Monday, December 09, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Lightning at Capitals, December 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Tuesday night to host the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center.  This will be a matchup of two teams with as much history against one another as former Southeast Division rivals could have with one another.  Tampa Bay is one of three teams that the Caps faced in all 14 seasons of the Southeast Division, the Caps compiling a regular season record of 68-30-6-6. 

The Capitals record book is sprinkled with references to the Lightning…
  • Most unanswered goals (9), the last of the four times this was accomplished came against the Lightning on February 3, 1999, a 10-1 win for Washington
  • Largest winning margin (9 goals), the last of the four times accomplished coming in that February 3, 1999 game
  • Most goals in a period (8), yup… in that February 3, 1999 game
  • Most shots in a period (25)…ditto
  • Fastest three goals by an individual (2:06), by Peter Bondra in a 6-3 win over Tampa bay on February 5, 1994
  • Fastest four goals by an individual (4:12), by Peter Bondra in that same 6-3 win over Tampa bay on February 5, 1994
  • Fastest four goals by an individual (24:46), by Peter Bondra in that same 6-3 win over Tampa bay on February 5, 1994

The recent history of the clubs is less kind to the Capitals.  Tampa Bay was the only club in the Southeast that the Caps ever met in the post-season, doing so twice.  Both times the Lightning were victorious, winning in 2003 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on a power play goal by Martin St. Louis in the third overtime, the other in 2011 when the Lightning swept the Caps in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Now these teams are in different divisions, the Caps in the Metropolitan and the Lightning in the Atlantic.  They have similar records – the Caps at 16-12-2, the Lightning at 17-10-2 – but they are going in different directions.  The Caps have won four of their last five games, while the Lightning are 3-5-2 in their last ten.

The striking thing about the Lightning over their past ten games is their wildly uneven offense.  Tampa Bay has only 19 goals scored in those ten games and were shut out three times in the process (twice by 1-0 scores, one of those in overtime).  In their wins, though, they scored a total of 12 goals, a decent offensive output.

This unevenness is largely a product of having lost Steven Stamkos to a broken right tibia against Boston on Veterans Day.  In his stead, the goal scoring has been picked up by winger Martin St. Louis (4-4-8 over the last ten games) and defenseman Victor Hedman (3-3-6).  St. Louis, as any Caps fan knows, has been a thorn in the side of the club for years.  He is 28-48-76, plus-6, in 72 career regular season games against Washington.  Hedman has much less history against the Caps, posting a 1-4-5, minus-3 scoring line in 20 career games against Washington.

Here is how the clubs compare overall through Sunday's games…

1.  Three is the magic number for Tampa Bay.  The Lightning are 16-2-0 in games in which they score at least three goals, 1-8-2 when they do not.

2.  For a team that has been defensively challenged in recent years, they have performed well in this respect.  Only six teams have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Lightning (45).  A big part of that is their first period play.  Through Sunday’s games only three teams have allowed fewer first period goals overall than Tampa Bay (14).

3.  Keeping things close is what the Lightning want to do.  They are 12-4-3 in games decided by two or fewer goals, 5-6 in games decided by three or more goals.

4.  Only Colorado (13) and San Jose (12) have more wins than Tampa Bay (11) when leading after one period.  The Lightning are 11-1-0 in such games.

5.  Whatever Tampa Bay is doing to get to their 17-10-2 record, possession does not seem to be a big part of it.  The Lightning are a rather mediocre possession team, posting a Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations of 50.0 percent (15th in the league), a Corsi-for percentage in those situations of 50.4 percent (12th).  Their performance has not been appreciably worse over their current 3-5-2 slide.  Five games at better than 50 percent Fenwick-for, five worse.  Four games over 50 percent in Corsi-for percentage, six worse.  Perhaps the possession issues are catching up to the Lightning.

1.  The Caps have won four of five games, which matches their best five-game stretch of the season, accomplished twice.

2.  This is the first meeting of the former division rivals this season.  Last season the Caps swept the series after losing the first of the four game series, winning all three games and scoring 14 goals in the process.

3.  Leading at the end of one period is something the Caps need to work on.  Six teams have led at the first intermission less often than the Caps, who have done so seven times in 30 games.  Those teams hardly inspire fear – Winnipeg, Edmonton, Florida, Calgary, the Islanders, and Buffalo.

