Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 40: Capitals at Kings, January 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will try to salvage a split of their two-game west coast trip on Monday when they visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. If San Jose is not a city in which the Caps have found much success over the years, Los Angeles is not much more hospitable. The Caps will bring a 15-29-6-0 record in games played in Los Angeles into this game.

Much was expected of the Kings this season. With the best goalie that no one knows about in Jonathan Quick and the best center that no one knows about in Anze Kopitar, the Kings were already a formidable team. But adding Mike Richards via trade and Simon Gagne as a free agent (he will miss this game to injury) added more forward depth to a team that could boast of a deep defense with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, and Rob Scuderi. On paper, this was a team in position to challenge for a deep playoff run.

It even looked good early with the Kings running out to a 5-1-1 record in their first seven games. It looked better when in that seventh game goalie Jonathan Quick recorded his third consecutive shutout to go 5-0-1, .081, .972.

But the Kings flattened out, going 9-12-3 in their next 24 games and seeing coach Terry Murray relieved of his duties in the process in favor of Darryl Sutter. That slump led up to what might be their low point of the season thus far, an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings that dropped the Kings back to .500 at 14-14-4 on December 17th, settling into 11th place in the Western Conference. Quick lasted less than nine minutes in that game, allowing three goals on seven shots.

Since that low point the Kings have righted their ship, going 6-1-3 in their last ten games since the Detroit debacle. Here is how the teams stack up against one another so far:

(click pic for larger image)

These are the profiles of teams that have disappointed so far, the Caps struggling to find any momentum after a hot start, the Kings looking to find anything resembling an offensive game.

1. The Kings find themselves in 30th and last place in offense this season (2.02 goals/game) and are fourth in overall defense (2.12 goals allowed/game). It should be no surprise that the Kings have been involved in 11 shutouts in 42 games thus far (the most games involving shutouts in the league), winning six and losing five of them. Four of them have been 1-0 decisions (the Kings are 2-1-1), and two of those went to extra time, the Kings splitting those decisions.

2. The Kings have had an experience very much like that of the Caps in this respect. Since going 5-1-1 to start the season, ending with a four-game winning streak, the Kings have only one instance in which they won more than two games consecutively (a three-game streak, November 12-17). The Kings also have been involved in the most one-goal decisions (26), winning 12 of them (12-7-7).

3. The Kings have fewer 5-on-5 goals than any team in the league; only two teams have fewer 5-on-4 goals. They do not come by their low offensive ranking by accident. Since Darryl Sutter took over, the Kings might be 5-1-3, but only twice have the Kings scored more than two goals in those nine games. They come into this game having scored only two goals combined in their last three games, only one in regulation time.

4. Of the 85 goals scored by the Kings thus far, 21 have come from the defense. All eight defensemen having dressed for the Kings this season have scored at least one goal. Four of them have power play goals. By way of comparison, defensemen have scored 18 goals for the Caps, and three have at least one power play goal.

5. Three is the magic number for the Kings, and not entirely in a good way. They are 4-11-3 when allowing three or more goals, 16-4-4 when they allow fewer than three goals. On the other hand, Los Angeles is undefeated when they score three or more goals, not including trick shots (10-0-0).

1. The Capitals are one of only four teams in the league that have not been shutout so far this season. Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Ottawa are the others.

2. No Cap has scored more goals against Los Angeles than the six scored by Jason Chimera. However, none of those have come as a member of the Caps.

3. Will the Caps turn to Michal Neuvirth in this one? Consider that Tomas Vokoun is 4-11-2, 2.89, .904 in 19 career appearances, and it isn’t unreasonable. Neuvirth has one career appearance against Los Angeles (0-1-0, 2.03, .895)

4. Although the teams have played only 99 games against one another in their respective histories, 12 of the games featured hat tricks. Washington has three of the hat tricks, the Kings have ten (one game – St. Patrick’s Day, 1987 – featured hat tricks by each team, one by Greg Adams for the Caps and one by Bernie Nicholls by the Kings in a 5-4 Kings win in Washington).

