Wednesday, October 31, 2007

For Peter Bondra, an ending and a beginning

Peter Bondra retired earlier this week.

Bondra has his place in the pantheon of revered Caps – Yvon Labre, Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, Olaf Kolzig. But his is a somewhat odd career, too. Having been here in the stands watching Bondra’s entire career in Washington and looking back over it, it has the feel of watching Sir Laurence Olivier in “The Last Days of Pompeii”…a sublime talent in a pretty mediocre production.

Bondra retires as the all time Caps leader in goals with 472, a record he is likely to hold for a comparatively short time (at his current pace, Alex Ovechkin will catch Bondra on or about Thanksgiving 2015). But in his 1,034 games as a Cap (regular season and playoffs), he generated quite a number thrills…

-- 34 goals in 47 games in the abbreviated 1995 season…a pace for 59.
-- five goals in the blink of an eye against the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 5, 1994.
-- a team-record 22 power play goals in 2000-2001, when he could have served as the visual definition of the hockey term, “one-timer,” such was his efficiency from the point.
-- A hat trick in 2001 on the night his contract extension with the club had been announced (of course, in fairness, one must also recall Bondra requested a trade).

But the other side of this tale is Bondra accomplishing as much as he did without it being reflected in any particular success for the club. True, he was a part – an important part – of the 1998 Stanley Cup finalist (7-5-12, +4, in 17 playoff games), but the star that year was Olaf Kolzig. This is not meant to slight Bondra as much as to point out that he toiled as the only real “skill” forward the franchise had for most of his career, and there was only so far he could carry them. An oft-repeated phrase in those years was, “if the Caps only had another scorer.” The unspoken truth was that Bondra was as dependable as they came as the one already on board. Over a 267 game stretch spanning four seasons, Bondra scored 187 goals. If you do the math, that’s a pace of 58 goals over a full season. If Bondra wasn’t the most lethal goal-scoring engine in the mid-1990’s, he was on a very short list.

There are many who wanted to see Bondra skate one last time in Washington, perhaps manning a power play with the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin. But that was entirely a gaze through a nostalgic lens. His production had been in decline since the 1997-1998 year, when he scored 52 goals, although he did post 45 in 2000-2001 (including all those power play goals).

As much as Bondra’s goal-scoring talent should be remembered by Caps fans, it should not be forgotten just how difficult it was for a player such as Bondra in the early 1990’s, when he broke into the league. He was an 8th round draft pick in 1990 who had never seen an NHL game until the day he stepped onto the ice to play in one. Language, culture, and the antipathy toward European players at the time made breaking into the league a difficult proposition for players such as Bondra. That he would grow and flourish in the NHL is a tribute to him as a person as much as to his skill.

There is a certain disappointment in looking at his career that he played on squads that might be characterized as “underachieving.” That, and the fact that he played in a market that did little to promote him, probably will keep him out of the Hall of Fame. But nothing should ever take away from the vision Caps fans will have of Bondra’s low-slung skating style speeding down the ice, his blink-of-an-eye slap shot, or the sheer joy he felt and freely expressed in each and every goal, from his first to his 472nd.

Every Caps fan would wish him well in his new endeavor as the general manager for the Slovakian national hockey team. They have genuine article as someone to respect and to emulate.

Are the Duds a Dud? Should the Fix be Nixed??

Mulish (we really like that one)

Pick an adjective, and maybe it applies to the fine folks at Reebok who, in the face of mounting concern that their “EDGE uniform system” is encountering some serious problems, seem inclined more to merely “tweak’ the product than to just “New Coke” the whole idea.

The folks at On Frozen Blog did a nice job of laying out the problem confronted by one team, and it is a stepping off point in how problems might evolve from the “hey, Alex, are you having problems with your gloves” kind of question a blogger might ask a player (or players might ask one another) to a full fledged, full-throated complaint that this “system” doesn’t work that reaches to game broadcasts, the hockey punditocracy, and eventually news outlets and perhaps corporate offices of the league and its partners.

What we seem to have now is a simmer…the occasional (if pretty persistent) complaint that the characteristics of the jersey and socks are such that gloves and skates collect run off. In the OFB entry, we see an example of one player – a player who matters in the larger scheme of things in the NHL, it should be noted – offering that he goes through two pair of gloves per period. Whether this is imprecise overstatement by Alex Ovechkin really isn’t especially relevant – if he goes through one pair of gloves a period, is this too much? Does it impair performance? Regarding skates, does the run off factor deteriorate the skate or otherwise put the player at risk of injury? Does it affect skating performance? Is there the potential for this problem to have other, related effects with respect to the health of players – specifically as to whether gloves and/or skates then become greater breeding grounds for infections? You'd like to think these matters would have been worked out in testing, but one doesn't get a comfortable feeling that "testing" addressed such matters. If these questions get asked with any greater frequency, and if any of them are answered with any regularity in the affirmative, then the simmer might just become a full boil.

A new uniform design is not – in and of itself – a bad idea. Neither is the idea of new materials. But New Coke wasn’t a bad idea on its face, either. Reebok and the league have made a considerable investment in research and marketing in the new uniform system. In a perfect world, one would give the system a chance to work out its growing pains and get past the “change” issues that often accompany a new direction. But players have to endure this change while playing in regular season games with all the attendant factors they have to deal with on a game-to-game basis. Is having to deal with equipment that perhaps has more marketing than performance benefit something that should be added to the mix?

This isn’t over.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

...with a bullet

Being 4-5-9, +2 in his last four games will do that.

It's a TWO point night -- Caps vs. Leafs, October 29th

Ya like that?...huh?

The problem with a team like the Caps is that they are not far enough along to have games like this a couple times a week or so, but the 7-1 win over Toronto in Air Canada Centre last night gives a tantalizing glimpse of what this team could be in a couple of months. It was as dominating a performance the Caps have had in any game since the lockout, marked by a collection of “firsts:”

-- Jeff Schultz’ first goal of his NHL career
-- Boyd Gordon’s first goal of the year
-- Boyd Gordon’s first multi-point game of the year
-- Matt Pettinger’s first goal of the year
-- Matt Pettinger’s first multi-point game of the year
-- Matt Bradley’s first goal of the year
-- Matt Bradley’s first shorthanded goal of his career
-- Matt Bradley’s first three-point game of his career
-- Alex Ovechkin’s first two-goal game of the year
-- Brian Sutherby’s first goal of the year
-- Michael Nylander’s first three-point game of the year
-- Viktor Kozlov’s first multi-point game of the year
-- Donald Brashear’s first 10+ minute game of the year
-- First three-special teams goals-game of the year (2 PP, 1 SH)

…feel free to bring any others I might have missed to our attention.
You’d have to go a long way to find any negatives about this game (ok, Boyd Gordon and David Steckel both were on the low side of the faceoff wins statistic…if you want to be picky). But the Caps held the league’s number-two offense to one goal, which ties for Toronto’s low for the year, and they treated the Leafs’ defense like…well, number two.

The Caps got out to a lead on a nifty redirect from Boyd Gordon at 3:19 off a drive by Matt Bradley who, as if it needed saying, had his best game as a Cap. The Leafs got that goal right back 31 seconds later when Kolzig-killer Alexei Ponikarovsky netted the equalizer. That might have signaled trouble for the Caps, but they came back with a quickie of their own 96 seconds later when Pettinger got his first of the year.

From there, it was….well, let’s let the Toronto Sun tell it in a picture, rather than my thousand words…

And Tim Wharnsby wasn’t any more charitable in the Globe and Mail

“…all the goodwill fostered by the Leafs with their back-to-back road victories against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as Jaromir Jagr and the New York Rangers last week, was obliterated with another worthless performance at home.”
But this isn’t about the Leafs, it’s about a superb performance from the Caps. If you look up and down the scoresheet, there is a lot of ink…very few blank spaces. For example, there were only four skaters who did not register on the “plus” side of the ledger, and all of those players were even. Only three skaters did not have a shot on goal (oddly, all forwards – Brashear, Tomas Fleischmann, and Nicklas Backstrom – Backstrom was the only skater not to attempt a shot last night).

The nature of the game also permitted a lot more balance in ice time. Four Caps had more than 20 minutes on the ice, but none had more than 21 (although Ovechkin skated for exactly 5:00 in the third period). Another four had more than 19 minutes, and Nylander had 18:58. Only Sutherby and Fleischmann had less than 10 minutes.

