the bench.

-- The win sets a record for wins in the month of January – the Caps are 12-2-0 this month, besting the previous record set in 2000 (11-1-2). The Caps can set a record for most wins in a month in franchise history with a win on Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

-- Alex Ovechkin is a plus-34 after going plus-2 tonight. That is a pace to finish at plus-55, which would be the highest plus-minus since Vladimir Konstantinov was plus-60 in 1995-1996. It would tie for the highest among forwards since Mario Lemieux was plus-55 in 1992-1993. The last time a forward finished higher than the pace Ovechkin is on was 1986-1987… some guy named “Gretzky” (plus-70). He is plus-15 in 14 games this month.

-- There are games when John Erskine scares us a little bit out there. Tonight was not one of those games. His compete level was excellent, hustling on a couple of occasions to keep icing calls from being washed out and winning several chases for the puck along the walls. It was a solid game in doing the gritty things.

-- We see Brooks Laich in interviews, and he is witty, charming, personable. But on the ice, he looks like one fellow you really don’t want to mess with.

-- Did you ever notice at Caps games that the ice is often tilted, that all the goals are scored at one end of the ice?. Lately, the folks in the west end of the arena aren’t getting much action in that regard. It’s all at the east end – the end at which the Caps shoot twice.

-- Oh, and meanwhile, up in Hershey… the Bears had their third straight game with at least eight goals, beating the Baby Pens, 8-6, in Wilkes-Barre. It was their fifth time in six games with at least seven goals (45 in all in those six games). Think those teams don’t like each other? There were two fights in the first 3:07 of the game, four in all, and there were three sets of coincidental roughing penalties. Shoot, goalie Braden Holtby was whistled for two roughing penalties. We’re going to see those two go at it on February 13th, and we can’t wait.

Here in DC, though, it was another multi-goal game for a Cap (what’s that, 437 this year?), two three-point games, ten players on the plus side of the ledger, 11 with hits… it was a good all-around game for the Caps against a team against whom they could have suffered a letdown. Now, they get a chance for revenge against the last team to beat them – the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Caps rather soundly in Tampa on January 12th, 7-4. We suspect the Lightning will have the Caps’ full attention. That is not good news if you’re a Lightning fan.

But first things, first… this was a fine effort all around, for the ninth straight time.


At today, Dan Rosen pens an essay titled, "Capitals' rampaging offense has been unstoppable."

"Rampaging" is one of those words that trip a nerve cell deep within our addled brain. And that nerve cell is linked to the memory of a line from a somewhat obscure movie about a woeful college football team playing through a year under suspension from the NCAA.

The movie is titled, "Necessary Roughness," and one of its characters is an old school coach with a gruff (but heart of gold) personality, played by Robert Loggia (whose picture you will find in Websters if you look up "gruff").

What the phrase "rampaging offense" triggered was the memory from the movie of a locker room speech that, if you set it to the Caps -- and how an opponent might deal with that "rampaging offense -- might go like this...


"Let us pray."

Washington Capitals... "rampaging beasts"

We kinda like the sound of that.

Bill Simmons... you're wrong. We qualify

Bill Simmons, who writes a blog for as “The Sports Guy,” penned a column today in which he takes on the issue of tortured professional sports franchises. His inspiration was the Minnesota Vikings’ overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints this past weekend that denied the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl.

Simmons is no stranger to the subject, and in fact might have an attachment to it that goes beyond what might be considered “healthy.” As he notes, he once wrote a column titled, “The 13 Levels of Losing,” which runs the gamut from “a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end” to “Game 6 of the 1986 World Series ... one of a kind ... maybe the most catastrophic sports loss of our lifetime.” Simmons admits to being a Red Sox fan, so his perspective might be tinged with bias.

But to the point… In today’s essay Simmons tries to quantify the ”Level 1” defeat:

(Guillotine + Stomach Punch) x (already tortured history) x (significance of the game itself) x (catchy moniker) = Level 1.

