Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 7 - Panthers 3

Here is the only number you need to look at in the Caps’ 7-3 win this evening over the Florida Panthers..


That is the combined distance, in feet, from the Panthers’ net from which seven goals were scored for the Caps, according to NHL.com. And 30 of those came on one goal, that off the stick of Eric Fehr. Tonight, the Caps dealt with the absence of captain Alex Ovechkin by going back to basics – crashing the net, picking up loose change, and getting Florida goalies (and both ended up playing) flailing around on the ice waving at pucks batted past them from in close for scores.

Six different Capitals had goals, 13 different skaters had points. Not a bad night, all things considered, given that Ovechkin, Tom Poti, John Erskine, Scott Walker, and Boyd Gordon sat (oops… Gordon skated 1:05 before going out with a balky back), either to injury, suspension, or just taking a seat. At the other end of the ice, Jose Theodore stopped 34 of 37 shots, but it was hard to get a bead on whether he was sharp, or whether the onslaught at the other end had so beaten the Panthers into submission that they couldn’t muster much of a response in the offensive end. In any event, that makes Theodore 16-1-2 in the 2010 portion of the season. Whether that is the product of the luck of St. Patrick or that of channeling Patrick Roy, we don’t care (it’s worth noting that he has allowed more than three goals only three times in those 19 games). It’s all good right now.

Other stuff…

-- Shots, shots, shots. By the time the Caps hit the 30 shot mark in this one, the Caps had six goals and the competitive portion of the game was in the rear view mirror. They finished with 39 shots on goal.

-- The flip side of that is that the Panthers’ defense had only six blocked shots and six hits. That was not an especially active group this evening, and the Caps made them pay by inflicting a lot of abuse on goalies Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen.

-- Welcome back, Brendan Morrison. A goal, two assists, six shots on goal in 16 minutes and change. It was his first multi-point game since January 26th and tied his high-point game for the year (1-2-3 on December 3rd, also against Florida). His six shots on goal was a season high.

-- We had Mike Knuble as the player to ponder for Washington. Well, Brooks Laich did a more-than-passable impression with a couple of goals scored from the doorstep, an assist, eight shots on goal, and the game’s first star.

-- When the big dog is out, everyone has to ramp up their game, but still play within their comfort zone. Jason Chimera was a good example of that. In a little less than 14 minutes, he had a goal, six shot attempts (three on goal). That goal was a product of the simple idea of going hard to the net. Chimera has been very good at playing his game and, when needed, giving just a little more of it without trying to do things outside his comfort zone.

-- Shaone Morrisonn… two assists, two hits, two blocked shots. He’s having quite a 2010 portion to the season.

-- Even when Florida threatened to make a game of it, the Caps responded. Panthers score in the last two minutes of the first period? Ok… the Cap scored in the first minute of the second to restore a two-goal advantage. Florida scores at the 14:28 mark of the second? Fine… the Caps responded 1:30 later to slam the door on the outcome to make it 6-2.

-- Nicky the Pants… 3-2-5 in his last two, including a goal and an assist tonight. He has goals in consecutive games for the first time since February 4-5. Seems he might be back. Well, if he was ever really gone. Even though he had an eight-game goalless streak before getting goals in these last two, Backstrom hasn’t gone consecutive games without a point since the first two games of 2010 (28 games).

-- Folks in the Panthers’ front office must feel a bit shortchanged. Ovechkin played in only one of three games in Sunrise this season.

-- Two for four on the power play, three for three on the penalty kill. Efficient on both sides, and the three PK situations was right in that comfort zone of not taking too many shorthanded situations. But then again, the Panthers were badly outmatched. Still…

-- The centers – Backstrom, Morrison, and Eric Belanger – were a combined 8-for-10 on faceoffs in the offensive end. A way to keep putting pressure on the Panthers’ defense.

-- We’d just as soon the Caps never leave Florida. For the year, they finished 6-0 against the Panthers, outscoring them 32-15 and going 8-for-26 on the power play (30.8 percent). They didn’t score fewer than four goals in any game.

-- Tyler Sloan and Quintin Laing skated tonight. That might be the last time that year you’ll see both in the same game.

-- The Caps average more than a goal a game more without Ovechkin than with him. I don’t know, but that would seem to pretty much eliminate him from Hart consideration, wouldn't it?  On the other hand, four of the games he’s missed this year were against the Panthers, who (see above) haven’t exactly been defensive demons against the Caps.

-- Mike Green, with an assist tonight, now has consecutive 70-point seasons. He has 143 points in 135 games over the last two years. He is also a plus-56 over that span.

-- Brooks Laich’s eight shots on goal is a career high. He has 30 shots on goal in his last five games (four goals).

