Monday, October 16, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Maple Leafs at Capitals, October 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After taking two days to lick their wounds after being throttled by the Philadelphia Flyers, 8-2, on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals return to the familiar ice sheet at Capital One Arena on Tuesday to host the Toronto Maple Leafs, the squad they defeated in six games in last spring’s first round playoff series.

This will be only the third home game of the young season for the Caps, the club having split their first two decisions, a 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens and a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-3 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.  Their visit to Washington will be their first visit to the American side of the border this season.

Toronto brings a still young roster to Washington, and the three youngest players on that roster might be their three most promising skaters.  Autson Matthews (20), Mitch Marner (20), and William Nylander (21) might be the future of the franchise, but they are a large part of the present.  Matthews, the first overall pick in the 2016 entry draft, brings a five-game points streak to open the season in to this contest.  That streak extends to nine games, counting the last four games of the Leafs’ opening round series with the Caps last spring.  Whereas last season he started with a band – a four-goal game in his NHL debut – he has been consistent in his goal scoring so far, recording a total of five goals in five games and held without a goal just once.  Matthews, who last season became just the 16th player in NHL history to record at least 40 goals in his rookie season (he finished atop the rookie class with 69 points), and first since Alex Ovechkin did it (54 goals) in his 2005-2006 rookie year, shows little sign of slowing down, although his 29.4 percent shooting percentage is unlikely to be sustainable.  He is 1-2-3, even, in three career games against the Caps.

Marner and Nylander might have been caught up in Matthews’ wake as rookies last season, but they each had 61 points, finishing tied for third in rookie scoring last season (Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine was second with 64 points) and finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie (won by Matthews).  They have had productive starts, Nylander with five points (1-4-5) and Marner with four (1-3-4), and each have a pair of power play points.  There the similarities so far this season end, though.  Nylander is a team-best plus-8 (tied with Nikita Zaitsev), while Marner is a team-worst minus-6.  Nylander has points in four of five games so far, and Marner has points in his last two outings, making this a formidable trio the Caps will face.  Nylander is 0-1-1, minus-3, in three career games against the Caps, while Marner is 2-3-5, minus-2, in three career contests against Washington.

Being a run-and-gun sort of team, the Maple Leafs leading the league in scoring offense (5.20 goals per game) is not surprising.  Neither is the flip side of that, their 3.80 goals allowed per game being third-worst in the league.  It has made for a difficult start of the season for Frederik Andersen, who has played every minute in goal for Toronto so far.  Only six of 58 goalies to dress so far this season have faced more shots than Andersen (158), and his goals against average (3.76) ranks 46th in that group, while his save percentage (.880) ranks 47th.  Like Capital goaltenders so far, the barrage has been more or less constant, his having faced more than 30 shots in four of the five games in which he appeared so far.  In two career appearances against the Caps, he is 1-0-1, 4.00, .875.

1.  Toronto already has 13 different skaters with goals, more than half the total they had all of last season (24).  Of the 20 skaters to dress for the club so far, only former Capital Eric Fehr is without a point.

2.  The Maple Leafs spread their power play scoring around.  Ten different players have at least one power play point so far.  Six different players share the eight power play goals on what is the league’s most efficient power play (30.8 percent), none of them with more than two (Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk).

3.  Protecting the puck has been something of a casualty of the Leafs’ high-octane style.  Only four teams have been charged with more giveaways than Toronto (65), and their ratio of takeaways-to-giveaways (0.58) is poor.

4.  Toronto opens and closes fast.  Their 12 goals scored in the first period is most in the league, while their nine goals scored in the third is ranked third in the league.

5.  The Maple Leafs lean heavily on one defensive pair in killing penalties. Ron Hainsey (6:32) and Nikita Zaitsev (5:35) are one-two in the league in shorthanded ice time per game among defensemen.

1.  The eight goals the Caps gave up to the Flyers on Saturday night was the sixth time since the 2004-2005 lockout that they allowed eight goals (they have not allowed more in any game over that span).  Every instance was on the road, and four of them were against teams from Pennsylvania, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh applying the suffering twice.

2.  Playing within the rules has been a struggle for Washington.  They are sixthin penalty minutes per game (14:39), fourth in penalties taken (33), tied for fifth in minor penalties taken (27, with the Nashville Predators), tied for second in misconduct penalties (2, with Nashville), and tied for second in bench penalties (2, with eight other teams).

3.  The Capitals will provide an interesting foil for the Maple Leafs in one respect.  While Toronto is first in first-period goals scored (12), the Caps are ranked third with nine of their own first period markers.

4.  Washington has the top three point-getters in the league through Sunday’s games: Nicklas Backstrom (3-8-11), Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-11-11), and Alex Ovechkin (9-1-10).

5.  Kuznetsov is the second player over the last 30 years to record 11 assists or more in his first six games and do it without the benefit of scoring a goal.  Peter Forsberg was 0-12-12 in his first six games of the 2005-2006 season with Philadelphia.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau has been a “left coaster” of sorts all his life.  Born in Aneroid, Saskatchewan; he played amateur hockey for the Swift Current (Saskatchewan) Legionnaires and the Seattle Thunderbirds; and then he spent 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks.  Now, he is spending the latter part of his NHL career as the troop leader, in a manner of speaking, to a young and precocious Maple Leaf squad.  Marleau has a fine body of work, having passed the 500-goal mark in his career last season with the Sharks and finishing last season with 1,082 career points, one of 86 players in league history to top the 1,000 point mark.  But one amazing aspect of his game is his incredible durability.  In 19 seasons before this, Marleau missed a total of 31 games and never more than eight in any one season, that one being his rookie year in 1997-1998 with the Sharks.  He has dressed for every regular season game in each of the last eight seasons, a streak he is adding to with the Maple Leafs this season.  Marleau is 9-13-22, plus-5, in 27 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Lars Eller

When folks talk about sustainability, they usually speak in terms of a player’s ability to keep a run of goal scoring going or maintaining a shooting percentage above a certain level or keeping a streak of points going.  Lars Eller presents a bit of a different look in terms of sustainability.  In eight seasons before this one, Eller never posted a faceoff winning percentage over 53.2 percent and had a career winning percentage of 49.2.  However, this year he has been beastly in the circle, winning 61.7 percent of his 81 draws, seventh in the league among 86 players taking 50 or more draws.  But what has not changed from last season is a dry hole in goal scoring.  Eller had one goal in his first ten games last season and two in his first 29 contests; he has none in six games so far this season.  His third line center duties would, conventionally speaking, tilt more toward defensive responsibilities and being an effective possession player.  He has been that for the Caps.  But the team also needs some more bottom-six production than it is getting, and Eller needs to be a part of that.  In 32 career games against Toronto, he is 7-10-17, plus-3, the 17 points being the most he has against any team in the league. Whether he plays or not is an open question as he was reported to be ill this morning and not certain of being able to go on Tuesday.

