Thursday, January 31, 2013

A NO-point night -- Game 7: Maple Leafs 3 - Capitals 2

Another game in Ontario…

Another 2-1 lead after two periods…

Another 3-2 loss.

The Washington Capitals made it 0-for-2 on their Ontario road trip, dropping another 3-2 decision, this one to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It was the Leafs’ first home win of the season in three tries.

It looked good for the visitors early when Jason Chimera pushed the puck around the end board behind the Leafs’ net to Mike Ribeiro.  From goalie James Reimer’s left Ribeiro circled around defenseman Matt Frattin and angled out in search of a passing lane.  He found it, snapping the puck across the slot to Joel Ward on the left wing side for an open netter that Ward buried.

James van Riemsdyk tied the game seven minutes later on the back end of what started as a 5-on-3 power play (Jason Chimera getting a double dose of penalty box time for hooking and yapping), one of eight power play chances the Leafs would enjoy in the first 34 minutes of the game.  That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, tied at one apiece.

Alex Ovechkin reached into the golden oldies bin to break the tie on the Caps’ third (and what would be their last) power play of the evening early in the second period.  It was Mike Ribeiro who made the play though, looking off Nikolai Kulemin as if he was going to pass the puck to the point.  It opened up a passing lane to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle.  From there, Ovechkin sent an old-fashioned wrist shot through Reimer’s five hole for what would be the only score of the middle period.

The Caps learned nothing from their lost 2-1 lead in Ottawa on Tuesday, though.  Toronto came out flying, pushing the Caps back on their heels and getting clean shooting lanes on goalie Michal Neuvirth.  The Caps finally cracked, allowing two goals in the space of 2:13 at the hands of Kulemin and Frattin, the two Leafs who were victimized by Ribeiro's passing on scoring plays earlier in the game. 

The Caps, having looked gassed for the first half of the period, applied heavy pressure in the last half of the period, but the damage was done.  When Alex Ovechkin whistled a shot just wide of the far post with four seconds left, it was over.  And if you didn’t DVR it, you can just replay the Ottawa game…same thing.

Other stuff…

-- In being showered with those eight power play chances in the game’s first 34 minutes, the Leafs managed to build up what was a 25-3 edge in shots attempted at one point.  As it was, the Leafs ended the game with an 84-46 edge in total shot attempts (40-22 in shots on goal).

-- The Caps season so far in a moment… Alex Ovechkin circling behind the Toronto net once..twice (shoot, he might still be doing it).  Other guys were standing around, and he had his head down.  They’re not giving him a passing option, and he’s not looking for one.  Game over.

-- Toronto had a total of 12:11 in power play ice time in the first 35:58 of the game.  More than a third of the elapsed time is time Ovechkin isn’t going to see the ice.  He had less than ten minutes of even strength ice time in the first two periods.

--  Michal Neuvirth deserved better…a lot better.  He had 37 saves on 40 shots and saved nine of ten on the penalty kill.  Look at it this way.  He face more even strength shots (27) than the Caps had in total (22).  He had a soft goal in there – the game-tying goal by Kulemin when he let the original shot squeak through his pads to the goal line.  But he more than made up for it just on his repeated robberies on Phil Kessel.

--  And where is Nicklas Backstrom?  In 18 minutes and change, two shot attempts (none on goal), and he lost 13 of 20 faceoffs (he was 2-for-7 in the offensive zone).  He did have an assist on the Ovechkin goal, but otherwise it would be hard to remember moment.

-- The Caps were 5-for-21 on offensive zone draws.  Backstrom and Ribeiro were a combined 9-for-25.

-- Caps season so far in a moment, part dwux… Marcus Johansson gives up the puck, they gets turned around in front of Neuvirth, Jeff Schultz is late to cover Frattin, and Frattin flips it off the pipe and in.  A day late and a dollar short.

-- Ovechkin did not have an even strength shot on goal in the game until there was 2:14 left in the game; it was his only even strength shot on goal of the game.  That’s ok…no Cap had more than two even strength shots on goal.

-- Ponder this for a moment.  In the year Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals it represented 27.3 percent of total number of goals scored by the Caps in 2007-2008.  With his fourth goal tonight, Joel Ward has accounted for 26.7 percent of the Caps’ goals this season.  One is a good sign, the other is not.

-- It might surprise you to know that Eric Fehr dressed tonight. Getting only 4:11 in ice time (and no shifts in the second period), you might be excused for missing him. 

 -- John Erskine has had more “Ovechkin” in him than Ovechkin lately.  He had an even strength goal against Buffalo (Ovechkin does not yet have one), and his hit on Phil Kessel barely a half minute into this game had a very “Ovechkinesque” look to it.

-- Look, killing seven of eight shorthanded situations is a good thing, but if they go short eight times against the Penguins on Sunday, Pittsburgh is going to challenge double digits in goals. The Leafs power play was and is flat out awful.  The fact that the Caps have allowed power play goals in six of seven games does not give one a comfortable feeling heading into the weekend.

-- Early post game comments from the players seem to repeat the word “luck” a lot, as in “the Caps haven’t had any.”  Bull.  If you’re 1-5-1, losing from Florida to Canada and in-between, when you blow third period leads in consecutive games, you’re not unlucky, you’re just bad.

