Monday, February 29, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62: Penguins at Capitals, March 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The 2016 trading deadline is in the rear-view mirror, but the season goes on, and Tuesday night it picks up again for the Washington Capitals as they return home from a loss in Chicago to the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon to host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night. 

Washington comes into this contest having lost two of their last three games, the first time this season that they lost two of three games in regulation time.  They will come into this game trying to avoid consecutive losses in regulation for the first time this season.

As for the Penguins, they come into this game having alternated wins and losses over their last nine games (5-3-1).  Over that span they outscored their opponents by a 25-23 margin, three of their five wins coming by margins of three or more goals. 

Caps fans might ask, “who is Scott Wilson?”  One answer might be “tied for the Penguins' team lead in goals over the last nine games.”  In fact, Wilson has goals in four of his last five games to achieve that lead, his only four goals this season.  In fact, they are his only four goals in 18 NHL games to date in his brief career.  Wilson was a seventh-round draft pick of the Penguins in 2011, and he while he had decent numbers at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (30 goals in 109 games), they were not of the sort that suggested big NHL numbers down the road.  They he reached the AHL and found his goal-scoring touch.  In 89 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins he had 41 goals.  His performance was rewarded to promotion to the big club – several of them.  His most recent recall (February 1st) was his sixth over the past two seasons.  He has never faced the Capitals.

Defenseman Kris Letang is the Penguin’s top point-producer over the last nine games (1-7-8) and is the league’s sixth highest scoring defenseman (10-36-46) despite playing in more than ten fewer games (50) than any of the five defenseman ahead of him (or any of the nine behind him, for that matter).  Letang is already closing in on scoring totals he reached last season.  He is within a goal (10) of last year’s total (11) and has 36 assists (43 last season).  He is on a pace to finish with his first career 50-assist season.  Letang is also a minutes eater, tied for fourth in the league in total games logging more than 25 minutes (40 so far).  Letang is 4-6-10, minus-14, in 24 career games against Washington.

Marc-Andre Fleury is the all-time franchise leader in many categories for the Penguins.  He has appeared in 640 games (to 460 for Tom Barrasso), has 347 wins (Barrasso: 226), 203 regulation losses (Barrasso: 153), is tops in save percentage at .912 (Jean-Sebastien Aubin: .901; minimum: 100 appearances), leads in goals against average at 2.57 (Johan Hedberg: 2.88), and has 42 shutouts (Barrasso: 22).  This has been a rather typical season for Fleury, whose 2.39 goals against average is within the tight range he has posted over the previous five seasons (2.32 – 2.39), while his .920 save percentage is equal to last year’s mark, the best he has had since a .921 save percentage in 2007-2008.  Fluery has slipped a bit lately.  After pitching a 25-save shutout in a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th, Fleury is 6-3-1, 2.80, .902 in his last ten appearances.  He is 18-11-2, 2.50, .929, with three shutouts in 32 career appearances against the Caps.

Here is how the teams compare overall:


1.  What the Penguins do not have in their last nine games is a power play goal.  They are 0-for-17, a run that is as amazing for averaging fewer than two opportunities a game as it is for being shut out.  Five times in those nine games they were held to a single power play chance.

2.  Penguin penalty killers have not been overly burdened, either.  Pittsburgh has faced just 20 shorthanded situations over their last nine games, killing 17 of them (85.0 percent).

3.  The Penguins do not score first often, but they are successful when they do.  They have taken the first lead of a game 25 times in 60 games this season and have a 21-3-1 record.  Their .840 winning percentage in those games is third-best in the league.

4.  Only five teams have fewer power play goals on the road than the Penguins (13). 

5.  Pittsburgh has the eighth-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall on the road this season (50.9 percent).  They have a knack for applying offensive pressure in those situations, holding the fourth-best Corsi-for/60 minutes (55.5; numbers from war-on-ice.com)

1.  The Caps have gone 15 games without a multi-point win that did not involve an empty net goal (6-3 against Columbus on January 19th).

2.  Washington is the only teams in the league with three 55-point scorers.  For the Caps it is Evgeny Kuznetsov (64), Alex Ovechkin (58), and Nicklas Backstrom (57).

3.  The Capitals’ 107.7 special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages) is third best in the league and best in the Eastern Conference.  Anaheim (108.9) and St. Louis (107.8) rank ahead of the Caps league-wide.

4.  The Caps are still undefeated when taking a lead into the first intermission of games (18-0-0).  The last team to go a full season without losing a game in regulation when leading after the first period was the 2012-2013 New York Rangers (13-0-1).  The last team with a perfect record when leading after one period was the 1994-1995 St. Louis Blues, who went 15-0-0 in a lockout-shortened season.

5.  The Caps are on a 14-game streak of scoring as many or more 5-on-5 goals than their opponents at home.  The last time the Caps allowed more 5-on-5 goals than they scored on Verizon Center ice was December 18th, when they allowed three goals and scored one in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Mike Sullivan

Okay, so Sullivan is the head coach, but he has now been behind the Penguins’ bench for 32 games, and comparing his record to date to that of his predecessor, Mike Johnston, it is not all that different in terms of wins and losses.  Sullivan took over after Johnston’s Penguins started the season with a 15-10-3 record.  Sullivan’s Penguins are 16-11-5 since then.  Sullivan has opened things up considerably, but it has merely shifted performance toward more total goals, not a bigger goal differential for the Pens.  His club is averaging 2.84 goals per game compared to 2.36 under Johnston, but they are also allowing 2.75 goals per game compared to 2.32 under Johnston.  The power play is better (21.1 percent to 15.6 percent), but the penalty killing is a bit worse (82.8 percent to 84.2 percent).  When Sullivan took over, the Penguins were fifth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point out of a wild-card playoff spot.  As the Penguins head into Monday night’s game against Arizona, they are in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of Philadelphia and New Jersey for the second wild card spot.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

There are 327 players in the league who have recorded 75 or more shots on goal.  Of that group, Nicklas Backstrom ranks seventh in shooting percentage (17.3 percent).  The thing is, though, Backstrom is averaging his fewest shots per game (1.69) in his nine-year career.  He has only seven shots on goal in his last eight games, and he does not have a goal since he recorded one in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd.  That is 13 straight games without a goal.  He remains one of the most consistent point producers in the game, only twice in nine seasons averaging less than 0.95 points per game (he is at 0.98 this season).  It is just that in the midst of a five game stretch in which he does not have more than one shot attempt at 5-on-5 (and only 21 in his last 14 games; numbers from war-on-ice.com), he does not seem to be looking at the net much at the moment.

