Friday, November 30, 2007

No goal, no goal, no points...Hurricanes 4 - Caps 5...uh, 4....uh, no...3

Sucks, doesn't it?

Just when the Caps find they can put the puck in the net, it doesn't count. Not once, but twice the good guys found goals overturned on review, and in the one instance a Carolina Hurricanes goal was reviewed, it stood. That was the difference in a 4-3 Carolina win over the Caps this evening.

It would be hard to fault the Caps' effort, but execution?...yeesh, especially deep in their own end.

Cory Stillman was left alone at goaltender Olaf Kolzig's left and had time for the puck to hit him in the logo of his jersey, settle the puck, and fire it into the cage. He was wearing red...someone had to see him. But then, Donald Brashear's indifferent clear that didn't make it to the neutral zone started the whole sequence.

Matt Cullen ends up at Kolzig's left, chipping a feed from Ray Whitney that found it's way over Kolzig's shoulder and into the net, and another Cap is in the vicinity watching the play instead of participating in it.

Rod Brind'Amour send one out in front from behind the net, trying to bank it off of Kolzig. But Kolzig is down, so that isn't going to work. Enter Alex Ovechkin, who bladed the airborne puck into his own net for the fourth, and game-winning goal.

Add in the did-he-or-didn't-he high stick the puck into the net goal by Brind'Amour in the second period, and it made for a weird night for the Caps.

The boys dug in and clawed back, to their credit. But the only ones who was rewarded were Ovechkin, with his two goals (scored for the Caps), and Michael Nylander. Ovechkin had one disallowed when video replay found (correctly) that he kicked the puck in. Mike Green had one disallowed when video found (again, correctly) that the puck crossed the goal line after the end of the second period. Add to that the chances that Ovechkin had late (he could have had five goals tonight, even without the own-goal he scored on Kolzig) and chances that Nicklas Backstrom had from in close -- he had five shots on goal, most of which were excellent scoring chances -- and the Caps didn't suffer for opportunity.

But like most games like this year, opportunity didn't translate into results. 35 shots on goal, and only three go in...while at the other end, it seemed every weird bounce that ended up on the Washington net went in.

One knows that young guys -- especially defensemen -- are going to have games where they struggle, and it's hard to get on them for that. But Jeff Schultz had a tough game tonight (you, dear reader, might have other words for it). Minus-three, and he was the one victimized on Stillman's goal and Cullen's goal by what seemed to be watching rather than playing.

Odd as it sounds, the Caps weren't far from providing Kolzig with a shutout. But for some poor defense in deep around him and a couple of odd bounces involving Rod Brind'Amour, this was a game the Capitals, if not dominated, certainly had the upper hand in for most of the game. Carolina managed only 19 shots on goal -- they had more shots than that blocked (21), a credit to the Caps team defense. The absence of Boyd Gordon was filled admirably by call-up Quintin Laing, who had four of those blocked shots.

For once, special teams did not let the Caps down. Two-for-seven on the power play and shutting out the Hurricanes on their five power plays was a good night on special teams play. With tonight's effort, the Caps are 5-for-11 on the power play and 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in the last two games against Carolina.

We were wondering, though...did Tomas Fleischmann play tonight? We seem to remember his having been kabonged once, but other than that mention, it was a pretty quiet night.

One (well, I) had the feeling watching this game that the Caps are close to breaking out. They played well and with purpose for most of this game. They were the better team.

But you know what?'s only the score that counts, and in this season the Caps are finding new and more frustrating ways to end up on the short end of them.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, November 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

You might remember our special edition of the Prognosticator last season when we assembled a collection of esteemed medicos to explore the injury bug that hit the Capitals.

Well, the bug is back, and so is our panel of physicians…we have Drs. Dr. Marcus Welby…

“…a pleasure, Peerless.”

…James Kildare…

“truly an honor to be back..”

…Victor Ehrlich…

“…hey, Peerless…”

…and Ben Casey.

[nods under a brooding stare]

Doctors, Tarik El-Bashir reports in this morning’s Washington Post that Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, and Boyd Gordon are on the shelf with a variety of injuries. Semin’s ankle has been re-tweaked, Clark has the always ominous “groin injury,” and Gordon has an undisclosed injury that has left him in "week-to-week" status. Gentlemen, is this unusual?

Dr. Welby…”uncommon, yes…unusual, no. This is hockey, and hockey players get hurt, it’s part of the package.”

Dr. Ehrlich…”well, I just remember Dr. Craig would tell me that you just have to suck it up…and he’d roll his eyes and say something nasty after that, but he did that so often, I’ve forgotten what that was.”

Dr. Kildare, what would you advise in this situation?

Dr. Kildare…”HMO”

A health maintenance organization?

Dr. Kildare…”no, a ‘hockey mentality, Oscar.’”

Dr. Casey?

Dr. Casey…[deep sigh, followed by frown with furrowed brow]

In the meantime, what do you prescribe for the Caps?

Dr. Welby…”wins”

Dr. Kildare…”oh, I agree”

Dr. Ehrilich…”I don’t know; let me ask Dr. Craig and get back to you on that.”

Dr. Casey…”putz”

Any other remedies in the meantime?

Dr. Ehrlich…”Quintin”

Dr. Welby…”you mean, ‘quinine,’ son?”

Dr. Casey…”no you ossified fart, he said ‘Quintin’…as in “Laing?”

Dr. Kildare…”you mean Lumicaine?...for excessive sweating?”

Dr. Casey…”no, pretty boy…Laing…Laing…Quintin Laing…played with Hershey?...called up for this game?...get with the program, fellas.”

OK, so the depleted Caps will take the ice tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, and Quintin Laing has been called up from the Bears to fill in for the injured. For the Caps, it is a chance to build on last Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Hurricanes at Verizon Center. Carolina is stumbling at the moment, losers of their last two contests and 4-6-0 in their last ten.

Carolina’s struggles have been on the defensive side of the ledger. They’ve given up 38 goals in their last ten games, four times yielding five or more goals. What it means is that if they don’t score, they don’t win. Six times in this stretch they have scored two or fewer goals, and their record is 1-5-0.

This is the front end of a back-to-back for Carolina, who visit Buffalo tomorrow evening. So, who mans the nets for the Hurricanes is uncertain. Cam Ward is 4-4-0 in the games he’s played over this ten game stretch, with 3.15, .892 numbers to go along with the win-loss record. John Grahame, who took the loss in last Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Washington, is 0-2-0, 5.03, .836. If Coach Peter Laviolette can find a way to start Ward for both games, one would think he will.

Sixteen of the 19 goals the Hurricanes have scored in the last ten games come from the sticks of five players: Rod Brind’Amour (5), Cory Stillman (4), Eric Staal (4), Justin Williams (4), and Ray Whitney (3). Carolina is not a club that gets much goal scoring from its defense (three goals all season), so the ability to contain the forwards will be of paramount concern here.

