Monday, February 20, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Capitals at Hurricanes, February 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals are now on the downside of their four-game road trip, Game 3 coming Monday night in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. This will be the last trip to Carolina this season, the Caps having split the first two contests. They beat the Hurricanes, 5-1, on November 4th, then they lost in Carolina by a 3-0 margin on January 20th. This game…

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

Well, if it isn’t our old friend from Louisiana, Thibodeaux. Shouldn't you be getting ready for the big party?

“Oh cher, that’s not ‘til Mardi. I thought I’d get the week started by watching the Capitals krewe…”

Well, if you have any voodoo you brought along, they sure could use it. They haven’t been able to light up the scoreboard much these days.

“Ah, maybe they should use les flambeaux instead of sticks, n’est-ce pas?”

I don’t know that flaming torches will do the trick. Melts the ice, you know.

“But the maskers, they are doing well, eh?”

If by “masker,” you mean “goalies,” Tomas Vokoun is doing quite well. Wish we could say the same for the power play.

“Ah, dancin’ around like in the fais do-do?”

Well, they sure look like dodos out there lately. What is it you have there?

“A ring cake.”

You mean a king cake?

“No cher…that has green and gold and purple on it, and a baby inside.”

I see this one is red, white, and blue.

“Dat’s right…Capitals colors.”

And inside?

“A tiny ring, a symbol of a championship.”

You might be getting a bit ahead of yourself, my friend.

Well, while Lundi Gras is getting underway to welcome the arrival of King Rex in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Hockey Monday sees the Caps heading to Carolina to face the Hurricanes (irony in that, one supposes). The Caps are hoping there will be something to celebrate on Mardi Gras with a win in Raleigh, where they have split two decisions so far this season. They defeated the Hurricanes, 5-1, on November 4th, then lost in Carolina on January 20th in a 3-0 shutout.

Carolina has been engaging in some interesting two-step ice dancing lately. In February they have two wins, then two losses (both in overtime), two wins, and a loss. You can see – or hope – where this is going. In fact, Carolina has been relentlessly avoiding any kind of streak for six weeks now. They are 8-5-4 in that time, reliably alternating no more than two wins and two losses at a time over that period.

The one constant in those 17 games has been goaltender Cam Ward. The ironman goalie (he is seventh in the league minutes played) earned the decision in 14 straight games from January 10th through February 13th before he was spelled by Justin Peters last Friday. Ward returned to the ice on Saturday but aggravated what was described by coach Kirk Muller as a “slight tweak” and was relieved by Peters for the last 20 minutes of a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders. In those 15 appearances Ward is 7-3-4, 1.95, .940, and two shutouts. Ward has had his ups and downs against the Caps, holding a career record of 15-10-4, 2.52, .907, with four shutouts against Washington. If he can’t go (he is listed as doubtful for this game), it will be Peters and his 1-1-0, 2.94, .908 career mark against the Caps.

As for the teams, here is how they stack up against one another…

 (click pic for larger image)

1. Since the last time these teams met – A 3-0 Carolina win on January 20th – Carolina is 5-4-3, including a 3-0 shutout win in Boston. They have outscored their opponents by 26-25 in those dozen games. Their special teams have, as they have all year, struggled. The power play is 4-for-29 (13.8 percent), while the penalty kill is 15-for-21 (71.4 percent).

2. Carolina is a difficult team to score on early. Only four teams have allowed fewer first period goals. But despite outscoring teams by 48-39 in the first period of games this season, the Hurricanes have taken a lead into the first intermission only 23 times in 59 games. And, they have the second worst record in the league when leading after one period, ahead of only Edmonton.

3. No team enjoys a larger positive differential in special teams time at home than Carolina. Their power play less penalty killing ice time is a positive 48:39 in 30 home games. Not that it has helped them too much, the Hurricanes ranking in the bottom third in both home power play and home penalty killing efficiency.

4. Once upon a time this season, Eric Staal was dead last in the league in plus-minus. He is still tied for 839th among 852 skaters having dressed this season, but in his last seven games he is 5-4-9, plus-8, and is a plus player in six of the seven games. He is 2-3-5, minus-2 in four games against the Caps this season.

5. Want to beat Carolina? Score a power play goal. The Hurricanes are 5-20-4 when allowing at least one extra man score. And if Justin Peters is getting the call in goal, he has allowed five goals on 21 power play shots (.762). Only four goalies have a worse save percentage when facing the power play, and one of them – Anaheim’s Iiro Tarkki – faced only one shot.

1. The Capitals, for all their troubles, are still the only Southeast Division team with as many as 10 wins against other Southeast Division teams (10-5-2).

2. On that whole power play less penalty kill time theme, only five teams have a worse road differential than the Caps’ -22:41 in 29 road games. Part of that is the fact that Washington has had 95 power play opportunities on the road while having found themselves shorthanded 110 times.