In the end…

The Maple Leafs look a lot like the 2009-2010 Caps – young, fun to watch, not terribly concerned with the dull stuff like “responsibility in their own end.”  There might be teams that can skate with them, but few if any can outskate them.  And the depth of their offense might be unmatched.  This is precisely the sort of team that would give the Caps fits if Washington iced a healthy group.  But with Matt Niskanen – arguably their best defensemen – out for the foreseeable future, the Caps are going to have their hands full trying to contain this group.  If ever there was a need for “system” to trump “skill,” this will be it.  These teams seem likely to trade chances all night in what might be the highest total scoring game of the season the Caps will play.

Caps 6 – Toronto 5

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 2

Last season, the Washington Capitals did not have a losing week until Week 5.  This season, with a 1-2-1 record, the Caps experienced the bitter taste of a losing week in Week 2.  And it Week 2, the Caps’ issues and problems were on display.  So, too, were their strengths, but in displaying them, they illustrated the difficulties this team might have in reaching the postseason.

Record: 1-2-1

The Caps were 1-2-0 in Week 5 last season in what would be one of just three losing weeks in the 2016-2017 season.  The disturbing aspect of Week 2 and the Caps’ 1-2-1 record – their first losing week this season – is that the record came entirely against Eastern Conference teams, and the Caps were 1-2-0 against fellow travelers in the Metropolitan Division.  Disappointing as it was, it was not far from being a lot better, the Caps dropping a pair of one-goal decisions, one in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning on a power play.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.67/game, 9th)

Three goals a game over four games might be considered an “average” week for this team.  How they got there was not, and it was not an especially confidence-building experience.  Five Capitals shared the 12 goals scored for the week, and the distribution is what is of note.  T.J. Oshie led the club with four goals, and 11 of the 12 were scored by forwards on the top two lines.  Christian Djoos had the other for the defenseman’s first NHL goal in his NHL debut against Pittsburgh in the second game of the week.  It also happens to be the only goal scored by a Capitals defenseman through six games so far this season.  As it is, Nathan Walker and Brett Connolly are the only forwards outside the top-six to record a goal so far among the 21 scored by the club.

Defense: 4.25/game (season: 3.67/game, 24th)

If Wayne Gretzky was right about not scoring on 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, opponents have taken that adage to heart against the Caps.  The Caps allowed more than 35 shots to three of their four opponents in Week 2, giving them five games with more than 30 shots against in six games this season.  That they merely rank 22nd in the league in shots against per game might be a reflection of more offense across the league at this early stage of the season.  Digging into that number, the Caps finished the week ranked 24th in 5-on-5 Corsi (46.2 percent; numbers from and 17th in shots attempts against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (55.22).

Goaltending: 4.23 / .875 (season: 3.60 / .894)

Goalies get the wins, and often the praise that goes with it, and they get the losses, and the often the grief that follows along.  The numbers paint a portrait of a bad week for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.  Holtby took Game 2 and 3 for the week and did not fare all that poorly.  His 1-1-0, 2.54, .915 record for the week was not at the standard of overall production one has come to expect of Holtby, but stopping 43 of 44 shots at even strength was (.977 save percentage).  That 9-for-13 in facing power plays was another matter (.692 save percentage), including all three goals scored by the Penguins in their 3-2 win over the Caps.

The best that can be said of Philipp Grubauer’s week is that he took one for the team, and over the course of a long season, there is a lot to be said for that.  He did not get much in the way of support in front of him.  He faced 40 shots against the Tampa Bay Lightning to start the week, 22 of them in the third period and overtime, and had to face a Lightning power play on the game-deciding goal.  Against the Philadelphia Flyers to end the week, the team in front of him was playing its third game in four nights and the back half of a road set of back-to-back games.  It might not be as grueling a run as it might be in February or March, when the grind of the season takes its toll, but it was no skate on the pond, either.  And Grubauer was left in to face the whirlwind – 37 shots, eight goals.  It was the most goals allowed by a Caps goaltender in a single game since Olaf Kolzig gave up eight in an 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 25, 2006.

Power Play: 5-for-15 / 33.3 percent (season: 30.0 percent / 2nd)

Going 5-for-15 is a very good week, but what is odd about that kind of efficiency was that the Caps alternated games with power play goals (two against Tampa Bay, three against New Jersey) with games without a goal (against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).  T.J. Oshie had a particularly productive week, posting three of the Caps’ five power play goals.  And then there was Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded an points on all five goals with the man advantage, a goal and four assists.  That output put him at the top of the league’s power play scoring list for the week and at the top of that list for the season (1-5-6).  Overall, the Caps were an efficient group, scoring those five goals on 25 power play shots (20.0 percent) and recording those 24 shots in 24:00 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-17 / 64.7 percent (season: 76.9 percent / T-21st)

And yet… the Caps ended up on the short end of the special teams scoring for the week, going minus-2 off five goals scored and seven allowed.  Six of those special teams goals against came on the opponents’ power play (one other a shorthanded goal against) in what would be charitably be called a difficult week.  The Caps allowed three power play goals to the Penguins in the second game of the week, the first time they allowed that many in a single game since they allowed three power play goals in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 13, 2015.  Overall, the Caps spent entirely too much time killing penalties.  The recorded 28:38 in shorthanded ice time for the week, and that despite only 1:32 recorded against the Flyers to end the week (they scored on that power play).  Allowing 27 shots in that time logged wasn’t a bad result in terms of shots per minute, but the cumulative effect was hardly what the Caps were looking for.

Faceoffs: 125-for-257 / 48.6 percent (season: 51.6 percent / 12th)

It was a mediocre week in the circle overall and one that was very different among players in their particulars.  The 48.6 percent was spit roughly into a good week in the defensive end (49-88/55.7 percent) and a poor one in the offensive end (28-73/38.4 percent).  At the individual level, two of the Caps taking ten or more draws finished the week over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (35-68/51.5 percent) and Lars Eller (32-52/61.5 percent).  T.J. Oshie (11-27/40.7 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (18-55/32.7 percent) were well under 50 percent, while Jay Beagle has what was for him an off week (15-33/45.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Allowing three goals in four first periods is not great, but it’s not especially bad, either.  But as time went on in games, the worse if got for the Caps, who were outscored, 14-8 over the last 40 minutes and overtime for the week.  The Caps finished the week with only the Penguins (10) allowing more second period goals than the Caps (9) and only Calgary and St. Louis (nine apiece) allowing more third period goals than Washington (eight). 

In the end…

Everything the Caps might be concerned about came to pass in Week 2.  An injury to an important player; Matt Niskanen will be out for at least ten games and 24 days with a hand injury after being slashed by New Jersey Devil forward Jimmy Hayes.  Lack of defensive depth – the Caps iced Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey (in his NHL debut) against the Flyers to end the week.  Their lack of experience showed and was exploited by the Flyers.  Lack of bottom six scoring – it helped doom their postseason last spring, and things have not improved with the start of the new season. The competition – if the Caps wanted to measure themselves against potential postseason rivals, they came up short against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, although both of those games were decided by one goal, one of them in overtime on a power play.  The schedule – the Caps played three of their four games in Week 3 on the road, making it four of six games on the road to start the season and part of a eight games in 12 on the road in October.  It is a trial by fire the Caps are on that will temper them and make them stronger or burn their early season playoff hopes to a crisp.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-6-9, plus-2, points on all five power play goals, 51.5 percent faceoff winning)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (4-3-7, plus-1, three of the Caps’ five power play goals, four power play points)
  • Third Star: Christian Djoos (1-1-2, plus-2, first rookie defenseman to record two or more points in a season since the Caps had four blueliners do it in the 2013-2014 season: Alexander Urbom, Patrick Wey, Connor Carrick, and Nate Schmidt)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 6: Flyers 8 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals were buried under an orange wave on Saturday night as they dropped an 8-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.  It was the first time the Caps surrendered eight goals to the Flyers and the first time in Philadelphia since they dropped an 8-1 decision to the Flyers on November 3, 2005.

