Thursday, March 18, 2010

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

For 40 minutes tonight the Washington Capitals played a very good road game – they kept things simple and did not allow many chances for the other side. Their effort was rewarded with a 2-1 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes at the second intermission. Then, one of the oldest sayings in sports took hold…

“The only thing a ‘prevent defense’ prevents is winning.”

The third period did not start that way. The Caps did manage five shots on goal in the first 8:00 of the period to keep the pressure on the Hurricanes. But the Caps would not get another shot on goal over the next 9:34, during which the Hurricanes tied the game. The Hurricanes would score again to take a late lead, but Eric Fehr saved the Caps from the embarrassment of a complete third period collapse by tying the game with 9.5 seconds left to send the contest to overtime. There, Ray Whitney took advantage of the last of many blunders late, as he had nothing but clear ice between himself and goalie Semyon Varlamov, just the thing to launch a slap shot that hit Varlamov, but snuck through and crawled across the line for a 4-3 overtime win.

Bruce Boudreau said after the game that there was “a lot of good video,” suggesting that there was going to be an opportunity to show a number of guys a lot of mistakes. In the “glass half full/glass half empty” way of looking at it, the Caps got a point. On the other hand, they did not look good in doing it, especially in the last ten minutes of regulation and in overtime.

Other stuff…

-- More “glass half full/glass half empty… Joe Corvo got his first two goals as a Cap tonight, both on plays where he filled a void to take a pass and beat goalie Justin Peters before he could reset. On the other hand, he was out there getting out of position long enough to allow Chad LaRose to see the opening, sprint down the middle, take a long lead pass from Jussi Jokinen and score the go-ahead goal that should have been the game-winner in regulation.

-- Only ten of the 18 Capitals skaters had shots on goal tonight. It is one thing for defenseman Jeff Schultz not to have one – offense is not his game. But the three Caps’ centers not named “Backstrom” (Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, and David Steckel) had a total of no shots on goal and only two shot attempts.

-- Steckel had a difficult night – no shots, no points, 7-for-20 in the circle.

-- Glass half full/glass half empty… Semyon Varlamov stopped 17 of 18 shots in the game’s first 52:34, and the one goal he allowed was a tap-in from the doorstep by Eric Staal, a goal he had no chance of stopping. He stopped eight of 11 over the last 11:28, and while the defense did not play very well in front of him, the goal by Brett Carson to tie the game at two apiece was one he just cannot allow in that situation, over his right pad on the long side. And despite the defensive gaffe on the game-winner, he had a clear look at the puck and never did look as if he was set for the shot. 

-- The Caps just didn’t pay much of a price to get goals in this one. The shot graphic (from indicates only eight shots from a triangle (ok, a trapezoid), the boundaries of which are from the goal through the faceoff dots and to the top of the circles…

…the Caps had as many shots on goal from outside the faceoff dots.

-- The Caps spread it around in this respect tonight. 12 different skaters were on the ice for Carolina goals, including every defenseman (Mike Green was on for two – the third and fourth goals).

-- The Caps had one giveaway tonight, according to the official scoring.

-- The Caps had nearly as many missed shots (24) as shots on goal (28).

-- The make-shift top line – Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble, and Tomas Fleischmann – was 0-2-2, minus two, with five shots on goal. That’s not terrible, but they had a combined 11 shot attempts that did not get to the net (blocks and misses).

-- With those two assists, Backstrom climbed into a tie for third in league scoring with Sidney Crosby, both with 87 points (of course…).

-- Here is an odd snippet from this one… John Carlson skated four consecutive shifts in the second period that ended in penalties. He didn’t commit any of them, and he didn’t draw any of them.

-- Eric Fehr became the Caps’ seventh 20-goal scorer with his late tally. That makes five in his last seven games, despite getting more than 14 minutes of ice time in only one of those games.

-- The last two goals for the Hurricanes were both the product of bad reads. On the Hurricanes’ third goal, Eric Belanger attempted a shot from the top of the left wing circle, but the puck did not get through. He then circled down the middle to follow up, but got caught in a no-man’s land as Jussi Jokinen picked up the puck. Joe Corvo did not appear to cycle back in time, and both he and Mike Green were caught flat-footed as Chad LaRose broke down the middle to take Jokinen’s pass on a breakaway.

