Saturday, November 05, 2011

A NO-point night -- Game 12: Islanders 5 - Capitals 3

OK, Caps fans…you don’t need us telling you that tonight was bad…bad, bad, bad. Giving up five goals is not something a team should do under normal circumstances. But to do it against a team that scored a total of five goals in their last 271 minutes and change of hockey?

That’s what happened to the Capitals tonight as they blew a two-goal lead and lost to the New York Islanders, 5-3, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It looked like just another night and just another win for the Caps early on when they got goals early (from Joel Ward at 5:24) and late (from Alex Ovechkin at 18:41) in the first period to take a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

But in the second period, the Caps were let down by the unlikeliest of players. The Islanders scored early (from Franz Nielsen at 1:41) and late (from Brian Rolston at 16:55) in the second on shots that Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun would normally gobble up like a bag of potato chips. Having skated the night before, allowing the Islanders to tie the game before the second intermission put the Caps in the difficult position of trying to win a third period of hockey after already skating 100 minutes in about 24 hours.

It made getting that third goal important, and it was the Islanders who got it. Matt Martin put the Islanders ahead 6:28 into the third. Brooks Laich would get it back and re-tie the game with a power play goal a little less than three minutes after the Martin tally. But P.A. Parenteau put the Isles ahead one last time with 1:46 left with a diving poke-in of a puck that slithered through Vokoun’s pads after Milan Jurcina took the original shot. John Tavares added an empty-netter, and the two-game winning streak for the Caps and the six-game losing streak for the Isles were over.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps came into this game with an 11-0-3 record against the Islanders in their last 14 meetings. The Caps had not lost to the Islanders in regulation since dropping a 5-2 decision on October 18, 2007. They had not lost in regulation on Long Island since dropping another 5-2 decision on March 10, 2007. That makes this the first time Bruce Boudreau lost to the Islanders in regulation time in his tenure as Caps head coach.

-- From the “this is disturbing” file… the Caps have now allowed four or more goals in three of their last four games, losing two and getting one of the wins in overtime in a game they had no business winning (the November 1st game against Anaheim, won in overtime by a 5-4 score).

-- This was the first time this season the Caps allowed an opponent fewer than five power play opportunities and lost the game. The Islanders were 0-for-2 with the man advantage.

-- On the other side, the Caps technically had three power plays  There was a five minute power play that became two when the Caps took an intervening penalty. On the shot, one goal. A nifty roof job from the middle of the left wing circle by Brooks Laich.

-- Coming into this game the Caps were ranked second in the league at 5-on-5. The Isles were 30th. New York outscored the Caps 4-2 at 5-on-5 (5-2, if you count the empty netter). Go figure.

-- With two third period goals allowed tonight, that’s six third period goals in the last four games allowed by the Caps. Not what you want to see from a team trying to shut things down and lock things up.

-- Josh Bailey was on the ice for the Islanders’ third goal. It was the first time the Islanders scored this season with Bailey on the ice.

-- Dennis Wideman had his plus-minus halved tonight, from plus-8 to plus-4. He was on the ice for the last four Islander goals.

-- When is zero an odd number? When it refers to the number of hits credited to Alex Ovechkin. He is on a pace to record about half as many hits (123) as he had last season (241). One hopes the result will be less wear and tear on his body.

-- Another odd number?...20. This was the first time in four games that Tomas Vokoun faced more than 20 shots on goal. He stopped 17 of 19 in a loss to Edmonton and 11 of 15 in a win over Anaheim. He stopped 14 of 17 in only 20 minutes in a 7-4 loss to Vancouver. Over these last four games Vokoun is 1-2-1, 3.89, .847. He wasn’t good tonight, but in point of fact he’s been in something of a slump for a little while now.

-- Alexander Semin is now 0-for-16 shooting over his last seven-plus games, going back to his goal against Florida at 1:49 of the third period in a 3-0 win.

-- The third line had two of the Caps’ three goals tonight, but not as the third line. Brooks Laich scored on a power play with Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin the forwards (Laich played the left point); Joel Ward scored with Jason Chimera and Jeff Halpern on his line.

-- An indirect indicator of the effects of playing a second game in two nights…the Islanders only had 20 of 55 shot attempts not get through (14 blocked, six misses). The Caps weren’t getting in the Islanders’ way quickly enough.

