Sunday, April 02, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 78: Washington Capitals 3 - Columbus Blue Jackets 2

The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets brought the playoff intensity on Sunday night in Columbus with the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, if not the entire league, on the line.  The Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first 30 minutes, then held on for a 3-2 win to push the Blue Jackets into third place in the Division, six points behind the Caps and one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Carolina Hurricanes earlier in the day.

After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board in the second minute of the second period.  Oshie ran down a long cross-ice pass from Nicklas Backstrom, took the puck off the right wing wall, cut against the grain behind two Columbus defenders, and snapped a backhand past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky just 72 seconds into the period to make it 1-0.

Less than two minutes later, the Caps doubled their lead.  Kevin Shattenkirk go the play started by feeding Lars Eller in the neutral zone.  Eller circled to his right to gain the offensive zone, then carried the puck around the back of the net.  From there, Eller spun and found Andre Burakovsky filling in behind him.  Burakovsky sniped a shot over Bobrovsky’s left shoulder, just inside the post and under the crossbar to make it 2-0, 2:56 into the period.

Washington made it 3-0 mid-way through the period when Burakovsky intercepted a Jack John son pass just inside the Caps’ blue line, then took off in the other direction with Matt Niskanen on his left.  After crossing the Columbus blue line, he eased off, then floated a pass between Johnson and Sam Gagner to Niskanen cutting to the net.  Niskanen snapped a shot that beat Bobrovsky on the glove side, and it was 3-0 Caps at the 10:05 mark.

The Caps took that 3-0 lead into the third period and almost gave it all away.  Columbus got one back in the tenth minute of the period when Johnson took a pass from Alexander Wennberg as he was exiting the defensive zone, skated around John Carlson at the Caps’ blue line, did the same to Tom Wilson in deep, and beat goalie Braden Holtby at the 9:22 mark to make it a 3-1 game.

Kyle Quincey got Columbus within a goal six minutes later, capitalizing on heavy pressure in the Caps’ end.  Keeping the Caps pinned in, Brandon Saad circled out through the left wing circle and fed Quincey at the left point.  Quincey’s floater through a maze of players hit nothing until it found the back of the net at 15:33 of the period to make it 3-2.

Braden Holtby stood tall in net after that, staving off a late Columbus flurry in front of his net to secure the 3-2 win and strengthen the grip the Caps have on the top spot in the division and league standings.

Other stuff…

-- At one point, when the Caps had a 3-0 lead, 15 different Columbus skaters were minus-1.  Only Brandon Saad (who finished plus-2), Josh Anderson, and Boone Jenner missed out on that fun among the 18 skaters.

-- Beating trends… Columbus came into the game with a 30-6-2 record this season when Alexander Wennberg had a point and had not lost a game in regulation when Jack Johnson scored a goal (3-0-1).  Well, that’s now 30-7-2, and 3-1-1.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game he had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th.  He went 13 games and a hand injury without one.

-- It was quite a jump start for Burakovsky, who skated just four shifts and 3:02 in the first period without a single mark in any category on his line of the score sheet.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had perhaps his most out-of-character game of the season.  He had one shot on goal (his only shot attempt) and no points.  But he did have five credited hits to lead the team and won nine of 12 faceoffs (he came into the game winning 43.4 percent of his draws).

-- As a group, the Caps won 34 of 54 faceoffs (63.0 percent).  No Caps taking more than one faceoff was under 50 percent.  Losing three of the last four draws they took in the last 1:01 made things a bit more interesting than they had to be.

-- Alex Ovechkin skated just 15:27, his lowest amount of ice time since he skated 14:54 in a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks on February 11th.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist.  That makes helpers in seven of his last 11 games, over which he is 2-15-17, plus-2.

-- Braden Holtby held the Blue Jackets to two goals on 37 shots faced.  It was the first time in six road games that he allowed fewer than three goals and his heaviest shot volume on the road this season since he faced 45 shots in Winnipeg in a 3-2 win last November 1st.

