Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 12: Capitals at Canucks, October 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end the western leg of their five-game road trip with a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, a city often mentioned among the highest-quality, most scenic, and most livable cities in the world.  And to think, it was once named “Gastown,” named for a saloon owner, Jack “Gassy” Deighton, back in the 1860’s.

What it is these days, along with being a tourism and shipping center, is the home of one of the more entertaining, if frustrating hockey teams in the NHL.  Over the last 12 seasons the Canucks reached the playoffs ten times, but advanced past the second round only once, a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011.  Since that Stanley Cup finals appearance the Canucks have been one-and-done in the playoffs twice, leading to a change behind the bench for the 2013-2014 season.

John Tortorella takes his unique brand of homey charm and aw-shucks demeanor from Manhattan, where he spent four-plus seasons leading the New York Rangers, to the furthest reaches of the NHL northwest.

The Canucks are not like the Tampa Bay Lightning he took over in 2000, a team that managed only 54 points in the season before his arrival, or the 2008-2009 Rangers, a team that was sinking out of playoff contention with a 2-7-3 record in the dozen games before his arrival.  Before last season the Canucks had won more than 40 games in nine of ten seasons, and in last year’s 48-game season were on a pace for 44 wins.  This is an accomplished group in the regular season (sound familiar?).

What the Caps are getting in this game is another team returning home after a long road trip.  Just as they faced Calgary after the Flames finished up a five-game road trip, the Caps will get the Canucks returning home after a seven-game road trip, one on which they went 5-1-1.  It was not as dominating a trip as the record would suggest.  Five of the games were one-goal decisions, and another featured an empty net goal in what would be a 3-1 loss to Columbus.  Four of the games went to extra time, including the last three, all of them Vancouver wins.

The trip might have served the purpose of getting the bad taste out of their mouths from bad home cooking early on.  The Canucks have played only four home games thus far and have only one win in regulation time, that coming in their home opener, a 6-2 win over Edmonton on October 8th.  Here are the teams numbers to date, lined up for your edification...

1.  Vancouver spread their scoring around on their seven game road trip – 18 different skaters recorded points.  Ryan Kesler led the Canucks in goals with six (6-3-9), while Henrik Sedin led the team in assists with seven (2-7-9).

2.  One thing the Canucks got on their 5-1-1 road trip was solid goaltending.  Roberto Luongo was 4-0-1, 2.12, .920, and one shutout.  Eddie Lack was 1-1-0, 1.94, .923.

3.  Vancouver does not finish games particularly strong, at least on offense.  They have only eight third period goals in 13 games.  Only five teams have scored fewer third period goals per game, and none of them are in the playoff rung of the standings.

4. The flip side of that is that Vancouver has the fourth best record in the league when allowing the game’s first goal (5-3-0).  That they have done it eight times in 13 games might be of some concern to Canuck fans.

5.  Last season the Canucks finished 27th in the league in blocked shots.  At the moment they are tied for fourth.  Think their new head coach has anything to do with that?

1.  The even strength woes continue for the Caps – 21st in Corsi for(close) %, 28th in Fenwick for (close) %  (source:

2.  Among Capitals defensemen so far this season, would it surprise you that Mike Green has the second lowest offensive/defensive zone start percentage (48.9 percent; John Erskine has 40.8 percent; source:

3.  Second Line Blues… In 5-on-5 close situations, Mikhail Grabovski, who started out centering  the second line but now centers the third line, has the highest PDO on the club (1109).  Troy Brouwer is second (1036).  Brooks Laich, who started the year on the left side of the second line and is now its center, has a 968 PDO (source:

4.  More on that even strength thing… only Edmonton and the New York Islanders have allowed more 5-on-5 goals than the Caps.

5.  In their last seven visits to Vancouver the Caps are 1-5-1 and have been outscored, 32-16.  Their last win took place on Valentine’s Day 2001, a 4-3 overtime win.  How long ago is that? Adam Oates had two goals (including the game-winner 41 seconds into overtime), and Calle Johansson added another.  Olaf Kolzig got the win in goal.  All are coaches with the Caps now.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Jason Garrison

Over the past three seasons, only Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson have more goals among NHL defensemen than Jason Garrison.  And, he is not shy about shooting the puck.  In an October 12th game against the Montreal Canadiens he recorded ten shots on goal, the 13th defenseman to do so since the 2004-2005 lockout.  The thing is, though, in seven games since he has a combined total of 11 shots on goal.  Maybe his arms are still tired.  In 13 career games against the Caps he is 0-3-3, minus-4 (all with the Florida Panthers).

