Monday, June 08, 2009
Monday, June 01, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Why Detroit can’t lose
They’ve seen it all. The Red Wings are in their fifth Stanley Cup final in the last 12 seasons. In the previous four appearances, they did not fail to win the Cup. It started in the 1996-1997 season. From that team, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and Chris Osgood remain. Lidstrom has 228 games of playoff experience entering these finals. Holmstrom, 145. Maltby, 162. Draper, 198. Osgood, 122 (19 with other teams). Compare this to Pittsburgh, where Bill Guerin leads all Penguins in playoff experience – 122 games. In the four Stanley Cup finals the Red Wings have played in the last 12 seasons, their game record is 16-3. Only once in eight tries have they lost either of Games 1 and Games 2 (an overtime loss to Carolina in Game 1 in 2002 – they won the next four games).
That’s the history. The fact is, Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Draper, Maltby, and even to an extent Osgood have not been the keys for this team. They are just so uncommonly deep. Six players with at least ten points in 16 playoff games, 15 with at least five. Only one skater among the 23 who have dressed for the Red Wings is in minus territory (Maltby, minus-2), and two are above plus-10, 11 are at least plus-5. Nine different players have game winning goals in the 12 wins so far in the playoffs. Ten different players have power play goals. No Red Wing who has taken at least 100 draws has lost more than he’s won. And, for a team with something of a reputation as being too “European,” they have more guys with 10-plus hits coming into this series in 16 games played (17) than Pittsburgh does in 17 games (15).
The Red Wings do the big things well – they score (3.69 Goals/game in the playoffs), they defend (2.12 goals/against), they have the largest goal differential by far (+1.57 goals/game, compared to 1.06 for Pittsburgh), they are best in five-on-five play, they have the third best power play (25.7 percent, compared to Pittsburgh at seventh with 19.3 percent), they get and hold a lead (they’ve won eight of nine games when scoring first, tops in winning percentage at .889), they don’t wilt late (9-0 in games in which they’ve led after two periods, tops in the playoffs).
They also do the little things well. They are second in faceoff winning percentage, second in shot differential per game, second in fewest penalty minutes per game. They have been out-shot only twice in 16 playoff games and have out-shot opponents by at least ten shots in ten of 16 games.
Oh, and then there is Marian Hossa – the guy who spurned a contract offer to remain in Pittsburgh to skate for the Red Wings. He is 10-32-42 in 32 career games against the Penguins. Pavel Datsyuk came into this season without having scored a goal against the Penguins in six career games. By the end of the season, he added two games of experience against the Penguins…and scored three goals.
Why Detroit can’t win
Detroit is banged up. Lidstrom, Draper, and Pavel Datsyuk have been banged up. Only Lidstrom will play in Game 1. Jonathan Ericsson is still recovering from an appendectomy; it’s uncertain whether he will play in Game 1. Add to this that Games 1 and 2 are being played back to back, and it has all the makings of the Red Wings getting out of the gate slowly at home. Losing one or both games on home ice could be death against a team that is 6-2 on its own home ice in the playoffs.
Then there is the matter of history. Last year, the Red Wings shutout the Penguins in Games 1 and 2 at Joe Louis Arena. Pittsburgh will be remembering that embarrassment.
Detroit had little difficulty with either Columbus or Chicago, both young teams with no playoff experience to speak of. They did struggle with Anaheim – a physical team, but also one with their own cadre of playoff warriors. Pittsburgh is young, but it is also a team that has played in 42 playoff games the last three years (including this one). And Pittsburgh has a lot more skill than do the Ducks.
The Peerless’ Player to Ponder
“The Mule” is the leading scorer for the Red Wings in this post season (10-9-19 in 16 games). However, his splits by series offer a warning. Against Columbus, he was 2-4-6, +4 in four games. Against Anaheim, he was 6-3-9, +3 in seven games. But against Chicago, he was 2-2-4, +2 in five games and had only one point (a goal) after Game 1. What’s the difference? Chicago is a much speedier team than either Columbus or Anaheim. Pittsburgh does not lack for speed and will make Franzen play in his own end more than he might against teams like Anaheim or Columbus. If that eats into his production at the other end, it will be trouble for the Red Wings.
Why Pittsburgh can’t lose
We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating – Sidney Crosby is on a mission. He has been held off the score sheet only twice in 17 games. He’s had multi-point games 11 times (the last three games in a row). He hasn’t had a minus game since Game 5 against Washington (the last time he was held scoreless). He’s won at least 50 percent of his draws in 12 of 17 games, including six times over 60 percent. Among players with at least five goals in the playoffs, he is fourth in shooting percentage with a whopping 22.2 percent. It goes on and on.
But then there is the matter of Evgeni Malkin. Since taking the collar against Washington in Game 4 of the conference semi-finals, Malkin is 7-8-15, +6 in seven games. As well as Crosby has played, if Malkin hadn’t come alive in game 5 of the Capitals series (he had the game-winner in overtime), going 1-6-7 in Games 5-7, we’re probably talking about a whole different opponent for the Red Wings in the finals.
But good as those two are, there are other stories. None is better for Penguin fans than that of Sergei Gonchar, who has skated in 15 playoff games, the last five on a knee that might need surgical repair after this last series is completed. Gonchar, not necessarily included among the “stitch it up and get me back out there” category of player, gritted in out in a four game series against a Carolina team whose speed could have made Gonchar’s life miserable. Instead, he skated for more than 20 minutes in three of four games in a Pittsburgh sweep. His experience on the blue line can only help against a team that seems always to have the puck.
While perhaps not as deep as the Red Wings in terms of production, the Penguins are not simply The Sid and Geno Show, either. Eight players have game-winning goals among the 12 wins so far, seven have power play goals. They also have six players with at least ten points in the playoffs. They have three players at plus-10 or better (to the Wings’ two).
Pittsburgh seems to have found another gear since Game 6 of the Washington series. In five games since losing that game in overtime, they have outscored opponents 26-11, outshot them 168-139, converted five of 21 power play opportunities, killed 11 of 12 shorthanded situations. Those 26 goals in their last five games – it is the most scoring they have had in any five-game stretch this season, regular season or playoffs.
Why Pittsburgh can’t win
Pittsburgh played three comparatively weak defensive teams in getting to the finals. Philadelphia, Washington, and Carolina all gave up at least 2.70 goals/game in the regular season. Detroit wasn’t any great shakes, either (2.93/game, tied with Washington for 19th). But oh, have the Red Wings turned things around. They have allowed only 2.12 goals/game – second among all playoff teams. The Penguins are certainly a step up in class for the Red Wings in terms of firepower, but the Red Wings are at least that on the defensive side for the Penguins – and, they’ve been here before.
Pittsburgh has out-shot opponents in 14 of 17 playoff games so far. But seven of those came in the Washington series against a team that struggled to get the puck out of their own end for long stretches (and still took the Penguins to seven games). If there is one team the Penguins have face that resembles the Red Wings in style, if not execution, it is Washington. Detroit does not have an Alex Ovechkin, but they do have a Pavel Datsyuk (even if gimpy) and a Henrik Zetterberg. And Detroit’s blue line will probably not struggle nearly so much as Washington did moving the puck in their own end.
The Peerless’ Player to Ponder
Guerin – a late season pick up from the Islanders – has already set a personal best for playoff scoring in a season (7-7-14 in 17 games). It is the first time he’s been in double-digit playoff scoring since 1995. His plus-11 is a personal playoff best and the first time he’s been in “plus” territory in the playoffs since that 1995 season. His two game-winning goals is a personal playoff best. He’s tied his playoff high for goals scored. He’s never taken more shots on goal than he has in this playoff year. The thing is, if he doesn’t keep up that pace, it isn’t likely the Penguins are going to win this series, even if Crosby and Malkin get theirs (which they seem likely to do).
We haven’t mentioned goaltending for either team. Frankly, we don’t see this as a “goaltender’s” series. That is a good thing for Pittsburgh, oddly enough. Chris Osgood, who struggled quite a bit in the regular season, has a better GAA (2.06 to 2.62), a better save percentage (.925 to .906), has more shutouts (one to none), and has fewer games in giving up three or more goals (three to four) than his counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury. None of this is to disparage Fleury’s performance, thus far. He’s had a good playoff run. But Osgood’s numbers, while significantly better than those he posted in the regular season, are hardly a fluke, given his playoff history. Five times in his career, Osgood has played more than one playoff series in a season with the Red Wings. In those years, he has never had a GAA above 2.12, he has only once had a save percentage below .918 (and that was in 1996). He has a total of ten shutouts in those five years. For Osgood, the season seems to start in April. One could argue that Osgood’s numbers are a product of the team around him being so good. Well, that’s really the point – the Red Wings know how to play these games. That’s why they’re the defending champs, and until a team beats them, we think it folly to pick against them.
