Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22nd - The Start of a Busy Schedule Week for the NHL as We Prepare for Turkey Day ...

Well Caps fans here in bucolic Bristow, fall is in the air, the leaves are quite well into "falling", in fact most have already "fallen."  As I noted yesterday this last week of November is a busy week for the NHL's Metropolitan Division.  Tonight we Caps fans, in addition to rooting for our Caps to dull the Sabres at Verizon Center, we're rooting for a 2 and only 2 point night in Uniondale, the Flames to scorch the Devils in Calgary, and the Blue Jackets to beat the Flyers in regulation in Philadelphia.  So say this three times fast: Lets Go Caps! Flames! and Blue Jackets, and three cheers for "meh" hockey on Long Island!

In any case that's probably too much to ask for everything so let's focus on Caps vs. Sabres at Verizon Center. The Sabres started the season off slowly but have won their last two games including beating the San Jose Sharks at home in Buffalo on Tuesday by a score of 4-1 after beating their rival  Maple Leafs 6-2 at home last Saturday. So the Sabres come into this game playing as hot as they've been in quite some time.  The Capitals also come into the game on a two game winning streak having won their last two in tight checking 1 goal road games. For the Caps to win here's the recipe as I see it - limit the Sabres to 30 or fewer shots on goal, a team SV% of 0.92+, and play an aggressive two man in forecheck.  In other words the Caps need to PLAY THEIR GAME and NOT let Buffalo set the pace of play or get them off their game plan. For Buffalo to win they have to come out flying and catch the Capitals back on their heels - of course the Capitals have to stop that from happening, if they manage to control the Sabres the first ten minutes of th game and score first the Capitals should finish the night with two goals and win by a score of  4 - 2 or 3 - 1 or better.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Capitals Hockey 23.2% Into the 2014 -15 NHL Season: Life On The Bubble Exemplified

Well Caps fans our Washington Capitals completed their 19th game of the 2014-15 Season in Denver, CO last evening and achieved a two (2) point regulation win over the Colorado Avalanche.  It was their eighth (8) ROW (Regulation/Overtime Win) of the season.  they are now on pace for a total of  90+ points and notable 34+ ROW.  If this were last season that would place them again "just" on the wrong side of the bubble as they finished last season with 90 points as well but only 28 ROW due to having earned 14 "looser" points which so far this season they've only gotten 3 and are on track for just 12 loser points.  That's the bad news, the good news is "the trend is our friend" and while living life on the bubble trends are everything When last season ended the two "wild Card" teams aka "Winning Bubble Teams" were Columbus with 93 points of which 38 of their 43 wins were "ROW" and they had only 7 "loser points" and Detroit who also had 93 points of which they had 34 ROW and 15 loser points.  That means that in Columbus' case 92+% of their 93 points were "2 point games" while in Detroit's case ~84% of their points were "2 point games."

 For the Capitals thus far this season , 85.7 of the 21 points they've accrued to date are a result of "two point nights."  Additionally, they find themselves in third place in the Division and "on the right side" of the bubble right now because with the exception of the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators they've played no more games than the other Eastern Conference "bubble teams".  Additionally 0.550 (4-3-3) at home and 0.5556 (5-4-0) on the road thus far this season.  The Caps, surprisingly find themselves in need of making Verizon Center a harder place for opposing team's to play when for the majority of the past 5 seasons Verizon has earned a reputation of being a hard place to play and beat them and last season the Caps had a 0.598 record.  if the Caps stay on track for a 0.550 road record and raise their game at Verizon back to 0.598, they will end the season with 94 points and at least 35 ROW which should put them "on the right side of the bubble."  Given the trends and what we've been seeing from the Capitals the 5-4-1 record they have thus far in November, should they string a couple more wins together before the end of November, of the remaining four (4) games this month, clearly the "home and home" against the New York Islanders are most important.  However as long as the Capitals win three of the next four games (6 of 8 available standings points) they should close the gap with either the NY Islanders or Pittsburgh Penguins by at least two points before the month of  December starts.  That will give the Capitals 27 points in 23 games - on a 0.587 pace for the season, on pace for a 96 point season and securely in third place in the Metropolitan Division - avoiding the "Wild Card Sweepstakes" altogether.

