Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Canucks, October 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Geez, another game?  Well, yeah.  There might have been only two games in Week 3, but Week 4 gets off to a quick start as the Caps head to Vancouver to meet the Canucks in the back half of a back-to-back set of games.

This is one of those dangerous games in which the Caps have clear edges in record and the underlying numbers, but face an opponent that has the ability to play better than its record to date.  The Canucks started the season well, winning their first three games.  However, they are just 1-2-1 in their last four games.  It is noteworthy that the lone win was a 4-1 decision over the St. Louis Blues, one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference.

Overall, the Canucks are a team that generally ranks in the bottom half of the general statistics. Scoring offense is the exception.  The usual suspects lead the team in offense – the Sedin twins.  Daniel leads the club in scoring with ten points, his brother Henrik is next with nine.  The Canucks have a good balance in goal scoring, too.  Radim Vrbata, who was signed away from the Arizona Coyotes to a two-year/$10 million deal last July, leads the team with four goals, which isn’t bad for the consolation prize in the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes  After that there is Henrik Sedin with three goals, then a group of seven players with a pair of goals.

Alexandre Burrows and Chris Higgins might be expected to be in that group of two-goal scorers.  Linden Vey, perhaps not so much.  He was traded to the Canucks from the Los Angeles Kings last June in exchange for a 2014 second round draft pick.  He had respectable goal totals in juniors (102 in 262 games) and in the AHL (55 in 191 games), so his presence among the Canucks’ goal scoring leaders might not be so surprising, but it is early in the season. 

What the Canucks have not enjoyed is scoring from the blue line.  Alexander Edler is the only Canuck blueliner with a goal.  As a group they have Edler’s goal on a total of 70 shots (1.4 percent).  As a group they have only six points at even strength, Edler with half of them.

Here is how the teams’ numbers compare:

1.  In one respect the Canucks should provide a stiff test for the Caps.  Vancouver is tied for second in the league with 33.7 shots on goal per game.  The Caps are third in fewest shots per game allowed (23.7).

2.  Vancouver doesn’t do close games.  In seven contests to date the Canucks have played in one one-goal decision, a 5-4 Gimmick win against Edmonton in Game 2.

3.  The Canucks have allowed more goals at 5-on-5 (18) than all but four teams: Buffalo, Carolina, Philadelphia, and Edmonton.  That is not a neighborhood in which one wants to travel.

4.  Hockey is not a dainty sport, but there are some teams more so than others.  Vancouver had been credited with 124 hits this season, fewer than any other team except for Chicago and Minnesota. 

5.  That low hit total might be a reflection of good possession numbers overall for the Canucks (if they have the puck, they don’t need to hit anybody).  Vancouver is sixth overall in Fenwick-for percentage in all situations (52.6), although that drops quite a bit at 5-on-5 (51.1; 15th in the league, according to

1.  For the Caps, the trick is avoiding one-goal games.  While the Caps are 1-1-2 in one-goal decisions, they are 3-0-0 in games decided by two or more goals.

2.  Only Minnesota and St. Louis have (one apiece) allowed fewer second period goals than the Caps (3); only Florida (2), Los Angeles (2), and Chicago (1) have allowed fewer in the third period than the Caps (3).  Only Minnesota has allowed fewer combined second and third period goals (5) than the Caps (6).

3.  One would like to see the Caps getting more opportunities to unleash their power play.  They are tied with Pittsburgh for 22nd in the league in man advantage opportunities (25).  Only Pittsburgh, New Jersey and San Jose have more power play goals on the road so far than the four scored by Washington.

4.  Seven games in, and the Caps have been outshot only once, 29-21 by Boston in Game 2, a 4-0 Caps win.  Since then, over a five game stretch, the Caps have outshot opponents by five or more shots in each game.

5.  Alex Ovechkin… tied for 13th in shots on goal?  Hey, the Caps are winning.  Who cares?

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Ryan Miller

Him again?  Well, he might be Ryan Miller, but maybe he’s not “Ryan Miller.”  Miller has not had a good start with his third team in the space of seven months (Buffalo, St. Louis, Vancouver).  He is 33rd in goals against average (2.71) and 36th in save percentage (.906), both significantly under his career numbers (2.59/.915).  He has alternated good and poor performances over his five appearances to date.   And, while his first two appearances against the Caps last season were excellent with the Sabres (2-0-0 in a pair of Gimmick wins that went a combined 18 rounds), he allowed four goals on 22 shots in his last appearance against the Caps, that one while tending goal for St. Louis in a 4-1 Caps win.  Miller is 15-12-0 in 28 career appearances against the Caps with a 2.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage with three shutouts.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

One thing about these western Canada trips.  Guys get to play in front of hometown fans in an opportunity they do not get often.  Tonight it is Troy Brouwer’s turn.  Brouwer is off to a bit of a slow start with one goal in seven games, none in his last four and no points in his last three.  There is last season to compare it to, though.  In a year in which he set a career best mark of 25 goals, he had only one in his first seven games, too.  In 15 career games against the Canucks, Brouwer is 3-2-5, plus-6.

