Monday, November 13, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, November 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

Folks often ask me, “Peerless, where do you get the subjects for your gameday columns?”

Well, truth be told, they usually just pop into my head, like a bad lyric from a commercial jingle. Kind of like . . .

“When you say ‘Caps,’
You've said a lot of things nobody else can say
When you say ‘Caps,’
You've said you care enough to only want the Stanley Cup
When you say ‘Caps Hockey,’
You've said it all”

Or . . .

“My hockey team has a first name
I say it “WASH-ING-TON”
My hockey team has a second name
I say it “CAP-I-TALS”
Oh, I love to watch ‘em everyday
And if you ask me why, I'll say
Cause Washington just has a way
No B O L O G N . . . eh?”

Or . . .

Hockey . . . Capitals Hockey.
What kinds of fans watch Capitals hockey?
Fat fans, skinny fans, fans who climb on rocks . . .
Tough fans, sissy fans, even fans with chicken pox love hockey, Capitals hockey . . .
The game fans love to bite.

Ok, we’re still working on that one.

Meanwhile . . . tonight the Caps visit the land of early-bird dinners and adult communities (which pretty much describes the Panther locker room with the likes of Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk on the roster). The Panthers enter tonight’s play 12th in the Eastern Conference, which is actually a step back from where they finished last year. They have really been treading water lately – 2-3-3 in their last eight games – largely against pretty good teams (they’ve beaten the Rangers and Maple Leafs and have earned points in other games against the Sabres and the Rangers once more).

If there is one difference between last year and this, it is in goals allowed. Not having Roberto Luongo has made a difference – not a profound one, but enough. The Panthers are 22nd in goals allowed per game (3.28), whereas they were 16th last year (3.08). The special teams are of a split personality. While the penalty killing unit is rather average at best (79.8 percent – 25th in the league), the power play has shined (21.6 percent – 2nd), although it has only 25 opportunities in its last eight games. That power play has been remarkable consistent as well – 21.6% at home, 21.6 percent on the road (coincidentally, both are 8-for-37).

The Panthers, though, aren’t especially adept at holding a lead. They are 26th in the league when scoring first, 19th when leading after one period. It’s just as bad when they give up the first goal – they are 25th in the league in winning percentage when trailing first.

This is not a team with an especially dangerous scorer at the moment (Olli Jokinen notwithstanding). No player is on a pace for 30 goals, no player is on a pace for 75 points. With Todd Bertuzzi out (back) and Joe Nieuwendyk only just returning from injury (hip), it isn’t a deep team at forward these days.

For the Caps, it’s all a matter of consistency. After the wake-up slap in the face applied by Carolina, the Caps rebounded smartly with a superb effort Saturday in the 3-1 win over the Rangers. Applying that effort is what will yield results. While the Caps earned a few standings points early without necessarily getting their “A” game, that isn’t a long term recipe for success on a team whose skill level isn’t yet what it could be.

This is another game the Caps should win, even on the road. They are a better 5-on-5 squad, and their penalty killing unit is slowly marching up the rankings. Olaf Kolzig, despite the bleating of some among Caps fans, has had four sterling outings in his last six games (3-0-1, 1.96, .954 in those games) with an average game and a stinker thrown in. The Caps can leap-frog Tampa with a win, and it says here that they will . . . .

Caps 5 – Panthers 2