It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are about to ring out the old year. Can’t say that it has been a great one to be a Washington Capitals fan, not when the high point came on the first night of the year (the 3-1 win over Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic). But here we are ready to toast our hope for health and good fortune for the year to come. It is…
“Why do they sing hockey carols on New Year’s Eve, cuz?”
Cheerless, after locking me in that closet trying to hijack the prognostications…I wouldn’t think you’d want to see me right now.
“C’mon, cuz…we wuz only tryin’ to help, and look… the Caps won, right? You even got the score right.”
Yeah, yeah, ok. Now, what about this “hockey carol” thing?
“Well, why do we sing about a backup goalie and a retired forward on New Year’s Eve?”
“Alex Auld and Robert Lang.”
Cheerless, it’s a tune set to an old Scottish poem. I don’t suppose you ever heard of Robert Burns.
“Yeah, he plays for San Jose, right?”
No, that’s Brent Burns. Robert Burns was a Scottish poet, and he wrote the words of “Auld Lang Syne.” It means, “old long since.” Sort of like “long, long ago.”
“In a galaxy far, far away.”
“I still like to think of it as a hockey carol, cuz.”
You know? You might be on to something there, cousin.
Before we sing the hockey carol at midnight, the Washington Capitals have one more order of business for 2011 – a visit to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. The Jackets are having a devil of a time trying to find any momentum whatsoever this season. They started the 2011-2012 campaign with eight straight losses (0-7-1) and they lost six in a row (0-5-1) before turning aside the Dallas Stars, 4-1, on Thursday.
In between, Columbus has managed to string together consecutive wins only one this season – a 4-3 overtime win at Nashville on November 19th and a 4-1 win over Calgary on November 21st. Not exactly a season to toast so far. Here is how the teams stack up against one another:
(click ic for larger image)
Clearly, Columbus has not come upon their standings position by fluke or bad luck. That many rankings in the 20’s, they earned it.
2. Columbus actually has a better record when they are outshot by the opposition (5-8-0) than when they outshoot their opponents (5-12-5). This should not be a mystery. Columbus’ 7.55 percent shooting percentage is 28th in the league (by way of comparison, Washington’s shooting percentage of 10.11 percent is seventh).
3. If Columbus is going to win this game, it is likely to be from what they do early. They are only a minus-7 (goals scored to goals allowed) in the first period and minus-3 in the second). They probably will not do it late – they are minus-22 in the third period. More to the point, the Blue Jackets are 8-5-2 when leading after two periods (although that record is worst in the league), 1-11-1 when trailing after 40 minutes.
4. One thing the Blue Jackets to happen to do reasonably well is avoid penalties. Well, some of them. Only four teams have fewer minor penalties taken this season. By the same token, only three teams have taken more majors. Columbus is second in the league in fighting majors with 26 (the Rangers have 31).
5. It might be particularly significant sign of futility that a team could score four power play goals in a game and lose. The Blue Jackets did just that is a 6-5 loss to Nashville on December 22nd. Columbus has recorded multiple power-play goal games three times this season and has yet to win a game in regulation (1-2-0), In addition to the loss to Nashville, Columbus dropped a 6-3 decision to Chicago in which they had two power play goals, and they beat Nashville, 4-3, in overtime when they recorded a pair of power play goals.
2. The Caps are 17-14-4 in year-ending games over their history, 4-2-0 since the lockout.
3. A win in this game would give the Caps an eight-win December. It would leave this edition of the Caps tied for the second-most wins in the month (with the 2009-2010 team), behind only the 2008-2009 Caps, a team that went 11-3-0 in December 2008.
4. The Caps are tied for the sixth-most number of third period goals this season (42). Given that Columbus has allowed the third-most number of third period goals, this could be a productive 20 minutes for the Caps.
5. Only one team has allowed more power play goals on the road than the Caps. The 17 allowed in 17 road games is surpassed only by Toronto (24 in 20 road games).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Steve Mason
Once upon a time, Steve Mason was a goalie on the rise. In his rookie year he was 33-20-7, 2.29, .916, and had ten shutouts. He had a string of three consecutive shutouts, blanking Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Anaheim. He had shutouts in both of his appearances against the Caps. Since then, however, Mason has been more or less solved. In the two-plus seasons following his Calder Trophy-winning season, he is 49-62-18, 3.09, .899, with eight shutouts in 134 appearances. This season he is 5-15-2, 3.29, .887, and is still without a shutout. He ranks 45th among 46 qualifying goalies in goals against average and is tied for 44th in save percentage. In 22 appearances this season he has allowed four or more goals 10 times. He has, however, showed signs of emerging from his long slumber. In his last two starts he stopped a total of 61 of 63 shots in backstopping Columbus to a win over Dallas and a Gimmick loss to Calgary.
Washington: John Carlson
The graduate of the Dale Hunter College of Hockey Knowledge in London has recorded 16 consecutive games of at least 20 minutes of ice time, 14 of those under Hunter. Seven times in those 14 games he finished the game with more than 25 minutes. It does not seem to have overly hampered his production. Carlson is 1-9-10, even, in those 14 games since the coaching change. What he is doing less of, however, is getting shots on goal from the blue line. In his first five games under the new coach Carlson had 18 shots on goal. In his last nine he has a total of five and did not record a shot in five of those nine games. The Caps have gotten contributions from the Young Guns lately, but it would be nice to see Carlson activating a bit more in the offensive end to provide another threat, at least to get shots to the net.
1. Patience. Columbus is not a team that seems to be able to construct full 60-minute efforts. Their third period record is gruesome. If the Caps don’t get them early, they are likely to get their opportunities to get them late.
2. One is the loneliest number. The Caps have seen the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom turn it up a notch as of late. But a one-line team is not a long-term recipe for success. A second line of Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson has to do more than, say, the three shots on goal and no points they recorded in the Buffalo game on Friday. And the third line of Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera has a total of three even-strength goals in their last ten games. Ward has not had a goal of any kind in his last 23 games, dating back to a November 5th game against the Islanders when he had his last one.
3. No celebrating early. This has the daily-double of distractions. It is a game on New Year’s Eve, and it is a game against a struggling opponent. The temptation here is to go the full cute and try for the fancy finish instead of the gritty goal. It’s a road game. Play it like one. Simple, without all the efforts at high-wire pyrotechnics.
In the end, this is one of those games that on paper should be over by the first intermission. But these are the Caps, and they don’t often display that ruthless gene successful teams express against such opponents. It is an especially tricky game in that the Caps: a) beat a team that has beaten them like a drum in the regular season (the Rangers), and b) beat a team that even when depleted handled the Caps rather easily this season in their first two games. This game might seem like a night off. The Caps will think that at their peril. We think they will avoid that fate.
Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2