Sunday, January 15, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 43: Capitals 2 - Hurricanes 1

Keep telling yourselves, “it’s not ‘how,’ it’s ‘how many.’”

If you looked at anything but the scoreboard – highlights, game summary, event summary, the looks on Caps fans’ faces during the game – you would have thought that the Washington Capitals were being run out of their own rink by the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. But the Caps parlayed a lasr of a shot from Alexander Semin and a chip shot from an impossible angle by Dmitry Orlov, plus 43 saves on 44 shots from Tomas Vokoun into a 2-1 win over the Hurricanes.

It looked for a time that the teams would go all 60 minutes without scoring, Vokoun stopping everything thrown his way and Carolina goalie Cam Ward being tested about as often as the television time outs. But with about three minutes left in the second period, Carolina made two mistakes. First, Andreas Nodl skated the puck through neutral ice for the Hurricanes and tried to chip the puck deep into the Caps’ end. He managed only to hit the logo on the jersey of Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. The puck bounced to Alex Ovechkin, who started the other way with Marcus Johansson. After Ovechkin slid the puck across to Johansson on his right, Johansson dropped the puck for Alexander Semin just inside the Carolina blue line. Semin wound up to shoot, but here is where the second mistake took place. Carolina defenseman Derek Joslin started backing up. It looked as if he might not stop until he had a seat in Section 117 behind the Carolina goal. The space given up was just what Semin needed as he edged in and ripped a shot over Cam Ward’s glove and just under the crossbar to give the Caps the first goal.

It lasted only 2:46. With Jay Beagle off for elbowing, Jussi Jokinen tied the game with only five seconds left on the power play and only 17 seconds left in the period on the third whack at a puck in front of Vokoun.

The tie lasted only 1:29. In the second minute of the third period, Tomas Vokoun kicked out a drive by Jeff Skinner from the right point. Orlov picked up the loose puck from between the hash marks and skated the other way. He sent the puck up to Jason Chimera down the left wing, who pushed the play into the Carolina zone. As Chimera crossed into the Carolina zone, he tried to chip the puck over Jussi Jokinen’s stick to Orlov charging down the middle. The puck bounced over Orlov’s stick and on goal, but Ward could not control the puck, either. It bounced to his right and to Orlov, who chipped the puck up and behind Ward just as he was about to circle around the net. Dmitry Orlov’s first NHL goal would be a game winner.

(image: CSN)

Other stuff:

-- That was the fifth straight game in which the Caps were outshot. Over those games the Caps have been outshot by an average of 36 – 23. Carolina had more shots on goal (44) than the Caps had shot attempts (38).

-- The disallowed goal off the stick of Brooks Laich will make for interesting bar talk over the next cycle. Several Rules appear to apply here. First, there is Rule 69.1, which states:

“This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. Goal should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside his goal crease.”

Rule 69.3 goes on to state that, “if an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

If these Rules are applied in this instance, it had to be the case that Laich was deemed to have been: (a) in the crease, and (b) impairing Cam Ward’s ability to defend his goal by virtue of contact, despite its being incidental contact.

Then there is Rule 78.5 concerning disallowed goals:

“Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons:…(v) when an attacking player has interfered with a goalkeeper in his goal crease.”

And Rule 38.2 concerning video review and announcements:

“Once the play has been reviewed and deemed a goal, the goal will be announced in the normal manner. If the review reveals that the goal must be disallowed, the Public Address Announcer shall announce the reason for the disallowed goal as reported by the Referee.”

Maybe we missed it, but there was no announcement of a reason for the disallowance of the goal. The referee left the referee’s crease signaling “no goal,” then went to the Capitals’ bench to inform the coaching staff.

-- Back to the game…the hit by Alex Ovechkin on Tuomo Ruutu was a thing of beauty that gets lost among head shots and elbows. Shoulder in the logo, and Ruutu was planted in the ice. Ovechkin has spurts when he will hit anything that moves, but this might have been a bit of payback for the hit Ruutu had on Dennis Wideman in a game last March that ended Wideman’s season and that had Ovechkin going after Ruutu.

