Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 63: Capitals 3 - Islanders 2 (OT)

It is nice to say of another team that they did not play 60 minutes of hockey.

For 56 minutes last night, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders did not so much play sloppy hockey as they did indifferent hockey. The Islanders might be excused for their sluggish play; they are all but out of the race for the playoffs and were in selling mode on Monday, sending Brian Rolston and Mike Mottau to Boston for futures. They are playing out the string. But at least they scored goals. Josh Bailey got one as a product of awful defense by the Caps – Jeff Schultz being faked to the ice by a slap shot that never came from Bailey’s stick, a hapless wave at the puck by Mathieu Perreault from behind, and the parting of the Red Sea, as it were, allowing Bailey to skate to the net and get not one, but two chances to swat the puck past goalie Michal Neuvirth.

That goal almost held up as the only score of the game until the Isles scored again in the third. Matt Moulson deflected a waist high drive by Steve Staios that jumped over the glove of Neuvirth for the 2-0 lead just over two minutes into the last period. Other than that, the Isles didn’t look like an especially energized team.

The Caps? For a team fighting for a playoff spot, playing in front of their home crowd, and about as healthy as they are going to be for the rest of the regular season, they looked grim for those first 56 minutes. They did out-shoot the Islanders by a 13-3 margin in the first period, buy hey…Jay Beagle had three of them. Beagle is a guy who can give a team some hard minutes, but scoring in them is not a big part of his resume.

Then, Troy Brouwer joined the party. He resuscitated the Caps in the 57th minute, converting a superb centering feed from the left wing wall by Mathieu Perreault to halve the visitors’ lead, and then with 26 seconds left deflected a Brooks Laich drive to tie the game and send it to overtime…

…which became “Ovechkin-time” 95 seconds into the extra frame. Ripping a page from the old Ovechkin song book, he charged up the left side, backing Travis Hamonic off with speed. With Hamonic too far away to sweep check the puck, Ovechkin angled toward the middle and ripped a low shot past Hamonic’s left skate. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov could not close the five-hole in time, and the Caps were the unexpected winners of two points they needed to have.

Other stuff…

-- Give credit to Jeff Halpern on the last goal of regulation. He dug deep – literally; his nose was almost touching the ice he was so low to the dot – and wrestled Franz Nielsen to a standoff on the faceoff that started the play, eventually winning that draw. Five seconds later, the Caps were tied.

-- All of a sudden, what Washington sports fans love most – controversy at the most important position – might be at hand. Michal Neuvirth won his third straight decision and is 1.66, .944 in those three games. It might not match the interest of a Grossman-vs.-Beck, or even an RG3-vs.-Manning as far as sports controversies in these parts go, but we might now have a goalie race. “Might,” mind you.

-- If the Caps power play was a power source, you would not be able to see the back of the refrigerator when you opened the door. Another oh-fer night (0-for-4) makes the Caps 2-for-32 (6.3 percent) in their last nine games.

-- Ovechkin’s game-winner was only his second this season (his first since December 15th), but he is now 6-4-10 in his last ten games.

-- With the two goals on three shots, Troy Brouwer is 12th in the league in shooting percentage among players with 100 or more shots on goal.

-- The Caps had 72 shot attempts to 46 for the Islanders. A long time since there was that kind of difference favoring the Caps.

-- It was a game characterized by a whole lot of skating around (only 52 total faceoffs for the game) without a lot of evident purpose.

-- Watching overtime start is a little like the coin flip in a football game. The Caps chose to “defend” to open the extra period with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer at forward and Karl Alzner and John Carlson the opening defense pair. It is worth noting that those four were also the group on the ice to finish the last shift of regulation as the Caps tied the game, then took it to the buzzer.

-- Then the Caps went all-in…Ovechkin and Johansson in front; Dennis Wideman and Dmitry Orlov in the rear. It worked.

-- Jay Beagle led the team with five shots on goal. In 11 minutes of ice time. Imagine that. No, really…imagine that.

In the end, this is not the Beauty Contest System to pick a college football champion. The object of the exercise is to get two points by any means possible. Even if you look pretty grim doing it. And that is how the Caps did it. The Islanders went to sleep for the last four minutes of regulation, or you could say the Caps returned the favor of poor play (the Bailey goal and the first Brouwer goal) and bad luck (the Moulson goal and the second Brouwer goal). The difference in the end being the Islanders had one shot in the extra session – by Milan Jurcina from 39 feet, while the Caps had one shot on goal – from Alex Ovechkin. Who wins that battle 99 times out of 100?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Day of Silence

“Kudos to Washington Capitals GM George McPhee. I know what you’re saying, why exactly? Because he took a knee. That’s why. This just isn’t their year. One big trade isn’t going to put the Caps over the top and make them contenders. One big trade isn’t going to clear star center Nicklas Backstrom of his concussion symptoms. McPhee did the hardest thing of all, resist the short-term fix. That takes guts.”

-- Pierre LeBrun, ESPN Analyst, commenting on yesterday’s activity on the NHL trading market

We suppose there are a lot of ways to look at what the Caps did – or more precisely, did not do – yesterday. The club made no deals, despite almost the almost universal assumption that veterans Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik would be dealt.

There is, on the one hand, the reactionary message board sort of opinion that will conclude that George McPhee was asleep at the switch while other teams were active. It is tempting to just dismiss this out of hand. In fact, there were only 15 trades made yesterday involving 19 teams. St. Louis did not make a deal. The Flyers did not make a deal. Florida did not, Dallas did not, Los Angeles did not.

But, trading “day” is not necessarily just a “day.” The trading “period” got started on February 16th, when the Flyers sent a 2nd and a 3rd round draft pick to Dallas for defenseman Niklas Grossman, a player who already has three assists in three games for the Flyers and is plus-2 averaging 17 minutes a night. If you then look at the February 16-27 trading “period,” 28 deals were consummated involving 26 teams. The only teams to sit out the dance were: Pittsburgh, Calgary, Carolina, and…


To be sure, a number of those deals were rather minor. One cannot imagine much impact – certainly for this season – of a Brandon Segal for Matt Fornataro trade. But those deals were in the minority. There was considerable tweaking of teams participating in the trading activity.

The Caps did not tweak. Fans cannot know what the Caps were seeking or what teams were offering for a Mike Knuble or a Roman Hamrlik. Knuble’s situation might be the more perplexing from the fan’s point of view. Mike Knuble is a 39-year old player on an expiring contract. Given that he has played a lot of fourth line minutes this season and has often been a healthy scratch in recent games, the natural conclusion to reach here is that the Caps do not see him in their plans going forward. Why not move him for a mid-round draft pick?

