Saturday, December 05, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 8 - Flyers 2

"There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what's possible."

Oh, my God!... You saw the Caps game!

Wachovia Center was the “Rink of Dreams” for the Washington Capitals tonight as they scored early, scored often, and scored from everywhere but from the top of the William Penn statue in pounding the Philadelphia Flyers, 8-2. When we wrote up the pregame, we thought that the first ten minutes would be a key. It was, but not in a way we conceived, and certainly not in a way that the Flyers were hoping for – it was the Caps who got off fast, getting a goal in the first minute. Tomas Fleischmann, who snapped a seven game streak without a goal in Thursday’s game against Florida, popped one past Flyer goalie Ray Emery at the 57 second mark on the first shot of the game. Welcome, Mr. Laviolette.

Philly evened things up just past the 12 minute mark, but a couple of minutes later, the new coach got a good look at what he inherited. Daniel (not Danny) Carcillo was on the receiving end of a finishing check by Matt Bradley at the Flyers’ blue line. Carcillo then proceeded to cross-check Bradley in the back once, twice, then dropped his gloves and grabbed Bradley’s jersey. Unable to free himself from Carcillo’s clutch and in the midst of ridding himself of his gloves, Bradley was then on the business end of a sucker punch square on the cheek that dropped him to the ice.

Carcillo was given a cross-checking, an instigator, a fighting, a misconduct and a game misconduct – a total of 29 minutes in penalties – and an early shower. If he could have been given a dunce cap, he would have had one. It took his team right out of the game moments after they climbed back into it, putting the Caps on a nine-minute power play.

The Caps didn’t look especially sharp early on the advantage, but they made up for it late. Fleischmann converted a pass from Eric Fehr from the half wall, Mike Green took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and made it a 3-1 lead at the first intermission, and Brooks Laich put one in from the top of the crease in the first minute of the second period to make it three goals on the extended power play and a 4-1 lead.

After that, it was pure fun for Caps fans watching, especially in seeing Chris Clark getting only his third goal of the year and David Steckel getting the 500-pound gorilla off his back by swatting in a feed from Mike Green for his first of the season. It was a pure case of doing what you’re supposed to – Steckel charging hard to the net as Green was setting up on the near wall. Making a bee line for the far post, Steckel had only to get his stick in position to convert the fine pass – it was a pretty play on both ends.

Other stuff…

- The article of goalie equipment that’s worn on the hand holding the stick is called a “blocker.” In Ray Emery’s case, should it be called the “letter inner?”

- Does Nicklas Backstrom like playing against the Flyers? Here are the lines of his games against Philly this year…

Game 1: 0-3-3, plus-2
Game 2: 1-3-4, plus-3
Game 3: 1-4-5, plus-1

If you’re a Flyer fan, be afraid… be very afraid for Game 4.

- By the way, that makes Backstrom 5-16-21 in 11 career games against the Flyers.

- If such a thing could be lost in an 8-2 game, Mike Green had a four-point night (2-2-4). That’s 17 points in his last 12 games (3-14-17), vaulting him into the scoring lead among NHL defensemen (5-25-30).

- Corey Masisak over at the Washington Times noted that the Caps have 36 goals in eight games without Alex Ovechkin. At 4.5 goals per game, Corey notes, that would be more than one goal per game more (at 4.50 goals/game) more than any other team in the league.

- 12 of 18 skaters had points, six had multi-point games. Six players shared the eight goals. Balance, balance, balance.

- Steckel’s goal came on his only shot. And yes, it was another “plus” night in the circle for him (four wins in seven faceoffs).

- The Caps had four power play goals tonight on only six shots with the man advantage. You can’t argue with that kind of efficiency. The Caps started the evening sixth in the league on the power play (22.6 percent). If no one above them improved their numbers, this evening pushed the Caps into first in the league (24.6 percent).

- Mathieu Perreault might not have had a point, but he had a nice night anyway. Five shot attempts (three on goal), a takeaway, and he won nine of 14 draws in just short of 15 minutes. And this with getting smeared into the end boards by Chris Pronger once and flattened at the goal mouth on another occasion.

- Karl Alzner, thug. That’s penalties in consecutive games for the budding enforcer. We expect Colin Campbell to hand down a supplemental discipline decision any moment now for Alzner’s egregious hooking infraction.

- What’s with all the cheering when referee Stephane Auger took one in the ear hole? Philly fans… they’d have been cheering when Ivan Drago dropped Apollo Creed in that exhibition match.

- Mike Richards was on the ice for four Caps goals tonight… not a Selke moment. At least he wasn’t on the ice for the most goals scored by the Caps. That would be the big-money free agent defenseman (five goals).

- Only three Flyers were not on the ice for at least one Caps goal, and Carcillo (and his 3:54 of ice time) was one of them. If you’re going to suck, do it as a team.

- Danny (not Daniel) Briere… 15 minutes, one shot, one hit, one blocked shot, many yawns.

- The Caps have 14 goals in their last two games (yes, without Alex Ovechkin). It’s the most in consecutive games since December 29/January 1 in the 2007-2008 season, when the Caps lit up the Senators in a home-and-home for 14 goals.