First Period

The Flyers dominated possession to open the game, out-attempted the Caps overall by a 9-5 margin into the eighth minute.  They scored on their tenth shot attempt when Sean Couturier took a Jakub Voracek  feed as he was barreling to the Caps’ net.  Couturier split the Caps defense and got two whacks at the puck, the second one finding the back of the net at the 7:18 mark.

Jakub Vrana tied the game just over two minutes later when he helped dig out a loose puck along the left wing wall, then went to the net.  He got there just in time as Evgeny Kuznetsov was taking a feed from John Carlson, and as he was crossing in front, backhanded a pass to Vrana for a tap-in at the 9:25 mark.

It might have been a good thing had the Caps made it to the first intermission tied, but the Flyers upset that thinking on an odd play late in the period.  With the Caps on a power play, Scott Laughton blocked an attempted pass by John Carlson just outside the Caps’ blue line.  While Laughton got behind Carlson to chase the loose puck sliding into the Caps’ end, goalie Philipp Grubauer came out to play it.  He tried to sweep it to the side boards, but Laughton was there to gather it up, curl behind Grubauer, and dump the puck into the back of the net to make it 2-1, 18:58 into the period.

Second Period

The Flyers ended the competitive portion of the contest in the first 11 minutes, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux potting goals to give the Flyers a 4-1 lead.  Nicklas Backstrom got the Caps back within a pair just 13 seconds after Giroux’ goal, but Valeri Filppula slammed the door on any comeback with a goal with 2:55 left in the period to give the Flyers a 5-2 edge at the second intermission.

Third Period

It was a case of the Flyers adding some decorative roses on the cake in the third period, scoring three goals in a seven-minute span mid-way through the period to send the Flyer faithful into the night in a happy mood.

Other stuff…

-- Philipp Grubauer allowed eight goals on 37 shots and became the first Capitals goaltender to allow eight goals in a game since Olaf Kolzig allowed eight in an 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 25, 2006.

-- That 2006 blowout feature defensemen Ivan Majesky, Bryan Muir, Nolan Yonkman, Brendan Witt, Shaone Morrisonn, and Mathieu Biron.  This Caps defense was about as effective, although it was hardly their fault.  The forwards as a group played an indifferent game in terms of defensive support.  As Barry Trotz put it in the postgame, “Giroux’ line ate up Kuznetsov’s line.”  That would be the Evgeny Kuznetsov – Alex Ovechkin – Jakub Vrana line.  It might be noted that Ovechkin played just 3:29 in the third period, Kuznetsov played just 5:27, and Vrana was demoted to the third line by that time and played 5:00.

-- Alex Ovechkin was minus-4, and that equals the total number of times he was that minus-y in the 2016-2017 season when he had a minus-4 in the Caps’ 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16th.

-- Another game, another 30-plus shot performance for the opponent.  The Flyers had 37 shots making it five times in six games the Caps allowed an opponent more than 30 shots.  For themselves, the Caps had 23 shots, the third time in six games they had fewer than 25 shots.

-- Tom Wilson…two games, 24 minutes of ice time, 15 minutes in penalties… one shot on goal.

-- Madison Bowey made his debut and finished the game with a blank score sheet.  Except for that minus-2.

-- Half of the skaters did not have a shot on goal.  Five others had one shot.  Of the 23 shots on goal, 18 came from four players: Ovechkin (6), Dmitry Orlov (4), Jakub Vrana (4), and Devante Smith-Pelly (4).

-- Brett Connolly led the team with five credited hits.  No shots on goal.  Caps might be better off if those numbers are reversed.  John Carlson had four minutes in penalties.  No shots on goal.  Caps would certainly be better off if those numbers were reversed.

-- Fourteen of 18 skaters finished in minus territory for the Caps.

-- The Caps allowed the Flyers only two power play opportunities, the first time this season the Caps allowed fewer than four power play opportunities in a game.

In the end…

This game was captured in a lyric describing the Grinch of Christmas lore…

“The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote,
‘Stink, stank, stunk’!”

Or, as Barry Trotz put it… “we were absolutely stupid with the puck.”  It was as if the Caps were working the line at Geno’s Steaks at lunch hour…”here’s a puck, here’s another puck, here’s one for you, you want a puck?”

But it is one game.  After the Caps gave up eight goals to the Penguins in an 8-7 overtime loss last season (not coincidentally, the second of a back-to-back set of games, played on the road, and their third game in four nights, like this one), they went 26-10-2 to end the season.  Not that this team is as good.  It’s not.  But the point is that giving up eight goals or losing, 1-0, is one loss.  Move on.  Do better.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 6: Capitals at Flyers, October 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their I-95 back-to-back road trip on Saturday night when they visit that peaceful meadow of brotherly love, Wells Fargo Center, in Philadelphia when they face the Flyers in a Metro Matchup that is the season home opener for the Flyers.

The Caps are coming off a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night to push their record to 3-1-1 and to the top of the Metropolitan Division.  Meanwhile, the Flyers are coming off a three-day hiatus, off since dropping a 6-5 decision to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. It extended the Flyers alternating wins and losses to arrive at a 2-2-0 record on their road trip to start the 2017-2018 season. The Flyers, who struggled with the 19th-ranked scoring defense in the league last season, at least started the season on a higher note, allowing only seven goals in their first three games. But then they almost had that total doubled when the Predators dropped a six-pack on their heads.

Scoring has been uneven on a game-to-game basis for the Flyers, who scored five goals in their season opener (a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks) and in that last contest against Nashville. In the two game in-between, they have a total of three goals, all of them in a 3-2 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks last Saturday.

Scoring has also been strange for the Flyers at the player level of production. Both of their leading point producers – Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere – are at the top of the skater rankings without the benefit of having scored a goal. Voracek, who led the club in points last season (20-41-61), has six assists to top the Flyers points list. He has been kept off the score sheet only once when he, and the rest of the squad, was held without a point in a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on October 5th. Voracek could crack the top-20 in all-time point production for the Flyers if he records another 34 points. His 360 points in what is now his seventh season with the club trails Dave Poulin in 20th place with 394. Voracek is 11-8-19, plus-1, in 29 career games against the Capitals.

Gostisbehere is trying to rehabilitate a reputation for being a scoring defenseman that he established in his rookie season two years ago (17-29-46), one in which he finished second in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie, and that sustained a hit last season when he slumped to 7-32-39 in 76 games and was a team worst among defensemen minus-21. So far, the results are mixed. Yes, he is second on the team in points with five (all assists), but they came in bunches – three assists in the 5-3 win over the Sharks to open the season and two more in the loss to Nashville in the Flyers’ last contest. Four of those five assists came on power plays, all three he had against the Sharks and another against the Predators. The plus-minus is looking better though; he was “even’ in all four games to date. “Ghost” is 0-3-3, minus-3, in seven career games against the Caps.

