Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Forwards: Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

“Luck is not chance, it's toil; fortune's expensive smile is earned.”
-- Emily Dickinson

If you are going to have a career year, it is best to have it in the last year of a contract before embarking on free agency.  It worked for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson last season, when he parlayed a career year into an eight-year/$64 million contract.  While he will not earn quite the payday that Carlson earned last summer, Brett Connolly is poised to see the career year he had in 2018-2019 be converted into a handsome contract of his own.

It did not start out that way as Connolly started his eighth NHL season.  Coming off consecutive 15-goal seasons with the Capitals, both career highs for him, he played through his first five ten-game segments – 50 games played – with nine goals, another 15-goal pace.  He ramped up his production in a big way over his last three segments, though.  Connolly wrapped up the season with 13 goals in his last 31 games over those segments, a 34-goals per 82 games pace.

It was a career year for Connolly in goals (22), assists (24), and points (46), but it was a career year in other respects, too.  He dressed for 81 games, topping his previous high of 71 games with Boston in 2015-2016. His five game-winning goals were a career best, surpassing the three he had in his first year with the Caps in 2016-2017.  He also displayed a new-found assertiveness reflected in his shot total.  The 139 shots on goal he posted was not only a career best, it was the first time he topped 100 shots for a season, and his 1.72 shots per game was more than one-third more than his career average before this season (1.28).

Fearless’ Take… That Brett Connolly topped the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career is not the odd part of his season, but perhaps that he took as long as he did to get there.  This is a player who recorded 86 goals in 144 games in junior hockey, nine goals in 23 games in international tournament play, and 52 goals in 137 games in the AHL.  But there was an odd consistency in his early career.  In 201 games covering seven seasons with Tampa Bay and Boston, Connolly had 39 goals – a 15-goals per 82 games pace.  He scored precisely 15 goals in each of his first two seasons in Washington, but at a somewhat higher pace (18 goals per 82 games).  That he should make the leap to 22 goals might seem like a lot, but it appears more of a progression than a quantum leap when looked at in terms of goals per game.  That suggests that this season is not an aberration, but the maturity of a goal scorer who had a well-defined role and a career high in games played (81) to play it.

Cheerless’ Take… A strange thing about Connolly’s season was his ice time.  He skated more than 15 minutes 16 times in 81 games, but the Caps had only an 8-6-2 record in those games (he had four goals in those games).  He also skated less than 11:30 in 16 games, and the Caps had an 11-2-3 record in those games (he also had four goals in those games).   

Odd Connolly Fact… Brett Connolly had eight games this season in which he recorded a goal on his only shot on goal.  Only Dallas’ Cody Eakin had more such instances (nine).  In his three seasons as a Capital, no player in the league has had more one-shot/one-goal games than Connolly (24).  J.T. Miller is second with 16 such games.  And, those games have been good indicators of success, the Caps posting a 19-2-3 record in those 24 games.

Game to Remember… March 14th at Philadelphia

When the Caps opened their next to last road trip of the season, they were packing a seven-game winning streak into their baggage.  However, they dropped a 5-3 decision in Pittsburgh to the Penguins to open their trip in what was a frustrating night for Connolly – no points and four shots on goal in just over 13 minutes of ice time.  A trip to Philadelphia two nights later would normally seem like a stiff test after such a loss, but the Caps had already taken two decisions from the Flyers this season.  In their second and final trip to Philadelphia this season, Connolly got the Caps on the right side of things early.  After an attempted keep-in by John Carlson of a fluttering puck dribbled to Michal Kempny just inside the blue line, Kempny sent a slap pass to Connolly just off the post to the right of goalie Carter Hart.  Connolly settled the puck and whipped it past the right skate of Hart to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 2:52 into the contest. 

The Caps took a 2-0 lead before the first intermission on a Lars Eller goal, Connolly recording the primary assist, but the Flyers halved the deficit barely a minute into the second period on a James van Riemsdyk goal.  Connolly restored the two-goal lead mid-way through the frame when he stripped Travis Sanheim of the puck at the Caps’ blue line, skated down the left wing accompanied by Carl Hagelin on his right.  As he got to the left wing circle he ripped a shot that sailed past Hart’s glove on the far side to make it 3-1 at the 8:43 mark.  It would be the game-winning goal in the Caps’ 5-2 win, his fourth of five game-winning goals this season, and his second three-point game of the year.

Game to Forget… January 23rd at Toronto

Trips to Toronto are occasions for great anticipation by players.  And Toronto has become a difficult place for visitors with the Maple Leafs’ improvements over the last several years.  Compounding the problem for the Caps was that they would be playing the back half of a back-to-back set of games and doing so against a supercharged offense in the Maple Leafs.  The Caps got out to a lead late in the first period on a Nicklas Backstrom goal but surrendered the lead with less than a minute in the period.  Washington grabbed the lead again early in the second on a goal by Alex Ovechkin, but there the game took a turn.  Toronto scored four straight goals on their way to a 6-3 win.  It was a forgettable night for Connolly, who did not record a point, managed a single shot on goal, two shot attempts, and had a takeaway for his 12:44 in ice time.  He also finished minus-3 for the evening, his worst plus-minus rating of the season and only the second time as a Capital that he finished minus-3 (February 17, 2018 at Chicago in a 7-1 loss).

Postseason… Like his teammates, Connolly’s postseason breaks into home and road pieces, but perhaps not quite as cleanly as some of those teammates.  In four home games he was 1-0-1, plus-1, with seven shots on goal.  In three road games, Connolly was 1-0-1, minus-3, with two shots on goal.  His nine shots in seven games made his 2018 performance on the way to a Stanley Cup look like the outlier.  He had 32 shots in 24 games last spring (six goals), which was quite different from this spring’s effort and that of his first career trip to the postseason, with the Caps in 2017, when he managed only six shots on goal in seven games without recording a goal.

Looking ahead…

Brett Connolly is in an enviable place.  And then again, he is not.  The enviable part is that he had a career season as he enters his prime performance and earning years (he will turn 27 years of age on May 2nd).  His current two-year/$3.0 million contract is expiring, and he will be due a big raise.  Looking at comparable right wings at capfriendly.com (24-30 years of age, 15-25 goals, 40-50 points this season), it would seem unlikely he would command the same money as Brandon Saad ($6.0 million cap hit) or even Tom Wilson ($5.167 million cap hit), but a contract at or north of $4.0 million per year hardly seems out of the question for a 27-year old right wing who can post 20-25 goals and has a Stanley Cup on his resume.

