Sunday, April 11, 2010

A ONE-point night: Bruins 4 - Caps 3 (OT/Gimmick)

No game is a “throwaway” game in the National Hockey League, but sometimes you get a chance to thank guys for the unsung dirty work they put in, even when thanking them puts your team at a bit of a disadvantage in a game-winning situation.

Such was the case as the Boston Bruins defeated the Capitals in a Gimmick, 4-3, this afternoon. Coach Bruce Boudreau eschewed using the obvious trick shot candidates, such as Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, or Nicklas Backstrom. Instead, Boudreau sent out Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley to take the shots on Bruin goalie Tim “Thunder Blocker” Thomas (more on that nickname in a bit). Thomas stopped both attempts, while David Krejci and Miroslav Satan succeeded on their attempts to get the extra standings point for the visitors. All in all, it was nice to see Gordon and Bradley get the chance, whatever the result.

It was a rather chippy game, especially for one with so little meaning to either side. Boston had sixth place sewn up and no individual hardware to try and lay a claim on, while the Caps clinched the top spot in the league and had only numbers to play for – more goals for Alex Ovechkin, getting to 40 goals for Alexander Semin, getting to 20 goals for Mike Green, getting to 30 goals for Mike Knuble, getting Ovechkin three points to get him the Ross Trophy for the league’s top scorer. Only Semin succeeded, getting a goal 2:23 into the first period, a play that also provided his 300th career point.

Other than that, the entertainment was provided by Tim Thomas, who thought Jason Chimera could use the waffleboard treatment after Chimera was ridden into him by a Boston defender. OK, so Chimera didn’t look as if he was making an herculean effort to get out of the way (he would say later than he tried to hug Thomas to keep from knocking him over, no doubt having read the Brian Burke treatise on hugging, although that pertained to plays along the boards). Thomas got a few good whacks in and looked to come perilously close to meriting a match penalty under Rule 51.3.*

Other stuff…

-- The Caps might have lost the game, they might have scored “only” three goals, but they looked to have “played” a pretty good game. There were a lot of chances in close in which the puck seemed to take an active role in avoiding Caps’ sticks.

-- Boston got two goals by hitting an area about three inches square just under the crossbar and inside the post over goalie Semyon Varlamov’s glove. If shooters put pucks there, there really isn’t a lot a goalie can do about it. The butterfly dares shooters to take and make those shots, and Michael Ryder and Marco Sturm did just that. They deserve the credit, not Varlamov the blame.

-- In another respect it was just like any other game… Mike Green finished with 28:34 of ice time (almost eight minutes more than the next Caps defenseman), and Alex Ovechkin finished with 25:55 in ice time (more than two minutes more than the next forward).

-- Another round number… 50. As in “plus-50.” For Jeff Schultz, that’s the highest such number in the league since teammates Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic each finished plus-52 in 2002-2003.

-- The crowd was in playoff voice today, something that has been a bit missing in recent games. Lot’s more red, too (perhaps a function of it being a weekend game and fewer people coming straight from work).

-- In one respect the Caps did not make the Bruins pay a high enough price. With Zdeno Chara held out of this game and Dennis Seidenberg hurt, the Bruins started three defensemen – Adam McQuaid, Andrew Bodnarchuk (or “odnarch,” if all you had to go by was what you could see on the back of his jersey), and Jeffrey Penner came into this game with a total of 23 games of combined NHL experience. In a game with more meaning, the Caps probably exploit that more effectively, but in a game with more meaning, Chara and his broken nose is out there.

-- Only McQuaid and Bodnarchuk did not record a shot on goal for the Bruins. Only Tom Poti and David Steckel failed to record a shot for the Caps. A whole lot o’ shootin’ going on out there.

-- When the Capitals were struggling mightily to get points in 2005, 2006, and 2007, the biggest problem they had was playing players in a spot a rung or two higher on the responsibility ladder than their skill suggested. Guys who should have been third liners (think “Brian Willsie”) were first line wingers. Third pair, or maybe seventh defensemen (think "Mathieu Biron") were getting top-four minutes. No more, and that is the subtle talent that the front office has had in adding pieces. Jason Chimera is the kind of player who adds speed and grit to a third line (in 2006 he would have been on the top line or perhaps the second line). Eric Belanger can play in a natural third line slot and even be a credible second liner in a pinch. He would have been a second line center by default in 2006. These two provide the kind of two-way contribution that allows the Caps to ice a very good fourth line in some combination of Matt Bradley, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Scott Walker, a group that would have been getting third line (and perhaps second line in spots) minutes a few years ago.

In the end, the Caps did a lot of good… shattered the franchise points record, ditto the wins record. Fifteen losses in regulation is a franchise low for a season, and that includes the abbreviated 1994-1995 season that was only 48 games long). 313 goals ranks the team sixth in franchise history for scoring, the other five clubs ahead of them getting their totals in the go-go 1980’s and early 1990’s. Two 100-point scorers for the first time in history. Jose Theodore closed the season going 20-0-3, a franchise record for consecutive games unbeaten in regulation (if you’re wondering, Gerry Cheevers went 24-0-8 in 1971-1972… he won a Stanley Cup that year).

But all that is in the past tense now. The only thing that matters starts on Thursday.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Bruins, April 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Game 82 of the regular season., and it ends as it begins, with a game against the Boston Bruins. The Caps and B’s meeting a noon affair to bring the curtain down on the regular season, and these are two clubs with literally nothing to play for but the final statistics. Boston will finish sixth in the Eastern Conference and will play Buffalo or New Jersey in the first round. The Caps clinched everything around Valentine’s Day and will get either the Rangers (if they win today) or the Canadiens (if they don’t). Seems like just yesterday these teams were locking up in Game 1. Game 82 makes for a twinge of sadness, a reminder that another season is going by and…

“You know, of course, that 82 is a ‘happy number.’”


