Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 10: Capitals 5 - Penguins 4 (OT)

The Washington Capitals returned from an unsuccessful road trip to find the Pittsburgh Penguins dropping by Verizon Center on Wednesday night.  The Caps and the Penguins met for the first of four times this season, and the clubs were headed in opposite directions.  Washington ended its road trip with a 0-3-1 record to drop them to 4-3-2 for the season, while the Penguins shrugged off a cool start to take three of a possible four points out of their last two games to reach .500 at 3-3-2.

These are two teams with more than a little familiarity with one another and more than a little animosity toward one another.  Both were on display early as the Caps took advantage of the last change to match the Alzner/Carlson defensive pair against the Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis line whenever possible.  And the big hitters for each team – Troy Brouwer for the Caps and Brooks Orpik for the Pens – were making life difficult for players caught unaware along the boards.

The Caps broke on top first when they took advantage of a napping Penguins defense.  Roman Hamrlik beat Penguin forward James Neal to a loose puck in the corner in the Caps’ end of the ice.  Hamrlik chipped the puck free up the boards to Jason Chimera, who turned and headed up the left side.  Chimera’s burst of speed caught Ben Lovejoy flatfooted, and the Caps forward sped by.  Matt Niskanen tried to take advantage of an attack angle to stall Chimera’s progress, but Chimera’s speed gave him a lane into the Penguin zone.  He curled around Niskanen and tried to snap a shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguin goalie turning it aside.  But it was Mike Ribeiro knifing in from the right side who corralled the puck ahead of Evgeni Malkin, and Ribeiro snapped the puck past Fleury before the goalie could get across the crease, giving the Caps the 1-0 lead at 5:58.

The teams exchanged power plays later in the period, but neither club could convert its opportunities.  The Penguins led in shots at the first intermission, 10-8, but the Caps led on the scoreboard, 1-0.

The lead didn’t last long after the puck was dropped to start the second period.  Sidney Crosby broke clean on a breakaway when Mike Green caught a rut in the ice at the Penguin blue line.  Crosby wasted little time with dekes, snapping a low shot just over goalie Michal Neuvirth’s right pad to tie the game just 1:02 into the period.  Green was injured on the play, favoring his left leg as he went off.

The goal and Green’s injury seemed to leave the Caps a bit out of sorts for the next few minutes, and it cost them.  Matt Niskanen gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead when his shot hit John Erskine in front, the puck skittering past Neuvirth’s left pad.  Only 15 seconds later, Crosby potted his second of the game when he snapped the puck over Neuvirth’s left shoulder on the short side from the low edge of the right wnig faceoff circle. 

With the Penguins hopping out to a 3-1 lead Caps head coach Adam Oates called his timeout to try to slow things down and blunt the Penguin momentum.  Perhaps surprisingly, he did not replace Neuvirth to accomplish that aim.  He was rewarded for his discretion as Neuvirth settled the rest of the Caps down with a couple of key saves on Neal on a Pittsburgh power play just after their third goal when the Penguins could have blown the game open.

Neal would get a measure of revenge when he wristed a shot past Neuvirth with just 37 seconds left in the second period to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead at the second intermission.

The third period lacked for spark as the Penguins came out looking only to play sound defense in front of Fleury and letting the Caps shoot from long range.  This might have been how the final 20 minutes played out, but with less than seven minutes left Derek Engelland got tangled up with Jason Chimera in front of the Caps’ bench.  As they separated Engelland gave Chimera a face wash and was whistled for a roughing minor penalty at 12:16.

On the ensuing faceoff Nicklas Backstrom won the draw cleanly from Brandon Sutter back to John Carlson.  The Caps defenseman sent the puck wide to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle, and Ovechkin one timed the puck high over Fleury’s blocker to bring the Caps within two at 12:23 of the period.

The Caps got within one just over two minutes later when Brooks Laich won a battle for the puck with Sidney Crosby behind the Penguin net, sweeping it out to Joel Ward who stuffed the puck under Fleury’s pads before the goalie could find him lurking in front.