In the end…

A back-to-back should not pose the problems for the Caps that it might later in the season or under different circumstances.  The Caps have played in only two games over the past seven days leading up to this game, and any jet lag they might have felt going west should long ago have ceased to be a problem.  This will be a game of focus and discipline.  The Caps are playing better, but the Canucks do have talent.  If they have the former, the latter will make little difference.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

Week 3 of the 2014-2015 season for the Washington Capitals was as much for team building as it was for hockey.  The Caps held a team building exercise in Calgary between their two games of the week, a hard fought curling competition for the… what, Barry Trotz Trophy?  As for the hockey portion of the week, it was, despite the light workload, the usual mix of the good, the not as good, and the just plain odd.

Record: 1-1-0

The Caps had their first non-winning week of the season, enduring their first loss in regulation time when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 3-2, to start the week.  It was the first time that the Caps lost in regulation time since Game 77 last season, a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  Since then the Caps went 7-0-3 before dropping the decision to the Oilers.  The Caps salvaged the week with a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames that left them in second place, two points behind the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.14/game; rank: T-7th)

It was not the most prolific of weeks at the offensive end, but it was balanced.  Of the five goals of the week, only Joel Ward had more than one (2), John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green getting the others.  Ten different skaters shared in the 12 points that were distributed, Ward and Backstrom the only ones with as many as two points.  The odd part of the week was that Alex Ovechkin: 1) did not record a point, and 2) recorded only three shots on goal for the week (often a decent period for the winger).  Three straight games with two or fewer shots made it the first time for Ovechkin since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012.  Don’t get too concerned, though.  He still has almost twice as many shots on goal for the season (29) as the next Capital in line (Mike Green and John Carlson; 16 apiece).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 1.86/game; rank: T-3rd)

It says something when a team can allow two goals per game for a week, and its goals allowed per game goes up.  That was the case this week for the Caps, who allowed four goals in two games.  They still improved their scoring defense ranking from a tie for sixth last week to a tie (with Chicago) for third, behind only Minnesota (1.00) and Los Angeles (1.43).  Part of this, perhaps a large part of it, is denying opponents opportunities.  The Caps allowed only 42 shots on goal for the week, their consecutive games streak allowing fewer than 30 shots reaching seven games (and counting).  Last season the Caps had six individual games in which they allowed 42 or more shots.  The last time the Caps went seven straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots was October 27 – November 9, 2010 (24.9/game).  Oddly enough, that was two months before the Caps decided to employ a trapping defense after an eight-game losing streak.  The Caps are now averaging 23.7 shots allowed per game.

Goaltending: 2.00 GAA / .902 SV (season: 1.80 GAA / .922 SV / 1 SO)

This is the other side of the “shots matter” argument.  The save percentage put up by Braden Holtby, who played all 120 minutes for the week, was not sterling, but he faced so few shots in the process that his goals against average was still rather good.  The goals were so few that they deserve individual notice.  Justin Schultz scored for Edmonton when he was allowed to walk down the slot and take a centering feed from Teddy Purcell with all the Caps looking at the end boards.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored when he took advantage of an Alex Ovechkin whiff on a wrist shot from the left point, sped in on a breakaway, and beat Holtby.  Nikita Nikitin scored on a power play through a screen.  Dennis Wideman scored when the Caps suffered a sloppy clear attempt on an Calgary power play, the puck eventually making its way to Dennis Wideman, who faked Jay Beagle out of position, took a step to his right and fired the puck past Holtby from long range.  It was not a series of poor plays by Holtby (who might want that Wideman goal back) as much as breakdowns of varying sorts in front of him.  Even those, however, were few during the week.  If anything, the goals stand out because of their infrequency.

Power Play: 2-5 / 40.0 percent (season: 28.0 percent; rank: 3rd)

The Caps were not especially efficient on the power play in terms of shots per minute (five shots in 6:24 of power play time for the week), but they certainly effective with what they had – two goals on those five shots in a 2-for-5 week with the man advantage.  Your next odd development of the week – Alex Ovechkin had no power play shots on goal. The shots came from Troy Brouwer (0-for-2), Mike Green (0-for-1), John Carlson (1-1) and Joel Ward (1-1), Ward’s coming on the only power play shot on goal the Caps recorded against Calgary in their 3-1 win on Saturday.

