Friday, April 11, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR: Games 80/81 -- Caps beat Canes, Caps Host Hawks, A Two-fer

I’ll take “Opponents Starting With The Letter ‘C’,” Alex…

The Washington Capitals played the first game of their final back-to-back of the season last night, a 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.   The pressure being lifted off their shoulders of a tight playoff race agreed with the Caps, who took advantage of some iffy Carolina defense and shaky Hurricanes goaltending to score early (a goal by Joel Ward 62 seconds into the game), score late (Troy Brouwer’s second goal of the game 3:27 into the third period), and score in-between to dominate the Hurricanes on the scoreboard.

Other stuff…

-- Someone want to explain what Mike Komisarek was doing on the Ward goal to open the game? Watching him wave his stick nonchalantly at Ward was reminiscent of a cow lazily waving its tail at flies on a hot summer day.

-- Troy Brouwer has become accustomed to doing things in pairs late in this season.  His two-goal game made it three times in the last four game in which he recorded goals that he lit the lamp twice.  It was his fifth two-goal game of the season, a career high in multi-goal games.

-- 3-6-9… That was the scoring line for the “Gang Green” line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, each player recording a goal and an assist.  The three goals give the trio 52 on the season (Ward: 24; Fehr: 13; Chimera: 15), another “50-goal” season of which the club and those players should be proud.

-- In the “it never ends” file… On a night in which the Caps scored five goals, and eight players were plus-2 or better, Alex Ovechkin finished minus-2 in just 14:19 of ice time.  It was his lowest ice time in a game in which he was neither injured nor ejected since his fifth game in the NHL, coincidentally in this same arena.  That was back on October 12, 2005, when he skated 13:53 in a 7-2 loss to the Hurricanes.

-- One way you might tell this was a meaningless game for both teams… a total of two penalties, one for each team, coming less than three minutes apart.  Penalty, make-up call, play-on.

-- Eric Fehr had two assists.  It was the second two-assist game of the year, the other coming on November 1st in a 7-0 win over Philadelphia.

-- If all you looked at was the scoreboard, you would think the Caps dominated.  Well, they did not.  They were out-shot, 38-21.  They were out-attempted, 73-41.  They won 17 of 53 faceoffs (32.1 percent). 

-- Tom Wilson set a season and career high in ice time: 14:43.  He skated only one fewer shift (18) than did Ovechkin (19).

It was a nice game, but essentially a Little Debbie’s snack cake kind of night.  Sweet, but unfulfilling and not very nourishing.  The third line got a reward for their consistent effort and performance over the last half of the season, the best thing the Caps had going most nights.  Good to see.  On the other hand, you get the feeling Alex Ovechkin would just as soon have the season end last night.  After a season in which he flew to Russia to carry the Olympic torch and get back in time to skate on Opening Night, do a lot of the heavy lifting in public relations for the Russians in advance of the Games, go through the grind of an NHL season, endure the pressure and, once more, the disappointment of the Olympics, chase another 50-goal season, try to get his team into the playoffs, he looks mentally gassed.  You don’t necessarily expect it at this level of play, and it does not wash away his shortcomings this season, but there it is.  The rest of the team does not look quite that resigned to getting this season in the trash can, but neither were they dominating last night, despite the score.

And that brings us to tonight’s game, at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Again, two teams facing each other without a lot of meaningful attachment to the game.  The Caps are the Caps.  As for the Blackhawks, this is more a “maintenance” game.  They cannot catch either Colorado or St. Louis for the Western Conference top spot, and they cannot be caught by the Minnesota North Stars for third in the Central Division.  They’re looking to keep sharp as they await what looks like a first round matchup against the St. Louis Blues.

Things to think about…

-- Chicago is second in the league in even-strength goals (190) to Anaheim (194).  The Caps have allowed the tenth highest number of even-strength goals (163).  That is not a good sign.

-- There is good and bad in the Blackhawks power play on the road.  On the one hand, their 21.1 percent conversion rate in road games is eighth-best in the league.  On the other hand, they have the second fewest number of power plays in road games (109), trailing only Winnipeg (106) for fewest.

-- Don’t go into an intermission trailing Chicago.  They are 23-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (second best record in the league) and 33-1-3 when leading after two periods (tied for tenth best).  No team in the league has fewer losses in regulation when scoring the game’s first goal.  The Blackhawks have been beaten just once, a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on January 26th.

-- If you’re going to get Chicago, you’re going to do it in one-goal games.  They have the fifth-worst record in the league in such games (17-8-15).  Multi-goal decisions are a different matter.  They are 29-11 in games decided by two or more goals.

-- Part of the problem in those one-goal games: extra-time games.  Only New Jersey (17) has more losses in free-hockey than do the Blackhawks (15).  Only three goalies have allowed more goals in the trick shot phase than Corey Crawford (13): Mike Smith, Ondrej Pavelec, and Antti Niemi.  Hey, who cares, eh?  Only two more games of that nonsense.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad is just about a textbook example of a good, if not great prospect (43rd overall draft pick in 2011), marching smartly up the developmental ladder.  He was drafted by the Hawks in 2011 from the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, played another season in Saginaw with some work in the World Junior Championships thrown in, got a cup o’ coffee with the big club that season (two regular season and two playoff games), split time between Chicago and the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL in 2012-2013 (thank you, lockout), then jumped into a full time role with the Blackhawks this season.  In 76 games he is sixth on the club in points (45), tied for fifth in goals (19).  He has chipped in on the power play (three goals, nine points) and on the penalty kill (two shorthanded assists).  He has two game-winning goals.  What he does not have is a goal in his last ten games.  He has but one goal in his last 19 contests.  Maybe not tonight, but the Blackhawks are going to need him to snap out of it.

Washington:  Evgeny Kuznetsov

It might not be appropriate to say the rookie has hit a wall, since he has played in only 15 games for the Caps, but he has only one point (a goal) in his last six games after going 2-5-7 over the previous seven games.  He has only two shots on goal in his last six games, both coming in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the New York Islanders on April 5th (he also had the shootout winner).  He was quiet against the Hurricanes last night, recording no shots on goal in 14:15 of ice time.  The third line can’t do it every night.  Let’s see what the rookie has against top-flight competition.

In the end…

Now it’s just playing for playing’s sake.  Be professional, but have fun.  One can do both while taking the task seriously.  For the fans, it’s just a chance to enjoy the guys they root for and to watch a very accomplished team as the opponent.  Hockey for hockey’s sake, so to speak.  Just enjoy it as such.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 3