Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 27: Capitals 5 - Senators 3

For Alex Ovechkin it was 2008 again.

After the Ottawa Senators took a 2-1 lead tonight, Ovechkin scored the goal that would put the Caps ahead, 3-2, on the sort of mesmerizing effort that was on display often in his 65-goal season in 2007-2008, but that has been almost completely absent in the past two seasons. It was the high moment of the Caps' 5-3 win over the Senators tonight that allowed the Caps to leap over Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Montreal, and into eighth place in the East.

It sure didn’t have the look of an eight-goal game early on. The teams played the first period even and scoreless, although one might have had an inkling the Caps would break out when they finished the first frame with 15 shots on Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. The Caps would get the first goal in the third minute of the second period when Jeff Halpern followed up a Dennis Wideman shot by jumping into the middle and swatting the rebound home. It looked a lot like his other goal of the season, scored against Carolina back on November 4th.

Ottawa came back with a pair to take a one-goal lead at the second intermission, and it looked as if it might hold up as the third period was reaching the mid-way point. But Nicklas Backstrom finished a 3-on-2 rush, taking a feed from Brooks Laich to tie the game.

Then Alex Ovechkin took us back to 2008. With the teams skating four-on-four he started the play by collecting the puck in the faceoff circle in his own end and charging out with it. Gathering speed through the neutral zone, he carried the puck down the left wing boards past both Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. Ovechkin circled all the way around the net with Karlsson chasing him. As he approached the Ottawa blue line on the right wing side, he slammed on the brakes, and Karlsson skated by. It provided Ovechkin with space to square himself to the goal. With that time and space he wound up as if for a slap shot, but hesitated with Kaspars Daugavins closing on him. It had the effect of causing goalie Craig Anderson to drop into his butterfly to defend the shot. But Ovechkin skipped a beat, moved a half-step out of Anderson’s line, and wristed the puck past him.

Troy Brouwer would put the Caps up by two 15 seconds later, making a bee-line for the net as Marcus Johansson carried the puck down the left side in the offensive zone. With David Rundblad playing horrible defense on Brouwer, all Brouwer had to do was make sure his stick blade was down to accept Johansson’s pass. He did, and he buried the puck past Anderson.

Not two minutes later, though, Alexander Semin took a hooking penalty, and the two-goal lead was halved five seconds after that by Milan Michalek. It got dicier when Joel Ward took his second slashing penalty of the game with less than three minutes left. Ottawa could not solve Caps’ goaltender Tomas Vokoun, though, and John Carlson sealed things with an empty netter with 46 seconds left, everyone in Caps Nation breathing a sigh of relief for a road win after losing five in a row away from Verizon Center.

Other stuff…

-- With seven shots tonight, Ovechkin had only his fourth game of the season in which he had more than five shots on goal. He had only 16 shots on goal in his previous six games.

-- Things did not go as well for the other “Alex.” Alexander Semin skated 15 minutes and change tonight – no points, one shot on goal, a penalty, and minus-1. Not only is he not scoring (no points in his last five games), he isn’t getting shots on goal – seven in his last five games. Since his only multi-point game of the year (1-1-2 in a 3-0 win over Florida on October 18th), Semin has 39 shots on goal in 19 games. Only six times in those 19 games has he had more than two shots on goal.

-- The five goals tonight means that the Caps have scored eight goals in their last 81 minutes of hockey, going back to Cody Eakin’s goal against Florida with 20 seconds left in the second period of the game last Monday.

-- The Caps had a 24-23 lead in faceoffs through two periods. They won the third period in that area by a 17-8 margin. Jeff Halpern was 9-for-9 in the third period. He was perfect for the evening in the offensive (3-for-3) and defensive (4-for-4) zones.

-- Another night, another three-point game for John Carlson. He is 1-6-7, plus-3, in his last three games. Carlson is now tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. But he was also waving at air when Nick Foligno was skating through the Caps’ defense for the second Ottawa goal.

-- The “second” line of Brouwer, Johansson, and Halpern was 2-2-4, plus-5 for the night. Both goals were a product of going to the net. Go-to-the-net. Write it down.

-- The Caps had only 14 misfires (seven shots blocked, seven misses) among their 48 shot attempts.

-- The power play goal by Backstrom was the first for the Caps in six games. The Caps were on an 0-for-17 run, including a 5-on-3 for 1:46 tonight, before Backstrom’s goal.

-- Even though it was not his best night, it is hard to find too much fault with Tomas Vokoun’s giving up three goals in this one. Ottawa’s first goal was the end result of ghastly puck management as the Caps were exiting the defensive zone. Ottawa jumped on the puck, entered the zone, and pressured the Caps into a breakdown low for Erik Condra’s goal. Nick Foligno took a pass at the Capitals’ blue line, skated through a Dennis Wideman hip check attempt, cut across the low slot where no Cap stepped up to impede his path, then nudged the puck past Joel Ward, who was tied up with a Senator at the right post, and Vokoun. Milan Michalek scored on a power play when the puck laid in the circle following a faceoff, and no Cap made a move to try and pick it up; Michalek had a clear path to Vokoun.

-- Jeff Schultz had an odd game. He skated five shifts in the first period, but only for a total of 1:47. Then he took the ice for a 46-second shift at 54 seconds of the second period. He would not take the ice again until there was 2:06 left in the period. He finished the game with eight shifts (one in the third period, none in the last 16:44) for a total of 3:55 in ice time.