5. After 39 games last season the Caps were 22-12-5 (49 points). At the 39-game mark this season they are 21-16-2 (44 points). The difference is largely the product of last year’s team to get games to extra time to earn an extra standings point (and of those five extra time losses by this time last season, three came via the Gimmick).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick

Here is your Jonathan Quick number to take away – 18. The King’s netminder has not allowed a power play goal in 18 consecutive games after allowing at least one in 10 of his first 17 appearances. He also has allowed fewer than two goals in six of his last seven appearances (4-1-2, 0.98, .963, two shutouts). His six shutouts leads the league. It is not just that he is among the league leaders in just about every goaltending category, but he has significantly better numbers than his backup, Jonathan Bernier (2-4-1, 2.82, .893). Remember than when folks talk about Tim Thomas in Boston, who has Tuukka Rask to shoulder a good portion of the burden. He is 2-0-0, 2.50, .931 against the Caps in his career.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Laich was not particularly effective in manning the pivot on the top line against San Jose. In fact he has struggled lately, whatever line he has been playing. He is without a point in his last six games and is a minus-3. He is only 1-1-2, minus-2, in his last 11 games, his one goal coming on 29 shots on goal. He has had uneven career results against the Kings: 2-1-3, minus-3, in six career games. He has only one goal in 13 games against Western Conference teams so far this season. It was a game-winner against Phoenix on November 21st. He does not yet have a road point against a Western Conference team this season.


1. Score first. It goes without saying that getting a lead is of paramount importance if teams want to be successful in the NHL. However, only six teams have a wider disparity in winning percentage between that when they score first and that when they allow the first goal than the Kings.

2. Shoot the #@$% puck! As talented as Quick is, he is only 3-2-3 in games in which he faced 35 or more shots this season.

3. Be irresistible. Special teams will be the irresistible force (the Caps power play, 7-for-18 over their last eight games) versus the impenetrable object (the Kings’ penalty kill, 33-for-33 over their last ten games). If the Caps are irresistible, they probably win this game.

In the end, the Kings have the ability to frustrate the Capitals. Whether the Capitals can be patient and trust their team and systems approach, avoiding the free-lancing that individuals trying to go too much one-on-one, will be what could decide this game. But while the Caps have their work cut out for them at one end, they cannot allow the Kings the easy goal. Given the Kings’ consistency in holding opponents to low goal totals, a fluke or a soft goal at the Caps' end could very well be fatal in this game. This contest is likely to be played on a very narrow margin. The Kings have not allowed three goals in a loss since that drubbing they suffered in Detroit three weeks ago. We think that will change.

Capitals 3 – Kings 2

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 13 (January 1 - 7)

The first week of 2012 is in the books, and it was a light week of work for the men in red. Nice start, not so nice finish, one streak ended, one streak extended, and health problems coming to the front as the week ends.

Record: 1-1-0

It was a light week of game work for the Caps, splitting their only two contests of the week. In the first they extended their winning streak to four games at the expense of the Calgary Flames, the Caps’ longest winning streak since the seven-game streak to open the season. The 3-1 win improved the Caps’ record to 5-2-0 against Western Conference teams at home this season. Unfortunately, the Caps had to go on the road to play another Western Conference team – San Jose, where the Caps had not won since October 1993. The Caps lost, 5-2, to drop them to 0-11-1 in their last dozen visits to San Jose.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 2.95 /rank: T-9th)

The Caps have not been a juggernaut under Dale Hunter, only six times scoring more than three goals in a game in the 17 played under Hunter through this week. But they have been consistent. Only six times had they been held to fewer than three goals in 15 games coming into the week, only one of the last six before this week. The Caps struggled a bit this week with only three goals in their win against Calgary and a pair in the loss to San Jose. But this might not be surprising given that Nicklas Backstrom missed all of the San Jose game and the last few minutes of the win over Calgary after the Flames’ Rene Bourque elbowed Backstrom in the head. It was a costly elbow for Bourque, who surrendered himself to a five-game suspension and five game checks totaling more than $200,000. It was costly for the Caps in that they were denied Backstrom’s services, and his absence pointed out the lack of depth the Caps have at center.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.90/rank:T-21st)

