Monday, March 31, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 76: Stars at Capitals, April 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

With the playoff hopes of the Washington Capitals dealt a blow by Sunday’s 4-3 Gimmick loss to the Nashville Predators in the Music City, the Caps return home to face an equally desperate team in search of a playoff spot.  The Dallas Stars, like the Capitals, sit in ninth place in the Western Conference one point out of a wild card spot.  Unlike the Caps, however, the Stars seem to be making one final push toward getting into that top eight in the West.

Dallas comes into this contest on Tuesday night having won four of their last five games, including a win in St. Louis in their last game on Saturday, only the Blues’ sixth loss in regulation on home ice this season.  In those last five games the Stars have leaned heavily on goaltender Kari Lehtonen.  Despite having traded for Tim Thomas from Florida at the trading deadline, Lehtonen has been the go-to guy over the Stars’ 4-1-0 run of late.  After missing three games to a concussion in mid-March, courtesy of a collision with Minnesota’s Erik Haula on March 8th, Lehtonen has all five decisions in the 4-1-0 run, plus a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .939.  It is part of a longer run of personal success for the native of Helsinki, Finland.  He has not lost consecutive decisions since mid-January and is 12-4-2, 2.03, .927, with two shutouts in his last 19 appearances (one no-decision) since January 21st.  He is 12-6-2, 2.67, .922, with one shutout in 20 career appearances against Washington.

In their 4-1-0 push in the last week, Dallas has had the benefit of balanced scoring.  Eleven different players share the 18 goals scored over those five games, and 16 players share in the points.  One of the players sharing the goal scoring lead with three over those five games is a name familiar to Caps fans.  Cody Eakin is 3-1-4 over those five games, lifting him to 16-18-34 in 73 games for the Stars this season.  The recent hot streak for Eakin comes at a welcome time both for him and for the Stars.  Before embarking on this 3-1-4 run, Eakin was just 0-1-1 in his previous nine games.  Eakin, a former third-round draft pick of the Caps, has faced his old team just once in his career, posting an assist on the game-winning goal in Dallas’ 2-1 win over the Caps on October 5th.

Also worth noting is the top brother scoring duo in the NHL.  Jamie Benn (30-40-70) and Jordie Benn (3-16-19) have been important elements of this recent 4-1-0 streak and overall for the Stars.  Defenseman Jordie (0-5-5) is tied with Colton Sceviour (3-2-5) in overall points over their last five games, while forward Jamie is 1-3-4.  Jamie has been a model of consistency over the last seven weeks, going 8-12-20 over his last 17 games and not going consecutive games without a point in that span (note…he was without a point in his last game, against St. Louis).

Here is how the teams compare overall through Sunday's games...


1.  Although the Stars have been successful of late, special teams is not the reason why.  The power play has been pretty good, going 3-for-15 (20.0 percent), but the penalty kill is just 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).  On the other hand, the Stars have dominated at even strength, outscoring their opponents by a 15-7 margin over their last five games.

2.  What Dallas has been able to do in their 4-0-1 run that they have not done so well this season is score in the third period.  Only three teams have scored fewer third period goals than the Stars this season (61), but Dallas scored in the third period in four of their last five games and had six goals overall in the final frame. 

3.  The Stars are capable of the blowout.  They have 16 wins this season by three or more goals.  Only five teams have more: Chicago (18), Anaheim (18), Pittsburgh (19), St. Louis (21), and Boston (24).  Good company.

4.  Dallas is not an especially efficient power play club.  They average one power play goal per every 10:30 of power play time.  By way of comparison, the Caps are the most efficient team in this regard, averaging one power play goal per every 6:24 of power play time.  Dallas is not especially efficient as a penalty killing team, either, allowing on average one goal per 8:02 of shorthanded ice time (the Caps allow one goal per 8:43 of shorthanded ice time).

5.  Dallas is among the better possession teams in the league, ranking tenth in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations (51.9) and eighth in Fenwick-for percentage (52.2).  Oddly enough, those numbers are lower than the season averages for the Stars over their last five games, 49.8 percent in Corsi-for percentage and 50.8 percent in Fenwick-for.

1.  Since the Olympic break the Caps are 6-2-2 in games in which they score a power play goal, 1-3-2 in games in which they do not.  Conversely, they are 4-2-2 when not allowing a power play goal (including two games in which they were not shorthanded), 3-3-2 when they do allow one.

2.  Don’t look now, but Jaroslav Halak has not won a game with his new mask.  He debuted the new lid in Los Angeles on March 20th.  Since then he is 0-0-3, 2.47, .914.

3.  Washington has the fourth worst record in the league when leading after one period (13-5-3).  Only seven teams have led at the first intermission fewer times than the Caps (21 in 75 games).  They rank just 19th in the league when scoring first.  Only six teams have more one-goal losses (including Gimmicks) than the Caps (22).  This is why we can’t have nice things. 

4.  The Caps once had one of the more formidable scoring offenses in the second periods of games.  As it is they are tied for sixth in second period goals scored.  One thing holding them back, though, is the fact that no team has found itself shorthanded more often than the Caps in the second periods of games (110).  They have been on the power play in the middle frame just 83 times, the sixth fewest number of instances in the league.

5.  If you want to see how the Caps are slipping graphically, here it is…

The 15-game gauntlet the Caps had to navigate in March, over which they went 6-5-4, has taken its toll on a team that has had possession issues for most of the season.  They have dropped to 24th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations (48.3) and 25th in Fenwick-for percentage (48.0).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Antoine Roussel

Among the 19 forwards in the NHL having recorded more than 100 penalty minutes, only Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds has more points this season (55) than Dallas left wing Antoine Roussel (28).  Roussel happens to rank second in the league among all players in penalty minutes (193), trailing only Vancouver’s Tom Sestito (201), and has ten fighting majors, tied for 15th in the league.  Roussel comes into this game on a three-game points streak (1-3-4).  The undrafted native of Roubaix, France, has faced the Caps just once in his career without recording a point.

Washington:  Jay Beagle

If you are a casual musician, you don’t generally play concerts in sold out arenas.  If you participate in local dinner theater, you don’t generally have a movie studio calling you to star in their latest $100 million flick.  And it you are a fourth-line grinder, you don’t generally get called upon to center the top goal scorer of his generation.  Unless you are Jay Beagle, that is.  This is no slam on young Mr. Beagle, who is by any account a diligent, hard-working sort.  But it is one thing to be a 12-minute a game grinder chipping in an occasional point, as he was last season.  It is another to be asked to be a playmaker to set up more offensively gifted players on a night-in, night-out basis as Beagle has been asked to do for a little while now. 

