Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cheerless Talks Fancystats

Cheerless informs me that he has decided to improve himself in the ways and means of hockey.  We applaud our cousin’s efforts to better himself, and he tells me he’s actually prepared a report on his study so far.  Take it away, Cheerless.

Thanks, cuz.  I’d like to talk to you today about something that a lot of hockey folks in the know talk about these days.  Of course, I mean “Corgi.”

Now, what do we mean by “Corgi?”  It is a statistic.  Until I started readin’ up on Corgi, I didn’t know a statistic from a hockey stic (haha…get it?), but what I found out readin’ up on it is that it was invented by this guy named Jim Corgi, who is also a dog lover, I think.

Corgi is what all those smart guys who watch hockey call a “fancy stat,” like maybe it dresses in a tuxedo or something.

What it does, though, is add up all the shot attempts.  Shoot the puck on net, you get a Corgi.  

Shoot the puck and get it blocked, you get another Corgi.

Even if you shoot the puck and miss everything, you get a Corgi.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.  You get a minus Corgi for every shot the other guys take at your net.  A shot on your goalie, you get a minus-Corgi... 

…you block one of their shots, you get another minus-Corgi…

…missed shot…another minus-Corgi.

It’s better to have more Corgis than the other guys...

...and it’s even better to have lots of Corgis for your side.

Now, here is where it gets all squirrely.  You can get Corgis when you’re not even on the ice!  If you’re on the ice, they take the Corgis you get and subtract the Corgis for the other guys.  That’s called “Corgi-on.”  And when you’re off the ice, they figure out the Corgis for both sides, and they call that a “Corgi-off.”  So then you can compare the Corgi-on and Corgi-off…

If you put ‘em together, you get “Corgi Relative,” somethin’ I thought was like an uncle or a brother or somethin’ like that.

Oh, and if you really want to go deep into the woods, there is “Corgi/quality of competition,” which is the average Corgi of opposing players…

…and “Relative Corgi/quality of competition,” and that’s the average relative Corgi of the other guys.”

When you put it all together, if you have lots of Corgis on your side, not so many on the other side, and your relative Corgis are high, they say you “drive” play…

So there you have it, all you need to know about Corgi. Class dismissed.  You deserve a beer…

The Metropoutheast Division?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 12: Canucks 3 - Capitals 2

When the Washington Capitals went to the locker room tied with the Vancouver Canucks at a goal apiece after 20 minutes, having come up empty on a penalty shot and two power plays, they might have thought it an opportunity wasted.  When they got out of the second period still tied, 1-1, despite being outshot, 16-3, they might have thought themselves fortunate.  When they took a lead on a goal by Mikhail Grabovski less than two minutes into the third period, they might have looked skyward and thought the hockey gods were going to let them escape Rogers Arena with their third win in four tries on their five-game road trip.

It turns out the hockey gods have a sick sense of humor.  The Canucks tied the game again barely a minute after the Grabovski goal, then took the lead on a goal barely two minutes after that.  It was all that the Canucks needed, holding the Caps to just three shots on goal in the last 15 minutes and skating off with a 3-2 win.

The Caps certainly had their chances, starting just 79 seconds into the game when Alex Ovechkin hauled the puck down the right side, pulled the puck past Alexander Edler, spinning the defenseman around, then darted in on goalie Roberto Luongo.  Edler tripped Ovechkin going by, nullifying the scoring chance and drawing a penalty shot.  Unfortunately, the Rogers Arena ice then pulled a page from the Verizon Center operations manual.  Ovechkin skated in on Luongo, but the puck would not settle, and Ovechkin could not lift a snap shot over the glove of Luongo, who smothered the attempt at the left post.

It was just the start of a fast-paced first period that realized its first goal when Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins broke out of the Canuck zone with speed.  As Higgins and Kassian were exchanging passes, Nate Schmidt drifted toward the middle toward Mike Green to create a two-defenders-on-one-puck-carrier situation.  The puck squirted through Schmidt’s legs, who then got turned around as Kassian took the puck down the right side.  It gave Kassian an open shot from the right wing faceoff dot that he rifled past goalie Michal Neuvirth’s glove, a goal that Neuvirth had to want back.

Three minutes later Jason Chimera tied the game on a play that started when Joel Ward outfought a pair of Canucks for a loose puck along the right wing wall and wristed a shot that Luongo turned aside.  The puck was headed up the boards and out, but Nate Schmidt flagged it down, then sent a cross-ice pass to Mike Green at the right point.  Green wristed a shot that had eyes, eluding a clot of bodies in the shooting lane until the puck got to the edge of the crease to Luongo’s right.  Chimera redirected the puck under Luongo, and the score was tied at 14:36 of the first period.

There was no more scoring in the first period, and the second period went scoreless as well, due in no small part to Neuvirth, who made up for the soft goal he allowed in the first with a 16-save period.  The effort seemed to be rewarded in the second minute of the third period on a fine effort by Chimera, who first poked a loose puck past defenseman Kevin Bieksa, then beat him to the loose puck just inside the Vancouver blue line.  Then, with Tom Sestito closing on him, Chimera dove and one-handed a pass into the middle where Mikhail Grabovski appeared.  Grabovski wasted no time wrong-footing a wrist shot past Lunogo’s glove to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

It was another lead the Caps could not hold, though.  Ryan Kesler tied the game 61 seconds later on another shot that, if Neuvirth should not have stopped, then he should not have allowed.  Ryan Stanton took a long shot from the left point that Neuvirth seemed to track all the way into his glove.  But he did not field the shot cleanly, the puck popping out to his left and out of reach to dive on.  Kesler jumped in and snapped the puck past Neuvirth before he had a chance to square himself to the play.

