Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A ONE-point night -- Game 50: Rangers 2 - Caps 1 (OT/Gimmick)

When the kid goalie stops 28 of 29 shots, the only one getting past him the product of a fluke deflection, his team is supposed to win the game. Well, that’s not the way things worked out for the Washington Capitals last night as the effort in goal by rookie call-up Braden Holtby was wasted in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers last night at Verizon Center.

Aesthetically, the game was like watching a performance art depiction of a root canal, a game that was played just the way the Rangers wanted it – zone to zone, not much flow, and few in the way of real scoring chances. If the Caps could take anything away from this game it was that it was a whole lot better performance against the Rangers than the last time the teams met, a 7-0 blowout in Madison Square Garden captured in living HD color for HBO’s 24/7 series on the Winter Classic.

The Caps had the better of the chances, even in the quicksand environment the Rangers chose to provide on defense. Cross-ice feeds to players heading to the net were the featured menu item for the Caps, and it clicked once, when Marcus Johansson found Matt Hendricks streaking to the Ranger net, Hendricks poking the puck behind Ranger goalie Martin Biron, who was giving Henrik Lundqvist the night off.

That goal, coming in the second minute of the second period, might have held up for the Caps. However, an odd bounce put an end to those hopes late in the third period. Brian Boyle sent a harmless enough looking shot toward the Capitals’ net, where Marian Gaborik was circling to get into scoring position. The puck pinballed around, hit Gaborik in the shoulder (or so the referee would tell Caps Coach Bruce Broudreau later) and over Holtby’s shoulder into the net. Caps fans might say that Gaborik found inside position on Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, but Alzner did a fairly good job of keeping Gaborik from getting his body into anything resembling a position to convert a rebound. It just happened to be one of those hockey plays that happen once in a while that defy analysis.

It was then left to an overtime that went scoreless and the skills competition, where goals by Wotek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello for the Rangers were offset by goals from Matt Hendricks and Nicklas Backstrom. After the teams traded misses, it was left to Artem Anisimov, who backhanded the puck past Holtby for his first career shootout goal and the game-winner for the Rangers.

Other stuff…

-- The power play continues to, well…stink. Two opportunities, one shot on goal. The Caps are now 3-for-26 in the 2011 portion of the season (11.5 percent) and are 9-for-85 (10.6 percent) since recording two power play goals against Carolina on the day after Thanksgiving.

-- Alex Ovechkin did everything right last night in terms of creating space for his shot…except putting it in the net. He had several good look going against the grain, which is a move most teams have been taking away from him. He did not, however, have a shot on goal in the third period, in fact had only one attempt.

-- Generally, Ovechkin is going to get his shots – six last night. But that total was more than a quarter of all the shots on goal for the Caps last night. And if Matt Hendricks is second in shots (four), leaving 13 shots on goal for the other 16 skaters, it doesn’t bode well for an offensive breakout. Alexander Semin…come back!

-- OK, the defensive responsibility thing we get. We are a proponent of “defense wins championships.” And there is a glimmer of hope here. Since the Caps lost to the Rangers 7-0 on December 12th they have allowed only 34 goals in 18 games (1.89/game). In decisions in regulation over that time they are 9-3. But they also have played in six extra session games, losing them all – four in overtime, two in the skills portion. They are 4-1-6 in one-goal decisions over that time, those six extra time losses in six tries being the problem. But…

-- Had the Caps’ power play been working at, say, 20 percent instead of ten percent (not unreasonable given that the Caps worked their power play to 25.2 percent efficiency last season), they would have eight more goals over these last 18 games. Given that the Caps lost six games in extra time over that stretch and lost another game by one goal in regulation, that 9-3-6 record might be 12-3-3 or better, had the Caps done anything consistently on the power play. And those extra three points would have them at the top of the Southeast, three points behind Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia. You cannot say that improved defense has come at the expense of offense when it is the power play that is underperforming.

In the end, the Caps had their chances and simply did not convert them. You would like to see them get more power play opportunities than the two they had last night, but we’re not sure if it matters when they are getting one shot in four minutes of extra-man time. Last night’s game was one more of will than skill, and in that regard the Rangers willed the style of the game more to their liking. But if the Caps could have mounted any more pressure on their own power play – even with only two opportunities presenting themselves – it might not have come down to an odd bounce and a Gimmick.

A quick programming note...we'll be away from this space until after the All-Star Game, but you have no shortage of coverage of the Caps. Check out that list on the right for some of the best Caps reportage around.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 49: Caps 4 - Maple Leafs 1

When a club is having a good game, everyone contributes. The scorers score, the grinders grind, and goaltenders tend goal. And that was the case tonight as the Washington Capitals skated to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

Alex Ovechkin recorded his first hat trick of the season and his first in 349 days since potting three in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 7, 2010. Ovechkin was the most visible of the scorers for the Caps, but he was hardly alone. With Alexander Semin still out, the other “Young Guns” were heard from. Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists to go with a plus-3, and Mike Green added an assist in going plus-3 himself.

The prettiest goal, though, was scored by Matt Hendricks, who had Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere at his mercy on a breakaway. Hendricks offered up a leg kick, pulled Giguere out to the goalie’s left, yanked the puck back, then stuffed it past Giguere’s left pad with the goalie left with little to do by look back and see the puck sliding into the net.

At the other end, Braden Holtby was equal parts amazing and the lake of calm. He had 35 saves on 36 shots, which makes 59 saves on 61 shots in his last two games (.967 save percentage). If the Caps can keep him away from Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth so he doesn’t catch a case of groinfluenza, the Caps could weather this storm to their goaltending in better shape than one might have had a reason to expect.

Other stuff…

-- Holtby will get credit for 35 saves on 36 shots, but it might really have been 34 on 36. Why?  If you look closely, when he makes a glove save in the third period, it looked as if the webbing portion of his glove had crossed the goal line.  There was no review

-- The eight shots on goal by Ovechkin was the most for him against a non-Southeast team since getting eight in a 4-1 loss to Boston on October 21st. It was his third multi-goal game of the season, his first since getting two against Calgary on October 30th.

-- Backstrom recorded his second consecutive multi-point game (two assists), his fifth consecutive game with a point (1-6-7), and the tenth game he has at least one point in his last 13 contests (1-11-12).

-- It was an uneven game for Backstrom, who also took a pair of minors, lost ten of 13 draws, and had only two shot attempts (one on goal).

-- Twelve skaters recorded a total of 27 blocked shots. Five had at least three, including Ovechkin.

-- Choking off three Maple Leaf penalties makes the Caps 48-for-52 in killing penalties (92.3 percent) over their last 13 games, and three of the four power play goals allowed came in one game (4-3 overtime loss to Florida on January 11th). The Caps are now second in the league in penalty killing, trailing only Pittsburgh.

-- A comparison… Marcus Johansson skated six shifts in the third period for 4:31 in ice time. Mathieu Perreault skated two shifts for 1:19, none in the last 16:36.

-- Over on the other side, Mike Komisarek got three shifts in the second, three in the third and had almost ten fewer minutes than the next Toronto defenseman in ice time (Carl Gunnarsson). What’s up there?

-- Playing rope-a-dope is one thing, but allowing shots by period of 6-11-19 can playing with fire.

-- Braden Holtby is an active goalie who likes to get involved and play the puck, but it was J-S Giguere who had three giveaways to Holtby’s one.

-- And speaking of Holtby, he’s been like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good (in four wins he has a GAA of 1.26 and a save percentage of .956. When he’s bad, he’s very, very bad. In three losses (one in overtime) he has a GAA of 4.98 and a save percentage of .800.

-- Toronto is the mecca of hockey, or so it is said, but what’s up with the waffles and the keys hitting the ice after the Ovechkin hat trick? No pants lint? Pizza coupons? Pet chew toys?

-- The refs had an interesting game… six penalties (four minors and two coincidental fighting majors) called in the first period, one (and that for an obvious too-many-men penalty) in the last 40 minutes, and that came 79 seconds into the second period.

