Saturday, February 17, 2018

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 58: Blackhawks 7 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals are now working their way back east on their four-game road trip.  From Winnipeg and St. Paul, the Caps dropped in on Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Saturday night.  It started ugly, and then it got worse.  At the end, the Caps lost, 7-1, the second time this season they had a six-goal loss pasted on them.

First Period

The minutes were passing by relatively quietly when Brandon Saad and John Carlson fought for the puck along the wall on the left side of the Caps’ zone.  Neither could get control, and it squirted back to Jonathan Toews, who just threw a shot toward the net.  Goalie Braden Holtby looked unprepared for the shot, and it hit his right pad before sneaking into the net at the 6:19 mark to make it 1-0, Hawks.

Tom Wilson tied it up four minutes later.  Matt NIskanen dug a loose puck off the wall at the right point and floated a shot at the net.  Nicklas Backstrom waved at it on the way through, but it sailed all the way to the top of the crease where Wilson was camped out.  Wilson got enough of the puck to deflect it down and past goalie Anton Forsberg to make it 1-1, 10:03 into the period.

The tie lasted less than three minutes.  Vinnie Hinostroza fed Saad trailing behind him in the offensive zone.  Both Capital defensemen – Brooks Orpik and Madison Bowey – stood up on Saad, who had the puck roll off his stick, but right to Hinostroza.  His shot was stopped by Holtby, but Saad slipped in and fired the rebound past Holtby’s right pad to make it 2-1, 12:47 into the period.

It might have stayed that way going into the first intermission, if a period was 19:59 in length.  Regulation periods being 20 minutes, though, the Caps were victimized by a goal by Nick Schmaltz, who put back a rebound from Holtby’s left with eight-tenths of a second left in the period to give the home team a 3-1 lead.

The good thing might have been that the Caps were “only” down by a 3-1 score.  Chicago out-shot them, 22-6, in the first period and out-attempted them, 29-9, despite the fact that the Caps had the only power play of the period.

Second Period

It did not get better.  Oh, the Caps did keep the Blackhawks from scoring for a while, but three goals in 2:09 late in the period ended the competitive portion of the contest once and for all.  The details hardly matter, but for the record, Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman, and Artem Anisimov were the scorers.

Third Period

Seriously…does it matter?  Was anyone paying attention at this point?

Other stuff…

-- There were 11 skaters for the Caps without a shot attempt in the first period, among them: Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

-- Through two periods, eight Caps did not have a shot attempt…not a shot, a shot attempt…

  • Brett Connolly
  • Nicklas Backstrom
  • Lars Eller
  • Alex Chiasson
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Jay Beagle
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov….and Alex Ovechkin.

-- Ovechkin finished the game without a shot attempt in 18:22 of ice time, one of four Caps who would finish the game without one (Chiasson, Orpik, and Beagle being the others).

-- The Caps had 15 players with hits, 14 with shot attempts.

-- Chicago had 44 shots on goal…the Caps had 40 shot attempts.  Only two Blackhawks did not have a shot on goal (Tommy Wingels, Jordan Oesterle).

-- Another odd dimension to this game…Beagle lost five of nine draws; Kuznetsov won 10 of 16.

-- This was the third time in six appearances that Braden Holtby allowed five or more goals.

-- Chicago had five special team shots on goal (three on their power play, two shorthanded).  The Caps had none.

-- Tom Wilson got to ten goals for the first time in his career and is the ninth Capital to get there this season.

-- Backstrom was the only Cap to finish in “plus” territory (plus-1).  He had been minus-9 over his previous 14 games.

In the end…

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks, February 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start the back half of their four-game road trip with a visit to the Windy City and a Friday night faceoff against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.  The Caps, fresh off their 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, are 3-0-2 in their last five games.  The Blackhawks, who lost at home to the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, on Thursday night, are dragging an eight-game losing streak into this contest (0-7-1), dropping them 12 points out of a playoff spot with 24 games left to play.

For the Blackhawks, the eight-game losing streak is the tail end of a slide that has seen them drop 12 of 14 decisions since January 14th (2-10-2).  The slump has two main features.  One, the Blackhawks can’t score, averaging just 1.86 points per game over those 14 games, and two, they can’t keep opponents from scoring, allowing an average of 3.57 goals per game.  That pretty much covers the big issues.

On offense, the Blackhawks have spread the goals around in their 14-game slump – 13 different players have goals – but no one is providing consistent goal scoring other than Alex DeBrincat, who has seven of the team’s 26 goals in that span.  DeBrincat is having a rookie season worthy of Calder Trophy consideration.  His 21 goals overall ranks third among all rookies, trailing only Vancouver’s Brock Boeser (27) and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde (22).  His 38 points are tied for fifth in this year’s rookie class.  He is the only rookie in this year’s class to record two hat tricks, one in a 7-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on November 27th, the other in a 5-1 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on January 25th.  When he scored Chicago’s only goal in a 6-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes last Monday, he became the 16th rookie in Blackhawk history to record 20 or more goals in his rookie season.  He had an assist in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 loss to the Caps on December 6th, his only appearance against Washington to date.

At the other end of the scoring, at least expectations-wise, is Jonathan Toews.  Talk about a slump.  Over this 2-10-2 span, Toews has one goal on 41 shots, a 2.4 percent shooting percentage.  Compare that to the 14 goals on 129 shots he compiled over his first 44 games (10.9 percent).  His shooting drying up is a big reason he has only three even strength points in those 14 games (he also has three power play assists).  Toews does seem to have come on a little bit of late, though.  His shooting efficiency has not improved (one goal on 31 shots), but he is 1-5-6 in his last ten games, and he is still firing shots on net with 16 shots on goal in his last four games.  What is odd about Toews goal scoring this year was how little bearing it seems to have on results.  In 14 games in which he recorded a goal this season, Chicago is just 7-5-2.  Compare that to a record of 13-4-2 when Toews recorded an assist.  Toews is 6-4-10, minus-4, in 12 career games against Washington.

And that brings us to the question… “who is Vinnie Hinostroza?”  You will be forgiven if you don’t know that Hinostroza is tied for second in goals scored in this 2-10-2 slump on which the Blackhawks find themselves.  Those three goals he has in those 14 games doubled his season output to date (six) and matches in 27 games this season the six he had last season in 49 games of his rookie season.  Hinostroza is hardly a household name outside of Blackhawk circles, but the center was a sixth-round draft pick of the Blackhawks out of Notre Dame in the 2012 entry draft.  He had decent, if not outstanding goal totals in previous stops, recording 19 in 76 career games at Notre Dame and 21 in 86 games over three seasons with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.  The odd part of his goal scoring profile this season is that only one of his six goals were scored on home ice.  That is a duplicate of last year, when Hinostroza also scored just one of six goals on home ice for the season.  In two career games against the Caps, Hinostroza is without a point and is minus-3.

