We’ve seen this movie. Last Saturday, the Caps lost a close one, a 3-2 decision to Colorado. Last night – a Saturday – the Caps lost a close one, a 3-2 decision to Boston. Last Saturday, Michal Neuvirth took the loss, giving up three goals on 26 shots. Last night, Michal Neuvirth took the loss, giving up three goals on 21 shots. Last Saturday, the Caps pummeled Colorado goalie Craig Anderson with 42 shots, but only managed to get one past him on 17 shots in the third period. Last night, the Caps pummeled Boston goalie Tim Thomas with 41 shots, but only managed to get one past him on 26 shots in the third period. Last Saturday, the Caps could look at a 3-2 loss as a tough loss, but one they could use as a springboard to get them off their losing streak. They could be confident heading to New York that they could turn things around against the Rangers.
The Caps lost to the Rangers, 7-0.
Now, the Caps head to Ottawa looking to use a tough loss as a foothold to start climbing back through the standings after falling out of the top spot in the Southeast and finding themselves in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The last time we saw these teams on the same ice, Alex Ovechkin was wristing a puck through the legs of Senator goalie Pascal Leclaire with 31.1 seconds left in overtime, giving the Caps a 3-2 win. It was Ovechkin’s second straight game with a goal, the second in a row that was a game-winner. That was in the third game of the season. He has nine goals in 31 games since then, a 24-goal season pace.
That the Caps are having a lousy December isn’t exactly news at this point. But Ottawa hasn’t been lighting up the win column, either. The Senators are 3-3-3 for the month to date and have managed to score more than three goals only once in nine tries – an overtime loss as it turns out (6-5 to Colorado on Friday). Ottawa has been in the taking with one hand while giving back with the other mode. In December the Senators are 6-for-22 on the power play (27.3 percent) but have killed off only 19 of 26 shorthanded situations (73.1 percent) to end up a minus-1 in the exchange. The overall numbers look like this:
What Ottawa is, though, is one of only two teams in the Eastern Conference to have lost only one game in regulation to a Southeast Division team (a 7-1 loss to Carolina on November 17th). Not that the Senators have had a lot of games against the Southeast so far (3-1-2 overall); they have played only one Southeast club since that loss to Carolina in November (a 4-3 overtime loss to Atlanta last Monday).
Ottawa has struggled to score goals this season. They are 27th in the league in scoring and have only one player with more than ten goals and more than 20 points. That would be the same player – Daniel Alfredsson. But it is a measure of the Senators’ scoring difficulties that Alfredsson could lead the team in scoring with what would be his lowest point total in any season he played in at least 60 games. He is on a pace to score 53 points. However, he has a goal in each of his last three games, which follows a stretch in which he went without a point in ten consecutive games.
Ottawa has cast their lot with two Russians on the far side of their respective careers, and neither is performing up to expectations. Alex Kovalev scored 61 goals in his last two seasons in Montreal, and it served to provide him a two-year, $10 million deal with the Senators in July 2009. He slumped to 18 goals and 49 points in 77 games last year, his first under the deal. This season he is 7-9-16, minus-8 (an 18-22-40, minus-19 pace). He has spent time on the fourth line recently (he had barely ten minutes of ice time last time out), has accused his coach of using him as a scapegoat, and is now being mentioned in trade rumors, with St. Louis a possible destination. He scored his last goal on November 27th, a game winner against Toronto, and has only two points since that game while going minus-5.
Meanwhile, Sergei Gonchar signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal last summer to move from Pittsburgh to Ottawa. Until this season Gonchar averaged 17-40-57, plus-4 per 82 games in his career with Washington, Boston, and the Penguins. This year he is 4-12-16 (a 10-29-39 pace) and is a minus-19 (a minus-46 pace). Only two defensemen in the league have a worse plus-minus (the Islanders’ James Wisniewski and New Jersey’s Andy Greene, both at minus-21). Gonchar, an offensive defenseman, hasn’t posted a goal since November 11th and has only a pair of assists since November 22nd. He hasn’t had a “plus” game since going plus-1 in a 3-2 Senators win over Los Angeles on November 22nd. That was 14 games ago.
In goal, coach Cory Clouston has alternated Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott over the last six games, and if he continues to do so Leclaire will get the start tonight. Leclaire has won three of his last four decisions (3-1-0, 1.77, .939). He has not played badly this season, allowing more than three goals in only three of 12 decisions, only once since November 11th (nine appearances and eight decisions).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Jason Spezza
It’s hard to figure out what is up with this guy. A 6’3”, 216 pound center who at 27 should be entering his prime, and he has seen is point totals shrink from 92 in 2007-2008 to 73 two years ago to 57 last year (in only 60 games). This year he is 9-9-18 in 29 games (a 20-20-40 pace), but he does have three goals in five games, alternating games in which he scored. If that pattern holds true he will not score tonight. He I, however, 9-17-26 in 24 career games against the Caps (including 3-4-7 in three games last season). Which Spezza shows up could signal which way this game goes.
Washington: Scott Hannan
Tomas Fleischmann is scoring goals at a 50-goal pace as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The Caps haven’t won a game since Scott Hannan came back in the trade that sent Fleischmann to Colorado. There is no connection. That Fleischmann is scoring like the second coming of Joe Sakic doesn’t mean he was going to do it in Washington, now or ever. That the Caps haven’t won a game since Hannan arrived is a product of scoring less often than the A/V guy in high school over the last eight games. Hannan, it bears noting, is not here for offense. But he is here for defense, and he has been on the ice for ten of the 27 goals allowed in the eight-game losing streak.
1. Look Sharp. Game starts at 7:30. No waiting until 8:30 to decide to play.
2. Feel sharp. Have a winning attitude; you’ve done this before…winning that is.
3. Be sharp. Semyon Varlamov would seem likely to get this start and will have a chance to redeem his performance on Sundays. Goalies often have to be the “stopper” (in the baseball sense of a pitcher being the key to ending a losing streak). Varlamov has to “be sharp” to play that role.
In the end, the streak has to end sometime. HBO needs a new narrative for their series. The big guys break out would be a good one…
Caps 5 – Senators 2