- Eric Fehr, playmaker? Two assists tonight makes four in three games, and he extended his points streak to six games, adding to his career high.

- Alexander Semin might need surgery on his wrist (or so we read)? Six points in two games after returning from injury (two assists tonight). More guys should be so hurt.

- And let’s not lose sight of the fact that when a team goes on a tear in the other guy’s zone, it takes a lot of focus for a goaltender to keep his own end clean. Jose Theodore stopped 34 of 36 shots in a very solid effort.

- And speaking of solid efforts at the other end of the ice, John Erskine – 17:28 in ice time, three hits, three blocked shots, not on the ice for either Flyer goal.

Sometimes, there are moments that give hints that a season is unfolding that could be really special, and there were two things that happened tonight that suggest that such a season might be unfolding for the Caps. First, we heard in the postgame that Matt Bradley got the hard hat tonight. Bradley played only 3:20 tonight before his evening was ended by a sucker punch, but don’t think for a moment that the guys don’t appreciate the warrior that Bradley is. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more stand-up-for-others guy anywhere; he’s the kind of guy for whom you’d be really happy if his name was sent to an engraver to put on a special piece of hardware next summer.

The other was a comment by Bruce Boudreau after the game, a response to what seemed like a provocative question concerning whether the Caps were running up the score, a reference to Backstrom and Green being on the ice for a power play when the game was 7-2. Boudreau was quick to point out that Steckel was out on that power play, too, that he wanted to try to get Steckel a goal after putting in all the hard work he has so far without getting one. Boudreau commented that it was about doing something for his team and players, not running up the score. That was the kind of comment from a coach who understands, who has put in enough miles to see how important it is to do something for the guys who don’t get the ink.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, December 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Saturday night's alright for hockey, and the Caps are taking to the road to visit the City of Brotherly Love for a meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps will be doing so as the Flyers welcome a new coach, John Stevens having been relieved of his duties in favor of Peter Laviolette. In doing so, the Flyers… excuse me, what’s this?

“The List.”

The List?

“Yeah, the Top-Ten List…”

Where’d you get this, young lady?

“I used to work on the Letterman show…”

Ah, say no more. Now, let’s take a look at this… hmm… "The Top Ten Reasons John Stevens Was Fired"…

Number 10. Ed Snider found out he had a satellite dish instead of Comcast.

Number 9. Put a copy of “12 Steps to Effective Anger Management” in each of his player’s lockers.

Number 8. He failed to address a certain defenseman as “Mr. Pronger, sir.”

Number 7. When asked who Dave Schultz was, he answered, “the sergeant on Hogan’s Heroes.”

Number 6. He kept telling people that the Flyers played at “Whack-Off”ia Center.

Number 5. Told General Manager Paul Holmgren that the Flyers’ colors should be changed because they were “too Halloweenie.”

Number 4. Rooted for Pittsburgh in last year’s Stanley Cup final.

Number 3. Wanted to coach a game behind the Flyers’ bench dressed as a mummer.

Number 2. He ordered a vegetarian cheese steak at Geno’s

And the number one reason John Stevens was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers…

He didn’t win enough games.

What an odd circle these teams have traveled to get to this game. Barely two years ago, a coach stood behind his team’s bench for the first time in the same arena in which tonight’s game will be played, taking over for a struggling team that seemed to be on a trajectory to finish out of the playoffs. Tonight, the scene replays itself, with a new coach standing behind the other bench. It was Bruce Boudreau in November 2007 taking over the reins for the slumping Caps from Glen Hanlon, and tonight it will be Peter Laviolette, who takes over for John Stevens behind the struggling Flyers’ bench.

Laviolette is no stranger to the NHL. He has 487 games of experience coaching with two other teams – the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes, the latter of which he led to a Stanley Cup title in 2006. But here is the ominous part… that was the only year in three full seasons and a partial season that he completed in Carolina that he made the playoffs. He has two other playoff seasons on his resume – both with the Islanders – but he did not win a playoff round in either year. He does have a respectable regular season record, though, having gone 244-188-25-30 as he takes over in Philadelphia.

The team Laviolette inherits is still a formidable club, as the numbers suggest...

But the Flyers are also a team struggling of late. They have lost six of their last seven games, outscored by 23-12 in the process. The 12 goals scored in six games is part of a longer slump in which Philadelphia has scored only 20 goals in their past ten games and more than three in a game only once. They were shutout by their last two opponents – Atlanta and Vancouver.

Part of the problem is that the power play hasn’t had much juice lately. In the last ten games, it is sputtering along at a 12.1 percent pace (4-for-33). If there is a silver lining – and a warning to the Capitals – in that power play number, it is this. The Flyers played six of those ten games on the road, and the Flyers are tied for the top spot in the league in power play opportunities at home (67 in 14 games).

