Saturday, October 31, 2009

A ONE-Point Night: Islanders 4 - Caps 3 (OT)

Well, it finally caught up with them.

Often times in a winning streak, you can see the end coming, even when the team continues to win. In the last two games the Caps were bailed out by good goaltending in the third period, as both Semyon Varlamov and Jose Theodore had to withstand 20 shots on goal in that period in wins against Philadelphia and Atlanta.

They didn’t get that good goaltending tonight, and the Caps continued their somewhat iffy play among their skaters in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. They got a standings point, but the Islanders – winners of only their third game of the season and first on the road – made this one feel like worse than the overtime loss it was.

Here is how bad it was… Brendan Witt got his first point of the year. Frans Nielsen got his first goal of the year… then another. Radek Martinek got his first assist of the year.

The Caps got the required goal from Alex Ovechkin (14th in 13 games), a pair of goals from Tomas Fleischmann, and a pair of assists from Mike Green, but this was about breakdowns and goaltending. First, it was Kyle Okposo skating into the Caps’ zone and getting defensemen Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn to back off. With the space being granted, Okposo sent a shot that Jose Theodore probably stops 99 times out of 100. But this shot snuck through. It wouldn’t be the last, not that Theodore didn’t have help.

The help came in the form of a truly ugly turnover by Mike Green who, with Frans Nielsen standing almost right in front of him, tried to send the puck up the middle of the ice. Green whiffed on the pass attempt, and Nielsen was right there to accept the gift and roof the puck over Theodore to give the Islanders a lead.

Then, barely a minute after the Caps had taken a 3-2 lead, it was Nielsen again, taking a pass from Mark Streit and snapping the puck through Theodore’s pads – another shot Theodore would be expected to stop – to tie the game.

With there being no scoring in the third period, the game went to overtime, where the final sequence looked a lot like the latter stages of the Caps winning streak. John Tavares took a pass from Radek Martinek just outside the Caps’ blue line going down the right side. Tavares carried the puck into the corner where he was picked up by Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom rode Tavares along the end boards, then let him go. Tavares continued skating and without anyone trying to separate him from the puck, he was able to send the biscuit out in front, where Mark Streit was waiting in the slot all alone. Streit buried the puck behind Theodore, and the six-game winning streak was over.

Other stuff…

- Tomas Fleischmann had a pair of goals, his first two-goal game since October 25, 2008, against Dallas. But it wasn’t the goals as much as where they came from. One was a wrap-around, the other a wrister from in tight. They were the kind of goals in traffic that Fleischmann might not usually be counted on to get, and it was pleasant to see. What made this particularly odd was that both goals, scored from in tight, were scored with Andy Sutton – five inches taller and 50 pound heavier – standing right next to him. Seems the Caps aren’t the only ones, perhaps, with the occasional crease clearing problem.

- The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin trio finished the game with 15 shots on goal (of 40 the Caps had), a goal, and an assist. OK, you expect that. The Brendan Morrison-Mike Knuble-Brooks Laich trio had six shots on goal (Laich had four of them) and no points. Not exactly what one would expect.

- 18 giveaways. An indicator of the somewhat sloppy play that has crept into the Caps’ game of late.

- Special teams weren’t the problem tonight. Taking only three minor penalties and killing them all off, drawing six penalties and scoring twice with the man advantage – that’s the way you draw it up. It was the fourth straight game in which the Caps had five or fewer shorthanded situations, and ninth in the last ten games. In games in which they face five or fewer shorthanded situations, the Caps killed 85.7 percent of them.

- Speaking of special teams, 15 shots from five different players on six power plays in 9:50 of power play time. If anyone was shouting “SHOOOOOT,” they should just shut up.

- Brendan Witt is on a streak. Not only did he get an assist – his first point of the year – he finished on the plus side of the ledger for the second straight game… his only two plus games of the year. That’s OK, he’s still on a pace to finish minus-67.

- Richard Park led all players in taking 21 faceoffs – none of them in the offensive zone.

- All of a sudden, the Islanders have 11 points, which is as many as the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins have.

All good things come to an end. And if a winning streak is to come to an end, then by gosh, end it as a team. The Caps did. They didn’t get good goaltending tonight, by and large (although Theodore did have a few top notch saves), and the Caps didn’t play particularly inspired hockey in front of him. The trick is not to make it a habit. They’ll get a chance to rectify this on Sunday against Columbus, when they will have a chance to match their longest points-earned streak of last year, an eight-game streak that last from November 4th through November 19th. It would be a nice way to start this November.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders: October 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is on the AIR!!!

Tonight the Capitals return home to finish up a back-to-back, this game against the New York islanders. The Caps defeated a game Islander squad last Saturday on Long Island, 3-2, in overtime. It is a surprisingly competitive team, given the predictions for it, in that they have played in seven one-goal games so far (1-1-5). They have that plucky, hard working ethic that characterized the Caps of a few years back when they were in the midst of hard times themselves. It is a tribute to…

Excuse me, can I help you? You looked a bit dazed.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

What’s your name?

“Prendick… Edward Prendick.”

And where are you from?

“I just came from an island… the Island of Dr. Garth Snow…”

The island…

“…of Dr. Garth Snow, that’s right. The things they’re doing on that island."

For instance…

“They’re doing these experiments… like the one where they combine a defenseman with this animal that looks like some mangy antelope…”

You mean a…

“Yes, a Witt-debeest. And then there is combination of a sloth and a rhinoceros that they call…”

Yes?

“An ‘Andy Sutton.’”

GASP!

“And the worst of them all… I, I can’t…”

Calm yourself. Tell me what you’ve seen.

“It’s something they put together from a goalie mask, a pair of linebacker shoulder pads, and parts that I don’t even know where they came from.”

And that is…

“They called it a Martwayne DiBironoloson, whatever that is.”

What does it look like?

“It looks like a goalie, but not a very good one, and always hurt.”

Who is this fiend you call Dr. Garth Snow?

“Oh, I don’t know… I don’t know… ”

Well, what Snow has put together so far and what he is called upon to manage might just have the makings of a pretty good team down the road, although for now, things are not going well…


First, there are the kids – John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey, who are a combined 7-12-19 through 11 games, not bad for a trio whose oldest member (Okposo) won’t turn 22 until next April.

There is what, for lack of a better term, might be considered the “mid-range” prospects – players who have entered or are entering their mid-20’s who have not yet reached their prime – Jeff Tambellini (three goals in his last two games after being a scratch in five straight), Jack Hillen (a defenseman who got 40 games worth of experience last year with the Islanders), Blake Comeau (a winger whose production was virtually a carbon copy of Bailey’s last year), and Frans Nielsen (who has appeared in the last five games after arthroscopic surgery on his knee). None of this quartet has yet seen his 26th birthday.

There are guys here, too, who are the good soldiers. They are the veterans who almost certainly will not be Islanders when the club returns to competitiveness. Doug Weight is in his second year with the Islanders, and it’s been difficult. Last year, he was held to 53 games with knee and leg injuries. This year, it’s been a case of swine flu that has limited him to six games. He did return to the lineup in the Islanders’ last game – a 3-1 win over the Rangers. He was out for last Saturday’s game against the Caps, but he was 1-1-2 in three games against Washington with the Isles last year.

Richard Park is one of those players who you might think has been around forever, and in fact he has been in the league since 1994-1995 with six teams. He is also only 33 years old, and he is in his fourth year with the Islanders. In the last three years on the Island, he is 5-3-8, plus-2 in 13 games against the Caps. As much as anyone on the club, attention has to be paid to him.

Then there is the enigma that is Brendan Witt. Back in 2005, Witt – who had once been a co-captain for the Capitals – expressed a desire to be traded, not wanting to be a part of the rebuild that was just getting underway. He was sent to Nashville later that season, in time to join the Predators for a playoff appearance (they were eliminated in the first round). Then he moved to the Islanders for the 2006-2007 season, where he reached the playoffs once more (also eliminated in the first round). Since then, though, it’s been rough. His fortunes and the Islanders’ have marched in lock-step. While the Isles were going 35-38-9 in 2007-2008, Witt was limited to 59 games with ankle and knee injuries. Last year, the Isles were going 26-47-9, and Witt was struggling along with the team, finishing dead last in plus-minus among 885 skaters in the NHL (minus-34). He does, however, provide a physical presence and a degree of enforcement against other teams taking liberties with the young guys.

