Friday, December 16, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Avalanche, December 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish up their second two-game mini road trip in two weeks with a visit to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche broke out of the gate this season as if they were shot out of a gun (mixing racing and shooting metaphors), starting the season by losing their first game to Detroit, then running off five straight wins. Since then, however, the Avs are 9-16-1 and have settled into 13th place in the Western Conference.

Part of the problem is that the Avs have had problems on offense…

…it is a team that has been shut out four times so far this season…

…held to one goal on eight other occasions…

…only seven wins in regulation, five in the Gimmick…

…23rd in winning percentage when scoring first, 21st when leading after one period; 26th when leading after two…

…dead last in 5-on-5 play…

…they need to find someone who has a hot line to the Big Guy…

…and maybe they can get some special help on offense.

Meanwhile, here is how the teams stack up against one another:

(click pic for larger image)

Colorado has been up and down, but not making much headway in either direction. They ended November by starting a three-game winning streak, followed up by a three-game losing streak, a win, and a loss. This team has not yet figured out if they stink or they have a chance to make the post season.

1. The Avalanche is a team that lives and dies by the power play. They are 9-4-1 when scoring at least one power play goal, 5-13-0 when they are shut out on the man advantage (including a run of 2-11-0 in such games since November 1st). And while the Avs are second overall with a 22.1 percent conversion percentage, they are only 17th at home on the power play (15.8 percent) with only nine goals in 17 games.

2. One of the things the Avalanche have not yet figured out after 32 games is which of their goaltenders is going to be their number one netminder. Oh, sure, Semyon Varlamov has 24 appearances, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere has only 10. But while Varlamov is ranked 39th among 44 goaltenders in goals-against average (3.14), Giguere is ranked sixth (1.95). While Varlamov is ranked in a tie for 38th in save percentage (.896), Giguere is ranked in a tie for 12th (.923).

3. Only one team in the league has fewer goals at 5-on-5 than Colorado’s 47 (Los Angeles: 40). Not much mystery why Colorado is 30th in 5-on-5 play. Curiously enough, though, only two teams have more goals at 4-on-4 than the five goals Colorado has (Philadelphia: 6; Washington: 7).

4. More evidence that Colorado has problems at even strength…Paul Stastny has six even strength goals so far this season. That is ranked in a tie for 78th place in the league among all skaters.

5. Colorado is a team that lacks a finishing kick. In the first period of games this season they are “even” (goals scored less goals allowed). In the second period they are a minus-14; in the third they are minus-5.

1. The win over Winnipeg was the Caps’ second road win in a row. That is the first time the Caps have won consecutive road games since their first two road games of the season (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia).

2. That 4-for-6 power play result against Toronto on December 9th is looking like an aberration. Starting with an 0-for-4 performance against New Jersey on November 11th, the Caps are 7-for-62 (11.3 percent), and that includes the 4-for-6 effort against the Maple Leafs.

3. It is early to think of such things, but the Caps rank fourth in the East in regulation-plus-overtime wins (15). That is the second tie-breaker, after number of games played/points percentage.

4. Nicklas Backstrom has scored goals in consecutive games three times this season. Jason Chimera has done it twice, as have Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. Even Marcus Johansson and Dennis Wideman have had goals in consecutive games this season. Alex Ovechkin?...nope. He has chance to remedy that on Saturday.

5. With his win on Thursday in which he stopped all 26 shots he faced, Michal Neuvrith allowed fewer than four goals in consecutive appearances for the first time this season. That is not a misprint, and that was made possible by his allowing one goal on 12 shots in only 20 minutes of work against the Flyers on Tuesday. Here is what is killing him – the Caps have allowed 20 power play goals in 30 games; Neuvirth has allowed 11 in 12 appearances.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Semyon Varlamov

It is entirely likely that Varlamov will sit this one out. Why? Well, he’s been pretty much awful in his last four games: 1-3-0, 4.63, .850. And, on top of that, only two goaltenders have a worse save percentage defending against power plays than Varlamov among goalies with at least 15 appearances (Steve Mason, Curtis Sanford…which means, “Columbus”). To be charitable, he has been streaky. He has two three-game winning streaks sandwiched around a streak in which he was 0-6-1. He has seven wins in which he allowed two or fewer goals; he has five games in which he allowed five or more goals.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson started the season as if he might grab the second line center position by the throat. He had five goals in his first eight games, three of them game-winners. Since then, however, he has one goal in his last 21 games, none in his last 16 (0-7-7, minus-5). What is curious about his scoring over those last 16 games is that his assists have come in pairs – three times he had consecutive games with an assist. He had one in the game against Winnipeg on Thursday, so… Still, it would be nice to see him light the lamp on his own.


1. Spoil the Home Cookin’. Colorado has won its last four home games and has done so against some rather stiff competition – St. Louis, Detroit, and San Jose in addition to New Jersey. And in the last three – the ones against the Blues, Red Wings, and Sharks – the Avalanche came from behind to win. In the last three road games the Caps have allowed only one third-period goal. Get a lead, keep a lead.

2. Pound the Power Play Pucks at the Net. Colorado has allowed power play goals in six of their last seven games (23-for-31; 74.2 percent penalty killing). The Caps have gone without a power play in seven of their last nine games. This opponent presents an opportunity to reverse that trend, provided they actually get pucks to the net.

