Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 24: Maple Leafs 2 - Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

There are good one-point games, and there are bad one-point games. The Washington Capitals might have seen what was unfolding in their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, victimized once more by a goal scored on a high deflection that went to video review, watched as shot after shot…after shot… was turned away by Leafs goalie James Reimer, and crumbled late.

They did not.  The one goal was all they would allow, and their incessant shelling of the Toronto net paid a dividend late to get the Caps to overtime.  The Maple Leafs won the game in the freestyle competition, 2-1, but all things considered this was not a bad point for the Caps to earn.

The deflection came on a power play mid-way through the second period when David Clarkson set up in front of the Caps net, gave Tyson Strachan a subtle shove to get some separation and get his arms free, then got his stick up to deflect a drive by Jake Gardiner down and past goalie Braden Holtby to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

It almost stood up.  Toronto outshot the Caps, 7-6, after the Clarkson goal to close the second period, but the Caps poured it on in the third period.  Through the first 15 minutes of the period the Caps outshot the Leafs, 15-4, but Reimer was up to the task and turned all 15 away.  Then, with the clock approaching the 16 minute mark of the period, Mike Green took control of the puck at the Capitals’ blue line and started up the right side.  After taking a couple of strides, he lifted a soft dump-in that hit the ice in front of defenseman Dion Phaneuf, but not within a stick’s reach.  The puck stuck like a sand wedge on the 18th green, almost sitting up for Alex Ovechkin to one-time it past Phaneuf, past Reimer, off iron, and in to tie the game.

That would do it for the hockey portion of the evening’s scoring, leaving it to the Gimmick.  In the bonus round Eric Fehr and James van Riemsdyk exchanged goals, which it where things stood until the fourth round.  Joffrey Lupul  scored, Troy Brouwer did not, and the Leafs had the extra point in the standings.

Other stuff…

-- If you are keeping score, the Caps have now gone 215:33 since a player other than Alex Ovechkin recorded a goal.  For the record, that would be John Carlson at the 9:27 mark of the second period in the Caps’ 4-1 win over St. Louis last Sunday.

-- The 50 shots on goal for the Caps was the most in a game for the club since they had 52 in a 4-3 loss to Dallas on March 8, 2010.  Ovechkin had two goals in that game.

-- That is the sixth time in 24 games the Caps have scored fewer than two goals.

-- Ovechkin did not have a shot attempt over the first 25 minutes of the game.  He had 10 attempts (six on goal) in the last 40 minutes.

-- Mikhail Grabovski had two new linemates tonight – Eric Fehr (who hadn’t played since November 2nd) and Troy Brouwer (who had only 17 shots on goal since November 2nd).  Fehr finished with five shots on goal (12 attempts), and Brouwer finished with five shots on goal (seven attempts).  Grabovski had two shots of his own on five attempts and a few dozen stitches, courtesy of David Clarkson’s skate blade to the cheek and nose.

-- If you do the math, the Caps averaged one shot attempt per 38.6 seconds of this game (101 attempts in 65 minutes).  They had as many of their attempts blocked (28) and Toronto had shot on goal (28).  Eleven of the Caps’ 18 skaters had five or more shot attempts, led by Fehr (12) and John Carlson (12).

-- James Reimer got the first star, and he deserved it. He was the first Toronto goalie to face 50 shots in a game since Vesa Toskala faced 52 in a 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey on March 3, 2009.  He is the first Maple Leaf to win a game in which he faced 50 or more shots since Ed Belfour faced 53 shots in a 5-4 win over Boston on October 24, 2005.  But it was not as if Braden Holtby was leftover poutine out there.  His 27 saves on 28 shots was his fifth best effort, save percentage wise (.964), of the season, lifting him into a tie for 14th with Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils at .925 for the season.

-- The other side of the shots ledger was the Caps allowing only 28 shots on goal in 65 minutes.  It was the first time in five games that they held an opponent to less than 30 shots on goal and only the fourth time this season in 24 games.  They are 1-2-1 in those games.