For the Caps, a recovery is in order. After winning their first two games under interim coach Bruce Boudreau (outscoring opponents, 9-5), they’ve stumbled with losses in their last two, one in a shootout (outscored in real goals, 4-2). The old problems resurfaced in those last two…no goal scoring. Decent performances by Olaf Kolzig (0-1-1, 1.95, .930) were wasted as the Caps could manage just the two goals on 64 shots. Of that total, Alexander Ovechkin has one goal on 20 shots. That the rest of the squad could manage but a single goal on 44 shots is of no minor concern. That the rest of the squad had only 44 shots (1.3 shots-per-skater/game) is just as troubling.

The Caps also have a back-to-back set, with tomorrow’s contest in Florida against the Panthers. That argues for Kolzig getting the nod tonight (12-8-1, 2.23, .924 lifetime against Carolina) and Brent Johnson getting the start tomorrow.

The Caps are 2-1-0 against Carolina this season (6-14-2 against the rest of the league), so it isn’t as if they’ve lacked for success, despite having been whacked 5-0 in their only appearance in Raleigh. The Caps are visiting a team that certainly has the capacity to score, but one that has struggled on defense (including against the Caps last weekend) and especially on the power play (eight goals allowed in 21 penalty-killing chances in their last five games – 61.9 percent). That’s the recipe for a win here – a couple of power play goals and forcing the Hurricanes to play catch-up, opening up the ice…a lot like last Saturday’s game (without the nail-biting in the third period)…

Caps 5 – Hurricanes 3

Thursday, November 29, 2007

On the rocks

The folks at On Frozen Blog offered up an opinion on the Verizon Center ice on which the Capitals play. It is not offered to sing the praises of the facility.

Let's look at this another way...

-- The Caps have the worst home record in the NHL (3-8-1, compared to a 5-7-1 road record).

-- The Caps are 29th in the league in home scoring (2.25 goals/game)

Given how this team is built -- with "skill" puckhandling and shooting guys like Alex Ovechkin, Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom -- is it a coincidence?

A deep hole...

The Caps are 2-1-1 under interim coach Bruce Boudreau. Over a whole season, five points every four games gets you 100 (102, actually), and you're in the playoffs, if not a divisional champ.

But five points every four games won't quite do it at this point. With 57 games left to play, that pace will earn them an additional 71 points. Added to the 18 they have this morning, that's 89...probably good enough for about 10th or 11th in the conference.

Close, but no cigar. Such is the hole they've dug for themselves.

A ONE point night -- Florida 2 - Caps 1 (OT/SO)

Did The Peerless mention, shootouts suck?

Well, they do, and not just because the Caps, well…suck at them. They just do.

But one point is better than none, although two is what the Caps need…in bunches. And they need to take advantage of teams like the Florida Panthers that, outside of games against the Caps, are 9-12-1. Last night’s 2-1 shootout (ugh…) loss to the Panthers was just another frustrating night on F Street. Make no mistake, Tomas Vokoun is a fine goaltender, but 3-0-0, 1.62, .944 against the Caps? Are we sure the Panthers traded Roberto Luongo to Vancouver?...Or does he make special appearances against the Caps?

Who is Tomas?...Who is Roberto?...for the Caps, does it matter?

Part of the problem is special teams – specifically, the Caps’ power play. With last night’s 0-for-4, including an unsuccessful power play in overtime, the Caps are now 1-for-13 against Florida (7.7 percent).

But today’s special number is this – 44.

That’s the percent of even strength time Alexander Ovechkin spent on the ice (20:36 of 46:46). Such a number might not be extraordinary for a defenseman – Jay Bouwmeester logged 20:24 of even strength time, for example, but it seems rather unusual for a forward. It is one of those subtle things that reflect the state of the offense that is the Caps right now. Chris Clark’s goal last night notwithstanding, the offense pretty much runs through Ovechkin. Over the last ten games, in which Ovechkin is 8-3-11, he’s had a hand in 46 percent of the Caps’ scoring. He’s had a third of their goals. But we’re not noting anything new. That the Caps have had trouble scoring has been this year’s running theme. And Alexander Semin reinjuring his ankle, as reported in this morning’s Washington Post, isn’t going to make things any easier.

On the other side, this was the eighth game of the season in which goaltender Olaf Kolzig allowed two or fewer goals. He is 0-1-1 in such games against Florida, 5-1-0 against the rest of the league.

There really isn’t anything remarkable about any of the numbers of this game, save how “quiet” they look. Statistically, Washington was the better team – more shots, more chances, more hits – but they just couldn’t finish. For some guys – Jeff Schultz, David Steckel, Brooks Laich – a quiet night isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But for others…Alexander Semin, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov…a quiet night isn’t the best thing, either. Combined, they had ten shots on goal, four of them by Nylander. Compare that to the 11 shots that Ovechkin had by himself, and you get the feeling that other guys need to be sharing the burden of production more.

But did we mention that shootouts suck?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What do two Russians and Detroit have in common?

OK, so it’s spreading. Thanks to the tip at Japers’ Rink, we see that Ovechkin Flu has spread from Manhattan to Detroit…

Today’s contestant in the “Who Can Cook Up the Dopiest Ovechkin Scenario” sweepstakes is Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News. In his entry, he asks the question, “Will Ovechkin follow Hanlon out of Washington?” Of course, there should be something between the word “Washington” and the question mark, and that is…

“…to Detroit”

If there is a town that understands the pitfalls of restricted free agency and offer sheets, it is Detroit, and here is where there might be some concern for fans of the red-white-and-blue…

Let’s roll back the clock. It is the 1997-1998 season, and in Detroit there is a holdout of some note. As negotiations stalled, another team stepped up to offer Sergei Fedorov the sun, the moon, and the stars. A six-year, $38 million deal was put on the table that would have averaged $6.33 million a year. The trouble for the Red Wings was, that wasn’t how the deal was structured. The deal included a $14 million signing bonus and a second $12 million accelerated bonus that would pay off July 1 if the team made the finals. For Carolina, the chance of making the finals in 1998 was about what it is for the Caps right now – slim, to be charitable. But for the Red Wings, coming off a Stanley Cup victory, that possibility loomed rather large. 26 million front-loaded dollars if the team that signed Fedorov made the finals.

Why is that relevant to Ted Kulfan’s column and the unresolved contract status of Alexander Ovechkin? Simple…dollars and years are only a part of the equation. As we’ve seen with the contracts signed by Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere, and even Sidney Crosby, structure matters. Alex Ovechkin might command an eight-year, $80.48 million (in 2008 cap dollars) contract – the max amount (on an annual basis) permitted. But the devil is in the structure. What might make the Capitals choke on an offer sheet? It is something to think about as the days pass with no announcement of a deal.

The Wings matched that Carolina offer sheet, and they were rewarded with a Stanley Cup that year – coincidentally, defeating the Capitals in the process. But let’s not assume out of hand that the Caps are going follow history’s guide and match a “max” offer. How it is structured will go a long way toward answering that question.

