Sunday, February 07, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Afternoon: Capitals 3 - Flyers 2

The Washington Capitals made it a “super” Super Bowl weekend by completing a sweep of back-to-back games, beating the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon.

Just as they did when the clubs met on the Verizon Center ice sheet on January 27th, the Caps spotted the Flyers the first goal.  Shayne Gostisbehere faked a shot from the right point and sent the puck across to Michael Del Zotto at the opposite point.  Del Zotto fired a shot that hit defenseman Matt Niskanen’s skate on the way through, bending the shot just enough to elude goalie Braden Holtby and give the Flyers a 1-0 lead with just 1:39 left in the first period.

That lead stood up well into the second period, but did not hold up to the end of the middle frame.  With less than five minutes to go in the second period the Caps tied the contest.  After a faceoff in the Flyer end, T.J. Oshie hounded Radko Gudas into sending the puck around the boards in a clearing attempt.  The puck made it only to Karl Alzner at the left point, who gathered up the puck and whipped it toward the Flyer net.  On the way through, Alex Ovechkin managed to get the blade of his stick on the puck and redirect it past goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-1 at the 15:56 mark.

Barely a minute later, the Caps had the lead.  Andre Burakovsky walked the puck up the wall in the Flyers’ zone and fed Dmitry Orlov in the middle of the ice.  Orlov stepped around Brayden Schenn, whose stick broke, and Nick Cousins tried to annoy Orlov from behind.  Orlov would have none of it, circling in and firing a shot that beat Mason to the stick side to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at 17:05 of the period.

It took the Flyers less than a minute of the third period to tie the game, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare winning a faceoff back to Nick Schultz at the left point.  Schultz fired the puck through a maze of bodies and beat Holtby on the glove side 51 seconds into the period.

The game-winner came on what Caps fans might call end-to-end magic by Matt Niskanen, what Flyers fans might describe as $#@%ed up defense.   Niskanen collected a loose puck and started up ice.  He made it all the way to the Flyers’ blue line where he darted between Jakub Voraceka and Wayne Simmonds.  Continuing forward, he worked his way between Gostisbehere and Del Zotto and found himself on the doorstep.  He flipped the puck under Mason’s left arm, and the Caps had a 3-2 lead at the 5:24 mark.

That left things in the capable hands of Braden Holtby, who slammed the door over the last 14 minutes, and the Caps had a 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps hit the 80-point mark in their 51st game.  Last season they did not get there until Game 65.  In fact, the earliest the Caps reached the 80-point mark before this season was in 2009-2010, when they hit the 80-point mark in Game 55 on their way to a 121-point season and the Presidents Trophy for the league’s best record.

-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist gave him points in seven straight games (6-3-9), although his goal-scoring streak ended at five games.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal, making him the third player in NHL history to record 30 or more goal in each of his first 11 seasons.   Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner are the others.  Ovechkin is the only one to do it with one franchise.

-- Dmitry Orlov’s goal gave him 19 points on the season, tying his career high set in his rookie season of 2011-2012.

-- Matt Niskanen’s goal was his first game-winning goal as a Capital.  He also led the team with seven shots on goal, a season high for him, set just five days after his previous season high, five shots on goal against the Florida Panthers.

-- Karl Alzner had his first two-assist game of the season.  It was his first two-assist game since he had a pair in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 16, 2014.

-- Odd fact…three centers did not have a shot attempt: Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Richards, and Michael Latta.

-- This was the third straight game in which Braden Holtby allowed two goals.  His save percentage over those three games (.929) is his season save percentage (.929).

-- The Caps went 0-for-2 on the power play, making it 0-for-17 over their last five games.

-- Washington was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, the first time this season they held an opponent without a power play goal when facing five or more shorthanded situations.

In the end…

The Capitals have opened up a 17-point lead on the rest of the Metropolitan Division with every other team having played as many or more games than the Caps.  They are now 7-0-2 in their last nine division games.  Now they face a different kind of test.  They go on the road to face three Central Division teams – the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars – teams that are a combined 47-24-6 on home ice.  This might be the Caps’ biggest test of the season coming up.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

Week 17 was a topsy-turvy week for the Washington Capitals, starting with an unpleasant loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers, followed up by a gritty win over the New York Islanders, and ending with a lose-a-lead-come-from-behind trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils.  It was a week that had just about everything.  Well, almost everything.

