Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Capitals at Panthers, December 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take The Dale Hunter Show on the road for the first time this week, heading off to Florida to visit the Panthers before traveling to Ottawa on Wednesday. It marks the second time the teams have met so far this season, the first being Tomas Vokoun’s first shutout as a Cap, the winning goaltender in a 3-0 win. In that…

“Hey cuz.”

Cheerless, what do you have there?

“Somethin’ called the “Media Guide.’”

An interesting tome.


Never mind…what are you looking at?

“The new coach, Dale Hunter. I thought he was this goon who beat up on fish.”

Goon who beat up on fish?

"Yeah, he seems to be really mad at sturgeons. I read somewhere he cheapshotted one."

No, not ‘sturgeon’…’Turgeon.’ He was suspended once for a late hit on Pierre Turgeon in a playoff game.

"So, he likes fish?"

Can’t say, but what is it you found?

“He was a purdy good offensive player. He’s ranked up there in a lot of stuff for the Caps.”

Such as…


Games played: 4th (872)
Goals: T-9th (181)
Assists: 3rd (375)
Points: 5th (556)
Penalty Minutes: 1st (2,003)
Power Play Goals: 4th (72)
Games Played, season: T-1st (84)
Assists, season: T-9th (59)
Penalty Minutes, season: 10th (238)
Games, playoffs: 1st (100)
Goals, playoffs: T-2nd (25)
Assists, playoffs: 1st (47)
Points, playoffs: 1st (72)
Penalty Minutes, playoffs: 1st (372)
Power Play Goals, playoffs: 2nd (11)

He has one of only seven playoff hat tricks in Capitals history, and he scored at least 20 goals in nine of his first 13 seasons in the NHL.”

You’ve done your research, Cheerless.

“Just one thing, cuz. This is a ‘media’ guide, right?”

Yes, it is.

“Does it come in a ‘large?’”

Large is how the Florida Panthers are living at the moment, occupying the top spot in the Southeast Division for the first time since Ponce de Leon first set foot on the peninsula in 1513. It is not as if the Panthers have done it with streaks of inspired play. They have one three-game winning streak so far this season. But by the same token, they have not had much in the way of losing streaks. Only once this season have they gone consecutive games without earning a standings point, losing a pair of shutouts in succession to the Caps and Buffalo in mid-October. Since putting together their only three-game winning streak of the season, the Panthers are 2-2-1. Here is how the two teams compare…

(click pic for larger image)

What Florida is going to enjoy in this one is getting back home. The Panthers are returning home after splitting four games on the road. On their last home stand they were 3-0-1. Meanwhile, the Caps have lost their last four road games, getting outscored in them by a 19-4 margin.

1. Who’s Hot… Tomas Fleischmann, that’s who. The former Cap has gone consecutive games without a point only once so far this season, that coming October 18/20 against Washington and Buffalo, games in which no Panther scored. Since then he is 11-13-24, plus-13 in 20 games. He is coming off a three-point effort (1-2-3) against San Jose in a 5-3 win.

2. Who’s Not… Marco Sturm. Another former Cap, Sturm was traded to Florida as part of the deal that sent David Booth to Vancouver in October. Since arriving in Florida, Sturm is 2-1-3, minus-4 in 19 games, and that includes his getting a goal in the Panthers’ last game, the 5-3 win over San Jose. It is an improvement over his short stay in Vancouver, though, where he was 0-0-0, minus-5 in six games. In his last 60 games over the last two seasons Sturm is 7-12-19, minus-3. This after recording at least 20 goals in six of seven seasons. He seems still to have difficulty in his coming back from knee injuries.

3. Jason Garrison started the season with eight goals in 21 games from the blue line (half of them on the power play). Although he still leads all NHL defensemen in goals scored, he is now on a five-game streak without a point. He is still waiting on his first goal against the Caps. In eight career games he has but a single assist.

