Saturday, November 22, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 20: Sabres 2 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals have had a persistent problem in recent years of playing down to the level of their competition.  They did that, and then some as the Caps lost to the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, at Verizon Center.  The Caps failed in an attempt to win their third straight game for the second time this season, while the Sabres skated off with their third win in succession.

The scoring was sparse, neither team lighting the lamp in the first period.  It was Buffalo who scored first, taking advantage of springy boards behind the Caps’ net.  A drive by Tyler Ennis went wide of the Caps’ net to the right of goalie Braden Holtby, but the puck rebounded hard off the end boards and out the other side.  Matt Moulson happily accepted the good fortune and chipped a shot that seemed to hit both John Carlson’s stick and Holtby’s before floating over the line at the 10:15 mark of the second period.

That would be the only scoring in the second period, but Matt Niskanen tied it for the Caps in the sixth minute of the third period on a power play.  With Mike Green out with an upper body injury suffered earlier in the game, the Caps were hemming the Sabres in their own end on the man advantage.  The puck finally made its way to Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the right wing faceoff circle.  Backstrom laid the puck out for Niskanen, who one-timed a shot that hit the shaft of defenseman Tyler Myers’ stick and was redirected past goalie Jhonas Enroth’s glove.

The Caps could not get that second goal though, and Buffalo made them pay for it.  With the clock running down past the eight minutes to play mark, Buffalo’s Mike Weber chipped the puck from the red line across the ice and into the far corner to the right of Holtby.  John Carlson and Torrey Mitchell got tangled up fighting for the puck, giving Brian Gionta a chance to step in and take control  Gionta circled out and darted across the crease hoping to tuck the puck around around Holtby’s left pad.  Holtby got a pad on the puck, but it squirted out to his right where Mitchell was lurking.  He cut between Carlson and Jason Chimera to stuff the puck into the open side of the net, and the Sabres had what was the game-deciding goal in the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had a season high 44 shots.  They out-attempted Buffalo, 76-46.  They won the faceoff battle, 36-24 (60.0 percent).  And they lost.  Whodathunkit?

-- Alex Ovechkin had eight shots on goal.  It was the first time that Ovechkin had as many as eight shots on goal without scoring one since he failed to score on 12 shots On December 29, 2013 in a 2-1 loss… to Buffalo (in a Gimmick).  Ovechkin also had 17 of the Caps’ 76 shot attempts.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 26 shots, making it six straight games in which he has allowed two or fewer goals, tying a career high.  He has a .942 save percentage in those six games, and his is also just 4-2-0 with this loss.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov and the amazing shrinking ice time.  Kuznetsov came into this game having skated less than eight minutes in his previous two games.  He failed to reach the eight-minute mark for the third straight game, skating just 7:07.  He had five shifts in the first period, three in the second period, and two in the third period.

-- The Caps had one power play and scored on it.  They have had only five power plays in their last four games.  At the other end, they faced only one shorthanded situation and killed it off, making it 14-for-14 in their last six games.

-- Marcus Johansson, who had gone dormant shooting the puck in recent games, rediscovered his trigger finger.  He had five shots on goal, the most since he had a season high eight shots back on Veterans Day against Columbus.

-- This was the tenth time this season that the Caps held an opponent to 26 or fewer shots.  Their record in those games is 4-3-3.

-- From the 9:14 mark of the first period to the 7:40 mark of the second, a span of 18:26, the Caps held the Sabres to one shot on goal.

-- The fourth line of Kuznetsov, Michael Latta, and Eric Fehr had one shot on goal among them (Fehr).

-- This was the fifth consecutive one-goal decision between these two teams.  The Caps are 2-1-2 in those games.  The four previous decisions went to extra time, three of them to the Gimmick.

-- On the other side, the Sabres have allowed only four goals on 108 shots over their last three games, only two of those at even strength.

In the end…

What did we say in the prognosto?
There is no way… no way… that the Sabres should win this game.  What that means is that after passing a test of sorts on the road by scoring late goals to win one-goal decisions on the road, the Caps have to avoid a tendency of playing down to the level of their opponents.  The trouble with playing down to the level of the Sabres is that the dive will be so steep and so quick that they are likely to crash and burn.
The 44 shots was misleading.  Yes, Jhonas Enroth played very well, but for all the volume, the Caps didn’t pay much of a price to get those second chance, greasy goals.  The poor ice, a product of a basketball game played at Verizon Center earlier in the day, made getting the sweet tic-tac-toe goal more unlikely.  And absent that, the Caps didn’t have much of a “Plan B.”  And in the NHL, that’s a recipe for giving away points.  The Caps did just that tonight.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 20: Sabres at Capitals, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home from their 2-1-0 road trip to host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at Verizon Center.  The Caps were outscored on their trip, 7-6, a product of the 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues to open the trip.  The Caps won a pair of one-goal games to close the trip, the game-winning goals coming in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes, and late in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche. 

The Caps spread their scoring around on the trip, meager as it was.  The six goals were scored by six different players, and nine different players recorded a single assist apiece.  Five players had one of each – Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Nicklas Backstrom.  Special teams were an odd lot on both sides.  The common thread was the rare occurrence of a power play.  The Caps managed to limit their shorthanded situations to a total of six, none in their win over Colorado, skating off each one without damage.  For their own power play, there were only four opportunities, none against the Blues. They were blanked on all four chances.

As for the Sabres, they have shown recent signs of life after opening the season 3-13-2.  This past week they recorded wins over Toronto, 6-2, and san Jose by a a 4-1 margin.  They represent the first consecutive wins for the Sabres this season.  They missed a chance to make it three in a row when their game against the New York Rangers scheduled for Friday night was postponed due to the heavy snowfall in the Buffalo region this week.

Brian Gionta led the Sabres with two goals and an assist in their two wins.  Those two goals, both scored in the 4-1 win over San Jose were his first goals of the season, breaking a 19-game streak without one to open the campaign.  Gionta has not averaged less than 0.20 goals per game since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 2001-2002.  Having lifted his scoring average to 0.10 goals per game with his two-goal effort against the Sharks, one might be concerned that he is starting on a correction.  In 35 career games against the Caps he is 10-13-23, plus-8.

The Sabres also got two goals from Zemgus Girgensons this past week, both in the 6-1 win over Toronto.  Girgensons, a 2012 14th overall draft pick now in his second NHL season, is tied for the Sabres’ team lead in goals (6).  He, like Gionta, seems to have emerged from a long slumber.  He had four goals in four games before he was held off the score sheet against San Jose.  It broke what had been a 13-game streak without a goal after opening the season with goals in each of his first two games.  In three career games against Washington he has not registered a point.

