Monday, May 22, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle

“The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then do it.”
-- Henry Ford

In the 42 seasons that NHL hockey has been played in Washington, only 39 skaters have played in more games for the Capitals than Jay Beagle (392).  This might seem a bit odd for a player who was not drafted, was only signed by the Caps as a free agent at the age of 22, who didn’t play his first NHL game until the age of 23, and didn’t play more than half the games of a Caps regular season until he was 27 years old.  His career is a statement of hard work, attention to detail, and perseverance.  In the 2016-2017 season, those traits combined for what was a career season for Beagle.  He finished the season with career bests in games played (81), goals (13), game-winning goals (4), assists (17), points (30), plus-minus (plus-20), and shots (100).

It was a season that was put together with an uncommon consistency.  Beagle scored goals in each of his eight ten-game splits and recorded between three and five points over those eight ten-game splits.  Only once did he have a “minus” record in any ten-game split (his seventh, over which he was a minus-1).  And, for a fourth liner, those points he recorded came on a regular basis.  His longest streak without a point was six games; in his last 50 games his longest such streak was four games.

Beagle added to a superb body of work in the game’s most basic play, the faceoff.  Of 150 players taking at least 250 draws this season, Beagle won 56.4 percent of his draws to finish ninth in that group.  Among 180 active skaters taking at least 1,000 draws over their careers, Beagle is fifth with a career mark of 55.9 percent.  Does it matter?  The Caps were 19-2-0 when Beagle won at least ten draws in a game this season.  Then again, they were 5-1-1 in games in which he lost ten or more draws.  Perhaps it was a simple matter of volume.  In 36 games in which Beagle took 15 or more draws, the Caps were 32-2-2.

Time seemed to matter, if only coincidentally, with respect to Beagle and the Caps’ success.  In the 32 games in which Beagle skated more than 14 minutes, the Caps were 29-2-1.  This might be a product of being able to roll four lines in games in which the Caps were competitive, but it is indicative that Beagle had enough value to give him those minutes in those games.

Fearless’ Take… Beagle has become a surprisingly effective secondary scoring threat.  In 2016-2017 he averaged more goals per 60 5-on-5 minutes (0.88) than did Alex Ovechkin (0.86).  Among 154 forwards skating in at least 40 games and averaging less than 14 minutes of ice time per game (Beagle averaged 13:37 per game), he was eighth in points (30).  It is not a sudden occurrence, either.  Over the last three seasons he has averaged 14.8 goals per 82 games.

Cheerless’ Take…  Of 14 forwards to skate at least 100 5-on-5 minutes for the Caps this season, Beagle had the worst individual Corsi-for (47.02 percent; numbers from  This is not a one-off instance, either.  In seven seasons in which he appeared in more than 30 games for the Caps, he has never reached the 50 percent mark in 5-on-5 Corsi-for.  Beagle skated at least 50 5-on-5 minutes with five Capital forwards, and each of those forwards had better Corsi-for numbers apart from Beagle than playing with him (numbers from  In fact, all of them had Corsi-for values under 50 percent with Beagle and had Corsi values over 50 percent apart from him.

Odd Beagle Fact… Jay Beagle scored goals in 11 games this season.  In those games, the Caps were 11-0-0.  In 40 career games in which Beagle scored a goal, the Caps are 34-1-5.

Game to remember… January 13th vs. Chicago

When the Capitals hosted the Chicago Blackhawks on January 13th, they were looking to sweep the two-game season series.  Washington defeated the Blackhawks in Chicago, 3-2, in overtime on November 11th, a game in which Beagle recorded both Capitals goals in regulation, one of them a shorthanded tally, the first such goal of his career.  In this contest, the Caps were riding a seven-game winning streak, their longest of the season to that point.  The Caps made short work of the competitive portion of the game, the scoring opened on a goal by Beagle 6:04 into the game, followed 13 seconds later by a Nicklas Backstrom goal and a score by Brett Connolly late in period to give the Caps a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.  Beagle scored his second goal of the game with 1:32 left in the contest to cap a 6-0 win.  He finished the season series against Chicago with four of the Caps’ nine goals scored, including the game-winner in the January 13th contest.

Game to forget… October 13th vs. Pittsburgh

Opening Night is always something special, a game players point to when preparing for the new season.  When it is against the defending Stanley Cup champions, it is just a bit bigger.   For Jay Beagle, it was a forgettable game for no other reason than one might have forgotten he was in the lineup.  He skated just 14 shifts and recorded only 7:37 in ice time, a season low, only 6:08 of that at even strength in a game that went 65 minutes of regulation and overtime before the Penguins won, 3-2, in the Gimmick.   It was not that he played poorly or committed any noteworthy errors (although he was on ice for a Penguin power play goal).  He had two shots on goal and two blocked shots, and he won five of eight faceoffs.  But it was a night he spent watching much more than playing.

Postseason: 13 games, 0-0-0, minus-5, 43.41 5-on-5 CF%

Jay Beagle has never been a big scorer in the postseason, but not since he played in four games of the 2008-2009 playoffs did he go an entire postseason without a point.  Such was his fate in the 2017 postseason.  It was part of a broader problem repeated from the 2016 playoffs, a lack of bottom-six contributions on offense.   It was, in part, a case of his shooting drying up.  He recorded only six shots on goal in more than 150 minutes of ice time.  And speaking of ice time, Beagle was something of the canary in the coal mine.  The Caps were 7-2 in games in which he skated at least ten minutes, both losses coming in overtime.  They were 0-4 in those games in which he skated less than ten minutes, and all of those games (and losses) were against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

Not that our prognostos are the first, only, or final word on how players will fare in a season, but Jay Beagle wildly out-performed our prognosto for the regular season, roughly doubling his goals, assists, and point projections.  His year-over-year improvements from the 2015-2016 season were substantial.  He centered what might have been the best fourth line in the NHL this season.  That is a phrase that seems a bit odd, perhaps giving added weight to the influence of a fourth line on game outcomes.  But contributions from that fourth line were significant (Beagle, Brett Connolly, and Tom Wilson contributed 33 of the team’s 176 even strength goals this season), more so than they were in 2015-2016. 

The playoffs were another matter.  Getting contributions from the bottom six was lacking in the 2016 postseason, and it seemed to be addressed with off-season moves and the emergence of Beagle as a more prolific offensive contributor in the regular season.  But the fourth line contributed one point in the postseason (Tom Wilson’s overtime goal in Game 1 of the first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs; his other two goals were scored with the third line).  And Beagle had the worst plus-minus of any forward on the club for the postseason at minus-5.   Like a lot of Capitals, Jay Beagle undid a lot of good he accomplished in the regular season with a postseason that was as productive – and as disappointing – as that in 2016.

Grade: B-

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom

"It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them."
-- Mark Twain

It seems like only yesterday that Nicklas Backstrom was a 19-year old rookie lacing up his skates to face the Atlanta Thrashers in his first NHL game, but when he laced up his skates to face the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the 2016-2017 season he was embarking on his tenth NHL season, becoming just the 16th player in team history to play ten or more seasons for the Washington Capitals.  By the time the regular season was over, Backstrom stood in ninth place in games played for the franchise (734).

