Sunday, March 17, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 28: Capitals 5 - Sabres 3

Whether a team beats the Boston Bruins or the Buffalo Sabres, the result is the same – two points.  There are no style points added or extra points for quality of competition, neither are they taken away.  In the NHL, you win, you get two points.  And so, the Washington Capitals earned two points this evening for their 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, lifting the Caps over the Sabres and into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Caps got started early, just 19 seconds into the game, when Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly from Cody Hodgson, Marcus Johansson slowed the puck's momentum as if to tee it up, and Alex Ovechkin ripped a laser through goalie Ryan Miller’s pads for the 1-0 lead.

It might have signaled a loud and shiny night with horns and goal lights, but that was how the first period ended.  And, with the Caps getting only four shots on goal after the Ovechkin goal, it had the look of lost momentum.  And so it was when Cody Hodgson knotted the game 12 seconds into the second period when he “Ovechkinzed” defenseman Steve Olesky by shooting the puck through the defenseman's legs and through goalie Braden Holtby’s five hole. 

Any momentum Buffalo might have derived from the tying goal lasted but an instant.  The Caps applied heavy and consistent pressure in the Buffalo end, topping it off when, on a power play, Mike Ribeiro moonwalked the puck backwards along the goal line toward the Buffalo net, then slid a pass out to Troy Brouwer in the high slot.  Ryan Miller, no doubt mesmerized by Ribeiro’s dance moves, could only lunge across the crease to try and deflect Brouwer’s shot with his head.  It did not work.  Brouwer’s shot found the far top corner, and it was Caps 2 – Sabres 1.

The Caps seemed to put the game away in a 43-second span mid-way through the period.  Brouwer did some fine work along the end wall behind the Sabres’ net, outworking defenseman Mike Weber for the puck, then backhanding it in front onto the stick of Jason Chimera.  And then…


Yes, in his 28th game, on his 59th shot of the season, Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a purely reactive, bang-bang slam dunk of a shot past Miller to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.  Marcus Johansson took the Caps to 4-1 just 43 seconds later when Buffalo got caught with their collective pants down around their own net.  Ryan Miller was down and out, and four defenders were within arm’s length of the net looking lost when the puck squirted out to Johansson at the side of the net.  Johansson banked it off the skate of Christian Ehrhoff, and things looked well in hand for the Capitals.

These being the Caps, though, things would get interesting once more.  Brian Flynn (who you would know if you read our prognosto) scored when he shouldered down a high puck, then in one motion swept it past Holtby.  Then the near impossible happened…

Buffalo scored a power play goal.

Again, if you read our prognosto you would know this, but Buffalo was last in the NHL in power play efficiency.  Worse, after they scored three power play goals in their season opener, they had only eight in their next 27 games.  But there it was, Cody Hodgson putting back a rebound that Braden Holtby might have directed a bit better, and it was 4-3.

Mathieu Perreault put things in proper order, though, with just under five minutes left.  Perreault started the play by skating the puck out of the Caps’ end with Brian Flynn hanging off him.  He nudged the puck up to Joel Ward, who fed it back to Perreault at the Buffalo blue line.  With Jason Chimera driving the middle lane to the net, Perreault crossed behind him, held the puck, and finally wristed it across his body and into the back of the net to close the scoring.

Other stuff…

-- Too bad that Perreault goal closed the scoring, and not because we prognosticated a 5-4 Caps win.  No, because the Sabres pulled goalie Ryan Miller 2:12 left in the game.  With that much time left, it was entirely possible that Braden Holtby would get an opportunity to try and score an empty-net goal.  He did, in fact, attempt a shot, but he did not get a clean swing at it and managed only to move the puck to the red line.

-- No, Ovechkin’s goal at 19 seconds was not the fastest goal to start a game in Caps’ history.  Not close.  The record is eight seconds, done twice – Gaetan Duchesne did it in a 3-3- tie at St. Louis on March 14, 1987; and Alexander Semin did it in a 5-4 Gimmick win over the New York Islanders on November 11, 2009.

-- John Carlson came up big in this game.  With Tom Poti going down to injury early in the second period with an injury and coming back to skate only one more shift to end his day, the Caps skated largely with only five defensemen (a recurring theme lately).  Carlson finished the game with 30:15 in ice time.  It was not, however, a personal best for Carlson, not even a personal best this season.  He skated 30:34 in a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on February 21st.

-- Five different Caps recorded the five goals, six players had multi-point games.  And it was the latter that was surprising for who it included: Joel Ward (two assists), Mathieu Perreault (1-1-2), and Marcus Johansson (1-1-2).

