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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Game Recap: Capitals Vs. Oilers (3-2 Capitals Loss)

The Capitals headed into their Canadian road trip as the only Eastern Conference team without a regulation loss. They were facing off against Edmonton, who had just gotten its first win in just the previous game. Stellar goaltending from Ben Scrivens earned them another one over the Capitals.




Positives

Mike Green - Once again, I thought Mike Green played a spectacular game. I think Barry Trotz's main goal with Green this season was to get him right back on track to his offensive ways, something he had gotten away from in the past few seasons. Green doesn't have the defensive pressure that he's had in the past few seasons, due mainly to the additions of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. In fact, he's got the second lowest total on ice competition percentage on the team, meaning he's not getting that much time against the oppositions top lines. That's perfect, as Green has always dominated possession and generates shots. His goal tonight gives him three total in five games, and Green is fifth in the league with six points.

Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson On the Power Play - I could probably include something from the power play as a positive for every single game, but tonight the positives were from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. I mean, these two might just be the second and third most deadly power play players in the league, behind only Ovechkin. Johansson can just have a field day behind the net. He just has so many options. He can stuff attempt it himself, he can feed whoever is sitting in the slot, or he can dish it back to Backstrom. Backstrom has even more options. He can take it himself, feed it back to Johansson, feed it to whoever is in the slot, slide it over to John Carlson, or, if the defense is really caught sleeping, fire it over to Ovechkin. But what he does, and I love this, is he calmly holds the puck and inches towards the net. It freaks the defense out. It is widely known that this is the best power play unit in the league, and if nothing is happening, panic begins to set in. And Backstrom is just calm as can be.

Overall Defense - The defense played pretty well tonight. I mean, they held Edmonton to just 20 shots on goal. Considering last year they averaged 33.5 shots against, that's pretty excellent. And that's the sixth time this year they've held their opponents under 30 shots....which just so happens to be every game this season. That is extremely refreshing.

Negatives

Dumb Luck - I mean, that's seriously what this was. The Capitals fired away at Scrivens and the Oilers, but they just simply couldn't score tonight. If you are leading your opponent 34 to 20 in shots on goal, you should win the game, like, 99 percent of the time. But they were just unlucky tonight. In fact, the Caps PDO tonight was .909, while the Oilers was 1.09. Not going to win many games if there is that drastic of a difference.

Alex Ovechkin - Is he playing poorly this season? Absolutely not. Did he play poorly tonight? Yeah, it wasn't his best game. It was Ovechkin who fanned on the shot immediately after Green's goal, which allowed Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to coast his way to the net, ultimately leading to the Oilers second goal. But, that wasn't my only issue with Ovechkin. He had just two shots on goal tonight, as many as Nate Schmidt. Ovechkin just needs to fire away at all times. He is bound to score if he's ripping five, six, seven, eight shots a game. This was just a fluky game for him, although it is a bit concerning that this is his second consecutive game with just two shots on net.

Braden Holtby - It wasn't one of his better games, which is disappointing considering his parents were in the stands. I'll give him the first goal. That was a great setup pass for the Justin Schultz goal, who basically had a layup to give the Oilers the early 1-0 lead. The second goal was questionable. He had a clear path of vision on the Nugent-Hopkins shot, but just straight up missed it. I'm willing to bet he'd love that one back. And the power play goal was pretty difficult as well. He was screened heavily in front of the net, and Nikita Nikitin shot the puck on edge. It looked like it dipped, curved or deflected off of Carlson. So two out of three were understandable. But I have such high expectations for Holtby this year that it has just become expected for me to think he will be perfect, which isn't fair, but I don't care.

Possession (Via hockeystats.ca)


Top Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Nicklas Backstrom - 80% (33% offensive zone start)
  • Troy Brouwer - 78% (33% offensive zone start)
  • Alex Ovechkin - 76% (33% offensive zone start)
  • Michael Latta - 75% (67% offensive zone start)
  • Marcus Johansson - 73% (60% offensive zone start)
Bottom Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Jason Chimera - 50% (29% offensive zone start)
  • Joel Ward - 54% (25% offensive zone start)
  • Eric Fehr - 57% (17% offensive zone start)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov - 58% (67% offensive zone start)
  • John Carlson - 61% (29% offensive zone start)
Update: Graph of TOI Competition Percentage vs. Offensive Zone Start Percentage. Color Represents Corsi Percentage and Size Represents TOI Per Game. This data is through six games.

Image Via War-On-Ice

Scoring

Goal - John Carlson (PP) (1)
- Assists- Nicklas Backstrom (5, and his 500th career point), Marcus Johansson (1)

Goal - Mike Green (3)
- Assists - Andre Burakovsky (4)

Goaltending

Braden Holtby - 17 saves on 20 shots, .850 save percentage

Quote of the Night


"The second goal has no business going in. That's the difference in the game. It's just a shot that shouldn't go in. You know, your job as a goalie is to make them beat you with a good shot. I opened up. I misread the shot. Puck goes through me, through my seven hole, and you can't get beat there. It's a play I need to make up for, when we turn the puck over. My job is to make up with that, and I didn't." - Braden Holtby, talking about the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Game Recap: Capitals Vs. Devils (6-2 Capitals Win)

The Capitals came out flying early. Alex Ovechkin added his fifth of the year after collecting a Troy Brouwer shot rebounded off of Cory Schneider. After a back and forth first period, the Caps slowly started to pull away from the Devils, and by the third period absolutely ran away with it.



