Sunday, March 01, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 64: Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 0

When you find a team that is struggling, that is playing out the string, that is, well…bad, you get on them early, stand on their throats, and don’t let them up.  The Washington Capitals did that in sending the Toronto Maple Leafs to their second straight 4-0 defeat on Sunday evening at Verizon Center.

It started just 33 seconds into the game when Alex Ovechkin took a nifty set pass from Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Toronto blue line, backed off defenseman Korbinian Holzer, cut to the middle, and snapped the puck through goalie James Reimer’s pads for the early 1-0 lead.

That would be it for the first period scoring, but Ovechkin made it 2-0 early in the second.  With the Caps applying heavy pressure in the Toronto zone, an attempted clearing pass by Leo Komarov made it only to the blue line where John Carlson gathered it up.  Carlson slid the puck to Brooks Orpik on the right point, and Orpik fired a shot at the Leafs’ net.  Reimer left a rebound in the slot that Backstrom could not control, but Ovechkin circled behind him and backhanded the loose puck past Reimer’s right pad to make it 2-0 just 5:30 into the second period.

The Caps scored twice in the third period, the first coming on a power play.  An Ovechkin one-timer was stopped by Reimer, but no Maple Leaf bothered to clear the rebound.  Troy Brouwer jumped on the puck and slid it across to Marcus Johansson at the top of the crease to Reimer’s left.  Dion Phaneuf failed to control Johansson’s stick, and Johansson was able to redirect the puck past Reimer to make it 3-0.

Joel Ward closed out the scoring with 4:53 left and the Leafs’ net empty when he took a pass from Eric Fehr just outside the Caps’ blue line and flipped it the length of the ice into the open cage for the final margin, the Caps winning by that 4-0 score.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist, his 11th multi-goal game of the season (tops in the league) and his fifth three-point game of the season (tied for sixth in the league).  The three points left him with 65 points, tied for the top spot in the league with John Tavares, Jakub Voracek, and teammate Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin is technically the leader by virtue of his having the most goals of the four.

-- Holtby’s shoutout was his seventh of the season, breaking a logjam for second place with Carey Price, Ryan Miller, and Devan Dubnyk.  Holtby is one behind Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead.

-- Iron figured prominently in this game.  Ovechkin hit the upright and the crossbar on a shot that might have given him a hat trick.  James van Riemsdyk and Richard Panik both hit iron for Toronto when the game was still in doubt.

-- Tim Gleason played well in his debut for the Caps.  In 18-plus minutes he had two shot attempts (one on goal), three hits, a takeaway, and a blocked shot early that took a bite out of his left arm but was an important play at the moment.

-- Ovechkin had six shots on goal…yawn.  Jay Beagle had six shots on goal…say, WHAT?!

-- Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward each getting their 15th goal of the season makes it six Capitals with 15 or more goals this season.  No team has more 15-goal scorers (Nashville and Ottawa both have six as well).

-- The Caps were not entirely buttoned-up on defense, especially on the defense.  Ten of the 16 giveaways charged to the Caps were by defensemen and goalie Braden Holtby.

-- Toronto is 0-for-2015 in road games.  With the loss they are 0-14-2 for the new calendar year and have not won a road game since beating the Boston Bruins in a trick shot competition, 4-3, on New Year’s Eve.

-- Ovechkin’s goal at the 33 second of the first period was the quickest goal scored by the Caps from the start of a game this season.

-- Another odd Ovechkin fact for this game... two even strength shots on goal, two goals…four power play shots on goal, no goals.

In the end…

Toronto was just what the Caps needed, a team that has the look of one that cannot wait until the season is over.  And it is important to note that the Caps, while not playing a perfect game, took advantage of Toronto’s vulnerable position.  Tim Gleason slid right into the third pair with Mike Green, who (along with other Caps defensemen) freely jumped into the play time and again.  It is the start of a portion of the schedule that the Caps can, and frankly need, to take advantage of in their pursuit of a playoff spot.  Columbus, Minnesota, and Buffalo are all opponents that the Caps can dispatch before they host the Rangers in ten days.  But like they say, you have to take them one at a time.  This one was a good one for the good guys.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

You hope it does not happen, and for the Washington Capitals it had not happened since Week 4 – a pointless week.  As in Week 4, the Caps went 0-3-0 in Week 21.  It is not as if the result put the Caps in imminent threat of being overtaken in the standings, but they did see their points lead over eighth-place Boston shrink from seven to five points from Week 20 and, more important their lead over ninth-place Florida shrink from 11 to nine points. 

