Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 6: Oilers at Capitals, October 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today.”

It's coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?

“Not hardly. And you know, you can expect hazardous travel later today with that, you know, that, uh, that blizzard thing.”

That blizzard - thing. That blizzard - thing. Oh, well, here's the report! The National Weather Service is calling for a “big blizzard thing!”

“Yessss, they are. But you know, there's another reason why today is especially exciting.”

Especially cold!

“Especially cold, okay, but the big question on everybody's lips...”

On their chapped lips...

“On their chapped lips, right: Do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow?”

Punxsutawney Phil!

“That's right, woodchuck-chuckers - it's...”

[in unison] “GROUNDHOG DAY!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah…every funny guys.  Seems Fearless and Cheerless are channeling their inner “Groundhog Day” when it comes to the Washington Capitals at the moment.  And well they should be.  The Capitals come into Monday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers with a 1-4-0 record and looking a lot like last season’s club that went 1-3-1 in their first five games.

Are there parallels?  Well, yes…
  • Goals scored/game: 2012-2013: 2.20 / 2013-2014: 2.40
  • Goals allowed/game: 2012-2013: 3.80 / 2013-2014: 4.00

However, there are differences…
  • Power play: 2012-2013: 17.4 percent / 2013-2014: 31.6 percent
  • Penalty kill: 2012-2013: 69.2 percent / 2013-2014: 79.0 percent
  • Even strength goals for/goals against: 2012-2013: 7-11 / 2013-2014: 6-15

However you slice it, the Caps are right back where they were at this time last season, stuck in a hole looking up at a lot of teams.

They are looking at their early-season doppelganger in Monday’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers.  Through five games, both teams…

-- have a goals scored/goals allowed average worse than minus-1.00 goals per game
-- are under…way under an even strength goals scored to goals allowed ratio of 1.00:1
-- have power plays of 25.0 percent or better
-- have penalty kills lower than 80 percent
-- have identical goals allowed/goals scored at home (Washington) and on the road (Edmonton)
-- have a single win, that coming in a shootout at home after falling behind, 3-0

The big difference between these teams is that the Caps reached the post-season in each of the six seasons, while the Oilers have not played a playoff game since losing Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.  In their seven seasons since, coming into this year, the Oilers have a record of 214-268-59, which they have parlayed into five straight top-ten draft positions, three of them becoming number one overall picks.

Those five picks were, in order: Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Darnell Nurse.  Paajarvi was since traded to the St. Louis Blues with a second round pick for left winger David Perron.  Nurse, the seventh overall pick in last summer’s entry draft, was returned in the Oilers’ last week of training camp to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League.  The other three – Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov – are with the club and make up what might be considered the Oilers’ forward core.

It has been an uneven start for this trio.  Hall has been right there, at least on offense so far, going 1-4-5 in five games.  But he also has been on ice for nine goals against.  That is not quite as bad as Nugent-Hopkins, who has been on ice for ten goals against in only three games.  At least he has a bit of an excuse.  He came back more quickly than expected from offseason shoulder surgery that was expected to keep him out the first month.  He has three points in his three games to date.  Then there is Yakupov.  He has yet to record a point in four games and was a healthy scratch in Edmonton’s last game, against Toronto, after getting only 13 minutes in his previous game, against Montreal.  Not quite the start that might have been envisioned for a player who led all rookies in goals scored last season (17), including six in his last three regular season games.

Here is how the two teams compare in their numbers to date…

1.  Talk about your hockey lifers.  Dallas Eakins, in his first year as head coach of the Oilers, spent ten seasons in the NHL, playing in 120 games with eight different teams.  That does not include more than 600 games spent in the AHL with nine different teams.  And then he started working his way up through the coaching ranks.  A year with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL as an assistant, then two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant, and then four years with the Marlies as head coach where he posted a record of 157-114-41 and a trip to the Calder Cup finals in 2012.  Now, he gets his chance at an NHL gig with the Oilers.  Just don’t expect him to spring for the donuts.  

2.  Edmonton ranks last in the league in goals against.  They do not come by this ranking accidentally.  The Oilers have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than four goals in a game.  Of the 15 periods of regulation hockey they have played so far, the Oilers allowed at least one goal in 14 of them. They have allowed six goals in both of their road games so far.

