The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It is Game 4 of the 2013-2014 season, which as Washington Capitals fans know is “must-win”…”do or die”…”fish or cut bait”…”face the music”… go “balls to the wall”…
“Why would anyone have their balls up on a wall?”
Not the same kind of balls, Cheerless.
“You mean, more like the balls they make Rocky Mountain oysters out of?”
No…NO! Geez, Cheerless, it’s too early for that…
“So, what do you mean?”
OK, it has nothing to do with anatomy, OK? It comes from old time fighter aircraft. They had knobs at the top of their throttle controls.
“Knobs are like balls?”
Yeah, I suppose. And when the pilot pushed his throttle all the way forward, he pushed the “balls” of his throttle handle all the way to the “wall” of his cockpit.
“Wait…’balls?’…’cockpit?’…you sure this has nothing to do with…”
OK!...So, the Caps return to action Thursday night, hosting their long-time rivals, if by “long-time,” you mean since 1997-1998…
“Oh, since the Caps were in a Stanley Cup final…ancient history.”
Hush up. Anyway, the Hurricanes come to visit Verizon Center to open what will be for the Caps their longest home stand of the season, five games. Carolina comes into this game having played three games against A-list teams, at least as far as gate and TV appeal are concerned – Detroit, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh – going 1-1-1 in the process.
Even though this is just Game 4 for the Hurricanes, they already have issues. First, injury issues. Tuomo Ruutu, who missed all but 17 games last year to injury, started the season on injured reserve with a lower body injury that is said to be unrelated to a hip injury that caused him to miss 29 games last season. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen is out for the season with a heel injury he suffered last April in a game against the Caps, on a play that might have been the last straw in the league adopting a hybrid icing rule…
Tim Gleason, a defenseman with 599 games of regular season experience, is out with a concussion, further depleting the Hurricane blue line.
What it has meant for Carolina thus far is that the club dressed two defensemen who did not play for the club last season (Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey), two with a combined 18 games of NHL experience (Brett Bellimore and Ryan Murphy), and two others (Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison) who are a combined minus-43 for their respective careers.
Not that the offense has been firing on all cylinders, yet, either. Carolina scored two goals in each of their first three games. As if it matters. Cam Ward has had a start similar to that of Braden Holtby for the Caps in goal. Ward is 0-1-1, Holtby is 0-2-0. Ward has a goals-against average of 3.90, Holtby’s is 4.48. Ward has a save percentage of .893, Holtby is at .848. There are two differences to note, though. Holtby has gotten better in his three appearances, at least a little. After allowing eight goals on 45 shots in his first two games, he stopped 19 of 21 in the Caps’ 2-1 loss to Dallas last Saturday. Ward, however, followed up a 35-save effort in a 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit in the season opener with allowing five goals on 37 shots in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Here is how the teams compared in their numbers last season…
1. Carolina had the worst special teams index in the league last season (sum of power play and penalty killing percentages) – 92.2. So far this season, they are 22nd, if with a worse number – 86.1.
2. Carolina’s power play can be summed up in one word, “futile,” at least by one measure. The Hurricanes have one power play goal on nine chances in 17:05 of power play time. Only three teams – Philadelphia, Anaheim, and Detroit – spend more time per power play. Since scoring ends a power play, a lot of power plays are running their full measure.
3. Of the 20 players to dress for Carolina so far this season, six were not with the club last season (including both of their top goal scorers – Nathan Gerbe and Radek Dvorak), and three more played in fewer than 10 games with the club last season.
4. Eric Staal and Alexander Semin have been on ice for just one goal scored by the Hurricanes so far this season, that coming on Carolina’s first goal (scored by Staal) in the Hurricane’s 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Jiri Tlusty, who led Carolina in goals last season (23) has not been on ice for a goal scored by Carolina thus far.
5. Carolina struggled with an unraveling defense through three games. Their goals by period go: one in the first, two in the second, and five in the third (plus one overtime goal allowed). Only New Jersey has allowed more third period goals.
1. Of the 20 skaters appearing for the Caps thus far, only Marcus Johansson is a “plus” player (plus-1).
2. Joel Ward and Eric Fehr both have been on ice for seven goals against thus far, tied for fourth most in the league. It could be worse… Ales Hemsky (9) and Taylor Hall (7) rank worst and tied for fourth worst for Edmonton, and Mike Richards (8) and Jeff Carter (7) rank second and tied for fourth for Los Angeles (before Wednesday's games).
3. Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal in each of the Caps’ three games so far this season, the third time he has scored power play goals in three straight games in his career. It is the third straight season in which he accomplished the feat. He has never had a four-game streak.
4. Mike Green is second in the league in average ice time (28:18). That is 2:32 more than his highest average ice time in a full season.
5. With a win in this game, Adam Oates can pass Danny Belisle for 11th place in wins among coaches in Caps franchise history. They are currently tied with 28 career wins. The difference being Belisle needed 96 games to get to 28 wins, Oates needed 51 (50, actually).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Andrej Sekera
For seven seasons defenseman Andrej Sekera toiled in the anonymity that playing in Buffalo affords. It did not mean he was ineffective for the Sabres. In six full seasons with Buffalo he averaged 20 minutes of ice time per game and averaged 4-18-22 per 82 games. Then came a trade to Carolina at the NHL entry draft last June, for defenseman Jamie McBain and a draft pick.
It is early for the Hurricanes, but Sekera leads the club in shorthanded ice time per game. That would put him right in the cross-hairs of the Caps’ league-leading power play, especially since playing on the left side, he is going to be having to deal with Mikhail Grabovski down low and keeping an eye on Nicklas Backstrom along the right wing wall.
Washington: 2nd line/3rd line
Yeah, this is not one player to ponder, but what we are pondering here is: a) can the second line of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer score (they have no goals yet as a line); and b) can the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward keep anyone from scoring (they have the league’s 3rd, 4th, and 12th worst goals against-on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 among forwards)? This is the fault line that is causing the even strength problems for the Caps.
1. Early returns. The Capitals have two first period goals so far this season, both of them of the power play variety. Carolina has allowed only one first period goal through three games. Given the Hurricanes’ struggles in the third period (five goals allowed in through three games), the Caps can kill two birds with one stone with a good start. First, get off the schneid at even strength; second, put the Hurricanes behind the eight-ball, where they might face only a steeper climb back into the game.
2. Staal ‘em. Eric Staal has the second worst Corsi/on-ice at 5-on-5 and has been on ice for more goals against than any other player for the Hurricanes. Only three forwards had a worse Corsi value last season for Carolina, and Eric was on ice for more goals against than any other forward except his brother Jordan. The Caps can make the Hurricanes pay when he is on the ice (numbers from behindthenet.ca).
3. Top Pair = Top Notch. Mike Green and Karl Alzner are each minus-3 for the Caps so far, worst on the club among defensemen. Alzner has the only even strength point between them. Both are getting more than 20 minutes of even strength ice time per game. That is a lot of exposure for them to be getting, well, exposed.
In the end…
The last time the Caps had a five-game home stand (February 28 – March 8, 2012) the Caps failed to win a game in regulation, were shutout twice, and went 2-2-1. That’s a way of saying, take nothing for granted. This is an opportunity to get off on the right foot at home to put together a solid October. This is important. Yes, the Caps came back to go 25-10-2 after starting 2-8-1 last season. The year before they finished 26-18-7 after starting 16-14-1 (including going 9-14-1 after a 7-0-0 start). But really, do the Caps want to go to the well a third time with that sort of pattern? You cannot win a Stanley Cup in October, but you can lose one. The object of the exercise is to avoid the latter, and that means getting off on the right foot on a long home stand.
Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2