Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Six in Fenwick, Atlanta through Anaheim

This is just depressing.

20383 Thrashers 3 @ Capitals 1
20397 Maple Leafs 5 @ Capitals 4 (SO)
20414 Panthers 3 @ Capitals 0
20430 Avalanche 3 @ Capitals 2
20438 Capitals 0 @ Rangers 7
20449 Ducks 2 @ Capitals 1 (OT)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Preview: Ducks @ Capitals

Data is from Objective NHL,,, and Left Wing Lock.

Anaheim Ducks @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 18-11-3, 39 points
Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (12-24-36 in 32 GP), Alexander Semin (18-15-33 in 32 GP), Nicklas Backstrom (11-22-33 in 32 GP)
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-5-2, 2.68, .908), Semyon Varlamov* (4-4-0, 2.62, .907)
Shot differential/game: +4.2
5-on-5 shot differential/game: +4.0
Score close Corsi%: 53.2% (5th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 51.5% (12th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tyler Sloan, F Matt Hendricks, D Jeff Schultz, D John Erskine, D Mike Green, W Alexander Semin, C Nicklas Backstrom, C Boyd Gordon, F Brooks Laich, D John Carlson, C Marcus Johansson
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

Anaheim: 16-13-4, 36 points
Leading scorers: Corey Perry (16-19-35 in 33 GP), Ryan Getzlaf (10-22-32 in 33), Teemu Selanne (10-18-28 in 26), Bobby Ryan (14-12-26 in 33), Lubomir Visnovsky (4-21-25 in 32)
Goalies: Jonas Hiller* (14-11-3, 2.78, .917), Curtis McElhinney (2-2-1, 2.78, .922)
Shot differential/game: -5.8
5-on-5 shot differential/game: -4.9
Score close Corsi%: 44.0% (29th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 44.0% (29th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: F Teemu Selanne, F Aaron Voros
Player to watch: G Jonas Hiller

*Starter as predicted by LWL

The Ducks are going to be playing the first of five-road-games-in-seven-nights while the Caps...bleck.

1) Shot selection. The Ducks allow a ton of shots. The Caps can pick and choose. No need to pepper Hiller, who's going to stop all the easy ones most nights (at a rate that makes him arguably the best goalie in the league--no, seriously).

2) Don't fight. Even though the Ducks like to.

3) Restrain your frustration. Because that will lead to power plays for, not against. The Ducks' special teams are pretty good, but they take a lot of penalties which expose that weaker-of-the-two 81% PK (compared to a strong 20.5% PP).

4) No power versus power. Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and everyone else. That's the Ducks up front. They're almost a one-line team when they load up on the top unit. Let Steckel handle them, and put out Ovechkin and Semin against anyone else.

5) Hot Varlamov/Neuvirth. Pretty please.

The Caps have been better as of late, dominating shots. At some point the shots are going to start going in. At the start of this cold streak the Caps were around +2 ES shots per game, I think. Now it's +4. That's a good improvement. Anaheim gets outshot a lot, and with all the penalties they take, I can't see Anaheim taking this barring a great game from their goalie. Unfortunately, with the way the Caps have been drawing hot goalies lately (or making them look hot, in some cases), Hiller "stealing" this game is very much a real, scary possibility. I think we're in for a hard-fought win. Capitals 4, Ducks 3 (OT).

Monday, December 13, 2010

On "Peaking Early" and "Losing Now"

There are two ideas being bandied about that have been annoying me. They've been tossed around CapsNation a lot recently in light of this losing streak. I want to address what exactly irks me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preview: Capitals @ Rangers

Data is from Objective NHL,,, and Left Wing Lock.

Washington Capitals @ New York Rangers
Washington: 18-10-3, 39 points
Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (12-24-36 in 31 GP), Alexander Semin (18-15-33 in 31 GP), Nicklas Backstrom (11-22-33 in 31 GP)
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-5-2, 2.68, .908), Semyon Varlamov* (4-3-0, 2.06, .930)
Shot differential/game: +4.0
5-on-5 shot differential/game: +3.1
Score close Corsi%: 53.2% (5th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 51.5% (12th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tyler Sloan, F Matt Hendricks, D Jeff Schultz, D John Erskine, D Mike Green, W Alexander Semin, C Nicklas Backstrom, C Boyd Gordon, F Brooks Laich, D John Carlson
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

New York: 17-13-1, 35 points
Leading scorers: Brandon Dubinsky (13-12-25 in 31), Ryan Callahan (8-13-21 in 30), Marian Gaborik (8-9-17 in 18)
Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist (12-11-5, 2.57, .915), Martin Biron* (5-2-0, 2.38, .911)
Shot differential/game: -2.2
5-on-5 shot differential/game: -3.1
Score close Corsi%: 47.9% (22nd)
Adjusted Corsi%: 47.6% (24th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: C Chris Drury, F Vaclav Prospal, D Steve Eminger, F Derek Boogaard
Player to watch: G Henrik Lundqvist/Martin Biron

*Starter as predicted by LWL

Both teams come off hard-fought losses, the Capitals their fifth straight to Colorado, the Rangers to Columbus.

1) Keep crashing the net. Bad ice at MSG means that those pretty plays may not work. The Capitals from what I gather were crashing the net against Colorado, and need to continue against New York, who don't allow a ton of good shots and are good PKers (well, until this season).

2) Hit. Get Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, etc, involved early. The team will be all the better off as a result. Take Callahan's game to Callahan, Dubinsky's game to Dubinsky, and hopefully throw Marc Staal off his game.

3) Shoot glove. The Rangers are a poor faceoff team, under 45%. Lots of offensive zone draws always help generate offense. I'd love to see the Ovechkin-off-the-faceoff play end up hitting the net again. How many times have we seen that work?

4) Play east-west. Crash the net, and play east-west? Yep. Slow the game down. The Capitals may be missing their top defensive pair again. Marian Gaborik is happy. But his main asset is his speed, and a slow game means he can never open up and be as effective as he can be.

5) Hot Varlamov. Pretty please.

The Capitals dominated in Corsi against Colorado, more than can be solely attributed to score effects. I'd say it's a sign they could be turning the corner. The power play connected, the penalty kill continues to be decent, and the even strength play in the offensive zone is getting better, more cyclical and less transition. At some point this team is going to go on a long winning streak of its own. Let's start tonight. Capitals 3, Rangers 1.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What to do on Gameday

Preseason game--give a certain appendage to Shea Weber and don't look at Semyon Varlamov. The pressure of extra eyes may cause him to pull his groin.

Hershey game--go up to Hershey, Pennsylvania, sporting your Tyler Sloan t-shirt or jersey. Cheer hard, come back home, and grumble on Japers' Rink about how Mathieu Perreault looked so good and deserves to play in the NHL.

Capitals home game (regular season)--read mildly humorous blog posts. Go to the game. Try to eat and go to the bathroom beforehand so you don't have to at Verizon Center.

