Saturday, February 25, 2017

A NO-Point Night -- Game 61: Nashville Predators 5 - Washington Capitals 2

We have said from time to time that in an 82-game season, there are 20 games a team will win, no matter what, there are 20 that they will lose, no matter what, and it is what the team does with the rest of the games that is the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.  Well, there was little doubt after the first few minutes that the Washington Capitals were going to experience one of those “lose no matter what” kinds of games.  The Caps scored early, then saw the Nashville Predators put up four straight goals on their way to a 5-2 win over the Caps on Saturday evening.

Tom Wilson put the Caps on top in the second minute of the contest.  Daniel Winnik picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and skated it down the left side.  At the Nashvill blue line he left if for Jay Beagle trailing the play.  Beagle took a couple of steps in, and then from the top of the left wing circle fed the puck to the front of the Predator net where Wilson was arriving ahead of defenseman Matt Irwin.  Wilson redirected the puck past goalie Juuse Saros, and it was 1-0, Caps, 1:12 into the game.

That would be the high point of the contest for the Caps.  Nashville could not find the equalizer in the first period, but they found it early in the second.  Roman Josi tied the game less than two minutes into the period when he one-timed a feed from Filip Forsberg past goalie Philipp Grubauer.  Then the roof fell in on the Caps.  Forsberg dialed his own number, one-timing a pass from Viktor Arvidsson from the right wing circle past Grubauer’s right shoulder, off the far post, and in at the 8:54 mark to make it 2-1.

Three minutes later the Preds were on the board again, this time on a power play.  Taking a cross-ice pass from P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis sent a slap pass to the front of the net where Mike Fisher redirected it past Grubauer, and it was 3-1, Nashville, 11:57 into the period. 

Josi extended the lead mid-way through the third period on a power play goal, his second of the game, and the competitive portion of the contest was all but over.  Evgeny Kuznetsov did add a goal, taking a pass from John Carlson as he came off the bench.  Snaking his way into the right wing faceoff circle, he snapped a shot that beat Saros off the far post and in at the 17:03 mark to make it 4-2.  Arvidsson added an empty net goal for the final tally of the evening, and the Caps split their back-to-back weekend with a 5-2 loss.

Other stuff…

-- One just wonders what the object of the exercise is with the bye week.  The Caps played back-to-back games on the first weekend of February and had back-to-back games in each of the last two weekends, including this one.  The Caps went 3-2-1 in the six games, sweeping the first BtB, losing both in the second (one a Gimmick loss), and split this weekend.

-- Alex Ovechkin is either bored, ill, tired, or injured.  What he does not seem to be at the moment is fully engaged.  He was held without a shot on goal for the second time in three games and for the third time in seven contests.  It was his second consecutive road game without a shot on goal.  Taking a pair of minor penalties did not help the cause, either.

-- Jay Beagle had a point, and the Caps lost.  That does not happen often.  The Caps are 19-2-1 this season and  65-7-7 in games over his career in which Beagle recorded a point.

-- The Caps had 26 shots on goal…John Carlson had 10 of them.  He is just the fifth defenseman in Caps history to record ten shots in a game.  Kevin Hatcher (four times), Scott Stevens, Al Iafrate, and Mike Green are the others.  Green was the last to do it, recording ten shots in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 24, 2009.  The odd thing about it is that the Caps are just 2-4-1 with one tie in the eight games in which a defenseman recorded ten or more shots.

-- Four Caps did not have a shot attempt: Brett Connolly, Riley Barber, Daniel Winnik, and Nate Schmidt. 

-- Barber had a blank line on the score sheet in 7:52 of ice time; Schmidt’s was blank in 18:14 of ice time save for two takeaways.  Zach Sanford’s was blank in 9:36 except for one shot attempt that was blocked

-- Philipp Grubauer allowed four goals for the first time since he allowed four in Carolina against the Hurricanes in a 5-1 loss last November 12th.

-- Only nine Caps recorded shots on goal, the re-engineered top line of Ovechkin, Connolly, and Nicklas Backstrom had just two, both by Backstrom.

-- Washington had only one power play chance, that being unsuccessful.  The Caps are 4-3-1 in the eight games this season in which they had one or no power play chances.

-- Nashville had two power play goals in four chances, the first time this season that the Caps allowed two power play goals on the road.

