Friday, December 15, 2006

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, December 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

L-L-L-L-L-L-L-L-L-adies and GEN-tlemen . . . welcome to the main event. This is a heavyweight match for the championship belt of the Southeast Division Pugilism Association . . . in the white cornah . . . weighing in at 13-10-7 with a record of 19 fighting majors in 30 games . . . from the most powerful city on the planet . . . the WASHINGTONNNNNNNNN CAPITALSSSSSSSSSSSSS . . . and in the baby blue cornah . . . weighing in at 18-9-5 with a record of 13 fighting majors in 32 games . . . representing the most powerful city in Fulton County, Georgia . . . the ATLANTA-A-A-A-A-A THRRRRRRRRRASHERS . . . .

Yes, fans of the squared circle, we bring you “Friday Night Fights” . . . after the November 22nd 4-2 Thrashers win that saw 176 combined penalty minutes, $40,000 in fines, a total of five games worth of suspensions, and lots of ill will, the clubs renew acquaintances in the holiday spirit of giving (jabs, hooks, uppercuts). Joining The Peerless for a take on tonight's tilt is the puncher, preacher, and purveyor of counter-top grilling devices, Big George himself, George Foreman . . .

Champ, welcome to the bouts.

“Thanks, Peerless. This promises to be an exciting night for everyone.”

Let’s get right to it . . . what’s the headliner bout tonight?

Well, with Andy Sutton and Brad Larsen out for the Thrashers, you might think it would be Donald Brashear against Eric Boulton, but I’ve got my eye on another contest.”

Who would that be?

“I think that by the end of the night, we’re going to see a middleweight fight of heavyweight proportions between Glen ‘The Mask’ Hanlon and Bob 'Gutless Wonder' Hartley.”

Really, you see the coaches going at it?

“Oh, absolutely, Peerless. After the snarling they did at one another on the bench and the shouting in the hallway after the game, the stars are aligned for an epic bout.”

Who gets the nod?

“Well, these guys have different styles, and that’s what would make this a great bout. Hanlon is a modern day heavyweight in a 1980’s goalie body. Yap-for-yap, punch-for-punch, he might be the most dangerous coach in the National Hockey League. On the other hand, Hartley is sneaky. He’s always whining that he doesn’t understand how the other team could act that way and that there is no need for that sort of thing, and still he sends his goons out to take runs at smaller players.”

In other words . . .

“Yeah, ‘gutless wonder.’”

Well, that seems to me to give the edge to Hanlon.

“Absolutely . . . unless Hartley sends Boulton out to fight for him.”

Could that happen?

“Does the George Foreman ‘Next Grilleration’ grill make great burgers?”

Well, between fights there will be a hockey game played, and this is an important one for both teams. For Atlanta it is an opportunity to cement further a big lead in the Southeast division (currently seven points over Carolina). For the Caps it is a chance to make a dent in the season series (Atlanta has won all four games thus far) and leap-frog a couple of teams – the Caps could finish the night tied for sixth in points in the East.

But, Atlanta is a formidable team just where the Caps are weak. The Thrashers are 5th in offense (3.22 goals-per-game) while the Caps are 25th in defense (3.33 goals per game). They are solid at even strength (9th in 5-on-5 play) and on the power play (10th at 18.2 percent). And, they are a team that an opponent needs to grab by the throat and choke the life out of them – the Thrashers are 7th in the league in winning percentage when scored upon first.

After going on a 6-0-1 stretch, the Thrashers are 0-2-1 in their last three for a 6-2-2 run in their last ten. As one would expect, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk lead the Thrashers in goal scoring over these past ten (five and four, respectively), but the Thrashers have gotten goals from 13 players over this stretch, so they had some others – Bobby Holik and (gasp!) Glen Metropolit with three apiece, most notably -- chip in as well.

But here is the eye-popping number – 107. That’s how many special teams situations in which the Thrashers have found themselves, converting 9-of-56 power play chances (16.1 percent) and killing 39-of-51 penalties. They’ve given up at least two power play goals in four of these last ten games. If you’re looking for an opportunity for the Caps tonight, there it is.

But the Caps haven’t been as selfish in taking advantage of the opportunities presented as Caps fans might hope. The club is 5-4-1 in their last ten, including a once-in-a-decade-and-a-half occurrence of gagging on a four-goal lead last Monday against Pittsburgh. The club hasn’t lacked for offense, scoring 36 goals in these past ten games. Then again, it’s been feast-or-famine, too. Four times the Caps scored at least five goals, three times a single goal. Alex Ovechkin – surprisingly – does not lead the club in goals scored in the last ten. He’s not second, either. Chris Clark leads with seven tallies, Matt Pettinger has chipped in with six (Ovechkin has five). Dainius Zubrus doesn’t have a goal, but he did contribute seven assists in the eight games he played (missing two to injury). Unfortunately for Zubrus, he’s also -7 in those eight games.

The Thrashers have 41 points in 32 games, the Caps 33 in 30. The difference in their seasons is the head-to-head. Atlanta has earned eight points in four games, the Caps two. Had their fortunes been reversed, the Caps would have 39 points and a third-seed (adding the six points they didn’t earn), the Thrashers 35 and a sixth seed (subtracting the six points they wouldn’t have earned). That’s what the emphasis on intra-divisional play means these days. An added bonus would be that the Penguins would be on the outside looking in, even with that Monday night win.

Washington is a decent road team (6-4-4), while the Thrashers have a worse record at home (8-5-2) than on the road (10-4-3). That, the settling of scores, the desire to get the bad taste of Monday out of their mouths, and the greater urgency of their standings position combines to align the stars in the Caps’ favor tonight.

Caps 5 – Atlanta 4.