The Caps had two more power play goals in five chances, and that makes them 5-for-17 in their last three games (29.4 percent). The Caps also have killed off their last 13 shorthanded situations.

It should not be lost in this that Olaf Kolzig turned away 32 of 33 shots, including 10-bell stops on a left-alone Mats Sundin and later a sprawling glove save on Bates Battaglia.

It was a fine night all around…now, about putting a few of these together…

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's not hockey but... just seemed too good to pass up. Below is a pic from the Clark Construction camera at the National's ball park building site. It won't be long...

Larry Brooks has lost his mind

Kudos to Caps Nut for finding this fine way to get a laugh on a Monday morning from our old pal, Larry Brooks...

No, the Penguins are not actively seeking a goaltender to supplant Marc-Andre Fleury, but if the kid doesn't close some of the holes in his game, expect GM Ray Shero to take a serious run at renting veteran Olaf Kolzig if the Caps are sellers at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

That is a mental image of such monstrously insane proportions that a Caps fan worthy of being called the name can't conjure it.

Nonetheless...for your scary Hallowe'en moment...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Leafs, October 29th

The Caps find themselves in Toronto for the middle tilt in their three game road swing (how’s that for sportswriter lingo?), and they are hoping that this contest leaves a better taste in their collective mouths than Saturday’s 4-3 loss in St. Louis. That loss seems to have brought out the pessimists in force...Hanlon needs to be fired...Pothier, Schultz, Flesichmann, Eminger, Sutherby, Bradley, Erskine…shoot, everyone not named “Ovechkin” needs to be traded...McPhee needs to find a right winger or a defenseman, then get fired...Leonsis needs to sell the team...the Caps are (pick as many as apply) hopeless, inept, painful to watch, a waste of flesh.

And it isn’t even Hallowe’en yet! These people will eat Santa Claus whole if this is doesn’t improve by December 24th.

So, as a public service, The Peerless brings you the other side of the street…the sunny side, if you will. We’ve assembled a group of famous optimists to try to get the Caps and Caps fans in the proper frame of mind, that this season is hardly lost ten games in...

Let’s start with Winston Churchill...Winnie...

“I beg your pardon...”

Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister, you said once, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” How do you think this applies to the Caps?

“Young man, it speaks for itself. Your Capitals, and I cannot claim to be much of a hockey fan, are finding things a tough go...but it is an opportunity for these young men to step up, especially those who haven’t played a starring role. Why, I remember when the bombs were falling in London, and I..."

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister...we also have with us Dr. Albert Schweitzer...Dr. Schweitzer, you once said that “an optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind." I take that to mean, “don’t get too high from the highs, don’t get too low from the lows.”


OK...that seems like a...Yes, Mr. Prime Minister?...

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”

Well, that’s a good point...but let’s hear from the philosopher and mathematician Rene Decartes... Rene, you asked, “an optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?” You must have had Caps fans in mind with that one...

“What, are you stupeed? I died more zen 300 years before you had a hockey team...”

I see, well, we have Stuart Smalley here, and he has some advice on trying to do to much to change things...

“That’s right Peerless, it's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world."

You mean, just play ‘em one at a time...

“That’s right, you can’t say the season’s’s like I said, ˜Whining is anger through a small opening.”

And what opening would that be?

“Well...let’s just say, I’d rather not say...”

Well folks, we’ve got a hockey game to play, and this opponent is having quite the “nu-NHL” season. You might remember the fine sports flick, “Bull Durham,” where in it, manager Joe Reardon and coach Larry Hockett have this exchange about phenom Ebby Calvin LaLoosh...

Joe: "He walked 18.”
Larry: “New league record!”
Joe: “Struck out 18.”
Larry: Another new league record! In addition he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice...
[Joe laughs]
Larry: “Also new league records! But, Joe, this guy's got some serious sh*t.”

Well, think of that when you ponder the Toronto Maple Leafs…3.83 goals scored per game (second in the league)…3.67 goals allowed (second worst in the league). But they’ve got some “serious sh*t,” as Larry might say. 18 Leafs have scored goals…from “A” to “Z”…well “W,” anyway – Nik Antropov to Andy Wozniewski. You might compare that to the Caps, where 11 players have scored goals, and at least one – Chris Clark – is unlikely to play tonight.

For the Leafs, Mats Sundin is partying like it’s 1993 – the year he had 114 points for the Quebec Nordiques. He’s 6-12-18, +10 in 12 games so far and staking an early claim to some post-season hardware. He’s hardly alone in having his fun as Antropov leads the club in goals (eight) and is second in points (15), while Jason Blake is 2-10-12, +5 in the midst of finding time to manage chronic myelogenous leukemia. Combined, these three are 16-39-55, +27. That’s a pretty good year for a lot of guys (in fact, as a group, they are 34-53-87, +17 in 92 man-games against the Caps). Meanwhile, you’d go through ten players on the Caps before you found a combination of 55 points.

On the other side of the coin, the Leafs’ defense sucks. No, really…it sucks. They give up a ton of shots (34.3 per game – most in the league and five more a game than the Caps yield), and there is that 3.67 goals against per game. They’re also lousy on draws (25th at 47.3 percent) and not especially good on the penalty kill (18th at 80.0 percent…their home penalty kill is worse – 78.4 percent).

Take your pick of goalies; neither one has shined much. Vesa Toskala, thought to be the savior that would finally lead the Leafs back to the promised land of the playoffs (The Peerless would have said, “Stanley Cup,” but why indulge that deluded birthright Toronto fans seem to believe in), is a respectable 4-3-1, but his GAA of 3.34 and save percentage of .900 isn’t going to garner him any all-star or Vezina votes. Andrew Raycroft, who did a fair imitation of Jim Carey after winning the Calder Trophy in Boston in 2004, escaped to Toronto to put up some decent numbers last year (37-25-9, 2.99, .894) but is only 1-1-2, 3.64, .894 so far this year. Raycroft has had some success against the Caps: 4-3-1, 2.14, .917. Toskala has no career decisions against the Caps.

The Caps have lost three one-goal games in their last four contests, although in two of them the final margin was achieved by virtue of goals scored late with the goaltender pulled. This is a game that, on paper, the Caps have no business winning. Their offense (2.40 goals/game, 21st in the league) doesn’t scare the rather porous Leafs defense, and the Leafs’ offense has scored at least four goals in their last four games.

So, if you’re looking for an odd number to hang your “here’s why the Caps will win” hat, it might be this…Toronto has taken a lead at the first intermission four times this year, and they’ve won only once. Compare that to the rest of the league, where half the clubs’ winning percentage leading after one period is .750 or better. If the Caps find themselves behind early, fear not. The Leafs are at least as likely as not to give it back.

And we’ll close with something for all you “woe is us” Caps fans. In 2005-2006, coming out of the lockout, the Caps also were 4-6-0. But the difference is that in that year, the Caps had already lost four games by at least four goals. This year – one. In 2006-2007, the Caps actually started better: 3-3-4. But they started only 2-1-2 in their division; this morning, they haven’t yet lost to a division opponent.

The difference between this team and the two editions that preceded it are that those teams were not good. That is different from a team that is not playing well. Anaheim, to use an extreme example, is a very good team not playing very well (4-7-2 this morning). The Caps aren’t Anaheim, but they’re not a bag o’ pucks, either. And that’s why The Peerless has the utmost confidence (since he’s not betting any actual money) that the Caps will emerge with a “W” tonight…

Caps 5 – Leafs 3.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A NO point night -- Caps vs. Blues, October 27th

Those wheels are still spinning…

Last night, the good guys got behind the eight-ball early – 45 seconds in, yielding a goal to Brad Boyes on a semi-break that was the product of an ill-advised cross-ice pass by Brian Pothier intercepted just on the Blues’ side of the red line. Having to start trying to push that stuck jalopy right off the drop of the puck isn’t a recipe for success, especially when you lost the previous night and had to fly to St. Louis to play a game the next day…it requires a team to burn a lot of energy.

And the Caps didn’t help themselves with allowing themselves to fall two goals down on an Eric Brewer drive over Brent Johnson’s left shoulder not quite half-way into the period.