The Caps are not likely to see their former teammate Michal Neuvirth in goal.  Neuvirth was injured in a pile-up in goal in first period of the Sabres’ 4-1 win over San Jose and could not answer the bell for the second period.  He has been described as being “a little bit more than day to day” with his injury.  That led to a call-up of Nathan Lieuwen from Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester, but it would seem likely that the Sabres will call on Jhonas Enroth to tend goal against the Caps.

Enroth has had a tough go of it so far this season.  He has a record of 2-8-1.  His 3.63 goals against average ranks tied for 43rd of 46 qualifying goalies, and his .900 save percentage ranks tied for 35th (oddly enough, with former teammate and current Vancouver netminder Ryan Miller).  The problem, though, is not his.  He is facing a whopping 36.3 shots per 60 minutes.  To let you know how big a number that is, Enroth has faced the same number of shots as Miller and Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen, but Enroth has faced that volume in more than 200 fewer minutes than either Miller or Andersen.

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers so far this season…

1.  Buffalo is so far behind the eight ball to start games as to be in the parking lot outside the pool hall.  The Sabres have only seven first period goals this season; two of them coming in their win over Toronto last week. On the other side of the ledger they have allowed 16 first period goals.  It actually gets worse from there on a goal-differential basis.  Buffalo is minus-11 in the second periods of games and minus-15 in the third period of games.

2.  Buffalo has nine losses by three or more goals.  Only two of the other 29 teams have more than nine three-plus goal decisions.

3.  Buffalo is one of four NHL teams that have yet to pitch a shutout.  On the other hand, they have been shut out five times, most in the league.

4.  Buffalo has to score first to have a chance.  They have a respectable 5-2-1 record when doing so, the 19th best winning percentage in the league.  When they fall behind first, forget it. They are 0-11-1, the only team in the league yet to win a game when allowing the first goal, and their 11 losses in regulation lead the league.

5.  With a record as bad as that of the Sabres, they play a frustrated sort of game.  They are tied for the league lead in fights (12) with Anaheim and San Jose.

1.  The Caps have a chance in this game to win their third game in a row, which would tie a season-high winning streak.  They have only three instances this season in which they won two or more games in a row.   That said, the real hole in their record is that five-game losing streak from October 26 – November 4.  Take that away, and the Caps are 9-3-2.  You can’t just “take that away,” of course, but perhaps that was the aberration in play.

2.  The Caps still have work to do in that third period of games.  They have a plus-5 goal differential in each of the first and second periods of games.  They are minus-7 in the third period.

3.  The four power play opportunities on their road trip made it 18 in nine road games this season, the least frequently called upon road power play in the league.  At home it is a different story.  With 40 power plays at home the Caps are ninth in the league with 4.0 power plays per game at home.

4.  Scoring first matter to the Caps, too.  Not quite as much as Buffalo, but it matters.  Washington is 8-1-1 when scoring first, tied with Minnesota for the league’s fourth best winning percentage.  On the other hand, they are 1-6-2 when allowing the first goal, the third worst winning percentage in the league.

5.  The Caps have a bit of an odd dichotomy when it comes to scoring.  They have what amounts to a strong “top six” group of forwards (even if they are not, strictly speaking, deployed that way).  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer all have double-digit point totals.  After that there is a considerable drop off to Evgeny Kuznetsov with six points and lower totals thereafter among the forwards.  On the defense the odd split is handedness.  The righties – Mike Green, John Carlson, and Matt Niskanen – are a combined 5-24-29.  The lefties – Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, and Nate Schmidt – are 0-11-11.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo:  Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson is another of those Sabre who had a slow start.  He went his first 14 games this season without a goal.  This from a player who in six full seasons never averaged less than 0.23 goals per game, who is a three-time 30-goal scorer.  He, like a few other Sabres, seems to be waking up lately.  Moulson is 2-4-6 in his last six games.  In addition to scoring his first two goals of the season, he is up to six assists for the year, which is tied for second on the club.  Against Washington he is 4-6-10 in 18 career games.

Washington: Braden Holtby

This is what folks might have had in mind when Braden Holtby was placed under the tutelage of the goalie whisperer, Mitch Korn.  Holtby is 4-1-0, 1.59, .947 in his last five appearances.  He has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those games, his longest such streak since he had a six-game streak in his first season in 2010-2011.  The schedule sets up well for Holtby this coming week with no back-to-backs until the Caps face the Islanders and Maple Leafs on consecutive nights next weekend.   However, one can’t look ahead of the Sabres.  Holtby’s record against them is something less than stellar.  His 3.53 goals against average against Buffalo is his worst among the 12 teams he has faced at least five times, as is his .872 save percentage.

In the end…

Their two wins in their last two games notwithstanding, Buffalo is having an awful time of it.  They are last in scoring offense, next to last in scoring defense.  They are last in 5-on-5 goal ratio, last on the power play.  They have a shot differential of minus-13.5 shots per game.  There is no way… no way… that the Sabres should win this game.  What that means is that after passing a test of sorts on the road by scoring late goals to win one-goal decisions on the road, the Caps have to avoid a tendency of playing down to the level of their opponents.  The trouble with playing down to the level of the Sabres is that the dive will be so steep and so quick that they are likely to crash and burn.  Better to fly high and take care of business.

Capitals 6 – Sabres 2

Getting Old Has Its Charms

When Alex Ovechkin barreled his way into the National Hockey League in 2005, he demolished anything in his path.  Whether it was scoring goals or delivering thunderous checks, it was done with energy and without apparent regard to his well being.

As with many of us, though, the years slow us down a bit, but they also bring a knowledge of how to get things done without all that tiresome expenditure of effort.  Let us consider two goals, one from Ovechkin's rookie season and one from last night.  Both were highlights; one for the ages and one for, well, until the next news cycle.  Both were scored by Ovechkin cutting similar paths to the net -- a rush down the right side, a cut to the middle where a defenseman was lurking who could impede his progress, an attempt at evasion, and then an improvised finish.

Here is the first one, from January 2006...

"The Goal."  Scored on his back, sliding away from the net, facing in the wrong direction.  The kind of goal a 12-year old might try to make up when he is skating by himself on the pond after school.

And now, almost ten years later, with a little bit of gray streaking through his hair, Ovechkin cut a similar path through the neutral zone, into the attacking zone, and improvised a big finish again...

