Sunday, January 01, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 36: Washington Capitals 2 - Ottawa Senators 1

It took a while to shrug off the cobwebs of New Year’s Eve gaiety, but the Washington Capitals did just that in the third period of their New Year’s evening game against the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.  When it was over, the Caps had a hard-fought 2-1 win to get 2017 off to a good start.

After a scoreless first period, the visitors got the game’s first goal, courtesy of some opportunistic play down low by the Senators.  Marc Methot threw the puck in deep from the Caps’ blue line to put some pressure on the Caps.  Defenseman Matt Niskanen tried to stop it from winding around the corner boards, but the puck jumped over his stick to Ryan Dzingel at the edge of the trapezoid below the goal line.  Skating behind the net, Dzingel eased the puck out the back side to Kyle Turris, who slid a low shot along the ice past goalie Braden Holtby on the far side to make it 1-0, 12:41 into the second period.

That was all the scoring through what was a sleep-inducing first 40 minutes.  Well, almost 40 minutes.  With under a minute to play in the second period, Justin Williams took a long lead pass from John Carlson behind the Ottawa defense, breaking in alone on goalie Mike Condon.  Williams got a shot off, but it was turned aside by Condon.  T.J. Oshie followed up the play and won control of the puck behind the Senators’ net.  He sent the puck out to Karl Alzner in the left wing faceoff circle, and Alzner leaned into one, sending what play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati described as a “buzz bomb” past Condon’s left elbow to tie the game with just 19.5 seconds left in the period.

Early in the third period, the Caps took their first, last, and only lead they would need.  The Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Tom Wilson to Taylor Chorney to Brooks Orpik and back to Chorney, who unleashed a one-timer from the right point that sailed through a maze of players and past Condon’s blocker to make it 2-1, 2:43 into the period.

The Caps would shut down the Senators after that, at one point holding the Senators without a shot for 7:32 late in the third period.  It was enough for the Caps to ring in the new year with a 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- There can be little doubt what the turning point of the game was.  It came at the 8:10 mark of the third period when Brooks Orpik and Evgeny Kuznetsov were sent to the penalty box to put Ottawa on a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play with the Caps nursing their 2-1 lead.  If Ottawa scores on one or both ends of the two-man advantage, it’s a whole different game.  The Caps killed off the two-man disadvantage, holding the Senators to a single shot on goal.  From there, Ottawa would record only four shots on goal in the last 10:17 of the game.

-- It was, as the score suggests, a very evenly played game.  The Caps enjoyed a 28-24 shot advantage, but the Senators had a 51-49 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from

-- Almost as amazing as the one shot on goal allowed on the 5-on-3 Ottawa power play in the third period, they had only four shot attempts in the two minutes.  Two attempts were misses, and another was blocked.

-- This was the first time this season in which two defensemen scored goals in a single game for the Caps.  It was just the seventh game in which any defenseman scored.  The last time the Caps had two defensemen score in a game was last March 5th in, coincidentally enough, a 2-1 decision over the Boston Bruins in Boston.  Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen did the honors in that game.

-- The Caps had 19 shots on goal from forwards, almost two thirds of them coming from four players: Lars Eller (4), Andre Burakovsky (3), Evgeny Kuznetsov (3), and T.J. Oshie (3).  Through two periods, Oshie and Kuznetsov had just one shot on goal between them (Kuznetsov).

-- Speaking of Kuznetsov, he skated just 4:10 in the first period and just 4:11 in the second frame.  He had a total of 13:40 in ice time, matching his lowest of the season, that coming just this past December 23rd against Tampa Bay.

-- The Caps were torched in the faceoff circle to the tune of 21 wins and 33 losses (38.9 percent).  It was worse at one point with the Caps having won just nine of the first 33 faceoffs of the game (27.3 percent).  No Capitals finished over 50 percent; Jay Beagle hit that mark by going 5-for-10.

