Sunday, December 15, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 33: Capitals 5 - Flyers 4 (OT/Gimmick)

Well, the Washington Capitals certainly give their fans their money’s worth.  For the third straight game and 11th time this season, the Capitals went to the limit, settling their contest with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Gimmick and making another comeback worth the effort with a 5-4 win.

It looked really grim in the third period.  The Flyers, if not painstakingly, at least persistently got out to a 4-1 lead.  They did it with four unanswered goals after Washington drew first blood (it would not be the only blood drawn this evening).  Alex Ovechkin scored his 27th goal of the season on a goal originally credited to Marcus Johansson. 

On a power play, Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from John Carlson along the right wing wall.  Backstrom walked the puck down the wall, then found Ovechkin on a cross-ice pass.  From the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin sent what looked to be a pass to the goal mouth on a set play, Johansson stepping out from beneath the goal line to goalie Steve Mason’s left.  The pass did not get through, clipping defenseman Kimmo Timonen’s stick and deflecting past Mason.

After that it was all Flyers, or rather “no Caps.”  The team had little life in it over large chunks of the next 40 minutes.  The Flyers scored late in the first period, a score by Claude Giroux left open in the high slot, in the last minute of the period to tie the game.

The Flyers took the lead in the second period when the Caps were baited into a bad turnover.  Karl Alzner tried to find Nicklas Backstrom on a long lead pass through the middle.  However, Mark Streit was lurking at the red line and stepped up to intercept the pass.  He took fed the puck ahead to Michael Raffl, who touch-passed it right back to Streit hitting the blue line.  Streit stepped up and wristed a shot under goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left arm.

That was how the game went to the third period, but the Flyers added two goals in quick fashion.  Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek scored 1:14 apart to give the Flyers a 4-1 cushion, and it looked as if the competitive portion of the evening was over (certainly we did).

Even when Mike Green stepped around Matt Read high in the offensive zone and wristed a shot high over Mason’s right shoulder at 11:20 to cut the margin to 4-2, it looked a bit like window dressing.  But then something odd happened.  Joel Ward won a faceoff, Eric Fehr dug it out and fed Dmitry Orlov, and Orlov one timed a rocket past Mason to get the Caps to within a goal.  That had the joint rocking, because at that point, one almost knew what was coming.

It did.

With the clock ticking under a minute left in regulation and Philipp Grubauer on the bench for the extra attacker, Mike Green fired the puck in deep behind the Flyers’ net.  Mason circled around to play the puck, but the puck squirted past the blade of his stick.  He managed to retrieve it, but his timing was now off.  He swung the puck around to the corner where the puck took an odd bounce off the boards and onto the stick of Joel Ward.  From the low left wing circle Ward threw the puck out to Green, but Alex Ovechkin jumped past Green, took the puck and wristed a knuckleball that eluded Mason, who could not scramble back to the net and square himself up for the shot in time. 

The goal capped a furious – certainly more furious than the second period and half of the third – comeback for the Caps, who stole a point they had no business stealing.  They secured the other one when Eric Fehr and Claude Giroux exchanged trick shot goals, then Nicklas Backstrom snapped a shot past Mason’s left pad.  That left it up to Grubauer, who denied Sean Couturier and sent the Caps fans off into the cold night with a warm glow in their hearts.

Other stuff…

-- Dmitry Orlov gives something the Caps have lacked – a big shot from the left side.  Mike Green is more the pitcher who uses guile and changes of speed, while John Carlson has a big shot.  Both are right-handed, though.  Orlov provides a balance that the Caps are not going to have with Karl Alzner and John Erskine out there.  Those two have their values, but making goalies quake is not among them.

-- On Orlov’s goal, watch Nicklas Grossmann playing defense for the Flyers.  From the faceoff to the goal, he never moved an inch and ended up screening his own goaltender.

-- On Ovechkin’s second, game-tying goal, if he isn’t as “selfish” as he is reputed to be, snaking past Mike Green to jump on the puck and fire it, do the Caps tie the game? 