The Flyers have a situation on the blue line that resembles that of the Caps, perhaps even more so. They are a young group. Only one of the seven defensemen to dress so far is past 30 years of age (Andrew MacDonald is 31), and four of them are younger than 25 – Gostisbehere (24), Ivan Provorov (20), and rookies Travis Sanheim (21) and Robert Hagg (22). Sanheim is a former first-round draft pick (17th overall in 2014) who had a fine season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL last season (10-27-37, plus-7, in his first full year in the AHL). Hagg is a former second-round pick (41st overall in 2013) who was up for one game with the Flyers last season and going 7-8-15, plus-10, for the Phantoms.   Both Sanheim and Hagg will be looking for their first points for the Orange and Black in what will be their first appearances against the Caps.

1.  The Flyers are one of just two teams to have scored and allowed the same number of goals. Philadelphia has scored and allowed 13 goals, while the Ottawa Senators have both scored and allowed seven goals (through Thursday’s games).

2.  The Caps might be able to take advantage of the Flyers’ penalty killing. It is not that they have faced a lot of shorthanded situations, although they have the tenth-highest number (17). It is that they rank 28th of 31 teams in efficiency (70.6 percent), although they have yet to test their penalty killers at home.

3.  Then there is the matter of the Flyers’ propensity for late swoons. Only the St. Louis Blues have allowed more third period goals (eight) than the Flyers (six).

4.  If Claude Giroux gets three assists (perish the thought), he will reach the 400-assist mark in his career. Less likely is Jakub Voracek getting to the 500-point mark in his career in this game. He needs a six-point night to get there.

5.  Only one team in the league has more penalties this season than the Flyers without having taken a major penalty. Philadelphia has been whistled for 17 penalties without a major so far. Washington has 20 penalties and no majors.

1.  Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 20th game of four or more points as a Capital on Friday night (1-3-4).  Only one player in the league has more such games since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008 – Sidney Crosby (22)

2.  T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist for his 12th game with three or more points as a Capital.  Since he joined the Caps in 2015-2016, only Backstrom has more three or more point games (18).

3.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists to give him four multi-point games in five played so far.  His ten assists leads the league, and his ten points is tied for the league lead with teammates Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

4.  Alex Ovechkin became the fourth player in league history to record nine goals in his first five games with his goal on Friday night.  Mike Bossy, Patrick Marleau, and Mario Lemieux are the others.

5.  Andre Burakovsky had his first NHL fight in Friday’s win over the Devils; in fact, his first fight in pro hockey.  His scrap with Blake Coleman was his first fight since he mixed it up with Nick Moutrey back in March 2014 as a member of the Erie Otters.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Brian Elliott

Perhaps nowhere in the NHL are goaltenders treated as “plug-and-play” devices more than in Philadelphia. Steve Mason out, Brian Elliott in. If Mason put up okay, if not extraordinary numbers for the Flyers last season (26-21-8, 2.66, .908, with three shutouts in 58 games), Elliott is doing little to improve on that in the early going. After what was a disappointing, statistically, one-year stay with the Calgary Flames last season (26-18-3, 2.55, .910, with two shutouts in 49 games) and signing a two-year/$5.5 million contract with the Flyers last July, he opened the season with a 2-1-0 record but a goals against average of 3.67 (34th of 52 goaltenders to dress so far) and a save percentage of .876 (42nd). That’s what allowing six goals on 31 shots in one of three games he’s played so far will do to the GAA and save percentage, though. Not that his career numbers against the Caps are any better: 6-5-0, 3.31, .888 in 13 career appearances.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

Through four games, only one Capitals defenseman has a goal, and he’s a rookie (Christian Djoos). Three do not yet have a point. It is not surprising that neither Brooks Orpik nor Taylor Chorney have any points thus far; they are generally regarded as defensive defensemen. Dmitry Orlov is another story. Not that he has had explosive starts in his still young NHL career – he had one point in the first four games of each of his last two seasons (both assists) – but a good deal is expected of the 26-year old this season. In other respects he is assuming more responsibility, particularly in penalty killing where he is averaging 4:03 in shorthanded ice time per game, 3:30 more than he averaged last season (and that was a career high). What he has been slow in doing so far is unleashing shots. He has three shots on goal in four games, and while it is a very small population of games so far this season, he had 125 shots in 82 games last season. You get the feeling it will come, but sooner would be better than later as the Caps seek to fill in the spaces left with the departures of three starters on defense from last season. Orlov is 5-1-6, plus-4, in 13 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

The Patrick Division days are long gone, but it is still possible to spin up some anger at the prospect of facing the Philadelphia Flyers. And it especially satisfying to beat the Flyers on their home ice. The Caps have points in four consecutive games in Philadelphia (2-0-2), both losses coming in trick shot competitions. One thing the Caps will be looking to do is to reduce the volume of shots they have been facing (first four games featured more than 30 shots against), a task made harder by the fact that in each of their last three visits to Wells Fargo Center they allowed the Flyers to put up an average of 35.3 shots per game.  It will be a chance for the Caps to put some early distance between themselves and the rest of the Metropolitan Division.

Capitals 3 – Flyers 1

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Different Season, the Same Sad Ending

“They say we're young and we don't know
We won't find out until we grow…”

-- Phillip “Sonny” Bono

Sure, you recognize that lyric.  It’s in that song that gets played over and over in the film, “Groundhog Day.”  Over and over and over, relentlessly.  Like the disappointment Washington sports fans endure with the blossoms of the cherry trees or the falling leaves of autumn.  Every year.

The song played again late last night as the Washington Nationals lost Game 5 of their National League Divisional Series to the Chicago Cubs.  It was an outcome familiar to Washington Capitals fans over the years and now all too familiar to fans of the Nationals.  The game-ending scene had an eerie feeling of sameness to it.  For this Caps fan, watching Bryce Harper – the tying run at the plate – strike out to end the season looked all too much like Alex Ovechkin foiled on a breakaway early in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semi-final that would have given the Caps an early lead, or T.J. Oshie having the puck bounce over his stick with a yawning net in front of him in Game 7 of last spring’s conference semi-final that would have given the Caps momentum, or Ovechkin in that same game firing a shot at what looked like an empty net, only to have the puck click of the shaft of the goalie’s stick and out of harm’s way.

Wins and losses in team sports are, by definition, a team effort, but there are moments of opportunity for an individual that occur with some regularity that can define a team as a winner or a disappointment.  It reminds me of a moment almost 35 years ago that enabled a team that had failed to win a championship since World War II to end a 39-year drought.  It was the sort of moment that lifted a single player from memorable to beloved.  Any Washington Redskins fan claiming to be one knows it.

