The Washington Capitals are now on the downside of their four-game road trip, Game 3 coming Monday night in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. This will be the last trip to Carolina this season, the Caps having split the first two contests. They beat the Hurricanes, 5-1, on November 4th, then they lost in Carolina by a 3-0 margin on January 20th. This game…
“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
Well, if it isn’t our old friend from Louisiana, Thibodeaux. Shouldn't you be getting ready for the big party?
“Oh cher, that’s not ‘til Mardi. I thought I’d get the week started by watching the Capitals krewe…”
Well, if you have any voodoo you brought along, they sure could use it. They haven’t been able to light up the scoreboard much these days.
“Ah, maybe they should use les flambeaux instead of sticks, n’est-ce pas?”
I don’t know that flaming torches will do the trick. Melts the ice, you know.
“But the maskers, they are doing well, eh?”
If by “masker,” you mean “goalies,” Tomas Vokoun is doing quite well. Wish we could say the same for the power play.
“Ah, dancin’ around like in the fais do-do?”
Well, they sure look like dodos out there lately. What is it you have there?
“A ring cake.”
You mean a king cake?
“No cher…that has green and gold and purple on it, and a baby inside.”
I see this one is red, white, and blue.
“Dat’s right…Capitals colors.”
“A tiny ring, a symbol of a championship.”
You might be getting a bit ahead of yourself, my friend.
Well, while Lundi Gras is getting underway to welcome the arrival of King Rex in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Hockey Monday sees the Caps heading to Carolina to face the Hurricanes (irony in that, one supposes). The Caps are hoping there will be something to celebrate on Mardi Gras with a win in Raleigh, where they have split two decisions so far this season. They defeated the Hurricanes, 5-1, on November 4th, then lost in Carolina on January 20th in a 3-0 shutout.
Carolina has been engaging in some interesting two-step ice dancing lately. In February they have two wins, then two losses (both in overtime), two wins, and a loss. You can see – or hope – where this is going. In fact, Carolina has been relentlessly avoiding any kind of streak for six weeks now. They are 8-5-4 in that time, reliably alternating no more than two wins and two losses at a time over that period.
The one constant in those 17 games has been goaltender Cam Ward. The ironman goalie (he is seventh in the league minutes played) earned the decision in 14 straight games from January 10th through February 13th before he was spelled by Justin Peters last Friday. Ward returned to the ice on Saturday but aggravated what was described by coach Kirk Muller as a “slight tweak” and was relieved by Peters for the last 20 minutes of a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders. In those 15 appearances Ward is 7-3-4, 1.95, .940, and two shutouts. Ward has had his ups and downs against the Caps, holding a career record of 15-10-4, 2.52, .907, with four shutouts against Washington. If he can’t go (he is listed as doubtful for this game), it will be Peters and his 1-1-0, 2.94, .908 career mark against the Caps.
As for the teams, here is how they stack up against one another…
(click pic for larger image)
2. Carolina is a difficult team to score on early. Only four teams have allowed fewer first period goals. But despite outscoring teams by 48-39 in the first period of games this season, the Hurricanes have taken a lead into the first intermission only 23 times in 59 games. And, they have the second worst record in the league when leading after one period, ahead of only Edmonton.
3. No team enjoys a larger positive differential in special teams time at home than Carolina. Their power play less penalty killing ice time is a positive 48:39 in 30 home games. Not that it has helped them too much, the Hurricanes ranking in the bottom third in both home power play and home penalty killing efficiency.
4. Once upon a time this season, Eric Staal was dead last in the league in plus-minus. He is still tied for 839th among 852 skaters having dressed this season, but in his last seven games he is 5-4-9, plus-8, and is a plus player in six of the seven games. He is 2-3-5, minus-2 in four games against the Caps this season.
5. Want to beat Carolina? Score a power play goal. The Hurricanes are 5-20-4 when allowing at least one extra man score. And if Justin Peters is getting the call in goal, he has allowed five goals on 21 power play shots (.762). Only four goalies have a worse save percentage when facing the power play, and one of them – Anaheim’s Iiro Tarkki – faced only one shot.
2. On that whole power play less penalty kill time theme, only five teams have a worse road differential than the Caps’ -22:41 in 29 road games. Part of that is the fact that Washington has had 95 power play opportunities on the road while having found themselves shorthanded 110 times.
3. Much was made of the fact that the Caps were 8-0 in games Mike Green played to start the season and were 9-1-0 in all games in which he appeared before his return from sports hernia surgery on Saturday. But there is this, too. Including his return against Tampa Bay, the Caps have allowed only 23 goals in 11 games in which Green has played, only 15 in the last nine games in which he appeared.
4. In 2009-2010 the Caps had seven players with at least 20 goals. At the moment they have one – Alex Ovechkin – and there is no guarantee they will have another. Alexander Semin has been scoring with more frequency lately and is on a pace for 23, but he can be streaky. Jason Chimera is on a pace for 21, but he has two in his last 24 games. Troy Brouwer is on a pace for 21 as well, but he has one in his last 16 games since getting his first career hat trick against Tampa Bay on January 13th. No other Cap is on pace for 20.
5. The Caps do reasonably well playing on the margin. They are 13-7-5 in games settled by one goal, but they are only 7-7 in one-goal games settled in regulation. Worse, they are 16-17 in games settled by more than one goal. One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of mediocrity.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Jeff Skinner
Meet Jeff Skinner, pugilist. Perusing the records at hockeyfights.com, you will find only one instance in which the young Carolina forward was engaged in a fight in his organized hockey career – a pre-season bout against Columbus’ Kris Russell this past September. But there was Skinner this past Wednesday, getting into a scrape with a teammate (Patrick Dwyer) at practice. Maybe it did something; the Hurricanes went out and beat the San Jose Sharks the next night, 3-2, Skinner getting a goal in the win and Dwyer an assist. Then again, maybe it didn’t; Carolina lost to the New York Islanders the next night, 4-3.
Washington: John Carlson
Things happen when John Carlson is on the ice. That is not necessarily a good thing. Only four players have been on the ice for more team goal against this season. What is more, the 76 goals on ice against is 17 more than the next Caps in line, Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner with 59 apiece. Carlson’s minus-7 is by far the worst among Caps defensemen. He is also leading the teams’ blueliners in even strength ice time per game. If the Caps are to have a turnaround, John Carlson finding another gear would help.
1. Don’t just talk smack, smack smack. If hits are an indicator of physicality, Carolina is not an especially physical team at home (22nd in the league). Then again, the Caps aren’t an especially physical team on the road (22nd in the league). If the Caps can make Carolina pay a physical price, especially early, then they might…
2. Stop letting teams put up crooked numbers early. The Caps have allowed the first goal in the first period in four straight games, going 1-3-0 in the process. That is not a recipe to win games with any regularity.
3. 60 minutes. We noted that Carolina has scored 48 goals and allowed only 39 in the first period. But in the last two, Carolina has scored 104 but has allowed 130. Carolina is not a team that finishes well, and the Caps are 65-51 to the good in the third periods of games this season.
In the end, the Caps have been meandering back and forth for weeks now, unable to string together any significant run of consecutive wins. Except for Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are now as healthy as they have been since opening night. Backstrom’s absence is still a big hole, but by itself no longer justifies why this team should languish beneath the top-eight in the East. It’s more than past time for the Caps to provide that little extra. What do you call it, Thibodeaux?
Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 2