Thursday, March 25, 2010

A ONE-point night: Hurricanes 3 - Capitals 2 (OT/Gimmick)

Another game against the Carolina Hurricanes, another one-goal affair. For the fifth time this season in the six-game series, the Caps and 'Canes battled to a one-goal decision, and for the fourth time the game went to extra time (the first time the teams went to a shootout), Carolina coming out on top 3-2. Win by the Gimmick, die by the Gimmick. The teams ended their season series splitting the games, Washington winning three, Carolina winning three.

The Caps spotted the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Jamie McBain and Bryan Rodney. But the Caps evened things up on goals by Alexander Semin and John Carlson, the latter’s first in the NHL. It was a game in which the Caps could not be faulted for effort, this game coming on the heels of last night’s big win over Pittsburgh. And it was a chance for Semyon Varlamov to demonstrate that if he isn’t going to be the number one goalie heading into the playoffs, then he certainly is going to be a goalie to be relied on if called upon.

Both teams had their their chances late. Tom Poti had a clear chance to win the game in the last second of regulation, the puck on his stick just to Carolina goalie Manny Legace’s left. Legace got enough of Poti’s shot to deny what would have been the game-winner, forcing the game to overtime. There, Ray Whitney and Eric Staal had a chance on a 2-on-1, but after Whitney laid the puck across right onto Staal’s tape, Varlamov closed the wickets as Staal tried to go five-hole for the winner.

From there it went to the skills competition, where Nicklas Backstrom staked the Caps to an advantage, but Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose scored for the Hurricanes to give the home team the win.

Other stuff…

-- That was the 21st game this year in which the Caps went into extra time, which ties them for the fourth most number of such games, but this one was the sixth such game in the Caps’ last nine games. They are 3-3 in those games.

-- Although the team record for wins has to wait, the Caps set a franchise record for standings points for the second consecutive year, hitting 109 points with the point earned in this one.

-- Manny Legace was awarded the first star, and it was entirely deserving. The Caps launched 43 shots at the diminutive netminder. If he has a merely average game, the Caps likely would have had four or five goals for the evening.

-- Legace had to fend off the attack from multiple fronts – every Caps skater has at least one shot on goal except David Steckel.

-- What Steckel did have in shots, he had in hits, tied for the team lead (with Mike Green) with five.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 18 shot attempts, and this with Carolina employing a box-and-one defense as one might use in basketball. Except, whereas in basketball the “one” covers the big scorer while the other four players play the “box,” the Hurricanes seems to slide four players toward Ovechkin whenever he crossed the red line.

-- It’s worth noting that Ovechkin has only three goals in his last 13 games. Yet, the Caps are 7-2-4 in those games.

-- We can’t fault the Caps’ defense too much in this one when the Hurricanes’ leading shot-maker was defenseman Joni Pitkanen (six).

-- Brendan Morrison seems to be slowly making his way back to being a reliably productive contributor. And assist, plus-1, two hits, a takeaway, no giveaways, and 11-for-15 on draws.

-- John Carlson’s first NHL goal was not a cheap one. It was the sort of goal one might expect of a veteran, not a 20-year old. Pinching down the middle, he took the puck, and instead of just shooting without purpose, he pushed the puck outside enough to change his shooting angle around a defender and snapped the puck low and past Legace’s left pad.

-- Given that the Caps’ lineup included Quintin Laing, Tyler Sloan, and John Erskine instead of Laich, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jeff Schultz, it was not a bad performance in front of Semyon Varlamov.

In the end, it was an entirely expected, if disappointing result. Playing the second half of a back-to-back on the road after an extra time contest the previous night against a difficult opponent. Still, after the Caps had their uneven start, they crawled back to tie the game and get a standings point. And, they pushed the play in the Carolina end late (outshooting the Hurricanes 30-18 in periods two, three, and overtime). All things considered, it was only the result – that a product of the non-hockey portion of the competiton – that was lacking.

The boys get a couple of days off before entertaining Calgary on Sunday afternoon in what will be the first of six home games in the Caps’ last eight contests of the regular season. Given the home record they have, the Capitals should put to rest in short order any further suspense over who will finish at the top of the league standings. From now on, it’s all about getting ready for the second season.

Mike Knuble, Gimmick Warrior

Mike Knuble was the unlikely hero of the Gimmick last night as the Caps defeated the Penguins, 4-3. It was the first time in four tries that Knuble found the back of the net in the trick shot competition. That doesn’t tell the half of it.

Last night’s turn as the solo skater was not only Knuble’s fourth career try, it was his first in more than three years and the first time he was out there in what would end up a win for his team. Here are the other three…

December 3, 2005: Knuble took the ice in the first round of the Gimmick for Philadelphia, facing Nashville’s Tomas Vokoun. Knuble did not have a goal in the hockey portion of this game, but he did have an assist. Vokoun got the Predators off to a good start with a save, and Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya took over from there, each netting a goal as Vokoun stymied Simon Gagne in round two for the 4-3 win in Nashville.

December 19, 2005: This time, Knuble – who had the only goal for the Flyers in regulation – had to wait as the Flyers and Sabres skated in the extra-extra frame. Jeff Carter, Peter Forsberg, and Jon Sim took their turns in the first three rounds, Forsberg skating in the second round and getting the only goal, a tally matched by Tim Connolly in the third round moments later. After Maxim Afinogenov beat Antero Niittymaki to give the Sabres the edge, it was up to Knuble. However, Ryan Miller was up to the task and stopped Knuble to clinch the win in Philadelphia, 2-1.

