Sunday, March 31, 2013

A ONE-point night -- Game 35: Flyers 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

Live by the last minute goal, die by the last minute goal.

The Washington Capitals experienced both in the space of 24 hours, coming back from a two-goal deficit on Saturday night to tie the Buffalo Sabres in the last minute of regulation before overtaking them, 4-3, in a Gimmick, then failing to hold a two-goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, allowing a tying goal with ten second left before dropping a 5-4 overtime decision in Philadelphia.

The game between the Capitals and Flyers was entertaining, but one also could see why both teams are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.  Washington owned the first ten minutes of the game, scoring first on a Nicklas Backstrom goal when he tipped a shot by Jack Hillen out of mid-air and outshooting the Flyers, 7-0, in the first 9:30 of the contest. 

The Flyers then took over, scoring on their second shot of the game at the 10:26 mark, courtesy of Max Talbot, then scoring just over four minutes later on a breakaway by Matt Read.  As dominant as the Caps had been over the first ten minutes, so were the Flyers in the last ten minutes of the period, and it was the Flyers taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

The Caps had the only tally of the second period, Mike Green getting his fifth of the season when he broke out of the penalty box after serving a holding penalty, taking a long lead pass from Brooks Laich, and beating goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game.

It made for a bizarre, wonderful, tragic, and head-scratching finish in the third period and overtime.  The bizarre came when Steve Oleksy dropped Claude Giroux with what looked to be a clean check in open ice.  Jakub Voracek came to his teammate’s defense, his head in the right place, but unfortunately for him, protected by a helmet and a visor.  Voracek got two for instigating, five for fighting, an extra two for instigating while wearing a visor, and a ten-minute misconduct.  With Oleksy getting only five for fighting, the Caps had a four-minute power play.

To that point the Caps’ power play was pitiful, getting only three shots in four power play opportunities.  But this time the Caps made the Flyers pay, converting both ends of the double minor penalty.  The first came off a turnover by Claude Giroux that ended up on the stick of Marcus Johansson, who wristed a shot past Bryzgalov to give the Caps the lead.  Just 26 seconds later, John Carlson – who appears to have mastered the feed for the one timer – set up Alex Ovechkin for just that, Ovechkin wiring the puck past Bryzgalov’s blocker to give what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-2 Caps lead with 13:12 left in regulation.

However, just as the Caps came back from a two-goal third period deficit on Saturday night against Buffalo, the Flyers would put the Caps on the other side of that ledger.  Giroux made up for his earlier miscue with a one-timer of his own from the left wing circle at the 12:48 mark, leaving the Caps clinging to a 4-3 lead.  The Caps held that lead for 7:02.  Trouble was, they needed to hold it for 7:12.  The Flyers tied the game with ten seconds left in regulation in the cruelest fashion.  Just as Mike Green tied the game on Saturday night by ringing a shot off the post and off the goalie with 39.2 seconds left in regulation, so did Kimmo Timonen fire one off the pipe and in behind goalie Braden Holtby with just those ten ticks left. 

In the overtime, the Flyers made short work of it, Timonen figuring heavily in the game-winner, too, with his feed to an open Ruslan Fedotenko to Holtby’s right.  The pass barely eluded the stick of defenseman John Carlson, but elude the stick it did, and Fedotenko had an open net in which he buried the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- Needless to say, if the Caps miss the playoffs by one point, this is the standings point they will have nightmares about all summer.  Losing a lead with ten seconds left is not what teams with playoff aspirations do.  And the Timonen goal to tie the game was really more than a minute in the making.  Defensemen Steve Oleksy and Jeff Schultz stepped onto the ice with 1:26 left to play.  You would figure that they might skate a 35-40 second shift and get off for the final shutdown pair.  That would have worked but for a dubious icing call with 49 seconds left, a result of Timonen (who should have been the first star of the game) taking the great circle route to catch up with the puck.  Prohibited from changing out his defensemen, head coach Adam Oates had to stand and watch, depending on a faceoff win and a clear to swap out his defensemen.  Claude Giroux beat Nicklas Backstrom cleanly on the ensuing faceoff, and the Caps could never clear the puck out of the zone.  Thirty-nine seconds after winning that faceoff and pinning the Caps in their own end, Timonen scored with the exhausted Oleksy and Schultz still on the ice.

-- Another game, another power play goal for Alex Ovechkin.  His power play tally in the third period was his 12th power play goal of the season (tops in the league) and his fifth over his last seven games.  He is on a 8-4-12 scoring run over his last eight games.

-- Ovechkin’s six shots on goal and 16 shot attempts give him 16 shots on goal on 33 shot attempts over his last two games.

