Sunday, February 08, 2015

A NO-Point Night -- Game 54: Flyers 3 - Capitals 1

Sometimes teams win games.  Sometimes, they lose them.  For the Washington Capitals it was the latter on Sunday afternoon as they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1.  Let us explain.

The Flyers didn’t win as much as the Capitals lost, the Caps having recorded 21 missed shots among 51 shot attempts, scoring just once on a power play goal by Alex Ovechkin.  It was a case of the Caps spraying shot attempts anywhere but on net.  Ovechkin had seven shot attempts, three misses.  Troy Brouwer had three attempts, all misses.  Brooks Laich, four attempts…three misses.  Mike Green…three attempts, all misses.  John Carlson…eight attempts, four misses. 

As is was, the Caps managed only 14 shots on goal against two Flyer goaltenders, and they missed an opportunity to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins in standings points in the Metropolitan Division.

After a scoreless first period, the Flyers broke on top in the first minute of the second period when Mark Streit’s drive from the left point pinballed in and past goalie Braden Holtby.  Ovechkin tied the game mid-way through the period just after a 5-on-3 advantage expired.  He took a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov and wristed the puck past Ray Emery, who was in goal in relief of starter Steve Mason after Mason departed with a lower body injury. 

The Flyers broke the tie less than four minutes into the third period on a goal by Wayne Simmonds, who beat Holtby to the far side from the left wing circle.  The Caps could not get the equalizer, and Jakub Voracek potted an empty net power play goal in the last minute for the final 3-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- For the Caps it was the sixth time they had a chance to extend a winning streak to four games this season and the sixth time they failed to do so.

-- Ovechkin tied the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash with his 33rd goal of the season.  It was his 17th goal in his last 19 games.

-- Fourteen shots on goal was the fewest in a game for the Caps since they managed only 12 shots on goal in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on March 18, 2011.  It came within one shot on goal of a record at home, that being when the Caps had only 13 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 9, 1975.

-- Even with the miniscule shots on goal total, the Caps out-attempted the Flyers, 51-49.

-- Washington had six power play opportunities, the most they had since getting six chances in a 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus on December 11th and tying their high for the season.

-- The Caps managed only three shots on goal in 10:11 of power play ice time, none on either of the first two power plays.

-- Matt Niskanen had his one fight for the season when he took on Scott Laughton in the first period.  Niskanen has now had one fighting major in each of the last four seasons.  It was the extended result of Niskanen drilling Laughton on an open ice hit in the last meeting of these teams back on January 14th.

-- With an assist, Evgeny Kuznetsov has points in his last four games, a career high for a points streak.

-- The Caps almost made it all the way through the contest without allowing a Flyer power play goal.  It was not until Tom Wilson took a boarding penalty with 1:13 left that the Caps found themselves shorthanded.  With the Caps down a goal at the time, the timing could have been better.

-- That was the first time that Braden Holtby lost a game when allowing two or fewer goals since he lost a 2-1 decision to the Buffalo Sabres last November 22nd.

In the end…

The Caps just didn’t seem mentally prepared to play this game.  Part of it might have been a desperate Flyers team looking to carve into a division rival's lead in standings points, but the Caps seemed a step behind throughout.  Even when presented the opportunity of facing a backup goalie after Steve Mason had to bow out with an injury, the spark was not there.  It happens over the course of an 82 game season, but the timing was not the best given that the Caps now head west for a three-game road trip in California and a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins before returning home in ten days.  Given the crowding at the top of the Metropolitan Division at the moment, these were two points that the Caps should have pocketed but did not.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 18

In Week 18 the Washington Capitals hit the 50-game mark of the season.  Game 50 would be the only loss of the week for the Caps as they finished with a three-game winning streak that propelled them to within two points of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division by week’s end.  It was a return to a winning week and the latest in a long march that has seen the Caps go 18-5-6 since they were 10-10-4 on December 2nd.

Record: 3-1-0

The Caps lost the week’s first game, a 4-3 decision against the St. Louis Blues.  It was the first loss in regulation time at home for the Caps in 2015, and it broke a streak of ten straight games at home earning points (8-0-2).  That would be the last loss of the week for Washington as the assembled their sixth three-game winning streak of the year.