Penalty Killing: 3-5 / 60.0 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 11th)

It was not the shots per minute that was odd about the penalty killing for the week (seven shots allowed in 7:18 of shorthanded ice time), it was the scoring.  Both goals allowed for the week came from defensemen – Nikita Nikitin for Edmonton and Dennis Wideman for Calgary.  Both were scored  from long range, both more or less from the middle of the offensive zone.  Both represented lapses, the Nikitin goal scored when the Caps could not prevent either Teddy Purcell or Nail Yakupov from setting up in Holtby’s line of sight, Wideman’s goal when Jay Beagle took himself out of the play, biting on Wideman’s fake of a shot, allowing Wideman to reset his shooting angle.  On the other hand, the best penalty killer is not necessarily your goaltender but not taking penalties in the first place.  Five shorthanded situations faced for the week is a pattern one would hope for.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 3-2 / plus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio:1.67; rank: 3rd)

Last season, if the Caps scored three even strength goals for the week, even if it was only over two games, they might have allowed four or five.  That they were still a “plus” for the week is another of those good signs.  Credit that in large part to a dominating week in possession numbers.  At 5-on-5 the Caps were a Corsi plus-30 (95-65) and had a Cors-for percentage of 59.4.  They were plus-25 in Fenwick at 5-on-5 (73-48) with a Fenwick-for percentage of 60.3 (numbers from  It helped the Caps hold Edmonton and Calgary to a combined 6.3 percent shooting at even strength for the week.  Overall, the Caps have outscored opponents by a 15-9 margin at 5-on-5 this season, almost a goal per game (0.86).

Faceoffs: 57-for-114 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.2 percent; rank: 19th)

In a week in which the record was split down the middle, the goals scored/allowed were almost split down the middle, the faceoffs were more of the same. The Caps split 114 faceoffs down the middle with 57 wins and 57 losses.  Nicklas Backstrom took more than a third of the draws and more than twice as many as any other Capitals for the week.  His was largely a split-down-the-middle week, too.  Although he was 25-for-42, he was at 50. 0 percent in both the offensive zone (4-for-8) and the defensive zone (8-for-16).  He was 13-for-18 in the neutral zone.  Jay Beagle saw his first action of the season this week and did a good job in the faceoff circle, winning nine of 13 draws.   After that, none of the other four Capitals – Andre Burakovsky (45.5), Eric Fehr (31.3), Evgeny Kuznetsov (28.6), or Michael Latta (50.0) – taking ten or more draws were better than 50 percent.

Goals by Period:

Nothing surprising here.  In a close-fought week the Caps battle Edmonton and Calgary to a combined draw over the first two periods of games.  The takeaway here is that having allowed no third period goals for the week, there are only three teams – Florida, Los Angeles, and Chicago – having allowed fewer third period goals for the season than the three allowed by the Caps.

In the end…

Not every week is a winning week.  The Caps certainly played well enough to beat the Oilers in the first game of the week; their possession numbers dominated (64.7 percent Corsi-for, 64.1 percent Fenwick for at 5-on-5; numbers from  It was the infrequent exception to the general rule that with possession dominance goes winning.  Over a season’s worth of games, if the Caps can continue something approaching that level of performance (fifth in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, fourth in Fenwick-for percentages, according to, they will win a lot of games.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Mike Green.  Plus-19 Corsi at 5-on-5, plus-15 Fenwick, one goal, 39 minutes of ice time.
  • Second Star: Joel Ward.  Two goals (including game-winner) against Calgary.
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom.  One goal, one assist, 25-for-42 in faceoffs, 500th career point recorded.

A TWO-point night -- Game 7: Capitals 3 - Flames 1

The Washington Capitals took care of business on Saturday night in a quiet, workmanlike way, defeating the Calgary Flames, 3-1, at Scotiabank Saddledome.

The scoring for the Caps came in expected ways, but not necessarily from the expected sources.  The first goal came mid-way through the first period.  With Joe Colborne off on a tripping penalty, the Flames were doing a credible job of nullifying the Caps’ power play. Lance Bouma got to a loose puck behind the Washington net and fired it along the boards and out of the zone.  The puck made its way all the way to the Calgary blue line where defenseman Derek Engelland was backing off to receive it.  He tried to collect the puck and make a D-to-D pass across the ice, but the puck was bouncing on him.  All Engelland managed to do was chip the puck out of his own reach and into the path of a hard-charging Joel Ward, who was pressuring Engelland.  Ward took up the puck and split the defense, rifling a wrist shot past goalie Karri Romo for the early lead.