4.  At the other end, the Caps are one of only three teams in the NHL thus far to have not scored an empty net goal.  Only five teams have fewer empty net goals scored against them than the Caps (2).

5.  Possession progress… Against the Rangers, the Caps set a club high fourth straight game with a Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations above 50 percent.  It might not be a coincidence that the Caps scored 11 even strength goals in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop appears to have taken a firm grip on the number one goaltending role for the Lightning.  He should.  Comparing the intra-club statistics, he has a goals against average that is more than a full goal per game better than backup Anders Lindback (1.98 to 3.10) and a save percentage that is almost 50 points better (.934 to .887).  Bishop is ninth in the league in GAA and tied for sixth in save percentage.  If anything, he has been even better in the Lightning’s 3-5-2 slide.  Bishop is 2-3-1 over that stretch, but he has a goals against average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .948 with one shutout.  Three of his four losses came by shutout by his opposite number, one in overtime.  He allowed only four goals in those three games.  It is a far distance from his career record against the Caps – 0-2-0, 4.41, .884 in three appearances.

Washington: Martin Erat

On November 25th Martin Erat went public with a demand to be traded.  At the time he said, “I want to be traded. We’ll see how it goes.  Since day one, I didn’t get the chance here. I got traded here to be a top-six player but never got the chance, never played more than 15 minutes in here, and it’s time for me to move on.”  Since then, Erat has dressed for four games, and while he has only played more than 15 minutes once (16:31 in the Caps’ 5-2 win over his former team, the Nashville Predators), he has averaged more than 13 minutes a game and has three assists.  His work with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera centering the third line has been solid.  In addition to the three assists, he has been on ice for only two of the nine goals scored against the Caps over those four games.  Against the Lightning he is 1-4-5, even, in nine career games.


1.  Win the fives.  Tampa Bay has an odd record when it comes to special teams.  They are 11-3-0 when allowing opponents four or more power play chances.  The recent run of 5-on-5 success is something the Caps might need to extend here, since getting a bunch of power play chances might not have the benefits one would expect.

2.  More than Marty.  Martin St. Louis has been a thorn in the side of the Caps over his career, but Valtteri Filppula has had a fine start to his career in Tampa.  Signed by the Lightning away from the Detroit Red Wings last summer, Filppula is third on the team in goals and points, tied for second in assists.  He is also tied for the team lead in power play goals.  Marty might get his points, but Filppula can’t and Caps still win.

3.  Second chances.  Ben Bishop is playing at such a high level at the moment it seem inconceivable that first shots are going to do a lot of damage.  The Caps are going to have to get greasy and make Bishop unfold his large frame (6’7”) to make second and, if needed, third stops.

In the end…

The Caps are catching the Lightning at a good time.  Tampa Bay has lost three of four games and seven of their last ten.  On the other hand, the Caps have won four of five.  And, they are doing more of the things they need to do – win at even-strength, get more scoring than just Alex Ovechkin, get defense involved in the play – to sustain a level of performance.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 2

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 30: Capitals 4 - Rangers 1

It took a little while, but the Washington Capitals finally solved Henrik Lundqvist.  The Caps had not scored a goal on the New York Rangers goaltender in 180 minutes coming into tonight’s contest at Madison Square Garden.  Lundqvist tacked on another 20 minutes and change for good measure, but the Caps finally broke through and defeated the Rangers, 4-1.

Lundqvist carried his scoreless minutes streak against the Caps into the second period of this game, but not for too long.  In the third minute of the period a Steve Oleksy drive was deadened in front of the Rangers’ net by defenseman John Moore, but the puck was left loose amid a pile of bodies.  Martin Erat took a swipe at it, and Lundqvist got his left pad on the shot.  But in his effort to make the save Lundqvist was sprawled on his back with the puck lying to his left.  Jason Chimera was first to it and stuffed it into the net just before he was cleaned out by Justin Falk, giving the Caps the 1-0 lead and ending Lundqvist’s shutout streak against the Caps at 202:28.