It was an efficient demolition of the Panthers tonight, evidence that the Caps are certainly more than a one-man band. It was the fifth time this year that the Caps scored at least seven goals, the second time against Florida. It was not the stiffest of tests, but it was encouraging in this respect – when getting a lead, the Caps kept their foot on the pedal and stood on the throats of the Panthers (nice mixed metaphor there, prognosto boy). It’s that kind of attitude the Caps need to maintain as they head off to Carolina.

Suspend our captain, will ya. Well, take that!

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, March 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!

Well, Alex Ovechkin is on the shelf for two games for his shove to Chicago’s Brian Campbell on Sunday. Colin Campbell, the NHL’s Vice President of Silly Walks deemed the play “reckless” on Ovechkin’s part. Frankly, we think that the whole review of player penalties for purposes of fines and suspensions is shrouded in too much mystery. It’s not as if we’re electing a Pope here. Everyone would be better served if the process was conducted in the open. When you add in the fact that suspending Ovechkin makes him unavailable to play against the Florida Panthers this evening – a club that employs Campbell’s son, Gregory – it might have been better if the process had been conducted by a respected independent jurist. We’re thinking (and we think you’re thinking it, too)… Yup, Judge Judy. Here is how it might have gone…

Announcer: You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judy. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is her courtroom. This is Judge Judy.

The Bailiff: Order, all rise.

Announcer: The National Hockey League is considering the case of Brian Campbell versus Alex Ovechkin in which the latter is accused of committing the penalty of “boarding,” resulting in injuries to Mr. Campbell that will end his participation in further National Hockey League games this season.

The Bailiff: Be seated! Your honor, this is case number 101. Campbell vs. Ovechkin. All parties have been sworn in.

Judge Judy: All right, lets get down to business here. Now, Mr Campbell, you contend you were – what it the term – “boarded” by Mr. Ovechkin, is that right?

Campbell: ohhhhhhhhhhhhh…. ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Judge Judy: I’ll take your moans as a ‘yes.’

Campbell: --gurgle, gurgle--

Judge Judy: So, Mr. Ovechkin, you are responsible for this man's injuries, is that correct?

Ovechkin: It was not a hard hit. I just pushed him. It's just a moment in the game.

Campbell: OHHHHHHHHHHHHH…. Uhhhh…

Judge Judy: Hey! Hey! Bup, bup! Hey! Listen bo-jangles, you do not want me to come over there!

The Bailiff: You do not want that.

Judge Judy: Now continue, sir.

Ovechkin: I don't think it has to be five minutes or something like that. I just felt bad. That's it.

Niklas Hjalmarsson: I thought it was a late hit. That's the kind of situation you really hurt yourself. I hope they take a good look at that hit and suspend him for a couple of games.

Judge Judy: You do not want me to come over there, sir. Okay? Interrupt again, and you'll be dancing with the nutcracker [taps gavel on gavel platform]. Yeah, just put them right here they'll fit. All right, now Mr. Ovechkin, sir, I’m getting the impression you do not respect your fellow competitors.

Ovechkin: I respect everybody. We respect everybody here in the locker room and outside, but over there, we play for our team, and we make some hard hits, and sometimes, you get hurt. That's a hockey game.

Judge Judy: Oh, I gotta see this.

The Bailiff: She got to see this [runs clip of hit].

Ovechkin: See? It was not a hard hit. I just pushed him.

Judge Judy: Sir, I’m the one wearing the black robe here… that means I’ll be the judge of that.

Ovechkin: But Judge…

Judge Judy: Do not ‘Judge” me, sir… I’ll ‘Judge” you…. Get it? Burt, write that down…

The Bailiff: “I’ll… judge… you. Got it, your honor.”

Campbell: OHHHHHH….ohhhhhh…. OHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Ovechkin: “sounds like Crosby when someone skates by…”

Judge Judy: Okay, sir, bup bup!! No. The club is closing, sir! The club is full. All right, I'm ready to rule!

The Bailiff: oh, the good part!

Judge Judy: Mr. Ovechkin, you may not be aware of this, but I was quite the hockey player when I was a teenager [pulls partial denture out of mouth]. Mff…muhh.. mffmfff [puts partial back in] What I was trying to say was, no one is gonna pull the visor over these eyes, got it? I'm the boss, Applesauce.

Campbell: wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze…

Judge Judy: Are you in pain, Mr. Campbell?

Campbell: ohhhhhhhhhhh…

Judge Judy: "ohhhhhhhhhhhhh" is not an answer! What kind of training did you need to do "ohhhhhhhhhhh"?

Bruce Boudreau: See? See?

Judge Judy: Hey, hey! Bup, bup! Sir, sir! Okay, okay I'm gonna tell you to shut that wood chopping accident you call a mouth! … The court rules in favor of the plaintiff! Mr. Ovechkin, you are sentenced to two games without pay, although frankly why this ever came to my court, I’ll never know.