1.  The Blackhawks have the worst record in the league over their last 14 games (2-10-2).  What makes it worse is that their six standings points earned in that span are three fewer than the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers, despite the fact that Chicago has played three more games than both of those other teams.

2.  Chicago’s shooting percentage over those 14 games (5.3 percent) is worst in the league over that span, nullifying their shots on goal advantage of plus-4.29 per game (34.93 shots on goal versus 30.64 shots on goal allowed).

3.  You have to wonder if the Blackhawks are unlucky lately.  In their 2-10-2 slump, they have a shot attempts-for percentage of 53.16 overall, sixth best in the league over that span (numbers from

4.  And it is not as if the Blackhawks have lacked for special team opportunities.  Their 49 power play chances over this 14-game stretch is second most in the league, and the top team (New Jersey with 55) has played two more games than Chicago.

5.  Even strength offense is killing the Blackhawks.  In this 14-game slump they have only 18 even strength goals, fewest in the league (Buffalo has 21 in 14 games).

1.  When the New York Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak shut out the New York Rangers on Thursday night, it left the Capitals as the only team in the league not to win a game via shutout this season.  Oh, the Caps have a shutout, but Philipp Grubauer took a loss in that one via the Gimmick, 1-0, to the New York Rangers on December 27th.

2.  Not sure what to make of this, but the Caps have the third best 5-on-5 PDO (shooting plus save percentage) in the league this season (1024; numbers from  It’s their shooting percentage that put them there – 9.7 percent, best in the league.  Those numbers hold up on the road, too (1015 PDO/6th, 10.2 shooting percentage/1st).

3.  If you think of faceoffs as stoppages that interrupt the flow of a game, the Caps have flow.  Only two teams have taken fewer draws that Washington (3380) this season: Carolina (3364) and Colorado (3338).

4.  The Caps are one of four teams to have at least as many wins as regulation losses this season when the opponent scores first (14-14).  Vegas (15-12), Boston (13-11), and Tampa Bay (12-11) are the others.

5.  On the other hand, only Boston (1) and Winnipeg (2) have fewer regulation losses when scoring first than the Caps (3), although the Caps have scored first just 25 times in 57 games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Jean-Francois Berube

Corey Crawford has not appeared in the Chicago net since December 23rd, when he was pulled after giving up three goals on seven shots in 13 minutes of a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  Four days later he went on injured reserve with an upper body injury.  Since then, Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass have shared the goaltending duties, and neither has been an answer.  Forsberg is 4-7-0, 3.00, .905 in 11 appearances, and Glass was 3-6-3, 3.31, .898 before being waived earlier this week for the purpose of returning him to Rockford in the AHL (he cleared waivers and was reassigned).  

In Glass’ place Chicago called up Jean-Francois Berube, a former fourth round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings who has 22 games of experience over three NHL seasons, two with the New York Islanders before moving to Chicago.  In his only appearance this season he allowed two goals on 14 shots in a no-decision in 44 minutes of work in Chicago’s 6-2 loss to the Caps in December, his only career appearance against the Caps.  If nothing else, Berube’s recall serves as an object lesson for Caps fans, that Philipp Grubauer should be appreciated for the fine level of play he has provided in a backup role.  Chicago’s goaltending situation with Crawford out might be the single most important reason the Blackhawks miss the playoffs this season, should it come to pass.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen has had an odd sort of year for the Washington Capitals.  Caps Nation looks at the defense and laments the play of Brooks Orpik, it watches anxiously as rookies Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos race the clock to see if they can develop into reliable contributors in time for the postseason, and it wonders if this is the farewell tour of free-agent-to-be John Carlson.  Meanwhile, there is Niskanen.  He has missed an unusually high number (for him) of games due to injury (14), but when he has been in the lineup, his performance has been, well, Niskanenesque.  His scoring line of 4-13-17, plus-15, through 43 games played is not out of line with his 5-34-39, plus-20, in 78 games last season or the 5-27-32, plus-10, in 82 games the year before that or the 4-27-31, plus-7, he posted in his first year with the Caps in 2014-2015.  What is a bit odd is that he has points in only four road games this season, going 0-5-5, plus-6.  Compare that to his having points in 15 home games this season (4-8-12, plus-14, in those games).  

What has been consistent this season is his being a rock in terms of ice time.  The Caps have yet to lose a game in regulation when he logged more than 24 minutes of ice time (10-0-3).  And while there is a school of thought that high hit volumes is a reflection of poor possession, the Caps do seem to do better when he is physically engaged.  They are 19-3-1 when Niskanen is credited with at least two hits in a game this season.  He is 1-9-10, minus-1, in 23 career games against Chicago.

In the end…

This is one of those games where you might get a good idea of where the Caps’ heads are at.  Yes, these are the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups over the past eight seasons.  Yes, this edition of the Blackhawks is fighting for their playoff lives, in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 and the first time for head coach Joel Quenneville since he came to Chicago.  But this club is crippled.  They can’t score, and they are not getting very good goaltending in the absence of their number one netminder.  It is a club of which the Caps need to take advantage.  Getting a jump early would take the fans out of the game and perhaps kill whatever confidence whichever netminder brings to the contest.  Do that, and a sixth straight game with a standings point would seem to be in order.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 2

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 57: Capitals 5 - Wild 2

The Washington Capitals skated the second game of their four-game road trip, visiting the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.  When it was over, the bad taste of the 4-3 overtime loss in Winnipeg to the Jets was cleansed, thanks to a 5-2 win.

First Period

The teams went back and forth unproductively in the first period, the teams going to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.  But the Caps might have been lucky to get out of the period in that scoreless tie.  They had one shot attempt in the last 8:33 of the period, that being a shot on goal by Tom Wilson with six seconds left in the frame. 

As a group, the Caps had just 12 shot attempts overall, five of them by Alex Ovechkin (three on goal), none of the other Caps with more than one.  Washington blocked more Wild shots (seven) than they had their own shots on goal (six).

And what’s up with the official scoring?  The teams combined for two credited hits in the first period, both by the Wild.

Second Period

Tom Wilson got the Caps off and running early in the second period.  Taking a pass from Alex Ovechkin, he wired a shot on the far side past the left arm of goalie Devan Dubnyk on the Caps’ first shot attempt of the period, 59 seconds in.

Alex Ovechkin doubled the Caps’ lead just under five minutes later.  Andre Burakovsky dug out a loose puck along the goal line to the right of Dubnyk, and he had room to slide a pass out to Ovechkin at the rim of the right wing circle.  Ovechkin snapped a shot that Dubnyk got some of, but not enough to keep it from slithering over the goal line at the 5:51 mark to make it 2-0.  That would how the teams went to the locker room after 40 minutes.

