Saturday, October 05, 2013

A NO-point night -- Game 3: Stars 2 - Capitals 1

Last season the Washington Capitals skated more than 2,900 minutes in 48 games.  Less than 300 of that amount was spent on the power play.  It is nice to have the league’s best power play, but you win consistently when you win at even strength.  The Caps got their power play goal tonight, but lost the even-strength battle, 2-0, and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

Washington opened the scoring on their first power play of the evening when Alex Ovechkin flipped a change of pace one timer past goalie Kari Lehtonen’s blocker on the short side at the 4:26 mark of the first period.

That would be it for the Caps as far as their offense was concerned.  Dallas did a superb job keeping the Caps to the outside at even strength, allowing the Stars to win battles along the boards and prevent the Caps from generating any offensive rhythm.  It paid off for the Stars when Erik Cole tied the score eight minutes into the first period when he was left all alone in the slot, free to take a backhand feed by Tyler Seguin from behind the net and slam it past goalie Braden Holtby.

Dallas got what would be the game winner in the 13th minute of the second period when Alex Chiasson swatted home a rebound of a Cody Eakin shot taken from a severe angle.  Lehtonen made it stand up, turning away the last 21 shots he faced to secure Dallas’ first win of the season.

Other stuff…

-- Through three games the Caps have been outscored at even strength, 10-3.  They are 3-for-69 shooting at even strength (4.3 percent).  They are 0-for-28 in the first periods of games.  That will kill their “PDO,” which at the moment stands for “pretty damn oh-ful.”

-- Hard to fault Braden Holtby on either of the goals.  Erik Cole had no one within ten feet of him right between the hash marks on his score.  All he had to do was get the pass from Tyler Seguin on net to score that goal.  On the other, Alex Chiasson caught the Capitals facing the wrong way when he sped down the slot to bang home a rebound.

-- Back to those even strength shots.  Twelve forwards combined for nine even strength shots.  Alex Ovechkin had one (none after the first period), and the top line had just two.  Nicklas Backstrom had the other one, that one coming with 2:13 left in the game.

-- When John Erskine ties for the team lead in shots on goal (four), it is not a fireworksy kind of night on offense.

-- Martin Erat skated 8:27 in total ice time.  That tied a career mark for consecutive games with less than ten minutes of ice time.  Those games would be the first three games of the 2003-2004 season when he skated a total of 22:35.  He has a total of 23:58 through three games.  Mike Green (28:18) and John Carlson (24:48) average more ice time per game.  Based on his pay this season, Erat has been earning $6,874 per minute played.

-- Eric Fehr won eight of 11 draws tonight.  That makes him 21 for 32 through three games (65.6 percent), ninth in the league in faceoff winning percentage.

-- Until the last three seconds, Kari Lehtonen could have written an opera in goal for all the pressure the Caps put on him.  But those last three seconds were something, including his desperate throw-up-my-glove-and-hope-for-the-best save on Grabovski attempt at a redirect of an Ovechkin pass.

-- Significant of nothing in particular, the fourth line of Erat, Tom Wilson, and Jay Beagle/Michael Latta has a combined seven shots on goal.  They had one tonight (Beagle).

-- Here is what Rule 69.1 says about interference on the goalkeeper…
This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.  For purposes of this rule, “contact,” whether incidental or otherwise, shall mean any contact that is made between or among a goalkeeper and attacking player(s), whether by means of a stick or any part of the body.

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

If a defending player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by an attacking player so as to cause the defending player to come into contact with his own goalkeeper, such contact shall be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, and if necessary a penalty assessed to the attacking player and if a goal is scored it would be disallowed.

OK, so… did Nicklas Backstrom, “either by his positioning or by contact, [impair] the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal” when he nudged the puck past Lehtonen 8:01 into the second period for a goal that would have given the Caps a 2-1 lead?  Apparently, the referee thought so.

In the end, the Caps might have gained momentum from the goal that was disallowed.  They might have forced the Stars out of their patient push-‘em-to-the-outside defense.  But really, do you believe that?  The Caps were in this game to the very end, but they never seemed to be “in” this game.  It was as if they were locked in a box with no means of escape, as if they were, well…

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Capitals at Stars, October 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

“The Stars on ice – will play like mice
Deep in the heart of Texas.
The neutral zone – won’t be their own
Deep in the heart of Texas.

“The Caps shoot pucks – ‘cuz Kari sucks
Deep in the heart of Texas.
The light will shine – from goals divine
Deep in the heart of Texas.”