4. However Florida is doing it, they are not doing it by being an especially physical team, especially at home. They are 25th in hits at home, 27th in blocked shots. No team has fewer minor penalties overall, and even though the Panthers have 11 fighting majors, Matt Bradley – who has four of them – is reported out for this game.

5. Jose Theodore – yet another former Cap – was described by Head Coach Kevin Dineen as being “stinky” and “brutal.” Well, not lately. His 10-5-3 win-loss record is fine enough, but if he was to finish this season with his current 2.28 goals-against average, it would be his lowest since the 2003-2004 season. And his .924 save percentage would be his lowest since his Hart Trophy-winning year of 2001-2002. He has not allowed more than three goals in 15 consecutive appearances, and in his last four he is 2-1-1, 1.49, .942.

1. Tomas Vokoun has just recently shaken a slump in which he allowed at least three goals in four consecutive appearances and seven of ten (including a 41 second “appearance” against Winnipeg), but even after all that he is wedged between Pekka Rinne (2.57) and Ryan Miller (2.78) in the NHL goals-against rankings (2.72). He is 2-2-2, 2.23, .915 in six career appearances against Florida, including a 3-0 shutout in the first meeting of the teams in October.

2. Think 5-on-5 matters? The Caps have fallen to 21st in that statistic, leaving them as the lowest ranked team in the top-eight of their conferences in that stat.

3. The Caps rank 25th in the league in the “ecstasy index” (power play conversion rate plus penalty killing conversion rate). That would be bad, but there are still three playoff-eligible teams with worse numbers (San Jose, Chicago, St. Louis).

4. No team has more wins in extra time so far this season than the Caps. Washington is 5-0 in overtime, and they are 1-1 in the Gimmick. The five wins they have in the hockey portion of overtime leads the league outright. Only one of the extra time games has come on the road, however (an overtime win at Pittsburgh).

5. Washington has been credited with 422 hits in 14 home games (third in the league in total, and average of 30.1/game), only 165 on the road (29th, 15.0/game).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Stephen Weiss

In 43 career games against the Caps, Stephen Weiss has 11 goals and 25 assists. Five goals and 14 assists have come on power plays. The Panthers are 3-for-12 in their last three games on the power play, Weiss getting one of them in the 5-2 win over San Jose on Saturday. The Caps are 10-for-10 in penalty killing over their last four games. Irresistable force, or immovable object?

Washington: Mike Knuble

Mike Knuble has been the good soldier toiling on the fourth line more often than not these days, but his production is not that of a player who has adapted to that role. He does not have a point in his last 14 games and does not have a goal in his last 16 contests (0-for-26 shooting). He is a minus-6 in his last eight games. If he is going to reverse that curse, this could be the team against which he does it. Knuble is 16-19-35, plus-15 in 53 career games against the Panthers, 6-8-14, plus-9 in 12 games with the Caps.


1. Hit ‘em again, hit ‘em again, harder, harder. If Florida is not going to be a particularly physical team, then be one against them. This is another in a series of games in which the Caps are trying to improve and perfect an aggressive approach in the offensive zone when the other team has or is in pursuit of the puck. The Caps seem to have played a little more passively on the road, but we’ll see how that goes under a new regime.

2. Don’t be short in the middle. Only three teams in the league have faced more shorthanded situations in the second period than Washington (41). Florida is ninth in the league in power plays received in the second period of games this season (37). If the Caps can get through that unscathed, they have a considerable advantage in the third period with only 16 shorthanded situations faced, lowest number in the league.

3. First things first. In 11 home games so far this season Florida has five wins. In four of them they scored a goal in the first period. In the six losses the Panthers were shut out in the first period four times.

