Saturday, October 19, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 8: Capitals 4 - Blue Jackets 1

It took eight games, but the Washington Capitals finally put together a complete performance, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at Verizon Center.

Four different Capitals – Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Alex Ovechkin – scored goals, nine different Capitals had points, Braden Holtby turned away 37 of the 38 shots he faced, and the club looked solid in all three zones for most of the game.

The first period suggested that this would be a game with pace, but with two teams struggling to score, it ended without a goal for either team despite 25 combined shots on goal.  That ended abruptly in the second minute of the second period.  With Brandon Dubinsky sent off on a tripping call 1:26 into the period, the Capitals worked the triangle play on the man advantage – Nicklas Backstrrom from the side wall to Marcus Johansson at the goal line extended to Joel Ward in the slot.  Ward one-timed the puck past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at the 1:58 mark before the netminder could flinch.

Almost six minutes later it was Brooks Laich batting in a rebound from the doorstep to Bobrovsky’s right, but it was Steve Oleksy who made the play.  Oleksy collected the puck off the right wing wall and slid in, leaving Cam Atkinson flat-footed with a fine curl-and-drag, opening himself up for a shot that Bobrovsky stopped.  He could not control the rebound, though, and Laich was right there to finish the play.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission, the Caps leading, 2-0.

Early in the third period Troy Brouwer extended the lead when he helped dig out a loose puck from behind the Columbus net to start the scoring sequence.  The puck squirted out to Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin, but Nikitin put the puck on the stick of Martin Erat as he was trying to move it up the wall.  Erat found Brouwer circling out from behind the net, and Brouwer had nothing but clear ice.  With Nikitin late getting to the front of the net and the other defenseman – Jack Johnson – not doing much of anything by way of defending, Brouwer had time and space to take two whacks at the puck  Bobrovsky stopped one, but he could not stop the other, Brouwer swatting the puck lying at the top of the crease into the open cage.

Two minutes later, with Dubinsky off on another penalty, the Caps made the Blue Jackets pay when Mike Green slid the puck from the top of the offensive zone to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin settled the puck and using defenseman David Savard as a screen, wristed the puck through Bobrovsky’s pads to end the Caps’ scoring for the night.  Artem Anisimov added a window dressing goal for the Blue Jackets with under five minutes left to end the scoring for the evening.

Other Stuff…

-- The reassemble second line of Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer finished 2-2-4 (Erat added another assist on a power play), plus-6 combined, with seven shots on goal (Brouwer had six of them).

-- Speaking of Brouwer, he had 11 shot attempts and five hits, both numbers leading the Caps for the evening.

-- Adam Oates really mixed things up.  There were nine distinct changes among the skaters:
  • Erat from 4L to 2L
  • Laich from 2L to 2C
  • Grabovski from 2C to 3C
  • Fehr from 3C to 4C
  • Beagle from 4C to the bench
  • Volpatti from the bench to 4L
  • Schmidt from 3LD to 1LD
  • Alzner from 1LD to 2LD
  • Urbom from 2LD to 3LD
Only the top line was left unchanged.  If folks were anxious about head coach Adam Oates and a seeming timidity about shuffling the deck, well, he shuffled the deck.

-- Perhaps lost in all the changes and the distributed scoring was the effort by Joel Ward on the penalty kill.  Ward led all Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time and was extremely effective in pinning the Blue Jackets deep on the forecheck, denying them clean breakouts and even tying up the puck along the boards to kill critical seconds. 

-- Tom Wilson skated 8:44.  It might not seem like a lot, but it is a season high for him.  It might have been more but for skating only 1:41 in the second period while the teams were exchanging power play chances, the Caps with two and the Jackets with one.

-- That was Martin Erat’s first three-assist game since December 4, 2010, against Carolina.  It was the sixth time in his career he had three or more assists in a game.  And yes, he did earn a star for the game.

-- The 77 shots on goal for the two teams was the most combined shots in a regulation time game for the Caps since they and the San Jose Sharks combined for 77 shots in a 5-3 Sharks win on February 13, 2012.

-- Braden Holtby’s game save percentage progression over his last six games… .727 (in 16 minutes), .905, .917, .933, .944, .974.  Since being pulled after those 16 minutes against Calgary, Holtby is 2-3-0, 2.03, .938.