Well, there are several possible responses to this. First, can we be sure the Caps were offered that much, if anything at all for Knuble. There is that matter of not being able to listen in on the conversations George McPhee might have had with his fellow wizards. If the offers were more along the lines of a sixth or a seventh round pick fans might ask, “well, hey…why not? It’s something.” Take the longer view for a moment. Knuble’s best days are not ahead of him. However, he is a player with 271 goals on his resume and one who came into this season with eight consecutive 20-goal seasons. Even if his production has fallen significantly, he is worth more to the Caps right now than a sixth or seventh round pick (we’ll leave alone the fact that the Caps have not exactly found a lot of nuggets in that part of the draft). Perhaps there is enough in the tank to make some – if modest – contributions between now and when the season ends for the Caps. If it comes to the summer, there is the chance – perhaps remote – that the Caps could trade rights to Knuble to a team wishing to sign him to another contract as a free agent. Whatever, the uncertain marginal return of a low-round draft pick – even a mid-round pick – does not clearly argue for Knuble being dealt yesterday. Holding him is not evidence of being asleep at the switch.

Hamrlik is a different situation. Defensemen are gold at this time of year. Of the 32 war bodies traded yesterday (i.e., not including draft picks), 18 were defensemen. In a perverse way, that argues against the Caps trading Hamrlik, even if he sees press box time instead of ice time. And that gets to need and availability. What was being offered for Hamrlik? One can infer from McPhee’s comments after the trading day closed:
“We would have added something to the team if we thought it would make us better, but it had to make us better. What transpired today, really there wasn’t anything there that would have been the right thing for our club. Everyone seemed to want our players but they wanted to give us futures and prospects. I wasn’t interested in doing that.”

This the same “bird in the hand, two in the bush” argument that suggests the team was less interested in the potential (conversely, the uncertainty) of futures than in the certainty of a player with a body of work. Well, they have a player with a body of work in Hamrlik, and in a sport where defensive depth is an important ingredient to success, standing pat on Hamrlik has advantages over the alternative.

Then there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the need for a second line center. See any of that specie move yesterday? Paul Gaustad, whatever his other talents, is not a second-line center on a contender. Even if you want to argue that he is an upgrade over what the Caps have now, is he worth a first round pick (what Buffalo took from Nashville for Gaustad and a fourth rounder)? Not for a team that has a commitment to building from the draft. And, as if this needs saying, a “manager” cannot merely manage trading day, he has to manage the long view as well. It’s his job.

Other names were tossed around as a potential solution (band-aid might have been better) – Tomas Plekanec, Derek Roy… even Olli Jokinen. But are these solutions? Or merely a “name” to appease fans that would command a price in picks or prospects that would cost the Caps in developmental terms while the flaws in these players could been seen from closer range by those fans? The “second line center” market pretty much dried up when Jeff Carter was traded by Columbus to Los Angeles. After that, even if the Caps had been inclined to bid on Carter (and we have no idea if they were or did), there was not much of a market.

In the end, there was no rabbit in the hat. George McPhee stood pat. But rabbits and hats are all part of an illusion, anyway. The Caps are left with the reality of the roster they take to the ice against the Islanders tonight and for the last 19 games of the season following that. And that is a different kind of reality. If McPhee can be credited with not panicking and making a deal he might regret this summer, he now has the team he built this past summer as his legacy to this season. It has not been a team that is easy on the eyes or effective on the ice. On paper last fall, it had the look of a team that could do damage during the season and deep into the playoffs (we sure thought so). Injuries to Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom were of the sort that could be expected to knock the team onto the shoulder of the road to the playoffs. What seems less acceptable is that they knocked them clear off the road and into a ditch.

Alex Ovechkin has not come back from a sub-par season in 2010-2011. Alexander Semin is as enigmatic as ever. Michal Neuvirth took a step back in his development, although he has shown signs lately of emerging from a season-long funk. Marcus Johansson has not come close to filling the shoes of his countryman who is still injured. John Carlson has not duplicated his fine rookie season last year. Brooks Laich is versatile, but the flip side of being the jack-of-all-trades is that he has too often been the master of none of them. The free agents brought in last summer have been inconsistent in their respective contributions. The team as a whole has nothing approaching the snarl that their new head coach had as a player. And that new head coach has struggled to find the right buttons to push while the man he replaced is dragging his new team closer and closer to the playoffs in what looks like the 2008 Capitals all over again.

This is the team McPhee built this season and the one that will now carry the Capitals’ banner over the last 20 games of the season. It is no longer a team “on paper.” It is one with 62 games of history in it, one that has some fair sized dings and dents in it, and one that sits on the outside of the playoff mix looking in. The manner in which the Capitals – their management and their players – will be judged for this season lies not in what did or did not happen before 3:00 yesterday, but in what actions were or were not taken over the past ten months since the last Capitals playoff disappointment. It is that body of work to which people might, and perhaps should be praised... or held accountable for what comes of this season.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63: Islanders at Capitals, February 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals roll out their 2011-2012 team, version 2.0 Tuesday night against the New York Islanders. Oh, wait…they did not make any deals on Monday before the league trading deadline, so version 2.0 is pretty much the same as version 1.0. And it got us to the thinking about the science of trading and what the experts have to say about it. So we went to some of the best in the business, so to speak.

Louis Winthorpe III, did you take in the live updates on trades yesterday?

LW3: “I had the most absurd nightmare. I was watching for the Caps and no one liked them. They didn’t move any forwards, they didn’t move any defensemen, they kept the same roster, everyone hated them, and it was all because of this terrible, awful bald-headed man on television.”

You mean Pierre McGuire?

LW3: “Precisely.”

So what is your secret to trading, Mr. Winthorpe?

LW3: “Think big, think positive, never show any sign of weakness. Always go for the throat. Buy low, sell high. Fear? That's the other guy's problem. Nothing you have ever experienced will prepare you for the absolute carnage you are about to witness. Super Bowl, World Series - they don't know what pressure is. On Trading Deadline Day, it's either kill or be killed. You make no friends on the phones and you take no prisoners. One minute you're up a couple of all-star forwards and the next, boom, your team doesn’t go to the playoffs and they've taken away your parking space at Kettler. Are you with me?”

“Yeah, we got to KILL the mother… we got to KILL ‘em.”

Billy Ray Valentine, the legendary whiz kid of Duke and Duke. What advice do you have to offer the novice trader?

BRV: “You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt good teams is by turning them into bad teams.”

Can you give us an example?

BRV: “Okay, Rick Nash prices were dropping all morning, which means that everybody is waiting for it to hit rock bottom, so they can buy low…you know, like for a second round draft pick. Which means that the people who own the player are saying, ‘Hey, we're losing all our damn money, and the draft is around the corner, and I ain't gonna have no draft picks to get my team any prospects! And my wife ain't gonna f... my wife ain't gonna make love to me if I got no prospects!’ So they were panicking, they were screaming ‘SELL! SELL!’ to get out before the price keeps dropping. They were panicking out there, I could feel it.”

Interesting. Then there is the old school of trading. And here we have Randolph Duke to explain it to us.

RD: “Quite right. Now, what are players and draft picks? Players and draft picks are trading assets... like Columbus trading Kirk Muller to Dallas for Evgeny Petrochinin in 2001... like their trading a second round pick to Colorado for goalie Marc Denis in 2000, then re-signing him in 2000 and re-signing him again in 2002 and 2004… or drafting Rick Nash in 2002, which is used to make a Rick Nash trading frenzy in 2012. Clear so far?”