Not quite "The Goal," but impressive nevertheless.  And all without all that twisting and falling and sliding and contorting.  He's getting too old for that stuff.  Or, he's too smart now to have to indulge in it.  Just bat the puck off the end boards, and clean up the rebound.  Same result, less effort, still a highlight.

Maybe in ten years or so, he scores that goal from a recliner.

A TWO-point night -- Game 19: Capitals 3 - Avalanche 2

The Washington Capitals are making a habit of playing games lately that are of the nail-biter variety.  For the eighth time in their last ten games, the Caps fought to a one-goal decision, beating the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, at Pepsi Center in Denver last night.

The Caps and Avalanche battled to a scoreless first period, but zeroes did not last long into the second frame.  Washington opened the scoring when Coloardo’s Erik Johnson tried to move the puck up the right wing wall from just inside the center red line, but had the attempt intercepted by Alex Ovechkin.  Heading the other way, Ovechkin skated the puck down the wall to the hash marks at the edge of the faceoff circle in the Avalanche zone.  There he stopped and threaded a pass across the offensive zone to Nicklas Backstrom who wristed the puck past goalie Reto Berra’s glove to make it 1-0.

Less than two minutes later the game was tied when Daniel Briere put in a rebound of a Nathan MacKinnon shot.  That was how it remained until the 13th minute.  The Caps moved the puck smartly out of their own end, Jay Beagle to Joel Ward in the neutral zone, then to Jason Chimera at the Colorado line.  Chimera took a couple of strides into the zone and placed a wrist shot over Berra’s glove on the far side, just inside the post to give the Caps a 2-1 lead going into the second intermission.

Tyson Barrie tied the game for the Avs 6:44 into the third period on a play that started when Nathan MacKinnon skated into the Caps’ zone and dangled the puck just out of reach of Jay Beagle.  MacKinnon threw the puck into the middle where Gabriel Landeskog was cutting in.  Landeskog skated the puck into the left wing faceoff circle, then sent it across to Barrie, who beat Mike Green into position to the left of goalie Braden Holtby.  Barrie had only to redirect the puck into the open side of the net, and it was 2-2 and looking as if the game would go to overtime.

Alex Ovechkin put an end to that thinking with teams going 4-on-4 late in the third period.  It started with Brooks Orpik backhanding a pass to an open Ovechkin on the right wing exiting the defensive zone.  Ovechkin carried the puck up the right side of the ice and into the Colorado zone where defenseman Jan Hejda was waiting.  Ovechkin tried to curl and drag the puck through Hejda’s legs and did manage to thread it through to his backhand.  His shot went wide and off the end boards, but the rebound came right back to him.  He slid the puck through on a bad angle past Berra, and the Caps had their game winning goal, sending the Caps home with a 2-1-0 road trip.

Other stuff…

-- Jason Chimera’s goal – his second of the season – broke a 13-game streak without one.

-- This was the Caps’ 12th one-goal decision of the season (5-4-3).  Only Anaheim, Chicago, and Colorado have played more, all with 13.

-- Alex Tanguay had one blocked shot for the game for the Avs, and it came at a price.  He was struck in the face by an Ovechkin shot 7:29 into the second period and did not return to the contest.

-- For Nicklas Backstom, his goal and assist combined for his sixth multi-point game of the season.  Ditto for Alex Ovechkin, whose goal and assist made it six times in the multi-point column this season.

-- Don’t look now, but Jay Beagle has points in four of his last six games.  It is the most points be has accumulated over any six-game stretch of his career (regular season) spanning 206 games.

-- Is Andre Burakovsky hitting a wall?  He did not register a point last night, the fourth straight game he has been held off the score sheet.

-- At the other end of the prospect chart, Evgeny Kuznetsov spent his second consecutive game with less than eight minutes of ice time (7:34).  It was also his second consecutive game without a shot on goal; he has two shots on goal over his last six games, four of which he skated fewer than ten minutes.

-- The Caps were charged with just one giveaway for the game (Colorado was charged with 13).  John Carlson was in the giving mood, if you are keeping score.  Not that it mattered a lot.  Carlson finished plus-2 for the evening.

-- Until Ovechkin scored with 5:56 left, he had gone seven straight games against Colorado without a goal.  He had not scored a goal against the Avalanche since potting one in a 5-3 win in Colorado on October 25, 2006.

-- The Caps managed to draw just one non-coincidental penalty for the game’s only power play.  Joel Ward managed the only power play shot of the game.  It did lift them out of the basement in the league rankings for total road power plays (18, one more than the New York Rangers), although their average of 2.0 per game still ranks last.  Colorado had no power plays.

In the end…

All things considered, not a bad road trip.  The Caps lost to a team that was very hot in the St. Louis Blues, then they ground out two one-goal wins in unfriendly confines, allowing only three goals in the process.  Braden Holtby was solid and might be turning a corner.  His 27 saves on 29 shots faced is the fifth straight game in which he allowed two or fewer goals (4-1-0, 1.59, .947).  He has climbed to 14th in the goals against average rankings (2.28), although he remains 28th in save percentage (.913, still two spots better the Henrik Lundqvist, so there is that). 

The Caps now get the woeful Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, and that assumes the Sabres can even get out of snow-bound Buffalo for the game at Verizon Center.  The Caps have the look of perhaps finally going on a roll that rewards their tighter sense of play over their first 19 games.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Capitals at Avalanche, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hope to wrap up their three-game road trip in a winning fashion and with a winning record as they visit the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night.

The Caps are coming off a 2-1 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes, the second time this season they won a game when scoring two or fewer goals (the other being a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Florida Panthers on October 18th).  After going 0-25-7 last year in games in which they scored two or fewer goals (including shootouts), the Caps are 2-5-1 in such games this season.

As for the Avalanche, they come into this contest having a difficult month of November.  In eight games so far this month, Colorado is 3-4-1, although they have won their last two games – a 4-3 trick shot win over the Rangers and a 3-2 win in New Jersey – to complete a 2-2-0 road trip.

On offense, the Avs seem stuck on “3.”  That would be the number of goals they scored in four of their last five contests, part of the 18 they have in eight games this month.  They have yet to score more than three goals in any of those eight games of November.

If we asked you who was leading the Avalanche in scoring in November, you might be inclined to answer Nathan MacKinnon or Gabriel Landeskog or Ryan O’Reilly.  We doubt that the name “Tyson Barrie” would have occurred to you, but that would be the correct answer.  Barrie’s six points for the month (all assists) has vaulted him into a tie for the team lead in points (13) with Matt Duchene.  Barrie is probably not well known to Caps fans, but his performance is not particularly surprising.  Last year, his third in the NHL, he finished 13-25-38 to finish one point shy of Erik Johnson for the team scoring lead among defensemen.

