Saturday, April 06, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 38: Capitals 4 - Panthers 3

The Washington Capitals beat the Florida Panthers tonight, 4-3.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

OK, enough Dickens.  The Caps did beat the Panthers, 4-3, tonight, and for 35 minutes looked as if they might ring up ten on Florida, provided Florida continued to play stupid.  The Caps had four power plays in those first 35 minutes and converted three of them.  The one they did not was a technicality, failing to score in the last 3:52 of a five-minute power play after scoring 1:08 into the man-advantage.

For the Caps, the game really started with that five-minute power play.  Over the first 14 minutes of the first period the Caps played somewhat listlessly, outshot by the Panthers by an 8-6 margin.  But then the Panthers went all stupid.  It started with an aimless hit by Eric Gudbranson on Martin Erat along the wall in the Panther’s end.  Erat had long since moved the puck along, but Gudbranson drove Erat awkwardly into the boards, head first. 

As bad as it might have looked, the injury Erat would sustain on the play did not appear to be to his head, at least not the most serious injury.  Erat was down for quite some time, and when he was finally helped to his feet, he looked as if he could put no weight on his right leg.  Replays showed his legs splayed in directions not provided for by human anatomy as he was going to the ice on the hit.  Gudbranson received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.  Warm up the cameras at the NHL Department of Player Safety.  Brendan Shanahan is going to be making  a video.

The Caps made the Panthers pay on the ensuing five-minute power play when Alex Ovechkin one-timed a pass through the crease by Mike Ribeiro before goalie Jacob Markstrom could react.  It would be all the Caps would get on the five-minute power play, but the Panthers went ahead and tested the Caps’ power play again with five seconds left in the first period on a hooking penalty by Quinton Howden.  The Caps could not score in those dying seconds of the first period, but they made good on the man-advantage just 43 seconds into the second period. 

It started when Alex Ovechkin kept Tyson Strachan’s weak clearing attempt in the offensive zone.  Ovechkin fed the puck across from the left point to Mike Green, who fired a slap shot to the long side that hit the post to Markstrom’s right.  The puck rebounded right into Markstrom’s backside and slid toward the Florida cage.  Mike Ribeiro beat defenseman Brian Campbell to the puck and batted it in for a 2-0 lead.

Less than two minutes later the Caps scored an even-strength goal when Nicklas Backstrom fed Ovechkin at the Panther blue line.  Ovechkin skated in on defenseman Filip Kuba and tried to curl and drag the puck around Kuba.  The defenseman managed to poke the puck aside, but in doing so was not in position to keep Ovechkin from darting around him, picking up the puck on the other side, and roofing a forehand over Markstrom’s glove.

The Caps made it 4-0 in the period’s 15th minute when Florida took another penalty, this time a slashing call against Dmitry Kulikov.  The Caps scored by working the puck around the diamond in the 1-3-1.  Mike Green held the puck at the top of the Florida zone, pulling Scott Timmins across as Green skated along the blue line.  Green fed Nicklas Backstrom, who eased up along the wall to cover the right point.  Backstrom fed Marcus Johansson along the goal line to Markstrom’s left, and Johansson threaded a pass across for Ovechkin to one-time the puck past Markstrom’s blocker for the hat trick.

At that point it looked as if the Caps might run the Panthers out of their own rink, but they took their foot off the pedal a bit.  It almost cost them.  Florida scored 6:45 into the third period to ruin goalie Braden Holtby’s shutout.  Then the Panthers scored less than two minutes later to make things interesting.  When Tomas Kopecky scored off Holtby’s hip with 32.7 seconds left in regulation, what was unthinkable in the second period – a blown four-goal lead – looked possible.  But the Caps held the Panthers without a shot on goal in that last 32.7 seconds, and the Caps reclaimed the top spot in the Southeast Division with a 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- OK, let’s do the numbers… the hat trick for Ovechkin is his 12th of his career and second this season.  He is third in Capitals’ history, now one behind second-place Mike Gartner.  The three goals give Ovechkin 23 for the season, now tied for second in the league with John Tavares, two behind leader Steven Stamkos.  He now has 14 goals in his last 13 games.  And, with four points on the night he is tied for seventh in total points (41) with Carolina’s Eric Staal and Edmonton’s Taylor Hall.

-- Overshadowed, perhaps, in Ovechkin’s four-point night is the fact that Nicklas Backstrom had three assists.  That makes eight helpers in his last three games and 14 in his last 11 contests.  Backstrom is now third in the league in assists, behind Sidney Crosby and Martin St. Louis, and he is tied for 11th in total scoring (39 points) with Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

-- Mike Ribeiro ended a personal four-game drought without a point with a goal and an assist.  It was his first multi-point game since recording a pair of assists in a 6-1 win over Winnipeg on March 22nd.  He had only a single assist over his last six games before tonight.

