Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Capitals at Hurricanes, December 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, guys, it’s New Year’s Eve, and the Caps are playing the Carolina Hurricanes to ring out the old year.  Do you see a win in the cards?

Fearless:  Of course.  There is a beautiful symmetry to nature, and it seems only fitting that the Caps would begin the year with a rousing victory in the Winter Classic and end it with a win over a former division rival.


Cheerless: …


Cheerless: “zzzzzzz…sknx…..”


Cheerless: “…huh?...what??”

Caps?  Hurricanes?  Hockey game?

Cheerless: “oh, yeah…”

Fearless: “Getting an early start on celebrating the new year, cousin?”

Cheerless: “…hey, I gotta test the moonshine before I drink it, don’t i?”

Can we get back to the subject?  What do you think about the Caps and Hurricanes tonight, Cuz?

Cheerless: Well, if their Corsi is any indication, the Hurricanes have been all over the map this month.  They have had problems stringing together any sustained possession numbers and are sitting at 50.1 percent for the month, 48.1 percent in close score situations.

Fearless:  Peerless, is he really our cousin?

He does seem to have spent a lot of time at, doesn’t he?

Cheerless: “ha-ha-ha…can’t a person better themselves?”

Sure, a “person” can.  You on the other hand…

Cheerless:  Hey, who wrote that hugely popular thing about Corsi and the dogs? 

Fearless: “He has a point, cousin.  Folks actually read that piece, not like your work…”

Hush up!  OK, back to the game.  So, Carolina has inconsistent possession numbers.  Their record looks similarly wobbly this month, 7-5-1 overall, and they are not making any headway getting back into the playoff discussion, what with their being eight points behind New Jersey for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.

Fearless: Worse for them, they are a rather poor home team, just 7-8-3 overall and 3-3-0 this month.

Cheerless: It’s hard to win many games when you can’t score (2.35 goals per game, 25th in the league) and can’t stop people from scoring (2.84 goals against per game, 24th in the league).

Fearless: They are a bottom-third team in special teams, too, just 17.5 percent on the power play (20th) and 77.9 percent on the penalty kill (25th).

Cheerless: And what’s with a defenseman leading them in scoring?  Justin Faulk has 30 points, and Half of them (15) come on the power play.  Don’t they have, like, a bunch of Staals?

They have two – Eric and Jordan – who between them have 14 goals and 36 points.

Cheerless: That’s barely one “Kuznetsov” (11-22-33).

Very good, cousin…taking fourth grade math for the third time seems to be the charm.  So, Carolina doesn’t score a lot, they give up a lot of goals, their special teams are anything but, and their prize forwards aren’t producing very well.  Think they have a chance?

Fearless: Sure…but not a good one.

Cheerless: A chance for what?

What, indeed.  Even with the Capitals limping into Raleigh with several key pieces missing due to injury, they still have a formidable group at both ends of the ice.  The year ends as it began.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 1

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 5 - Sabres 2

The Washington Capitals extended their season-long winning streak to nine games with a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night to sweep the home-and-home series, but the victory came at a price.  Jay Beagle suffered what was described later as an “upper-body injury” late in the second period and did not return.  Nicklas Backtrom sustained a similarly described injury on the last shift of the second period and did not return to the contest.

As for the game itself, it appeared as if the winning streak would come to an end in this game based on the first 40 minutes of play.  Buffalo opened the scoring just before the six-minute mark of the first period when Brian Gionta finished an excellent feed from Jack Eichel from the doorstep to goalie Braden Holtby’s left. 

The lead held for the Sabres through most of the second period, but with just under six minutes left in the frame, Justin Williams took advantage of a blunder by goalie Chad Johnson.  Trying to play the puck behind his own net, Johnson saw Evgeny Kuznetsov bearing down on him, turned to his left and slid the puck out, right onto Williams’ stick.  Williams stepped out and snapped the puck into the empty net to tie the game.

That lead did not last five minutes.  Zemgus Girgensons restored the Sabres’ lead, finishing another strong play by Eichel.  From the left wing circle and on his knees, Eichel backhanded the puck to the Caps’ net, where it was turned aside by Holtby.  It pinballed among a clot of players and dropped to the edge of the blue paint where Girgensons tapped it in. 

With the Caps down a goal and two centers heading into the third period, extending the winning streak looked like a daunting, if not impossible task.  It turned out to be another test that the team would pass.  Alex Ovechkin tied the game in the second minute of the period when he finished up a superb set up.  It started with T.J. Oshie beating defenseman Josh Gorges to the puck in the corner to the right of Johnson.  He slid it along the end wall to Kuznetsov behind the Sabres’ net, and Kuznetsov snuck it out on a back pass to Ovechkin, who was stepping around defenseman Zach Bogosian at the post.  Ovechkin backhanded the puck past Johnson’s right pad, and the game was tied once more, 2-2.

Washington took the lead for good on a power play mid-way through the period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped up from the right wing wall and fired a shot from the inside edge of the faceoff circle.  Marcus Johansson got his stick on the puck to redirect it past Johnson, and it was 3-2 at the 8:32 mark.

Just 24 seconds later the Caps added some insurance. A hard forecheck yielded dividend on this one.  Brooks Laich pursued Gionta into the cornerand hounded him into trying to send the puck back around the wall.  It was intercepted by Johansson who, just before he was knocked off his feet by Bogosian, sent a pass through the slot to Andre Burakovsky in the right wing faceoff circle.  Burakovsky settled the puck and snapped it past Johnson to make it 4-2.

Ovechkin closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:13 left, and the Caps had their ninth consecutive win, 5-2.

Other stuff…

-- Beagle’s injury appeared to be to his arm or shoulder.  He will require surgery and will be out for an extended period of time.  Backstrom was checked hard into the glass in the Olympia corner on his last shift of the second period and sat out the third.  He may play on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.

-- About that power play goal.  With Backstrom taking a seat for the third period and John Carlson still out with an injury, the defenseman role fell to Matt Niskanen, and the quarterback role on the right wing wall fell to Kuznetsov.  Both had assists on the Johansson power play goal. 

-- This is a place the Caps would consider a disaster in previous years for lack of a credible second line center.  However, Kuznetsov stepped up into Backstrom’s spot to record a power play assist and an assist centering the first line with Ovechkin and Oshie. 

-- The Ovechkin goal in the second minute of the third period came just after the Caps appeared to tie the game.  Replays showed clearly, though, that the puck that snuck through Chad Johnson’s pads was spinning on the goal line before it was swept out of danger by the Buffalo defense.

