Friday, April 24, 2015

Caps Win! -- Some More Thoughts on Game 5

You can read our recap of the Washington Capitals' 5-1 win over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series here, but here are few more fun facts to impress your friends to start your day...

-- This was the 16th time in the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom era in which the neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom scored in a post season game.  The win made the Caps’ record in such games 4-12. 

-- The five goals in a win was the first time the Caps scored more than four goals in a playoff win on home ice since beating the Montreal Canadiens, 6-5, in overtime of Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s two goals was the first time a Caps rookie scored twice in a post-season game since Marcus Johansson had a pair in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on April 20, 2011.

-- Jay Beagle won seven of 12 faceoffs last night.  By itself that is not overwhelming, but he is third in faceoff winning percentage among all NHL skaters in the post season (62.0 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom is fifth (59.8 percent).

-- The 41 shots on goal for the Caps was the first time they cleared 40 shots in a playoff game that ended in regulation since they recorded 42 shots on goal in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who they torched for five goals last night.

-- The Caps have held opponents to fewer than 30 shots on goal at Verizon Center for six consecutive games (the Islanders had 23 shots last night).  The last team to hit the 30 shots on goal mark on Capitals ice was the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, a 3-1 Capitals win.

-- Brooks Laich’s goal was a particularly welcome occurrence.  He had not scored a post season goal since May 7, 2012, in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers.  It was only a six-game streak without a goal, owing to Laich’s injuries in 2013 and the Caps missing the post season in 2014, but it seemed like a long time.

-- Karl Alzner is tied for sixth among defensemen in points in the post season (3), tied for first in goals (2).  He leads all defensemen in shooting percentage (40.0).

-- No team has allowed fewer third-period goals than the Caps in the post season (1).

-- The Caps are 8-3 in series in which they won Game 5.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Things to Think About After Four Games

Four games into their first round playoff series, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders are tied in games won, 2-2.  Though they are even, one would not say that they got to their position in the same fashion.  For the Capitals, one can see what they have done well and, just as important, what they need to do better.  For example…

-- Scoring at even strength.  The Islanders have ten goals in this series, nine of them scored at five a side, the other into an empty net.  On the other side, the Caps have seven goals in the series, six at full and even strength, one on the power play.  A 5-on-5 goals scored/goals allowed ratio of 0.78 (11th among 16 playoff teams) is not a lasting recipe for success.  They need to do better here.

-- Shots.  We have long been of a mind that shots matter.  In the Islanders, the Caps are facing a team that finished second in the regular season in shots per game (33.8, second to Chicago’s 33.9).  The Caps have shaved a couple of shots off that average in the first four games, the Islanders averaging 31.8 shots per game (ranked seventh).  The total shot attempts favor the Islanders, but not by as large a margin as one might think for a team whose principle traits include speed and possession.  New York is averaging 64.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes in the series, while the Caps are averaging 62.1 attempts per 60 minutes.  It is an area that could stand improvement for the Caps, but the situation here is not of the dire sort.

-- Forward scoring.  The Caps have seven goals from forwards in this series.  That is a bit disappointing, but the problem here is the utter lack of balance.  Nicklas Backstrom has half of the goals from forwards (three), Alex Ovechkin has a pair, and Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera have one apiece.  Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all are averaging more than 15 minutes of ice time a game through four contests, and none of them have scored.  Ward has a pair of assists, and Beagle has one among that quartet, but the Caps have to start getting production out of the second and third lines in this series.

-- Power play.  The best power play in the league this season (25.3 percent) is getting few chances (seven in four games, tied for fewest among 16 playoff teams) and is converting at barely half the regular season rate (14.3 percent/11th).  The Islanders have been able to muffle the Caps’ man advantage, allowing only 11 shots on goal in 12:54 of Capitals power play ice time.  And that has been a product of limiting the shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, who has four of those 11 shots on goal for the Caps.

-- Penalty killing.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the special teams divide, the Caps are the only team (knock on wood) with a perfect penalty killing record in the post season.  The Caps are 10-for-10 over the four games.  In getting to that mark they allowed the Islanders 20 shots on goal in 20 power play minutes.  A big part of that has been holding the Islanders’ top power play goal scorers – John Tavares (13) and Brock Nelson (10) – to a minimum of shots.  Nelson has four power play shots in the four games, and Tavares did not register his first power play shot on goal until Game 4 (he finished with two).

