Sunday, January 17, 2010

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 5 - Flyers 3

Home sweet home.

For the 16th time in 22 home games, the Washington Capitals heard the final horn as victors at Verizon Center, today’s victim being the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 5-3. The win propelled the Caps to the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 66 standings points, one more than the idle New Jersey Devils.

The Caps very nearly “Lemieux’ed” the Flyers in this one, that being a reference to scoring a goal in each of the five ways such a thing can be accomplished in the real hockey portion of the game (regulation or overtime) – even-strength, power play, shorthanded, and penalty shot. All that was lacking was the empty-netter in the dying moments of the game.

It all might not have taken place, though, but for a misfire by Simon Gagne at the 42-second mark of the first period. He had the puck on his stick and goalie Jose Theodore at the other post, and Gagne bunted the puck into the side of the net instead of the back of it. The Flyers would get the first goal of the game later in the period, but had they scored there – in the first minute of the contest – it might have put the Caps back on their heels more.

When the goals came in this one, they came in machine-gun fashion. Jeff Carter opened the scoring at 6:03 with a power play wrister that Theodore got a pretty good look at and would probably like back. Mike Knuble got it back only 1:46 later when after Alex Ovechkin gloved down a high puck to his stick and sent it out in front from the Bradley Corner, Knuble pounced on the loose puck that goalie Ray Emery left lying in the crease.

Philly returned the favor after Matt Bradley was guilty of a giveaway in the Olympia Corner (guess he’d have been better in his corner at the other end of the ice) that Arron Asham pounced on. Asham sent it to the top of the circles where James van Riemsdyk was waiting. Only 1:27 after Knuble’s goal, van Riemsdyk wristed the puck past Theodore to give the Flyers their second lead of the period.

Then, Brooks Laich broke his eight-game streak without lighting the red light. Tomas Fleischmann sent a shot to the net that Emery fumbled, and Laich did the Knuble-ey thing and popped the puck into the net from the top of the blue paint while Emery was searching for the car keys.

The Caps got one power play on the day – one – but they made short work of it. Alexander Semin was the one Cap left unaccounted for by the Flyer penalty killers as the puck was collected by Mike Green at the opposite point. Green sent the puck to the net where it was redirected by Laich onto the stick of Semin, and Semin swatted the puck into the yawning gap that Emery left behind. Total power play production – one opportunity, one goal, eight seconds.

Laich notched his second (his first two-goal game since November 2nd) when Matt Carle made the sort of play that turns a coach’s hair gray. As he was crossing his own blue line, he left the puck for Mike Richards trailing behind him. One problem – Richards wasn’t near the puck. Laich chipped the puck past Richards, collected it at the top of the left wing circle, skated in on Emery, and backhanded it in when Emery bit on his forehand move.

Alex Ovechkin closed out the scoring, courtesy of Danny Briere, who was carrying the puck over his line and into the neutral zone as if he had not a care in the world, at least until Ovechkin picked him clean. Braydon Coburn was left to try to chase Ovechkin down, but all he could do was try to hang on for dear life as Ovechkin barreled in on Emery. Coburn managed to wrestle Ovechkin off the puck, and Dan Marouelli signaled for a penalty shot. Ovechkin – previously 0-for-5 in this situation – carried the puck in, feinted Emery one way, showed him the forehand, then swept the puck to his backhand, whereupon he roofed it over the sprawled Emery. A stat-padder goal by Danny Briere finished the scoring in the last 30 seconds for the final score.

Other stuff…

-- 17:30 in ice time? After 17:50 against Toronto, Alex Ovechkin will think coach Bruce Boudreau is mad at him. It says something of the team’s depth at the moment that Ovechkin could skate so comparatively little time, yet the team has 11 goals in its last two games.

-- Oh, and do you like drama? Ovechkin scored on his 2,000th shot in the NHL -- on a penalty shot.

-- Laich’s two-goal performance makes 34 multi-goal games for the Caps this year.