-- Erik Karlsson must have thought he was on some weird Twilight Zone version of the old game show “Hollywood Squares.”  He had nine shot attempts blocked.  As a team, the Senators had 23 shot attempts blocked.  Seven different Capitals blocked Karlsson shot attempts.  For the record: Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Niskanen, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik (3).

-- This was the third time this season that the Caps played three games in four nights.  It seems to agree with them.  They went 3-0-0 in their first set to end October and begin November (Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg), then they went 2-0-1 in their second set in mid-November (overtime loss to Columbus; wins over Pittsburgh and Detroit).  They finished up this third set with a 2-0-1 record (Gimmick loss to New Jersey; wins over New Jersey and Ottawa).

-- You need SPF-500 suntan lotion to stand in goalie Braden Holtby’s presence these days, his brilliance causing burns to unprotected skin.  With 23 saves on 24 shots in this game, Holtby is 6-2-3, 1.60, .943, with two shutouts in his last 11 appearances.

In the end…

We said in the prognosto that the Senators were not one of those divisional rivals that commanded attention, nor were they a marquee Western Conference team that would do likewise.  But they were a team with 20 wins and should not be taken lightly.  For the better part of two periods, the Caps seemed to be doing just that.  But good teams fight through those sluggish stretches, and they get production from unexpected sources when needed.  Getting goals from Karl Alzner and Taylor Chorney (the latter’s first game-winning goal since February 2011 with the Edmonton Oilers) would qualify as unexpected.  But new year, new ways to win. 

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 12

 A dozen weeks are in the books for the Washington Capitals, and Week 12 was among the strangest.  Despite scoring, stingy defense, and a lock-down penalty kill, the Caps managed only a .500 result in Week 12. 

Record: 1-1-1

Despite finishing the week with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Caps remained in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and lost another point in ground to the division-leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who finished their week on a 15-game winning streak of their own.  What is worse, the Caps completed that 1-1-1 record for the week against three teams in their own division. Well, two teams, since they split a home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils, the division’s last-place team at week’s end.  The Caps finished Week 12 with a division record of 5-5-4.  The 6-2 win over New Jersey to close the week broke a three-game division losing streak for the Caps (0-1-2).

Offense:  3.33/game (season: 2.74 /game; rank: 13th)

A week averaging 3.33 goals per game usually ends better than a 1-1-1 record, but when six of those goals come in one game, the lack of consistency shows up in the record.  They scored those six goals against a backup goaltender – New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid – who stymied them with 43 saves on 44 shots and another two saves in the Gimmick in the first of the two meetings with the Devils this week, and they were held to three goals on 34 shots against a goalie who was waived later in the week and sent to the AHL when he cleared the waiver wire. True, Jaroslav Halak is something of a demon in Capitals lore, but still. 

Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams each had a pair of goals and a pair of assists to lead the Caps in goals and points for the week.  Eight different Caps recorded goals, including a shorthanded goal by Daniel Winnik for the only goal in Thursday night’s game against the Devils.  There were 14 different skaters recording points for the week, Matt Niskanen leading the team in assists with three. 

On the milestone watch…
  • Nicklas Backstrom inched closer to 500 career assists with his 498th helper, recorded on Saturday afternoon in the 6-2 win over New Jersey.  He also was a plus-1 in that game, allowing him to return to a career plus-100, only the second Capital in team history to record a career plus-minus of plus-100 or better (Rod Langway was plus-117). 
  • Alex Ovechkin closed to within six points of 1,000 for his career with his four-point week.
  • John Carlson’s assist for the week drew him to within four points of 250 for his career.
  • Matt Niskanen passed the 200 assist mark for his career (201) with three assists for the week.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.09 /game; rank: 3rd)

The Caps tightened the screws on defense as the week wore on, shots-wise.  After allowing the New York Islanders 31 shots on goal in the first game of the week, the Caps held the Devils to 27, then 23 shots to close the week.  When the Caps ended the week with a 6-2 win over New Jersey, they finished December not having allowed more than three goals in regulation time in any of the 14 games played for the month.   The two games holding opponents to fewer than 30 shots were the seventh and eighth times they accomplished that feat in December, and the 22nd and 23rd times in 35 games they have done it this season.  Only five teams have done it more times through the end of Week 12. 

