Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Washington Capitals: Sittin' at the end of the bar...

It’s a little known fact…

-- Among the 85 players named a star of the game by through Tuesday’s games, all 30 teams are represented, except one.  The New Jersey Devils.  Geez, even Buffalo has a star (three in fact: Jhonas Enroth, Matt Moulson, and Ryan Miller).

-- The Caps have four stars of their own: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mikhail Grabovski, and Joel Ward.  Who has the most?  No, not Pittsburgh (3).  Nope, not Colorado (3).  Not San Jose (5).  It’s Phoenix (7).  And if you tell me you knew Rob Klinkhammer was one of them, I’ll slap you.

-- Marcus Johansson leads the Caps in even strength assists.  If you’re comparing that to former Caps, it is the same number Dennis Wideman has, and Mathieu Perreault has eight.

-- If you are thinking Mike Green’s 15-game streak without a goal is a career high…not even close.  He had a 28-game drought spanning the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons.

-- Alex Ovechkin has 12 goals in 13 games played so far this season.  By way of comparison he had five goals in his first 13 games last season.  It is not his fastest 13-game start.  He had 14 in 13 games to start the 2009-2010 season (he finished with 50 in 72 games).  In 2007-2008, when he finished the year with 65 goals in 82 games, he started with nine in his first 13 games.

-- Mikhail Grabovski is tied for third on the team in goals (5), tied for third in assists (9), third in points (14), leads the club in plus/minus (plus-4), is fourth in power play goals (2), tied for fourth in power play assists, tied for third in power play points, is second in overall shooting percentage (25.0 percent), leads the team in faceoff winning percentage (52.6 percent; minimum 50 draws taken), and is 2-for-3 with a game-deciding trick shot in the freestyle competition.  Think he’s earning his pay?

-- Jason Chimera is on a pace for a 27-goal season.  Maybe it’s an alternating season thing.  Joel Ward is doing him one better… well, six better, actually. He is on a pace for a 33-goal season.  For both it would be career bests by wide margins.

-- Tom Wilson is on a pace for 230 penalty minutes.  In the last 20 years only two rookies had more than 230 penalty minutes for a season – Chris Neil (231 in 2001-2002) and Zac Rinaldo (232 in 2011-2012).  And, while he has only two points this season, he has only been on ice for three goals against.

-- Marcus Johansson is on a pace to record 60 assists.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout only five players age 23 or younger have accomplished the feat: Sidney Crosby (three times), Nicklas Backstrom (twice), Jason Spezza, Ryan Getzlaf, and Evgeni Malkin.

--  Alex Ovechkin has recorded more missed shots (32) than 20 of the 23 skaters dressing for the Caps this season have shots on goal.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 16: Wild at Capitals, November 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end their three-game home stand on Thursday night when they face the Minnesota Wild on Verizon Center ice.  If you are unfamiliar with this team, well, join the club.  The Capitals have faced the Wild fewer times – 12 – than any team in the NHL.  In fact, there are only two teams in the history of the franchise that the Capitals faced fewer times, the California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons, both faced ten times by the Caps.

The Wild have made only six appearances all time in Washington, and the Capitals have a 5-1-0 record in those contests.  Now, here is the weird number in those six appearances: 8.  That is the total number of goals scored by the Wild at Verizon Center, and half of those came in a 4-3 win on November 21, 2002.  In no other game did Minnesota score more than one goal.

None of that means a lot other than as the sort of thing you can impress your fellow patrons with at your local tavern.  What does matter for purposes of this game is that the Wild are 6-1-0 in their last seven games, outscoring their opponents by a 24-13 margin.  They have been remarkably efficient in the process, making good on 13.3 percent of their shots (the league shooting average, not counting the Wild, is 8.8 percent).

It is a good thing, too.  In those seven games the Wild reached the 30 shot mark only once, averaging 25.7 shots on goal in all.

On the other side, the Wild have gotten superb goaltending from Josh Harding, building a reputation as being something much more than a goalie with a unique, inspiring personal story.  He appeared in five of the seven games in this recent stretch, posting a 5-0-0, 1.07, .955 record with two shutouts.  Good as that was, he was not the Wild player who won one of the week’s three stars for the week ending November 3rd.  That went to Jason Pominville, who had a 4-2-6 week in three games.  It is part of a recent run of games coinciding with the 6-1-0 record over which he is 7-2-9, plus-8. 

Harding has faced the Capitals only once, allowing two goals on 38 shots in what would be a 2-1 Caps win on November 13, 2009, in Washington.  On the other hand, Pominville is well known to the Caps and Caps fans from his nine seasons in Buffalo.  He is 9-11-20, plus-1 in 30 career games against Washington.

Here is how the two teams stack up in their numbers so far (through games of Tuesday):

1.  Pominville is not the only Minnesota player on a hot streak.  Zach Parise – another name familiar to Caps fans – is 4-5-9 in the 6-1-0 Wild run.  Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund each have six assists. You could say the whole club is hot.  There are 19 different skaters with points over those seven games and ten with goals.

