Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Caps Are Like...Doughnuts?

It’s late, and we have a hankering for doughnuts. And it makes us think of how the Caps are like a doughnut these days. Why?

-- Well, first there is the hole in the middle. No second line center, a total of 18 goals and 21 assists from centers not named “Backstrom” (that would include Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, David Steckel, and Boyd Gordon).

-- Doughnuts are round…sort of the way the Caps have been playing the last two months, going round and round and round from good games to ghastly games. Since beating St. Louis on December 1st to go 18-6-2, the Caps are 11-11-8 (which includes that 0-6-2 losing streak).

-- Doughnuts are sweet, but you can’t sustain yourself with them. The Caps have had some sweet wins – the Winter Classic win over Pittsburgh, the 5-2 win over Tampa Bay last week among them. But the Caps can’t make a season out of the occasional big win. They have to grind out wins against teams that don’t get their attention. And they haven’t done that consistently.

-- Doughnuts are light and airy, sort of like all the post-game blather night after night that sounds like the right thing to say. Words are nice, actions are better.

-- Doughnuts are sold in boxes…like the box the Caps find themselves in. Trying – without much success – to find a way to marry a focus on defense with the ability to take advantage of their offensive gifts.

-- Doughnuts have a limited shelf life…like coaches. And at the moment, Bruce Boudreau seems to be preaching to air. The players don’t seem to be listening. That is a really bad sign.

-- Doughnuts are often glazed, like the look on Caps fans’ faces trudging out of Verizon Center after the kind of stinker the team had this afternoon against Los Angeles, the sort of glaze that has been all too common as the Caps have dropped 14 of 31 home games so far this season.

-- Doughnuts often have tiny little sprinkles on the outside. It reminds us of the way the Caps sprinkle the puck around the outside on the power play.

-- Sometimes doughnuts are filled…like we’re filled up to here with all this lackadaisical play.

-- Doughnuts look like big zeroes…a reminder of the eight shutout losses that the Caps have.

This is a team that needs more red meat on its menu, because at the moment they look a little too fat and happy…the product of too many doughnuts.

A NO-point afternoon -- Game 56: Kings 4 - Caps 1

Well…didn’t THAT suck?

The Capitals buried the needle on the suck-o-meter in losing this afternoon’s game to the Los Angeles Kings, 4-1, in what might have been their worst team effort of the season. The rooting portion of the afternoon for Caps fans lasted all of 66 seconds, the time it took for the Caps to get their only goal of the afternoon. Kings’ defenseman Willie Mitchell threw the puck across ice at the Capitals’ blue line to a wing vacated by teammate Drew Doughty. Alex Ovechkin picked it up curled into the Kings’ zone and using Doughty as a screen, he wristed the puck past goalie Jonathan Bernier’s blocker to give the Caps their earliest lead of the season on their first shot of the game.

The Caps fired 22 more shots at Bernier, none of them finding the back of the net. Meanwhile, the Kings chipped away at the Caps, eventually tying the game midway through the second period when Anze Kopitar lifted a loose puck over goalie Semyon Varlamov. The Kings then abused the Caps often in the third, registering three scores on the first seven shots they took in the period to win going away and sending the Caps away on a five-game road trip having lost two straight games on home ice and scoring one goal on 48 shots in the process.

Other stuff…

-- Even as the Caps were taking a lead early, it didn’t look good. The Kings were establishing possession in the Caps’ zone, the Caps were chipping the puck out and failing to get or maintain any possession. It was as if the game was being played on 130 feet or so of ice, from the Kings’ blue line to the Caps’ end of the ice.

-- The reconstituted top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin recorded a combined total of eight shot attempts and four shots on goal (two in the third period as the Kings were building their lead). Not a top line level of effort.

-- So…about that second line center matter. Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson were a combined minus-3, had one shot on goal, and were five-for-12 on draws, each with 14 minutes and change in ice time.

-- Another oh-fer on the power play. That makes 11-for-105 over their last 32 games (10.5 percent). They are 11-15-6 when failing to score on the power play this season.

-- Jeff Schultz had a difficult game. He was on the ice for the first three Kings goals and looked bad in the process. But he was hardly alone. The Caps looked to be spending a lot of time looking at the puck and not taking the man on the first three Kings goals. In each instance it was a follow-up that did them in – Anze Kopitar following up a play by Wayne Simmonds, Andrei Loktionov following a play by Kyle Clifford, and Michal Handzus taking several whacks at a puck after Kopitar started things, the Caps paying no attention to Handzus as he was chopping away.