Up front, the precociousness of youth remains on display for Colorado.  Their own version of the “Young Guns” – Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog, and MacKinnon – are all 23 years of age or younger.  They also account for 17 of the 45 goals scored by the Avs through 19 games and six of the 18 scored by the club in November.  As a group they are 3-8-11 against the Caps over their respective careers, O’Reilly the only one not to have yet recorded a career goal against Washington.

In goal, the Caps seem unlikely to see their old friend, Semyon Varlamov.  His season has had its issues with consistency, perhaps due to distractions, perhaps due injury problems of the sort that plagued him in Washington and that will keep him out of this game. 

In his place is likely to be Reto Berra, a goalie of limited experience (37 career games, eight of them with the Avalanche over the past two seasons) and limited success (career: 11-19-4, 3.02, .896).  Berra has appeared in six games so far this season and is 2-1-1, 2.70, .914.  He has been quite inconsistent in limited play.  In his four starts this season his save percentages are .964, .889, .921, and .852.  The next in the series would be a .920-plus outing; on the other hand he has not appeared in a game since November 8th.  Against the Caps he is 1-0-1, 3.30, .905 in three career appearances.

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers through Tuesday’s games:

1.  There have been 706 skaters dressing for at least one game this season in the NHL. Defenseman Nick Holden is dead last among that group in plus-minus (minus-15).  It not as if he has been much better in terms of possession.  Only six players have a worse Corsi plus-minus than Holden (minus-117).  Among 437 players with more than 200 minutes of ice time, he has the tenth worst Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (37.94).

2.  Colorado is really struggling with the second period.  They are minus-2 in the first and plus-1 in the third periods of games, but they are a whopping minus-10 in the middle period.  That is the second worst second period goal differential in the league (Buffalo is minus-11).

3.  The Avs have the league’s worst record in the league when leading after one period (2-4-0).  Only they and Dallas have winning percentages below .500.  They are better, but only marginally so, when leading after the second period (.400), but they are the only team in the league with a winning percentage below .500.

4.  If Colorado has a strength, it is one that matches the Caps’ strength.  The Avalanche are fifth in the league in penalty killing (88.2 percent), but they are even better at home.  They have allowed only two power play goals at home this season.  No team has allowed fewer on home ice, and only Detroit has a better penalty killing rate at home (94.4 percent) than Colorado (93.8 percent).  It will be a challenge for the Capitals’ power play.

5.  Colorado is not a very good possession team.  They rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.51) and are minus-206 in Corsi events (numbers from  They have been outshot in 13 of 19 games so far this season with a record in those games on 3-6-4, 27th in winning percentage.

1.  The Caps do a much better job of leading after 20 and 40 minutes than they do of leading after 60.  They have taken a lead into the first intermission seven times while they have trailed only three times.  They have led after 40 minutes ten times while trailing just four times.

2.  Following on that first fact, the Caps have the fourth worst goal differential in the third periods of games (minus-7), undoing much of their earlier work (plus-5 in the first period, plus four in the second period).

3.  Washington’s ability to hold opponent shot totals down (26.8 per game) is the reason that they have the sixth best shot differential in the league (plus 3.3 per game).  Last season they were 27th (minus-4.1)

4.  Even with all the shot suppression, the Caps are just tied for 18th in goals allowed at 5-on-5.

5.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have not had a “plus” game since November 2nd (seven game streak).  Even with that, the Caps are 4-2-1 in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Alex Tanguay

For all the youth available to the Avalanche, it is the old man, Alex Tanguay, who leads the club in goals scored (7).  Tanguay spent his first six seasons in Colorado before heading off to Calgary, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Calgary again before landing in Colorado once more in 2013-2014.  Now in his 15th NHL season, Tanguay is closing in on 1,000 games played (957) and 800 points (784).  He has been hot lately, going 3-2-5 in his last six games, even if he doesn’t shoot all that much (ten shots on goal in those games, half of them against Toronto on November 6th).  He is 4-5-9 in 17 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera earned an assist in the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win over Arizona on Tuesday when he set up Jay Beagle for the Caps’ first goal.  It broke a seven-game streak without a point.  He is still working on a 13-game streak without a goal and has only one this season.  He has not been immune to slow starts.  Last season he started the year with one goal in his first nine games and finished with 15.  Two years ago he went the first 27 games of the season without a goal and finished with three.  So, it might be hard to ascertain whether he is victim of a slow start, or he is in what might be a painful season-long rut.  His shooting percentage has been an issue in terms of its consistency.  He has never been an especially efficient shooter (only twice in 11 previous full seasons has he finished over 10 percent; career: 8.7 percent), but his 4.8 percent is something to notice.  He is 6-8-14 in 28 career games against Colorado.

In the end…

This is not last year’s Colorado team.  Except for their penalty kill, this is a team that ranks in the bottom third of just about every other meaningful statistic, fancy or not.  They do come into this game on a mini-winning streak, having won their last two contests.  However, they are struggling to score, and their number one goaltender has a wonky groin.  However, this is also a team that skated rings around the Caps last season, and Washington has found its own difficulty in scoring in the thin air of Denver with one goal in each of their last two visits there, both of them losses.  Things are different this time though, the Caps have a new coach and a new approach, the Avs are paying for what seemed like a deal with the Devil last season.  You know how this will turn out…

Capitals 3 – Avalanche 1

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A TWO-point night -- Game 18: Capitals 2 - Coyotes 1 (OT)

For the sixth time in 18 games this season, the Washington Capitals had to go to extra time to decide things, and they squared their extra time record at 3-3 when Eric Fehr scored 3:15 into overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

The scoring was a rare occurrence in a game where offense was often a rumor.  Jay Beagle opened the scoring for the Capitals in the first period on a rather basic play.  A shot from the left point by Chris Summers went high and wide of the Caps net and rimmed around the boards out of the offensive zone.  Jason Chimera chased the puck down in the neutral zone and skated into the Coyotes end down the left wing.  Joel Ward dashed to the net, occupying two Coyote defenders, leaving the middle wide open for the late arriving Jay Beagle.  Chimera centered the puck to Beagle in the slot, and Beagle fired it home to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

That lead held up into the early moments of the second period when Oliver Ekman-Larsson tied the game when Sam Gagner skated to the bottom of the right wing circle and threw a no-look backhand pass cross ice to Ekman-Larsson at the top of the left wing circle.  With nothing but open net to shoot at, Ekman-Larsson found the back of the net to make it 1-1.