Detroit in 7
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Why Pittsburgh can’t lose…
Sidney Crosby is on a mission. 12 goals in 13 games. Now, he didn’t do it against the sturdiest defensive squads in the East, but he’s not playing against such a group in the conference final, either. In fact, Carolina’s defense might resemble Washington’s a little too much for the Hurricanes’ tastes for this series -- not physical enough down low. And Crosby had eight goals against the Caps. As if we needed another Crosby nugget, he went 1-6-7 in four games against Carolina this year.
Marc-Andre Fleury had the curious propensity this year to be either very good against a team, or rather poor. For every 2-0-2, 1.69, .955 against New Jersey, there seemed to be a 1-2-0, 4.50, .881 against Toronto. He was 1-1-1, 2.00, .937 against Carolina this year.
Looking for someone to come out of the blue? Ruslan Fedotenko was 3-1-4 in four games against the Hurricanes this year. And, he had points in four of his last five games against the Caps in the second round (3-2-5).
Why Pittsburgh can’t win…
The Penguins did not play formidable teams in the first two rounds, at least in terms of their recent play, respectively. Philadelphia finished the season 11-10-1 after the end of February, leading up to their first round loss to the Penguins. The Caps – if you buy into the “Southleast” Division description of where they play – played a bunch of patsies the last month (10 of their last 13 games were against Southeast Division teams, against which they went 7-3-0) and struggled against a punchless Rangers team in the first round. This won’t be the case with Carolina – 13-3-2 since the end of February in the regular season and victors over two higher-seeded teams (New Jersey and Boston) in the first two rounds).
The Peerless’ Player to Ponder
Malkin has 19 points in 13 games, but his performance has the curious look of the underperformer through the first two rounds, perhaps not befitting a Hart Trophy finalist. He came on late in the second round, going 1-6-7 in the last three games against the Caps, including the game-winner in Game 5. He was 2-3-5 in four games against the Hurricanes this year. He’ll need to be at least as productive.
Why Carolina can’t lose
Here is what we said at the top of round two…
"On February 17th, the Hurricanes lost a 5-1 decision to Boston in an especially ugly fashion. Playing at home, they scored first, then watched as the Bruins stormed back for five unanswered goals, three of them in the third period, all of them in the last four minutes of play. Since then, the Hurricanes went 17-5-2 to close the regular season, then they vanquished the New Jersey Devils in the opening round with a pair of lightning bolts in the last 90 seconds of Game 7 against Martin Brodeur in Newark. They have played like and have had the look of a team of destiny the last two months."
Add to this the fact that they defeated the presumptive Vezina Trophy winner in round two – Tim Thomas. Think they’ll fear Marc-Andre Fleury? Yeah, me neither.
Why Carolina can’t win…
Pittsburgh was actually a hotter team after February 17th than the Hurricanes (18-3-3 to finish the regular season). This will be a step up in class in opposition for the Hurricanes, as one expects at this time of year. What might work more insidiously against the Hurricanes here is that they are, (a) the second oldest team in average age among the final eight in the playoffs, and (b) they are coming off two seven-games series, both of which involved winning a Game 7 on the road.
The Peerless’ Player to Ponder
Brind’Amour was off to the worst season of his career through February 17th. He was 8-21-29, -30 in 56 games, and you’d have to be forgiven if you thought that at age 38 the end was in sight. But he was 8-14-22. +7 in his last 24 regular season games. He had a similar slow start in the playoffs, going scoreless in his first ten games. He did have points in two of his last four games, but his importance in this series is going to be to a large extent his defense. If he can be effective against either Crosby or Malkin, perhaps Pittsburgh won’t have enough underneath support to advance. Hurricane fans hope that puck to the face in overtime of Game 7 against the Bruins won't ruin his movie star good looks... or keep him out of the lineup.
In the end…
These were the best two teams in the East down the stretch in the regular season. Both have struggled in the playoffs to get this far – one team needing 14 games, the other 13. Pittsburgh might be expected to suffer a bit of a let down after “the circus” that was the Washington series. But then again, they’ve been this far before. And, as we said, Sidney Crosby is on a mission.
On the other hand, Carolina has been this far before, too. They are not that far removed from having won a Cup. And, goalie Cam Ward has not yet lost a playoff series in his career. He might not have the star wattage of a Martin Brodeur or the quirky appeal in style of a Tim Thomas, but all he’s done is stop pucks… and he’s still playing, unlike the other two.
In the end, we’re left with a simple credo… “go with the best player.” That’s Crosby.
Pittsburgh in 7
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The better team won. There is no other argument to be made here, not after a 6-2 pasting of the Caps by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Game 7 that never matched the pre-game hype after the first few minutes. The Penguins showed considerable resiliency of their own, having come back from an 0-2 deficit in games, having lost a tough overtime decision in Game 6, and having lost their best defenseman for almost three full games, yet they still came out on the long end of the seven game series.
The Penguins were deeper, stronger on the puck, more aggressive, and more able to impress their will on games. That they won this series is no fluke, not the product of officiating or bad bounces. They were simply – and ultimately – better.
And the Caps? Their goalie of the future in the present – Simeon Varlamov – finished the game on the bench, and their Norris Trophy candidate defenseman finally went as far as he could go. All that is left with respect to Mike Green is an announcement of what injury he had that all but crippled him in this series. We suspect he suffered a shoulder injury in the Ranger series that affected everything from his shooting, to his passing, to his ability to carry the puck. He played only one shift in the third period and did not play in the last 17:58 of the contest. All the Caps had left was Alex Ovechkin, but not even his broad shoulders could carry the load against a Penguin team that had contributions from up and down the roster.
So, the Caps can take their razors out of their medicine cabinets, and the Penguins can contemplate facing Boston or Carolina. One gets the feeling that this is only the first of what will be many meetings between these clubs in the playoffs over the next decade. All other Eastern Conference teams are now on notice that hereforth, any road to the Stanley Cup finals goes through Pittsburgh and Washington.
But this was Pittsburgh’s night and Pittsburgh’s series. To the Penguins and their fans, congratulations and good luck in the weeks ahead.
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals, Caps vs. Penguins...Game 7
It’s Game 7… but you already knew that. It will be the only NHL game played this evening, so you can bet that all of the eyes of the hockey world in North America – and a lot of other places – will be trained on what is unfolding in Verizon Center this evening.
And if you’re looking for motivation on the part of the Caps, look no further than that quote machine that is Brooks Laich…
"When (Joffrey) Lupul scored I sat on the bench and it honestly felt like someone had just ripped my heart out. We had been on such a run for two or three months leading up to that. We had won our last seven in a row to get into the playoffs. We had battled back from down 3-1 (to the Flyers) and all of a sudden it just felt like we died. It was the worst feeling and I don't wish it upon anybody. Your season crashes and it's all over, and that's why you fight so hard to avoid it."
There are 20 Capitals and a legion of fans who are, in fact, wishing it on someone – anyone who wears black and Vegas gold. Two of those Caps fans are right here…
Cheerless? Fearless? What are the keys here?
"Shots, for one. The Penguins enjoy an 11.2 advantage in shots per game in this series (37.7 to 26.5). The advantage is a little narrower in Verizon Center – 8 shots a game in the three games there (38-30). The Caps getting 30-plus shots could be telling, because Marc-Andre Fleury has been very ordinary in this series. Semyon Varlamov has the higher GAA (3.33 to 2.17) but Fleury’s save percentage has been much worse -- .874 to .907."
Cheerless, you have a response?
"If the Caps haven’t outshot the Penguins in any game in this series, what makes y’all think they’re gonna do it now? But here’s the thing… I did some arithmetic on this…"
Here we go…
“Yeah, I passed arithmetic in grade school…”
“It took you four tries…”
“Well, whatever…if the Caps can keep the shot differential under ten in the Penguins favor, Fleury’s save percentage works against him. For example, at their current save percentages, if Varlamov faces 40 shots and Fleury faces 30, each team would end up with four goals.”