In some ways, the 2016-2017 season was among his best.  His 23 goals was the second-highest total of his career, topped only by the 33 he posted in 2009-2010.  He had 63 assists, the third-highest total of his career and most since the 2009-2010 season.  Backstrom finished with 86 points, the second-highest total of his career (101 in 2009-2010). 

Backstrom, who has been a model of consistency over his career, assembled his 2016-2017 season in what amounted to two distinct parts.  He started his season in good, but unspectacular fashion, going 10-24-34, plus-8 over his first 40 games.  But, starting with a four-point game against Pittsburgh in his 41st game of the season, he raised is production, a case of kicking his playmaking into high gear.  He had 13 goals over those last 42 games, but he recorded 39 assists.

The 52 points Backstrom recorded over those 42 games starting with that four-point game on January 11th tied Connor McDavid for most in the league over that span to close the season, and his 39 assists led the league outright.  He also led the league in power play points over that period with 21.

The odd part about Backstrom’s year in possession numbers was the extent he dragged down, or perhaps was dragged down, by his most frequent linemates, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, at 5-on-5.  As a group, that trio had a 50.25 Corsi-for at 5-on-5, ninth-best of 13 forward combinations skating at least 50 5-on-5 minutes together this season for the Caps (numbers from  Breaking that down, Backstrom had better individual numbers when apart from either Ovechkin or Oshie, and conversely, Ovechkin and Oshie had better numbers when apart from Backstrom (numbers from 

Fearless’ Take… How many players in the league have more 50-assist seasons than Nicklas Backstrom since he  came into the league in 2007-2008?  If you answered “none,” you win a prize.  This was his seventh such season in his ten-year career, tying him with Ryan Getzlaf for the most 50-assist seasons in the last ten years.  Topping 60 assists this season, he also tied Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton for the most 60-plus assist seasons in that span of time (five apiece).  This season, Backstrom was second in multi-assist games (15) to Connor McDavid (19), giving him 125 multi-assist games in his career, tied for second (with Sidney Crosby), behind only Henrik Sedin (132) over the last ten seasons.  In the 15 games this season in which Backstrom recorded two or more assists, the Caps were 14-0-1.

Cheerless’ Take… Time on ice looked weird for Backstrom this season.  He skated just 12 games with 20 or more minutes of ice time this season, and the Caps were 4-5-3 in those games.  They were 5-1-0 when he skated less than 16 minutes.  Not to say less of Backstrom is more (that might reflect the Caps not needing him out there to make up deficits), but it just looks strange.  Here is another one, though.  Losing faceoffs seemed to matter, if only as a coincidence, but not in the way one might have thought.  The Caps were 28-6-4 in games in which he was under 50 percent on draws, 27-13-4 in games where he was 50 percent or better.

Odd Backstrom Fact… With ten games of three or more points this season, Nicklas Backstrom became the second Capital in franchise history to record at least ten three-point games in a single season more than once.  He had 13 such games in the 2009-2010 season.  Alex Ovechkin leads the franchise with three such seasons.  Dale Hunter (12 in 1991-1992), Michal Pivonka (10 in 1991-1992), and Mike Ridley (10 in 1992-1993) are the others (information from  

Game to remember… November 16th vs. Pittsburgh

In what might have been the team’s most satisfying regular season game of the season, a 7-1 win over the Penguins, Backstrom had what might have been his best game of the campaign.  It was certainly his most productive one.  Backstrom did not record a point on the Caps’ first goal of their November 16th contest against the Penguins, Jay Beagle assisting on a T.J. Oshie goal 7:32 into the game.  But Backstrom was all over the score sheet thereafter.  He scored a goal of his own late in the first period, taking a feed from Oshie at the red line, skating into the Pens’ zone and wristing a shot under the left arm of goalie Matt Murray.  Then, he recorded an assist on an Oshie power play goal with just 7.9 seconds left in the first period.  He added assists on goals by Dmitry Orlov and Justin Williams early in the second and third periods, respectively.  And after the Penguins ruined goalie Braden Holtby’s shutout with less than four minutes to go in the contest, Backstrom added his second goal on a play that seemed to distinguish his 2016-2017 season from seasons before it.  Taking a long lead pass from Nate Schmidt just outside the Penguin blue line, he skated in with Marcus Johansson on his left.  In games and years past, he might have opened up and tried to feather a pass to Johansson for a shot.  On this occasion, he called his own number and snapped a shot past the glove of relief netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to cap a 7-1 win.  It was the fifth time in his career Backstrom recorded five or more points in a game, moving into second place in franchise history, one behind Peter Bondra.  He was one of only five players in the league to score five or more points in a game in the 2016-2017 season.

Game to forget… December 27th vs. New York Islanders

When a player known for his two-way play has a bad game both ways, it’s a game to forget.  Such was the case in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders when Backstrom and the Caps seemed to be in an egg nog coma in their first game after Christmas.  The Islanders seemed on step ahead of the Caps – literally – throughout.  New York scored the first goal of the game eight minutes in, only to have the Caps tie the game five minutes later.  It was a pattern repeated once more, and then the Islanders took a lead they would not relinquish early in the third period, Backstrom being on ice for each of the three Islander goals.  He was not on the ice for what would be the game-winning goal, an Anders Lee breakaway of a Caps turnover.  But Backstrom was a minus-3  for the game (one of two such games he had for the season), and he managed only a pair of shot attempts.  In more than five minutes of power play ice time he did not manage to quarterback the Caps to a goal, and Washington dropped a 4-3 decision.

Postseason:  13 games, 6-7-13, even, 55.15 5-on-5 CF%

It is hard what to make of Nicklas Backstrom’s postseason.  As of May 20th, he remained one of just seven players appearing in at least ten postseason games who averaged at least one point per game.   His possession numbers, like those of the team in general, were solid, both individually (55.15 CF% at 5-on-5) and in combination (with Ovechkin and Oshie, a 56.73 CF% at 5-on-5; numbers from  He led the team in goal scoring (six) and points overall (13).  He was remarkably efficient as a shooter, converting six of the 26 shots he took in 13 games (23.1 percent), third among the 85 players in the postseason to date having recorded at least 20 shots on goal.

On the other hand, he went without a point in three of the seven games in the second round loss to the Penguins, all three of those games ending in losses, including the series-deciding Game 7.  It was part of a disturbing pattern with Backstrom.  In 20 games facing elimination in his career, Backstrom is 4-11-15, plus-11.  That’s not bad.  But in 10 Games 7 in his career he is 1-2-3, plus-2.  The Caps are 3-7 in those ten games.  For Backstrom, the postseason was very much an uneven affair, and it gives greater weight to his overall grade than it might have in previous seasons (as will be true of all of the Capitals when evaluating their respective seasons).

In the end...

