Sunday, February 22, 2015

A NO-Point Night -- Game 61: Flyers 3 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capital could not turn four into five this afternoon at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.  Their four-game winning streak came to an end with a 3-2 loss to the Flyers in an afternoon contest.  With the loss, the Caps lost the season series to the Flyers, dropping three of four contests (1-2-1).

It was special teams that let the Caps down against the Flyers.  Washington gave up two power play goals, their first since allowing a power play strike to the San Jose Sharks on February 11th, breaking a streak of five games of perfect penalty killing.

The first of those power play goals came just 4:39 into the game when Claude Giroux converted from the top of the left wing circle.  The Flyers scored their second power play goal less than two minutes into the second period just after a 5-on-3 advantage expired when Wayne Simmonds whacked a rebound out of mid-air and past goalie Braden Holtby to make it 2-0, Flyers.

The Caps crawled back into the game less than four minutes later when a heavy forecheck produced an opportunity.  Michael Latta pressured Brayden Schenn into a poor pass from below his own goal line that ended up on the stick of John Carlson, who found Tom Wilson alone in the left wing circle.  Wilson one-timed the puck past goalie Rob Zepp to halve the Flyers lead 5:23 into the second period.

The Caps tied the game late in the second period when neither team was able to corral a bounding puck in the Flyers’ end.  Joel Ward did not bother trying to settle the puck, choosing to turn and fire it from the left wing circle, beating Zepp over his left shoulder at the 15:22 mark.

It might have gone to extra time that way, but the Flyers would avoid that fate when Jakub Voracek avoided two Capitals along the right wing boards to find Michael Del Zotto entering the offensive zone late.  Del Zotto took the pass on the left side and ripped a shot over goalie Braden Holtby’s left shoulder for the game-winning goal with 4:13 left, the Flyers coming out on top by the 3-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Tom Wilson’s goal broke a personal 34-game streak without a goal and a seven-game streak without a point.

-- Joel Ward’s goal was his seventh career goal against the Flyers.  He has scored more goals only against the Detroit Red Wings (11) in his career.

-- This was just the 17th game out of 61 in which neither Nicklas Backstrom nor Alex Ovechkin registered a point this season.  The Caps are now 9-5-3 in those games.

-- This was the first game in the 2015 portion of the season in which the Caps allowed an opponent two power play goals.  The last time it happened was December 29th in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.

--  A Caps-Flyers game generally involves hitting, and this game was no exception.  Fifteen skaters for each team were credited with hits, of which there were 79 in all (42 for the Caps).

-- When Brooks Laich assisted on Joel Ward’s goal, it made it points in consecutive games for the first time since he had points in consecutive games on January 4/7.  In those instances the points came on goals in each game, the last time Laich has scored a goal this season.

-- When the Flyers took a penalty in the last minute of the contest, Caps fans might have been counting on overtime.  However, the Caps failed to register a shot on goal in the 58 seconds of power play time, four of the five shot attempts being blocked by the Flyers, the other a miss at the buzzer.

-- It was a difficult day on the power play for the Caps, who managed only two shots on goal on five power plays and 8:58 of power play ice time (Ovechkin, Niskanen).

-- Jason Chimera’s fight against Zac Rinaldo was his first fight of the season and his first in a game against the Flyers in his career.

-- Andre Burakovsky sat out this game, the 16th game he has missed this season and second straight against the Flyers.  The Caps are 8-4-4 in games he sat out this season.

In the end…

It was special teams not being special that did the Caps in against the Flyers.  Two goals allowed in four shorthanded situations was bad enough, but coming up empty with just two shots on goal in five power plays was arguably worse, given that the Flyers were the 28th-ranked team in the league on the penalty kill.  It was part of an overall lackluster effort following a hard-fought win over the division leaders the previous afternoon.  Fortunately, the Caps get two days off before they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, and one hopes the special teams will be more up to the task when that opponent comes to town.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

For the Washington Capitals, Week 20 was about as good as it gets, perhaps their best week of the season.  Four games, four wins, two of them against divisional rivals (one of them the division leader), and a win against one of the best teams in the West.  If weeks were graded on a “plus-minus” basis, it would be hard to find much in terms of minus in Week 20.

