Monday, March 04, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 21: Bruins at Capitals, March 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals spent last week locked up with teams that were banged up (Carolina), struggling (Winnipeg), or both (Philadelphia).  They will open this week against a team that is neither banged up, nor struggling.  The Boston Bruins come to town in ill humor, a team that has lost only three games in regulation, but having suffered one of those losses to their arch-rivals – the Montreal Canadiens – in their last outing.

The Bruins lost their top defenseman and captain – Zdeno Chara – for 17 minutes of that contest after having chosen to educate Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin on the finer points of coming to the aid of a teammate, Tyler Seguin having been rudely cross-checked by Emelin at center ice only moments earlier.  Montreal used Chara’s absence to come from behind with a pair of goals to give Boston their first loss in regulation at home since January 31st.

And now the Caps get an angry bunch of Bruins, looking to regain the top spot in the Northeast Division and in the Eastern Conference that they relinquished as a result of that loss to Montreal.  That loss to Montreal broke a six-game winning streak for the B’s, their longest of the season and their longest since peeling off a seven-game winning streak in late December last season.

In this most recent 6-1-0 stretch of games Boston outscored their opponents by a 23-13 margin.  That 1.86 goals-per-game scoring defense has been in part the product of a stout Boston defense, but it also has been due to some fine goaltending by Tuukka Rask.  The sixth-year pro is 5-1-0 in these last seven games for Boston with a 1.82 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage. 

The four goals Rask allowed in Sunday’s game against Montreal was just the fourth time in 15 appearances this season in which he allowed more than two goals.  Rask has not had much success against the Caps, though.  In three career appearances he is 0-2-1 with a 3.45 goals-against average and a .877 save percentage.

Brad Marchand, the “Little Ball of Player Everyone in the League Would Like to Smear on the Glass,” is the leading goal scorer for Boston in this 6-1-0 run.  He is 4-5-9 and has taken over the team lead in goals with 11.  His reputation for antics aside, he has gone without a point in only five of 18 games this season.  In ten career games against the Caps he is 3-4-7, plus-1.

Patrice Bergeron is the leading point-getter for the Bruins over these last seven games (3-8-11).  What he also brings to this game is a four-game streak in which he has won more than 60 percent of faceoffs taken.  He has 13 such games this season and is second in the league in faceoff winning percentage among players taking at least 100 draws (62.4 percent).

Here is how the two teams, uh… match up in their respective numbers:

1.  Thirteen different Bruins have goals in this 6-1-0 run, 17 have points.  The Bruins are not an especially extraordinary offensive team (eighth in scoring offense), but they do have balance.  Five different players have at least five goals (the Caps have four), and seven have at least ten points (the Caps have five).

2.  Dougie Hamilton is second among rookie defensemen in points (2-9-11) and is not shy about shooting the puck.  He is second among rookie defensemen in shots on goal, but he has only a 4.4 percent shooting percentage.

3.  Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin are tied for the league plus-minus lead at plus-15 (curiously enough, three of the other four players with whom they are tied all play for Carolina).

4.  Boston has the worst negative differential between home and road power play success in the league.  At home the Bruins have converted only two of 33 chances (6.1 percent), but are 7-for-28 on the road (25.0 percent).  They also have the second “worst” – if you can call it that – negative differential between their home and road penalty kill.  They have an 85.7 percent penalty kill at home and a 97.3 percent penalty kill on the road (36-for-37).  Montreal is the only team to score a power play goal on their home ice against Boston.

5.  Former Cap Chris Bourque already has set a career high in points (1-3-4 in 17 games).  He also already has tied a career worst plus-minus at minus-4.

1.  Including last spring’s seven-game playoff series, the Caps and Bruins have played 35 times against one another.  Of those games, 25 ended in one-goal decisions.  The Caps are 11-7-7 in those games.

2.  The Caps might actually miss Marcus Johansson (injured) in this game.   He has three goals in seven regular season games against Boston, tied for the most he has against any team in his brief career, and he has scored against Boston more frequently than against any other team.

3.  The Caps will miss Brooks Laich (injured), too.  Laich has more goals against Boston (10) than he does against any other non-divisional team (he has 10 against Florida).

4.  The Caps have climbed to ninth in the league’s faceoff winning percentage rankings, but they still have only one player in the top-45 in faceoff winning percentage (Jay Beagle, 14th at 57.3 percent).

