Saturday, October 31, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 2 - Panthers 1

When the Washington Capitals were winning six times in seven games to open the 2015-2016 season, they did it with overwhelming firepower, posting five wins by multi-goal margins.  So, we know they can pound teams with offense.  This weekend we found that they can grind games out, too.  The Caps posted their second consecutive 2-1 decision, downing the Florida Panthers by that margin on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winner3:44 into the extra session when he took a pass from Dmitry Orlov at the far edge of the right wing circle, circled out through the middle of the ice, faked a pass to Alex Ovechkin crossing behind him, curled in and fired a low shot between the pads of goalie Al Montoya.

It was a sudden end to what had been a rather dull affair, long stretches of inconsequential action interrupted by odd goals. The Panthers got the first of them in the third minute of the second period as a Caps power play was ending.  Alex Ovechkin fired a slap shot off the foot of Panther defenseman Alex Petrovic, the puck rebounding to the stick of Dave Bolland just inside the Panther blue line.  He skated out with Jussi Jokinen on his right.  As Bolland reached the Caps line, he tried to feather a pass to Jokinen heading down the middle.  The bouncing puck eluded Jokinen’s first swipe at it, but he caught it flush on the second try and sent it over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left shoulder for a 1-0 Panther lead.  Petrovic, who was still lying in a heap in his own end when Jokinen scored, got an assist.  Probably the most painful assist he will have in his career.

That goal stood up for almost 20 minutes.  In the third minute of the third period, Justin Williams won a battle for the puck along the right wing wall and walked it out into the right wing faceoff circle.  He sent a pass out to Ovechkin in the high slot, and Ovechkin did what he does – fired the puck.  The puck was deflected in front, and before Montoya could smother it, Jay Beagle jumped in to tap it off Montoya’s left skate and in to tie the contest. 

The play was reviewed by the on-ice officials after Florida coach Gerard Gallant, who felt that Williams interfered with Montoya as he was cruising across the top of the crease, exercised his coach's challenge.  The officials went to the tablet to review the play…and review the play…and review the play…and finally concluded that the goal was good.  That would be all the scoring until Kuznetsov ended things on a high note for the Caps in overtime, 2-1.

Other stuff…

-- The play leading to the Kuznetsov goal looked a lot like the “read option” play in football.  Think of it this way.  Kuznetsov took the “snap” from Dmitry Orlov and walked the puck down the line.  He faked a “handoff” to Ovechkin that froze the defense for an instant.  It created an opening on the “edge” of the line that Kuznetsov could exploit to break free and move in for the score.

-- For the second straight game, the Caps were involved in a coach’s challenge on a goal.  Both times, the goal was allowed, the Caps splitting the decisions for the weekend.  And we are no clearer tonight on what the criteria are for affirming or rejecting a challenge than we were before the weekend.

-- Kuznetsov was awarded the game’s first star.  Sure, he was the star of overtime, but of the game?  He had one shot attempt in the regulation portion of the game and was moved off the top line.  In 32:30 of regulation ice time for the weekend, he had one shot attempt, four hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, and won 14 of 26 draws.  It was not a great weekend, although we will take happy conclusions like the one on Saturday.

-- More often that it merits, people will look at a goalie stopping 26 of 27 shots in an overtime win and say, “if not for [insert name of goalie], the game would have been over long ago.”  It was true on Saturday night for the Caps, though.  Philipp Grubauer – who really should have been the first star of the game – kept the Caps from embarrassing themselves with the opportunities the Panthers were getting in deep against the defense.  He was a perfect 8-for-8 on Florida power play shots.

-- Speaking of power play, there will be an all-points bulletin issued for the Caps' version of it soon.  After going 0-for-2 against Florida, Washington is now 0-for-7 over their last three games and 2-for-16 over their last six games.  They have been held without a power play goal in 13 of their last 21 regular season games dating back to last year.

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded two shots on goal (none at even strength).  It is the first time he has been held to two shots or fewer in consecutive games since a four-game stretch early last season, October 18-26.  The Caps went 2-2-0 in those games.  Ovechkin went 81 games without consecutive games with two shots or fewer.  He did have eight shot attempts, making it 20 in two nights.  Of that total, nine of them were misses.

-- Of five Capitals taking more than one faceoff, Chandler Stephenson was the only one coming out on the losing side of the ledger.  He was 0-for-4.

-- Some arenas score hits differently than others.  In Florida, they appear to be generous.  The teams combined for 69 hits, and of the 35 recorded by the Caps, only Dmitry Orlov and Justin Williams were not credited with any.  Kuznetsov led the team with four.

-- A slow start plagued the Caps once more.  On Friday night, Washington did not record its first shot on goal until the 6:36 mark against Columbus.  Against Florida, the first shot on goal was recorded at the 6:54 mark.

-- For the fifth time in ten games, John Carlson recorded more than 25 minutes of ice time.  He skated a season high 28:19.

In the end…

It was by no means pretty, but not all wins are beauty pageants.  The glass-half-full version of this game is that the Caps won in spite of not playing very well for many stretches of the game.  Too often, the Caps coughed up the puck in dangerous places and allowed the Panthers chances. That Philipp Grubauer was a pool of calm (note: not "clam," as in a previous version) in goal – and aggressive when need be to challenge shooters – was encouraging after he allowed four goals on 23 shots in his first appearance of the season. 

Still, the Caps struggled against a team playing with its backup goaltender and without its leading scorer (Jaromir Jagr).  They get a couple of days off to work some things out before heading to New York to take on the Rangers on Tuesday in a game that could be for the Metropolitan Division lead.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Panthers, October 31

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, jet out of town for a Saturday night meeting in South Florida where the Florida Panthers will be waiting.  The Panthers will be coming off their own game the night before, having lost by a 3-1 margin to the Boston Bruins.  Florida will have the advantage of playing both sides of their back-to-back games at home.