In the end…

For all the attention usually paid to the Penguins, they are have yet to put much space between themselves and their playoff pursuers since the coaching change in December or the recent resurgence of Sidney Crosby (19-18-37, plus-10, in his last 29 games).  They are a season-high ten games over .500, but they do not have the look of a sure playoff team.  At the other end of the rink, the Caps are in, what for them this season, a slump.  Having lost two of their last three games and not winning by more than one-goal (except for games with an empty net goal) in almost six weeks, the Caps do not look like the team that was marauding across the NHL landscape through mid-January.  It will be interesting to see which team can take advantage of the recent misfortunes of the other.

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2

The Washington Capitals Part Ways with Brooks Laich


The "Rock the Red" generation of Washington Capitals fans have never known a team without Brooks Laich being a part of it.

Until late Sunday evening.

Brooks Laich was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with prospect defenseman Connor Carrick and a second round draft pick, for forward Daniel Winnick and a fifth round draft pick.

Laich finished the Washington portion of his NHL career having appeared in 742 regular season games, eighth most in franchise history, and another 65 postseason contests, 13th in club history.  He is 19th on the Capitals’ all-time goal scoring list (133) and 22nd on the Caps’ all-time points list.

Laich came to Washington under what might have been difficult circumstances, arriving as a prospect in February 2004 along with a second round draft pick in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for Peter Bondra, the leading goal scorer in Capitals history and, along with Sergei Gonchar (who would be traded a few weeks later) and Brendan Witt, the last links to the Capitals’ only Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1998.

Laich moved up the development chain smartly, spending 90 games with the Portland Pirates in the AHL over two seasons before logging his first full season in the NHL in 2005-2006.  After that 2005-2006 season, with the Caps not qualifying for the postseason, Laich was returned to the Hershey Bears where he was a member of the 2006 Calder Cup champions.  It would be his farewell to the AHL. 

Laich became a player who could play any forward position and in just about any circumstance.  Over a five-year period, from 2007-2008 through the 2011-2012 seasons, Laich totaled 101 goals, 38 of them on the power play, and 238 points, twice topping 50 points.  Over those five seasons he added nine playoff goals and 30 points in 51 playoff games.

Then, the 2012-2013 lockout took place, and perhaps no one would be more affected in his on-ice level of performance than Laich.  With the league on hiatus as they sorted out their labor differences, Laich signed with the Kloten Flyers in Switzerland.  He played in 19 games with the Flyers before returning to North America after sustaining an injury

It was an injury that would permanently change Laich’s career trajectory.  After having missed only four regular season games over the previous five years, he appeared in only nine of 48 games in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  It was a frustrating period for Laich, who would appear in just 51 games the following season.  Despite repeated declarations that he was feeling well enough to play, it was clear that he was not the player he was before the lockout, and he eventually underwent surgery in March 2014 to repair his nagging groin injury

He might have been surgically repaired, but his performance on the ice remained damaged.  He appeared in 66 games last season and managed just seven goals and 20 points, becoming largely a fourth-line player.  This season he had one goal and seven points in 60 games and was averaging barely ten minutes of ice time a night at the time of the trade.  Over parts of four seasons after he suffered his injury in Europe, Laich was just 17-29-46 in 186 games.

What he had become over the years, though, was a player who was very accommodating to the media, often quoted over the course of a season.   And, he authored one of the most memorable stories of an athlete doing good on the spur of the moment in the immediate aftermath of a playoff series loss.  A couple of Caps fans heading home after the series-clinching loss had a flat tire on the Roosevelt Bridge linking Washington and Arlington, VA.  They were waiting on a repair truck when...well, we’ll just let the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg pick it up from there…

“Finally, an SUV slowed down ahead of them and pulled over. And then Brooks Laich got out and asked if he could help.

Since the AAA folks were already on the way, Mary Ann [Wangemann] asked Brooks -- whom she immediately recognized -- if he'd just wait with them by the side of the road. Instead, he asked whether they had a spare. Mary Ann said they did. So he took off his jacket -- he was still wearing his postgame suit -- got out the tire, and started jacking up the car.

‘He was like an angel, I'm telling you,’ Mary Ann told me. ‘Can't say enough nice things about him.’

The thing took a while, as late-night tire changes on the side of bridges often do. So they started talking hockey. Laich, who scored the team's only goal in Game 7, apologized to them for the Caps losing. They told him how great the season had been and how much they liked this team. Laich said he hoped they got a chance to stay together.

The jack fell down, and he had to start again. Lorraine stood behind him, mouthing to her mom over and over, ‘It's Brooks Laich! It's Brooks Laich!’ Laich was friendly but somber as he worked. Mary Ann -- who had never before cared about a sports team -- talked about why she liked this group so much, and how they seemed so nice off the ice.

‘We're just people, too,’ Laich said.”

And that might sum it up in a nutshell.  An athlete is not some hermetically sealed entity that gets unpacked a couple of hours before game time and resealed a couple of hours after the final horn to wait on the next contest.  They are part of the community, and their rise – and fall – in their professional life does not diminish the fact that they are part of the fabric of the community.  I never had the pleasure of meeting Brooks Laich, but he – like so many of his teammates – seems like a thoroughly decent fellow who happened to live his professional life here under a microscope, with all the cheers and jeers that such a life entails.

It can be hard as a fan to keep on-ice performance, the business aspects of the sport, and the personality of the players distinct.  So why do it?  It is entirely possible to entertain the concurrent notions that Brooks Laich is one of the good guys who had a tough break when he was in his prime as a member of the Caps.  He spent the last few seasons as a shell of the player he was in his best years here, but it didn’t make him any less worth rooting for.  If anything, at least to us, he became a more sympathetic figure as a hockey player precisely because he seemed like a decent fellow who was earnestly trying to recover and return to the level of performance he enjoyed a few years ago.

But sports being what it is, a sympathetic figure gets only so much consideration.  The club has a responsibility to its fans to do its best to compete for a championship, especially when this edition of the Capitals seems so close to being just such a team.  It does not make a decision involving a “loyal soldier” any easier, and General Manager Brian MacLellan alluded to the conflict a few days ago. 

What it means in the end is that there are things one must do because they are necessary, but that does not mean that one enjoys doing them.  Such was the case, no doubt, with respect to the club’s decision to move Laich.  And as a fan, one can sympathize with the cruel irony of his situation – coming to town in exchange for a legend as the team was seeking to rebuild, traded away for a player in a similar mold when the team is on the cusp, perhaps, of the championship that rebuild was implemented to achieve.

It was a move that the team and fans certainly seemed to feel was necessary, but neither the team nor perhaps most fans are likely to take any enjoyment out of it.  Here’s hoping Brooks does well in Toronto…just not against the Caps.