5.  Only Edmonton (four) has fewer major penalties taken so far this season than Washington (six).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Chris Kelly

Few Bruins could be said to be disappointments this season, but Chris Kelly comes close.  After recording a career high in goals last season with 20 (does this start to sound familiar, Jason Chimera fans?) and signing a four-year, $12 million contract, Kelly has one goal in 19 games so far, that one coming against the woeful Florida Panthers.  He has never finished a full season in single digits in goals, but unless he has a big push he seems destined for that this season.  Kelly has one goal in 27 career regular season games against the Caps, although he did have an overtime winner in the B’s 1-0 win in Game 1 of last season’s first round playoff series.

Washington:  Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer is the unlikely leader in goals for the Caps so far this season with nine.  However, six of them have come against Southeast Division competition.  He has those six goals against the Southeast on only 23 shots (26.1 percent).  He has three goals on 23 shots against everyone else in the East (13.0 percent).  Not bad, but not the Southeast, either.  Brouwer has no career goals against the Bruins, although he does have four assists to his credit.  He does have six goals in his last nine games, though, so he has more than a passing familiarity with the back of the opponent’s net recently.


1.  Don’t be the second to swing.  The Bruins don’t take as many penalties as you might think.  Sure, they drop the mitts (only seven teams have more major penalties), but with 83 minors they rank in the middle third in the league (tied for 11th).  And they do not do an especially good job of drawing penalties (they are last in power play opportunities).  It speaks to the need to stay disciplined and not give in to the sort of Marchandish antics that the B’s might engage in.  Don't give the Bruins freebies.

2.  Show up in the last 20.  Boston locks teams down in the third period.  No team has allowed fewer goals in the last 20 minutes than the Bruins (10).  Meanwhile, the Caps are tied for the fourth highest number of third period goals scored.  Something has to give.

3.  Pressure, pressure, pressure.  Only six teams have allowed fewer shots than Boston, and the Bruins have outshot opponents in 14 of 19 games (they are 10-3-1 in those games).  The Caps need to get pucks to the net on Tuukka Rask.

In the end, we have noted that the Caps need to start posting wins against quality teams if they have a hope of making up either the six point margin they face between themselves and eighth place or the eight points they have to make up with Carolina in the division to secure an automatic top-three playoff seed.  Boston qualifies as a quality team, one that is 6-0-0 against teams in the Southeast Division so far this season (one of two teams with a perfect record against the Southeast Division).  It is going to take a whole team effort to earn two points in this one, but this is still a team that has memories of just that kind of effort from last spring. 

Capitals 3 – Bruins 1

Washington Capitals -- That Was The Week That Was: Week 6

A winning week.  A pair of wins against Southeast Division teams and a loss to a non-divisional opponent.  It is part of a pattern on which the Caps are going to have to improve, but for the moment, a winning week is a winning week.

Record: 2-1-0

The 2-1-0 week was the second winning week in the last three and extended the Caps' non-losing streak to three weeks running (5-3-0 overall).  When the Caps beat Carolina and Winnipeg this week, it extended their winning streak against Southeast Division teams to five games and improved their record against their divisional opponents to 5-2-0.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that with their loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Caps slipped to 3-9-1 against opponents outside the Southeast Division.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 2.75 / rank: 15th)

The good thing about the week is that seven different Caps had goals.  The bad thing is that seven different Caps had one goal.  The “top line” (a term that really defies description these days with the revolving door at left wing) of Mike Ribeiro, Alex Ovechkin, and Matt Hendricks (this week's contestant on the left side) had two goals.  Ovechkin had neither of them.  The defense had two goals this week; Mike Green had neither of them.  John Erskine, who had one of the goals for the defense, had a two-point week, ending a streak of eight games without a point.  Something of a strange week.  If there was a good takeaway from the week, Nicklas Backstrom had a three-point week (1-2-3, plus-2), and he is now 1-8-9, even, over his past eight games.

Defense: 1.33/game (season: 2.95 / rank: T-22nd)

100 is a nice round number.  It happens also to be the number of shots on goal the Caps allowed this week.  Not so nice.  It contributed to a week in which the Caps were out-Fenwicked, 143-118.  That is a lot of offense being directed at Capital goaltenders.  First and third periods were troublesome; the Caps were outshot in the first and last frame by a combined, 37-31 and 39-24, respectively.  They might have made a better week of it, results-wise, had they not come out so flat against Philadelphia in the middle game of the week.  The Flyers scored on their second and fifth shots of the game (the second goal coming on a power play), and the Caps never threatened after that in a 4-1 loss.

Goaltending: 1.33/.960/2 shutouts (season: 2.96/.904/3 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had, on balance, a very nice week.  He was 2-1-0, 1.55, .954, with two shutouts.  That’s on balance.  In the middle game he allowed four goals on 18 shots in less than 35 minutes of play.  But there were those two shutouts.  More impressive still, he recorded those shutouts facing a total of 68 shots on goal, the highest shot totals he faced in any of his six career shutouts. 