Injury was the issue on the other side of the puck as well. The Caps held Calgary to one goal in the 3-1 win to open the week, the fourth time in the four-game winning streak that the Caps held their opponent to two or fewer goals and the sixth time in nine games in which the Caps held their opponents to fewer than 30 shots on goal. Mike Green returned to the lineup in the Calgary game after missing 23 games with a groin injury. It was only the second game (among 31 played by the Caps) he played since October 22nd. He played what for him were light minutes – 15:43 – and looked rusty in doing it. But his return did allow other Caps to play in situations more comfortable with their skill. However, Green lasted only nine shifts and 7:11 in the week’s second game, against the San Jose Sharks. San Jose scored four goals in a 5-2 win after Green’s departure. Green is not often on anyone’s short list of top defensive defensemen in the league, but he is underrated in that area. His ability to move the puck out of danger reduces the opportunities opponents have to pressure in the Caps’ end. And, given that he plays so many minutes, the hole in ice time left in his absence requires a lot of recombination of pairs, placing some defensemen in situations above their comfort level or, in the case of the game against San Jose, leaning heavily on the remaining top four defensemen, all of whom played more than 22 minutes.

Goaltending:2.51 /.912

Tomas Vokoun got the call in both games this week in an effort to extend a solid stretch of goaltending for the veteran. Coming into the week Vokoun had stopped 107 of 112 shots (.955 save percentage) dating back to his coming into the Buffalo game in relief of Michal Neuvirth on December 26th. Vokoun got light work in the first game of the week, facing only 19 shots on goal in the 3-1 win over the Flames. He got a lot more work against San Jose, facing 38 shots in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks. In allowing four goals it was less a case of Vokoun playing the position badly as much as it was his having to swim around in his crease because the skaters in front of him were not doing as good a job as they needed to do to prevent San Jose from making plays in tight.

Power Play: 3-for-4/75.0 percent (season: 19.7 percent/rank: 6th)

If there is one thing that went well, this week, the power play is it. The Caps spent only 3:21 on the power play for the week, took five shots, and three of them went in. In terms of sheer efficiency, it would be hard to match that performance. What’s more, they did it the way the Caps have done it with too little frequency over much of the year. There was Alex Ovechkin taking a feed from Marcus Johansson for a one timer that beat Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff cleanly on the short side. There was Troy Brouwer crowding Kiprusoff, screening the initial shot, collecting the rebound and sweeping it around Kiprusoff. There was Dennis Wideman jumping into a hole on the weak side of the San Jose defense, taking a feed from Alexander Semin from behind the goal line on the other side of the ice, and snapping it into the net before Sharks’ goalie Antti Niemi could get across the paint.

The week gave the Caps power play goals in six of their last eight games and made them 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) over those eight games, lifting them to sixth overall in the league. But the problem for the week is the “four” and for the last eight games the “18.” Fewer than three opportunities a game is not enough for the Caps to make teams pay, and the Caps are not a good enough 5-on-5 team at the moment (16th) to make up for the lack of man advantage opportunities.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7/85.7 percent (season: 82.5%/rank:15th)

This is another area in which the Caps have played well of late. They did allow a power play goal to San Jose in the second game of the week, but that was the first one in which they allowed one since giving up a pair in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo on December 26th. In the four games following, including the first of this week (all wins), the Caps killed off all 11 shorthanded situations they faced. But, as is often the case, it was the one that got away that was critical. Brent Burns scored for San Jose with 8.2 seconds in the first period of the 5-2 loss to San Jose to give the Sharks the lead at the second intermission. If there was a dark side to the penalty kill this week, that goal against San Jose makes it three times in the last four road games that the Caps have allowed at least one power play goal.