He then goes on to describe in detail the variables, those variables being:

1. You need at least a 35-year drought without a title.
2. That 35-year rule doesn't apply to relocations.
3. During that 35-plus years without a title, it's not enough to lose. You need to have your guts wrenched a few times.
4. Only teams in cold-weather cities are eligible for Level 1 unless the situation is so cruel/unusual/unforgiving that it's practically unprecedented.
5. You need to be just pessimistic enough to keep your guard up for a sucker punch but just optimistic enough to keep lowering your guard at the worst possible time.
6. Outsiders need to instinctively empathize during a Level 1 takedown.

This last one comes with something of a qualifier, and here its relevance to the Capitals becomes clear. Simmons notes that one factor that could affect the empathetic variable is

“…steady losing devoid of playoff nightmares (like the Lions or Saints). This clause unfortunately rules out fans of the following teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Lions, Houston Astros, Kansas City Chiefs, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Kings, Miami Dolphins, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Blues, Texas Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals (emphasis added).”

Bill, we don’t know just how much you follow the Washington Capitals, but in fact, the club has not had a history of “steady losing,” and in fact once had a 14-year string of making the NHL playoffs. Even when that streak was broken, the Caps did make the playoffs in four of ten years. Not consistent winning, certainly, but hardly “steady losing (like the Lions or Saints).”

In fact, the Capitals might be a sufficiently tortured fan base as to qualify as a “Level 1” item on the Simmons torture scale. Let’s look at the argument for the other five variables…

1. You need at least a 35-year drought without a title.

The Capitals are about to unveil a 35-year patch celebrating their 35 years as an NHL franchise. Number of titles won: zero. Number of times they played in the finals for a title: one.

2. That 35-year rule doesn't apply to relocations.

Unless you count the “Landover-to-DC” move, the Caps have never relocated. Not that it almost didn’t happen.

3. During that 35-plus years without a title, it's not enough to lose. You need to have your guts wrenched a few times.

Two words, “Pittsburgh Penguins.” OK, three more words, “New York Islanders.” Let’s look at the latter first. Before most Caps fans these days were alive (or had yet discovered hockey), the Islanders were the older brother making life utterly miserable for the Caps. The first time the Caps made the playoffs, it was against the Islanders in 1983. The Caps actually won a game but lost the best-of-five series, 3-1. In fact, the Islanders would be the team that eliminated the Caps in each of the first three occasions that Washington made the playoffs.

In 1986 the Caps finally turned the tables, but that was merely a crumb to torture Caps fans for what would take place the following year – the Easter Sunday game. That was the year—1987 – that the Islanders went well into Easter Sunday morning before Pat Lafontaine took a pass from behind the Caps net in the fourth overtime and –CLANG!- drove a stake into the heart of Caps Nation.

By the time the Islanders would eliminate the Caps one last time (in 1993), another team stepped up to become the Caps’ master of torture – the Pittsburgh Penguins. From 1991 through last season, the Penguins and Capitals played in eight playoff series. The Penguins have won seven of them. Three times the Caps lost after taking 3-1 leads in games, and on two other occasions they lost after taking 2-0 leads in games. On another occasion they clinched a series in overtime, on a Capitals turnover at their own blue line that resulted in a breakaway. Only in 2000 did the Penguins end the Caps’ misery quickly, but even that didn’t come without pain – that was the year that arena scheduling forced the series to play games 2 and 3 in Pittsburgh, even though the Caps had home ice advantage and should have had games 1 and 2 in Washington.

But last year’s playoff series might have been especially painful. The Caps took the regular season series from the Penguins (3-0-1) and then took a 2-0 lead in games. But the Caps then lost the next three to Pittsburgh, only to fight back to win game 6 in overtime on Penguin ice to force a game 7 in Washington. Then, early in that game 7 contest, all-world Alex Ovechkin had the puck on his stick and was in alone on Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway early in the contest. If Ovechkin scores there, the crowd gets into the game, and the guys start feeling good about themselves, well… But Ovechkin didn’t score, the Penguins buried the Caps under an avalanche of shots, and Pittsburgh walked out with a 6-2 win.

