Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A NO-Point Night -- Game 48: Ottawa Senators 3 - Washington Capitals 0

The Washington Capitals saw a long streak come to an end on Tuesday night in a frustrating 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators.  With the loss, the Caps became the last team in the NHL to suffer their tenth loss in regulation time.

Ottawa opened the scoring early in the first period when Chris Kelly and Tom Pyatt broke out of the defensive end on a 2-on-1 rush with the Caps on a power play.  Kelly fed Pyatt, who carried the puck on the left side into the Caps’ zone.  Kelly darted to the net with Marcus Johansson trying to close the gap.  Johansson was not able to close the distance completely, and Pyatt fed him for a backhander that beat goalie Philipp Grubauer at the 1:46 mark.

The Senators doubled their lead less than three minutes later.  With a Senators power play just expiring, Grubauer turned away a Bobby Ryan point-blank shot, but the puck skittered into the left wing faceoff circle where Derick Brassard chased it down.  He fed it out to Fredrik Claesson, whose one-timer was redirected by Ryan past Grubauer with just 4:10 gone in the period.

Ottawa added a goal in the second period on a power play, Zach Smith getting his 12th goal of the season.  That was all Mike Condon needed as he stopped all 31 shots he faced to earn the 3-0 shutout.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps came up one game short of tying their franchise-high 15 game points streak (2009-2010, when they went 14-0-1).  The streak ends with a record of 12-0-2.

-- This was the first time this season that the Caps were shut out on the road and the third time overall.  Oddly enough, all three shutouts came with 3-0 scores, the others at home to the New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 21:01 in ice time, five hits, and took two minor penalties.  Bad combo.  The Caps are now 1-6-3 when he logs at least 20 minutes in ice time, 2-4-2 when he records five or more hits, and 2-2-1 when he is charged with two or more penalties in a game.

-- Another streak of sorts ended with this game.  Coming in, the Caps had not suffered a loss by more than one goal over a 25-game stretch (19-2-4) dating back to the 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Islanders on December 1st. 

-- The Caps had six power plays in a road game for just the second time this season.  They lost the other one, too.  Tampa Bay beat the Caps, 2-1, in a Gimmick in which the Caps went 1-for-6 on their power play. 

-- Only one Capital taking more than one faceoff finished over 50 percent – the new guy.  Chandler Stephenson won two of three draws.

-- For the first time this season, the Caps allowed an even strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal in one game.  The last time they did that was in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on March 12, 2016.  The Sharks added an empty netter for good measure in that one.

-- The Caps won’t be sad to see Ottawa in their rear view mirror.  They managed just three goals on 79 shots in the three games against them in the season series, which they won, 2-1-0.

-- The Caps had four shorthanded shots on goal in 7:04 of Ottawa power play time.  Daniel Winnik and T.J. Oshie each had a pair.

-- Philipp Grubauer had an okay night, but that’s three straight appearances in which he has allowed three goals, stopping 71 of 80 shots (.888 save percentage).

In the end…

All good things, just like all bad things, come to an end.  The loss takes nothing away from the remarkable run the Caps have been on, especially as this was their third game in four nights.  The trick is to try to recharge with a day off before trying to end the pre-All-Star game break with a win in New Jersey. 

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Capitals at Senators, January 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief respite from the travel, a 6-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center, the Caps head right back on the road for the second of back-to-back games in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday night.

The Senators are one of those pesky teams that can be really annoying to play against. At the very least, they have been that for the Caps so far this season. The Caps have two wins in two tries against Ottawa, but neither was easy, a 2-1 win on New Year’s Day at Verizon Center and a 1-0 shutout on January 7th in Ottawa.

Since Ottawa lost what were two ends of an extended home-and-home set against Washington (they had five days off between games as their league-mandated hiatus this season), the Senators are 5-1-1 and have climbed into second place in the Atlantic Division. Their recent success has not resulted in much by way of improvement in their playoff position relative to other teams. They are still eight points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead, and despite their recent success, they remain just four points clear of Toronto, lurking as the number nine team in an eight-team playoff race with a game in hand on Ottawa.

The Senators have outscored their seven opponents since facing the Caps by a 27-21 margin. Mike Hoffman leads the goal scorers with seven in those seven games. Hoffman has had a sustained run of scoring success going back to late November. Since November 22nd, he is 13-13-26, plus-11, in 25 games. He has established himself as a reliable goal scorer with 27 and 29 goals in his first two full seasons in the NHL, and he is on a pace to finish with 32 goals this season on 17 in the 41 games in which he has played. Eleven of his 17 goals so far this season have come on home ice. In eight career games against the Caps, Hoffman is 1-3-4, plus-1.