Washington: Pick-a-Goalie

Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have a combined 40 minutes of career experience against the Canucks, all of it by Neuvirth.  It was not pleasant.  On October 29, 2011, Neuvirth took over for starter Tomas Vokoun at the start of the second period in what was already a 3-1 Canuck lead in Vancouver.  Neuvirth allowed four goals on 26 shots in 40 minutes of work in the 7-4 Capitals loss.  The question for tonight's game is whether Neuvirth gets his first start since October 12th (a 5-1 loss to Colorado) or head coach Adam Oates puts Holtby back between the pipes after pulling him (to Holtby’s chagrin) mid-way through the first period against Calgary on Saturday.


1.  First things first.  The Caps problems start in the first period.  They have been outscored, 12-6, in the first period of games this season.  Vancouver, on the other hand, has allowed 13 first period goals in 13 games. 

2.  More Power!  The Caps have gone seven power plays without a goal, a long stretch for them in this young season.  Vancouver has allowed power play goals in each of their last three games (55.6 percent penalty kill) and four of their last five (72.2 percent).

3.  Clean Sedin.  Daniel and Henrik Sedin both recorded points in nine of 13 Canuck games so far this season.  Vancouver is 7-2-0 in those games.  Keeping them clean on the score sheet could be a tall order, at least as far as keeping Henrik off the board is concerned.  He has points in 12 of 13 games.  Only San Jose has blanked him.  In fact, the Sharks are the only club to date to keep both Sedins off the score sheet in a game this season so far.

In the end… This is not unlike the run-up to the Redskins/Broncos game this week.  On paper, it is a steep climb for the Caps.  They have a poor track record in Vancouver, they are in their fourth game of a long road trip, and there are nagging problems that continue to hound this team, ones that are sometimes hidden behind an effective power play.  On paper, one would have to think the Canucks would be a solid favorite.  Yeah, well, if games were played on paper, the Redskins would have a half dozen Lombardi Trophies by now.

Capitals 3 – Canucks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 4

It could have been a magical week for the Washington Capitals.  A five-game road trip that started with three games in the prairie provinces of Canada – an inhospitable environment for the boys of the District of Columbia – began with two wins and ended with a thud.

Record: 2-1-0

In the 38 years that the Washington Capitals have been playing hockey, they have never won the trifecta of Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary on the same road trip.  Granted, it has not been a frequent occurrence, playing all three on the same trip, but when the Caps beat Winnipeg, 5-4, in a Gimmick, then Edmonton, 4-1, it looked promising.  Then the Caps dropped a 5-2 decision to Calgary on Saturday, and it made it the sixth trip through the three cities without a sweep in franchise history. 

The loss mattered.  With a win the Caps would have finished the week in second place in the Metropolitan Division, only two points behind Pittsburgh.  As it is they are tied for fourth with Columbus and tied for third among teams in the wild card standings.

Offense: 3.33/game (season: 2.73 / T-17th)

The good thing to say about the week is that the Caps were efficient.  Ten goals on 87 shots made for 11.5 percent shooting.  The bad, or at least the less good, was that the Caps had only those 87 shots on goal in nine periods plus an overtime worth of hockey.  Washington has had fewer than 30 shots on goal in five of their last nine games and four of their last six.

The story is in the headline scorers.  Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5), Marcus Johansson (0-4-4), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) were their dominant selves in the wins over Winnipeg and Edmonton.  They did not have a point in the loss to Calgary.  Then there is the curious case of Mike Green.  The defenseman recorded his first even-strength point of the season in the loss to the Flames (a secondary assist).  He is now 11 games and counting without a goal.  He is not yet close to his 25 game streak without a goal in an injury-hampered 2011-2012 season (his most recent lengthy streak without a goal), but it is a concern.

In other news, Aaron Volpatti recorded his first goal as a Cap, and Nate Schmidt had his first NHL point, both coming on the Caps’ second goal in their 5-2 loss to Calgary.

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.18 / 26th)

When Braden Holtby stormed off the ice after being pulled 12:50 into the game against Calgary after giving up three goals on 14 shots, it was a statement bigger than the moment.  The Caps have been getting by on offense and penalty killing lately.  Their even-strength defense stinks.  Too many shots are making their way to the goalie.  In the three games this week the Caps were outshot 86-68 at even strength.  Against Calgary it was 12-6 in the first period.  Overall only four teams are allowing more shots per game than the Caps – 33.9/game, more than ten more than top-ranked Minnesota (23.0).  Only once this season have the Caps allowed fewer shots in a single game than what Minnesota allows on average.