Capitals road game (regular season)
  • At Atlanta--rag on Dustin Byfuglien before he plays shutdown on Alex Ovechkin. Look at Tobias Enstrom and wish the Capitals could find two late-round top-pairing defensemen.
  • At Florida--feel sad for Tomas Vokoun, covet Stephen Weiss, and try to learn the names of their star players. Also, keep insulting them while I try and defend them using Corsi and scoring chances.
  • At Carolina--make sour faces at Eric Staal, watch Joni Pitkanen's skating, feel sorry about how you thought Jeff Skinner had skating issues. Go to the bathroom before you look at their logo.
  • At Tampa Bay--admire Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, find flaws with Dan Ellis who maddeningly for me had posted even strength save percentage numbers to the contrary.
  • At Pittsburgh--do this. Don't reveal your secret crush on Sidney Crosby in public. Whoop Sergei Gonchar from your couch. Ponder what noise Penguins make. Try to mimic a choking penguin. Go to Pensburgh. Mute the Pittsburgh feed.
  • At Philadelphia--revel in that Stanislav Galiev's early comparable is Claude Giroux. Hate Mike Richards for being a pain in the rear end of Alex Ovechkin for all eternity. Despise Chris Pronger for being the real Mr. Nasty. Be jealous that Sergei Bobrovsky doesn't have an injury-prone crotch area. After the game, go to Broad Street Hockey and argue why Mike Green is better than Chris Pronger.
  • At New Jersey--laugh at Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur before they show you they can still play. Admire the guy who made me shout "YES!!!!" in the middle of a cold winter night earlier this year, Zach Parise. Or laugh. It depends on the decade season.
  • At New York (Rangers)--drool over Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Marc Staal. Watch these linked videos in order several times. Feel nostalgia. And then curse the Penguins.
  • At New York (Islanders)--laugh, before you realize that the Islanders always play the Capitals really tight. Then remember Milbury, revoking Botta's credentials, and firing Gordon, and laugh again.
  • At Boston--feel schadenfreude at Tim Thomas. Mute Jack Edwards.
  • At Montreal--crawl out from under the sofa when you remember Jaroslav Halak got traded. Then crawl back when you realize Carey Price is hot. Then come back out and photoshop PK Subban on the left and John Carlson on the right.
  • At Buffalo--mute if you're on the Buffalo feed.
  • At Toronto--laugh at the Phil Kessel deal. Covet Francois Beauchemin. Go to Pension Plan Puppets.
  • At Ottawa--play Super Mario Bros. 3 and Double Dragon on your SNES...wait, you don't have one?
  • At Chicago--press mute if the game is in Chicago.
  • At Detroit--try and appreciate Nicklas Lidstrom and the Red Wings' beautiful style of play even when they're dominating the Capitals.
  • At Nashville--flick off Shea Weber.
  • At Columbus--try and guess which Jacket McPhee will steal acquire next.
  • At St. Louis--start Varlamov in your fantasy team because he'll Halak Halak.
  • At Edmonton--try not to laugh hyster...HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH
  • At Minnesota--make sure any ropes nearby are safely stowed away. You don't want to accidentally choke your pet rock or anything.
  • At Calgary--Watch turtle videos on YouTube. You won't miss anything.
  • At Vancouver--Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! Not.
  • At Colorado--Laugh at Tomas Fleischmann, more invisible than dark matter.
  • At Los Angeles--Hide. Unless Drew Doughty is out, or Michal Neuvirth is facing Jonathan Bernier.
  • At San Jose--Hide. It'll be close but won't turn out well.
  • At Phoenix--read over Paul Bissonnette's tweets for some laughs before Ilya Bryzgalov either posts a spectacular game or lets Alex Ovechkin score a hat trick.
  • At Dallas--forego the CSN feed in favor of FSN Dallas, or CSN video on mute with Dallas radio. Seriously.
  • At Anaheim--start DJ King on your fantasy team for some major PIMs.
Capitals home game (playoffs)--be thankful the Capitals make the playoffs.

Capitals home game (playoffs, Game 7)--go to the game. Bring tissues for four, minimum.

When Good Luck is Bad Luck

The 2007-2008 Washington Capitals were an elite Corsi team. So were the 2008-2009 Capitals. Both teams were above 54% in score close Fenwick. The 2009-2010 Capitals? Not so much, believe it or not. Here's my theory why.

Preview: Avalanche @ Capitals

Data is from Objective NHL,,, and Left Wing Lock.

Colorado @ Washington Capitals
Washington: 18-9-3, 39 points
Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (12-23-35 in 30 GP), Alexander Semin (18-15-33 in 30 GP), Nicklas Backstrom (11-21-31 in 30 GP)
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth* (12-4-2, 2.66, .909), Semyon Varlamov (4-3-0, 2.06, .930)
Shot differential: +3.6
5-on-5 shot differential: +3.1
Score close Corsi%: 53.2% (5th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 51.5% (12th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tyler Sloan, F Matt Hendricks, D Jeff Schultz, D John Erskine, D Mike Green, W Alexander Semin, C Nicklas Backstrom, C Boyd Gordon, F Brooks Laich, D John Carlson
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

Colorado: 14-10-4, 32 points
Leading scorers: Milan Hejduk (11-20-31 in 28), Matt Duchene (9-18-27 in 28), John-Michael Liles (5-21-26 in 28), Paul Stastny (11-14-25 in 28), Chris Stewart (11-14-25 in 23)
Goalies: Craig Anderson* (5-4-2, 2.82, .909), Peter Budaj (9-6-2, 3.11, .895)
Shot differential/game:+0.4
5-on-5 shot differential/game: +0.5
Score close Corsi%: 48.3% (21st)
Adjusted Corsi%: 49.3% (21st)
Notable injuries/illnesses: W Milan Hejduk, F Chris Stewart, D Kyle Cumiskey, F Peter Mueller, F T.J. Galiardi, F David van der Gulik
Player to watch: F Tomas Fleischmann

*Starter as predicted by LWL

The Avalanche snapped a losing streak with a win over Atlanta last night, while the Capitals are playing the first leg of a back-to-back, already on a four game losing streak (or "winless" if you prefer).

1) a flash. Tomas Fleischmann has four points in four games with Colorado. He's still a cruddy Corsi player, and the Avalanche as a group aren't stellar. Expect lots of red lights to turn on while Fleischmann is on the ice.

2) Ovechkin. If Ovechkin is good and Boudreau gets him out against Fleischmann, John-Michael Liles and his high on-ice save percentage had better be backing up Flash or Joe Sacco will be in for a long night, along with the rest of this team. If Ovechkin is good, period, then it'll be a long night for Colorado. Unless...

3) Outplay Anderson. Another good goalie? Oh noes. C'mon Varly/Neuvy, shut 'em down. You're two of the best goalies on the planet when hot.

4) Cycle. Draw power plays. Colorado's PK is under 80%, which bodes well. Plus, cycling builds good habits. You can bet Colorado will drop into a passive forecheck whenever it can.

5) Make good use of the goat. Colorado is only 7-6-3 on the road, with two wins coming in the shootout. Let's hear Caps fan make it tough on the Avalanche by cheering with Goat, and/or sacrificing goats to get Mike Knuble and everyone else scoring goals again.

Regression to the mean happens. We just don't know when. I'm guessing tonight. Capitals 4, Avalanche 2.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Caps' Cap Continued: San Jose

Japers' Rink commenter Reckless brought to my attention that the San Jose Sharks present a good team comparable to the Capitals in terms of salary cap situation (among other things), or at least to a future Caps team. The Sharks are older than the Capitals, and with all those guys on UFA contracts you really wonder how they've stayed so good and under the salary cap. It starts and ends with GM Doug Wilson, who's a master at managing the cap.

Long term deals (2 seasons or more after this one): RW Dany Heatley, C/W Patrick Marleau, C Joe Thornton, C Joe Pavelski, D Dan Boyle, W Ryane Clowe, D Marc-Edoard Vlasic, D Jason Demers (ELC), D Douglas Murray. Total, 9 players ~$41 million. The Sharks look like they have three first liners, two second liners, and their top four defensemen all signed. Is that so different from Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin-2C-Green-Schultz-Alzner-Carlson-Poti? Their important D and the "make-around-them-better" forwards are locked up long term, so Wilson can get both guys going under market value "for a chance to win" and cheap, not-too-bad players near league minimum (a la Jeff Halpern, Eric Belanger, etc).

Granted, the Sharks do have six ELC players right now. I don't think the Capitals will have that anytime in the near future; best case, we're looking at Johansson-Kuznetsov-Orlov-Galiev-Eakin-Carlson, I'd say. But the Sharks also have some expiring UFA deals that coincide nicely with the end of Devin Setoguchi's cheap deal (he'll be an RFA after this season) and have staggered the ends of their expensive guys' contracts for the most part, just as George McPhee likes to do.

Perhaps the only player Doug Wilson has overpaid in the recent past is Evgeni Nabokov. He's been pretty good at not overpaying, and yet he doesn't seem overly cautious or overly aggressive in free agency. He's even made three blockbuster trades (Thornton, Boyle, Heatley). He just gets things done. If George McPhee can emulate Wilson and be careful with his finances, then the Capitals should be able to keep a roughly ten player core for the foreseeable future. I don't doubt GMGM can.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Preview: Panthers @ Capitals

I added in JLikens' most recent adjusted Corsi% count from Objective NHL. The most recent count is from November 30.