Of the four decisions for the week, there were three of the one-goal variety.  That made 34 one-goal decisions for the Caps (14-10-10), most in the league.  One of the one-goal wins came against the Anaheim Ducks. Until Corey Perry scored for the Ducks to tie the game, 2-2, with just over six minutes left in regulation time, the Caps were on a path to give the Ducks their first one-goal loss in regulation this season.  As it was, the 3-2 trick shot win over the Ducks gave Anaheim only their seventh loss (all in extra time, five in the Gimmick) in 30 one-goal decisions.

Offense: 2.75/game (season: 2.91 /game; rank: 8th)

The offense had a European bent to it in Week 18.  Alex Ovechkin led the club in goals (three) and points (five), Evgeny Kuznetsov chipped in a goal and three assists, as did Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin had a three-point game to open the week, while Backstrom had a pair of two-point games.  It brought the total of multi-point games for both to 17th, tied for second in the league this season behind the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin.  For Kuznetsov the four-point week left him in eighth place among rookies in total scoring (22 points).

Mike Green had three assists for the week from the blue line in three games before sitting out the Caps win over Anaheim with an injury.  His two-point game against St. Louis to open the week left him with 11 multi-point games this season, tied for the league lead among defensemen with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang.  Among defensemen playing in at least 30 games this season, Green is fourth in the league in points per game (0.22).

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.42 /game; rank: 7th)

When the Caps allowed 40 shots on goal to the St. Louis Blues to open Week 18, it was the first time since allowing 40 to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 7th in a 3-2 win, and it was the first time the Caps allowed that many shots on goal at home all season.  They returned to normal over the last three games of the week, yielding a total of only 78 shots on goal (26.0 per game).

There has been a fair amount of rending of garments over the Caps’ situation at right wing on the top line.  Over the passage of time the Caps have employed Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Mike Gartner, Bobby Gould, and Hartland Monahan at the position (ok, not the last three) in an effort to find a reliable partner.  In Week 18 the issue was at the defensive end of the ice.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were on ice together for three of the seven goals against.  Three different players were on the right wing when the goals were scored – Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer , and Marcus Johansson.  The hunt continues.

Goaltending: 1.72 / .941 / 1 SO   (season: 2.33 / .918 / 6 shutouts)

For the first time this season the Caps employed three goaltenders over the course of a week.  Justin Peters opened the week, and his experience was one of showing the effects of rust on how he was able to manage his game (most notable rebounds) and his teammates picking the wrong time to be so porous in shots allowed (40).  The combination was not conducive to winning as the Caps fell behind the eight-ball early against the Blues (a power play goal in the third minute) and could never overtake the visitors.

Braden Holtby got the middle two games of the week and was, as he has been over the past three months, excellent.  Not that he didn’t have help. The Caps rediscovered their ability to minimize chances.  Holtby had to face only 12 shots on goal in the first period of the two games combined, stopping all of them.  Peters faced more than that in each of the first two period of his game against St. Louis.  Still, Holtby stopped 52 of 53 shots faced for the week (.981 save percentage).  It is part of a longer run that is rather amazing.  In his last four-plus games Holtby has stopped 118 of 120 shots faced (.983 save percentage) since allowing a goal to Columbus’ Cam Atkinson 5:20 into the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets on January 27th.

Philipp Grubauer was called up from Hershey to man the nets in the last game of the week.  He continued the fine work he was showing with the Bears.  In his last 10 games with Hershey before his call up, Grubauer was 7-2-1, 1.62, .934, with one shutout.  He looked a bit nervous in the opening period against Anaheim but held the Ducks to only a late power play goal.  The Caps locked down the Ducks in the second and third period, and Grubauer was almost perfect with the light work.  He allowed Corey Perry to bank a shot off his left skate for the tying goal in the third period, but he turned away both shots in overtime and two of three in the freestyle competition to get the game’s first star and his first win of the year.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.4 percent; rank: 3rd)

Week 18 was a good week for the power play; there just wasn’t enough of it.  In each of the first two games of the week the Caps enjoyed three power plays, scoring a goal in each game.  In the last two games of the week they managed to be awarded only one man advantage in each, failing to register on either of them.  It was the first time since November 20the and 22nd that the Caps were awarded only one power play in consecutive games and the first time they went consecutive games with just one power play in each without scoring since April 23rd and 25th in the 2012-2013 season.