RD: “Good, Peerless! Now, some of teams are speculating that the price of players or draft picks will rise in the future. And we have other teams who are speculating that the price of players or draft picks will fall. Then they make their trades.”

Mortimer Duke: “Tell him the good part.”

RD: “The good part, Peerless, is that, no matter whether a team like the Caps makes a good trade or a bad trade, the team still gets to raise ticket prices.”


Well, while the dust of Trading Day settles, the Caps still have games to play, and they have one on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. The Islanders have spent the last month marking time. Starting with a 3-0 loss at Toronto on January 23rd, the Islanders are 7-7-2 in their last 16 games. The Islanders might be lucky to have come out of those 16 games with that record. They have been outscored by 47-32 in those games, allowing four or more goals six times in the process. Their power play has not been too bad – 17.7 percent (6-for-34) – but their penalty kill has been weak, killing off only 28 of 39 shorthanded situations (71.8 percent).

What is more, the Islanders have been unable to settle on a goaltender. In the 16 games, Evgeni Nabokov was 5-4-0, 2.25, .929, with one shutout. Al Montoya was 0-1-2, 3.64, .861. Kevin Poulin was 2-2-0, 3.00, .911. None could win consecutive games. The inconsitency has left the Islanders with only the faintest glimmer of hope of the playoffs, eight points behind eighth-place Winnipeg in the East. Here is how the teams stack up (before last night's play)…

 (click pic for larger image)

1. The Islanders have something of a reputation as a difficult team to play against, but they do seem to wilt as play goes on during games. In goals for/goals against by period, they are minus-6 in the first period, minus-14 in the second, and minus-18 in the third period.

2. And falling behind has been a problem for the Islanders. In 32 games in which they have allowed the first goal they have only seven wins. Only Carolina and Columbus have worse records when allowing the first goal.

3. The Islanders do not have an especially efficient penalty kill on the road – 82.7 percent (12th in the league going into last night's play) – but they do benefit from not having to deploy it much. No team has faced fewer shorthanded situations on the road than the Islanders (81), and only three teams have allowed fewer power play goals on the road than the 14 given up by the Islanders.

4. The Islanders are one of the least penalized teams in the league. They rank tied for 27th (with Nashville) for the fewest minor penalties in the league, and they rank 24th in major penalties taken. Only three teams have recorded fewer penalty minutes per game than the Islanders. Only four times in their last 32 games have they faced more than three shorthanded situations.

5. Only two teams in the league have more blocked shots on the road than the Islanders. Only one team has fewer giveaways. They rank ninth in takeaways on the road. They try to keep things simple and do the little things.

1. The Caps are trying to win their third game in a row. If they do so it will be the first time since January 11-15 when they completed a three-peat over Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Carolina (all at home). Coincidentally, that streak came to an end when the Islanders shut out the Caps at Verizon Center by a 3-0 score on January 17th.

2. Starting with that Islander shutout, the Caps come into this game with a 7-9-3 record in their last 19 games. Only four times in those 19 games have the Caps scored more than three goals. They won all four.

3. Starting well has been a problem for the Caps. In fact, the first 40 minutes have been a problem. The Caps are minus-12 in the first period of games so far this season (goals for/goals against) and minus-8 in the second period. They are plus-12 in the third period.

4. Even with the poor overall first 40 minutes, the Caps are eighth in the league in net plus-minus at home (plus-13). Of the seven teams ahead of them, all are currently playoff-eligible in their respective conferences.

5. Only four teams have fewer one-goal wins than the Caps, who have a total of 13. Only eight of those one-goal wins have come in regulation so far.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: PA Parenteau

Parenteau was thought to be an Islander on the move yesterday before the trading deadline, but he is still wearing the blue and orange. Good thing for the Islanders, too. He is 4-7-11, plus-2 in his last ten games. He has been a pain for the Caps, too. In seven career games he is 3-4-7, plus-3, including a pair of goals in that 3-0 Islanders shut out on January 17th.

Washington: Mike Knuble

Well, the big guy is still here. The Caps did not move him yesterday, even though that was thought to be a given from the custodial staff at Kettler Capitals Iceplex all the way to perhaps Knuble himself. Not only was he not moved, he skated with the top line at practice yesterday. With 20 games left, Knuble – between fourth line play and healthy scratches lately – has not had as much wear and tear on his body as perhaps many of his teammates. This can be his time, and given the Caps’ modest offense over the past few months, they could use his contributions. He has 11 goals and 27 points in 62 career games against the Islanders.


1. Score first. Again…duh. But only one team in the league – Columbus – has more losses in regulation when allowing the first goal than the Islanders (22). The Caps have 20 of their 31 wins when socring first.

2. Men at Work. If the Caps are not going to be the Greatest Show on Ice, they need to be Lunch Pails R Us. One shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. They still have their fate in their own hands, but they need to exhibit the playoff work ethic from here on out.

3. This isn’t "Hoosiers." In the movie “Hoosiers,” Coach Norman Dale exhorts his team to pass four times before taking a shot. The Caps should not be so cute. Get pucks to the net, and maybe Knuble can find that old magic…or Brooks Laich…or Joel Ward…or Jason Chimera… You get the idea.

In the end, the rest of the season is not “the rest of the season,” it is game-by-game, brick-by-brick. The only two points the Caps can win are the ones available tonight. That has to be as far as the Caps look ahead from here on out…60 minutes at a time.

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Sunday, February 26, 2012

McPhee + Hat = Rabbit?

Well, we’re here. It is trading deadline day, 2012. And like the cherry blossoms that will bloom in a month or so, so the Caps will seek to address the perennial need of a second line center to carry them through the stretch run and into the playoffs. This year’s search has a heightened urgency attached to it. In previous years, it was clear that the number two center the Caps would obtain would be just that. After all, the Caps had iron-man Nicklas Backstrom firmly entrenched in the number one slot.

This year is different in two respects. First, Backstrom is out of action following a concussion suffered in a game against the Calgary Flames on January 3rd. There is no clear indication of when he will return to action, or if he will return to action this season. The second element is the standings. In the last three seasons the Caps were in no jeopardy of missing the playoffs. They were well on their way to 100-plus point seasons and a Southeast Division title. This year, the possibility exists that the Caps will achieve neither of those milestones. This year looks more like 2008, when the Caps were feverishly pursuing a playoff spot after a horrendous start to their season and a coaching change that sparked the turnaround.

And that brings us to Monday. George McPhee might have the demeanor of an “Undertaker” at times, but he does have a flair for the dramatic at this time of year. McPhee’s silence when it comes to discussing potential deals, leaking news, or just in demonstrating evidence of a pulse does not apparently apply to his cell phone. Although the Caps are rarely – and almost never reliably – attached to many deals (one exception to which we will get to), there is almost always a surprise in store for Caps fans. Deals of the “where did that come from?” sort. Here are the deadline deals over the past four years (source: Capitals Media Guide):


-- Acquired Cristobal Huet from Montreal for a 2nd round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft (later traded to Atlanta, Jeremy Morin).
-- Acquired Sergei Fedorov from Columbus for Theo Ruth.
-- Acquired Matt Cooke from Vancouver for Matt Pettinger.
-- Acquired Alexandre Giroux from Atlanta for Joe Motzko.