-- Columbus won the possession battle, out-attempting the Caps, 57-41 at 5-on-5 (58.16 percent Corsi-for), and outshooting the Caps, 30-26 at fives (numbers from

In the end…

Imagine seven games in a playoff series like this.  It would be grueling for the players, no doubt, but thrilling for fans of both teams (although we’d prefer to see a four sleeper game series in which the Caps stomp the Blue Jackets).  This might be thought of as “Game 0” of that potential playoff matchup. It had that kind of close-quarter, nasty edge feel to it.  That the Caps could go into Columbus and take the crowd out of the game for 40 minutes and take advantage of opportunities, then grind out a win against a hard-charging team late speaks well for their readiness for that environment.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 25

Week 25 for the Washington Capitals was one that might be described as a three course meal.  They had a tasty appetizer, followed by a satisfying entrĂ©e, and ended it with deflated souffle.  It might be the stale cake that fans remember most, but let’s not complain about the entire meal.

Record: 2-1-0

The schedule for Week 25 called for three games to open a season-long five game road trip. It is a trip that will take the Caps through five cities, four states, one Canadian province, and three time zones.  The leading leg of it took the Caps on a roundabout route from Minnesota to Colorado to Arizona against three teams in various states of distress.  The Caps faced a Minnesota Wild team that was 2-9-1 in their previous 11 games before facing the Caps.  Washington took a two-goal lead into the last five minutes of the game, but needed overtime to subdue the Wild after losing that two goal lead in the last five minutes.  In Colorado they faced an Avalanche team with the worst record in the league, by far, and with a 3-12-0 record in their previous 15 games before facing the Caps.  The Caps had a three-goal lead late in the second period and almost gave it all back before scoring an empty net goal in the last two minutes of a 5-3 win. 

They never got the chance to hold a lead against the Arizona Coyotes, the team with the second-worst record in the league, in the last game of the week.  The Coyotes scored three goals in the first 14 minutes of the contest, held off a challenge by the Caps mid-way through the game, and then dispatched the Caps in a 6-3 decision.

Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.23 /game; rank: 2nd)

Washington had no problems scoring goals in Week 25.  They did it against struggling teams, but they did do it.  The Wild had allowed 39 goals over their previous 11 games before facing the Caps, and the Avalanche and Coyotes had the two worst scoring defenses in the league.  It was not surprising that an offense as deep and skilled as the Caps averaged more than four goals for the week.  The two games in which the Caps scored five goals to open the week were the first instances of consecutive games with five or more goals since the put together a four-game streak of such games in Games 53-56 in early February.  It was the first time they recorded five or more goals in consecutive games on the road since they scored seven goals in each of Games 44 and 45 against Pittsburgh and St. Louis in mid-January last season.

On an individual level, Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in goal scoring for the week with three, all of them coming in the 5-4 overtime win over Minnesota in the first game of the week.  It was his 17th career hat trick, the most in the NHL since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (Eric Staal has 13).  In your odd Ovechkin fact of the day, those 17 career hat tricks are as many as any NHL player has accumulated since the 1994-1995 season.  Former Cap Peter Bondra had 17 hat tricks from 1994 to 2004.

T.J. Oshie was the other Capital with a multiple goal week (two), and he had both of his goals in that same game against the Wild.  It was Oshie’s sixth multi-goal game of the season for the Caps and second in five games, since recording his only hat trick of the season in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 18th. 

Marcus Johansson had himself a whale of a week.  With a goal and seven assists, his eight points led the Caps in scoring, twice as many points as any other player.   The eight points made him a 50-point player for the first time in his seven-year career (23-33-56), and he finished the week on a five-game points streak (1-10-11). He is the 15th player and the seventh on the current Caps team to have recorded at least one 50-point season since the 2004-2005 lockout.

Defense: 4.33/game (season: 2.22 /game; rank: 1st)

It was an odd week for the Caps on defense, and not in a good way.  There was the 13 goals in three games, which was bad enough.  But there was the odd result for the week of what happened in terms of shots attempts allowed.  The Caps had a very nice week overall with a 53.65 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, fueled by holding opponents to a combined 51.23 shots per 60 5-on-5 minutes.  But how they got there was bizarre.  The Caps were underwater in both of their wins in Week 25 – 36.67 percent against Minnesota and 49.49 percent against Colorado – both of them wins.  They dominated Arizona at fives in the last game of the week with a 66.09 percent Corsi-for and holding the Coyotes to 41.32 shots per 60 5-on-5 minutes (numbers from   In all three games, the Caps lost the goals for and against at fives, 3-1 to Minnesota, 3-2 to Colorado, and 4-2 to Arizona.