Where one does not envy Connolly is in facing the difficult decision between maximizing his earning potential and staying in a town and a team with which he fits, even if that team almost certainly cannot afford what other teams could offer.  Players dream about being in a position to use a career year to make a leap in earnings. Last year it worked for John Carlson and the Capitals, and made fans happy when he inked a long-term extension with the club.  Given all the decisions the Caps have to make about players this year and next,  it might be a bit too much to expect them to go two-for-two in re-signing a player coming off a career year.  This could come down to which player they want to pay $4 million, Carl Hagelin, who is more versatile, but who has never had a 20-goal year in eight seasons and is almost four years older than Connolly, or Connolly, the more productive offensive player, if somewhat limited to that role

In the end…

It took some time, but Brett Connolly re-engineered his game, from a top-ten draft pick expected to provide powerful scoring punch (a role in which he disappointed two teams) to a third-liner who can provide scoring production not usually seen from that layer of forwards.  He has paired well with Lars Eller over the last two seasons to make the Caps’ third line an important ingredient in their success.  But nothing lasts forever, especially in hockey, where circumstance and financial considerations make for constant and frequent player turnover.  The term “cap casualty” might be attached to Connolly this summer, but if it comes to pass, it is because his performance and contributions to the team’s success over the last three years made it so.  And fans should be happy with that.

Grade: B+

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Suspense is worse than disappointment.”
-- Robert Burns
Ten months ago, we closed our look back at Andre Burakovsky’s season with this question: “does he take the next step to being a productive top-six quality forward, or will he continue to exhibit the injury tendencies and inconsistencies of the last three seasons?”  After a third straight season posting 12 goals and a second straight season of 25 points, we have our answer, and it is not one that Caps fans would have preferred.  

Despite the fact that Burakovsky is still just 24 years old and will not turn 25 until next February, he finished the 2018-2019 season with 328 regular season and another 56 postseason games on his resume.  One would think – or at least hope – that a player with this much experience on his resume was displaying the game one would expect to see in his prime.  If that is true for Burakovsky, it is something of a disappointment, if this is his prime performance level.  But here is the frightening part of coming to that conclusion at this point in his career.  Let’s consider three players over their first five seasons up to their 24 year old season:

Burakovsky:  23rd overall draft pick (2013), 62 goals, 83 assists, 145 points, 4183 minutes ice time

Player B: 7th overall draft pick (2011), 58 goals, 87 assists, 145 points, 3995 minutes ice time

Player C: 6th overall draft pick (2006), 51 goals, 100 assists, 151 points, 4250 minutes ice time

Player B is Mark Scheifele, who blossomed into a 29-goal scorer in that fifth season of his career and thereafter has been a point per game player for the Winnipeg Jets.  Player C is Derick Brassard, who does have a 60-point season and two 20-goal seasons, but who is now on his sixth NHL team in 12 seasons and fourth in his last two seasons.  One is a bona fide NHL star, while the other has always seemed to be more potential than performance despite decent mid-career numbers.

Burakovsky meandered his way to an unimpressive set of numbers over his first five ten-game segments, going 6-6-12, minus-5, covering a total of 44 games out of the 50 on the schedule to that point that brought the Caps to the All-Star Game break.  After that, and here is where Burakovsky’s propensity to tease emerged once more, he was 6-7-13, plus-7, in his last 32 games over the last three segments, despite averaging almost a minute less per game over this stretch (10:43) than the previous one (11:25).  He did, however, close the regular season and open the postseason once more with a lot of zeroes on his score sheet.  After posting goals in three straight games in early March, he went his last 14 games of the regular season and first five games of the postseason with one goal and one assist with an “even” plus-minus rating.

Fearless’ Take… For all his disappointments in light of his potential, Andre Burakovsky is rather accomplished for this franchise at this point in his career.  Among 78 players who played in at least 100 games by their 24-year old season for the Caps, he is ninth in games played (328), tied for 15th in career goals (62, with Michal Pivonka), 12th in even strength goals (55), 23th in assists (83), 20th in points (145), and sixth in game-winning goals (13).  Even in 2018-2019 he was important for results, even if you wish he did it more often.  The Caps were 9-2-1 in the 12 games in which he had a goal, 15-3-4 in the 22 games in which he had a point. 

Cheerless’ Take… There was an odd lack of engagement by Burakovsky in a physical sense this season.  He is not generally known as a physical player, but only eight times this season did he record a hit and a blocked shot in the same game.  Not that it mattered a lot, since the Caps were just 4-3-1 in those games.  And there was the odd lack of team results even when he was engaged.  In 41 games this season, Burakovsky was one ice for at least ten shot attempts at 5-on-5.  Only 22 times in those games did the Caps win.  He just was not consistently able to translate action into results.

Odd Burakovsky Fact… Of 20 players with at least 50 goals scored for the Caps since 2005-2006, Burakovsky has the second-best percentage of game-winning goals to total goals (21.0 percent), trailing only Jay Beagle (23.5 percent).

Game to Remember… December 6th at Arizona

The Caps were in the midst of a three-game road trip in early December, having lost the first game of that trip and with losses in consecutive games for the first time in a month when they took the ice in Arizona.  The Caps found themselves chasing the game, allowing the game’s first goal and allowing another barely a minute after they tied the game early in the second period.  Matt Niskanen  got the Caps even late in the second period, and the teams fought to a draw with no goals scored in the first 15 minutes of the third period.  In the 16th minute, Niskanen fired a long cross-ice diagonal pass from his own end to Burakovsky crossing the red line.  Skating into the Coyotes’ end, Burakovsky got to the top of the left wing circle and unleashed a shot under the stick of defenseman Kevin Connauton and past the blocker of goalie Adin Hill on the short side to make it a 3-2 game, 15:18 into the period.  Alex Ovechkin potted an empty netter late, but for Burakovsky, subbing for an injured Tom Wilson on the top line, his was the game-winning goal, welcome in ending a two-game losing streak and lighting the match to what would be a five-game winning streak.

