Sunday, January 10, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 7 - Senators 1


Years from now, some young hockey player with a great shot and the thirst to score goals is going to be compared to the great goal scorers in NHL history.  Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull.  One more player was added to that goal-scoring standard on Sunday night as Alex Ovechkin recorded his 500th career goal as a Washington Capital in their 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in front of a home crowd that was witness to history.

The goal came at the 16:19 mark of the second period on, what else, a power play and from, where else, the left wing faceoff circle.  When Ovechkin took a feed from Jason Chimera and rifled it into the top of the net, number 500 was also a “first” in some respects.  Ovechkin became the first Capital to score 500 goals with the franchise, and he became the first Russian to reach that milestone.

The game itself was an expression of utter dominance by a team that had played a game the day before.  Justin Williams started the red light festival when he converted a superb no-look, through the legs feed from  Andre Burakovsky to beat goalie Andrew Hammond from right wing faceoff dot to make it 1-0 just 8:07 into the game. 

Less than three minutes later it was 2-0, courtesy of a T.J. Oshie power play goal, the end result of a sharp triangle passing play, Nicklas Backstrom on the right wing wall down to Evgeny Kuznetsov, and out to Oshie in the middle of the 1-3-1.

Ottawa got one back on a turnover by the Caps high in the offensive zone.  Trying to work a high cycle, Williams and Karl Alzner got tangled up with the puck squirting away from them.   Mike Hoffman jumped on the loose puck and headed down the left wing.  With Williams trying to close the distance and take an angle to defend the rush, Hoffman ripped a shot high over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s right shoulder and under the crossbar to make it 2-1 at the 3:32 mark.

Any suspense the Hoffman goal might have provided was snuffed out in short order.  Zach Sill scored his first goal as a Capital less than three minutes later.  Skating down the left side, Sill threw the puck in front as he was circling into the corner.  The puck popped into the air, and when Hammond failed to swat it away as it was falling to the ice, Sill circled out from behind the Senator net and batted it under the crossbar to make it 3-1.

Dmitry Orlov made it 4-1 less than two minutes later, finishing a game of keep-away conducted by the Caps in the Senators’ end.  Working the puck in deep and below the Ottawa goal line,  Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck back up the wall to Nate Schmidt at the right point.  Schmidt fired the puck across to Orlov at the opposite point, and with the Senator defense still on the other side of the rink, Orlov had time to step up and fire a laser that beat Hammond cleanly to make it 4-1 just under eight minutes into the period.

Then came the moment everyone had been anticipating.  Andre Burakovsky manned the spot usually occupied by Backstrom at the right wing wall.  Working the puck slowly down the wall, he fed it to Jason Chimera at the goal line extended to Hammond’s left.  Chimera threaded a pass through the slot that Erik Karlsson got his stick on, but not enough to keep the puck from Ovechkin’s reach.  Ovechkin settled the puck, then snapped it hard at the Ottawa net.  Hammond flung his glove up at the puck, but it was already past him and settling to the ice behind him, and the crowd erupted in what would be a three-minute break to celebrate the milestone.

The rest of the game was an obligatory running off of the clock, the competitive portion of the game having long passed and the historic moment having been witnessed.  However, the Caps being the team they are these days, they tended to business and made things more difficult for the Senators in the third period.  Tom Wilson scored an odd goal, taking a pass from Chimera and backhanding a shot from below the goal line off Hammond and into the net inside the near post. 

Ovechkin got a start on his second 500 goals mid-way through the period when he authored a replay of the overtime game-winner he scored in New York on Saturday, skating down the left wing, powering past Erik Karlsson, and cutting to the middle where he snapped the puck through Hammond’s pads to make it 7-1.  Goalie Philipp Grubauer took them home from there, and the Caps skated off with their most lopsided win of the season.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin became the 43rd player in NHL history to record 500 goals and fifth fastest to reach that milestone.  In what might be a reflection of just how special Ovechkin’s achievement is in a low-scoring era, only two of those 43 players with 500 or more goals are active – Jaromir Jagr (736 going into Sunday’s games) and Jarome Iginla (601).

-- Since Ovechkin came into the league in 2005, the closest pursuer in the goal scoring rankings is Iginla, who has 351 goals.  Since the 2001-2002 season, no player has more goals than Ovechkin.  Ovechkin was 16 years old when the 2001-2002 season started, and he was playing his first season with Moscow Dynamo.  It would be four more seasons before he entered the NHL.

-- The milestone goal was Ovechkin’s 185th career power play goal.  Since he came into the league, no one is close to him in that category.  Thomas Vanek is second with 122.  His second goal of the game was his 312th even strength goal of his career.  Since he came into the league, Iginla is second on the list (238).