In the end, we will get what might be the first measuring stick against which to assess the Caps’ progress under their new coach. It is one thing to make improvements at home when you have the crowd and the advantages of home ice in the rules to benefit a team. It is another when you go on the road for the first time implementing new schemes in hostile arenas and not having the benefit of getting the line matchups a team might like. Compounding things for the Caps is that ghastly record over the last four road games – 0-4-0 and outscored 19-4. That this test would come against Florida – Southeast Division-leading Florida – is a signal that this season is strange and is a caution that nothing, not even regular season success, can be taken for granted.

In a way, the season starts now with the Caps in a position to impose order once more in the Southeast and to start their climb back through the standings.

Caps 4 – Panthers 2

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 8 (November 27 - December 3)

Week Eight is “Week One”…of the Dale Hunter era behind the Caps’ bench, that is. It did not have an auspicious start, but it had a satisfying and perhaps encouraging end.

Record for the week: 1-2-0

Last week we said that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Last week the Caps started fast – two wins – but finished poorly. This week, the Caps continued their misfortunes with a pair of losses – their second four-game losing streak in three weeks – but finished with a dramatic 3-2 overtime win against Ottawa on Saturday. Nevertheless, it is the third week in a row the Caps finished without a winning record, and the team finds itself clinging to the eighth and last playoff position in the East.

Offense: 1.67/game (season: 2.96/game, rank: 8th)

Five goals in three games for the week means the Caps dropped four places in the league scoring rankings. And the scarcity in scoring was matched only by the odd nature of it. One would not expect Nicklas Backstrom to lead the team in goals for the week (two) without an assist or Alex Ovechkin to lead in assists (two) without a goal. Although the Caps did not have many goals, they had balance. Four different players had goals, ten had points. Among them were Karl Alzner and goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and this might be the only time this season that pair will find themselves recording a point in the same week. But five goals every three games is not going to win a lot of games.

Defense: 2.00 goals/game (season: 3.12, rank: 25th)

Last week: awful. This week: better. Pretty good, in fact. It is the best three-game stretch of goals allowed (six) since the three games that ended with a 2-1 loss to Edmonton on October 27th (five). There are things that might need some further tweaking, though. One, the Caps gave up leads in two of the three games this week (St. Louis and Ottawa). Second, they allowed goals in the third period of two of the three games this week, one a game-winner for the opponent, the other a game-tying goal. There is also the matter of allowing at least 30 shots in all three games, the first time the Caps did that since a three-game stretch ending on November 11th. It is only the second time this season the Caps have had such a streak.

Goaltending: 2.03/.939

A pretty good week for the Tomas Vokoun/Michal Neuvirth pair. But it was a strange week here, too. Tomas Vokoun stopped 61 of 65 shots in two games (.939), yet he lost both games. Since the Caps’ seven-game winning streak to open the season ended, Vokoun has allowed two or fewer goals in five games in which he played the entire contest. He lost four of them, including his last three. He did not allow a power play goal this week. That makes five appearances in a row and nine of his last ten that he did not allow a power play score (he’s allowed more shorthanded goals – three – than power play goals – one – in that span; none of either category this week).

Meanwhile, Neuvirth allowed two goals on 34 shots in his only appearance of the week. It was his first win this season against a team not named “Carolina” and his first since beating Carolina 5-1 on November 4th. The win over Ottawa having come in overtime this week, Neuvirth still has only one win this season in regulation, that win on November 4th (of course, he has only three wins of any variety so far). In giving up the two goals, it was the first time he allowed fewer than three since November 12th, although he had only three appearances since then until Saturday’s game.

Power Play: 0-for-7/0.0 percent (season: 15.0%, rank: 21st)

The Caps are in quite a rut on their power play. With no goals in three games this week they are without one in each of their last four contests, 2-for-45 in their last dozen games (4.4 percent). It got so bad that Jason Chimera, who until last night had a total of 7:18 in power play time for the previous 24 games, had 4:11 on Saturday against Ottawa out of a total of 8:00 for the Caps. Of the “big three” of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom, Semin is the only one who has scored a power play goal since November 1st (one, on November 8th against Dallas), and he sat out Saturday’s game. Mike Green, who has less than eight minutes of ice time since October 22nd, is still tied for the team lead in power play goals (three).