In the end, the Caps have followed up their sluggish start to 2011, capped off with a three-game losing streak that left them 2-2-2 in their first half dozen games in 2011, with a 3-0-1 mark in their last four, 2-0-1 on this three-game road trip. As long as the regular season lasts, the Caps are going to have questions attached to their ability to defend and stop pucks. But the Caps have now gone 17 games in which they allowed more than three goals in regulation once, a loss to Vancouver. They have allowed 35 goals in that span (2.06/game) and are 9-3-5 in the process, a 111-point pace over 82 games.

This was, if not a perfect game, as complete a game as the Caps have played lately, and it was good to see Ovechkin finally break out, even if this is but one game. You can’t score in two in a row before you score in one, though, and it will be interesting to see how he fares on Monday against the Rangers, now that he is 4-2-6, plus-5 in his last three games. With eight points separating the top seven teams in the East – the Rangers sitting in that seventh slot – it should be interesting indeed.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Maple Leafs, January 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Ugh…this can’t be the flu. We had our flu shots this year. But we have been hacking all night, making us feel something less than “peerless.” But out of lemons, we make lemonade, which brings us to what we found to help us – and you, dear reader – fight a pesky cough between sips of a favorite adult beverage while watching a hockey game.

According to “natural-homeremedies.com” we might try…

-- Filling one cut lemon with black pepper powder and salt, then sucking on it to reduce the intensity of the cough. No mention of whether this is supposed to be performed with shots of tequila.

-- Regularly eating grapes for a number of days to tone up the lungs. Wonder if this works if we just have a couple of bottles of Mad Dog 20/20.

-- Taking a couple of pinches of black pepper, long pepper, and dry ginger in equal proportions, mixing them, then taking them with honey two or three times a day. We’ll have to give Honey a call and see if she’s game.

-- In winter, eating garlic at night a couple of times a week. We think we’d be eating alone after a short while.

-- Gargling with warm spinach juice…well, I yam what I yam.

-- Chewing four leaves of holy basil and four black peppers. “Holy basil?” Sounds like something someone would say if they didn’t want to swear.

-- Extracting the juice of onions and mixing it with honey to make a cough syrup. No…Honey’s not going for that one.

Well, the search goes on. Meanwhile, the Caps wind up their three-game road swing with a visit to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Having gone 1-1-2 in their first four road games of the season, the Caps head to Toronto with a chance to head home 2-0-1 on this trip and go 3-1-2 on the road in the new year (the overtime loss overlapping the first and second group of games).

For the Maple Leafs 2011 has been something of a roller-coaster so far. After splitting a pair of decisions to open the new year the Leafs went on a four-game winning streak and treated the scoreboard like a pinball machine gone mad in the process. In those four games Toronto scored 21 goals. But in those games the seeds were planted for another streak. In the four game winning streak the Maple Leafs also allowed 12 goals, a signal that the defense and goaltending was barely keeping up with the offense. The scoring dried up in the next three games, all Toronto losses. The Maple Leafs scored only 2 goals in the three losses while allowing 13 scores, including seven goals in a nightmarish 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers last Wednesday. The overall numbers tell the story…

At the top of the scoring rankings for the Maple Leafs is Clarke MacArthur, mild mannered man by day, but at night transformed into a defender of truth, justice, and the Canadian Way (kinda like Clark Kent, but, well…different). MacArthur seems to have been glad to turn the page on to a new year. Since January 1st he is 6-6-12, plus-3 in ten games, including a pair of three-point games. One of those three-point games came in MacArthur’s last contest, in which he scored a goal and recorded two assists in a 5-2 win over Anaheim last Thursday. He had a pair of goals, including the game tying goal with less than 90 seconds left in regulation, in a 5-4 Gimmick win over the Caps on December 6th. Those two goals left him 6-1-7 in 14 career games against the Caps.

Phil Kessel is having an interesting sort of a season. He started the year as hot as a pistol (or maybe one of those cough remedies), scoring seven goals in his first eight games. Then…nothing. He went his next seven games without a point. He followed that up by going 3-2-5 in his next six. See a pattern? Even in the short stretch of games to start 2011 Kessel has been the epitome of “streaky.” He started the year 5-3-8 in his first six games,but he is without a goal in his last four. He did have a pair of assists in the 5-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday, so he might be starting one of his “good” streaks. Overall, though, it is odd to see a player who has 19 goals and 33 points, yet is still a minus-15 for the season (worst among Toronto forwards).

Speaking of “minus,” one of the questions – not a big one, mind you, but a question nonetheless – is whether defenseman Brett Lebda will get a sweater. Lebda, who was signed away from the Detroit Red Wings last summer as a free agent to a two-year contract, has put up a season of Mikkelsonian proportions. Even though Lebda has appeared in only 22 games this season and is averaging barely 14 minutes a game in that number of contests, he is a minus-19. He has not had a “plus” game this season. He has no chance of challenging the NHL record for worst plus-minus, held by former Cap Bill Mikkelson, but the faint echo of such a legendary season can be heard.

In goal, the Maple Leafs have two compelling stories. The first concerns Jonas Gustavsson – “The Monster.” Except no one is calling him that these days, unless it refers to his goals-against average. His 3.29 goals against average ranks him 41st among 44 goaltenders ranked by the NHL. In 23 appearances this season he has allowed at least four goals nine times, including four of his last six. In those last six appearances he is 2-4-0, 4.24, .864, and the one time he did play well in that stretch it was against the New Jersey Devils (29 saves on 30 shots in a 4-1 win on December 26th), the most anemic offense in the NHL. Is this the immediate future of Maple Leaf goaltending?

The reason that question gets asked is that the term “trade” seems to be popping up more and more often with the other Maple Leaf netminder, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. A year after having been obtained in trade from the Anaheim Ducks, Giguere is now on the brink of unrestricted free agency. With $36.3 million committed to 11 roster spots for next season (according to capgeek.com) and Giguere currently earning $6.0 million a year, he isn’t returning to the Maple Leafs without having to take a substantial pay cut. So, despite his being the better choice in goal for the Leafs these days, the question isn’t so much whether he is or will be the number one goaltender for Toronto, but (having given indications he will waive his no-trade clause) where he will finish this season. Having stopped 26 of 28 shots in the 5-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday, he could be “showcased” against the Caps tonight.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Colton Orr

Whether it is coincidence or not, the Maple Leafs are 8-4-1 in game this season in which Orr has recorded a fighting major. He took on D.J. King of the Caps 12:25 into the second period of the last meeting of these teams on December 6th. After that bout the Leafs outscored the Caps 3-1 over the last 27:35 before winning the game in the skills competition. Coincidence, perhaps. Or do the Leafs just draw strength from this guy? Orr has never recorded a point against the Caps in his 17 career games against Washington, but he does have 45 penalty minutes in those games. His contribution might have nothing to do with his own scoring line.

(Note: Mirtle reports via Twitter that Orr is out with a concussion and will be replace in the lineup by Jay Rosehill)

(Note, Part Deux...now he is on injured reserve.  The Leafs have no chance) 

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The big stage. Ovechkin has shined in such venues so far in his career, and games against Toronto are no exception. In 21 career games against the Maple Leafs, Ovechkin is 20-15-35, including a goal and two assists in two games this season. Every time Ovechkin puts a pair of games together with points, we’re thinking that maybe now he is breaking out of his season-long slumber (well, by his standards). We thought it around Thanksgiving when he was 2-7-9 over a seven-game stretch. Again in late December when he was 2-4-6 over a six-game run. Well, now he has consecutive games with points (1-2-3 against Philadelphia and the Islanders), so perhaps now… However, Ovechkin has not had a goals-scored streak of longer than three game this season (and that one came in Games 2-4 of the season in October) and has had only four occasions this season in which he scored goals in consecutive games. Might be time to start a streak tonight.