“82 is a ‘happy number’… it’s a math thing.”

I don’t understand, a “happy” number? As in “grin from ear to ear?”

“Let me explain… my name is Calvin Q. Lusse, professor of mathematics.”

A math prof named “Cal Q. Lusse?”

“Calvin… “


“Anyway, here is how it works… First, take any positive integer ‘p’. Then, break it down into digits. Next, square the digits and add those squares. You get a new number ‘n’. If n = 1, then ‘p’ is a happy number. If it’s not, then set p = n and repeat the steps. If the process repeats forever, then ‘p’ is not a happy number.”

You’re kidding, right.

“We don’t kid in the world of mathematics. Let me show you… 82. Eight squared is 64, and two squared is four. The sum of the two is 68. That’s not equal to 1, so we take the six and square it, then take the eight and square it. 36 plus 68 is 104. Do it again, and… ”

How long does this take?

“About as long as it takes to play 82 games…”

Well, we don’t have that long, seeing as how today’s game is a noon start. The Caps and the Bruins played just six days ago, and not much has changed since we looked at that game.  Since the 3-2 overtime win for the Caps last Monday, both teams won the two games that followed in their respective schedules leading up to this season-ending matchup.  The overall numbers for the teams for the season look like this...

The Caps, however, lead the season series, three games to none, outscoring the Bruins 11-4 in the process. The Caps have been led in scoring in this series by Nicklas Backstrom (1-6-7, plus-4), who had a three-point night (1-2-3) in the last meeting of these teams last Monday. Overall Backstrom is 4-11-15 in 11 career games against the Bruins. Backstrom will enter this game having recorded three points in each of his last three games (3-6-9) and is 7-14-21, plus-7 in his last 13 games.

Backstrom might have the points lead in the season series, but Brooks Laich leads the Caps with four goals, including two game-winners (one in overtime last Monday). It’s worth noting that the four goals Laich scored in the three games came from an average of 15 feet from the net, a reflection of his willingness to go into traffic to get goals. Seems he takes to heart his own quote, that "if you want money, go to the bank. If you want bread, go to the bakery. If you want goals, go to the net." He has nine goals in 19 career games against the Bruins.

It might strike the Caps fan odd that in a series with 11 goals for the Caps, none have been scored by a defenseman. More to the point, Mike Green does not have a point in this series so far, and only one defenseman still with the team has points. Tom Poti is 0-3-3, plus-7 in the three games of this series. Maybe it is some karmic thing, seeing as how Poti was born in Worcester, about 50 miles outside of Boston. Poti is 2-14-16 in 29 career games against the Bruins.

If Semyon Varlamov gets the start against the Bruins, as it seems likely he will, it will be his first appearance against the Bruins. In fact, it will be his first appearance against the Bruins organization. He did not face Providence during his stay in the AHL, either. Although he got off to a slow re-start after the Olympic break (1-2-1, 3.41, .874), he has been much better in his last four appearances (2-1-1, 2.06, .913). Fun fact… Varlamov is the only goaltender on a non-original six team to have recorded a shutout before his 21st birthday. According to the Caps’ media guide, only three others have done it (Harry Lumley for Detroit, and Patrick Roy and Carey Price, both of Montreal).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Milan Lucic

The big winger has had something of a disappointing year (9-10-19, minus-7 in 49 games), but might be hitting a hot streak just in time. He is 1-2-3 in his last three games, and the modest three-game points streak he has is his longest of the season. Perhaps just as important, Lucic hasn’t been on the minus-side of the ledger in his last 11 games. A big hitter – and he is that (third on the team, despite missing more than 30 games) – can’t be getting hits at the expense of seeing goals scored when he is on the ice. Some advice to the operations folks at Verizon Center… hide the chocolate. According to the Bruins media guide, eating chocolate before a game is his hockey ritual.

Washington: Mike Knuble

Knuble can get to 30 goals for the season with a two-goal game against the Bruins. It isn’t out of the question (unless he is held out of the lineup); he has goals in each of his last two games. He has six multi-goal games this season, but none since March 4th. He is 8-8-16 in 23 career games against Boston, including a pair of goals in three games this season.


1. Keep the lights off. You can’t do worse against air than Boston has on its power play over the last month. They are 3-for-49 over their last 16 games and have failed to record a power play goal in 15 of those games. The Caps are 14-for-15 on the penalty kill over their last five games... probably no coincidence that they are 5-0-0 in those games.

2. tickticktickticktick… The Caps have played good “60 minutes” games against the Bruins, closing fact in all three games. In the first two they scored a total of five goals in the third period (to Boston’s one), and scored the winner in overtime in the other game. It will be especially hard to maintain focus for 60 minutes on a day like this, but if there is one team with less to play for than the Caps, it might be Boston. At least the Caps have the possibility of getting Alex Ovechkin a couple of league-leader finishes (points, goals).

3. Win. For what it’s worth, each of the last three Stanley Cup winners won their last regular season game. The last one not to win was Carolina, but Martin Gerber was in goal for that one (a 4-0 loss to Buffalo), and he didn’t make it through the first round as the Hurricanes’ netminder.

In the end, it’s hard what to make of this game. These teams could meet in the second round of the playoffs if the Bruins are the lowest seed to win in the first round. So you would have to reach a bit to think of this as a “statement” game. Boston remains a team finding it difficult to score and difficult to convert power plays (when they get them; they averaged barely three chances a game over their last 16 games). It’s hard to see the Bruins getting more than two, except by fluke. And it’s hard to see the Caps getting fewer than three, because it has happened only four times their 19 games since the Olympics. Sounds like how it will end up…

Caps 3 – Bruins 2