Sunday, February 28, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Afternoon: Blackhawks 3 - Capitals 2

In what might have been a preview of a playoff series in June, the Washington Capitals dropped a 3-2 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at United Center in Chicago.

The Capitals did do something in the first period they did not do in their previous three games – score a first period goal.  Marcus Johansson got the Caps going when he finished a play started by Nicklas Backstrom.  With the Caps on a power play, Justin Williams jumped on to the ice for T.J. Oshie and filled in down the middle in the offensive zone.  Backstrom spied him for a one timer that goalie Corey Crawford got a glove on, but the puck was not secured.  It popped into the air to Crawford’s left where Johansson, camped out at the post, swatted the puck out of mid-air and past Crawford to put the Caps up, 1-0, 6:13 into the game.

Chicago tied the game just 31 seconds later.  Williams tried to chip the puck out of the Caps’ end, but it made it only as far as the blue line where Trevor van Riemsdyk took control of it.  He slid a pass through to Patrick Kane behind the Caps defense, and Kane deked goalie Braden Holtby to the ice before sliding the puck behind him to make it a 1-1 game at the 6:44 mark.

The Blackhawks scored the only goal of the second period, courtesy of Jonathan Toews on a Chicago power play.  Chicago did a fine job of breaking down the Capitals’ defense in deep, working the puck deftly between the faceoff circles until it ended up on Toews’s stick low in the left wing faceoff circle.  He snapped a shot into the back of the net before Holtby could get across, and the Blackhawks led, 2-1, with just 1:45 left in the period.

Chicago added to their lead mid-way through the third period on a controversial play.  With the puck sliding deep into the Caps’ end, Nate Schmidt had a step on Richard Panik.  When the puck reached the end wall, an icing call seemed in orders, but the linesman kept his arm down, and play continued.  The Caps let up just enough, expecting the icing call, to let Dennis Rasmussen get to the front of the net.  Panik found him with a pass, and it was only for Rasmussen to snap the puck into the net past Holtby’s glove to make it 3-1, 12:47 into the period.

Washington got one back late in the period on a power play on a broken play.  Chicago won a faceoff to Crawford’s left, but a clearing attempt up the wall by Duncan Keith was blocked by Backstrom.  The puck caromed toward the net where Evgeny Kuznetsov was battling Brent Seabrook.  It was Seabrook getting his stick on the puck, redirecting it to the end wall, but it had enough force to rebound hard off the end wall.  It was a bit of good fortune for Kuznetsov who gained control of the puck and from below the goal line backhanded the puck off Crawford and in to make it 3-2 at the 16:39 mark.

The Caps put pressure on the Blackhawks immediately after the Kuznetsov goal, but Chicago clamped down an prevented the Caps from recording so much as a shot attempt in the last two minutes, holding on for the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps scored the first goal, breaking a string of seven straight games in which they allowed the first goal.  It was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when scoring the game’s first goal (28-2-0).  They still have the league’s best winning percentage in such games (.933).

-- It was just the eighth loss in regulation this season for the Caps when trailing after two periods, still the fewest such losses in the league (6-8-2).

-- Five power play opportunities was the most the Caps had in a loss since they had eight chances in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd (they did not score a goal).

-- This was the first game in which the Caps scored more than one power play goal since before the All-Star Game break when they went 2-for-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win.  They had gone 14 straight games without scoring more than one power play goal in a game.

-- This was the first game in which the Caps did not score a goal at 5-on-5 since December 10th in a 4-1 loss to Florida.  It broke a 33-game streak of scoring at least one goal at 5-on-5.

-- Mike Richards was the only Capital to win more than half of his faceoffs (6-for-10).  The rest of the club went 14-for-41 (34.1 percent).

-- Richards was the only Capital not to be credited with at least one hit.  The Caps had a 47-27 edge in that statistic.

-- This was the sixth time in his last nine appearances that Braden Holtby allowed three or more goals.  In those nine appearances he is 6-2-0 (on no-decision), 3.09, .893.

-- Marcus Johansson led the team in shot attempts (seven).  His four shots on goal was the most he had in a game since he had four in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Columbus on January 2nd.

-- The Caps fought the Blackhawks to a draw in 5-on-5 possession numbers overall, 39-39 in shot attempts.  It should not be considered an achievement.  The Caps held a 24-11 edge in the first period, a 17-6 edge in shots overall, and a 14-6 edge in scoring chances, yet were tied, 1-1, after 20 minutes (numbers from  It was a case of letting the home team off the hook.