Before heading into their weekend set of back-to-back games, the Panthers put together a fairly impressive trio of games against Western Conference opponents.  They dropped a 3-2 decision in Chicago to the Blackhawks, then the roared back (get it?) with a pair of wins – a 6-2 thumping of the Stars in Dallas and a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche last Tuesday.

Over those three games in which the Panthers recorded a dozen goals, the points burden was borne primarily by Vincent Trocheck, who recorded two goals and three assists to have a hand in almost half the Panther goals.  Trocheck, now in his third – and first full – season with the Panthers after being drafted in the third round in 2011, was tied for second on the team in goals (4) and points (9) going into the weekend. He leads the team in power play points (2-3-5).  He has a goal in his only previous appearance against the Caps, and he should be considered dangerous.  His hometown is Pittsburgh.

Reilly Smith chipped in a goal in each of the Panthers’ wins heading into the weekend. Smith, another third round draft pick (by Dallas in 2009), is already on his third franchise (Boston between stops in Dallas and Florida), despite the fact that he will not turn 25 years of age until next April.  The right winger has one assist in six career games against Washington.

So, you are a goalie with a 2.01 goals against average and a .939 save percentage.  You also have a win-loss record of 3-3-1. You are Roberto Luongo, Florida Panther goaltender.  This is Luongo’s seventh season with the Panthers, split into two tours of duty.  In 399 career games with the club he has a .921 save percentage, but his goals against average is 2.61, and his record is 145-183-55.  He has faced an average of 33 shots per game as a Panther.  The phrase “lack of support” comes to mind.  He has yet to allow more than three goals in any game so far this season, but allowing three seems to be a problem.  He has losses in all three games when allowing three scores (one in overtime).  And for good measure, he also has a 1-0 loss on his ledger this season. He does give the Caps fits, though.  In 36 career games against Washington, he is 20-10-0, 2.29, .926, with two shutouts.  He is also a real hoot on Twitter.

Here is how the two teams compare in their numbers heading into Friday’s games:

1.  Florida is one of only four teams with a positive goal differential per game of 1.0 or more (3.10 goals for per game, 2.10 goals against per game).

2. The Panthers are a very efficient shooting team.  They rank seventh in team shooting percentage (10.9 percent), and there are five players currently shooting at 20.0 percent or better (Connor Brickley, Vincent Trocheck, Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, and Quinton Howden).

3.  Getting off to good starts against the Panthers is difficult.  They are tied for third in fewest first period goals allowed (5).

4.  Conversely, Florida will make teams pay in the third periods of games.  They are tied for fourth in most goals scored in the third period of games (14).

5.  When they are good, they are very good.  Four of Florida’s five wins to date have been by three or more goals.
1.  Last season, the Caps were 9-17-6 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals.  With last night’s 2-1 win over Columbus, the Caps are 1-2-0 in such games this season.

2.  The power play, one of the presumed strengths of the team, is 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) over their last five games.

3.  Washington is the only team remaining in the league for which every penalty assessed so far has been a minor penalty.  They have been whistled for 33 infractions, all minor penalties.

4.  This year’s version of the Capitals is less “heavy” than last year’s, at least to the extent they are credited with hits.  They have been credited with the fourth fewest number of hits in the league (193).  Only San Jose, Minnesota, and Carolina have fewer.

5.  Philipp Grubauer is likely to get the start in goal tonight for Washington.  In his brief career to date, he is 4-5-2, 2.80, .915 in 12 road appearances.

The Peerless' Players to Ponder

Florida: Jaromir Jagr

In hockey terms, Jaromir Jagr is old.  How old?  He is probably a Hall of Famer based on his record in Pittsburgh alone: 806 games, 439 goals, 1,079 points.  But since then he has played in another 753 games in the NHL.  There are only 93 other active players in the league with that many career games played.  There are 244 players having dressed for games this season who were not born when Jagr took the ice for the first time in the NHL on October 5, 1990.  Oh, and about that October 5, 1990 debut.  It was against, who else, the Capitals.  Who else made their NHL debut in that game?  Peter Bondra.  He retired in 2007.  If Jagr appears in 74 games this season, he will rise to fourth all-time in games played after the age of 40 (Gordie Howe, Tim Horton, and Chris Chelios would still rank ahead of him).  Another full season, and there would be only Chelios ahead of him.

What is even more confounding is his production.  He leads the Panthers in goals (six, before Friday’s game), points (10), and shooting percentage.  If there is one concession to his age, it is that he averages only 15:16 in ice time per game.  And it is not a case of a big burst in one game; Jagr has points in six of the nine games in which he played going into Friday’s game with Boston.  He is still dangerous.  While Caps fans might think that he has been particularly hard on the Caps, that is more a product of his Pittsburgh years.  With 90 career points in 78 games (30-60-90), his career 1.15 points per game against Washington is just 16th among the 30 franchises in points per game.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson was born on October 6, 1990, the day after Jaromir Jagr made his debut in the NHL.  With all the attention paid to Alex Ovechkin’s five-game goal streak to start the season, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s hat trick/five-point game, the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, and the emergence of John Carlson among the elite performers among NHL defensemen, it is easy to overlook a player line Johansson.

He is one of nine Caps at the moment who has recorded five or more points (2-3-5).  His plus-3 is third on the team (going into Friday’s game), and he is playing with his usual discipline with respect to the rule book (no penalty minutes).  Since he came into the league in 2010-2011, Johansson is one of four players who has appeared in more than 300 games, recorded more than 50 goals, and has been charged with fewer than 50 total penalty minutes (Loui Eriksson, Ryan O’Reilly, and Michael Grabner are the others).  He has been neither flashy nor extraordinarily prolific.  He has been solid, a fine complementary player on a team with a full complement of top-six forwards.  In 18 career games against Florida, Johansson is 3-8-11, plus-2.