Photo: UPI



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Afternoon: Blackhawks 3 - Capitals 2

In what might have been a preview of a playoff series in June, the Washington Capitals dropped a 3-2 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at United Center in Chicago.

The Capitals did do something in the first period they did not do in their previous three games – score a first period goal.  Marcus Johansson got the Caps going when he finished a play started by Nicklas Backstrom.  With the Caps on a power play, Justin Williams jumped on to the ice for T.J. Oshie and filled in down the middle in the offensive zone.  Backstrom spied him for a one timer that goalie Corey Crawford got a glove on, but the puck was not secured.  It popped into the air to Crawford’s left where Johansson, camped out at the post, swatted the puck out of mid-air and past Crawford to put the Caps up, 1-0, 6:13 into the game.

Chicago tied the game just 31 seconds later.  Williams tried to chip the puck out of the Caps’ end, but it made it only as far as the blue line where Trevor van Riemsdyk took control of it.  He slid a pass through to Patrick Kane behind the Caps defense, and Kane deked goalie Braden Holtby to the ice before sliding the puck behind him to make it a 1-1 game at the 6:44 mark.

The Blackhawks scored the only goal of the second period, courtesy of Jonathan Toews on a Chicago power play.  Chicago did a fine job of breaking down the Capitals’ defense in deep, working the puck deftly between the faceoff circles until it ended up on Toews’s stick low in the left wing faceoff circle.  He snapped a shot into the back of the net before Holtby could get across, and the Blackhawks led, 2-1, with just 1:45 left in the period.

Chicago added to their lead mid-way through the third period on a controversial play.  With the puck sliding deep into the Caps’ end, Nate Schmidt had a step on Richard Panik.  When the puck reached the end wall, an icing call seemed in orders, but the linesman kept his arm down, and play continued.  The Caps let up just enough, expecting the icing call, to let Dennis Rasmussen get to the front of the net.  Panik found him with a pass, and it was only for Rasmussen to snap the puck into the net past Holtby’s glove to make it 3-1, 12:47 into the period.

Washington got one back late in the period on a power play on a broken play.  Chicago won a faceoff to Crawford’s left, but a clearing attempt up the wall by Duncan Keith was blocked by Backstrom.  The puck caromed toward the net where Evgeny Kuznetsov was battling Brent Seabrook.  It was Seabrook getting his stick on the puck, redirecting it to the end wall, but it had enough force to rebound hard off the end wall.  It was a bit of good fortune for Kuznetsov who gained control of the puck and from below the goal line backhanded the puck off Crawford and in to make it 3-2 at the 16:39 mark.

The Caps put pressure on the Blackhawks immediately after the Kuznetsov goal, but Chicago clamped down an prevented the Caps from recording so much as a shot attempt in the last two minutes, holding on for the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps scored the first goal, breaking a string of seven straight games in which they allowed the first goal.  It was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when scoring the game’s first goal (28-2-0).  They still have the league’s best winning percentage in such games (.933).

-- It was just the eighth loss in regulation this season for the Caps when trailing after two periods, still the fewest such losses in the league (6-8-2).

-- Five power play opportunities was the most the Caps had in a loss since they had eight chances in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd (they did not score a goal).

-- This was the first game in which the Caps scored more than one power play goal since before the All-Star Game break when they went 2-for-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win.  They had gone 14 straight games without scoring more than one power play goal in a game.

-- This was the first game in which the Caps did not score a goal at 5-on-5 since December 10th in a 4-1 loss to Florida.  It broke a 33-game streak of scoring at least one goal at 5-on-5.

-- Mike Richards was the only Capital to win more than half of his faceoffs (6-for-10).  The rest of the club went 14-for-41 (34.1 percent).

-- Richards was the only Capital not to be credited with at least one hit.  The Caps had a 47-27 edge in that statistic.

-- This was the sixth time in his last nine appearances that Braden Holtby allowed three or more goals.  In those nine appearances he is 6-2-0 (on no-decision), 3.09, .893.

-- Marcus Johansson led the team in shot attempts (seven).  His four shots on goal was the most he had in a game since he had four in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Columbus on January 2nd.

-- The Caps fought the Blackhawks to a draw in 5-on-5 possession numbers overall, 39-39 in shot attempts.  It should not be considered an achievement.  The Caps held a 24-11 edge in the first period, a 17-6 edge in shots overall, and a 14-6 edge in scoring chances, yet were tied, 1-1, after 20 minutes (numbers from war-on-ice.com).  It was a case of letting the home team off the hook.

In the end…

There were things in this game a Caps fan could dwell on – the inability to score at 5-on-5, the Chicago  top line having a more productive game than the Caps’ top line, the curious slump in which Braden Holtby finds himself.  But in a game as close as this, it came down to a play in which the Caps, as a team, assumed something that was not there – an icing call.  And, they got burned for it.  That is how close the margins are in the postseason.  Sure, it looked as if it was the wrong call, but if this was a legitimate preview of a potential Stanley Cup matchup, it is a lesson the Caps had better remember. 

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

Week 20 was equal parts normal and odd for the Washington Capitals.  The normal part was a winning week.  The odd part was that they couldn’t get out of their own way at the starts of games.  It made for a week that was successful, but a little more suspenseful than Caps Nation might have liked.


Record: 2-1-0

When the Caps finished Week 20 with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Caps wrapped up their 18th winning week in 20 tries.  Put another way, if you divide the Caps’ completed schedule to date into ten-game segments, they finished with their fourth eight-win segment in six.  In their other two segments they won six games (second segment) and seven games (fifth segment).  This is a remarkably consistent team through 60 games.

Their consistent high level of play, at least in terms of win-loss outcomes, left them with 94 points through Week 20.  That is just two short of the league record for standings points after 60 games, set by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens and tied by the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers.  With 45 wins, the Caps have two more wins than the Canadiens had in their big season after 60 games and four more than the Flyers had three seasons later.  They hold a 16-point lead over their closes pursuer in the Eastern Conference (Florida Panthers: 78 points).  When they won the Presidents Trophy in 2009-2010, their final margin was 18 points over the New Jersey Devils (121 to 103).


Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.28 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps had a good and balanced week in the offensive end of the ice.  They scored three goals in each of the three games they played, bringing their total of games with three or more goals scored to 41, second most in the league.  No team has won more games than the Caps when scoring three or more goals (37).

The balance came with seven players sharing in the nine goals scored and 14 players posting points.  Week 20 had a Russian look to it with Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov leading the team in goals with two apiece.  For Ovechkin, the two goals left him with 40 at week’s end.  It was the eighth time Ovechkin hit the 40-goal mark in his 11-year career.  He became the tenth player in league history to score 40 or more goals in eight or more of his first 11 seasons.  With a five-goal lead on his closest pursuer in goals (Patrick Kane), he is in a position to win his fourth straight Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and his sixth overall. 

