Monday, October 31, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Ducks at Capitals, November 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On Tuesday, the Capitals return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center after having dropped both ends of a short road trip to the western provinces of Canada. Meanwhile their opponent – the Anaheim Ducks – are in the midst of a seven-game road trip on which they are currently 1-2-1 after four games. This will be the Ducks’ third city in four nights, having dropped two games in two nights in Nashville and Columbus on Saturday and Sunday.

“hey cuz…cuz…what time does a duck wake up?”

I dunno, Cheerless, what time does a duck wake up?

“At the quack of dawn!”


“And where did the duck go when he had the flu?”

Don’t say it…

“The ducktor!”

Does this go on much longer?

“Whaddya call a clever duck?”

Please…shoot me.

“A wise quacker!”

I’m glad the Caps don’t play the chickens.

“What goes ‘quick-quick’?”

This is why there is a seven-day waiting period for handguns.

“A duck with hiccups!”

Can we just get to the game?  First, let's take a look at how the Ducks compare with the Caps heading into Tuesday's contest...

(click on pic for larger image)

1. Anaheim has scored 21 goals through 11 games. That 1.91 goals/game average ranks the Ducks 29th in the league. But perhaps worse for them is that the Ducks are essentially “Top Line Plus Teemu.” The top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan have four goals apiece. Add the three scored by Selanne, and that is 15 of the 21 overall. No other Duck has more than one, and only two other forwards – Andrew Cogliano and Maxime Macenauer – have as many as one.

2. The Ducks have a fairly respectable goals-scored number in the first period of games this year – nine in 11 games. Only six teams have more. But the Ducks fade late. Only four teams have scored fewer than the six second period goals Anaheim has, and only three have fewer than the six third period goals scored by the Ducks. They have one third period goal in their last four games. Ottawa has as many third period goals scored (21) as Anaheim has, well, goals scored.

3. In 16 man-games in their respective careers against the Caps, the trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan are a combined 8-14-22. Please…pay attention! Oh, and for those of you keeping score, the Caps could have had either Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry, both of whom were selected by Anaheim in the 2003 entry draft (19th and 28th overall).

4. Odd Duck Records… Anaheim has 34 hat tricks in team history, but no one has ever had more than three goals in a game…retired defenseman Dmitri Mironov once played for the Caps, but he holds an Anaheim team record against the Caps – five assists in one game (December 12, 1997)…the six goals Anaheim scored in a 7-6 loss to the Caps last February 16th represents the most goals scored by the Ducks in a regulation-time loss.

5. No Anaheim defenseman has a power play goal yet this season. In fact, among the eight defensemen having dressed for games so far, only two have points – Lubomir Visnovsky (0-2-2) and Cam Fowler (0-1-1). They also happen to be the only Duck defensemen averaging more than 1:30 of power play time per game.

1. All 18 skaters who took the ice on opening night have at least one point for the Caps; 14 of them have goals. Nine different Caps have power play points; six of them have goals. Of the six game-winning goals scored thus far by the Caps (the seventh win coming in the trick shot phase), all of them are power play goals.

2. Among players having taken at least 50 faceoffs this season, only six players have a worse faceoff percentage than Marcus Johansson’s 38.5 percent. As a team the Caps are 27th in the league on draws. In the six years since the lockout coming into this season the Caps finished out of the top-ten in faceoffs only once.

3. Only three teams have less power play ice time than do the Caps, and the Caps have barely half as much time (50:46) as do the league leading Columbus Blue Jackets (101:18). Then again, Columbus has two wins in 12 games and has a power play running at 10.2 percent (29th). Maybe having lots of power play ice time is a product of doing do little with it.

4. One reason the Caps lead the league in offense?... They lead all teams in 5-on-5 goal scoring (2.56/game). That is more than the combined scoring output per game of 16 teams. Only three teams have scored more goals at 5-on-5, and only three teams have allowed fewer at full and even strength.

5. Last season, the Caps lost consecutive games in Games 6 and 7. They then went 10-1-1.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Anaheim: Teemu Selanne

In his certain to be Hall of Fame career, Teemu Selanne has not scored goals at a faster pace against any team than he has against the Capitals. In 23 career games against Washington, Selanne has 19 goals (a 68-goal pace over 82 games). He has turned into something of a playmaker with seven assists in his last eight games. He has a goal in each of the last four games he appeared in against the Caps. Weekends do not seem to agree with Selanne so far this season. In eight games on Friday through Sunday, he is 0-3-3, minus-5. But he is 3-4-7, plus-2 on Monday through Thursday. It might be worth noting as well that he has two of his three goals in the second half of back-to-back games and his other goal with one day’s rest.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin has two goals in the Caps’ nine games so far, only one in eight games since opening night. Part of the problem is lack of shots. He has one or no shots in four of the eight games, two in two others. Since opening night he is 1-for-16 shooting. If he is going to break out against a team not from the Southeast Division, this could be the team. He has six goals in three career games against the Ducks, including a hat trick in that wild 7-6, come from behind four times win against the Ducks last February 16th. It’s also worth noting that after the Caps had their first two-game losing streak last season, Semin had a hat trick in his next game, three of the four goals in a 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta.


1. No Leavin’ Even. The Caps have outscored the Ducks at even strength, 25-15, and have done it playing in two fewer games. Only three Ducks have more than one even-strength goal for the season (none of them are last year’s league MVP, Corey Perry). The Caps’ 5-on-5 goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio (1.64:1) is more than twice that of the Ducks (0.75:1). If the Caps don’t win this battle, one can’t think they are going to win the game.

2. Shoot, shoot again, shoot some more. Jonas Hiller was 3-1-0 in his first four decisions in goal for the Ducks. He faced an average of 24.7 shots per 60 minutes and had a save percentage of .931. In his last five decisions he is 1-3-1 and he has faced 28.0 shots per 60 minutes with a save percentage of .882.

3. Don’t be “Wild” about penalty killing. Anaheim has managed two power play goals in a game only once this season. They came at the expense of the Minnesota Wild on October 27th in the Ducks’ last win. Why is this significant? Well, because the Wild is not a very good penalty killing team so far – tied for 23rd in penalty killing going into Monday’s action (77.1 percent). The thing is, though, the team with which they are tied happens to be the Caps.

In the end, the Caps are facing their first adversity of the season. Lest fans forget, though, the Caps lost consecutive games in Games 6 and 7 of the season last year and then went 10-1-1 in their next dozen games. They were pretty good at keeping streaks short. Other than the eight-game horror show last December the Caps had streaks of two or more losses in regulation only three times, and none longer than three. Every team is different, though, and it will be interesting to see how the Caps handle this hurdle.

Caps 4 - Ducks 2

Sunday, October 30, 2011

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3 (October 23-29)

Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. As good as the previous week was, this one was not. Two games, two losses, and the Caps slink home with no points to show for their abbreviated road trip out west. And in an odd bit of circumstance, the Caps end the week with only one team in the East – Boston – nursing a longer losing streak than the two in a row suffered by the Caps.

Record for the week: 0-2-0

The Caps started the week holding the franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season – seven – and were aiming to become only the second team in Washington history in any sport to start a season with eight straight wins. The Redskins won 11 consecutive games to start the 1991 season. Any thought of the Caps trying to tie that record when they came home against Anaheim on November 1st were put away when a spunky Edmonton Oiler team bit them in the backside with a 2-1 win on Thursday (edit: uh, cuz?...don't you mean "close in" on that record?).

Ironically enough, the Oilers defeated the Caps’ next opponent – Vancouver – in the game just before the Caps visited Rexall Place. And after the Caps left that venue after the 2-1 loss, they went to visit Vancouver, a team that struggled to beat Minnesota in overtime before losing two in a row in the run up to their hosting the Caps. The Caps seemed to be the tonic for the struggling Canucks, for after scoring only two goals in their two straight losses, Vancouver lit up the Caps for seven in a 7-4 win. It made for a rough week, the end of which saw the Caps now in third place in the East behind Pittsburgh and the surprising Toronto Maple Leafs, and only two points ahead of Florida and Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.78/game, rank: 1st)

One period with three goals, the other five with a total of two. Not what one would call a balanced or, ultimately, an effective effort. The third and fourth lines were shut out on goals, and only Jason Chimera and Jeff Halpern recorded any points (an assist apiece). Not that the top two forward lines were all that sparkling, either. Alex Ovechkin had two goals. Marcus Johansson had one to finish the week tied with Ovechkin for the team lead in goals, and Mike Knuble scored on a penalty shot. Defenseman Karl Alzner had the other goal, the lone tally against Edmonton. Five goals on 67 shots (7.5 percent) wasn’t terrible, but it was quite a come down from scoring 15 goals on 85 shots (17.6 percent) in the previous week.

