Saturday, October 12, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO-point night -- Game 5: Avalanche 5 - Capitals 1

The last time the Washington Capitals failed to win a game in regulation over their first five games took place 13 years ago at the start of their 2000-2001 season when they started 0-3-2-0.  The Caps are in that position tonight after their 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche that leaves them 1-4-0.  The lone win this season thus far came in a shootout against Calgary.

More relevant is the fact that the Caps have lost their first two games on their five-game home stand and find themselves tied with the even more woeful New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers for last place in the Metropolitan Division. 

The game can be summed up by returning to our keys from the pre-game prognosto… 

1.  Pace.  Colorado is a speedy team.  If the Caps allow them to gather speed through the neutral zone, they are going to be in for a world of hurt.  And here is how that plays out.  Six teams have a ratio of goals scored to goals against at 5-on-5 of 2.00:1 or better.  Those teams have a combined record of 18-2-2.  Colorado is one of those teams.  Seven teams have a ratio of 0.50:1 or worse.  Those teams, Washington among them, have a combined record of 8-22-1.  It is hard to think of this as coincidence (all numbers and records through Thursday games).

Colorado outscored the Caps, 3-1, at even strength.  It was 2-0 during what was the competitive portion of the evening.  This despite the Caps outshooting the Avs by an almost 2-to-1 margin at even strength (39-20).  It was one of those nights when the Caps did not lack for loose pucks in front of goalie Semyon Varlamov – he left a fair number of rebounds – but the Caps seemed always to be just a bit more than a stick-length away from the puck or just skating past it.

It was not as if the Avs did anything especially nifty to get their ES goals.  Alex Tanguay threw a puck at the net in the seventh minute, and Caps defenseman John Carlson deflected it between goalie Michal Neuvirth’s pads. 

Matt Duchene skated down the right wing as a Colorado power play was expiring.  And all he realy did was keep skating, catching defenseman Karl Alzner flat footed.  It allowed Duchene to get position and snap a shot over Neuvirth’s left shoulder on the short side.  That was an example of the Avs’ speed and the Caps getting burned by it.

The last one was another case of Colorado using their speed after collecting a loose puck just outside their blue line, generating speed through the neutral zone to end up with a three-on-two and a half.  That last half would be important, as Alex Ovechkin would be a blade-length of his stick away from denying a cross-ice pass from PA Parenteau to Jamie McGinn for the goal that would end the scoring.  Pace…Colorado dictated it.

2.  Patience.  The Caps are the mature team, now.  Colorado are the young whippersnappers.  With that maturity, one hopes that the Caps understand that the game is 60 minutes, and it is their depth and experience that could suit them well while the Avs might be running around like puppies in search of snausages early.  That requires discipline and playing the game to their tempo for longer stretches than the Avalanche play to theirs.

Patience is one thing, being almost somnambulant is another.  The 41 shots on goal aside, the Caps did a poor job of following up, of crowding the Colorado net consistently.  And there were just too many mistakes that allowed Colorado to get and establish position in the Caps end on the Avs’ terms. 

3.  Pressure.  One looks at the defensemen dressing for the Avalanche through four games, and it does not look like an impressive group.  Andre Benoit, who leads the club in average ice time with more than 22 minutes a game, had just 41 games of NHL experience coming into this season at age 29.  Jan Hejda, a 35-year old in his eighth season, is a serviceable type, but he is getting almost 22 minutes a night.  Cory Sarich, also 35 years old, missed 79 games in the six seasons leading up to this one, including 20 games in each of the past two seasons.  Nate Guenin had 32 games of experience over parts of six seasons with four teams before landing in Colorado this season. Tyson Barrie is another Avs defenseman with little to show for experience – 42 games in parts of two seasons with Colorado before this season.  Only Erik Johnson appears to have a solid pedigree, but even he – a first overall draft pick in 2006 – is not the defensemen folks might have envisioned when he was drafted.  This is the soft underbelly of the club that the Caps need to probe and pressure to keep those speedy forwards from working their magic.

The Caps did a decent job here.  But it was uneven.  They did a pretty good job along the boards and behind the Colorado net to force the defense into decisions, but they did not do such a great job making the Colorado defense defend their net.  That is where the failure to take advantage of rebounds did the Caps in.

Other stuff…

--  The Caps are now without a goal on their last nine power plays.  Colorado played what amounted to a “triangle and one,” defending the strong side of the ice (with Nicklas Backstrom and Mikail Grabovski on the same side) with three defenders and putting a defenseman man-on-man with Alex Ovechkin.  This allowed the Caps to run the occasional back-door timing play with Ovechkin darting behind the defenseman to the net, but none were converted.  Ovechkin did not have a power play shot on goal.

