Thursday, February 21, 2013

A NO-point night -- Game 16: Devils 3 - Capitals 2

If you were to sneak into Verizon Center right about now, you would probably see a burly young man in a red jersey sitting in the penalty box. Surely there has to be another penalty in there.

The Washington Capitals took a lead into the third period, but marching to the penalty box with the precision that would make John Philip Sousa proud (if not head coach Adam Oates or the players), the Caps had six shorthanded situations to kill off.  They would kill off five of them, but the sixth one did them in as the Devils skated off with a 3-2 win in the first half of the two-game set at Verizon Center this weekend.

The Caps had trouble defending on special teams in this one at both ends of the ice.  The Caps opened the scoring mid-way through the second period when Mathieu Perreault stuffed a rebound of a Troy Brouwer shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.  But less than two minutes later the Devils tied it on a Caps power play when Adam Henrique stripped John Carlson of the puck behind the Caps’ net, then after taking a return pass from Patrik Elias, fed Elias going to the net for the shorthanded equalizer.

Barely a minute after that the Caps converted their power play.  Mike Ribeiro gave the Caps the lead once more when he kicked the puck onto his stick, spun, and fired from the slot past Brodeur.  When the Caps took that 2-1 lead into the locker room after 40 minutes, it looked pretty good.  The Caps were 3-2-0 when leading after 40 minutes, while the Devils were 0-3-1.

Then the referees found their whistles. 

Having taken only an inconsequential holding penalty by Mathieu Perreault in the first period, which the Caps killed off, the Caps would be whistled for six minor penalties in the third period in the space of 9:35.  Six different players were sent off for six different kinds of infractions.  Twice the Devils had 5-on-3 advantages for a total of 2:28 and yet managed only two shots on goal.  It was the second of those shots at 5-on-3 – a rocket of a one-timer from Ilya Kovalchuk – that broke a 2-2 tie (Andrei Loktionov having tied the game earlier in the period) and provided the winning margin.

Other stuff…

-- Ilya Kovalchuk was a monster for the Devils.  In addition to the game-winning goal, Kovalchuk skated 28:58 in ice time (including a 3:52 shift when the Devils were on one of their extended power plays), had seven shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, and he was on the ice when the Devils were defending against an extra Capitals attacker over the last 1:22 of the game.

-- His score sheet would not shine as bright as Kovalchuk’s, but Alex Ovechkin played with an intensity that has been largely absent from his game this season.  He was the “bull in the china shop” once more, with four hits of an enthusiastic quality (and one other that got him sent to the box for, of all things, a “tripping” call).  He had four shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, and two takeaways in 22:39 of ice time.  That time on ice looked more impressive given how much time the Caps spent killing penalties in the third period (he had just over six minutes of ice time).

-- The Capitals had only three shots on goal in the third period, one shot on goal in the last 13:34 of the game.  That was an 87 foot wrister from Ovechkin that nearly handcuffed Brodeur in the last minute of regulation and the Caps down a goal.

-- The Caps skated only 14:05 of even strength ice time in the third period, 1:39 of that being 4-on-4 whe Nicklas Backstrom and Adam Larsson were sent off on coincidental minor penalties.

-- John Carlson’s head just does not seem to be in the game consistently.  He was on ice for all three Devils goals, and his being pickpocketed by Adam Henrique, leading to the Devils’ first goal, was just ghastly.  He has been on ice for 14 of the 17 power play goals scored by opponents this season and the Caps' lone shorthanded goal against.

-- Troy Brouwer had a pretty decent game for the Caps.  Two assists, three shots, and four hits.  And he did not go quiet into that good night at the end of this one.  He was docked ten minutes for rendering an opinion on the officiating as the teams retired to their locker rooms after the final horn.

-- Well, we had the right “players to ponder” in the prognosto.  Patrik Elias was 1-1-2, plus-1 in almost 21 minutes of ice time.  Mathieu Perreault had a goal and was 4-for-7 on faceoffs.

-- Speaking of the latter, two of the Devil goals were scored shortly after winning faceoffs, including the game-tying goal.  Andrei Loktionov beat Mike Ribeiro cleanly and went to the net as Adam Larsson was about to fire a shot.  Loktionov put back the rebound five seconds after the draw to complete a rather simple play the way one teaches it.

-- The deluge of penalties aside, penalty killing is killing this team.  The Caps are now 1-8-1 when allowing opponents more than three power play chances, and they are 0-9-1 when allowing a power play goal.