-- On the last goal, it was simply a case of the sort of miscommunications that you see an any sport – two outfielders looking at one another to take the fly ball that drops for a hit, two defensive backs taking the same receiver that allows another to break free, two defenders in basketball not making a switch on a pick play that allows a shooter an open look at the basket. In this instance, it was Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. Eric Staal cut across the top of the circles with Jeff Schultz on him. Green must have thought a switch was in order, because instead of following Ray Whitney going in the other direction with the puck, he pivoted and started after Staal. That opened up a lane right down the middle, and Whitney took advantage of it to step into the slap shot that won the game.

-- Here is your fun fact for the night. The Caps have outscored opponents this year at 5-on-5 by 182-116, by far the best ratio of for/against in the league. Great at even strength, right? Well, at 4-on-4, they have been outscored 11-5. They are 25th in the league in 4-on-4 ratio (0.45) and have given up more 4-on-4 goals than any team in the league (edit: those numbers this morning are 184-117 and 13-5, which just reinforces the point).

-- Even with all that nonsense, the Caps had the game on their sticks twice in the overtime. Only 35 seconds into the extra frame, Jason Chimera had the puck between the circles and only the goalie to beat. He shot the puck over the crossbar. Then, just over two minutes in, Fleischmann forced a turnover in the Carolina end. Brooks Laich picked up the loose puck and had an opening. Unfortunately, he has to “wrong-foot” a shot off his forehand, and Justin Peters got enough of it to turn it aside. After that, one had a feeling this would not end well for the Caps.

The Caps got a point, but the takeaway for this game is this – Jose Theodore will get the start against Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Caps will then have four days off before taking on the Penguins when they return to Verizon Center. It will be Semyon Varlamov’s turn in the rotation. The thing is, will Bruce Boudreau have made up his mind, with what will then be ten games left to play, on his number one goaltender?

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, March 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Eight days ago, the Caps hosted the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center, defeating the visitors, 4-3, in overtime. The Caps hope to prove to be as rude a visitor as they were a host tonight as the Caps head to Raleigh to take on Carolina in a rematch. This is the fifth meeting of the clubs this year, the Caps holding a 3-1 edge, although all of the wins were of the one-goal variety, and two of those were obtained in overtime. What’s more, the Caps will play tonight as Alex Ovechkin sits for the back half of his two-game unpaid vacation. Having heard that Ovechkin was “disappointed” at his having been suspended by the league for his hit on Brian Campbell last Sunday, we thought of another man who felt himself wrongly accused of a crime. We sat down with one of the most famous innocents in literature, Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, to get his take on the situation…

The Peerless Prognosticator: “Count, welcome.”

Edmond Dantes: ‘Thank you, and please, call me Ed… that ‘Count’ thing was just for the book.”

TPP: Well, Ed, you were stashed away in the Chateau d’If for a crime you did not commit. Our situation with Alex Ovechkin is a bit different – he committed the crime, but the question is the punishment. How does one handle what one feels is too stern a sentence?

ED: “I maintain my pride in the face of men, but I abandon it before God, who drew me out of nothingness to make me what I am."

TPP: An interesting piece of advice. How does one feel when the realization hits that you have been accused wrongly or, in this case, perhaps, judged wrongly?

ED: “His mind was filled with a single thought: that of his happiness destroyed for no apparent reason.”

TPP: When you came back into the world from prison, and when Ovechkin takes the ice on Saturday against Tampa Bay, what would be the natural thought one might harbor?

ED: “Farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked."

TPP: Isn’t that a bit severe? Ovechkin will still have the Stanley Cup to play for. Might this experience have benefitted him in some way?

ED: "Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss."

Ah, well, thank you, Ed. That is something to keep in mind, but for tonight, the Ovechkin-less Caps will take the ice against an old and familiar nemesis. The clubs have split 28 goals right down the middle this year, the Hurricanes holding the only multi-goal win in this year’s series (a 6-3 win at Verizon Center in December). The Caps have won both contests in Raleigh this year and look for the road sweep tonight on the heels of sweeping the season series against Florida on Tuesday.

The big factor for the Hurricanes here, one which might have crippled their faint playoff chances, was Cam Ward going down to injury in early February. Although goalies Manny Legace and Justin Peters held the fort admirably for a time, the cracks might finally be appearing. Starting with the game eight days ago against the Caps, the pair have allowed 16 goals on 136 shots (.882 save percentage). The ‘Canes are 1-2-1 in those games, and their win came in overtime (against the Penguins… thanks, guys).

Edit... the overall numbers look like this...