-- Give the Flyers credit, they bottled up the Caps pretty well all afternoon. The Caps had only 46 total shot attempts (22 shots on goal).

-- Even though Jose Theodore gave up two goals in the first period, one of which he might have wanted back, his turning away 12 shots in the second period might have been the difference as the Caps took a lead. If that wasn’t, perhaps it was his turning away 10 of 11 power play shots for the game.

- In the game-within-a-game, it was interesting to watch Eric Fehr and Scott Hartnell go at it before faceoffs. Fehr did a pretty good job of egging Hartnell on with his stick. Of course, maybe it was a reminder that Hartnell’s running around engaging in some interesting stick work of his own wasn’t unnoticed.

-- Think the Flyers would like to unload that $6.5 million cap hit Danny Briere has? We do.

-- It’s one thing for a fourth line to be an “energy line.” We get that. But Ian Laperriere, Daniel Carcillo, and Blair Betts… no shots on goal. As a group they had only four attempts.

-- Jeff Schultz: 23:44 in ice time, even, a shot on goal, two hits, and three blocked shots. And still some moron on the post game was whining about him with a bad giveaway (it was Bradley’s giveaway, but hey…red sweaters look alike).

-- With a goal this afternoon, that’s five goals in three games for Mike Knuble. Kanoobie gets an extra Milk Bone tonight.

-- The difference between Tomas Fleischmann last year and Tomas Fleischmann this year… last year, if Flesichmann tried to hit Braydon Coburn, he would have bounced off. This year (this game), he was credited with the hit.

-- Hey, who’s that who led the Flyers in giveaways? Why, it’s the $6.25 million free agent defenseman. Oh, and Mike Green didn’t have any, in case you were wondering.

-- There are Flyer fans in attendance who seem to think it is a comeback to shout “two Stanley Cups, baby” as they are leaving the building with four minutes left. Actually, it’s pretty sad, because the only people who remember when the Flyers won a Cup now gum their food and wear extra-absorbent undergarments.

- If the only forwards finishing in plus territory for the Flyers are James van Riemsdyk, Darroll Powe, and Arron Asham, it’s a good night for the other guys.

-- The Caps outscored the Flyers for the season series, 22-13. They were 7-for-16 on the power play against the Flyers. You Caps fans who might have an inferiority complex concerning some teams? The Caps are better – you can sleep better in that knowledge.

-- Top line: 2-1-3. Second line: 3-3-6. Helps to spread things around.

-- It might not have been the score sheet buffet, but Alex Ovechkin helped himself to the hungry-man platter: a goal, an assist, four shots, three hits, three takeaways.

-- The Caps were 35-up and 30-down in the circle, but perhaps more important, they were 13-up and six-down in the defensive end.

-- One had the feeling (well, we had the feeling) that the Flyers sort of sacrificed this game to get Ray Emery back on the ice. He was, to be kind, bad. The Flyers had better hope it was rust.

Whether it’s a one-goal win, an 8-2 thwapping, or a score-every-which-way sort of game like this, it’s always good to send Flyers fans home sobbing into soggy cheese-steak buns. The Caps end one Pennsylvania series for the year (3-0-1 against the Flyers) and start another this Thursday against the Penguins. Let’s hope that one goes at least as well and is at least as satisfying.

Hockey makes for some of the most interesting stories

...and sometimes, they even happen in Pittsburgh. Well, Vancouver, but...oh, you get the point (courtesy of Shelly Anderson at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)...

"Alex Pechurski, a 19-year-old goaltender...made his unexpected, unscripted entrance into the NHL last night and played well in relief in the Penguins' 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place... injury crisis at goaltender meant that [Penguins head coach Dan] Bylsma was sending in a raw Russian rookie who had been in North America just a few weeks, doesn't speak English, had had just one morning skate with the club after signing an amateur tryout contract in a pinch and was wearing pads that belonged to No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury was out with a broken finger, and regular backup Brent Johnson is out with an undisclosed injury. Curry, who was recalled from the minor leagues Monday, was playing in his fourth NHL game, first of the season.

