Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Kings at Capitals, November 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals follow up one of their longest off-ice stretches of the season – five days (matching a stretch they had in late October) – with their longest home stand of the season, starting with a contest against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.

The lull in the schedule came at what might seem an inopportune time for the Caps, who take a three-game winning streak into this game, all of them against difficult opponents (Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Toronto).  The last time the Caps had a five day break in the schedule, they went on their western Canada tour and lost two of three games.  Perhaps of relevance to this game, in the first game coming out of that five-game break, the Caps fell behind the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0, before the first intermission, eventually trailing by a 5-0 margin before going quietly in a 6-2 loss.

Washington will be looking to avoid a similar fate, and this might be the opponent against which they can do so.  When the Kings defeated the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, 4-1, at Little Caesars Arena, it was their first win on the road in regulation time since they defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 4-0, back on October 26th.  Since then, the Kings are 3-2-1 on the road, two of the wins coming in overtime.

Over those six road contests, Anze Kopitar leads the team in goals (six) and points (eight).  Kopitar is following up what was, for him, a disappointing 2016-2017 season (12-40-52, minus-10) by piling up points with a vengeance.  He has already tied his goal output of last year (12), and his 28 points is tied for ninth in the league through Tuesday’s games.  His 1.12 points per game pace so far would be, if carried through to the end of the season, his best in the NHL, surpassing the 81 points in 82 games (0.99) he had in the 2009-2010 season.  Kopitar has points in eight of 11 road contests this season and has three three-point games among them, recording two goals and an assist against the San Jose Sharks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and just this past Tuesday against Detroit.  In 14 career games against the Caps, Kopitar is 9-5-14, plus-3.

Since he came into the league in the 2008-2009 season, defenseman Drew Doughty is one of five blueliners to appear in 700 or more games (713), joining Keith Yandle (717), Brent Seabrook (715), Ryan Suter (708), and Shea Weber (700).  Over that same period, Doughty ranks eighth among defensemen in points (380), seventh in goals (96), sixth in assists (284), and second in total minutes played (18,692). He shows little sign of slowing down at the moment, posting points in six of his last seven games overall (1-6-7).  His durability is impressive.  The last time he skated less than 20 minutes in a game was April 3, 2014 in a game against the San Jose Sharks in which he skated just 5:21 in the first period before sustaining a bruised left shoulder that would keep him out of four games to end the regular season.  Those happen to be the only games he has missed since he missed five games of the 2011-2012 season.  Doughty is 1-4-5, plus-3, in 13 career games against the Caps.

Adrian Kempe leads the Kings in scoring among rookies.  The term rookie barely applies here.  As the astute NHL fan knows (and now we quote from the NHL guidelines),  “to be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie.”  Last season, his first in the NHL, Kempe appeared in 25 games, going 2-4-6, minus-3.  After struggling at the end of his first year stint last season (no points in his last 11 games), he came out strong this season to rank 12th among all rookies in points so far this season.  Kempe had a blazing stretch over a five-game period in late October when he went 6-3-9, including a hat-trick and four-point game against the Montreal Canadiens on October 18th.  He is one of three rookies with hat tricks this season (Alex DeBrincat and Brock Boeser being the others), and he is one of four rookies with a four-point game (DeBrincat, Boeser, and Mathew Barzal rounding out the quartet).  He had a goal in his only career appearance against the Caps to date, in a 4-2 Kings win on last March 11th.

1.  It might be a trivial thing (or a really, really random fact), but the Kings avoid penalties of a certain sort.  Outside of minor and major penalties this season (that is, including only misconducts, game misconducts, match, and bench penalties), the Kings have recorded only two infractions this season.  Only the Vegas Golden Knights have recorded fewer (a bench minor).

2.  The Kings won Stanley Cups playing a rugged, physical style.  It has not abated.  The Kings rank third in the league in credited hits (623), trailing only Arizona (646) and Edmonton (718).

3.  On the other hand, they have difficulty pilfering the puck, or at least getting credit for it.  Los Angeles ranks dead last in the league in takeaways (125).  That they have the seventh-most giveaways raises the issue of whether this is a team that turns over the puck too much without getting many in return.

4.  Los Angeles does a good job winning games when they score first (tied for eighth in winning percentage when they do), but they just do not do it often enough.  They have scored first in just nine of their 25 games.  Only Edmonton has scored first in fewer games (eight).

5.  The Kings do not have especially impressive possession numbers overall (14th in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5: 50.59 percent), but they are good in tight games, ranking fifth in both tied situations (53.83 percent) and close situations (52.85 percent; numbers from

1.  After going 1-3-0 in their first four home games, the Caps are 7-1-0 in their last eight home contests, outscoring opponents, 24-15, and holding four of their last six opponents to a single goal.

2.  In that 7-1-0 home stretch, the Caps’ special teams have hardly been impressive.  The power play (19.4 percent) and penalty kill (76.9 percent) have combined for a rather weak 96.3 special teams index.

3.  Only three teams in the league have more penalty minutes per game taken than the Caps (11:14), more penalties in total (117), and more minor penalties (103).

4.  Washington is fourth in the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.800), but they are another team that could do so more often, scoring first in just ten of 25 games so far this season.

5.  No team has fewer players with five or more goals scored than Washington, with four (Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana).  Six other teams also have four (Boston, Calgary, Dallas, Edmonton, Ottawa, and San Jose).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick looks like Jonathan Quick again.  After a 2017-2017 season limited to 17 games due to a groin injury, Quick has re-established himself as one of the best netminders in the league.  Among 36 goalies with at least 500 minutes (through Tuesday’s games), Quick ranked sixth in the league in goals against average (2.28) and save percentage (.929).  His two shutouts were topped only by Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Frederik Andersen with three apiece.  That save percentage number is, for the moment, Quick’s best since he posted a .929 save percentage (his career best) in 2011-2012, a year in which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run that season.  But his current .929 save percentage comes with some caveats.  His save percentage of .926 when the Kings are shorthanded ranks fifth among 36 goalies appearing in at least ten games.  However, his even strength save percentage of .926 ranks just 14th in that same group.  What he has been this season is consistent, whether at home (5-5-1, 2.27, .930, one shutout) or on the road (6-3-0, 2.29, .927, one shutout).  In nine career games against the Caps, Quick is 7-2-0, 2.39, .915.

Washington: Braden Holtby

“Home Warrior” would be a good nickname for Braden Holtby this season.  His .942 save percentage is third best in the league among 35 goalies with at least 250 minutes logged on home ice, just rounding error behind Ben Bishop and six percentage points behind Sergei Bobrovsky.  His 1.89 goals against average ranks fourth among that group on home ice.  It is what made the performance against the Calgary Flames, one in which he allowed four goals on 39 shots, so odd.  In 168 games on home ice since he came into the league, it was just the 21st time he allowed four or more goals. It seemed to be little more than a speed bump, though, as he returned to his customary home ice form in stopping 29 of 31 shots in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators before stopping 27 of 29 shots in a 4-2 win in Toronto over the Maple Leafs last Saturday.  Over the last four seasons, including this one, no goalie in the league has allowed two or fewer goals in more games than Holtby, and it’s not close.  He has done so 139 times in 220 games played.  Pekka Rinne has done it 122 times in 210 games.  Holtby is 1-1-1, 2.33, .920, with one shutout in three career appearances against Los Angeles.

