Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Blues at Capitals, February 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close their second back-to-back set of games in a week when they host the St. Louis Blues this afternoon at Verizon Center.  The Caps will be getting right back on the horse, so to speak, after a gut-wrenching 1-0 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre yesterday.

The Caps ran into a hot Montreal team yesterday, a club that had won four straight entering the contest.  They will do the same when they face the Blues, also winners of their last four contests.  In fact, St. Louis has not lost in regulation in their last ten contests (9-0-1).  They are doing it in a fashion that reflects their coaching. 

Ken Hitchcock coaches teams that are difficult to play against, limiting shots and goals, and fashioning a physical approach.  In their 9-0-1 run, the Blues have allowed a total of 19 goals and an average of 24.8 shots per game.  Only twice in that stretch have they allowed more than two goals in a game.

On the other hand, the Blues’ offense has been something to behold over this streak.  St. Louis has scored 42 goals over the ten games, including a pair of seven-goal efforts at the expense of the San Jose Sharks.  Fourteen players share in the 42 goals, and 18 skaters have recorded points.  The goal total is impressive, but it is heavily weighted among four players.  David Backes leads the charge with eight goals in his last ten games, including a four-goal effort against the Arizona Coyotes on January 6th.  T.J. Oshie has seven goals in the 9-0-1 run, while Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen have six apiece.

Schwartz is perhaps the least known of this foursome to Capitals fans.  Now in his fourth season with St. Louis, Schwartz is developing into quite a goal-scorer.  Two years ago he finished with seven goals in 45 games, and last season he had 25 goals in 80 games.  This season, with 17 goals in 41 games, he is on a pace to finish with 31 goals for the season.  He does not have much exposure to the Caps in his brief career to date.  In three games against Washington, Schwartz is 1-1-2, plus-1.

While the goal scoring has come largely from the forwards in St. Louis’ recent success, the defense has contributed in stoking the fire.  Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo each have seven assists in the Blue’s last ten games.  Shattenkirk also contributed two goals.  He is second among the league’s defensemen in total scoring (42 points), trailing only Calgary’s Mark Giordano.  His 32 assists leads all NHL defensemen.

While the Blues were saying goodbye to goalie Martin Brodeur on the ice and welcoming him to the front office, Brian Elliott was adding to his resume in solid fashion over the past ten games.  Elliott made eight appearances, compiling a record of 6-0-1 (one no-decision), 2.04, .919, with two shutouts.  Elliott has three shutouts this season, and they are something of a reflection of the system in which he plays.  In none of them did he face more than 27 shots, and he faced and average of 22.7 shots in the three games.  Elliott is 5-2-0, 3.19, .881 in nine career appearances against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  St. Louis has a very respectable goals against average among their goaltenders (2.34).  Their combined save percentage of .913 is not especially impressive, although Elliott’s .943 save percentage at even strength is the best in the league among goalies playing in at least 20 games (note: Carey Price, who shut out the Caps yesterday, is second at .942).

2.  The Blues are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-8 or better in all three periods of games this season.  They are a plus-8 in the first period, plus-11 in the second, and plus-15 in the third.

3.  Only four teams so far this season have more wins by three or more goals than the Blues (11), and only four teams have a better winning percentage in such games (.688/11-5).

4.  The Blues have the best winning percentage among Western Conference teams against the East (.706/12-3-2) and are 8-1-0 against the Metropolitan Division.  They have not lost to a Metropolitan Division team since dropping a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers on Opening Night.

5.  St. Louis is third in the league, behind Montreal and the Caps, in winning percentage when scoring first in games (.815/22-4-1).  Only five teams have a better winning percentage when scored upon first than the Blues (.429/9-9-3).

1.  Going into Sunday’s games, only five teams have played fewer home games than the Caps (23).  As a team that is 8-0-2 in their last ten home games, having so many home games coming over the next ten weeks is something that could bear dividends later in the season.

2.  Even when they are not playing one another, the Caps and the Penguins seem joined at the hip.  Going into Sunday’s games, the Caps and Penguins have identical numbers of goals scored (143) and goals allowed (121) in 49 games apiece.

3.  In their 8-0-2 record over their last ten home games, Washington has out-scored opponents by a 29-17 margin.  They have not been doing it by limiting shots (294 for, 295 against), but their special teams have been very good: 8-for-32 (25.0 percent) on the power play, 34-for-38 (89.5 percent) on the penalty kill.

4.  Note that shooting percentage for opponents in the Caps’ last ten home games (.058).  Goaltending, meaning Braden Holtby, has been superb.  Holtby appeared in all ten games, compiling a record of 8-0-2, 1.68, .942, with two shutouts.

5.  No team has more extra-time losses this season than the Caps (10, tied with Florida).  Six of those losses have come in overtime.  There, Holtby’s save percentage of .778 is fifth worst among goalies appearing in at least 20 games.  Not that four losses coming while shorthanded has anything to do with it, eh?

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko

Over his first 36 games, Vladimir Tarasenko was on a pace to finish with 50 goals.  Over his last 12 games, though, he has a total of two goals and is without one in his last five contests.  One might say he is shooting in bad luck, scoring those two goals on a total of 43 shots (4.7 percent).  On the other hand, it might be the pendulum swinging the other way after a hot first 36 games (17.9 percent on 22-for-123 shooting).  Still, he is on a pace to be only the second Blues player to finish with more than 40 goals (41) since Brett Hull was lighting things up for St. Louis in the mid-1990’s (Brad Boyes has 43 in 2007-2008).  Here is your fact of the day… Tarasenko does not have a goal on the road since December 6th against the New York Islanders, nine games and counting.  In two career games against Washington he does not have a point.

Washington: Brooks Laich

As we noted in our post-game recap of the loss to Montreal Brooks Laich had a solid game – four shots on goal, five hits, three blocked shots, drew three penalties (one coincidental) and plus-13 in Corsi at 5-on-5.  It would be nice to get a bit more offensive production from him (no goals in his last ten games), but playing as he did yesterday, if he can continue it, is an important part of the sort of game the Caps play under Barry Trotz.  It is especially important against an opponent such as St. Louis, which plays such a heavy game itself.  Laich is 1-2-3 in eight career appearances against the Blues.

