Sunday, January 17, 2016

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

The Washington Capitals got back on the winning path on Sunday night when they defeated the New York Rangers, 5-2, at Verizon Center.  The win gave the Caps 71 standings points for the season, the first team in the NHL to reach that mark.

It was the Rangers starting the scoring in this one, getting a goal from Cap Killer Chris Kreider in the 11th minute of the first period, a re-direction of a shot from the left point by Ryan McDonagh.  The Caps tied it with just under two minutes left in the period on a power play.  A cross-ice pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov to Alex Ovechkin was deadened by Marc Staal Jesper Fast, but not enough to keep the puck from getting to its intended recipient.  It prevented Ovechkin from firing a one-timer from the left wing circle, but he still had time to settle the puck, step around Dylan McIlrath, and fire a wrist shot through the pads of goalie Antti Raanta.

The Caps opened up a lead in the second period with a pair of goals just 62 seconds apart.  Marcus Johansson got the first one on another power play.  It was the product of a subtle change in the Caps’ deployment on the man advantage.  With teams cheating a defender to Ovechkin’s side of the ice to prevent a pass for a one-timer, the Caps moved Johansson from the goal line extended from the goalie’s left to the top of the crease, forcing defenders to play honest to prevent a feed in front.  The Rangers could not prevent that, though, as Nicklas Backstrom threaded a fine pass to the top of the Rangers’ crease where Johansson redirected it past Raanta to make it 2-1.

Just 1:02 later it was 3-1.  Justin Williams took a pass at the Ranger blue line and skated into the offensive zone.  He left the puck for Andre Burakovsky in the right wing circle, and Burakovsky kicked it out to Taylor Chorney.  From the top of the zone Chorney fired a wrist shot that hit Justin Williams on the way through and eluded Raanta to put the Rangers in a two-goal hole.

The Rangers got back within a goal late in the second period when Kreider scored his second of the game, picking up a loose puck between the hash marks, spinning, and wristing it past goalie Braden Holtby.

The Rangers would get no closer.  Justin Williams scored his second goal of the game less than five minutes into the third period to restore the Caps’ two-goal lead.  The Rangers’ J.T. Miller coughed up the puck on a ghastly turnover in his own end, throwing the puck from the wall at the players’ bench through the middle of the ice to no one in particular.  Andre Burakovsky collected the puck and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov skating into the left wing circle.  Kuznetsov passed it in front, and Williams redirected it past Raanta’s left pad at the 4:51 mark to make it 4-2.

Williams ended the scoring with an empty-net hat-trick goal with 1:51 left.  Settling a loose puck at the red line, Williams turned and fired, the puck sliding past the stick of Dan Boyle, off the toe of Derick Brassard, and into the net to give the Caps their final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- In the last eight periods of hockey between these teams, the Caps have outscored the Rangers, 15-5.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal made it nine straight games with a goal against the Rangers, 11 overall.  The odd part of that is…no assists in any of those nine games.

-- Just 14 seconds after Chris Kreider’s second goal for the Rangers, Braden Holtby took himself out of the game.  He was reported to be suffering from symptoms of dehydration.

-- With the hat trick, his first as a Capital and second of his career (October 16, 2006 with Carolina in a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay), Williams took over the number two spot in goal scoring for the Caps (16) behind Alex Ovechkin (27).

-- Andre Burakovsky had two assists…again.  That makes three games in his last four that he recorded two assists.

-- Depending on which official source you look at, Evgeny Kuznetsov had either two assists (on the league’s event summary for this game) or three in this game (on his player page).  If it was three, that makes two games in his last three that Kuznetsov had three points.  And, he tied Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead in helpers with 29.

-- With two power plays in four chances, the Caps bounced back after consecutive games without a power play goal.  They are 8-for-27 since January 1st (29.6 percent).

-- Philipp Grubauer came in to spell Braden Holtby late in the second period and played the final 32:18 of the game, stopping all 11 shots he faced.  In his last six appearances, three of which involved his replacing Holtby in-game, he stopped 126 of 132 shots, a .955 save percentage.  He did not get the win, but if hockey had “saves” as they do in baseball, he would have one for this game.

-- Anybody have Tom Wilson leading the team with six shot attempts (three on goal, two blocked, one miss)?  No, I didn’t either.

-- The Caps dominated the faceoff circle, winning 42 of 71 draws (59.2 percent).  Over their last four games the Caps have won 56.7 percent of their faceoffs (143-for-252).