The goal was the first shot in a furious effort by the Caps in the last 5 minutes to draw even.  Fleury turned several fine chances aside, and the Caps pulled Neuvirth for an extra attacker with just over a minute to play in regulation.  With the clock winding down toward zero, Tyler Kennedy tried to rim the puck around the boards behind the Penguin net to relieve pressure.  Mike Ribeiro cut off the puck along the right wing boards and whipped it to the net.  Fleury kicked out the puck, but he was unable to steer the rebound to a teammate.  Ovechkin reached for the puck and snapped it back at Fleury, but the goalie managed to get a pad on it.  He could not cover it, though, and it make for a mad scramble at the top of his crease.  Fleury tried to lunge forward to glove the puck to the ice, but Troy Brouwer poked at the puck as Fleury’s glove was coming down over it.  Brouwer got to it an instant before Fleury’s glove and slid it through the goalie and in with 1.7 seconds left to tie the game at four.

The Penguins argued that play should have been stopped, to no avail, and that is how regulation ended.  Overtime started with both teams seeming to want an early end to the extra session, the Penguins starting with Crosby and Malkin as their forwards, the Caps countering with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  Crosby won the draw to start overtime, but Paul Martin’s attempt to find Malkin on a long pass was too long, and Karl Alzner was there to control the puck at the Caps’ blue line.  Alzner sent the puck across to Backstrom, who eased across the Penguin blue line on the right side.  As Martin closed on Backstrom, the Caps center slid the puck to Ovechkin entering the zone on the left side.  Kris Letang eased over in an effort to get Ovechkin to change direction, but rather than cutting inside the defenseman, Ovechkin fired a wrist shot past Letang.  The shot sailed over Fleury’s glove on the long side and just under the crossbar to complete the comeback, giving the Caps a 5-4 overtime win an bringing their four-game winless streak to a halt.

Notes: The power play goal at 12:23 of the third period broke an 0-for-18 streak of futility for the Caps… Mike Green is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury… Matt Hendricks went off in the third period after blocking a shot but is not expected to miss time. 

Capitals 5 – Penguins 4 (OT)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A NO-point night -- Game 9: Wild 2 - Capitals 1

While Hurricane Sandy was lashing the east coast with high winds, rain, and Twitter commentary, the Washington Capitals wrapped up their first long road trip of the season with a visit to the Twin Cities to face the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.  The Caps entered the game winless in three straight (0-2-1), while the Wild were meandering around with a 3-2-2 season mark.

The Caps came into this contest having difficulty scoring on their power play – 3-for-20 for the season and 0-for-14 dating back to the third period of Game 3.  Their difficulties continued when they could not convert a penalty taken by Minnesota defenseman Tom Gilbert early in the first period.  The problem the Caps have been having on their power play has not been taking shots as much as it has been getting those shots on net.  On this power play Alex Ovechkin managed to get three shots off, but all missed.

The Caps returned the favor of taking a penalty mid-way through the period when Jason Chimera was sent off for holding.  He was followed to the penalty box by John Carlson, who shot the puck off the rink for a delay-of-game penalty to give the Wild more than 90 seconds of 5-on-3 time.  The Wild would not need all of it to get the game’s first goal.  Dany Heatley ripped a shot over Caps’ goalie Michal Neuvirth’s blocker to give the Wild a 1-0 lead at 10:58 of the first period.

The Wild converted the back half of the power play on an unfortunate play for the Caps.  From the right wing faceoff circle Devin Setoguchi attempted to send a pass across to Heatley at the left wing hash marks.  But Jay Beagle got his stick on the pass on its way through.  The trouble for the Caps was that Neuvirth was sliding across to defend against Heatley.  Beagle got too much of the puck and redirected it into the net through the space that Neuvirth vacated.  That was how the clubs went to the first intermission, the Wild up by a 2-0 margin.

The second period was marred for the Caps by their wearing a path to the penalty box.  The Caps took three minor penalties over a 14:31 stretch of the second period – Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendrick, and Mike Ribeiro being the culprits – but the Wild could not convert due to Neuvirth’s superb performance in goal.  Neuvirth turned away all 11 power play shots he faced in the period, and it seemed to provide the Caps with a spark.  The Caps outshot the Wild 6-0 in the last 3:11 of the period, but Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was up to the task, turning all of them away.  The period ended as it started, with the Wild holding onto their 2-0 lead.