In the end…

With any team on a streak, you can see the streak coming or going before they start or end.  In the case of the Blues, on a ten-game points streak, you might be seeing the end coming from the results of their last two games, both Gimmick wins, one against a struggling opponent (Carolina).  Still, it is a club against which it is very hard to score (two or fewer goals allowed in five of their last six games).  The Caps have a tough task ahead, made tougher by 63 minutes of grind-it-out hockey against Montreal on Saturday afternoon with one point to show for it.  But the Caps have become a team that is hard to score against themselves (well, as long as Braden Holtby is in goal).  It might be a boring affair on Super Bowl Sunday, but if it ends in a win, that’s fine with us.

Capitals 2 – Blues 1

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Capitals at Canadiens, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals are set to play the second half of back-to-back back-to-back games.  Fresh off a split of the first of these back-to-back games, a loss in Columbus to the Blue Jackets followed by a shutout win at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps will head to Montreal on Saturday to face the Canadiens before returning home on Super Bowl Sunday to host the St. Louis Blues.

When the Caps take the ice at Bell Centre on Saturday, they will be facing a Montreal Canadiens team that is on one of its streaks that have characterized their season to date.  Over their first 47 games, Montreal as recorded two three-game winning streaks, two four-game winning streaks, and two six-game winning streaks.  They also have three three-game losing streaks on their record.  They bring a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s game against Washington.

In their four-game winning streak, the Habs have done it with goaltending, specifically that of Carey Price.  Appearing in the last three games of this streak, Price allowed only three goals on 103 shots. A .971 save percentage.  It is part of a sustained run of fine performances by Price, who has allowed more than two goals in an appearance only once in his last 15 games (12-2-1, 1.53, .949, one shutout).  He is a top-five goalie in wins (26) and save percentage (.931), third in both, and he is second in even-strength save percentage (.940) among goalies appearing in at least 20 games.  Success against the Caps has been much harder to come by for Price.  In 16 career appearances he is 4-9-3, 3.24, .894.

Offense has been an intermittent thing with the Canadiens in their four-game streak.  They pounded the New York Islanders for six goals in a 6-4 win on January 17th to start the streak, the only Eastern Conference team to score as many as six goals against the Isles this season (St. Louis has done it twice).  In their last three games, however, Montreal has only a total of six goals, twice being held to one goal in regulation (a 2-1 overtime win over Nashville and a 1-0 win over the Rangers).

Alex Galchenyuk has three of the 12 goals the Canadiens have in their winning streak.  The former third-overall draft pick has not broken out in a big way in his third season in Montreal, but he is showing steady improvement in his production.  After a rookie season in which he finished with nine goals in 48 games, he had 13 in 65 games last season.  This season, with 13 in 47 games, he is on a pace to finish 23 goals.  If he can get to 25 he would be only the 17th player at age 20 or younger on February 1st to reach that mark since the 2004-2005 lockout.  In six career games against the Caps, Galchenyuk is 0-3-3, even.

The leading overall scorer for the Canadiens over their winning streak (five assists) is Andrei Markov.  Robbed of much of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons to knee and ankle injuries, Markov has missed only one game in the last three seasons.  At age 36, he is still a reliable half-point-per-game scorer from the blue line (27 in 47 games this season).  And, only P.K. Subban logs more ice time (25:25/game) than Markov (24:37).  Markov has 39 career appearances against the Caps and is 1-19-20, plus-13.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  Carey Price: 26-10-2, 2.09, .931, three shutouts.  Dustin Tokarski: 5-3-1, 2.50, .917.  Whatever Tokarski’s potential (and those are not bad numbers for a backup), as goes Price, so go the Canadiens.  The Habs are 5-7-1 when Price allows more than two goals, 1-6-0 when he allows more than three.

2.  This does not prevent Montreal from being successful in a broad range of outcomes.  They are fifth in the league in winning percentage in one-goal games (.650/13-4-3), tops in the league in two-goal decisions (.889/8-1), and they hold their own in decisions of three or more goals (10-8).

3. What Montreal is, is a front runner.  Get a lead, and they tend to finish with one.  They lead the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.905/19-1-1), although oddly enough they do not often carry a lead into the first intermission.  No team in the league has held a lead after 20 minutes fewer times than Montreal (9).

4.  Montreal has a strange plus-minus profile at the individual level.  One might expect, whether a team is good or bad at even strength, a reasonably continuous range of values for that statistic.  And, with the Canadiens there is, ranging from plus-11 on the high side to minus-9 on the low side of 26 skaters.  The 27th skater, though, is Max Pacioretty, who is quite an outlier at plus-23, the sixth-highest mark in the league.  It blows away his previous career best (plus-8, set twice).

5.  One might think that the pressure a crowd can put on officials would result in the Canadiens getting a lot of “home town” calls.  They do not, at least as far as getting power plays is concerned.  Montreal has the fifth-fewest power play opportunities in the league so far, and the differential between power plays and shorthanded situations is virtually a draw (minus-2) on Bell Centre ice.

1.  For the Capitals, getting power plays on the road is a rare occurrence.  With only 65 power plays awarded this season, the Caps rank 27th in total road power plays.

2.  The Caps are the only team in the Eastern Conference with a goal differential in each regulation period of plus-5 or better.  And here is something to watch.  The Caps have more than twice as many goals scored in the first period as does Montreal (41-20).

3.  When the Caps are held even in shots or are outshot by opponents, their record is 15-4-5.  When out-shooting their opponents, their record is 10-10-4.  Go figure.

4.  “Caps” burglars…Washington leads the league in takeaways in road games, and by a healthy margin (185) over Carolina in second (172).  Take that fact with a grain of salt, depending on who is doing the counting of takeaways.

5.  This is the first of two meetings this season at Bell Centre between these clubs.  The Caps are 8-0-1 in their last nine visits to Montreal, outscoring the Canadiens by a 33-14 margin, with four shutouts on the ledger.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Sergei Gonchar

Sergei Gonchar got a late start on the 2014-2015 season, missing the first 11 games of the campaign to a broken ankle.  Then, on November 11th, he was acquired by the Canadiens from the Dallas Stars for forward Travis Moen.  Montreal is Gonchar’s sixth team, starting with the Capitals, in what is now a 20-season career.  He is one of the few players left in the league to have played through each of the last two NHL lockouts (the 1994-1995 season was his rookie year with Washington).  At age 40, there can’t be much left in the tank, or is there?  In 31 games with the Canadiens he is averaging more than 19 minutes a game, fourth among defensemen in ice time.  He is also fourth in points among that group despite appearing in more than ten fewer games than each of the defensemen ahead of him (he is also the only Montreal defenseman to win a faceoff this season, so there is that, too).  Gonchar is not the point-producer he was earlier in his career, but he is 0-7-7 in his last 13 games.  In 30 career games against his former team, he is 6-17-23, minus-1.