Nursing a three-point lead in the fourth quarter of the 1982 Super Bowl, the Redskins were confronted with fourth down at the Miami Dolphins’ 43 yard line with one yard to earn a first down and a choice.  All three of the options they had were risky.  They could attempt a field goal, but 60 yards was outside the reliable range of kicker Mark Moseley.  They could punt, but a touchback would not only give the Dolphins the ball with ten minutes left on the clock, but would only net 23 yards of field position.  Or, they could go for it, although failing to gain the yard would give the Dolphins superb field position and lots of time left.

The Redskins went all in, choosing to go for the first down.  There was nothing fancy about the play they chose.  In team parlance, it was called “70-chip,” but it was basically a straight-forward, smash-mouth play set up to isolate the ball carrier on a single tackler to beat.  The ball carrier was John Riggins, and the poor soul the Redskins targeted with their blocking scheme was defensive back Don McNea.  The object was to gain one yard, Riggins size advantage and brutish running style creating enough momentum to gain that before engaging McNea.  But here was that moment, that instant of engagement that turned a well-designed and executed play into legend.  McNea met Riggins and desperately tried to wrap him up or grab onto something, anything on his uniform to bring him to the turf.  Riggins, having none of it, exploded through the tackle, casting off McNea as if he were a bit of lint picked off his sleeve and sprinted the 43 yards to the touchdown that clinched a Super Bowl win and ended decades of frustration for Washington Redskin fans.  The Redskins became winners, the reputation for which echoes to this day, despite their descent back into mediocrity over the last two decades.

Other players in this town since have had that moment presented to them.  Alex Ovechkin has had such a moment.  Bryce Harper had his.  And their not taking those moments by the throat conjures up a depressing and infuriating thought as Washington heads into its 20th straight year without any team among its four major pro sports so much as reaching a conference final.  Year after year, the Caps and Nats are like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill over the course of a regular season, only to find that at the top – where championships are won – that boulder comes crashing back down the hill.  We are told that all those efforts do not matter, that those teams were different, that this time will be different.  Caps fans, you know the drill… 

“Which history? I don’t know anything about the past. I’m looking forward here to the next game on Sunday.” – Nicklas Backstrom

“I don’t think this team has any playoff history. This is our first playoffs together, so, in my opinion, no. Sorry to be cheeky, but that’s the truth I think.” – Karl Alzner

“It doesn’t really matter. … Everybody talks about all the past, the past, the past. The only pressure that we’ll have is on ourselves. We’ve got to go into Philadelphia and we’ve got to play really well and get a win there. If we don’t accomplish that, then it will go to Game Seven. I thought tonight we played excellent.” – Head Coach Barry Trotz

Nats fans got a taste of that attitude in time for this series… 

“I've kind of said this all year: I don't believe [the team history of disappointment matters] in that because it's a different team every year.  You play different teams, different players, trades, free agents, whatever it may be. We didn't play the Cubs last year.  So who knows what would have happened if we did or didn't. Doesn't really matter. For me, I don't believe in it. Whoever plays better, whoever executes more, you're going to move on.” – Trea Turner

“Once you get out there, that stuff doesn't really matter, what we did last year; doesn't help or hurt us once we're in between the lines.” – Michael A. Taylor

This is nonsense.  With each passing year and disappointment, the Caps are that same team.  The Nats are that same team.  The new players merely add a chapter to the sad tale.  And perhaps not until someone finds his “Inner Riggo” will the last line of that book finally be written and a new one – ‘Winning” – be opened.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 5: Capitals at Devils, October 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take baggage in hand and head off to Newark, NJ, on Friday night to face the New Jersey Devils as they continue their road-home-road-home-road alternating schedule to start the season.  The Caps have gone to extra time in both of their road contests to date, splitting the decisions with a win in Ottawa in the season opener and a loss in Tampa last Monday.  In trying to get above .500 in the road portion of their schedule, the Caps will be seeking to allow something fewer than four goals, the number tallied by both of their road opponents to date.

The Devils, on the other hand, qualify as a “surprise” team in the early going with a perfect 3-0-0 record.  Granted, two of those wins came at the expense of the Buffalo Sabres and the Colorado Avalanche, teams that will probably be on the outside looking in on the postseason next spring.  But their last win was a convincing 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are among the darlings of the “it” crowd as a contender to get out of the Eastern Conference in the playoffs.

So far, the Devils are doing it with a collection of no-names (at least little known at the moment).  Jesper Bratt, whose name sounds like a Star Wars character, leads the team with three goals and in total scoring with six points.  The 19-year old Bratt, a sixth-round pick of the 2016 draft is, at the moment, the lowest-drafted member of that 2016 class to appear in, let along score in, an NHL game (162 overall).  It is quite a start for a player who, before suiting up for the Devils, had not played a game in North America.  For the last three seasons he played for AIK IF in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-highest league in Sweden.

Another part of the youth movement in New Jersey is their second-leading point producer, defenseman and fellow rookie Will Butcher.  A somewhat undersized defenseman (5’10”/190), Butcher was a fifth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2013, but could not come to an agreement on a contract with the Avs and became a free agent last August.  He signed a two-year/$1.85 million deal with the Devils and jumped right into their lineup not having played a minor league game for either franchise (he spent the last four years at the University of Denver).  Butcher’s five assists (no goals) leads the team.

Until last season, goalie Cory Schneider never had a full season with a goals against average above 2.30 (2.26 in 2014-2015) and never had a save percentage below .920 (.921 in 2013-2014).  He never had fewer than three shutouts in any season in which he appeared in more than 25 games.  Last season, he failed to hit all three of those marks, going 20-27-11, 2.82, .908, with two shutouts.  It makes his 3-0-0, 2.00, .948 record to start the season a welcome sight for Devils fans, and what might make them feel better is that even with his troubles last season he had a 0.67 goals against average and a .976 save percentage against the Caps in two appearances (one loss, one no-decision).  Over his career he is 3-6-2, 2.14, .923 with one shutout against Washington.

1.  The 50 shots on goal the Devils allowed the Maple Leafs in their 6-3 win on Wednesday was just the second time in franchise history that the team allowed 50 or more shots in a game and the first time they suffered such a barrage in a regulation time decision.  They faced 51 shots in a 1-0 Gimmick win over the New York Rangers on January 12, 2010.

2.  The Devils have already spread around the scoring.  Through three games, ten different skaters have goals, and 17 of 20 skaters to dress have points.  Damon Severson is the only skater to appear in all three games for the Devils having failed to record a point.

3.  New Jersey is the only team in the league in the top-five in both scoring offense (5.33 goals-per-game/2nd) and in scoring defense (2.00/T-4th; through Wednesday’s games).

4.  The Devils are one of three teams to take a lead into the third period in each of the games they played so far (St. Louis and Chicago are the others).  They and the Blues are the only ones to win all of those games.

5.  It is the second period in which the Devils have done their damage thus far.  Their eight middle frame goals and plus-6 goal differential both lead the league.

1.  This contest opens the Capitals’ first set of back-to-back games this season.  This, and Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, are on the road.  The Caps played road-road in five back-to-backs last season.  Twice they won both games, twice they lost both games (in on set a loss came in a Gimmick), and once they split the two games.