Under the Islanders faithful alternating of goaltenders, Martin Biron will get the call against the Caps. Biron has not yet won a game this year (0-3-2), and his other numbers are grim as well (3.45 GAA, .891 save percentage). Biron spent the past two and a half years with the Flyers, and in that time he was 1-2-2, 2.96, .905 against the Caps in the regular season. He did have that playoff win in a seven game playoff series in 2008 that Caps fans will remember. Biron has not face the Caps this year, but his last three games have been a struggle – 0-2-1, 3.96, .884.

An odd thing about the Islanders… in six of the 11 games they’ve played thus far they have allowed precisely three goals (not including the trick shot competition). And that’s not all. In all of them, the games went to extra time. The Islanders are 1-0-5 in those games. This is another of those games that on paper the Caps should win handily, certainly by scoring more than three goals. But if paper was the standard, we could cut to the chase and a Pittsburgh-Washington Eastern Conference final. But the fun is in the journey and in seeing what adventures lay along the way. Right, Prendick?

"Not me… I’m done with adventures."

Caps 5 – Islanders 2

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Thrashers 3


They gotta stop doing this.

Another run out to a lead, then hang on for dear life at the end sort of game against a team they should have squashed like a bug. But those are our Cappies these days, winners of a 4-3 decision last night.

Alex Ovechkin got his points early (2-1-3 in the first 25 minutes), Semyon Varlamov got his saves late (17 on 20 shots in the third period).

For all the teeth knashing that might have gone on in the third period (and Coach Bruce Boudreau had a look about him that would melt iron in the post game), the game turned on a five minute sequence in the first period. It started with a simple play that the Caps haven’t been getting right much lately. With Jim Slater in the box for the Thrashers after a hooking penalty, Brendan Morrison won a faceoff over to Brooks Laich along the boards. Laich sent the puck back to Mike Green, who forwarded it to Alex Ovechkin on the left point. Ovechkin wired it past goalie Ondrej Pavelec before he (or Marty Reasoner, who had that part of the ice to cover) could react, and the Caps had the lead.

Then, Jim Slater was hooked down as he was crossing the Caps’ blue line on a breakaway. A penalty shot was called, and Slater had his penalty shot attempt swallowed up by Varlamov. A minute later, Nicklas Backstrom found Ovechkin streaking down the middle, and Ovechkin undressed Pavelec with a leg-kick-wrist shot over the glove hand and just under the crossbar. What could have been a 1-1 game was 2-0, and with leading goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk out of the lineup, it was a deep hole for the Thrashers to climb out of.

Other stuff…

- We noted that the Caps scored a goal on a play that they hadn’t been getting right lately. Well, Brendan Morrison taking an offensive draw on a power play is a signal of a lingering problem. Nicklas Backstrom hasn’t finished a game on the plus side of faceoffs since October 10th against Detroit. Since then he has been over 40 percent only once and under 30 percent three times (including last night) in six games. Perhaps ironically, Backstrom was on the plus side in the offensive zone last night (4-for-7), while Morrison was not (4-for-9).

- Having said that about Backstrom, we have to point this out, too. His assist to Ovechkin was magnificent. From the top of the circles in his own zone, he lofted a saucer pass out and over Maxim Afinogenov’s stick between the Caps’ blue line and the red line, right onto Ovechkin’s stick blade just outside the Thrashers’ blue line. There aren’t three people on the planet who make that pass. Backstrom seems to make those saucer passes three times a game (though not that spectacularly).

- Brooks Laich: three assists. And yes, he has done it before, the last time being last March 27th against Tampa Bay.

- That’s two straight games the Caps have surrendered 20 shots on goal in the third period. That’s not something you’d like to see become a habit.

- Two minor penalties speak to the kind of road-game discipline you’d like to see. The two shorthanded situations faced is the low for the year so far.

- Tomas Fleischmann might not have gotten on the board, scoring-wise, but seven shot attempts, a hit, and splitting two faceoffs in 16 minutes of ice time was indicative that he’s ready to go.

- Speaking of hits… your hits leader: Jeff Schultz (3).

- It was good to see Mike Knuble break the five game goal-less streak, even if it was an empty netter. The odd part, though, is that his 15:11 in ice time was his low for the year.

- Ice time was distributed rather evenly. Only three Caps had over 20 minutes, none of them forwards, and only Tyler Sloan skated for fewer than ten minutes.

All-in-all, it was another successful, if exasperating result. But, to wear the grooves on this record down some more – two points is two points, and they sure beat the alternative.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

So, a pig and a hockey player walk into a bar...

Quintin Laing is being treated for the H1N1 "swine flu" bug. While it is no laughing matter, we decided it was, well, a laughing matter (laughter being the best medicine and all that crap)...


Alex Ovechkin walks into a clinic. He says, I'm here for my shot. The nurse says, "Mr. Ovechkin, you've already taken six shots. We can't give you another."

*****

Bruce Boudreau walks into a clinic. He sees Sean Avery there sitting in the waiting lounge. Avery looks up and says, "I thought you were dead." Boudreau says, "I must be in the wrong place, this must be the second hand clothing store for fashion wannabes."

*****

Alexander Semin walks into a clinic. He says, "I'm here for my flu shot." The nurse swabs his arm, administers the shot, and applies a band-aid. Semin is day-to-day.

*****

Brooks Laich walks into a clinic. The nurse asks him if he needs a flu shot. Laich smiles, arches an eyebrow, turns and leaves. The nurse says to herself, "yeah, that was a stupid question."

*****

Nicklas Backstrom walks into a clinic. The nurse looks up and asks if she can help him. He says, "no, I'm here to assist you."

*****

Mike Green is sitting on the examining table at the clinic waiting to get his flu shot. The nurse comes in with tray with a syringe and the vaccine on it. She sets it down, then pulls on a pair of latex gloves. Green says, "so... where can someone get a pair of gloves like that?"

*****

Jeff Schultz walks into a clinic and asks politely if they are administering flu shots today. The nurse sighs, takes his name and grunts, "wait over there." Schultz sits down and waits. Finally, the nurse calls him over, tells him to sit down, and roll up his sleeve. Schultz does so, and the nurse proceeds to administer the shot in most painful fashion. Schultz frowns and says, "you don't have to do it like that, do you?" The nurse replies, "No, and you don't have to suck, either."

*****

George McPhee walks into a clinic. The nurse asks if he is there for a flu shot. He says that the team doesn't disclose that information.

*****

Ted Leonsis walks into a clinic, walks up to the nurse's station and happily announces, "Hi. I'm here for my flu shot." The nurse tells Ted to sit down. Ted says, "oh, wait. I have to get a camera so I can put this up on SnagFilms."

*****

The Peerless walks into a clinic. The nurse asks if he wanted a shot. The Peerless says, "I believe it was the philosopher Plato who said, 'a state arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants.'" Then he proceeds to recite the history of the modern process for producing flu vaccine.

The vaccine expires in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, October 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And tonight, the Caps take on the Atlanta Thrashers in the first of a back-to-back that will end tomorrow in Washington against the New York Islanders…

“Whoa. Déjà vu.”

“What did you just say?”

“Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.”

“What did you see?”

“What happened?”

“The Caps played the Thrashers and Islanders last week and then another pair of games on the schedule that looked just like it.”

“How much like it? Was it the same pair of games?”

“It might have been. I'm not sure.”

“Switch! Apoc!”

What is it?

“A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.”

“Oh my God... they cut the hard line, it's a trap, get out!!”

Uh, folks? It’s just a quirk in the schedule. The Caps play these teams more than once this year, and this is just how the second games against these two fall out. Tonight Atlanta, tomorrow the Islanders.

“Whoa, it happened again.”

No, you slack-jawed idiot! And why did everything turn this weird green color like the pixels on an old computer monitor?

Anyway, the Caps play the Thrashers in Atlanta a mere one week after they raced out to a 5-2 lead, then almost let it slip away in a 5-4 win that provided the third win in the five-game winning streak the Caps find themselves in. Here is how the numbers stack up...