-- Speaking of multi-point games, Marcus Johansson had a pair of assists, giving him his sixth multi-point game in his last 11 contests.  Over that time he is 3-11-14.

-- With all that scoring firepower, it was Mike Green who led the Caps in shot attempts with nine.  But hitting the post on a shot was as close as Green would get to extending his goal-scoring streak to five games.

-- Twice in the last 19 seconds Ovechkin failed to convert on shots at an empty net.  That makes Ovechkin 0-for-6 at empty net shot attempts this season.

-- Since going three straight games without a power play goal in late February and early March, the Caps – with their 3-for-5 effort tonight – are 16-for-60 (26.7 percent) on the power play over their last 17 games.  They have power play goals in 12 of those 17 games and a record of 9-2-1 in those games.

-- The Caps are now 6-0-1 over their last seven road games.

-- 15 of Florida’s 18 skaters were credited with hits… 16, if you count Gudbranson’s boarding of Erat.

-- Braden Holtby might be faulted in some circles for allowing three goals late, but if he doesn’t make a stop on a point-blank shot by Scott Timmins two minutes into the game, this one might have ended very differently. Why?...

-- Because Florida was 10-3-2 when scoring first.  As it turned out, they didn’t score first, and since they were 2-16-4 when allowing the first goal coming into this game, it was an opportunity wasted.  Now, they are 2-17-4.

In the end, the book is closed on the Caps-Panthers rivalry as Southeast Division opponents.  The Caps took the season series by a 22-9 margin.  This might have been among the prettiest games of the season for the Caps, based on the first 35 minutes.  But the Caps let the Panthers back into it late.  Still, one had the feeling that this game was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.  And at this time of the year, two points is two points.  The takeaway is that the big guys are playing like the big guys, and if that continues, the Capitals appear likely – as unlikely as it was a month ago – to win the last Southeast Division banner to be awarded.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 38: Capitals at Panthers, April 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 2-1 trick shot victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, take their brand new Southeast Division lead on the road for a test drive.  Perhaps fittingly, they do so with a visit to Sunrise, Florida, and a meeting with the Florida Panthers, the defending Southeast Division champions.

Those heady days of fighting for a championship, even if was only of the divisional variety, must seem long ago to fans of the Panthers.  This year, injuries decimated the club.  They will come into this game with seven players on injured reserve, at least five of them likely to miss the rest of the regular season.  But the law of averages, so to speak, caught up with the Panthers, too.  Last year, Florida was involved in 35 one-goal decisions in which they earned points.  Only one club – Vancouver – had more such games (36).  That was not even the thing that set the Panthers apart.  Florida earned points in 18 one-goal losses, a product of going 7-18 in extra-time games, 6-11 of that coming in the Gimmick. 

This year, Florida is a 5-5-6 in one-goal games, the second worst winning percentage in the league.  They are just 4-6 in extra-time games. But recently it has been like old times for the Panthers.  Florida’s last three games ended in three one-goal, extra-time wins, two of them in the Gimmick.  It’s the Florida way, it seems.

The recent success represents a reversal of fortune for the Panthers in the month since they last met the Capitals.  Since they dropped a 7-1 decision in Washington on March 7th, Florida is 5-7-1.  The record is a bit of an improvement from where the Panthers were after that 7-1 drubbing (7-12-5), but last in the East they were on that night, and last in the East is where they remain coming into this game.

Even with Florida’s recent win-loss success, there have been problems.  In two of the three wins in this streak the Panthers surrendered two-goal leads and hung on through an overtime period before winning in the trick shot phase.

One thing the Panthers have done right, though, is score on the power play.  Of the nine goals scored by the Panthers in their 3-0-0 run, five of them have been scored with a man-advantage.  The five power play goals have come from five different players, too.  Shawn Matthias, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, and Greg Rallo were the power play goal-scorers.

Matthias has had an especially productive run for the Panthers lately.  He accounts for four of the five goals scored by the Panthers over their last three games (4-0-0).  It is part of a run in which he has 11 goals over his last 17 games, a 50-plus goal pace over 82 games.  His 14 goals on the season already represents a personal best over his six-year career, topping his 10 goals recorded last season.

Jonathan Huberdeau also has four points over the Panthers’ last three games (1-3-4).  It is part of a season in which he leads all rookies in goals (13) and total points (25).  He is 1-7-8 over his past nine games and one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Panthers.