From there, the Caps had to use all that energy just to crawl even, and to their credit, they did on a couple of tallies by Mike Green, both of which were of the “wish-I-had-that-one-back” variety from the perspective of Blues’ goalie, Manny Legace.

Trouble with having to come back like that, though, is often times a club can get that far but no further. And that’s what happened to the Caps in particularly gut-wrenching form as the Blues took back the lead with 1:19 left in the second on Boyes’ second goal – a puck-through-the-wickets type through the screening Milan Jurcina and over Johnson’s glove. If the Caps had gone into that second intermission tied, it might have been a “we-feel-pretty-good-about-ourselves” lift (hey, Peerless…what’s with the hyphens? get a deal on them from Costco, or something?) heading into the third period.

But St. Louis had that one goal lead, and it might as well have been a dozen. The Caps looked very flat coming out in the third, and David Backes restored the Blues’ two-goal lead barely a minute into the final frame.

For the second night in a row, the Caps found a bit of magic with the goalie pulled, as Michael Nylander redirected an Alex Ovechkin drive past Legace’s blocker with 1:12 left. But the Caps couldn’t couldn’t find that magic again, in fact couldn’t even register another shot on goal as they badly mangled their exits from their own zone and were guilty of lackadaisical clock management in moving the puck along.

It was another frustrating night for the good guys and their fans – the Caps’ third one goal game (all losses) in their last four. Some thoughts on the game…

-- The Caps scored a power play goal. One-for-seven actually improved their season conversion percentage (from 13.95 percent to 14.0). And, they gave up no power play goals in seven shorthanded situations. Regarding the power play, that’s 3-for-12 (25.0) percent in the last two games. It’s not a trend, but it is somewhat encouraging.

-- Those seven power plays allowed...most were the result of pretty goofy plays on the Caps’ part (Brian Pothier’s “roughing” call was of the “lame” variety of call by referee Don VanMassenhoeven, who The Peerless would just as soon never see officiate another Caps game as long as he wears a referee jersey)…and playing 6:27 of the first period down a man isn’t exactly conducive to good starts, either.

-- Brent Johnson is going to get a lot of grief in the usual places today, but after thinking about it, the shots on which St. Louis scored were tough on a goalie. The first Boyes goal was scored on a break when Boyes roofed the puck over Johnson’s shoulder…the Brewer goal was scored when he stepped around Tomas Fleischmann and then placed the puck in the only place he could have put it to score – just under the crossbar and inside the near post…the second Boyes goal was scored by using Jurcina as a screen and rifling it far side tight over Johnson’s left shoulder – the most difficult area for a goalie to make a save. Even Backes’ goal was a redirect in front of Johnnon. And it should not be lost on Caps’ fans that Johnson had to come up big on a two-on-none with Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk to keep the Caps in the game. Was it Johnson’s best night as a Cap? But he wasn’t the problem…too many neutral zone turnovers that let the Blues’ turn the play around with speed was.

-- If you look at the individual statistics, there is one set of numbers that almost flies off the page:


Those are the ice times for the Caps who had more than 20 minutes. The thing is, only one (Jeff Schultz’ 20:35) represented the defensemen. Ovechkin’s 25:41 led all Caps.

-- Ovechkin also had nine shots (ok, three actually made it to Legace), six hits, two takeaways, and a blocked shot. A full and round evening. He is now tied for 12th in scoring (with you know who), is sixth among all forwards in hits, and is in the top 25 in blocked shots (tied with the likes of John Madden) and takeaways among forwards. Can we now and forever dispel this nonsense that Ovechkin is little more than a goal-scoring savant?

-- Nicklas Backstrom acquitted himself pretty well in his debut as center on the first line, but he did have his ice time managed very closely. He had nine shifts in the first period…and nine for the remainder of the contest.

-- Boyd Gordon and David Steckel are a combined 152-103 on draws through ten games (59.6 percent). If they were one player, they’d be ranked 10th in the league. As it is, the Caps as a team are ranked third in the league.

Except for a blowouts against the Sabres and Islanders, the Caps have lost four other games by a total of five goals. They are 1-3 in one-goal games. That’s the difference between being 4-6 and being 6-4 and feeling a lot better about things. But, those losses are losses, and one hopes that April doesn’t roll around, and we’re all wondering, “if only…” Tomorrow is Toronto and an opportunity to climb a little closer to .500. That’s the objective at this point…get even. They do that, and things might just start to take care of themselves…they’re that close.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

Sometimes, numbers just don’t tell the story...imagine a team having this statistical edge:

Shots: 33-23
Shots attempted: 63-47
Hits: 25-19
Takeaways: 9-7
Giveaways: 2-4 (having fewer of them)
Power play chances: 3-2
Faceoffs won: 24-19

You’d think that team won, wouldn’t you....nope. Rangers – the ones with the edge – lost handily at home to Toronto on Saturday, 4-1.

Carey Price still has the biggest dumpload of a backside in professional hockey. J-S Giguere wears Michelin Man chest protectors...Price wears clown pants. But I’d sure like to have him on my team. has in introduced a “real time” window for each game that gives you score, time, and SOG in cute colored graphics...but they’ve mangled the shift chart (they don’t have one anymore), the game summary, and what used to be the “super stats”....the triumph of format over content...welcome to the Internet 2007.

When the season began, the Devils and the Rangers having the same record wouldn’t have been considered unusual...that they are both 3-6-1 is.

And Buffalo’s limping along at 5-5-0, too...whodathunk that it’d be the Islanders leading the New York (plus Jersey) challenge tournament at 5-4-0?

And in that same vein, of last year’s eight playoff teams in the east, only four are playing above .500 (Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, NY Islanders).

Last year, 26 goalies playing at least 41 games had a save percentage of .900 or better. So far this year, 18 goalies playing at least five games are .900 or better. Just sayin’...

Speaking of which...Manny Fernandez’ save percentage is .832 up in Boston. Guess the Wild kept the right goalie (even though he injured his groin – in practice, no less – and will miss at least Sunday’s game).

Philadelphia was the odds-on favorite to be this year’s most improved team (well, for this prognosticator, anyway). But did anyone have Columbus being 6-3-1 at the 10-game mark? Of course,
having a goalie with four shutouts ain’t hurtin’, either.

Got the beer, got the snacks, got hockey...

-- Well..that was quick...Boyes at 45 seconds...turnover at the Blues line, Pothier and Schultz left behind...1-0 Blues...

-- Caps opening with the five forward power play unit again...Ovechkin and Semin at the points...all for naught...St. Louis not shy about throwing the body around. Brashear to the box...

-- Another turnover...another break...another shot over Johnson's glove...2-0, courtesy of Eric Brewer.

-- And Manny Legace returns the favor...Mike Green sent a floater over over Legace's blocker (his own defenseman got in his view)...2-1...this could be one of those dozen goal games.

-- We're ten minutes in...17 hits credited already...10 for the Caps.

-- Kozlov with some nice stick work and a wrister that Legace gloves...that's the difference -- Legace made that save, Johnson didn't on Boyes' second goal.

-- Pettinger off the side of the post...the Caps finally have a buzz in front of the net...the third line crashing the net.

-- This is not Shaone Morrisonn's best he gets whistled for collaring Jackman up high...then Erskine gets the gate for cross-checking Tkachuk...those two are having some fun tonight.

-- There's the horn for the first...odd period...Caps played pretty well for long stretches, interspersed with some truly boneheaded plays.

-- CSN reports that the Semin deal is two years for $9.2 million.

-- Carolina is laying the lumber to the Islanders...8-2 with ten minutes left...Brind'Amour has a hat trick, Whitney has a pair.

-- Greenie again, off the glove of Legace...Brashear doing the screening...2-2..and another power play...and another penalty to the Blues...5-on-3 for 1:21

-- Really bad entries on the power play...a recurring problem...and the power play ends without cheer.

-- Two on one, turned into a two on none...and Johnson comes up big...then a 3-on-2...Johnson again.

-- Pothier in the box...for roughing?? Lame call by VanMassenhoeven.

-- Another penalty...too many men...playing with fire, boys...this is the sixth PP for St. Louis.

-- Habs and Pens went to eight rounds in the shootout...only one goal; Markov the winner for the Habs. Fleury got yanked again in this one.

-- Caps had 15 hits in the first so far in the second.