-- The Caps were an amazing 15-for-22 on defensive zone draws, Troy Brouwer going a perfect 7-for-7.  It was part of a 41-for-64 (64.1 percent) night in the circle for the Caps.

-- The Caps had a total of 60 shot attempts, 25 of them on goal.  Alex Ovechkin had 16 of the 60 attempts, five of the 25 shots on goal.  But what might have been his “captain” play was stepping in when Steve Ott decided he would try to mix it up with Nicklas Backstrom.  What is it with Northeast Division teams jumping Caps who have no fighting history?  Boston’s Brad Marchand jumps Mike Ribeiro (total NHL fights: zero), then Ott jumps Backstrom (total NHL fights: zero).

-- At some point, rookie play like rookies, even those with compelling stories.  Steve Oleksy had his rookie moment when Steve Ott (yeah, he was all over the ice, like fish guts on a trawler) goaded him into taking a roughing penalty with more than seven minutes left and the Caps nursing a 4-3 lead.  He will learn.

-- Back to Perreault.  The 1-1-2 night was pleasant, but not entirely surprising.  He is, after all, primarily an offensive player.  But he was 8-for-11 on faceoffs tonight.  And if you think that is a surprise, he is winning faceoffs at a rate of 55.2 percent.  If he was eligible, he would rank 15th in the league.  Now that is surprising.  But it does represent progress, too.  Over the last four seasons, Perreault’s faceoff winning percentage has increased from 45.2 percent to 45.6 to 50.8 to 55.2 this season.

-- And back to Johansson.  Only Ovechkin had more shots on goal for the Caps (five) than did Johansson (four).  Only once in his career had Johansson had more shots on goal in a game – seven in a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on March 13, 2011.

-- This win was the first for the Caps this season in regulation time when allowing a power play goal (2-13-1), their only other such win coming in a 4-3 overtime win over Boston.

-- This was not the best instance of “shot management” by Braden Holtby (both Hodgson goals being examples of ones he might have wanted to play differently), but his glove save of a Drew Stafford shot, even if the shot might have been going wide, was a momentum stopper.

In the end, the weekend probably ended up the way one might have thought – a loss in Boston, a win against Buffalo.  It still leaves the Caps six points behind eighth-place Carolina, the Hurricanes holding a game in hand.  And now, the Caps embark on a four-game road trip, the great circle route to Pittsburgh, then to Winnipeg for a back-to-back, ending next Sunday against the Rangers.  If they can win three of four, they might yet have a puncher’s chance at sneaking into a playoff spot.  Tonight was a good effort upon which they might build as they head off to the road.

The Peerless Prognosticastor is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Sabres at Capitals, March 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, guys.  Here we are.  Things are not looking too good for the Washington Capitals these days.  They can’t seem to get on a good little run without stumbling right back to where they started, 5-5-0 over their last ten games.

“It is progress, cousin, considering their awful start.  They are 9-7-0 over their last 16 games after that 2-8-1 start.”

True, Fearless, but if they put up standings points at that rate, they still do not get to 50 points.

“Cuz, it ain’t even that good.  That 9-7-0 record?  7-1-0 against the Southeast Division, 2-6-0 against everyone else.”

Yeah, it is a shame they don’t play all their games against the Southeast, eh, Cheerless?

“Makes you wonder about that whole realignment thing next year, doesn’t it?”

That it does, Fearless.

“I just got one question, cuz…”

What’s that, Cheerless?

“Who’s the top-rated draft pick in 2014?”

Well, we are getting waaaaay ahead of ourselves.  There is a game to be played Sunday evening as the Buffalo Sabres come to town.  And if there is a team as disappointing as the Capitals, it might be the Sabres. 

Buffalo has not managed to string more than three wins together only once this season, while they have three four-game losing streaks to their credit (or discredit).  Only Florida has fewer wins in the league in regulation and overtime than do the Sabres.  They have gone 13 straight games not having scored more than three goals in a game.

The Sabres will come into this game losers of five of their last six games.  In putting up a 1-2-3 record over those six games, the Sabres and their opponents have split 30 goals evenly, but they have dropped a pair of games in the Gimmick, those game-losing goals not showing up on their goals for and against ledger.

Special teams have truly been an adventure for Buffalo in their last six games.  Their power play is 2-for-22 (9.1 percent), while their penalty kill is 13-for-20 (65.0 percent) and has allowed power play goals in each of their five losses in this block of games (they were 1-for-1 in their 3-1 win over the New York Rangers).

Buffalo has spread their scoring around, despite the 1-2-3 record in their last six games.  Eighteen different Sabres have points, nine different Sabres have goals. But when you score only 15 goals over six games with that kind of distribution, no one stands out.  Drew Stafford does have three goals over those six games, but he does not have an assist.  Steve Ott and Andrej Sekera each have four assists in the six games, but neither has a goal. 

Here is how the teams match up in their overall numbers…

1.  Ryan Miller has not won in goal since stopping 28 of 31 shots in the hockey portion of the contest and both shots he faced in the Gimmick in a 4-3 trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils.  Since then he is 0-2-3, 3.08, .893.

2.  No team in the league has fewer power play goals than the 11 the Sabres have.  Of that total, Thomas Vanek has six, good for ninth in the league.  But of those six power play goals for Vanek, he had three of them in the Sabres’ first six games, then three in his next 19 games.

3.  Only three teams in the league have faced more shorthanded situations than Buffalo (112 in 28 games), which goes a long way toward explaining why no team has allowed more power play goals than the 24 allowed by the Sabres.

4.  From the “does not play well with others” file, only Toronto (six) has more misconduct penalties than the Sabres (five).

5.  Only two teams (Ottawa and Columbus) have played in more one-goal games to date than Buffalo.  The Sabres are 6-7-4 in such games, the third worst winning percentage, ahead of only Florida and Tampa Bay.  One of those losses was a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Caps on January 27th.

1.  The Caps are 7-1-1 in their last nine games against Buffalo at home, outscoring the Sabres by a 30-23 margin.

2.  The Caps allowed Boston only one power play on Saturday and still managed to allow a power play goal.  That makes the Caps 1-13-1 in games in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

3.  Caps games are either nail-biters or blow-outs.  Of the 27 games played by the Caps to date, 12 of them were decided by one-goal (a record of 6-5-1), and 14 were decided by three or more goals (5-9).

4.  Only three teams have more power play goals at home than the Caps.  Overall, despite the fact that the Caps rank second in power play efficiency (24.4 percent), they are a minus-5 on special teams (22 power play plus a shorthanded goal versus 24 power play and four shorthanded goals allowed).

5.  No team has won fewer games when leading at the first intermission than have the Caps this season.  Only three times did they win after leading after 20 minutes. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Brian Flynn

Who?  Brian Flynn has taken the express elevator to the NHL for a player who went undrafted.  In 2012 he completed his four-year eligibility as a member of the University of Maine Black Bears hockey team.  He was signed by Buffalo in late March, then played five games with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.  This year he was 16-16-32 in 45 games at Rochester, good for tenth among AHL rookies in both goals and points.  Since his call-up to the Sabres on March 1st, he is 2-1-3, plus-1, in seven games, both goals coming on the road.

Washington:  Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer is in the midst of his longest goal-scoring drought of the season – six games and counting.  He does not have a point in eight career games against Buffalo.  He has only a lone assist in four Sunday games so far this season.  One would think, “he’s due.”  If Brouwer is to reverse the curse here, it could come on the power play.  He has four power play goals this season, three in Washington wins.  Ten of his 17 points this season have come with the man advantage.


1.  Rev up the power tools.  The Caps have a 27.1 percent power play at home.  They need to unleash it, especially since the Sabres are only 13-for-20 (65.0 percent) on the penalty kill in their last five road games.

2.  This game brought to you by the letter “J.”  Odd numbers… John Carlson, no goals in his last five games.  Joel Ward, no goals in his last eight games.  Jay Beagle, no goals in his last 13 games.  Jason Chimera, Jeff Schultz, and Jack Hillen – oh-for-the-season.  Someone whose first name that starts with the letter “J” needs to score.  Joey Crabb can’t do this by himself (a goal on Thursday).

3.  Less tending makes for better tending.  The Caps have allowed 30 or more shots in their last ten games (an average of 35.0 per game) and in 14 of their last 15.  Goaltenders are facing too many shots. 

In the end…

Here we have two teams that combined have the win total of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Both are shells of what they were not too long ago.  Buffalo was a 100-point team as recently as 2009-2010, and the Caps were a 100-point team as recently as 2010-2011.  It is not likely that the two teams will combine for 100 points in this abbreviated season.  Neither gets timely scoring on a consistent basis, neither can kill penalties with consistency, and both have had goaltending issues from time to time.  Both have earned their diminished position in the standings.  That in itself might make this game entertaining, if not especially meaningful in the standings.

Capitals 5 – Sabres 4