Thursday, February 11, 2010

A NO-point night: Senators 6 - Capitals 5

OK, now it’s over.

The Caps lost a game in regulation for the first time in almost a month, dropping a 6-5 decision to the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. Although the game appeared exciting and close, this one had “loss” all over it almost from the drop of the puck. The Senators scored three first-period goals, gave up the lead, then took it back for good in the third period, while the Caps enjoyed a hat trick – their third consecutive game with one after not having one all year – from Alexander Semin and a rare goal from Jeff Schultz.

But the story was defense, or more precisely, the utter absence of it. There were some oddities at the other end of the rink, too. It’s hard to know where to start…

-- Semyon Varlamov allowed six goals on 28 shots (.786 save percentage), and despite a couple of very nice saves looked very much the goalie who hadn’t seen any NHL action in two months.

-- Tomas Fleischmann was something of a rabbit’s foot for the Senators; he was on the ice for four even strength Senator goals. He also lost nine of 11 draws (including all of five in the ends of the ice). He didn’t take a draw in the last 22 minutes of the game. We’ll see whether this center experiment carries over after the Olympic break.

-- Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts for the game. That isn’t out of the ordinary. That he would get only one shot on goal is. Eight shots were blocked. Six of those were blocked by Anton Volchenkov. The Caps had five blocked shots for the game. Volchenkov deserved his first star of the contest.

-- Sometimes, you watch Alexander Semin and think he could be the premier offensive talent in the game. He had eight shot attempts, four shots on goal, and two goals in the second period alone, the goals coming 42 seconds apart, and he could have had a goal seconds before his second goal of the period on a nice move and quick snapper on goalie Brian Elliott. As for the first and third periods, let’s just not talk about that.

-- If you counted all of Ottawa’s shot attempts, it would still have been a brutal night for Varlamov – six goals on 40 attempts works out to a .850 save percentage.

-- Two of those goals came on power plays. Ottawa had two power plays for the evening. In February the Caps are 11-for-19 in road penalty killing. Think 57.9 percent is going to do it down the road? Didn’t think so.

-- First time in franchise history (amazing how often that phrase gets used these days) the Caps had a hat trick in three consecutive games. Of course, going 1-1-1 in those games sort of takes the luster off of that accomplishment.

-- You could say that having Chris Bourque, Tyler Sloan, and Karl Alzner in the lineup made for a less-than-optimal group of skaters. At least one of them was on the ice for three of the six goals. Alzner actually had a decent game. He was on the ice for Ottawa’s first goal, but the Senators couldn’t get any while he was on the ice thereafter.

-- Brendan Morrison had a pretty quiet game – one shot attempt, one hit, and an assist. He did win 12 of 21 draws. But he finished a plus-4. That would be his getting a close-up view of the Semin hat trick and the Schultz lightning bolt.

-- The Caps are 4-1-1 for the month of February, but giving up 4.0 goals a game and a save percentage of .894 is disturbing.

-- We’ll live a long time before we say, “hey, let’s have more of that Sloan-Erskine pairing.” They were on the ice for the goal in the last two minutes of the second period to tie the game at four apiece. Then they were on the ice for the goal in the first 150 seconds of the third period to give the Senators the lead for the last time.

-- Right now, the Caps have the top four players in the NHL in plus-minus: Alex Ovechkin (+43), Jeff Schultz (+38), Nicklas Backstrom (+33), and Mike Green (+28). Backstrom didn’t get a point tonight, but he has climbed into a tie for third in overall scoring (26-49-75).

-- This game will give ammunition to anyone who thinks the Caps: a) need a defenseman, b) specifically need Anton Volchenkov, c) have neither the goaltending, nor the defense to really make noise in the playoffs, d) think the Fleischmann-as-center experiment has run its course, e) need to distribute antacids to fans watching Alexander Semin over 60 minutes, and f) look better in their road white uniforms than they do in the home reds.