-- Boyes again...using Jurcina as a screen to send the puck...over Johnson's glove...3-2, Blues

-- Just when the guys were singing the praises of Nicklas Backstrom, he misses on an intercept of a pass, and Backman sends it to the back of the net...4-2, Blues, barely a minute into the third....and the Caps looked pretty washed out...the travel might finally be kicking in.

-- Caps to the PP...Brashear draws the penalty...they need this one, right here, or the competitive portion of the game is probably over.

-- So much for the power play...and now the Blues get to go a man up...

-- Ten minutes left, and it already feels like mop-up time.

-- Caps PP...nice save by Legace on Pettinger, then Ovechkin has to sprint back to make sure the Blues don't get a shorthanded break....and now, another 5-on-3 for the Caps...time out, Caps...talking about what clubs to hit after the game?

-- five blocked shots by the Blues defending a 5-on-3...that's just nuts...and the power play ends with no harm to the Blues...

-- and once more, the Caps get a goal with the goalie pulled...Nylander deflecting an Ovechkin drive...4-3.

-- then the Caps couldn't get the puck out of their own end (Dan Hinote with some fine forechecking), and couldn't complete a pass when they more shots, no more goals, no points tonight...Blues 4 - Caps 3.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Blues, October 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight the Caps get the St. Louis Blues in The Gateway City, the back end of a back-to-back, home-and-road set. Speaking of “blue,” we caught up with a “Capital” out of the past in getting ready for this game. It is one of the sadder stories in hockey, the tale of a celebrity kicked to the side of the road when his looks faded and the next hot new thing emerged on the scene. Well, let’s let him tell it…

We’re here with someone a lot of older Capitals fans will recognize – one of the biggest celebrities in the history of the franchise, someone who, back in the 1980’s, was known to kids and grown-ups alike. Yes, we have with us, “Winger.” Winger, how have you been?

“How does it look like I’ve been…I’m molting, my looks are gone, I drink too much, and no one knows my face anymore.”

Well, that’s one of those bad runs of luck one has to endure from time to time.

“Yeah, look at you, fancy-schmancy blogger…”

Winger, have you been following the Caps at all?

“I’ll always have a warm place in my heart for the boys. They always treated me right, and I do love the game so.

What do you think of this year’s crop?

“Hard to tell…they haven’t really hit their stride yet. It’s like a car that just can’t quite turn over when you turn the key. But when it does….vr-r-r-r-room!

What’s impressed you most, so far?

“Well, that Ovechkin kid, of course. He’s inching up that scoring ranking – 21st this morning, I think – but there’s more to his game this year…plus-two, I see…and geez, the boy can hit…tied for seventh among forwards in hits and even up among the leaders in blocked shots. Yeah, he’s really become a hockey player.”

You keep pretty close tabs on these guys.

“Yeah, well…what else does a washed-up mascot have to do these days?”

What about the new guys?...Nylander, Poti, Kozlov?

“Fans need to realize, these guys have been brought in here mostly for offense and especially the power play. It’ll take time for that to gel. Those three you mentioned have five of the 21 goals the Caps have scored, and you’d expect them to have a bigger share as the season goes along.”

About that power play…it’s struggled so far. What’s the problem, as you see it?

“Consistency – all the way from the ice to the bench. We’re – look at that, I’m still saying ‘we’ after all these years away – we’re only nine games in, and the Caps only have three players who have had a power play goal. And Ovechkin has half of those. Six-for-43 isn’t going to cut it. But maybe the Caps need to resist the temptation to change things all around. I saw that five-forward thing last night – it actually had a goal. But I read this morning that Coach Hanlon isn’t going to go with it in St. Louis. I do wonder though….what are two guys with world-class wrist shots doing at the point on the power play heaving slap-shot bombs?

Well, Chris Clark won’t play…he took that puck off the side of his head last night.

“Yeah, maybe he needs to skate with a Ridell on his melon when the Caps play in Toronto on Monday…look like Chris Cooley.”

Don’t know if they allow that sort of thing…what about the other side of the special teams – penalty killing.

“Geez, I remember that Kelly Miller kid…smart kid…not flashy, but got the job done. I see a lot of that in Boyd Gordon.”

Yeah, we’ve been singing his praises pretty loud so far, too.

“The Caps have given up 25 goals this year…know how many Gordon has been on the ice for?”

No, I don’t…



“That’s right…not a single one. And he’s won more than 63 percent of his draws…only three players in the league with more than 75 draws taken are ahead of him”

Bet Yanic Perreault is one of them.

“Gee…small wonder they call you ‘Peerless’…bet you’ll prognosticate that the sun rises in the east tomorrow, too.”

It’s a gift…what about the goalies? Think Brent Johnson will get the start?

“I’d expect so…back end of a back-to-back…on the road…in a city where he played.”

We’re just about out of time, Winger…I hope this isn’t a sensitive subject, but what’s your take on Slapshot?

“Please…don’t get me started. Look at some of my old pics. I look like a cross between Liberace and a Vegas show girl – the feathers and feather-boa look. And my nose looks like you could open a can of tuna with it. You know Slapshot had some nose work done, don’t you?...”

No, I hadn’t heard that…

“And those shoulders…silicone implants…”

Well, that’s all the time we have for our visit with for the Caps, they play a thoroughly beatable team tonight, which right now is a guarantee of exactly….nothing, except a Peerless prognostication….

Caps 4 – Blues 3.

"...I hear that prima donna has a personal manicurist, too!"

It's a NO point night -- Caps vs. Canucks, October 26th

A no point night...and today’s frustrating analogy comes from the section “T” of the dictionary…

traction (trak’-shun): noun -- the adhesive friction of a body on some surface, as a wheel on a rail or a tire on a road.

In last night’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the lack of traction – in the game and for the season – was on display. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, that it was Roberto Luongo in net for the Canucks – a goaltender the Caps haven’t beaten since the Hoover administration. They had their chances – lots of them. It was a virtual replay of the game against Tampa Bay on Wednesday in this respect…in the game against the Lightning, the Caps “outattempted” the Lightning in shots, 57-45 (shots-plus-attempts blocked-plus-missed shots). Last night, the total favored the Caps, 57-46.

And it wasn’t as if the Caps’ chances were of the poor variety, but there was a subtle difference in the nature of the attempts. The top scorers on the top two lines – the players you’d expect having the most chances taken (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, Viktor Kozlov) – had 33 attempts on Wednesday. Last night?...24. A substantial number of those 24 attempts were of the quality variety – Luongo having to sprawl across the mouth of the cage to foil a one-timer from Ovechkin and then, with the game in the balance in the waning moments, turning away Semin from in close being perhaps the most visible examples of fine chances.

It comes down to traction…the Caps just couldn’t really find any last night, just as they haven’t (yet) this season, save for those first three games. They are a shot, a save, or a hair’s breadth away from having a big night or a decent streak. Last night was typical of that – no Caps played especially poorly, but there were some bad plays that the opposition took advantage of (much as Tampa did on Wednesday, without the same unfortunate game result). Mike Green played the puck a bit lazily along the boards, and when he and Taylor Pyatt had finished their “monkey-humping-football” routine, nudging the puck down the ice into the Capitals’ end, Olaf Kolzig remembered that he was last night’s goalie too late to stop the puck from slithering under him for the Canuck’s second goal. There weren’t a lot of those instances last night, but enough so that the Caps never established much of a rhythm until very late and very desperate. In other words, they never got much traction.

It was unfortunate, because the Caps put on an incredibly dominating performance in one underrated aspect of the game – faceoffs. We pointed out coming in that Vancouver was faceoff-circle challenged coming in, and they lived down to that. The Canucks lost 44 of 68 draws (35.3 percent winning percentage). Boyd Gordon and David Steckel won a combined 25 of 35 draws (71.4 percent). But even that is deceptive and indicative of a lack of traction. The Caps were only 14-13 in defensive zone draws (51.9 percent). The Canucks were somewhat better at pinning the Caps in their own end at the start of plays.

The Caps were equally dominating in physical play, outhitting the Canucks, 32-12, as befitting the biggest team in the league. Milan Jurcina led the hit parade with five, but Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear chipped in four, themselves.

Among the notable numbers at the individual level, Brian Pothier played like he was at an arcade game (or was wearing a number “8” jersey)…eight shots on goal, another four attempts blocked. Add in two hits and a couple of blocked shots on his own in more than 27 minutes of ice time, and it was a pretty good game from the blueliner.