Orlov’s two goals allowed him to reach a more modest achievement.  Two goals gave him seven for the season, a total that more than doubles his previous career high (three in the 2011-2012 and the 2013-2014 seasons).  His goal against the Minnesota Wild in the 3-2 win to end the week was his third game-winner of the season, also a career best.

Ovechkin led the team in total points for the week (2-3-5), and Evgeny Kuznetsov tied for second (1-2-3) with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Orpik.  Two of those points, a goal and an assist, came in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes to start the week.  It was his 18th multi-point game of the season, tied for fourth most at the end of Week 20.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.30 /game; rank: 3rd)

The odd part of the week on defense was the Caps inability to win when scoring three or more goals.  The four goals allowed to Montreal in their 4-3 loss in the middle game of the week was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when they scored three or more (the other was against the Dallas Stars, also a 4-3 decision, on February 13th).

Part of the problem in that game against Montreal was the shot and shot attempt volume.  The 34 shots on goal allowed was the high for the week and one of two games in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots (they allowed 32 to Minnesota).  The shot attempt volumes rose through the week as well.  After holding the Arizona Coyotes to 40 shot attempts at five-on-five to open the week, the Caps allowed the Canadiens 49 shot attempts and then 57 shot attempts to Minnesota to end the week.  There was also the related matter of shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five.  The 64.4/60 allowed to Minnesota and the 64.2 allowed to Montreal were the 10th and 11th highest frequency of shot attempts at five-on-five per 60 minutes in 60 games this season and the fourth and fifth highest frequency at home (numbers from war-on-ice.com).  In that respect it was not the best of weeks.

Four Caps were on ice for half or more of opponents’ goals for the week.  Justin Williams (five), Dmitry Orlov (four), Brooks Orpik (four) and Jason Chimera (four) were the victims.

Goaltending: 2.69 /.914 (season: 2.19 / .924 / 2 shutouts)

Braden Holtby was like “the little girl with the curl” in Week 20.  When he was good, he was very good – 25 saves on 27 shots against Arizona to start the week and 30 saves on 32 shots against Minnesota to end the week.  When he was bad, he wasn’t “horrid” as in the verse of Longfellow, but he was relieved, stopping just 15 of 18 shots in 21:54 of the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Canadiens.  For Holtby it is part of a longer series of games in which he has not been especially Vezina-like.  In the 2016 portion of the season he is 15-2-2 in 20 appearances, a fine win-loss record, but his goals against average is 2.78, and his save percentage is .907.  In that sense, his week was not a lot different than his 2016 to date, a 2.97 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.

Holtby was relieved in the middle game of the week by Philipp Grubauer, who performed well (15 saves on 16 shots) but had the misfortune of allowing the last goal in a 4-3 loss, a loss that was attached to his record.  Grubauer has been very effective in his role as a middle and late innings reliever this season.  In five appearances in which he logged fewer than 40 minutes (a total of 141 minutes), he has a goals against average of 0.85 and a save percentage of .965.  He has a 1-1-0 record in those games with three no-decisions.

The Caps’ goaltending by period of the week left them in a position of having to come from behind and/or trying to mount a late comeback.  The first period save percentage was a respectable .914, but it was three goals on 35 shots, too.  The second period was grim, a .852 save percentage ((four goals on 27 shots).  The third period save percentage of .968 (30-for-31) allowed the Caps to break a tie with Arizona after two periods and to come from behind to beat the Wild in the third period.  It stopped the bleeding long enough for the Caps to make things interesting against Montreal after falling behind, 4-1, through two periods.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 1st)

The Caps have not quite shaken off the slump that bedeviled their power play coming out of the All-Star Game break, but they are getting there.  If there was a problem, it was opportunities.  They did have four against Arizona in the first game of the week, but they dropped to three against the Canadiens and had just one (that they converted) against Minnesota in the last game of the week.

The Caps piled up the shots on goal in limited power play opportunities and ice time.  With 17 shots in 13:54 of ice time (1.22 shots per minute), the Caps did not lack for getting shots on goal.  They also got them from the players – or player – they rely on to get them.  Alex Ovechkin scored one power play goal on eight shots in 13:38 of ice time.  Six of those shots on goal came against Arizona in the first game of the week, though.  Justin Williams and John Carlson were the only other Caps to record more than one shot on goal on the man advantage (two apiece), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the other goal on the only power play shot he recorded for the week, that coming against the Coyotes.


Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 4th)

It was not a bad week, but neither was it a very good one.  The problem here, as with the power plays, was opportunities.  The Caps faced 12 shorthanded situations for the week, half of them against the Coyotes.  It was the sixth time this season that the Caps faced as many as six shorthanded situations.  It was the first time in those four instances that the Caps killed off all six opponent power plays.  It was the first time that the Caps were perfect in killing off six or more power plays since they went 7-for-7 in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 30, 2014.

There was also the matter of penalties taken early in games.  Of the 14 penalties for which the Caps were charged, eight of them came in the first periods of games, three against Arizona and Minnesota, and two against Montreal.

The penalty kill was an example of the difference between being efficient and being effective.  Washington was a very efficient penalty killing group in Week 20, allowing opponents just eight shots on goal in 20:34 of shorthanded ice time (0.39 shots per minute).  They were especially efficient against Arizona, allowing just three shots on goal in 10:30 of shorthanded ice time (0.29 shots per minute).  However, the Caps allowed two goals on just five shots in 10:04 of ice time in the last two games of the week.  That is an example of being ineffective.


Faceoffs: 95-for-197 / 48.2 percent (season: 49.6% / rank: 18th)

Faceoffs for Week 20 looked better than they were, and they did not look all that good.  The Caps did win one faceoff battle in one game, tied their opponent in another.  They were over 50 percent in the offensive zone (40-for-77) but below that number in the defensive zone (26-for-59).  Where they looked bad was in the players who took significant numbers of draws.  Five players took more than ten draws, three of them – Marcus Johansson (6-for-13), Evgeny Kuznetsov (24 for 49), and Mike Richards (20 for 51) were below 50 percent.  Only Nicklas Backstrom (29 for 55) and T.J. Oshie (11 for 17) were over 50 percent.

Goals by Period:

One number sticks out in Week 20 insofar as goals by period is concerned: “zero.”  The Caps did not record a first period goal in any of the three games.  It is part of a continuing issue with the club, an inability to put distance between themselves and opponents early in games.  Washington is tied for 17th in goals scored in the first periods of games this season (45, with Arizona).  It is in part why the Caps are just a plus-1 in first period goal differential through 20 weeks.

