Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Senators at Capitals, November 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, when all through the city
Not a creature was stirring, not even the turkey
The stuffing was ready, the bird nice and plump,
With hopes that the gravy had nary a lump.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of mince pie danced in their heads.
And Feerless in his slippers, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a late autumn nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon shining bright on a blanket of leaves
That I spent all day long trying hard to retrieve.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a goofy lookin’ guy who was holding a beer.

With a big ol’ belt buckle, and one missing tooth,
He looked as if he’d been a taker in a highway toll booth.
His gait was unsteady, his eyes a bit glassy
He belched and he scratched, and he seemed a bit gassy.

"Now Fearless! Now Peerless!”
Sounding like a bullfrog.
With his hand on his hips he croaked,
“Hey! Get on with the blog!”

Leave it to Cheerless to get in the Thanksgiving spirit in his own unique way.  And speaking of Thanksgiving, the Washington Capitals take the ice at Verizon Center to host the Ottawa Senators in their traditional Turkey Day Eve contest, because nothing says “Thanksgiving” like men on skates wielding sticks.

Be that as it may, the Senators come into this game in something of a giving mood, themselves.  They arrive in Washington with a 1-4-0 record in their last five games, following up their only win in this stretch – a 4-2 win in Detroit – with a thud, a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sometimes, losing four out of five is pretty simple to explain.  In this case, the Senators cannot score (11 goals in five games) and cannot keep the other guys from scoring (19 goals allowed).  They cannot hold a lead – twice in their four losses they scored first and took a lead into the first intermission.  They did passably well in the first period (5-4 in goals scored/allowed), but they were killed in the second and third periods, outscored by 8-1 in the second period and by a 7-5 margin in the third period of those five games. 

On a team with Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza, it might seem a bit odd that over the five games Ottawa’s leading goal scorer would be Clarke MacArthur, but there it is.  MacArthur has three goals in the five games, Kyle Turris with two, those being the only goals the Senators scored in their 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on November 19th.  Ryan and Spezza each have a goal in this five-game slump.

The goaltending has been a mixed bag in the 1-4-0 run.  On the one hand there is Craig Anderson.  Talk about regression.  Last season Anderson had a 1.69 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.  He was the only goalie in the last 30 years to play in at least 24 games and have a save percentage over .940 and a goals against average under 1.70.  Nice while it lasted.  This year he has a goals against average almost double last year’s (3.31) and a save percentage of .900.  He appeared twice in the 1-4-0 run, lost both games, and saved only 39 of 47 shots faced (.830).  He could not even point to having to face large shot volumes.

Robin Lehner has fared better in this recent run.  He has the lone win and has a .920 save percentage in his three appearances in the Senators’ last five games.  The trouble here, though, is that he faced high shot volumes, a total of 113 in all and not less than 36 in any of his three appearances.  For the Senators lately, it was one goalie who could not deal with the good fortune of low shot volumes, and another performing well but asked to bear too large a burden in doing so.

Technical issues keep us from presenting images so let's go to the Take 5 for each club...

Take 5 -- Ottawa

1.  The oddest statistic of all over the 1-4-0 stretch for the Senators might be that they allowed goals in 13 of 15 periods. They scored at least one goal in eight of them.

2.  The Senators struggled with possession over their 1-4-0 run.  At 5-on-5 their Corsi-for percentage is 47.7, while their Fenwick-for percentage is 47.9.  But, with small sample sizes come odd results.  Ottawa was over 60 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 and over 56 percent in Fenwick in a 4-3 trick shot loss to Minnesota.  In their lone win, the numbers were 37.3 percent Corsi-for and 39.2 percent Fenwick-for.

3.  The Senators find themselves behind the eight-ball early and often.  Only two teams have allowed more first period goals than the Senators (27).  Only three teams have allowed the first goal of the game more often than Ottawa (16 times), and they are 4-9-3 in those games.

4.  Once upon a time, the Senators were a high-flying, high-octane bunch.  Back in 2005-2006 the Senators had Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza all finish with more than 90 points.  The following year only Heatley had more than 90 points, but Alfredsson and Spezza were close with 87 apiece.  That team went to the Stanley Cup finals.  This team is different.  Ottawa is second in the league in hits. That might be a subjective statistic, but penalties are not, and the Senators have been whistled for more minor penalties than any other club, and no team has found itself shorthanded more often than Ottawa (107).

5.  Only one team in the league has outshot its opponents less frequently than Ottawa.  The Senators accomplished that feat only six times in 24 games with a 2-4-0 record.  Buffalo is 0-3-0 in three instances.

Take 5 -- Washington

1.  As any Caps fan knows by now, if Alex Ovechkin gets seven goals in his next five games, he will accomplish a unique “50-in-50” – 50 goals in 50 games, “The Ovechkin Run.”  Lost in the discussion is that if he does it, he will have passed Mike Gartner to jump into second place in goals scored in franchise history.  Gartner had 397 career goals with the Caps, Ovechkin has 391.  He certainly could make a dent in that effort against Ottawa; he has 19 goals in 29 career games against the Senators.

2.  Odd even-strength stat… At 5-on-5 overall the Caps have the 14th best save percentage in the league.  Take that down a level, to 5-on-5 close situations, and the Caps are tied for 23rd in save percentage. 

3.  Do power plays matter?  In November, perhaps not so much.  The Caps are 4-1-1 when scoring a power play goal in November, 3-2-1 when they did not.

4.  How about killing penalties.  Maybe not here, either.  The Caps are 3-1-0 when killing off all of their shorthanded situations in November, 4-2-2 when they do not.