The Caps held opponents to 110 shot attempts at 5-on-5 for the week, which contributed to a 54.7 percent Corsi-for at fives for the week (numbers from  It was a frustrating result, in particular because the Caps held the Devils to 34 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the first meeting of the clubs for the week while recording 54 of their own, then losing in the freestyle competition.  The Caps were just as stingy, in fact more so, in the second meeting of the clubs for the week, allowing just 31 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and recording only 34 of their own.  But, 6-2.  Hockey…go figure.

Goaltending: 2.30 / .914 (season: 2.02 / .927 / 4 SO)

It is a measure of just how good the goaltending has been for the Capitals this season when a week with a 2.30 goals against average might be considered sub-par.  If there was a problem, it was in decreasing save percentages across the periods for the week.  Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer posted a combined sterling save percentage of .957 in the first periods of games for the week (22-for-23).  The second periods were a more pedestrian .900 (27-for-30), and the third periods were a rather poor .857 (21 for 24), although one of those goals came with the Caps holding a 5-1 third period lead over the Devils in the last game of the week.

As it is, however, among 54 goaltenders having played in at least 400 minutes this season, the Caps are the only club in the league with two – Holtby and Grubauer – in the top ten in save percentage (.928 and .932, respectively).

Power Play: 0-for-12 / 0.0 percent (season: 17.0 percent; rank: 18th)

The ineffective Capitals power play is one of the persistent mysteries of this NHL season.  For a time, it looked as if the Caps were coming out of their stupor, going 8-for-21 (38.1 percent) in Weeks 9 and 10.  The 0-for-12 finish in Week 12 makes the Caps 0-for-15 over their last two weeks.  Compounding the problem is the relative infrequency with which the Caps find themselves on the man advantage.  The 12 chances in three games tied for the most chances per game in any week this season (they had 12 chances in two games in Week 8).

It was not an especially efficient power play, either, with a caveat.  The Caps managed just 14 shots on goal in 16:51 of power play ice time, including a no-shots performance against the Devils on Saturday to close the week.  However, while the Caps went 0-for-4 on the power play in that game and recorded no shots on goal, they had only 1:42 in total power play ice time, the longest power play lasting 1:01 and two “power plays” lasting less than ten seconds.  It only makes it a less bad week on the power play, not a good one.

Penalty Killing: 17-for-17 / 100.0 percent (season: 86.9 percent; rank: 3rd)

“Good” doesn’t really described the Caps’ penalty kill at the moment.  Adjectives such as “excellent” or “superb” would be more fitting, with another caveat.  In pitching three shutouts on the penalty kill for the week, the Caps extended their string of games not allowing a power play goal to six and the consecutive power plays killed off to 25, going back to the third period of a 4-3 trick shot win over the Carolina Hurricanes on December 16th.  The Caps had a very efficient penalty kill, holding opponents to 14 shots on goal for the week.  It was so good that in the middle game of the week, the 2-1 Gimmick loss to New Jersey, the Caps had as many shots shorthanded as the Devils had on their own power play (four), and the Caps had the only special teams goal of that game, a shorthanded tally by Daniel Winnik.

There was a blemish, though.  Those 14 shots on goal came in 27:12 of shorthanded ice time, which is entirely too much, even if it is a perverse indicator of the penalty-killing success.  It might have been worse, given that the Caps were shorthanded 17 times in three games, tying Week 7 for most shorthanded situations faced.  But unlike Week 7, when the Caps faced those 17 situations in four games, the Caps did it in just three games in Week 12.