Washington: Justin Peters

This being the second back-to-back set of games this week for the Caps, one has to think backup goaltender Justin Peters is going to get one of these weekend games.  He has not done particularly well in the chances he has been given, and that is especially true on the road, where he is 0-3-0, 4.13, .856 in four appearances.  Perhaps an afternoon game will be more to his liking; he has not played in the daylight yet this season.  He is also 2-2-0, 3.33, .866 in five Saturday appearances.  Peters has not allowed fewer than three goals in an appearance since beating Florida in a shootout, 2-1, back on October 18th.  He has to start picking up the slack sometime, though, and this weekend might be where he starts.  Peters is 0-2-0, 4.22, .851 in three career appearances against Montreal.

In the end…

These teams are separated by six points in the Eastern Conference standings, and with a win in regulation time the Caps could crawl within four points of the Canadiens and three of the Pittsburgh Penguins for fifth place in the conference.  Games in January and February tend to have a same vague feel about them, but it remains that that the Caps face a difficult schedule over the next four weeks and cannot afford a letdown.  Montreal has been a friendly place to visit in recent years, and no doubt the Canadiens are taking note of that fact.  Still, the Caps do seem to have found a way when they have had to for solving Carey Price in goal.  Count on that being the secret ingredient for a happy ending.

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 48: Capitals 4 - Penguins 0

The Washington Capitals ended their four-game losing streak in emphatic fashion on Wednesday night with a 4-0 whitewashing of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center. It was the second time in barely a month that the Caps beat the Penguins in a shutout.

The Caps got started early when Alex Ovechkin scored his 28th goal of the season on the Caps’ second shot of the game 4:50 into the first period. It was a simple enough play, but one on which the Captain is not usually involved. Karl Alzner floated a shot toward the Pittsburgh cage, and Ovechkin, parked at the top of the crease, redirected the puck past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 1-0, Caps.

The Caps held the one-goal lead through the remainder of the first and over the first 17 minutes of the second period when Ovechkin struck again in more conventional fashion on a power play. The standard fare of Nicklas Backstrom on the right wing half-wall moving the puck to Mike Green at the top of the zone, then over to Ovechkin for a one-timer made it 2-0, Caps, and lifted Ovechkin past Tyler Seguin and Rick Nash for the league goal-scoring lead with 29.

Mid-way through the third period, Eric Fehr gave the Caps a three-goal cushion. Working his way behind the Penguin defense, Fehr set up in front of Fleury and called for the puck. When it finally made its way in deep, Fehr and Brooks Laich took whacks at it.  Fehr’s persistence gave him another chance from a severe angle just to Fleury’s right, and Fehr used some deft stick work to get the puck on his blade to flip it over Fleury’s pad to make it 3-0.

Mike Green closed out the scoring barely a minute after Fehr’s goal, converting a two-on-one break with Evgeny Kuznetsov by wristing the puck past Fleury’s glove on the far side to make it 4-0. Braden Holtby made it all stand up in goal, turning away all 27 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season.

Other stuff…

-- For Ovechkin, it is now 13 goals in his last 13 games and his fourth multi-point game in his last five. In addition to his taking over the top-spot among goal scorers, Ovechkin is now tied for 12th in total points on his 13-4-17 scoring pace over those same 13 games.

-- On the matter of multi-point games, Mike Green had a goal and an assist for his third multi-point game in his last five contests and fourth in his last nine games.  He is now tied for 14th in scoring among defensemen (5-24-29) despite appearing in only 40 games, fewer than any of the defenseman ahead of him.

-- Brooks Orpik recorded an assist for his 10th point this season. He is the 17th Capital to reach double figures in points. The Caps had 16 players reach that mark all of last season.

-- Holtby’s fifth shutout of the season is a new career best for him, and he is tied for second in the league, one behind Fleury.

-- This is not the first time that consecutive games have ended in shutouts in this series. Actually, it is the third in-season occurrence (fourth overall, including shutouts spanning seasons). It isn’t the first time one team recorded the shutouts, either. Washington shut the Penguins out on consecutive 1-0 scores February 6th and 21st, 2011.

-- This was the third consecutive shutout pitched in this series, the first time that has happened in the 206 regular season games between these clubs.  The Penguins defeated the Caps, 2-0, last March 11th in the last meeting of the clubs in the 2013-2014 season.  The Pens have not scored on the Caps in 125:12 of total ice time.

-- Tom Wilson broke a personal 15-game streak without a fight when he and Zach Sill went at it in the first period.

-- Out-score the Pens?...check (4-0).  Out-shoot the Pens?...check (36-27).  Out-attempt the Penguins?...check (62-58).  Block more shots?...check (23-14).  Win the faceoff battle?...check (39-24).

-- Speaking of faceoffs, Eric Fehr (17-of-22) and Nicklas Backstrom (12-of-18) won a combined 72.5 percent of their draws.

-- Odd stat… Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang had five shot attempts.  All of them were blocked.  In fact, 15 of 23 shot attempts from Penguin defensemen were blocked.  So much for getting pucks to the net.

-- The Caps solved Fleury four times, making it three times in his last four games that Fleury allowed four or more goals (0-3-1, 4.34, .867).

In the end…

The Caps can play with anybody, if properly motivated, and the Penguins never seem to fail to provide that kind of motivation.  They are also doing more than holding their own in the Metropolitan Division (11-3-4).  These are good signs for the Caps, especially given the Penguins’ difficulties in the division (6-9-4).  One wonders how it is that the Caps can look so flat and listless against teams like Edmonton and Columbus, and then put together a complete effort such as that displayed last night.  It suggests that the Caps’ stiffest competition over their last 34 games will not be the teams they face on the ice as much as what is in their own heads.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Penguins at Capitals, January 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home this evening after their 4-3 loss in Columbus to the Blue Jackets to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It will be the first home game for the Caps since the All-Star Game break, and it will be the first of three meetings of these clubs over the next four weeks.

Pittsburgh is coming off a 5-3 win at home over the Winnipeg Jets, no mean feat given that the Jets went into the break on a five-game winning streak.  For the Pens, the win broke a four-game losing streak and expanded their lead over the Caps in the Metropolitan Division to five points.