5.  Now, 5-on-5?  That matters in November so far.  The Caps are 6-0-2 in games in which they were even or plus at 5-on-5, 1-3-0 in games in which they were on the minus side of 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Bobby Ryan

When the Ottawa Senators traded Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan, the Senators were getting a player with a 30-goal pedigree, having topped that mark in each of his four full seasons in the NHL.  He had a bit of a hiccup last season with 11 goals in 46 games (a 20-goal pace), but when he started this season with 10 goals in his first 19 games he was back on pace for another 30-plus goal season (43 goals, actually).  However, in this 1-4-0 run the Senators are on, Ryan has only one goal, although it was the game-winner in Ottawa’s 4-2 win over Detroit last week.  Part of it is getting shots to the net.  Over his first 19 games Ryan had 54 shots on goal (2.84/game), but in his last five games he has only ten shots on goal and was held off the shots score sheet for the only time this season Ottawa’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota a week ago.  He is 3-2-5, minus-4 in five career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich played in all 82 games of the 2011-2012 season, just as he did in 2010-2011, 2008-2009, and 2007-2008.  He established himself as a reasonably reliable second-tier scorer whose value to the team was as much his versatility as it was his scoring.  Last year, though, he was limited to nine games as a result of injury during the lockout.  Putting that together with his 24 games played this season, Laich is 4-5-9, minus-8 in his last 33 games.  That is a 10-12-22, minus-20 per-82 game pace.  It is also not what the Caps had in mind when Laich signed a six-year/27 million contract extension with the club in June 2011.  With Martin Erat’s future with the club now in question, the spotlight shines a bit more brightly on Laich as a secondary scorer and reliable defender.  He has been neither so far this season, but if the Caps are going to have meaningful games in April, May, and (one hopes) June, he will have to become both once again.  He is 5-9-14, plus-1 in 26 games against Ottawa over his career.


1.  Hit the ice skating.  Too often the Caps start slow and find themselves having to claw back into games.  It makes for long games with a lot of effort expended making up deficits. 

2.  Seal off the blue line.  Everyone knows that Erik Karlsson is a talented offensive defenseman for the Senators.  But Ottawa has five defensemen with at least five points this season (the Cap have three).  Patrick Wiercioch and Chris Phillips do not have any goals, but they have 15 assists between them.  Ottawa has an active blue line.

3.  Make the blue line play defense.  Part of dealing with the blue line is making them accountable in their own end.  The Senators have allowed 35.8 shots per game. Only Buffalo has allowed more.  If forced to defend, Ottawa struggles.

In the end…

The Caps are looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since starting the 2012-2013 season 0-3-1.  That should be motivation enough, but making things more interesting is the fact that four teams are within four points of the Caps for second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.  After climbing out of the 2-5-0 hole they dug to open the season to go 10-3-1 in their next 14 games, extending the losing streak to four games would undo a lot of good work done to get themselves into second place in the division.  Against a team that has struggled over much of the season and that has issues in its own end, there is no excuse for the Caps heading into Thanksgiving with a bad taste in their mouths.

Capitals 5 – Senators 2

Note:  We will be away from the blog until Sunday fulfilling our holiday duties, so have a happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 8

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  The Washington Capitals began Week 8 with a big win against a powerful opponent, a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.  However, by week’s end, the Caps lost ground in the standings and no small measure of the good will that came with a 10-4-1 record over the previous five weeks.

Record: 1-2-1

After five weeks of winning records, the Capitals finished with a losing week in Week 8.  It was a week that started with promise, a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues being among their most impressive of the season both in performance and in the quality of the competition.  That set up a contest for the Metropolitan Division lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins that carried the usual baggage of “Crosby vs. Ovechkin” discussion.  That contest was not much of one, the Penguins controlling matters over most of the game and leaving Verizon Center with a 4-0 win.  The Caps let about five minutes of their next game against the Montreal Canadiens get away from them, and it was enough for the Canadiens to run out to a 3-0 lead, after which they held on for a 3-2 win.  The Caps ended their week with a game they “played” well but for which they were unrewarded, pummeling the Toronto Maple Leafs’ net for 50 shots on goal and 101 shot attempts, but being defeated in the trick shot competition, 2-1.

Offense: 1.75/game (season: 2.79 / rank:9th)

Until the St. Louis Blues arrived in Washington on Sunday to take on the Capitals, only once in six road games had they allowed as many as four goals in a game, and not once had they allowed as many as three goals in a period.  The Capitals did both, scoring three goals in the first period and four for the game in a 4-1 win over the Blues. 

Not only would it be the high point of the week for the offense, it would be the last game of the week in which someone other than Alex Ovechkin would score a goal.  The Caps were shut out against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and it was Ovechkin who scored the three goals the Caps recorded in a 3-2 loss to Montreal and a 2-1 trick shot loss to Toronto.  Ovechkin finished the week with five of the Capitals’ seven goals, the five goals also being the high in points.  Nicklas Backstrom finished the week with three assists.

Defense: 2.25/game (season: 2.75 / rank:18th )

The Capitals have had their issues with shots allowed and possession statistics in general this season.  The best that can be said of the shots on goal matter is that the week was one of steady improvement, at least as far as volume was concerned.  After allowing a week-high 47 shots to St. Louis on Sunday, the Caps allowed progressively fewer shots, ending the week with allowing Toronto 28 shots on Saturday. It was only the fourth time this season Washington allowed an opponent fewer than 30 shots on goal. 

The possession statistics were a bit more of a mixed result, especially if one decomposes them.  The Caps started the week, if not on the good side of the possession numbers, at least within shouting distance of them.  They Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations was 47.6 percent against St. Louis.  By week’s end the Caps improved to 48.4 percent against Montreal, then finished with their second best result of the season, a 60.4 percent effort against Toronto (source: 

Then there was that game against Pittsburgh.  Back on October 28th, the Caps finished their game against Vancouver with their worst Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations for the season – 35.6 percent.  That was bad.  What happened against the Penguins was a result in search of an adjective.  The Caps finished with a Corsi-for in those 5-on-5 close situations of only 14.3 percent (3 events for, 18 against).  Their Fenwick-for percentage was even worse.  The Caps had no Fenwick events (shots on goal, shots missed) in 5-on-5 close situations and allowed 11.  It was actually decent defense (the 11 Fenwick events being among the top-five efforts of the year for the Caps), but it hardly mattered.

Goaltending: 2.22 GAA / .938 save percentage (season: 2.66 / .922 / 1 shutout)

The goaltending was generally solid.  Saving almost 94 percent of 146 shots (36.5 per game) is about as much as a club can ask their goaltenders to do.  Braden Holtby was 1-1-1 for the week with a .948 save percentage for the week.  He continues to build a solid season after a slow start.  In his last 15 appearances he has a save percentage of .936.

