Saturday, November 14, 2009

A NO-point night: Devils 5 - Caps 2

Well, at least it was short work. The game lasted barely two hours.

If you’re going to end a winning streak, best to leave no doubt. And after the first five minutes or so of tonight’s game between the Capitals and the New Jersey Devils, the home team left no doubt as to which team is the class of the Eastern Conference at the moment.

The Devils spotted the Caps a 2-0 lead in the first 5:02 of the game, then steamrolled them with five straight goals in the next 38 minutes on their way to a 5-2 win in Newark.

What went wrong? Gee, that’s a tough one. Not for finding something, but for trying to put them in order. Well…

There were the confused defensive zone coverages that allowed Colin White to barrel into the zone late to send a puck off Brian Pothier and behind Jose Theodore for the first Devils goal.

There was the bad offensive turnover married to an unfortunate line change that allowed the Devils to spring Zach Parise on a breakaway before Shaone Morrisonn could get off the bench and into the play that led to the Devils’ third goal.

There was the three-on-two break with the Caps caught deep in the New Jersey end that led to Matt Halischuk’s first NHL goal that ended the competitive portion of the evening in the final minute of the second period.

There was the defensive zone draw that was lost (although curiously enough, it was scored as a “win” for Nicklas Backstrom in the play-by-play sheet) and Jose Theodore fishing the puck out of the net three seconds later.

The rest was Martin Brodeur who, not unexpectedly, was sharp, and he made the pivotal play late in the second period with the Caps trying to tie the game before the second intermission. Mathieu Perreault collected a loose puck just inside the Devils’ line, took a couple of steps in, and sent a strong backhand that Brodeur had to fend off. The rebound squirted to Chris Clark who had room on Brodeur’s glove side to shoot at. Clark went for the opening, but Brodeur got across to get a glove on the puck and smother it at the left post…

45 seconds later, Matt Halischuk had his first NHL goal, and instead of going into the second intermission tied, the Caps were down two goals. The competitive portion of the evening was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Other stuff…

- With all due respect for his effort in his short time with the Caps, but if Mathieu Perreault is the best player on the ice for the Caps (and he was tonight), they are not going to win games.

- It was the best of times (he scored the Caps’ first goal, his seventh in nine games), it was the worst of times (he was on the ice for every even strength goal for the Devils). That was the night for Tomas Fleischmann.

- Nicklas Backstrom couldn’t even claim a “best of times” moment. No points, minus-3, and he lost eight of ten draws.

- Alexander Semin is one of the most gifted hockey players on the planet. Unfortunately, he is at times not among the smartest. The offensive zone turnover that resulted in the Zach Parise breakaway goal was… well, you tell me what he was thinking here as he is about to send the pass across to… uh…

- What is a slump? Well, here’s an example. Six appearances, a 2-1-2 record, getting pulled once after allowing three goals on five shots (and not getting the decision), a 4.57 GAA, a .850 save percentage, and allowing at least four goals in four of the five games you finished. Jose Theodore is in a slump.

- Well, the power play was perfect… one opportunity, one shot taken, one goal.

- Boyd Gordon came back, played six minutes, saw his shadow, and went back into the tree stump after proclaiming there would be six more weeks of winter. Or something like that.

- If you're thinking giving up five goals is bad, consider that the two guys who are plus-10 (Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble) were out. We won't argue that Ovechkin is a great defensive player, but he can put pressure on a team in their zone that will kill any thought of cheating. And Knuble is a very responsible player, which was something the Caps could have used.

- How in blazes are the Devils doing it? There are names there no one but their mothers would recognize – Pelley, Sestito, Halischuk, Murphy. Lose a player, plug another one in, and go merrily on your way. That’s “The Devils Way.”

- That was the Caps’ eighth loss of the season. The previous seven all were one-goal losses.

- Hey, they’re still on a pace for 115 points…

Look, Jersey is on top its game, and if you’re not at the top of yours, this is what happens. It is a loss, it had some ugly moments, it had some disturbing elements for the future (Theodore needs to get out of his slump, and Semin needs to wise up… well, that one’s been beaten to death). The trick, as always, is to make sure one does not become two, and the Caps will get the opportunity to right their wrongs on Tuesday against the Rangers.