The momentum the Caps established at the end of the second period carried over early into the third period as they pinned the Wild in their own end and kept the home team playing defense.  The pressure paid off when Ryan Suter was sent off at the 2:44 mark for holding, giving the Caps their second power play opportunity of the game.  The Caps futility on the man advantage continued in the technical sense, as they failed to convert in the 2:00 of power play time allotted to them.  But with the Caps still exerting pressure in the Minnesota end, they did convert just four seconds after Suter’s penalty expired.  Nicklas Backstrom notched his first goal of the year when he put back a shot by Alex Ovechkin, the rebound for which the Wild’s Backstrom had trouble controlling. 

The Caps kept applying the pressure and had an excellent opportunity with the clock winding down to the five minute mark when Mike Ribeiro and Brooks Laich had a 2-on-1 break.  However, Backstrom turned aside Laich’s redirect of a Ribeiro pass with his right pad, and the chance was no more.  Despite outshooting the Wild, 17-8, in the final period, the Caps could get no closer.  Backstrom made the one-goal margin stand up, and the Caps had their fourth consecutive loss, their road trip finishing with an 0-3-1 mark.

Notes:  The loss left the Caps winless on the road (0-3-2), while they are undefeated at home (4-0-0)… The power play is now 0-for-16 over its last six-plus games… The penalty kill, which started the season 17-for-17, is only 8-for-13 over its last four games…

Wild 2 – Capitals 1

Monday, October 29, 2012

“We believe we're paying out too much”

That was a surprising moment of unvarnished honesty by the Commissioner almost seven weeks ago in this interminable labor dispute between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association.  We fans see reports that operating costs have gone up for the league and its clubs since the last lockout (that we have to use the term "last lockout" is a clue how nauseating this whole thing has become).  But while these costs have gone up, according to the Commissioner, they have done so while hockey-related revenues have gone up.

It got us to thinking, what if a fan had that kind of a mind set?  Consider, according to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices have gone up by 91 percent since the league cancelled the 2004-2005 season in February 2005 (and that is after a four percent drop in gas prices in the last week).  That here in the DC area, base peak fare for Metrorail in Washington has gone up by 56 percent.  Metro parking rates have gone up by similar amounts.  And as for parking downtown goes, it varies, but based on where we park when do drive to games, it has gone up by two-thirds.  The cost of outfitting a fan (hats, jerseys, shirts) so that they have the right look when they see their favorites on the ice play has gone up.

And none of that includes increases in ticket prices over the past couple of years (about 15 percent per year, based on my invoices), despite the fact that many of the people attending games in this area have not seen their hockey fan-related revenue ("HFRR")  increase, either as a result of pay freezes for Federal employees or a general downturn in the economy.

It might make a hockey fan think, "Mr. Commissioner, we think we're paying out too much, too."

Think we'll see any savings from any reduction in player share of revenue passed along to hockey fans?

Yeah...hang on to that dream.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A ONE-point night -- Game 8: Flames 3 - Capitals 2 (OT)

The Washington Capitals can now be said to be facing a bit of adversity.  After their 4-0-1 start, they were pasted by the Montreal Canadiens by a 7-1 margin, then lost in the dying seconds to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, 2-1.  The four game road trip began its inbound leg with a visit to Calgary to take on the Flames on Saturday night.  The Flames are not expected to challenge for a Stanley Cup this season, but they did come into this game having won all three of their home contests to date.  The Caps, on the other hand, were 0-2-1 in three road games.

Head coach Adam Oates shook things up a bit for the Caps, inserting Jack Hillen on the blue line for his first start, giving Jeff Schultz his second start of the season (those two replacing Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine), and sitting Marcus Johansson in favor of Wojtek Wolski.  Calgary made a change of their own, giving Leland Irving his first start of the season in goal spelling Miikka Kiprusoff.

Washington came out sluggish to open the contest, playing the first half of the first period primarily in its own end.  Calgary, however, was tied for 24th in scoring last season for a reason.  The Flames were unable to take advantage of Washington’s inability to generate any momentum coming out of their own end, but got some help when Matt Hendricks was sent off for cross-checking at 9:41. 