-- Aquired Scott Walker from Carolina for a 7th round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft (later traded to Philadelphia, Ricard Blidstrand).
-- Acquired Eric Belanger from Minnesota for a 2nd round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft (Johan Larsson).
-- Acquired Milan Jurcina from Columbus for a conditional draft pick.
-- Acquired Joe Corvo from Carolina for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala and a 2nd round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (later traded to Calgary, Tyler Wotherspoon).


-- Claimed Marco Strum off waivers from Los Angeles.
-- Acquired Dennis Wideman from Florida for Jake Hauswirth and a third-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (Jonathan Racine).
-- Acquired Jason Arnott from New Jersey for David Steckel and a 2012 second-round pick.

Only the Arnott deal last year was telegraphed at all, the perfect fit (it seemed at the time) of aging vet looking for one more turn in the playoff spotlight to a team with a clear need for his skill set and experience.

Most of the other deals would qualify as surprises, if not blockbusters. And there is that common thread of the “second line center.” In 2008, Sergei Fedorov. In 2010, Eric Belanger. Last year, Arnott. The prescription the Caps follow has been unchanged – a veteran on an expiring deal. Only once – last year with Jason Arnott – did the formula work for so much as a playoff series win (Fedorov played in a second round series in the year following his acquisition, after he was re-signed by the Caps).

Now, the Caps search once more. And what fans cannot know is whether or not the old formula is the new formula. If there is something arguing against it, it really has nothing to do with the Caps. It has to do with market supply. There do not appear to be centers that fit the “veteran on expiring deal” profile. It is part of a general shortage of trade-worthy players. One of the reasons is that there are just so many teams still in the playoff race. Of the 30 teams in the league, there are the 16 teams in the playoff-eligible group and another nine within six points of a playoff spot, including the Caps. Only five teams appear out of it at this point – the Islanders, Carolina, Montreal, Edmonton, and Columbus. And even among this group, candidates are small in number. Carolina re-signed Tuomo Ruutu. The Islanders are really too young at the position to qualify someone in this category. Edmonton does not have anyone in this category (although they have some contracts they might want to shed – Shawn Horcoff comes to mind, with three more years at $5.5 million on the books). Montreal is in the same situation (with Scott Gomez’ contract wrapped tightly around their necks). Columbus signed Vaclav Prospal to a one-year contract extension earlier this month.

That leaves player with years on their deals that teams might be willing to move. In that category, the bottom five still has a limited availability of players. Columbus has already made their big move from this group, shipping Jeff Carter to Los Angeles. Marty Reasoner might be shipped somewhere by the Islanders, but he has yet to score a goal in 42 games this season – he is not a solution to what ails the Caps at the position. Horcoff’s contract makes him – a player with 11 goals and 30 points – almost untradeable by Edmonton. Carolina does not have anyone in this category. That leaves Montreal, and the name “Tomas Plekanec” has been floated in the usual rumor mills (although he has a modified no trade agreement in his contract).

If the Caps are going to find anything resembling a solution to the perennial problem, they are going to have to be creative in locking in on a target. Do they try to peel off a center from that group in the gray area of playoff contention, the clubs that are 3-6 points out of a spot? That would add Toronto, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Anaheim to the list of potential trading partners. And that expands the potential targets.

From this group, a Mikhail Grabovski from Toronto comes into play. Even a Tim Connolly from the Maple Leafs, although his injury history is going to give any team pause (he has topped the 70-games played mark once since the lockout), and he has a modified no trade clause. Tampa has no candidates; Minnesota does not have a clear number two center candidate to fit here. From Buffalo, Derek Roy has been floated as a potential player to be moved, but he is having a sub-par year (13 goals in 60 games, two years removed from four straight seasons of 20-plus goals), and there is the matter of the physical dimension. At 5’9”, 184 pounds, is this what the Caps need, another center who will struggle in physical situations? Anaheim? Saku Koivu has an expiring deal ($2.5 million/35+ contract), but he also has a no movement clause in his contract. And besides, Anaheim is 16-3-4 since January 4th. It is hard to see them as upsetting their chemistry unless they are in the market to add a player.

This is not – from the fan’s chair – much of a market for what the Caps so clearly need. There certainly is not the obvious solution that appeared to exist last season when Jason Arnott was available. But if there is one thing that has characterized the performance of George McPhee over the last four years, it has been to surprise on trading deadline day. There might not have been much talk of potential Caps trades in the rumor mills over the last few weeks, but it is likely a safe bet than come sundown, there will be plenty of talk about what the Capitals did. There is a rabbit in that hat somewhere.

photo: CSNWashington

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20 (February 19 - 25)

Week 20 was the pain and the ecstasy. Well, perhaps not quite either, but it did start poorly – potentially disastrously, in fact – before righting itself somewhat at the end..

Record: 2-2-0

Even though this week was not the losing week the previous one was, it was arguably a worse one. At least it sure started that way. It wasn’t as if the Caps had not allowed ten goals in consecutive games lately – they did it on January 7/9 against San Jose and Los Angeles. But that was against teams on the west coast, where the Caps always seem to struggle. In this instance they opened the week by allowing five goals in successive games to Carolina and Ottawa, teams against which the Caps had a 6-1-0 combined record this season, 14-2-1 over the past two seasons. But the Caps turned it around in the last half of the week, knocking off Montreal and Toronto by 4-1 and 4-2 margins, respectively. It was the first time that the Caps scored as many as four goals in consecutive games since December 7/9 against Ottawa and Toronto. Oh, Canada.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 2.71/rank: 13th)

"Listless" was the term to describe the first half of the week’s games, "hopeful" to describe the second half. The Caps managed only 17 shots on goal in a 5-0 loss to Carolina to start the week, despite facing a goaltender – Justin Peters – who was making only his 26th appearance in the NHL. Peters, who had not recorded a shutout in any of his previous 25 appearances, recorded his first against the Caps. Washington managed only 52 shot attempts in the loss, and the 17 shots on goal tied for the second lowest for a game this season (they had 16 shots on goal in a 3-0 win over Montreal on January 18th). The Caps followed that up by scoring two goals after Ottawa ran out to a 4-0 lead in what would be a 5-2 loss.

The Caps did right by their fans in the last two games of the week, though. They scored four goals in each of the two games – 4-1 over Montreal and 4-2 over Toronto – to earn fans a discount from a local pizza establishment on the days following the wins.

For the week the Caps had balanced, if not especially prolific, scoring. Nine different Caps recorded at least two points, led by Alexander Semin (1-3-4), while Jason Chimera (1-2-3), Alex Ovechkin (1-2-3), and Marcus Johansson (1-2-3) all finished with three points on the week.