But why are we asking this question? Are the Caps dawdling? Does Ovechkin have cold feet about re-upping? As long as Ovechkin’s status is unresolved, we’ll be seeing columns like this, and we’ll be seeing Caps fans get more nervous.

Is it really necessary?

edit...FYI, according to Spector, the Russian paper Sports-Express is reporting that the Capitals are about to make a contract offer to Ovechkin that would be worth $10.3 million/year. Then again, as Spector notes, "Considering this is coming from a Russian paper and the Russian sports media doesn't have a good track record with reports like this, take this report with a grain of salt." Until there is a signed dotted line, there isn't.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, November 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a mid-week tilt this evening between the Capitals and the Florida Panthers, who – if you’re keeping score – are pretty much the 1978 Canadiens when it comes to opponents. Over the past three-plus seasons, the Caps are 5-12-2-5 against the Cats. That winning percentage of .354 is, coincidentally, precisely where the Caps stand this morning with their 8-15-1 record.

Eerie, ain’t it? And speaking of eerie, we have with us a special guest…Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, himself, Leonard Nimoy…

“I’m not here for a Star Trek convention.”

Well, then what does bring you here?

“We’re shooting a very special edition of ‘In Search of…’”

Of course, the old show from the late-‘70’s…what are you in search of in Washington?

“Matt Pettinger…”

Really?...what makes that subject so fascinating?

“He has one goal in 23 games, he hasn’t had a point in his last dozen…it’s as if…”

…he was abducted by…


What makes you think it was aliens?

“Didn’t you ever watch our show?...Everything was about UFOs.”

Sorry, I musta missed those episodes.

“All the signs are there…don’t you think this is the face of an alien posing as Matt Pettinger?”

You have a point…uh, but that was last year’s jersey, Leonard.

“Ah, but the aliens are trying to make you think that…and what about this unretouched photo of the alien Matt Pettinger – at his real 14-foot size – trying to skate over an opponent?”

Uh, Leonard?...that’s from a skate session back in 2004.

“You think so, do you…maybe the aliens have gotten to you, too…or maybe you’re an alien…”

OK, well…we have a game, tonight, and it is against the second-place…that’s right, the second-place Florida Panthers. Well, in the Southeast Division, that is…where it really counts – in the Eastern Conference standings – they’re 10th, which means they’d be sharing tee times with the Caps if the season ended today.

But the season doesn’t end today (which is a good thing, because The Peerless still has all these season tickets to use up), and the Panthers are on something of a roll. Having won four of their last five – two of them against the Caps – Florida has done it with defense. They have yielded only 10 goals in those five games, and that puts the emphasis on goaltender Tomas Vokoun. He’s played in all five of those games, going 4-1-0, 1.97, .936. If there is a measure of hope in that, it is that the Caps have scored the most goals in a game against Vokoun in this stretch (three).

The Panthers have really spread it around on offense, too. Ten different players have the 14 goals, four players with two apiece (Olli Jokinen, David Booth, Kamil Kreps, and Rostislav Olesz). They’ve also been quite effective on the power play, going 5-for-18 in these last five games (27.8 percent).

If there is one thing about the Panthers, though, it is that no lead is safe…comparatively speaking. It is not a team that is especially adept at playing with a lead. They rank 22nd in winning percentage when leading after one period, and they are 23rd when leading after two. That’s a comparative measure, in that the Panthers still win more than half of their games in each situation.

Conversely, they are among the better teams when finding themselves trailing…they are ninth in the league in winning percentage when trailing after one period, and they are sixth when trailing after two. Again, though, it is a comparative measure – the Panthers still have losing records in both situations. But it does make for a better chance at a 60-minute game, which has been the case in their two wins against Washington so far – both were one-goal games.

If you’re looking for comparisons, Washington is a 40-minute team. That is, you can predict almost to a betting certainty what will happen on the basis of where the team stands after 40 minutes. If the Caps lead, they win (7-0-0). If they trail, they lose (0-14-1).

But what about Pettinger? Having scored 16 goals in 64 games last year and 20 in 71 games in 2005-2006, it was reasonable to think he’d score perhaps 20 or so this year. He’s on a pace for four. If anything, he’s getting more chances, or at least shots on goal. Thus far he has 47 shots on goal, whereas he had 33 last year and 37 in 2005-2006 in a comparable number of games to start the year. It has all the makings of a horrific slump…and actually, that’s the good news. Slumps are – by their very definition – temporary. Pettinger scoring only four goals this year is not something upon which to place a wager.

The Peerless has a feeling about this game, tonight – that it will be the break-out game for Pettinger that fans have been looking for. Maybe getting some garbage on a line with Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin will be just what the doctor ordered. Some Pettinger, another goal from Alexander Ovechkin…maybe something off the stick of Alexander Semin would be nice (hey, he has only one goal, too)…and an empty netter…

Caps 4 – Panthers 2

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

It's a little known fact...

-- That Jeremy Roenick has six goals... and five of them are game-winners.

-- That almost half of Patrick Sharp's goals (five of his 11) are of the short-handed variety.

-- That Jason Blake has two goals...on 102 shots (1.96 percent). There are guys in this league who could do better blindfolded.

-- That the top three scorers in intra-divisional play are all Tampa Bay Lightning (Vincent Lecavalier (29 points), Martin St. Louis (23), and Vaclav Prospal (21)). Small wonder that Tampa has earned 17 of their 22 points in the Southeast Division.

-- Sergei Gonchar leads the league in power play scoring (3-13-16). Bet you'd have gone through a lot of names before settling on Matt Cullen as the number two guy (4-11-15).

-- That the worst three players in terms of giveaways all hail from the Los Angeles Kings (Lubomir Visnovsky, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov)...any wonder why they are 9-13-1?

-- That Brendan Shanahan has only seven goals on 117 shots...but he's 2-for-4 in shootouts, and both goals were game-deciding ones.

-- That Joe Sakic is -5...doesn't sound like much, but if he keeps that up, it will be his first minus season in more than ten years (1996-1997, when he was -10).

-- That Pascal Leclaire is on a pace for 20 shutouts. That would eclipse the post-expansion era record of 15 (Tony Esposito, 1969-1970) and would be within shouting distance of the all-time record of 22 (George Hainsworth, 1928-1929).

-- That Martin Brodeur is on a pace to lose 36 games, based on the share of Devils' games he's played so far and his current record. That was almost two years' worth (37) the back-to-back years the Devils went to the Stanley Cup Finals (1999-2000 and 2000-2001).

-- Two goalies on the same is 5-5-1, 2.90, .864...the other is 10-1-1, 1.66, .930. One is Chris Osgood, the other is Dominik Hasek. Which is which?....wrong!

What's Up With This?

Minus-13?...tied for last in the league??

It isn't pretty, but it isn't entirely surprising, either. If there is one player on this roster for whom "chemistry" is not just a branch of the physical sciences, it is Nylander. Let's wind the clock back to 2005-2006, his first in New York. He would finish +31 for the season, but he was all of a +2 on Christmas. In his last 46 games after Christmas, he had only five "minus" games and was a +29.

He's off to a slower start here, but it would be folly to assume it will remain that bad. As the chemistry improves, so will that number.

Let's just hope it's soon.

21 is not just a number

Like a lot of sports fans, the only exposure I’ve ever had to Sean Taylor was watching him in pads and helmet, wearing his number '21' jersey and wreaking havoc on a gridiron. In the early morning hours on Tuesday, Taylor passed away from a gunshot wound suffered at his suburban Miami home on Monday.

Pads and a helmet often disguise the fact that these are flesh and blood people with families – Taylor was allegedly assaulted when he was investigating an intrusion into his home that he shared with his fiancée and baby daughter. For his immediate family and the extended family that is his collection of Redskin teammates, it is an unimaginable shock – that someone with the physical gifts Taylor possessed could be taken from their midst in the blink of an eye.

It is cliché to note that events like this put “sports” in their proper perspective, but there is truth, even in clichés. For families, friends, and fans alike, the clock will stop on the games, but only for a time. Taylor will be remembered, families and friends will grieve, and commentators will try to express “the meaning of it all.”

Maybe it has no larger meaning. Maybe it is what it is – a senseless, but all-too-common tragedy. A young man who lived in a city with a streak of violent characters, with his own brushes with the law and violence in his past, forfeiting his life because he couldn’t get far enough or fast enough away from that environment. Teammate Clinton Portis remarked, "It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight. But ever since he had this child it was like a new Sean. And everybody around here knew it. He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."

The irony here is that Taylor, who played a sport defined by a clock, ran out of time before he could finish growing up to enjoy life with his fiancée and daughter.

That’s the tragedy.

Photo: John McDonnell - The Washington Post

A no-point night...Sabres 3 - Caps 1

Sigmund Freud is said to have uttered the quote, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Whether he actually uttered those words is something of a mystery, but for our purposes here, sometimes a loss is just a loss. No more need be attributed to it.

Had this game been played while the Caps were, say, 11-11-1 it would be just a bad night. But these being the Caps, and Caps fans looking for meaning in every loss, last night’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres will no doubt be looked at as an indicator whether the Caps two-game winning streak was merely a detour on the trip over the cliff of a season.

Make no mistake, the Caps did not play especially well. 20 turnovers (giveaways plus Buffalo’s takeaways) – most of them of the sort that left Buffalo with excellent scoring chances – will do that. Michael Nylander was victimized on both the game-winning and the insurance goals, once having the puck taken away deep in the Capitals’ zone, resulting in a tap-in goal for Jochen Hecht (2-1-3 on the night) -- the other leaving a pass for Tomas Fleischmann that failed to connect that ended up being a two-on-one break for the Sabres, resulting in a goal.

It was a brutal night for several Caps…John Erskine was conspicuously in the area for two Sabre goals, once finding himself badly out of position and unable to right himself before Hecht rattled the puck into the net. On the second, Erskine was left to defend the Sabre’s two-on-one after the Nylander-Fleischmann turnover and could not break up the play before Olaf Kolzig was fishing the puck out of his net. That was his -2.

Steve Eminger was a -2 in his second game of the year, Nylander and Fleischmann likewise. Alexander Semin rounded out the -2 parade, prompting Bruce Boudreau to comment afterward that, "I've never seen him play…I have to believe he's going to be better."

Some observations…

-- Alexander Ovechkin scored another goal. That’s 17 for the season and eight in his last nine games; he also extended a points streak to nine games. That goal, though, was a return to the sort of Washington offense that has been present for much of the year. He picked up the puck from Steve Eminger at the Washington end of the rink…then he barreled down the left side, put a nifty little chip-and-skate-around on defenseman Brian Campbell, fired a shot at goalie Ryan Miller that was stopped, but he picked up his own rebound and in one motion buried it in the back of the net. It was a highlight goal to be sure – the only highlight of the night for the Caps.

-- Someone has to do something about that ice. It has to be the worst in the league. For most of the game, it looked as if the teams were playing on gravel. It is fair to say that both teams had to endure that nonsense, but that ice is going to be the cause of an injury at some point. Tom Poti put it best…“That’s how it is every game with this ice. The ice is pretty embarrassing to say the least. The puck bounces around like a rubber ball out there.”

-- Buffalo certainly didn’t dominate the game, but they made the most of their opportunities. Whenever the Caps would make a mistake, it seemed to end up in the back of the net.

-- Speaking of the Sabres, one can tell that they’ve played together for a while. Campbell, Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov, and Henrik Tallinder have played together since the 2002-2003 season. It is worth noting that the Sabres were 27-37-10-8 in that season (72 points). Adding Derek Roy in 2003-2004; and Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Toni Lydman in 2005-2006 added to the core. They miss Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, but they have a formidable group that has considerable experience playing together. It shows, and the difference between the clubs in that regard might be reflected in an observation by coach Bruce Boudreau – "We played as hard as [Buffalo] and as good as them, just not as smart as them."

-- Boyd Gordon played only 9:50 last night and had only one shift in the third period.

-- In 24 games, the Caps have surrendered 29 goals in the second period. That is tied for 28th worst in the league. They gave up two more last night.

-- Dan Paille has the quietest +3 you’re ever going to see.

-- A hockey club is going to have games like this where it’s close, but they’re never really in it. Trouble is, the Caps can no longer afford too many of them, such is the hole they’ve dug for themselves. As Olaf Kolzig put it, "We have to put a streak together here to get ourselves out of this hole…"

It can’t start soon enough.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jagr Watch -- The Option Year

Of some relevance to the Capitals is the option year left on the contract of former Cap, Jaromir Jagr. He can trigger that option if any of the following scenarios occurs:

-- If the Rangers win a playoff round this season and Jagr scores 40 goals during the regular season.

With five goals in 24 games -- that's right, five -- he is on a pace for 17, which would be 10 fewer than his lowest total for a season (27, in his rookie year -- 1990/1991).

-- If they win a playoff round and he scores 84 points during the regular season.

He is on a pace to go 17-44-61, which would be the lowest total of his career since that rookie year (27-30-57).

-- If he wins the Hart (MVP), Art Ross (scoring title) or Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) trophies.

He is far off the pace for a Ross Trophy, which means he won't get consideration for the Hart. And as for the Smythe, if a Ranger wins that one, it is more likely to be Henrik Lundqvist than Jaromir Jagr.

That other Bruce...the nutty one

Dear Aunt Fannie, what is it with hockey columnists when we go away for a few days? Do they OD on pumpkin pie, or what?

Now, it's Bruce Garrioch, the Ottawa Sun's answer to Larry Brooks...and boy, does he have a feast of rumors for Caps fans...
All Capitals GM George McPhee did by firing coach Glen Hanlon was buy time. The whisper is owner Ted Leonsis has already initiated the search for a new GM and all McPhee is doing is keeping the seat warm. Don't be surprised if former No. 1 pick Brian Lawton gets a look. Lawton was an agent with Octagon Hockey, but stepped down to pursue an opportunity in management. Other candidates include TSN analyst Pierre McGuire and former Islanders GM Mike Milbury, who is also working for the network...

