Wednesday, February 01, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 51: Washington Capitals 5 - Boston Bruins 3

The Washington Capitals started the February portion of their schedule with a win on Wednesday night, defeating the Boston Bruins, 5-3, at Verizon Center.

Just like last night, the Caps were off and running early.  Brad Marchand tried to find Zdeno Chara with a cross-ice pass inside the Caps’ blue line, but the pass was picked off by Nicklas Backstrom lying in the weeds.  Backstrom had his head up ice and found T.J. Oshie with a delightful saucer pass that split Colin Miller and Brad Marchand defending.  The pass sprung Oshie loose on a breakaway, and after he took a peek behind him to see who might be lurking, drilled a snap shot through the pads of goalie Tuukka Rask at the 3:06 mark to make it 1-0.

Ten minutes later the Caps doubled their lead when the Caps worked the puck through the Bruins defense to Matt Niskanen at the left point.  Niskanen fired a shot that was kicked out by Rask but right into the slot where Backstrom was filling in.  Backstrom wasted no time ripping a shot past the lunge of Rask to make it 2-0, 13:34 into the period.

Boston then took advantage of two Capitals penalties, one just before and one just after the first intermission to tie the game, Marchand getting the goals in both instances.  The first came with just 1:14 left in the first period on a curl and snipe that sailed past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby.  The second came in the third minute of the second period.  Marchand lie in wait in the low slot as the Bruins worked the puck around from Patrice Bergeron to David Pastrnak to Ryan Spooner, who fed Marchand for the redirect in front of Holtby at the 2:49 mark to tie the game at two apiece.

Alex Ovechkin brought the Caps out of their doldrums late in the second period.  With Brandon Carlo in the penalty box for holding, the Caps worked the puck around the right side until it made its way to NIskanen at the top of the zone.  Niskanen’s first attempt to set up Ovechkin for a one-time got hung up in Ovechkin’s skates, and Ovechkin sent the puck back from whence it came.  Niskanen tried again, and his pass was only marginally better.  Ovechkin dug it out, angled toward the middle for a better shooting angle, and wristed the puck through the legs of Adam McQuaid and past Rask to make it 3-2 with 14.2 seconds left in the second period.

Brett Connolly extended the lead early in the third period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov was the band leader on the play, carrying the puck down the right side into the Boston end.  From the edge of the right wing circle, he left it off for Dmitry Orlov cutting in from the top of the left wing circle.  Orlov funneled the puck to Connolly cutting across the grain, and Connolly carried it across the slot where he backhanded it past the diving glove of Rask to make it 4-2, 3:29 into the period.

Evgeny Kuznetsov made it 5-2 late in the third when he took a sweet feed from Tom Wilson and snapped a shot from the edge of the left wing circle past the right pad of Rask. 

David Krejci got the Bruins back to within two goals with a put back of a rebound at the top of the crease, but it would be as close as the Caps would get in the 5-3 final.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a 1-2-3 night.  It was his 13th multi-point game of the season, breaking a tie with Alex Ovechkin for most on the club this season, and his 189th career multi-point game.  It was his fourth three-point game of the season, breaking a tie for the team lead with T.J. Oshie. 

-- Alex Ovechkin’ power play goal was the 550th in his career, breaking a tie with Ron Francis for 27th all-time in the NHL. He is third among active players, trailing only Jaromir Jagr (758) and Jarome Iginla (617).  It was also his 205th career power play goal, breaking his tie with Wayne Gretzky for 15th place and lifting him into a tie with Joe Sakic for 14th place on the NHL all-time list.  Only Jagr is ahead of him among active players (214).

-- Matt Niskanen had a pair of assists, his fourth multi-point game in his last nine contests, over which he is 2-8-10.

-- Brett Connolly recorded his fifth goal in his last 12 games, and in the nine games in which he has a goal this season, the Caps are 8-0-1.

-- The Caps allowed two power play goals, making it six straight games in which the Caps allowed at least one (15-for-22/68.2 percent penalty kill) and nine of their last 12 games (29-for-40/72.5 percent penalty kill).

-- The Caps scored a power play goal of their own, giving them power play strikes in seven of their last nine games (9-for-26/34.6 percent power play) and nine of their last 12 contests (12-for-32/37.5 percent power play).

-- The win was Washington’s eighth in a row and extended their points streak on home ice to ten games (9-0-1); they are 12-1-1 in their last 14 games at Verizon Center.

-- The fourth line of Tom Wilson, Chandler Stephenson, and Daniel Winnik had a combined two shot attempts (both by Winnik, both missed shots).

-- An odd number buried under a lot of other numbers… The Caps took 56 faceoffs as a team, but Jay Beagle, one of the best in the league, took only three (1-for-3).  He was getting second line duty as a winger with Justin Williams out of the lineup.

-- This was the 13th game this season in which Braden Holtby allowed three or more goals.  He is now 5-6-0 in those games (two no-decisions).

In the end…

It was not the prettiest of wins, especially the sleep-walking through the end of the first period and the beginning of the second, and the leaky defense late.  And that penalty kill really needs shoring up.  But five goals against a team as good as the Bruins have been lately is no small feat, even if Tuukka Rask can’t beat this team if he allows a goal (he has a 1-9-5 record against the Caps, and his only career win over the Caps came via shutout).  It is two points in the bank, putting them four clear of Columbus for the lead in the Metropolitan Division, and it makes for a good start to the month.  That’s not all bad.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Bruins and Capitals, February 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If a team is going to deal with back-to-back games, doing so right out of the All-Star Game break might not be the worst time to do it. Whether it is or not, that is the situation that the Washington Capitals face as they host the Boston Bruins in the back half of a back-to-back set of games that started with a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.  Boston is also going into the second of back-to-back games after their 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

The Caps went into their game against the Islanders with a superb 20-3-3 record since early December, while the Bruins have struggled despite going into the All-Star break with a pair of wins.  It puts a bit of a glow on what was a lackluster record of 10-11-5 since early December, a slide that started with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Caps at Verizon Center.

