Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 36: Caps 5 - Devils 1

It wasn’t their best game of the season. It probably wasn’t even their best game of the month. But the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils was one of the more satisfying of the season. The Caps avenged a 5-0 loss the last time the teams met, won their second consecutive game, won in a convincing fashion, and they did so as part of a team effort.

It might have been one of those look-ahead games, what with the Penguins coming to town on Thursday, but the Capitals displayed enough focus (certainly more than they have in any home game this month) to dominate a depleted and less-skilled Devils team.

Other stuff…

-- Five different Caps scored the five goals, none of them by the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

-- 12 different players recorded points, only one of them coming from the top line (Ovechkin, an assist).

-- The Hershey Bears were ably represented on the score sheet. Andrew Gordon notched his first NHL goal and added an assist. Jay Beagle had a goal of his own. 2010 graduate John Carlson had a goal and an assist.

-- At the other end of the ice Michal Neuvirth (another 2010 graduate of Hershey) stopped 35 of 36 shots, but what was key was stopping 26 of 27 in the first two periods. In his last three appearances he has now allowed three, two, and one goals.

-- The Caps can be – or at least used to be – flashy, but the first two goals were as basic as it gets. Marcus Johansson made the play by tapping a fifth gear to catch up to the puck along the left wing boards. While Johansson was putting himself in position to make a play, Andrew Gordon drove the middle. Johansson blew past defenseman Mark Fayne to collect the puck, and Gordon beat Patrik Elias back to get position in front of goalie Martin Brodeur. Johansson sent the puck across, Gordon tapped it in, and the Caps were off and running. The second was just a matter of a player getting into position and keeping his stick on the ice. David Steckel picked up a loose puck and circled around the right wing corner boards. As he was coming to the Devils’ net, he slid the puck out to Jay Beagle at the top of the crease. The puck was laid right onto the blade of Beagle’s stick, and all that was left to do was for Beagle to wrist the puck past Brodeur.

-- That second goal was also a product of some poor judgment by Devil defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who went for the big hit on Matt Bradley as the puck was coming down the right wing boards. Bradley took a hit for the team and eased the puck ahead where Steckel picked it up to start the play that led to the score. Beagle settled into the void in the zone that might have been defended by Volchenkov, who was left high in the zone after going for the hit.

-- Only two Caps did not finish on the plus side of the ledger (Mike Green and Scott Hannan); only two Devils didn’t finish on the minus side, indicative of the fact that the Devils are an awful 5-on-5 hockey team at the moment. The Devils were outscored 5-0 at 5-on-5.

-- As if to mock the Devils at 5-on-5, the visitors had just killed their fourth and fifth shorthanded situations of the game, part of a two-fer in which they killed the 3-on-5 and 4-on-5 portions of a Caps power play. But seven seconds later after the last penalty expired, Brooks Laich sent the puck cross-ice to Tom Poti who wristed a harmless enough looking shot at the Devils’ net…except it really wasn’t a shot as much as a pass to Mike Knuble, who was one of two Caps (Mathieu Perreault the other) all alone in front of Martin Brodeur. Before Henrik Tallinder could appear in the frame, Knuble laid the blade of his stick open and redirected the puck past Brodeur for the fifth goal – the fifth even strength goal – for the Caps.

-- Of the goal scorers… John Carlson (two points), age 20. Andrew Gordon (two points), age 25. Jay Beagle (game-winning goal), age 25. The Caps are, let us remember, still a rather young team.

-- Nothing captured the relative arcs of these teams as much as the third goal for Washington. John Carlson wins a battle for the puck in the corner and pushes it out of the defensive zone. Jason Chimera picks up the puck, leaving Mark Fayne – one of 12 defensemen the Devils have used this year and playing in only his 13th NHL game – hooking Chimera in an effort to hang on for dear life. All Fayne managed to do was earn a delayed penalty (and likely a penalty shot) for his effort as Chimera steamed in on Martin Brodeur. In another season on another night, Brodeur might have foiled Chimera’s effort, but Brodeur went down early, and Chimera roofed the puck over him to give the Caps an insurance goal. The Devils…not hard enough on the puck in the offensive zone; too slow, beat up, and young on the blueline; and perhaps seeing the end in sight for a legendary goalie.