Game to Forget…  February 3rd vs. Boston

A lot of Capitals might like to forget this game in early February.  The Caps went into it with a 14-game winning streak against the Bruins.  There would not be a 15th.  Tuukka Rask, whose career numbers against the Caps going into this game would frighten Stephen King, pitched a 1-0 shutout to become the all-time leader in wins by a goalie in Bruin history.  For his part, Burakovsky did not record a shot attempt while skating on the fourth line, hitting the ice for only ten shifts and 7:18 of ice time, none of which came in the last 13 minutes of the game with the Caps trying to chase down the tying goal.

Postseason… If the Caps had anything at all from Burakovsky early in the series against Carolina, the series might not have gone seven games.  As it was, though, he did not record a point in Games 1-5, was minus-4, and had only one shot on goal over those games.  Only once in those five games did he skate more than 10 minutes, logging 14:08 in a 2-1 loss in Game 4.  He did bounce back somewhat in Games 6 and 7 with an assist in the former and a goal in the latter, but it was not nearly enough.  Going back to last spring’s Stanley Cup final, he is 1-2-3, minus-3, in his last ten postseason games with only nine shots on goal, three of those coming in the double-overtime loss to Carolina in Game 7 in the first round that ended the Caps’ season.

Looking forward…

After completing his entry level contract at three years and $2.775 million, followed by his extension for two years at $3.0 million per year on a bridge contract, Andre Burakovsky finds himself an arbitration-eligible free agent.  To retain negotiating rights, the Caps would have to qualify him at $3.25 million.  That is a lot to pay a player who averaged barely 11 minutes per game this season, was at times a fourth liner and others a healthy scratch, and who was largely silent in the latter part of the regular season and playoffs.  Given that the Caps have the renewals of Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly, Christian Djoos, and Jakub Vrana, among others, on their plate, Burakovsky might be at a crossroads of his career. 

In the end…

Burakovsky does not have the enigmatic quality of Alexander Semin, a highly skilled player whose frustrating tenure as a Capital preceded Burakovsky’s by a decade.  Nevertheless, Burakovsky’s career in Washington has been a head-scratcher.  He has displayed a variety of talents – speed, skating ability in tight places, good hands, a wicked shot – but it has not been displayed either frequently or consistently enough.  More often, he has simply disappeared too often from games altogether.  A player of his skill should not have had 21 games this season without a shot on goal, although getting fourth line minutes for much of the year will do that.  It seems as likely as not that Burakovsky will be playing in another city next season.  Retaining him is among the hardest decisions the Caps will make this off-season.  It is hard for a team to let a 24-year old with his skill set go, and how the Caps deal with that decision will be an important story line this off-season. 

Grade: C-

Monday, April 29, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Forwards: Travis Boyd

Travis Boyd

“He has the deed half done who has made a beginning.”
-- Horace

The 2011 NHL entry draft was equal parts odd and forgettable for the Washington Capitals, with one exception.  The Caps did not have a first round pick, that having been sent to the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade for Troy Brouwer.  Second rounder?  Nope.  That one went to the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade for Joe Corvo (the pick finally settled in Calgary after a couple of subsequent transactions).  Their third round pick went to the Florida Panthers in a trade for Dennis Wideman. 

The Caps did have their remaining picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.  Two of them – fifth round pick Patrick Koudys and seventh round pick Garrett Haar -- never got past the ECHL level of pro hockey, and a third – goaltender Steffen Soberg – never played a game of pro hockey in North America. 

That left the Caps’ sixth round draft pick, Travis Boyd, the lone survivor of a four-pick draft.  Taken 177th overall in that 2011 draft, Boyd spent the next four seasons at the University of Minnesota before graduating the Hershey Bears in the AHL at the end of the 2014-2015 season.  Boyd spent the next two full seasons with the Bears before splitting his 2017-2018 season into 61 games with Hershey and eight with the Caps in his first NHL action.  He got into one game in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run, the Game 6 overtime win over Pittsburgh that clinched the Eastern Conference semi-final series over the Penguins.

Boyd started the 2018-2019 on the shelf with an injury suffered in a preseason game and got his first action of the year in Hershey on a conditioning assignment.  He debuted for the Caps in early November and did so in style, recording a pair of assists on first period goals in a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

After missing the Caps’ first dozen games, Boyd dressed for 53 of the last 70 regular season games and was one of 15 Capitals to finish with 20 or more points (5-15-20).  He was the good luck charm that illustrates the benefits of secondary scoring.  Washington was 15-2-1 in the 18 games in which he recorded a point.

Fearless’ Take… Whatever becomes of Boyd’s career going forward, one can be impressed with its beginning for its doggedness.  Perhaps that is a product of the foundation he got coming up – two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program before he was drafted, four years at one of the top NCAA hockey programs, and three seasons with the Hershey Bears, the flagship franchise in the AHL.  That he finished with 20 points in 53 games (0.38 points per game, almost as many as Lars Eller (0.44) and more than Andre Burakovsky (0.33) was a bit of a surprise, given that he was not an elite scorer as an amateur.  There is some evidence that he might be a late bloomer in this area, given he averaged 20-43-63 per 82 games in his stay with the Hershey Bears.

Cheerless’ Take… He’s a nice story, but boy, he is swimming upstream against a powerful current of history.  Over 20 years ending with Boyd’s selection in 2011, the Caps had 18 sixth round draft picks.  He is one of only five to appear in an NHL game and one of only three to appear in an NHL game for the Caps (Mathieu Perreault appeared in 159 games for the Caps, and Garrett Mitchell dressed for one game in 2016-2017).  There is something to be said for the solid grounding he got in his development, but he still finished this season as a bubble player who dressed for only one postseason game.

Odd Boyd Fact… Travis Boyd was one of only three players in the league this season to record 20 or more points while averaging less than ten minutes of ice time per game.  Winnipeg’s Jack Roslovic was 9-15-24 while averaging 9:45 per game, and Los Angeles’ Austin Wagner was 12-9-21 while averaging 8:56 per game.

Bonus Odd Boyd Fact… Boyd was one on only two forwards in the league to log more than 500 minutes of ice time and record 35 of fewer shots.  Boyd had 35 shots in 521 minutes of ice time, while Colorado’s Gabriel Bourque had 34 shots in 536 minutes of ice time.

Game to Remember… December 8th at Columbus

After missing the Caps’ first dozen games of the season, Travis Boyd played through his first dozen games of the season in solid fashion, averaging half a point per game, a respectable number for a fourth liner getting ten minutes a game.  However, all six points he had came on assists.  In his 13th game of the season, in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, he recorded a first period assist on a Dmitrij Jaskin goal to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in that contest.  Alex Ovechkin tallied with less than a minute in the first period to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.  When the Caps held onto that lead going into the third period, the competitive portion of the game appeared over, and the object was to play smart, minimize risks, and play responsibly, common ingredients in a recipe for road success.  

