Friday, December 11, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Hurricanes 3 (OT)

So, your child blows off homework, plays games on his X-box. He looks as if he hasn’t a care in the world as his test is coming up in Algebra class. You ask him, “shouldn’t you be studying?” He says, “OK.” They day comes, he takes his test, and he comes home. You’re ready to light into him for not taking things seriously, not studying, not giving his best effort. “Look, Pop… I got an ‘A.’”

You just roll your eyes.

That was the Caps tonight, falling behind early, looking out of sync for long stretches of the first 30 minutes, then coming back from a two-goal deficit to pin a 4-3 overtime loss on the luckless Carolina Hurricanes.

It started badly for the Caps, getting scored on with the first shot of the game when Jiri Tlusty finished a two-on-one with only John Erskine back on defense. But wait… where was the other defenseman, you ask? Well, Mike Green was scraping himself off the pavement after he took a two fisted shove in the neck from Andrew Alberts as Green was skating into the offensive zone before the 2-on-1 went the other way…

Then the Caps found themselves down two goals when Jose Theodore left the slightest crack open on the short side, allowing Eric Staal to flip the puck against his mask, then having it roll off him into the net for the second goal. Three shots, two goals. It wasn’t looking good.

But as bad as the early results were, the Caps weren’t playing quite as badly as one might think. In fact, the Caps lived in the Carolina end of the ice in the first period. In the first 20 minutes the Caps outshot Carolina, 14-5 and out-attempted the Hurricanes 29-12. That Carolina was in the game, let alone leading, was testimony to Cam Ward having shaken off any after effects of his injury that kept him off the ice from November 7th until he returned to action last Wednesday.

Here is how bad things were for the Caps as the game was winding along. Sometimes, a coach will see his team lacking spark or momentum, and he’ll call his timeout to regroup. Well, tonight’s equivalent was the in-game programming staff dialing up the “Unleash the Fury” video with 9:05 to go in the second period and the Hurricanes still holding that 2-0 lead.

As it turns out, there’s magic in that video. Barely over a minute later, Alexander Semin scored on a wrister using defenseman Brett Carson as a screen to halve the lead. Then, with time winding down in the period, Semin broke behind the defense, and with Tim Gleason in furious pursuit (more on him to come), Semin shielded the puck with his body. However, he lost it as he was approaching the crease. Unfortunately for Cam Ward, he got caught in a no-man’s land between diving to poke the puck away and sitting back to smother it. He chose the former, merely bunting the biscuit a couple of feet in front of him. It was enough of a rebound and enough room for Semin to collect the puck and fire it into the back of the net with authority as Ward was sprawled on the ice with six-tenths of a second left in the period.

The teams traded goals in the third, Tomas Fleischmann pouncing on a loose puck early in the frame with the Hurricanes skating a man short on a delayed penalty. What made the play, though, was Mathieu Perreault skating the puck down the half wall into the left wing corner, then whipping it across to Fleischmann, who was waiting free at the inside edge of the right wing circle.

Carolina got it back, though, and Mike Green really was the culprit this time. Green tried to curl the puck around the top of the left wing circle, then sent a pass cross-ice where it was pilfered by Tim Gleason (him again… and yes, we’ll mention him again in a bit). Gleason sprinted through the neutral zone, and as he crossed the Caps’ blue line, he wound up and fired a slap shot that beat Theodore to tie the game.

But Green would have the last laugh – in overtime. The Caps put pressure on Carolina with Alex Ovechkin getting a couple of good looks. Nicklas Backstrom picked up a missed shot by Ovechkin in the corner and fired it back to where Ovechkin was posted -- at the right wing faceoff dot where three Hurricane players collapsed on him...

But the puck came through to Mike Green coming down the middle, and all that was left was to snap the puck past Ward for the game winner…

Other stuff…

- Oh, yeah… Tim Gleason. In an odd twist of irony, the guy who collided with Alex Ovechkin the last time these teams met in a knee-on-knee incident that got Ovechkin suspended ended up confronting Ovechkin once more. Ovechkin wound up and fired the puck toward the Carolina net late in the first period. Gleason got the blade of his stick on the puck in such a way as to deflect it up and into his lower jaw. He went off the ice immediately holding his jaw, and he would miss most of the next period. But after taking stitches and getting a full face-shield screwed onto his helmet, he returned to take one shift in the second period… that was him Alexander Semin was fending off just before he scored with less than a second left. But Gleason came back in the third to score his shorthanded goal. Say what you want, the guy is tough.