Ovechkin had his second straight multiple point game (1-1-2), and complemented his game with a couple of hits and three blocked shots. The demonstration of Ovechkin’s more well-rounded game continues, and not at the expense of consistency.

The Peerless does have to doff his prognosticator’s cap to Alexander Semin in one regard. The kid didn’t back down when getting tangled up with Willie Mitchell during one lengthy sequence last night. Mitchell is a pretty tough fellow – not in the brawler sense, but he throws his weight around effectively. Semin and he tangled, and when Mitchell decided the time was ripe to throw that weight around, Semin gave it right back…then went after him again…and again. The two tussled from one side of the ice to the other, but while Mitchell wasn’t any the worse for wear in the exchange, kudos to Semin for taking care of his own business.

The Peerless gets the feeling the Caps are this close to breaking out – in a game and over a stretch of games. But it’s getting to where they need to demonstrate that pretty quickly. Carolina has opened a seven-point lead (although in two more games played than the Caps). While the Caps’ season has 73 more games to play, one does not want to lose contact with the teams at the top of the division, even this early. Right now, the Caps need a push from someone to get some traction...who is it going to come from?

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- October 26th, Caps vs. Canucks

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a Friday here in ol’ D.C., and that means…Canucks. Yes, friends…Canucks. And you know what that means…Cap-killer, Roberto Luongo, shown here modeling the latest in Reebok goalie gear:

Luongo leads the Canucks into Verizon Center tonight in what is, for him at least, a familiar position from his days with the Florida Panthers. The Canucks are 4-6-0 and losers of two of their last three outings. And it’s not as if the Canuck netminder has been especially Luongish, either.

For the season, he is 3-6-0, 3.01, .900. But he is 14-9-3, 2.14, .933 in 28 career games against the Caps. Solving him, even in his current (for him) slump, won’t be an easy trick.

As for the rest of the team, there really isn’t much mystery about them when looking at their team statistics. For the Caps, the message is, “avoid taking penalties.” That’s not easy, as the Canucks are tied for fourth in the league in total power play opportunities (53), and they take advantage -- Vancouver ranks ninth in the league in power play conversions at 20.8 percent.

And here is perhaps an obscure statistic that the Caps might be able to exploit tonight…the Canucks are dead last in the league in taking faceoffs – 43.4 percent. No Canuck who has taken at least 50 draws has a winning percentage higher than 48 percent.

As for the Caps, The Peerless is pleased to be joined once more by Dr. Vynot Schootdepuck, Director of Advanced Applications at the Bettman Institute of Technology and Competitive Hockey. Fans of this space might remember we met Dr. V last year, when he was sharing some top-end hockey technology with us. Dr. V, welcome back…how are things going at BITCH these days?

“Zere r-r-r-really bitchin’ at BITCH….heh-heh…heh-heh-heh…”

Must be techie humor…OK, Dr. V, today’s subject is “power play,” and more to the point, what the Caps could do to improve theirs. Are you and your fellow wizards at BITCH working on anything that can help?

“Vell…ve are vurking on zum new gadgets that might just do ze trick…"

Can you share them vith…I mean with…us?

“Zhure…you might haff read zat story yezterday about ze pr-r-r-roblems mit de uniforms and dat Reebok vuz going to install a fr-r-r-ont panel to ze jersey…vell, lookee here…”

Is that what I think it is?

“Ya!...Zolar pennels.”


“No, dumbkopf!...pennels…pennels…P-A-N-E-L-S…vut do dogs haff to do mit hockey?!”

Ah, I see…so you…

“Inzert zem right here in ze jersey like ziss….”

And when the lights come on…

“Egggg-sackly…instant power.”

Genius! What else do you have for us, Dr. V?

“Vell…vut iz ziss?”

Looks like a puck.

“Ya, you’d tink zo, voodn’t you? But now, vatch venn I zhoot it…


Where did it go?

“kent zee it, ken you?”

Nope, it’s as if…

“It vennished into tin air?”

Yeah…into thin air.

“It’s ze ‘invisipuck.’ Ve took dat schtoopit puck mit de red tr-r-r-r-ail dat Fox used and applied zum light-bending technology, and Prezto!...’invispuck’...goalies vill never zee it”

Isn’t that against the rules?

“Roolz-schmoolz…dis is zyence!”

OK, so…might we see this puck making an appearance at Verizon Center tonight?

“uh, no…”

Why not?

“Vell…it costs two billion dollars.”


“Vhat! zink technology is geep?!”

OK…so what about the goalies…anything for them?

“Ah…look at ziss…zumtink for ze goalie who hess pr-r-r-roblems ztoppink ze puck…let me put ziss on…OK, zhoot ze puck.”

You sure?...I’ve got a mean wrister…

“ya-ya…you’re Gr-r-r-reztky, I know….go a-hedd.”


My goodness…is that an…air bag?

“Like it? zoon as ze puck hits it, ze air bag deploys…and zenn inztantly deflates beck to normal…ze referees never zee it!”

Uh, Doc?


The problem isn’t pucks hitting the goalies, it’s the pucks that the goalies don’t stop.

“uh…ya. Zat alvays zeems to be ze sticking point.”

Well, Doc…as always, it’s been a pleasure. We hope you’ll join us again soon.

“oh, ya…I tink I’m busy dat day.”

As for the Caps, they’ve climbed all the way to 23rd in the league in goals scored, but that’s not the number – or rather numbers -- we’re going to pay attention to…the ones that struck our eye were, “1.17” and “0.78.” Those are the respective 5-on-5 scoring ratios for the Caps (9th) and Canucks (23rd) so far this year. In English, the Caps have been a strong 5-on-5 team, the Canucks have not. It goes with that “avoid taking penalties” message…if the Caps can stay out of the box (and taking only three minor penalties against Tampa in the last outing was an encouraging sign), they could do very well this evening. But you already knew that...

So with that, and Luongo’s penchant for giving up three goals in a game this year (he’s done it four times in nine games so far)…

Caps 3 – Canucks 2.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Feel Nine Percent More Drag Already...


That must be what they're saying at Reebok, if this nugget from the Boston Herald is true...

"According to sources in the B’s dressing room, Reebok has been unable to correct problems with the new jerseys introduced this season across the NHL and will replace them at the company’s expense with new uniforms made of the old materials. Players have complained since training camp that the new jerseys, which are supposed to be lighter and allow sweat to evaporate out through the shirts, have instead trapped water inside and gotten heavier. . ."

Thanks to KingClancyKolzig on The Official for pointing the way..

EDIT --, this'll be hard to keep up with, I can see. Based on a comment posted at Japers' Rink, quoting, the report is incorrect...from the reference...

Update, 12:55pm: Just spoke with an NHL spokesperson, who told me that the Boston Herald report is incorrect. As it was explained to me, Reebok has informed each team that players who have “moisture issues” with the new jerseys (i.e., lots of water ending up in their gloves and/or skates) will be given the option to have the option to wear a jersey with a new front panel made of a different high-tech material. The spokesperson maintained that there was no league-wide move to scrap the new jerseys, nor was there any move back to “old materials.”

When I asked if the league had any sense of how many players were requesting this option, I was told to direct that question to Reebok. I’m still waiting to hear back from them. this what they'll look ike with the new "front panel?...

Don't Look Now, But...

Look who is among the ranked defensemen in plus-minus...