-- The Caps Corsi’ed the crap out of the Sabres.  They recorded 76 total shot attempts to 55 for Buffalo, and the edge was 62-40 at 5-on-5.  They almost doubled the scoring chances at 5-on-5 (35-19), and the 43 shots on goal overall was a season high (numbers from

-- Deuces were wild for Ovechkin in this game – two goals, two points, plus-2, two shots blocked (he had ten on goal), two givewaways, and two takeaways.  Don’t look now, but he has six goals in his last six games and is only three goals behind the league leader, Jamie Benn.

-- In reaching the 20-goal mark with his two goals, Ovechkin is the 22nd player in NHL history to record 20 or more goals each of in his first 11 seasons.

-- Marcus Johansson also had a two-point night and is now 3-4-7 in his last six games.

-- The much anticipated Zach Sill versus Nicolas Deslauriers battle did not come to pass.  Between then they recorded less than 20 minutes of ice time (Sill with 19:08 and Deslauriers with 9:09).

-- Johansson recorded a season-high seven shots on goal; Kuznetsov had six to fall one short of his season high (seven against Edmonton on October 23rd).

In the end…

The Washington Capitals, it is said, are a deep team.  That depth was tested in this game and will be tested for at least a few more games.  Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, and Jay Beagle were either in the locker room or in street clothes at the end of this game.  If a team has to be strong down the middle, these are the sorts of absences that can be especially hard on a team – the number one center, the top defensive pair, and the third line anchor who is among the best faceoff men in the league.

The flip side is that it is also an opportunity.  Caps fans saw Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson step up in this game, and they will have to sustain that level of performance to keep the Caps humming as they move forward.  Then there was the Captain, who had ten shots on goal and a pair of goals, and the steadfast goalie, who posted his 22nd game out of 29 in which he allowed two or fewer goals.  Others will have a chance to raise their games as well.

No team can lose four important players and not feel the effects.  There are some teams, however, that can feel those effects and yet play through them successfully.  The Caps could be one of those teams.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Sabres at Capitals, December 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

“Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

That was Kyle Reese explaining to Sarah Connor the futility of doing battle with the Terminator in the 1984 film, “The Terminator.”  It sounds like a certain hockey team.  One that has lost just one game in regulation time in almost six weeks, compiling a 15-1-1 record along the way that includes an eight-game winning streak that they hope to extend on Wednesday night.

The Washington Capitals are a team that cannot be reasoned with at 5-on-5, cannot be bargained with when it goes on the power play, and feels neither pity, remorse, nor fear when killing penalties.  Over the first 35 games of this season, and especially the last 17 in which they compiled that 15-1-1 mark, they have not stopped, ever, until they defeated their opponents. 

They have faced 22 of the 29 other teams in the league so far this season, and they have wins over 20 of them.  Only the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars have defeated the Caps without tasting defeat of their own, and the Caps have rematches with both clubs on the schedule to come.

But that 15-1-1 record is something worth unpacking.  Here are the particulars:

It isn’t that the Caps are eking out victories on the good side of “coin-flip” games; they are blowing by opponents with a 1.42 average positive goal differential and 12 of their 15 wins coming in multi-goal decisions.

Washington has had 19 different skaters record points over this 17-game span, and 14 different players have goals.  There is the usual yin-yang of complementary forces that is the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom pair.  Ovechkin leads the team with nine goals (9-5-14, plus-6), while Backstrom leads in assists (3-14-17, plus-6). But there is the emergence of John Carlson as a force on the blue line, too.  He is 3-12-15, plus-4, over his last 16 games (he missed Monday’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres to a lower-body injury).  He certainly compares well to the man he replaced as the go-to offensive force from the blue line, Mike Green (2-11-13, minus-7, in 30 games overall this season with the Detroit Red Wings).

The Caps have also had significant contributions from players down the roster.  For example…
  • Jason Chimera is 5-8-13, plus-6, over this 17-game stretch, third in total points for the club over that span.  He had the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and chipped in a shorthanded goal in the Caps’ 7-3 win over the New York Rangers on December 20th.
  • T. J. Oshie is 8-5-13, plus-6, over these 17 games, second on the club in goals scored and on a pace for his first 30-goal season.  Over this stretch he has three two-goal games (one of those games including the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on December 3rd), and he had a four-point night against the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 18th in a 5-3 win.
  • Justin Williams is 6-4-10, plus-8, over the 15-1-1 run, and it was his goal in the last minute of the second period of the Caps’ 7-3 win over the Rangers on December 20th (part of a 2-1-3 night) that gave the Caps a two-goal cushion heading into the third period.
  • Jay Beagle is 3-3-6, plus-4, and he has won 57.9 percent of his faceoffs.

The youngsters have stepped up, too…
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov is 5-8-13, plus-9, over these 17 games, including four multi-point games.
  • Marcus Johansson, who we might forget is less than two years older than Kuznetsov, is 4-8-12, plus-5, and has three game-winning goals.
  • Dmitry Orlov has quietly gone 3-6-9, plus-8, and he has a pair of game-winning goals himself, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over Edmonton on November 23rd.  The one goal that was not a game-winner had its own charms…

  • Tom Wilson is 2-5-7, plus-3, giving evidence that he is becoming more than just a player to pile up fighting majors (although he does have two in this 17-game stretch).
  • Nate Schmidt is 1-4-5, plus-6, and with Brooks Orpik sidelined with a lower-body injury has picked up a larger chunk of ice time, topping 20 minutes 11 times over the 17 contests.

While the offense has been prolific and balanced, the key to the Caps’ success has been at the other end of the ice, specifically the goaltending tandem of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

In 15 appearances over these 17 games, Holtby is 13-0-1 (one no-decision), 1.78, .944, with two shutouts.  He has not allowed more than three goals in any appearance (although he did allow three goals on 12 shots in 28:57 in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on December 18th), and he has allowed two or fewer goals 11 times in those 15 appearances.  He stands alone atop the leader board among goalies in almost every meaningful statistic: wins (23), goals against average (1.85), save percentage (.935); and he is tied for eighth in shutouts (2).  He has not lost a game in regulation time since November 10th, a 1-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.  Only once this season has he allowed more than three goals in a game, that being in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on November 3rd.