It would appear Justin Peters will get the call in this game in what will be a contest of rookie goaltenders (Semyon Varlamov’s number is up for this one after Jose Theodore’s win over Florida on Tuesday). Peters, a second round draft pick in 2004 (38th overall), has played in six games in this, his rookie season. He is 4-2-0, 2.35, .923 in those appearances, but in his last three he is 1-2-0, 3.34, .887. And Peters is no shrinking violet, as this kerfuffle with Alexandre Picard in February 2009 indicates…

Carolina has suffered a bit of a goal scoring letdown in the eight days since taking the Caps to overtime. They did get four against the Penguins in a 4-3 overtime win, but were shutout by Phoenix in their next outing and managed only two in a 5-2 loss to Boston on Tuesday.

One of the problems is the curious lack of production from Eric Staal. True, he participated in the Vancouver Olympic Games, but his slump predates that hiatus. Staal has one goal (against his brother Jordan’s Penguins) in his last dozen games and is 1-6-7 over that span. He could very well break out of that slump tonight, given that he is 3-5-8, plus-3 in four games against the Caps this year. He has more goals, assists, and points against the Caps this season than he has against any other opponent.

Staal’s lack of production has been mirrored by the still-here Ray Whitney, at least in the post Olympic part of the year. Since the break Whitney is 1-2-3, minus-2, in eight games. However, unlike Staal, who has had a big year against the Caps, Whitney has only a single assist in four games this season after piling up 48 points in 52 career games coming into this year. It says in the Hurricanes media guide that the most played song on his iPod is “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” The way things are going for him lately – working through a slump on a team that will end its season early and playing a team against which he hasn’t had much success this season, he might find some of that humility.

There might not be many bright spots for the Hurricanes this year, but Joni Pitkanen might at least have a dull glow about him. He is Carolina’s leading scorer from the blue line and hasn’t had a bad post-Olympic part of the season (1-2-3, plus-3 in eight games). He is still playing a ton of minutes – not fewer than 24 since the break and three times over 30 – and is within shouting distance of his career high in points. At 5-35-40, he needs seven more points to set that career mark.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Jussi Jokinen

When Jokinen potted a goal against the Caps eight days ago, it was his 16th goal in 20 games. He had not gone consecutive games without a goal since January 14th when he had his seventh straight without one. Since that goal against the Caps, Jokinen has not found the back of the net in three games. Is the run over? He is 0-0-0, minus-4 in those three games. If the Hurricanes have a shot in this one, that three game streak can’t become four.

Washington: Tomas Fleischmann

Fleischmann did not score a goal against Carolina in any of the first 19 games he faced the Hurricanes in his career. But he has goals in two of his last three against them. What he still does not have is a goal against Carolina in Raleigh. He had the game-winner in the game eight days ago against Carolina and has contributed a decent, if not outstanding, 2-2-4, plus 3 line in eight games since the Olympic break. With Alex Ovechkin out, the Caps still do not really lack for offense, but with Fleischmann assuming a bigger responsibility in Ovechkin’s absence (he played 18:29 in the last game, the most ice time he’s received since the break), his contributions are important.


1. An Empty Box. The Caps struggle as a road team on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes have the seventh highest number of home power play opportunities in the league this season. Washington has the seventh highest number of shorthanded situations faced on the road. That is a potentially dangerous mix. Stay – out – of – the – box.

2. Steady wins the race. In four games since his return from injury, Semyon Varlamov’s save percentages have gone: .786, .862, .885, .889. Now, that won’t get you a seat on an all-star game bench, but it is consistent improvement. Here is the thing to watch. In his first three games back he allowed a total of seven third period goals. Last time out – none. He’s got to be able to slam the door in the third period.

3. Speaking of third periods… Carolina has allowed 83 third period goals this year. That is third worst in the league. The Caps have scored 98 third period goals this year, 11 more than the second place team. Carolina has played the Caps tough this year – three one-goal games and a three-goal win. But if this game is close after two, the Caps have quite a third period advantage.

In the end, the snow has melted, the cherry blossoms are about to bloom, and teams in Carolina’s situation are starting to look forward to getting outdoors and whacking a dimpled ball through the pines. The Caps, even without Alex Ovechkin, are a formidable team, especially capable of wreaking havoc on a goalie who has never faced them. Don’t be surprised if Carolina has to use two goaltenders tonight…

Caps 6 – Hurricanes 2