Sunday, April 05, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 80: Capitals 2 - Red Wings 1

The Washington Capitals ground out a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday night and moved ever closer to a post season berth.  For the Red Wings, the loss left them tied with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins with 95 points, all three teams trying to fight off the Ottawa Senators for the second wild-card playoff berth.

The Caps got started early after Dan Cleary was sent off on a high-sticking call less than two minutes into the game.  With the ensuing power play winding down, Evgeny Kuznetsov manned the right wing wall where he took a pass from Matt Niskanen to start the scoring sequence.  Kuznetsov spun off Drew Miller to create space, then tried to send a pass across the slot.  The puck struck Miller’s stick and was redirected past goalie Petr Mrazek on the short side, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead 3:38 into the game.

That would be all the scoring in the first period, but the Caps would add to their total early in the second period.  Tim Gleason provided the scoring chance when he stopped a sliding puck from crossing out of the Detroit zone.  He sent the puck across to Mike Green at the right point with space to maneuver.  Green stepped up and leaned into a shot, firing the puck of the left shoulder of Mrazek and into the net to give the Caps a 2-0 lead 4:42 into the middle period.

Detroit halved the lead on a power play when Darren Helm took a pass from Pavel Datsyuk at the post to the left of goalie Braden Holtby and snapped the puck past Holtby’s right pad at the 12:59 mark.

That would be all for the scoring, though, as the Caps – and Holtby in particular – frustrated the Red Wings the rest of the way to earn the 2-1 win and jump back into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Other stuff…

-- The win was the Caps’ 22nd on the road this season.  They have the second-best road record in the Eastern Conference (22-13-6) and are one of only six teams in the league to have earned 50 points on the road this season (pending the late Chicago-St. Louis game).

-- The Caps won on the scoreboard, where it counts, but the shot attempts were a gruesome matter.  Detroit out-attempted the Caps, 73-42, and out-shot the Caps, 36-28.  The overall Corsi plus-minus of minus-31 was the second time this season that the Red Wings out-attempted the Caps by more than 30 attempts (the Caps were minus-33 in a 3-1 win over Detroit on January 10th) and the third time this season that the Caps were worse than minus-30 in overall Corsi plus-minus (the third time being against Chicago in a 3-2 win on November 7th).

-- Alex Ovechkin had an assist to climb within a point (80) of Sidney Crosby (81) for the league points lead.

-- Mike Green’s goal was made it goals in consecutive games, three goals in his last four games, and four in his last six contests.

-- Battling in a close contest like this, especially when facing a lot of shot attempts, means physical sacrifices that can mean anxious moments for players and fans alike.  Such was the case when Tom Wilson threw caution to the wind and his body in front of a Danny DeKeyser shot that appeared to catch him flush on the helmet.  He did not return.  An even more anxiety-creating moment occurred when Braden Holtby got up slowly after doing the splits to stop a scoring chance on a Red Wing power play in the second period.

-- Holtby started his 23rd straight game for the Caps, a franchise record.  It was his 71st appearance, tying him for third most in franchise history.  If he appears in each of the last two games of the season, he will tie the franchise record for appearances (73), set by Olaf Kolzig in 1999-2000. 

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov has become a reliable contributor on the score sheet of late.  His goal was his fifth in his last 12 games, and he is 5-7-12 over his last 15 contests.

-- Andre Burakovsky dressed in place of Eric Fehr, who appeared to injure his shoulder or arm in a non-contact event against Ottawa on Saturday.  Burakovsky had two shots on goal in just 6:06 of ice time. 

-- The win was the Capitals’ 44th of the season.  That total is tied for fourth highest in club history in an 82-game season and tied for eighth most wins overall.

-- The Caps improved to 36-2-4 when scoring the game’s first goal, the best record in the league.

In the end…

The road portion of the season is ended, their 22 wins tying for third most in franchise history.  Now the Caps return home, where they also have 22 wins this season, with the chance to clinch a playoff spot (if they did not already) or to finish with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  The road record is especially noteworthy as the Caps prepare for the playoffs.  The ability to win in hostile arenas is an essential element in playoff success, and the Caps have demonstrated an ability to do just that this season.  And so is holding one-goal leads into the third periods of games.  This win over Detroit sends a message that this club might be playoff ready.