In the end…

The Kings started hot, going 11-2-2 in their first 15 games, but they have been skating in mud lately, going 3-6-1 in their last ten contests.  Only twice in those ten contests did the Kings score more than two goals, both times recording wins (the other win was in a 2-1 Gimmick decision over Anaheim).  Only twice in that same stretch did the Kings allow four or more goals, which suggests this might be a low scoring affair, especially with the fine play of Quick and Holby in goal of late.  This might not be the best of signs for the Caps, though, who are 1-9-0 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals, and the win came in a trick shot competition against the Edmonton Oilers.  Think of this game as evening things out a bit.

Capitals 2 – Kings 1

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 8

Week 8 was not a perfect week for the Washington Capitals, but it was a good week.  A very good week.  Arguably their best week of the season.  Because as much as the how many, it was the how, and as much as the how, it was the who the wins were forged against.

Record: 3-1-0

The Caps had their fifth straight non-losing week (over which they are 10-6-0) and their winningest week of the season with three victories.  That they would have as successful a week as they did was surprising in the context of a season in which stringing together wins consistently has been a challenge.  Coming into Week 8, the four teams that the Caps would face had a combined record of 48-22-8.  When the Caps dropped their opener in the week to the Calgary Flames, 4-1, to end a five-game home winning streak, things looked bleak for a club hovering along the .500 mark for the season.  But righting the ship in their other two home games – wins over the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning – gave them seven wins in their last eight contests at home, outscoring teams by a 24-15 margin.  Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road at Air Canada Centre ended a three-game road losing streak.

It was a bit of an odd week in that it extended some patterns, good and bad.  When the Caps lost to the Flames to open the week, it was Washington’s third loss in their last four games against the Flames on home ice (1-1-2).  The win against Ottawa gave the Caps a 9-1-1 record against the Senators over their last 11 meetings overall.  The win against Tampa extended the Caps’ record to 13-1-3 in their last 17 meetings overall against the Lightning and 22-2-2 in their last 26 meetings in Washington. The Caps have not lost consecutive games to Tampa Bay on home ice since the 2006-2007 season.  And the win over Toronto to end the week brought the Caps’ record to 11-3-1 against the Maple Leafs in their last 15 meetings overall.

Offense: 3.25/game (season: 2.88/game, rank: 17th)

Scoring three or more games to end the week does not sound particularly impressive, but it marked the first time that the Caps scored three or more goals in three consecutive games since Games 13-15, and it was only the third time this season that they cobbled together three straight games with three or more goals (they have not had a four-game streak).

There was a significant personnel adjustment in Week 8, the pair of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin being reunited to open the second game of the week, that against the Senators.  The move bore early dividends with Backstrom starting a play late in his own end that would be the secondary assist in a goal by Ovechkin with 5.0 seconds left in the first period to give the Caps a 2-0 lead on their way to a 5-2 win.  Before the week was out, Backstrom assisted on four of the five goals scored by Ovechkin.

Ovechkin led the team and finished second in the league for the week in goals with five (Vegas’ William Karlsson had six), while Jakub Vrana had three for the Caps.  They were the multiple goal scorers in a week in which seven Caps shared in the goal scoring.  Ovechkin had three of his goals in the 4-2 win over Toronto to end the week, taking over the franchise record for hat tricks with 20 (Peter Bondra had 19).  The hat trick was his third of the season, tying his all-time best for a season, accomplished in two previous seasons (2007-2008 and 2008-2009).  Those 20 career hat tricks are more than any NHL’er has posted since the 1994-1995 lockout (Bondra: 17).

Fourteen different skaters recorded points, led by Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie with five apiece, all of Ovechkin’s coming on goals and all of Oshie’s on assists.  Seven different Capitals had multiple-point games, Oshie being the only one who had a pair.

Defense: 2.25/game (season: 3.00/game, rank: T-12th)

The Caps set another team best on the defensive side of the ledger.  In allowing only five goals over the last three games of the week, it marked the first time this season that Washington allowed opponents two or fewer goals in three consecutive games.  Through 25 games last season the Caps had already accomplished the feat three times.

A key was keeping shots on goal down.  After allowing 39 shots in the 4-1 loss to Calgary, the Caps allowed Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Toronto a total of just 86 shots (28.7 per game).  Not that was a particularly good week in terms of shots against.  Only the Anaheim Ducks allowed more shot attempts at 5-on-5 than did the Caps (287 to 199), and they did it in five games to four for the Caps.  Their shot attempt differential at fives was fourth-worst in the league (minus-29), as was their shot attempts-for percentage (46.07; all numbers from  Part of the result might have been due to score effects, the Caps over 50 percent in SAT%-close against Tampa Bay (53.57 percent) and Ottawa (54.29 percent), but using that to explain away a challenging week is a stretch.

One might say that no one Capital or group of them was exploited in an unusual fashion (except perhaps Brooks Orpik, who was on ice for six of the nine goals scored against the Caps for the week), but on the other hand, 17 skaters being on ice for at least one goal against spoke to a kind of sharing about which one does not get excited.

Goaltending: 2.28 / .928 (season: 2.87 / .910)

It was a good week overall.  Even the opening goal of the week was not quite awful, Braden Holtby having to face 39 shots, allowing four goals.  Holtby was better after that in facing a bit lighter workload, stopping 56 of 59 shots (.949 save percentage) in his last two appearances of the week. Those appearances bookended an appearance by Philipp Grubauer, who got the rare front end of a back-to-back set of games, and at home to boot.  It might have seemed a bit of a sacrificial offering, given that Grubauer, who had yet to win a game this season, would be going against the team with the best record in the league in the Tampa Bay Lightning.  And when the Lightning scored just 82 seconds into the game, it looked as if Grubauer’s troubles would continue.  However, Grubauer stopped the last 23 shots he faced, and the Caps rallied to a 3-1 win to give him his first win of the season.

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season: 20.7 percent, rank: 14th)

It was something of an average week for the Caps, although it was the third consecutive week of 20 percent or better in power play efficiency after a pair of weeks drawing blanks.  If there was a down side to finishing at 20 percent, it was having that efficiency achieved as a result of only ten opportunities in four games.  In that sense it was an odd week.  Even with the Caps enjoying only seven power play chances in three home games for the week, their 46 power play opportunities on home ice ended the week tied for eighth-most in the league.  That they were just one for seven in those chances was not unusual in the context of this season, the Caps’ 15.2 percent efficiency on home ice ending the week 24th in the league.

The Caps did not lack for shooting effort on their infrequent power plays. In 16:56 of power play time for the week, they recorded 20 shots on goal.  Even in just 48 seconds of power play time on their lone power play against Ottawa, one that ended in one of the two goals, they had three shots on goal.  Alex Ovechkin did not have one of those three shots on goal against the Senators, but he did have nine of the 20 shots for the week to lead the club.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12 / 75.0 percent (season: 77.3 percent, rank: 23rd)

It was another week in which if the Caps were not perfect, they were not good. Twice in eight weeks the Caps have been perfect in killing penalties.  In the other six weeks, including Week 8, the Caps did not reach the 80 percent kill level.  On another level, though, it was not such a bad week.  Three of the teams the Caps faced – Tampa Bay (1st), Toronto (10th), and Calgary (11th) finished the week among the top dozen teams in the league on the power play. 