Positives

Marcus Johansson - I cannot stress how important it is to have a winger on the second line shooting the puck like Marcus Johansson has been. He took two tonight, and netted one of them. Trotz and the team has stressed that this is a shoot first league, and the clear cut evidence of that new philosophy is evident through Johansson. This was a guy who would always, always, always pass when he played with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. And now? He's tied for third on the team in shots taken. This is an excellent trend, and the Caps are definitely hoping it continues.

Andre Burakovsky - I have got to admit, and I'm sure I'm not alone with this, but I thought for sure Burakovsky would not succeed this year as a second line center. I am wrong. I am a big, fat idiot for thinking that. He has been nothing short of spectacular, scoring a point in every one of his games. I had mentioned during the offseason in a tweet, something along the lines of "are we really missing a second line center if we have a young guy that is capable of playing as a center?" I was referring to Evgeny Kuznetsov. I should have been referring to that Sweet Swede, Buracudda, Dr. Dre, or whatever awesome nickname you want to give that 19 year old. He has earned his spot, he will be a critical player during the Caps 2014-2015 campaign, and he is the very, very early front runner for the Calder Trophy, and it's not even close.

(Editors note: The Calder Trophy race actually is pretty close if two rookies continue their output over the course of the season. I mistakenly thought that the L.A. Kings' Tanner Pearson was no longer considered a rookie because he played 25 games in the regular season, plus five playoff games. The Calder Trophy qualification states that a player can still be considered a rookie if they play 25 or less regular season games. They will be disqualified if they play more than 25 games the previous season, or have more than six games played in two different previous seasons. It does not state anything about the playoffs, as individual trophies are regular season awards. Pearson is eligible, and has four goals and two assists in five games)

Matt Niskanen - Niskanen, in my opinion, has been the best defenseman for the Caps so far this season. I was a bit skeptical of Niskanen during the pre season. He had a few turnovers and bone-headed plays. I had hoped it was just pre-season rust, new team jitters, but deep down I feared that it could have been a sign of things to come. But once the season started, Niskanen has looked excellent, both in the defensive and offensive zone. Tonight, he recorded two assists, his first points as a Cap, and there will surely be much, much more.

Braden Holtby - After a brain fart of a night against the Sharks, Holtby came back extremely strong. He wasn't seriously tested in the second or third period, but if it wasn't for Holtby's first period performance, the Caps could have been down big if it wasn't for Holtby. He had two early, huge glove saves, and an absolutely stunning save on Jaromir Jagr on a one timer shot. We are going to see many, many more games like tonight from Holtby, and far less of those Sharks games.

Negatives

Power Play - Now, obviously I'm reaching for the negatives, because I don't think the Caps had that bad of a period at all. But, I honestly wasn't very happy with the power play during this game. Sure, they went 1 for 5 on the extra man, but it wasn't until Burakovsky's bullet against backup Scott Clemmensen. The passes just didn't seem to be as crisp, and both Backstrom and Kuznetsov seemed to force some passes from the half boards. The one thing that I would add is that I'm not quite sure why Mike Green isn't getting more time on the power play (just 3:17, in comparison to John Carlson's  5:34). I think Green runs the power play far better than any one else. He dishes the puck over to Ovechkin better than Carlson, and he has a better offensive shot than Carlson. The power play is always buzzing, and it surely will throughout this season, but Green needs to see more time.

Slow Starts - This is the second game in a row where the Caps have come out slow to start the game. Well, this one was a little different because they saw a really early goal from Ovechkin, and then another first period goal from Chris Brown. But they still let in two goals in the first, and overall surrendered the better scoring chances. If it wasn't for Holtby, the Caps could have easily been put in a position where they would have to dig themselves out of a gigantic hole. If the Caps can extend their play through three periods, few teams will be able to hang with the Caps.

Back Checking From The Forwards - Again, a cheeky complaint, but both goals should have been stopped, and it starts with the forwards. This is the second game in a row that a defenseman has scored twice against the Caps, and while it's good that the Caps are forcing shots from the blue line, it's not that great if the blue liners are making them. The first goal was off of a turnover from Backstrom, and the second was just sloppy play in the defensive zone.

Possession (Via hockeystats.ca)



Top Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Eric Fehr - 77% (46% offensive zone start)
  • Jason Chimera - 69% (55% offensive zone start)
  • Joel Ward - 64% (44% offensive zone start)
  • Alex Ovechkin - 48% (70% offensive zone start)
  • Karl Alzner - 48% (50% offensive zone start)
(It's not coincidence that Chimera and Ward went from the bottom five last game to the top five this game now that they were centered by Fehr. Are...are the twins actually triplets?)

