Saturday, April 27, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 48: Capitals 3 - Bruins 2 (OT)

It seemed rather fitting that the Washington Capitals should struggle early, find their footing, then come roaring back late and grab an overtime victory over the Boston Bruins, 3-2, this evening at Verizon Center.  It was their season in a nutshell.

When Boston scored a goal in the first – a Milan Lucic shot that ticked off the toe of Karl Alzner’s skate and past goalie Braden Holtby – and then again in the second when Andrew Ference ripped a wrist shot to the back of the net, it looked as if the Caps might go quick and quiet into the night to close the regular season.

But they came back in the third period, thanks to the parade of the circus bears to the penalty box.  First it was Adam McQuaid taking a tripping penalty at 5:11 of the period.  The Caps won the ensuing faceoff and kept the puck in the Bruin zone with some hard work in front of goalie Tuukka Rask.  The puck eventually found its way onto the stick of Mike Green at the right point.  Green wristed a harmless enough looking shot at the Boston net, but Zdeno Chara took that moment to play “air goalie” and think he had a blocker on his right hand.  Chara flicked his arm up as if he was blocking the shot away, and the only purpose that served was to send Rask into a fit when the puck sailed over Rask’s blocker into the far top corner of the net.

Green figured in the beginning, middle, and end of the next power play.  He started it by drawing a tripping call on Rich Peverley barely a minute after his goal.  Then, he started a rush from the Caps’ end of the ice, sending a long lead pass to Mike Ribeiro at the Boston Blue line.  Ribeiro skate through the right wing faceoff circle, then fed the puck back to Green entering the zone.  Green one-timed the puck over Rask’s right pad, and the Caps were even with the Bruins 7:21 into the third period.

That would be it for the scoring in regulation time, but the Caps would go into the extra frame having to kill a penalty to – who else – Mike Green.  The Caps killed that off without a shot on goal for Boston, then grabbed the momentum.  The Caps pressured the Bruins net, eventually leading to Zdeno Chara taking a hooking penalty on Mike Ribeiro to give the Caps their fifth power play of the game and fourth since the 5:11 mark of the third period.  At that point, it was a matter of time.

The last sequence started with – you guessed it – Green slowly skating over the Bruins’ blue line and backhanding the puck over to Mike Ribeiro on the right wing.  Ribeiro skated the puck down into the right wing faceoff circle, then lined up Green for a one-timer from the opposite circle.  Green fired, handcuffing Rask, who had to make an awkward save with his right shoulder.  Rask was not in position to defend the rebound, and it was Eric Fehr swooping in before Wade Redden could tie up his stick to lift the puck past the fallen Rask and into the back of the net for the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- Mike Green finished with a rush.  His three-point night (2-1-3) was his first such night since he had a four-point night (2-2-4) against Detroit in a 7-1 win on October 22, 2011.  He finished 4-7-11 in his last eight games.

-- Green finished the season leading all NHL defensemen in goals (12) in just 35 games.  That is a 28-goal pace over 82 games.

-- Alex Ovechkin had two assists to finish in a tie for third place in overall scoring with Sidney Crosby (united once again) at 56 points.  Ovechkin won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer (32).  He also finished the season first in power play goals (16) and tied with teammate Mike Ribeiro in power play points (27).

-- It might have been Ovechkin’s backchecking on a Rich Peverley break that was a difference-maker, though.  Ovechkin was deft enough to get a body on Peverley without incurring an infraction, interrupting Peverley as he was about to try to give Boston what might have been an insurmountable 3-0 lead on a shorthanded goal.

-- Ribeiro’s two assists lifted him into a top-ten finish in points (49), tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and a top-five finish in assists (36).

-- The three power play goals by the Caps tied a season high for the club, set when the Caps went 3-for-5 against Florida in a 4-3 win on April 6th.  The Caps finished the regular season with 44 power play goals.  In all of last season, the Caps had 41 power play goals over 82 games.

-- Braden Holtby’s 32 save effort closed a fast finish of the season.  After going 3-4-0, 4.04, .874 in his first seven appearances, he went 20-8-1, 2.26, .930 in his last 29 appearances.  He allowed two or fewer goals in 15 of those 29 games.

-- John Erskine was laying the lumber in this one – seven of the Caps’ 34 recorded hits. 

-- Eric Fehr had two game-winning goals this season, both against Boston, both in overtime, both against Tuukka Rask, both while getting knocked down in front of the Bruins’ net.

-- Milan Lucic scored only his third goal in his last 30 games, but the Caps managed to hold the trio of Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron without a point.

-- Troy Brouwer recorded an assist to finish the season with 33 points, his total for all 82 games of last season.

In the end, it was a satisfying win against a stout opponent.  Just the sort of game the Caps needed to head into the post-season to face – again – the New York Rangers.  With a record of 25-10-2 to close the season, Caps fans could not ask for a better way to move forward, especially with their best players playing well and the team getting contributions from all over the lineup.  But as Caps fans are also too aware, their record as of now is 0-0.  Time to go to work.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Bruins at Capitals, April 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, here we are.  It almost seems as though the season just started, and we are at the end of it.  And here, at the end of the 2013 regular season, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins find themselves in places they might not have thought when the season started that they would occupy as they face off against one another in Game 48.

