Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Anatomy of a Streak

The Washington Capitals have compiled a 10-0-2 record against the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last three regular seasons. It is the longest streak of games with points earned by a team in this series since the Caps went 15-0-1 from October 1983 to November 1985. What is more, in the 12-game streak the Caps have not lost to Pittsburgh in the hockey portion of either extra time games they lost, falling as a result of Bettman’s Miracle, once in March 2009 and again last December. Some other things of interest (well, to Caps fans) about the streak…

-- The Caps have outscored the Penguins, 47-27, over the 12 games.
-- The Caps’ power play is 12/40 (30.0 percent).
-- The penalty kill is 84.2 percent (48 for 57).
-- Doing the arithmetic, the Penguins have enjoyed 17 more power play opportunities than have the Caps in the 12 games…conspiracy theorists, have a blast.
-- The Caps do have three shorthanded goals, so there is that.
-- 16 different skaters have goals for the Caps in the streak, including five players no longer with the club: Tomas Fleischmann (four), Shaone Morrisonn (one), Sergei Fedorov (one), Michael Nylander (one), and Viktor Kozlov (one).
-- 26 different players have points, including eight no longer with the team: the aforementioned five plus Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, and Quintin Laing.
-- Although one might have the impression that the shot totals favored Pittsburgh heavily, the shots are almost the same over the 12 games – 380 for Washington, 375 for Pittsburgh; each team had the higher number of shots on goal in six of the games.
-- The Caps have held the Penguins to three goals or fewer in 11 of the 12 games.
-- They have scored four or more in six of the games and won by a 6-3 margin in three of them.
-- The Caps’ scoring over the 12 games looks like this:

An interesting fact… of Alex Ovechkin’s 13 goals against the Penguins in this streak, only one was a game-winning goal – last night’s rocket in the 1-0 win. Of his 13 goals, six have come on the power play, and two were empty net goals.

Mike Knuble almost deserves his own section. OK, he does deserve his own section…

-- Knuble continued his career as a Penguin killer – seven goals in the 12 games, and he only played in the last eight of them (he played for the Flyers in the 2008-2009 season).
-- Seven of the 43 goals Mike Knuble has scored as a Cap have come at the expense of the black and Vegas gold.
-- There is a “Mario-like” quality to his goal scoring performance. Among his seven goals he had three even-strength goals, two power play tallies, a shorthanded goal, and an empty netter. Nope…no penalty shots, but he does have a shootout goal.
-- Last night was the first time in his career as a Cap that he did not record a goal against Pittsburgh; he had single-goal performances in each of the previous seven games of this series.

The Caps have ten wins in this points-earned streak. Nine of the wins came in the hockey portion of the show (one came via The Gimmick). In the nine wins the Caps had eight different game-winning goal scorers: Sergei Fedorov, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, Mike Knuble (Knuble also had the winner in the lone Caps Gimmick win), Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Tomas Fleischmann (twice). They have spread things around.

It has not been often over the last two decades that a Caps fan can think of the rivalry with the Penguins in terms of dominance on the part of the Caps. Even if it is “only” the regular season (there being that pesky nonsense of the Penguins winning all but one playoff series between the clubs), it’s nice to look back on the last 12 games of this series and think, as a Caps fan…

…ahhhhhhhhh, sweet.

Quote o' the Day...

"We created a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities, but the goalie did a good job of keeping us from the second rebounds."

-- Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins

Compare that to this quote...

"This goalie isn't that good, all right? He will give us rebounds, he has, and he will give us cheesy ones on the net."

That was Dan Bylsma, Penguins coach, describing the same goaltender in a game between the Caps and Penguins last December 23rd.

Sometimes, you don't want to poke the bear.  Or in this case, the "ex-Bear," Caps goalie (and former Hershey Bear) Michal Neuvirth

A TWO-point night -- Game 61: Caps 1 - Penguins 0

Sometimes, it takes only one.

The Washington Capitals got a second period power play goal from Alex Ovechkin, and goaltender Michal Neuvirth made it stand up by turning away all 39 shots he faced to give the Caps a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Caps’ first visit to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin got his goal on the Caps’ third power play of the contest when Marcus Johansson gloved a loose puck out of the air, skated across the zone, and laid the puck out like a batting practice fastball where Ovechkin could lean into one. Ovechkin did just that (taking a swing that many other times might have resulted in a broken stick) and beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury cleanly.

It was turnaround being fair play for Ovechkin and Fleury, reversing the fortune of a first period play when Nicklas Backstrom backhanded a stretch pass through the middle to spring Ovechkin on a partial breakaway. Ovechkin managed to skate in and get a clean backhand opportunity on Fleury, but the puck was deftly turned away by Fleury’s blocker to keep the game scoreless.