For the time being, the debate over who is the best offensive defenseman in the NHL is settled. Since the 2009-2010 season, his rookie season in the NHL, Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman to have topped the 400 point park (424). He is one of just three defensemen to reach the 100-goal mark over that span (107), joining Shea Weber (129), Dustin Byfuglien (121), and Brent Burns (103). This season, Karlsson is second in overall scoring (39 points) to Burns (47) and leads the league’s defensemen in assists (32). He comes into this game on a six-game points streak (0-7-7), but he has not scored a goal in 18 games, dating back to December 7th, when he had one as part of a three-point night as the Senators beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 23 career games against Washington.

One might have been forgiven for overlooking the trade that send goalie Mike Condon from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Senators back in November, but with Craig Anderson on extended absence from the team, it looks like one of the most valuable deals made in recent memory by the club. He has been a respectable 13-7-4, 2.52, .914, with three shutouts, but the workload might be getting to him. He appeared in all seven games for Ottawa since they faced Washington, and while he is 5-1-1 over that span, his goals against average in those games (2.97) and save percentage (.905) are trending in the wrong direction. It resembles the problems he had last season filling in for the injured Carey Price in Montreal when his numbers started dragging down as the season wore on. Condon is 1-4-0, 2.45, .912 in five career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  When Ottawa lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in their last game, 7-6 in overtime, it was the first time the Senators scored at least six goals in a game and lost since they lost to the Caps, 8-6, on December 29, 2007.

2.  After facing Dallas on Saturday, the Caps are going to run into another team that does not work or play well with others. Ottawa is eighth in the league in penalty minutes taken per game (10:34), and there are tied for eighth in fighting majors (18). They are also tied for the league lead in bench minors (10, with St. Louis).

3.  If there is a blowout, chances are the Senators will not be on the good side of it from their perspective. Ottawa is 4-8 in games decided by three of more goals this season, their .333 winning percentage ranking 25th in such games.

4.  You might guess that Ottawa is not a very good possession team, given two stats that indicate they don’t have the puck as often as they would like. The Senators are sixth in the league in hits and fourth in blocked shots.

5.  And you would be right about possession. Ottawa ranks 24th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.80 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), 25th in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone and venue (47.20 percent).

1.  The Caps are plus-50 in goals scored and goals allowed at 5-on-5.  Their lead on the second place team (Minnesota at plus-34) looks like Secretariat in the Belmont.

2.  The Caps and the Boston Bruins are the only two teams in the league ranking in the top five in both Corsi-for per 60 minutes and Corsi-against per 60 minutes, adjusted for score, zone, and venue (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

3.  Much is made of Sidney Crosby, the game’s best playmaker, scoring goals at a career-best pace.  Less is made of Alex Ovechkin, the best goal scorer of this era, becoming something of a playmaker.  He is tied for eighth among left wings in assists, and he has ten helpers in his last ten games.

4.  The Caps go into this game with power play goals in each of their last five games, tying their longest streak of the season.  The have power play goals on five of their last seven power play opportunities going back to the third period of their 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

5.  Pity the power play doesn’t get more opportunities.  The Caps have two or fewer opportunities in nine of their last 12 games, and their minus-28 penalty differential at 5-on-5 is second worst in the league (Colorado: minus-29).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Ottawa has eight players with 20 or more points this season. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been making a push to make it nine with five points in the seven games since Ottawa last saw the Caps (1-4-0). Pageau was taken as a fourth-round pick of the Senators in the 2011 entry draft, after which he completed his Canadian junior career in the QMJHL and spent parts of three seasons with Binghamton in the AHL. He has played in parts of five seasons with Ottawa, but only last year might be called his first full season in the NHL, going 19-24-43 in 82 games. His numbers are off somewhat this season, currently on a pace to finish 9-24-33, his goal scoring down as a reflection of a regression in his shooting percentage (14.3 percent last season, 6.0 percent so far this season). Pageau comes into this game with just one goal in his last 18 games. He does not have a point in 11 games against the Caps and is a minus-3.

Washington: Brett Connolly

Over his first 25 games, Caps fans might have wondered if acquiring Brett Connolly was such a good idea. He was 4-1-5, plus-2, and the Caps seemed to win as he was largely anonymous on the ice.   Ove his last seven games, though, Connolly has found his scoring touch, going 4-0-4, plus-8, with a game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues last week. He, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky have found a chemistry on the third line that has often made it the most energetic, if not most effective forward line on some nights. His scoring has been a contributing factor to the Caps’ success. They are 7-0-1 when he scores a goal, the only blemish being that 8-7 wild riot of an overtime loss to Pittsburgh last week. Connolly is 1-2-3, minus-5, in ten career games against Ottawa, and in two games this year against the Senators he does not have a point, nor does he have a shot on goal in 20:39 of total ice time.