Bottom Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Chris Brown - 27% (60% offensive zone start)
  • Marcus Johansson - 28% (40% offensive zone start)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov - 32% (75% offensive zone start)
  • Liam O'Brien - 37% (75% offensive zone start)
  • Nate Schmidt - 39% (50% offensive zone start)

Update: Graph of TOI Competition Percentage vs. Offensive Zone Start Percentage. Color Represents Corsi Percentage and Size Represents TOI Per Game. This data is through four games.

Image Via War-On-Ice

Scoring

Goal - Alexander Ovechkin (5)
- Assists - Troy Brouwer (2), Brooks Orpik (1)

Goal - Chris Brown (1)
- Assists - Mike Green (2), Brooks Orpik (2)

Goal - Marcus Johansson (2)
- Assists - Brooks Laich (1), Mike Green (3)

Goal - Nicklas Backstrom (1)
- Assists - Matt Niskanen (1), Troy Brouwer (3)

Goal - Joel Ward (2)

Goal - Andre Burakovsky (PP) (2)
- Assists - Evgeny Kuznetsov (3), Matt Niskanen (2)

Goaltending

Braden Holtby - 26 saves on 28 shots, .929 save percentage

Quote of the Night


"When you're only about the second or third guy, you don't have to deal with all of the sweat put into it. But you kind of live for those moments," - Chris Brown, after winning the Caps new "Honest Abe" hat.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Game Recap: Capitals vs. Sharks (6-5 Shoot Out Loss)

The Caps very, very quickly found themselves trailing 3-0 in the first period. Goaltender Braden Holtby was yanked out, and we saw the first regular season appearance of the year for new comer Justin Peters. Peters and the rest of the Caps got their act together in the second and third periods, forcing the game to overtime and earning a tough point. Ultimately, the Caps fell in a shootout.




Positives

The Second Line - Or third, whatever. They seem to be interchangeable. I'm of course talking about the Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer line. They were just phenomenal tonight. I'm particularly happy with Johansson, who seems to be more comfortable with the puck than he was last year, especially at even strength. Remember his struggles last year with scoring on five on five? Well...I guess I can't say too much because the only point he's produced has been on the power play (his goal tonight), but still. You can definitely tell that he's been told to shoot the puck more often, which was desperately needed from him. Brouwer's goal was huge tonight. He recognized that Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin fell down, and immediately drove the puck to the net, patiently waiting for his shot. And Burakovsky has just been unbelievable. The guy has gotten a point in all three games, and even when he's not producing points, on every shift he brings the threat. He just already seems to have this confidence, and if he keeps it up, he is going to be an absolute stud...as a 19 year old...as a rookie.

Mike Green - Two goals in as many games isn't bad. When Green brings his offensive game, he becomes one of the most valuable players on the team, behind only Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby if we're including goaltenders. If Barry Trotz is able to rejuvenate Green's offensive game, which has disappeared to an extent in the past few seasons, that is just a whole different level of offensive power the Caps can trust.

Power Play - That first goal. Wow, that first goal. Every single player touched the puck on the designed play, which ultimately ended in Ovechkin finding Johansson on the door step for the easy goal. Then, you have Ovechkin scoring from his usual spot, picking his spot on the net. In 13 power play opportunities, they already have four goals. And if they continue clicking like they have for the past several seasons, it's going to be another year where Ovechkin and the gang feast on the extra man opportunity.

Negatives

Braden Holtby - Holtby did not have a strong game tonight. On just five even strength shots, he let in two, and added another goal on the penalty kill. Were they all his fault? No, not really. He could have used some help from his defensemen to force San Jose to take low quality shots. But, Holtby should have had a couple of those, and getting chased out of your crease after you've let in almost 50 percent of the shots you've faced means you didn't quite have the game you were hoping for. He definitely wasn't on top of his game.

The First Period - Good Lord. The Caps were reeling through the first 15 minutes of the game. They just couldn't seem to settle down in their own zone, they seemed to struggle carrying the puck into the oppositions zone, and they definitely had a difficult time possessing the puck in the offensive zone. Thankfully, they got ahold of themselves and were able to salvage a point.

The Third Line - Or second, whatever. They seem to be interchangeable. I'm of course talking about the Joel Ward, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera line. They want to go ahead and tell the world that they don't consider themselves a checking line, and that they know they can produce offense. Well, they are literally doing very little offensively. When Chimera and Laich were on the ice at even strength, they were able to help produce nine shots, which was as much as Liam O'Brien was able to produce. Ward didn't do much better, with just 11. I get that they are playing against the top lines, if you take a look here, you can see for yourself. But if they want to be considered a point producing line...then start attempting to produce points. The pairing of Ward and Chimera was nothing short of magical last year...so it really makes you wonder how Laich is affecting this line. But, I would love to see this line generate a point on Thursday against the Devils.

Shootout Attempts - Ok, if the Caps are going to have another year where they lead the league in shootouts again, then they absolutely need to start winning some shootouts. We've seen what a literally winless shootout record can do to your place in the standings with the New Jersey Devils last year. I'm not suggesting that the Caps will go winless in the shootout, I'm just saying that some guys really need to become bonafide scorers on the shootout and bury these these things. Because again, these points are important. It's not time to hit the panic button yet on the shootout, but someone has to start making these consistently, like Matt Hendricks was able to do.