In the end…

The Caps played a tough 60-minute game last night, now head on the road.  Even for elite athletes, this can be a difficult situation, especially against a team with a surprisingly effective offense such as Florida's (even if Jaromir Jagr is held out another game with a lower body injury).  Add in the fact that the Caps will be giving number one goalie Braden Holtby a breather, and this is a game that can be dangerous.  It will put a premium on playing smart, on playing efficiently.  The Caps have become just such a team from the early evidence this season. 

Capitals 3 - Panthers 2

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Blue Jackets at Capitals, October 30

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice Friday night in a situation they are facing for only the second time this season – coming back from a loss in the previous game.  Having lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, on Wednesday night for their second loss in eight games this season, Washington will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Two losses in eight games is a problem the Blue Jackets would like to have.  They come into this game with just two wins in ten outings (2-8-0).  That is good enough to be last in the Metropolitan Division, last in the Eastern Conference, and last in the league standings.  What they have going for them is that they are winners of their last two games after starting the 2015-2016 season with eight losses.

Still, this is not a team that has come by its ill fortune as a result of bad luck.  They have only a single one-goal loss in their bucket.  Two two-goal losses, three three-goal losses, and two four-goal losses round out their loss profile.

That single one-goal loss came after the Blue Jackets started the season 0-7-0 and fired head coach Todd Richards in favor of John Tortorella.  That was the “turnaround,” so to speak, although caution should be taken with respect to those two-game outcomes.  Beating Colorado and New Jersey are not particularly noteworthy accomplishments, since neither is above .500 at the moment (the Devils are 4-4-1; the Avalanche are 2-5-1).  Then again, both wins were on the road, and Columbus was (and still is ) last in the league, so every team they play at the moment might be viewed as a superior opponent.

On an individual level, there are some surprises with the Blue Jackets.  If you had “Boone Jenner” leading the team in goals, go buy a lottery ticket.  If you had him with more goals (6) than Alex Ovechkin (5), buy me a lottery ticket.  But there he is with six goals in ten games despite only 15 minutes a night in ice time.  He is already two-thirds of the way to his goal total for last year (9) in 31 games and is almost half way to his goal total of two years ago (16) in his 72-game rookie season.  Three of those goals have come in the Blue Jackets wins in the last two contests.  You might be thinking about some regression, though.  Through Wednesday’s games, his shooting percentage (26.1) was identical to that of Jaromir Jagr – six goals on 23 shots.  Jenner is 0-3-3, even, in six career games against Washington.

On the other end is Nick Foligno.  After a season in which he posted a career high 31 goals, 42 assists, 73 points, and plus-16; a season in which he signed a six-year contract extension for $33 million; Foligno is stuck on one goal, five points, and a minus-9 after ten games.  He has one point (an assist) in his last five games and skated a season low of 15:01 in the Blue Jackets last game, a 3-1 win at New Jersey.  He is five games without a goal, and counting.  Foligno is 6-11-17, plus-6, in 23 career games against the Capitals.

So…what about Bob?  Three seasons ago, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky won 21 games in 38 appearances, posting a 2.00 goals against average and a .932 save percentage while recording four shutouts.  It was good enough to earn him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s outstanding goaltender.  Two seasons ago, he won 32 games in 58 appearances, but his number slipped a bit – 2.38 goals against average, a .923 save percentage, and five shutouts.  He finished tied for eighth in the Vezina voting.  Last season he slipped some more – 30 wins in 51 games, a 2.69 goals against, a .918 save percentage, and two shutouts.  He received no votes for the Vezina Trophy.  This season he is off to a poor start – 2-6-0, 3.99, .864 in eight appearances, but that might be worse than it sounds.  He allowed four or more goals in each of his first five appearances, losing all of them with a goals against of 5.07 and a save percentage of .835.  In his last three appearances he has not come all the way back, but his 2.35 goals against and .914 save percentage, not to mention both Columbus wins so far, look more like a bona fide NHL goaltender.  In ten career appearances against Washington, Bobrovsky is 4-2-3, 3.17, .905.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  One of the confounding things about Columbus’ slow start is that they have been a good possession team.  Despite their 2-8-0 record, they rank seventh in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.4).  Ah, but there is the matter of how they do in close score situations, and there things are far less rosy.  The Blue Jackets rank 22nd (48.4).  Put another way, Columbus might want to start with the third period, where they are best in the league overall (61.2) and fourth in close score situations (61.1; all numbers from

2.  Columbus has one player in “plus” territory.  We will give you a moment to try and guess who it is…

… Cody Goloubef.  The 2008 second round pick is a plus-1 in six games.

3.  Columbus acquired David Clarkson from the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season for Nathan Horton.  Horton, who has not played a game since the 2013-2014 season, might be the better part of that deal.  Clarkson played three games for the Blue Jackets last season and has appeared in six games so far this season without having yet recorded a goal for his new club.

4.  Since John Tortorella took over behind the Columbus bench, they have outscored opponents by a 5-1 margin in the third period of games after being outscored by an 18-7 margin in the third periods of games before his arrival.

5.  One thing that remains a work in progress, and something that has ominous overtones for the Blue Jackets in this game, is their penalty kill.  Only the Buffalo Sabres (69.6 percent) are worse than Columbus (69.7 percent), and they are tied for the seventh-highest number of shorthanded situations faced (33).  They have allowed at least one power play goal in seven of their ten games.

1.  Through Wednesday's games, the only teams with more points from defensemen than the Caps (21) were Nashville (23) and Montreal (24).

2.  Washington is third in the league in special teams index, the sum of their power play and penalty killing percentages (113.2).  Only the New York Islanders (116.2) and the Dallas Stars (118.5) are ranked higher.

3.  Jay Beagle has won 59.3 percent of the faceoff he has taken.  The rest of the team: 40.5 percent.  Yeesh.

4.  Only two teams have logged less power play time than the Caps (38:48).  Winnipeg (38:29) and Toronto (36:21) are those two teams.

