Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- The Winter Classic: Blackhawks at Capitals, January 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Winter Classic has arrived.  After spending six New Year’s Days in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Ann Arbor, the crown jewel of the NHL regular season schedule is finally in the most powerful city in the world.

The Washington Capitals will host the Chicago Blackhawks sometime on New Year’s Day at Nationals Park (the state of sun glare perhaps delaying the start) in what will be the second appearance for each team in the Classic.  The Blackhawks, who hosted the 2009 game at Wrigley Field, dropped a 6-4 decision to the Detroit Red Wings, while the Capitals, winners of a 3-1 decision in Pittsburgh in 2011, will be looking to become the first team to win two Classics.

It will not be an easy task for the home team.  Chicago currently holds the second best record in the league (25-10-2).  And, the Blackhawks might be on the most sustained run of success in the league.  Since they dropped a second consecutive game – a 1-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on November 2nd to fall to 6-5-1 – Chicago is 19-5-1 and has not lost consecutive games in that span.

Not that there aren’t cracks starting to show in the Blackhawk armor, though.  They are 5-2-1 in their last eight games after rolling off an eight-game winning streak.  Part of the unsteadiness has been a product of goaltender Corey Crawford’s unsteadiness.  He suffered a foot injury when he took a misstep as he was leaving a concert. He missed eight games as a result, and his four appearances since returning to the lineup have not been sharp.  In those four appearances he is 2-1-1, 3.22, .887, and he was pulled after allowing three goals on 13 shots in 15:30 of a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg on December 23rd.

Another factor that might have influenced the Blackhawks’ comparatively inconsistent record of late was the tragic passing of 34-year old assistant equipment manager Clint Reif on December 21st, a loss that was keenly felt by the Blackhawk community

Since the Christmas break the Hawks have won both games played, a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche and a 5-4 Gimmick win over the Nashville Predators.  It suggests a return to the sort of high-powered offense that has Chicago third in the league in scoring per game (3.03).  In each of their last four wins they have scored at least four goals, while in their two losses over that span they scored two (against Columbus) and one goal (against Winnipeg).  At the moment, this is a team that does it (or doesn’t) with offense.

The Capitals finished a solid December with an 8-2-3 record.  It was a solid month in some ways, but they were fortunate in others.  The Caps outscored opponents by a 40-28 margin (3.08-2.15).   It was even better at even strength, where the Caps doubled up on opponents, 34-17.  That’s the good part, especially the even-strength production.  Underneath, though, it is not quite as solid. 

As far as the production numbers go, the special teams haven’t had a great month.  The PDO number overall (103.38; shooting plus save percentages) was very good, but as for the sustainability of it, it was fueled by an overall opponent shooting percentage of 7.1 percent.  That speaks to the fine month that Braden Holtby had (8-2-3, 2.13, .929, 2 shutouts).  The power play was just 6-for-43 (14.0 percent), and the penalty killers were no better: 36-for-46 (78.3 percent).  The special teams index of 92.2 (power play plus penalty killing percentages) was disappointing.

Drilling down even further, the Caps had a rather mediocre month in terms of their possession numbers.  At 5-on-5 they had a cumulative Corsi-for percentage of 50.41 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 48.44.  They were slightly better in 5-on-5 tied situations (Corsi-for: 51.83; Fenwick-for: 50.35), but not what one might call dominating. 

Which brings us to the players.  Ten skaters who participated in the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh are likely to be in the lineup on New Year’s Day at Nationals Park (with their performances):
  • Alex Ovechkin (0-0-0, minus-1; six shots on goal)
  • Eric Fehr (2-0-2, plus-2; 3 SOG)
  • Nicklas Backstrom (0-1-1, minus-1; 3 SOG; 10-for-16 on faceoffs)
  • Brooks Laich (0-0-0, even, 2 PIMs; 2 SOG)
  • Jason Chimera (0-2-2, plus-2, 2 SOG)
  • Karl Alzner (0-0-0, even; 24:25 in ice time)
  • Mike Green (0-1-1, even, 2 PIMs; five hits)
  • John Carlson (0-0-0, even; 26:28 in ice time (led club))
  • Jay Beagle (0-0-0, even; four hits)
  • Marcus Johansson (0-1-1, plus-2; 6-for-12 on draws)

You look at that lineup and the performances from the 2011 Classic, and you start to think that while the marquee players – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green – will get the attention, it could be a game for the supporting cast.  The ice will not likely be as bad at Nats Park as it was in Pittsburgh, where it might have been more the consistency of a sno-cone in a persistent rain, giving an edge to the grinders, but still, sometimes it is the player you do not suspect who will shine, as Eric Fehr did in scoring two goals in the Caps’ 3-1 in Pittsburgh in 2011.

Who might that be coming into this game?  Jay Beagle comes to mind.  Beagle had a fine December (3-3-6, plus-5, in 13 games while getting as many as 15 minutes of ice time only once).  He was quiet in the only meeting with the Blackhawks this season (no points, one blocked shot attempt in 13 minutes), but that was the eighth straight game he had without a point to start the season.  Since then he is 5-5-10, plus-2, in 23 games.  Not bad for a fourth liner.

What you do not expect is for rookies to make a big impression in this game, at least based on the Caps’ experience.  Not that the Caps had a lot of rookies on that 2011 club – Carlson, Johansson, and Beagle.  Those three players combined for one assist, and the forwards (Johansson and Beagle) each skated only 13 minutes.  It argues against players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov or Andre Burakovsky standing out. 

What you might look for is a veteran stepping up.  Think of Mike Knuble scoring that greasy power play goal to tie the 2011 contest.  Not only was Knuble a player with a fair amount of mileage, he was one quite familiar to the Penguins after several seasons skating for the Philadelphia Flyers.   Perhaps Troy Brouwer, a player who skated for the Blackhawks for parts of five seasons and 238 games, plus an additional 43 post-season games with Chicago, will step up.  Brouwer has had an uneven December, starting the month without a point in three games, then going 4-0-4 over a five-game stretch, before ending the month with just one assist in his last five games.

1.  Only six Blackhawks who played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field are likely to dress for the 2015 game: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg, and Patrick Kane.  As a group they accounted for two of the four goals scored in their 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings (Keith, Versteeg) and combined for four assists (Seabrook, Sharp, Toews, and Versteeg).