What seems a bit more revealing is the overall shot attempts in close situations.  The Caps were under 50 percent for the week in their win at Minnesota (38.24 percent) and in the loss to Arizona (46.15 percent).  They did manage to get above 50 percent in their win over Colorado (55.0 percent), but it was not enough to save the week (47.00 percent over the three games; numbers from

Goaltending: 4.29 / .862 (season:  2.12 / .923 / 11 shutouts)

It was not a good week between the pipes, especially for Braden Holtby.  He got most of two game’ worth of work and struggled with it, going 1-1-0, 5.22, .818 in 115 minutes of work, getting pulled from and then sent back into the nets against Arizona to close the week.  He ended the week with an unenviable recent road record, going 2-3-0, 4.50, .843 in his last five games on the road.  It was a case of having poor first periods and going downhill from there.  His .857 first period save percentage was the only period above .800 for the week, going .789 in the second periods and .786 in the third periods of the two games he played.  He did stop the only shot he faced in the overtime win over Minnesota to open the week.

Philipp Grubauer got the middle game of the week and the last 6:48 of the second period against Arizona in relief of Holtby.  His performance was uneven, but certainly more solid than Holtby’s.  He had healthy save percentages in the first (.929) and third periods (.933) against Colorado, but his second period performance (.833) was off, and he had the odd experience of not having to face a shot on goal in that 6:48 he played against Arizona.

Power Play: 6-for-8 / 75.5 percent (season:  23.6 percent; rank: 3rd)

If there is one thing truly clicking for the Caps these days, it is the power play.  Washington had its best week of the season in goals scored (six) and efficiency (75.0 percent) of any week this season.  Half of those six goals came from Alex Ovechkin in recording his hat trick against Minnesota in the first game of the week.  He managed that feat on the only three power play shots he took in that game.  John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom had the other three power play goals for the week.  Eight different players had power play points, Johansson leading that group with five points on the man advantage. 

It was an especially efficient week for the Caps on the power play.  They scored on half of their shots (6-for-12) and recorded 12 shots in just 8:08 of total power play time.  The Caps were successful in both of their power play opportunities this season, the first time they scored two power play goals in any of the 21 instances in which they had two power play opportunities.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10/ 80.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 7th)

It was a fair week on the penalty kill that might have ended superbly, but for an iffy effort against Arizona in the last game of the week.  Washington killed off all five shorthanded situations they faced against Minnesota, then skated off another three against Colorado.  With the chance for a perfect week, the Caps ended up allowing power play goals on both Coyote power plays to end the week, a disappointing outcome against a team that finished the week 26 in the league in power play efficiency overall and 23rd at home.

Those first two games were almost a clinic in penalty killing, holding the Wild to just four unsuccessful shots on goal in 9:53 of power play time, then holding the Avalanche to just three shots in six minutes of power play time.  Sure, the Avs had the worst home power play in the league to end the week, but the Wild finished the week as the second best home power play in the NHL.  It made it that much more disappointing to allow the Coyotes two goals on two shots in 2:41 with Arizona possessing the league’s eighth-worst home power play.

Faceoffs: 82-for-170 / 48.2 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 14th)

Overall, the Caps had a difficult week in the circle, although they did improve as the week wore on, finishing with a 35.3 percent winning percentage in the first game of the week against Minnesota, then following it up with a 50.0 percent effort against Colorado, and then winning 57.1 percent of their draws against Arizona.  It was a different story by zone.  The Caps won 53.2 percent of their neutral zone draws for the week, but lost at both ends of the ice – 40.8 percent in the offensive zone and 49.2 percent in the defensive zone.

Three of the big four (ten or more faceoffs for the week) were at 50 percent or better for the week – Evgeny Kuznetsov (50.0), Jay Beagle (52.2) and Nicklas Backstrom (54.8).  Only Lars Eller among that group was under 50 percent for the week (43.8 percent).

Goals by Period:

It was tight for the Caps in Week 25 in terms of goals by period, finishing the week with a minus-1 goal differential in the first and third periods, while finishing with a plus-1 differential in the second period and overtime.  That first period differential was positive until allowing three goals to Arizona to put themselves in a deep hole out of which they could not climb in the last game of the week.  And it was the minus-1 that the Caps had against Minnesota in the third period of their game that sent the context to overtime before the Caps won.

Still, the Caps did maintain their positive goal differential in all three periods for the season, and overtime, and they even improved a bit on their comparatively weak second period (plus-2 for the season).