-- With two goals, Alex Ovechkin takes over second place in franchise history.  He has 399 goals, breaking the tie he had with Mike Gartner for second place all-time.  Peter Bondra is the franchise leader with 472 goals.

-- How “furious” was the comeback?  The Caps registered 14 shots in the first and second periods, combined.  They had 16 shots on goal in the third period.

-- The Caps won 11 of 14 defensive zone draws (78.6 percent).  That’s pretty good.  Overall, Michael Latta was the only Cap under 50 percent on draws (2-for-5). 

-- Mikhail Grabovski was a late scratch with flu-like symptoms.  So let’s see…the Flyers couldn’t beat the Caps with Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup (the 7-0 loss on November 1st), and they couldn’t win this game with Grabovski out and Jay Beagle serving as second line center.  Flyer fans must be irked.

-- Speaking of Beagle… 12:32, two shots, three hits, six wins on ten faceoffs.  That’s good for a fourth-line center.  It’s not bad for a third-line center.  Those are roles Beagle can fill and fill with some effectiveness.  It is not a winning production line for a second line center.  

-- That's the above-the-clouds view.  Down on the ice, the faceoff win that Eric Fehr dug out to get to Dmitry Orlov for a goal was a win by Beagle.  You do what you can do, and sometimes it's the little things that matter most.

-- John Erskine returned to action after being out since October 26th.  It was not an especially auspicious return.  Erskine was on ice for two of the Flyers' first three goals and got only two shifts in the third period, none in the last 13 minutes.

-- Who led the Flyers in giveaways?  Steve Mason.  Doesn’t seem too surprising, even if you place little faith in the veracity of giveaway statistics.

-- The Caps held the Flyers to 28 shots on goal, breaking an eight game streak in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal.  It was only the fifth time in 33 games that the Caps allowed an opponent fewer than 30 shots.  The Caps are 2-2-1 in those games, both wins coming in extra time, an overtime win over Carolina and this win.

-- With a power play goal in this game, the Caps have extra man goals in three straight games and five of six games in December.  They are 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) on their December power play.

-- With an assist, Marcus Johansson now has points in three straight games (0-3-3).  It is his fourth three-game points streak of the season.  He does not yet have a four-game streak.  He also has another odd streak – six straight games with a single shot on goal.  Of course, there is the one that got away, the first goal of the game originally credited to Johansson that was awarded later to Ovechkin.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had another multi-point game, his fourth in his last five.  He is 2-9-11 over those last five games.

In the end…

All’s well that ends well, or so the saying goes.  Good luck with that.  The Caps have come back from three-goal deficits twice in three games, scoring the game-tying goal twice in the last minute of regulation, both times off the stick of Alex Ovechkin.  It makes for great theater, not unlike “All’s Well that Ends Well (if you’re into Shakespeare)."  But one has to wonder if this is a sustainable strategy.  Play like crap for 30-40 minutes, heave a bunch of shots late, get a last minute goal from Ovechkin, win in the freestyle competition.  Sound like a winner?

The Caps might sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but only the New York Islanders have fewer wins in regulation and overtime (five) than the Caps (ten).  In fact, there are only five teams in the entire league – Winnipeg, Edmonton, Florida, the Islanders, and Buffalo – with fewer wins in regulation and overtime.

But still…you get wins in this league how and when you can, especially when you're a little thin in the lineup.  You bank them away for those times you aren’t on the good side of the hockey gods, or you use them as a foothold to move up in the standings when you do start performing better.  Besides, when it’s the Flyers falling in a way such as this, it is among the guiltiest and most pleasing guilty pleasures there are for a Caps fan.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

It was one of the stranger weeks for the Washington Capitals in this first half of the 2013-2014 season, one that started better than it ended.  It was a week that ended with a record that the Caps might not have deserved, but it was one they surely will take without apology.

Record: 2-0-1

It was a week with a certain “Back to the Future” air to it.  Washington opened the week with a game against their recent post-season nemesis, the New York Rangers, and their world-class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.  It was a long time since the Caps scored on Lundqvist – Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring, in fact.  After two shutouts to wrap up that series and a shutout in the teams’ only meeting to date this season, Lundqvist carried a 180 minute shutout streak into last Sunday’s game against the Caps.  Lundqvist added another period for good measure, but with just over two minutes gone in the second period Jason Chimera, himself a personal nemesis of Lundqvist, swept in a loose puck lying at Lundqvist’s side to break the streak at 202:28 of shutout goaltending.  The Caps added three more of goals, one on a penalty shot by Mikhail Grabovski, and won going away, 4-1.

The other two games rekindled old rivalries, such as they were, from the old Southeast Division.  The Caps hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning in the middle game of the week and nearly were run out of their own building.  The Lightning built a 3-0 lead after just 11:07 and chased starting goalie Braden Holtby.  The Caps came back with a vengeance, scoring late in that first period, then adding three in the second period while the Bolts were adding one of their own.  The teams exchanged third period goals and a scoreless overtime, leaving it to the Gimmick, which is becoming a Capitals specialty this season.  Washington won it on a Troy Brouwer strike to save what looked like a certain defeat.

That defeat came in the week’s last game, a 3-2 trick shot loss to the Florida Panthers.  The Caps were a step behind all night, twice falling behind by a goal to the Panthers.  It didn’t help that their own scoring was taken off the board by the officials, an early goal by Mike Green disallowed for Martin Erat being in the crease and a goal by Alex Ovechkin taken off the board for the official blowing the play dead.

Offense: 3.67/game (season: 2.91 / rank:7th)

It was the Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin show this week, a product of big nights against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the middle game of the week.  Backstrom finished the three games 2-5-7 (1-4-5 against Tampa Bay), while Ovechkin finished the week 4-0-4 (all goals coming against the Lightning.  After that, the Caps had four goals scored, plus another on a conversion of a penalty shot by Mikhail Grabovski. Those four goals did not come from scoring lines.  Nate Schmidt and Steve Oleksy scored from the blue line, Jason Chimera scored from the third line, and Joel Ward scored on a power play.  The second line of Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer was held without a goal, save for Grabovski’s penalty shot, and they had but one assist, that recorded by Grabovski (both Grabovski and Brouwer recorded power play assists).

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.81 / rank: 20th)

Another week, another week without a game allowing opponents fewer than 30 shots.  In three games the Caps allowed opponents 114 shots on goal (38.0 per game).  It was a pretty brutal week of possession for the Caps.  Overall, in all 5-on-5 situations, they had a Corsi-for percentage of 40.5 percent, a Fenwick-for percentage of 41.9 percent, and an overall shots-for percentage of 41.6 percent.  And that is with a game against the Rangers in which they were over 50 percent in all three measures.  Their Corsi-for of 29.9 percent against the Lightning is their worst performance of the season.  The game against the Panthers was their third worst of the season.  And that is the root of a team allowing 38 shots a game for the week.  On the basis of these numbers, it is a wonder that the Caps didn’t finish the week 1-2-0 at best.  

Goaltending: 2.55 GAA / .930 save percentage (season: 2.69 / .922 / 1 shutout)

Here is a big part of how the Caps finished the week 2-0-1 instead of 1-2-0.  Philipp Grubauer, who had 20 minutes of mop-up work in one game this season coming into this week, logged 177:29 of ice time in three games, one of them in early relief of Braden Holtby, who had one of the more forgettable weeks of his young career.  But back to Grubauer.  In those 177-plus minutes Grubauer stopped 101 of 106 shots (.953 save percentage).  As much as anything, Grubauer did what is the first thing a goaltender should do – give his team a chance. He was 27-for-27 in first period saves for the week, including four he made in relief of Braden Holtby against Tampa Bay when the Caps fell behind 3-0.

As for Holtby, he is in something of a mini-slump.  He allowed three goals on eight shots in 11 minutes and change this week.  Over his last three appearances he has only 111 minutes of ice time, having been pulled twice, and has a goals-against average of 4.86 with a save percentage of .866.

Power Play: 4-10 / 40.0 percent (season:  percent 24.6 percent / rank: 2nd)

It was a good week.  Then again, it had to be.  Four of the week’s 11 goals came via the man advantage.  It was the best week for the power play since going 7-for-16 in three games in Week 6.  Nicklas Backstrom figured in all four power play goals, scoring one on his own and recording assists on the other three.  Alex Ovechkin had two of the goals, Joel Ward getting the fourth. 

It was a rather efficient week for the Caps, too.  The four shots came on 17 shots in 17:39 of total power play time.  Ovechkin was 2-for-5 shooting, the rest of the club was 2-for-12.  Given that Nicklas Backstrom scored on his only power play shot of the week, 1-for-11 from seven other players is something the team needs to work on.

Penalty Killing: 7-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 82.9 percent / rank: 13th)

This was the fourth straight week that the Caps did not kill more than 80 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced (they were right at 80.0 percent in Week 10).  Over that time the Caps are 28-for-38 (73.4 percent), a far cry from the highly ranked PK unit through the first five weeks of the season.

It wasn’t the opportunities this week (nine in three games is manageable) as much as the shots.  Opponents recorded 18 shots on goal in only 15:54 of power play ice time.  What saved the week was Grubauer’s play in goal; he stopped all 15 power play shots he faced.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 7-6 (season: 61-66; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: T-20th)

Given the Caps possession statistics at 5-on-5, it is a wonder that the won the week in even strength goals.  In two of the three games their 5-on-5 Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages were under 40 percent. For the week they were at 40.5 percent in Corsi-for, 41.9 percent in Fenwick-for.  It was reflected in the shots.  The Caps dominated the Rangers, outshooting them at even strength by a 32-23 margin.  However, the Caps managed only 39 even strength shots on goal in the next 130 minutes of hockey to end the week while surrendering 72.

Faceoffs: 91-168 / 54.2 percent (season: 48.8 percent / rank: 21st)

It was a good week, to a point.  The Caps had been sliding into the lower half of the faceoff rankings in recent weeks but finished Week 11 well above 50 percent.  But the result has two parts to it.  Washington dominated the circle in the defensive end, winning 40 of 66 draws.  Nicklas Backstrom was especially successful, winning 16 of 24 draws (66.7 percent).  Joel Ward (6-for-10; 60.0 percent) and Mikhail Grabovski (7-for-13; 53.9 percent) also had good weeks in the defensive end.

In the offensive end, things were different.  The Caps won 22 of 49 draws overall in the offensive zone (44.9 percent) and had a devil of a time with Tampa Bay (3-for-15; 20 percent).  Troy Brouwer was the only Cap over 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (5-for-8; 62.5 percent).

Goals For/Against by Period:

The Caps have had a knack for scoring in bunches in the second period this season, and they did it again this week.  They scored eight of their 11 goals for the week in the middle frame – three against New York and Tampa Bay, two against Florida.  They continue to struggle, though, in the first period.   They were 1-for-21 in first period shooting for the week, quite different from their 8-for-38 shooting (21.1 percent).  If there was a plus for the week is was in allowing only one even strength goal in the first period, that part of Tampa Bay’s three-goal burst in the first period of the Caps’ 6-5 trick shot win.  It was the only game of the three this week in which the Caps allowed any first period goals.

In the end…

When it comes to wins and losses, it’s not how, it’s how many.  The Caps were 2-0-1 this week, and in that context it was a good week.  That says nothing about the Caps’ ability to sustain such results in wins and losses by losing the possession battle, falling behind in games, relying on the power play (and, more specifically, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to bail them out), and getting top-notch goaltending from the number three goalie on the depth chart.

There are going to be times when the Caps play well and have little to show for it.  This week they did not play especially well, but reaped the rewards, anyway.  In the long run, the Caps are going to have to display more consistency in being able to win even-strength battles, minimize opponents’ possession advantage, and get better goaltending from Braden Holtby than what he has endured lately.  With four divisional games on tap in the upcoming week, getting to that happy place cannot come soon enough.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 33/34: Capitals vs. Flyers, December 15/17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!


The Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers renew their rivalry this afternoon; Round 2, as it were.  The last time these two teams met, on November 1st, the Flyers won a round – a Ray Emery beatdown of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby – and lost the bout, a 7-0 shutout win by Holtby.

Since then the Flyers, who fell to 3-9-0 with what was a beatdown of its own, has climbed off the canvas and posted an 11-6-3 record to move into sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind the Caps.

It has been like two separate seasons for the Flyers, separated by that game against the Caps.  In their first 12 contests, ending with that 7-0 loss, Philadelphia was 3-9-0, averaging only 1.67 goals per game and allowing 3.08 goals per game.  Their power play was 5-for-43 (11.6 percent), and their penalty kill was 48-for-57 (84.2 percent).  Since then the Flyers are 11-6-3, averaging 2.60 goals per game and allowing 2.45 goals per game.  Their power play is 16-for-71 (22.5 percent).  Their penalty kill is 68-for-81 (84.0 percent).

However, December has not been especially kind to the Flyers so far.  They are 2-3-1 this month and have slipped into some bad habits doing so.  Their 2.50 goals per game scoring offense is inflated by a six-goal effort in a 6-3 win over Detroit. They scored two or fewer goals in four of their other five games.  They have allowed 22 goals in those seven games.  The power play continues to hum, going 6-for-20 (30.0 percent), but half of those goals were scored in that 6-3 win over Detroit.  The penalty kill is 21-for-25 (84.0) percent, so strike one up for consistency in December for the Flyers.

The December scoring is led by Claude Giroux (2-3-5) and Sean Couturier (2-3-5).  For Giroux it is part of a continuing effort to dig himself out of the hole of a slow start.  He did not record his first goal of the season until Game 16 of the season, the game-winner in a 4-2 win over Edmonton on November 9th.  However, since then Giroux is 6-10-16 in 17 games.  He is 8-5-13 in 17 career games against Washington.

For Couturier it is part of his validation as a first round (eighth overall) draft pick in 2011.  He, too, had a slow start – he did not have a goal in his first 19 games and recorded only four assists.  However, starting with the game in which he scored his first goal of the season, against Ottawa in a 5-2 win on November 19th, Couturier is 5-6-11 in 13 games.  He is 1-1-2 in eight career games against the Caps.

Then there is the goaltending.  An issue for the Flyers since goaltenders used horsehair in their leg pads, it remains, at best, a work in progress.  In December, it is rather poor.  Steve Mason and Ray Emery have combined for a 3.98 goals against average and a save percentage of .869.  It has been a team effort.  Neither goalie has a save percentage in December above .900, Mason at .893 and Emery at .809.

Here is how the teams compare overall…


1.  As the club’s leading scorer, you would expect that Claude Giroux leads the team in multi-point games.  He does, with five.  But would you have thought Matt Read is second, with four multi-point games?  The Rangers, Red Wings, Sabres, and Islanders are his victims.

2.  When Mark Streit – one of the usual conveyor belt of Flyer big-name acquisitions – skated against the Caps on November 1st, he was having a tough time acclimating himself to wearing Flyer orange.  He had no goals and only four assists in 11 games, and he did not record a point against the Caps.  He has hardly been better since.  He does have a goal – one – coming in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on November 27th.  He is 1-6-7 in 20 games since facing Washington.

3.  Rookies do not figure heavily in Flyers’ results, but Michael Raffl might be one to watch.  He is 2-2-4 in his last five games averaging more than 14 minutes per game.

4.  The Flyers bring a six-game home winning streak into this game, and this is one area where their goaltending has been solid.  The Flyers outscored their opponents by a 22-9 margin in those games, and Flyer goalies have a save percentage of .949.  The thing is, though, those six home games cover a 33-day period. It might not reflect the current state of goaltending.

5.  As befits a team sitting in sixth place in their division, Philadelphia is not the most adept squad at possession.  They are under 50 percent in both Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations (49.6 percent) and Fenwick-for percentage (48.2 percent).  In both they rank in the bottom half of the league.  They are trending better in December, though.  The Flyers are above 50 percent in Corsi-for percentage in five of six games this month and 50 percent or better in four of six games in Fenwick-for percentage.

1.  Last year the Caps had three games decided in the bonus round out of 48 games played.  So far this season the Caps are 7-3 in the Gimmick.  They have already tied a franchise best in shootout wins (seven) and are within striking distance of the highest number of decisions in the freestyle round (13, off a 7-6 record in 2005-2006).

2.  Only two teams – Edmonton and Winnipeg (six apiece) – have allowed more shorthanded goals than the Caps (four).

3.  Washington has 42 goals scored in the second period this season.  They have only 51 scored in the first, second, and overtime periods combined.

4.  No team has more wins in extra time than the Caps.  They have nine such wins overall, two in overtime, seven in the Gimmick.

5.  The Caps scored seven goals in the clubs’ only meeting so far this season.  They scored only eight goals against the Flyers in three games last season.  The Caps are somewhat consistent in their record against the Flyers since the 2004-2005 lockout. Washington is 8-6-1 at home and 8-4-4 on the road against Philadelphia. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Brayden Schenn

With Vincent Lecavalier out for the Flyers on injured reserve with a non-displaced fracture in his back, Philadelphia is going to have to replace his tied-for-the-team-lead nine goals from somewhere.  “Somewhere” might have to be Brayden Schenn.  The bad news here is that while he is the team’s third-leading goal scorer (seven), Schenn has only one goal in his last 14 games and none in his last ten contests after recording six in his first 18 games.  He has a goal and two assists in seven career games against Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom scored his second career goal against Philadelphia back in 2007, an overtime game-winner in Bruce Boudreau’s first game as head coach for the Caps.  Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Flyers – 11-24-35, plus-13 in 22 career games against Philadelphia.  Those 11 goals are tied for his highest total against any team and is the most against any club not in the former Southeast Division.  Two of those goals came in the Caps’ 7-0 win in Philadelphia on November 1st, the first time he recorded two goals in a game since November 1, 2011 against Anaheim.  He comes into this home-and-home set with goals in his last two games, the first time he scored goals in consecutive games since he had them against Florida and, yes, Philadelphia on November 1st and 2nd.


1.  Play your game… There will no doubt be something of a circus atmosphere to these games, especially the one in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, owing to the hijinks perpetrated by the Flyers in the 7-0 Caps blowout on November 1st.  Let them feed the elephants.  Just play your game.

2.  Don’t “Give Up the Funk.”  If you know that reference, you’re old.  It refers to a song from the 1970’s associated with a dance craze at the time, “The Bump.”  The Caps might apply “the bump” to Flyer goalies, who might be on watch to see if the Caps are out for vengeance after the assault on their goalie in November.  Just let ‘em know you’re there (without the stick in their side, as another 70’s icon, Reggie Dunlop, might have recommended).

3.  Get out of the gate quick.  Only five teams have allowed more first period goals than the Caps; nine have scored fewer.  That’s a poor mix.  It is made more difficult by the fact that only the Los Angeles Kings have allowed fewer first period goals (12) than the Flyers (14).  Even in the 7-0 smackdown in November, the Caps scored only one first period goal.  They need to do better in their game starts.

In the end…

For fans, it should be entertaining.  Will the Caps retaliate?  Will the Flyers intimidate?  Will Pierre McGuire bloviate?  We have at least 120 minutes (or more) of old-fashioned divisional rival hockey to answer these and other questions.  But as Al Michaels once put it in another context, “this game is being viewed with varying perspectives.  But manifestly, it is a hockey game.”  Yes, this is not the United States taking on the Soviet Union in 1980.  As I-95 rivalries go, though, it’s not nothing.  But that’s what the Flyers will take away from this home and home.


Capitals 4 – Flyers 2

Capitals 3 – Flyers 1