The Peerless knows little about Brian Lawton in terms of his managerial potential, and Pierre McGuire might not be a total imbecile in the position. But as for the matter of Mike "The Idiot" Milbury, The Peerless has but one word....


Did Ducks GM Brian Burke really give away G Ilja Bryzgalov on waivers? The story making the rounds is the Ducks agreed to take D Brian Sutherby from the Caps for a second-round pick so McPhee would pass on Bryzgalov. That allowed the Coyotes to pick up the netminder off waivers.
The Peerless actually thinks this idea has merit. Not picking Bryzgalov (which would have been an upgrade at the backup position for the Caps), then getting a second round pick for a player who couldn't find his way onto the fourth line of a struggling team...well, you do the math.

Is Olaf Kolzig on the move? That's likely up to him. The veteran goaltender has been a good soldier for the Capitals, but he'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Making $5.45 million this season, Kolzig has always maintained he wants to finish his career with one team, but there's a strong belief the Caps might give him the chance to exit. The word is Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe has been casting covetous glances in Kolzig's direction because -- among other things -- the Oilers haven't been happy with the performance of either Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Kolzig does make $5.45 million, and he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. And yes, he has indicated a desire to finish his career with one team. That about covers the "facts" portion of this blurb. Will the Caps give him the option of leaving at the trade deadline, if the Caps are out of contention? We suspect they will...but Edmonton? The Oilers figure to be out of contention sooner than the Caps -- the Caps have played badly, the Oilers are just plain bad. What would possess Kevin Lowe to rent Kolzig for six weeks? What would possess Kolzig to sign an extension there? What would possess The Peerless to use the word "possess" four times in one paragraph?

Divine Right

Well, it was bound to happen...

The Capitals have not yet inked Alex Ovechkin to a new contract, so he who believes all hockey begins at West 31st Street and ends at West 33rd Street in Manhattan has weighed in...
Maybe someone can provide one good reason for Alex Ovechkin to sign a new contract with the before becoming a restricted free agent on July 1, because we sure can't think of any.

Yes, it's our old pal, Larry Brooks, who believes that it is the divine right of the Rangers to acquire any player of note, putting forth the argument without actually saying the words, "NEW - YORK - CITY," that Ovechkin should trade in his Capital red for Broadway blue.

Brooksie tip-toes around the issue, but gets to the point in a tortured way...
Ovechkin does not belong to the Caps. Through no desire of his own, he merely is playing for Washington under a three-year, entry-level capped lease that will expire at the end of this season. He never chose to play in DC so much as he chose to play in the NHL rather than remain in Russia after the lockout.

The Caps did nothing to earn Ovechkin other than being lousy in 2003-04 before then winning the Draft lottery to leapfrog both the 29th-overall Blackhawks and 30th-overall Penguins.

"Does not belong to the Caps..." The only thing missing is the unspoken thought, "but should belong to the Rangers." While Caps fans might fret over the status of contract talks with the young Mr. Ovechkin, contrary to what Larry says Ovechkin does belong to the Capitals, and he will -- at the pleasure of the club -- for the next five seasons.

Larry will have to settle for the idle fantasy of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury not getting Ovechkin the puck, either.

In the meantime, do read Caps Nut's essay that is the latest entry in the continuing Idiocy of Larry Brooks...he's got it nailed.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Sabres, November 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Caps fans are happy this morning…well, maybe as happy as Caps fans get, the product of having won two games in a row under new coach Bruce Boudreau. With two games in the “W” column, it might be time to take the pulse of Caps Nation – now that it has one – and check the ol’ mail bag…

Dear Peerless,

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? It’s always tough the first time, but then it gets easier, especially when you hire the same guy back several times.

George in the Bronx

George…you going to hire Billy back one more time? You can’t do any worse than you’ve done the last half dozen years.


Dear Peerless,

I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I hate wings.

The City of Buffalo

Buffalo…add it to the list – snow, Super Bowls, Bill Belichick…


Dear Peerless,

Hey, we’re going to have our own special on Food Network. What’s our special recipe?....Turnovers!

Joe in Ashburn

Joe…I would have thought “toast”…like in your playoff hopes.


Dear Peerless,

Do you have any good recipes for turkey leftovers?


Everybody…I’ll send you Joe in Ashburn’s address.


Dear Peerless,

Can the Caps win 61 games in a row?

Caps Discussion Boards

CDB…you’ve been reading this column too much.


Dear Peerless,

Is Bruce Boudreau available weekends?

Dan in Ashburn

Dan…you’ll have to ask Ted on that one.



Stop prognosticating, you pompous, pedantic, pontificating pile of pusillanimous poo…you’re giving us a bad name.

The Great and Powerful Oz

Oz…don’t you have a balloon to catch?


Well, so much for the mail, what about the game? Tonight it is the Buffalo Sabres that visit Verizon Center to take on the surging Caps (hey, two wins in a row is a surge in these parts!).

The Sabres find themselves – unexpectedly – on the outside looking in at the playoff mix. Being 10-10-1 after 21 games and 13th in the Eastern Conference probably wasn’t in the plan for the 2007-2008 season. It really is a “then and now” act for Buffalo over their first 21 games…

Then (2006-2007): 17-3-1
Now (2007-2008): 10-10-1

Then: 92 goals for (4.38/game)
Now: 61 goals for (2.90/game)

Then: 62 goals against (2.95/game)
Now: 58 goals against (2.76/game)

Then: plus-31 goal differential (+ 1.48/game)
Now: plus-3 goal differential (+ 0.14/game)

Oddly enough, the problem isn’t special teams:

Power Play Then: 24/119 (20.2 percent)
Power Play Now: 20/99 (20.2 percent)

Penalty Kill Then: 96/114 (84.2 percent)
Penalty Kill Now: 79/93 (84.9 percent)

Differential Then: +6
Differential Now: +6

What this suggests is not that the Sabres lack talent on the offensive end – they don’t…not with the likes of Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy in the lineup. It isn’t even as if the team lacks the balance that has made them successful in recent years. Players such as Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht, a healthier Tim Connolly, Brian Campbell, and the like, have contributed to having nine players in double digits in points (the Caps have four) and six players with at least two power play goals (the Caps have three).

What the Sabres lack – or have had to get used to – is not having Daniel Briere and Chris Drury centering the scoring lines. In the last ten days, though, Buffalo seems to have found their stride. They come into Washington with a four game winning streak, outscoring the opposition 15-5. Over those four games, typically, they've shown their balance. Ten different players have the 15 goals, none more than two (Vanek, Dan Paille, Drew Stafford, and Clarke MacArthur).

If you’re looking for a Sabre who bears close attention, it might not be the $7 million man, Thomas Vanek ($7.143 million, actually). It would be Derek Roy. In 11 career games against the Caps, Roy is 6-6-12, +11. Things happen when he is out there, and not usually good for the good guys.