2.  Patrick Kane comes into this game hot enough to melt the ice.  He is 6-8-14, plus-4, over his last nine games, with two game-winning goals and two three point games.

3.  Jonathan Toews is not quite as hot as Kane, but he is not far off, either.  Over his last seven games he is 2-6-8, plus-4, with three multi-point games.  He has not gone more than two consecutive games without a point this season.

4.  The Blackhawks have already dressed ten defensemen this season.  Nine of them have points.  Only Tim Erixon has failed to get his name on the score sheet in five games played.

5.  If shots matter in a game like this, the Blackhawks are sitting in a good position.  They lead the league in shot differential per game (+6.6).

1.  Troy Brouwer played in that 2009 Winter Classic for the Blackhawks, recording one hit and going minus-1 in just under 12 minutes of ice time.

2.  The Caps have lost 13 one-goal games this season, six in regulation and seven in extra time.  Only four teams have lost more: Colorado (14), Ottawa (15), Edmonton (14), and Carolina (15).

3.  Only Montreal has a better winning percentage (1.000/15-0-0) than the Caps when scoring first (.850/17-1-2).  Then again, no team has a worse winning percentage (.063/1-10-5) when scored upon first.  If you’re not keen on standing in the stands on a cold day for the duration, this might be a fact to remember.

4.  The Caps have allowed seven power play chances in two of their last three games.  They haven’t allowed seven or more chances over a three-game span since they allowed seven and eight chances (to Tampa Bay and Toronto, respectively) in a three-game span over Games 45-47 of the 2009-2010 season.

5.  The Caps have 11 players with power play goals this season.  All of last season they had 11 players record power play goals.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Corey Crawford

None of the goalies who will dress for this game were even in the NHL when the Blackhawks hosted the Red Wings in the 2009 Winter Classic.  That includes Corey Crawford, who played a total of seven games over the 2005-2006 and 2007-2008 seasons, but who spent the entire 2008-2009 season with the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL.  As we noted, he has not been especially sharp in his return from the injury suffered in his concert adventure, and he has a rather grisly career record against the Caps (2-2-1, 3.62, .875 in five career appearances).  Something to watch early – the volume of shots the Caps throw at Crawford.  He has faced more than 30 shots only four times in 22 appearances this season.  He has done well against high shot volumes (.924 save percwntage), but he has faced more than 30 shots only once since November 14th, and in that one he allowed four goals on 40 shots to Nashville in a 5-4 Gimmick win this past Monday.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

If the Caps are going to rain shots down on Corey Crawford, chances are that the largest number of them will come from Alex Ovechkin.  He has been like a Gatling gun lately, although he has comparatively little to show for it.  Since he started a ten-game run of five or more shots per game with two goals on seven shots in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 9th, he has only three goals on 60 shots (5.0 percent shooting).  Even with that two-goal game against Tampa Bay, Ovechkin has only five goals on 79 shots in his last 14 games (6.3 percent).  If there is something to the notion of big players playing big on the big stage, perhaps Ovechkin breaks out of his accuracy slump to start the new year.  He is 6-3-9, minus-2, in nine career games against Chicago.

In the end…

Here is a disturbing number hanging over this game: 5.  The visiting team has won five of six Winter Classics.  The Philadelphia Flyers were the only home team to win, a 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins in 2010.  And, four of the six games have ended in one-goal decisions, three of them in extra time, another set of circumstances that does not seem to favor the Caps, given their record this season in one-goal games. Yeah, well…I got your numbers right here.

Capitals 5 – Blackhawks 3

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A ONE-point night -- Game 36: Islanders 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up the 2014 portion of their 2014-2015 season last night by storming back from a 3-0 third period deficit to tie the New York Islanders before falling in overtime, 4-3, in their final game before their New Year’s Day meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Winter Classic.

The Caps fell behind, 3-0, allowing goals in three different situations – an even strength goal by Anders Lee in the ninth minute of the first period, a power play goal by Lubomir Visnovsky mid-way through the second period, and a shorthanded goal by Calvin de Haan less than two minutes into the third period.

Washington started their comeback three minutes after the Islanders’ third goal when Eric Fehr won a faceoff against John Tavares in the offensive zone to the right of goalie Jaroslav Halak.  Jack Hillen collected the puck and skated down the left wing wall, throwing the puck to the Islanders net where Brooks Laich and Fehr were converging.  Laich managed to take a swat at the puck, Halak making the initial save.  However, Fehr was left alone at the top of the crease, and he batted the rebound past Halak to make it 3-1 at the 4:40 mark.

The Caps crawled within a goal less than two minutes later.  De Haan tried to keep the puck under control outside the Caps’ blue line but lost the battle to Alex Ovechkin.  Skating up the right side, the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic tried to sweep the puck off Ovechkin’s stick, but all he got was air.  It created an opening in the middle that Nicklas Backstrom filled, and Ovechkin hit him in stride with a pass.  Backstrom broke in alone on Halak and snapped the puck over Halak’s glove to make it 3-2 with 6:29 gone in the period.

Washington tied the game late in the period starting with another faceoff win.  Backstrom beat Casey Cizikas on the draw to Halak’s right, pulling the puck back to Ovechkin.  From the top of the left wing circle, Ovechkin took a step to his right and fired a wrist shot that beat Halak to the long side with just 2:41 left in regulation.

In overtime, with Evgeny Kuznetsov off on a double minor penalty for high-sticking, Johnny Boychuk took a feed from Ryan Strome and with the extra space afforded him by the 4-on-3 situation, took a slap shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby to end the contest 2:53 into the extra session, the Islanders coming out on top, 4-3.

Other stuff…

-- The loss made the Caps 8-1-3 in their 12-game march through the Eastern Conference to end 2014.  The three losses in extra time left them with seven losses in overtime and the Gimmick, tied for most in the Metropolitan Division.

-- The shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps was their first such goal allowed this season, and they became the last team in the league to have played a game with a shorthanded goal scored for or against.  They remain one of four teams not to have scored a shorthanded goal this season.

-- The Caps allowed two power play goals, including the game-winner.  It was the third time in six games that Washington allowed two power play goals.  It was the second time in three games that the Caps allowed seven power plays (seven against the Rangers on December 23rd).

-- The Caps allowed 39 shots on goal, the second time in four games that they allowed that many by the opposition (December 22nd vs. Ottawa).