Calgary converted the power play when Jarome Iginla muscled in close and stuffed the puck past Caps goalie Braden Holtby.  The Caps had their own chance on the power play when defenseman Chris Butler was whistled for holding.  The Caps could not manage so much as a shot of goal on their power play, a shortcoming that would cost them when the Flames added a second goal shortly after the penalty expired.  Hillen tried to clear the puck from the Caps’ zone, but Jay Bouwmeester managed to glove it down and then pass the puck to Curtis Glencross for a lay-up from Holtby’s left.  That ended the scoring in the first 20 minutes, the Flames holding a 2-0 lead.

The second period settled into a pattern of action largely limited to the neutral zone.  Neither team mounted much offense, even when presented with opportunities on the power play.  The teams exchanged a pair of unproductive power plays on their way to the 40-minute mark, at which point the score remained 2-0 in favor of Calgary.

Early in the third period the Caps were charged with their fourth minor penalty of the contest, a tripping penalty to Mathieu Perreault.  Calgary was sloppy in executing its power play, though, and the Flames found themselves chasing the puck down into their own end with frequency.  The artlessness with which they were handling the puck bit them when Mark Giordano tried to send the puck cross-ice and found only Troy Brouwer’s stick.  Brouwer deflected the pass into the neutral zone and beat Giordano to it.  There was nothing left between Brouwer and the Calgary net but open ice.  A deke and a shot later, the Caps had halved the deficit with their first shorthanded goal of the season.

The goal seemed to spark the Caps, who tilted the ice to the Flames end.  What they were not able to do, however, was to deposit the puck over the goal line.  The circle of justice came back on itself late in the period, though, when Joey Crabb fought off two Flames along the boards to slide the puck to Perreault in the right wing faceoff circle.  Perreault spun around at the dot and fired a shot that surprised Irving and sailed past him on the far side, just inside the post, to tie the game with less than four minutes left in regulation.  Jack Hillen got the second assist on the goal to make it three-for-three in players who spent time in the penalty box in this contest.

Neither team could muster much in the way of scoring chances in the last few minutes of regulation, and the game went to an extra five minutes.  The Caps had a chance early on in overtime, but Wojtek Wolski’s deflection of a John Carlson drive hit the post and caromed out.  It would be the best and last chance the Caps would have in the extra frame.  With the clock approaching one minute in overtime Mark Giordano found Alex Tanguay at the edge of the left wing circle for a shot.  Braden Holtby fought it off, but the rebound found its way to the stick of Jarome Iginla to Holtby’s left.  Iginla had an open net to shoot at, and he did not miss, burying the puck and the Caps’ chances for a comeback in the back of the net for the final 3-2 margin.

Flames 3 – Capitals 2 (OT)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The NHL Lockout is not... Logical

This lockout thing has us doing things we shouldn’t do.  I mean, here we are at “the deadline” to save the season, and there looks to be the makings of a deal on the table.  But no one who needs to be talking is talking, no one is talking about talking, and the only ones talking are reporters talking about no one talking.

It makes no sense.  It is utterly illogical.  And it drives us to our guilty pleasure, that pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizza.  I can hardly take a bite thinking about how illogical all of this is… how illogical… how ill… zzzzzzzzzzzzz…



“You humans have an inordinate propensity to consume what is not good for you…”


“Who else would I be?”

What are you doing here?

“To whom would you rather turn to discuss logic?”

You have a point.  OK, maybe you can help.  The National Hockey League locked out its players last month when the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players expired.  Ever since, the league and the player’s union have had sporadic meetings and talks to try to hammer out an agreement.  Where we are is that anyone with half a brain can see where this is going to end up in terms of how the players and the owners split revenue – 50-50 – but they seem to be worlds apart on how to get there.  It’s an impossible situation.

“An ancestor of mine maintained that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Yeah, well, it just seems that this thing is turning into the Gary versus Don show… the league Commissioner against the head of the players’ union.  There doesn’t seem to be a sense of a governing principle for what should drive the outcome.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

Makes sense.  But what some folks can’t understand is, if the last agreement was such a win for the owners, why are they trying to claw out an even larger share of the pie this time around?  Why is the agreement they liked then the one they don’t like now?

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

So how should the players respond to that kind of argument?

“If I were human, I believe my response would be: 'go to hell'. If I were human.”

As you can see, you’re not exactly catching these guys at their best.