The Caps did a much better job getting shots off and getting them on net in the period, recording 21 shot attempts and nine shots on goal.  Ovechkin finished the period with nine of the Caps’ 33 shot attempts over two periods.

Third Period

The Caps had early success in the third period on a solo effort by Burakovsky.  Gathering the puck in his own end, he weaved his way through the neutral zone and crossed the Wild blue line in control.  Drifting to his left to get a better shooting angle, he had room to snap a shot past a baffled Dubnyk and it was 3-0, 2:29 into the period.

Minnesota got one back when Nino Niederreiter managed three whacks at a loose puck in the blue paint without a Capital (ahem...Dmitry Orlov) getting a stick or a body on him.  The third time was the charm from just off the post to goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left, and it was 3-1 at the 4:25 mark.

The Caps extended their lead late on an odd play.  Tom Wilson gloved a loose puck down in the offensive zone, and it might have ended up being a hand pass onto the stick of Alex Ovechkin, but Wild defenseman Ryan Suter intervened and got his stick on it.  Suter being unable to control the puck, Ovechkin stepped in an snapped a shot at the Wild goal.  Dubnyk stopped it but could not keep it from trickling off to his right.  Nicklas Backstrom stepped in, and just before the puck slid by the far post, he tucked into the net to make it 4-1, 15:06 into the period.

Minnesota did get one back just under two minutes later on an Eric Staal power play goal with Dubnyk pulled for a 6-on-4.  However, Tom Wilson put an end to any glimmer of hope of a miracle in Minnesota with an empty netter at the 17:46 mark for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and three assists, his four-point night giving him 1,100 career points.  He is the 61st player in NHL history to reach the 1,100 point mark and the third active player to reach it (Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau being the others, Jaromir Jagr now playing in Europe).

-- Ovechkin’s four points gives him 24 games with four or more points in his career, second only to Sidney Crosby (31) since the 2004-2005 lockout.

-- Tom Wilson had his third multi-goal game of the season and his second game with three or more points.  For Wilson, it is a career high in goals in a season (nine).

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, his 11th multi-point game this season and his fifth goal in his last six games.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a goal and an assist for his third multi-point game of the season, all of them coming on the road (the others in Dallas and in Detroit).  He now has points in five of his last eight games (3-3-6).

-- Ovechkin had seven of the Caps’ 27 shots on goal and 13 of the club’s 49 shot attempts.

-- When the Wild scored a power play goal late, it broke a string of four straight games with the Caps not allowing a power play goal.  The Caps killed 15 in a row over those four games and this one until that goal.

-- The Caps were not credited with a hit in the first period, but they finished the game with 12.

-- Jay Beagle was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff who finished over 50 percent (10-for-16/62.5 percent).

-- Phillip Grubauer got five goals of goal support, the most goals scored by the Caps in front of him in any game this season.  With 32 saves on 34 shots, he now has a save percentage of .931 over his last 15 appearances.

In the end…

You could say that for one game, at least, the Caps applied a hard-earned lesson.  They got out to a lead and held it, unlike the late-game collapse against Winnipeg on Tuesday.  The strange thing about the Caps at the moment, though, is that they are 3-0-2 in their last five games.  And their offense has been rather potent over that stretch with 19 goals (3.80/game).  If they can take this result and close teams down late in the same fashion as they did the Wild, it will be a successful road trip.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 57: Capitals at Wild, February 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals did not find Manitoba to their liking, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.  They hope to find Minnesota a more hospitable destination when they face the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday evening.

The Caps won five in a row to close the 2017 portion of their season and open the new year, but since that streak they have stumbled and let an opportunity pass to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in the Metropolitan Division.  They are 5-4-4 in their last 13 games, but despite that record have lost just one point of their lead in the division, although it is now the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-1 in their last ten games) that now occupy that spot and not the Columbus Blue Jackets, who occupied it when the Caps slide began.

For the Wild, their trying to get traction has the appearance of one of those video clips in a snowstorm when a car goes sideways and slides into a snow bank.  They have not won more than two games in a row in two months, since winning four straight (three of them in extra time) in Game 28-31 from December 8th through December 14th.  They have still managed to chug along with a 14-8-3 record since that streak ended.  The Wild will get a chance to earn that first three-game winning streak in more than two months when they host the Caps.

In the 25 games since that December four-game winning streak ended, the Wild have averaged just over three goals per game (3.04).  Eric Staal, a name familiar to most Caps fans from his days with the Carolina Hurricanes, leads the team over that span with 13 goals, a large chunk of his team-leading 25 goals for the season.  Staal is approaching a personal milestone.  With his goal in the Wild’s 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, he closed to within three points of 900 for his career.  He is currently tied at 897 career points with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, so the race is on to see which will become the 109th and 110th players in NHL history to reach 900 career points.  No team has faced Eric Staal more often than the Capitals.  No team has allowed more points on Staal’s ledger than the Caps.  In 75 career games against Washington, Staal is 29-44-73, plus-4.  When he takes the ice on Thursday, he will tie Pat Verbeek for 16th all-time in games played against the Caps.  If he gets three points, he will tie Paul Coffey for 12th place in all-time points against Washington.

Matt Dumba leads the defense in goals scored over this 25-game stretch with seven, a total that propelled him into the team lead among defensemen in goals scored overall (10).  This is the third straight season in which Dumba hit the double-digit mark in goals. And if you think that is a trivial accomplishment, consider that at the moment he and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad are the only defensemen to hit double digits in goals in each of the last three seasons.  Home is where Dumba has found the back of the net most often, scoring seven of his ten goals at Xcel Energy Center and recording both of his two-goal games on that ice sheet.  And in your “Odd Dumba Fact” for this game, all of his seven multi-point games this season were recorded on home ice.  He is 1-1-2, plus-2, in seven career games against the Caps.

Over the last 25 games, it has been clear that as Devan Dubnyk goes, so go the Wild, or rather “if” Dubnyk goes, so go the Wild.  Dubnyk has 16 appearances in those 25 games (15 starts) and is 11-2-2, 2.43, .926, with one shutout on his record in that span, capped with being named the league’s third star of last week.  It is quite an improvement over the start to his season – 12-8-2, 2.69, .916, with three shutouts in his first 23 appearances, a stretch that ended with his suffering a lower body injury that kept him out of six games.  Volume does not seem to bother him.  In four games this season when facing more than 40 shots, he is 4-0-0 and stopped 167 of 170 shots (.982 save percentage) with two shutouts.  It is low shot volumes that seem to bother him.  Six times this season Dubnyk played a full game and faced 25 or fewer shots.  In those games he is 2-2-2, 2.50, .893 in those games.  The Caps have given him trouble, too.  Dubnyk is 2-4-1, 3.61, .879 in seven career appearances against Washington.

