Monday, January 01, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Coyotes, January 1st

It was January 16, 2006, the blush not even off the new year just yet. The Capitals were winding up a three-game road trip in Phoenix. Mid way through the third period of a 5-1 game, most folks were pondering what might be on another channel. They’d have done well to put the remote down. Brendan Witt dumped the puck out of the Capitals’ defensive zone and off the boards past one of the Coyotes. Alexander Ovechkin picked up the puck in front of the Caps’ bench in full stride just short of the red line. Skating down the right wing side, he was marked by defenseman Paul Mara, who stepped into Ovechkin as the winger was crossing the middle at the top of the circles in the Phoenix zone. Ovechkin lost control of the puck as he tangled with Mara, then tumbled on his side to the ice. As he was sliding toward the left wing corner, he rolled to his back and in one motion brought his stick over his head, snapping it with a flick of his wrist and redirecting the puck into the net past a stunned Brian Boucher in goal. Boucher could only curl up and bury his face in the ice while Steve Gainey could only spin on a skate in disbelief. Lost in this is the presence of mind of linemate Boyd Gordon, trailing the play on the right side, not to tap the puck into the net from the other side, thus washing out the most spectacular goal of the 2005-2006 season.

So, where in the world does Alex score from today . . . let us consider a possibility.

First period . . . Dainius Zubrus wins the opening draw . . . Steve Eminger corrals the puck in the Capitals’ zone . . . Ovechkin circles into the Caps’ zone, where Eminger feeds him the puck . . . Ovechkin skates out and up the ice, shadowed by Keith Ballard . . . Shane Doan slides over to provide support . . . then Mike Zigomanis . . . then Derek Morris and Oleg Saprykin . . . then Jeremy Roenick (sensing a video moment on which he could be captured) . . . Mike Comrie . . . Georges Laracque . . . Wayne Gretzky, for heaven’s sake (not this time, sonny) . . . the equipment manager throws extra goalie sticks on the ice . . . Ovechkin is still steaming toward the Coyote net . . . more Coyotes come streaming off the bench, piling on top of the rushing winger . . . Ovechkin plants the end of his stick in the ice between the circles and spins about it, kicking Coyotes aside by the dozen . . . more Coyotes flood the ice (hey, Peerless, isn’t this a penalty?), jumping on the winger – Ovechkin lowers a shoulder and springs into the air, flinging Coyotes off his back . . . he flips the puck into the air and with a mighty swat that defies laws of time and motion sends the puck into the back of the Phoenix net. Wayne Gretzky can only turn and whisper, “you are the One . . . “

Too much?

Well, anyway, it’s the New Year and a chance to brush the dust of a 1-6-0 finish to the old year off. Phoenix visits Verizon Center with a record of 15-20-2, which is a bit deceiving. The Coyotes are 4-12-1 away from home, although they did manage a win in their last away contest, a 3-2 win against the sturdy San Jose Sharks last Thursday. As befits their dismal road record the Coyotes are dead last in the league in road scoring at 1.88 goals per game. They don’t make up for it with rock-ribbed defense – they are 29th in road goals allowed at 4.18 per game. Their specialty team ranks of 26th in road power play (only one team has scored fewer power play goals) and 27th in road penalty kill (no team has given up more power play goals) round out a poor team statistical profile.

Among the skaters, the offense-challenged nature of Phoenix reveals itself. One Coyote has a double-digit goal total – Yanic Perreault (11), who has played only 25 games for the club. No Coyote has 30 points. Aging heartthrob Jeremy Roenick netted a hat trick in his last outing (an 8-0 win over San Jose), which lifted his totals to a still-anemic 4-5-9, -8, in 32 games. Ladislav Nagy – a persistent subject of trade rumors (mostly started by Caps fans, The Peerless believes) – leads the scoring parade . . . well, pub crawl . . . with a 6-22-28 line.

The Coyotes are not a club entirely bereft of ability, though. Ed Jovanovski is 7-12-19, -1, and is a strong blue line presence (unfortunately for the Coyotes, he’s missed several games with a groin injury). Yanic Perreault is up to his usual specialty tricks, winning more than 62 percent of his draws. Expect him to take every important draw, including facing off against Ted Leonsis in the owners’ box for the last shrimp on the buffet. Keith Ballard is a promising young defenseman, one of only two (Travis Roche being the other) on the “plus” side of the ledger for the Coyotes. Shane Doan is still a presence worthy of attention.

In goal, Curtis Joseph registered the shutout against San Jose last Thursday, so this could mean Mikael Tellqvist gets the nod this afternoon. Both have played decently, particularly lately. Joseph is 2-2-0, 2.32, .932 in his last five appearances. Tellqvist has struggled a bit more with a 2-2-1, 3.32, .885 record in his last five appearances.

Frankly, this is an opponent served up as a remedy to the Caps’ woes, just as the Caps were for the Rangers Saturday night. Despite injuries, illnesses, and call-ups, this is a game the Caps should and needs to win. Getting off to a good start on the first day of the new year is largely symbolic (how many folks remember last year’s 5-2 pounding of the Caps by Atlanta on New Year’s Day?). But it sure can’t hurt after all this recent losing . . .

Caps 6 – Phoenix 3.

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