Florida Panthers @ Washington Capitals
Washington: 18-8-3, 39 points
Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (12-23-35 in 29 GP), Alexander Semin (18-15-33 in 29 GP), Nicklas Backstrom (11-21-31 in 29 GP)
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-4-2, 2.66, .909), Semyon Varlamov (4-2-0, 1.92, .934)
Shot differential: +3.6
5-on-5 shot differential: +3.4
Score close Corsi%: 53.2% (5th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 51.5% (12th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tyler Sloan, F Matt Hendricks, D Jeff Schultz, D John Erskine
Player to watch: C Nicklas Backstrom

Leading scorers: David Booth (7-9-16 in 26), Michael Frolik (5-10-15 in 25), Stephen Weiss (7-6-13 in 25), D Brian McCabe (2-11-13 in 26), D Dennis Wideman (2-10-12 in 26)
Goalies: Tomas Vokoun (10-10-0, 2.58, .917), Scott Clemmensen (2-4-0, 2.79, .910)
Shot differential/game: +1.4
5-on-5 shot differential/game: +1.5
Score close Corsi%: 52.6% (7th)
Adjusted Corsi%: 52.2% (8th)
Notable injuries/illnesses: F Cory Stillman, F Radek Dvorak, F Rostislav Olesz, F Chris Higgins, F Byron Bitz, F Mark Cullen, D Bryan Allen
Player to watch: C Stephen Weiss

Tonight the Capitals get their first look at a revamped Panthers team. What? Well, they own at even strength in scoring chances and Corsi. Washington has lost three in a row, while Florida is coming off a thrilling overtime win over Colorado.

Is this our first look at future Cap Stephen Weiss this season? I sure hope so.

1) Mike Green. cold. Yeah, I'm not sure how much is on him and how much is on the forwards, but regardless, getting Green on the board in some form besides PIMs would be nice.

2) Solid defensive effort from everyone. This may seem like an obvious one for every night. Florida has good scoring balance and the Capitals need to make sure that they not only shut down Booth and Weiss, but guys on the third and fourth lines as well.

3) Crash the net. There's a strong case to be made that Tomas Vokoun is the best goalie in the world right now. How do you beat him? Garbage goals? I don't know. If decides to get hot (like the last two goalies the Caps have faced)...yuck.

4) Prevent scoring chances. Even if it means taking penalties. Florida can score a pretty good clip at 5-on-5, but their PP is atrocious. I bet Alexander Semin can outscore the Cats' PP. I don't doubt he will, actually.

5) Five feet of forecheck. Okay, so Mathieu Perreault isn't that short, but he is rather small. That being said, in the first few games of call-ups, he's generally fearless, playing more like Jason Chimera with hands than Keith Aucoin. With Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich on his flanks, if Perreault gives another great effort, the Capitals' second line should shine, regardless of who faces them from the other end (it doesn't help that Florida is banged up).

Losing streaks have to end sometime. Right? Right??? RIGHT??? I may look like an idiot for this, and I will feel terrible if I'm completely off, but I don't think the Capitals are going to get the easy win against Florida like they would last year: #needslessVokoun. I also think Semyon Varlamov is getting the start and he's hot. I can't see Florida beating up on the Caps. Nothing like the "gimmick" to get our heroes back on track. Capitals 4, Panthers 3 (SO).

How Much Can the Caps Afford?

With help from NHLNumbers and Capgeek, I'm looking at how much I can load up the Caps' roster. I used the Capgeek fantasy calculator and inserted players with comparable cap hits to what I'm predicting, if the player isn't already signed through the desired year. In this case, I am looking at whether trading for, say, Stephen Weiss will keep the Capitals from keeping Alexander Semin next season or Mike Green the following season, specifically.

Here's my lineup. In some cases I pulled out a name of a guy I think has a similar cap hit now as the player I want will have in the future

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-1RW (Knuble)
Alexander Semin-Stephen Weiss-Brooks Laich (Ruutu)
Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Eric Fehr
Jay Beagle-Dave Steckel-Matt Bradley

I think Laich's next cap hit will be less than Ruutu's, which I hope balances out Semin's predicted raise.

Jeff Schultz-Mike Green (Lidstrom)
Karl Alzner (Johnson)-John Carlson (Letang)
Poti-6D (Erskine)

I think Green will get signed long-term to get a cap hit like Lidstrom's; at any rate, I can't see Green getting a higher AAV or salary than Nicklas Backstrom. Alzner and Carlson, being so young, I think will sign on RFA discounts, and I think Letang presents a good comparable for Carlson and Johnson a decent one for Alzner. Erskine is a higher-than-market-value comparable for a 6D.

Semyon Varlamov (Carey Price)
Michal Neuvirth (Carey Price)

What I did here is Neuvirth + Price for around $3.5 million, which seems like a good combined cap hit for the two goalies in the future (do note Neuvirth signed a contract extension over the offseason for about $2.2 million over 2 years). I can't see Varlamov getting much more than Neuvirth.

PlayerCap Hit

Ovechkin, A. »$9,538,462
Backstrom, N. »$6,700,000
Semin, Alexander »$6,000,000
Ruutu, Tuomo »$3,800,000
Weiss, Stephen »$3,100,000
Knuble, Mike »$2,800,000
Fehr, Eric »$2,200,000
Chimera, Jason »$1,875,000
Steckel, Dave »$1,100,000
Bradley, Matt »$1,000,000
Johansson, M. »$900,000
Beagle, Jay »$512,500
Lidstrom, N. »$6,200,000
Letang, K. »$3,500,000
Poti, Tom »$3,500,000
Schultz, Jeff »$2,750,000
Johnson, Erik »$2,600,000
Erskine, John »$1,250,000
Sloan, Tyler »$700,000
Price, Carey »$2,750,000
Neuvirth, Michal »$821,667
SALARY CAP$63,000,000
TEAM CAP NUMBER$63,597,628
CAP SPACE$-597,628
(note: probably should have put Eakin and Kuznetsov and Orlov/McNeill in there for a good-case scenario)

Hmm, we're still going over. Even if we trim all the fat out of the cap hits--like Steckel, Sloan, etc)--it'll still offer the Caps minimal room to maneuver under the cap.

Maybe we can look to the Pittsburgh Penguins for some ideas here. I don't like that they have ten players (Martin, Michalek, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, Letang, Orpik, Lovejoy ELC, Cooke) signed for the next three years at least--they'll be handcuffed if they somehow fall, and cannot change the makeup of the team at all--but they do have the young players locked down and even signed some FAs this offseason. Do note I rounded for ease of adding the numbers.

Crosby + Malkin ~ Ovechkin + Backstrom ~ $16 million
Martin + Michalek + Letang ~ Green + Alzner + Carlson ~ $13 million
Fleury ~ Varlamov + Neuvirth + Schultz ~ $5 million
Staal + Cooke ~ Semin ~ $6.5 million
Orpik ~ Poti + Steckel ~ $4 million
Lovejoy + $400k ~ Johansson ~ $900k

So we're at 12 Caps for right around the same price as ten Pens, roughly $46 million. The Capitals would need a 1RW, a 2C or 3C, 2LW, 3LW, 3RW, 4LW, 4RW, and 6D, 8 players for $14 million or maybe even more if the cap goes up. Put in a 2C like Weiss and you're suddenly filling the rest of the lineup with spare parts (more or less), but how much money do you need to attract an Andrew Brunette to play 1RW or 2LW, or re-sign Eric Fehr to be 1RW, or re-sign Matt Bradley? The bottom of the lineup may take a hit. It may be best for George McPhee to try and get a player comparable to Semin at center and use any money saved to spend decently on the bottom wings, rather than get a bunch of castaways like Pittsburgh. Matt Hendricks, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Cody Eakin, and others could fill out the bottom of the lineup quite nicely.

In short: the Caps' cap situation is better than Pittsburgh's cap situation long-term. I've seen many people assert the Pens' cap situation is perfectly manageable. Then, so is Washington's situation, maybe even more so. The main difference is that the Pens have a top-end 2C and 3C locked up, while the Capitals only have a top-end 1LW and 2W, a 4D, and a 4C (who I really think will be moved this upcoming offseason for ease-of-cap reasons, if not sooner).

Short term prognosis: with Chimera and Steckel and King and Sloan eating up some cap room, GMGM may have to finagle a bit, and money will be tight. Longer term, though, the Capitals should be set enough to keep all the main pieces of today, plus potentially add a solid player in free agency.

