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.