Saturday, December 09, 2006

Your OMMAA for November!!

OK, so I'm late . . . it's a busy time of the year, even for those of the Peerless Persuasion. But it gives The Peerless great pleasure to bestow the hallowed and cherished "Old Man's Major Awad Award to . . .

John Erskine!

A player who fairly oozes "ornery," Erskine has been a pleasant surprise for the Caps. Not only has he appeared to allow Steve Eminger to find his legs, but Erskine has been a stout defender in his own right. For November, he was 0-2-2, but tallied 42 PIMS in 11 games and averaged 17-and-a-half minutes of ice time.

His menacing look, disheveled hair, one-size-too-small helmet, and his on-ice contributions to a Caps team that find itself squarely in the playoff hunt combine to make him the clear choice for the November OMMAA.

Display it proudly John-E! . . . You've earned it!

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE MORNING AFTER AIR!!

The Morning After is ON THE AIR!!!

OK, so we’re combining “the morning after” with the preview because, frankly, there are some games you say, “OK, we sucked, move on.” For two periods last night, the Caps played one of those games where you said, “this just isn’t our night.” While the Anaheim Ducks gave no indication they’d ever let the Caps score in those two frames, it wasn’t like they were dominating at the other end, either. A fluky first goal (was Stephane Auger credited with an assist?), an Alphonse-and-Gaston, “I got it, you take it” giveaway goal delivered with care, courtesy of Olie Kolzig, and a pinball goal, and it was 3-0. The third period . . . well, chalk that one up to suckitude. It was a brutal night all around, but the first line really took it in the teeth. -11 for the Ovechkin-Zubrus-Clark trio with one point (Ovechkin – an assist -- with neither Clark nor Zubrus on the ice). If there was one Cap who had anything approaching a decent game, it was Boyd Gordon. He wasn’t on the ice for any of the horror that was the six goals against, and he won 9 of 13 faceoffs. The only guy with no Duck poop on his jersey.

All that means is that the club had better be in an ornery mood tonight when they visit the Flyers in South Philly. For once, the Caps should be a favorite in one of their least favorite places to play. The Flyers are probably going to be in an ornery mood of their own, coming off the wrong side of a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils (a 4-3 OT loss in Philly and a 2-0 shutout in the swamp).

While they are playing better than was the case in their horrific start, Philadelphia shouldn’t be confused with “good.” The Flyers are 7-10-3 under John Stevens since he took over for Ken Hitchcock on October 22nd. Statistically, they remain the worst defense in the league, giving up a league-high 3.64 goals per game. It’s not as if that is the product of a run-and-gun style, either. The Flyers are 25th in scoring. They are the worst 5-on-5 team in the league, giving up almost twice as many goals in that situation as they score themselves. It approaches a betting certainty that they will lose if scored on first – they’ve won once in 15 such situations.

Here is the scope and breadth of the Flyers’ suckitude . . . only one player who has dressed for at least half their games has better than a -3 rating – Randy Robitaille. Only five players are better than -5. They have six players with -10 or worse, with Joni Pitkanen "leading" the way with a -17 (Steve Eminger fans, take note – Pitkanen was taken in the same 2002 draft, eight spots higher), although Alexandre Picard is doing a fine Bill Mikkelson imitation with a -10 in only 14 games.

The Flyers are also generous with the puck. No Flyer who has played more than five games – none – has more takeaways than giveaways. And some of the ratios are jaw-dropping . . . Peter Forsberg: 6 takeaways, 33 giveaways . . . Derian Hatcher: 8/29 . . . Pitkanen: 10/29 . . . Geoff Sanderson: 11/27. Only Simon Gagne is even at 20/20.

If they do one thing well, it’s kill penalties – 90.9 percent at home this year (third in the league).

All this says that this is a game the Caps should, ought to, had better win. It’s one thing to hork up a hairball against the best team in the league – and Anaheim demonstrated that in spades – but to come up flat in a game like this after recently having a four game winning streak would make much of that winning effort for naught. It would leave the Caps with a record of 4-5-1 in their last ten games.

This is a “determination game.” If the Caps come out determined to climb all over the Flyers from the drop of the puck, it could put the home club back on their heels and put the crowd in a surly mood. And, given the Flyers’ inability to show much by way of being a comeback team, ending the competitive portion of the game early is likely to be the result of a fast start. One of the things that has emerged over the past few weeks with the Caps in terms of their character is an ability and a willingness to play with an edge. Given the spanking they got last night, it would suit them well to play with a chip on their shoulder tonight. Teams that aspire to bigger things make teams pay the next game for whoopings they took in the last game. The Caps are closer to being serious about those aspirations . . . a lot closer than are the Flyers.

Caps 5 – Flyers 1.