-- Ovechkin was a plus-2 for the game.  If anyone is keeping score, that’s plus-21 for the season, third best in the league.

-- If there was one thing missing on the milestone goal, it was that Nicklas Backstrom did not provide an assist.  Never you mind, though.  Backstrom still had three assists in this game.  He is now tied for fifth in the league in helpers (28).  And, in what might be a Backstromesque sort of testimony to how effective he can be while not bringing attention to himself on the ice, he recorded those three assists in a game in which he did not record a shot attempt.

-- Ovechkin took over the league lead in goals with the pair he had tonight (26).  He became the fifth player to record 25 goals in each of his first 11 seasons in the league.  Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, and Bryan Trottier are the others.

-- Jason Chimera recorded his second three-assist game of the season.  The other came in the Caps’ 7-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on November 21st.

-- The six-goal margin of victory was the Caps’ largest since they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0, on November 1, 2013.

-- Nate Schmidt recorded an assist on the Orlov goal, giving him points in four straight games, a career-best points streak.

-- Philipp Grubauer had a solid game in goal, stopping 32 of 33 shots.  Over his last four games he is 3-1-0, 1.43, .954.

In the end…

When the bench emptied to celebrate Alex Ovechkin’s 500th goal (and credit the league with granting permission to do so), one had the feeling that if the fans could climb over the glass to join in, they would have.  It was one of the few unalloyed moments of joy in the history of the franchise.   Whatever else Ovechkin achieves in his career, he has been a trailblazer for this franchise and for his Russian countrymen. 

But no accomplishment in a team sport belongs to the player alone.  Hockey might be the best manifestation of this concept, a sport where it takes 20 guys a night to be successful.  The Caps did score four goals before Ovechkin struck, and they got points from 12 players in addition to Ovechkin for the evening.  They were solid in their own end and exerted oppressive aggression in the offensive zone.  For a lot of his career, Ovechkin provided too many isolated highlights.  On this night, as has been the case so often in what has been a special season so far, his highlight was as bright as any other he has had, but he is able to share that light with a lot of other players who are making their own contributions.  It was a big night for the captain, and for the team as well.


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 13



The number “13” was hardly an unlucky number for the Washington Capitals last week.  Week 13 was the team’s fifth unblemished week of the season, but it had its moments to test the mettle of the club and the blood pressure for the fans.


Record: 3-0-0

After closing Week 12 with the first consecutive losses of the season, the object of Week 13 was to keep from descending into a full-blown slump.  Making it a challenge was the fact that the Caps would try to turn things around on the road against three teams that had solid cases to make for earning a postseason berth.  While the Boston Bruins were a team struggling at home this year (a 9-10-2 home record when they faced the Caps), the two teams representing the boroughs of New York City – the Islanders and Rangers – had very good home records (13-6-2 and 15-5-1, respectively).

The next challenge to completing a successful week was roster-based.  The Caps started the week with three important cogs on the shelf.  Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were still out for the defense, and Jay Beagle was still out to thin the forward ranks.  By the end of the week, the forward ranks were thinned further, thank to actions on the ice and the Department of Player Safety.  Zach Sill and Marcus Johansson were given two-game vacations without pay, Sill sitting for his boarding Boston’s Adam McQuaid in the Caps’ 3-2 win on Tuesday, and Johansson sitting for his illegal check to the head of the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey in the Caps’ 4-1 win on Thursday.

The absences gave others a chance to step up, either into more responsible roles or into the lineup.  The defensive pairs of Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt continued to play at a rung higher than their accustomed positions.  By week’s end Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were the third defensive pairing.  At forward, Andre Burakovsky, who has had an up-and-down year, was skating on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams.  Michael Latta, who would not be assured a sweater on a fully healthy squad, was centering the third line with Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera.  The fourth line had Brooks Laich chaperoning Stanislav Galiev and Paul Carey, neither of whom started the year with the big club and who between them had nine games of action this season before Saturday, all of them by Galiev.


Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.17 /game; rank: 2nd)

A team averaging more than three goals per game this season would be considered a high-powered offense.  Only three teams, including the Caps, could say that at the end of the week.  A team that scores three or more goals in a week’s worth of games has had a pretty good week.  The Caps did just that in their three wins.  And, while they did not do it against elite scoring defenses, they did do it against teams ranked in the middle of the pack in scoring defense (Bruins: 17th at the end of the week; Islanders: 12th; Rangers: 15th) and did it on their rinks.