In the end…

This is the middle game of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that the Caps have heading into the All-Star break, completing a run of four games in six nights. And what makes the last two games of this stretch hard – the game Tuesday night against Ottawa and the Thursday night game against the New Jersey Devils – is that these are hard teams to play against, teams that would just as soon play in oatmeal as on ice, even though the Senators’ scoring has ticked up a notch recently. It makes the days off coming up look a bit more appealing, and again, this will be something the team needs to have the discipline to set aside if they are to continue their run of success into the All-Star Game break.

Capitals 3 – Senators 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 47: Washington Capitals 6 - Carolina Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals made it 14 straight games earning a standings point on Monday night with a 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.  It was a 60-minute exercise in just about everyone contributing in different ways consistent with their roles.

The unusual part of the game came in the fifth minute when it was Carolina that opened the scoring.  With T.J. Oshie in the penalty box, the Hurricanes scored on the ensuing power play, Jordan Staal converting a feed from Elias Lindholm to snap a shot over the glove of goalie Braden Holtby from between the hash marks.

After that is was all Caps.  Dmitry Orlov tied the game at the 11:49 mark on a power play for Washington.  The Caps worked the puck around the right side, but finding no openings for a shot, Andre Burakovsky worked the puck around the back of the net to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the opposite corner.  Kuznetsov fed the puck out to Orlov for a one-timer from the top of the left wing faceoff circle, and the puck found its way off a Carolina defender and past goalie Cam Ward to make it 1-1.

Just over five minutes later, Washington took the lead for good.  Matt Niskanen started the play by sliding the puck off to Karl Alzner circling around the left point.  Alzner dropped the puck off for Justin Williams turning behind him, and Williams sent a floater from the point that snuck through a maze of players and past Ward at the 17:05 mark.

Orlov got his second of the game eight minutes into the third period.  Burakovsky worked the puck down the right wing wall, turned, and skated back out where he found Brett Connoily with a cross-ice pass.  Connolly touch passed the  puck back to the middle for another Orlov one-timer that beat Ward cleanly to make it 3-1 with 8:06 gone in the period.

Late in the period, Williams skated down the right side and left the puck for Kuznetsov trailing.  Kuznetsov stepped up and wristed a shot that was blocked.  Kuznetsov followed up the shot and from the low slot snapped a shot past Ward to make it 4-1.  At the 18:40 mark of the period, the rout was on.

T.J. Oshie joined the scoring parade 13 minutes into the third period. Nicklas Backstrom nudged the puck into the Carolina zone where Alex Ovechkin picked it up.  Ovechkin skated it down the left side, then fed it across to Oshie barreling down the middle.  One stick move put the puck on his backhand, and he flipped it over the right pad of Ward to make it 5-1 at the 13:30 mark.

Lars Eller closed the scoring following up a rebound of a Nat Schmidt shot, beating Ward from low in the right wing circle at 17:13 to send Caps fans home happy.

Other stuff…

-- Five different skaters had goals, and 12 skaters had points for the Caps.  Everyone except the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson, plus defenseman Taylor Chorney finished in plus territory.  Those four players were even.

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded a point in his tenth straight game, over which he is 4-13-17, plus-6.

-- With a goal and an assist, Justin Williams continued his strong offensive play.  Over his last 15 games he is 10-7-17, plus-14.

-- The same could be said for Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Recording a goal and an assist of his own, Kuznetsov is now 4-12-16, plus-11, in his last 11 games.

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded a point in his eighth straight game, over which he is 4-9-13, plus-5.  He has not gone consecutive games without a point since Games 22-24 to start December.  In 23 games since then, he is 10-15-25, plus-8.

-- The six goals made it six time in the Caps’ last 13 games that they scored six or more goals.  In those 13 games, the Caps have 64 goals (4.92 per game).

-- The Caps outscored Carolina, 5-0, at 5-on-5.  That upped their goals for/goals against at fives to 110-60, their plus-50 at 5-on-5 by far the best in the league.

-- In other players playing their roles, Jay Beagle didn’t have a point, but he did win 12 of 19 faceoffs (63.2 percent).

-- The same could be said for Lars Eller, who finally seems to be getting into a groove. Eller had a goal, won nine of 14 faceoffs (64.3 percent), skated more than three minutes of shorthanded ice time, and finished a plus-2.

-- In other role-playing news, there was Tom Wilson with four hits and Karl Alzner with four hits and five blocked shots.  Alzner added two assists, his first multi-point game of the season.

In the end…

The win was so complete as to be almost boring.  Well, not really, but this is an unreal run that the Caps are on at the moment.  And this was the sort of game where fine performances might get lost, like Andre Burakovsky recording three assists, his high for the season and first three-assist game of his career.  Braden Holtby looked sharp, stopping 25 of 26 shots and shrugging off a couple of sub-par performances.  Seven of their last ten games have been wins by three or more goals.  Wrap it all up, and over almost half a season – the last 23 of 47 games played so far – the Caps are 18-3-2.  You’re seeing the game about as well as you are going to see it played in the NHL this season.