Meanwhile, Philipp Grubauer shook off a shaky start (2-2-1, 2.79, .896 in his first five appearances, including a 4-1 loss to Florida as the only regulation loss in this 15-1-1 run) to win in each of his last two appearances.  The first was a 31-minute, seven-save performance in relief of Holtby in the win over Tampa Bay.  The other was a fine 31-save effort in the Caps’ 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on December 21st. 

In the end…

The first instinct one might have as a Caps fan is to compare this run with the 14-game winning streak in the middle of the 2009-2010 season in which the Caps won the Presidents Trophy for the league’s best record.  Frankly, they don’t compare.  The current run might be considered as a “once-in-decade” sort of event; the 14-game streak was more of a “once-in-franchise-history” occurrence.  The Caps outscored opponents by an average of 4.79 to 2.36 in that streak, the 2.43 average positive goal differential straining belief.  The power play in that streak was 17-for-55 (30.9 percent), while the penalty kill was a respectable, if less than impressive 53-for-65 (81.5 percent).

That said, this run has a different look to it.  On the one hand, no team is going to win 15 of every 17 games it plays over the course of a season.  On the other hand, the Caps have not had to rely on a small group of contributors to sustain it.  And that is the difference between that streak and this run, between the 2009-2010 team and this one.  This team looks better able to sustain a level of performance at both ends of the ice than that gifted 2009-2010 was able to muster, although we would certainly like to see their possession numbers improve (if the team has an Achilles' heel, this is it, given how long they have had possession issues).  It is a team that can put you down and keep you down, as evidenced by Washington's league best 20-1-0 record when scoring first.

And that is why the old saying seems to fit as the Caps prepare to host the Buffalo Sabres in the second half of their home-and-home set of games… “bet the streak.”

Capitals 5 – Sabres 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 2 - Sabres 0

The Washington Capitals made it eight wins in a row on Monday night in Buffalo as they defeated the Sabres, 2-0, behind a 31-save effort from goalie Braden Holtby.

A scoreless first period was remedied early in the second period on Alex Ovechkin’s 18th goal of the season at the 19 second mark. The Caps were enough of a nuisance in the Buffalo end to force Sam Reinhart into a weak clearing attempt up the right wing wall that did not reach the blue line. T.J. Oshie batted the puck back down the wall into the corner where Nicklas Backstrom fished it out. Backstrom centered the puck for Ovechkin all alone in the low slot, and Ovechkin snapped it past goalie Linus Ullmark to give the Caps the lead.

The goal held up for 12 minutes when the Caps doubled their advantage. It was another case of the Sabres’ inability to get the puck clear of their own end. Tyler Ennis’ cross ice pass found no teammate and bounced off the far wall, where Tom Wilson collected the puck and fired it at the Sabres’ net. The shot went wide and bounced hard off the end wall, the puck landing on Jay Beagle’s stick at the top of the crease. Beagle wasted no time in swatting the puck past Ullmark to make it 2-0 with 12:55 gone in the period.

That left things up to Holtby, who preserved his shutout with a spectacular save on Evander Kane in the last minute of regulation. It was Buffalo’s last gasp, the Caps skating off with the 2-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- The eight-game winning streak is the Caps’ longest since they put together an eight-game streak in the 2012-2013 season (Games 36-43, April 2-16).

-- This was the ninth game in which Braden Holtby faced more than 30 shots this season (31). In those contests he is 8-0-1, 1.43, .959.

-- Tom Wilson’s assist on Jay Beagle’s goal gives him four points in his last four games. He took a minor penalty, which gives him four minor penalties in his last four games.

-- The Caps allowed 31 shots on goal, the fourth straight game in which they allowed opponents 30 or more shots on goal. That ties a season high for consecutive games allowing 30 or more shots on goal.

-- Not an excuse for the shots (or the shot attempts, which favored Buffalo, 56-50), but a credible reason.  The Caps were missing their top defensive pair.  Brooks Orpik missed his 21st straight game on Monday night.  His partner, John Carlson, was a game-time scratch with a lower-body injury, ending his consecutive games played streak at 412.  It is the second longest consecutive games streak in franchise history, ten short of Bob Carpenter’s record of 422.

-- Carlson’s absence meant that Connor Carrick got a sweater for the first time this season and the first time for the Caps since April 13, 2014.  He did well, given his sheltered minutes (a total of 9:19 for the game).  He was plus-1 and recorded two shot attempts (one on goal).

-- Carlson’s absence, along with Orpik’s, had further ripples through the lineup.  Matt Niskanen logged 27:25 of ice time, a season high for a game settled in regulation time (he skated 27:38 in an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th).  Karl Alzner skated a total of 26:23, exceeding his season high in ice time by more than two minutes (24:05 on December 12th against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

-- Jay Beagle scored a goal.  He has done so 27 times in his career.  The Caps’ record in those games is 22-0-5.

-- T.J. Oshie got back on the score sheet with an assist after consecutive games in which he was shut out.  He is 5-4-9 over his last seven games.

-- If folks are concerned about Alex Ovechkin’s goal scoring, don’t be.  His 18th goal of the season lifted him into a tied for fifth place in the league, and he has played in fewer games (34) than any of the four players ahead of him.  Last season, when he finished with 53 goals, he had only 16 goals in his first 34 games played.

In the end…

Some games you just have to grind out.  This was one of them.  Call it a “system” win if you want, or all of the players “pulling on the rope,” or “no passengers,” or whatever cliché you wish to use.  The team stepped up as a group to fill in the holes left with the top defensive pair out, they got timely goals from an expected source and a good luck charm of sorts, and their insanely hot goalie took care of the rest.  You don’t want to do it like that all the time, but it is the sort of learning experience in toughing out games that can pay dividends down the road when results are harder to come by.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Sabres, December 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Monday night for the first half of a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres, looking to extend their current run of good fortune.  Their seven-game winning streak stands as the longest current streak in the league at the moment.

The Caps have been a remarkably stingy club during this seven-game winning streak, allowing only 11 goals scored by opponents while scoring 25 of their own.  It has enabled the Caps to jump to second in the league in scoring offense (3.12 goals per game) while holding down the top spot in goals per game allowed (2.12).

Meanwhile, the Sabre enter the home-and-home series as a team in a rebuilding mode, but one with dangerous pieces at both ends of the ice.  They took a six-game losing streak into the Thanksgiving holiday, but since then, Buffalo is 7-4-2.  During that span of games they outscored opponents by a 39-30 margin, and five of their seven wins have come by margins of three goals.

