Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62: Capitals at Maple Leafs, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief respite at home, the Washington Capitals take to the road again to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre tonight. This will be the Caps’ second visit to the ACC this season, and it was sort of like Wake Forest visiting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium for an ACC basketball game. The home team clobbered the visitors. In this instance, Toronto pummeled the Caps last November 19th by a 7-1 margin. The Leafs scored early (the first goal coming 99 seconds into the game), often (getting a 6-1 lead after 40 minutes), and in all number of ways (three even strength, three power play, one shorthanded) in leaving the Caps little more than road kill on the ACC ice.

This time, the stakes are higher. The Caps and Leafs are tied in standings points at the moment.  Each team has its collective faces plastered to the glass looking in at the playoffs from the outside in ninth and tenth place, respectively, in the East. Both teams come into this game stumbling. The Caps got a toe-hold on their remaining schedule with a win over Montreal last night, but they are still 2-5-1 in their last seven games. Meanwhile, Toronto has lost three in a row and is 1-6-1 in their last eight games, their lone win coming in overtime against Edmonton

Over those eight games the Leafs have compiled only 15 goals. But the real problem seems to be at the other end. Toronto has allowed 31 goals in the eight games. It has not been a penalty killing problem; the Leafs have killed off 16 of 19 shorthanded situations (84.2 percent). No, the Leafs have just been leaky. Here is how the teams compare overall:

 (click pic for larger image)

1. When Joffrey Lupul started the season as if he was shot out of a cannon, folks might have been forgiven for saying, “yeah, let’s see how long that lasts.” After all, he had topped 25 goals only once and topped 50 points just once. But after he went 5-6-11 in his first ten games, he has added on four more ten-game splits with at least ten points in five tries. He has been productive, and consistently so. And, he is 6-12-18, plus-12 in 12 games against the Caps in his career.

2. Meanwhile, Phil Kessel has gone from sniper to set-up guy. He hit the 30-goal mark in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on February 7th, but in seven games since then he has only one goal. He does have six assists in those games, though. He is 5-8-13 in 19 career games against the Caps.

3. It would be a good thing if the Caps were to get a 5-on-3 power play tonight (humor us). The Leafs have allowed the most 5-on-3 goals this season (seven)

4. Shots do not seem to matter much in Toronto decisions. They have the third-worst record in the league when outshooting their opponents, and they have the ninth-best record in the league when they are out-shot.

5. Brian Burke teams have a reputation for being edgy, for being nasty, for being “truculent.” So, Toronto has the eighth-fewest number of minor penalties called against them this season, they eighth fewest number of major penalties.

1. Here we go again. January 13th and 15th… the last time the Caps won consecutive games. This will be their sixth chance to break the skid, which means they are 6-9-3 since those consecutive wins.

2. The 7-1 loss in Toronto this season aside, the Caps have found Toronto to their liking in recent years. Since the lockout they are 6-5-2 north of the border against the Leafs.

3. Penalties are to be killed, not allowed to thrash around and wreak havoc on the scoreboard, but only two teams have allowed more power play goals on the road than the 26 allowed by the Caps (Toronto, Columbus).

4. More road follies… Only two teams have allowed more shorthanded goals on the road than Washington. The five they have allowed is topped only by Detroit and New Jersey.

5. And one last thing… only Columbus has suffered more losses by three or more goals than the Caps, who have been beaten by that margin 14 times this season. Only Chicago has been involved in more three-or-more goal decisions (26) than have the Caps (24).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: James Reimer

If Toronto is going to be depending on James Reimer as the goaltender to backstop them to the playoffs, he is going to have to pick up his game some. He recorded back-to-back shutouts over Pittsburgh and Ottawa to start the month, but since then is 2-4-0, 3.88, .874, and he was pulled twice. One wonders about his sanity, too. On Thursday he was quoted as saying, “I love my position. For some strange reason, I love to be hit by pucks.” Strange, indeed, but in his line of work it is better than being missed by them. Reimer is 0-1-1, 2.90, .909 in two career appearances against Washigton.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

OK, Joel Ward got off the schneid with an open netter last night. Jason Chimera got one, too. Troy Brouwer might have had one – he might have had a pair – but for the theatrics of Carey Price. But he also remains without a goal in his last dozen games. He is also minus-7 in those 12 games. If the Caps need a player to pick up his game some, Brouwer would be a good candidate. He has not had much success against the Leafs, perhaps owing to the fact that he does not have much of a history here. In five career games he has a power play goal (a game-winner) and an assist.


1. Let’s all go the lobby…let’s all go to the lobby… Washington and Toronto are two-three in the league rankings when leading at the first intermission. Combined, they are 38-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes (Toronto having the overtime loss). Pay attention to who is leading when the horn blows. And that means…

2. No “minute” goals. In the 7-1 loss to Toronto in November the Caps allowed goals in both the first and second period with barely a minute gone by in the period. They also allowed goals in the last minute of both the first and second period. Needless to say, that’s a pretty sure way to lose a game. Stop it.

3. Play nice. The Caps are 4-7-1 on the road when allowing five of more power plays. OK, they are 6-11-2 when they don’t allow that many, but the Leafs have been struggling with their power play (2-for-21 in their last nine games – 9.5 percent). Don’t give them any more opportunities.

