Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 7: Rangers 2 - Capitals 0

If there was a team ripe for the taking on Wednesday night, it was the New York Rangers.  It was a team that couldn’t score (1.80 goals per game), couldn’t keep other teams from scoring (5.00 goals against per game), had traveled more than 5,000 miles for five games and had not yet played a game at home this season.

Yeah, that worked.  The Washington Capitals looked for all the world like a team set on playing golf in April, going meekly into the night with a 2-0 loss to the Rangers.  The game was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.  The Rangers fought the Caps to a draw in the first period, overwhelmed them in the second (a 21-6 edge in shots, a 2-0 edge in goals), and strangled them in the third. 

The Rangers got all they needed in the second period.  At 4-on-4, John Moore had time and space, using all of the latter and taking precious little of the former to snap a quick release shot over the left shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby, off the crossbar, and into the net to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 12:05. 

Less than two minutes later, Ryan Callahan provided what insurance the Rangers would need with the help of sloppy defense from the Caps.  Ryan McDonagh started the play by taking a shot that went wide to Holtby’s right.  Callahan skated into the corner to retrieve the puck and send it along the end boards to Derick Brassard.  While Brassard was moving the puck along to Brad Richards in the other corner, Callahan took advantage of some lackadaisical defense from John Carlson, who turned away from Callahan and left him with a clear line to the front of the net.  Richards found Callahan who took the puck, skated through the crease, and then flicked the puck past Holtby uncontested. 

Henrik Lundqvist made it all stand up, turning away all 22 shots he faced to shutout the Capitals for the third straight time going back to last spring’s opening round playoff series.

Other stuff…

-- For the record, the last goal the Caps scored against Lundqvist came off the stick of Mike Ribeiro at the 9:24 mark of overtime in Game 5 of last spring’s playoff series against the Rangers.  Among current Capitals, Joel Ward has the last goal against Lundqvist, a power play goal earlier in that same game.  

-- The Caps were outshot 31-16 at even strength.  The top line had five ES shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin recording four of them.  Does anyone even bother defending Nicklas Backstrom or Marcus Johansson at this point?

-- Ovechkin had eight shots on goal.  The rest of the forwards combined?  Nine.

-- Six power play shots on goal…Ovechkin had four of them.  See a pattern here?  Think that pattern is working?

-- Well, at least the Caps ended a streak of three straight games in which a player got his first NHL goal.  Jesper Fast had one shot on goal.

-- Martin Erat had 6:20 in ice time.  Ten shifts.  I made more trips to the refrigerator in this game to refresh my carbonated adult beverages.

-- Hey second line… three shots on goal?  Really?

-- But give Brooks Laich of that second line some credit.  He might have been the only Capital not wearing goalie pads and not named “Ovechkin” giving an honest effort out there.  He had all three of those shots on goal for the second line, drew two penalties, had six shot attempts, had two hits, and blocked two shots.

-- The Caps are the only team in the Metro Division without a point against Metro Division teams (0-2-0).

-- Coming into this game the Rangers had been outscored at even strength, 20-5…yes, 20-5.  Last in the league in 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio.  They outscored the Caps, 2-0.  The Caps have now been outscored at evens by an 18-8 margin.

-- 22 shots on goal, 22 shots blocked.  Maybe it’s just a Caps thing against this team.  The Rangers averaged 16.4 blocks per game in five games coming into this one. 

-- Coming into this game the Rangers allowed more goals in the second period than any other team (it’s still true), and the Caps had the sixth highest number of second period goals, yet the Rangers outscored the Caps, 2-0 in the middle frame.

-- The NHL awards three stars for each game.  The Rangers had all three in this one (Lundqvist, Richards, and Callahan).  Truth be told, if the game had five stars awarded would any of the Caps have earned any of them?  Eight?  Ten?

In the end… Don’t let the score fool you.  The Rangers are not an explosive team.  They are opportunistic, and when they get an advantage leave the details to Henrik Lundqvist.  That makes the final score seem closer than it was.  A couple of wide open chances for Joel Ward aside, were the Caps really all that close to scoring a goal in this game?  From our chair, no.  Some of that is Lundqvist, but the Caps didn’t make it all that hard on him, either. 