In our abbreviated prognosto for this game, here are some facts with which you can impress your friends…
  • For the Caps, this season has been all about who gets to “1” first.  When they do, they are 23-1-4, the second best record in the league.  When the other guys score first, the Caps are 1-13-5, the worst record in the league.
  • No team has played in fewer road games so far than Pittsburgh (20), although their 10-5-5 record is very respectable.
  • Pittsburgh is a very good penalty killing team (87.1 percent/4th in the league).  They have to be.  Only Winnipeg has faced more shorthanded situations (200) than the Penguins (171).
  • When the Caps are shorthanded, let’s see if they can score. With just one shorthanded goal this season (Eric Fehr), only Florida has fewer (none).
  • Alex Ovechkin had a three-game multi-point streak broken last night in Columbus.  Had he recorded a fourth straight multi-point game it would have made it his longest such streak this season (he had one December 29 – January 4th against the Islanders, Blackhawks, and Panthers).
  • The Caps have 16 players in double digit points.  Last season, over 82 games, they had 16 players in double digit points.  If Brooks Orpik gets a point tonight, he would make 17 players this season with double digit points.
  • The Caps have only three players in “minus” territory so far this season among 22 skaters having dresses for games: Brooks Laich (minus-1), Jason Chimera (minus-1) and Tom Wilson (minus-2).  Last season, 19 of 35 skaters finished in “minus” territory.
  • Last night’s two-point night for Evgeny Kuznetsov was his first multi-point game since November 28th against the Islanders.  It also broke a personal seven-game streak without a point for Kuznetsov.
  • Andre Burakovsky goes into the game against the Penguins on a three-game scoring streak (2-2-4), his longest points streak since opening his NHL career with a four-game streak in October.
  • It might not matter which goalie gets the nod in the second of back-to-back games tonight.  Neither has an especially noteworthy record against Pittsburgh.  Braden Holtby is 1-4-0, 3.40, .900 in five career appearances against the Pens, while Justin Peters is 2-4-2, 4.18, .880 in eight career appearances against Pittsburgh.  Holtby’s win, however, was a 3-0 shutout in Pittsburgh on December 27th.

In the end…

The Caps would not be the Caps if they didn’t make it hard on themselves.  That’s what they have done to open the post-All-Star Game portion of their schedule.  They lost a game against a beatable opponent last night, then have to turn around, head home, and play a rival on national television.  Well, if it was easy, I’d be in the NHL and not writing this stuff.

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2

A NO-Point Night -- Game 47: Blue Jackets 4 - Capitals 3

Last night’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was a slap in the face for the Washington Capitals. Or, more precisely, a puck in the face, for that is how the game-winning goal would be scored by the home team.   A shot by Fedor Tyutin found its way to the face of Nicklas Backstrom and dropped to the feet of Cam Atkinson, who took advantage of the gift to flick the puck past goalie Braden Holtby for the fourth and final goal for the Blue Jackets.

The Caps’ fate appeared to be sealed long before Backstrom’s unfortunate meeting with the puck. After a scoreless first period, Columbus scored 3:45 into the second period on a goal by Mark Letestu. It was the 19th time this season that the Caps allowed the first goal, and in their previous 18 instances they had won the game once. The teams split four more goals in the period, Columbus taking a 3-2 lead into the locker room at the second intermission. It was the 11th time this season that the Caps trailed after 40 minutes, and in their first ten instances they won just once.

You could say things were not looking good for the Caps, and when Backstrom took a face full of puck five minutes into the third period, it put an exclamation point on the Caps’ predicament when falling behind in games. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 12 minutes into the period to make the game close, but that would be all the Caps could muster in the late stages of the contest, dropping their fourth straight game, 4-3.

Other stuff…

-- Four straight losses, four straight games in which the game-winning or game-tying goal to force regulation was scored in the third period.  There was improvement, though.  After three straight games of allowing two goals in the third period, the Cap allowed one in the final frame last night.

-- This was the Caps’ third consecutive game allowing an opponent five or more power play opportunities.  Unlike the first two instances, they did not allow the Blue Jackets to convert on any of their chances, and it broke a three-game streak of allowing opponents a power play score.

-- Alex Ovechkin was responsible for 29 percent of the Caps’ shot attempts last night (15 of 52), but what was more surprising was that Karl Alzner had seven shot attempts (two on goal).  The other five defensemen had a total of five shot attempts.

-- Odd that every skater for the Caps was either a plus (five of them) or a minus (the other 13). 

-- Anyone want seconds?  The five guys with plusses were the second line (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer) and the second defensive pair (Matt Niskanen and Alzner).

-- Jason Chimera skated only 9:06 last night.  It was not his lowest ice time total for the season, but it was the sixth time in his last eight games that he did not break the ten-minute mark.

-- Chimera’s was not the low ice time for the night.  That would be Tom Wilson, who skated just 6:51, none of it in the last nine minutes.  That makes seven times in his last 11 games that Wilson has skated fewer than ten minutes.

-- Since Braden Holtby shutout the Philadelphia Flyers, 1-0, on January 14th, he has allowed four goals in each of three games (0-2-1, 3.94, .868).

-- After Columbus took a 4-2 lead 5:20 into the third period, the Caps did not register a shot on goal over the next 6:47, getting out-shot by a 7-0 margin.  That shot, by Marcus Johansson, led to a rebound that Evgeny Kuznetsov converted into the Caps’ third goal two seconds later, at 12:09 of the period.  After that, the Caps would record just one more shot on goal, that by Jay Beagle.

-- The loss dropped the Caps to 5-4-0 in the first half of back-to-back games this season.  All four losses have been by one goal, three of them ending in a 4-3 decision.

In the end…

There went a wasted opportunity for the Caps.  First, with the schedule getting harder quickly after this game, Columbus was an opponent that the Caps should have – and needed to – dispatch quickly.  Second, the Rangers played last night as well and lost, so the Caps let pass an opportunity to jump them in the standings.  Third, they wasted one of the two games in hand they held over Boston, which whom they are tied with 57 points.  Fourth, they failed to keep pace with the Penguins – their opponent tonight and a team they could have closed to within one point of with a win in regulation.

If the Caps fail to make the playoffs this season, it might not be in a collapse, but rather death by a thousand nicks of the sort they inflicted on themselves last night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Capitals at Blue Jackets, January 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The party is over, the cannon smoke has drifted away, the lights on the scoreboard that burned out in the goal-fest of the All-Star Game have been replaced, and it is back to the winter grind for the 30 teams of the National Hockey League.