-- Momentum.  This is a feature that one might be prone to viewing through rose-colored lenses, but consider this.  The Islanders outscored the Caps by a 7-2 margin over the first 94:09 of the series, a 4-1 win in Game 1 and a 3-1 lead they took in the second period of Game 2.  Since then, the Caps have outscored the Islanders by a 6-3 margin over the last 157:15 of the series.

-- Best of three.  Home cookin’ isn’t an advantage if the cook can’t boil water.  On paper, the Caps should have an advantage.  But be careful here.  The Caps were 6-6-0 in their last 12 games of the regular season, and in the post-2005 lockout era they are just 17-16 in playoff games at Verizon Center (1-1 in this series).  It is the Caps' inability to win on home ice that is arguably the biggest source of disappointment in their post season record since the 2005 lockout.

In the end…

The Caps – both this team and as a franchise – have been here before.  Twice since the 2005 lockout the Caps have returned home to a Game 5 having split the first four games of a series.  In 2009 they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, in overtime on an own goal:

In 2013 the Caps won Game 5 against the New York Rangers, 2-1, in overtime at Verizon Center, courtesy of Mike Ribeiro:

We would just as soon the Caps make quick work of the Islanders in this contest, but there are things that the Caps need to work on to make that happen and take a stranglehold in the series.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

One for Our Backy...and One More for the Road...

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 4: Capitals 2 - Islanders 1 (OT)

The Washington Capitals ground out a hard 2-1 win on the road last night to even their playoff series against the New York Islanders at two games apiece. For the second straight game it took extra time to settle the affair, this time the ending being happier for the Caps.

It was Nicklas Backstrom who settled things 11:09 into the first overtime on one of the stranger plays of the series. It started with a faceoff in the Islanders’ end to the left of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Neither Backstrom nor John Tavares could win the draw cleanly, but Backstrom was a bit quicker on the second pull, directing the puck to Alex Ovechkin at the edge of the circle. Ovechkin got a shot off, but it was muffled by Tavares, whose stick appeared to break as a result. The puck went to the corner where Joel Ward beat Johnny Boychuk to it and slid it up the boards to Backstrom. From there, Backstrom skated the puck up the wall with Tavares in his wake. Tavares had to drop his broken stick, and he tried to push Backstrom off the puck. That failed to work, and the push created separation between the two, giving Backstrom room to fling a shot at the Islander net. Ward created enough of a screen on Halak that the goalie never saw the shot coming from the right point, and the puck sailed past his blocker to give the Caps the win.

Before Backstrom’s highlight, the teams exchanged first period goals. Alex Ovechkin scored what would be the Caps’ first first-goal of the series 13:06 into the opening frame. Off a Backstrom faceoff win in the Islanders’ end, John Carlson threw the puck at the net looking for a rebound. Instead, Ovechkin skated across the slot as the puck was going through and redirected the puck past Halak’s blocker to give the Caps the lead.

New York tied the game with just 12.6 seconds left in the period when Casey Cizikas put back a rebound of a Cal Clutterbuck shot that knuckled just enough to give goalie Braden Holtby difficulty in directing the rebound out of harm’s way. That would do it for the scoring for more than 50 minutes, until Backstrom would end things in happy fashion for the Caps and send the series back to Washington tied, the Caps regaining the home-ice advantage.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom, who had gone 24 consecutive games without a goal, now has a goal in three consecutive games in this series. It is the first time he scored goals in three consecutive games since going three straight, March 16-20, 2014. It is the first time he scored goals in three consecutive games since he had a three-fer against Pittsburgh, May 6-9, 2009 in Game 3-5 of that series.

-- With his two-point night, Backstrom took over the league scoring lead for the post-season (3-3-6).

-- Alex Ovechkin also had a two-point night, his first multi-point game in the post season since he had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of their opening round series in 2012.

-- Ovechkin had 18 of the Caps’ total of 66 shot attempts and eight of their 30 total shots on goal. Backstrom had five shots and eight shot attempts, giving the duo 13 of 30 shots and 26 of 66 attempts.

-- The Islanders won the possession battle again, at least in terms of shots and attempts, out-shooting the Caps by a 37-30 margin and out-attempting them, 88-66.

-- For the second time in this series the Caps were awarded only one power play. Only St. Louis, with six power play chances so far, has fewer power play opportunities than the Caps (7) in the post season.  Oddly enough, the Caps won both games in which they were held to a single power play opportunity.