Just stay away from bad contracts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Preview: Maple Leafs @ Capitals

I changed the introductory stats a bit. 5-on-5 shot differential is available from

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 18-8-2, 38 points
Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (11-23-34 in 28 GP), Alexander Semin (18-14-32 in 28 GP), Nicklas Backstrom (11-19-30 in 28 GP)
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-4-1, 2.59, .911), Semyon Varlamov (4-2-0, 1.92, .934)
Shot differential: +3.5
5-on-5 shot differential: +3.1
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, D John Erskine
Player to watch: RW Eric Fehr

Toronto: 9-12-4, 22 points
Leading scorers: Clarke MacArthur (7-12-19 in 25 GP), Mikhail Grabovski (5-11-16 in 25 GP), Nikolai Kulemin (9-6-15 in 25 GP), Kris Versteeg (8-7-15 in 24 GP)
Goalies: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (6-5-2, 2.82, .893), Jonas Gustavsson (3-7-2, 2.66, .910)
Shot differential/game: +1.0
5-on-5 shot differential/game: -0.6
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Dion Phaneuf, F Mike Brown
Player to watch: F Phil Kessel

Season series:
11/3 Toronto 4 @ Washington 5 (SO)

Toronto is coming off a shootout victory over Boston, featuring an unprecedented half-hour of dominance capped by Phil Kessel's winner on Tim Thomas, while Washington has lost two straight, at Dallas and versus Atlanta.

1) Break through hot goalies. Toronto broke through a hot goalie in Tim Thomas. Washington has not in two games in a row. Three of the four goalies playing in this matchup I'd bet would have strong games given the chance (sorry, JS Giguere). I have a bad feeling both teams are going to be stoned by a hot goalie in this one. Well, either that or both (or more) will throw up stinkers.

2) Carlzner versus Kessel. Jeff Schultz tends to have trouble with small, shifty forwards. Phil Kessel fills that mold. And I think Kessel, despite his struggles this season, is still too dangerous to be countered with Hannan and Sloan/Erskine/Poti. That leaves John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who have been playing some fantastic hockey this season.

3) Power versus power, depth versus depth. Toronto can't match the Capitals' depth at any position. Play top line versus top line, top pairing versus top pairing, and this game should turn out nicely.

4) Slow it down. Toronto is a bit small up front. Washington is huge everywhere. Don't let Toronto's speedy forwards get loose like last time and this will look good.

5) Controlled entries. Although Toronto's defense may not look so good on paper, fact is their defensemen can move the puck decently out of the zone. Dumping and chasing will lead to a long, back-and-forth boring game played mostly in the neutral zone. Carrying the puck into the zone I think will be more successful. Think "cute," not "playoff hockey."

A team that has gotten shut out six of their last sixteen games? Just what the doctor ordered. Capitals 3, Leafs 1.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Recap: Thrashers 3, Capitals 1

Halak'd Pavelec'd. A Peverley deflection, a sharp-angle roofer from Burmistrov, and a Ladd shot, and that's all the offense Atlanta needed.

But hey, at least Ovechkin scored, right? (if you didn't see that shift, make sure to see it some time. It was beautiful, about 90 seconds in zone time plus quite a few shots)

Man of the match: Alex Ovechkin from a Caps perspective, Ondrej Pavelec overall.

More on Sidney Crosby's Hot Start

Earlier this season I looked into Steven Stamkos' quick goal-a-game start. Now that Sidney Crosby has overtaken Stamkos in the Ross race (and will in the Richard race soon, methinks), let's take a look at Sid. Is his unreal pace this season for real?

All data courtesy of

First few stats. Click for larger.

So Crosby is not getting a dumptruck full of TOI at 5-on-5, though he is getting quite a bit (note: the old is giving me 15.08 TOI/60). His competition at first glance is on the tough side, his teammates adequate but not great, and his points% at 92%!!! He's clearly driving the bus. Well, more like five buses. His on-ice shooting% is high, which certainly helps, but his PDO is probably around Crosby's true PDO, so I guess his total offensive + defensive contributions are right around normal. His zonestart isn't helping him much; just imagine how many points he'd have with a 60% zonestart! We'd be talking about Crosby 50-in-50.

As a Caps fan, I'm scared that Crosby's stats are for real. Let's look into it some more.

Preview: Thrashers @ Capitals

Atlanta Thrashers @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 18-7-2, 38 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-23-33 in 27 GP
Shot differential/game: +3.1
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, D Mike Green, D John Erskine
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-4-1, 2.59, .911), Semyon Varlamov (4-1-0, 1.72, .939)
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

Atlanta: 13-10-3, 29 points
Leading scorer: Dustin Byfuglien, 10-17-27 in 26 GP
Shot differential/game: -3.9
Notable injuries/illnesses: F Evander Kane
Goalies: Ondrej Pavelec (7-5-2, 1.75, .945), Chris Mason (6-5-1, 3.90, .897)
Player to watch: F Andrew Ladd

Season series:
October 8 Thrashers 4 vs Capitals 2
October 23 Capitals 4 vs Thrashers 3
November 14 Capitals 6 vs Thrashers 4
November 23 Thrashers 5 vs Capitals 0

The Thrashers had won six in a row before the Pittsburgh Crosbys Penguins beat them 3-2 a couple of nights ago. The Capitals had won four in a row before the Dallas Zebras Stars beat them 2-1.

A note, by the way, on injuries/illnesses: these are players that I gather are banged up, but not necessarily to the point where they will not be able to play.

1) Check Enfuglien. Okay, maybe the Tobias Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien pairing doesn't have as snappy a nickname as Carlzner, but they've played extremely well, getting tough minutes and outplaying the competition in those minutes. Enstrom is close to a point per game, while Byfuglien is slightly over a point per game. They're dangerous both at even strength and on the power play.

2) Get power plays. Atlanta's PK is at 80%. Washington's power play is at 24.7%. Atlanta's power play is a hair under Washington's, at 24.3%. A couple of early power plays and this game could be blown wide open quickly. Like last time.

3) Dominance from Ovechkin. Ovechkin is more productive against the Atlanta Thrashers than against any other team. Alexander Semin loves to play Atlanta as well. However, Andrew Ladd, who frequently plays a checking role, out-Corsis his competition. Ovechkin can't let Ladd get the better of him. Ovechkin needs to be his physical, dominant self of his first five-and-a-half years in the NHL.

4) Green-Schultz and Carlson-Alzner need outlets. Both teams have strong top-fours, with Byfuglien-Enstrom-Bogosian-Oduya and Green-Schultz-Carlson-Alzner. Both quartets move the puck out of the zone quickly. Atlanta, while lacking any top-end or even mid-tier stars on offense, has a good, deep set of hard-forechecking forwards. When I see Detroit play, I love how they always have one or two forwards dropping back on a dump-in, open for a short pass from the retrieving defenseman. The puck then safely gets out of the zone. The Capitals should implement something like that to prevent turnovers deep in their zone.

5) Balanced TOI. All three defensive pairings are capable of at least 18 or so minutes a night (if Poti is playing) and all four forward lines are capable of 15 minutes a night. Short shifts, less TOI for each player, but faster and more tenacious play in each shift will work well. Like on the road.

The Capitals probably played a bit better than Dallas the other day, but it wasn't enough. Now, back at home, I don't think Atlanta can handle what the Capitals will bring, especially with that blowout loss not so long ago. Then again, Atlanta games so far this season have been tighter than they look on paper. Craig Ramsay is doing a great job. Capitals 4, Thrashers 2.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Last Six in Fenwick: Games 22-27

With the back to back, I waited an extra game before publishing the new Fenwick review.

Game 20299 Capitals 0 @ Devils 5
Game 20309 Capitals 3 @ Hurricanes 2
Game 20327 Lighting 0 @ Capitals 6
Game 20345 Hurricanes 2 @ Capitals 3 (SO)
Game 20361 Capitals 4 @ Blues 1
Game 20371 Capitals 1 @ Stars 2

It should be noted the Capitals were a -14 Corsi against the Blues and a +25 against the Stars.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Recap: Stars 2, Capitals 1

I have to go to school real soon, so not much for now. The Caps ramped it up later in the game, but it was too late. Michal Neuvirth let in a weak second goal to Segal, but 2 GA is still a "quality start" and the Capitals simply didn't generate the offense they needed, especially on the power play. The Capitals shouldn't have had to bank the game on that goal wash-out with the goalie pulled (Carlson scored, but it was ruled incidental contact with the goalie, even when Skrastins of his own volition ran into his own goalie).

Awards Watch: December

At the beginning of each month, I plan to give a quick rundown of the awards races to date. Here's my take two months into the season.