2.  The Wild display an uncommon balance in their scoring, unique in fact.  Their period by period scoring over 16 games is as follows:  1st period – 15 goals; 2nd period – 14 goals; 3rd period – 14 goals. No team in the league has that tight a pattern of goal scoring by period.

3.  No team has allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals than the Wild (13).  They are the only team allowing fewer than one 5-on-5 goal per game (0.81).

4.  Only two teams – Ottawa and Toronto – have committed more minor penalties than the Wild.  With 63 times shorthanded they are tied for the third highest number in the league, behind only Winnipeg and Ottawa.

5.  Minnesota is a front runner of a team.  They have not lost a game in regulation when leading at either intermission (5-0-1 when leading after one period, 9-0-1 when leading after two), and they have not won a game when trailing at an intermission (0-4-1 when trailing after one, 0-4-1 when trailing after two).

1.  Since being shut out by the New York Rangers on October 16th, the Caps are 6-2-0, outscoring their opponents by a 31-18 margin, despite being outshot by 50 shots on goal (289-239).

2.  In their 6-2-0 run 20 different skaters have points; eight of them have at least five points.  Nicklas Backstrom leads with 11 points (4-7-11).  Jason Chimera (4-5-9) and Alex Ovechkin (6-3-9) are next in line.  There are 12 different players with goals.  Alex Ovechkin leads with six in just six of those games (missing two to injury).  Joel Ward is next with five goals.

3.  In his last 82 games Nicklas Backstrom is 19-66-85.  His 5-14-19 scoring line through 15 games this season works out to a 27-77-104 point pace.

4.  With five goals in 15 games this season, Jason Chimera has as many as he recorded in his previous 53 games.  With 11 points he has as many as he had in his first 41 games last season.

5.  Only one player this season has more multi-point games than Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (six apiece).  The Islanders’ Kyle Okposo has seven such games. No team other than the Caps has two such players with as many as six multi-point games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Justin Fontaine

Caps fans would recognize Jason Pominville as the Wild’s leading goal scorer (ten), and they would not be surprised that Zach Parise is second (eight). But Justin Fontaine in third place on the club with five?  Four of them coming in his last seven games?  Who is this guy? 

Fontaine is an undrafted, four-year veteran of the University of Minnesota-Duluth college hockey program.  Upon completing his four-year stint in Duluth, the right-winger was signed to an entry-level contract with the Wild in April of 2011. In two years serving an apprenticeship with the Houston Aeros in the AHL, Fontaine recorded 39 goals and 111 points in 137 games.  His five goals in 16 games is tied for third among all rookie skaters, trailing only San Jose’s Tomas Hertl and Calgary’s Sean Monahan.  This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.

Washington:  Martin Erat

Martin Erat has had one strange season to date. He spent most of his time chained to the fourth line and only recently has received more exposure on scoring lines.  As a result he has five assists and is yet to score a goal of his own.  It gets stranger.  He has points in only two games this season, a three-assist effort against Columbus on October 19th and a two-assist game in the 7-0 stomping of Philadelphia last Friday.  He is without a point and minus-4 in his other 13 games.

There is the matter of all the experience he has playing against Western Conference teams as a member of the Nashville Predators.  In 36 career games against the Wild he is 12-15-27, plus-2.  He is 5-6-11 against Minnesota on the power play.  If there is a team against which he might break out, this is the one.


1.  Special…K?  This game might turn on which situation dominates, the Wild at 5-on-5 or the Caps on the power play.  The Wild have the best 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio in the league, compared to the Caps’ 18th-place ranking.  On the other hand, the Caps have the top power play, while Minnesota ranks only 25th in penalty killing. 

2.  Snipers vs. Finishers, and Vice Versa.  We noted that the Wild have a 13.3 percent shooting percentage over their last seven games.  The Caps have hardly been slouches in this regard, shooting to a 13.0 percent rate over their last eight games.  If one of these teams maintains that success rate, chance are they win.

3.  Size Matters. Minnesota is another one of those teams that gets by on maneuverability more than size.  The Wild have had only 12 skaters over 200 pounds dress for games this season.  The Caps, on the other hand, have had 17 skaters over 200 pounds dress.  One thing to watch for is to see if the Caps can wear the Wild down.

In the end…

This could be a rather entertaining game.  There is the intrigue of teams that do not see one another often, despite Minnesota having no fewer than six skaters who have substantial game experience in the Eastern Conference (Matt Cooke, Zenon Konopka, Jason Pominville, Nino Niedereiter, Dany Heatley, and Zach Parise), and the Caps having four players with significant Western Conference experience (Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Martin Erat). 

There is also the fact that these are two teams playing well of late, both with hot goaltenders.  And, there is the star quality of an Alex Ovechkin against a Zach Parise, a Dany Heatley versus a Nicklas Backstrom, or a Mike Green against a Ryan Suter.  We are guessing it will be one of the unsung players who step up in this one… maybe, say, a second-line player for a team dressed in red.