-- Too bad, too, because with two power play goals in four chances the Caps jumped to third in the league in power play efficiency (26.8 percent).  Still, the Caps are minus-3 on special teams.  While they have 15 power play goals, they have allowed 17 power play goals to opponents and the shorthanded goal scored by the Devils in this contest.

-- The Caps had one shot on goal from a defenseman in this game, that by Carlson.  And while we are at it, Carlson does deserve a mention to the good for assuming the Mike Green role with Green on the bench with an injury.  Carlson had one shot six shot attempts, four hits, and five blocked shots in 30:34 in ice time, that last number leading both teams.

-- We noted in the prognosto that Martin Brodeur has not been seeing a heavy shot volume this season (fewer than 24 shots per 60 minutes).  Well, there it was.  Brodeur faced almost no work in the first and third periods – seven shots total, all of which he stopped.  He looked quite ordinary in the second period when he allowed two goals on 12 shots.

In the end, the Caps are what they are.  They have too many holes in too many places, too little depth to deal with injuries, and just are not good enough elsewhere to beat good teams like the Devils when they have to overcome adversity to do it.  The Caps were outshot 30-12 at even strength.  One might argue that there might have been a touch of fatigue factor in that (the Caps were outshot 10-3 at even strength in the third period), but that is hardly an explanation for the final result. 

The Caps slipped another point in the standings, dropping the decision in regulation while the eighth-place New York Rangers stole a Bettman point from Ottawa to go seven points up.  And with all the drama going on in Buffalo these days, the Caps are two points behind the woeful Sabres.  Right now, the Caps are the worst of the 30 teams in the NHL, and what is worse, they seem to have no answers to climb to 29th, let alone contend for a playoff spot.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 16: Devils at Capitals, February 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

A short season with a jury-rigged schedule makes for some odd occurrences, and one of the odder ones we will see this season starts on Thursday Night when the Washington Capitals host the first half of a home-and-home set against the New Jersey Devils.  Oh, this is not your usual home-and-home, when one team hosts a game, then heads to the opponent’s rink to finish the set.  This is a my-home-and-my-home series in which the Capitals will host both games, the game on Thursday night and the game on Saturday afternoon.

But maybe the Devils will be playing a pair of “home” games after all.  Seems as though there are those who think that Washington and the Devil have a certain familiarity with one another.  Certainly one elected official seems to think so…

"It's harder and harder trying to do the Lord's work in the city of Satan."  So said Senator John McCain (allegedly) during a 2008 campaing swing in Georgia. 
There is that whole “Exorcist” thing with the stairs in Georgetown.  You know, at the end of M Street, where the priest fell to his death in the 1973 movie.   

Then there is the map thing, the pentagram that is made by Dupont and Logan Circles to the north, K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west, K Street and New York Avenue to the east, and the White House at the southern point.  

There is that big building over on the Virginia side of the river with five sides to it, and what some see as the image of Lucifer in the street design around the U.S. Capitol.  

Makes one wish the Founders kept the Nation’s Capital in Philadelphia… but then we’d be Flyer fans, and that’s a whole Devil worship sort of thing all its own.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of games to be played here. And for the Caps it represents the start of a rough stretch of games.  Why?  Well, the Caps will have a three-game stretch in which they will face teams currently in the top-eight in the East.  And those games have not been kind to the Caps so far.  They are 0-8-1 against top-eight teams and 5-1-0 against the also rans in the East.  If the Caps extend that losing streak with losses in these next three games, well, development camp is only five months away.

On the other side, the Devils have a 5-1-1 record against teams outside the top-eight in the East. One of those wins came at the expense of the Caps, a 3-2 overtime win in New Jersey on January 25th.  For the Caps it was a well-earned point in that they rallied from a two-goal deficit with less than eight minutes left in regulation to tie the contest before losing on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal in the extra session.

Here is how the two teams compare in their tale of the tape…

1.  Although New Jersey has a very good 9-3-4 record, they have struggled recently in putting the puck in the net.  Only once in their last six games have they scored more than three goals.  They are 3-2-1 in those games and have split 30 goals with their opponents.

2.  David Clarkson has 40 goals in his last 93 games.  By way of comparison, Ilya Kovalchuk has 42 goals over his last 93 games.  One would not normally think of the Devils having two players who are averaging more than 35 goals per 82 games over the last season-plus.

3.  Only five teams have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than New Jersey.  That might be a good omen for the Caps, who are in the bottom-five in scoring defense.  But on the other hand, only Vancouver has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5.  Scoring on these guys at even strength is no picnic.

