Saturday, March 10, 2012

A TWO-point afternoon -- Game 68: Capitals 4 - Bruins 3

Well, it wasn’t dull.

The Washington Capitals took to the road in what will be the first of six road games in the next seven covering 13 days. The Caps got off on the right foot on this journey, defeating the Boston Bruins, 4-3, at TD Garden.

It started as if the Caps would run the B’s out of their own building. They outshot the Bruins 12-3 in the first 8:15 of the game and got goals from Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks. Semin was Alex-on-the-spot to put back an uncharacteristically long Tim Thomas rebound off a drive from the left point by Karl Alzner. Just 25 seconds later, Matt Hendricks finish a play with some hard work on a play filled with it.

Hendricks started the play along the left wing wall in the Boston zone, outdueling defenseman Dennis Seidenberg for the puck. Hendricks swept in deep into the corner, where Jay Beagle took over. Beagle was able to fend off the other defenseman – Joe Corvo – and circled out to find a passing lane. He found Dmitry Orlov at the top of the zone, and Orlov sent the puck to the net. Orlov’s drive was deflected on its way in by Troy Brouwer, preventing Thomas from being able to corral the puck cleanly. Hendricks took one whack and then another as he was being knocked down by Seidenberg at the top of the crease. But the nuisance wasn’t enough to stop Hendricks from snapping the puck past Thomas for the 2-0 lead 8:15 into the game.

The first period was part of some of the best 19:51 of compete level shown by the Caps this season. They were everywhere pressuring the Bruins, keeping the home team from getting clean breakouts and not allowing much in the way of chances when they could gain the offensive zone. They even killed off three penalties in the process. But 19:51 isn’t 20 minutes, and the last nine seconds wiped out a lot of that good work. With a faceoff to Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun’s right, Jay Beagle and Patrice Bergeron tied one another up on the draw. The puck leaked toward the Caps net, and Milan Lucic was more alert than any Capital – particularly defenseman John Carlson, who did not step up smartly when Lucic cut in to grab the puck. Lucic snapped a shot through Vokoun with six seconds left in the period, and the Caps’ lead was halved.

It looked bad for the Caps when Boston tied the game 4:58 into the second period on an unassisted goal by Brad Marchand. But Jay Beagle, who frankly deserved a star in this game, put the Caps back in front on an amazing centering feed from Alexander Semin. Six minutes later the Caps got some insurance on, of all things, a power play. Brooks Laich deflected a drive by defenseman Dennis Wideman through Tim Thomas before Adam McQuaid could get to the top of the crease to defend Laich.

They would need that insurance when Johnny Boychuk scored for the Bruins with 3:13 left in regulation. But the Caps stiffened. In that last 3:13 Boston did a lot of buzzing in the Caps’ end, but they managed only three shot attempts in that last 3:13, two of them on net, and both of them stopped by Vokoun to seal the win.

Other stuff…

-- In a space of just a few seconds Caps fans saw what is so confounding about Alexander Semin. He chased down Adam McQuaid in the faceoff circle to Thomas’ right and hounded McQuaid behind the Bruins’ net. McQuaid appeared sufficiently concerned with Semin’s peskiness that he skated smack into teammate Dennis Seidenberg, thus taking both out of the play as Semin skated through and collected the puck in the corner. Then, with Milan Lucic bearing down on him, Semin whipped a centering pass right onto the tape of Beagle’s stick, and Beagle did the rest. It was the kind of play that show Semin’s talent in skating, in his ability to annoy puck-carriers with his stick chipping at their elbows and their stick, his ability to take a hit to deliver a play, and his superior passing skills. One wonders why that sort of mix of talent isn’t in display more frequently. He has it in him.

-- Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Brooks Laich. With Nicklas Backstrom injured and Mike Green suspended, this was the kind of stepping up the Caps desperately needed on the road in getting goals from that trio.

-- Why did Beagle deserve a star? Well, there was the goal (his second of the season), his winning seven of 11 draws (including four of six in the defensive zone), and in what became a grinding kind of a game as the minutes ticked by he has more even strength ice time (16:44) than Alex Ovechkin (13:03), Brooks Laich (16:20), and for that matter every other Caps forward.

-- Who thought Marty Turco might have gotten the call after the Bruins went down 2-0 early? With the Bruins in Pittsburgh tomorrow, a change there might have given Thomas a break before that game. Now, does Thomas start tomorrow’s game with no rest? Boston is not in any jeopardy of dropping out of the playoff mix, but they are in a fight with Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead (three points, and the Bruins have two games in hand) and a top-three seed.

-- Dmitry Orlov makes a base salary of $640,000 and has performance bonuses of $260,000. Dennis Wideman makes $3,937,500 and will be a free agent after season’s end. Wideman will not be back. His two assists gave Orlov points in three straight games (on ice for only one goal against), and he is 1-7-8, plus-7 in his last 12 games dating back to February 13th. There is always a fear of a sophomore slump (see: John Carlson), but right now Orlov is sturdy enough on the Caps’ blue line.