In the end…

There were things in this game a Caps fan could dwell on – the inability to score at 5-on-5, the Chicago  top line having a more productive game than the Caps’ top line, the curious slump in which Braden Holtby finds himself.  But in a game as close as this, it came down to a play in which the Caps, as a team, assumed something that was not there – an icing call.  And, they got burned for it.  That is how close the margins are in the postseason.  Sure, it looked as if it was the wrong call, but if this was a legitimate preview of a potential Stanley Cup matchup, it is a lesson the Caps had better remember. 

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

Week 20 was equal parts normal and odd for the Washington Capitals.  The normal part was a winning week.  The odd part was that they couldn’t get out of their own way at the starts of games.  It made for a week that was successful, but a little more suspenseful than Caps Nation might have liked.

Record: 2-1-0

When the Caps finished Week 20 with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Caps wrapped up their 18th winning week in 20 tries.  Put another way, if you divide the Caps’ completed schedule to date into ten-game segments, they finished with their fourth eight-win segment in six.  In their other two segments they won six games (second segment) and seven games (fifth segment).  This is a remarkably consistent team through 60 games.

Their consistent high level of play, at least in terms of win-loss outcomes, left them with 94 points through Week 20.  That is just two short of the league record for standings points after 60 games, set by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens and tied by the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers.  With 45 wins, the Caps have two more wins than the Canadiens had in their big season after 60 games and four more than the Flyers had three seasons later.  They hold a 16-point lead over their closes pursuer in the Eastern Conference (Florida Panthers: 78 points).  When they won the Presidents Trophy in 2009-2010, their final margin was 18 points over the New Jersey Devils (121 to 103).

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.28 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps had a good and balanced week in the offensive end of the ice.  They scored three goals in each of the three games they played, bringing their total of games with three or more goals scored to 41, second most in the league.  No team has won more games than the Caps when scoring three or more goals (37).

The balance came with seven players sharing in the nine goals scored and 14 players posting points.  Week 20 had a Russian look to it with Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov leading the team in goals with two apiece.  For Ovechkin, the two goals left him with 40 at week’s end.  It was the eighth time Ovechkin hit the 40-goal mark in his 11-year career.  He became the tenth player in league history to score 40 or more goals in eight or more of his first 11 seasons.  With a five-goal lead on his closest pursuer in goals (Patrick Kane), he is in a position to win his fourth straight Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and his sixth overall. 

Orlov’s two goals allowed him to reach a more modest achievement.  Two goals gave him seven for the season, a total that more than doubles his previous career high (three in the 2011-2012 and the 2013-2014 seasons).  His goal against the Minnesota Wild in the 3-2 win to end the week was his third game-winner of the season, also a career best.

Ovechkin led the team in total points for the week (2-3-5), and Evgeny Kuznetsov tied for second (1-2-3) with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Orpik.  Two of those points, a goal and an assist, came in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes to start the week.  It was his 18th multi-point game of the season, tied for fourth most at the end of Week 20.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.30 /game; rank: 3rd)

The odd part of the week on defense was the Caps inability to win when scoring three or more goals.  The four goals allowed to Montreal in their 4-3 loss in the middle game of the week was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when they scored three or more (the other was against the Dallas Stars, also a 4-3 decision, on February 13th).

Part of the problem in that game against Montreal was the shot and shot attempt volume.  The 34 shots on goal allowed was the high for the week and one of two games in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots (they allowed 32 to Minnesota).  The shot attempt volumes rose through the week as well.  After holding the Arizona Coyotes to 40 shot attempts at five-on-five to open the week, the Caps allowed the Canadiens 49 shot attempts and then 57 shot attempts to Minnesota to end the week.  There was also the related matter of shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five.  The 64.4/60 allowed to Minnesota and the 64.2 allowed to Montreal were the 10th and 11th highest frequency of shot attempts at five-on-five per 60 minutes in 60 games this season and the fourth and fifth highest frequency at home (numbers from  In that respect it was not the best of weeks.

Four Caps were on ice for half or more of opponents’ goals for the week.  Justin Williams (five), Dmitry Orlov (four), Brooks Orpik (four) and Jason Chimera (four) were the victims.