Possession (via hockeystats.ca)



Top Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Mike Green - 77% (56% offensive zone start)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov - 71% (83% offensive zone start)
  • Liam O'Brien - 69% (83% offensive zone start)
  • Andre Burakovsky - 67% (offensive zone start percentage not available)
  • Eric Fehr - 65% (50% offensive zone start
Bottom Five Corsi-For Percentage at Even Strength
  • Brooks Laich - 43% (71% offensive zone start)
  • Jason Chimera - 45% (71% offensive zone start)
  • Joel Ward - 46% (71% offensive zone start)
  • Karl Alzner - 51% (70% offensive zone start)
  • John Carlson - 52% (50% offensive zone start)
Scoring

Goal - Marcus Johansson (PP) (1)
- Assists - Alex Ovechkin (1), John Carlson (3)

Goal - Mike Green (2)
- Assists - Liam O'Brien (1), Evgeny Kuznetsov (2)

Goal - Alex Ovechkin (3)
- Assists - Nick Backstrom (3), Eric Fehr (1)

Goal - Alex Ovechkin (PP) (4)
- Assists - Nicklas Backstrom (4), John Carlson (4)

Goal - Troy Brouwer
- Assists - Mike Green (1), Andre Burakovsky (3)

Goaltending

Braden Holtby - 4 saves on 7 shots, .571 save percentage (pulled after 9:34)
Justin Peters - 14 saves on 16 shots, .875 save percentage

Quote of the Night

"It seemed like when they got that fifth one, it took a little wind out of our sales, but then the crowd got going again, and the boys were just resilient all night long. And once the crowd got behind us, it seemed like we were pushing and pushing, and these guys weren't going to let anything get in their way," - Justin Peters, on whether he felt like the comeback was coming.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Game Recap: Capitals vs. Bruins (4-0 Win)

Early on in the game, you knew Braden Holtby was on his game. He saw a ton of shots in the first period, but continued to fight on. After two first period goals from Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals never looked back, and earned their first win of the season.




Positives

Power Play - The power play was cooking with gas tonight. Alex Ovechkin did his usual. It's just so unbelievable that a guy who is known for scoring in the exact same spot all the time, scores all the time. It's ridiculous. And I know last game I said I didn't like seeing anyone there but Ovechkin on the power play. I lied. I like seeing Mike Green there. Green, in my opinion, is the third best offensive mind on this team, behind only Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin. He has the ability to place his shots and quarterback a power play. If Barry Trotz wants to alternate Ovechkin and Green in that automatic goal spot, then the Caps power play will be golden once again.

Braden Holtby - Can't be much more excellent than he was. That early glove save almost didn't seem real. He just snagged it with ease. The guy saw 29 shots and saved them all. His .981 save percentage is the best of all goaltenders that have played two games. Is it a fluke? Well, he sure as hell won't end the season with a .981 save percentage. But this year we will see Holtby towards the top in virtually every statistical category for goaltenders due to his recent heavy diet of Korn. My bold prediction, which may in fact be not so bold: Holtby is a Vezina candidate this season.

Matt Niskanen - I thought Niskanen had a quietly fantastic game today. I think he's going to be the type of guy that just does his job day in and day out. He may never just blow your mind, but he won't ever make you get really angry, kind of like Karl Alzner. Niskanen had a couple of great plays, even some where he bailed out some teammates *ahem...karlalzner...*cough* *cough*

Negatives

Penalty Kill - I'm reaching here, because they have yet to let up a power play goal, but I'm sorry, I'm just not trusting it. There are way too many instances where there are clear passing lanes with guys getting clear shots. On top of that, it always appears that the two forwards, no matter who it is, are always wheeling around in desperation. They need to just settle down, get their sticks in the lane, and block what they can. They can't be running around like a chicken with their head cut off.

Face Offs - Whether or not this is a truly important stat is really up for debate (I think it does have some merit), but the Caps were atrocious at the dot tonight. Their three primary centers won only 29 percent (Backstrom), 25 percent (Brooks Laich) and 20 percent (Andre Burakovsky) of the face offs they took. That needs to improve.

Possession - It just wasn't that good tonight. Ultimately, they won the game, but the Bruins greatly outshot the Caps tonight. The Caps, however, got much better chances than the Bruins did, and for the most part, they capitalized on them. But, we all know what bad possession numbers can do to a team. The Caps can't coast through the season playing like that. They need to do just a little bit better.

Possession (Via hockeystats.ca and naturalstattrick.com)



Top Five Corsi Percentage at Even Strength
  • Joel Ward - 60 percent (29 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Matt Niskanen - 57 percent (33 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Karl Alzner - 57 percent (27 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Alex Ovechkin - 48 percent (33 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Andre Burakovsky - 45 percent (75 percent offensive zone starts)
Bottom Five Corsi Percentage at Even Strength
  • Troy Brouwer - 16 percent (60 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Brooks Orpik - 16 percent (43 percent offensive zone starts)
  • John Carlson - 20 percent (40 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Nate Schmidt - 26 percent (50 percent offensive zone starts)
  • Mike Green - 29 percent (50 percent offensive zone starts)
Scoring

