Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Lightning, February 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

No break for those who skate as the Washington Capitals, fresh off their 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers last night, head across the peninsula to face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight in what could be a chance to leap-frog the Toronto Maple Leafs into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

This will be the fourth meeting of the year between the…

“Cuz! You ‘bout ready for breakfast?”

In a minute, Cheerless, we’re busy here…

“Don’t be harsh, cousin, he’s proud of his culinary skills.”

Sure, sure…as we were saying, this will be the fourth meeting of the year between the clubs, the Caps having won twice – a 6-5 Gimmick win on October 10th and a 4-3 win on January 13th, both wins coming at Verizon Center. Tampa Bay won the third meeting, a 4-3 overtime win on January 31st in Tampa.

“Cuz, where do you keep the saffron?”

The what?

“He has something special planned.”

Right… Tonight’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, is struggling and is now in “seller” mode as the trading deadline approaches. Already, forward Dominic Moore was sent to San Jose for draft picks, and defenseman Pavel Kubina is being held off the ice as the team works out a deal for him.  Here is how the teams compare, numbers-wise:

(click pic for larger image)

“Where are the quail eggs?”

The what?!

“Just give him brown eggs, he won’t know the difference?”

Has he been DVR’ing episodes of Food Network, Fearless?

“Yes, he’s inspired.”

Just don’t let him burn the place down. Now, can we take five?

“I can’t…breakfast don’t make itself.”

Not that..oh, never mind.

1. As for the Lightning still with a future, Steven Stamkos must have gotten everything he wanted for Christmas. Since then he has 19 goals in 23 games, a 68-goal pace. He is also a minus-5 over that span, so there is what Stamkos gives the team and what the team takes away at the other end.

2. One thing Stamkos hasn’t been able to do with as much frequency is score all those goals on the power play. Since Christmas, three of his 19 goals have come on the power play. It is not as if the team around him has plugged the hole. The Lightning are 8-for-63 (12.7 percent) in those games.

3. If their power play has been poor, their penalty kill has been equally frustrating. In those last 19 games, the Lightning have allowed 15 power play goals in 71 shorthanded situations (78.9 percent). They have allowed a power play goal in each of their last three games heading into tonight’s contest.

4. No team in the league has more three-or-more goal losses than does Tampa Bay (14, tied with Dallas). Only one team has more two-goal losses. There isn’t much drama in Lightning losses.

5. Here’s your odd number for this game: three. Only three teams have allowed more power play goals at home than Tampa Bay. That is not surprising seeing as how Tampa Bay’s defense, well, sucks. But those three teams happen to be Philadelphia, San Jose, and Ottawa.

1. Abraham Lincoln once said, “No man stands so tall as when they stoop to help a child.” Well, no hockey player stands taller than when he helps a teammate score a goal. Nicklas Backstrom has missed 19 games. He still leads the Caps in assists (29). Guys, help each other out more.

2. Marcus Johansson has a 16.7 shooting percentage over his last 12 games. Unfortunately, he has only 12 shots in those 12 games, so that works out to two goals.

3. As bad as the Caps have been on the road, they might be coming out of that funk. In their last eight road games, they are 3-3-2 and allowed only 19 goals (2.38/game). They also killed off 22 of 26 shorthanded situations (84.6 percent).

4. The power play on the road? That’s another story. In their last eight road games the Caps are 2-for-27 (7.4 percent). The two power play goals came in two of the three road wins in that span (a 3-0 win at Montreal on January 18th and last night’s 2-1 win over Florida).

5. The 41 shots on goal last night came on the heels of a 42-shot effort against San Jose in their previous game. It was the first time the Caps recorded more than 40 shots on goal in consecutive games since getting 42 against Chicago last March 13th (a 4-3 overtime win) and 41 against Montreal last March 15th (a 4-2 win). Since the lockout, the Caps have not had three consecutive games with at least 40 shots on goal.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Mathieu Garon

In four of the last five games the Lighting allowed at least four goals. Mathieu Garon was the goalie of record in four of those games (1-2-1, 3.01, .904). He appears to be getting the start tonight. In eight career games against the Caps he is 3-1-1, 2.62, .903, with one shutout. Not spectacular numbers, but he does have the only Tampa Bay win over Washington this season.

Washington: Dennis Wideman

Dennis Wideman is fourth among all NHL defensemen in total scoring this season. He also would appear to be most likely to take over the assist lead on the Caps from Nicklas Backstrom (he has 28, one behind the injured center). He is also without a point in his last three games, two of which the Caps lost, and in which the Caps scored a total of only seven goals. A little more help from the blue line could mean a lot in the bigger scheme of things.


1. Stomp ‘em flat. In 57 games this season, Tampa Bay has scored the first goal of the game 29 times, but has taken a lead into the first intermission only 14 times. That’s what happens when you allow the highest total of first period goals (61). The Caps have not been an especially adept team at scoring early – only 39 first period goals in 57 games (tied for 23rd with Columbus). This is the team against which they can reverse that trend.

2. Then stand on their throats. The Lightning are playing for pride and next year. They traded a dependable checking forward, are holding a minutes eating defenseman out of the lineup, and they are starting a journeyman goalie behind what is already a weak defensive team. Peel the weak team from the herd and stand on their throats.

3. There is even, and there is “even.” No team has allowed more 5-on-5 goals this season than Tampa Bay. The Caps, who had been drifting downward through the league standings at 5-on-5 goals for and against, unable to maintain a 1.00 ratio of goals for to goals against, are back above the 1.00 threshold (1.01) and are tied for tenth in the league. They need to take advantage in this area against a very weak – and weakened – team.