Since last Thursday’s tilt, the Caps have added a pair of wins to their streak, while Atlanta sustained a 4-3 loss to San Jose in their only game since. But the loss on the scoreboard paled in comparison the larger loss for the Thrashers of Ilya Kovalchuk, who broke a bone in his foot sustained in the first period while blocking a shot. He is expected to miss four weeks.

Adding to that, Nik Antropov missed three straight practices as of Wednesday nursing a groin injury. He is expected to play against the Caps. Good thing for Atlanta – in the game last week he registered a pair of assists to bring his lifetime numbers against Washington to 7-12-19 in 26 career games. With Kovalchuk out, Antropov is now the Thrashers second leading scorer, but he is still looking for his first goal as a Thrasher, all seven of his points being assists.

Evander Kane – the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft – appears to be staying with the Thrashers for the remainder of the year. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he’s been told by the club to move out of the hotel in which he is staying and find more permanent accommodations (we wonder when Pittsburgh is sending Sidney Crosby back to Rimouski).

Speaking of accommodations, goalie Ondrej Pavelec was also green-lighted to check out and find new digs, which is a sign that either Kari Lehtonen is going to be out for a significantly longer period of time, or Lehtonen might be finding new accommodations of his own… in another city.

Pavelec got in 30 minutes of work in the San Jose game following his 32 minute effort against the Caps a week ago. As opposed to his having given up five goals on 14 shots in the game last Thursday, he stopped all 12 Sharks shots after replacing the ineffective Johan Hedberg. Pavelec did not figure in the decision.

With Kovalchuk out, the temptation is to say that Kane has to pick up more minutes (he’s averaging 13:53 a night as he gets his feet wet in the NHL) and more points (he is 3-2-5, tied for fifth in team scoring). But the Thrashers need more goal scoring from the likes of Antropov, Brian Little, Vyacheslav Kozlov, and Colby Armstrong, who combined have a total of one goal (Armstrong). On the power play, Zach Bogosian will be assuming Kovalchuk’s position on the point (again, according to the AJC). With Kovalchuk and his nine goals gone for the time being (of 28 scored by the Thrashers), Atlanta needs to spread the offense around.

One of the problems the Thrashers have had so far this year is the schedule. After beating Tampa Bay on opening night, they waited five days before taking the ice again (a 4-2 win over St. Louis). Then, after losing to Ottawa in their third game of the season, they waited six days before their next game, a 4-2 win over New Jersey. Tonight’s game against the Caps comes five days after losing to San Jose, 4-3. The Thrashers have had no chance to establish a playing rhythm of, say, a game every other day or so. That will end right quick, though. Atlanta has four back-to-backs in November, and they are on the road for both “sandwich games” – those surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday (at Detroit and at Carolina).

This is an odd game. First, there is the matter that in each of the two instances in which the Thrashers played after a long layoff, they registered 4-2 wins. Then there is the matter of the Thrasher goalies each playing about 60 minutes in their last two games (losses to Washington and San Jose), except those minutes were broken up in the odd way of both playing about 30 minutes each in each game. Pavelec was pulled against the Caps, Hedberg against the Sharks. Is the third time the charm?

Even though Atlanta has scored at least four goals in five of the eight games they have played, with Kovalchuk out it is hard to see a way to Atlanta getting to four goals. Four does seem to be a magic number for Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov, should he get the call. He’s allowed four in three of his five appearances so far this season. He got the win last Thursday, and with this being the front end of a back-to-back, he could very well be tapped for this one.

On the other hand, the Caps have scored at least four goals in five of the 11 games they have played, including three of the five road games they’ve played. And there is this – the Caps trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin skated together in the first three games and were a combined 9-15-24 (the team went 2-0-1). On Tuesday, the trio was reunited and combined to go 4-5-9 in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia. If they skate together tonight, and the Thrasher goalies continue to struggle at the start of games, the competitive portion of the evening could be over early, especially with Atlanta’s big threat – Ilya Kovalchuk – out of the lineup.

The Caps’ confounding tendency to let teams stick around in games will probably keep this from being an early evening, and if Varlamov’s own troubles make an appearance, this game could be a real adventure, not unlike last week’s game.



"Whoa…"

Caps 5 – Thrashers 3

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Flyers 2

Caps 4 – Flyers 2

Let that roll off the tongue and appreciate it… Caps 4 – Flyers 2. It was a game that had more than a faint whiff of a playoff air to it as the Caps and Flyers traded chances for 60 minutes, fought hard for every scrap of ice, and competed hard in what amounted to periods five, six, and seven of a year-long battle (the Flyers needing the first four periods to take a 6-5 “lead”).

The story of the night was the reunited top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin, which went 4-5-9, plus-9, had 13 shots on goal (of the 36 the Caps had in total). It didn’t look good early, though. The first period ended scoreless with the Caps enjoying the only power play… for all the good it did them. With Ole-Kristian Tollefsen off the ice for cross-checking Matt Bradley, the Caps managed a grand total of no shots on goal for the man advantage. More than that, they were not credited with so much as a shot attempt. For a team that came into the game with a goose egg in their last 13 power play opportunities after finding the back of the net on their first opportunity in a 3-2 Gimmick win against Nashville, it was not a good sign.

It got worse. In the second period the Caps took three penalties, and the Flyers scored during two of them. Scott Hartnell buried a nice feed from Mike Richards to get the Flyers on the board with Brendan Morrison off for hooking, and Braydon Coburn one-timed a feed from Kimmo Timonen to put the visitors up, 2-0, with Tyler Sloan off for the same offense.

Then the top line for the Caps found their scoring muse. Nicklas Backstrom used some deft stick work to settle a puck dropping out of the air as he was crossing the Flyer blue line, with Mike Richards swatting at him, no less. Backstrom gained control of the puck and eased toward the left wing boards. Richards followed, opening a seam that was filled by Alex Ovechkin. Backstrom found him, Ovechkin snapped a shot in a blur past Flyer goalie Ray Emery, and the Caps were back within one.

Backstrom got the Caps off the power play schneid later in the period on a slick play by Alexander Semin. After Emery knocked aside a drive by Keith Aucoin from the side of the cage, the puck came to Semin in the Zamboni corner. Semin held his ground, waiting for Claude Giroux to make a move – to cover the pass to Ovechkin parked at the left wing point, or to cover the pass to Backstrom hiding along the inside of the left wing faceoff circle. Giroux chose to cover the pass back to Ovechkin. He chose poorly. Semin flicked a pass to Backstrom, who snapped the puck past Emery, and just like that things were tied going into the second intermission.

The odd pattern of scoring for the Caps continued one more time early in the third. First, Backstrom fed Ovechkin for a goal. Then Semin fed Backstrom. The third time, Mike Green fed Semin at the Flyers’ blue line, and Semin took one more stride before whipping a wrist shot past Kimmo Timonen’s leg and past Ray Emery’s blocker for the goal that gave the Caps the lead they would not relinquish.

Not that the Flyers didn’t have an opportunity. Darroll Powe took a feed at the Caps’ blue line and split the defense to go in alone on Jose Thoedore. Tom Poti dove in an effort to sweep the puck off Powe’s stick, but was ruled to have taken out his skates before getting the puck. The referee pointed immediately to center ice to signal a penalty shot. Powe skated in and showed the crowd why he doesn’t take shootouts (he has never appeared in the Gimmick). He fired at Theodore in what looked like an effort to find the five hole, but he missed badly, hitting Theodore’s left pad to keep the Caps advantage at 3-2.

At that point, it became the Jose Theodore Show. In the 8:43 following Powe’s unsuccessful penalty shot, Theodore turned away 11 consecutive Flyer shots before the Caps would register a shot at the 15:30 mark into the period. He would turn away three more – a pop-pop-pop of shots taken in a seven second span in the period’s 18th minute – before Alex Ovechkin put the Flyers out of their misery when, with Chris Pronger trying to use his reach to deny Ovechkin a shooting lane down the left side, he flipped a backhand into the open Flyer net in the last minute to close the scoring.

Other stuff…

- Brooks Laich had, overall, a pretty good game, but he was a step late in preventing the cross-ice pass that Hartnell potted past Jose Theodore.

- Mike Green and Tom Poti victimized by... Darroll Powe steaming between them down the slot to draw a penalty shot? Bet you wouldn't put that in a script.

- Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap taking more than one faceoff who was on the losing side of the ledger (six up, ten down).

- That’s five multi-goal games in 11 games played thus far for Alex Ovechkin. Last year, he had his fifth multi-goal game in Game 30. In 2007-2008, when he finished with 65 goals, he had his fifth multi-goal game in Game 42. The Caps are 25-0-2 when he scores at least two goals.

- That’s Backstrom’s third three-assist night this year and the 11th time in his career he has registered at least three assists in a game.

- Alexandre Giroux had another one of those nights… three hits, but no shot attempts in 8:20 of ice time.

- 20 blocked shots… Mike Green and Tom Poti had five apiece. It tied the Caps high in blocked shots this year (20 in a 3-2 loss to Detroit).

- The Caps are now 7-2-2, but consider that each of the losses are of the one-goal variety (two in regulation, one in overtime, one in a Gimmick).

- The Flyers have a keeper in James Van Riemsdyk. He didn’t show up much on the score sheet (four shots, one assist), but there is the look of maturity in his game. Never did we see him rush things that weren’t there or panic in difficult situations. When he fills out, he’s going to be a load.

- Did you ever have a dream where you are standing in the middle of a busy thoroughfare and cars are whizzing by you front and back, one side and the other? Jose Theodore is going to have that dream tonight if he ponders for a moment the abuse he took from Flyers depositing themselves in his crease (and occasionally, in his lap).

- Nine shots in four power play opportunities covering 5:30 in time isn’t too bad. They had six shots on a five-on-three over 1:41 of ice time, plus a missed attempt by Mike Knuble and a shot on goal two seconds after the first half of a two-man advantage expired. Four of those shots came from inside 15 feet (according to the play-by-play record), and the one taken just after the first penalty expired was also inside of 15 feet. Sometimes, you just don’t get the bounce.

- David Steckel was 10 for 16 in faceoffs in the defensive zone. We’re not sure which is more noteworthy, winning 63 percent of those draws or taking 16 of them (of 24 total defensive zone faceoffs). Calling Boyd Gordon... Calling Mr. Boyd Gordon...

Jose Theodore was awarded the game’s first star, and he deserved it. In a curious way, this was a disappointing defensive effort for the Caps. Here were the Flyers, playing their fourth game in six nights (three of which were against quality opponents – Boston, San Jose, and the Capitals), and the Flyers’ shot progression by period was 10-13-20. 20? In the third period? That’s right. What’s more, the Flyers had 22 other attempts in the third period that missed or were blocked. That is obscene.

But it’s a win, too. Only four teams have more wins, and three of those teams have played in more games than have the Caps. Only three teams have more standings points, and two of them have played in more games than have the Caps. And that matters more than style points, although truth be told, the Caps were a dominating team for about 20 minutes of this game (the last ten of the second and the first ten of the third). Against a quality opponent, that’s not a bad thing.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pay Attention, or This Man Will Find You


Former Capital Kevin Kaminski is hosting a chat this evening, starting at 6:45. Here is the scoop from CSNWashington.com...
"Join former Capital, Kevin "Killer" Kaminski to chat all things Caps and learn about his playing days, on Tuesday October 27th, when the Capitals take on the Flyers. The chat starts at 6:45 pm."
Kaminski, for the uninitiated, was a bundle of snap, crackle, and pop in a not-too-big body. In 132 games with the Caps covering four seasons in the mid-1990's, he racked up 483 penalty minutes. From that picture above, "Killer" looks as if he could still wreak havoc.

If you're not going to be at the game, I'd drop by...

...just in case.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, October 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Welcome home, boys. The Caps took a brief holiday from Fun Street and won both games on an abbreviated road trip to bring the winning streak to four, which is their longest winning streak since piecing together a seven-game winning streak from December 23rd through January 6th last season. The last win in that streak happened to come against the same Philadelphia Flyers that will visit Verizon Center this evening. But tonight, the Caps… uh, excuse me, but are you lost?

“Uh, no… “

You look familiar, do I know you?

“No, I just look like somebody.”

Well, are you a hockey fan?

“Uh… I am now.”

Do you follow the Caps?

“Yeah, yeah… I’m a Caps fan.”

How ‘bout that Ovechkin, eh? Second in the league points, second in goals…

“He didn’t have any goals in his last two games, did he?”

Well, no, but...

“He needs to be replaced. And while they’re at it, they need a new coach.”

Why is that?

“Because… and what’s the deal with the general manager?”

What do you mean? You don’t like George McPhee?

“Why have one? A waste of money.”

He seems to have rebuilt the team pretty well.

“Yeah, but do the Caps ever sign any big free agents? Do they draw 92,000 every week?

Well, no, but Verizon Center only seats…

“And do the Caps have the undying love of the Washington community?”

Well…

“Do they get the undivided attention of the Washington media?”

No, but they do one thing that other team doesn’t do…

“And that is?”

They win.

“Uh… can you hook me up with season tickets?”

Well, that might be a stretch, even for an esteemed blogger such as yours truly, but the Caps look good even on TV in this early going with their 6-2-2 record. But one of those losses was an overtime loss to these same Flyers back on October 6th, a game in which the Flyers chased goalie Semyon Varlamov with four second period goals. The Caps took a lead in the third period of that game, but yielded a goal late, then lost in overtime when Danny “Don’t Call Me Daniel” Briere netted the game winner. Overall, the numbers for these two teams look like this…



Since beating the Caps, though, the Flyers are 2-3-1, having been outscored by their opponents by 19-17. In those six games the Flyers’ scoring has come from the usual suspects. Jeff Carter is 2-5-7, Danny “DCMD” Briere is 4-1-5, and Mike “The Concusser” Richards is 1-3-4. But joining these three is “The Heralded Rookie” – James “Don’t Call Me Jimmy” Van Riemsdyk, who is also 1-3-4 in these last six games for the Flyers.

Meanwhile, Simon Gagne – who missed yesterday’s practice with “lower body soreness” – is poised to jump into the top-ten in all-time Flyer scoring, perhaps by mid-season. Gagne is currently 13th on the all-time Flyers scoring list with 489 points. Should he add 30 points to that total over the remainder of the year, he will pass Gary Dornhoefer for 10th place. Since the lockout, Gagne is 8-7-15, plus-3 in 14 games against the Caps, but seven goals and three assists of that total were achieved when the Caps were sucking along at 70 points in the first two seasons of that period.

Meanwhile, Danny “DCMD” Briere has had a similar pattern of success against the Caps since the lockout. In 13 games against Washington over that period, he is 6-7-13, -10. Two things to note about that. First, he’s been awful at even strength against the Caps (something to note, since the Caps are 2nd in the league at 5-on-5). Second, Briere recorded two goals and five assists of that total (not to mention a minus-2) in the first year after the lockout, when he was in Buffalo and the Caps were awful. As a Flyer, he is 1-4-5, even, in seven games against the Caps.

But the Flyers have had scoring coming from odd places, too. If you would have had both Arron Asham and Darrell Powe ahead of Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell in goal scoring nine games into the season, go buy a lottery ticket. But that’s the case, as both Asham and Powe have three goals, while Gagne and Hartnell have one apiece.

What the Flyers have as well is a re-tooled defense. Chris Pronger is the big new addition, but the Flyers have also added Ole-“Is There a Worse Name for a Defenseman than ‘oh-LAY’”-Kristian Tollefsen from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Danny Syvret, who did play in two games late last year for the Flyers but is on the squad to start the year this season. Tollefsen has had health issues, playing in only 51 games two years ago and 19 last year. He missed four of the first six games this year with injuries.

Syvret, a graduate of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, has points in two of his last three games. Along with Tollefsen, he has to provide some measure of relief for the top four of Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn, all of whom are averaging more than 23 minutes of ice time a game.

Since Brian Boucher started his first game of the season against San Jose on Sunday and allowed four goals on 28 shots in a 4-1 loss, the Flyers might be expected to go back to Ray Emery for this one. He got the decision in the 6-5 overtime win over the Caps on October 6th, but he was hardly a rock between the pipes. Or maybe he was, kind of just sitting there as the Caps shot pucks around him for five goals on 36 shots. Emery started well in his return to the NHL after a year in Russia, shutting out Carolina in the season opener, then allowing only two goals to the Devils in his second start. Then, he allowed the five goals to the Caps, which he followed up with a five goals allowed effort against Pittsburgh. He’s righted the ship somewhat, going 2-1-1 in his last four appearances (2.17, .914). It’s worth noting, though, that three of those games were against Florida (twice) and Anaheim, teams that rank in the bottom quarter of the league in scoring.