-- There was a fair amount of smack talk going around in the social media over Grabovski’s performance (he did not record a point in his return to Toronto), but in addition to making his new linemates look good in terms of opportunities, he won seven of nine offensive zone draws, too.

-- The Caps went 0-for-3 on the power play.  That leaves them 4-7-1 in games in which they do not score on the man advantage.

-- Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin in the shootout, we get.  Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer?  One had not played in three weeks and had not attempted a trick shot this season, the other had only one shootout attempt (successful).  Oates took his chances and came up 1-for-2, Fehr scoring, Brouwer denied.

In the end, this game probably would look a lot better if the Caps had not lost two games at home before taking the road to Toronto.  Taken on its own merits it is not a bad loss.  They “played” well, dominating possession for long stretches of the game, even if their shooting was not rewarded.  They kept after it, scored late, and earned a point it looked for 55 minutes that they would be frustrated from getting.

Having said that, now the Caps return home for games against Ottawa and Montreal on Thanksgiving week after they get the next three days off from game hockey.  Good will from a hard-earned point in a game like this has a shelf life.  They need to get back to winning these games.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 24: Capitals at Maple Leafs, November 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Less than 24 hours after hosting the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals take to the road to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.  They take their hockey seriously up there.  How do we know this?  Here was the lead story on the Web site of the Toronto Sun on Friday evening…

Then there is the sports cover at the Toronto Star site…

Well, maybe it’s just a Grabovski thing.  No hard feelings and all. 

As for the Leafs, they come into this game in something of a holding pattern as far as wins and losses go.  Toronto is 3-4-1 in November, all of their wins coming on home ice (3-1-0 overall at home this month).  Those four games are interesting for their variety.  They had everything a Leafs fan might want. 

Want a tight checking game?  There was the 2-1 trick shot win over New Jersey.  Want a laugher?  There was the three-goal eruption against the Islanders in the third period for a 5-2 win.  Want a wake-up call?  There was the 3-0 lead the Leafs took into the third period against Buffalo before almost blowing it, finally getting a late goal for a 4-2 win.  And, it you want to have something to complain about (because really, that’s what we sports fans do best), there was the 4-2 loss to Nashville on Thursday.

In those four home games the Leafs managed a dozen goals, three of them by Phil Kessel, almost doubling his home goal total from four to seven (tied for eighth in the league in home goals).  Mason Raymond (2-2-4) and Trevor Smith (1-3-4) lead Toronto in home points in four November home games.

At the other end, Jonathan Bernier got the call in three of the four home games for Toronto this month, and he has delivered for the most part.  He is 2-1-0 in those three appearances, with 93 saves on an even 100 shots faced.  He does have, however, those four goals on 28 shots against Nashville in his last appearance at Air Canada Centre.  James Reimer has but one appearance this month on home ice, a 33-save effort in a 4-2 win over Buffalo.

Here is how the teams break down, numbers-wise…

1.  So…about that whole “possession” thing.  Toronto is 29th among 30 NHL teams in Fenwick-For percent in 5-on-5 close situations (source:  Ditto on Corsi-For percentage.

2.  So… about that PDO thing.  Toronto is fourth in PDO in 5-on-5 close situations.  Bad possession numbers, big PDO.  How long is that going to last? 

3.  Maybe it’s a time thing.  Toronto doesn’t spend much time in 5-on-5 close situations.  Only seven teams have spent less time in that situation than the Leafs through Thursday’s games.

4.  One thing that might be an underrated part of Toronto’s success so far – five of the seven defensemen to have dressed this season have done so for every game.  Compare that to the forwards, only two of whom have dressed for all 22 games and which have seen 21 different players take the ice in those 22 games.

5.  Phil Kessel is number “81,” and he has 81 shots on goal this season.  Yeah, that’s interesting.

1.  Alex Ovechkin leads the league in power play goals (eight).  He is second in the league in even-strength goals (11).  He has one even strength assist for the season.  For the record, it came on October 24th in the third period against Edmonton in a 4-1 win.  He recorded the secondary assist on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom.