In goal, Ryan Miller is likely to get the nod. After what was, for him, a slow start (2-5-0, 3.32, .886), he’s righted himself (6-4-1 since that start, 2.16, .924) and has won his last three outings. Against the Caps over his career, he is 5-1-0, 2.95, .897, and a shutout.

The Caps, on the other hand, have rediscovered special teams…if you think back to those two wins to start the year, the Caps scored a power play goal in each game and held Atlanta and Carolina off the power play score sheet (0/8). In the last two wins, the Caps are 4-for-7 on the power play, and they’ve held Philadelphia and Carolina to one goal in eight chances.

Alexander Ovechkin hasn’t missed a beat with the coaching change – he is riding an eight-game points streak (7-3-10) and, consistent with his…consistency, has goals in six of those eight games.

With his five points over his last two games (1-4-5), Nicklas Backstrom has climbed to third in the rookie scoring race and is second among rookies in assists. His two game-winning goals tops the league’s rookies (ok, he’s tied with Erik Johnson), and he is one of only two rookies with an overtime game-winner (the Sabres’ Clarke MacArthur being the other).

This could be an entertaining game, if you’re of the new school of NHL hockey – a high scoring game with an emphasis on special teams. That’s what we think it is going to be, and the Caps will match their start out of the 2007-2008 gate with their third in a row for Bruce Boudreau…

Caps 6 – Sabres 4

OK...are we taking this 'logo' thing too far?

It's actually Canadian Forces military personnel gathered at Rexall Place's center ice following the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. But still...they can't step on the logo?

(Photo: Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A TWO Point Night!!!...Caps 5 - Hurricanes 2


OK, it’s modest by most standards, but after one comes two, and two in a row is what the Capitals have won. Last night’s 5-2 win over the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes was a study in ambivalence…

On the one hand, the game was closer than what the final score indicated, the game being as close as 3-2 with less than two minutes to go in the game.

On the other hand, the Capitals never gave an indication that they would panic or wilt, even when the ‘Canes managed to score two goals 2:18 apart, straddling the end of the second and beginning of the third period. Unlike the pattern of behavior in the depths of their slide in the standings, the Caps tended to business and made it difficult for the visitors to establish any rhythm on offense.

A lot of that had to do with a stunning change in the Caps’ style that is probably more evident looking at the team live…they are a much more aggressive team with the puck, and related to that, they were much more adept at getting the puck below the face-off dots to establish their own offensive rhythm. Combine that with a sharp Olaf Kolzig, who turned away most mistakes that the Capitals made, and it was a recipe for a win that looked a lot like the Hurricanes, themselves, or the Tampa Bay Lightning – two teams the Capitals will have to beat, and beat often, to get back into the thick of playoff things.

Individually, it was a team effort. Odd as that sounds, it is a reflection of players doing what they do well, and just as important, leaving to others what they do well. Examples…

-- Alexander Ovechkin scored two goals in signature style. The first came off a no-look feed by Michael Nylander out of the right wing corner. Ovechkin snapped a wrist shot past goalie John Grahame’s glove faster than you could say…well, whatever you can say fast. The second came on a move he has repeated in recent games…carrying the puck down the left side, then easing off the pedal as he enters the zone. Curling to the middle and crossing behind teammates, he can get the goalie moving side-to-side. He snapped another shot “wrong-side,” catching Grahame moving left when the puck zipped past on the right side.

-- Mike Green repeated the weak-side one-timer he potted against Philadelphia, choosing wisely in terms of when to jump into the hole.

-- David Steckel won 63 percent of his draws on what was an otherwise brutal night for the Caps in the faceoff circle (other than Steckel, the Caps were 20 for 58 – 34.5 percent).

-- Tom Poti registered a hit (legitimately), but he was strong in keeping Carolina forwards pushed to the outside and the corners, and he had a couple of blocked shots that negated decent chances for the Hurricanes.

-- Nicklas Backstrom registered his second straight multi-point game (he’s 1-4-5 in his last pair).

-- Donald Brashear logged his highest ice time in almost a month. In his 8:48, he created chances for himself and others, and attempted six shots of his own.

-- Shaone Morrisonn had his second “plus” game in a row. That is not insignificant, since he hadn’t had one since October 29th (the 7-1 win against Toronto) and had only three all year coming into this weekend.

In last night’s game, the Capitals played Carolina’s game better. As we noted, the Hurricanes has 13 goals in 51 power play chances over their previous ten games (25.5 percent). They also killed 33 of 38 shorthanded situations in those previous ten games (86.8 percent). Well, the Caps scored on their first three power play chances and kept the Hurricanes’ chances to a minimum, killing both shorthanded situations. Carolina is a very pedestrian even-strength team lately, and making them play that way kept them chasing the Capitals all night.

There were some performances last night that might otherwise go unheralded, too. For instance, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann each put four shots on goal. Fleischmann had eight attempted shots. Although none went in, making the opponent play defense and expend energy in his own end is all part of the idea to attack and press the issue. Often, a team won’t have much left in the third period when – hopefully, and as was the case last night – the opponent is playing catch-up.

The Capitals don’t look so much different as much as they look like the team that won the first two games of the season. They cashed in on their opportunities, controlled the puck for long stretches, and made the opponent play all 200 feet of the ice – there weren’t a lot of turnovers of the eye-rolling variety. Winning two in a row has gotten them closer to 29th place, so there is still quite a hole to climb out of. The Caps have ten games over the next three weeks, all of which are against Eastern Conference teams and five of which will be played against divisional opponents. There is no time like the present to right some wrongs and climb back into the thick of things.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, November 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Yes, Caps fans, we are back, despite our somnambulistic funk from 'od'-ing on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and all the assorted treats of the holiday.

Speaking of turkey, the Caps finally had a game that wasn’t. The 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday was the first win in more than two weeks. One was starting to lose touch with just what such an occurrence felt like.

But now, as you work your way through leftovers, and you recover from a lack of sleep from awakening to a Black Friday, we bring you our humble prognostication for tonight’s tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes have separated themselves from the rest of the Southeast pack with 29 points, compared to 23 for Florida (thought the Panthers would be in second place in the division after Thanksgiving?...if you did, buy a Powerball ticket today). But it’s not as if they are setting the world on fire lately, having gone 2-3-0 in their last five and 6-4-0 in their last 10 games.

The Hurricanes still lead the league in scoring, but their 29 goals over their last ten games has had them slip to 3.39 goals per game. Their 29 goals allowed over the last ten is consistent with their 2.87 goals allowed per game for the year, which puts them 17th in the league. Their power play has not been their problem. Scoring 13 goals in 51 chances over their last ten games (25.5 percent) leaves them second in the league overall for the year. Cory Stillman has four of those power play goals to give him the team lead with seven…those seven power play goals are more than any Capitals’ total number of goals except for Alex Ovechkin.

Carolina’s penalty killing also has picked up. They’ve killed 33 of 38 shorthanded situations in their last ten games (86.8 percent) to lift them to 26th in the league (77.6 percent).