They were burned as much by opportunities allowed against the Flames (five) as any technical shortcomings.  The flip side of that is that the Caps held the last three opponents for the week to a total of just seven power play chances and held the Maple Leafs to a single chance on their ice.

The Caps might have been better in allowing shots, but given the quality of power plays faced it was not a bad week.  In 19:53 of shorthanded ice time, the Capitals allowed three goals on 21 shots, and it was only against Calgary, against whom the Caps skated 8:42 shorthanded, that they allowed more than a shot per minute (11, on which two goals were scored).

Faceoffs: 125-for-232 / 53.9 percent (season: 51.7 percent, rank: 8th)

Overall, it was a good week for the Caps in the circle, not so much in the particulars.  Winning the offensive (55.0 percent) and defensive ends (56.9 percent) by wide margins and the week overall (53.9 percent) were positive developments, but the entire week boils down to an uncommonly dominant effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  In that 3-1 win over the Lightning, the Caps were 40-for-18 on draws (69.0 percent).  For the other three games they were just 85-for-174 (48.9 percent).

It was similar by zone, the Caps winning 11 of 15 in the offensive zone against Tampa Bay, but going just 22-for-45 in the other three games.  In the defensive end it was 18-for-23 against the Lightning, but just 36-for-72 in the other three contests.

Individually, Jay Beagle had the best week, finishing 31-for-49 (63.3 percent).  He was all but unbeatable in the defensive end against Tampa Bay, finishing the game 12-for-13.  The defensive end was an odd place for Beagle in Week 8, alternating games with a 50-plus win percentage (against Calgary and Tampa Bay) with less than 50 percent games (against Ottawa and Toronto).  Among the other Caps with at least ten draws taken, Nicklas Backstrom (51.4 percent), Lars Eller (56.0 percent), and T.J. Oshie (57.1 percent) finished over 50 percent, while Evgeny Kuznetsov (43.6 percent) was underwater for the week.

Goals by Period:

It was a week in which the Caps generally started well in games but finished sluggishly.  Washington scored first period goals in all four games and scored first in three of them.  They posted multiple-goal totals in two of the games, both of which ended in wins (Ottawa and Toronto).

At the other end, the Caps allowed five third period goals for the week, those coming over the course of three of the four games, two of them breaking a game open in favor of the Flames to open the week and another pair coming in the Toronto game to end the week that made what was a 3-0 game a lot more interesting than perhaps it should have been. 

The goal differential of minus-2 in the third periods of games in Week 8 might make things look better than they were.  All three third period goals scored by the Caps were of the empty net variety – Alex Chiasson against Ottawa, Jay Beagle against Tampa Bay, and Alex Ovechkin getting the hat trick against Toronto.

In the end…

The Caps finished Week 8 with a three-win week on a schedule that featured three teams eligible for the postseason at week’s end, wins over Tampa Bay and Toronto and a loss to Calgary.  That they swept all three games in a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, interrupted by the Thanksgiving holiday, says something about the team’s focus this week.

Finishing the week as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference is a good thing, made better because while they hold a three-point lead over the New York Rangers and a five-point lead over the Boston Bruins – the teams just under the playoff cutoff line – the Rangers hold two games in hand on the Caps, while the Bruins hold four games in hand.

Still, it was a very good week for the Caps, a nice holiday present for their fans and for one fan in particular, a week for which we might offer some thanks as the Caps get a few days off before starting a five-game home stand this Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-0-5, plus-3, 21 shots on goal, 31 shot attempts, 20th career hat trick (passed Peter Bondra to set team record), 7 hits)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (3-1-4, plus-3, 1 GWG, 10 shots on goal, 13 shot attempts, 62.50 shots attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (0-5-5, plus-2, 9 hits, 4 blocked shots)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 23: Capitals 5 - Senators 2

The Washington Capitals prepared an early Thanksgiving feast for their fans, disposing of the Ottawa Senators, 5-2, in a solid effort from 18 skaters and Braden Holtby in goal over 60 minutes in the sort of game that provides a look at how good this team might be.

First Period

An evenly fought first period broke the Capitals’ way late.  In the last five minutes of the frame, Washington scored twice.  Jakub Vrana got the Caps on the board when he camped out in front of the Ottawa net and waited patiently for a pinballing puck that came to him at the top of the crease off a shot from T.J. Oshie that Evgeny Kuznetsov followed up.  Vrana finished up the play, batting the loose puck past GOALE Craig Anderson’s left pad to make it 1-0, 15:21 into the period.

The Caps doubled their lead in the dying seconds of the period when Alex Ovechkin got behind the Senators’ defense to roof a shot over the blocker of Anderson, off the crossbar, and in with 5.0 seconds left in the period to make it 2-0 heading into the first intermission.

The teams finished the period with 11 shots apiece, the Caps enjoying a 24-17 edge in shot attempts.

Second Period

The Caps doubled their lead with a pair of goals 2:14 apart early in the second period.  The first came on a power play when T.J. Oshie backhanded a loose puck from the slot to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the right wing circle.  With time a space to pick his spot, Kuznetsov wristed the puck hard to the blocker side and past Anderson at the 7:41 mark to make it a 3-0 game.

Dmitry Orlov started the next scoring play with a deft backhand pass to Kuznetsov circling up ice from his own zone. Kuznetsov skated the puck into the Ottawa zone and fed it to Jakub Vrana on his left.  Vrana stepped up and snapped a shot that seemed to surprise Anderson and surprised the rest of the crowd in Capital One Arena when it snuck under the crossbar and wedged under the water bottle in the top of the cage to make it 4-0, 9:55 into the period.

Ottawa got on the board late in the period when Ryan Dzingel found some empty space between the hash marks, took a pass from Alex Burrows, and beat Braden Holtby to break the shutout at the 16:37 mark.

Ottawa had an 11-6 edge in shots and a 23-13 margin in shot attempts.

Third Period

The Caps were happy, it seemed, to play back and forth with the Senators over the first half of the period, but Ottawa narrowed the lead with under eight minutes left.  Mark Stone banked the puck off the skirt of the net to Holtby’s left, and Mike Hoffman converted the opportunity by snapping the puck past Holtby at the 12:46 mark to make it 4-2.

Ottawa could get no closer, though.  Alex Chaisson got his third goal of the season late, banking a shot off the side boards from his own zone and into an empty net to give the Caps their final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov went 1-2-3 for his 13th three-point game in his career, fifth-most since for the club since the 2004-2005 lockout.

-- T.J. Oshie had a pair of assists for his 33rd multi-point game as a Capital, tenth since that same lockout year.

-- Jakub Vrana had his first two-goal game as a Capital. He also led the team in shots on goal with five.

-- Alex Chiasson had his first two-point game (1-1-2) as a Capital and his first since he had a goal and an assist with the Calgary Flames in a 5-2 win over San Jose last March 31st.

