Sunday, March 06, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 66: Caps 3 - Panthers 2 (OT)

Pretty? No. But no one gets extra points for being pretty. Two is what a team gets for a win in the NHL, and two is what the Washington Capitals earned with a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers. And for the first time since December 29th, the Caps reside at the top of the Southeast Division.

This one did not come easy. And in fact, it was quite an odd game. For a contest that would feature 15 shots on goal for the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble; one that featured 19 from the Florida skill players Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Niclas Bergfors, and Sergei Samsonov; it was a game that was ground out by both teams with few in the way of quality scoring chances.

Florida had the better of it early and put the Caps behind the eight ball with a goal by Bill Thomas at 15:03 into the period. But Nicklas Backstrom tied it barely two minutes later, converting a feed from Alex Ovechkin. While Backstrom and Ovechkin got the points on the play, along with a secondary assist from Mike Knuble, it was the little things that Backstrom and Ovechkin did before the set up that made the goal possible – Backstrom pushing his way to split the defense of Jason Garrison and Mike Santorelli to keep the puck alive behind the Panthers’ net and Ovechkin fending off Santorelli in the left wing corner to gain control of the puck and send it in front to Backstrom for the shot and a goal.

The Caps took a lead in the second when Boyd Gordon put his second goal of the season on the board, the happy result of some hard work by the Two Matts and a Boyd line, Hendricks and Bradley being the “Matt’s” who, with Gordon, befuddled the Panthers with their ability to work the puck below the goal line and keep the puck in the Panther end. Gordon jumped on a loose puck in front of Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen and lifted a backhander past the fallen goalie with a delayed penalty already coming to the Panthers as a result of the trio’s effort.

The Caps could not make the one-goal lead stand, though. John Erskine and Dennis Wideman took penalties 40 seconds apart in the latter stages of the third period to give the Panthers a 5-on-3 power play. David Booth converted for the Panthers to tie the game, that goal being the eighth 5-on-3 power play goal of the season for Florida, second most in the NHL.

That was it for the scoring in regulation, and with nine of the Panthers’ 26 wins coming in extra time, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for the home team. But 48 seconds into the extra frame, Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin played a little give and go – Semin heading down the left side and passing the puck Johansson in the middle. Johansson fed it back, and Semin wristed a laser past Clemmensen. Game over.

Other stuff…

-- The win preserves a pair of four-game streaks. The Caps have won four in a row overall and have won four in a row on the road.

-- The 10-26-15 line had its own “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” Gordon with the goal, Matt Hendricks with the assist and the fight. Matt Bradley contributed five hits in less than ten minutes of ice time.

-- Backstrom didn’t get a star, but he had a nice line… a goal, six shots, a hit, and he won 11 of 17 draws.

-- The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble all had fewer than 18 minutes of ice time. You might try to explain it away by the fact that the Caps had just one power play, thus denying them that route to the ice. But Ovechkin had only 15:28 of even strength ice time, more than a minute less than his average (16:44). Backstrom had only 12:58 (almost three minutes less than his average) and Knuble only 12:40 (almost two minutes). Even their third period ES ice time totals were low – Ovechkin – 5:12, Backstrom – 4:37, Knuble – 5:06.

-- The Caps were only 9-for-25 on defensive zone faceoffs. Gordon struggled more than most, winning three of ten.

-- Semin’s goal came on his only shot of the game. In fact it was the only shot on goal for the entire line of Semin, Jason Arnott, and Brooks Laich.

-- Back to the time on ice thing. Karl Alzner and John Carlson were the defensemen on the ice in the last minute to end regulation; they were the defensemen on the ice to start overtime. Alzner got an assist on the Semin game-winner, but was not credited with being on the ice when it was scored, his place having been taken by Dennis Wideman just before the score.

-- Given the relative lack of ice time, it seems odd that the top line should have had a total of 15 shots on goal.  The other nine forwards recorded a total of only six.

-- Stephen Weiss…five giveaways? No other skater for either team was charged with more than one.

-- Odd that a defenseman would not lead his team in blocked shots, but there was forward Boyd Gordon with four. No other Cap had more than two.