For the Washington Capitals, the “second half” of the season opens at the site of the All-Star Game, as they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.  The Caps open the post-All-Star game portion of their schedule in a tightly-bunched portion of the Eastern Conference standings.  Washington is tied with the Boston Bruins in seventh place in standings points (57) but hold the seventh spot by virtue of having played fewer games than the Bruins.  The Caps are only one point behind the New York Rangers for sixth place in the conference (and third in the Metropolitan Division), and they are within striking distance of Pittsburgh (60 points) for fifth place and Montreal (61 points) for fourth place in the conference.

On the other hand, the Blue Jackets are on the outside looking in.  Columbus comes out of the All-Star Game break in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, 14 points behind Boston and Washington.  Already a team struggling to maintain a grasp on sliver of hope for a playoff spot (4-6-0 in the new year), they lost former Vezina Trophy-winning goalternder Sergei Bobrovsky for the next 4-6 weeks to a groin injury.

Filling that spot is going to be difficult.  Bobrovsky, while not performing at quite his Vezina Trophy level of 2012-2013, at least had a career body of work that suggested he could be depended upon to provide solid, reliable minutes in goal.  His immediate prospects as replacements – Curtis McElhinney and Anton Forsberg, the other goaltenders to have appeared for Columbus this season – do not inspire that sort of confidence.

McElhinney would appear to be getting the call to log the heavy minutes in Bobrovsky’s absence (Forsberg has only two NHL appearances).  A journeyman who is in his seventh season and his fifth team, McElhinney has never in any of his five seasons appearing in more than ten games (including this season) posted a goal-against average below 2.70, nor recorded a save percentage better than .910.  Last season with Columbus was arguably his best in the NHL – 10-11-1, 2.70, .909, with two shutouts.  He is behind that pace this season (4-6-1, 2.98, .907).  His picture is not as clear as that, however.  After what was a ghastly start to his season, McElhinney has put together a string of good efforts.  In his first eight appearances he was 0-5-1 (one no-decision), 3.76, .887.  In his last eight appearances he is 4-1-0 (three no-decisions), 2.18, .930.  Doing that while getting number one minutes will be his challenge.  He is 0-2-0, 5.61, .825 in two appearances against the Caps.

Columbus might have to rely on more offensive output to make up for their goaltender’s absence.  With 24 goals scored in their ten games in 2015, one would think that is not going to be enough on a nightly basis (2.40/game) to lift the Blue Jackets back into contention.

Columbus had two representatives at the All-Star Game – Ryan Johansen (the game’s most valuable player) and Nick Foligno (team captain).  Each has done his part to try to keep the Blue Jackets afloat in their recent slump.  Until very recently, Johansen has been a machine.  From December 18th through January 16th – a span of 13 games – Johansen registered a point in each game and went 8-8-16.  While he was held scoreless in his last two games heading into the All-Star Game break, he is among the hottest players in the league.  In eight career games against the Caps, Johansen is 3-3-6, minus-2.

Foligno was almost as hot as Johansen over a similar period of games.  Starting with a two-goal, three-point night against the Caps on December 18th, Foligno went 4-10-14, plus-1, over an 11-game stretch.  He has been especially productive against the Caps this season.  Four of his 18 goals have come at the expense of the Caps, twice as many as he has against any other opponent (he has a pair of two-goal games), and his five points is the most he has against any opponent this season.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Columbus is a minus team in each period this season, but it gets worse for the Blue Jackets as time goes on.  They are minus-5 in the first periods of games and minus-9 in the second periods of games.  Third periods are another matter.  Their 54 goals allowed is the third-highest total in the league, and their minus-18 is fourth worst goal differential in the league.

2.  If the Caps get a 5-on-5 power play, this might be the team to score against.  Only Anaheim (4) has allowed more 5-on-3 power play goals than the Blue Jackets (3).

3.  The Blue Jackets have struggled with the rule book this season.  Only Pittsburgh (207) and Winnipeg (232) have committed more minor penalties (189).  Only Ottawa (167), Pittsburgh (171), and Winnipeg (197) have found themselves shorthanded more often than Columbus (166).

4.  Johansen has been a productive offensive player this season, but there is another side to that.  Only five of 527 forwards dressing for games this season have been on ice for more goals against (51 in 45 games), and he is the team “leader,” by far, in that statistic among forwards (Foligno: 38 in 44 games).

5.  Columbus has the second-worst record in the league in games decided by three or more goals (2-12/.143).  Only four teams have allowed five or more goals more times than the ten occasions the Blue Jackets allowed five or more (record: 0-9-1).

1.  Alex Ovechkin has a peculiar career record in terms of his pre- and post-All-Star Game performance.  On a per 82-game basis:
  • Pre-All-Star Game: 51-47-98, plus-12, 18-20-38 in power play scoring, 421 shots on goal, 12.2 percent shooting
  • Post-All-Star Game: 50-45-95, minus-2, 19-20-39 in power play scoring, 400 shots on goal, 12.5 percent shooting
2.  Buffalo has three wins when trailing first this season.  So, too, do the Carolina Hurricanes.  That’s two more wins when trailing first than Washington has, the Capitals having the worst record in the league (1-12-5/.056).

3.  The Capitals are the most efficient power play team in the league by one measure.  They score one power play goal per 6:11 of power play ice time.

4.  In the “you already knew this” file…no team has been shorthanded more times in overtime this season than the Caps (4, tied with Pittsburgh).  They allowed the game-winning goal each time (Islanders twice, Blue Jackets, Flyers).

5.  Here is the odd (and frustrating) thing about that previous item.  The Caps have allowed only one 4-on-4 goal this season third fewest in the league), that coming in an overtime loss to Calgary on November 4th.  They have not allowed a 4-on-4 goal in regulation this season.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Scott Hartnell

Scott Hartnell missed five games after suffering a broken finger in Columbus’ 3-2 overtime win over the Caps on December 11th.  Since his return on December 27th, he has been quite productive.  In 12 games since returning to the lineup, Hartnell is 4-7-11, plus-2.  He seems to be at his agitating best, too.  In his last ten games he has accumulated 24 minutes in penalties – a ten-minute misconduct, roughing, a double minor for roughing, two slashing penalties, tripping, and high-sticking.  What he does not have this season is a point against the Capitals in two games.

