Saturday, April 03, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Blue Jackets 2

Area 51.

Nope, not the alien airfield in the desert Southwest of the United States, but the undiscovered country into which the Caps skated tonight with a thrilling (certainly for this time of year) 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus.  It was the team's franchise-best 51st win of the season.

The Caps threatened to skate the home team right out of Nationwide Arena early, scoring three goals before the game was 14 minutes old. Tallies by Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann on the Caps’ first four shots chased Mathieu Garon, who had been knocked woozy when he was upended in his crease by Jason Chimera on a play that could have been another goal. The play started when Chimera skated in on a break, but was upset by Anton Stralman, both players tumbling into Garon. After Fleischmann’s goal, coach Claude Noel sent in Steve Mason.

Mason, sitting after sustaining a shoulder injury against Detroit, yielded a goal on a slapper by Mike Green through a Brooks Laich screen, but otherwise slammed the door on any further scoring by the Caps, stopping 22 of 23 shots he faced.

It ended up being the Jose and Mike show over the last two periods. Green was described by coach Bruce Boudreau in his post-game press conference as “fabulous, just fabulous.” He wasn’t lying. It might have been Green’s best performance as a defenseman this season. He was on top of his skates, he was a force in his own end, and when the Blue Jackets seemed to get opportunities in the Caps’ zone, Green was there to snuff them out.

As for Theodore, he was the Dutch boy (ok, French-Canadian boy) with his finger in the dike all night. Too often, defensemen not named “Green” were backing off to give the Jackets all the room they might have wanted in the offensive zone, and the forwards certainly were not doing their part to fill the gaps. But Theodore was there to stop 34 of 36 shots in what was his best performance in perhaps a month, given the support he was getting in front of him.

Other stuff…

-- When Steve Mason is on, he is something to watch. A real economy of movement, and even as he is a big goalie, he makes himself bigger by being calm and in position. It wasn’t the Caps going into a shell in the last two periods, Mason had a whale of a game.

-- Alex Ovechkin (as Joe Beninati pointed out during the game) has never scored against Mason, nor has he scored against Mathieu Garon. Yet, he has four goals in six career games against the Jackets. Against whom has he scored, Joe B. asked? Three against Pascal Leclaire, including two in his first game as a Cap, and one against Fredrik Norrena, the game winner in a 4-3 overtime win in February 2008.

-- Green got his 19th and the game-winner on a slap shot 13:44 in, but the play was made when he made a great stop on an attempted clear by Fedor Tyutin on a Caps 5-on-3 power play.

-- Anyone wonder why the Caps traded for Milan Jurcina to come back to the Caps saw the reason tonight. The thought of Tyler Sloan as the “depth defenseman” is not confidence inspiring. He had a difficult time tonight.

-- The disallowed goal on Chimera was the right call, but for the wrong reason, in our opinion. The boys in Toronto apparently ruled that Mason had covered the puck, but the applicable rule there would seem to us to have been Rule 78.5 (ix): “Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons… When a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck after making a save.”

-- Only fourth time this season that Ovechkin’s “minus” equaled or surpassed his total shots on goal… minus-two and two shots.

-- Does Eric Belanger just know these guys better? 11-for-15 on draws.

-- Even though Mason had a whale of a game, we can’t be impressed when the two top shot producers for the Caps were both defensemen (Green, Joe Corvo).

-- And speaking of Green, he was the only Cap charged with a giveaway tonight. Nice to think about, and also not true.

-- The Caps were credited with no takeaways. Not nice to think about, and also not true.

-- Rick Nash used to be a tall, skinny guy who seemed to skate a little too much in the middle of the ice for a winger. No more. The guy is a beast. Six shots, two assists, and he showed a deft hand in passing the puck.

-- How rare is a “minus-2” performance for Alex Ovechkin? It was his first since December 28th and only his second this season.

-- Nine shots, one goal, six power plays… not too bad. But three shots and a goal against on those same power plays? Not good.

-- I get that it’s late in the season, and the Caps are trying to dial down the ice time for some guys (not, apparently, Ovechkin who got 23:50)… but a world where Sloan gets more ES ice time (15:42) than every defenseman not named “Schultz” (and only 17 seconds less than him) doesn’t seem right.

-- How often does David Steckel take the collar on faceoffs in his own zone? He was 0-for-5 tonight.

In the end, it was a win well-earned. Not flashy, not stylish, but a meat-and-potatoes kind of win. Get used to it. That’s the way a lot of them will have to come from now on.

Keyboard Certainties

“If the playoffs started today, the Flyers would travel to Washington to face the top-seeded Capitals - a guaranteed quick exit.”

-- Frank Seravalli, of the Philadelphia Daily News, in his recap this morning of the Flyers’ 1-0 loss to Montreal last night

“The Bruins will finish in the neighbourhood of 30 points behind last year's 116 and are missing 77 goals from the 2008-09 campaign. And, if they do make the playoffs, they are likely to be fed to the Capitals.”

-- Jim Hughson, CBC Sports, April 2nd

“…the Habs are still a 35-percent favorite to be the Capitals' (first-round sacrifice) finish eighth.”

-- Greg Wyshynski, “Puck Daddy,” April 1st

It’s nice and all to think that the Capitals are this hockey behemoth, this juggernaut that has a gold plated path to the Stanley Cup finals, but here is your fun thought for the day as the Caps close in on the Presidents Trophy…

Of the past nine Presidents Trophy winners, three won the Stanley Cup…

…and three were bounced in the first round.