-- The Caps were outshot, 12-0, on the power play. That’s what happens when one team gets six power plays, and the other team gets one. It was the fourth straight game the Caps had two or fewer power play chances, the second in a row in which they had but one.

-- The Caps outshot their own power play while they were shorthanded. Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of shorthanded shots on goal, Mike Knuble another.

In the end, it was one of the uglier ways to get two points, but any way you get them at this time of year is welcome. The Caps turn it right around and have an opportunity in Tampa tomorrow night to open up a little more room between themselves and the Lightning. It has been a long time coming – 67 days – but the Caps are back where they belong. Now that they have assumed the top spot in the Southeast once more (and only four points behind the Flyers for the Eastern Conference lead), perhaps it will serve as a springboard to bigger things.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Panthers, March 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road for a weekend of sun, sand, and…

- knock knock –

…for a weekend of sun, sand, and hockey as they start a back-to-back series against the Florida teams starting with…

- knock knock –

…starting with the Florida Panthers, a team than hasn’t won a game in regulation time in…

- knock knock –

…in regulation time in almost a…

- knock knock –


“Opportunity knocking…”

Well, it’s about time!

The Caps have an opportunity tonight in their game against the Florida Panthers to finish the night somewhere they have not been in 67 days, since December 29th – first place in the Southeast Division. With the Tampa Bay Lightning losing to the Montreal Canadiens yesterday, opportunity has come a-knockin’.

And it has come in the form of a team that has not won a game in regulation time in almost a month. The Florida Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, on January 13th to reach the .500 mark at 24-24-7. Since then, however, the Panthers are 2-7-1, both wins coming via the Gimmick. Overall, the Panthers look like this…

With Florida having drifted out of the playoff conversation, they sold off as many assets as possible over the past couple of weeks. One might have called it a “fire sale,” although team president Michael Yormark wasn’t a fan of the term. In all, Florida has sent to other teams Dennis Wideman (Washington), Michael Frolik (Chicago), Chris Higgins (Vancouver), Cory Stillman (Carolina), Bryan McCabe (the Rangers), Radek Dvorak (Atlanta), and Bryan Allen. There are a total of 51 goals in that group, almost a third of the goals scored by the Panthers this season (159). More to the point, there are 4,503 games of NHL regular season game experience that departed with those seven players. Florida is playing for the future.

While Florida plays for the future, one problem they have had lately is finding the back of the net. Over this 2-7-1 stretch the Panthers scored only 15 goals, only eight goals in their last seven games. Not that the Panthers are an especially prolific offensive team anyway. Florida has one player with more than 40 points and only three others with more than 30 points (and one of them – Wideman – now plays for Washington). Stephen Weiss, the subject of much speculation at the trading deadline, is still in Florida and leads the Panthers in scoring (18-25-4). It is not an unusual spot for Weiss – he was the Panthers’ leading scorer in each of the previous two seasons. What he has not done, though, is score much (or at least enough) lately. As the dim hopes for a playoff spot became only dimmer over the last ten games, Weiss was 3-3-6, minus-5, and – inexplicably for the team leader in goals – did not record a shot on goal in three of those games (one of which came when he skated only 4:34 before being excused for elbowing Radek Martinek, earning a major penalty and a game misconduct in a 5-1 loss to the Islanders). Weiss seems sometimes as if he entered the NHL last week, but he is a veteran of 545 games and was 11-18-29 in 37 regular season games against Washington entering this season. He has six assists in three games against the Caps this year.

David Booth is quietly repairing his game after having missed 54 games last season as a result of two concussions. This season he has not missed a game, and in the 64 games played by the Panthers he has 17 goals and 15 assists. He, too, has not been able to ramp up his game in the last ten. He had a six-game streak without a goal broken when he recorded a goal against Atlanta in his last game, and he is 3-2-5, minus-4 in the last ten contests. Booth bears watching. He had a career-best five-point game against Washington in the last regular season game of the 2008-2009 season, a 7-4 win against the Caps. What’s more, nine of Booth’s 18 goals have given the Panthers a lead, and another four tied games when the Panthers were down a goal. Coming into this season he was 4-5-9 in 20 career games against the Capitals, and he has a goal and two assists in three games against the Caps this year.