For the Bruins, leading the Northeast Division and standing in second place in the Eastern Conference is not necessarily a surprise, but having faced a season-long challenge by the Montreal Canadiens for supremacy in the Northeast Division has to be regarded at least as a mild surprise, and heading into Game 47 on their schedule (it would have been Game 48 but for their Patriots Day game against Ottawa being postponed) with a 2-4-1 record in their last seven games has to be considered unexpected.

For the Caps, not many people thought of them as being on a short list of Stanley Cup contenders when the season began, and when they stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled their way to a 2-8-1 start, they were given up for dead as far as being a playoff contender at all was concerned.  However, a 24-10-2 rush in their next 36 games propelled them to the top of the Southeast and in more than a few conversations as being a team to watch as the playoffs begin next week.

The Bruins come into this game a team in an uncertain state.  On the one hand, in their 2-4-1 run of late their goaltending and defense has not been a problem.  They have limited their last four opponents to 30 or fewer shots and have allowed only 16 goals against in the seven games over all (2.29).  Tuukka Rask has shutouts in his last two appearances.

However, on the other hand the Bruins cannot seem to remember where the back of the net is.  In those same seven games Boston has only 14 goals scored and has scored more than two goals just once (a 3-0 shutout of Florida last Sunday).

Tyler Seguin has had a pretty good stretch of late.  He has a hand in five of the 14 goals Boston scored over their recent 2-4-1 run (3-2-5).  It represents a turnaround of sorts for Seguin, who was 2-0-2 in his previous seven games.  Dan Paille and Brad Marchand each have a pair of goals in these last seven games, but after that, scoring gets thin quickly.  Only seven other players have one goal apiece, and the only other player with as many as three points over those games – Jaromir Jagr(1-3-4) – will be out for this game with a case of the flu.

As for getting any scoring help from the blueline, no defenseman has a goal for Boston in these last seven games, and the four defensemen with assists are merely tied in scoring with their goaltender, Tuukka Rask, who had an assist in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday.

Speaking of Rask, he has been superb.  He is just 2-3-0 in this seven-game stretch in six appearances (he came on in relief of Anton Khudobin in a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia last Tuesday), but his goals against average of 1.89 and save percentage of .941 with two shutouts has been top-notch.  The question here is whether Rask will get a tune-up against the Caps on Saturday and sit for Sunday’s finale against Ottawa, or if head coach Claude Julien will hold him out of this game to face the Senators on Sunday.

Here is how the teams come into this final game of the year, numbers-wise…

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Carl Soderberg

For a fellow who has four games of NHL experience, Carl Soderberg has certainly had an interesting road getting there.  It started back in 2004 when the Malmö Redhawk center in the Swedish Elite League was drafted in the second round (49th overall) by the St. Louis Blues.  But a Redhawk he was then, and a Redhawk he remained, right through the 2010-2011 season.  During that time, his rights were traded to the Boston Bruins – on July 23, 2007 – for goalie Hannu Toivonen.  And then, even after that last season with Malmö, Soderberg did not hop the pond.  He played for Linköpings HC in the SEL the last two seasons.  But then things, as they say, took a turn.  Set to come to Boston, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation blocked his release to the NHL so that he would play for the Swedish national team in the World Championships.  Soderberg then declined to play for the national team.  He finally signed his first NHL contract two weeks ago today.  A long and winding road, indeed.  Oh, and he is 0-2-2 in his four games so far.  As for Toivonen, he ended up playing for Malmö in the 2011-2012 season.  Small world.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby got a night off on Thursday, and now it’s time to put his war face on, so to speak.  He will not be getting a rest, all other things being equal, until the Caps season is over.  Overall, he has been excellent down the stretch.  Since the Caps last faced Boston (Holtby did not figure in that decision), Holtby is 13-3-1, 2.26, .929, with one shutout.  But while he is capable of the superior performance (six times in 17 games he allowed fewer than two goals), he can have the occasional stinker.  He has a couple of five-goals allowed performances in there, too.  Caps fans will hope that “occasional” becomes “rare” from here on out.  He is 2-0-0, 2.54, .919 in two career regular season appearances against Boston.


1.  Dress rehearsal.  In a sense, the Caps have been in a playoff mode for quite some time, given the challenge they faced coming from so far back in the standings. But now, it is time to work out whatever kinks they have left to work out.  This is a game where the phrase, :”play the right way” really does apply.

2.  Time + Space = Quick Decisions.  Boston is a team that takes away time and space, trying to intimidate teams physically.  The Caps need to make quick – and smart – decisions with the puck.

3.  Fine Grind.  One problem the Caps have had in the post-season in recent years is getting contributions from the bottom half of the forward lines.  Starting now with those kinds of contributions is part of the “dress rehearsal.”

In the end…

This is a good test for the Caps going into the post-season.  Boston still has something to play for, still looking to clinch the Northeast Division title and a two-seed in the playoffs.  The Caps also will be getting the “hot” goaltender in Tuukka Rask (two shutouts in his last two complete games).  And, there is not a lot to play for on an individual basis.  Steven Stamkos might get a hat trick against Florida to tie Alex Ovechkin for the Richard Trophy, but it would not be the way to bet (he does not have a hat trick this season).  Besides, this team really does have the look of “team first” about it.  They are ready for their final rehearsal before the post season.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2