1. Crowd Control. With the Caps scoring first against the Islanders on Thursday, Toronto now occupies the 29th spot in the league in number of times scoring first in games (18 in 46 games). Don’t let the Maple Leafs get the crowd into things early.

2. Accept Presents When Offered. Toronto has the third highest number of home giveaways this season. That can be an arbitrary statistic, influence by the differences in official scoring from city to city, but the Leafs are not the most responsible team with the puck. Couple that with the fact that the Caps have the tenth highest number of takeaways on the road this season, and turnovers could play a big role here.

3. Discipline. It is nice that the Caps have risen to third in the league in penalty killing. It would be nicer if they didn’t have to use it as much. Since holding the Boston Bruins without a power play opportunity on December 18th, the Caps have faced 58 shorthanded situations – 4.1 per game. They faced three such situations in their last six games. Toronto might struggle overall on offense, but they have the sixth best home power play in the league. Don’t give them the chance to show why they are.

In the end, it is time to stop thinking of the Caps as an explosive offense, unless by explosive you think of a team that hasn’t scored more than three goals in more than a month and has done so only three times in 23 games since December 1st. At the moment the Caps are a team that, when they are on their game, grinds out 3-2 or 2-1 wins. Until it changes, we don’t see it changing.

Caps 3 – Maple Leafs 2

Friday, January 21, 2011

The NHL Guardian League Will Now Come to Order

OK, settle down…I’d like to bring this inaugural meeting of The NHL Guardian League to order.

Hey, who made YOU the chair, anyway? Just because you’re from Washington, that don’t make you in charge, Capital.

Someone has to do it. Besides, who is going to do it…you?

Well, I am The King…the regal ambassador of The City of Angels.

No, you’re a ticket taker at the Regal Cinemas at the Oxnard Mall.

Well, how about me?

You? The “bold, brazen lightning rod of the Florida Gulf Coast?” One fuse blows, and you’re in the dark, pal. And here’s a tip, Lightning…that whole blue Mohawk thing…makes you look like an extra from the road show of Freaks on Ice.


Will someone help up The Oiler before his oil slick spreads all over the room?

Oh, and will someone get The Predator a handkerchief or something…he’s drooling that radioactive plasma all over the table. We have to eat here!

Did someone say, “eat?”

Hey Blackhawk – you who control the element of wind – the last time we ordered in, we were smelling your “wind” for the rest of the afternoon. Can we get back to business?...

Move over…

What? I’m just sittin’ here.

You’re touching me!

No I’m not, now pay attention.

I said…move over!


Hey! You two want to knock it off? Pipe down, Bruin…last time you roared you petrified half the room, and besides, you know Hurricane…he’s got that whole personality “as wild as the weather” thing going, which is fine as long as you don’t upset him. So let’s all be nice and quiet and…


Penguin, what is your problem?

It’s The Devil…he gave me hot foot and melted my ice sheet.

Devil, look…we’ve been over this. We know you’re the “underworld maverick” and “master matter manipulator,” but you’ve got to stop going around playing these pranks on your fellow Guardians. It looks bad on all of us, you know?

Hey, I’m The Devil…I’m supposed to be bad. Kinda goes with the suit, right?

I’m hungry.

You’re always hungry Wild. OK, maybe we can agree on lunch. What do we want?



Ok, Ok…settle down, Shark. I don’t think…what’s that racket out there?


Red Wing. That whole “power of a formula one racer and a fighter jet” thing is getting really old. Bunch of noisy crap is what it is. And he looks like he’s pedaling a Schwinn, not racing a Formula One car.

Can I sonar blast him?

No, Canuck, you can’t.

Awwwww….this Guardian League is no fun.

So sayeth the “resident guardian sage.”

Hey, don’t go jumping all over Canuck like that. You have something against Canada?

Settle down, Canadien. You might be a big deal as the legendary protector of Quebec, but don’t get your bleu, blanc, et rouge in a bunch.

Hey guys…guys…look. I got a new weapon.

Uh, Blue Jacket, we know you are supposed to have a dazzling array of weaponry, but this is bordering on creepy. What is it this time?

Hey, Blue Jacket, is that a large hadron collider in your pants, or are you just glad to be here?

Shut up, Lava Balls.

Make me!

Alright, that’s enough, Flame. I think it’s getting just a little bit tense in here.

I might be able to help with that, Capital.

Uh, yeah… Star. You’re the new one, aren’t you? Well, I understand you can manipulate magnetic tension fields, but let’s just hold off on that for now. You’re new here, and maybe you need to settle in. You got here in pretty good time.

The solar winds were with me.

That’s good. Now… ok, who took my notes?


Flyer! Practicing that telekinesis thing again, I see. OK, where’d you put my notes for the meeting? And will you PLEASE not bring that titanium eagle pet of yours to our meetings? He’s crapping all over the table.

Hey, let me clean that up…

Uh, thanks Sabre. Your being able to manipulate water comes in handy from time to time. Now guys, here’s the deal. We’re going to have 10 more Guardians joining the league soon, and…

I’m not giving up my chair.

No one is asking you to, Bruin. Besides, the last thing we want is to make you start roaring again and turning the whole operation a bunch of petrified statues. What I’m saying is…

Did we decide on lunch?


Now cut that out!

OK, OK…Shark, we’re not having sushi, we haven’t even…

I’d like some sushi…

Yeah, we know, Penguin. But that fish-breath of yours would stop a sea elephant.

I vote Tex-Mex.

You ALWAYS vote Tex-Mex, Flame.

Hey, what can I say, I like spicy hot food.

Just bottled water for me.

Bottled water for Sabre…now, can we please get on with our business? Now what’s the next item on the agenda?

First item, you mean…some chairman YOU are.

OK, Penguin, you think you’re the top dog around here just because Bettman likes you best, but you… hey, who’s flashing the lights on and off?....LIGHTNING!

I love that bit!

Makes a seven-foot tall bird just want to let out a sonic scream….

Law and Order

Yesterday the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with state law enforcement officials and agents, arrested more than 120 alleged members of the Mafia, including many reputed high-ranking members of the five “families” based in New York.

The arrests, the latest effort in a decades-long effort on the part of the FBI to crack down on organized crime, lifted the curtain a bit once more on the culture of organized crime and its affection for attention-grabbing nicknames. Names like Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo, Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, and Richard “Ritchie Nerves” Fusco were caught up in the largest mob sweep in U.S. history.

The crimes of which these dozens of alleged criminals are accused are some of the more violent in the criminal code – murder, robbery, extortion -- in addition to other, lesser crimes. One of the mobsters charged is accused of killing two men over a spilled drink at a bar in Queens 30 years ago. Another is charged with killing a man and his dog in a 1992 break-in. Then there are the various “execution-style” slayings that are sprinkled among the charges.

It is a heinous group, indeed. But an anonymous source at the Justice Department tells us that the job is not yet complete. One more hood remains on the Department’s radar, but he has not yet been arrested owing to the Department’s efforts to ensure all procedures are followed to the letter so that no technicalities can be invoked to win his freedom from justice.

The unnamed source was quoted as saying that “for all the ‘Tony Bagel’s,’ Johnny Pizza’s,’ Jimmy Gooch’s,’ and 'Vito Love’s' we picked up*, and for all the unspeakable crimes they committed, this guy we’re waiting on might be the worst of all.” The source then went on to describe the crime on which he will be arrested – a night-time assault in a public place, a premeditated hit-and-run attack on an unsuspecting pillar of the local community that left him crumpled on the ground, and even now leaves him incapacitated. “The guy never saw it coming…wasn’t even one of the families, not even an American – just a good guy, what they call a ‘good Canadian boy,’ a hero in the community,” said the source.

