Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR -- Caps vs. Penguins, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! . . . The Special “Death to Penguins” edition . . .

For tonight’s game The Peerless brings you “What they said, what they meant.” Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin sat down for a teleconference with the NHL in advance of this game, and the kids displayed their growing comfort with krapola when asked questions about the rivalry. The Peerless, in his never-ending search for truth, ferrets out what was really said (actual Q and A courtesy of Kukla's Korner; "what they meant" is a product of this author's alcohol-addled fantasy) . . .

Q. I’d like to ask both players. How much do you guys get up when you face one another in a game? Do you guys consider that like a prime game for both of you just to show what you can do, or show each other what you can do?

What Sidney said . . . “I don’t know. I think it’s always a little bit more motivating. You know, from my side I think that it’s built up so much that, in a way you want to respond and make sure you have a good game. But at the end of the night the win is most important. That’s the way I looked at it. But there’s no doubt there seems to be more emotion and intensity when we play each other.”

What Sidney meant . . . “pfft . . . what a tool.”

What Alex said . . . “I think Sidney is right. It’s important for us, for our team, to win the game. Of course, Sidney and me want to score goals and have some points, but it’s important for us to win the game.”

What Alex meant . . . “yup, a real tool.”

Q. Just wanted to know, for the both of you, how different is life in your second year now that you’re not rookies anymore?

What Sidney said . . . It’s not a whole lot different. I think there are more familiar faces, which is nice, and not as many new buildings. So I think that’s just nice part about not being a rookie. You’re not surprised by as many things. Just a little bit more comfortable and you know, other than that I don’t think there’s been a lot that’s changes.

What Sidney meant . . . “the same puckbunnies show up after every game.”

What Alex said . . . Yeah. I just feel for comfortable right now. We know the league and we know the rules and we now how good team—you know, we know how to play against some teams. Just I think right now we know the league better than first year. For me right now I know the league and the team and I feel more comfortable.

What Alex meant . . . “except for those damn sticks…”

Q. For Alex, how do you feel about your friend Malkin being involved in this rivalry now, too?

What Alex said . . . I’m really happy for him, because he is a great player and he’s a great guy. He’s a very good person and he’s unbelievable player. His team is lucky team to have Sidney, Malkin. They were drafted and they are good players and probably will be best team in the league. But we have couple guys, too.

What Alex meant . . . “f*** him.”

Q. This goes to Sidney. Talk about the hype coming into last season, your rookie year, and all the, I guess, advice you got. What kind of advice do you pass on to Malkin this season?

What Sidney said . . . “To be honest, I think the main thing for me coming into last year was just to worry about playing hockey. I didn’t really—to be honest with you, I didn’t really pass any advice to him. I think everyone has their own way of handling things and dealing with it mentally. And for him he had been through so much just to get here, so I think hockey was the relaxing part for him. That’s the way I looked at it. You’d have to ask him how he handled it, but I think it was just important for him to come here and play hockey.

What Sidney meant . . . “run! yourself!!”

Q. Alex, what do you feel has been your biggest—I guess your biggest thing you’ve had to get used to with the new rules and everything this season? . . . What have you had to adjust to the most this year?

What Alex said . . . Playing hockey, enjoy. You know, because I think me and Sidney, lots of young guys who play, should enjoy the time, because it was our dream. It doesn’t matter what rules. If it’s old or new rules, we just want to play hockey and do best what we can.

What Alex meant . . . “lame questions like this.”

Q. One question for Sidney and one for Alex. Sidney, first of all, I’m just wondering with you and Malkin, obviously the two of you are the face of hockey or the future in Pittsburgh, if not for the whole league. How have the two of you meshed together? And how has it been being with him so far this year?

What Sidney said . . . It’s been great to be able to play with someone that’s that creative and has that much fun out there on the ice. It’s a lot of fun. I think that myself I’m improving just from playing with him. He’s a fun guy to play with and even just to be on the ice practicing with every day. He’s still learning English so it’s hard to communicate, but we’re doing our best. And I think he’s coming along as the season goes on, which is good. It’s just been fine. I think that myself and him we’re lucky we have guys like Staal and Fleury. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

What Sidney meant . . . “I thought this was about me.”

Q. Alex, the hit on Daniel Briere, you said that it was an accident. I’ve only seen the replays, but I’m puzzled by that. When you say that it was an accident, do you mean that you didn’t mean to push him as hard as you did, or it just—the whole contact completely was an accident?

What Alex said . . . Well, my contact was not accident. I wanted to hit him. But if you see replay, I don’t hit him, you know, hard. I just saw his back and I just hit him. I don’t want give him injury or do some injury to him. I’m not the player that—we’re both are players, and I know we both want to play hockey. I don’t want to do some injury to him. Doesn’t matter Briere or some different player.

What Alex meant . . . “after all this crap, I wish I’d sent him into the next time zone.”

Q. This question is for Alex. There’s been a lot of talk in town about your hit on Daniel Briere on Saturday night. First, why did you do it? And second, if that happened to you, how would you have liked your teammates to react? And how would you react?