Defense: 4.50 goals/game (season: 2.56, rank: T-15th)

It was a Jekyll and Hyde sort of week. The Caps held the Oilers to a total of 38 shot attempts on Thursday, only 19 shots on goal (the Caps matched that total in the third period of the 2-1 loss). Things were quite different on Saturday. The Caps allowed almost as many shots (17) in the first period of the game against Vancouver as they did in the entire game against Edmonton. It was an effective job of jumping on the visitors by the Canucks. And Vancouver got pucks to the net. Of the 70 attempts the Canucks launched at the Caps’ net, 61.4 percent got through. And on a night when neither goaltender was on top of his game, that was 61.4 percent too much. It is worth noting (or forgetting) that the Karl Alzner/John Carlson defensive pair was on the ice for four of the seven goals Vancouver scored in their 7-4 win.

Goaltending: 1.00/.968

After the run he had since allowing five goals in his first performance in a Caps sweater – 5-0-0, 1.19, .965, and one shutout – it was bound to come to an end. And it did this week for Tomas Vokoun, who allowed two goals on 19 shots in Edmonton, then allowed three on 17 shots in 40 minutes in Vancouver for a week that ended 0-1-0, 3.82, .861. It says something about that run he had that Vokoun is still in the top-15 in goals against and eighth overall in save percentage. Michal Neuvirth saw his first action since opening night, and the three-week hiatus showed. He allowed four goals on the last 21 shots he faced in relief of Vokoun against Vancouver, three of them coming on three shots by the Canucks in a 4:07 span of the third period that was the difference in a 7-4 decision that was tied after 40 minutes. There have been better weeks.

Power Play: 1-for-8/12.5 percent (season: 25.7%, rank: 3rd)

The Caps saw a streak of five games with at least one power play goal ended in Edmonton, although the Oilers have displayed an effective penalty kill so far this season. They started a new streak when Alex Ovechkin netted an extra-man marker in the second period against Vancouver, but it was the only one they had for the week. The good and the bad is that the Caps did spread the shooting around – eight different Caps shared 14 power play shots on goal for the week. But on the other side, only one of those came from Alexander Semin, and neither John Carlson nor Roman Hamrlik seemed to be able to fill the shoes of the injured Mike Green in making the power play click from the blue line.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-13/69.2 percent (season: 77.1%, T-23rd)

Special teams were not a strength this week, and the penalty kill was the worse of the two. Part of it was too many opportunities allowed. The eight power play chances the Caps allowed against Edmonton was the most they allowed in a game since they gave up nine in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Flyers on November 20th of last season. Those eight opportunities were as many as the Caps allowed in the three previous games combined. Skating 11:21 in penalty killing time was just too much to maintain any kind of rhythm in the rest of their game.

It didn’t get much better against Vancouver, as the Canucks registered power play goals on two of their first three chances to help themselves to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, putting the Caps in the position of catch-up. That the Caps were outscored 4-1 for the week on special teams, against teams ranked far below them on the power play (Vancouver finished the week tied for ninth, the Oilers 12th), made for a rough week on special teams.

Paying the Price: 23 hits/30 blocked shots (season rank: 20th/21st)

Part of it was the fact that the Caps played only two games this past week, but the totals here were still not indicative of a team that skated with a lot of energy. The good part might be that 15 different skaters blocked at least one shot. The bad might be that of 23 recorded hits for the week, Troy Brouwer had nine of them – 14 for the other 17 skaters. Matt Hendricks, who had three for the week, was the only other Cap with more than two.

Faceoffs: 55-for-118/46.6 percent (season: 47.9 percent, rank: 27th)

Of all the Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, only Jeff Halpern was over 50 percent – barely (7-for-13). The two games were quite a study in contrasts. Against Edmonton the Caps won the battle in the offensive and defensive ends, going 10-for-19 in the offensive end and 12-for-17 in the defensive end on the way to a 29-for-53 effort. But it was brutal against Vancouver – 4-for-18 in the offensive end and 9-for-24 in the defensive end. This might now qualify as a problem for the Caps. They are ranked 27th in the league, and of the five Caps taking at least 20 draws, only Jeff Halpern is over 50 percent. But he doesn’t get much in the way of ice time, and he is fourth in total draws taken. Mathieu Perreault is the second highest ranked Cap in winning percentage – 46.2 percent.

Turnovers: even

Going plus-24 the previous week was extraordinary. But this past week erred on the other side of what one might like to see. The Caps were not lazy with the puck, at least on the score sheet. They had 15 giveaways for the week. But the other side of that coin is that they had only ten takeaways. Only Nicklas Backstrom and Roman Hamrlik (two apiece) had more than one.


All the joking about teams going 82-0-0 aside, this was not a good week. They lost a game against a team they should have defeated in Edmonton, and they had a game on their plate after 40 minutes that they let get away with a four minute stretch of iffy play in the third period against Vancouver. There are going to be stretches like this in an 82-game season, but again, the trick is keeping them infrequent and short. There was not one single area that came up short this week. You name it – power play, penalty killing, goaltending, even scoring at even strength (outscored, 5-3 for the week) – it came up short.

This ends a difficult stretch in which the Caps faced three playoff teams from last season and an up-and-coming team. They broke even in doing so, which was not the worst result one could imagine. The Caps return home to face an Anaheim team that is only playing .500 hockey (5-5-1), but no doubt remembers the 7-6 loss the Caps gave them last season, when the Caps came from behind with two goals by Alexander Semin in the last ten minutes of the game. It would be nice to have Semin break out again against the Ducks and end this short slump.

Three Stars of the Week:

1st Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even)
2nd Star: Dennis Wideman (0-1-1, plus-1; 11 shot attempts/four SOG, one hit, one takeaway, two blocked shots; not on ice for any goals against)
3rd Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-2-2, even; on ice for only one of nine goals against)

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Capitals at Canucks, October 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One in a row. Now, the trick is to make sure it doesn’t become “two in a row.” The Caps will try to make that so – the not losing two in a row part – when they visit the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Vancouver has not been such a hospitable place for the Caps, who drag a 16-19-5-1 franchise record against the Canucks into Rogers Arena. Not that the Caps have had much success against this team anywhere recently; they have just one win in regulation in their last 13 games against the Canucks (3-9-1 overall).

The Canucks are suffering from what looks to be a “Stanley Cup Finals hangover.” And it got us to wondering what someone in their position might do to cure that hangover. We don’t mean those namby-pamby cures like drinking lots of water or taking six aspirin. Nosiree…for a heavy duty hangover that has lasted almost five months, you need extra-strength cures. Cures like…

- Menudo. No, not the boy band. Menudo as in soup. And not any old Campbell’s tomato variety. This one includes honeycomb tripe, pigs feet, onion, garlic, chiles, and hominy. You’re supposed to eat this first thing in the morning, no doubt before your eyes focus and you see that your eating the stomach lining of a cow. We’re thinking if you can keep it down, your hangover is cured.

- The Prairie Oyster. Tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and a raw egg. Beats the Rocky Mountain kind, one supposes.

- “Soup for the Stomach”… a Korean concoction made up of pork spine or cow bones, coagulated ox blood, cabbage, and vegetables. At least it’s not soup made out of a stomach.

- Rabbit Dropping Tea. A favorite among cowboys of the American West. Don’t ask.

- Warm milk and soot. Chimney sweeps would use this one, but it also appeared in 19th century hospitals.

- Then there is the one that socialite Samuel Benedict thought up and had the staff of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel whip up more than a century ago…half an English muffin, ham, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce. That’s right, the “Eggs Benedict.”

- But perhaps nothing tops what the ancient Romans cooked up… deep fried canaries.

Bet you want to go drinking now, eh?

The Caps will try for their eighth win of the year against a team that is struggling in unexpected fashion. The Vancouver Canucks returned, for the most part, the team that went to a Stanley Cup final last year. Of the 22 skaters to take the ice so far this season and two goaltenders, 19 of them appeared in the playoffs last season. Nine of the Canucks’ top ten playoff scorers returned. But as we move closer to this contest, think on this. The Canucks are currently 4-5-1 through ten games. It is not as if they came screaming out of the gate last year on their way to the Stanley Cup finals. They started 5-3-2 in their first ten games last season. Here is how the two teams stack up so far this season…

(click on pic for larger image)

1. At the moment (going into Friday night’s games), only three teams have a larger shot differential per game than do the Canucks (+6.5). Last season, when the Canucks led the league in goals for and goals allowed, their shot differential was only 1.9 shots per game. Stranger still is that the Canucks are allowing the fifth fewest shots per game (26.8). Only twice in ten games have the Canucks allowed more than 30 shots on goal.

2. In ten games, Vancouver scored the first goal only twice. Five times they allowed the first goal of the game before the contest reached the ten minute mark. The Canucks are 2-5-1 in games in which they allowed the first goal.

3. The Canucks spend a lot of time working their special teams. They are fourth in the league in total power play time (7:03 per game) and only six teams have skated more minutes on the penalty kill (6:50 per game). They have done reasonably well on special teams (10th on the power play, 12th in penalty killing), but perhaps spending almost a quarter of the game on special teams has impact the rhythm of their five-on-five play – they are 27th in the league in 5-on-5 goals for and against ratio.