1.  Getting to 30 shots might be an effort for both teams.  This game matches the worst team in shots on goal per game (Washington: 28.6) with the fourth-worst in the Wild (29.8).  It is a match between the team with the fewest games with 30 or more goals this season (Washington: 20) and the team with the third-fewest (Minnesota: 26, tied with Los Angeles and Colorado).

2.  The Wild have the second-best home penalty kill in the league at 87.8 percent.  Only Colorado is better killing penalties on home ice (91.9 percent).  The Wild get a lot of practice, too.  They have the seventh-highest number of shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season (90).   On the other hand, Minnesota does not get a high number of power plays of their own on home ice.  Their 86 opportunities at Xcel Energy Center is sixth-fewest in the league.

3.  The first period could tell the tale here.  There are four teams in the NHL that have not lost a game in regulation when leading after one period this season.  Half of them play in this game.  The Caps are 19-0-1 in such games, while the Wild are 18-0-2.

4.  Minnesota can wilt late.  No team has allowed more third period goals this season than the Wild (72, almost twice as many as they allow in the first period (38)).

5.  Head coach Bruce Boudreau is the leader among active coaches in points percentage, and it’s not close.  His .654 points percentage on a record of 489-236-94 is 40 points better than Chicago’s Joel Quenneville (.614 on a record of 875-512-132 and 77 ties).  On the all-time list of coaches, he is just three points behind Scotty Bowman (.657) for eighth place.  We won’t go into that playoff thing.

1.  There is a certain consistency to the Caps’ offense this season.  They and the San Jose Sharks are the only teams with goals scored in the 50’s in each of the three periods this season.  The Caps have scored, by period, 52-56-28, respectively, while the Sharks have scored 50-58-51, respectively.

2.  The Caps are getting out-shot, 34.2 to 27.9 per game, on the road this season.

3.  One thing that the Caps have been able to do in this 5-4-4 stretch is manage their special teams opportunities fairly well.  They have 42 power play chances in those 13 games and only 38 shorthanded situations faced.

4.  One thing that the Caps have not been able to do well is the object of the exercise – win.  Since January 10th, the Caps’ five wins in the Metropolitan Division are fewer than any division team except Columbus (four).

5.  The Caps have been decent down the middle in scoring in this 13-game slump.  Evgeny Kuznetsov (14 points), Lars Eller (10), Nicklas Backstrom (7), and Jay Beagle (7) rank in the top six in points on the club over this span of games.  But Backstrom…minus-11?  Woof.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Daniel Winnik

Six skaters for the Minnesota Wild have appeared in all 56 games for the club this season.  One of them is former Capital forward Daniel Winnik.  Not bad for a player who went all of last summer as an unrestricted free agent, joining the Wild on a professional tryout contract for training camp and then signed to a one-year contract on the eve of the regular season.  Winnik is among the more travelled players in the NHL, the Wild being his eighth team in 11 NHL seasons.  But travel aside, Winnik occupies a special role in his draft class.  He was taken in the seventh round, the 265th pick of that draft.  But only five players taken in that draft have appeared in more games than Winnik (773): Alex Ovechkin (973; taken first overall), Andrew Ladd (896 games/fourth overall pick), Travis Zajac (818/20th), Mark Streit (786/262nd), and Mike Green (776/29th).  It is worth noting that four of the five players ahead of him were first round picks.  For good measure, the three players just behind Winnik in games played in that draft class are also first rounders (Drew Stafford (13th overall), Evgeni Malkin (2nd), and Blake Wheeler (5th). 

Winnik is not scoring at the pace he did with the Caps last season – five goals in 56 games so far versus 12 in 72 games last season – but then again, last season was a career year for Winnik in shooting percentage (14.6) and, as a result, goals scored, even though he had a career low in ice time per game (12:55).  You would think that even with the low goal total, Winnik would have punished old teams, but only one of his five goals to date has come against a former team (Pittsburgh).  As for his most recent former team, Winnik is 2-1-3, plus-6, in nine career games against Washington.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Chicken or the egg?  Horse or the cart?  Too many good scoring chances faced or too many soft goals allowed?  Wherever you come down, Braden Holtby does not have good numbers lately.  In the Caps’ 5-4-4 slump, Holtby has ten starts and a record of 4-2-4, 3.26, .904.  Of 45 goalies logging at least 250 minutes over that span, Holtby ranks 38th in goals against average (3.26) and 32nd in save percentage (.904).  But it is a complex record, too.  Holtby is 3-0-1 in the four highest shot total games he played in that stretch and stopped 144 of 154 shots (.935 save percentage).  He lost five of the six lowest shot totals he faced over the same span (1-2-3) and stopped just 157 of 179 shots (.877 save percentage), although he was pulled once in those six games.  Still, Holtby faced 33.9 shots per 60 minutes over those 13 games.  It is higher than the 32.6 shots per 60 minutes he has faced over the entire season to date.  Compare those numbers to last season, when he faced 27.4 shots per 60 minutes, and you get the feeling that he is facing too much rubber. 

More shots and less efficiency (lower save percentage) has resulted in his goals against average ballooning from 2.07 last season to 2.82 going into this game.  But if he was to match last year’s goals against average with the number of shots he has faced this season he would have to have a save percentage of .936.  Only one goaie among 44 with more than 1000 minutes played this season has a better save percentage, the St. Louis Blues Carter Hutton (.940 in 1293 minutes), but he is facing an average of just 30.3 shots per 60 minutes.  Holtby is 8-2-0, 2.29, .922, with one shutout in ten career appearances against the Wild.

In the end…

For the longest time, well, since the Wild were established in Minnesota in 2000, the Caps could not win in the Twin Cities (they weren't so great against the North Stars in Minnesota, either, before they moved to Dallas, going 10-13 with eight ties).  In their first seven games in Minnesota against the Wild, the Caps went 0-6-1.  However, Washington has wins in each of their last two visits to Minnesota, a 3-2 win in March 2015 and a 5-4 overtime win last March on a goal by T.J. Oshie, who played high school hockey in Minnesota.  That overtime win last year featured a hat trick by Alex Ovechkin (all three goals on power plays), and the March 2015 win had two Ovechkin goals.  Caps fans would like to see both players renew their pleasant familiarity with those surroundings, to win and to take some pressure of their beleaguered goaltenders.

Capitals 4 – Wild 2

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 56: Capitals at Jets, February 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their longest remaining road trip of the season this week, beginning with a trip to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Tuesday.  In the Jets, the Caps might be facing the most surprising non-expansion team in the league this season.  Through Sunday’s games, the Jets had the fifth-best record in the league (32-15-9), a record that was hardly a fluke, the Jets ranked in the top-ten in a wide variety of statistical categories.