But there was still time for a moment, and what a moment it was for Boyd.  Alex Ovechkin gathered up a loose puck at the Columbus blue line and circled into the zone on a 2-on-1 with Boyd.  From the left wing circle, Ovechkin slid a pass under defenseman Seth Jones’ stick and onto the tape of Boyd’s stick.  Boyd wasted no time in snapping a shot past the outstretched glove of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to record his first NHL goal.  A first goal coming off a pass from a former Calder/Hart/Ross/Lindsay/Richard/Smythe Trophy winner and beating a former Vezina Trophy winner.  It hardly gets more memorable than that.

Game to Forget… March 30th at Tampa Bay

If it was a statement game to be played against the league’s top team in the regular season, the Caps delivered an emphatic statement to the Tampa Bay Lightning on their own ice sheet in late March.  The Caps scored three first period goals, held a 4-0 lead after less than 28 minutes, and withstood a brief Lightning rally before closing out a 6-3 win.  Stars were stars for the Caps with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie each recording a pair of goals.  Travis Boyd’s record of the game barely registered.  In just over six minutes of ice time, his lowest ice time of the season, he did not record a shot attempt, had only one mark on his score sheet (a takeaway), and was a minus-1.  Winning makes everyone feel good, but it feels better when one has made bigger contributions to the effort.  For Boyd, who skated a team low 12 shifts, it was a night with little to remember.

Looking Ahead…

Travis Boyd is entering the last year of a two-year contract that carries an $800,000 cap hit.  He will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent at the end of the season.  How he begins the season will be more a product of what happens with other players, who the Caps are inclined and/or are able to resign from among their nine restricted and unrestricted free agents.  That he played in 16 of 19 games after the trading deadline and went 1-3-4 while averaging just 8:36 in ice time, and that he followed that up with only one postseason game suggests he is on the bubble as a regular next season or even a roster player. 

That the Caps have seven restricted and unrestricted free agents among the forwards hints at the potential for opportunity for a player to break through.  One would normally consider that a player such as Boyd would face some pressure from players rising from Hershey, but the likely suspects there – Nathan Walker and Riley Barber – are Group 6 unrestricted free agents, and Liam O’Brien is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent going into this off-season.  Since the Caps are at the 50-contact limit (source: capfriendly.com ) with some expected churn within that number, Boyd might be in a unique position to be standing on the ice on Opening Night for the Caps when the dust settles.

In the end…

Travis Boyd had a nice rookie season.  He finished in the top-25 among rookie point-getters despite only Los Angeles’ Austin Wagner averaging less ice time in that group (8:56) than Boyd (9:50).  The question hovering over Boyd going into next season will be whether his improvement in scoring output in the AHL and his respectable rookie season indicate an upside that is only beginning to be tapped, or if he is at or near his performance plateau, given that he will turn 26 years of age in training camp.  Still, looking at the 2018-2019 season, the injured start, and the role he was asked to play, it was a good season for the rookie.

Grade: B

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
-- Jonathan Swift

There are “passers,” and there are “playmakers.”  The former have little impact on the game, the latter are the difference between success and failure.  Nicklas Backstrom is, of course, a sublime passer, capable of threading pucks through defenders to a teammate no one saw or saucering a pass over a defender’s stick onto the blade of a teammate’s stick on a 2-on-1 for an easy goal.  But Backstrom is among the best playmakers of his generation.  He ranks fourth among active players in career assists, and of the 19 other players among the top 20 active players in assists, 17 of them came into the league before Backstrom did in the 2007-2008 season.  Only Sidney Crosby among active players has averaged more assists per game (0.817) than Backstrom (0.717).  He and Crosby are the only active players to have recorded at least 20 goals and at least 50 assists six times since Backstrom came into the league.

The 2018-2019 season was Backstrom’s sixth 20-goal/50-assist season (22-52-74) and his fourth such season in a row.  It was another season in an uncommon string of consistent seasons.  Over the last six seasons his goal output ranged from 18 to 23 goals, while his assist total ranged from 50 to 63.

That is the good news.  The bad news, such as it is, was that much of Backstrom’s production was front-loaded on the regular season’s schedule.  He was 10-28-38, plus-15, over his first three ten-game segments covering 30 games. He was 12-24-36, minus-13, over his last five segments covering 51 games. 

Fearless’ Take… But for Alex Ovechkin, the case could be made that Nicklas Backstrom is the greatest skater in Caps history.  His all-time franchise rankings would appear to bear that out.  Start with games played.  He finished the season with 895 career regular season games played, passing Dale Hunter for fifth place all-time and first among centers.  He finished the season with 231 goals, passing Mike Ridley for fourth place on the franchise list and first among centers.  He added to his top ranked all-time assist total, his 642 career assists ranking, as noted above, fourth among active players.  He passed Peter Bondra for second in points in franchise history (873).  His plus-120 is the best plus-minus ranking in team history.  Ovechkin is the only player within 100 of him (217) in career power play assists (284), and while he is in second place in career power play points (356) to Ovechkin (464), it is still 100 more career power play points than Peter Bondra in third place (256).  He even won 700 faceoffs this season, the fourth time he has won that many.  Only Adam Oates has more such seasons for the Caps (five).

Cheerless’ Take… Backstrom has a weird set of games that made up almost half his season.  After he had a hat tirck/four-point night against New Jersey on November 30th and followed that up with a goal against Anaheim in his next game, there was a 35-game stretch in which he had three goals, only one of those at even strength (although he did have 20 assists, 15 at even strength).  And the flip side of his all-time franchise ranking profile is how much the team depends on him to perform at that level.  Washington was 13-15-3 in the 31 games in which Backstrom did not record a point this season.

Odd Backstrom Fact… Backstrom tied a career high with five game-winning goals.  Three of those game-winners came on power plays. Conversely, his 25 power play points was his second-lowest for a season in which he played more than 50 games (he had 22 power play points in 77 games in 2010-2011).