In the end, there is the potential for a letdown in the game following a big contest, especially when it comes only 24 hours later. That might be the more formidable opponent than the team the Caps are facing on the ice. One would expect that the Lightning appreciate the opportunity to play spoiler, especially against a divisional opponent they have had success against in the past (playoffs, anyone?). That is the combination that could spell trouble for the Caps – their own letdown and that spoiler mentality among their opponents. That makes this as much a “character” game as anything. Guess we get a peek at how much they have.

“Come’n git it!”

What the $#@% is that?

“You ain’t ever had Possum Frittata?”

Capitals 4 – Lightning 1

A TWO-point night: -- Game 57: Capitals 2 - Panthers 1

The longest journey starts with one step.

Maybe it will lead somewhere, and maybe they will trip and fall flat on their faces, but the Washington Capitals took that step last night in Florida by spotting the Panthers the game’s first goal, then coming back in the third period to take a 2-1 decision. The win pulled the Caps to within two points of Southeast Division-leading Florida and to within a point of eighth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference.

This first step on the last part of this season’s journey was important in that the Caps have been a poor road team – worst in the Eastern Conference, in fact, going into this game (21 standings points being 15th in the conference). But they played a simple, uncomplicated game that gave Florida few chances on the ice and few chances for the announced crowd of 17,779 (half of which must have spent the entire game at the concession stands, because they weren’t in their seats) from getting into the game.

Not that the Caps played error-free. One thing that has seemed to be a lingering problem – late goals in a period – bit them again when Tomas Fleischmann converted a pass from Kris Versteeg with 40 seconds left in the first period for a 1-0 lead. That goal looked big at the time since the Panthers were 10-1-3 when leading after 20 minutes and 18-1-6 when scoring the game’s first goal. It looked even bigger when the Panthers carried that lead into the second intermission. They were 16-0-4 when leading after two periods of games this season.

But the Alexes took care of things for the Caps in the last 20 minutes. With Mikael Samuelsson off for a slashing penalty early in the third period, Alex Ovechkin converted the power play opportunity with a goal from a bad angle off a scramble in front of goalie Jose Theodore. It had the effect of tilting the ice in the Capitals’ favor, doubling Florida’s shot attempts, 10-5, over the next nine minutes. On the 11th attempt, Alexander Semin found the back of the net with a little bit of luck. A shot taken from the right wing boards caught the shaft of Sean Bergenheim’s stick and elevated ever so slightly, just enough to jump over the glove of Theodore, who looked prepared to defend what looked like a harmless shot.

After that, the Caps went into shutdown mode, limiting the Panthers to six shot attempts in the last 6:33 and only one shot on goal. It was enough to pump a bit of life into the playoff hopes of the Caps.

Other stuff…

-- All of a sudden, the Caps are a Gatling gun. Forty two shots on goal against San Jose, 41 last night against the Panthers. Now, about that shooting percentage. Five goals on 83 shots (6.0 percent) isn’t all that good. But at least getting pucks on net at one end helps limit pucks on their own net at the other end.

-- With his goal, Alex Ovechkin has seven in his last 13 games. That’s a 44-goal pace; not the Ovi of old, but not chopped liver either.

-- Alexander Semin now has goals in three of his last four games and four in his last seven (4-4-8). Last night’s goal was his first game-winner of the season.

-- Tomas Vokoun looked shaky at the start, as if he was fighting either nerves or the background in the arena. He was having particular trouble controlling pucks with his glove. But he finished strong and won his third game against the Panthers this season. He is 3-0-0, 0.33, .988 and two shutouts against Florida so far.

-- Every Cap had at least one shot on goal except for Jeff Schultz and Marcus Johansson. Schultz figures, he’s not much of an offensive defenseman, but Johansson’s lack of shots is becoming a problem. He has stopped shooting the puck. In his last 16 games he has a total of 12 shots on goal and has failed to record so much as one in eight of those games. This is something the Caps can’t afford from one who would be a top-six forward in Nicklas Backstrom’s absence.

-- Jay Beagle didn’t have a point, but he still had a nice game. Four shots on goal, five hits. He made his presence felt in ten minutes of ice time.

-- Speaking of Beagle, the line of Beagle, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern made a contribution in their “Occupy Florida’s Zone” game. This line had nine of the Caps’ 41 shots on goal. It meant that Jose Theodore didn’t get a break from the Washington attack when the fourth line was on the ice.

-- Mike Knuble… an assist and a disallowed goal. That disallowed goal could have been tough on the Caps, coming as it did with 45 seconds left in the second period and the Panthers having that unbeaten in regulation record when leading after 40 minutes. But the Caps won that third period,. As for the disallowed goal, it is hard to argue that it should have counted when Knuble was clearly in the paint before the initial shot by Brooks Laich and was not pushed in by any Panther. Still, that what the Caps have been missing lately, a big body to plant in the goalie’s face.

-- For weeks, it was the Caps who were on the short end of a shots/shot attempts margin. But last night they outshot the Panthers, 41-23, and outattempted them, 75-50. It is hard for any team to be on the short end of that and establish much in the way of consistent offensive rhythm. Last night, that was the other team’s problem.

-- The last time Tomas Vokoun and Jose Theodore faced one another in a game was November 12, 2010. Vokoun turned away 23 shots in beating Theodore’s Minnesota Wild, 2-1. Vokoun faced 23 shots last night in the 2-1 win.

In the end, it is only one step, but an important one. Falling six points behind Florida with 25 games to play could have been a fatal blow to the Caps’ chances to make the playoffs by winning the Southeast Division. But now they are two points behind the Panthers and get them one more time, in Washington on April 5th. Meanwhile, it is a road win, only their tenth of the season (only five teams have fewer). With four road contests in their next five games, it was important to take a strong first step. They get a chance to take another on tonight in Tampa.