Saturday, March 16, 2013

A NO-point afternoon -- Game 27: Bruins 4 - Capitals 1

They’re better.

There really is no other explanation for the Boston Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals this afternoon.  They’re better.  They are better on offense, better on defense, as the 4-1 score suggests.  They are better at penalty killing than the Caps are on the power play – Washington was 0-for-3 on the power play and managed only three shots on goal in 5:55 of power play ice time.  They are better on the power play than the Caps are at penalty killing – 1-for-1 on the power play, needing only nine seconds to score their goal.  They got better goaltending, they got better play up and down their roster.

The Caps looked lost in their own end. Nathan Horton floats a puck cross-ice into the corner…Troy Brouwer cannot make a play on it… Milan Lucic picks up the puck, feeds it out front, and Horton scores… 1-0.

Andrew Ference pounds the puck hard into the corner from center ice…it spins around the boards to Jack Hillen, who hears the freight train coming in Lucic.  Hillen flinches, and Lucic picks up the puck.  He flicks the puck out front, and David Krejci snaps it in…2-0. 

After Marcus Johansson “scored” when Krejci passed the puck off Johnny Boychuk’s skate and into his own net to make it 2-1, Krejci carried the puck into the Capitals’ zone, turned Joel Ward around, then slid the puck off to Nathan Horton.  Horton then slipped the puck to Andrew Ference, who was in space because Steve Oleksy bit on Horton’s move across the high slot…3-1.

Finally, Rich Peverley beat Jay Beagle on a faceoff on a Bruin power play… after working the puck back and forth at the top of the zone, the puck found its way in front where the Bruins were whacking at it as the Caps were looking around trying to find it.  Bang…Peverley backhands it in, and it’s 4-1.

Other stuff…

-- That power play goal for Boston was only their fourth of the season on 41 chances in 13 home games.  They were the worst team in the league on the power play at home coming into this game.

-- It is just more of the same for the Caps… they are now 2-5-0 against the Northeast Division to go with their 2-7-1 record against the Atlantic.

-- Brad Marchand is a coward.  Really, what other adjective applies?  He jumps a guy who in 13 seasons had never had a fight?  But really, what does one expect from that clown?

-- At the other end of the spectrum, there is Matt Hendricks, who took on Nathan Horton (15 fights prior to this one, and who had almost 20 pounds on Hendricks), and Adam McQuaid (25 fights prior to this one). It was pretty much a lost cause by the time Hendricks took on Horton, let alone McQuaid, but it said something about his character.

-- The Caps managed to keep the line of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Marchand off the score sheet – they had been the Bruin’s engine on offense recently.  But the line of Krejci, Horton, and Lucic was 2-7-9, plus-5. 

-- The Caps’ top line reunited Alex Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom, but left wing was a mess.  First, Aaron Volpatti.  Then, Matt Hendricks.  Then, Volpatti again.  Then, Hendricks again.  Finally, in the third period, it was Jason Chimera.  Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Chimera finished with 11 shots on goal – one-third of the total for the Caps…and no points.

-- Michal Neuvirth did not have his best game in memory, but he hardly had any help.  The Caps just had no sense of where they needed to be in their own end. They were beaten to pucks, ducked away from hits, and had their heads on a swivel looking for the puck as the Bruins skated freely about them.  If anything, Neuvirth kept things from being much worse than they could have been.

-- Steve Oleksy once more had the most ice time of any skater for either team (24:01).  He also tied for second in shots on goal in this game for the Caps (four).

-- The Caps were 5-for-22 on faceoffs in the offensive end.  They were marginally better in the defensive zone, going 9-for-21.  Either way, it was ugly.

-- The 38 shots allowed is the tenth straight time that the Caps have allowed opponents at least 30 shots in a game.  They had 33 of their own, making it the first time since they had 30 or more since recording 40 in a 3-0 win over Carolina on February 26th, ending a string of eight games with fewer than 30.

In the end, this is probably what the rest of the season holds in store.  There will be the odd win against Southeast Division teams (four of the last five Caps wins are against Southeast Division clubs).  Then there will be a great big dose of reality against teams that have genuine playoff aspirations (the Caps are 1-4-0 in their last five games outside the division). 

This game was a reflection of the directions in which these teams are headed.  The Bruins, perhaps with the Penguins, are probably the class of the Eastern Conference.  The Caps, on the other hand, are headed in the other direction.

The Bruins, they're better.  Right now, just about everyone is better.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 27: Capitals at Bruins, March 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, here we are in Game 27, and the Washington Capitals are making their first visit to Boston, where the last time they visited, Joel Ward sent the Caps to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a Game 7 overtime goal against the Bruins.  Since then, misfortune has been the experience of the Caps – a seven game loss to the Rangers in the next round of last spring's playoffs and a disappointing 2013 season to date. 

For the Bruins, things have not changed much, at least from the regular season last year.  If anything, they have gotten better.  Boston finished with 102 points last season, good for the top spot in the Northeast Division and for second place overall in the Western Conference.  This year in 25 games they have 39 points, which is a 128-point pace over an 82 game schedule.  No team in the East has fewer losses in regulation time; no team in the East has fewer losses, period.  But the Caps inflicted one of those losses, an improbable 4-3 overtime win after falling behind, 3-0, in the first period.

Since that loss to the Caps, the Bruins have just picked up where they left off.  They are 4-1-0 since facing Washington on March 5th.  They have a respectable, if not extraordinary, 15 goals scored over those five games (3.00/game), but goals allowed?  Eight in five games.  A lot of that performance has been driven by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who after sustaining the loss against the Caps has appeared in three of the last five games and posted a record of 3-0-0, 0.97, .965, with a shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers.