-- The Caps got the overtime winner, but they managed only a single goal in regulation, the sixth time in seven games they were stuck on that number in regulation against goalie Jaroslav Halak.

-- The game might have turned in a 7:12 span of time in the second period.  The Caps took three minor penalties, giving the Islanders six minutes in power play time.  The Caps put on a clinic killing off all three penalties, allowing the Islanders six power play shots, seven in all over that 7:12 span of ice time.  It ran the string of consecutive power plays nullified to ten in this series and 13 overall, dating back to the regular season finale against the Rangers.

-- It was a tale of two zones for Backstrom on faceoffs.  He was 7-for-11 in the offensive zone (63.6 percent), 1-for-8 in the defensive zone (12.5 percent).

-- Braden Holtby had another fine game, stopping 36 of 37 shots.  Among goalies appearing in more than one game, he is second in save percentage (.943) to Chicago’s Scott Darling (.969).  He is the only goalie having appeared in more than one game whose save percentage against the opponent’s power play is 1.000 (19-for-19).

In the end…

If the Caps win this series, that 7:12 span of time killing penalties on the road could very well be viewed rightly as the turning point.  It took the wind out of the Islanders’ sails, the New Yorkers recording only 16 shots on goal in the last 40:25 of the game following that sequence. 

At the other end, the Caps fulfilled the adage that at this time of year the stars have to play like stars.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin did it in ways that are not at the top of their signature moves list, Ovechkin with a greasy little redirect from the slot and Backstrom with a whip-like shot from long range through a clot of bodies hassling the goaltender.

It was a case of winning by any means possible, by going outside the box to find a way to win.  At this time of year, the easy, tried-and-true recipes do not always and, in fact, less frequently work.  Teams and players have to find other ways – harder ways – to find success.  The Caps did that and took their home ice advantage back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 3: Islanders 2 - Capitals 1 (OT)

The Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders met on Sunday afternoon to break a 1-1 series tie in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  It took extra time to break that tie, but precious little of it as the Islanders scored 15 seconds into overtime to take a 2-1 decision and a 2-1 series lead over the Caps.

The game held to form in one important respect in that the team that dominated the possession numbers skated off with a win.  The Islanders did just that from the drop of the puck, dominating in shots in the first period, 16-5 overall, and in shot attempts, 29-13.  If not for the effort of Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who returned to action after missing Game 2 to illness, the game might have been over early.  Holtby stopped all 16 shots he faced to allow the Caps to escape to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.

It would be the Islanders breaking on top, though, when Lubomir Visnovsky wired a shot from the top of the right wing faceoff circle that Kyle Okposo redirected past Holtby to make it 1-0 12:37 into the second period.

The Caps were unable to solve Islander goalie Jaroslav Halak in the first 40 minutes, but they broke through late in the third period.  Nicklas Backstrom started the scoring sequence from behind the Islander net.  He chipped a pass to Mike Green backing through the right wing circle, Green returning the puck to Backstrom circling out and around the faceoff circle in Green’s wake.  Backstrom curled out to the high slot where he fired a shot that snaked its way through a maze of bodies screening Halak and into the back of the net to tie the game with 6:06 left in regulation.

That did it for the scoring in the 60 minutes of regulation.  But on a day that was the 28th anniversary of the end of the four-overtime “Easter Epic” between these teams, extra time would end in a blink.  Johnny Boychuk fired a shot into the Caps’ end that was gloved down by Holtby, who swept the puck off to John Carlson in the corner to his right.  Carlson received the puck and in one motion sent it up the right wing boards, but not out.  Nick Leddy kept the puck in at the blue line and fired it toward the cage from the point.  Nikolai Kulemin tried to redirect the puck past Holtby, but Holtby managed to steer the puck off to his right.  As luck – Caps luck – would have it, the puck ended up on the tape of John Tavares who snapped it back behind Holtby’s back and into the far side of the net to give the Islanders a 2-1 win on the scoreboard and a 2-1 lead in games.