“That much is certain.”

So, have you ever seen anything like this before?

“Some years ago, a Federation starship monitored an explosion on the Klingon moon, Praxis. We believed it was the result of overmining and insufficient safety precautions. The moon's decimation meant a deadly pollution of their ozone: They would have depleted their supply of oxygen in 50 Earth years. Due to the enormous size of their military budget the Klingons did not have the means to deal with this catastrophe. Then, at the behest of the Vulcan ambassador, I opened a dialogue with Gorkon, Klingon chancellor of the High Council. He proposed to begin negotiations at once.”

Negotiations for what?

“The dismantling of our starbases and outposts along the Neutral Zone, an end to nearly 70 years of unremitting hostility which the Klingons could no longer afford.”

I’m not sure this is quite that serious.

“It might be to a hockey fan.”

Again, good point.  It seems, though, that just like the last time the only peep we hear from the league’s side of the table is from Gary Bettman.  Bill Daly pipes up from time to time, but other than that it’s all Gary all the time.  There is supposed to be a gag order on the owners, but one has to wonder if all of them are following in lock step with the Commissioner.

“Without followers, evil cannot spread.”

I don’t know about that…

"Evil does seek to maintain power by suppressing the truth."

Scary when you think about it, but look, both sides seem to be in their own little world.

“I find the checks and balances of this civilization quite illuminating.”

You would.  But we’re at a desperate point in the process if there is to be a season.  Now we all know that desperation is a highly emotional state of mind. So how does your well known logic explain that?"

"Quite simply captain…"


“My apologies… Quite simply, Peerless, I examined the problem from all angles, and it is plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that under the circumstances, the only logical action would be one of desperation. Logical decision, logically arrived at."

And we are to take some wisdom from this?

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom; not the end.”

Yeah, well with these guys the end seems to be madness.

"Madness has no purpose. Or reason. But it may have a goal."

A goal?  Does either side look like it has a goal?  Is this the best they can do?

"May I point out that I have gotten a chance to examine the counterparts closely. They are brutal, savage, uncivilized and illogical. They are in every way examples of homo-juris, the very flower of the legal profession."


“I see I am not going too fast for you.”

So… do you think there will be any movement soon?

"It would be illogical to assume that all conditions remain stable."

But you’re not sure…

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

You’d never make it as a hockey columnist.


I see I’m not going too fast for you…



“I beg your pardon... Vulcan for 'touché.'”

But back to the NHL lockout… Can Bettman’s plan of controlling all the information from his side work for the owners?

“Terror must be maintained or the Empire is doomed.”

That sounds rather extreme.

“My apologies, that was my ‘Mirror Spock’ coming out for a moment.”

It’s been happening to a lot of hockey fans lately.  That’s why we need a dose of logic.

“Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.”

You admit that?

“To deny the facts would be illogical, Peerless.”

Today is a big day.  With no talks scheduled, the league might cancel a large block of games.  Does that signal that the season is likely to be cancelled?

“It is more rational to sacrifice one month than six, Peerless.”

I'm not talking about rationality.

“You might be wise to start.”

I think the league and the players could use a start; they are acting like children holding their breath until they get their way.  “These "children" are about to wipe out every game in the NHL season.  Now, what do you suggest we do? Spank them?

“They know only that they need, Peerless.  But, like so many of us... they do not know what.”

Then I guess we’re stuck.  Not even logic seems able to break this logjam.

“Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell BAD.”

You’ve been quite helpful, Spock.  Is this where you give us the finger thing and the “live long and prosper” speech.

“I have a finger for the league and the players, although not the one you anticipate, I suspect.  And as for ‘live long and prosper,’ they shall do neither.  They have killed the fans’ joy of hockey and hope that any solution will be found soon.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A NO-point night -- Game 7: Jets 2 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals saw their five-game points streak end in a spectacular way on Saturday night, dropping a 7-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal.  On Tuesday the Caps took their one-game losing streak to Winnipeg for the first of three visits to Manitoba this season.

