After 24 games a year ago, the Washington Capitals were 16-6-2. Two years ago they were 13-5-6. Three years ago, 13-8-3. As they prepare to take the ice against the Ottawa Senators the Caps are 12-11-1 and stuck in tenth place in the Eastern Conference. They are looking up at Saturday’s opponent, the Senators inhabiting eighth place as play started on Friday night. It is a place they haven’t occupied for a whi…
“Do I detect a bit of pessimism here?”
“That isn’t very constructive.”
And you are…
“Here to help you…”
I think it’s the Caps who need help at the moment.
“Well, perhaps you should look at things more optimistically.”
“Yes, it all a part of our creed at ‘Optimist International.”
“Yes, the Optimist Creed asks only that you promise yourself…
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”
And you think this can help?
“Hey, it can’t hurt.”
Neither of these teams had a November to remember. The Caps were 5-8-1, while the Senators were 5-5-2. And neither started December on the right foot, Washington losing to Pittsburgh on Thursday, 2-1, while Ottawa dropped a 3-2 decision to Dallas. Ottawa is, however, 5-2-1 over their last eight games coming into this one. The Caps are 3-9-1 in their last 12 games. Here is how they stack up against one another:
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2. Who’s not?... Craig Anderson. In his last four games in goal he is 2-2-0, 4.47, .883. In the “did you know” category, Anderson once changed his name. According to the Web site, hockeygoalies.org, “Craig changed the spelling of his surname to "Andersson" for hockey after his youth team travelled to Sweden for a tournament. He changed it back to "Anderson" following the 2002-03 season.” If he keeps up with these sorts of performances he has had over the last four games, he might change his name to “Backup.” In eight career games against the Caps he is 4-4-0, 2.62, .917 with one shutout.
3. Ottawa has allowed a power play goal in each of their last six games, killing 21 of 27 shorthanded situations (77.8 percent). They have allowed at least one power play goal in 11 of 14 road games, including the first meeting of the teams this season, a 2-1 win for the Caps.
4. Daniel Alfredsson has 32 goals against the Caps in 54 career games, the second highest goal total against any team he has faced (he has 41 goals in 81 games against Buffalo). He has only one goal in his last ten games, though. Fun fact – he is the longest serving captain in the NHL, having served as Ottawa’s captain since the 1999-2000 season.
5. Kaspars Daugavins is one of two players in the NHL having dressed this season who were born in Latvia. It bears noting that while Caps fans might not recognize his name, that name has found its way to the score sheet recently. Daugavins is 1-3-4, plus-6 in his last eight games, not bad for a rookie winger getting 15 minutes and change of ice time a night in that span.
2. In those 13 games the Caps have a total of 26 goals. The top line over most of that stretch of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer has nine of them (three apiece). The “Meat and Potatoes” line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward has 10 (Chimera has six, Laich three, and Ward one). The other two forward lines and the entire defense has seven goals, three of them from John Carlson.
3. One goal games…that’s the ticket. The Caps are 7-3-1 in games decided by one goal, 5-8 in all other games.
4. Tomas Vokoun is 4-11-0, 3.21, .902 in 16 career appearances against Ottawa. Michal Neuvirth is 3-0-0, 1.63, .938 in three career appearances against the Senators.
5. Maybe Mathieu Perreault gets a sweater for this game? He has three goals in four career games against Ottawa on only six shots on goal.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson is something of a “feast or famine” player. He is second on the team in scoring (1-21-22), but he has been on the ice for 33 goals, too (second on the team). He has points in eight of his last ten games (0-9-9), but is only “even” in that span. In 14 road games he has 12 points (all assists), but he is a minus-3. Against the Caps he does not have an even strength point in four career games (he has two power play assists).
Washington: Brooks Laich
Laich has an interesting profile. On the road he is 2-1-3, minus-8 in 11 games, but he is 2-9-11, plus-4 in 13 home games. And his goals come at opportune times. Of his four goals, two have come when the Caps were trailing by a goal, one when tied, and one when the Caps were ahead by one. Three of his four goals have come on Saturdays. But here is perhaps the oddest fact of all so far this season. He has only one even-strength goal so far this season. He is tied for the team lead in power play goals, with three.
1. Third Period. No team has scored more goals than Ottawa in the third period (37 in 25 games). Only one team (Carolina) has allowed more than the 32 given up by the Senators. Will the Caps take advantage of the Senators’ generosity in the third period, or will the Caps be generous hosts?
2. Time. No team has a wider disparity of power play time and penalty killing time in road games than does Ottawa. The Senators have spent 32:08 more killing penalties than they have with a man advantage in 14 road games. The Caps are 2-for-41 on the power play in their last 11 games. They have to find a way to exploit that advantage and get their power play untracked.
3. Lanes. Ottawa is third in the league in blocked shots on the road. The Caps are having a tough enough time generating shots on goal. They have to find a way to get clear shooting lanes to the Ottawa net.
In the end, one would like to think that it is merely a matter of time before the light goes on over the collective heads of the Caps, and they implement the schemes of new coach Dale Hunter seamlessly and flawlessly. It’s been a rough slog through two games so far. A total of 36 shots and two goals serves as stark evidence that it has not been easy in coming. However, the Caps – for all their slumping through November – remain only five points out of a top-three spot in the conference, the margin between themselves and the Florida Panthers (with one game in hand).
That is what makes this game more important than one between a pair of teams at the edge of the playoff line would seem at first blush. If the Caps can beat Ottawa, and the Panthers lose to a tough San Jose team later on Saturday night, it would set up a meeting between the Panthers and the Caps on Monday in Florida that might get the Caps back on the right track as far as the natural order of things in the Southeast Division is concerned. But first things first…get the new coach his first win.
Caps 2 – Senators 1