Thursday, May 12, 2022

Capitals vs. Panthers: The Cousins Weigh In on Game 5

For 25 minutes, the Washington Capitals looked as if they were going to put the heavily-favored Florida Panthers on the brink of elimination.  And then, Florida showed why they were heavily-favored in their series with the Caps, scoring five unanswered goals in a 5-3 win in Game 5 of the series.  It left Capitals Nation shellshocked and the cousins in a mood.  But let’s take a look back with the cousins anyway…

Peerless:  Did you guys think, as I did, that the Caps were going to break through and take a stranglehold on this series when they went up, 3-0?

Fearless:  I did.  This is a veteran team with a lot of postseason experience and knows – or at least should know – how to close out games.  When it was 3-0, especially in how the Caps got their goals – fighting for and getting position in front of the goaltender to tip a long range shot, not quitting on a play and fishing a puck out of the skates of a defender who had know idea where the puck was before snapping it home from the top of the crease, and a gorgeous 2-on-1 rush that was finished in sweet fashion off a perfect feed – it looked as if the Caps could break Florida’s will.  We saw how that worked out.

Cheerless: Cuz, the Panthers are “Team Comeback.”  No team had more wins in the regular season when trailing first than the Panthers (24), and their 24-10-4 record when giving up the first goal was the only one over .500 in winning percentage in that category (.632). They had 11 wins when trailing after two periods, most in the league, and their winning percentage (11-16-1/.393) was best in the league.  And it’s not as if the Caps hadn’t seen that ability to comeback up close and personal.  The Caps took a 4-1 lead into the third period in their last regular season meeting back in November and lost, 5-4…in regulation.  You might not have expected the Panthers to come back, but if you were surprised, you weren’t paying enough attention during the regular season.  It’s what they do.

Peerless: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the mainstays of the Caps for years, combined for one point last night (Ovechkin had an assist).  Between them, they have two goals in five games in this series (one for each). While they have figured prominently in the scoring (Ovechkin has five assists and Backstrom four), do they need to be more productive on the goal scoring side?

Cheerless: It’d be nice.  Backstrom is a bit more worrisome.  He has one goal on 30 shots in his last 17 playoff games.  And it might be a bit of a stretch to pin too much blame on him for not scoring goals, the Caps are still just 4-13 in those 17 games.  Ovechkin’s goal production might have different reasons for being slim lately, but he is also struggling with three goals on 41 shots in his last 11 playoff games over which the Caps are 3-8.  They are 37-25 in the 62 playoff games in which he scored a goal in the playoffs.  You have to think he has to break through in Game 5.

Fearless: It has been an odd series for both of them.  Ovechkin has more hits (24) than shots (18); Backstrom has more hits (seven) than assists (four).  Scoring hits has been a rather generous affair in this series; the Caps and Panthers rank first and second in credited hits in the playoffs to date (251 and 225, respectively), but those numbers for Ovechkin and Backstrom would suggest they are not being as productive as they need to be in the respective strengths of their game.

Peerless: Which begs the question…are they healthy?  Backstrom had a long rehab from a hip injury, and Ovechkin missed the last three games of the regular season with an “upper body” injury.

Fearless: Neither of them look right.  There is one telling stat for Backstrom – his faceoff winning percentage.  Eighty-one players have taken at least ten draws so far. Backstrom ranks 80th in that group at 29.6 percent.  One wonders if his wonky hip is giving him enough leverage to win draws.  And, just from appearances, he looks slow.  He has never been the most fleet of skaters, but there are times he looks like a battleship trying to do a 180. 

Cheerless: Everyone is nursing some injury or other at this time of year, but what Ovechkin and Backstrom are dealing with, if they are less than 100 percent, is especially important with Tom Wilson’s availability for Game 6 (or seven) questionable.  T.J. Oshie has been a marvel in this series, and he plays with a verve (like that word, cuz?) that inspires teammates, but Ovechkin and Backstrom have been the cornerstones of this team for a decade and a half.  If they don’t produce, the Caps don’t advance.  And it might be a matter of their health.

Peerless: Last night, over the last 35 minutes of the game, the Caps looked like a team that might finally be out of gas.  Is that your take?

Cheerless:  Yeah, they’re the pick-up truck on blocks in the front yard.  This was always an issue lurking in the background with this team this season.  They’re old, and they’ve played a lot of games.  Only three teams have played more playoff games than the Caps (49) over the last five years, including this one.  Eight Caps have played more than 40 playoff games over those five years.  It might not be the end of the road for this team in terms of that “window” folks yak about, but for this season, they just have the look of a team that needs a nap.

