Saturday, March 09, 2013

A NO-point afternoon -- Game 23: Islanders 5 - Capitals 2

When Nicklas Backstrom rifled a one-timer past the glove of New York Islander goalie Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game at two goals apiece in the third period, and Islander coach Jack Capuano hung his head behind the Islander bench, one might have had the feeling that this afternoon’s game between the Islanders and the Washington Capitals had finally changed to the Caps’ way for good.

Well, not quite. 

When Backstrom scored at the 7:09 mark of the third period, the Caps drew even in a game in which they played reasonably well.  There were all those Islander shots on goal, but goalie Philipp Grubauer – making his first NHL start – stopped all but two of them.  There were only two penalties taken by the Caps, and the Caps killed both of those.  On the other side of the special teams ledger, the Caps scored on their only power play opportunity.  And now, with still more than half of the third period to play, the Caps looked poised to take control of the game.

That is, until they lost control.

Less than two minutes after the Backstrom goal, Mike Ribeiro took a hi-sticking call to put the Islanders on the power play.  Ribeiro was not happy with the call.  He took the opportunity to pay homage to Washington Nationals spring training with a healthy swing of his stick and some jawing at the official that might have been reminiscent of Davey Johnson barking at an umpire.  It earned Ribeiro an extra two minutes.

John Tavares scored on the back half of that power play to put the Islanders back in the lead.  Then Jeff Schultz took his own double minor penalty, this for high sticking Andy MacDonald.  Eight seconds later, Tavares had another goal, and the competitive portion of the afternoon was over.  The Islanders added insult to injury with a shorthanded goal by Franz Nielsen with four minutes left, and the scoring was complete – Islanders 5 – Caps 2.

Other stuff…

-- We warned in the pre-game prognosto that the Captain had to lead by example in a game in which focus could be an issue.  He didn’t.  Ovechkin tried a curl and drag just over his own blue line, had his pocket picked by Colin McDonald, and a few strides later Casey Cizikas was giving the Islanders a 2-1 lead in the second period.  In the third period he could not keep the puck in the offensive zone along the wall on a power play, and a few seconds later Franz Nielsen potted a short-handed goal to drive a stake into the Caps’ chances to come back.  No points, two giveaways, two goals scored against on miscues.

-- We have beaten this one to death, but… 1-9-1.  That is now the Caps’ record when allowing opponent’s four or more power plays.  When the Caps allowed the Islanders four power plays in the third period, they were doomed.  It broke a streak in which the Caps held opponents to three or fewer power plays over six straight games over which they were 5-1-0.

-- The record will say that Philipp Grubauer allowed five goals on 45 shots, but goaltending was not the problem here.  The Islanders had almost as many shots on goal on their power play (19) as the Caps had at even strength (21). This team really needs to stay out of the box.  They just are not very good at killing penalties.

-- Part of the problem might have been the Caps having to play almost the entire game with only five defensemen.  John Erskine went out after only two shifts with an “upper-body injury.”

-- OK, about that whole top line thing.  Alex Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro, and Matt Hendricks had no points and three shots on goal at even strength.  For heaven’s sake, Joey Crabb had three shots on goal at even strength.

-- Someday, Jason Chimera will score a goal.  It really is not for lack of effort or getting shots to the net.  Chimera had three more shots on goal (the tenth time in 23 games he has had at least three shots on goal in a game), but once more came up empty.

-- Karl Alzner recorded an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal in the third period.  It was his first helper of the season, making it the latest he has gone into a season (23 games) before recording his first assist.  We went his first 15 games in the 2010-2011 season before getting his first.

-- Mike Ribeiro has taken six minor penalties this season.  Half of them are for unsportsmanlike conduct.  He also has a pair of ten minute misconducts on his rap sheet.

-- The line of Mathieu Perreault, Joey Crabb, and Wojtek Wolski certainly was an odd one.  Perreault’s goal was scored on a power play, but at even strength he and his line mates had only four shots on goal, three of them by Joey Crabb, none by Wolski.