For a player who has had a spotlight shined upon him as the second overall draft pick last June, Jack Eichel has handled the attention quite well.  Even more so since the number one overall pick, Connor McDavid by the Edmonton Oilers, went down to injury in early November.  Eichel is fourth among rookies in total points (20) and is second among that group in goals scored (11).  He is 4-3-7 in the Sabres’ 7-4-2 run since Thanksgiving, going 2-2-4 in his last contest, a 6-3 win in Boston over the Bruins on Saturday.  He comes into this game looking to extend his points streak to four games, which would be a personal best in his rookie season.  This will be his first career appearance against the Capitals.

Lost in the Eichel-mania is the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting together a fine season.  O’Reilly, who was trade to the Sabres from the Colorado Avalanche last June for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko,a nd J.T. Compher, leads the team in goals (14) and total points (32), and he is well on his way to setting career bests in both.  His 33-goal pace would eclipse his 28 goals in the 2013-2014 season, and his 75-point pace would top his 64 points in that same 2013-2014 season.  O’Reilly is 7-8-15 in the 13 games since Thanksgiving, and he has four multi-point games in that span.  In seven career games against Washington, he is 0-1-1, even.

It has taken more than a third of the season, but the goaltending situation for the Sabres might be settling out at last.  Chad Johnson was a fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2006 entry draft, then bounced around the AHL and various NHL organizations, once the property of the Penguins, the New York Rangers, and the Phoenix Coyotes before he was signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins in July 2013.  As a backup for the Bruins in 2013-2014 he appeared in 27 games, going 17-4-3, 2.10, .925, with two shutouts.  That season got the attention of the New York Islanders, who signed Johnson away from the Bruins on a two-year contract.  He could not repeat his performance of the previous season, going 8-8-1, 3.08, .889 before being traded to the Sabres for goalie Michal Neuvirth.  Johnson has largely split time with Linus Ullmark in goal this season, but he got the call in each of the Sabres last three contests, going 2-0-1, posting a 44-save shutout of the Anaheim Ducks along the way, setting a club record for saves in a shutout.  He is 1-1-1, 2.61, .907 in three career appearances against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Buffalo had one of the top power play squads in the league with a 23.4 percent success rate through their first 30 games.  However, they come into this game without a power play goal in their last five contests, tying their longest streak of games without a power play tally this season.  The Sabres are 0-for-14 over those five games.

2.  The Sabres have a lot of young talent at forward, but on the back line Rasmus Ristolainen is having a good season as well.  The 21-year old, third-year defenseman is tied for eighth in the league in points among defensemen (7-17-24).  He has 11 of those points in 13 games since Thanksgiving (3-8-11).

3.  The Sabres struggle with their early-game performance.  Only the Philadelphia Flyers have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times (3) than the Sabres (6). And only four teams have scored the first goal of a game fewer times than Buffalo (14): the Ottawa Senators (13), the New Jersey Devils (13), the Winnipeg Jets (12), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (11).

4.  The Sabres’ problems in the early parts of games is attributable to their offense.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than the Sabres (14), and their first period goal differential of minus-14 is second worst in the league (Philadelphia: minus-17).

5.  Buffalo is “Team Score Effect” when it comes to possession.  They are not awful overall, with a 48.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 that ranks 20th in the league.  However, in close score situations that number deteriorates to 46.9 percent, which is 27th in the league (numbers from

1.  If defense wins championships, the Caps are following the right path.  In their seven-game winning streak they have allowed only 11 goals, holding opponents to a single goal five times.

2.  At the other end of the ice, only the San Jose Sharks have scored five or more goals in a game more times (9) than the Caps (8).

3.  It might surprise you to know that in franchise history the Caps have lost more games in regulation to the Sabres among teams not in the Caps’ division than they have to any other team (81).  In fact, the Caps’ franchise record against Buffalo is awful: 48-81-15-5.

4.  Evgeny Kuznetsov’s next goal will set a career best.  He currently has 11 goals, including the only two overtime goals scored by the Caps so far this season.

5.  Washington has had possession issues for quite some time now, but they seem especially pronounced early in games.  The Caps rank 18th in Corsi-for percentage overall in the first periods of games (48.6 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Evander Kane

Evander Kane’s first season in Buffalo has been challenging.  He missed ten games earlier this season to a knee injury, and even in those early games in which he did appear he was not particularly effective.  In his first 13 games of the season, Kane was 2-2-4, minus-5.  He has been more effective lately, though, going 6-3-9, plus-1, over his last 12 games, including points in his last three contests coming into Monday night’s game against the Caps.  Just when he seemed to be sorting things out on the ice, though, he now faces off-ice issues.  He has been something of a Cap-killer in his career, going 10-5-15, minus-5, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Anyone have Marcus Johansson as the team leader in game-winning goals more than a third of the way through the season?  We didn’t either.  Johansson has been quietly putting together a solid season, one of seven Caps with 20 or more points (7-13-20).  He is on a pace to finish with a career best in points for a season (49; current: 47) and power play goals (7; current: 3).  And then there are those team-leading four game-winning goals, already a career best.  His “shoot first” approach has carried over from last year (1.68 shots per game) to this one (1.70 shots per game, another career-best pace).  Johansson is 3-4-7, minus-1, in 16 career games against Buffalo.

In the end…

You could call this a “trap week” for the Capitals.  Coming in on a seven-game winning streak and 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, having beaten their closest Eastern Conference pursuers last week, and the new calendar year approaching, this week has the potential to be a pothole on the smooth road the Caps have been on over the past month.  Two games against the Sabres, a New Year’s Eve date with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a Saturday contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets might look like “W’s” on paper, but one hopes the “W” doesn’t stand for “whoops” by week’s end.  The Caps have done a good job of tending to business, whether at home (14-3-1, best record in the league) or on the road (12-3-1, third best record in the league).  This week will test their focus.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 1

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

‘Twas the night after Christmas, and over at Kettler, another week was in the books, the Caps’ record getting better."

When the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, the Caps completed their second consecutive perfect week and extended their season-high winning streak to seven games. 

Record: 3-0-0

What made the second consecutive 3-0-0 week important for the Capitals was the “who” the wins came against as much as the “how many” wins they recorded.  The Caps opened the week by falling behind the New York Rangers, 3-1, before roaring back with six unanswered goals in a 7-3 win.  The win helped the Caps finish Week 11 a full ten points clear of the Rangers in the standings with two games in hand.  The last game of the week, a solid 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, might have come against a depleted and struggling club, but that win enabled the Caps to finish the week 11 points ahead of a club that started the year 9-0-0.  At the moment, those two clubs are the closest pursuers of the Caps (the Canadiens tied with the Detroit Red Wings, and New York Islanders with 43 points).