And that was it for scoring in regulation time.  The last 20-second sequence was essentially an Eric Fehr production.  He started the play by winning a faceoff in the neutral zone from Antoine Vermette.  Then he skated the puck into the Arizona zone where his attempted snap shot from the top of the left wing circle was blocked into the corner by Mike Stone.  Fehr chased the puck down and move it along to Troy Brouwer in the opposite corner.  The Caps worked it around the top of the zone from Brouwer to John Carlson to Brooks Orpik at the top of the left wing circle.  Orpik fired a low shot that goalie Mike Smith stopped with his left pad.  The rebound was left lying at the top of the crease, though, and Fehr was there to pound it past Smith to give the Caps a 2-1 win and break their two-game losing streak.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had three power plays, the most power plays they have had on the road since they had three chances in a 3-1 win in Calgary on October 25th.  It was an avalanche of chances given that they had one in their previous two road games combined.  They might have been a bit out of practice, though, failing to convert on any of their six power play shots despite getting them from the guys who need to get them.  Alex Ovechkin had all three of his shots on goal for the game on a first period power play.  Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, and Mike Green had the other shots on goal.

-- This was the Caps’ first win in Arizona since Ovechkin scored “The Goal” in January 2006. 

-- Jason Chimera’s assist on Jay Beagle’s goal broke a seven-game streak without a point.  He is still working on a 13-game run without a goal.

-- Braden Holtby made his first career appearance against the Coyotes, and he made it count.  He stopped 23 of 24 shots to make it four straight games with a save percentage better than .920, three of them .950 or better.  In those four games he stopped 112 of 118 shots (.949).

-- Maybe the hit meter was stuck on “ON.”  The Caps were credited with 41 hits, the only players not recording one being Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chris Brown.  Tom Wilson led the team with six.

-- Speaking of Brown, his recording no hits was part of a pristine score card.  In 6:36 of ice time he recorded no events.  Lucas Lessio might have done the same for the Coyotes in his 9:37 of ice time, but he finished with a minus-1, as he was on ice for the Jay Beagle goal.

-- The Caps killed off four power plays, 7:29 of which was in the second period when the teams had the long change.  That makes 13-for-13 over their last four games.  Brooks Orpik skated 4:14 of that shorthanded time and led the Caps in total ice time for the evening (23:11).

-- That last shift for Fehr – 27 seconds worth – was what pushed him over the ten-minute mark in ice time, thus avoiding the second time in his last three games he would have not reached that mark.

-- For the second game in a row, Marcus Johansson did not record a shot on goal, the first time this season he has gone consecutive game without being credited for a shot on goal.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to be fed ice time with a thimble.  In this game he skated just 7:32 and took only two shifts in the third period, not seeing the ice in the last 9:15 of regulation time and the entire overtime.

In the end…

As Braden Holtby said after the game, “we really needed that.”  This game was the epitome of the “grind it out” game.  Neither team had many opportunities on offense; the Caps had 40 shot attempts in 63:16, while the Coyotes had 50.  Both goaltenders played well, but Holtby was just a sliver better than Smith.  There was hitting (70 hits credited, 41 by the Caps), but there were not many turnovers (14 credited between the teams).  It was the kind of game that one might not like watching very often, but it is one that fans wish the Caps would win more often.  After two lackluster games over the past weekend, this game lacked a certain luster to it as well.  It did shine in the end, though.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 18: Capitals at Coyotes, November 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals try to break their two-game losing streak as they head to the desert and their second meeting this season against the Arizona Coyotes.  These teams last met on November 2nd with the Coyotes spotting the Caps a 3-1 lead before storming back with five unanswered goals on their way to a 6-5 win at Verizon Center.

Since then, both teams are on something of a meandering course.  The Caps are 3-2-1 since dropping that decision to the Coyotes.  They have been outscored by a 16-15 margin, but they are 2-1-1 in one-goal decisions.  Special teams have been a mixed bag, the power play going 3-16 (18.8 percent) in those six games but without a goal in their last two games and without so much as a power play opportunity in their most recent contest, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues to open this road trip.

The penalty kill has been another matter.  While it has struggled for much of the year (78.6 percent through the first Arizona game), it is 13-for-15 in its last six contests (86.7 percent) and perfect in its last three games (9-for-9).

The Caps are led in goal-scoring, perhaps improbably so, over their last six games, by Marcus Johansson with four.  Johansson also is tied for the team lead in points over that span (five) with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, each with a 2-3-5 scoring line.  They have spread the help around with five players each recording three assists.

The Caps’ goaltending is hard to get handle on.  Braden Holtby has appeared in four games since these clubs last met.  He is 2-1-1, 2.23, .923.  He has been very good in his last three games, sporting a save percentage of .947.  There was that nasty giveaway, though, that led to the only goal in a 1-0 loss to New Jersey in his last appearance.  As for Justin Peters, he is just flat out struggling.  In two appearances since Arizona and the Caps met, a game in which he was the victim of the Coyotes' six-goal outburst, he is 1-1-0, 3.37, .885.  It is part of a rough stretch he has been in since an impressive 20-save effort in a 2-1 Gimmick win over Florida on October 18th.  In four appearances since then he is 1-3-0, 3.98, .871.  He allowed six goals on 30 shots in the loss to Arizona on November 2nd.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes are grinding along with a 4-3-0 record since their November 2nd meeting with the Caps.  Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan each have three of the 18 goals scored by the Coyotes over that seven-game span, all of Hanzal’s coming on a hat trick scored against Vanouver last Friday in a 5-0 win over the Canucks.  Hanzal and Vermette share the scoring lead in this stretch with five points apiece.  It is part of what has the look of a balanced offense.  In their 4-3-0 run the Coyotes have 18 different skaters with points, 11 different players with goals.

The special teams for the Coyotes have been anything but, recently.  Over their last seven games Arizona is just 3-for-27 on the power play (11.1 percent) and just 21-for-26 (80.8 percent) on the penalty kill, bringing their special teams index over that period to a disappointing 91.9.  Oddly enough, while the recent power play performance is substantially worse than the season as a whole (20.0 percent), the recent penalty killing is actually an improvement (77.0 percent for the season).

Here is how the numbers compare for the two teams:

1.  Arizona has received decent scoring support from the blue line in their 4-3-0 run.  Six defensemen have points, and as a group they are 3-10-13.

