Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Capitals at Flyers, February 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 3-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, take their act up I-95 to the friendly confines of CoreStates First Union Wachovia Bailey Building and Loan Wells Fargo Center where the Philadelphia Flyers await them.  These teams have a deep and rich history, dating back to November 9, 1974, when the Capitals visited The Spectrum in Philadelphia and got pasted, 6-2.  Starting with that ignominious beginning, the Caps have a 73-96-19-4 regular season record against the Flyers and a 12-11 record in the post season (the Caps and Flyers have split four series).

Of more recent vintage, the Caps won the only meeting of these teams to date this season, a 3-2 win at Verizon Center on February 1st.  And that loss is part of the “Arthur Murray” approach to progress the Flyers have been on since late January.  Starting with a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on January 29th, the Philadelphia Two-Step has gone like this…

Two losses
Two wins
Two losses
Two wins

We would just as soon that pattern end with this game with the Flyers taking another loss.  The immediate problem the Flyers face, in addition to their finding themselves on the outside looking in at the top-eight in the Eastern Conference, is that their performance has had a “feast or famine” quality to it.  In their last seven games the Flyers are 3-4-0.  In the three wins they scored a total of 18 goals.  In the four losses they allowed a total of, you guessed it, 18 goals.  They have only one one-goal decision in those seven games, a 6-5 thrill ride of a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins a week ago.

The Flyers have split 52 goals evenly with their opponents over this last seven-game run, so defense and goaltending have been issues, even if the offense has not.  Oddly enough, perhaps, is that it is not the penalty kill that has “killed,” so to speak, the Flyers.  They are 25-for-28 on the penalty kill over their last seven games (89.3 percent). 

What the Flyers are not getting is saves.  Ilya Bryzgalov shutout the New York Islanders, 7-0, on 19 shots during this seven-game stretch, but in five other appearances has allowed three or more goals in each, has a 4.25 goals against average and a .846 save percentage.  If he was a star in the humangous universe, he would be an orange dwarf.

Notwithstanding Bryzgalov’s interstellar issues, let’s go right to the “takes” for this game…

1.  We have made much of the resurgence of the Capitals’ power play over the past few weeks, but that Philadelphia power play has been humming recently, too.  The Flyers are 9-for-34 (26.5 percent) over their last eight games.

2.  Jakub Voracek is just short of half-way to career bests in goals, assists, and points through 21 games.  His is 8-16-24 scoring line compares with his career high of 18 goals (set last season in 78 games), 34 assists (set in 2009-2010 in 81 games), and 50 points (also set in 2009-2010).  In 10 career games against the Caps he is 1-3-4, plus-1, but he was held scoreless with a single shot on goal in the clubs’ earlier meeting this season.  Trivia: Voracek shares a hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic) with former Caps Jaromir Jagr and Michal Pivonka.

3.  Which brings us to Claude Giroux.  The man thought perhaps ready to assume the title as “Best Player in the NHL” stumbled out of the gate to start the 2013 season.  He was only 3-4-7 in his first 13 games.  However, Giroux is 3-10-13 over his last eight games (3-7-10 in his last five) to jump into the top-15 in points.  He has not been especially effective against the Caps over his career, coming into this game with a 6-2-8, minus-2 scoring line over 14 career games against Washington.

4.  This would not be a Caps-Flyers game without making mention of penalties.  The Flyers have more minor penalties (107 in 21 games) than any other team in the league.  Toronto is the only club averaging more penalty minutes per game than Philadelphia. The Flyers have faced the most shorthanded situations in the league.  Playing nice with others is not a Philly thing to do.

5.  Flyer games seem to have a “rock ‘em-sock ‘em” feel in other ways, too.  They lead the league in hits.  They lead the league in blocked shots.  They are fourth in missed shots and giveaways.  Only four teams have a worse face-off winning percentage. Only Florida has been involved in more games decided by three or more goals (the Flyers are 2-6 in such games).  Lots of things happen in Flyer games, some of it good, some of it not.  They might be the most entertaining team in the league in terms of pure events/60.