Hart Trophy:
  1. Sidney Crosby--leads the league in points, continues to have good competition with a solid relative Corsi, takes plenty of shots, etc etc. Moreover, leads the NHL in even strength points by a mile.
  2. Steven Stamkos--he's in a similar boat as Crosby, but gets a bump for his goal scoring and a huge minus for his Corsi and luck in that the Tampa powerplay only scores when he's involved in the goal. Read this for more.
  3. John-Michael Liles--Colorado and Liles sucked in terms of Corsi last season. Well, Liles is playing really well right now, leading all defensemen in points while playing tougher minutes. His Corsi Rel has fallen by about 10 over the last few days, unfortunately, but is still in the black.
  4. Brian Gionta--the newly-minted captain of the Montreal Canadiens faces extremely tough competition with good teammates, but sports a fantastic Corsi Rel. I don't care all that much about his more lackluster point production, especially since his most frequent linemate is Scott Gomez: whether or not you produce points, playing tough competition is a very valuable skill to have.
  5. Dustin Byfuglien--see Liles.

Just missed: Patrick Sharp, Alexander Semin, Tim Connolly (just check this out)

Preview: Capitals @ Stars

Washington Capitals @ Dallas Stars

Washington: 18-6-2, 38 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-23-33 in 26 GP
Shot differential/game: +2.5
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, D Mike Green, D John Erskine
Goalies: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), Semyon Varlamov (4-1-0, 1.72, .939)
Player to watch: D Scott Hannan

Dallas: 14-8-1, 29 points
Leading scorer: Brad Richards, 11-17-28 in 23 GP
Shot differential/game: -2.9
Notable injuries/illnesses: none
Goalies: Kari Lehtonen (12-7-1, 2.61, .914), Andrew Raycroft (2-1-0, 1.85, .943)
Player to watch: C Brad Richards

Both teams enter the matchup on four game winning streaks, with the Capitals having won yesterday in St. Louis.

1) Power versus power. The Stars don't look like they play this style, but instead rely on a checking line (featuring former Cap Brian Sutherby). However, both teams have three 10 goal scorers (Semin, Backstrom, Ovechkin; Richards, Eriksson, Neal). This will be power versus power in the sense of one outdoing the other.

2) Changeup. Look at the Stars' Corsi chart. Not too flattering, is it? That being said, luck or not, they're finding ways to win games. I have a feeling a small strategy change will cause their luck to implode. Whether Bruce Boudreau can cause this reversion to the mean is a different issue.

3) Tough matchups for Marcus. Marcus Johansson is on a hot streak. If memory serves, his Cori Rel has now increased by about 7 in the past couple of weeks, from -14 to -7. He plays tough minutes, so that means he must be feeling it. Along with Caps Corsi leaders Semin and Laich, they could mitigate the damage somewhat. I guess I'm asking Boudreau to play his 2nd line power versus power. I think they can handle Richards.

4) Score early. The Stars' GA going backwards in time has gone 1, 1, 2, 1. Yeah, their goaltending is hot. Just rattle them and I think the Capitals can jump on Lehtonen and/or Raycroft with the transition game.

5) Clear the front. Loui Eriksson and James Neal are "power forwards." They like to crash the front of the net and work the corners. Maybe newly-acquired Scott Hannan can help "clear the crease," or at least prevent the puck from getting there. In that case, well, all three pairings need to do a better job than against St. Louis (though the lack of STL ZPs was promising).

Sorry, back-to-back and seems time for a letdown. Great effort, but stellar goaltending in the Stars' end, with rust in the Caps'. Stars 5, Capitals 4 (SO).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Recap: Capitals 4, Blues 1

I was expected a let-down. Boy, was I wrong, starting in net. Semyon Varlamov again got the nod, again got the net knocked over him, and was again stellar.

Here's the storyline. Tell me this doesn't sound familiar:

Team A dominates early.
Team A takes a penalty.
Team B scores a power play goal.
Team A is launching shots from everywhere, getting good chances, but a hot goalie denies them all.
Team A is starting to lose life, but get a goal and get their legs back.
Team B scores in transition off an A turnover and bad pinch.
Team A can't score on its power plays and looks totally discombobulated during them, while Team B clinically passes the puck around and tallies.
Team A gets nothing, and Team B ices it with an empty netter, despite A dominating the shot count.

Take that, Halak. If we can do it to you we can do it to Kari Lehtonen on Thursday night, right?

Preview: Capitals @ Blues

Washington Capitals @ St. Louis Blues

Washington: 17-6-2, 36 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-22-32 in 25 GP
Shot differential/game: +3.1
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Mike Green, D Tom Poti, D Tyler Sloan
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), though Semyon Varlamov (3-1-0, 1.88, .928) has been hot. The Capitals play tomorrow against Dallas as well. I expect Neuvirth tonight and Varlamov tomorrow.
Player to watch: D Scott Hannan

St. Louis: 12-8-3, 27 points
Leading scorer: Andy McDonald (8-9-17 in 23 GP) and David Backes (4-13-17 in 23 GP)
Shot differential/game: +4.4
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Roman Polak, LW David Perron, F T.J. Oshie
Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (10-6-2, 2.37, .911)
Player to watch: C Jay McClement

The Blues are losers of three straight, most recently losing for the first time in regulation on home ice this season, 7-5 to Chicago. The Capitals have won three straight, most recently 3-2 shootout victory over Carolina.

1) Block shots. The difference between Corsi and Fenwick against Carolina was staggering. While Carolina came out slightly ahead in Corsi, Washington won by quite a bit in Fenwick. That means the Capitals blocked (proportionally, and actually) a lot of shots. See the Blues' shot differential? Yeah, blocking their shots (and not having the Caps' own shots blocked) might be important.

2) Play matchups. Look at this spread of Corsi. Look at the distribution of competition.

3) Play very fast. The Blues may be young and fast up front (reminding me of last year's Avalanche) but their special teams aren't too great. Pressure the Blues' D to draw penalties and attack, attack, attack. The Blues are good at 5-on-5 but not as good in other situations. Meanwhile, the Caps are pretty good in all situations. Both teams are pretty undisciplined too.

4) Control TOI distribution. More Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin means more defensive McClement for the Blues. And better, less King. Indications are that DJ King will be in the lineup against his former team. Give him the early fight against Cam Janssen and then not much else.

5) Rattle the guy in net. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. Drive the net hard, pass the puck quickly around (like Detroit, against a very good San Jose team, in the game I saw this morning--Detroit was clinical in puck possession and shot attempt prevention) and get screens and bodies in the front of the net. Playoff hockey.

I think Michal Neuvirth will have some early struggles, but settle in nicely. The opposite of the other guy in net.  And Marcus Johansson will pick up some pointers from Patrik Berglund. Capitals 3, Blues 2.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caps Acquire Scott Hannan

I'm pumped, for two reasons. One, this guy is off the team. Second, courtesy behindthenet and hockeyreference (click for larger):

More points than either Erskine or Sloan? Check. Next.

Last season for the Avalanche Hannan was the veteran shutdown blueliner. He had tough zonestart and his Corsi wasn't all that bad (relatively, that is). His zoneshift from about 42 to 48% there is fantastic. Here, he's a second pairing defenseman who had to play top pair minutes and did alright for himself.

This is worse, but still decent. Hannan still has tough zonestart and tough competition. His Corsi is still alright considering, but he took a hit in TOI. Liles has really been a monster this season.

Looks like he can step in with Poti and bolster that third pairing. Poti looks like he's been hurt by having to play a lot with not-top-4-caliber D (and/or small sample).

On the other side, Tomas Fleischmann moves away from a chance at a Stanley Cup in the very near future, but probably goes to a place where he'll get plenty of even strength and power play time, be able to play his preferred position left wing, and from the looks of it play with Matt Duchene. A new start for Flash, and all the best to him.

But for now, looks like Hannan may play tomorrow night in St. Louis, wearing #23. And the Caps would still have enough cap room at the deadline to go after Brad Richards.

I made this last season:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Should "Most Valuable" Encompass?

Even though 82 games seems like a long time and a large sample size, it really isn't. There's a heavy amount of luck in the standings, as there is in individual performances. We see players like Jonathan Cheechoo, Lee Stempniak, and so on go on hot runs for parts of seasons or for a season or two, then fall back into invisibility.

The same applies to players whose normal levels of play may not be in invisibility: Henrik Sedin last season, for example. Sedin is a point-per-game player who suddenly saw his competition level drop, his own shooting percentage skyrocket, and his teammates' shooting percentages skyrocket (Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson). Sidney Crosby shot 17% last season, well above normal and higher than he can sustain, almost certainly. Even our own Alex Ovechkin benefited from high on-ice shooting percentage; how else would his 1.3 points/game-ness jump to 1.5, and in fact 1.6+ prior to his second suspension?