-- Perhaps it is worth noting that after Brooks Orpik went down with a knee injury, the Islanders out-shot the Caps, 11-2, over the remainder of the contest.  They out-attempted the Caps, 16-4.  Of course, the Islanders also had 5:57 in power play time over that last 10:13 of regulation and overtime, too.

-- The 8-1-3 run to close 2014 is the best 12-game in-season record for the Caps (19 standings points) since they closed the abbreviated 2012-2013 season with a 10-1-1 record (21 points).

-- With six shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin has registered five or more shots in ten consecutive games (67 shots). Just those 67 shots in ten games would rank him in a tie for 157th among 777 skaters having dressed this season in the NHL.

-- Every Capitals skater was credited with at least on hit except Jason Chimera, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

-- The official scorer had an eye for theft.  He or she credited the two clubs with a total of 42 takeaways (18 by the Caps).

-- Allowing the game-winning goal on overtime puts the Caps in some rare air in which they would rather not find themselves.  Only Edmonton (five) and Colorado (six) have allowed more overtime goals than the Caps (four).

In the end…

It would have been nice to end the year on a higher note, given what the Caps accomplished this month.  Still, looking at the long view, an 8-1-3 record in 12 consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents is something to build upon in the new year.  Attention now turns to the hoopla that is the Winter Classic, but let’s not forget that this is a game that counts in the standings, and the Caps are only one point ahead of the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division (the Rangers hold two games in hand), while the Boston Bruins (two points back) and the pesky Florida Panthers (three points back) lurk close by for a wild card spot.  There is no resting on laurels in the NHL, no matter how good a month you might have had.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Capitals at Islanders, December 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end the 2014 portion of their 2014-2015 schedule on Monday night when they visit the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.  This will be the 200th all-time regular season meeting of the clubs, a series that the Caps lead, 98-84 with 13 ties and four extra time losses.

The Caps and Islanders have split two games so far this season, New York winning the front half of a home-and-home series, 3-2, in overtime on November 26th on Long Island.  The Caps got even with a 5-2 win on home ice on November 28th.  The overtime win by the Islanders was typical of their season so far.  New York has won more extra time games overall (nine) than any team in the league and is tied for the league lead in wins via the Gimmick (six).  It is a team that has had very good fortune playing on thin margins.  While there are 18 teams than have played as many or more one-goal games as the Islanders (18), only Anaheim has more wins (17 in 23 games) than the Islanders (15 in 18 games).

Of late, the Islanders have been on a see-saw with respect to wins and losses.  Since losing to the Caps, 5-2, on November 28th, New York won three straight, then lost three straight, followed that up with a four-game winning streak, and now find themselves losers of their last two games as they prepare to face the Caps.

With two games left on their December schedule, the Islanders face the Caps with a 6-4-1 record for the month.  John Tavares leads the Isles in goal scoring for the month (five) and comes into this game with three goals in his last three games.  Tavares has been a very consistent player this season, not having gone more than two games without a point so far.  He has two four-game point streaks this season and is looking for his third such streak when he faces Washington on Monday.  He is 10-7-17, plus-1, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

Kyle Okposo leads the Islanders in points for the month (3-7-10).  He, too, is coming into the game against the Caps on a three-game points streak (1-3-4), and he has three multi-point games in his last nine contests.  Despite the points production of late, Okposo has had a odd season of sorts.  With 119 shots on goal in 35 games, he is tied for ninth in the league and is on a pace to finish with his highest career shot total (279).  However, with only eight goals on those 119 shots he is on a pace to finish with his second lowest shooting percentage (6.7 percent) in his eight-year career.  He is 7-7-14, plus-6, in 20 career games against Washington.

Brock Nelson got off to a fast start with six goals and 12 points in his first nine games this season.  Since that hot start he is 8-7-15 in 23 games.  Nelson is, however, second on the team in goals for December (four) and has already matched his career high in goals (14) set in his rookie year last season.  He is 0-2-2 in five career games against the Caps.

Here is how the two clubs compare overall…

1.  Those 15 one-goal wins are the reason that the Islanders have the best winning percentage in one-goal games this season (.833).  In decisions not settled by one goal, the Islanders are rather ordinary (8-9).

2.  The Gimmick has been kind to the Islanders so far, almost obscenely so.  New York is 6-1 in the freestyle competition and have done it largely by converting their scoring chances.  They have 12 goals in 24 shots, tied for the top shooting percentage in the league.  The 12 goals scored is second only to the Florida Panthers.

3.  Part of the reason the Islanders have been successful in extra time is that they have allowed themselves to be forced into the extra session.  Only five teams have allowed more third period goals than the Isles (38), and they have a third period goal differential of minus-9 for the season.

4.  Only four teams have scored more goals at 5-on-5 than the Islanders (72), and only two teams have more shorthanded goals scored than the five that New York has posted. 

5.  Three times this season the Islanders have lost a game after taking a 3-0 lead.  All three instances have occurred this month.  They lost to St. Louis, 6-4, on December 6th after taking a 3-0 first period lead.  They lost to Minnesota, 5-4, on December 9th, after taking another 3-0 first period lead.  Finally, they lost to Buffalo, 4-3 in a Gimmick last Saturday after taking a 3-0 lead into the third period.

1.  Only the New York Rangers have earned more standings points against Metropolitan Division teams (23) than the Caps (20).

2.  The Caps enjoyed 14 power play opportunities in three games last week.  It is the most they have had in any three-game stretch this season and the most they had in any three-game stretch since they had 16 opportunities over the March 1-5 period last season.

3.  Where one-goal games have been a source of success for the Islanders this season, they have been less of one for the Caps.  Washington is tied for 22nd in winning percentage in one-goal decisions this season (.400/8-6-6).  In decisions of more than one goal, the Caps are 10-5.

4.  All goals count, so we will not make too much of the fact that the Caps are tied for fourth in the league in empty net goals scored (five).  For the record, the scorers are: Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, and Brooks Laich.