Another source identified the alleged assailant… David “Davey Shoulder Pads” Steckel, reputed to be a member of a family independent of the five New York families -- “La Capsa Nostra.” Steckel – along with fellow family members such as Alex “The Butcher” Ovechkin, Michal “Mickey the Glove” Neuvirth, and Matt “Matty Stitches” Hendricks – has been under surveillance by law enforcement officials and the object of much media reporting since his alleged assault on January 1st.

*  These, by the way, are real names from the indictments.

s/t to Japers' Rink for linking to the article in the National Post

Who ARE These Guys?

Mathieu Perreault
Jay Beagle
Braden Holtby
Brian Fahey

All were in the lineup or made the trip with the Caps to Long Island last night.  Combined, they have played a total of 91 games this year...

...for the Hershey Bears.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of the Hershey Bears, here is one of the things that can make the game confounding.  On the one hand, the Bears have scored 132 goals in 40 games.  Their arch-rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have 139 goals in 42 games.  Bears...97 goals allowed.  Penguins...95 goals allowed.

And yet, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 17 points ahead of the Bears.

A TWO-point night -- Game 48: Caps 2 - Islanders 1

Now, wasn’t that better?

The Washington Capitals did something they have rarely done in recent weeks – they scored first. Jason Chimera’s tip-in of an Alex Ovechkin feed less than four minutes into the game started things off against the New York Islanders last night. Nicklas Backstrom scored on a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot in the fourth minute of the second period, and Braden Holtby made it stand up by turning away 24 of 25 shots to earn the 2-1 win over the Islanders last night in Uniondale, NY.

Not really much to say about this one. It was basic recipe for a win on the road. Get a lead, add to a lead, make other team play catch-up, choke off whatever opportunities they get, play smart and mistake-free hockey down the stretch. Bake for 60 minutes, serve up two points in the standings.

Other stuff…

-- Four little words. Go… to… the… net. That’s how the Caps got their goals last night. Nothing pretty. Jason Chimera charging down the middle as Nicklas Backstrom dropped the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who then sent it across for the tip in. Then, Ovechkin curled in on Islander goalie Rick DiPietro and got a shot off with Backstrom trailing right behind, putting himself in a position to swat the loose puck into the net before DiPietro could recover. Total distance traveled by the two pucks… 16 feet. About the distance from your recliner to your HDTV screen.

-- For the time being (and that is usually the operative clause in such things), this Jason Chimera on the top line thing seems to be working. He had six shots on goal for the game, twice as many as his linemates – the more renowned Alex Ovechkin (one) and Nicklas Backstrom (two) – combined. It’s called taking advantage of opportunities, both in terms of playing with such talent and in jumping into plays when attention is paid by opponents to that other talent.

-- Normally we would look at 44 total shot attempts and think, “where was the offense?” Not so much last night, and here is why. The Islanders ended up with more errant shot attempts (31 – 20 shots blocked and 11 misses) than shots on goal (25). The Islanders might not provide the highest caliber of competition, but nevertheless, the Caps played a fine defensive game in front of Braden Holtby.

-- Holtby was not called upon the make the ten-bell save. And in those 25 shots he faced, Holtby never had to face two Islander shots within ten seconds of one another. He had the opportunity to face the shots one at a time and have his teammates clear away the trash.

-- Continuing on that theme, the Islanders managed only three shots on goal in the last 13:51. Rather amazing considering that the Caps were busy defending a one-goal lead.

-- One of the reasons the Caps might have been able to deny the Islanders their offensive chances?... The Caps were 14-for-22 on faceoffs in the defensive zone.

-- Do Marcus Johansson’s faceoff numbers have to count? He was 0-for-6 in the circle. Take that away, and the Caps were 34 up and 15 down. Shoot, even Mathieu Perreault was 5-for-7.

-- For a guy who was iffy all the way up through the pre-game skate, John Erskine did alright. 15 minutes and four blocked shots for the game. OK, he did have a holding penalty.

-- And that was the flaw in this gem on defense. Six minor penalties taken, five of them of the obstruction variety (two holds, a hook, interference, and a tripping call). Better opponents take advantage of that.

-- But back to blocked shots. The Caps had 20, and Mike Green had more than a third of them (seven). Two of them came in the last minute of play, both on attempts by Kyle Okposo.

-- Could anyone play a quieter 22:31 than Jeff Schultz did last night? No points, no shots, no shot attempts, no hits, no turnovers, no turnovers created… oh, and no goals scored when he was out there.

-- And then there is Scott Hannan. Three hits, three takeaways, a blocked shot, and a plus-1. Hannan has not been a “minus” player since December 18th, a period covering 14 games (plus-5). This after being a minus player in six of his first eight games with the Caps (minus-9).

-- In the “lots of heat, but no light” category, there was John Tavares for the home team. Five shots on goal, seven attempts, a giveaway, a takeaway, a blocked shot, 15 draws taken (winning six). For all that, no points and a minus-1.

-- It’s not so much that the Caps had only two power plays, or that they had only four power play shots. It is that none of the four shots came from Ovechkin or Backstrom. One could like, so to speak, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson both getting opportunities from inside ten feet, though.

-- On the other side of that equation, allowing six power plays was a problem. But allowing only seven shots on goal on those six power plays over a full 12 minutes of time… not bad.

In the end, if you think “defense wins championships,” then this was the game for you. The Caps played a superior defensive game (absent the penalties). They gave their goaltender good looks at shots and kept the opponent from shooting in flurries. They choked the life out of the Islanders, holding them to a total of 14 shots on goal in the last 43:46 of the game. It was a welcome win, the Caps first road win indoors in 2011. It put them over .500 on the road at 10-9-3. That might not seem like much until you realize that the Caps were 14 games over .500 on the road last season. Now, do it again in Toronto on Saturday, and a 2-0-1 road trip will look pretty good, indeed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It could happen

Over at Japers' Rink, they do a daily feature called "The Noon Number."  And today's number is "34," which is the total number of times the Caps and Islanders, who face each other tonight, have scored the first goal in a game this season.  They rank 29th (Caps with 18) and 30th (Isles with 16) in the league in getting on the board first.  Given their respective lack of competency in getting that first goal, we posted the following over at the Rink as a potential scenario, and offer it up for your consideration...

First period…. Isles outshoot Caps 18-4, hit six posts and crossbar…neither team scores

Second period…Caps outshoot Isles 14-2, Ovechkin hits two posts and the crossbar — on the same shot!

Third period…Isles have goal disallowed for closing hand on puck and throwing it in net. Caps have goal disallowed for…well, “something,” according to referee Ghislain Hebert.

Overtime…neither team gets a shot on goal…neither team takes a shot on goal. They heard it wasn’t permitted.





Okposo…skates to wrong net, it’s been awhile since he did this

…we move to further action…

round eight…Steckel…snap (splinters stick)

Konopka…punches Holtby, shoots puck in…disallowed

Hendricks…glides in, ready to shoot, and helmet falls in his eyes…whiffs

Martin…falls down at center ice out of nervousness, curls up in ball… “NO! I DON’T WANNA!!”

…we move to further action…

Round 14… Alzner…won’t go out if he’s not wearing his lucky muttonchop facial hair style

Jon Sim…uh, JON SIM!…(yell louder, he’s trying to hook up with a team in Europe)

…we move to further action…

Round 19… Ovechkin…clang!



Okposo…skates to Zamboni entrance, shoots…will say later it looked wider

Call is placed to Toronto….“can goalies participate in the shootout?” “Hey, why the $#@% not…can’t be worse than what we’re looking at up here.”