Record: 0-3-0

The week was spent entirely in the Metropolitan Division.  Going into it one might have thought – might have expected, in fact -- that the “3” would be wins, or at least include wins and extra time losses.  Philadelphia was fighting an uphill battle to become relevant in the playoff race, the Caps had won three straight against Pittsburgh and outscored them in the process by a 10-1 margin, and Carolina was long gone as a post season contender.  Instead, the Caps gave up the first goal in all three games, trailed at the first intermission in two (tied in the other), and lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time in almost four months.

Offense:  1.67/game (season: 2.87/game; rank: 8th)

Offense?  What offense?  Five goals in 180 minutes of hockey for the week, no player recording more than one goal, only one player recording more than two points.  What was most surprising was the utter lack of contributions from the guys who are counted on to make contributions.  Among Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, one point was posted – a late power play goal by Ovechkin in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Penguins in the middle game of the week.  The other goals were scored by grinders Tom Wilson, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer; and John Carlson got the fifth one.  Carlson led the team in points for the week with three (1-2-3); Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera getting a pair of assists apiece.  Part of the problem was getting shots to the net.  The Caps managed only 75 shots on goal for the week while 96 attempts failed to find their way there. 

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 2.46/game; rank: 9th)

It was not that the three opponents for the Caps in Week 21 pummeled them with shot attempts (though there was some of that at even stength) as much as it was shots finding their way to the net and to the back of it.  Over the three games, the shot attempts overall favored opponents by a 173-171 margin.  However, the shots on goal favored opponents by a 92-75 margin.  When opponents shot to a 10.9 percent rate and the Caps to just a 6.7 percent rate, the week’s fate was sealed.

As far as possession was concerned, the opponents had it, the Caps did not.  The Caps were consistent about it, too, and not in a good way.  Washington’s Corsi-for percentage overall at 5-on-5 against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Carolina was 47.0, 47.0, and 47.4, respectively, making for a 47.1 percent week.  Fenwick for was worse – 46.5, 46.8, and 45.5, respectively.  Close score situations were worse still – 41.7 percent Corsi-for percentage and 42.2 percent Fenwick-for (all numbers from  It was not a good week.

Goaltending: 3.14 / .901 (season: 2.39 / .916 / 6 shutouts)

Braden Holtby was the goalie of record for Week 21, and chances are he’d like the record expunged.  He dug himself an early hole against the Flyers to open the week, allowing two power play goals on 11 shots in the first 21:34.  He allowed three goals on 12 shots in 23:16 to open the game against Pittsburgh.  He allowed two goals on 13 shots in the first 30:15 against Carolina.  His overall performance against Carolina probably deserved better – he stopped 35 of 37 shots and kept the Caps in the game in the last half of the contest until he was pulled with more than three minutes left.  Still, a 21-for-25 save record in the first period of games (.840 save percentage) made things difficult for the Caps and for himself in Week 21.  There has to be some concern at this point about his workload.  Holtby leads the league in goalie minutes played (3,169), more than 500 more than he played last year in what was his career high season (2,656).  With 19 games left to play, it is not hard to think he will get another 900 minutes (15 games), pushing him past the 4,000 minute mark.  Think on this.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, there have been 37 seasons of 4,000 or more minutes by goaltenders.  Only one – Jonathan Quick’s 4,099 minute season in 2011-2012 – ended in a Stanley Cup.  Only one – Quick’s – ended in a Stanley Cup final.

Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

Not the best of weeks for the power play, despite twice enjoying five or more in a game.  Against the Flyers and Penguins the Caps had a total of 11 power plays, scoring just one goal.  It was a far cry from the last time the Caps had 11 power plays in consecutive games, in Week 20 it turns out, when the Caps went 5-for-11 against the Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets.  It is hard to be successful on the power play if no shots are on goal.  Against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Caps managed only eight shots on goal in 19:02 of power play ice time and allowed a shorthanded goal to the Penguins.  To end the week the Caps managed just a single power play against Carolina, the least penalized team in the league (169 minors in 60 games before facing the Caps).  Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson managed the only shots on the lone power play, so it was not all that surprising that the Caps came up empty.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12 / 75.0 percent (season: 81.1 percent; rank: 17th)

It was not much of a week for the penalty killers, either, especially early – in the week and in games.   Philadelphia scored two power play goals in the first 21:34 of the first game of the week to put the Caps in a 2-0 hole out of which the Caps could not climb.  Pittsburgh scored a power play goal 3:16 into the second period of the middle game of the week to put the Caps down a pair of goals after the Caps regained a measure of momentum with a last-minute first period goal.  Other than that, the penalty kill was not that bad, which is small (to the point of being microscopic) consolation.  The Caps allowed 19 shots in 19:38 of penalty killing time, that minutes number being key.  The Caps spent 10:32 killing penalties against Pittsburgh, all in a second period in which Washington took seven minor penalties, six of which resulted in power plays for the Penguins.  The Caps shutout the Hurricanes in the last game of the week on four shots over two power plays, but the week’s damage to the penalty kill had been done.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 4-6 / minus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 14th)

It was not an altogether bad week at even strength, but it was bad where it should not have been.  The Caps won the even-strength goal battle against Philadelphia (2-1) to open the week, but those two power play goals and the hole they left proved too deep.  And, it was a late third period even strength goal that was the difference for the Flyers.  Washington held the Penguins even at even-strength in their 4-3 loss, but it was a third period even strength goal that provided insurance for the Penguins (the Caps later scored a power play goal) in the 4-3 Penguins win.  Against Carolina, a team that entered their game with the Caps ranked 27th in the league in 5-on-5 goals ratio, outscored the Caps by a 3-0 margin at evens.  At even strength, the Caps had a poor sense of timing in Week 21.


If there was one area in which the Caps did well in Week 21, it was taking faceoffs.  They won all three zones for the week and finished with a 55.1 percent success rate overall.  Six Caps took at least ten draws, and all of them finished over 50 percent: Troy Brouwer (60.9 percent), Jay Beagle (57.1), Nicklas Backstrom (56.7), Evgeny Kuznetsov (56.0), Michael Latta (53.8), and Eric Fehr (52.5).  Backstrom’s week was of particular note in one respect.  Only six players having taken more draws than Backstrom (1,238 draws) have a better winning percentage for the season than his 53.9 percent: Mikko Koivu (55.3 percent on 1,398 draws), Ryan Kesler (55.7 percent on 1,279 draws), Claude Giroux (55.9 percent on 1,509 draws), Antoine Vermette (56.0 percent on 1,381 draws), Jonathan Toews (56.2 percent on 1,325 draws) and Patrice Bergeron (59.8 percent on 1,395 draws).

Goals by Period:

It was the first periods of games that did the Caps in for Week 21.  They were outscored by a 4-1 margin overall, failed to score first in any of the three games, and trailed at the first intermission in all three games.  The third period was not much better.  Washington failed to score in the third period against Philadelphia and Carolina, and while they managed two goals against Pittsburgh, neither of them tied the game; they merely brought the Caps to within a goal.  It was the goal allowed between those two goals that gave the Penguins their margin of victory.

In the end…

On the one hand, weeks like this will happen over a season that lasts six months.  On the other, this is poor timing for the Caps, who after Week 20 were challenging for the Metropolitan Division lead.  Now, with an oh-fer week, there is the faint sound of hoof beats behind them from teams trying to gallop back into the post-season discussion.  A lot of things broke down in Week 21 – scoring from the scorers, goaltending, discipline, timely saves and goals.  And still, the Caps had two one-goal losses in the three-loss week.  In a perverse sense, it suggests that the Caps remain a pretty good team. 