-- The five goals scored by the Caps was the first time they scored five or more on home ice since their home opener, a 6-1 win over Montreal on October 7th.

-- Matt Niskanen had the fours going in this game…four shot attempts (all blocked), four hits, and four giveaways.

-- Lars Eller owned the circle tonight, winning 10 of 12 draws.

-- For the seventh time in ten appearances on home ice, Braden Holtby held an opponent to two or fewer goals.  He is now 7-3-0, 1.89, .942 at Capital One Arena.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was his 572nd of his career, drawing him to within a goal of Mike Bossy for 21st all-time.

-- T.J. Oshie skated a season low 13:17 in this game.

In the end…

A good win, a solid win.  Especially against a team that seems to pride itself on frustrating opponents.  Getting a lead against such a team is important, and the Caps checked that box.  Just as important, they did not sit back and rest on an early lead.  It was an important symbolic win, as the Caps reached the Thanksgiving break in a playoff spot (second wild card, a tie-breaker behind Pittsburgh).  Teams outside that mix on the holiday historically have a tough time elbowing their way into the playoff mix.  But with almost three-fourths of the season left, there is much work left to do.  The job now is to put efforts like this together over longer stretches of games, starting with Tampa Bay on Friday.

And with that, we are off for a few days.  See you on the weekend.

When the Dark Clouds Won't Go Away

Competition is at the core of sport.  Whether against an opponent at an individual or a team level, or with oneself to be better than you were yesterday, competition is the engine that drives sport.  Hockey is no exception in that sense, but it is in another, perhaps perverse sense.  Hockey tolerates behavior that would otherwise, outside the arena of competition, be considered inappropriate at best and criminal at worst – fighting.  Oh sure, the rules provide penalties, and there is even a “code” attached to it, but fighting is part of what seems to make hockey, “hockey,” in the minds of fans and the history of the sport.

For those who practice it, fighting in hockey is the hardest, most thankless, most unforgiving job in sports.  Need an example?  The New York Times published a story on Tuesday that chronicled the experience of Walter Peat and his son, Stephen, who played with the Washington Capitals for four seasons a decade ago.  It is a difficult story to read

For those who did not see Peat in action with the Capitals, he came to the club by way of a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in June 2000.  After missing most of the next season with a groin injury, he debuted with the Caps in the 2001-2002 season and became a fan favorite in short order for his willingness to drop the gloves.  In his first game with the Caps, on October 8, 2001, against the Boston Bruins, he was in two fights, the latter of them a harbinger of things to come.  At the end of that contest, a 4-0 shutout for the Bruins, Peat and P.J. Stock went at it.  It would not be their last meeting.

On January 5th of that same season, Peat and Stock went at it again.  The fight was remarkable for its ferocity, but also for the commentary.  As the ESPN feed put it at the time, “This is one of the best hockey fights we have seen in a long time…punch after punch.  You’ve to be able to take one to give one, and they are…”  

Peat certainly took them to give them.  In 423 regular season and playoff games from 1996-1997 through 2006-2007, from junior hockey through the NHL, Peat was in 88 fights in 423 games (numbers from and  Whether Peat’s troubles since leaving the game are the product of this physical trauma or not, it is a painful, even cruel way to make one’s way in one’s profession, one that has potentially catastrophic consequences.

Stephen Peat is but the latest example of the toll that playing the role of enforcer takes on one’s life after the skates are hung up for good.  Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert, and Steve Montador are some of the noteworthy examples of the price a player might pay.  Ken Dryden has an excellent book on Montador (from which the title of this blog entry is taken) that is well worth the investment to read. 

While fighting has diminished as a feature of NHL games over the years, the specific role of an “enforcer” becoming uncommon these days, it does remain a part of the sport with its cadre of fans and supporters. One looks at the practitioners of the art today (for instance, Tom Wilson, with 78 fights in 523 games from the same sources cited above) and wonder what waits in store for them.  Here is hoping Stephen and Walter Peat find the help they need (fans can help here) and the peace they deserve, and that those players still skating today and their families never experience that same torment.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Senators at Capitals, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hit the ice for the third of their four-game home stand when they host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps will be looking to prevent suffering consecutive losses on home ice since they endured a three-game home ice losing streak in mid-October.

The Senators will come to Washington looking for a measure of revenge after the Caps defeated them in Ottawa on Opening Night, 5-4, in the trick shot competition. This will be just the third road game for Ottawa this month and seventh of the season. The road has been a welcoming place for the Senators, who enter this game with a record of 4-1-1 outside of Canada’s capital.

Mark Stone has found the road an especially hospitable place, leading the Senators in goals (four, tied with Mike Hoffman) and points (eight), with a team-leading plus-6 (tied with Derick Brassard). Now in his sixth year with the Senators and fourth full-time season, Stone has become a very consistent goal scorer for the Sens. In his three full seasons preceding this one, Stone recorded 26, 23, and 22 goals. He also displayed an ability to contribute at both ends of the ice, having earned votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in each of the last three seasons, finishing sixth in the voting last year. He is threatening to demolish his career-best in goal scoring, having posted 13 goals in 19 game so far overall, tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for third in the league. Only six of 443 skaters to record at least 20 shots on goal this season have a better shooting percentage than Stone (25.0). He is 3-1-4, plus-4, in ten career games against the Caps.

Erik Karlsson is the gold standard among NHL defensemen in this era. Over the previous six seasons he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defensemen twice, was a finalist on two other occasions and was in the top-ten in voting five times. Even when he appeared in just 17 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season he finished 18th in Norris voting. This season started slowly for Karlsson, missing the first five games due to an injury that he sustained at the end of the 2016-2017 season, two torn tendons in his foot. It took him a while to get into the lineup, but he hit the ice at full speed. His 17 points (1-16-17) is tied for third in the league in scoring among defensemen, despite his having played at least six fewer games than the six defensemen ahead of him or with whom he is tied. If there is an odd quality about his statistical profile this season it is in his ice time. Eight times this season he logged more than 25 minutes, but Ottawa has a record of just 1-3-4 in those games. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 24 career games against Washington.

1..Ottawa opened the season with three straight trips to the freestyle competition and lead the league with five shootout appearances. They are 1-4 in those games.

2.  The Senators deploy rookies in odd ways. Eight rookies have dressed for Ottawa so far this season but have appeared in a combined 21 games (none more than four). By way of comparison, Jakub Vrana has appeared in that many games for the Caps as a rookie by himself.

3.  Ottawa does not beat themselves in one respect. Their 62 minor penalties taken is third-fewest in the league, more than only Columbus (54) and Carolina (48). It means they have been shorthanded just 55 times this season, more than only the Blue Jackets (54) and the Hurricanes (47).

4.  If you can hang close, the Senators can be caught, or at least scored upon late. Montreal is the only team in the Eastern Conference to have allowed more third period goals (26) than Ottawa (25). Oddly enough, the Senators have not lost a game in regulation in which they led at the second intermission, although they do have three extra time losses in those games, tied with Buffalo for most in the league.

5.  One might think the Senators spend a lot of the post-game icing down and in the whirlpool. They are tied for second in the league in blocked shots (319, with Arizona).

