Sunday, March 02, 2014

Washington Capitals: A ONE point afternoon -- Game 62: Flyers 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

And that, dear reader, is called “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The Washington Capitals seemed to have things safely in hand this afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center.  The Caps dominated the first period, taking a 2-1 lead 14 minutes into the game and carrying that to the first intermission.  In the second period, despite being outshot 14-9, the Caps won the period by another 2-1 margin, carrying a 4-2 lead into the third period.

All the Caps had to do in the third period was play with poise and not be stupid.

They did neither.  The Flyers scored twice in the last 8:02 of the game to tie the score, one of the goals coming on a major power play, courtesy of Dmitry Orlov’s major boarding penalty against Brayden Schenn, the other goal coming with just 65 seconds in regulation after the Flyers pulled their goalie. 

Then, 2:45 into the extra session, Vincent Lecavalier put the Caps out of their misery with what would have been a harmless enough wrist shot except for apparently nicking defenseman Karl Alzner on the way through.  It was just enough to allow the puck to elude goalie Braden Holtby’s glove, and a game that looked to be in the bank for the Caps at 2:30 p.m. was a loss by 3:30, a 5-4 Flyers overtime win.

It was an especially cruel turn of events for Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who got the Caps going with a goal 6:06 into the first period.  After some relentless forechecking pressure, then puck control by the Caps in the Flyers’ end, Troy Brouwer laid the puck back for Orlov from behind the Flyers’ goal line, and Orlov stepped into a slap shot that beat goalie Steve Mason on the far side, high over his blocker.

After Claude Giroux tied the game five minutes later, it was Marcus Johansson’s turn, this time darting in from the weak side of the play to the top of the crease to redirect a centering feed from Jason Chimera over Mason’s right pad.  That was the way the first period would end.

In the second period, Adam Hall scored a shorthanded goal at 12:50 after a ghastly turnover by Alex Ovechkin.  With the puck sliding deep into the Caps’ end of the ice, Ovechkin misread the intentions of teammate John Carlson trailing him and to his left.  Ovechkin left the puck for Carlson at the side of the Washington net to Holtby’s right, but not with enough sauce for the puck to get to Carlson, who had circled wider than Ovechkin seemed to anticipate.  The misstep was enough for Sean Couturier to gather the puck as he was circling around the net from the other direction, beating Carlson to the biscuit.  Continuing up the left wing wall Couturier found Hall skating down the middle and hit him for what would be an uncontested shot from the high slot that Hall fired past Holtby.

Jay Beagle got that one back less than two minutes later by finishing up a 3-on-2 break.  Mike Green had the puck skating down the right side, and when Claude Giroux mistimed a slide to try to interrupt a Green pass to the middle, the puck found its way into a clot of bodies in front of Mason.  It popped out to Mason’s right where Beagle was by himself.  With not much less than an empty net to shoot at, Beagle capitalized, and the Caps had a 3-2 advantage.

Less than three minutes later, Orlov notched his second of the game.  He and Mike Green played catch with the puck at the top of the Flyers’ zone as the play unwound.  Having stepped around Steve Downie to give himself room once already in the sequence, Orlov took a return pass from Green and took advantage of Downie having backed in on defense.  Orlov let it rip from the top of the zone, and with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera causing havoc in front of the Flyers’ net, Mason never saw the shot as it sped by him to give the Caps a two-goal lead.

It would be the most dangerous lead in hockey, it turns out, at least on this day. A great day for Orlov turned sour when he lined up Brayden Schenn and hit him in the nameplate on the back of his jersey, driving him into the boards, resulting in a five-minute major.  The Flyers scored only once on the extended power play, a goal by Jakub Voracek, but the momentum the Caps had was gone.  It would be the Flyers who dominated late, eventually scoring the last three goals of the contest to steal two points that the Caps thought they had safely tucked away.

Other stuff…

-- Yes, Claude Giroux’ goal was a goal, it rimmed around the top inside post of the goal; it did not hit a pipe or the crossbar.  As for the disallowed goal off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom at the other end, that was purely a case of the default call – that being “no goal” called on the ice – lacking conclusive evidence to overturn it.  Good teams shrug those sorts of thing off.

-- Orlov took his boarding call at the 9:33 mark of the third period.  After that point the Flyers outshot the Caps over the rest of the game by a 13-0 margin, scoring three goals in the process.  The Capitals did not record a shot on goal over the last 14:52 of the contest. 

-- The Caps dominated the first period, outshooting the Flyers, 17-6, and out-attempting them, 32-14.  After that, the Flyers outshot the Caps, 30-12, and out attempted them by an almost unbelievable 62-20 margin.