In the end, the Caps are looking right down the gun barrel.  At 1-5-1 they now get the Pennsylvania teams (Pittsburgh twice) and a rematch with the Leafs in the next four games.  By the time they get to face the almost equally hapless Florida Panthers on February 9th, the Caps could be 1-9-1.  If that comes to pass, their season is over.  They have to turn this around…right…now.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Capitals at Maple Leafs, January 31st

The Washington Capitals wrap up their mid-week trip to Canada on Thursday with a visit to Air Canada Centre in Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. The Caps’ struggles out of the gate have been talked about in just about every blog, column, radio show, podcast, bar, chat room, message board, and monastery within 50 miles of Washington.  Here is the summary…

They stink.  Goals per game…23rd.  Goals against per game… 29th.  Five-on-five play… 26th.  Power play… tied for 21st.  Penalty killing… 25th.  And now they head to ACC, where the Caps have had some (if not extraordinary) success.  In 23 decisions at ACC since it opened for hockey in February 1999 the Caps are 9-9 with two ties and three losses in extra time.  They have, however, won two of the last three decisions there.

And on Thursday the Caps have decent opportunity to add to the good on that record.  Toronto is 3-3-0 overall, but they have only two games so far under their belts at home this season.  Both decisions were losses, a one-goal decision to the Buffalo Sabres and a 7-4 strafing by the New York Islanders a week ago.  Here is how the teams stack up numbers-wise...

1.  Toronto has one clear problem so far this season, the pesky notion that a hockey game is 60 minutes.  Their offense has scored seven goals in the first period of games this season; only three other teams have more first period scores.  But from there it goes downhill – six in the second period, four in the third.  Meanwhile, the defense has allowed only four goals in the first period, also a respectable number (11th fewest).  But again, things go south from there – six goals in the second period and 10 (tied for the league high) in the third.

2.  At least Alex Ovechkin has a goal… In Toronto, Phil Kessel is still looking for his first of the season.  Kessel has averaged 34 goals over the last four seasons, but has only one goal over his last 14 games dating back to last season. In 21 career games against the Caps he is 5-8-13, even.

3.  It is early, but only two teams have had fewer shorthanded situations to face per game than the Maple Leafs (2.50/game).  They have enjoyed a 12-5 advantage in power play opportunities over their opponents in two home games.

4.  Mike Brown is sixth in the league with 29 penalty minutes, but he has played in at least one fewer game than any of the players in the top 11 in that statistic.  In earning those minutes he has more fighting majors (three) than minor penalties (two).  There is also a misconduct thrown in there for variety.

5.  Nazem Kadri (3-3-6) is already half way to his career high in points.  He has been consistent with points in four of five games to date.

1.  The 1-4-1 start for the Caps is their worst six-game start since going 1-4-1 (tie) to start the 2003-2004 season in which they finished 23-46-10-3.

2.  Only Los Angeles (6.3) and Colorado (6.0) have faced more shorthanded situations per game on the road than the Caps (5.7) so far.

3.  Scoring first in this league is supposed to matter, but the Caps and Columbus are the only two teams in the league with 0-2-0 records when scoring the game’s first goal.

4.  One of the signatures of “Hunter Hockey” last season was a propensity to block shots.  Not so this season, at least so far.  The Caps are tied with Columbus (being tied with Columbus in any team statistic, let alone two, shows how bad things are at the moment) for 20th in total blocked shots so far.  But they are ahead of Toronto (23rd).

5.  If one would have asked, “after six games, who among the Caps would rank in the top 20 in shooting percentage?," how many of you would have answered, “Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward (tied for 19th at 25.0 percent)?”

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Dion Phaneuf

Washington is not the only hockey town in which the captain is struggling.  Of 218 defensemen having dressed so far this season, Dion Phaneuf ranks 218th in plus minus (ok, tied for 217th with teammate Michael Kostka).  Only four defensemen have been on ice for more goals against, and no defenseman has been on ice for more even strength goals (tied with Ryan Suter).  He gets lots of ice time (second in time on ice per game among defensemen), and he gets the tough assignments, but the captain is going to have to play better in Toronto, too.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

It was not supposed to be this way.  Fresh off a fine start to a season in the Kontinental Hockey League (he is still tenth in goals scored and 11th in points), Alex Ovechkin was supposed to get off to a fast start, silence the critics, and lead the Caps out of the gate.  Instead, he has been shuffled among the lines, flipped from one wing to the other, and here he sits six games into the season with one power play goal and one assist to his credit.  He is shooting (or at least getting shots on goal) with the lowest frequency of his career (3.3 shots per game) and is tied on his own team with John Erskine and Jay Beagle in points.  That the Caps have as many as one win with their captain producing this meagerly might be a miracle.


1.  Floor it!  Look, this is not likely to be a defensive struggle.  Toronto and Washington rank 26th and 29th in scoring defense.  The Caps need the players they depend on for offense to be offensive.  Ovechkin has 23 goals in 27 games against the Leafs.  Nicklas Backstrom has 14 assists in 17 games against Toronto.  Mike Ribeiro is 11-11-22 in 27 games against the Maple Leafs.  Even Matt Hendricks has a goal in seven career games against this team.  Unleash the fury, for heaven’s sake.

2.  When opportunity knocks, answer.  Toronto has not allowed much at home in the way of power play opportunity – only five shorthanded situations face and less than ten minutes of penalty killing time in total.  If the Caps get opportunities, they have to make good on them.  There might not be many.

3.  Get your playoff game face on.  How many times did we hear that a 48-game season was going to be like the playoffs?  Some teams are playing like it, and some are not.  The Caps have been in the latter category.  They need to start showing the mettle they showed last spring, some more than others (74, that means you).

In the end, the Caps are facing a team that is similar to Tampa Bay in terms of defense and goaltending (not all that good) without the Lightning’s offense.  And the Caps really should have beaten Tampa Bay.  They can’t afford any third period collapses or the odd shift spent daydreaming or just plain old lollygagging.  They have six teams they have to climb over to become playoff eligible, and there is no time like the present to start climbing.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3