...and no one's done it in fewer games, either.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's a TWO point night -- Caps vs. Lightning, October 24th

I love it when a good prognostication comes together…

Hey, it wasn’t an aesthetic masterpiece, but two points is two points. It was a night replete with what might be turning points, and efforts good and bad in a 5-3 Caps win…to wit:

-- David Steckel netted his first NHL goal in this, his 20th NHL game. It’s not as if he is unfamiliar with the back of the net; he had (note the use of the past tense…not “has”) 54 goals in 208 AHL games. It came off a nice feed from Alex Ovechkin that, had it been made by a player who wears ’87,’ would have been deemed among the five greatest passes since the invention of the rubber puck. As it was, it was nice. Steckel played well outside of his goal (on his only shot) – three hits, a split of 14 draws, and +2 in 14:36 of ice time. If he can play at that level on a semi-consistent basis, then it provides an option for…

-- Chris Clark…who seems to have no problem with the muscle memory involved in playing on the right side of Alexander Ovechkin. Clark had two goals and could have had at least two more as pucks skittered just wide of the post. The first goal was an example of Ovechkin creating space by carrying the puck and forcing the defense to collapse on him. As they did, Ovechkin left the puck in the vacated space in the middle of the offensive zone, where Clark picked it up and, having time to move the puck all the way across from his backhand to his forehand, snapped it over Marc Denis’ glove. The second goal was much more a grinder’s goal…Michael Nylander curled off in the left wing corner and sent a nifty back hand pass to Brian Pothier at the right point (who should be given some credit for working himself into a passing lane for Nylander). Pothier’s shot was stopped by Denis, but not cleanly – the puck ricocheted off Clark and into the net. It was a very nice night for the captain, which is more than can be said for the night had by…

-- Vincent Lecavalier…geez, it was brutal. His line was 0-0-0, -2, but on top of that he lost 11 of 17 draws and in a fit of frustration that must have made Lightning coach John Tortorella ecstatic, took a slashing, an instigator, a fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct because Shaone Morrisonn finished a check. Small consolation, but Vinnie probably won the fight. Trouble was, the Lightning were down two goals at the time, and when Martin St. Louis scored a few minutes later to make it 4-3, having Lecavalier in the locker room wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Caps in the late stages of the third period. But if you’re looking for odd stats…well, not really…look no further than…

-- Alex Ovechkin…yeah, he had a 1-2-3 night, but the number to notice is this one – “18.” That was the total of his shots on goal (6), the shots he took that were blocked (10!), and the shots he missed (2). It made up for a pretty grim night for…

-- Alexander Semin…sure, he was back after missing six games, but he played as if he was encased in rust, not merely a dusting he could shake off. He looked for all the world as if he was trying to handle the puck with a two-by-four, instead of a hockey stick, for all the success he was having in propelling it forward with any purpose. His numbers (0,0,0, -1, 5 SOG) don’t really tell the story of how difficult a time he had – his giveaway in the offensive zone on the power play led to a rush the other way for Tampa and a shorthanded goal. And speaking of that…

-- The power play still sucks…oh-for-four and a shortie allowed. And what’s worse, they look as if they don’t have a clue out there. They throw the puck around for what looks like the sheer joy of throwing the puck around. There is precious little purpose evident in what they are doing…and they’ve been practicing this stuff? What, blindfolded? But while that side of the special teams struggled, there was at least…

-- The penalty kill…three short-handed situations, three kills. And the key there is “three.” Except for two penalties taken 2:14 apart, resulting in more or less a four minute power play for the Lightning, the Caps played a very disciplined defensive game against an opponent with the tools to make opponents pay for lack of discipline. But, what Tampa is, if nothing else, is…

-- Opportunistic…the Caps made two bad errors – the Semin giveaway on a power play and Jason Ward sneaking behind Chris Clark on the weak side of a three-man play, then taking a pass from Brad Richards with no one to beat but Olaf Kolzig...he did. But the Caps had a pretty good defensive night, none better than…

-- yup, Boyd Gordon again…winner of 12 of 17 draws (better than 50 percent in all three zones), +1, and with no small role in the night of horrors that befell Lecavalier. He won’t win the Selke this year, but he sure looks like he’s got one in his future somewhere. But while some guys are in the middle of things, some are adjacent to them. Such was the case for…

-- Brian Pothier…don’t get us wrong, he didn’t have a bad game. But +4? Sure he had two assists – one of them being on the puck that bounced off Clark, the other a helper on Ovechkin’s empty netter. But he was given a run for his money by…

-- Jeff Schultz…+3? It was a pretty quiet +3, but he finally played a game that looked like some of the ones he had last year – simple and efficient. He even wound up and attempted a slap shot (it was blocked), and that is more than can be said for…

-- Tom Poti….who is supposed to take shots. He did take two…both were blocked. But attempts blocked count in this respect…

-- The Caps out-attempted Tampa Bay 57-45. That’s not bad against a team with the firepower of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards, and Prospal. And speaking of St. Louis and Richards…

-- 23:51 and 27:06, respectively…that’s not unusual ice time for defensemen, but for forwards? Tampa has to play Philly on Thursday…have a good soak, boys…you’ll need it. But on the other end of the ice time scale…

-- 2:12 isn’t terribly unusual for Donald Brashear (he had only two shifts all night), but 2:38 and three shifts for Tomas Fleischmann? No ice time in the last 33 minutes of the game? Didn’t take him long to go to the end of the bench, did it? And speaking of time…

-- After Washington scored at the 6:33 mark of the first period on their sixth shot, they had one more shot over the remaining 13:27 of the period. The Caps turned the tables in the third, allowing only two shots in the first 14:06 before St. Louis scored on the Lightning’s third shot of the period…Tampa Bay had only five shots on goal in that third period.

All-in-all, it was the kind of game that might signal a turning point. It wasn’t especially pretty, but the Caps scored more than three goals for the first time this year, and they ran their division record to 3-0-0. Good job, boys.

The $14 million experiment gone horribly wrong?

It's early, but our ol' pal, Larry Brooks raised a warning flag the other day on the chemistry between the immovable object (a certain right winger of familiarity to Caps fans) and the irresistable (in terms of Ranger check-writing) forces brought in to play with him...

"Manhattan, we've got a problem.

"Let's face it. Gomez has looked lost skating with Jagr the last two games, but what's even more troubling, Chris Drury also looked lost skating with Jagr the first five games of the season. Really, there hasn't been a single shift on which either center has appeared to be speaking the same hockey language as No. 68."

Brooks goes on to describe what Caps fans might recognize all too clearly...

As long as Jagr insists on playing the game his way - and obstinacy is a trait shared by every great player extant - then going with Gomez as his pivot is a dicey proposition. So too is reverting back to Drury. So what to do with the 2-4-1 Rangers who have scored two even-strength goals their last six games and pretty much will go as Jagr goes as long as he's here?

"As long as he's here?" Even to hint at such a thing as Jagr leaving is shocking from he who has been Jagr's biggest cheerleader, going back to when Jagr was on the trading block as a Penguin clearance item in 2001.

With more than $86 million invested in the two new centers -- $14 million of it this year -- and more than a little difficulty finding one of them to mesh with the "obstinate" right winger, might this be the last year Jagr plays on Broadway?...option or not?

The Peerless Prognsoticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, October 24th

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a hockey game
That started from this tropic port
To Washington they came.

The mate was a midget skating man,
The skipper loud and lame.
The skaters took the ice that night
For a three hour game, a three hour game.

The contest started getting rough,
The Lightning could not cope,
If not for the bad calls of the referees
The Bolts would have no hope…the Bolts would have no hope.

The Lightning took the ice that night to skate for just a while
With St. Louis...
The Skipper too,
The sieve in goal and I-can't-find-anything-to-rhyme-with "his wife,"
The big all-star...
The defensemen without their Dan,
Here on St. Louis’ Isle.

So this is the tale of Tampa Bay,
Just here for a short, short time,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill climb.

The midget and the Skipper too,
Will do their very best,
To make the Lightning comfortable,
In a Seventh Street skate-fest.

No goals, no saves, no two point night,
Not a single luxury,
Just like our friend Don Cherry,
As primative as can be.

So join us here tonight my friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
From twenty Lightning castways,
Here on "St. Louis’ Isle."

As for the Bolts, they're coming in with a two point lead on the Caps and a game in hand. Fortunately for Washington, Tampa Bay has not won either of their road games to date. And, while Tampa Bay has allowed only six goals in four home games, they've allowed ten in two road contests.

However, Tampa does have a formidable offense. Their 3.50 goals per game ranks fourth in the league, while their goals against -- 2.67 -- is a perhaps a surprising 13th, given the issues concerning their goaltending.

With respect to the goaltending, the Lightning have that comparatively low goals-against, but they've done it with a rather pedestrian save percentage -- .890. For the Caps, the mantra might be "more shots...more shots..."

If the Caps' power play is to emerge from its doldrums, it might be tonight. Tampa Bay sits 20th in the league at 79.2 percent in penalty killing. In two road games, they gave up no power play goals to Boston -- but that was because they faced no shorthanded situations -- and gave up three in eight chances to Florida.