5.  Washington, Pittsburgh, and Calgary are the only teams with five players with ten or more goals scored.  Marcus Johansson joined the club to make it five for the Caps when he scored against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Jaroslav Halak

Number one Islander goaltender Jaroslav Halak last saw action on December 20th, stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He missed the Islanders’ last two games, however, with a lower-body injury (groin).  He practiced with the team on Sunday and seems likely to return to the net for the Isles on Monday night  They could use him.  Since going 3-4-0, 3.44, .891 in his first seven appearances, he is 15-2-0, 1.78, .932, with three shutouts in his last 17 appearances.  And that includes a two-game hiccup in which he lost consecutive games to the St. Louis Blues after winning 11 straight decisions.  He is working on a four-game winning streak as the Caps come to town. He is 5-4-0, 2.65, .897 in nine career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Although Matt Niskanen was signed to a big contract in free agency by the Caps last summer, it was always unlikely that he would match the point total he put together for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season (10-36-46, plus-33 in 81 games).  He was not going to get the featured ice time, either at even strength or on the power play, with fellow right-handed shots John Carlson and Mike Green on the roster.  Still, Niskanen is without a point in his last six games and has just a goal and an assist in his last 13 contests.  In those six straight games without a point he has just five shots on goal.  He is not expected to be a heavy-duty scorer from the blue line, but if he can jump up a notch in production it would add a dimension that would make the Caps that much more difficult to play.  He has never scored a goal against the Islanders, but he does have ten assists in 17 career games.

In the end…

In the Caps’ 8-1-2 run through the Eastern Conference to end the calendar year they have outscored opponents by a 34-20 margin and have a special teams index over 100 (101.5, power play plus penalty killing percentages).  They are 3-0-2 in one-goal decisions, 5-1 in games decided by more than one goal.  Twice they won games in regulation when scoring just two goals, an issue with the club last season.  Braden Holtby has two shutouts in his last four games.  This is a team that is playing well and being rewarded for it.  On the other hand, the Islanders have a very nice record, but one wonders if the underlying numbers – a dependence on one-goal wins and extra-time success – is sustainable over a full season.  The “X” factor here is Jaroslav Halak, who has been arguably the best goaltender in the league since November 1st.  If he is suffering any lingering effects from his groin injury, it could make it a long night for the Islanders.  Even if he is healthy, he will be facing a team that has been good on a consistent basis for the better part of a month.  It suggests that the Caps will spoon-feed the hosts a helping of reality to end 2014.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 12

Santa Claus was good to the Washington Capitals, filling their stockings with their fourth straight winning week and leaving them three points with a game in hand ahead of the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  And even with a split in two road games, the Caps finished Week 12 with the conference’s best road record.  Overall, it was a fine week.

Record: 2-1-0

For the Washington Capitals in Week 12, the theme might be “slow and steady wins the race.”  The Caps recorded their fourth consecutive winning week, taking two of three contests.  It was the Caps’ fifth winning week in their last six, and they have not had a losing week since Week 6.  In the six weeks since the Caps are 11-4-3, a 114-point pace over what amounts to about one-quarter of a full season.  Better still, since losing to Vancouver in the first game of December to fall to 10-10-4, the Caps are 8-1-2 over their last 11 games, all of them against Eastern Conference opponents. 

Now, here’s the bad part.  Despite that 11-game run, the Caps have not budged in the Metropolitan Division standings – fourth then, fourth now – and they have climbed only two spots in the conference standings, from tenth to eighth.  They have, however, cut the deficit between themselves and first place in the East almost in half, from 12 points on December 1st to seven points after Week 12.

Offense: 2.33 /game (season: 2.89 /game; rank: 8th)

It was a balanced sort of week for the Caps.  Six players shared in the seven goals, Eric Fehr getting two against the Pittsburgh Penguins to end the week.  Twelve Capitals shared in the points, with three players – Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson – each recording three points.  If there was an odd aspect to the offense, it was Alex Ovechkin’s week.  Ovechkin recorded one point for the week, a goal in the 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  The light total was not for lack of effort, though.  Ovechkin was credited with 37 shot attempts in the three games – 21 shots on goal, ten shots that were blocked, and six misses.  He accounted for 20.3 percent of all shot attempts for the week.

Ovechkin’s contributions were a large part of the Caps averaging 29.7 shots per game for the week and increasing shot totals over the three games (23, 32, 34).  It was the percentage that was lacking.  The Caps shot to a 7.9 percent mark for the week, compared to 9.6 percent overall for the season.  Of course, there was Ovechkin at 4.8 percent for the week while the rest of the club was shooting at 8.8 percent.

Defense: 1.67 /game (season: 2.49 /game; rank: 11th)

One of the things that the Caps have improved significantly from last season to this has been the shots on goal allowed.  Coming into Week 12 the Caps were on a five-game streak of allowing opponents fewer than 30 shots (average: 25.4).  That streak came to an abrupt end in the first game of the week when they Caps allowed the Ottawa Senators to pepper the Caps’ net with 39 shots in a 2-1 Caps win.  After allowing only 27 shots on goal in a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the middle game of the week, the Caps allowed the Penguins 31 shots on Saturday in a 3-0 Caps win.

Possession-wise, it was a good week, nevertheless.  Overall, the Caps finished the week with a Corsi-for percentage of 55.7 in even strength situations (  They were even better in tie-game situations, sporting a Corsi-for percentage of 60.5 percent, although there were only 71 events on which to draw for that number, 56 of them taking place in the game against Ottawa. Even in the loss to the Rangers, the Caps “played” well enough to win with a 60.7 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (all score situations) and a plus-19.

Of the five goals allowed for the week, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were on ice for four of them.  Among them included a deflection off a body part, a 5-on-4 power play goal against, and a 5-on-3 power play goal against, all against the Rangers.  When the Caps allowed a hat trick to the Rangers’ Rick Nash (one of the goals being the “body part” goal) it was the first time this season the Caps allowed an opponent a hat trick.

Goaltending: 1.69 GAA / .948 SV / 1 shutout (season: 2.43 / .912 / 3 SO)

Braden Holtby played in every minute for the Caps in Week 12, including the back-to-back games against Ottawa and New York to start the week.  The four goals on 27 shots against the Rangers might have been predictable, given Holtby’s history in the second half of back-to-back games.  Even including that game against the Rangers, Holtby had a sterling week in an important respect.  He stopped 55 of 58 even strength shots, a .948 save percentage.  And, even though he allowed two power play goals in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers, Holtby stopped 32 of 34 power play shots against (including six of seven shots in 5-on-3 situations), a .941 save percentage. 

Holtby has been a rock over almost two months now.  Since allowing four goals in three consecutive games in late October and early November, he is 13-5-3, 2.05, .930, with two shutouts in his last 21 appearances.  Only seven times in those 21 appearances has he allowed more than two goals, and only once has he allowed more than two even strength goals.  Whatever goalie coach Mitch Korn is selling, Braden Holtby is buying.