But it’s also possible to make too much of this. The Caps were missing Jason Chimera, Tom Poti, and Shaone Morrisonn. They were backstopped by a goalie who hadn’t seen an NHL shot in more than two months. It was the back end of a back-to-back on the road. They just had a long winning streak snapped. Tonight was the perfect storm of circumstances that conspired against the Caps. And still they made a one-goal game of it. It doesn’t excuse some flat out poor play that would be poor play under any circumstances, but this shouldn’t be seen as the onset of doom that we suspect a substantial number of Caps fans will see from the result.

Still, we couldn’t say it any better than the coach… “"It was an ugly display. I thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible…Their goalie wasn't any good, either. They just got more shots, so they scored the extra goal." A few days ago, words were being written that the Olympic break was coming at the worst time for this team. Now, it seems as if it can’t get here fast enough.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, February 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s "The Day After" here at Peerless Central, and it feels like someone splashed a bottle of bad after shave on a shaving cut. It stings… and it stinks, too, that the Caps have seen their winning streak come to an end. But no time to dwell on that; it’s time to apply a styptic pencil to the cut and stop the bleeding. That comes in the form of a game tonight in Ottawa against the Senators, a team that saw its own 11-game winning streak end last Saturday against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.

These are two teams that are, if not at the absolute peak of their respective games, then certainly in walking distance of it. These are two teams that will collide on the ice tonight like a pair of heavyweights, and we have a real heavyweight to help us with today’s take… The Champ, himself, George Foreman. George, thanks for stopping by…

“Glad to be here… can I grill you up something?”

No, I’m fine. Champ, these two teams are hot right now. Do you see any advantage?

“Well, let’s go to the tale of the tape for their respective hot streaks…

“You got the puncher and the counterpuncher, the bacon and the cheese on a hamburger, which tastes great off my grill…”

No doubt, but do you see an advantage for one or the other here?

“Well, the Caps’ offense has been really juicy these last four weeks, like a nice steak off my PowerGrill Grill.”

Juicy wouldn’t have been an adjective I would use, but it seems to work…

“Just like my G4 Next Grilleration grill that seals in the juices.”

But about the hockey game… The Caps have been led by Alex Ovechkin in goals during the streak (15), assists (17), points (32), plus-minus (plus-19). He’s been a jack-of-all trades as captain…

“A lot like my new 360 grill that grills, bakes, griddles, makes omelets, quesadillas, pizzas, pancakes…”

We get the point.

“Chops, steaks, burgers, seafood, vegetables… heck, I gotta go. I’m hungry!”

While the champ tests his new products, we have to say that this really is something of a prize fight kind of matchup, as those numbers above suggest. The Caps are the big puncher, capable of delivering a knockout blow early (as against the Maple Leafs and Islanders in this streak) or late (as against the Penguins twice and the Rangers).

On the other hand, the Senators have been the counterpuncher, taking a team’s best shot and not getting tagged, then winning by being opportunistic. The Caps have scored more than four goals nine times in their 14-0-1 run, the Senators have allowed more than four only once in their 12-1 run.

On the other hand, the Caps have allowed goals in this streak – four times more than three goals (including three of the last four games) – while the Senators have not had a lot of success in getting goals (five times with four or more goals in 13 games).

For Ottawa it starts in goal with a player who seems to have made a pact with the Devil. Brian Elliott is 10-1-0 in this Senator run, with a 1.59 GAA and a .948 save percentage. Only once in these last 11 games on his record has Elliott allowed more than two goals, and that was when he allowed four in 40 minutes in a 5-0 loss to Toronto, the only blemish on his and the Senators’ record since January 12th. Rather than be good, he’s been fortunate against the Caps. In three career games he is 2-0-0, 3.78, .880. That includes getting the win in a 4-3 overtime win against Washington on November 23rd.

Jason Spezza returned from a torn MCL on January 23rd against Boston. He’s been making up for lost time ever since. In eight games since his return he has goals in seven of them (8-2-10 overall), including three game-winners. Spezza is 6-13-19 in 21 career games against the Caps.

