Thursday, October 03, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 2: Capitals 5 - Flames 4 (OT/Gimmick)

Hey, barkeep… two pints…uh, points, please!

The Washington Capitals found themselves down by three goals twice in their home opener on Thursday night against the Calgary Flames, but they came back to tie the game late and win it in the Bettman Round, 5-4, over the Flames at Verizon Center.

It looked grim for the men in red early when the visitors abused starting goaltender Braden Holtby for three goals on 11 shots in the first period.  That would do it for Holtby’s evening, Michal Neuvirth coming in to relieve Holtby barely 16 minutes into the game.

It looked as if it might get worse when Connor Carrick took a hooking penalty 5:21 into the second period.  The Caps held the Flames off on the ensuing power play, limiting Calgary to two shots, and when Carrick was sprung from the penalty box, Marcus Johansson found him on a stretch pass at the Flames’ blue line.  Carrick faked goalie Karri Ramo to the ice and tucked the puck around his left pad for his first NHL goal.

That might have led to a torrent of goals, but it was Calgary who regained their three-goal margin just 1:35 later when Lance Bouma (who had an interesting evening) took advantage of a misplay of the puck by Neuvirth behind the Caps net to convert a pass from Brian McGrattan for a lay-up and a 4-1 lead.

That might have spelled doom for the Caps, but David Jones took a high-sticking penalty, and the torrent was at hand.  Mike Green teed one up for a one-timer by Alex Ovechkin, but Ovechkin’s drive was tipped by Flames defensemen T.J. Brodie.  The puck changed direction and tumbled past the left pad of Ramo, finding the back of the net to draw the Caps within two.

Four minutes later it was Ovechkin again, this time off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom.  The draw came to Ovechkin at the top of the right-wing circle, and Ovechkin wasted no time wristing the puck over Ramo’s glove and under the crossbar to get the Caps to within a goal.

The Caps got all the way back with 5:50 left in the third period when Nicklas Backstrom waited patiently for a clot of players in the left wing circle to sort out who had the puck.  The biscuit slid over to a wide-open Backstrom at the edge of the right-wing circle, where he settled it and wristed it past Ramo to tie the game at 4-4.

Overtime went by without incident, if not without concern given Calgary’s domination of zone time, which led to the Gimmick.  The Caps made short work of the trick shot portion of the show, first with Mikhail Grabovski flipping home a backhand over a sprawled Ramo, then Ovechkin doing the same on the other side of the net, while Neuvirth turned away Sven Baertschi and Jiri Hudler to give the Caps a win in their home opener.

Other stuff…

-- Given that this was the Flames’ season opener and that the Caps had a game under their belts, it seemed odd that it was the Flames who had jump and didn’t look stiff to open the game.

-- Last season Braden Holtby allowed ten goals on 73 shots in his first two appearances (.863 save percentage), both losses.  This season he has allowed eight goals on 45 shots in his first two appearances (.822 save percentage), a loss and a no-decision.

-- Last season it took Alex Ovechkin ten games to get to five points.  This season, two.  This is his quickest to five points since the 2009-2010 season when he had three points in each of his first two games.

-- Lance Bouma had, as we said, an interesting evening.  His check on Jack Hillen mid-way through the first period against the side wall ended Hillen’s evening, Hillen apparently suffering a significant knee injury.  Bouma then engaged with Tom Wilson in a bout and later added what would be Calgary’s last goal of the evening.  A lot of stuff for a guy who skated only 6:44 on the night.

-- For Hillen it was the second time in two seasons he suffered significant injuries early in the season.  Last year it was a shoulder injury suffered in the season opener against Tampa Bay.

-- Marcus Johansson recorded three assists in as quiet a fashion as one could imagine. It was his first career three-point game.

-- Mikhail Grabovski, who had a hat trick in the opener against Chicago, did not have a shot on goal in this game.  He did have an assist, though, enabling him to share the league scoring lead with Ovechkin (five points).