Game to Remember… November 30th vs. New Jersey

Over his first 23 games, Nicklas Backstrom had a typical “Backstrom” level of performance – six goals, 19 assists, three of the goals and nine of the assists coming on power plays.  He had six multi-point games in that start.  When he recorded a three-point game in a 5-3 win on November 26th over the New York Islanders in Brooklyn in his 24th game of the season, it was not surprising that all three points came on assists.  What would be surprising was what he followed that up with.

Returning home against the New Jersey Devils on November 30th, Backstrom opened the scoring on his second shift of the game, 3:51 into the contest, redirecting a centering feed from Alex Ovechkin through the legs of defenseman Sami Vatanen and over the right pad of goalie Keith Kinkaid.  The teams exchanged shorthanded goals in the second period, but Backstrom got on the score sheet once more, serving up an assist on an Andre Burakovsky goal that put the Caps up, 3-1, less than six minutes into the third period.  Five minutes later, Backstrom dialed his own number, taking the puck off the right wing wall, circling into the faceoff circle, and snapping a shot from the dot past Kinkaid to give him what would be his first multi-goal game of the season.  He was not done, though.  After Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson scored to make it a one-goal game, and Alex Ovechkin provided some breathing room with an empty net goal with 90 seconds left, Backstrom closed the scoring with an empty netter of his own with 22.1 seconds left to complete the hat trick.  It was his second career regular season hat trick (he has a postseason hat trick), his first since he recorded one in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 13, 2014.  It was his second four-point night of the season, the 22nd of his career, second on the team’s all-time list (Alex Ovechkin: 26). 

Game to Forget… February 23rd at Buffalo

It would be almost cliché to say games in Buffalo are not generally thought of as memorable, but Backstrom’s visit there on February 23rd was certainly one to forget.  Coming, as it did, as the last game of a six game road trip, the team’s longest of the season, it was even more forgettable.  He was on the ice for the Sabres’ first goal, just 3:40 into the game.  He was on the ice for the last goal, an empty netter in the last minute.  In between, he was on the ice for two of three Sabres’ goals, a total of four goals for which he was on-ice for the game in a 5-2 loss.  He also took a third period penalty for good measure.  He did all this in just 16:23 of ice time, his second-lowest ice time of the season.

Postseason… Nicklas Backstrom’s postseason was, well, odd.  On one level, he was beastly, leading the team in goals (five) and second in points (nine) in the seven-game series against Carolina.  He had 14 hits, fifth among forwards, and he won 52.7 percent of his faceoffs.  On the other hand, he was on ice for 11 of the 21 goals scored by the Hurricanes and was a team-worst minus-4, a minus-5 in the three road games in Carolina, minus-3 in what could have been a series-clinching game in Raleigh that the Caps lost, 5-2.  That road performance was especially striking when contrasted with his results on home ice.  In four games at Capital One Arena, Backstrom was 5-3-8, plus-1, with 13 shots on goal.  In three games in Carolina, he was 0-0-0, minus-5, with only five shots on goal.  He still managed to top the 100-point mark in his postseason career, the second Capital to do so in team history, his 106 points in the postseason trailing only Ovechkin (126).

Looking ahead…

Nicklas Backstrom has the sort of game that should age well.  He does not depend on straight-line speed, stick-handling, or power as much as he does vision, a deft passing touch, and guile.  He just completed his sixth straight 70-point season, one of only three players in the league to have six straight (Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin).  He is entering the last year on his current contract, and normally that would serve as motivation for a player who could find himself highly sought after as an unrestricted free agent.  It is difficult to think of Backstrom in another jersey, particularly when the player says, “[Washington is] all I know… It’s crazy, but at the same time, it’s a great feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything better from the fans or the city of Washington.”  In that respect, it is as much with expectation as hope that Backstrom and the club agree on an extension that keeps him here into the next decade, a player in whom one can have confidence that he will continue to be a durable, 70-point or more player.

In the end…

At the highest level of examination, Nicklas Backstrom had a typical year, most notably averaging at or near a point per game over the course of the season.  However, drilling down it was a somewhat odd year.  His scoring consistency was not displayed as much on a game-to-game basis, as reflected in his ten-game segments, and his home-road split in the playoffs was not all that different than that in the regular season, just more pronounced.  And, while it was a typical Backstrom year in the final results, it was also, by his standards, rather middle of the road.  While he had his third highest career goal total (22, tied with his 2009-2009 season), his 52 assists were his seventh-highest in 12 seasons, his 74 points being sixth-most in his career, and his plus-2 rating his third worst.  His power play numbers were similarly unextraordinary by his standards, especially his assist total, the 18 power play assists being tied for third fewest in his career. 

Nevertheless, that standard set by Backstrom is a high one indeed.  He in on a very short list of the best playmakers in the league over the last decade.  It is that which sets him apart as a special player, his on-ice vision being essential to his and the team’s success.  And it is the vision of Backstrom creating something from nothing – at least nothing the average player might see – that has been a pleasant vision for Caps fans for more than a decade.

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Unkindest Result -- Games 7

There have been 151 goalies in NHL history to have played in a Game 7. Last night was Braden Holtby's eighth. Only three goalies in NHL history have played more -- Patrick Roy (13), Martin Brodeur (10), and Curtis Joseph (9).  It was Holtby's fifth loss. Only Roy had more (7).

Of 20 goalies to play at least five Games 7 in their careers, only Henrik Lundqvist (1.11), Harry Lumley (1.81) and Martin Brodeur (1.87) have a better GAA than Holtby (1.95). Only Lundqvist (.961), Kirk McLean (.937), and Tim Thomas (.934) have a better SV than Holtby (.929).

It was Holtby’s third overtime Game 7.  No goalie has had more (tied with four others).  He is now one of 6 goalies in NHL history to lose two Games 7 in overtime, even with a 1.86 GAA and .938 SV in those three games. May there never be a third loss.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 7: Hurricanes 4 - Capitals 3 (2 OT)

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes faced off in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night. It took extra time, and when it was over, it was the Carolina Hurricanes eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions, 4-3, in double overtime.

First Period

The Caps spent little time easing into the contest.  Andre Burakovsky was a one-man wrecking crew in the third minute of the game.  He chased down Lucas Wallmark at the right wing wall and finished a check as Wallmark dumped the puck into the corner.  He then pivoted and homed in on Brett Pesce, who was having trouble controlling the puck.  Burakovsky stripped him of it and stepped out through the right wing circle.  Faking Trevor van Riemsdyk to the ice, Burakovsky skated through the low slot and roofed a shot over the glove of goalie Petr Mrazek and under the crossbar to make it 1-0, 2:13 into the period.