Daniel Alfredsson seems bent on making up for lost time, too. He returned to the lineup on January 16th against Montreal after suffering a shoulder injury. In 12 games since his return he is 7-9-16 with a pair of game-winning goals of his own. He’s been something of a Cap-killer in his career with a 31-24-55 points mark in 48 career games.

Alex Kovalev had been having a strange, struggling season with Ottawa until this run got started. Through January 3rd, Kovalev had a total of 11 goals in 39 games. But three of those came in a 4-2 win over Carolina on December 12th, and four of them came in a 7-4 win over Philadelphia on January 3rd. Other than that, there was a whole lot of nothing on Kovalev’s goal scoring resume this year. But since this 12-1-0 run started on January 14th, Kovalev is 4-8-12 and, yes, has a game-winner on his score sheet. In 60 career games against Washington, Kovalev is 17-29-46.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Mike Fisher

Fisher has had success against the Caps in his career – 9-8-17 in 26 career games. He is 4-7-11 in the 13-game Ottawa run, including a game-winning goal against Montreal on Janauary 30th. He is without points in his last two games, though, and one might expect that Fisher will have to show up on the score sheet somewhere in this game for Ottawa to have enough offense to deal with the Caps.

Washington: Mike Green

Andy Tardy is something of the lost Capital in all the good fortune lately. Since December 18th, when he was held without a point in his second consecutive game, he has points in 18 of 21 games (8-16-24), including points in five straight. He is also a plus-16 over those 21 games. Against Ottawa he has had some success – 5-11-16 in 15 career games.


1. It’s over, but it ain’t over. OK, the streak is over. The easiest thing in the world for someone not in the room to say is, “let it go, focus on this game.” But that’s really the trick here, isn’t it. Remember, Ottawa won in its next game out (a 3-2 win over Calgary) after their 11-game winning streak was ended.

2. Formula 1. No, not the racing tour, the formula for winning. Depending on comebacks from third period deficits isn’t a long-term recipe for success, even if the Caps parlayed it into wins late in the streak. The Caps are still – by a wide margin – the top scoring team in the first period this year. This is the formula to which they must return.

3. Balance. There are some gaudy numbers among the Young Guns in the streak, but part of the reason for success was getting contributions from down the roster. Brooks Laich had six goals during the streak (not including the hat trick he had last night in the overtime loss). Eric Fehr had four goals. Jason Chimera had three goals. Tom Poti had a pair from the blue line. Getting that balance will keep the wins coming.

In the end, the Caps can’t forget that they are still in the midst of a 15-game points-earned streak. And they will have the attention tonight of a team that is also at the top of their game (or at least within walking distance of it). There is still business to take care of, and a hallmark of a good team is doing precisely that, taking care of business.

Caps 3 – Senators 1

A ONE-point night -- Canadiens 6 - Caps 5 (OT)

Well, it didn’t go with a whimper.

The Washington Capitals did not extend their franchise best winning streak to an NHL second best all-time 15 in a row last night, dropping a 6-5 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.

It was an odd game that saw goals scored in the first minute of each of the three periods of regulation and goals scored in the last 65 seconds of each of the last two periods, including the game-tying goal with 19 seconds left in regulation, that authored by Brooks Laich of the Caps, completing what was for him a hat trick.

Sometimes, you can see the recipe for how a streak is going to end well in advance of it actually happening, and the end of this streak really had its roots in Game 12 of the streak, one that the Caps would win 6-5 over the New York Rangers. In that one, the Caps fell behind early, had a brutal second period, and eventually found themselves with a 5-3 deficit to overcome before winning. They repeated the formula against the Penguins two games later, falling behind early and struggling in the second period in falling behind 4-1 before coming back for an overtime win. Tonight the Caps fell behind early, had a ghastly second period (four goals allowed) and faced a 5-2 deficit at the second intermission before storming back to salvage a point.

Fortunately, the Caps do not have the luxury of engaging in coulda-woulda-shoulda navel gazing, what with a game in Ottawa tonight. Good thing, to because there is a lot you could coulda-woulda-shoulda about…

-- Like the no-goal called on Alex Ovechkin on a goal-mouth scramble. It was the correct call, even with the entertainment value of seeing Ovechkin steamroll a 6’7”, 250 pound player. Ovechkin barreled over Hal Gill, koncking him into the goaltender, without playing the puck in the crease, and that’s the standard for that play – whether he was playing the puck. He wasn’t, and the goal was disallowed.