(screen captures from

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, November 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the second time in a week, the Caps play a back-to-back series. Last weekend, it was the Florida Panthers as the foil in both; this weekend, it’s the Minnesota Wild and the New Jersey Devils. Last night the Caps got the weekend off to a good start with a 3-1 win, but tonight Washington moves up a weight class when they visit the Devils in Newark. The Devils are putting together quite a season of their own with a rec—

“Not so lou-u-u-u-ud…

Good heavens, who are you?

“I’m Doug.”

“I’m Wendy.”

“We’re the Whii-i-i-i-ners.”

Obviously. And what brings you folks here?

“We want to see a ho-o-o-o-ckey game.”

Well, you’re in the right place. So what line of work are you in, Doug?

“I own a bui-i-i-isness.”

It sounds like you’re not doing too well.

“No… we make loo-o-o-ots of money.”

You have a lot of customers?

Lo-o-o-o-o-o-ts of them.”

So you should be pretty happy.

“But they send me nasty e-e-e-e-e-emails.”

“And they complain about every little thi-i-i-i-i-ng.”

“And tell us what to do-o-o-o-o….”

Do you get a lot of these e-mails?

“What’s the di-i-i-i-ference?”

So let me get this straight. You have a business that has a lot of customers, you’re making money, and you’re hung up on some e-mails from customers?

“But they’re not n-i-i-i-i-ce.”

Maybe you’re not cut out for that particular line of business. Ever think of jumping into something else?

“Well, we were thinking of buying a ho-o-o-ockey team.”


As for the object of the exercise, the Caps will drop into Prudential Center having lost only one game in regulation in the last month (10-1-3). This, however, will be a test. A big one. Not only are the Devils on quite a run of their own (10-1-0 since losing to Atlanta on October 16th), but the Caps sustained another injury last night and will do without the services of Mike Knuble, who broke a finger and will be out for 3-4 weeks.

These two teams are not the top two teams in the East for nothing, as the numbers will show:

In the 10-1-0 wave the Devils are riding they have outscored their opponents 29-16. Only once has a team scored more than two goals against them – a 4-1 loss to Buffalo. Seven times in those 11 games the opponent was held to one or no goals. If the Minnesota Wild were in the midst of finding their “inner Lemaire” over the past couple of weeks leading up to last night’s game, the Devils are the real deal. It is as if Jacques Lemaire – returning this year to the team he once coached – hasn’t missed a beat from those teams he coached in the late 1990’s in the Meadowlands.

But it all starts with Marty. Martin Brodeur is 8-1-0 in his last nine decisions in goal. Along with the win-loss record, he has a microscopic 1.39 GAA over those nine decisions and a save percentage of .942. For his career, Brodeur has made the Caps his personal chew toy, compiling a 35-12-4 record with a goals against average of 2.11 and six shutouts. And, as if he needs any more motivation, he is still hung up on 102 career shutouts, one behind the all-time leader, Terry Sawchuk.

The Devils don’t score a lot, but they score enough. They get more than enough from Zach Parise, who comes into tonight’s game with a three-game goal-scoring streak (3-3-6). The six points he has in his last three games has pulled him into the top-ten in league scoring (9-12-21). He has four goals against the Caps (4-9-13) in 18 career games, but he doesn’t have any in either of the two games against Washington so far this season.

It’s one thing for Zach Parise to come into a game with a three-game goal scoring streak. He has three straight 30-plus goal seasons, including 45 last year. Scoring goals is an important part of what he does. But David Clarkson? He has 35 goals for his entire career (187 games), three of them coming in the last three games, including the game-winner in a 3-1 win over Anaheim on Veterans Day. In three seasons covering ten games against the Caps, Clarkson has three goals – one scored in each season, including this one (Caps fans will hope the pattern holds, which would keep him off the score sheet).