No one really expected Pechurski to play, including him."

Play he did. The young Russian who doesn't speak English, who was on a one-game amateur tryout with the Penguins, who played the previous night for the Tri-City Americans (co-owned by former Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig, hence a Capitals connection), and who had to use Fleury's pads because his own did not meet NHL regulations, allowed only one goal on 13 shots in 23:43 and won the game's third star in a 6-2 Vancouver win.

Try to imagine being dropped into Moscow, not being able to speak Russian and playing goaltender for CSKA Moscow.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, January 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Brunch With the Caps on Sunday as the Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers…

“It’s not ‘brunch.’”


“Brunch is a meal served between breakfast and lunch...”

I know, but…

“No, something in the afternoon might be more of a ‘dinch’ or a ‘lunner,’ or maybe even a ‘suppunch’…hey, that works for hockey, doesn’t it?... A ‘sup-PUNCH.’”

I guess it does. It was just a figure of speech. Who are you, anyway?


Vic? That’s it?

“Vic E. Peedia. I'm something of a trivia nut…but back to this brunch thing, a ‘brunch’ is something a hockey fan might enjoy before an afternoon game.”

Ok, I get it, I just…

“In France it might be called, ‘le grand petit dejeuner...’”


“Although in Quebec, where I assume they play hockey, it might be called ‘dejeuner-buffet.’”

Are you done?

“Well, I just wanted to add that in Germany, it might be called ‘gabelfrühstück.’”

“Fork Breakfast?”

“Very good…but actually, the term ‘brunch’ has its origins in Great Britain, except New Yorkers seem to think the term originated there among newspaper reporters.”

Hey, here’s a term originated by a blogger…

“Which is…”


This afternoon, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette gets a do-over. After replacing John Stevens behind the Flyer bench on December 4th, Laviolette stepped behind the Philadelphia bench at Wachovia Center the next evening and watched in horror as the Caps scored seven goals in 35 minutes on their way to an 8-2 win over the Flyers.

Including that game, Laviolette is 10-9-2 as head coach of the Flyers. The near-.500 record belies something of a “then and now” ride for the orange and black since the switch. Laviolette started 2-7-1 in his first nine games, then went 8-2-1 in his last 11. In those last 11 games the Flyers have outscored their opponents 44-29 (4.0-2.6). Until getting shutout by (of all teams) the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, the Flyers had scored at least four goals in five consecutive games. One underestimates them at their peril at the moment. Here is how the overall numbers stack up...

In the 8-2-1 stretch on which the Flyers find themselves, their scoring has come from the guys who have to do the heavy lifting. Captain Mike Richards is leading the way here with a 6-6-12 line over the last 11 games. After going 13-14-27 in his first 36 games of the season, one might say Richards has benefitted from the change behind the bench. He is 6-9-15 in 17 career games against the Caps and had a hat trick in the first meeting of the clubs this year, a 6-5 overtime win on October 6th.

At first blush Simon Gagne seems to have benefitted from the switch, too. In the last 11 games he is 5-7-12. But his situation is more a matter of health (It’s always a matter of health with Gagne – he’s missed 84 games over the past two-and-a-half seasons). Since returning to the lineup after missing 24 games to a hernia, he has been on quite a run. In 13 games since his return he has three multi-point games, including a hat trick 3-1-4 performance in a 6-0 win over the Rangers on December 30th. In 33 games against the Caps in his career Gagne is 17-16-33.

Someone has had to set things up for the Flyers, and leading in the helpers has been Chris Pronger over the last 11 games (1-9-10). Oddly enough, though, only two of those nine helpers have come on goals from either Richards or Gagne (both on Richards goals). The ten points in his last 11 games represents quite an improvement over the 5-17-22 he had in his first 35 games of the season. But what’s more, he is plus-10 in those 11 games to raise that number to plus-18 for the year. In 27 career games against the Caps he is 2-9-11.

