The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!
Three in a row . . . whoda thunk it? Against Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Buffalo, no less (combined record this morning without the losses to the Caps, 52-23-4). Another rung on the ladder, so to speak. But the Caps are still on the outside, looking in, as far as playoff seeds go – tied for tenth in standings points in the East this morning. So, there is much work to do, a lot of . . .
“Hey, what’s with all this work, eh?”
“Uh, yeah . . . and my brother Doug is here, too.”
“Hey, how’s it goin’ eh?”
What are you guys doing here?
“Well, those last three games the Caps had – they sure were a beauty, eh – we just wanted to see them for ourselves.”
Ted’ll be glad you bought tickets.
“What tickets, we’re gonna sneak in.”
“Yeah, maybe like with a case o’ donuts or somethin’ . . . “
“The don’t have donuts in the arena, you hoser.”
“No donuts? . . . well, what do they dunk in their beer?”
“Chicken fingers, I think.”
“Chickens don’t have fingers . . . “
“Sure they do . . . they can’t dunk their donuts with their beaks.”
“Oh, yeah . . . so, like, what’s the deal with this OH-vechkin kid, eh? . . . He’s from Russia, right?”
“No, you hoser, he’s from Washington . . . Russia doesn’t have a team in the NHL.”
He was born in Russia.
“There, see what I mean? . . . and you think you’re so smart.”
“Hey, I wasn’t the one who was going to sneak in on a case of donuts.”
“Well how do YOU want to sneak in?”
“UH, how ‘bout with the beer?”
“Yeah, if we don’t drink it all, first, eh?”
Sounds like you two have gotten an early start . . . let’s get to the game. Ottawa comes in a far different team than the one that blew a 3-0 lead to the Caps a month ago today. The Senators are 10-5-0 since that night and are in the midst of a four game winning streak. And, the Sens have outscored their opponents 60-41 over the last 15 and 19-5 in their last four games. That would be the very definition of a team on a roll. It has enabled the Senators to climb from 5-7-1 and among the larger disappointments of the year to 15-12-1 and sixth place in the East.
Dany Heatley has scored goals in bunches in the 15-game run. Overall, he is 10-10-20, +3 in that stretch, but he has four multiple goal games in that run, including a hat trick against Florida on November 24th. Jason Spezza is 8-12-20, +2 over those same 15 games. From those two, you would expect some gaudy numbers. But the emergent player might be Antoine Vermette. In these last 15 games he is 6-4-10 but has three goals in his last three games, including the game-winner against Tampa Bay last Saturday. Among the unexpected scorers is Chris Neil (6-5-11, +5), usually thought to be more a purveyor of the grittier aspects of the game.
The Ottawa power play has come to life in the past month. When the Senators left Verizon a month ago, they were 6-for-73 (8.2 percent). Since then they are 19-for-76 (25.0 percent). Their fortunes have risen with their power play stock. However, their penalty kill has dropped some. While they killed 60 of 68 shorthanded situations (88.2 percent) through the Washington game last month, they are 52-for-63 since (82.5 percent).
Goaltending remains an issue, though. Despite being given every opportunity to hod the number one slot, Martin Gerber simply hasn’t done the job. At 5-8-1, 3.17, .897 for the year, he’s been a huge disappointment for a club expected to be among the elite, although he has played well in his last two outings (both wins, 1.50, .946). Ray Emery has had a fine year thus far – 10-4, 2.08, .931 – and has appeared to have taken over in the number one slot. His job will be to demonstrate that he can sustain that kind of performance over a long season and with the pressure of the number one responsibility on his shoulders.
For the Caps, the trick is to keep doing what they’re doing. After a six-game winless slide, they are 3-0 against fine clubs, outscoring them 16-9. Those 16 goals have been spread around, too. Ten different players have those goals, Matt Pettinger leading with three. Digging deeper, 12 of the 16 goals have come from players not on the top line of Alexander Ovechkin-Dainius Zubrus-Chris Clark. That the second line of Alexander Semin-Kris Beech-Matt Pettinger has chipped in six is an encouraging sign.
Key to the Caps’ success this past week has been penalty killing. The Caps have killed off 16 of 17 shorthanded situations in the last three games and have a shorthanded goal. It has offset a rather weak power play (about the only negative one might find in their recent play), which is 2-for-15 in this short run.
Olaf Kolzig has continued his dominating play in this three-game run (3-0-0, 3.00, .924). The odd statistic concerning his work has been that in each of the three games, shot totals have come down (50-38-30), yet goal totals have gone up (2-3-4). Statistics being what they are, this isn’t conclusive, just odd – Buffalo averages more than four goals a games, so their getting four isn’t exactly unusual.
Although the Caps have been stout penalty killers of late, that isn’t a recipe for winning against the Senators, who have re-discovered their offense. The Caps have outscored the opposition 13-8 at even strength in these last three games, and that is where they have to fight this battle. If both the Caps and Senators have fewer than five power play opportunities, that plays more to the Caps’ strength. If it gets to be a special teams affair, it could be a long night. But have faith, fans of the swooping eagle . . . the Caps have shown that they can compete against the better clubs in the league, as evidenced by their successful west coast swing and their recent run of luck. Tonight, more of the same . . .
Caps 3 – Senators 2