Saturday, January 22, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 49: Caps 4 - Maple Leafs 1

When a club is having a good game, everyone contributes. The scorers score, the grinders grind, and goaltenders tend goal. And that was the case tonight as the Washington Capitals skated to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

Alex Ovechkin recorded his first hat trick of the season and his first in 349 days since potting three in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 7, 2010. Ovechkin was the most visible of the scorers for the Caps, but he was hardly alone. With Alexander Semin still out, the other “Young Guns” were heard from. Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists to go with a plus-3, and Mike Green added an assist in going plus-3 himself.

The prettiest goal, though, was scored by Matt Hendricks, who had Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere at his mercy on a breakaway. Hendricks offered up a leg kick, pulled Giguere out to the goalie’s left, yanked the puck back, then stuffed it past Giguere’s left pad with the goalie left with little to do by look back and see the puck sliding into the net.

At the other end, Braden Holtby was equal parts amazing and the lake of calm. He had 35 saves on 36 shots, which makes 59 saves on 61 shots in his last two games (.967 save percentage). If the Caps can keep him away from Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth so he doesn’t catch a case of groinfluenza, the Caps could weather this storm to their goaltending in better shape than one might have had a reason to expect.

Other stuff…

-- Holtby will get credit for 35 saves on 36 shots, but it might really have been 34 on 36. Why?  If you look closely, when he makes a glove save in the third period, it looked as if the webbing portion of his glove had crossed the goal line.  There was no review

-- The eight shots on goal by Ovechkin was the most for him against a non-Southeast team since getting eight in a 4-1 loss to Boston on October 21st. It was his third multi-goal game of the season, his first since getting two against Calgary on October 30th.

-- Backstrom recorded his second consecutive multi-point game (two assists), his fifth consecutive game with a point (1-6-7), and the tenth game he has at least one point in his last 13 contests (1-11-12).

-- It was an uneven game for Backstrom, who also took a pair of minors, lost ten of 13 draws, and had only two shot attempts (one on goal).

-- Twelve skaters recorded a total of 27 blocked shots. Five had at least three, including Ovechkin.

-- Choking off three Maple Leaf penalties makes the Caps 48-for-52 in killing penalties (92.3 percent) over their last 13 games, and three of the four power play goals allowed came in one game (4-3 overtime loss to Florida on January 11th). The Caps are now second in the league in penalty killing, trailing only Pittsburgh.

-- A comparison… Marcus Johansson skated six shifts in the third period for 4:31 in ice time. Mathieu Perreault skated two shifts for 1:19, none in the last 16:36.

-- Over on the other side, Mike Komisarek got three shifts in the second, three in the third and had almost ten fewer minutes than the next Toronto defenseman in ice time (Carl Gunnarsson). What’s up there?

-- Playing rope-a-dope is one thing, but allowing shots by period of 6-11-19 can playing with fire.

-- Braden Holtby is an active goalie who likes to get involved and play the puck, but it was J-S Giguere who had three giveaways to Holtby’s one.

-- And speaking of Holtby, he’s been like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good (in four wins he has a GAA of 1.26 and a save percentage of .956. When he’s bad, he’s very, very bad. In three losses (one in overtime) he has a GAA of 4.98 and a save percentage of .800.

-- Toronto is the mecca of hockey, or so it is said, but what’s up with the waffles and the keys hitting the ice after the Ovechkin hat trick? No pants lint? Pizza coupons? Pet chew toys?

-- The refs had an interesting game… six penalties (four minors and two coincidental fighting majors) called in the first period, one (and that for an obvious too-many-men penalty) in the last 40 minutes, and that came 79 seconds into the second period.

In the end, the Caps have followed up their sluggish start to 2011, capped off with a three-game losing streak that left them 2-2-2 in their first half dozen games in 2011, with a 3-0-1 mark in their last four, 2-0-1 on this three-game road trip. As long as the regular season lasts, the Caps are going to have questions attached to their ability to defend and stop pucks. But the Caps have now gone 17 games in which they allowed more than three goals in regulation once, a loss to Vancouver. They have allowed 35 goals in that span (2.06/game) and are 9-3-5 in the process, a 111-point pace over 82 games.

