Saturday, April 20, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 45: Capitals 5 - Canadiens 1

The trick at this time of year, as much as avoiding losses altogether when you cling to a small lead for a playoff spot, is avoiding making two out of one.  The Washington Capitals shook off their loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and throttled the Montreal Canadiens in their own building, besting the Canadiens, 5-1, at Bell Centre.

There are nights, like last Thursday, when hockey just looks so hard.  And then there are nights when it looks easy.  Not to say it is so, just that when the skill guys are on their game, when the defenders are being smart without being passive, when the goaltending is sharp, it just looks, well…easy.  Tonight was one of those nights.

The Caps came into this game having won five straight games on Montreal ice and served notice on the Canadiens that Washington’s recent success at Bell Centre would not be coming to an end on this night.  The Caps scored two goals barely a minute apart early in the first period.   The first came when Montreal’s P.K. Subban tried to feed the puck up ice from behind the Canadiens’ net.  His pass hit Nicklas Backstrom and caromed onto the stick of Alex Ovechkin.  Cutting across the grain, he avoided Tomas Plekanec, then rifled a wrist shot through Carey Price on the Caps’ first shot of the contest at 4:49.

Just 68 seconds later, the Caps struck again, this time finishing a won faceoff.  Mike Ribeiro beat Lars Eller on the draw to the right of Price.  The puck skittered out to Karl Alzner, who settled it and fed it to Troy Brouwer circling out of the corner.  Brouwer took the pass in stride and sent an off-pace shot from the top of the left wing circle that Price could not solve.  The Caps had a two-goal lead just 5:57 into the game.

The Caps added a pair in the second period, and early was the theme again.  Brouwer recorded his second of the game just 3:49 into the period, finishing the job that Mike Ribeiro and Marcus Johansson started.  Ribeiro fought Francis Bouillon to a draw for a loose puck in the corner to Price’s left.  It allowed Johansson to step in, grab the puck, and find Brouwer in the high slot uncovered.  Brouwer slammed the puck past Price’s blocker, and it was 3-0. 

Four minutes later it was Nicklas Backstrom finishing a slick sequence on a power play.  Mike Riberiro started the around the horn play, feeding Mike Green at the top of the zone from the right wing wall.  Green fed the puck to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing wall, and Ovechkin, rather than taking the shot, feathered a pass through the box to Backstrom at the far post.  Backstrom redirected the puck up and off the post and into the top corner of the net behind Price to put the Caps up, 4-0.

Washington finished off their scoring in the 14th minute of the third period when, on a power play, Mike Green fed Ovechkin for a one-timer that blew past Price in the blink of an eye.  Montreal broke Braden Hotlby’s bid for his fifth shutout of the season when Max Pacioretty scored at 14:51.  That was all the Canadiens could manage, though, the last seconds ticking off in a deathly silent Bell Centre, the Caps’ home away from home.

Other stuff…

-- The win extends to eight the streak the Caps are on at Bell Centre without having lost in regulation time (7-0-1).  The last time the Caps lost to Montreal in regulation time at Bell Centre in the regular season was January 10, 2009, a 5-4 loss.  Caps fans might remember that loss as having cost then head coach Bruce Boudreau the chance to serve as an assistant coach in the 2009 NHL All Star Game.

-- The shot total for Montreal might look bad to Caps fans – 36 – but not in the context of the game.  Montreal managed only 21 shots in the first 40 minutes, getting 15 in the third period when the contest had been largely decided.

-- It’s Braden Holtby’s crease, and you trespass at your peril.  Travis Moen found that out when he carried the puck toward the Caps’ net. through the right wing faceoff circle  Moen had no apparent scoring chance on the play, since he was being defended by Jack Hillen on the inside of his route to the net, but it did not prevent him from making a charge to the cage, and Holtby flattened him with his blocker as he went by, sending both Moen and Hillen into the end boards.  He reached back past Olaf Kolzig to channel his inner Billy Smith on that one.

-- The Caps had five players with multi-point games, and one could argue they were the right ones – Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3), Mike Ribeiro (0-3-3), Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2), Troy Brouwer (2-0-2), and Mike Green (0-2-2).

-- For Ribeiro, the three assists extended his scoring streak to five games.  He is 2-10-12 over his last eight games.

