Here’s Doug Johnson of the PuckBuddys with your penultimate pregamer. Follow @PuckBuddys.

Early Morning Skate: Our doctor advises those of you with heart issues, temper problems, or who are prone to premature catastrophization to avoid watching the Capitals Thursday night. In fact, why not just turn the TV and iPad off and curl up into a little whimpering ball right now.

The rest of us? We few… we lucky few… are ready for, and this is no hyperbole, the single most cosmically important game for any team since the beginning of time. That said, will the Capitals be ready as well?

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Florida Panthers Pregame: Raise the Titanic!

Doug Johnson, Puck Buddy. Twitter. Didja read their latest thing? It was terrific.

The Pregame: “Oh dear.”  Oh, d-d-dearie dear me. Gosh and darn it all.

Remember that funny little wiggly piglet from your childhood stories named…um, Piglet? The one who worried about everything x 2? Oh, the one who was really needy?  We do. Specifically, we remember that Piglet, for all his kindness, was prone to needless worry.

“SEO!” yell our overlords at RMNB (not really.) (Kinda.) “Optimize key items! Fast and tight! Key words! Search items for hits!”

“Caps Fail!” screech the bloglines. “Disaster!” “Pull The Plug”*

We’re ignoring both.

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Must-Win Game… Lost: Panthers beat Caps 4-2

Photo credit: Alan Diaz

The Washington Capitals have three dates with the Florida Panthers in February, and these games will determine their chances for a postseason. This one was a so-called “four-point game”, and the Capitals came up tragically short.

After a scoreless first period, Mikael Samuelsson faked a hardaround and then fired a shot to Neuvirth’s far side– hitting the post then net. It was a fluke-y, no-look shot from almost 90 feet out, but it caught Neuvirth being lazy, and that’s what matters. Brooks Laich tied it up with a feisty top-shelfer from the crease during 4-on-4 play. Samuelsson got his second of the night with the go-ahead goal on a third period power play. After a long adjudication, Stephen Weiss was awarded a goal that had been washed out at first.

John Carlson made it a one-goal game with a leisurely slapper from the high slot, but Shawn Matthias grabbed an empty netter a few moments later. Panthers beat Caps 4-2.

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Kris Versteeg wipes out. (Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson)

How was your weekend? The Caps won. That was cool. I bet Coach Hunter is psyched. I lost my cell phone. That sucked.

On Monday night, the Capitals hit the road again, leaving a tumultuous three-game home stand behind them. They’ll be suiting up in Sunrise, Florida, which is a ludicrous name for a city. The hosting team? The Florida Capitals.

Marjory the Trash Heap was also assembled from other people's refuse.

Ahh, shoot! Florida Panthers. Sorry. But the Florida roster does sport four ex-Caps: Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, and Marco Sturm (who shouldn’t really count). How did so many Caps players end up in Florida? Over the summer, Panthers GM Dale Tallon got his checkbook out and started signing free agents all willy nilly just to reach the salary floor.

And now– somehow– the Panthers are at the top of the Southeast Division. No one saw that coming. This team was assembled from spare parts. We had joked that it was a retirement home. These guys shouldn’t have a cohesive personality, let alone a winning record. Instead, they’re 14-8-4 and they’ve commited the fewest minor penalties in the league. It’s disciplined and effective hockey they’re playing in Sunrise, which is still is a stupid name for a city.

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Photo credit: Scott Audette

Photo credit: Scott Audette

The Florida Panthers spent their Monday night trouncing the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-4. The Cats used five powerplay goals to fend off a third period rally from their rivals in America’s groin. By now the Panthers are probably already on their way up to Washington.

Here we go. This is the game you’ve been looking forward to. Not the rematch with Tampa, the date with Pittsburgh, or Thursday’s face-off with Jagr. You have been amped for this game: Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann– all your exes are coming over for a dinner party and it’s going to be AWKWARD.

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The Homestand From Hell: Avs beat Caps 3-2

This was pretty much the scene all night. The Caps tried with all their might, but could not score.

No goal. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Matt Bradley tosses his mitts and fights Cody McLeod. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

Matt Bradley drops the gloves with Cody McLeod. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

EVEN LATER UPDATE 12/12 1PM: Per Bob McKenzie, Alex Semin has been fined for his crosscheck on COL’s John-Michael Liles, and will play tonight against NYR.

UPDATE 12/11 11:50PM: Dmitry Chesnokov heard that Alex Semin will not be suspended.

Let’s get the hell out of town. The Washington Capitals have lost five games in a row, four of them at home base. The Colorado Avalanche brought their fast-paced offense to town as Washington tried to re-awake theirs. Despite showing more effort than in recent games, the Caps failed to stop, drop, shut em’ down, open up shop.