-- Yes, the Caps had two more power play goals tonight in three chances.  That’s 5-for-9 in two games (55.6 percent).  But they were outscored, 3-2, at even strength (one of those even strength goals coming on a break after a Calgary power play expired) and have been outscored by 8-3 at evens so far.  The Caps need to play several levels better at 5-on-5.

-- Martin Erat… 6:30 in ice time.  That’s 15:31 through two games.  He has averaged 16:52 per game over his career.  It is the first time since the start of the 2003-2004 season that Erat has played two consecutive games with less than 10 minutes of ice time.  If you are keeping score (and we know you are), Filip Forsberg is expected to miss Nashville’s first two games with a lower body injury (he did not play in the Predators’ 4-2 loss to St. Louis tonight).

-- It is not news when Alex Ovechkin leads the team in shots.  He did so again tonight with 11 shots on goal.  But Karl Alzner and Connor Carrick tied for second with four apiece? O-o-o-o-o-o-kay.

-- Mike Green had more blocked shots (five) than the rest of the defense combined (three).

-- Ovechkin wins the free pass to the buffet… two goals, an assist, a minor penalty, 11 shots, 17 shot attempts, five hits, and a takeaway.

-- Eric Fehr is 13-for-21 on faceoffs through two games (7-for-11 tonight).  That 61.9 percent mark so far puts him in the top 15 in the league.  On the other hand, he’s been on ice for six of the ten goals scored against the Caps.

-- Which brings us to the evil plus-minus.  Last year, Fehr and Joel Ward finished a combined plus-21 for the season.  Through two games they are a combined minus-9 (a combined minus-4 tonight).

-- Is Tom Wilson strong?  He just bar-armed Lance Bouma (210 pounds) to the ice in their fight.  At 19, he’s 6’4, 210.  When he is 6’5, 225 in five years or so…yeesh.

In the end, the Caps looked very Boudreau-ish tonight.  Fall behind, then go through the opponent’s defense like a chain saw over the last 40 minutes.  We don’t know that this is a formula for success, especially one so dependent on the power play.  Calgary did a very good job of crashing the net, being a nuisance to which ever goalie was in for the Caps.  Their lack of skill was apparent, though, as the game wore on, just as the Caps’ deep skill level was apparent.  The Caps catch a break with a manageable stretch of their schedule coming up – Dallas, Carolina, Colorado, and Edmonton – with no back-to-back games (and no games from Saturday's contest with Dallas through Wednesday of next week).  It should give them an opportunity to work out the kinks in their game.  And they have quite a few to work out.

Washington Capitals: Alexander Urbom and the Need for "Depth" Depth Defensemen

The Washington Capitals made a minor deal on Thursday, claiming defenseman Alexander Urbom on waivers from the New Jersey Devils.  Urbom, a 6’4”, 215 pound blueliner, has played in 14 NHL games over three seasons.  Last season he spent most of his time with the Albany Devils in the AHL where he finished 0-8-8, minus-3 in 68 games.  This is, as noted, a minor deal in the larger scheme of things, and Caps fans might be wondering, “why?”  It got us to thinking about depth defensemen in general.

Defensemen are always at a premium in the NHL.  This goes for top-end headliners, certainly, but to a certain extent it goes for depth defensemen, too.  Since the 2004-2005 NHL lockout the Washington Capitals have dressed, on average, 11 defensemen per season, including 12 in last year’s lockout-shortened 48-game season.  The range has been from nine defensemen (in 2005-2006 and 2007-2008) to 13 (in 2008-2009).  Given that a club can dress only six defensemen a night (except in those rare instances in which they might dress seven), having a defenseman that can step in, in a pinch, is a valuable commodity.

And, we do not just mean roster defensemen.  If a team carries seven defensemen, chances are that seventh defenseman will get minutes.  But, to use the Caps’ example, that means that four defensemen (on average) not on the roster are going to have to fill in from time to time.  Those players might be in Hershey, they might be obtained in trade in-season.