In the end…

Since the bye week ended, the Caps have played five games in eight days.  Today, that and the spate of injuries they suffered recently caught up with them.  Two days off before they take the ice against the Rangers in New York might look better than that whole bye week at the moment.  In that context, it is hard to get bent out of shape about this loss, especially since they were an overturned Alex Ovechkin goal and a missed open net from making a game of this in the third period.  It was a game to just set aside and forget, and just get rested and ready for the next one.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals complete their back-to-back weekend on Saturday with a visit to Nashville to meet the Predators. A late-February trip to Music City would not normally register high on the interest meter for the regular season, but this game might be different. The Caps will be trying to deny a young Predator the opportunity to tie a long-standing and only once-tied individual record in the NHL. And it happens that the young Predator in question happened to be a former first-round pick of the Caps and was a key piece of one of the most infamous trades in team history.

By now, the diligent Caps fan knows that the object of this part of the discussion is Filip Forsberg, taken by the Caps with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft. Less than a year later he was traded to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Erat played parts of two seasons with the Caps before he was traded to the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes with John Mitchell for Chris Brown, Rostislav Klesla, and a fourth-round draft pick (that fourth round pick was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes with Jack Hillen for Tim Gleason). Klesla was traded with Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak, who played 12 games with the Caps before he was traded to the New York Islanders for a fourth round draft pick that was later parlayed into a third-round pick that was used to select Nathan Walker. Brown was traded in 2016 to the New York Rangers for Ryan Bourque. Latta played in 113 games over three seasons with the Caps before heading off to Los Angeles as a free agent (he is now in the Chicago Blackhawks system). So in the end, Forsberg went to Nashville, and the Caps ended up with…Ryan Bourque and Nathan Walker.

Forsberg would be of special interest in this game only for the aforementioned history. But this game is, or rather could be, special. Last Tuesday, he recorded a hat trick in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. On Thursday night he recorded another hat trick, this one in a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Should Forsberg bring the hats raining down in Nashville on Saturday, he would become the third player in NHL history to record hat tricks in three consecutive games. Joe Malone did it twice in the 1917-1918 season, and Mike Bossy did it in 1980-1981 (no, none of the games were against the Caps). Forsberg’s goal-splosion of sorts can be viewed as either unexpected (even with the six goals he ranks tied for 23rd in the league with 22) or the cork popping from the pent-up pressure (he had one goal in his previous 11 games). In four career games against the Caps, Forsberg is 4-2-6, plus-1).

The Predators have dressed 35 skaters this season, a high number for this point in the schedule. Looked at another way, only four skaters have appeared in all 60 games to date for Nashville. The one that might have Caps fans asking, “who?” is defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Think of him as Nashville’s version of Karl Alzner, but with a little more edge in his game. He is about the same size, bears a passing resemblance to the Caps defenseman, and has put up somewhat better offensive statistics (19-62-82, plus-24 in his 287 NHL games). What he has is more penalty minutes, almost 50 more (134) than Alzner had at a similar point in his career (87 in his first 287 games). Ekholm had a modest two-game point streak broken in the win over Colorado on Thursday night. He is 2-2-4, even, in five career games against the Capitals.

It is hard to figure out just what the Predators have in goalie Pekka Rinne these days. Is he, at age 34, starting that long slow descent through the latter stages of his career, or is he just a guy in a slump? Whatever the case, he is 4-3-0, 3.08, .893 with one shutout over his last nine appearances, and he has been pulled twice from games. He has been much more effective on home ice this season, even if he has not been any more efficient. That is to say, he does have a 15-5-4 record on home ice, compared to 8-10-2 on the road, and he does have a 2.31 goals against average on home ice, compared to 2.71 on the road. However, his home ice save percentage of .917 in barely distinguishable from the .915 save percentage he has on the road. The big difference is in the shots he faces – only 27.7 per 60 minutes on home ice versus 32.0 shots per 60 minutes on the road. He has faced the Caps only three times in his career with a 2-1-0, 2.68, .911 record.

1.  Nashville has never been a consistently explosive offensive team, but this year’s edition has the third-highest scoring offense in franchise history (2.85 goals per game). It also has the third-best power play in team history (18.8 percent) and the second-highest shots on goal per game average (31.7).