Kevin Shattenkirk got lucky with an early goal that Michal Neuvirth should have stopped. Mike Knuble responded with his 250th career goal, a typical Knuble score from inches out. Tom Poi was woefully out of position, allowing Ryan Wilson to waltz in and score the go-ahead goal. Piling on was Paul Stasny, who converted on the powerplay. Matt Hendricks launched a comeback with a no-looker from the crease, but the home team ran out of time. Avs beat Caps 3-2.

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GMGM to Scott Hannan: You. Complete. Us.

The Capitals traded Tomas Fleischmann for Avs Defenseman Scott Hannan

Either the rumors were true, or even a blind squirrel bumps into a nut sometimes. In the end, Tomas Fleischmann is now a mile high, traded to the Colorado Avalanche for blueliner Scott Hannan.

If we look at the trade from Flash’s point of view, it’s a great move. He goes to a team that wants him, most likely to fill a Top 6 spot left vacant when leading scorer Chris Stewart broke his hand in a fight with Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a player needs to get back on track. RMNB wishes him the very best.

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The Constant Changing Of The Linemates

bruce-make-up-your-mind

The Caps blew out Tampa Bay 6 to nothing, and– just when we thought sitting Fleischmann was the answer the lines were clicking– we got more change. Admit it: you thought line combos were chosen using random ping pong ball selection. How else can you explain the constant Changing Of The Linemates?

This week we’ll take a quick look at how the top 6 line combos and blueline pairings are doing at even strength and how the goalies are doing overall, with respect to scoring chances. In the following weeks (as I get more comfortable with SQL) I will add goals scored for and against. For now it’s just scoring chances. I use a specific definition of what I consider a scoring chance based on shot quality data and log everyone who is on the ice at the time using the script from Vic Ferrari. As always, you can find the spreadsheet online.

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Zone Starts and Expected Scoring Chances

alex-ovechkin-vs-flyers

Ovechkin is out of sorts. Does anyone know why? (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semin cooled off, Marcus Johansonn started to heat up, Ovechkin is un-Ovechkin-y, and we saw the Caps get shut out for the first time in almost a year. Quite an up-and-down week. Despite it all, scoring chances are once again preserved for posterity.

I use a specific definition of what I consider a scoring chance based on shot quality data and log everyone who is on the ice at the time using the script from Vic Ferrari. As always, you can find the spreadsheet online.

Coach Boudreau used every line combo imaginable this week (except for the much ballyhooed DJ King-Steckel-Ovechkin line), so I thought we would look at expected scoring chance percentage (SC%). Scoring chance percentage is the amount of scoring chances-for (SCF) that go in the Caps favor when a particular player is on the ice. For example, if a skater is on the ice for 6 scoring chances-for and only 4 against his  SC% would be 60% (6 chances for divided by all 10 chances when on ice). If we know how often a player is deployed in the offensive zone, we can calculate their expected scoring chance percentage. Then it is simple subtraction: subtract the actual from the expected and we can see each player’s true efficiency. All numbers are for even strength only.

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Poor Effort, Bad Bounces Sink Caps: Thrashers Win 5-0

Braden Holtby: despondent.

A despondent Braden Holtby looks on after giving up the third goal of the night. (Photo credit: John Bazemore)

Ovi reacts after missing a shot in the second period. (Photo credit: John Bazemore)

Ovi reacts after missing a shot in the second period. (Photo credit: John Bazemore)

When Joe B. and Locker finished their pre-game intros and CSN cameras zoomed in for the opening face-off, it was hard not to notice the rows and rows of empty seats in Phillips Arena. The Capitals, seemingly aware of their surroundings, lacked energy and focus and proceeded to play down to their opponents. After giving up three quick goals to Ben Eager, Nik Antropov, & Evander Kane respectively, Braden Holtby was quickly summoned to the Caps bench by an enraged Bruce Boudreau.

Michal Neuvirth was steady in relief, but unfortunately for the Capitals, they were never able to locate their game after the switch. The offense was blessed with quality scoring chance after quality scoring chance but all resulted either in a missed shot, a ping off the post, or a solid save by Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

Evil cheeseburger-eater Dustin Byfuglien then put the game officially out of reach, closing the second period with a nifty short-side wrist shot past Neuvy. And let’s not even talk about that Burmistrov goal. I’m still angry at Jeff Schultz, who stopped skating, got deked out of his jockstrap and resembled a giant, awkward pylon on the play. Whatever. Thrashers win 5-0.

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