Other stuff…

-- The end in overtime is always like a thunderclap, but in this instance it was a lot of little things that went wrong for the Caps and right for the Islanders in those 15 seconds of overtime.  There was John Tavares beating Nicklas Backstrom on the draw to open the overtime (Backstrom was 5-for-13 against Tavares on draws for the game).  There was John Carlson’s no-look sweep of the puck up the boards into traffic.  There was Joel Ward along the wall, unable to deflect the puck up and out of the zone past Nick Leddy.  There was Brooks Orpik getting a stick on the rebound of Kulemin’s redirect that Holtby kicked out, forcing Holtby to kick his right pad out once more and sending the puck down the goal line to his right.  There was Carlson neither getting a body on Tavares nor tying up his stick before Tavares got his shot off.  There was Holtby, leaving just enough room off the near post after having to defend the puck twice in bang-bang fashion for Tavares’ shot to sneak through.  It was a sequence that you couldn’t duplicate, but one that could loom large in this series.

-- The Islanders held a 64-45 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5, a 31-22 advantage in scoring chances (numbers from 

-- Alex Ovechkin finished with 14 of the Caps’ 57 shot attempts overall.  He was held, however, to just three shots on goal.  He has one goal on 15 shots and 36 shot attempt in three games.  13 of those shot attempts were blocked, nine of them in this game alone.

-- This was the first time this season that Braden Holtby faced more than 40 shots in a game (he saw 40 shots in a 3-2 win over Chicago on November 7th). 

-- Every Islander skater recorded at least one shot on goal.  Every Capital skater recorded at least one hit.

-- Eric Fehr skated two shifts and just 1:19 before going out with an upper-body injury.  It appeared to be a re-injury of his shoulder, a problem for Fehr over the late stages of the regular season.  Marcus Johansson went out late in the first period when he appeared to have taken a skate blade to his calf, but he returned for the second period and finished the game.

--  Secondary scoring means secondary effort.  Troy Brouwer: one shot attempt (one shot); Evgeny Kuznetsov: two shot attempts (one shot); Jason Chimera: no shot attempts; Jay Beagle: no shot attempts.

-- On the other hand, 16 of the Caps’ 57 shot attempts came from the defense, nine of them on goal.  Brooks Orpik was the only defenseman not to register a shot on goal.

-- A statistic you do not want to see associated with Nicklas Backstrom.  The Islanders have nine goals in this series; Backstrom was on ice for six of them, including the game-winner in this game (but as an observer, not a culprit, except for losing that draw to open overtime).

-- The Caps returned to that whole “one goal” thing against Jaroslav Halak.  He has held the Caps to a single goal in five of his last six games against Washington.

In the end…

The Islanders outplayed the Caps over more and over longer stretches of this game, particularly early in the contest, than vice versa.  In that respect the result is not surprising.  However, this was a game that was lying in plain sight, waiting to be stolen.  There is nothing to suggest that panic is in order, but on the other hand the Caps have been asleep at the start of games twice in three contests.  And now they have to deal with the possibility of the loss of a valuable, versatile forward in Eric Fehr. 

Falling behind two games to one, losing a forward to injury, letting a chance to steal a game get away, uneven play from the big guns, inconsistent production from the secondary scorers.  A team often has to deal with adversity and overcome it on their way to a deep playoff run.  Well, this is what adversity looks like for the Caps.  We will see if they deal with it any better than they have in past playoff seasons when they take the ice for Game 4.

Game 3...The Canary in the Coal Mine?

The Washington Capitals have played 33 "Game 3's" in their post season history (in seven-game series).  It is a point in a series in which the Caps have not been very successful.  Of those 33 instances, they lost 23 times.  And in those series in which they lost Game 3, their series record is 6-17.

Washington has lost Game 3 in each of the last five post season series in which they played, winning two of those series (in five games against the New York Rangers in 2011 and in seven games against the Boston Bruins in 2012).  They lost Game 3 three times in those last five instances, going on to lose in a four-game sweep to Tampa Bay in 2011, then twice losing in seven games to the Rangers (in 2012 and 2013).

Winning Game 3 is kinder to the Caps.  In the ten instances in which they won Game 3 in a playoff series, the Caps have a 5-5 record in the series.  The thing here is, the Caps have only two Game 3 wins out of 13 Games 3 played since they beat the Buffalo Sabres in Game 3 of the 1998 Eastern Conference final and went on to defeat the Sabres in six games to advance to the team's only Stanley Cup final.  They defeated the Rangers in Game 3 of their 2009 meeting, the Caps going on to win the series in seven games.  The Caps beat the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 of their 2010 series, but it was the Canadiens who would advance, winning that series in seven games.

