Saturday, October 24, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Islanders 2 (OT)

Tonight’s menu special…

Bruce Boudreau was in a tinkering mood tonight, desperately trying to find a wing – any wing – who could make a difference skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley (seriously), Peter Bondra, Alan Haworth, Brian Bellows, Esa Tikkanen… ok, those last few weren’t in the lineup, but if they were, they’d have gotten a shift or two on the top line.

And in the end, it was a runt of the litter, so to speak, who finally made a difference. Keith Aucoin allowed the Caps to salvage at least a point in tonight’s game against the Islanders when he banked a shot off the Islanders’ Josh Bailey, who went to a knee trying to block a centering pass, and behind Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson, who frankly deserved better than he ultimately got. Why? Because Brooks Laich did what the Caps failed miserably at all night – he drove to the net. In doing so, he gave himself a chance to tip a pass from Mike Green through Roloson 60 seconds into the extra session, and the Caps escaped from Long Island with the second standings point in a 3-2 overtime win.

It would be hard to find a win in the last decade that the Caps deserved less. Let’s look at a few key numbers…

See a pattern? The Islanders outworked the Caps all over the ice. It was the sort of effort that back in 2005-2006 we might have said did honor to the Caps. The Islanders might take little solace from the sentiment, but they should be proud of that effort.

The Caps, on the other hand, should not be. Against a team that had not won a game in regulation since April 4th, dating back to last season (two wins in regulation in their last 20 games dating back to last season), the Caps didn’t even mail in their first 50 minutes. That would have required an effort to get to the mail box. Here are some other examples of the exasperating play…

- Three different Islanders won ten or more faceoffs. Nicklas Backstrom lost 18 draws by himself, almost as many as the Caps won in total (20). The Caps were eight up and 21 down in the offensive zone… hard to establish any offensive pressure when you don’t have the puck.

- This one is almost unbelievable… the Caps won one… ONE… faceoff in the defensive zone all night. They lost 15.

- Alexandre Giroux led the Caps in hits (four). Giroux isn’t up here to hit, he’s up here to score… he had one shot attempt (blocked) in nine minutes of play.

- Radek Martinek had as many blocked shots (seven) as the entire Caps lineup.

- Alex Ovechkin went more than 34 minutes before registering his first shot on goal.

- The Caps yielded a shorthanded goal for the second consecutive game -- the second by a defenseman -- which makes the score Opponents 2 – Caps 0 on the Caps’ power play the last two games.

Why was Boudreau searching for a wing – any wing – to do something on the top line? Eric Fehr… no shots on goal. Chris Clark… no shots on goal. Giroux… no shots on goal. Mike Knuble… one shot on goal. Aucoin scored on his only shot on goal.

Lost in all of this is that the Caps played a pretty good game from the blue line back. The Caps gave up a shorthanded goal (note to Caps..."backchecking" is not a penalty) and a goal off a behind-the-back deflection that might go in one time in a hundred when you’re in practice. We will not fault Shaone Morrisonn on that one… he had inside position on Jeff Tambellini. Maybe he could have put more of a body on him, but Morrisonn did not play that one badly. All of the defensemen played the games they have to play, more or less. Mike Green might have been guilty of the occasional hold-the-puck-a-few-seconds-too-long in rushing up ice. Milan Jurcina might have done better getting pucks through from the point. But all in all, the defense played a solid game.

Green had an especially interesting game. He was the recipient of a knee-on-knee hit by Nate Thompson a little more than 13 minutes into the second period. He had four shot attempts after that (including a goal) and assisted on the Laich winner. Sometimes Green can look like he’s skating in another world, but the incident seemed to refocus his attention on the ice.

Jose Theodore deserved a star in this one. He didn’t have much in the way of highlight saves, but on a night when the team in front of him – especially the forwards – was struggling, he kept the Caps close with solid, consistent, well-positioned netminding. Good Jose was on display tonight. If Bad Jose had showed up, the Isles might have pulled away in the third with a soft goal or two.

The Islanders were the better team tonight by miles. It is only that the Caps have so much more talent that they were able to muster a decent finish to this one. There will be better nights for the Islanders, although those nights might be a couple of seasons (and lottery draft picks) away. For the Caps, maybe they were looking ahead to Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia. Maybe there is a bug running around the Caps’ locker room that we’re not aware of that sapped the boys of some energy.

But whatever the reason, the Caps were lucky. Lucky that the Islanders couldn’t scare up a third goal when it was 2-0, lucky that the Islanders really don’t yet have the talent or the experience to put teams like the Caps away when they have such teams down, lucky that they finally found a wing who could make a difference and that he wasn’t in Hershey playing against Binghamton tonight (the Bears could have used him, too – they were roughed up by the Senators, 5-2).

It’s a win, and a win is a win is a win. But this one was too ugly, even for Kanoobie.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, October 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

That’s right, we’re on the air for this, the back half of the mini-road trip the Caps are on this week. And tonight, the Caps visit Long Island to take on the New York Islanders, a team that has been out to sea for quite a while…

“So let me get one thing straight here… we have a hockey team here, and now they suck?”

And you are…

“Chuck… Chuck Noland. I’ve been on an island of my own for a while…”

Really… I thought they rescued you.

“Are you serious? I was a paunchy middle aged guy when I left, and I was a buff long haired god when they ‘found me.’ I was living on coconut milk and do the math.”

Makes sense… but yeah, the Islanders suck these days. They haven’t won more than 40 games but once in any season since they won 50 in 1983-1984. But they’ve lost more than 40 games in regulation time in seven of the last 13 years. I take it you haven’t been to a game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Colisseum lately.