The Jets have been consistently good, not a club of binges of wins.  Their longest winning streak this season is four games (Games 16-19 in mid-November), but they have had five other winning streaks of three games.  Only once this season have the Jets had a losing streak of as many as three games (Games 28-30 in early December, when they went 0-2-1).  Only five times this year have the Jets lost consecutive games in regulation, the fifth being the situation in which they currently find themselves. 

This is a club that gets balance in their high scoring volume.  Eight Jets have at least ten goals this season, led by Patrik Laine with 25. Laine, the second overall pick of the 2016 entry draft, has already established himself as a prolific goal scorer.  Only three players since the 2004-2005 lockout have appeared in at least 100 games over their first two seasons and averaged more goals per game than Laine (0.48): Alex Ovechkin (0.60), Auston Matthews (0.51), and Evgeni Malkin (0.50).  He is in the midst of a hot streak, too.  Since going seven games without a goal to end the old year and start the new, Laine has seven goals in his last 13 games, only once in that span going consecutive games without a goal.  He will be looking to avoid going consecutive games without a tally when he takes the ice against the Caps.  Laine does not have a point and is minus-3 in two career games against Washington.

While Laine at the top of the team’s goal scoring ranking is no surprise, Nikolaj Ehlers being the other Jet with more than 20 goals is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.  But perhaps not much of one upon closer inspection.  Ehlers’ progress in his brief three-year career with the Jets has been striking for the level of improvement in goal scoring.  He had 15 goals in 72 games in his rookie campaign two seasons ago, and he almost doubled that total to 25 in 82 games last season.  With 21 goals in 56 games this season he is on a pace to top 30 goals this season.  Ehlers is more of a “bunches” scorer than Laine, his four multi-goal games (including a hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 9th) leads the club.  And when he does score, the Jets do win.  Winnipeg is 11-2-2 in the 15 games in which he recorded a goal this season.  However, like Laine, Ehlers does not have a career point against the Caps, going 0-0-0, minus-2, in four career games against the Caps.

If there is one thing that can hold the Jets back this season, it might be goaltending.  Not that Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t been good; he has.  Among 43 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes of ice time this season, he is tied for second in wins (28), eighth in goals against average (2.35), and ninth in save percentage (.923).  He is tied for second in shutouts with five.  If he has an odd statistic, it is that he has as many losses in regulation (eight) as he does in extra time (eight, most in the league).  However, there are two concerns about Hellebuyck, one immediate and one looming in the future.  Of immediate concern is that in his last seven games he is 3-2-2, 2.68, .907, with one shutout.  In five of those seven games he allowed three or more goals.  A slump or a regression?  The issue looming in the distance is Hellebuyck’s postseason experience.  He has none.  Not in the NHL, not in the AHL, not in two years at University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  He does have two years participating with Team USA in the World Championships, backstopping the team to a bronze medal in 2015.  Hellebuyck is 1-1-0, 1.93, .938 in two career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  As mentioned above, the Jets are a top-ten team in a variety of statistical categories.  Through Sunday’s games, those categories included: scoring offense (3.16 goals per game/6th), scoring defense (2.66 goals per game/7th), power play (23.6 percent/4th), penalty kill (82.7 percent/T-7th), faceoff wins (52.4 percent/5th), wins by three or more goals (17/T-1st), wins when scoring first (25/6th), first-period goals scored (64/1st), fewest third period goals allowed (44/3rd), and wins when leading after the first (19/2nd) and second (25/T-4th) periods.

2.  This edition of the Jets will almost certainly set a franchise record for wins in a season.  With 32 wins in 56 games, they need only 12 in their last 26 contests to set the mark.  The 2006-2007 Atlanta Thrashers and the 2014-2015 Jets each won 43 games.

3.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have scored more 5-on-4 goals this season (44) than the Jets (42).

4. No team has fewer major penalties called against them this season than Winnipeg (six, tied with Vegas).

5.  The Jets have a fine win-loss record, but they don’t seem to be doing it by strength of possession.  Winnipeg ranks 12th in shot attempts-for percentage overall (50.99), 17th when tied (49.50), and 15th in close situations (50.93; numbers from

1.  The Caps have 12 “plus” players, but two of them have played in fewer than ten games: Aaron Ness (plus-2 in eight games) and Nathan Walker (plus-1 in seven games).  Another is a plus player in fewer than 25 games (Taylor Chorney, plus-8 in 23 games).

2. "Four" is the magic number for the Caps.  They are 24-1-1 when scoring four or more goals.  However, the 5-4 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday was the second time in three games scoring four or more goals that the Caps lost (they lost to Pittsburgh, 7-4, on February 2nd).

3.  In each of their last seven road games the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal.  Five times, they allowed more than 35.  Over those seven games they are averaging 36.9 shots allowed per game.  They also happen to be 4-1-2 in those seven road games.

4.  Only four teams have more penalty minutes in road games than the Caps (295) and each of those four teams have played at least two more games on the road than the Caps through Sunday.

5.  The Caps have been credited with only 314 blocked shots on the road so far this season, fewest in the league and almost 50 fewer than the next team up the rankings (Carolina: 363).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Mathieu Perreault

The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets have neither a long nor a particularly outstanding history.  Nevertheless, it might surprise some to know that former Capital Mathieu Perreault ranks 15th on the all-time franchise points list (159) and is a good game away from passing Nik Antropov (161) for 14th place.  His 55 goals with the club ranks 18th all-time, one behind Ray Ferraro for 17th place, and his 104 assists ranks 13th in franchise history.  Perreault is a very efficient contributor on this year’s team, ranking fourth in goals scored (15, tied with Mark Scheifele), and his 2.98 points per 60 minutes ranks second among 23 skaters recording at least 100 minutes of ice time this season.  He has been hot of late, going 5-6-11, even, in his last 14 games.  However, when he was held without a point in the Jets’ 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, it marked the first time over those 14 games that he was held without a point in consecutive games.  Perreault is 2-0-2, minus-5, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: John Carlson

Tied for eighth in goals among defensemen, third in assists, third in points, tied for fifth in power play goals, third in power play points, tied for fourth in game-winning goals, fifth in shots on goal, sixth in average ice time, tied for ninth in takeaways, first in power play ice time per game, first in total special teams ice time per game.  His 35 assists and 44 points in 55 games are already the second highest totals in those categories of his career.  He has more points (44) than the next two Capital defensemen combined (Dmitry Orlov (20) and Matt Niskanen (17)) combined.  He is the only Capital defenseman to have recorded at least one power play goal (four) and he has all but one of the power play points scored by Caps defensemen this season (21 of 22; Orlov has the other).   He has almost as many shots on goal (165) as the next two Caps defensemen combined (Orlov (91) and Niskanen (76)).  John Carlson is having a career year.  And his contributions matter.  The Caps are 8-1-0 in games in which Carlson scored a goal, 25-5-3 in the 33 games in which he had at least one point.  Carlson has ramped up his offensive production of late.  Over his last 17 games he has points in 12 of them and is 6-11-17, even.  That Caps are 9-1-2 in those 12 games in which Carlson recorded a point.  Carlson is 1-10-11, plus-6, in 26 career games against the Thrashers/Jets.