-- The Caps have had the problem, if it can be called that, of so much of the offense (at least so far as it is reflected in shots on goal) going through Alex Ovechkin.  Tonight, 13 of the 18 skaters recorded at least one even-strength shot on goal (34 total).  The odd part of it, though, is that it was all six defensemen who had at least one.

-- Coming into this game Marcus Johansson had three shots on goal for the season.  He matched that total in the first period and recorded his fourth of the game in the second period.  It was his first four-shot game since last St. Patrick’s Day in a 5-3 win over Buffalo.

-- Does Tom Wilson get credit for three hits for toppling three Blue Jackets on one play?  No, but he did have four hits, anyway.

-- The Caps struggled with faceoffs in the offensive zone, going only 7-for-21 (33 percent), and Laich had five of the wins.  Take him out of the mix and the Caps were 2-for-11.

In the end… It was the Caps’ best game of the year to date, and it came at a welcome time, just as they are about to embark on a five-game road trip.  Scoring was balanced, special teams were effective at both ends, Braden Holtby was sharp.  If there was one hiccup it was the 38 shots on goal the Caps gave up.  It was not entirely scoring effect as the Blue Jackets recorded 21 of those shots before the Caps gained a 2-0 lead in the second period.  What the Caps did not do was give up much in the way of second chances.

Now they go on the road to Winnipeg, followed by a swing through Alberta and British Columbia before hitting Philadelphia to open November.  The goaltending issues appear to be sorting themselves out, and the balanced scoring is something to build on.  Maybe when the Caps come home against Florida on November 2nd, the talk will be more optimistic than it has been the past week.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Blue Jackets at Capitals, October 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their five-game home stand on Saturday night when their newest divisional rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets, pay a visit to Verizon Center. 

This will be the first meeting of the clubs as divisional rivals – as conference rivals for that matter.  For 12 seasons the Jackets competed – if that is the right word – in the Central Division of the Western Conference.  Only once in 11 tries in an 82-game season did Columbus finish the season with averaging more than one standings point per game.  In 2008-2009 they finished with 92 points, good for fourth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference.  That remains their lone playoff appearance, and they are still waiting for their first playoff game win.  They were swept in the first round in 2009 by the Detroit Red Wings.

Last year, they were close, but no cigar.  They closed with a rush, going 8-1-0 in their last nine games and finishing in a tie with Minnesota with 55 standings points.  The Wild took that last playoff spot, though, by virtue of having more wins than Columbus, 26 to 24.

The Jackets are off on familiar ways to start the 2013-2014 season, which is to say that they are struggling.  In six games they have two wins, a trick shot win against the New York Islanders and a 4-1 win in Buffalo against the hapless Sabres.  They have lost three straight, the silver lining being that they did so to Boston, Detroit, and Montreal (the latter two on the road), all teams that are playoff contenders.

Columbus is a team played only infrequently by the Caps.  Since coming into the league in the 2000-2001 season the clubs have met only 14 times, the Caps holding a 9-3-1-1 edge that includes wins in their last three meetings.  The last time the clubs met was New Year’s Eve 2011 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, a 4-2 Capitals win in which the Caps wiped out a 2-0 Blue Jackets lead with four goals in the third period.  Only ten of the 20 Caps who dress that night (nine skaters and backup goalie Michal Neuvirth) are still with the club.  It’s a good thing they wear name plates on the backs of their jerseys, or the teams might not recognize one another.

The numbers so far for these clubs look like this…

1.  The Caps have a powerful power play, but the Jackets take advantages of advantages more consistently.  Columbus has power play goals in five of the six games played so far.  Four players share in the six power play goals scored to date: Jack Johnson (2), Boone Jenner (2), Cam Atkinson (1), and Mark Letestu (1).  Caps fans will be forgiven if they think we are making these names up.

2.  For a team that has trouble scoring (2.33 goals per game) the Blue Jackets do spread things around. Nine players have split 14 goals; 16 players have points through six games.

3.  Columbus has one multi-goal game by a player this season.  Marian Gaborik?  Brandon Dubinsky?  R.J. Umberger?  Does the name “Boone Jenner” ring a bell?  Jenner potted a pair against Montreal on Thursday in a 5-3 loss, both goals coming on power plays.  They were the first goals in the NHL for the rookie.