4.  Despite New Jersey’s record, they are one of nine teams that have not yet won a game when trailing after the second period.  The thing is, though, it does not happen often.  The Devils have trailed only four times at the second intermission, and they are 0-3-1 in those games.

5.  Martin Brodeur has a 2.29 goals-against average, 15th in the league among qualifying goaltenders.  Sounds pretty good.  But his .912 save percentage ranks him only in a tie for 20th.  Why the disconnect?  Brodeur is facing only 23.8 shots per 60 minutes.

1.  Only the Detroit Red Wings have allowed more power play goals against than the Capitals.  The Caps have allowed power play goals in nine games to date and have a record of 0-8-1 in those games.  In games in which the Caps have been outscored on special teams they have a record of 0-7-0. 

2.  Among goalies playing in at least five games so far, 30 have save percentages at even strength higher than Braden Holtby’s .902.

3.  The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last five meetings against the Devils.  Both regulation losses came by 5-0 scores, and four of the Caps’ five wins have come by three or more goals.

4.  You might reflexively think that Alex Ovechkin has been the most successful goal scorer for the Caps against the Devils.  But if there is a player lurking who actually has a better record than Ovechkin on a goals-per-game basis, it is Jason Chimera.  He has a career mark of 0.43 goals/game in 14 career games against New Jersey to Ovechkin’s 0.37 in 27 career games.

5.  The 5-9-1 start for the Caps ties their worst 15-game start since the 2004-2005 lockout.  They were 5-9-1 to start the 2007-2008 season.  You might remember that as a season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since that lockout.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Patrik Elias

Patrik Elias must be one of the most underrated players of his generation. Among active players he ranks 13th in goals scored, 11th in even strength goals scored, tied for 18th in power play goals scored, tied for 17th in shorthanded goals scored, 5th in game-winning goals, 10th in assists, ninth in points, and third in plus-minus.  As he approaches his 37th birthday (April 13th) he is on pace to set a career best in points-per-game for a season (1.19) and is on an 82-game pace to finish plus-52.  He already has four three-point games this season (by way of comparison the Caps, as a team, have only two – Mike Ribeiro and Mathieu Perreault).  He has been a thorn in the side of the Caps through the years with a 20-32-52, plus-2 scoring line in 53 career games.  Seven of those 20 goals are game-winners.

Washington:  Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault has five points in his last four games, his most prolific stretch of games since going 4-2-6, plus-4, in three games from January 22nd through January 31st last season.  He has alternated multi-point games against Florida and Tampa Bay with no-point outings in games against Florida and the New York Rangers.  Perreault’s issue has rarely been whether he has the talent to cobble together such games or such streaks, but whether he can make consistent contributions.  On a team that is starved for scoring among top-six forwards those contributions take on greater importance.  Last season he had 10 goals in 30 home games; to date his only goal this season came at Verizon Center.  The Caps certainly could use some of that home cooking, although Perreault is only 1-2-3, plus-2, in six career games against the Devils.


1.  Score first.  New Jersey certainly has been a front runner so far this season, even by NHL standards.  The Devils are 8-1-2 when scoring first.  Only Montreal and Pittsburgh have more wins when scoring the game’s first goal.  Getting that first goal allows the Devils to dictate tempo and style, and for a team that still remembers how to play a suffocating style on defense (no team has allowed fewer first period goals), getting that first one takes on even more importance.

2.  Volume, volume, volume.  Only four teams have allowed fewer shots on goal per game than New Jersey (26.7 per game).  In wins the Devils have allowed only 23.8 shots per game.  New Jersey has allowed 30 or more shots in a game only five times this season.  They are 0-2-3 in those games.  Shoot…the…puck.

3.  Russia vs. Russia.  Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk each have five goals on the season, and unexpectedly low number for both wingers.  The difference in the first meeting between these teams was that their Russian scored a goal (the game-winner in overtime), and the Caps’ Russian did not.  Ovechkin has three goals in five wins, two in ten losses.  He is still the straw that stirs the drink and needs to be heard from in this game.

In the end…

The Caps are slipping away slowly in the standings.  They are six points out of eighth place in the East, six out of first in the Southeast Division.  They still have those seven teams to climb over to get to eighth place in the conference and all four teams in the Southeast to leap to get a top-three seed.  And the schedule does not provide for the Caps playing non-playoff eligible teams over their last 33 games.  They have to demonstrate some ability to beat a playoff caliber team if they are to make any headway in the standings.  This game starts a three-game stretch is which they can do just that. 

Capitals 2 – Devils 1