Conversely, the Lighting power play has been somewhat frustrated so far. They're 11th overall at 20.7 percent, but they have converted only once in ten road opportunities.

This being a division game, and the Lightning hosting Philadelphia tomorrow, we're guessing Johan Holmqvist gets the start tonight in goal. It's not as if he has a great career record against the Caps -- 3-2, 3.79, .847 -- it's just that Marc Denis really hasn't fared any better (4-3-1, 3,71, .881). Since Holmqvist is the only Lightning goalie with a win this year (Denis has played in only a portion of one game), he seems likely to get the nod.

If you're looking for something tonight, look for Michael Nylander and Alexander Ovechkin on the power play. Nylander has 22 assists in 27 career games against the Lightning; Ovechkin hs nine goals in 16 career games against Tampa Bay. If those two are on the power play together, we might see some of that chemistry we're all so anxious to see.

This is one of those "four point" games -- a division game where the Caps can earn two points at the expense of a division rival who fails to cash in on those points. It will be an opportunity for special teams -- especially the power play -- to shake off the dust. That, and a couple of points from that third line, will be the difference...

Caps 5 -- Lightning 3

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Whither Bruce?

Former Caps coach and noted "fixer" Bruce Cassidy is in need of employment this morning. The Globe and Mail reports that Cassidy has been relieved of his duties coaching the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, who are 2-9-0-1 and in the midst of a six-game losing streak. He was 31-30-0-5 last year, in his first year with the Frontenacs.

From head coach of the Caps to an assistant with the Blackhawks to the OHL. Expect Cassidy to be appearing soon, officiating the Mites on Ice feature at Verizon Center -- he'll be the one in the Slapshot costume.

Thanks to Tank1 on the Official for picking up on this one.

Why Penguin Fans Come to DC...Revealed

Seriously, where would you prefer to watch a hockey game...

Verizon Center?...

Or Mellon Arena?...

Can you really blame them?

So, where's our Mr. Cap?

Once upon a time, there was a baseball player...played for a gawd-awful team that hadn't won spit since dinosaurs roamed the earth...but he was as happy as can be, just to get to the ball park and play. And he played well...well enough to finish his career with more than 2,500 hits, more than 1,500 RBI, more than 500 home runs, and a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And you know what he might be most famous for?...a quote...

"It's a beautiful day for a ball game, let's play

So, in honor of "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks....buck up Caps fans -- it's a beautiful day for a Caps game, let's play overtime!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hots 'n' Nots...October 22nd

With the weekend complete, it’s again time to take a look at who is hot and not. And we’ll take a look at who among the Caps’ opponents this week fits the category.

Pascal Leclaire. OK, he’s not an opponent this week, but his performance to date merits some mention. He had three shutouts in his first four games this year before being lit up (comparatively speaking) for three goals on 18 shots against Vancouver last night. He’s the leading point getter in the NHL three-stars-of-the-night contest, but The Peerless thinks that is a function of the TSOTN staff's unsettling devotion to Alfalfa, of “The Little Rasccals.” But Leclaire’s 1.61 GAA and .932 save percentage for a club not thought to have much of a chance for the playoffs this year pales compared to…

Tim Thomas. OK, so he’s not an opponent this week either, but he is 3-1-0 thus far with a 1.26 GAA and a .962 save percentage. If he needs a career after his playing days are over, perhaps he might consider being a stunt double for Drew Carey on “The Price is Right.”

Daymond Langkow…he finds himself tied for second in goals so far, but what sets the Flames’ center apart is that he’s done it on only 18 shots in eight games.

Vaclav Prospal is on the schedule this week, and he’s gotten off to a fast start…7-2-9, +3 in six games. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing with him…last year, in his first six games, he was 0-1-1, -3. The year before, 3-4-7, +3.

Sedin…doesn’t matter which one, pick one. Either one. They’re both hot, and their Vancouver Canucks visit the Caps on Friday. Dan-rik Sedin is a combined 5-12-17 so far. But here is the cloud surrounding the silver lining…they’re also a combined -6.

Markus Naslund…we bring him up, because like his fellow Canuckians, Nas is hot on the points side (3-4-7 in six games), but is a -5.

Manny Legace…he’s the goaltender for the moment in St. Louis, and he’s made the most of that opportunity. He’s 3-2-0, but he’s bringing a 2.01 GAA and .930 save percentage into the week. He and the Blues host Washington next Saturday.

On the other side of the ledger…

The early leader in the Bill Mikkelsen Trophy sweepstakes is Steve McCarthy of the Atlanta Thrashers. Goalless, assistless, and -10 in eight games is no way to go through life, son. Actually, any number of Thrashers might find themselves in the running…Jim Slater (0-0-0, -8)…Eric Perrin and Brad Larsen (both 0-1-1, -5)…it’s been a difficult start for the Thrashers.

The Capitals’ third line…Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, and Chris Clark have 18 man-games among them. They are 0-0-0, even. They’re not asked to score as much as they are to keep others from scoring (even isn’t a bad place to be for these guys), but they have to score some…

Trevor Linden…you all remember him, right? Part of the most talked about trade in the history of the Caps, or so it seems. Well, he enters the week 0-0-0, even in five games this year. And it’s not like he’s making much of a mark elsewhere on the score sheet…no PIMS, two shots on goal (not per game, that’s “total”), and only 11 minutes and change a game. He hasn’t hit his stride yet…

Brad Isbister…remember when this guy, back in about 2000, was thought to be maybe the next big thing as a power forward? He was 22-20-42 in 64 games for a bad Islanders team. Since then, it’s been a slow descent into obscurity. He’s 0-1-1, -1 for the Canucks with less ice time than Linden is getting.

Tampa Bay’s goaltending…ok, we knew this going in, the Lightning had goaltending issues. Well, they still do. Combined, Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis have a save percentage of .890 (neither are north of .900). Good thing the Lighting can score…

Doug Weight…he’s not had the history of being a slow starter, at least not over his last five seasons (no fewer than five points in his first six games), but he’s 0-1-1, even, in his first six games this year. He’ll be looking to get off the schneid before the Caps visit St. Louis on Saturday.

So there you have it…some of the “hots ‘n’ nots” to watch this week, including some who will be trying to stay hot or get hot against the Caps this week.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Rebuild is Not Over

Nope, not by a longshot. It’s like saying, I’ve had all the materials delivered, now the house is built.

Let’s say it out loud...the rebuild is not over. Look at the raw materials...

Goaltending – Olaf Kolzig is the number one goaltender, probably for as long as he is a Cap. The event of a sublime Brent Johnson performance is not going to change that, but Johnson playing well in 15-20 games or more is a critical ingredient to success. So far, Johnson has been pretty good. His 3.35 GAA isn’t where one would like it, but having to face 53 shots in one of the three games he’s played (and giving up seven goals) will do that. His .904 save percentage is what the club needs.

Defense...It’s young and not experienced among its parts. Tom Poti is new to the club, and the Caps have a lot of sub-25 year old types manning the blue line. This is the task that really can’t be rushed. Defensemen take time to grow and learn. Mike Green looks like a wholly different player than the one he was last year, to the benefit of the Caps. If someone like Jeff Schultz can find that leap this year, all the better.

Power Play...perhaps the most intricate part of the construction, there are parts to it that must be performed correctly, or it just doesn’t work. A credible threat from the point, a deft hand on the side boards, a gritty stalwart in front, players with quick hands and good vision all around. And chemistry. It takes time to become adept at building, it takes time to integrate different parts from different teams (last year, Poti, Nylander, Kozlov, and Backstrom played in different cities) and create that needed chemistry.

Penalty Killing...The studs have to be put in place correctly and in alignment, or you have problems that can last the whole season. The Caps have the materials here – Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Pettinger, and Chris Clark can be very effective forwards on the penalty kill, and as the defense matures it can become just as effective. But it is a work in progress, not a rebuilt edition.

The foundation...Alexander Ovechkin. He has six points in seven games, but he looks more like a well-rounded hockey player than he has in either of his first two years. His attention to more facets in his game than scoring can have the effect of being an example for the team. Whether this has an effect on Alexander Semin will be something interesting to watch when he returns from injury.

The fixtures...Viktor Kozlov, Michael Nylander, Nicklas Backstrom. At one point or another, any or all of them will center Ovechkin this year. The trick in making them fit with Ovechkin is equal parts art, science, and time...this is what the Capitals are still working out.