--This was the first time the Caps allowed more than two goals in regulation time since dropping a 4-2 decision to Vancouver on January 14th, breaking a ten-game streak of allowing two or fewer goals in regulation time.

-- This makes six losses in a row to Western Conference teams (0-5-1) dating back to a 4-1 win over St. Louis on December 1st. Five of the losses have come on home ice (0-4-1).

-- Officially, Anze Kopitar, Wayne Simmonds, and Willie Mitchell were the three starts of the game. For our money, Andrei Loktionov should have received a star. He seemed to be in the middle of a lot of good things for the Kings, even when they did not score. A goal, five shots on goal, three blocked shots, and four wins in seven draws. He had a solid game.

-- We thought one of the Kings’ 15-goal scorers could get well in this game, and it was Kopitar. His goal broke a ten-game streak without a goal, and it was only his second in his last 21 games. In adding an assist he had his first multi-point game since recording a pair of assists against Nashville on January 6th. He had gone 14 games without recording a multi-point game.

-- Comcast Sports Net had D.J. King as the Caps player of the game. Maybe it was because King was the only Cap who actually played the role he is supposed to play. A fight, four hits, a takeaway in 7:22 of ice time. But if King is the player of the game, well…

-- If there was another candidate for player of the game for the Caps, it could have been Matt Hendricks. Four shots on goal (led the team, with Mike Knuble) and seven hits (led the team). But if King and Hendricks are the best players of the game for the Caps, well…

-- If you were a Cap, and your name was not “David Steckel,” chances are you sucked on draws. Steckel was the only Cap who won a majority of draws (six of ten). The rest of the guys went 11-for-34 (32 percent).

-- The best way to kill penalties is not to take them in the first place. The Caps killed off the only shorthanded situation they faced. That’s four shorthanded situations faced in their last three games. Since allowing three power play goals in six chances to Florida on January 11th, the Caps are 37-for-39 on the penalty kill (94.9 percent) over 13 games.

In the end, the Caps are now in sixth place in the East (Montreal overtook them for fifth place with a 3-0 win over Toronto)...note: OK, they're still in fifth by virtue of fewer games played, but still. And now, they go on a five-game road trip, three of the games to be played on the west coast. At the moment, the Caps cannot be thought of as a Stanley Cup contender. They’re just not. The offense is derelict, the power play incompetent, and the focus absent. The defense had an off game that caught up with them when the Kings finally managed to tie the game in the second period. After that it just got worse. The Caps’ lone score came on a play that the Eastern Conference teams have figured out and taken away – the Ovechkin cut-to-the-middle wrist shot. All in all, it was a brutal effort that was one of too many this season on the part of the Caps. Enough so that any thoughts of a deep Stanley Cup run are becoming more hope than expectation.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Kings, February 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We are back at Peerless Central, bringing you the best prognostications in the prognosticatorial galaxy, and today it’s…

…what’s with the mirror?

"You been gone, cuz, and we needed a substitute."

Uh-huh…I’m listening.

"Well, we got this one cheap…one owner.  A queen, too!"

This isn’t going to end well, is it?

"And it even talks!  Listen…’mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the greatest hockey team of all?'”

“The 1977 Canadiens.”

Shouldn’t you be using this for the Caps?

"Uh, we got some bugs to work out…"

And so do the Caps, who come into this afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Kings right where we left them when we went on a break…fifth in the Eastern Conference.  At the moment our Cappies are the very definition of “treading water”… 2-2-2 in their last six contests and letting the four teams above them in the standings open up some space ahead of them.  Not that we care, since the playoffs are the only thing that matters.  Except HOW they get to the playoffs does matter, and we took a peek at that in our last scribble.

Today’s opponent – the Los Angeles Kings – serves to hold something of a mirror up to the Caps, at least in terms of the overall numbers, which look a lot like the Caps…

The two big differences between the Caps and the Kings as they head into the matinee affair are, first, the Kings are scrambling for their playoff lives.  They are currently tenth in the West, three points behind the Calgary Flames but with three games in hand on the eighth place club.  Second, the Kings are playing with the urgency of a team scrambling for their playoff lives (unlike a certain local team).  Los Angeles is 5-0-2 in their last seven games, doing it with defense by outscoring their opponents by a combined 15-12 in those seven contests.  Compare that to the Caps, who have outscored their opponents by a combined 11-8 in going 2-2-2 in their last six games.  This game could be decided by a single goal…as in “1-0.”