One thing that fans might count on, the game will be close.  Six of the last seven Games 3 played by the Caps were one-goal games, one of them a three-overtime loss to the Rangers in 2012.

Decades of history are not the best predictor of results today; after all, many of these players had not been born when the Caps lost Game 3 of the 1984 Patrick Division final to the New York Islanders (a series the Islanders won in five games). would be a lot better winning this game than losing it, but you knew that already.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Play Hungry

In Game 1 against the New York Islanders, the Washington Capitals played passively in a curiously quiet arena.  Game 2 was another matter.  The team was hungry for a win, and the fans were in full-throated roar.  The recipe was hardly complicated...

Fifty-nine hits in 60 minutes.  The Capitals treated the Islanders like raw meat.  And there is they key going forward...stay hungry.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eastern Conference Quarterfinal - Game 1: Islanders 4 - Capitals 1

Well, that didn’t go so well, did it? 

The Washington Capitals opened their 2015 post season by laying an egg, dropping a 4-1 decision to the New York Islanders at Verizon Center on Wednesday night, ceding home ice advantage to the Isles and putting themselves in a hole to start their first round series.

The Islanders scored early, scored late, and stifled the Caps in between.  Brock Nelson took care of the early scoring off a neutral zone turnover by the Caps, taking a feed at the Caps’ blue line from Josh Bailey, skating down the right side, and firing a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove that Holtby might want to have back.  The Islanders had a 1-9 lead 6:06 into the game.

The Caps evened the game late in the period on fine efforts by Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson.  Laich applied pressure below the Islanders goal line prying the puck away from goalie Jaroslav Halak, then outdueling Nick Leddy for the loose puck, sliding it out to Johansson stepping down the right wing.  Johansson took the pass in stride and wired a shot past Halak’s blocker, and it was 1-1 with just 56.3 seconds left in the first period.

That would do it for the Caps on the scoreboard.   At the other end, the Islanders got a pair of second period goals, the first from Ryan Strome less than four minutes into the period.  John Tavares beat Michael Latta cleanly on a faceoff from the left wing circle in the Caps end.  He pulled the puck back to Strome who wasted no time snapping a shot over Holtby’s right shoulder to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. 

Mid-way through the period the Isles added some insurance.  With the Islanders applying heavy pressure in the Caps’ end, they worked the puck to the front of the net where it squirted out to Holtby’s left.  Josh Bailey got two whacks at the puck the second one sufficient to nudge it under Holtby and just over the line before Karl Alzner could sweep it out and under Holtby.

The Islanders got an empty net goal from Brock Nelson, his second goal of the game, with 1:20 left to give the visitors their final 4-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The possession numbers favored the Islanders, who out-attempted the Caps, 65-55 overall.  It really was not that close.  In close score situations at 5-on-5, the Isles held a 36-18 advantage in shot attempts and a 13-8 advantage in scoring chances (numbers from

-- Rough night for the defensive pair of Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner.   Niskanen was on ice for all four goals against, Alzner for three.  Niskanen’s Corsi plus-minus at 5-on-5, close score situations, was minus-11, Alzner’s was minus-10.

-- Only one Capital – one – managed to finish as high as “even” in Corsi plus-minus at 5-on-5 close.  Alex Ovechkin finished even and was the only Cap with a “plus” Fenwick number in those situations (plus-4). 

-- Until tonight, Braden Holtby’s record in first games of a playoff season was 2-0, but more important was his .970 save percentage.  Tonight, three goals on 26 shots (.885).

-- That one faceoff loss by Latta sticks out on a night that otherwise was kind to the Caps in the circle.  Latta was 7-for-9 overall, while the team went 39-for-62 (62.9 percent).

-- Twenty five shots on goal is not enough volume against Halak, and what made it worse was that Ovechkin had almost a third of those attempts (eight).  The other 17 skaters shared 17 shots, only Joel Ward having as many as three.  Ovechkin finished with 13 of the Caps’ 55 shot attempts.

-- The Caps had a lot of contributions on offense from the defensemen this season, but not against the Islanders.  That carried over into this game.  No points from defensemen, only five shots on goal.  John Carlson had five shots blocked.

-- It might not be the best time to bring this up, but Halak’s save percentage in the last four post season games he faced the Caps is .975 (155-for-159).  He has gone four straight playoff games against the Caps allowing a single goal.

-- Maybe the plan is to tenderize the Islanders.  The Caps were credited with 46 hits (the Islanders had 36).  Brooks Orpik had nine of them for Washington.