That’s why they play the games.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Blue Jackets, April 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the Caps go back on the road for their penultimate road contest of the season.


Yeah, cuz, it means “next to last.”

“Then why don’t you just say, ‘next to last’?”

Just trying to throw some spice in here, Cheerless. The Caps are playing Columbus, you know…. Might be the most boring team in the league.

“Don’t mind him, he struggles with words like ‘cat’ and ‘dog.”

“I just don’t see what a ‘pen’ has to do with it… you guys use these new fangled keyboards for everything these days.”

No, it comes from the word “penult”… the next to last syllable of a word.


Or “paene ultima,” from the Latin for “almost the last.”

“’Ultima?’... I think my last car was an ‘Ultima’… comes from the Latin for ‘ripped me off.’”

Guys?... We have a game tonight. Columbus?

“What’s that, cuz, Latin for ‘jiminy crickets, we suck?’”

Cheerless might be on to something there. Tonight’s foe, the Columbus Blue Jackets, started the season in fine fashion, going 12-6-2 in their first 20 games. But after knocking off Dallas, 4-1, to reach that record, the Jackets fell hard and fast out of the playoff picture. Since Game 20, Columbus has had, in order, losing streaks of five, three, nine, four, three, and five on their way to a 20-27-11 record.  The overall numbers look like this...

Columbus has managed to stop the bleeding – far too late, of course – going 7-3-2 in their last 12 games since their last losing streak of consequence. In those 11 games they have outscored their opponents 40-34, and they scored four or more goals five times in the process. Not exactly “Hitchcockian,” but coach Ken Hitchcock – known for his tight checking, low scoring style of play – was relieved of duties on February 3rd in favor of Claude Noel.

One thing the Jackets have not had in this 12-game run is a potent power play. After lighting up Anaheim for three power play goals on six opportunities on March 9th, Columbus is 5-for-41 since (12.2 percent), although they do have goals with the man advantage in four of their last five games.

The penalty killers are 37-for-45 in this 7-3-2 run (82.2 percent). While respectable, they have allowed a power play goal in four of the last five games in which they had a shorthanded situation to kill off.

Rick Nash came out of the Olympic Games in a bit of a funk – his three-game streak without a point was his longest such streak of the year. But he might have been feeling the effects of a lower body injury that would then keep him out of the lineup for four games. Since returning to the lineup against Minnesota on March 19th, he is 5-3-8, plus-5 in eight games. Nash has played against the Caps seven times in his career and has seven goals to show for it. That number includes a 1-2-3 performance in a 5-4 overtime win against the Caps on November 1st.

What Rick Nash produces on the right wing, the Jackets hope for on the left from Kristian Huselius. And he certainly has been providing it of late. In has points in eight of his last ten games on his way to a 6-10-16, plus-7 scoring line. He has not been especially productive against the Caps, though. He was held without a point in the game on November 1st, and he is 5-4-9 in 20 career games against Washington.

It was R.J. Umberger who scored the overtime winner against the Caps last November, and he is coming into this game on a hot streak: 2-7-9 in his last nine games, with a point in eight of those games (6-6-12 in 15 career games against the Caps).

In goal, number one netminder Steve Mason jammed his shoulder while making a save in a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Thursday. If he cannot go (and Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch thinks it unlikely), then the goaltending duties will fall to Mathieu Garon, who is 3-0-1 in this latest 7-3-1 run for Columbus. He has a 2.23 goals against and .922 save percentage to go along with the win-loss record. He has had similar effectiveness against the Caps in his career: 2-1-1, 2.23 in five career appearances.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Nathan Paetsch

Paetsch (a former Capitals draft pick) was the player coming over from Buffalo when Raffi Torres was sent to the Sabres (the Jackets also received a second round draft pick). With Kris Russell likely out of the lineup, Paetsch would appear to get a sweater. He has played in only eight of the 14 games Columbus has played since the trading deadline. In those games he has not yet registered a point and is minus-5 in an average of 10:25 in ice time. If he is on the ice, the Jackets might be especially vulnerable.

Washington: Jose Theodore

Since losing to Tampa Bay on January 12th, Theodore is 17-0-3 in 20 decisions. But in his last seven appearances he has a GAA of 3.27 and a save percentage of .899, including an early night against Calgary when he allowed three goals on ten shots in barely ten minutes of work. These are not necessarily the sort of numbers one would like to see from the number one goaltender heading into the playoffs. The high goals-allowed total actually goes back to early February. In 13 games played since February 4th, Theodore has allowed three or more goals ten times (four or more four times). Columbus is not an especially potent team on offense and is 22nd in first period goals. This sets up for Theodore as a night to get back in a groove.


What keys? It comes down to this. Columbus is neither a “desperate team” looking for a playoff spot, nor can the play a “spoiler” role, seeing as how the Caps have clinched their division, the Eastern Conference, and can clinch the league title with three more points. And, the guy who got two goals in the last seven minutes of the first meeting of these teams (Raffi Torres) is in Buffalo. The only way the Caps lose this game is if: a) they get lost getting to the arena, or b) they just don’t show up figuratively.

Caps 4 – Blue Jackets 3