Saturday, February 11, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 56: Washington Capitals 6 - Anaheim Ducks 4

The Washington Capitals made it six wins in a row and 12 wins in a row on home ice with a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

An early power play got the Caps on the board first.  The Caps probed the Ducks defense from the right side until Josh Manson backed off, allowing Marcus Johansson to ease in from the goal line extended to goalie John Gibson’s left.  Freezing the Ducks’ defense, Johansson fed T.J. Oshie between the hash marks, and Oshie snapped a shot past Gibson at the 6:45 mark to make it 1-0.

Nicklas Backstrom doubled the lead eight minutes later.  Oshie beat Cam Fowler to a loose puck in the corner to Gibson’s left and slid it around the boards where Backstrom picked it up.  From behind the net, Backstrom fed it out to the front, but it pinballed through a maze of bodies and snuck out to Gibson’s right.  That happened to be where Backstrom was circling, and he was free to sweep a backhand into the open side of the net to make it 2-0 at the 14:35 mark.

Tom Wilson made it 3-0 before the first intermission.  Daniel Winnik stepped out from below the goal line to Gibson’s left and, with the Ducks defense closing on him, fed Wilson on the opposite side for a layup that gave the Caps a three-goal lead with 2:12 left in the first period.

Anaheim started their comeback in the second period when Jakob Silfverberg took a pass from Andrew Cogliano at the right point and wristed a harmless looking shot that sailed over the right shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby and under the crossbar on the far side at the 7:16 mark.

Daniel Winnik restored the three-goal lead with the Caps down a man.  On a Ducks power play, Corey Perry batted the puck from the left wing wall out to Antoine Vermette at the top of the left wing circle, but the pass was off the mark.  Vermette tried to flag it down, but only managed to redirect the puck out toward the blue line where Daniel Winnik picked it up.  Winnik carried the puck through the neutral zone, split Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm at the Ducks’ blue line, then skated in and blew a shot over Gibson’s glove to make it 4-1, 12:18 into the period.

Lindholm got that one back on a goal upheld in a coach’s challenge.  John Carlson tried to bat an airborne puck back into the neutral zone, but only got a piece of it as Silfverberg was crossing into the offensive zone.  He took a pass from Vermette low in the left wing circle where he left it for Ryan Getzlaf.  Circling behind the net, Getzlaf sent the puck out to Lindholm, whose first whack at it was stopped by Holtby.  His second swipe found the back of the net at the 17:36 mark to make it 4-2.

The Ducks got a pair of goals in short order mid-way through the third period to tie the game, one at the 9:38 mark when the puck slid off Dmitry Orlov’s stick as he came out from behind his own net, found its way to the stick of Cam Fowler, who fed Ryan Kesler for a drive from the high slot that snuck through Holtby.

The other came just 2:10 later when Cam Fowler sent a long lead pass from below his own goal line to Ryan Getzlaf busting down the middle.  Getzlaf was all alone on a breakaway and beat Holtby to the glove side to tie the game at the 11:48 mark.

The Caps took the lead back for good late in the period.  Matt Niskanen started the play by looking over the layout from behind his own net, then sending a long pass up and off the left wing boards to Zach Sanford.  The puck was nudged along to Brett Connolly cutting into the Ducks’ zone, and he advanced it down the wall before stopping at the edge of the faceoff circle.  Spinning back, he found Sanford cutting down the middle, and the rookie one timed the puck off Gibson and in for his first NHL goal.

Marcus Johansson closed the scoring with an empty netter with 12.9 seconds left to give the Caps the 6-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- This made it 11 straight games with five or more goals on home ice, tying an NHL record held by the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-point night (1-2-3) extending his points streak to seven games, three of which were three-point games.  He is 4-9-13 in that seven-game scoring streak, and he reached the 700-point mark in his career tonight.

-- Every skater for the Caps recorded at least one shot on goal.  Backstrom an Daniel Winnik led the team with four apiece.

-- The top line of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie was on the ice for three of the four Anaheim goals scored, as was the defensive pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

-- The Caps have outscored opponents by a 60-18 margin in their 11-game streak with five or more goals on home ice.  However, it is worth noting that the Caps have scored five or more goals in 15 of their last 22 games overall, over which they have outscored opponents, 101-46.