Record: 4-0-0

The Capitals came into Week 20 having posted six three-game winning streaks this season. Each time they failed to add a fourth win.  The seventh time was the charm in this case as the Caps cobbled together their first four-game winning streak of the season and their longest winning streak since an eight-game winning streak late in the 2012-2013 season.  The week left the Caps with an 8-2-0 record over their last ten games (currently the best ten-game record in the Metropolitan Division) and sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, tied with the New York Rangers in standings points (the Rangers have three games in hand) and four behind the New York Islanders. 

Offense: 3.75/game (season: 2.93 /game; rank: 7th)

It was a week for the big guns to lead coming out of the gate and for the support troops to end it on a high note.  Alex Ovechkin had his second four-point game of the season to open the week, a two-goal/two-assist game against the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-3 win.  Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 3-1 win over Pittsburgh, then Nicklas Backstrom took over with a pair of goals and an assist in a 5-1 win over Winnipeg.  In the last game of the week it was Matt Niskanen getting his first even-strength goals with the Caps this season and Eric Fehr breaking an eight-game streak without a point to score a late goal in the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick win over the New York Islanders.  In the trick shot phase of that game it was Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the only goal, giving him four goals on seven freestyle attempts this season, the best shooting percentage (57.1) among Caps having taken more than one shot this season.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.42 /game; rank: 5th)

It was a deceptive week in some respects.  The scoring defense was impressive, especially when considering that the Caps faced the fourth and ninth best scoring offenses in the league in the Islanders and the Ducks.  Add in Pittsburgh’s always dangerous Sidney  Crsoby/Evgeni Malkin duo (14th-ranked scoring offense), and it was quite a test for the week.

OK, so that is the context.  The Caps did allow an average of 29.5 shots against for the week, but that number includes only 20 shots allowed to the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-1 win.  But here is where it gets a bit strange.  The possession numbers for the week were middle of the road.  Overall the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 48.5 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 50.2.  The numbers improved, but not significantly, in close score situations (50.7 Corsi, 50.3 Fenwick).  But here is the thing.  That last game of the week against the Islanders, the Caps were Corsi plus-7 in close score situations (all numbers from 

That number includes some bizarre period-by-period results (if not unexpected, given how the game played out).  The Caps out attempted the Islanders by a 30-17 margin in the second period after out-attempting them 10-9 in close score situations.  Carrying that 40-26 advantage into the third period the Islanders flipped the switch and ended regulation with a 24-19 advantage in the third period.  Consider that in a span of 4:36 in the third period between Eric Fehr’s goal to put the Caps ahead, 2-1, and Ryan Strome’s goal to tie the game with 48 second left, the Islanders out-attempted the Caps, 14-0.  That is not a misprint.  The Islanders attempted 14 shots on goal (seven SOG, including the game-tying goal) to none for the Caps.  Fehr’s goal was the last shot attempted by the Caps in regulation time.  Too much “prevent” defense prevents wins in regulation time, and it took a bite out of the Caps at the end of regulation in Saturday’s game.

Goaltending: 1.71 / .942 (season: 2.36 / .917 / 6 shutouts)

It was a very good week, quantitatively and qualitatively.  As to the latter, Justin Peters got a start, opening the week against the Anaheim Ducks.  It was not the easiest of assignments, given that the Ducks were averaging 2.84 goals per game at the time.  Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots, including all nine in the third period and 24 of the last 25 shots he faced for the game in a 5-3 win.  Braden Holtby played in the other three games for the week and allowed only four goals on 88 shots (.955 save percentage).  He ended the week as the third-leading goalie in goals against average (2.14) and tied for fourth in save percentage (.925).