The Kings do bring a certain goal-scoring balance to the ice in that they have five players with 15 or more goals.  It’s just that they have not been doing it lately.  Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, and Jarret Stoll each have at least 15 goals, but each has only one goal in the last five games.  And, only once did two of these players record goals in the same game (Williams and Brown in a 4-3 shootout win over Calgary a week ago).  The Caps offer an opportunity for any or all of them to get well by virtue of their individual success against the Caps over their respective careers.  Kopitar is 4-2-6 in four career games against Washington, Williams is 13-17-30 in 37 career games, Brown is 1-3-4 in six games, Smyth is 6-8-14 in 17 career games, and Stoll is 0-4-4 in four career games.  A total of 24 goals among these five players in 68 career games against the Caps suggests the possibility of a breakout.

On defense, Willie Mitchell is the one that got away.  Mitchell was probably at the top of the wish list of defensemen for Caps fans in the off-season, but he signed a deal with the Kings.  Mitchell has more or less met expectations, good and bad.  On the bad side, Mitchell has had issues with durability.  In four seasons with Vancouver leading up to this season he missed a total of 64 games.  This year he has had two lengthy absences, missing 14 games in November and December with a broken wrist and missing another 11 games in December and January with a “lower body injury.”  On the good side, though, he is 1-4-5 in the 29 games in which he has played and is a plus-5, third best among Kings defensemen.  He is also third in total ice time per game, chewing up more than 21 minutes a night.

In goal, one would expect that Jonathan Quick get the call, his having taken the decision in eight of the last nine Kings’ games and the team having played only once in the past week.  Perhaps it is because he plays out west or plays for a team that does not get a lot of attention, but Quick is certainly a talented goalie flying well under the media radar.  His 24 wins rank seventh in the league, his goals against average of 2.13 is tied for third (with the Caps’ Semyon Varlamov), his .921 save percentage is tied for 12th, and he has five shutouts that is tied for third in he league.  He has won both of his career decisions against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Wayne Simmonds

Simmonds is an intriguing player.  Last season he recorded 16 goals and 40 points, building on his 9-14-23 rookie season the year before.  He looked poised to make the next big jump.  But he has been skating in place this season.  In 52 games he is 9-8-17 and is a minus-5 (he was plus-22 last season).  More alarming, he has one goal in 18 games since December 16th (1-1-2, minus-8).  If the Kings are going to make that push they need to jump a couple of rungs on the standings ladder to make the playoffs, they will need Simmonds to produce more than he has the last six weeks.  He does not have a point in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin suffered a hip injury in a 3-2 win over Florida on January 8th and missed 12 games.  During his time on the shelf he signed a one-year, $6.7 million contract extension that raised a few eyebrows.  Semin returned from his injury in the loss to San Jose last week and did not record a point, making it five straight games without a point and 15 straight without a goal for Semin (his last goal came on November 28th).  The Caps have suffered problems on offense in general and on the power play in particular, both being areas that Semin can – and must – contribute if the Caps are to have any success this spring.  He is certainly capable, having recorded three hat tricks so far this season.  He has one goal in five career games against the Kings.


1.  Kill, Kill, Kill.  The Caps and Kings ranks very near one another in most categories (see the table above).  The one area in which the Caps have a clear advantage is their penalty killing, ranking second in the league while the Kings rank 11th.  If the Caps keep the Kings off the power play score sheet it puts less pressure on their own creaky power play to produce.

2.  Wakey, Wakey… This is an early game, and the Caps don’t do early very well.  They are dead last in the NHL in first period goals scored.  Combine this with the fact that only three teams have allowed fewer first period goals than the Kings, and this is a recipe for a quiet first period for the home team.  Someone say, “Starbucks?”  “Red Bull?”  “Kick ‘em in the ass???”

3.  Shoot!...Intelligently.  The Kings are 13-7-0 when outshot by opponents, the third best winning percentage in the league (.650).  For the Caps this means don’t just shoot, shoot with a purpose.

In the end, these are teams that are largely mirror images of one another as far as the numbers go.  But the Kings are the more desperate team, and the Caps haven’t played like a desperate team against teams that are either: a) from out west, or b) outside the playoff window.  This could be a really ugly game, aesthetically speaking, with the Kings clawing for every inch and advantage, and the Caps sleepwalking their way around despite having superior top-end talent.  A bounce here, a deflection there, a fluke somewhere along the way, and…well, you know.

Caps 2 – Kings 1