Hockey games don’t generally play out that way, cuz…
“Yeah, well, let’s put it another way… if the Penguins are lighting the Caps up for 40-45 shots, ya gotta wonder if the kid, who has already faced 226 shots in six games, has enough in the tank to pull this one out.”
“That’s why this one is probably going to be decided at the other end of the ice. If the Caps can get a few more of those 54 chances they had in Game 6 on net (they had only 24 shots on goal, along with 19 attempts blocked and 11 misses) in Game 7, then the cracks in Fleury’s game might look a little wider.”
Good point, Fearless. But what about the skaters? Crosby and Ovechkin have largely cancelled one another out in this one…
“Yes, cousin, they have, but there is something of an ominous number you didn’t include there. Crosby has 29 shots on goal, while Ovechkin has 38. But 21 of Ovechkin’s shots came in Games 1 and 2. He’s had 17 in the last four. That’s a lot for your normal NHL player (over 82 games, it would have been the fourth highest total in the league this year). But it is a reflection of the job the Penguins – and Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi in particular – have done in limiting Ovechkin’s chances.”
So, if the Caps can get more favorable matchups – spring Ovechkin loose against other defensemen – it could play in the Caps’ favor?
“You’d think so…”
Is Evgeni Malkin the “X” factor in this one?
“Shoot, cuz… the only thing I know about ‘X’ is that it’s how I sign my name. But that Malkin fella is 2-6-8, -2 so far in the series. But he’s only 1-2-3, +2 in the three Penguin wins. If yer lookin’ for an ‘X’ factor, maybe you oughtta be lookin’ at that Fedotenko guy. He has a goal in each of the three wins the Penguins have in this series.”
“And David Steckel has one in each of the Capitals’ wins in this series.”
So, like we’ve been saying, it’s the support guys who might be the ones telling the tale, despite all the hype on the big guys.
“Hockey’s a team game, cuz…”
Right you are, Cheerless. OK, guys, let’s get to the bottom line here. Who wins?
“The Caps have been resilient in the face of elimination, they’ve had a successful season at home. And then there’s the karma of that Hershey win last night to eliminate the Baby Pens…
...so you know who we like.”
“I still don’t know who this Karma lady is, but I like the Caps… why? Cuz if they win, you’ll keep invitin’ me here and giving me free beers.”
Well, there it is, but if the fans need some inspiration to get them going tonight, The General gets the final word one more time…
Caps 4 – Penguins 3
Monday, May 11, 2009
David Steckel deflected a drive by Brooks Laich past Pittsburgh Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 6:22 into overtime to give the Caps a 5-4 win, their first overtime playoff win since Jeff Halpern scored a game-winner in the same arena in 2001.
The story in the major press will probably be Alex Ovechkin’s three assists and the Caps persistence, but the back story here is what the Caps need and haven’t received in this series – secondary scoring…
Viktor Kozlov: 2-0-2, +2
David Steckel: 1-0-1, +1 and 11 wins in 15 draws
Brooks Laich: 0-2-2, +2
Tomas Fleischmann: 1-0-1, +1
And even outside of that, you had some players who needed to step up playing with the desperation you would associate with an elimination game. Alexander Semin notched a goal and an assist and created a bushel of chances. Brooks Laich did what he had to do – get dirty. It was his screen on Fleury less than a minute after Pittsburgh took the lead in the third period that allowed Semin to find a crack and deposit the puck behind Fleury to tie the game for the third time. It was Laich collecting the puck off a faceoff win by David Steckel and maintaining control, then sending the shot to the net that would be deflected in for the win. Matt Bradley didn’t show up in much detail on the score sheet, although those four hits left a mark, but he was all over the place in this game causing a ruckus.
Statistics can be misleading, and there are two related ones that bear notice. The first is shots. The score sheet will show that the Penguins outshot the Caps, 42-24. The chances, however, were more even – 59-54, in favor of Pittsburgh, when misses and blocks are considered. While the territorial domination by Pittsburgh was in evidence in this game, as it was in the last three games of the series, it was not quite as lopsided as it was in the three Caps losses.
The second is those shots. Semyon Varlamov allowed four goals, and except for the first – a goal by Bill Guerin than Varlamov looked indecisive in defending – he could not be faulted too much. A shot that was sent top corner by Kris Letang, a screened shot from Mark Eaton, and a “hands” goal by Sidney Crosby (with no Caps defensemen in a position to defend) were the only others to dent Varlamov. At the other end, though…
Marc-Andre Fleury is not having a very good series – not a bad one, just not very good. Let’s leave five goals on 24 shots out of it for a moment. The first Kozlov goal (another top corner over the glove that Fleury didn’t have much of a chance on) and the Semin goal through a Laich screen were goals that goalie can be forgiven for letting slip through. The Steckel game-winner was a superior play – Fleury had that shot tracked, it appeared, until Steckel got a stick on it.
But the second Kozlov goal was rather ugly. Did Hal Gill kick Fleury’s right skate out and block his path to the post as Kozlov was spinning around the Penguin net? Perhaps, he looked to be reacting poorly to the play unfolding, too, appearing not quite sure where the puck was. It happened again on the Fleischmann goal, when he was caught down and out, swimming for his life as the puck shot by Sergei Fedorov popped up and over a sprawled Fleury into open ice where Fleischmann could flick it into the net. He has been good, but having faced so few shots – barely 26 a game in this series – his play has been somewhat masked.
- 29-20 in hits, 37-27 in faceoffs. Little things. And if you don’t think faceoffs matter, well, that was how the winning play got started. Textbook – win the draw, head to the net, get a deflection. That was the basic play David Steckel made, one that makes fans want to gag when they see all the cutesy-pie crap that often passes for Caps offense.
- Six games, six times the team scoring first couldn’t keep a lead. It’s a measure of just how much spine both teams have. They don’t give up.
- Think Steckel’s made up for not potting that goal into an open net in overtime in Game 5? Yeah, we do, too.
- Boyd Gordon, 5-for-5 on draws against Sidney Crosby, 3-for-3 in the defensive zone.
The NHL has had its best young teams giving their all in this series, and it has been a series for the ages – five one goal games, three overtime games, the big stars – Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dueling to a draw in putting their teams on their respective shoulders. But there is another side of that coin. And it is an embarrassment to the league. The officiating in this series has been, to be charitable, awful. We don't suspect it's been any better in the other series, but this is the one we've been paying close attention to.
A blind call made by the trailing referee with 2:02 left in regulation putting the Penguins on a power play (a slashing call on Brooks Laich that clearly looked wrong based on replay evidence) is the sort of thing that could only bring a smile to the faces of Gary Bettman and Penguin fans. And this does not even include the hauling down of Alexander Semin when he had a scoring opportunity earlier in the game – a play similar to that which gave the Penguins a power play in overtime in Game 5, one on which they scored the eventual game-winning goal (by the way, as we pointed out in our post-game of that contest, the correct call). And yes, we did see that swipe that Sidney Crosby took to his head on the end of his shift shortly before a Caps goal than probably merited a penalty.
How unfortunate. These two teams put on a show that should be an NHL instant classic. It was Creed versus Balboa, Ali-Frazier, “Hell-in-Mellon,” haymakers traded across more than 60 minutes. And there are at least 60 minutes left. But here is the last number you need going into game 7…
The Pittsburgh Penguins have led a series 3-2 and lost Game 6 four times in their history. They have never won a Game 7 in such a circumstance.
See you Wednesday.
The storm is coming…
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals, Caps vs. Penguins...Game 6
The first day of the season for the Caps was way back on October 10th in Atlanta, 214 days ago. If today isn’t to be the last day of the season, the Caps have to win. That’s about it.
Can they? Sure. Why?
- The Caps are 5-1 in elimination games under Bruce Boudreau, 2-0 on the road.
- The Caps have won two games in Mellon Arena this year, scoring ten goals in the process. Those ten goals were scored by seven different players… they could use some of that sharing of the wealth tonight.
- The Caps, who have lost their last two games at Mellon, have not lost three road games in succession since November. They haven’t lost three consecutive road games to Eastern Conference clubs since November 2007.