“Actually, I have, but I had to leave in the first period.”


“Yeah… bad memories.”

I don’t follow…

“I spent so much time alone on an uncharted island, I couldn’t bear being alone in an ice rink.”

I can understand that. But the Islanders have some good young players and a sprinkling of vets. They might bear watching. There are John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, who could be solid 15-year pros…

“15 years… hah!”

And there are a couple of solid pros in net… Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson…

“No DiPietro?”

Nope… he’s hurt.


It doesn’t sound quite the same was shouting for “Wilson,” but goaltender Ricky DiPietro is still out of the lineup for the Isles. He did, however, get on the ice for a few minutes last week. Seeing as how he played in only five games last year, those 15 minutes last Monday have to be something of a victory.

And victories have been hard to come by for the Islanders lately. They’ve gone from 40 wins three years ago to 35 to 26 last year. With their 1-4-3 record so far, they are on a pace for ten wins this season. Only the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs have fewer points, and only the Maple Leafs have fewer wins (none). The Islanders can be said to be where the Caps were in 2005-2006 – ghastly with the promise to be good. But for now, that ghastly part certainly fits…

Being bottom-five in almost every measure makes for the sort of opponent that the Caps should handle easily. But, dear reader, we know better, don’t we? Actually, the Islanders have been a tough team to earn points against for the Caps. Since the lockout, the Islanders are 9-4-3 against the Caps, and they are 5-1-2 in the tomb-like confines of NVMC. This will not be a walk-over.

If we asked the question, “who is the Islanders’ leading scorer?,” and you answered, “John Tavares,” well, you’d be wrong. “Kyle Okposo” would be the wrong answer, too. How far would you go down the Islanders’ roster before you settled on “Matt Moulson.” No, not “Pat Paulsen,” who ran for President half a dozen times – Matt Moulsen.

Moulsen – a 9th round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2003 – leads the Islanders with five goals and eight points. He has already tied a career high in goals (set with the Kings in 2007-2008), and with his next point will tie a career high in that category. He had a four-game goal scoring streak stopped against the Canadiens in his last game, a 5-1 loss to Montreal on Thursday.

Moulsen’s exploits aside, this team’s future is really in the hands of a trio of youngsters—John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey. Top-ten picks all, none is older than 21. The flip side of that is that none have played more than an NHL season’s worth of games, yet, either (Okposo has 82 on his resume). Okposo has 50 points in his first 82 games of experience, a suggestion that better things are on the way. Tavares has seven points (3-4-7) in his first eight NHL games, fresh off of his selection as the first overall pick last June. Bailey has gotten off to a bit of a slow start (1-1-2), but he’s one of the players the Islanders are counting on to make the team strong down the middle for years to come.

At the other end of the prospect spectrum is a player the Islanders are taking a chance on, despite a very disappointing start to his professional career. Rob Schremp is better known for trick shots than for making shots when they count. Selected 25th overall by Edmonton in the 2004 draft, he played in only seven games across three seasons for the Oilers. The Islanders plucked him off waivers just before the start of the season. After registering only one assist in his first five games, while averaging more than 14 minutes a game, he was held to just over six minutes of ice time in Thursday’s loss to Montreal.

The Islanders are a young team – 13 of the 21 skaters who have dressed so far this season are 25 or younger. But they do have greybeards, too. Doug Weight has played almost 1,200 games with six different teams. Once a reliable 20-goal, 70-point player (he topped those totals in each full season he played from 1993-1994 through 2000-2001), he is in the winter of his career, more a mentor for the young forwards than a player to be counted on to bear heavy minutes (although he is fourth in ice time among forwards) or a large scoring workload. He has played in only five games this year, registering a pair of assists. He missed Thursday’s game against Montreal due to illness. He is day-to-day.

The other greybeard of note is Brendan Witt, who does not seem to be aging gracefully. Witt, never a big producer offensively on the blue line (he’s never had more than three goals or 14 points in a season), is the embodiment of a “defensive defenseman.” Well, a defensive defenseman who is minus-43 in his last 73 games can be said to be “struggling.” He does not have a “plus”” game this year, and had only 11 such games in the 65 games he played last year. Last year, he was minus-5 in four games against the Caps.

In goal, it’s a case of “six o’ one, half a dozen of the other.” Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron have split the available time reasonably equally with similar results. Roloson is 1-1-2, 3.48, .893; while Biron is 0-3-1, 3.57, .889. Coach Scott Gordon has alternated the two faithfully so far, and if he holds to that pattern, Roloson will get the start against the Caps tonight. That’s probably a good thing for the Islanders. Roloson has not lost a game in regulation to Washington since the 2001-2002 season. He is 5-1-1 against the Caps starting with that season, 1.71, .926 and one shutout. Here is the odd thing about that record, though. In those seven games Roloson has faced fewer than 20 shots four times, going 3-1-0 in the process. We’d bet a shiny nickel that he’ll see more than 20 shots tonight… perhaps that many in the first period.

The Islanders have not won a game in regulation thus far this season. Their lone win was in a Gimmick against Carolina last Wednesday. To that, add the fact that Alex Ovechkin is 12-5-17 in 11 career games against the Islanders (6-2-8 in four games last year), and this could spell a long night for the home team. But this is a team that at some point is going to turn a corner. They do have young talent, and it is a matter of time and experience for that talent to start turning potential into wins. If the Caps merely look at the Islanders’ record to date and think that they need only show up to get a win, it will be an unpleasant evening.

We’re betting they do more than show up…

Caps 6 – Islanders 3