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8/100.0 percent (season: 81.8%, rank:19th)

A good week for the PK’ers. Part of it was having to defend only eight power plays in three games, but this has been a “trending up” facet of the club since it was torched for three on five chances by Toronto on November 19th. Since then the Caps are 17-for-18 on the penalty kill over seven games. Last week they did an especially good job against Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Against the Penguins the Caps allowed five power play shots on goal, three of them from Evgeni Malkin. But Malkin hasn’t been an especially prolific power play performer over the last couple of seasons. Against Ottawa the Caps allowed four shots by the Senators on their only power play, but all of them came from defensemen.

Paying the Price: 99 hits/who knows how many blocked shots since has no record of the Caps and St. Louis having played (season rank: 10th/20th)

The story of this week was hits (even with the absence of record of the St. Louis game). Getting 99 in three games (33 per game) after recording 130 the week before (32.5 per game) meant that there was something the Caps wanted to do with some enthusiasm (or at least get scored with enthusiasm). Almost half of them came from three forwards. Jason Chimera had 11, Troy Brouwer had 13, and Alex Ovechkin led the team for the week with 16, ten of them in the 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh. Somehow, though, getting 29 hits, 12 shots on goal, and one goal from two thirds of the top line (Ovechkin and Brouwer) is not the kind of outcome folks are looking for.

Faceoffs: 89-for-154/57.8 percent (season: 51.1 percent, rank:T-9th)

The Caps won the week, and it was largely due to winning 37 of 54 against Pittsburgh. But in winning the battle, they lost the larger war in that game, getting only eight faceoffs in the Penguins end that night (Brooks Laich had six of them) while taking 24 in the defensive zone. The unfortunate thing about that is that the Caps won all eight draws in the Penguins’ end. Had they taken a few more draws in that end, gotten a few more opportunities with possession... Well, if wishes were nickels, I could buy a lot of pickles.

Turnovers: uh…

Not having the results of the St. Louis game, the Caps lost each of the last two games of the week, going minus-4 (minus-2 in each of them). It was quite an improvement over the minus-28 of Week 7, though. One thing that did not look too good, though, was that 16 of the 24 giveaways in the last two games of the week came from defensemen/goaltenders. That last line of defense thing and all that.


With the 3-2 overtime win over Ottawa to end the week, the Caps might have stopped the bleeding that came with having gone 3-9-1 in their previous 13 games. Of course, if the Caps had lost in overtime on Saturday, we would be talking about how the Caps lost after giving up a tying goal late in regulation and how the team is marching toward a season of oblivion. That is often the thin margin separating success and failure in the NHL, and the fact is that the Caps came off the precipice, at least for one game.

But this is still a team that is struggling to find its way offensively. On one hand, the Caps had ten different skaters finish with points. On the other hand, no Cap finished the week with more than two points (Backstrom, 2-0-2; Ovechkin, 0-2-2; Laich, 1-1-2; Chimera, 1-1-2). In the game against Ottawa on Saturday the Caps scored all three goals off rushes, usually with the Caps having an advantage of numbers as they were creating opportunities in the Ottawa zone. It is something to build on, which is more than we could say at this time last week.

Three Stars of the Week:

1st Star: Brooks Laich: 1-1-2 (game-winning goal), even, eight hits, 28-for-52 on draws (53.9%)
2nd Star: Nicklas Backstrom: 2-0-2, plus-1, 31-for-50 on faceoffs (62.0 percent)
3rd Star: Jason Chimera: 1-1-2, even, 11 hits

A TWO-point night -- Game 25: Capitals 3 - Senators 2 (OT)

It did not come easy, but the Washington Capitals ended a four-game losing streak in sudden and dramatic fashion last night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators. The end came 12 seconds into the extra session, and the official play-by-play is, as one might expect, sparse…