On the other hand, there are the third periods.  The Caps outscored opponents, 6-1, in the third periods of the three games this week.  That should surprise no one.  The Caps have a plus-32 goal differential in the third periods of games, greater than the total goal differential of the second place club in that statistic Florida and Los Angeles: plus-24, not including shootout goals).  The Caps remain the only club in the league to have allowed fewer than 50 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.


In the end…

As long as the league ranks teams in the standings by wins and losses, a 2-1-0 week will never be a bad one.  However, the Caps are sitting in a puddle of gasoline playing with matches in their inability to get off to good starts.  In none of the three games in Week 20 could it be said they had a good first period.  And, there is the bit of inconsistency that has seeped into Braden Holtby’s game in goal.  If not for superior efforts in the third periods of games, this week might have turned out in a much different fashion.  They got away with a winning week in which the performances were not always of a winning nature.  Consider it a warning, one that should be heeded as they embark on what might be their most difficult week of the regular season.  Five games in seven days, coming in the midst of the busiest week of the year in terms of player movement, will test their depth, their focus, and their resiliency.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2, 15 shots on goal, 29 shot attempts, points in all three games, reached 40 goals for eighth time in 11-year career)
  • Second Star: Brooks Orpik (1-2-3, plus-1, second multi-point game in four days, 11 hits, seven blocked shots)
  • Third Star: Andre Burakovsky (1-2-3, even, points in all three games, four blocked shots)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Blackhawks, February 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals kick off what might be their most difficult week of the regular season when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game.  It will be the first of five games the Caps will play in seven days in their busiest week of the season.

Compounding the matter for the Caps is that they, and the other 29 teams in the league, are in the final hours before the trading deadline, when rosters become a bit more uncertain.  The Caps have made just one trade as of this writing, adding defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2017 third round draft pick.  They also waived long-tenured forward Brooks Laich in what appears to be a salary-cap management move to provide some flexibility as the trading deadline nears.

Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champions have been busy in advance of the deadline. They traded forward Marko Dano and two draft picks to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Andrew Ladd and Matt Fraser, and defenseman Jay Harrison.  They also sent forward Phillip Danault and a second round draft pick in 2018 to the Montreal Canadiens for forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise.  And, they traded defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

Ladd is clearly the big-ticket item among the deals so far for the Blackhawks.  Ladd is neither new to the trading deadline, nor to the Blackhawks.  He was shipped to the Blackhawks by the Carolina Hurricanes for Tuomo Ruutu at the 2008 trading deadline.  In two-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, Ladd recorded 37 goals and 99 points in 184 games.  In his last season in Chicago – in 2009-2010 – he helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.  Now, after five-plus seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, he returns to Chicago.  He arrives on a bit of a hot streak with goals in each of his last three games, four in all.  His 17 goals in 59 games to date (0.29 goals/game) is right in line with his career goal scoring pace (0.27 goals/game).  Ladd is 14-18-32, plus-13, in 41 career games against the Capitals.

Twelve years ago on Saturday, the Capitals traded Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2004 first round draft pick (that would become Mike Green), a 2004 fourth round draft pick, and a prospect forward by the name of Tomas Fleischmann, a second round pick of the Wings in 2002.  Fleischmann went on to play 283 games over six seasons for the Caps before he was traded in November 2010 to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan.  From Colorado, Fleischmann went to Florida, then Anaheim, and this season to Montreal before arriving in Chicago, his sixth NHL club.  He had modest success with the Canadiens this season, recording ten goals and 20 points in 57 games.  He has not been especially productive lately, though, having just two goals and an assist in his last 23 games.  Fleischmann is 5-4-9, minus-4, in 19 career games against Washington.

One thing that does not seem to change for the Blackhawks is Corey Crawford in goal.  There is a temptation to think of Crawford as a beneficiary of a talented team in front of him.  He certainly has that, but he has not exactly been a passenger on the Stanley Cup journey’s either.  Over the last four seasons, including this one, Crawford is one of six goaltenders to appear in at least 100 games, post a save percentage of at least .920, and record a goals against average of 2.25 or lower.  That is a group that includes Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Cory Schneider, Carey Price, and Brian Elliott.  Not a bad group.  He has not been very effective lately, though.  Since shutting out the St. Louis Blues on 25 shots in a 2-0 win on January 24th, Crawford is 4-5-1, 3.10, .907 in ten appearances. In six career appearances against the Capitals, Crawford is 2-3-1, 3.52, .883.

Here is how the teams compare overall:


1.  The Blackhawks are in a bit of a late-winter funk.  Over their last seven games they are 2-4-1, outscored by opponents by a 23-18 margin. 

2.  Half of the 16 goals scored by Chicago over their last five games have come on the power play.  Seven of them came over a pair of games.  They went 4-for-7 in a 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 15th, and they went 3-for-4 against the New York Rangers in a 5-3 win on February 17th.  They are 8-for-16 (50.0 percent) over their last five games.

3.  Good as the power play has been lately, the penalty kill has been ineffective.  The Blackhawks killed all six shorthanded situations they faced against the Dallas Stars on February 6th, but in seven games since, they are 11-for-19 (57.9 percent).

4.  Patrick Kane has not gone consecutive games without a point since he was blanked on December 22nd and 27th.  Since then he is 14-20-34 in 26 games.  Just to note, Kane was held without a point in his last game, a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.

5.  Chicago has been a good, but not especially impressive possession team.  They rank 13th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (50.9 percent) and 12th in score-adjusted Corsi (51.4 percent).  Their rankings at home are hardly different in overall Corsi-for overall (13th/52.1 percent), but their score-adjusted Corsi-for ranks eighth on home ice (52.2 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  The Caps have not been a dominant power play team lately, but they seem to be shaking off the slump they had coming out of the All-Star Game break.  Over their last nine games they have power play goals in six of them and are 6-for-32 overall (18.8 percent).

2.  The Caps have played to five consecutive one-goal decisions (4-1-0), their longest streak of one-goal decisions this season.  Ten of the Caps’ last 12 games were settled by one goal, and the other two decisions – both of them two-goal victories – featured empty net goals for the final margin.  The Caps are 8-2-0 in those ten one-goal decisions.

3.  For a team with as gaudy a record as the Caps, it is a bit surprising that only ten teams have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times.  The Caps have won all 18 instances in which they led after one period, the only team to win all of their games when leading after 20 minutes.

