Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 77: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals opened up their home-and-home series with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena.  The Caps went into the game with the possibility of clinching a playoff spot with a win and losses in regulation by both the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets.  That would not happen, even as the Caps held up their end of the bargain, besting Carolina, 4-1.

First Period

The teams went back and forth in the first ten minutes, the Hurricanes generally enjoying a territorial advantage, but the Caps were awarded a power play in the eleventh minute, Sebastian Aho whistled for hooking Carl Hagelin.  The Caps did not convert and did not record a shot on goal with the man advantage.

The teams retreated to their back-and-forth ways waiting for a break.  The Caps made their own break late in the first period.  T.J. Oshie fought off defensemen Justin Faulk long enough to allow Carl Hagelin to collect the puck and move it to Evgeny Kuznetsov along the right wing wall.  Kuznetsov walked the puck below the goal line and threaded a pass between the sticks of Faulk and goalie Petr Mrazek to Oshie backing his way through the left wing circle. Oshie one-timed the feed into the open short side of the net, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead 16:29 into the period.  That would be all for the first period scoring.

-- The teams split 20 shots down the middle, ten apiece, but Carolina out-attempted Washington, 24-17.

-- Each team had nine credited hits, Brooks Orpik leading the Caps with three.

-- Nicklas Backstrom…0-for-6 on draws.  Evgeny Kuznetsov….1-for-6.…yeesh.

Second Period

The teams started the second period much like the first, Carolina having a edge in territorial play, but neither team converting.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance for a wrap-around attempt but was hooked by Mrazek mid-way through the period.  Just like in the first period, the Caps could not convert.  They did, however, manage to get two shots on goal on this power play.

Failing to take advantage of the opportunity came back to bite the Caps late in the period.  Christian Djoos was going to be called for a holding penalty, but the Hurricanes maintained possession of the puck, and the play went on.  The Caps made a ghastly line change, swapping out both defensemen on the delayed penalty call, giving Carolina even more time to wreak havoc.  A loose puck finally made its way to Dougie Hamilton at the top of the offensive zone, and he beat goalie Braden Holtby on the blocker side to tie the game at the 15:38 mark.  That would be the start and the end of the scoring for the period.

-- The Caps out-shot Carolina, 11-7, in the period, and they out-attempted them, 24-11.

-- Alex Ovechkin had four shots and seven attempts through two periods, both leading the team (the latter tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov).

-- Carolina had 15 missed shots through two periods, almost as many as they had on goal (17).

Third Period

The Caps did not allow Carolina to dominate the early going in the third period as they did in the first two periods.  Tilting the ice the other way paid dividends in the fifth minute.  Evgeny Kuznetsov fed the puck to Tom Wilson at the offensive blue line, and then made a bee line for the net.  Curling behind Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin took a feed from Wilson and one-timed the puck, but seemed to take just a bit off the shot and slid it low on the ice.  Kuznetsov jumped over the puck as it came through, and it beat Mrazek past his right pad to make it 2-1, 4:31 into the period.

The Caps doubled their lead seven minutes later.  Dmitry Orlov had an open lane from the left point, but he had to deal with a rolling puck.  Nevertheless, he showed “shot,” but it was a slap pass to John Carlson darting to the net from the right wing circle.  Carlson got just enough wood (or composite) on the puck to redirect it over Mrazek and into the top of the net to make it 3-1 at the 11:16 mark.

The Caps ended the competitive portion of the contest with less than three minutes left when Nicklas Backstrom scored into an empty net, making it 4-1 at the 17:33 mark.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie’s first period goal was his 100th as a Capital.  He is the 29th player in team history to reach 100 goals with the club.

-- Ovechkin’s goal, in addition to being his 49th of the season, was his 656th in his career, tying him with Brendan Shanahan for 13th place, all-time.

-- Ovechkin added an assist, making this the 27th time he recorded a multi-point game against Carolina, tying Ray Bourque for second place all-time in multi-point games against the Hurricanes.  Jaromir Jagr leads with 36 games.

-- John Carlson had a goal and an assist to give him 400 career points, the fifth defenseman in Caps history to reach that mark with the club.  He joins Sergei Gonchar (416), Kevin Hatcher (426), Scott Stevens (429) and Calle Johansson (474).

-- Dmitry Orlov was a plus-3, making him plus-13 in his last 11 games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had his second three-assist game of the season and the first since October 10th against Vegas.  Both instances were on home ice.  It was his 13th career game with three or more assists, tying Adam Oates for fifth place all time with the Caps.

-- Brooks Orpik did Brooks Orpik things… five hits, four blocked shots.

-- Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, and Christian Djoos did not have a shot attempt.

-- The teams finished with 28 shots on goal apiece, but Carolina had 63 shot attempts to 53 for the Caps.

-- Braden Holtby allowed one goal on 28 shots.  That makes four goals allowed on 91 shots (.956 save percentage) over his last three games, his lowest goals allowed over any three-appearance stretch for him in the new calendar year.

In the end…

The Caps played the kind of game they need to have for the postseason.  They avoided any temptation to put on a show for the home crowd and paid close attention to their responsibilities in all three zones.  It might not have made for the sexiest or most exciting kind of game, but it was one a purist would love.  As much as any game recently, it resembled the sort of game the Caps displayed last spring on their way to a Stanley Cup.  The timing is good, but the trick will now be to do it again, against the same team, on their rink on Thursday.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 77/78 Capitals vs. Hurricanes, March 26th/28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the first and only time in the regular season, the Washington Capitals will play a home-and-home set of games against an opponent.  It might be fitting that the opponent for these two games will be the Carolina Hurricanes, against whom the Caps have played 86 home and 86 road games since the teams first met, Carolina in their previous incarnation as the Hartford Whalers, back in 1979 (in keeping with the balanced history of these teams, that first game ended in a 3-3 tie).

When the Caps beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, it brought the Caps even over their last seven games (3-3-1) and allowed them to retain their lead in the Metropolitan Division, albeit by the thinnest of margins, a single point ahead of the New York Islanders. 

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the league at the moment.  The ‘Canes last lost consecutive games in regulation in mid-January, and since dropping a 4-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators for a second straight loss on January 18th, Carolina is 20-6-2.  That is the third-best record in the league over that span, trailing only the St. Louis Blues (20-6-3) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (22-4-2).

It might be coincidental, but the Hurricanes’ good fortune with this 28-game run seems to coincide with the acquisition of forward Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild for Victor Rask on January 17th. Over the 20-6-2 run, Niederreiter leads the team in goals (12) and is third in points (24).  He is tied with Justin Williams for the team lead in power play goals over that span (three), and his six power play points ranks third.  He has even shown a talent for pilferage, ranking second to Sebastien Aho among forwards in takeaways over those 28 games (22).