The Jets were looking for their first win of the season, carrying a 0-4-0 record into Tuesday night’s contest.  One of those losses was a 3-1 loss to the Caps at Verizon Center just last Friday.  Winnipeg followed that game up with a 4-3 loss in Philadelphia despite unloading 47 shots at Flyer goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

The Caps, meanwhile, had two full days off – their longest hiatus of the young season – to lick their wounds.  Having a chance to ponder the defensive meltdown in Montreal paid some early dividends for the Caps in this contest.  The visitors resorted to the style that served them well in the opening round playoff win over Boston last spring.  Winnipeg had difficulty getting shots to the net, leaving goalie Braden Holtby unchallenged for long stretches of the opening period.  At the ten-minute mark of the period the Caps had twice as many blocked shots (six) as shots on goal allowed (three).

By the same token the Caps were mounting little pressure on Jets’ goalie Ondrej Pavelec, getting his fifth straight start in Winnipeg’s crease.  The Caps went almost 14 minutes between shots on goal, but they seemed happy, at least in the early going, to trade the lack of chances with the home team.  The teams went to the locker room scoreless after 20 minutes, the Jets leading on the shot meter, 6-3.

The second period looked a lot like the first in the first few minutes – few shots, fewer scoring chances, with the sense that both teams were content to counterpunch.  The Jets were presented an opportunity in the period’s fifth minute.  Karl Alzner was whistled for a hooking penalty that both he and the Caps’ bench argued.  Alzner, who had a total of 63 penalty minutes in 220 career games, was charged with his first career misconduct penalty, getting an extra ten minutes for his effort.

The Jets not only had a power play, but arguably the Caps’ best shutdown defender on the bench for most of the remainder of the period.  The lack of offensive rhythm in the gameto this point seemed to play havoc with the Jet’s ability to mount any power play pressure.  Specifically, the Jets kept sending shots wide of goal, piling up half a dozen missed shots on the power play but only a single shot on goal that was turned away by Holtby.

With the Caps dodging that bullet, they got a chance of their own mid-way through the period when Tobias Enstrom went off for holding.  The Caps, however, had the same problem as the Jets in terms of their ability to direct shots on net.  Their problem was compounded by equipment malfunctions, Alex Ovechkin breaking two sticks on the man-advantage trying to take one-timers.

The teams exchanged power plays once more before the end of the period – Brooks Laich going off for slashing and Dustin Byfuglien for the same infraction – but neither team could convert the opportunity into a goal.. The teams went off scoreless after 40 minutes.

The third period offered more of the same – few scoring chances, infrequent shots on goal, and no changes on the scoreboard.  One had the feeling this game might go all the way to the trick shot competition to decide a winner.  However, with the clock winding down under ten minutes Winnipeg finally grabbed some momentum and started putting pressure on the Capitals’ net.   The Jets had an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock when Evander Kane was open for a shot to Holtby’s right. The puck hit the post on the near side and rebounded to the far side of the crease. 

Olli Jokinen was about to pounce on the loose puck when Mike Green appeared to sweep the puck out of the crease with his hand.  The referee whistled play dead and immediately pointed to center ice, awarding the Jets a penalty shot for covering the puck in the crease with a gloved hand.  Green argued his case to referee Kelly Sutherland to no avail, and Jokinen was picked to take the free shot.  Jokinen beat Holtby by pulling him to the ice and deking to his backhand, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead at the 10:13 mark of the period.

That goal might have held up, but for a defensive breakdown by the Jets late in the period.  Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey got their signals crossed exchanging passes at the top of the Caps’ zone, and Hainsey whiffed on a return pass to Bogosian.  The puck was picked up by Alex Ovechkin, who took it down the left side with Hainsey trying to maintain position in front of him.  As Ovechkin crossed the blue line he feinted a cut to the middle, and Hainsey bit on the move.  Ovechkin chipped the puck to his backhand and circled around Hainsey to the net.  With Pavelec hugging the near post, Ovechkin flicked a backhand that snuck under Pavelec’ left arm on the far side and into the Winnipeg net to tie the game.

The game looked set to go to extra time, but with the clock running out the Jets fired the puck around the end boards, the puck coming out to Byfuglien at the point.  The big defenseman fired a shot that appeared to be going wide, but it was low to the ice, and Jim Slater managed to deflect the puck behind Holtby at the far post to give the Jets a 2-1 lead with just seven seconds in regulation.

