Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps versus Thrashers, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! . . . in this, the last installment before the holiday.

Tonight, the Caps take to home ice once more to host the Atlanta Thr—


Well, well, it’s the man, himself . . . Emeril, shouldn’t you be thick in the middle of preparing Thanksgiving goodies?

“I have a little secret . . . I don’t cook anymore. I just shout, ‘BAM!’, throw a spice or two on top, and let others do the cooking . . . I HATE cooking!”

What would you rather be doing?

“Well, I’ve always dreamed of being a hockey player . . . “

Ah, you grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, so it figures . . .

“Yeah, I actually started shouting ‘BAM!’ when I saw Bobby Orr checking guys into the boards.”

Who knew? . . . so, do you have a recipe for a Caps win tonight?

“Hey, knock it off with the cooking references . . . didn’t I tell you I HATE cooking??”

Uh . . . ok, so what brings you to DC, anyway?

“I wanted to see a different bird cooked –wink wink—“

Uh, didn’t you say . . .

“yeah, yeah . . . I can’t help it.”

So, what do you see as the keys to the game?

“Well, the Thrashers have just the right combination of meat on the blue line with Andy Sutton, Vitaly Vishnevski, Garnet Exelby, and Greg DeVries . . . and a spicy combination of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, and Vyacheslav (hey, ya like the way I said that?) Kozlov . . . but the ‘essence’ is Jon Sim. He really is the ingredient always seems to come through when they play the Caps.”

Good point . . . Sim is 10-5-15, +6 in 17 career games against the Caps. But Kovalchuk . . . 13-17-30, +11 in 25 games against the Caps in his career.

“Amazing, considering he’s -70 against the rest of the league in his career. But they seem to have goalie problems – Kari Lehtonen is 1-4 in his last six appearances and got yanked in his last outing against Dallas after giving up three goals on seven shots. Johan Hedberg had a fine game against Montreal last time out in a loss, and he has a pretty good record against the Caps going back to his Pittsburgh days.”

You have a pretty amazing command of the stats.

“Hey, like I told ya, I don’t cook anymore . . . I just play one on TV!”

As for the Caps, they’ve been on the short end of three one-goal games against Atlanta so far this year. They’ve experienced each kind of loss – regulation, overtime, and shootout. If the stars are aligned, they have filled that scorecard out and will now experience one of the three types of wins. To do that, the Caps are going to have to prevent the usual suspects – Kovalchuk and Sim – from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm. That means controlling the puck (to reduce the number of shots their goalie – presumably Olaf Kolzig – has to face) and making them – especially their forwards -- play defense. In turn, that will mean smart decisions on the part of defensemen getting out of their own end and the ability to win faceoffs (the Caps have been on the short end in two of the three games against Atlanta this year).

The Caps have stubbed their toe in recent games – 0-1-2 in their last three. This is a chance to enjoy the Thursday turkey rather than choke on dry stuffing, courtesy of Atlanta stuffing goals in the Capitals’ net. It’s a division game, and it’s a chance to climb back into the top eight and close the distance with Atlanta for the division lead.

Caps 5 – Thrashers 3

Happy Holidays, Hockey Fans!!!

Compering the Tens -- Through 20 Games . . . Part IV, The Goaltenders

Finally, the Goaltenders . . .

Olaf Kolzig:

First ten games: 3-2-2, 3.24, .910
Second ten games: 3-2-1, 2.72, .926

With apologies to Alexander Ovechkin, as goes Kolzig, so go the Caps. He isn’t the minutes eater he was earlier in his career (he’s 19th in time on ice among goalies this year), but he’s still the clear number one, the rock around which this team functions. With the loud exception of one game against Ottawa, he’s played well – spectacularly in many cases. He’s actually facing more shots-per-60 minutes in the second ten games (36.6) than in his first ten (36.1). He’s playing fewer minutes, perhaps, but he’s spending a lot of that time folding and unfolding into and out of his butterfly. The Peerless does not see this as a sustainable set of events.

Brent Johnson:

First ten games: 0-1-2, 2.53, .926
Second ten games: 2-1-1, 2.86, .918

Johnson has been more than a bargain ($575,000) as the second goaltender. One could argue he’s had only one sub-par performance among his seven appearances this year (at Carolina when he allowed five goals on 39 shots). If anything, he’s been unlucky. A goalie who saves more than 92 percent of the shots he faces should have more than two wins in seven appearances. He plays like a man who is comfortable in his current role, and who enjoys and makes the most of the chances he gets. He’s facing a slightly lower workload than Kolzig (34.2 shots-per-60 minutes in the first ten, 34.8-per-60 minutes in the second ten), but it’s still a heavy workload. He gets about a third of the total minutes, which seems about right for both goalies.


You’d be hard pressed to find a goaltender tandem playing better than this pair. It has been the strength of the team in the first quarter of the season. It is their facing a ton of rubber that has their goals-against higher than it should be. The Peerless would argue that had their performances been more pedestrian, the Caps might be in Flyerland in the standings. The overall grade:


Comparing the Tens -- Through 20 Games . . . Part III, The Defensemen

In our next installment . . . the defensemen.