Of 565 skaters having played in half of their team’s games, Beagle ranks 487th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (44.8 percent).  Not all of that has been accumulated skating with Alex Ovechkin, but neither is it indicative of a player who will drive possession.  In his last six games, which corresponds to his current run of games centering Ovechkin at even strength, Beagle’s Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 is a cumulative 38.6 (source:  Ovechkin does not have an even-strength point in this arrangement; neither does Beagle, and the Caps are 2-1-3, having scored nine even strength goals in all.  If there is a reason to continue this experiment, it is not readily apparent.


1. Do whatever

2. You need to do

3. To win

…really, at this point the rest is just noise.

In the end…

The Caps are now at the point in the season where you can see the games remaining in which they will be underdogs, perhaps significant underdogs – at St. Louis, against Chicago, even if those teams will have long clinched their seeds in the playoffs by the time the Caps play them.  That makes a game like this one against Dallas a “must win” game, not a “must get at least one point” game.  It hardly matters a lot if it comes in regulation, in overtime, in a shootout, or by forfeit for that matter.  Fail to get two points in this game, and we can schedule the wake for this season.

Capitals 4 – Stars 3

Washington Capitals: A ONE point Night -- Game 75: Predators 4 - Capitals 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals needed two points on Sunday night against a thoroughly beatable opponent.  When Troy Brouwer scored less than five minutes into the game, it looked as if the Caps were on their way to doing just that.  But at the end of the night, when Carter Hutton stopped Nicklas Backstrom in the third round of the Gimmick, it was the Nashville Predators skating off with two points, beating the Caps, 4-3, in the freestyle competition.

Brouwer opened the scoring by finishing a slick passing sequence among himself, Backstrom, and Mike Green.  The result was a layup by Brouwer from the edge of the paint to Hutton’s right.  However, as has happened so many times this season, the Caps allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves.  This time it was Patric Hornqvist following up a Shea Weber shot, beating defenseman Patrick Wey to the puck and flipping it past goalie Jaroslav Halak just 1:38 after the Brouwer goal.

Hornqvist netted his second of the game with just 90 seconds left in the first period when he was gifted a turnover at the Capitals blue line, skated in on Halak, and lifted a forehand over Halak’s glove to give Nashville a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.

Brouwer tied the game for the Caps late in the second period on a power play.  The play started when Marcus Johansson swept the puck along the end wall to Backstrom in the right wing corner.  Backstom skated the puck up the wall then returned it to Johansson at the goal line extended to Hutton’s left.  Johansson tried to find Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle, but the puck hit the Preds’ Mike Fisher and dropped softly in the slot.  Brouwer took advantage of the loose puck and flipped a backhand past Hutton’s blocker to tie the game 14:22 into the period.

The teams exchanged goals in the third period, Nashville scoring first when Shea Weber unleashed the fury of his slap shot, stepping into a drop pass from Fisher at the right point and beating Halak cleanly to the far side past the blocker.  It looked as if that might be it for the scoring, but Washington had one left.  On another power play, John Carlson kept a loose puck in the Nashville zone.  He fed Backstrom on the right wing to start the play.  Backstrom circled but could not find any open passing lane.  There was, though, a void in the Predator defense that allowed Backstrom to step up.  He did, and from inside the top edge of the right wing circle, he wristed the puck through a Brouwer screen in front and past Hutton to tie the game with 7:40 to go in the game.

That would be it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the evening.  In the skills competition, Craig Smith scored for the Preds, and Hutton shut out the Caps, leaving Washington with a single standings point that helps some, but not nearly enough as the games left dwindle and the points are hard to come by.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal was his second in his last 15 games, both power play goals.  He has not had an even strength goal since February 27th against Florida.  As it is, Backstrom has only three goals, including his power play tally tonight, in his last 31 games.

-- The Caps allowed Nashville no power plays.  It is the third time this season the Caps played a game without going shorthanded, blanking Buffalo on December 29th and Boston on March 6th.  They are perfect on the penalty kill in those situations (rimshot), but they lost each of those contests, twice in the Gimmick.

-- Not even the power play is saving the Caps now.  For the second time in three games the Caps went 2-for-4 with the man advantage but lost both games in the skills competition.

-- With this loss the Caps now have their sixth losing streak of three or more games this season.  Last season they had three such streaks in 48 games.  In 2011-2012 they had five such streaks.  This qualifies as going in the wrong direction.

-- Brouwer’s two goals give him four two-goal games this season, all of them in his last 18 games.

-- OK, we’ll say it.  Alex Ovechkin was minus-2 for the night.  That makes him minus-34 for the season, last among the 858 skaters to have dressed in the NHL this season.  Why, you ask?  OK, Ovechkin is not going to be a Selke winner, that was established long ago.  But with Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson as linemates?  Combined those two had two shots on goal in this game.  Johansson had an assist, but that came on a power play.  He has not had an even strength point in his last 12 games.  Beagle has had three even strength points (all assists) over his last 22 games.  It’s hard to improve plus-minus when there aren’t many “pluses” on the board at even strength.  Oh yes…Ovechkin does not have an even-strength point in his last 15 games, either.

-- It is getting to be as if when the third line does well, the Caps do well.  When they are silent, the Caps do not do well.  The Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward line was held without a point on two shots on goal.

-- Going into the game, Nashville was 1-8 in the Gimmick.  They had the league’s third worst shooting percentage in the skills phase and were tied for the fourth worst save percentage in the league.  Live by the Gimmick...die by the Gimmick.

-- The Caps essentially let Nashville play its game.  The teams combined for 87 shot attempts over 65 minutes.  By way of comparison, Boston had 66 shot attempts by themselves on Saturday against the Caps in regulation.

-- Going into tonight’s game, Nashville’s Rich Clune chalked up 172 fights in his organized hockey career, dating back to 2003-2004, including a fight at the Traverse City prospects tournament in 2007.  Washington’s Patrick Wey had one fight on his ledger, that coming against Taylor Johnson in the USHL in January 2009.  It is hardly surprising that Wey was overwhelmed by Clune in their bout in the first period.  Get well soon, kid.