Jets 2 – Capitals 1

Monday, October 22, 2012


When it comes to labor negotiations, Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman have years, decades in fact, of experience in the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the twists and turns that characterize them.  If you were to put together a list of people least likely to harbor – or at least show – emotion as talks are going on, Bettman and Fehr would be high on that list.

Not so Alex Ovechkin.  What we expect from middle-aged men in suits who have spent a lifetime in the art of the deal, we would not expect from a 27-year old who makes his living on skates in a sport where passion is at the core of an individual’s and a team’s success.

So, when Alex Ovechkin is asked if he will stay in Russia if the new collective bargaining agreement includes provisions for a significant rollback in the value of existing contracts, and he answers…

"I think yes. If my contract will be cut down greatly, it would be possible to annul it through the court."

…we might consider it as a response borne of the same passion that makes Ovechkin a thrill to watch on the ice.

Having said that, though, there is a non-zero probability that Ovechkin will make good on his threat and that some court, somewhere, will uphold his choice.  And if that was to happen, then the unthinkable would come to pass.  For the first time since the 2003-2004 season the Washington Capitals would ice a team that did not have Alex Ovechkin in its lineup.  Today we will take a look what sort of production we might expect out of that lineup.  You might avert your eyes from here on if you are easily made queasy.

With Ovechkin the Capitals currently have a full 23-man parent roster.  The 21 skaters on that roster include 13 forwards and eight defensemen (for this discussion Tom Poti is not included on the roster).  Last season those 21 players recorded a total of 204 goals.  That would have tied Dallas for 22nd in the league in scoring.  And if you are thinking that the Caps might get contributions from other skaters because no team ever ices just 21 skaters on a roster for a full season, the Caps had a total of only three goals from six additional forwards last season (those last six being the 22nd -  27th skaters in games played).  The amount is insignificant.

The object of this exercise, though, is to take a look at what the basic roster would look like without Ovechkin and what it might produce.  That means two things.  First, we do not have to concern ourselves with those extra skaters.  We are looking at the best 21 skaters the Caps would take with them out of whatever training camp they hold.  Second, for comparative purposes we will convert all player and team statistics to “per-82 game” values to compare apples to apples.  With these two ideas in mind, there are three alternative scenarios to look at: baseline, career averages, and personal best.

The Baseline

The baseline is the 2011-2012 performance of the 21 skaters currently on the Caps’ roster.  Those 21 skaters combined for 204 goals last season.  As we noted, that total would have tied for 22nd in the league.  But we need a baseline to make further comparisons.  What we can do is take each of those 21 skaters and convert their goal totals into per-82 game values.  When we do that, the total is 252 goals.  This is not to say that if completely healthy or for other reasons the Caps as currently constituted would have scored 252 goals last season.  For one thing not all 21 players would have played in all 82 games, even if everyone was healthy for a whole season.  Only 18 skaters dress per game.  We are merely establishing a baseline of goal-scoring efficiency from which other scenarios can be evaluated.

Of those 252 goals, how many are accounted for by Alex Ovechkin?  His total would be 40 (he had 38 in 78 games).  Take those away, and the remaining 20 skaters accounted for 212 goals.  Here we can approximate what this value translates to over the course of a season, acknowledging that only 18 skaters dress per night.  To keep this simple, we would assume that missed games are spread evenly across the remaining 20 players.  When we do that, the total goals that serve as the baseline is 191.

Career-Average Basis

The idea here is not to rely on a single year to try to predict a volume of goals from the Ovechkin-less Capitals.  The other 20 roster players all have histories, whether coming off a rookie season or, if you are a Roman Hamrlik, almost 1,400 games of experience.  Using the same process we used in building the baseline, we find that Alex Ovechkin has an average of 50 goals per 82-games over the course of his career, considerably higher than the 40-per-82 games he had last year in what is the baseline number.  However, other players have had bigger years over the course of their careers than they had last year, too.  Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Wojtek Wolski are among that group and push the total number of goals for the 21 skaters to 278.  Take out Ovechkin’s total (50), and the remainder for the other 20 skaters is 228.  When we further account for the available number of man-games in an 82-game season, this 20-man group might be expected to score a total of 205 goals if they hit their career average marks.

