Friday, January 31, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 54 (Blue Jackets 5 - Capitals 2) and Game 55 (Capitals at Red Wings)

We have a suspicion that this morning there are hazmat crews hard at work at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, desperately trying to remove the stench hanging in the arena after the Washington Capitals turned in what might have been their worst performance of the season, a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad.

If you saw the Caps’ 5-4 overtime win over Buffalo on Tuesday night, last night was that game without the four-point night from Alex Ovechkin and late heroics from Mike Green.  As to the latter, Green left the game in the first period after having his head driven into the glass by the Blue Jacket’s Boone Jenner.  Green was face down on the ice for several moments before skating off on his own.  He did not return to the contest and will be reevaluated in Detroit, where the club will play this evening.  

As for those who remained, they were awful.  No one gets a pass on this one.  Not the power play, that went 0-for-7 and allowed a shorthanded goal.  Not the top line, which managed three shots on goal for the night.  Not the second line, which had eight shots on goal, but no points.  Not the defense, which once more decided to play the “hunt and peck” method of standing still and poking at pucks with their sticks as opponents skated freely around them.  Not Braden Holtby, who seemed to have the attention span of a three-month old golden retriever in goal.

No, this was a 20-man effort.  OK…19 (backup goalie Michal Neuvirth gets a pass).

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin had his first four-point game of the season on Tuesday.  From the “take the good with the bad” file, he had his first minus-5 game of his career on Thursday, getting up close and personal looks at all five Columbus goals.  Ovechkin (minus-17) is tied for 802nd of 817 skaters in plus-minus.  Geez, folks…sure, the plus-minus is a stat that has fallen out of favor, but c’mon.  He was plus-2 for a ghastly team that finished 27th in the league in standings points his rookie season.  Oops…they’re tied for 23rd right now.

-- Ovechkin’s night was odd in another respect.  He skated only 18 shifts.  Still, he logged more than 21 minutes of ice time.  Why?...

-- The Caps were 0-for-7 on the power play (for Ovechkin, that meant 1:25 of ice time per power play).  That makes it 0-for-8 and 0-for-7 wrapped around a 2-for-3 against the worst team in the league starting their backup goaltender.  Everything is broken on this team right now.

-- Well, maybe not the penalty kill (whodathunkit?!). The Caps were 7-for-7, making it 13 for their last 14 dating back to the second period of their 2-1 loss to New Jersey last Friday.

-- Mike Green was the only Caps defenseman not to be on ice for a goal.  But you probably figured that out, seeing how he had only 5:48 of ice time before he left the game. 

-- Eric Fehr led the team in shots?  Am I reading that right?  Hey, at least he scored.

-- Possession Bizarro World… Caps had Corsi-for percentage at even strength overall of 50.9.  Their Fenwick-for was 41.0. 

-- This game got away from the Caps early.  How do we know this?  There were only 13 Fenwick events in 5-on-5 close score situations (and Columbus had eight of them).  Not much “close score” action there.

-- If Ovechkin had a bad game, what adjective can one conjure up for Marcus Johansson’s?  He was on ice for the last four Blue Jacket goals (he missed out on the shortie that started the evening).  No shots, no shot attempts, no hits, no takeaways, and he lost two of three draws.  If the meek shall inherit the earth, Johansson is emperor of the planet on that performance.

-- Which loops us back to the first line overall.  For the night, 11 shot attempts.  Ovechkin had ten of them.  Think too much offense is being stuffed into Ovechkin’s side of the ice?

-- Tom Wilson…7:14 of ice time, four hits, one fight, no points, no shots, one shot attempt.  Tell me, how has this young man grown as a hockey player this season?  Is he a more rounded player than he was on Opening Night?  Has he expressed parts of his game that we didn’t see in early October?  Or is it, hit, fight, get off the ice, repeat?

-- At least Joel Ward pulled into a tie for sixth in shorthanded goals this season (2).

But for the sheer mediocrity of the Metropolitan Division, you could start working on those pithy phrases to describe a season wasted.  But the Caps are still – improbably, amazingly, criminally – only two points out of a playoff spot.  But they have lost consecutive games to Columbus by a combined 10-3 margin.  They allowed a pair of goals in the first period of both games and were outscored by a 7-2 margin in the first two periods of the two games.  They haven’t been nail-biters.

And now it’s on to Detroit, a team having troubles of its own.  The Red Wings are 3-4-1 in their last eight games and, if the playoffs started today, would be sitting at home.  What is their problem?...

-- They can’t score (21st in scoring offense)
-- They don’t defend all that well (tied for 14th in scoring defense)
-- Their 5-on-5 play is mediocre (16th in the league with a 0.99 goals for/goals against ratio)
-- The power play isn’t powerful (22nd in the league)
-- They don’t play from ahead enough (only 20 times in 53 games have they led at the first intermission, only 19 times have they led after the second)
-- They finish poorly (54 third period goals, eighth most in the league)
-- They’re hurt (Stephen Weiss, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Jimmy Howard, and Henrik Zetterberg are injured in varying states).

If the Caps win both games against the Red Wings in this weekend's home-and-home, they can pass the Red Wings and put as many as three points between the teams.  If they lose them both, they could find themselves right at .500 in standings points and might feel the hot breath of the New York Islanders right behind them in the race for seventh…yes, seventh place in the division. 

Time to put on your big boy pants, guys.

Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2
Capitals 4 – Red Wings 3

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 54: Capitals at Blue Jackets, January 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Thirteen days ago the Washington Capitals ventured to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Capitals were scored upon early, late, and often in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets, the first time the Capitals lost to Columbus since November 1, 2009 (a 5-4 overtime loss), the first time they lost to the Blue Jackets in regulation time since January 9, 2009, and the first time they lost to Columbus in Ohio since November 29, 2008.

It had been a while.

Columbus laid that whuppin’ on the Caps in the midst of a winning streak that they would extend three more times to reach eight games in all, a franchise record. That streak ended on January 25th against, of all teams, the Buffalo Sabres. That loss started the Blue Jackets in a different direction. They are on a three-game losing streak coming into Thursday night’s game.

In their 3-3-0 run since beating the Caps on January 17th, Columbus has split 38 goals right down the middle with their opponents, 19 goals apiece (not including a shootout goal in a 4-3 win over Buffalo on January 18th).

It really is a split-personality run that the Blue Jackets have been on since that win over the Caps:

  • First three games: 13 goals scored
  • Last three games: 6 goals scored

  • First three games: 8 goals allowed
  • Last three games: 11 goals allowed

  • First three games: 3-for-12 power play (25.0 percent)
  • Last three games: 2-for-9 power play (22.2 percent, both goals scored in loss to Ottawa in last game)

  • First three games: 11-for-13 penalty kill (84.6 percent)
  • Last three games: 5-for-6 penalty kill (83.3 percent)

  • First three games: nine players shared goals, 18 shared points
  • Last three games: five players shared goals, 12 shared points

Overall, it is James Wisniewski who leads the Blue Jackets in points over the six games since last facing the Caps (1-5-6). Wisniewski is on quite an extended run of good performance, scoring-wise. He has points in eight of his last 11 games (3-9-12) and has climbed into the top ten among NHL defensemen in points (5-28-33, tied for ninth). In eight career games against Washington he is 1-3-4, even.

Derek MacKenzie leads the Blue Jackets in goal scoring since Columbus last faced the Caps (three). He has a third (two) of the six goals scored by Columbus in their last three games, although he had a three-game goal-scoring streak stopped in Columbus’ 3-2 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. He is 0-1-1, minus-3, in six career games against Washington.

One has to think that it will Sergei Bobrovsky getting the call for the Blue Jackets in this contest. When he was given the night off in Columbus’ 3-2 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday, it broke a string of seven straight starts over which he was, quite frankly, skating in pretty good luck. His record was 5-2-0 over those starts, but his goals against average of 2.63 and save percentage of .909 suggested he was not playing as well as his win-loss numbers would indicate. He had a particularly tough time in the game against Buffalo that ended Columbus’ eight-game winning streak. In 23 minutes he allowed three goals on ten shots, two of them shorthanded, both of them eluding his glove. He did bounce back with a 32 save effort in a 3-2 loss to Carolina, but he seems to have settled into a pattern of allowing three goals or so per game over the past two weeks.

Here is how the teams compare in their overall numbers:

1. That eight-game winning streak certainly stands out in Columbus’ season to date. It stands in stark contrast to a more bleak character to the rest of their season:

  • Goals for/against/game during streak: 4.13/2.13
  • Goals for/against/game outside of streak: 2.60/2.96

  • Power play during streak: 8-31 (25.8 percent)
  • Power play outside of streak: 26-146 (17.8 percent)

  • Penalty kill during streak: 28-34 (82.4 percent)
  • Penalty kill outside of streak: 120-151 (79.5 percent)

2.  Only Edmonton has fewer one-goal wins (6) that does Columbus (9).

3.  The Blue Jackets have trouble holding back teams over 60 minutes.  Only Toronto (62) and Calgary (61) have allowed more third period goals than the Blue Jackets (60).

4.  Columbus can calim to have a certain balance in scoring.  Eighteen players have at least ten points through 53 games.  By way of comparison, the Caps have 13 such players.

5.  Despite having lost three straight the Blue Jackets’ possession numbers have been generally solid overall.  Their Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 close score situations is 62.8 percent over their past three games, as is their Fenwick-for percentage (numbers from

1.  The Caps have not had an extended winning streak so far this season, but a win tonight will make it five streaks of three or more wins this season.

2.  The second period continues to be good to the Caps.  Washington ranks fifth in second period goals (66).  The third period, on the other hand… the Caps are 28th in third period goals scored (40).

3.  If the Caps win, bet on it not being by two goals.  The Caps have only two two-goal wins this season.  Only Dallas, Calgary, and New Jersey have fewer.

4.  Only the Islanders, Calgary, and Buffalo have fewer wins this season when leading after the first period than Washington.  Then again, the Caps have taken a lead into the first intermission only 13 times in 53 games.

5.  Since December 27th, when the Caps held just a cumulative 45.4 percent Fenwick-for percentage at 5-on-5 close score situations, they have dragged that number up to 48.8 percent (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Brandon Dubinsky

In the three games Columbus won immediately after beating the Caps on January 17th, Brandon Dubinsky had a pair of goals and a pair of assists, along with ten shots on goal.  In the three losses that followed, Dubinsky was held off the score sheet and managed only four shots.  It goes with his season-long trend.  Largely absent when the Blue Jackets lose (2-8-10, minus 10, in 24 losses), he is better than a point a game player in wins (9-15-24, plus 17, in 23 wins).  It might be fair to say that as Dubinsky goes, so go the Jackets.  He has a goal and two assists in three games against the Caps this season.

Washington: Mike Green

When Mike Green posted two goals and an assist against Buffalo on Tuesday, it made for 11 points in his last 12 games and lifted him into the top-15 in scoring among NHL defensemen.  The big night in Buffalo was not a one-time reminiscence of the days in which he was the league’s top offensive defenseman, but the latest in a sustained stretch of offensive production.  What is more, he is doing it with a lighter on-ice burden.  His 23:12 average ice time per game sounds like a lot, but it would be his lowest over a full season (more than 50 games) since he logged 15:29 per game in 70 games of the 2006-2007 season.


1.  “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler.”  This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, and what it boils down to is, “keep it simple, stupid…but not too simple.”  Tend to fundamentals, but avoid drifting into the lazy, reaching sort of defense that led to more than one Buffalo goal on Tuesday.

2.  “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."  Another Einstein quote…hey guys, don’t get it in your heads after Tuesday that you’re back to being the 2010 Caps and can just outscore teams.  Fall into that trap, and another 5-1 pasting at the hands of the Blue Jackets awaits.

3.  "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."  Ol’ Albert, again.  The Caps will head to Detroit right after this game for the first of a home-and-home against the Red Wings.  Don’t get ahead of yourselves and start thinking about The Joe…

In the end…

Six points separate second and seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, and the Blue Jackets and Caps are right in the thick of it.  Unfortunately for both teams, they happen to be on the wrong side of playoff eligibility, should the season end today.  Even though it is the end of January, not the end of March, this is an important “four-point” game for the Caps.  It is likely to be this way for any Metro Division game for the foreseeable future.  And that means it’s time to focus and get down to work, or as Albert said… “weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 53: Capitals 5 - Sabres 4 (OT)

Two points is two points, but the Washington Capitals sure showed just how ugly a fashion that two points might be earned last night in their 5-4 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres.

First, the Sabres entered the contest as the 30th place team in a 30-team league.  Second, the Sabres entered the game losers in six of their previous seven games.  Third, they were giving their Olympian goaltender, Ryan Miller, the night off after he played 60 minutes in a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh the night before. 

Then there was the opening.  The Caps struck early in bang-bang fashion.  First, Alex Ovechkin scored off a faceoff on a power play just 3:49 into the game.  Just 53 seconds later he scored again, deflecting a Mike Green drive past backup goalie Jhonas Enroth and off the post.

It looked like it was going to be a laugher.  It wasn’t.  The Caps coughed up that 2-0 lead in less than 20 minutes, the Sabres scoring on goals by Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Hodgson (on a power play) in the next 16:59 of game time. 

The Caps took another lead, courtesy of Mike Green finishing a nice wrap-around made possible by some iffy Buffalo defense and the fact that the nets are shallower this year, giving players more opportunities for such plays.  Just 62 seconds later, though, the Caps gagged on that lead (a recurring theme this season), Buffalo tying the game once more on Phillip Varone’s first NHL goal.

The Caps took their third lead late in the second period when Troy Brouwer scored on a power play, firing a one-timer off a pass from Martin Erat past Enroth.

That lead didn’t last, either.  Buffalo tied the game for the third time when Hodgson scored his second of the game 6:48 into the third period.

But the Caps had one trick left, tearing the page from the 2010 songbook.  With the teams at 4-on-4 and more open ice, Alex Ovechkin lured the Buffalo defense to him after he took a drop pass from Erat.  With the Sabres cheating in defense of a shot everyone knew was coming in an attempt to complete the hat trick, Ovechkin faked, then threw the puck into open space on the off-wing where Green was filling in.  Green snapped a shot past a diving Enroth, and it was once more, “Game Over Green.”

Other stuff…

-- For Alex Ovechkin it was his second four-point game this season (his first two-assist game), the other four-point game coming in a four-goal performance against Tampa Bay on December 10th in a 6-5 win.  The four points lifted him into a tie for seventh in points, and the two goals opened up a 10-goal lead on second place Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski in the race for the Richard Trophy.

-- The Caps were 2-for-3 on the power play, the first time they recorded two power play goals in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on January 9th.  The Caps are 6-1-1 when scoring two power play goals in a game this season.

-- For Troy Brouwer, his second period power play goal was his first goal since January 2nd in a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina and his first power play goal since December 20th in a 4-2 win over those same Hurricanes.

-- Green’s overtime winner was his first game-winning goal this season and his first overtime winner since he sealed a 6-5 overtime win over Tampa Bay last April 13th.  His three-point night (2-1-3) was his first such night this season and his first since April 27th of last season in a 3-2 overtime win over Boston.

-- It was a rough night for the top defensive pair.  Karl Alzner and John Carlson were on ice for three of the Sabres’ four goals, and neither could say they didn’t deserve that fate.  On Varone’s goal, Alzner was muscled off the puck by Brian Flynn, who fed Marcus Foligno.  Carlson tried a weak poke check as Foligno was heading to the net before Foligno slid the puck across to Varone for the goal.  On Hodgson’s second goal, coming on a delayed penalty to Jason Chimera, Hodgson stepped around an equally weak poke check attempt by Alzner, then stepped up on Carlson, who offered little resistance as Hodgson slid the puck past Holtby to tie the game at 4-4.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a point.  That should not be noteworthy, but it is since his assist on Ovechkin’s first goal was just his second point in his last nine games.

-- Brooks Laich, who was questionable for this game, gutted out almost 18 minutes of ice time.  Nevertheless, he had a tough night in one respect.  He was just 5-for-18 in faceoffs.  He was 3-for-5 against Tyler Ennis, which makes us think young Mr. Ennis has something on his to-work-on list for practice.

-- Martin Erat had two assists, getting him to 20.  He still does not have a goal.

-- No, we don’t know who Chad Ruhwedel is, either.  But we are somewhat surprised he did not record his first NHL goal last night along with Phillip Varone.  The Caps have a knack for having that happen to them.

In the end…

Yeah, it was two points, but really, don’t you feel just a little bit dirty about it?  That game should have been over at the first intermission, but the Caps stopped pushing on the gas pedal.  On a couple of goals they quite literally stopped playing (Karl, John, Jason… we’re looking at you on a couple of Sabres goals).  They dominated possession in 5-on-5 close score situations, but much of that was a product of late second period activity.  It was not a constant theme throughout. 

Fortunately, this is a three-point game that hardly matters since it is only in the wildest dreams of Sabres fans that Buffalo could contend for a playoff spot this season.  That makes the two points welcome in spite of the lack of aesthetics in the manner they were earned.

Hey, in a couple of months it will look like a dominating performance (as long as no one looks at the film).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 53: Capitals at Sabres, January 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals check off another city on their five-game road trip on Tuesday with a visit to Buffalo, NY, to face the Sabres. It will certainly be a…

"Peerless Peerless Peerless…"

Yeah, yeah, it’s “hump game," Game 3 of a five-game trip. Now take your hump and…

As a matter of fact, I…

What the…

Guess I’ll stick to wings.

Actually, I think that is the nickname bestowed upon Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, but we’ll get to that. As for the club overall, the Buffalo Sabres snapped a five-game losing streak – that would be the five games played immediately after beating the Capitals on January 12th – with a 5-2 win over Columbus on Saturday.  They returned to their losing ways once more, though, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night.

It was the seventh time this season that the Sabres were shut out, tied with Nashville for the worst mark in the league.  Small wonder.  This is a team that boasts, if that can possibly be the right verb, two players in double digits in goals – Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis.  Hodgson at least gives the appearance of being hot.  He has four goals in his last seven games and  points in six of this last eight contests (4-4-8).  Ennis had been matching him scoring three goals over a six games span over which he also had points in each contest (3-4-7).  However, he has been kept off the score sheet in his last two games.

After that, things go south in a hurry.  Even Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer with the New York Islanders, has just nine goals in 38 games with Buffalo.  Still, it is good for third on the club.

With a team having as much difficulty scoring as the Sabres, you might think they struggle in the old plus-minus statistics.  You have no idea.  Eight players are a minus-10 or worse, and no player having played more than 20 games is as much as “even” for the season.

Here are the overall numbers for both teams…

1. The Sabres really like that 2-1 score in deciding games. Going into Monday’s game against Pittsburgh that was the margin in 11 of the Sabres’ 50 decisions this season. Two of those 2-1 decisions came against Washington, both of them Sabre wins. Buffalo is 5-4-2 overall in 2-1 games, four of the wins coming in extra time, three of them in the Gimmick, two of those against the Caps.

2.  For those of you thinking Ryan Miller can’t keep up his spell over Caps shooters (he has stopped 77 of 79 shots against the Caps in two games this season), there is this.  At home, Miller is 8-5-0 against the Caps with a 1.99 GAA and .935 save percentage with two shutouts.  He has never allowed the Caps more than three goals at home.

3.  Going into their contest against Pittsburgh on Monday night the Sabres were 4-for-20 (20.0 percent) on the power play in six games since beating the Caps on January 12th.  Their penalty kill was 15-for18 (83.3 percent).  The odd thing about all of that is that in the five games in which they either scored a power play goal, allowed one, or both, they lost.   In the one game in which no special teams goals were scored, they won, 5-2 against Columbus to snap their five-game losing streak.

4.  As you might expect from the worst team in the league, standings-wise, the Sabres have the worst overall goal differential, 0.98 goals per game.  No team has scored fewer 5-on-5 goals (61, 13 fewer than Montreal).  By way of comparison, Chicago leads the league, scoring more than twice as many goals at 5-on-5 (133) than the Sabres.

5.  The Sabres treat the puck as if it was radioactive.  They are dead last in the league in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations (41.8/41.7).  They have been just as bad against the Caps (42.4/40.3 over the previous two meetings combined).

1.  The five goals the Caps scored against Montreal in their 5-0 win on Saturday was the most scored on the road since they beat Philadelphia, 7-0, on November 1st.

2.  Tom Wilson is tied for second in the league in fighting majors.  He has shown no particular preference in doing hockey’s hardest job, five at home, five on the road.  More encouraging, he comes into this game with points in consecutive games (0-2-2), the first time he has done that since recording a goal and two assists against the New York Islanders and the Minnesota Wild on November 5-7.

3.  With Mikhail Grabovski out for this game, Alex Ovechkin will go into the contest with more goals (36) than the next three Caps combined (Joel Ward, Nicklas Backstrom, and Jason Chimera combining for 34).

4.  It might not surprise anyone that the crafty Nicklas Backstrom leads the club in takeaways (36).  It might surprise some that Joel Ward is second (35).

5. The Caps continue to make progress in possession statistics.  They are now 20th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations (49.1), 21st in Fenwick-for percentage in those situations (48.4).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Steve Ott

When the Sabres start selling off players, and they will, Steve Ott is likely to grab attention as a player who can provide what the kids these days call “jam.”  He’s a pest, a nuisance, a turd in the punch bowl, a pain in the ass.  He also went into Monday night’s play 2-6-8 in his previous nine games.  Not Gretzky, but not bad for a player whose job description features getting under the skin of other players, not lighting the lamp.  He is 0-1-1 in nine career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer has gone 11 games without a goal, matching his longest streak of the season (November 10 – December 3).  For a player who has had the benefit of consistency and stability in being penciled in as the second line right wing almost all season, this is a disappointment.  It is made worse by the fact that he occupies a critical point as the “axle” on the 1-3-1 power play.  He does not have a power play goal since before Christmas, a power play goal that happened to be the game-winner in a 4-2 win over Carolina on December 20th.  The Caps have lacked offensive production this month, much of that attributable to Brouwer’s drought.  Things must change if the Caps are to sustain any level of success.


1.  Millerosity.  Know that online site that provides exercises in mental gymnastics to improve brain function?  The Caps might try some mental exercises to get Ryan Miller out of their heads (the best thing for that might be Buffalo giving him the night off after last night’s loss in Pittsburgh).

2.  Tend to business.  Buffalo is not going to dazzle anyone with skill.  They will grind and, if necessary, try to impose their physical will inside or outside the rules (they are tied for ninth in major penalties this season).  The Caps need to skate through the noise and finish what they start instead of being driven off plays.

3.  Little things.  Let’s face it.  This is not your 2010 Capitals.  They are not going to score goals in bunches, steamrolling opponents.  They need to do all the little things well – win faceoffs, avoid turnovers at the blue lines, be crisp on passes, don’t take silly penalties. 

In the end…

If Miller plays, it will be a dog fight, maybe another 2-1 game (just like the last two between these teams).  Even if it is Jhonas Enroth getting the call, don’t let the 1-10-4 record fool you.  His .910 save percentage is not top-notch, but it isn’t “1-10-4” bad, either.  He is 1-0-2, 2.87, .910 in three career appearances against the Caps.  Buffalo is bad, really bad… milk that has been in the back of the refrigerator since the Nixon administration bad.  But it’s not as if the Caps are the 1978 Canadiens.

Capitals 3 – Sabres 1

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

For the Washington Capitals, as it is for just about any team, how you end the week is generally how you feel about yourself.  A good thing, too, because for the Caps, Week 17 might have been a disaster.  As it was, it was merely a frustrating week that ended with a sense of hope that the worst of the worst stretch of the season was at an end.

Record: 1-3-0

The Capitals came into the week having lost four straight, three of those by one-goal margins, two of those in the trick shot competition.  Then they lost three games to start the week, scoring only two goals in the process.  The seven-game losing streak became the worst for the club since the infamous eight-game losing streak in December 2010 in the run-up to the 2011 Winter Classic, a streak lovingly captured by the cameras of HBO in its four-part 24/7 series on the Classic.

More important, when the streak started the Caps were in second place in the Metropolitan Division.  When Week 17 started, and the Caps had four straight losses, they dropped to fifth.  By Thursday, with two more losses on the books, they were seventh of eight teams in the division.  Another loss to New Jersey on Friday followed, but the streak finally came to an end on Saturday night in Montreal with a 5-0 whitewashing of the Canadiens.  Washington remains in seventh place in the Metropolitan at week’s end, but they are just three points out of second place and a with game in hand compared to those second-place New York Rangers.

Offense:  1.75/game (season: 2.69 / rank: 16th)

For the second straight week the Caps averaged less than two goals per game for the week (1.50 in Week 16).  It was an extension of bad luck shooting the puck that was the critical element of the losing streak.  In the first three games of Week 17 the Caps shot 2-for-90 (2.2 percent).  It was actually worse in the first three games of Week 17 than their performance for Week 16 (5.0 percent), and extended a dry spell that left the Caps with a 3.8 percent shooting mark over seven straight losses.

When the Caps lit up Montreal for five goals on Saturday it matched their offensive output over their previous 286:51 over four-plus games.  It was their largest single-game output since beating Tampa Bay, 6-5 in a Gimmick, back on December 10th, a span of 21 games.  Between those five-goal outbursts (not counting the game-winning trick shot goal against the Lightning) the Caps averaged just 2.20 goals per game.

For the week Alex Ovechkin, despite missing two of the four games with a lower body injury, led the team in goals (two) and points (three).  Three Caps had a pair of assists: Mike Green, Martin Erat, and Tom Wilson.  Against Montreal to end the week, three Caps recorded their first goals of the season: John Erskine, Jay Beagle, and Casey Wellman.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.85 / rank: 19th)

Lost in the depths of the recent losing streak, the Caps’ defense has not been bad.  In Week 17 they allowed only eight goals in four games.  It was the product of some generally good efforts on defense.  Washington allowed opponents only 25.8 shots on goal per game for the week.  Overall they were on the good side of Corsi-for (53.2) and Fenwick for percentages (53.3).  They were just as effective in 5-on-5 close score situations, during which the Caps had similar numbers for Corsi-for (52.2) and Corsi-for (53.5) percentages (numbers from 

As for the nuts and bolts of it, it was an odd week.  If we told you last Sunday that John Erskine would be on ice for only one goal against, would you have believed it?  Erskine was replaced for one game this past week by Nate Schmidt, but in three games there he was, on ice for only one goal against, that being a power play goal (what would be the game-winner) against New Jersey on Friday.  John Carlson also was on ice for only one goal against in four games.  At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov (four apiece), you guys have some work to do.  Ditto for you, Nicklas Backstrom (four goals against).

Still, the lingering thought of the week on defense might be this number: 3.  Over the first 32:44 of their game on Saturday, the Caps outshot Montreal by a 26-3 margin in building a 4-0 lead in what would be a 5-0 win on Saturday.  They held the Canadiens without a shot on goal over a 19:57 span crossing the first and second periods of that game.

Goaltending: 2.03 GAA / .922 SV / 1 SO (season: 2.74 / .917 / 2 SO)

It was a week of transition in goal for the Caps.  It started with Philipp Grubauer allowing three goals on eight shots in 17:49 of work this week, after which he was reassigned to the Hershey Bears.  Not that it was all his fault (or, perhaps, even mostly).  The reassignment will give Grubauer a chance to get regular work, because by week’s end, one had the feeling it was once more Braden Holtby’s cage. 

Holtby had a fine week overall.  In addition to relieving Grubauer in the week’s first game of the week, stopping 17 of 18 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers, he was 24-for-26 in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday and stopped all 21 shots he faced in the Caps’ 5-0 win over Montreal to end the week.  Overall, Holtby’s 1.12 goals-against average, .952 save percentage, and shutout to end the week set him up once more as the number one netminder.

Lost in the comings and goings, and it should not be, was Michal Neuvirth’s solid outing against New Jersey on Friday.  Neuvirth stopped 28 of 30 shots in a 2-1 loss.  Lately it has been shot volumes that have done in Neuvirth more than his own inefficiency.  In his last three appearances he has what looks like a not-so-special 2.71 goals against average, but his save percentage of .921 is solid. 

Power Play: 1-for-19 / 5.3 percent (season: 22.2 percent / 5th)

What a dismal week for the power play.  The Caps had 34:32 in total power play time over four games, 19 chances in all, 26 shots… and one goal.  The 19 chances for the week is a season high for a one-week period (16 opportunities in Week 6), and the eight opportunities they had against Montreal was their high for the season. 

One could explain away a piece of this week’s output by saying that in the last power play of the week for the Caps the fivesome to start the man advantage would be: Casey Wellman, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Mike Green, and Dmitry Orlov.  No Ovechkin, no Backstrom, no Brouwer or Johansson.  Reward for their effort in helping the Caps build a 5-0 lead against the Canadiens.

Still, the Caps were 1-for-18 for the week before those substitutions were made.  It is part of a longer stretch of futility in which Washington is 1-for-33 dating back to the third period of their 4-3 win over Tampa Bay back on January 9th.  It might surprise no one that the Caps are 2-5-2 since then, including Saturday’s win over Montreal.

Part of it might have been Alex Ovechkin missing two games this week.  He is, after all, the primary trigger man on the power play.  Even with missing those two games he led the team in power play shots on goal with six, and he had the only goal.  Joel Ward was next with four shots for the week.

Penalty Killing: 14-for-17 / 82.4 percent (season: 80.3 percent / 20th)

Only once in the past 12 weeks did the Caps finish a week with a more efficient penalty kill than what they produced in Week 17 (85.7 percent in Week 13, but that was on only seven situations faced).  That’s the good part.  The bad is that the 82.4 percent for the week matches the 14th-place team in the league this season in penalty killing (Boston).  “Better” does not necessarily mean “good.”

The Caps allowed power play goals in each of the first three games of the week, all of them losses. It could have been worse.  First, opportunities were high.  Facing 14 shorthanded situations in those first three games was the most over a three-game span since they faced 15 over a three-game span from December 15-20.  Second, the Caps allowed 22 shots in 23:28 of penalty killing time in those three games.  The .864 save percentage by Caps goalies in those three games was not extraordinary, but given the time burden faced, it was not all that bad, either. 

The Caps finished up the week killing off all three (three, not four, not five) shorthanded situations on their way to their only win of the week.  There is a lesson to be learned there, one that perhaps should have been by now.  Stay out of the box.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 6-4 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: 18th)

Looks can be deceiving here.  While the Caps finished a plus-2 for the week at even strength, that included a plus-5 in their lone win of the week, the 5-0 shutout of Montreal.  Otherwise, Washington had one even strength goal scored in three games.  Really, 1-for-64 in even-strength shooting in those three games? One-point-six percent shooting?

The lack of even strength punch on offense more than negated a decent performance at the other end in those first three games of Week 17.  Caps goalies stopped 53 of 57 even strength shots in those games (.930 save percentage).  The trick in Game 4 of the week was, in part, shots.  The Caps had 23 even strength shots on goal in the first two periods against Montreal, hitting on four of them in building a 4-0 lead.  At the other end they held the Habs to eight even-strength shots over those same 40 minutes (16 for the game), shutting them out on the way.

Faceoffs: 107-229 / 46.7 percent (season: 49.3 percent / rank: 18th)

It was another week of the total looking better than the detail.  The Caps were just 37-for-86 on faceoffs in the offensive end (43.0 percent) and just 34-for-76 in the defensive end (44.7 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski (before missing the Montreal game with an injury) had pretty good weeks.  Backstrom was over 50 percent in all three zones on his way to a 59.0 percent week in the circle.  It was the same for Grabovski, albeit in fewer opportunities, in his 56.5 percent week.  After that, though, it went south.  Brooks Laich, Troy Brower, and Jay Beagle all took more than 20 draws and all of them finished the week on the south side of 50 percent.

Goals For/Against by Period:

It is a good thing the Caps had that four-goal period against Montreal, because to that point the first period was killing them in games.  Well, perhaps in one game.  The Caps allowed three goals in the first period of their game against the Rangers to open the week, all of them coming against Philipp Grubauer in his last appearance with the Caps before reassignment to Hershey.  After that, it wasn’t bad as first periods go.  In three-plus opening frames after that disappointing start to the week the Caps allowed just one goal on 21 shots in 62:11 of ice time.

As for that second period, as much as the first might not have been as bad as it looked overall, neither was the second as good as it looked overall.  The Caps finished the week with five second period goals in four games, but they had just one in the middle frame of their first three games on 34 shots on goal.  They made up for it by lighting up Carey Price for four goals on 14 shots in 10:31 of the second period of their 5-0 win over Montreal.

The third period was calm in comparison, the Caps scoring twice, one of them a goal to halve a New Jersey lead that the Caps could not erase, and the last goal (Casey Wellman’s first of the season) capping the 5-0 win over Montreal on Saturday.

In the end…

The end might matter most, but only if the Caps can parlay their convincing win over Montreal into a streak of better luck in the win column.  It was not as if the Caps played badly to start the week any more than it has been the case over their seven-game losing streak overall.  High shooting percentages are generally unsustainable over large populations of games.  So, too, is it with low shooting percentages.  After all, these are NHL-level players we are describing. 

That the Caps could go 2-for-90 in their first three games of the week (8-for-210 in their seven-game losing streak) is unsustainable.  However, a five-goal night does not sponge away the problems, either.  This is a team that lacks finishers.  Alex Ovechkin missed two games this week, scoring goals in the other two.  He has goals in four of his last five games, five of his last seven.  He is on a pace to finish with 59 goals, despite having missed four games to injury. 

After that, the capacity to finish on a consistent basis drops off a lot.  And that is what makes dry spells such as that the Caps experienced to open January unsustainable, but not unrepeatable.  Joel Ward is second on the club with 13 goals.  First, Ward is not who one would expect to occupy that ranking on this club (or maybe one would, given the possibilities).  Second, Ward has not had a goal in his last eight games and has only one in his last dozen contests.  No one has stepped up to overtake him in the club goal-scoring rankings.

The Caps have three road games coming up in Week 18, leading off against the Buffalo Sabres, who have two 2-1 trick shot wins in the last two meetings of the clubs.  That probably means facing Ryan Miller, who stopped 77 of 79 shots in those two Sabre wins.  We will see if the gusher of goals against Montreal is reduced once more to a trickle.

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 52: Capitals 5 - Canadiens 0

The Washington Capitals took their road show to Montreal on Saturday night to face the Canadiens in hope of ending a seven-game losing streak.  In the prognosto for this game we said…

“One gets the feeling it is going to be a fluke, something on the order of that goal Detroit scored a short while back that hit the netting behind the goal, fell, hit the goalie in the back and caromed into the net.  Maybe it will be a shot that deflects off an official, hits the goalie in the mask and tumbles into the net.  Maybe it will be an opponent shooting the puck into his own net while skating on a delayed penalty to the Caps.”

The Caps almost had that fluke – a near buzzer-beater as the first period ended at Bell Centre.  But when the late goal by Troy Brouwer was disallowed for being after the horn to end the period, we thought it might take divine intercession to break the Caps free of the chains that bound them to their losing streak.

It did not take that much, not quite.  The Caps did get their first goal on a half-flukish, half amazing play by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, tore off four more goals, and then let Braden Holtby do the rest as the Caps skated off with a 5-0- win to end the losing streak.

After the scoreless-almost score first period, the Caps took the lead in the second minute of the second period as a power play was expiring.  Martin Erat got things started from the right-wing half wall, sliding a pass to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson let fly with a shot that pinballed off bodies in front of goalie Carey Price.  The puck finally bounced out to Price’s right where Ovechkin was waiting.  What Ovechkin was not waiting for was the puck to settle.  He took it out of mid-air, bounced it off his stick a few times, and whacked it off Price into the back of the net…

Oh, wait…

Less than two minutes later, a flukier goal was scored.  It was Erat starting things again, once more from the right-wing half wall.  Erat slid the puck across, this time to John Erskine who, for lack of a better word (since he really did not shoot the puck), “redirected” it from 35 feet out slo-o-o-o-o-o-wly toward the Montreal net.  Brooks Laich kept P.K. Subban from getting a stick on the slo-o-o-o-o-owly sliding puck, and the biscuit somehow managed to slip through Price’s pads for a 2-0 lead.

Barely three minutes after that it was Jay Beagle deadening a centering feed from Tom Wilson with his skate, then backhanding the puck into the net left open by Price when he thought Wilson was going to take the shot.  Four minutes after that John Carlson scored when his floater from the blue line was tipped by Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu over Price’s glove.  The fourth goal in just 8:45 ended Price’s night in favor of Peter Budaj.

The Caps put the cherry on top of the sundae in the third period when Casey Wellman finished a 2-on-2 rush with Ovechkin, taking a feed from across the slot and snapping the puck past Budaj, who looked convinced (like everyone in the rink, including perhaps Ovechkin’s father in the stands, that Ovechkin would take the shot). 

From there it was just a matter of playing solid defense in front of Braden Holtby, who would blank the Canadiens the rest of the way for the shutout, a 5-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- At one point in this game the Caps had the edge in shots, 26-3.  Montreal went 19:57 between shots on goal, from the 12:47 mark of the first period to the 12:44 mark of the second period.

-- Three Capitals recorded their first goals of the season for the club – John Erskine, Jay Beagle, and Casey Wellman.  Martin Erat’s lonely search for his first goal of the year continues.

-- Erat did have two assists.  No player in the league has as many assists without a goal as does Erat (18).  It’s not even close.  Montreal’s Raphael Diaz and Boston’s Ryan Spooner each have 11 assists without a goal.  It was Erat’s best game of the year, plus-minus wise, with a plus-3.  It was the first time he was that far to the good on the plus-minus ledger since he was a plus-3 playing for the Nashville Predators against the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 17, 2011.

-- It was Braden Holtby’s fourth appearance at Bell Centre.  He is 4-0-0, 0.75, ,970, with two shutouts.  That’s pretty good.

-- It was the first time that the Caps scored five goals in a game since they beat Tampa Bay, 6-5, in a Gimmick back on December 10th.

-- Here is a truly bizarre stat… the plus-13 shot differential was the Caps’ largest in a win this season.  Note…in a win.  They were plus-13 when they lost to Colorado, 5-1, on October 12th.  They were plus-22 in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to Toronto on November 23rd.  They were plus-33 in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to Buffalo on December 29th.  They were plus-19 in a 5-3 loss to Minnesota on January 4th.

-- The Caps were just 7-for-22 on offensive zone faceoffs, 7-for-19 in the defensive end.

-- The Caps had eight power play chances, the most this season and the most they had since getting eight opportunities against New Jersey in a 3-2 overtime loss on January 25, 2013.  It is the most they had without converting one since going 0-for-8 in a 3-0 loss to Florida on December 9, 2010.  The power play is now 1-for 33 dating back to the third period of the Caps’ 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on January 9th.  They were close, though.  Ovechkin’s goal was scored just as a power play was ending.

-- Alex Ovechkin recording ten shot attempts is not unusual.  Nicklas Backstrom recording eight (five on goal) is a little more eye-opening.  Not much to show for it, though.  He was one of only five Caps skaters without a point and one of only three who did not finish on the plus side of the plus-minus ledger.

-- Hometown scoring…  Montreal was credited with 29 hits among 15 skaters.  The Caps were credited with eight, four of them by Ovechkin, among five skaters.

In the end, the streak is over.  The Caps are still in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are only two points out of third place, three out of second (with a game in hand on second-place New York Rangers).  Sometimes it takes a spark, a fluke, or something bizarre happening to end a long losing streak.  The Caps benefited from all three on Saturday night – Tom Wilson’s early scrap against Brandon Prust, the Ovechkin “Tribute to Tiger” goal, John Erskine’s laser that you could time going to the net with a calendar.  It was all good and a good end to the trip with the players’ dads.  It is something to build on, and it comes just in time as the Caps head to Buffalo, where they are likely to face this year’s demon in goal for them, Ryan Miller, who has stopped 77 of 79 Caps shots in two 2-1 Gimmick wins this season. 

Let’s hope there are more goals on those sticks, bizarre or otherwise.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51 (Devils 2 - Capitals 1) and Game 52 (Capitals at Canadiens)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Someday, the Washington Capitals will win a hockey game once more.  The air will smell fresher, the beer will taste colder, and happiness will reign.  For now, however, we are left to grumble over stale beer in a room filling with the smoke of a season being burned away.  The Caps lost their seventh straight game and 11th in their last 13 contests last night, a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Newark.

Devils games are largely uneventful by design.  Patience, counterpunching, taking advantage of scarce opportunities, strangling the life out of an opponent quietly and efficiently, it was all on display last night.  The teams combined for only 89 shot attempts in 60 minutes, making the shot totals – 31 for the Caps, 30 for the Devils – seem misleading in terms of the level of action. 

Cory Schneider stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced to even his win-loss record at 9-9-7.  He was as sharp as he needed to be, allowing only a Jason Chimera deflection of a John Erskine shot midway through the third period after the Devils scored their two goals.

The first of those goals came on a Stephen Gionta shot almost five minutes into the contest that goalie Michal Neuvirth seemed to have pinned to his right side, but the puck trickled out and over the goal line just before Neuvirth was run over in his crease by Ryan Carter.  The second goal came at the end of some pretty passing down low on a power play, Travis Zajac moving the puck from the top of the left wing circle to Jaromir Jagr skating through the circle toward the Capitals’ goal line. As the defense converged on Jagr, he slid the puck across the slot to Adam Henrique standing alone at the far post.  Henrique gladly accepted the gift and buried the puck behind Neuvirth for what would be the game-winning goal.

Other stuff…

-- We mentioned opportunism.  There it was on the first Devils goal.  A pass by Martin Erat to Dmitry Orlov high in the Devils’ zone was a bit in Orlov’s skates, and the defenseman did not receive the puck cleanly.  When Orlov overskated the puck, there was Gionta to bat the puck forward to Jagr, who returned it to Gionta exiting the defensive zone.  From there it was just a matter of finishing as Gionta had speed and position to skate in and fire the shot that eluded Neuvirth.

-- In three of the last four games the Caps failed to score a power play goal while allowing at least one to the opposition.  Last night it was 0-for-3 with the man advantage, 4-for-5 killing penalties.  They lost by one goal.  Do the math.

-- The oh-fer on the power play makes it 1-for-24 over their last eight games over which the Caps are 1-5-2.

-- One goal scored makes it 15 times in 51 games in which the Caps have scored one or fewer goals.  On their seven-game losing streak it has happened six times.

-- The losing streak is hiding something positive.  While the Caps have allowed 19 goals in that span, four times they themselves allowed two or fewer goals, including their last two games.

-- On the other hand the Caps are 3-for-117 shooting the puck in their last four games (2.6 percent).

-- For Jagr, the magical winter of his career continues.  The two-point night was his second in five games, and he has six points in his last five games, the same number of total goals scored by the Caps.

-- Not that the Caps didn’t have their chances in this one… two chances from in close in the first shortly after the Gionta goal that Schneider had to expend great effort to stop, three shots in short succession on a Caps power play in the second, any of which might have made the game more interesting had one of them gone in.

In the end…

Pucks going in are rare and special for the Caps at the moment.  In their last 430 minutes of hockey covering seven games, the Caps have eight goals on 210 shots (3.8 percent shooting).  It is wasting some decent defense and goaltending, only 12 even strength goals allowed in those seven straight losses.  It is something, perhaps the only thing at the moment, that they can take into their game this evening against Montreal at Bell Centre…

…where the Canadiens are having problems of their own.  Montreal has lost three in a row and looked grim doing it, getting outscored by a 14-5 margin.  It is part of a longer trend in which the Habs are 4-6-2 over their last dozen games. 

It has not yet wreaked serious damage on their place in the standings – the Canadiens are third in the Atlantic Division with a 27-19-5 record.  There are, however, teams on their tail.  Toronto is tied in standings points (59) in fourth place, while the Detroit Red Wings, getting desperate to keep their playoff season string going, are just three points behind Montreal in fifth place.  Even Ottawa, which seems to be finding their stride, is just five points back and is 6-1-3 in their last ten games.

1.  In losing four of their last five games the Canadiens’ penalty kill has been lacking.  They are just 12-for-17 (70.6) and allowed at least one power play goal in each of the four losses.

2.  Offense has been a problem for Montreal almost as much as it has been for the Caps.  Over their last eight games the Canadiens scored 16 goals, five of those coming in a 5-4 overtime win over Ottawa on January 16th.

3.  Penalty killing is not the only problem for Montreal.  The Canadiens are that rare team these days that has a worse 5-on-5 goals scored/goals allowed ratio than the Caps.  Their 0.83 ratio ranks 26th in the league.

4.  What the Canadiens do fairly well to mitigate their 5-on-5 problems is minimize chances, but even here it is just a matter of degree.  While they rank 26th in 5-on-5 goal ratio, they rank 19th in even strength shots on goal allowed.

5.  If possession statistics mean anything, and if those numbers in 5-on-5 close score situations are strong indicators of team success, one wonders how Montreal is doing as well as they are.  The Canadiens rank 26th in the league in Corsi-for percentage in those situations, 24th in Fenwick-for percentge.

1.  On 32 occasions in 51 games this season the Caps have scored three or fewer goals.  Their record is 6-19-6.  They have only two wins in regulation when scoring three or fewer goals.

2.  Odd fact… No Metropolitan Division team has a losing record against the Atlantic Division.  No, not even the Caps, who are 6-4-4 against the Atlantic. 

3.  Only three teams – Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Edmonton – have allowed more shorthanded goals than the Caps (6).

4.  In three appearances since his epic struggle against Minnesota on January 4th, Braden Holtby has a goals against average of 2.16 and a save percentage of .924.  Those number come in only 139 minutes, but one has to start somewhere.

5.  How bad has the Caps luck been on this seven-game losing streak?  They have been at 50 percent or better in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations, just as they have been in Fenwick-for percentage.  Overall their Corsi-for percentage in those games is 52.2 percent, 51.9 percent Fenwick-for.  They have been outscored in those situations, though, 8-3.

In the end…

One gets the feeling it is going to be a fluke, something on the order of that goal Detroit scored a short while back that hit the netting behind the goal, fell, hit the goalie in the back and caromed into the net.  Maybe it will be a shot that deflects off an official, hits the goalie in the mask and tumbles into the net.  Maybe it will be an opponent shooting the puck into his own net while skating on a delayed penalty to the Caps. 

They sure could use the help.

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Capitals at Devils, January 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road once more after their brief (one game) respite in the friendly confines of Verizon Center.  This trip starts with a game in Newark, New Jersey, the Paris of Essex County.  There, in “Brick City,” the Capitals will visit the New Jersey Devils who, like the Capitals, have had a spotty start to the new calendar year.

Despite handing the St. Louis Blues their worst loss of the season in a 7-1 decision last Tuesday, the Devils are only 4-3-3 in 2014.  It was out of character for the Devils to lay that kind of thumping on an opponent.  The seven goals was the most scored by New Jersey since putting up seven against the New York Islanders back on April 10, 2010, in a 7-1 win.  The six-goal margin of victory was the widest for the Devils since that same win over the Islanders.

To that point, the Devils managed only a total of 18 goals in their first nine games this month.  It was not the only difference.  In their first nine games this month New Jersey was 5-for-26 on the power play (19.2 percent), but went 3-for-4 against the Blues.  Their penalty kill was 26-for-31 (83.9 percent) in the first nine games of January, but 3-for-3 against the Blues.

The Devils have had a relatively small circle of scorers in the 2014 portion of their season.  Over the last ten games 12 different skaters shared in the 25 goals.  The odd part of that is that only nine players had goals in the first nine of those games.  It was not until Game 10, that 7-1 pasting of St. Louis, that the Devils broke out and expanded their goal-scoring offering with three additional players – Mark Fayne, Damien Brunner, and Ryan Carter – scoring their first goals of the month.

Overall, Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder share the lead in goals in January with four apiece for the Devils.  Henrique is having a decent season after a disappointing sophomore season in which he was 11-5-16 in 42 games.  Henrique, you will remember, was a Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie season.  Through 51 games this season he is 13-12-25, his 13 goals being third on the team.  He has three goals in his last five games (3-1-4) and is 1-3-4 in seven career games against the Capitals.

Ryder is at the other end of the experience spectrum.  The ten-year veteran has 728 games with four different teams on his resume.  This is his first year with the Devils, and he is tied for the team lead in goals with Jaromir Jagr.  The odd part of his being tied for the team lead in goals this month is that he does not have one in his last five games, his longest drought since an 11-game streak that ended with the first Devils’ game in December.  Ryder has been quietly effective over his career against the Caps, scoring 15 goals in 30 career games (15-6-21).

Goaltending for the Devils is in transition.  Cory Schneider was obtained from Vancouver in a surprising draft day trade last summer that snared the ninth-overall pick for the Canucks (Bo Horvat).  Schneider was immediately designated Martin Brodeur’s successor to be.  It is the succeeding part that has dragged on this season through 51 games.  Seems that: a) Brodeur was not entirely ready to abdicate his position, and b)… well, there really is no “b.” 

The two have roughly split appearances down the middle, Brodeur with 27 and Schneider with 24.  Schneider is the one with the better numbers and the worse luck.  In his 24 appearances he has a better goals against average than Brodeur (1.88 to 2.36) and a better save percentage (.926 to .905). However, his record is 8-9-7, while Brodeur’s is 13-10-4.  Only once this season, that being on December 23rd against Chicago when he allowed five goals on 37 shots, has Schneider allowed more than three goals in a game.  What he has benefited from is light work.  Only six times in 24 appearances has he faced more than 30 shots on goal.  On the other hand, Schneider, who is expected to get Friday’s start against the Caps, has been lights out (as in “goal lights”) over his last seven appearances.  He is 4-1-2 over those seven games, 1.11, .960, with one shutout, and has not allowed more than two goals in any game.  He has no career decisions against the Caps.
Here is how the teams compare overall...

1.  The Devils defense and goaltending is consistent in their outcomes in regulation – fourth fewest goals allowed in the first period, third fewest goals allowed in the second period, eighth fewest goals allowed in the third period.  On the other hand, only eight teams have allowed more goals in overtime, and only Chicago has more losses in extra time.

2.  New Jersey’s offense leaves a bit to be desired.  Only three teams have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5.  They might be better served to play at 4-on-4.  Only five teams have more goals scored at 4-on-4 than the Devils.

3.  Despite being a team that plays low-scoring games, New Jersey is 28th of 30 teams in winning percentage in one-goal games (12-9-11).  A big problem is that they are 0-8 in the trick shot competition.  They are not just bad in this phase of the game, they are historically bad.  One goal on 25 shots taken (Reid Boucher…seriously).  Until this season the worst shooting percentage in the freestyle competition for a season was in 2006-2007 when Carolina finished with one goal on 17 shots (5.9 percent).  The Devils also happen to have the third worst save percentage in the Gimmick (.560).

4.  Scoring first is paramount against the Devils.  New Jersey has the worst record in the league when trailing first (4-14-5).  They have the third-worst record in the league when trailing after one period.  This is not a team built for comebacks.

5.  One might expect a team that plays close to the vest to be a good possession team (frankly, they had better be).  New Jersey is such a team.  The Devils are third in the league in Corsi-for percentage and fifth in the league in Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations.   

1.  The road has been unkind to the Caps lately.  Since winning consecutive road games against the Islanders and Rangers across a nine-day period in late November/early-December, the Caps are 2-6-2 on the road and have been outscored, 34-22, in those ten games.

2.  Special teams have been opposites of one another in those last ten road games.  The power play has been fine, very good in fact (9-29; 31.0 percent).  The penalty kill has been an adventure (26-for-35; 74.3 percent).

3.  If this contest goes to the extra-extra time, the Caps still have a fine record.  Washington is tied for second in wins (eight) and third in shooting percentage (40.4 percent).  They fall a bit short on save percentage, where they are tied for 20th.  After winning their first four Gimmicks of the season, the Caps are 4-6 since, and they are currently on a three-game losing streak in this phase of the game.  The Caps have lost their last five extra-time games, overall, including two games settled in overtime.

4.  The Caps are 1-for-21 (4.8 percent) on the power play over their last seven games, 19-for-25 (76.0 percent) on the penalty kill.

5.  In their current 0-4-2 winless streak, the Caps are skating in a big vat of bad puck luck.  Despite an overall Corsi-for percentage of 52.4 percent in 5-on-5 close situations and a Fenwick-for percentage of 52.0 percent, the Caps are shooting to a 2.8 percent mark (three goals on 109 shots) in those same situations.  Even with a save percentage in such situations of .930, the Caps’ PDO is just 958.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Jaromir Jagr

Somewhere, deep in the bowels of Prudential Center, perhaps, there hangs a portrait of Jaromir Jagr, the image wizened with age, hair turned thinning and gray, his posture stooped.  OK, so he is not the second coming of Dorian Gray.  But heavens, he is going to be 42 years old in a few weeks, and he leads the Devils in goals, assists, points, plus-minus, and game-winning goals.  He is doing it while still averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time a night.  OK, so it is on a team that is otherwise offensively challenged, but it is still a remarkable performance so far.  He comes into this games with goals in three of his last four games (3-1-4) and is 30-58-88 in 71 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Eric Fehr

In the Capitals’ last road win, Eric Fehr had a pair of goals, including the game-winner with under a minute to play.  That was the last time Fehr lit the lamp as he enters this game on a seven-game streak without a goal.  If Alex Ovechkin misses his second straight game, the Caps need someone to act as a finisher.  Fehr could inherit that role, especially if he mans the trigger spot in the left wing circle on the power play. 


1.  Score first.  Self-explanatory; the Devils simply are not a comeback sort of club.

2.  Be crisp and consistent.  The Devils are a club with a long history of using the same formula for success.  Strangle a club in the neutral zone, deny them opportunities to get into a flow.  If the Caps try to connect on long bombs through the neutral zone, they’re going to find themselves on the wrong side of possession in a big way.  Crisp passing, consistent application of a simple game plan.

3.  No softies.  In a low scoring game, which this would seem likely to be, the odd lackadaisical goal allowed is crippling.  None of that tonight.

In the end…

The Devils actually provide a suitable foil for the Caps at this point of their losing streak.  Winning is going to be the product of simple, basic, fundamental, not to mention persistent hockey.  Simply put, if the Caps don’t play such a game, they don’t win.  The Devils might lack flash, but they don’t beat themselves that way.

Capitals 2 – Devils 1