Corsi ratings are less influenced by luck since the sample size is around 10 times bigger than goals, if not more. But should "value" encompass random performance variability ("luck"), or be based on repeatable performance? Should players receive a bump in value for benefiting from factors they essentially cannot control? I'm of two minds on this.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Preview: Hurricanes @ Capitals

Carolina Hurricanes @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 16-6-2, 34 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-21-31 in 24 GP
Shot differential/game: +2.7
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Mike Green, F Mike Knuble, D Tyler Sloan
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), though Semyon Varlamov (2-1-0, 1.88, .928) has been hot
Player to watch: W Alex Ovechkin

Carolina: 10-10-2, 22 points
Leading scorer: Eric Staal, 10-15-25 in 22 GP
Shot differential/game: -2.4
Notable injuries/illnesses: none
Starting goalie: Cam Ward (10-7-1, 2.68, .920)
Player to watch: D Joe Corvo

Season series:
Capitals 3 @ Hurricanes 0 (10/27)
Capitals 3 @ Hurricanes 2 (11/24)

Both teams are coming off shutout wins--the Hurricanes in Boston and the Capitals against Tampa Bay.

1) Even strength. The Hurricanes scored all three of their goals against Boston on the power play. At even strength, they got killed in Corsi. The Capitals are comparable to the Bruins in Corsi, and if they keep the game at even strength they should win this game.

2) Discipline. Wow, this comes up a lot, doesn't it? Well, Carolina draws a lot of penalties. Against a decently disciplined Bruins team on Friday, they only drew three, but made all three power plays count. That was all new father Cam Ward needed in terms of goal support.

3) Don't make it exciting. I can't help but think Carolina's young players like McBain, Sutter, Dwyer, Skinner, Tlusty, and others would love to play in a back-and-forth, close affair, as has been the case in the recent history between these two teams. Their young energy might give them an edge in that case. The Capitals really locked down Tampa Bay on Friday. Hopefully they can play that low-scoring chance game again against Carolina.
Moreover, the Hurricanes are pretty short as a team. The Capitals? The tallest. Take time and space away and make this game one of positioning and strength, not speed. Take away any potential advantages Carolina may have.

4) Play your game. Joe Corvo seems to like it, since it makes you predictable. Umm, how's that working out for you, Joe? Anyways, Alex Ovechkin has been getting better and better since the shootout loss to Philadelphia, and was getting his legs and physicality back on the forecheck against Tampa Bay. He will victimize the Canes over and over again playing like that.

5) Drive the middle with MarJo. Johansson has great speed, but not the strength to control the middle like some of his Carolina counterparts. Let Johansson attack down the wing and leave it to Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin to control the middle of the ice on that line. It's critical not to let Eric Staal start feeling it, because between his size and skill he's close to unstoppable when hot. There's no need to give him any chances to get hot, and Semin and Knuble should do a good job getting annoying sticks in to strip pucks and tie up sticks.

And for good luck, let's invoke Corsi powers by checking out the new version of Capitals 4, Hurricanes 2.

The Chris Pronger Trade, Revisited

Before the 2009 offseason, Chris Pronger, with a year left on his contract, was traded along with Ryan Dingle to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first round picks, and a conditional third round pick.

In other words:

To Philadelphia: point per game forward in college (WCHA) plus one year and potential to re-sign a top-5 defenseman in the world.

To Anaheim: a top-6 winger, a great young defenseman, two first round picks, and a conditional pick.

At the trade deadline that year, rumor had it Washington had interest in Pronger, but Anaheim wanted something along the lines of Semyon Varlamov, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson for Pronger at the deadline (my memory is a bit hazy--one of the two goalies, one or both of Carlznerson, and possible a first round pick in there too).

In other words:

To Philadelphia: great young goalie prospect, one or two blue-chip defense prospects, maybe a first round pick

To Washington: One year of a top-5 defenseman.

Seems like quite a hefty price to me. Via Capgeek, this is what the Caps lineup might have looked like this season. I added Milan Jurcina and Antti Niemi to round out the roster.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recap: Capitals 6, Lightning 0

I didn't catch the previous Caps shutout at Carolina, but this game must have been close to that quality of performance. By scoring chances (see below), the Caps had I think their best defensive performance of the season. I counted 7 and thought about a couple of others, but nothing else.

Man of the match: More or less all the Caps (save Neuvirth, the backup goalie) played pretty well tonight. I'll pick Marcus Johansson, who was flying all over the ice, picked up his first two career assists, and never missed his defensive zone assignment. He doesn't look so weak on the puck anymore, either. Alexander Semin had a good game with his second hat trick this season against Tampa Bay and third overall, but was largely a finisher as well.

The special teams tonight were excellent. Tampa Bay only had one "high-pressure" power play possession, and the Caps matched them in terms of chances. Meanwhile, the Capitals' power play was moving the puck with ease and scoring at will. Sorry Tampa, you're not challenging the Caps yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Preview: Lightning @ Capitals

Tampa Bay Lightning @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 15-6-2, 32 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-19-29 in 23 GP
Shot differential/game: +2.3
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, D Mike Green, F Mike Knuble, D Tyler Sloan
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912)
Player to watch: W Alex Ovechkin

Tampa Bay: 13-7-2, 28 points
Leading scorer: Steven Stamkos, 21-17-38 in 22 GP
Shot differential/game: +5.2 (!!! Tied with Detroit for 2nd, San Jose first)
Notable injuries/illnesses: C Vincent Lecavalier, W Simon Gagne
Starting goalie: 1A Dan Ellis (5-4-2, 2.81, .898) and 1B Mike Smith (8-3-0, 3.15, .884)
Player to watch: RW Martin St. Louis

Season series:
Lightning 3 @ Capitals 6 (11/11)

The Lightning have won five straight, while the Capitals just snapped a three game losing streak. For the first time in as long as I can remember, a team facing the Capitals has two players with as many or more points than any Capital: Martin St. Louis has 29 points.

2) Good Gordon. Boyd Gordon has the speed, skill, and smarts to limit chances for Steven Stamkos. He has to come up big here, since Martin St. Louis can also take advantage of extra space if teams focus too much on Stamkos.

3) DISCIPLINE!!! This gets all caps here because it's so critically important. Tampa Bay has a hot power play and outshoots its opponents by quite a bit. They're terrific at getting shots through. The Caps need to be responsible with the puck, make smart shot blocks, and not take silly penalties.

4) Alexander the Great. Alex Ovechkin was arguably the Caps' best forward against Carolina. If he plays well again, Tampa Bay doesn't stand a chance, as they're missing tough minutes scoring line center Lecavalier.

From what I read and see, Alex Ovechkin found a rhythm against Carolina. As we've seen in the playoffs, sometimes a small temporary change (in Carolina, moving to RW; in the playoffs, playing with Sergei Fedorov) can jumpstart Ovechkin so that he continues to dominate even when lines return to normal later on. I think and hope the same has happened. Capitals 5, Lightning 3.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Marcus Johansson's Queer Stats

Marcus Johansson, the Capitals' 1st round pick in 2009, is a fantastic skater with good defensive instincts. He's in the lineup each night he's healthy. He's played first line center, second line center, and third line center already. His scoring chance differential is pretty decent, especially for a 20-year old rookie. Yet, his Corsi is terrible, with middling competition and teammates and easy zone start.

What gives? Maybe this is a trend of young players, who don't have the strength to generate good Corsi numbers but don't lack the smarts to prevent good scoring opportunities (which are heavily influenced by stickwork and positioning, not just strength).

Here I'll test that hypothesis. The young players I can compare Johansson to are the ones who also have scoring chance data, so players for the Oilers, '09-'10 Flames (72 games), '10-'11 Flames, Maple Leafs (76 games in '09-'10), Canadiens, '10-'11 Rangers, '10-'11 Panthers, '09-'10 Avalanche (first half of the season only), and the '09-'10 Wild (through Game 20589) are included along with Johansson. Caps scoring chance data courtesy Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Here's the list of forwards I got, with a 20 game cutoff for 09-10 and five games for 10-11:

09-10: Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, TJ Galiardi, Ryan Wilson, Viktor Stalberg, Tom Pyatt, Brandon Yip, Robbie Earl, Christian Hanson, Ryan Stone, Mikael Backlund, Luca Caputi

10-11: Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, Lars Eller, Stefan Meyer, Evgeny Grachev, plus some of the guys in the previous year.