0:00 Faceoff WSH won Neutral Zone – Ottawa (Spezza) vs Washington (Laich)
0:12 GOAL WSH #21 Laich (5), Wrist, Offensive Zone, 12 ft. Assists: #25 Chimera (6); #27 Alzner (7)

But how it unfolded was how you draw it up…sort of. Laich won the draw to start the overtime cleanly back to Kark Alzner. The defenseman retreated behind his own blue line, drawing Ottawa’s Milan Michalek with him and creating space ahead. Alzner fed the puck up to Jason Chimera at the Caps’ line. Chimera eased it ahead to Brooks Laich to his right into the neutral zone. As he approached the Ottawa blue line, Laich feinted left, and the move caught Senator defenseman Erik Karlsson backing up and trying to change direction. That proved to be a fatal combination on the notoriously poor Verizon Center ice. Karlsson tumbled to the ice at his own blue line as Laich fed the puck to Jason Chimera on his left. It was now a 2-on-1 with only Jared Cowan back for Ottawa. Chimera used speed to pusch Cowen back, and as he curled around the faceoff dot in the Ottawa zone, he fed the puck behind Cowen to Laich darting to the net. Goalie Craig Anderson looked to be anticipating a one-timer, as he went to the ice to defend the shot. But Laich pulled the puck to his right and flipped it over Anderson to send the fans home happy and Dale Hunter off with his first win as Caps head coach.

The play that ended things was one big cluster%$#@; for Ottawa. So much went wrong for the Senators, most of it of their own doing. First, there was losing the faceoff to open overtime. Spezza had been 10-for-16 before that and 4-of-6 against Laich. But that was the only neutral zone draw he took against Laich for the evening, and he lost it. Then there was Michalek chasing Alzner. It wasn’t really much of a forecheck, if in fact that was what Michalek was doing. All it did was allow Alzner to create space to pass, and with the teams playing 4-on-4, there was more space to maneuver.

Karlsson and his partner Cowan were next up. Chimera and Laich were moving up ice, both on the left side of center. But Karlsson was edging toward the middle to follow Laich. When Laich made a move to cut left, and Karlsson tumbled to the ice trying to change direction, Chimera had an umimpeded path to the net after taking the puck from Laich. Cowan had to scramble into position to try to defend the 2-on-1, but he never got into a position to be able to defend Chimera, who had a passing lane to Laich on his right.

With the teams at 4-on-4, there were not numbers to come back for Ottawa. Karlsson was scrambling to his feet, Michalek had been drawn in by Alzner. One might ask, “where was Spezza?” Well, he took an odd path through the play. After losing the faceoff, he circled to the Caps’ line as Alzner was luring Michalek deeper. When the puck was moved forward, Spezza curled out, trailing Laich rather leisurely. But when Karlsson went down, he did so right in Spezza’s path. Even if he could, or was inclined to do so, Spezza did not have an easy path to backcheck. On balance, though, Laich simply outhustled Spezza into the zone.

Last was Anderson. He was locked on Chimera as the Cap forward was bearing down through the Ottawa zone. He eased back toward his right post expecting shot. When the puck was sent across to Laich, Anderson did not – or perhaps could not, given his position and expectation – push hard across to defend against Laich. He more or less slid across on his pads, and it left him unable to defend against anything but a one-timer. When Laich collected the puck and pulled it back, the top of the net was something Anderson had not the means to defend. Laich flipped it in…game.

Other stuff…

-- Despite what he did on the first part of the final play, Milan Michalek should get some credit for trying to get back into the play. He made it back into the frame when Laich scored, despite having been pulled into the Caps’ zone by Alzner when the play started. That he beat Spezza back says something about Spezza’s hustle on the play.