A little more than two minutes later, the Canucks had their game-winner.  It was a clinic on the subconscious communication between twins, if you subscribe to that sort of thing.  Chris Tanev was the third man in a high cycle with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  Tanev walked the blue line, drawing Marcus Johansson to him.  That allowed Tanev to leave the puck for Henrik at the blue line in the middle of the ice.  As Tanev dropped down low on the right side, Henrik took his place at the right point where he left the puck for Daniel coming up the right-wing boards.  Daniel circled left, around Johansson (who seemed to peel off Daniel to cover Tanev, who had circled all the way back to the blue line and, in fact, out of the zone).  Daniel had nothing but space to step in and fire the puck past Neuvirth for the game winner.

Other stuff…

-- The last goal should never have counted…

…Contrary to the commentary on the Vancouver feed, those are Ryan Kesler's skates in the paint, standing in front of Neuvirth as the puck is going by.  Rule 69.1 states, “The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”  Sure looked like “impair" was the operative verb there.

-- In the prognosto, we said this…
“Daniel and Henrik Sedin both recorded points in nine of 13 Canuck games so far this season.  Vancouver is 7-2-0 in those games.  Keeping them clean on the score sheet could be a tall order, at least as far as keeping Henrik off the board is concerned.  He has points in 12 of 13 games.  Only San Jose has blanked him.  In fact, the Sharks are the only club to date to keep both Sedins off the score sheet in a game this season so far.”
When the Caps had their 2-1 lead, neither Sedin had a point.  Tying goal…Daniel gets an assist.  Game-winning goal…Henrik assists Daniel.  Make that 10 of 14 games for the Sedins.

-- Three straight games without a power play goal is a season high for Washington, and that makes 1-5-0 in games in which they do not score one.

-- On the good side of special teams, the Caps have now killed off 25 in a row over more than seven consecutive games.  It is their longest streak of games without giving up a power play goal since a seven-game streak from January 16 through February 1, 2011.

-- Since the 2003-2004 season Roberto Luongo is 17-2 with two ties against the Caps.

-- With his goal on Monday, Jason Chimera has goals in three straight games, his first three-game goal streak since he did it for Columbus in December 2009.

-- The three shots on goal for Alex Ovechkin is a season-low to date.  So was the 19 shots on goal for the Caps.

--  Fourth line… one shot attempt (Eric Fehr). Second line…three shots on goal (one each for Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer).

-- The Caps won a total of five offensive zone draws… as many as Henrik Sedin won in his offensive zone.

--  Canucks: 68 shot attempts, Caps: 42.  Canucks: 41 shots on goal, Caps: 19.  Canucks: 26 even strength shots on goal, Caps: 14.  Canucks: 34 faceoff wins, Caps: 17.  Michal Neuvirth might have let in one soft goal and flubbed a save that turned into a goal, but he was the best Cap on the ice in this game by miles.

In the end…

The Caps are getting the crap kicked out of them at even strength.  And tonight they got the crap kicked out of them on special teams, too (the Canucks had 15 power play shots on goal, the Caps had four).  This was not as disappointing a loss as that to the Flames on Saturday, mostly because of the quality of competition,  and despite the huge Canuck advantage in possession, the Caps were at least in it to the end.

However, there are still the same things hounding this team, and they look as if they are making little to no progress improving on them.  But for a fine penalty killing run, the Caps might be in a world of hurt in the standings at this point.  As it is, it merely has the sting of opportunities passing them by.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Washington Capitals: First and Tens, the First Ten Game Segment

The Washington Capitals have embarked on their second ten-game segment of the season, but the first one merits some examination.

The Basics

If you compare the Caps’ first ten games this season with their first ten from last season, here is how their numbers line up:

The Caps stumbled badly out of the gate last season, needing a furious finish to win the last Southeast Division title.  This season the Caps did not start with a bang, but neither did they stub most of their toes stepping out into the season.  When the Caps beat Edmonton last Thursday night in Game 10, they found themselves tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Compare that to last season when the Caps, with their 2-7-1 record after ten games, not only were last in the Southeast Division, but were last in the Eastern Conference.

Scoring is up, goals allowed are down.  This is not to say, “problem solved,” since the Caps have the lingering problem of their play at 5-on-5.  But they do not have as long or as frequent stretches of “what the hell game are they playing out there” that they had to start last season.

One thing that does seem to have carried over from last season’s first ten games to this season’s first ten is poor starts.  In 2013 the Caps were outscored, 11-8, in the first period of games and trailed five times at the first intermission.  This season the Caps have been outscored in the first period by a 9-5 margin in their first ten games.  They have improved a bit in the lead/trail aspect of their game starts, trailing only three times in ten games at the first intermission.  Five times the Caps went to the locker room tied after 20 minutes, three of them being scoreless games.

One thing the Caps did not do last season was take a lead into the last 20 minutes.  Only three times did they have a lead to start the third period, and only once did they win.  They have not improved on the how many – only three times in their first ten games have the Caps led after two periods.  However, the results have been better with three wins in three tries.