The Caps have held a lead in the third period in each of the last four games they’ve played against the Flyers. They’ve lost two of those games, one in a Gimmick. This is not a pattern you’d like to establish against a team you might be meeting in the spring. You’d expect the the big guns to show up for a big game like this, and the young guns have had some success against the Flyers:

Alex Ovechkin: 17 games (regular season), 16-12-28
Alexander Semin: 13 games, 6-5-11
Nicklas Backstrom: 9 games, 3-9-12
Mike Green: 15 games, 2-4-6

But the key might be a Mike Knuble. In 25 career games against the Flyers, Knuble has one goal, that coming with the Bruins in December 2000. Even though he’s played but one game against the Flyers since the 2003-2004 season, you might say he’s due.

Caps 4 – Flyers 2

First and Tens -- The First Ten-Game Segment: Defensemen and Goaltenders

If the last time we did this we covered the forwards, then we are left with the defensemen and goaltenders. How did they do in their respective first ten-game segments?

Brian Pothier

For Pothier, the difference in this year’s first ten games versus last year’s is being in the lineup. Last year at this time, Pothier’s career was still in doubt in the aftermath of a concussion suffered in January 2008. This year, he has been in the lineup for nine of the first ten games, registering an assist in that span while averaging 15:41 of ice time a night. If there is an odd number in Pothier’s first ten games, it is this – 12. He is averaging only 12 seconds of penalty killing time per game, by far the lowest number among defensemen (Tyler Sloan is next at 49 seconds).


Tom Poti

Health is also an ingredient in Poti’s start this year, as in “having it.” Last year, Poti played in only five of the first ten games of the season, missing five due to a groin injury. He has played in all 10 games for the Caps thus far. Here is how this year’s first ten compares to last year’s:



The number of note for Poti is the mirror image of that for Pothier – 4:49. That is the number that leads the Caps’ defensemen in penalty killing time, 1:46 more than the next highest number for the Caps (3:03 for Milan Jurcina). It is quite a turn for Poti, who was seen more as an offensive defenseman earlier in his career.


John Erskine

There is a bit of an odd consistency to Erskine’s starts last season and this. He’s missed a few games, but there is the one assist and the one fight last year and this. Here is how the two years compare…



Nothing here that leaps off the page, but for a defenseman, that’s not necessarily bad.


Milan Jurcina

Jurcina might be considered among the early leaders in the “most improved player” category…



And he’s doing it while logging more time on the ice than last year (17 minutes so far this year versus 15 in his first ten games last year). Here is your fun Jurcina number – five. Of the 29 goals surrendered by the Caps so far this year, Jurcina has been on the ice for only five of them. That is, no doubt, a function of time management, but he’s been efficient in the time he does spend on the ice, too.


Shaone Morrisonn

This is Morrisonn’s fifth full season with the Caps and in the first four he’s been rather consistent. There isn’t much difference between his performance in his first ten games (actually, he’s been in nine of the first ten so far) and last year’s…



Morrisonn can be counted on to provide between 10 and 15 points in 70-plus games and be a plus performer while skating as often as not as Mike Green’s partner at even strength. What he’s done a little more consistently versus this time last year is stay out of the penalty box. He was whistled for minors in seven of his first ten games last year, only in three of nine games so far this year… but those would be the last three games (four minors), too.


Mike Green

Green’s offensive production might be seen by some in Caps Nation as being down from last year, and the numbers point to this, at least as far as goal-scoring goes…



But that is being measured against quite a standard. Green is still on a pace for a 16-49-65 season that last year would have been second in scoring among defensemen… to Green. What seems to be the difference so far, at least in goal scoring, is shots, where he is 15 shots behind last year’s pace after ten games. Perhaps it is the violinist being picky about his bow, as Green has been finicky about his sticks. But he seems more comfortable now, which can’t be good news for goaltenders. On the other hand, Green has been on the ice for 10 of the 29 goals scored against the Caps thus far, including the two shorthanded goals allowed in the past two games.


Jeff Schultz

Every team, it seems, needs a whipping boy, and Schultz is it for Caps fans, even if they’ve had fewer opportunities to express their affection this year than last…



But still, there is Schultz… second in scoring among Caps defensemen, tied for second in plus-minus, and for all the abuse heaped upon him, he’s only been on the ice for four goals among the 19 goals scored against the Caps in games he’s played. He’s neither the next Norris winner, nor the worst defenseman in the league. He is comfortably between those two poles, which isn’t bad for a 23-year old defenseman.


Tyler Sloan

Sloan announced his presence with authority last year, splattering Calgary’s Daymond Langkow with an open-ice check on his third NHL shift, then drawing 19 minutes in penalties from Rene Bourque when Bourque decided retaliation was a good idea. Sloan hasn’t left as big an impression in three games so far this season, but it is consistent – numbers-wise – with his performance in the first ten last year…



But what might be a bit disturbing is that of the nine goals scored against the Caps in games in which Sloan has played, he’s been on the ice for four of them.


Semyon Varlamov

Varlamov started his NHL career with a bang last season, beginning with his 2-1 debut win in Montreal on December 13th. He hasn’t lost a game in regulation in the regular season yet (8-0-1). But this year’s numbers are off – a 3.25 GAA and .884 save percentage make him a “second page” goalie in the NHL.com rankings of goaltenders (he is 40th in GAA and 44th in save percentage). Including playoff games, he’s allowed at least four goals in seven of his last nine appearances. He shown that he has considerable talent, and he’s shown that he can give up goals in bunches in a hurry. He needs to find a happy place of consistency.


Jose Theodore

Coming into the season having faced personal misfortune and facing a challenge from a hot new prospect, Theodore has improved his numbers significantly over his opening ten-game segment last year…



Last year, he allowed at least four goals in three of his eight appearances in this segment. This season, he has allowed as many as four goals once in seven appearances. Five times he has allowed two or fewer, and he has a save percentage of at least .919 in each of his last four appearances. But for Theodore, the question is now, as it was last year, can he consistently produce at that level?

All in all, this year’s first ten-game segment compares more than favorably with last year’s first segment. But this is an 82-game season, too, and even with that, the regular season is but prelude to the post season. That is what expectations do. We expect that the Caps will be better at the start of this year than at the start of last year. We expect that they will be better, if not in the next segment, then certainly as the year goes on, and better again in the playoffs.

But for now, this is a pretty good start, despite the usual knashing of teeth in the usual places in Capitals Nation.


First and Tens -- The First Ten-Game Segment: Forwards

We’ve reached the first ten-game milepost, and the Caps are on a path that will see them pass the 100-point mark for the second consecutive season and the sixth time in club history. In fact, the Caps are on pace to finish with 115 points, which would be another club record. But it is, as they say, “early.” How does the team stack up to where they were at this point last year?...



By these measures, the Caps are ahead of last year in every category. But here is what sets this year’s first ten games apart from last year’s. Last year, the Caps played five playoff teams and one division winner from the previous season – Pittsburgh – in the first ten-game segment. This year, the Caps played six playoff teams and four division winners from the 2008-2009 season in their first seven games. They went 3-2-2 in those first seven games on their way to the 6-2-2 start. Better record against stiffer competition, better overall numbers – it would be hard to find fault with that.

How do these comparisons work when we go to the individual level? Let’s look at the forwards first.


Alex Ovechkin

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Ovechkin was burdened with family concerns, and it was reflected in his start. Compare the numbers he put up last year with his start this year…



He is on a pace to set career records in goals (74), assists (66), points (140), plus/minus (+66), game-winning goals (16) and shots (549). But here is your odd Ovechkin number – two. He has two game-winning goals thus far this season. Last year, he didn’t record his second game-winner until December 16th. He still finished tied for third (10) for the season. This is a number worth following as much as his total goals. No player has had more than 15 game-winning goals since Michel Goulet in 1983-1984.