Niederreiter might have found a home in Carolina.  A former fifth-overall draft pick of the New York Islanders (2010), he played in only 64 games for the Isles over two seasons and managed only two goals and three points.  He was traded to the Minnesota Wild in June 2013 for forward Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third round draft pick.  In five-plus seasons with the Wild, he was a durable player (three games missed) and a productive one (110 goals and 228 points in 434 games), but ultimately, he was an expendable one who made his way to Carolina in that January trade with the Hurricanes.  Niederreiter already holds a place in NHL history as the all-time leading goal scorer among players born in Switzerland (124).  In 13 career games against the Caps, he is 5-2-7, minus-1.

Another player from somewhere else who might have found a home in Carolina is forward Teuvo Teravainen.  He leads the team in points over the 20-6-2 run (32) and in power play points (nine).  Teravainen is another first-round pick of another team, having been drafted 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 entry draft.  Caps fans might remember that Washington passed over Teravainen to take Tom Wilson with the 16th overall pick in that draft.  He spent parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks and never seem to find a fit. In 117 games with Chicago, he managed only 17 goals and 44 points in 115 games, somewhat disappointing given his widely thought of skill level.  He was traded to Carolina in June 2016 with Bryan Bickell for a 2016 second-round draft pick and a 2017 third-round pick.

Teravainen has found the Hurricanes more to his liking, posting a career-high 15 goals and 42 points in his first season in Carolina, and then besting both last season (23 goals, 64 points).  He is on a pace to challenge for another career high in goals (he has 19), and he already has new career highs in assists (51) and points (70).  Teravainen is 4-8-12, plus-2, in 12 career games against Washington.

It would appear that after six seasons toiling largely as a backup in Detroit and a brief, unimpressive stint with the Philadelphia Flyers to end last season, goalie Petr Mrazek has (yes, him too) found a home, or at least an accommodating environment in Carolina.  Currently in the walk year of his contract, a one-year/$1.5 million deal with the Hurricanes, Mrazek might be in the best stretch of his career.  In the Hurricanes’ 28-game run, he has had 15 starts and has posted a record of 11-3-1, 2.07, .927, with three shutouts.  He has not allowed more than three goals in any of his last 11 appearances, going 9-2-0, 1.63, and those three shutouts.

But don’t discount Curtis McElhinney.  He has had 12 starts in this 28-game stretch and is 8-3-1, 2.57, .915, with two shutouts.  But here is the thing.  Mrazek seems to be “Mr. Home,” while McElhinney is “Mr. Away.”  In the Hurricanes’ last 28 games, Mrazek is 5-1-0, 1.65, .943, with one shutout at home, and McElhinney is 4-0-1, 1.97, .933 with two shutouts on the road.  Mrazek is 3-4-2, 2.46, .920, with one shutout in nine career appearances against the Caps, while McElhinney is 1-4-0, 3.76, .868 in eight career games against Washington.

1.  In their 20-6-2 run, Carolina has been a better team on the road (11-2-2/24 points/2nd in the league) than at home (9-4-0/18 points/13th).

2.  Carolina’s home power play in this 28-game stretch (6.7 percent/2-for-30) is second-worst in the league.  Their road power play over that same span (11-for-49/22.4 percent) ranks 12th.

3. The Hurricanes are 36-for-40 killing penalties on the road in this stretch (90.0 percent/fourth), but just 29-for-35 (82.8 percent/tied for 12th) on the road.

4.  Carolina’s goal differential at home in the 28-game run is plus-11.  On the road, it is plus-21.

5.  One area where Carolina has been consistent between home and road is shot attempts.  Their shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 is 55.06 percent on the road in their 28-game run, best in the league.  At home over the same stretch, the Hurricanes are 53.50 percent, 11th.

1.  The Caps did some fine-tuning at the trading deadline with the acquisitions of defenseman Nick Jennsen and forward Carl Hagelin.  Since the deadline, the Cap shave been almost equally successful at home (9-2-2/20 points/third in the league) as on the road (8-5-0/16 points/tied for seventh).

2.  The post-deadline offense has been more successful at home (48 goals) than on the road (40), as has the scoring defense, which has 34 goals allowed at home (tied for 12th fewest) and 38 on the road (18th fewest).

3.  The Caps have been less powerful at home than on the road on the power play since the deadline.  At home they are 7-for-41 (17.1 percent/18th), but they are 8-for-35 on the road (22.9 percent/tied for tenth).

4.  Penalty killing for the Caps follows that same weak-home/strong-road patter since the deadline – 32-for-40 at home (80.0 percent/17th) and 32-for-37 on the road (86.5 percent/eighth)

5.  It extends to shot-attempts, too.  At home, Washington is 50.20 percent (20th) since the trading deadline, but they are 51.33 percent (fifth) on the road.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Justin Faulk

It might seem like only yesterday that Justin Faulk was a 19-year old rookie battling against the Caps in the Southeast Division in 2011-2012 and finishing seventh in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie that season, but now he is an eight-year NHL veteran, all of it with Carolina, and he is climbing the rankings of all-time franchise defensemen.   Only two defensemen in team history have dressed for more games than Faulk (552): Glen Wesley (913) and Adam Burt (626).  He is the all-time leader among defensemen in goals scored (82), by a large margin over second-place Wesley (51).  His 254 points is tops among defensemen to play for the franchise, as are his 38 power play goals and 17 game-winners. 

The blemish on his record as a Hurricane is that he is a minus-100, the worst plus-minus ranking among any skater in team history.  In that context, this is one of, if not his best season of his career.  His scoring is a bit down, his 8-23-31 line to date matching precisely his scoring line of last season, and he does not carry quite the load of ice time he did with weaker teams (a second straight season of 22 minutes per game after five straight seasons averaging more than 23 minutes per game).  But he is a plus-9 this season, the best of his career, after going minus-85 over the previous four seasons.  Faulk has not gone consecutive games without a point in more than a month, and since the last time he did, he is 3-8-11, plus-5, in 17 games.  He is 4-8-12, minus-3, in 30 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

At this stage of his career, and especially with the Caps, there are no numbers that are likely to impress the faithful with respect to Brooks Orpik.  He is not much of an offensive player (and never has been), and his underlying numbers (shot attempt-for percentage at 5-on-5, ratio of takeaways to giveaways) are not impressive.  However, much as it pains the empirical crowd, there is another element that cannot be entirely discounted.  The Caps added a defenseman at the trading deadline (Nick Jensen), they have lost one to injury, perhaps until the postseason (Michal Kempny), and to others have had intermittent struggles this season (the Matt Niskanen/Dmitry Orlov pair).  John Carlson has had another strong season, especially in the offensive end, but there is something to be said for a veteran defensive defenseman who seems to have an ability to manage a locker room. 