Scoring seemed to agree with the Caps, because they did it again less than half a minute later.  Jay Beagle won a race to a loose puck in the corner to Lundqvist’s right.  He threw the puck out to the top of the zone where Steve Oleksy was camped.  Oleksy let fly with a harmless looking wrist shot that snaked its way past several bodies and over the left shoulder of Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

Late in the period Derick Brassard carried the puck into the Caps’ end, and after coming to a full stop he left the puck for defenseman Ryan McDonagh.  When McDonagh tried to return the puck to Brassard, the pass was too long, and Brassard could only deflect the puck to Troy Brouwer.  As Brouwer collected the puck, Mikhail Grabovski anticipated the play and broke out between McDonagh and Brassard.  Brouwer led Grabovski perfectly with a lead pass, and Grabovski was in alone on Lundqvist.  McDonagh hooked Grabovski as he was preparing to shoot, and Grabovski’s hindered attempt was turned aside by Lundqvist.  But when play was stopped after continuing for several seconds, a penalty shot was signaled.  Grabovski wasted little time.  He skated in, wound up, and drilled a slap shot from the hash marks that flew high over Lundqvist’s glove and under the crossbar to put the Caps up, 3-0.

The Caps made it 4-0 late in the third period by following up on a narrowly missed chance.  It started when Troy Brouwer rang a shot off the post off a feed from Grabovski at the right wing faceoff dot.  The puck made its way all the way to the Ranger blue line where Nate Schmidt collected it, stepped up and let fly with a shot that beat Lundqvist through his pads.

The Rangers spoiled the shutout barely a minute later when Benoit Pouliot deflected a Michael Del Zotto drive down and past goalie Philipp Grubauer, but it was much too little, much too late for the Blueshirts as the Caps finished things up with a 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Grubauer turned aside 30 of 31 shots to pick up his first NHL win.  He was not called upon to make many difficult saves, but he was solid throughout in a difficult arena in which to play.

-- It was the third consecutive game in which a Capitals defenseman scored a goal, but just as important, it was the fourth straight game in which a Caps defenseman figured in the scoring.  Over their last four games Caps defensemen have five goals and four assists.

-- The Caps managed the Rangers’ shot totals very well.  Even though New York finished with 31 shots on goal, they had only 17 after two periods.  The Caps had that total in the second period alone.

-- In the prognosto we noted one of the keys was to find shooting lanes.  The Caps managed to get 64 percent of their shot attempts on net (36 of 56) and had only nine shots blocked.  There seemed to be periods in which the Rangers would block nine shots in the recent past.

--  Another key was getting on rebounds (even though it was Lundqvist leaving them, not, as we assumed Cam Talbot).  Jason Chimera did, and even Nate Schmidt’s goal was a long rebound of sorts, off a post.

-- Then there was balance.  Once more, it was not just “The Ovie Show.”  Alex Ovechkin was extremely active and dangerous, but he finished with what for him was a comparatively low shot attempt total (six attempts, four on goal).  But four different Caps had goals, and six different Caps had points.  Even Jay Beagle got into the scoring column with an assist.

-- In a nugget that strikes us as a bit odd, and perhaps a scoring fluke, the Caps were credited with 23 hits spread among 16 different skaters.  No Cap finished with more than two, and only Mike Green and John Carlson were hitless.

-- For the fourth time in five games the Caps held an opponent to two or fewer power play opportunities.  The Rangers had two, neither of which bore fruit.  The Caps are 10-for-11 killing penalties over those five games (90.9 percent).

-- This was only the second time in 13 home games that the Rangers allowed more than 30 shots.  They won the other instance, a 5-2 win over Vancouver back on November 30th.

-- This was the tenth time this season that the Caps recorded three goals in a game.  They are 9-1-0 in those games, the only loss coming against Ottawa.  They scored three first period goals in that game but lost, 6-4.

-- The Grabovski-Brouwer-Eric Fehr line was quite active.  They had 11 of the Caps’ 56 shot attempts.

In the end…

The Caps played a nice, tight, efficient game.  They have the ability to do this on a more sustained basis, and they need it on those nights when the top line doesn’t get points.  The added highlight here is the activation of the defense, which has been featured often in the scoring lately.  The Caps also played stand up hockey in their own end, letting Philipp Grubauer get a good look at the shots he faced and denying the Rangers opportunities otherwise.  If not for another video-confirmed goal (someday the Caps will be on the good side of one of those calls), Grubauer would have had a shutout for his first NHL win.  It was a good night all around for the Caps, who have now won both sides of a back-to-back set three times in five tries so far this season.  It made for a nice weekend and a fine start to the week.