Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Oilers, October 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 5-4 freestyle competition win over the Winnipeg Jets, continue their tour of western Canada Thursday night when they face the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.  The former Northlands Coliseum/Edmonton Coliseum/Skyreach Centre is one of the older rinks in the NHL, having opened for business in 1974.  It is approaching the end of its useful life as an NHL venue, the planned replacement to be located in downtown Edmonton and planned for groundbreaking next spring

For now, though, this arena has a lot of history in it.  Five Stanley Cup winners, with replica Cups occupying a place near the home team’s dressing room displaying the names of all the Oilers who won Cups with the team.  There is even a space left open as a reminder that there is always room for another Cup.

It just might not be coming along very soon.  The Oilers, who took a 1-3-1 record into Verizon Center last week and dropped a 4-2 decision to the Capitals, have only slowly been getting their footing since.  They dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions – one in Pittsburgh and one against the New York Islanders on Long Island – before heading to back to Canada to wrap up a six-game road trip with a 3-1 win in Ottawa and a 4-3 win in Montreal.

In those four games since the teams last met, the Oilers have found goals difficult to come by, scoring a total of 11 in the four contests.  The problem is that none of them came on the power play.  The Oilers are 0-for-13 in their last four games, extending a string of fruitless power plays to 18 dating back to the second period of their 6-5 overtime loss to Toronto on October 12th.

Edmonton’s goaltending has tightened up some over the last ten days.  In six games ending with their 4-2 loss to the Caps on October 14th, Oiler goalies were 1-4-1 with a 4.53 goals against average and a .839 save percentage.  Over their last four games, though, they are 2-2-0, 2.54, .926.  That is a product of Devan Dubnyk shaking off a shaky start to win two of his last three decisions while posting a 2.35 goals against average and a .935 save percentage.

A lingering problem is the shots allowed by the Oilers – 34 per game over their last four contests.  In none of those games did the Oilers outshoot their opponents.  It has placed pressure on the offense to be efficient.  Their 10.6 percent shooting percentage in those games compares well to the league (8.8 percent) and is better than all but seven other teams’ season shooting percentage. 

The Oiler offense has been led by Jordan Eberle (2-4-0) in the four games since Edmonton faced the Caps.  Eberle shares the goal scoring lead with Ales Hemsky Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  Mark Arcobello has five assists over the four games, giving him ten on the season.  That puts him in the “which one of these names does not belong” tie with Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin, and Joe Thornton for the league lead.

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

1.  Taylor Hall, who is tied for third on the team in points, is out with a sprained left knee and will miss perhaps a month on injured reserve.  It is the latest of nicks that have eaten into his playing time.  In two previous 82-game seasons he missed 17 and 21 games (ankle, shoulder, and concussion), and last year he missed three of 48 games (one to a hamstring injury and two to suspension).

2.  Only one team in the league has taken more minor penalties than Edmonton (47).  That would be Winnipeg (50), the team the Caps just finished with.  The Oilers, however, have escaped without having to go shorthanded as many times as the number of penalties would suggest.  Their total of 36 shorthanded situations faced ranks as the 11th most in the league.

3.  Think Edmonton wants Boyd Gordon for his defense?  Through ten games he has the team's lowest share of zone starts taken in the offensive zone, and it’s not close.  He has taken 17.7 percent of his zone starts in the defensive end.  Ryan Smyth is next lowest with 22.2 percent (source:

4.  No team has allowed more first period goals than Edmonton (14).  Only two teams have allowed more goals in the second period (13) – The New York Rangers and Florida Panthers (14 each).  Only New Jersey and Philadelphia have allowed more third period goals than the Oilers.  This is not a good defensive team.

5.  Back to this Arcobello kid.  First, Mark Arcobello is not a kid, he is a 25-year old rookie.  He was undrafted and spent four years at Yale University.  Then he spent three seasons toiling in the minors – splitting time with the Stockton Thunder in the ECHL and the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL in 2010-2011, then skating two more seasons with Barons (earning a one game look with the Oilers last season).  His performance, while showing constant improvement in the AHL, did not look outsized in his regular season performance (22-46-68 in 74 games last season), but his playoff performance was worth noting.  In 2012 he was 5-8-13 in 14 games with Oklahoma City and 12-8-20 in 17 games with the Barons in last season’s playoffs.  He is currently tied with San Jose’s Tomas Hertl for the rookie points lead (ten).