--  For the second game in a row, the Caps allowed an opponent to score his first NHL goal.  Tonight it was Nathan MacKinnon, who slipped into a seam in the Caps defense in close and converted a feed from Paul Stastny.  For those of you wondering, Will Acton of the Edmonton Oilers (the Caps’ next opponent) does not yet have an NHL goal.

--  Only one Capital finished the evening without a shot on goal – Martin Erat.  For the first time this season Erat skated ten minutes…exactly ten minutes.  Erat has now gone three games without a shot on goal and has only two in five games for the season.

-- Erat probably does not make it to ten minutes of ice time had he not led all Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time (2:06).

-- And speaking of ice time, who was it that led the Caps overall in shorthanded ice time?  The new kid.  No, not that one, the other one.  Alexander Urbom skated 3:22 on the penalty kill, tied with John Carlson.

-- As for the other new kid…no, the first one… Nate Schmidt skated almost 15 minutes (Martin Erat might be seething at that fact), had three shots on goal (five attempts), two hits, and a takeaway.  He was on ice only for Colorado’s last goal.  A solid debut, all things considered, but if Nate Schmidt -- less than a year removed from college hockey and with nine regular season games of AHL experience -- is the answer as a left-handed defenseman on the third pair, this team has problems.  But you knew that already.

--  Nicklas Backstrom finished a minus-3.  That is the first time he finished that poorly since November 26, 2011, when he finished minus-4 in, yes, a 5-1 loss, that one to the Buffalo Sabres.

--  The Mikhail Grabovski-Brooks Laich-Troy Brouwer line had nine even strength shots on goal tonight, but they still do not have a point as a line.  Grabovski’s only even strength goal came in the 6-4 loss to Chicago on opening night with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera on the ice as Caps forwards.

--  It’s probably just as well Tom Wilson was robbed twice by Varlamov at point blank range.  We would just as soon see Wilson get his first goal in a win…Monday night, we hope.

--  There might be those who will make something out the “Hunteresque” ice time Ovechkin got tonight—17:19 in all.  It was his lightest load of the season (the first time under 20 minutes).  However, it is not as if this hasn’t happened under head coach Adam Oates.  Ovechkin skated less time than what he had tonight twice last season.  Once was in a 6-5 win over the Florida Panthers in which he had a goal and an assist (16:53), the other in a 5-1 win over New Jersey in which he was 3-1-4 (16:40).  On five other occasions last season he skated less than 18 minutes.

--  There might be a reason for Ovechkin’s light ice time load.  The Caps had only two power plays.  Two more power plays, and he might have had 20-plus minutes.  And, he skated only six shifts in the third period, only two in the last ten minutes.  That’s what being behind by four goals will do.

--  Marcus Johansson had an excellent opportunity to bury a puck from the edge of the right wing circle early on and passed up the chance for one more pass.  That has to stop.  A winger on the top line with three shots on goal for the season (he had one tonight) is not a passenger.  He is baggage. 

--  Michal Neuvirth was beaten twice on the short side on shots where the shooter had only the short side to shoot at.  The Tanguay shorthanded goal from the goal line extended wasn’t a game breaker (it was sprinkles on top of the whipped cream on top of the Avalanche sundae), but it was disturbing for what seemed a lack of focus.

Last year, when the Caps reached the nadir of their season at 2-8-1, we had this to say
In the end, the Caps are what they are.  They are not so much an opponent for teams as an annoyance.  They can’t score, can’t defend, and can’t stop pucks.  They score on the power play, but only when it doesn’t matter anymore.  Their only thing their penalty killing kills is any chance to win.  Their average goal margin in games is a staggering -1.46…

Through five games that goal differential is -1.60/game.  Not the worst (27th), but the Caps can see it from where they sit.  They have been outscored, 15-6, at even strength.  At the moment this team does not look “experienced” as much as it looks “old,” especially in contrast to Colorado tonight.  And it will not get easier.  Monday’s opponent – Edmonton – has a speedy cadre of forwards that could make things as difficult on the Caps as the Avalanche did tonight.

Washington Capitals: Colleagues Moving On

When you reach a certain age in life, you start taking notice of retirements of friends and colleagues.  It might be true for an athlete as he inches into his mid or late 30’s; it might be true for an office worker who has passed into his 60’s.  Strangely, it might be just as true for a blogger who has been around for something pushing ten years. 