In the end…

Winnipeg has been more hospitable than most road destinations for the Caps.  Washington has a 6-3-1 record in ten games in Winnipeg since the Jets moved there from Atlanta in 2011.  The odd part about this series in Manitoba is that four of the last nine games played between the teams ended in a shutout, the Caps earning three of them.  What makes this contest a bit different is that the Jets are coming off consecutive losses on home ice for the first time this season, last Friday in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues and Sunday in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers.  Winnipeg has not lost three consecutive games on home ice since last March when they lost to San Jose, Pittsburgh, and Calgary in consecutive outings.  Will the Jets’ string of 33 home games without losing three in a row come to an end?  What do you think?

Capitals 4 – Jets 3

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 19

Hockey is a funny game.  Not often funny, “ha-ha,” but funny, “strange.”  In Week 19, the Washington Capitals were barely five minutes from forcing an overtime that could have left them with a perfect week or, at the least, no losses in regulation.  On the other hand, they were just 43 seconds away from being forced into an overtime that could have left them with a two-loss week.  It is why all 60 minutes m matter in regulation and why hockey can be a funny game.  No joke.

Record: 2-1-0

Week 19 made 11 times in 19 weeks that the Capitals finished with a winning week.  And before you scoff at “only” a 2-1-0 week, should the Caps go the rest of the season on that pace, they will finish with 106 standings points.  It would be the 11th time in history that they finished over 100 points and seventh-most in club history.

As it is, the 2-1-0 week allowed the Caps to maintain a five-point edge on second place in the Metropolitan Division, a spot now occupied by the Pittsburgh Penguins, although the Metro team that they might need to be looking at is the Philadelphia Flyers, who are just one point behind the Penguins at the end of Week 19 with a game in hand.

What the Caps are, unsurprisingly, is behind last year’s points pace.  With a 32-17-5 record at the 54-game point, they trail last year’s 37-11-6 mark.  Then again, the Caps were on one heckuva hot streak, too, having gone 17-2-1 in the 20 games leading up to that 54-game mark.  This club is a more modest 11-5-4 in its last 20 games.  At the moment, that is pretty much the difference between the two seasons.

Two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets to end the week wrapped up a portion of the schedule heavy with division games.  Since December 30th, the Caps faced Metropolitan Division opponents 10 times, posting a division record of 6-2-2, the best intra-division record among Metro teams over that span of time.

Offense: 3.33 /game (season: 3.07 /game, rank: 8th)

It was less an explosive offense than a consistent one in Week 19 for the Capitals.  They scored at least three goals in each of the three games, giving them six straight games recording three or more goals.  What made it a funny week (again, “strange”) was scoring three or more goals in each game without recording more than 25 shots in any of them and averaging only 21.7 shots for the week.  For the second time this season the Caps scored four goals without the benefit of as many as 20 shots on goal.  They did it against Columbus in the last game of the week, recording only 17 shots in a 4-2 win.  They also did it on November 2nd, recording only 19 shots in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders.  It was the fewest shots on goal recorded in a game scoring four or more goals since January 9, 2004, when the Caps had only 16 shots on goal in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson led the team with a pair of goals apiece.  Backstrom’s second goal of the week was the game-winner in the 3-2 win over Columbus in the middle game of the week.  The goal, scored with just 42.9 seconds left in regulation, was Backstrom’s 200th career goal, all with the Capitals.  He became the fifth player in team history to hit the 200-goal mark with the club, joining Alex Ovechkin (590), Peter Bondra (472), Mike Gartner (397), and Mike Ridley (218).

Carlson’s two goals left him tied for seventh place in goal scoring among defensemen in the league, and his two points left him tied for fourth among defensemen, his 42 points trailing only John Klingberg (52), Brent Burns (47), and P.K. Subban (43).

Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in points for the week (1-3-4), his points in all three games extending his points streak to six games (2-7-9).  He has points in ten of his last 12 games (3-10-13), three of them multi-point games, giving him 13 for the season.  That is second-most on the club (Ovechkin: 16).

Defense: 2.67 / game (season: 2.87 /game, rank: 17th)

Shots on goal allowed has become an issue again.  Washington allowed 107 shots on goal for the week (35.7 per game) and 76 in the two games against Columbus to close the week.  That made six straight games allowing 30 or more shots and 12 in their last 14 contests.  Only six teams have allowed 30 or more shots on goal more times than the Caps, although they haven’t had to pay a heavy price (yet) for doing so.  They have a 23-11-3 record in the 37 games in which they allowed 30 or more shots to date.  It is worth noting though, that the Caps allowed opponents 30 or more shots only 31 times all of last season, sixth fewest in the league.  They were 21-6-4 in those games.

The startling number, though, is 35.  In allowing Columbus 39, and then 37 shots on goal to close the week, the Caps total number of games allowing 35 or more shots rose to 20, tied for ninth-most in the league.  That is more than double the number they allowed all of last season (nine).

The sad numbers extended to shot attempts.  With a 5-on-5 shot attempts-for of 40.56 percent, the Caps finished next to last for the week (Minnesota: 36.77 percent in three games; numbers from  They were the worst team in the league in this statistic playing with a lead for the week (32.19 percent).  The only reason they did not finish last was that Vancouver did not hold a lead in any of their games this week.

Goaltending: 2.69 / .925 (season: 2.72 / .915 / 1 shutout)

It was not a bad week for the goaltenders, but the shots allowed made it look worse.  Philipp Grubauer allowed the Vegas Golden Knights four goals to open the week, which is not an awful performance given that the Golden Knights have the second-best scoring offense in the league with almost three and a half goals per game.  However, it was disappointing to allow two goals in a five minute stretch in the third period to allow Vegas to turn a one-goal deficit into what would become a one-goal victory.  It was the first time Grubauer allowed more than three goals in a game since he allowed six goals on 28 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on November 16th.  From that game until he took the ice against Vegas he had been 4-1-2, 1.52, .950, with one shutout.  It was also the first time this season that he allowed as many as four goals on home ice.