Power Play: 2-for-14 / 14.3 percent (season: 23.8 percent; rank: 5th) 

It was not a particularly strong week on the power play for the Capitals in Week 12, and this has become something of a trend.  With a 14.3 percent power play for the week, it made it four straight weeks that the Caps finished the week below 20 percent (6-for-39/15.4 percent).  Why was Week 12 underwhelming?  Part of it was the efficiency.  The Caps managed 18 shots in 21:08 of power play time.  Not that they didn’t get shots from those who they want taking the shots, although it might have been too much in one respect.  Alex Ovechkin recorded 11 of the 18 shots on goal, scoring once.  He was 0-for-6 in the 3-0 win over the Penguins to end the week.

It was a disappointing week in another, more general sense.  The 14 power play opportunities in three games were the most the Caps enjoyed in any week this season to date.  The five opportunities against the Rangers and the Penguins was the first time this season that the Caps had five or more opportunities in consecutive games.  Opportunity knocked, but the Caps couldn't find the front door.

Penalty Killing: 12-for-14 / 85.7 percent (season: 78.2 percent; rank: 24th)

The penalty killers might have had a pretty good week, killing off more than 85 percent of the shorthanded situations.  It was not the actual penalty killing that was the problem.  It was the lack of discipline that led to the situations, specifically the game against the Rangers that the Caps lost.  The Caps faced seven shorthanded situations against the Rangers in the 4-2 loss.  At least the Caps got their minutes worth in the nature of the fouls – cross-checking, boarding, slashing, a high-sticking double minor among them. 

Then there was the matter of a rule change; Rule 76.4 to be precise, which states: “Both players facing-off are prohibited from batting the puck with their hand in an attempt to win the face-off. Any attempt by either center to win the face-off by batting the puck with their hand shall result in a minor penalty. This penalty shall be announced as ‘Minor Penalty for Delay of Game – Face-off Violation’…”  Jason Chimera was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.  Before we heap more on Chimera, let’s step back and remember that he is not a center and averages a little more than one faceoff taken per game.  This wrinkle in the rules might not have been foremost in his mind as he leaned in to take that draw.

As for the actual penalty killing, you could say Braden Holtby was the best penalty killer because he had to be.  In 22:13 of shorthanded ice time the Caps allowed 34 shots on goal, more than 1.5 shots per minute.  Against the Ottawa Senators to open the week it was 13 shots in just six minutes of power play time.  At week’s end, Holtby had faced the third highest shot volume in shorthanded situations (133).  Given that he is 14th in shorthanded save percentage (.880) among 33 goalies appearing in at least 15 games, those shot volumes might be something to address.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 5-3 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 15th)

Three games, three even strength goals against.  That is a pretty good recipe for success, especially since the Caps came into Week 12 having allowed 1.84 5-on-5 goals per game.  The Caps have been reasonably consistent in this regard, having allowed more than two even strength goals only twice in their last 18 games, over which they are 11-4-3.

As for the even strength goals scored, it was a strange mix of scorers.  Eric Fehr had a pair in the 3-0 win over Pittsburgh with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jay Beagle scoring the others.  For Beagle, who scored the first goal in the Caps’ 2-1 win over Ottawa to start the week, it was his fifth goal of the season, a new career high and his third in nine games.  It might not be surprising that Alex Ovechkin finished the week with the most even strength shots on goal (10), but Joel Ward (8) and John Carlson (7) being next in line might raise an eyebrow. 

Faceoffs: 91-for-174 / 52.2 percent (season: 50.8 percent; rank: 11th)

It was a good week in the circle for the Caps, with one glaring exception.  In three games the Caps won the zone battle in eight of nine instances.  They were three-for-three in the neutral zone and three-for-three in the defensive zone.  They were even two-for-three in the offensive zone, but oh, that one game in which they lost in the offensive zone. 

Washington was 5-for-21 in offensive zone draws in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the middle game of the week.  Nicklas Backstrom was 1-for-6 in offensive zone draws against New York in what was otherwise a pretty good week (59.3 percent wins overall).  The surprise for the week, though, might have been Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was credited with 17 wins on 27 faceoffs (63.0 percent), not bad for a player who entered the week with a winning percentage of only 42.2 percent.

At the other end, it was a tough week for Eric Fehr, who was 36.7 percent overall and only 25.0 percent combined in the offensive and defensive zones.

Goals by Period:

The Caps fought to a draw in the first periods (one goal for, one against) and second periods (two and two) in games in Week 12 but won the third periods of games (four and two) for the difference in the week.  The Caps scored two against the Rangers in the middle game of the week to make things interesting in closing to within a goal before falling, 4-2, then scored two third period goals less than five minutes apart against the Penguins to break open a close game and provide some insurance in a 3-0 win.

The third period positive margin for the week allowed the Caps to establish positive goal differentials for the season in all three regulation periods: plus-4 in the first period, plus-9 in the second period, and plus-1 in the third period.

In the end…

With their fourth consecutive winning week in Week 12, the Caps are now on a 98-point pace for the season that should be, if sustained, enough to reach the post season.  If those playoffs started today, their first round opponent would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team the Caps defeated in convincing fashion to end the week.

The question now becomes one of how sustainable their 8-1-2 run through the Eastern Conference in December can be.  The Caps have one more visit to an Eastern Conference opponent – the New York Islanders on Monday – before the Winter Classic game on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks.  After that, the calendar starts to look a bit better for the Caps in terms of strength of schedule.  The Caps have given notice of the level of play they can reach and sustain over an extended period.  But there is still more than half the season remaining, much more work to be done.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 1.69, .948, 1 shutout, first career win over the Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Second Star: Eric Fehr (2-0-2, game-winning goal against the Penguins, his seventh and eighth career goals against Pittsburgh, second most against any opponent)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (0-3-3, plus-1; tied for third among league defensemen in scoring (second in even strength points); tied for seventh in plus-minus)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 34: Capitals at Rangers, December 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh of a brief stop at home after a three-game road trip, head back on the road in the last contest before the Christmas break.  The Caps will head to New York, where they hope to leave the Rangers with a stocking full of coal or, failing that, beating them to get some separation over them in the Metropolitan Division standings.