And it is not as if he has been entirely silent in the offensive end, at least by his standards.  He has two goals, his first two since he posted his career high of three in 2015-2016 with the Caps.  He has eight points in 47 games, almost matching the total he had in 81 games last season.  He is a plus-3, an improvement on the minus-9 he had last season.  However, he does seem to be in a bit of a difficult stretch.  He does not have a point in his last nine games and is plus-1.  Orpik is 1-11-12, plus-6, in 48 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

These games come at an interesting time for both teams.  If the Caps sweep them, it gets the Caps to 100 points, and it would put them in a decent position to cement their divisional lead.  If Carolina sweeps, it would all but clinch a postseason spot, even if Columbus keeps winning.  A split, and things remain murky for both teams as they head into the last days of the regular season.  Much of the season in Washington has been the carryover of a celebration of the Stanley Cup champion, while in Carolina it has been marked by “surges,” both in performance on the ice and in post-game antics.  Leave the choreography for the game against the Flyers on Saturday, 'Canes fans.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2 (Tuesday)
Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 1 (Thursday)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 76: Capitals 3 - Flyers 1

The Washington Capitals hosted the Philadelphia Flyers in the last meeting in their four-game season series on Sunday afternoon.  The Caps won each of the first three games, each time scoring five goals.  This time, the Caps failed to record five, but they did get three, and that was enough in a 3-1 win to sweep the season series.

First Period

Washington got off to a good start in the first period.  In the fourth minute, Alex Ovechkin tried to feed the puck from low in the right wing circle to Tom Wilson low on the left side.  Claude Giroux, who was near the end of a long shift, slid across and muffled the pass, but the puck slid out to the top of the offensive zone, where Nick Jensen gathered it.  Jensen backed off to the left point and sent the puck toward the net, but Tom Wilson got the blade of his stick on it and redirected it past goalie Brian Elliott to make it 1-0, 3:52 into the period.

The Caps enjoyed two power plays in the period, but they failed to convert either of them.  The teams went to the first intermission with the Caps holding that one-goal lead.

-- The teams split 22 shots on goal down the middle, 11 apiece, but Philadelphia enjoyed a thin 16-15 edge in shots on goal, despite the Caps having two power plays to the Flyers’ none.  Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with three shots on goal and four shot attempts.  Brooks Orpik was next with two shots on goal (tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov) and three shot attempts.

-- The shot profiles were oddly different for each team, the Caps with six even strength and five power play shots on goal, while Philadelphia had 10 even strength shots and one shorthanded shot on goal.

-- The Caps’ power play went 0-for-2 in the period, bringing their performance to 3-for-23 over their last seven games plus one period (13.0 percent).

Second Period

It took less than a minute for the Caps to take a penalty, Alex Ovechkin sent off on a slashing call, and put the Flyers on a power play.  The Flyers managed one shot and failed to convert, and the teams played on.

The Flyers started mounting pressure, but they could not solve goalie Braden Holtby.  The opportunities lost came back to bite the Flyers just past the half way point of the period.  Andre Burakovsky hounded Sean Couturier off the puck in the corner to the left of Elliott. The puck then worked its way to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  His drive was redirected by Travis Boyd under the right arm of Elliott, and it was 2-0, 10:47 into the period.

The Flyers got one back on a power play with less than three minutes left in the period.  Off a scramble in front, Matt Niskanen tried to sweep the puck out of the low slot from one knee and managed only to put it on the stick of Jakub Voracek.  From the low right wing circle, Voracek snapped a shot that beat Holtby through the pads to make it 2-1 at the 17:10 mark.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

-- That probably qualified as one of the worst, if not the worst, periods of the year for the Caps in terms of shot production.  They were out-shot in the period, 20-7, but they were out-attempted, 44-10.

-- The Caps had six players without a shot attempt through two periods: Nick Jensen, Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, Christian Djoos, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.

-- Travis Boyd and Andre Burakovsky, arguably the best two players for the Caps over the first 40 minutes, had a combined ice time of 12:02.

Third Period

The Caps took a penalty in the first minute of the second period, and they took a penalty in the fourth minute of the third, a roughing call to Brooks Orpik.  It was the fourth straight call against the Caps after they got the first two, back in the first period.  The Caps skated this one off to make it three kills in four instances.

Washington took advantage of the Flyers’ inability to get a puck deep into the offensive zone in the ninth minute.  Philippe Myers was the Flyer who failed to get the puck in deep, and it ended up on the stick of Brett Connolly.  From the defensive blue line, Connolly sent the puck into space in the neutral zone, and Jakub Vrana skated it down before going offside.  He broke in on Elliott and snapped a shot under his right pad to make it 3-1, 8:07 into the period.

Vrana almost made it 2-for-2 in breakaways, but his attempt that beat Elliott chipped the outside of the post with just over six minutes left.

The Caps had chances with an empty net late, but could not convert, skating off at game’s end with a 3-1 win and a 4-0-0 sweep of the season series with the Flyers.

Other stuff…

-- This was the second time in the history of this rivalry that the Caps swept the Flyers.  The first time was in 2006-2007.

-- Washington was out-shot, 36-30, for the game, but they did narrow the deficit in the third period, out-shooting the Flyers, 12-5.

-- The Caps were out-attempted, 74-47, but again, they narrowed the gap in the third period, out-attempting the Flyers, 22-14.

-- Travis Boyd snapped a 25-game streak without a goal.  Until he scored against the Flyers, he had not scored since he got one in a 3-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on January 6th.  It was his first goal on home ice since December 11th, also against Detroit, in a 6-2 win.

-- The Caps had goals from three different players and one point apiece from eight different players.

-- Tom Wilson gets the buffet coupon.  In 19:44 of ice time, he had a goal, a penalty, three shots on goal, five shot attempts, five hits (led the team), a giveaway, a takeaway, and won his only faceoff.  Guess that whole James van Riemsdyk submarining his legs in the first period didn’t quite work out as planned.

-- Nick Jensen… plus-2, five blocked shots, two hits, three shot attempts, and an assist in 20:45.  Just a solid, solid game.

-- Alex Ovechkin has only two goals in his last seven games as he continues to pursue a 50-goal season, but he has points in six of those games, including an assist in this one (2-5-7).

-- Braden Holtby was the story with 35 saves on 36 shots, including 30 saves on 31 shots over the first 40 minutes.  It was the 18th game this season in which he faced more than 35 shots.  He is 8-7-3 in those games, and this was the third instance among those games in which he held an opponent to one goal.

-- At no point this season did the Caps ever trail the Flyers.

In the end…

The Capitals extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division to three points, and they probably ended the flickering playoff hopes for the Flyers, who find themselves seven points behind Montreal for the last playoff spot with six games to play.  And, they would have to climb over the Columbus Blue Jackets as well as the Canadiens. 