1.  The Caps’ possession numbers are brutal.  At 5-on-5 with the score tied, they are 22nd in Corsi-for percentage (46.8 percent as a share of combined Corsi-for and Corsi-against events) and 24th in Fenwick-for percentage (44.7 percent; source:

2.  Shot distances by themselves do not provide nuance – you don’t have a sense of the “degree of difficulty” of shots – and they can suffer from errors in observation (assignment of distances), but they do suggest a player’s willingness to traffic in difficult areas to get shots.  The shortest average shot distance for the Caps so far belongs to Mikhail Grabovski (16.8 feet).  But let us not make too much of this.  Marcus Johansson has the third shortest average shot distance (22.5 feet; source:

3.  Mike Green and John Carlson lead, for lack of a better word, Capitals defensemen in goals scored against/on ice.  This is, no doubt, partly a function of their ice time (they are first and second on the team in total average ice time), but since the two are almost never paired (they have less than nine minutes together at 5-on-5 this season; source:, it suggests a disturbing problem on the top two defense pairs.  It is not evident who can be counted on to be the shutdown type.

4.  The Caps still do not have a roster defenseman with a goal this season.  Connor Carrick, currently in Hershey, has the only one for the blueliners.  The current roster defensemen are 0-for-87 shooting the puck.

5.  Starting with his win over Edmonton ten days ago, goalie Braden Holtby is 3-1-0, 2.23, .940 in four appearances.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Nail Yakupov

In his first four games this season Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, had no points, ten shots on goal, and was a minus-1.  That lackluster spot earned him a seat in the press box for two games, one of them being the Oilers’ first meeting with the Caps.  He was returned to the lineup last week against Pittsburgh and has played in four games since his benching.  Things have improved…barely.  He has an assist in those four games, nine shots on goal, and is a plus-2.  Despite getting almost three minutes of power play ice time a game so far he does not have a point on the man advantage.  At even strength no Oiler has a higher share of offensive zone starts.  He has been put in situations advantageous to offensive success, and he has not produced as yet.  As a result, he is now being whispered about – pro and con – in trade rumorsYakupov has a great big bulls eye on his back, and in the Oilers’ first home game after a six-game road trip, that bulls-eye is flashing bright red.  This will be his first career game against the Caps…if he dresses.

Washington: Mike Green

Did you think we would be going into Game 10 of the season and still be waiting for Mike Green’s first even strength point of the season?  There are 78 defensemen ahead of Green at the moment, including the likes of Anton Belov, Justin Braun, Sami Vatanen, and Jake Muzzin.  Then, in the midst of having what might have been his worst overall game in recent memory in Tuesday’s win in Winnipeg, he was benched for the last 9:35 of regulation and all five minutes of overtime.  It was the first time this season he skated less than 20 minutes (18:13), and his lowest ice time since March 16, 2012, when he skated 18:11 in a 3-2 loss in (coincidentally) Winnipeg.  Like many Caps, Green does not have much of a history against the Oilers.  He is 2-2-4, minus-3 in five career games against Edmonton.


1.  Special is as special does. Washington has the best special teams index in the league – 118.5 (sum of their power play and penalty killing percentages).  Edmonton is 29th.  The Caps are plus-5 on special teams (power play and shorthanded goals scored less power play and shorthanded goals allowed), the Oilers are minus-8.  Do the math.

2.  Grab and hold.  The Caps had a lead against Winnipeg heading into the last minute of the second period and gave up a goal.  They took a lead early in the third period and gave up a goal.  One of the disturbing things about the Caps early is their frustrating tendency to get leads and cough them up.  That’s another manifestation of the lack of killer instinct this club has displayed in recent years.

3.  Play your game…play your game.  Getting into a shooting match with Winnipeg is one thing.  They are a team of some, but not extraordinary offensive skill.  Do that against the Oilers, and it will be a difficult night.  The Oilers have speed and skill, especially among their forwards, that can exploit any timidity or lack of foot speed among the Caps, especially the defensemen.  If the Oilers are entering the offensive zone with speed and puck control, backing the Caps off, look out.  Play ugly, or at least homely.

In the end…

This is a bit of a benchmark game.  The Caps beat Edmonton in Washington when they strafed the Oilers for three goals in less than four minutes in the second period on their way to a 4-2 win.  As a 60-minute matter the Caps were less dominant, getting outshot by a 30-20 margin.  The Caps come into this game having won two in a row, but then too, so do the Oilers.  And you can make the argument that the Oilers’ two wins came against competition – Ottawa and Montreal – superior to that faced by the Caps (Columbus and Winnipeg).  Washington has the chance to get to the .500 mark for the first time since Game 2 that compared to last year, when they did not hit the .500 mark until Game 36, would seem like they were the 1978 Montreal Canadiens reincarnated.  They will have just enough to hold back Oilers and hit that mark.

Capitals 4 – Oilers 3

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 9: Capitals 5 - Jets 4 (OT/Gimmick)

It was a see-saw affair, but the Washington Capitals had one more trick shot in their arsenal than did the Winnipeg Jets, earning them the Bettman Point and a 5-4 win over the Jets at MTS Centre last night.