-- Washington was 0-for-6 on the power play.  That matches their worst output at home this season, an 0-for-6 power play in a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders on February 4th.

-- On the other side, it was the third straight game in which the Caps allowed at least one power play goal.  The Flyers went 2-for-4, including the Voracek goal on the extended power play.

-- Alex Ovechkin had ten shot attempts in the first 18:06 of the game (five shots on goal, two misses, three shots blocked).  He had five shot attempts over the final 44:39 (one shot on goal, three misses, one blocked shot).

-- It was a bad afternoon for the top defensive pair.  Karl Alzner was on ice for three goals against, John Carlson for four.  For good measure, Ovechkin was on ice for three goals against to lead, so to speak, the forwards.  Oddly enough, the third pair – John Erskine and Connor Carrick – was not on ice for any goals against.

-- Mike Green had his first three-assist game since getting three helpers in a 7-4 win over Ottawa on Feburary 1, 2009.

-- For Dmitry Orlov, it was the first two-goal game of his career in his 100th NHL game.  Geez, did it have to be a major penalty to undo what should have been a memorable game… in a good way?

-- Until Orlov’s major penalty, it looked as if Steve Downie might end up being the Flyers’ goat for the game… four minor penalties taken in barely ten minutes of ice time.  Had the Caps converted any of those power play chances…

In the end…

That is where the problem lies in this game, the ineffectiveness of the power play, not Orlov’s major.  The Caps had three power plays in the first period, giving them a chance to end the competitive portion of the afternoon early.  As it was, the Caps allowed the Flyers to sneak out of what was, for them, a poor first period down only a single goal.

The Caps let the Flyers off the hook, and then when confronted with adversity in the third period by Orlov’s penalty, they folded.  It just does not seem to be in this team’s DNA to be able to either: a) stand on an opponent’s throat with a ruthless attitude toward closing them out, or b) being able to stand up forcefully when a team makes a run.  For 20 minutes the Caps looked like a team that might be turning the corner, a team that might be making that late-season rush that they need to make to reach the playoffs.  For 40 minutes and change after that, they looked like what they have looked like too much this season, an aimless, uninspired club.  It was another game, another standings point given away in a season full of them.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

There were two-and-a-half weeks separating Weeks 19 and 20 for the Washington Capitals, but they started Week 20 as they finished Week 19, as winners.  When the Caps won the second game of the week to close Week 20 they matched their longest winning streak of the season at four games. 

Record: 2-0-0

Week 20 was the second consecutive winning week for the Caps, their first consecutive winning weeks since turning the trick in Weeks 11-12.  The win over Florida to open the week had its harrowing moments, the Caps giving up two-goal leads twice before Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winner with less than five minutes in regulation.  It was a game that served as an example of playing down to an opponent.

In the other game of the week the Caps served as an example of playing up to an opponent.  Washington went out to a 3-0 lead on the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins, held off a charge in the middle period, then won going-away, 4-2.  It made the Caps 17-1-2 in games in which they and not their opponents took “the most dangerous lead in hockey,” a two-goal lead.  Given the nature of the Caps schedule in March, it was a welcome win and a welcome week.

Offense:  4.50/game (season: 2.82 / rank: 10th)

Nine goals represented a continuation of improvement in the Caps’ offensive output.  When added to the two games that closed the pre-Olympic portion of the season, the Caps had 16 goals over their previous four games at the end of Week 20.  It was the first time that the Caps scored 16 goals over a four-game period since recording 16 over four games from December 7-13.

Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in goals (3) and points (5) for the week.  Since going four games without a point to close the 2013 portion of the season Ovechkin is 13-11-24 in 19 games since the calendar flipped to a new year.  Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers for the week and finds himself third in the league in assists (48) behind Sidney Crosby (51) and Joe Thornton (50).

John Carlson also had three assists for the week, securing three of the four points registered by defensemen (Dmitry Orlov had an assist). Carlson is 2-7-9 in his last ten games.  No Capitals defenseman recorded a goal this week.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.85 / rank: T-21st)

The week’s first game of the week was haunted by a demon that has plagued the Caps all season, dicey play with two-goal leads.  The Caps have had at least one two-goal lead in 22 games this season, including two instances when both they and their opponent held a two-goal lead.  In nine of those games the Caps surrendered two-goal leads.  They did so again this week in their game against Florida, twice in fact, allowing the Panthers to tie the game after taking 2-0 and 4-2 leads.  Fortunately for the Caps, they had Ovechkin, and the Panthers did not.  Ovechkin scored the game-winner with under five minutes remaining for the 5-4 win.  Still, the Caps were fortunate to escape with a win after being out-attempted in shots, 63-43, and out-shot, 34-32, against a team that is 28th of 30 teams in scoring offense.