- The Caps are 2-0 in Monday playoff games the last two years (a 4-2 win in Game 6 of last year’s opening round series against the Flyers and a 4-0 win against the Rangers in Game 3 of this year’s first round series).
- The Penguins have played only one Monday night home game this season, a 4-3 loss to Buffalo on December 8th.
- In games following back-to-backs (that is, when the Caps then get a day to rest), they are 8-5 this year.
- Although he’s struggled in this series, Alexander Semin has not gone consecutive games without a point in this year’s playoffs.
- Although he’s struggled in this series, too, Mike Green has points in seven of his last eight games.
- Nicklas Backstrom has points in eight straight games and in ten of 12 in the playoffs so far (19 of his last 22 games dating back to March 19th)
“Yer reachin’ cuz…”
Cheerless… I thought you’d be stopping by. Guess you have the Caps to lose tonight.
“Nope… too easy a pick. Besides, if a horse named ‘Mine that Bird’ can come in at 50-1 in the Derby, I like the chances for the Caps to ‘mine that bird’ tonight.”
Never mind. Fearless, you got a pick?
“The Caps have played to their opponent’s level all year. Sometimes, that hasn’t worked out well – giving up 24 goals to Atlanta in six games this year comes to mind. But that means the Caps have been at their best when facing their toughest opponents this year, too. They were 14-2-4 against Atlantic Division teams this year – the best winning percentage against a division of any team in the East – and have already beaten the Rangers. The Penguins are a step up in class, but they can do this.”
Even in Pittsburgh?
“Even in Pittsburgh.”
What’s the formula?
“The game on January 14th holds a clue… persistence. Even after allowing an early goal, the Caps tied, tied again (after the Penguins regained the lead), then pulled away after the Penguins tied the game in the third period. So, what are you looking for, cousin?”
Splits. For example, in the regular season Mike Green was 22-34-56, +33 in 43 games the Caps won in which he played this year. On the other hand, he was 9-8-17, -9 in 25 losses. It would be hard to find more disparity between performance in wins and losses anywhere on the Caps’ roster.
“Oh yeah? I’ve got one for you.”
“Ovechkin… 46-37-83, +30 in 49 wins, 10-17-27, -22 in 30 losses.”
Well, there is Nicklas Backstrom, too… 15-48-63, +32 in 50 wins, 7-18-25, -16 in 32 losses. Clearly, the big guys have to be there. But there is an odd one in here, too. Viktor Kozlov has been invisible in losses. In 24 losses in which he’s played, he went 2-7-9, -22. He doesn’t have a point in any of the last three games, all Washington losses. Monday was also the only day of the week on which Kozlov did not have a point in the regular season (0-0-0, -2 in four games). A trend?... or is he due?
There isn’t any mystery here. Statistics look better in wins than in losses. But what it suggests is that the guys who carry the biggest burden now have to have their biggest game (until Wednesday night, that is). But guys who haven’t chipped in need to be heard from, too (remember, in that January 14th game – a 6-3 win – the Caps got goals from Kozlov, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jeff Schultz; and they got a pair of assists from Brooks Laich).
We are reminded of the speech given by Washington Sentinels' coach Jimmy McGinty after halftime of a big game against Dallas…
“Up until now Dallas hasn't been afraid of you, and they should be because you have a powerful weapon working for you. There is no tomorrow for you, and that makes you all very dangerous people!”
No one seems afraid of the Caps now, losers of three straight and seemingly in the clutches of The Penguin Curse one more time. And there is no more powerful weapon than the realization that if you lose, the next time you lace up the skates in anger won’t be until October.
Guys, you can do this.
Caps 3 – Penguins 2
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Well, four games have ended with the winning goals scored off Capitals’ sticks. Twice, they resulted in finishes that had the Caps with more goals on the scoreboard than the Penguins had, and twice they resulted in the opposite. That “opposite” ending crushed a late comeback by the Caps as they lost Game 5 to the Penguins in overtime, 4-3, on a goal scored when a shot by Evgeni Malkin was deflected by a lunging Tom Poti, trying to block the shot, and through goalie Semyon Varlamov’s pads with one second remaining on a Penguin power play.
About that power play. Let’s get this out of the way… the call putting the Penguins on the man advantage was the correct one. Malkin was carrying the puck to the Caps net – something seen rarely from the Caps on this night – and was tripped by Milan Jurcina. If the play happens at the other end of the ice, it might not be called. But when it occurs in the midst of a scoring opportunity, it is a call that has to be made.
A trip, a deflection… for the newest generation of Caps fans, welcome to our hell. Those of us who have been Caps fans for more years than mental health specialists would consider healthy, it is the latest insult to our sense of even-handedness and fair play from Fate. From Lafontaine’s post ringer, to Verbeek’s skate on Langway’s leg, to Nedved’s floater, to Tikkanen’s open net whiff, to Jason Doig hopping off the bench too early in a third overtime, we’ve seen it all… and we see nothing that surprises us when it comes to this franchise’s unique talent for losing playoff games in the most heart-wrenching ways.
No Caps fan over the last 25 years would read that last paragraph and not know the situations of which we write… they can probably still see all of them in their minds.
But the Caps certainly had their chances…
- The Caps had eight shots on goal before the Penguins registered their first, 5:16 into the first period. None of those eight shots found the back of the net. It is worth noting that the Caps would record only 23 more shots in the last 59:04 of the game, including overtime. We keep pounding on this. Marc-Andre Fleury is the second best goaltender in this series – by quite a margin. He has not come close to stealing a game. But if the Caps aren’t going to test him, then he’s going to escape to another round.
- The Caps were treated to, if not a bad night by Sidney Crosby, then an inconsequential one. No points, 9-for-23 in the circle, and a minus-2. He’s not going to have many nights like that. A lot of that, though, was a product of the play of Boyd Gordon.
- Before the overtime penalty, before the game-winning deflection, David Steckel had the game on his stick 18 seconds into overtime and an open net in front of him with Fleury on the ice swimming desperately for shore. If his shot is six inches more to the inside, six inches higher, it is the Penguins facing elimination this morning… see all the years of this you’ve missed, young Caps fans?
Some other stuff…
- To the winners go the stars, apparently, who had to have been picked by the Versus studio guys. The best two players on the ice on this night, in order, were Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. In two years of watching him, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Backstrom play with such singular purpose. He didn’t lack for effort or intensity on any shift. Even though he was on the ice on the Ruslan Fedotenko goal that tied the game early in the third period, he played Malkin into dropping a pass for Fedotenko – he was the only forward back.
- We said it in the pregame, and we believe it still… this series hasn’t turned and won’t turn on the play of the stars. Ovechkin had a big night for the Caps with a pair of goals, Backstrom had another. It is the support guys that will tell the tale here. Fedotenko roofing one off the crossbar and in from long range sucked the air out of the building early in the third. And if there is an unsung hero for either team in this series, it is Rob Scuderi. Even though he was on the ice for two Capitals goals, he has blunted many an Ovechkin rush in this series, usually with a well timed poke check.
- The Caps have two very skilled wingers in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin (although it would be hard for someone watching hockey for the first time in this series to see just what skills Semin has). They’d like to think they have another skilled winger in Tomas Fleischmann. No shots, no points, no hits, no takeaways. He doesn’t have a point since the game-winning goal in Game 1 and hasn’t had a shot on goal in either of the last two games (both losses).
- If one is going to excuse Fleischmann’s performance, it would be on the basis of youth and inexperience. But while he’s done a good job of lugging the puck into the offensive zone to get things started, the Caps have gotten almost no production out of Viktor Kozlov (two assists in the series, only one shot on goal in each of the last three games).
- Mike Green has to be injured. If one watches him taking shots, that’s about all one can conclude. The lollipops he’s sending up there wouldn’t dent tissue. It also seems to be affecting his play in the corners, where he’s turning away from hits, and in carrying the puck, which has been, as a NASCAR driver might put it, “loose in the turns.”
- If you look at this in terms of “tier” scoring, things went like this…
Ovechkin/Semin: 2-1-3, +1, 6 SOG
Crosby/Malkin: 1-1-2, -1, 11 SOG
Backstrom: 1-1-2, +1, 7 SOG
Staal: 1-1-2, +2, 4 SOG
The Other Caps: 0-3-3, -7, 23 SOG
The Other Penguins: 2-5-7, +4, 27 SOG
For the series to return to Washington, this can’t just be The Alex Ovechkin Show for the Caps. Not all the time, anyway. Nicklas Backstrom stepped up in a big way last night. In his own way, so did Boyd Gordon, who played a fine game against Crosby. Semyon Varlamov’s record will show that he allowed four goals, but he was for the most part brilliant.