Capitals 3 – Wild 2

Washington Capitals: A Long Time at the Top, at Least for One Capital

No matter where you start your comparison, Alex Ovechkin has spent a long time at or just short of the top of the goal-scoring eras of the post-2004-2005 lockout NHL...

New Draft Pick...A Power Forward?

You case Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn't come over...

Photos: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, Harry How/Getty Images

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 15: Capitals 6 - Islanders 2

OK, he can stay.

The Washington Capitals won two games with Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup, making fans wonder how the team would fare when he returned to the lineup against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.  Ovechkin slipped right back into the scheme of things without missing a beat, recording to goals and an assist in the Caps’ 6-2 win over the Islanders at Verizon Center.

It did not start out well for the home team, John Tavares putting the Islanders up, 1-0, just as a power play was expiring early in the first period.  Things changed in the second period.  Boy, did they.  John Carlson scored his second goal in as many games when he kept a loose puck in the Islander zone at the blue line, waited as four Islanders skated by him flying the zone, then stepped up and wristed the puck past goalie Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game.

Barely a minute later Ovechkin had his first of the game, taking a clean faceoff win from Nicklas Backstrom and firing a laser past Nabokov’s blocker to put the Caps up a goal.  After Kyle Okposo tied the game 17 seconds later, Marcus Johansson put the Caps up for good two minutes after that.  As he was approaching the Islander goal line to Nabokov's left, Nicklas Backstrom sent a feed back to Johansson charging the net.  Johansson’s first shot was stopped, but the puck pinballed off of Troy Brouwer back on to Johansson’s stick, and he didn’t miss a second time.  He stuffed the loose puck past Nabokov to restore the lead, 3-2.

Barely two minutes after that, Alexander Urbom scored his first as a Capital, but it was a product of a fine play by Tom Wilson.  It started with Steve Oleksy finding Wilson steaming in from the left wing.  Wilson cut hard to the net and tried to poke the puck past Nabokov as he was being tripped by Tavares.  As he was sliding on his back toward the boards he managed to sweep the puck back through an Islander and to the point where Urbom was waiting. Urbom leaned into one and rocketed the puck past Nabokov, and the rout was on.

Ovechkin closed the scoring in the second period when he finished up a tic-tac-toe play, Backstrom to Johansson to Ovechkin on the weak side on a power play, Nabokov not having a chance to get from post to post before Ovechkin could find the back of the net.

In the third period Wilson put the cherry on top of the sundae at 15:50 with his first NHL goal.  It came off another clean faceoff win, this one by Mikhail Grabovski on a power play.  The puck was drawn back to Ovechkin who held it at the left wing boards as Wilson skated hard down the slot.  Ovechkin sent the puck across and Wilson redirected it through Nabokov’s pads for his first NHL goal to close the scoring for the evening.

Other stuff…

-- The four power play goals in seven power play opportunities was the most for the Caps since they recorded four in six power play chances against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 win on December 9, 2011.  That was a night of firsts in itself, former Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman recording his first career hat trick.

-- With three assists, Nicklas Backstrom jumped into a tie for third in the league in helpers with 14, tied with the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo (who had an assist in this game) and San Jose’s Joe Thornton.

-- The four-goal margin of victory was the largest for the Caps against the Islanders since beating them, 7-2, on January 26, 2010, on Long Island.  It was the largest victory margin at home against this team since beating the Isles, 6-1, on opening night, October 9, 2003.

-- The Caps were, as one might expect, extremely efficient on the power play.  They scored four goals on eight shots in just 3:40 of total power play time.  Two of the goals came within six seconds or less of a faceoff win in the offensive zone.

-- It was a good night for the defense.  Three defensemen – Alexander Urbom, Steve Oleksy, and John Carlson – recorded points, Carlson and Urbom getting goals.

-- Call it a Tom Wilson Hat Trick… a goal, and assist, and a ten-minute misconduct.  It was also his second game topping the ten-minute time on ice mark (10:05).

-- Hey, let’s not forget Braden Holtby in all this.  He had 34 saves on 36 shots faced, a .944 save percentage for the night (we would still like to see those shot totals come down, even with the 15 “score effect” shots on goal for the Islanders in the third period).

-- Every Capital skater recorded a shot on goal. The 39 shots in all tied their second-highest output of the season and was the most they recorded in a win.

-- Marcus Johansson broke a personal 19-game streak without a goal, dating back to April 16th of last season, when he had one against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-1 Caps win.

-- Nabokov had a perfect first period, stopping all 11 shots he faced.  However, the volume got to him in the second, giving up five goals on 16 shots.  Volume, volume, volume.

In the end… It did not taste quite as good as pelting the Flyers last night, but this win was more consequential.  The Islanders are actually a pretty good team.  And, the win propelled the Capitals into second place in the Metropolitan Division by themselves, six points behind division leader Pittsburgh.  Getting goals from five players and points from nine speaks to balance, even with the three-point nights from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Now the Caps get a chance to close a successful home stand when they host Minnesota on Thursday.  The already have as many wins on this three-game home stand as they managed in their five-game home stand in mid-October.  That speaks to progress made by the club.  The trick now is to keep it going now that their captain is back.