All stats from and Timeonice as of the morning of November 22, 2010. I apologize for the incomplete stats at this point. Click to enlarge.

The thought that struck me about halfway through this exercise is that Johansson's Corsi Rel could be so poor because the Capitals are a good Corsi team. His Corsi On is about -0.8, which bears out that hypothesis. The Capitals' scoring chance percentage, going by Neil Greenberg's numbers, is .517 (my numbers are incomplete).

What jumps out to me is just how poor Magnus Paajarvi's scoring chance percentage is (which makes me wonder about this post). He's getting creamed, and for some reason Tom Renney is playing him against top competition. His linemates tend to be a combination of Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Gilbert Brule, Ales Hemsky, and Jordan Eberle. And Eberle has been terrific so far (sigh...the 2008 draft...)

For an idea of what this season's Corsi% totals look like, here's some data compiled by JLikens, used to adjust Corsi based on various factors.

Marcus Johansson looks middling to slightly above average among first-year players on that list, with Eberle, Bozak, Eller, Hall, and Backlund looking better. Not bad at all. Backlund has remained very, very good for Calgary.

Looks to me like Marcus Johansson's Corsi and scoring chance numbers are only queer because he's one of the few young players that actually plays for a pretty good team. Is that good or bad that such a good team is dressing such a young player? Only time will tell.

Preview: Capitals @ Hurricanes

Washington Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes

Washington: 14-6-2, 30 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-16-25, and Alexander Semin, 14-12-26, in 22 GP
Shot differential/game: +2.2
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, F Mike Knuble, G Michal Neuvirth
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), though Semyon Varlamov may get the start.
Player to watch: W Alexander Semin

New Jersey: 9-19-2, 20 points
Leading scorer: Eric Staal, 9-14-23 in 20 GP
Shot differential/game: -1.1
Notable injuries/illnesses: none
Starting goalie: Cam Ward (9-7-1, 2.84, .914)
Player to watch: C Eric Staal

Season series:
Capitals 3 @ Hurricanes 0 (10/27)

Carolina is coming off two shootout losses over the weekend to Pittsburgh and Nashville. Carolina recently added defenseman Ian White via trade, and he looks like he's playing with Joni Pitkanen.

1) Play conservatively against Pitkanen. He's underrated because he's played for Edmonton and then Carolina, but make no mistake, Pitkanen is a legitimate 1D. He's capable of playing tough minutes and actually boasts a positive plus-minus. He loves to skate and jump into the attack. The Caps better be wary. With Ian White as his partner, that makes two defensemen that can move the puck and skate very well.

2) Dump and chase against Staal, Skinner, Sutter, and Samsonov. The four "S's" are the most creative offensive forwards the Canes have. The formula for beating creative offensive playmaking talents? Force them to play defense. Staal and Sutter are pretty good defensively too, but a physical, fast forecheck should neutralize them. Well, as long as Pitkanen and White aren't playing back there, guys who can effectively counteract the forecheck with skating and puck moving. This could work wonders against Corvo, who had trouble last season with dump-and-chase.

3) DISCIPLINE!!! This gets all caps here because it's so critically important. The Hurricanes are perennially one of the best teams at drawing penalties. The Caps? One of the best teams at taking them (that is to say, the Canes get lots of PPs and the Caps PK a lot). A couple of early power play goals and this could get ugly for the Caps really quickly.

4) Hey, hey, whad'ya say, Sasha? Alexander Semin is 23-15-38 in 30 career games played against Carolina. He's a real Canes killer, especially over the past three seasons or so. Considering his recent cold streak, plus the controversial incident with Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk after the NJD stinker, I'm sure Boudreau has had a nice little chat with Semin. Look for him to respond in a big way.

5) Play conservatively...with the puck. Carolina won't be drawing penalties without the puck. The Capitals should take fewer risks offensively and control the puck instead (like a certain team from Michigan) to try and not play to Carolina's strengths. Stay at even strength and the Capitals should be all set.

Three losses in a row, two of the blowout variety. Three straight games of giving up five goals. I don't think there will be another. Capitals 3, Hurricanes 1.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recap: Devils 5, Capitals 0

The score tells 99% of the story.

The remaining one percent:

The ice looked terrible. Either that or something was up with the Caps, since Green slipped at least three times and all the Caps save Backstrom seemed to be mishandling the puck all night, flubbing passes and shots. I think two or three goals were scored pretty much as a result of that. Meanwhile, the Devils didn't have those same issues for the most part.

Both Mike Green and Tyler Sloan left the game and did not return.

John Carlson was the only Cap consistently creating his own offense. Backstrom had a decent game as well, but that's not saying much.

On to Raleigh. I wonder if I should take school off on Thanksgiving to watch the game.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preview: Capitals @ Devils

Washington Capitals @ New Jersey Devils

Washington: 14-5-2, 30 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 10-16-25, and Alexander Semin, 14-12-26, in 21 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, F Mike Knuble
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, 2.63, .912), though look for Braden Holtby (2-1-1, 3.33, .869) to maybe get the start
Player to watch: C Marcus Johansson

New Jersey: 5-13-2, 12 points
Leading scorer: Patrik Elias, 2-10-12 in 20 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 52.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: G Martin Brodeur, W Jamie Langenbrunner, D Matt Taormina, LW Zach Parise, C Jacob Josefson, D Bryce Salvador, D Anssi Salmela, D Mark Fraser
Starting goalie: Martin Brodeur (4-10-1, 2.74, .901), though look for Johan Hedberg (1-2-1, 4.53, .855) to get the nod
Player to watch: LW Patrik Elias

Season series:

Devils 2 @ Capitals 7 (10/9)

New Jersey is coming off a close 3-2 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, while the Capitals lost 5-4 to Philadelphia in a shootout. Both teams appear to be playing better as of late, though of course that means the Devils are playing mediocre again while the Capitals are playing like a pretty good team.

1) Don't let Johan Hedberg get into a groove. He can be starting caliber for stretches. Score early so he can't settle into a rhythm. Hedberg playing great is really one of the only ways the Devils can win this game.

2) Up tempo. The Devils have injury issues and don't have the youth or "horses" to play an up-tempo game with the Capitals. The Capitals need to play fast, forecheck hard, and use their speed and skating to create chances. Marcus Johansson did a terrific job of that against Philadelphia. Sitting back plays into the Devils' strengths.

3) Play along the wings. Travis Zajac and Jason Arnott are a better 1-2 down the middle than Backstrom and whomever else the Capitals can put out there. The Capitals are much better at wing and on defense, though, so keeping the attack from the blueline to the wings will help.

4) Discipline. Don't fall into a penalty-taking frenzy. Even though the Devils' PP is only 11% (29th in the NHL) with guys like Elias, Kovalchuk, Arnott, Zajac, and Greene, it could strike rapidly and frequently given the opportunity. Don't give them that opportunity, boys in white.

5) Play dirty. I don't mean dirty like Todd Bertuzzi, but dirty like Mike Richards or David Backes--frustrate the Devils, play some borderline hockey, run into their goalie, get them off their games. The Devils will lose this game in another blowout if they don't maintain their defensive structure. Get them focused on revenge instead of playing hockey and that's exactly what will happen.

Two blowouts against the same stingy Devils team in a single season? Don't bet against it. It is kind of hard to blowout the home team, though. I'm looking for a strong all-around performance, including from the captain. Capitals 4, Devils 1.

Last Five in Fenwick: Games 17-21

I put up a new format in the tables, sorting by C/W/D (I have Beagle at W right now). I listed the team stats next to the centers. I posted the tables as images. Click for a bigger picture, but make sure you open in a new tab, or else you'll navigate away.

Here's a link to view the spreadsheet, and here's one to download it. If you use the data I've compiled (thanks to Vic Ferrari's Timeonice) please assign credit appropriately.

Game 20234 Capitals 2 @ Sabres 3 (OT)
Game 20245 Thrashers 4 @ Capitals 6
Game 20260 Sabres 2 @ Capitals 4
Game 20277 Capitals 0 @ Thrashers 5
Game 20287 Flyers 5 @ Capitals 4 (SO)

All the centers had pretty good last five games. Fleischmann in particular was helped by a monster game against Philadelphia, in which he had 10 positive Fenwick events and only 1 negative event. Umm, yeah, that's kind of good. The Capitals as a team had a very solid week at 5-on-5, even notwithstanding the disappointment in the 2nd-to-last column of the next chart.