-- The Caps were 1-for-3 on the power play, their third straight game with a power play goal.  Washington has not gone consecutive games without a power play goal in their last 17 games, over which they are 17-for-45 (37.8 percent).

-- Washington held the Ducks to 22 shots on goal, the third straight opponent they held to fewer than 25 shots, their longest such streak this season.

-- Daniel Winnik had his third multi-point game of the season (1-1-2).  The Caps are 12-0-2 in the 14 games in which he registered a point this season.

-- T.J. Oshie had his 13th multi-point game of the season (1-1-2).  In the 22 games in which he recorded a point, the Caps are 21-0-1.

-- Marcus Johansson recorded his fourth straight two-point game, all of them featuring a goal and an assist.  He reached the 40-point mark for the fourth straight season and the fifth in his career (19-21-40)  His next goal will tie a career best.

In the end…

It is tempting to say that the bye is coming at a bad time, what with the Caps on a six-game winning streak, scoring goals by the bushel, and chain-sawing their way through the standings.  But this is also a team that allowed seven goals in their last two games.  Braden Holtby has now won his last 14 decisions (in 16 appearances) with a 2.01 goals against average, a .924 save percentage, and four shutouts.  Then again, he stopped just 32 of 39 shots (.821) in his last two games.  The bye might not be the worst thing for the Caps who, while still basking in the glow of a six-game winning streak overall and a 12-game winning streak on home ice, might benefit from a chance to recharge and reset.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 56: Anaheim Ducks at Washington Capitals, February 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play their last game before their league-approved bye week when they host the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center on Saturday Night. The Caps continued their sparkling play of late, defeating the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, 6-3, their fifth win in a row, their 11th straight win on home ice, and their tenth straight game on home ice scoring five or more goals. They became just the second team in NHL history to accomplish that last feat, the only other team to do it the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins, who did it 11 straight times.

Anaheim comes into this game having won the first game in the Eastern time zone since December 19th (when they beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto, 3-2), besting the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, on Thursday night. To be fair, they have played only six games in the Eastern time zone since that win over Toronto, but the 1-1-3-2 is not for the scrapbook.

More recently, the Ducks are just 3-4-1 in their last eight games, and they trail the San Jose Sharks by two points for the top spot in the Pacific Division (San Jose has a game in hand through Thursday’s games). The 20 goals scored by the Ducks in those eight games was shared among 12 skaters, three of whom had three apiece – Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, and Jakob Silfverberg.

Even with the three goals in the Ducks’ last eight games, this is has to be a disappointing year for Perry. With just 11 goals in 56 games this season he is on a pace to finish with 16 goals, which would be his lowest total (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) since he had 13 in 56 games in his rookie season in 2005-2006. On a per-game basis, his 0.20 goals per game thus far is his lowest in 12 NHL seasons. Whether luck or poor execution, it is his shooting percentage that has fallen off a cliff. A 13.6 percent career shooter coming into this season, he is shooting barely half of that – 7.2 percent – through 56 games. It would appear a betting certainty at this point that he will finish the season with fewer than 30 goals for a full season for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, when he had 27 in 82 games. Perry is 6-8-14, plus-1, in 13 career games against the Caps.

At the other end of the achievement spectrum is Rakell, who has 22 goals in 45 games this season, already a career best (he had 20 in 72 games last season). His 17 even strength goals puts him in the top ten in the league, and his 33 even strength goals in the last two seasons ranks him in the top-25, tied with the likes of Phil Kessel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Justin Williams. His goal scoring matters, too. In the 20 games in which he recorded a goal this season, the Ducks lost just twice in regulation (13-2-5). However, his goal scoring, despite the three goals in his last eight games, has been doing a slow leak from month to month. He had nine goals in November (he did not appear in any games in October), seven in December, and then five in January. Rakell has yet to record a point in three career games against the Caps and is a minus-1.

Silfverberg has been a reliable, if unspectacular producer as a goal scorer. He has finished in double digits in each of his five seasons, including this one (16), although this season might be a breakout year of sorts. With 16 goals in 53 games, he is on a pace to finish 24 goals, which would be a career best (he had 20 last season). His success is the mirror of Perry’s disappointment – shooting percentage. A modest 8.0 percent shooter coming into this season, he is shooting 11.2 percent so far this year, the only season in which he topped ten percent. Silfverberg is also getting more ice time, which might explain his increased production, the 18:26 he averages per night being 1:28 more a night than he averaged last season, his highest average ice time for a season at the time. In nine career games against the Caps, he is 1-2-3, even.

