Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, Nov. 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

OK, so it’s been a few days, and the mail is piling up, so let’s go to the mail bag and see what’s on fans’ minds . . .

Mr. Stompin’ Tom C. writes . . . “why do all the arenas play that ear-splitting rock-and-roll music? What does that have to do with hockey? It seems like a waste of time when you have a perfectly good ‘hockey song’ you could sing at the intermissions and stops in play. What do you think, Mr. Peerless?”

Well, Mr. Stompin, hello out there, we're on the air, it's a thrill to read your mail.
My BP grows, ‘cuz your song blows, and your spleen I’d like to impale.

Here’s one from a “Johnny B” of Bristol, Connecticut . . .

“I think that I shall never see
A hockey player like Sid-nee . . . “

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip . . .

Mr. S. Hawking sends this in from Cambridge, United Kingdom . . .

“The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. I believe this explains Rico Fata.”

Well, that’s a load off my mind.

Mr. Dan R. of New York writes . . .

“I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately, and I had a chance to see a few hockey games. I must say, those guys skate hotter than a Times Square Rolex . . . the playoff race is humming along like Ray Charles . . . it’s swinging like Count Basie. We’re going to get to the last week, and it’ll be like a sauna for the playoff candidates, uh, contenders, just wait and sweat. But those Sabres are just sweeping across the schedule like a big wheel through a cotton field. And I really like that Ovechkin kid – I’d rather walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit than get hit by that kid. I’m not saying he’s going to win the MVP award, but if you had to bet the double-wide, you’d have to bet he’d win. But it you try to read the tea leaves before the cup is done, you can get yourself burned . . . “

Dan, Dan, get a grip . . . you’re not doing elections anymore, let it go . . .

As for the game, the Caps are looking to pick up a couple of points at the expense of a division opponent, the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. The ‘Canes occupy the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference this morning and are 5-3-2 in their last ten contests. If there has been a problem with the club this season, it’s been defense. They are 25th in the league in goals allowed per game. They’ve had a particularly difficult time at home where they’ve yielded 19 goals in five games. It hasn’t necessarily been a special teams problem, as they are 12th in penalty killing this year. The problem appears a five-on-five problem – the club is 22nd in goals for/goals against ratio. What the Hurricanes do well is protect a lead. They are unbeaten when leading after one period and when leading after two. Conversely, they are not an especially capable comeback team at the moment – 17th in the league when trailing first.

Carolina does have a capable offense led by the usual suspects – Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney lead the team with identical 5-15-20 scoring lines. Eric Staal leads with eight goals. The surprise is right wing Scott Walker who has eight goals thus far and is on a pace to net 41 – his career high is 25, which he accomplished twice in Nashville (most recently in 2003-2004).

Cam Ward has manned the nets in 14 of 16 games so far, and while he has not played in the otherworldly manner that earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy in last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, he has proven capable of shouldering the heavy netminding load. He numbers are seven wins, five losses, with 3.10 and .897 for goals against and save percentage for the season, but in his last five he is 3-1-1, 2.76, .899 (one might note, in only one of those games did he face more than 30 shots).

The Caps come into the game eighth in league scoring, 21st in goals allowed (both “per game”). They are firmly in the middle of the pack on special teams (14th in power play, 16th in penalty killing). In fact, if one looks at team-wide numbers, the Caps are remarkably (one might say, pleasantly, given their recent history of ineptitude) consistent. They rest in the middle of the pack in almost every measure one can think of.

Clearly, Alexander Ovechkin is the key here for the Caps' attack. In 14 games, he’s been held off the scoresheet only three times, and he has multi-point games in five of his last six contests (5-5-10, even). More surprising in his consistency is Chris Clark – he also has been held scoreless only three times this year in going 5-9-14. Alexander Semin returned to the scoresheet after a five game hiatus with a three-assist night against Ottawa in the 4-3 overtime win on Monday. Still if you look at some broader measures, the persistent problem of lack of balance is apparent. The top line of Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Chris Clark is a combined 24-21-45, +4. The second line that played on Monday – Tomas Fleischmann, Jakub Klepis, and Matt Pettinger – is a combined 1-4-5, -4. Even accounting for the smaller number of games these players have participated in, if you compared them on an equivalent games-played basis with the top line, they’d be 2-10-12, -11.

Olaf Kolzig was equal parts snakebit (Shaone Morrisonn losing his footing to allow Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson team up on a goal, for instance) and bad (the last goal, surrendered to Dany Heatley, before he was lifted for Brent Johnson) on Monday against Ottawa. It was his worst outing since giving up six goals to Tampa Bay on October 21st. In the four games in-between, however, Kolzig was 2-1-1, .933. Which Kolzig shows up (given his career success against Carolina, he would be expected to get the start) will be the biggest factor in this game.

The simple road strategy applies here – get a lead, take the fans out of the game (since this is only their sixth chance to see the Hurricanes this year, they should be in a boisterous mood), play sound defense. All that makes for a lower scoring game . . .

Caps 3 – Hurricanes 1.

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