4.  Speaking of rookies, in “First NHL Goal” watch, Ryan Murray is up for the Blue Jackets. The second overall pick in the 2012 draft would seem an unlikely candidate to notch one in this game.  In six games so far he has only one shot on goal.

5. Columbus has allowed 14 even strength goals so far this season.  Defenseman Jack Johnson has been on the ice for nine of them. 

1.  Only Florida (0.30) and Buffalo (0.09) have worse goals scored to goals allowed ratios in the first period than the Capitals (0.44).

2.  The Caps have outshot opponents only twice in seven games so far.  Not that it mattered much; they lost both games.

3.  That Alex Ovechkin is off to a good start scoring goals is not a surprise.  However, he is on a pace to shatter a personal career high in another statistical category.  He is on a pace to finish the season with 141 penalty minutes.  His career high so far is 89 PIMs in 2009-2010.

4.  No team has more players above 50 percent in faceoff wins than the Caps (Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom).

5.  The Caps lead the league in power play efficiency, and part of that is that only one team in the league has spent less time on the power play than the Caps (Ottawa).  No team has spent less time at 5-on-4, and it’s not close.  Washington has spent 4:10 less time at 5-on-4 (25:48) than the next lowest team (Ottawa – 29:58).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky

The defending Vezina Trophy winner is off to a decent, if unspectacular start – 21st in both goals against average and save percentage.  However, it is a better start than he had last season.  His GAA is better through his first six games (2.49 to 3.15), and his save percentage is better (.921 to .900).  In his six games to date the key has been to get him early.  He has a save percentage of only .898 in the first period, followed by .924 in the second period and .933 in the third.  If there is an odd stat about him, it comes from last season.  Bobrovsky did not lose in regulation time in any game last season in which he faced 30 or more shots. He was 14-0-6 in 20 decisions.  So far this season he has regressed, going 1-4-0 in games in which he faced 30 or more shots.  In three career appearances against the Caps he is 1-0-1, 3.36, .890.

Washington:  Martin Erat

Maybe now he will get his chance.  It would probably be welcome.  Of 22 skaters having dressed for the Caps so far, only three have logged less even strength ice time per game than Erat (7:09).  He skated more than ten minutes in total ice time only once in seven games, but at Friday’s practice he skated with the second line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich.  The timing might suit Erat just fine.  Erat has scored more goals (16) and more points (53) against Columbus – all while playing with the Nashville Predators – than he has against any other NHL team.  He is plus-19 over his career against the Blue Jackets and minus-15 against everyone else.  And in one of the truly odd career stats you will find, Erat is a plus-39 in 200 career games played on Saturdays.  He is even or worse on every other day of the week over his career (minus-35 overall).  He’s going to be one of the game’s three stars…book it.


1.  Shoot early, shoot often.  In the three games so far in which Bobrovsky faced more than ten shots in the first period he allowed five goals on 36 shots (.861 save percentage).

2.  Muscle memory.  We imagine there are few Caps fans out there who would have thought that only once in their last five games would the Caps score more than two goals.  They have only five even strength goals in those last five games.  They have been outshot, 147-119, at even strength in those five games.  And, if one takes out Alex Ovechkin’s 22 shots at even strength, it means the other 17 skaters have split the remaining 97 shots, which works out to barely one per game per skater.  It is not as if the Caps have had a recent history of being a spare offensive team.  They have been here before.

3.  No peeking.  This is the getaway game before a five-game road trip that will start by taking the Caps to western Canada.  No letting the mind wander.

In the end…

This has the chance to be the most boring game on the 13-game slate for Saturday.  Why?  What a pathetic pair of teams.  The Caps are 1-4-0 in their last five games and have scored a total of eight goals in the process (1.60 goals per game).  Columbus has only one win in regulation this season and is 1-5-1 in their last seven games, scoring a total of 11 goals (1.57/game).  It could come down to Alex Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski for the Caps, Cam Atkinson and Mark Letestu for the Blue Jackets.  Why?  These are the successful shooters in the trick shot phase so far this season.  We hope it does not come down to that.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2