Friday, December 02, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Senators at Capitals, December 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After 24 games a year ago, the Washington Capitals were 16-6-2. Two years ago they were 13-5-6. Three years ago, 13-8-3. As they prepare to take the ice against the Ottawa Senators the Caps are 12-11-1 and stuck in tenth place in the Eastern Conference. They are looking up at Saturday’s opponent, the Senators inhabiting eighth place as play started on Friday night. It is a place they haven’t occupied for a whi…

“Excuse me.”


“Do I detect a bit of pessimism here?”


“That isn’t very constructive.”

And you are…

“Here to help you…”

I think it’s the Caps who need help at the moment.

“Well, perhaps you should look at things more optimistically.”

More optimistically…

“Yes, it all a part of our creed at ‘Optimist International.”


“Yes, the Optimist Creed asks only that you promise yourself…

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”

And you think this can help?

“Hey, it can’t hurt.”

Neither of these teams had a November to remember. The Caps were 5-8-1, while the Senators were 5-5-2. And neither started December on the right foot, Washington losing to Pittsburgh on Thursday, 2-1, while Ottawa dropped a 3-2 decision to Dallas. Ottawa is, however, 5-2-1 over their last eight games coming into this one. The Caps are 3-9-1 in their last 12 games.  Here is how they stack up against one another:

(click on pic for larger image)

1. Who’s hot?... Erik Condra. OK, we just wanted to see who among you thought we said, “Peter Bondra.” But the fact is, Condra is 2-3-5, plus-3 in his last four games after going six straight without a point. He is in his first full season with the Senators, but he already has a history against the Caps. In his first appearance against Washington he recorded a goal in a 2-0 Ottawa win. He also graduated with degrees in psychology and pre-professional studies (pre-med) from Notre Dame. Maybe he can explain this whole “lower body injury” thing.

2. Who’s not?... Craig Anderson. In his last four games in goal he is 2-2-0, 4.47, .883. In the “did you know” category, Anderson once changed his name. According to the Web site,, “Craig changed the spelling of his surname to "Andersson" for hockey after his youth team travelled to Sweden for a tournament. He changed it back to "Anderson" following the 2002-03 season.” If he keeps up with these sorts of performances he has had over the last four games, he might change his name to “Backup.” In eight career games against the Caps he is 4-4-0, 2.62, .917 with one shutout.

3. Ottawa has allowed a power play goal in each of their last six games, killing 21 of 27 shorthanded situations (77.8 percent). They have allowed at least one power play goal in 11 of 14 road games, including the first meeting of the teams this season, a 2-1 win for the Caps.

4. Daniel Alfredsson has 32 goals against the Caps in 54 career games, the second highest goal total against any team he has faced (he has 41 goals in 81 games against Buffalo). He has only one goal in his last ten games, though. Fun fact – he is the longest serving captain in the NHL, having served as Ottawa’s captain since the 1999-2000 season.

5. Kaspars Daugavins is one of two players in the NHL having dressed this season who were born in Latvia. It bears noting that while Caps fans might not recognize his name, that name has found its way to the score sheet recently. Daugavins is 1-3-4, plus-6 in his last eight games, not bad for a rookie winger getting 15 minutes and change of ice time a night in that span.

1. The Caps have scored single goal in each of their last three games. That is the first time they achieved that dubious accomplishment since November 15-19…this season. The Caps have scored more than three goals once over their last 13 games.

2. In those 13 games the Caps have a total of 26 goals. The top line over most of that stretch of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer has nine of them (three apiece). The “Meat and Potatoes” line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward has 10 (Chimera has six, Laich three, and Ward one). The other two forward lines and the entire defense has seven goals, three of them from John Carlson.

3. One goal games…that’s the ticket. The Caps are 7-3-1 in games decided by one goal, 5-8 in all other games.

4. Tomas Vokoun is 4-11-0, 3.21, .902 in 16 career appearances against Ottawa. Michal Neuvirth is 3-0-0, 1.63, .938 in three career appearances against the Senators.

5. Maybe Mathieu Perreault gets a sweater for this game? He has three goals in four career games against Ottawa on only six shots on goal.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson is something of a “feast or famine” player. He is second on the team in scoring (1-21-22), but he has been on the ice for 33 goals, too (second on the team). He has points in eight of his last ten games (0-9-9), but is only “even” in that span. In 14 road games he has 12 points (all assists), but he is a minus-3. Against the Caps he does not have an even strength point in four career games (he has two power play assists).

Washington: Brooks Laich

Laich has an interesting profile. On the road he is 2-1-3, minus-8 in 11 games, but he is 2-9-11, plus-4 in 13 home games. And his goals come at opportune times. Of his four goals, two have come when the Caps were trailing by a goal, one when tied, and one when the Caps were ahead by one. Three of his four goals have come on Saturdays. But here is perhaps the oddest fact of all so far this season. He has only one even-strength goal so far this season. He is tied for the team lead in power play goals, with three.


1. Third Period. No team has scored more goals than Ottawa in the third period (37 in 25 games). Only one team (Carolina) has allowed more than the 32 given up by the Senators. Will the Caps take advantage of the Senators’ generosity in the third period, or will the Caps be generous hosts?

2. Time. No team has a wider disparity of power play time and penalty killing time in road games than does Ottawa. The Senators have spent 32:08 more killing penalties than they have with a man advantage in 14 road games. The Caps are 2-for-41 on the power play in their last 11 games. They have to find a way to exploit that advantage and get their power play untracked.