In the end, it was not the prettiest of games, but scoring four goals in the last 10:15 of the game was a welcome explosion of offense. As noted, that is eight goals in the last 81 minutes of hockey. Too soon to be a trend, but enough to be encouraging. The same could be said for the defense and goaltending. The first period found the Caps in lock-down mode (six shots allowed), but the second saw a few too many breakdowns in their own end. But the biggest thing to come out of this might have been an 11-second stretch of the third period when Alex Ovechkin reminded folks why he was once included on the short list of best players in the game.

Whether the Caps – and Ovechkin – can build on this is now the question. They have won consecutive games only twice since the start of November. They have not won consecutive games in regulation since the last two games of their season-opening seven-game winning streak. Toronto comes to town on Friday to test the Caps’ ability to make it two in a row for the first time in a long time.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR -- Game 27: Capitals at Senators

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Didn’t we just do this? Well, we did, but that was in Washington. Wednesday’s matchup with the Ottawa Senators will be played at Scotiabank Place. It is a place that the Senators have not seen much lately, having played nine of their last ten games on the road. They went 4-3-2 in those nine games, no small reason why they are now on the inside looking out from the playoff-eligibles. Meanwhile, the Caps, who close out their mini-road trip, have lost their last five road games and have been outscored, 24-8, in doing it. No small reason why the Caps are on the outside looking in at the likes of Ottawa in the playoff-eligible top eight in the East. Not that it needs much updating, but here is how the two teams fall out in the numbers and rankings:

(click pic for larger image)

There is not much new to cover from our Saturday preview, but there are a few things to note…

1. Ottawa has to score to win. The Senators are 9-1-0 when they score four or more goals, 4-10-3 when they score three or fewer.

2. The Senators have the fifth highest number of minor penalties taken this season, but they have been better lately about putting themselves down a man often. Over their last eight games they have faced 34 shorthanded situations (an average of 4.25/game) after facing 4.5 per game in their first 19 games. Still, they have the third highest number of shorthanded situations faced in the league.

3. The Caps have had trouble on their power play, and so have the Senators. Since November 1st Ottawa is 4-for-47 (8.5 percent). At home over that span they are 1-for-15 (6.7 percent).

4. While the Caps have ten players with 10 or more minutes in penalties this season, Ottawa’s Zenon Konopka has three games with ten or more minutes in PIMs.

5. Goaltender Craig Anderson has earned the decision in 14 of the last 15 games for Ottawa, including the 3-2 overtime loss to the Caps last Saturday. Given that Alex Auld is 3-6-1, 2.58, .903 against the Caps in 11 career appearances and has appeared in only one home game this season (he lasted 20 minutes and allowed four goals on ten shots in a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia), Anderson might make it 15 of 16.

1. There were reports that the Caps were practicing with a top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. Since November 1st, this trio is 13-16-29, minus-17, in 17 games. Backstrom has more than half the goals (seven) and more than half the points (15). That is maybe half to two thirds of what their production should be if you think of them as point a game players as a group.

2. Only Columbus has a worse penalty kill on the road at the moment (68.2 percent) than the Caps (74.5 percent).

3. Only four teams have fewer power play goals on the road than the Caps (five in 12 games).

4. Jason Chimera has seven goal in his last 13 games. That is almost one-fourth of all goals scored by the Caps in that span (29) and only one fewer than Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin combined over that stretch.

5. Marcus Johansson has three game-winning goals, the last of which came on October 22nd. He still leads the team in that category.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza would qualify as “hot” for the Senators at the moment, or as close to it as a Senator might be. In his last eight games he is 3-5-8, minus-1. He is also a point-a-game player over his career against Washington (9-19-28, plus-1, in 28 games). He had an assist in the last meeting of these teams, but he was on the ice for the last two goals scored by the Caps, including the overtime winner, a play on which he did not seem to be especially enthusiastic about getting back to defend the last rush.

Washington: Tomas Vokoun

One would think Vokoun would get the start in this one, despite the fact that he has a so-so record against Ottawa over his career (4-11-0, 3.21, .902 in 16 appearances). This game is the kind he is here for, to provide solid goaltending while the skaters figure out their issues at the other end of the ice. Although he took losses in each of his last two appearances, his stopping 61 of 65 shots (.938) should be enough most of the time to give the Caps a chance to win.


1. Score more. The four goals against Florida was encouraging on one level – it was the first time in seven games they scored more than three in regulation time and only the second time in 15 games they did so. On the other hand, they did it against a backup goaltender against whom they have had a lot of success in the past. They need to establish a more consistent scoring threat, and they need to get their big guns firing.

2. Allow fewer. The Caps have allowed three or more goals in eight of their last 11 games. Small wonder that they are 3-8-0 in those games. But they have done it only once in their last four games, so there is that. But that needs to be the norm, not the exception.

3. Win more. Last year, Boston was 15-8-3 on this date, sixth in the East. The year before, Chicago was 18-7-3 and in third place in the West. The year before that, the Penguins were 15-7-4 and fifth in the East. The year before that, Detroit was 20-6-2 and first in the West. See a pattern among those Stanley Cup winners? You don’t have to be at the top of your conference, but your personality as a winner is more or less established. The Caps have yet to do that. They need to, sooner rather than later.

In the end, one can look at the last few games as roughly equivalent to “pre-season” in absorbing the principles of a new system. But these games count, and teams at the top of the standings are putting space between themselves and the Caps. Washington finds itself equidistant from first in the Southeast and last (seven points), and last in the Southeast at the moment is last in the conference. It is not a good place to be. They need to learn faster. Having already seen this opponent just a few days ago, tonight would be a good time to show what they have learned.

Caps 4 – Senators 2