That brings us to “Game-Over Greene.” No, we did not spell that wrong. Defenseman Andy Greene is tied for the league lead in game-winning goals by a defenseman. OK, so it’s two goals, but that is two more game-winning goals than Mike Green, and the three goals Greene has overall matches that of the Caps’ Green. The three goals for Greene is already a career high. He had those two game-winners in the last three games (in wins over Pittsburgh and Ottawa). But here is something else you might watch for with Greene on the ice. Of the nine goals the Devils have allowed in the past seven games, Greene has been on the ice for five of them.


1. 19 for 60. It goes without saying that winning generally requires a 60 minute effort. But that is never truer than when the Devils are the opponent. Games are generally close (the Devils are (8-1-0 in one-goal games, the best winning percentage in the league), low-scoring (in the 10-1-0 run the Devils have scored more than three goals three times), and settled late (the Devils have five wins when giving up the first goal and are tied for second in wins when trailing at the second intermission). As patient as the Caps were last night with Minnesota, they will need even more against the Devils from the entire roster.

2. Pass on the soft serve. Last night, Semyon Varlamov allowed one goal, but it was one that even he admitted was, in his words, “an easy goal.” The Devils don’t allow enough goals themselves to provide a margin of error allowing the goalie to give up the softie.

3. 100. Bruce Boudreau sits at 99 wins as coach of the Capitals (99-44-19). Let’s not have to write that he’s stuck on 99…

This, as they say, could be a preview of a matchup in May. What is worrisome is that if it is a preview, the Caps have come out on the short end of both games the teams have played to date this season, each by a 3-2 margin (one in a Gimmick). Whether it is Semyon Varlamov or Jose Theodore in goal tonight, he will have to be on his toes to turn that result around. Do we think that will be the case? What do you think?...

Caps 3 – Devils 2

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Wild 1

When you are the team that has your opponent by 11 points in the standings, and the opponent is traveling overnight to play the second game of a road back-to-back, you’re supposed to win. That doesn’t make it easy, it just makes it expected. The Capitals met expectations in beating the Minnesota Wild tonight, 3-1. It was a game that was decided in the first period in an odd sort of way, given that the game was scoreless at the first intermission. Consider the following…


Those are the official time elapsed marks for the Capitals’ shots on goal in the first period. Three shots in the first seven minutes, followed by three in the next two minutes, followed by seven in a 17 second span. From the 9:25 mark of the period until the 17:04 mark, the Wild were held without a shot on goal. The Caps had 12 consecutive shots at Wild goalie Josh Harding in the meantime. It was the equivalent of a series of body shots that took the starch out of the Wild, tenderizing them for what was to come.

It wasn’t as if the Wild lacked for effort. We noted tongue-in-cheek in the pregame that the Wild had discovered their “inner Lemaire” in recent games. Well, yeah. It might as well have been their old coach, Jacques Lemaire, still pacing behind the bench. In the first third of the first period the Wild clogged the middle, forced the Caps to the side walls, prevented any diagonal stretch passes, and forced the Caps to send the puck deep without any momentum when the Caps could get the puck in at all.

The trouble is, the clock caught up to them. Try as they might to continue playing such a disciplined system, the legs of the visitors were not cooperating. And frankly, neither was the ice, which had the appearance of looking pretty bad. That only compounded the Wild’s endurance problems.

What that meant was that if the Caps could keep pressing with an honest effort, if they could be patient enough to keep pressing, even as Minnesota was frustrating them in the neutral zone, then the Caps would eventually have the advantage of rest and skill to break the Wild down.

Even then, it wasn’t easy. Washington outshot the Wild by 16-6 in the second period, and one might have been forgiven for thinking that the avalanche of goals would come in the third after that onslaught. But while the Caps had a lot of chances in close, the puck simply would not behave long enough for a Cap to swat it into the goal with Harding trying to peer around legs and sticks to see where it went. The teams went to the second intermission tied 1-1 on goals by Cal Clutterbuck for the Wild and Mike Green for the Caps.