Florida cleared out the cupboard of defenseman in trades. Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe, and Bryan Allen are gone. That leaves Jason Garrison as the Panthers’ minutes leader on the blue line, averaging 21:39 a game. This is Garrison’s first full season in the NHL, having played in one game in 2008-2009 and 39 games last season, all with the Panthers. He is not an especially productive offensive defenseman (3-10-13 in 56 games this season), but he is a minus-1, a respectable number given that the Panthers are, as a team, a minus-17 for the season. Garrison has one assist in five career games played against Washington.

Once upon a time, goaltender Tomas Vokoun was looked upon as perhaps a prize to be pursued at the trading deadline. Some (among those, yours truly) thought he might end up with, or at least be pursued by, the Capitals. But here we are in March, and Vokoun is still a Panther, the victim of a goalie market that dried up and a contract ($6.3 million annual salary/$5.7 million cap hit) that not a lot of teams would have or could have wanted to assume, even this late in the season. As usual, Vokoun has faced a lot of rubber this season – an average of 33 shots per 60 minutes played. It has left him with an unremarkable 2.62 goals against average (27th in the league), despite being tied for 12th in save percentage (.920). Perhaps the uncertainty of where he would be strapping on his pads was in his head lately. Over Florida’s last ten games he is 1-5-1, 3.24, .905. Vokoun entered this season with a 7-13-0 record against the Caps and a 2.71 goals against average. He won both of his decisions against the Caps earlier this season (1.47, .957), including a 36-save shutout on December 9th.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Mike Santorelli

Even on a team that does not get much attention, Mike Santorelli doesn’t seem to stand out. But this season – his first with Florida after playing parts of two seasons in Nashville – he is third on the Panthers in goals (17) and tied for second in points (33). Three of those goals came at the expense of the Capitals in the three games played between the teams so far this season, two of them on power plays. He has not been as productive lately, though, with no goals in his last six games. He does have 11 goals in the 26 wins in which he participated.

Washington: Dennis Wideman

Playing your former teammates for the first time only adds to the interesting week Dennis Wideman has had. After having been set free by the Panthers for prospect Jake Hauswirth and a draft pick, Wideman has played two games for the Caps, averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time and recording a plus-2 (no points yet). He has been logging major minutes in all situations, includind 3:34 in shorthanded ice time a game and 2:41 on the power play. It is a profile he seems likely to repeat tonight. In 13 games against Florida over his career, he is 1-8-9. That power play time could be important to a team who struggles in that aspect and for a player with eight power play goals this season.


1. Play Power Play. There are two numbers that when taken together work against the Caps in this one – 97 and 92. The former represents the number of times Florida has been shorthanded at home this season. Only two teams have been shorthanded on home ice fewer times. The latter is the number of power plays the Caps have had on the road – last in the NHL. How many times the Caps go a man (or two) up could be the thing to watch for in this game…can’t score a power play goal if you don’t get the chance.

2. Lock ‘em up. No team in the NHL has allowed fewer third period goals this season than has Washington (45). The Panthers are tied for 23rd in the league in third period goals scored. If Florida scores late, it can’t be good for a team that doesn’t allow the practice, especially for a team that plays as many close games as do the Caps (35 one-goal games). Lock up the third period, get two points.

3. 60 minutes, no more. Nine of Florida’s wins this season have come in extra time. They are 17-31 in games that do not go past 60 minutes. We would just as soon not get the free hockey.

In the end, this game is troublesome. The first of a back-to-back, coming as it does before the big match-up Monday night for first place in the Southeast against Tampa Bay. Some of the players being joined by their fathers for the trip. And hey, it’s Florida…sunny Florida. There is no shortage of potential distractions.  Add to that the fact that the Panthers won two of three games in the season series so far, and this game could be trouble. If the Caps can't manage to earn themselves some power play time, this one could come down to the lunch-pail guys. Jason Chimera has five goals in ten games in his career against the Panthers (none in three games so far this season). Matt Bradley has three of his four goals on the season away from Verizon Center. If the stars will be getting the attention on Monday against the Lightning, the grinders can shine on Sunday.

Caps 4 – Panthers 2