Paying the Price: 46 hits/46 blocked shots (season rank: T-16th/16th)

Two more games with more than 20 blocked shots made it five in the last six games for Washington. The more impressive performance of the week in that regard was in the 3-1 win over Calgary. The Caps blocked 24 of 54 shot attempts (44.4 percent). Although the Caps blocked another 22 shots in the 5-2 loss to San Jose, they came on a total of 75 shot attempts (29.3 percent).

Hits tell another story, and that might be titled, “Matt Hendricks.” Hendricks has been engaging in fisticuffs with less regularity these days but this week, his hits came at a quite frequent pace. In only 15:22 of total ice time for the week, covering 20 shifts, Hendricks had eight hits to lead the Caps for the week.

Faceoffs: 69-for-128/53.9 percent (season: 51.2 percent/rank:T-8th)

The Caps split the games and won the week. But there was a disturbing set of numbers attached to this category. The Caps were spot on in taking draws in the offensive zone, winning 23 of 33 in the two games (69.7 percent). However, they were poor in their own end – 22-for -51 (43.1 percent) – and the 18 faceoff difference between those taken in the offensive zone and those taken in the defensive end is not the sort of difference one would like to see.

Turnovers: plus-1

It was a much better week in this regard than last week (minus-24). Twelve different Caps split 15 takeaways. They spread it around rather well, if the volume was not especially high.


As a fan, sometimes we get greedy, thinking that wins are expected and losses are unacceptable. The Caps won four games in a row, including one this week, renewing fans’ hopes that they had turned a corner. And then, they went west to a place they had not won in more than 18 years. Yes, the Caps have a long history of struggles on the left coast (25-47-9 against team in California, including the defunct California Seals). But the San Jose Sharks took the ice for their fourth game in six nights and yet won with a finishing kick of three goals in the third period. It was a game that the Caps very well could have won. But they were missing two essential ingredients to their success – Nicklas Backstrom and (for the last half of the game) Mike Green. If there was a takeaway from the San Jose game it is still that the Caps are not getting as much as they need from the undercard of roster to win games like this, even against a good team that might have been tired. Remember that when late February rolls around and teams are looking for those last pieces to make a run at a Stanley Cup.

A NO-point night -- Game 39: Sharks 5 - Capitals 2

Well, the Washington Capitals will have to wait at least another year. For the 12th consecutive time since October 30, 1993, the Capitals skated onto the ice in San Jose search of a win, and for the 12th consecutive time skated off the ice without one, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Sharks. The Caps are now 0-11-1 in those last 12 visits. Quite a price to pay, one supposes, for winning in their first three visits to San Jose after the Sharks debuted in the NHL.

Speaking of “price to pay,” the Caps might have paid one in this loss, too. Mike Green skated nine shifts and seven minutes, departing the game after the 10:06 mark of the second period with what was described lateras “tightness” in his groin. Green has now played in three games since October 22nd, leaving two of them early with injury and skating (for him) light minutes in the third.

It had the appearance of affecting the Caps, who had to finish the last 29:54 with only five defensemen. The Caps would open the third period down by a 2-1 margin, their goal coming from Dennis Wideman, who jumped into a void on the weak side and converted a nice passing play that started from Troy Brouwer on the left side to Alexander Semin behind the Sharks’ net and back out to Wideman on the other side for the shot and the goal. Joel Ward scored his first goal in 26 games 44 seconds into the third period to tie the game as reward for his winning a battle with Michal Handzus for the puck in the left wing corner. Ward steered the puck out to Jason Chimera, who sent it out to Dennis Wideman at the far point. Wideman made a good play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, then sent it to the net where it found its way onto Ward’s stick. With goalie Antti Niemi out of position from defending the first shot, Ward stepped out and fired the puck past Niemi into what was now an open net.