Eight players shared in the 11 goals for the week, Alex Ovechkin leading the club with three.  Two of Ovechkin’s goals were game winners, including the overtime goal that put away the New York Rangers and left him with 499 career goals to end the week. Nicklas Backstrom was the other Cap with a multi-goal week (2), including the game-tying goal with 5.7 seconds left in the win over the Rangers. 

There were 12 players recording points for the week.  Backstrom added a pair of assist to his two goals to tie for the team lead in points in Week 13 (2-2-4).  Nate Schmidt had a four-point week as well (1-3-4), reaching the double-digit points mark for the season (2-8-10), the fifth Caps defenseman to get there.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.15 /game; rank: 2nd)

After a span in which the Caps were allowing 30 or more shots with disturbing regularity, they have been better in that regard of late.  In week 13 they held the Bruins (27) and the Rangers under that threshold (26).  That made four games in six in which the Caps held opponents under 30 shots.

No single Capital was victimized disproportionately in Week 13 in terms of on-ice goals against.  There were 14 skaters on ice for goals against.  Brooks Laich was on ice for three of them (two against the Rangers when the Caps cobbled together a make shift fourth line), as was Karl Alzner.  There were 10 other skaters on ice for two goals against.

Possession was a mixed bag in Week 13.  Overall, the Caps were at 49.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week (a minus-1 on 267 total shot attempts, for and against).  It was slightly better at a more discrete level.  The Caps were a 51.1 percent in close score situations (plus-3 in 133 attempts, for and against).  The Fenwick numbers were better still – 51.0 at 5-on-5 overall, 53.0 in close score situations (numbers from war-on-ice.com)

Goaltending: 2.00 /.932 / 1 shutout (season: 2.02 / .927 / 2 shutouts)

It was Braden Holtby’s week in goal for the Caps, and it says something about his season to date that it was “average.”  He started the week with a 1.92 goals against average for the season, and he ended it at 1.93.  He started the week with a .932 save percentage, and that is how he ended it.  He was very consistent across the periods for eight regulation periods in Week 13, perfect in the first period (25-for-25), a ,935 save percentage in the second period, and a .958 save percentage in the third period of the first two games of the week.  Then came the third period against the Rangers.  Holtby allowed three goals on seven shots to allow the Rangers to take a 3-2 lead in a game the Caps led, 2-0, going into the last 20 minutes.  He stopped the leaking long enough to allow the Caps to tie the game late, then made a big save on Rick Nash from the low slot just before the game-winning goal in overtime.

In a goaltending footnote, it goes down as a blocked shot, but Nate Schmidt’s “save” on an attempt by Derek Stepan following up the Nash shot in overtime of the Ranger game might have been the save of the week:


Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 25.6 percent; rank: 2nd)

Week 13 was the fourth consecutive week of 25.0 percent on the power play or better.  The Caps are 11-for-35 over that span (31.4 percent), covering 13 games.  It might not have been quite as good a week as a 25 percent week suggests.  Then again, there is a lot to be said for being alert.  The second power play goal of the week was an outright gift served up by the Rangers’ Dan Girardi to Alex Ovechkin:


Other than that, the Caps were 1-for-7 with the lone goal coming on a total of 11 shots in 12 minutes of power play ice time.

Opportunities continue to be an issue for the Caps.  They did not have more than three power plays in any game this week, and they have had more than three only once in their last ten games.  The Caps rank in the lower third in the league in total power play opportunities this season (21st) with 125.


Penalty Killing: 8-for-9 / 88.9 percent (season: 85.0 percent; rank: 5th)

The Caps had another good week on the penalty kill in Week 13.  Finishing the week with almost 90 percent efficiency and holding teams to nine opportunities qualifies.  The Caps have not finished under 80 percent for a week since Week 7.  In the six weeks since, they are 51-for-59 (86.4 percent).  In this most recent week.

For Week 13 the Caps allowed one goal to the Bruins to open the week, part of a week in which they allowed that single goal on 16 shots in 15:27 of shorthanded ice time.  It was, if not a sparkling week on the penalty kill, a solid one.


Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 6-5 / plus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.41; rank: 1st)

The Caps continued their overall consistency at 5-on-5 in Week 13.  It would have been better had the Caps not been outscored at fives by a 3-1 margin in the overtime win over the Rangers to end the week (the last “even strength” goal by the Caps was scored with the Caps’ net empty and a sixth attacker on the ice).

The Rangers game was, in fact, just the second time in the Caps’ last ten games in which they were outscored at 5-on-5, the Caps compiling a 24-15 advantage (1.60:1 goals-for/goals-against ratio).  The Caps have not been outscored at fives in consecutive games since Games 26-27 in early December (both minus-1 against Florida and Detroit).