In the end…

The Caps looked like this was a September pre-season game for long stretches of this game.  It was not as if Nashville was imposing its steely will on the Caps, it was that the Caps could not make the simplest plays and gave up territory in the neutral zone as if they were retreating from George Patton and the Third Army.  It is far too late to expect anything else from this team.  They can scare up the intermittent superior effort, as they did in California a couple of weeks ago.  But far more often than not, the Caps play the same way.  Passive, weak at even strength, depending on its power play for too much of its offense, and just looking as if the necessary compete level is not there on a consistent basis.  It was all on display against Nashville.  If there is one thing Caps fans need to start realizing, it will not be on display much longer this season.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

For the Washington Capitals Week 24 was the calm before the storm, serving as prelude for eight games over the final two weeks to close the regular season.  There were only two games on the schedule, both against elite teams who are on the short list of contenders for the Stanley Cup.  There were not many games on the docket this week, but both were a yardstick with which to measure whether this Capitals team is playoff ready.

Record: 0-1-1

The Capitals are picking a really bad time to hang up weekly records under .500.  Week 24 was their third such week in their last four over which they have put together a cumulative record of 5-5-3.  Fortunately, if you are rooting for the Caps to make the post-season, Washington lost just one-point in standings ground this week to the teams in the wild card slots. Going into the week the Caps had 79 points, one behind both Toronto and Detroit.  At week’s end the Caps had 80 points, two points behind the two teams in front of them for a wild card spot, Columbus and Detroit.

The difficulty in Week 24 for the Caps was going winless at home.  Where the Caps were next to invincible at Verizon Center once upon a time, they have struggled lately and especially against those teams that can rightly be called “benchmarks.”  The Caps have now lost to Los Angeles and Boston (in Week 24), to Pittsburgh, and to Philadelphia at home since the Olympic break.  They have taken care of business against teams that are struggling, as the Caps are – Phoenix, Vancouver, Toronto.  However, the Caps have home contests against Chicago and Tampa Bay to close the season.  Those teams are not "struggling."  Based on recent history, made worse with the Week 24 results, home cooking might not have the taste it once did for this team.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.77 / rank: 13th)

The offense had a distinct Russian cast to it in Week 24.  Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov each recorded a pair of goals, those for Kuznetsov being both last-minute-in-regulation goals and his first goals in the NHL.  On the other hand, Ovechkin’s pair inched him closer to 50 this season, which might end up being the biggest milestone the Caps as a whole or in their individual parts might reach this season.  Ovechkin (2-1-3) and Troy Brouwer (0-3-3) led the team in points.

In one sense the Caps overachieved in this area.  Los Angeles (2.07 goals against/game) and Boston (2.04) rank second and first, respectively, in scoring defense.  The Caps outscored the Kings’ average and matched that of Boston.  On the other side of the coin, the Caps got out to a two-goal lead against the Kings – twice – and could not add to it.  They fell behind the Bruins by a pair of goals and could not make up the difference.  Two goal leads seem especially dangerous to the Caps, at least in Week 24.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.88 / rank: 22nd)

Los Angeles and Boston are among the league leaders in shots on goal per game, ranked seventh and fifth, respectively.  It showed this week.  Both recorded 36 shots on goal, oddly enough the second and third straight games in which the Caps allowed precisely 36 shots on goal.  It was the latest in a drift toward an old problem – shots on goal allowed.  Since holding Pittsburgh to 20 shots on goal on March 10th (and losing anyway, 3-2) the Caps have allowed an average of 35.6 shots per game.  That the Caps are 4-2-2 in those eight games (and 0-1-1 in Week 24, for that matter) is not a product of the defense.

There was a considerable unevenness among those Caps who happened to be on ice when goals were scored. Jason Chimera and Patrick Wey had difficult weeks.  They were on ice for five goals against of the eight scored.  Four other Caps were on ice for three goals scored against and six others for two goals against.  Four Caps missed out on the fun.  Dustin Penner, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Chris Brown were not on ice for any of the eight goals scored against the Caps this week.

The possession numbers paint a bleak picture at 5-on-5 tied.  First, the Caps spent not a lot of time in that situation, less than 23 minutes for the week.  That was a reflection of getting out to two two-goal leads against the Kings (ultimately blowing that advantage in what would be a Gimmick loss) and falling behind by three goals twice against Boston.  In those few minutes when tied at 5-on-5 the Caps Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages were 28.6 and 27.3, respectively.  It was only two games worth of data, but it did not look good, anyway.

Goaltending: 3.88 / .889 (season: 2.77 / .917 / 3 SO)

Goaltending was not particularly sharp this week, especially as games went on.  On the other hand, from the “glass half full” perspective, goaltending kept the Caps in games early.  Jaroslav Halak and Braden Holtby split the duties and each was perfect in the first period of their respective games, Halak stopping all seven shots he faced against Los Angeles, Holtby stopping all 15 shots he saw from the Bruins.  Neither could sustain that level of effort, though.  Halak allowed four goals on 26 shots over the last two regulation periods against Los Angeles, while Holtby allowed four goals on 22 shots in the last two periods against Boston.

In that sense it was a step back for the Caps.  In the six games following that 20 shots against, 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh on March 11, Caps goalies had a save percentage of .947.  In Week 24 it was .889.  Shot volumes might be dealt with for a while, but against teams like Los Angeles or Boston it can come back to bite them, too.

Power Play: 2-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 23.8 percent / rank: 1st)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the power play this week. Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but when the Caps go 2-for-4 in one game and 0-for-3 in the other, it is not too far off.  What makes such things so confounding is that Boston and Los Angeles were roughly equivalent in their penalty killing going into their respective games, the Kings at 83.3 percent, the Bruins at 83.8 percent.  The Caps had approximately the same shots per minute on the power plays for the week, 1.13 against Los Angeles, 1.33 against Boston.  The difference was not the what, or even the how many, but the who.  Against Los Angeles, Alex Ovechkin scored two power play goals on four of the six shots recorded by the Caps on the man advantage.  Against Boston he was 0-for-2 on the eight shots the Caps directed at goalie Chad Johnson. 

Penalty Killing: 4-7 / 57.1 percent (season: 81.0 percent / rank: 20th)

The problem with a team that has been rather mediocre on the penalty kill all season, yet has a stretch of success is that it comes back to earth, sometimes with a thud.  The Caps came into the week having killed off all 19 shorthanded situations they faced over their previous six games.  That came to an end three minutes into the second period of their 5-4 shootout loss to Los Angeles.  The Caps allowed power play goals on three of their last six shorthanded situations faced for the week.  It was a case of either an inability to prevent sustained pressure or too much passivity.  The Kings and Bruins combined for three power play goals on 18 shots in 12:22 of power play time.  That kind of high shot volume makes it unsurprising that the Caps struggled on the penalty kill in Week 24.

Even Strength Goals Scored For/Against: 3-5 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.88 / rank:T-23nd)

Washington has the lowest ratio of even-strength goals to total goals in the league, so it is not that surprising that the Caps would record only three even strength goals for the week.  Then again, that might be the biggest problem this team has, competing at evens.  Week 24 was the fourth straight week in which the Caps finished on the minus side at even strength.  It hardly seems like coincidence that the Caps also have losing records in three of those four weeks.  Making it worse on the scoring side can be summed up with three names: Dustin Penner, Jason Chimera, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Two grinders and a rookie scored the even strength goals for the week.  No Ovechkin, no Backstrom, no Johansson, no Green, no Carlson, no Brouwer.  Not good.

Faceoffs: 59-for-128 / 46.1 percent (season: 48.7 percent / rank: 23rd)

Once more the overall numbers do not tell the complete story in the circles.  The Caps had a fine week in the neutral zone, going 24-for-43 (55.8 percent), but they were just 16-for-41 in the offensive end (39.0 percent) and 19-for-44 in the defensive end (43.2 percent).  It is the fifth straight week in which the Caps finished the week below 50 percent overall.

One thing about the first line experiment with Jay Beagle at center was impacted by performance here.  Beagle was 0-for-5 on offensive zone draws, part of a 4-for-21 week (19.0 percent).  On the good side, Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom took the highest volume of draws and did well.  Fehr was 18-for-31 overall (58.1 percent), including 8-for-12 in the defensive zone (66.7 percent).  Backstrom was 16-for-27 overall (59.3 percent), including 7-for-9 in the offensive end (77.8 percent).

Goals Scored For/Against by Period:

The Kings and Bruins are similar teams, the sort that use depth and a physical edge to grind teams down.  The goals by period certainly reflect that.  The Caps did not allow a first period goal this week, but they were whacked for four goals in each of the last two periods, and the Caps had a three goals allowed period in each game.  Los Angeles scored three goals in the third period to force extra time before winning in the freestyle competition, while Boston scored three in the second period of Saturday’s game to all but end the competitive portion of the afternoon.

In the End…

The Caps have not been in the top-eight in the Eastern Conference since January 17th when they were in eighth place at 22-18-8.  Since then the Caps are 12-10-4 and have generally hung around ninth or tenth place.  Close enough to be teasing, but never quite getting over the hump.  The Caps had an opportunity in Week 24 to jump over a couple of teams to take one of those coveted wild card spots, but the combination of few games and tough opponents left them with one standings point and still in ninth place when eight teams get to dance in the post season.  In that sense, Week 24 was a disappointment, both for a cold slap in the face of the reality of their standing compared to teams such as Los Angeles and Boston, and again for lingering on the edge of the playoffs without the ability to take that last step.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Capitals at Predators, March 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, take to the road on Sunday and hop right back on the horse with a Sunday contest in Nashville against the Predators. 

Nashville has, for all intents and purposes, slipped out of the Western Conference playoff race, trailing Phoenix for the second wild card spot by nine points and with four teams to climb over (including the Coyotes) to reach the post-season.  What the Predators have not been is consistent about the nature of their slide.  At the beginning of March the Preds were a team skating in bad luck.  They held opponents to nine goals in four games and won none of them.   They found their offense briefly for a three-game stretch, scoring 11 goals over three games and winning all of them.  Just as quickly as the offense appeared, it vanished again.  Two goals in three games resulted in three straight losses.  Nashville has been better of late, going 3-1-1 in their last five games, but it looks to be too little, too late.

Nashville’s problem has been in no small part due to their inability to win at home.  The Predators are one of six teams in the league with a sub-.500 record at home this season (based on standings points), and since March 1st are 1-5-1, their only win coming against the Buffalo Sabres.  It is at home where the Predators have found lighting the lamp especially difficult.  In those last seven games at home Nashville has only 14 goals, and things are not even that good.  Six of the goals came in their win over the Sabres, and five times the Preds scored a single goal or were shut out.

Nashville has had balance in their scoring, just not a lot of it.  Ten players share in the 14 goals over those seven home games, four players – Eric Nystrom, Matt Cullen, Roman Josi, and Shea Weber each with a pair.  There are 18 players sharing in the points, but only Mike Fisher (0-5-5), Patric Hornqvist (1-3-4), and Nick Spaling (1-3-4) have more than three points.

Notable in the absence of mentions is rookie defenseman Seth Jones.  The fourth overall pick in last June’s entry draft was hit along the boards in the first period of the Predators’ 2-0 win in Chicago last Sunday and missed the second and third periods with concussion symptoms.  Jones was in the top ten among rookie defensemen in total points and power play scoring, and he was one of five rookie defensemen with two game winning goals this season.

Nashville has a lot of names that Caps fans might not recognize.  One they should be familiar with is defenseman Shea Weber.  His name is sprinkled all through the league statistical rankings.  Weber is tied for the league lead in goals among defensemen (20, with Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien), he is seventh in total points (48), first in power play goals (11), third in power play points (25), tied for fourth in game-winning goals, second in shooting percentage, and fourth in ice time.  He is 5-3-8 over his last ten games and sports a 2-5-7 scoring line in eight career games against Washington.

One of the problems the Predators have had in getting any traction this season has been the absence of goaltender Pekka Rinne.  After missing 51 games following hip surgery, Rinne returned to the Nashville lineup on March 4th.  The return has not gone as well as any Predators fan would hope.  In 11 appearances in March, Rinne is 3-6-1 (one no decision), 3.34, .884.  He was lit up for seven goals on 29 shots in his last appearance, a 7-3 loss to Dallas on Friday.  He has only one career appearance against the Caps, allowing one goal on 40 shots in a 3-1 win over the Caps on November 15, 2011.

1.  Nashville does not generate much in the way of power play opportunities at home.  Only four teams have had fewer power play opportunities on home ice than the Predators (116).  They don’t spend so much time killing penalties, either.  Nashville has the seventh fewest instances of shorthanded situations in the league.

2.  One un-Predator number that has plagued Nashville this season is “164.”  That is the number of 5-on-5 goals allowed so far, second only to Edmonton (165) for the highest total in the league. 

3.  Only two teams in the league have fewer losses in regulation when scoring first than the Predators.  With three such losses this season they trail only St. Louis (2) and Chicago (1) for fewest in the league.  Their problem is getting there.  Nashville has taken first leads only 33 times in 75 games.

4.  Only San Jose (226) has been charged with fewer minor penalties than the Predators (239).  On the other hand, only five teams have more fighting majors than Nashville.

5.  As is befitting a middle of the road team, that is where the Predators reside in the possession statistics.  Nashville is 17th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situation (49.4), 14th in Fenwick-for percentage (50.5).  They have been better, especially at home of late.  In March the Preds are at 55.6 percent Corsi-for and 55.3 percent Fenwick-for in 5-on-5 close score situations.

1.  Yesterday, the Caps allowed the first goal for the 37th time this season.  Only five teams have fewer wins when allowing the first goal than the Caps (9).  Fortunately for them, Nashville happens to be one of them (8).  In one of the stranger statistics in this area, only Ottawa has more extra time losses (9) than the Caps (8) when trailing first.

2.  Washington has the lowest percentage in the league of even-strength goals to total goals.  Of the Caps’ 205 goals, 130 have been scored at even strength (63.4 percent).  By way of comparison, Chicago is first at 80.1 percent).

3.  Since the Olympic break the Caps are 9-for-23 on their road games power play (39.1 percent).  The penalty killers are 23-for-26 (88.5 percent).

4.  Nicklas Backstrom is tied for second for most successful trick shots in the Gimmick (7), trailing only T.J. Oshie (8).  His four game-deciding goals in the skill phase trails only Anze Kopitar (5).

5.  The Caps have now gone five straight games on the wrong side of 50 percent in Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations.  Their cumulative numbers over those five games are 43.4 percent and 42.9 percent, respectively.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Patric Hornqvist

In his first full season in the NHL in 2009-2010 Patric Hornqvist displayed talent that would tantalize Nashville fans, finishing the season with 30 goals and 51 points in 80 games.  Unfortunately for those Nashville fans, that remains his career season.  He has not fallen off dramatically, but in four full seasons he went from 51 to 48 to 43, and now 41 points (he had 14 in 24 games last season).  He is third on the team in total scoring this season, though, and he is coming into this game on a hot streak, four straight games with points (2-4-6).  He is 0-2-2 in six career games against the Capitals.

Washington:  Jaroslav Halak

Chances are that Jaroslav Halak will get most, if not all of the remaining starts for the Capitals in goal (the Caps have two more back-to-back sets).  He took a seat against Boston on Saturday, perhaps with this game in mind.  Halak has done quite well against Nashville with a 10-3-3, 1.71, .931 line that includes four shutouts in 17 appearances.  The Caps will need him to return to this level of play.  After not allowing more than three goals in any of his first seven appearances with Washington, he gave up four goals on 36 shots in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Los Angeles last Tuesday.


1.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Nashville is a creature of style.  They have not practiced it as well this year as in past years, perhaps, but they tend to slow the game down and adopt a deliberate, station-to-station sort of game.  This will test the Caps’ patience. 

2.  Top Six Production.  It is getting late in the game for the Caps to be getting as little production as they are getting from their top six at even strength.  The Caps’ top six forwards should get their chances against this team.  Nashville has allowed five or more goals four times in their last seven games.

3.  Possession.  The Caps have been on the wrong side of 50 percent in Corsi-for in 5-on-5 close score situations for five straight games.  It is their longest such streak since going eight straight games in late December.  It is something the Caps need to turn around in the stretch.

In the end…

The Caps are running out of room for error.  They now trail both Columbus and Detroit by two points for a wild-card berth in the playoffs.  And, that two-point deficit is really three, since the Caps will almost certainly lose tie breakers with both teams.  Their 25 wins in regulation and overtime (the first tie breaker at the end of the season) is four fewer than the Red Wings, eight fewer than the Blue Jackets.  Getting a win here is as close to “have to have” as it gets at this time of year.

Capitals 4 – Predators 2

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Washington Capitals: A NO-point Afternoon -- Game 74: Bruins 4 Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals had the opportunity to take, if only briefly given today’s schedule of games, a wild card spot in the race for the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Not that such an opportunity would be easy to cash in.  To take a wild card spot the Capitals would have to defeat or take to extra time the Boston Bruins, a team coming to Washington having earned points in 14 straight games (13-0-1).

Make that 15 straight games.

The Bruins dominated the Capitals in the opening period, converted opportunities in the second period, and held off the home team in the third period to leave Washington with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center this afternoon.

The Bruins overwhelmed the Capitals in the first period, outshooting the home team by a 15-9 margin and going to the first intermission with a 30-14 edge in shot attempts.  What the Bruins did not do was score. Neither did the Caps.

That situation resolved itself less than three minutes into the second period when Boston was a step ahead in every phase of a sequence.  First it was David Krejci getting to a loose puck along the wall just inside the Bruins’ blue line a step ahead of Eric Fehr.  When Krejci sent the puck up along the wall, it skidded past a linesman then past the stick of defenseman Karl Alzner.  It made its way to Carl Soderberg who backhanded a pass to Jarome Iginla just before John Carlson could get a body on Soderberg. Iginla skated in alone on goalie Braden Holtby, and just before Tom Wilson could close the distance on the back check Iginla snapped the puck through Holtby’s pads, and it was 1-0.

Five minutes later the Bruins had a 2-0 lead.  With Fehr off for hooking the Bruins gained the Caps’ zone with speed, Dougie Hamilton carrying the puck through the middle.  Hamilton curled off to his left, throwing the puck across to Loui Eriksson on the right side.  Eriksson found Patrice Bergeron coming down the middle, and Bergeron one-timed the puck to the net.  The puck hit the skate of Carl Soderberg in front, tipping the puck through Holtby’s pads to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.

If the Caps were holding out hope that the “the most dangerous lead in hockey” would be wiped clean, Boston put an end to that just 41 seconds after the Soderberg goal.  Jarome Iginla got his second of the game – 30th of the season – when he followed up his own shot and backhanded a rebound past Holtby’s right pad to make it 3-0.

The Caps made it respectable in the last minute of the period when they gave the Bruins some of their own medicine.  It started with Mike Green skating the puck down the left side.  As he crossed the Boston blue line he flipped the puck at the net, looking for a deflection from Jason Chimera seaming down the middle.  Chimera was marked by Johnny Boychuk, who actually deflected Green’s attempt into goalie Chad Johnson.  The puck was not handled cleanly, though, and Chimera’s momentum put him in position to tap in the loose puck from Johnson’s right, making it 3-1 Bruins at the second intermission.

Boston appeared content to run out the clock in the last 20 minutes, but they did add a goal on another power play.  It started with Dougie Hamliton tapping his stick on the ice calling for the puck.  He got it from Patrice Bergeron at the right point.  Hamilton fired a shot at the Capitals’ net where a group had congregated.  The puck was stopped, but Bergeron, darting in from the left wing wall after sending the puck to Hamilton, was alone to Holtby’s right to shove the puck into the back of the net to make it 4-1.

The Caps got some window dressing at the end, Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring in the last minute when Chad Johnson was caught in no-man’s land 20 feet from the net trying to beat Troy Brouwer to a loose puck to the right of the net. When Johnson missed and was briefly tangled up with Brouwer, Kuznetsov swooped in and wristed the puck from a severe angle into the far top corner of the net for the final tally of the day, Boston winning, 4-2.

Other stuff…

-- Iginla’s two goals made it 30 for the season, making him just the 12th player in the last 30 years to reach that mark in a season having reached the age of 36 or older.

-- Chad Johnson’s win makes him 11-0-1 over his last 14 appearances for Boston.  Over that span he has a goals against average of 1.83 and a save percentage of .934.

-- Marcus Johansson had an excellent chance to break a rough spell in which he had one goal over 29 games.  Troy Brouwer set him up almost on a tee from the inside edge of the right wing circle for an open look early in the third period that might have brought the Caps back within a goal.  He was denied on the attempt, and what might have been the Caps’ last chance to get back into the game passed by.

-- Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal, but none were especially threatening.  Average shot distance was 41 feet and none closer than 34 feet.

-- Two pairs twice victimized.  John Carlson and Karl Alzner were on for two goals against, as was the pair of John Erskine and Patrick Wey.  Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov escaped unscathed.

-- Green was one of the few Caps of which it might be said, “he played a pretty good game.”  In almost 23 minutes Green had an assist, four shots on goal, eight shot attempts, and three blocked shots.

-- Boston moved to 39-5-1 when scoring the game’s first goal.  Only St. Louis has more wins (40) when scoring first.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov is now tied with Jay Beagle for 17th on the team in scoring (7 points) and is tied for 40th in scoring among rookie forwards.  After nine games.

-- The loss made it consecutive losses for the Caps on this abbreviated home stand (0-1-1).  It is the first time they lost consecutive games on the same home stand since losing in shootouts to both Buffalo and San Jose January 12th and 14th.

-- OK, in five full games since The Great Experiment began, here is how the even strength points break down… Alex Ovechkin: 0, Jay Beagle: 0, Marcus Johansson: 0.  How’s it working, Caps fans?   Oh, it hardly gets much better.  Nicklas Backstrom: 1, Troy Brouwer: 1, Evgeny Kuznetsov: 2.  Meanwhile, the third line… Eric Fehr: 1, Jason Chimera: 2, Joel Ward: 3.  And it was that third line who put on a show of cycling and controlling the puck for almost a half minute in the Bruins' zone that ended when Boston took a penalty in the seventh minute of the third period.

In the end…

Just another in a season full of opportunities the Capitals let pass by.  Most assuredly, this was hardly low-hanging fruit.  Boston is arguably the best team in the league at the moment.  However, the Caps looked as if they were still shuffling along in robe and slippers for the first 25-30 minutes of the early-starting game.  Braden Holtby kept the Caps in it in the first period, but Boston’s relentless pressure was too much as the minutes wore on.  And while there might be those who think the Caps were prepared to make a game of it late in the second period and early in the third, 10-15 minutes worth of effort is not going to win many games, and there was still the fact that the Bruins – a team that has not allowed more than two goals in a game in three weeks – had a 3-0 lead when the Caps finally woke up.  Washington was never really in this game.

And so it goes.  The Caps go to Nashville on Sunday in a game that they just about have to have to stay within reach of a playoff spot.  This is where the schedule takes one last nasty turn for the Caps.  Five of the Caps’ last eight games are on the road, and two of the home games are against Chicago and Tampa Bay, both teams having reached the 40-win mark already.  It just is not going to get any easier from here on out.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Bruins at Capitals, March 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have had three days off, but on Saturday begin their last and hopefully best push to a playoff spot when they host the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. If you are a hockey fan, you know what the Caps are up against here. On the first day of March, the Bruins lost to the Caps in this same venue by a 4-2 score. After that game Boston was sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Boston has not lost in regulation time since, though, posting a record of 13-0-1 that all but settles the matter of the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. The Bruins lead the Pens by seven points in the Conference standings and have a 15-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins have been nothing short of dominating:

They have not just beaten teams, they have obliterated them during this streak…

-- Eight wins by three or more goals
-- Eight games in which they scored four or more goals
-- Nine games in which they allowed fewer than two goals, including three shutouts
-- 7-0-0 on the road, 6-0-1 at home

Boston’s scoring balance has been nothing short of amazing. In their 13-0-1 run, 17 different skaters have goals, 20 different players have points. Three players – Jarome Iginla (11), Carl Soderberg (5), and Patrice Bergeron (5) – have at least five goals. Five players – Iginla (14), Bergeron (14), Soderberg (11), Milan Lucic (10), and David Krejci (10) have at least ten points.

Iginla is a remarkable case by himself. With his 11 goals in 14 games he now has 28 for the season. He is on the doorstep of becoming just the sixth player of the age 36 or older to record 30 goals in a season since the 2004-2005 lockout and just the 12th to do it in the last 30 years. How is he doing it? It is not based on a juiced shooting percentage. His 14.6 percent shooting percentage this season, while better than his career average (13.2) is not outlandishly so. He had five better seasons with Calgary over his 15-plus seasons there. Shots? Not really. His 2.63 shots per game this season is indistinguishable from the 2.62 per game he has in his brief Pittsburgh stay last season (after famously spurning a deal that would have sent him from Calgary to Boston) and is substantially lower than his career average of 3.23 per game. 

Iginla is doing it with durability. He is one of six Bruins to have dressed for all 73 games this season. It has been his hallmark as a player. Never in a full 82-game season – 16 of them, including this one – has Iginla dressed for fewer than 70 games. Nine times he played in all 82 games and is on pace to make it ten this season. In 20 career games against the Caps he is 6-10-16.

At the other end of the spectrum – in age, tenure, and position – there is Dougie Hamilton. Over last 14 games, Hamilton leads the Bruins in scoring from the back line (1-7-8). In fact, since Hamilton endured a 15-game stretch over which he recorded just one assist, the 20-year old is 4-12-16 in his last 27 games. Hamilton, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 entry draft, has been fast tracked to the NHL, having spent only one more year in junior after being drafted and not a game in the AHL before suiting up for the B’s as a rookie last season.  He is 1-1-2 in four career games against Washington.

Here is how the Caps and Bruins compare overall…

1. When Boston defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-0, on Thursday, it was their 50th win of the 2013-2014 season. That made it nine times in franchise history that the Bruins won 50 or more games in a season. No NHL team has done it more often.  No, not even Montreal, who did it six times.  The Bruins did it six times between 1970-1971 and 1982-1983.

2.  Boston is one of two teams in the league in the top-ten of lowest goals allowed in each of the first, second, and third periods of games (Los Angeles is the other).  Boston has allowed both the fewest first period goals and the fewest third period goals this season (they are eighth in second period goals allowed).

3.  Boston has 35 multiple-goal wins this season.  No one is close in second place (Chicago and St. Louis have 28).

4.  Boston is not shy about dropping the mitts.  The Bruins are tied for second in the league in fighting majors (43), trailing only Toronto (46).

5.  As you might expect, Boston is an accomplished possession team.  In 5-on-5 close score situations the Bruins are top five in Corsi-for percentage (3rd/54.9), Fenwick-for percentage (4th/54.2), shots-for percentage (5th/53.1), and goals-for percentage (1st/63.4).  Here is the thing, though.  The spend a comparatively low amount of time in those 5-on-5 close score situations (14th/2174.2 minutes).  The Bruins do not often play in close games.

1.  The Caps’ six-game streak with points earned (4-0-2) is their longest this season.  Last season the Caps had a ten-game streak (Games 34-43) as part of a closing kick that saw them go 14-2-2 to close the regular season.

2.  The Caps are on the wrong side of the “top” rankings in one important metric.  The Caps are in the bottom ten in 5-on-5 goals scored (T-8th/123) and in the bottom ten in 5-on-5 goals allowed (10th/140).

3.  Evgeny Kuznetsov is now tied for 18th on the club in points with six in eight games (tied with Connor Carrick and Nate Schmist).  Next up… Jay Beagle with seven.  With a big night he could catch Dmitry Orlov (9).

4.  Mike Green has been stuck on nine goals for five games.  If he gets one in this contest, the Caps would be the fourth team to have two defensemen with at least ten goals (John Carlson being the other for the Caps).  Boston, Nashville, and Pittsburgh are the others.

5.  The Caps are 4-0-2 in their last six games, but they are not doing it with possession.  Their cumulative Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages in 5-on-5 close score situations over those games are 48.2 and 48.1, respectively.  They do have seven goals scored versus six allowed, though, and that provides a clue as to how the Caps fashioned six straight games with points.  Their save percentage in those games in those situations is .930.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Tuukka Rask

Tuukka Rask has staked a claim to being one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL.  Rask is fifth in wins, third in goals against average, second in save percentage, first in save percentage at even strength (minimum 20 games).  In Boston’s 13-0-1 run, Rask is 8-0-1, 1.31, .953, with two shutouts.  He has not allowed more than three goals in consecutive games this season and has allowed more than three only eight times in 53 appearances.  He has allowed fewer than two goals 25 times.  And, Rask is not a creature of abnormally low shot totals faced.  This season he is facing an average of 29.1 shots on goal per game.  He is 1-3-3, 2.99, .891 in his career against the Caps.  So far, if he allows a goal to the Caps, he loses.  His only career win is a 3-0 shutout of the Caps on March 6th.

Washington:  Marcus Johansson

On January 4th and 9th, Marcus Johansson scored goals in consecutive games.  Since then, Johansson has one goal in his last 29 games (1-10-11).  It is possible that Johansson will set a career high in points this season.  The 40 he has (8-32-40) is within six of the 46 he recorded in 2011-2012.  The 32 assists tie his career best set in that same 2011-2012 season.  However, getting as much top line ice time as he gets (third on the team in even strength ice time per game), one might expect more scoring of his own.  The Caps certainly could use it down the stretch.  He is 4-3-7 in 11 career games against Boston.


1.  Be quick, but not hasty.  Boston is one of those deep, grinding teams that will challenge opponents all over the ice.  The trick for the Capitals is to make decisions with the Bruins giving them little time to make them, but not so as to be hasty and lured into turnovers. 

2.  Score first.  When Boston scores first, it is their game.  Their 38-5-1 record when scoring the game’s first goal is second best in the league.  In their 13-0-1 run Boston scored first in ten of those games.

3.  “Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done.”  That is a quote from the movie, “The Untouchables,” but certainly applies here.  In their 13-0-1 streak the Bruins have outscored opponents in the third period by a 23-7 margin.  Boston recorded a third period goal in 12 of those 14 games and never allowed an opponent more than one goal in the final frame.

In the end…

This is as tough as it gets. Boston has been playing at a stratospheric level for going on a month.  One might wonder if they are peaking to soon, but that is of no relevance in this game.  Beating the Bruins, even at home, will take nothing less than the Caps’ best effort, perhaps their best effort of the season.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Washington Capitals: A ONE-point Night -- Game 73: Kings 5 - Capitals 4 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings put on a display of offense that perhaps no one thought was coming when they settled into their seats on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.  The Caps ran out to a 3-1 lead, lost it and fell behind in the third period, then tied it with 42 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, 4-4.  It would be the Kings scoring both goals in the freestyle competition, though, and Los Angeles made it two Gimmick wins in two tries in less than a week over the Caps, winning by a 5-4 margin.