1.  The Caps are on a roll with the man-advantage.  They are 13-for-28 over their last nine-plus games, going back to the third period of their February 3rd game against Pittsburgh.  On the season, seven different Caps have power play goals (Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin lead with five apiece), and ten different Caps have power play points (Ribeiro: 13).

2.  The Caps are one of only three teams that have a power play working at over 25 percent and a penalty kill working at over 75 percent (St. Louis and Pittsburgh being the others).

3.  The Caps scored first last night, but they remain one of three teams (Edmonton and Columbus being the others) with a sub-.500 record when recording the game’s first goal (5-6-0).  They happen to be one of only three teams, as well, with records below .500 when leading at the first intermission (2-3-0), Columbus and Colorado being the others.

4.  Beware the second period.  The Caps have allowed 24 goals in the middle frame, fifth most in the league.  It happens to be the period in which the Flyers have scored the most goals (21).

5.  Nicklas Backstrom (and we’ll get to him a bit more in a moment) has quietly put up points in three straight games and 10 of his last 13 contests (2-11-13).  His game-winning goal last night was his first since getting the game-winner in a 3-1 win over Buffalo on December 30, 2011.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Kimmo Timonen

Kimmo Timonen has put together a very nice career – almost 1,000 regular season games over 13-plus seasons.  He has been quite adept at both ends of the rink, posting more than 500 points and managing to record a career plus-31.  Of special interest to Caps fans, he seems the guy who draws the short straw when it comes to facing Alex Ovechkin.  Hard work, but Timonen has done a decent job of it.  Not bad for a guy who gives up four inches and almost 30 pounds to Ovechkin.  He will be faced with trying to help contain a guy coming off his best game in (dare we say it) years.  Before Saturday, Ovechkin had not had a four-point game since February 4, 2011; and he had not had a hat trick since January 22, 2011.  The last time he had a hat trick or four points at home had been February 7, 2010, when he accomplished both feats against Pittsburgh.  Good luck, Kimmo.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal in the Caps’ only meeting against the Flyers this season.  His two points against Philadelphia in that February 1st game happens to be one of only four multi-point games he has this season (he had 16 in 42 games last year).  But Backstrom had a goal last night and finished with a multi-point game.  Philly also happens to be a team that seems to bring out the best in Backstrom.  He has more points against the Flyers than he does against any non-Southeast Division opponent (8-23-31 in 19 career games).  If Backstrom is going to show improvement in the middle third of the season, last night might be a start, but this game might be an indicator if he is on that path.


1.  Happy Place.  These are, accounting for the era, a lot like the Flyers of old. They hit, they play loose with the rule book, they hound you all over the place.  The Caps do not have the depth, nor the constitution to get into that sort of a game.  In their first meeting the Caps only faced three shorthanded situations and killed them all.  Their own power play was no better (0-for-5), but given the state of the power play these days, if the Caps can find and stay in their “happy place” and not give in to retaliation, this should turn out well.

2.  Carry Throux with the Canceled Czech.  Over this 3-4-0 run the Flyers are on, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have combined to go 6-11-17 in the three wins.  These guys are the straws that stir the drink for the Flyers at the moment.  Washington will have to improve on its 22nd place ranking in shots on goal

3.  Volume, volume, volume.  It matters little if Ilya Bryzgalov faces a lot of shots or a little.  When facing more than 30 shots his save percentage is .912. When facing fewer than 30 and playing a full-game’s worth of minutes it is .910.  So, what is the variable here that leads to more goals?  More shots.  Washington will have to improve on its 22nd place ranking in shots on goal (27.9/game) to make this work.

In the end…

The Caps are on a bit of a roll with consecutive wins coming into this game.  They also happen to be 5-2-0 in their last seven games, consistent with the new found solid play of goalie Braden Hotlby.  The Caps have been solid at both ends, outscoring opponents, 26-14 over the seven games, and their special teams have been excellent – 9-for-21 on the power play (42.9 percent) and 23-for-25 on the penalty kill (92.0 percent).  They are in a good place right now, just in time for their visit to the City of Brotherly Love.

Capitals 3 - Flyers 2

A TWO-point night -- Game 18: Capitals 3 - Hurricanes 2

Staying home on the day before a game might become a trend.