In goal, Michael Leighton seems to have found cheese-steaks more to his liking than pork barbecue. In seven games with the Carolina Hurricanes to start the year, Leighton was 1-4-0, 4.28, .848. Since joining the Flyers after being claimed off waivers on December 15th, he is 8-1-1, 2.39, .921, and a shutout. But (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?)… the bloom might be coming off the rose. In his last four games Leighton is 3-1-0, but other numbers have deteriorated somewhat – 2.75 GAA and a .902 save percentage --- and he’s allowed at least three goals in three of those games (he allowed as many as three only once in his first eight appearances with the Flyers). Leighton is 1-2-0, 3.07, .917 in three career games against Washington.

It could, however, be the return of Ray Emery in goal for Philadelphia. When last seen on a sheet of NHL ice, he gave up five goals on 17 shots in barely 31 minutes of work in that 8-2 loss to the Caps on December 5th. Then he had surgery to repair a tear in his abdominal wall. Perhaps it was his injury that accounted for his allowing 21 goals in the five appearances (getting pulled twice) before his surgery. Flyer fans are hoping so, because if it wasn’t the injury, and Leighton is falling back to earth, the Flyers’ playoff hopes lay in the balance.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Scott Hartnell

No discussion of the Flyers should omit some discussion of the physical tradition they have built. And that is in conflict with at least the perception of Peter Laviolette’s preferences as a head coach. Well, Laviolette seems accommodating to the Flyers’ tradition of brandishing fists so far. In this 8-2-1 run the Flyers have had eight fights. Scott Hartnell – perhaps the one Flyer whose combination of playing ability and pugnacious character would make him fit right in with the 1975 Flyers – leads Philadelphia with three of those eight fights. He is 10-6-16 in 17 career games against the Caps, but he has seven of those goals in his last seven games against Washington.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Laich is in a slump. He has no goals in his last eight games, one in his last 18, two in his last 26. But it is not as if Laich doesn’t know how to do this – he had nine goals in his first 21 games and is coming off two consecutive years of 20-plus goals. Last year, when he finished with 23 goals, he had two streaks of at least ten games without a goal. It’s a slump. Maybe the Flyers are the tonic. Laich has four goals in his last eight games against Philadelphia.


1. Be a frontrunner. The Flyers have the worst record in the NHL when giving up the first goal on the road (3-15-0). They’ve won one game this year when trailing after two periods (1-14-0). In this 8-2-1 run they had ten consecutive games scoring the game’s first goal before being shut out by Toronto.

2. Turn off the power. In the 8-2-1 run, the Flyers have scored at least one power play goal in eight games (12-for-35; 34.3 percent). In the eight games in which they have a power play goal, the Flyers scored a total of 41 goals (5.1/game). The three games in which they failed to get a power play goal – three goals. Seems the power play reflects the offensive rhythm the club is enjoying that night.

3. Have a bunch for brunch. OK, maybe it’s not technically “brunch,” but the term “bunch” certainly applies to the Caps lately. In their last 17 periods of regulation hockey the Caps scored two or more goals 11 times. Five times they scored at least three goals. Philly hasn’t been exactly immune to giving up the multiple goal period on this streak. Seven times in the last 18 periods they have done so. It’s one thing to have that happen against an Ottawa or a Toronto – two teams that did have multiple goal periods but rank in the lower half of the team scoring rankings. If that’s a problem against the Caps, one multiple goal period might not be the limit.

In the end, these are similar teams. Both can score, both have had issues in giving up goals. Both have potent power plays. But dig past this, and one sees that the Caps are the superior team as 5-on-5 play. And while both teams have had intermittent issues on the penalty kill, the Caps have the sixth best home penalty kill in the league (87.3 percent). But this game seems most likely to turn on what unfolds in the first period. The Caps have had comparatively sluggish first periods lately (eight goals in their last six games, their lowest scoring period overall). The Flyers don’t respond well to giving up early goals. Guess what we think will happen…

Caps 4 – Flyers 2