Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Oilers, October 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

And the whirlwind trip through the western Canada continues . . . tonight it’s the Edmonton Oilers, last year’s unlikely Stanley Cup finalists, hosting the Caps. One thing about the boys being on the road, it gives Caps fans the opportunity to watch them on the tube with the dulcet tones of Craig Laughlin and Joe Beninati filling the air. But to complete the experience, you need to have munchables worthy of the swooping eagle, and tonight, we bring you a few recipes to enhance your viewing experience.

Olie’s Five-Hole Four Layer Dip . . . take a 16-save first period . . . add a shutout second period . . . layer on a spectacular third period . . . dollop a bit of overtime theatrics (including a big stop early in the session) . . . but watch out – adding that one puck between the pads won’t make it a five-layer dip, it’ll just leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Alex’s Rootin’ Tootin’ I’ll be Shootin’ Chili . . . take some wicked wrist shots . . . add a pinch on the weak side . . . a slapper or two for spice . . . and voila! But that last spoonful always seems to miss the mark. Maybe we need less deke and more wrist. We’ll have to work on that.

Clarkie’s Two Fisted Ground Round . . . Take one Bieksa . . . a few lefts, a few rights to tenderize . . . an uppercut for good measure . . . let rest for five minutes, and you have a freshly done Bieksa for the rest of the night.

Zubie’s Leftover Magic . . . you can’t rush this dish . . . just wait patiently on the other side of the play . . . wait for the slap shot to come from the other side . . . whack home the rebound. Works best on the power play.

Potsie’s Pass Around Pot Luck . . . take one puck . . . sprinkle liberally on the other ingredients (Ovechkin, Semin, Clark, Zubrus recommended) . . . and pass around the goals.

Ovie’s Wham-Bam JAMbalaya . . . take one unsuspecting puck carrier . . . apply a healthy measure of shoulder . . . and watch the glass fly! . . . guaranteed to make your guests hoot and holler for more . . . JAM-ba-LI-ya!

Now . . . the game. Edmonton comes into this game 6-4-0 and rested since losing in Phoenix, 6-2, on Thursday. As their record suggests, they do not have any page-leaping numbers – they are in the middle third in the league in just about every team statistic. But there is one thing to note . . . they are not a particularly effective team when scoring first (.625 winning percentage), and they’ve lost two of their last three when scoring first. That’s not a prescription for the Caps to allow the first goal, but it does suggest that plugging away, even if they fall behind, could yield results – it worked in Vancouver.

For the Caps, Alex Ovechkin has goals in his last four games (4-2-6, -1), including two power play goals. This is pretty much the script Caps fans would like to see followed. Alex Semin saw his eight-game scoring streak ended last night, only tallying one shot on goal. His highlights were more or less confined to giving t on – and later taking one from – Rory Fitzpatrick. While the Caps dropped into a tie for fourth in the league in scoring, 19 of their 31 goals have come from three players (Alex Squared and Dainius Zubrus). The second line of Alex Semin, Kris Beech, and Richard Zednik – and yes, The Peerless realizes that this line has been shaken up some -- has only five even strength goals in ten games (Semin has four power play goals). But here is a statistic that points out just how much the Caps have improved from last year at this time. Of the 18 skaters likely to dress tonight (Assuming Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Bryan Muir are healthy scratches), only five have “minus” figures for the year; 12 are on the plus side (Jakub Klepis is even in eight games).

This is the back-half of a back-to-back, on the road, out west. Edmonton is rested, a battle-hardened club, and playing at home. All signs point to a Caps loss. Well, these aren’t your father’s – or last year’s – Caps. Brent Johnson is rested himself, and has played well in a relief role this year. He will see a lot of rubber, but will make enough saves to let the Caps spread some offense around. The Caps’ second period woes seem to have been reversed on this trip, and it will be the telling frame . . .

Caps 4 – Oilers 2.

The Peerless' Morning After -- Caps vs. Canucks

Well, there’s one thing to be said for the Caps this year . . . they give fans more than their money’s worth. The fourth extra time (third shootout) game this year – that’s an extra period of hockey for the paying customer – and the fourth loss.

Losing 3-2 in a shootout to Vancouver isn’t the worst thing in the world – a road point on a far-western tour is always a plus – but it’s the how they let that second point get away that rankles. Take away the fine second period the Caps played, and they had five shots in 45 minutes of play (first and third periods, plus overtime). Vancouver’s defense has played well thus far, but the Caps didn’t exactly make their job harder, either. Maybe they were wowed by the new scoreboard hovering over the rink like one of those spaceships in “Independence Day.”

Clearly, the star for the Caps on this night was Olaf Kolzig, with 42 saves on 44 shots. But there lies the problem, too. Kolzig took a shot off the inside of his left knee late in the third, and it would be a problem for him as the clock ticked on and the leg seized up on him. He has faced 35 or more shots in five of the seven games he’s played so far, and he’s faced 92 shots in his last two games. That’s a bit much to ask of a 36-year old. It won’t show up now, perhaps, but even with Kolzig having come in lighter this year, one would think this kind of workload is going to make its effects felt once we get past game 50 on the schedule. All this work is also how a guy with a .910 save percentage for the year (.920 in his last four games) – good for 16th in the league at the moment – also has a 3.24 GAA (27th).

Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and a helper, but rang the post in a shootout for his seventh straight misfire. At the other end, Brendan Morrison snuck the puck inches over the line between Kolzig’s legs to clinch the shootout win. So, the game might have come down to a few inches – Ovechkin not banking the puck off the post and into the net, Morrison managing just enough to get the puck to inch over the line. Of such margins playoffs are gained or lost.

Much will be made of Ovechkin’s problems on the shootout lately, but there is another, perhaps more important one to think about. The Caps have been involved in three shootouts this year, and their goalies have given up five goals on seven shots. That is good for dead last in the league in save percentage (.286). Kolzig and Johnson have, on balance, played well in regulation and in overtime (where the Caps have allowed one goal in 18:02 of playing time). But the Caps have been outscored 5-0 in shootouts – did The Peerless mention yet how much he hates shootouts? The Caps’ difficulties here is the difference between being 10th in the conference – where they reside this morning – and fourth.

But all that said, let's end on a good note -- and a good thing it is. The Caps played a bad first period, giving up more goals (two) than they had shots (one). But the boys played for 60 minutes. With spit, baling wire, a tough old goalie, and some opportunistic crashing to the net they fought off a regulation loss and gained a point for their efforts. That's the kind of effort that can be rewarded over the course of a season, too.

One last thing . . . last night was, as The Peerless understands it, a “vintage” game for the Canucks. Well, let me just say that the vintage uniforms are a bland affair, but The Peerless thinks Roberto Luongo’s mask is the best of its kind in the league.

-- The Peerless