Holtby…spends two minutes going through rituals, referee says, “OK, pal, you’re through”

DiPietro…skates in, collapses…injures knee, hip, wrist, and fractures something called a “hyoid bone”

…we move to further action…

It’s 3:30 am…all the fans are gone. The Zamboni driver is gone. The arena manager is telling the referee he wants to turn out the lights. When, from somewhere on the main concourse, a player rushes down the steps, hops over the boards with no prodding, takes the puck, skates in, and SCORRRRRREEEESSSS!!! Who could it be?…

The Islanders complain that he is still listed on injured reserve. A call is put in to Toronto for a ruling. They left hours ago…goal stands, everyone goes home.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Islanders: January 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the middle game of the three-game road trip for the Washington Capitals as they visit the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the New York Islanders tonight. If the Caps are a nicked up bunch these days with both goalies and several skaters on or gingerly getting off the shelf, the Islanders are the aftermath of a disaster movie. At least six players on injured reserve and several others “questionable” for tonight’s contest. Only two Islanders have played in all 44 games to date – Matt Moulson and Zenon Konopka.

What could possibly account for such a rash of injuries on one team? To get to the bottom of that question we consulted one of hockey’s most esteemed commentators and curmudgeonly personalities, “The Coach”…Ron Berry.

“Call me ‘Peaches.’”

OK…Peaches, what is it that causes a team to endure such a string of injuries as have befallen the Islanders this season?

“It’s the players. Who do you think is doing it? They have no respect.”

What do you mean?

“It’s like a play where the kid meant to hit him. He saw him, he didn't say he set him up, but he hit him. If you hit something, you look back, what did I hit? He knew he hit him.”

But Ron, is that all players? And do they have an ax to grind with the Islanders?

“Well, no. You don’t find good Canadian boys doing that sort of thing.”

So that narrows it down. But can you be more specific? Who is out there taking Islanders out of the lineup one by one.

“Well, I’m not going to name names, but there is one player in this league who has every other player’s head on a swivel looking for his next cheap head shot.”

And that is…

Uh, Ron?  The Caps have played only one game against the Islanders this season, and Dave Steckel only played 12 minutes.

"But it was an evil 12 minutes."

He had one hit.

"Wiped out the whole bench."

You making this up as you go along?

"Pretty much." 

It is unfortunate for the Islanders that their season started in October instead of on, say, Beethoven’s birthday (December 16th). You want to talk about your brutal starts. The Islanders actually got off to a promising start to the season, going 4-1-2 in their first seven games. Then they lost the rest of October (four games). That was merely prelude to a November that was almost lost in its entirety (1-7-3, the Isles “salvaging” the month with a win in their last game of the month). Even a coaching change in mid-month – Jack Capuano in for Scott Gordon – couldn’t reverse the trend. Then they started December with six more consecutive losses. All told, after their 4-1-2 start they went 1-17-3.

But starting on December 16th, with a 3-2 win over Anaheim, the Islanders are 9-5-2 over their last 16 games. Over those 16 games they scored 48 goals and allowed the same number. But they have managed to win the close ones, going 5-1-2 in one-goal decisions. Three of their five regulation losses over this stretch have come by at least three goals. The overall numbers look like this:

As for the two survivors on “Survivor: Uniondale,” Matt Moulson and Zenon Konopka represent two ends of the hockey style continuum. Moulson is second on the club in goals scored (14) and is fourth in total points (26). He is not the most physical of players, if you measure that sort of thing by penalty minutes. His 16 minutes ranks 15th on the team, and of his eight minors only a couple of high-sticking calls can be considered of the physical variety. He can be a pesky offensive player, especially at home where he has eight of his 14 goals in 21 games on friendly ice. He also shows up in close games, with eight of his 14 goals coming when the Isles are down a goal or tied. He might not have the glowing resume or upside of a John Tavares, but Moulson is a player who bears watching, although in five career games against the Caps he has only one goal (1-0-1).

Zenon Konopka is at the other end of the spectrum. He is not much of a scorer (1-5-6 in 44 games this season, seven goals in 157 career games), but he is physical. His 148 minutes in penalties leads the league, and his 14 fighting majors ranks second. Even his minors seem a bit major – two roughing calls, kneeing, cross-checking, boarding, and a pair of goalie interference penalties. Four misconducts and a game misconduct are the cherry on top of this sundae. He is also second on the team in both hits and blocked shots, and he is fifth in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage. He will do a lot of the dirty work so that the scorers can do what they do.

It probably says something that the Islanders’ leading scorer among defensemen is now playing for Montreal. James Wiesniewski was traded to the Canadiens on December 29th for a second-round pick in 2011 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2012. That leaves Andy MacDonald as the Isles resident leading scorer from the blue line, and he doesn’t have a goal yet this season. All 14 points have come via helpers. No other defenseman has as many as ten points. Then again, no Islander defenseman has yet to play in 35 games this season, either.

Spreading playing time around hasn’t spared the goaltenders, either. New York has four goalies who have appeared in at least five games. One of them is now playing in Tampa Bay (Dwayne Roloson, who leads the Islanders still with 20 appearances). The Islanders have had an odd rotation of goalies so far this month. In the eight games played so far in January no goalie has recorded decisions in consecutive games. The rotation has been: Rick DiPietro, Nathan Lawson, Kevin Poulin, Lawson, Poulin, Lawson, DiPietro, Poulin. It hasn’t worked. In the eight games the Islanders allowed 30 goals (3.75/game).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

No Islander player (here or having been traded away) has or recorded before leaving a “plus” number for the season. Grabner is the top forward in that regard (ten games minimum) with a minus-2. But he does have goals in each of his last two games, points in his last three, and he is plus-2 over his last four. He has seven of his 11 goals for the season in 19 home games. He has one career game against the Caps, in which he recorded an assist.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Chimera has two goals in his last 26 games, one in his last 11. But he does have four goals in nine career games against the Islanders. With Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr on the shelf, the secondary goal scoring has to come from somewhere, anywhere. He had six shots on goal in the 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday and has 25 shots on goal in his last 10 games. At least he’s getting pucks to the net. Now they have to go in.


1. Score first. Only one team has scored first in a game fewer times than the Caps (18) – the Islanders (16). If the Caps can’t score first against this team…

2. Score first! The Caps have 12 wins in 18 games this season in which they scored first. Last year, they had 38 wins in 52 games in which they scored first. Do the math.

3. SCORE FIRST!!! The Caps have allowed the first goal in seven of eight games so far in the 2011 portion of the season. They are 3-2-3 in those games. Not awful, but not the kind of pace they will need to keep to ensure a playoff spot.

In the end, there are no sure things in life or the NHL. On paper, this is a mismatch. Then again, in the only meeting of these clubs so far this season the Caps eked out a 2-1 win when the Caps allowed the first goal (see a pattern?) then scored singles in the second and third periods to get the win. The Caps have gone 11 games without scoring more than three goals (5-2-4), and they have lost four of their last five games (1-2-2). Nothing is for certain…

…well, except for our prognostications.

Caps 3 – Islanders 2

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A ONE-point night -- Game 47: Flyers 3 - Caps 2 (OT)

If the 2010-2011 season for the Washington Capitals becomes a full-length feature film, it might star Bill Murray. There is a certain “Groundhog Day” feel to the Caps these days… fall behind early, furiously play catch-up, then lose in overtime.

That was the recipe last night as the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia, the game winner scored 67 seconds into overtime by Andrej Meszaros, only his second goal of the season and first since November 18th. The loss left the Caps with their third extra session loss in their last seven games, part of a 2-2-3 run since beating Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day.

Before that, the Caps did what they do – fall behind early. For the second straight game the Caps yielded a goal in the first two minutes, this one courtesy of Jeff Carter at the 91 second mark of the first period on a wrap around goal. Carter assisted on the second goal, scored by Claude Giroux in the 14th minute of the second period.

The Flyers’ second goal was the signal to the Caps that the game had begun. Washington recorded three of the last four shots on goal in the period. They started the third with recording six of the first ten shots on goal, then they scored on their seventh shot. It started with Marcus Johansson deftly intercepting a clear attempt by Ville Leino, who had a devil of a time the whole play. Johansson skated in past Leino on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and slipped the puck past him, but it hit the post. With the puck lying inches from the goal line and Leino trying to do, well…something, Mike Knuble skated in and bunted the puck in before he and Leino crashed into the net and lifted off its moorings.