Defense: 3.25/game (season: 2.79/rank: 20th)

It was all in the period this week. In two losses the Caps allowed a total of five goals in the first period; in two wins, none. They allowed a few more shot attempts this week (216) than last, but the percentage of shots to attempts on goal was up from 53.4 percent last week to 58.5 percent this week. That was the product of shots on goal up from 27.3 to 31.8 per game.

Still, it came down to periods. The Caps allowed those five goals in the first period of two losses this week, and they also allowed five goals in the third period of games this week. Three of those third period goals, however, came in two wins, when the outcome was no longer in doubt. If there was good news, though, none of the goals came from 90 feet away, something that happened on a couple of occasions in recent games.

Goaltending: 3.01/.905

This week’s principal drama came in the crease. In the first two games of the week, Tomas Vokoun was pulled early, once after allowing two goals on seven shots in just over five minutes, and in the second game after 32 minutes upon allowing four goals on 11 shots. It made for a difficult week for the number one netminder: 0-2-0, 9.68, .667. It was left to Michal Neuvirth, himself a struggling goalie (1-3-2, 2.87, .906 in nine appearances since December 23rd), to pick up the pieces of the week. With the Caps facing the potential to fall behind by what could be an insurmountable deficit to the teams in front of them in the playoff race, Neuvirth came up strong. He stopped 58 of 61 shots in the last two games of the week (.951 save percentage), but perhaps more important, he stopped all 38 first and second period shots he faced to give the Caps a chance to get off on the right foot.

Power Play: 1-for-14/7.1 percent (season: 17.0 percent/rank: 16th)

It was the second straight 1-for-14 week. Two for 28 in two weeks – 7.1 percent – is not going to get it done. It just was not a very good week. In 23:59 of total power play ice time the Caps had but the one goal in 14 tries – an inconsequential goal in the 5-2 loss to Ottawa (the Senators were up 4-0 when the Caps scored at 2:19 of the third period). They recorded that goal on only 13 power play shots for the week. Almost half the shots came from Mike Green and Troy Brouwer (three apiece). Only two came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin (both in the 4-1 win over Montreal), none from Alexander Semin (although Semin did assist on the only power play goal of the week, scored by John Carlson).

Penalty Killing: 12-for15/80.0 percent (season: 80.8%/rank: 21st)

Another case of a tale of two weeks, first and second half. The Caps were only 4-for-7 on the penalty kill in the first two games of the week, a perfect 8-for-8 in the second half of the week. The Caps skated shorthanded for 22:27 in the four games, allowing three goals on 19 shots. Again, it was the bad and the good. In two losses the Caps gave up those three power play goals in seven chances, Carolina and Ottawa shooting 3-for-12 in shots in in 8:51 of power play time. In the last two games the Caps shut out Montreal and Toronto on the power play on eight chances, allowing only seven shots in 13:36 of ice time.

Paying the Price: 91 hits/65 blocked shots (season rank: T-11th/5th)

It was not a week that was much different from the previous week (99/52 in four games). If there was an odd dynamic to the week, it was in blocked shots. In their two wins, the Caps were credited with 21 blocked shots after they took the lead into the first intermission (5.3 blocks per period). In the other eight periods – where the Caps were either trying to get a lead or falling behind – they had 44 blocks (5.5 per period). It just struck us as a bit odd; we might have wondered if a lead would result in the team trying to deny more shots to the net.

Faceoffs: 133-for-274/48.5 percent (season: 50.3 percent/rank: T-12th)

A second straight losing week, the Caps won only one game in the circle, and that was a loss on the scoreboard (the 5-2 loss to Ottawa; they were 37-for-72). The Caps had most of their trouble in the offensive end, going only 32-for-81 for the week (39.5 percent). None of the big four taking draws for the week – Jeff Halpern (42.9 percent), Brooks Laich (45.5 percent), Mathieu Perreault (46.7 percent), or Marcus Johansson (35.3 percent) hit the 50 percent mark. They did offset that some with a 54.3 percent mark in the defensive end, all of the big four hitting 50 percent or better except Johansson (33.3 percent).

Turnovers: minus-5

It would have been a lot better but for a ghastly game on the score sheet against Carolina. The Caps earned 11 turnovers of their own, but gave up 26. The Caps were a much more responsible team with the puck in the other three games of the week, finishing even or on the high side of the ledger in all of them and going plus-10 overall.


In boxing, a cardinal rule is, win the end of the round. It looks better to the judges. The Caps won the end of the week, and things look a bit better in doing so than they did after the Caps dropped the first two games of the week by a combined 10-2 margin. With the wins in the last two games the Caps still find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff eight. With 20 games left – three of which will be played against the two teams immediately ahead of them (two against Winnipeg, one against Florida) – the boxing analogy is apt. The Caps are now in the fight of their lives for a playoff spot.

A TWO-point night: -- Game 62: Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 2


The Washington Capitals made this last weekend before the trading deadline a profitable one on the ice by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2, at Air Canada Centre. Unlike the 7-1 pasting the Caps suffered at ACC at the hands of the Leafs in November, there would be no quick start for the home team. In that game, Toronto scored 1:39 into the game to get things off to a fast start. Last night, it was the Caps getting the early goal, a wrap-around by Marcus Johansson just 32 seconds in.

Alexander Semin made it 2-0 just over three minutes later on a series of weak efforts by the Maple Leafs. First, there was the breakout from the Caps’ end. Dmitry Orlov out-worked one, then two Leafs along the wall to goalie Michal Neuvirth’s left to get the puck free. After Mathieu Perreault scooped up the loose puck and circled behind the net, he moved it up to Dennis Wideman, who fed it forward to Jason Chimera. Not only was the breakout clean as a whistle for the Caps, but the Leafs just kept backing off and backing off as Chimera skated through the neutral zone. When Chimera gained the Toronto blue line, he fed it to Semin on the left side – wide open with two Leaf defensemen and a forward on the wrong side of the ice…

Semin fired the puck, but goalie James Reimer made the initial save. Note, though, that defenseman Jake Gardiner merely follows Semin around the back of the net as if he was on a leisurely public skate, while his partner Luke Schenn picks up the rebound…

Perreault jumps into the play to challenge Schenn’s breakout. As Schenn tries to avoid Perreault, he is not aware of Semin coming up from behind on his right. And there is Gardiner taking it all in from below the goal line having left Semin go completely…

Semin picks Schenn clean and now has a clear shooting lane with three Leafs all more than an extended stick length away from him…

Semin fires before Gardiner can get in the lane to block the shot or before Nikoali Kulemin can back check and interrupt Semin’s shooting motion. Still, goalie James Reimer has a good look and appears square to the shot…

The puck goes five-hole on Reimer as Schenn and Gardiner look on helplessly in what was a fairly leaky goal…

Reimer would get the blame for this, but it was really 200 feet of poor play by the Leafs that led to it.