-- Odd fact. In the first period there was not a single icing call until the 19:38 mark – an icing call against the Caps. Thirteen seconds, there was another, again against the Caps. Three seconds after that, the Bruins had a goal. The Caps just did not manage the ice well in those last 22 seconds, and it cost them.

-- Sometimes, stuff happens. Alex Ovechkin skates into a bad place – or at least one in which he cannot do much if anything good – up along the players’ benches and into a hit by Jordan Caron. As a result, the Caps can’t get the puck into the Boston end as they start to make a line change. Result – a goal two seconds after the hit when Brad Marchand takes up the loose puck with no Caps around him and fires it past Vokoun to tie the game.

-- You have to feel for Mike Knuble. He gets into the game, skates 11:26, and finishes the game with exactly one mark on his line of the score sheet. It is technically a missed shot. It was a snap shot at an open net that hit the near post and caromed away. It would have given the Caps a 5-2 lead with seven minutes left and effectively salted the game away. Boston made it 4-3 less than four minutes later.

-- There is also this odd Knuble fact in this game… he skated more shifts in the third period (seven) than did Alex Ovechkin (six).

-- If you are in the game long enough, you know to make the smart play, even when a superstar is on your line. It came late with the Caps nursing a lead. Keith Aucoin skates into the Boston zone with Alex Ovechkin flanking him. Aucoin could have left the puck inside the Boston line for Ovechkin on his right. But Boston had numbers at the blue line, and a mistake there – a bad pass, Ovechkin fumbling the puck – could have resulted in a rush the other way. Aucoin held the puck and skated it in deeper himself, running a few more seconds off the clock and keeping the Caps with territorial advantage.

-- Another odd fact. Caps fans know that the team has struggled on the power play on the road – last in the league, in fact, coming into this game. But try this on. The Caps have power play goals in two of their last three road games and have two goals on their last six opportunities dating back to the 5-2 win at Ottawa on February 22nd.

In the end, Karl Alzner said it best after the game…

“…it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, right? We’re just happy that we got the two points.”

That about says it…this isn’t the Beauty Contest System to crown a champion in college football. Win, and you’re in. The Caps get a chance to double down on their good fortune when they come home to face Toronto tomorrow. And if there isn’t enough incentive for that, if the Caps can knock of the Leafs and Carolina the Panthers, the Caps will find themselves in first place in the Southeast.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This was a good win, perhaps the best one since the Caps shutout Florida, 4-0, more than a month ago. And they did it with two big pieces missing and by doing it the old-fashioned way, grinding it out when things were getting tough on the road. Sounds like a formula.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 68: Capitals at Bruins, March 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road with a trip to Boston for a Saturday matinee against the Bruins…

“Ooh…think they’ll have cartoons at the matinee, cousin?”

Cheerless, it’s a hockey game, not one of those old time afternoons at the movies.

“But you said it was a matinee, and they always have cartoons.”

Look, there is the pre-game warm-up, a hockey game, maybe some mites on the ice at intermission, and if you’re really good, maybe an overtime or a shootout.

“But no cartoons?”


“Not even a Woody Woodpecker?”


“No ‘Merrie Melodies’ or “Looney Tunes?’”

Nope…no Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck?

“You’re sure? How can it be a matinee without any cartoons.”


“So there ARE cartoons?”

Have you seen the Caps’ road power play lately?

Washington will be hoping to generate some spark on the power play in Boston on Saturday, not to mention some even strength…well, strength… and if they’re really in the mood, maybe a shortie or two. It would be novel. In the 2012 portion of the season, the Caps have played in 14 road games. They have scored more than three goals once. That happened to be their most recent road game, a 4-2 win over Toronto on February 25th. But the Caps are moving up in weight class in their next opponent.

Or are they? Boston built a reputation early this season as a juggernaut, leaving opponents’ wreckage in their wake from beating them and beating them up with a deep, talented, and edgy team. They won 10 in a row in November and were 14-0-1 from November 1st through December 5th. Then they ran off a seven-game streak from December 10th through December 28th. On January 12th the Bruins were 28-11-1, and folks were planning the parade down Boylston Street.

January 12th would be an important date in the Bruins’ season. It was the last time they won consecutive games until winning their last two this past week. Since January 12th Boston is a pedestrian 12-12-2. Tim Thomas, the hero of last season’s playoffs and who was rolling along with a record of 18-7-0, 1.95, .939, with four shutouts, was found to be mortal. He is 11-8-0, 2.74, .903, with no shutouts since January 12th.

Tyler Seguin, who started the season with 11 goals in his first 15 games (a 60-goal pace), has seven goals in his last 26 games (a 22-goal pace) since January 12th. Patrice Bergeron was a plus-27 in his first 40 games; is plus-3 in his last 26 games since January 12th. Brad Marchand had 32 points in his first 37 games; he has 11 in his last 23 games since January 12th.

