Friday, December 20, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 36: Capitals 6 - Devils 3

‘Twas the Friday before Christmas, when all through the joint, the Caps visited the Devils, to drive home a point.  And Caps fans were hoping that point would be “we’re better.”  But games are played on the ice, and the league-leading Caps visited the disappointing New Jersey Devils on Friday night in Newark, NJ.  The Devils were dressed out in their best old-school, Christmas-hued finery, the old red and green scheme with white jerseys, but the old colors did not conjure old memories of glory for the home team.  The Caps fell behind early but stormed back and won going away over the struggling Devils, 6-3.

First Period

After some early puck and territory dominance, the Caps took a penalty, and it cost them.  With Jonas Siegenthaler sent off at the 2:50 mark of the first period, the Devils capitalized 70 seconds later when Nico Hischier found Kyle Palmieri at the top of the crease for a tap-in past the left pad of goalie Ilya Samsonov.

The Caps had a chance to tie the game barely two minutes later when Carl Hagelin, held by Sami Vatanen on a scoring chance, was awarded a penalty shot.  In search of his first goal of the season, Hagelin shot the puck high and wide on goalie MacKenzie Blackwood, and it remained a one-goal game.

Another chance came for the Caps less than two minutes after the penalty shot try when Alex Ovechkin was sprung loose for a chance, but his shot was turned aside by Blackwood, who seemed to be the only thing keeping the Caps from turning the score around and into a rout.

New Jersey got their second power play chance of the period at the 15:46 mark when Brendan Leipsic was whistled for delay of game/shooting the puck over the glass.  They failed to convert, and it would cost them in a case of turnabout being fair play.

The Caps tied the game, and then they took the lead in the last 95 seconds of the period.  Nicklas Backstrom took a feed from Tom Wilson at the red line and skated the puck into the offensive zone.  He slid the puck to Alex Ovechkin on his right and, from the top of the right wing circle, he snapped the puck past Blackwood’s blocker to make it 1-1 at the 18:25 mark.  Just 70 seconds later, Wilson outfought Vatanen for a loose puck in the corner to Blackwood’s right.  He fed the puck out to John Carlson, whose shot from the top of the zone was redirected by Backstrom past Blackwood, and the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

-- The Caps had a whopping 28-9 advantage in shot attempts for the period, 11-6 in shots on goal.

-- Backstrom (goal, assist) and Tom Wilson (two assists) made it multi-point games in the first period.

-- The Caps had shot attempts recorded by 16 of the 18 skaters in the period.  Only Brendan Leipsic and Jonas Siegenthaler were blanked.

Second Period

The Devils got the first goal of the period for the second time on the evening when John Carlson was caught up ice, and the Devils broke out on a 2-on-1.  Blake Coleman avoided the back checking of Backstrom to slide the puck under Samsonov just as he and Backstrom were sliding into the net and nudging it off its posts.  The game was tied, 2-2, at the 4:15 mark.

In the 12th minute the Devils went on their third power play of the evening, the Caps’ Dmitry Orlov going off for a slashing call on Palmieri.

Washington had a chance to take a lead when Evgeny Kuznetsov intercepted a blind pass and had nothing but time and open ice to solve Blackwood.  He tried to go far side but could not elevate the puck enough over Blackwood’s left pad, and the game remained tied.

The Caps got their first power play of the contest late in the period when Vatanen was sent off for slashing.  The Caps had two shots on goal on the man advantage but could not convert.

The teams went 4-on-4 in the final moments of the period, Garnet Hathaway sent to the box for the Caps and Miles Wood sent off for the Devils.  With the additional open ice, the Caps were able to work the puck in deep to Orlov, who slid the puck to Backstrom at the edge of the crease for a tap-in to make it 3-2 with just 29 seconds left in the period.  The teams got mixed up in some unpleasantries at the end of the period, Kunzetsov and Travis Zajac being the primary combatants.  Nothing came of it, and the Caps took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.

-- The Caps had a 21-17 edge in shot attempts for the period and a 12-11 advantage in shots on goal.

-- Lars Eller was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff who was over 50 percent through two periods, going 4-for-5 (80.0 percent).

-- John Carlson led the Caps in time over the first two periods with 16:33 on a team-leading 18 shifts.

Third Period

The Caps scored in the first minute on an usual play.  From the offensive blue line, Backstrom fed the puck to Michal Kempny on the left side.  Kempny skated the puck a couple of strides down the left wing wall and fed his defensive mate John Carlson steaming down the middle alone.  Carlson batted the puck out of mid-air and under Blackwood to make it 4-2, 42 seconds into the period.