Michal Neuvirth did not play badly as much as he had a couple of unfortunate moments.  In a space of 4:47 against Montreal in the first period he allowed three goals on seven shots.  One shot – a deflection out of the air by David Desharnais – was something he could not control.  Another, a slam dunk by Daniel Briere on a power play after a loose puck squirted from a clot of bodies in front, was one of those random sequences that occurs from time to time.  It was the first goal, on a rush by Travis Moen, that Neuvirth played off the bottom of his catching glove, a misplay that slipped past him and into the net, that started the Montreal flurry.  It was a brief, but decisive slip in play that put the Caps in a hole out of which they could not climb.

Power Play: 2-12 / 16.7 percent (season: 23.4 percent / rank: 3rd)

For a while the Caps sat in second place in both power play and penalty killing.  At the end of this past week, the power play slipped for the second straight week.  Over these last two weeks the Caps are 2-for-23 with the man advantage (8.7 percent).  The Caps had a respectable efficiency record over the first three games of the week, recording two power play goals on 11 shots in 13:42 of power play time.  Against Toronto the Caps had a shooting gallery – ten shots on goal in six minutes on three power plays.  But they could not dent goalie James Reimer, and it was decisive in the 2-1 shootout loss.

What might be most noteworthy here is that in the two games Mike Green played this week he had only 1:32 in total power play ice time and did not record a shot on goal.  On the other hand, John Carlson finished with 16:23 in power play ice time over four games and recorded a team-high eight shots on goal of the 21 total.

Penalty Killing: 10-14 / 71.4 percent (season: 85.0 percent / rank: 7th)

It was not a good week for the Caps on the other side of special teams.  Washington allowed power play goals in the first three games of the week, making it four straight and seven of their last 11 games after going eight games in a row without allowing one.  Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth were a combined 22-for-26 in tending goal against the power play (.846 save percentage) – not especially good, but not awful, either.  The 26 shots in 22:16 of power play time was something that might have been controlled more and was just one more element in a disappointing week for the penalty kill.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 5-5 (season: 44-49; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: 19th)

A few weeks ago you would have thought that if the Caps were fighting teams to a draw at even strength, that the strength of their power play would propel them to success.  It has not really worked out that way, at least for this week.  This might be a product of the fact that the “break-even” at even strength was anything but on a game-by-game basis.  The Caps outscored the Blues by a 3-0 margin at even strength and won.  They lost the even strength battle by a similar margin to Pittsburgh and lost.  They lost it narrowly to Montreal (2-1) and lost.  They managed to go against form against Toronto, winning the even strength contest, 1-0, but losing in the freestyle competition.

Faceoffs: 132-266 / 49.6 percent (season: 48.7 percent / rank: 20th)

The week was a bit misleading.  Although the Caps lost the week overall, they were very good in the ends.  Over the four games the Caps were 54-for-100 in the offensive end (54.0 percent) and 58-for-107 in the defensive zone (54.2 percent).  It was better for the “offensive” centers in the offensive zone.  Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski were a combined 33-for-56 in the offensive end (58.9 percent), while in the defensive end Backstrom and Brooks Laich were a combined 24-for-43 (55.8 percent).

Goals For/Against by Period:

The second period, a productive vein from which goals have been mined this season, was empty this week.  The Caps managed only one goal for the week, that coming in the second period of the 4-1 win over St. Louis (parenthetically, that would also be the last goal for the week scored by anyone but Alex Ovechkin).  The Caps managed only 14 total shots on goal in the second period of the first three games of the week, no small reason why there was so little production.  The Caps shelled Toronto for 17 shots in the second period of the last game of the week, but could not find the back of the net.

The goals scored for were misleading.  Four goals in the first period in four games is not a bad outcome.  However, when three of them come in the first game of the week, another in the dying seconds of the first period against Montreal, it did not make for a consistently dominant first period, a problem the Caps have had for most of the season.

In the end…

The takeaway from this week is this number: 215:33.  That is the ice time that has elapsed since any Capital other than Alex Ovechkin scored a goal.  Needless to say, while it is nice that Ovechkin is racking up goals, the Caps are going nowhere if he is the only reliable offensive threat.  That the Caps would have a losing week despite some overall fine play by their goaltenders – the .938 save percentage for the week – speaks to that idea.  Had the Caps managed goals by anyone else, they might have ended the week 2-1-1 or perhaps even 3-1-0. 

That the Caps squandered good weeks by Ovechkin and the goaltenders makes this an especially disappointing week in a way that goes beyond the mere loss to the arch-rival Penguins.  The coming week will provide an opportunity to turn that around – a game against struggling Ottawa, a rematch against Montreal at Verizon Center, and a visit to Long Island to play the New York Islanders, a team that will start this week having lost three in a row and eight of its last ten contests.  Ending the month on the good note on which they started it would make for a happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 24: Maple Leafs 2 - Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

There are good one-point games, and there are bad one-point games. The Washington Capitals might have seen what was unfolding in their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, victimized once more by a goal scored on a high deflection that went to video review, watched as shot after shot…after shot… was turned away by Leafs goalie James Reimer, and crumbled late.

They did not.  The one goal was all they would allow, and their incessant shelling of the Toronto net paid a dividend late to get the Caps to overtime.  The Maple Leafs won the game in the freestyle competition, 2-1, but all things considered this was not a bad point for the Caps to earn.

The deflection came on a power play mid-way through the second period when David Clarkson set up in front of the Caps net, gave Tyson Strachan a subtle shove to get some separation and get his arms free, then got his stick up to deflect a drive by Jake Gardiner down and past goalie Braden Holtby to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

It almost stood up.  Toronto outshot the Caps, 7-6, after the Clarkson goal to close the second period, but the Caps poured it on in the third period.  Through the first 15 minutes of the period the Caps outshot the Leafs, 15-4, but Reimer was up to the task and turned all 15 away.  Then, with the clock approaching the 16 minute mark of the period, Mike Green took control of the puck at the Capitals’ blue line and started up the right side.  After taking a couple of strides, he lifted a soft dump-in that hit the ice in front of defenseman Dion Phaneuf, but not within a stick’s reach.  The puck stuck like a sand wedge on the 18th green, almost sitting up for Alex Ovechkin to one-time it past Phaneuf, past Reimer, off iron, and in to tie the game.