In the end…

What can you say about this team at the moment?  Their top defensive pair out, missing a regular forward, their goalie going out mid-game in distress, and they still win going away.  Sure, that was Antti Raanta in net for the Rangers, not Henrik Lundqvist, but the Caps did not let up in facing the Rangers’ back-up.  For the 11th time in 45 games the Caps scored five or more goals (tied for first in the league); for the 29th time they allowed two or fewer (tops in the league).  In doing both they recorded their 14th win by three or more goals, tops in the league, and they are now 55-21-6 in their last 82 games.  You have to like the way this team is playing.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14

Week 14 might be described in terms of wine-tasting… a fine bouquet, full-bodied, impressive depth…but a disappointing finish…

Record: 2-1-0

Week 14 was the ninth consecutive winning week for the Caps and their 13th winning week overall for the season.  They finished the week with a league-leading 33 wins, three more than the Chicago Blackhawks (the Caps holding three games in hand), and 31 wins in regulation and overtime, two more than the Blackhawks.  With the two wins for the week coming on home ice, the Caps finished Week 14 with the league’s best record on a standings points-per-game basis (1.67), ahead of the Blackhawks (1.56) and the Dallas Stars (1.55).

When the Caps beat the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, in the middle game of the week, it extended Washington’s most recent winning streak to five games, the fourth time this season that the Caps have had a winning streak of five games or more.  The strange thing about the week, though, was the loss.  Of the Caps’ five losses since December 1st (three in regulation, two in extra time), four of them were suffered against teams that today would not be in the playoffs: Winnipeg (2-1 in overtime on December 5th), Carolina (4-2 on December 31st), Columbus (5-4 in a Gimmick on January 2nd), and Buffalo (4-1 on January 16th).

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 3.23 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Capitals faced two teams to start the week – Ottawa and Vancouver – who were in the bottom five in the league in shots on goal allowed per game.  Against a team like the Caps that has considerable depth on offense, that can be a problem.  It was for the Senators, who allowed seven goals to the Caps, and the Canucks, who allowed four goals to Washington.

Against the Sabres to end the week, the Caps just couldn’t find a way to get started.  They were out-attempted (8-6) and out-chanced (4-2) by Buffalo at 5-on-5 in the first period when they fell behind, 2-0.  It did not get any better in the second period in terms of attempts, but the Caps could not convert their scoring chance advantage (5-3, numbers from  By that time it was 4-0, Sabres, and the goose, as they say, was cooked.

The Caps got two-goal weeks from Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson.  Ovechkin scored his pair – his 500th and 501st career goals – in the win over Ottawa to start the week, and Kuznetsov got his pair in the win over Vancouver on Thursday.  Wilson had one against each of the Senators and Canucks.

Assists were something of an unexpected matter. Andre Burakovsky might contribute four assists over three games on a more regular basis when he has a few more years under his belt, but four in Week 14 he had, getting a pair in each of the games against Ottawa and Vancouver.  Jason Chimera also had a four-assist week, getting his second three-assist game of the season against Ottawa.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.14 /game; rank:1st)

It is nice to see consecutive weeks allowing 2.00 goals per game, but allowing two-thirds of the week’s goals to the league’s 27th-ranked offense made for some funky aftertaste to what was otherwise a good week.  What made it stranger was the fact that the Caps allowed the Sabres only 45 shot attempts (only 25 at 5-on-5) for the game in their 4-1 loss.  The 29 shots on goal allowed was the lowest of the three games, too.  The problem was in allowing Buffalo too many good looks at the net in the opportunities they had, recording 11 scoring chances to go with their 25 shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from 

It made for an odd week in terms of the underlying numbers.  The Buffalo loss was the difference between a good week overall, which it was, and a really good week.  As it was, the Caps had an overall Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 55.9 and a close score Corsi of 58.0.  Take away that Buffalo loss, and the numbers would have been 54.7 and 61.8, respectively.

At an individual level it was a bit odd, too.  Justin Williams (best Corsi-for and best Corsi-relative at 5-on-5 among the forwards, ten games minimum) had an uncharacteristic three-goals against on ice for the week, two at even strength.  Three other Caps were on-ice for three goals against for the week: Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Goaltending: 2.00 /.935 (season: 2.02 / .929 / 2 shutouts)

It is not common for Philipp Grubauer to get more minutes for a week than Braden Holtby, but such was the case in Week 14.  Grubauer had 93 minutes for the week, stopping 44 of the 46 shots he faced (1.29/.957).  Holtby finished the week with 87 minutes, stopping 42 of 46 shots (2.75/.913), and he was relieved after giving up three goals on 16 shots in 27 minutes of work.

Grubauer has pieced together an impressive body of work over the last month.  He does not get a lot of calls with Holtby at or near the top of the rankings in most goaltender statistics, but in his last five appearances he is 3-1-0 (one no-decision), 1.48, .950.

