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.