Needless to say, there isn’t any Flyer you could reasonably consider “hot” in terms of offensive statistics. The top five scorers for Philadelphia have had ten-game totals that look like this…

Jeff Carter: 3-3-6
Mike Richards: 3-4-7
James van Riemsdyk: 2-2-4
Scott Hartnell: 3-3-6
Chris Pronger: 1-1-2

12 goals out of their top-five scorers over the last ten games places a lot of pressure on the undercard of the roster to produce. And the trouble with that is much of it has been injured or otherwise on the shelf. Darroll Powe, who is tied for sixth on the club in goals scored, has been out since November 20th with a strained shoulder. Daniel (DCMD – Don’t Call Me Danny) Briere sat for two of the last ten games, courtesy of a suspension for a late hit on Colorado’s Scott Hannan, then he missed one due to the flu. Briere is the closest thing to “hot” on the Flyers’ roster (scoring-wise, that is) with 3-4-7 in the seven games he played out of the Flyers’ last ten.

Still, Carter (15 games, 7-9-16), Richards (16 games, 6-9-15), Hartnell (16 games, 9-6-15), and Briere (24 games, 9-11-20) are just about point-a-game players against the Caps over their respective careers.

If the Flyers need to get someone else to contribute, that would be Claude Giroux. In the early part of this ten-game offensive drought, he was the one Flyer producing, going 2-6-8 over the first five of those games. But in the last five, he is 0-1-1, and the biggest thing on his resume in those games was getting into his first NHL fight (against Colorado’s Marek Svatos).

On the blue line, the Flyers are a talented group, especially their top four of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. They log the big minutes (all of them over 20 minutes a game), they contribute offensively (all have more than ten points), and none of them have yet missed a contest this year. They have been the one constant for the Flyers thus far. They will bear watching in this respect. If you compare that top four with the Caps’ top four, the striking difference is that they Flyers’ quartet get pucks to the net in the offensive end. They have a total of 182 shots on goal in 25 games. Meanwhile, the Caps’ top four defensemen (in ice time) who will be most likely to play in this game (Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, and Milan Jurcina) have a combined 155 shots on goal in 27 games, and Green has 79 of those. Even if shots don’t go in, they create commotion in front that teammates can take advantage of.

In goal, you’d have to wonder what the new coach’s thinking is going to be here. Does he go with the hot hand? Brian Boucher – in the nets for the decision in four of the last five Flyer games – has a GAA in those last four games of 1.73 and a save percentage of .933. It is testimony to how much the Flyers are struggling on offense that he is 1-3-0 in those last four games.

Or, does Laviolette go with Ray Emery? In his last four games (one of which he was pulled from in favor of Boucher), Emery is 0-3-0, 4.69, .824. After starting the season 10-3-1 and giving indications that the gamble to sign him would pay off for the Flyers, he has recorded one win since November 12th.


1. Ten. The first ten minutes, that is. This is always a tightly contested affair, and it will have the added intensity that comes from a team wanting to take out its recent frustrations on the visitor, wanting to get the new coach off to a good start, and a rabid crowd. But the Caps are 5-1-1 in their last seven regular season games in South Philly. They can do this… but getting past those first ten minutes will go a long way toward ensuring that result.

2. Balance. In the Caps’ modest four game winning streak, seven players have the 14 goals the Caps have scored, and 13 players have points. In the absence of Alex Ovechkin for almost two full games of those four, the goal scoring has been picked up by Eric Fehr (four goals) and Nicklas Backstrom (three). Eight players have at least two assists. Against a Flyers team that will employ four defensemen for the lion’s share of the time (unless the new coach has other ideas) the pressure has to come from up and down the lineup.

3. Memories. Rewind back to that 2007 game when Bruce Boudreau took over. The Caps squandered a 3-0 lead in allowing the Flyers to tie the game. But the game was won by the Caps in overtime when Nicklas Backstrom curled the puck onto his stick, slid it around a sprawled Martin Biron, and lifted it over Biron into the net for a 4-3 win. Well, that’s hardly been the only success Backstrom has had against the Flyers. In ten career regular season games against Philadelphia he is 4-12-16. In two games this year he is 1-6-7. He could be the spoiler of the new coach’s debut.

The man Boudreau coached against that evening in November 2007, and who departed as Flyers coach yesterday – John Stevens – takes his leave very much a “Flyers Man.” He was a 1984 draft pick of the Flyers as a defenseman. Although he played in only nine games for the Flyers (he would also play in 44 games for the Hartford Whalers), he would score the first goal in the history of the Flyer’s AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. He also coached the Phantoms for six seasons after his retirement as a player, winning a Calder Cup along the way.

Unfortunately, perhaps, the most distinctive part of Stevens' legacy is that he set, and later tied, the Flyers’ franchise record for consecutive losses – ten (0-9-1 in 1005-2006 and 0-8-2 in 2007-2008). Nevertheless, it is always sad when anyone loses a job, even the coach of a fierce rival of the club we root for. And in that sense, we wish Stevens success in his future.

Here is an odd product of the change behind the Flyers’ bench – Bruce Boudreau is now the third-longest tenured coach with his current team among the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Lindy Ruff in Buffalo and Claude Julien in Boston. We think that while the roles have been reversed since November 2007, the result will be the same on the scoreboard…

Caps 4 – Flyers 3