Hey, Cheerless…you write that one yourself?

“You bet I did…been workin’ on it ever since Jagr signed with them.”

Uh, Cheerless, Jagr is in New Jersey.


Yeah…you must have missed those few games in Boston, too.

“OK, well, what about Loui Eriksson?”

He’s in Boston.

“Michael Ryder?”

New Jersey, with Jagr.

“Brenden Morrow?...surely he’s still there.”

Nope…they sent him to Pittsburgh, and now he’s in St. Louis.

“Well, then… who ARE these guys?”

Good question. 

The Dallas Stars are a different group than the one that skated for Big D last season and a lot different than the team the Caps last faced.  Only six Stars from the team that gave the Caps their first home loss of the 2011-2012 season (a 5-2 decision) are still with the Stars:  Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, Vernon Fiddler, and Kari Lehtonen.

This is a club that has remade itself in the last seven months since the 2013 trading deadline.  Gone are a lot of old guys.  Jagr (41), Eriksson, Ryder (33), and Morrow (34) have found new teams. What they have in place are the young (23 year old Alex Chiasson), the younger (21 year old Tyler Seguin), and the younger still (18 year old Valeri Nichushkin, picked 10th overall in last summer’s draft).

One place where the Stars are both new and old is behind the bench.  Lindy Ruff takes over for Glen Gulutzan, who went 64-57-9 in two seasons with the Stars.  Ruff, who spent 25 years in the Buffalo Sabres organization as a player and coach, is currently third in career coaching wins (571) among active coaches, behind only Ken Hitchcock (606) and Joel Quenneville (661).  If the Stars were to have a big season – 47 wins – Ruff would jump into the top ten in career NHL coaching victories.

A 47-win season would be a tall order for this team.  It is a young group, at least among the forwards.  Three of their nominal centers – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Cody Eakin – are all younger than 25.  But where the Stars are older, they might be getting to the point where they are simply “old.” Stephane Robidas and Sergei Gonchar are on the far side of 35.  Ditto for forwards Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole, and the timeless Ray Whitney, who will turn 42 in May.  Even Kari Lehtonen, who Caps fans will remember as a rosy-cheeked prospect goalie with the Atlanta Thrashers from years gone by has reached 30 years of age.  This is a team with a lot of new moving parts, and even a coach with the long resume of Lindy Ruff is going to have some sorting out to do to figure out just what he’s got. 

Here is how the teams compared last season in the tale o’ the tape…

1.  Five of the 18 skaters getting ice time in the Stars’ opener against Florida on Thursday are new to the club: Gonchar, Seguin, Horcoff, Nichushkin, and Chris Mueller.  All except Mueller skated at least 18 minutes.  The new pieces are not just fill-in role players.  At the other end, the defense has an experience issue – not enough of it.  Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn have a combined 80 games of NHL experience going into Saturday’s game.

2.  Every year is a new year, but last year home ice meant nothing to the Stars, good or bad.  They were 11-11-2 at home, 11-11-2 on the road.

3.  Last season the Stars had four players with ten or more goals.  Only two remain (Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney).  Seven had 20 or more points.  Four are still with the team (Benn, Whitney, Cody Eakin, and Alex Goligoski). 

4.  Think that doesn’t put some pressure on Tyler Seguin?  After spending three seasons, 200-plus games, and a Stanley Cup season in Boston, Sequin is now, if not “the man” (that might be Jamie Benn on this team), then certainly a guy who is expected to produce.  He certainly did that in the preseason, going 1-6-7, plus 2 in five games.  He was especially effective on the power play, going 1-4-5.  Dallas need that kind of production if they are to improve on their 18th-place finish on the power play last season (17.0 percent).

5.  Valeri Nichushkin is going to be a fine player in time.  Drafted 10th overall in the 2013 entry draft.  He had a respectable three goals in six preseason games in just over 11 minutes of ice time per game.  His ice time was ramped up considerably in Dallas’ opener – 19:50.  He managed only one shot on goal, however, against a weak Florida team.  Like we said… in time.

1.  It’s early.  Keep saying that.  It makes the fact that the Caps have been outscored 6-3 at 5-on-5 and 7-3 overall at even strength a little more palatable. Oh yeah, and they have more power play goals (five) than even strength goals (three).