What Alex said . . . Well, because it was a game, I tell you right it was last question. I don’t want to hit him bad. I just want to hit him—but he turned and I don’t have time to do something. I think the guys, Buffalo teammates, when I hit Briere all the guys come to me and try fight or try to do something with me. But I think my teammates do the same. I know it was not a good hit, but I tell you I don’t want to do that. It was just game.

What Alex meant . . . “who are you, Ken Starr?”

Q. He had just dumped the puck into the zone, and it was a good split second before you hit him. Did that cross your mind at all? Why do you hit a guy that doesn’t have the puck that’s going to leave the ice after his shift?

What Alex said . . . I can’t answer this question, because it was a game. You know, I don’t know.

What Alex meant . . . “you’re about this far from me shoving a stick up your ass and breaking it off at the blade.”

Q. You guys have been linked ever since last year started. Do you have any sort of a friendship away from the rink? Do you guys talk or compare notes at all away from the arena at all?

What Sidney said . . . We don’t really keep really keep in touch other than when we see each other when we play each other. We’ve done a few things off the ice and ran into each other. But I think outside of that it’s just a relationship where we see each other when we play.

What Sidney meant . . . “we send perfumed notes to one another and talk about clothes and other stuff . . . geez, get a grip, azzhole.”

Q. Alex, have you played golf since the hole-in-one?

What Alex said . . . No.

What Alex meant . . . “No.”

Q. Calling it quits there?

What Alex said . . . Yeah.

What Alex meant . . . “Yeah”

Q. Can you turn back the calendar to this time last year. Compare the player you were then to the player you are now. And how much more improving can you do? That’s for both of them.

What Sidney said . . . I think for me, I think experience is something that, you know, I can look back and say that I’m more experienced a lot more knowledgeable about everything that has to do about playing the game. So I think I have a lot to learning and a long ways to go, but I think I can definitely bring that from last year. I’m just more aware. I think I’ve tried to become a guy that’s going to shoot the puck more often when I get the chance just to keep guys honest. I’m always learning, always trying. Those are the a couple things I’ve tried to improve on this year.

What Sidney meant . . . “I was king of all hockey then, I am king of all hockey now…”

What Alex said . . . For me, this year, I try to play more defensively. I have talk with my coach a lot and he tell me, “I don’t care about how we play offensively. I care about how he play defensively.” I know I play right now better defensively. I think all my teammates and all my coaches, they my fans, see it and they know I try to play more defensively like last year.

What Alex meant . . . “Glen’s a funny guy.”

Q. For Sidney, today they announced the roster for the Canadian World Junior Team, and amazingly you were still eligible for that. How distant does that seem to you now a few years into the NHL? What did the experience of playing for the national team do for you as a player?

What Sidney said . . . It’s an amazing experience. I think it is for anyone. I think for me I was lucky enough to play on the team I did my second year. We were just so deep and so good. And I think I improved over three weeks or a month just from playing with those guys. They were NHL caliber guys. If you look at the guys on that team there’s an awful lot that are in the NHL already. That was a special group, and having Coach Sutter coach our team was great as well. The on-ice part was an experience in itself, and I became a better player for it. And being part of the whole experience as far as having Canadian fans follow that it was so big and something I grew up watching. I wanted to be a part of it. It was a special experience, and no doubt it helped me a lot.

What Sidney meant . . . “more endorsements!”

Q. Sidney, if you could tell me one thing you admire most about Alex’s game, and Alex I’m going ask you the same question about Sid.

What Sidney said . . . I’d say his goal-scoring ability. I don’t think you can really teach anyone that. It’s just a knack. It’s an ability. You know, he definitely has that. So it’s exciting to watch when someone can score goals like that.

What Sidney meant . . . “those yellow skatelaces”

What Alex said . . . Well, I think how he control the puck. How he find his partners. It’s unbelievable.

What Alex meant . . . “hey, I’m the one with the Calder Trophy”

As for the game . . .

The Penguins and the Caps are two teams joined at the hip by history and experience. The Penguins’ dominance of the Caps in playoffs is well-documented (and sure won’t be recited here); the clubs had similar needs in terms of having to jettison payroll in recent years; each conducted a “fire sale” of high-priced personnel; one of the all time great Pens ended up in Washington (although one year of Frantisek Kucera never gave fans a true picture of his sublime talent), both are in the midst of a rebuild with a promising core of prospects. The Penguins are probably one-up on the Caps – a product of an impartial (wink wink) lottery – in that they won the rights to Sidney Crosby. But the Caps might have a deeper prospect pool, thanks to some astute (no, really) horse-trading by general manager George McPhee.

What all this means are that these are two teams in similar circumstances, being within three points of one another (the Penguins having a game in hand). The Penguins, for all their vaunted offensive potential, are in the middle of the pack offensively – they are 13th in goals-per-game, 14th in 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio, 14th on the power play. They have 26 goals in their last ten games, nine of them by Sidney Crosby (4-7-11, +2) or Evgeni Malkin (5-7-12, -1). One might expect that kind of production from the precocious pair, but there are two other Penguins who bear watching. Colby Armstrong is 4-2-6, +5 in the last ten games, and Eric Christensen (recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on November 22nd) is 3-1-4, -1 in his last five.