Faceoffs: 90-for-185 / 49.1 percent (season: 50.3% / rank: 11th)

It was not a good week in the circle for the Caps, but neither was it a terrible one.  They beat the Islanders in the first game of the week, but then lost both games within the games to the Devils on Thursday and Saturday.  There was a distinct display of opposites in the offensive and defensive zones where the Caps finished the week at 53.8 percent in the former and 43.8 percent in the latter.

A different set of opposites were on display at an individual level.  The usual suspects did well and did poorly.  Among skaters taking at least ten draws, there were Nicklas Backstrom (54.9 percent) and Jay Beagle (59.1 percent) well over 50 percent for the week. On the other hand, there were Lars Eller (41.5 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (43.9 percent) well under 50 percent for the week.  That is pretty much how the season has unfolded for these four players, who are the top four Capitals in faceoffs taken.  There are Backstrom (52.9 percent) and Beagle (59.7 percent; fourth in the league among players taking at least 350 draws) comfortably over 50 percent, and then there are Eller (47.0 percent) and Kuznetsov (41.6 percent, 83rd of 84 players taking at least 350 draws) well under that mark. 

Goals by Period:

Two things jump out from the week in goals scored by period – consistency on offense and stinginess in the first period on defense.  Some of that is tempered by scoring all three of their second period goals for the week in the last game, the 6-2 win over the Devils.  On the other hand, the Caps scored goals in all three third periods for the week, including that shorthanded goal that forced overtime and kept the Caps from a losing week overall.  The three goals allowed in the third periods of games is tempered as well by allowing one in what was to be a blowout win; the Caps held a 5-1 lead on the Devils on Saturday when they allowed a goal.  But the two allowed to the New York Islanders to start the week were troublesome, especially since they were scored less than a minute apart to break a 2-2 tie and give the Islanders a 4-2 lead in what would be a 4-3 loss for the Caps.  The Capitals finished the week tied with Los Angeles for the eighth-fewest third period goals allowed, but it is the highest volume period for the Caps so far this season, constituting 41 percent of the 73 total goals allowed by the club.

In the end…

The 2016 portion of the season ended with the Caps having 21 wins.  It is the eight club in team history to post more than 20 wins before New Year’s Day, and of those teams it is the one with the second-fewest losses in regulation time (nine), finishing with more such losses than only last year’s club that was 28-7-2 before New Year’s Day 2016.

Nevertheless, the club stumbled a bit into the new year, winning only two of five games over the last two weeks of the 2016 portion of the season.  The Caps are in no immediate danger of falling out of the playoff mix; they are five points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning with three games in hand.  However, Tampa Bay and the Florida Panthers (two points behind the Lightning) – two playoff teams from last season – are lurking out there, as are the rejuvenated Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes (each one point behind Florida).  Nothing is certain, and the schedule, which has been kind to the Caps in the frequency of games this season (the Caps are tied with Toronto and the Columbus Blue Jackets for fewest games played (35)), begins to stack up after the first of the season when the Caps have only two instances in the first six weeks of the new calendar year when they have as many as two days off between games, not including the All-Star game break.

That is what makes Week 12 a bit disappointing.  The Caps had a chance to take advantage of the lower dwellers of the Metropolitan Division and build momentum heading into the new year.  Instead, they managed just three of a possible six standings points and lost a bit more ground to teams in front of them in the division standings.  Keep in mind that the three teams in front of the Caps – Columbus, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers – went a combined 36-6-2 in the month of December, while the Caps went a respectable 8-3-3 (that is a 111-point pace over a full season).  It just serves to show how hard it is to succeed over an 82-game regular season and points out that the regular season is not a meaningless exercise.  That might be the lesson of Week 12.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Justin Williams (2-2-4, plus-2, 11 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, three blocked shots)
  • Second Star: Jay Beagle (1-2-3, plus-3, points in all three games, “plus” in all three games, 26-for-44 on faceoffs (59.1 percent), two hits, two blocked shots)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, even, 15 shots on goal, 27 shot attempts, four hits, two blocked shots)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Senators at Capitals, January 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals welcome the new year and the Ottawa Senators to Verizon Center on Sunday evening to begin the 2017 portion of their 2016-2017 season.  It will be the first of three meetings between the clubs this season, all of which will take place in January, and the only one that will be played at Verizon Center.

