Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Rangers, February 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the opponent is the New York Rangers, or as Larry Brooks might say, “the only hockey club worthy of the name.” Well, it looks as if they’re worthy enough to draw what could be, if not a sellout, then the biggest crowd of the year at Verizon Center.

If you were to look at the Blueshirts over the year, you might be humming something like this. The Rangers have had three winning streaks of three games or more, two losing streaks of three games or more, and even a three game overtime/shootout loss streak.

At the moment, they are lost in a 4-7-1 stretch that has seen their shaky playoff hopes fall to the other side of the top-eight divide. They currently reside in 11th place in the East, three points ahead of the Caps with a game in hand.

The Rangers have been something of an “all-or-nothing” club over their last dozen games. Their four wins have been by a combined 16-3 margin. They’ve also had a “just short” kind of performance. Including the shootout loss, they have five one-goal losses among the eight they registered.

Offense has been a problem. Explosive on occasion – witnessed by 5-0 and 6-1 wins -- they scored a total of 21 goals in the other ten games. The power play is a particular culprit, as much for the chances they’ve managed to generate as of productivity. 47 chances in 12 games is not an especially large number of chances (3.9-per-game, lower than their 5.0 chances-per-game for the year, which is already only 19th in the league), and converting only seven of those (14.9 percent) hasn’t made up for it. Fortunately for the Rangers, their penalty killing has been excellent – 41 of 46 (89.1 percent) over the last 12 games.

Another problem has been holding leads. The Rangers scored first in six of their past seven games. It hardly seems to have mattered; they’re 3-3 in those six games scoring first.

As one might expect, the offense begins with Jaromir Jagr. But that is not saying as much this year as last. His assist totals are on a pace with last year’s (67 versus last year’s total of 69), but his goal scoring is down (a pace for 31 versus 54 last year), an obvious product of the shoulder injury he sustained in the playoffs last spring. Over his last 12 games he leads the club in scoring (5-12-7, -1), but he seems not to be the dynamic presence hockey fans are used to seeing. Michael Nylander has picked up some of the slack (4-8-12, -5 in the last 12 games), but the real curiosity on this club is Brendan Shanahan. The left winger is 4-4-8, -3 in his last 12 games, but the odd statistic he will bring to the game tonight is that he has two even strength goals scored in the last two months. The Rangers are 11-14-1 over that span.

Henrik Lundqvist recorded the 5-0 shoutout win over Tampa Bay last night (thanks…I think), and given the Rangers’ growing sense of urgency with respect to the playoffs, he seems likely to get the call tonight as well. Why not? He’s played every one of the last dozen games, and done so very well – certainly better than the win-loss record. Over that span, he has the 4-7-1 record, but also has a 2.01 GAA and .926 save percentage.

For the Caps, the object of the exercise is to close strong on the homestand. So far, they have five of six possible points, and they face a beatable team tonight. These are teams in similar circumstances (the Caps also are 4-7-1 in their last dozen games). Both clubs have shown signs of emerging from their respective funks – the Caps have that 2-0-1 record on this home stand, the Rangers are 1-1-1 with a shutout of the Lightning, a shootout loss in New Jersey, and a one-goal loss to the Red Wings.

It would be nice to get Alexander Ovechkin restarted on his goal scoring march, but that is a matter somewhat overblown (the four-game goal draught comes on the heels of having scored goals in five of six games – these things happen with goal scorers). The bigger issue is the power play, which is 2-for-February (24 chances) and 7-for-56 (12.5 percent) since scoring a late power play goal in a 3-1 loss to Florida on January 13th. And, as for the Rangers, the fortunate aspect of this is that the Caps’ penalty kill has been very good (54 kills in the last 62 situations – 87.1 percent).

So that’s what this might come down to . . . the limp forces (the teams’ power play) versus the immovable objects (the teams’ penalty kill). If either club gets any power play production, it is likely to be the difference.

It says here that the difference is Ovechkin getting back on track with power play success . . .

Caps 3 – Rangers 2.

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