5.  The Caps have had rather consistent possession numbers over the course of games overall.  Their Corsi-for percentages at 5-on-5 are 54.2 in the first period, 53.6 in the second period, and 51.4 in the third period.  they are one of seven teams with Corsi-for over 50 percent in all three periods overall at 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Ryan Johansen

Last season, Ryan Johansen signed a three-year/$12 million contract at the end of training camp to end what had become an increasingly contentious negotiation between the player and club.  He justified the deal by playing in all 82 games for the second consecutive year while posting 26 goals and 71 points, one of only 16 players in the league to finish with more than 70 points.  This season, the every-game-played streak has come to an end.  Johansen missed the last two games with an undisclosed illness, that coming on the heels of medical issues he has to deal with over the summer.  He is expected to play against Washington on Friday, though.  Columbus could use him.  He had a goal and six points in eight games before his absence from the lineup. And, that goal and six points came in his first five games of the season.  He was without a point in the three games leading up to his being taken out of the lineup.  Johansen is 4-4-8, minus-1, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Here is a number no one saw coming with respect to Alex Ovechkin: “zero.”  As in no power play goals in seven games this season.  Ovechkin, who in ten seasons before this year posted almost 50 percent more power play goals (176) than the second-place player on the list (Thomas Vanek with 118), scored his last regular season power play goal in the last regular season game last year, against the New York Rangers. Perhaps the threat of Alex Ovechkin on the man advantage is the next step in his and the team’s evolution, and the club hasn’t really suffered much from his absence on the power play goal-scoring sheet.  But Ovechkin remains the most powerful power play weapon in the league, and one suspects that he, who has only once finished a season shooting less than 10.8 percent on the power play, will add his customary contributions.  In 17 career games against Columbus, Ovechkin is 12-1-13, minus-8.

In the end…

John Tortorella might be a pain in the backside, but he is a motivator, and he appears to have the Blue Jackets more motivated than they appeared to be under Todd Richards.  That means you can take that 2-8-0 record and stuff it in the disposal.  The only records that matter are that the Blue Jackets are 2-1-0 under Tortorella, and that they have outscored their opponents by a 5-1 margin in the third periods of those three games.  The Caps had better be better prepared to play a full 60 minutes than they were at times against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  This being a getaway game right before a trip to Florida the following night, the Caps will certainly want to end the brief two-game home stand on a high note.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Penguins 3 - Capitals 1

 The Washington Capitals came into Wednesday night’s contest with the Pittsburgh Penguns on a five-game winning streak, their longest since they put together an eight-game winning streak late in the 2012-2013 season. The five-game streak would not become six as the Penguins put down the Caps, 3-1.

A scoreless game through two periods, the Caps broke through early in the third period on what looked like a harmless shot. Evgeny Kuznetsov weaved his way up ice out of the Capitals’end, slowly backing off the Penguin defense. As he got to the top of the left wing circle in the Pittsburgh end, he snapped a low shot that grazed the stick of defenseman Olli Maatta, then deflected off the skate of defenseman Rob Scuderi before sliding between the pads of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 89 seconds into the period.

The cheers barely subsided when the game was tied. Beau Bennett took a feed from Nick Bonino and got behind the Caps’ defense. His initial shot was stopped by Braden Holtby, but he was all alone to follow up and put home his own rebound just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal.

Phil Kessel broke the tie less than two minutes later, taking a brilliant feed from Evgeni Malkin through the legs of defenseman Karl Alzner at the top of the Capitals’ crease and sending the puck past Holtby’s left pad.

Bonino ended the scoring with an empty net goal with 1:43 left to leave the Caps and their fans quiet and in search of starting a new winning streak.

Other stuff…

-- For all the lack of scoring early, it was not a matter of low shot volumes. The teams combined for 27 shots on goal in the first period, 14 for Pittsburgh and 13 for Washington.

-- On the other hand, the four goals in the third period scored by the two teams came on a total of only 14 shots, seven for each team.

-- The Caps finished with their fifth straight game allowing 25 or fewer shots. They have allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (24.3).

-- With the goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his points streak to four games, tying his longest in the NHL, set last season.

-- The Caps came into this contest with a home power play hitting at 35.7 percent (5-for-14). They went 0-for-3 in this game despite getting seven shots on goal.

-- The Caps could have found themselves in a hole early, taking three penalties in the first nine minutes of the contest, including a pair that put the Penguins on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:45. The Caps held the Penguins to just three power play shots on goal.

-- The TKO line that combined for three goals, nine points and 13 shots on goal against Edmonton last week was a bit quieter in this game.  T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were a combined 1-0-1 (Kuznetsov’s goal) with another 13 shots on goal.

-- Braden Holtby’s save percentage at 5-on-5 was .889.  That makes it three games in his past four in which his 5-on-5 save percentage was under .900 after starting the season with three games at .900 or higher at fives.

-- This was just the second game in eight for the Caps in which neither team recorded a power play goal.  The other was a 6-2 win against the Calgary Flames on October 20th. 

-- Although the Caps did not gain any ground on either of the New York teams ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings, the Caps are two points ahead of the pace they had last season after eight games (4-2-2).

In the end…

It’s not the end of the world, Caps fans. There are still 74 games left in the season and four more against the Penguins.  Pittsburgh played a decent road game, despite getting no production out of Sidney Crosby, who is now without a point in eight of the nine games in which he has played.  As has been the case more often than not this season, the key on the Penguin side of the ice was the play of Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Caps played well enough to hold their own (their shot attempts were 11 more than the Pens, 66-55), but the Penguins got better results in net. 

The trick in these things is always to keep “one” loss from becoming “two in a row,” especially at home, where the Caps will host Columbus on Friday before heading to Florida on Saturday.  It means looking forward, not dwelling on this outcome.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Penguins at Capitals, October 28

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice after a four-day hiatus when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins before a national television audience on Wednesday night.  The Caps will be returning to the kindly confines of Verizon Center having yielded the top spot in the Metropolitan Division during their time off that they captured off their 3-0-0 road trip.