Braden Holtby got the call for both games against Columbus and was the primary reason that the Caps won the week.  As we pointed out in the summary of the first game against the Blue Jackets, in Columbus, “let’s face it, [he] pretty much stole this game.”  He stopped all 17 shots he faced in the second period of that contest while the Caps were being pounded, 17-7, in shots on goal and by a 29-12 margin in shot attempts.  It was a slightly different, if no less relentless, shots faced profile for Holtby in the second game against Columbus.  He stopped 27 of 28 periods over the last 40 minutes, the last 27 in a row, to keep the Caps on the good side of a 4-2 decision.  Holtby has been on a bit of a roller coaster, though.  Over his last 13 appearances, he had a game with a save percentage under .900 followed by two over .900.  He repeated that pattern twice, and then he had consecutive games at .900 or lower before wrapping up this week with a couple of excellent performances against Columbus.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 20.8 percent, rank: 13th)

There was the good news, and there was the bad news.  The latter first.  Seven power play chances in three games is a low number.  Not surprising, given that the Caps rank in the lower half of the league in power play chances overall (tied for 18th with 168).  Only four teams had fewer chances and two of them (Florida and Detroit) played only two games. 

If there is a fact that stands out, though.  Tom Wilson drew the game’s first penalty in the 4-2 win over Columbus to close the week.  Hardly surprising.  At the close of the week, Wilson was fourth among 278 forwards with 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (5.51; numbers from

Carlson and Lars Eller had the power play goals for the week, and five different Caps had power play points (T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, and Kuznetsov added assists).  Conspicuous by his absence on the power play score sheet was Alex Ovechkin, who recorded only one power play shot on goal for the week. 

The Caps were successful in peppering goalies with power play shots despite the lack of them from Ovechkin.  They scored on two of 14 shots in just 11:34 of power play ice time for the week.  Ovechkin was more decoy that teams seem to shade toward, based on the shot profile.  Eight different Caps had power play shots on goal.  John Carlson had five of them, perhaps in no small part not having openings to lay out feeds to Ovechkin for one-timers.  Brett Connolly and T.J. Oshie – the middle of the 1-3-1 power play deployment – had a pair of shots apiece.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 79.3 percent, rank: 19th)

After an awful Week 18 (2-for-5), the Caps rebounded in Week 19 for a very respectable week on the PK.  It makes one hope Week 18 was just one of those weeks, for the Caps are at 85.7 percent or better in three of the last four weeks.  The feeling should be tempered by the fact that the Caps faced the worst power play in the league – twice.  Columbus went 0-for-6 in the two games to drop to 14.0 percent for the season.  It would not be the worst power play in the league since the 2004-2005 lockout, but they can see the bottom of the valley from where they are (377th at the moment among 391 team results…parenthetically, Columbus has three of the worst 15 power play results in that span, including this season, most in the bottom 15).

It was an uneven week in terms of efficiency, although it did resemble the week overall in the shots allowed aspect.  Vegas managed four power play shots on goal in the space of 37 seconds before scoring what would be the only power play goal against for the week.  The Caps did hold Columbus to 11 shots without a goal in 12:00 of shorthanded ice time, but they were better in Columbus (four shots in six minutes) than they were on home ice (seven shots in six minutes).

Faceoffs: 74-for-158 / 46.8 percent (season: 50.4 percent, rank: 15th)

It was not a very good week in the circle for the Caps, and unlike Week 18 it was more a product of an off week among the big four (those with ten or more draws for the week).  Nicklas Backstrom was the only Capital finishing the week over 50 percent and just one over the 50 percent mark at that.  Lars Eller finished with 50 percent, as did Jay Beagle, although in the latter’s case that has to be looked at as something of a disappointing result.  Evgeny Kuznetsov finished above 40 percent, barely. 

By zone, the Caps had a so-so time in the offensive end, although it was just one under 50 percent for the week.  Winning more than 50 percent of their defensive zone draws might have kept down the scoring chances a bit, but it was not a dominating week at that end (53.2 percent, two wins over 50 percent).  The neutral zone was an adventure (38.9 percent) and was the primary influence on a below 50 percent week.

Goals by Period:

In a league where getting out to a lead early is a good indicator of success, the Caps had a decent week, winning the goal differential in the first and second periods.  That they lost the third period goal differential was the result of those two goals allowed to the Vegas Golden Knights.  Those positive goal differentials in the first and second periods for the weeks tie to the Caps’ ability to hold leads when establishing intermission footholds.  The Caps were tied with Vegas at both the first and second intermissions, but they led Columbus once at the first intermission (in the second game) and in both games at the second intermission before going on to win both games.  It extended the Caps streak this season of not losing a game in regulation any game they led at either intermission.  They are 19-0-1 when leading after 20 minutes and 22-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes.

In the end…

The good news in Week 19 was sticking it to a division opponent twice and bumping them out of the group of playoff-eligible teams in the Eastern Conference (Columbus is now one point out of a wild card spot, but they do have a game in hand on Carolina for the second wild card).  The bad news was losing the season series to the Vegas Golden Knights, a team they could face (humor us) in a Stanley Cup final in what might be the most bizarre final matchup in league history.

The Caps have led from in front the last two seasons, meaning that once taking a lead in the division, they were able to withstand any challenge over the rest of the regular season.  It is not unfamiliar territory.  It should give the club a measure of confidence as they head into the last third of the season, starting with Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.  It might be a thinner margin that the Caps have had in the last two years, but those are two years of experience they take into the stretch.  If someone had said the Caps would be in this position at the two-thirds mark of the season, you might have thought they were being funny – either “ha-ha” or “strange.”  But here they are.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-1-3, plus-1, 200th career goal, game-winning goal, scored on both shots on goal he recorded, 8 shot attempts, 52.1 percent faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 2.01, .947)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, even, 5 shots on goal, 10 shot attempts)

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Scribbles: Looking Back Ten Years at the Washington Capitals

Ten years ago, the Washington Capitals were on a journey from the desert of also-ran status in the NHL standings for three straight seasons to the promised land of the playoffs.  It was an intoxicating period in team history, the “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin – coming of age and learning how to win in the NHL.  It was a time worth looking back on as the Caps lean into their stretch run this season.  Think about it…

-- Through 53 games this season, Alex Ovechkin has 26 assists.  Ten years ago at the same mark, he had 27 helpers.  The difference is that this year he has 32 goals – a league-leading total.  But ten years ago at the 53-game mark he had 43 goals and would score another 22 in his last 29 games (17 in his last 17 contests) to set a record that still stands for left wingers in the NHL of 65 goals.

-- The Caps lead the Metropolitan Division these days with a 31-17-5 record through 53 games.  Back then, they were just 24-24-5.  Sure, it was quite an improvement from their low-water mark of 8-16-2 on November 30th in that season, but it was a rest stop before going 19-7-3 in their last 29 games to secure a postseason spot.

-- This year’s Caps have four players with more than 40 points – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson.  Back then, they had only two – Ovechkin (70) and Backstrom (42).