Well, the Judge – and Colin Campbell – have ruled and the Caps have to make do without their captain tonight when they face the Panthers in Sunrise. The Panthers come into this game watching their slim playoff hopes slipping away, despite a respectable 4-2-0 record since the Olympic break. With 15 games to play, the Panthers find themselves in 12th place in the East, five points behind eighth-place Boston with one game in hand. Overall, their numbers compare to those of the Caps as follows…

David Booth was flattened by a Mike Richards open-ice hit in a 5-1 loss to the Flyers on October 24th. The concussion he suffered in that game kept him out of the lineup until January 31st. He struggled after that return, going 0-2-2, minus-2 in seven games. But since the break he has come alive. In six games he is 2-5-7, plus-3, including a four-point night against those same Flyers in a 7-4 win on March 3rd. It was a game in which he settled a score, too, taking a five minute fighting major with Richards in the first period of that game. If the Panthers are going to win this game – if fact, make any further progress toward a playoff spot – Booth has to be a big part of it. He has yet to face the Caps this year, but last year he was 2-3-5 in five games.

The reason Booth’s return to the lineup and return to effectiveness is so important is that Nathan Horton remains out of the lineup. He is still recuperating from a broken leg, suffered January 21st against the Islanders. While he did return to the ice to practice with the team on Monday, he is not expected to return to the lineup until the end of the week at the earliest.

So, more of the burden falls to players like Michael Frolik. The second-year forward has four goals in his last five games and is now the Panthers third-leading overall scorer behind Horton and Stephen Weiss. It is another welcome spark for the Panthers, since Frolik had been ice cold going into the Olympic break (0-4-4 in his last 15 games going into the break). He is 2-1-3 in five games against the Caps this year, but is also a minus-4 in doing it. Things seem to happen when he’s on the ice for the Panthers, both good and bad.

Bryan McCabe leads the defense in scoring (8-27-35), and he is 1-8-9 in the six games since the break, including a four-point night (1-3-4) against the Flyers in the March 3rd game. He has three helpers in five games against the Caps this year, but he, too, has been on the wrong side of the plus-minus ledger in those games (minus-3).

If it’s Florida, it must mean Tomas Vokoun. It’s Vokoun pretty much every night. He’s been in the nets in 26 of the last 27 games for Florida this season (as well as backstopping the Czechs at the Olympics), his only night off coming in the first game back from the break. Playing in the Panthers’ last five games, he is 4-1-0, 2.35, .938. While he’s been sharp lately, he hasn’t been against the Caps. In three appearances this year he is 0-2-1, 3.62, .891, although holding the Caps to less than their average goal scoring production can't be said to be bad goaltending.

The Peerless Players to Ponder:

Florida: Stephen Weiss

Weiss has had success against the Caps this year (3-2-5) in five games. But Weiss is another player who has been on the ice for a fair number of goals against (he is minus-4 in those five games). He is currently on a four game streak without a point, and if the Panthers are to make a dent in the standings, he has to play to the leading scorer level he occupies with this team.

Washington: Mike Knuble

With Ovechkin out, more of the scoring burden falls to players like Knuble. Not that he’s suffered in that area against this team. In four games against the Panthers this year, Knuble is 4-4-8, plus-4. Florida might be just the tonic for Knuble, who is 2-1-3 in seven games since the break.


1. Play your game… play your game. The Caps did just that when Ovechkin was tossed in the game on Sunday. But tonight, they have had a couple of days to think about it, and they’ve known since late yesterday that they would play without their captain. It’s not like the Caps don’t have other weapons. If they play their game, they have more than enough talent to be successful.

2. Make ‘em pay. Florida’s penalty killing is almost as woeful as the Caps. They rank 24th overall in that statistic, and they have the 27th-ranked home penalty kill. Only Edmonton and Atlanta have allowed more power play goals at home than the 28 the Panthers have allowed in 32 games.

3. Ready…aim… oh, shoot, just fire! Florida allows more shots per game than any team in the league – 34.0/game. That is absolutely lethal against a team like Washington… so long as the Caps don’t decide to dazzle the fans with a pointless passing exhibition. Shoot the puck.

In the end, here are the numbers that are relevant -- the Caps have outscored the Panthers by 28 goals in the first period, 30 goals in the second, and 37 goals in the third period. If the Caps lose this game, it is not because Alex Oveckhin is in the press box.

Caps 5 – Panthers 2

with thanks as we borrow from Judge Judy's own words and the fine writers of Saturday Night Live, not to mention real quotes from the players...well, except the "ohhhh" part form Mr. Campbell... and Ovechkin's crack about Crosby.