Let’s look a bit more closely at the Caps’ experience in this regard over the past eight seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout.  Over those eight years the Caps have averaged three defensemen per season who played in at least 70 games.  That leaves, on average, three spots per night that are going to have multiple players at each slot logging significant games.  If you look at the bottom three defensemen in games played over each of those eight seasons they averaged 13 games played, per man, per season.  Those are, on average, the 9/10/11 defensemen in the system (given the average of 11 defensemen used per season).  Let’s look at these defensemen in more detail.


The bottom three defensemen in games played in the first year out of the lockout were: Mathieu Biron (52 games), Nolan Yonkman (38), and Mike Green (22).  This was the first year out of the 2004-2005 lockout, and the Caps were in the midst of their tear-down/rebuild .  Biron, a journeyman defenseman having played with three teams in over five seasons, was a free-agent signing in the summer before that 2005-2006 season.  Yonkman, a 1999 draft pick for the Caps, was playing in his first full season with the club after appearing in 12 games over two seasons before the lockout.  These last three defensemen were obtained as follows:

Biron: free agent
Yonkman: drafted (prospect)
Green: drafted (prospect)


The bottom three defensemen in this season in games played were: Lawrence Nycholat (18), Timo Helbling (2), and Jamie Hunt (1).  Nycholat, an August 2005 free agent signing by the Caps, played the entire 2005-2006 season in Hershey and would split time between Hershey (29 games) and Washington (18 games) in the 2006-2007 season before he was traded to Ottawa in February 2007.  Helbling was an August 2006 free agent signing by the Caps who spent 49 games in Hershey and two with the Caps before being shipped to Buffalo with Dainius Zubrus for Jiri Novotny and a draft pick in February 2007.  Hunt was signed as a free agent by the Caps in March 2006 and played in one game with the big club in 2006-2007 after spending 36 games in Hershey.

Nycholat: free agent
Helbling: free agent
Hunt: free agent


This was a different mix, a different set of circumstances in an up-and-down (or, more precisely, a down-and-up) year for the Caps.  Among the bottom three defensemen in games played, Brian Pothier played in 38 games, Steve Eminger played in 20, and Sami Lepisto played in seven contests.  Pothier – a July 2006 free agent signing – is on this list because his season ended on January 3rd, the victim of a concussion when he was hit by Milan Lucic and tumbled into the boards.  Eminger – drafted in 2002 by the Caps -- more or less was Pothier’s replacement, appearing in 18 of his 20 games that season after Pothier’s injury.  Lepisto – a 2004 draft pick for the Caps – was brought up for a seven-game look-see in late-February, spending most of his season (55 games) in Hershey.  It is worth noting that this was one of the seasons in which the Caps dressed only nine defensemen all season, making the absence of call-ups or other players coming to the club via other lesser transactions understandable.  It is also worth noting that Hershey did Josef Boumedienne on its roster, a player who played in 43 games for the Caps over the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons.

Pothier: free agent
Eminger: drafted
Lepisto: drafted


If 2007-2008 was a season of comparatively few defensemen dressing for the Caps, the 2008-2009 season was just the opposite.  Thirteen defensemen dressed for the Caps in this season.  The bottom three in this instance included: Brian Pothier (9), Sami Lepisto (7), and Staffan Kronwall (3).  Pothier was coming out on the back side of his injury suffered the previous season, rejoining the club on March 16th and playing in nine games thereafter to close the season.  Lepisto got seven more games, this time early in the season while spending 70 games with Hershey.  Kronwall was claimed off the waiver wire from Toronto in February 2009.  He then split time between Hershey (17 games) and Washington, where he appeared in three games over a 17-day period late in the season. 

It is worth noting, given the large number of defensemen who dressed for the Caps in this season that Bryan Helmer, a defenseman who already had played 15 seasons in the AHL, plus another 63 games with Hershey in 2008-2009, but who had only 134 games of NHL experience over six seasons in the NHL (and had not played in the NHL in three seasons) appeared in 12 games for the Caps.  There is also Sean Collins, who split time between Hershey in the AHL and South Carolina in the ECHL over the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 season, playing in 15 games for the Caps in his first NHL action.