Goaltending: 2.69 /.914 (season: 2.19 / .924 / 2 shutouts)

Braden Holtby was like “the little girl with the curl” in Week 20.  When he was good, he was very good – 25 saves on 27 shots against Arizona to start the week and 30 saves on 32 shots against Minnesota to end the week.  When he was bad, he wasn’t “horrid” as in the verse of Longfellow, but he was relieved, stopping just 15 of 18 shots in 21:54 of the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Canadiens.  For Holtby it is part of a longer series of games in which he has not been especially Vezina-like.  In the 2016 portion of the season he is 15-2-2 in 20 appearances, a fine win-loss record, but his goals against average is 2.78, and his save percentage is .907.  In that sense, his week was not a lot different than his 2016 to date, a 2.97 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.

Holtby was relieved in the middle game of the week by Philipp Grubauer, who performed well (15 saves on 16 shots) but had the misfortune of allowing the last goal in a 4-3 loss, a loss that was attached to his record.  Grubauer has been very effective in his role as a middle and late innings reliever this season.  In five appearances in which he logged fewer than 40 minutes (a total of 141 minutes), he has a goals against average of 0.85 and a save percentage of .965.  He has a 1-1-0 record in those games with three no-decisions.

The Caps’ goaltending by period of the week left them in a position of having to come from behind and/or trying to mount a late comeback.  The first period save percentage was a respectable .914, but it was three goals on 35 shots, too.  The second period was grim, a .852 save percentage ((four goals on 27 shots).  The third period save percentage of .968 (30-for-31) allowed the Caps to break a tie with Arizona after two periods and to come from behind to beat the Wild in the third period.  It stopped the bleeding long enough for the Caps to make things interesting against Montreal after falling behind, 4-1, through two periods.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 1st)

The Caps have not quite shaken off the slump that bedeviled their power play coming out of the All-Star Game break, but they are getting there.  If there was a problem, it was opportunities.  They did have four against Arizona in the first game of the week, but they dropped to three against the Canadiens and had just one (that they converted) against Minnesota in the last game of the week.

The Caps piled up the shots on goal in limited power play opportunities and ice time.  With 17 shots in 13:54 of ice time (1.22 shots per minute), the Caps did not lack for getting shots on goal.  They also got them from the players – or player – they rely on to get them.  Alex Ovechkin scored one power play goal on eight shots in 13:38 of ice time.  Six of those shots on goal came against Arizona in the first game of the week, though.  Justin Williams and John Carlson were the only other Caps to record more than one shot on goal on the man advantage (two apiece), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the other goal on the only power play shot he recorded for the week, that coming against the Coyotes.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 4th)

It was not a bad week, but neither was it a very good one.  The problem here, as with the power plays, was opportunities.  The Caps faced 12 shorthanded situations for the week, half of them against the Coyotes.  It was the sixth time this season that the Caps faced as many as six shorthanded situations.  It was the first time in those four instances that the Caps killed off all six opponent power plays.  It was the first time that the Caps were perfect in killing off six or more power plays since they went 7-for-7 in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 30, 2014.

There was also the matter of penalties taken early in games.  Of the 14 penalties for which the Caps were charged, eight of them came in the first periods of games, three against Arizona and Minnesota, and two against Montreal.

The penalty kill was an example of the difference between being efficient and being effective.  Washington was a very efficient penalty killing group in Week 20, allowing opponents just eight shots on goal in 20:34 of shorthanded ice time (0.39 shots per minute).  They were especially efficient against Arizona, allowing just three shots on goal in 10:30 of shorthanded ice time (0.29 shots per minute).  However, the Caps allowed two goals on just five shots in 10:04 of ice time in the last two games of the week.  That is an example of being ineffective.

Faceoffs: 95-for-197 / 48.2 percent (season: 49.6% / rank: 18th)

Faceoffs for Week 20 looked better than they were, and they did not look all that good.  The Caps did win one faceoff battle in one game, tied their opponent in another.  They were over 50 percent in the offensive zone (40-for-77) but below that number in the defensive zone (26-for-59).  Where they looked bad was in the players who took significant numbers of draws.  Five players took more than ten draws, three of them – Marcus Johansson (6-for-13), Evgeny Kuznetsov (24 for 49), and Mike Richards (20 for 51) were below 50 percent.  Only Nicklas Backstrom (29 for 55) and T.J. Oshie (11 for 17) were over 50 percent.

Goals by Period:

One number sticks out in Week 20 insofar as goals by period is concerned: “zero.”  The Caps did not record a first period goal in any of the three games.  It is part of a continuing issue with the club, an inability to put distance between themselves and opponents early in games.  Washington is tied for 17th in goals scored in the first periods of games this season (45, with Arizona).  It is in part why the Caps are just a plus-1 in first period goal differential through 20 weeks.