Then again, being a pretty good team is no guarantee of making the post-season.  The upcoming week is one in which the Caps can make hay while the sun shines (so to speak, this being winter still).  Toronto, Columbus, and Buffalo are weak teams and/or teams looking forward to next season.  Minnesota is a team hanging by a thread in the playoff race in the West, but the Wild is not a team that should be thought of as superior to the Caps.  We will see whether Week 21 was a speed bump on the road to the post-season or evidence of deeper problems that threaten their arrival at their post-season destination.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (1-2-3, 8 SOG)
  • Second Star: Eric Fehr (two assists, 52.5 percent faceoff wins, plus-1 for the week)
  • Third Star: Jason Chimera (two assists, one punch decision over Zac Rinaldo in fight against the Flyers, 7 shot attempts against Carolina)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 64: Maple Leafs at Capitals, March 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center Sunday night to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle of teams on opposite sides of the playoff divide.  Caps fans will be hoping the the team can return to winning ways after suffering first streak of three consecutive losses in regulation and winless week in almost four months. 

The three losses the Caps bring into this game came against Metropolitan Division opponents in each case. There are two things that the Caps need to address off the top.  One is surrendering first period goals. In their three straight losses they were outscored, 4-1, in the first periods of games and trailed at the first intermission in each one.  The second thing is special teams.  Washington was just 1-for-12 (8.3 percen t) on the power play and allowed a shorthanded goal in their three losses, and they were an equally poor 9-for-12 killing penalties (75.0 percent).

Part of the problem is that the big names did not play big in the three losses.  Alex Ovechkin had one power play goal in three games (his only point), Nicklas Backstrom went all three games without a point, as did defenseman Mike Green, and goalie Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 25 shots (.840 save percentage) in the first period of the three games.  Having no Caps with more than one goal for the week, and having Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera leading the forwards with two assists apiece was not a recipe for wins.

While the Caps had to deal with the unusual circumstance of a losing streak, such occurrences have become far too regular for the Maple Leafs.  Toronto had a six-game winning streak in December that left them 19-9-3 and only two points out of the Atlantic Division lead. Since then, the Leafs are 6-23-2 with losing streaks of 11, five, three (twice), and two games.  They will come to Washington having lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-0, breaking their first winning “streak” – two games – since that six-game streak in December.

As befits a team having long dropped out of playoff contention, Toronto has been moving assets – Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh for Zach Sill and two draft picks; Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for Olli Jokinen, a prospect forward, and a draft pick; David Clarkson to Columbus for Nathan Horton. 

For Toronto the future certainly is not “now.”  And for Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak – the top three scorers for the Leafs – the future might not be in Toronto.  All three have been linked to trade rumors of one sort or another, Bozak to Edmonton, van Riemsdyk generally (although the thinking is he could be a part of the rebuild), Kessel to…well, perhaps lots of places

None of the three have had a big month of February, as one might expect with the weight of potential trades pressing on their shoulders.  Kessel has two goals in 11 games this month and is a minus-7.  Van Riemsdyk has one goal for the month and is minus-6.  Bozak has had the best scoring month of the three – 3-3-6 – but he carries a minus-8 along with that scoring line for February.

If you look at the players who departed in trade, Daniel Winnik, David Clarkson, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson combined for 34 of the 167 goals scored by the Leafs this season, more than 20 percent of the total.  One wonders where the scoring will be made up.  Chances are it will not.  The new guys – Jokinen and Sill – have combined for one point in seven man-games.  Which brings us to Nazem Kadri.  He has been the focus of trade stories as well, but at age 24 and the number four scorer on the team (15-19-34) he might be considered part of the rebuild going forward as well.  He has only two goals for the month, but being “even” in plus-minus over 11 games for the month almost qualifies him for Selke consideration for this team.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  The Maple Leafs are a team that gets behind the eight-ball early.  Only four teams have scored first fewer times in games than Toronto (27), no team has allowed more first period goals than the Leafs (63), and no team has trailed in more games after the first period than the Maple Leafs (27).

2.  One thing about the Leafs, they do not play games close.  No team has played more games to decisions of three or more goals than Toronto, who takes a 15-15 record in such games into their contest with the Capitals.  Here is the odd part about that statistic, though.  While the Maple Leafs have a three-or-more goal decision in roughly one game out of every two (30 times in 62 games), they have had only three such decisions in their last 15 games (1-2-0, both losses on the road in New Jersey and Montreal).