Special Teams

The power play was decent to start the 2013 season for the Caps – 20.0 percent on 8-for-40 performance.  It has been more efficient in the early going this season with a 29.7 percent success rate through ten games (11-for-37).  The odd part is that the Caps recorded 54 power play shots on goal in both last year’s first ten games and this year’s.  One difference is that the Caps were 8-for-54 last season (14.8 percent) versus 11-for-54 so far this season (20.4 percent).  Another one speaks to a higher efficiency.  Eleven goals on 54 shots in 45:32 of power play ice time this season versus eight goals on 54 shots in 65:30 of power play ice time last season through ten games. 

The differences in the penalty killing are more stark.  The first thing to note is opportunities.  Last season the Caps opened the season being shorthanded 47 times in their first ten games.  This year they were down a man 34 times through ten games, down almost 28 percent from last season.  Next there is the kill rate – 74.5 percent through their first ten games last season on their way to bouncing among the bottom five in penalty killing all season.  This year they were 88.2 percent on the penalty kill through ten games, good for second in the league.  The shooting efficiency presents an odd picture.  Last season the Caps allowed 12 power play goals on 78 shots over their first ten games (.846 save percentage).  Through ten games this season the Caps were 40-for-44 stopping power play shots.  Not only is the save percentage much better (.917), it is much better than the team’s even strength save percentage (.902).  Finally there is the time.  Last season the Caps spent 71:43 on the penalty kill over their first ten games.  This year that number has been pared down to 56:22 through their first ten games.  The only reason the numbers are not more different is the fact that the Caps have killed a larger share of those shorthanded situations they faced.


Last year the Caps were getting used to a new coach, a new system, and their top offensive player was adapting to a new position, although a bit hesitantly at first.  Alex Ovechkin was only 2-3-5, minus-4, in his first ten games, due in no small part to his being matched with grinders Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb for a portion of that stretch.  A year later, very much settled into his position as a right wing after spending his career as a left winger, Ovechkin was 10-5-15, minus-3 in his first ten games. 

Nicklas Backstrom did not seem to take the split from his then-left/now-right wing too badly, going 1-7-8, minus-1 in his first ten games last season.  However, now that the Ovechkin/Backstrom pair has been cemented on the top line, Backstrom came out of the gate fast, going 1-10-11, minus-2, in his first ten games.

If there is a surprise, it might be Marcus Johansson.  Last season he played in only eight of the first ten games and recorded a goal as his only point over that stretch while going minus-7.  He has found a home on the top line in the role of “sidekick” to the Butch and Sundance of Backstrom and Ovechkin.  Through ten games he did not have a goal, but he had ten assists, five of them in his last three games of the series.

Where the Caps are struggling is to get consistency out of the second and third lines.  Part of it is experimentation, trying Eric Fehr as the third line center.  Part of it is trying to find the right combination of wingers to play alongside Mikhail Grabovski. That middle group of players – Fehr, Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera – combined for 13 goals over their first ten games. 

The personnel differences are Grabovski for Mike Ribeiro and Brooks Laich returning to the lineup after spending most of last season injured.  Grabovski’s four goals through ten games compare favorably to Riberio’s three over a similar stretch to start last season.  Laich, however, has struggled to get consistent production.  Two goals and no assists (and a minus-4) is not what was expected, especially as he settled into the second line center role at the end of the ten-game run.


Five-on-five defense was a challenge last season at the beginning of the Caps’ season, but if anything it has been more of one to start this season.  The Caps allowed 24 even strength goals in their first ten games last season, while allowing 28 goals through their first ten games this season.  Part of the problem this season is facing so many shots.  Through ten games Capital goaltenders faced 286 shots at even strength.  Even before special teams shots on goal are considered, that number would put the Caps with the 19th highest shots per game mark.

The problems cannot be wrapped in a nice, neat bow.  Ten Caps have been on ice for ten or more goals, six forwards and four defensemen.  That leaves it an open question about whether the problems are systemic – something about defensive schemes that needs to be addressed by the coaching staff – or a deficiency of attention or skill on the part of a group of players that would be an ominous cloud hanging over the team as they head into their next ten games.

One thing to take note of through ten games so far this season is the Caps employing nine defensemen already.  Only three Capital defensemen appeared in the first ten games – Mike Green, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson.  Jack Hillen was injured in Game 2, Connor Carrick was sent down to Hershey after Game 5, and John Erskine missed three games to injury.  That meant that the Caps brought Steve Oleksy out of the press box and Nate Schmidt down from Hershey.  Then, the Caps claimed Alexander Urbom from the New Jersey Devils on waivers.  If the Caps can get some continuity or stability among their defensive pairs, it might improve the overall defense, but it will not eliminate the problem that the Caps had coming into this season about what their fourth, fifth, and sixth defensemen would look like.


Last season Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth split time, Neuvirth getting 361 minutes over six games with a 1-4-1 record, and Holtby getting 238 minutes and a 1-3-0 record.  Neither took the goaltending job for their own.  Neuvirth was 2.99, .893 through ten games, while Holtby was 4.52, .862.