The Rangers come into this contest on a roll, but it might be something less than it seems.  Winners of six straight coming into this game, the Rangers started their good fortune with an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.  After that, however, the competition was a bit underwhelming.  They beat a Vancouver team for the Canucks’ fourth straight loss in a streak that would reach five games. Then the Rangers beat Edmonton, Calgary, and Carolina twice in a home-and-home set.  None of those teams seem likely to compete for playoff spots in the second half of the season.  Nevertheless, the Caps are just two points ahead of the Rangers, a team that holds two games in hand over Washington.

In their six-game winning streak, 11 different players shared in the 19 goals scored, Rick Nash and J.T. Miller leading the club with three apiece.  Seventeen different players recorded points in the six-game streak, including goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who notched an assist on a Derek Stepan goal in the Rangers’ 5-2 win over Calgary on December 16th.

Nash is tied for the team lead in points over the six-game winning streak (3-3-6).  With 33 points in 31 games to date, Nash is on a pace to finish the season averaging more than a point per game for the first time since he had 79 points in 78 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-2009.  His 20 goals puts him on a pace to finish with a career high – 53 goals – that would shatter his high-water mark of 41 goals in 2003-2004 with Columbus.  Nash is 9-8-17 in 15 career games against Washington.

Mats Zuccarello is the other Ranger with six points in the winning streak (2-4-6).  It follows a dry stretch in which he had only two points in nine games in which the Rangers were stumbling at 4-4-1.  Zuccarello, who established a career high in goals last season with 19, is on roughly the same pace so far this season, his six goals in 29 games working out to a 17-goal pace.  He is 0-1-1 in six career games against the Caps.

Ryan McDonagh managed only six assists without a goal in his first 20 games this season, a start that was interrupted by an 11-game absence with a shoulder injury.  In the Rangers’ six-game winning streak he has scored his first two goals of the season and tacked on a pair of assists for good measure.  He is back to logging big minutes, though.  Since returning from his injury on November 28th he has not played less than 21 minutes in any game and has topped 25 minutes twice in ten contests.  McDonagh is 1-7-8 in 13 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Is Martin St. Louis starting to slow down?  With 23 points in 31 games, St. Louis is on a pace for 61 points.  It would be his lowest point total for a full season since he finished with 61 points in 80 games in 2005-2006.  Although he has ten goals this season, the only other Ranger in double digits, he does not have one in his last seven games.

2.  The Rangers will be the second straight opponent that the Caps will find difficult to score on in the first period.  The Rangers are tied with Ottawa (who the Caps defeated, 2-1, on Monday) for allowing the third fewest first period goals this season (21), behind Nashville (20) and St. Louis (19).

3.  The Rangers have played 31 games, and nine of them ended in shutouts.  They have eight of them, while having been shutout once themselves.

4.  Only two teams have taken fewer minor penalties than the Rangers (102) – Nashville (98) and Carolina (97).

5.  Once upon a time, the Rangers were known as a shot-blocking machine.  Not so much these days.  They rank 24th overall in blocked shots (434).

1.  Washington has the second-best ratio of takeaways to giveaways on the road in the league (1.21:1).  Only Toronto is better (1.28:1).

2.  After scoring twice in the second period against Ottawa on Monday night, there are only three teams having scored more second period goals than the Caps (37) – Dallas (40), Anaheim (40), and Toronto (43).

3.  Only Edmonton has won fewer games (none) when trailing after the first period than the Caps (1).

4.  With 157 shots on goal in 33 games, Alex Ovechkin is on a pace for 390 shots, which would be his highest season total since setting a career high 528 shots in 2008-2009.

5.  On the Caps’ 7-0-2 run they have a 2-0-2 record in one-goal games, but they remain stuck in 22nd place in winning percentage in one-goal games for the season (.400/8-6-6).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Henrik Lundqvist

One is not accustomed to seeing Henrik Lundqvist in 20th place among goaltenders in goals against average (2.46) or 28th in save percentage (.912).  Both would be career worsts for Lundqvist if sustained over the entire season.  Seven times in 23 full games this season he had a save percentage under .900.  He has been better lately, though.  In his last seven appearances he is 6-1-0, 2.11, .914, with one shutout.  As he closes in on 600 games played (this will be his 599th if he gets the call) and at 32 years of age, is it a blip, or a sign of a slowdown?  He is 16-8-3, 2.55, .908, with four shutouts in 27 career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer is not counted on to be a scorer on the order of an Alex Ovechkin, but he is expected to contribute the secondary scoring that makes clubs successful.  And that makes his recent play a bit odd.  He has four goals in his last seven games, two of them in his last four games.  In those last four games, though, he has only four shots on goal and was held without a shot on goal against Ottawa on Monday night.  It was the second time in five games he did not record a shot on goal.  The second line already has shooting issues in the person of Marcus Johansson.  One hopes it is not contagious.  Brouwer is 2-1-3, minus-1, in 13 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

Now the schedule ramps up in terms of quality of competition.  The Caps get the Rangers, Penguins, and islanders to close the 2014 portion of the season, all on the road.  The Caps have the best road record in the Eastern Conference (standings points earned), so if there is a time to face these three teams on the road in succession, now is the time.  In the Rangers the Caps will be facing a decent team on their own rink, but hardly a great one (10-5-3, seventh in the East in home standings points earned.  It should make for an interesting game, but we know how this ends.

Capitals 4 – Rangers 3

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 33: Senators at Capitals, December 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals begin Christmas week by returning home to Verizon Center after a three-game road trip on which they went 2-0-1.  The Ottawa Senators come to town to provide the competition in what will be the Capitals’ ninth consecutive game against an Eastern Conference opponent.

The Senators come to Verizon Center takinga meandering path through their schedule.  After a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) coming out of the Thanksgiving break, the Senators are 4-2-1 in their last seven games.  It is a stretch in which they found it in themselves to beat the Bruins in Boston, 3-2 in a Gimmick on December 13th, but also had it in them to lose to the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4 in another trick shot competition.

Leading the Senators in scoring over their recent 4-2-1 run is Mike Zibanejad with four goals and four assists.  He has two multi-point games in those seven contests, including a four-point (2-2-4) game in Ottawa’s 4-3 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks on December 7th.  The eight points in seven games almost doubles Zibanejad’s total for the season (9-8-17).  He is 2-1-3 in seven career games against the Caps.

Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan are right behind Zibanejad in scoring, both with seven points.  Each has done in an unexpected way.  Turris, who is tied for the team lead in assists, has three goals to contribute to his seven points, giving him seven goals on the season.  Ryan, who has four 30-goal seasons on his resume, has five assists among his seven points in the last seven games.  Together they comprise two of the three 20-point players on the Ottawa roster.

Erik Karlsson is the third 20-point player, and his 1-3-4 scoring line in the last seven games leads the team among defensemen.  Karlsson is off his scoring pace of his previous two full seasons (78 points in 2011-2012 and 74 points last season), scoring at a 57-point pace (7-16-23 in 33 games), but he is still sixth among league defensemen in scoring.  He is 2-12-14 in 15 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  Ottawa has been difficult to score against in the first periods of games this season.  With 21 goals allowed, only two teams – Nashville (20) and St. Louis (19) – have allowed fewer.

2.  It is probably a good thing that the Senators are as difficult to score on in the first period as they are.  Ottawa has the worst record in the league when scoring first (7-7-5) and are tied for the third worst winning percentage when leading after the first period (.444/4-3-2).

3.  The Caps have had trouble getting power play opportunities on the road.  Not so the Senators.  Ottawa has had the third highest number of man advantages on the road this season (62), behind only Chicago (66) and Anaheim (70).

4.  On the other hand, Ottawa has endured the second highest number of shorthanded situations on the road this season (69), behind only the New Jersey Devils (84).

5.  Either the folks in Ottawa are tough scorers, or the Senators are an ornery road team.  Only Anaheim has been credited with more hits on the road (518) than the Senators (512).

1.  In the Caps’ recent 6-0-2 run they have outscored opponents by a 27-15 margin.

2.  Special teams are not especially special in the 6-0-2 stretch, but they have been alright.  The power play is 4-fo-r24 (16.7 percent), while the penalty killers are 18-for-21 (85.7 percent), for a special teams index of 102.4.

3.  Braden Holtby has played every minute of the last eight games, going 6-0-2, 1.84, .934, and one shutout.

4.  The Caps have four ten-goal scorers on the roster – Alex Ovechkin (15), Nicklas Backstrom (10), Joel Ward (10), and Troy Brouwer (10).  They are one of four teams tied for the league lead in ten-goal scorers (Anaheim, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay).

5.  Last season the Caps had only 16 of 35 skaters finish “even” or better on the plus-minus scale.  So far this season it is 17 of 22 skaters.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson, the Senators’ nominal number one goaltender, has some pretty good overall numbers so far this season, a 2.43 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.  He did, however, stumble over a ten-game stretch over the 30 days from November 11th through December 11th (2-6-2, 3.28, .904).  He seems to be righting himself, winning his last two decisions over New Jersey and Anaheim, allowing only two goals on 68 shots and shutting out the Devils.  Robin Lehner got the most recent start for the Senators, a 4-1 loss to Montreal, so Anderson would appear to be the go-to guy here.  He is 11-5-1, 2.29, .928 with two shutouts against Washington in his career.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

With the way he started the season, one might have thought Marcus Johansson would be among those ten-goal scorers for the Caps.  As it is, though, he has nine, none in his last ten games and only one in his last 17 contests after potting eight in his first 15 games.  His shooting, the frequency of which has been an issue in his career, has once more dried up.  In those first 15 games he recorded 37 shots on goal and was held without a shot on goal only twice.  In his last 17 games he has 24 shots on goal and has been held without one eight times.  Getting the second line going means, in large part, getting Johansson going, or at least more closely resembling the player of the first 15 games.  He is 2-2-4, minus-2 in 13 career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

This will be the first of a back-to-back set of games for the Caps to start the week (they face the Rangers in New York tomorrow night).  In five previous back-to-backs this season the Caps have won the opening game three times and have, in fact, alternated wins and losses in those first games.  Their most recent opening game in a back-to-back was a win, a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on November 28th.  Given the pattern, that does not bode well for the Caps in this game, but when on a streak, bet the streak.

Capitals 3 – Senators 2

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

Week 11 made it three winning weeks in a row for the Washington Capitals.  The 2-0-1 record for the week gave the Capitals a 6-0-2 record over their last eight games, the 14 standings points in eight games being their best eight-game stretch since they won eight straight games from April 2 -16, 2013.  It was a very good week.

Record: 2-0-1

Not only did the Caps gain standings points in each of the three games for the week, they did it entirely on the road.  They are now 5-0-1 in their last six road games dating back to a 6-2 loss in Toronto on November 29th, and their ten road wins for the season are tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference (with the New York Islanders).  Their 10-5-2 road record is the best in the Conference in standings points earned.

“Uh, cuz?”

Well, if it isn’t Cheerless…it’s been a while.  You have something to say?

“Yeah…the Caps are six games over .500 for the first time this season, in Game 32.  Last year they reached six games over .500 in Game 33 (18-12-3) by winning their fourth game in five contests.  It’s not as if we haven’t seen this before.”

Offense:  3.33/game (season: 2.94/game; rank: 8th)

It was a good week in the offensive end, especially given that two of the three teams the Caps played were division rivals looking to jump up in the standings at the Caps’ expense.  Eight players shared in the ten goals scored for the week, two apiece from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.  There were 13 players sharing in the points overall, Backstrom going 1-2-3 against the Devils in the last game of the week to give him four points and the team lead in Week 11. What was noteworthy were the multi-point games.  Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and Michael Latta all recorded their first multi-point games of the season in the 5-4 overtime win over Columbus.  For Latta it was his first career multi-point game. Jay Beagle recorded his first multi-point game of the season (two assists) in the 4-0 win over New Jersey to end the week.

“Hey, are you forgetting something, cuz?”

We were getting to that, Cheerless.  What the Caps could not do this week was solve Roberto Lunogo at even strength.  In the Caps’ 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Florida Panthers to start the week, Washington managed only a power play goal (Brouwer) before heading to the trick shot competition.  And a historic on it was.  Twenty rounds, a league record.  The Caps doubled their shootout goal total for the season (from five to ten).  And still, they came up one short, having gone through the entire roster and around again (Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin had two bites of the apple, Ovechkin getting the only goal on four shots).  If there were highlights (and there were), they would include Brooks Orpik scoring on his first career shootout attempt in 733 career games.  John Carlson scored on his first shot attempt in 346 career games.  Joel Ward scored his first career shootout goal.  It was a historic night.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.56/game; rank: 13th)

Caps fans would have to like the week the defense had overall.  Washington allowed only 128 shot attempts for the week, and the progression from start to finish was: 51-41-36.  Only twice in nine regulation periods did the Caps allow more than ten shots on goal.  Granted, the three opponents the Caps faced are bottom-third teams in scoring offense, but this still had to be the way you would draw it up.  This might have been the best part; the Caps showed they could play a grinding game and come out well.  In all three games the Caps and their opponents combined for Corsi events per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 below 100.0 (numbers from  For the season, there are only two teams averaging fewer than 100 combined events at 5-on-5: New Jersey (98.1) and Detroit (98.0).