Goal - Alex Ovechkin (PP) (1)
  - Assists - John Carlson (1) and Nicklas Backstrom (1)
Goal - Alex Ovechkin (2)
 - Assists - Nicklas Backstrom (2) and Karl Alzner (1)
Goal - Mike Green (PP) (1)
 - Assists - Evgeny Kuznetsov (1) and Andre Burakovsky (1)
Goal - Joel Ward (1)
 - Assists - John Carlson (2) and Andre Burakovsky (2)

Goaltending

Braden Holtby - 29 saves on 29 shots, 1.000 save percentage

Quote of the Night

"It was big. I was telling the guys 'finally.' I didn't want to go, like, 0-82. That would be sort of embarrassing. You don't really relax until you get the first win. So, we got one. I'm sure we'll get another one along the way." - Barry Trotz


Friday, October 10, 2014

Game Recap: Capitals vs. Canadiens (2-1 Shootout Loss)

The Capitals came out strong in the first period of their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, the Capitals had the first 14 shots on goal of the game. They drew power plays, played solid defense, but only walked away in the first with one goal. Ultimately, they would fall in a shootout.



  Positives

Brooks Orpik - He was a man on fire out there. He really made his presence known every time he stepped on the ice. He recorded six hits in total. And they were not just your average hits. Every one was a devastating blow. Many were on the open ice. It was something that Capitals have not seen in quite some time. If Orpik is able to mimic that game throughout the season, he will be incredibly valuable for the Caps.

Andre Burakovsky - I mean, could you really ask anything more from that guy in his opener? He obviously has an immense amount of pressure on his shoulders, as he's centering the Capitals second (or third, whatever, his and Brooks Laich's line seemed pretty interchangeable) line. And he goes out there and immediately scored a goal after a strong forecheck effort from Troy Brouwer. Every time he carried the puck into the offensive zone, it appeared the Caps had a chance of scoring.

Marcus Johansson Shooting - One of the more frustrating things to watch last year was how passive Marcus Johansson was. He only tallied eight total goals, and only two of them came at even strength. That's pretty horrible for a top line winger. Tonight? He was definitely firing the puck. In fact, he had three shots on goal. That will be desperately needed from him.

Overall Defense - I thought everyone played a pretty solid defensive game. There was one instance towards the end of the third, and Evgeny Kuznetsov poked the puck away from a Hab as soon as he brought it into the Caps zone. Matt Niskanen played respectably, John Carlson looked tough. Even the third pairing of Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen held their own. Even the penalty kill looked solid. Now, there were several times where Montreal caught the Caps reeling, but they were always able to recover, both at five on five and the penalty kill.


Negatives

Power Play - Last years top power play had five opportunities, and based on their percentage last year, they should have had one. They didn't really ever have any serious chances, and Ovechkin didn't see the puck nearly as much as he should on the power play. On top of that, the Caps negated their own power play with another penalty of their own far too often. I also wasn't a fan of having Eric Fehr on the point instead of Ovechkin, but I'd be willing to give that a few more tries.

Shot Selection - Did they fire the puck a lot? Yes. Were there good chances? Sometimes. Were they placing the puck well? Not really. Many times multiple Caps pushed the puck wide of the net. And at even more times they put it right into Dustin Tokarski's chest. Now, Tokarski had a very good game, but the Caps are going to have to score more goals in the future, and it starts with better shot placement.


Possession (Via hockeystats.ca)



Top Five Corsi For at Even Strength 
  • Andre Burakovsky - 75% (55% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Eric Fehr - 73.5% (43% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Marcus Johansson - 71.4% (62% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Karl Alzner - 71.1% (65% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Matt Niskanen - 70.3% (60% Offensive Zone Start)
Bottom Five Corsi For at Even Strength
  • Joel Ward - 47.8% (54% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Liam O'Brien - 50% (33% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Jack Hillen - 52.4% (44% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Jason Chimera - 52.6% (50% Offensive Zone Start)
  • Brooks Laich - 55.6%  (50% Offensive Zone Start)

Scoring

Goal - Andre Burakovsky (1)
Assist - Troy Brouwer (1)


Goaltending

Braden Holtby - 23 saves on 24 shots. .958 save percentage

Quote of the Night

"I think from a coaching standpoint it was a good game. I thought we came out with really good intent. If we lost the game, we lost it in the first. We scored the first goal and then we had back to back to back power plays. We had a chance to really take the game over. We missed the net a couple of times. We had some good chances, or we hit them in the chest." - Barry Trotz

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Time Has Come

He sits in his living room, watching the television. The last pick of the draft is up.....

"With the last pick of the 2014 NHL draft, the Los Angeles Kings select...."

It doesn't matter. He hangs on to that little glimmer of hope that his name will be called, but he has a sickening feeling it won't.

He hangs his head, not in sadness, but frustration. He knows he belongs, he just needs to take a different path.

So he works at it. He works right away. One more sprint, practice your stride. Turn. Turn FASTER. Push it one more time.

He gets a call. He's been invited to Development Camp. It's a long shot, but one he's willing to take.

He skates. He listens. He focuses. It takes concentration to make it to the big leagues. And as his coaching staff barks orders, he continues on. Faster, faster and faster. Harder, harder and harder.