There is an odd recent pattern Holtby's shutouts, though.  See if you can find it… March 25, 2012, a 28-save shutout… next game, three goals on 15 shots in 22:31.  February 9, 2013, a 27-save shutout… next game, five goals on 32 shots.  February 26, 2013, a 33-save shutout… next game, four goals on 18 shots in 34:55.  Tuesday against Boston could be… interesting. 

Oh, and let’s not forget Philipp Grubauer, who appeared in his first NHL game in relief of Holtby in the loss to Philadelphia.  He saved all 14 shots he faced in 25:05.  In a strange way it resembled Holtby’s first NHL appearance, one in which he got the win by stopping all four shots he faced in 10:09 of ice time in a 5-3 win in relief over Boston in November 2010.

Power Play: 1-for-10 / 10.0 percent (season: 26.1 percent  / rank: 4th)

Call it “regressing to the mean” if you like, but this week was a downer for the power play.  The Caps failed to convert on their last eight opportunities in a 1-for-10 week.  The Caps could manage only seven shots in those eight missed opportunities.  Alex Ovechkin managed only three of those shots, all in the 4-1 loss to Philadelphia.  In going o-fer for the last two games of the week, the Caps went consecutive games without a power play goal for the first time this season.

Penalty Kill: 6-for-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 76.8 percent / rank: 27th)

The Caps were perfect against the Southeast teams they faced (5-for-5 against Carolina and Winnipeg) and not so against the other team (1-for-3 against Philadelphia).  It is part of an emerging pattern.  For the season the Caps have killed 80.8 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced against Southeast Division teams.  They have a 75.0 percent penalty kill against everyone else in the East.  Recently the disparity is more pronounced.  Over their last five games against Southeast teams the Caps are a perfect 14-for-14.  But in their last five games against opponents outside the division the Caps are killing penalties at a 66.7 percent rate (14-for-21).

Paying the Price: 55 hits / 58 blocked shots (season rank: 25th / 21st)

This week’s takeaway is the fact that the Caps blocked almost 30 percent of the shot attempts they allowed.  It might not be surprising that John Carlson led the week with nine blocked shots, or that John Erskine had eight.  But Mike Ribeiro had six, five of them in the 3-0 shutout of Carolina to start the week.

Faceoffs: 99-for-185 / 53.5 percent (season: 51.2 percent / rank: 9th)

The Caps keep climbing the rankings in this category.  They won the week and won two of three games in the circle, but their performance was not uniform in all three zones.  The Caps were fine in the defensive end, winning 30 of 53 draws for the week (56.6 percent), but they struggled a bit in the offensive end, going 26-for-55 (47.3 percent).  One of the odder numbers of the week was “1.”  That was the number of offensive zone draws taken by Mike Ribeiro in the 4-1 loss to Philadelphia, that in a game in which he was otherwise 7-for-10 in the other two zones.

Turnovers:  Minus-8

The Caps lost the week, and they lost each game in the turnover matchup.  It did not seem to matter much if the Caps gave the puck away (22 giveaways against) or had it taken from them (27 takeaways against), but turning the puck over a touch over 16 times a game (arbitrariness of the measures notwithstanding) is something to work on.

In the end…

With 28 games left, there are two ways to look at how this season might unfold.  The worst case scenario is this. The Caps are 5-2-0 against Southeast Division teams, 3-9-1 against everyone else.  If they earn points against opponents in these last 28 games in proportional fashion, they will earn another 25 standings points, finishing with 42 points.  That will not enable them to reach the playoffs.  That is lottery pick territory.

On the other hand, in the best case scenario, if they finish their last 28 games with points earned proportional to what they accomplished over their past nine games (6-3-0 for 12 points), they will finish 54 points.  That would probably put them right on the border line of playoff eligibility.  But here is the tough wrinkle thrown into that mix.  Between March 9th and April 7th – a period of 17 games – the Caps will play five back-to-back sets. None of them include both games being played at Verizon Center. In fact, seven of the ten games overall will be played on the road (including a pair in Winnipeg).

Realistically, though, the Caps’ season really comes down to the 16-game stretch that starts on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins.  That is how many games remain for the Caps until the trading deadline on April 3rd.  Six of those games are against Southeast Division teams; the other ten against teams outside the friendly confines of the Southeast.  Unless the Caps find a way to start beating non-divisional rivals with some regularity, their season is going to be pretty much over three weeks before the schedule says it is.