Defensively, the Penguins are better than they have been in the past couple of years, but that isn’t to say they are in an elite class. They are 21st in goals-against per game, 22nd in penalty killing. Marc-Andre Fleury is giving some indications that the club wasn’t completely out of its mind in selecting him with the first pick in the 2003 entry draft. Fleury is 16th among goaltenders playing more than 15 games in goals-against-average, 17th in save percentage. He is 5-2-3 in his last ten games, 2.77, .895. Ominously for the Penguins, though, he is 1-2-1 in his last four (including an abbreviated appearance against New Jersey, where he was credited with the loss), 3.86, .841. Couple this with the Penguins struggling recently in killing penalties (38-for-51 in their last ten games -- 74.5 percent), and this is perhaps their most vulnerable area.

The Caps come into this game winner of five of their last six games, outscoring their opponents 28-20. In that run, the Caps have rediscovered penalty killing . . . 32 of 36 (88.9 percent) has gone a long way to alleviating the pressure from goalies Olaf Kolzig (4-1-0, 3.40, .910 in this six game run) and Brent Johnson (1-0-0, 3.00, .917). The Caps have been dominating offensively. In their five wins, only one was of the one-goal variety, and in only one of those wins did they score fewer than five goals (four, against Dallas).

But all of this is window dressing . . . the “story” is the matchup. Here is the “tale of the tape” . . .

Alex Ovechkin:

Goals: 18 (T-3rd)
Assists: 17 (T-38th)
Points: 35 (T-12th)
PP goals: 7 (T-12th)
GWG: 4 (T-2nd)
PIMs: 34 (T-82nd)
Hits: 63 (T-26th)
Ice time: 20:48/game (21st among forwards)
Takeaway/Giveaway ratio: 31/38
Gear: CCM Sports

Sidney Crosby:

Goals: 13 (T-27th)
Assists: 26 (T-3rd)
Points: 39 (T-4th)
PP goals: 4 (T-53rd)
GWG: 2 (T-37th)
PIMs: 24 (T-172nd)
Hits: 16 (T-372nd)
Ice time: 20:34/game (T-24th among forwards)
Takeaway/Giveaway ratio:11/20
Gear: Reebok
Websites: (coming soon),

“Story,” my pasty white ass . . . the story is the game and who wins . . .

Caps 5 – Penguins 3.

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Flyers

And order is restored . . .

It wasn’t the prettiest of contests, but a 5-3 win in Philadelphia after getting hammered the previous night is a big wet kiss of success, another rung up on the ladder, another step forward, another something something toward making the playoffs.

Once more, balance was the key word. Five different Caps scored goals – Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich (that’s two in three games…do we call him, “Gretz?”), Chris Clark, Bryan Muir, and Matt Pettinger. In goal, Brent Johnson wasn’t especially sharp – especially in the fun house of the second period – but he was when he had to be late in the contest, when he stopped ten shots in the 11:29 between what proved to be Bryan Muir’s game-winning goal and Matt Pettinger’s slam-the-door power play goal at the end.

Other stuff . . .

-- Simon Gagne scored a goal at 7:47 of the second period. Steve Eminger, who was on the ice for that goal, didn’t get another shift for almost twelve minutes . . . injury, equipment, or message?

-- Petr Nedved and Kyle Calder distinguished themselves last night for the Flyers. With a -2 and a -3, respectively, both now stand at -20 for the year. Fear not, Flyer fans . . . Joni Pitkanen (who didn’t play) is right there at -18, and R.J. Umberger is lurking at -13 along with Derian Hatcher at -12. These five players – a combined -83 for the year (now that would be some starting five . . . the Flyers could be down a touchdown after the first shift with this quintet out there) – are 1st, 1st, 4th, 8th, and 10th in the league in worst plus/minus.

-- John Erskine had another solid game . . . +1, four hits, four blocked shots.

-- If you haven’t been paying attention, Matt Pettinger leads the league among players with at least 20 games played in shooting percentage, 10 goals on 37 shots (27.0 percent). He was 1-for-2 last night.

-- Monday will be game 30 on the Caps schedule. It also will be another ten-game chapter in the body of consistent work of Alex Ovechkin. In his ten game splits to date, Ovechkin is 6-4-10, 7-6-13, and 5-7-12 (so far, with the Pittsburgh game Monday night to go). Ovechkin has not scored fewer than ten points in any ten-game split thus far in his career. That a second year player can sustain this consistent level of performance – game in and game out – is astonishing.

-- The Caps are 7-1-1 when Matt Pettinger scores a goal.

-- Last night, the Caps won their 13th game in their 29th game played. Last year, the Caps won their 13th game on New Year’s Eve (36th game). In 2003-2004, they won their 13th game on January 11th (43rd game). Progress? You be the judge.