Saturday, March 01, 2014

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 61: Capitals 4 - Bruins 2

One down, thirteen to go.

The Washington Capitals started their 14-game walk through the toughest part of their schedule this month with a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins this afternoon at TD Garden in Boston.  The Caps, who will face these same Bruins twice more over their next 13 games, not to mention the Pittsburgh Penguins twice, the Philadelphia Flyers twice, and take a trip to the west coast to visit Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim, scored early, scored late, and held off the Bruins to secure their fourth straight win.

This game, however, might have turned on the basis of play at the other end of the ice.  In the game’s seventh minute Jay Beagle was about to be sent to the penalty box for committing a holding infraction on Milan Lucic.  Before play was whistled dead, though, Tom Wilson high-sticked Torey Krug, and both Caps were sent to the penalty box, giving the Bruins a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play.  In the power play Boston managed only four shot attempts.  Two of them were blocked, one was a miss, and the fourth – a shot on goal by Krug – was turned away by goalie Braden Hotby.  The Caps killed off the two-man disadvantage and kept themselves in the game.

The effort was not for naught, for in the final two minutes of the first period the Bruins’ Chris Kelly was sent off for interference on Jason Chimera.  Less than half a minute later, John Carlson teed up Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left wing circle, and Ovechkin beat goalie Tuukka Rask to the short side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.

Washington built its lead to 3-0 in the second period with a pair of goals.  The first came on Ovechkin’s second power play goal of the game.  The play started with Braden Holtby sending the puck up the left wing wall to Joel Ward at the red line.  Ward skated the puck into the Boston end and slid it to the middle where Marcus Johansson was filling in.  Johansson backhanded a pass to Ovechkin in stride, and from the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin one-timed a shot over Rask’s left shoulder and under the crossbar to make it 2-0.

The second Caps goal of the period came on an uncharacteristic breakdown by the Bruins.  After the Bruns won a center ice faceoff, Johnny Boychuk tried to move the puck across to his defensive partner Matt Bartkowski at the Boston blue line.  Joel Ward stepped up and deadened the pass, picked up the puck, and split the two defenders to skate in alone on Rask.  Ward faked Rask to the ice, then pulled the puck to his backhand, sliding the puck past Rask’s right skate to make it 3-0.

Patrice Bergeron got one back for the Bruins just 41 seconds after Ward’s goal.  With Jason Chimera off for a tripping call, Bergeron one-timed a pass from Dougie Hamilton from the slot that beat Holtby, and it was 3-1.  Boston made it 3-2 late in the second period when the Caps got caught almost doing the right thing.  As Shawn Thornton was winding up for a shot from the edge of the left wing circle, Gregory Campbell was chugging down the middle toward the net.  Mike Green tried to tie Campbell up, but in doing so he redirected Thornton’s shot past Holtby, and the Caps were down to a one-goal lead going into the third period.

In the third, Eric Fehr extended his curious mastery of Tuukka Rask.  With the Bruins trying to establish control in the Caps’ zone, Fehr twice poked the puck out of the way of Bruin sticks, the second of which cleared the zone.  When Torey Krug tried to regain control, he got tied up with Joel Ward’s stick and tumbled to the ice.  It was the room Fehr needed to break free and alone for a chance against Rask.  From the hash marks Fehr snapped a forehand past Rask’s left pad, and the Caps had the final two-goal margin they would not give up.

Other stuff…

-- Sure, the pass from John Carlson to Alex Ovechkin was deftly applied for a one-timer for the Caps’ first goal, but that play is not possible without Nicklas Backstrom’s artful stick work and soft hands on the right wing wall to open up a passing lane to Carlson to get the play going.

-- Ovechkin’s second goal was his 800th NHL point.  He is tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for 17th among active NHL players.  No player since Ovechkin broke into the league in 2005 has more points.  Joe Thornton has 755 points since 2005 for second place.  Over that same period he has a whopping 103-goal lead, 412-309, over the second highest goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk.

-- Ovechkin was also a minus-1, making him minus-18 for the season.  In 24 “minus” games this season he has goals of his own scored eight times (nine total goals).

-- Part of playing an effective road game is often frustrating an opponent.  Here is an example of how the Caps did it this afternoon.  No Boston forward recorded a shot on goal until Dan Paille did it with 5:51 left in the first period.