That said, it was not a particularly good game for the Caps.  Winning is the object, and the Caps fulfilled that objective, but truth be told, this probably captures the quality of the contest…

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 25

We started last week's installment by saying that "Week 24 was a roller coaster of a week with ups and downs and twists and turns against rivals old and new.  In the end, the ride came to a stop right where it started with a two-win two-loss week and the Caps still in charge in the Metropolitan Division."  Well, here we are again, in same place, taking the same trip, in Week 25.

Record: 1-1-1

For the first time since Weeks 20 and 21 last season, the Caps finished with consecutive non-winning weeks.  As they did in that instance, they finished consecutive weeks earning half of the available standings points.  The odd thing about the week, perhaps, was that the win came on the road.  The 4-1 win in New Jersey against the Devils was the Caps’ 22nd road win of the season, tying for the fifth-most road wins in a season in team history (the 2015-2016 team has the most: 27).

Having lost both home games in Week 24, the Caps failed to match the 22 road wins for the season, finishing the week stuck on 21 wins at Capital One Arena.  That means that this team cannot work its way into the top ten in team history in road wins for a season, the most they could finish with being 25.  The two losses at home for the week snapped a five-game home winning streak and were the first instances of losing consecutive games on home ice in more than two months (January 18th and 22nd, the end of a four-game home losing streak).

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.37/5th)

If it was not a prolific week for the Caps, it was balanced.  Seven players shared the nine goals scored; Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly the only Capitals with two.  Connolly, T.J. Oshie, and Carl Hagelin shared the team lead in points with three apiece.  Kuznetsov had the late game-tying goal in the 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay in the middle game of the week, giving him eight goals in eight home games and goals in three of four games overall before he was kept off the board against Minnesota to close the week.  Connoly’s first goal of the week, in the Caps’ 4-1 win in New Jersey over the Devils, was his 20th of the season, giving him the first 20-goal season of his eight-year career.  Oshie’s three points for the week gave him 15 points in his last 18 games (6-9-15) and 48 points for the season, surpassing his total for last year (47).

The Caps were a productive team on home ice over the past six weeks, posting 36 goals in their previous eight home games going into the week.  They managed to add to their string of games on home ice with three or more goals when they put up three against Tampa Bay in the first game of the week.  However, the streak came to an end at nine games when the Caps dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.09/20th)

It was a good week defending for the Caps.  They held all three opponents under 30 shots on goal and allowed a total of 76 in the three games.  It is part of a larger trend lately.  From January 1st through February 24th, they Caps allowed 836 shots in 25 games, an average of 33.4 shots per game, and held opponents under 30 shots eight times.  They had a record over that span of 11-10-4.  Since then, the Caps have allowed 322 shots in 12 games, an average of 27.7 shots per game, and have held opponents under 30 shots eight times.  The Caps have a record of 8-3-1 in those 12 games.

The trend extends to shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a positive shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 in all three games in Week 25, extending their streak to six games, and making it 11 out of 12 games in which they had a positive shot attempt differential.  Over those 12 games, the Caps have a shot differential of plus-150, which is fourth-best in the league over that span.  Compare that to the 25 games from January 1st through February 24th.  The Caps had only eight games with a positive 5-on-5 shot differential, and overall they were minus-147, third-worst in the league over that span.

It might be too facile to conclude that the difference is the trading deadline acquisitions of Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin, but that is the demarcation point between the poor performance in this category and the fine performance since.  It is at least coincidental that those under-the-radar pick-ups have paid dividends in areas where the Caps were weak earlier this season.

Goaltending: 2.68 / .895 (season: 2.92 / .907 / 4 shutouts)

And the backup shall lead them.  Well, for one week, anyway.  Pheonix Copley had a fine game in New Jersey against the Devils to start the week, stopping 20 of 21 shots on goal in the Caps’ 4-1 win.  It was Copley’s sixth straight win, over which he has a goals against average of 2.61 and a save percentage of .913.  He has benefitted from good goal support in that stretch, the Caps scoring 26 goals in the six games (4.33 per game).

Braden Holtby drew the difficult opponent for the week, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of the two games he played for the week.  He was a perfect 15-for-15 in the combined first and third periods of that game.  Unfortunately, he allowed four goals on 11 shots in the second period, and after the Caps crawled back late in the third period to force overtime, he was victimized by some leaky defense that allowed Victor Hedman to hold the puck…and hold it…and hold it, until he snapped a shot past Holtby to deny the Caps and Holtby the win.  Holtby was stout in the third game of the week, allowing only two goals on 27 shots to the Minnesota Wild.  The Caps could manage only one shot on 22 shots, though, and Holtby was a loser for a second consecutive game.  It was his third loss in a row (0-2-1), the first time he suffered losses in three consecutive appearances since he dropped three in a row (0-2-1) to Edmonton, Montreal, and Dallas in late October and early November.

Goal support has become a minor issue with the goaltenders.  Since January 1st, in games in which he earned the decision, Copley has backstopped a team that averaged 3.42 goals per game, going 7-3-2 in the process.  IN the 25 games in which Holtby earned the decision, the Caps averaged 3.08 goals per game.  This is not unusual on its face, since Copley was more likely to draw an easier opponent.  Seven of his games were against teams not currently playoff eligible, while 11 of the 25 games in which HOltby earned a decision were against teams not playoff eligible through Week 25.

Power Play: 1-for-10/10.0 percent (season: 21.3 percent/9th)

It might have been expected that the Capitals’ power play would struggle some with a pair of top-ten penalty killing teams in New Jersey (83.9 percent/ninth at the end of the week) and Tampa Bay (88.3 percent/second).  And they did, going 1-for-7 against those teams.  The Caps did not manage so much as a single power play shot on goal on their lone power play against the Devils.  They went to the other end of the spectrum against the Lightning, to little avail, scoring their lone goal on 16 shots.

The headscratcher was the game against Minnesota, a team that finished the week ranked 25th in the league in penalty killing 77.9 percent).  The Caps came up empty on three power plays against the Wild and managed only a single shot on goal, that one from John Carlson.

The Caps have had trouble getting into any rhythm on their power play lately.  They have alternated games with power play goals with games without one over their last eight contests and are 4-for-26 over that span (15.4 percent).  The truth is, the Caps have been a rather middle-of-the-road power play team since January 1st, posting a 19.0 percent conversion rate, 15th in the league.

Penalty Killing: 3-for-6/50.0 percent (season: 79.1 percent/23rd)

It might have been a “moldy meat sandwich” on the penalty kill in Week 25.  Between two slices of artisanal bread in which the Caps allowed only three power plays overall and blanked the Devils and Wild on them in the process, the Caps allowed three power play goals on three Tampa Bay power play chances in the middle game of the week.

The three power play goals scored by the Lightning were the most by an opponent at Capital One Arena this season and only the second time this season that the Caps allowed an opponent three power play goals (December 14th at Carolina in a 6-5 Gimmick win).  It was the first time that the Caps allowed three power play goals on home ice since the New York Islanders pinned three on the Caps in a 6-3 Caps win on March 16, 2018.