Goaltending: 3.25 GAA / .910 save percentage (season: 3.07 / .909)

Braden Holtby started the week pretty much where he left off the previous week, facing high shot volumes and stopping a large percentage of them.  He ended Week 3 facing 74 shots in his last two games and stopping all but three of them (.959 save percentage).  In his first two games this week he stopped 73 of 78 shots (.936), 57 of 59 he faced at even strength (.966).  The Calgary happened.  The Flames scored on their second shot of the game, 64 seconds in, and did not let up.  They had five shots on goal on a power play, all of which Holtby turned aside, but it was merely prelude.  By the time he was pulled 12:50 into the game he allowed three goals on nine even strength shots, leaving him with a 3.49 goals against average for the week and a .913 save percentage.

Michal Neuvirth came in to clean up the mess that the Caps’ skaters left for Holtby against Calgary, and he did pretty well…to start.  He stopped the first 15 shots he faced, from 13:07 in the first period, when he faced his first shot, until 10:11 of the third, when he faced his 15th.  It kept the Caps in the game.  Then it fell apart.  Of a faceoff win by the Flames, Mike Cammalleri circled around the far edge of the right wing faceoff circle, but being a left handed shot, he had to turn his body to get the puck on his forehand to shoot.  He had the time to do this, which he put to good use, firing a low shot that got tangled in Neuvirth’s pads as he was hugging the near post.  Having lost sight of the puck, Neuvirth knelt to prevent an attempt to poke it in, but all he succeeded in doing was to kick the puck into his own net with his right skate at 10:17 of the period.  Game.

Power Play: 1-11 /  9.1 percent (season: 26.8 percent / rank: 3rd)

It was not a good week for the man advantage.  In fact, the only worse week so far was one in which the Caps played only two games (Week 2) and went 0-for-7.  They had opportunities (11 in three games), they had the right people taking the shots (Ovechkin and Green with five apiece, Backstrom with four).  They just did not convert.  It happens.  One goal on 16 shots (6.25 percent) in 19:08 in total power play time. 

It was too much power play time spent ineffectively, and it contributed to the week’s results because the Caps are so dependent on it for success.  They were 1-0 in games in which they scored a power play goal, 1-1 when they did not.  For the season they are 4-2-0 in games in which they score on the man advantage, 1-4-0 when they do not.

Penalty Killing: 9-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 89.2 percent / rank: 2nd)

Who would have thought penalty killing would be the strength of this team eleven games into the season?  The Caps were a perfect 9-for-9 for the week, their second consecutive perfect 9-for-9 week.  It was part of what is a string of 19 straight penalty kills, and counting.  It was not an especially efficient path to success.  The Caps allowed 18 shots on goal in 15:57 of power play time, but effectiveness trumps efficiency.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 9-9 (season: 19-29; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio rank: 24th)

It would have been a really good week, but for the loss to Calgary in which all the goals scored were of the even strength variety.  Still, getting outshot in two of the three games by wide margins (37-24 by Winnipeg and 25-20 by Calgary) suggests more work needs to be done here.  The margin for the week – 86-68 against – was not a lot different than it was the previous week (91-67 against).  The Caps are just not getting enough pressure at even strength and are allowing too much of it in their own end.

Faceoffs: 81-for-191 /42.4 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 18th)

Things happen for a reason.  The Caps were outshot, 111-87, for the week, and they lost the faceoff battle, 110-81.  Maybe it was coincidence, maybe not.  But you cannot score unless you shoot, you cannot shoot if you do not have the puck, and cannot have the puck with regularity if you are failing to secure it in hockey’s most basic play, the faceoff.  It was not quite as bad as it seemed, since the Caps only lost the week by a 54-63 margin in the ends (27-47 in the neutral zone).

Breaking it down further, the scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich – were a combined 17-33 in the offensive zone.  The defensive centers (and for the moment Mikhail Grabovski qualifies along with Eric Fehr) were 18-for-36.  If there was one player who stood out, albeit in a negative way, it was Brooks Laich, who was 4-for-19 on neutral zone draws.  Grabovski was not much better, going only 3-for-11 in offensive zone draws.  It was a frustrating week in the circle.

Goals For/Against by Period:

Early starts continue to be a problem.  It was another losing, if close week in the first period, the Caps allowing three while scoring two.  But by week’s end, only five teams had fewer first period goals scored than the Caps, and they are being outscored, 12-6, in the first period of games so far this season.  It is especially frustrating in that the Caps managed five goals in the second period of games and have scored more middle frame goals than all but three teams. The second period is the only period they are winning on a season-wide basis, going plus-3 through 11 games while going minus-6 in the first and minus-3 in the third.