Holtby saw his incredible string of appearances without a regulation loss come to an end in the 4-1 loss at Buffalo on Saturday.  For the week he was 1-1-0.  In the 23-appearance stretch over which he was 20-0-2, he posted a 1.85 goals against average and a .939 save percentage with two shutouts.

Power Play: 2-for-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 25.4 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps slipped just a bit on the power play in Week 14, the first time since Week 9 that they did not finish a week at 25 percent or better.  The week started as if the Caps would continue that string, going 2-for-3 in the 71 win over Ottawa last Sunday.  Drawing blanks against Vancouver on two chances and again against Buffalo on four opportunities dropped them under 25 percent for the week.  The consecutive games without a power play goal was the first time that happened since Games 34-35 back on December 26-28 (the last of three straight without a power play goal).

It was a case of sometimes the shots just not going in.  Washington pummeled opposing goalies for 26 shots in just 15:46 of power play time (1.65 shots per minute).  And the shots came from the players they need to have getting them.  Alex Ovechkin had seven power play shots on goal to lead the club (one goal).  Justin Williams had four.  Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov split six shots from their perch on the right wing of the power play.  T.J. Oshie had a goal on the two shots he recorded.

The disappointment, in addition to the finish of the week, was yielding a shorthanded goal to Buffalo when a goal on that power play would have tied the game.  It was just the second shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps this season and jut the second scored by the Sabres, but it might have been the turning point that turned a potential perfect week into something that was not.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 84.8 percent; rank: 4th)

There have been some cracks in the armor of the Caps’ penalty kill lately.  After finishing the 2015 portion of the season with five straight games allowing no power play goals (15-for-15), the Caps are just 19-for-24 (79.2 percent) in the new year.  They started the year allowing power play goals in consecutive games, then ran off three in a row in which they did not.  They finished this week allowing power play goals in each of the last two games. 

It was not an especially efficient penalty kill, especially as the week wore on.  Washington allowed only seven shots on goal (no scores) in eight minutes of shorthanded ice time against Ottawa.  It was five shots (one goal) in 4:45 against Vancouver, and a whopping 15 shots (one goal) in 9:07 of shorthanded ice time against Buffalo.

Faceoffs: 101-for-181 / 55.8 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 14th)

The Caps had a good week overall and their specifics.  In that sense it resembles Week 13.  They were over 50 percent in all three games and in all three zones for the week.  Better still, they dominated in the ends, going 41-for-69 in the offensive zone (59.4 percent) and 30-for-54 in the defensive zone (55.6 percent). 

Evgeny Kuznetsov (26-for-37) and Marcus Johansson (11-for-17), two players you would not think to be dominant in the faceoff circle, combined to win 72.2 percent of their draws for the week.  Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie were especially successful in the offensive end, combining to go 17-for-24 (70.8 percent).  In the defensive end, it was Nicklas Backstrom going 10-for-15 (66.7 percent).  A bit of an odd week all around the circle.

Goals by Period:

Again, the Buffalo game bit into what was a week that looked very good, this time in goals by period.  Going into the game against the Sabres, the Caps held Ottawa and Vancouver without a first period goal, and they pounded them for a 5-1 advantage in the second period and a 4-1 advantage in the third.  Allowing two goals in each of the first and second periods spelled doom for the Caps in their effort to make it a perfect week.  As it is, they still hold a plus-10 or better goal differential in each of the three periods this season, the only club who can say that.

In the end…

Florida has a 12-game winning streak this season, yet they are 12 standings points behind the Capitals.  Chicago has a ten-game winning streak that is still alive, but they are five points behind the Caps, and Washington holds three games in hand.  The Caps do not have a double-digit game winning streak this season, but it is their ability to put together consistent stretches of fine play – four streaks of five wins or more – that has enabled to take and hold the top spot in the league standings.  In that sense, a 2-1-0 week is somewhat typical of the season to date.  Put another way, if they win two of every three games over the remainder of the season, they would finish with 120 standings points.  It would be a season that ages well with a good finish.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even, 15 SOG, 32 shot attempts, 500th and 501st career goals)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-2, 26-for-37 on faceoffs (70.3 percent))
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (1-0-0, 1.29, .957)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Rangers at Capitals, January 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home from their 4-1 loss in Buffalo on Saturday night to host the New York Rangers in a 5:00 match-up at Verizon Center.  The contest will kick off a ten-day stretch leading up to the All-Star break in which the Caps will face Metropolitan Division opponents four times in five contests.

Both the Caps and the Rangers will be skating the back-half of a back-to-back set of games, the Rangers having bested the Philadelphia Flyers in a Gimmick, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon.   It was one more in a pattern of alternating wins and losses (5-4-1) that goes back to the 7-3 loss the Caps pinned on them on December 20th at Madison Square Garden.  This will be their first visit to Washington this season.