For the Penguins, the season’s opening weeks have been a challenge.  When Pittsburgh sent Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington, and two conditional draft picks to Toronto for Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a draft pick, many prognosticators felt that the addition of the high-scoring Kessel to a lineup that included Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would give the Penguins a needed goal-scoring injection on the wing to play alongside the talented centers.  People were speculating about penciling in Kessel for 30 goals…  40 goals...  even 50 goals playing alongside Crosby. 

Things have not turned out so well, at least early.  Kessel is tied for the team lead in goals (three, with Malkin), but it is the team lead on a club on which no other skater than Kessel or Malkin has more than one goal, and only one of Kessel’s goals to date featured an assist from Crosby (a secondary assist on a goal in a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers on October 20th).  By the time the Penguins visited the Nashville Predators last Saturday, Crosby and Kessel were split up, Kessel put on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Plotnikov, and Crosby centering Pascal Dupuis and Patric Hornqvist.  Kessel scored the game-winner in 3-on-3 overtime on a singular effort, with a of subtle trips from Malkin on Filip Forsberg at the Predator blue line:

While Kessel is still settling in, Crosby and Malkin have gone in different directions on the score sheet.  Malkin leads the team in total scoring (3-4-7) in addition to being tied with Kessel in goals.  However, even the seven points in eight games is below Malkin’s career points-per-game average (1.19).  The ray of sunshine there is that all of Malkin’s seven points to date have come in his last six games.  Scoring has not been much of a problem for Malkin over his career against Washington.  He is 9-33-42, plus-1, in 29 career games.

On the other hand, Crosby has struggled in the early going.  With one goal and three points, Crsoby is off to the slowest eight-game start of his career.  Only once in his ten previous seasons did he fail to reach double digits in points over his first eight games, going 4-3-7 in 2009-2010.  He never recorded fewer than two goals in his first eight games of the season until this season.  More disturbing, all of Crosby’s scoring to date came in putting up a goal and two assists in that 3-2 overtime win over Florida on October 20th.  He does not yet have a point on the road (three games).  The ominous part of this for Caps fans is that Washington is likely to have his full attention on Wednesday.  He is 18-33-51, plus-2 in 33 career games against the Capitals.

Marc-Andre Fleury is now in his 12th season for the Penguins in goal.  The former first overall draft pick (2003) is the franchise leader in games played (603), wins (326), goals against average (2.58), save percentage (.912), and shutouts (39) among goalies appearing in at least 100 games for the Penguins.  He is arguably the Penguins’ most valuable player in the early going with a 2.02 goals against average and a .932 save percentage with one shutout in dressing for all eight games so far.  After dropping his first three decisions, Fleury is 4-1-0, 1.60, .944, with one shutout.  In 30 career games against the Caps, Fleury is 17-10-2, 2.50, .915, with three shutouts.

Here is how the teams compare so far (through Monday’s games)…

1.  The Penguins have only six players with more than one point, and that group includes the 38-year old Matt Cullen (two assists) and defenseman Rob Scuderi (two assists).  It does not include Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta, or Sergei Plotnikov.

2.  Pittsburgh and Vancouver are the only two clubs for whom the backup goaltender (Jeff Zatkoff for the Penguins, Richard Bachman for the Canucks) has not yet appeared.

3.  Pittsburgh has scored first in game four times and won each time.  They have trailed first in four games and lost each time.  Pretty simple math there.

4.  The Penguins’ special teams are struggling.  Their special teams index number, the combined success rate of their power play and penalty kill (91.7) ranks 23rd after Monday’s games, right between the Detroit Red Wings (93.9) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (91.2).  The difficulty lies in the power play, which is 2-for-28 (7.1 percent), 29th in the league, ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (5.3 percent).

5.  It is not as if there is a disconnection between Pittsburgh’s possession numbers and their performance numbers.  They rank 22nd in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.4) and rank 23rd in Corsi-for in close score situations (48.2) after Monday’s games.  Their Fenwick numbers are hardly different – 22nd overall (49.4) and 23rd in close score situations (48.7; numbers from  Their 4-4-0 record and 29th-ranked scoring offense (1.63) are not out of line.

1.  Only the New York Islanders have more players with five or more points this season through Monday’s games (10) than do the Caps (9).  It is worth noting that the Islanders have played nine games to seven for the Caps so far.

2.  Only Montreal has more players with at least three goals (6) than do the Caps (5).  Montreal has also played nine games.

3.  Intermissions are kind to the Capitals, as long as they are winning.  Four times they carried a lead into the first intermission, four times they won.  Four times they carried a lead into the second intermission, four times they won.  Simple math here, too.

4.  One would like to see the Caps improve on draws when shorthanded.  They rank 24th in the league at 40.4 percent wins.  Compare that to their faceoff winning percentage when on the power play (52.4 percent/15th).

5.  The Caps have the fourth best Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 in the Eastern Conference (52.9; numbers from  Oddly enough, the three teams ahead of them – the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets – are all under .500 and have a combined record of 4-19-2.  It’s early.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Sergei Plotnikov

The Kontinental Hockey League is not generally thought of as a development league for the NHL, but for Sergei Plotnikov, it provided some valuable experience before he embarked on an NHL career.  Plotnikov did show up on the North American radar as an amateur – he was drafted 53rd overall by the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in the 2008 CHL Import Draft.  However, he was not drafted by any NHL club.  It left him to learn his craft in the KHL, where he played for six seasons.  After six seasons and 300 games in the KHL, the 25-year old signed an entry-level free agent contract with Pittsburgh last summer.  The thinking was having Plotnikov partnered with Evgeni Malkin.  That chemistry has yet to find itself, Plotkinov with one point in seven games, even though by last Saturday he was on a line with Malkin and Phil Kessel.  This will be his first game against the Capitals.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

In eight seasons before this one, defenseman Matt Niskanen had one better scoring start than his 2-3-5 start after seven games with the Caps.  That was in 2013-2014, when he got off to a 1-5-6 start after his first seven games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  You might remember that season as the one in which Niskanen finished 10-36-46, plus-33 in 81 games, his career year in the NHL and the one that earned him a seven-year/$40.25 million contract with the Caps in the summer of 2014.  The odd thing about Niskanen’s scoring profile to date is that he has recorded points in every other game, starting with Opening Night.  That pattern would suggest he comes up empty against his former team on Wednesday.  On top of that, Niskanen has not recorded a single point in eight career games against the Penguins.  It is the only NHL team against which he has not recorded a career point.  The phrase, "he's due," comes to mind.