-- On the goal that tied the game with under four minutes left in regulation, consider the following image…

…the goal scorer – Milan Michalek – is circled in red. Two things to note. First, there is all that space for Michalek to jump up. Second, look at the five Caps. All of them are looking toward the net, none of them with a clue where or just how open Michalek is. Sometimes, in the battle of instincts – to follow the puck or to keep in contact with your man and defensive responsibilities – the wrong one wins. It did here, and Ottawa tied the game (image from Comcast SportsNet/

-- But for that lapse in collective judgment, the Caps kept the Senators’ leading goal scorer in check. Michalek (15 goals coming in) had only three shot attempts (one on goal) over 56 minutes before he cashed in.

-- An odd game when it is Brooks Laich (six) and Jason Chimera (five) who have almost a third of the Caps’ shots on goal (35).

-- Alex Ovechkin skated 20:55 last night. It was only the sixth time this season (in 25 games) that he topped 20 minutes and the first time since he skated 20:14 in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to New Jersey on November 12th. Of the six games in which Ovechkin has topped 20 minutes, four of them went to extra time.

-- Two guys playing in their 500th game, two guys getting a point – Laich the game-winning goal, Ovechkin getting an assist on the Troy Brouwer goal in the third period.

-- Speaking of the Brouwer goal, more visual aids. Here we have the Caps on a mini-3-on-2 entry into the Ottawa zone, Jared Cowan and Sergei Gonchar back, Colin Greening providing support. We see “The Ovechkin Rules” in force. Gonchar is denying Ovechkin space, easing him outside and using stick to try to interrupt his ability to handle the puck. Greening is providing support from the back and inside, denying Ovechkin the ol’ “cut-across”…

…what that means is that Cowan is on an island defending Dennis Wideman in the middle and Troy Brouwer on the right side. Note the clear passing lane afforded Ovechkin by Ottawa applying the Ovechkin Rules and Wideman occupying Cowan. All that is left for Brouwer to do is finish (image from Comcast SportsNet/

-- One shorthanded situation faced. That was the third time the Caps held an opponent to a single power play opportunity, the second time in two tries against Ottawa. The Caps are 3-0 in such games, all of them one-goal decisions and two of them going to overtime.

-- Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Caps were 2-for-41 on the power play over their last 11 games going into this game. So, let’s give Jason Chimera a shot. Chimera recorded 4:11 in four power plays and had three of the eight shots on the power play to lead the team. In the end, though, the Caps finished 0-for-4 on the man advantage.

-- The win was Michal Neuvirth’s first since November 4th in a 5-1 win over Carolina. It was his first win at home since opening night, a 4-3 overtime win over Carolina. This being his third win of the year, it was his first over a team that was not “Carolina.” Now we can work on winning a game against a team that does not feature red in its team colors. Maybe it’s the pads…

-- Territory favored the Caps a bit more in this game than it did against Pittsburgh on Thursday. There were 28 draws in the Ottawa zone for the evening, 20 in the Caps’ end, and the Caps one the attempts battle with 61 shot attempts to Ottawa’s 57.

In the end, you can see the faint glimmer of a plan coming together. The Caps did a much better job tonight than they did in either of their first two games under Dale Hunter of establishing the semblance of offensive structure. All three goals were scored off rushes, using motion and numbers to create havoc on the defense. And it should not escape notice that at the other end the Caps have allowed opponents only two goals in each of their three games under their new head coach.

If this is the style the Caps are to adopt, it will not be as much the high-flying sort that characterized the earlier days of the Bruce Boudreau era as much as it will be opportunistic. It will take advantage of teams when they are short on numbers or on hustle. It will use pressure, either from entering the offensive zone with momentum and numbers, or by using a hard forecheck to create turnovers.

Defensively, it is merely a case of getting back to basics and being faithful to one’s responsibilities. If offensive is skill, then defense is will, and that was a commodity that seemed to be in scarce supply in the last days of Boudreau’s tenure in Washington. Perhaps the players are finding it again. If they are, then the Caps will return to the position to which fans have become accustomed – at the top of the standings.