The Caps extended their lead to 5-2 in the seventh minute when Jonas Siegenthaler stepped up from the left point and wristed the puck through a maze of players and into the top corner on the far side over Blackwood’s glove.  That goal ended Blackwood’s night in favor of Gilles Senn, who made his NHL debut.

Richard Panik closed the scoring for the Caps, taking a centering feed from Lars Eller and redirecting it through Senn to make it 6-2 at the 15:33 mark.

Wood put some window dressing on the outcome with a goal in the last minute for the Devils, but it was far too little, far too late, and the Caps skated off with the 6-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Carl Hagelin’s penalty shot attempt was the Caps’ second of the season.  Jakub Vrana had one against the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist in a 5-2 win in October.  His was unsuccessful, too.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and two assists, his first four-point game of the season and the 23rd of his career, second on the franchise list to Alex Ovechkin (28).

-- Richard Panik’s goal was his 78th career goal, and he crossed another team off the list of those against which he had not scored a goal.  With the Devils off the list, he now lacks career goals only against Los Angeles and Winnipeg.

-- This was the second time this season that the Caps scored six goals in a game and first on the road.  The Caps beat Buffalo, 6-1, on November 1st in Washington.  The Caps also have a 6-5 win in Vancouver over the Canucks, but that was a Gimmick win.

-- Ilya Samsonov won his seventh game in seven tries on the road this season, tying Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Jim Carey for fifth-most road wins by a rookie Caps goalie in team history.  He is the first rookie goalie in Caps history to win his first seven decisions on the road.

-- Washington got points from 12 skaters, four of them with multi-point games: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4), Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2), John Carlson (1-1-2), and Tom Wilson (0-2-2).

-- Brendan Leipsic was the only Capital without a shot attempt.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the team in ice time (21:31); John Carlson skated the most shifts (25).

-- The Caps finished with a 29-27 edge in shots and a 59-40 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Ovechikin’s goal was his first against MacKenzie Blackwood, the 139th goalie he has scored against in his career.  That is almost half of all the goalies who have dressed for at least one game since Ovechkin entered the league (291, including Gilles Senn, who debuted in this game).

In the end…

The Caps are having a great start, especially on the road (now 16-3-1, best road record in the league); the Devils are struggling, especially at home (5-8-5, second-worst in the league).  In that context, file this game under “taking care of business.”  And, it was a reminder of how many memories and superb performances Caps fans have seen from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, individually and together, over the years.  Not a bad way to get the holidays off and running.

If We Had Our Own Goal Song

On Twitter earlier today, The Voice of the Capitals, John Walton, asked his followers

There were a lot of good responses, but for us it took about ten seconds to settle on one for ours.  The tune is “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)” by Elton John, and even though they are not nearly as good as the original, we thought of some Caps-specific lyrics to go along with it...

We came down to the city limits
Bringin’ all our Capital spirit
Bite your lip, get up, get up and dance!

Don't let me down
Please stick around
Bite your lip, get up, get up and dance!

Red light spinnin’ round and round,
Fans scremin’, it’s a wall of sound.
Let’s go! Go Caps!!
Move that muscle and shake that fat.
Bite your lip, get up, get up and dance!

From the city…to the Bay
Every place, every way
Bite your lip, get up, get up and dance!

Chevy Chase, Northern V-A,
Do do do do do do do what I say
Bite your lip, get up, get up and dance!

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Lightning at Capitals, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Saturday night to host the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of the clubs who met last Saturday night in Tampa, where the Caps skated to a 5-2 win.  The Caps continue to set the pace in the league standings and going into their game in New Jersey against the Devils on Friday night were 8-2-0 in their last ten games, 21-4-3 in their last 28 games since opening the season with a 3-2-2 start.  The Lightning have been stumbling of late, going 5-5-2 in their last dozen games and find themselves on the outside looking in at playoff contention, although they trail third place Buffalo in the Atlantic Division by only one point with three games in hand going into Friday's games.