In the end…

Mike Cammalleri is a nice player, but his showing up for the Flames on Saturday after missing the first game of the season series (a Calgary loss) was hardly the difference in the 5-2 Flames win.  The Caps just did not bring their “A” game to the rink (or their “B” or “C” games).  It was more their “D” game…”D” for “damned sloppy,” especially in their own end.  It was the difference between a great week and a vaguely disappointing one, even with the 2-1-0 result on the road.  The reason for that is that the underlying problems plaguing this team are still there, primarily those associated with their play at even strength.  What it has meant – and meant this week – is that if the Caps do not score on their power play, they are not likely to win.  That is not a long-term formula for success.

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 11: Flames 5 - Capitals 2

In a season that lasts 82 games, not every evening is going to be beer and skittles.  The Washington Capitals saw their modest three-game winning streak come to an end in Calgary on Saturday night, falling to the Flames, 5-2.

Calgary scored early (64 seconds into the game on a wrist shot by Kris Russell), late (Curtis Glencross finishing off a 2-on-1 with 5:32 left), and often in between (Jiri Hudler getting one and Mike Cammalleri potting a pair) to overwhelm both Capitals goaltenders and send the Caps off in a grumpy mood.

The Caps never knew what hit them.  Calgary outshot the Caps, 8-0, in the first 4:25 and had a 1-0 lead.  By the time the Flames took a 2-0 lead 7:24 into the game they had an 11-2 edge in shots.  Even when the Caps showed the slightest spark of life, when Jason Chimera halved the lead 12 minutes into the first period, Calgary had the answer, restoring their two goal lead 48 seconds later on the first of Cammalleri’s two goals.

Washington would make it close once more, but that in itself was misleading. Aaron Volpatti recorded his first goal as a Cap. However, given that the top two lines were being held in check, it would be far from enough.  Calgary added the last two goals while the Caps were left quiet in the last half of the contest.

Other stuff…

--  Well, someone got his first goal as a Cap.  We prognosticated it would be Tom Wilson, but it was Volpatti instead.  Wilson, who skated more than 11 minutes in Edmonton on Thursday, got only 4:40 in this one with but a single shift in the third period.

-- It is not often that the Caps are led in shots on goal by someone other than Alex Ovechkin, but such was the case against Calgary. Jason Chimera had six shots on goal.  Ovechkin had five among his 15 shot attempts.

-- Mike Green was paired with Nate Schmidt again.  The pairing did not work as well as it did against Edmonton on Thursday.  Green and Schmidt were on ice for three of the Flames’ five goals.  Green has been on ice for 13 of the 29 even strength goals scored against Washington.  It dimmed just a bit Schmidt’s first NHL point, earned on Volpatti’s first goal as a Cap.

-- Congratulations, Aaron…now, you’ll only get only two more shifts the rest of the game.

-- The second line had one shot on goal (Troy Brouwer) and only three shot attempts.

-- It’s not like the third was a whole lot better.  Every shot attempt came off the stick of Jason Chimera (seven, six of them on goal, one in the net).  Joel Ward and Mikhail Grabovski played a combined 31 minutes without a shot attempt.

-- Marcus Johansson had the quietest 20 minutes of ice time imaginable for a first liner.  No shots, no shot attempts, one hit, one giveaway, one faceoff taken.

-- Note for future reference… give Braden Holtby a baseball cap against Calgary.  Holtby has a .760 save percentage in 29 minutes of work against the Flames this season over two games.  He has a save percentage of .927 against everyone else.  He came off the ice hot and with a few choice words about the decision to pull him as he was heading down the hallway, but after heads cool, folks will figure out it was hardly about him and all about what was in front of him, which was a mess.

-- Getting outscored, 3-1, in the first period means that the Caps have been outscored in the first period of games this season, 12-6.

-- The Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play, leaving them 1-4-0 in games in which they do not score a power play goal (4-2-0 when they do score on the power play).

-- Did Calgary go into a shell in the third period?  The Flames had only 12 shot attempts in the last 20 minutes.  Scoring on two of them just added to the despair.

-- Nicklas Backstrom, DDS, performed an exodontia procedure in the second period, removing his own tooth after taking a puck in the chops. 

In the end, the Caps stunk.  You have a better term for it?  Another poor first period, another instance of letting their goalie hang out to dry, another uneven level of effort from the forward lines (if, by “uneven,” one means a range of “little” to “microscopic”).  Maybe it was a case of nonchalance born out of the knowledge that they came back from an 0-3 deficit against this same team barely three weeks ago.  Whatever it was, the Caps looked as if they left their game in Edmonton.  They had the look of a team unprepared mentally to take the ice, and it was mindset they never escaped over the next 60 minutes.  They had better find their game in short order, or their visit to Vancouver will be even more unpleasant.