This was, if not a perfect game, as complete a game as the Caps have played lately, and it was good to see Ovechkin finally break out, even if this is but one game. You can’t score in two in a row before you score in one, though, and it will be interesting to see how he fares on Monday against the Rangers, now that he is 4-2-6, plus-5 in his last three games. With eight points separating the top seven teams in the East – the Rangers sitting in that seventh slot – it should be interesting indeed.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Maple Leafs, January 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Ugh…this can’t be the flu. We had our flu shots this year. But we have been hacking all night, making us feel something less than “peerless.” But out of lemons, we make lemonade, which brings us to what we found to help us – and you, dear reader – fight a pesky cough between sips of a favorite adult beverage while watching a hockey game.

According to “” we might try…

-- Filling one cut lemon with black pepper powder and salt, then sucking on it to reduce the intensity of the cough. No mention of whether this is supposed to be performed with shots of tequila.

-- Regularly eating grapes for a number of days to tone up the lungs. Wonder if this works if we just have a couple of bottles of Mad Dog 20/20.

-- Taking a couple of pinches of black pepper, long pepper, and dry ginger in equal proportions, mixing them, then taking them with honey two or three times a day. We’ll have to give Honey a call and see if she’s game.

-- In winter, eating garlic at night a couple of times a week. We think we’d be eating alone after a short while.

-- Gargling with warm spinach juice…well, I yam what I yam.

-- Chewing four leaves of holy basil and four black peppers. “Holy basil?” Sounds like something someone would say if they didn’t want to swear.

-- Extracting the juice of onions and mixing it with honey to make a cough syrup. No…Honey’s not going for that one.

Well, the search goes on. Meanwhile, the Caps wind up their three-game road swing with a visit to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Having gone 1-1-2 in their first four road games of the season, the Caps head to Toronto with a chance to head home 2-0-1 on this trip and go 3-1-2 on the road in the new year (the overtime loss overlapping the first and second group of games).

For the Maple Leafs 2011 has been something of a roller-coaster so far. After splitting a pair of decisions to open the new year the Leafs went on a four-game winning streak and treated the scoreboard like a pinball machine gone mad in the process. In those four games Toronto scored 21 goals. But in those games the seeds were planted for another streak. In the four game winning streak the Maple Leafs also allowed 12 goals, a signal that the defense and goaltending was barely keeping up with the offense. The scoring dried up in the next three games, all Toronto losses. The Maple Leafs scored only 2 goals in the three losses while allowing 13 scores, including seven goals in a nightmarish 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers last Wednesday. The overall numbers tell the story…

At the top of the scoring rankings for the Maple Leafs is Clarke MacArthur, mild mannered man by day, but at night transformed into a defender of truth, justice, and the Canadian Way (kinda like Clark Kent, but, well…different). MacArthur seems to have been glad to turn the page on to a new year. Since January 1st he is 6-6-12, plus-3 in ten games, including a pair of three-point games. One of those three-point games came in MacArthur’s last contest, in which he scored a goal and recorded two assists in a 5-2 win over Anaheim last Thursday. He had a pair of goals, including the game tying goal with less than 90 seconds left in regulation, in a 5-4 Gimmick win over the Caps on December 6th. Those two goals left him 6-1-7 in 14 career games against the Caps.

Phil Kessel is having an interesting sort of a season. He started the year as hot as a pistol (or maybe one of those cough remedies), scoring seven goals in his first eight games. Then…nothing. He went his next seven games without a point. He followed that up by going 3-2-5 in his next six. See a pattern? Even in the short stretch of games to start 2011 Kessel has been the epitome of “streaky.” He started the year 5-3-8 in his first six games,but he is without a goal in his last four. He did have a pair of assists in the 5-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday, so he might be starting one of his “good” streaks. Overall, though, it is odd to see a player who has 19 goals and 33 points, yet is still a minus-15 for the season (worst among Toronto forwards).

Speaking of “minus,” one of the questions – not a big one, mind you, but a question nonetheless – is whether defenseman Brett Lebda will get a sweater. Lebda, who was signed away from the Detroit Red Wings last summer as a free agent to a two-year contract, has put up a season of Mikkelsonian proportions. Even though Lebda has appeared in only 22 games this season and is averaging barely 14 minutes a game in that number of contests, he is a minus-19. He has not had a “plus” game this season. He has no chance of challenging the NHL record for worst plus-minus, held by former Cap Bill Mikkelson, but the faint echo of such a legendary season can be heard.