-- Back to that shots thing. Every single Carolina skater had at least one shot on goal. Fourteen had at least two. Stormy, the Carolina mascot, was credited with two shots on goal.

-- On the other side, 15 Capital skaters were credited with at least one hit. They outhit Carolina, 36-21.

-- The Caps had more blocked shots (25) than they had shots on goal (24).

-- The Caps went ten games – from November 29th through January 11th – without allowing a power play goal on Verizon Center ice (26-for-26). Jussi Jokinen’s power play goal for Carolina makes it power play goals allowed in consecutive games at home.

-- The Caps had one power play opportunity tonight. That is the sixth time this season (and third in the last seven games) that the Caps have had only one power play opportunity. In the previous five instances they had four power play goals on their lone opportunity. They were unsuccessful tonight.

-- Seventeen Russians have scored goals in the season so far. With Orlov’s first, the Caps have three of them. That ties Columbus for the league lead. That’s right, the Blue Jackets are tied for first in something (Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, and Maksim Mayorov).

-- That makes 7-0-0 for the Caps on home ice in the last four weeks. They have outscored the opposition 21-8 in those seven games.

-- With 43 saves on 44 shots tonight, Tomas Vokoun has stopped 101 of 105 shots what is now a three game winning streak (.962 save percentage).

In the end, it is two points. But more than that, it means the Caps are now atop the Southeast Division and headed in the opposite direction from that of their closest pursuer, the Florida Panthers (with whom they remain tied in standings points). The Caps will get the Islanders, Montreal, and Carolina one more time this week. Florida will get Boston, Colorado, and Chicago in their next three. Opportunity awaits, but the Caps still must take care of their own business.

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14 (January 8 - 14)

Fourteen weeks in and crossing the half-way point of the season. All in all, not a bad week, but nothing to get excited about, either. Kind of like the first fourteen weeks and the first half overall…

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps started the week in the second game of a two-game road trip to California, which for the Capitals might as well be named, “Bataan.” We are loathe to compare a hockey road trip with a forced march of more than 75,000 prisoners of war, but it is the only simile we could think of this early in the day. It got better for the Caps upon their return home, but that is almost expected for a club that finished the week with the second best home record in the Eastern Conference. Those wins did come, however, against teams the Caps have to beat – against Pittsburgh, with whom they are fighting for a playoff spot, and Tampa Bay, who is struggling to win against anyone these days.

Offense: 2.33/game (season:2.90 /rank: 9th)

The Caps managed only two goals in that game in Los Angeles against the Kings and did not do a lot better when they arrived home for the last two games of the week. The Caps managed five goals in the two contests, but only two of them came at 5-on-5 with the opponent’s net manned. Two others came on power plays, and the fifth on an empty net goal.

It wasn’t all “meh,” though. Remember that the Caps were without the services of their leading scorer (Nicklas Backstrom) and their top offensive defenseman (Mike Green) this week. They got two goals from Marcus Johansson in Los Angeles, a hat trick from Troy Brouwer in the win against Tampa Bay, and between those they got a goal from Jason Chimera that was the only goal scored in the game against Pittsburgh. This the kind of secondary scoring the Caps need in the absence of Backstrom and Green, and especially since the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – were held to one goal for the week (Ovechkin). Even Mike Knuble, relegated to fourth line duty for most of the season, contributed two assists – his first points since he had an assist in a 4-2 win over Toronto on December 9th.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.90/rank:T-20st)

The Caps are really a Jekyll and Hyde team when it comes to road and home games, and it manifested itself this week as well. Against the Kings, they allowed five goals – the fourth time in nine road games under Dale Hunter that they allowed four or more goals. Against the Penguins and Lightning they allowed a total of three goals. The shutout of the Penguins was the ninth time in 11 home games under Hunter that the Caps allowed two or fewer goals. But think of how this is unfolding, too. On the blue line, Mike Green is out; Tom Poti is out. Dmitry Orlov is getting the kind of minutes one would have expected he would have been getting in Hershey (he is averaging more than 16 minutes per game for the season and averaged more than 17-and-a-half minutes for the week). Tomas Kundratek was called up from Hershey and got more than 18 minutes of ice time in two games. This is not the defensive corps folks imagined at the start of the season. It’s not the one folks might have imagined at the start of 2012. In that respect, it hasn’t done badly.