4.  There is no team in the league with a wider spread between first period and third period goals scored than the Caps.  Washington has scored just 45 goals in the first periods of games this season (tied with Arizona for 17th in the league), 80 goals in the third period (first) for a plus-35 goal spread from first to last period.  Buffalo is second with a plus-26.

5.  There is one area that suggests the Caps need to spend some time buttoning things up.  In six of their last nine road games they have allowed more high-quality scoring chances than they have had.  They are minus-23 in high-quality scoring chances in those nine games overall (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless Players to Ponder

Chicago: Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin has made it a rout in the rookie scoring race.  He has a three-goal lead on Detroit’s Dylan Larkin (22 to 19), a ten-assist lead on Arizona’s Max Domi (35 to 25), and a 15-point lead on Domi (57 to 42).  He is tied for fourth among rookies in power play goals (5) and tied for second in power play points (15), no small achievement on a veteran team such as Chicago.  And, if anyone was thinking he might hit a rookie “wall” with respect to his performance over a long season, he has not yet reached that wall.  He is 6-6-12 in his last ten games, including a hat trick in the 5-3 win over the Rangers on February 17th.  Panarin has an assist in his only appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov is thought of as something of a high-risk (in his own end), high reward (in the offensive zone) player.  He has skill, but perhaps not the seasoning to use those skills as judiciously as a more veteran player might, resulting in taking chances that can be taken advantage of by opponents.  Nevertheless, among 181 league defensemen playing at least 500 5-on-5 minutes this season, Orlov ranks tenth overall in Corsi-for/relative (plus-5.47 percent, as per war-on-ice.com).  As a third-pair defenseman he might not get a lot of exposure to opponents with top-end offensive statistics, but it is a respectable number nonetheless.  With John Carlson on injured reserve, maintaining and improving on that edge is going to be an important ingredient to the Caps’ success as they approach the postseason.  He has two assists and is a plus-2 in three career games against Chicago.

In the end…

The theme of this game is that it could be a preview of a Stanley Cup final.  The top road team in the league (Washington at 21-6-2) will do battle with the second-best home team (Chicago at 22-8-2).  Joel Quenneville, with 1,438 regular season games coached an 792 wins, will face Barry Trotz, with 1,338 games coached an 647 wins.  The league’s leading goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin with 40) will face the league-leading overall scorer (Patrick Kane with 84 points).  What the Caps bring to this game is recent success against the Blackhawks.  They have won the last four contests between the teams, outscoring the Blackhawks 14-5 in the process, and the Caps have wins in seven of their last nine games against Chicago.  Neither team can be said to be at the top of their game at the moment, but this should be a very entertaining affair, one that is not merely hyped as a possible Stanley Cup final preview, but a legitimate one.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 3

Friday, February 26, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 3 - Wild 2

The Washington Capitals took a while on Friday night, but they finally grabbed a lead with just over five minutes in regulation and held on for a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center.

The game-winner came on a slippery individual effort by defenseman Dmitry Orlov.  Taking a cross-ice pass from Andre Burakovsky as he was entering the offensive zone, Orlov was challenged by Nino Niederreiter.  Orlov slid the puck through his own legs to his backhand, worked his way around Niederreiter, and flicked a shot that hit the stick of Jared Spurgeon and squeaked between goalie Darcy Kuemper’s left pad and the post for what would be the game-winning goal.

Until that moment, it looked like any number of recent nights for the Caps.  They allowed the game’s first goal on a power play in the last minute of the first period when Mikko Koivu wristed a shot from the top of the right wing circle that looked as if it got just a bit of defenseman Karl Alzner’s leg as it was going through, altering its path just enough to squirt between goalie Braden Holtby’s pads at the 19:18 mark.

The Caps tied the game in the first minute of the second period with the help of some luck.  From below the goal line to the right of Kuemper, Nicklas Backstrom sent a pass into the middle looking for Alex Ovechkin skating through the low slot.  The pass came all the way through, though, and it was Brooks Orpik who flagged it down at the top of the right wing circle.  Orpik tokk a step up and snapped a shot that was going wide to Kuemper’s left.  However, the puck struck the shaft of the stick of Marco Scandella and was redirected behind Kuemper to make it 1-1 just 49 seconds into the period.

The tie did not last five minutes.  Niederreiter put the Wild back in front when the Caps got caught too deep in the Wild zone.  With all three Caps forwards below the Minnesota goal line, Spurgeon poked the puck up the boards to Jason Pominville.  When Nate Schmidt pinched in down the boards, Pominville slid the puck into the middle where Ryan Suter was starting up ice.  Suter moved the puck out to Niederreiter at the red line.  With Taylor Chorney the last man back and in pursuit of him, Niederretier protected the puck with his body, faked going across the slot, then shot back across his body over Holtby’s glove to make it 2-1 at the 5:05 mark.

Trailing going into the third period, the Caps got their only power play of the game when Kuemper was whistled for delay of game, dislodging the net.  The Caps made good on the opportunity using a tried and true formula.  Nicklas Backstrom patiently looked over the situation from the right wing wall and slid the puck out to Matt Niskanen at the top of the zone.  Niskanen, playing on the top power play unit because John Carlson was out with an injury, laid the puck off to Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  His one-timer found its way between Kuepmer’s body and his blocker, and the Caps were tied, 2-2, 4:35 into the period.

All that remained was for Orlov to display his puck-handling and shooting skills for the game-winner, and the Caps had their 45th win of the season, 3-2.

Other stuff…

-- If you’re betting on scores with the Caps, take “3-2.”  This was the 11th time this season that the Caps won a game by that margin, tops in the league for that particular score.

-- The 45th win for the Caps in Game 60 ties last year’s win total.  The 45 wins ties this club with last year’s team and the 1991-1992 club for the seventh-highest win total in franchise history.

-- Ovechkin’s goal gave him 40 on the season.  He is one of 10 players in NHL history to record eight or more 40-goal seasons and one of seven players to record that many in his first 11 seasons.  Only Wayne Gretzky (11 times), Mike Bossy (9), and Mario Lemieux (9) did it more times in their first 11 seasons.

-- Ovechkin extended his points streak to five games (5-4-9), four of those games being multi-point games.  He has not gone consecutive games without a goal in more than a month (January 14 and 16 against Vancouver and Buffalo, respectively).  Since December 18th, when he recorded two goals against Tampa Bay, Ovechkin has 26 goals in 29 games.

-- This was the seventh straight game in which the Caps allowed the game’s first goal.  They won for the 17th time this season in 31 decisions when giving up that first goal.  Last season they won just eight times in 39 decisions when allowing the first goal.

-- Nicklas Backstrom ended a three-game streak without a point with a pair of assists.  It was his first multi-point game since he had three assists in the 4-3 win over Minnesota on February 11th and his 15th multi-point game of the season, tied for eighth-most in the league.