4. Vancouver is going to want to keep this close. They are 3-2-1 in one-goal games, but only 1-3 in games decided by more than one goal. And, they have the second-worst plus-minus at home this season (minus-4). Only four Canucks are on the plus-side of the ledger.

5. In four games at home only one Canuck has more than one goal (Daniel Sedin with three), although they do have eight with one apiece. Only three defensemen have recorded at least one point at home; Sami Salo and Alexander Edler split six points, and Keith Ballard has an assist.

1. Second period swoon… in eight games the Caps have 10 first period goals (tied for fourth) and 12 third period goals (sixth). In the second period they have a total of six (tied for 23rd). By the same token, the Caps have allowed only four second period goals; only two teams have allowed fewer in the middle frame.

2. Covering the matter of “zero”… No Capital skater is on the minus side of the plus-minus ledger (seven of 21 skaters taking the ice are plus-5 or better). Mathieu Perreault has skated a total of 62:46 in ice time and has been on the ice for no goals; he doesn’t have a giveaway, either. Of all the forwards having played in more than two games, none are without an assist. Alexander Semin is the only Cap having played more than two games who has yet to register a blocked shot.

3. No team has been shorthanded fewer times in the third period so far this season than the Caps (five times).

4. Washington has the fewest major penalties taken of any team in the NHL this season…one. That would be the one that Jay Beagle would like to forget.

5. Since the lockout, Tomas Vokoun is 6-3-1, 1.95, .941 against the Canucks, but he has regulation losses in his last two decisions.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo certainly has seen the Caps before. In 32 career appearances he is 17-10-3 with a 2.25 goals against average, a .929 save percentage, and two shutouts. Since joining the Canucks he is 4-1-0, 2.75, .898 against Washington, but the goals against and save percentage are inflated by a five goals on 25 shot performance in only 40 minutes in a 5-1 loss in Washington on October 13, 2008. He has had his troubles so far this season, with a 2-3-1, 3.45, .868 record, and in only one game has he allowed fewer than three goals. But Luongo has had consistent success against the Caps. If he falters, then Canuck fans will know he has problems.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin started the season on a good note – 2-3-5, plus-2 in his first five games. But in his last three he is 0-1-1, minus-1, and he has recorded only three shots on goal. While Marcus Johansson has been impressive in the early going on the second line, it is Semin who is expected to drive this line over the long haul. He does, however, have three goals in his last two games against the Canucks.


1. Thrive at Five-on-Five. The Caps have allowed the second fewest goals at 5-on-5 (nine), while only four teams have allowed more at full and even-strength than Vancouver (20). The Caps have also scored eight more goals at 5-on-5 than have the Canucks.

2. On the other hand… only four teams have had more power play opportunities at home than has Vancouver. Until the Edmonton game the Caps were stingy in allowing such opportunities. They have to get back to that.

3. First 40… The Caps have trailed at the second intermission in only one game so far this season. That would be the game they lost.

In the end, the Caps have been a team that has been able to avoid long losing streaks. Since that eight-gamer last December, only twice have the Caps lost two or more consecutive regular season games in regulation – a two-game streak in mid-January and a three-game streak in early February last season. Losing did not become habit forming. On the other side, the Canucks have had surprising difficulty mounting a consistent offense. Twice in their last five games they were shutout, and in two other games they managed only two goals in regulation time. But while the Canucks might have started the season in a post-Stanley Cup finals funk, the Caps will get their full and undivided attention. This could boil down to whether Luongo finds the game he has so often displayed against the Caps in the past. We’re betting he won’t.

Caps 4 – Canucks 3

A NO-point night -- Game 8: Oilers 2 - Capitals 1

All good things come to an end.

The Caps lost their first game of the season last night, a 2-1 decision at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers. It came down to numbers…

11:03. The total amount of time that the Caps spent shorthanded last night. That number eclipsed the total amount of time spent killing penalties in the previous two games combined (10:51).

7… That’s where Dennis Wideman’s points streak comes to an end. Not for lack of trying. In more than 23 minutes of ice time he had nine shot attempts, three on goal.

5… That’s where the Caps’ consecutive games streak ends with at least one power play goal. They were 0-for-4 last night.

19… shots on goal in the third period, all of them stopped by Nikolai Khabibulin. In fact, Khabibulin stopped the last 31 shots he faced. The 19 shots the Caps had in the third equaled the Edmonton total for the entire game.

15… the total number of shots on goal put up by the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer out of 35 total shots on goal. That line had 25 of the total 66 shot attempts.

4… hooking calls against the Caps. One more and the whole team would have been hauled off to the hooskow for solicitation.

2… last night was the first time since opening night that the Caps allowed two power play goals.

23… last night broke a streak of 23 games in which the Caps allowed an opponent five or fewer power plays (Edmonton had eight). It was the most allowed by the Caps since allowing nine in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Philadelphia last November 20th.

4… Edmonton’s “kiddie line” of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had four of a possible six points on the two Edmonton goals.

2… Corey Potter had the other two points for the Oilers, his first multi-point game in the NHL.

On to Vancouver to start a new streak.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Matters" and "Counts"

I’m hung up on words this afternoon… “matters” and “counts.”

The reason I’m engaged in mental gymnastics over words is a persistent theme, not spoken too loudly, but discernible nonetheless. And it’s one we’ve sung before, too. That is the theme that “noting matters until the spring.”

Well, no. Thinking about this and reading about the Caps since camp, we are inclined to, if not change, then alter our opinion on the issue of whether or not the regular season “matters.” We would like to amend that to say that the regular season for the Caps doesn’t “count.” No one wins a Stanley Cup for having the most standings points. But the regular season certainly matters. And here is why…

Alex Ovechkin came to camp last year expecting to play himself into playoff shape in time for the playoffs. We (and no doubt he) saw how that worked. It was a year that saw his numbers drop and a playoff that was – again – disappointing. This year, he came to camp in better condition, and while he hasn’t yet exhibited an offensive explosion along the lines he displayed regularly in the 2009-2010 season, he is still the second ranked point getter on the top offensive team in the league.

Bruce Boudreau was accused often last year of being a bit (or more than a bit) soft on his players – optional practices and practices that might not have been as hard or focused as they could have been. This year, camp was all business, and practices seem to have a point, not the least being that attending to business is the object of the exercise. And his sitting Marcus Johansson in the opener after a so-so camp sent a signal that last’s year’s operating model isn’t this year’s. It has had the intended effect on Johansson’s game, if not the whole roster.

Last year, the Caps had a stunning lack of killer instinct. Too often they let teams smack them around early (they were outscored, 60-54, in the first period of games and allowed the first goal in 47 of 82 games). Even though they outscored teams by an 89-63 margin in the third period and overtime of games last season, one didn’t get the sense they pulled away and stood on the necks of those opponents. This year so far, the Caps are outscoring opponents by more than two goals a game and have outscored them by about two-to-one in each of the three periods in games so far.

Last year, Nicklas Backstrom was held without a point in five of his first seven games on his way to a 36-point drop in points from the previous year. Through seven games so far, he is 2-8-10, which looks a lot more like the 2-9-11 start he had through seven games on his way to a 101-point season in 2009-2010.

Mike Green is 3-3-6 so far, compared to an 0-2-2 start he had through seven games last season. This start looks a little like that 4-2-6 start in 2008-2009 when he finished the season with 31 goals and 73 points.

It is true that when these guys were putting up big numbers, the spring was an unfriendly time of year for them. But this team looks different. There isn’t the “devil may care” fun-loving air that surrounded those teams of big numbers and big disappointments. This team looks hungrier. Outscoring teams by a roughly two-to-one margin in each period speaks toward a clearer display of a killer instinct than they expressed in previous seasons.

But that is only through seven games. The trick is to use these last 75 games of the regular season, not only to build an impressive record and qualify for the playoffs, but to develop the good – winning – habits that champions have. To do the right things the right way, in practice and in games. To avoid the temptation to take shortcuts that comes from depending more on innate skill than hard work. To make these good habits instincts, not something you try to learn in the first week of April when the playoff seedings come out.

And that, dear reader is why, the regular season “matters.”  How the Caps treat this regular season will go a long way toward finding out whether it "counts" for anything in the spring.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8, Capitals at Oilers, October 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps depart the Eastern time zone for the first time this season, not to mention the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties of the good ol’ U.S. of A. They are on the road to Edmonton, the capital of the Province of Alberta and that province’s second largest city. It’s nickname is “Festival City,” because of what the city notes is its abundance of successful festivals. However, the name, “Edmonton,” is a Latinized version of a Saxon word meaning "Happy Hamlet,” and was used to honor the home of Hudson Bay Company governor James Winter Lake who was from Edmonton, England. We think “Happy Hamlet” was really a goalie for the Montreal Maroons.