In the end…

It has been an odd start to the 2015-2016 season.  Out west, a team on the short list of potential Stanley Cup finalists – the Anaheim Ducks – are inspiring more conversation about who their next coach will be after their 1-5-2 start and their curious inability to score goals.  The Montreal Canadiens are perfect through nine games despite rather pedestrian possession numbers.  The Chicago Blackhawks appear to finally be suffering that post-championship hangover after three Cups in six seasons, holding a record of 6-3-0 at the moment but including wins against struggling Florida and Columbus and escaping with a pair of 1-0 overtime wins at home this week.  And there are the Pittsburgh Penguins, one party to perhaps the biggest deal of last summer, sitting at .500 and that more a product of superb goaltending than anything they are doing in the offensive end of the ice.

Meanwhile, there are the Washington Capitals humming along at 6-1-0.  While you can go up and down the television dial in search of reality shows like “Duck Dynasty (not)” or “The Phil Whisperer” or "At Home with the Blackhawkians," the Capitals are like that dependable procedural.  You know what you are going to get from episode to episode, from game to game.  The script might be predictable, but it works so far.

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

The Washington Capitals took to the road for Week 2.  Last season, whether on the road (22-13-6) or at home (23-13-5), it made little difference whether home cooking was on the menu.  This week posed some special challenges for the Caps, though, as the schedule took them to western Canada, where wins have been hard to come by over the years.  So how did it work out?  Rather well.

Record: 3-0-0

The Capitals finished the week with the second best record in the Eastern Conference and best in the Metropolitan Division.  That is what a 3-0-0 week will do.  As in Week 1, there was an issue with their opponents’ strength of schedule.  The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Edmonton Oilers finished the week with a combined 8-9-3 record in games not played against Washington.  On the other hand, the Caps have had a history of difficulty in that part of the world.  Since the 2005-2006 lockout, the Caps had not recorded a perfect trip to western Canada.  In fact, Washington had not finished a western Canada tour above .500 on any of their five previous trips since the 2004-2005 lockout, going 4-8-1 overall (the Caps had two two-game trips over this span of time).

Offense:  5.33/game (season: /game 4.14; rank: 1st)

The 16 goals in three games in Week 2 are better than any three-game total of goals the Capitals had last season.   It is, in fact, the most goals scored in any three game span by the Caps in the regular season (not including shootout goals) since going 3-0-0 over the October 30 – November 5, 2010 period.  The Caps scored 16 goals in three games in beating the Calgary Flames (7-2), Toronto Maple Leafs (5-4 in a shootout), and Boston Bruins (5-3).  It was the first time they did it on a road trip since January 9-13, 2010, when they scored 16 goals in beating the Atlanta Thrashers (8-1), lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-7), and beat the Florida Panthers (5-4 in a shootout).

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.57/game; rank: T-15th)

The goals against numbers are not impressive for Week 4, but the underlying numbers are.  The Caps finished all three games at 50 percent of better and the week as a whole with Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages north of 50 percent.  They dominated the Calgary Flames, posting overall 59.1 Corsi-for and 61.5 Fenwick-for, and recording 65.1 and 64.9, respectively, in close score situations.  The odd game of the week was the finale against the Edmonton Oilers.  Overall, the Caps were 50.0 percent in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for overall, but they were dominant in close score situations, going 62.0 and 57.1, respectively.  The performance enabled the Caps to finish the week sixth overall in Corsi-for percentage for the season (52.9) and sixth in Corsi-for in close score situations (55.1; all numbers from

Goaltending: 2.68 / .881 (season: 2.32 / .904)

It was not a great week, but it was not altogether bad, either.  The overall numbers, particularly the save percentage numbers, were weak, but that is caught up in the shot suppression at which the Caps were pretty good in Week 2 (67 total shots allowed in three games).  Braden Holtby got the nod for the first two games of the week and went 2-0-0, 2.00, .909.  He faced only 44 shots in two games, but his performance in stopping those shots divided into a so-so performance over the first two periods of games (.897 save percentage) and a much better third period performance (.933 save percentage). 

Philipp Grubauer got his first call of the season to close Week 2, and he had results similar to Holtby.  He was touched for four goals on 18 shots over the first 40 minutes of the Caps’ contest with the Edmonton Oilers (.778 save percentage), but he stopped all five shots in the third period of the Caps’ 7-4 win.

Power Play: 2-for-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 31.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps got off to a rough start on the power play in Week 2, in part with a problem that they had to deal with last season – few opportunities.  The Caps drew a blank on five power play chances in the first two games of the week.  Against Calgary and Vancouver, Washington was 0-for-5 shooting in 8:25 of total power play time.  They turned things around against Edmonton, twice scoring on their only shot of a power play, going 2-for-4 in opportunities and shooting 2-for-4 in 5:07 of power play time.  As it was it salvaged what ended up being a good, not great week on the man advantage, going 2-for-9 in opportunities and shooting 2-for-9 in 13:32 of total ice time (0.66 shots per minute).

Penalty Killing: 9-for-11 / 81.8 percent (season: 83.3 percent; rank: 15th)

It would have been a week in which the old saying, “the best penalty kill is not having to kill penalties,” had some merit if the week ended on Thursday.  The Caps faced only five shorthanded situations in the first two games of the week, stopping both of Calgary’s opportunities and killing off two of three Vancouver power plays.  The Caps held the Flames and Canucks to four power play shots on goal in 9:03 of power play ice time, a rather impressive result.