2.  The Coyotes balance their skaters in terms of ice time, at least among the forwards.  No forward averages as much as 20 minutes per game, and only one (B.J. Crombeen) averages less than ten minutes a game.  The defensemen are another story.  Oliver Ekman-Larsson (26:15) and Keith Yandle (25:10) both average more than 25 minutes a game.  Only Nashville (Shea Weber and Roman Josi) and Dallas (Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley) have as many as two defensemen averaging more than 25 minutes a game.

3.  Arizona has as many power play goals (14) as do the Capitals.  The difference is that they have theirs on 70 opportunities, while the Caps have theirs on 54 opportunities. 

4.  Since playing the Caps on November 2nd, the Coyotes have five one-goal decisions in their seven contests.  They are 3-2-0 in those games, one of those wins settled in the trick shot competition (against Anaheim on November 7th, 3-2).

5.  Arizona and St. Louis are the only teams left in the league with “perfect” records when leading or trailing after the second intermission.  When leading, the Coyotes are a perfect 4-0-0 (St. Louis is 8-0-0), and when trailing, they are a perfect 0-6-0 (St. Louis is 0-2-0).

1.  November is “one-goal month” for the Capitals.  Six of their eight decisions have been by one goal. Their record in such contests is 2-3-1, including the 6-5 loss to Arizona on November 2nd.

2.  The Caps have 14 power play opportunities in seven road games.  Their 2.0 opportunities per road game is fewest in the league, and it’s not close.  Florida has the next fewest at 2.75 road power plays per game.  The Caps have spent only 17:16 in total power play time on the road in seven games.  Pity they don’t get more opportunities, since they are the best road power play team in the league (35.7 percent on 5-for-14).

3.  Only four teams have more wins when leading after two periods than Washington (7 wins): Pittsburgh (11), Tampa Bay (9), St. Louis (8), and Montreal (8).

4.  Washington has been reasonably well-behaved in the context of the rule book.  Only seven teams have fewer minor penalties taken than the 67 charged to the Caps.

5.  How big is the “big pair” in the early going?  When Nicklas Backstrom scores at least one point, the Caps are 5-3-2; they are 2-4-1 when he does not.  When Alex Ovechkin scored at least one point, the Caps are 4-1-2; they are 3-6-1 when he does not.  When both score at least one point the Caps are 4-2-2; they are 2-4-1 when neither scores a point.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Mikkel Boedker

This has the makings of a breakout year for Mikkel Boedker.  With seven goals in 18 games, he is on a pace to finish with 32 goals, a total that would obliterate his career high (19, set last season).  Boedker was an eighth overall draft pick in 2008, but it has not been an easy climb for him to get to this level.  A decent rookie season in 2008-2009 (11 goals in 78 games) was followed by a year spent mostly in the AHL (64 games with San Antonio).  He split time between Phoenix and San Antonio in 2010-2011 before sticking for good in 2011-2012.  He has not missed a game with the Coyotes since.  He comes into this game with the Capitals with points in each of his last four games (2-2-4).  In six career games against the Caps, he is 1-2-3, minus-1, including a pair of assists in the 6-5 win over Washington on November 2nd.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov might be nicknamed “The Morse Code Player.”  His scoring seems almost like an SOS call… dit-dit-dit (point-point-point)… dot-dot-dot-dot (none-none-none-none)… dit-dit-dit (point-point-point)… dot-dot-dot-dot-dot (none-none-none-none-none)… He has two three-game scoring streaks thus far, but he is without a point in his last five games and without a goal in his last seven games.  Moreover, he has almost stopped shooting.  After recording 21 shots in his first 12 games, he has two in his last four contests.  After a brief lull in which he skated less than ten minutes in consecutive games, he is back in double digits in each of his last two contests.  Still. These are modest achievements for a player many thought would challenge for a Calder Trophy as top rookie this season.  His last point came in the 6-5 loss to Arizona on November 2nd.

In the end…

There are no gimmes on the NHL schedule, but this is where the calendar looks a lot more hospitable for the Caps, starting with this game.  The Caps next three opponents – Arizona and Colorado on the road, followed by Buffalo at home – have a combined record at the moment of 18-30-8, and all of them are below .500 in standings points.  Except for a 4:38 span straddling the second and third periods, when the Coyotes scored three goals, the first of the meetings between these clubs was dominated by the Caps.  Unfortunately that’s like saying that but for a ruckus in the President’s box at Ford’s Theater, “Our American Cousin” was a delightful play.

The Caps have found it difficult to sustain any continuity in their performance from game to game, especially after their 3-0-2 start.  Putting together consecutive good games has been uncommon.  It is not as if the Coyotes have been setting the world on fire with their play.  It’s time the Caps start setting some fires of their own.  Under their own backsides would be a good start.

Capitals 4 – Coyotes 2

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

Ugh.  That was the word that that epitomized Week 6 for the Washington Capitals.  After letting the Columbus Blue Jackets – a team on an eight-game losing streak – hang around far too long before dispatching them in the first game of the week, the Caps’ guns went silent in their last two games of the week in losses to fall to .500 in standings points for the season.

Record: 1-2-0

Fluid.  That’s your word for the Caps’ 1-2-0 record.  It could have been different in a lot of ways.  Against the Blue Jackets, the team with the eight-game losing streak, the Caps stomped on them for three goals in the first period, then sat back and let Columbus to crawl back within a goal before tacking on an insurance goal late.  That could have been one that got away.  Against New Jersey, the Caps and Devils looked as if they would head to overtime in a scoreless tie in a thoroughly boring game.  That is, until The Demon in a Mask paid a visit to goalie Braden Holtby, who giftwrapped the winning goal…not for his own team.  That one could have gone either way.  There was no such suspense in the Caps’ last game of the week, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in which they were thoroughly dominated because they were never really engaged in the game.  It made for a 1-2-0 week, the Caps’ second losing week in their last three.

Offense:  1.60/game (season: 2.88; rank: 7th)

The good part of the week is that the Caps opened it with a bang – a three goal explosion in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The bad part?  After scoring three goals on 12 shots in 16:04, the Caps scored two goals on 75 shots in the last 163:56 the rest of the week.  And the second of those goals was something of a gift, a misplay of a Joel Ward shot from the top of the faceoff circle by the Blues’ Brian Elliott.  Part of the problem in the last two games was upside down shooting.  The Caps got 24 shots from the defense, 31 from forwards.  That seems a bit heavy from the blue line as a share of total shots.  Another thing was that the Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom pair had eight shots on goal in the last two games.  Their even-strength linemates – Jay Beagle against the Devils and Tom Wilson against the Blues – had one shot apiece.  While the top line had their troubles, the rest of the forward lines hardly distinguished themselves.  It was a team-wide slump.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.76/game; rank: 17th)

If you give up two and a third goals a game over a season, chances are you are a top-ten scoring defense (it would be tenth as we write this).  In that sense, the week went pretty well.  It was how the Caps got there that was the problem.  After holding the Blue Jackets to five shots in the first period of their game to open the week, the Caps allowed ten or more shots in six of the next eight periods, an unusual occurrence for a team that even at week’s end had allowed the fourth-fewest shots on goal in the league.  The Caps spread it around, too.  There were 17 different skaters who were on ice for at least one goal (Michael Latta and Evgeny Kuznetsov escaping that fate), six of them on ice for three of the seven goals scored for the week.   This is not the sort of teamwork folks have in mind.