Pothier: free agent
Lepisto: drafted
Kronwall: waivers


This was another of the “prospect” years.  Among the bottom three defensemen in games played were: John Carlson (22), Karl Alzner (21), and Joe Corvo (18.). Carlson and Alzner were both first round draft picks.  Carlson was brought up for short stints from Hershey in November and January, but he stuck with the team when brought up in early March.  Alzner, who got a 30-game audition with the club in 2008-2009, got an early look in the 2009-2010 season, but after playing in 21 games was sent back to Hershey to finish the regular season in February 2010.  Joe Corvo was the product of a trading deadline deal, brought in from Carolina for Pothier, Oskar Osala, and a draft pick.  He was a rental who departed from whence he came – Carolina – after the season.

Carlson: drafted (prospect)
Alzner: drafted (prospect)
Corvo: trade


The bottom three defensemen in games played this season included: Dennis Wideman (14), Brian Fahey (7), and Sean Collins (4).  Wideman was another trading deadline deal, sent to Washington by Florida for Jake Hauswirth and a draft pick.  He lasted only those 14 games, though, suffering a leg injury on March 29th that ended his season.  Fahey, a July 2010 free agent signing by the Caps, got his games early in the season as part of the revolving door that was replacing injured Tom Poti.  Fahey spent 60 games in Hershey that season.  Sean Collins, a March 2007 free agent signing, was also part of that depth contingent, getting his games late it the campaign by which time Poti’s season was over.  He spent 73 games in Hershey.

Wideman: trade
Fahey: free agent
Collins: free agent


This was a bit of an odd, injury driven year that was most notable for Dmitry Orlov getting 60 games as a rookie while Mike Green and John Erskine spent a large part of the season injured.  Erskine was, in fact, one of the bottom three defensemen in games played (28).   The others were Tomas Kundratek (5) and Sean Collins (2).  Kundratek was picked up during the season in a trade that sent Francois Bouchard to the New York Rangers.  He had split time between the Connecticut Whale and the Hershey Bears in the AHL before getting a look with the Caps in January.  Collins, who would spend almost all his time in Hershey, spent two games with the Caps in late October owing to the uncertain health of Erskine (who at that time was not cleared for contact with a shoulder injury) and Mike Green, who had an ankle injury.

Erskine: free agent
Kundratek: trade
Collins: free agent


In 2012-2013 the bottom three defensemen in games played reflected three different situations.  Dmitry Orlov might have played in more than five games, but his suffering a concussion in the AHL Showcase game at Verizon Center left him with almost a lost season, whether in Hershey or in Washington.  Roman Hamrlik played in four games, all early in the abbreviated season, fell out of favor, and was waived by the Caps in early March.  Cameron Schilling, who the Caps signed as a free agent out of Miami (Ohio) University in March 2007, got one game in March 2013 when John Erskine and Tom Poti were out with injuries.  It is worth noting that the injuries to Poti, Erskine, and Mike Green meant that large blocks of games would be taken up by Steve Oleksy (a free agent in Hershey who would play in 28 games), and Kundratek (who would play in 25 games before sustaining an injury himself).

Orlov: drafted
Hamrlik: free agent
Schilling: free agent

What we have are 21 defensemen who at one time or another represented those last three defensemen called upon in terms of games played in a season for the Caps.  Of that group, here is how they break down by acquisition:

Free Agent: 10
Drafted: 7
Trade: 3
Waivers: 1

Of the drafted group, four were first round picks, and two more were second rounders.  These were prospect either called up for a look or pressed into duty maybe a little sooner than anticipated due to injuries among other defensemen.  Fourteen other defensemen in this group came to the club via trade, waiver claims, or free agent signing.  The Brian Pothier and Roman Hamrlik free agency signings can be thought of as significant roster moves.  The others, though, were largely minor deals.  Then there are the significant blocks of games taken up by players not in this “bottom three” group who might have been expected, under normal circumstances, to spend their entire seasons in the minors – Tyler Sloan getting 26 games, Sean Colins getting 15, and Bryan Helmer getting 12 in the 2008-2009 season; Sloan getting 40 games in 2009-2010 and another 33 in 2010-2011; Dmitry Orlov getting 60 games in 2011-2012; Steve Oleksy getting 28 games and Tomas Kundratek getting 25 last season.