The Caps’ inconsistency in their penalty killing for the week extended to their efficiency in limiting shots.  They held the Devils and Wild to no goals on two shots (both by New Jersey) in six minutes of power play ice time, but they allowed Tampa Bay three goals on four shots in 2:51 of power play ice time.

Faceoffs: 90-for-181 / 49.7 percent (season: 45.7 percent/31st)

So close.  The Caps came within a single faceoff – the last one against the Wild in the last second of Friday’s contest, in fact – of being 50 percent for the week.  Odd thing about that; it was former Capital Eric Fehr who won the last three faceoffs of that contest that put the Caps underwater for the week.

The Caps were over 50 percent in faceoff wins against Tampa Bay and Minnesota.  If you don’t think that is a big deal, it is the first time this calendar year that the Caps were over 50 percent on faceoffs in consecutive games.  In fact, it was the first time that the Caps were over 50 percent in faceoff wins in consecutive games since they had three straight games over 50 percent against Columbus, Arizona, and Minnesota, November 9-13.

However, the Week 25 results were built on performance in the neutral zone, where the Caps were 30-for-54 (55.6 percent).  They were 50.0 percent in the defensive end and 45.8 percent in the offensive zone.  The good thing there, though, if not the faceoff performance, was the faceoff volumes.  The Caps took 83 offensive zone draws for the week and only 44 faceoffs in the defensive end.

Individually, it was a good week for players taking at least ten draws.  Three of the five – Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd – were 50 percent or better.  Only T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov won fewer than half of their draws.

Goals by Period:

It was a deceptive week in that while the Caps won the second periods of games for the week, it was the four-goal second period against Tampa Bay that put them in a hole out of which they had to scramble to earn a standings point.  And, while they scored and allowed a single goal in the third period, it was that third period goal allowed that was the game-winner for the Wild in the Caps’ regulation loss for the week.

The Caps hit the 100 goals scored mark in the second periods of games this season, tied with Pittsburgh for most in the league.  Only Tampa Bay has a better second period goal differential (plus-36) than the Caps (plus-25).  The Caps also have a fine plus-17 first period goal differential. However, those 87 third period goals allowed is fourth-most in the league, and they have a minus-19 goal differential in the third period overall.


The loss to the Wild to close Week 25 caused the Caps to slip, ever so narrowly, behind the record of last year’s club, the difference through 75 games being a game won by last year’s club and an extra time loss by this year’s team to account for the one-point difference.  This club is better in other respects and rather significantly in a few.  For example, the Caps have an eight-goal improvement in goal differential, year-to-year (form plus-13 to plus-21).  They have a positive change in shot differential of plus-237, year-to-year (minus-222 to plus-15).  Shot attempts differential is plus-186 (from minus-290 to minus-104).

Special teams remain almost unchanged, although there is some change in the spread in both power play and penalty kill from last year owing the recent struggles of the power play and a better penalty kill.

In the end…

The Caps are going through a rough patch at the moment, 2-3-1 over their last six games and two straight weeks of treading water in standings points, and three of the last five weeks.  They have managed to avoid suffering outright losing weeks, running to eight the number of consecutive weeks without one.  It has been that ability to grind out points than has kept them ahead by a razor-thin margin in the Metropolitan Division.

That division lead will be challenged as the team head into the last two weeks of the regular season, the Caps having to contend with injury (Michal Kempny) and illness that seems to be running through the locker room.  But the schedule is unforgiving with a Sunday game against the desperate Philadelphia Flyers, a home-and-home with the surging Carolina Hurricanes, and the last game of the season series against Tampa Bay over the next four games.  Splitting the eight points available might not be the worst of outcomes, under the circumstances, but it might not be enough for the Caps to maintain their hold on the division lead. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Brett Connolly (2-1-3, plus-5, game-winning goal, recorded 20th goal of the season for first time in his career)
  • Second Star: Carl Hagelin (1-2-3, plus-2, led all forwards in shorthanded ice time (4:53), despite appearing in only two games)
  • Third Star: Pheonix Copley (1-0-0, 20 saves on 21 shots, sixth straight win)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 76: Flyers at Capitals, March 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Washington Capitals take to the ice on Sunday afternoon in the third game of their four-game home stand, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers in the last game of their season series.  The Caps come into the game having lost each of the first two games of the home stand, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night and a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.

The Flyers will be going into this game as the back half of a back-to-back set of games, following up on their Saturday afternoon contest at home against the New York Islanders.  They are in desperation mode, going into the Islander game five points out of a playoff spot with eight games left to play.  Despite the desperate straits in which the Flyers find themselves, they are just 8-6-1 in their last 15 games, a record that has allowed them to pick up only one point over that span on the team immediately in front of them, the Montreal Canadiens.

And if the Flyers are going to make a bigger dent in their deficit, they are going to have to defend better.  Despite allowing 49 goals over those 15 games (3.27 per game), the issue is not goaltending.  Over the last 15 games, the three goalies to dress for the team – Brian Elliott, Carter Hart, and Cam Talbot – have had a tightly grouped save percentage, ranging from .913 (Elliott) to .918 (Talbot) and a respectable .915 in the aggregate. 

Hart seems to have regained his swagger after spending some time out of the lineup with an injury and then struggling against the Caps in his return on March 14th (27 saves on 31 shots in a 5-2 loss).  In his last three games, he has stopped 114 of 118 shots (.966), but that shot total is indicative of the problem – 39.0 shots faced per 60 minutes.  But these last three games for Hart have not been all that unusual.  Through Friday’s games, there were 49 instances this season of a rookie goaltender facing at least 30 shots and logging a save percentage of .940 or better while playing at least 50 minutes.  Hart has 11 of those instances.  No other rookie goalie has more than eight (New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood).  If he gets the call, this will be Hart’s second career game against the Caps.

Claude Giroux has had a lot of success lately spreading the puck around.  He has 15 assists in his last 15 games (18 points overall, tied for the team lead in that span).  Only five players have more assists since February 18th, when that 15-game run started, and only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid has more (18) in fewer games (13).  It is not surprising, given that Giroux is second on the franchise list of assist leaders (522, trailing only Bobby Clarke’s 852), and he is 12th in that category among active players.  However, he is about to climb a rung on the all-time Flyer list of goal scorers.  His next one will be his 235th career goal, tying him for 10th place with Rod Brind’Amour.  His next point will give him 80 for the season, making it his fourth career season with 80 or more points.  Coupled with the 102 points he recorded in last year’s career season, he has 181 points over the last two seasons, fifth in the NHL, trailing Sidney Crosby by one point for fourth place through Friday’s games.  Giroux is 20-20-40, plus-6, in 40 career games against the Capitals.