-- in the post 2004-2005 lockout era, the Caps are 2-3 in series when dropping the first game, 1-2 when dropping the first game at home.

In the end…

Keep telling yourselves, “it’s first to ‘four,’ not first to ‘one.’”  But the fact is that this series probably is going to turn on possession.  If the Islanders can dominate the possession numbers, it is evidence that the Caps’ “heavy” game is not being applied effectively.   In that context, what Caps fans might look for is the extent to which the steady application of such a “heavy” game wears down the Islanders before they can get to “four.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Capitals vs. Islanders

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals begin their march to the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night when they host the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.

The Caps and the Islanders have a rich history of playoff meetings, the teams having met six times in the post season:
  • 1983 Patrick Division Semifinal - Islanders win best-of-five, 3-1
  • 1984 Patrick Division Final – Islanders win best-of-seven, 4-1
  • 1985 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders win best-of-five, 3-2
  • 1986 Patrick Division Semifinal – Capitals win best-of-five, 3-0
  • 1987 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders win best-of-seven, 4-3
  • 1993 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders in best-of-seven, 4-2
Younger Caps fans, be advised.  Before the Pittsburgh Penguins perpetrated their version of grief on the Caps, there were the Islanders.  The Caps have never beaten the Isles in a seven-game series.  In all three best-of-seven series the teams played, the Caps won Game 1.  They took a three-games-to-one lead in 1987 before losing the series in the most excruciating manner imaginable:

But this will be the first meeting of the clubs in the post season in 22 years.  Of more recent relevance, the teams met four times this season, each club holding serve twice on home ice with three of the games decided in extra time:

The series might have been close on the scoreboard, but there are two things to note in the summary stats.  First, the Islanders have dominated the shots and shot attempts – 28 percent more shots on goal in the four games, 23 percent more shot attempts.  Second, special teams have been kind to both clubs, at least in terms of their respective power plays, both clubs converting more than 30 percent of their chances.  On that last point, the Caps suffered a problem consistent with one with which they had to deal all season – lack of power play opportunities.  Despite a better conversion rate than the Islanders, the Caps lost the special teams battle, 4-3.

In terms of individual scoring, the Caps have the usual suspects – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – leading the list.  The Islanders, on the other hand, have spread things around a bit more.  Overall, eight Islanders scored goals in the four-game season series, while 17 skaters recorded points.  For the Caps, eight players have goals (a third of the total coming from Ovechkin), and 15 players have points.  What the Islanders have been able to do, to an extent, is limit Ovechkin’s shots on goal.  He had 36 shot attempts in the four games, but 16 on goal, slightly lower than his 4.88 shots per game for the season overall.

Goaltending for each club is consistent with their season, at least in the workload.  Braden Holtby played every minute of the four games for the Caps. Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson split the duties for the Islanders, Halak recording both wins for the Isles, Johnson taking both losses.  The heavy shot volumes by the Islanders took a toll on Holtby’s goals against average and save percentage, both among the worst he posted against any Eastern Conference team this season.  Conversely, Halak has a respectable goals against average, but his .906 save percentage suggests a weakness at the most important position in a short series.

In terms of the teams’ overall performance this season, here is how they compare:

Who’s hot?

The Caps were 9-3-1 in their last 13 games of the regular season.  Only five times in those 13 games did they allow more than two goals.  Four of those occurrences came in the four losses, all four times the Caps falling into a 0-3 deficit.

Who’s not?

The Islanders came limping into the post season.  They went 6-8-5 in their last 19 games and did not win consecutive games at any point in that span of games (four of the extra time losses came in the Gimmick).  Scoring goals was a challenge.  They had a four game losing streak in that run in which they scored a single goal in each game, and they had a three-game losing streak in which they scored two goals or fewer.