It points to a need for players you do not think will be seeing time in Washington being “on call.”  No team is going to make it through a season with seven roster defensemen.  There might be trades in-season that will provide additional assets at the position.  But that is discussion for another day.  At the moment, Alexander Urbom is already on the list of what can be called "depth defensemen."  There are others in Hershey that can be added to this list, too.  The contingent there that might be called upon to fill one of those “last three” defensemen the Caps dress this season might include such names as Cameron Schilling, Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wellar, or Patrick Wey.  But there is not a lot of NHL experience there (one game, in fact). 

Who knows…given what might be the situation with Connor Carrick (if he is sent back down to junior or Hershey), and the inevitable injuries and iffy play that occur during an 82-game season, Urbom -- and perhaps some of those others in Hershey -- might end up with some real minutes with the big club before it’s over.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

What coaches really say to one another

If you missed the entertainment last night, the game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Colorado Avalanche ended with the head coaches for each team jawing at one another and making menacing gestures toward each other.  The 6-1 Avalanche win in Roy's debut as an NHL head coach almost seemed like an afterthought compared to the post-final horn entertainment.  But the video captured only the images.  We found a way to tease out what the coaches were barking at one another...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 2: Flames at Capitals, October 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We have now completed 1.22 percent of the National Hockey League’s 2013-2014 season, and we can come to some conclusions about the Washington Capitals.  Well, by “we,” I mean our coaches panel.  It is a renowned group of leaders, winners of titles, all...well, some.  Let’s get their take on what we’ve seen from one game thus far…

Coach Norman Dale.  You won the Indiana high school basketball championship in 1952, taking a small, seven-man team to the title. You were known as something of a disciplinarian, tough but fair.

Coach Dale: “First of all, let's be real friendly here, okay? My name is Norm. Secondly, your prognosticating days are over.”

Whoa, whoa…what brought that on.

Coach Dale: “gotcha”

Good one.  Coach Dale…Norm… What would you say to the Caps as they get ready for their home opener against Calgary after last night’s 6-4 loss in Chicago?

Norman Dale: “I've seen you guys can shoot but there's more to the game than shooting. There's fundamentals and defense.”

Lou Brown.  You took a rag-tag team of wannabes and never-was…es, and took them to the playoffs in Cleveland.  The Caps are a team that seems not to get a lot of respect.  Then they lost their season opener.  Do you have anything special to tell that team before they take the ice for the first time in front of their own fans?

Lou Brown: “All right people, we got 10 minutes 'till game time, let's all gather 'round. I'm not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I'd just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last…well, all the ones in Canada and Pittsburgh. The local press… all three of them who come out to cover us…seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give 'em all a nice big shitburger to eat!”

John Biebe…sheriff, star of the Saturday game in Mystery, Alaska, and famous player coach.  Caps fans woke up this morning, and being Caps fans are probably thinking that the season is already a goner.  What do you say to them as they file into Verizon Center for the home opener?

Coach Biebe:  “We're not beaten.  I'm not beaten!  We're in this game! Anybody here tired?  Anybody fuckin' tired?  Holts? Connor?  Birdie, you with us? (uh…who’s “Birdie?”)  Never mind... Good! They’re starting to breathe through their mouths. Their strides are getting shorter.  Do not give these guys too much respect.  They didn't pull a dog sled, did they?  They didn't skate the river, did they?  Forget about that fucking circus out there.  That's still black ice.  This is our pond!”

Jimmy Dugan, you were a ball player of some note who became a manager in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  You’ve had to deal with young players afraid to make a mistake.  There was plenty of that on Tuesday.  Do you have any soothing words for players in those situations?

