Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 17: Capitals at Jets, November 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Get your sun screen, pack your speedos. The Caps are off to the balmy climes of Winnipeg, Manitoba (predicted temperature at game time – 18 degrees...Fahrenheit). Hopefully, the Caps can provide some warmth with a little more heat from the offense, which has been limited to 11 goals in their last five games. In none of those games did they score more than three goals.

Meanwhile, the Jets are basking in the still new-found glow of a new city with eager and adoring fans. Those fans not only had to wait 15 years for the NHL to return to Manitoba, but they have seen their Jets at MTS Centre only twice in the last three-plus weeks. Eight of their last ten games have come on the road, a seven-game road trip starting this stretch. That road trip started with what might be to date the wildest game of the year, a 9-8 win over Philadelphia. Of course, they lost their next game – in Tampa – by a 1-0 score. Over these ten games the Jets are 4-4-2, which when you think about it, is not really much different from the Caps’ 4-5-1 record over their last ten. Here is how the two teams compare to date:

(click pic for larger image)

The Jets have averaged 3.00 goals per game over their last ten games, but it has been a bumpy ride to get there. Three times they scored five or more goals in a game; twice they were shutout, and they scored only one goal against the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets (which is almost like a shutout). They have allowed 33 goals over those ten games, three times allowing five or more goals.

1. Winnipeg is 1-3-2 in their last six games, their only win a 5-2 home decision over Tampa Bay. But Tampa Bay gets scored on more often on the road than …well, insert your high school prom joke here.

2. Winnipeg is like the horse that sets the pace in a Triple Crown race. Out fast, fade late. The goals scored by period go 19-14-14. Their goals against go 16-19-22. And the Jets lost their only two games settled in overtime. Only two teams have scored more first period goals; only three have allowed more third period goals.

3. Only one team in the league has taken more minor penalties than the Jets (Philadelphia). Twelve Jets have at least ten minutes in penalties (compare that to four for the Caps). No team averages more shorthanded situations at home than does Winnipeg (5.0 occurrences per game).

4. Only three teams have a worse takeaway-to-giveaway ratio at home than the Jets (0.48:1). Only seven of 16 Jets playing in ten or more games overall have more takeaways than giveaways. Compare that to 13 of 17 Caps playing in at least ten games.

5. Once upon a time, the Caps beat up on this team. From April 5, 2009 thorough November 14, 2010, the Caps beat the Jets (then as the Atlanta Thrashers) in ten of eleven games. Since then, however, the Jets are 4-1-1, and they have shut out the Caps twice in their last three meetings, both of them on Jet/Thrasher ice.

1. From the “It’s not where you are, it’s how you get there” file… The Caps are 10-5-1 at the moment. After 16 games last year they were 12-4-0. Not a lot different. But last year the Caps were riding a six-game winning streak into Game 17 (which they lost in overtime to Buffalo). At the moment the Caps are 1-3-1 in their last five games and 3-5-1 in their last nine.

2. Winnipeg is the only team in the league against whom John Erskine has more than one goal (two).

3. After eight games the Caps had a 5-on-5 goals for-to-goals against ratio of 2.33:1. Since then the Caps have been outscored, 24-20, at even strength, and they have been outscored at even strength by 15-6 since Alex Ovechkin scored at 18:41 of the first period against the Islanders on November 5th.

4. The Caps have the best intradivisional record to date. Their 4-0-0 record against the Southeast Division is one of two unblemished records against foes in their own division, and it is one more win than Pittsburgh has (3-0-0).