Last season, when writing of Backstrom’s postseason performance, we wrote with respect to his scoring numbers in losses

“This wasn’t the reason the Caps failed to advance, but one does wonder what one timely goal might have meant.  When one says ‘there is enough blame to go around’ with respect to the Caps’ second round loss, it doesn’t jump past Backstrom to the next player, either.”

It applies once more.   It is hard to say of a player who has been as consistent and as consistently productive as Nicklas Backstrom that he has come up short in the biggest games, but it is hard to avoid that conclusion.  And the notion of blame not skipping him to the next player seems to have particular relevance and urgency here, given the outsized blame placed on Alex Ovechkin for the Caps’ postseason woes.  For both Backstrom and Ovechkin, the clock is ticking louder with respect to time they have left in their careers to shake off the demons that appear in the spring.  In Backstrom’s case, doing that is likely going to mean raising his game in a season’s ultimate game to a level he has not been able to find.  It is the cloud that hangs over his 2016-2017 season.

Grade: B-

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

Thursday, May 11, 2017

For the Washington Capitals, the End of an Era

The “Rock the Red” era is dead.

That isn’t a question, and it isn’t even really an opinion.  It is dead, succumbing to a peculiar strain of avian flu borne by Penguins.  What started as a season of hope, what became a season of accomplishment, what was almost an expectation that this – finally – would be the season in which everything came together for the Washington Capitals, died quietly at the hands of the team that has inflicted more emotional punishment on this franchise than perhaps any other has done to another franchise in the history of pro sports in North America, save for that whole “Bambino Curse” thing.

The quiet whispers among the cheers this season were that if the Capitals were ever to win a Stanley Cup, this was the year they could do it, in fact had to do it.  With another year tacked on to the resume of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom; the impending unrestricted free agent status of T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, and trading deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk; and the corresponding need to renew (at higher rates of compensation) young restricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitry Orlov, which would restrict the team’s ability to add players such as Oshie and Williams as they did two years ago, the window for the Capitals as a serious Stanley Cup contender was narrowing. 

But as if to hold the window open just a little wider for a little longer, the gods of hockey gave the Caps a break.  Three of them, in fact.  The Penguins faced the Capitals missing their top defenseman (Kris Letang) and their number one goaltender (Matt Murray) for the entire series, and then they lost their best skater – the best player on the planet in Sidney Crosby – to a concussion early in Game 3 that kept him out for the better part of two full games.  Not that the Pens were reduced to an AHL lineup; they still had Evgeni Malkin (the second best center on the planet, if not its second best skater), Phil Kessel, Marc-Andre Fleury, and a number of veterans from last year’s Stanley Cup run.  Nevertheless, it was a depleted team that the team with the best regular season record was facing.  The window looked inviting instead of like a guillotine slamming down.

And now, it is closed.  Not locked, perhaps, for the Capitals will remain a good team in the years to come.  But absent general manager Brian MacLellan pulling a rabbit out of his hat in the off-season, “good” might be a ceiling for the Capitals for the remainder of the tenure of Ovechkin and Backstrom in Washington.  The Caps might be a team that can make the postseason, but it is likely to be one that will be discussed among the group of teams with long odds on long runs in the playoffs, not as one of a few with serious Cup aspirations.

The loss to the Penguins in the second round is especially bitter and not merely for the fact that it comes against a team that now has nine wins in ten postseason series against Washington.  One of those Penguin series wins came in 2009 in a gut-wrenching seventh game.  But even with that difficult outcome, Capitals fans could take some measure of confidence that the team that lost would not be denied more, and more satisfying bites at the playoff apple.  Ovechkin was just 23 years old, Backstrom was just 21.  You could imagine the 2009 setback as just that, a temporary disappointment that could be used as a learning experience that would serve the Caps well over the years to come.

What the Caps and their fans learned since were new ways to deal with the disappointment of early round playoff losses.  Since that 2009 loss to the Penguins, the Caps have gone through four coaches (Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, and currently Barry Trotz).  MacLellan succeeded George McPhee in the general manager’s chair.  The Caps, including Ovechkin and Backstrom, have had 61 skaters and five goaltenders dress for at least one postseason game since that 2009 loss to the Penguins.

And what do they have to show for it?  Yes, in the regular season the Caps have been dominant, posting the league’s third best regular season record over that span (365-181-76) with three Presidents Trophies (2010, 2016, 2017) as the league’s best regular season team.  But over that same span, the Caps have a 37-39 game record in the postseason, won six playoff rounds in 14 tries, and, as every Caps fan has had burned into their consciousness, never advanced past the second round.

Meanwhile, the very team that was to be the principal rival of the Capitals for a generation – these same Penguins – left the Caps behind in that 2009 season, winning the first of two Stanley Cups in this era and now on their way to challenging for a third.  The Chicago Blackhawks of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane caught and passed the Caps to win three Cups of their own.  The Los Angeles Kings of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick did the same to win two Cups.  And now, in just another cruel twist of fate, the Toronto Maple Leafs (defeated by the Caps in the first round this postseason) and the Edmonton Oilers appear poised to catch and pass the Caps on their respective journeys to competing for a championship.

This year feels so different from other all-too-early postseason exits.   One might even feel wistful thinking about it.  Depending on who returns next season, Alex Ovechkin, depending on other postseason moves, could be the oldest skater on the club (he will be 32 next September, a month older than Jay Beagle).  Backstrom will be 30 in November.   It is hard to think of their production improving going forward, and you can almost see the weight of postseason misfortune pressing heavily upon them.

The rest of the roster – the new core, if you will – cannot be spared, either.  Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov improved upon their dreadful production in the 2016 postseason, but there remained a lack of consistency and their rising to the moment (they combined for three shots on goal and no points in Game 7 against the Penguins).  Can this “next wave” of youngsters grow into more productive roles in the spring?  Saying “they can” is not equivalent to saying “they will.”  To this add the mystifying performance of goaltender Braden Holtby this postseason.  “Collapse” might be too strong a word, but the postseason drop-off of the best postseason goaltender in the post-expansion era was a disappointment.  His surprisingly un-“Holtbeast”-ly performance should not have come as an utter shock to any fan of this team of long standing.  It was a thoroughly “Caps” thing to happen.

Almost as “Caps”-like was having the jewel of the trading deadline – defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk – become, if not quite a liability on the ice as the series with the Penguins started, an asset of a fleeting nature as it ended, almost certain to depart in the coming off-season.

Some contend that history doesn’t matter.  History is the 500-pound gorilla in the room that is on crack.  It will not be subdued.  Here is a chilling fact.  When the Caps entered the NHL in 1974-1975, they were one of 18 teams in the league.  Of those 18 teams only one team has reached conference final (or in the old days, the “NHL semi-finals”) fewer times than the Caps, who have done it twice.  And that team – the California Golden Seals – dissolved (as the Cleveland Barons) after the 1977-1978 season.

