Saturday, April 17, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 45: Capitals 6 - Flyers 3

The Washington Capitals headed up I-95 for a matinee matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon in the last game the Caps will play in the regular season in South Philly this season.  The Caps came into this game with a five-game winning streak against the Flyers after dropping their opening meeting of the season.  On the other side, the Flyers have fallen on hard times, going 9-13-3 in their last 25 games.  The hard times continued for the Flyers as the Caps won going away, 6-3.


First Period

The Captain got the Caps off and running early.  With Justin Braun in the penalty box for tripping at 2:42, Alex Ovechkin converted for Caps.  The Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Nicklas Backstrom from the goal line to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the right wing wall, to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone, and final a pass to Ovechkin for a one-timer from The Office that beat goalie Alex Lyon on the short side to make it 1-0, 3:58 into the period.

Washington got another power play when Sam Morin went off for unsportsmanlike conduct at 8:11 of the period.  The Caps did not convert and went short a man when Nick Jensen skated to the penalty box for a holding penalty at 11:35 of the period.  The Flyers did not convert, and the Caps held on to their one-goal lead.

They would not hold on to that lead going into the first intermission.  Ivan Provorov took a feed from Claude Giroux and from long range fired a one-timer past two Capitals skating across goalie Ilya Samsonov’s line of vision and past Samsonov’s glove with 1.0 seconds left in the period.

-- Philadelphia was held to two even strength shots in the period, scoring on the latter (three power play shots, one shorthanded). Ivan Provorov had both even strength shots.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers, 11-6, and out-attempted them, 22-15.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the team with three shots on goal in the period.

-- Nic Dowd led the Caps with three credited hits in the first 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Caps scored even earlier to start this period than they did in the first period.  Dmitry Orlov scored just 33 seconds into the period when he took a puck rebounding off the left wing wall and one-timed it past Lyon’s blocker on the short side to give the Caps their second lead of the game.

The Flyers tied it up when Conor Sheary and Lars Eller collided, leaving a loose puck for Nicolas Aube-Kubel to gather up and feed James van Riemsdyk on a breakaway.  Van Riemsdyk beat Samsonov through the five-hole at the 5:28 mark.

Washington went to the power play for the third time when Aube-Kubel was send off for hooking at 6:11.  The power play lasted four seconds.  T.J. Oshie tied up Sen Couturier on a faceoff to Lyon’s left, Evgeny Kuznetsov swooped in to kick the puck back to John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson fed the puck across to Ovechkin in The Office for a one-timer that beat Lyon on the short side at 6:15 of the period to make it 3-2, Caps.

Kuznetsov got a goal of his own late in the period. From the left point he fed the puck deep to Tom Wilson in the corner.  With Braun hanging on Wilson along the left wing wall, Wilson sent a lovely backhand pass to Kuznetsov strolling unmarked down the slot.  Kuznetsov had his choice of places to shoot at and dialed up “over Lyon’s right pad” to beat the Flyer goalie at the 15:02 mark to make it a 4-2 game.

-- Through two periods, the Caps outshot the Flyers at even strength, 26-10.

-- Washington outshot the Flyers, 19-10, in the second period and out-attempted them, 27-17.

-- Every Capital had at least one shot attempt through 40 minutes except T.J. Oshie.

Third Period

The Caps went short a man early, T.J. Oshie picking up an interference penalty at 1:09 of the period.  The Flyers did not convert, but they got another chance when Conor Sheary went off for tripping at 5:14 of the period.

Wade Allison converted for the Flyers for his first NHL goal, finishing off a well-executed passing sequence back and forth across the offensive zone for a lay-up into what became an empty net, making it a 4-3 game at the 7:02 mark.

Conor Sheary restored the Caps’ two-goal lead in the tenth minute of the period.  Off another faceoff win in the offensive end, the puck came back to Justin Schultz at the right point.  Walking the puck along the blue line to find a shooting lane, Schultz fired, his shot redirected by the heel of Sheary’s stick past Lyon at the 9:15 mark to make it 5-3, Caps.