Down the Home Stretch: April 5th Update

We are heading into the last week of the regular season, and the good news for the Washington Capitals is that they have maintained the five point lead they had on the ninth-place team in the East when we started this feature.  The bad news is that they have not expanded it. 

What is emerging, though, are threats to the playoff chances of other clubs.  The Caps are now ahead of Detroit and Pittsburgh in standings points, putting more teams between themselves and those trying to climb into the playoff-eligible group.

With three games left and a five point lead on ninth-place, things are looking upbeat as we head into the last week.

(green denotes playoff eligible)

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 26

Where Week 25 was a light, two-game work week, the Washington Capitals returned to a heavier load with four games in Week 26.  The added on-ice work was to the liking of the Caps, who returned to a winning profile.  It put the team on the brink of clinching a return to the post season after a one-year absence.

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps got back on track in Week 26, winning the first three games of the week before dropping an overtime decision to the Ottawa Senators to close the week.  While Washington has not been able to peel off long winning streaks this season (their longest is four games), they do have eight three-game winning streak, enabling them to bite off big chunks of win on a weekly basis.  In the last 13 weeks of the season the Caps have won three or more games six times and have only two losing weeks in compiling a 24-14-4 record.

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 2.91/game; rank: 6th)

It was a solid week overall for the Caps on the offensive side of the ledger.  When the Caps opened the week with three wins, they did so scoring a total of 13 goals, the first time they recorded that many in a three-game stretch since mid-February and only the third three-game stretch of scoring 13 or more goals this season.  As it was, the Caps ended the week on a six-game streak having scored three or more goals per game, tying their longest such streak of the season.

On an individual basis, Alex Ovechkin led the week with five goals, becoming just the sixth player in league history to record six 50-goal seasons. He will almost certainly be the only player to finish this season with 50 goals (Steven Stamkos has 42).  If he should be the only player to finish with 50 or more goals, it will be the third time he has done so.  Only Bobby Hull (yes, Bobby, not Brett) will have done it more times (four).

Joel Ward added three goals to put him on the edge of what would be his second, and second consecutive 20-goal season.

John Carlson was passing out assists in Week 26 with enthusiasm, six in all.  He is now tied for fifth with Montreal’s P.K. Subban among defensemen in assists (42) and is sixth overall in points (53).  He became the 11th defenseman in Caps history to record at least 50 points in a season (the 30th such season).

As it was, seven players shared in the 16 goals, and 17 players recorded points.  Not bad balance for a four-game week.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.46/game; rank: 8th)

On defense it was a matter of results offering a clear picture of the week in the midst of muddied possession numbers.  The Caps were outshot by only a 105-102 margin, and 5-on-5 possession numbers were respectable overall (51.9 percent Corsi-for; 53.1 percent Fenwick-for).  However, the Caps were outshot, 39-28, in the first periods of games. They spent too much time on their heels early in games. 

Then, the close score numbers were not quite as flattering for the Caps.  In those situations the Caps were barely over 50 percent in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for (50.6/50.8; plus-2 in both categories for the week).  The game against Ottawa offered, as one might expect, the starkest difference.  Washington was plus-22 in shot attempts at 5-on-5 overall (Corsi-for: 62.2 percent), but in close score situations the Caps were minus-1 (47.8 percent).  That is what falling behind by three goals early does (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.90 / .885 (season: 2.42 / .915 / 8 shutouts)

For the second straight week Capitals goaltending did not reach the .900 save percentage threshold.  This some cause for concern.  Braden Holtby got all the minutes in Week 26, and though he went 3-0-1, his .885 save percentage for the week is part of a longer streak – 12 games – in which his save percentage has been barely above that .900 threshold overall (.903).