It made for an uneven week.  In the first two games of the week the Caps were 2-for-6 on 2-for-10 shooting in 12:17 of power play time.  Effective, if not terribly efficient on a shots per minute basis.  In the last two games of the week the Caps were 0-for-2 on 0-for-3 shooting in four minutes of power play time.  That might be as much a product of the infrequency of occurrences.  As it was, the usual suspects were involved in the scoring.  Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both goals, one by Alex Ovechkin and one by Troy Brouwer.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent / (season: 80.9 percent; rank: 18th)

It was a good week for the Caps, better than it looked for that matter.  The why was in the goaltending.  Justin Peters and Philipp Grubauer combined to stop 10 of 12 shots over 8:35 of penalty killing time, while Braden Holtby stopped all seven shots he faced in killing off all five power plays he faced in ten minutes of shorthanded ice time.  Part of it was opportunities.  The Caps held the Los Angeles Kings to just one power play opportunity and no shots on goal on the man advantage. 

The highlight of the week might have been the third period of the 2-1 win over Ottawa, an episode that held the good and the bad.  The bad was taking three minor penalties in the first 5:08 of the period.  The good was killing all of them off as Holtby turned away all six shots in six minutes of shorthanded ice time.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 9-5 / plus-4 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.14; rank: 8th)

Winning the even strength battle was something the Caps didn’t do well last season, finishing 23rd in the league in 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio (0.90) and 24th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.7).  They have improved significantly in this area this season, rising to eighth in goals for/goals against ratio (1.14) and tenth in Corsi-for percentage (51.7). 

This week the Caps dominated the even strength battle, but three of the four-goal margin was earned in the Caps’ 4-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings.  The Caps are still playing games close to the margin, relying more on holding down opponents’ scoring (five even strength goals in the other three games this week) than scoring them (six in the three other games of the week).

Faceoffs: 114-212 / 53.8 percent (season: 51.4 percent; rank: 9th)

The Caps had a good week in the circle, winning three of the four games and two of the three zones.  They were especially good in the defensive end, winning 41 of 66 draws (62.1 percent).  It was even better considering the players who regularly take draws on the top three lines.  Nicklas Backstrom (13-for-19), Troy Brouwer (8-for-12), and Eric Fehr (6-for-7) were a combined 27-for-38 (71.1 percent) in the defensive zone for the week.  In the offensive zone that trio was not as effective, going a combined 25-for-53 (47.2 percent), Fehr the only one to finish over 50 percent (7-for-11).  Meanwhile, there was Jay Beagle, quiet and consistent, winning all three zones of the week from the fourth line – 3-for-4 in the offensive end, 5-for-8 in the defensive zone, and 4-for-5 in the neutral zone to post the best numbers for the week (12-for-17, 70.6 percent).

Goals by Period:

For the Caps the week was spotting teams goals early (first goals scored by all three opponents against the Kings), then trying to close the gap late.  It did not work against the Blues, despite getting goals in each of the second and third periods.  It did work late in the week, though, as the Caps spotted Ottawa and Anaheim goals but scored three second period goals and one in the third period on their way to a pair of one-goal wins.  It left the Caps a consistent group in scoring by period for the season in a comparative sense – tied for eighth in first period goals scored (43), third in second period goals scored, and tied for 11th in goals scored in the third period – and consistent in goal differential by period (plus-8 in each of the first and third periods, plus-13 in the second period).

In the end…

The Caps have been the tortoise in an 82-game season.  Without the benefit of a winning streak of more than three games all season, they are only two points out of the Metropolitan Division lead.  Five of those three-game streaks have come since December 2nd, the fifth of them authored in the last three games of the week. 