Fearless:  No.  This series was always going to be, given the disparate styles of play and philosophy, a matter of which team could impose its will and style on the other most often and over the longest stretches.  The Caps are a heavy team that plays with a deliberate pace, by NHL standards, while the Panthers rely on depth of skill and a swarming offense to shock opponents into submission.  The Caps have had two really bad stretches in which they allowed Florida to play the game to its liking, the lat 17 minutes of the second period in Game 2, when Florida scored three goals in a 5-1 win, and a 19-minute stretch spanning the second and third periods when the Panthers scored those five unanswered goals.  The Caps have been reasonably to very good at controlling pace and style otherwise.  They certainly have it in them to do so again in Game 6.

Peerless: Now, the elephant in the room.  The Caps were uncharacteristically poor on home ice this season.  They were 21st in wins (19, the first time they had fewer than 20 in a full 82-game schedule since 2006-2007 (15)), 20th in points percentage (.537, worst since 2006-2007 (.500)).  Do they have a home ice advantage?

Fearless: Oh heavens, no.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, the Caps are just 40-35 in games on home ice in the postseason.  Only Boston (37) and Pittsburgh (40) have more playoff game losses on home ice in that period than the Caps, but both teams have played more than a dozen more games on home ice than the Caps.  This is a team with too long a history of disappointment on home ice in the playoffs to think this is an advantage.

Cheerless:  If you’re looking at home ice as an advantage, you’re looking in the wrong place.  This team should stay in a hotel, bus to the rink, and wear white jerseys for this game.

Peerless:  So, will there be a Game 7?

Fearless: Indubitably.

Cheerless: Already got my beer and snacks for that game.

Fearless: So that explains the 53-footer with the Coors logo I saw backing up to your shack?

Cheerless: Think I should get another delivery?

Peerless:  Let’s just hope the Caps deliver a win to extend this series one more game.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal -- Game 5: Panthers 5 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals had a chance to put the Florida Panthers on the brink of elimination, and when they went out to a 3-0 lead less than four minutes into the second period, it seemed a virtual certainty.  But the Panthers came back to score five unanswered goals and put the Caps on the brink with a 5-3 win as the series goes back to Washington for Game 6 on Friday.

First Period…

The Caps were awarded the game’s first power play in the seventh minute when Carter Verhaeghe was sent off for tripping at the 6:17 mark.  Washington converted less than a minute into their man advantage when Evgeny Kuznetsov fed John Carlson from the right wing wall.  Carlson fired the puck past a Panther defender, and T.J. Oshie managed to tip the puck down and past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at the 7:09 mark to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

The Panthers were awarded a power play of their own at the 12:14 mark when Nic Dowd was caught on an interference penalty.  The Caps killed off the penalty, allowing the Panthers no shots.  The Panthers appeared to score shortly after the power play expired, but an official blew a whistle well before the puck was put in the net, and after a review, the on-ice call of “no goal” was upheld, and the game remained 1-0. However, the Panthers went right back on a power play, John Carlson going off for cross-checking at the 15:08 mark.  The Caps killed off the Panther power play, Florida getting two shots on goal.

The Caps were put back on their heels thereafter, but goalie Ilya Samsonov kept his net clear of pucks, and the Caps went to the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.

-- Florida outshot the Caps, 14-9, and they out-attempted them, 25-16.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had two shots, the only Capital with more than one.  Conor Sheary had three shot attempts to lead the team.

-- This game started with less hitting, or at least less credit for it, than any of the previous four games.  The Caps had 13 credited hits in the first period to 12 for the Panthers.

-- John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 7:37; Connor McMichael had the least ice time with 2:03.

Second Period…

Florida dominated the early going, but the Caps notched the first goal of the period when the Panther defense backed off far enough to allow Kuznetsov to step up and fire a shot that Bobrovsky did not handle cleanly.  The puck settled in the skates of defenseman Aaron Ekblad, but Justin Schultz fished it out and snapped a shot from the top of the crease past Bobrovsky to make it 2-0, 2:12 into the period.

Washington went up three goals less than 90 seconds later when Connor McMichael fed Kuznetsov to lead a 2-on1 rush with T.J. Oshie.  Kuznetsov gained the zone and fed Oshie in stride, Oshie wasting no time in snapping a shot past Bobrovsky at the 3:38 mark to make it 3-0, Caps.

Florida got one back in the seventh minute when Carter Verhaeghe converted a long rebound off the end boards and tucked the puck past Samsonov at the post to make it 3-1, 6:50 into the period.

The Panthers inched to within a goal when the Caps got caught flatfooted on defense and Verhaeghe fed Patric Hornqvist for a breakaway.  Hornqvist converted the chance at the 12:27 mark.

Florida came all the way back just over two minutes later when Sam Reinhart collected the puck off a goal-mouth scramble and beat Samsonov to make it a 3-3 game, 14:41 into the period.