What all of that meant was that the Wild had hung around long enough to make things very interesting in the third period. Brian Pothier notched a goal two minutes into the third to give the Caps the lead (making them 19-for-19 in terms of holding a lead at some point in a game), but the Wild had four shots on goal in the first five minutes of the period. The matter was hardly settled. Minnesota kept up as much pressure as they could and managed 14 shots in the final period overall. But at that point it was Caps’ goalie Semyon Varlamov’s game, and he was sharpest in the third period. You had the feeling it would take either a fluky bounce (not out of the question in Verizon Center) or a penalty to get Minnesota the equalizer. The Wild didn’t get that bounce, and the Caps played a disciplined period.

Other stuff…

- Green’s goal was his first power play goal of the season. Last year he had 18. He thanked the media after the game for pointing out that this was his first this year (he probably knew).

- Counting Gimmicks, Varlamov has stopped 66 of the last 69 shots he’s faced. Although, truth be told, the one he let in tonight off the stick of Cal Clutterbuck looked very stoppable. Other than that, though, he was sharp as a Bowie knife.

- And what is it with Clutterbuck... two games against the Caps, three goals.

- Another game, another injury. Mike Knuble will be out 3-4 weeks with a broken finger he suffered when he was pushed into the net by a Wild defenseman off a scrum in front. It could have been worse. Knuble almost went head first into the center post it the back of the net.

- Martin Havlat had the quietest eight-shot game you could ever imagine. I didn’t remember his even being out there.

- David Steckel abused the Wild at the dot – 15 up and three down. He won each of his 11 defensive zone draws taken. A virtuoso performance in one of the little things that matter, yet often don’t get noticed.

- We were scratching our heads over this one… you’re killing a penalty, and at your own bench you take a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. How does that happen?

- If you discount Knuble by virtue of his playing only 4:47, only one Caps skater finished the night without a shot on goal (Shaone Morrisonn).

- In basketball, some guys make behind-the-back passes because they can, not because it’s the right play. Same thing in hockey – sometimes guys get cute because they can. But there were half a dozen or so instances tonight when the behind the back pass was the right play to make to free the puck from the edge and get momentum the other way.

- Is it me, or had Tomas Fleischmann really graduated into being not a guy who plays hockey, but a hockey player? He fought for pucks along the boards, he took hits to make a play, and he threw his body around with more abandon than I can ever remember.

- And speaking of throwing his body around, consider… Cal Clutterbuck is listed as 5’11”, 213 pounds and is built like a fire hydrant. Mathieu Perreault is generously listed as 5’10”, 174 and would not look out of place in the intermission mites game, size wise. But there was Perreault in the corner, fighting for the puck with Clutterbuck, shoving him off the play, and skating out with the biscuit. Forget the assist he had to get to 1-3-4 after five games (even if the assist was gorgeous). He is going to be very hard to send back down, even if it is for his own long-term good, just based on his compete level.

- It might not have been the smartest penalty to take – a retaliatory cross-check by Nicklas Backstrom right in front of a referee – but it is a signal of the further development of Backstrom. There is no “back down” in Backstrom. There is a nasty little edge growing into his game. One might quarrel about whether it was worth it, but last year, Backstrom probably just takes the abuse. Two years from now, he probably clubs the guy and manages to do it in a subtle way.

- If you look at Chris Clark’s line on the score sheet, you might think, “eh…” Four shots on goal, a hit. But we’re thinking there are a few of the Wild who will have visions of him in their sleep with all the harassing he was doing and crashing the net.

- That is the first time the Caps have won a game scoring fewer than four goals in almost a month (October 24th, 3-2 in overtime against the Islanders). Might not seem like much, but an ability to win close ones when the pucks aren’t flying into nets at both ends will be good to have in the spring.

If water drips on the rock for long enough, the rock yields. That was pretty much how the 60 minutes went. The Wild were probably a bit off from the travel, the Caps were rested with a day off after a home game on Wednesday, and the Caps just kept pressing with an honest lunch pail effort. Eventually the Wild cracked. Big nights with lots of sirens and flashing red lights are more entertaining for a lot of fans, but wins like this can be just as satisfying.