-- At the other end, Mike Ribeiro did not record a shot attempt in almost 21 minutes of ice time, the only Cap to do so.

-- Mike Green’s goal gave him markers in consecutive games for the first time since he recorded goals in four consecutive games from October 30-November 7, 2010.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal makes it three in six games after recording three in his first 29 games.  Backstrom is 3-6-9 over his last eight games.

-- Marcus Johansson had his fourth multi-point game in his last eight contests.  Over that span he is 3-6-9.  “3-6-9” must be a Swedish thing.

-- The seven power play chances were the most for the Caps since they had eight back on January 25th against New Jersey.  They lost that game in overtime, too, 3-2.

-- The Caps allowed a power play goal tonight, the third time in four games that they have allowed one.  They have not won any of those games in regulation (two Gimmick wins, a regulation loss, and tonight’s overtime loss).

-- Getting eight shots on seven power plays is not especially impressive, and it is made worse by allowing four shorthanded shots on goal.

-- Karl Alzner was minus-3, the first time he finished a game there since he was a minus-3 against the New York Rangers in a 5-4 Gimmick loss on February 11, 2009.

-- Steve Oleksy had five blocked shots.  That vaulted him into fourth on the team in blocked shots with 33 in just 15 games.

-- The Caps finished the month 9-6-1, a 97-point pace per 82 games.

In the end, it was a lost opportunity for the Caps.  Had they won this game they would be ninth place, behind the Rangers for eighth place by virtue of the Rangers holding a game in hand.  As it is, the Caps remain in 11th place, tied with Carolina in points but with the Hurricanes holding two games in hand.  It sets up Tuesday’s game in North Carolina as being just that much more important.  As for the weekend, it was a case of winning a game they should have lost and losing a game they should have won.  Three points out of four on the road would almost always be looked upon as a good thing.  But it is that point that got away that is going to linger, at least until late Tuesday night.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Flyers, March 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their thrilling 4-3 skills competition win over the Buffalo Sabres in upstate New York, head down to south Philadelphia to visit the rugged Flyers in an early evening…

“Rugged?... good one, cuz.”

What, you think the Flyers lack a certain edge? 

“Cousin, have you been reading the papers?”

I like to think I keep up with current events.

“Well, geez, cuz, even I can see that the Flyers have lost eight of their last 11 games.  And, they have only 23 goals scored in those 11 games.”

Cheerless, I’m impressed.

“They ain’t Flyers, they’re die…ers.”

Well, nice try.

“You have to give him an ‘A’ for effort…”

There is that, Fearless.

The Flyers are in the midst of a late-season swoon, going 3-6-2 over their last 11 games, getting outscored by a 35-23 margin.  They have not been able to string together consecutive wins since they beat Washington and Ottawa more than a month ago.  And what it means is that even with their 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, the Flyers are in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

Offensively over those 11 games, it has not been a case of being bad as much as it has been being just not good enough.  Jakub Voracek is 5-5-10 over those 11 games and can be said to be carrying at least a fair share of the scoring load.  However, Claude Giroux, of whom more might have been expected so far, has three goals in those last 11 games.  Good, but not quite what the Flyers need.  Ditto for Scott Hartnell.  Having played in only 18 games as a result of suffering a broken foot earlier in the season, Hartnell has three goals over the Flyers’ last 11 games.  For a guy who had a career-high 37 goals last year, it is not bad, just not good enough.

Here is what the Flyers are not getting offensively – any offense from their defensemen.  Only one of the 23 goals scored by the Flyers over the last 11 games has come from a blueliner, that coming from Kimmo Timonen back on March 7th in a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh.  It also happens to be the last time the Flyers scored more than three goals in a game (the streak with three or fewer now at nine games).  In fact, that goal by Timonen is the only goal by a Flyer defenseman over Philadelphia’s last 15 games.

Ilya Bryzgalov has appeared in goal in each of the 11 games in this 3-6-2 slide.  His record of 3-5-2 over that span (Brian Boucher has the other decision) is consistent with a 3.13 goals against average and a .892 save percentage.  It is not as if this record is all that different from his season marks.  He is another of those “second page” goalies in the statistical rankings – 35th of 48 goalies in goals against average (2.77) and 36th in save percentage (.902).

These are not your father’s Flyers.  And here is how they compare to the Caps overall this season…

1.  In one sense, the lack of scoring from the Philadelphia defense and the leaky defense generally should be of little surprise.  Of the eight players listed in the injury listings (the source for the table above), six are defensemen, and five of them are on injured reserve.

