Saturday, November 20, 2010

A ONE-point Night -- Game 21: Flyers 5 - Caps 4 (OT/SO)

Well, it could have been better, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The Washington Capitals dropped a 5-4 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in extra time this evening, yielding the extra standings point when Danny Briere potted a goal in the Gimmick phase of the proceedings.

If anything, this was the sort of game that reveals the Gimmick to be a worthless appendage on the end of a hard-fought game. The Capitals “played” a very good game in many respects, but were not rewarded for their efforts. More iron was rung by Capitals (including by Alexander Semin in the Gimmick) that you’ll find in most belfries.

And then there were the power plays. Philadelphia had nine power plays, the most the Caps have allowed since allowing nine to – well, looky here…Philadelphia – on October 9, 2009 in another extra time loss, a 6-5 overtime decision in Philadelphia. It was the most power play opportunities allowed at home since the Caps allowed (and killed off) ten power play chances to the Florida Panthers on January 20, 2007 (a 4-1 loss).

The Flyers gagged again on a two-goal lead, the fourth time they have done so in the last two games. And, they gave up a third period lead, the first time they have done so this season in 12 games. In that respect, earning a point tonight wasn’t the worst thing that could happen for the Caps.

But the Caps had so many opportunities. The game really turned on the Caps inability to finish, whether it was Alex Ovechkin failing to convert a breakaway opportunity in the first period or Alexander Semin hitting a post and the crossbar in an effort to extend the Gimmick another round and everything in between.

Other stuff…

-- You would like to think that tonight, Alex Ovechkin looked like that hitter in baseball who has been in a slump but starts spraying line drives all over the place into fielders’ gloves. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but you know something is going to break. You would like to think that.

-- Marcus Johansson probably had his best game as a Cap. In addition to the goal, he was really up on his skates, creating chances for himself and others with his ability to find holes in the defense.

-- Jason Chimera probably deserved a star for his effort in this one. A goal and an assist, and he skated 2:50 on the penalty kill (which was 8-for-9 on the night).

-- A breakaway, hitting the post, and breaking his stick on a one-timer in the first period. Right now, Alex Ovechkin can’t catch a break.  But he looked a lot better in this game than he has for most of this month.

-- You have to like Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera getting goals tonight. It made up for the absence of Mike Knuble, and it took some of the heat off the top line, which did manage a goal (Nicklas Backstrom) and two assists (the Alexes).

-- The Caps’ power play was quite efficient tonight. 15 shots in seven opportunities and three goals. But the odd part of it was probably that only four shots came off sticks of the Young Guns. Brooks Laich had three, Matt Hendricks had a pair, and Eric Fehr had a pair. You would like to think this could bear dividends down the road.

-- Did anyone have Tyler Sloan leading all skaters in hits (five)? Didn’t think so.

-- And give Sloan credit. A night after going minus-4 he was not on the ice for any Flyer goal.

-- You can get a book on referees in a game like this. Of the 16 penalties called, nine of them were stick fouls (two hooking, four slashing, two tripping, one high-sticking).

-- Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann led the Caps in shots (six and five, respectively). How many times will we say that this season?

-- Mike Green skated 9:55 of the third period. That would be amazing in itself, but Green also skated 10:03 in the second period.

-- With this win, the Flyers are only 5-6-2 against teams with a winning record, 8-0-0 against teams with a .500 or worse record.

-- Think about who figured prominently in this game… Johansson getting a goal and playing perhaps his best game as a Cap. Michal Neuvirth stopping 31 of 35 shots and keeping the Caps in it when they could have folded when down 3-1, John Carlson skating more than 22 minutes, Karl Alzner more than 21. These are rookies. The dues they pay now could very well pay dividends down the road… like in June.

In the end, this was a game the Caps really should have lost in regulation. Between the puck hitting iron all over the place and the Flyers spending 14:29 on the power play, it was a game that offered little chance for the Caps to find their way clear to put the Flyers in a hole. But to their credit, the Caps fought hard for 60 minutes. When the Flyers took a two-goal lead, they came back to tie. When the Flyers took a lead late, with less than ten minutes left in regulation, the Caps found a way to tie the game.

It was a standings point the Caps seemed destined to lose, but they gritted their way to the Gimmick, where anything can happen. Not getting a win in either of the past two games is not the way to end the week, but given the forces that seems stacked against the Caps tonight, getting that standings point was not the worst thing that could happen.

Coupled with the 5-0- shellacking against the Thrashers on Friday night, this makes for a less-than-happy weekend, hockey wise. But in playing that second of back-to-back games, coming back not once, but twice, and gritting out a standings point… it wasn’t as bad as all that. The Caps still have the best record in the league ( a 117-point pace) and now finish the month of November with games against New Jersey, Carolina (twice), and Tampa Bay.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!



Get up you guys, we have a game to prognostify.

“mmph…smacksmacksmack… go away…”

Hey, just because you drowned your sorrows after that stinker last night in a bucket of that stuff you call “liquid orgasm” doesn’t mean you get to sleep in on game day.