The Fenwick% numbers pretty much tell the whole story here. That'll do, all you not named Knuble and Ovechkin. Knuble in my mind gets a pass because he's a complementary player, not a Corsi-driver. But AO is the latter and was brutal, especially in the second Buffalo game in which he was a minus ten Fenwick and Corsi. Minus ten. I'll do a closer look at AO's struggles soon if he doesn't pick up his game in the next week or so.

Mike Green-Jeff Schultz is a kickass pairing, and Carlzner is pretty good too. Sloskine did pretty decently as well, as every Caps pairing finished above 50% Fenwick and only Sloan was below 50% Corsi. With Tom Poti back in the lineup, the Caps' D corps will be even better. They're certainly helping the cause--the goaltending wasn't as good as it was before behind them, that's all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Recap: Flyers 5, Capitals 4 (SO)

I really don't know what to make of this one. I thought the Capitals played a good first and pretty poorly thereafter, but the scoring chances show that aside from the 2nd they outchanced the Flyers 19-6.

Good games from Johansson, Fleischmann, Fehr, and Chimera tonight, I thought. Johansson was stronger on the puck than I've ever seen before and created his own shots, winning board battles. Fleischmann looked much better at wing, as he had a lesser defensive responsibility and good lurk for good shots. He got them, too, hitting three posts or so. Fehr looked good for most of the game, driving to the net hard and picking up the game-tying goal too. Chimera was just flying, as the Chimera-Johansson-Bradley line looked good.

Still, I don't think the Capitals deserved the point they got, let alone two. Bad refereeing or not, bad luck hitting the posts or not, there's no excuse to take so many minor penalties, even if the other team took almost as many. By my count it was 10. That's approaching a period's worth of play solely on the PK. That's ridiculous. If the Capitals can't fix discipline issues they'll be screwed come the playoffs, as a hot goalie + good special teams a la Montreal will beat them once again.

The Flyers didn't deserve to win, but neither did the Caps. Whatever, might as well split the points.

Man of the match: Let's give it to Marcus Johansson, though no one from either side stood out all that much, really. Green was fantastic on the penalty kill, and Richards was pretty good too. Pronger made one mistake (Johansson goal), but otherwise was solid.

Don't Jump the Gun on Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos right now leads the NHL in both goals and points. He has 19 goals in 19 games, ahead of Alex Ovechkin's 17 through 19 last season. Ovechkin only had 27 points through 19 games last year; Stamkos has 34 and counting. Some are already labeling him the most exciting player in the NHL and one of the best in the game, right alongside Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. I've even seen some fans state that Stamkos is the best in hockey.

Sorry, Stamkos fans, we have to be patient.

Firstly, Stamkos' PDO is high (at the moment, 104.2%). While we saw last year that players can have such high PDOs over an entire season, it's unlikely. The same goes for that 12.5% on-ice shooting and 26.4% individual shooting percentage (16.4% at 5-on-5) overall. Meanwhile, Crosby is at a similar points pace, but at a sustainable 100.1% PDO.

Secondly, look at his Corsi Rel. 0.6. Sorry, that's pretty poor for a guy supposed to be one of the best in the game. While Alex Ovechkin hasn't been that dominating Corsi force this season as in years past, Crosby is still an 8.8, while his line is playing the toughest minutes on the team. Don't even get me started on Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk, either, two guys who always post high quality of competition and terrific relative Corsis and all-around numbers.

Thirdly, Stamkos seems to be contributing a bit too often. He has been on-ice for 20 even strength goals (subtract PPGF from total GF). He has 17 points on those 20 goals, for an individual point percentage of 85%, which would be first place over 2007-2010. Then, he's been on ice for 18 power play goals for, and has points on 17 of them, for a 94.4% contribution, which save for one miraculous season from Rick Nash blows everyone else out of the water. And Tampa isn't about to have a dead-last power play like that 2008-2009 Blue Jackets team. With all that talent and that high power play percentage, eventually the goals will start to get spread around a bit more, especially once Gagne and Lecavalier are ready to go again.

To be fair to Stamkos, he is a helluva exciting player, with a terrific shot, playing medium competition with weak teammates and with middling zone starts on the whole so far this season. But at this point, only in his second dominating season, he's more Ilya Kovalchuk (of seven great seasons) than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin (each in their sixth). And we know who is better there.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recap: Thrashers 5, Capitals 0

I did not expect such a horrible performance.

I'm not feeling very well, so only a brief recap here.

The Caps should play much, much better against Philadelphia. Bright spot of the game for the Caps: Mike Green. He looked to me like the best player on the Caps. Burmistrov looked good for Atlanta. Alex Ovechkin got a bit of his "inspired" stride back. I hope Mike Knuble is feeling alright.

And looks like the Caps got back to drawing penalties, and didn't take many too. Of course, winning >> penalty differential, though the two are related.

Why was the top power play unit out in the dying moments of a 5-0 game? Come on, BB. Credit to the Thrashers, though, they really shut everything down for most of the third (then the Caps looked like they gave up).

Here's the link to scoring chances, which I posted below the break as well. Of course, thanks to Vic Ferrari for making this so very much easier.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preview: Capitals @ Thrashers

Washington Capitals @ Atlanta Thrashers

Washington: 14-4-1, 29 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 20-15-25, and Alexander Semin, 14-11-25, in 19 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: C Boyd Gordon, G Semyon Varlamov, D Tom Poti
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-0, 2.56, .912), though look for Braden Holtby (2-0-1, 2.22, .911) to get the start
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

Atlanta: 7-9-3, 17 points
Leading scorer: Andrew Ladd, 7-11-18 in 19 GP)
Tied Fenwick% last season: 49.2%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Dustin Byfuglien, F Freddy Modin, F Eric Boulton, F Patrice Cormier
Starting goalie: Chris Mason (6-5-1, 3.90, .897), though Ondrej Pavelec (1-4-2, 2.33, .928) is playing much better as of late
Player to watch: D Tobias Enstrom

Season series:
Atlanta 4 vs Washington 2 (10/8)
Washington 4 vs Atlanta 3 (OT) (10/23)
Washington 6 vs Atlanta 4 (11/14)

Atlanta is coming off a tough 2-1 loss to Florida, while the Caps got the better of their opposing elite backstopper, winning 4-2 over Buffalo.

1) Can Atlanta stop the Caps' attack? With Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup, the Thrashers don't look to have two pairings good enough to keep up with the Caps' top two lines. Zach Bogosian and Johnny Oduya should draw the Ovechkin matchup, and Tobias Enstrom will have to anchor the second pairing against Laich and possibly Semin and even Backstrom as well. Yikes. That being said, Enstrom is a terrific puck mover and with two-way forwards like Andrew Ladd and Alexander Burmistrov playing in front of him might be able to play good enough of a puck possession game to mitigate the Caps' huge advantage in personnel.

2) Back in a Flash. As far as I can remember, the last two times Tomas Fleischmann was benched he responded with strong games in his comebacks (the second with several months in between). If he's in, look for his line to have a big, opportune night.

3) Draw penalties. This is getting old. The hallmark of an elite team is that it draws lots of penalties (among other things) compared to how many it takes. Well, the Caps are on the wrong side of that ledger. I think they haven't even drawn five penalties in the last three games. Keep moving your feet and forecheck hard. Play responsibly with the puck and be patient. Use the power plays to put the knife to their throats.

4) Third line in. Against Buffalo the Caps' line of Chimera-Steckel-Bradley was phenomenal, topping the Corsi charts. If they click like that on every night the Capitals will have at worst a 50/50 chance to win. That's the sort of strong play from the "plumbers" that any team loves to have.

5) Getting back the MoJo. Marcus Johansson on Wednesday night got killed in Corsi, and actually has been all season, pretty much. Alex Ovechkin got killed along with Johansson, and has been relatively poor in Corsi as well this season. Regardless of what the lower lines do, the Ovechkin line--with or without Johansson--is the single most important forward line to the Capitals' success. Hopefully Ovechkin rebounds well (though this story is getting old).

Can Alex Ovechkin have two terrible games in a row? I doubt it, and I think he'll be pretty good. But can the depth have two stellar games in a row? I doubt that too. Thrashers 5, Capitals 3.