The Caps were better against Boston, at least in terms of not surrendering a two-goal lead.  Not that there lacked interesting moments.  After extending a 2-0 lead to 3-0 against the Bruins, Boston scored twice in the second period of Saturday’s game to make things close.  Washington added an insurance goal for the 4-2 win.  Still, Boston out-attempted the Caps in shots, 67-44, and out-shot them, 38-31, including 30-16 at even strength.

Goaltending: 3.02 GAA / .917 SV (season: 2.76 / .916 / 3 SO)

Braden Holtby got both starts this week and it was, as many weeks have been for him this season, uneven.  Complicating the issue was persistent chatter that the Capitals were interested in procuring the services of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.  Perhaps that was a distraction that had something to do with Holtby’s recent performance.  In his last 14 appearances before the start of Week 20, Holtby was 5-5-1 (three no-decisions), 3.29, .887.

Holtby’s first game of the week suffered from weak support in front of him.   That is a lingering problem as well. Still, the four goals allowed by Holtby was the seventh time in 14 appearances in which Holtby played the entire game that he allowed four or more goals, and it does not include a four-goals allowed performance in 39:57 against Carolina in December.

His second game this week was much better.  Holtby had not lost to the Bruins in s three career appearances and was the goalie of record when the Caps ousted the Bruins in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.  He continued that mastery in stopping 36 of 38 shots by Boston, including 16-for-16 in the third period of the Caps’ 4-2 win in Boston on Saturday.  The good part ending the week as he did was that he finished Week 20 with a personal four-game winning streak in which he has a goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .940.  If this is a trend, it comes just in time.

Power Play: 4-for-8 / 50.0 percent (season: 22.7 percent / rank: 2nd)

Week 20 was about as good as it gets as far as the power play goes. Two games, two power play goals in each.  One game was the picture of efficiency, the Caps scoring power play goals on each of their power play opportunities against Florida, requiring only 80 seconds of combined ice time to achieve that result.  The other instance was one of persistent pressure, the Caps recording two power play goals in six opportunities, peppering Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask with 14 shots in just 8:09 of total power play time.

As far as the scoring went, the four goals for the week were split between Troy Brouwer (both against Florida) and Alex Ovechkin (both against Boston).  Eight assists were distributed among six different players, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recording a pair apiece. 

Interestingly enough, Carlson’s two points lifted him within a point for the team lead in power play points among Caps defensemen (12, one fewer than Mike Green).  Carlson now leads all Caps defensemen in power play ice time per game (3:08 to 3:00 for Green).

Penalty Killing: 9-11 / 81.8 percent (season: 81.3 percent / rank: 18th)

The problem this week was not so much the two power play goals allowed, but the 11 opportunities yielded.  Compare that total in two games to the 12 opportunities in four games the Caps allowed in Week 19.  It was the second most opportunities allowed on a per-game basis this season and the most since allowing 17 opportunities in three games in Week 5.  The opportunities problem is reflected in the fact that the shots per minute of penalty killing time was manageable.  In two games the Caps allowed 16 shots in 15:06.  One might like to see shots per minute being under 1.00, but this was not a serious problem.

The problem having been stated, the fact is that the penalty killers might have set a tone – a good one – that provided the foundation for a tough win in Boston.  When Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson were each shown the penalty box for infractions on the same sequence, the Boston Bruins had a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play just 6:57 into what was a scoreless game.  Boston managed only four shot attempts and one on goal over that two-minute 5-on-3.  If Boston converts either part of that power play, the result might have been very different.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 5-4 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.92 / rank: T-21st)

That the Caps won the week at even strength, even by the thin margin of a single goal, is noteworthy in that the Caps were outshot by a 53-39 margin for the week at evens.  That 14-shot margin is entirely the product of the Caps being out-shot by a 30-16 margin in their game against Boston, but being held to the same 23 even-strength shots that Florida recorded in the first game of the week should not be ignored, either. 

The possession statistics at even strength were brutal for Washington.  In the two games the Caps had a Corsi-for and a Fenwick-for percentage under 40 percent combined in the two games (38.9/39.7).  They were better in 5-on-5 close score situations (50.8/53.9), but that kind of disparity is the sort of thing that reflects a tendency to allow teams back into games, which is what the Caps did – twice – with two-goal leads in Florida and what the almost did in Boston when the Bruins cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2.