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 3.12 /game; rank: 2nd)

Sure, the Caps had that seven-goal game against the Rangers to open the week, but Week 11 was a solid week offensively for the club.  It was the first time since Week 2 that the Caps scored three or more goals in each of a week’s games (edit: as a careful reader points out, the Caps didn't score three or more in all three games of Week 11...too much egg nog led me to write that, I suspect; it was still a solid week).

Illustrating how deep the club is, it was Jason Chimera who led the Caps in goals for the week and who was tied for the team lead in points (3-1-4).  Eight different Caps recorded goals, Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov with the other multi-goal weeks (two apiece).  Marcus Johansson tied Chimera for the team lead in points (1-3-4).

And more evidence of depth.  Tom Wilson recorded his second multi-point game of the season with a pair of assists in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end the week.  Dmitry Orlov also recorded his second multi-point game of the season, posting a pair of assists in the 7-3 win over the Rangers to start the week.  His three assist overall tied Wilson, Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom for club-high in Week 11.  That is a lot of names noted for a three-game week.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank:1st)

Washington started Week 11 as if chickens would come home to roost, poor possession numbers over more than a month finally being reflected by a poor result on the scoreboard.  By week’s end, the Caps did not cure their possession ills, but they did bend the possession curve a bit more in their favor. 

The shots against remained a problem, the Caps allowing all three opponents 30 or more shots on goal.  But even there, progress was made.  After allowing 36 shots to the Rangers in the first game of the week (15 of them in the first period, when the Rangers scored their three goals), the Caps allowed 32 shots to the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week, then 30 shots on goal in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end Week 11.

The possession numbers looked a bit better.  Washington could not crack the 50 percent level in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall for the week, but they did a better job in close score situations.  After a grisly 35.6 percent Corsi for in close score situations to open the week, the Caps were 53.2 percent in those situations against Carolina and 52.9 percent against Montreal to close the week (numbers from  It was the first time the Caps cleared 50 percent Corsi for in close score situations in consecutive games since they did so in Games 21 and 22 against the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning in late November.

Goaltending: 1.67 /.949 (season: 1.99 / .929 / 1 shutout)

Washington passed a noteworthy threshold in Week 11.  For the first time this season – 34 games into the season, mind you – team goals against average fell below 2.00.  It did not look possible the way the week started.  Braden Holtby allowed three goals on the first 15 shots he faced in the first period against the Rangers to start the week.  It was a performance that almost resulted in his second consecutive game being pulled for Philipp Grubauer.  Holtby returned to the ice for the second period and stopped the last 21 shots he faced in a 7-3 win.  When he stopped 29 of 30 shots against Montreal in a 3-1 win, he ended the week turning away 50 of the last 51 shots he faced.  At the end of the week, among 28 goalies logging at least 1,000 minutes of ice time, Holtby led the league in wins (22, four more than Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford), goals against average (1.92, 0.08 better than Ben Bishop), and save percentage (.932, .006 better than Bishop and Jake Allen).

The middle game of the week belonged to Philipp Grubauer, who was solid in a 31-save, 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.  Going back to the third period of his appearance against the Florida Panthers on December 10th, Grubauer has stopped 41 of 42 shots on goal, an 0.60 goals against average in just over 100 minutes of ice time and a .976 save percentage.  

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 25.2 percent; rank: 2nd)

If there was one place in which the Caps started the week better than they finished it, it was on the power play.  In the first game of the week, the Caps scored power play goals on their last two man advantages of the contest (of three opportunities in all).  They went 0-for-2 in each of the last two games of the week, the first time they had two or fewer power play opportunities in consecutive games since Game 10 and 11 of the season on October 21st and November 3rd, part of a three-game streak of two or fewer man advantages (they were blanked in all three instances).

The Caps were effective, their 28.6 percent success rate for the week lifting their season success rate to 25.2 percent, but they were better in terms of efficiency.  Washington recorded 15 shots on goal in 11:31 of power play ice time (1.30 shots per minute), and it was not as if the shots were coming from odd players.  Alex Ovechkin had six shots of the team’s 15 on the power play for the week.  The odd part there was the balance.  Ovechkin had five of those shots on goal against the Rangers in the first game of the week, scoring one of the power play goals.  Justin Williams had the other power play goal for the week, also against the Rangers, in his only power play shot on goal for the week.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10 / 90.0 percent (season: 84.7 percent; rank: 5th)

Week 11 would qualify as a good week for the penalty killers.  It was the second consecutive week that the Caps finished a week over 85 percent, the first time this season they accomplished that feat.  It was also a 90 percent week, the first time they hit or surpassed that mark since Week 3 when they killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced.

One might have liked finishing the week with less time spent killing penalties, the Caps skating 18:20 in shorthanded situations, 6:49 more than they spent on the power play.  But they made up for it with killing off penalties in an efficient manner, allowing only 17 shots on goal in that 18:20 of shorthanded ice time (0.93 shots per minute).

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 9-4 / plus-5 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.42; rank: 1st)

If the Capitals did not dominate at 5-on-5 in terms of possession, they certainly did on the scoreboard.  What possession did not provide, persistence did.  In getting to the net, that is.  Of the nine 5-on-5 goals scored by the Caps in Week 11, only two were officially scored from beyond 15 feet (Marcus Johansson, 18 feet in the 7-3 win over the Rangers; Jay Beagle, 31 feet in the 3-1 win over Montreal).

The week made for an odd juxtaposition of 5-on-5 possession and 5-on-5 scoring.  While the Caps now sit in 15th place in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from, they are third in total goals scored at 5-on-5 and have allowed the second fewest of 5-on-5 goals.  Their goals for-to-goals scored ratio of 1.42:1 leads the league by a wide margin (Rangers: 1.28).

Faceoffs: 81-for-166 / 48.8 percent (season: 49.91% / rank: 17th)

The Caps slipped below 50 percent on faceoffs for the season in Week 11 on a 48.8 percent week.  It was another case of a tale of two ends.  The Caps went just 22-for-50 in the offensive end (44.0 percent) but went 34-for-63 in the defensive end (54.0 percent).  The odd part of the week on a team basis was its only winning effort in the circle.  The Caps won 26 of 43 draws in their 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week.  Compare the 43 draws in that game to the 65 in the win over the Rangers and the 58 in the win over the Canadiens.  The 43 faceoffs was a reflection of the hectic pace of the game, a lot of end to end action with very few whistles.