Just over a minute later, the Caps went to the power play, Travis Konecny going to the box for goaltender interference at 10:42.  The Caps did not convert and skated on holding on to their two goal lead.  The Caps went right back to the power play, though, Kevin Hayes going off for slashing at 14:36 of the period.  The Caps tried to get Ovechkin the hat trick, and he was on the ice for the entire two-minute power play, but the Caps did not convert.

Anthony Mantha closed the scoring for the Caps, potting an empty net goal with 1:12 remaining to seal the 6-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s first period goal against Alex Lyon made Lyon the 147th goalie against whom Ovechkin has scored a goal in his career.

-- When he scored on a power play in the second period for his second goal of the game, it was Ovechkin’s 149th career multi-goal game, fourth all-time behind Wayne Gretzky (189), Brett Hull (158), and Mario Lemieux (154).

-- John Carlson had four assists, a single game career high.  He is the fifth defenseman in Caps’ history with at least one four-assist game.  Scott Stevens (three times), Robert Picard (twice), Larry Murphy, and Bob Rouse are the others.

-- Anthony Mantha scored his third goal in three games as a Capital.  It extended his personal goal streak to four games (he scored in his last game with Detroit), a career high.

-- When Conor Sheary scored in the third period, it marked the fourth straight game against the Flyers that the Caps scored five or more goals.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers, 41-25, and out-attempted them for the game, 68-48.

-- Every Capital recorded a shot on goal except Justin Schultz and T.J. Oshie.  Oshie was the only Capital without a shot attempt for the game.  Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sprong led the team with five shots apiece; Ovechkin led the team with 12 shot attempts.

-- Nic Dowd had an uncharacteristically weak game in the faceoff circle, going 2-for-11 (18.2 percent), but he did lead the team in credited hits with five.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers at even strength, 34-12.  The 12 shots at even strength were the second-fewest allowed by the Caps in a game this season.  They allowed 11 to the Flyers on March 11th in a 5-3 win.

-- With the win, Ilya Samsonov ran his record this season against the Flyers to 5-0.  He is the eighth goaltender to record at least five wins against the Flyers in a single season.  The others are Martin Brodeur (three times), Henrik Lundqvist (twice), Gerry Cheevers, Rick DiPietro, Marc-Andre Fleury, Glenn Healy, and Chris Terreri.

In the end…

A good win.  Not a great one, but a good one.  There were a few to many defensive lapses to qualify… oh hell, it was against the Flyers, in Philly, so it’s a great win.  Now, do it again in Boston.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Bruins, April 18

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After visiting the Philadelphia Flyers for a matinee contest on Saturday, the Washington Capitals head north for another matinee matchup, taking on the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in a noon start on Sunday.  Pending Saturday’s results, the Caps are still leading the East Division, but only six points separate first and fourth place, and the fourth place Bruins have two games in hand on the Caps.

Boston comes into this game having won three games in a row after taking an 8-1 pasting by the Caps on April 11th.  One area that will be different for the Bruins in this game compared to that lopsided loss will be in goal.  Dan Vladar took one for the team in that one, charged with all eight goals against on 33 shots faced.  This time around, Tuukka Rask could be available to resume duties as the number one netminder.  Except for 20 minutes in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on March 25th, Rask was out of the lineup since March 7th with what appeared to be a back injury.  He returned to the lineup last Thursday and stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 4-1 win over the Islanders, the 300th win of his career.  Rask has had his struggles against the Caps, holding a 3-11-7, 3.03, .893 career record with two shutouts against the Capitals.  He lost his two most recent decisions against the Caps, both in extra time, a 4-3 overtime loss on January 30th and a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Caps on March 3rd.