Shootout...An item that has been installed, although not tested, but one – whatever what one thinks of this abomination – that has to improve, even if it is somewhat overrated (of 32 playoff teams over the two full years of the shootout, 12 finished below .500 in shootouts; Ottawa had a combined record of 4-12). And whatever improvement the Caps might have in adding Viktor Kozlov and Michael Nylander, the improvement has to include the goalies, as well (.639 save percentage over the last two years).

The materials are on the lot, and the framing is up. But let’s not confuse this rebuild with a completed project. There are things to assemble, things to install, and problems to overcome. The rebuild will be done when the Capitals have clinched a playoff spot, not before.

But there is a deadline of sorts to this. The Capitals, as Tarik El-Bashir notes in his Capitals Insider and we suggested here, cannot fall too far behind the leaders in October. A sub-.500 record in October is a large hole out of which to climb. And if this club is still struggling to find its identity and standings points at Thanksgiving, the playoffs will start to look more like wish than expectation.

What all that suggests, to carry this rebuild idea up another notch, is that the materials have been delivered to the site and are in is now the job of the "foreman" to make sure that the project comes together expeditiously. It's not too late, despite the doom and gloom in the usual places...but it's not too soon for a sense of urgency, either.

Then and now...the defense

One of the problems the Caps had last year was getting no appreciable offense from the defense. There simply wasn't enough of a threat from the blue line to keep opponents from packing in their defense and clogging the way for forwards. Well, what difference has a year made?

2006-2007 (after seven games): 3-11-14, +1
2007-2008 (after seven games): 4-8-12, even

But compare the shots on goal...60 so far this year from the defense, compared to 38 over the first seven games last year. The idea here is to get the puck to the net. The defense has done their part -- at least more so than to start the year last year. The job now is for the forwards to screen and get rebounds. Last night the Caps got one that has to continue.

Saturday Night's Alright for...

...well, take a gander...

It was a NO point night -- Caps vs. Penguins, October 20th

Once upon a time, somewhere – it might have been in a stall in a bathroom somewhere – The Peerless read this about a hockey season….”there are 20 games you’ll lose, no matter what; and 20 games you’ll win, no matter what…it’s what you do with the other 40 that matter.”

The two odd games aside, last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of those 40 games that matter. But for the width of a post, a penalty the four eyes of the two referees saw (and then the penalty those four eyes didn’t see in the same spot on the ice), and a power play that should merely be called, “play,” the Capitals might have made it a better night than it turned out to be.

The Penguins emerged from Verizon Center with a 2-1 win in a generally hard-fought, well-played game on both sides. But while Marc-Andre Fleury had a game he hasn’t had this season, and Ryan Whitney had the game-winning goal, the pivotal player on the ice this evening didn’t show up on the score sheet.

Matt Pettinger was in the middle of three critical plays in this game, two of which turned out bad for the Caps, and both of which found Pettinger as the victim.

The first play was a product of something coach Glen Hanlon was preaching this week – getting (and staying) in front of the net. Passing the 13 minute mark of the first period, Michael Nylander had the puck along the right wing wall. Cycling once and finding nothing to his liking, he curled off again, sliding the puck to Brian Pothier for a one-timer that beat Fleury. The Pittsburgh goalie would later remark that he never saw the puck. That was a product of #18 planting himself firmly in Fleury’s line of sight at the top of the crease. It wouldn’t be the last time the Caps tried that approach, but it would be the only time it was successful (but keep trying, boys).

In the second instance, the clock was winding down past five minutes to go in the second and the game tied 1-1; the Capitals were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone. Michael Nylander curled out from behind the Pittsburgh net and sent a pass to Nicklas Backstrom left alone in the high slot. Backstrom snapped the puck at the Pittsburgh net, and Fleury got a piece of it, but not enough to keep it from inching toward the goal line. The puck tapped the post, and Matt Pettinger was there, trying to nudge the puck in. But as he was trying to get his stick to the puck, he got tangled with Fleury’s pads, and missed the opportunity to put the Caps ahead.

Finally, in the third period, with the Penguins having taken the lead on the Whitney goal, in the same spot on the ice near the Capitals’ bench where Brooks Laich was whistled for a phantom hooking penalty in the second period, Matt Pettinger took a Penguin stick square in the chops (edit: actually it was Gordon taking the stick, but Pettinger went after Staal in the aftermath). The same four eyes that saw a hooking penalty in the second didn’t see Pettinger’s head fly back. Maybe he should have done the full Barrymore, as Sidney Crosby did when high-sticked earlier, and he skated a broad arc away from the play in stage-agony while it was still going on. ‘Gadzooks!...Oh, I am slain!!” (for the record, yes, it was a penalty) Pettinger, instead, took off on Jordan Staal, making relatively short work of him and earning (with Staal) five minutes for his trouble. Although the Caps were oh-for-three on the power play, having another with the game in its final throes couldn’t have hurt the Caps’ cause.

But the Caps didn’t get that bounce of the puck or call from the referee, and the Penguins survived, thanks largely thanks to Fleury remembering that he’s supposed to be a key to whatever success the Penguins have this year.

Some other items…

-- Boyd Gordon was back, and boy, does that make a difference. Crosby had the primary assist on the game-winner (Gordon was not on the ice for that goal), but was otherwise almost silent. If the Caps had chosen this night to discover their offense, Crosby would have been a non-entity. I don’t much care if Gordon scores a point this year (well, I do…sue me for hyperbole), but if he can have results like that on defense, the Caps will do well. Here might be his stat of the night…he won six of eight defensive zone draws.

-- Alex Ovechkin…eight shots, five hits, and a penalty. If it was Christmas, he might have bagged a partridge in a pear tree, too. He was the most dominant skater on this evening, but with Viktor Kozlov not being especially effective last evening, and Joe Motzko being plucky, but not the stuff of a first-line right wing, Ovechkin was once more in the position of having to do a lot on his own.

-- Regarding Motzko…The Peerless sat watching him last night and came up with a nickname…”The Hedgehog.” He did a commendable job rooting around for pucks and was more patient with the puck than one might expect from a call-up from the AHL. He also showed a resiliency when taking a hit and a willingness to throw same (he was credited with one, but it seemed like more). We like the guy…he is not a top-line, right wing option on a team with playoff dreams, but he’s a guy who can help a club. Although he was returned to Hershey after the game, we would not be surprised to see #50 in the lineup again this year.

-- Hey Caps fans…how many times have you seen this against the Penguins? Hits: 25-13, Capitals…shots: 31-22, Capitals…final score: 2-1, Penguins.

-- The two-fer of the night…Ovechkin laying the lumber to Crosby in open ice, then as Crosby was collecting his wits, getting whacked again by Shaone Morrisonn. You could almost see the cartoon stars circling Crosby’s head.

-- Evgeni who? Did he dress?

-- Donald Brashear and Georges Laraque had a fight…it was required. For the record, The Peerless scored it a draw, Laraque winning the early rounds…uh, seconds…and Brashear coming on late.

-- Nicklas Backstrom looks a good deal more comfortable on the ice than he did in the opener. And, he’s starting to look like Mini-Ny with his curl off moves.

-- On the other hand, Milan Jurcina seemed to struggle. He looked for most of the night as if he was skating in oatmeal, as if he couldn’t get his skates under him. But his effort was there.

-- David Steckel looks sometimes like he’s just loping across the ice. Then you look up, and he’s got his 13 minutes, a couple of hits, a couple of blocked shots, and has won more than half his faceoffs (8-of-15 last night).

-- Brent Johnson…lost in all this is that Johnson played a whale of a game, including a superb left-toe stop on Ryan Malone off a rebound he gave up on a Maxime Talbot shot mid-way through the third, when another goal would have probably doomed the Caps. And if you see a replay of that sequence, watch who it is flying into the picture from behind, almost getting a chance to sweep the puck away from Malone….Ovechkin.

The Penguins, to their credit (The Peerless said with teeth knashing), did what they had to do to win. But the Caps, playing without Alexander Semin and with Boyd Gordon having played only as a game-time decision, played the Penguins to the width of a post. Right now, that’s the difference between these teams. But teams that make the playoffs are on the winning end of such games, not the short end. And that’s the difference between these teams right now, too.