1.  How is it that the Caps’ two top scorers for the month of November are “minus” players? John Carlson (2-8-10) is a minus-4, while Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-6-8) is a minus-2. They also happened to be tied for the team lead in power play points for the month (six apiece).

2.  Tom Wilson, who averaged 155 minutes in penalties per season over his first four years, is on a pace to finish this season with a career high 238 minutes.  He is also on a pace to finish with nine goals, which would be a career high.

3.  All eight defensemen to dress for the Caps this season have points, and five of them have at least one goal. All 14 forwards to have dressed for at least five games have at least one goal.

4.  This could be a high-scoring game late. The Caps are tied with Ottawa in allowing the sixth-highest total of third period goals in the league this season (25).

5.  Only Buffalo has lost more games when outshot by opponents (ten times, once in extra time) than the Capitals (nine times, once in extra time).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Craig Anderson

There have been 33 goalies to dress for the Ottawa Senators over their franchise’s history. None have done so more times than Craig Anderson (308 games). He is the all-time franchise leader in wins (158), losses (104), and losses in extra time (37). His .919 career save percentage is second among the 13 goalies in franchise history appearing in at least 50 games (Andrew Hammond: .923 in 55 games). Only Patrick Lalime has more shutouts for the Senators (30) than Anderson (25). Now in his 15th NHL season, Anderson has had a roller coaster of a year so far. It breaks down loosely into three parts. In the first, covering his first four appearances, Anderson was 2-0-2, 1.65, .937, with a shutout. He followed that up with a seven-game stretch in which he was 3-3-1, 4.07, .874. He since recovered, going 2-2-0, 2.01, .914 in his last four contests. What does seem to matter is shots faced. In nine games in which he played the entire contest and faced 30 or fewer shots, Anderson is 4-3-2, 1.97, .923, with one shutout. However, in four games playing the entire contest and facing more than 30 shots, he is 2-1-1, 4.28, .887. OK, small population size. In 20 career games against the Caps, Anderson is 11-7-2, 2.39, .922, with two shutouts.

Washington: Devante Smith-Pelly

Devante Smith-Pelly has had the sort of season – his first in Washington – that fans might have expected. He gets modest ice time as generally a bottom-six forward (13:10 per game), he plays with some edge (32 credited hits, sixth on the club), kills penalties (1:28 in shorthanded ice time per game), and makes the physical sacrifices the team needs from that position (22 blocked shots, most among forwards). But he also has had some time on the top line, a reflection of the very unsettled and inconsistent nature of the Caps lineup these days, where continuity has given way to trying to find chemistry among the lines to allow the Caps to sustain some level of success. He has been shooting in a bit of bad luck, compared to his career numbers. His two goals on 36 shots on goal is, so far, his worst career shooting percentage for a season (5.6 percent). While being a 20-goal scorer is not a requirement of his position, it would be nice for him and for the Caps to see that number tick up a bit. That might be a problem in this game, however. The Senators are one of three teams in the league against which Smith-Pelly does not have a career point (0-0-0, minus-3, in seven career games).

In the end…

We keep pounding on this point, but the Caps really need to stockpile wins and points in this home-weighted portion of the schedule. They currently occupy the second wild-card spot in the standings (pending Tuesday’s results), but there are three teams within a point of them, and all of them have games in hand: Carolina (three games), the New York Rangers (one game), and their opponent in this game, the Ottawa Senators (three games). No team in the East has completed more of their season schedule than the Caps, and at some point, the wasted opportunities to put distance between themselves and the also-rans could come back to haunt them and turn them into one of those very also-rans. The Senators are one of six teams in the league to have scored and allowed more than three goals per game, so for the Caps there is the opportunity of getting untracked offensively, but by the same token, the Senators have the ability to make the Caps pay for mistakes and too many trips to the penalty box, as Calgary did on Monday.

Capitals 4 – Senators 3

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 22: Flames 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals started fast, and maybe a bit too easily against the Calgary Flames last night at Capital One Arena.  But after scoring the game’s first goal just 62 seconds into the contest, the Flames slowly, deliberately, and relentlessly took over the game and dealt the Caps a 4-1 defeat.

First Period

It took the Caps precisely 62 seconds to grab a lead. Jakub Vrana showed that slick hand capable of sniping the puck aren’t his only gift. He used speed to beat Travis Hamonic to a puck sliding deep in the Flames’ end, circled around the net, and threw a pass into the slot where Lars Eller was filling in. Eller buried the puck over the blocker of goalie Mike Smith, and the Caps were off and running.

Calgary evened things up less than four minutes later when Johnny Gaudreau took a pass from Sean Monahan just outside the Caps’ blue line, worked his way to the right wing circle, and snapped a shot to the long side past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby.

That would do it for the scoring, the Flames going 0-for-2 on the power play in the period, and the Caps drawing a blank on their lone chance. Washington had a 12-11 edge in shots, while Calgary had 24 shot attempts to the Caps’ 19.

Second Period

The third time was the charm for the Flames’ power play. With Lars Eller in the box for a hooking penalty, the Caps almost killed off the shorthanded situation. But late in the power play, Gaudreau had the puck at the side of the net to Holtby’s right. His shot was muffled by Holtby, but the goalie could not find it in his pads. The puck slid to Monahan, who roofed it to give Calgary a 2-1 lead 5:22 into the period.

That would do it for the scoring, and the Caps got off easy. Calgary outshot the Caps, 13-6, and they out-attempted them, 27-13.

Third Period

Calgary ended the competitive portion of the contest in short order, in a two-minute span early in the third period.  Mikael Backlund gave the Flames a two-goal lead on another power play goal 4:38 into the period, finishing up a flurry in which Calgary got several uncontested shots at Holtby from below and inside the faceoff dots. 

Mark Giordano finished things off for the visitors 2:01 later, whipping a shot at the Caps net through a maze of bodies, off the post to Holtby’s left and into the net leaving the clock to run out silently on a 4-1 loss that snapped the Caps’ five-game home winning streak.

Other stuff…

-- The score was no mirage in terms of the Flames’ dominance.  Calgary out-shot the Caps, 39-30, and they out-attempted them, 69-54.

-- Washington went 0-for-3 on the power play against the league’s worst penalty killing team, coming up empty on six shots in six minutes of power play time.  Calgary ended a five-game streak of their own in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

-- Alex Ovechkin continues to be snake-bit on the man advantage.  He was 0-for-3 shooting and extended his streak of games without a power play goal to seven, and he has just one power play goal in his last 14 games.

-- It’s one thing for Alex Ovechkin to lead the team in shots (he did, with five), but Alex Chiasson being second (four) was a surprise.

-- Nicklas Backstrom also had four shots on goal, none of which found the back of the net.  He is now without a goal in 15 games, over which he is 0-for-32 shooting.

-- T.J. Oshie didn’t have a point, but four hits, two blocked shots, and winning four of seven faceoffs was evidence of effort in other areas.

-- Tom Wilson skated a season high 18:05, including a team high 3:44 in shorthanded ice time among forwards, and contributed an assist.

-- The four goals allowed by the Caps tied a season high in goals allowed on home ice (a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on October 21st) and was more goals allowed than in their last three home games combined (three).