Brian Pothier:

First ten games 0-9-9, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, -2

Pothier has been the Caps’ everydefenseman – on the ice at even strength, on for the power play, killing penalties. He plays top minutes. He is consistent. If anything, he’s getting more work – almost 28 minutes a game in the second ten versus a little over 27 in the first ten. He’s sending the puck to the net a bit more – 19 shots versus 14, 14 missed shots versus 11. But he has less to show for it on the offensive ledger – two assists versus nine (no goals scored as yet). All in all, he’s done just about all that could reasonably be been asked of him. He isn’t an especially physical player, and he doesn’t have a booming shot, so to expect much in either of those areas is a stretch. But he’s been effective in his role.

John Erskine:

First ten games: 0-0-0, even (did not play)
Second ten games: 0-0-0, -2

First of all, The Peerless likes what Erskine brings. He plays within himself and has more than a menacing personality. But he’s also a victim of low expectations, too. The Peerless will wager that fans fairly expected him to be dragging his knuckles on the ice the first time he took the ice. When he didn’t – when he could skate upright (as opposed to, say, a Garret Stroshein) – he was pleasantly received. Actually, though, given that he’s getting more than 16 minutes a game in the six games he’s played (virtually the same as Jamie Heward), he has been pretty effective. The question, though, is – can he keep it up?

Jamie Heward:

First ten games: 2-2-4, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, +3

Heward is another consistent guy out there. He’ll get time in every situation – even strength, power play, penalty kill – and he’ll provide a reliably decent effort in just about every game with results the club can count on. He might be defined by the term, “journeyman,” but that isn’t an insult to the player. No single number in either ten-game stretch or in total sticks out, and that’s a reflection of the kind of player and performance he’s contributed so far.

Shaone Morrisonn:

First ten games: 0-0-0, +3
Second ten games: 1-4-5, -1

He’s the best defenseman on this club right now. More to the point, he is the one who will be out there to match up against the opposition’s most dangerous scorer. That he’d be a plus player is evidence that he’s developing nicely. He isn’t a finished product by any means, but there isn’t any reason to conclude he won’t continue to improve. If anything, he’s become more assertive in his last ten games at both ends of the ice – 9 total shots on goal in the second ten versus five in the first ten (he’s got more missed shots, too), 15 hits versus nine. But he did record the club’s first fighting major in those first ten games (well, the tenth).

Ben Clymer:

First ten games: 0-2-2, -2
Second ten games: 0-0-0, -3 (moved to forward after game 12)

The Great Experiment . . . well, The Peerless isn’t sure Dr. Frankenstein got it right the first time, either. Clymer had the skating part down – a premium in the way the game is played nowadays – but appeared not to be able to make decisions quickly enough in this role. His -5 as a defenseman remains the worst plus-minus among defensemen on the club (tied with Steve Eminger).

Steve Eminger:

First ten games: 0-1-1, -5
Second ten games: 0-2-2, even

Eminger seems to have inherited the Ivan Majesky Fan Abuse mantle this year. Few have anything good to say about him. OK, so The Peerless will. Eminger appears to have been assigned a somewhat different role on this year’s club – less the “all-around” defenseman and more of a stay-at-home type. Different responsibilities, different decision making. And to start the year, he was slow in catching on. But, having been freed of some of the defensive defenseman rules (or, put another way, paired with Erskine in many situations), his performance has improved. In the first ten games, he had five “minus” games. In the last ten, one (although giving him a seat for the first two in this second stretch seems to have focused his attention, too). His problem might be that he suffers in comparison to Morrisonn, who has played almost the identical number of career games.

Bryan Muir:

First ten games: 0-0-0, +1
Second ten games: 0-1-1, +2

If Eminger has the Majesky Mantle, Muir has the Mathieu Biron Boo Bird banner draped across his jersey. Fans seem to have little use for this guy, too. This is a guy who played (albeit sparingly) for a Stanley Cup winner. He has one “minus” game in the ten he’s played this year. He contributes little offense when he’s out there (he’s only credited with four shots on goal), but he isn’t quite the slug some fans think, either. His mistakes (and this goes for Eminger, too) stand out, because folks are looking for and expecting them. If the Caps were a contender or further along in their rebuild, he’s probably no longer on the roster (this is probably the Jeff Schultz position next year). But The Peerless scrtaches his head at the abuse heaped upon this guy.

Mike Green:

First ten games: 2-1-3, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, +3

For a guy who just turned 21 this season and came into the season with less than 20 games of NHL experience, he’s had a really nice start. It might be youth more than anything, but at the moment he has the “offensive defenseman” role. He gets almost no penalty killing time (a total of a little less than three minutes so far this season), but gets significant power play time (more than three and a half minutes per game thus far). In that sense, you’d wish his numbers were better, but then it would be forgetting just where this youngster is on the development ladder. He plays beyond his years.


It would be hard to pin any defenseman here with the “short of expectations” label. Even Steve Eminger has brought his game along in the last ten game stretch. As a group – especially the youngsters Morrisonn, Green, and Eminger – they’ve played pretty well. That is not to say there aren’t shortcomings. There is that matter of the shots allowed level. While that might be as much a problem for the forwards, the defensemen (probably as a function of their youth) haven’t displayed much in terms of the little tricks and devices to clear the puck and prevent multiple shots. Also, as a group they sometimes have difficulty getting the puck moving out of the Caps’ zone, which just tilts the ice toward their goal and gives the opposition more opportunities. That’s both a team and individual problem that needs to improve. The overall grade: