Friday, February 28, 2014

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 60: Capitals 5 - Panthers 4

Well, they won.

The Washington Capitals started their home stretch on the right foot, if only with a halting step, by defeating the Florida Panthers last night, 5-4, in Sunrise, Florida.  The Capitals never trailed in the game, but neither could they hold a lead. 

The Caps opened the scoring with a pair of goals 2:22 apart early in the first period, the first being the product of persistent stick work by Troy Brouwer on a power play.  In the middle of the 1-3-1 set up, Brouwer had an active stick on shots coming through, trying to deflect one past Panther goalie Tim Thomas.  It would be a loose puck, though, that Brouwer would finally backhand over Thomas’ blocker to give the Caps the lead. 

Brooks Laich made it 2-0 in short order when Alex Ovechkin broke in with him into the Panther zone.  From the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin hinted at a shot but laid the puck off to Laich on the opposite side.  Laich buried it before Thomas could scramble across, and it was 2-1.

That did not last.  Tomas Fleischmann got one back with less than five minutes left in the period when he snuck into the slot and converted a pass from behind the net by Jesse Winchester.  Brad Boyes tied it 40 seconds into the second period when he swept in a loose puck lying at the post to the left of goalie Braden Holtby.

The Caps recaptured their two-goal lead in the period, first when Nicklas Backstrom snapped a loose puck in the low slot past Thomas, and next when Brouwer walked calm as you please into the crease and tapped the puck past a prone Thomas.

Florida got them back in an 82-second span in the third period, courtesy of Drew Shore on a power play, then Boyes again at the 9:23 mark.  That left things up to Ovechkin.  It started when the Panthers could not clear the puck out of their zone along the right wing wall.  When Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov chipped the puck along the wall, it seemed to be a signal for his teammates to fly the zone.  When Nicklas Backstrom knocked down the attempt at the blue line and chipped the puck back to Brooks Laich, it created a 2-on-1 for Laich on the right side and Ovechkin on the left, Mike Weaver the only Panther back.  Laich held the puck until Weaver committed and laid out, then slid the puck across to Ovechkin who one-timed the puck past Thomas for the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- Remember that stuff about two-goal leads we scribbled a little while back?  The Caps added two more two-goal leads to their body of work this season, lost them both, and still won the game.  They are now 16-1-2 when taking a two-goal lead and preventing the other team from earning one.

-- In his last 12 appearances in which he played all 60 minutes, Braden Holtby has allowed four or more goals seven times.  Draw your own conclusions.

-- Two power play opportunities, two power play goals.  It was the first time this season the Caps pulled off that trick.

-- The top line sure was working.  Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom each went 1-2-3.  For Laich it was his first multiple point game this season and his first since April 5, 2012, against these same Florida Panthers (a 4-2 Caps win to clinch the 2012 Southeast Division title).  It was his first three-point game since November 1, 2011, in a 5-4 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.

-- On the other hand, it was Backstrom’s third multiple point game in his last five contests.  He broke a 15-game streak without a goal, although he is now 1-8-9 over his last six games.

-- For Ovechkin it was his fourth multi-point game in his last nine games.  He is 11-11-22 over his last 18 games and has points in 14 of those games.

-- Let’s not leave Troy Brouwer out of this.  His two power play goals make it five goals in his last three games. It was the first time he recorded two power play goals in a game since December 13, 2010, when he had a pair in a 7-5 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and he was skating for the Chicago Blackhawks.

-- Also not to be left out of the multiple point parade is John Carlson.  He had a pair of assists to make it three multi-point games in his last six.  He is 1-7-8 over his last nine games.

-- Four shifts, 2:20 of ice time, no shots, no points, no good.  Mikhail Grabovski left the game in the first period after getting tangled up with Nick Byugstad, apparently reinjuring his wonky ankle. 

-- Grabovski’s injury meant some scrambling of lines and roles. One effect – Jay Beagle skated 15:31, his second highest ice time logged this season.

-- It strikes us as a bit odd that Nicklas Backstrom, who took the most faceoffs for the Caps last night, was the only Cap to be under 50 percent for the evening (5-for-16; 31.3 percent).

-- Mike Green had a game he probably does not want to remember.  Green skated only 18:35 in his return from a concussion sustained against Columbus back on February 4th.  It was his first time under 20 minutes in a full game since December 27th (19:10) and his lowest ice time for a full game since December 17th against Philadelphia (18:05).  He was on the ice for three Panther goals, although his partner (Dmitry Orlov on the first two of them) certainly played a role, getting walked around on the boards leading to the first Panther goal and wandering away from the post to let Brad Boyes tap in a loose puck for the second Florida score.

-- Nicolas Deschamps got a sweater when Marcus Johansson was a late scratch.  Nine shifts, 7:38 in ice time.  Welcome to the show, kid.

In the end...

The two-goal scorer Troy Brouwer might have had the best take on the proceedings:

“After that game, it’s a win, but it’s not really a winning feeling in here at the moment.”

Yeah, OK.  You still got two points.  So suck it up.  Things are going to get real, really fast.  Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh – twice apiece – over the next seven games.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Capitals at Panthers, February 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The torch has been extinguished, the athletes have returned to their homelands, and we are back to our scribbles. The Olympics are over, and…

“They were GREAT!

Well, it looks like the cousins have not yet extinguished their Olympic enthusiasm. Cheerless, you enjoyed them?

“You bet! They were more exciting than running from a revenuer trying to catch me at the ol’ still.”

Fearless, I assume you relished the competition.

“Oh, it was magnificent. The steely-eyed competitors giving and taking no quarter. The skills, the strategy, the suspense.”

“Yeah, and ever since the Olympics ended, our place has never been cleaner.”


“Oh, he’s done nothing but sweep out the place every day this week.”

Ah, the dedication and discipline of the athlete.

“Nah… I just LOVE curling!”

Well, before Cheerless takes to heaving rocks about the place, let’s get to the business at hand. The Washington Capitals return to action tonight when they visit the Florida Panthers in a Southeast Showd….

Oh wait, that’s last year. This year, the teams are merely Eastern Conference opponents, the Caps in the Metropolitan Division, the Panthers in the Atlantic. This will be the third and last meeting between the clubs this season. The Caps and Panthers have split a pair of 3-2 decisions this year, the Caps winning at home in the Gimmick on November 2nd, the Panthers winning in another freestyle competition on December 13th in Florida.

If you think the Washington Capitals’ representatives at the Sochi Olympics had disappointing experiences, consider the Florida Panthers’ representatives. Forwards Tomáš Kopecký and Aleksander Barkov were selected to Team Slovakia and Team Finland, respectively. Neither made it to the end of the tournament, and we do not mean by way of their teams' elimination. Kopecký’s Olympics were ended in Slovakia’s 3-1 loss to Slovenia in the preliminary round of men’s ice hockey. He took an elbow to the head from Sabahudin Kovačevič and sustained a concussion. He is out indefinitely. Barkov suffered a knee injury in Finland’s 6-1 win over Finland and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Neither Kopecký (4-8-12 in 49 games) nor Barkov (8-16-24) are having especially noteowrthy years, although Barkov is tied for 10th among rookies in points. However, it makes for a thinning of the roster for a team already struggling. Florida entered the Olympic break with a 1-5-0 record in their last six games. The problem was not one of scoring (well, not “the” problem), but rather keeping their own net clear of pucks. The Panthers allowed 25 goals in those six games, their only win coming (not coincidentally) when they allowed but a single goal to Toronto in a 4-1 win on February 4th.

The problem in their own end has not been allowing an inordinate number of shots during this 1-5-0 run (31.3 per game), but goaltending has been something of an adventure. Tim Thomas has had most of the work over those six games, going 1-4-0, 3.88, .877 in 263 minutes of work over five appearances. He was pulled in his last start after allowing four goals on 14 shots in less than 25 minutes of a 5-1 loss to Carolina in the Panthers’ last game before the break.

And he’s the better of the two goalies. Scott Clemmensen had one start and one relief appearance, going 0-1-0, 4.41, .860. Thomas is 14-5-3, 2.46, .923 with a shutout against the Caps in 23 career appearances, However, he has not appeared against the Caps since Joel Ward scored on him in overtime in Game 7 to send the Boston Bruins home for the spring in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Scoring has not exactly been a bright spot, either. Twelve goals in six games, four of them in the Panthers’ 4-1 win over Toronto on February 4th. At least they have spread things around, like a thin layer of peanut butter on stale bread as it turns out. Sixteen different skaters have points, nine players share the 12 goals.

Only Scottie Upshall has as many as four points over the 1-5-0 run (1-3-4, all of those points coming in his last five games). In fact, this is part of a longer productive run for Upshall, at least by Panther standards. He is 4-5-9 over his last 14 games. Upshall also is one of two Panthers with both a power play goal and a shorthanded goal scored this season. He has an assist over the two games played against the Caps this season.

Brad Boyes is the other Panther with both a power play and a shorthanded goal scored this season, and he is one of three Panthers with two goals over the 1-5-0 run up to the Olympic break (Nick Byugstad and Dmitry Kulikov being the others). He has been streaky. From November 12th through November 27th, a period covering eight games, Boyes was 3-3-6. Then he went cold, going 1-0-1 over his next dozen games. He followed that up with a 3-5-8 scoring line over seven games, then went cold again without a point in his next five contests. Boyes comes into this game 3-1-4 in his last seven games, but he is without a point in his last three.  Here is how the teams compare to date, numbers-wise...

1. Florida is special in one respect. They have the worst special teams in the league. They might even be historic in their ineptitude. Going into this game the Panthers rank dead last in power play (9.0 percent) and penalty kill (77.2 percent). That special teams index of 86.2 would be, if the season ended today, the worst such number since the 2004-2005 lockout (Toronto had an 88.6 index in 2009-2010) and is the worst going back at least to the 1997-1998 season. Florida could end the season with the worst power play percentage in at least 40 years. The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the 1997-1998 season at 9.3 percent, and the Washington Capitals did the same in their inaugural season in 1974-1975.

2. To the Panthers, the eight-ball they get behind early in games is not a billiard ball, it is a boulder, at least in terms of their first period play. With 34 goals scored and 56 allowed in the first periods of games, Florida is 29th in the league with a minus-22 goal differential in the first 20 minutes (Buffalo is minus-31).

3. Again, thank heavens for Buffalo. No team has scored first less often than the Panthers (23 times in 58 games), except the Sabres (19 times in 58 games).

4. When Florida loses, and they do it often, there is rarely any mystery about it. Of their 36 total losses, regulation and extra time, 16 of them have been by three or more goals. No team has a higher percentage of losses coming by three or more goals. No, not even Buffalo.

5. The sad truth is that the Panthers are a decent possession team, to a point. In 5-on-5 close scenarios the Panthers rank 15th in the league in Fenwick-for percentage and 14th in Corsi-for percentage. But here’s the thing. Only two teams have fewer Corsi and Fenwick events in such situations than the Panthers (St. Louis and Columbus in both instances). Florida just does not spend much time staying “close,” and not in a good way.

1. As the Caps head into their last 23 games, here are their 59-game records in this playoff era:

2008: 27-26-6
2009: 37-17-5
2010: 41-12-6
2011: 30-19-10
2012: 29-25-5
2013: only 48 games played
2014: 29-23-7

It looks like what a balloon with a slow leak sounds like.

2. Only four teams have more second period goals this season than the Caps’ 68 goals. Trouble is, only four teams have allowed more second period goals than the Caps’ 62 goals.

3. Alex Ovechkin has 40 goals in 55 games. At the 55-game mark of his 65-goal season in 2007-2008 he had 46 goals at the 55-game mark. He would need to close with a rush to get close to that personal best; he had 17 goals in his last 17 games that 2007-2008 season.

3. Nicklas Backstrom has gone 15 games without a goal, his second streak of at least 12 games without a goal this season. He has a way to go (not that we hope he gets there) to hit his career longest. He went 21 games without a goal, in 2009-2010 (December 2 - January 18).

4. If Nicolas Deschamps (called up yesterday) gets a sweater, he will be the 13th player for the Caps who has spent time with the Hershey Bears this season (of what would be 32 players to dress for the Caps in all). The others are:

Casey Wellman
Michael Latta
Julien Brouillette
Tyson Strachan
Dmitry Orlov
Nate Schmidt
Patrick Wey
Connor Carrick
Steve Oleksy
Jack Hillen
Michal Neuvirth
Phillipp Grubauer
Nicolas Deschamps

5. Progress… The Caps are slowly climbing the possession charts. The now rank 18th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations and 20th in Fenwick-for percentage. In both (49.1 and 48.6, respectively) they are getting tantalizingly close to 50 percent.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Tomas Fleischmann

Former Capital Tomas Fleischmann is quietly rehabilitating his reputation as being a player who answers the bell. After enduring a number of health problems in his tenure with the Caps and with the Colorado Avalanche (lower body injury, pneumonia, blood clots, chest injury), he has appeared in 186 of 188 games as a member of the Florida Panthers. What he is not having, though, is a productive season. His five goals in 56 games is his lowest goal total in that many games or more in his career. He is without a goal in his last 22 games and has only two in his last 43 games since he scored against the Caps in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Caps on November 10th.

Washington: Martin Erat

Much attention is being paid to how the Olympic athletes representing the teams with high expectations – Alex Ovechkin with Team Russia, Nicklas Backstrom with Team Sweden, and John Carlson with Team USA – will come out of the gate after disappointing conclusions to their respective stays in Sochi. On the other hand, there is Martin Erat. A replacement for St. Louis’ Vladimir Sobotka, Erat did not have an especially memorable games, numbers-wise, but he did have a goal in five games (in a 4-2 win over Latvia), and he and his wife Vera welcomed a baby daughter into the family. All in all, it was not a bad Olympic break for the veteran. Of more relevance to the Caps, since logging just (:42 and 7:27 in consecutive games in early January, Erat has logged fewer than 15 minutes per game only once, back on January 17th. He is 1-6-7 in his last 12 games since those spare minute games, showing signs that the best from him this season is yet to come. One only wonders if it will be with the Caps.


1. Fast and Furious. We made note of the Florida power play, which makes the term “anemic” sound healthy. However, the Panthers are also last in the league in penalty killing and have allowed power play goals in each of the last five games in which they faced at least two shorthanded situations. Overall, they are 24-for-32 over their last nine games (75.0 percent). They can, on the other hand, do reasonably well at home. In their last eight home games they are 23-for-24, Detoit breaking their string of seven straight home games not allowing a power play goalwhen the Red Wings went 6-for-7 on the power play. The Caps need to get on them fast and be furious about pounding the net.

2. Ignore the Logo. 

“I found that it was quiet; it was kind of tough to get up for the game here. I don’t know why. I think I have an idea why.  The crowd was quiet, yeah. So I think that has a little bit to do with it, but we should’ve created our own energy because it was such a big game, and we didn’t do a good enough job doing it.”

-- Karl Alzner, speaking of playing in Sunrise, Florida, February 2012 (the Caps lost that game to the Panthers, 4-2)

If that attitude reappears, this team is not good enough to win on talent alone.

3.  Stay the Cors-i.  The Capitals have improved their possession statistics over the weeks leading up to the Olympic Break, but they are going to have to raise that bar to becoming a dominant team if they are going to make a playoff run.  That should (and “should” is an important word in this sentence) be the case against this team.

In the end…

The Caps are three points out of a playoff spot with 23 games to play.  It does not sound like much, but with three-point games being a feature of today’s NHL and teams getting chances to pick up points even when they lose, that margin is wider than it might seem.  The Caps cannot be giving any more points away to lesser teams; they need to hoard these points with the most difficult part of their 2013-2014 schedule about to begin.  There is no excuse for losing this game.

Capitals 4 – Panthers 2

Monday, February 24, 2014

Washington Capitals: Is a Seventh "Seven" in the Cards? On the Matter of Winning Streaks

The Washington Capitals find themselves on the outside looking in at a playoff berth as the NHL takes its Olympic Games break.  With 23 games left to play, the Caps are one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card spot and three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division and an automatic berth in the post-season. 

It is not as if the Caps find themselves in a dire situation, at least insofar as the standings points situation is concerned.  The Caps are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators for ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 63 standings points, and they are only four points behind the New York Rangers for sixth in the conference.

At risk for the Capitals is missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, a string of six straight post-season appearances and counting.  With 23 games left, one might wonder what has been missing for the Caps this season compared to those six seasons and whether they can find it in the home stretch.

One thing that jumps off the page is this fact.  In each of the last six seasons the Caps have had a winning streak of at least seven games.  This season their longest winning streak is four games, back in early November when they beat Philadelphia, the Florida Panthers, the New York Islanders, and the Minnesota Wild in succession.  Washington entered the Olympic break on a modest two-game winning streak, so there is the opportunity out of the gate to see if they can extend their streak of years with long winning streaks.  Given that for the Caps extending one streak – the consecutive years stretch with a seven-game winning streak – might be necessary to extend the playoff appearance streak, it merits some consideration what characterized those streaks and whether the Caps might have it in them to repeat them as they enter the home stretch.


Winning means scoring more than your opponent.  Or, for the defensive-minded, holding opponents to fewer goal than you score.  The question here is whether the Caps, in their winning streaks of seven or more games in each of the past six seasons, succeeded more as a product of their offense – being especially prolific in goal scoring relative to their norm – or in holding opponents down in those contests. 

In those six streaks of seven wins or more the Caps never averaged less than 3.00 goals per game (2010-2011).  After that, the next lowest average scoring offense was 3.57 goals per game in the 2007-2008 season.  Further, as you might expect, their scoring offense in these streaks outpaced their scoring offense over the rest of their schedule.  On average the Caps averaged 3.94 goals per game in the 52 games making up the six streaks, almost a full goal more than the 2.95 goals per game scored in all of the other games over that six-year period.  In 32 of the 52 games they scored four or more goals.  In the 2009-2010 season in which they averaged 3.82 goals over the 82-game season (the highest season scoring output of any team in the post 2004-2005 lockout period) the Caps scored five or more goals an amazing nine times in their 14-game winning streak that season.

Just as amazing, especially given the continuing perception of this team as an offense-at-the-expense-of-defense sort of squad, is that the Caps averaged only 2.02 goals allowed per game over the 52 games making up the six streaks.  That mark is more than three-fourths of a goal lower than the 2.80 goals allowed per game over all the other games played over those six seasons.  In all, in 37 of the 52 games the Caps allowed two goals or fewer.

Winning Margin

In today’s NHL it is entirely possible that a team will not outscore its opponents over the life of a winning streak.  In a seven-game winning streak, one could win all seven in shootouts.  But for purposes of this discussion, a one-goal winning margin on average is the lower bound.  We are then left with a question of how much more a team dominates the scoring in their winning streak. 

In those six seasons in which the Caps posted winning streaks of at least seven games they never had to goals differential of less than 1.44, that coming in the 2010-2011 season.  Their widest average margin of victory in the streak was 2.43 goals in the 2009-2010 season.  This probably comes as no surprise given that the Caps of that season remain the most prolific offensive team since the 2004-2005 lockout.

However, winning big was not the norm for the Caps over this period.  Half of the 52 games ended in one-goal decisions, including nine games decided in overtime and another six decided in the freestyle competition.  In none of the six streaks did the Caps fail to record at least one overtime and at least one Gimmick win.  In 2010-2011, when the Caps cobbled together a nine-game winning streak, two of the games were decided in overtime, and two others were decided in the trick shot phase.

That’s not to say that winning big was absent from these streaks.  Eleven times in 52 games the Caps won by three goals, and they won another six games by margins in excess of three goals.

Shots and Shooting

One might think that winning is the product of territorial dominance that leads to all those goals for and the dearth of goals against.  And, that territorial dominance would be reflected in shots for (many) and shots against (few).  That makes sense, but it just does not apply to the Capitals and their six winning streaks under examination here.  Over the 52 games the Caps out-shot opponents on average by a 32.3 to 31.4 margin.  Over the 52 games the Caps out-shot opponents 29 times and were out-shot 23 times (in no game did the teams record the same number of shots).

What the Caps did was shoot more efficiently.  Over the 52 games they shot to 12.2 percent, compared to 10.6 percent in all other games over the six seasons.  There was a considerable range of shooting percentages from streak-to-streak, year-to year.  The lowest shooting percentage they compiled in a streak over this period was 9.2 percent in the nine-game winning streak of 2010-2011.  That year also represented the Caps second-highest average shot total in games of the streak (32.7 shots per game).

The Caps’ highest shooting percentage during a streak was recorded in 2009-2010 (14.9 percent), a rather remarkable achievement given that the Caps sustained that percentage over 14 straight games.  Small wonder that the Caps had those nine games with five or more goals scored over the streak.

On the other side, the Caps did not do an especially extraordinary job holding shot totals down for opponents.  Over the 52 games opponents averaged those 31.4 shots per game.  There was a considerable range in shots allowed among the six streaks, though, from a low of 24.3 shots per game allowed in the seven-game streak of 2007-2008 to the 35.1 shots per game allowed in the 2009-2010 streak.


What the Caps did get was superior goaltending.  In the six streaks Capital goaltenders had save percentages of below .930 over the life of the streak only once, that coming in 2008-2009 when the save percentage was .922.  Over the 52 games Capital goalies worked to an aggregate save percentage of .936.  In three of the streaks Capitals goaltenders had goals-against averages lower than 2.00.  Further, these results were the product of consistency.  In the 52 games comprising the six streaks there were only three shutouts pitched by Capitals goalies.  We would point out once more that the Caps allowed two or fewer goals in 37 of those 52 games.

Special Teams

Special teams present an odd set of circumstances for the six winning streaks the Caps posted over the past six seasons.  On one side of the ledger what was strong became stronger.  On the other, not as much.  The power play for the Caps over the 52 games of the six streaks converted 26.0 percent of its opportunities.  Compare that to the 21.0 percent power play the Caps managed in all other games over those six seasons.  In fact, the Caps recorded power play goals in 35 of the 52 games over the six streaks in question, and 14 times they recorded multiple power play goal-games.  That 2009-2010 team figures prominently in those numbers.  In the 14-game winning streak of that season the Caps were 17-for-55 on the power play (30.9 percent), recorded power play goals in 12 of the 14 games, and had multiple power play goal-games four times.

For the power play it was more efficiency that opportunity.  The Caps enjoyed 196 man-advantages over the 52 games comprising the six streaks (3.8 per game).  But here is how the efficiency part played out in that context.  In seven games in which the Caps received only one power play, they converted that lone opportunity four times.

The penalty kill, on the other hand, was not especially effective during these streaks.  Overall, it was 83.1 percent over the 52 games.  Only once – in 2010-2011 – did the Caps’ penalty killers top 90 percent over the life of a streak.  That club killed off 34 of 37 shotrthanded situations (91.7 percent) over a nine-game winning streak.

Twice the penalty kill was 80 percent or worse over a streak.  In 2007-2008 the Caps were 20-for-25 killing penalties (80.0 percent) over the seven-game streak that ended their regular season with a playoff berth, and last season they were 14-for-19 (73.7 percent) in an eight-game winning streak.  The important point about those streaks was opportunities, allowing only 3.6 opportunities in the 2007-2008 streak and only 2.4 opportunities per game in the eight-game streak last season.

Shorthanded situations were roughly equivalent to power play opportunities over the 52 games over all (196 power plays, 189 shorthanded situations).  What it meant was that it was the power play that led the Caps to impressive results in the “special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages).”  Overall, over all 52 games, that index was 109.1 (26.0 percent power play, 83.1 percent penalty kill).  Only in 2007-2008 was the index below 100.0 (92.2 in the seven-game streak of 2007-2008), and four times it was over 110.0 (2008-2009 through 2011-2012).


One might think that having long home stands would add to the possibilities of starting and sustaining winning streaks.  In fact, 32 of the 52 games covering these six winning streaks were played at Verizon Center.  On the other hand, the Caps did not have a home stand of longer than three games during any of the six streaks.

One might expect that the Caps would be more productive on offense at home than on the road.  Not so when it came to the streaks.  The Caps averaged 3.88 goals per game at home over these streaks, but 4.05 goals per game away from Verizon Center.  It was on defense that home-cooking made a difference.  The Caps averaged only 1.78 goals against per game at home, 2.40 goals per game allowed when on the road over these streaks.

Special teams provided an odd coincidence.  At home and on the road the Caps averaged the same 26.0 percent on their power play.  Penalty killing was better at home (87.6 percent) than on the road (76.3 percent).  One difference to note on special teams, all though it was not particularly significant, was that the Caps averaged more power play opportunities than shorthanded situations at home (3.84 power plays per game to 3.53 shorthanded situations), while they faced more shorthanded situations on the road (3.80) than they had power plays (3.65).

Quality of Opponent

For the most part, the Caps did not beat up on munchkins in any of their six streaks of seven or more games.  In all of them, the combined records of the teams at the time they played were better than .500 (as measured by available standings points).  The worst collection of teams the Caps faced in their streaks was the group they faced in their seven-game streak to finish the 2007-2008 season (.505).  All seven of those games were played against Southeast Division opponents. 

The stiffest competition the Caps faced in any of their streaks was in 2011-2012 (.720), but that comes with a caveat.  That seven-game streak opened the season for Washington.  But there is this, too; the Caps gave three teams in that streak their first regulation loss of the season.  The next most difficult competition came in 2008-2009 when the Capitals won seven in a row from December 23rd through January 6th against teams that compiled a .559 standings points percentage at the time the Caps faced them.

In the end, there are six straight seasons of winning streaks of seven games or more.  The seasons might be different, but there are some things in common.  One thing that is in common is that there is no single factor to explain a streak.  As a group, they are not the product solely of a hot power play, of stingy penalty killing, of lucky shooting, of stalwart goaltending, or even of the "puck luck" of one-goal decisions.  It was a sustained combination of those factors, at least over a two to three week period or so.

And that brings us to this season and the resumption of the NHL schedule.  Washington finds itself only one point out of a playoff spot as games resume this week, but the thin margin might be deceptive.  The Caps’ March schedule is difficult.  Of their 15 games, 12 are against teams that are currently playoff-eligible.  Add to that the fact that eight of the games are on the road, including a three-game trip to California, and securing a playoff berth will be a challenge.

As we noted, the longest winning streak the Caps have put together so far this season is four games to start November.  Their six-year run of having a winning streak of seven-games or more is in jeopardy.  It is entirely possible that if they fail to extend that streak to a seventh year, they will fail to extend their streak of playoff appearances to a seventh year.

photo: The Washington Post

Friday, February 21, 2014

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin - 2014 is not 2010

"From life's school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger"
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

“Whatever doesn't kill you is gonna' leave a scar.”
-- Marilyn Manson

It has been a bad week to be a Russian hockey player in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. With the weight of a nation spanning nine time zones bearing down on their shoulders, a desire to sponge away the disappointment of their sixth-place finish in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and an aspiration to return to international glory in hockey seen only intermittently since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the Russians had a herculean task.

Win Gold…at home.

As anyone who follows the sport knows by now, the weight of that task fell heaviest on the shoulders of the Washington Capitals’ star forward, Alex Ovechkin, and in the end he (not to mention his teammates and coaches) were not up to the task. Russia’s elimination in the quarterfinals meant that they would not medal, the third straight Winter Olympics in which the Russians failed to medal.

Ovechkin, as the Russian face of the Sochi Games, was the lightning rod for commentary before the Games and before the loss to Finland in the quarters, and as might be expected, he is the focus of the post mortems taking place after his team’s elimination.

Whether Ovechkin deserves the lion’s share of the blame (he doesn’t) or none of it (he deserves some of it) is, at this point, of little relevance as the National Hockey League prepares to resume its 2013-2014 season schedule. Of concern to the league, and specifically to the Caps and their fans, is the matter of which Ovechkin will be returning to the Caps on February 27th when they visit the Florida Panthers.

The facile comparison to make here would be to the Ovechkin that emerged from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver when the Russians were eliminated by Team Canada in rude fashion, and Ovechkin became something of a poster boy for surliness upon his departure from Vancouver and indifferent play in the aftermath (four goals in his first 15 games with the Caps after the Olympic break).

Caps fans might worry that the higher stakes at Sochi – winning on home soil – and failing to accomplish the goal will have similar, if not proportionally larger effects on Ovechkin’s game upon his return.

We do not see the comparison as being especially relevant. In 2010, circumstances conspired to bring Ovechkin and arch-rival Sidney Crosby onto the same sheet of ice in the quarterfinals with the winner moving on to medal competition, and the loser going home with nothing. For Crosby, the face of his Games in Vancouver, it was a glorious triumph (even, as a lot of folks might have forgotten, he did not register a point in the 7-3 win over Russia). For Ovechkin, it was one more instance of Crosby getting the win, the glory, and the credit, while he slinked off in the wake of the short end of the post-game and post-tournament commentary. Perhaps it was less a character flaw in Ovechkin than the coincidence of a 24-year old in his second Olympics and the continuing battle with Crosby that has its own accompanying narrative that often gets reduced to “Crosby = selflessness, virtue, winning; Ovechkin = selfish, vice (in the hockey sense), losing.”

In 2014, Ovechkin is a 28-year old in his ninth NHL season who has: 1) played in four international tournaments since the debacle in Vancouver, 2) sat through (or suffered, depending on who is doing the questioning) hundreds of interviews, 3) been the subject of scores of stories, flattering and not. One might expect him to be, as many 28-year olds are, much more experienced and mature in dealing with the difficulties of his profession than he was at 24.

Then there is the matter of Crosby and a media-fueled narrative.  It does not have the same impact it did in 2010.  Frankly, neither has approached the white-hot intensity of the moment since those days earlier in their careers when every meeting was an event, and rarely did either fail to rise to that moment.  Since 2010, Ovechkin’s Capitals have been disturbingly consistent in being disappointing, while Crosby has fought injury and his own underachievement in terms of his team’s ability to advance in the post-season.  The Pittsburgh Penguins have but three playoff series wins since those Games in Vancouver in 2010, only one more than the Caps.  This “rivalry” simply does not have the relevance this year as it might have in 2010, even if Crosby’s Canadians should leave Sochi with another gold medal.

Sometimes soldiers fight the last war, and sometimes fans and media recall the last memory of a player or a team in a particular setting.  Ovechkin in the Olympics in 2014 is not the same Ovechkin who came out of the 2010 Games with a tarnished reputation and an attitude not conducive to success on the ice. 

Certainly there are those who want to repeat the same tired narratives – selfish, not showing up for the big games, and all that – but that bell does not ring as loudly as it did in 2014, either.  Ovechkin has to bear a measure of fault for his team’s performance, but if anything the performance of the Russians in 2014 laid bare some inconvenient truths about the way they have chosen to manage their participation in the Games.  And that goes far beyond one player, even one of immense talent who was the face of his nation’s Games.

As Ovechkin returns to the NHL, and now having to deal with a family matter one would think far more important than one’s performance on a hockey rink, we find it hard to believe that the disappointment in the Olympics will carry over into his game when he dons the Capitals’ jersey again.  Time has passed.  The 24-year old of 2010 lives in 2010.  The 28-year old in 2014 has a whole host of experiences in the intervening four years, good and bad, just like any other 28-year old.  The maturity has been in evidence in the manner in which he handled the immediate aftermath of his team's loss to Finland, being accommodating to a waiting media when the emotions of losing and disappointment might have been most keenly felt.

The difference, and we do not mean to diminish its importance, is scale.  He has done it over the past four years on a bigger stage with a lot more eyes watching him.  However, while the events of the past week might have scarred him, they might have made him stronger, too.

photo: Reuters

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- The Sochi Olympics: Week 1

While the Washington Capitals head into the second week of the Olympic break, what sort of week did those Caps representing their countries have in the preliminary round of men’s ice hockey?

-- Marcus Johansson recorded two shots in Sweden’s 5-3 win over Latvia.  It was the first time he had more than one shot in a game since he recorded three in Washington’s 2-0 loss to Ottawa back on January 21st.  That broke a ten-game streak in Washington (9) and Sochi (1) in which Johansson was held to one or no shots on goal.  He assisted on the insurance goal in that game to give the Swedes their final 5-3 margin.

-- Nicklas Bäckström has had a solid, if unspectacular, Olympics so far.  Third in total ice time among Team Sweden forwards, tied for second in goals scored for while on ice, tied for second in assists, tied for fourth in points.  He still is not shooting the puck, though.  Only three of Sweden’s 14 forwards are averaging fewer shots per 60 minutes than Bäckström.

-- Martin Erat has one of the three goals scored by forwards for the Czech hockey team.  He scored the first goal in Czech’s 4-2 win over Latvia (If only the Latvians were on the March schedule for the Caps instead of Boston, Pittsburgh, and the west coast teams).  It was his second Olympic goal, his first coming when he scored the Czechs’ first goal (the game-winner) in a 3-0 win over Russia for the Bronze medal in 2006.

-- John Carlson leads Team USA defensemen in scoring so far with a goal and an assist in three games.  Things certainly seem to happen when he is on the ice.  Despite having the lowest average ice time of any of the seven defensemen to dress so far for Team USA, no defenseman has been on ice for more goals scored by Team USA (5), and no defenseman has been on ice for more goals scored against the Americans (2).

-- No athlete bears a heavier weight of hopes and dreams for his country than Alex Ovechkin.  Through three games, he has not been dominant, but neither have many cracks appeared in his game.  Through three games he leads Team Russia’s forwards in total ice time (fourth among all Olympic forwards), is tied for second among the team’s forwards in points (1-1-2).  What might be among the stranger numbers involving Ovechkin is this one: 16.5.  That is his shots-per-60 minutes average through three games.  No, it does not lead all skaters.  It is not second, either.  He is third, behind Phil Kessel (20.3 shots-per-60 minutes), which might not be the most surprising turn here, but behind Krišjānis Rēdlihs?  Points if you knew he was a defenseman for Team Latvia.  And no confusing him with his brother, Miķelis Rēdlihs (20.0 shots-per-60 minutes), who is a forward for the Latvians.  OK, so Krišjānis only has five shots in 14:59 of ice time, but still.

Note: All numbers by way of

A Small World for Two Players and Persistent Narratives

The preliminaries of the Winter Olympic Games men’s ice hockey tournament are over.  Starting on Tuesday, it’s for real.  But while we have this brief hiatus in the Games, consider two players.

Player A is a forward.  He has averaged 15:43 of ice time through three games so far. He has two points, which happen to be points earned in the only goals scored for his team while he was on ice.  He has not been on ice for a goal against in more than 47 minutes of ice time (second among forwards on his team in total ice time).  The result is that he is a plus-2 in three games.

Player B is a forward.  He has averaged 20:35 in ice time through three games.  He has two points, half of the total his team has scored when he has been on ice, the four goals for being tops on his team.  He has not been on ice for a goal against in almost 62 minutes of ice time (only three forwards in the tournament have more ice time).  He is a plus-2 after three games (both of his team’s power play goals came when he was on ice).

Player A’s contributions to his team are “immeasurable.”  He is being sacrificed for the greater good of winning.  

For Player B, his perplexing Olympic slump continues. 

Player A is Sidney Crosby.

Player B is Alex Ovechkin.

The world is a small place.  The same narratives can be found anywhere in it you look.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 19

Week 19 was the kind of week in which everyone wants to do well.  The last week before the Olympic break, everyone wants to do well to feel good about themselves as they prepare for either a trip to Sochi to compete on the international stage or for a couple of weeks off from the NHL grind.  Then there is the matter of setting oneself up for the stretch run to follow, because once clubs do resume play, it will be 25 or fewer games left in the regular season, and the sprint will be on.  For the Washington Capitals, Week 19 set up the Olympic break about as well as could be expected.

Record: 3-1-0

A lot of good things can be said about Week 19.  It was the first winning week for the Caps since Week 15.  It was also their first three-win week of the season.  The Caps broke a seven-game losing streak against Metropolitan Division teams.  They went 2-1-0 against Eastern Conference teams and jumped into fifth place in the division, one point out of a playoff spot.

But there was also that “1.”  That one loss for the week, a 1-0 decision dropped to the New York Islanders.  The Islanders were a team nine points behind the Caps on Tuesday night when the teams met in Washington, a team on a five-game losing streak, a team that allowed 21 goals in those five games.  The Caps could not solve them or goalie Evgeni Nabokov for any, though, and the 1-0 decision was the only thing keeping the Caps from their first four-win week since April 7-13 last season.

Offense:  3.25/game (season: 2.76 / rank: 13th)

The Caps built on a solid Week 18 in offensive production.  Or so the raw numbers would suggest.  Thirteen goals in a four-game week is the kind of production one would look for on offense, but almost half of that came in a 6-5 overtime decision over the Detroit Red Wings, a game in which the Caps held three two-goal leads.  From an offensive point of view the Caps persevered in that game despite the let downs at the other end. 

The rest of the week, though, did not impress.  Getting shut out by the Islanders, a team that went into the game 29th in the league in scoring defense, was difficult to believe, even if the goalie doing the shutting out was one (Evgeni Nabokov) with a history of mastering the Caps.  That game was the obvious example of offensive inconsistency.  The game to close the week, against the New Jersey Devils, threatened to put to sleep anyone watching.  The teams combined for 44 shots and no goals over the first 50:50 of the game.  At that point, things took a turn.  Julien Brouillette scored his first NHL goal.  Then Martin Erat scored his first goal of the season, an empty netter with 1:11 left.  Thirty six seconds after that, Troy Brouwer scored his first empty net goal of the season, and the Caps had what looked like a convincing 3-0 win. 

Speaking of Brouwer, he led the Caps with a four-goal week.  For Brouwer it was a welcome change from the one goal in 14 games he was sporting coming into the week.  He jumped past Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, and Mikhail Grabovski into third place on the club in goals. Nicklas Backstrom did not have a goal for the week, but he did have five assists and went into the Olympic break third in the league in helpers, trailing only Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby.  Joel Ward had a pair of goals for the Caps to reach 17 for the season, matching his career high set in the 2008-2009 season with the Nashville Predators.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.85 / rank: 22nd)

The defense was something of a mirror image of the offense in that allowing eight goals for the week sounds worse than it really was.  Five of those goals came against Detroit to open the week, a game in which the Caps let three two-goal leads get away.  But what the Caps did over the four-game week was hold teams down in shots.  Only once, a 36-shot performance by the Winnipeg Jets, did the Caps allow an opponent more than 30 shots.  It continued a quiet trend for the Caps.  Heading into the Olympic break the Caps have allowed 30 or fewer shots in nine of their last 11 games.

The underlying numbers did not look so good, though.  In 5-on-5 close score situations the Caps were under water in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages in three of the four games for the week.  Overall the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage of 47.8 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 47.9.  Oddly enough, the one game in which the Caps were above 50 percent in both measures was, you guessed it, the 1-0 loss to the Islanders.

Goaltending: 1.99 GAA / .933 SV (season: 2.68 / .916 / 3 SO)

Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby split the goaltending duties this week, Neuvirth getting the first two games and Holtby the last two.  Neuvirth opened the week a bit shaky, allowing five goals on 30 shots in the Caps’ 6-5 overtime win over the Red Wings on Sunday.  It was not a case of leaky defense in front of him in every case, either.  A rebound left in the low slot led to Detroit’s first goal, a shot from a low angle fooled him on the second, a backhander slithered through his pads for the fifth goal that sent the game to overtime. 

Neuvirth was much sharper in his other appearance, allowing only a third-period goal through a screen on 28 shots faced, keeping the Caps in the contest when the Islanders peppered him with 13 shots in that third period.

When Neuvirth took ill on Thursday, Braden Holtby took over in net and turned in a fine performance against Winnipeg.  Holtby turned away 28 of 30 shots over the first 40 minutes to keep the game tied before the Caps won the third period, 2-0, and the game by a 4-2 margin.

Holtby got the nod in the last game of the week and did himself one, or rather two, better.  He stopped all 25 shots sent upon him by the New Jersey Devils to earn his third shutout of the season and his tenth career whitewashing.  That tenth career shutout made Holtby the fourth goaltender in franchise history to hit double digits in shutouts, trailing only Jim Carey, Don Beaupre, and Olaf Kolzig.

Power Play: 3-for-20 / 15.0 percent (season:  percent 21.4 / T-4th)

One of the things we look for on special teams is shots per minute.  Put enough pressure on a defense and goaltender in those situations, they will crack.  In the first game of the week the Caps managed nine shots in 8:01 of power play time over six power plays.  They got variety, too.  Three shots from Alex Ovechkin (one goal), two from Nicklas Backstrom, and single shots from Martin Erat, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward (a goal), and John Carlson (a goal).

The rest of the week was not nearly as productive.  In the other three games of the week the Caps failed to average more than a shot per power play minute, going 0-for-20 overall in 26:27 of power play time over 14 power plays. Part of it was opponents holding Ovechkin’s shot totals down (he had four of those 20 shots over the last three games of the week).

The odd part about the shots was the performance against the Islanders.  The Caps went 0-for-7 on their own power play but also allowed five shorthanded shots to the Isles.  That was not all.  The Caps allowed two shorthanded shots to both Winnipeg and New Jersey in the last two games of the week, making the power play shot totals an unlikely 20-9 for the Caps in the last three games of the week.

Penalty Killing: 10-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 81.3 percent / T-17th)

The week started poorly and ended well.  After allowing the Red Wings two power play goals in three opportunities, the Caps shut out the Islanders, Winnipeg, and New Jersey on nine chances to end the week.  The Caps did a good job limiting opportunities with opponents getting only 12 power play chances for the week.  Once confronted with shorthanded situations, the Caps shook off the poor performance against Detroit and held the last three opponents for the week to just 14 shots on goal in 14:57 of power play time.  Putting the week another way, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist was 2-for-3 shooting against the Caps on the power play.  Washington was 15-for-15 stopping everyone else.

What the Caps could not replicate, though, was an ability to generate any threats when shorthanded.  The Caps did not have a shorthanded shot on goal for the week.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 10-6 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.92 / rank: 21st)

Win even-strength, win the week.  Tying even strength got the Caps to overtime against the Red Wings, where they won on a power play.  They lost the even-strength battle to the Islanders, then the game, by a 1-0 margin.  They then outscored Winnipeg and New Jersey by a combined 7-2 margin (two of the goals being empty netters). 

Here is the thing, though.  The Caps were outshot for the week at even strength, 90-77.  The only game in which they won that battle came against the Devils by a 21-19 margin, the two goal difference a product of the two empty net goals at the end.

Faceoffs: 134-236 / 56.8 percent (season: 49.8 percent / rank: 17th)

The Caps won each game, won each zone, and won the week in the circle.  Washington was especially successful in the defensive zone, winning it in all four games and going 47-for-73 for the week in that end (64.4 percent).  No Capital was under 50 percent in the defensive zone for the week, the team being led in draws taken by Nicklas Backstrom (11-for-14) and Jay Beagle (10-for-20). 

Backstrom was a beast in the offensive end as well, taking 33 of the total of 83 offensive zone draws for the week.  He won 18 of them, a 54.6 percent winning percentage.

If there was the unusual, it was Eric Fehr and Casey Wellman taking more than 30 draws apiece.  Fehr was 21-for-34 for the week (61.8 percent), including a 10-for-12 effort against Detroit.  Wellman was 9-for-10 against Winnipeg on his way to a 21-for-32 week (65.6 percent).

Goals For/Against by Period:

The third period was big for the Caps on offense this week, seven goals in all.  That is a bit unusual for the Caps, a club that finished the week tied with five other teams for 17th in the league in third period goals scored.  Five different Caps had third period goals, three of them scored by Troy Brouwer (including an empty netter).

The second period, which has been kindest to the Caps on offense this season, saw but a single goal scored, that one by Joel Ward in the 6-5 overtime win over Detroit to open the week.

One thing the Caps did manage to do was extend the total of goals allowed within two minutes of scoring one.  In the third period of their win over the Red Wings the Caps allowed a goal by Justin Abdelkader 1:57 after Troy Brouwer scored for the Caps. It was the 24th time this season the Caps allowed a score less than two minutes after their own score.

In the end…

The Caps were 3-1-0 for the week and take a 5-2-1 record in their last eight games into the Olympic break.  A good record to have, to be sure, but the Caps dug themselves a hole out of which they still need to climb.  While Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Martin Erat, and Marcus Johansson are in Sochi, the rest of the club and the brain trust are going to have to find a way to parlay that record into something as good or better after the break when the schedule gets much tougher.  The Caps will have the second toughest schedule in the East after the break by one measure, the toughest overall by another

Compounding the problem is the Caps’ regulation and overtime win (ROW) situation.  With 19 ROW, the Caps are seventh in the Metropolitan Division, 25th in the league.  Such heavy dependence on the trick shot phase of the game for points suggests that it will be that much more difficult for the Caps to climb into the playoff eligible portion of the standings when play resumes. 

The Caps have 19 days between Week 19 and Week 20 of the season to get ready to make that climb.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Washington Capitals: A NO point night -- Game 57: Islanders 1 - Capitals 0


That is what the Washington Capitals had, and that is what the Washington Capitals got as they lost to the New York Islanders last night, 1-0.  The Caps wasted a fine 27-save performance by goalie Michal Neuvirth, who allowed only a screened slap shot by Andrew MacDonald two minutes into the third period and denied Michael Grabner on a penalty shot later in the third period.

At the other end, the Caps did not exactly make goalie Evgeni Nabokov work too hard for his shutout.  The 22 shots by the Caps was the lowest total allowed by the Islanders this season.  The Caps could have climbed to fifth in the Metropolitan Division and a point out of third place with a win.  As it is, they are still stuck in seventh place, just seven points ahead of the Islanders.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had only 15 even strength shots on goal, almost half of those (seven) in the first period.

-- Live by the power play, die by the power play.  The Caps had six opportunities in each of the last two games. They scored three times against Detroit and won, 6-3.  They failed on all six opportunities against the Islanders and lost.  

-- And it could have been worse.  Only a three-save sequence by Neuvirth in the third period saved the Caps from allowing a shorthanded goal.  First there was the breakaway on the Caps power play on which Michael Grabner skated in on goal with John Carlson hooking him.  That got the referee to raise his hand to signal a penalty.  But play was not yet whistled dead, for the puck was still lying free.  Casey Cizikas took a whack at it, and Nuevirth made that save, too.  With play finally blown dead, Grabner was awarded a penalty shot.  Neuvirth kicked that aside with his right pad, and the Caps dodged a howitzer shell.

-- Going 6-for-6 on the penalty kill was the most opportunities faced by the Islanders this season in which they were 100 percent.  

-- The Caps could not generate anything from the point.  The defense had only five shots on goal, three of them by John Carlson.  Of the 17 shots for the forwards, more than a third came from Alex Ovechkin (three) and Nicklas Backstrom (three).  Eleven shots from ten other forwards.  Light night for secondary scoring.  Primary, too.

-- Karl Alzner led the team in hits (four).  Yes, Karl Alzner.  Strange night.

-- The Caps had seven shots on the power play.  The Islanders had five shots on the Caps’ power play.  Hard to tell at times who had the advantage on the Caps’ power play.

-- The Caps did not record their first shot of the third period until the 6:12 mark.  They had one shot in the last 10:32 of the game, that one from 58 feet out by Ovechkin.  

-- Cal Clutterbuck was the personification of a lot of noise signifying…well, not quite nothing, but close.  Ten shot attempts, seven hits.  No points.

-- Marcus Johansson took a penalty.  That’s news, because it is only the second time this season he was sent off for violating the rules.  He also had a shot on goal.  That makes two shots in two games.  Progress.

In the end…

There was just not a lot of there, there.  The game consumed the required 60 minutes, but it seemed as if it was a rehearsal for something than a real live game.  That suited the Islanders just fine.  The Caps?  Well, there were two points they had no excuse leaving on the table.  Missing Mike Green and Mikhail Grabovski makes a difference when facing, say, the Bruins or the Penguins.  The Islanders?  Don’t try spinning this one away by playing the injury card.  The Isles just are not that good.

Better than the Caps last night, though.  And that should cause folks to be very concerned, if they were not already.

Programming note...

We will be away for the next few days.  Maybe it will be a good luck charm for the boys.  If it is, Cheerless is not going to be happy if he has to read about how we should stop these scribbles.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 57: Islanders at Capitals, February 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It is one down and three to go on this last pre-Olympic break home stand for the Washington Capitals.  Having defeated the Detroit Red Wings in the first of the four games, it is the New York Islanders next on tap for the Caps.

The Islanders arrive in Washington a team in a nosedive, losers of five straight games.  It has not mattered where or in what elements they came up short.  The first three of those losses came at home in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, then they took it outside at Yankee Stadium where they lost to the New York Rangers.  The fifth straight loss came last Friday against those same Rangers at Madison Square Garden, leaving the Islanders cemented in eighth place in the Metropolitan Division, nine points behind the three teams immediately ahead of them, including the Caps.

Over the five-game losing streak, Kyle Okposo has done more than his share trying to keep the Islanders competitive.  Four goals in five games brings Okposo into a tie with his career high in goals, 24 in 79 games in 2011-2012.  He comes into this game with on quite a run, having gone 25 games having avoided consecutive games without a point.  He is 16-16-32 over those 25 games with points in 20 of them.  In 17 career games against Washington, Okposo is 7-6-13.

Michael Grabner is next in line in scoring during the Islanders’ five-game losing streak (2-2-4), but like much of his season it has come in fits and starts.  He has a pair of two-point games during he streak, two of five multi-point games he has this season.  On the other side, he has had a 24-game streak this season without a point.  Grabner is 2-2-4 in 13 career games against the Caps.

The Islanders have split their goaltending responsibilities roughly evenly between Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin, neither of them putting up particularly good numbers.  Poulin is 11-16-1, 3.29, .891 in his 28 appearances, while Nabokov is 9-10-5, 2.83, .907 in his 27 appearances.  It would seem likely that Nabokov get this start.  Despite missing 10 games to a lower body injury in January and losing his last two decisions, he has a fine career record against the Caps – 12-2-3, 2.32, .919, with two shutouts.

1.  The Islanders have drawn a blank on the power play in their five-game losing streak.  No goals in 20 opportunities.  Their penalty killing has fared better, although it benefits from few opportunities.  The Isles are 9-for-10 on the PK during the losing streak.

2.  Only four teams have scored fewer first period goals than the Islanders (36), and they have scored first only 23 times in 57 games.  It is not a team that usually gets off to fast starts.

3.  Only two teams have worse records in one-goal games this season than the 11-11-8 mark posted by the Islanders.  Couple that with the fact that only four teams have more losses by three or more goals, and you have a recipe for being a team sitting in 26th place in standings points.

4. If the Caps are going to get well at 5-on-5, this might be a good team against which to do it.  Only Edmonton (131) has allowed more goals at 5-on-5 than the Islanders (128).

5.  After a short string of games in which the Islanders were evincing better possession numbers (50-plus percent in Crosri-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations), they have sunk to their previous season-long level.  They have been at or below 50 percent in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage in each of their last four games, all losses.

1.  Washington has not won consecutive games on a home stand since winning three straight back on November 2-7 against Florida, the Islanders, and Minnesota.  They have an opportunity to break that string tonight.

2.  The Caps have scored 21 goals in their last five games.  It is their most prolific five-game stretch of goal-scoring this season (not including trick shots).  It is their best such streak since they scored 22 goals over a five-game stretch in Games 42-46 last season.

3.  The Caps still have not won a game this season when scoring fewer than three goals.  They are 0-18-5 in such games.  Fittingly, since this indicates that the Caps are not stealing games with superior goaltending on nights their offense is off, all five extra time losses have come in the freestyle competition.

4.  Is it improvement?  Or, have other teams become leakier?  The Caps spent a long time challenging the Toronto Maple Leafs to see which team could allow more shots on goal this season.  The Caps have risen, if that is the right word, to 27th in shots allowed per game (33.5).  Ottawa and Buffalo have sunk beneath the Caps.

5.  The Caps are now in the middle third of the league in close-score possession statistics.  Don’t let out a roar just yet.  They stand 20th in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages.  But, progress is progress.  However, they have been below 50 percent in both measures in each of their last three games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: John Tavares

He is the straw that stirs the drink on Long Island, although it might be chocolate syrup in a glass of milk.  Tavares is not the flashiest player around, but there he is, 14th in goals scored, fifth in assists, tied for second in points behind Sidney Crosby (oh, and he’s a minus-4 for you hockey media who put stock in such numbers).  When he is on, the Islanders do well.  Tavares averages 1.7 points in Islander wins this season.  However, he hardly slacks off much when other things are not going well for the Isles; he still averages 0.83 points per game in losses.  He has been a remarkably consistent scorer this season.  Only twice over his first 53 games did he have consecutive games without a point.  However, he comes into this game without a point in his last three contests, all New York losses.

Washington: Martin Erat

Here are some numbers for you… 53, 64, 85.  Martin Erat has gone without a goal in 53 consecutive regular season games, has one in his last 64 games, and has two in his last 85 regular season games. That’s not a drought, that’s the Sahara Desert.  It is nice that Erat, given his playing time and linemates this season, has 21 assists (tied for fourth on the team), but at some point he is going to have to display some offense of his own, especially with Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Green, and Brooks Laich all injured to varying degrees. 


1.  Pressure.  Caps fans saw up close what a hard forecheck could do when the Caps applied it to a decent skating and possession team like Detroit on Sunday.  The Islanders are not at that level in either attribute.  Keep them below their own faceoff dots and let the turnovers happen.

2.  120 seconds.  Uh, guys?  It really is something to address, this whole allowing goals within two minutes of scoring one.  24 times, and counting.  Stop it.

3.  PK, OK!  The Islanders’ power play has short circuited over their five-game losing streak.  The Caps’ penalty killing stumbled against Detroit (1-for-3) after going 16-for-17 over their previous four games.  Allowing the Isles to get up off the canvas on their power play is a recipe for despair in this game.

In the end…

The Caps looked good for stretches, particularly early, in their overtime win over Detroit on Sunday.  They also looked like crap over stretches.  That kind of uneven 60 minutes has been a consistent feature of the Caps this season.  Part of it is due to lack of depth on defense.  Part of it is inconsistent or unfocused goaltending at the wrong time.  Part of it is bad shooting luck (or bad shooting skill, depending on your tolerance for luck).  Part of it (recently) is injuries.  Whatever.  If the Caps are going to make a go of this post-Olympic playoff sprint, they had better bank points against teams like the one they face tonight.  There really is no excuse for losing.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2