We do not advocate that Caps fans end or change their allegiance.  We’ve been a fan of this franchise since moving here in 1984 and have no plans to jump on any bandwagon painted in different colors.  But making the emotional investment in this team and this franchise with each passing year never gets easier.  I am old enough to remember the disappointments of the teams of the 1980’s, which means that I am old enough now to wonder how likely it is that I -- and fans of similar vintage -- will ever see a Stanley Cup champion in Washington. 

For the players, it has to be different. This has been something they dreamed of since they first laced on a pair of skates.  To be in the moment and see it pass, year after year, has to be a pain no fan can comprehend.  I read of Nicklas Backstrom and his father after last night’s game, and (being as old or older than most of the fathers of these young men) I wanted to take them all out for an ice cream…

“Rock the Red” has become less a marketing theme or the description of what might have been the best era in Caps hockey (and perhaps among the best in the last couple of decades in the NHL) and more a contemptuous turn of phrase.  “Rock the Red” sounds too much like “Mock the Dead,” something no small number of commentators will be engaging in over the next days, weeks, or perhaps months when they discuss the Caps at all.

The hardest part would seem to be before all of us in Capitals Nation.  Caps fans should have no delusions about this club.  It is at an inflection point – the point at which it will almost certainly cease to be on short lists for Stanley Cup contenders and become merely one of a couple of dozen teams that can credibly challenge for a playoff spot. 

None of this sentences the Caps to spend the rest of the careers of Ovechkin and Backstrom without a Stanley Cup, but it seems likely that they would be considerable underdogs in that quest.  It is something Caps fans might have to become resigned to and to accept any postseason success, modest though it might be, as a pleasant surprise rather than an expectation.  That makes the first order of business realizing that this era of Capitals hockey -- the “Rock the Red” era – is dead.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 6

The Washington Capitals, once within 20 minutes of yet another second round exit from the postseason, beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2, last night in Pittsburgh to put themselves within 60 minutes (and hopefully no more) of the most improbable comeback in team history. After last night’s win to even the series at three games apiece, the Caps will host the Penguins in Game 7 on Wednesday night.  The cousins are equal parts thrilled and terrified.

Cheerless… I spent the whole day Monday polishing my brassie and baffing spoon and cleek and mashie and niblick, and the Caps went and spoilt everything.  But hey, the golf clubs can wait until after the June draft for all I care.  Just remember…the Caps have never, not once, not anytime, won three straight playoff games against the Penguins.

Fearless… The philosopher George Santayana once famously opined that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  This is an instance in which the Caps might benefit from embracing their history… of not winning three straight games against the Penguins in the playoffs, of not winning that Game 7 in 2009 when Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby met for the first time in the playoffs, of Ovechkin not burying that breakaway early in that contest.  Remember it all, and say to yourself, “not this time.”


Fearless… As Peerless pointed out last night, the Penguins have not scored a 5-on-5 goal in the last 109:36 of this series.  They have a power play goal and a pair of 4-on-4 goals.  That’s not a formula for success if you are the Penguins.  Since Phil Kessel scored a power play goal in the second period of Game 5, the Caps have outshot the Penguins, 44-31 (58.67 SF%), overall.  And it you take a look at Games 5 and 6, the first 50 minutes of Game 5 and the first 52 minutes of Game 6, when the Caps were racing out to multi-goal leads, the Caps out-attempted the Penguins by a 88-56 margin at 5-on-5 (61.11 percent; numbers from  The difference is now, shots are getting deep and going in; they are not getting blocked and turned around for Penguin odd-man breaks.

Cheerless… One game.  You know what you can do with your Corsi for one game?  All it would take to undo two games of great effort and lots of production is an odd bounce, a bad call, Marc-Andre Fleury remembering how to play goalie again.  In the long run, Corsi matters, but like that economics guy Peerless is always quoting, “in the long run, we’re all dead.” 


Cheerless… Justin Williams does not have a goal in this series.

Fearless… Justin Williams is 7-7-14 in Games 7 in his career, and his teams are 7-0 in those games.  The secret to comedy and playoff success is timing.


Fearless… If you want one obscure fact for Game 7, here it is.  In games on home ice this season, following a game in which the Caps scored five or more goals, regardless of venue, they are 9-0-0.

Cheerless… In road games following a game in which they allowed five or more goals, regardless of venue, the Penguins are 6-2-0.


Cheerless… Alex Ovechkin has two goals in his last eight games on 27 shots.

Fearless… In ten career postseason games on home ice against the Penguins, Ovechkin is 10-5-15, plus-1, including a hat trick.


Peerless… Kids dream of this moment.  The clock running out in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series, rising up to take the last shot as time is running out in the NBA finals.  This is not Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, but for Capitals Nation, it is the next rung on the ladder of accomplishment – vanquishing the Pittsburgh Penguins in a postseason series.  This will be the Caps’ fourth trip to a Game 7 against the Penguins, and they are in search of their first win.  Over the last two games, things have come together in a way seldom seen by Caps fans in the playoff history of the franchise.  Scorers score – even secondary scorers.  The team smothers the opponent to deny them shot attempts, let alone shots on goal.  Their goalie starts to outplay his counterpart at the other end.  The coaches’ moves are the right ones, not revealed to be panicky attempts to change the tone. 

So much can happen in one game, good or bad.  The last time these teams met in a over-the-top hyped Game 7, the outcome was decided early, the Caps finally relenting after a barrage of Penguin shots and punishment over the first six games.  This time, it is the Caps unleashing the fury of offensive pressure, forechecking, and physical play.  The Penguins are champions for a reason; they will not go quietly into the off-season.  But one could see cracks in their armor in Games 5 and 6.  For the Caps, the task will be to widen those fissures enough to drive the bus into the conference finals.  Do what you’ve been doing, and just do it.  Make that dream you had as kids come true.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6: Washington Capitals 5 - Pittsburgh Penguins 2

The Washington Capitals forced a Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a convincing 5-2 win at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Monday night.  After falling behind, three games to one, the Caps tied the series with one of their best postseason performances in recent history.

Washington broke on top on with a power play strike in the first period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck back and forth along the right wing wall, Backstrom sending the puck down to Kuznetsov at the goal line for a one time pass to T.J. Oshie at the hash marks of the right wing circle. Oshie one-timed Kuznetsov’s feed past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and it was 1-0, Caps, 12:41 into the period.

The one-goal lead held up into the second period, and then the Caps added to it.  Ron Hainsey could not handle a pass along the right wing wall in his own end, and he was muscled off the puck by Andre Burakovsky.  Curling away from Hainsey, Burakovsky went to the net looking for a passing lane to Oshie on his right.  Without a lane opening up, Burakovsky called his own number and flicked a shot that snuck between Fleury and the near post, and it was 2-0 at the 6:36 mark.

That was the score going into the third period, but the Caps struck on their first shot on goal of the period.  Nicklas Backstrom picked up the puck just outside his own blue line and led Andre Burakovsky on a 2-on-1 rush. When Justin Schultz laid out to prevent a pass to Burakovsky, Backstrom called his own number and snapped a shot past Fleury’s glove to make it 3-0, just 16 seconds into the third period.