5. Through 16 games no Capital forward is averaging more than 19 minutes of total ice time per game. Alex Ovechkin leads the team’s forwards with 18:45 per game. No Cap forward having played in ten or more games is averaging less than ten minutes per game.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Ondrej Pavelec

Ondrej Pavelec has had a very uneven career record against the Caps. Overall he is 4-8-0, 2.99, .911. However, in his last three appearances against Washington he stopped 110 of 111 shots (.991) and won all three decisions. But he is currently on a 1-3-2 skid (3.32, .890). The Jets are 3-9-3 when they score three or fewer goals. They are not getting any games from their goaltenders in which the netminder steals a win in a close, low scoring affair. The Caps have only 11 goals in their last five games. And it is not as if Pavelec hasn’t been successful against this team recently. As he goes, so will the Jets.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom is in uncharted territory in the young season. He is on a two-game streak without a point. And, among the other four teams in the Southeast Division, Winnipeg is the only one against which he is averaging less than a point per game for his career (24 points in 26 games). If he breaks through, it would seem likely he would do it himself instead of setting up a teammate. His eight career goals against the Jets are the most he has against any single team except Carolina.


1. It’s three periods…three. As noted, the Jets are not a third period team when it comes to scoring. In their last five losses the Caps have allowed 12 third period goals, four times allowing three goals in the final frame. If the Jets punch through late, the Caps have real problems.

2. Unleash the Russian Machine. Alex Ovechkin is in the same uncharted territory in which Backstrom finds himself at the moment – a two-game streak without a point, his first this season (you’d hardly know that from the ink he gets). And this is the team tailor-made for him to bust out. The Jets are not an especially good defensive team, they are getting inconsistent goaltending, and the Jets are the only team in the league against which Ovechkin has at least 30 career goals (in 42 career games). If not now, when?

3. No Peeking Past the 'Peg. The Caps might be in Winnipeg, but they might be thinking of a Hockey Night in Canada date with Toronto on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. The Caps have been guilty of at least the appearance of doing that sort of thing a few times this year… a 6-5 Gimmick win over Tampa Bay before a visit to Pittsburgh, a 2-1 loss to Edmonton before a visit to Vancouver, a 5-3 loss to the Islanders before hosting Dallas. In two of those three games they allowed multiple goals in the third period (two to Tampa Bay, three to the Islanders).

In the end, let’s go back to the tale o’ the tape. The Caps have a better record, better offense, better defense, better 5-on-5 results, better power play, better penalty kill, and they are healthier, even on the blue line where Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones, and Derek Meech are on injured reserve, and Brett Festerling is questionable. The Caps can, should, and really ought to make the competitive portion of this game short and ugly for the home team. But how has that logic worked out so far this season?

Caps 3 – Jets 2

A NO-point night -- Game 16: Predators 3 - Capitals 1

He might not be worth seven million dollars a year…

..then again, maybe he is.

Pekka Rinne showed why he is in the top tier of goaltenders in the NHL, stopping 39 of 40 shots—17 of them coming in the third period – as the Nashville Predators sent the Washington Capitals to their second straight loss and fourth in five games, 3-1, in Nashville.

For 55 minutes it was a battle of goaltenders, with the Caps’ Tomas Vokoun matching Rinne save for save. But at the 15:14 mark of the third period it was Washington that broke through, Troy Brouwer taking a centering pass from Marcus Johansson and snapping the puck off the post and in behind Rinne. The Caps caught the Predators on a line change, and Brouwer used forward Mike Fisher – who had just jumped on – as a screen for his shot.

But the critical sequence took place on the dreaded “next shift.” That’s the one folks say you can’t let the other team score on, but that is what Nashville did, Martin Erat redirecting a crossing pass from Shea Weber for the tying goal 28 seconds after the Caps scored. It was a case of Erat being lost by the defenseman on the weak side – John Carlson – and having a clear path to the open area to Vokoun’s right. He had only to get his stick blade on the puck coming across, and the momentum the Caps might have had from the first goal scored with under five minutes left was thwarted.