-- The four goals allowed was a season worst for Braden Holtby on home ice.  Before last night, Holtby was 6-2-0, 1.61, .949 at Capital One Arena.

-- Jakub Vrana had a great first shift, using speed to get position and finding Lars Eller for the Caps’ lone goal.  After that, 15 shifts and 10:40 in ice time.  It seemed odd.

In the end…

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week, and the Caps might just be who we thought they were.  Certainly, they are not the team of the past two seasons, nor are they jaw-droppingly awful.  As this game, juxtaposed with the fine win over Minnesota in their previous game, illustrates, it is an inconsistent team that lacks depth and skill, at least compared to those last two editions that won Presidents Trophies.  At this point, it seems as if this is a club that will bounce on the edge of playoff eligibility all season.  They do not seem to have the sort of depth and consistency to get the sorts of contributions from up and down the roster that would fuel long winning streaks, but they have enough skill and goaltending to avoid long losing streaks.  As this game drove home the point, it is going to be a bumpy last 60 games for the Caps. Strap in, Caps fans.  Turbulence ahead.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 22: Flames at Capitals, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will skate the second game of their four-game home stand on Monday night when the Calgary Flames visit Capital One Arena.  For the Caps, it is a chance to extend their home winning streak to six games.  The Flames will be looking to build on a road win against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday that evened their record on their current six-game road trip at 1-1.

Calgary has been rather leaky of defense as of late, allowing four or more goals in five of their last six games overall and averaging 4.67 goals allowed overall in that span.  And that means the goalies have been shelled.  It has been especially difficult for Mike Smith, who in five appearances over that span does have three wins in four decisions, but has a goals against average of 4.09 and a save percentage of .872.  It is quite a turnaround for Smith, who over his first 12 appearances this season had a goals against average of 2.19 and a save percentage of .936.  As it is, his .919 save percentage overall is still his best since he was .930 for the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 2011-2012 and is his second best career mark in his 12-year career.  Smith has been an effective performer on the road this season, going 5-1-0, 2.13, .943 in six appearances.  In 13 career appearances against the Caps, he is 3-8-1, 3.42, .889.

As leaky as the Flames’ defense has been in their last six games, their offense has been productive, recording 27 goals in those six games (4.50 per game).  Johnny Gaudreau leads the Flames in goals (6) and points (13) over that six-game span. In fact, he leads the league in points over that span. Gaudreau might be one of the most prolific fourth round draft picks in the recent history of the league.  He certainly has been since he played his first NHL game in the 2013-2014 season.  Since then, no fourth round draft pick has more points than does Gaudreau (233).  And despite being a fourth-round pick in 2011,m he is sixth in his draft class in points and tied for eighth in goals (82, with Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier).  He brings a nine-game points streak into this contest (7-10-17, plus-5).  What he does not have against the Caps in his career is a goal.  He is 0-5-5, minus-1, in seven career games against Washington.

T.J. Brodie has not had a goal of his own in this six-game offensive explosion for the Flames, but he has spread things around enough to lead the defense in points in that span (0-5-5).  Brodie has been one of those below-the-radar players who suffer perhaps, reputation-wise, from playing out west for a franchise with modest success in recent years.  As it is, since he became a full-time player with the Flames in 2012-2013, he is in the top-30 in points among defensemen (27th, ranked between Ryan McDonagh and Justin Faulk).  Another example of a successful fourth-round draft pick for the Flames (114th overall in 2008).  Brodie is 0-4-4, minus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.

1.  Only twice in 19 games have the Flames taken a lead into the first intermission, fewest in the league.  They won both games.

2.  Only two teams have fewer first period goals this season than Calgary (13) – Nashville and Buffalo (12 apiece), and only three teams have allowed more third period goals than the Flames (25) – Dallas (26), Montreal (26), and Arizona (31).

3.  If Calgary holds the Caps without a power play goal, chances are they will win.  The Flames are 6-1-0 in games this season when they shut out an opponent on their power play.

4.  Looking at another threshold, this is a team that has to score to win, because they can be scored upon.  While the Flames are 7-0-0 in games in which they scored four or more goals, they are 4-8-0 in games in which they are held to fewer than four goals.

5.  Calgary is one of three teams without a loss in extra time this season (Toronto and San Jose are the others).  The Flames are 5-0-0 in extra time decisions.

1.  The Caps are similar to the Flames in one respect, their threshold for wins by goals scored.  Washington is 7-0-0 when scoring four or more goals, 4-9-1 when scoring fewer than four goals.

2.  Stay out of the box would be a good rule to live by.  The Caps are 9-4-0 when facing four or fewer shorthanded situations, 2-5-1 when facing five or more such situations.

3.  Only Calgary and Pittsburgh have allowed more power play goals this season (20 apiece) than the Caps (19).

4.  The Caps have nine losses this season when allowing the game’s first goal, tied with Edmonton for most in the league.  Part of the problem there is allowing the first goal 14 times in 21 games.

5.  The Caps are tied for third in the league in one-goal wins (6) but tied for third-worst in losses by three or more goals (5).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Troy Brouwer

The former Capital is struggling to put puck in the net these days.  In fact, struggling might be too weak a term.  In 19 games, having recorded 32 shots on goal, Brouwer has yet to find the back of the net.  He has been a player of diminishing returns in terms of goal scoring in recent years.  Since posting a career-best 25 goals with the Caps in 82 games of the 2013-2014 season, his goal totals have been 21, 18, and 13, before his current year struggles.  It has started to affect his ice time.  When he skated 15:11 in Calgary’s last contest, a 5-4 overtime win over Philadelphia on Saturday, it was the first time he logged more than 13 minutes in seven games.  Three of the four instances in which Brouwer recorded fewer than 12 minutes this season have come in November.  In seven career games against the Caps, Brouwer is 1-0-1, minus-4.

Washington: John Carlson

No defenseman in the league has more points or power play points than does John Carlson in November (through Saturday’s games).  Carlson is the only defenseman in the league with ten points for the month (2-8-10), and his six power play points (1-5-6) tops the league as well.  He is one of four defensemen this month to record an overtime goal.  Overall, he ranks second in the league in ice time per game (27:00), and the heavy workload does not seem to bother him, at least in terms of the team’s wins and losses.  In 13 games in which he skated more than 27 minutes, the Caps are 9-4-0, and he is 2-8-10.  The odd part of his production is that he has points in six of the eight games in which he skated less than 27 minutes (0-7-7), but the Caps are just 2-5-1 in those games.  Carlson has an odd statistical quirk in his career splits.  He is a plus-55 in 397 career games against teams in the Eastern Conference, but he is a minus-4 in 150 career games against teams in the West.  He is 0-2-2, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Flames.

In the end…

In the previous meeting of these teams this season, the Caps were frustrated into scoring just one goal in what was the last of their three-game road trip through western Canada and a loss in what is a frustrating season for backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.  The skate is on the other foot for this game, the Flames coming to Washington for the third of six-game road trip and third of four straight against Eastern Conference opponents.

Meanwhile the Caps are looking to extend their five-game home winning streak using basic ingredients – defense and goaltending.  Over their five-game streak they have held opponents to a total of eight goals, the last three to a single goal apiece.  It sounds like a recipe for success.

