Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Senators at Capitals, November 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, when all through the city
Not a creature was stirring, not even the turkey
The stuffing was ready, the bird nice and plump,
With hopes that the gravy had nary a lump.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of mince pie danced in their heads.
And Feerless in his slippers, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a late autumn nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon shining bright on a blanket of leaves
That I spent all day long trying hard to retrieve.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a goofy lookin’ guy who was holding a beer.

With a big ol’ belt buckle, and one missing tooth,
He looked as if he’d been a taker in a highway toll booth.
His gait was unsteady, his eyes a bit glassy
He belched and he scratched, and he seemed a bit gassy.

"Now Fearless! Now Peerless!”
Sounding like a bullfrog.
With his hand on his hips he croaked,
“Hey! Get on with the blog!”

Leave it to Cheerless to get in the Thanksgiving spirit in his own unique way.  And speaking of Thanksgiving, the Washington Capitals take the ice at Verizon Center to host the Ottawa Senators in their traditional Turkey Day Eve contest, because nothing says “Thanksgiving” like men on skates wielding sticks.

Be that as it may, the Senators come into this game in something of a giving mood, themselves.  They arrive in Washington with a 1-4-0 record in their last five games, following up their only win in this stretch – a 4-2 win in Detroit – with a thud, a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sometimes, losing four out of five is pretty simple to explain.  In this case, the Senators cannot score (11 goals in five games) and cannot keep the other guys from scoring (19 goals allowed).  They cannot hold a lead – twice in their four losses they scored first and took a lead into the first intermission.  They did passably well in the first period (5-4 in goals scored/allowed), but they were killed in the second and third periods, outscored by 8-1 in the second period and by a 7-5 margin in the third period of those five games. 

On a team with Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza, it might seem a bit odd that over the five games Ottawa’s leading goal scorer would be Clarke MacArthur, but there it is.  MacArthur has three goals in the five games, Kyle Turris with two, those being the only goals the Senators scored in their 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on November 19th.  Ryan and Spezza each have a goal in this five-game slump.

The goaltending has been a mixed bag in the 1-4-0 run.  On the one hand there is Craig Anderson.  Talk about regression.  Last season Anderson had a 1.69 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.  He was the only goalie in the last 30 years to play in at least 24 games and have a save percentage over .940 and a goals against average under 1.70.  Nice while it lasted.  This year he has a goals against average almost double last year’s (3.31) and a save percentage of .900.  He appeared twice in the 1-4-0 run, lost both games, and saved only 39 of 47 shots faced (.830).  He could not even point to having to face large shot volumes.

Robin Lehner has fared better in this recent run.  He has the lone win and has a .920 save percentage in his three appearances in the Senators’ last five games.  The trouble here, though, is that he faced high shot volumes, a total of 113 in all and not less than 36 in any of his three appearances.  For the Senators lately, it was one goalie who could not deal with the good fortune of low shot volumes, and another performing well but asked to bear too large a burden in doing so.

Technical issues keep us from presenting images so let's go to the Take 5 for each club...

Take 5 -- Ottawa

1.  The oddest statistic of all over the 1-4-0 stretch for the Senators might be that they allowed goals in 13 of 15 periods. They scored at least one goal in eight of them.

2.  The Senators struggled with possession over their 1-4-0 run.  At 5-on-5 their Corsi-for percentage is 47.7, while their Fenwick-for percentage is 47.9.  But, with small sample sizes come odd results.  Ottawa was over 60 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 and over 56 percent in Fenwick in a 4-3 trick shot loss to Minnesota.  In their lone win, the numbers were 37.3 percent Corsi-for and 39.2 percent Fenwick-for.

3.  The Senators find themselves behind the eight-ball early and often.  Only two teams have allowed more first period goals than the Senators (27).  Only three teams have allowed the first goal of the game more often than Ottawa (16 times), and they are 4-9-3 in those games.

4.  Once upon a time, the Senators were a high-flying, high-octane bunch.  Back in 2005-2006 the Senators had Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza all finish with more than 90 points.  The following year only Heatley had more than 90 points, but Alfredsson and Spezza were close with 87 apiece.  That team went to the Stanley Cup finals.  This team is different.  Ottawa is second in the league in hits. That might be a subjective statistic, but penalties are not, and the Senators have been whistled for more minor penalties than any other club, and no team has found itself shorthanded more often than Ottawa (107).