It is in even-strength situations that the Hurricanes have struggled. Having been outscored 27-16 in that situation over their last ten games, you might think that Carolina’s record would have been worse than it is. But it is a signal of what special teams means in this league now that the Hurricanes managed six wins.

Stillman is 7-7-14, -4 in his last ten games, but has no goals over his last five. Rod Brind’Amour is 5-5-10, -5 over his last ten. Eric Staal has five goals as well (and is a -4). Justin Williams…four goals and a -4. See a theme emerging here?

Cam Ward has had eight of the last ten starts for the Hurricanes (5-3-0), but might get the baseball cap tonight, as he was in net last night for Carolina’s 4-3 comback win over Tampa Bay.

If Grahame gets the nod, he’s 1-1-0 for the Hurricanes in their last ten, and he has a similar record for his career against the Caps: 6-6-0, 2.64, .890. He was the losing netminder in the Caps’ 2-0 win in the home opener on October 6th.

For the Caps, it is a chance to do something they haven’t done since that home opener…win two in a row. Since beating Carolina that night, they are 5-14-1, but they are proud owners of a win in their last game, and that is something to build on. One hopes that they don’t get too full of themselves…or too full of leftovers, for that matter. There are some guys who should avoid some menu items, altogether…

Tom Poti…mashed potatoes. Poti has only five hits for the year – worst on the club among defensemen (ok, Steve Eminger has only one, but is he even in town these days?). Having anything mashed, soft, and creamy is the last thing he would seem to need.

Alex Ovechkin…gravy. He’s got 57 missed shots for the year, more than double that of the next highest Cap. If he ladles the gravy, he’s as likely to plop it on the centerpiece as on his plate.

Chris Clark…chestnut stuffing. This guy’s so tough (ear, shoulder, mouth over the last season-plus), he might not have even peeled the chestnuts…he’ll just have ‘em skin-on, thanks.

Boyd Gordon and David Steckel….the candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows. You don’t want these guys fighting over the yams. Between them they’ve won 54.2 percent of their draws. If they’re going at the sweet potatoes against one another, you might end up with candied wallpaper with marshmallow accents.

Poti…whatever’s left on the table. He leads the team with 28.2 shifts a game. If you don’t stop him, he might go for that many helpings, and then where would you be?

Nicklas Backstrom…turkey. Hey, he now leads the team in game-winning goals (two). You can’t have him falling asleep in front of the TV with his belt-buckle undone…he needs to be out there.

But, the leftovers have been tasty so far, as the Caps are 1-0-0 in the post-Thanksgiving season. The Hurricanes are in a muddy stretch of water at the moment, and the key to this game is keeping the Carolina power play opportunities to a minimum. It says here that the Caps will do just that...the only turkey tonight will be what's on your leftover sandwiches, and fans will drive home tonight waving their car flags proudly as the Caps start off 2-0-0 in the Boudreau era…

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 2

Friday, November 23, 2007

A TWO Point Night...Caps 4 - Flyers 3 (OT)

A TWO point night…that’s right, a TWO point night.

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

So, having announced the obvious, I’ll be the one to say…and?

There is the good, the bad, and the ugly in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers – sort of a Readers’ Digest version of the Caps’ season so far.

The Good…

- For those of you scoring at home, this was only the third loss at home of any kind by the Flyers this season (6-1-2 after today’s 4-3 overtime loss).

- It was the first NHL win in his first NHL game as head coach for Bruce Boudreau

- It was a game-winning goal for “shoulda-been-first-star” Nicklas Backstrom. The kid plays like he’s been in the NHL ten years…ok, maybe five.

- It was a solid game by Brian Pothier. The trick to his game seems to be to play within himself. If he does that, he probably won’t be on the ice for a lot of goals for, but he won’t be on for many against, either, and that is really the more important consideration for his role.

- The depth of Alexander Ovechkin’s game. He was held to one shot on goal in the first two periods, but ramped up his whole game quite a bit in the third. Four shots, four hits, three takeaways, and the primary assist on the game-winner.

- Chris Clark…one might think that he was a little over the top in coming to the defense of Boyd Gordon, taking a double minor, a major, and a misconduct (wearing the visor does have its drawbacks in the rules…see Rule 47.6). But the Captain was sending a message – to the Flyers and to his teammates. Had the double minor resulted in any more than the goal by Daniel Briere, it might have been different, but in service of a win? Clark earned “stand-up” points for taking on Scott Hartnell.

The Bad…

- Matt Pettinger…not that he played badly, but he is in one hellacious stretch of bad luck. He can’t buy a goal at the moment. Five shots, and nothing to show for it, including an excellent chance when he was in alone on Martin Biron. Right now, he could be firing pucks at Martin Short and wouldn’t find twine.

- Milan Jurcina…was better than he’s been the last 3-4 weeks, but that shouldn’t be confused with being good, either. He had his moments when he was not in any position to make a play, and that’s a bad place to be for a defenseman, especially in his own zone.

- Jeff Schultz. One might have noticed that there were no Capitals’ defensemen in the frame of the shot when Mike Richards was left alone in front of Olaf Kolzig to sweep the puck in…those defensemen would have been Schultz and Jurcina.

The Ugly…

- The Jeff Carter goal…it almost defined the term, “wish I could have that one back” for Olaf Kolzig. Coming two minutes after the Briere goal, it could have spelled curtains for the Caps, but today was a different day…

…and speaking of which, the Caps clearly had the “new coach jump.” A team that looked to be skating through the motions for the last month looked invigorated. When pressured, they didn’t buckle. When dealt adversity, they didn’t wilt.

But kids, that is one game. Unless it escaped our attention, the Caps are still last in the East and will be when they take the ice in tomorrow’s contest against Carolina. But a team can only win one game at a time. And the Caps won this one against an opponent that was playing decently (3-1-1 in their last five games) and was very difficult on their ice (6-1-1 at home coming into this game).

The Caps had a different “look” in this game, though, that goes beyond the level of intensity. Not since the opening game of the season had the Caps shown this degree of willingness to press an attack. Like the first few games of the season, the Caps did a much better job in controlling both the puck and the terms of play. That they out-attempted the Flyers, 60-45 (shots, attempts blocked, missed shots) is testimony to that fact.

Bruce Boudreau is 1-0-0. He will not go 61-0-0. But his team might be pretty interesting to watch, if this game is any indication of the style he intends to impose on the club.

Photos: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images, Rusty Kennedy/AP

Thursday, November 22, 2007


"If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing."

-- Saint Augustine

Glen Hanlon has spent 751 games in the NHL as a player and a coach, most of that in service of teams that struggled on the ice. But Hanlon is certainly no loser, despite what you might read into what is being posted on some fan sites on this holiday. Hanlon, who was relieved of his duties today after last night’s 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers, was probably the right guy to oversee the Capitals as it took its first tentative steps out of the depths of its struggles in 2003-2004. His even-keel disposition and patience with a club that would have had Casey Stengel repeating his plaintive question, “can’t anybody here play this game?” allowed some of the younger guys the chance to get their legs under them at the highest level of play.