The Caps are 2-0-0 against the province of Alberta, 0-5-0 against the rest of North America.   As far as this game was concerned, watching the House vote on C-SPAN to reopen the Federal government was more thrilling.  Going forward with this team, it is nothing but questions.  Are they trying too hard to force the offense through Ovechkin?  Does the second line work?  Will Marcus Johansson ever take another shot on goal?  Would anyone notice if Martin Erat ducked out and went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half smoke?  Can the Caps schedule more games against teams from Alberta? 

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Rangers at Capitals, October 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One in a row!  The Washington Capitals became the 27th team in the NHL this season to win a hockey game without the benefit of trick shots when they defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2, on Monday night.  Now, they get a chance to face another team with only one win in the hockey portion of hockey games when the New York Rangers come to town to face the Caps in the third game of Washington’s five-game home stand on Wednesday. 

As the legendary former manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and the Cleveland Indians might have put it, “OK, you won a game yesterday. If you win today, it's called "two in a row". And if you win again on Saturday, it's called a "winning streak"... It has happened before!”

Well, before you win three for that “winning streak,” you have to win two, and that means besting the Rangers, who have found the adjustment from John Tortorella to Alain Vigneault behind the Ranger bench difficult, to say the least.

The adjustment has been most difficult, it seems, in a place most unexpected – in goal.  Then again, that might not be a function of the coach.  Maybe it is just coincidence, but the changes in goaltender equipment (shaving length off their leg pads, for example) and the reduction in the footprint of the goal has coincided with some fluffy numbers for Henrik Lundqvist. 

He has been pulled from one game, gave up four or more goals in two others, and that’s just in four starts (he has five appearances).  Overall he is 1-3-0, but worse is his goals against average (4.21, 44th among 46 qualifying goaltenders) and save percentage (.887, 36th among those same goalies).  He has been worse early in games, sporting a .875 save percentage in the first period of games, .851 in the second period.  In 12 periods of play Lundqvist has allowed goals in nine of them.

What it means is that the Rangers are, uncharacteristically, dead last in the NHL in scoring defense (5.00 goals/game).  Not that their offense has been much, if any, better.  Only two teams – Philadelphia and Buffalo – have a worse scoring offense than the Rangers (1.80/game).

Making it worse is that the Rangers have had to do this living out of suitcases, so to speak.  New York will be visiting Washington for the sixth game of a nine-game road trip to start the season.  New York to Phoenix to Los Angeles to San Jose to Anaheim (what, they couldn’t at least schedule Los Angeles and Anaheim next to one another?) to St. Louis to Washington.  That is a shade over 5,400 miles.  They ARE their own spin off of “Airport 24/7: Miami” on Travel Channel.  

Here is how the teams compare in their respective numbers to date:

1.  You think the Caps have even-strength issues?  The Rangers have four even-strength goals in five games, and Brad Richards has three of them.  You would probably go through a lot of names until you guessed that Derek Dorsett has the other one.

2.  Another point, so to speak, about the Rangers at even strength.  Their defensemen have combined for one even strength point – an assist for Anton Stralman.  Marc Staal has a power play goal, Ryan McDonagh has a shorthanded goal.

3.  The Rangers have yet to play a one-goal game.  All four of their losses have been by at least two goals, and no team has more losses by three or more goals (three).

4.  If the Rangers are trailing, they are losing.  Three times they trailed at the end of 20 minutes, three times they lost.  Four times they trailed at the second intermission, four times they lost.

5.  The Rangers tend to lose discipline late.  Only two teams – Los Angeles and Philadelphia – have spent more times shorthanded in the third period than the ten times the Rangers have found themselves short in five games.

1.  Mike Green does not have a goal through six games.  This might not sound like much, he being a defenseman and all, but it is the first time he has gone this long without a goal to start the season since the 2010-2011 season, a seven-game streak that is the longest of his career.

2.  In the “you do what you have to do” file, you might expect that Troy Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson would lead the Caps’ forwards in hits.  Would you have expected Martin Erat to be fourth?