But perhaps most interesting about Edmonton is that it has a “poet laureate.” The City of Edmonton describes the position thus…

“The role of a Poet Laureate is to reflect the life of a city through readings of poetry. As an ambassador for the literary arts, the Laureate incorporates poetry into a range of official and informal city activities. The creation of this position confirms the city's support for the arts in general, and for the literary arts in particular. A jury, assembled by the Edmonton Arts Council, selects a new Poet Laureate every two years.”

It pays, too! $5,000 (CDN) for each year as an honorarium. The position is currently held by Anna Marie Sewell, who has been active in Edmonton cultural life for two decades. But it might be her predecessor who is a bit more interesting. A gentleman by the name of “Roland Pemberton” ended his two-year tenure as poet laureate this past July. He was, and is, a musical personality of note in that part of the world, having been nominated for the 2006 Polaris Music Prize, which awards $20,000 for the Canadian album of the year. He was also named by Chart magazine as one of the 15 Canadian artists to watch in 2006. The thing is, though, not many folks know “Roland Pemberton” the musician. Maybe they know him by his stage name... “Cadence Weapon.”

Well, the Caps take their considerable weaponry to Rexall Place tonight to take on the Edmonton Oilers. Two teams in very different stages of their development, the Oilers are what the Caps once were – a team with a deep, yet green pool of talent that will make its share of mistakes now, but that will be formidable in a few years. Here is how the two teams stack up so far…

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1. Edmonton is young…very young. Of the 23 skaters to take the ice so far this season for the Oilers, 11 of them are age 25 or younger. Four have not yet reached their 21st birthday. Two of that under-21 crowd happen to be the Oilers’ top two scorers – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (5-3-8, plus-4) and Taylor Hall (2-5-7, plus-5). Along with Jordan Eberle (age: 21), these three are a combined 8-14-22, plus-13. The other 20 skaters combined have seven goals and are a minus-8. Might want to keep an eye on those three guys.

2. Much has been made of the goaltending in Los Angeles and the penalty kill in Pittsburgh. Both have been fine. But Edmonton is allowing 1.50 goals/game through eight games (tied with the Kings) and has a 91.4 percent penalty kill (rank: fourth). The Oilers have killed off their last 22 shorthanded situations.

3. Hard to say which goaltender will get the call. Nikolai Khabibulin has been “The Bulin Wall” once more this season (3-0-2, 0.97, .963, one shutout), but his career against the Caps has been uneven (8-7-3, 2.27, .910, one shutout), and his last two games against Washington have been dreadful – a 5-0 loss last season in which he allowed five goals on 36 shots, and a 4-2 loss in the season opener of the 2008-2009 season (he was with Chicago) in which he allowed four goals on 34 shots. On the other hand, The Oilers’ other netminder – Devan Dubnyk – has never faced the Caps.

4. No team has allowed fewer first period goals than the Oilers (two). They have not allowed a first period goal in any of their last five games.

5. Edmonton protects its kiddie line. The trio of Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, and Eberle all have offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 over 60 percent. Interestingly enough, only Eberle is over 50 percent in offensive zone finishes (numbers from

1. Balance…going into Wednesday night’s play, the Caps led the league in scoring (4.14 goals/game) but had only one player in the top 33 in points (Nicklas Backstrom). They had seven in the top-100, though.

2. Lean, Mean, but Fightin’ Clean. The Caps are the least penalized team in the league in minutes per game (8.1), barely half of that which Edmonton sees (15.1).

3. One of the things Caps fans might have been wishing for was having the top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer (or Mike Knuble) start more often in the offensive zone. Well, through eight games Backstrom and Ovechkin are each at 50.0 percent, and Brouwer is at 51.1 percent at 5-on-5 (numbers from

4. At the moment the Caps rank 15th in power play-less-penalty killing time, but only eight teams have allowed fewer shots on goal on the penalty kill. On the other hand, only six teams have recorded fewer shots on goal than the Caps…and the Caps are second in the league on the power play at 29.6 percent.

5. The Caps have the best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio in the league (1.80:1). They lead the league in takeaways (88), and only three teams have fewer giveaways (49).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Picked first overall in last June’s entry draft, “RNH” leads all rookies (as of Wednesday) in goals and points, is tied for the lead in power play goals, is tied for third in plus-minus, has one of only five game-winning goals scored by any rookie so far this season, leads all rookies in shooting percentage (for rookies with at least two shots on goal), and is tied for first among all rookie forwards in ice time. Nice start. No surprise, since he hails from Burnaby, British Columbia, which is quite the well-spring for talent – Joe Sakic, Darren McCarty, Glenn Anderson, and of course, Caps defenseman Karl Alzner.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

So far this season, Ovechkin has scored all three of his goals in two road games. He is 5-3-8 in five career games against the Oilers. He is also 2-3-5 in his last three games. But there is this odd fact. Last season in those instances in which he played in the first game on the road after a game in Washington (a total of 23 games), Ovechkin was only 4-15-19, plus-2. In 18 other road games he was 14-10-24, plus-8. While true that the Russian Machine might never break, sometimes he needs a bit to get started when on the road.


1. Win the War of Wills…early and late. Edmonton has allowed the fewest first period goals in the league so far this season; only one team has scored more first period goals than has Washington. Only three teams have allowed fewer goals in the third period than Edmonton; only two teams have scored more third period goals than has Washington. Who imposes whose will on whom in this area will be an indicator of whether the Caps have brought their “A” game.

2. Win the War of Wills, Part II. One area in which the Caps have struggled some is in shots allowed. Only five teams have allowed more than the 32.7 shots per game the Caps have given up so far. On the other hand, Edmonton ranks 23rd in shots on goal per game. More to the point, Edmonton is 3-1-0 when outshooting their opponent, 1-1-2 when they don’t. Edmonton has played two Eastern Conference opponents so far (Pittsburgh and the Rangers), outshooting both and beating both.

3. Win the War of Wills, Part III. The Oilers have killed off 22 straight shorthanded situations. The Caps have power play goals in five straight games and are 6-for-15 doing it (40.0 percent). How this ends might turn on opportunities. The Oilers haven’t allowed more than five power play chances to opponents since their season opener. The Caps have had more than five chances only once in this five game power-play goal streak.

In the end…

This is another one of those “no peeking” games. The temptation is to look ahead to the game in Vancouver on Saturday. Edmonton is spunky enough to make the Caps pay for that. At 4-2-2 so far, they are hardly a doormat. But this game should turn on the Caps depth against the Oilers being what amounts to a one-line team. In eight games the Oilers have faced only one team that poses a consistent threat on offense – Vancouver (twice). Four opponents (Minnesota twice, Nashville, the Rangers, and Calgary) rank in the bottom ten in offense. The Caps are several weight classes above that group, and that is going to serve as a rude awakening for the young Oilers.

Caps 4 – Oilers 1

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dynamic Presence and "Using the Rink"

Today, the subject of Troy Brouwer and his ability to affect a presence in front of the opposition’s net has received some attention. That kind of generosity Brouwer provides a goaltender in giving him a close and personal view of his backside is paying demonstrable net dividends for the Caps in the form of goals on shots the goalie cannot see.

But there is more to this than merely “being there” in front of the opponent’s net, there is the matter of “getting there.” And that is what we will refer to as “dynamic presence.” It was on full display on the Caps’ first goal in last Saturday’s 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Folks probably remember the Mike Green one-timer, and if they read the fine piece by Neil Greenberg in today’s Capitals Insider in the Washington Post, they will see how Brouwer’s presence eliminated goalie Ty Conklin’s sight line to the shooter.

But there is more to this goal, and that takes place before the shot, and it is how the Caps “used the rink” to spread the defense while Brouwer angled himself into a screening position. It all came together when Mike Green ended up with a clear look from the top of the left wing circle. Watch the video…

Here is how it unfolded, piece by piece…

1.  Nicklas Backstrom wins the faceoff to the left wing wall, where Mike Green collects the puck and eases back to the blue line.

2.  Green sends the puck deep, where Troy Brouwer is camped.  Brouwer sends the puck around the wall and to Dennis Wideman at the right point.

3.  Wideman completes the circle, sending the puck across to Green at the left point.

4.  Green drops down and slides the puck to Brouwer, who has come out from behind the net to the low left corner.

5.  Brouwer circles, and as he does so to send a pass to Nicklas Backstrom in the other corner, Alex Ovechkin slides down from a position waiting for a shot to a spot below the goal line,

6.  Here is the key sequence.  Backstrom exchanges passes with Ovechkin, and as they do so, Brouwer circles back to the left wing faceoff circle.  As the return pass is sent to Backstrom, Brouwer heads for the net.  With defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart on the same side of the ice as Backstrom, Brouwer heads for the net, pulling Darren Helm (43) with him.

7.  With Brouwer having gone to the net and Helm sliding down to prevent a centering pass from Backstrom, Mike Green fills the void left by Helm and jumps into the space at the top of the left wing circle.

8.  Backstrom has a clear passing lane to Green and uses it.  Green wastes no time shooting the puck, and with Brouwer in screening position on goalie Ty Conklin with no defender high on that side of the ice, it is an opportunity Mike Green does not waste.

The Caps used the whole rink to spread the defense. And Brouwer’s active play not only established a presence, but his hustle out of the corner charging to the net pulled a defender away from a part of the ice that a dangerous shooter would fill.

A similar set of actions by Brouwer was also the subplot to the second Green goal...

In this one, Dennis Wideman and Alex Ovechkin were credited with the assists, but the last stages of the play were initiated by Brouwer from behind the net. It is his pass from the end wall finding Wideman at the left point that was then converted to a pass to Ovechkin and one across the ice to Green – while Brouwer was circling out to get in screening position – that got the whole thing started.

It isn’t just about planting yourself in front of the goalie and keeping on your skates while getting abused, although that is what the Caps have too often lacked on the power play.  It is also about the things that one does to get there – being active and making the defense aware of your presence, forcing them to defend and perhaps taking them out of position to open shooting lanes – that creates the sort of dynamic presence that leads to goals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

It’s a little known fact…

-- That Dennis Wideman is the only player in the league who has a point in each of his team’s games so far this season. The seven-game streak surpasses the longest streak any Caps defenseman had last year. Mike Green had a six-game streak from October 28th through November 9th (4-6-10).

-- Alex Ovechkin had a two-goal game last Thursday. Once upon time, that was pretty common. But this one broke a 16-game streak (25, including playoff games) dating back to last March 9th against Edmonton. It was only his third in 74 regular season games since last October 30th.

-- John Carlson had a streak of three games from February 25th through March 1st last season in which he finished on the minus side of the ledger, the longest streak of his young career. In the 25 regular season games since he has a total of four such games (none so far this season) and is a plus-14.

-- Mathieu Perreault played his last seven games with the Caps last season to a 1-1-2, minus-7 result. His first five games this year are 3-2-5, plus-6. Whatever he did over the summer…it worked so far.

-- Maybe no one except Kanoobie has noticed, but Mike Knuble has points in four of his last five games (1-4-5, plus-3). In his last 21 regular season games he is 10-8-18, plus-9.

-- Jason Chimera scored his fourth goal of the season in the season’s fifth game. Last year he didn’t get his fourth goal of the season until November 20th, in Game 21.

-- Matt Hendricks is plus-5 for the season and has a pair of plus-2’s in his last two games. Hendricks did not have as many as two games better than plus-1 in either of his two full seasons before this one and in fact had only one game better than a plus-1 in his career over 142 games before finishing plus-2 in his last two games (plus-3 in a 6-4 win over Atlanta last November 14th).

-- Alex Ovechkin has gone five consecutive games playing fewer than 20 minutes. It is the first time he has gone five consecutive games under 20 minutes since his first five games in the NHL.

-- Nicklas Backstrom got to ten points in his seventh game of the season. The only other time in his career he got to ten points in fewer than ten games he had his only 100-point season (2009-2010, ten points in his first four games on his way to 101 points).

-- Alexander Semin is 5-7-12, plus-6 in his last dozen regular season games dating back to last March 26th.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Goals Project -- Update

After the second full week of games, the picture, well... paints a picture

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After seven games and 29 goals scored, you can see that not many of them are scored above the circles.  And of the six game-winners (the other win coming via shootout), only one could be considered of the long-range variety. It is worth noting that 19 of the 29 goals have been scored below the dots.  The Caps have been going to the net, and it has paid dividends.  It goes to show that there really isn't much of a secret to offensive success in the NHL.  Goalies being what they are, if you shoot from distance, you are going to be disappointed.  But get in close, and the chances for success increase substantially.  Seven wins in seven tries is testimony to that.

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2 (October 16-22)

It was a fine week, a good week...nay, a great week.  For October, that is.  But while it didn't have the satisfaction that, say, maybe 16 playoff wins might have in the spring, it sure was fun to watch the Caps pulverize a couple of top-notch foes. So, how did the week go?

Record for the week: 3-0-0

The week began with the Caps setting a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season (five) and ended with a dismantling of the only other remaining undefeated team in the league to extend that streak to seven. In between the Caps smacked around one of their most hated rivals.  Hard to imagine a better week unless your fantasies tend toward shutting out the Penguins three times by 10-0 scores. Shutting out Florida to start the week might not have qualified as an historic achievement (the Panthers have been shut out twice in their last three games), but the combined records of the Caps’ last two opponents of the week going into those games was 10-0-1. In each instance, Philadelphia and Detroit left the ice with their first loss in regulation on their record in emphatic fashion.

Offense: 5.00 goals/game (season: 4.14, NHL rank: 1st)

Fifteen goals for the week. The Caps have not scored that many total goals in three consecutive games since they scored 16 over a three game stretch, October 30 – November 5, last season (a 7-2 win over Calgary, a 5-4 Gimmick win over Toronto, and a 5-3 win over Boston…we do not count trick shot goals in the total). OK, in two of the games the goal barrage came against backups – Detroit’s Ty Conklin and Florida’s Jacob Markstrom (making his first NHL start), but two of the games were played against a pair of the league’s best defensive corps, too – Philadelphia and Detroit.

Nine players shared in the fifteen goals, and six of them came from the third and fourth lines. Of the 18 skaters dressing for the week, all of them had at least one point except Karl Alzner. And it is worth noting as well that the leading point-getters for the week were Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5) and Nicklas Backstrom (1-4-5).

The Caps have been accused of lacking the “ruthless” gene, lacking the killer instinct to put a team away. This week, they showed what they were capable of. They scored eight of their 15 goals (including an empty-netter) in the third periods of the three games. Six of them came against those vaunted Flyer and Red Wing defenses.

Defense: 1.00 goals/game (season: 2.00, rank: T-5th)

Allowing three goals in three games is impressive any time. But given that two of the three opponents were top-five offenses made it all the more so (explain that away with the “backup goaltender” argument). And the three-in-three extended the streak to four-in-four (goals in games).

Here is another way to look at it. In 180 minutes of hockey this past week the Caps trailed for a grand total of 4:15, the time elapsed between Claude Giroux scoring the first goal of the game against the Flyers and Mathieu Perreault tying it up. The Caps did not relinquish any lead they took during the week. Odd fact…the Caps allowed three goals for the week; Brooks Laich was the only Cap on the ice for all of them.

If there is one area that bears watching, it is shots against. The Caps yielded 95 shots on the week, 75 in the last two games.

Goaltending: 1.00/.968

Tomas Vokoun had a spectacular week, given the opponents. The 3-0, 20-save shutout of his former team was business-like. His performance against the Flyers, when Philadelphia was ratcheting up the pressure to try to get back into a game in which they fell behind (11 shots faced in the first period, 14 in the second, and 17 in the third), kept the notoriously rabid Flyer crowd out of the game. His performance against the Red Wings, in which his stoning of Pavel Datsyuk’s deke attempt with the game still scoreless (ok, the puck might have hit teammate Dan Cleary’s skate) kept things even until the Caps could get their bearings. His save percentage for the week when the Caps were shorthanded was .929 (13 saves on 14 shots). His save percentage when the Caps are shorthanded (.931) is fourth among all goaltenders who have faced at least 100 shots so far this season. 

Power Play: 4-for-11/36.4 percent (season: 29.6 percent; rank: 1st)

Three games played, three games with at least one power play goal. That makes five games in a row and six of seven with at least one power play goal. But perhaps more impressive is that the Caps netted four goals on eight power play shots on goal in exactly 15 minutes of total power play time for the week. Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in power play points with a 1-3-4 week. That’s a good sign. With five power play points for the season he is almost a quarter of the way to his total power play point total of last season (24) after only seven games. With Mike Green chipping in two goals and Nicklas Backstrom getting three assists, it was a good extra-man week for the Young Guns (although Alexander Semin did not get a point in 4:30 in power play ice time). It is worth noting as well that Dennis Wideman recorded a pair of assists to leave him at 1-3-4 in power play scoring for the season, adding another dimension to the power play from the blue line. That one power play goal – a game-winner – remains the only power play goal the Penguins have allowed this season in 33 shorthanded instances.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-8/87.5 percent (season: 81.8; rank: 18th)

As much as the fine kill numbers for the week is the fact that the Caps allowed opponents only eight power play opportunities. Only four teams in the NHL have allowed fewer power play opportunities than have the Caps. But the story for the week was the 7:34 stretch in the second period in which the Detroit Red Wings had two five-on-three power plays totaling 1:04 in which they had six shots on goal and only one goal. They had two other 5-on-4 power plays in that window and failed to score on either of them. That could have ended much worse for the Caps, and had it done so would likely have spelled the end of the winning streak to start the season.

