Thursday, May 05, 2016

Capitals vs. Penguins: Takeaways and Throwaways from Game 4

Game 4 was as disheartening a loss as Capitals Nation has endured in some time.  In fact, this series has been among the most confounding, discombobulating, frustrating series to unfold in recent franchise history.  One hopes that there is a big payback coming for all the years of grief and the last week of despair suffered by Capitals Nation.  But before that happens, there are some takeaways and throwaways from Game 4 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

  • You have to think that at some point, the shots will start going in, if only by chance or by hitting something to change direction.  Alex Ovechkin has 21 shots on goal in this series.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has 11.  Jason Chimera has eight.  Nicklas Backstrom has seven.  They have one goal among them in this series (Ovechkin).  They have to start finding the back of the net soon or even sooner…right?
  • The Caps are having one of the franchise’s best offensive performances by a defenseman in franchise history.  John Carlson scored his fourth goal of the postseason in Game 4.  He is just the third defenseman in franchise history to record at least four goals and at least 10 points in a single postseason (Carlson is 4-6-10).  Kevin Hatcher was 5-7-12 in 14 games in the 1988 playoffs, and Sergei Gonchar was 7-4-11 in 21 games in 21 games in the Caps’ march to the Stanley Cup final in 1998.  Carlson has done it in just ten games.  Let’s hope it isn’t being wasted.
  • Carlson had just two shots on goal in Game 4, but he now has 45 for the postseason overall.  That is more than any other skater – not just defenseman, but skater – overall, save one.  Alex Ovechkin has 50.
  • When pucks aren’t going in, you have to contribute in other ways.  Evgeny Kuznetsov (no points) won 12 of 18 faceoffs.  Mike Richards (no points) had six credited hits in nine minutes of ice time.  Dmitry Orlov (no points) had four credited hits.
  • Justin Williams might be having a somewhat disappointing series, but he’s not going down without a fight.  He had five shots on goal and seven shot attempts in Game 4 (both second on the club to Ovechkin).  He has eight shots on goal (one goal) in his last two games after posting just three shots on goal and no points in Games 1 and 2.

  • Jay Beagle scored a goal.  That was significant.  Why?  The Caps were 4-1 in postseason games when Jay Beagle scored a goal in his postseason career.  Yeah…
  • Jay Beagle’s goal was the first goal of the game.  That was significant.  Why?  The Caps were 38-4 this season when scoring first.  Uh-huh…
  • Washington won the Corsi battle at 5-on-5, finishing the game 52.8 percent to the good.  They are 59.6 percent for the two games in Pittsburgh (numbers from  Goal differential?...minus-1 in Game 4, mius-3 for the two games in Pittsburgh.  The Caps have a minus-5 goal differential at 5-on-5 over their last three games of this series, all losses.
  • The thinnest cracks have appeared in Braden Holtby’s performance over the last two games.  Not every goal is the goalie’s fault, but his save percentage of .892 in the last two games has to be better.  What has been missing is that game that a goalie “steals” for his club.  He has not yet had that in this series.
  • This is the ninth time in franchise history that the Caps have fallen behind by a 3-1 margin in games.  Their record in Games 5 of those series is 4-4, but their series record is 2-6.

In the end…

The t-shirt says “Entitled to Nothing.”  What the Caps are entitled to right now is an opportunity to win one game.  That’s all.  And it is not quite as hopeless as it sounds.  In fact, what comes to mind here is an offering by the character of Crash Davis in the movie, “Bull Durham”…

“You know what the difference is between hitting .250 and hitting.300? I got it figured out.  Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay? There's six months in a season, that's about 25 weeks -- you get one extra flare a week -- just one -- a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail -- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!”

Think about it.  Think about the game-winning goals in this series so far.  T.J. Oshie gets a puck to crawl across the goal line in overtime.  Eric Fehr redirects a pass off the post and in.  Carl Hagelin stuck his stick between the skates of Nate Schmidt to bump in a loose puck.  Patric Hornqvist got a gift from Mike Weber trying to do the right thing.  There are a fair number of “gorks” in there.  If the Caps can get a gork, a puck with eyes, a knuckleball that floats past Murray in Game 5 in Washington, it could turn the series, because it isn’t as if the Penguins are dominating play.  But the Caps have to make sure the effort is there to take advantage of those odd plays, just as the Pens have in the last three games.  Because if they don’t, the movie analogy won’t be “Bull Durham,” it will be “Groundhog Day.”

And you know where the setting for that film was.