-- The two goals for Ovechkin make four multi-goal games in his last ten contests.  He has 20 goals over his last 18 games.  He also reached 30 goals for the eighth time in eight seasons.  Only four active players have more 30-goal seasons over their careers: Jaromir Jagr (15), Jarome Iginla (11), Teemu Selanne (10), and Ilya Kovalchuk (9).  His power play goal gave him 16 on the season, one of only 10 players in NHL history with five or more seasons with 16 or more power play goals.  He trails only Selanne (six seasons) among active players.

-- Green’s two assists makes him one of only two defensemen in the league in double digits in both goals and assists.  P.K. Subban is the other one.

-- Backstrom’s goal and assist gave him his seventh multi-point game in his last 18 contests.  He is 4-20-24 in those 18 games.

-- Montreal had five power plays on the night.  It was the first time the Caps faced that many shorthanded situations since they faced five against Winnipeg on March 22nd.

-- Speaking of penalty killing, the Caps were 5-for-5 tonight, making the penalty killers perfect over their last four games (13-for-13).

-- The Caps had three power plays on the night, four shots on goal, and two goals in only 2:46 of power play time.  Very efficient.  Washington has recorded two power play goals in three of their last four games and are 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) going back to the second period of their 3-1 win over Carolina on April 11th.

-- Troy Brouwer’s two goals give him 19 on the season, his second highest goal total for a season in his career, topped only by his 22 goals with Chicago in 2009-2010.  His 19.2 percent shooting percentage is a career best.

-- Every Montreal skater had at least one shot on goal, except one – Rene Bourque.

-- The Caps finished the road portion of their season on an 8-1-1 run.

In the end, the Caps are now on the brink of clinching a playoff spot.  They hold a three-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets, who lost to the New York Islanders in overtime earlier today.  Winnipeg will play in Buffalo on Monday night before visiting Washington on Tuesday evening.  Even if Winnipeg wins in Buffalo, the Caps can clinch the Southeast Division with a win in regulation on Tuesday.  And that is a place the Caps – 12-2-1 over their last 15 games – have worked hard to claim. 

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Capitals at Canadiens, April 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well here we are.  The last road game of the season.  The regular season.  On Saturday, with four games left in the regular season, the Washington Capitals will visit the Montreal Canadiens.  By the time the Caps take the ice, they could find themselves hanging on to a playoff spot by the thinnest of threads.  The Rangers demolished Buffalo last night to move to 50 points, the same total the Caps hold at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets, two points behind the Caps as we write this, will have played on Saturday afternoon, hosting the New York Islanders.  If they win, they will trail Washington as the Caps take the ice only by a tiebreaker, the Caps having played one fewer game with the same number of points.

The last time the Capitals played a final road game of the season with this much at stake was in 2008.  Coincidentally, that last road game – against the Florida Panthers – came with four games left in the season.  It was March 29, 2008, and the Caps were on the outside looking in, two points behind the Boston Bruins for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and four points behind Carolina in the Southeast Division.

The Caps, then as now, were on quite a run.  They had won three in a row and were 11-4-0 in their previous 14 games.  It looked a lot like the current team, one that just had an eight-game winning streak stopped, but one that is still 12-2-1 in their last 15 games.

The Caps ground out a 3-0 win that night in 2008, led by a couple of familiar faces.  Mike Green scored his 18th goal of the season after Viktor Kozlov gave the Caps a 1-0 second period lead, and Alex Ovechkin put the icing on the cake with his 62nd goal of the season midway through the third period.  Fast forward to now and there is Mike Green with seven goals in his last 11 games, and there is Alex Ovechkin with 18 goals in his last 17 games.

The Capitals could use some of that lightning striking twice as they face the Montreal Canadiens.  Montreal lost to the Caps, 3-2, back on April 9th, and since then they have run into a rut.  Just as bad as their 2-3-0 record has been since that game, it is the way they lost games.  Sandwiched between wins in Buffalo and against Tampa Bay, Montreal lost three games by a combined score of 18-8.  In all three games coach Michel Therrien pulled his starting goaltender:
  • In their 5-1 loss to Toronto, Carey Price lasted 10:25 and allowed three goals on four shots before being relieved by Peter Budaj.
  • In their 7-3 loss to Philadelphia, Price lasted two periods, but he allowed six goals on 29 shots.  Budaj mopped up in the third period.
  • Then, in their 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh, it was Budaj’s turn to be shelled early, allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period, giving way to Price for the final 40 minutes.
Over those three losses, Montreal’s goaltending statistics went like this:

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  Since the teams last met, Max Pacioretty leads the team in overall scoring (1-5-6) and assists, while Alex Galyenchuk leads in goals (four).