2.  Scoring in the first period is a challenge for this team. In 60 games they have scored 37 goals, one fewer than they scored in the entire abbreviated 48-game season of 2012-2013. Only four teams in the league have scored fewer first period goals than the Predators this season.

3.  Winning close games has been a challenge, too. Their 10-6-9 record in one-goal games is the fifth-worst winning percentage (.400) in the league.

4.  Nashville has been stomping people in the middle period. No team has more second period goals this season (75), and they have a plus-28 goal differential, best in the league.

5.  Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, Nashville is sixth in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.39 percent; numbers from It is largely a product of their offensive pressure; the Predators rank seventh in shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives (59.96).

1.  Once you account for the trick shot phase of the game, there is almost no difference between this year’s Caps and last year’s, record-wise.  Through 60 games this season, the Caps are 40-12-2 in games not settled with the Gimmick.  Last year, they were 42-11-3 in non-Gimmick games through the 60-game mark.

2.  Through 60 games, this year and last, the 2016-2017 team is slightly better on offense, scoring 200 goals (3.33 per game) compared to 197 goals at this point last season (3.28).  It is defense where this year’s team shines compared to last year, shaving a quarter-goal per game off their goals allowed (2.05 this year, 2.30 last year).

3.  Special teams are comparable through 60 games this year and last.  The 2016-2017 special teams index (power play plus penalty kill rates) of 106.4 (21.9 pp/84.5 PK) is just a shade off last year’s 107.5 (23.3 PP/84.2 PK).

4.  Starting with their 7-3 win in St. Louis on January 19th against the Blues, the Caps have alternated wins and losses in regulation on the road (4-3-0).  They will be looking to end that pattern after having beaten the Flyers in Philadelphia, 4-1, in their last road game.

5.  Only one team this season has given up more than three goals in a road game less frequently than the Caps.  Washington suffered that result just five times so far this season (0-4-1); the San Jose Sharks have four such instances (0-3-1).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Viktor Arvidsson

The Predators are 6-5-2 over their last 13 games. Not a great record, to be sure, although they do have 43 goals scored over that span (3.31 per game). Viktor Arvidsson has had a hand in more of them than any skater (8-4-12) and is tied for the team lead in goals over that span (with Filip Forsberg). Arvidsson might be the least known productive player out of the 2014 draft. The fourth round/112th over pick from that draft is ninth in games played (120), ninth in goals scored (27), tied for eighth in points (57), and is tied for fifth in plus-minus (plus-7). This has been a breakout year for him. Playing in his first full NHL season (he played in 56 games last season and six the previous year), Arvidsson is 19-22-41, plus-15, in 58 games played and is tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals (three). He does have quite a disparity in home and road splits, though – 12-12-24, plus-15 in 31 home games and 7-10-17, even in 27 road contests. He does not have a point and is minus-2 in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Daniel Winnik

Calling a forward group “The Best Fourth Line in the NHL” might be damning with faint praise, given the responsibility of a fourth line generally.  Whether the Caps have that best fourth line might be a subject of debate, but it is hardly faint praise to put Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik in that discussion.  It is a group that contributes.  It is a trio that as a trio has been on ice for fewer 5-on-5 goals against (six) and has a lower goals-against per 60 minutes at fives (1.14) than any forward group in the NHL with at least 250 5-on-5 minutes played together (numbers from  

 The three have different roles.  Beagle is something of the energy guy who runs at high RPMs when he is on the ice.  Wilson is the one with the physical edge.  Daniel Winnik might be the glue that binds the three.  Only four times this season has Winnik been a “minus” player and never worse than minus-1.  The Caps are 5-0-2 in games in which he recorded a goal, and they are 12-0-3 in games in which he recorded a point.  He does not have quite the ice time, or the offensive numbers to go with it, that he had earlier in his career with the Anaheim Ducks, but he fills solid, reliable minutes that strengthens what in previous years has been a weakness of the club – the bottom six forwards, particularly its fourth line.  Winnik is 7-4-11, plus-4, in 26 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

These are the times that try the Capitals’ depth, but it tests how well players play in their lanes, too.  It is tempting to try to do more in the absence of key cogs like T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the object isn’t to fill their roles as much as it is to do a better job of filling the role you are asked to play.  Coaches will try to shelter the replacements like Riley Barber, Aaron Ness, or Zach Sanford through matchups and shift management, but the regulars have to raise their game within the construct of their respective roles, too.  That makes this week – and this game – as much an opportunity as a challenge, an opportunity to put some steel in the spine of the club that they will need when the playoffs come around in a couple of months.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 60: Washington Capitals 2 - Edmonton Oilers 1

The Washington Capitals made it 13 straight wins on home ice on Friday night, defeating the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1, at Verizon Center.  The Caps did not, however, extend their streak of consecutive games on home ice with five or more goals.  That streak ended at 11 games, tied with the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins for longest in league history.