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Washington Capitals Recap -- Capitals at Penguins, Game 4: Penguins 3 - Capitals 2 (OT)

The Washington Capitals were pushed to the brink of elimination by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, as the Pens skated off with a 3-2 overtime win to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

The Caps carried the momentum they had late in Game 3 into the early portion of this contest, as Jay Beagle scored in the game’s third minute to give the Caps the first lead. Tom Wilson sent the puck on a long cross-ice journey from the center red line into the corner to the right of goalie Matt Murray. Beagle was first to the puck and wasted no time throwing a backhand shot at the net that seemed to surprise Murray. The puck sailed over Murray’s right shoulder, behind his head, and off the far post into the net to make it 1-0 just 2:58 into the game.

The Penguins tied the game mid-way through the period on a shot by Trevor Daley off a pass from Patric Hornqvist that appeared to hit two Capitals on its way to the net and bounce past goalie Braden Holtby at the 9:16 mark.

Pittsburgh took their first lead early in the second period off a center ice faceoff. It was a strange play right from that draw as the players who started the play figured in how it ended. Matt Cullen won the draw from Nicklas Backstrom back to Brian Dumoulin, who tried to feed Tom Kuhnhackl at the left wing boards. The puck eluded Kuhnhackl and bounced off the side boards. The puck skittered into the Caps’ end, where Cullen had snuck behind Nicklas Backstrom. Cullen collected the puck, skated in, and beat Holtby between the pads to make it 2-1, 3:07 into the period.

Washington tied it late in the period when Justin Williams stole the puck from Derrick Pouliot in the corner to the right of Murray and circled into the faceoff circle. From there he fed the puck across to John Carlson who ripped a shot over Murray’s glove to tie the game at the 16:19 mark.

Murray and Holtby kept the nets empty in the third period, and the game went to overtime. In the extra frame, Trevor Daley did a good job to keep a sliding puck in the offensive zone and fed the puck to Conor Sheary at the left point. Sheary’s shot was muffled in front, and the puck was free in the slot. Mike Weber tried to sweep the puck to the side boards out of danger, but managed only to put the puck on the stick of Hornqvist. His shot beat a sliding Holtby between the legs, and the Penguins had the 3-2 win and a stranglehold on the series.

Other stuff…

-- Justin Williams had an assist, giving him points in consecutive games for the first time in the postseason.

-- Alex Ovechkin went 0-for-7 shooting in Game 4, making him 1-for-21 in this series (4.8 percent) in this series and 1-for-37 in his last seven postseason games (2.7 percent).

-- Every Capital was credited with a hit in this game, the team recording 41 in all, six by Mike Richards to lead the Caps.

-- Andre Burakovsky was the only forward without a shot on goal recorded. He has just six shots on goal in four games in this series and just 12 in ten games in the postseason.

-- Taylor Chorney recorded an assist on the goal by Jay Beagle, his first career playoff point.

-- Sidney Crosby recorded the second assist on the goal by Trevor Daley, his first point in this series.

-- Jay Beagle recorded his third goal of the postseason for the Caps. Only John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie have more (four apiece).

-- The loss was the first suffered by the Caps in the postseason when scoring first.  They were the 29th team to lose their first game when taking the first lead.  Only Detroit, who scored first in just one game of their opening round series, is without a loss when scoring first.

-- Should the Caps lose this series, a bright light will be shined on the power play as a reason.  Going 0-for-2 in this game and recording just one shot on goal against a depleted Penguin defense, the Caps are now 1-for-22 with the man advantage in their last seven games (4.5 percent).  Conversely, the penalty killing remains magnificent.  Shutting out the Pens on four opportunities, the Caps are 37-for-38 in the postseason (97.4 percent).

-- The Caps won the possession battle narrowly, out-attempting the Penguins at 5-on-5 by a 57-51 margin and dominating the third period by a 21-11 margin (scoring chances were 8-1 for the Caps in the third period, and high-danger scoring chances were 3-0; numbers from

In the end…

It seems that every bounce or signal moment in this series has favored the Penguins.  In this game it was Mike Weber, trying to do the right thing by sweeping the puck out of a high-danger area and putting it right on the tape of Patric Hornqvist’s stick.  It was a “pass” of which Sidney Crosby would have been proud.  But it should not have come to that.  The Caps were presented an opportunity on a platter with the Penguins’ best defenseman – Kris Letang – serving a one-game suspension.  And what did they do with it?  The first line – no points.  The second line – an assist on a goal by a defenseman.  Praises will be sung about the play of Penguin goalie Matt Murray, and he has played well, but the Caps really haven’t found that next level of performance in this series that would allow them to generate their own lucky bounces.  The Caps had better find that level soon, or the only plans that will be made for next week will involve tee times.