-- Deuces are certainly wild for Nicklas Backstrom. With two assists, he posted his fourth straight two-point game and made it his eighth two-point game of the season. He has been held off the score sheet only twice in 12 games.

In the end, this game does not, by itself, mean a great deal. Games like this will happen a few times – even to the best of teams – a few times a year. But it is part of a larger piece, that the Caps are not playing all that well in spite of their record. In the five games since the 7-1 win over Detroit, consider…

…They have allowed 19 goals (3.80/game)
…They have allowed 19 goals on 137 shots (a .861 save percentage for the goalies)
…They are 3-for-17 on the power play (17.7 percent), which isn’t bad, except…
… They have allowed five power play goals in 20 chances (75 percent PK), so they’re minus-2 on special teams.

They are and have been leaky over the last two weeks from the goaltender out. And that is something that isn’t just what happened to Tomas Vokoun tonight. It’s been going on for a while now. And it needs to stop.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 12: Capitals at Islanders, November 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps finish up another two-game mini-trip with the second half of a back-to-back set of games, this one against the New York Islanders in the ancient confines of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a building that seems to have been imported concrete block by concrete block from the school of Soviet architecture, circa 1962.

Its days as “Fort Neverlose” a relic of the dim past, the Coliseum is now home to a team that has not finished above .500 in the last five years, hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since 2007, and hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993. Since winning their fourth Stanley Cup in 1983, the Isles are 881-1025 with an additional 194 ties and 76 overtime losses.

This edition of the Islanders got off to a nice start, winning three of their first four games with excellent goaltending from Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. The nice start masked some serious problems, though, most notably that they couldn’t find the opponent’s net with a map, a flashlight, and a blinking neon sign over it saying “SHOOT THE PUCK HERE.” The Isles have lost their last six games (0-4-2), have not scored more than two goals in any of those games, and have been shut out twice in their last four games.

On top of all that, a proposal to replace the Nassau Coliseum was rejected by Nassau County voters in August, introducing a murkiness with respect to their future on Long Island. For what they have endured over the past quarter century, Islander fans need not be pitied – they have the memories of those four Stanley Cups – but they certainly deserve respect for sticking with a team that seems intent on making the hockey “experience” as gruesome as possible. Here is how the two teams stack up heading into this game…

(click on pic for larger image)

1. John Tavares has seven goals; the rest of the team has 11. The Isles have only four players with more than two even strength goals, and Tavares is the only one with as many as three. The trouble is Tavares had five goals in his first four games, only two in six games since. The Islanders have a total of 11 even strength goals in ten games, only two in their last five games. By way of comparison, the Caps have 31 even strength goals. No Islander team in 39 seasons has scored fewer goals through ten games than this one. No team this season has been shut out more often.

2. If nothing else, the Islanders are disciplined. They are averaging only 9.9 minutes of penalty minutes per game (ranked sixth) and have taken only 40 minor penalties (ranked fourth).

3. The Islanders rank dead last in the league in hits (they rank dead last in a number of things, it seems) with 189, and Matt Martin has 49 of them. Think that’s a lot? Well, yeah, when you consider that the Caps’ biggest hitter so far – Troy Brouwer, a player known for that aspect of the game – has 43. The flip side of that is that the other 19 skaters to have taken the ice for the Islanders so far this season have a total of 140 hits (about seven per player).

4. It hardly seems to matter for the Islanders whether they put up a lot of shots or struggle to get shots on goal. In five games they recorded more than 30 shots and in those games scored a total of 11 goals (nine of them coming in two of those games). In three games they were held to fewer than 20 shots on goal and scored a total of five goals. They have been outscored 19-7 on their current 0-4-2 run.

5. Josh Bailey is one of the young Islanders (22 years old) considered to have promise with this team. In his first three years he averaged 11 goals and 29 points. Not bad for a youngster on a team trying to get its footing with a lot of young players. But here is a shocking number concerning Bailey – zero. He has been on ice for 138 minutes so far this season and has not been on ice for any goal scored by the Islanders.

1. The Caps have 17 different goal scorers, most in the NHL so far. But they have no player with more than five, which speaks to the balance through the roster as far as goal-scoring.