Ottawa will come to Washington having wrapped up a December that had them treading water, but not much more.  For the month, the Senators were 6-4-3, dropping their last two games of the month, a 4-3 loss in New York to the Rangers and a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.  It is part of a streakiness that characterized the Senators’ December, posting a three-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak, and then the two-game losing streak they bring to Washington.

Erik Karlsson is the top offensive defenseman of his generation.  Since he came into the league in 2009-2010, he has 417 points, 62 more than Chicago’s Duncan Keith over that span.  He is one of three defensemen with more than 100 goals over those years (Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien being the others).  He is also a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, winning the trophy in 2012 and 2015, and finishing second to Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty in the voting last season.  He is coming off a productive December in which he was 3-10-13 in 13 games.  Ah, but has his scoring made that much of a difference?  Yes, but not to an extraordinary level.  Ottawa is 5-2-0 when he scored a goal but just 12-6-2 when he recorded a point this season.  They are 8-6-2 when he is shut out on the score sheet.  Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-3, in 21 career games against the Capitals.

The curious mid-career journey of Bobby Ryan continues.  After posting consecutive seasons of 30-plus goals in his first four full seasons in the NHL as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, he came back to the pack.  The abbreviated 2012-2013 season was a demarcation point of sorts, one in which he has his string of 30-plus goal seasons stopped with 11 in 46 games.  Since then, he has been a reliable 20-or-so goals per season player, but not the goal-scoring forward one might have foreseen when he was posting those productive early career seasons.  This season he is on a pace to finish with just 17 goals, and that is with a four-game goal streak he had in mid-December, breaking a streak of 16 games without a goal.  It is an odd circumstance for Ryan, whose 14.0 percent shooting efficiency is his best since he shot 15.2 percent in posting 31 goals for the Ducks in 2011-2012.  He has just 50 shots on goal in 31 games, a 124-shot pace that would be his lowest in a full season in his career.  Ryan is 6-4-10, minus-7, in 14 career games against Washington.

Ottawa has employed four goaltenders through 36 games so far this season.   Craig Anderson has the most games played for the Senators (19), but he has been on a leave of absence from the club since early December to be with his wife, Nicholle, who is undergoing treatment for cancer.  That has left the number one netminding duties to Mike Condon, who came to the Senators in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in early November for a fifth round draft pick.  Condon, who appeared in every Ottawa contest in December, has performed respectably for the Senators with a record of 14-8-4, 2.43, .915, with two shutouts so far.  His December was not particularly kind to his overall numbers, although his win-loss record did suffer unduly for it.  Condon was 6-3-3 in 13 appearances in December (one no-decision) with a 2.56 goals against average, a .908 save percentage, and one shutout.  He does, however, come into this game with losses in his last two appearances, one of them in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings.  In three career appearances against the Caps, Condon is 1-2-0, 3.05, .898.

1.  Ottawa has, at least for the moment, a curious affinity for the number “21.”  Going into Saturday’s games, the Senators ranked 21st in the league in scoring offense (2.50 goals/game), power play efficiency (16.5 percent), shots per game (28.9), fewest shots against per game (30.5), total goals (90), goals against at 5-on-5 (62), second period goals for (29), and third period goals for (29).

2.  Speaking of goals-for, Ottawa is the only team in the league to have scored the same number of goals in each regulation period (29).