The problem the Capitals faced on the penalty kill in their last game of the week, against the Edmonton Oilers, was having to kill so many power plays.  Edmonton was awarded six power plays on Friday night, including a brief (eight-second) 5-on-3 advantage.   What the Caps managed to do, even here, was keep Edmonton pucks from getting to the net.  Washington allowed only four shots in 9:50 of Oiler power play ice time.  For the week, the Caps allowed two goals on eight shots in 18:53 of power play ice time (0.42 shots per minute).

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 14-6 / plus-8 (season, 5-on-5 goals for percentage: 64.5%; rank: 4th)

The Capitals dominated the five-on-five results for the week, and it was a case of being more dominant over the course of games.  They outscored their three opponents by a 4-3 margin in the first periods of games (57.1 percent for), by a 6-2 margin in the second periods (75.0 percent for), and by a 4-1 margin in the third period (80.0 percent for).

Washington spread their even strength scoring around in Week 2.  Nine different players recorded goals, and 14 different players recorded points at even strength.  The Caps were led here by Evgeny Kuznetsov, who went 2-6-8 at even strength for the week.  The Caps’ shooting percentage was superb, going 14-for-77 over the three games (18.2 percent).

Faceoffs: 82-for-172 /47.7 percent (season: 49.3% / rank: 20th)

Overall, it was not a good week in the circle for the Caps, but there are the aggregate numbers (47.7 percent wins for the week), and there is the fact that Washington was over 50 percent in two of the three games.  The problem was getting schooled in the faceoff arts in Vancouver, where the Caps managed only 16 wins in 46 draws (34.8 percent).

The Caps had similar results by zone.  They finished at 50 percent or worse in each of the three zones for the week, but largely the product of poor performances in each zone in the middle game of the week against the Canucks.  If there was a bright spot here, it was the performance of Jay Beagle.  He finished the week winning 22 of 34 draws (64.7 percent), leaving him at the top of the league rankings among players taking at least 30 draws (63.7 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps could be said to have applied consistent pressure over the course of games in Week 2.  While that would be true, what set Week 2 apart was the Caps’ performance in the second period of the last game of the week.  Coming off a game the previous night in Vancouver, the Capitals took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission, then allowed a game-tying goal in the first minute of the second period against the Edmonton Oilers.  Washington scored three goals in a span of 5:32 to create separation from the Oilers on their way to the 7-4 win that closed the week.  The other noteworthy fact in scoring by period for the week was at the other end – one goal allowed in three third periods of games, that coming late in the Caps’ win over the Oilers.

In the end…

Three wins, outscoring opponents by a 16-8 margin, doing it all on the road in what has been, for the Caps, a particularly hostile environment over the years.  You would have to say, “well done.”  No week is perfect (ok, unless you are the Montreal Canadiens these days), but this is just about as good as it gets for a road trip.  The offensive balance was particularly striking.  Nine players had three or more points (that is, at least a point per game) for the week.  Nine different players recorded goals.  Washington had 12 different multi-point games from eight different players. 

The Caps are now off until they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night in a national television game.  On the one hand, they have earned a couple of days off before getting back on the rink for practice on Monday.  On the other, one would like to see the Caps sustain the momentum they generated from Week 2.  It is a long season, though.  Let’s just savor the moment.

Three Stars:
  1. First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-6-9, plus-5, first career hat trick, first career five-point game, tied for fourth in league scoring)
  2. Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-3, broke 29-game streak without recording multi-assist game, tied for eighth in goals)
  3. Third Star: John Carlson (0-5-5, plus-2, tied for first among NHL defensemen in scoring, tied for first in power play points)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 7 - Oilers 4

The Washington Capitals defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 7-4, on Friday night, a game that called back memories of 1980’s shootouts.  You can read our recap of the contest over at Japers’ Rink, but we had a few more thoughts on the game…

-- This was the first time in six tries since the 2005-2006 lockout that the Caps were perfect in their western Canada road trip against the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks.  The previous results were:
  • 2006-2007: 1-1-1
  • 2009-2010: 1-1-0 (played Vancouver and Edmonton)
  • 2011-2012: 0-2-2 (played Vancouver and Edmonton)
  • 2013-2014: 1-2-0
  • 2014-2015: 1-2-0

-- With two assists, Ovechkin broke a 29-game streak not having a multi-assist game.

-- The Caps have won every game in which they scored, a perfect 6-for-6. Montreal is only other team that can say that at the moment.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a fine time in Alberta.  He went into this game not having recorded a point in either of his previous two games in the western province.  This time around, he was 3-4-7, plus-5, in Calgary (0-3-3, plus-1) and Edmonton (3-4-7, plus-4).

-- Kuznetsov is now second in the league in scoring (3-8-11) to Boston’s David Krejci (5-7-12).  He is tied for third in assists.

-- John Carlson happens to be one of the players with whom Kuznetsov is tied with in assists.  H leads all NHL defensemen in points (2-8-10).

-- The six power plays allowed by the Caps to the Oilers is their high for the season. 

-- Washington is now the top scoring offense in the league at 4.14 goals per game.

-- Here is an odd fact.  This is the second straight time and third in the last four instances in which the Capitals scored seven goals, and Alex Ovechkin did not have any of them.  Before this game, the Caps beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0, on November 1, 2013, without Ovechkin recording a goal, and they beat the Detroit Red Wings, 7-1, on November 22, 2011, without Ovechkin lighting the lamp.  In between, the Caps beat the Florida Panthers on March 7, 2013, by a 7-1 margin with Ovechkin scoring a power play goal.

-- This was the first time Philipp Grubauer allowed four or more goals in a road game since he allowed five in a 5-2 loss on Long Island to the New York Islanders on March 9, 2013.  Granted, he only played in nine road games since that Islander loss before this game.