-- Alex Ovechkin has not scored a power play goal at Verizon Center this season. Tonight, he did not record a shot on any of the five Caps power plays. It is not a signature start to the season, scoring wise.  Even his assists look funky. He gets the puck poked off his stick while trying to drag it through the defenseman’s legs, John Carlson steps in behind it and leans into a shot that beats Brodeur over his shoulder. Or maybe Marty lost it in the crowd again.

-- Much has been made of Ovechkin’s various woes, but it’s not as if Nicklas Backstrom has been scorching the score sheet, either. After being blanked on the score sheet tonight, Backstrom has now gone ten games without a goal and is 0-4-4, minus-3 in those ten contests. He had three shots on goal tonight, all of them on the power play.

-- If David Clarkson leads the Devils in shots (six) and has twice as many as Patrik Elias (one) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two), combined, it comes as little surprise that the Devils have not won many games. Clarkson had as many even strength shots as Elias, Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus, combined (five).

In the end, this is what strong teams do to the weak. They get on them, get over them, and stand on their throats. Earlier this month, a 4-1 third period lead might not have been safe. But even when the game was 1-1 one had the feeling the Caps were dominating, the Devils being next to impotent at even strength. The dark cloud on this sunny scene is the top line being disengaged to the point of being almost invisible in this game. Ovechkin had four hits, but one shot on goal (he had six misses, a couple of which Brodeur would not have stopped had they been of better aim and another that went through Brodeur’s legs and out the far side past the post). Backstrom had no even strength shots on goal. Alexander Semin spent time alternately playing hockey and auditioning for the Washington Ballet. Mike Green still looks to be only about 80 percent.

That situation needs to improve, because the Caps will step up several weight classes in opponent come Thursday, hosting a team that has won 13 of 15 games and has allowed more than three goals only three times in that 15-game span. They are going to need all hands on deck. Guess we’ll find out if the Caps have shaken their December slumber. For tonight, though, they did look a lot like the Caps of last season.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One in a row! Nature has returned to its righteous state, the sun seems brighter, the air fresher, the beer colder. Right?

Hell no! We’re Caps fans!! Caps fans live their days in a constant state of dread, in fear that the Caps not only will lose – that’s a given – but will do so in the most embarrassing and ignominious way possible.


Yeah, cuz…ignominious. Means discreditable.



“Oh, like when you write blogs like this?”

Funny. But anyway, for you Caps fans, your ol’ Doc Peerless has just the thing. Tired of losing? Thinking this will be just another winter of despair? Sick of enduring the barbs of friends, coworkers, and Penguin fans?

That’s right, “Fukitol!”

When you’ve seen the Caps blow a 3-1 third period lead to lose to a crummy team in a shootout….


When another Cap has gone down to a “lower body injury” and will miss the next eight weeks…


When a defenseman gets caught up ice doing spin-o-ramas and the other guys end up on a three-on-one that ends with a goalie in a pretzel in the back of his own net with the puck under him…


When you’re trudging out of Verizon Center at the end of a bad night…


And it works for hockey players, too. If you find you can’t get to your locker because there are eight cameras counting your nose hairs for the benefit of a TV viewing public…


If the local radio stations only talk about you as the punch line of a joke…


If this week’s HBO theme is Evgeni Malkin getting five points, not your ending a long losing streak…


If fans turn on you like a junkyard dog at the first sign of trouble…


That’s right, Caps and Caps fans, if everything and everyone around you think this season will be just like the others, ending in sadness and unfulfilled promise; if every word you hear on TV or read in print says, “you suck!”; if every shred of commentary you see is an answer to the question, “what’s wrong with the Caps?” Then take a big ol’ honking “FUKITOL” pill, and just show ‘em what’s what.

And the first opportunity to do that and make this a winning “streak” comes tonight against the New Jersey Devils, who pasted the Caps 5-0 back on November 22nd in what would be goalie Braden Holtby’s last appearance before being returned to Hershey.