That would do it for the hockey portion of the evening’s scoring, leaving it to the Gimmick.  In the bonus round Eric Fehr and James van Riemsdyk exchanged goals, which it where things stood until the fourth round.  Joffrey Lupul  scored, Troy Brouwer did not, and the Leafs had the extra point in the standings.

Other stuff…

-- If you are keeping score, the Caps have now gone 215:33 since a player other than Alex Ovechkin recorded a goal.  For the record, that would be John Carlson at the 9:27 mark of the second period in the Caps’ 4-1 win over St. Louis last Sunday.

-- The 50 shots on goal for the Caps was the most in a game for the club since they had 52 in a 4-3 loss to Dallas on March 8, 2010.  Ovechkin had two goals in that game.

-- That is the sixth time in 24 games the Caps have scored fewer than two goals.

-- Ovechkin did not have a shot attempt over the first 25 minutes of the game.  He had 10 attempts (six on goal) in the last 40 minutes.

-- Mikhail Grabovski had two new linemates tonight – Eric Fehr (who hadn’t played since November 2nd) and Troy Brouwer (who had only 17 shots on goal since November 2nd).  Fehr finished with five shots on goal (12 attempts), and Brouwer finished with five shots on goal (seven attempts).  Grabovski had two shots of his own on five attempts and a few dozen stitches, courtesy of David Clarkson’s skate blade to the cheek and nose.

-- If you do the math, the Caps averaged one shot attempt per 38.6 seconds of this game (101 attempts in 65 minutes).  They had as many of their attempts blocked (28) and Toronto had shot on goal (28).  Eleven of the Caps’ 18 skaters had five or more shot attempts, led by Fehr (12) and John Carlson (12).

-- James Reimer got the first star, and he deserved it. He was the first Toronto goalie to face 50 shots in a game since Vesa Toskala faced 52 in a 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey on March 3, 2009.  He is the first Maple Leaf to win a game in which he faced 50 or more shots since Ed Belfour faced 53 shots in a 5-4 win over Boston on October 24, 2005.  But it was not as if Braden Holtby was leftover poutine out there.  His 27 saves on 28 shots was his fifth best effort, save percentage wise (.964), of the season, lifting him into a tie for 14th with Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils at .925 for the season.

-- The other side of the shots ledger was the Caps allowing only 28 shots on goal in 65 minutes.  It was the first time in five games that they held an opponent to less than 30 shots on goal and only the fourth time this season in 24 games.  They are 1-2-1 in those games.

-- There was a fair amount of smack talk going around in the social media over Grabovski’s performance (he did not record a point in his return to Toronto), but in addition to making his new linemates look good in terms of opportunities, he won seven of nine offensive zone draws, too.

-- The Caps went 0-for-3 on the power play.  That leaves them 4-7-1 in games in which they do not score on the man advantage.

-- Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin in the shootout, we get.  Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer?  One had not played in three weeks and had not attempted a trick shot this season, the other had only one shootout attempt (successful).  Oates took his chances and came up 1-for-2, Fehr scoring, Brouwer denied.

In the end, this game probably would look a lot better if the Caps had not lost two games at home before taking the road to Toronto.  Taken on its own merits it is not a bad loss.  They “played” well, dominating possession for long stretches of the game, even if their shooting was not rewarded.  They kept after it, scored late, and earned a point it looked for 55 minutes that they would be frustrated from getting.

Having said that, now the Caps return home for games against Ottawa and Montreal on Thanksgiving week after they get the next three days off from game hockey.  Good will from a hard-earned point in a game like this has a shelf life.  They need to get back to winning these games.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 24: Capitals at Maple Leafs, November 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Less than 24 hours after hosting the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals take to the road to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.  They take their hockey seriously up there.  How do we know this?  Here was the lead story on the Web site of the Toronto Sun on Friday evening…

Then there is the sports cover at the Toronto Star site…

Well, maybe it’s just a Grabovski thing.  No hard feelings and all. 

As for the Leafs, they come into this game in something of a holding pattern as far as wins and losses go.  Toronto is 3-4-1 in November, all of their wins coming on home ice (3-1-0 overall at home this month).  Those four games are interesting for their variety.  They had everything a Leafs fan might want. 

Want a tight checking game?  There was the 2-1 trick shot win over New Jersey.  Want a laugher?  There was the three-goal eruption against the Islanders in the third period for a 5-2 win.  Want a wake-up call?  There was the 3-0 lead the Leafs took into the third period against Buffalo before almost blowing it, finally getting a late goal for a 4-2 win.  And, it you want to have something to complain about (because really, that’s what we sports fans do best), there was the 4-2 loss to Nashville on Thursday.

In those four home games the Leafs managed a dozen goals, three of them by Phil Kessel, almost doubling his home goal total from four to seven (tied for eighth in the league in home goals).  Mason Raymond (2-2-4) and Trevor Smith (1-3-4) lead Toronto in home points in four November home games.

At the other end, Jonathan Bernier got the call in three of the four home games for Toronto this month, and he has delivered for the most part.  He is 2-1-0 in those three appearances, with 93 saves on an even 100 shots faced.  He does have, however, those four goals on 28 shots against Nashville in his last appearance at Air Canada Centre.  James Reimer has but one appearance this month on home ice, a 33-save effort in a 4-2 win over Buffalo.

Here is how the teams break down, numbers-wise…

1.  So…about that whole “possession” thing.  Toronto is 29th among 30 NHL teams in Fenwick-For percent in 5-on-5 close situations (source:  Ditto on Corsi-For percentage.

2.  So… about that PDO thing.  Toronto is fourth in PDO in 5-on-5 close situations.  Bad possession numbers, big PDO.  How long is that going to last? 

3.  Maybe it’s a time thing.  Toronto doesn’t spend much time in 5-on-5 close situations.  Only seven teams have spent less time in that situation than the Leafs through Thursday’s games.