The Islanders have six more games to play the remaining 10 days this month - including back to back home and home against Pittsburgh this weekend and a home and home against the Capitals bracketing Thanksgiving Day.  In addition to those four games against Division Rivals, the Islanders face the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday (11/24) and the Devils on Saturday the 29th. Truly this last week of November is a key time for the Islanders fortunes and a groups of tough games stacked together, the only break in it is that four of those six games will be home games for them.

The Penguins have also have six games over the last 10 days of November, the back to back home and home against the Islanders this weekend, followed by the Bruins in Boston on Monday and hosting the Maple Leafs on Wednesday before having another back to back home and home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Pens last six games of November are evenly split between 3 home games and 3 away games though four of the six are played on back to back evenings.

Those are the guys in the Division ahead of the Capitals, but the Devils, Rangers Bruins, Senators, Maple Leafs, Panthers and even the Flyers are all likely to end the season on the bubble with the Capitals.  Looking at the rest of the Metropolitan Division Teams who are on or around the bubble and their schedule the rest of November here's how thing look.  The Rangers have 20 points in 19 games played as of tonight.  They have four more games in November: Montreal at MSG on Sunday, the Lightning on Wed. the 26th in Tampa, the Flyers in Philadelphia on the Friday 28th and then the Flyers again 24 hours later at MSG on Saturday the 29th.  So that's not going to be an easy road for the Blue Shirts.

The Devils start  three game road trip through Western Canada tonight in Edmonton, followed by a back to back tomorrow night in Calgary against the Flames before facing off against the Canucks in Vancouver on Tuesday on the 25th.  They then come back to Newark and play the Detroit Red Wings on Friday the 28th and then finish the month playing the Islanders in Uniondale on Saturday the 29th.  Another bubble team with five tough games to finish the second month of the 2014-15 season.

The Flyers have five more games to play in the month of November starting tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home in Philly.  They then travel to Long Island to face the Islanders on Monday evening, then host the Red Wings at Wachovia Center on Wednesday the 26th before finish the month with a back to back/home and home against the Rangers on the 28th and 29th.

Columbus has been struggling recently but as they get healthier they too could threaten other bubble teams.  They have four more games in November, only one of which tomorrow against the Flyers is against a Metropolitan Division opponent. Their other games in November are against Winnipeg, Vancouver and Nashville.

So as you can see the final week of November features a lot of Metropolitan Division games for every team in the  division with the exception of Columbus plays at least as many games against Division rivals as they do against teams in other divisions during the rest of this month.  That might put a little separation between teams in the division (given either Pittsburgh or the Islanders could finish the month with 35+ points and on track for 110+ point seasons) but it could also bunch things up even more.  For the Capitals the key will be winning at least three out of four and not giving any "loser points" to the Islanders in those two games, assuming they can win them.  If the Caps continue to find their grove and capture all eight points available to them in November they'll also be on track for a 100+ point season, that would be a significant step off the "right side" of the bubble compared to where they were just two weeks ago.

All that said you have to play the games on the ice, one game at a time.  The only thing certain about all this is it's going to be an exciting final week of November for fans of NHL Teams in the Metropolitan Division.

For the Caps, next up are the Sabres tomorrow night at Verizon Center.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/15 A No Point Night In Saint Louis - Not The Start To A Three Game Road Trip Anyone Rocking the Red Was Hoping For ...

Another Caps Hockey Game, another disappointing slow start that ended in more disappointment.  The Caps rolled in to Saint Louis off a 1 - 0 loss the prior evening at Verizon Center.  They apparently decided that since New Jersey successfully beat them by slowing the pace of the game, they'd try and do the same thing against Saint Louis.  One could talk fancy stats or simple stats or "olde tyme hockey" or whatever you want and by every normal measure, especially the scoreboard, the bottom line is it didn't work. As the final seconds of the game wound down last night the scoreboard showed Blues 4 - Capitals 1.  