It would be the game’s key goal for a number of reasons. First, it staked the Caps to a 2-0 first period lead, the first time they’ve had one of those on the road since they had a 2-0 lead in Montreal on January 18th in a 3-0 win. Then, there was the matter of the crowd. After that goal the home crowd cheered the most routine of saves. It is one thing to take the crowd out of the game, another to make them actively mock the home team. And, the Caps could thereafter dictate pace, denying the Leafs the opportunity to get their crowd back into the game.

The Caps doubled their fun in the second period on goals by Jeff Halpern and Keith Aucoin, the latter’s first of the season since being called up from Hershey. It ended the competitive portion of the evening, even as Toronto halved the lead in the third period. It was as solid a road game as the Caps have mustered in some time.

Other stuff…

-- More Toronto follies. The Halpern goal was essentially two Caps outworking most of the Leafs’ skaters. First, it was Halpern himself outdueling several Leafs along the wall for the puck, eventually pushing it out to Orlov at the left point. Then, when Phil Kessel moved up to challenge, Orlov deftly stepped around him and opened a shooting lane. He snapped the puck to the net where there was a scrum, but the Leafs left Halpern unattended at Reimer’s right. Halpern got a couple of free whacks at the puck, swatting it in for the 3-0 lead.

-- The Aucoin goal was more of the same, as in “what were the Leafs doing?” Tim Connolly started things on the play rather well for the Leafs, taking the puck away from Marcus Johansson just inside the Capitals’ blue line. He skated in and eluded a diving Mike Green, trying to sweep away the puck. But it was just enough to result in the puck rolling off Connolly's stick into the corner. Matthew Lombardi tried to center the puck, but it squirted all the way through. The result was a puck going in the wrong direction for the Leafs and three forward pinned deep and themselves going in the wrong direction. It turned into a 4-on-2 Capitals rush the other way, making it easy for an Ovechkin to Johansson to Aucoin tap-in for the goal.

-- Johansson, Halpern, Aucoin… secondary scoring. It helps.

-- Neuvirth had a more-or-less solid game. He was good when he had to be in the first 40 minutes, and even the goals he allowed had an odd character to them. On the first, Colby Armstrong’s struggle to keep his feet and control of the puck might have caused Neuvirth to lose his line in tracking Armstrong. He looked as if he was trying to adjust the angle several times on the play and got caught when Armstrong finally got the shot off. On the second one, as a shot was fired wide and behind Neuvirth, he got his right skate caught up with Lombardi as the latter was skating behind him through the crease in pursuit of the loose puck. Neuvirth could not gain purchase to get to his feet with Dennis Wideman standing over him. He was flat on his back as the puck went in.

-- Alex Ovechkin said after the game, "Against our line they played pretty well, especially in the first, I made a couple of moves but their 'D' did a great job, especially Phaneuf. I like playing against him. He's physical. When he hits me, I feel like I am in the game. I don't like when people don't hit me. I like being physical and I like it to be tough." In a game in which Toronto was credited with 43 hits, Ovechkin was the recipient only six times, two by Phaneuf. Only once did he take a hit after 1:44 remained in the first period. If they’d hit him more, Toronto might have ended up losing by half a dozen.

-- That was the ninth time this season the Caps were held to a single power play opportunity. They are 6-3-0 in such games, 3-2-0 when they do not score on their opportunity (they didn’t last night and were held without a shot).

-- Toronto held a whopping edge in zone draws, taking 30 in their offensive end and the Caps taking only 16 in theirs. The Caps largely neutralized that advantage by going 16-for-30 in the defensive end, Halpern and Brooks Laich combining to go 12-for-18.

-- Joel Ward had an assist. He had a goal against Montreal on Friday. That makes for the first time Ward has points in consecutive games since October 20/22.

-- It’s not the number, it’s the percentage. Often this season the Caps have topped the 20 blocked shot mark. Too often that has been an indicator of the ice tilted to far toward the Caps’ net, the opponent getting too many shot attempts. Last night the Caps had 25 blocked shots. Yes, the Leafs had 70 attempts, but 33 of them came in the third period. For the game the Caps blocked more than 35 percent of the Leaf attempts.

In the end, the Caps are off the scheid. Consecutive wins for the first time in more than a month. Those wins allow the Caps to keep in striking distance of a playoff spot – one point behind Winnipeg for eighth and a single point behind Florida for the top spot in the Southeast. But that also shows how hard it is to break through at this time of year. The Caps started the weekend three behind the Jets and two behind the Panthers and are still on the outside looking in after a pair of wins. The Caps cannot – and at the moment do not have to – rely on help too much, so long as they keep winning. They get that chance on Tuesday against the Islanders, a chance for their first three-game winning streak since that three-gamer in mid-January.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62: Capitals at Maple Leafs, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief respite at home, the Washington Capitals take to the road again to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre tonight. This will be the Caps’ second visit to the ACC this season, and it was sort of like Wake Forest visiting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium for an ACC basketball game. The home team clobbered the visitors. In this instance, Toronto pummeled the Caps last November 19th by a 7-1 margin. The Leafs scored early (the first goal coming 99 seconds into the game), often (getting a 6-1 lead after 40 minutes), and in all number of ways (three even strength, three power play, one shorthanded) in leaving the Caps little more than road kill on the ACC ice.

This time, the stakes are higher. The Caps and Leafs are tied in standings points at the moment.  Each team has its collective faces plastered to the glass looking in at the playoffs from the outside in ninth and tenth place, respectively, in the East. Both teams come into this game stumbling. The Caps got a toe-hold on their remaining schedule with a win over Montreal last night, but they are still 2-5-1 in their last seven games. Meanwhile, Toronto has lost three in a row and is 1-6-1 in their last eight games, their lone win coming in overtime against Edmonton

Over those eight games the Leafs have compiled only 15 goals. But the real problem seems to be at the other end. Toronto has allowed 31 goals in the eight games. It has not been a penalty killing problem; the Leafs have killed off 16 of 19 shorthanded situations (84.2 percent). No, the Leafs have just been leaky. Here is how the teams compare overall:

 (click pic for larger image)

1. When Joffrey Lupul started the season as if he was shot out of a cannon, folks might have been forgiven for saying, “yeah, let’s see how long that lasts.” After all, he had topped 25 goals only once and topped 50 points just once. But after he went 5-6-11 in his first ten games, he has added on four more ten-game splits with at least ten points in five tries. He has been productive, and consistently so. And, he is 6-12-18, plus-12 in 12 games against the Caps in his career.

2. Meanwhile, Phil Kessel has gone from sniper to set-up guy. He hit the 30-goal mark in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on February 7th, but in seven games since then he has only one goal. He does have six assists in those games, though. He is 5-8-13 in 19 career games against the Caps.

3. It would be a good thing if the Caps were to get a 5-on-3 power play tonight (humor us). The Leafs have allowed the most 5-on-3 goals this season (seven)

4. Shots do not seem to matter much in Toronto decisions. They have the third-worst record in the league when outshooting their opponents, and they have the ninth-best record in the league when they are out-shot.

5. Brian Burke teams have a reputation for being edgy, for being nasty, for being “truculent.” So, Toronto has the eighth-fewest number of minor penalties called against them this season, they eighth fewest number of major penalties.