On an individual basis, it is no surprise that Jay Beagle led the Caps for the week with a 54.3 percent winning effort.  Among players taking at least 250 draws, Beagle ranks sixth in the league at 58.0 percent.  He was especially effective in the defensive end in Week 11, winning 14 of 20 faceoffs (70.0 percent).

If there was a surprise, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov credited with a 53.8 winning percentage for the week on 21 wins in 39 draws taken.  Most of that was a function of his neutral zone performance – 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

More evidence of solid offense; the Caps scored goals in eight of nine periods for the week.  And, except for that three-goal first period to open the week, the Caps were stingy at the other end, allowing goals in only two of the other eight periods of hockey.  After catching the Rangers at the 7:01 mark of the second period in the first game of the week, the Caps played the last 152:59 of the week either tied or ahead in games.

The Caps are the only club in the league to have allowed 25 or fewer goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.  How impressive it that?  There are 14 teams in the league to have allowed more than 25 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.

In the end…

It was another fine week in a season full of them for the Capitals so far this season.  Ten winning weeks in 11 tries, fastest club to 26 wins (34 games, beating the 1991-1992 club that did it in 40 games).  The Caps lead the league in scoring defense and are second in scoring offense.  Only the Caps and the Dallas Stars have an average goal differential of 1.00 goals per game.  The Caps are top five in power play (second) and penalty killing (fifth).  While there are possession issues that point to a lingering “productivity” problem, the performance of this club to date is little short of remarkable.  Week 11 had it all on display, an ability to comeback in games, a stifling defense that can win one-goal games, an opportunistic offense that can take advantage of a team with its own injury and performance issues.  This is not just a dominant team at the moment, but a versatile one.  It can beat opponents in a variety of ways and in a variety of game styles.  Can it last?  At the moment, the Caps offer little evidence that is cannot.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jason Chimera (3-1-4, plus-4, shorthanded goal, game-winning goal, goals in three consecutive games, points in four straight games and five of six contests)
  • Second Star: Tom Wilson (0-3-3, plus-5, reached double digits in points for the season (12th Capital to do so), answered challenge to scrap with Montreal’s Jarred Tinordi)
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (31-save effort in 2-1 win over Carolina, first time he won in consecutive appearances since his first two appearances of the season)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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

The Washington Capitals wrapped up the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule in a nice bow with a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.  In what was a surprisingly low-scoring contest, the Caps rode a 31-save effort from goalie Philipp Grubauer, and timely goals from Michael Latta and Jason Chimera to the win.

Carolina dominated the pace and geography of the contest in the early going, but it was Washington getting on the board first.   Latta started the play he would finish, taking a pass from Dmitry Orlov in the neutral zone and skating the puck to the Carolina line.  There, he left the puck for Andre Burakovsky who fired a shot at goalie Cam Ward.  The shot was stopped, but the rebound was left in the slot where Latta, skating hard toward the net, swiped at it in stride and sent it past Ward to make it 1-0, Caps, at the 15:52 mark of the first period.

That would be how the score remained until midway in the second period.  It was a case of simple things done well paying off for the Caps.  Jay Beagle won a faceoff to the left of Ward, drawing the puck back to John Carlson.  From the right point, Carlson sent a low drive to the net that clicked off the skate of Jason Chimera and past Ward’s right pad to make it 2-0 at the 12:49 mark of the period.

From there, it was up to Grubauer, who was spelling Braden Holtby for this contest.  Grubauer was solid, allowing a solitary goal when a shot by John-Michael Liles caromed hard off the end boards to Kris Versteeg at the side of the net.  Versteeg pulled the puck to his forehand, and from a difficult angle flipped the puck over Grubauer’s right pad to halve the lead.  That would be as close as the Hurricanes would get, though, and the Caps skated into the holidays with a 2-1 win, their sixth straight.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps left Carolina with a commanding lead in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.  Washington has a ten-point lead on the New York Islanders in the Metro with two games in hand.  They hold a ten-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the conference lead with two games in hand over the Habs as well.

-- Jay Beagle did it again.  His assist on Jason Chimera’s goal and the ensuing win makes the Caps 33-0-4 in the last 37 games in which Beagle recorded a point.

-- The pace of this game was amazing.  Nowhere is that revealed more clearly than in the faceoffs.  There were only 43 draws in the game, the Caps winning 26 of them.  Beagle shined here, too, going 14-for-18 (77.8 percent).

-- Grubauer’s win was his first in a game he started since October 31st (a 26-save effort in a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers).  Along with the 7-for-7 performance in relief of Braden Holtby in the Caps’ 5-3 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, he is 38-for-39 in his last two appearances (.974).  Four periods is not a trend, but it is welcome nonetheless.

-- The Caps reached the 25-win mark in 33 games (25-6-2).  It is the fastest to 25 wins in team history, and it is not close.  Three other teams (1985-1986, 1991-1992, and 2008-2009) got to 25 wins in their 39th games.  The Caps now have two-six-game and one five-game winning streaks this season.

-- Michael Latta has two goals on his last five shots on goal; Jason Chimera has goals in consecutive games and two goals on his last six shots.  Not bad for the lower half of the forward lines.

-- The 21 shots on goal was not a season low, but they could see it from Raleigh.  The Caps also had 21 shots on goal in a 4-1 win at Florida on December 10th.  Their season low in shots was 19 in a 3-2 win at Montreal on December 3rd. 

-- Possession numbers are still a problem.  The Caps had 40 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 64 for Carolina.  It was the third worst shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 of the season, and the alarming thing is that the two instances of worse shot differential came in the last ten days – a minus-25 against Tampa Bay on December 12th and a minus-27 against Pittsburgh on December 14th.  Yes, the Caps won both games (numbers from

-- John Carlson extended his point streak to seven games with his assist on the Jason Chimera goal.  He is 2-6-8 over those seven games and is 2-12-14 over his last 13 games.  He is now tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen in the league (6-21-27).

-- Andre Burakovsy had an assist, breaking a six-game streak without a point.  The last point he recorded, in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th, also snapped a six-game streak without a point.  We hope this is not a pattern.

