Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps versus Lightning, November 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! . . .

OK, so Turkey Day (or Turkey Week, given the last three gobblers the Caps horked up) is over. Time to return to serious business, and it doesn’t get any more serious than the next five games for the –

“Business? . . . Nobody knows business like me.”

The Donald? . . . Don’t you have people to fire?

“Funny . . . maybe you should do stand up at one of my casinos.”

Really, though . . . it’s a surprise to see you here for a Caps game.

“I’m here to see that Ovechkin kid. I want to hire that kid – he’s a natural. He could sell Flyer jerseys to a Penguin fan. He could sell Melrose on shaving his head.”

Well, I think he’s got some hockey to play first . . .

“Oh, sure, sure. But watching him, it just makes me want to buy a team. I can just see the kid with ‘TRUMP’ on his jersey.”

His name is “Ovechkin.”

“The name of the team, you moron . . . The Washington Trump.”

There’s already an owner here.

“Really . . . know any teams for sale?“

Sorry . . . but maybe you could pry that football team loose from the boy wonder over in Ashburn.

“Ashburn? . . . sounds like the feeling Redskin fans have sitting on their couches watching them every Sunday.”

Hmm . . . maybe you should do stand up.

“Sure . . . well, I gotta go . . . you seen Fraser anywhere? He was going to talk to me about hair care . . . “

As for the game, Tampa Bay – the very picture of mediocrity over the first quarter of the season -- appears to have found its stride of late. The Bolts are on a three-game winning streak, beating Florida, Atlanta (in overtime), and Ottawa. Of special note to Caps fans, Martin St. Louis is 2-5-7, +4 in those three games. As if it bears noting, given his career numbers against the Caps (9-13-22 in 29 regular season games), he will be one to watch closely.

Brad Richards, who got off to somewhat of a slow start, has three goals in these last three games and is winning almost two-thirds of his draws (34 of 52).

Another player to watch, if only out of curiosity, is Nikita Alexeev. After scoring two goals in a win over the Caps on October 21st (including the game winner), he has only three goals in 16 games since.

As a team, Tampa has done the right things mostly right in their three game streak. Special teams . . . the power play is 4-14 (28.6 percent), while the Lightning have only found themselves shorthanded four times in their last two games (yielding no power play goals). The big guys are scoring (St. Louis and Richards have five of the Lightning’s last 12 goals, while defenseman Dan Boyle has chipped in three of his own). Johan Holmqvist has provided solid goaltending (3-0, 2.32, .916 in the three game winning streak).

If there is a weakness to be exploited, it is Tampa Bay’s penalty killing. While they have killed off all four of their man-short situations in the last two games, they remain last in the NHL in penalty killing (73.8 percent). If the Caps are going to get well on the power play (9-for-60 in their last 11 games), it might be against this team.

But it isn’t just the power play that is suffering lately. The Caps can’t score even strength goals . . . well, at all. In the six game winless skid, the Caps have scored a total of nine goals – six on the power play, one shorthanded, and two at even strength (both by Jakub Klepis). The possibility of having Alexander Semin return to the lineup might relieve some of the pressure off of the top line (Ovechkin is the only member of the top line with any goals in the last five games).

While scoring is clearly a problem, it isn’t the only one, and it might be a consequence of other problems. For instance, the Caps have lost the faceoff battle in each of the games on this winless slide and managed to win only 44 percent of their draws. Hard to score when you don’t have the puck. The Caps have surrendered the first goal in five of the six games. Hard to mount a lot of offense when you’re always pushing uphill against the scoreboard. Even goaltending – thus far a strength of the club – has hit a bad stretch. While it isn’t fair to blame Olaf Kolzig or Brent Johnson for every puck that skips past them, they haven’t been especially sharp in these last several games, either.

The four weeks between the holidays is not a stretch where you can win a playoff spot, but you can lose one here. And for the Caps, the schedule is quite daunting in terms of quality of opponent. The next five will be especially difficult, starting tonight. One would think the club will not lack for focus. The Caps played a better game against the Islanders than in any of the five preceding games, and that is how one climbs out of a bad streak. With that in mind . . .

Caps 4 – Lightning 3, in overtime.

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