At the other end, Neuvirth played as if he has a very long memory. One got the feeling that he still harbored resentment at the disparaging comments of Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma in the Pittsburgh locker room the first time these teams met this season (captured on the HBO 24/7 series). And he had his moments, none bigger than when he robbed Jordan Staal with a fabulous glove save in the first period after a fine set up from Brett Sterling then foiled a shorthanded breakaway by Staal less than a minute before Ovechkin’s goal. He came up big in the end, too, stopping all 14 shots he faced from the Penguins in the third period to record his third shutout of the season, second in his last two appearances against Pittsburgh.

Other stuff…

-- Neuvirth, Ovechkin, and Fleury were the stars and rightly so, but Marcus Johansson had a fine game, too. He drew the penalty that led to the successful power play (by driving to the net) and set up the game-winner.

-- The Caps have now beaten the Penguins in three arenas this season (Verizon Center, Heinz Field, and Consol Energy Center) in extending their regular season run to 10-0-2 over the Penguins in their last 12 games.

-- Surprised that the Caps held the Penguins without a goal? Well, consider that no Penguin taking the ice had scored a goal against the Caps in the previous three games between the clubs. The three (that’s right, kids…three, in three games) goals were scored by Sidney Crosby, Yevgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz, all of whom were on the shelf last night.

-- That makes 97:47 of shutout hockey against the Penguins (and counting) since Malkin’s goal at 2:13 of the second period in the Winter Classic (edit: make that 157:47, as an astute reader pointed out...we jumped right past one of the shutouts). Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have stopped the last 76 shots on goal taken by the Penguins.

-- Ovechkin had 19 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, and one tally (but for the fine effort of Marc-Andre Fleury in goal for the Pens, Ovechkin might have had a hat trick). He had a third of the Caps’ shots on goal (eight of 24) and 19 of the 51 shot attempts for the night. He was ready.

-- The score sheet looks mighty sparse for Scott Hannan in this one – a minor penalty and a shot attempt that was blocked. But he was a rock in more than 23 minutes of ice time, including 1:57 of the last 3:01 of the game.

-- And speaking of ice time…who led the Caps’ defensemen in shorthanded ice time? Karl Alzner and John Carlson, that’s who (3:18 apiece of the 6:00 minutes in shorthanded ice time). As you figured out, the Pens did not succeed on any of their three power plays.

-- 64 hits. Sometimes, that stat is as much a product of an over-zealous scorekeeper, but last night it seemed about right. Neither of these teams takes any of these games lightly. They bring a lunch and a tool box, ready for work.

-- If faceoffs are an indicator of zone dominance, the Penguins had it all over the Caps in this one. There were 30 faceoffs in the Caps’ defensive zone last night, 12 in the Penguins’ defensive zone. There is a chicken and egg matter of so many shots stopped by Neuvirth leading to draws, but that too is a product of the zone dominance exhibited by Pittsburgh.

-- If anything, the flow and shot differential was reminiscent of the first two games of the 2009 playoffs when the Caps won two games against Pittsburgh despite getting mauled for 72 shots on goal against. The difference, those games were in Washington, this one in Pittsburgh.

-- Marc-Andre Fleury kept the Penguins in the game. Having defensemen by the name of Strait, Engelland, and Lovejoy in front of him, there was the potential to suffer a lack of support. But give credit to the Penguins’ overall defense, too (including Strait, Engelland, and Lovejoy), in holding the Caps to only 51 shot attempts.

-- D.J. King…six shifts (none in the third period), two hits, 4:25 in ice time. Just thought we’d point that out. That’s not his problem. It just makes us wonder what the point was in making the trade to get him…was it more about moving Stefan Della Rovere?

-- Mathieu Perreault played only 8:09 for the game and took only one shift in the third period (that coming at the 1:01 mark).

-- OK, it’s nice that the Caps scored a power play goal, the third straight game in which they have done so (3-for-9). But while they had five shots on goal on their three man advantages, the Penguins had four shorthanded shots and a couple of excellent scoring chances. On the five-game road trip the Caps allowed seven shorthanded shots on goal and two goals.

In the end, a 3-2-0 road trip is not bad. And, the six goals allowed in Anaheim aside (in a win), seven goals allowed in four games isn’t bad either. The cherry on the sundae, though, is ending the road trip with the win in Pittsburgh that not only extends the points-earned streak to 12 games against the Penguins (10-0-2), but it was the second consecutive shutout of the Penguins after not blanking them in 79 consecutive games against them (dating back to an 8-0 whitewashing of the Penguins on October 29, 1991).

The win allowed the Caps to climb to within a point of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lead in the Southeast Division. Tampa has two games in hand on Washington and will play again (hosting Phoenix on Wednesday) before the Caps take the ice again on Friday against the Rangers. But with the season series against the Penguins now in the rear view mirror, the battle is joined with the Lightning to see if the Caps can make it four straight Southeast Division crowns.