- There was Ovechkin at the all-you-can-eat score sheet buffet again… six shots on goal (15 attempts), one hit, three takeaways, a blocked shot, two assists, plus-3, and he split his two draws taken.

- Nicklas Backstrom had an understated game – a pair of assists, plus-3, winning 11 of 18 draws, a hit, and two blocked shots, one of them a sliding stop in overtime that came at a critical juncture.

- OK… Mike Green was not charged with a giveaway this evening. Uh, then who was it wearing his number that passed the puck across and had it intercepted by Tim Gleason, who converted it into a score?

- Alexander Semin… when he’s good, he’s very very good. And tonight, he showed stretches of being very very good. Of course, Carolina is his personal chew toy, too. His two goals give him 21 in 25 career games against the Hurricanes.

- One of our favorite players over the years, even as we were rooting against him, has been Rod Brind’Amour. Tonight, he skated for 6:28 and took only one shift in the third period (none in overtime). We can’t take any joy in that. Brind’Amour has been a warrior over the years.

- It didn’t seem so much that the Caps played badly, or that they were even taking Carolina lightly. They just looked terribly out of sync in those first 30 minutes.

- Hey, did we call Fleischmann a key? That was his first career goal against Carolina. Came at a nice time, too.

- Yeah, and we had the first period being key, too… getting two goals, in fact. We didn’t have Carolina getting them.

- Jose Theodore’s GAA and save percentage will take a bit of a hit, but Carolina really didn’t muster any significant pressure. Their goals were scored by: a) flattening a defenseman so that he wasn’t in the play going the other way, b) playing the post poorly on a wrap-around (that one’s on Theodore), and c) a giveaway in the offensive zone that led to a break the other way.

- When I saw that the referees tonight would be Don VanMassenhoeven and Stephen Walkom, I knew there wouldn’t be much in the way of power plays. There weren’t (five combined, and two of them came on “technical” calls had had to be made – delay of game and too many men on the ice). Those two are a pair of old-school, call only the most obvious fouls sorts of officials.

- Mike Green had three hits. Two of them were of the slobberknocker variety. We’re thinking the one on Jiri Tlusty in the Zamboni corner left quite a mark.

You could say the Caps escaped with the extra point tonight, and it would be a reasonable conclusion to make. But six months from now, who will care? Tomorrow, it is another Hockey Night in Canada appearance for the Caps, which is what they might have been peeking ahead to in any case. They’ll have to be better, even against Toronto.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps return home to catch up on holiday shopping and to play only their second home game of December, hosting the Island of Misfit Toys that is the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps return home (at least going into last night’s action) owners of the best record in the NHL, which is not necessarily a good thing if you consider the number of President’s Trophy winners that traded up to a Stanley Cup (seven in 23 seasons). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is the festive season of hope and…

“Cheesy Christmas presents.”

Well, yeah… and let me guess, you sell such things.

“C.J. Penney’s the name, and Christmas is my game. And I have just the thing for the discerning hockey fan this year.”

OK, we’ll play along.

“Well, who wouldn’t love to find this in their stocking?”

A hockey tie? Isn’t that a little cliché?

"But it’s in the Caps colors! OK, OK… now I know you can’t resist this…"

Chocolate hockey pucks.

"OK, maybe that’s more of an Easter kind of thing. Well, then a how about…"

A Mr. Potato head…

"Hey… But check out the logo… the Penguins. Caps fans will eat that up."

Like the pucks?

"OK…here’s a multi-tasker. You can give it on Christmas or wear it on New Year’s Eve."

Just add ice… clever.

“Alright, alright. How about something for the ‘coach’ in the family.”

Hmm… another multi-tasker, I see.

"And you can play this while celebrating…"

Has potential.

"OK, I didn’t want to do this, but you forced me to bring out the ultimate holiday hockey weapon…"


We’re not sure that these gift ideas will suit your fancy, but the Carolina Hurricanes coming to town might be the remedy for the Caps after enduring a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday. Just look at the numbers…

There are a lot of “30th’s” in there for the Hurricanes (although that 28th-ranked power play is one slot higher than Pittsburgh – go figure). What’s more, the Hurricanes have only one win on the road, that coming against that same Pittsburgh team, 3-2, last Monday (ironically, because Carolina could score a power play goal, and the Penguins could not).