On the other hand, there are the third periods.  The Caps outscored opponents, 6-1, in the third periods of the three games this week.  That should surprise no one.  The Caps have a plus-32 goal differential in the third periods of games, greater than the total goal differential of the second place club in that statistic Florida and Los Angeles: plus-24, not including shootout goals).  The Caps remain the only club in the league to have allowed fewer than 50 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.

In the end…

As long as the league ranks teams in the standings by wins and losses, a 2-1-0 week will never be a bad one.  However, the Caps are sitting in a puddle of gasoline playing with matches in their inability to get off to good starts.  In none of the three games in Week 20 could it be said they had a good first period.  And, there is the bit of inconsistency that has seeped into Braden Holtby’s game in goal.  If not for superior efforts in the third periods of games, this week might have turned out in a much different fashion.  They got away with a winning week in which the performances were not always of a winning nature.  Consider it a warning, one that should be heeded as they embark on what might be their most difficult week of the regular season.  Five games in seven days, coming in the midst of the busiest week of the year in terms of player movement, will test their depth, their focus, and their resiliency.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2, 15 shots on goal, 29 shot attempts, points in all three games, reached 40 goals for eighth time in 11-year career)
  • Second Star: Brooks Orpik (1-2-3, plus-1, second multi-point game in four days, 11 hits, seven blocked shots)
  • Third Star: Andre Burakovsky (1-2-3, even, points in all three games, four blocked shots)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Blackhawks, February 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals kick off what might be their most difficult week of the regular season when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game.  It will be the first of five games the Caps will play in seven days in their busiest week of the season.

Compounding the matter for the Caps is that they, and the other 29 teams in the league, are in the final hours before the trading deadline, when rosters become a bit more uncertain.  The Caps have made just one trade as of this writing, adding defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2017 third round draft pick.  They also waived long-tenured forward Brooks Laich in what appears to be a salary-cap management move to provide some flexibility as the trading deadline nears.

Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champions have been busy in advance of the deadline. They traded forward Marko Dano and two draft picks to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Andrew Ladd and Matt Fraser, and defenseman Jay Harrison.  They also sent forward Phillip Danault and a second round draft pick in 2018 to the Montreal Canadiens for forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise.  And, they traded defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

Ladd is clearly the big-ticket item among the deals so far for the Blackhawks.  Ladd is neither new to the trading deadline, nor to the Blackhawks.  He was shipped to the Blackhawks by the Carolina Hurricanes for Tuomo Ruutu at the 2008 trading deadline.  In two-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, Ladd recorded 37 goals and 99 points in 184 games.  In his last season in Chicago – in 2009-2010 – he helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.  Now, after five-plus seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, he returns to Chicago.  He arrives on a bit of a hot streak with goals in each of his last three games, four in all.  His 17 goals in 59 games to date (0.29 goals/game) is right in line with his career goal scoring pace (0.27 goals/game).  Ladd is 14-18-32, plus-13, in 41 career games against the Capitals.

Twelve years ago on Saturday, the Capitals traded Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2004 first round draft pick (that would become Mike Green), a 2004 fourth round draft pick, and a prospect forward by the name of Tomas Fleischmann, a second round pick of the Wings in 2002.  Fleischmann went on to play 283 games over six seasons for the Caps before he was traded in November 2010 to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan.  From Colorado, Fleischmann went to Florida, then Anaheim, and this season to Montreal before arriving in Chicago, his sixth NHL club.  He had modest success with the Canadiens this season, recording ten goals and 20 points in 57 games.  He has not been especially productive lately, though, having just two goals and an assist in his last 23 games.  Fleischmann is 5-4-9, minus-4, in 19 career games against Washington.

One thing that does not seem to change for the Blackhawks is Corey Crawford in goal.  There is a temptation to think of Crawford as a beneficiary of a talented team in front of him.  He certainly has that, but he has not exactly been a passenger on the Stanley Cup journey’s either.  Over the last four seasons, including this one, Crawford is one of six goaltenders to appear in at least 100 games, post a save percentage of at least .920, and record a goals against average of 2.25 or lower.  That is a group that includes Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Cory Schneider, Carey Price, and Brian Elliott.  Not a bad group.  He has not been very effective lately, though.  Since shutting out the St. Louis Blues on 25 shots in a 2-0 win on January 24th, Crawford is 4-5-1, 3.10, .907 in ten appearances. In six career appearances against the Capitals, Crawford is 2-3-1, 3.52, .883.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  The Blackhawks are in a bit of a late-winter funk.  Over their last seven games they are 2-4-1, outscored by opponents by a 23-18 margin. 