Then and Now…

Saturday will mark the 131st meeting of these teams in the all-time regular season series.  The Caps re 81-33-10 (six ties) overall and 44-12-5 (four ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 45-17-10 against the Lightning overall and 26-5-5 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

When Nikita Kucherov finished last season with 128 points and the Art Ross Trophy, it was the highest point total for an NHL player since Mario Lemieux posted 161 points in 1995-1996 (for good measure, teammate Jaromir Jagr added 149 points that season).  That Kucherov also won the Hart (most valuable player) and Lindsay (outstanding player) Trophies, as well has being named as a first team NHL All Star, was no surprise.  But it was something else, too.  It was the sixth season in an uninterrupted improvement in scoring for Kucherov.  Starting with 18 points in his first season in 2013-2014, he progressed to 65, then 66, then 85, and then 100 points in 2017-2018 before his explosion last season.

But here is the thing about Ross Trophy winners.  They’re in the lineup to put up those points.  Since 2005-2006, the 14 Ross Trophy winners played every game in ten of those seasons, including the 48 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season when Martin St. Louis won his Ross Trophy (60 points).  No Ross Trophy winner over those 14 seasons missed more than seven games (Evgeni Malkin in 2011-2012; 109 points in 75 games).  Kucherov has missed only one game so far this season, but his season after is different from others in another important respect.  With 36 points in 33 games, his 1.09 points per game is only 70 percent of his points per game last year (1.56).  That yield compared to the Ross-winning season is the second lowest in the last 14 seasons (St. Louis posted 0.85 points per game in the season following his Ross win, 68 percent of what he posted in his Ross Trophy season the year before).  That is no doubt a function of just how dominant Kucherov was last season in an historical context, but his fall off has also been accompanied by a falloff in the Lightning’s overall performance.  Kucherov is 11-11-22, plus-3, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

If Ondrej Palat ever lasts an entire season, he might be quite a producer.  As it is, he has been a reliable mid-teens, 45-50 point player in his six full NHL seasons preceding this one.  However, the important word in that previous sentence is “full.”  Those seasons have not been so full for the most part.  He dressed for 81 games in his first full season, going 23-36-59, perhaps a harbinger of things to come.  But in the next five seasons he missed a total of 78 games to a variety of upper and lower body injuries.  Even with the injuries and the absences, Palat is one of seven players in Lightning history to post at least 30 points in six of his first seven seasons, which matches that of his more renowned teammate Kucherov.

Palat would seem to be a good bet to make it seven times in eight seasons this year, having posted 18 points in 33 games to date.  It is the 33 games, though, that is the key number here, Palat having dressed for every game on the schedule to date.  It is just a bit hard at the moment to know in what direction Palat is going, hot or cold.  In his most recent 11 games going into Thursday night’s game against Dallas, he had one point, that being a goal on a total of 32 shots on goal.  Against Dallas, though, he had a goal and an assist in the Lightning’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Stars.  It was only the second time this season in nine games in which Palat scored a goal that Tampa Bay lost (7-1-1).  One indicator of success regarding Palat might be his ice time.  In 18 games in which he skated less than 17:30, the Lightning are 11-5-2, while in the 15 games he skated more than 17:30 they are 6-7-2.  Palat is 3-5-8, even, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Andrei Vasilevskiy might need a break in goal.  He faced only 20 shots on Thursday night against Dallas, but he allowed four goals in the overtime loss.  That makes for a three-game slide, starting with the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Caps last weekend, over which he stopped only 70 of 81 shots, a .864 save percentage.  He is on his longest streak of games under .900 in save percentage this season (three).  If he is given a break, the goaltending duties will fall to Curtis McElhinney, who has had eight starts for the Lightning this season (3-3-2, 3.62, .898). 

Playing in his first year in Tampa, McElhinney is playing for his eighth NHL team.  At none of those eight stops over a 12-year career did he appear in more than 35 games, except for Columbus (85 games).  And, his career totals might be considered the epitome of the “Everyman” goalie: 85-85-17, 2.85, .909, with ten shutouts.  Good enough to be a backup with some level of interest among NHL teams, never enough to be a number one (he has never appeared in more than 33 games in a season).  This season, despite the occasional start, he has been streaky, losing his first three appearances (0-1-2), winning his next three (3-0-0), and going into the weekend a loser in his last two appearances (0-2-0).  McElhinney is 1-3-0, 3.92, .872 in six career appearances against the Caps.

1.  Last season, Tampa had two instances all year in which they lost consecutive games (Games 17 and 18, the only one in which both losses were in regulation, and Games 53 and 54, both in extra time).  They have already had four instances of consecutive losses this season with a season high three-game losing streak in Games 22-24 (0-2-1).

2.  The Lightning have the best “net power play (conversions less shorthanded goals allowed)” in the league at 26.2 percent.