Paying the Price: 66 hits/39 blocked shots (season rank: 8th/15th)

We have become accustomed to Alex Ovechkin being the big bopper for the Caps, leading the team in hits. But he had only four for the week, none of them coming in either of the last two games. He had as many total hits for the week as Jeff Schultz. Of the 66 hits for the week, Matt Hendricks led the Caps with 11, and Troy Brouwer was close behind with nine.

The blocked shots were down this past week, but they were spread around. Three defensemen – Dennis Wideman, Roman Hamrlik, and John Carlson – had six apiece. Karl Alzner had another four for the defense. In all, 15 of 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot.

Faceoffs: 79-for-168/47.0 percent (season: 48.3 percent; rank: 23rd)

In recent years the Caps were one of the league’s best faceoff teams. Those were the days of Boyd Gordon and David Steckel. Things haven’t changed; those two are currently ranked second and fourth in the league in faceoff winning percentage. They also play for other teams. Meanwhile the Caps did not hit 50 percent in any game this week. And it was an ugly week, for the most part, for each of the principal centers. Jeff Halpern saved some respectability for the week by winning the majority of his draws in each of the three games and going 20-for-25 overall. But the others…ugh. Nicklas Backstrom was below 50 percent in all three games and was 12-for-35. Marcus Johansson was under 50 percent in two of three games and was 10-for-29 overall. Brooks Laich was under 50 percent in all three games and was 20-for-53 overall. No Cap qualifying among the league’s face off leaders is over 50 percent (Halpern’s 67.8 percent does not qualify on 56 draws, otherwise he would be first), and Brooks Laich is the highest ranking Cap at 69th.

Turnovers: Plus-24

This is always going to be one of those metrics one takes with a grain of salt because of the differences in scoring across NHL arenas. But 25 giveaways for the week is still a pretty good number (15 coming against the Red Wings, which wasn’t so good). In the first two games of the week (in which the Caps had five giveaways in each) defensemen were responsible for only two of the ten total recorded. Hard for opponents to generate much in terms of odd-man rushes when the defense is being responsible with the puck.

Of 19 players dressing this week (18 skaters and Tomas Vokoun) only two – Nicklas Backstrom and Vokoun – had more giveaways than takeaways. Backstrom was two and one; Vokoun was credited with one giveaway in the three games.


No, it’s not the playoffs, but there are items on the checklist for the regular season in preparing for the playoffs that need to be addressed… Demonstrate an ability to compete with elite teams, check. Demonstrate that you have balance on both offense and defense, check. Show an ability to close teams out with enthusiasm, check. It all part of the process in becoming a complete hockey team. Or, to put it as the great hockey sage Donnie Shulzhoffer once put it…
"This is hockey, okay? It's not rocket surgery. If you don't play this game with a lot of heart and a big bag of knuckles, you don't got dinky-doo."
The Caps bared their knuckles this week and left teams with big piles of dinky-doo in their wake.

Three Stars for the Week:

First Star: Tomas Vokoun (3-0-0, 1.00, .968, one shutout)
Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2; two goals against Philadelphia, two assists against Detroit)
Third Star: Mike Green (2-2-4, plus-3; almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)

Honorable Mention: Mathieu Perreault (3-1-4, plus-4), Nicklas Backstrom (1-4-5, plus-2), Joel Ward (2-0-2, plus-3, three giveaways).

A TWO-point night -- Game 7: Caps 7 - Red Wings 1

Before the puck dropped at Verizon Center to begin tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings, most folks would have heard the words, “seven and seven” and thought, “hmmm…a shot of Seagram 7, some 7-Up, and ice.” When the final horn sounded the end of the game, folks might have been forgiven if they thought it meant, “seven in a row after a 7-1 win.”

The Caps scored early, scored late, and scored in-between in handing the Red Wings their first loss of the season, leaving the Capitals as the last remaining undefeated, unblemished team in the NHL. Detroit fans might fall back on the fact that the Red Wings came into the game having played the night before against Columbus, were starting backup goaltender Ty Conklin, and were missing the human brick wall, Tomas Holmstrom.

Still, seven goals against? One for?? Whatever the Red Wings were missing, or substituting, or missing for a lack of sleep (hey, it was only their second game in a week), it didn’t explain how it is that the Caps took away early on what they did best – control the puck. Detroit had only six shots on goal in the last 18:06 minutes of the first period (eight for the period) as the Caps took the lead on goals by Mike Green and Marcus Johansson. Green got another 4:59 into the second period to put the Wings down by three goals for the first time this season. After Detroit got one back on a 5-on-3 power play midway through the middle frame, the Caps abused goalie and the evening’s sacrificial lamb, Ty Conklin, for four goals on the last 12 shots they took in the contest to end the Red Wing’s attempt to tie their franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season.

Other stuff…

-- The game turned on a 7:34 stretch of time in the second period. It began with Matt Hendricks taking what might otherwise have been an innocuous hooking penalty at the 9:10 mark and the Caps holding that 3-0 lead. And then… Roman Hamrlik was whistled for a delay-of-game penalty at 10:39 for lifting the net from its pegs, putting the Caps down two men…Niklas Kronwall got the Red Wings back in the game 26 seconds later with only six seconds left in the two-man advantage on a slapper from the top of the zone that goalie Tomas Vokoun was screened from seeing. Only 2:17 after Kronwall’s goal, Alexander Semin was sent off for a high-sticking call, and then Marcus Johansson joined him in the box 1:22 later to put the Caps down two men for the second time in the period. But the Caps killed both of those penalties off, preserving the two-goal lead at the critical juncture of the game.

-- Over that 7:34 stretch in which the Caps took four penalties and were defending 3-on-5 twice, the Red Wings launched nine shots at the Capitals’ net, six of them getting through to Vokoun, but only one made it to the back of the net. It was the kind of situation the Red Wings often feast on, and it was their inability to do so in this instance that turned the game.

-- Mike Green had his first four point game since December 5, 2009 (against Philadelphia), but it was a brief sequence midway through the first period that illustrated how far he has come as a defenseman. In it, he had to make one of those decisions that is among the hardest for a defenseman to make – whether to step up at the blue line to check a puck carrier. Green did, and separated a Red Wing from the puck. The Caps could not get the puck out of their own end, though, and seconds later, there was Green – on the other side of the ice – deep in the zone blocking a centering attempt from behind the Caps’ net. He might not make that play last year; he certainly doesn’t make it two years ago.

-- In 2007-2008, Alex Ovechkin figured in 47 percent of the Caps’ goals (65 goals and 47 assists among 238 goals the Caps scored that season). The Caps barely made the playoffs. After tonight’s game to make the Caps 7-0, Ovechkin has figured in seven of 29 goals – 24 percent (3-4-7). There are games when Ovechkin is going to have to be “the man.” But he doesn’t have to be “the man” for this team 60 games out of 82. This is a deeper, arguably better team than the ones on which Ovechkin lit up the scoreboard largely by himself. Tonight he had one shot on goal, but he record two points tonight, anyway, assisting on both goals by Mike Green.

-- Your odd Ovechkin fact for the night... Alex Ovechkin skated 13:00 minutes at even strength tonight. That would be less than Jason Chimera (13:54) and Joel Ward (13:25).

-- The fourth line needs a new label. Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mathieu Perreault went 2-3-5, plus-6. As a group they are 3-7-10, plus-14.

-- Balance, balance, balance. After tonight’s game the first line has six goals, the second line has seven, the third line has six, and the fourth line has those three.

-- And speaking of balance, the defense now has six players with points (as in, “every defenseman to dress so far this season”) and is 6-15-21, plus-22 as a group.

-- Fourteen skaters recorded points; and even though the Caps had five even strength goals and didn’t allow one, no Cap finished greater than plus-2. But every skater ended in the “plus” column. More balance.

-- Joel Ward scored the fifth goal for the Caps tonight, but it might not have been possible but for Liane Davis. She is the power skating trainer that has been working with Brooks Laich on his skating for some time. And that work might have been reflected in the ability of Laich to keep his skates under him, control the puck while fending off defenseman Brad Stuart (a pretty sturdy player in his own right), separate himself from Stuart, and find Ward for the lay-up to stick the stake in the Wings’ hearts.

-- Since allowing five goals in his first appearance as a Cap, Tomas Vokoun is 5-0-0, 1.19, .965, with one shutout.

-- A couple of things about the Wings…watching Nicklas Lidstrom is always a clinic, but in the offensive zone he was amazing in a subtle sort of way. He earned the second assist on the Wing’s goal, but it was his work at the top of the offensive zone that was educational. He had nine shot attempts, and only one was blocked. He was credited with five shots on goal, but even the three misses seemed to have a point. They looked like “sight line” shots that were intended to get through to teammates either on rebounds from the end boards or for potential deflections. None of the misses looked like “misses.”