-- Mike Green had 32 points at the 53-game mark to lead all defensemen.  John Carlson has 41 points on this year’s squad through 53 games.  This year’s squad already has five defensemen in double digits in points (Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey).  The 2007-2008 team at the same point had only four (Green, Brian Pothier, Tom Poti, and Jeff Schultz).

-- Some things don’t change too much.  This year’s club struggles with penalty killing, finding itself under the NHL’s equivalent of the “Mendoza Line” (80-percent) with a 79.0 percent penalty kill rate.  Ten years ago, it was 79.8 percent.  Like we said, some things don’t change all that much.

-- Penalty minutes were spread a bit more liberally back then.  The Caps had three players with 50 or more penalty minutes at the 53-game mark of the 2007-2008 season: Donald Brashear, John Erskine, and Green.  This year, only Tom Wilson tops 50 minutes, but he has almost as many (127) and Brashear and Erskine had, combined, back then (134).

-- Mike Green had more power play goals (six) on that 2007-2008 season at the same point as the entire Capitals defense has now.  Then again, John Carlson is the only Capital with power play goals on his ledger so far (four).  Green’s team also had Milan Jurcina and Brian Pothier with power play goals.

-- The goals for and against were just about flipped between that 2007-2008 team (150 for, 164 against) and this year’s team at the same point (162 for, 153 against).

-- This team hits more than that one (1194 to 1050), blocks more shots (750 to 634), but that one was better in managing turnovers with fewer giveaways (569 to 591) and more takeaways (421 to 384).

-- What this team has that the one ten years ago did not was a liking for home cooking.  This year’s Caps team is 19-8-1, the 19 wins tied for third most on home ice in the league.  The 2007-2008 team was still trying to find its way in rocking the red, sporting a modest 14-12-1 record at home.

In the end…

Think of it as an exercise in answering the question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.  If you are in the half-empty category, you might be thinking that after ten years and the disappointments of the last two years especially, the window is falling shut with an uncertain future ahead for the Caps’ and hopes for playoff success.  If half-full, you might think the Caps have come a long way and still have some life left in them as they try to fulfill the goal of winning a Stanley Cup.  Either way, it's been quite a trip.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 53: Capitals 3 - Blue Jackets 2

The Washington Capitals did their level best to give a game away, but they just couldn’t as Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in regulation to allow the Caps to escape with a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first of a home-and-home set that will conclude on Friday night in Washington.

First Period

The Caps once again could not get out of their own way in the defensive zone.  They did a good job pinning Columbus in their end early, but when the Blue Jackets finally broke free and got the puck into the other end, they scored.  David Savard did the honors at the 1:58 mark.  Taking a feed from Alexander Wennberg at the top of the offensive zone, he threaded a shot through a maze of players and over the glove of the screened goalie, Braden Holtby.

Less than two minutes later, Markus Nutivaara took a holding penalty for Columbus, and the Caps evened the game on the ensuing power play.  Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov played catch with the puck on the right side, and when Backstrom took a return feed from Kuznetsov, he laid the puck out to John Carlson at the center point.  Carlson fired a dart that snuck through goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and it was 1-1, 4:54 into the period.

That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, but the Caps took a penalty late, Nicklas Backstrom sent off for holding the stick with just 2.9 seconds left, the Columbus power play carrying over into the second period.

Washington led the first period in shots on goal, 12-11, and they had a 24-17 edge in shot attempts.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with four shots on goal and six shot attempts.  Tom Wilson had three of the four credited hits for the team, and Evgeny Kuznetsov won all three faceoffs he took, the only Cap over 50 percent.

Second Period

Tom Wilson broke the tie five minutes into the period when he took a feed from Alex Ovechkin, broke in alone on Bobrovsky, deked the goalie to the ice, and slipped the puck on the backhand under his right pad to make it 2-1.

It would be the only goal, largely due to Braden Holtby, who stopped all 17 shots he faced.  Columbus had a 29-12 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

The Caps went into a shell, and then the backed up to the rear of the shelter, allowing the Blue Jackets to pile up shots and shot attempts.  Columbus chipped away over the first 13 minutes and then finally broke through to tie the game in the 14th minute.  Brandon Dubinsky chipped a rebound of his own shot over the left pad of Holtby to make it 2-2 at the 13:55 mark.

It looked as if the Caps would be fortunate to hang on to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom got the game-winner late.  It was a product of determined play by T.J. Oshie, who while tied up with David Savard at the bottom of the left wing circle to Bobrovsky’s right, backhanded the puck across to Backstrom closing on the net from the right wing circle.  Backstrom wasted no time, snapping a shot that Bobrovsky got a piece of on its way through, but not enough to keep it out of the back of the net.  The Caps held on from there to skate off with the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

--  The Caps allowed the first goal of the 10th time in 11 games and the 14th time in 17 contests.

--  Tom Wilson broke a 12-game streak without a goal with his second period tally.  It was his first goal on the road since he recorded a pair of goals in a 3-2 win over the Bruins in Boston on November 4th, a span of 15 road games without a goal.

--  Alex Ovechkin had almost a third of the Caps shots on goal – eight of 25.  He had 13 of the team’s 47 shot attempts.

--  Tom Wilson had more than a third of the credited hits – five of 13.

--  The Caps were out-shot, 28-13, over the last two periods.

--  Only once this season did Braden Holtby face more shots on goal in a road game than he faced tonight (39).  He faced 40 shots on goal in a 5-2 win over the Oilers in Edmonton on October 28th.  Holtby had not yet lost a road game in which he faced more than 35 shots (6-0-0).  He is now 9-1-1 in road games in which he faced more than 30 shots.

--   Nicklas Backstrom became the fifth player in franchise history to reach the 200 goal mark.  He joins Alex Ovechkin (590), Peter Bondra (472), Mike Garner (397), and Mike Ridley (218).

--  Backstrom had a goal and an assist, his 207th multi-point game as a Capital, one behind Bondra (208) for second place in team history (Ovechkin has 311 such games).

-- Lars Eller skated just 12:20 in this game, his low in ice time for a road game this season.

-- John Carlson became the eighth defenseman in Caps history to record 70 career goals with his first period score.

In the end…

Sometimes a team is not rewarded for playing well and lose on a fluke, a bad call, or it just not being their night.  This was the opposite.  The Caps really did not deserve to win this game, but they parlayed excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby (who, let’s face it, pretty much stole this game) and a good play from skilled players late to win a game they had little business being competitive in over the last 40 minutes.  The Caps preserved their record of not losing a game in regulation when leading after 20 minutes (19-0-1) and when leading after 40 minutes (21-0-2), but it did not come easy.  Now, they get to return home, try to correct their mistakes, and place the Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes in even greater jeopardy than that in which they find themselves with this loss.