3.  On New Year’s Eve, the Caps beat the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference in games decided by three or more goals in the New Jersey Devils (2-9 in such games before falling to the Caps, 6-2).  On New Year’s Evening, the Caps will face the club with the second-worst such record in Ottawa, who is 3-8.

4.  Ottawa does not score first often, but when they do, they win.  With an 11-2-1 record when scoring first, the Senators have the third-best winning percentage in the league (.786).

5.  The Senators are not a particularly effective possession club.  Their 47.96 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 ranks 25th in the league. They do rank higher in road games, 21st at 48.09 percent (numbers from

1.  Scoring first in games is still a thing for the Caps, who are tied for third (with Montreal) in wins when scoring first (17) and tied for third (with San Jose and Toronto) in total games scoring first (23).

2.  Only one team – the Columbus Blue Jackets – has gone to the first intermission of games trailing fewer times (6) than the Caps (7).  The Caps’ 4-3-0 record in those games is the third-best winning percentage (.571), trailing only Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.

3.  Only the Columbus Blue Jackets have a larger first period goal differential (plus-19) than the Caps (plus-17).

4.  The third-ranked Washington penalty kill has become not just a very good one, but a very consistent one in one respect.  The Caps have a 1.1 percent differential between home (87.5 percent) and road (86.4 percent) penalty kill, the smallest such differential in the league (tied with Nashville, the 16th-ranked penalty kill).

5.  The Caps return home with the fourth-ranked club in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on home ice (52.89 percent).  They also have the second-best goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.54) in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Montreal (1.39; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Ryan Dzingel

Left winger Ryan Dzingel has something of an interesting story.  Born in Wheaton, Illinois, not generally thought of as a hot hometown for NHL’ers (Dzingel is the only native of Wheaton ever to play in the NHL, according to,  a seventh-round draft pick (only seven players were picked later in the 2011 entry draft), and a “veteran” of just 75 games at the professional level (all with Binghamton in the AHL), he is the fifth-leading point getter (8-11-19) for the Senators in this, his first full season in the NHL (he played in 30 games for Ottawa last season and is thus ineligible for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year).   He has displayed a certain talent for scoring goals, recording 45 in 110 games at Ohio State University and another 19 in 75 games with Binghamton in the AHL.  His eight goals in 36 games this season is on pace for an 18-goal season.  One interesting fact of his season to date is the that he has only seven “minus” games out of the 36 he has played to date, and none of those were worse than minus-1.  His plus-7 for the season is second-best on the club (Marc Methot is plus-12).  He did not record a point in his only career appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner, as a defensive defenseman, has never been a player to drive possession numbers, but his personal numbers are slipping over time in this area.  Two seasons ago, he was a 51.06 percent Corsi-for player at 5-on-5.  That dropped to 49.56 percent last season, and this season it is 48.30 heading into Sunday’s game against Ottawa (numbers from  Of particular concern is that Alzner has played with six defensemen this season, and every one of them has better Corsi numbers apart from Alzner than playing with him (numbers from  The difference is less pronounced with the defensemen with whom Alzner has spent the most time (Matt Niskanen and John Carlson), but with both displaying a more than six percentage point improvement when separated from Alzner, the differences are still attention-getting.  Alzner is 0-4-4, plus-5, in 23 career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

This is an odd sort of trap game in what almost looks like a trap “week” for the Caps, who will open and close the week against the Senators (and the Senators do not have an intervening game between the meetings with the Caps) with Toronto and Columbus in-between.  Ottawa does not command the sort of attention a Metropolitan Division rival would, or the sort that a marquee Western Conference team like Chicago or Los Angeles might.  Nevertheless, the Senators do have 20 wins and sit just three points behind the Caps in the conference standings (the Caps hold a game in hand). The Senators also happen to have a 9-7-0 record on the road this season, fifth-best in the East.  It is not a team to be trifled with.  We think the Caps will skip the order of trifle for their first game of the season.

Capitals 4 – Senators 2