That has settled out.  Braden Holtby is the number one goaltender, although it did not prevent him from another slow start this season.  In his first two appearances he allowed 12 goals on 45 shots, a .822 save percentage.  Getting pulled in his second appearance after 16 minutes might have been a wake-up call.  Holtby was only 3-3-0 in his next six appearances, but he had a 2.33 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.

With Holtby having taken the reins firmly as the number one goalie, Neuvirth has had limited work compared to his start last season.  He has only one start so far, and it was a long night.  Five goals on 28 shots in a 5-1 loss to Colorado.  His only other appearance over the first ten games was in relief against Calgary, one in which he finished with 27 saves on 28 shots in a 5-4 shootout win.

In the end…

The Caps are better at this point this season than they were at a similar point last season.  Their record is better, their offense is better, their defense is better… power play, penalty killing, goaltending.  That is not the same thing as saying that the Caps are good.  Not yet, certainly.  There is still tinkering going on among the second and third forward lines and the second and third defensive pairs.

One wonders, as the Caps start into their second ten-game segment, which elements are sustainable.  A 29.7 percent power play would seem to be headed toward a bit of a decline over time, and the Caps might not be as good as their 88.2 percent penalty kill would suggest, especially when the save percentage on the penalty kill is so much better than that at even strength. 

On the other hand the Caps have had such sluggish offense early in games.  Their skill set suggests this would not be a permanent feature of this season’s team.  But the big ugly dog in the room is the Caps’ 5-on-5 play that, incredibly, might be worse than last year at this time.  If that does not improve, the second ten-game segment might not look much different than the first.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 12: Capitals at Canucks, October 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end the western leg of their five-game road trip with a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, a city often mentioned among the highest-quality, most scenic, and most livable cities in the world.  And to think, it was once named “Gastown,” named for a saloon owner, Jack “Gassy” Deighton, back in the 1860’s.

What it is these days, along with being a tourism and shipping center, is the home of one of the more entertaining, if frustrating hockey teams in the NHL.  Over the last 12 seasons the Canucks reached the playoffs ten times, but advanced past the second round only once, a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011.  Since that Stanley Cup finals appearance the Canucks have been one-and-done in the playoffs twice, leading to a change behind the bench for the 2013-2014 season.

John Tortorella takes his unique brand of homey charm and aw-shucks demeanor from Manhattan, where he spent four-plus seasons leading the New York Rangers, to the furthest reaches of the NHL northwest.

The Canucks are not like the Tampa Bay Lightning he took over in 2000, a team that managed only 54 points in the season before his arrival, or the 2008-2009 Rangers, a team that was sinking out of playoff contention with a 2-7-3 record in the dozen games before his arrival.  Before last season the Canucks had won more than 40 games in nine of ten seasons, and in last year’s 48-game season were on a pace for 44 wins.  This is an accomplished group in the regular season (sound familiar?).

What the Caps are getting in this game is another team returning home after a long road trip.  Just as they faced Calgary after the Flames finished up a five-game road trip, the Caps will get the Canucks returning home after a seven-game road trip, one on which they went 5-1-1.  It was not as dominating a trip as the record would suggest.  Five of the games were one-goal decisions, and another featured an empty net goal in what would be a 3-1 loss to Columbus.  Four of the games went to extra time, including the last three, all of them Vancouver wins.

The trip might have served the purpose of getting the bad taste out of their mouths from bad home cooking early on.  The Canucks have played only four home games thus far and have only one win in regulation time, that coming in their home opener, a 6-2 win over Edmonton on October 8th.  Here are the teams numbers to date, lined up for your edification...

1.  Vancouver spread their scoring around on their seven game road trip – 18 different skaters recorded points.  Ryan Kesler led the Canucks in goals with six (6-3-9), while Henrik Sedin led the team in assists with seven (2-7-9).

2.  One thing the Canucks got on their 5-1-1 road trip was solid goaltending.  Roberto Luongo was 4-0-1, 2.12, .920, and one shutout.  Eddie Lack was 1-1-0, 1.94, .923.

3.  Vancouver does not finish games particularly strong, at least on offense.  They have only eight third period goals in 13 games.  Only five teams have scored fewer third period goals per game, and none of them are in the playoff rung of the standings.

4. The flip side of that is that Vancouver has the fourth best record in the league when allowing the game’s first goal (5-3-0).  That they have done it eight times in 13 games might be of some concern to Canuck fans.

5.  Last season the Canucks finished 27th in the league in blocked shots.  At the moment they are tied for fourth.  Think their new head coach has anything to do with that?

1.  The even strength woes continue for the Caps – 21st in Corsi for(close) %, 28th in Fenwick for (close) %  (source:

2.  Among Capitals defensemen so far this season, would it surprise you that Mike Green has the second lowest offensive/defensive zone start percentage (48.9 percent; John Erskine has 40.8 percent; source:

3.  Second Line Blues… In 5-on-5 close situations, Mikhail Grabovski, who started out centering  the second line but now centers the third line, has the highest PDO on the club (1109).  Troy Brouwer is second (1036).  Brooks Laich, who started the year on the left side of the second line and is now its center, has a 968 PDO (source:

4.  More on that even strength thing… only Edmonton and the New York Islanders have allowed more 5-on-5 goals than the Caps.