2.  Big starts, iffy finishes.  The Caps are tied for third in the league in first period goals scored (7) and are tied for allowing the third-fewest goals in the opening frame (2).  But, they are a minus-1 in goal differential over the last 40 minutes of games – eight scored and nine allowed.

3.  Yup…still dead last, and getting worse.  The Caps are last in the league in shots on goal per game (24.8).  And allowing 36.8 shots per game isn’t helping, either (tied for seventh-most).  Washington is one of three teams (Vancouver and Detroit being the others) not to have out-shot an opponent in a game yet.  It’s not even an accuracy thing or getting shots to the net.  The Caps are a minus-37 in shot-attempt differential at 5-on-5, tied for worst in the league with Chicago and St. Louis (numbers from

4.  The Caps have the first (Evgeny Kuznetsov), tied for first (Alex Ovechkin), and tied for seventh (Nicklas Backstrom) point getters in the league through Wednesday games. 

5.  If you’re looking for even-strength scoring, the Caps have had it.  They are third in the league in even-strength goals scored (12), trailing only Toronto (13) and Chicago (18) through Wednesday’s games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey:  Marcus Johansson

My dearest Abigail…

I find myself in a new assignment with my new regiment.  Where I found myself a young charge among battle-tested veterans when I served with the Army of the Potomac, I am now one of those battle-tested veterans in my new billet.  They are so young, and only six of the 20 men in our skating regiment are older than I am.  I find adjustments to my new surroundings to be pleasant and acceptable, even rejuvenating.  We have been blessed to score two goals and assist on two others, my points earned a full fourth of the 16 we have scored so far.  I find myself in a situation that reminds me of that which I had with Nicklas Backstrom when I skated in Washington.  The roles now, it seems, are reversed.  Jesper Bratt is the fresh troop joining our squad, a native of Sweden, as I was back in ’11 when I was in Washington.  Just as Nicklas helped me along, so too might I play that role for young Bratt as he makes his contributions to our cause.  I look forward to our first skirmish – and mine – against our old Washington teammates.  Yours always… Marcus.

Washington: John Carlson

It is only four games, two of which went to extra time, but defenseman John Carlson is averaging more than three minutes more per game (25:53) than he averaged last season (22:43).  That is five more shifts per game (31.75 to 26.61).  In his eight previous seasons, Carlson never averaged more than 24:31 in ice time per game (2013-2014 season) or 28.57 shifts per game (2014-2015).  But Carlson is now the dean of the defense corps, based on games played with the Caps (530), and with that comes added responsibility, especially given the state of the defense – younger and without as much depth – as the 2017-2018 season opens.  Carlson has a pair of assists in the four games to date, but despite being second on the club in shots on goal (12), he has yet to find the back of the net.  Only Victor Hedman of the Lightning has as many or more shots in three games (14) without a goal among defensemen.  If there is a team against which he might break through, it could be New Jersey.  Carlson is 3-13-16, plus-11 in 27 career games against the Devils.

In the end…

At least in the early going, the Devils look like one of those annoying teams of youngsters that skate like a herd of golden retriever puppies getting all over you and making you sick with their seemingly limitless reservoir of energy.  Eleven of their skaters to dress so far are 25 or younger.  Only one player to dress for all three games – Andy Greene – is older than 30.  The Devils look as if they are the latest entry in fulfilling the NHL’s version of the Olympic motto.  Instead of “faster, higher, stronger;” it is “younger, faster, cheaper (they have the fourth-lowest cap hit in the league, according to”  It presents the latest challenge to the Caps and their ability to use experience and guile to offset a team that might be quicker.  Guess you know how we think they will meet that challenge…

Capitals 4 – Devils 2

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 4: Penguins 3 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals started the season with an air-tight penalty killing unit, but for the second straight game it let the club down as it gave up all three goals in a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

First Period

Kris Letang recorded his first point of the season on a power play early in the first period when, after the Pens worked the puck around the perimeter, Letang went to the net as Conor Sheary sent the puck to the net. Off a goal-mouth scramble, the puck squirted out to the uncovered Letang to the left of goalie Braden Holtby, and he backhanded it over Holtby’s left pad to make it 1-0, 5:22 into the game.

Second Period

On what would be their fourth power play less than half way into the game, the Pens struck again. As the power play was winding down, Patric Hornqvist chipped a loose puck from the top of the paint over a sprawled Holtby to make it 2-0 at the 8:20 mark of the period. To that point of the contest the Caps were shorthanded a total of 6:49 of 28:20 of total ice time.

The Caps halved the deficit with a little bit of history. For the second time this season a rookie making his NHL debut scored his first career goal. In the last minute of the second period, Lars Eller backhanded a pass to the right wing circle where Christian Djoos was waiting. Djoos blasted a one-timer that beat goalie Matt Murray cleanly over the left pad and inside the post at the 19:20 mark for his first NHL goal to put the Caps on the board.

Third Period

Whatever momentum the Caps might have generated from the Djoos goal late in the second period, it was ripped away in the first minute of the third period. On their sixth power play of the game, the Pens made it 3-1 when Conor Sheary got inside position of Brooks Orpik at the top of the crease and redirected a Justin Schultz drive past Holtby at the 38-second mark.

The Caps made it interesting mid-way through the period. Nicklas Backstrom feathered a pass over Kris Letang’s stick to Djoos in the left wing circle. Djoos calmly slid the puck around Schultz’ skate to Alex Ovechkin parked at the top of the paint. Ovechkin redirected the puck past Murray’s left pad, and it was 3-2 at the 12:51 mark. The Caps could not find the equalizer, though, and the Pens skated off with a 3-2 win to open the 2017-2018 series between the clubs.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s eighth goal of the season means he has as many or more goals than 14 teams in the NHL.

-- Last season, the Caps did not allow an opponent more than 30 shots in a game until Game 9, when the Winnipeg Jets launched 45 shots on goal in a 6-2 Caps win.  With the 36 shots on goal recorded by the Penguins, the Caps have allowed more than 30 shots in each of their first four games.  In each of their last three games, the Caps have been on the short end of shots on goal by double digits (minus-16 to Montreal, minus-14 to Tampa Bay, and minus-14 to the Pens).

-- Last season the Caps did not record their third game with ten or more penalty minutes until Game 14 in a 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Caps have been charged with ten or more penalty minutes in each of their last three games.

-- Last season, the Caps were not held under 30 shots per game over four consecutive games until Games 12-15.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Caps did not win any of those games in regulation (1-2-1), their only win a 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Caps have been held under 30 shots in each of their first four games this season.

-- Last season, the Caps did not allow three goals in any of their first four games.  They have allowed three or more in three of their first four games this season.

-- The shot attempts last night were not dominated by Pittsburgh, although they did have a 57-54 edge in total.  The difference was getting shots to the net.  The Pens got 36 of 57 attempts to the net (63.2 percent), while the Caps got only 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) to the net.

-- Alex Ovechkin had almost a third of the Caps’ shots on goal (seven of 22).  No one else had more than two, and of the three players who had two, two were defensemen (Christian Djoos and John Carlson).