Faceoffs: 58-124 / 46.8 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 17th)

It was not the strongest of weeks for the Caps in the circles.  Even finishing at 46.8 percent is somewhat deceiving.  Washington was a combined 15-for-40 in the offensive end (37.5 percent) and 16-for-39 (41.0 percent) in the defensive end of the ice.  They were especially ineffective against Boston in the second game of the week, 33.3 percent in the offensive end, 35.0 percent in the defensive end.

Nicklas Backstrom had an especially frustrating week on draws, going 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) in offensive zone faceoffs and 2-for-7 (28.6 percent) in the defensive end.  The odd part about defensive zone draws was that natural wingers – Eric Fehr (4-for-8) and Troy Bouwer (4-for-7) took the most defensive end draws.

Goals For/Against by Period:

The word for the week for the Caps in scoring by period was “balance.”  And, they won or held even in each of the three period for the week.  The only period of the six played this week that the Caps lost was the third period in their 5-4 win over Florida when they allowed the Panthers to erase a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals before winning the game late on an Ovechkin goal.

In the end…

Two games, two wins.  Whether they were aesthetic masterpieces is irrelevant.  The Caps are into the portion of their season when the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis ring loudly… “just win, baby.”  The Caps did just that this week, extending their winning streak to a season-tying high of four games.  It put them in position to reclaim a spot among the top-eight in Week 21 the race for a playoff spot.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62/63: Capitals vs. Flyers, March 2/5

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THR AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get no rest from their win in Boston on Saturday afternoon as they take the ice for a matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center on Sunday, the first of what will be a home-and-home set against the Flyers that wraps up in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Capitals enter the game carrying with them a four-game winning streak and hoping to extend their good fortune to their longest winning streak of the season.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia comes into the home-and-home with five wins in their last six contests since the beginning of February.  This has the potential to be a pivotal point of the season for both teams with the Flyers holding a one-point lead over the Caps for third place in the Metropolitan Division and an automatic playoff berth.

The Flyers have outscored their opponents by a 19-13 margin in their recent 5-1-0 run.  The 13 goals against is a bit misleading in that more than half of them came in a 7-3 rout at the hands of the San Jose Sharks last Thursday.  One of the things that has made the Flyers successful lately has been the consistency of their power play.  In posting five wins over their last six games the Flyers are 4-for-20 (20.0 percent) with the man advantage, part of a longer stretch in which Philadelphia is 9-for-36 over their last 11 games.  As part of that run the Flyers had single power play goals in nine of those 11 games.

The penalty kill has been efficient over the Flyers’ 5-1-0 run (18-for-21; 85.7 percent), but consistency is what sets it apart.  The Flyers have not allowed more than one power play goal in a game in this six-game stretch.

Individually, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds have done the heavy lifting for the Flyers since the beginning of February, scoring-wise.  Giroux is 3-5-8 in his last six games, Simmonds 2-5-7.  For Giroux it has been a long climb to rejoin the ranks of the top performers in the NHL.  He opened the season without a point in his first five games, but since then has only gone consecutive games without a point three times.  He has not gone consecutive games without a point since he was held off the score sheet by Calgary and Colorado on December 31st and January 2nd.  Since then, Giroux is 8-13-21 in 20 games.  He is 9-7-16 in 19 career games against Washington.

Where Giroux has been consistent, Simmonds has been streaky.  He comes into this game on a four-game points streak (1-4-5), his fifth streak of four or more games with points this season.  He also has had five streaks of three or more games without a point.  Simmonds is 3-4-7 in 14 career games against the Caps.

With Ray Emery day-to-day with a lower body injury, Steve Mason seems unlikely to yield to call-up Cal Heeter in the role of number one netminder for at least the first game of the home-and-home.  Mason has four of the five wins in the Flyers’ 5-1-0 run of late and has been solid in doing so.  His goals against of 1.93 and save percentage of .939 is quite a turnaround from an eight-game stretch in which Mason was 2-4-1 (one no-decision), 3.83, .875.  He is 4-3-2, 2.59, .917, with two shutouts against Washington in nine career appearances.

1.  Philadelphia has had a reasonably good season, health-wise.  The Flyers have dressed only 25 skaters this season.  According to the site the Flyers have a total of 163 man-games lost as of March 1st, only 39 lost to team-reported injuries, the latter being the fewest in the league.  

2.  Philly starts slowly and closes with a rush on offense.  Their 42 goals scored in the first periods of games ranks 22nd in the league, their 69 third period goals ranks second.  In the middle frame only Edmonton and the New York Islanders have allowed more goals than the 68 allowed by Philadelphia.