If the Flyers are going to have a late surge, they will need more secondary scoring, and that shines a light on forward Ryan Hartman.  Obtained from Nashville with a fourth-round 2020 draft pick for Wayne Simmonds at the trading deadline, his production has been somewhat disappointing.  Not nearly as much as Simmonds’ performance with the Predators to date (1-1-2 in ten games), but underwhelming nonetheless (1-2-3, minus-4, in 11 games through Friday).  Hartman has not been a top-shelf scorer in his five NHL seasons, but he was on a pace to make a run at his third straight 30-point season in what would be his third full NHL season before the trade. 

Hartman is skating for his third NHL team in 13 months.  He was drafted 30th overall in the 2013 entry draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, for whom he had a cup of coffee in the 2014-2015 (five games) and 2015-2016 (three games) seasons.  He broke through with the Blackhawks in 2016-2017, going 19-12-31, plus-13 in 76 games.  However, after going 8-17-25, plus-5, in Chicago through 57 games the following season, Hartman was traded to Nashville with a 2018 fifth round pick for Victor Edjsell, and first and fourth round picks in the 2018 draft.  Just as he has in Philadelphia, he struggled some in Nashville after the late-season trade, going 3-3-6, minus-4, in 21 games.  And now, he is trying to avoid repeating that history with the Flyers.  Hartman is 1-3-4, even, in nine career games against Washington.

1.  The Flyers have been one of those teams whose performance aligns with production on defense. They rank 27th in scoring defense (3.30 goals against per game) and rank 21st in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.54).

2.  It is hardly surprising in that context that seven of the eight defensemen to dress for the Flyers this season are at or below 50 percent in individual shot attempts-for percentages at fives.

3.  Only four teams have allowed more goals at 5-on-5 than the Flyers (165): San Jose (166), Chicago (172), New Jersey (173), and Ottawa (199).

4. The Flyers are 40-minute strugglers.  They have a minus-19 goal differential in the first periods of games and a minus-minus-9 goal differential in the middle frame.  They do have a plus-9 goal differential in the third periods of games this season.

5.  Philadelphia wins close, but they lose big.  Only five teams have more one-goal wins than do the Flyers (17), but only four teams have more three-goal losses than Philadelphia (18).

1.  Even with the 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Friday night, the Caps have only five one-goal losses in regulation this season.  Only two teams have fewer: San Jose (three) and Tampa Bay (two).

2.  Only four teams have had more power play chances on home ice than the Caps (126): Florida (133), Colorado (135), Tampa Bay (136), and Nashville (136).

3.  On the other side, only Anaheim has been shorthanded more often on home ice (127) than the Caps (124).

4.  Washington has not lost consecutive games on home ice since January 14th and 18th against St. Louis and the New York Islanders.

5.  The one goal that the Caps scored against the Wild on Friday night was their lowest offensive output on home ice and the first time they scored fewer than three goals since they were shut out, 1-0, by Boston on February 3rd.  The Caps had scored 40 goals over nine home games until Friday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Shayne Gostisbehere

In the Flyers’ 8-6-1 run of late, they do not have a single point from a defenseman on the power play.  Given that Shayne Gostisbehere averaged 2:58 with the man advantage, more than the combined power play ice time averages of the other six defensemen to dress over that stretch (2:25), his performance stands out.  In fact, he has not had a power play point since recording a pair of assists in a 5-4 win at Minnesota on February 12th, his streak now at 17 games.  There might be another number of more concern for the Flyers: 20.  It seems more ice time is not better ice time for Gostisbehere and the Flyers.  In the 38 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes this season, Philadelphia is 12-22-4, but they are 21-8-4 in the 33 games he skated less than 20 minutes.  He has been scoring points overall lately, going 2-15-17, plus-1, in his last 24 games, while averaging 18:46 in that span and logging more than 20 minutes 11 times (the Flyers being 4-6-1 in those games).  Gostisbehere is 1-7-8, plus-3, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

When Alex Ovechkin takes the ice on Sunday afternoon, it will have been 40 days since his last goal on home ice.  Not that the Caps have spent a lot of time at home since Ovechkin had a goal in the Caps’ 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on February 11th, but it is six games and counting for Ovechkin without a goal at home, tied with his longest streak of this season, one that straddled the 2018 and 2019 portions of the season.  In fact, that goal against the Kings is his only goal on home ice since he had a hat trick against San Jose on January 22nd, a span of 11 home games with that single goal.  He has mitigated that dry spell with a fair number of assists (11 in those 11 games since facing the Sharks), but it is odd given that Ovechkin has 327 goals scored on home ice in his career. Only 17 players in the league have more total goals scored than that home total since Ovechkin came into the league in 2005-2006. If Ovechkin is going to break out, it could be against this team.  He has 34 career goals against the Flyers, more than any player since he came into the league but one (Sidney Crosby has 41 goals in 15 more games played against the Flyers than Ovechkin).  Overall, he is 34-24-58, minus-6, in 52 games against Philadelphia.

In the end…

The Caps will start their Sunday in first place in the Metropolitan Division, but pending the results for the New York Islanders in a back-to-back set of games Saturday and Sunday, they might not finish the day in first place.  And, if the Penguins beat Dallas on Saturday, the weekend could come to a close with the Islanders, Caps, and Penguins separated by two standings points (in that order).  Winning would take care of that scenario for the Caps, who if they do beat the Flyers would hold, at worst, a one-point lead on the Islanders and three on the Penguins with all three teams having six games remaining.  NASCAR should hope for such finishes.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 3

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Wild at Capitals, March 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals open the weekend phase of their four-game home stand by hosting the Minnesota Wild on Friday night at Capital One Arena.  While the Caps dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night to open the home stand, they will take a nine-game points streak on home ice (7-0-2) into this contest.

The Wild are struggling to stay above water in the Western Conference standings.  Through Wednesday’s games, they were sitting one point behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card spot in the West.  Minnesota has had a difficult time of it lately going 2-4-3 in their last nine games overall, although they do have a 5-1-1 record in their last seven road contests.

Minnesota has had some success as a road team this season.  While they have the fifth-best road record among Western Conference teams, they are only six points behind the conference-leading St. Louis Blues with two road games in hand.  They have done it by being a reasonably good defensive team, the 101 goals allowed on the road being the fourth-fewest among conference teams.  They have struggled some in the offensive end, though, the 100 goals scored tied for ninth among teams in the West.

Zach Parise leads the Wild in goals (15) and points (33) on the road this season.  Now in his 14th season, evenly split in years between the Wild and the New Jersey Devils, Parise is among the most efficient offensive players in Wild history.  He ranks third all-time in goals scored (165), eighth in assists (168), and fourth in points (333), despite having dressed for only 442 games with the club (13th).  What he has added this season that he did not have in his previous six seasons with the Wild is durability.  Parise has appeared in 72 of the Wild’s 74 games this season, 30 more than he dressed for last season, and he seems likely to surpass the 74 games in which he appeared for the Wild in 2014-2015.  He did appear in all of the team’s games in his first year in Minnesota, but that was the shortened 2012-2013 48-game season.  Parise has been streaky of late.  Over his last 19 games he has had points streaks of three games (twice, including coming into this game on one) and four games, and he has had streaks without a point of three and four games.  In 33 career games against the Caps, Parise is 8-16-24, minus-3.