1. Here we go again. January 13th and 15th… the last time the Caps won consecutive games. This will be their sixth chance to break the skid, which means they are 6-9-3 since those consecutive wins.

2. The 7-1 loss in Toronto this season aside, the Caps have found Toronto to their liking in recent years. Since the lockout they are 6-5-2 north of the border against the Leafs.

3. Penalties are to be killed, not allowed to thrash around and wreak havoc on the scoreboard, but only two teams have allowed more power play goals on the road than the 26 allowed by the Caps (Toronto, Columbus).

4. More road follies… Only two teams have allowed more shorthanded goals on the road than Washington. The five they have allowed is topped only by Detroit and New Jersey.

5. And one last thing… only Columbus has suffered more losses by three or more goals than the Caps, who have been beaten by that margin 14 times this season. Only Chicago has been involved in more three-or-more goal decisions (26) than have the Caps (24).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: James Reimer

If Toronto is going to be depending on James Reimer as the goaltender to backstop them to the playoffs, he is going to have to pick up his game some. He recorded back-to-back shutouts over Pittsburgh and Ottawa to start the month, but since then is 2-4-0, 3.88, .874, and he was pulled twice. One wonders about his sanity, too. On Thursday he was quoted as saying, “I love my position. For some strange reason, I love to be hit by pucks.” Strange, indeed, but in his line of work it is better than being missed by them. Reimer is 0-1-1, 2.90, .909 in two career appearances against Washigton.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

OK, Joel Ward got off the schneid with an open netter last night. Jason Chimera got one, too. Troy Brouwer might have had one – he might have had a pair – but for the theatrics of Carey Price. But he also remains without a goal in his last dozen games. He is also minus-7 in those 12 games. If the Caps need a player to pick up his game some, Brouwer would be a good candidate. He has not had much success against the Leafs, perhaps owing to the fact that he does not have much of a history here. In five career games he has a power play goal (a game-winner) and an assist.


1. Let’s all go the lobby…let’s all go to the lobby… Washington and Toronto are two-three in the league rankings when leading at the first intermission. Combined, they are 38-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes (Toronto having the overtime loss). Pay attention to who is leading when the horn blows. And that means…

2. No “minute” goals. In the 7-1 loss to Toronto in November the Caps allowed goals in both the first and second period with barely a minute gone by in the period. They also allowed goals in the last minute of both the first and second period. Needless to say, that’s a pretty sure way to lose a game. Stop it.

3. Play nice. The Caps are 4-7-1 on the road when allowing five of more power plays. OK, they are 6-11-2 when they don’t allow that many, but the Leafs have been struggling with their power play (2-for-21 in their last nine games – 9.5 percent). Don’t give them any more opportunities.

In the end, the Caps have to win – to demonstrate they can win on the road, to at least keep pace with Florida and Winnipeg (if not jump over Florida in the event of a Panther loss tonight), to establish some winning momentum. No more need be said.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3

A TWO-point night: -- Game 61: Capitals 4 - Canadiens 1

If it was “opening night” for the rest of the season, as we noted in the pregame, it was a good start. 

The Washington Capitals put forth a workman-like effort and defeated the Montreal Canadiens last night at Verizon Center by a 4-1 margin.  The win pulled the Caps to within a point of the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference and within two points of the Southeast Division leading Winnipeg Jets with two games in hand.

The Caps got four goals from four players in four different ways.  Matiheu Perreault got things started for the home team on some incredibly sloppy and lazy play by the Canadiens.  Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec tried to send the puck around the end boards in his own zone, but the puck eluded Alexei Emelin on the way through.  Before Ryan White could slide over and corral the puck, Jason Chimera intercepted it at the left wing wall. He flipped it harmlessly in the direction of the Montreal net.  But on its way there, Tomas Kaberle was slow to pick up Perreault at the far side of the net and waved at the puck as it was going by.  Carey Price was nothing more than a casual observer, content to stay deep in his net and watch the puck flutter by.  The two Canadiens not taking any initiative resulted in the puck settling on Perreault’s stick, and the Caps’ forward chipped it behind Price for the game’s first goal.

Chimera got one of his own by taking advantage of his unique skill – speed.  The play started with Alexander Semin doing something he isn’t always given credit for doing – taking a hit to make a play.  Two Canadiens closed on Semin at the wall, but Semin slid the puck ahead to Chimera before he was hit.  Chimera picked it up at the Capitals blue line and split two Montreal defenders at center ice.  He charged in alone on Price and tried to slip the puck through the five-hole.  Price swallowed the puck in his pads, but his momentum carried him over his goal line, and the puck ended up squirting beneath them for the 2-0 lead.

The announcement of the Chimera goal wasn’t complete when the Caps took possession of the puck once more off the ensuing faceoff.  Marcus Johansson got things started by collecting the puck at the Capitals’ blue line and starting up ice.  When he closed on the Canadiens’ blue line, Montreal defenseman Ryan white waved at the puck to try to sweep it aside, but managed only to create a chance for Johansson to cut inside.  He did, and as he crossed the blue line, Johansson dropped the puck for Dmitry Orlov.  The Caps’ defenseman wasted no time and pushed the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who joined the 3-on-2 rush.  Ovechkin one timed the puck past defenseman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price for a 3-0 lead 16 seconds after the Chimera goal.

After Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period, Joel Ward ended the evening’s scoring with an empty net goal in the last minute of play. 

Other stuff…

-- Ward’s goal snapped a personal 21-game streak without a goal.  It was the first time he a scored a goal in a Caps win since November 1st.

-- It could have been much worse for the Canadiens but for Carey Price, and that just applies to Price’s work against Troy Brouwer.  Price robbed Brouwer on consecutive shifts in the second period, first with a glove save from point blank range near his left post, and on the next shift on a nifty redirect by Brouwer from the low slot.

-- Scott Gomez’ adventure of a season continues.  No goals for him, but he did get a look at each of the last three goals scored by the Caps when he was on the ice.  He joined Ryan White at a minus-3 for the evening.

-- If Michal Neuvirth looks unspectacular in his goaltending, he is having a good night.  He looked quite unspectacular, relying on technique and technical play to make saves look quite routine, despite the fact that every Montreal skater except Josh Gorges registered a shot on goal.

-- Montreal was credited with only one takeaway for the entire contest.  Can’t necessarily say it was a scoring effect, since the Caps had eight of their own.

-- P.K. Subban tried his level best to try and goad Jason Chimera into taking a dumb penalty when the Caps took a lead, but Chimera sort of stood there looking at him like, “dude, what is your problem?”  It was not one of Subban’s best nights, as he took two penalties of his own and finished a minus-2.

-- What a difference Mike Green makes.  Been a long time since Caps fans saw a defenseman skating the puck out of his own end or moving it up with a first pass as confidently as Green did last night.

-- No doubt folks are going to remember Jeff Schultz losing his skates from underneath him and tumbling to the ice on one occasion last night.  What they won’t remember is his playing more than 15 minutes and finishing plus-1.  Just meat and potatoes defense.