3.  Edmonton does a lousy job holding leads.  They have scored first in four of their five games thus far and have a record of 0-3-1 when doing so.  Despite scoring first in four games, they have not held a lead at the first intermission in any of their five games, and they have held a lead after 40 minutes only once.  The one game they allowed the first goal, they won.

4.  Five games in, and the Oilers have already allowed three shorthanded goals.  They allowed only one shorthanded goal all of last season.

5.  Two straight games the Caps have allowed an opponent to score their first NHL goal – Elias Lindholm for Carolina and Nathan MacKinnon for Colorado.  Next up…Will Acton.  The undrafted rookie from Edina, MN, is only getting eight minutes and change a night in ice time and has an assist.  But hey, it’s the Caps.

1.  The Caps are averaging 34.0 shots per game, fifth in the league.  They are averaging 2.40 goals per game, 21st in the league.  Either they are due for a change in luck, or their shot selection stinks.

2.  Only seven of 13 Capital forwards appearing to date have recorded a point through five games, and only five have scored a goal.  In three home games, Alex Ovechkin has as many goals (three) as the rest of the forwards combined (Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr).

3.  No defenseman taking the ice Monday night has scored a goal this season (Connor Carrick is in Hershey).  Only three of them have even strength points, and Mike Green is not one of them (John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Steve Oleksy).

4.  The Caps have been consistent.  When outshooting their opponents, they are 0-2-0.  When outshot, they are 0-2-0.  Bank on the Caps if they have the same number of shots on goal as Edmonton (1-0-0).

5.  These are teams that play one another infrequently, to say the least.  In the last ten seasons the Caps and Oilers met only eight times.  Washington is 4-4-0 over those eight games, 3-1-0 at home.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Boyd Gordon

In seven seasons with the Washington Capitals, Boyd Gordon spent a total of 59 minutes on the power play, averaging about ten seconds per contest on the man advantage.  In five games with the Edmonton Oilers he is averaging almost two minutes a game on the power play.  It is not among the leaders among forwards for the Oilers (eighth), but it is a lot more than he had in Washington.  It has allowed him to do something he never accomplished with the Caps – score a power play goal.  That came in the Oilers’ season opener in Winnipeg.  Not that Gordon has forsaken what got him here.  He leads all Oiler forwards in shorthanded ice time and has been on ice for only seven goals against (on this team, that’s “Selke” worthy).  His three goals is tied for the team lead (he had four in 48 games with Phoenix last season).  Only once in his career has he reached the three-goal mark in fewer than 20 games into the season.  He is 0-1-1 in one career appearance against the Caps.

Washington:  Troy Brouwer
“It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win. It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out, wanting to win.  That’s all it comes down to. Our talent level’s there, our effort’s not.  It’s concentration, it’s work ethic, it’s focus, it’s a lot of things.  It starts in practice and it continues over into warmups, we shoot high on our goalie sometimes when we shouldn’t be and then we’re sloppy during the game and then we wonder why we are sloppy and can’t make the breakout passes. We’ve got to be better, all around.”
So said Troy Brouwer after Saturday's game against Colorado. Five games, seven shots on goal, no points, minus-2.  That is Troy Brouwer’s line so far this season.  Hey, we all have bad days, bad weeks, bad months (hey, Congress!).  But the problem having been identified, it is now a matter of finding a solution.


1.  Out of the blocks.  Edmonton has allowed nine goals in the first period over five games this season. No team has allowed more.  The Caps have only three goals scored in the first period through five games.  Only Boston and Buffalo have scored fewer.  The Caps spend too much time playing catch-up, and we saw how that worked against a speedy team like Colorado on Saturday.  Edmonton is cut from the same cloth.

2.  Second City.  At some point, the second line will score.  Really.  They will.  But until they do, the Caps are a one-line, power play only kind of team that is easier to defend.  When they do – and they will, really – the Caps will be harder to defend.  If there is a team the second line can get well against, this is the one…really…honest.

3.  Opportunity knocks.  The Caps had six power play opportunities in their opener against the Chicago Blackhawks.  They have had 13 in four games since.  Having the league’s third-best power play isn’t much use when it isn’t in use. 