Record: 2-1-0

The Capitals returned to their weekly winning ways in Week 17 after a .500 record in Week 16.  They now have 15 winning weeks and two .500 weeks so far this season.  It was not an outcome won easily, though.  The week started with a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers that might some cause for concern.  After beating the Panthers in their first meeting of the season, a 2-1 overtime win in Florida, the Caps have lost both meetings since by a combined 9-3 margin.

The Caps followed up that defeat with a couple of come-from behind wins.  They spotted the New York Islanders the game’s first goal before overcoming the deficit in a 3-2 win.  Then, the Caps lost a 1-0 lead by allowing a pair of third period goals, tying the game late on Paul Carey’s first NHL goal.  The more skilled Caps then won in a trick shot competition, 3-2, their third win in the Gimmick in four tries this season.

Offense:  2.33/game (season: 3.26 /game; rank: 1st)

It was a light week for the league’s top scoring offense.  Who they faced in goal had a lot to do with that.  The Caps opened the week against a hot goalie in Florida’s Al Montoya, who was 5-1-0, 1.74, .933, in his previous eight appearances.  They ended the week against an all-star goalie in Cory Schneider.  In between they faced nemesis Jaroslav Halak.  In retrospect, a comparatively light week in goal scoring was not surprising.

The Caps were lied in goals by Andre Burakovsky, who had goals in each of the week’s three games to extend his goal-scoring streak to five games, a career high.  He was joined by Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3) with three-point weeks to lead the team. 

It was a week in which the Caps lacked for secondary scoring.  The top line had three goals, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Backstrom each recording one.  The second line had Burakovsky’s three goals.  The bottom six, however, could only contribute Carey’s game-tying goal in the contest in New Jersey for the week.  The defense did not contribute and goals and had single assists from only Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.24 /game; rank: 2nd)

The week might have been a lot worse but for the fact that the Caps did a good job in limiting shots on goal.  They allowed their three opponents just 69 shots on goal for the week (23.0 per game), the first time they held three consecutive opponents under 30 shots since Games 15-17 in mid-November.  In only one of the nine regulation periods for the week did the Caps allow a double-digit shot total (12 in the third period against the Islanders). 

An odd thing about the goals against on-ice for the Caps.  By the time the Panthers had a 3-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of the first game of the week, 13 different skaters were on ice for the Caps for the goals allowed, the maximum (the Panthers scored one of those goals on a 5-on-3 power play).  For the week, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt had a difficult time of it, being on ice for five goals against and four goals against, respectively.

The Caps had a pretty good week in terms of possession, although on an individual game basis it was more feast or famine.  Washington book-ended a 37.0 percent Corsi-for effort at 5-on-5 against the Islanders (their second-worst of the season) with a pair of 60-plus percent games (67.2 percent in the loss to Florida and 62.3 percent against the Devils to close the week).  Overall they were 53.5 percent to the good and finished the week 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.5 percent (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.61 /.882 (season: 2.12 / .926 / 2 shutouts)

Uneven is perhaps the best description of goaltending for the week overall.  Looking at it by goaltender, it was a good week for Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.92, .920), not so good for Philipp Grubauer.  Perhaps it was time after a string of fine performances by Grubauer that he would struggle, as hard as it is for a backup goaltender to get into any comfortable playing rhythm.  But struggle Grubauer did against the Panthers in the first game of the week, allowing four goals on 14 shots in two periods (18 shots faced for the game).

As for Holtby, the good overall mark could have been better had he been sharper in the third periods of games.  He was a combined 13-for-14 for the week in the first period (.929 save percentage), a perfect 14-for-14 in the second period, but just 17-for-20 in the third period (.850).

Power Play: 0-for-13 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.5 percent; rank: 1st)

What else does one call an 0-for-13 week than a bad one.  Thirteen opportunities with the man-advantage over three games is a luxury for the Caps these days (they rank 22nd in total power play opportunities), and to have taken the collar on the week is opportunity lost.  Part of the problem was timing.  The Caps enjoyed eight power play chances in against Florida in the first game of the week, a season high in opportunities.  However, they were missing their most potent power play goal-scoring weapon with Alex Ovechkin serving a suspension for missing the All-Star game.  He was on hand for the last two games of the week in which the Caps combined for five opportunities, but it did not make any difference in the end.