Mid-way through the period, the Caps poured it on.  With Matt Cullen in the box for the Pens, Matt Niskanen slid a pass into John Carlson’s wheelhouse at the top of the left wing circle, and Carlson let fly with a one-timer that sailed past Fleury’s left shoulder high into the net to make it 4-0, 11:17 into the period.

Barely a minute later, the Caps struck again.  Burakovsky and Oshie broke into the Pens’ zone on a 2-on-1 withonly Chad Ruhwedel back for the Pens.  Ruhwedel denied Burakovsky a passing lane, so Burakovsky worked the puck around him, held for a moment, and then snapped a shot over Fleury’s glove to make it 5-0 at the 12:29 mark.

Karl Alzner and Patric Hornqvist were sent off for coincidental minor penalties with under four minutes left, and it gave the Penguins enough space to score a couple of cosmetic goals – Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin lighting the lamp.  But it was not nearly enough as the Caps turned the lights out at PPG Paints Arena for perhaps the last time this season, winning Game 6, 5-2.

Other stuff…

-- Pittsburgh does not have a 5-on-5 goal in the last 109:36 of this series.  Since Carl Hagelin scored 10:24 into Game 6, the Penguins have a power play goal and two 4-on-4 goals.  The Caps have outscored the Pens, 8-2, over the last four periods of the series.

-- Andre Burakovsky had three goals in his first 33 career postseason games.  With a pair tonight, he has three in his last two games.  He had his second consecutive two-point game in the series.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists, extending his points streak in the postseason to four games (3-3-6).

-- T.J. Oshie had a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game of this series and his third of the postseason overall.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was the fourth Capital with a multi-point game (goal, assist).  It was his third two-point game in his last five in this series and his fifth two-point game of the postseason.

-- John Carlson led the Caps with seven shots on goal, one off his career high, set against the Penguins in Game 3 of last spring’s series between the clubs.

-- The win was the Caps’ second in Pittsburgh in this series, the first time they won two games in Pittsburgh in the same playoff series since they won Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh in 1996.

-- The five goals was the most scored by the Caps in regulation in a playoff game in Pittsburgh since they beat the Penguins, 5-3, in Game 2 of their 1996 series.

-- The 18 shots on goal allowed was the second fewest allowed by the Caps in a playoff game in Pittsburgh.  They allowed 17 shots on goal in Game 2 of their 1994 series.  It is the fewest shots on goal allowed in a road playoff win against the Penguins.

-- As in Game 5, the Caps won the shot attempts battle at 5-on-5, and as it was in Game 5, it was not as close as the final margin indicated.  Washington out-attempted the Penguins, 40-31 (56.34 CF%) overall, but when they scored to make it a 5-0 game in the third period, the advantage was 38-26 (59.38 CF%; numbers from

In the end…

The Washington Capitals played 94 games this season to arrive at Wednesday night, a home date with the Pittsburgh Penguins for all the marbles.  The Caps have played in three Games 7 against the Penguins in franchise history, and each has dealt Capitals Nation their own brand of heartbreak –a 3-1 loss at home in 1992 after taking a 3-1 lead in games in the series, a 3-0 loss in Pittsburgh in 1995 after taking a 3-1 lead in games in the series, and a 6-2 loss at home in 2009 in the first postseason meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.  Now we find the Caps in the ultimate test of whether or not they are a different team than the one Capitals Nation has known in many incarnations over the years.  It’s time to just do it.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 5

The Washington Capitals skated to skate another day on Saturday night, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-2, in their Eastern Conference semifinal contest to narrow the series to a 3-2 advantage for the Penguins heading to Pittsburgh for Game 6.  Cheerless spent the evening peeking out from under his “Hee-Haw” themed blanket, while Fearless was reading “Bartlett’s” trying to find the right quote to capture the feelings Capitals Nation had.  And we’re just through Game 5 of the second round.  But what did they think of the contest?

Cheerless… I can’t take this anymore.  First they fall behind giving up the first goal, then they fell behind again.  Even after Nicklas Backstrom scored that goal to tie the game early in the third period, you just knew that Pig Knuckle (that’s Tom Kuhnackl, cousin…) or Soft Pretzel (Jake Guentzel) or Can o’ Schlitz (Justin Schultz) was going to score the next goal.  They had eight shot attempts over the next four minutes, five of them on goal, before Evgeny Kuznetsov finally gave the Caps the lead.  And even then you couldn’t be comfortable.

Fearless… When Kuznetsov scored it was the second time in this series that the Caps had a third period lead.  The other game they won they had a two-goal lead in the third period (2-0 in Game 3) but allowed two late empty-net goals to force overtime.


Fearless… It was the old core and the new core, the “Young Guns (who aren’t so young anymore)” and the “Fun Guns.”  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom scoring goals for the old guard, and Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring for the new.  This is precisely the formula the Caps have to have on, if not an every night basis (well, perhaps every night for the rest of this series), than a consistent one.  If Alex Ovechkin has a hat trick every game, chances are the Caps are still going to need goals from somewhere else to win series.  Kuznetsov and Burakovsky supplied just what the Caps needed.

Cheerless… That was the first time in 34 postseason games playing together that Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky scored a goal in the same game.  It was the first time in 34 postseason games playing together that they had a point in the same game.  Wonder why the Caps have had iffy playoff success?  There’s a reason.  Maybe this last night is the start of a trend.


Cheerless… What happened to that double-shifting thing for Alex Ovechkin.  He skated just 12:27 in even strength ice time last night and 17:46 overall.  Seven forwards had more even strength ice time.  Funny thing about that.  It was the 17th time in 95 playoff games Ovechkin skated less the 19 minutes overall.  The Caps are 15-2 in those games.  They are 31-47 when he skated more than 19 minutes.

Fearless… And the Caps are 24-16 when he scores a goal in the postseason, 22-33 when he doesn’t.  They are 33-27 when he records a point, 13-22 when he doesn’t.  Ovechkin contributing offensively is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the Caps to do well (those records when he records a goal or a point are not that impressive).


Fearless… The Caps had 20 shots blocked by the Penguins in Game 5.  That appears to be a threshold of sorts.  Washington won both games in which Pittsburgh blocked 20 or fewer shots (they blocked 18 in the Caps’ Game 3 win), lost each of the three games in which the Pens did not top that 20 blocked shot threshold.  The Caps were even able to take advantage of a blocked shot, Alex Ovechkin having his initial offering blocked by Ron Hainsey, but then following up the rebound to collect it and roof it over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove.  Getting shots through and in deep – on net or even misses – is something to watch for in Game 6.

Cheerless… What’s with the faceoffs?  The Caps have gotten worse in each game… 55.4 percent in Game 1, then 46.3 percent, 45.6 percent, 44.8 percent, and finally 39.3 percent in Game 5.  And the guys who are taking the most draws are having their lunch eaten in front of them.  Evgeny Kuznetsov is 32-for-74 (43.2 percent), and Nicklas Backstrom is 43-for-106 (40.6 percent).