3. Lanes. Ottawa is third in the league in blocked shots on the road. The Caps are having a tough enough time generating shots on goal. They have to find a way to get clear shooting lanes to the Ottawa net.

In the end, one would like to think that it is merely a matter of time before the light goes on over the collective heads of the Caps, and they implement the schemes of new coach Dale Hunter seamlessly and flawlessly. It’s been a rough slog through two games so far. A total of 36 shots and two goals serves as stark evidence that it has not been easy in coming. However, the Caps – for all their slumping through November – remain only five points out of a top-three spot in the conference, the margin between themselves and the Florida Panthers (with one game in hand).

That is what makes this game more important than one between a pair of teams at the edge of the playoff line would seem at first blush. If the Caps can beat Ottawa, and the Panthers lose to a tough San Jose team later on Saturday night, it would set up a meeting between the Panthers and the Caps on Monday in Florida that might get the Caps back on the right track as far as the natural order of things in the Southeast Division is concerned. But first things first…get the new coach his first win.

Caps 2 – Senators 1

A NO-point night -- Game 24: Penguins 2 - Capitals 1

When we said “possession” was a key in last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, we were sort of hoping that it would be the Caps that would dominate possession on home ice. They did not, and they lost, 2-1, the first time they lost to the Penguins in regulation time in a regular season game since the invention of the stick.

And please, we don’t want to hear about “effort.” This isn’t 2006, and there aren’t “moral” victories of the “well, they played them close” variety. This game was played on Pittsburgh’s terms from start to finish. Despite having Sidney Crosby back in the lineup, the Penguins are still a team that has an underrated defense. And by that we mean everyone buying into it, not just the goaltender and defensemen. And they get contributions from up and down the roster. Need evidence? Look at the point-getters from last night. Craig Adams (42 career goals in 694 games coming into last night) and Chris Kunitz (one 25-goal season in a seven-year career coming into this season) were the goal-scorers. Arron Asham, Richard Park, Tyler Kennedy, and Simon Despres (in his first NHL game) got the assists. None will ever find their way to the first page of the scoring leaders.

Meanwhile, consider this scary fact. Jason Chimera, who tallied the lone goal for the Caps last night, has now scored four of the last nine goals scored by the Caps dating back to the game against Winnipeg on November 23rd. The Caps have three goals in their last three games, and Chimera has two of them.

Other stuff…

-- How much did Pittsburgh dominate this game territorially? They out-attempted the Caps in shots, 69-42. There were only eight faceoffs in the Penguins’ end all night, 24 in the Caps’ end.

-- The Caps had 17 shots on goal for the night. Two of them came in the third period, and those didn’t come off the sticks of players you necessarily want leading your team in shots for a period. Karl Alzner got one at 8:33 of the period; Cody Eakin got one at 14:28. Meanwhile, the Penguins blocked eight shots in the third period (they had 15 for the game).

-- Alexander Semin was credited with 12:45 in ice time. That is the lowest amount of ice time for Semin in a game he actually finished (that is, wasn’t outright benched or disqualified with a major penalty) since January 24, 2008, when he skated 12:41 in a 2-1 win over Toronto.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 10 hits. Some will say this is encouraging. Yeah, well…he had one shot attempt for the game. That’s one shot…attempt. That came at 9:35 of the first period. He’s not paid to be Troy Brouwer.

-- If there is a silver lining, Sidney Crosby did nothing to demonstrate he is “the best player in the NHL.” Eight shot attempts, minus-1, two giveaways, 6-for-22 on faceoffs, and no points. But the Penguins won, so in the curious logic of hockey media, that made him the best player on the ice.

-- Matt Niskanen – he of the 18 goals in 319 games before last night – recorded eight shot attempts. No Cap had more than four.

-- How messed up are the Caps at the moment, especially on defense? Consider the defensive pairs for the Penguins goals – Jeff Schultz and Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine and John Carlson. Anyone have bets down when the season opened on those guys skating as pairs?

-- The trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nickas Backstrom had a total of seven shot attempts and three shots on goal in a combined 51:46 of ice time. Three Penguins individually had more shot attempts (Niskanen, Crosby, and Evgeny Malkin). Five Penguins individually had at least as many shots on goal.

-- It is hard to lump Nicklas Backstrom in that group, though. He did not have a point, but had at least one in four of five games going into last night’s contest. And he was an amazing 14-for-16 on faceoffs. Too bad, though, he couldn’t convert a tip-in that might have given the Caps some momentum.

-- Tomas Vokoun deserved better. He was beaten when Craig Adams was left all alone on the far post, and he was beaten on a fluttering puck that might have clicked off a stick as it was shot by Chris Kunitz. He robbed Sidney Crosby at the post and was otherwise very solid. He now has 61 saves on 65 shots over his last two games (.938), which is where folks would like to see him. At least something is working.

EDIT:  We would be remiss without an enthusiastic stick tap on the boards to John Erskine.  There isn't a more stand-up guy on this team than Number 4.  Nighty-night, Arron.

In the end, the Caps are a mess. One can rationalize this by thinking that the team is seeing a new coach for the first time in four years, and there are changes to incorporate. But the stagnant play of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin has been a feature of this team for a while now. Semin is 3-1-4 in his last 16 games; Ovechkin is 1-3-4 in his last ten. These are the twin engines on this boat that at the moment is dead in the water. And if they don’t start revving up soon, this could be the ugliest season in a long time in these parts.