Goaltending: 2.36 GAA / .920 SV (season: 2.66 / .899 / 1 SO)

Let’s do this again.  If you have a 2.36 GAA you are having a pretty decent season in goal; it would rank 15th in the league as we write this.  Ditto for the save percentage.  A .920 save percentage would be tied for 14th.  So what gives with the 1-2-0 record.  Again, it was not the “what” as much as the “how.”  It was in this area that the week turned, and it did so on two plays, similar and from each goalie.  With the Caps and Devils skating to what seemed an inevitable overtime period in a scoreless game, Braden Holtby stopped a puck behind his own net, turned, and sent the puck on its way, right onto the stick of the Devils Mike Cammalleri.  One shot later, before Holtby could return to the front of his net, and the Devils had their game-winning goal.  Against St. Louis, with the Caps trailing the Blues by a 2-1 margin coming out of the second intermission, Justin Peters stopped the puck behind his own net, turned, and tried to move the puck along.  He managed to whiff on the attempt, and Patrik Berglund, who pressured Peters into the gaffe, slid the puck to David Backes for the insurance goal that deflated the Caps in a game that might have ended a bit differently had Peters made good on his pass attempt.  The different between 1-2-0 and 2-1-0 or even 2-0-1 can turn on two plays.   For the Caps, it did.

Power Play:  1-9 / 11.1 percent (season: 25.9 percent ;rank: 3rd)

It was a bad week all around for the Caps on the man advantage.  First there were the chances.  The Caps had nine power play opportunities for the week.  In and of itself, that’s not bad, but the Caps went from five against Columbus to four against New Jersey to none against St. Louis.  The odd part of that was that the Blues went into the game tied for the fourth-most power plays faced at home (34).  They came out of that game with the same 34, the Caps getting none and leaving town as they entered it, with the fewest power play opportunities awarded on the road, 14 in seven games.

Then there was the efficiency.  The Caps managed 20 shots on goal in 15:14 of power play time, the 1.3 shots per minute of power play time being something to shoot for, so to speak.  But the Caps managed just that one goal on 20 shots, not something you want to see.  The Caps even got the shots from the players they wanted, but not necessarily in the way they wanted them.  Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-5 against Columbus, but was held without a power play shot against New Jersey, who blocked six of his attempts.  Marcus Johansson, continuing his early season shotzapalooza, had four power play shots against Columbus, one against New Jersey.  Six different Caps shared the rest of the power play shots for the week.  They just could not find the back of the net.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 80.7 percent; rank: 16th)

If there was a bright spot to the week, penalty killing was it.  It would be hard to draw it up better than this as far as results are concerned.  First, the Caps killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced, the first time since Week 1 that the Caps had a perfect week.  Then there was the efficiency.  In 18 minutes of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed opponents only a total of nine shots on goal.  When one considers that the Caps faced, at the time, the seventh-ranked (Columbus), 13th-ranked (New Jersey), and third-ranked (St. Louis) power plays, it was a very good week for the penalty killers.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 4-7 / minus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.97; rank: T-20th)

One of the things that characterized the Caps good start to the season was their 5-on-5 play.  They finished Week 1 ranked 4th in the league in goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio at 5-on-5.  They followed that up with weekly rankings of seventh and third.  Then the wheels started coming off, dropping to a tie for 13th after Week 4 and a tie for 14th after Week 5.  Now, they are tied for 20th after a minus-3 week.  The Caps have dropped to tenth in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, 51.57 percent (from  The Caps were minus-16 for the week in Corsi at 5-on-5, on the wrong side of the divide in all three games.  The Ovechkin-Backstrom pair were victimized for three of the seven goals against while being on ice for only one goal for.  It was not a good week in this area for the Capitals.

Faceoffs: 98-for-190 / 51.6 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 15th)

It was a good week in the circle overall, if a bit uneven.  Overall the Caps were above 50 percent (51.6 percent), but it would have been much better if the Blues had not lit up the Capitals for a 58.5 percent winning percentage in the last game of the week, part of a generally lethargic performance by the Caps.  On an individual level, it was a case of the veterans and the kids, the former doing well and the latter not as much.  Nicklas Backstrom continued his fine work, going 59.7 percent for the week, including winning 11 of 13 defensive zone draws.  Eric Fehr won his week as well, finishing at 51.4 percent.  At the other end, the two kids – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky – are still a work in progress, the former winning 44.4 percent of his draws for the week and the latter winning only 29.4 percent of the 17 draws he took.

Goals by Period:

Start well, finish poorly.  That was the week for the Caps.  The Caps outscored Columbus, 3-1, in the first period of their game to open the week, then let the Blue Jackets inch back into the game before getting a late insurance goal.  In the losses, the Caps allowed the game-winning goal with 10:22 left in the third period against New Jersey and with 7:24 in the second period against St. Louis.  Getting only single goals in each of the second and third periods of games for the week had the usual and the unusual attached to them.  In the case of their lone second period goal for the week, it was unusual for the rare occurrence.  With 20 second period goals this season the Caps are tied for eighth in the league.  As for the third period goal, this is a continuing shortcoming.  The Caps have only ten third period goals in 17 games.  Only Florida (8) and Winnipeg (6) have fewer.

In the end…

Through Week 2 the Caps were 3-0-2.  In four weeks since then, they are 4-7-1.  There is probably one good win in that bunch, that coming in Chicago back on November 7th.  Losses to Edmonton and Arizona more or less negate that.  While the Caps have lost to some very good teams, like Tampa Bay and St. Louis, otherwise the Caps have been struggling against teams like themselves, those who are going to be competing for that limited number of playoff spots next spring.  Week 6 was one of those struggling weeks when they held on to beat a Columbus team stuck in a rut, gave away a game to New Jersey, and never got their legs going against St. Louis.  Week 6 might not have been a week as good as the 1-2-0 record would suggest.  The Caps have an opportunity in the week coming up with three games against teams that are all under .500.  It’s past time to turn things around and establish some momentum.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.52, .944)
  • Second Star: Marcus Johansson (2-0-2, 12 SOG)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, GWG, 13 SOG)

…it was a dim week for stars.