Goaltending: 1.62 GAA / .934 SV / 1 shutout (season: 2.49 / .908 / 2 SO)

Once more, Braden Holtby got every minute of goaltending time for the week, the three starts he took bringing his consecutive starts streak to nine and his consecutive appearances streak to 15 (he played 20 minutes in relief of Justin Peters in a 6-2 loss to Toronto on November 29th).  Holtby was especially effective in the first period (.947 save percentage) and second period (.941) of games, although he was nicked for two goals on 15 shots against Columbus, the only period for the week in which he allowed as many as two goals.  Both of those goals came on power plays, and…

“cough, cough”

What is it, Cheerless?

“Those two power play goals, cuz.  It was the first time in seven games that he allowed more than one power play goal, but it was the third time in 11 games that he did so after not allowing more than one in his first 15 appearances.”

Still, Holtby continues to climb in the goaltender rankings. He is now 15th in goals against average (2.29) and 19th in save percentage (.917).  Among goaltenders appearing in at least 15 games, Holtby is now 14th in save percentage at even strength. 

“Yeah, and he is 22nd in that same group of goaltenders in save percentage when facing an opponent’s power play.”

You’re on a roll this morning, aren’t you, Cheerless?

“It’s a gift.”

Beat the after-Christmas rush, and return it now.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 25.3 percent; rank: 2nd) 

It was a quiet week for the Caps on the man advantage.  The 12.5 percent conversion rate is the lowest for the club since Week 6 (11.1 percent on 1-for-9) and the second lowest of the season.  It was an efficient power play in one respect, recording 16 shots on goal in 14:49 of power play time.  Alex Ovechkin recorded six of those shots in 13:06 of power play time, but he failed to connect on any of them.  As it was eight players shared the 16 shots on goal, Troy Brouwer the only one to light the lamp on the first of two power play shots on goal for the week.

The Caps scored their power play goal against Florida on just two opportunities, the 15th time this season that the Caps had two or fewer power play opportunities (they are 29th in total opportunities: 91).  The Caps had three opportunities in each of the last two games of the week, the first time this season that the Caps had three or more opportunities in consecutive games without scoring a power play goal.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 77.1 percent; rank: 27th)

This was the third week in the last four in which the Caps allowed two or more power play goals.  They did this despite limiting their three opponents to just 11 shots on goal in 14:51 of power play ice time.  One might use the “bad dream” defense here, that the Caps suffered both goal in a 3:09 span of the second period of their 5-4 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets (it was a bad dream in an otherwise happy ending of a game).

Still, this is not a particularly good trend for the Caps.  Since going a perfect 5-for-5 in penalty killing in Week 7, Washington is just 23-for-34 in the four weeks since (67.6 percent).  The fact that the Caps have a shorthanded save percentage of .825 overall might be a cause for some concern.  So might the fact that the Caps are about to play four more Eastern Conference teams, three of which are in the top half of the league power play rankings. 

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 9-3 / plus-6 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.03; rank: 15th)

The Caps won the even strength goal battle in two games in Week 11, and they won both games.  In those two games they had a whopping 20.9 percent shooting percentage (9-for-43) while holding Columbus and New Jersey to 2-for-37 shooting (5.4 percent).  It was not even that bad against Florida in the game to open the week, the Caps outshot by a 26-21 margin at evens but being outscored by just a 1-0 margin.  In a sense, it was the club’s effectiveness in limiting the Panthers at evens that allowed the Caps to get to extra time and keep the standings points streak going.

Faceoffs: 80-for-170 / 47.1 percent (season: 50.7 percent; rank: 12th)

It was not the best of weeks for the Caps in the circle.  They lost two of three games, and they lost all three zones in Week 11 (offensive: 47.1 percent; defensive: 48.1 percent; neutral: 46.3 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom had an uncharacteristically weak week, so to speak, in the offensive and defensive zones, going 6-for-16 in each (37.5 percent).  On the other hand, Eric Fehr was 14-for-24 in the ends for the week (58.3 percent) on his way to a 53.5 percent week overall. 

With the revolving door at second wing center (Evgeny Kuznetsov is playing there in place of Andre Burakovsky, who is skating for the Hershey Bears for the time being), Troy Brouwer has been getting a lot of chances in the circle (fourth on the team in faceoffs taken).  He was 12-for-19 for the week (63.2 percent), best of all Caps taking more than one faceoff.

Goals by Period:

The Caps won each period overall, and they had a 5-2-2 “record” by regulation period for the week.  That hiccup in the second period against Columbus – the two power play goals allowed – made the week look a bit worse than it was.  The Caps did well enough on a period-by-period basis to climb into a tie for sixth overall in first period goals scored and seventh in second period goals scored.  The best part of this, however, might be the four third period goals scored (one an empty netter).  This has been an issue for the Caps this season, but those four third period goals increased their season output by more than 17 percent (from 23 to 27 goals) and lifted them into 18th place in the league.

In the end…

It is hard to argue with success.  No doubt there are things one might pick at as “problems” (penalty killing) or unsustainable (even strength shooting percentage), but looking at things holistically the Caps are competing on a consistent basis.  They are not allowing the occasional misstep (the second period against Columbus) or the bit of bad luck (Ovechkin’s near goals against New Jersey) put them in a rut.  One might not expect the team to sustain an 8-0-2 run over every ten games they play, but three weeks of success, all of it coming at the expense of Eastern Conference teams, is something on which to build as the calendar year winds down.  Anything to add, Cheerless?

"nope...we're good."

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, plus-2, 20:21/game ice time)
  • Second Star: Mike Green (1-2-3, plus-2, setup game-tying and game-winning goals against Columbus)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-1, 1.62, .934, 1 shutout)