Goaltending: 2.67 /.917, one shutout

Tomas Vokoun got most of the work for the week (again), sitting only for the last 20 minutes in the 5-2 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles to open the week. His was a glass half full/glass half empty week. There was stopping 81 of 88 shots (a .921 save percentage), but he allowed four goals on 27 shots against the Kings and three on 31 shots against the Lightning (.879 combined) wrapped around a 30-save shutout of the Penguins. He figured in all three decisions for a 2-1-0 week.

For Michal Neuvirth it was another week with the realization that absent an unforeseen circumstance, the number one goaltender issue is settled (as if anyone thought it would be settled any other way). Neuvirth got 20 minutes of mop-up duty this week (seven saves on eight shots in the loss in LA). He has appeared in nine of the 20 games played by the Caps under Dale Hunter, but two of those were relief appearances. He is 3-3-1, 2.61, .907 in his nine appearances overall. But given the situation at the moment, it would seem that Neuvirth’s apperances might be limited to spot duty – relief and/or playing one of a back-to-back set of games.

Power Play: 2-for-9/22.2 percent (season: 19.9 percent/rank: 5th)

Here we are with the Jekyll and Hyde theme once more. The Caps were 0-for-3 against the Kings to bring them to 9-for-66 for the season away from Verizon Center. That is 25th in the league in power play efficiency. Then, they were 2-for-6 in two home games (both goals coming against Tampa Bay), leaving them at 19-for-75 for the season, that 25.3 efficiency being tops in the league at home.

Getting shots to the net seemed to make a difference. The Caps had only two shots on three power plays in Los Angeles and had nothing to show for it. They had one shot on two power plays against Pittsburgh and had nothing to show for it. Of course, the Kings (fourth in home penalty kill) and the Penguins (ninth in road penalty kill) are pretty good on the PK. Against Tampa Bay the Caps had seven shots on four power plays, and they scored on two of their first three shots. The Lightning are 18th in road penalty killing. You could say the week unfolded about as one would expect.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 82.1%/rank:T-18th)

The good… only eight shorthanded situations faced in three games. The bad, the Caps allowed a power play goal in each of the games in which they had to kill off a shorthanded situation. In the middle game of the week – the 1-0 win over Pittsburgh – the Caps did not face a shorthanded situation. There also was a certain symmetry to the week. Two goals allowed in eight shorthanded situations, two goals on eight shots faced in those situations. What you can say about the week is that neither power play goal allowed influenced the result too much. The first one was the fifth goal by Los Angeles, giving them a 5-1 lead midway through the third period in their 5-2 win. If there is a complaint about that one, it is that both Justin Williams and Dustin Penner got behind defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner to whack at a shot from the point by Drew Doughty. On the other one, a goal by Steven Stamkos that closed the gap to 3-2 in favor of the Caps late in the 4-3 win by the Caps, Stamkos worked his way into position among a triangle of Caps who seemed to lose track of him. He is the wrong guy on that team to lose track of. But with all that, the Caps are still the third best penalty killing group at home in the league.

Paying the Price: 98 hits/54 blocked shots (season rank:15th/14th)

Maybe it was scoring quirks, or maybe it was the opponents, but 98 hits? Against the Penguins (an arch rival) and the Lightning (a divisional opponent), the Caps were credited with a total of 72 hits. Fifteen of 18 skaters were credited with at least one hit in each of the games against the Penguins and the Lightning. Troy Brouwer (didn’t he have a busy week?) had a fourth of them – 18 of the 72 hits in those two games. On the other end, the other guy you would expect to have benefitted from the hit meter going haywire – Alex Ovechkin – had a total of only four in those two games. We wonder about that hit meter since the two opponents in those games – Pittsburgh (40) and Tampa Bay (25) registered a total of 65 hits themselves in the two games.