In the end…

Week 25 was the 17th winning week for the Caps this season and their third in a row, over which they are 7-2-1.  Still, that Arizona game sticks out, for falling behind so deeply and so quickly to start the game, for allowing six goals to a team that had trouble scoring against air in March, and for leaving two points on the table that could have given them a stranglehold on the top spot in the league standings.  It makes for a bit more urgency in the Caps’ Sunday evening contest in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.  That made Week 25 a week that was good, but one that could have been so much better.  Certainly better than the deflated souffle the Caps were left with to finish it.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Marcus Johansson (1-7-8, even, 1-4-5 on the power play, five-game points streak to end the week)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, minus-1, hat trick, three power play goals on three power play shots, ten shots on goal 16 shot attempts, five hits)
  • Third Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (0-3-3, plus-1, seven shots on goal, ten shot attempts, two hits, two takeaways, nine blocked shots)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 78: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, April 2

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals enter the home stretch of their season-long five-game road trip on Sunday with a visit to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, to face the Blue Jackets.  This last of five regular season meetings between the Caps and Columbus will decide the season series between the clubs, each team having won a game in regulation and a game in extra time this season.  It will be the Caps’ second visit to Ohio this season, their last visit ending in an unpleasant 2-1 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.

The teams met less than two weeks ago, the Caps dealing Columbus a 2-1 Gimmick loss at Verizon Center on March 23rd.  Since then, the Blue Jackets are 2-1-1, losing their last two contests and dropping a point to the Caps in the standings.  Four points behind the Caps with five games to play, this might be considered a must-win for Columbus if they are to maintain any hope of catching Washington in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents Trophy with the league’s top record.

The Blue Jackets have struggled to score in their four games since facing the Caps, getting a total of six goals in those four games and being held to a single goal in three of those contests.  Six different Blue Jackets have one goal apiece in that stretch, while four have two points apiece.  One of those players is Kyle Quincey (1-1-2), who joined Columbus at the trading deadline in February, sent to the Blue Jackets by the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Dalton Prout. Columbus is Quincey’s fifth NHL team, having also skated for the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and Los Angeles Kings in his other stops.  I took Quincey quite a while to get a crooked number on his scoring line for Columbus, going his first 11 games with the Blue Jackets without a point, extending what would be a 17-game streak without a point that ended when he recorded an assist against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 1-0 win on March 25th.  Quincey is 1-4-5, minus-5, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Alexander Wennberg is another of those four players with two points in their last four games for the Blue Jackets (1-1-2).  It is part of a career year for Wennberg in games played (76), goals (13), assists (43), points (56), plus-minus (plus-9), and shooting percentage (12.6).  He also has career highs in power play goals (2) and power play assists (20), as well as total shots on goal (103).  He has been in something of a slump recently, though.  He is just 1-3-4, minus-1, in his last 16 games, and when he recorded a point in games last week over Philadelphia and the Buffalo Sabres, it was the first and only time in those 16 games he had points in consecutive games.  Both of those games in which Wennberg recorded points last week were wins, which is not unusual.  Columbus is 30-6-2 in games in which Wennberg has a point this season.  He is 1-4-5, minus-7, in 11 career games against Washington.

Defenseman Jack Johnson is also 1-1-2 in his last four games.  Until Quincey joined the Blue Jackets in March, Johnson was the oldest member of the Columbus blue line (he turned 30 in January).  Now in his 11th season and sixth with the Blue Jackets, Johnson is third on the franchise’s all-time list in games played by a defenseman (363).  He is also third among the franchise’s defensemen in goals (32), second in assists (110), and second in points (142).  No defenseman in Blue Jacket history has more game-winning goals than Johnson (six).  Despite his all-time high ranking among Columbus in a variety of categories, he is not a particularly prolific scorer from the blue line.  It means that when he does score, it has its benefits.  Columbus is 15-3-2 in the 20 games in which he registered a point this season. Johnson is 4-8-12, minus-4, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

1.  Columbus had a fine start to March, going 8-2-0 to begin the month.  They ended it with a thud, going 2-2-2 in their last six games of the month.  They scored just nine goals in those six games while allowing 12 (not including the Gimmick goal in the loss to the Caps).

2.  Part of the Blue Jackets’ charm this season has been winning one-goal games.  They are third in the league in winning percentage in one-goal games (.595/22-7-8), and in their six-game slide they are still 1-0-2 in one-goal decisions.