2. Of the 28 players to dress for the Flyers this season, only three have “plus” totals: Ruslan Fedotenko (plus-6), Max Talbot (plus-1), and Tye McGinn (plus-1); and McGinn has played in only 17 games.  On the other hand, 19 players are in minus territory, and five of them are minus-10 or worse.

3.  Think the “sophomore slump” is a myth?  Well, perhaps sometimes, but in the case of Sean Couturier it would seem to apply.  Last season Couturier was 13-14-27, plus-18 in 77 games.  Through 32 games this season the sophomore is 2-6-8, minus-13 and has the 15th highest number of goals scored against among forwards while on ice.

4.  No team has scored more power play goals than the Flyers (32), and only one team -- New Jersey -- has scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Flyers (50).

5.  Mike Knuble has a third of the Flyers’ goals over the last two games (two of six).  With four goals in 20 games this season, he is in striking distance of matching his total with the Caps last season (six in 72 games).

1.  Nicklas Backstrom has taken over the team lead in assists for the Capitals (25).  He has six helpers in his last seven games.

2.  Even though the Capitals outshot the Buffalo Sabres, 38-23, in their 4-3 Gimmick win on Saturday, the Caps have out-shot opponents only nine times in 34 games. They are tied with Edmonton for the fewest instances of outshooting opponents.  It is, perhaps, unfortunate since the Caps have the fourth best winning percentage when outshooting opponents (6-3-0, .667).

3. From the “do power plays matter” file… the Caps are 13-9-1 when scoring at least one power play goal and 6-7-1 when they get at least four power play opportunities.  On the other hand, the Caps are 3-9-1 when allowing more than three power play opportunities, 4-14-1 when allowing a power play goal. The answer is, “it depends.”

4.  Jason Chimera recorded two shots on goal (and one expletive) against Buffalo on Saturday. That broke a string of three games in which he did not record a shot on goal, which happened to be his longest run of games without a shot on goal since he went four games without one from March 28-April 3, 2010.

5.  Troy Brouwer’s shorthanded goal on Saturday night was his first as a Capital and his first since November 25, 2009, when he scored for the Chicago Blackhawks in a 7-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia:  Claude Giroux.

Claude Giroux has come alive of late, going 2-4-6 in his last five games.  He has been winning faceoffs – 50 percent or better in nine of his last ten games.  He has been logging big minutes, topping 20 minutes of ice time in 17 of his last 21 games without consecutive games under 20 minutes.  And yet, the Flyers are struggling.  With as many injuries as the Flyers have had to contend with, Giroux is going to have to find another gear in his game if the Flyers are going to make a chase for the playoffs. He had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over the Caps on February 27th and is 7-3-10, minus-2, in 15 career games against Washington.

Washington: Mathieu Perreault

No one was more excited on the Washington bench after Saturday night’s win over Buffalo than Mathieu Perreault.  Now, it is time to apply that enthusiasm to the ice.  Actually, that enthusiasm is there, but the results have not been lately.  Since he had a three-goals-in-four-games stretch earlier this month, he is without a goal in his last six games and has only seven shots on goal in those games.  Secondary scoring is important to the Caps as they start their stretch run, and Perreault is going to have to be a part of that.  He is 1-1-2, minus-1 in seven career games against the Flyers.


1.  Storm the wall.  It was rather noticeable in the win over the Sabres that the Caps were not winning a lot of battles along the wall.  Philadelphia will be even stiffer competition in that area of the rink.  The Caps cannot play just between the faceoff dots.  They will have to give as good as they get along the boards.

2.  Win the first period.  The Flyers have the worst record in the league when trailing after 20 minutes.  They are a perfect 0-12-0 when behind at the first intermission.  That has been a challenge for the Caps, as noted above, having carried a lead into the first intermission only nine times in 34 games.

3.  Buzz Bryz.  If Ilya Bryzgalov starts this game and has a save percentage below .900, the Flyers have almost no chance of winning.  Bryzgalov has failed to hit the .900 save percentage mark in 13 appearances this season.  The Flyers’ record in those games is 1-12-0.

In the end, one is good, but two is better.  The Caps got off to a good start on this three-game road trip with their come-from-behind win over Buffalo on Saturday.  They will need to take it up a notch against a club that is still formidable in its own building (10-5-2 at Wells Fargo Center).  A win in this one, and the Caps could find themselves in ninth place, tied with the eighth-place New York Rangers in standings points (the Rangers would hold a lead based on fewer games played).  That would set up perhaps the season’s most important game for the Caps on Tuesday against Carolina.  But first things first.  There are Flyers to bring to earth.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 3