Then it was time for Alex Ovechkin to author a highlight reel play that stands among the best highlight plays of his career.  After both teams completed line changes, Dmitry Orlov sent a long pass from behind his net to Ovechkin on the Carolina side of the red line.  Ovechkin gathered in the pass and then backhanded a pass off the side wall at the players’ bench to free himself from Dougie Hamilton.  Ovechkin raced down the right side through the faceoff circle, beating Jaccob Slavin to the puck and drawing it around the sliding defenseman.  Closing on Mrazek, he fed Tom Wilson for a one-timer that found the back of the net, and the Caps had a 2-0 lead 6:23 into the period.

The teams exchanged power plays later in the period, but there was no further scoring.

-- The teams split 20 shots on goal down the middle, ten apiece, but the Caps had a slight 21-20 edge in shot attempts.

-- Jonas Siegenthaler led the team in shots on goal with three; Lars Eller led the team with three hits.

-- Shift time was interesting… On the top line, Ovechkin averaged 33 seconds per shift; Nicklas Backstrom averaged 30 seconds; and Tom Wilson averaged 34 seconds.

Second Period

Washington had a chance to put the Hurricanes in a deep hole when they were awarded a power play in the ninth minute of the period.  It would be Carolina that would take advantage, though.  Sebastian Aho converted his own rebound from the edge of the left wing circle at the 9:51 mark to halve the lead.

The Caps restored their two goal lead less than four minutes later. Evgeny Kuznetsov eluded two Hurricanes while skating the puck down the right wing wall.  He nudged it ahead to Carl Hagelin, who carried it into the offensive zone.  Filling in the middle behind Hagelin, Kuznetsov took a return pass and had several options available – a pass to Hagelin for a one-timer, a pass to his left for a Jakub Vrana one-timer, or take the shot himself.  He dialed up the last option, snapping a shot over Mrazek’s blocker to make it 3-1, 13:22 into the period.

Carolina got that one back later in the period when Teuvo Teravainen collected a sliding puck in the slot, turned, and snapped a shot through Holtby at the 16:37 mark.  That closed the second period scoring for both teams.

-- The teams were even in shots in the second period at nine apiece.  The Caps had a 19-18 edge in shot attempts.

-- Five Caps did not have a shot attempt through 40 minutes: Dmitry Orlov, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Carl Hagelin.

-- Washington had a 27-18 edge in faceoffs through 40 minutes (60.0 percent).

Third Period

Third periods have been an issue in this series and all year long for the Caps, and it took Carolina less than three minutes to tie the game.  Jordan Staal curled through the right wing circle and wristed a shot that beat Holtby cleanly to the far side, the game tied 3-3, 2:56 into the period.  Despite some back and forth, and a series-saving swipe of the puck out of the Hurricane crease by Brock McGinn late in regulation, the teams would finish 60 minutes tied, 3-3.


Tension.  Suspense.  Pressure.  And no goals.

Second Overtime

“Mr. Game 7,” Justin Williams, put the Caps out of their exhausted misery, setting up the game-winning goal by firing a shot from the right wing to the Caps’ net, where Brock McGinn redirected it out of mid-air and past Holtby’s blocker to end the contest at the 11:05 mark of the second overtime, thus ending the Caps’ reign as Stanley Cup champions.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps leaned heavily on the defensive pair of Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov.  They skated 35:58 and 37:14 in even strength ice time.  No other Capital defenseman skated more than 27:09 in even strength ice time (John Carlson).

-- The Caps lost only once in the regular season in overtime when leading after two periods.  They are the only team through the first round to have lost a game in overtime when leading after two periods.

-- Over the last period in regulation and two overtimes, Carolina out-attempted the Caps, 52-35.

-- The Capitals never trailed on home ice until the series’ final shot on goal.  Not one second.

-- Nick Jensen was the only Capital not to record a shot on goal.

-- Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky led the team with five blocked shots apiece.

-- Jonas Siegenthaler and Brooks Orpik led the team with six hits apiece.

-- The Caps fell to 14-17 all-time in home playoff overtime games.  They are now 1-8 in multiple overtime games on home ice, their lone win coming in Game 2 of the 1985 Patrick Division semifinal against the New York Islanders (2-1).

-- The power play was all or nothing on home ice for the Caps.  They were 2-for-4 in Game 1 and 3-for-4 in Game 5.  However, they were 0-for-4 in Game 2 and 0-for-3 in Game 7, including a power play early in the second overtime that, had they converted, would have won the series.  The Caps failed to get a shot on goal on that power play.

-- Braden Holtby finished the postseason with a 2.67 goals against average.  That is his highest GAA in any of his seven postseason trips.

In the end…

You play an entire 82-game, six-month season, and certain things are made known, good and bad.  The Caps had two issues this season that were consistently frustrating.  They were a team that did not finish games well, compared to the rest of the league, and they were a lousy faceoff team.  Both came back to bite them in the end.  They took a lead into the third period, and they coughed it up less than three minutes in.  So, overtime.  Then, in the second overtime, they lost a defensive zone draw and never got the puck out of their own end before Carolina scored the game-winning goal.  Doing the same things the same way and expecting a happy result in this instance might have been insanity.

There will always be that happy time in early June 2018 when the Caps became champions and celebrated like no other team, as a team and with their fans.  Nothing ever takes that away.  And while there will be the usual soul-searching and evaluation of this team, that is for another time.  We are sad that it came to an end all too soon, but these Capitals defended their title honorably.  Champions are always champions, even when the title moves on to another city.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Washington Capitals: Ten-HUT!!!

Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a hockey game by taking a hit for his team. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard take a hit for his team. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about the Caps not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the contest, is a lot of horse dung. Caps traditionally love to fight. All real Caps love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball player, the toughest boxer. Caps fans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Caps play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost...and laughed. That’s why last spring Caps never lost and will never lose a playoff series this spring.  Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Capitals.

Now... a hockey club is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, skates as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for NHL Network don’t know anything more about real hockey games than they do about fornicating.

We have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. You know, by God I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to check the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to tape the blades of our sticks. We’re going to hit those lousy Hurricane bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Hurricanes are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Check them into the boards. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face...you'll know what to do.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let Carolina do that.

We are advancing constantly, and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy.