2. Last season the Caps had a troubling tendency to fall behind in games, allowing the first goal in 47 of 82 games. They are up to their old hijinks. Seven times in 11 games the Caps allowed the first goal, posting a record of 6-1-0 in those games. They come into this game having allowed the first goal in their last three games.

3. Something to watch for…if the fourth line for the Caps is Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mike Knuble, that trio is a combined 20-27-47 over their respective careers against the Islanders spanning 101 man games. And Halpern and Knuble account for 19 of the goals in 96 career games. Not bad for a “fourth line.”

4. Only two teams have scored more third period goals than have the Caps so far (17), and those teams – Ottawa and Philadelphia – have played more games (14 and 13, respectively, compared to the Caps’ 11).

5. All or nothing. The Caps have nine wins so far this season, and they have been either nail-biters or blowouts. Five one-goal wins, four wins of three or more goals. No team has as many three-plus goal wins.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

New York: Kyle Okposo

Another Islander with the shocking number of “zero” – goals, that is. Kyle Okposo has skated more than 161 minutes in ten games and has yet to record a goal. He missed 44 games last year after shoulder surgery, and he clearly is not yet right. He finished last season with five goals in 38 games and has that goose egg so far this season. He hasn’t had a goal in his last 18 games and has one in his last 27. The injury serves as a bright line for Okposo in this respect. In 154 career games before the injury he scored 39 goals and averaged 2.79 shots per game. Since the injury he has five goals in 48 games and averaged 1.92 shots per game (2.00 per game so far this season). If he is going to break out, it could be against the Caps. He has five goals in eight career games against Washington.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera doesn’t have the highest career scoring total among Capitals against this team, but he does have five goals in 12 career games against the Islanders. Chimera started fast with four goals in his first five games, but the red light has remained dark for him over his last six games (he does have three assists in his last four games). There is a Jekyll and Hyde character to his game so far. At home he is 4-2-6, plus-7 in six games. On the road he is 0-1-1, minus-1 in five games.


1. It’s not first to “one.” The Islanders have played teams close in the first 20 minutes, scoring first in five of ten games and outscoring teams 9-8 in the first period. But in the last 40 minutes of games the Islanders have scored a total of nine goals. The Caps have scored 30 goals in the last 40 minutes of games. In this six-game losing streak the Islanders have one third period goal. The Caps have allowed only 16 goals in the last 40 minutes of their 11 games so far.

2. Don’t be stupid. Only twice in ten games have the Islanders had the pleasure of five or more power plays. Only one team has had fewer power play chances. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the Islanders have had a lack of chances (and, by extension, lack of production) on the power play and find themselves in 14th place spot in the East. Stay out of the box.

3. Watch the undercard. For the Islanders at the moment, the “undercard” is pretty much anyone not named “Tavares.” John Tavares has had a hand in 11 of the 18 goals the Islanders have scored, meaning that the other 17 skaters, whoever they might be, have displayed little offensive threat. That makes it important that the Caps clamp down even harder on that group. Tavares might get a point or two, but he can’t beat the Caps by himself.

In the end, not even the fact that this is the second of a road-road, back-to-back set of games provides an excuse for the Caps dropping a decision to the Islanders. The Caps – 11-0-3 in their last 14 games against the Islanders dating back to December 2007 – are facing a team not playing well on offense, and its defense and goaltending (allowing three or more goals in five of the last six games) has not been enough to stem the tide of losing. The Caps made their life a bit easier by putting the Friday night game against Carolina away early in the third period, allowing them to distribute ice time more evenly and keep players fresh. That should be more than enough to add a seventh straight loss to the Islanders’ current streak.

Caps 5 – Islanders 2

A TWO-point night -- Game 11: Capitals 5 - Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals spotted the Carolina Hurricanes a first period goal, then roared back in the final 40 minutes with five of the own to beat the host team, 5-1, on Friday. A game that started in shaky fashion – Carolina scored just 3:26 into the game – ended with the Caps having their best 11-game start ever at 9-2-0.

Stuff, stuff, and more stuff…

-- Jeff Halpern, John Carlson, and Cody Eakin each scored their first goals of the season. That makes 17 Caps with goals, the most goal-scorers on any team in the league at the moment.

-- When Carolina scored on their fourth shot of the game at 3:26 of the first period, it looked as if the Caps might sleep walk their way through this one. But Michal Neuvirth slammed the door, turning away the last 21 shots he faced. But give the Caps some credit for waking up and denying Carolina good chances in front of Neuvirth.