In the end…

Three games in the west against three different kinds of teams; it could have gone poorly.  Instead, the Caps are coming home on top of the Metropolitan Division (6-1-0) and second to the still unbeaten Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference.  In their three-game road trip, the Caps displayed a deep and prolific offense.  They recorded 12 multi-point games from eight different players: Alex Ovechkin (2), Justin Williams (2), Nicklas Backstrom (2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (2), Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.  At the moment, this team can win in different ways and with many players capable of contributing.  It is a formidable mix.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Capitals at Oilers, October 23

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wind up their three-game road trip on Friday night when they visit the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. 

Edmonton comes into this contest on a roll.  After dropping their first four decisions of the season, all by multi-goal margins, they have won their last three contests.  It was a case of improvement at both ends of the ice.  The offense averaged just 1.25 goals per game in their four losses, but pumped that up to 3.33 goals per game in the three wins.  Similarly on defense, the Oilers allowed 3.25 goals per game in their four-game losing streak to start the season, but allowed only 1.33 goals per game in their three-game winning streak.

The scoring offense is led by a trio of first overall draft picks.  Taylor Hall is the old man of the group, drafted first overall by the Oilers in 2010.  At the ripe old age of 23, Hall has two goals and two assists, good for third on the club in goals and points.  In Hall’s case, the production is largely the product of one big night.  His three-point night against the Calgary Flames last Saturday (1-2-3) led the Oilers to a 5-2 win that ended their four-game losing streak.  Hall has not really developed his game to a consistent level envisioned for him when he was drafted first overall in 2010. He did have an 80-point season in 2013-2014 that suggested he was on the brink of being an elite player.  Last year, however, his season was marred by leg injuries – first a knee injury, then a fractured ankle – that limited him to 53 games and 38 points.  Hall has one goal – his only point – in four career games against Washington. 

Nail Yakupov is another first overall pick whose development path has been bumpy.  He is currently tied for the team lead in points (six), and he comes into this game on a three-game scoring streak (2-3-5 in those games).  The six-point start in seven games is his best seven-game start in his four-year career to date.  He has yet to take even that first big step into the upper echelon of offensive players.  He did set a career high in points last season, but 33 points for a first overall draft pick in his fourth season was probably not what the Oilers had in mind when they made their selection in 2012.  Yakupov has one assist – his only point – in three career games against the Capitals.

Then there is Connor McDavid.  The first overall pick in last June’s entry draft is tied for the team lead in points (6) and leads the team in goals (4).  Although he is tied for second in goal scoring and tied for fourth in points among rookies, he has points in four of his last five games after starting his career without a point in his first two contests.  That 30.8 percent shooting mark certainly stands out.  Sustainable?  Not likely, but still.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Edmonton has four number one overall picks of their own on their roster.  In addition to Hall, Yakupov, and McDavid, there is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who happens to also be the fourth number one overall pick on the roster with at least two goals.

2.  The only multi-goal scorer not to be a number one overall pick on the Edmonton roster is Lauri Korpikoski, a mere 19th overall pick of the New York Rangers in 2004.  Edmonton is Korpikoski’s third team in eight seasons.

3.  Edmonton is certainly a forward-dominated team on the scoreboard.  Oscar Klefbom is the only defenseman with a goal so far for the Oilers.

4.  The Oilers have had stability on the blue line in terms of their top five defensemen.  Each of five defensemen have appeared in all seven games to date.  That sixth defenseman slot, though.  Three players – Andrew Ference, Griffin Reinhart, and Brandon Davidson have split the seven games to date.

5.  As much skill as Edmonton has, their possession numbers…well, stink.  The Oilers are 29th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (45.4), 26th in close score situations (43.8).

1.  T.J. Oshie had a three-game personal points streak snapped against Vancouver, despite recording five shots on goal, his second highest total in six games to date.

2.  Alex Ovechkin might rank tenth in shots on goal over all (28), but his 5.6 shots per game is higher than any of the nine players ahead of him in total shots.

3.  Only two players in the league have more assists than Evgeny Kuznetsov without recording a goal.  Kuznetsov has six assists and no goals; Martin Hanzal has nine and none, while Erik Karlsson has eight and none.

4.  Phillipp Grubauer is likely to get the call in this game in relief of Braden Holtby in goal.  It is borderline amazing that he has only seven wins in 18 career decisions with a save percentage of .924.

5.  The Caps are third in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (53.4), sixth in close scroe situations (53.9).  It makes up a bit for a power play that has come empty on the road in two games so far (0-for-5).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Cam Talbot

Remember this guy?  Backup goalie extraordinare for the New York Rangers for two seasons.  Traded to Edmonton with a draft pick for three draft picks going back to New York (none of them a first rounder).   He has been good in his first stint as a number one netminder.  His goals against average (2.23) and save percentage (.920) have been very respectable, but they are actually lower than his career numbers with the Rangers (2.00 and .931, respectively).  He has allowed more than two goals just once in five appearances, giving up four in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on October 15th.  In three career appearances against the Caps he is 1-2-0, 2.69, .914.

Washington: Justin Williams

Justin Williams is looking for that first goal with his new team.  It is early to be squeezing the stick – he did have a ten-game streak without a goal for the Los Angeles Kings early last season – but the Caps and Williams would like to see some contributions on the scoreboard from that spot on the right side.  He has chipped in four assists, third on the team behind Kuznetsov (6) and John Carlson (5), and his overall possession numbers are fine (55.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5; numbers from  In 29 career games against the Oilers, Williams is 3-8-11, plus-8.

In the end…

You are only as good as your last game, and while a 2-1-0 road trip would be good, a win to end the trip and go 3-0-0 would be so much better.  The Caps have it in them to do so, but this game provides a special sort of challenge.  A team can get caught up in paying too much attention to the big-name rookie, or get caught up in a track meet with the highly skilled Oiler forwards.  But, for the team that tends to business and bends the pace of the game to their preference, the Oilers are neither deep enough or good enough in their own end to cope.  That is something the Caps have done quite well so far, and there is no reason to think this game will be anything but that.

Capitals 4 – Oilers 2