On the other hand, there is the goalie who has “some of that Tuukka in him.”  That would be Jeremy Swayman, who has stepped up in the absence of Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak (COVID protocol) to post a 4-1-0, 1.78, .938 record with one shutout in five appearances since April 6th.  He allowed as many as three goals only once in those five games, that coming in his only loss, a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on April 10th.  His performance to date might strike some as surprising, Swayman being the 12th of 21 goalies taken in the 2017 Entry Draft.  What he has done at every level, though, is stop pucks.  In three seasons with the University of Maine he posted a save percentage of .927, and with the Providence Bruins of the AHL this season before his call-up, he had a save percentage of .933.  His save percentage of .938 with the Bruins this season is second-best among 71 goalies logging at least 300 minutes.  Swayman has faced the Capitals once, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 4-2 Boston win on April 8th.

They come, and they go.  Over the last dozen years, several players were identified as the next great goal scorer to replace Alex Ovechkin.  After Steven Stamkos put together three seasons with a total of 156 goals, it was going to be him.  But since his 60 goal season in 2011-2012, he topped 40 only twice in eight seasons coming into this one, much of his production potential lost to injuries.  Then it was going to be Corey Perry, or Vladimir Tarasenko, or Patrik Laine, or Leon Draisaitl.  These days, Auston Matthews gets attention. Another one of the more recent entries in the “next” sweepstakes is David Pastrnak, who seemed to be on a career path that could take him to such heights.  Over a four season period ending with last season, Pastrnak posted, in order, 34, 35, 38 and 48 goals, the last of those seasons earning a share of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with Ovechkin.

This year has thrown sand in the gears of his goal scoring progress machine. After posting 14 goals in his first 21 games after missing the first seven games with a hip injury (a 55-goal pace over a full 82-game season), he was placed under COVID protocol. He returned to the lineup on March 25th, but in 14 games since his return he has only three goals.  One think head coach Bruce Cassidy felt Pastrnak needed to do was “he just has to get a little dirtier,” meaning he had to get to the interior more often, where the dirty goals are scored.   Pastrnak did light the lamp in his last game, scoring the game's first goal that would prove to be the game-winner in Boston’s 3-0 win over the Islanders on Friday.  He is 3-2-5, plus-4, in six games against the Caps this season and 8-10-18, minus-4, in 21 career games against Washington.

1.  Boston has had a strange year on home ice.  They started the season with four straight wins at TD Garden, and they come into this game with a three-game winning streak on that ice sheet.  In between, they were just 6-6-3.

2.  If Boston loses this game in regulation, it will be the 2,400th regulation loss in team history.  On the other hand, if they score five goals, they will reach the 21,000-goal mark in team history.

3.  Since the Caps scored eight goal in their last visit to Boston, the Bruins allowed a total of only three goals in three home games, topped with a shutout in their last game at home, a 3-0 win over the Islanders.

4.  Boston taking a lead into an intermission at home is just about a sure thing as far as wins go – 7-0-1 when leading after one period, 10-0-2 when leading after two periods.

5.  The Bruins punish opponents with shots on home ice. In 22 games on home ice, they outshot opponents 16 times (10-5-1) and were out-shot four times (1-1-2).  The other two games, in which the Bruins and opponents had an even number of shots, ended in Bruins wins.

1.  Washington leads the only division with four teams holding a points percentage of better than .600.

2.  The Caps are one of only four teams in the league to average fewer than 30 shots taken per game and fewer than 30 shots allowed (28.2/29.7).  The New York Islanders (28.1/27.6), New York Rangers (28.8/27.7), and Philadelphia Flyers (28.9/29.1) are the others.

3.  The Caps lead the league in scoring offense on the road (3.50 goals per game, pending the results in Philadelphia on Saturday).

4.  Washington has the second-best penalty kill on the road this season (87.1 percent).  They are 19-for-20 (95.0 percent) in their last eight road games, that power play goal allowed on the road coming in Boston in their last meeting at TD Garden.