However, the Penguins have gotten more from their “support” players than have the Caps, and in that respect, Pittsburgh has been the better team in this series. It has been the difference. If the Caps don’t find a way to reverse that, then we’ve seen our last game at Verizon Center this year.
If the series does not return to Verizon Center for a Game 7, it will mark the third consecutive time that the Caps’ home season will have ended on an overtime power play goal for the opponent – Martin St. Louis (in a third overtime in 2003), Joffrey Lopul (2008), and Evgeni Malkin (2009).
The burden we bear as Caps fans.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals, Caps vs. Penguins...Game 5
2 is not equal to 3 - not even for very large values of 2
So, no matter how big last night’s 5-3 Pittsburgh Penguin win over the Washington Capitals will be described, the fact remains that the series is tied, 2-2. Each team has tended to business in its own rink, and if that trend continues, it will be the Capitals who advance to the next round.
But last night’s defeat did raise some concerns for the Caps…
Was it a “bad game?” If you have to ask for whom, you weren’t watching. OK, given as many as there were for the Caps, maybe you can be forgiven for asking…
Simeon Varlamov… five goals on 28 shots. And there were those in there – Gonchar’s drive for the Penguins’ first goal (even if Milan Jurcina provided a screen), the Fedotenko goal off the tip of his glove… probably the killer goal (since it put the Caps behind the eight ball with the first two goal deficit they’ve had in this series), and even the Talbot goal to ice things looked like a case of losing focus just long enough to let the puck sneak through on the short side.
Alexander Semin…an assist on the Nicklas Backstrom goal to start things off, then he wasn’t heard from again (even with eight shot attempts). And, a minus-3.
Mike Green…who gets an assist (for getting the puck to the cage so Chris Clark could bang it in), but he doesn’t have a goal in this series, was minus-2 last night (minus-3 in his last two games)
Alex Ovechkin…who pretty much shut down after his knee-on-knee hit on Sergei Gonchar that put the Penguin defenseman out for the night. He had one shot on goal after the incident, none after the first period. Perhaps more telling, he had only two hits recorded for the night. As for “supplemental discipline,” if a cross check to the throat merits a $2,500 fine and no games, then Ovechkin might find himself lighter in the wallet, but he won’t be missing tonight’s contest.
Brooks Laich…if not a “bad” game than a largely absent one. Good things happen when he’s plastered across the score sheet, but his line is oddly white. No points, even, no shots on goal (one attempt), one hit, one takeaway, one blocked shot, one facoff (a win).
For the fourth time in four tries in this series, the team scoring first lost. Not that we advocate the Caps giving up the first goal, but the point is that teams – both of them – have the capacity to erase leads in this series and do it quickly.
Despite the grand save on Fedorov, it’s not as if Mar-Andre Fleury had a game for the ages in this one, either. Three goals on 22 shots makes three of four games in this series and five of his last six in which he’s been below .900 in save percentage. The trouble for the Caps – and it dates back to the end of the Ranger series – is a lack of shots. Only once in the last seven games have the Caps topped 30 shots on the opposing team.
One guy who deserved better than to be held off the scoresheet and take a minus-2 was Sergei Fedorov, against whom the post had another good game for the Penguins. If his drive hits the post and goes in with just over five minutes gone in the first and the score still tied at 1-1, well…on such things games turn. Then there was the save made on a shot ticketed for the top corner over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove that Fleury somehow gloved down. It was Fleury’s save of the series.
Which brings us to…tonight.
Games 5 have not been kind to the Caps in their history. The Caps have an all-time record in Games 5 of 8-17. In those eight wins, they have gone on to win the series in which they played six times, including this year’s win over the Rangers in Game 5 of the first round. In the 17 losses they have in Games 5, they have gone on to lose the series in which they played 14 times. It gets worse… the Caps have played the Penguins seven times in Games 5 in a series. They’re record… 0-7. Four of the last five of those losses were by one-goal, the last two of them in Washington (both by 2-1 scores). Guess that makes tonight’s game critical.
And as if the mind games haven’t reached stratospheric levels, there was this after last night’s game…
"Everyone likes to play hard, and play physical. But there's a line you can't cross, and a lot of guys in our room felt like the last couple games [Alex Ovechkin] was taking shots where he was trying to hurt guys."
That quote comes from Brooks Orpik, who once broke a player’s neck in a game by hitting him from behind into the boards. We don’t believe either Orpik or Ovechkin intended to injure either Erik Cole (in 2006) or Sergei Gonchar (last night). But the irony fairly drips in that comment.
The best thing that can be said for the Caps is that there isn’t any time to think about last night’s game – no off day to sit around and ponder this or that. It’s off to the rink to set things right, that being the home team winning. What might work against the Caps here is carryover, and we’re thinking about Ovechkin in this respect. Clearly, his collision with Gonchar last night affected the rest of his game. He was tentative for the remainder of the evening. If that carries over into tonight’s game, let’s face it, the Caps will almost certainly come up short here. That’s not to put all the burden on Ovechkin (we’d still like to hear from Alexander Semin and Mike Green, and maybe a little Brooks Laich, too), but he can’t have a repeat of last night, even if he doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. He has to be fully engaged to get the rest of the team energized.
As for Varlamov, he’s shown an ability to shake off bad goals, often coming up with spectacular saves in their aftermath. Now, we’re going to see if he can shake off a bad game. Five goals allowed matches his season/career high (in an overtime loss to Buffalo). The thing is, after he allowed those five goals back on April 3rd, he went ten consecutive games without allowing more than three, and he had a pair of shutouts thrown in to boot.
Some other things to think about…
- This is the first time in the eight times these teams have met in the post-season that the home team has won each of the first four games.
- The Caps are undefeated since the lockout in Games 5, beating the Flyers last year (3-2) and the Rangers this year (4-0). Please note…both games were played at Verizon Center.
- The Caps are 9-6-1 in games following those in which they allowed five or more goals this year (Varlamov is 1-0-0).
Look, neither of these teams has looked unbeatable in any game of this series. Two evenly matched, not to mention similar teams can do that to one another. There have been bad goals, there have been great saves. The superstars have come out to play, and they’ve had their struggles. What we still think it’s going to come down to is not necessarily the play in goal Simeon Varlamov (unless Cinderella’s coach has turned back into a pumpkin after all) or Marc-Andre Fleury (unless the Caps can find a way to get a dozen or so more shots on him). It won’t be Sidney Crosby (unless he’s kidnapped) or Alex Ovechkin (unless he’s suspended). It’s going to be guys like Ruslan Fedotenko and maxime Talbot (both of whom scored for Pittsburgh last night) and Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann (who did not – Fleischmann has the only goal by this pair in the series, a game-winner).
It’s time for guys to take the next step up. We’re guessing they will…
Caps 4 – Penguins 2
Friday, May 08, 2009
Beware what it is you wish for.
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4: Caps vs. Penguins
We’ve arrived at “hump game” – Game 4 in this seven game series between the Capitals and the Penguins.
Oh… you think “hump game refers to the middle game, like Wednesday being the “hump day” of the week. Not so. This is “Hump Game” as in “get over the hump,” the “hump” being this notion of the inferiority complex that always seems to attach itself to the Capitals and their fans whenever we get to this point of a Capitals/Penguins series…”the Penguins have played better,” “they hit harder,” ‘they hustled more,” and the be all and end all thought that came out of the last game…
“They deserved to win.”
The Peerless considers this “UFB.” That’s right “utter f*cking bullsh*t.” There is no “deserved” to win crap at this time of year. You win, or you don’t. How, or whether you did it with style points, or if you “deserved” to win, whatever that is supposed to mean, doesn’t mean a thing.
You win, or you don’t.
“But you know, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong…”
And who are you?
“You’ve heard of ‘Murphy’s Law?’”
I see… and let me guess, you think that anything that can go wrong for the Caps will go wrong?
“What can I say?... I’m a Caps fan.”
And you think your law applies to the Caps?
“Oh, not just that… there is ‘Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics.’”
I can’t wait for this one…
“Things get worse under pressure.”
Is that all?