As for Week 18, a loss to St. Louis being the only blemish was disappointing, as any loss might be, but not discouraging given that came in the second of a back-to-back set of games against a team that was on a 9-0-1 run at the time.  The end of the week was a lot more pleasant, especially beating the defending Stanley Cup champions and then sweeping a back-to-back set of games that showed off the depth of goaltending in the organization.  Missing the services of Mike Green, who sat out the last game of the week with an injury, was a bit disturbing, but on balance, it was still a very good week.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 0.50, .981, 1 shutout)
  • Second Star:  Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5, plus-1, 16 shots on goal, 45 shot attempts, 15 hits)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, plus-3, shootout goal)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 54: Flyers at Capitals, February 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice looking for their fourth consecutive win when they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.  This will be the sixth time this season that the Caps take a three-game winning streak into a game looking for a fourth straight win.  Washington has yet to grab that fourth straight win.

The Flyers come into this game having earned points in their last five games (4-0-1).  Four of those decisions were of the one-goal variety, three of them going to extra time.  The longest points streak of the season might have come too late for the Flyers, though.  Sitting in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and tenth place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot with 30 games to play, there might be too many teams to climb over and too few games in which to do it for the orange and black.

At the moment, though, the Flyers are on a run led by a stingy defense.  A big part of that has been the play of goaltender Steve Mason.  After missing six games with a knee injury, Mason has been in net for the last four games, going 3-0-1, 1.23, .959, and a shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 31st.  It is part of a longer run of good play by Mason in the 2015 portion of the season.  Since the calendar turned over, he is 5-1-1 (two no-decisions), 1.51, .948, and the shutout.  As it is, Mason has the third best save percentage at even strength this season (.937), behind only Pekka Rinne (.938) and Carey Price (.939) among goalies appearing in at least 30 games. In 12 career appearances against the Caps, Mason is 7-3-2, 2.77, .908, with two shutouts.

At the other end of the ice the Flyers have 14 goals in their 4-0-1 run.  Nine players share in the goal scoring, led by Chris VandeVelde with three.  It is an unexpected outburst, part of a longer run in which he has five goals in his last seven games.  In his previous 81 games covering parts of five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and the Flyers, VandeVelde had only four career goals.  Sustainable?  Five goals on his last ten shots on goal over seven games is probably a short term trend, but he will be someone to watch.  In four career games against the Caps he has one assist.

Sixteen Flyers share points in their recent five-game string of success.  Wayne Simmonds and Michael Del Zotto each have a pair of goals and a pair of assists to lead the overall scoring.  For Simmonds, four points in his last four games comes on the heels of a five-game streak without a point and eight without a goal.  Simmonds still leads the Flyers in goals (18), power play goals (11), and game-winning goals.  He has faced the Caps 18 times in his career and is 3-5-8, plus-1.

Del Zotto is engaged in something of a rehabilitation of his career.  After going 10-31-41, plus-20 for the New York Rangers in 2011-2012, then following it up with 21 points in 46 games in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, his offensive production from the blue line dried up last season.  He recorded only two goals and 11 points in 41 games with the Rangers, then had only a goal and five points in 25 games with the Nashville Predators after the Rangers traded him for defenseman Kevin Klein.  Del Zotto is 5-12-17 in 40 games for the Flyers, his point total second on the club among defensemen.  In 21 career games against Washington he is 0-7-7, plus-4.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Philadelphia has played reasonably well in one-goal games, posting a record of 11-8-8 (including a 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals on January 8th).  In games decided by more than one goal, the Flyers are 11-14.  In their 4-0-1 run, they are 3-0-1 in one-goal decisions.

2.  The Flyers have been nicked up on the blue line all season.  Only Mark Streit has appeared in all 52 games this season, and only Nick Schultz (50) has appeared in more than 42 games among the ten defensemen to dress for Philadelphia this season.

3.  When it comes to penalties, the Flyers seem to be either in the protection racket or polishing their reputation.  While they have the 11th fewest number of minor penalties, the Flyers are tied for seventh in fighting majors.  Either they are protecting their skill players (or, given their place in the standings, what passes for skill), or…well, they’re the Flyers.