The Caps dug themselves a bit deeper when Dmitry Orlov was sent to the penalty box for slashing at the 15:15 mark.  The Caps prevented a tie-breaking power play goal when Aleksander Barkov was sent off for high-sticking Samsonov at 15:40 of the period.  The Caps could not score on the 4-on-4 or the abbreviated power play that followed, and the teams skated off, tied at 3-3 after 40 minutes.

-- Florida outshot the Caps, 15-10, in the period and out-attempted them, 22-17.

-- The hitting picked up in the second period, the Caps holding a 34-24 edge in credited hits through two periods.

-- Lars Eller led the team with four shots on goal through two periods; he, Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all had four shot attempts through 40 minutes.

Third Period…

Florida broke the tie early in the third period, Carter Verhaeghe getting his second goal of the game and fifth in the series when he stripped Dmitry Orlov of the puck in the defensive zone, then sped down the ice to convert a feed from Aleksander Barkov past Samsonov’ blocker to make it 4-3, Panthers, 3:04 into the period.

Claude Giroux made it five unanswered goals late in the period by finishing another 2-on-1, Verhaeghe once more figuring in the scoring with the set up for the goal at the 15:55 mark.  That would end the scoring, the Panthers coming all the way back, and then some, for a 5-3 win and a 3-2 lead as the series heads to Washington one last time.

Other stuff…

-- Florida outshot the Caps, 38-31, and out-attempted them, 64-52.

-- Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie led the Caps with five shots on goal; Evgeny Kuznetsov had seven shots attempts to lead the team.

-- Martin Fehervary had eight of the Caps’ 48 credited hits in the game, while Lars Eller had seven.

-- Nic Dowd was the only Capital to win more than 50 percent of his faceoffs (9-for-15/60.0 percent).

-- Garnet Hathaway had four of the Caps’ 12 blocked shots.

-- Oshie (2-0-2) and Kuznetsov (0-2-2) had multi-point games, Oshie’s 19th career multi-point playoff game and sixth multi-goal game, Kuznetsov’s 15th career multi-point playoff game and ninth multi-assist game.

-- John Carlson led the team with 25:44 in ice time; Connor McMichael had only eight shifts and 6:22 in ice time.

-- The Caps killed off all three shorthanded situations they faced and are 16-for-16 killing penalties in this series, still the only team with a perfect record on the penalty kill in this post season.

-- Washington went 1-for-3 on the power play, making it 5-for-5 in games with at least one power play goal.  They are tied with St. Louis for third in power play efficiency in the postseason, both teams 6-for-20 (30.0 percent).

-- Ilya Samsonov stopped the first 20 shots he faced in this game but was just 13-for-18 over the rest of the game (.722 save percentage).

In the end…

By the end of this game, the Caps looked to be a team that has finally run out of gas.  They had chances and didn’t or couldn’t finish, while the Panthers seemed to convert every chance they had in the last 35 minutes of the game.  This was a “two-fer” sort of game, the Caps playing the game they wanted – heavy and at a deliberate pace – early, while the Panthers played in a style more to their liking, swarming on offense and pinning the opponent in their own end.  Now the series goes to a Game 6 in Washington, and unless the Caps can find a second wind and take control of the game and play in their comfort zone, a Game 7 would seem unlikely.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Win one for the Willy!

We missed last night's game, but it did not escape our notice that the Caps lost a lead late, then lost in overtime.  It's down to best of three now, and the Caps might have to play them without a key piece in Tom Wilson.  So one for the Willy!

Right, Cheerless?...

...right, cuz..."For the Willy!"

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Capitals vs. Panthers: The Cousins Weigh In on Game 3

Three games in the opening round series between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are in the books.  For those math-challenged fans, we are not yet at the half-way mark of the seven-game series, should it go that long.  But the Caps took a big step in Game 3, dominating in a 6-1 win in Washington on Saturday.  And if every game is its own story, what was that for the Caps?  The cousins weigh in.

Peerless:  The Caps are up two games to one after yesterday’s win. Do they have the advantage in the series now? 