Nashville got the tie breaker on a defensive breakdown low in the Caps’ zone. Defensemen Dennis Wideman and John Erskine got caught, not only on the same side of the ice – to Vokoun’s right – but were caught outside the faceoff dots pursuing the puck carrier, Colin Wilson. Circling out from the boards, Wilson sent the puck deep to Martin Erat, who had no defender on him as he collected the puck to Vokoun’s right. Wideman managed to scramble to the front of the net, but Erskine was on his knee at the dot in the faceoff circle from trying to block Wilson’s shot/pass. Wilson darted to the net, and with Wideman charging toward Erat to defend against a scoring chance, there was nothing but open ice in front of him. It was left for Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble to try to close the distance, but Wilson had the advantage. Erat slid the puck into space in front of the Caps’ net, and Wilson batted it in as he was being hauled down. The Preds had their first, last, and the only lead they needed, 2-1, with 25 seconds left.

Shea Weber drove the last nail in with an empty net goal five seconds later, and that was that. It was the Caps leaving the ice with their fourth loss in their last five games.

Other stuff…

-- Another game, another goose egg posted by the Nashville defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. That’s nine games in a row since those two were on the ice at the same time for an opponent’s goal. Each was a plus-3 for the evening.

-- The first line was the victim of that Suter-Weber-Rinne blanket. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer had a total of ten shot attempts as a line (Brouwer scored when he was on ice with Cody Eakin and Marcus Johansson; Kevin Kline and Francis Bouillon were the defensemen of record). The top line had only five shots on goal, Ovechkin recording four of them.

-- If Weber and Suter could be deployed against the first line, then the second line has to take advantage. In those instances, the emphasis is more on Rinne being able to turn away shots without that top-end defensive deployment in front of him. Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Alexander Semin had 14 shots on goal, more than a third of the Caps’ total for the game. Semin had ten shot attempts. The Caps had their chances, and if anything, here is where the game was won by Nashville and by Rinne in particular.

-- The power play is once more a problem. The Caps had three last night – a 5-on-4, a 5-on-3, and a 4-on-3 – and managed to record only three shots in 4:00 of power play time.  That makes 0-for-12 in their last three games.

-- In failing to register a point, Nicklas Backstrom has gone without a point in consecutive games for the first time this season. And it is more than a little disturbing to now find Backstrom (minus-3), Ovechkin (minus-3), Semin (minus-2), and Laich (minus-2) all on the minus side of the ledger for the season.

-- The Caps were 18-for-29 on faceoffs in the offensive end (62.1 percent). If anything, this should have placed even more pressure on the Nashville defense. It just added to the offensive frustration for the Caps in this one.

-- What a difference a moment makes. That moment came before Colin Wilson’s game-winning goal when Mike Knuble almost drove a stake into the heart of the Predators. Jason Chimera was at the left wing boards, where he spun and fired the puck at the net. Knuble stepped around the post inside defenseman Kevin Kline with the puck headed to the net. With Mike Fisher draped all over him, Knuble tried mightily to stuff the puck under Pekka Rinne, but was foiled. Nine second later, it was Nashville that got the game-winner.

-- Cody Eakin recorded an assist on the Brouwer goal. That’s four points in six games and a plus-4. It is a small number of games to evaluate performance, but he might make it hard to return him to Hershey.

-- Lost in all of this is that Tomas Vokoun did his part to keep the Caps in it. Even the two goals he allowed late were products of breakdowns in front of him. He stopped 60 of 63 shots in his last two games (.952 save percentage). He seems to have put his rough stretch behind him.

-- The Caps allowed the game-winning goal at 19:35 and an empty netter at 19:40 in the third period of this one. They allowed the game-winner at 18:14 and an empty netter at 18:59 in the third period against the Islanders. This is not a habit to get into.

In the end, everyone knew this would be a tough, close to the vest game. It is what Nashville does, especially when the trio of Rinne, Weber, and Suter are playing at the top of their games. But the Caps are now 1-3-1 in their last five games scoring three or fewer goals. These are games they need to get the late goal and the empty netter…or have that stuff attempt by Knuble go in…or get something out of the second line when the big defensive assets are being deployed against the top line by the opponent.

They didn’t get the goal. Nashville did. And before you know it, it starts to have the faint whiff of last December. Four losses in five games and two road games in Canada coming up. It doesn’t get easier.