The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take to the ice again on Thursday night to host the Carolina Hurricanes in the last meeting between the clubs this season.
The teams met just nine days ago, the Caps winning in Raleigh by a 5-3 margin. The win started the Caps’ five-game winning streak that they take into this game, while the Hurricanes might view the loss as just one more chapter in a horror story of Stephen King proportions. When these two teams met nine days ago, Carolina was in the midst of gruesome 1-7-1 stretch that saw them fall out of first place in the Southeast Division into tenth place in the Eastern Conference.
After the Caps’ 5-3 win on that night, things have just gotten worse for Carolina. The Hurricanes are 0-4-0 since facing the Caps nine days ago, making them 1-12-1 over their last 14 games. And it is not as if the Hurricanes are losing close. In the four losses since losing to the Caps at home, Carolina has been outscored, 20-6, three of the losses by three or more goals. Only a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh in the Hurricanes’ last game on Tuesday ended in almost respectable fashion.
In those four games there is no Carolina player with more than one goal, and there is no player with a last name other than “Staal” with as many as two points. The best that can be said is that Carolina has spread small portions of scoring across the roster. Six different players have one goal apiece in the four games, and eight players have recorded points.
In case you are wondering, former Capital Alexander Semin has neither a goal nor an assist in any of those four games. Part of that is the fact that Semin missed two of those games to an “upper body injury.”
Special teams have been a sore spot for the Hurricanes. Since they lost to the Caps last week, Carolina is just 1-for-11 on the power play (9.1 percent). In fact, their two power play goals against the Caps on April 2nd is something of a high point. It is the only time the Hurricanes recorded two power play goals in a game since February 12th, a total span of 27 games over which Carolina is 9-for-88 (10.2 percent).
Penalty killing has not been bad over the last four games – 8-for-10 (80.0 percent) – but it has hardly been enough to offset the poor performance on the other side of special teams.
Carolina is a team in free fall. In their 1-12-1 stretch they have lost eight games by three or more goals. They have been held to one or no goals eight times, all losses.
Here is how the teams compare across the board…
1. The brothers Staal – Eric and Jordan – have one goal between them over their last six games. Together they account for 25 of the 102 goals scored by Carolina this season.
2. Only one defenseman – Jay Harrison – has played in all 39 games this season. In fact, among the other defensemen for the Hurricanes, only Tim Gleason has played in as many as 33 games, and only four defensemen have played in as many as 30 games for Carolina this season.
3. Carolina struggles late in games. Although the 36 third period goals they have scored is a respectable number, tied for 13th in the league, the 49 third period goals allowed is exceeded only by the New York Islanders (51).
4. When more than a third of the games you have played have ended in losses by three or more goals, you are going to struggle. That is Carolina – 14 losses by three or more goals in 39 games.
5. Conversely, no team has played in fewer one-goal games than the Hurricanes, and it is not close. Carolina has only eight one-goal decisions this season (4-2-2). Pittsburgh has the second fewest (13).
1. Notes from the five-game winning streak… Goals leaders: Ovechkin (7), Green (3)… Assists leaders: Backstrom (9), Johansson (5)… Points leaders: Ovechkin (9), Backstrom (9)
2. If the Caps had starts like their finishes, we might not be talking about “maybe” making the playoffs. The Caps have only 30 first period goals in 40 games (16th in the league). But their second periods (44/T-3rd) and third periods (41/T-5th) have been hard on opposing defenses.
3. The Caps are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. Five of the nine wins were by one-goal. That has allowed them to climb to tie for sixth in one-goal wins this season.
4. Scoring first still does not matter much for the Capitals. Their 13-8-1 record when scoring the game’s first goal is tied with Detroit for the sixth worst winning percentage in the league.
5. The Caps remain one of two teams in the league that have not yet lost in the freestyle competition. Both Washington and Pittsburgh are 3-0 in the Gimmick.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Dan Ellis/Justin Peters
It would be a bit trite to say that if Carolina has any glimmer of hope for a playoff spot, that leaders have to lead. But the cold hard fact is, they have to stop the leakage in their own end. And that starts with the goaltenders. In the month of April, Carolina goaltenders have a save percentage of .858. Overall, Peters ranks 47th among 51 qualifying goalies in goals against average (3.12); Ellis is right behind him at 48th (3.19). Ellis is tied for 37th in save percentage (.902); Peters is tied for 42nd (.899). Everyone on that team can do more, but it is going to have to start in goal.
Washington: Mike Ribeiro
Since the trading deadline, Mike Ribeiro is 1-2-3, minus-1, in four games. That’s not bad, but it is not what made him arguably the Caps’ most valuable player over the first half of the season. Ribeiro does not have what one would call “pure finishers” on his second line – he started Tuesday’s game against Montreal with Troy Brouwer and Wojtek Wolski on his wings – but that just means he has to be more creative as a playmaker and a scorer. He is, after all, the one in the contract year. More important to the present, he is going to have to be productive to take pressure off the top line to be “on” every night. He is 4-11-15, minus-6, in 24 career games against Carolina.
1. Jump on ‘em early. Carolina has a goal differential of minus-9 in the first period, and this team has not had nearly enough offense in the last month to be a come-from-behind team.
2. Volume, Volume, Volume. The Caps have had trouble with shot volumes allowed this season, but Carolina has had problems on steroids. Seven times in the last 12 games the Hurricanes allowed 35 or more shots on goal. If they do that against this offense, it could be ugly for the visitors.
3. Make hay…. The weather is nice and sunny, the trees are blooming. This might look like an easy game, but Carolina has managed 16 wins. The Caps have to make hay while the sun shines in DC…and that takes hard work.
In the end…
The temptation for fans is to think that this is an easy game against a struggling team. But Carolina still has the brothers Staal, still has Alexander Semin, and still has Jiri Tlusty, who if you do not remember recorded a hat trick against the Caps the last time these teams met. Take this game for granted, and it could be an opportunity wasted.
Capitals 5 – Hurricanes 2