Jimmy Dugan:  “I’d walk right up to them and say, ‘could you come here for a second? Which team do you play for?’  And they’d tell me they played for the Caps.  And I’d say, ‘Well I was just wonderin' why you would go for the big hit there when we’re trying to get the next goal. You let the guy get behind you and we lost the lead because of you. Start using your head. That's the lump that's three feet above your ass!!’  He’d start to sniffle, and I’d say, ‘Are you crying? Are you crying?! ARE YOU CRYING?!?! There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN HOCKEY!’”

Coach Dale…

“ah ah ah… ‘Norm.’”

Norm… It’s a little early for scoreboard watching, but with the Caps in a division with some heated rivals that are thought to be pretty good, some of that is going to go on.  What do you say to that kind of thinking?

Coach Dale: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners.”

Well, the Caps get a chance to be winners for the first time this evening when the Calgary Flames come to visit.  The last time the Flames skated onto Verizon Center ice, the Caps skated off with a 3-1 win.  The usual suspects figured in the scoring for the Caps – Alex Ovechkin had a power play goal and an assist.  Nicklas Backstrom assisted on all three Capitals goals.  Troy Brouwer added a goal, Marcus Johansson an assist.  The win vaulted the Caps over Winnipeg into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.  But what was the lingering image of that night was this…

Rene Bourque was suspended for five games; Nicklas Backstrom missed 40 games.  Bourque since moved on to the Montreal Canadiens, and the Calgary Flames come into this game a team in transition.  That is a polite way of saying that they are not very good. Calgary finished 13th in the Western Conference last season, able to muster a winning streak as long as three games only once.  That came in April, with the Flames’ fate long since decided. 

The biggest addition to the club in 2013-2014 probably is not a player, which says a lot about the current state of the club.  The biggest addition is most likely Brian Burke, hired as President of Hockey Operations by the club last month.  He has his work cut out for him.  The Flames had a respectable, if unspectacular offense last season (tied for 11th in scoring offense).  Their defense and goaltending, though…ugh.  With 3.27 goals per game allowed the Flames finished 28th in scoring defense.  Worse, they did it while allowing only 29.4 shots per game (17th fewest).  Their .889 team save percentage in goal was second-worst in the league.  And that was with Miikka Kiprusoff, a 319-game winner in the NHL manning the nets for 24 games.  Kiprusoff is gone, the goaltending duties left to Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo.  It could be a long winter in Calgary.

Here is how the teams finished last season, numbers-wise…

1.  This is said to be a “rebuilding” year for the Flames.   However, the Flames roster has seven forwards who are age 30 or older, or will reach that age before the half-way mark of the season.  Three defensemen are 30 or older, and their nominal number one goaltender (Joey MacDonald) is 33.  If the Flames are “rebuilding,” chances are many of the pieces with which they will rebuild are not on this roster.

2.  This is not likely to be a team that scares opponents physically, especially on defense.  Shane O’Brien has his moments, but six of the eight roster defensemen are 200 pounds or lighter.  If they choose to dress Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan, they can try intimidation, but to the extent they have to play within the rules it is something that can be exploited.

3.  This will be a chance for Capitals fans to renew acquaintances with head coach Bob Hartley, known to fans as the one-time coach of the Atlanta Thrashers (oh yeah, he has a Stanley Cup from coaching in Colorado, too).  In four-plus seasons in Atlanta, ending with his firing in 2007-2008, he was 136-118-13 (ties)-24 in 291 games. 

4.  If Mike Cammalleri cannot go tonight (he has a hand injury), the Flames will ice a team that only two ten-goal scorers last season: Jiri Hudler (10) and Curtis Glencross (15).  They would have only five players who managed 20 or more points (Hudler, Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, and Dennis Wideman).

5.  If Joey MacDonald is the number one goalie for the Flames, it will be a stiff test for the seven-year veteran.  He has only 122 regular season games of experience over that span and has played in at least half his team’s games only once (49 games with the New York Islanders in 2008-2009).  Since that 2008-2009 season with the Islanders, MacDonald has played for three teams (Toronto, Detroit, and Calgary), and has a record of 22-23-5, 2.65, .907, with one shutout in 56 appearances.  He is 0-2-1, 4.25, .898 in three career appearances against Washington.