If Zach Parise represents the old guard, then perhaps center Luke Kunin represents the new order.  The second year center is the youngest skater to appear for the Wild this season, having turned 21 years old last December.  Kunin was taken by the Wild with the 15th pick overall in the 2016 entry draft (the Auston Matthews/Patrik Laine draft) out of the University of Wisconsin.  Lunin spent another year with the Badgers, posting 22 goals and 38 points in 35 games, before starting his pro career with 12 games that season with the Iowa Wild in the AHL.  Last season he split time between Iowa and Minnesota, and he started this season in Iowa.  He was recalled by the big club in early December when Mikko Koivu was injured.  Kunin has dressed for 41 games this season, going 5-10-15, minus-3, in 41 games.  Despite appearing in only those 41 games, Kunin is in the top-30 among rookie point getters.  His points frequency has picked up with time, going 4-6-10, plus-3, in his last 20 games.  He did not record a point in his first and only appearance against the Caps to date.

Among the 17 goalies to dress for the Wild in their history, only Niklas Backstrom has appeared in more games (409) than Devan Dubnyk (292).  Dubnyk is also chasing Backstrom in wins (162 to 194) and shutouts (22 to 28).  He is chasing no goaltender in the NHL this season in games played (61, two more than Marc-Andre Fleury), and his 3,500 minutes are second only to Fleury (3,515).  His goals against average of 2.59 is respectable (13th among 39 goalies with at least 1,750 minutes), although his save percentage is more middle of the pack (.912, 17th in that group).  He has been better on the road, however.  His 17 road wins is tied for league-best, while his GAA of 2.51 ranks tenth, and his save percentage of .916 is 14th among 39 goalies with at least 90 minutes played on the road.  His season has taken a turn, though.  From February 21st through March 7th, he was 6-0-1, 1.69, .943, with one shutout in seven appearances.  However, since he capped that seven game run with the shutout, a 25-save gem in a 3-0 win in Tampa over the Lightning, Dubnyk is 1-4-0, 3.04, .901 in his last five appearances.  In nine career appearances against Washington, Dubnyk is 2-6-1, 3.82, .872.

1.  Minnesota is struggles on offense at even strength.  Their 148 even strength goals this season overall ranks 27th in the league.

2.  The Wild are even worse on offense in overtime.  They have three overtime goals in 74 games.  Only Colorado (two) and the New York Rangers (one) have fewer. 

3.  Speaking of overtime, the Wild have gone to extra time 13 times this season.  Only twice have they done so on the road, and they lost in the freestyle competition each time, those coming one month apart in Buffalo (5-4 on February 5th) and in Nashville (5-4 on March 5th).

4.  No team in the league has lost more games when out-shooting the opposition than Minnesota (20, tied with Buffalo, Columbus, Carolina, and St. Louis).

5.  Only two teams have fewer wins when scoring first than the Wild (17) – Detroit (15) and the Rangers (14).  And, when allowing the first goal, the Wild have the seventh-highest number of losses in regulation (25).  Always a good predictor of results, who scores first seems especially true of the Wild.

1.  The Caps have the fewest losses in regulation in the league when out-shooting opponents (seven).  Having out-shot opponents only 31 times in 74 games (20-7-4) contributes to that result.

2.  Washington has yet to allow a goal at 4-on-4 this season.  They one of three teams that can make that claim (Pittsburgh and Colorado are the others).

3.  Only Toronto (186) and Tampa Bay (185) have more goals scored at 5-on-5 than the Caps (179).

4.  When the Caps scored in the final minute against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, it was only the second 6-on-5 goal scored by the Caps this season.  Only Montreal (one), Tampa Bay (one), and Arizona (none) have fewer.

5.  There is a certain symmetry about the Caps’ performance on faceoffs this season.  Only the New York Islanders have won fewer draws (1,915) than the Caps (1,953), and no team has lost more faceoffs than the Caps (2,328).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau

Bruce Boudreau, by contemporary standards, got comparatively late start as a first time NHL head coach, taking the reins of the Washington Capitals at age 53.  But despite the late start, Boudreau ranks 24th in all-time regular season wins among NHL coaches (537), and he could pass Billy Reay for 23rd place (542) before season’s end.  With 238 games behind the Wild bench in his career there, he ranks third in all-time franchise games coached, trailing Jacques Lemaire (656) and Mike Yeo (349).  His 128 wins to date trail Lemaire (293) and Yeo (173).  The odd thing about his career, though, is that Boudreau is also in the top five coaches in Anaheim Ducks history in games (352), trailing only Randy Carlyle, who had 598 games in two separate stints sandwiched around Boudreau’s tenure.  His 208 wins there trail only Carlyle (320).  And, his 329 games coached for the Caps ranks third in team history, trailing only Bryan Murray (672) and Ron Wilson (410).  His 201 regular season wins trail only Murray (343) and Barry Trotz (205) among the 18 coaches in Capitals history. 

However, there is that 43-47 postseason record that has dogged Boudreau over his career, too.  He has reached the postseason in ten of his previous 12 NHL seasons, but he has advanced from the first round as a head coach only four times, the last of which came in 2015, when his Anaheim Ducks lost in the Western Conference final.  That might have been a particularly bitter postseason for Boudreau, whose Ducks swept Winnipeg in the first round before dispatching the Calgary Flames in five games in the second round.  Anaheim ran into the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round and lost at home in Game 7, 5-3, after falling behind 4-0 before the game was 34 minutes old.  Boudreau is 2-6-3 in 11 games coaching against the Capitals.

Washington:  Tom Wilson

The last three seasons: 7-14-21.  That is the progression in goals scored by Tom Wilson, who by now is a given as a critical element in the success of the Washington Capitals.  He has, if not a unique, than a rare combination of production and orneriness.  With 56 career goals and 921 penalty minutes, he is one of only 35 players in league history to record at least 50 goals and at least 900 penalty minutes in his first six seasons.  He is the only player in the league to have done it since the 2004-2005 dark season.   And, he could be an award winning real estate agent with all the properties he has claimed in the heads of other teams and their fan bases.  Here is an odd Wilson fact to impress your friends.  Nine times this season, Wilson has recorded a goal and taken at least one penalty.  The Caps have won all of them.  The Caps are 21-4-0 in the 25 such games Wilson has had in his career.