A NO-point night -- Game 17: Blues 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals got off on the wrong foot on their three-game road trip with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.  It was a game in which the Caps were not so much dominated as they were running in a lower gear than the one in which the Blues were playing.

The Blues took advantage of the Caps’ heavy legs at the start, Washington having played the previous night in a 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  St. Louis out-shot the Caps, 7-1, and out-attempted them, 12-4, in the first eight minutes. The pressure paid off for the home team when they took advantage of a passive to the point of (literally) prone Caps defense.  It started with a player heading off the ice.  From just inside his own blue line, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk shot the puck up the left wing wall and headed to the bench.  The puck skittered past Jori Lehtera, who was tangled up with Mike Green in front of the players bench, to Jaden Schwartz crossing the Caps’ blue line.  As he skated in he backed Nate Schmidt off, Schmidt eventually leaving his feet and trying from his stomach to sweep the puck off Schwartz’ stick.  It did prevent Schwartz from getting a free shot at Caps goalie Justin Peters, but Schmidt’s momentum carried him out of the play.  Schwartz dropped the puck for Lehtera, who snuck into the middle as Green was trying to come to Schmidt’s rescue, and his shot beat Peters on the glove side to give St. Louis a lead at the 9:11 mark.

That would do it for the first period, which could have ended much worse than it did for the Caps but for some respectable goaltending from Peters.  The Caps, who have made a habit of letting teams hang around in recent games, were just that team as the sides skated into the middle of the second period.  Joel Ward then got the Caps even with a soft goal on goalie Brian Elliott’s part.  Taking a cross-ice feed from Mike Green in the neutral zone, Ward skated the puck down the left wing wall into the Blues’ end.  From the top of the faceoff circle he fired a wrist shot that Elliott tried to trap against his blocker.  He thought he had the puck squeezed tightly, but it dropped behind him and rolled over the line to tie the game 6:38 into the period.

After that it was just a slow leak for the Caps.  St. Louis regained the lead in the 13th minute of the second period when Schwartz finished off a play that started with a clean offensive zone faceoff win by Lehtera against Eric Fehr.  The Blues worked the puck around the perimeter, and when Peters’ save of a Shattenkirk drive from the point was left lying in front, Schwartz fought off Karl Alzner and batted the puck in.

The Caps were still in it, though, after 40 minutes with the score remaining 2-1.  Then, for the second straight game, a Caps goalie giftwrapped a goal from behind their own net.  This time, Peters stopped the puck behind his own net and looked to send it back out to his right.  He heard footsteps, though, those being of Patrik Berglund charging in from Peters’ left.  It was enough for Peters to fan on his passing attempt.  Berglund circled around the back of the cage, slid the puck out to David Backes, and Backes snapped it into the back of the net before Peters could scramble back.

That pretty much ended the competitive portion of the evening as St. Louis clamped down and clogged things up for the Caps.  Berglund got one of his own off a pass from Backes with less than four minutes left for the final 4-1 margin, and the Caps had their second loss in as many nights.

Other stuff…

-- One goal in their last 125:21 for the Caps.  It happens, but the Caps do not seem to be getting anything in terms of second chance shots.  And that brings us to…

-- Power plays.  The Caps came into this game having been awarded the fewest power plays on the road in the league, 14 in six games.  Now, it is 14 in seven games.  They have had two or fewer in each of their last four games on the road.  What made the outcome so strange was that St. Louis came into this game tied for the fourth-most number of power plays allowed at home (34).  And, without an opportunity tonight against the Blues, the Caps suffered their second straight game without a power play goal, the first time this season they went consecutive games without one.

-- Alex Ovechkin had one shot on goal in the first 47:22 of the game. It would have been one thing if the Caps were spreading the shot volumes around (Ovechkin finished with three in the game), and to an extent they did – seven players had two or more shots.  But they had only 25 shots for the game, 11 of those in the third period.  Part of that is not having any power play opportunities, but the Caps spent too much of this game not exerting much pressure in the St. Louis end of the ice.

-- Has the clock struck midnight?  Has the coach turned back into a pumpkin?  Has Marcus Johansson turned back into, well… Marcus Johansson?  He recorded no shots on goal in this game and has not had a shot on goal in the Caps’ last 99:52 of clock time (29:43 of personal ice time).  He was part of a second line that had two shots on goal for the night, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer recording one apiece.

-- The third line was almost a mirror image of the second line.  Eric Fehr had no shots on goal, while Jason Chimera and Joel Ward had one apiece.  The difference was, of course, Ward scoring on his lone shot.

-- The fourth line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, and Michael Latta had a combined total of one shot on goal (Kuznetsov).  See a theme here?  Fifteen of the Caps’ 25 shots came from defensemen.  Hard to generate much offense if the shots are coming from outside, and there are no second-chance opportunities.

-- The Caps were consistently short on faceoffs – 42 percent in the offensive zone, 42 percent in the defensive zone, and 41 percent in the neutral zone.  Burakovsky was the only Capital over 50 percent (4-for-7).

-- Tom Wilson… six hits, seven minutes in penalties, a Blues player in each hand.  If his offensive game ever even approximates his physical game, what’s this kid going to be like in five years? 

-- This makes four straight games (in six appearances) that Justin Peters allowed three or more goals.  He is 1-3-0, 3.98, .871.  He doesn’t have to be a stone wall back there, but he has to be able to provide credible relief when called upon.  Right now, he is just leaky enough to be one of the (but certainly not the only) problems this team has.

-- After averaging 3.29 goals a game over a 14 game span starting with their 4-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins on October 11th, the Caps have scored only one goal in their last two games.

In the end…

With this loss the Caps dropped 7-7-3, fifth in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.  By the time the Caps played 17 games last season they were 9-7-1, second in the Metro Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  The Caps might be giving their maximum effort, but in the last two games especially they looked very passive in their approach, letting the Devils and Blues dictate pace and dominate position.  Maybe that is a lack of urgency, maybe it is having played four back-to-back sets of games already (the loss to the Blues was the back end of their fourth such set).  Whatever, the Caps need to stop the bleeding and establish some momentum.  They have three days to lick their wounds and figure out how to tighten up in both ends of the rink before the slow leak turns into something they can’t stop.