-- The Caps had six power play opportunities.  They have not had that many at home since December 9th.  They have not had that many and failed to convert any of them since going 0-for-7 against Tampa Bay on October 10th.

-- With the win, the Caps became the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach the 20-win mark at home this season.  It Is the fifth straight season the Caps have won at least 20 games at home.

-- Time management.  Alex Ovechkin skated only four shifts in the third period, only two after the power play on which Montreal scored their shorthanded goal.

-- Montreal has now gone 276:32 without having scored an even-strength goal on Washington.

In the end, the Caps are back in position to jump into the playoff-eight.  If they win against Toronto tonight and Florida loses in Carolina, the Caps will move into eighth place.  But at the moment the Caps are “1-0-0” in the “the rest of the season” portion of their schedule. And that is something to build on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Canadiens at Capitals, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps have returned from a…well, disappointing road trip. After winning the first of the four-game trek over Florida, 2-1, and giving fans a glimmer of hope that they were righting their ship and setting sail for the top of the Southeast Division, they took on water, hit an iceberg, ran aground, were torpedoed, and finally… sank. They were beaten in each of their last three games, losing to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa (combined record when they played the Caps: 78-74-25) by a combined score of 12-3 and allowed Carolina goalie Justin Peters to record his first NHL shutout.

With a road record of 10-18-3, the Caps do not have this road thing down, so it’s time to bring in the pros. The guys who made “road trip” part of the American lexicon. First, Eric “Otter” Stratton, in your experience, what is the most important ingredient in a successful road trip?

Otter: Well, Peerless, I’d have to say it’s having a pledge who is dumb as a bag of rocks who has a car that can take some rough treatment. If you’re going on the road, you need to have a ride that lasts.

Donald “Boon” Schoenstein, what’s your take?

Boon: "Music. If you’re going to spend any time in a car with three other guys, you need something to listen to while your roadmates are emanating disgusting body odors. I prefer Otis Day and the Knights… He loves us!"

Larry Kroger…

“Call me ‘Pinto.’”

OK, Pinto… When you’re on the road, what is the one thing you have to have with you?

Pinto: “A strong bladder!”

Good one… Uh, Kent Dorfman – I guess they still call you Flounder – what do you think of road trips in general?

Flounder: “Oh boy…is this GREAT!”

Well, maybe the Caps can take this kind of attitude on their next trip. But tonight, they host the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of a back-to-back weekend. And if any team needed a break, it’s…

Montreal. The Canadiens are on a road trip of their own after dropping a pair of games at home, scoring only one goal over the two contests. Montreal has had an odd road of sorts lately. Over their last seven games they are 3-3-1, the three wins coming on the road and the four losses suffered at home. Given the way the season has gone, it isn’t surprising. The Habs have the worst home record in the East, one of only two teams with a below .500 record in their own arena (they are 11-14-8). But on the road, Montreal has a rather respectable 13-13-2 record (the Caps would kill for that record right now).

In the meantime, the Canadiens have sunk to what for them is a new low – last place in the Eastern Conference. That is an unusual place for them. Since the NHL went to a three-division, two-conference format in 1998-1999 the Canadiens have finished last in their division only twice and have never finished last in the conference. Here is how the teams stack up heading into tonight’s game…

1. In the seven-game run in which the Canadiens are great on the road and poor at home, they – predictably perhaps – have split 40 goals, 20 for and 20 against in going 3-3-1 with one shutout for and one against. Six of their 20 goals have come on the power play in 21 opportunties (28.6 percent), while their penalty kill is 18-for-22 (81.8 percent).

2. What Montreal takes, they often give back. They are a plus-14 (goals for/goals against) in the second period of games this season, but a minus-18 in the third period.

3. The Habs have played in only 28 road games this season. They also have allowed only nine power play goals in those games, lowest number in the league. They have allowed power play goals in two of their last four road games, though.

4. One reason Montreal has struggled – one-goal games. The Canadiens are tied for 28th in winning percentage in such games (with Columbus). Only Carolina is worse.

5. Goalie Carey Price is not the Canadiens’ problem, at least not lately. He has been the goalie of record in Montreal’s last nine games and over that span is 5-3-1, 2.18, .929, with two shutouts.

1. If the Caps are going to break through into the top-eight in the East, they will have to do it at home. But while Washington has the third-best home record in the East, they are only 2-3-1 in their last six home contests.

2. The Caps are on pace for their leading scorer to finish with 63 points. The last time they had a player lead the team with a lower total was in 2003-2004, when Jeff Halpern led the team with 46 points.

3. The Caps have the second most efficient power play at home in the NHL. A lot of good it has done them. Only three teams have had fewer power play chances at home than Washington (Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Minnesota).

4. Even though the Caps are on a pace to finish with only 86 standings points, they are still on a pace for 40 wins. If they accomplish that feat it will extend the franchise record to five consecutive 40-or-more win seasons.

5. Tomas Vokoun has played a total of 37:17 in his last two starts and has been pulled twice. Only twice this season has he played fewer total minutes in one start (25:29 in a 7-1 Toronto Maple Leafs win on November 19th and 20:00 in a 7-4 loss to Vancouver on October 29th).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: David Desharnais

This is something of a breakout season for David Desharnais. The diminutive (5’7”, 177) center is tied for second on the Canadiens in total scoring and leads the club in assists. He has been a pretty good player on the road this season, going 4-15-19 in 28 games. He has been hot of late, too. Until he was held off the score sheet in a 3-0 loss to Dallas in his last game, Desharnais had a six-game points streak, going 1-7-8, plus-2. He has not done much against the Capitals in his brief (110 total games) career against the Caps. In six games, he has one assist.

Washington: Alexander Semin

At the moment, this is really pretty simple. With Alex Ovechkin doubtful, and Nicklas Backstrom on injured reserve, Alexander Semin is now the Caps leading goal scorer and their top forward in assists. He produces, the Caps have a good chance to do good things. He doesn’t, they don’t. No pressure, eh?


1. Short Memories. The road trip is over…forget it. The Caps have had good success at home this season, even if their recent experience is not so pleasant. That’s over, too. The season starts tonight. Twenty-two games. This is number one, opening night.

2. Score first, or don’t. Only two teams in the league have a worse record than Montreal when scoring first (Columbus, Minnesota). The Habs also have that minus-18 in the third period staring them in the face. No team seems ever to be out of a game against Montreal. Keep pushing if adversity strikes.

3. It takes a village to prevent a goal. The Caps have relied on goaltending for a lot of their success this season. Lately it has broken down. But a big part of the problem, too, is poor play in their own zone. If you’re going to be a defense-first team… play defense. Help a goalie out.

In the end, the Caps really do need to treat this game more as if it was March 1st, an opportunity to wipe away what has been a poor February to date (3-7-1 so far in the month, only one win at home in four tries). This game and the one that follows – tomorrow in Toronto – are the last games to be played before the trading deadline next Monday. There are almost certainly guys tonight who will be playing their last game before home fans tonight. They should not make things any easier for George McPhee to move them.

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2