Alex Ovechkin got the tying goal 40 seconds later when he worked the puck down the left wing wall, the puck eventually finding its way to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing circle. If Backstrom actually saw Ovechkin through a maze of bodies at the other side of the net, perhaps he should be that Capitals “Guardian.” In any event, he found Ovechkin there, where the captain snapped it past Bobrovsky after takinga couple of whacks at it to tie the contest. They couldn’t get the third one, though, and it was left to the Flyers to secure the extra standings point in the overtime.

Other stuff…

-- In eight games so far in 2011 the Caps have allowed the first goal seven times. Five times that goal came in the first period, four times in the first five minutes of the period.

-- Semyon Varlamov played a whale of a game in relief of starting goalie Michal Neuvirth, certainly better than his other career appearance against the Flyers (four goals allowed on 25 shots, pulled after 34 minutes in a 6-5 overtime loss on October 6, 2009). He stopped 20 of 22 shots, many of the saves coming from in close.

-- Ovechkin did not have a shot on goal in the first 40 minutes. Part of that early-game sluggishness, or Flyer defense. You be the judge.

-- Or maybe it was the magic wearing off the Ovechkin-Johansson-Laich line. They started each of the first two periods together but were broken up by the time Ovechkin got his goal in the third.

-- The Caps had 25 shots on goal…and Jason Chimera had almost a quarter of them? It’s nice he got six shots on goal, but it might have been better to see Johansson and Brooks Laich have more than one apiece, too.

-- It’s not often the Caps get smoked in the circle, but that was the case last night, the Flyers winning 31 of 51 draws. That is a product of Mike Richards going 13-for-17. If not for Mathieu Perreault going six-for-six, it would have been worse. Uh, yeah…that Mathieu Perreault.

-- Only 51 faceoffs and seven icing calls for the game speaks to a well-paced game by both teams.

-- Jody Shelley…4:49 of ice time. D.J. King…4:24 of ice time. Both got five minutes for fighting. One wonders what the point is. What was it that these enforcers were enforcing?

-- You might say that the Flyer OT goal was as much a product of Mike Green getting caught out there for all 1:07 of the overtime. It’s one thing to take a 67 second shift as a defenseman in the 5-on-5 portion of the game, but when it’s 4-on-4 with more open ice to defend, that’s a long time.

-- If you’re wondering, that was the first time the Flyers did not have to kill off a shorthanded situation in a regular season game since March 16th of last season in Nashville.

In the end, this Groundhog Day thing is really getting old. The falling behind, the losing in extra time. By the way, the Caps have now lost their last six extra time games (four in overtime, two via the Gimmick). They haven’t won an extra time game since a 3-2 Gimmick win against Carolina on November 28th and have not won in overtime since they beat the Flyers, 3-2, on November 7th. There are two eminently winnable road games coming up later in the week – the Islanders and the Maple Leafs. Winning them means a successful road trip (five of six points). But it’s going to be hard if we keep hearing…

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Flyers, January 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take it on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers, their first of a three-game road trip and what will be five of seven away from Verizon Center over the next 17 days. This week’s three-game road trip will take the Capitals to Philadelphia tonight, followed by Long Island and Toronto before returning home to face the New York Rangers next Monday.

Road trips can be bonding experiences, whether for a group of 23 players on a hockey team or a family stuffing the luggage in the car and taking the road in the real sense of the term. And no one knows road trips like Clark W. Griswold, Jr. Clark and his lovely wife Ellen, and their children – Rusty and Audrey – are real veterans of the All American road trip. We sat down with Clark to get his take on what it takes for a successful road trip.

The Peerless Prognosticator: Clark, welcome

Clark Griswold: Pleased to be here.

TPP: Clark, I guess the first thing one has to be concerned with is planning. What should the novice road tripper be thinking about in planning a road trip?

CG: Well, there is the means of travel, Peerless. You have to have a reliable chariot to get you where you’re going. Now you could take an airplane and fly over this great big beautiful land of ours, but to get from sea to shining sea, nothing beats the Wagon King Family Truckster. You could drive that thing across the desert – you don’t even need the road – and get where you’re going. If that doesn’t work for you, a great road trip car is the Lincoln Continental with the suicide doors, although that's more for the college or fraternity crowd.

TPP: And once you’re on the road, Clark, what about keeping everyone from getting bored? What’s your secret to passing the time on the pavement?

CG: It’s a matter of keeping that sense of anticipation. Nothing keeps the kids excited like the prospect of seeing the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, even if it’s four hours away. The four hours just melt away.

TPP: Road food is always an issue, isn’t it? With so much time on the road, I can imagine it’s hard to find places to eat that the whole family will enjoy.

CG: Well, we don’t stop at places where you can put lobsters in jackets, but we do alright on the road. It helps to have relatives along the way like our cousin Eddie, who can do wonderful things with Hamburger Helper. He doesn’t even need to use the hamburger. And his Kool-Aid? To die for.

TPP: Tempers often get short on these trips, don’t they?

CG: You have to be aware of that, Peerless. But you have to remember, it's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much f***ing fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose!

TPP: Easy Clark. One last thing. What is the one thing the novice road tripper has to remember about getting out on the road?

CG: You want to remember – every single time – to check that back bumper before you pull out of the parking lot.

Tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be the fourth contest against a divisional leader for the Caps over the last seven games (Tampa Bay twice, and Vancouver being the others). And the Caps are not catching this team at the best of times… well, if you’re a Caps fan. The Flyers have won six of seven games so far in the new year to go to the head of the class in the Eastern Conference. And they have done it by going against type. First, the overall numbers…

As for going against type, the Flyers are among the top offensive teams in the NHL, currently second in the league in overall scoring and best overall in five-on-five play. So far in the new year the Flyers are doing it with defense. In winning six of seven so far in 2011 the Flyers have allowed 18 goals (2.71 goals/game), but seven of those goals came in one game – a 7-5 loss to Boston on January 13th. Take that stinker away, and the Flyers have allowed only 1.83 goals per game so far this year.

And that brings us to the Flyers’ perennial bugaboo… goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky leads all rookie goaltenders in wins (17) and ranks third in goals against average (2.53) and save percentage (.917). But after going 14-4-2, 2.21, .925, and allowing more than three goals only twice in 21 games through December 5th, he is 3-2-1, 3.54, .897 in seven games since. He might be finding his rhythm again, however, in that he won his last two appearances – against Buffalo and Atlanta – allowing two goals in each and stopping 65 of 69 shots (.942).

Brian Boucher has received the lion’s share of the work since December 5th. Going 8-2-0, 2.32, .926. But that includes a six goals allowed performance against Boston on January 13th. Absent that misfortune, Boucher has a goals against average of 1.90 and a save percentage of .938 over the last six weeks.

The Flyers have not suffered for offense this season, ranking second in total scoring and first in five-on-five play. In winning six of seven games so far in 2011 the Flyers’ goal scoring has picked up a bit, averaging 3.86 goals a game over that stretch. And no Flyer seems to have enjoyed the turn of the calendar than Daniel Briere, who has had a hand in 11 of the 27 goals scored by the Flyers since January 1st (6-5-10). Three of his six goals were game winners. Briere, despite appearances, has a reputation of a player who will take the odd liberty with another player. There is this incident from Briere’s days in Buffalo that Caps fans will remember…

…and there was this one in the Flyers’ last game, a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers that cost him a thousand bucks…

Which brings us to the other player swiping at Brandon Prust from the Flyer bench in that incident – Scott Hartnell. Hartnell surpassed his goal scoring total from last year (14) when he notched a goal in a 7-5 loss to Boston on January 13th. Since the start of the year Hartnell has posted six goals in seven games and has a Gordie Howe Hat Trick to his credit, so to speak, recording two goals, an assist, and a fight against Paul Gaustad in a 5-2 win over Buffalo on January 11th. He is 7-7-14 in 16 career games against the Caps. Together, Hartnell and Briere account for 12 of the 27 goals scored by the Flyers since the start of the year.