-- The Caps were 7-1-0 in their last eight games at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum before the loss today.

In the end, it is two points that the Caps needed, should have had, and let get away.  With Carolina beating New Jersey this evening, the Caps are now eight points out of the Southeast Division lead.  It is not as if the Caps played poorly today, they did not, at least not as poorly as the final score might suggest.  They just had a few lapses that cost them, especially in the third period.  But that hardly matters.  What matters is what the scoreboard says and how that ends up reflected in the standings.  And that does look pretty poor.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR -- Game 23: Capitals at Islanders, March 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And now, things get interesting.  The Washington Capitals have won eight of their last 11 games and have outscored their opponents by a 41-22 in doing so.  Their power play is 11-for-34 over that span (32.4 percent), while their penalty kill is 30-for-35 (85.7 percent).  Those are the numbers of a playoff team, and that is something that the Capitals have resembled more and more over these past four weeks.

But that is the good news.  Here is the bad.  Six of those wins have come at the expense of Southeast Division teams, and the Southeast impresses no one in the hockey firmament with their combined play this season. Another of the wins came against a backup goaltender.  The one truly “quality” win in this run came last Tuesday when the Caps came back from three goals down to force overtime and then beat the Boston Bruins, 4-3.

It gets worse.  There are 26 days until the trading deadline on April 3.  Over that span of days the Caps will play 14 games.  Eight of them will come in the form of four back-to-back sets.  Of those four back-to-backs, none of them involve both games being played at Verizon Center, while two of them – a double dip in Winnipeg on March 21/22 and games in Buffalo and Philadelphia on March 30/31 – will be played with both games on the road.

The first of those four back-to-back sets start on Saturday when the Capitals head to Long Island to face the New York Islanders.  This is the first of three meetings between the clubs this season.  In the Islanders, the Caps are facing a team that plays with no discernible pattern of sustained success or failure lately.  After enduring a five game losing streak that ended in early February, the Islanders are 6-4-2 over their last dozen games.  Over those 12 games the Islanders do not have a winning streak longer than two games (they have three sets of consecutive wins) and have sustained only one losing streak as long as three games (0-2-1 to close February).

Over this meandering back and forth dozen games the Islanders have been outscored, 37-34.  It is a team that can put the puck in the net reasonably well (2.83 goals per game over their last 12 contests) and fish it out of their own (3.08 goal per game allowed over those same 12 games).  Special teams have been an odd mix.  The Islander power play is 8-for-40 over their last dozen games  The odd thing about it, though, is that twice over their last 12 games the Islanders have had no power plays, and only one other occasion they had only one man advantage.  Then there are the goals – three against the Devils, two against Montreal twice, pretty good teams there. 

The penalty kill is 35-for-46, a meager 76.1 percent over those 12 games.  Worse, they have allowed goals in nine of the 11 games in which they faced at least one shorthanded situation (they did not face any in a 5-4 overtime loss to Toronto on February 28th).  The Islanders have been all over the place on special teams as they have in their wins and losses over the last three weeks.  Here is how the teams compare in their overall numbers:

1.  The Islanders are slow starters.  Only four teams have scored fewer first period goals than the 13 that the Islanders have in 24 games.  But like a old diesel engine, once they get warmed up… they lead the NHL in second period goals scored (29, tied with Carolina and Anaheim), and only five teams (including the Caps) have more third period goals than the 25 recorded by New York.

2.  On the other side of the ledger, the Islanders are worst in the league in allowing third period goals (33), and only Florida has allowed more goals in overtime than New York (three). 

3.  The Islanders have an excellent power play…on the road.  No team is more efficient with their power play on the road than the Islanders’ 32.3 percent.  It is not even close (Boston is second at 26.7 percent).  Trouble is, the Islanders are the hosts for this game, and their home power play is rather pedestrian – 16th-ranked at 18.3 percent.  However, since the Islanders are third in the league in home power plays awarded, they are still tied for seventh in power play goals scored.

