Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Stars, November 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

Well, the Caps got off the schneid last time out and . . .

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. . . rode a 48-save performance by Olaf Kolzig to a 5-2 win in Tampa . . .

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. . . but next up are the Dallas Stars, a club that always gives the Caps fits. But before we get to that, we have a special treat. With the league’s teams approaching the one-third point of the season, The Peerless thought it might be time to get a Commissioner’s eye view of the league so far . . . Mr. Commissioner . . .

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Mr. Commissioner? . . .

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Mr. Commissioner??


Mr. Commissioner, we’re interested in your take on the season so far.

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Mr. Commissioner?

“Ok, OK, already! . . . what was the question?”

Your take on the season so far?

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Mr. Commiss–

“It’s great, it’s wonderful, best season ever, blah-blah-blah...”

Mr. Commissioner, I thought we could–

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Mr. Commissioner, what in heaven’s name are you doing?

“Don’t interrupt me, I’m busy . . . Crosby-Fleury-Malkin...(send) . . . Crosby-Fleury-Malkin...(send) . . . “

Well, while the Commissioner stuffs the All-Star Game ballot box, we’ll take a look at what’s up next for the Caps.

At 16-8-0 Dallas is tied for the fifth highest point total in the league. They suffer for being in the same division as Anaheim (tops in points) and San Jose (third). Dallas has not played those clubs often (they are 1-1 against those two so far this year), but they are 15-7 against the rest of the league. They’re doing it in a way familiar to those who have watched that team over the years – they are giving up fewer goals per game than any team in the league (2.13). As one might expect from that result, the Stars are quite effective at even strength (fourth in 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio) and equally effective in killing penalties (fourth at 87.7 percent). Add to that the fact that they are second in the league in shots allowed per game (a minuscule 25.8), and it is clear that teams have to earn what meager offense they can generate against this team. And, if a team does fall behind, the task becomes even more difficult – Dallas leads the league in winning percentage when scoring first.

Looking at the club at the individual level, the team defensive numbers reflect a strength from the inside out – no defenseman has a minus number for the year. It is a group that is solid and deep. Add a three-time Selke winner in Jere Lehtinen, and it is as formidable a defensive group in its parts as it is as a team.

It would be tempting to think of the weak link here as being goaltending, but if anything Marty Turco is a regular season wonder. He can be counted on to have a GAA in the low 2's (or lower) and a save percentage in the .920 range (with a sparse workload in terms of shots). Given that the Stars played the Blackhawks last night, though, one might think Mike Smith will get a turn. Smith, in limited action (six games) has sparkling numbers – 5-1, 1.53, .937. Getting him would not necessarily be a blessing.

As for the former local hero, Jeff Halpern has had what for him is a typically indifferent start – 3-5-8, even, in 23 games (not including the Wednesday game), although he’s been stirring a bit more of late (2-2-4, +1 in his last six).

The Caps, on the other hand, are a club that might be between tendencies. In their six game winless streak they scored only nine goals while giving up 24 (not including a shootout loss). The Caps have given up 33 more goals than have the Stars – 1.38 more per game – while giving up 14.4 more shots per game. Those are significant numbers. 1.38 goals per game on 14.4 shots is a .904 save percentage. If, say, Olaf Kolzig and Marty Turco both save .904 percent of their shots, both have an average game in terms of shots faced, the Caps lose by more than a goal. For the Caps to get the club to overtime, Kolzig would have to save 93.8 percent of the shots he faces (assuming an average game of 36.5 shots). That’s a lot of arithmetic, but the point is that Kolzig has to stand on his head while Turco sits in a rocker to achieve the same result in terms of goals allowed.

But we said they might be between tendencies. They suffered a bump in the road (ok, they spun into a ditch for half a dozen games), but they spread the love around against Tampa – five players scored the five goals – and they withstood a late Tampa charge, thanks largely to Kolzig. Perhaps this is the beginning of a bit of a run. It can’t come at a better time, given the level of competition the Caps will face.

Some numbers of note . . . Alex Ovechkin has scored goals in 12 of his last 19 games – not points, goals (a total of 14 goals). That is at once a remarkably consistent record, and it is a 60-goal pace over 82 games.

The last time Dainius Zubrus won half his face-offs? . . . Veterans Day. He’s gone seven straight games on the sub-50 percent side of the ledger.