Tom Wilson got the Caps off to a good start mid-way through the first period.  The scoring play started with a long pass from Taylor Chorney sent diagonally up ice from inside his own blue line that was redirected by Wilson to Dmitry Orlov at the Oiler blue line.  Orlov kicked the puck ahead with his skate and from the left wing wall found Wilson curling in behind him.  Taking Orlov’s feed, Wilson stepped up and let fly with a shot that beat goalie Cam Talbot to the far side and ricocheted off the post and in at the 12:22 mark.

That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, but the Oilers tied the game in the first minute of the second period.  Leon Draisaitl took advantage of Justin Williams and Evgeny Kunzetsov both getting sticks on a loose puck in the Capitals’ end, neither of them able to control it.  Draisaitl scooped up the loose puck, walked into the high slot, and snapped a shot past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-1, 35 seconds into the period.

Neither team could get the advantage over the rest of the second period, but Justin Williams broke through early in the third.  Karl Alzner got to a loose puck along the right wing wall in the offensive zone just before Patrick Maroon and nudged it around the corner wall.  Jay Beagle took control and wearing defender Brandon Davidson like a stole, sent a no-look pass out to the right wing circle where Williams was waiting.  Williams’ one-timer beat Talbot cleanly over his right shoulder on the far side, and it was 2-1, 5:48 into the period. 

The Caps’ defense clamped down from there, and Braden Holtby turned away all the shots that got through to preserve the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Edmonton started fast with a 16-shot first period, but the Caps held them to a total of 15 shots over the last 40 minutes.

-- With this performance, Braden Holtby is now 16-0-2 (two no-decisions), 1.84, .931, with four shutouts in his last 20 appearances.

-- Tom Wilson’s goal was his second in five games after scoring just two in his previous 48 games.

-- Justin Williams snapped a six-game streak without a goal with his tally.  It was his third game-winner of the season.

-- This was the 78th time in his career that Jay Beagle registered a point.  The Caps are 65-6-7 in those games.

-- The Caps “held” Connor McDavid to one point, a secondary assist, and just one shot on goal.  Consider that a victory.  McDavid had been 4-14-18 in his previous 12 road games.  The kid knows how to put on a show.

-- With both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik out on defense, Taylor Chorney logged his longest ice times of the season (18:37), and Dmitry Orlov logged his longest ice time in a game settled in regulation (24:24), just five seconds off his season high for any game.

-- Riley Barber made his NHL debut, his first line on the score sheet showing two shots on goal and a hit in 13 shifts covering 9:56 of ice time.

-- In one sense, the game’s outcome was not a reflection of its pace.  The teams combined for just 44 faceoffs in 60 minutes, the Caps winning 28 of them.  Only four Caps took draws, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov (4-for-8) was as low as 50 percent in winning percentage.

-- This game was a victory of the grinders.  Fourth-liners Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle…both plus-2, as was defenseman Taylor Chorney.

In the end…

This game was an example of making a dish with the ingredients you have, if not the ones you want.  When the playoffs begin, chances are that the Caps are not going to want Riley Barber, Aaron Ness, or Taylor Chorney in the starting lineup.  But Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik are injured and unavailable for the moment, and the “ingredients” the Caps had on hand for this game were just fine for the purpose.  It forced the Caps to play a more moderated game, stifling the Oilers after a first period that might have been a bit too free-wheeling for the Caps’ liking under these circumstances.  That is another sign of a mature team, not trying to force a round peg into a square hole, trying to play run-and-gun with a team who would love nothing else and doing so without the right parts to compete at that pace.  It is a lesson the Oilers are still learning; it is one that Caps fans hope the team will be mindful of as the stakes start to increase.