5.  When the Caps went 3-for-6 on power plays against the Bruins in their last meeting in Boston, it was the first multi-power play goal game for the Caps this season and their first since they had a pair of power play goals in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 13, 2020.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall might the “let’s try this again” player in the NHL.  Six seasons in Edmonton, then traded to the New Jersey Devils. Three and a half seasons with the Devils, then traded to Arizona.  Half a season in Arizona, then he signed as a free agent with Buffalo. A little over half a season with the Sabres, then traded to Boston.  And, has any former number one overall pick been traded for less value than Hall?  With all due respects to the players involved going the other way, Adam Larsson, Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, Anders Bjork, and a draft pick that became Dawson Mercer (two other draft picks are in the 2021 Entry Draft) seem like meager returns.

Will this time be different?  Considering that Hall has as many goals in three games with Boston as he did in 37 games with Buffalo this season (two), there is cause for cautious optimism.  And, he seems to be impressing teammates, one in particular.  It is not as if Hall has been a stiff; his 222 goals rank 31st in the league since he entered the NHL in 2010-2011, and his 584 points rank 23rd, but since his Hart Trophy season with New Jersey in 2017-2018 (39-54-93, plus-14, all career highs), he has been a bit of a lost soul, going 31-79-110, minus-38, in 138 games with four teams, including the Bruins.  He was another casualty to COVID protocol this season, and that might have played a role in his 2-17-19, minus-21 scoring line with the Sabres.  If he has completely recovered from that and can use the move to a new city with a contender as inspiration, he would be a formidable asset for the Bruins.  Hall was 1-2-3, minus-1, in three games for Buffalo against the Caps this season; he is 4-7-11, minus-4, in 20 career games against Washington.

Washington: Zdeno Chara

Third in games played by a defenseman (1,023), third in goals (148), third in assists (333), third in points (481), third in power play goals (69), third in game-winning goals (24).  Being third behind Bobby Orr and Raymond Bourque in these categories (except in games played, where he is behind Bourque and Don Sweeney), is evidence of just how great a career Zdeno Chara had in Boston. 

What he is not, with the Capitals, is that player.  He was not that player in his last few seasons in Boston, statistically speaking.  He had his last 40-point season in 2013-2014 (40 points).  He had his last 20-assist season in 2015-2016 (28 assists).  He had his last ten-goal season in 2016-2017 (ten goals).  He has one power play goal in his last four seasons.  Which is not to say he is not missed.  In fact, a long-time reporter covering the Bruins thinks they could use him about now

What Chara provides the Capitals in his first season in Washington is not a matter of numbers, at least not entirely.  Those numbers have been solid, if not quite Chara-esque (2-7-9, plus-9, in 44 games with the Caps this season).  He will reach double digits in points for the 19th consecutive season, but he is unlikely to extend his consecutive seasons averaging 20 minutes per game to 21 seasons (he is averaging 18:22 per game).

What Chara does provide is stability and reliability (one of three of eight defensemen dressing for all 44 games for the Caps through Friday), and he complements Dmitry Orlov (6-7-13, plus-11) in terms of production from the left side of the defense this season.  As for the usual “intangibles” of being a Stanley Cup winner, a player with almost 1,600 games of regular season experience (1,597), almost 200 games of playoff experience, and a legendary work ethic, perhaps those attributes are overestimated among fans, but they don’t hurt.  Chara is 1-0-1, even, in six games against his former team and 8-6-14, minus-2, in 41 career games against Boston.

In the end…

This will be a tough game, both physically and mentally, for the Caps.  They get their second matinee start in as many days, with noon-ish starting times that the Caps have struggled with this season (2-1-1 in four games starting at or before 1:00pm this season).  And this will be the last game the Caps play before meeting the New York Islanders for a three-game set starting later next week.  It would be easy to look ahead, even against a team like the Bruins, who will be looking for revenge after the shellacking they took in their last meeting against the Caps.  The Caps might have scored eight goals in that last meeting, but don’t expect the teams to combine for that total in this one.

Capitals 4 – Bruins 3