4. Only Florida has allowed more goals at 5-on-5 than the Isles, who have allowed 56 in 29 games. That is why the Islanders are 26th in 5-on-5 ratio in goals scored to goals allowed. 

5.  The good news in goal scoring is that New York has three players with ten or more goals scored (the Caps have none).  The bad news is that those three players – John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Michael Grabner – have 35 of the 69 scored so far by New York.  Twenty other skates split the other 34 goals, and none of them have more than five.  This is not a team that gets much in terms of secondary scoring.

1.  The Capitals take a three-game winning streak into this game, tying their longest of this abbreviated season.  The last time they had a longer run was when they put together a four-game winning streak from March 8th through March 13th last season.  Their victim in game four?  The Islanders.

2.  As the Caps were about to start this 8-3-0 run over their past 11 games they were struggling in many statistical categories, but oh, have they improved… from 23rd to 8th in scoring offense… from 29th to 16th in scoring defense… from 27th to 15th in 5-on-5 play… from 13th to 3rd on the power play.

3.  Where the Capitals have continued to struggle is in killing penalties.  When they took the ice on February 9th against Florida in what would be the first win in this 8-3-0 run, the Caps ranked 27th in penalty killing (70.6 percent).  While their raw numbers have improved to 76.7 percent, they have actually dropped a spot in the rankings, to 28th.

4.  If the Islanders struggle in the third period with those 33 goals allowed, the Caps shine.  Washington ranks fifth in total third period goals scored, and they have played at least two fewer games than each of the four teams ahead of them.

5.  Is it scoring, or is it a passive approach?  There is an arbitrariness built in to more than a few statistics in hockey, hits among them.  The Caps, however, rank 27th in hits recorded on the road. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

New York: Kyle Okposo

John Tavares had emerged as one of the best offensive players in the league.  Matt Moulson just keeps putting up goals quietly and efficiently.  But what about Kyle Okposo?  After recording a career high 24 goals last season, Islander fans might have been forgiven if they thought of him as a potential 30-goal scorer (in an 82-game season, of course).  So far, though, Okposo has two goals in 24 games, and but for a 1-2-3 game against Toronto on February 28th, his season would truly be a disaster so far.  Among forwards having recorded at least one goal this season, Okposo ranks 245th of 276 forwards in shooting percentage.  He is 5-3-8, plus-2 in 12 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

In a game like this, the Captain needs to lead by example, and that means not skating as if it is a public skate at Kettler on a Sunday morning.  The Caps, despite their 7-1 win on Thursday, are not a team that can just toss the sticks on the ice and win.  And as such, the Captain needs to lead by effort.  He certainly has had success against this team with 19 goals in 26 career games.  Since his hat trick against New Jersey on February 23rd, Ovechkin has only one goal in five games, although he does have five assists in those games.  Lighting the lamp on his own might be a necessary ingredient to a win today.


Focus.  The Caps are coming off beating a quality opponent and then beating up a divisional rival.  They might be feeling pretty good about themselves.  And, there is the matter of that game tomorrow afternoon against the Rangers.  This is a game with a potential to slip through the cracks.

2.  Jump in.  In the 7-1 win over Florida, the defense was a combined 2-3-5, plus-8.  The defense that is likely to take the ice this afternoon has nine goals this season, not a bad number, but it shows signs of being a bigger number with the increased activity lately.

3.  Even keel.  Over their last eight games, the Islanders are 4-2-2.  The common thread in their wins is that the Isles have had the pleasure of at least four power plays in all of them.  In the four losses they had a total of six, and in two of them did not have any.  Stay out of the box.

In the end, this is not such a bad game to have, barometer-wise.  It would only be natural to go on the road against an “inferior” opponent (considering the Caps take them on between Boston and the Rangers) and have their attention wander.  This game is a good one to watch to see if the Caps have that singular purpose in grabbing the standings points they need from these “inferior” teams to inch their way up the standings.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2