Oh, and we won’t even speak the name, “Esa Tikkanen.” I think Caps fans have had their guts wrenched a few times.

4. Only teams in cold-weather cities are eligible for Level 1 unless the situation is so cruel/unusual/unforgiving that it's practically unprecedented.

If Washington is considered part of the “mid-Atlantic region,” it is one they share with Pennsylvania, and thus might be considered a cold-weather city. It sure ain’t Miami.

5. You need to be just pessimistic enough to keep your guard up for a sucker punch but just optimistic enough to keep lowering your guard at the worst possible time.

There might not be any team, certainly in the NHL, with a fan base as convinced of the utter inevitability of losing as Caps fans… unless they go up 3-1 in a playoff series or play a game 7. Then Caps fans think, "well, maybe..." The Caps are 2-5 in game 7’s.

In creating his “formula for torture,” Simmons says that

“you need to have all of those things. The Norwood Game [when he missed a field goal against the New York Giants that would have made the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl champions] seems like a Level 1 loss in retrospect, but Bills fans weren't fully tortured yet. Only AFTER the agony of that defeat did they become Level 1 eligible. Same for Browns fans after The Drive paved the way for the Byner Fumble a year later. The key is 'fully tortured.' You can't be a little tortured or pretty much tortured. You have to be fully tortured."

Bill, we’re fully tortured. It makes us that much more appreciative of how the Caps are playing these days. It’s been a glorious ride so far this season, one that might make Caps fans think that this – finally – is the year.


Prognosto Update!

Last September 30th, we posted “ten SWAPs” – ten silly wild-assed prognostications. OK, so… how are we doing?

Number 10… The Capitals have never led the NHL in power play conversion success. Last year’s second-place finish to Detroit and their 25.2 percent success rate are franchise bests. This year, the Caps will lead the NHL in power play conversions at 27.7 percent.

The Caps are currently at 26.1 percent, but since December 1st they are 30-for-99 (30.3 percent) in 26 games. That is a large enough sample to suggest that the 27.7 percent isn’t out of the question.

Number 9… The Capitals have never had an undefeated month (five games played minimum). January 2000 is their best on record (11-1-2). This club will have an undefeated (in regulation) February.

Given that the Caps are 11-2-0 in January, we might have a shot…

Number 8… The Caps have never had a 100-power play goal season (in 1992-1993 they had 97). This year, that mark will be topped.

With 53 power play goals in 53 games (tops in the league), this will be hard to achieve, not because of the Caps inefficiency (they lead the league in conversion rate), but comparative ineffectiveness (they are tied for 15th in total power play opportunities).

Number 7… Nicklas Backstrom will break the club record for consecutive games with an assists (nine, held by Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson).

Actually, we were pretty confident of this one going into the season. But Backstrom’s high this year so far is a five-game streak of helpers (January 7-15). With 29 games left there is time, but this might not be the year. We do think that eventually he will hold this record.

Number 6… The Caps will set a franchise record for playoff goals scored, team (currently 54, by the 1988 squad).

Talk to us in May.

Number 5… Quintin Laing will have a two-goal game. They will be his only two goals of the season.

We might be half right on this. Laing has two goals, but they came in separate games (November 1st against Columbus and November 7th against Florida).

Number 4… Matt Bradley will fight Donald Brashear. Bradley will win the bout when Brashear keels over in laughter at Bradley dropping his gloves.

Seeing as how: a) the Rangers don’t dress Brashear often, and b) the Rangers might want to get more firepower into the lineup for the two remaining contests these teams have with one another, this one isn’t looking likely (although they do play this coming Thursday, to let’s see).