In the end…

The Capitals do find a way.  Where the first line dominated the comeback wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers leading up to this contest, it was the grinders and the backup goalie leading the way in this game.  That kind of 20-man effort has overcome possession issues that have been hanging around for more than a month.  It makes one wonder just how dominant this team might be if they would just solve that problem.

Happy Holidays, Caps fans!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 33: Capitals at Hurricanes, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice for the last game before Christmas when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.  The Caps, fresh off two thrilling comeback victories, will be looking to head into the five-day holiday break on an up note by extending their winning streak to six games.

Offense has not been a problem for the Caps over the last week, having scored 18 goals in their last four games.  This will test their stamina, though, insofar as it will be their fifth game over an eight day period.

The Hurricanes have been more or less treading water since Thanksgiving, posting a record of 5-5-1 in 11 games since Turkey Day.  Offense has not been a problem for the Hurricanes in that stretch.  They average 3.00 goals per game in those 11 contests, and their power play went 10-for-34 (29.4 percent).   Defense, on the other hand, gave it all back and then some.  In those last 11 games the Hurricanes have allowed an average of 3.36 goals per game, and their penalty kill is just 23-for-30 (76.7 percent).

It would be hard to find a player hotter than Jeff Skinner at the moment.  In the 11 games played by Carolina since Thanksgiving, Skinner is 9-2-11, plus-1, and has a pair of hat tricks, one against the Anaheim Ducks on December 11th and another against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 15th.  Skinner, who despite being in his sixth NHL season is still only 23 years old, is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-2015 season in which he had only 18 goals in 77 games.  He has 14 in 33 games to lead Carolina.  Skinner is 9-11-20, even, in 26 career games against the Caps.  Oh, and one tantrum…

Victor Rask had a nice rookie season for the Hurricanes in 2014-2015, going 11-22-33 in 80 games.  He is on a pace to improve upon that this season.  Rask is 9-14-23 in 33 games so far this season, including a 3-7-10 run in 11 games since Thanksgiving, second best on the club in total scoring.  Rask’s improvement this season has come in his shooting efficiency, which stands at 12.7 percent at the moment, well above the 6.4 percent shooting with which he finished last year.  He has also shown himself to be a reliable power play contributor, second on the club with 11 power play points.  He has a pair of assists in five career games against Washington.

When both of your goalies are on the wrong side of .900 in save percentage, your team is going to struggle.  It is not as if Cam Ward and Eddie Lack are facing a ton of shots, either.  Carolina has given up the fewest shots per game in the league (26.2), but there are there are Ward (.899) and Lack (.876) struggling in net.  Carolina is the only team in the league having two goaltenders with more than 500 minutes of ice time and save percentages under .900.  Among 47 goalies playing at least 500 minutes this season, Ward and Lack rank 41st and 46th in save percentage, respectively.  Ward is 16-14-4, 2.64, .917, with four shutouts in 35 career appearances against the Caps, while Lack has one career appearance against the Caps, allowing four goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Caps on March 14, 2014, while he was tending goal for the Vancouver Canucks.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Carolina certainly has spread its scoring around lately.  Over their last 11 games, 21 different player share in the points, including goalie Eddie Lack, who has a pair of assists.  There are 16 different skaters recording goals over the same span.

2.  The Hurricanes don’t do that whole “scoring first” thing very well.  They have scored first only 14 times; only six teams have done so fewer times.  Their winning percentage of .571 in those games (8-2-4) is third-worst in the league, ahead of only the Calgary Flames (.556) and the Vancouver Canucks (.467).

3.  While the Hurricanes have a decent offense, they have difficulty getting started in games (as evidenced by that “scoring first” thing).  Their 17 goals scored in the first period is third-fewest in the league, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers (14 apiece).

4.  No team has been cited fewer times for infractions of the rules than the Hurricanes.  Carolina leads the league in fewest penalties overall (98), fewest penalty minutes (216), and fewest penalty minutes per game (6:32).

5.  Carolina is a very good possession team.  They rank fifth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (53.1), sixth in score-adjusted Corsi (52.4), and seventh in close score situations (52.1; numbers from

1.  The Caps’ 7-3 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday night was the third time in four games they scored four or more goals and the 14th time this season that they did so.  The 14 games with four or more goals ranks third in the league behind Dallas (17) and the Rangers (15).  The Caps (14-0-0), Montreal Canadiens (12-0-0), and the New York Islanders (11-0-0)are the only clubs with ten or more games scoring four or more goals and a perfect record in doing so.

2.  Washington took a roundabout way in doing it, but they won their 17th game of the season when scoring first when they beat the Rangers on Sunday night.  The 17 wins ranks second in the league to the Chicago Blackhawks, who have 18 wins when scoring first.  The Caps’ .944 winning percentage (17-1-0) in such games leads the league.

3.  Washington has five players with ten or more goals – Alex Ovechkin (17), T.J. Oshie (13), Evgeny Kuznetsov (10), Nicklas Backstrom (10), and Justin Williams (10).  No other team has as many.

4.  The Caps have three players with 20 or more assists – Backstrom (21), Kuznetsov (20), and John Carlson (20).  Only the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators have as many.

5.  The Caps’ possession struggles continue.  The Rangers out-attempted the Caps, 51-36, on Sunday night (41.4 percent Corsi-for).  The Caps are below 45 percent in four of their last five games and below 40 percent in two of them (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Jordan Staal

The next assist Jordan Staal records will be his 200th in the NHL.  He has been on a roll of late to get himself into position to reach that milestone.  Staal is 4-4-8 over his last 12 games and has points in four of his last five contests.  It is quite an improvement over the 3-3-6 scoring line he posted over his first 21 games this season.  He still has some work to do to get to the half-point per game player he was for the Hurricanes in his first three seasons after arriving in Carolina from Pittsburgh (95 points in 176 games).  Staal’s scoring this season has had the flavor of empty calories, though.  In 11 games in which he registered a point, the Hurricanes are 7-3-1, a winning percentage ahead of their overall pace, but not particularly impressive otherwise.  Staal is 7-3-10, minus-5, in 34 career games against Washington.