Nicklas Backstrom was ordered to stay home on Monday with an undisclosed ailment.  Whatever home-remedy he took did the trick as Backstrom recorded a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals took down the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0, last night.

The goal was not a pretty one.  It was another power play goal made possible by deft passing more than nifty shooting. Alex Ovechkin found Mike Ribeiro on a wall-to-wall cross ice pass, then Ribeiro centered the puck to Backstrom at the top of the Carolina crease.  Backstrom out-muscled Joe Corvo to get his stick on the puck, deflecting it past goalie Cam Ward’s right pad for the game’s first goal

If Backstrom’s goal was not pretty, his pass on the Caps’ second goal was.  He started the play when he slid down the right wing wall as he entered the Carolina zone with possession.  He chose not to feed John Carlson, who was heading down the middle with stick cocked for a one-timer.  Backstrom chose, instead, to lay the puck off to the late-comer, John Erskine, who blasted a slap shot past Ward’s blocker to give the Caps a 2-0 lead just 31 secons into the second period.

Carlson did get his opportunity to get on the score sheet later when Ward could not handle a quick snap shot from Mathieu Perreault firing from the edge of the left wing circle.  The rebound shot out to the right wing circle where Carlson was waiting undefended.  Carlson wasted no time pounding the loose puck into the back of the net before Ward had a chance to scramble across, and the Caps had a three-goal margin with less than nine minutes left in regulation.

From there the only suspense was whether Braden Holtby would record his second shutout of the season.  He stopped the last five he saw after the Carlson goal, giving him 33 saves for the game, and the Caps had their win, only the second time they recorded consecutive wins this season.

Other stuff…

-- The only other time so far that the Caps recorded consecutive wins was a three-game winning streak, February 9-14, when they defeated Florida twice and Tampa Bay.

-- We thought Jason Chimera would break out in this game and get his first goal of the season.  He did not, but not for lack of effort.  His seven shots on goal (in less than 15 minutes of work) led both teams.

-- Speaking of shots, the 40 that the Caps recorded is a season high.  They had 39 in a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 14th.

-- Over on the other side, Alexander Semin led the Hurricanes in shots (four), shot attempts (nine), and blocked a pair of shots.  Nice game…no points…good deal.

-- Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin finished the game with no shots on goal.  That is the first time that happened in a regular season game since he had none in a 3-0 win (imagine that) over the New Jersey Devils on March 18, 2011.

-- Adam Oates was really parceling out the ice time evenly.  Among the forwards no one played more than 14:26 at even strength (Jason Chimera), and no one had fewer than 11:17 (Matt Hendricks).

-- The Brothers Staal – Eric and Jordan – took 45 of the 60 faceoffs for Carolina, winning 23.  That just struck us as an interesting number.

-- A more interesting number regarding faceoffs might be this one – 26.  That is how many (of the 60 total) were taken in the Capitals’ end.  Keep in mind that despite the Caps’ 40-33 shot advantage, the shot attempts were even in this game at 68 apiece.

-- By scoring on his only shot of the game, John Erskine is now tied for tenth among NHL defensemen in shooting percentage (10.5 percent).  Unleash the Oisk!

-- Braden Holtby, with this shutout, is now 5-2-0, 2.01, .937 in his last seven appearances.

-- Another game, another power play goal.  The Caps have power play goals in three straight games, nine of their last ten games, and 14 of 18 for the season.  They are 13-for-28 going back to the third period of their game against Pittsburgh on February 3rd (46.4 percent).

In the end, the Caps are only four points out of first place in the Southeast Division, as close as they have been to the top spot since January 24th, when the Caps were 0-3-0 and the Tampa Bay Lighthing were occupying first place with a 2-1-0 record.  Things do get harder, quickly, though.  There is a trip to Philadelphia tonight followed by a trip to Winnipeg on Saturday.  Then the Caps return home to face the Boston Bruins, who have only two losses in regulation this season.

The Caps appear ready to meet that challenge, though.  They have looked quite crisp in their last two games, outscoring New Jersey and Carolina (both top-eight teams, it should be noted) by a combined 8-1 margin.  Special teams are on top of things, the power play going 3-for-7 in the wins, while the penalty killers were a perfect 5-for-5.

Bring ‘em on.