Wilson had a bit of a dry spell in mid-January, when he went five consecutive games without a point, his longest streak this season.  However, he is 8-7-15, plus-8, over his last 26 games.  The Caps are 11-0-1 in the 12 games over that span in which he recorded a point, 5-7-2 when he did not.  Wilson is 3-3-6, plus-5, in 11 career games against Minnesota.

In the end… 

The Caps have had an intense week with a pair of hard-fought games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It would be not be unexpected for the team to exhibit a bit of a letdown against a club they do not face often and against which they do not have a particularly noteworthy rivalry.  Even if you are thinking of the Caps-meet-former-coach angle, consider that among the players dressing for the last game Bruce Boudreau coached in Washington, back in November 2011, only four players remain (Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Alex Ovechkin).  However, the Caps still have only a three-point lead in the division and only five points clear for holding a home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  They still have to wrap up their season series with the Lightning, have two games left with Carolina, and face the Islanders in the season finale.  It means that when two points are available, it is best to take them.

Capitals 4 – Wild 2

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 74: Lightning 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

The Washington Capitals hosted Lightning on Wednesday night in the second game of their season series, looking to even the series at a game apiece. It was a wild one, arguably the best regular game in the NHL this season, but in the end the Lightning eked out a 5-4 overtime win.

First Period

The Capitals broke on top in the eighth minute of the period off a Tampa Bay turnover.  Alex Killorn made the mistake of trying to make a spin-o-rama pass at his own blue line and managed only to put the puck on the stick of Carl HJagelin.  From the blue line, Hagelin slid the puck up to Lars Eller, who broke in alone on goalie Andrei Vasilevsky and snapped a shot over Vasilevskiy’s glove to make it a 1-0 game 7:32 into the period.

Despite having two power plays in the period, the Caps could not increase their advantage and went to the first intermission up a goal on the visitors.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had the only shot on goal over two power plays in the first period for the Caps.

-- The Caps out-hit the Lightning, 15-4, in the first period, which mirrored the 15-5 shot advantage.

-- John Carlson skated 8:59 in only eight shifts.

Second Period

Tampa Bay took just over a minute to even the score in the second period.  On a power play that carried over from the first period, Steven Stamkos found Nikita Kuchderov, who used defenseman John Carlson as a screen and snapped a shot from the right wing circle low and past the right pad of goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-1, 1:19 into the period.

Less than a minute after that, Tampa Bay was awarded another power play, and they made it 2-for-2 just four seconds into that man advantage.  Off a faceoff win in the offensive end, Steven Stamkos circled into the slot and snapped a shot past the left pad of Holtby at the 2:12 mark to give the Bolts the lead.

Four minutes later, it was 3-1. Off a scramble in front, Anthony Cirelli spun in the right wing circle and wristed a shot at the net that hit John Carlson’s skate and was redirected into the net at the 6:45 mark.

The Caps narrowed the gap to a goal when Lars Eller hustled at the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive end, circled through the left wing faceoff circle, and sent the puck across the slot. The pass was muffled by Alex Killorn, but not enough, as the puck made its way to Carl Hagelin.  From the edge of the right wing circle, Hagelin flipped a shot over the lunging Vasilevskiy to make it 3-2, 10:30 into the period.

The Caps tied it on a hard work effort from T.J. Oshie.  On a power play, John Carlson laid off the puck to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed the puck to Oshie in the low slot.  Oshie’s first attempt was thwarted by Vasilevskiy, but he jumped on the rebound and flipped it over the sprawled goaltender to tie the game 13:40 into the period.

The tie lasted less than two minutes.  With Dmitry Orlov off on a slashing penalty, Kucherov got his second of the game, converting a cross ice pass from Stamkos to give Tampa Bay the lead once more, 15:01 into the period.

It would be the end of the scoring in the second period, but not the end of the excitement as the teams paired off for some mutual aggression late in the period.  Michal Kempny and Cedric Paquette got into it, and Kempny appeared to injure his leg in the process.  He had to be helped off and down the tunnel to the locker room.  Jakub Vrana and Yanni Gourde also made their displeasure with each other known. 

-- Washington had more shots on goal (37) than Tampa Bay had attempts (31) through two periods.  The Caps had 53 shot attempts.

-- The Caps had a 24-9 edge in credited hits through two periods.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team with six shots on goal through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The Caps were frustrated at every turn, peppering Vasilevskiy with shots, but unable to solve him.  But then, in the last minute, a John Carlson drive was turned aside by Vasilevskiy and into the left wing corner.  Nicklas Backstrom dug it out and sent it around the end wall to Evgeny Kuznetsov along the right wing wall.  Kuznetsov gathered the puck, stepped up, and snapped a shot through the pads of Vasilievskiy to tie the game with 52.6 seconds left.  The Caps earned a standings point.


The Lightning ended things on a sour note for the Caps when Victor Hedman skated down the left side, backed the defense off, cut to the middle, and as Dmitry Orlov went to the ice, stuffed the puck past Holtby’s left pad for the game-winner.  Bolts, 5-4.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie’s goal was his 200th point as a Capital and 99th goal with the club.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s last-minute goal was his 20th of the season and 100th as a Capital.

-- The Caps finished with 58 shots, a new team record.  The Caps are now 6-6-4, with one tie in the 17 games in franchise history in which they recorded 50 or more shots on goal.  They have lost the last six such games, the last four of them in extra time.

-- Washington had 86 shot attempts.  The fourth line of Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson, and Andre Burakovsky had one of them (Burakovsky had a shot blocked).

-- Alex Ovechkin (11 shots), Evgeny Kuznetsov (nine), and Matt Niskanen (seven) combined for 27 shots on goal, just one short of Tampa Bay’s total.

-- The Caps allowed three power play goals for the second time this season, the other being December 14th against Carolina in a 6-5 Gimmick win.  The last time that the Caps allowed three power play goals at home was October 11, 2017, in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh.

-- Carl Hagelin had his second multi-point game of the season (1-1-2), both with the Caps and second in four games.  He is 1-4-5 over those last four games.

-- This game turned on special teams.  Tampa Bay had three power play goals on four shots.   The Caps had one power play goal on 16 shots.

-- John Carlson skated 29:28 in ice time, matching his high for the season (October 19th vs. Florida).  Alex Ovechkin skated 27:34, almost two minutes more than his previous season high (25:57 last Saturday vs. Tampa Bay).

-- Jakub Vrana had his first NHL regular season fight when he squared off with Yanni Gourde in the second period.

In the end…

It was an odd game.  Exciting, thrilling, but odd.  While folks might look upon this contest and think, “wow, imagine these teams in the playoffs,” one is not likely to see nine power plays in a postseason game or 15 penalties called, as was the case in this game.  Nine goals were scored in this game, but only three of them came at 5-on-5, the Caps holding a 2-1 advantage.  That would seem to be closer to the sort of game one would see between these teams in the postseason, but this one sure was a wild ride.