He knows no eyes are on him. The second he steps on the ice and the second he steps off of it. There are bigger names around. The Burakovsky's. He'll surely make a name for himself one day, he sits and thinks to himself. He commands attention. He maintains a presence. He's everything that he longs to be.

So he grinds it out every chance he gets. He works hard in the boards. He lifts with all his might in the weight room. His muscles ache and twitch as he's pressing the weight off his chest. But he knows he can do one more.

His teammates give him a high five. The coaching staff cheers him on. He's beginning to get noticed. But he knows he's not there yet.

His development camp ends. But he knows he needs to keep working. So it's back on the ice for one more lap. Back in the weight room for one more press. Back on the track for one more sprint.

He's called again, this time for rookie camp. He's eager to prove his worth, but his damn ankle is bothering him.

He fears his chance ends. How will they notice if I don't play? Why would they bother?

But he gets his chance against the Flyers. He knows he has to work hard, prove his worth again. But he's up to the task. He always has been.

He gets a congratulatory nod from the coaching staff after the game. He's short of breath, but he knows he gave it his all. If he gives anything, it will always be his all.

He gets called again, this time to training camp. He has a shot to work with the big boys. They are bigger, faster, stronger.

He skates along the likes of Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. He tapes his stick around Matt Niskanen and Troy Brouwer. He eats beside Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner. They chit chat with him, just small talk. They don't know him that well. Yet.

He gets his start in Philadelphia. He finally gets to play at game speed against the older guys.

He's out there flying. He's got to make himself get noticed.

He gets crushed from behind. He's embarrassed. Someone tried to take advantage of him. They need to pay. He drops the gloves instinctively. He tries to sneak in some right hooks, but he's overmatched. He loses. His teammates still acknowledge his effort.

Later in the game, he would get an assist. He screened the goaltender on the John Erskine goal. He jumps in his teammates arms, and skates along the boards to bump Troy Brouwer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Eric Fehr.

People begin to notice. He still sits behind the crowd, not getting too much attention. But the one's who matter are paying attention.

Cuts are made. He's still around. But the pickings are becoming slim. He makes sure they don't even think about cutting him.

He drops the gloves again. This time in front of his home crowd. It's what he's done his whole career.

But then something different happened. He scores. He never does that. The crowd went crazy. He could get used to that.

Normally, the reporters flock to Alex Ovechkin. He's a super star, world famous. The best in the world. But this time, many head over to O'Brien. He sheepishly answers the questions, quick and calculated, making sure not to slip up or get cocky.

Some reporters head over to Michael Latta, who played with O'Brien.

"He's a pitbull!" Latta said excitedly.

More and more get cut. More and more are sent down. More and more disappear. But he still stands tall among those who belong, the last of the free agents.

Now, he's gained a following. The twittersphere explodes with excitement. Girls are pleading for him to stay in DC. And yet still some say he won't make the team. Sure, he might earn a contract, they say, but he won't be on the opening roster.

But there's no denying he's becoming the fan favorite.

His teammates notice. They've noticed it all along. Mike Green noticed it on the ice during practice. So did Jack Hillen. Tom Wilson just knew he had the confidence. Braden Holtby loved his passion for the game. Chris Brown appreciates his physicality. Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom believed the kid earned his spot.

He's called into an office by Brian MacLellan. He's earned the contract.

But he's taken it a step further.

He's called into the office of Barry Trotz.

He's earned his spot on the roster.

He knew all along

And as he walks along the halls with Marcus Johansson, Justin Peters and Nate Schmidt, he jokes and smiles along, finally reaching his dream.

Liam O'Brien has made it to the NHL. He has made it to his first ever game, and he is ready to Rock The Red with all of us.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ovechkin and Backstrom's Ideal Mate

As the Capitals training camp keeps chugging along, the team is getting closer and closer to the start of the season. But quite a few things remain unclear. Who will be that sixth defenseman with the Dmitry Orlov injury? Is Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson or Brooks Laich the second line center? Where will Tom Wilson slide in? Is Michael Latta on the team?

All valid questions that head coach Barry Trotz will have to address. But one other question also remains unclear. Who is Ovechkin and Backstrom's line mate?

Within the past few seasons, finding another line mate for these two has been pretty difficult. During the Caps better years, when they were juggernaut, President Trophy winners and among the top teams in the conference consistently in the regular season, Backstrom and Ovechkin strived primarily with two different players within a couple of different seasons; Victor Kozlov and Mike Knuble.

Let's first take a look at the 2007-2008 season. Ovechkin finished that season with 65 goals and 112 points, leading the league in both categories and both are career highs. Backstrom went 55 assists and 69 points in his rookie season. On five on five hockey, Ovechkin recorded 34 goals and 27 assists, playing primarily with Backstrom and Kozlov.  During that season, Backstrom had 32 assists and 10 goals playing five on five hockey, and again, played primarily with Ovechkin and Kozlov.  If you look at both of those charts, specifically at corsi for in "when on ice together" and "(Player) when apart" Kozlov made both Ovechkin and Backstrom better possession-wise. That year earned both Ovechkin and Backstrom one of the top possession years they've ever had. Here's a graph of just how well they did.