2.  In those five games, the Montreal power play, which had but one opportunity against the Caps (unsuccessful), has gone 5-for-27 (18.5 percent).  The penalty kill is 16-for-22 (72.7 percent) and has allowed at least one goal in four straight games.

3.  Over the five games, Montreal scored first in two of them and won.  In the other three – all losses – the Canadiens not only fell behind, the fell behind big.  Toronto opened up a 3-0 lead before coasting to a 5-1 win. Philadelphia scored twice before Montreal got on the board and let the Canadiens tie the game before pulling away to a 7-3 win.  Against Pittsburgh, Montreal fell behind 4-0 before falling, 6-4.

4.  Montreal enjoyed a large advantage in shots on goal, outshooting opponents by a 177-139 margin over the five games.  However, 27 shots of that 38 shot margin game in the Canadiens’ 5-1 win over Buffalo, outshooting the Sabres, 42-15.

5.  The Canadiens have not played well with others over the five games.  Five different players have ten or more penalty minutes in the five games (P.K. Subban: 25; Ryan White: 15, plus a five-game suspension for a head shot on the Flyers’ Kent Huskins; Lars Eller: 15; Brandon Prust: 14; and Brendan Gallagher: 10).  When Rene Bourque is only tied for seventh on the club in penalty minutes over the five games, that should be proof enough that Montreal has been busy.

1.  The Caps have played four games since last facing the Canadiens. In that time, Mike Ribeiro leads the club in total scoring (1-5-6) and in assists.  Troy Brouwer has four goals in those five games to lead the club.

2.  Special teams for the Caps have been pretty special over these four games.  The power play was 5-for-18 in those four games (27.8 percent).  Mewanwhile, the power play is 10-for-11 (90.9 percent).

3.  The Caps’ problem, if there was one in going 3-1-0 in these four games, was lack of finish. The Caps did well enough early, scoring 12 of their 15 goals in the four games over the first and second periods.  But of the 10 goals they allowed in the four games, nine of them came in the second and third periods.

4.  The Caps have had issues with shots on goal allowed all season.  Only Edmonton and Buffalo have allowed more than the 32.1 per game allowed by Washington.  But in the last four games this problem has become more pronounced – 152 total shots on goal against.  The Caps were out shot on a per-game basis, 38-31.

5.  The Caps are in the middle of the pack when it comes to shorthanded situations faced (148, tied for 17th fewest).  But they are on a bit of a run of stinginess lately.  In 11 of their last 13 games they faced three or fewer such situations.  They are 9-2-0 in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Alex Galchenyuk

Alex Galchenyuk – last June’s third overall pick in the entry draft – likes his home cooking.  In 23 home games played he has scored six of his nine goals on the season.  Overall he is 6-11-17 at home against 3-4-7 on the road (21 games).  He is plus-9 at home, plus-2 on the road.  He has points in his last five games, going 4-2-6, plus-1 overall.  That includes a pair of assists against the Caps in their meeting on April 9th, his only career meeting against the Caps.  And it is not as if he is doing it with a lot of ice time; he has averaged about ten and a half minutes of ice time in those five home games.

Washington: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner is in a place in which neither he nor Capitals fans are accustomed to seeing him.  Over the last seven games played by the Caps, Alzner has been on ice for 10 of the 17 goals scored against and is a minus-7.  He is minus-10 over his last 13 games overall.  For a player being counted on as perhaps being the shutdown defenseman for the Caps, these are not happy numbers.  Defensive defensemen have slumps every bit as much as scoring forwards, and this is likely one of those instances.  Still, it would be better – a lot better – for the Caps if this slump was short-lived.


Hey, the Caps won here last time, so we’ll go with the same keys we wrote of for that visit.

In the end, when you stand at the edge of the cliff with your back to the chasm below, you have to fight yourself off the edge.  That is where the Caps find themselves.  They control their own destiny.  If they win four games, they are in the playoffs, no matter what Winnipeg or the Rangers do.  Winning four games would not seem likely, but getting a win in their last road game would go a long way toward getting to that playoff goal. 

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2