3. Much was made of the fact that the Caps were 8-0 in games Mike Green played to start the season and were 9-1-0 in all games in which he appeared before his return from sports hernia surgery on Saturday. But there is this, too. Including his return against Tampa Bay, the Caps have allowed only 23 goals in 11 games in which Green has played, only 15 in the last nine games in which he appeared.

4. In 2009-2010 the Caps had seven players with at least 20 goals. At the moment they have one – Alex Ovechkin – and there is no guarantee they will have another. Alexander Semin has been scoring with more frequency lately and is on a pace for 23, but he can be streaky. Jason Chimera is on a pace for 21, but he has two in his last 24 games. Troy Brouwer is on a pace for 21 as well, but he has one in his last 16 games since getting his first career hat trick against Tampa Bay on January 13th. No other Cap is on pace for 20.

5. The Caps do reasonably well playing on the margin. They are 13-7-5 in games settled by one goal, but they are only 7-7 in one-goal games settled in regulation. Worse, they are 16-17 in games settled by more than one goal. One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of mediocrity.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Jeff Skinner

Meet Jeff Skinner, pugilist. Perusing the records at, you will find only one instance in which the young Carolina forward was engaged in a fight in his organized hockey career – a pre-season bout against Columbus’ Kris Russell this past September. But there was Skinner this past Wednesday, getting into a scrape with a teammate (Patrick Dwyer) at practice. Maybe it did something; the Hurricanes went out and beat the San Jose Sharks the next night, 3-2, Skinner getting a goal in the win and Dwyer an assist. Then again, maybe it didn’t; Carolina lost to the New York Islanders the next night, 4-3.

Washington: John Carlson

Things happen when John Carlson is on the ice. That is not necessarily a good thing. Only four players have been on the ice for more team goal against this season. What is more, the 76 goals on ice against is 17 more than the next Caps in line, Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner with 59 apiece. Carlson’s minus-7 is by far the worst among Caps defensemen. He is also leading the teams’ blueliners in even strength ice time per game. If the Caps are to have a turnaround, John Carlson finding another gear would help.


1. Don’t just talk smack, smack smack. If hits are an indicator of physicality, Carolina is not an especially physical team at home (22nd in the league). Then again, the Caps aren’t an especially physical team on the road (22nd in the league). If the Caps can make Carolina pay a physical price, especially early, then they might…

2. Stop letting teams put up crooked numbers early. The Caps have allowed the first goal in the first period in four straight games, going 1-3-0 in the process. That is not a recipe to win games with any regularity.

3. 60 minutes. We noted that Carolina has scored 48 goals and allowed only 39 in the first period. But in the last two, Carolina has scored 104 but has allowed 130. Carolina is not a team that finishes well, and the Caps are 65-51 to the good in the third periods of games this season.

In the end, the Caps have been meandering back and forth for weeks now, unable to string together any significant run of consecutive wins. Except for Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are now as healthy as they have been since opening night. Backstrom’s absence is still a big hole, but by itself no longer justifies why this team should languish beneath the top-eight in the East. It’s more than past time for the Caps to provide that little extra. What do you call it, Thibodeaux?


Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 2

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 19 (February 12 - 18)

Week 19 offered a chance for the Caps to turn things around on the road and jump back into the top-eight…

…they didn’t.

Record: 1-3-0

This was the Caps’ first losing week since week 10 in which they went 1-2-0. Had they broken even, they would be in the top-eight, a point ahead of Toronto. As it is, they ended the week on the outside and with the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their necks for ninth place (Winnipeg jumped the Caps into ninth on Sunday). The Caps did get a win in the game in which they had to get one, a 2-1 win in Florida to at least keep the Panthers in sight (the Caps finished the week two points behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division). Otherwise, it was a hugely disappointing week in which the Caps led for a grand total of 6:33 out of 240 minutes of hockey and finished the week with a 3-5-2 record in their last ten games, bookended by losses in Tampa Bay (4-2 in overtime on January 31st and 2-1 on Saturday).

Offense: 2.00/game (season: 2.72/rank: 13th)

It was a different Alex leading the way this week. Last week it was Ovechkin; this week it was Semin. Alexander Semin had a hand in half of the Caps’ eight goals for the week, getting two of his own and assisting on two others. Semin has been on a bit of a roll of late, going 4-5-9 in his last eight games and is 11-15-26 in his last 27 games. Other than Semin it was a rather weak week. Roman Hamrlik was 1-2-3, and four other Caps had two points. The biggest problem this week was an inability to take a lead or score early. They did not score first in any game, and they did not have a first period goal in any of the four games. It was something of an odd result, given that the Caps averaged more than 33 shots on goal per game for the week. But a 6.0 percent shooting percentage? Not good.