Two of those losses over the Rangers’ past ten games came at the hands of the Caps.  In addition to the 7-3 loss on December 20th, the Caps took a lead, gave it up, tied the game in the dying seconds of regulation on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom, then grabbed a 4-3 win in overtime on what was Alex Ovechkin’s 499th career goal.

Since that game, the Rangers sandwiched a pair of wins – 2-1 over the Boston Bruins and the trick shot win over the Flyers yesterday – around a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.  Meanwhile, the Caps scored a pair of wins, beating the Ottawa Senators, 7-1, and the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, before dropping a decision to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

There isn’t a lot new since we wrote about the January 9th meeting of these teams… 
  • The Caps were first in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference then, and they are now.
  • The Rangers were second in the Metropolitan Division then, and they are now.
  • The Caps were second in the NHL in scoring offense then, and they are now.  They were second in scoring defense then, they are first now.
  • The Rangers were fourth in scoring offense then, they are fifth now.  They were 14th in scoring defense then, they are 14th now.
  • The Caps’ power play…second then, second now.  Penalty kil…sixth then, fourth now.
  • The Rangers’ power play…12th then, 14th now.  Penalty kill… 15th then, 20th now.

Here is where they stand going into this game…

1.  Mats Zuccarello leads the team in goals (16), but he is without one in his last six games.

2.  Rick Nash, he of the 42 goals last season, has just 12 on the season, and he is without one in his last six games, too.

3.  Derick Brassard has not scored a goal on the road in more than a month, since he had a pair in Edmonton against the Oilers in a 7-5 loss on December 11th.  He has three goals in 21 road games this season.

4.  Oscar Lindberg is tied for seventh in goal scoring among rookies this season (11).

5.  The Rangers, a team that has struggled most of the season in their possession numbers (47.4 percent in Corsi-for at 5-on-5/25th), has been decent in that regard over their last ten games.  Their overall Corsi-for (50.2), score adjusted (50.5), and close score (49.2; numbers from

1.  Nicklas Backstrom has four points (1-3-4) in his last two games against the Rangers.

2.  Alex Ovechkin has four goals against the Rangers this season, recording at least one in each of the three games at Madison Squarer Garden.  He has both game-winning goals in the Caps’ wins against the Blueshirts this season.

3.  Justin Williams was a minus-2 against the Sabres on Saturday night, the first time he was a minus-2 or worse since he recorded a minus-2 in a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on November 19th (26 games).

4.  Marcus Johansson scored the Caps’ only goal in the 4-1 loss to the Sabres on Saturday night.  He is 6-6-12 in his last 12 games.

5.  The Caps have had strange possession numbers against the Rangers in three games this season.  Their overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is 52.1 percent, but in close score situations it is 39.8 percent (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist might get this night off for the Rangers.  That might not be a bad thing for the visitors.   In three games against the Caps this season he is 1-1-1, 4.09, .876.  It is part of a larger uncharacteristic season for the 11-year veteran.  Among 39 goalies recording at least 1,000 minutes of ice time, Lundqvist ranks 23rd in goals against average (2.46) and 17th in save percentage (.921).  The season numbers are by no means bad, and he allowed two or fewer goals in four of his last five appearances.  Still, it has been less of a “King”-like season for Lundqvist.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby lost last night.  The last time we could say he lost a game in regulation, we had not yet celebrated Veterans Day, had not yet stuffed the turkey or put the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, had not yet wrapped the presents for Christmas, had not yet rung in the new year, and had not yet had a bowl of strawberry ice cream on National Strawberry Ice Cream Day.  The loss to the Sabres on Saturday night ended Holtby’s streak of games earning at least on standings point at 22 games (20-0-2).  Over those 23 appearances (one no-decision), he posted a 1.85 goals against average and a .939 save percentage with two shutouts.  There is another streak he can extend, though.  Holtby has not lost consecutive games over his last 48 appearances, going 37-7-3, 2.00, .930, with four shutouts over that span of games.  However, among the 21 teams he has faced this season, his save percentage of .869 in three games against the Rangers is his worst.

In the end…

It doesn’t happen often this season, just ten times through 44 games, but here we are again seeing if the Caps can keep from losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season (their lone instance of losing consecutive games included a loss in extra time).  The Caps have won 11 straight at home dating back to their 3-2 loss to Dallas on November 19th.  Eight of those victories were by multi-goal margins, five of them featured the Caps scoring five or more goals.  If the Rangers’ recent pattern of wins and losses holds, this will go into the loss column for the Blueshirts.  Sounds okay to us.

Capitals 5 – Rangers 2