In the end…
“…some of our play last night was excellent and the score was not indicative of that… obviously we’re doing a lot of good things. Our D is doing a lot of good things.”
-- Adam Oates, after Saturday's loss to Colorado

Yeah, well, that’s all well and good, but the road to hell – and early rounds of golf in the spring – are paved with good intentions. The Caps have displayed a disturbing tendency to start slow, both in games and – in the last two seasons – to open the year.  This is not like last season, when a 2-8-1 start meant the Caps needed a furious finish (25-10-2) to make the playoffs.  There are 77 games left.  But that is not reason for delay, either.  Only Pittsburgh is over .500 in the Metro Division, and the Caps need to start taking advantage of other teams’ misfortune.  There is no better time than the present.

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

Week 2 for the Washington Capitals looked a lot like Week 1, just worse.  At least in Week 1 they were in games.  Not so, not really, in Week 2.

Record: 0-2-0

By the time the week was over, the Caps were 1-4-0, the first time they went their first five games of the season without a win in regulation time since the 2000-2001 season.  The silver lining there is that the Caps went on to finish with 96 points that season.  For the moment there is no silver lining here, other than to say that the Caps, with their 1-3-0 record against Western Conference teams, are hardly alone in their frustration against the other conference.  Through Saturday’s games the West holds a 23-6-3 edge against the East (3-0-1 against the Caps), and no Western team has a sub-.500 record against the East.

Offense: 1.50/game (season: 2.40 / rank: T-21st)

The third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr,and Joel Ward had two of the Caps’ three goals this week.  Alex Ovechkin had the other, but he had his four-game goal scoring streak to open the season stopped in the Caps’ 5-1 loss to Colorado on Saturday.  The second line of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer did not record a point.  They have not yet recorded a point as a line this season.

The team continues to struggle as a group, not with getting shots on goal (they are averaging 34.0 per game), but with getting them into the goal.  Twelve goals on 170 shots – a 7.1 percent shooting percentage – ranks 25th in the league.  The even strength offense continues to be a problem.  The Caps recorded three goals on 66 even strength shots (4.6 percent) in their two games this week.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 4.00 / rank: T-26th)

It was not a good week to be John Carlson.  He was on ice for four of the five even strength goals scored against the Caps, splitting them evenly -- two while paired with John Erskine against Carolina and two more while paired with Alexander Urbom against Colorado.  Twice pucks clicked off his stick and past his own goaltender.  Fifteen different skaters were on ice for even strength goals, which might not seem unusual, but over two games?

If you are going to look for a bright spot here, it would be in the Mike Green/Karl Alzner duo.  Green skated a total of 36:58 at even strength this week, Alzner a total of 33:47.  They were on ice together for one even strength goal against, that being Matt Duchene’s goal in the Colorado game on Saturday (although it was Alzner who was victimized on the play).

Goaltending: 4.04 GAA  / .875 save percentage (season: 3.78 / .880)

It would have been hard to think that the goaltending would be worse than in Week 1 (3.61/.883), but it was.  Braden Holtby was not bad in his start against Carolina, but he was just leaky enough with a high volume of shots faced (36) to come up just short in a 3-2 loss.  Luck…and bad eyesight… had a little bit to do with as well, though.  Not his eyesight, but that of the linesman on what would be Elias Lindholm’s first NHL goal.  The puck is circled in red in this screen shot, near Tom Wilson’s skates…

Jeff Skinner is clearly offside on this play, but play went on.  Lindholm would pick up the puck and pinball it off Wilson and the stick of John Carlson for a goal that would tie the game midway through the second period.  It should not have mattered, given that Alex Ovechkin would restore the lead less than a minute later, but it was indicative of the sort of “just short” week – one game, actually – that Holtby had.

Michal Neuvirth, on the other hand, had a difficult time with the Colorado Avalanche.  He gave up five goals on the first 22 shots he faced. He suffered some bad luck early – another Carlson stick deflecting another opponent’s shot past his own goaltender, but he could have/should have had Matt Duchene’s shot less than eight minutes later that gave the Avs a 2-0 lead, and the shorthanded goal he allowed to Alex Tanguay to end the competitive portion of the evening once and for all.  The score – one that Tanguay converted on a shot from just outside the goal line extended – was the kind that deflates a team.

In a week where almost nothing went right for the Caps, much of it their own doing, goaltending was just another part of it.