On defense, the Flyers can boast five players with 10 or more points, although their goal-scoring leader – Chris Pronger – is not expected to play due to a broken right foot. It is Matt Carle, though, who leads the Flyer defensemen in points (1-22-23). What might be most impressive about Carle’s point total is that none of his points have come on the power play (only Pronger has scored goals – three – on the power play among Flyer defensemen). He is an example of a style in the Flyers that the Caps might find different from Vancouver.  Whereas the Canucks went low-high to give their defensemen shot opportunties, the Flyers' defensemen seem merely to get pucks toward the net for their forwards to do damage.  Carle has six assists in seven games since the start of the year, and he has only two “minus” games in his last 19 dating back to December 4th.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Jeff Carter

Until last Thursday, Jeff Carter was on a pace to finish with the second straight season of diminished goal scoring production. After recording 46 goals in 2008-2009 he had 33 last year and until last Thursday was on a pace for 31. But in his last three games he has three goals, one in each. If there is a good sign for Caps fans it is that this three-game streak is a repeat of a three game streak he had to close the 2010 portion of the season. After those three games he embarked on a four-game streak without a goal before starting this most recent run. He is 2-2-4 in six career games against the Caps, including a goal in the last meeting between the teams on November 20th.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom had his first multi-point game in the NHL on November 23, 2007, against the Flyers, including a game-winning overtime goal, in Bruce Boudreau’s first game behind the Capitals’ bench. In 14 career games against the Flyers, Backstrom is 6-18-24. It is his highest point total against any team not in the Southeast Division. He is 1-2-3 in two games against the Flyers so far this season. He does not have a goal since December 1st (20 games) and does not have a multi-point game since December 6th (17 games). If he is going to break either or both of those strings, this could be the game.


1. Roar! Wells Fargo Center is among the more difficult arenas in which visitors play in the NHL. And given the Caps’ troubles in the first period and in getting the first goal, coupled with the fact that the Flyers have the fifth best record in the league when scoring first, finding a way to take the crowd out of the game early will be important.

2. Putting on a show. Last year, Alex Ovechkin scored 26 goals at home, 24 on the road. So far this season he has 11 goals at home – a pace for 17 home goals. But he has only four on the road, which puts him on a pace for eight goals on the road. Only one of those four goals on the road has come at the expense of an Eastern Conference team (Carolina). He had 19 goals in 19 games against the Flyers coming into the season. Maybe this is the game he reasserts himself and puts on a show for the folks on the road…maybe.

3. Keep it close. The Flyers are second in the league in wins of three or more goal margins. Seven of their 13 such wins have come in 21 home games. If the Caps get behind, they could lose contact with this team before too long.

In the end, it is another stiff test in a series that the Caps have faced since the start of the calendar year. So far, the Caps are 1-2-1 in their “tests” against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay (twice) and Vancouver. Both games with the Flyers so far this season have gone to extra time – a 3-2 overtime win on November 7th and a 5-4 Gimmick loss on November 20th, both at Verizon Center. Will this one go to the extra session or more?

Nahhhhh….but it will be interesting.

Caps 6 – Flyers 4

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 46: Caps 3 - Senators 1

The Washington Capitals put an end to their three-game losing streak by defeating the Ottawa Senators this afternoon, 3-1, at Verizon Center in a contest in which fans got three games for their money. We are not arguing that all three were to Caps fans’ liking.

The first game was the first 20 minutes, in which Ottawa took advantage of some rust on goalie Michal Neuvirth (he had one appearance before this game since December 23rd) to score a goal 72 seconds into the game. Nick Foligno started the play by dumping the puck from the Capitals’ blue line into the opposite corner where Ryan Shannon tracked it down. Shannon fired the puck across toward the Washington cage, where Neuvirth blocked it aside. Foligno tried to poke it in, and Neuvirth tried to cover it up, but it was Mike Fisher who nudged it past Neuvirth before he could control it to give the Senators the early lead.

Even after that early goal the Caps looked rather lethargic, recording only one even-strength shot on goal in the first 15 minutes against one of the least effective even-strength teams in the league. Washington managed only five total shots on goal in the period. Not included among them were two golden opportunities for Marcus Johansson who found himself on both occasions standing in front of the Ottawa goaltender with the puck on his stick and nary a Senator in the same area code, and he missed the net on both occasions. Add to that a third opportunity he had when crossing through the low slot with a scoring chance on his stick, and it was a perverse sort of “hat trick” of missed opportunities.

The second period (or the second "game" for the fans) was a lot livelier for the Caps, if not satisfyingly productive. The Caps managed 12 shots at goaltender Brian Elliott, but there was still the disturbing notion of getting one shot on goal, but not getting any follow-up opportunities. The Senators seemed content to play the game outside the faceoff dots and along the wall in a sort of rope-a-dope effort that left the Caps with unappealing shot opportunities save for one occasion when it seemed the entire Washington bench crashed the net in an effort to get the equalizer.

The Senators are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference for a reason, and it manifested itself in the eighth minute of the third period (the bet "game" of the afternoon for Caps fans). Mike Green reached the Ottawa line and sent the puck hard around to the other corner where Senator defenseman Erik Karlsson collected it. As he was absorbing a hit from Alex Ovechkin, he nudged the puck over to his partner, Chris Phillips. Phillips tried to hit Daniel Alfredsson with a pass, but there were two things wrong with that idea. First, Alfredsson was circling six feet from his own goaltender, which meant that Phillips was trying to clear the puck from behind his own goal line up the middle of the ice. Way bad idea. The second thing that was wrong with the idea was that he ended up executing a bad idea poorly, missing Alfredsson and putting the puck on the stick of Brooks Laich, who took advantage by wrong-footing a wrist shot past Elliott to tie the game.

Forty-five seconds later the Caps did precisely what you are supposed to do when a team takes liberties with one of your players. Milan Michalek, who had no play in front of him as the puck was sliding down the boards, pushed Karl Alzner head first into the half-wall near the Caps bench. He was sent off on a two-minute minor for cross-checking at 7:58. On the ensuing face off Nicklas Backstrom won the draw cleanly to John Carlson who fired the puck past Elliott to give the Caps the lead. Elapsed time of power play: two seconds.

Jason Chimera closed the scoring on a play you never expect an NHL goaltender to surrender, although it probably happens several times a year. Chimera had the puck just below the goal line in the left wing corner. He stepped out and walked the line for a few steps, just enough for Elliott to cheat on the pass he was expecting. That left a perfect opening for the left-handed shot of Chimera, who scooped the puck off Elliott’s back and into the net. Three goals in the space of 6:16, and the Caps’ losing streak was over.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps won the dot 43-19. 43-19? Winning 69 percent of the draws is hard to do in this league. They were a combined 36-14 (72 percent) in the offensive and defensive zones.

-- Alex Ovechkin “played” his best game in at least a month (even though he did not record a point). Not only did he have several excellent looks at the net, he created many of those opportunities on his own with an explosiveness not often seen lately. Then again, it was Ottawa, not Vancouver and not the next team the Caps are playing – Philadelphia.

-- You would have needed a supercomputer to keep up with the line juggling from Bruce Boudreau …Johansson-Ovechkin-Laich…Backstrom-Knuble-Hendricks…Backstrom-Andrew Gordon-and who knows who?

-- Another guy who “played” well (if his being shut out in points didn’t reflect it) was Mike Green. Eight shot attempts, (three on goal), five hits, and three blocked shots. And he was skating very well, not prone to the occasional leaving of the puck behind that seemed to creep into his game lately.

-- If there was a “buddy movie” to be made about hockey players, it might feature Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Alzner gets leveled against the boards to draw a penalty, Carlson picks up his partner two seconds later with a bomb from the point on the power play. Someone messes wit my partner, he messes wit me.