4.  Getting an early lead is something that manages to elude the Flyers regularly.  Only Florida has scored first in fewer games (19 times in 50 games) than Philadelphia (20 in 52 games).

5.  Possession is an issue for the Flyers.  They have the seventh-worst Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.3), eighth-worst in close score situations (47.9). Only three players appearing in at least 20 games have individual Corsi-for percentages above 50 percent – Michael Raffl (55.8), Jakub Voracek (54.1), and Claude Giroux (52.4).

1.  The Caps fell behind in each of their last two games and won both contests.  Before that they had one just once all season when falling behind first.  The flip side of that is their record when scoring first.  Not only is their 25-1-4 record the second-best winning percentage in the league (.883; Montreal is .870), but they have scored first 30 times in 53 games.  Only four teams have scored first more often – the New York Rangers (31), Tampa Bay Lightning (32), Pittsburgh Penguins (33), and Winnipeg Jets (33).

2. The Caps are 10-1-1 in their last dozen games at home, outscoring opponents by a 37-20 margin.  Their special teams index in this home streak is impressive at 112.7 (27.3 percent power play, 85.4 percent penalty kill).

3.  Only four teams have spent less total power play time at home than the Caps (129:44) – New Jersey (122:27), Carolina (117:36) and Boston (103:00).

4.  The Caps have a standings points record over .500 when out-shooting opponents (12-10-5) and a record over .500 when outshot (11-5-5).  However, they are undefeated when shots are even (5-0-0).

5.  The Caps don’t do blowouts.  Well, not often.  Only Florida has had fewer decision of three or more goals (9) than the Caps (11).  No team has fewer losses by three or more goals than the Caps (2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Sean Couturier

Sean Couturier was an eighth overall draft pick of the Flyers in the 2011 entry draft.  He made the jump right to the Flyers after 41-goal and 36-goal years with Drummondville in the QMJHL.  One might have anticipated that he would take his place as a scoring line forward with the big club. So far, that has not been the case, at least the scoring part.  Couturier has 41 goals in 257 career games, a 13-goal pace per 82 games.  That does not make the 22-year old a failure, by any means.  However, his role might be a little different than what might have been envisioned.  Couturier is second among Flyer forwards in ice time per game, due in large part to his leading the club’s forwards in shorthanded ice time.  With so much shorthanded ice time comes power play goals allowed, and no forward in the league has been on ice for more power play goals against, and it’s not close.  Couturier has been on ice for 28 power play goals against (half of his total) while his teammate Matt Read and the New York Islanders’ Frans Nielsen have been on ice for 21 power play goals against.  He has not been making it up in the offensive end; he is 2-1-3 in his last 16 games.  Couturier is 3-3-6, plus-2, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Braden Holtby

The Washington Capitals have an excellent record at home over the last two months, and much of that id due to goalie Braden Holtby.  Since he lost a 4-3 decision to the Vancouver Canucks on December 2nd, Holtby is 9-0-2, 1.53, .947, with three shutouts at Verizon Center.  His three shutouts have come in his last four appearances on home ice.  His sustained level of performance has allowed him to climb into the top five in goals against average (2.14/5th), save percentage (.925/4th), shutouts (6/2nd), and minutes (2,634/1st).  Holtby also has a fine record against Metropolitan Division teams.  In 17 appearances he is 10-3-4, 2.10, .927 with four shutouts, one of them coming in a 1-0 Caps win over the Flyers on January 14th.  Holtby is 4-2-4, 3.01, .900, with two shutouts in 11 career appearances against Philadelphia.

In the end…

The Caps have an opportunity with this contest.  A win over a division rival would be satisfying, but two points could leave the Caps tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the top of the Metropolitan Division by day’s end.  A win would also allow the Caps to maintain some space over the New York Rangers, no less than a two point lead that would be important given that the Rangers would hold three games in hand on the Caps after tomorrow’s games (the Rangers face the Dallas Stars on Sunday).  A division rival, a crowded group jockeying for position at the top of the division, getting some measure of payback for the overtime loss the Flyers pinned on the Caps a month ago.  They should not lack for motivation. 

Capitals 4 – Flyers 2