Cheerless… The Caps are just 4-4 on the road in Games 6 on the road since 2008 and 1-4 in their last five such games.

Fearless… The Caps are 1-1 in such games against Pittsburgh, both games decided in overtime.


Peerless… One elimination game down, one to go.  Oh, you say “two to go?”  No.  The only elimination game the Caps have now is on Monday night.  Thinking past that is a fool’s errand.  What was encouraging about Game 5 were several things.  They did not let the game get away early, when they had a curious lack of energy.  Just as in the first four games, they dominated possession, but didn’t do it by padding the numbers with shots blocked by Penguins that turned into odd-man rushes the other way.  They dug in and dug deep in the third period to find a way to finish, and it was the product of players who have to contribute and who have had less than complimentary things said about them in the postseason – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.  And they had Braden Holtby turn in what would normally be called a “standard issue” Holtby performance, but one that has not been evident in this series until now, when it was needed most.

Well, the Caps need these players to do it again.  And they could still use some contributions from the third line (the “not Ovechkin” part of it) and the defense, although Kevin Shattenkirk is quietly piecing together a decent series at the offensive end with his production in the last three games (points in each contest).  The Caps don’t need a standout as much as they need all 19 guys – 18 skaters and goaltender – rowing hard in the same direction.  Do that on Monday, and they will row right back to Verizon Center for the series-deciding game on home ice on Wednesday.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 5: Washington Capitals 4 - Pittsburgh Penguins 2

The Washington Capitals’ season has a pulse.  Going into what might have been their last 20 minutes in the season, down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps scored three goals in a five minute span early in the third period and forced a sixth game in the series with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center.

Pittsburgh opened the scoring with a goal midway through the first period, Carl Hagelin taking a feed from Nick Bonino in the high slot, stepping up, and snapping a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove and off the post into the net to make it 1-0, 10:24 into the game.

It looked as if the 1-0 score would hold up going into the first intermission, but the Caps got even in the last minute.  It was a matter of patience by Andre Burakovsky.  Leaving the puck at the Penguin blue line for Kevin Shattenkirk, he let Shattenkirk carry the puck in before sliding in behind him.  Shattenkirk left the puck for Burakovaky, who backed his way across the top of the left wing faceoff circle, toe-dragging the puck around Matt Cullen, then snapping a shot past the blocker of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the near side with just 29.7 seconds left in the period.

Pittsburgh regained the lead early in the second period on a power play.  With Nate Schmidt in the penalty box on a holding call, the Pens worked the puck between and below the faceoff dots adeptly, Evgeni Malkin finally sending a pass through the slot to Phil Kessel alone low in the left wing circle.  Holtby got a piece of Kessel’s one-timer with the edge of his blocker, and the puck hit the post, but it found its way in to make it 2-1, 4:20 into the second period.

It did not take the Caps long to knot the score again in the third period.  It started with Nicklas Backstrom and Burakovsky skating in formation uip the left wing wall out of the Caps’ end.  Backstrom fed Burakovsky the puck at the red line, and Burakovsky skated the puck into the Penguin end.  Burakovsky worked the puck past Justin Schultz and onto the stick of Backstrom, who fired a shot under Fleury’s glove and over his left pad on the far side, 2:49 into the period.

Less than five minutes later, the Caps had their first lead of the evening.  John Carlson out-fought Hagelin for the puck just inside the Penguins’ blue line, nudging it ahead to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who  dropped the puck back to Marcus Johansson for a one timer.  The shot was muffled in front and squirted out to Fleury’s right, to Kuznetsov deep in the left wing circle.  Kuznetsov swept the puck in one motion behind Fleury before the goalie could get back across, and the Caps had a 3-2 lead at the 7:20 mark.

Just 27 seconds later the lead was two.  Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller ran a give-and-go heading out of the defensive end, Eller returning the puck to Ovechkin in stride.  Ovechkin carried the puck over the Penguin blue line and cut to the middle.  Trying to use defenseman Ron Hainsey as a screen, his shot was blocked by Hainsey.  The puck came right back to him, though, and Ovechkin did not let the second opportunity get away.  He ripped a shot over Fleury’s glove into the top of the net, and it was Caps, 4-2, at the 7:47 mark.

That was all Braden Holtby needed, as he shut out the Pens the rest of the way, and the Caps had life in a series that looked to be slipping away.

Other stuff…

-- The goals scored 27 seconds apart by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin were the fastest two goals scored by the Capitals in franchise playoff history.

-- Ovechkin is now 10-10-20, plus-8 in 19 elimination games in his career.  The Caps are 11-8 in those games.

-- Over the last three seasons, Pittsburgh was 125-6-3 (regular season and playoffs) when leading after two periods of games.  If there was anything approximating a certainty when the Penguins took a lead into the second intermission, winning would have been it.

-- Marcus Johansson was credited with more hits (five) than Tom Wilson (four).  T.J. Oshie led the team with seven.  The Caps were credited with 38 hits to 15 for the Penguins.

-- This was the 18th postseason game between these clubs in the Ovechkin/Crosby era.  It was just the second time in those 18 games the Caps recorded a multi-goal win.  They beat the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 5 in last year’s series.

-- Lars Eller had a pair of assists, his first multi-point game in the postseason since he had a pair of assists with the Montreal Canadiens in a 7-4 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their 2014 conference final series.

-- Andre Burakovsky got his first goal of the postseason and his first playoff goal since Game 1 against the Penguins in their Eastern Conference semifinal series last spring.  He added an assist to give him his first multi-point game in the postseason since he had both goals in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk had an assist to give him points in each of his last three games in this series (1-2-3, plus-5).

-- Two goals matters.  Braden Holtby allowed just two goal on 22 shots, giving him a 24-11 record in the postseason when allowing two or fewer goals.

-- The Caps did not enjoy the same sort of shot attempt dominance they displayed over the first four games of the series, but part of that was score effect.  When Alex Ovechkin scored the Caps’ fourth goal 7:47 into the third period, the Caps had a 43-28 in 5-on-5 shot attempts (60.56 percent).  The Caps finished with a 51-42 edge (54.84 percent; numbers from

In the end…

The Caps gave themselves a chance.  Down 1-3 in games, that is all one can ask for.  What might be the best thing about this game is that it is hard to put your finger on who the hero was.  Braden Holtby was sharp, especially over the last 30 minutes.  The Caps got four goals from four different players.  They got one from the Captain, and they got one from a youngster who desperately needed one in Andre Burakovsky.  Nicklas Backdstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped up, as they have to do for the Caps to pull this series out.  The Caps got only one point from a defenseman (John Carlson had an assist), but they did not allow the Penguins unfettered access to the front of the Caps’ net.  And no Capital finished with a “minus” rating.  It was something on which the Caps can build.  And build is what they will need to do as the series heads back to Pittsburgh for another elimination game.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 4

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage…”
So said King Henry in “Henry V,” by William Shakespeare.  And once more, the Washington Capitals find themselves in the breach, pushed to the edge of an early off-season after their 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.  The cousins are of different minds when it comes to Shakespeare, but are they of the same mind about last night’s game?