Washington:  T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie is hot as a pistol at the moment.  Over his last four games he is 5-3-8 and is shooting 62.5 percent (five goals on eight shots).  He has settled in quite nicely as the top-line right wing.  There is an odd statistic that attaches to Oshie, too.  Hits… he is third on the team in credited hits with 61, behind only Alex Ovechkin (93) and Tom Wilson (91).  With the departure of Troy Brouwer and the injury to Brooks Orpik, the Caps are not credited with hits with the frequency they might have otherwise, but it is still an interesting number, given that Oshie is not the biggest player out there (5’11”/189 pounds).   Oshie is 2-5-7, even, in nine career games against Carolina.

In the end…

They say that only winning matters, and on one level that is true.  But winning as a habit is a product of playing well, and the Caps have not done so as well as the five game winning streak they bring into this game suggests.  Carolina has the capacity, given their ability to minimize shots and do well in possession numbers, to frustrate the Caps in this last game before the holiday.  The Caps just have not been a very good possession team now for more than a month.   At some point one would expect this to catch up with them, and that puts a premium on getting back to basics and pinning teams in their own end of the ice.  If they can do that against the Hurricanes, the home team’s goaltending issues come into play, and this could be a nice present to take into the holiday break.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 7 - Rangers 3

The Washington Capitals traveled to the scene of many disappointments in recent years – Madison Square Garden in New York City – and served notice that this isn’t your father’s Capitals.  It isn’t even your older brother’s.  The Caps fell behind by a 3-1 score after 20 minutes, then systematically and clinically dissected the Rangers for six unanswered goals, during which they chased the demonic Henrik Lundquvist from the Rangers’ net, and won going away, 7-3.

The first 20 minutes of this contest will not make any Capitals highlight videos.  Justin Williams did get the Caps off on the right foot when he redirected a Taylor Chorney drive past Lundqvist at the 12:03 mark after getting decked at the side of the net by Kevin Hayes.  

Then the Caps started kicking their own behind with their other foot.  The Rangers scored three times in a space of 4:21 – goals by J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, and Dan Boyle – to take a 3-1 lead into the locker room at the first intermission.

Then the Caps unleashed the fury.  In the sixth minute of the period Justin Williams worked the puck down the left wing wall, then sent a pass into the middle for Dmitry Orlov skating down the middle.  Orlov walked down the middle and with Chris Kreider playing nominal defense, draping his stick across Orlov’s arm, Orlov slid the puck through the top of the crease.  Evgeny Kuznetsov unwrapped the present and backhanded a shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make it 3-2.

Less than two minutes later, T.J. Oshie tied the game.  It was another case of indifferent (or incapable) Ranger defense.  Nicklas Backstrom fired a cross-ice dump in from the center red stripe that bounced hard out of the corner to Lundqvist’s left.  Oshie beat Marc Staal to the puck, cut to the middle, and before Dylan McIlrath could get his stick in Oshie’s path backhanded the puck past Lundqvist.

Four minutes later the Caps took the lead they would not relinquish.  With Chris Summers in the penalty box, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter smartly on the ensuing power play.  Then, in an instant, they broke down the Rangers defense down low.  John Carlson fed Nicklas Backstrom in the right wing circle.  Backstrom took a step deeper and fed Marcus Johansson at the goal line.  Johansson snapped a pass through the crease to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing faceoff dot, and Ovechkin did the rest, firing a shot over Lundqvist’s glove high on the far side to make it 4-3.

The Caps were not done with the second period or with Lundqvist.  With the period winding down and the Caps on another power play, the Caps worked the triangle play to perfection – Backstrom from the right wing down to Johansson at the goal line and out to Williams in the slot for a one-timer that close the second period scoring and Lundqvist’s night.

The third period began with Magnus Hellberg coming in to make his NHL debut, but he fared no better than Lundqvist.  The Caps scored on their first two shots on goal, the first a shorthanded goal by Jason Chimera when he took a loose puck chipped out of the defensive zone by Tom Wilson and beat Hellberg on a breakaway.  The second came two minutes later when Evgeny Kuznetsov took advantage of some loose play by Summer behind the Ranger net to pilfer the puck and feed Marcus Johansson all alone in front for the seventh and final goal of the evening. 

Other stuff…

-- The Caps scored seven goals.  It was the first time they did that at Madison Square Garden since beating the Rangers, 7-4, on November 11, 1992.  Their plus-4 goal differential ties the best ever for the Caps on Ranger ice.  They did it twice before – April 1, 1987 in a 5-1 win and March 16, 1988 in an 8-4 win.

-- The Caps had two power play goals, giving them five in seven power play chances over their last two games.

-- Kuznetsov and Williams scored their tenth goals of the season, respectively, in this game.  That gives the Caps five skaters with ten or more goals, most in the league.

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists, the 28th time he hit that mark in his career.  Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only Sidney Crosby has recorded three or more assists in more games (29).

-- Going back to the third period of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps have scored 11 goals on their last 35 shots (31.4 percent).

-- Give Braden Holtby some credit.  He was left largely to his own wits in the first period as the Caps team defense resembled less a hockey team and more a group that was strolling on 5th Avenue doing some window shopping.  After suffering three goals on 16 shots in the first period, not to mention nine scoring chances, he turned away all 21 he faced thereafter.

-- There were 11 different Capitals with points, five with multi-point games.  The latter was not a season high.  Washington had seven multi-point scorers in their 7-4 win over Edmonton on October 23rd.

-- If Tom Wilson is shaving the rough edges off his game in the wake of the match penalty/rescinded match penalty against Ottawa last week, it doesn’t show.  He took three minor penalties – an unsportsmanlike conduct and a double minor for roughing – and had four hits to tie for the team lead in this game.

-- Marcus Johansson had his first three-point game of the season and his first since October 3, 2013, in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames.

-- On the other side of the ice, the play of Henrik Lundqvist has to be a concern to the Rangers and their capacity to overtake the Caps.  In his last 13 appearances he is 5-6-1 (one no-decision), 3.53, .899.  The Rangers can’t compete if that level of performance continues.

In the end…

No, the Caps are not going to come back from 3-0 and 3-1 deficits in consecutive games to win with any regularity, but it sure is nice to see them able to do it.  Sure, falling behind by multiple goals early in games and the possession numbers overall are problems that need to be corrected, but if there is a takeaway from these last two games, it is that the Caps have found a way to maintain their composure in the face of difficulty.  The fact that they have so many weapons at the offensive end of the ice and a goaltender at the other end who can shake off those still infrequent stretches of leaky play is a comfort to Caps fans, even when things look bleak.  And when they comeback like they did against a team that has caused them so much misery the past few seasons, it makes for a warm glow this holiday season.