-- Christian Djoos is the first rookie defenseman to record two or more points in a season (that’s right, in a season, not a game) since the Caps had four blueliners do it in the 2013-2014 season: Alexander Urbom, Patrick Wey, Connor Carrick, and Nate Schmidt.  Djoos is now the eighth player from the 2012 draft to appear in a single NHL game.  He is the only one-gamer with two points.  We think he's likely to get more work.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist.  He has perhaps the quietest six points in three games you’ll ever see.

-- Matt Niskanen has had an odd pattern to start the season.  He has alternated games with no penalty minutes (Games 1 and 3) with games of four penalty minutes (Games 2 and 4), and he has all eight of his penalty minutes in his two home games, none in his two away games.

In the end…

As we said in the prognosto, “it is never a bad thing to beat the Penguins, but let’s not make too much of it, either.”  In that same vein, let’s not make too much of a loss, at least not in the context of the team to which the Caps lost.  There are troubling signs, though.  The offense so far is “Ovechkin and (insert name of rookie here)” with support from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.  The bottom six forwards and defense have not been heard from much.  That lack of bottom half support is reflected in shot deficits.  Ovechkin has more shots on goal (25) than the next three forwards combined (Oshie, Jakub Vrana, and Brett Connolly).  TheCaps are spending too much time killing penalties.  And, of course, they lost both games to the two teams that just might be the class of the Eastern Conference.

But it’s early, right?  Yeah, but it can get late pretty quick, too, even for a team with a 2-1-1 record.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 4: Penguins at Capitals, October 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The perpetrator returns to the scene of the crime.  On Wednesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins return to Capital One Arena, where five months and a day ago, they demolished the Stanley Cup dreams of Capitals Nation with a 2-0 Game 7 win over the Caps in their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

A win for the Capitals in this mid-week intradivisional scrap would do little to assuage the bitterness of that postseason defeat, but a win over the Penguins is never a bad thing.  And the Caps, despite giving up a 3-1 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing a 4-3 overtime decision, catch the Penguins in something of a nether space between Cup hangover and righting their ship (or, given the Penguins, ice floe).

The Caps lead the Metropolitan Division at this early juncture with a 2-0-1 record, while the Penguins waddle into Capital One Arena fresh off a 4-0 gobsmacking of the Nashville Predators in a reprise of last spring’s Stanley Cup final.  The shutout was certainly welcome for the Pens, who allowed 15 goals in their first two contests, including a 10-1 shellacking by the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center last Thursday.

As it is, the Penguins still come into this game with the worst scoring defense in the league (5.00 goals allowed per game, tied with the Winnipeg Jets through Monday's games).  And as one might expect, goaltending is a bit of an issue.  With the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights, the keys to the car have been put in the hands of Matt Murray, who certainly has demonstrated his playoff mettle, going 22-9, 1.95, .928, with four shutouts in 32 postseason appearances over the last two seasons.  He has found the early going this season a bit rougher, posting a 1-0-1, 3.84, .879 record in three appearances.  It isn’t as rough as his regular season record against the Caps: 2-2-0, 4.43, .862 in four appearances. 

What it is, is considerably better than his backup.  Antti Niemi was signed to assume Murray’s spot as the backup after the latter’s elevation to the number one spot.  So far, he has logged a little over nine minutes of play and allowed four goals on 13 shots (.692 save percentage).  It is not the start one might have desired for a player who last season with the Dallas Stars went 12-12-4, 3.30, .892.  It signals a disturbing trend toward mediocrity...or worse.  His goals-against average and save percentage were the worst of any of his eight full seasons in the NHL, and for the first time in those eight seasons he failed to post a single shutout.  If there is one thing arguing for Niemi getting the call against the Caps, it is that he has never lost to the Caps in regulation in eight appearances, posting a 5-0-3, 2.52, .912 record with one shutout.

1.  It’s three games in, but who had “Olli Maatta” as the Penguins’ leading goal scorer?  He has two; seven other players have one apiece.

2.  None of those other players happens to be defenseman and perennial Norris candidate Kris Letang, who has yet to record a point in three games, despite averaging more than 25 minutes in ice time and being second on the team in shots on goal with 12 (Phil Kessel has 13).  He is also a team-worst minus-5.

3.  The Penguins have had a hard time playing well with others.  Their 15 shorthanded situations faced through Monday’s games is topped only by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 17 such situations.  They have not yet allowed a road power play goal though, going 6-for-6.  Oddly enough, they did that in the 10-1 pasting the Blackhawks put on them last week.

4.  Not known as an especially physical team, the Penguins are nevertheless ranked second in credited hits through Monday’s games (90).  Only the St. Louis Blues have been credited with more (97).  Pair that with the fact that the Pens have the third-highest total of blocked shots (48), and it appears they are chasing the puck more than carrying the puck.

5.  Odd Power Play Fact… The Penguins are the only team in the league thus far with two goals scored at 5-on-3.  They do not have a 5-on-4 power play goal.

1.  Last season, the Caps lost just two of 43 games in which they led after two periods, one in regulation and one in overtime.  They are half-way there with their overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Monday night.

2.  Washington has the second-worst shots on goal differential in the league through Monday’s games.  Their minus-11.3 shot differential per game is ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes (minus-12.5).

3.  The Caps are winning 57.3 percent of their even strength draws.  Think that leads the league?  Nope, not close.  Boston is an insane 63-for-90 (70.0 percent).

4.  That the Caps have a talented top six is pretty much a given.  Need further proof?  Their top five point-getters are in the forward top six (Evgeny Kuznetsov – 8; Alex Ovechkin – 7; Nicklas Backstrom – 5; T.J. Oshie – 4; Jakub Vrana – 3).

5.   The Caps are one of three teams in the early going with at least 10 even strength goals.  They are third with ten, with Toronto (12) and Chicago (16) ahead of them.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin, a gifted player with a hall of fame pedigree, has always occupied an odd place in the NHL and with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The word association exercise is not hard.  Malkin is to Sidney Crosby as... Scottie Pippen is to Michael Jordan, or as Don Drysdale is to Sandy Koufax, or as Billy Kilmer is to Sonny Jurgensen.  He has been a necessary, even essential ingredient to the Penguins’ success since he came into the league in the 2006-2007 season, but he has played that role as the “other guy” to a degree.  And now, in his 12th NHL season, all with the Pens, he finds himself almost an oddly anonymous resident among the franchise’s all-time rankings:
  • Games played: 709 (6th)
  • Goals: 329 (4th)
  • Assists: 507 (4th)
  • Points: 836 (4th)
  • Plus-Minus: plus-73 (10th)
  • Game-winning goals: 57 (3rd)
  • Power play goals: 119 (2nd)

Even as injuries have kept him under 70 games in a season five times in 11 full seasons (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season), he is among the most prolific offensive players of his era.  Only once in 12 seasons has he averaged less than a point a game (37 points in 43 games of the 2010-2011 season).  But, he has had something of a shadow cast upon him by Alex Ovechkin, drafted ahead of him in 2004, and by the white-hot light of Sidney Crosby, who has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2005.  It seems unlikely his lot in life in the NHL will change, just as it seems unlikely his march up the franchise’s all-time rankings will be halted.  Malkin is 16-35-51, even, in 36 career games against Washington.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