Blues goalie Brian Elliott wasn't all that great, and that makes the final score even tougher to take - the goalie wasn't unbeatable, but he didn't have to be.  Add to the fact the Capitals forwards didn't make it hard for Elliott to turn in a 0.960 SV% on the night the fact that in addition to having brain freeze similar to Holtby's faux paux on Friday night that Justin Peters turned in a SV% of just 0.882 last night and the final score of 4-1 can only be attributed to the Caps limiting the Blues to just 34 SOG.
  The Caps are now 0.500 on the season with 17 games (21%) of the 82 game season played so far.  That's not good enough, by any measure to be confident in this team's chances of returning to the playoffs.  They need to settle down, play the system much harder for 60:00 of every game and move things forward.  On the GM side of things, some things need to happen, and one of them is resign/extend Mike Green now not later.  A second is clear Cap space of guys who will never again be even close to what George McPhee signed them for - for example one should not be paying $4.5M of cap space for a guy who if/when he gets healthy is a third line center for your team or $2M for a guy who might sometime later this season be your #7 D-man... . A third thing is that between the GM and the coaches they need to facilitate some stability in the top three lines and let the players work out their issues as long as they play hard for 60:00 of every game.  The musical chairs on the lines isn't helping provide any of the needed spark IMO.  

I know last night was game 2 of a back to back but you know what, just like the Saint Louis Blues, I don't care, nor can the Capitals afford to care or think about that either.  Basically what this Capitals team needs to do is play the entire first 50:00 of every game with the same drive, speed and urgency like they seem to be playing the last 10:00. Last night they didn't do that and it cost them another two points.  Will they look inward and decide enough is enough during these next two days before facing the Phoenix oops Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday in Phoenix oops Glendale?  We can only hope and cheer for them to do so, at least we Caps fans can only do so.  In that vein I shout out:

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November 14th Devils 1 - Capitals 0 at Verizon Center, Look Ahead to Tonight's Game in Saint Louis

As has been well chronicled over at Japer's Rink and The Peerless Prognosticator, last night at Verizon Center we watched a game that ended, unfortunately in a "No Point" night for the Capitals.  That of course meant that this morning if you checked the NHL standings the Capitals are once again "on the wrong side of the bubble" with a mere 17 points in 16 games, fourth in the Metropolitan Division and a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games.  So that's something I'd sum up as "unfortunate" .. unfortunate indeed as the Caps didn't play poorly last night, loosing 1-0 in regulation on a poorly considered chance taken by Braden Holtby on a night when otherwise he did more than what should have been required by him to secure two points for his team - notch a 0.964 SV%.

 It was a night when I hated being right.  Yesterday musing about the game, I figured that it might take something like  this, in fact I wrote:
"... or fail to play their game well a full sixty minutes, or Corey Schneider has a totally "lights out" night the Devils could win this game so the Caps cannot fail to play hard and smart for all sixty minutes."
In fact that's what happened last night, the Caps slowed their game to New Jersey's 33 1/3 RPM speed and the New jersey team defense and Corey Schneider had a "lights out night" as a result.  It really did only take one mistake and that was because the Caps let NJ dictate the pace of play and didn't score, not even on four power plays.  It hurts more because had the Caps won they'd be 5-4-1 in their last 10 and still on the "right side" of the bubble.  There's really  not much more to be said.  The team knows they needed to want it more and to have worked both smarter and harder against New Jersey.  The good news is the Caps don't have a lot of time to dwell on last night's game as they take on the Saint Louis in the first of a three game road trip tonight under the arch just across the Mississippi River.  The Blues are a red hot 9-1-0 in their last ten games and sit atop the Central Division with 23 points and 9 ROW.

The Peerless is calling for a 3-2 Caps victory.  Me I'm just hoping, hoping for a Caps 2 point night of any kind.  I do think the Caps could win but the Blues are rested after beating Nashville, 4-3 on Thursday.   I just don't see this being a low scoring affair though there's too much offensive talent on both sides of the ice.  The Caps need it more, I hope they want it more and continue to play well.