-- Ward’s goal, his 18th, is a career high, surpassing the 17 he had with Nashville in 2008-2009.  It put him in the top-50 in the league in goal scoring (tied with 12 other players).  His two points for the afternoon made it 35 for the season, tying his career high in 2008-2009.

-- Eric Fehr now has four career goals against Boston.  All of them have been scored against Tuukka Rask.

-- Boston is not an especially adept penalty killing team, given their place in the standings.  We noted that capitalizing on this would be a key to this game.  The two power play goals scored by the Caps was the first time the Bruins allowed two power play goals in a game since January 14th against Toronto.

-- The power play loomed large in another respect.  The Caps outshot the Bruins, 14-5, on their respective power plays.  On the other hand, Boston won the even strength shot battle, 30-16.  As a result, Boston kicked the Corsi out of the Caps, winning that contest at 5-on-5 with a 66.7 percent Corsi-for, and in 5-on-5 close score situations with a 54.2 percent mark.

-- The four-game winning streak is the Caps longest since a four-game streak to open the month of November.  Since the Caps had an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) in January, they are 7-2-1.

-- No Metropolitan Division team has more points earned against the Atlantic Division than the Caps.  The win made the Caps 11-4-5 against the Atlantic this season, the 27 points earned being one more than the 26 earned by Pittsburgh (12-6-2).

-- Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith were tied for second in goals for the Bruins entering the game.  They ended the game still tied for second because both were held without a shot on goal.  Team leader Brad Marchand had only one shot on goal (and two minor penalties).

In the end…

It was a good win all around.  Sure, the fancy-stat’ers will note that the Caps were beaten in the possession statistics, but that is when a goalie needs to step up, and Braden Holtby did with a fine game.  The Caps made good on their power play opportunities, and they kept Boston’s most dangerous players from being too dangerous.  It was a good step on the rough March road, but only the first step.  It is a long road to go.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Bruins, March 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish up their two-game road swing to start the season’s home stretch as they visit the Boston Bruins this afternoon.  The Caps are looking to tie their longest winning streak of the season (four), while the Bruins look to extend their streak of not losing games in regulation to six (3-0-2 coming into this game).

To date, the Caps have had good luck against Atlantic Division teams, posting a 10-4-5 record.  However, this is the first time the Caps are meeting the class of the division in the Bruins this season.  In Boston, the Caps face a formidable opponent, especially in TD Garden.  No team in the league has posted more wins or standings points at home than the Bruins (23 wins, 48 standings points won).  That might prove a high hurdle to clear for the Caps, but Washington is also facing a team that stubbed their toe in their last three games, losing two of them in overtime.

Boston went 3-0-2 in February.  In posting that record they split 20 goals among 11 different skaters and points among 16 skaters.  Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand led the club with three goals apiece.  Lucic added four assists for seven points over the five games, but he did not lead the team in points.  That was a spot reserved for Jarome Iginla, who went 2-6-8 in February, scoring points in each of the five games.  In fact, Iginla is 4-11-15 over his last nine games and has points in eight of them.

Lucic and Iginla are two of the three Bruins who posted at least four assists in five games in February.  The third is defenseman Torey Krug, who was 1-4-5 for the month and who is 2-9-11 over his last 12 games.  That recent scoring burst has lifted Krug into a tie for 14th in scoring among NHL defensemen and is the club leader among blueliners in that regard (12-22-34).

Tuukka Rask has not faced a shot from an NHL shooter since before the Sochi Olympics.  Rask backstopped Team Finland to a bronze medal in Sochi and was given the night off in Boston’s first game back following the break, a 5-4 overtime loss to Buffalo.  In the run-up to the Olympic break Rask was a bit off his game.  He was 1-1-1, 2.70, .904, the goals-against average and save percentage being a substantial drop-off from his season numbers (2.14, .927).  Rask has never beaten Washington in his career (0-2-3, 3.41).

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers to date:

1. “B” stands for “Boston,” but it also stands for “balance.”  The Bruins have eight skaters with at least ten goals, five of them between 15 and 20 goals scored.  They have 18 skaters with at least ten points, four of them with between 40 and 50 points.  Nine different players have power play goals, 11 have power play points.  Four different players have shorthanded goals, 13 players have game-winning goals.  Thirteen players are plus-10 or better, five of them plus-20 or better.  Even penalty minutes – 20 players have at least ten PIMs this season, nine have at least 30.  This team does everything as a group.