Washington: John Carlson

Kevin Shattenkirk is the answer to a trivia question, "which NHL defenseman has more multi-point games this season than John Carlson?”  That’s right.  Carlson’s nine multi-point games is exceeded only by Shattenkirk’s ten (Mike Green also has nine multi-point games, giving the Caps the only team with two defensemen among the top dozen defensemen in multi-point games).  He is quietly – very quietly, it would seem – establishing himself as a top-shelf scoring defenseman.  Carlson is tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen (34 points, tied with Philadelphia’s Mark Streit) and is tied with Calgary’s Mark Giordano for the top spot in assists (29).  His plus-15 is tied for fifth, and his 27 even strength points are tied for second (Giordano: 29).  He is tied for ninth in takeaways and is eighth in blocked shots.  Carlson is 3-4-7, minus-2, in nine career games against Columbus.

In the end…

The Capitals get few breaks in their schedule over the next month, as we noted here.  It makes it that much more important to take advantage of teams that are struggling with performance and injuries to key players.  That is what the Capitals face in Columbus on Tuesday night, and even though they have to turn around, return home, and face Pittsburgh the following night, finding the discipline to take care of business here is the most important order of business.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 3

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 16: A Time for Reflection

Week 16 was as light a week as it gets in the NHL – a one-game week for the Washington Capitals – as the league put a ribbon on the pre-All-Star Game portion of the 2014-2015 season.  Technically, by our standards, it was not a “losing” week for the Caps.  They did win a standings point in their 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Edmonton Oilers.  It sure did have a losing air about it, though.  If you want to rehash that, by all means, go here and here

The remainder of Week 15 gave Capitals Nation an opportunity to recharge and refresh for the race to the finish of the regular season.  It also gave us the chance to ponder the terrain of the last 36 games of the season.  With the Capitals holding onto seventh place in the Eastern Conference and the first wild card for playoff eligibility, they seem to have a firm grasp on a playoff spot with a seven-point lead over the ninth-place Florida Panthers (the Panthers have two games in hand).  Nothing is certain in the NHL, though.

So, let’s bring in the cousins for their always trenchant analysis and…

Cheerless: “What?...Trenchant?...Is that like ‘trench foot?’”

Fearless: “’Trenchant….it means ‘insightful; or ‘perceptive.’”

Cheerless: “Well good, because I take good care of my feet.”

Fearless: “Odor-eaters would help and…”

Peerless: Guys, can we? 

First, let’s take a look at how we got here.  Is this what you expected under a Brian MacLellan/Barry Trotz administration in the first half?

Fearless:  The first half, as it were, seemed to go as one might expect.  The new front office operation put an imprint on the roster in the off-season with signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik as free agents.  There were a couple of surprises in training camp with Andre Burakovsky earning a spot on the parent roster and an even bigger one with Liam O’Brien getting a spot on the roster.  Otherwise, of the 22 skaters having appeared for the Caps so far this season, 18 of them are holdovers from last season.  I don’t see this as surprising.  Ever since the rebuild, the Caps’ approach to change seems to have been more incremental than tectonic.  Brian MacLellan was the headline change in the front office.  There wasn’t much changing around that personnel action.  And the front office has played things very conservatively, the only moves being farm club transactions involving marginal players or prospects moving between Washington and Hershey.

Cheerless:  Getting Barry Trotz was surprising only because of who the Caps hired before him.  Five guys…hmm…Five Guys…I could go for a burger with bacon and mushrooms with…

Peerless: Hey, lunch can wait…

Cheerless: Oh yeah…five guys who never had any NHL head coaching experience.  But Barry Trotz was right in the mainstream of coaches who might have been hired by another NHL team.  He had 15 years of experience (look at guys like Lindy Ruff and Peter Laviolette, who managed to get new jobs the past couple of years), had some success (seven straight 40-or-more win seasons, four 100-or-more point seasons), had a body of work that wasn’t part of a Caps’ new hire since they signed Ron Wilson to coach the team in 1997.  In that sense it was a pretty conventional hire.

Peerless: The Caps are not a team that adheres to the old Baltimore Orioles philosophy of “pitching, defense, and three-run homers,” at least the three-run homer part.  The Caps have been, especially in the post-2005 lockout period, a team that builds on the margins and from within.  They have not dipped into the high-end free agent market, nor have they been inclined to “blockbuster” trades.  They departed from that game plan this past summer with the signings of Niskanen and Orpik, but even those signings were almost of the “we had to” variety after the club employed 14 defensemen in 2013-2014.

OK guys, but what about the on-ice product with Trotz.  What you expected?

Cheerless:  Pretty much.  Trotz didn’t have much in the way of offense in Nashville and coached that way.  Only twice in 15 seasons there did he have a team whose scoring offense ranked in the top-ten.  Eight times, his teams ranked in the bottom ten, although five of those were in his first five seasons with what was an expansion team. 

But the big thing is one-goal games.  In 15 seasons with Nashville, 520 of 1,196 games ended in one-goal decisions (43.5 percent of all games played).  He was really good at it, too.  The Predators had a 267-151-102 record (the 102 part being ties and extra-time losses).  His teams earned more than 60 percent of the available standings points in those games. He was even better in the post-2005 lockout period: 178-71-79, earning almost two-thirds of the available standings points.  So far with the Caps, he’s coached in 29 one-goal games (63 percent of all games).  He has not had quite as much success in those games, a 12-8-9 record (56.9 percent of available standings points). 

Fearless: The Caps would appear to have more offense than what Trotz had in Nashville, and it has provided an opportunity to display a certain flexibility in approach.  Washington is eighth in the league in scoring offense, which is high by Trotz’ standard and an improvement over last season, and 2.96 goals-per-game is their second-highest average goals-per-game since their big year in 2009-2010.  Look at it this way.  Trotz had four 30-goal scorers in 15 seasons in Nashville – Jason Arnott (33 in 2008-2009), Paul Kariya (31 in 2005-2006), Steve Sullivan (31 in 2005-2006), and Patric Hornqvist (30 in 2009-2010).  He now has one player on his roster who has five 50-goal seasons (Alex Ovechkin) and is on pace to be within striking range (48 goals at the moment) of a sixth.  Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom also have 30-goal seasons in their history.  And, the Caps have six players on a pace to finish the season with 20 or more goals. Trotz appears to have more tools in Washington, at least on the offensive side of the puck.

Peerless:  The Caps under Barry Trotz might be a bit surprising in terms of their ability to score, give the profile that accompanied Trotz to Washington.  Fans might have expected more of a grind-it-out offense that was risk-averse and tended to low scoring games, but the Caps are tied for tenth in the number games in which they scored three or more goals (27 of 46).  What they are not getting yet, though, is a lot of success in those games relative to that enjoyed by the rest of the league.  The Caps are 18th in total standings points won in such games and tied for 25th in the league in available standings points won (74.1 percent).