At the other end, the Bruin offense has been fueled by the line of Patrice Bergeron (3-3-6 over the last five games), Tyler Seguin (4-2-6), and Brad Marchand (0-5-5).  The line has been on the ice intact for six of the 15 goals scored by the Bruins over the last five games (Seguin scored a power play goal with assists from Milan Lucic and David Krejci in the shutout of the Flyers for the sixth goal for that trio).

Here is how the two teams compare over the course of the season…

1.  Boston is a team that applies firm and consistent pressure.  In the first 20 minutes of games they have scored 25 goals.  In the second period, 24.  In the third period, they have 23 goals to their credit.  And they do it with balance.  Only Brad Marchand is a double-digit goal scorer (12), but they do have seven players with at least five goals, which might not sound like a lot, but it would mean at least seven players with 18 or more goals over an 82-game season at that pace.

2.  The Bruins have allowed one power play goal in 47 shorthanded situations so far this season…on the road.  Needless to say, that ranks first in road penalty kill.  At home they are almost mortal – 88.0 percent ranks in a tie for 5th place.

3.  Boston is more than a little bit a front-runner.  They have trailed at the first intermission only five times in 25 games this season (a record of 2-1-2) and only four times after 40 minutes (2-0-2).

4.  The Bruins could use a bit of work on their power play in one respect.  They are one of only five teams without a 5-on-3 power play goal this season. Oh, and their home power play?  Three goals.  Not in their last game...three goals for the season.  In 40 power play chances.  That is 7.5 percent, and it ranks last in the league.

5.  If a team is going to beat Boston, chances are they will have a hard time doing it in that they won’t blow the Bruins out.  Five of Boston’s losses have come in one-goal games, two in regulation, three in extra time.  However, they are 6-1 in games decided by two goals, 4-1 in games decided by three or more goals. The last time the Bruins lost a game by more than one goal was back on February 15th, at Buffalo (4-2).  In fact, Buffalo has inflicted both multiple-goal losses on Boston this season, beating the Bruins by a 7-4 margin on January 31st.

1.  The Capitals are 2-3-0 since they faced the Bruins, having been outscored by a 16-13 margin overall.  The Caps have only nine even strength goals in those five games, although their power play is 4-for-14 (28.6 percent).

2.  Starting with their 4-3 overtime win over Boston, the Caps will come into this game not having hit 30 on the shots on goal meter in their last six games (average of 26.0 per game).  They allowed more than 30 in all of them (average of 35.3).

3.  Consider Steve Oleksy, Man of Mystery… he is tied for the team lead among healthy Capitals defensemen in plus-minus (+2, with Karl Alzner), he is second among healthy defensemen in points (four, John Carlson with 12), he leads all Capitals defensemen, healthy or not, in shooting percentage (16.7%), he is third among healthy defensemen in hits, fourth in blocked shots.  Oleksy is tied for third among healthy defensemen in takeaways, he is tied for second among healthy defensemen in assists, and he is tied for second among healthy defensemen in goals.  Steve Oleksy has played in just six games.

4,  Eric Fehr has only one “minus” game in his last 17 games.  Over that span he is 6-6-12, plus-12, and a game-winning goal – the overtime winner against Boston on March 5th.

5.  Marcus Johansson has more goals and more points against Boston than he does against any team outside the Southeast Division.  He is 3-2-5 in seven career games against the Bruins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Dougie Hamilton

Before the Bruins played the Caps on March 5th, the lanky rookie defenseman was 2-9-11, minus-1, in 19 games.  He scored the third goal for the Bruins in the first period in that game against the Caps, and all looked good.  Then he was on the ice for the last two goals the Caps scored in that contest, the last one being that by Eric Fehr, when Fehr darted past him to flip the puck in while falling to the ice.  In his last 16 periods of hockey, Hamilton has no points, and has been on ice for four goals against of the ten scored against the Bruins in that time.  After recording only one game without a shot on goal in his first 22 games, he has two such games in his last three.  He has looked a little bit more like a “rookie” recently.

Washington: Cameron Schilling

Boston is a deep and balanced team, the sort of team that can make life rough for a defense as thin as the Caps’ these days.  Injuries have depleted the Caps’ defense to the point where it looks as much like the Hershey Bears’ starting lineup as it does the parent roster.  Schilling made his NHL debut against Carolina on Tuesday and skated 15 shifts in the 4-0 loss.  If he gets a sweater today, it will not get easier.  He did have solid numbers at Hershey: 6-8-14, plus-7, in 54 games.  “Solid” is all he has to be – perhaps 12-14 minutes of being responsible and keeping things simple.  He will be tested.


1.  Keep Calm and Carry On.  Boston will try to make things difficult for whoever it is that takes the goaltending duties today.  They will clog the crease, send waves of bodies, poke, jab, and be generally disagreeable.  Whether it is Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth, there can only be the puck.  The rest is noise.

2.  Don’t fall behind.  Yes, the Caps had that big comeback from a three-goal deficit.  Preserve it as a keepsake, it’s not happening again.  Boston is 12-1-1 when scoring first, 8-1-1 when leading at the first intermission.  If Boston gets a lead, they don’t lose it.

3.  Keep an eye…or two, on Chara.  Zdeno Chara had three goals in his first 19 games.  Starting with the March 5th game against the Caps, he has three in his last six contests.  Just what the B’s need, another offensive weapon.

In the end, this is not going to be easy.  But the Caps know how to win in Boston, too.  Including last year’s playoffs, the Caps are 5-1 in their last six visits to TD Garden.  Four of those six games went to extra time, the Caps winning three of them.  It might not seem likely, given the different places in the standings these teams occupy at the moment, but it would not be all that surprising if it happened to be a close Caps win this afternoon, either.

Capitals 2 – Bruins 1