Power Play: 6-for-17 / 35.3 percent (season: 24.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps scored as many power play goals in Week 20 as they did in the previous four weeks combined (six).  It was their most effective week (35.3 percent) in a week with five of more power plays since Week 8 (57.1 percent) and their second best of nine weeks this season in which they had ten or more man advantages (Week 5: 4-10/40.0 percent).  It was an effective power play, fueled by the usual suspects. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had two power play goals apiece; Ovechkin had two assists and Backstrom three.  Mike Green added three assists. In all, seven players shared in the power play points for the week.  It was, perhaps, a bit of an unusual result, given that the Caps managed those six goals on 24 shots in 26:34 of power play time.  Averaging a bit less than a shot per minute of power play ice time is not particularly impressive, but the results for Week 20 certainly were.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent / (season: 81.4 percent; rank: 16th)

The Caps killed all 11 shorthanded situations for Week 20, the second time this season in 11 instances that they were perfect in killing ten or more such situations.  It was an especially good week given that three of the opponents were in the top half of the league power play rankings.  One might have liked the Caps to do it a bit differently, but one should not be too picky here.  As it was, Caps goalies stopped all 26 power play shots they faced in 21:08 of shorthanded ice time.  And it was not as if the Caps were confining shots to bit players.  Corey Perry recorded five power play shots for Anaheim.  Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby had a pair of shots apiece.  They did keep John Tavares from getting any shots on goal with the man advantage for the Islanders in the last game of the week and kept things to the outside against the Jets on Thursday, so one could see improvement in terms of keeping the more dangerous shooters in check.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 9-7 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.08; rank: 12th)

Win the even strength battle, win the week.  It was true for the Caps, who won two games outright (against Anaheim and Winnipeg) and held another opponent even (the Islanders) at even strength.  Only against Pittsburgh, against whom the Caps allowed just one even strength goal (their first goal against the Caps in three games this season), did the Caps lose the even strength game within a game.  They won the shots battle for the week at even strength (99-94) and split the games, recording more even strength shots against Anaheim (23-22) and Winnipeg (21-14) while losing that battle to Pittsburgh (23-24) and to the Islanders (27-29).

Faceoffs: 123-235 / 52.3 percent (season: 51.0 percent; rank: 13th)

It was a good week overall, if a bit uneven.  The Caps were under 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (48.1 percent), but were over 50 percent in the other two zones (defensive: 54.1 percent; neutral: 55.0 percent).  It did not keep Washington from winning three of four games in the circle and holding a fourth opponent even.  On an individual level Nicklas Backstrom had a very good week – 59.5 percent overall and excellent in all three zones (offensive: 56.8 percent); defensive: 66.7 percent); neutral: 53.3 percent).  Eric Fehr also had a fine week, going 34-for-60 (56.7 percent).

Goals by Period:

What jumps out here, in more ways than one, is the fact that the Caps allowed only one third period goal all week.  That lone goal was the difference between a 4-0-0 week and a perfect 4-0-0 week in which all games were won in regulation time.  It was the goal that the Islanders scored with 48 seconds left in regulation that was the lone third-period blemish in Week 20.  Even with that goal, the Caps jumped into ninth place in the league in fewest third period goals allowed (48).

At the other end, the story was balance.  Six first period goals four second period goals, and five tallies in the third period made for a productive week.  Those six first period goals allowed the Caps to either take a lead into the first intermission (twice) or hold opponents even at the break (twice).

In the end…

It is really difficult to make up ground late in the season in the NHL.  Need convincing?  The Caps started Week 20 in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, seven points behind the New York Islanders.  Despite playing four games, a generally heavy work load for a week, and winning them all, the Caps finished the week in third place, four points behind the Isles, who were 2-1-1 for the week.

Nevertheless, the 4-0-0 week, coming with just 22 games left in the season, might be an indicator that the Caps are ramping up their performance as the playoff approach.  This was always the hoped-for result, that whatever difficulties they might encounter with yet another head coach taking over at the start of this season would evaporate as they became accustomed to playing in the manner Barry Trotz wanted them to play.  The defensive shell the Caps retreated into at the end of the game of their last game of the week was something of a disappointment, not to mention frustrating, but these are wins in the bank against some difficult opponents, a couple of which they might be seeing down the road.  Week 20 was a very good week.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-4-8, plus-4, one game-winning goal, 16 shots on goal, 41 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.30, .955)
  • Third Star:  Nicklas Backstrom (2-5-7, 2 PPG, 47-for-79 on faceoffs (59.5 percent))

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Flyers, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals go right back at it after their 3-2 Gimmick win over the Neqw York Islanders yesterday when they head up I-95 to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a nationally-televised matinee at CoreStates First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo Center.