-- Michal Neuvirth went out with what was termed a “minor injury” 5:40 into the second period, leaving it to Jose Theodore to come in cold, and the icicles showed as Theodore allowed three goals on 12 shots in the period as the Caps fell behind, 5-2. That might seem unfair to Theodore, and in a way it is. He was absolutely superb in the third period, once more giving his team a chance to get back into the game.

-- As a group, the defense had a pretty rough game. Mike Green salvaged a result by activating so much on the offensive end (12 shot attempts, three shots on goal, a goal, and an assist), but the group seemed to struggle in their own end with coverages and finding loose pucks.

-- When there is the familiarity of stable lines over a long period, as was the case for the Caps through much of this streak, even the smallest tremor could have at least short term effects. You could say (and you’d be right) that these guys should be familiar with each other, but the absence of Jason Chimera seemed to have just enough of an effect on the bottom half of the forward lines to be unsettling. The third and fourth lines were a combined 0-0-0, minus-1, with seven shots on goal. Not the balance we saw earlier in the streak.

-- The hat trick by Brooks Laich masked the fact that the other two thirds of the second line had a pretty grim game. This will not be one that Tomas Fleischmann or Alexander Semin will want to put in the archives for future viewing. Flesichmann was abused in the circle (lost 11 of 14 draws) and was a minus-2. Semin just never seemed to find a rhythm, even with seven shot attempts. Both were on the ice for the overtime game-winner.

-- Regarding Fleischmann, there is a point when an “experiment” becomes “regular position,” and we’re getting to a point where it’s going to be time to evaluate Fleischmann in the cold light of reality as a center. In his last 17 games he has won a majority of his draws only four times (none in the last four games) and looks somewhat overmatched. He has fine puck skills, but is he going to be a presence in the middle when the going gets tough, or is that second line going to look more like a basketball “three guard” offense?

-- The lasting visual for Hal Gill will be getting bowled over by Alex Ovechkin in his own crease, but don’t forget that he had 11 blocked shots, too (the Caps as a team had 15).

-- The Scott Gomez goal at the 36 second mark of the first period was the first time all season that the Caps allowed a goal in the first minute of a period.

-- The Tom Pyatt goal at the 41 second mark of the second period was the second time the Caps allowed a goal in the first minute of a period this season. If you’re going to break a streak, then break the damned thing.

-- In their last nine games the Canadiens have been shut out twice and scored at least five goals three times.

-- For the first line to get 16 shots on goal and not put one in the back of the net… the streak probably doesn’t end without that result.

-- That’s eight games and counting for points for Alex Ovechkin (17 of 18 games), nine straight for Nicklas Backstrom (16 of 18), five straight for Mike Knuble (11 of 14).

-- Caps won only five of 20 draws in the defensive zone. Yes, Nicklas Backstrom won 17 of 32 overall, but he was 10-for-14 in the neutral zone. In the ends he was 7-for-18.

-- Brendan Morrison is struggling. That’s not exactly news. No goals, no assists, one shot on goal (two attempts), two minor penalties. He is now 1-6-7 in his last 23 games, 0-1-1 in his last eight.

The good in this is that the Caps once more showed the resiliency to come back from a big deficit (three goals at the second intermission). On the other hand, there was enough coulda-woulda-shoulda in a one-goal overtime loss to play with their minds (like, "why couldn't we last another eight seconds to get to a shootout?"). They get right back on the ice tonight against Ottawa, a team that has won 12 of 13 games itself. That’s a good thing. And the loss – difficult as it is to stomach for players, coaches, and fans – perhaps has the benefit of focusing attention on the bigger task that lies down the road. Now is a time to rid oneself of the sort of bad habits that have been creeping into the Caps’ game for the past several and that ultimately cost them their streak.