4.  One thing that might be an underrated part of Toronto’s success so far – five of the seven defensemen to have dressed this season have done so for every game.  Compare that to the forwards, only two of whom have dressed for all 22 games and which have seen 21 different players take the ice in those 22 games.

5.  Phil Kessel is number “81,” and he has 81 shots on goal this season.  Yeah, that’s interesting.

1.  Alex Ovechkin leads the league in power play goals (eight).  He is second in the league in even-strength goals (11).  He has one even strength assist for the season.  For the record, it came on October 24th in the third period against Edmonton in a 4-1 win.  He recorded the secondary assist on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom.

2.  The Caps have 32 second period goals this season.  Their combined total in the first period (15) and the third period (18) is 33.

3.  From the “if I told you, would you believe” file, that Jason Chimera has more even-strength assists (eight) than Nicklas Backstrom (seven)?  Backstrom is still sixth in the league in assists per game overall (0.83), nestled right between Evgeni Malkin (0.87) and Sidney Crosby (0.78).

4.  Joel Ward leads the league in shooting percentage (25.0 percent).  Part of it is that Ward is tied for 244th in shots on goal per game.  Small sample, irregular results.

5.  The Caps have an unremarkable scoring defense (2.83 goals per game, 19th in the league), but they have only one player in the top-50 for most goals scored against, on ice.  John Carlson is tied for having the 39th most goals scored against while on ice (25).  You would think the Caps would have a lot of players ranking high in the list of players on ice for goals against.  They do have six, but there are six teams with more such players, including the Chicago Blackhawks (seven). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto:  James van Riemsdyk

When he was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, folks though James van Riemsdyk was the next Flyer power forward in waiting.  In three seasons in south Philadelphia, though, he never seemed to have a breakthrough.  He gave glimpses and teased along the way, but never seemed to put it all together with the Flyers.  After the 2011-2012 season Philadelphia must have thought it was not it was not going to come together and traded van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn.  It seems to have awakened that power forward that was lurking inside van Riemsdyk.  In 68 games with Toronto he has 27 goals, almost as many as he had in his final two seasons in Philadelphia (32 in 118 games).  He has hit a bit of a dry spell lately with only two goals – both in a 4-2 win over Buffalo – in his last eight games. He is 4-4-8, plus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Mike Green

Capital defensemen have taken 217 shots on goal this season and have seven goals to show for it.  That is a 3.2 percent shooting percentage.  Take John Carlson and his five goals on 57 shots (8.8 percent) out of the mix, and it is 2-for-160 – 1.25 percent.  The biggest contributor to that lack of shooting efficiency is Mike Green, who has yet to light the lamp on 52 shots on goal.  That is the most shots on goal without success in the league.  Next in line is Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, who is 0-for-44.  Green is not lacking for opportunities taken; he is 11th among defensemen in shots on goal, despite having missed three games.  If the Caps are going to have any consistency in their results, Green is going to have to breakthrough.


1.  Short memory.  The Caps cannot afford to dwell on a home stand that started well (win over St. Louis) and ended poorly (two losses).  Having a game on the night following a loss should help, but the trick is stopping bad streaks before they become streaks in the first place, and that means getting off to faster starts (or at least keeping opponents from doing the same) in the opening 20 minutes.

2.  Short bursts.  Opponents doing damage in short bursts killed the Caps in their two losses this week.  Pittsburgh scored two goals barely five minutes apart to get first period separation against the Caps in the form of a 2-0 lead, and Montreal scored three in less than five minutes to put the Caps in a deep hole in the first period, 3-0. 

3.  Grab the ring.  When Mikhail Grabovski records a point, the Caps are 8-5-0.  When he does not, they are 4-5-1.  This is the importance of secondary scoring.  Alex Ovechkin is going to get his, but the third, or second, or whatever line you want to call it – Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward – need to do what they’ve been doing.  Grabovski will have incentive, and he will be the object of attention, given his history in Toronto. He and his running mates had a quiet night against Montreal last night – one point (an assist by Grabovski), three shots on goal, five shot attempts.  If he – and they – can make more noise tonight, the Caps should be successful.

In the end…

The Caps have had a difficult time getting good footing in advancing through their schedule.  Over their last 16 games they are 10-7-1, but how they got there is not especially comforting – three wins, two losses, four wins, two losses, three wins, two losses.  The good news is that the Caps have not lost three in a row since dropping games to Dallas, Carolina, and Colorado over the week of October 5-12.  If the Caps lose in regulation, and New Jersey wins in San Jose later in the evening, the Caps would fall out of second place in the Metropolitan Division after they occupied the top spot following their win over St. Louis to open the week.  Let’s not let that happen…

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 3

Friday, November 22, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 23: Canadiens 3 - Capitals 2

From the 8:53 mark of the first period until the 13:40 mark, the Montreal Canadiens recorded seven shots in the space of 4:47, scoring on three of them.  That was the difference in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Friday night.

Travis Moen got things going on a play that had more than enough suck to go around for the Capitals.  It started with an iffy clear from the defensive zone by defenseman Alexander Urbom that trickled off the end of Mikhail Grabovski’s stick just outside the Capitals’ blue line.  Michael Bournival picked up the loose puck, turned up ice and fed Moen.  From the top edge of the left wing circle Moen let fly with a wrist shot that goalie Michal Neuvirth misplayed off the bottom of his catching glove and into the net. 

Three minutes later David Desharnais doubled the Canadiens’ lead when he redirected a Josh Gorges drive out of the air and over the right shoulder of Neuvirth.  The play went to video review to confirm that Desharnais did not redirect the puck with his stick over the plane of the crossbar.  Desharnais being 5’7”, that seemed an unlikely judgement.  It was, the goal counted, and the Habs has their 2-0 lead.

Daniel Briere closed the Montreal scoring 1:47 later on a power play when he had a slam dunk off a shot by Gorges that pinballed off players in front of Neuvirth and squirted to his left, where Briere was all alone.

Alex Ovechkin got one back in the last minute of the period on a power play when he took a rebound of a John Carlson shot off the end wall and flicked the puck through the legs of both Gorges and goalie Peter Budaj from a severe angle to Budaj’s right.

