Friday, October 12, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR -- An Empire State Two-Fer

This weekend the Capitals are off to Manhattan and Buffalo for back-to-back games to complete their tour of the Empire State this week. Tonight, it’s the Rangers hosting the Caps. A preseason favorite to win the Stanley Cup (or so says Larry Brooks), the Rangers are in the midst of working out how to fit $14.4 million worth of new centers’ payroll this year into the lineup. It hasn’t gone well, but it’s only three games, too. Let’s let our old pal Larry tell it…

“The Rangers haven't gotten their offensive game going collectively or individually, though last night's final 30 minutes were [Scott] Gomez's best yet. But at the same time, [Chris] Drury seems to have as little chemistry with [Jaromir] Jagr through three games as Gomez did with No. 68 in two exhibition games. [Brendan] Shanahan has looked slow on the trigger. [Martin] Straka isn't sharp.”

Caps fans will hardly be surprised that once again, it’s an episode of “It’s All About Jags.” The Rangers have only six goals through their three games (a 1-2-0 record), and Jaromir Jagr has none of them. Neither does Scott Gomez (about half the $14.4 million investment for this year noted above). In fact, in getting more than 20 minutes a game, on average, over the first three games, he has not yet registered a point as a Ranger. Chris Drury, on the other hand (the other half of the Rangers’ investment in centers), is tied for the team lead in points (with defenseman Marek Malik) with three. It is worth noting that Brendan Shanahan is off to a slow start as well, having registered no points in his first three games, but it hasn’t kept him from calling on teammates to remain positive.

Fortunately for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is picking up where he left off last season. He’s allowed two goals in each of his three starts, while turning away 80 shots in those three games (.935 save percentage).

Here is the stat to watch: 0-for-15. That is the Ranger power play so far.

Buffalo has the same 1-2-0 record as the Rangers, having pasted Atlanta, 6-0 last night, for their first win. Whereas the Rangers have had some trouble getting their offense out of the gate, the trouble with the Sabres has been defense and goaltending. If there is a silver lining in the wisp of a gray cloud, there having been only three games played by the Sabres thus far, it is that the Sabres have given up six, three, and no goals in successive games. That counts as progress. But still, even with last night’s shutout of Atlanta (and don’t they suck on toast so far?), Ryan Miller’s .885 save percentage is 30 points below his career number. For Miller, though, it hasn’t been an easy time off the ice.

Among the skaters, the scoring is led by a pair of defensemen – Brian Campbell (1-4-5) and Jaroslav Spacek (2-2-4). But Mr. Offer Sheet – Thomas Vanek – has stumbled out of the gate with only a single goal to note on his season score sheet so far. If there is good news for the Sabres, it is in the person of Tim Connolly who, coming into this season, missed 181 games to injury (concussions, primarily) over the past three seasons. He is tied with Spacek in scoring (1-3-4). The Sabres need him healthy and performing well to help offset the loss of centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency.

The stat to watch: 78.6. That is the Sabres’ home penalty killing number so far, good for 19th in the league. That sounds better than is it, seeing as five teams haven’t yet had their home opener.

For the Caps, 3-0 is nice, but that leaves 79 games to fret about. For the moment, though, the Caps find themselves at or near the top in a number of team measures, including: goals against (tied for first), five-on-five ratio (tied for second), penalty killing (tied for first), fewest times shorthanded (tied for third), and team plus-minus (tied for fifth). The team save percentage of .976 isn’t too shabby, either.

The Caps find themselves facing an upgrade – at least on paper – in the quality of teams they are facing this weekend. But for now, the Caps’ play is worth singing about…

Start spreading the news, we’re playin’ today
The Caps will beat the Blueshirts in - New York, New York
These playoff-starved kids, are longing to play
Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York

I wanna skate hard in a city, that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill - top of the heap

These power play blues, are melting away
We’ll make a brand new start of it - in old New York
If we can win up there, we’ll win them anywhere
The Caps will beat – New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I’m A-number one, top of the list, king of the hill
A-number one

These power play blues, are melting away
We’ll make a brand new start of it - in old New York
And if we can win up there, we’ll win them anywhere
The Caps will beat - New York, New York

Caps, 3-2 both nights.

See you next week.

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