1.  In their eight-game slide in which they are 3-4-1, the Ducks have been outscored, 22-20. Their special teams are good and bad, or rather bad and good. The power play is limping along at 17.4 percent over those eight games (4-for-23), while the penalty killers have been a superb 92.9 percent (26-for-28).

2.  Watch out when the Caps have a power play. Only two teams have more shorthanded goals than the Ducks (6) this season – the New York Rangers (7) and the Calgary Flames (8).

3.  Then again, no team has been shorthanded on the road more often this season than the Ducks. Their 112 times shorthanded is four more than the Winnipeg Jets (108).

4.  Then there are the fights. Anaheim leads the league in fighting majors, and it’s not close. They have 34 fighting majors so far this season to 25 for the Dallas Stars. Since the 2005-2006 lockout, the Ducks have been hit 635 times with major penalties of all types, almost a hundred more than the next highest ranked team (Philadelphia Flyers: 556). This is an angry bunch.

5.  The Ducks are not an awful possession team, but they’re not good, either. Anaheim ranks 19th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.70 percent), 16th when adjusted for score, zone, and venue (50.24 percent; numbers from

1.  Only the St. Louis Blues have had more shorthanded occurrences on home ice (105) than the Caps (99).

2.  Washington is credited with more takeaways (448) than all but two teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs (458) and the Carolina Hurricanes (524).

3.  The recent offensive explosion by the Caps vaulted them to the top of the shooting percentage rankings.  They are at 11.40 percent to 11.37 percent for the New York Rangers.

4.  The Caps lead the league in wins by three or more goals, the 18 wins being almost half of their total for the season (38).

5.  For all the goals scored on home ice, the Caps are not an especially efficient team in generating shot attempts on home ice, at least at 5-on-5.  Their 56.17 shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives on home ice ranks 18th in the league (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim:  John Gibson

For three seasons, the Anaheim Ducks were keeping the number one goalie seat warm for the time when John Gibson was ready.  Three years ago it was Jonas Hiller in that spot, and for the past two seasons it was Frederik Andersen getting the bulk of the games.  Hiller is now playing for EHC Biel in Switzerland, and Andersen is in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.  Gibson is now the unquestioned number one netminder in Anaheim.  He has not disappointed.  Gibson ranks fifth among 44 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes in goals against average (2.29) and 12th in save percentage (.920), with three shutouts.  He has been sharp of late, too.  In his last 14 appearances he is 8-4-1 (one no-decision), 1.67, .939, with two shutouts.  Gibson is 0-1-1, 2.93, .900 in two career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson is on a nice little mini-run at the moment.  In each of his last three games he had a goal and an assist, getting his three goals on just five shots on gosal.  And when Marcus scores, the Caps win.  They are 14-1-0 in games in which Johansson scored a goal this season (including those last three).  With 18 goals in 55 games, Johansson is on a pace to finish with 27 goals, which would shatter his personal best in his seven-year career (20 goals in 2014-2015).  He also could set a personal high in game-winning goals.  He has five through 55 games, and at that pace he would finish with eight (he had seven last season).  But what has been remarkable so far this season is his shooting percentage.  Among 440 skaters with at least 50 shots on goal this season, he is second in the league with 22.5 percent (by the way, the top spot is occupied by T.J. Oshie at 23.4 percent, and Brett Connolly is fourth at 21.4 percent).  Johansson is 1-2-3, minus-1, in eight career games against the Ducks.

In the end…

This opponent brings a set of challenges that the last two opponents did not for the Caps.  First, the Ducks are just a better team than either the Carolina Hurricanes or Detroit Red Wings.  But this is perhaps the original “heavy” team, one that brings a physical edge that the Caps haven’t seen in a while.  But there is a bit of a “bully” aspect to the Ducks, too.  Sure, they can beat up on Colorado or Buffalo, both of whom gave up five goals to the Ducks.  But speedier teams with skill – Edmonton, Tampa Bay, the Rangers – pretty much stymied the Ducks in recent games (three goals scored by the Ducks over those three games).  Pace, then, will be an important consideration, and even with Andre Burakovsky on the shelf and Brett Connolly dinged up, the Caps are likely to have to press the Ducks with speed and precision.

Capitals 3 – Ducks 2