The Caps head up to Large Banking Conglomerate Center with a four-game winning streak in their pocket, their longest of the season. They will be looking to extend it to five games, which would be their longest winning streak since authoring an eight-game winning streak to open April in the 2012-2013 season.

As for the Flyers, they continue to hang around the edge of relevance in the playoff race, starting the day in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot, but with the Bruins holding a game in hand.  Not that their record has shown much in the way of desperation lately.  The Flyers are 3-3-4 in February after closing January with a four-game winning streak.  One of those three wins have come at the Caps’ expense, though, a 3-1 win in Washington o February 8th.

With the quick turnaround in games we do not have the full prognosto treatment this morning, but we do have some facts with which to beguile and impress your friends and aggravate your foes.

-- This is the 12th back-to-back set of games for the Caps this season.  They have swept both ends of the games twice – wins in Chicago (3-2) and at Carolina (4-3 in overtime) on November 7/8 and at Ottawa (2-1) and against Anaheim (3-2 in a Gimmick) on February 5-6.

-- This will be the 11th back-to-back for Philadelphia (they defeated Nashville yesterday, 3-2 in a Gimmick).  They have lost both ends of the back-to-back six times and have three wins in ten tries in the back half of those games. The wins have come at Pittsburgh (5-3 on October 22nd), at Winnipeg (4-3 in overtime on December 21st) and at Pittsburgh in their last instance (3-2 in overtime on January 20th).

-- The Caps allowed the Islanders only a single power play chance in yesterday’s game.  It was the fourth time in their last ten games that the Caps held an opponent to one power play.  It matched their total number of games holding an opponent to one or no power plays over their first 50 games.

-- The Flyers have four players with 20 or more power play points (by way of comparison, the Caps have two).  Claude Giroux (27), Jakub Voracek (25), Wayne Simmonds (20), and Mark Streit (20) are the four.

-- Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal yesterday.  That is news, in and of itself, since he has 22 goals in his last 25 games.  However, over those 25 games it was only the eighth game in which he was shut out from goal scoring.  He has not gone consecutive games without a goal over his last 29 games (24 goals scored) since he had a four-game streak without a goal, December 11-18.

-- Claude Giroux does not have a goal for the Flyers in his last 11 games and has only four assists.  He comes into this game on a four-game streak without a point.  Jakub Voracek has a total of two goals in his last 16 games (including an empty-netter against the Caps on February 8th).

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-game streak without a point, November 11-18.  Since then he is 14-34-48 in 42 games and has only once had consecutive games without a point (February 5/6).

-- Wayne Simmonds has seven goals in his last 11 games for the Flyers.  He is 4-5-9 in 19 career games against the Caps.

-- If Justin Peters gets the start in goal against Philadelphia on Sunday, he will be swimming upstream against his career record.  He is 1-2-0, 3.66,.889 in four career appearances against the Flyers.  His career road record is 11-23-4, 3.27, .899, with one shutout.  That includes a record of 1-3-0, 3.89, .869 in five road games this season for the Caps.

-- Rob Zepp got the nod in goal for the Flyers yesterday against the Predators.  It would suggest that Ray Emery would get this afternoon’s start against the Caps, although Zepp faced only 22 shots in yesterday’s trick shot win.  Flyers fans might be secretly wishing Zepp can recover quickly.  In the 2015 portion of the season, Emery is 3-5-3, 3.31, .885.

In the end…

This could be the firewagon hockey game that was not played at Verizon Center yesterday (or at Huge Banking Firm Center yesterday).  Backup goalies, deep offenses, a rowdy crowd, national TV…what more could one ask for on Hockey Day in America?  Oh yeah… a Caps win.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 4