As it was, the Caps were not very efficient with their man advantage.  They managed just 11 shots on goal in 21:15 of power play time for the week (0.52 shots per minute).  None of those shots on goal were registered by Ovechkin.  John Carlson led the team with three power play shots on goal.  In a week in which there was almost everything for the Caps, a successful power play was not in the basket.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-8 / 62.5 percent (season: 83.5 percent; rank: 5th)

It was not a good week on the other side of special teams, either.  The 5-for-8 week extended a string of lackluster performance that have reached a combined 21-for-28 (75 percent) over their last eight games.  They have allowed at least one power play goal in six of those eight games.  Two of the power play goals against came against the Panthers in four chances, and the Caps tightened up a bit to kill three of four to end the week.  In that sense the week was another case of opportunity lost, holding opponents to under three chances a game over all and still allowing three goals.

Faceoffs: 86-for-176 / 48.9 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 16th)

The Caps did not have a bad week in the circle in Week 17 until you look at how the results fell out among the players.  The scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom (42.3 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (47.4 percent) – combined to go 40-for-90 on draws for the week (44.4 percent).  The centers taking most of the draws on the bottom six – Mike Richards (51.4 percent) and Zach Sill (52.9 percent) – combined to go 27-for-52 (51.9 percent).

Then there were the results by zone.  The Caps managed to go one-better than 50 percent in the neutral zone (31-for-61/50.8 percent), but did not reach that threshold in either of the ends, going 34-for-69 (49.3 percent) in the offensive zone and 21 for 46 (45.7 percent) in the defensive zone.  It was not a bad week, but the weakness (and the absence of the very proficient Jay Beagle) was felt in the end of overtime against the Devils when Evgeny Kuznetsov and Mike Richards lost consecutive draws to Adam Henrique in a span of six seconds in the last 15 seconds of the period that led to dangerous situations for the Caps.  T.J. Oshie finally put an end to that, winning a draw with Henrique with four seconds left to push the game to the Gimmick, where the Caps prevailed.

Goals by Period:

It is not often that the Caps fail to win a period for a week, but it happened in Week 17.  They were outscored in the first periods of games, 3-1, a product of that week-opening game against Florida in which they were outscored, 2-0.  They held their own in the other two periods overall and kep the Devils from securing an extra standings point in an overtime period, but the best that can be said for that is that they ground out a winning week in spite of it.

In the end…

It is a hallmark of a good team when they can grind out wins when things do not come easy.  Little came easy for the Caps in Week 17.  They were missing their top goal scorer in the first game of the week, couldn’t score a power play goal in more than a dozen chances for the week, and had to deal with an annoyingly suffocating defense against the Devils to close the week.  And, they were still missing their top faceoff player (Jay Beagle), a top pair defenseman (Brooks Orpik), and a solid contributor in the offensive end (Marcus Johansson).  Still, the Caps came out of the week with two wins in three tries.  They now seem to have their skating legs back under them, a good thing given that in the coming week they will play four games, a matinee at home against the Philadelphia Flyers followed by a three-game trip to Nashville, Minnesota, and Dallas.  It will be quite a test.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Andre Burakovsky (3-0-3, plus-1, 13 shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, 4-for-8 on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, even, 21:32 average ice time, 11-for-21 in offensive zone draws)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3, plus-1, 9 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Flyers at Capitals, February 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

No rest for the wicked, or more precisely, the filthy, as in the freestyle goal scorers in the Washington Capitals’s 3-2 Gimmick win over the New Jersey Devils yesterday.  T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin made sure the Caps had a happy Saturday, but now they return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Verizon Center.

The Caps dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Flyers on January 27th and will be looking for a measure of payback.  The Flyers come into Washington having played a Gimmick game of their own yesterday, dropping a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in Philadelphia.  The loss snapped a three-game winning streak that started with that win over the Caps 11 days ago.

In those four games, the Flyers outscored their opponents by a 16-10 margin, the 16-goal output being a bit unusual for a club ranked 25th in scoring offense (2.38 goals per game).  The Flyers are led in goal scoring over those four games by Wayne Simmonds (four), but he was hit with a match penalty in yesterday’s game against the Rangers for intent to injure Ryan McDonagh.  The match penalty means Simmonds is suspended until the Department of Player Safety issues a ruling on his actions on the ice.

That leaves Brayden Schenn as the top goal scorer over the last four games (three) who is likely to take the ice this afternoon.  Schenn has become something of a reliable half-point a game player for the Flyers, having hit or topped that threshold in each of the last four seasons, including this one.  He has been an even more productive player of late, going 4-3-7 over his last six games.  Schenn is 2-5-7, minus-3, in 17 career games against the Caps.