Number 3… Michael Nylander will score a goal this year…against the Caps.

Not unless Jokerit is playing an exhibition against the Caps.

Number 2… Alex Ovechkin will carry home five trophies – Hart, Ross, Pearson, Richard, and…

…wait for it…

…Conn Smythe.

Hart?...maybe. Pearson?...could be. We like his chances for the Ross and Richard, given his production per game played. Conn Smythe?...we’re hopeful.

And the Number 1 prognostication for the Caps this season.

...Plan your parade route, kids, there’s hardware comin’ to town

They’d be hard to bet against the way they’re playing at the moment, but there is a long time until June.

That’s what Bears fans do...

John Walton of the Hershey Bears posted this request for help for a Bears fan who has been dealt an unfortunate blow. More to the story can be found here , here, and here. As John puts it at the end...

"You’ll be helping out a big Bears fan get back to the games he loves so much. We’ve got your back, Jason. That’s what Bears fans do."

edit: An update from John Walton...

"I've also gotten several notes from fans in D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia, asking what they can do if they're not coming to games and they are without a place to donate. For anyone that fits that description, drop me a note at and we'll make arrangements for you. My thanks to the D.C. blogging community for picking up this story from me and posting it so the folks that "Rock the Red" hear about Jason's story."

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And today we have a special treat. I don’t know how many readers of this space have sent me e-mails asking, “Peerless, how do you crank out these posts day after day after day…”


“after day after day after…”

Well, you get the point. The secret to grinding this stuff out is good scotch and lots of fiber. Just kidding. Actually, like many other blogs these days, we have a crack staff of professionals that make yours truly look good. And we thought it was long past time that you met them…

First we have our research interns. These young fellows spend countless hours poring over statistics, trends, models (and those young ladies really are troopers, too) to make sure that we have the latest, most up-to-date numbers to feed our readers’ insatiable hunger for… well, numbers.

Then there is our copy staff. They are a talented bunch, but sometimes they take their editing responsibilities a little too seriously. Just yesterday, one of them came up to me (well, up to about my knees) and said, “oompa loompa doompadee doo, I've got better subject for you. Oompa loompa doompadee dee, if you are wise you'll listen to me.” And you know, he was right. That post about the letter “P” before the Phoenix game really was lame.

Then there are the quality control guys. These are the guys who make sure that everything is spelled right, formatted correctly, and is generally pleasing to the eye. These guys came up with that thermometer idea, which come to think of it is the last idea they had.

And then there is our webmaster. We’d still be doing this on a typewriter but for this guy.

And it all comes together on a night like this, a well-oiled (thanks to that good scotch) machine, just like the Washington Capitals (just kidding, kids, we drink only fresh wholesome milk and eat green vegetables… are hops a vegetable?). And tonight, the well-oiled machine that is the Washington Capitals host the Florida Panthers on Fun Street.

Yes, the Caps have had a spectacular January (11-2-0). Yes, the Caps have pounded the opposition (62-32 in 13 games this month). Yes, the Caps have captured the imagination of a hockey-mad world.

But it isn’t as if the Panthers are the Washington Generals to the Caps’ Harlem Globetrotters here, either. Florida is 7-3-2 for the month and has outscored their opposition by 29-19 in 12 games. Florida hasn’t allowed more than two goals in their last seven games, since a 5-4 Gimmick loss to… well, to the Caps. It is one of only two games this month in which the Panthers have allowed more than two goals (the other a 3-2 loss at Toronto on January 5th). Here are the overall numbers...

The author of those stingy efforts lately is goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has every decision for the Panthers this month. He is probably the hottest goalie in the NHL with a 1.41 GAA for January, a .958 save percentage, and three shut outs. He hasn’t had nearly that level of success against the Caps this year, holding at the moment a 0-1-1 record (3.43, .885) against Washington. He allowed four goals in regulation, then allowed three goals in a six round skills competition in the 5-4 Gimmick loss two weeks ago.