In the end, the Caps have to win – to demonstrate they can win on the road, to at least keep pace with Florida and Winnipeg (if not jump over Florida in the event of a Panther loss tonight), to establish some winning momentum. No more need be said.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3

A TWO-point night: -- Game 61: Capitals 4 - Canadiens 1

If it was “opening night” for the rest of the season, as we noted in the pregame, it was a good start. 

The Washington Capitals put forth a workman-like effort and defeated the Montreal Canadiens last night at Verizon Center by a 4-1 margin.  The win pulled the Caps to within a point of the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference and within two points of the Southeast Division leading Winnipeg Jets with two games in hand.

The Caps got four goals from four players in four different ways.  Matiheu Perreault got things started for the home team on some incredibly sloppy and lazy play by the Canadiens.  Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec tried to send the puck around the end boards in his own zone, but the puck eluded Alexei Emelin on the way through.  Before Ryan White could slide over and corral the puck, Jason Chimera intercepted it at the left wing wall. He flipped it harmlessly in the direction of the Montreal net.  But on its way there, Tomas Kaberle was slow to pick up Perreault at the far side of the net and waved at the puck as it was going by.  Carey Price was nothing more than a casual observer, content to stay deep in his net and watch the puck flutter by.  The two Canadiens not taking any initiative resulted in the puck settling on Perreault’s stick, and the Caps’ forward chipped it behind Price for the game’s first goal.

Chimera got one of his own by taking advantage of his unique skill – speed.  The play started with Alexander Semin doing something he isn’t always given credit for doing – taking a hit to make a play.  Two Canadiens closed on Semin at the wall, but Semin slid the puck ahead to Chimera before he was hit.  Chimera picked it up at the Capitals blue line and split two Montreal defenders at center ice.  He charged in alone on Price and tried to slip the puck through the five-hole.  Price swallowed the puck in his pads, but his momentum carried him over his goal line, and the puck ended up squirting beneath them for the 2-0 lead.

The announcement of the Chimera goal wasn’t complete when the Caps took possession of the puck once more off the ensuing faceoff.  Marcus Johansson got things started by collecting the puck at the Capitals’ blue line and starting up ice.  When he closed on the Canadiens’ blue line, Montreal defenseman Ryan white waved at the puck to try to sweep it aside, but managed only to create a chance for Johansson to cut inside.  He did, and as he crossed the blue line, Johansson dropped the puck for Dmitry Orlov.  The Caps’ defenseman wasted no time and pushed the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who joined the 3-on-2 rush.  Ovechkin one timed the puck past defenseman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price for a 3-0 lead 16 seconds after the Chimera goal.

After Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period, Joel Ward ended the evening’s scoring with an empty net goal in the last minute of play. 

Other stuff…

-- Ward’s goal snapped a personal 21-game streak without a goal.  It was the first time he a scored a goal in a Caps win since November 1st.

-- It could have been much worse for the Canadiens but for Carey Price, and that just applies to Price’s work against Troy Brouwer.  Price robbed Brouwer on consecutive shifts in the second period, first with a glove save from point blank range near his left post, and on the next shift on a nifty redirect by Brouwer from the low slot.

-- Scott Gomez’ adventure of a season continues.  No goals for him, but he did get a look at each of the last three goals scored by the Caps when he was on the ice.  He joined Ryan White at a minus-3 for the evening.

-- If Michal Neuvirth looks unspectacular in his goaltending, he is having a good night.  He looked quite unspectacular, relying on technique and technical play to make saves look quite routine, despite the fact that every Montreal skater except Josh Gorges registered a shot on goal.

-- Montreal was credited with only one takeaway for the entire contest.  Can’t necessarily say it was a scoring effect, since the Caps had eight of their own.

-- P.K. Subban tried his level best to try and goad Jason Chimera into taking a dumb penalty when the Caps took a lead, but Chimera sort of stood there looking at him like, “dude, what is your problem?”  It was not one of Subban’s best nights, as he took two penalties of his own and finished a minus-2.

-- What a difference Mike Green makes.  Been a long time since Caps fans saw a defenseman skating the puck out of his own end or moving it up with a first pass as confidently as Green did last night.

-- No doubt folks are going to remember Jeff Schultz losing his skates from underneath him and tumbling to the ice on one occasion last night.  What they won’t remember is his playing more than 15 minutes and finishing plus-1.  Just meat and potatoes defense.

-- The Caps had six power play opportunities.  They have not had that many at home since December 9th.  They have not had that many and failed to convert any of them since going 0-for-7 against Tampa Bay on October 10th.

-- With the win, the Caps became the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach the 20-win mark at home this season.  It Is the fifth straight season the Caps have won at least 20 games at home.

-- Time management.  Alex Ovechkin skated only four shifts in the third period, only two after the power play on which Montreal scored their shorthanded goal.

-- Montreal has now gone 276:32 without having scored an even-strength goal on Washington.

In the end, the Caps are back in position to jump into the playoff-eight.  If they win against Toronto tonight and Florida loses in Carolina, the Caps will move into eighth place.  But at the moment the Caps are “1-0-0” in the “the rest of the season” portion of their schedule. And that is something to build on.