5.  Only one team in the league has outshot its opponents less frequently than Ottawa.  The Senators accomplished that feat only six times in 24 games with a 2-4-0 record.  Buffalo is 0-3-0 in three instances.

Take 5 -- Washington

1.  As any Caps fan knows by now, if Alex Ovechkin gets seven goals in his next five games, he will accomplish a unique “50-in-50” – 50 goals in 50 games, “The Ovechkin Run.”  Lost in the discussion is that if he does it, he will have passed Mike Gartner to jump into second place in goals scored in franchise history.  Gartner had 397 career goals with the Caps, Ovechkin has 391.  He certainly could make a dent in that effort against Ottawa; he has 19 goals in 29 career games against the Senators.

2.  Odd even-strength stat… At 5-on-5 overall the Caps have the 14th best save percentage in the league.  Take that down a level, to 5-on-5 close situations, and the Caps are tied for 23rd in save percentage. 

3.  Do power plays matter?  In November, perhaps not so much.  The Caps are 4-1-1 when scoring a power play goal in November, 3-2-1 when they did not.

4.  How about killing penalties.  Maybe not here, either.  The Caps are 3-1-0 when killing off all of their shorthanded situations in November, 4-2-2 when they do not.

5.  Now, 5-on-5?  That matters in November so far.  The Caps are 6-0-2 in games in which they were even or plus at 5-on-5, 1-3-0 in games in which they were on the minus side of 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Bobby Ryan

When the Ottawa Senators traded Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan, the Senators were getting a player with a 30-goal pedigree, having topped that mark in each of his four full seasons in the NHL.  He had a bit of a hiccup last season with 11 goals in 46 games (a 20-goal pace), but when he started this season with 10 goals in his first 19 games he was back on pace for another 30-plus goal season (43 goals, actually).  However, in this 1-4-0 run the Senators are on, Ryan has only one goal, although it was the game-winner in Ottawa’s 4-2 win over Detroit last week.  Part of it is getting shots to the net.  Over his first 19 games Ryan had 54 shots on goal (2.84/game), but in his last five games he has only ten shots on goal and was held off the shots score sheet for the only time this season Ottawa’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota a week ago.  He is 3-2-5, minus-4 in five career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich played in all 82 games of the 2011-2012 season, just as he did in 2010-2011, 2008-2009, and 2007-2008.  He established himself as a reasonably reliable second-tier scorer whose value to the team was as much his versatility as it was his scoring.  Last year, though, he was limited to nine games as a result of injury during the lockout.  Putting that together with his 24 games played this season, Laich is 4-5-9, minus-8 in his last 33 games.  That is a 10-12-22, minus-20 per-82 game pace.  It is also not what the Caps had in mind when Laich signed a six-year/27 million contract extension with the club in June 2011.  With Martin Erat’s future with the club now in question, the spotlight shines a bit more brightly on Laich as a secondary scorer and reliable defender.  He has been neither so far this season, but if the Caps are going to have meaningful games in April, May, and (one hopes) June, he will have to become both once again.  He is 5-9-14, plus-1 in 26 games against Ottawa over his career.


1.  Hit the ice skating.  Too often the Caps start slow and find themselves having to claw back into games.  It makes for long games with a lot of effort expended making up deficits. 

2.  Seal off the blue line.  Everyone knows that Erik Karlsson is a talented offensive defenseman for the Senators.  But Ottawa has five defensemen with at least five points this season (the Cap have three).  Patrick Wiercioch and Chris Phillips do not have any goals, but they have 15 assists between them.  Ottawa has an active blue line.

3.  Make the blue line play defense.  Part of dealing with the blue line is making them accountable in their own end.  The Senators have allowed 35.8 shots per game. Only Buffalo has allowed more.  If forced to defend, Ottawa struggles.

In the end…

The Caps are looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since starting the 2012-2013 season 0-3-1.  That should be motivation enough, but making things more interesting is the fact that four teams are within four points of the Caps for second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.  After climbing out of the 2-5-0 hole they dug to open the season to go 10-3-1 in their next 14 games, extending the losing streak to four games would undo a lot of good work done to get themselves into second place in the division.  Against a team that has struggled over much of the season and that has issues in its own end, there is no excuse for the Caps heading into Thanksgiving with a bad taste in their mouths.

Capitals 5 – Senators 2

Note:  We will be away from the blog until Sunday fulfilling our holiday duties, so have a happy Thanksgiving everybody.