However, San Jose regained the lead 16 seconds after the Ward goal on what was a bad play by Karl Alzner. First, his half-clearing attempt/half pass up the left wing wall was muffled enough by Joe Pavelski that Dan Boyle could keep the puck in at the blue line. Boyle sent the puck diagonally across the ice to Joe Thornton, who deftly backhanded the puck to Patrick Marleau, who beat Alzner to the front of the net. Marleau slipped the puck past goalie Tomas Vokoun, and the Sharks had the lead they would not surrender.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who took advantage of some questionable judgment from defenseman Dmitry Orlov, scored the insurance goal mid-way through the period. Orlov got caught chasing Ryan Clowe at the top of the right wing circle. Clowe backed off Orlov, pulling the puck out of Orlov’s reach, then sending it to Vlasic darting toward the Washington net. With only Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin back, Vlasic was able to use his skate to control the puck, shoot, then snap in his own rebound before either Wideman or Semin could do anything.

And empty net goal from Torrey Mitchell closed the scoring and ended the Caps winning streak at four games, extending their winless streak in San Jose to 12 games.

Other stuff…

-- One of the keys was to “make it special.” That is, San Jose is an effective 5-on-5 team, so the Caps had to win the special teams battle. They did not. They did get one goal on the power play on their only opportunity of the night. But the Sharks matched the Caps with a power play goal by Brent Burns with only nine seconds left in the second period. With San Jose skating to form and winning the 5-on-5 portion of the game, 3-1 (one of those was an empty netter, and the Sharks scored a fourth even-strength goal at 4-on-4), it was not going to end well with so few power play opportunities. The lack of opportunity was especially unfortunate given San Jose’s league worst penalty kill at home.

-- Nice to see Joel Ward end that long streak without a goal. Better to see the way he did it – win a battle, go to the net, convert a loose puck. The Caps need a lot more of that, not just from Ward, but other guys whose living is made at the front of the net.

-- Maybe it’s a western thing. The 39 shots the Caps allowed was the most they allowed since giving up 43 to Vancouver on October 29th. The last four times the Caps have allowed more than 35 shots on goal, they did so to Western Conference teams (Vancouver, Dallas, Columbus, and San Jose).

-- Not a good night for the captain. Alex Ovechkin saw his points streak ended at seven games, he was held to three shots on goal (seven attempts), took a roughing penalty and was on ice for three Shark goals (including the empty-netter).

-- You could just chalk it up to almost a lost cause for the Young Guns in general. With Nicklas Backstrom out, Mike Green leaving early, and Alex Ovechkin getting shutout points-wise, Alexander Semin did record an assist (on the Wideman power play goal) but managed only one shot on goal and was one of the Caps (with Wideman) who got a good look at the Vlasic goal that put space between the Sharks and Caps at 4-2.

-- The Caps had to go with five defensemen to fill in the minutes left on the ice with Green off it, but the Sharks were playing their fourth game in six nights, too.

-- The Sharks have been playing clean hockey of late – one power play opportunity allowed in their last two games (including this one).

-- That whole allowing no third period goals streak ended with a thud. The Caps had outscored teams, 10-0, in third period over their last six games. Last night, they were outscored, 3-1, in the third period.

-- Caps fans were given a chilling look at life without Nicklas Backstrom and the lack of center depth behind him. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Jeff Halpern combined for no points, six shots on goal, won only 25 of 60 draws (41.7 percent, each of the three falling under 50 percent), and had one takeaway (Johansson).

-- The Caps were out-attempted, 75-60, in shots and out-shot, 39-30. Only Douglas Murray for the Sharks did not record a shot on goal. It was by no means Tomas Vokoun’s best game in goal for the Caps – not even his best game this week. But San Jose was too successful in tilting the ice to the Capitals’ end.

-- Part of that tilt was the Caps’ inability to win draws in their own end. They were 10-for-29 on defensive zone draws (34.5 percent). That there were only 21 draws in the San Jose end is another indicator of the tilt in the ice.

In the end, one might think this was a game for the taking after Joel Ward tied the game in the first minute of the third period. But that was probably a mirage. San Jose dominated zone possession, and the Caps were skating with more or less four defensemen after Mike Green retired for the night (John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, and Roman Hamrlik all skated more than 22 minutes).

And it does not get much better. The Caps now go to Los Angeles, where at least they have won since the invention of the hockey stick (December 14, 2005), but will play a team in the Kings that has won the last four decisions between the teams by a combined score of 16-8.