Faceoffs: 97-for-196/49.5 percent (season: 51.1 percent/rank:8th)

Again, not a bad week, not a great week. The Caps lost the week narrowly and lost two of the three games (winning the faceoff duel against the Penguins, 25-20). What is under the surface of the numbers, though, is this one – 38.6. That was the Caps’ winning percentage in the offensive zone for the week. None of the big three who took a majority of the draws for the Caps – Jeff Halpern (1-4), Brooks Laich (8-17), and Marcus Johansson (7-25) – were over 50 percent in the offensive zone. At the defensive end of the ice it was somewhat better. The Caps were 25-for-45 (55.6 percent), and two of the three of those same players were above 50 percent (Halpern: 57.1 percent; Laich: 53.6 percent).

Turnovers: minus-15

The Caps found themselves on the short side of the turnover battle in each of the three games. It was not that they were especially charitable with the puck (The Caps had a total of 52 turnovers in three games, their own giveaways and opponents’ takeaways), but they generated so few turnovers from opponents – only 37 in three games.


It’s not how, it’s how many. That’s the way the story goes. But at some point one has to be concerned about the “how.” The Caps did just enough to win two games this week and had their lunches eaten in front of them in Los Angeles. They have lost their last four and eight of their last nine road games to teams currently in the top-eight of their respective conferences. The road record in general – and their making a fight of it against good teams in their rinks – has to improve. If it does not, the Caps are going to be hanging around the edges of the playoffs for their last 40 games. And it will not take much for them to find themselves on the wrong side of that divide.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 43: Hurricanes at Capitals, January 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

By the time the clock tolls midnight tonight, the Washington Capitals could be in first place in the Southeast Division. It would be the first time the Caps held the top spot in the Southeast since November 18th. But to do that, the Caps have to get past the Carolina Hurricanes this afternoon. The Caps have accomplished that feat twice already this season – a 4-3 overtime win in the season opener at Verizon Center and a 5-1 decision in Carolina on November 4th.

The loss to Washington on November 4th dropped Carolina to .500 at 5-5-3. It is the last time so far this season that the Hurricanes were at .500. Since then they are 11-18-4. Worse, they are 3-9-2 on the road. But here is the odd quirk in the Hurricanes’ record. Of the seven games they have won since December 15th, five of them have come against teams in their respective conference playoff-eligible group, including wins against Vancouver and Boston. Carolina can, from time to time, scare up a big effort against the big teams, even if their overall numbers do not look especially fear-inducing:

(click on pic for larger image)

The numbers paint a picture something other than pretty for Carolina. In no general category do they rank higher than 20th save for scoring, and even there they hang on to the last spot in the top half of the rankings. They are being outscored on the road by more than a goal per game for the season.

1. The first 20 minutes matter for the Hurricanes. Thirteen times the Hurricanes have trailed after one period; twelve times they lost in regulation time. Only two teams have a worse record (Anaheim and Phoenix).

2. Carolina has the worst record in the league when being outshot by their opponent (6-15-4), although they have won their last two games when allowing more shots than they take (Tampa Bay, Boston).

3. Only one goalie in the league has played more than 2,000 minutes, has a goals against average over 3.00, and has a save percentage under .905: Cam Ward (2,250, 3.09, .902).

4. Eric Staal is 2-1-3 in the two games against the Caps so far this season. He also has been on the ice for five of the nine goals Washington scored in the two games (four of the six even strength goals). Perhaps he can take solace in the fact that Jamie McBain was on the ice for four of the five goals scored by Washington in the 5-1 Caps win in November. But there is this, too. Only seven of 813 skaters having dressed so far this season have a worse plus-minus on the road than Staal (minus-12), and he is last overall (minus-21).