5.  In their last seven visits to Vancouver the Caps are 1-5-1 and have been outscored, 32-16.  Their last win took place on Valentine’s Day 2001, a 4-3 overtime win.  How long ago is that? Adam Oates had two goals (including the game-winner 41 seconds into overtime), and Calle Johansson added another.  Olaf Kolzig got the win in goal.  All are coaches with the Caps now.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Jason Garrison

Over the past three seasons, only Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson have more goals among NHL defensemen than Jason Garrison.  And, he is not shy about shooting the puck.  In an October 12th game against the Montreal Canadiens he recorded ten shots on goal, the 13th defenseman to do so since the 2004-2005 lockout.  The thing is, though, in seven games since he has a combined total of 11 shots on goal.  Maybe his arms are still tired.  In 13 career games against the Caps he is 0-3-3, minus-4 (all with the Florida Panthers).

Washington: Pick-a-Goalie

Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have a combined 40 minutes of career experience against the Canucks, all of it by Neuvirth.  It was not pleasant.  On October 29, 2011, Neuvirth took over for starter Tomas Vokoun at the start of the second period in what was already a 3-1 Canuck lead in Vancouver.  Neuvirth allowed four goals on 26 shots in 40 minutes of work in the 7-4 Capitals loss.  The question for tonight's game is whether Neuvirth gets his first start since October 12th (a 5-1 loss to Colorado) or head coach Adam Oates puts Holtby back between the pipes after pulling him (to Holtby’s chagrin) mid-way through the first period against Calgary on Saturday.


1.  First things first.  The Caps problems start in the first period.  They have been outscored, 12-6, in the first period of games this season.  Vancouver, on the other hand, has allowed 13 first period goals in 13 games. 

2.  More Power!  The Caps have gone seven power plays without a goal, a long stretch for them in this young season.  Vancouver has allowed power play goals in each of their last three games (55.6 percent penalty kill) and four of their last five (72.2 percent).

3.  Clean Sedin.  Daniel and Henrik Sedin both recorded points in nine of 13 Canuck games so far this season.  Vancouver is 7-2-0 in those games.  Keeping them clean on the score sheet could be a tall order, at least as far as keeping Henrik off the board is concerned.  He has points in 12 of 13 games.  Only San Jose has blanked him.  In fact, the Sharks are the only club to date to keep both Sedins off the score sheet in a game this season so far.

In the end… This is not unlike the run-up to the Redskins/Broncos game this week.  On paper, it is a steep climb for the Caps.  They have a poor track record in Vancouver, they are in their fourth game of a long road trip, and there are nagging problems that continue to hound this team, ones that are sometimes hidden behind an effective power play.  On paper, one would have to think the Canucks would be a solid favorite.  Yeah, well, if games were played on paper, the Redskins would have a half dozen Lombardi Trophies by now.

Capitals 3 – Canucks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 4

It could have been a magical week for the Washington Capitals.  A five-game road trip that started with three games in the prairie provinces of Canada – an inhospitable environment for the boys of the District of Columbia – began with two wins and ended with a thud.

Record: 2-1-0

In the 38 years that the Washington Capitals have been playing hockey, they have never won the trifecta of Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary on the same road trip.  Granted, it has not been a frequent occurrence, playing all three on the same trip, but when the Caps beat Winnipeg, 5-4, in a Gimmick, then Edmonton, 4-1, it looked promising.  Then the Caps dropped a 5-2 decision to Calgary on Saturday, and it made it the sixth trip through the three cities without a sweep in franchise history. 

The loss mattered.  With a win the Caps would have finished the week in second place in the Metropolitan Division, only two points behind Pittsburgh.  As it is they are tied for fourth with Columbus and tied for third among teams in the wild card standings.

Offense: 3.33/game (season: 2.73 / T-17th)

The good thing to say about the week is that the Caps were efficient.  Ten goals on 87 shots made for 11.5 percent shooting.  The bad, or at least the less good, was that the Caps had only those 87 shots on goal in nine periods plus an overtime worth of hockey.  Washington has had fewer than 30 shots on goal in five of their last nine games and four of their last six.

The story is in the headline scorers.  Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5), Marcus Johansson (0-4-4), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) were their dominant selves in the wins over Winnipeg and Edmonton.  They did not have a point in the loss to Calgary.  Then there is the curious case of Mike Green.  The defenseman recorded his first even-strength point of the season in the loss to the Flames (a secondary assist).  He is now 11 games and counting without a goal.  He is not yet close to his 25 game streak without a goal in an injury-hampered 2011-2012 season (his most recent lengthy streak without a goal), but it is a concern.

In other news, Aaron Volpatti recorded his first goal as a Cap, and Nate Schmidt had his first NHL point, both coming on the Caps’ second goal in their 5-2 loss to Calgary.

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.18 / 26th)

When Braden Holtby stormed off the ice after being pulled 12:50 into the game against Calgary after giving up three goals on 14 shots, it was a statement bigger than the moment.  The Caps have been getting by on offense and penalty killing lately.  Their even-strength defense stinks.  Too many shots are making their way to the goalie.  In the three games this week the Caps were outshot 86-68 at even strength.  Against Calgary it was 12-6 in the first period.  Overall only four teams are allowing more shots per game than the Caps – 33.9/game, more than ten more than top-ranked Minnesota (23.0).  Only once this season have the Caps allowed fewer shots in a single game than what Minnesota allows on average.