-- Not much on John Erskine’s score sheet – a couple of shots, a takeaway, a blocked shot, but he was making good decisions with the puck deep in his own end, and he was making sure Chris Neil wasn’t getting away with free shots at teammates.

-- Michal Neuvirth stopped the last 20 shots he faced over the last 58:48. That is called “slamming the door.” That is 15 wins in 28 games in this, Neuvirth’s rookie season. He is within shouting distance of the club record for wins by a rookie goaltender (18) set by Jim Carey in 1995.

In the end, the Caps “played” a lot better than the 3-1 final suggests. If Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin cashed in on half the looks they had, it might have been a five or six goal game for the Caps. The giving up goals early is still a problem, though. And that is something that can get the Caps in a world of trouble on Tuesday, when they jump up several weight classes to visit the Flyers in Philadelphia.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, January 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Over the past nine games the Washington Capitals have played their arch rivals twice (Pittsburgh), their closest competitors in the Southeast Division twice (Tampa Bay), another Southeast Division rival twice (Florida), a team fighting to hold onto a playoff spot (Montreal), a team fighting to get into a playoff spot (Carolina), and the best team in the league at the moment (Vancouver).

You could say that the last three weeks have been somewhat eventful.

The Caps get a change of pace in hosting the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center this afternoon. Ottawa is not a rival (they’re in the Northeast Division), not fighting for a playoff spot (11 points out of eighth place), and are far from being the best team in the league (24 points behind Vancouver).

What the Senators are is a team that might be fighting for their coach’s continued employment…

"If we get fired, it's not failure; it's a midlife vocational assessment." – P.J. O’Roarke

The speculation on Clouston’s job ranges from the “it is widely believed” sort of lead to the more emphatic “Clouston must go” sort of statement.

"When I find an employee who turns out to be wrong for a job, I feel it is my fault because I made the decision to hire him." – Akio Morita

The swirl of speculation even goes so far as to question whether Bryan Murray will be re-upped as Senators’ general manager.

"In the end we are all sacked and it's always awful. It is as inevitable as death following life. If you are elevated there comes a day when you are demoted." – Alan Clark

But in the end, just about everyone in that line of work is informed that their services are no longer required. Whether Clouston will get that message might come down to how well his Senators fare against the struggling Capitals this afternoon.

Things were not always such. The Senators started the month of November with four straight wins, part of a six-wins-in-seven-games run that left them with an 8-6-1 record on November 9th. But then they took one in the teeth, courtesy of the Vancouver Canucks – a 6-2 beating at home. Starting with that game the Senators’ have been plummeting through the standings. Since their four-game winning streak they are 9-16-5 over their last 30 games and managed consecutive wins only once – wins over Nashville and Pittsburgh in the games immediately before and after Christmas. Since those wins, the Senators have lost seven of eight games (1-5-2), have been outscored 30-15, and were shut out twice.  Overall, here are the numbers:

If the Caps are going to snap out of their offensive doldrums, this could be team against which it happens. First, number one goaltender Brian Elliott has not been on top of his game of late. He is winless in his last seven decisions (0-5-2), has a 3.83 goals against average and a .862 save percentage, and was pulled twice over that span. And it is not as if Elliott has been especially productive against the Caps over his career. He has a 4-1-0 lifetime record against Washington, but in compiling that win-loss mark he has a 3.86 goals against average and a .864 save percentage. He lost his only decision against the Caps this season, a 3-2 loss in Ottawa on December 19th.

Elliott’s ability to win games against the Caps stems from his receiving considerable goal support from his teammates. Not so these days. Here is an idea of how much the Senators have struggled on offense. Jason Spezza hasn’t played a game since December 26th and he is still third on the team in total scoring (20 points).

Daniel Alfredsson leads the Senators in scoring these days, but these things are relative. Alfredsson’s 14-13-27 line has him in a tie for 98th place in the NHL scoring rankings. He has been cold of late, going 3-2-5, minus-5 in his last 11 games. But the Caps might beware in this sense. Alfredsson has 11 of his 14 goals and 18 of his 27 points in 21 games on the road this season. Despite not having a point in either of the two games Ottawa played against the Caps so far this season, he is 32-28-60 in 52 career games against the Caps.

With Spezza out of the lineup, the next highest scoring forward on the club is Mike Fisher (11-7-18). But then again, he is 2-3-5, minus-6 in his last 15 games. He might want to imagine he was playing against Toronto, against which he is 3-1-4 this season. Against the Caps? No points in two games, but he is 9-9-18 in 30 career games against Washington.

If the Senators have reliable scoring, it comes more from their defense, with Erik Karlsson (8-18-26) and Sergei Gonchar (5-15-20) each with at least 20 points. Karlsson – a 20-year old with considerable promise – had a pair of goals and an assist against Pittsburgh on December 26th, but has not registered a goal since (he has three assists in his last eight games). He seems to play favorites, though. Against Montreal, Toronto, and Pittsburgh he is 4-7-11 in 11 games. Against the rest of the league he is 4-11-15 in 32 games. None of those points have come at the expense of the Caps in the two games against them this year.

Gonchar was brought to Ottawa to help on the power play, and he has been as advertised. His 3-12-15 leads the Senators in total power play points, and he is 12th among all NHL defensemen in power play points. But he has been on the ice for 42 of the 103 even-strength goals scored by opponents against Ottawa so far this season. He is a minus-16 for the season, and that is after a freakish plus-5 he put up against the Islanders in a 6-4 win last Thursday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Chris Campoli

Who? Gonchar is a minus-16, and Eriksson is a minus-13, but it was Campoli who was the defenseman given a seat in the press box for the last two games for Ottawa. Maybe it was his minus-4 against Boston in his last game. For a guy who doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end (he is 1-6-7 this season), being on the ice for four goals against isn’t a way to endear yourself to your embattled coach. He will return to the lineup against Washington and will be counted upon to help keep the Caps’ offensive troubles from finding a solution against the Senators.

Washington: Mike Knuble

While much time and space has been devoted to the woes of other individual Capitals, Mike Knuble has been the one Cap who has been scoring at something at or above his expected pace. He has seven goals in his last 19 games, which works out to a 30-goal season pace. He is not a big assist guy, but the fact that he has only three assists in that span is evidence that his running mates on the first line (when he is playing on it) aren’t turning on the red light lately. He has not had an especially productive career against the Senators – 10-7-17 in 48 career games – but while the Caps are struggling to find something of their offensive flair, Knuble has been quietly contributing some grit and greasiness, much to the satisfaction of Kanoobie.


1. Find Your Inner Grinder. In the movie “Miracle,” Herb Brooks said, “You don't have enough talent to win on talent alone.” The Caps might take that to heart, because despite all their “talent” they are getting very little production. Find your inner grinder and get the ugly goal or three.

2. Gimme five. On five, that is. Only two teams have allowed more five-on-five goals than have the Senators (Tampa Bay and New Jersey). No team has allowed more even-strength goals of any number. Only the Islanders and Devils have a worse five-on-five goals scored to goals allowed ratio than does Ottawa. The Caps have to make hay while the sun shines at even strength.

3. Early Bird Special. The Caps are dead last in first period goals scored (28). The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble have a total of six first period goals all season and are on a pace to finish with 11. Last season they had 35 such goals. Folks might talk about this or that reason for the Caps’ struggles on offense, but getting off to good starts – or the lack of it – says a lot about the problems they have had.

In the end, this game will say as much about the Caps as games against teams like Pittsburgh or Vancouver. In this instance, it will be a case of how effectively the Caps can put the Senators down and stand on their throats. The first two games against Ottawa this season were by no means easy – a pair of 3-2 wins, one coming in overtime. But we are getting to that point in the season where the Caps need to start looking like a contender, and Ottawa is sinking in the standings, a team for which there is as much attention focused on who is or will be behind the Senator bench as to what is happening on the ice. The Caps need to take advantage of that.

Caps 5 – Senators 1