The second period went without any scoring, but the Caps closed to within a goal in the third when Ovechkin outdueled defenseman P.K. Subban for position in front of Budaj and redirected a Carlson drive though Budaj’s pads.  That was as close as the Caps would get, though, and it made for a second consecutive home loss.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s two goals make it 42 in 44 games and the fifth time in 21 games this season that he recorded a multi-goal effort.

-- The Caps were 4-for-5 on the penalty kill, making it four straight games in which they allowed at least one power play goal.  They are 13-for-18 over that span, an unappealing 72.2 percent on the penalty kill.

-- The Caps had a power play goal of their own (on only two opportunities). It broke an eight-game streak in which the Caps gained at least one standings point when scoring a power play goal (7-0-1).

-- Through two periods the second line of Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer had two shot attempts, neither of which was on goal.  They finished with six shot attempts, two on goal.

-- Yes, Peter Budaj had a fine night in goal for Montreal.  It seemed every shot the Caps recorded was a scoring chance.  But the Caps had 22 misses to go with their 27 shots on goal. 

-- The second period, which had been the Caps’ strength this season (most second period goals in the league), betrayed them.  No goals, only three shots on Budaj.

-- John Carlson had two assists.  That makes him 2-4-6 in his last five games and 5-4-9 in his last ten contests.

-- Weird numbers… the Caps had 66 shot attempts for the game.  Of that number, 28 came from the defense, 25 from the top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin. That left 13 shot attempts – not shots – from nine other forwards.

-- Adam Oates shortened his bench in the third period.  Fourth liners Michael Latta and Tom Wilson each had two shifts in the third period, the last one they played together (along with Aaron Volpatti in his last shift of the game) ending 2:43 into the period.

-- By the time Michal Neuvirth allowed the third Montreal goal, he had allowed seven goals on 34 shots over a period of 73:40 to the Canadiens on Verizon Center ice.  He made a game of it after that, stopping Montreal’s last 19 shots, but it was too big a hole, one that he took the first shovelful in digging with a weak glove hand on Travis Moen’s goal to start the scoring.

-- Mike Green did not lead the Caps’ defensemen in ice time, as he usually does, but of his eight third-period shifts, five of them were more than a minute in length (he averaged 1:01/shift for the period).

In the end, yes, it is nice that Alex Ovechkin is piling up all these goals, but we have seen that movie.  Over the last five games he has six goals, the rest of the roster has seven.  They have to get something other than empty minutes out of their nominal second line.  They could use some more pressure from the blue line than just John Carlson (who now has five of the six goals from defensemen currently on the roster).  The Caps have not had a losing week since Week 2, but they are in jeopardy of finishing with just such a week if they fall to Toronto on Saturday. It has been nothing but setbacks since the Caps took a short-lived division lead earlier in the week.   It is time to nip that in the bud.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Canadiens at Capitals, November 22nd

Le Peerless Prognosticator est EN DIRECT!!!

The Washington Capitals, no doubt eager to wash, scrub, bleach, or apply steel wool pads scrape to away the rotten taste of Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh from their mouths, take to the ice on Friday once more to face the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center.

While the Capitals pretty much wasted a week’s worth of good will among its fans with the stinker against the Penguins, the Canadiens are lurching from pillar to post trying to find their footing in November.

After closing October with three wins in four games to go a season-high three games over .500, Montreal is only 3-4-2 in November, alternating wins and losses in their last five games after starting the month with four straight losses.

Here is how the clubs compare in their numbers through Wednesday's games...

1.  While the Canadiens have had their issues about consistency, one position in which it has not been a problem is at goaltender.  Although Carey Price is just 2-2-0 in November, he has a 1.79 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.  Peter Budaj has not been as impressive in his two appearances for the month, but he is 1-1-0, 2.40, .909.  Given that the Canadiens have not played since Tuesday, Price would appear the candidate to get this game.  Despite his sterling season numbers – eighth in GAA (2.05) and save percentage (.935) – he has had problems against the Caps.  In 15 career appearances against Washington he is 4-8-3, 3.09, .897.

2.  In alternating wins and losses over their last five games (3-1-1) the Canadiens have not lit up the scoreboard (13 goals), but they are likely pleased with the performance of Alex Galchenyuk.  The sophomore out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (with stops in Belarus, Germany, Italy, and Russia in between – his father, Alexander, had a hockey career in North America and Europe), is the Habs’ leading goal scorer (three) and point getter (five) over those five games.  In three career games against the Caps he is 0-2-2, even.

3.  Only the Colorado Avalanche have allowed fewer goals in the first period (9) than have the Canadiens this season (10).

4.  One of the ways a team gets good goaltending performance but lousy win-loss results is to do poorly in one-goal games.  Montreal has done just that.  They have a worst-in-the-league 2-6-2 record in games decided by one goal.

5.  Only five teams in the NHL have yet to win a game when trailing at the end of the second period.  The Canadiens are one of them.  They are not 0-15-0 bad, like Buffalo, but 0-7-1 is not something they want to put on the banner of their web site.

1.   Let’s look at the positive.  The Caps are 7-2-1 in November.  In those ten games they outscored their opponents by a 32-24 margin.  Four times they scored four or more goals (not including trick shots), only three times did they allow as many as four goals.  The Caps’ power play was 10-for-44 (22.7 percent), the penalty kill 36-for-44 (81.8 percent) over those ten games.

2.  Odd numbers.  Over the last ten games the Caps have had fine production from the players who are now reunited on the top line – Nicklas Backstrom (3-9-12), Alex Ovechkin (7-2-9), and Marcus Johansson (2-6-8).  The third line has done well, too – Joel Ward (6-1-7), Mikhail Grabovski (2-6-8), and Jason Chimera (1-6-7).

3.  John Carlson has five goals in ten games this month. He has scored a goal in every other game his last six contests, which makes him a player to watch in this game, since he did not get a goal against Pittsburgh.