Fearless: If you are a Caps fan, you know that no lead in games is safe. But yesterday’s game had a unique feel to it.  Things could have gone sideways quickly, especially after the Panthers whacked the Caps in Game 2. An early goal to open the scoring on what looked like a stoppable shot on new goalie Ilya Samsonov, who not only was making his first start of the series, but was coming into this game without a postseason win in four previous appearances.  Then, the Caps missed a chance to tie the game when they went on a power play four minutes later.  It had the look of another frustrating home performance of the sort that has plagued the team all season.  But then, the Caps killed a power play late in the first period, got one of their own, and an innocent looking lob from Alex Ovechkin gets tipped in by T.J. Oshie with 26 seconds left in the period.  Know how many tip-ins Oshie had in the regular season?  None on 13 tip-in shot attempts (he was second on the team in tip-in attempts in the regular season; only four players in the league had more tip-in attempts without scoring a goal).  It was the first of many goals of the opportunistic variety born of hard work.  Marcus Johansson gets one off a shot attempt from Anthony Mantha that was deflected away by a defender.  Trevor van Riemsdyk gets one off of hard forechecking work, mainly by Mantha.  They take advantage of some odd penalty killing strategy by Florida, who had four defenders on the right side of the ice, none within a time zone of Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer.  It was one of those games where the Caps, especially in the last 41 minutes, didn’t waste the opportunities presented.  That is a repeatable skill that is the product of hard work, and in that sense, yes, they do have an advantage.

Cheerless:  You done, cuz?  Or is there a Volume 2?  Let’s make this simple… Caps won two games, Florida won one.  Two is more than one.  Yeah, they have an advantage.  Just don’t get all crazy about it, though.

Peerless: About Samsonov.  His best game as a Capital?

Cheerless: In the playoffs?  Geez, he was 0-3, 2.99, .899 in three appearances before this series.  He saves 17-of-17 shots in Game 2, which was good, but the Panthers already had the game in hand.  He gave up that early goal that didn’t look good, but after that…yeah, his best game in his playoff career by lots.

Fearless: Given the circumstances – playing at home in a tied series, facing a highly-skilled opponent, getting his first start of the series – if this wasn’t his best game as a Capital, he could see it from where he is sitting.  Me?  I think it was his best game as a Capital.

Peerless:  Assuming it is his net now, what, if any, are your concerns?

Fearless: Same thing he’s battled all season – consistency.  Nine times in the regular season Samsonov posted save percentages of .925 or better in a complete game’s worth of work.  In nine follow-up games to those performances, he was 4-2-1 (two no-decisions), 3.69, .889, with one shutout.  That shutout, against the San Jose Sharks following a shutout of the Los Angeles Kings last November, was the only instance in the nine follow-up performances in which he had a save percentage over .915.

Cheerless: Geez…and I’M supposed to be the guy who brings everything down here.  Here’s one.  Missed shots.  Florida had 65 shot attempts on Saturday; 21 missed the net.  They had only 11 missed shots in 68 shot attempts in Game 2, when they scored five goals (they had six missed shots on 32 attempts against Samsonov in the third period).  If they have better marksmanship, is this going to be a problem for Samsonov?

Peerless:  We asked this in Games 1 and 2, and we will ask it again… was there a turning point?  If so, what was it?

Cheerless:  The Oshie goal to tie the game, but almost more for what went on before.  The Caps suck at faceoffs…Oshie won the draw. John Carlson kept the puck in the zone.  Even though his pass to Ovechkin went between Ovechkin’s legs, Ovi went to track it down.  Oshie goes to the net…Alex lobs a shot, not a slapper.  And Bob looked discombobulated (see what I did there).  The kind of goal that plants the seeds of doubt in a goalie who has had his issues in the playoffs.  He was not the same after that.

Fearless: Mantha’s manhandling of MacKenzie Weegar in the corner to strip him of the puck, skate out, and despite Weegar getting his stick in Mantha’s skates and taking him down, Mantha still got the puck to Nicklas Backtrom to start a flurry of shots in front of Bobrovsky, Trevor van Riemsdyk ultimately getting the goal.  It gave the Caps a bit of a cushion at 3-1 just before the second intermission. 

Peerless: The Caps are now the only team in the playoffs with a perfect penalty kill.  Are either of you concerned about this being unsustainable?

Fearless: Frankly, yes.  This was, after all, the fifth-best power play in the league in the regular season.  But the key here might be chances more than success rate.  The Caps have gone shorthanded only nine times in three games.  Only Pittsburgh has gone short fewer times – eight in three games against the Rangers.  If the Caps can play with discipline, they can keep Florida’s power play in check.

Cheerless: I’m a Caps fan…of COURSE I think this is…whatever that word was you used.  And Fearless…let’s not forget, the Panthers were second in the league in power play chances per game in the regular season (3.20 per game).

Peerless: So let’s wrap this up…Game 4…thoughts?

Fearless: Game 5’s are usually the make or break games in a seven-game series, but this one could be huge.  If the Caps win, they put an incredible amount of pressure on a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience facing the adversity of a 1-3 deficit in games.  If the Caps can score first, get Bob thinking about things, and keep frustrating the Panthers into reckless penalties, things will look good for the Caps.

Cheerless: I’m thinking about that cinnamon roll chicken thing they rolled out on Saturday…

Peerless: You are a strange fellow, cousin.