-- The Caps did get off lucky in one respect. Jeff Skinner knocked in a loose puck in the second period that would have tied the game, but it was waved off. It was a case of the referee being on the other side of the ice from the puck, which was laying just outside the goal line to Neuvirth’s left. It was a call the referee had to make, having lost sight of the puck and thinking Neuvirth had it smothered. But it was the wrong call. It was a loose puck, and Skinner should have had a goal, even if he whacked it in an instant after the whistle sounded. It happens.

-- As much as what the Caps did, it was what the Hurricanes didn’t do. For example, you probably didn’t want to be Jamie McBain after this game. The Carolina defenseman was on the ice for four of the Caps’ five goals, and he had a close-up look at every one of them. He was late covering Jeff Halpern on the first one, managing only to hook Halpern’s ankle as the Caps forward was batting in a rebound. He was beaten by Marcus Johansson along the boards before Johansson flipped a saucer pass to Troy Brouwer for the second goal. He was the only defender back on a 2-on-1, not really deciding which Cap to defend, when Cody Eakin popped in his first NHL goal. And it was he that Nicklas Backstrom snuck behind to collect an Alex Ovechkin pass to notch the last goal of the evening. It was a brutal game for McBain.

-- Then there was Eric Staal. It was another in a series of rough games for the eldest Staal brother. He was on ice for the tying and winning goals, giving him a minus-2 and making him minus-14 in 13 games (that’s a minus-88 pace, Bill Mikkelson fans). He had one shot on goal, one shot attempt, and little else in almost 21 minutes. At least he was .500 on draws (9-for-18).

-- But as for what the Caps did, they had ten different players with points, five different goal-scorers. They scored on five of their last 16 shots on goal.

-- Four was the magic number again. When the Caps allow four or fewer power play opportunities, they win. They allowed only four in this game (no goals) to go 8-0-0 when allowing four or fewer man advantages to the opponent.

-- Coming into this game, Alex Ovechkin scored all five of his goals on the road, all five of his assists at home. He finished the night with two assists to end that odd symmetry.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give him 16 points on the season. He is now tied for third in the league in scoring.

-- The Caps have had good ice time balance recently, tending toward keeping all their forwards between 10 and 20 minutes of ice time. Cody Eakin only got 8:45 in this game, but it was not a product of poor play as much as the fact that the Caps had to kill three penalties and had a power play of their own in the second period. Eakin does not, at this early stage of his career, skate on special teams, so he was held to only two shifts in that second period.

-- Baby steps. Carolina came into this game with a team faceoff winning percentage only one tenth of one percent better than the Caps. Washington “held” the Hurricanes even in the circle, winning 29 draws and losing 29. Nicklas Backstrom (9-for-14) and Brooks Laich (6-for-11) both finished over 50 percent.

-- Tales of Strange Official Scoring. Carolina…27 hits. Washington…6 hits. Really? Alexei Ponikarovsky…7 hits by himself. Really?

-- If anything, this game could have been uglier for the Hurricanes if either of the Alexes had shot with better luck. Ovechkin had ten shot attempts, five of them blocked (three by defenseman Bryan Allen). Semin had five shots on goal among his eight shot attempts. Semin did have four takeaways.

-- Mathieu Perreault sat tonight for the Caps, and it got us to thinking after Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern teamed up for the first Caps goal. If Knuble (39 years old) and Halpern (35) had skated with Perreault (23), would it be the “Two and a Half Men” line?... quiet, Kanoobie.

In the end, the Caps started sluggishly, but the power play at the end of the first period energized them. The Caps had eight shot attempts on that power play in the last 1:24 of the period (five on goal). It served as a springboard to get them skating, shooting, and scoring in the last 40 minutes. And at the other end, Michal Neuvirth shook off whatever rust remained from his long layoff to look sharp in turning away those last 21 shots he faced after Carolina scored a goal on a tip-in (and that being more a product of Jeff Schultz not tying up Anthony Stewart’s stick to keep him from deflecting the puck over Neuvirth).

It wasn’t the best the Caps have looked through 11 games, but the result was a balanced, workmanlike, “taking care of business” sort of win. And to say that in a game in which the Caps scored five goals and won by four going away, that’s something.