2.  The Caps have 32 second period goals this season.  Their combined total in the first period (15) and the third period (18) is 33.

3.  From the “if I told you, would you believe” file, that Jason Chimera has more even-strength assists (eight) than Nicklas Backstrom (seven)?  Backstrom is still sixth in the league in assists per game overall (0.83), nestled right between Evgeni Malkin (0.87) and Sidney Crosby (0.78).

4.  Joel Ward leads the league in shooting percentage (25.0 percent).  Part of it is that Ward is tied for 244th in shots on goal per game.  Small sample, irregular results.

5.  The Caps have an unremarkable scoring defense (2.83 goals per game, 19th in the league), but they have only one player in the top-50 for most goals scored against, on ice.  John Carlson is tied for having the 39th most goals scored against while on ice (25).  You would think the Caps would have a lot of players ranking high in the list of players on ice for goals against.  They do have six, but there are six teams with more such players, including the Chicago Blackhawks (seven). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto:  James van Riemsdyk

When he was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, folks though James van Riemsdyk was the next Flyer power forward in waiting.  In three seasons in south Philadelphia, though, he never seemed to have a breakthrough.  He gave glimpses and teased along the way, but never seemed to put it all together with the Flyers.  After the 2011-2012 season Philadelphia must have thought it was not it was not going to come together and traded van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn.  It seems to have awakened that power forward that was lurking inside van Riemsdyk.  In 68 games with Toronto he has 27 goals, almost as many as he had in his final two seasons in Philadelphia (32 in 118 games).  He has hit a bit of a dry spell lately with only two goals – both in a 4-2 win over Buffalo – in his last eight games. He is 4-4-8, plus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Mike Green

Capital defensemen have taken 217 shots on goal this season and have seven goals to show for it.  That is a 3.2 percent shooting percentage.  Take John Carlson and his five goals on 57 shots (8.8 percent) out of the mix, and it is 2-for-160 – 1.25 percent.  The biggest contributor to that lack of shooting efficiency is Mike Green, who has yet to light the lamp on 52 shots on goal.  That is the most shots on goal without success in the league.  Next in line is Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, who is 0-for-44.  Green is not lacking for opportunities taken; he is 11th among defensemen in shots on goal, despite having missed three games.  If the Caps are going to have any consistency in their results, Green is going to have to breakthrough.


1.  Short memory.  The Caps cannot afford to dwell on a home stand that started well (win over St. Louis) and ended poorly (two losses).  Having a game on the night following a loss should help, but the trick is stopping bad streaks before they become streaks in the first place, and that means getting off to faster starts (or at least keeping opponents from doing the same) in the opening 20 minutes.

2.  Short bursts.  Opponents doing damage in short bursts killed the Caps in their two losses this week.  Pittsburgh scored two goals barely five minutes apart to get first period separation against the Caps in the form of a 2-0 lead, and Montreal scored three in less than five minutes to put the Caps in a deep hole in the first period, 3-0. 

3.  Grab the ring.  When Mikhail Grabovski records a point, the Caps are 8-5-0.  When he does not, they are 4-5-1.  This is the importance of secondary scoring.  Alex Ovechkin is going to get his, but the third, or second, or whatever line you want to call it – Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward – need to do what they’ve been doing.  Grabovski will have incentive, and he will be the object of attention, given his history in Toronto. He and his running mates had a quiet night against Montreal last night – one point (an assist by Grabovski), three shots on goal, five shot attempts.  If he – and they – can make more noise tonight, the Caps should be successful.

In the end…

The Caps have had a difficult time getting good footing in advancing through their schedule.  Over their last 16 games they are 10-7-1, but how they got there is not especially comforting – three wins, two losses, four wins, two losses, three wins, two losses.  The good news is that the Caps have not lost three in a row since dropping games to Dallas, Carolina, and Colorado over the week of October 5-12.  If the Caps lose in regulation, and New Jersey wins in San Jose later in the evening, the Caps would fall out of second place in the Metropolitan Division after they occupied the top spot following their win over St. Louis to open the week.  Let’s not let that happen…

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 3