Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Rangers, November 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

We’re coming to you . . . live, from the virtual opening of the Caps’ new training facility here Ballston. The Peerless says “virtual” because he really is at his keyboard and nowhere near Arlington, Virginia.

Tonight, the Caps take on the storied New York Rangers, one of the marquee franchises of the National Hockey Lea—

“whaddyamean, ‘one of’ . . . they are THE franchise, the rest are just hockey teams.”

Why, Uncle Lar . . . you’re covering the game in person tonight?

“You bet . . . any time I can see the greatest team in the history of the sport led by the greatest player in the history of the sport wearing the greatest uniform in the history of the sport, I . . . I . . . well, I just get all –sniffsniff – teary-eyed.”

There there, big guy. I notice that the Rangers are on quite a run – four straight road wins and points in their last five games. To what do you attribute this success?

“Jaromir Jagr . . . he’s 2-6-8, +2 in those games, not to mention I just find him dreamy.”

You want to keep the drool off my keyboard, there, Lar?

“Sorry . . . I just get all oogy whenever I think of those legs churning and those broad shoulders fighting off checks, and . . .

Hey, hey, hey, this is a family column, pal.

“Sorry . . . “

He’s not the only one having a good run of luck . . .

“Yeah, Michael Nylander is 3-6-9, +2 on this five game run, too . . . hey, both those guys played for your Caps not so long ago, eh?”

Well, “played” is in the eye of the beholder.

“Heh-heh – nice moves there . . . what do you have for all those moves, huh?”

Stephen Werner and Francois Bouchard.

“Stephen Werner? . . . and some guy I saw on ‘The Food Channel?’”

Yeah . . . for Jagr, we got nothing, unless you’re counting one glorious year of Frantisek Kucera . . . we got Nylander and a third from Chicago when he came here – that’s Stephen Werner. We got a second in 2006 when we moved him to Boston – that’s Bouchard.

“Hey, let’s not forget the money you’re still paying on Jagr.”

We won’t as long as you’re here, will we, Lar?

“Not a chance . . . “

For the Caps, nothing gets better than ending a long winless streak in Philadelphia and wiping out a three-goal deficit at home against Ottawa. And nothing goes splat like getting shut out in Carolina. Makes one wonder which club will be showing up for Washington this evening. While we’re looking at five-game totals, Alexander Ovechkin is 4-4-8, even, in his last five (though like the rest of the club, held scoreless in his last one). Among the others on the top line, Chris Clark is 2-3-5, +3; and Dainius Zubrus is 4-1-5, even. That’s ten of the Caps’ last 16 goals. Two of those last 16 – coming from Richard Zednik – are on the bench (he is listed as day-to-day with the fearsome “upper body injury”). Ben Clymer has two, Matt Pettinger and Shaone Morrisonn the others. See a problem here? If the first line gets shut down – and it had a total of six shots against Carolina – the Caps don’t score.

Part of the problem is that the club is in a sense auditioning a second line. Jakub Klepis and Tomas Fleischmann are being given that responsibility – chaperoned by Matt Pettinger – to see if they can rekindle the chemistry they’ve enjoyed at other stops along the way. So far, each has shown a glimmer of their ability, but neither have been able to sustain much in terms of offense.

For the Caps, the keys are these:

-- Jump on the Rangers early: This will be the Rangers’ third road game in four nights. And, they are old among their key forwards (Jagr (34), Nylander (34), Martin Straka (34), and Brendan Shanahan (37). It doesn’t hurt that all four are being asked to log more than 20 minutes a night, either.

-- Stay out of the box! Nine of the Rangers’ 18 goals in their last five games have been scored with the man-advantage. They are 9-for-32 over that stretch – 28.1 percent. If the Caps are short a man more than, say, five times, this could be a difficult night.

-- Get some production out of another line: In the first contest between these clubs on opening night, the top line of Ovechkin-Zubrus-Zednik was held to four shots and no points. Chris Clark replaced Zednik on the top line thereafter, but the logic is still the same for an opponent. Keep the Caps’ top line clean on the scoresheet, you’re probably going to win.

-- Play feisty: This is the balancing act the Caps have to manage. The Rangers are not an especially physical team. They have a reputation of being one that can be pushed around. If the Caps can do that – and stay out of the box – it could wear the Rangers down and open things up for the Caps’

This is a game the Caps should win, frankly, despite the Rangers’ string of late. This would be especially the case if the Rangers choose to give Henrik Lundqvist a break and start Kevin Weekes, who has had little luck against Washington (2-13-1 lifetime).

Caps 4 – Rangers 2

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