Shayne Gostisbehere has more than twice as many points from the blue line than any other Flyer defenseman, and he has done it in just 32 games.  He is also leading all rookie defensemen in goals (nine), assists (17), and points (26), despite playing in 20 fewer games (32) than the second-place rookie scorer among defensemen (St. Louis’ Colton Parayko: 6-13-19).  He is 1-5-6 in the Flyers’ last four games to lead their defense in scoring, including a pair of assists in the 4-3 win over the Caps on January 27th in his only career appearance against Washington.

Michal Neuvirth won that overtime decision over the Caps 11 days ago, and since Steve Mason got the call in yesterday’s loss to the Rangers, he might have been called upon again for this game.  However, he is out with a groin injury, and Anthony Stolarz was recalled from Lehigh Valley in the AHL to fill in.  He has not yet appeared in an NHL game. 

That might leave things up to Mason in the end.  He stopped 26 of 28 shots in the shootout loss yesterday.  He has been solid of late, going 4-2-2, 2.22, .932, with a shutout over his last eight appearances.  He is 7-4-2, 2.83, .904, with two shutouts in 14 career appearances against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1. The Flyers have allowed the second-highest number of shots per game in the league (32.4).

2.  No team has taken fewer leads into the first intermission than the Flyers.  They are 7-1-0 in those instances, but eight leads at the first intermission is far behind Toronto, with the second-fewest instances (12).

3.  Not that the Flyers do all that well when they score first, either.  Their .640 winning percentage in such games (16-6-3) ranks just 23rd in the league.

4.  If the Caps’ power play is going to get well, it might come at Philadelphia’s expense. The Flyers rank 24th in road penalty killing efficiency (78.5 percent).

5.  Philadelphia is not an especially good team on the road in terms of possession, but neither are they especially bad.  Their 49.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall ranks 12th in the league (numbers from

1.  Winter Storm Jonas seems to have swept the “power” out of the Caps’ power play.  Before the storm hit, the Caps had been on a 10-for-29 run over nine games (34.5 percent).  Since the storm, and the postponed games against Anaheim and Pittsburgh, the Caps are 0-for-15 in four contests.

2.  Penalty killing has not been a lot better lately.  The Caps allowed a power play goal to the New Jersey Devils yesterday, making it six games in their last eight in which they allowed at least one power play goal.  Their penalty kill over those eight games is 21-for-28 (75.0 percent).  Their special teams index over their last four games (power play efficiency plus penalty kill efficiency) is 69.2.

3.  The Caps come into this game as a top-ten team in goals scored in each of the three regulations periods, 43 in the first period (6th), 55 in the second period (55), and 62 in the third period (2nd).

4.  The Caps remain the only team in the league to have allowed 40 or fewer goals in each of the three regulation periods (36 in the first, 33 in the second, and 40 in the third).

5.  Your odd Corsi fact for the day… the Caps are 9-1-1 in the last 11 games in which they were below 50 percent in Corsi-for overall (numbers from  This is not likely a sustainable outcome.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Jakub Voracek

Jakub Voracek scored the game-winning overtime goal against the Caps on January 27th.  Starting with that game, Voracek is 2-6-8 to lead the Flyers in overall points during that span.  He has closed to within two points (8-34-42) of Claude Giroux (16-28-44) for the team lead in total scoring, and his 34 assists is tied for seventh in the league overall.  He comes into this game on a six-game points streak (3-8-11) and is 7-20-27 in his last 21 games.  He is 11-7-16, plus-7, in 23 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

When Andre Burakovsky nudged a loose puck past New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider in yesterday’s win, it was his fifth consecutive game with a goal.  Until this streak he had not had consecutive games with a goal in his young career.  It is not just his goal scoring that make him one of the hottest players in the league.  He has points in six straight games and in eight of his last nine contests (6-6-12), four multi-point games among them.  That stretch included a ten-shots on goal effort in the Caps’ 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers five days ago, a career high in shots.  He is 2-0-2, plus-1, in four career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

Both teams are coming off trick shot games yesterday.  The Caps have the advantage of having slept in their own beds last night and have some incentive to repay the Flyers for the overtime loss they suffered in the last week in January.  They will be facing a team that has been hot at the offensive end of the ice in recent games, and this could put a premium on the Caps finding a way out of their power play slump.  The Caps have been a particularly resilient team of late, though, fighting off power play issues and unimpressive possession numbers to chug along with a 4-1-1 record in their last six games.  Good teams find a way to get things done when some of the particulars aren’t going so well.  The Caps, through those speed bumps and potholes, have been a pretty good team.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 2