Goaltending: 3.25 GAA / .910 save percentage (season: 3.07 / .909)

Braden Holtby started the week pretty much where he left off the previous week, facing high shot volumes and stopping a large percentage of them.  He ended Week 3 facing 74 shots in his last two games and stopping all but three of them (.959 save percentage).  In his first two games this week he stopped 73 of 78 shots (.936), 57 of 59 he faced at even strength (.966).  The Calgary happened.  The Flames scored on their second shot of the game, 64 seconds in, and did not let up.  They had five shots on goal on a power play, all of which Holtby turned aside, but it was merely prelude.  By the time he was pulled 12:50 into the game he allowed three goals on nine even strength shots, leaving him with a 3.49 goals against average for the week and a .913 save percentage.

Michal Neuvirth came in to clean up the mess that the Caps’ skaters left for Holtby against Calgary, and he did pretty well…to start.  He stopped the first 15 shots he faced, from 13:07 in the first period, when he faced his first shot, until 10:11 of the third, when he faced his 15th.  It kept the Caps in the game.  Then it fell apart.  Of a faceoff win by the Flames, Mike Cammalleri circled around the far edge of the right wing faceoff circle, but being a left handed shot, he had to turn his body to get the puck on his forehand to shoot.  He had the time to do this, which he put to good use, firing a low shot that got tangled in Neuvirth’s pads as he was hugging the near post.  Having lost sight of the puck, Neuvirth knelt to prevent an attempt to poke it in, but all he succeeded in doing was to kick the puck into his own net with his right skate at 10:17 of the period.  Game.

Power Play: 1-11 /  9.1 percent (season: 26.8 percent / rank: 3rd)

It was not a good week for the man advantage.  In fact, the only worse week so far was one in which the Caps played only two games (Week 2) and went 0-for-7.  They had opportunities (11 in three games), they had the right people taking the shots (Ovechkin and Green with five apiece, Backstrom with four).  They just did not convert.  It happens.  One goal on 16 shots (6.25 percent) in 19:08 in total power play time. 

It was too much power play time spent ineffectively, and it contributed to the week’s results because the Caps are so dependent on it for success.  They were 1-0 in games in which they scored a power play goal, 1-1 when they did not.  For the season they are 4-2-0 in games in which they score on the man advantage, 1-4-0 when they do not.

Penalty Killing: 9-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 89.2 percent / rank: 2nd)

Who would have thought penalty killing would be the strength of this team eleven games into the season?  The Caps were a perfect 9-for-9 for the week, their second consecutive perfect 9-for-9 week.  It was part of what is a string of 19 straight penalty kills, and counting.  It was not an especially efficient path to success.  The Caps allowed 18 shots on goal in 15:57 of power play time, but effectiveness trumps efficiency.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 9-9 (season: 19-29; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio rank: 24th)

It would have been a really good week, but for the loss to Calgary in which all the goals scored were of the even strength variety.  Still, getting outshot in two of the three games by wide margins (37-24 by Winnipeg and 25-20 by Calgary) suggests more work needs to be done here.  The margin for the week – 86-68 against – was not a lot different than it was the previous week (91-67 against).  The Caps are just not getting enough pressure at even strength and are allowing too much of it in their own end.

Faceoffs: 81-for-191 /42.4 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 18th)

Things happen for a reason.  The Caps were outshot, 111-87, for the week, and they lost the faceoff battle, 110-81.  Maybe it was coincidence, maybe not.  But you cannot score unless you shoot, you cannot shoot if you do not have the puck, and cannot have the puck with regularity if you are failing to secure it in hockey’s most basic play, the faceoff.  It was not quite as bad as it seemed, since the Caps only lost the week by a 54-63 margin in the ends (27-47 in the neutral zone).

Breaking it down further, the scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich – were a combined 17-33 in the offensive zone.  The defensive centers (and for the moment Mikhail Grabovski qualifies along with Eric Fehr) were 18-for-36.  If there was one player who stood out, albeit in a negative way, it was Brooks Laich, who was 4-for-19 on neutral zone draws.  Grabovski was not much better, going only 3-for-11 in offensive zone draws.  It was a frustrating week in the circle.

Goals For/Against by Period:

Early starts continue to be a problem.  It was another losing, if close week in the first period, the Caps allowing three while scoring two.  But by week’s end, only five teams had fewer first period goals scored than the Caps, and they are being outscored, 12-6, in the first period of games so far this season.  It is especially frustrating in that the Caps managed five goals in the second period of games and have scored more middle frame goals than all but three teams. The second period is the only period they are winning on a season-wide basis, going plus-3 through 11 games while going minus-6 in the first and minus-3 in the third.

In the end…

Mike Cammalleri is a nice player, but his showing up for the Flames on Saturday after missing the first game of the season series (a Calgary loss) was hardly the difference in the 5-2 Flames win.  The Caps just did not bring their “A” game to the rink (or their “B” or “C” games).  It was more their “D” game…”D” for “damned sloppy,” especially in their own end.  It was the difference between a great week and a vaguely disappointing one, even with the 2-1-0 result on the road.  The reason for that is that the underlying problems plaguing this team are still there, primarily those associated with their play at even strength.  What it has meant – and meant this week – is that if the Caps do not score on their power play, they are not likely to win.  That is not a long-term formula for success.