-- On the other hand, we understand that it was Fabian Brunnstrom’s first game with the Wings, but it doesn’t seem surprising in one respect why Detroit is his third organization. It looked amazingly easy to push him off the puck. Any contact whatsoever ended whatever skating momentum he had and usually resulted in his losing possession of the puck. It was the sort of game that might have had one scratching their head wondering what the big deal was when he was a sought-after free agent out of Sweden in 2008.

In the end…7-0, tops in the league in offense and the power play, and they are tied for fourth in goals allowed per game. They have scored five or more goals in three of seven games and allowed one or fewer goals in three (two or fewer in five straight). If you are a Caps fan and are not pleased, or you are inclined to complain about anything, you are beyond hope. Hockey is a hard game, and to perform at this level of efficiency and effectiveness, even for a seven-game stretch, is indicative of a very, very good team. Yeah, yeah…we’ll see in May or June. But a team – any team – can only play the game in front of it. And seven times the Caps have taken care of business. It was a very, very good night.

Good enough to send the Wings in search of seven and sevens.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7, Red Wings at Capitals, October 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, here we are. Caps…Red Wings. The last two undefeated teams in the NHL. The Caps, of course, are in uncharted territory, having already set a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season. Detroit is in kind of rare air, too. The Red Wings can tie a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season with a win in this game. The Wings won six in a row to start the 1972-1973 season. And October 22nd is the 39th anniversary of that sixth consecutive win to start the season, a 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Contrary to what fans might think, Nicklas Lidstrom did not play in that game. He was only two years old. But tonight he will play in his 1,500th game, and although he is 41 years old, Lidstrom shows little signs of slowing down. Last night, for instance, he was 1-1-2, plus-2, with two hits and three takeaways in almost 24 minutes of ice time in a 5-2 win against Columbus. Some other fun facts about Lidstrom…

-- When Lidstrom was born on April 28, 1970, The Beatles were still together (their last album – “Let It Be” – was released a little more than a week later).

-- Lidstrom was drafted in the third round (53rd overall) in the 1989 entry draft on June 17, 1989. Neither John Carlson nor Marcus Johansson of the Caps had yet been born.

-- In that 1989 draft the Caps passed on Lidstrom twice, opting for goalies with the two picks they had before Lidstrom was taken – Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe.

-- The Red Wings passed on Lidstrom twice as well, going for Mike Sillinger with the 11th overall pick and Bob Boughner with the 32nd overall pick.

-- That’s okay; the Wings passed on Sergei Fedorov to take Lidstrom with the 53rd pick. They took Fedorov at 74th overall. That draft might have been the most successful for one team in NHL history. The Red Wing picks in that draft have played almost 5,900 regular season games in the NHL, and counting.

-- Lidstrom was picked between Blair Atcheynum (Hartford) and John Tanner (Quebec). Combined NHL games played, 217.

-- Lidstrom himself is now in his 20th season. In addition to the 1,500-game mark he is about to achieve, he has…four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy (first European player to win it), seven Norris Trophies (one behind Bobby Orr), ten first team NHL All Star selections, and five pages of his own in the Red Wings media guide.

It’s not as if Lidstrom is the only spark plug in this engine. The Red Wings aren’t 5-0-0 by accident. They are skilled, deep, balanced, and experienced. Their numbers bear that out…

(click on pic for larger image)


Detroit is second in the NHL in scoring, behind the Caps. Of the 19 skaters to take the ice for the Red Wings this season, 17 of them have points but only two with more than five. Ten of them have goals but only one with more than two. No player is on the minus side of the ledger.

Paying Dues

This is a team on which it is expected that youngsters will pay their dues in terms of serving an apprenticeship. The Red Wings have not had more than one rookie play in at least half the club’s games in a season since Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula played in 76 and 73 games, respectively, in the 2006-2007 season. And no more than two rookies played in that many games in the last dozen seasons. At the moment, Cory Emmerton is the only rookie on the roster for Detroit, and he seems typical of the arc that Red Wing prospects take to the NHL. A second round pick in 2006, he spent three-plus seasons with Grand Rapids in the NHL (the last of which included a two-game cup o’ coffee with the Wings) before sticking with the team at the start of this season.

Red and White, Blue and Yellow

So far this season, 54 players born in Sweden have played in at least one NHL game. Six of them have played for the Red Wings – Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Jonathan Ericsson. This group accounts for half of the Red Wings’ 18 goals so far. Six is not a record for the Wings, though. As recently as 2009-2010 they had eight skaters born in Sweden dress for at least one game, and they had nine dress in 2007-2008.

Home Grown

Of the 21 players taking the ice so far for Detroit this season, 14 of them were drafted by the Red Wings. And of that group, only two – Jakub Kindl and Niklas Kronwall – are first round draft picks. By round, the other picks are : second (4), third (3), fifth (1), sixth (1), seventh (1), ninth (1), and tenth (1).

Power Play With a Bullet

Going into last night’s game, the Red Wings were 29th in the league on the power play (1-for-19; 5.3 percent). When they were done carving up the Columbus penalty killers for three goals on five chances, the Wings jumped to 15th in the league. Oddly enough, they scored three power play goals in four chances in a total of only 3:10 of 5-on-4 ice time, but didn’t score in 1:51 of 5-on-3 time.

Frequent Flyer (Not the Team) Miles

Ian White is one of those odd Wings not drafted by the club. He was, in fact, drafted by Toronto in 2002. After spending some more time in Canadian juniors and the AHL, he joined the Leafs for a short stint in 2005-2006 (12 games) and then stuck with the big club in 2006-2007. He might made it a long career in Toronto, but it was not in the cards. White was traded in January 2010 as part of a seven player deal with Calgary that secured Dion Phaneuf for the Maple Leafs. It would be the start of a phase of White’s life in which realtors would figure heavily. The following November, after having inked a one-year deal with Calgary, he was traded to Carolina. February 2011…traded to San Jose. July 2011…he signs with Detroit. Five teams in 18 months.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Ty Conklin

Even though Jimmy Howard started, finished, and won last night’s game against Columbus (32 saves on 34 shots in the 5-2 win), he could get the call tonight. It’s not as if he’s been getting worn out. Last night was the Wing’s first game in almost a week, since beating Minnesota in overtime last Saturday. But if Howard does get the baseball cap, Ty Conklin would be getting his second start of the season. Given that this is the Wings we are talking about, it should not be surprising that Conklin’s only appearance so far is a shutout, a 3-0 win at Colorado two weeks ago. Conklin has carved out for himself a long career being the supporting actor, the reliable backup. Only once has he played in as many as 40 games in a season (coincidentally, in his first tour with the Red Wings in 2008-2009). But by the same token, only once in nine NHL seasons did he finish with a below-.500 record (3-5-2 with Columbus and Buffalo in 2006-2007). His 92-61-20 win-loss record over those nine seasons reflect his talent to come into games on an infrequent basis and give his club solid goaltending. He might be a backup, but he is not a liability. In four career games against the Caps he is 1-2-1, 3.06, .889.

Washington: Jeff Schultz

In the last three games between these teams the Red Wings have scored a total of only seven goals. And of that number Jeff Schultz was on the ice for only one of them. A fluke? Well, so far this season, of 211 defensemen having dressed for games, only 33 have been on the ice for fewer goals than Schultz, who has been on ice for only two of the 13 goals allowed by Washington so far. And of those 33 defensemen on ice for fewer goals, 19 of them have played in only one or two games. Schultz isn’t going to win any style points (or, it seems, much credit from Caps fans). He is never going to be a big hitter, and he can seem a bit ungainly on his skates. But bad things don’t generally happen when he is on the ice, and above all, that is the object of the exercise for a defenseman. In this game, that has to continue.


1. Early Pressure. No team has allowed fewer first period goals so far than the Red Wings, part of how it is that no team has allowed fewer goals than Detroit, period. Teams have not been successful moving the Wings out of their comfort zone and forcing them to play from behind. Only once this season have the Wings fallen behind by more than one goal in a game. It happened to be the only time they were taken to overtime (they beat Minnesota, 3-2, after spotting the Wild two goals). Once taking a lead in a game, they have not relinquished it at any further point in that game.

2. Kill Fil. Valtteri Filppula is hot. 2-5-7, plus-4 in his last three games, including a four-point night last night against Columbus. Currently tied for the club scoring lead, he is not too shabby against the Caps, either – 1-5-6, plus-3 in five career games against Washington.

3. Turn Off the Power. The Wings started the season 0-for-18 on the power play. They are now four for their last six chances. If there is one area that the Caps can be said to have underperformed so far, it is penalty-killing. They are tied for 15th in the league going into this game. The saving grace is that only three teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations. Unfortunately, one of those teams is Detroit, which has faced the fewest such situations (15 in five games).