“Nope… there is ‘Murphy’s Extension’… everything goes wrong all at once.”
Sort of like Game 3?
“You’d like to think so…”
Do you have any laws from a positive perspective?
“Well, there is ‘Murphy’s Paradox’… doing it the hard way is always easier.’”
“Maybe the Caps just need to get back to hard work and having faith in their philosophy?”
Sounds like a plan…
“And there is ’Pierson’s Law of Momentum.’”
“If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.”
There seems to be a theme emerging here…
“Yeah, it goes with ‘Maugham’s Talent Maxim’…Only a mediocre person is always at his best.”
And the Caps were pretty mediocre on Wednesday…
“Yup, there are nights like that… they can be a lot better.”
Any law’s for Caps fans tonight?
“Hmmm…. Well, there is the ‘Paul’s Law of Drinking…’”
There is a law for such things?
OK, what’s this one?
“You can’t fall off the floor.”
Any last law’s you’d like to leave us with?
“Weinberg’s First Law…progress is made on alternate Fridays.”
Well, the Caps didn’t play last Friday, so you know what that means…
…just win the damned game.
Caps 4 – Penguins 2
Thanks to The Complete Edition of Murphy's Laws
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
-- Sidney Crosby, on the matter of hats raining down on the ice after Alex Ovechkin's third goal of Game 2
"He's not allowed to touch me. He's not allowed to trip me. The rules are the rules."
-- Matt Cooke, claiming that Alexander Semin tripped him before Alex Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal in Game 2
"Those are situations we always address with the referees. They told us on the ice [during Game 2] that they were looking for that situation and didn't feel it merited a call."
-- Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma on the Cooke complaint...er, observation.
"I haven't taken a look at it. The puck sometimes sticks to it pretty good, even if it's bouncing."
-- Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, commenting on the notion that Alex Ovechkin might be playing with a stick with more curve on its blade than allowed under the rules.
So, to recap...Sidney Crosby suffers from chapeauphobia, Matt Cooke is really dainty for a tough guy, Dan Bylsma sounds like the guy giving press briefings at the State Department, and Marc-Andre Fleury still needs to think more about stopping pucks than the sticks scoring them.
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 3 -- Caps vs. Penguins
OK, guys…what do you do for an encore?
“Where did we leave off?”
You had “swing once, swing twice, swing again, swing another time, pop it into the air, swat at it…nothing but net.” That means you’re up, Alex…
“OK…skate in, put puck through defenseman’s legs, pick it up spin, dive, send wrister through goalie’s legs…nothing but net.”
“Hmm… OK, try this… skate up ice… go to forehand… go to backhand… turn defenseman around… spin-a-rama… backhand top shelf… nothing but net.”
“That’s pretty good… now, skate backward over blue line… take pass… raise stick for slapshot… wait for defenseman to go down to block shot… curl puck around him… shoot wrister off crossbar and behind goalie…”
“Oh, so that’s it… we can use props? Try this… pick up puck at center ice, skate to blue line… snap pass off Pierre McGuire’s scalp… dive and poke puck past goalie’s pad… nothing but net.”
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… I got Mike Milbury… skate past him… tell him ‘still not getting a haircut’… backhand pass off his microphone… pick up own pass… skate on goalie… get tripped… slide face first… still get blade on stick… poke puck through goalie’s legs.”
Alex, I thought you might try that move you made in Phoenix. You know the one.
“Try once, make once… no one can do that again.”
Sid?... you wanna try it?
“What, are you kidding me?”
Well, the series might not quite be a simple game of H-O-R-S-E between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but there is a certain, “anything you can do, I can do better” quality playing out here, even after only two games.
Ovechkin, four goals… Crosby, four goals
Ovechkin, two PP goals… Crosby, two PP goals
Ovechkin, plus-1… Crosby, plus-2
Ovechkin, 21 shots… Crosby, 11 shots
Ovechkin, 44:45 in ice time… Crosby, 46:38 in ice time
Ovechkin, six hits… Crosby, two hits
Ovechkin, 100 percent on faceoffs… Crosby, 45 percent on faceoffs (ok, Ovechkin’s only taken three draws)
Ovechkin, two blocked shots… Crosby, two blocked shots
Get the point?
The two have done a lot to cancel each other out, which put a premium on the guys not getting interview requests from every media outlet this side of Bumpuckistan, and that brings us to…
Evgeni Malkin, two points… Alexander Semin, two points
Malkin, minus-3… Semin, plus-1
Malkin, eight shots/no goals… Semin, five shots/no goals
Malkin, two giveaways… Semin, two giveaways
Malkin, one takeaway… Semin, six takeaways
You might say that neither “sidekick” (and we’re talking about a Hart Trophy finalist being a “sidekick”) has been heard from to any large degree. And that brings us to…
Jordan Staal, no points… Nicklas Backstrom, three points
Staal, minus-2… Backstrom, minus-1
Staal, 50 percent on faceoffs… Backstrom, 37 percent on faceoffs
Staal, no takeaways… Backstrom, three takeaways
Staal, three blocked shots… Backstrom, one blocked shot
Staal, one hit… Backstrom, no hits
Not a lot of difference there, although Backstrom seems to hold an edge. What about the old guys…
Bill Guerin, two points… Sergei Fedorov, two points
Guerin, plus-1… Fedorov, plus-2
Guerin, two hits… Fedorov, one hit
OK, what about…
Sergei Gonchar, two points… Mike Green, one point
Gonchar, plus-1… Green, even
Gonchar, nine shots… Green, one shot
Gonchar, no giveaways… Green, six giveaways
Yup, Green could stand to step up his game – at both ends of the ice. But then there are…
Brooks Laich/David Steckel/Matt Bradley against… well, the 13 Penguin skaters not mentioned above...
21-39-10: 2-2-4, +6
13 other Penguins: 1-4-5, -9
21-39-10: 12 shots on goal
13 other Penguins: 41 shots on goal
21-39-10: 13 hits
13 other Penguins: 31 hits
21-39-10: six takeaways
13 other Penguins: eight takeaways
21-39-10: two giveaways
13 other Penguins: nine giveaways
21-39-10: 26-12 on faceoffs (68.4 percent)
13 other Penguins: 10-15 on faceoffs (40.0 percent)
Crosby and Ovechkin have been the entertainment; Malkin and Semin, Staal and Backstrom largely a standoff to this point. But the Laich/Steckel/Bradley trio has raised their level of play. They have been more than the sum of their parts to this point.
All this is prelude, though. There is a real simplicity to this game that sometimes gets lost, and in this series it comes down to this… Marc-Andre Fleury needs to be two goals better than he has been. In two games – both one-goal affairs – his counterpart Semyon Varlamov has made two game-changing saves (one in each game). The first was the paddle-on-the-goal-line save of a Sidney Crosby shot in Game 1 that got a lot of attention. But the save he made in Game 2 on a Sergei Gonchar slap shot, coming on the heels of a pad-save on Crosby at the left post, was every bit as much a game changer, getting his glove on a drive and deflecting it over the cage at the 18:01 mark of the first period with the Penguins already holding a 1-0 lead. If the Penguins had taken a two-goal lead into the first intermission, the game could have ended much differently.
Fleury, on the other hand, has been very good...at times. He has stoned Alex Ovechkin on several one-timers from Ovechkin’s perch in the left wing circle. But he’s saved only 52 of 59 shots faced (.881) in this series. And here is the really ominous part for the Penguins -- he's been under .900 in save percentage in each of his last four games, back to the last two games of the Flyer series (.882, 97 saves on 113 shots). He’s twice been on the wrong-side of one-goal results…he has to be two goals better than he’s been. Crosby and Ovechkin will trade haymakers throughout the series – they’re that good. But if Fleury doesn’t pick up his game (not to mention the chorus of Penguin skaters who have largely been unheard from), the Penguins will have a hard time winning, however sublimely Crosby plays. But Fleury is now wondering about the stick of his nemesis -- Ovechkin. Who is getting in whose head here? Perhaps Fleury needs to worry more about stopping pucks than the curve of a stick.
If you’re looking for something out of the Penguins tonight, here it is…in his last 15 games at Mellon Arena, Evgeni Malkin is 8-14-22. If he’s going to snap out of his funk, you’d think tonight would be the night. If he doesn’t, well…
Given the way the 21-39-10 line has played so far, we’re thinking he won’t. So…
Caps 3 – Penguins 2
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Go buy some land, fertilize it, grow some grapes, and make some WHINE!