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 11: Flames 5 - Capitals 2

In a season that lasts 82 games, not every evening is going to be beer and skittles.  The Washington Capitals saw their modest three-game winning streak come to an end in Calgary on Saturday night, falling to the Flames, 5-2.

Calgary scored early (64 seconds into the game on a wrist shot by Kris Russell), late (Curtis Glencross finishing off a 2-on-1 with 5:32 left), and often in between (Jiri Hudler getting one and Mike Cammalleri potting a pair) to overwhelm both Capitals goaltenders and send the Caps off in a grumpy mood.

The Caps never knew what hit them.  Calgary outshot the Caps, 8-0, in the first 4:25 and had a 1-0 lead.  By the time the Flames took a 2-0 lead 7:24 into the game they had an 11-2 edge in shots.  Even when the Caps showed the slightest spark of life, when Jason Chimera halved the lead 12 minutes into the first period, Calgary had the answer, restoring their two goal lead 48 seconds later on the first of Cammalleri’s two goals.

Washington would make it close once more, but that in itself was misleading. Aaron Volpatti recorded his first goal as a Cap. However, given that the top two lines were being held in check, it would be far from enough.  Calgary added the last two goals while the Caps were left quiet in the last half of the contest.

Other stuff…

--  Well, someone got his first goal as a Cap.  We prognosticated it would be Tom Wilson, but it was Volpatti instead.  Wilson, who skated more than 11 minutes in Edmonton on Thursday, got only 4:40 in this one with but a single shift in the third period.

-- It is not often that the Caps are led in shots on goal by someone other than Alex Ovechkin, but such was the case against Calgary. Jason Chimera had six shots on goal.  Ovechkin had five among his 15 shot attempts.

-- Mike Green was paired with Nate Schmidt again.  The pairing did not work as well as it did against Edmonton on Thursday.  Green and Schmidt were on ice for three of the Flames’ five goals.  Green has been on ice for 13 of the 29 even strength goals scored against Washington.  It dimmed just a bit Schmidt’s first NHL point, earned on Volpatti’s first goal as a Cap.

-- Congratulations, Aaron…now, you’ll only get only two more shifts the rest of the game.

-- The second line had one shot on goal (Troy Brouwer) and only three shot attempts.

-- It’s not like the third was a whole lot better.  Every shot attempt came off the stick of Jason Chimera (seven, six of them on goal, one in the net).  Joel Ward and Mikhail Grabovski played a combined 31 minutes without a shot attempt.

-- Marcus Johansson had the quietest 20 minutes of ice time imaginable for a first liner.  No shots, no shot attempts, one hit, one giveaway, one faceoff taken.

-- Note for future reference… give Braden Holtby a baseball cap against Calgary.  Holtby has a .760 save percentage in 29 minutes of work against the Flames this season over two games.  He has a save percentage of .927 against everyone else.  He came off the ice hot and with a few choice words about the decision to pull him as he was heading down the hallway, but after heads cool, folks will figure out it was hardly about him and all about what was in front of him, which was a mess.

-- Getting outscored, 3-1, in the first period means that the Caps have been outscored in the first period of games this season, 12-6.

-- The Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play, leaving them 1-4-0 in games in which they do not score a power play goal (4-2-0 when they do score on the power play).

-- Did Calgary go into a shell in the third period?  The Flames had only 12 shot attempts in the last 20 minutes.  Scoring on two of them just added to the despair.

-- Nicklas Backstrom, DDS, performed an exodontia procedure in the second period, removing his own tooth after taking a puck in the chops. 

In the end, the Caps stunk.  You have a better term for it?  Another poor first period, another instance of letting their goalie hang out to dry, another uneven level of effort from the forward lines (if, by “uneven,” one means a range of “little” to “microscopic”).  Maybe it was a case of nonchalance born out of the knowledge that they came back from an 0-3 deficit against this same team barely three weeks ago.  Whatever it was, the Caps looked as if they left their game in Edmonton.  They had the look of a team unprepared mentally to take the ice, and it was mindset they never escaped over the next 60 minutes.  They had better find their game in short order, or their visit to Vancouver will be even more unpleasant.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 11: Capitals at Flames, October 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals settle their season series with the Calgary Flames this evening when they visit the Scotiabank Silverdome for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.  That one was a pleasant visit for the Caps, spotting the Flames a 2-0 lead, then running off seven straight goals – six of them in the second period -- in a 7-2 win…

Cheerless!  What in the… you want to explain the camel?!?!

"Doncha get it, cuz?  Third game of a five-game road trip?"

I guess.  In its own way, the notion seems to fit.  The Caps seem to be getting over the “hump” of their early season struggles, bringing a three-game winning streak and four wins in five games to Calgary.  On the other hand, the Flames have hit a rough patch.  After they opened the season with a 3-0-2 record, they took to the road for five games and lost four of them.  It has made for two very different five game pieces for Calgary:

Lee Stempniak (3-2-5) and Jiri Hudler (2-3-5) have done pretty well offensively over these last five games for the Flames.  After that, scoring drops off quickly.  Only Sean Monahan has as many as two goals, and only four other players have lit the lamp at all.  Monahan presents an interesting case for Calgary.  Taken sixth overall in the 2013 entry draft last summer, he has goals in six of the ten games his has played so far for the Flames.  He is currently tied for third among all rookies in points (ten) and is second in goals (six). His performance convinced Flames management to keep him for the rest of the season rather than return him to the Ottawa 67’s in Canadian junior hockey.