The juggernaut is in a ditch.  Here is how the teams compared going into last night's action:

 (click pic for larger image)

1. Boston does bring the league’s top 5-on-5 offense into the game. They are averaging 2.30 goals per game at 5-on-5, more than Islanders, Kings, and Wild average in total per game.

2. The Bruins have a remarkable disparity in results when outshooting and when being outshot by their opponents, and not in the direction one might expect. They are 21-16-3 (a .525 winning percentage) in games in which they outshoot their opponents, but they are 19-7-0 in games in which they are outshot (a .731 winning percentage, second-best in the league to Detroit).

3. You have heard from time to time recently that the Caps are one of two teams with a perfect record (19-0-0) when leading after two periods. Boston is the other one – 26-0-0.

4. Big, bad Bruins? Boston is 22nd in the league in hits overall, 23rd in hits at home. But there is this… they are second in the league in fighting majors (52), trailing only the New York Rangers. Shawn Thornton has 18 fighting majors by himself, as many or more than five other teams. Only one team (Philadelphia) has more misconduct penalties, and the Bruins lead the league in game misconduct penalties. They do not work or play well with others.

5. As is befitting for their mascot, Boston mauls teams. Their 17-4 record in games decided by three or more goals is the second highest win total and second best winning percentage in such games in the NHL. They are “only” 15-10-3 in one-goal games.

1. About the Caps and that perfect record when leading after two periods. That’s nice, but only four teams have fewer wins when leading after two periods (Minnesota, Columbus, Carolina, and the Islanders…not exactly a Murderer’s Row). That is because no team has had fewer second intermission leads this season than the Caps.

2. The Caps are 7-for-61 on the power play when on the road under Dale Hunter (11.5 percent). Almost identical to their record under Bruce Boudreau (5-for-42; 11.9 percent). Only two teams have fewer road power play goals (Buffalo, Winnipeg), and overall they have the worst road power play in the league (11.6 percent). Add to that the fact that only two teams have allowed more shorthanded goals on the road than the Caps, and one can see that the Caps’ power play is a real adventure on the road.

3. Only three teams have a worse turnover ratio (takeaways to giveaways) on the road than the Caps (minus-62) – Buffalo, Phoenix, and New Jersey.

4. The Caps are 25th in the league in first period goals scored, fourth in the league in third period goals scored.

5. Only three teams have more wins than the Caps this season when trailing at the second intermission (Boston, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh). But don’t get a big head about it. The best team in the league (Pittsburgh) has a winning percentage of .308 in such games (8-16-2). The Caps have a winning percentage of .200 (6-22-2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Milan Lucic

Milan Lucic comes into this game on a five-game points streak (1-5-6) and has an outside chance of reaching his career high in points (62, set last season). He currently has 50. He already has a career high in power play goals (seven) and is within striking distance of his career high in penalty minutes (120, 16 short of his 136 in 2008-2009). His is an interesting mix in skills – second on the team in goals, third in points, second in penalty minutes, first in hits, fourth in fights. Against the Caps he is 3-6-9, minus-5 in 16 career games.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin picked the worst time for his scoring well to go dry. He took an oh-fer for the five-game home stand – no goals on 19 shots, no points. But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope he can right himself in Boston. His road production (8-13-21 in 31 games) is little different than his home production (9-11-20 in 32 games). He has 15 points in 20 career games against the Bruins (4-11-15). Two of his goals are game-winners. But there is this, too. He has 20 penalty minutes in 20 games against Boston, a slightly higher rate than his career PIMs per game. Which Semin shows up – the one who produces on the ice, or the one that sits in the penalty box with an ill-timed penalty – could be the difference in this one.


1. Simplicity. Boston is not a complicated team. They are deep, and they can wear down opponents with their depth and their physical edge. Being fancy or cute might be just an exercise in frustration. This should be played as a textbook road game for the Caps. Simple equals success.

2. Secondary. In January the Caps knocked off the Bruins without Alex Ovechkin. Now, they have the challenge of matching that outcome without the services of Mike Green, who will be sitting for this game and two more under a suspension. That means guys like Mathieu Perreault (who had a hat trick in that January game), Jeff Halpern and Jay Beagle (an assist apiece) have to step up with secondary scoring.

3. Silence. The goal horn has gone off a lot for the home team when the Caps visit in the 2012 portion of the season – 43 goals in 14 road games (3.07 per game). Defense tightened up some in the last three games of the home stand (seven goals against), and now they have to do that on the road, because Boston doesn’t allow many at home (eight in their last four home games).

In the end, this begins the make-or-break portion of the Caps’ regular season. Six of the next seven games will be on the road, and the Caps will be traveling in what resembles an Original Six tour – they get Boston, Chicago, and Detroit on the road, plus Toronto in their only home game in this stretch. If the Caps can come out of these seven games breaking even, they give themselves a chance to make the last eight games of the season mean something. Getting off to a good start toward that goal would be nice.

Even if there aren't any cartoons.

Capitals 2 – Bruins 1