3.  Odd stat…with David Clarkson now in Columbus, only one Leaf has more than one fight this season.  Dion Phaneuf has five bouts.

4.  If there is a shorthanded goal to be scored in this game it would not be a surprise.  No team has had more combined shorties for and against than Toronto (16).   Only three teams have more shorthanded goals scored than the Maple Leafs (7), and no team has allowed more shorthanded goals (9).

5.  As one might expect, the Leafs are a team that struggles with possession.  They are 27th in the league in 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (46.3) and 27th in Fenwick-for percentage (46.4).  They are barely better, from a ranking standpoint, in close score situations – 26th in both Corsi-for percentage (46.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.6; numbers from

1.  About those shorthanded goals.  No team has participated in games with fewer shorties than the Caps (5) – three goals scored and two allowed.

2.  Even with the four first period goals allowed in the three games the Caps lost coming into this game, they have the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the first period this season (42).

3.  Only three teams have committed more minor penalties than the Caps this season (242) – Columbus (243), Pittsburgh (270), and Winnipeg (303).

4.  No team in the league has taken a lead into the third period more times this season than the Caps (30).  Only Tampa Bay has more wins in those situations (27) than the Caps (26), and Washington has lost just one game in regulation when leading after two periods.

5.  The three-game losing streak for the Caps has been a possession nightmare.  Even accounting for the small population size of events, the Corsi-for (47.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.2) at 5-on-5 was poor.  It was worse in close score situations, a Corsi-for percentage of 41.7 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 42.2 (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer

Playing goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like trying to turn back a tsunami with a bath sponge.  The combined save percentage of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer is a not-awful .912, but their combined goals against average of 2.87 is not conducive to winning many games.  Even if their combined save percentage was .924 (the save percentage of Washington’s Braden Holtby), their combined goals against average would be 2.47 (Holtby’s is 2.20).  Bernier took the call in each of the last three games for the Leafs, including last night’s 4-0 loss to Montreal.  It suggests that Reimer will tend goal for Toronto against the Caps.  The trouble there is that he has struggled.  “Struggle” might be too weak a term.  In his last 14 appearances Reimer is 1-10-0 (three no decisions), 3.06, .903.  Take out the no-decisions, all of them in relief of Bernier and all of them perfect in save percentage, his save percentage in full games over that stretch is .896.  Reimer is 2-3-1, 2.62, .922 in six career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Tim Gleason

When the Caps swapped defensemen with Carolina – Jack Hillen (and a draft pick) for Tim Gleason – the Caps upgraded their “sturdy” quotient on the blue line.  Despite playing in just 55 games with the Hurricanes he led the team’s defensemen in hits (133) and is in the top-25 in the league (23rd).  This is the second straight season that Gleason has been traded in-season.  On New Year’s Day 2014 the Hurricanes traded Gleason to Toronto for defenseman John-Michael Liles and a prospect (he re-signed with Carolina as a free agent before this season).  What the Caps will not get in the trade is offense, although perhaps strangely Gleason does have a goal this season (Hillen did not with the Caps in 35 games).  Since scoring a career high five goals in 2009-2010, Gleason has a total of five goals in 317 games over five seasons.  He is 0-3-3, plus-6, in 11 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

You would think this would be an easy one for the Capitals to win.  The Leafs can’t string together wins, they are selling off pieces, they give up a ton of shots, they have been a poor possession team when whole.  Then you remember that the Caps allowed a season-high six goals to Toronto back on November 29th.  Washington is 23-11-6 since that loss, including a 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs on January 7th (a team high in goals scored this season for the Caps), but that loss in November serves as a reminder that any team, even one as wounded as the Leafs, can be dangerous.  And if that isn’t enough, the Caps have been in a rut over the past week that needs to be addressed.  The imminent trading deadline of 3 p.m. on Monday is a distraction, but that is part of being a pro – dealing with distractions.  This game might have its annoying moments, but it should be one in which the Caps return to winning ways.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 2