3.  No team in the league has found itself shorthanded more frequently than the Flyers, 241 times in 61 games.  They also happen to have had the second most power play opportunities (223).

4.  The Flyers do very well against empty nets.  They lead the league with ten goals into vacant cages.  When you add in the seven empty net goals scored against Philadelphia (tied for 11th highest), it might explain why the Flyers have the fourth fewest number of one-goal decisions this season.

5.  Philadelphia is a weak possession team.  In 5-on-5 close score situations the Flyers rank 22nd in Corsi-for percentage, 26th in Fenwick-for percentage.

1.  This home-and-home, which will close out the season series between the clubs, is the second home-and-home between Washington and Philadelphia this season.  The previous instance was in mid-December when the Caps split the pair, winning 5-4 in a Gimmick at Verizon Center followed by a 5-2 loss in Philadelphia.

2.  John Carlson is the first Caps-drafted defenseman other than Mike Green to register ten goals in a season since Sergei Gonchar recorded 18 goals in 2002-2003.  He is the first American-born defenseman drafted by the Caps to record ten goals since Kevin Hatcher had 16 for the Caps in 1993-1994.

3.  The Caps have power play goals in four consecutive games against Philadelphia, going 6-for-21 (28.6 percent).  You probably knew that Alex Ovechkin led the way, but he was not alone.  Marcus Johansson has two of those six power play goals, matching Ovechkin’s total.  Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer have the others.

4.  For you plus-minus fans… Nine Caps are on the plus side of the ledger this season.  Three of them (Steve Oleksy/+7, Nate Schmidt/+4, and Patrick Wey/+4) are in Hershey.  Two others (Julien Brouillette/+4, Casey Wellman/+3) have a combined 12 games with the Caps this season, the remainder of their time having been spent in Hershey.  One (Alexander Urbom/+1) was waived in early-January.  One (Mikhail Grabovski/+4) is injured.  That leaves Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, both plus-1.

5.  The recent Caps possession numbers can be summed up in one word… yikes!  In six of their last eight games the Caps were at or under 50 percent in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for in 5-on-5 close score situations.  On the other hand, they are 5-2-1 in those games.  Go figure.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Kimmo Timonen

Teemu Selanne is not the only Finnish hockey player who is having an effective twilight to his career.  Kimmo Timonen, the 38-year old native of Kuopio, Finland, has been just about as effective in defensive terms as Selanne has on offense for the Anaheim Ducks.  Of defensemen playing in at least 45 games this season, Kimonen has the third highest Corsi-for relative percentage (plus-6.9%) at 5-on-5, the Corsi-for percentage relative to team's Corsi-for with the player not on ice.  His 54.4 percent Corsi-for is 18th among 141 defensemen in this group.  He will no doubt draw the tough assignment of marking Alex Ovechkin in this contest.

Washington: Mike Green

Mike Green, who is just coming off a stint on the injured list with what appeared to be a concussion, does not have a point in the last three games in which he appeared, and he has been on ice for four of the last six goals scored against the Caps.  He is tied for 250th among 286 defensemen in plus-minus.  Yet he is still a positive possession player.  He has the best Corsi-for relative percentage among any defensemen playing in more than 10 games for the Caps (plus-7.6%), and his Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage are over 50 percent.  What the Caps need as their regular season winds down is for Green to bring all the good points back together and translate it into production.


1.  Rerun.  Playing Philadelphia is not unlike playing Boston, although the Flyers are not quite in the Bruins' class as a hockey club.  The same things apply here as they did against Boston.  The Caps will have to be sturdy in the tough areas – the boards, behind the net, top of the crease.

2.  Five-on-Five.  Beating Boston is always good, especially these days when wins will be hard to come by.  However, the Caps still need to do better at 5-on-5 going forward.  The Flyers are not an especially effective club at 5-on-5, their 0.93 goals for/against ratio being essentially equivalent to that of the Caps (0.92).  The Caps need to establish 5-on-5 dominance.

3.  Line of sight.  The Flyers are not bashful about going into dark places to try to get ugly goals.  Washington needs to give their goalies a chance to see pucks.

In the end…

When faced with a home-and-home, fans might have a tendency to look at them as a set.  In a real sense this home-and-home is exactly that.  These teams are barely distinguishable statistically – scoring offense, scoring defense, 5-on-5 play, home record, road record.  The difference is how they get there in terms of style.  Philadelphia does it with a more physical style, the Caps with a deeper skills approach.  The team that can imprint these games with their style will be the one to take three or four points out of them.

Sunday: Capitals 4 – Flyers 2
Wednesday: Capitals 3 – Flyers 2