3. Keep the kids in their place. Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog all have yet to reach their 21st birthdays. The three have combined for 23 of Colorado’s 81 goals so far this season. But they have stumbled of late. Landeskog has hit a wall of sorts in his inaugural season (no goals in his last 17 games); Duchene has two in his last 11 contests. O’Reilly seems to be emerging from a slump in which he went without a goal in 12 straight; he has five in his last eight games. Don’t let the kids get all frisky.

In the end, this game might turn on the degree to which the Caps can keep Colorado off their power play. The Avs are three for their last four opportunities with the man advantage and have the second best power play in the league despite their comparative lack of success at home. The Caps have been pretty good when minimizing opportunities for the opposition on the power play. In the last 12 games in which the Caps limited an opponent to four or fewer man advantage situations, they did not allow a power play goal (29-for-29 in those games). If the Caps can manage their shorthanded situations to four or fewer, the Avs would not appear to have the 5-on-5 game to come out with a win.

Caps 4 – Avalanche 2

A TWO-point night -- Game 30: Capitals 1 - Jets 0

It was getting to where you wondered if anyone would find the back of the net, even if it took the trick shot competition to do it.

For 58 minutes and change, the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets dueled back and forth in a surprisingly up-and-down, mad rush game for one with no goals scored. Michal Neuvirth kept the Caps in it early (14 saves in the first period), and Ondrej Pavelec kept the Jets in it later (12 shots stopped in the second period and the first eight shots he saw in the third). The goalies were the stars of this game.

That is, until Winnipeg made a mistake at their own blue line. Andrew Ladd was at the left wing boards at his own blue line when he tried to feed the puck forward to Kyle Wellwood. But Nicklas Backstrom got in the way, intercepting the puck and feeding it back to Marcus Johansson turning back toward the Jets’ end. Johansson carried the puck in, and as he was about to cut to the middle from right to left, he dropped the puck for Alex Ovechkin. The left winger reached back into his bag of shots and found an old reliable – a wrister that beat Pavelec through the pads for the only goal of the contest with 74 seconds remaining in regulation time.

It was the last shot on goal of the game.

Other stuff…

-- Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. But all in all, it is better to be lucky and good. Michal Neuvirth was both. He kept the Caps in the game early on with 14 saves in the first period as the Caps were trying to get their legs under them. But it was not as if Neuvirth looked especially sharp in those first few minutes. He made the first save on shots – often in spectacular form – but it seemed that had the Jets had a bit more follow up, there would have been opportunities. But Neuvirth sure did settle down as the game wore on. He became the goalie Caps fans have come to know, trusting his technique and being very quiet and efficient in goal. He deserved that number one star of the game.

-- Don’t poke the bear. And if you do, don’t keep poking it. Jets fans serenaded Alex Ovechkin all game long with boos whenever he touched the puck and chanted his nickname – "O-vi O-vi" – at every opportunity. How did that work, Jets fans?

-- Your shots on goal leaders for this game for the Caps… Karl Alzner and Jason Chimera. Huh?

-- It truly is Bizarro World when Jeff Halpern gets 13:02 in even strength ice time, and Alex Ovechkin gets 13:20. And we don’t know what to make of Mike Knuble’s 8:23 in ES ice time. Only Cody Eakin had less (7:12).

-- We have a hard time thinking that Dmitry Orlov is going anywhere near Hershey any time soon. Leaving out the fact that Jeff Schultz seems to be enrolled at remedial defenseman school for the time being, Orlov does not seem out of place here. Almost 20 minutes in ice time last night, six shot attempts, two shots on goal, a hit, a blocked shot, and an inconsequential giveaway. He led all Caps players in even strength ice time (18:50).

-- More Bizarro World…Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault go a combined 7-for-11 on draws, both winning the majority of faceoffs they took. Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich went a combined 10-for-17, each losing the majority of draws they took.

-- Of the 65 shot attempts on the part of the Caps, 25 of them came from defensemen. Not bad, especially when you consider John Erskine played only nine minutes, and Roman Hamrlik took a short spell on the bench after blocking a shot with his instep.

-- Give credit to the defense all around for holding Evander Kane to one shot on goal and only three attempts in more than 22 minutes of ice time.

-- Subtle ways of rewarding players…or not. The Caps had four minutes of power play time last night on two power plays. Alex Ovechkin skated 3:18 of that. You would expect that. Nicklas Backstrom skated 3:11. OK. Even Mike Knuble got 1:44. Alexander Semin? 41 seconds. Heck, even Orlov got 42 seconds.

-- Eric Fehr celebrated his first game against his old team with a team-high four shots on goal. However, none of them found the back of the net, and he was on the ice for the game’s only goal.

-- If I told you defenseman Zach Bogosian had 11 shot attempts for Winnipeg, would you believe me? Yeah, well…he did. Six of them were blocked, almost half the total number of Jets’ shots blocked by the Caps (14).

In the end, it was a good win. Not a great win, a good one. Keep in mind, Winnipeg went into the game as one of only three teams in the East with at least ten wins on home ice – Boston and Washington being the others. And it is a good win because the Caps vaulted all the way from 12th place in the East to seventh. They are now five points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida, and the Caps hold a game in hand. They won this one with equal parts patience and perseverance, as opposed to the equal parts lackadaisical and scatter-brained approach they took to the game against the Flyers on Tuesday.

The Caps still have work to do – their six road wins are 11th-most in the East at the moment, and they head to Colorado to try to add to the total. And they might get to see another former teammate, one that could set up an intriguing battle of the former prospects in goal – Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.

Ooh…the drama.