2.  You score against Boston at 5-on-5, you’re going to earn it.  No team in the East has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5; only Tampa Bay (91) is within a dozen allowed by the Bruins (85).

3.  Boston smothers opponents.  Only St. Louis (18) and Pittsburgh (17) have more wins by three or more goals than Boston (16), and only Chicago has fewer losses (3) by three or more goals than the Bruins (4).

4.  For a team with a reputation for rugged play, the Bruins play surprisingly within the rule book.  Boston has the 11th fewest number of minor penalties called this season and is tied with Colorado, Dallas, and New Jersey for the 11th fewest number of shorthanded situations faced.  They do like to mix it up, though.  Boston is third in fighting majors this season (36), trailing only Philadelphia (38) and Vancouver (37).

5.  As one might expect for a team ranked as highly as the Bruins, they are a superior possession team.  In 5-on-5 close score situations Boston ranks third in Corsi-for percentage and fourth in Fenwick-for percentage.

1.  The four-goal performance notwithstanding, the Caps have had a decent run lately on defense, allowing only seven goals over their last four games and holding two of those opponents under 30 shots.

2.  Washington is one of the more productive teams on the road.  The Caps rank ninth in the league in goals scored on the road this season, tied for fifth among teams in the East.

3.  The Caps are still struggling to hold leads. Washington is 25th in the league in winning percentage when taking a lead into the first intermission of games, and there is that whole two-goal lead thing.

4.  The Caps spend entirely too much time killing penalties, especially for a team that does not do it especially well (tied for 17th in the league).  Washington has faced 220 shorthanded situations this season, sixth most in the league, and has found itself shorthanded five or more times six times in their last dozen games (42-for-49 overall; 85.7 percent).

5.  The Caps sometimes play down to the level of their opponent.  Case in point, the last game against Florida where the possession numbers varied wildly by situation.  For example, the Caps dominated play in 5-on-5 close score situations, putting up Corsi-for and Fenwick for percentages of 53.5 and 55.9, respectively.  Ah, but at 5-on-5 overall?  The Caps trailed poorly – 44.4 percent and 45.8 percent.  That’s why Florida could wipe out two two-goal leads.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Reilly Smith

Who the $@#% is Reilly Smith, you ask?  He is a 22-year old third round draft pick from 2009 who happens to have 18 goals (tied for second on the team) and 43 points (one of four Bruins with 40 or more points), despite averaging fewer than 15 minutes of ice time a game.  He does not have a goal in his last six games, though.  What Reilly is not shy about is shooting.  He is third on the club in shot frequency, averaging a one shot per eight minutes of ice time (minimum: 100 shots), trailing only Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla.  Smith has never faced the Caps.

Washington: Braden Holtby

If the Caps are to make a go of it in their last 22 games, Holtby is going to have to ramp up his game.  All the Ryan Miller-to-Washington nonsense is in the rear-view mirror (Miller having been traded to St. Louis yesterday), so Holtby does not have that distraction.  It is a chance for him to shed this all-or-nothing trend in his game lately.  Over his last 12 appearances he has allowed four or more goals six times, but he also has two shutouts.  Consistency is what is needed now.  He is 3-0-0, 2.24, .930 in three career appearances against Boston.


1. Be Boring.  The Caps are not going to win a shootout (not the Gimmick kind of shootout).  One team might score five goals in this game, two won’t, and the one team more likely to do it – a lot more likely – is Boston.  The Caps need this to be a low scoring game.

2.  Stand up for yourself.  This does not mean dropping the gloves, although Boston is not shy about that sort of thing.  If the Caps get pushed around in their own end, lose battles against the wall, get caught backing off too much, Boston will roll over them like a rolling pin over biscuit dough.

3.  Be special.  Boston is not an especially noteworthy penalty killing team.  If the Caps are to win, they need to capitalize on the power play chances they get to offset their disadvantages at 5-on-5.

In the end…

This should be a comfortable Bruin win…on paper.  Skates don’t work so well on paper, that’s why they play on ice.  The Caps have not been intimidated by this team in recent games.  Witness their seven-game playoff win two years ago and their 2-1-0 record against them last season.  The Caps start crossing the 14-game mine field that could blow up their season this afternoon.  We’re thinking their first steps will be safe ones.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2