But there lies a danger with the Hurricanes, though. Having lost to Buffalo on the road and about to head out on the road again for a four-game trip, this is something of a “gap” game that the Caps will try just as soon as not to get rid of, which leads to cutting corners. And the Hurricanes have won two of their past three (their first wins in regulation in consecutive games this season) since dropping a tight 3-2 decision to the Caps on November 30th.

If you just glance at the scoring tables, the Hurricanes have ten players who have double digits in total points, the Caps have 11. The similarity ends there. Carolina has only one player with as many as 20 points (Ray Whitney, 8-12-20), while the Caps have six, and they have three with at least 30.

Perhaps even a more stark difference – a reflection of the first and last positions of these teams in 5-on-five play – is the face that the Caps have 17 players on the “plus” side of the ledger, including six players with at least a plus-10 figure, while the Hurricanes have no players on the “plus” side of the ledger and six with at least a minus-10. Neat symmetry, that.

Who’s hot?

Joni Pitkanen has five assists in the three games since the Hurricanes met the Caps. That follows a 13-game run where he had only a pair of assists on his record. Pitkanen leads all NHL defensemen in time-on-ice per shift (1:00/shift), and he has logged more than 30 minutes of ice time four times this year, including two of his last four games. Pitkanen is 1-5-6 in 14 career games against Washington.

Eric Staal had a three game streak in which he had two assists in each snapped in the Hurricanes’ 4-2 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday. Still, six points in four games qualifies as hot, especially when it almost doubles Staal’s point total for the year (he is 3-10-13 in 20 games). He is 14-22-36 in 37 career games against the Caps, and he had – yes – two assists in the only meeting of the year between these teams, the game that started him on the three-game, six-assist run.

Who’s Not?

The joke here would be “everyone else,” and there is a kernel of truth in that. But we can start with Rod Brind’Amour. The Carolina captain was a healthy scratch for a 3-2 win over the Penguins, the first time he was a healthy scratch for a game since dinosaurs roamed the earth (actually, the first time in nine seasons). Brind’Amour, who is tied for 11th on the club is scoring (2-6-8 in 29 games), is dead last among 767 NHL players in plus-minus (minus-19). He finished 883rd among 884 players in that number last year. He qualifies as “not hot” here because in his last dozen games he is 0-1-1, minus-6, and he hasn’t logged as many as 15 minutes of ice time in his last nine games (three times in his last five games being given fewer than ten). He is 39-42-81 in 98 career games against Washington.

We might include Sergei Samsonov in this category, too. In his last dozen games he is 1-2-3, and he’s occupying a seat at the far end of the bench, too (two games with more than 15 minutes in his last ten to go with his two of fewer than ten minutes). He is 4-14-18 in 39 career games against the Caps.


1. Ward off a loss. Cam Ward returned to the ice on Wednesday after missing time with a lacerated leg, taking the loss in a 4-2 decision against New Jersey. He is 12-5-2 with a 2.54 GAA in 20 career games against the Caps, and considering the sort of year the Caps had last year, Ward was borderline spectacular against them – 2-1-1, 2.46, .927. His presence in the lineup alone makes this Hurricanes team very different than the ones the Caps defeated 12 days ago.

2. First things first. The Caps lead all of the NHL in first period goals scored (39). Carolina is tied for fourth most in first period goals allowed (29). The Caps are, in fact, +24 (goals scored/goals allowed) in the first period so far this year. Washington potted two in the first period in the first meeting of these teams, then held on for the 3-2 win. Two would be nice tonight, too…without the holding on part.

3. Show some Flash. Tomas Fleischmann has never scored a goal against the Hurricanes (0-2-2 in 19 career games). He had a mini-streak (3-2-5 in three games) ended against the Sabres on Wednesday. Here’s a chance to kill two birds with one puck – getting back on the scoring train and breaking the schneid against the Hurricanes.

Even with Ward, who may or may not be still shaking off cobwebs, the Caps are the vastly superior team. Like that matters. Jose Theodore, who will get the call tonight, it would seem, allowed a goal early (to Joe Corvo 4:35 into the contest) and allowed a goal late (in the last 16 seconds to Matt Cullen) in the first meeting. Even if Carolina scored ten goals in their last three games following the loss to the Caps, they are not an especially formidable offense. This one is up to Ward – and whether the Caps can find the rust spots.

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 1