Well, guess the cousins need to sleep this one off. Tonight the Caps complete the weekend back-to-backer by heading home to face the Philadelphia Flyers in a classic Patrick Division matchup. OK, that reference probably went right over the heads of you younger readers, but once upon a time, before the Twitternets and EyePhones and hockexting there were divisions named after people, not points on a compass. And the biggest, the baddest, the nastiest, and the rootin-est tootin-est division of them all was named for Lester “the Silver Fox” Patrick, one of the great builders of the game of hockey. The Patrick Division was first part of the Clarence Campbell Conference, and no, Clarence Campbell was not the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He was another great builder of the game of hockey (see, the league once paid homage to its great builders, now it gives you geography lessons).

But the Patrick Division was moved to the Prince of Wales Conference in 1981, and that’s where the Caps and Flyers rivalry really gets going. Oh, the wars these two teams fought…Rod Langway, Tim Kerr, Brad Marsh, Dave Christian, Scott Stevens, Brian Propp, Alan May, Craig Berube. Today, what? Danny Briere? How can you have a war with a guy named “Danny?”


Tonight’s game features two of the hottest teams in the league…sort of. While the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last ten, and the Caps are 8-1- in their last ten, both teams come to the ice tonight with the aftertaste of losing in their mouths. The Flyers have lost their last two, getting shutout by Montreal in the first of them, 3-0, then finishing on the wrong side of one of the oddest games of the year, an 8-7 loss on home ice to Tampa Bay, a game in which the Flyers gagged on two-goal leads three times. The Caps are coming off their worst game of the year, a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Both teams might be in an ornery mood tonight. As for the numbers, here is now they play out…

If there is one thing that jumps out from the numbers, it is that these teams are likely to take very different approaches to the contest. The Caps are among the most explosive offensive teams on home ice. Their 4.09 goals per game at home ranks third in the league. On the other side of the coin, the Flyers are allowing only 2.00 goals a game on the road, the third lowest total in the league.

That goals against performance begins with “Bobo the Goalie.” Sergei Bobrovsky has been quite a find for the Flyers. At this time last season Bobrovsky was manning the nets for his hometown Novokuznetsk Metallurg in the KHL in Russia, where he would post a 9-22-3 record. The Flyers saw something in him, though, signing him to a three-year entry level contract as a free agent last May. Maybe it was the 2.72 GAA and .919 save percentage he posted last season.

In any event, Bobrovsky leads all rookie goaltenders (minimum six games) in wins (11), goals against average (2.29), and save percentage (.925). Quite a start for the youngster. But here is the ominous part for Flyer fans. Bobrovsky has allowed seven goals on the last 32 shots he has faced, a ghastly .781 save percentage. Three goals came in Philadelphia’s 3-0 loss to Montreal last Tuesday, and four goals came on 11 shots in the 8-7 donnybrook against Tampa Bay on Thursday. He has played in 16 of the Flyers’ 20 games so far. Too much work, too soon for the rookie? If he plays tonight, we might get a hint, given the Caps’ ability to score at home.

And that brings us to the defense and perhaps the most important player in orange and black on the blue line. No, not Chris Pronger, but Kimmo Timonen. One of the more underrated defensemen in the game, Timonen leads the Flyers’ defensemen in ice time, points, and is their top penalty killer measured by ice time. There are competing forces with respect to Timonen and tonight’s game. On the one hand, he is often called upon to “shadow” Alex Ovechkin. That, however, is a mixed bag. In the three years Timonen has been with the Flyers before this season, Ovechkin is 10-6-16 in 11 regular season games against the Flyers, including five goals in three games last season. Ovechkin seems to have figured it out. And, Timonen has been on the ice for more goals against (26) than any other Flyer this season.

Among the forwards, Claude Giroux seems to be the new “It” guy. Playing in only his second full season with the Flyers, he is tied for the team lead goals and points, leads the teams in both power play and shorthanded goals (eight of his ten have come on special teams), and he is tied for the team lead in game-winning goals. In seven career games against the Caps he has a goal and an assist, but he is also a minus-5 (all of that coming last season in four games).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Mike Richards

If you haven’t been noticing, the Flyers’ captain has been putting together quite a stretch of games. In his last 14 games he is 8-10-18, plus-6, which coincides nicely with a 10-3-1 team record after a 2-3-1 start. In 19 career games against the Caps, Richards is 5-11-16, plus-1, but he has been especially effective on the power play in that time, particularly as a set-up man (1-8-9). The thing is, though, even though he was 3-2-5 against the Caps last year, five of his six points came on the power play, and he was a minus-6 in the four games he played.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin has used the Flyers as one of his favorite chew toys recently. In the last six games in which he faced the Flyers, he is 7-5-12, plus-7, including five goals in three games last season. He has had points in each of those last six games. But Ovechkin is in the midst of one of the driest spells of goal scoring in his career. He has two over his last seven games and has only 14 shots on goal over his last six contests. Last night was the first time in five games that he skated for more than 20 minutes. He had three shots on goal, but two of those came in the third period with the outcome long having been decided.