We noted above that the Caps’ top five point getters so far this season are among the team’s top-six forwards.  The odd man out so far is Andre Burakovsky, who is 0-2-2 so far (ok, he is tied with John Carlson for sixth in points so far).  Part of the problem could be that he is part of an entirely reworked second line.  Last year’s line of Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams has been replaced with Burakovsky, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie. At least through three games, the chemistry on that line has not come as easily as it has for the top line, although all three members of that line recorded points against Tampa Bay in the 4-3 overtime loss on Monday night.  Burakovsky, though, is being counted on to fill some of the goal scoring production lost with the departures of Williams and Johansson, but as yet he has just three shots on goal in three games without lighting the red light.  Burakovsky is 5-4-9, plus-1, in 12 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

The Penguins and Capitals is billed as a “rivalry” game, but this has become a rivalry in a somewhat perfunctory sense.  The Caps have enjoyed a measure of success against the Pens in the regular season, going 19-11-6 against the Penguins since the 2008-2009 season.  But then they go toes up in the playoffs, eliminated three times in three series against the Pens over that span, postseasons that ended in Penguin Stanley Cups.

In that sense, there might be a certain ambivalence attached to this contest.  Sure, it is never a bad thing to beat the Penguins, but let’s not make too much of it, either.  The way the NHL chose to organize itself means that for the Caps, the road to a Stanley Cup almost certainly goes through Pittsburgh, and crossing that bridge (it’s a Three Rivers thing) is not something they will get to for months.  Still…

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2

Monday, October 09, 2017

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 3: Lightning 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals took to the road on Thursday night, visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.  The Caps got out to a 3-1 lead early in the second period, only to see the Lightning tie it mid-way through the third period to force extra time.  The Lightning were granted a power play chance in the extra session, and they converted it to send the Caps to their first loss of the season, 4-3.

First Period

For two teams with a lot of offensive firepower, they came out like a couple of heavyweights in a prize fight content just to feel one another out.  The Caps grabbed a shovel and started digging themselves a hole when Aaron Ness took a penalty in the fifth minute of the period, and then took another penalty nine minutes later.  The Caps held the Bolts to one shot on their two power plays.  After that, they handed the shovel to the Lightning to start digging a hole.  Nicklas Backstrom got the Caps on the board, taking a cross-ice feed from Andre Burakovsky, gliding through the right wing circle, and snapping a shot that seemed to handcuff goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at the 16:42 mark. 

Barely 20 seconds later, the Caps found themselves on their first power play of the evening, Yanni Gourde sent off for slashing.  Just over a minute into the power play, John Carlson took a pass from Backstrom at the blue line, walked the puck back to the middle of the ice, then flipped a shot at the net that nicked T.J. Oshie on the way through to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Second Period

The Caps got burned in the sixth minute of the period when they were trying to move the puck into the Lightning end of the ice.  A pass to Alex Ovechkin at the red line went awry, and Braydon Coburn grabbed the sliding puck.  He fed it up to Brayden Point heading down the left wing, and after carrying it across the blue line, Point found Alex Killorn before he was plastered by Dmitri Orlov.  It was taking a hit to make a play, though, as Killorn one-timed the pass high over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s glove, and it was 2-1, Caps.

Oshie got it back on a power play just over two minutes later.  With the Lightning short for a faceoff violation, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, setting up Oshie for a one-timer  that was foiled, but Evgeny Kuznetsov swept the loose puck back to Backstrom along the boards.  Backstrom waited until Oshie found space and a passing lane in the middle, then threaded a pass that Oshie one-timed off the far post and behind Vasilevskiy to make it 3-1 at the 7:49 mark.

Tampa Bay got back to within a goal late when Anton Stralman sent a lollipop of a shot at the net that was redirected by Chris Kunitz (yes, that Chris Kunitz) down and to the left of Grubauer’s pad to make it 3-2 with 1:51 left in the period.

Third Period

The Caps survived an early Tampa Bay power play on which the Lightning recorded six shots on goal, but the Lightning pressure was persistent as the period wore on.  It finally bore fruit at the 10:46 mark when Nikita Kucherov barreled into the Caps’ zone and with Taylor Chorney trying to get a body and a stick on him, roofed a backhand over Grubauer’s left shoulder to tie the game, 3-3.  It was part of an onslaught on the Washington net as the Lightning outshot the Caps, 17-6.

Extra Time

The Caps stepped in it right away, taking a too-many-men penalty just 1:21 into the extra frame.  With less than 15 seconds left before killing it off, the Caps allowed their first power play goal of the season, Nikita Kucherov one-timed a feed that ricocheted off Brayden Point and past Grubauer’s glove for the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s first period goal was his first of the season and 189th as a Capital, passing Bobby Carpenter for eighth place on the team’s all-time list of goal scorers.  Next up is Dave Christian with 193 goals in 504 games played with the Caps from 1983 to 1990.

-- When T.J. Oshie recorded a goal and an assist in the first period, it made it 29 multi-point games as a Cap, passing Bengt Gustafsson and tying Andrei Nikolishin, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer for 35th place in team history.  When he scored his second goal, he had his tenth three-point game as a Cap, tying Dave Christian, Ulf Dahlen, and Dainius Zubrus for 21st place on the team’s all-time list.

--  Backstrom’s assist on Oshie’s second goal gave him a three-point night, his 65th as a Capital, second-most in team history (Alex Ovechkin has 92).

-- Washington allowed 40 shots, the third straight game in which they allowed more than 30 shots on goal.  The Caps allowed only one team 40 or more shots last season, that coming in a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets On November 1, 2016, when they allowed 45 shots on goal.

-- Tampa Bay out-shot the Caps, 22-7 over the third period and overtime.  Overall, they out-attempted Washington, 83-48.

-- John Carlson led the team with six shots on goal and eight shot attempts.

-- The Caps allowed 12 shots on goal on the last two Tampa Bay power plays.

-- Dmitry Orlov played a team-high 27:32 for the Caps.  John Carlson (26:15) and Matt Niskanen (25:54) also topped 25 minutes.

-- Jay Beagle had an uncharacteristically off night in the circle, going 4-for-13 overall and 2-for-8 in the defensive end.

-- The domination by the Lightning at fives was complete.  They out-attempted the Caps, 60-33, at 5-on-5 (64.52 percent; numbers from

In the end…

The problems the Caps have were on display tonight.  They are replacing half of their defense from last season with players who, frankly, are not as talented as those they are replacing, and Brooks Orpik is being asked to play second pair minutes when he played mostly third pair minutes last season.  The best thing you can say is that perhaps things will sort themselves out, that the new guys will improve enough to at least not be a liability on the ice.  But the Lightning made up a 3-1 deficit by scoring two goals with the Taylor Chorney/Aaron Ness defensive pair on the ice.  Consider that Chorney played barely ten minutes (10:17), and Ness played just 8:56, and one has to be concerned that this is something teams will look to exploit on a night-to-night basis.  The Caps did get a point, but it was one point fewer than they should have taken from this game, defensive breakdowns (not limited to Chorney/Ness by any means) and an inability to put the team away when they had a 3-1 lead less than half-way through the contest dooming them in the end.