1.  The hat trick by Mikhail Grabovski was the first by a Capital in a season opener in franchise history.  The closest a Cap came to doing this was Alexander Semin, who recorded a hat trick in the team’s home opener (game 2 of the season) against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 7, 2006, and Mike Gartner, who scored in the Caps' home opener (game 2 of the season) against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 10, 1987.

2.  The goal scored by Alex Ovechkin in the opener was his first in a season-opening game since he had two against the Boston Bruins in the opening game of the 2009-2010 season.  That happened to be his last 50-goal season.

3.  Season openers do not seem to agree with Braden Holtby.  In his last three season openers, including Tuesday night’s game in Chicago (two with Washington, one with Hershey last season), Holtby is 0-3-0, 5.07, .850.  This would be his first appearance against Calgary, should he get the start.

4.  We don’t want to make too much of this, only one game having been played, but the Caps are last among six teams having started their season in 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio (0.25).  They do lead the league in power play conversions, though (50.0 percent).

5.  Nicklas Backstrom has 24 assists in his last 24 regular season games, including the two he had against Chicago on Tuesday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Mark Giordano

If you were wondering who is the successor to Jarome Iginla as captain of the Calgary Flames, it is defenseman Mark Giordano, the first captain not named “Iginla” since 2003 (Craig Conroy and Bob Boughner, who were co-captains, if you were wondering).  Among returning defensemen Giordano logged the most shorthanded ice time per game last year for the Flames (2:43), making him the guy who could bear the heaviest burden of making sure the Capitals do not get too comfortable setting up their lethal power play.  He cannot be ignored at the other end, though.  Three seasons ago he was 8-35-43 for the Flames. 

Washington: Mikhail Grabovski

The difference between a youngster and a veteran is what they do in the game after they light up the scoreboard.  That will be an especially interesting thing to watch as Mikhail Grabovski makes his debut in front of a Verizon Center crowd tonight.  Grabovski recorded a hat trick in his first game as a Capital, and one might think the temptation is to try to repeat the feat for the home folks.  But one thing that might temper the fans’ expectations is that Grabovski was rather mortal at even strength (one goal scored, on ice for one goal against).  He is 4-2-6, minus-1 in eight career games against the Flames.


1.  Don’t underestimate what makes the Flames “special.”  Calgary had their problems at five-on-five last season, but they were pretty good on special teams, finishing sixth in both power play and penalty killing.  Given the Caps’ own sputtering start at five-on-five, they cannot make assumptions about the Flames’ lack of proficiency in special teams.

2.  Move your feet.  The Caps looked a bit flatfooted at times when Chicago was pushing their offense through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone on Tuesday.  Calgary does not have Chicago’s depth of talent, but give any NHL team openings like those the Caps allowed at times in game one, and it could be unpleasant.

3.  3-by-3 need to play 5-by-5.  “Five-by-five” is a phrase that dates back to the days of analog communications.  It is a description of the quality of communications, this being the best possible score.  The Caps are thought to have issues in terms of the drop-off of quality from their top three defensemen to their bottom three, but against Chicago there was enough concern to go around.  It looked at times that the defense was missing on their communications.  This has to improve, especially if there is that drop-off in talent on the bottom half of the blue line.

In the end…

The Caps should make quick work of the Flames.  Calgary is not a good defensive team, they have serious holes among their forwards and defense, their goaltending is iffy at best.  They are not a playoff team, and their best assets are more of the trading variety, likely to be moved in late winter, than they will be contributors to a Flames’ playoff run.  On the other hand, Washington was within a bounce of sending their season opener to overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions on their rink.  We do not see the Caps getting worse along the way. 

Washington has too many weapons on offense, a sturdier defense (even with their bottom-three issues) and much better goaltending.  And, they have been successful in these home openers, going 6-1-0 over their last seven (outscoring their opponents 30-14 in the process).  If they can keep from getting caught up in the whole “opening night” thing and avoid thinking merely throwing their sticks out there constitutes “effort,” it should be another successful start to the home portion of the schedule.

Capitals 5 – Flames 2