Cheerless… I hear you can get some pretty good deals on golf balls this time of year.  I should ask Caps players.  They know a lot about early-bird golf sales, I imagine.

Fearless… Not so fast, Gloomy Gus.  The Caps have outshot the Penguins, 142-93 in this series, have a 21.4 percent power play, an 86.7 percent penalty kill, have an overall shot attempt share of 65.23 percent, and have 72 offensive zone faceoffs to 42 for the Penguins.  By any reasonable measure, the Caps have dominated this series.

Cheerless… except for that goals thing and the wins thing.


Fearless… OK, since 2009, four 3-1 series leads, lost two of them…

Cheerless… This isn’t the time to bring up the Caps’ record in series when they had 3-1 leads.

Fearless… I wasn’t doing anything of the sort.  That’s the Penguins’ record.  Heavens, they had a 3-1 lead over the Caps last season and were an overtime goal in Game 6 from heading to a seventh game in Washington.

Cheerless… In the Ovechkin era, the Caps are 2-5 in series in which they lost Game 4.  All of those games were on the road.

Fearless… The Caps are 5-3 in series in the Ovechkin era when they win Game 5.


Fearless… When the league went to a two-referee system, the thought was that having an extra pair of eyes watching a game that was only getting faster had to be a good thing.  Looking at the calls against John Carlson and T.J. Oshie last night, one wonders about that sentiment.  Scott Wilson flopped like a flounder at the Seattle Fish Market to draw a “roughing” penalty on John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie’s alleged “high stick,” earning him a trip to the penalty box, never touched Nick Bonino’s face. 

Cheerless… Ahh…”bad zebras,” that’s what teams that lose always say.

Feerless… There have been 38 games in this postseason decided by one goal so far, including both games last night.  Any single call by a referee, especially one with less than two minutes to play (that ended up being a “phantom” penalty) takes on added significance.  We don’t advocate the “let them play” dictum, but maybe some officials are assuming a foul when one does not exist.  Even former official Kerry Fraser wondered about the Oshie call…


Fearless… The Caps have the seventh-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of any team in any postseason since 2008 (57.38; numbers from

Cheerless… Know how many of the other six ahead of them got to a Stanley Cup final?  One…Detroit won it in 2008; they have the third best postseason Corsi-for (60.38).


Cheerless… So, about that bottom six.  They sure are putting the “bottom” in that term.  The seven players to occupy this six slots – Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jay Beagle, Paul Carey, and Brett Connolly – have a grand total of one point in this series.  One stinking point (Eller, an assist).  Among them, they are shooting 0-for-31. Burakovsky has twice as many missed shots (10) as the next highest Cap (Ovechkin with five).

Fearless... Five of those players (Burakovsky, Eller, Wilson, Connolly, and Carey) have overall shot attempt shares of 70 percent or better.  Beagle is the only one under 50 percent (42.59).  That's not "tiliting the ice," it's taking it up in one sheet and depositing it in the offensive zone.


Peerless… So here we are, right back where we were at this time last season, a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 4 (that game went to overtime), taking a 1-3 deficit in games back with them to Verizon Center for the springtime “must-win” game.  Makes this team little different than its immediate predecessor and not much, if at all different from any of its predecessors in this era. 

A loss at home in Game 5 would arguably be the worst loss in the history of the franchise.  More than Game 7 in 2010, perhaps more than a potential Game 7 in this series (from which one could argue that the Caps fought back to make such a game possible).  To lose to a team in five games that lacks its number one goaltender and number one defenseman for the entirety of the series, and its best skater – the best player on the planet – for half of his team’s wins in the series would be an unvarnished disaster for this franchise.  There would be no argument one could make that the season was successful (who remembers who won the President's Trophy in 2015?).  For more than the players and coaches, Game 5 is a must-win game.  A win might be the only thing keeping the franchise from being a punch line for years to come.

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins 3 - Washington Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals were pushed to the brink of another early playoff exit on Wednesday night, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.  The win gives the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the series.

It was a completely “Capitals” sort of postseason loss, falling behind by a pair of goals before the game was 24 minutes old, striking back to tie the game with goals just over a minute apart, then allowing the game-winner on a power play to set aside all the hard work they did to get back into the contest.

Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring for the Penguins early in the first period, taking a lead pass from Olli Maatta just outside the Caps’ blue line, cutting between Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner, and breaking in alone on goalie Braden Holtby, beating him on the short side at the 4:39 mark to make it 1-0, Pens.

That score held up for almost 20 minutes, into the early moments of the second period, when Jake Guentzel gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead.  It was one more “Capitals” moment in a franchise history chock full of them.  Guentzel took a pass off the wall from Maatta and from the far side of the left wing circle threw the puck in front.  Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov had his stick perfectly place to redirect the puck past his own goaltender 3:51 into the period to make it a 2-0 game.

Washington started its comeback less than four minutes later.  Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams teamed to pry the puck from along the left wing wall, Williams sliding it free to Evgeny Kuznetsov gliding into the left wing circle.  Kuznetsov stepped up and snapped a shot that beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the blocker side to make it 2-1, 7:21 into the second period.

Nate Schmidt got the Caps even with his first goal of the postseason 72 seconds later.  Kevin Shattenkirk’s attempted slap-pass to T.J. Oshie went awry and skidded into the left wing corner where he took an odd rebound off the boards.  The puck came back out to the circle where Schmidt leaned into a one-timer that slithered through Fleury at the 8:33 mark to tie the game.

Two minutes later, the Caps planted the seed of their loss.  John Carlson was sent to the penalty box at the 10:45 mark for roughing Scott Wilson, and the Penguins converted their opportunity.  Justin Schultz one-timed a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Holtby, and it was the difference. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all nine third period shots he faced, and the Pens held on to push the Caps to the edge of the postseason cliff once more.

Other stuff…

-- In a game of this importance, your best player can’t take as many penalties as he had shots on goal, but that’s what Alex Ovechkin did in this game.  Two minor penalties, two shots on goal.  Sure, he had six hits, but that’s not how they keep score.

-- And it was not any better for Nicklas Backstrom.  No shots on goal, two attempts, minus-1, in 20 minutes of ice time.  It was part of a top line effort that generated a total of three even-strength shots on goal (Ovechkin had one; T.J. Oshie had two).

-- The mysterious misfortune of Andre Burakovsky continues.  He has no goals on 19 shots in ten postseason games after going 0-for-3 last night.  He is not in Alexander Semin territory for frustration (Semin was 0-for-44 in seven games in the 2010 postseason), but it is one of the big holes that has not been filled in this postseason for the Caps and especially in this series.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal, his fourth in ten postseason games and third in this series.  His six shots led the team.  But 3-for-16 on faceoffs?  Woof.

-- The Caps are 1-5 in the postseason when allowing three or more goals.  They allowed three goals in this game.