When last we saw the Bruins, we noted that David Pastrnak might have been the biggest early-season surprise for the Bruins with 15 goals in the team’s first 21 games.  Pastrnak had a goal in that early-December game against the Caps and a pair against the Colorado Avalanche the following night to give him 18 goals in 23 games.  Since then, however, goals have been harder to come by.  In his last 22 games, Pastrnak has just two goals on 79 shots on goal (2.5 percent shooting).  One of those goals was an overtime game-winner against the Detroit Red Wings on January 24th.  He does bring a three-game points streak into this contest (1-4-5, even).  Pastrnak is 1-0-1, minus-1, in four career games against Washington.

This has not been Patrice Bergeron’s best year, statistically.  With 11 goals and 24 points in 49 games, he is on a pace to finish with his lowest goals per game (0.22) since 2008-2009 (0.13) and second lowest of his career, and the lowest points per game of his career (0.49), the only time he would have finished a season lower than half a point per game.  He has been more productive of late, though.  In his last 15 games (before Tuesday’s game) he is 6-8-15, plus-4.  What Bergeron has been able to do this season is shave his penalty time.  He is averaging less than half the penalty time per game he had last season (0.24 minutes per game versus 0.61) and roughly two-thirds of his penalty minute burden over his career (0.38 minutes per game).  Bergeron is 10-24-34, minus-3, in 39 career games against the Caps.

The Bruins have employed four goaltenders over the course of the season, but Tuukka Rask has had the lion’s share of the work.  Only three goalies have appeared in more than the 42 games he has played, and only four goalies have more minutes played than this 2,346 he has logged going into Tuesday’s games.  What Rask has not been able to do with much consistency is beat the Caps.  He is 1-8-5, 3.00, .894 in 14 career games against Washington.  The key is, score.  His only win over Washington was a shutout.

1.  This Boston Bruins team is the second-most anemic club in the post-2004-2005 lockout era.  Their 2.51 goals per game is surpassed only by the 2.39 goals per game recorded in the 2009-2010 season.

2.  At the other end of the spectrum, this club is the second-best Bruins team in penalty killing over that same span of seasons, their 86.8 percent kill rate exceeded only by the 87.1 percent penalty kill in the 2012-2013 season.

3.  This happens to be the second-least penalized Boston club in the same era.  Averaging just 10:04 in penalty minutes per game, only the 2014-2015 team averaged fewer (9:29).

4.  On the other side, this is a team very adept, by its own standards, in drawing penalties.  Their 3.41 minor penalties drawn per 60 minutes is the best among all Bruins teams of this era.

5.  This is, to date, the best possession team in the current era for the Bruins.  Their 55.87 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 tops the 54.33 CF% posted in 2012-2013 (numbers from

1.  This Capitals team has the best scoring defense in this era, and it’s not close.  Their 2.10 goals per game allowed is almost a quarter of a goal per game better than the 2.33 they posted in the 2010-2011 and 2015-2016 seasons.

2.  Washington has allowed fewer shots per game this season (28.2) than any team of this era except, perhaps surprisingly, the 2007-2008 team coached for more than half the season by offensive-minded Bruce Boudreau (27.5 shots per game).

3.  This Capitals team is the least penalized club in the post-2004-2005 lockout era (9:10 penalty minutes per game), slightly better than the 2015-2016 team (9:10).

4.  The 2016-2017 edition of the Caps has the second best home penalty kill of this era.  At 86.2 percent, they trail only the 2015-2016 club (87.3 percent).

5.  This is the worst Capitals team in this era when comparing penalties taken to penalties drawn.  At 5-on-5, their minus-26 in penalty differential is, on a raw count basis alone, the worst such figure, surpassing the minus-23 of both the 2008-2008 and 2014-2015 clubs (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Brandon Carlo

No rookie defenseman has appeared in more games so far this season than Boston’s Brandon Carlo (52 games before Tuesday night’s games).  He is also tied for seventh in points in that cohort of rookie defensemen (12) and second in average ice time (21:30, to Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev).  Carlo had something of an auspicious debut, finishing Opening Night as one of five Bruins to finish plus-5 or better in a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  It hasn’t been quite as easy since then, going minus-6 in 51 games since, but he is already just the sixth defenseman in the post-2004-2005 lockout era to dress for 50 games and record 12 or more points as a rookie defenseman for the Bruins, joining Torey Krug, Matt Hunwick, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid.  He did not record a point and went minus-2 in his only appearance against Washington.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

If the Washington Capitals are going to make a deep playoff run this season, it is the “second wave” of talent – Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson – who will have to contribute in their own ways.  And Andre Burakovsky.  He has done his part recently after a slow start.  After going 2-8-10, minus-2, in his first 27 games, he is 8-9-17, plus-12, in his last 19 games going into Tuesday's games.  He has had multi-point games in four of his last six games, giving him a total of seven for the season.  And, the Caps have standings point in each of the seven games he recorded two or more points (4-0-3), two of the losses coming in the trick shot competition.  Burakovsky is 1-3-4, plus-4, in six career games against Boston.

In the end…

The Caps will be seeking to avoid suffering their first instance of two losses in a back-to-back set of games this season.  Their effort was there at the start of the 3-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday night, but they wilted in the second and third periods, settling into too comfortable a perimeter game.  They seemed to lose touch with what got them the sterling record they had going into the All-Star Game break, and it served as a reminder that what the Caps might need to focus on most over the last 30 games of the regular season is ensuring they play the right way, consistently and purposefully.  Against Boston, they will need that.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2