Friday, December 22, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, December 22nd

Well, here we are – the last home game before that jolly old elf . . . no, not Ted Leonsis . . . makes his way around the globe bestowing presents and good cheer among all the peoples of the Earth. But before St. Nick fires up the sleigh and Rudolph flips on the high beams, it’s “Shades Night” in DC. For the uninformed, this is a tribute to the fashion sense of Martin Brodeur, who deems it inappropriate for young men on skates to be wearing visors of the mirrored sort, an opinion he seems to have prevailed upon the league to adopt. So, Capitals fans are being invited by enterprising members of the official discussion boards to don their own brand of shades . . . be they the practical sort, the intimidating sort, or just an effort to adopt that “Percussionist, Foster Grant” look that makes ladies swoon.

But it’s the holiday season, and it puts The Peerless in mind of a poem . . .

Twas the night before Christmas, when all ‘round the rink
Not a creature was stirring, you could hear yourself think.
The stockings were hung by the lockers with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The Cappies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Stanley Cups danced in their heads.
And Glen in some warmups, and wearing a cap,
Had just settled their brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the ice there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the tunnel I flew like a flash,
Knocked over some sticks and fell with a crash.

The lights on the ice of the new sheet of ice
Gave the lustre of mid-day, it was oh, so nice.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dainius! now, Bryan! now, Jakub and Olie!
On, Alex! On, Greenie! on, Clarkie and Johnnie!
To the top of the glass! to the top of the stands!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As players that before the wild Hurricanes fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the slate
The prancing and pawing of each little skate.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the stairs St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the stairs he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Tonight, the Caps face an old and familiar foe. The names change, but the Devils are what they are – a club that will score enough to win but win by choking the life out of any opponent with the aim of making the evening a 60-minutes snooze fest. New Jersey is 26th in scoring (the Caps 4th), sixth in defense (the Caps 23rd). You could call this a contest of the irresistible force and the immovable object. What New Jersey is, is opportunistic. In The Peerless Index of Specialty Skill, the Devils – ranked fourth in penalty killing and seventh in power play efficiency, for a score of 11 – are outranked only by Montreal (1st and 2nd, for a score of 3) among the thirty NHL teams. The Caps – with a score of 32 – would prefer to keep this a 5-on-5 game, where the Devils are rather ordinary. Actually, ordinary doesn’t really describe it. Uncharacteristically, the Devils have only two players on the plus side of the plus-minus ledger – Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Patrik Elias might lead the club in scoring (30 points), but he’s also a -14 in doing it. Paul Martin is a -10, Brian Rafalski is a -8. And, while the Devils do hold a two-point lead on the Caps, it hasn’t been because of their stellar road play . . . they are 7-9-1 when playing the role of visitor. Trouble is, the Caps haven’t been an especially good home team at 8-7-3, either. The rock – literally – upon which this club is built is goalie Martin Brodeur. His 2.19 and .920 numbers, not to mention his having played in 31 of Jersey’s 33 games this year, are slightly better than his career averages (2.21, .912). His 28-10-4 record against Washington for his career testifies to his consistent high level of play.

The Caps come off a disappointing loss to Tampa Bay, but encouraging in one respect. Despite playing the first 40 minutes as if the game had no more importance than a beer league skate around, they made things very difficult for the Lightning in the last 20 minutes, almost overcoming a three-goal deficit in the last ten minutes. If the lesson was learned that you just can’t throw your sticks out there and hope to win – especially against a club with a Stanley Cup pedigree – then it will have been a useful exercise. But one of the difficulties at this time of year is focus. Players are people, too, with their own give and take, and push and pull away from the rink. Add to that the fact that the Caps are starting a run against non-divisional opponents, and the potential exists for the boys to lose some focus. That would be deadly against this team, which is as disciplined (well, usually) as any in the league.

Oddly, the Caps might be the club of superior skill, specifically with respect to offense. They have scored 20 more goals than has New Jersey. But the Devils have yielded 30 fewer goals than have the Caps, and they have usually found a way to score the odd goal at the opportune time against the Caps (witness Olaf Kolzig – 2.40, .925 career against New Jersey, but only 14-14-3). Not tonight . . . The Caps give their fans a nice little present with which to head into the holiday . . .

Caps 3 – Devils 1.

No comments: