Saturday, January 25, 2014

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

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

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

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

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

Other stuff…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end…

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

They sure could use the help.

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2