War-On-Ice

Those three guys in the top right of the graph are Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kozlov. The X-axis is the offensive zone start percentage, meaning that those three started primarily in the offensive zone for their shifts. The Y-axis measures the competition that they faced, meaning only Chris Clark played against more difficult competition among the forwards than those three. The color represents the Fenwick percentage, and they are all a relatively dark shade of blue, meaning they were out possessing the opposition. And finally, the size of the bubble represents total time on ice, where, obviously as the top line, they were receiving a ton of ice time.

Now, let's look at the 2009-2010 year. Ovechkin scored 50 goals and 59 assists in 72 games that year. Backstrom had 33 goals and 68 assists in a full season. On five on five play that year, Ovechkin had 31 goals and 33 assists, playing primarily with Backstrom and Knuble. Backstrom on five on five that year had 21 goals and 38 assists, again playing primarily with Ovechkin and Knuble. Again, looking at the "when on ice together" and "(Player) when apart" sections, you can see that Ovechkin doesn't do as well when he's not playing with Backstrom on the five on five, but interestingly enough, he played ever so slightly worse when he was with Knuble. That being said, this was another extremely successful year with Ovechkin possession-wise. The same pattern went for Backstrom, playing significantly worse when apart from Ovechkin and ever so slightly better without Knuble. But again, his possession stats were excellent. Here's a graph, using the exact same variables as above.

War-On-Ice

Once again, Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble were easily towards the top in all respected categories.

Kozlov was the best forward Backstrom and Ovechkin ever played with. He had the ability to mesh with the two and had the skill and the exact style that thrived with, a big power forward type player that got the garbage and rebound goals that Ovechkin didn't net. Knuble was similar in style to Kozlov, but to an extent wasn't as successful as Kozlov, though they still played quite well together.

Interestingly enough, the one player that saw a large sample size (1401:13 total five on five minutes with Ovechkin and 1430:07 total five on five minutes with Backstrom) and a large amount of success with the pair was Alexander Semin. His high skill level and high shot output allowed for a great increase in Ovechkin and Backstrom's possession. Over the course of their careers together, Semin improved Ovechkin's Corsi by 3.7 percent when they were on the ice together, and he improved Backstrom's by 2.7 percent.

Now, obviously having a guy like Semin play with Backstrom and Ovechkin would be ideal. But having a high skilled guy like that just simply isn't realistic with this team. Maybe a guy like Kuznetsov could jump in and play with the two, but he is desperately needed elsewhere. However, the Caps do have quite a few big bodied, power forward-like players that could mimic Kozlov and Knuble's playing style. The question is, who could do it?

Now, if there was any guy in the league to select as Backstrom and Ovechkin's line mate, it would be James Van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Take a look at all of his goals from the 2013-2014 season.

Via SomeHockeyVideos (I highly recommend this channel)

Did you notice a pattern on almost every single on of those goals? Van Riemsdyk plays with excellence in front of the crease. The vast majority of his goals come off redirections and stuff attempts right off the crease. In my opinion, there is no player in the league quite as good in front of the net as he is right now. I'm not quite sure anyone will ever understand why the Flyers traded him away for Luke Schenn. 

Van Riemsdyk played for the worst Corsi close team in the NHL last season, but he was third on the team (second amongst forwards) in Corsi-close with 44.3 percent (The Hockey News). 

Why am I even talking about this? It's not like the Caps are going to get him. Whatever, I'll move on.

But my point is that the Caps need a guy to play a similar style to Van Riemsdyk. They need a big body to play in front of the net and clean up all the shots that Ovechkin somehow didn't put in. Like Kozlov, even like Knuble. So, who are the guys that could potentially do this? Here are the top three candidates.

#1 - Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr is the top choice in my opinion. He's always had a nice offensive touch, and isn't afraid to use his body to his advantage. Fehr played primarily between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward last year, and that third line was arguably the best, most consistent line on the team.

Trotz has expressed that he would like to see Fehr play on the wing this season. And after Trotz called Chimera and Ward "twins," it's hard to believe Fehr would be anywhere but the top two lines. Fehr has also played during this preseason as both a left and right wing. This bodes well for the top line. Trotz has also expressed that Ovechkin is more dangerous from the left, but if he doesn't play well defensively, Trotz will move him back to the right. Fehr can really play anywhere, so if Trotz is working him on the left, depending on how Ovechkin plays defensively to start the year, Fehr can be comfortable on either wing.

Eric Fehr
Fehr also saw some time on the "Ovi spot" during the power play against the Philadelphia Flyers. I get it, it's preseason, but the fact that he's at least being showcased as a shooter on the power play is a positive sign that he will be deployed in offensive situations.

And Fehr has played quite well with both Ovechkin and Backstrom in the past. Ovechkin has played 341:08 total even strength five on five minutes with Fehr over the course of his career. When they are together, Ovechkin's Corsi rating is 59.2 percent, which is phenomenal. When Ovechkin is not playing with Fehr, his Corsi rating is 53.4 percent, a difference of 5.8 percent. And they aren't just generating shots, they are also generating goals. When together, they are scoring 1.173 goals per 20 minutes of play together. When Ovechkin is apart from Fehr, his goals per 20 minutes of ice time drops down to .988. In comparison to Kozlov, Ovechkin's Corsi when with Kozlov compared to without Kozlov, the difference was exactly 6 percent. That's only .2 percent more than Ovechkin's Corsi difference with Fehr.