In the end, it is way to early to call this a potential preview of a Stanley Cup final. What it is, is two teams near the top of their respective games. They are two teams that dealt with early shortcomings – the Wings and their power play, the Caps and allowing teams to hang around too long – and have, at least for the time being, dealt with them. This is not likely to be a high-scoring game. Although they are the two top scoring teams in the league, the Wings are tops in defense (1.40 goals allowed/game), and the Caps have been even stingier in their last four games (1.25) after allowing eight in their first two contests. This game could turn on whose backside is more effective screening a goaltender – Tomas Holmstrom for the Wings or Troy Brouwer for the Caps. “B” comes before “H.”

Caps 2 – Red Wings 1

Friday, October 21, 2011

Everybody Sing!

"Vokey play unbelievable and he keep us in the game and keep the lead..."

So said Alex Ovechkin of goaltender Tomas Vokoun's play last night.  And ever since we have been humming this...

You keep your right pad in,
You kick your right pad out,
You bring your right pad in
And you shake it all about.
You do the Vokey Pokey
And you make another save
That's what it's all about. 

A TWO-point night -- Game 6: Caps 5 - Flyers 2

On December 20, 2008, the Washington Capitals went to [Insert Name of Large American Banking Firm Here] Arena and were pasted by the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-1, in what was one of the more frustrating games in Caps’ history. In that game the Caps launched 25 shots at the Flyer net in the first period, only to be frustrated on all of them. They outshot the Flyers, 39-13, over two periods, yet found themselves down 3-0 after 40 minutes before losing by that frustrating 7-1 score.

Why do we bring that up? Well, going into tonight’s game at Wells Fargo Arena, it was the last time a Caps team has lost a hockey game in regulation in the regular season in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That’s right. Against the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins the Caps were 9-0-2 in their last eleven regular season visits to the Commonwealth heading into Thursday's game. And when they skated off the ice at Wells Fargo Arena, it was 10-0-2 after a 5-2 thumping of the Flyers.

One is tempted to say that the game was closer than the final score indicated, but the truth of the matter is, the apt description of this game is that it laid bare the current state of results of actions taken long before the first puck was dropped in this game. Actions taken last summer. On the one hand there was one team that added some grit on the forward lines, depth on defense, and elite goaltending. On the other was a team that moved a large part of the core that sustained it for the last several years, opting to try and forge a new chemistry. Oh, and add what they believe to be elite goaltending.

The results for a game at this early stage might not have been predictable, but their weren’t surprising. The Caps spotted the Flyers an early goal, then roared back with two quick strikes in the last 80 seconds of the first period and three more in the first five minutes of the third to turn a close game into a rout. A late goal by rookie Sean Couturier was like trying to put an evening gown on a pig for the home team in the 5-2 final.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps are a more complete product than are the Flyers at the moment. Certainly they got more out of their summer additions than did the Flyers. Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward each scored their first goal in a Caps uniform, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 40 of 42 shots. Even Jeff Halpern, who did not figure in the scoring, won four of five defensive zone draws and five of six overall.

-- On the other side, the 51 Million Dollar Man stopped the first eight shots he saw, then allowed five goals on the last 20 he faced. For Ilya Bryzgalov, that makes him 1-0-1, 3.98, .872 in three appearances since shutting out New Jersey.

-- Every goal has a story before the puck hits the back of the net, usually one of hard work or smart play before the shot is taken. For instance, on the Caps’ first goal Mathieu Perreault played the kind of smart zone defense he is not often credited with playing. Patrolling the middle to prevent an exit pass, he did just that, stealing a blind pass that Flyer Scott Hartnell put right on his stick (it might have been the best pass of Hartnell’s recent career). And then Perreault did what one does in that situation…put the puck on net. It hit something on the way through and eluded Bryzgalov to tie the game.

-- On the second one, Alex Ovechkin whacked home a rebound into an open net. But it was Nicklas Backstrom beating Claude Giroux to a loose puck behind the Flyer net, getting position on him, then going strong to the net to force Bryzgalov to defend the near post. Backstrom was not able to stuff the puck in, but there was Ovechkin, playing low and positioning himself on the other side of the crease to whack in the rebound.

-- On the third one, Roman Hamrlik scored from long range, but it was the work of Matt Hendricks behind the net, fending off defenseman Andreas Lilja as he was circling behind the cage and pushing the puck out to Hamrlik, who then wristed it off Lilja’s stick to give the Caps a cushion and end a shift that Lilja will want to forget.

-- The fourth one was a product of a different-look power play. Alex Ovechkin wasn’t manning the Distant Early Warning Line 60 feet from the goal. He was in the middle of a 1-3-1 set up, and as Nicklas Backstrom held the puck on the right wing wall, he jumped into a void at the edge of the right wing circle where he snapped a pass from Backstrom past Bryzgalov before Maxime Talbot could close in and neutralize his stick.

-- On the last one, Joel Ward simply beat Kimmo Timonen to a spot and couldn’t be moved off his position by the smaller defender. But Ward doesn’t get a chance to deflect the puck behind Bryzgalov if defenseman Jeff Schultz doesn’t send a shot low along the ice. It is a basic, yet too often neglected skill.

-- At the other end of the ice, Tomas Vokoun continued his sizzling run of puck-stopping. Since allowing a goal at the 12:56 mark of the third period against Tampa Bay he has stopped 139 of 144 shots for a .965 save percentage, and he has a goals against average of 1.18.

-- Vokoun did not lack for work. Every Flyer skater registered at least one shot on goal except Andreas Nodl. It also happened that Nodl was the only Flyer with less than ten minutes of ice time, or he might have gotten one of his own.

-- That’s the fourth straight game in which Ovechkin finished with less than 20 minutes of ice time (tonight: 17:59). At first glance, one might think it a product of a deeper Caps power play that relieves him of some of that responsibility. But he is skating only about 40 fewer seconds a night on the power play than he averaged last season. His even strength time is down 1:28 from his average last season. That is where the Caps’ depth is being reflected.

-- This was an odd game for a goaltender in this respect. Goalies have to prepare for every shot, whether they get all the way through or not. Yes, Vokoun faced 42 shots on goal – not something one would like to see on a regular basis. But the Flyers had only 61 attempts, 19 of them either blocked or missing the net. The Caps had “only” 28 shots on goal, but finished with 64 attempts. Vokoun had a bigger shot workload, but did he have to expend that much more effort than Bryzgalov than the shot totals would suggest?

-- If Alex Ovechkin got the hard hat for his two-goal night, the fourth line should get the tool belt. Mathieu Perreault, Jeff Halpern, and Matt Hendricks finished 1-2-3, plus-5, had four hits, two takeaways, a blocked shot, and were 13-for-17 on faceoffs.

-- Speaking of the blocked shot for that line, it was half a foot away from being a disaster. Matt Hendricks dropped in front of a drive by Andrej Meszaros and took it right in the middle of his chest, on the third star above “Capitals” on his jersey. Painful as it had to be, six inches higher, and it might have been worse.

-- It had to happen in Philly. One might remember in the movie, “Rocky,” the title character is very proud of never having his nose broken in more than sixty fights, until he has his beak busted by Apollo Creed in Philadelphia. Well, Brooks Laich might not have had his nose broken (no report of it after the game), but it wasn’t for lack of effort by the Flyers. Twice he was the victim of high sticks in the schnozz, once courtesy of Braydon Coburn (a double-minor), once courtesy of Danny Briere, a penalty that would have been a double-minor had Laich not been bloodied by the earlier high-stick.

-- With Ovechkin’s power play goal tonight, that makes power play goals in five of six games (6-for-23) and four in a row. The Caps did not have a streak of four games with a power play goal all of last season. The last time they had a longer one was a seven-game streak, March 6-18, 2010. They were 4-1-2 in that sreak.

-- The Caps were 2-for-14 on faceoffs to start the game (14.3 percent), 26-for-45 to end it (57.8 percent).

-- And here’s one for the Schultz haters… Hits for the night: Jeff Schultz, 1 (in 16 minutes)…Chris Pronger, 1 (in 21 minutes).

In the end, what might have been anticipated as a close game at the start, and in fact was one through 40 minutes, ended up displaying the relative states of these teams. The Caps are deeper with more top-end talent that the Flyers, who are relying on Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to take up the slack after the departure of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the middle. And with Brayden Schenn , Sean Couturier, and Matt Read in the lineup they are uncharacteristically young, too. Whether that will yield dividends for the Flyers down the road, one cannot know. But one has to wonder about the differences between the pipes for these teams. Vokoun’s recent record we noted above, but as for Bryzgalov, in his last 15 games (including playoffs) he is 5-7-3, 3.04, .902, with one shutout (against, it should be noted, a team that isn’t especially frightful on offense – New Jersey, currently averaging barely a goal and half a game). He has allowed three or more goals in 11 of those 15 games.

But that’s the Flyers’ problem to solve. The Caps began a difficult stretch of their schedule – four of five opponents being playoff teams last season – on the right foot. A tough road test passed. It gets harder, though, with the Red Wings coming to town on Saturday.

Maybe they can play in Pennsylvania?