Sunday, November 2, 2014

Game 10: A No Point Night In Tampa; Can The Caps Begin to Turn It Around Today In Game 11?

Well Caps fans, last night was discouraging to me.  The Caps had the taken the lead of a seesaw game in the second period in Tampa and then allowed the Lightning to score two goals in a row and then finish them off with the only goal in the third period to take a 4 - 3 regulation win from them.  Sure Tampa has averaged 4 goals per game and has made their barn a hard place to come away from with two points, BUT the Capitals needed those two points to ensure they don't continue their "romance with the bubble."  They had a 2-1 lead in the second after Eric Fehr scored a power forward's goal just 2:11 in the second period, but then the Bolts showed just how awesome quick they can score with two goals in under three minutes when Ondrej Palat's goal at the 9:29 mark was quickly followed by Nikita Kruchev's at the 12:12 mark of the second stanza to put Tampa Bay up by a score of 3 - 2.  To be sure those two back to back goals were why and how the Bolts got into a position to win the game, but the Caps did not give up and Troy Brouwer tied the game at 3-3 with a great finish to a powerplay setup from Marcus Johannson and Nicklas Backstrom.  A goal that in addition to having been assisted directly by Backy and MoJo was also indirectly assisted by the space Brouwer was given by the Tampa defense attempting to cheat over and make sure Alex Ovechkin wasn't given his deadly one timer.  So after two periods the game was tied and we had ourselves a 20:00 hockey game on the road.  Overall the Caps weren't looking bad, they had held the Lightning to just 21 SOG through the first 40:00 and they hadn't let Tampa skate freely at any point in the game except maybe for the minute or so before Ryan Callahan scored the first goal of the game at 6:06 of the first period.  I was excited and optimistic going into the third period, despite being concerned that Braden Holtby had only managed a 0.857 SV% through the first two periods while Ben Bishop had stymied the Caps more than once and maintained a 0.923 SV% through the first 40:00 of play.  Unfortunately my optimism was misguided, the Bolts came out  the third and took advantage of some room the Caps gave them for Jason Garrison to throw the puck at the net, likely looking for a rebound, and a shot that I'm sure for numerous reasons, Braden Holtby wants back, to go ahead 4 -3 at the 2:27 mark of the third period.  Following that go ahead goal, the Bolts worked their defense hard clogging up the neutral zone the rest of the game, so despite a pretty solid third period by the Caps they did not allow many clean scoring chances, Bishop did his best to keep the Caps 12 SOG in the third period to "one and done" as well.

So despite having a game that looks well played by the Capitals on the score sheet, the Caps came away with a disappointing "goose-egg" for the third game in a row.  If you want to ponder why, I don't think you need to look far, compare these two numbers:  0.857 and 0.921 - that's Holtby's SV% vs. Bishop's SV% in this game.  Bottom line is the Caps need their goaltenders to put up at least a 0.900 and preferably a 0.920+ SV% to make the current system they are playing a consistently successful recipe.  Also I'm not saying "Save Percentage" is an individual statistic - it's no more an individual statistic than face off% is and lots of people have been writing about that for years.  It is however a statistic that starts and ends with the goaltenders, to achieve a 0.920+ SV% in the NHL a goalie has to stop 98.5+% of the shots "he's supposed to stop" and at least 65% of the shots that leave you wondering "how did he stop that one."  Last night the guy who did that for his team was named Ben Bishop - that's why he was deservedly the third star of the game.  Just go back and look at the Capitals four "no point" and two "one point" games and examine the Caps team SV% in those games - how many are 0.900 or better - the answer is three:

  1. October 9:  Montreal 2 - Capitals 1 (SO)  - Dustin Tokarski outdueled Braden Holtby 0.967 to 0.958.
  2. October 18: Capitals 2 - Florida 1 (SO) - Justin Peters posted a 0.952 SV% in a game at Verizon Center that opposing goalie Al Montoya almost stole for the Panthers with a 0.963 SV%.
  3. October 26: Canucks 4 - Capitals 2 - Justin Peters posted an identical SV% to Ryan Miller 0.909; unfortunately the Canucks outplayed the Capitals coming in this second game of a back to back in Western Canada and outshot the Caps in the second period during which five of the games six goals were scored.

The others:

October 14:  San Jose 6 - Capitals 5 (SO) -Sharks scored 3 goals on first seven SOG, Holtby was pulled, Caps team SV% for the game 0.782 (vs 0.879 for Niemi and the Sharks.)

October 22: Edmonton 3 - Capitals 2 - Holtby stopped 17 of 20 for a 0.850 SV% while Ben Scrivens posted a SV% 0.941 stopping 32 of 34 SOG.

October 29: Detroit 4 - Capitals 2:  Holtby stopped 18 of 22 SOG for a SV% of 0.818; Jimmy Howard stopped 25 of 27 for a 0.926 SV.

Last Night:  Holtby's SV% 0.857; Ben Bishop's SV% 0.921.

So that's why I've concluded the Caps need to have their goaltender have a SV% of at least 0.900 and preferably 0.920.  Think about it - combine that with the way the Caps are generally limiting opposing teams to less than 30 Shots On Goal and that means the Team's GAA would be less than 2.50 GPG while with the offensive firepower and talent they have it's difficult for most teams in the League to hold them to less than 3 goals, unless their goaltender has an exceptional game.

In any case for at least the next month or so when I close a blog post with "Lets Go Caps" it will mean I'm really hoping for the Caps netminders to post a 0.920 SV% or better in the upcoming game, as well as for their forwards to tear up the back of the opposition's net with those awesome, sick, unbelievable shots and plays we've all come to get really excited about.

This evening, the Caps return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes, it will be a tough game but it's another one the Caps need to win.  Right now they are 0.500, 4-4-2 on the season, and yes that is as mediocre as it sounds and looks, this team, IMO, is "better than that."  I think they all feel that way too, you could go look at all the fancy stats, etc and confirm the team has a LOT more potential than the current overall record and especially the last three games seem to evidence, but at the end of the day, the record is what it is and the players all need to, as dumb as it sounds, just do better. The team they are facing is also looking at having lost their last three outings and they are below 0.500 with a 3-6-1 record.  They won't be an easy two points for the Capitals and to win this game, the Caps need to play the game hard - not like a team that lost a disappointing game last night. As you can see from the the Look Ahead  and Prognostication over at Peerless - the Caps should win this game.  Now they just have to play the game on the ice, the way the current statistics portend.


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