They have done better on the other side of the ledger, but not by a lot.  A 20-2-2 record when allowing two or fewer goals is impressive on its face, but that ranks in a tie for 11th in the percentage of standings points available won by the Caps (87.5 percent).

Fearless mentioned Alex Ovechkin.  Perhaps the biggest issue coming into this season – beaten to death, actually – was whether or not Alex Ovechkin, fresh off a minus-35 season, would “buy in” to the hockey philosophy of Barry Trotz. Well, has he?

Fearless:  Ovechkin is on a pace to finish with 48 goals and plus-21.  As it is, he is third in the league and among forwards in goals scored (27) and is tied for 23rd among forwards in plus-minus.  Last season he was on ice for 80 goals scored against the Caps.  This season he is on a pace to finish on ice with 53 goals scored against.  It is worth noting that there are 119 forwards who have been on ice for more goals against than Ovechkin.  Many of those forwards have stiffer defensive responsibilities than Ovechkin, but last year only 12 forwards were on ice for more goals against.

Cheerless:  A lot of that plus-minus Ovechkin has is streakiness.  He has not had a minus game since December 23rd, a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  He is plus-7 in the 12 games since then.  He also has 11 goals over those 12 games, six of them at even-strength.  In six games his goal (or goals) was accompanied by a plus, and in three others he was “even.”  There seems to be something going on there between his goal scoring and his being a “plus” player.

Peerless: Alex Ovechkin is never going to receive Selke Trophy votes for best forward (more accurately, “again,” since he did receive votes in three consecutive seasons: 2007-2008 through 2009-2010).  But neither is he the slug, fairly or unfairly characterized, who posted a minus-35 last season.  As a group, the Caps do not have the sort of offense that would enable him to get close to his plus-45 in 2009-2010, but he is right in the ball park, pace-wise, to finish this season consistent with his best efforts otherwise (plus-28 in 2007-2008 and plus-24 in 2010-2011).  Drilling into the next level of numbers, Ovechkin’s 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (all situations) is his best (54.3) since 2009-2010 (57.8) and is the fourth-best of his ten-year career (numbers from  His Corsi-for percentage, relative to time off ice, is the third best in his career to date (+4.2).  Part of this might be favorable offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 (57.2 percent of his offensive plus defensive zone starts have been in the offensive zone this season), but there is an odd twist to that statistic.  His neutral zone starts pace (488 total) is on a pace to obliterate his career high (436 in 2007-2008).  As a share of total zone starts, he is not getting all that favorable treatment relative to his career history. 

Is he “buying in?”  Maybe it’s a coach with enough games under his belt to earn a star’s respect.  Maybe it’s the nature of the game Barry Trotz is asking Ovechkin to play.  Maybe it’s just being in sight of his 30th birthday and counting gray hairs on his head, along with the maturity such things bring.  But he is a different player than he has been.  Perhaps not so different as media who lambasted him last season might think, but different nonetheless.

Cousins, let’s turn to the future.  Is this team capable of reaching the playoffs, and if so, can they make a deep run?

Cheerless:  This time last year, well after 46 games, anyway, the Caps were playoff-eligible, third in the Metropolitan Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference.  Things happen.  They lost 20 of their last 36 games, the Rangers, Detroit, and Columbus passed them, and they missed the playoffs.  Is this team better than that one?  Well, as Fearless said before, it isn’t a lot different.  A lot of guys who were part of that slump last year are skating this year.  Yeah, Adam Oates wasn’t what anyone hoped for as head coach, and Brooks Orpik brings “leadership”…blah blah blah.  They’re capable of making the playoffs, but they could be overtaken, too.

Fearless:  Cheerless needs to check his math.  Columbus overtook the Caps last year having been behind by just four standings points after the Caps played their 46th game.  The Blue Jackets finished three points ahead of the Caps in the final standings.  So, even if you think seven points is the outer edge of what a team can make up against the Caps, it would take two teams to catch and pass the Caps to knock them out of the post-season.  Boston is tied with the Caps in standings points, but the Caps have two games in hand on the Bruins, too.  After that, Ottawa is ten points behind the Caps.  It looks as if it is a nine-team race for eight spots in the East, and the Caps have an advantage.  So, it is possible that the Caps could fall two places, but I don’t think it’s the way to bet.

Can they make a deep playoff run?  That one is harder.  There is still so much disappointment that encrusts this franchise, even among the players on this roster.  Orpik has a Stanley Cup, as does Troy Brouwer.  But the core of this team hasn’t ever been past the second round of the playoffs and is three seasons removed so far from that deep a playoff run.  It is a team that has yet to find the key to unlock a deep run.

Peerless: Making the playoffs is by no means a certainty, but it would take a something bordering on a complete collapse for the Caps to be overtaken.  The arithmetic alone argues for this.  They are on a 102-point pace at the moment.  While that is no doubt inflated by a 14-1-4 run in December and January, those are points in the bank.  If Boston, currently in eighth place, is a floor for playoff eligibility, they are on a 97-point pace.  For the Caps to finish with 97 points they would have to be held to 40 points in their last 36 games.  On the other hand, if Florida was to get to 98 points (they have only 15 regulation and overtime wins, the first tie-breaker in the event of a tie; the Caps have 23, so passing the Caps would be the order of business), they would need 48 points in their last 38 games.  A 104-point pace would not be impossible for the Panthers, but it would be a stretch for a team that has only one three-game winning streak this season. 

As for a deep playoff run, it would be out of the ordinary for the entire Caps organization.  As a franchise the Caps haven’t advanced past the second round in any of their last 15 seasons, and they have only three playoff series wins in that span of time.  And this is where adding Barry Trotz might not be quite the solution to that particular problem.  In 15 seasons in Nashville his teams made the playoffs seven times, advancing as far (and no further than) the second round twice.

Finally, guys, what (if any) impediments are there to the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs or making a deep run if they do?

Fearless: The institutional issues – the baggage of years of disappointment on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office – are an important impediment to a deep playoff run.  But there is the matter of roster issues.  The Caps have not found a dependably productive top line right wing, there have been intermittent issues with the production of the second line, and they have had disappointing performance with relief goaltending.  Those are matters that might have to be addressed by MacLellan at the trading deadline, and this is his first season in the lead chair in the front office.  The Caps need to improve, because their competition will, and there are two ways this can happen.  Either kids like Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson will grow up a lot in the last ten weeks of the regular season and provide some dependability and consistency that the Caps have lacked at those positions. Or, the team will trade for those needs.  If the Caps cannot address those holes, a deep playoff run seems unlikely.