Power Play: 0-7 / 0.0 percent (season: 31.6 percent / rank: T-3rd)

Live by the power play, die by the power play.  The Caps took the o-fer for the week, misfiring on seven shots in 10:01 of total power play time.  There was an ominous note in there.  Alex Ovechkin, who is still tied for the league lead in power play goals, had just one power play shot on goal in the two games.  Further, Colorado seemed very intent on shutting him off, deploying a “triangle and one” defense, where the weak side defenseman played him man-to-man.  The Caps tried the occasional back-door play with Ovechkin ducking behind that defenseman and darting to the net, but none were successful.  Going forward it will bear watching if other teams play him this way.  John Carlson was the only Cap to record more than one power play shot over the two games (three).  And, there was that shorthanded goal that was allowed as the Avalanche were changing out their defensemen.  Ugh.

Penalty Killing: 6-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 79.0 percent / rank:13th)

It says something that 18 teams have penalty killing numbers below 80 percent, but we are not sure what.  For the Caps, who are one of those teams, this was another of those areas where they took a step backward.  The Caps were burned once with a taste of their own medicine, Alexander Semin converting a one timer from the left wing circle (very “Ovechkinesque”) while trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play.  On the other, they just lost Nathan MacKinnon circling from low to Michal Neuvirth’s right up into the slot behind Martin Erat.  Steve Oleksy could not close the gap soon enough, and all MacKinnon had to do was get the pass from Paul Stastny and shoot the puck on net.  He did, and he did, and the Avs had a 3-0 lead in what was a 5-1 win.

It was not a bad week from an opportunity standpoint, the Caps allowing eight power plays.  But teams got their shots, putting 12 on net in 12:46 of total power play time.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against (3-5 / season: 6-15; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio rank: 27th)

Boy, this has to get better, and the sooner the better still.  The Caps improved their defense (2.5 goals against per game), yet it cannot be called “good” in this respect.  Still, it was a lot better than the offense.  The second line is still without a point as a line at even strength, and the top line, frankly, has not been a lot better.  This week the line was on ice for one goal, that scored by Alex Ovechkin (Nicklas Backstrom getting an assist for another top line point), but as a group this season they have two goals, both by Ovechkin, and four assists, split between Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.  The scoring lines are not scoring at even strength.

Faceoffs: 74-for-141 / 52.5 percent (season: 53.7 percent / rank: 8th)

The Caps won the week and once more were good in the ends, going 31-for-52 in the offensive end (59.6 percent) and 24-for-47 in the defensive end (51.1 percent).  There was that lost faceoff in the defensive end on the 5-on-3 power play goal for Carolina, suggesting that the when is often as important as the how many when it comes to faceoff wins.  Eric Fehr came back to earth some this week, going 11-for-25 (44.0 percent), but he still remains in the top-30 in the league (56.1 percent).  Mikhail Grabovski had a fine week in the circle, going 16-for-24 overall (66.7 percent), including 8-for-11 in the offensive end.

Goals by period:

Small wonder that the Caps lost each period for the week.  Those first period results are still a problem with but one goal scored in the first period in the two games.  After two weeks the Caps are tied for 22nd in goals scored in the first period (only three teams have scored fewer), tied for 27th in goals allowed in the first period (only Edmonton has allowed more).  Not a recipe for success.

In the end…

Five games should be enough to at least get an idea of how the lines are shaking out.  The fact that the second line has no points in five games has to have a great big spotlight shined upon it.  The obvious consideration here is whether Martin Erat needs to be given a shot in that spot.  But that could present problems as well.  Would moving Erat to the second line mean dropping Brooks Laich to the third line?  If so, that would mean breaking up the only line that seems to have any spark?  Does it mean dropping him to the fourth line in a one-for-one swap?  Well, that’s a possibility, too, one supposes.

Then there is the defense.  John Erskine, Alexander Urbom, Connor Carrick, Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Jack Hillen.  That is the roster of defensemen three through six having dressed so far.  As a group they have not been awful (well, there is John Erskine being on ice for more goals against than anyone in that group and tied for worst among defensemen despite having missed a game), but they – meaning Urbom, Oleksy, and Schmidt as the current contestants – have the look of a problem waiting to unfold.

Five games in, this is a team that is having trouble playing good periods, let alone good games.  It looks entirely too much like last year’s start, and that is not fire to be played with.