-- Brooks Orpik’s goal set a career best for goals in a season (3).  He also has nine points in 20 games this season, second among Caps defensemen in points per game (0.45) to John Carlson (0.66).  He also had eight hits and five blocked shots.  He had a rich and full (and sore) evening.

-- Odd Backstrom fact.  He did not record a shot attempt in this game.  It was the 12th time this season that he did not record a shot on goal, and in those games he has a total of 11 assists.  There are many ways to contribute.

-- Brooks Laich played just one shift in the third period.  His total ice time of 6:25 was his lowest of the season.

-- Minnesota won the shot attempt contest at 5-on-5, 57-51, but the second period was telling.  After the Wild dominated the first period in shot attempts at evens, 19-8, the Caps and Wild split 46 attempts down the middle in the second.  The volume of attempts in the middle period, coupled with the Wild playing the previous night in Philadelphia, might have contributed to their wearing down in the third when the Caps scored twice and had a 20-15 edge in 5-on-5 attempts  (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

In the end…

Five wins in six games, ten wins in 12, both of the losses of the one-goal variety.  Best record in the league by a dozen points, top scoring offense, top power play, top goal differential.   First, top, best.  Then why do these recent wins look so…bleh?   Falling behind early in games, taking early penalties (eight first period penalties over their last three games, including three tonight), it has been a struggle for the Caps to get going in games lately.  This game was was no exception.  It is one thing to do it and come back against a team outside of the playoff mix that played the previous night.  It will be another on Sunday when the Caps head to Chicago for a national-telecast game against the Blackhawks, a team that when they jump on sluggish teams early, generally stay on top of them. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Wild at Capitals, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will be looking to rebound from Wednesday night’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens when they host the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center on Friday night in the last game of the club’s four-game home stand.

The Caps are in the position for the 11th time this season of trying to avoid consecutive losses in regulation time.  The Caps are 9-0-1 in the first ten instances (twice they have lost consecutive games, one of the losses coming in extra time in each instance).

Meanwhile, the Wild will be coming to Washington hot off their Thursday night game in Philadelphia against the Flyers.  They head to Philadelphia winners of four of their last five games, the loss coming on Tuesday against the New York Islanders.  The loss ended a four-game winning streak to open the tenure of new coach John Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo, relieved of his duties by the club on February 13th.

Minnesota certainly “torched” opponents in their most recent five games under Torchetti.  They scored five or more goals in each of the four wins to open his tenure and overall have outscored opponents 22-12.  They had power play goals in each of the four wins, going 5-for-21 overall (23.8 percent), while their penalty kill went 11-for-16 (68.8 percent).

There are 14 different Wild skaters recording at least one goal in their 4-1-0 run.  Charlie Coyle is tied for the lead with three.  Coyle has been quite something else this season for the Wild, obliterating his career high in goals (12 in 2013-2014) with 18 so far this season, eight of them in his last 14 games and doing it on just 28 shots on goal (28.6 percent shooting).  If there is an odd part about his goal scoring, none of his ten most recent goals have been game-winners.  Coyle is 2-1-3, minus-4, in five career games against the Caps, one of those two goals coming in a 4-3 loss to the Caps on February 11th.

Twenty different Wild skaters have points over their last five games, none more than the unlikely Erik Haula, who has more than a third of his total point production for the season (20) in these last five games (2-5-7).  He, too, has easily surpassed his career high in point (15) set in his rookie year in 2013-2014.  Where to watch for him will be when the Caps are on the power play.  Two of his seven goals this season have been scored while shorthanded with a shorthanded assist thrown in.  He has multi-point games in three of his last five games and four in his last eight contests.  Haula has just one career appearance against Washington without a point.

It is unclear who will get the nod in goal for the Wild against the Caps, given that they will be playing the second of back-to-back games.  Devan Dubnyk is expected to start against Philadelphia on Thursday.  If Dubnyk does get that assignment and is given the night off in Washington, Darcy Kuemper is not a big drop off in terms of efficiency.  His 2.26 goals against average and .920 save percentage are both better than Dubnyk’s (2.38/.918), and he has two shutouts in his 16 appearances to date.  He has just three losses in regulation this season, and they were not flukes.  He had a goals against average of 3.05, allowing nine goals on just 68 total shots (.868 save percentage).  The four-year veteran has never faced the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:


1.  Minnesota has nine games all season in which they scored five or more goals.  Four of them have come in their last five contests.

2.  The Wild are an odd team in one respect.  Fourteen times this season they held opponents to fewer than 25 shots on goal, and their record is 5-6-3 in those games.  Not that they are any better when allowing high shot volumes.  Minnesota is 1-3-4 when allowing more than 35 shots on goal.

3.  The Wild are the third-best faceoff team in the league (51.7 percent). However, their special teams work is not up to that level – 56.5 percent on the power play (11th in the league) and 46.2 percent when shorthanded (11th).

4.  The Wild rank 27th overall in penalty killing on the road (75.5 percent).  They are just 16-for-24 (66.7 percent) in their last seven road games through Wednesday).

5.  Minnesota ranks 21st overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.1 percent), 23rd in road games (46.2 percent).  They rank 25th in the third periods of games this season (47.5 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com)

1. In 14 games following losses this season (regulation or extra time), the Caps have a record of 12-1-1 and have outscored opponents by a 48-28 margin.

2.  In those 14 games following losses, the Caps power play is 12-for-56 (21.4 percent), while the penalty kill is 29-for-38 (76.3 percent).

3.  The Caps could not erase a three-goal deficit against the Canadiens on Wednesday, but they still have three more wins (16) when allowing the first goal of a game than the next best team (Los Angeles: 13).  The noteworthy (and perhaps disturbing) thing about that is the fact that the Caps have allowed the first goal more times (30) than they have scored the first goal (29).  Only 11 teams have allowed the game’s first goal more times than the Caps, and only two of them – the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins – are currently in the playoff mix.

4.  Washington allowed the Canadiens a power play goal in their loss on Wednesday, but the Caps have still allowed the fifth-fewest power play goals on home ice (12, tied with four other teams).