After a scoreless first period, the scoreboard became something of a pinball machine without the bells as the teams split six goals in the second period.  The Caps broke in front in the fourth minute of the period when Mikhail Grabovski, who had the puck follow him around during the entire sequence – he had three separate touches in the Jets’ zone – took advantage of Zach Bogosian gloving the puck into the slot, backhanding it around a clot of players piled up around goalie Ondrej Pavelec and through for a 1-0 Caps lead.

Winnipeg took the lead with goals 70 seconds apart later in the period when Bryan Little put home a rebound of an Andrew Ladd shot while the Jets were shorthanded, and when Grant Clitsome fired the puck through a Dustin Byfuglien screen and past goalie Braden Holtby. 

Then the game turned into the Alex Ovechkin show.  As the clock closed on the five minute mark of the period Andrew Ladd tried to move the puck up the right wing wall to the point but managed only to put it on the stick of Marcus Johansson.  From there, Johansson found Ovechkin breaking free through the middle of the neutral zone.  It became a race between Ovechkin and Dustin Byfuglien at that point, and Ovechkin won the race, flipping a backhand past Ondrej Pavelec to tie the game.

Less than three minutes later Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead off a faceoff win by Johansson.  Ovechkin collected the puck at the far side of the faceoff circle, stepped around from behind Johansson, and wristed the puck past a startled Pavelec to restore the Caps’ lead.

The 3-2 lead might have been the way the Caps went to the locker room for the second intermission, but Blake Wheeler put an end to that thinking in the last 30 seconds of the period, deflecting an Evander Kane drive over the shoulder of Braden Holtby to knot the game at three apiece.

The teams exchanged goals early in the third period, first with Troy Brouwer getting his third goal of the season on a power play, taking a slick backhand feed from Nicklas Backstrom at the edge of the left wing faceoff circle and snapping the puck past Pavelec.  Bryan Little tied it again barely two minutes later when Andrew Ladd found him with a pass in the slot.  Little wasted no time wristing the puck past Holtby, off the far post and into the back of the net. 

That would be it for the hockey portion of the evening, the clubs unable to add to the goal totals through the last 13 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime.  That left it to the Gimmick, which would prove to test the durability of the goal lamps as much as did regulation.  The teams split six successful tries through five rounds of the shootout, but when Evander Kane came up short in the seventh round, it was up to Martin Erat for the Caps.  Erat ended the evening on an up note for the Caps when he wristed the puck through the pads of Pavelec to give the Caps the extra standings point and a good start on the five-game road trip.

Other stuff…

-- Yes, Braden Holtby allowed four goals, which was three more than the combined total he allowed the Jets in all of last season at MTS Centre.  But it was not as if he had a lot of help, either.  Winnipeg had 47 shots on goal (a career high faced by Holtby) and outshot the Caps at even-strength, 37-24.

-- There were simply too many instances of Jets either getting behind Capital defenders, getting inside position, or just being left alone in shooting areas.

--  Getting two goals from Ovechkin and two assists from Johansson made it a good night for the top line, but the second line managed only one shot on goal as a line, that by Troy Brouwer (Brouwer had another – a goal – on a power play). 

-- Every defenseman was on ice for a goal against.  It was a team effort.

-- Grabovski’s goal was his first even-strength point since opening night.

-- It says something that Nate Schmidt and Steve Oleksy were probably the best defensemen on the ice at both ends for the Caps.  We are not sure just what that says, but it isn’t good.

-- We would like to think that Tom Wilson is going to finish the season with more points than fights, but after his scrap with Patrice Cormier that ledger reads: Fights – 3, Points – 0. 

-- The Caps took it in the teeth on offensive zone faceoffs, losing 15 of 26 draws, although the scoring line centers did a good job.  Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich were a combined 9-for-16.

-- The two goals for Ovechkin make it nine in eight games this season, 31 in his last 30 games, and 56 goals in his last 82.

In the end... There are some games you are going to win, no matter what, some you are going to lose no matter what, and then there are the ones that are up in the air.  You get the feeling that this was one that the Caps were going to win, no matter what.  It certainly was not a “winning” performance.  Too many blown coverages in the defensive zone, too many flubbed exits from the defensive zone, too many oddly timed passes, too much chasing the puck.  Sometimes, though, a team’s skill level allows them just enough moments to overcome long stretches of poor play.  That was the case here.  A fine effort by Grabovski to keep after the puck in one case, an excellent pass by Backstrom to Brouwer in another, and a pair of goals from Ovechkin.  It was enough to get to the bonus round and allow the Caps to erase – or maybe “Erat” – what would have been a sour memory of this game.