Meanwhile, the Flames’ defense and goaltending hardly shined over these last five games.  Joey MacDonald is 0-2-0, 3.05, .884 in two appearances, while Karri Ramo is 1-2-0, 4.05, .878 in three games.  It is not as if they faced a particularly heavy shot load.  In five games they faced a combined 152 shots in 295 minutes of work, about 31 shots per 60 minutes.  Those are middle-of-the-pack numbers in the league.  Here is how the two teams compare in their numbers to date…

1.  Over their last five games Calgary allowed the game’s first goal in each of them.  In three of them they allowed that first goal in the first five minutes of the game, and in three of them they allowed the first two goals of the game, putting themselves in a deep hole early.  They were outscored, 7-1, in the first period of those games.

2.  The Flames are the worst faceoff team in the league, winning just 42.9 percent of draws.  Of the 13 players having taken any faceoffs this season, only David Jones is over 50 percent.  He has won 12 of 17 faceoffs (70.6 percent).

3.  Only the New York Rangers, who have yet to play in Madison Square Garden, have played fewer home games than the Flames so far.  Calgary has not lost in regulation time in any of their three games played at home.

4.  Mark Giordano missed the last two games for Calgary with an injury that has not been identified.  If he misses tonight’s game, the scoring load from the blue line likely falls to former Capital Dennis Wideman.  He is 0-2-2, minus-5 in his last four games.

5.  Mike Cammalleri, who missed the first meeting of the Caps and Flames, returned to the lineup last Monday after missing seven games with a hand injury.  He recorded a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Flames’ only win in their last five games.  Cammalleri is without a point in his last two contests.

1.  Alex Ovechkin is one of only four NHL player this season with ten or more shots in a game.  The others are Evander Kane, Henrik Zetterberg, and defenseman Jason Garrison.

2.  The Caps are the only team in the NHL with two players having 10 or more assists (Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson).

3.  Odd fact… the Caps rank only tied for 23rd in scoring defense, but they do not have a player among the top 40 in goals scored against/on ice.  John Carlson, who has been on ice for 12 goals against, is tied for 44th.  However, the Caps do have six players who have been on ice for ten or more goals against in ten games.

4.  Fans have taken note of Tom Wilson’s willingness to stand up for teammates, risking life and knuckles for the team.  However, the Caps are not among the fightingest teams in the league.  Only eight teams have recorded fewer fighting majors than the four the Caps.  Calgary being one of them (two), one would expect this to be a game without that brand of fan entertainment, even though there was one in the first game of this season series between the clubs (Wilson and Lance Bouma).

5.  Braden Holtby has finally dragged himself off the second page of the goalie stats – 30th in goals against average (2.78) and 21st in save percentage (.919).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Curtis Glencross

There might not be another Calgary player who represents the different five-game segments for the Flames than Curtis Glencross.  In his first five games he was 2-2-4, and Calgary was 3-0-2.  In his last five games he is without a point, is minus-3, and the Flames are 1-4-0.  It is no coincidence that he went scoreless on the five-game road trip.  He certainly is a player who likes his home cooking.  In 208 career games played on home ice he is 66-64-130, plus-36.  When packing a suitcase, he is 45-45-90, minus-29 in 200 games.  Maybe it’s the airline food.  He has only four career appearances against the Caps with a 2-0-2, even, scoring line.

Washington:  Tom Wilson

Trivia Question – Among NHL rookie forwards, how many have at least ten shots on goal for the season without a goal?  If you said “two,” you win.  Of the 18 rookie forwards with ten or more shots on goal this season only Edmonton’s Mark Arcobello and Washington’s Tom Wilson are without a goal.  Arcobello has the charm of having recorded ten assists.  Wilson is, alas, without a point thus far.  Wilson topped the ten minute time on ice mark for the first time on Thursday against Edmonton (11:36), a product of his getting 1:17 in power play time.  It looks as if his responsibilities are slowly expanding, as will his opportunities to get that first goal.  The last time we made a pronosto like this it came true (Martin Erat getting a star against Columbus).  Here is another… Wilson gets his first NHL goal tonight.


1.  First five minutes.  After spending five games on the road and falling behind early in three of them, the Flames have perhaps settled into an unpleasant routine.  Only four teams have fewer first period goals than the Caps (five in ten games).  Calgary has not shown itself to be a successful come-from-behind team, either.

2.  Roll tide.  The Caps had only one player log more than 20 minutes of ice time in their 4-1 win over Edmonton.  The Caps could afford to do that because they took – and kept – a lead.  One begets the other, but what it means is that the Caps might be a bit fresher for this game as a result.  Now they have an opportunity to do it again.

3.  Shooooooot!  Calgary has done a pretty good job of avoiding high shot volumes. Only twice in ten games have the Flames allowed more than 35 shots on goal.  The Caps have had three games with more than 35 shots on goal with a 2-1-0 record in them.

In the end…

Although the Caps have had their troubles going west over the years, Calgary has been something of an oasis.  Washington is 3-1-1 in their last five visits, outscoring the Flames by a 20-11 margin.  Given the history and the recent trends for the clubs, the Caps will get over the “hump,” so to speak.

Capitals 4 – Flames 2