2.  Alex Ovechkin has two goals, Mikhail Grabovski has two goals.  Ovechkin has three assists, Grabovski has three assists.  (a-HEM!... that should read three goals and two assists for each...thanks, crowesnest)  Ovechkin…two power play goals, Grabovski…yup, two power play goals.  Ovechkin is minus-1, Grabovski is minus-1.  Where they have differed is in how they did it.  Ovechkin has 20 shots on goals, Grabovski has four.  Ovechkin is on a pace for 820 shots on goal.  That would be a record.

3.  If someone told you that even just two games into the season only 28 of 313 forwards averaged less ice time per game than Martin Erat, would you believe it?  Well, you would be wrong…it’s only 27 of 313 forwards who have less ice time per game.  And, it’s less ice time than Patrick Kaleta, Shawn Thornton, and someone named Lucas Lessio.

4.  From the “Let’s Start a Goalie Controversy” file…in his last four appearances dating back to last season, Michal Neuvirth is 3-0-1, 1.83, .945.

5.  John Carlson has skated 40:07 at even strength and has not yet been on ice for an even strength goal scored against. No NHL defenseman thus far has skated more even strength time and has no even strength goals scored against while on ice.  That might be because the two defensemen who have skated more even strength ice time are teammates – Mike Green (five ES goals against) and Karl Alzner (3).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen

When Kari Lehtonen was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers second overall in the 2002 NHL entry draft, he was the top-ranked European goaltender in the Central Scouting rankings.  Turns out it was not a big class for goalies, at least highly ranked ones.  The top three European goalies going into that draft  (according to those Central Scouting rankings) were: Lehtonen, Tobias Stephan, and Hannu Toivonen.  The top three North American goalies were: Jeff Deslauriers, Todd Ford, and Maxime Daigneault.  Any of that group ring a bell?  In fact, only Lehtonen, Cam Ward, and Josh Harding of the 33 goalies taken in that draft have played in more than 100 games.  Of the top three North American goalies, Ford and Daigneault never appeared in an NHL game.

Lehtonen has settled into being a good, if not great goalie.  Since being traded to Dallas in February 2009, he is 87-65-18, 2.52, .917, with eight shutouts in 177 appearances.  He was in that ball park of goals against (2.66) and save percentage last season (.916), but after a good start in which he went 9-3-1, 2.25, .930 in his first 15 games; he finished 6-11-2, 3.09, .906 in his last 21 appearances.  In 19 career appearances against the Caps he is 11-6-2, 2.76, .920. 

Washington: Karl Alzner

It is a bit odd that after two games we should be talking about a slump, especially when talking about a defensive defenseman.  However, Karl Alzner has been on ice for three of the seven even-strength goals scored against the Caps thus far.  Add to that the fact that the Calgary Flames scored on a power play goal stemming from a penalty taken by Alzner, and he had a hand (skate, stick, whatever) in four of the ten goals scored against the Caps so far this season.  We have every confidence that this trend will be corrected, but it would help if the corrections came sooner than later.


1.  Take Advantage of Evens.  Kari Lehtonen was 16th in even strength save percentage among goalies playing in at least half their team’s games last season.  Decent, not noteworthy.  The Caps have to start making a dent at 5-on-5.  Doing so means that the Caps might…

2.  Serve Youth…On a Platter.  There is the matter that Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn have only those 80 combined games of NHL experience on the blueline for Dallas.  If they get the start, coach Lindy Ruff can protect them with the home-ice last change, even if he really didn’t in the Stars game against Florida (Dillon had more than 20 minutes of ice time, Benn almost 17 minutes).  Against the Caps, who have a deeper offense than the Panthers, this is a weak spot that might be exploited.

3.  Settle Down.  Braden Holtby has looked jittery in his first two appearances.  We do not think this is nerves, but rather the goalie equivalent of a power pitcher in baseball who is “too strong” in the early innings of a game and falls into the trap of overthrowing his fast ball.  In Holtby’s case, he has not settled into a game-to-game rhythm in the early going yet, and he is perhaps “too fresh,” causing him to overplay his position and take himself off his angles and out of position.  He was similarly poor in his first two games last season and worked himself out of it.  But he should be getting to the point, experience-wise, where he should not have to play himself out of that problem, if it in fact exists.  If he settles down, he is the better goaltender in this game.  If he doesn’t, he’s not.

In the end…

“The fans will cry - ki-yip-pie-yi
Deep in the heart of Texas.
Ki-yip-pie-yi, means “I’d like to die”
Deep in the heart of Texas.

"The Caps will score – four goals or more
Deep in the heart of Texas.
To leave the Stars – in search of bars
Deep in the heart of Texas."

Thanks, Cheerless…

Capitals 4 – Stars 2