Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR! -- December 19th, Caps vs. Lightning

All right you Chipmunks! Ready to sing your song?
I'll say we are!
Let's sing it now!
Okay, Dainius?
Okay, Chris?
Okay, Alex? Alex? ALEX!

Christmas, Christmas time is near,
Time for toys and time for cheer,
We've been good, but we can't last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast,
Want a plane or just a truck,
Me, I want to shoot the puck,
We can hardly stand the wait,
Please Christmas, don't be late.

Okay fellas, get ready.
That was very good, Dainius.
Very good Chris.
Ah, Alex, you were a little flat, watch it.
Ah, Alex? Alex. ALEX!

Want a plane or just a truck,
I still want to shoot the puck,
We can hardly stand the wait,
Please Christmas, don't be late.
We can hardly stand the wait,
Please Christmas, don't be late.

Very good, boys.
Let's sing it again!
Yeah, let's sing it again!
No, That's enough, let's not overdo it.
What do you mean not overdo it?
Overdo it?
We want to sing it again!
Now wait a minute, boys ...
Why can't we sing it again?
Alex, cut that out...Chris, just a minute.
Dainius will you cut that out? Boys...

As for the game . . .

Tampa Bay visits Verizon Center in the midst of a hideous 1-7-1 stretch in their last nine games – starting with a 5-2 loss to the Caps—getting outscored 33-27. The “27” in there is somewhat deceptive, since eight of those goals were scored in their only win in this run, an 8-0 whitewash of Atlanta. One might think special teams are a problem here, and they are in an odd sort of way. Tampa Bay is 6-for-53 on the power play over these nine games (11.3 percent), which is not the stuff of a team playing well. The penalty kill has been comparatively average – 24-of-29 shorthanded situations killed off (82.8 percent). But for Tampa Bay, it is a story of opportunities squandered; having had 24 more opportunities than their opponents over the last nine games and tallying only one more power play goal.

Over the last nine games, the Lightning have received the usual production from the usual suspects, if not more – Vincent Lecavalier is 8-7-15, Martin St. Louis is 5-8-13, and Brad Richards is 4-7-11. That’s 17-22-39 for the big three. But here is the telling number. For all that production on offense, those three are a combined -9.

Goaltending remains an issue for this club. Johan Holmqvist was given an opportunity and won eight of his first 11 decisions. Then, he woke up and discovered that this was the National Hockey League and starting with the last game against Washington, has since gone 0-3-0, 6.41, .756. Most goalies could put up those kinds of stats wearing their mask backwards on their heads. Marc Denis has hardly been better. He’s 1-4-1 in his last seven games (including mop-up duty in the Washington game), 2.80, .878. Even this is deceptive – throw out his shutout win over Atlanta, and those numbers are 0-4-1, 3.32, .858

Overall, these are two similar teams. Washington is seventh in scoring, Tampa Bay eighth. Tampa Bay is 22nd in goals-per-game allowed, Washington 23rd. Washington is 19th on the power play, Tampa Bay 21st. If there is a major difference, it is in penalty killing. The Caps are not among the best in this regard – 13th overall – but Tampa Bay is dead last in this statistic, killing barely three of every four this season (75.7 percent).

But the Caps are headed in the other direction. They are 7-1-1 in their last nine (starting with the win over the Lightning, a nice mirror image of Tampa’s recent experience), outscoring their opponents 39-27. The Caps have been led in scoring by Alexander Ovechkin (7-11-18), Alexander Semin (6-4-10), and Chris Clark (7-3-10) in these nine games. But the difference here is that this “big three” is a combined +7 over this stretch.

The Caps’ goaltending, while not spectacular over this stretch, has certainly looked inspired compared to the Lighting. Olaf Kolzig is 5-1-1 in this stretch, 3.11, .911. Brent Johnson is 2-0-0, 2.51, .924 in a relief role.

What is remarkable about this stretch of games is the Pittsburgh game. What could have been a devastating blow to a young team – losing after posting a four-goal lead – looks more an more like just a speed bump, a galvanizing sort of experience. It might be soon to call the Caps a “good” team, but it’s getting harder and harder to resist that description.

At the start of the year, this would be the kind of game of which it could be said that the Caps could win. Right now, the “could” must be changed to “should.” The opponent is in the midst of a desperate stretch of poor luck, the kind the Caps need to put down early and keep down. Tampa is always a dangerous club offensively. But their defensive and goaltending problems play to the Caps’ recent strengths. That points to a Caps win . . .

Caps 5 – Lightning 2.


piratusus said...

I just wanted to let you know that I always enjoy your blog. Good job.

The Peerless said...

Thanks . . . I use a little different format here than what I used to use (which was more of a satiric "in advance" play on how the game would unfold), and I stick more numbers in here. What I miss (if you've never read them) was Nomad's pre-game summaries -- he had a good handle on the upcoming game and who/what was important to watch.