5.  First periods on home ice have been a problem for the Caps in one important respect.  The have allowed the third highest number of shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (58.9).  Only Philadelphia and Colorado have allowed more (both at 60.4; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Jason Pominville

Jason Pominville is tied for the team lead in goals over Minnesota’s last five games (three).   For him, the change in head coaches has been, at least coincidentally, a benefit.  Before John Torchetti took over, Pominville had one goal in his previous 22 games.  Previous head coach Mike Yeo saw the problem as a confidence issue and thought he was coming out of his slump, but if he is in fact going to put that drought behind him, another coach will benefit.  One has to wonder, though.  After a 30-goal season for the Wild in 2013-2014, he has just 27 goals in his last 142 games.  Pominville is 11-12-23, plus-4, in 35 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin has opened some space between himself and his closest pursuer for the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, 39 goals to 35 for Chicago’s Patrick Kane.  He is on a pace to finish the season with 55 goals, and folks might not be aware of just what an accomplishment hitting 55 goals would be.  Only four players in league history have passed their 30th birthday and hit or surpassed the 55-goal mark – Marcel Dionne (56 goals at age 31 in 1982-2983), Bobby Hull (58 goals at age 30 in 1968-1969), Mario Lemieux (69 goals at age 30 in 1995-1996), and Phil Esposito, who did it three times (55 goals at age 30 in 1972-1973, 68 goals the following year, and 61 goals in the season after that).  What is perhaps more noteworthy, given the attachment some observers had to his plus-minus figure a couple of years ago, his current plus-23 is better than that recorded in five full seasons of the players noted.  None of those five finished with as high as a plus-20.  Only Phil Esposito (plus-51 in his 1973-1974 season) finished higher than where Ovechkin currently resides.  He is 9-3-12, plus-3, in nine career games against the Wild.

In the end…

The Caps hit the 60-game mark with a chance to record their fourth ten-game split out of six with eight wins.  In that respect the Caps have been a very consistent team.  What seems to have infiltrated their game lately is almost a sense of boredom, reflected early on in games when they just cannot seem to get started.  They have allowed the first goal in each of their last six games, and they have just one first period goal in that span.  That the Caps would go 4-2-0 in those games, with both of their losses by a single goal, is either very surprising (and perhaps something vulnerable to a correction in terms of wins and losses), or they are just so extraordinarily skilled that it does not matter much.  We would rather they just not test this proposition and get on with tending to business earlier in games.

Capitals 4 – Wild 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Canadiens 4 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday night when they dropped a 4-3 decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center. The loss ended the Caps’ home winning streak at five games.

Montreal put the Caps in an early hole with a pair of first period goals. Alex Galchenyuk struck for the Canadiens when he put back a rebound of a Dale Weise shot at the 9:09 mark. Brendan Gallagher made it 2-0 late in the period on a power play, converting another rebound, this time of an Andrei Markov shot that Max Pacioretty tipped on its way through, Gallagher sweeping the loose puck around the left pad of goalie Braden Holtby.

The Caps fell further into the hole dug for them by the Canadiens when former Cap Tomas Fleischmann snapped a rebound past Holtby from the left wing faceoff circle. The goal ended Holtby’s evening in favor of Philipp Grubauer.

Washington got on the board less than four minutes after the Fleischmann goal when Jason Chimera jumped on a loose puck at the post to goalie Mike Condon’s left and chipped a backhand over his glove into the net at the 5:32 mark.

Any thoughts of a comeback were put on hold when Alex Galchenyuk scored his second of the night, finishing a 2-on-1 break by converting a pass from Lars Eller past Grubauer’s right pad 12:24 into the period.

The Caps added a goal in the third period when Dmitry Orlov took a wide swing from the neutral zone down the left wing and from a severe angle ripped a shot over Condon’s left shoulder and into the top of the net on the far side to make it 4-2 at the 12:24 mark.

Andre Burakovsky made things interesting late when he took a pass from Stan Galiev and from the top of the circles snapped a shot between Condon’s pads to make it 4-3 with 2:53 left. That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, as a Nicklas Backstrom drive from between the circles was gloved down by Condon with three seconds left to seal the 4-3 win for the Canadiens.

Other stuff…

-- When Braden Holtby was relieved by Philipp Grubauer in the second period, it marked the fourth time in his last 14 appearances that he did not finish a game he started.  Three of those instances are the only losses in regulation on his record over his last 37 appearances (edit...oops, this loss was pinned on Grubauer for allowing the fourth goal, but still).

-- Six shot attempts would be a pretty good night for most players, but for Alex Ovechkin that represents a rather quiet night.  His two shots on goal was just the tenth time in 57 games he was held to two or fewer shots.

-- Brooks Orpik appeared in his 800th career game, and he had two assists. You could almost see this coming.  It’s all about the “hundreds.”  This season alone, Ovechkin scored two goals in his 800th career game (including his 500th career goal), and T.J. Oshie scored a goal in his 500th career game.  When Brooks Laich appeared in his 500th game back in 2011, he scored a goal.  A goal for Orpik might have been a bridge too far, but he had his first two-assist game of the season.

-- The power play continues to struggle.  The 0-for-3 in this game made it 5-for-48 (10.4 percent) since Winter Storm Jonas ripped through Washington in late January.  At least they spread the shots around.  Five different players had one apiece.

-- Tom Wilson had a fairly bizarre night.  He took two penalties in the first period of the “not the brightest thing he’s done this month” sort, and for his impertinence was provided a staple gun to staple his behind to the bench in the second period.  He had one 55 second shorthanded shift.  He took a regular turn in the third period with five shifts.

-- Ovechkin has turned into “Mr. Hockey Helper.”  He had an assist, making three straight games he’s provided apples to teammates.  It marked almost precisely a year since the last instance in which he had three consecutive regular season games with assists.  In Games 57-59 last season (February 15-19) he had assists in each game. 

-- Stan Galiev had a career high four shots on goal and an assist on Burakovsky’s goal.

-- When the Caps allowed a power play goal to the Canadiens late in the first period, it broke a four-game streak not allowing one.

-- Karl Alzner skated just 16:42 in ice time, his lowest amount of ice time this season  and the lowest since he had 14:21 in ice time in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last February 25th.

-- Wouldn’t you know it?  The Caps win the Corsi battle (54-49 in shot attempts at 5-on-5) and lose the game.  It wasn’t even a case of making a mad rush when they fell behind by three goals.  The splits by period were 18-18 in the first, 17-13 Caps in the second, and 19-18 Caps in the third.

In the end…

This is not a happy tune the Caps are whistling lately.  Fall behind early, comeback late.  It's like the spring and autumn time changes, but different.  This made six straight games in which the Caps allowed the first goal.  Yes, they have the league’s best record when allowing the first goal, but it’s not like it is actually a good record (16-10-4).  It is a disturbing trend in a larger context, that the Caps have been a rather unimpressive team in the first periods of games this season (a plus-2 goal differential after last night, 8-6-2 when trailing after one period).  If there is something that needs attention, this is it.  And with the Minnesota Wild coming to town on Friday, a top-ten team in first period goals scored this season, they should be paying attention.