For the love of Mike, it was embarrassing to watch. Let’s leave Sidney Crosby NOT complaining about too many hats being thrown on the ice after Alex Ovechkin completed a hat trick, even when he was complaining about it (was one too many when he got his hat trick?) out of it. It was like watching some perverse “March of the Penguins.” After every freakin’ whistle, there was a Penguin waddling up to an official yapping about something. It’s too loud, it’s too red, it hurts my eyes, can they not play that “Unleash the Fury” thing…
It didn’t take away from a game that Versus should offer as a special DVD issue. The stars delivered – Ovechkin with a hat trick, Crosby with a hat trick. But it was “Deadeye Dave” Steckel who pounced on a loose puck and rammed in home behind Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury that was the difference (yes, Ovechkin’s hatty was the game-winner, we know).
After the game, Crosby noted that “we had opportunities, I mean, the last two games we can honestly say we did some really good things but we made a few mistakes that have hurt us. That can be a good thing to look at as well, knowing that we're that close and these are things that we can easily and change quickly. But we have to do that."
If anything, the Caps have corrected more of their mistakes than the Penguins have done with theirs. Foremost among them might be what they did in the circle tonight. We spend a lot of time talking about that, but when there are two teams facing off against one another that depend on puck control and forechecking, winning faceoffs is important. And tonight, the Caps won 38 of 61 draws.
More to the point, the Caps won 15 of 23 offensive zone draws and and 13 of 19 defensive zone draws. That’s a lot of possession the Penguins didn’t start with. And once again, as was the case in Game 1, Sidney Crosby was abused by David Steckel in the circle, this time to the tune of 9-for-11 in Steckel’s favor. If you’re comparing superstar performance, Alex Ovechkin is 3-for-3 on draws so far, tonight beating Matt Cooke on the only draw he took.
Some other stuff…
- Viktor Kozlov had two assists, but that really doesn’t tell the story of his performance. He was at his puck-lugging best, controlling the puck and entering the offensive zone under control (a marked departure from the later stylings of Michael Nylander, he of the enter, spin, and send a pass..somewhere school).
- There was an uncomfortable amount of commentary about Mike Green tonight that suggested he was off his game (a continuation of the theme coming out of the Ranger series). Green did not register a shot on goal tonight, but he had four hits and four blocked shots. If anything, it looks as if Green is adapting his game to a tighter style of play one finds in the playoffs. Not everything in the post-season is back door goals and end-to-end rushes. It isn’t yet a style he is especially adept at playing, but he is adapting and improving at just moving things along and taking a hit to make a play.
- Pittsburgh got two power play goals (two for five on the night), but we wouldn’t see that as necessarily an end to their woes. Sidney Crosby – for too many long stretches the only Penguin who drove to the net with authority – banged home some loose change that goalie Semyon Varlamov arguably should have covered, and Crosby swatted a puck out of mid-air on his third swing at it with the Pens on a 6-on-4 advantage in the last minute as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had retreated to the bench in favor of the extra attacker.
- Two years ago, Alexander Semin shied away from contact and, quite frankly, could be intimidated physically. Tonight, he decked Brooks Orpik. That qualifies as taking on the big dog on the block in terms of physical play. It earned him a penalty (Crosby scoring on the ensuing man advantage), but it was almost nice to see. Semin is getting to where he can hold his own with most guys without it seeming to affect his offensive skill set.
- Killing that five-on-three situation in the first, with the Penguins already holding a 1-0 lead, was huge, with a capital “H.” Why? Because it was defensemen Tom Poti and Mike Green in the penalty box. Poti leads the team in shorthanded ice time, and Green was averaging more than 2:30 coming into this game.
- OK, Kris Letang had a point complaining to the referee. He looked to me to have clearly gotten the puck before tripping David Steckel.
- We were a little surprised that it was Tyler Sloan getting the call for the injured John Erskine, instead of Karl Alzner. But again, that’s why Bruce Boudreau is a Jack Adams winner, and yours truly knows jack squat about what buttons to push. Sloan had a couple of adventures out there, but was overall very solid – an assist, three blocks and (in what might be the biggest surprise of all) more than 16 minutes of ice time.
- We wonder if the league is going to take a look at Chris Kunitz’s interesting bit of stick work to the neck of Semyon Varlamov late. There was no play there, and one might have expected that even if there was, that Kunitz would have been trying to apply the stick to the puck, not in the fashion he did.
- Another “mistake” the Capitals seem to have corrected – at least for this game – was in paying price to block shots. They “outblocked” the Penguins 23-17. Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Shaone Morrisonn each had four. Tyler Sloan and Milan Jurcina had three apiece.
- Seven shots in the third period, three of those in the last 2:53. Four of the shots came from more than 30 feet out, three of them from more than 40 feet. From 12:04 of the period until 17:07, the Penguins didn’t register a shot, but the Caps scored two goals. The Caps defense tightened up considerably in the third period and made Varlamov’s job a lot easier after having faced 29 shots in the first two periods.
- Eric Fehr took three shifts, all in the first period, totaling 2:09 in ice time. Chris Clark had only one third period shift, none in the last 15:39.
- Kris Letang missed the last 6:19 for the Penguins. Coach Dan Bylsma could not comment on the extent of the apparent injury Letang suffered in the third period.
- Evgeni Malkin had six shots on goal, but for the second consecutive game, it looked as if he was pushed more to the perimeter. The Caps have done a good job so far of not allowing him time and space to sort through his options in the offensive zone.
- We're going to take to skipping the post game radio show...it gets really tiring hearing about this Cap and that Cap not doing this, that or the other thing, or fans' "concerns" about the team. Uh, folks? Who won? It's not how, it's how many. Think the Penguins are taking any comfort in winning style points tonight?
The last time the Caps went up two games to none, they dropped the last four in succession to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003. Two is not four, and there is a lot of work yet to be done against a team that is dangerous on every shift. There are things you’d have to like as a Caps fan, the inability of Penguin wingers to make their presence known being tops on the list, Fleury’s being good – but by no means great – being second. As for Malkin, we’ll just let sleeping dogs lie. He’s likely to be heard from in this series…here’s to hoping it happens too late for it to matter. For now, the Caps have merely held serve. But they are undefeated in Mellon Arena this year, not something that could often be said of a Caps team. To remain that way, they’ll have to be better than they were tonight…
…because Pittsburgh will be.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Taking a page out of the numbers sheet of Annoying Fantasy Numbers Guy, we were wondering about the history of Antarctic foul in Games 1 and 2. Just to complete the series…
Number of series played: 44
Overall record in series: 21-23
Record in Games 1: 20-24
Record in Games 2: 28-16
As you can see, the Penguins are no strangers to slow starts in their history, and it has a way of biting them in the flipper…
Series record, winning Game 1: 14-6
Series record, losing Game 1: 7-17
But where it gets important, as you might expect, is in Game 2…
Series record, winning Game 2: 17-11
Series record, losing Game 2: 4-12
The tipping of home ice aside, Caps fans would be forgiven if they were to entertain thoughts of “oh no” in the event of a Penguins win this evening.
Looking at the combinations of Game 1 and Game 2 records…
Series record, winning Game 1 and winning Game 2: 11-2
Series record, winning Game 1 and losing Game 2: 3-4
A 14-6 record when either 2-0 or 1-1 after two games (if the opponent wins Game 1) should assuage that concern a bit, the Caps having won Game 1 and making this set of combinations moot. But what of the combinations when losing Game 2?...
Series record, losing Game 1 and losing Game 2: 1-8
Series record, losing Game 1 and winning Game 2: 6-9
Having lost Game 1, the Penguins are really behind the eight-ball, history-wise, even if they win Game 2 (feeling better?). A 7-17 record in series through two games in which they lost Game 1 isn’t the sort of thing that would make Penguin fans comfortable.
Here’s the thing about the Penguins and Game 2. Until they lost Game 2 in the Stanley Cup finals to the Red Wings last spring, 3-0, they had won nine Games 2 in succession, dating back to a 2-1 overtime win against the Caps in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2000.
What does all this mean?
Not much, other than to toss another set of numbers onto the ever-growing pile of them that serves as fodder for bar talk, message boards, and (of course) blogs.