In goal, the Maple Leafs have two compelling stories. The first concerns Jonas Gustavsson – “The Monster.” Except no one is calling him that these days, unless it refers to his goals-against average. His 3.29 goals against average ranks him 41st among 44 goaltenders ranked by the NHL. In 23 appearances this season he has allowed at least four goals nine times, including four of his last six. In those last six appearances he is 2-4-0, 4.24, .864, and the one time he did play well in that stretch it was against the New Jersey Devils (29 saves on 30 shots in a 4-1 win on December 26th), the most anemic offense in the NHL. Is this the immediate future of Maple Leaf goaltending?

The reason that question gets asked is that the term “trade” seems to be popping up more and more often with the other Maple Leaf netminder, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. A year after having been obtained in trade from the Anaheim Ducks, Giguere is now on the brink of unrestricted free agency. With $36.3 million committed to 11 roster spots for next season (according to and Giguere currently earning $6.0 million a year, he isn’t returning to the Maple Leafs without having to take a substantial pay cut. So, despite his being the better choice in goal for the Leafs these days, the question isn’t so much whether he is or will be the number one goaltender for Toronto, but (having given indications he will waive his no-trade clause) where he will finish this season. Having stopped 26 of 28 shots in the 5-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday, he could be “showcased” against the Caps tonight.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Colton Orr

Whether it is coincidence or not, the Maple Leafs are 8-4-1 in game this season in which Orr has recorded a fighting major. He took on D.J. King of the Caps 12:25 into the second period of the last meeting of these teams on December 6th. After that bout the Leafs outscored the Caps 3-1 over the last 27:35 before winning the game in the skills competition. Coincidence, perhaps. Or do the Leafs just draw strength from this guy? Orr has never recorded a point against the Caps in his 17 career games against Washington, but he does have 45 penalty minutes in those games. His contribution might have nothing to do with his own scoring line.

(Note: Mirtle reports via Twitter that Orr is out with a concussion and will be replace in the lineup by Jay Rosehill)

(Note, Part he is on injured reserve.  The Leafs have no chance) 

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The big stage. Ovechkin has shined in such venues so far in his career, and games against Toronto are no exception. In 21 career games against the Maple Leafs, Ovechkin is 20-15-35, including a goal and two assists in two games this season. Every time Ovechkin puts a pair of games together with points, we’re thinking that maybe now he is breaking out of his season-long slumber (well, by his standards). We thought it around Thanksgiving when he was 2-7-9 over a seven-game stretch. Again in late December when he was 2-4-6 over a six-game run. Well, now he has consecutive games with points (1-2-3 against Philadelphia and the Islanders), so perhaps now… However, Ovechkin has not had a goals-scored streak of longer than three game this season (and that one came in Games 2-4 of the season in October) and has had only four occasions this season in which he scored goals in consecutive games. Might be time to start a streak tonight.


1. Crowd Control. With the Caps scoring first against the Islanders on Thursday, Toronto now occupies the 29th spot in the league in number of times scoring first in games (18 in 46 games). Don’t let the Maple Leafs get the crowd into things early.

2. Accept Presents When Offered. Toronto has the third highest number of home giveaways this season. That can be an arbitrary statistic, influence by the differences in official scoring from city to city, but the Leafs are not the most responsible team with the puck. Couple that with the fact that the Caps have the tenth highest number of takeaways on the road this season, and turnovers could play a big role here.

3. Discipline. It is nice that the Caps have risen to third in the league in penalty killing. It would be nicer if they didn’t have to use it as much. Since holding the Boston Bruins without a power play opportunity on December 18th, the Caps have faced 58 shorthanded situations – 4.1 per game. They faced three such situations in their last six games. Toronto might struggle overall on offense, but they have the sixth best home power play in the league. Don’t give them the chance to show why they are.

In the end, it is time to stop thinking of the Caps as an explosive offense, unless by explosive you think of a team that hasn’t scored more than three goals in more than a month and has done so only three times in 23 games since December 1st. At the moment the Caps are a team that, when they are on their game, grinds out 3-2 or 2-1 wins. Until it changes, we don’t see it changing.

Caps 3 – Maple Leafs 2