The problem was early in games for Holtby.  His save percentage in the first periods of games was .872 (34-for-39), and it was .844 in the second period (27-for-32).  He had strong third periods (.966 on 28-for-29) and allowed only a breakaway goal on four shots in two overtimes.

Still, the Caps might not be able to count of simply outscoring opponents in high-scoring games to have much success going forward.  Holtby, whose four-goals allowed against Ottawa was an underappreciated effort given the nature of the goals scored, still has to find his groove again.

Power Play: 4-for-9 / 44.4 percent (season: 25.2 percent; rank: 1st)

The Caps had one of their better weeks on the power play in Week 26, recording their fifth week of the season with four or more goals and sixth week at 40 percent or greater.  The 4-for-9 effort in Week 26 makes the Caps 20-for-66 over their last seven weeks covering 23 games.

As good as those numbers are, there are things to note, particularly frequency.  The 66 opportunities over 23 games works out to 2.87 chances per game.  They did not have a single opportunity against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second game of the week, the first time the Caps went without a power play opportunity since November 15th against St. Louis and the first time it happened at home since March 4, 2012 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was, even with the low opportunity volume, an efficient week.  Four goals on ten shots (40.0 percent) in 11:20 of power play time for the week.  The Caps do not get a lot of opportunities, but they have been making what they do get count.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-14 / 78.6 percent (season: 81.3 percent; rank: 14th)

The Caps started the week on a roll, having killed eight power plays in a row over three-plus games.  They extended the run by killing off all seven power plays they faced against the Rangers and Nashville.  When they killed off the first three power plays they faced against Montreal, it brought the streak to 18 straight.  Then P.K. Subban scored a power play goal for the Canadiens late to send the game to overtime.  Then the Ottawa Senators scored on their first two power plays – both of the 5-on-3 variety – in the Caps’ next game.  The Caps ended the week allowing three power play goals on the last four shorthanded situations they faced.

They just spent too much time killing penalties, especially when compared to the time they spent on their own man advantage.  The Caps spent 10:25 more killing penalties than they did on the power play; they faced five more power plays than they themselves had.  It masked what was not a bad week for the penalty killers in other ways.  They allowed only 17 shots in 21:45 of shorthanded ice time.  Two of the goals they allowed came on 5-on-3 power plays just 53 seconds apart.  It looked worse than it was, but that does not mean it was good, either.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 12-9 / plus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 15th)

Getting a 3-0-1 week and going plus-3 in even strength goals for and against is not likely to be a coincidence.  Six of the top seven teams in the league in wins have 5-on-5 goal ratios of 1.10 or better (Anaheim at 1.05 being the exception), four of them at 1.20 or better. 

The Caps won three of the games at even strength, losing the even strength battle only to Montreal (1-3).  They did it winning the even strength shots battle for the week, 92-87, but they split the games, and the 31-22 edge the Caps had over Ottawa was fueled in part by the score effects of falling behind by three goals and the Senators playing a safer game.

Faceoffs: 120-247 / 48.6 percent (season: 51.3% / rank: 12th)

It was a luke-warm week in the circle for the Caps, splitting the games down the middle and having a split of sorts in the zones as well – 55.7 percent in the neutral zone, 50.0 percent in the defensive zone, and 40.0 percent in the offensive zone.  The offensive zone was especially problematic for the Caps against the Rangers, against whom they won only four of 17 draws.

On an individual basis, Nicklas Backstrom returned to more accustomed levels of performance winning 44 of 85 draws (51.8 percent).  He finished the week 18th overall among 84 qualifying players in faceoff winning percentage for the season (53.6 percent).  After that, however, only Troy Brouwer among the other four players taking ten or more draws topped 50 percent for the week (53.8 percent/7-for-13).

Goals by Period:

The Caps found themselves in a bind early in games, allowing 10 of the 12 goals surrendered for the week in the first (5) and second (5) periods. Conversely, the Caps were much more effective late, scoring 13 of their 16 goals in the second (6) and third (7) periods.

What it meant was that the Caps allowed the first goal in the last two games of the week and still managed a win and an overtime loss.  For a team that had one just seven times in 36 games when allowing the first goal, it showed a certain resiliency, but it is not the sort of thing one wants to test too often, either.