4.  In eight appearances in November, Braden Holtby is 6-2-0, 2.32, .934.

5.  The Caps outscored teams by a 17-7 margin in the second period of these last ten games.  They lead the league in second period goals scored and are tied with St. Louis in the largest second period goal differential (plus-13).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Andrei Markov

P.K. Subban gets the attention, and it is deserved.  He is a talented player who is exciting to watch.  But Andrei Markov seems to be the glue that holds the defense, especially the blue line, together.  He has the best 5-on-5 Corsi on ice to when he is off ice (source:   His Corsi-for percentages are above 50 percent in 14 of the 22 games in which he has played, and they are above 60 percent in eight of them.  Markov does not seem to get much attention in the media, but if the Caps are not paying attention to him, they do so at their peril.  He is 1-18-19, plus-12 in 35 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Mike Green

There might be no better opponent against which Mike Green could return from injury than the Canadiens.  In 21 career games against Montreal he is 3-15-18, plus-8.  More important, though, Green has to avoid spending more time on the shelf with an injury.  Missing three games would not normally be cause for alarm, but this is part of a continuing pattern.  The Caps do not have the best of depth on the blue line when Green is healthy.  When he is out, too much of the burden devolves to Karl Alzner and John Carlson to chew up minutes.


1.  Score early.  It’s a good thing Montreal has only those ten goals allowed in the first period this season.  Only four teams have a worse winning percentage when allowing the first goal than Montreal, with their record of 2-7-2 in those situations.

2.  Volume.  Carey Price does not handle volume well, even with his superb overall record.  Eleven times this season Price has faced more than 30 shots on goal.  And, it’s frustrating, because he is certainly doing his part.  His record in those contests might be 4-5-2, but his goals-against average is 1.89, and his save percentage is .947.  The shots might, however, occupy the relatively anemic Canadiens’ offense and prevent them from mounting any pressure at the other end.  In those 11 games the Canadiens allowed only 20 goals, but scored only 24 themselves and were held to two or fewer seven times.

3.  Knock their top off.  If not for Max Pacioretty’s natural hat trick in the second period of Tuesday’s game against Minnesota, the Canadiens would have a truly meager offensive output over their last five games.  Take away the Pacioretty goals, and the Canadiens have ten goals in five games.  Of that total, four come from the pair of linemates Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.  Knock them off the score sheet, the Habs would not appear to have enough secondary scoring to make a game of this.

In the end…

The loss to Pittsburgh leaves one with the question of whether the 4-0 loss was merely a bump in the road for the Caps (one that hurts more only for the opponent), or whether the Caps' string of success in November is the outlier.  Despite the sparse offense Montreal brings to this game, they are only a Caps shootout win behind them in the standings (25 to 24).  More to that point, Montreal has ten regulation and overtime wins to seven for the Caps.  The Canadiens could make this an unpleasantly low scoring affair for Washington, and that is where the success lies for the visitors.  After being shutout, one would hope the Caps bring the big boy pants (no, not the ones Carey Price wears) and make things unpleasant for the visitors.

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 1

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 22: Penguins 4 - Capitals 0

Oh, hey… we’re late with the recap?

The Caps were late last night showing up for a game that started at 8:00!!  So, we’re even.

But here’s the thing. You can dissect, puree, julienne, or mince all the Corsi and Fenwick, in 5-on-5, 5-on-5 close, power play or penalty kill all you want.  It really comes down to this…

0-4-0, 4.38, .874.

Braden Holtby has to find a way to slay this beast, because it is one he is likely to have to face again – and again – if the Caps are to be successful, either in this division or in the post season. And those numbers are now his career record against the Penguins.

Not that it is all on him.  Coming into this game, Holtby and his counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury, had similar save percentages.  Holtby was at .925, Fleury at .921.  But while Fleury’s goal-against average was a smart-looking 2.00, Holtby’s was north of 2.60.  That is because Holtby was facing 35.0 shots per 60 minutes, Fleury only 25.4.

Well, there it was in living color on national television.  The Pens pummeled Holtby for 17 shots and two goals in the opening period to six shots on goal and none in the net for the Caps against Fleury.  The shots were 15-8, Pens, in the second period, with the only goal registered by Pittsburgh.  The visitors made it three-for-three in winning the shots battle with a 8-4 advantage in the third, plus another goal for good measure.

It was an equal-opportunity effort, or lack thereof, on the part of the Caps, who had 14 different skaters on the ice having good looks at Penguin goals.

But in the end, just as a pitcher is charged with the loss in baseball, even if his team can’t field or hit behind him, the goalie is charged with the loss, even if he sees more rubber than a salesman at a Goodyear convention.

And that means that the young Mr Holtby, who is 47-19-4, 2.37, .936, with eight career shutouts against teams other than Pittsburgh, is going to have to find a way to solve this team (with at least a little more help from his friends).  Because it is unlikely that the Caps will get to where they want to go without having to go through this team first.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 22: Penguins at Capitals, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finally get down the real business of Metropolitan Division rivalries on Wednesday when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first Metro Matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.  It has been a long time since these two teams faced one another as division rivals.

The last time these two teams met as division rivals was on March 28, 1993, in Landover, MD.  It was not a pleasant night if you were a Caps fan.  In front of a sellout crowd of 18,130 at Capital Centre (the last year the arena would be so named) the Capitals found themselves behind the eight-ball early, allowing three power plays to the league’s top power play team.  The Caps killed them all but allowed the game’s first goal nonetheless, an even strength goal by Mike Stapleton mid-way through the frame. 

Mid-way through the second period the visitors added to their lead on a power play goal by Kevin Stevens.  Rick Tocchet added a goal in the third period, and Mario Lemieux closed the Pittsburgh scoring with an empty net late.  Pat Elynuik’s goal was not enough for the Caps, who ended up having to endure eight Pittsburgh power plays in the 4-1 loss.  The win was Pittsburgh’s tenth in a row and ended the season series with a 5-1-1 advantage for the Penguins.

How long ago was that? 
  • The following night the film “Unforgiven” won four Oscars, but it probably didn’t generate as much buzz as Marisa Tomei winning an Oscar for her role in “My Cousin Vinny.”  
  • It would not be until three months later that Lorena Bobbit forever became a name that would cause men to cringe in horror.
  • Buckingham Palace was still closed to the public; it would not be opened to the public until August of that year.
  • The video game DOOM had not yet been released (that would come in December).
  • Capitals’ winger Tom Wilson was not yet born.  We would have to wait a year and a day for that blessed event.