It was the Caps getting off fast, courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, who scored a pair of power play goals in the first seven minutes.  The first one came almost in slow motion.  The Kings’ Justin Williams threw a backhand into the middle of the ice from the right wing wall where it was intercepted by Troy Brouwer in the right wing circle.  Brouwer slid the puck out to John Carlson who steered it to Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Instead of a one-timer, Ovechkin collected the puck and delayed to see if there was a passing lane.  Ovechkin tried to send the puck in deep to Nicklas Backstrom at the far post, but the puck appeared to hit defenseman Robyn Regehr and then into the net to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 2:24.

It was Ovechkin again less than five minutes later in a more conventional manner.  After the Caps worked the puck around the back wall, it was Backstrom collecting it along the right wing wall and feeding Troy Brouwer in the middle.  Brouwer turned and instead of shooting sent the puck across to Ovechkin who one-timed it into the net before goalie Jonathan Quick could get across.

That is the way the first period ended, and with it went much of the Caps’ momentum.  Early in the second Mike Richards halved the lead when he was able to fend off Jack Hillen and whip the puck past goalie Jaroslav Halak’s left pad for a power play goal at the 2:53 mark.  Dustin Penner restored the two-goal margin for the Caps late when he cleaned up some loose change after Chris Brown skated in and rifled a shot that Quick blocked but could not control.

That set the stage for a wild third period.  Los Angeles scored just 45 seconds into the period when Dwight King skated through the low slot, grabbed a rebound of a Dustin Brown shot, and stuffed it through the pads of Halak.  Eight minutes later the score was tied when Marian Gaborik sent a wicked wrist shot over Halak’s glove and into the top corner to make it 3-3.  Four minutes after that, with the Caps reeling, Brown gave the Kings the lead on a play that started when Patrick Wey’s attempted pass from the faceoff circle to Halak’s right was deflected by King.  The loose puck was picked up by Jarret Stoll, who flung a shot toward the Caps’ net.  The puck was deadened in front enough for Brown to circle in and from the low slot fire it between Halak’s pads to give the Kings a 4-3 lead.

Things looked bleak for the Caps at that point, and it got worse when John Carlson was whistled for hooking Mike Richards with 59 seconds left in regulation, preventing what would have been a sure goal if Richards had ever gained possession of the puck.  However, with the Caps down a man and their net empty, Dmitry Orlov dumped the puck deep into the Kings’ zone.  Quick blocked it into the corner to his right where Drew Doughty reached it and backhanded it around the back wall toward partner Willie Mitchell. 

However, Eric Fehr got there first and whipped the puck out to the high slot where Ovechkin was coming late.  His shot was muffled by Mike Richards, but not enough to keep it from reaching the net where it ended up laying under Quick’s right pad.  Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the loose puck and backhanded it into the net before Anze Kopitar could get his stick on the biscuit.  The game was tied with 42 seconds left on Kuznetsov's first NHL goal.

That would be as close as the Caps would get, though. Kopitar and Jeff Carter would solve Halak in the Gimmick, while Kuznetsov and Fehr would fail to find the back of the net behind Quick, and the Caps had to settle for one point when they could have had two and perhaps should have had none.

Other stuff…

-- Jack Hillen is going to file a disability claim for his time spent in Washington.  He missed 25 of 48 games last season with a shoulder injury, then missed 60 games to a broken leg this season.  Tonight he collided with Alex Ovechkin at center ice and was knocked into the Orion Nebula.  He was down on the ice for several minutes but did skate off on his own. 

-- For a time tonight the Caps were down to Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, and Jay Beagle as centers.  Nicklas Backstrom left the game in the second period after sustaining an upper body injury, and Chris Brown missed a few shifts in the second when he was shaken up.  Brown returned, Backstrom did not.  Nice that Brown came back, but if Backstrom’s injury is anything more than a ding or dent, it could be catastrophic to the Caps’ playoff hopes.

-- The goal by Kuznetsov was just the first part of a critical sequence in securing a standings point.  The Caps still had 1:43 of a penalty to kill that would spill over into the overtime when the Kings would be 4-on-3.  The Caps killed off that penalty, due in no small part to some fine work by Mike Green.

-- The Caps wrapped up their third straight decision that went to the skills competition.  It is the second time this season they played three straight games into the Gimmick phase.  They went 2-1 in the first three-game run, 1-2 in the one just completed.

-- The injury situation – Backstrom going out in the second period, Brown and Troy Brouwer getting shaken up – made for some interesting ice time situations.  For example, Tom Wilson skated 12:47 of even strength ice time.  That would be his high for the season.  Eric Fehr skated 16:33 at even strength, the most he has had since back in early January.

-- Wilson was credited with nine hits.  He is now third among rookies in that metric (173), trailing Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas and Columbus’ Boone Jenner.

-- Karl Alzner was credited with as many blocked shots on his own (7) as the entire Kings’ team.

-- In a sense, the Caps are fortunate to get out of this game with a point.  The Kings out-shot the Caps, 36-27 and out-attempted them 75-43.  At 5-on-5 the Kings had the better of Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages (68.0/65.0).  

-- Ovechkin had a three-point night (2-1-3).  It was his first multiple-goal game since March 1st against Boston (12 games), his first multi-point game since March 5th against Philadelphia (ten games).  However, none of the points came at even strength (two power play goals, a shorthanded assist).  He has gone 13 games without an even-strength point.

--  The four goals allowed by Jaroslav Halak is the most he allowed as a Capital to date, breaking a string of seven straight appearances allowing three or fewer goals.

In the end…

One is better than none, but not as good as two.  Taking a two goal lead into the third period and losing it just is not going to cut it, not now.  And this can be explained away only to a point by the absence of Backstrom, who can be a decent player in his own end when the situation requires.  The Caps just did too much sitting back and catching when the Kings were pitching and nearly got run over in the process. 

That the Caps came back with a late goal it to their credit, but this still has the vague feel of a point left on the table.  And in leaving it there, the Caps let a chance to get into the top-eight slip away.  Although they are tied with three other teams with 80 points – Columbus, Detroit, and Toronto – the Caps hold a tiebreaker only against Toronto for having played fewer games.  With the Caps off until Saturday against Boston, they could go through the weekend at least (they also have a Sunday game against Nashville) without being able to claw that last step into the playoff group.

The price of losing a standings point, even with a late comeback, are steep at this time of year.