That big win hardly seems to have been a tonic for the Devils, who are 3-8-0 since that win. Two of those wins came via the Gimmick. The Devils are redefining the term “suck” right before our eyes (the new over-the-counter item “Suckitol” has not yet been approved for sale). Here are the overall numbers for the woeful Devils…

This team can kill penalties, but otherwise all they have been able to do is kill their own playoff chances…oh, and beat the Caps (need a “Fukitol,” cuz?). Since they did beat the Caps four weeks ago, the Devils have been outscored 31-15. Fifteen goals in 11 games. Only six of those goals have come at even strength. An even strength goal every other game? The depth of their offensive problems are difficult to contemplate…

-- No Devil is on a pace for as many as 60 points (Patrik Elias: 57).
-- No Devil is on a pace for as many as 25 goals (Jason Arnott: 23)
-- No Devil is on a pace to record more than ten power play goals (Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk: 10)
-- Nine Devils are worse than a minus-10; two are on a pace to finish worse than a minus-50 (Kovalchuk, Andy Greene: minus-54)
-- Only three Devils have more than five goals (Elias, Kovalchuk, Arnott); only one has more than five even strength goals (Arnott: 7)

You will note that Jason Arnott is featured prominently as a leader in Devils scoring, such as it is. He is currently their leading goal scorer. But he has only one goal in his last 11 games (that would be one since he had a pair against the Caps on November 22nd).

But there are signs of life amid the wreckage. Patrik Elias leads the club in points, and he is 3-5-8 in his last eight games. It is worth noting that all three goals he has were scored on the power play. Meanwhile, Ilya Kovachuk – second in goals and points for the Devils – is 4-4-8 in his last seven games and has a five-game points streak coming into this game. Three of those four goals he has were scored on the power play.

Special teams is where the Devils have been able to survive, if not flourish. Over the past seven games they are 9-for-26 on the power play (34.6 percent), while killing off 21 of 23 shorthanded situations (91.3 percent). That plus-7 on special teams means that the Devils are otherwise a minus-19. This is a brutal team (and not in the good sense of the word) at even strength.

The Devils do not have a defenseman on the plus side of the ledger, and the only one who is “even” has played in only four games and is on injured reserve (Mark Fraser). Andy Greene is dead last in the NHL in plus-minus (actually tied with teammate Ilya Kovalchuk at minus-21), and the veteran they picked up via free agency, Henrik Tallinder, is minus-17 (751st among 756 skaters). Tallinder has had two “plus” games since Halloween (20 games), and Greene has had four such games over the same period. These two happen to be the only two defensemen having played in all 32 games so far for the Devils, a team that already has employed 12 defensemen to try to stop the bleeding.

In goal, Marty’s back. Martin Brodeur has appeared in the last five games for New Jersey, going 1-4, 3.18, .892, and one shutout. The combination of New Jersey’s lost season and Brodeur’s uneven play (when not injured) has sparked some talk of Brodeur perhaps being moved, which would qualify as an earthquake in the history of this franchise.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

New Jersey: Martin Brodeur

Even last year, when the Caps were piling up points and scoring goals as if every night was an arcade game, Brodeur was 3-1-0, 2.45, .923 against Washington. This is entirely consistent with his career success against the Caps (he is 36-14-4, 2.21, .911, with six shutouts against the Caps). But he was toasted for five goals on 20 shots and was pulled after 40 minutes in the first meeting of these teams this season (the Caps’ home opener). It could be a measure of the direction of the two parties – the Caps and Brodeur – how Brodeur fares tonight against a team that has had trouble scoring and against which he has generally fared well.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

With Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr doubtful, two players who can (at least in theory) put the puck in the net will not likely be available. That puts more pressure on the Captain to end a skid that has seen him register only two goals in his last 17 games. In fact, since going 1-2-3, plus-4 against Tampa Bay on Veterans Day, Ovechkin is 3-12-15, even, in 19 games (a 13-52-65 scoring pace). Ovechkin recorded one of his two multi-goal games of the season against Brodeur and the Devils in the first meeting of the clubs this season. He needs to step up in a similar fashion in this one.


1. 5-on-5. The Caps are not the best 5-on-5 club in the league like they were last season, but the Devils are allowing more than twice as many goals as they are scoring at 5-on-5, easily the worst such record in the league. The Caps have to win this battle.

2. Limit Devil Advantages. The only way the Devils can seem to score these days is on the power play. The Caps have done a reasonable job limiting opponents’ power play opportunities lately. Do that tonight, and the Devils shouldn’t be lighting the lamp often.

3. Fukitol! Losing streak? Fukitol. Got a win last time out? Fukitol! Folks think it won’t last? Fukitol! Just go out and take your Fukitol and play the game.

In the end, this is not a competitive game, but we’ve said this before. Still, the Devils are uncommonly bad, and having won the last meeting of these teams has not transformed them into the Devils of old. This game is likely to turn on whether Marty can conjure up his inner Cap-killer. If he can’t, it will be a short, happy evening for the locals.

Caps 5 – Devils 1