Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! . . . Caps vs. Sabres, December 2

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

Break up the Caps! Two in a row, against Tampa Bay and Dallas, no less. We won’t get into the end-of-game nail-biting that ensued as both opponents made late runs, looking to focus on the good stuff. So, for the good stuff . . .

In those two games, Washington scored nine goals from seven different players (Chris Clark and Alexander Semin netting two goals, apiece), and . . .

Olaf Kolzig . . . 83 saves on 89 shots (.933)

Matt Pettinger, +3, 1-2-2 . . . Alexander Semin, 2-1-3, +2 . . . John Erskine, more than 21 minutes a game, +1 . . . Jakub Klepis, 0-2-2, even . . . Brian Pothier, +3 . . .

The point being that the Caps have gotten contributions from more than just the first line. Now, if the Caps can only get Alexander Ovechkin up and running in penalty shot/shootout situations, they’d be . . .

“now . . . that’s just ‘stinking thinking’”

Uh, Stuart? Stuart Smalley?

“Yes, I’m Stuart, and I’m a worthy human being . . .”

Of course you are . . . ok, The Peerless guesses it can’t hurt . . . what would you say to Alex to get him out of his funk?

“Well, I’d sit him down, face-to-face . . . I’d look into his eyes and say to him, ‘Alex?...You’re ‘should-ing’ all over yourself. You can’t say ‘I should have done this,’ or ‘I should have done that.’ You need to say, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.’”

Well, it’s kind of tough out there as the only guy on the ice with everyone expecting him to make a great play . . . maybe he’s thinking about it too much . . .

“Well, maybe, and that's.. o-kay. He’s not alone. Believe me, I know what it's like…out there alone… all those fans watching: ‘I'm a fraud.. tomorrow, I'm going to be exposed for what I am, a big imposter’… I just want to curl up and lay in bed all day and eat Fig Newtons.”

But he’s the Calder Trophy winner. He had 52 goals last year. No one has more goals the last two years . . .

“And that’s why he has to say, “I don’t need to be a great shootout shooter, I just need to be the best Alex I can be . . . “

Think that will work?

“Well . . . yes, but if it doesn’t, maybe he could try a wrister every once in a while instead of always deking.”

Well, hopefully it won’t come to that, but Buffalo is one formidable club. If there is a ray of sunshine looking at this game, it is that Buffalo played a full 65 minutes and a shootout last night against the Rangers in Buffalo (they won 4-3). That could mean that Ryan Miller would get tonight off, and the Caps would face a backup for the second straight contest. Of course, Martin Biron would be that backup. He is, to use a baseball analogy, a guy who gets a lot of wins because he gets lots of run-support (or in this case, goal support). In Biron’s seven wins (he’s 7-1), he’s had at least four goals of support. His own stats are pretty ordinary – 3.11, .893 – although he’s had considerable success against Washington in his career (9-5-1, 2.40, .916).

Getting support, though, is hardly uncommon for Buffalo goaltenders. The Sabres lead the league in scoring (almost two-thirds of a goal better than second-place Nashville). They are an extremely efficient club. They score 4.16 goals a game (1st) on only 29.7 shots a game (15th). And, the balance that they rode to the playoffs last year manifests itself once more this year. They have 12 skaters in double-digit scoring (the Caps, by way of comparison, have seven). They have five players in double-digit goal scoring (the Caps, three). They have five players in double-digit plus numbers for the year (the Caps, none). They have only three players with more than 10 games played who are minus for the year – all are at -1 (the Caps, 13 players). Buffalo has 12 goals from their defense, the Caps have only five from their centers (at least those who have played more at that position that at wing).

Buffalo is not an especially noteworthy defensive team. They are 15th in goals-per-game allowed, 16th in penalty killing. But, while they can and do give up goals, no lead is safe against them. Their winning percentage when trailing first? . . . .900 (better than when they score first). They are, in a sense, the very epitome of the new NHL team the league seems to prefer – all offense, all the time, speedy, not especially physical (for example, they are 21st in fighting majors – five of those by Andrew Peters -- 12th in total shorthanded situation)—a video game team.

This could be a 7-5 game. If it is, the Caps getting the “7” is not a good bet. Despite their speed, they won’t match the Sabres’ offensive balance. The wild card here is the goaltenders. Kolzig, who would seem to get the nod here, having had a day off since the Dallas game, has had a good, if not spectacular career mark against the Sabres (13-11-2, 2.41, .911). And, he’s been consistently strong lately.

The Peerless has a feeling this is going longer than 65 minutes. And Martin Biron hasn’t been in a shootout this year. Alex Ovechkin takes Stuart Smalley’s affirmations to heart . . .

Caps 4 – Sabres 3, in a shootout.