Faceoffs: 83-for-162 / 51.2 percent (season: 49.6% / rank: 21st)

The Caps improved somewhat in the faceoff circle in Week 13, finishing over 50 percent overall for the sixth week this season and the first one since Week 7.  It was even a bit better than the overall numbers suggest, the Caps finishing to the good side of 50 percent in the offensive (51.1 percent) and defensive (53.6 percent) zones. 

It was a gratifying week to finish over 50 percent with their best faceoff man – Jay Beagle – out with an injury.  Of the five Caps to take more than ten draws for the week, Nicklas Backstrom (57.4), Marcus Johansson (64.3), and T.J. Oshie (53.8) won more than half of the draws they took.  Backstrom was the only Capital to finish over 50 percent in all three zones (offensive: 66.7; defensive: 54.5; neutral: 55.6).

Goals by Period:


There was consistency on offense in terms of outcomes by period, the Caps scoring four first period goals and three in the second and third periods of games (they added an overtime goal to make 11 total goals for the week).  It was on defense where there appeared cracks, and that was almost entirely a function of the week-ending game against the Rangers.  The Caps did not allow a first period goal in Week 13 and allowed only two in the second period of games.  However, the Caps did allow four third period goals this week, three of them coming in a span of just over seven minutes of their 4-3 overtime win over the Rangers to close the week.

In the end…

Beating three of the presumed competitors for a postseason spot on their respective rinks qualifies as a very good week.  One might have wished for a little tighter third period than the Caps exhibited against the Rangers, but grabbing back the momentum in a game in which you give it away is among the more difficult in-game things to achieve in team sports.  

It is worth noting that the third Ranger goal to give the Blueshirts the lead with 6:49 left in regulation in the last game of the week was not met by resignation, but with almost a sense of anger by the Caps.  From that goal forward, the Caps had 14 shot attempts to three for the Rangers over the last 8:14 of regulation and overtime.  They had eight shots on goal (two goals) to one for the Rangers, that coming in overtime just before the game-winner.  If nothing else, that comeback, coupled with the fact that it came with a lot of patchwork in the lineup, signaled that this is a team that is disinclined to give up on games or accept adversity as a condition.  It might be the difference between this edition of the Caps and all that have come before.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-0-3, plus-3, 2 GWG, 15 SOG, 27 shot attempts, 499th career goal)
  • Second Star: Nate Schmidt (1-3-4, plus-4, 20:19 average ice time, game-saving block in overtime against Rangers)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 2.00, .932, 19-0-2 over last 22 appearances)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 42: Senators at Capitals, January 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off a heart-stopping 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, the Washington Capitals head right back to the ice on Sunday evening when they return home to host the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.

The Caps bring a three-game winning streak into this contest, their fourth streak of three wins or more in compiling a 31-7-3 record at the half-way point of the season.  This game will be the second half of the Caps’ eighth back-to-back set of games this season.  They will be looking for their fifth sweep in back-to-backs when Ottawa comes to town.  The Senators will be playing the back half of their own back-to-back set of games, having defeated the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in overtime on Saturday night. 

These two teams met back on December 16th at Verizon Center, a game that the Caps won behind goals by Michael Latta and John Carlson, and a 26-save effort from goalie Braden Holtby.  Since then, the Senators are a struggling bunch, going 4-5-1, including a 1-3-1 record on the road.  Their offense has been anemic in their ten-game run, recording just 20 goals while allowing 28.  Special teams have not helped the Senator cause, either.  Their power play is 4-for-31 over their last ten games (12.9 percent), while their penalty kill is just 25-for-34 (73.5 percent).

Eleven different Senators shared the 20 goals scored over their last ten games, led by right wing Mark Stone with four (4-1-5).  Stone, a former sixth-round draft pick now in his third NHL season is fourth on the club with 11 goals, slightly off the pace he set last season when he potted 26 goals in 80 games on his way to a season that was good enough for him to be named a finalist in the Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie.  Stone is 1-1-2, plus-2, in four career games against Washington.

Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad each have three goals since Ottawa last faced the Caps.  Ryan recorded his first game-winning goal of the year, one of two he had, in the Senators’ 3-2 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues last Monday.  The two-goal game interrupted what had been a goal-scoring drought for Ryan, who had only two goals over his previous 13 games.  He is still tied for second on the club in goals scored (13), and he is still on a pace to surpass last year’s 18-goal output in 78 games.  What seems to be lacking in his game is a shooters’ mentality.  He is an efficient 13.4 percent on 97 shots this season, but those 97 shots are only 2.37 per game, well off the 2.83 shots per game he recorded last season.  Ryan is 6-4-10, minus-5, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Zibanejad has been a reliable high-teens goal scorer for the Senators over the last two seasons, and he is on a similar pace this season (16).  He went three consecutive games without recording a shot on goal immediately after the December 16th contest against the Caps, but he has 19 shots on goal in seven games since, five of them in the Senators’ last contest, a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday.  Of his eight goals this season, three of them are game-winners, tied for the team lead.  Zibanejad is 3-2-5, minus-1, in 11 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:


1.  Watch Kyle Turris.  He is tied with Ryan for second in goals scored for the Senators (13), and the team is 11-1-0 in games in which he scores a goal.

2.  Ottawa has, by far, the worst shot differential per game in the league.  At minus-5.1 shots per game they are 1.2 shots per game worse than the Arizona Coyotes.   That is a product of shots allowed.  Their 33.4 shots per game allowed is worst in the league.

3.  Scoring first does not come easily to the Senators, which is a good thing for opponents, because they are tough to beat when they do.  Only 14 times in 41 games have they scored the first goal, but their winning percentage (.857/12-2-0) is third best in the league, behind only San Jose (.882/15-2-0) and the Caps (.958/23-1-0).

4.  Only two teams have more power play goals on the road than Ottawa (15). Chicago and San Jose each have 16 power play goals on the road.  Their road power play operates at 24.6 percent efficiency, third in the league behind St. Louis (26.9) and Chicago (27.1).

5.  There is no other way to say it, Ottawa is a poor possession team.  They rank 27th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.1 percent), 29th in score-adjusted Corsi (46.3), and 27th in close score situations (46.4).  Their Corsi-against/60 (shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes) is second highest in the league (58.7).  Only Colorado has allowed more (60.8; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  Washington has power play goals in four of their last six games, going 5-for-17 over that span (29.4 percent).  The penalty killers are 16-for-19 over those same six games (84.2 percent) and are 24-for-27 over their last nine contests (88.9 percent).

2.  Only two teams have had fewer power play opportunities at home this season than the Caps (59).  Philadelphia has had 58 opportunities; Winnipeg has 55 opportunities.  At the same time, only three teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations at home than the Caps (50).  San Jose (49), Buffalo (46), and Minnesota (37) have had fewer.

3.  The Capitals are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-10 or greater in each of the first (plus-10), second (plus-16), and third periods (plus-15) of games this season.

4.  The overtime win over the Rangers improved the Caps’ record in one-goal games to 13-2-3.  Their .722 winning percentage is best in the league in such decisions.

5.  The Caps return home to take up what has been an odd recent history in their possession numbers at Verizon Center.  In their last nine games their Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is a disappointing 49.6 percent, but their numbers in score-adjusted (50.6) and close score (51.1 percent) are better (numbers from war-on-ice.com).  With six of their next eight games at home, it is an opportunity for improvement.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson is pulling away in the scoring race among the league’s defensemen.  With 45 points, he is seven ahead of Dallas’ John Klingberg.  He is one hot player at the moment with a hand in half of the Senators’ 20 goals since they played the Caps last month (2-8-10).  He is now on a more than point-per-game pace, threatening to become the first scoring leader among defensemen to finish a full 82-game season at more than a point-per-game pace since Mike Green recorded 76 points in 75 games for the Caps in 2009-2010.  Karlsson can score in bunches.  He has point streaks of three games or better four times this season, including a nine-game streak and a seven game streak.  He comes into this game on a three-game streak.  Karlsson is 2-15-17, even, in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

When Alex Ovechkin scored the overtime game-winning goal against the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon, it was his 499th career goal, but it also lifted him into what is an accustomed place in the NHL – the league lead in goals.  Technically, he was tied with three other players at 24 goals apiece (Dallas’ Jamie Benn subsequently broke the tie with a goal on Saturday night), but Ovechkin has been on a sustained run of goal-scoring as of late.  He has ten goals in his last 11 games, and he is now on a pace to finish the season with 49 goals.  No other player is on such a pace at the moment. 

In the end…

It’s getting harder and harder to find adjectives to describe the sort of season the Capitals are having.  They just keep finding different ways to win.  If they are not putting teams away early, they are fighting to the horn to tie a game and win in overtime.  When they sustain injuries to or absences from important players, others raise their game.  It means that they have a three-point lead on the rest of the league in the standings with three games in hand over the second-best team in the league standings, the Dallas Stars.  However, while it is tempting to look ahead, it is important – and from a fan’s point quite worth it – to just focus on the moment.  Caps fans have never seen a team this consistently good.  Enjoy the moment.

Capitals 4 – Senators 2

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