5. Carolina has allowed more third period goals than any team in the league – 65. Their allowing 1.41 goals per game in the third period is not too far off Tuukka Rask’s league leading 1.59 goals against per 60 minutes for Boston.

1. Only two teams in the league have allowed fewer goals on the power play at home than the seven allowed by the Caps (Pittsburgh, New Jersey).

2. The Caps have played only two games against the Hurricanes so far this season, but they have points from 15 different skaters in the two wins. And, the nine goals they have in the two games come from nine different players.

3. You probably would not be surprised to know that Nicklas Backstrom is tied for the team lead with 14 even strength assists. You might be surprised to know that the player with whom he is tied is John Carlson.

4. The Caps have done a pretty good job of spreading around penalty killing responsibilities. Through 42 games, the Caps are averaging 5:38 in shorthanded ice time per game. No Cap is averaging more than half that amount (Karl Alzner leads with 2:39), only four Caps average more than two minutes, and 14 different players (including six defensemen) are averaging at least 45 seconds.

5. Troy Brouwer was displaying a certain efficiency in shooting before his hat trick against Tampa Bay on Friday. He was 11-for-66 (16.7 percent) going into that game. Three goals on three shots later, and he is the only Caps with a shooting percentage over 20 percent for the season (20.3 percent on 14-for-69 shooting). He ranks seventh in the league in shooting efficiency.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Justin Faulk

Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen had knee surgery on Janaury 3rd and was expected to take four weeks to recuperate. In the meantime, the ice time leader on the blue line for the Hurricanes is Justin Faulk (22:03 per game for the season). A lot of responsibility for a youngster who will not celebrate his 20th birthday until March 20th. He had been struggling on the defensive side of the ledger, putting up a combined minus-4 in seven games from December 27th through January 10th. But in his last two games he has a goal and an assist, and is a plus-4 in two Carolina wins. He is tied for the team lead among defensemen in power play points (2-4-6, with Jamie McBain).

Washington: Alexander Semin

Caps fans have seen “Good Sasha” lately in an important respect. He has drawn only one minor penalty in more than 137 minutes of ice time covering eight games. Add to that the fact that Semin is 3-5-8, plus-4 in those games, and that is a good thing indeed. But the important thing here might be that penalty number. The Hurricanes are a poor team at 5-on-5 (27th in the league) but somewhat better with the man advantage (20th overall, 16th on the road). Stay out of the box.


1. Get a lead. In a league where it is tough to win when you trail in games, Carolina is an especially poor team at coming from behind – 26th when allowing the first goal, 28th when trailing at the first intermission. Add to that, Carolina is playing their second game in less than 24 hours, and the Caps need to jump on these guys early.

2. Play it clean. Carolina has only 16 power play opportunities in their last nine games. They have converted seven of them (43.8 percent). The lack of opportunities has had an effect, in spite of the efficiency. Carolina has killed off only 22 of 30 shorthanded situations in those nine games (73.3 percent), leaving them a minus-1 on special teams in those nine games.

3. Shoot smart. Carolina goalie Cam Ward (should he get the call in the second half of a back-to-back) seems to thrive on in-game work. When facing 34 or more shots per game he has a 2.89 goals against average and a .921 save percentage (compared to 3.09, .902 overall). Only three times in 15 such games does he have a save percentage lower than .910. Pounding shots is not necessarily the path to winning against Ward. Don’t be cute, be smart.

In the end, the pressure on the Caps in this one is the kind of pressure that manifests itself as a product of underperforming for much of the season. They face an opponent they not only should beat, but must beat given their tenuous hold on eighth place in the East (they own tie breakers over Pittsburgh). Carolina, for two games at least, is playing as well as they have since beating Boston twice and Buffalo for their only three-game winning streak of the season in October. This is one game in which the Caps need to get off to a good start so that Carolina might remember they are playing that second game in less than 24 hours. Given each of Carolina’s last two road losses have come by the same score, why not a third time?

Capitals 5 – Hurricanes 2