-- Pittsburgh, the smaller team, was credited with 40 hits spread among 15 of 18 skaters.  Maybe it was a home-scoring thing, but maybe it was an indication of which team had more determination.

-- According to, 44 percent of the penalties referee Kelly Sutherland called this postseason came in the third period.   It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the Caps were whistled for three minor penalties in the third period.

-- Matt Niskanen had one hit in 24:53 of ice time, so there was that. Oh, and he was on the ice for the game-winning goal, so Pens fans are probably thrilled.

-- Of 16 goalies with at least 100 minutes played in this postseason, Braden Holtby now ranks 13th in save percentage (.909).  He’s faced two of the best scoring offenses in the league in Toronto and Pittsburgh, but he has yet to really “steal” a game, certainly in this series.

-- The Caps out-shot the Pens, 38-18.  They out-shot them, 31-15, at even strength.  They out-attempted them, 72-38, overall.  They out-attempted them, 57-28, at 5-on-5.  Same story…same result.

In the end…

You just have the feeling that the Caps don’t have an answer for this team in any of its incarnations.  The Caps have dominated possession in just about every period of this series, and yet they have just nine goals and three losses in four games to show for it.  Marc-Andre Fleury looks poised to take his place among John Vanbiesbrouck, Kelly Hrudey, Johan Hedberg, and Jaroslav Halak as the “hot goalie” who did in the Caps.

The Capitals are at that point where the season will end in one of two,  and only two ways – their most glorious season, punctuated by the most dramatic comeback in team postseason history, or their most disappointing one, a season in which their “best ever” team was revealed to be no different than any that preceded it.  Stay tuned.  It’s not over yet.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 3

The Washington Capitals came back from the dead last night, crawled back into the coffin in the last two minutes, and then sprung back to, if not full vim and vigor, into a more or less upright position with their 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.  It was your standard 60 minutes of regulation with a short, by NHL postseason standards, overtime, but it was as if the teams put on a production of “The Ring of the Niebelung” in Pittsburgh.  The cousins found it an interesting game, to say the least…

Fearless… OK, let’s get right to it.  Dirty or not?

Cheerless… Kunitz should be kicked out of the country for that hit on T.J. Oshie.

Fearless… Funny.  Of course, we mean the attempted assassination of Sidney Crosby by Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen with the game barely five minutes old.  First, Ovechkin clocks Crosby in side of the head, dulling his senses, then he slewfoots Crosby, kicking out his left foot to put him off-balance as he heads through the low slot.  Then, in the coup-de-grace, Matt Niskanen, encamped on the grassy knoll of the right wing faceoff circle, cross checked him in the face, snapping Crosby’s head back, and to the left…back, and to the left…back, and to the left…

Cheerless… I ain’t the sharpest knife in the chandelier, but from the time Crosby came across the blue line to when he collided with Niskanen, it was about four seconds.  Hockey is a fast game.  Do you think Alex Ovechkin told himself… “I must break him,” circled in behind him, recollected that Crosby had a history of concussion issues and thought, “hey, if I whack his head, maybe I turn his brains into pirozhki,” whacked him, then slewfooted him on purpose, knowing Matt Niskanen was 20 feet away looking to deliver the kill shot… all in four seconds?  Who are you, Rob Rossi


Cheerless… Back to the actual game, what is with this team and horking up leads?  Last night was the fifth time in nine games in the postseason that the Caps had a lead and lost it.  They are 3-2 in those games, but really…stop doing that!

Fearless… It is part of a bigger problem.  Only the Ottawa Senators have allowed more second period goals (12) than the Caps (11), and no team has allowed more third period goals than Washington (9).  Shoot, no team at all has allowed more goals than the Caps (27), period.  They have more overtime goals scored than any team in the playoffs so far (four), but that’s in no small part a product of losing leads.  The Caps have a fine plus-4 goal differential in the first periods of games so far, but they have a minus-five in the second periods and a minus-3 in the third periods of games.  If they don’t end that nonsense, start thinking about tee times.


Fearless… This was just the third time in ten tries against the Penguins that the Caps won a Game 3 and the first time they did it since 1995.  The only time they beat the Pens in a series was when they won a Game 3 on their way to the win.  It was the first time in six tries that they won a Game 3 in Pittsburgh. 

Cheerless… Yeah, how ‘bout that?  Since Ovechkin has been in the league the Caps are 2-2 in series in which they win Game 3.  Let’s not read too much into that, okay?  Game 4 doesn’t seem to matter much, either.  The Caps are 4-3 when winning Game 4 in those same years (including a series win against Toronto this year).


Cheerless… Three games in this series, the third and fourth lines have a total of one point.  And even that one – an assist by Lars Eller – was recorded skating with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie (Ovechkin got the goal).  Last year against the Pens, the Caps third and fourth lines recorded four points by four different players in six games (Jay Beagle and Andre Burakovsky had goals, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera had assists). Haven’t we seen this movie?  Are we expecting it to end any different if it’s just a remake of the same movie?

Fearless… The Eller-Wilson-Burakovsky line is a 72.73 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the postseason.  Of 167 forwards having skated at least 50 5-on-5 minutes, Burakovsky has the best individual Corsi-for at fives in the league (66.01).  Wilson is tenth (60.48), and Eller is 12th (60.00; numbers from  Either these guys just forgot how to get puck to and into the net, or they have had the worst luck imaginable from a fancystats perspective.


Fearless… Talk about worst luck imaginable.  The Caps have a two-goal lead late, and the Pens get one on a shot from Evgeni Malkin that looked to nick the heel of Karl Alzner’s skate, altering the trajectory of the puck upward enough to clear Braden Holtby’s left pad, then they get another when a shot hit T.J. Oshie and changed direction past Holtby.  But he was solid before that and sucked it up after for his best performance of the series and one of, if not his best of the entire postseason to date.  Just in time, I’d say.

Cheerless… In nine games so far, Holtby has allowed fewer than three goals in consecutive games just once (Games 5 and 6 against Toronto, in which he allowed one goal in each).  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and pronounce him “cured” of whatever yips he had.


Peerless… The dominant story over the next two days is going to be the health of Sidney Crosby and the likelihood of his return for Game 4, or perhaps even the series.  There are a lot of ways this can play out in terms of whether his absence advantages the Penguins (steely team resolve, Malkin doing well over his career in Crosby’s absence) or the Capitals (not having to face the game’s best player in addition to the absence of Pittsburgh’s best defender in Kris Letang and their number one goalie, Matt Murray).

The way we see this is a situation that provides the Caps with another opportunity to demonstrate the difference between this team and its predecessors.  They have to be a team with no memory and no conscience.  They just need to stick to business, play the team in front of them, assert their will, and stand on their throat.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Yeah, if it was, I’d be centering Fearless and Cheerless for an NHL team.  Don’t see that happening soon.  Let’s just hope the Caps find a way to find their inner ruthlessness and come home with a tied series that looks more like one to their advantage.