Ben Clymer is quietly struggling. Since his splashy return to forward against Philadelphia on November 4th, he has not been on the plus side of the ledger (-7 in 11 games).

Matt Pettinger has points in eight of his last 11 games (4-5-9).

Since laying an egg against Ottawa, Olaf Kolzig has saved 245 of 262 shots (93.5 percent) in seven games.

This is likely to be an aesthetically ugly game to watch. Dallas grinds out wins, and the Caps are a team hard to predict as to which one will appear. "GAL LODI" is going to have to be the recipe again – “get a lead” . . . “let Olie do it.” The Caps almost have to approach this as a road game, keeping things simple and taking advantage of what few opportunities they are likely to get. Dallas has been in a feast-or-famine stretch lately, scoring at least four goals in their last seven games but getting only a single marker in each of the others (including the 2-1 loss to Chicago Wednesday, which ended as The Peerless wrote this). Given how Kolzig has played lately and Ovechkin’s consistency in goal scoring, a couple of markers could do the trick . . .

Caps 2 – Stars 1.

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Lightning

Well, it seems that the Caps’ formula for winning can be summed up with this acronym:


“Get a Lead” . . . “Let Olie Do It.”

Last night, the Caps withstood an early storm by the Tampa Bay Lightning, made them pay for letting the Caps off the hook by getting a late first-of-game goal from Kris Beech in the first period, pounded three pucks into the back of the net in the second to take a 4-0 lead (and seemingly end the competitive portion of the game), then turned the game over to Kolzig in the third (25 shots on net faced, two goals surrendered – not a bad game total).

The Peerless will tell himself all morning that it’s not “how,” it’s “how many” – wins that is, and this one is nice, given that it: a) ends a six-game winless streak, and b) comes at the expense of a division opponent on their ice.

But let’s not kid ourselves, either. But for the rank ineptitude of the Tampa power play (nothing to show for seven opportunities and 24 total shots on goal with the man-advantage) and the Comanecian gymnastics of Kolzig in the nets (saving 48 of 50 shots on goal), this would have been an ugly game for a Caps fan to endure.

The number that sticks in The Peerless’ head this morning is this one . . .


That represents the total of shots on goal, missed shots, and shots blocked by Capitals. That’s approximately one shot sent toward the net every 45 seconds. And let’s put that number in further perspective. Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks scored more points in an NBA game than any other team – 109. In doing so, they took 85 shots from the floor (we don’t include free throws for this comparison, since the clock is stopped for those instances). The Tampa effort was as close to a run-and-gun NBA game as you’re likely to find. With apologies to Cristobal Huet and Roberto Luongo – both of whom are goaltenders who had fine games last night – neither was better than Olaf Kolzig in earning their respective three-star recognition from

But what about the good stuff? Well, there was, actually, and not just the win. The Caps had five different players score the five goals – Beech, Boyd Gordon (shorthanded), Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, and an empty-netter by Alexander Ovechkin. That’s two from the first line and three from . . . SOMEWHERE ELSE!

Then there are the even strength goals. In the six-game slide, the Caps had two of that sort. Mites score more at the intermission of one game. The Caps had four even-strength tallies in this one (including the Ovechkin empty-netter).

And there is John Erskine. Plus-three and a swat at everyone’s favorite wind-up doll, Martin St. Louis.

But if The Peerless had to give a slice o’ pie to one Cap last night, it would have been Matt Pettinger. As time goes by, he gives more indication that his coming-out last year was not fluke. He had the primary assists on each of the Caps first two goals last night – one in his role as the right wing (the “Chris-Clark-lite” role) on the second line, the other in a penalty killing situation. He was plus-three for the night and played with a consistent level of intensity.

But heavens to Murgatroid . . . what a night for Kolzig. 48 saves on 50 shots (.960 save percentage), 25 shots faced in the last period (13 of those from the big three of St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Vincent Levcavalier), 24 power play shots faced.

Sometimes, you lose games you scratch your head and ask, “how?” You play at a high effort level, you get a ton of chances, and you end up losing the bounces of the puck that night. Then there are those games you have no business winning. You get outshot, outchanced, outplayed. But you take advantage of just about every opportunity you get, and you get a standout performance from the goalie. It isn’t pretty, but this isn’t the Beauty Contest System that is college football, either. Two points is granted for every win, no matter how it looks. And two points looks mighty fine this morning.