We say this having noted (a bit late, we know) the semi-retirement of “On Frozen Blog,” one of the first-generation of Washington Capitals’ blogs and one of its most reliably stimulating.  Since “OFB” went live in October 2006,  it provided Caps fans with a unique stream of analysis and commentary, while channeling what was important to Caps fans as the club climbed back to competitiveness to provide thrills and disappointments along the way.  Their coverage of the 2007 IIHF World Championships in Russia is one of the best examples of fan-based… well, any-based reportage you’ll find in the Caps news archives.

We take note of their moving on because at some point it is going to happen to all of us who labor in this corner of the blogosphere.  The first generation of Caps bloggers – OFB, Japers’ Rink, Off Wing Opinion  -- have (and continue to) set a high bar for those who follow to clear.  Those who have joined the game since should take note.

We’ll miss the clinking beer glasses after wins, the occasional rant after a loss, and everything in-between.  Best of luck, guys.


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 5: Avalanche at Capitals, October 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The last time that the Colorado Avalanche paid a visit to Washington D.C., the Federal government was open, HBO was in town, and the Caps were in the midst of what would be an eight-game losing streak.  It was December 11, 2010, when the Avs came to town, and the visitors skated away with a 3-2 win that sent the Caps to their fifth straight loss in that streak. 

But if you want to know where this series is a bit strange, here is a tidbit.  The last time a Capital currently with the club scored a goal against the Avalanche was way back on December 15, 2009 (yes, these teams play infrequently).  It was a 6-1 win for the Capitals in Denver, and Nicklas Backstrom scored the sixth goal for the Caps on a power play late in the contest.  Including that game, the Caps scored nine goals over three games with the Avs (the 2009 game being the only win).  Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Knuble had two goals apiece; while David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Alexander Semin, and Matt Hendricks each had a goal, in addition to Backstrom’s.

Oh, how things change.

The biggest change for the Avalanche this season might be behind their bench.  Patrick Roy takes over for Joe Sacco, who posted a 130-134-30 record over four seasons.  Roy brings no previous NHL coaching experience to his new job, either as a head coach or an assistant, but he did spend eight seasons as head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  In those eight seasons he posted a 349-159-37 regular record and took the Remparts to the playoffs in each of those eight seasons.

Perhaps it is fitting that the former Canadian junior coach leads this team, and not just because he won two Stanley Cups in seven-plus seasons with the Avalanche.  If you look at what is arguably the “core” for this team, it is very young.  Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, and captain Gabriel Landeskog are all 22 or younger.  Semyon Varlamov, the former Capital manning the number one goalie spot for Colorado, is still only 25 years old.

Here is how the numbers shake out from last season for the two teams…



1.  Four wins is four wins, but are the Avalanche doing it with mirrors?  They have allowed only three goals through four games, shutting out mighty Boston on Thursday, but they are allowing 32.5 shots per game.  Only seven teams are allowing more, and those teams have 12 combined wins in 29 combined games, through Thursday’s contests.  And, speaking of that core of players, Landeskog and MacKinnon have brutal Corsi/on-ice numbers at 5-on-5 (numbers: behindthenet.ca).  So, too, do PA Parenteau and Alex Tanguay, two primarily offensive players.

2.  Semyon Varlamov has won three games with a goals against average of 1.00 (tied for fourth among goalies) and a save percentage of .967 (fourth).  He’s been here before, though, in his first-three game segments:
  • 2008-2009: 2-0-0 (one no decision), 1.63, .943
  • 2011-2012: 2-1-0, 1.30, .960, one shutout
  • 2012-2013: 2-1-0, 1.68, .948, one shutout 
His “game four” record over his career is a bit more pedestrian.  He has a 4-1-0 record in those games, but he also has an unremarkable 2.69 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.  Much discussion in the early going centers on his being watched over by new goalie coach Fran├žois Allaire, who mentored Roy and Varlamov’s teammate, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but the question remains, has he turned a corner, or will he return to form?

3.  Here is one way Colorado achieved their 4-0-0 record, reflected in a number: 2:37.  That is the total amount of time the Avalanche have spent trailing in games so far this season, all of it in their 2-1 win over Toronto last Tuesday.  They are one of two teams yet to allow a first period goal (Pittsburgh is the other).  They play very well from in front.

4.  Colorado has spread things around on offense.  Eight players share the 13 goals scored to date (Parenteau leads with three), and 16 skaters have points (four players with four points).  Not a single skater is in “minus” territory (Landeskog is “even”).

5.  The 2009 draft class was good to Colorado.  Two of the top four point scorers from that class are Avs – Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.