In the end…

The old Al Davis saying about the Oakland Raiders of the NFL has meaning at this time of year: “Just win, baby.”  The Caps did that despite underlying numbers that, except for the even strength scoring numbers, did not have the look of a 3-0-1 week.  However, goals and assists are for fantasy players, and fancy stats are indicators, not the means to keep score. 

On a granular level, the underlying numbers were not even that bad, considering that the Caps were facing two very good teams who play very well in their own buildings – the New York Rangers and Montreal – and a team that is in a death struggle to make the playoffs in the Ottawa Senators.  Getting the wins in that context makes Week 26 a very good one, indeed, for the Washington Capitals.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-1-6, plus-1, 17 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, 12 hits, new franchise record holder for goals (474))
  • Second Star: John Carlson (0-6-6, plus-2, five shots on goal, nine blocked shots, almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)
  • Third Star: Joel Ward (3-1-4, plus-1)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 80: Capitals at Red Wings, April 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up the road portion of their 2014-2015 season on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.  The Caps will be coming back on less than a full-day’s rest after their 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.  The Red Wings will be doing the same after they bested the Minnesota Wild, 3-2, in a Gimmick.

The Red Wings come into this game in the midst of a long slow bleed of air out of their balloon.  Since March 6th, Detroit is 5-9-2, and frankly, there is not much secret where the problem lies.  Detroit is surrendering far too many goals, 52 of them over those 16 games.  At the wrong time of year, goaltending has become an issue.  In the 5-9-2 run, three Detroit goaltenders – Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek, and Jonas Gustavsson – have combined for a goals against average of 3.07, a save percentage of .895, and each of them was relieved once from a game. 

It has made for an unsettled situation in which is not clear if Jimmy Howard is going to be “the man” between the pipes heading into the post season.  Howard has had an odd season when compared to last.  He has appeared in 51 games this season, the same number in which he appeared in 2013-2014.  His record looks very similar to last year’s:

  • 2013-2014: 21-19-11, 2.42, .910 (ES save percentage: .920), 2 shutouts
  • 2014-2015: 22-13-10, 2.66, .911  (ES save percentage: .919, 2 shutouts

Last season, Howard closed with a rush, winning four of his last five appearances and stopping 121 of 131 shots.  This season he is stumbling to the finish.  He is 3-1-2, 3.37, .876 in seven career appearances against Washington.

The offense has been a bit off, a shortcoming magnified by the goals allowed.  In the 5-9-2 run Detroit has 43 goals (2.69/game).  What they are lacking is contributions from those expected to make them.  Their leading goal scorer this season – Tomas Tatar (28) – has four goals in his last 22 games.  The leading point-getter – Henrik Zetterberg (62) – is 1-5-6 over his last ten games.

Then there is Pavel Datsyuk.  His problem is not production as much as it is health.  He played in only nine of the 16 games in the 5-9-2 run.  We was 3-6-9 in those games, a point-per-game pace consistent with his production for the season (60 points in 60 games).

If there has been something close to a constant for the Red Wings on offense it has been Gustav Nyquist.  After last year’s coming out party for the former fourth-round draft pick (28 goals in 57 games), Nyquist has 26 goals this season, second on the club.  He has five of those goals in the recent Red Wing 16-game slide, about his season average per game (0.33), and has assisted on four others.  There has, however, been an odd change in his goal scoring profile from last year to this.  Last season his 28 goals included 22 at even strength and six on the power play.  This year, Nyquist’s power play production has more than doubled, to 14 goals, but his even strength output has been cut nearly in half, to 12 goals.  He is 5-3-8, plus-2, in five career games against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  No team has scored more power play goals on home ice than the Red Wings (39), in no small part a product of the fact that only Dallas has more power play opportunities on home ice (158) than Detroit (148).

2.  Special teams get a workout on the Joe Louis Arena ice sheet.  The Red Wings have the third-highest number of shorthanded situations faced on home ice (138), trailing only Pittsburgh (139) and Winnipeg (151).