1. Five-on-five. The Caps are a very good team at five on five. The Flyers are better. At the moment Philadelphia is scoring more than three goals at 5-on-5 for every two that their opponents score. Even in that lollapalooza of a game against Tampa Bay Thursday night, the Flyers outscored the Lightning, 7-5, at even strength.

2. First 20. The Caps have scored 13 goals in the first period so far this season, tied for 24th in the league. The Flyers have scored 24 – second in the league. What is worse, the Caps have allowed the fourth highest number of first period goals in the league. You do the math.

3. Second line scoring. If the Caps are having to reassemble an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line in games, chances are that the second line isn’t doing much to take the heat off the first line when Mike Knuble is skating in the spot Semin takes over. Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, and whoever is centering that line tonight (that we phrase it that way should leave Caps fans quaking in fear over the lack of options at that position this deep in the season) need to contribute. It would be nice to get Laich off the schneid. He has two goals in his last 15 games, both coming against the Rangers six games ago. (edit: seems Mike Knuble will be out for this game and perhaps a few more after taking that puck to the jaw last night...)

In the end, this is a tale of the irresistible force (the Caps ability to score at home) versus the immovable object (the Flyers allowing few goals on the road). Whichever team can impose its will on the pace and rhythm of the game is going to win, and that is very likely to be evident in the first 20 minutes. If the Caps have a lead going into the first intermission, the Flyers are not the sort of road team that scores enough to give hope of a comeback. But if the Flyers take a lead into that first intermission, chances are it is of the 1-0 or 2-1 variety, the sort of game much more to their liking, one in which they can use their defense to strangle the life out of an opponent in the last 40 minutes as they try to play catch-up.

Of course, you know which one we think will unfold…

Caps 5 – Flyers 3

A NO-point night: Thrashers 5 - Caps 0


Well, you can say one thing, there wasn’t any suspense over whether the streak would continue. The Atlanta Thrashers put an emphatic end to the Washingon Capitals’ nine game points streak, 5-0, in what Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau called, “as bad of a defeat I think I have had since I’ve been here.”

At least when the Caps lost to the Chicago Blackhawks by the same score as part of their big stretch run in 2008 they could fall back on the explanation that the Hawks were honoring one of their greats that night (goalie Tony Esposito) and were playing before a sold out and energized crowd.

The Thrashers were playing a nondescript game on the schedule in front of 18 paying customers, seven concessioneers, and a couple of dozen mice.

The games ended up being quite similar – the home team came out early and chased the starting goaltender with an avalanche of goals and coasted to a shutout win. Last night, however, the Caps added the touch of going out meekly – 12 shots in the first, ten in the second, seven in the third period. It was brutal stuff…

-- Like three goals on five shots in 9:07. The kid goaltender (Braden Holtby) took the kind of abuse reserved for the victim in the first five minutes of a crime show in prime time.

-- The Caps have had intermittent trouble with first and second periods this season, but rarely in the same game. Not a problem tonight. They were awful in both periods.

-- The charm of the third line lasted one game. Last night, the trio of Matt Hendricks, Matt Bradley, and Jason Chimera had a total of two shots on goal, three hits, and was a minus-4.

-- Not that the top line was any better. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble had four shots on goal (Knuble having none of them), and was minus-2. Add in when Alexander Semin was swapped in for Knuble late in the second period, and that’s another minus-2 (Semin was a minus-3 for the evening). The 8-19-28 line was scored upon on their first full even-strength shift together last night (the fourth goal).

-- Tyler Sloan is going to want to stay in bed this morning. Minus-4, and it was well earned. On the first goal he took a hit from Ben Eager in the corner, then was slow to follow as Eager skated away and to the net. He still hadn’t caught up when Eager tipped the puck past Holtby to make it 1-0. He was pickpocketed by Dustin Byfuglien in the neutral zone in the second period, whereupon Byfuglien skate in and wristed the puck past relief goalie Michal Neuvirth for the fourth goal. On the others (he was on ice for the first four Atlanta goals) he was merely in the vicinity.

-- John Erskine had his coach turn into a pumpkin, too. Last time these teams met he scored his first goal since the printing press was invented. Last night – minus-3.

There were a couple of good things…

-- John Carlson and Karl Alzner played a combined 40 minutes without a goal scored on them (no mean feat last night) and had only one giveaway.

OK…one good thing.

In the end, there was no mystery about this one. It comes down to something Atlanta’s Nik Antropov said… “enough is enough.” He might have been talking about his own lackluster play lately (he had been benched for two periods on Wednesday), but it was probably a call to arms for Atlanta, which had been another of the punching bags for Washington in the Southeast for three years.

Last night it was Atlanta doing the punching and the Caps hitting the canvas…