1.  Marcus Johansson’s next point will be his 100th.  He is fifth among players in that 2009 draft class in career points (Duchene, O’Reilly, John Tavares, and Evander Kane).

2.  Speaking of points, a two-point night would get John Carlson to 100.  Of defensemen breaking into the league in the 2009-2010 season, Carlson would become the sixth defenseman of that class to reach 100 points (P.K. Subban, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Michael Del Zotto, and Cody Franson being the others).

3.  Let’s say Jason Chimera has a three-point game.  Let’s just say… if he does, he will reach 100 points as a Capital.  He’s already way ahead of last year on one respect.  He scored his first goal of the season against Carolina on Thursday.  Last season he did not record his first goal of the year until his 28th game.

4.  The Caps are third on the power play, sixth in faceoff winning percentage, ninth in shots on goal per game.  They are tied for 23rd in ratio of goals for to goals against at 5-on-5, tied for 21st in shots allowed per game, only three teams have allowed more first period goals, and only Edmonton (0-3-0) has a worse record than the Caps when scoring first (0-2-0).

5.  The Caps have held leads on four separate occasions in four games.  On average they have held it nine minutes.  Three times they held it for less than four minutes.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon

The first overall pick in the 2013 entry draft has not disappointed.  He is third among rookies in points despite his being only 11th among rookie forwards in average ice time.  What might be his strangest statistic in the early going is that he has been on ice for each of the three goals allowed by the Avalanche, the only Colorado player of whom that could be said.  The thing to watch for, in addition to MacKinnon’s early tendency to be in the vicinity when goals are scored on the Avs, is that he has not yet recorded his first NHL goal.  After the Caps allowed Elias Lindholm to get his in Carolina’s win on Thursday, this could be a good week for 2013 draft picks at the Caps’ expense.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich is the second line left wing.  He has not been on the ice for any of the 11 goals scored by the Caps.  Not the stuff of a scoring line winger.  He has been on for three even strength goals against.  That is not “third line” bad (Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr have been on ice for at least six even strength goals against), but it is a bit disturbing.  The odd point about his offense is that Laich is usually a fast starter.  This is the longest he has gone without a point to start the season since 2006-2007 when he went his first 16 games without a point.  Since then, over his past six seasons coming into this one he was 8-10-18 in his first four game segments.

Keys:

1.  Pace.  Colorado is a speedy team.  If the Caps allow them to gather speed through the neutral zone, they are going to be in for a world of hurt.  And here is how that plays out.  Six teams have a ratio of goals scored to goals against at 5-on-5 of 2.00:1 or better.  Those teams have a combined record of 18-2-2.  Colorado is one of those teams.  Seven teams have a ratio of 0.50:1 or worse.  Those teams, Washington among them, have a combined record of 8-22-1.  It is hard to think of this as coincidence (all numbers and records through Thursday games).

2.  Patience.  The Caps are the mature team, now.  Colorado are the young whippersnappers.  With that maturity, one hopes that the Caps understand that the game is 60 minutes, and it is their depth and experience that could suit them well while the Avs might be running around like puppies in search of snausages early.  That requires discipline and playing the game to their tempo for longer stretches than the Avalanche play to theirs.

3.  Pressure.  One looks at the defensemen dressing for the Avalanche through four games, and it does not look like an impressive group.  Andre Benoit, who leads the club in average ice time with more than 22 minutes a game, had just 41 games of NHL experience coming into this season at age 29.  Jan Hejda, a 35-year old in his eighth season, is a serviceable type, but he is getting almost 22 minutes a night.  Cory Sarich, also 35 years old, missed 79 games in the six seasons leading up to this one, including 20 games in each of the past two seasons.  Nate Guenin had 32 games of experience over parts of six seasons with four teams before landing in Colorado this season. Tyson Barrie is another Avs defenseman with little to show for experience – 42 games in parts of two seasons with Colorado before this season.  Only Erik Johnson appears to have a solid pedigree, but even he – a first overall draft pick in 2006 – is not the defensemen folks might have envisioned when he was drafted.  This is the soft underbelly of the club that the Caps need to probe and pressure to keep those speedy forwards from working their magic.

In the end…

This is going to be a game of contrasting styles – old versus young, deliberate versus sprightly, technical versus mercurial.  The decision might not hinge on Colorado trying to impose its will on the Caps, especially early, but how the Caps deal with that.  And that is where pace, patience, and pressure will matter for the Caps as they try to get out of their early-season funk, especially at even strength.  If anything, it will be entertaining, perhaps even behind the bench…



Capitals 4 – Avalanche 3