The drastic change can't really been seen with Backstrom. Backstrom has played 391:26 total even strength five on five minutes together. When together, Backstrom's Corsi rating is 54.4 percent. When apart, it's 54.5. So while it's not a drastic increase in possession like Ovechkin's numbers were, it's still very, very close. The point to take away is that if Fehr is playing with Backstrom, he's not hurting Backstrom's game. But again, take a look at their goals per 20 minutes of play. When together, they are scoring 1.124 goals per 20 minutes. When apart, Backstrom is only generating .979 goals per 20.

Fehr's 13 goals and 31 points were the second highest totals of his career in a season, despite just playing 14:45 minutes per game. On top of that, his 50.0 percent Corsi-close percentage was second on the team among forwards, trailing only Mikhail Grabovski, who is no longer a Capital. If he jumps up and plays alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin, where he has proven he can hang, they will further improve his game. Fehr will be an excellent line mate for the Caps on the first line.

#2 - Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer certainly has the style that would matchup well with Ovechkin and Backstrom. He is an extremely physical player, frequently leading his team in hits (his 210 hits last season were first among the Caps last season, 28th in the league).  His 25 goals (good for second on the team) and 43 points were both career highs. There's just one problem....he doesn't play very well with Ovechkin or Backstrom. Like, at all.

When Brouwer plays with Ovechkin and Backstrom, he actually makes them significantly worse at generating offense. Since Brouwer has joined the Washington Capitals, he has played 476:32 minutes of even strength five on five time together. When together, their five on five even strength Corsi is just 45.0 percent, which is bad. When Ovechkin was apart from Brouwer when he joined the team in the 2011-2012 season, he is 49.2 percent. Ovechkin is also generating more goals per 20 minutes of play away from Brouwer (.784) than he is with him (.714).

It's the same deal with Backstrom, but with a larger sample size. The two have played together for 758:32 seconds. When together, their Corsi on five on five even strength situations is 47.9 percent. When apart, Backstrom's is 51.3 percent. Again, like Ovechkin, Backstrom's goals per 20 of minutes decreases when he plays with Brouwer versus when he doesn't (.845 goals per 20 minutes of play versus .685).

Now, could this be a product of the systems Brouwer has played with two different coaches in Dale Hunter, a more defensive minded coach, and Adam Oates, who was not a very good possession coach?  Perhaps. But when you compare Brouwer to a lot of other combinations with Ovechkin and Backstrom, including Johansson, Martin Erat and even Chimera, he is not doing very good at all. In fact, even more telling, according to these charts, Brouwer has never really made a single player he has ever played with drastically better at possessing the puck, generating shots or scoring goals.

#3 - Tom Wilson

This one is obviously a very long shot. He has a very slight chance of playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom this upcoming season. But in the near future, Wilson may be heavily considered. 

The now 20 year old wasn't properly used last year. He has tremendous upside, as he is a high end offensive talent, proven during his junior days with the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL, where he scored 23 goals and 35 assists in 48 games in his final year. Last season, he had just three goals and seven assists. He also had some of the worst possession numbers in the entire league.

Tom Wilson
But he was playing with really bad line mates. His second highest forward he played with was Aaron Volpatti, who is a virtual Corsi black hole, sucking in literally every single ounce of talent from every one of his line mates in the history of his career. He also played with Jay Beagle, who isn't that great, but they played pretty well together. I would credit this mostly to his age. It's entirely a learning experience when you first enter the league, and if you aren't playing with bonafide line mates, you are going to struggle. And Wilson certainly wasn't playing with bonafide line mates.

The sample size with Wilson and Backstrom and Ovechkin is far too small to consider any statistical analysis credible (23:46 total minutes of even strength five on five time together with Backstrom, a whooping 1:01 minutes with Ovechkin). This is more of a look at what could possibly be.

Wilson is 6'4", 210 pounds and is tough as a bull. He will forever be compared to one modern player, Milan Lucic. Lucic plays top line minutes, and last season played alongside David Krejci and Jarome Iginla. He made them better at generating shots. He has the ability to win board battles and distribute the puck amongst his teammates. Lucic is a consistent 50-60 point player. If Wilson develops into a guy like Lucic, a battering ram that will put the puck in the net and throw the opponent off of their game, he will help the Caps immensely. He just needs a couple more years of developing, preferably on the top nine.

Ultimately, the Caps need to go with Fehr. He will be the guy that performs at the top of his game, and he will make Ovechkin and Backstrom even better. I do, however, think that Brouwer would get a look. Potentially, with better coaching, Brouwer could see some success, as he has the offensive talent and physicality. I simply don't think that Johansson will be considered for the top line, as he will be needed in another place, whether that's on the second line as the center or wing, or the third line center. On top of that, he did not generate enough offense with Backstrom and Ovechkin. And while Wilson may be the top line center of the near future, today it needs to be Fehr.