3.  Columbus is also one of two teams this season with a .500 or better winning percentage when allowing the game’s first goal (.500/14-11-3; Pittsburgh is .559/19-11-4).  In their 2-2-2 slide, though, they lost both games in which they allowed the first goal, a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

4.  The Blue Jackets are struggling mightily on the power play.  They are without a power play goal in their last nine games, going 0-for-17.  Four times in those nine games they enjoyed only one or had no power play opportunities.

5.  The Blue Jackets are not an especially effective possession team.  Overall this season, they rank 18th in the league in total shot attempt percentage-for (49.92 percent; numbers from  However, in their last six games, they rank 27th (46.07 percent).

1.  Washington has not stayed within the lines this season in terms of the rule book boundaries, ranking fourth overall in minor penalties taken (294).  They have been a lot better about it recently, though.  In their last seven games, over which they are 6-1-0, the Caps are tied for 22nd in total minor penalties taken (22), and they rank 24th in total penalty minutes recorded (51).

2.  The Caps can beat you close, and they can beat you up.  They are the only team in the league with a top-five winning percentage in one-goal games (.594/4th), two-goal games (.688/5th), and games decided by three or more goals (.724/3rd).

3.  Washington is very adept at putting teams behind the eight-ball.  They have scored the game’s first goal 54 times in 77 games this season, most in the league, and they are successful when they do.  Their record of 42-7-5 when scoring first is most in wins and best in winning percentage (.778).

4.  Here we are, 77 games into the season, and the Caps are still just one of two teams in the league without a goal scored at 4-on-4 (Carolina is the other).  What makes this fact a bit bizarre is that the Caps are ranked ninth in 4-on-4 ice time this season (83.86 minutes; numbers from

5.  The Caps have ramped up their possession numbers recently.  They rank fourth overall in total shot attempt percentage-for (51.82; numbers from, but rank second in their 6-1-0 run of late (56.20, behind Minnesota at 56.60).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Scott Hartnell

In the history of the NHL, 20 players have appeared in at least 1,000 games, recorded at least 1,500 minutes in penalties, and scored 300 or more goals.  Scott Hartnell became the 20th member of that club late last season, and he is only active member of that group.  This season, he skates as the oldest player on the Columbus Blue Jackets roster (he will be 35 years old on April 18th).  The nine-time 20-goal scorer has slipped a bit in his goal scoring this season, currently sitting at 13 goals, his lowest total for a full season since he had 12 for the Nashville Predators back in 2002-2003, his third season in the league.  He has had an excruciating time of it lately in terms of goal-scoring.  He has not recorded a goal since he had a pair against the Carolina Hurricanes, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 win on January 21st.  That makes 29 games and counting since his last goal.  All he has on his score sheet is seven assists.  Perhaps a combination of his age, production, and the improvement in skill around him, Hartnell has recorded 15 or more minutes of ice time just five times in 74 games this season, none since November 29th.  He is averaging just 11:34 over that 29-game streak without a goal and had fewer than ten minutes in three of his last ten games.  Hartnell is 13-13-26, plus-5, in 44 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Braden Holtby

When Braden Holtby allowed six goals on 25 shots on Friday in a 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, it was the third time in his career that he allowed six goals in a game, the first time it happened to him since he allowed that many twice in the 2012-2013 season.  It has been a rare occurrence for Holtby, but not as rare as you would think in the NHL.  Goalies have allowed six or more goals 53 times this season (through Friday’s games).   What is of more concern is his recent road record.   In his last five road games, Holtby is 2-3-0, 4.50, .843.  Holtby has been a good, if not great goalie on the road over his last three seasons (11th in goals against average at 2.39; 15th in save percentage at .915 among 67 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes), but this latest stretch might be cause for some concern.  In 16 career appearances against Columbus, Holtby is 10-3-2 (one no-decision), 2.52, .911, with one shutout.

In the end…

Columbus must win this game.  Lose, and the chances of overtaking the Caps in the standings evaporate to almost zero (with a regulation win, the Caps would have a six-point lead with four games to play for each team). The Caps want to make a statement.  Win in regulation, or perhaps in extra time for that matter, and they can start making space in the team’s offices for that Presidents Trophy.  It would send a message to an opponent who they could face in the second round of the postseason that the Caps are at or near the top of their game.  Columbus comes into this game staggering a bit.  The Caps come into it off one of their worst performances of the season.  These teams will not be in a good mood on Sunday.  This is as much a “playoff” game as one is likely to see in the regular season.  Caps fans will get a glimpse of just how ready the team is to work in that crucible.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2