Defense: 2.75/game (season: 2.76/rank: 18th)

The defense did a good job in limiting shot attempts this week – 204 in all – and shots on goal (109). But there were mistakes made, especially early in games – a breakdown deep that allowed the Rangers to get Ryan Callahan open for a backhanded tap-in on a power play, Marcus Johansson losing track of Tomas Fleischmann to let the Florida forward get open for a one timer, Dmitry Orlov trying a backhand pass in traffic that allowed Tampa Bay to transition to offense and score. Add in a fluke 90-footer that clicked off a stick to beat Braden Holtby against San Jose, and the Caps allowed a goal – the first goal of the game – in each of the first periods this week.

Goaltending: 2.75/.899

Three goalies got work this week. Michal Neuvirth opened the week with Tomas Vokoun on the shelf with the flu. He was not bad against the Rangers (25 stops on 28 shots), but he was not especially sharp, either. Neuvirth is not getting enough work to get sharp, and his lack of an edge is preventing him from getting more work in relief of Vokoun. Which leads to Braden Holtby, who was called up to face the San Jose Sharks. Why? In the words of coach Dale Hunter, “"It’s one of those things where if [Neuvirth] was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing?" No. So it’s always judged by how you play." Holtby gave up the transcontinental goal to open the scoring, and he was not a lot better after that, allowing five goals on 35 shots overall. On the other hand, Tomas Vokoun returned from his illness and stopped 43 of 46 shots (.935 SV) in back-to-back games, splitting the decisions. His work stands in stark relief to his relief, who stopped only 55 of 63 shots (.873). It is worth noting that Vokoun is 13-9-2 under Dale Hunter with a 2.15 goals against average, a .930 save percentage,and three shutouts. That the Caps are doing as poorly as they are with this level of performance is perhaps the biggest disappointment – a waste of discount ($1.5 million for this year) goaltending.

Power Play: 1-for-14/7.1 percent (season: 17.7 percent/rank: 13th)

If the power play might have been coming out of a slump at the end of last week (3-for-6 in the last two games of the week), it went back into hibernation this week. Alex Ovechkin got the only goal of the week as the Caps converted only one of 21 power play shots. It was a return to the ineffectiveness on the man advantage that has seen them go 8-for-55 over their last 20 games (14.6 percent). Almost as frustrating is the fact that in those 20 games the Caps have had two or fewer power play chances in nine of them, three or fewer in 14 of them. Those 20 games correspond to the absence of Nicklas Backstrom.

Penalty Killing: 13-for-16/81.3 percent (season: 80.9%/rank: 23rd)

If the Caps never had to play the San Jose Sharks, you might not find many Caps fans complaining. The Sharks came to Verizon Center this week and lit the Caps up for three goals in six power play opportunities. That made the Sharks seven for 12 in their last four games against the Caps. Other than that, the Caps were perfect, but that has a bit of the “otherwise, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” quality to it. The Caps did, however, allow a total of only six power play shots in 19:19 of penalty killing time over those other three games (they allowed 13 to the Sharks). It was not so much a bad week as a bad game that marred an otherwise good week.

Paying the Price: 99 hits/52 blocked shots (season rank: 12th/7th)

The blocked shots were down (from 22.3 per game last week to 13.0 per game this week) largely as a result of the drop in shot attempts – only 204 for the week. But the percentage of shot attempts blocked was down, too – 25.5 percent, when the Caps had been topping 30 percent in recent weeks.

Faceoffs: 115-for-239/48.1 percent (season: 50.3 percent/rank: 12th)

The Caps had more or less an even week in the circle, except for the game against the Rangers to start things. Officially, the Caps were 19-for-50 in that game, 96-for-189 (50.8 percent) for the other three games. However, the Caps struggled in the offensive end, going 38-for-90 in the four games (42.2 percent). Brooks Laich was particularly off in the offensive zone. Laich was 3-for-20 for the week (15.0 percent). He was, however, even at the other end (14-for-28). Still, giving up possession in offensive zone starts didn’t help in what was a weak scoring week.

Turnovers: minus-13

Well, at least they cut the margin in half from the previous week. There really isn’t much else to be said about that, although all of it is explained away by a minus-13 in the 2-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday.


Last week we said…
“The Caps are seeing their season slowly bleed away. In their first 12 full weeks of the season they had six winning weeks and three .500 weeks. In their last six weeks that have had two winning weeks and four .500 weeks. They have avoided losing weeks, but they are not putting together any consistent run of good play that is reflected in wins and losses.”

And so it goes, still. The road woes continue (1-2-0 for the week), and the home record isn’t so hot lately, either (2-3-1 in their last six games at Verizon Center, including this week's loss to San Jose). The Caps did win the biggest game of the week – the 2-1 win over Florida on Friday – but if that is the only win in a week, all it does is delay the disappointment that could be coming. Capitals Nation has been waiting for that turnaround, that streak of five or six games when one could get a sense that the team is getting it. Getting Mike Green back into the lineup might help with that, but the continued absence of Nicklas Backstrom might be too much to overcome in the end. With a record of 8-9-3 since Backstrom left the lineup, the Caps are not showing enough depth or consistency to suggest that the magic “turnaround” is in sight.