Which brings us to the game.  The way the Penguins started the season, you might have thought they were that 1992-1993 team reincarnated.  Pittsburgh raced out to a 7-1-0 record in their first eight games and outscored their competition by a 30-19 margin.  Four of their seven wins were by three-goal margins.

Then they lost a 1-0 decision at home to the Colorado Avalanche.  Then they lost again…and again.  Since their 7-1-0 start the Penguins have lurched from streak to streak.  There was the three-game losing streak following their big start, then a four-game winning streak, then a three game losing streak.  The Pens have avoided the streakiness for the time being, sandwiching a pair of convincing wins against Nashville and Anaheim around a disappointing loss at New Jersey, but they are nonetheless a team that is 6-7-0 since their 7-1-0 start.

Here are the numbers for both clubs as they head into this inaugural Metro Matchup…

1.  As Sidney Crosby goes, so go the Penguins.  In 13 wins Crosby is a robust 8-15-23, plus-9; in eight losses he is a meek 2-1-3, minus-6.  Not that things are much different with Evgeni Malkin.  In the 13 Penguin wins Malkin is 2-13-15, plus-4; he is 1-4-5, minus-7 in the eight losses.  In games in which both record a point, the Penguins are 10-2-0.

2.  Intermissions matter for the Penguins.  When they lead after one period they are 6-0-0, one of six teams with a perfect record.  With a lead after two periods they are 9-1-0.  But if they trail, things turn around.  They are 1-3-0 when trailing after one period and 1-5-0 when trailing after two periods.  And, only Colorado has a better winning percentage (1.000 on 12-for-12) than the Penguins’ .909 (10-1-0) when scoring first.

3.  Pittsburgh has two shutouts this season in 21 games.  It does not sound like a lot, but it matches their total in 48 games last season.  Both shutouts this season were by 3-0 scores, and both were against Metropolitan Division teams (New Jersey and Columbus).

4.  In each of their last six games the Penguins have either scored or allowed one goal in the final decision, four losses when scoring one goal and two wins when allowing one goal.

5.  Pittsburgh has the sixth best goal differential per game… at home.  On the road they rank only 19th at -0.56 per game, just ahead of Edmonton.

1.  In their last six home games the Caps are 8-for-23 on the power play (34.8 percent).  In those same six games the Caps are 22-for-25 killing penalties (88.0 percent).  Overall they have outscored opponents by a 22-11 margin in those games and have allowed more than two goals only once.

2.  Alex Ovechkin is 22-18-40 in 31 career regular season games against the Penguins, but the oddest number in his resume against Pittsburgh might be that he is a plus-18.  That is the better than any comparable number he has against any other NHL team.

3.  If you are thinking of a spark from a secondary scorer, think of Mikhail Grabovski.  He has six goals and 16 points in 18 career games against Pittsburgh.  His goal total is surpassed only by his totals against Boston and Buffalo, against whom he has played a total of 59 career games.

4.  Only Toronto and Winnipeg have more minor penalties charged to them than the Caps, and only four teams have more penalty minutes per game charged to them than Washington.  Only Ottawa and Winnipeg have faced more shorthanded situations than the Caps.

5.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are tied for the league lead in power play points (13 apiece).  Ovechkin leads in goals (7), while Backstrom leads in assists (12).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury

Well, here we are again.  In four years since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, Marc-Andre Fleury has had decent, if unspectacular regular season success.  In 232 appearances over that time he is 138-66-15 with a goals-against average of 2.44, a save percentage of .913, and eight shutouts.  Then there are the playoffs.  In 31 appearances he is 14-16, 3.18, .880, with three shutouts.  If anything, the start to his 2013-2014 season looks even better than his previous four seasons.  He is 12-6-0, 2.00, .921, with one shutout – seventh in goals-against average and tied for 14th in save percentage.  But it hardly seems to matter.  No matter what numbers he puts up, Penguin fans will be on tenterhooks waiting to see if there is another post-season meltdown in his future.  In 23 career regular season appearances against Washington he is 13-7-2, 2.60, .912, with one shutout.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, there is the wunderkind with the 10-3-0, 2.40, .937 record over his last 13 appearances who, after a sluggish start has climbed onto the first page of the statistics – 25th in goals against average over all and 13th in save percentage.  In nine home appearances he is 6-2-0, 2.28, .936 and has not allowed more than three goals in any appearance (he did allow three goals in 16 minutes against Calgary).  Against Pittsburgh, though, his career has been anything but bluebirds and accordions.  In three career appearances against the Penguins he is 0-3-0, 4.53, .861.  If you are going to play a hunch, look for Michal Neuvirth in this one (2-0-2, 1.72, .937, with two shutouts in five career appearances).


1.  Make ‘em work for the zone.  If the Caps allow Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin skate with time and space into their zone, it could be an iffy night.  Both see the ice in full and if the puck is on their sticks while the Caps are trying to establish defensive zone presence, the Caps are flirting with danger.

2.  Give your defensemen a chance.  One of the problems the Caps seem to have against this team is in figuring a way to deal with the Pittsburgh forecheck in a way that does not involve a lot of punishment to defensemen.   Pittsburgh has outshot the Caps in eight straight games.  This does not appear coincidental.

3.  Take advantage of the soft underbelly.  Pittsburgh has a lot of high end skill, but they also have depth issues.  Yes, they have Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik on the blue line, but they also have Deryk Engelland and a rookie – Olli Maatta – getting regular minutes.  They are not getting much offensive support from their third or fourth lines.  Get past the “name” players and this looks like a good, not great team.

In the end…

It is hard to know what to make of this game.  Yes, it is the first “Metropolitan” meeting of the teams, but with 60-plus games left in the season it is hard to attach too much meaning to that.  The whole “Ovechkin-Crosby” thing has been done to death, and we get it.  They’re both really good players who seem to bring out the best in the other.  They are teams that might respect one another, but they certainly do not like one another.  It’s just a bit hard to find an angle to this game that goes beyond a faint sense of bragging rights, and that probably accrues to fans more than the players of either team, who are thinking of bigger things ahead. 

Still, winning against this team always beats losing.  Always.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2