The other side of that coin is that the Panthers are having a Devil (or a Wild) time trying to score goals. Whatever, they’re not exactly a Flame or Lightning on ice. They have only 29 goals in 12 games this month, and six of those came in the first game of the month, a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Compounding the problem is the loss of Nathan Horton who has been out since fracturing his leg in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Islanders a week ago. Horton, the Panthers’ leading scorer for the season, is expected to miss at least a month. Add to that the fact that David Booth hasn’t dressed since being concussed on a hit by the Flyers’ Mike Richards in a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on October 24th. The Panthers are hopeful that Booth will be able to return to the ice before the Olympic break, but his absence for this game just underscores the offensive void left in the Panther lineup.

That means that the scoring load falls to second leading scorer Stephen Weiss – no goals in his last six games and only one in his last 14. And to third leading scorer Steven Reinprecht – no goals in his last 11 games and only two in his last 20. And to fourth leading scorer Michael Frolik – no goals in his last seven games, one in his last 12.

See a pattern?

By comparison, Rostislav Olesz is on fire. He has five goals in his last nine games, but even here there is a problem. He hasn’t lit the lamp in his last five games.

Even on the blue line things have dried up. Bryan McCabe, who leads the Panthers’ defense in scoring, doesn’t have a point in his last seven games and has only an assist in his last 10. Dennis Seidenberg not only does not have a goal this month, he doesn’t have one since Hallowe'en. And it goes on – Jordan Leopold, no goals in his last 11 games. Keith Ballard, none in his last 12.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Cory Stillman

If Florida is going to win, you would have to think Stillman has to be on the score sheet. He is 12-23-35 in 40 career games against the Caps, including a goal and an assist in three games this year. And, he has four goals in his last seven games. If Stillman can’t find his way onto the score sheet, Vokoun might have to pitch a shutout to win, and that seems unlikely in the extreme given the Caps’ offensive production this month.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Chimera hasn’t had a lot of experience against the Panthers, but he has had success in his limited exposure. He is 3-1-4 in four career games against the Caps, including what was his first multi-point game as a Cap (1-1-2) in the 5-4 win on January 13th. He is 3-5-8, plus-5 in his last ten games with the Caps.


1. No napping. Florida is going to try to slow this game down to a walk. It will be the local, not the Acela, going from zone to zone. If the Caps fall into that trap (so to speak) and get caught napping, Florida might get the sneaky goal somewhere along the way to give Tomas Vokoun some much needed help.

2. Gatling Gun for Goals. Vokoun has faced 407 shots in 12 games this month (33.9 per game). He doesn’t seem to have suffered under the assault (3-1-2 in games in which he saw at least 35 shots in January). But the Caps have been rather efficient in scoring (14.2 percent shooting percentage for the month). If the Caps succeed at that rate and the Panthers allow the shots on goal they’ve allowed this month, it will be another “wings” night for the fans.

3. Familiarity Breeds Contempt. You could sew it on a sampler, but it applies here. The Caps are 4-0-0 against the Panthers so far this season, outscoring Florida 21-11 in the four games. It isn’t beyond imagining that the Caps might take the Panthers a bit lightly (see: “Tampa Bay,” January 12th, a 7-4 loss). Given that the Caps have scored 11 goals in the third period in the four games, it might be worth noting if they bearing down in the last 20 minutes.

In the end, the only thing that can beat the Caps here is themselves. J-S Giguere played spectacularly at times for Anaheim in Wednesday’s game against the Caps and still was lit up for three goals in 2:30 in the third period in a 5-1 loss. Tomas Vokoun might have to do better, given the offensive troubles his team has. The Caps have shown no particular inclination to see an end to this run they are on, and we’re thinking “chicken parts.”

Caps 5 – Panthers 2

Oh, I almost forgot the marketing team...

"Have fun storming the blogosphere..."