Capitals 3 – Flames 1

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 7

Week 7 was a lesson in the kinds of games the Washington Capitals need to play to win and the kinds of games that can ruin their season. In the first and last games they played opponents close, were opportunistic on offense, and got fine goaltending.  Both ended in wins.  In the middle games of the week, the Caps were done in with speed and their own sluggish starts, fell into multiple-goal deficits in the first period, got less inspired goaltending, and lost without putting up much of a fight.

Record: 2-2-0

The best that could be said about Week 7, record-wise, is that it was the fourth straight non-losing week for the Capitals.  The next best thing is that the Caps won both home games, extending their home winning streak to five games after dropping three of their first four home games this season.  It might not seem like a lot, but after the franchise record 15-game home winning streak the Caps had to start the 2017 portion of last season, a four-game streak was their longest on home ice.

On the disappointing side, the Caps played four teams out of the Western Conference in Week 7, three of which were out of the playoff eligibility group.  Washington eked out a 2-1 Gimmick win against the Edmonton Oilers and held off a tough Minnesota Wild team playing their backup goaltender in a 3-1 win.  But the Caps were run over by the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, a surprise even if the Avalanche were a far better team on home ice (6-1-1 at week’s end) than on the road (3-7-0).  And when the Caps had a benchmark game, against the Nashville Predators (fourth-best record in the West at week’s end), the Caps came up short…very short, in a 6-3 loss.

Offense: 2.25 /game (season: 2.81 /game, 22nd)

The Caps had a double-whammy – well, “whammy” might not be the right term here – against them on offense in Week 7.  They managed only nine goals in four games, and only five of those came at even strength.  On top of that, seven of the nine goals were recorded by only three players: T.J. Oshie (3), Dmitry Orlov (2), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (2).  Missing on the goal register was Alex Ovechkin, who has been in a bit of a slump.  He has just three goals in his last 13 games and had his current streak without a goal extended to five games by the end of Week 7.  Nicklas Backstrom also had a goalless week, his streak without one reaching 14 games.  Backstrom finished the week having yet to score a goal on home ice this season.

The Caps did get points from 12 skaters in Week 7, led by Oshie (3-2-5).  Kuznetsov had four (2-2-4), as did John Carlson (0-4-4), who led the team in assists.

Defense: 3.50 /game (season: 3.14 /game, 21st)

By the standards of this season, holding four opponents to a total of 120 shots (30.0 per game) was not a bad week.  It brought down their season average to 32.5 shots per game (20th in the league).  What might have stood out most in Week 7 was that the Caps improved on shot attempts allowed over all four games.  They allowed Edmonton 64 attempts, 58 for Nashville, 54 for Colorado, and 52 to the Wild.  That might be something of a mirage, though.  On the other hand, Nashville lit the Caps up for 18 shots (two goals) in the first period of their 6-3 win over the Caps, and Colorado had two goals on ten shots in the first period of the Caps’ 6-2 loss to the Avalanche.

Goaltending: 3.43 / .883 (season: 2.98 / .907)

Uneven would be one way to describe the week in goaltending for the Caps.  One could say that against the speed and depth of Nashville, and the speed and skill of Colorado, that Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer were left on a deserted island too often to make saves, but it wasn’t a good week for the netminding tandem, either.

This is the same tandem that finished last season with a combined goals against average of 2.06 and a combined save percentage of .925.  With numbers in Week 7 that were among the worst they put up this season, their combined GAA is up almost an entire goal per game than that with which they finished last season, and their combined save percentage is almost 20 points lower.

It was a generally poor week for both Holtby and Grubauer.As a pair their save percentage was under .900 in each of the three regulation periods for the week.  Holtby fared a bit better individually with a .914 save percentage in the first period of games and a .955 save percentage in the third periods of the two games in which he played a third period (he was pulled after 40 minutes in the loss to Nashville). Holtby had an off night against Nashville (six goals allowed on 25 shots), but he came back against Minnesota to finish the week, stopping 30 of 31 shots, giving him a 7-1-0, 2.31, .928 record over his last eight appearances.

For Grubauer, the week was another in a difficult start to the season for him.  He was under .900 in each of the combined three periods for the week and was .824 in save percentage overall (28 saves on 34 shots).  He finished the week with a 3.86 GAA for the season (47th of 49 goalies with at least 250 minutes in ice time) and a .876 save percentage (47th) to go with an 0-5-1 record in eight appearances.

Power Play: 4-for-16 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.8 percent / 12th)

The Caps were shut out on the power play to open the week, but they recorded power play goals in each of their last three games in their best week since Week 2 (33.3 percent).  The week built on the success of Week 6 (3-for-13) to give the Caps a 24.1 percent power play (7-for-29) over the last two weeks.

The scoring was divided evenly between T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a pair of power play goals apiece in Week 7.  What they did not get was a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin, who went 0-for-7 shooting (leading the team in power play shots on goal).  He has gone six straight games without a power play goal and has just one in his last 13 games.

As a team, the Caps were efficient to a point, putting 24 shots on goal in 23:47 of power play ice time.  They were better late in the week (18 shots in 16:11 in the two games against Colorado and Minnesota) than they were early in the week (six shots in 7:36 against Edmonton and Nashville).

Penalty Killing: 11-for-15 / 73.3 percent (season: 77.6 percent / 25th)

The penalty killing is falling into a disturbing pattern for the Caps.  If they aren’t perfect (Weeks 1 and 6), they are bad (below 80 percent in the other five weeks).  Week 7 qualifies in the latter category.  And it might have been worse but for the fact that in the opening game of the week, the Edmonton Oilers did not have a single power play (the best penalty killing being the penalty you don’t have to kill).

As it was, the shots per minute were not bad (18 shots in 23:20 of shorthanded ice time), but allowing four goals on 18 shots (.778 save percentage) is an item in need of improvement.  Here is a disturbing fact about the penalty killers.  The 77.6 percent penalty kill is, at the moment, the worst number for the Caps since the 2004-2005 lockout.  It is the worst for the Caps since the 1994-1995 lockout that shortened that season, in fact.  It is the worst since the 1984-1985 season (77.1 percent; numbers form

Faceoffs: 130-for-252 / 51.6 percent (season: 51.3 percent / 12th)

The Caps had a decent week in the circle, finishing over 50 percent.  It was not quite as good as it looked, though, as the Caps were most dominant in the neutral zone (46-for-84/54.8 percent).  They did finish over 50 percent in the offensive zone (51-for-96/53.1 percent), but they were underwater in the defensive zone 33-for-72/45.8 percent).

In the “faceoff don’t matter” category, the Caps had their best game, in total (64.2 percent) and in each zone (offensive: 63.2 percent; defensive: 61.9 percent; neutral: 66.7 percent) against Colorado in a game they lost by four goals.  It happened to be the only game they “won” for the week, splitting 60 draws with Minnesota and under 50 percent against Edmonton and Nashville.