Career-Best Basis

Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals in the 2007-2008 season.  For Caps fans, that season might seem so far away, but it is still the most goals scored by a left wing in NHL history.  But there are some impressive goal totals among other Capitals when finding their respective career best.  There is Mike Green with 31 goals in 68 games in 2008-2009.  There is Nicklas Backstrom with 33 goals in 2009-2010.  Brooks Laich had 25 in the same season, nine more than he had last season.  Wojtek Wolski and Joel Ward had career bests significantly better than their output last season.

Applying the same rules in this scenario we have a 21-man total of 386 goals.  Taking Ovechkin’s total out (65 goals in 82 games), we are left with 321 goals.  And when we account for the available number of man-games, that total is 289. 

What Does It Mean?

First of all, the comparison of these three scenarios highlight just how disappointing last year’s scoring output was.  Even with Ovechkin not in the mix, the 20 remaining Caps had a lower adjusted goal total (191) than their career average adjusted goal total (205).  And that is after adding Mike Ribeiro’s output and Wojtek Wolski’s for that matter.  That might be the product of the continuing decline in scoring since Lockout I, coaching style, or just some bad years goal-scoring wise (Mike Knuble comes to mind).

But what does this mean in a Caps world without Ovechkin?  Remember that the adjusted goal total for the other 20 players last season was 191 goals.  To get to last year’s goal scoring total (218 goals) the Caps have to find a way to make up 27 goals.  They do not have to make up Ovechkin’s entire production, much of the difference being due to the subtraction of Knuble and the addition of Mike Ribeiro among scoring lines.

If the Capitals 20 remaining roster players play to their career averages per-82 games (adjusted for available man-games), they would have to make up only 13 goals, from 205 to 218. 

We can safely dismiss the “career-best” scenario as an exercise of wishful thinking.  It is unlikely that Green would reach 31 goals again (or 37 in the per-82 game adjusted measure).  The same might be said for Nicklas Backstrom (career best: 33/33), Ribeiro (27/29), or Wolski (22/24).  But there are some Capitals who could improve on their respective career bests.  Players like Marcus Johansson (13/15), Mathieu Perreault (16/21), John Carlson (7/9), or Dmitry Orlov (3/4) could improve on those bests.  But note that the 289 goals in the “career best” scenario are only 16 more goals than the league leader (Pittsburgh) had last season.

And that begs the big question, what do the Caps have to make up without Ovechkin, not just to get to last year’s total – a disappointing one – but to being a top-ten scoring team?  Last year’s tenth-leading scoring team was Toronto.  The Maple Leafs scored a total of 227 goals.  When compared to the 191 goal baseline for the 20 remaining Caps, the club needs to find 36 goals somewhere to fill Ovechkin’s absence and the additional production to be a likely top-ten scoring team.  The difficulty here for the Caps is that only nine players in the league had that many or more last season.  And getting into the top-ten is not a trivial consideration.  Eight of the top-ten scoring teams in the league made the playoffs, including seven of the ten teams to finish the season with more than 100 standings points.

If the Caps were to become a likely top-five scoring team once more, they would have to make up something on the order of 50 goals (Vancouver was fifth with 241 goals last season).  Only Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin hit or exceeded that mark last season.  Each of the teams in the top-five made the playoffs last season, and four of them finished with more than 100 points.

Looking at it from another angle, if the Caps can make up only a fraction of the missing Ovechkin production and finish with, say, 200 goals, their playoff chances would look grim compared to last season.  Seven teams finished the 2011-2012 season with 200 goals or fewer.  Five of them missed the playoffs and another (Florida) finished only five points ahead of the ninth-place finisher.  Of course, the Caps could be the Los Angeles Kings – the seventh of these teams and defending Stanley Cup champions – but that would not necessarily be the way to bet.

It seems very unlikely that Alex Ovechkin will translate a statement made in the heat of labor negotiations into action days or weeks from now.  But if he was to do so, the Caps offensive prospects would be bleak.  They almost certainly would have no 30-goal scorers.  They might have no more than two 20 goal scorers based on career averages (Backstrom and Ribeiro) and no guarantee of any.  The short-term outlook for the Capitals would put in serious jeopardy their being able to add to the five-year playoff streak they take into the 2012-2013 season.  And it would cast severe doubt on the club’s chances to be a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.