Brendan Morrison

Another player who can point to “health” as the word that most influences the comparison of his first ten-game performance this year with that of last year…



Last year, Morrison was coming off a season in which he missed 53 games, and it showed in a slow start. This year, he’s on a pace (66 points) to register his biggest points year since setting his career high in 2002-2003 (71).


Matt Bradley

Is Matt Bradley entering another phase of his career? Consider the comparison of last year’s first ten games to this year’s…



Including playoffs, Bradley has five goals in his last 20 games. That might not sound like much, but that is a pace of 21 goals over an 82-game season. Bradley has never had as many as 10 goals in a single regular season. Here is your Bradley number – one. And that’s a two-fer. He has one fighting major this season, a number than might seem low to Caps fans, given that enforcer Donald Brashear is gone, and the rough stuff is being handled by committee. The other part of this is that Bradley has only one minor penalty in eight games. He had only seven in 81 games last year.


Boyd Gordon

Gordon has had a bit of a penalty problem to start this season. But it isn’t any different, in terms of minutes, than last year…




What makes this year’s minutes stand out is that of the four minors Gordon has taken, three of them have come in the third period, all of those in the last half of the period, and two of them resulted in power play goals for the opponents, one the game-tying goal by Scott Hartnell in a 6-5 overtime loss to Philadelphia, the other the game-winning goal by Marian Gaborik in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers.


Eric Fehr

The comparison between last year’s first ten games and this years is noteworthy for not being noteworthy…



Fehr has battled injury throughout the professional phase of his career, and this year is no exception as he comes off surgery on both shoulders in the off season. He’s working his way back in, having registered fewer than ten minutes of ice time in four of the six games in which he’s played. That’s not a lot different from last year, when he played in fewer than ten minutes in each of the three games he played in out of the first ten.


Chris Clark

The numbers don’t look altogether different between last year and this…



Except for this. Last year, Clark averaged about 13 and a half minutes of ice time in his first ten games. This year, he has topped that amount of ice time only once, his last time out against the Islanders. What is perhaps odd here is that Clark is averaging only five seconds of penalty killing time per game. But it isn’t odd in the context of the last few years. In his first two years with the Caps, Clark averaged 3:34 and 2:34 of penalty killing time per game. In his last three (including this), he’s averaged 25 seconds, three seconds, and this year five seconds.


Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom is off to a better start than last year…



In fact, he’s off to a better start than his first two years, combined (0-9-9, minus-3). Here is the odd number for Backstrom – 14. He didn’t register his first even strength point until Game 14 last year. He had his first even strength point in Game 1 this year. If he improves his performance as the season goes on as he has done in each of his first two years, Backstrom could have a monster season. But where he’s struggling is in the faceoff circle. Here’s another Backstrom number – 87. That is his rank among faceoff leaders in the NHL on his 40.8 winning percentage. The irony there is that a player who wears that number has made himself into a very good faceoff man (Sidney Crosby ranks 8th in the league). Hopefully, Backstrom – only in his third season – can follow suit.


Keith Aucoin

Aucoin played in a dozen games for the Caps last year, none of them in the first ten-game segment. But he has dressed for four games so far this year with a goal and an assist for his trouble. He’s managed to make a contribution with limited ice time – he hasn’t been on the ice for ten minutes in a game yet. Oddly enough, he’s tied for tenth in total scoring for the Caps so far.


Brooks Laich

18-37-53-?? That’s been the points progression for Laich the past three seasons. With nine points in ten games, he’s on a pace to top 70 points. That might not be a likely scenario, but he is off to a better start this year than last…



Laich has already had three multi-point games this year (he had 11 last year). With seven in his last 31 games last year, that’s 10 in 41 games. For a player who does not post a lot of assists (Backstrom, for example, has nine multi-assist games in his last 41), Laich seems to get his points in bunches.


Mike Knuble

Knuble has been shooting in a bit of bad luck with two goals in ten games so far. Compare that and his other numbers with last year’s production with Philadelphia…



He’s managed to get points though, largely by doing what he was brought in to do, create traffic. His two goals were pretty much signature Knuble – they were scored from a total of 24 feet from the net. What he has been that folks might not have expected is a minutes eater in all situations – fifth in total ice time per game among forwards, fifth in power play ice time, sixth in penalty killing time, fourth at even strength.


Alexander Semin

Semin got out to a fast start this year that was reminiscent of the start he had last year…



However, upon being moved off the Ovechkin line, his scoring tailed a bit, then he came down with an illness that has kept him out of the last two games. It’s worth noting that he had 16 shots on goal in his first four games (5-4-9), but only 13 – six of them in one game against the Sharks – in his last four (1-0-1). If there is a difference between last year and this so far, it is that special teams scoring. While Semin was 4-5-9 on special teams through ten games last year (including those two shorthanded assists), he is 2-2-4 so far this year.


Alexandre Giroux

Giroux played in a dozen games for the Caps last year, none in the first ten. He’s been up for two games so far this year while Semin get’s back to health. If there is a number that sticks out in two games so far, it is that – two. His ice time has been sparse (less than 15 minutes total in two games), but he has only two shots on goal (four attempts). He does have four hits, though (all against the Islanders in the last game).


Boyd Kane

Kane played in only one game for the Caps last year, again not in any of the first ten. He has dressed for three games thus far, and what might be odd about his brief stay so far is that he’s averaged about a minute more in ice time a game than has Giroux. Small sample size, different roles, etc., etc. We just thought we’d throw that out there.


David Steckel

We had Steckel scoring 12 goals this year in our season previews of players. That’s not looking too good at the moment and is behind his pace last year…



But those two goals happened to be his being the beneficiary of the two shorthanded assists supplied by Alexander Semin. What Steckel did well last year and continues to do well this year is take draws. He is seventh in the league in faceoffs so far, up to 60.6 percent on the winning side from 57.9 percent at the end of last year. It’s worth noting that the 60.6 percent (94 of 155) is up from 54.8 percent in the first ten games of last year (51 of 93).


Quintin Laing

Laing skated only once last season, not among the first ten games. For his trouble, he ended the evening with a lacerated spleen. His experience this year has been more pleasant and productive. He hasn’t yet recorded a point, but he does lead all wingers in penalty killing time. What might be odd about his first ten games is that he ranks only fourth among forwards in blocked shots, a skill for for which Laing has been known in his career to date.

We'll get around to the defense and the goaltenders shortly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beware the Power of the Mohawk

It might not have worked for Mike Green in last year's playoffs. Maybe it will work for Nick Swisher of the Yankees as they try to close out the Angels...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Islanders 2 (OT)










Tonight’s menu special…


Bruce Boudreau was in a tinkering mood tonight, desperately trying to find a wing – any wing – who could make a difference skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley (seriously), Peter Bondra, Alan Haworth, Brian Bellows, Esa Tikkanen… ok, those last few weren’t in the lineup, but if they were, they’d have gotten a shift or two on the top line.

And in the end, it was a runt of the litter, so to speak, who finally made a difference. Keith Aucoin allowed the Caps to salvage at least a point in tonight’s game against the Islanders when he banked a shot off the Islanders’ Josh Bailey, who went to a knee trying to block a centering pass, and behind Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson, who frankly deserved better than he ultimately got. Why? Because Brooks Laich did what the Caps failed miserably at all night – he drove to the net. In doing so, he gave himself a chance to tip a pass from Mike Green through Roloson 60 seconds into the extra session, and the Caps escaped from Long Island with the second standings point in a 3-2 overtime win.

It would be hard to find a win in the last decade that the Caps deserved less. Let’s look at a few key numbers…


See a pattern? The Islanders outworked the Caps all over the ice. It was the sort of effort that back in 2005-2006 we might have said did honor to the Caps. The Islanders might take little solace from the sentiment, but they should be proud of that effort.

The Caps, on the other hand, should not be. Against a team that had not won a game in regulation since April 4th, dating back to last season (two wins in regulation in their last 20 games dating back to last season), the Caps didn’t even mail in their first 50 minutes. That would have required an effort to get to the mail box. Here are some other examples of the exasperating play…

- Three different Islanders won ten or more faceoffs. Nicklas Backstrom lost 18 draws by himself, almost as many as the Caps won in total (20). The Caps were eight up and 21 down in the offensive zone… hard to establish any offensive pressure when you don’t have the puck.