3.  Getting off to hot starts is difficult against the Lightning.  Only two teams have allowed fewer first period goals than Tampa Bay (24): Dallas (22) and Pittsburgh (20).  On the other hand, Tampa Bay has allowed almost twice as many third period goals (44) as first period goals.

4.  Shot volumes seem not to matter to the Lightning.  They have eight wins in 17 games when outshooting opponents, eight wins in 15 games when out-shot by opponents.

5.  Blocking shots is not Tampa Bay’s thing.  Their 417 blocked shots are third-fewest in the league, ahead of only St. Louis (413) and Buffalo (385).

1.  Last season, four of the Caps’ 26 skaters finished with “minus” ratings.  So far this season, that number is six of 24 skaters.

2.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has averaged exactly one point per game over his last three seasons (187 points in 187 games).

3.  The Caps leading after one period is a better indicator of success (12-0-2/.857 winning percentage), than leading after two periods (16-1-3/.800).

4.  The Caps and San Jose are the only teams in the league in the top five in minor penalties taken and major penalties taken.  Washington is fifth in minors (132) and tied for fifth in majors (nine).

5.  Getting power plays is one thing, converting them another.  The Caps have been blanked on the power play on home ice eight times this season and have a record of 2-2-4 in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos

He is the all-time franchise leader in goals (406) and power play goals (152), and he ranks third in team history in assists (390) and points (796).  However, while he also ranks third on the all-time franchise list in games played (776), one has the haunting feeling that the numbers could be significantly higher for Steven Stamkos.  He missed only three games in his first five seasons, all of them in his rookie season.  But starting with the 2013-2014 season, when he lost 45 games to a broken leg, Stamkos has missed 122 games.  It has mattered in terms of production.  He recorded 45 or more goals in three of his first four seasons and had 29 in 48 games in his fifth season, the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, a 50-goal pace.  But starting with that 2013-2014 season he hit the 45 goal mark only once in six seasons, that being last year, when he dressed for all 82 games for the first time since 2014-2015 (he had 43 goals that season).

Stamkos has missed three games so far this season to a lower body injury, but with 13 goals in 30 games he is still on pace for a 30-plus goal season.  His goal scoring, not unusual for a goal scorer, has been somewhat streaky. He had four in five games early in the season before going through a one goal in nine game dry spell.  He followed that up with goals in consecutive games, and then went another six without one.  He had six goals in a four-game goal streak earlier this month, but he goes into Saturday’s game without one in his last three games.  One thing about Stamkos is that he remains a lethal power play scorer.  Among active players with at least 300 career goals, only Alex Ovechkin has scored a higher percentage of his total on power plays (37.6 percent) than Stamkos (37.4 percent).  He is 16-17-33, minus-19, in 43 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Richard Panik

For Capitals forward Richard Panik, the NHL journey started with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Drafted in the second round of the 2009 Entry Draft (52nd overall, three spots ahead of Caps second rounder Dmitry Orlov), Panik played parts of two seasons with the Lightning, dressing for 75 games in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (deep, deep trivia…his first NHL shot on goal was against the Caps in his second NHL game in February 2013, and his first NHL multi-goal game was against the Caps in April 2013).  He moved on to Toronto, then to Chicago, and then to Arizona before settling with the Caps as an unrestricted free agent last July.

In his career spanning five teams, eight seasons, and 435 games through Friday night, he has been something of an odd, if consistent sort of player.  One might look at a player with 77 career goals and think his output was limited with respect to how many teams he victimized on his way to that total.  Not so with Panik.  He has spread those 77 goals among 28 of the league’s 31 teams.  Only Los Angeles, New Jersey (pending Friday’s result against the Devils), and Winnipeg have escaped his goal scoring touch.  He would like to improve on his shooting efficiency.  In 25 games to date, his two goals on 32 shots is the lowest shooting percentage of his career (6.3) since his second and final season in Tampa Bay in 2013-2015 (5.4 percent).  Panik is 4-4-8, plus-5, in 11 career games against his former team.

In the end…

These are not last year’s Lightning.  They remain a formidable offensive squad, but they allow far too many goals to be considered on the short list of elite teams this season.  Nevertheless, they are deep in skill, and that is always dangerous.  The Caps have had the Lightning’s number when playing in DC, though, sporting a record of 23-3-3 in the last 29 games played between the teams in Washington dating back to March 2007, outscoring the Lightning by a 116-76 margin. Do we hear “24” wins?

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3