3.  Scoring first is almost always a good thing, but Detroit has an odd record in this regard.  The Red Wings rank 24th in winning percentage when scoring first (.5909/23-8-8), but they rank third in winning percentage when allowing the first goal (.462/18-16-5).

4.  Sixteen different Red Wings have at least one power play goal this season (by way of comparison, the Caps have 12 players with at least one power play goal).

5.  Even though the Red Wings have been struggling over the last month in wins and losses, they remain a possession monster.  At 5-on-5 overall, their Corsi-for percentage over their 5-9-2 run is 54.1; their Fenwick-for percentage is 53.2 percent.  Their corresponding close score percentages are 53.6/53.3 (numbers from

1.  Washington’s overtime loss was their first in the five-minute extra session in more than two months.  The last time they dropped a game in the overtime was on January 31st, a 1-0 overtime loss to Montreal.’

2.  The two 5-on-3 power play goals allowed by the Caps against Ottawa were twice as many as they had allowed all season.

3.  Perhaps the loss to Ottawa was preordained.  The Caps have lost five games in the extra period when trailing at the first intermission five times this season.  Only four teams have more, each with six such losses.

4.  The Caps losing in overtime to Ottawa dropped their record to 4-13-5 when trailing after the first period, the ninth-worst winning percentage in the league (.182).

5.  Washington has struggled some in possession on the road recently.  In their last 13 road games the Caps have been over 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, close score situations, only four times and over 50 percent in Fenwick-for percentage five times.  Overall, their numbers in those 13 games are 49.0/48.3, respectively (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Justin Abdelkader

Of the 43 goals scored by the Red Wings in their recent 5-9-2 slide, Justin Abdelkader has nine of them and has assisted on three others, factoring into almost 28 percent of the goals scored by Detroit in those 16 games.  He has two streaks of at least three games with a goal embedded in that run as well.  It is part of a season in which Abdelkader has shattered his previous career high in goals – he has 23; he had tenin each of his previous two seasons.  He also has a career high in points (44), far eclipsing the 28 points he recorded last season.  He has a knack for scoring in close score situations, 18 of his 23 goals coming when the Wings are trailing by a goal, tied, or leading by a goal.  And, five of those goals are game-winners.  Abdelkader is 3-2-5, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Quietly – who would have expected otherwise – Nicklas Backstrom is looking as if he might be at the start of piecing together a nice little scoring run.  Sure, it seems sometimes as if he might not ever score a goal of his own again – he has not had one in his last 20 games and missed on a couple of excellent chances against Ottawa on Saturday – but he has assists in three of his last four games and has regained the league lead in assists (57) from Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek (56).  Even with the goal drought, Backstrom is sixth overall in scoring (75 points).  If there is something there that suggests a breakout might be coming it is that he has been such a consistent point-per-game player over his career.  He has 569 points in 574 career games, five points short of that point-per-game mark.  Perhaps not coincidentally, he has his 75 points this season in 79 games, four points short of the mark.  Backstrom is 2-8-10, minus-2, in ten career games against Detroit.

In the end…

Washington faces another desperate team on Sunday, this one trying to hold a three-point lead in the wild card race, not make up the three point deficit that Ottawa had on Saturday.  It is odd to be using the term “desperate” in reference to the Red Wings, but they are in jeopardy of missing the post season for the first time in 24 seasons and the third time since Ronald Reagan’s first term as President.  Nine players having dressed for the Wings this season were not yet born the last time Detroit missed the post season. 

On the other side, the Caps are on the cusp of returning to the post season after a one-year absence.  That last few strides to the finish line could prove to be the most difficult.  Washington closes the season with these Red Wings, then wrap up the regular season at home against Boston (a team in Detroit’s position trying to hang on to a wild card spot) and the Rangers, who might want to send a message in the season finale and atone for the 5-2 pasting the Caps put on them in their last meeting.

Nothing has yet been earned, and for all intents and purposes the Capitals are already playing teams in playoff mode.  They need to match the effort.

Capitals 4 – Red Wings 3