We're going to hold onto him by the nose, and we're going to kick him in the ass.

We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time, and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose.

There’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, "what did you do in the great Stanley Cup playoffs," you won’t have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in DC."

Alright now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh...and I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle – anytime...anywhere.

...that's all.

Off Day: The Cousins Look Back on Game 6 and Ahead to Game 7

For the 12th time since 2007-2008, the Washington Capitals will play a Game 7 in the postseason, thanks to their dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 on Monday night.  The Caps overcame some bitter history last season when they won Game 7 of their Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay on their way to a Stanley Cup championship.  But this year, they have some demon spirits that have crawled into their game, not to mention a feisty Carolina team that looks hungry and determined.  The cousins have some thoughts.

Peerless:  Game 7.  The ultimate test.  Does last year’s win over Tampa Bay give the Caps something to build on here?

Fearless: Every team is different, but this team is less different than last year’s team and less different than most defending Stanley Cup champions.  So, the reflex answer is to say that yes, this team has lessons learned from last year that can help them.  But those come in two parts.  For instance, if that game is a template, then one thing to remember is the importance of early pressure.  The Caps scored first, just 62 seconds into the game to put Tampa Bay on their heels.  But pressure means pressure at the other end, too.  The Caps allowed the Lightning only ten first period shots and 19 shot attempts. 

There was being disciplined.  The Caps did take three penalties in that game, but two were coincidental with Tampa Bay penalties.  The Caps would go shorthanded only once in that game, a third period penalty by Matt Niskanen when the Caps were already up, 3-0.  Then again, you have to kill those chances, and the Caps did so effectively, denying the Lightning so much as a single power play shot on goal in two minutes on their only power play opportunity.

There was balance.  Three Caps shared in the four goals in that game, and seven players combined for nine points.  But the stars have to be stars, too.  There was Ovechkin’s early goal.  There was Nicklas Backstrom’s empty netter to seal the win with under four minutes left.  There was John Carlson with an assist and a plus-3 rating, best on the team.  On the other hand, there was secondary scoring.  The difference in this game might have been Andre Burakovsky’s two goals.  Tom Wilson had a pair of assists. 

And, of course, there is goaltending.  Braden Holtby was in a zone, stopping all 28 shots he faced, extending his consecutive shots stopped streak to 78 over the last 159:27 of that series.  But there is also keeping the pressure off the goalie, and the Caps allowed only seven shots on goal in the third period of that Game 7 against Tampa Bay, none in the first ten minutes of that period, never letting the Lightning get a glimpse of a comeback.  This isn’t a bad template for a victory on Wednesday night, and hopefully it is still in the Caps’ individual and collective memory banks.

Cheerless: Well, that was impressive, but I’m thinking “dance steps.” 

Fearless: You know what he’d talking about, cousin?

Peerless: I have no clue…

Cheerless: Hey, over here, guys.  Look at their recent history of Games 7.  2009 against the Rangers…win.  2009 against the Pens and 2010 against Montreal…losses.  2012 against Boston…win.  2012 and 2013 against the Rangers…losses.  2015 against the Islanders…win.  2015 against the Rangers and 2017 against the Penguins…losses.  You guys ever hear of a “waltz?”

Fearless: Why cousin, I never thought of you as a Johann Strauss, the Younger, fan.

Cheerless: I was thinking more Bill Monroe and “The Tennessee Waltz.”  But back to the series, it’s been win-loss-loss, win-loss-loss for this team in Games 7.  Last year was a win.  You do the math…er, steps.  Then there is the place.  Last year, the Caps won their Game 7 on the road.  It evened their record in Games 7 on the road at 2-2 since 2007-2008. 

Home has not been kind to the Caps in these situations, though.  In fact, it’s been downright ugly.  Grandma before she puts her teeth in ugly.  The Caps are 1-4 in their last five Games 7 on home ice.  They’ve been outscored, 16-5 in those games.  They haven’t scored more than two goals in any of those five games, and they were shut out in their last two losses.

There is the power play.  It has been OK for the Caps in this series, going 6-for-21 (28.6 percent/fourth of 16 playoff teams), but in seven home Games 7 since 2007-2008, they have one power play goal, and that one came against the Flyers in 2008 (they lost in overtime…on a power play goal).  The Caps are without a power play goal in their last six Games 7 on home ice.  The Caps might have learned lessons in last season’s Game 7 in Tampa Bay, but class isn’t over.  There is the home ice final to deal with.

Peerless:  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have certainly stepped up in a big way.  Backstrom has five goals in six games, matching last year’s total posted in 20 games, and just one short of his career playoff best (six in 13 games in 2017).  Ovechkin has four goals, on the same pace he had last year when he put up a league leading and career high of 15 goals in 24 games.  The nine goals the two have are more than half the team’s total of 17 goals in this series.  Stars have to be stars in big games, but who else needs to step up in this Game 7?

Cheerless: Calling Evgeny Kuznetsov…Calling Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Yeah, he’s a star, but he ain’t been stepping up.  He has five assists in six games, the same pace he had last year (20 in 24 games), but he does not have a goal yet.  He had 23 goals in 63 career playoff games before this season, a 30-goal pace over 82 games.  Maybe he's been playing hurt, but if he’s got a goal or two in him, now would be a good time to play it or them.

Fearless: We’ll go off the board here and say the Matt Niskanen/Dmitry Orlov defensive pair.  Carolina has 13 even-strength goals in this series, and that pair has been on ice for six of them.  If they are the top defensive pair on this team, they have to make sure the defense is applied.  That neither has a goal in this series is something Caps fans would like to see remedied, but if Carolina does not score with that pair on the ice, given they are 1-2 in even strength ice time per game, the chances for the Caps winning improve.

Peerless: Bottom line, who wins?  OK, we know who wins, but will it be a short night (a blowout) or a long one (overtime…s)?

Fearless: The Caps have won three home games by a combined 14-5 score.  Two of the wins were of the multi-goal decision variety.  The Caps have six first period goals in this series on home ice.  They are 5-for-12 on the power play on home ice (41.7 percent).  They are 12-for-13 killing penalties at Capital One Arena (92.3 percent).  Caps win…short night.