Calgary tied the game on a Dennis Wideman power play goal with just ten seconds left in the first period, but that would do it for the Flames on the scoreboard.  The Caps regained the lead in the sixth minute of the second period when Ward struck again.  The finish was all about going hard to the net, but the start was a long exit pass from Brooks Orpik out of his zone to Michael Latta at the Calgary line.  Latta skated the puck down the right wing boards to the corner, then threw it in front where Liam O’Brien jumped up.  The puck slid past O’Brien, but not past Ward, who stepped up to the top of the Calgary crease.  With O’Brien occupied bv the Flames’ defense, Ward was clear to flip a backhand past Ramo to make it 2-1.

Nicklas Backstrom capped the scoring in the first minute of the third period.  It was another long exit pass that started the play.  This time it was Karl Alzner taking a pass from Matt Niskanen, then firing it up the middle to Backstrom as the Flames were completing a switch-out of defensemen.  Backstrom had a couple of steps on Kris Russell at the Flames’ blue line and had only Wideman in front of him to defend.  Backstrom used Wideman as a screen and snapped a shot over Ramo’s left pad to put the decision to rest – Caps 3, Flames 1.

Other stuff…

-- We noted in the prognosto that Alex Ovechkin had not gone three straight games with two or fewer shots on goal since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012.  We also noted that the Flames could be a team he against which he could break out.  He did not.  Ovechkin had one shot on goal (9:05 of the second period).  He did, however, draw the penalty that led to Joel Ward’s power play goal.

-- Last year Joel Ward finished seventh in the league in shooting percentage (18.0 percent).  There he is lurking among the league leaders once more (28.6 percent; tied for tenth).

-- The Caps allowed 21 shots on goal, the seventh consecutive game allowing fewer than 30 shots (and counting) having done so.  The last time the Caps went seven straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots was October 27 – November 9, 2010 (24.9/game).  Oddly enough, that was two months before the Caps decided to employ a trapping defense after an eight-game losing streak.  The Caps are now averaging 23.7 shots allowed per game.

-- One of the odd occurrences that sometimes takes place in the flow of a hockey game took place in the first period.  Alex Ovechkin got no time on the Caps first power play.  Before anyone thinks it was a slight, Ovechkin had just stepped off the ice one second before the penalty to Joe Colborne was sent to the penalty box, Ovechkin having just completed a 54 second shift.  The Caps scored 29 seconds into the man advantage.  Last year, Ovechkin might have been there to start the power play anyway.

-- John Carlson is still a man, if not for all seasons, then all situations.  He recorded 18-plus minutes at even strength, two-plus minutes on the power play, and two-plus minutes in shorthanded ice time.

-- It might not surprise anyone that Brooks Laich and Joel Ward are tied for the team lead in blocked shots with seven apiece.  But Ovechkin next with six in seven games?  He had 22 in 78 games last season.  Last night he had two to tie for the team lead.

-- Mike Green might not be getting the minutes he was getting before all the injuries set in, but he might be packing more into what he is getting.  In 19 minutes and change last night he had four shots on goal and four other attempts that did not make it to (or past) Ramo.

-- Backstrom has a dominating night in the faceoff circle overall, but there was a strange lack of balance to it.  In going 15-for-23 he was 2-for-4 in the offensive zone and 4-for-8 in the defensive zone.  He was 9-for-11 in the neutral zone.

-- If you are only going to get one shot on goal on the power play all night, it’s best to score on that shot.  Joel Ward had the only power play shot on goal for the Caps.

-- Michael Latta was content to take one item each from the all-you-can-eat buffet: one assist, plus-1, one shot on goal, one missed shot, one shot taken that was blocked, one blocked shot of his own. He was 5-for-10 on faceoffs.

In the end…

In a light work week rust can set it.  The Caps did a pretty good job of fighting that off, especially after losing to Edmonton on Wednesday.   That the Caps would win through what was stifling defense is a recurring theme.  Holding the Flames to fewer than ten shots in all three periods make it 11 straight period in which the Caps have allowed ten or fewer shots, allowing as many as ten only once, dating back to the first period of the 6-2 win over New Jersey when they allowed 14 shots in the first period of that contest.  It is a welcome development, especially since it does not appear as if it is coming at the expense of offense (3.17 goals/game; tied for seventh in scoring offense).  This is a recipe for success.