Random facts to impress your friends and annoy your enemies...
  • Getting a lead matters, to a point.  The team that scored the first goal won three of the four games in the season series.  Only in the last game, when Anders Lee opened the scoring for the Islanders in a 4-3 overtime Caps win, did this not hold true.
  • Three times in this series the Islanders held a dominating shot and shot attempt advantage (Games 1, 3, and 4 of the season series).  However, all three of those games went to overtime.  In the one game in which the Caps held an advantage (Game 2), the Caps won going away, 5-2, scoring the game’s last three goals.
  • The Caps enjoyed significant contributions from the blue line offensively over the course of the season.  Not so much in the season series against New York, with one notable exception.  Of the Caps defensemen likely to play in this series, John Carlson and Mike Green each recorded an assist over the four games.  Neither Karl Alzner nor Brooks Orpik recorded a point.  On the other hand, Matt Niskanen went 1-4-5 in the four games (Tim Gleason did not appear against the Islanders as a Capital this season).
  • Power plays figured heavily in the outcomes of two games in this series.  Both Islander wins came in extra time on power plays, when the space available in a 4-on-3 advantage was greater than in 5-on-4 situations in regulation time.
  • The Caps outscored the Islanders, 6-2, in the third period of the four games in the season series.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

It is a given that if the stars – Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares – do not perform to their capabilities, the opponent is likely to advance.  But what players for each team that lack that kind of star power have to step up their game?

New York: Josh Bailey

In the four games against the Caps this season, Josh Bailey had one assist and was minus-1, despite averaging almost 17 minutes a game.  It was a curiously underwhelming performance given that Bailey finished the season with 15 goals (one below his career best in 2009-2010) and 41 points (a career high).  He comes into the post season without a goal in his last 11 regular season games and one in his last 15 contests.  He is 3-6-9, minus-4, in 27 career regular season games against Washington.

Washington: Mike Green

The Caps did not get much in terms of offense from its defense against the Islanders this season, with the exception of Matt Niskanen, and that largely the product of a three-assist game in the Caps’ 5-2 win last November 28th).  If the Caps can get more production out of the blue line and soften up the Islanders, the path to the second round of the playoffs becomes somewhat easier.  Green started showing signs of his old goal-scoring prowess late in the season.  He had five goals in his last 12 regular season games after recording only five goals in his first 60 games of the season.  He does not dominate the ice time he did in his younger days, but his one power play goal for the season was his lowest total in any season since his first full year – none in 70 games of the 2006-2007 season.  Green is 4-11-15, minus-2, in 27 career games against New York

In the end…

This series might just boil down to a trade-off between two questions.  Can the Caps dominate special teams?  Can the Islanders dominate the shot meter?  If the Caps can answer the first question in the affirmative and keep the Islanders from doing the same with the latter question, they win.  If the reverse is true, if the Islanders dominate the shot meter and keep the Caps from doing damage on their power play, they will advance. 

Where this series tilts is suggested by the season series.  Even when dominating the shot meter, the Islanders could only manage to drag things out into extra time.  When the Caps negated that advantage, they dispatched the Islanders with room to spare.

Those questions will turn on how the goaltenders can perform against the other team’s strengths.  In that regard, the Capitals have an advantage.  This is not 2010, and this Jaroslav Halak is not that Jaroslav Halak.  

Quoth the Eagle... "Just Win Four"

An ode to the first round...

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of playoff lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the sunny April;
And as I was eating a bagel, crumbs of which were on floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for disappointments in years before—
All those playoff losses from Capital seasons of yore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And I sat here, sad and surly, thinking of each red-rocked jersey
That killed me—filled me with those tragic images often felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken were the whispered words, “Win Four.”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the words, “Win four!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Eagle of the Capitals days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Langway just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this regal bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the piercing sound upon its call,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Eagle wandering from the Ballston Mall—
Tell me what thy message is that you would scrawl upon the wall!”
Quoth the Eagle “just win four.”

Much I marvelled this majestic raptor to hear discourse verse and chapter,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With the message of “just win four.”

But the Eagle, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
Just those words, as if his soul in those few words he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other teams could not win four.”
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.
Then the bird said “just win four.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster with playoff wins a fruitless chore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘four’—just win four’.”

But the Eagle still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
To, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “just win four.”

Thus I sat a nervous wreck, watching tape of hip and poke checks
With the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
Hoping that the Caps win four!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of playoff yore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this playoff lore!”
Quoth the Eagle “just win four.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Verizon?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Eagle “just win four.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that sport we both adore—
Tell this fan with who is so uptight if, within the next fortnight,
It shall clasp a vision of a team that can win four—
Clasp a vision of a team that can ‘win four.’”
Quoth the Eagle “If they can score.”

“Be those words our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no white plume as a token of faint hope thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my sadness still unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Eagle “geez, what a bore!”

And the Eagle, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Langway just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a Bettman, always scheming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—if the Caps win four!