Cheerless: There is the 500-pound raccoon in the room (Fearless: “raccoon?”…really??) that no one talks about.  The Caps have dressed only 22 skaters this season.  Of that group, 13 have skated more than 40 games, and 19 of them have skated in at least 30 games.  Of the three who have skated fewer than 30 games, two – Liam O’Brien and Chris Brown – were probably going to end up in Hershey for the season anyway.  As of January 20th, according to, no team in the league has lost fewer games to team-reported injuries than the Caps (11).  That does not include players such as John Erskine, who has been out the entire season with injury, and the counting of games at that site does not include the games missed by Tom Wilson to start the season, but the Caps have been a healthy bunch.

Peerless:  There is another thing that might cause some anxious moments over the last 36 games of the season – the schedule – both its strength of opponents and its configuration.  In the month following the All-Star break the Caps have a 16-game gauntlet that could well determine their fate this season.  Over that span they play 11 different teams with a current combined record of 275-170-60 (on average, a 45-27-10 team – a 100-point team – every night).  They face Pittsburgh three times, Anaheim twice, and the Los Angeles Kings twice among serious contenders.  They also have to face Montreal, St. Louis, San Jose, the New York Islanders, and the surprising Winnipeg Jets in the next month.

Then there is the matter of where this schedule unfolds.  There is the annual west coast trip (San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim) to contend with in mid-February, plus road games in Montreal and Pittsburgh, and a game in Philadelphia, always a difficult venue for road teams.

Finally, there is the calendar.  Of those 16 games, ten of them will be played as five back-to-back sets of games:
  • January 27/28: at Columbus/vs. Pittsburgh
  • January 31/February 1: at Montreal/vs. St. Louis
  • February 5/6: at Ottawa/vs. Anaheim
  • February 14/15: at Los Angeles/at Anaheim
  • February 21/22: vs. New York Islanders/at Philadelphia
Back-to-backs are something the Caps have struggled with this season, going 6-9-1 in the 16 games played in back to-back fashion so far, 1-6-1 in the second game of those sets, their lone win coming in overtime against the struggling Carolina Hurricanes.  The distressing part of that is that in the second game of those eight back-to-backs, the Caps allowed four or more goals six times in the seven losses (the one time they did not was a 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia) and averaged 4.38 goals against in the eight games overall.  If the Caps do not improve on this record in the five back-half games yet to come, going perhaps 1-4-0 in those games, they would need 38 points in the other 31 games remaining (a 101-point pace) to get to 97 points by year’s end.

In the end…

The Caps started slowly this season, going 10-10-4 in their first 24 games under a new management and coaching regime.  They caught fire in their next 19 games, though, going 14-1-4, but all they managed with that run was to keep pace with the New York Rangers, who had quite a run of their own.  Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins, who were 15-13-3 as late as December 16th, are 10-3-4 in their last 17 games and tied with the Caps in standings points after the Caps lost their last three games (0-2-1) going into the All-Star Game break.  That is how tough it is to get separation in the standings in this league unless you are consistently dominating in ways that teams like Anaheim and Nashville have been this year, a feature missing from the Caps’ performance to date. 

The Caps have some difficult terrain to negotiate over the next month.  If they can come out of that 16-game stretch with their playoff-eligible position intact, they should – which not to say they will – reach the post season.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A ONE-Point Night -- Game 46: Oilers 5 - Capitals 4 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capital lost last night for the third game in a row, a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Edmonton Oilers.  You can read our recap of the game at Japers’ Rink here, but we had a few more thoughts on the game.

It was an especially disappointing loss for a number of reasons:
  • The Caps got out to a two-goal lead and outshot the Oilers, 6-0 at even strength over the first 14:25 of the game.  Over the last 45:35, the Caps were out-shot at even strength, 24-13, and were out-scored, 3-1.
  • The Caps had, not one, and not two, but three two-goal leads against a team that was 3-19-5 when allowing the first goal of the game.
  • The Caps had a lead at the first intermission against a team that had not won a game all season when trailing at the first intermission.  Let me repeat that… the Caps had a lead at the first intermission against a team that had not won a game all season when trailing at the first intermission.  They had a lead at the second intermission against a team than had one win when trailing at the second intermission.  And they lost.
  • They lost as a team that had lost only four times all season (three times in extra time) in 27 games when scoring first.  They lost as a team that had lost only twice (once in extra time) in 16 games when leading after one period, only three times (twice in extra time) in 24 games when leading after two periods.
  • The Caps took five minor penalties in the last 24:49 of regulation time.  Matt Niskanen took two of them, and his partner, Karl Alzner, took one.  That’s not really a productive use of your second pair defensemen’s available ice time.
  • Braden Holtby allowed three goals on the last 15 shots he saw in regulation time.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored two goals on three shots in his first five shifts totaling 3:02 of ice time.  In his last 15:42 of ice time for the evening he had one shot on goal.
  • Ovechkin saw only 18:44 in a 65-minute game.  That’s light by three or four minutes.  See that item about the five minor penalties in the last 24:49 for a reason why.
  • Nine of the last 11 games the Caps played were one-goal decisions, dating back to their 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on December 29th.  They need to get better at it.  Their record in those nine games is 4-2-3, and their overall record in one-goal games (12-8-9) is 23rd in the league in winning percentage.  Only Colorado (29) has been involved in more one-goal decisions than the Caps.
  • Three goals by the top line (two by Ovechkin, one by Nicklas Backstrom), one by the fourth line (Jay Beagle).  Seven shot attempts by the second line (Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer).  Nary a secondary peep.

In a way, given the context – an opportunity to tie the New York Rangers for second in the Metropolitan Division in standings points, playing a struggling team, looking to get to the All Star Game break on a high note – it might have been the Caps’ worst effort of the season.  It certainly was their worst effort since Thanksgiving.  One might reason that away by saying that these things happen, that in an 82-game season, stinkers will happen.  But now the Caps are on a three-game losing streak for the first time since they had a five-game slide at the end of October and beginning of November. 

The schedule gets difficult quickly when the Caps return to action, with Pittsburgh, Montreal, St. Louis, and Los Angeles in succession after the Caps open with Columbus.  A west coast trip follows soon thereafter.  They need to put this losing nonsense behind them, pronto.