2.  Half of the 16 goals scored by Chicago over their last five games have come on the power play.  Seven of them came over a pair of games.  They went 4-for-7 in a 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 15th, and they went 3-for-4 against the New York Rangers in a 5-3 win on February 17th.  They are 8-for-16 (50.0 percent) over their last five games.

3.  Good as the power play has been lately, the penalty kill has been ineffective.  The Blackhawks killed all six shorthanded situations they faced against the Dallas Stars on February 6th, but in seven games since, they are 11-for-19 (57.9 percent).

4.  Patrick Kane has not gone consecutive games without a point since he was blanked on December 22nd and 27th.  Since then he is 14-20-34 in 26 games.  Just to note, Kane was held without a point in his last game, a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.

5.  Chicago has been a good, but not especially impressive possession team.  They rank 13th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (50.9 percent) and 12th in score-adjusted Corsi (51.4 percent).  Their rankings at home are hardly different in overall Corsi-for overall (13th/52.1 percent), but their score-adjusted Corsi-for ranks eighth on home ice (52.2 percent; numbers from

1.  The Caps have not been a dominant power play team lately, but they seem to be shaking off the slump they had coming out of the All-Star Game break.  Over their last nine games they have power play goals in six of them and are 6-for-32 overall (18.8 percent).

2.  The Caps have played to five consecutive one-goal decisions (4-1-0), their longest streak of one-goal decisions this season.  Ten of the Caps’ last 12 games were settled by one goal, and the other two decisions – both of them two-goal victories – featured empty net goals for the final margin.  The Caps are 8-2-0 in those ten one-goal decisions.

3.  For a team with as gaudy a record as the Caps, it is a bit surprising that only ten teams have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times.  The Caps have won all 18 instances in which they led after one period, the only team to win all of their games when leading after 20 minutes.

4.  There is no team in the league with a wider spread between first period and third period goals scored than the Caps.  Washington has scored just 45 goals in the first periods of games this season (tied with Arizona for 17th in the league), 80 goals in the third period (first) for a plus-35 goal spread from first to last period.  Buffalo is second with a plus-26.

5.  There is one area that suggests the Caps need to spend some time buttoning things up.  In six of their last nine road games they have allowed more high-quality scoring chances than they have had.  They are minus-23 in high-quality scoring chances in those nine games overall (numbers from

The Peerless Players to Ponder

Chicago: Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin has made it a rout in the rookie scoring race.  He has a three-goal lead on Detroit’s Dylan Larkin (22 to 19), a ten-assist lead on Arizona’s Max Domi (35 to 25), and a 15-point lead on Domi (57 to 42).  He is tied for fourth among rookies in power play goals (5) and tied for second in power play points (15), no small achievement on a veteran team such as Chicago.  And, if anyone was thinking he might hit a rookie “wall” with respect to his performance over a long season, he has not yet reached that wall.  He is 6-6-12 in his last ten games, including a hat trick in the 5-3 win over the Rangers on February 17th.  Panarin has an assist in his only appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov is thought of as something of a high-risk (in his own end), high reward (in the offensive zone) player.  He has skill, but perhaps not the seasoning to use those skills as judiciously as a more veteran player might, resulting in taking chances that can be taken advantage of by opponents.  Nevertheless, among 181 league defensemen playing at least 500 5-on-5 minutes this season, Orlov ranks tenth overall in Corsi-for/relative (plus-5.47 percent, as per  As a third-pair defenseman he might not get a lot of exposure to opponents with top-end offensive statistics, but it is a respectable number nonetheless.  With John Carlson on injured reserve, maintaining and improving on that edge is going to be an important ingredient to the Caps’ success as they approach the postseason.  He has two assists and is a plus-2 in three career games against Chicago.

In the end…

The theme of this game is that it could be a preview of a Stanley Cup final.  The top road team in the league (Washington at 21-6-2) will do battle with the second-best home team (Chicago at 22-8-2).  Joel Quenneville, with 1,438 regular season games coached an 792 wins, will face Barry Trotz, with 1,338 games coached an 647 wins.  The league’s leading goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin with 40) will face the league-leading overall scorer (Patrick Kane with 84 points).  What the Caps bring to this game is recent success against the Blackhawks.  They have won the last four contests between the teams, outscoring the Blackhawks 14-5 in the process, and the Caps have wins in seven of their last nine games against Chicago.  Neither team can be said to be at the top of their game at the moment, but this should be a very entertaining affair, one that is not merely hyped as a possible Stanley Cup final preview, but a legitimate one.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 3