October 7, 2006: At Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, the Rangers and Flyers fought to a 4-4- tie in regulation, Knuble getting one of the goals for Philadelphia. After a scoreless overtime, the teams went to another extra session. One round without a goal, then two… then three… four… Neither Antero Niittymaki nor Henrik Lundqvist would crack in goal. Knuble’s turn came up in round 10, and he didn’t have any better success, shooting the puck wide on Lundqvist. The contest went to a 13th round, where Marcel Hossa put Niittymaki and the Flyers out of their misery with the only goal of the session, giving the Rangers a 5-4 win.

No wonder he doesn’t like Boudreau tapping him on the shoulder like that.

(photo: AP/Nick Wass)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, March 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

No rest for the weary. The Caps have to follow up their thrilling 4-3 Gimmick win over Pittsburgh last night by traveling to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes for the third time in 15 days. If you want a look at the Hurricanes, go here and here.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

If the Hurricanes were not a divisional opponent, you could almost feel for them. After a ghastly start to the year (10-23-7 on New Year’s Eve), they righted the ship and worked hard to go 18-8-1 in their next 27 games. But it was too big a hole to dig out of, and the Hurricanes might be forgiven for playing out the string now that they are all but eliminated and going with backup goaltenders in starter Cam Ward’s absence with a back injury. But since beating Pittsburgh to complete that 18-8-1 run, Carolina is 2-3-1 and has gone to extra time in three of their last four games (winning two). They are still working hard, but the chips are not falling favorably. The overall numbers look like this…

The Hurricanes have been especially annoying to the Caps this year. Washington has played the Hurricanes five times this year and has a 3-1-1 record. Four of the games were settled by one goal (the Caps winning three), and three of those went to overtime (the Caps winning two). Despite the disparity in the teams’ records, it has been a year-long dogfight.

In the five-game season series, the Hurricanes are led in scoring by Eric Staal (4-6-10, plus-3). He had half of those points (2-3-5) in a 6-3 Carolina win on December 28th. Jussi Jokinen is second in scoring for Carolina in the season series (2-5-7, plus-4). The two assists he had in the last meeting of these two clubs (a 4-3 overtime win a week ago) are his only points in his last seven games. He hasn’t had a goal since lighting the lamp against the Caps on March 10th.

One player who will be missing for this is the ‘Canes’ third-leading scorer in this series – Tuomo Ruutu (2-3-5 in five games) is done for the year after sustaining a shoulder injury in a fight against Colorado’s Darcy Tucker. No other Hurricane has more than one goal in this series so far, but nine players do have that one goal apiece. They can get some input from any number of places.

Goalie Cam Ward is close to returning to the lineup, but it looks as if it will be another week before he takes the ice. Given that head Coach Paul Maurice has more or less alternated Manny Legace and Justin Peters in goal since Ward went out, this game would be Peters’ turn. Peters got the win in the 4-3- overtime decision over the Caps a week ago, stopping 25 of 28 shots. The odd part about Peters’ record is that each of his last three wins came in overtime.

The Caps are a different story in the series thus far. Of the 17 goals they have in five games, 10 of them have been recorded by three players. None of them are named “Ovechkin.” Mike Green leads the team with four, while Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr have three apiece. Ovechkin, in fact, has not turned the red light on this season against the Hurricanes, but he does have seven assists. Nicklas Backstrom leads the Caps in overall scoring in the season series against Carolina (2-6-8 in five games).

With Jose Theodore getting the decision in last night’s Gimmick win over the Penguins, and having played in consecutive games, it could mean that Semyon Varlamov will get the nod from head Coach Bruce Boudreau to man the nets. Varlamov lost his only decision against Carolina this season, the 4-3 overtime loss a week ago. It is his only career appearance to date against the Hurricanes.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Ray Whitney

Whitney had trouble getting his footing after the Olympic break, going 1-2-3 in his first eight games. But he is 1-2-3 in his last four, including the game-winning overtime goal against the Caps a week ago. Fun fact… according to the Carolina media guide, Ray likes square dancing in the off-season. Yee-haw.

Washington: Matt Bradley

Back in January, one might have thought Bradley a shoo-in to notch ten goals this season. He recorded his eighth marker on January 19th against Detroit. He is still stuck on eight, having failed to light the lamp in his last 22 games.


1. Forget last night. Hard to do… a 65-minute game followed by the trick shot competition. It makes this a very quick turnaround, both physically and mentally. If the Caps don’t put last night’s game out of their minds, they could find this game unpleasant.

2. Push the play. The Caps have the top power play in the league, but they do not get enough chances to show it off. Only once in the last 11 games have they enjoyed as many as five opportunities. In those last 11 games the Caps are humming along at 27.0 percent, but that is 10 goals on only 37 opportunities. It could be a chore against the Hurricanes, who have endured the 12th fewest number of shorthanded situations at home.

3. Score first. Only Edmonton has fewer wins (six) when allowing the first goal than Carolina (seven). And no team has fewer wins than Carolina when trailing at the first intermission (two).

In the end, we know that this won’t be easy. Carolina has skill (despite their record), and they don’t fear the Caps. Plus, the Caps are on the road for the second half of a back-to-back the night after playing a big game. We’ve seen this movie before, and it ends with a one-goal decision.

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 3