- This one is almost unbelievable… the Caps won one… ONE… faceoff in the defensive zone all night. They lost 15.

- Alexandre Giroux led the Caps in hits (four). Giroux isn’t up here to hit, he’s up here to score… he had one shot attempt (blocked) in nine minutes of play.

- Radek Martinek had as many blocked shots (seven) as the entire Caps lineup.

- Alex Ovechkin went more than 34 minutes before registering his first shot on goal.

- The Caps yielded a shorthanded goal for the second consecutive game -- the second by a defenseman -- which makes the score Opponents 2 – Caps 0 on the Caps’ power play the last two games.

Why was Boudreau searching for a wing – any wing – to do something on the top line? Eric Fehr… no shots on goal. Chris Clark… no shots on goal. Giroux… no shots on goal. Mike Knuble… one shot on goal. Aucoin scored on his only shot on goal.

Lost in all of this is that the Caps played a pretty good game from the blue line back. The Caps gave up a shorthanded goal (note to Caps..."backchecking" is not a penalty) and a goal off a behind-the-back deflection that might go in one time in a hundred when you’re in practice. We will not fault Shaone Morrisonn on that one… he had inside position on Jeff Tambellini. Maybe he could have put more of a body on him, but Morrisonn did not play that one badly. All of the defensemen played the games they have to play, more or less. Mike Green might have been guilty of the occasional hold-the-puck-a-few-seconds-too-long in rushing up ice. Milan Jurcina might have done better getting pucks through from the point. But all in all, the defense played a solid game.

Green had an especially interesting game. He was the recipient of a knee-on-knee hit by Nate Thompson a little more than 13 minutes into the second period. He had four shot attempts after that (including a goal) and assisted on the Laich winner. Sometimes Green can look like he’s skating in another world, but the incident seemed to refocus his attention on the ice.

Jose Theodore deserved a star in this one. He didn’t have much in the way of highlight saves, but on a night when the team in front of him – especially the forwards – was struggling, he kept the Caps close with solid, consistent, well-positioned netminding. Good Jose was on display tonight. If Bad Jose had showed up, the Isles might have pulled away in the third with a soft goal or two.

The Islanders were the better team tonight by miles. It is only that the Caps have so much more talent that they were able to muster a decent finish to this one. There will be better nights for the Islanders, although those nights might be a couple of seasons (and lottery draft picks) away. For the Caps, maybe they were looking ahead to Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia. Maybe there is a bug running around the Caps’ locker room that we’re not aware of that sapped the boys of some energy.

But whatever the reason, the Caps were lucky. Lucky that the Islanders couldn’t scare up a third goal when it was 2-0, lucky that the Islanders really don’t yet have the talent or the experience to put teams like the Caps away when they have such teams down, lucky that they finally found a wing who could make a difference and that he wasn’t in Hershey playing against Binghamton tonight (the Bears could have used him, too – they were roughed up by the Senators, 5-2).

It’s a win, and a win is a win is a win. But this one was too ugly, even for Kanoobie.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, October 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

That’s right, we’re on the air for this, the back half of the mini-road trip the Caps are on this week. And tonight, the Caps visit Long Island to take on the New York Islanders, a team that has been out to sea for quite a while…

“So let me get one thing straight here… we have a hockey team here, and now they suck?”

And you are…

“Chuck… Chuck Noland. I’ve been on an island of my own for a while…”

Really… I thought they rescued you.

“Are you serious? I was a paunchy middle aged guy when I left, and I was a buff long haired god when they ‘found me.’ I was living on coconut milk and crabs...you do the math.”



Makes sense… but yeah, the Islanders suck these days. They haven’t won more than 40 games but once in any season since they won 50 in 1983-1984. But they’ve lost more than 40 games in regulation time in seven of the last 13 years. I take it you haven’t been to a game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Colisseum lately.

“Actually, I have, but I had to leave in the first period.”

Really?

“Yeah… bad memories.”

I don’t follow…

“I spent so much time alone on an uncharted island, I couldn’t bear being alone in an ice rink.”

I can understand that. But the Islanders have some good young players and a sprinkling of vets. They might bear watching. There are John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, who could be solid 15-year pros…

“15 years… hah!”

And there are a couple of solid pros in net… Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson…

“No DiPietro?”

Nope… he’s hurt.

“RICKY-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y!!!”

It doesn’t sound quite the same was shouting for “Wilson,” but goaltender Ricky DiPietro is still out of the lineup for the Isles. He did, however, get on the ice for a few minutes last week. Seeing as how he played in only five games last year, those 15 minutes last Monday have to be something of a victory.

And victories have been hard to come by for the Islanders lately. They’ve gone from 40 wins three years ago to 35 to 26 last year. With their 1-4-3 record so far, they are on a pace for ten wins this season. Only the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs have fewer points, and only the Maple Leafs have fewer wins (none). The Islanders can be said to be where the Caps were in 2005-2006 – ghastly with the promise to be good. But for now, that ghastly part certainly fits…


Being bottom-five in almost every measure makes for the sort of opponent that the Caps should handle easily. But, dear reader, we know better, don’t we? Actually, the Islanders have been a tough team to earn points against for the Caps. Since the lockout, the Islanders are 9-4-3 against the Caps, and they are 5-1-2 in the tomb-like confines of NVMC. This will not be a walk-over.

If we asked the question, “who is the Islanders’ leading scorer?,” and you answered, “John Tavares,” well, you’d be wrong. “Kyle Okposo” would be the wrong answer, too. How far would you go down the Islanders’ roster before you settled on “Matt Moulson.” No, not “Pat Paulsen,” who ran for President half a dozen times – Matt Moulsen.

Moulsen – a 9th round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2003 – leads the Islanders with five goals and eight points. He has already tied a career high in goals (set with the Kings in 2007-2008), and with his next point will tie a career high in that category. He had a four-game goal scoring streak stopped against the Canadiens in his last game, a 5-1 loss to Montreal on Thursday.

Moulsen’s exploits aside, this team’s future is really in the hands of a trio of youngsters—John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey. Top-ten picks all, none is older than 21. The flip side of that is that none have played more than an NHL season’s worth of games, yet, either (Okposo has 82 on his resume). Okposo has 50 points in his first 82 games of experience, a suggestion that better things are on the way. Tavares has seven points (3-4-7) in his first eight NHL games, fresh off of his selection as the first overall pick last June. Bailey has gotten off to a bit of a slow start (1-1-2), but he’s one of the players the Islanders are counting on to make the team strong down the middle for years to come.

At the other end of the prospect spectrum is a player the Islanders are taking a chance on, despite a very disappointing start to his professional career. Rob Schremp is better known for trick shots than for making shots when they count. Selected 25th overall by Edmonton in the 2004 draft, he played in only seven games across three seasons for the Oilers. The Islanders plucked him off waivers just before the start of the season. After registering only one assist in his first five games, while averaging more than 14 minutes a game, he was held to just over six minutes of ice time in Thursday’s loss to Montreal.

The Islanders are a young team – 13 of the 21 skaters who have dressed so far this season are 25 or younger. But they do have greybeards, too. Doug Weight has played almost 1,200 games with six different teams. Once a reliable 20-goal, 70-point player (he topped those totals in each full season he played from 1993-1994 through 2000-2001), he is in the winter of his career, more a mentor for the young forwards than a player to be counted on to bear heavy minutes (although he is fourth in ice time among forwards) or a large scoring workload. He has played in only five games this year, registering a pair of assists. He missed Thursday’s game against Montreal due to illness. He is day-to-day.

The other greybeard of note is Brendan Witt, who does not seem to be aging gracefully. Witt, never a big producer offensively on the blue line (he’s never had more than three goals or 14 points in a season), is the embodiment of a “defensive defenseman.” Well, a defensive defenseman who is minus-43 in his last 73 games can be said to be “struggling.” He does not have a “plus”” game this year, and had only 11 such games in the 65 games he played last year. Last year, he was minus-5 in four games against the Caps.