3.  The Caps have been awarded as many power play opportunities in the third period of games (11) as they have in the first and second periods combined.  They are 2-for-5 in the first period, 3-for-6 in the second, and 3-for-11 in the third.  On the other side, the Caps are 7-for-8 killing penalties in the first period of games, 6-for-9 in the second period, and 5-for-5 in the third.

4.  It is one thing to lead your team in shots, but Alex Ovechkin has almost as many shots on goal (42) as the next four Capitals combined (47, divided among Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mikhail Grabovski).

5.  Braden Holtby has a post-season history against the Rangers well known to Caps fans: 6-8, 2.05, .925, and one shutout in two seven-game series.  His career regular season record against New York looks a lot the same: 2-2-1, 1.93, .942.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York:  Jesper Fast

Elias Lindholm, Nathan MacKinnon, Will Acton.  Three games, three players getting their first NHL goal against the Capitals.  Tell us who is up next, Peerless?  Well, it’s Jesper Fast.  With Rick Nash on the shelf with a concussion suffered last week against San Jose, the 2010 sixth round pick has had an opportunity to make an impression with the big club.  It has been something of a whirlwind tour for the 21-year old.  A year ago at this time he was skating for HV71-Jönköping in the Swedish Elite League (now the Swedish Hockey League) where he led the club in goals with 18.  It was the culmination of progressively higher goal totals over his four years at the elite league level, a feat he also achieved when he played for HV71-Jönköping/Junior, finishing with 23 goals in 37 games in 2009-2010.  That Fast might score a goal in this game would not necessarily be surprising, just annoying.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

The Capitals are not especially deep on the left side of their defense.  After Karl Alzner, it’s something of a crap shoot.  Jack Hillen…injured.  John Erskine..hurt.  Alexander Urbom…new.  Dmitry Orlov…pink eye.  Of such things opportunities are born, and one has presented itself for Nate Schmidt. At this time last season Schmidt was starting his last season as a defenseman with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, one in which he would be named a second-team All-American after going 9-23-32 in 40 games.  Schmidt then skated five games for the Hershey Bears in the AHL playoffs and skated in the opener of the 2013-2014 season for the Bears (notching a goal in a 4-3 loss) before being called up to the Caps.  In two games he has averaged a little more than 17 minutes a game and leads the team in shots per game from the blue line. He has not looked out of place.  Yes, small sample size, but one has to start somewhere.


1.  Early savers pay late dividends.  Through six games, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have a combined save percentage of .848 in the first period.  That number speaks for itself.  The Caps are spending too much time behind the eight-ball.  Against a team that has a total of three first period goals (only Buffalo has fewer), here is the chance for one of them to lift that number.

2.  Rhythm. Neither the first nor second line have established any rhythm at even strength.  Alex Ovechkin (42) has three times as many shots on goal as Nicklas Backstrom (11) and Marcus Johanson (3), suggesting that too much of the offense is being funneled through Ovechkin.  The second line, well, they just have not established anything.  Only Florida has allowed more goals at 5-on-5 than the Rangers.  Here is a chance for these scoring line guys to establish more rhythm.

3.  The early bird catches the WORM in goal.  If by “WORM” you mean “wobbly, oddly rickety man” in goal.  Yes, that would be Henrik Lundqvist, the five-time Vezina Trophy finalist (winner in 2012) and bane of the Caps’ existence in the last two playoffs years.  As noted above, in five appearances he has a save percentage of .875 in the first period of games and a .851 save percentage in the second period of games.  One can wait until the third period to capitalize on his iffy play at one’s peril; he has a .974 save percentage in the last three third periods in which he appeared.

In the end…

Elliotte Friedman said this in his “30 Thoughts” for this week…
“From 2005-06 through 2011-12, just three of 32 teams who were four points out of a playoff position on November 1 recovered to make it.”  

That is a rather stark way of saying, “you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October, but you can lose it.”  The Caps stopped the bleeding when they beat Edmonton on Monday.  Now, they have to bloody some other folks.  The Rangers are swimming in quicksand at the moment. They can’t score, they can’t stop anyone from scoring, and that road trip is looking mighty long at this point.

Capitals 5 – Rangers 3