Individually, it was an odd week, Evgeny Kuznetsov winning 60 percent of his faceoffs and Jay Beagle with an uncharacteristic 47.2 percent wins.  T.J. Oshie (11-for-18/61.1 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (34-for-60/56.7 percent) were on the good side of 50 percent, while Lars Eller was the fifth Cap with ten or more draws, but won just 42.6 percent of those faceoffs.

Goals by Period:

First periods killed the Caps in Week 7, the team getting out-scored by a 5-2 margin.  They allowed first period goals in three of the four games, allowing two first period scores in each of the two losses.  Those five goals allowed in the first period of the games of Week 7 make up more than 25 percent of the total they allowed in the opening 20 minutes this season (19).  They just about held their own in the last 40 minutes, in the aggregate, but falling behind was too much of a hole to dig out of to make this a successful week.  Those first period goals allowed left the Caps with a negative goal differently in all three regulation periods for the season.  And at the end of it, only two teams – Edmonton (6) and Montreal (8) – have more losses by three or more goals than the Caps.

In the end…

Week 7 showed the Caps at their best and at their worst, at least within the confines of this season.  A one-goal/Gimmick win and another win that was a one-goal game 57 minutes into the contest.  They have as many or more one-goal wins (6) than all but two teams – Pittsburgh (8) and Tampa Bay (7).  But they had two losses by three or more goals that left them with that disturbing ranking in such losses.  Having hit the 20-game mark, it is becoming clear that this team, until such time that the young guys become more consistent contributors and until they are fully healthy again, is going to be successful in 2-1 and 3-2 games.  In 5-2 games and 6-3 games, chances are they will be on the wrong side of those scores.

But now, the focus switches not to margin, but venue.  The win over the Wild to end the week was the Caps’ fifth straight at home and was the first game in a stretch in which the Caps play nine of ten games on home ice.  There is no more important stretch of the season so far, and perhaps none that will come later, than this ten-game stretch on which the Caps just embarked.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: T. J. Oshie (3-2-5, even, 7 shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, 14 hits, 61.1 percent faceoff wins, game-deciding Gimmick goal)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4 (all points on power play), minus-1, 14 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, 60.0 percent faceoff wins)
  • Third Star: Dmitry Orlov (2-0-2, plus-1, 10 shots on goal, 17 shot attempts, game-winning goal, 24:23 in average ice time)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 21: Capitals 3 - Wild 1

The Washington Capitals broke a two-game losing streak by doing what they have struggled doing this season – getting ahead of their opponent early – scoring first and last on their way to a 3-1 in over the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena.

First Period

After a quiet start to the game, the Capitals and Wild exchanged power play goals less than three minutes apart mid-way through the first period.  The Caps opened the scoring on a man advantage when Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from John Carlson and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov at the goal line.  Kuznetsov slid the puck to T.J. Oshie at the hash marks at the edge of the right wing circle, and Oshie one-timed it past goalie Alex Stalock.9:42 into the period to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Nino Niederreiter evened things up when he patiently waited for the puck to come to him off a scramble in front of goalie Braden Holtby and fired into the open side of the net to Holtby’s right to make it a 1-1 game at the 12:02 mark.

Less than a minute later the Caps had the lead back. From his knees, Oshie fed the puck from the left wing faceoff circle to Matt Niskanen at the left point.  Niskanen moved the puck across to Dmitry Orlov, who one-timed the pass off the near post and behind Stalock at the 12:46 mark to make it a 2-1 game, a lead the Caps took to the first intermission.

Minnesota had a 19-17 edge in shot attempts, but the Caps had a 13-12 edge in shots on goal over the first 20 minutes.

Second Period

Two minutes into the period the Caps had a glorious chance to add to their lead, Chandler Stephenson getting an edge on the Wild defense as he was circling to the net.  He fed the puck back to Backstrom trailing on the play, and Backstrom, from the left wing circle fired at what looked like an open net.  However, defenseman Jonas Brodin got his right foot out and blocked the shot away to foil the chance.

The Caps got a scare nine minutes into the period when an attempt pass from Chris Stewart rode up the stick of Alex Ovechkin and struck him in the face.  He went off under his own power, but bleeding quite a bit. 

There would be no scoring, though, and the Caps took their 2-1 lead to the second intermission.  Minnesota had a 9-8 edge in shots on goal and a 17-14 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

The teams went back and forth with nothing to show for it over the first 15 minutes of the period.  Then, the Caps had a chance to extend their lead when Chandler Stephenson broke in around the Wild defense and was tripped, leading to a penalty shot.  However, his attempt to sneak one under the right pad of Stalock was stopped, and the teams played on.

The Caps finally broke through on the front-end of a four-minute power play, courtesy of a double-minor penalty taken by Ryan Suter for high-sticking.  Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the left wing circle, stepped up, and instead of shooting, passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov camped at the top of the paint.  Kuznetsov corralled the unruly puck and nudged it past Stalock to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at the 17:23 mark.  The Caps could not convert on the back half of the extended power play, but they had what they needed for the 3-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie got his tenth goal of the season in this contest, Game 21 of the season.  Last year, when he finished the season with 33 goals, he got his tenth goal in Game 22.

-- Oshie had two points (goal, assist), giving him 32 multi-point games as a Capital, breaking a tie with Dave Christian for 33rd place on the Caps’ all-time list and tying him with Ulf Dahlen for 32nd place.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also had a goal and an assist for his 47th career multi-point game as a Capital, breaking a tie with Jeff Halpern for 23rd place in team history.

-- The Caps finished the game with 43 shots on goal, a team high for the season, and the first time in four games with 40 or more shots that they won in regulation (they had two overtime wins).

-- For those asking the hockey gods to put the spirit of shooting more in Kuznetsov’s stick, he had seven shots on goal to lead the team.

-- The Caps did allow a power play goal, the third game in a row they did so.  That makes three times this season that the Caps have allowed teams power play goals in three or more consecutive games.

-- This was just the seventh time in 21 games that the Caps scored first in a game.  They are now 6-0-1 in such games.

-- Brooks Orpik was a real thumper in this game, credited with eight of the Caps’ 29 hits.  Taylor Chorney had four blocked shots to lead both teams.

-- John Carlson skated 24:55 in this game.  With the 24:53 he skated against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, that give him consecutive games with less than 25 minutes in ice time for the first time this season and, in fact, only his third game all season under 25 minutes.

-- Braden Holtby shook off a poor performance against the Nashvill Predators to stop 30 of 31 shots.  Even with that off night against the Preds, Holtby is 7-1-0, 2.31, .928 in his last eight appearances.

In the end…

This was one of those games in which the losing team might say, “if it wasn’t for (insert name of goalie here), it could have been six or seven goals for the other guys.”  The Caps pressed all night with perhaps their most impressive night of the season in applying persistent pressure over three periods.  Alex Stalock was superb in goal for the Wild, who might have seen the competitive portion of the game end far sooner than it did but for his efforts.  He kept the Wild in it late into a third period that saw the Caps pour 22 shots on goal to the Minnesota net.

For all the eyeball and empirical analysis, hockey breaks down pretty simply.  If you score first, chances are you win.  It is something the Caps have not done enough of this season, but tonight it was a solid start that set the table for a solid three course meal of basic hockey.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and satisfying.  Keep this dish on the menu.