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Semifinals, Caps vs. Penguins...Game 2
Our ears are still ringing from the wall of sound that reverberated through Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon' 3-2 Capitals win over Pittsburgh, but now we’re heading into Game 2 of this conference semifinal series against the Penguins, and…
“Did you know that the Capitals are 12-18, all-time, in Games 2 of a playoff series?”
And you are…
“You know that annoying guy who always shows up on sports shows spewing useless numbers to fantasy league players who really need to get out more?”
“You’re lookin’ at him.”
Really?…and I’m guessing you have more useless numbers about the Caps and playoff series.
“Well…now that you mention it…”
If I give you a dollar, will you just go away?
“I can’t help myself…I’m like that guy in ‘A Beautiful Mind’… I just see these things.”
OK, Annoying Fantasy Numbers Guy…what’s the story here?
“The Caps are 12-18, all-time, in Games 2 of a playoff series.”
I’m guessing that’s not as good as their record in Game 1.
“Well, no. The Caps are 19-11 in Games 1 of a playoff series...well, 20-11 after Saturday's win.”
I’ll go out on a limb here and guess you’ve figured out some other stuff…
“As a matter of fact, when the Caps have won a Game 2, which they’ve done 12 times, they’ve won seven of the series and lost five.”
And when they lost Game 2?
“You really want to know?”
“Because the Caps suck in series when they lose Game 2… 4-14 in those series.”
OK, how about when they win Game 1 and lose Game 2?
“You’re sure you want to hear this stuff?”
I’d already rather get a sharp stick in the eye than continue this conversation…but go ahead.
How about when they sweep the first two games?
That’s not too bad.
“That’s not all…”
OK, what else?
“Two of the three losses were to Pittsburgh.”
So what you’re saying is…
“I have no idea. I just spew numbers, remember?”
Well, here are some more numbers of dubious utility…
Three…that’s how many Caps are in the top-ten in playoff scoring – Alexander Semin (tied for 2nd, with 10), Nicklas Backstrom (tied for 4th with nine), and Alex Ovechkin (tied for 8th with eight).
“Where’s Mike Green?”
He has five points in eight games, which isn’t quite up to his regular season level of production, but then there is Tom Poti, who has six points in eight games.
“And that’s the good news?”
No, it gets better. How’s this – five. That’s how many game winning goals have been scored by players other than Alex Ovechkin in five wins so far. Or how about this…11.
“The number the Caps retired this year – Mike Gartner.”
Close, but no cigar. The number of Caps with at least one goal in the playoffs.
“So what you’re saying is…”
The Caps are getting some of that secondary scoring folks harp on about. They need to keep getting it. Did you know that 14 out of 16 skaters who have been in every playoff game for the Caps have at least one point?
“You trying to take my job?”
I’d sooner eat a bug.
Caps 4 – Penguins 2
Saturday, May 02, 2009
That’s “Var-LA-mov”…”V,” as in “Victory”…as in “Vandalism”… as in “Very sweet stick save.”
OK, so Crosby got a goal. He does that. Ovechkin got one, too. But if you had “Semyon Varlamov” before the game as the guy who would save the Caps’ bacon in Game 1, then buy a lottery ticket. The rookie goalie, who was supposed to face an offense that was to the New York Rangers what an F-16 fighter is to a paper airplane, faced that offense and faced them down, for one game at least.
But the whole game comes down to what happened at 17:59 of the second period and the score tied, 2-2. Sidney Crosby skated through the neutral zone with Chris Kunitz -- Mike Green and Tom Poti back for the Caps. At the Caps’ line, Crosby left the puck for Kunitz cutting behind him. Kunitz curled in as Crosby darted for the net. Kunitz laid a pass right onto Crosby’s tape for what looked like a tap-in for what would have been the tying goal. But Semyon Varlamov planted his left skate, pushed off and dove at the shot Crosby took, getting the paddle of his stick on the puck just as it reached the goal line. The puck never crossed, though, as Varlamov swept it out so that Mike Green could move it out of danger.
If the Penguins scored there, the outcome – given the record of teams holding a lead at the second intermission so far in the playoffs – is probably very different. It was hardly Varlamov’s only ten-bell save, though. In stopping 34 of 36 shots on the afternoon, there was the puck that hit a skate on a Penguin power play and ended up right on the blade of Mark Eaton’s stick. Varlamov came out and took away any space Eaton had to shoot at, swallowing the shot in his midsection with 11:26 left in the second. There was the two-on-one for Pittsburgh – Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora – on which Varlamov darted across to foil Sykora’s attempt of a pass from Fedotenko with 3:55 left in the second. There was Evgeni Malkin winding his way through the neutral zone and down the right wing boards, finding Fedotenko cutting to the net for a back door play, but Varlamov was there one more time to dart across the crease and foil Fedotenko as the clock was ticking toward four minutes to play in the third.
There wasn’t any doubt, Varlamov was the game’s first star.
- Even the “save of the playoffs, as it was described on the NBC broadcast, is not always just the goalie. Look at the replay. Even though Tom Poti was beaten to the net by Sidney Crosby, Poti got enough of Crosby with his stick to perhaps throw off Crosby’s shot. If Poti is not there, Crosby might have just buried that shot.
- It’s only one game, but it was not an auspicious start for Evgeni Malkin. He had an assist (on the Mark Eaton goal that, as Pierre McGuire put it, “had a lot of odor on it” for the way Varlamov whiffed on the attempted glove save) but was otherwise unheard from. Three shot attempts (two on goal), and not much fire in his game. He even lost both draws he took against Alex Ovechkin.
- Alright…that shot resulting in the Eaton goal might have been tipped by Boyd Gordon before it eluded Varlamov's glove.
- OK, it worked…but if that slap pass from Alexander Semin to Alex Ovechkin for the 5-on-3 power play goal didn’t work, folks would be saying a lot of the same things this evening that they were saying last spring when Ovechkin passed up a shot to try to feed Sergei Fedorov late in Game 7 against the Flyers.
- The Caps, who were abused in the faceoff circle to the tune of 28-14 in the first two periods, were 14 of 18 in the third period, including winning the last four draws taken in the last 2:06 of the game.
- What is it with Matt Bradley and that corner down by Section 103? He skates down there, throws a puck at Henrik Lundqvist…it goes in. This afternoon, he takes a feed from Brooks Laich, glides into the same corner, throws the puck in front, and David Steckel bangs it home. It’ll be renamed, “The Bradley Corner,” if this keeps up.
- 22 giveaways…not good. They had ten in the first period and six in the first six-plus minutes.
- We thought Nicklas Backstrom would be a key in terms of his playmaking. He started the play on the Ovechkin power play, and it was his pass to Tomas Fleischmann for the game-winner. And there are folks who probably weren’t even aware that he was out there.
- Even though the Caps were hammered on faceoffs in the first two periods and lost that battle for the game, 32-28, they were 11 of 18 in the defensive zone. David Steckel – this afternoon’s winner of the hard hat – won six of eight, mostly at the expense of Sidney Crosby, against whom he was five for six.
- John Erskine…eight hits, a third of the Caps’ total.
- But it was Erskine who was caught at the red line, unable to keep Bill Guerin from feeding Crosby speeding toward the Caps’ end for what would become the game’s first goal.
- The Penguins had five power plays…they had six power play shots. Five of them came from defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang. Tom Poti and Mike Green had as many shots on the Penguin power play (one apiece) as did Evgeni Malkin (one). If the Penguins keep that up, they’ll find it difficult to get a power play goal in this series.
- Marc-Andre Fleury stops a lot of pucks…he also gives up a lot of rebounds. If the Caps could convert a third of what were presented to them this afternoon, this game would have been over at the second intermission.
- The education of a defenseman… last year, Mike Green averaged 0:20 in shorthanded ice time a game. This year, in the regular season, he averaged 2:28. He’s averaging 2:30 in the playoffs. Today, he had 4:22.
Once again, we serve to remind that it’s “first to four,” not “first to one.” And this makes seven of eight times in Caps-Pens history that the Caps have won Game 1. There will be bumps along the way, but the Caps got the games they needed out of the players who needed to have them – a goal by Ovechkin, a pair of assists by Backstrom, more energetic play from Mike Green, and a great performance from Varlamov.
Now, they have to be better, because Pittsburgh will be. This one, though…. Great job, boys.