Cheerless: This is the seventh time in franchise history that the Caps faced a team in a Game 7 on home ice for the first time.  Nothing in the previous six suggests this will be anything but a tense, if not a long night. Islanders in 1987…four-overtime loss.  Flyers in 1988…overtime win.  Devils in 1988…one-goal loss.  Penguins in 1992…two-goal loss, but a Penguins empty netter in the last minute.  Rangers in 2009…one goal win off a third period tie-breaking goal.  2010 against Montreal…one-goal loss, featuring a disallowed Capitals goal in the third period that would have tied the game.  Maybe the Caps’ history will change based on what they learned last year, but it would not be the way to bet.  Long night.  Long, long night.

In the end…

We’re at the end…of this series.  For all the words above, this series comes down to one club.  Carolina has had a reasonably consistent level of effort over the six games played so far.  But wins and losses have come down to how the Caps have played and their intensity level.  In the games in which intensity has been high and effort significant, they won.  When they looked as if they were having a skate at Washington Harbour and letting Carolina dictate pace and tempo, they lost. 

The added “X-factor” here is whether the Game 7 history on home ice creeps into the arena in the form of the Caps squeezing their sticks too tight.  In seven Games 7 on home ice since 2007-2008, the Caps have never scored more than two goals.  Braden Holtby will have to continue to be as sharp on home ice as he has been so far in this series (3-0, 1.65, .943, one shutout).  But the Caps will have to break the “two-goal hole” to advance.  It might not be a short night, but it will be a happy one.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2

Monday, April 22, 2019

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 6: Hurricanes 5 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals took the ice in Carolina on Monday night looking to eliminate the Hurricanes in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.  The Caps played well enough for one period, held their own (barely) in the second, and then they suffered another poor third period.  It was a recipe for a 54-2 Carolina win, sending the series back to Washington for Game 7.

First Period

If the first goal in a game matters, and it has in this series so far, the Caps got it early on.  Andre Burakovsky carried the puck down the right side into the Carolina zone.  Stopping along the right wing wall, he fed it deep to Lars Eller, bu the puck skipped to the end wall.  Eller fished it out and sent it to Brett Connolly below the goal line on the other side of the net.  Connolly stepped out and snapped a shot over the glove of goalie Petr Mrazek on the far side to make it 1-0, 5:06 into the period.

Carolina tied it up five minutes later. Warren Foegele netted his fourth goal of the series when he jumped on the rebound of a shot by Dougie Hamilton, turned, and fired a shot past a screened Braden Holtby at the 10:35 mark to make it 1-1.

From his own blue line, Matt Niskanen fed the puck forward to Dmitry Orlov, who relayed it to Alex Ovechkin on the left side.  Ovechkin skated down the wing, and as he was skating through the left wing circle gave indication he was going to pass.  But he pulled the puck back and wristed a shot that beat Mrazek on the short side to make it 2-1, 15:12 into the period.  That would close the scoring for the first period.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 15-7, and out-attempted them, 28-8.

-- Carl Hagelin was the only Capital with more than one shot on goal (two).  Those two shot attempts also led the team.

-- Tom Wilson led the team with five credited hits.

Second Period

Carolina tied the score less than two minutes into the second period.  Caps defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler coughed up the puck to Sebastian Aho behind his own net, and Aho fed it in front to Teuvo Teravainen for a quick snapper that beat Holtby 1:56 into the period to tie the game at two apiece.

Washington would then have the benefit of two power plays. They could score on neither of them, managing only two shots on goal in the four minutes of man advantage.  They were opportunities passing by, and the teams went to the second intermission tied, 2-2.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 9-7, and out-attempted them by a 16-12 margin.

-- The fourth line did not have a shot attempt through two periods: Devante Smith-Pelly, Nic Dowd, and Andre Burakovsky.

-- It is one thing for Tom Wilson to lead the team in hits, and he did through 40 minutes (seven), but Carl Hagelin with six?  That was more than any Hurricane.

Third Period

Carolina scored early in the third period to break the tie.  A Justin Faulk drive from the right point was stopped, as was a rebound attempt by Brock McGinn.  But Jordan Staal had position behind both Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and batted the loose puck past Holtby from the top of the crease at the 3:51 mark to make it 3-2.

The Cap appeared to tie the game in the 11th minute when Alex Ovechkin jumped on a rebound and stuffed it under the pads of Mrazek.  But after review from Toronto, the play was ruled “no goal” for Ovechkin having pushed Mrazek’s pads and thus causing interference.

The Caps paid for Toronto’s eyes.  Justin Williams scored moments after the ruling, tipping in a Brett Pesce shot down and through Braden Holtby’s pads at the 11:58 mark.

Carolina added an empty net goal by Dougie Hamilton, and that ensured there would be a Game 7 in Washington. 

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had another off finish in this one.  Three third period goals allowed, one an empty netter, makes eight third period goals allowed in six games (nine in the other two periods combined).  This after allowing 92 third period goals in the regular season, seventh-most in the league and most among playoff qualifiers.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s misconduct penalty at the end of regulation was the first misconduct penalty of his playoff career.  He had 12 penalty minutes for the game, more than doubling his previous career high of five, also in this series, the result of his fighting major against Andrei Svechnikov in Game 3.

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 65th career postseason goal, breaking a tie for 22nd place all-time with four other players.  Next up… Joe Nieuwendyk, Denis Savard, and Sidney Crosby tied at 19th place with 66 playoff goals.

-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist on the Brett Connolly goal.  That was his first point of this postseason.  Not a good night for the fourth line generally.  Two thirds of it – Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly – did not have a shot on goal.  Dowd did not have a shot attempt and was minus-1.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was minus-3, the first time in 122 career playoff games than he had a rating of minus-3 or worse.

-- Tom Wilson had nine hits, but he had no shots on goal and only one shot attempt (miss).

-- Chandler Stephenson took a penalty in the third period.  It was his first penalty since he took one in Game 4 of last season's playoff series against Pittsburgh.  Counting regular season and playoff games, by our count it was 1024:50 in ice time between penalties for Stephenson.

-- Carolina finished with a 36-25 edge in shots on goal and a 63-38 advantage in total shot attempts.

-- No Capital taking more than one faceoff finished over 50 percent for the evening.

-- If going home makes a difference for one player, it might be Braden Holtby.  Three games in Carolina: 0-3, 3.75, .894.  Three games in Washington: 3-0, 1.65, .943, one shutout.

Other stuff…

The lackluster play, the iffy call, the bad third period…it’s over.  It is now down to this.  Play like champions, play more hockey.  Don’t, and break out the golf clubs.