Here is how the teams compare overall over the season…

1.  Florida is the worst team in the league at 5-on-5.  The 54 goals they have scored at 5-on-5 are the fewest in the league except for the New Jersey Devils (50).  The 86 goals they have allowed at 5-on-5 are the most allowed in the league except for the Calgary Flames (97).

2.  It has not been any better for the Panthers on the power play, at least when they are defending against that of their opponent.  Only Buffalo (27) has allowed more goals at 4-on-5 than Florida (25).

3.  As you might expect, with those records of goals allowed no team in the league has more losses by three or more goals than do the Panthers.  They are tied with Carolina with 12 apiece.  On the bright side, they have only one such loss in their last nine games.

4.  The NHL is a front-runner’s league.  Score first, or take a lead into the first intermission, and chance are you will win.  Florida does neither well.  Only three teams have scored first in a game fewer times than the Panthers (15 in 37 games), and only seven teams have led games at the first intermission in games fewer times than Florida (10 times in 37 games).  The problem?  No team has allowed more first period goals than the Panthers (43).

5.  Overtime has not provided any respite for the Panthers, either.  No team has more losses in overtime than Florida (five), although it has been a while since Florida lost in the five-minute session – a 3-2 loss to Winnipeg on March 8th.

1. The Caps are 8-3-1 in their last dozen games and have not lost consecutive games in any fashion over that span.  That record includes a 6-2-1 record on the road.

2.  Since the last time these clubs met, back on March 7th and the Caps went 2-for-3 on the power play, the Caps’ power play has remained efficient, just not quite as much as before that meeting.  Over 15 games since they beat Florida, 7-1, on March 7th Washington is 11-for-52 (21.2 percent) on the power play.

3.  On the other side of the ledger, only Buffalo has allowed more power play goals on the road (33) than the Caps (31).

4.  Only three teams have lost more one-goal games in regulation than the Caps (seven) this season.  Remember that inability to get to the bonus round if the Caps somehow fall out of the playoffs.

5.  No team in the league has been outshot in games more often than the Caps.  Washington has been outshot 28 times in 37 games so far and has a record of 12-14-2 in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Jacob Markstrom

Since Jose Theodore went down to a leg injury on March 2nd, Jacob Markstrom has assumed the role of number one goaltender.  And if practice makes perfect, then Markstrom can count on many shutouts in the future, because he has faced more rubber than a pit crew chief at Daytona over his last seven appearances.  In those appearances Markstrom has faced more than 35 shots per 60 minutes.  The work seems to have brought out the best in Markstrom.  He has a 5-2-0 win-loss record in those games, with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage to go with it.  It is a far cry from the two goals on two shots performance in 3:10 of ice time in the 7-1 loss to the Caps on March 7th.  He is, however, 0-2-0, 3.84, .879 in two career appearances against Washington.

Washington: John Carlson

Which Capital defenseman ranks in the top-30 among defensemen in goals?  And assists?  And points?  Hint: it’s not Mike Green.  While Green has received attention for his four-game goal scoring streak (including the only Caps power play goal from a defenseman this season), it is John Carlson who occupies each of those rankings for the Caps.  Carlson has points in six of his last eight games (1-5-6), and he leads the team’s defensemen in power play assists this season (five).  What he does not have is a power play point in 16 career games against Florida (he is 2-8-10 in those games overall).  Green has been hot, but Carlson has been right behind him lately.  Against Florida, he could shine.


1.  Don’t crane your necks.  We are just about at that time of the year and that position in the standings where teams will be sneaking peeks up at the scoreboard to see how those close behind or just ahead in the standings might be doing.  Avoid that temptation.  Florida is still an NHL team, and they are doing better of late.  Focus on the ice.

2.  Lead from in front.  The Caps are 3-0-0 against the Panthers this season, outscoring them by an 18-6 margin.  A common thread in those games is that the Caps scored first.  And Florida has lost 20 games in 22 instances in which they were scored on first (2-16-4).

3.  Attention to detail.  Against a team that gives up goals in bunches like the Panthers, it might be tempting to try to score them that way.  That is not a recipe for getting any, especially against a goalie having played well of late.  And, it could lead to breakdowns at the other end as the Caps try to goose their offense at the other end.

 In the end…

This is an easier part of the schedule coming up for the Caps -- four games in five against Southeast Division teams -- only if they treat it as something hard.  Otherwise, they are more likely to play to the level of their opponent and let standings points bleed away.  Take care of business, and this will be one in the win column.

Capitals 4 – Panthers 1