In goal, it’s a case of “six o’ one, half a dozen of the other.” Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron have split the available time reasonably equally with similar results. Roloson is 1-1-2, 3.48, .893; while Biron is 0-3-1, 3.57, .889. Coach Scott Gordon has alternated the two faithfully so far, and if he holds to that pattern, Roloson will get the start against the Caps tonight. That’s probably a good thing for the Islanders. Roloson has not lost a game in regulation to Washington since the 2001-2002 season. He is 5-1-1 against the Caps starting with that season, 1.71, .926 and one shutout. Here is the odd thing about that record, though. In those seven games Roloson has faced fewer than 20 shots four times, going 3-1-0 in the process. We’d bet a shiny nickel that he’ll see more than 20 shots tonight… perhaps that many in the first period.

The Islanders have not won a game in regulation thus far this season. Their lone win was in a Gimmick against Carolina last Wednesday. To that, add the fact that Alex Ovechkin is 12-5-17 in 11 career games against the Islanders (6-2-8 in four games last year), and this could spell a long night for the home team. But this is a team that at some point is going to turn a corner. They do have young talent, and it is a matter of time and experience for that talent to start turning potential into wins. If the Caps merely look at the Islanders’ record to date and think that they need only show up to get a win, it will be an unpleasant evening.

We’re betting they do more than show up…

Caps 6 – Islanders 3

Friday, October 23, 2009

Support

Semyon Varlamov has yet to lose a regular season game in regulation thus far in his young career (8-0-1). But he sure has had some adventures along the way. In five of his last seven regular season appearances (including a no-decision) he has allowed at least four goals.

How does he do that, you ask?

Well, it seems he might be one of those guys who resemble that occasional major league pitcher who wins a ton of games, but can't get anyone out doing it. For example, in 2006, Randy Johnson won 17 games for the New York Yankees, tying for fourth in all the major leagues in wins that season. But he had a ghastly ERA of 5.00 in doing it. He had a ton of run-support. Some guys get it.

Some goalies might get goal support, too. In his nine decisions as an NHL goaltender, Varlamov has been the beneficiary of 36 goals scored by the Caps (4.00/game). That doesn't include the four goals the Caps scored in a game this season in which Varlamov was pulled after giving up four goals of his own (a 6-5 overtime loss to the Flyers in which he did not figure in the decision).

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.

Still, we'd rather he be good.

Down the Middle


A quote from an article in yesterday's Washington Post feature on Nicklas Backstrom got us to thinking. Here is the quote...

"Through the first eight games of his third season, Backstrom has two goals and nine assists -- four on Ovechkin goals -- and is on pace to notch a career-high 112 points to become only the second Capitals center to reach the 100-point plateau. (Dennis Maruk notched 136 in 1981-82.)"


First it reminded us that the Caps haven't ever really had much in the way of high-end scoring out of the center position in their history. Second, it reminded us of that old saying about success in team sports that you have to be "strong down the middle."

Well, do you?

In terms of scoring out of the center position in hockey, perhaps not as much as you'd think. Looking back at 41 seasons since the original expansion, in 16 of those seasons at least one of the centers on the Stanley Cup champion had at least 100 points. In six other seasons, the Cup winner had a 90-point or better center. Here is the breakdown...

(source: hockey-reference.com)

For some reason, we thought that the champions would be represented by more 100-point centers. Just something to think about on a cloudy Friday.

NOR-RIS...NOR-RIS...NOR-RIS...


In only five games, no less.

Take THAT, Schultz haters.

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Thrashers 4


Back in those dark days of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, there were nights when the Capitals lost, and fans, coaches, and players alike yet could say that it felt like a win. Such was the relationship between expectations (not much) and results (occasionally playing elite teams close).

Well, that was then. Now, the relationship of expectations to results has changed. Fans, players, and coaches expect big things from this team, and they expect that they will win on most nights and in dominating fashion against many of those opponents.

That is why last night’s 5-4 win over the Atlanta Thrashers has an odd taste to it. Not bitter, perhaps, for a win is still a win. But… off. Like milk that is about to spoil.

Things were still fresh when the Caps ran out to a 5-2 lead not 32 minutes into the 60 minute game after Chris Clark netted his first goal in a regular season game since New Year’s Day last season, the last of three goals scored in an 88-second span in the third period.

Then, the milk started to turn.

The Caps had one more shot in the last eight minutes of the second period, which served as something of a momentum-turning period in the game. While Atlanta was unable to carve into the Caps’ lead, they did stop the bleeding going into the second intermission.

The Caps still had an opportunity to regain that momentum when Marty Reasoner took an interference penalty early in the third period. But instead of driving the stake into the Thrashers – the Caps would finish the night 0-for-7 on the power play – Zach Bogosian would give the Thrashers some life by circling into the Capitals’ zone shorthanded and throwing the puck past Mike Knuble’s outstretched stick and Semyon Varlamov’s blocker on the far side (one Varlamov surely would want back) to get the Thrashers within two goals.

And it wasn’t as if the Caps didn’t have more chances to end the competitive portion of the evening after that. Maxim Afinogenov and Pavel Kubina took penalties 52 seconds apart later in the third period to give the Caps 1:08 of a two man advantage. The Caps managed four shots on the 5-on-3, but the power play ended when Mike Knuble took a slashing penalty in the offensive zone (ugh…). That was followed by a Jeff Schultz penalty almost two minutes after that. While Atlanta did not score on the brief 5-on-3, they did manage to close within one three seconds after the Knuble penalty expired to make it a one-goal game with 39 seconds left.

It then got equal parts ugly and interesting moments later when Alex Ovechkin was guilty of a borderline slew-footing of Rich Peverley. Atlanta managed three shots on goal in the last 30 seconds, but none of them got past Varlamov. The Caps escaped with a win… but it didn’t feel like one.

Other stuff…

- Alex Ovechkin had no points. That’s news. It was only the second time this season he was held without a point. However, it wasn’t that unusual, given the setting. He was held without a point in two of the three games in Atlanta last year and has had only one goal in his last seven appearances there (including none last night).

- Four players had their first goals of the season last night – Eric Fehr, Alexandre Giroux, Chris Clark, and Jeff Schultz. Add to that Matt Bradley scoring his third goal of the year, and it was an odd night for the top two lines.

- How odd?... No points. (edit: OK, one point... Fehr's goal, since he skated on Morrison's line)

- But Semyon Varlamov recorded his first NHL point on Schultz’ goal.

- Schultz was 1-2-3, plus-3. It was his biggest point night of his career, although the one he’ll be talking about when he’s bouncing his grandson off his knee years from now is the one where blasted a 175-foot laser past Thrasher goalie Ondrej Pavelec. It was a laser, I tell ya (except for the half dozen bounces it took on the way in).

- 14 of 18 skaters finished on the plus side of the ledger, so we might be thankful for some sort of balance.

- Will Ovechkin be suspended? Almost certainly not. But he might find his wallet a bit lighter.

- Five hits? Five? None by Ovechkin? Pretty tame night, all things considered (like, this being a division “rival” and all)

- Two giveaways is the sort of number you’d like to see more of, but was that responsibility with the puck or official scoring quirks?

- Mike Green has eight giveaways this year – none last night. That might be tied for 17th among all NHL defensemen, but that’s not a bad number for a guy who has the puck on his stick as much as Green, especially since he’s tied for seventh in takeaways by defensemen (and no, he didn’t have any of those last night, either).

- Eight power plays allowed is way too much, especially against a team that can score like Atlanta. The Caps took four penalties in the last 10:23 of the game. If you want an example of losing focus and mailing it in for the last part of the game (the Caps were up 5-3 when the parade to the box started), well, there you go.

- Varlamov did not have a good game. On the first Thrasher goal – by Maxim Afinogenov (see…he was a torment for the Caps) – Varlamov did not look ready for the quick move off the faceoff. Bogosian’s goal should never have made it through on the long side. We think he has to get a pass for the Kovalchuk goal, when Kovalchuk stormed down the slot with no Cap in sight to slam home a rebound, and on the last goal, he had a great view of Nik Antropov’s backside as the puck was passing through.

Two points is two points, and the Caps have won three in a row. But the performances against Nashville and Atlanta in the last two were hardly sharp. The Islanders are next, and if the Caps want to tempt fate with another 40 minute performance, they do so at the peril of sustaining an embarrassing loss. Maybe it’s a bit of a let down after facing so many top teams right out of the gate. But whatever the reason, the Caps do not yet have the look of a team firing on all cylinders for 60 minutes.