For whatever reason, though, Hanlon seemed ill-suited to the next phase in the Caps’ development. A club with as much talent – at least on paper – as this might not be a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender, but they had no business being 6-14-1 and on a pace for their worst season in 30 years. The match was no longer there between what the club needed and what Hanlon could provide.

For the Caps, it falls now to Bruce Boudreau to make some sense out of this club. The Hershey headmaster gets his first NHL gig in a difficult circumstance, but therein lies an opportunity. He has the title of “interim” head coach, and one can’t know if that means “until the Caps hire a full time replacement shortly,” or if he’ll hold that title for the rest of the year. Should it be the latter, the playoffs are a long shot at best, but if he can bring this club to respectability and at least give fans a reason to be optimistic at year end, he will more than have done his job. The underlying concern though, is that this will be the third consecutive AHL coach hired to take the reins here. We’ll admit to harboring that concern. But after thinking about it and reading what Mike Vogel had to say about it, we think it important to look at Boudreau’s record on its own:

- He has never failed to make the playoffs in eight seasons behind an AHL bench.
- He has five consecutive 40-or-more win seasons coming into 2007-2008.
- He has two 50-plus win seasons in his last three years as a head coach in the AHL.
- He has an ECHL and AHL title in his resume.
- Only once in eight seasons in the AHL did he have a sub-.500 record…his first year, coaching at Lowell.

If someone can make this situation work, it is Boudreau.

In Glen Hanlon, the Caps lost the services of a coach who exhibited decency and a concern for his players. There are coaches in this league who might have been inclined to throw a player under the bus in an effort to promote himself or to save his job. Hanlon, to his credit, was not that coach. He would express his displeasure with players in ways that mattered – cutting back on their ice time or having them take a seat in the press box – but never did he call out his players in public. He was a player’s coach and should not be faulted if what was called for this year was a sterner hand.

In Bruce Boudreau, the Caps get a winner, a coach who has accomplished all there is to accomplish at the minor league level. He arrives at a crossroads for the club. Many of the players that make up the core of the “rebuild” played for Boudreau at Hershey and succeeded under his direction. Whether those players – or Boudreau, for that matter – can recapture that magic is going to go a long way to determining whether the future is bright, or just a mirage.

To both Glen and Bruce, good luck.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, November 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, Caps fans, here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, and we’re finding it a little hard to be thankful, at least hockey-wise.

But fear not…we have with us one of the great hockey minds of the modern era to help us navigate our way through these discouraging times. Let’s sit down with…Dr. Seuss.
Doc, welcome…we’re very happy to have you here to answer a few questions for us…

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Well, first, to what do you attribute this disappointing start by the Caps?

“I'm sorry to say so but, sadly it's true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.”

So, you see this as a matter of injuries…do you think they can recover from this slow start? Do you think they have to look at things with a little more urgency?

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

They had that fine start to the season – the three-game opening winning streak. What was different then, compared to now?

“When they played they really played. And when they worked they really worked.”

Some fans think that the Caps need to be a little nastier in their play, that they are letting teams take too many liberties with them. What do you think their attitude should be when opponents start getting chippy?

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

It’s a long way to get into the top eight…the old cliché has it that teams in that position need to take them one at a time. How do you keep a sense of optimism in that situation?

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”

Coach Glen Hanlon is having a tough time of his own right now…what would you say to him?

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go.”

Strategy-wise, the club seems a bit lost. They have a lot of skill, but they’re not really displaying it much…what would you change?

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

If you could step into the locker room and give the boys some encouragement, what would you tell them?

“Will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

Well, Doc…you’ve given all of us a lot to think about. As for the game, the Caps host another divisional rival – the Atlanta Thrashers – which presents both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is, of course, the chance to earn two points at the expense of a team in their division. The problem is that while the Caps won their first three divisional games this season, they are winless in their last six games against Southeast Division rivals (0-5-1). So it is with more than a little trepidation that we look at what Atlanta brings to the table.

It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Thrashers. In the first – an 0-6-0 start that got head coach Bob Hartley a pink slip – the Thrashers made up for inconsistent offense with a ghastly defense. They were shut out twice, scored more than two goals just once, and were 2-for-26 (7.7 percent) on the power play. On the other side, they didn’t hold any opponent to fewer than three goals, gave up an average of more than 34 shots a game, and allowed 10 power play goals in 35 shorthanded situations (71.4 percent penalty killing). They did not happen about their record by accident.

Since then…

The Thrashers are 10-4-0, they’ve scored 47 goals in those 14 games – scoring more than three goals six times – and their power play is succeeding at a 18.5 percent rate. Defensively, they still are a work in progress, but in their recent 6-1-0 stretch they have held opponents to two goals or fewer four times. With respect to the latter, the result is in large part a product of surprisingly effective play out of Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg in goal, getting playing time as Kari Lehtonen, who only returned to practice with the club this past Sunday after suffering a groin injury against the Rangers last month, has been on the shelf.

Pavelec won the first three games of this seven-game stretch (including a 31-save effort against the Caps in a 2-1 overtime win) before tumbling a bit and giving up five goals in a 5-3 loss to Carolina. Hedberg stepped in and won the last three, stopping 67 of 72 shots in the process and recording a shutout of the Hurricanes.

On the offensive side of the ledger, if there a term more descriptive than “hot” to describe Ilya Kovalchuk?

...blistering?....scorching?...sizzling?...blazing? He has 11 goals in his last eight games. That’s a pace for a 113-goal season, which if memory serves would be a record. But it’s not as if Marian Hossa isn’t in his rear-view mirror, either. Hossa has seven goals in those same eight games. Lurking in the weeds is Todd White, who is 3-5-8 in his last seven games, himself.

Atlanta’s recipe for their recent success has been simple. The goalies keep the club in games long enough for Kovalchuk and Hossa to find the back of the net – those two have 18 of the Thrashers last 29 goals.

Fortunately…well, maybe…the Caps’ problems haven’t been as much on defense as they have on offense. But Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin aren’t exactly chopped herring in the goal-scoring department themselves. For the Thrashers, it’ll be six of one, half a dozen of the other in terms of who gets the start in goal, if Lehtonen’s return is delayed any further. Hedberg has the advantage of familiarity with and a decent enough record against the Caps, but Pavelec played extremely well in what was his only career appearance against Washington.

Half a dozen…hmm…

It’ll be an entertaining game, with ups and downs and subplots and scary moments, but it’ll provide some interesting conversation around the Thanksgiving tables of Caps fans. Y’all can talk about the hat trick for Ovechkin when you’re passing the candied yams…

Caps 6 – Thrashers 4

…and with that, we’re probably going to be away for a few days doing some holiday festivizing of our own. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving, Caps Nation.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, either...

Kate McGovern over at Off Wing Opinion caught the Caps' season in a single image...

Caps fans, not to mention Alex Ovechkin, might harbor the hope that the joy will be so much sweeter for having endured the struggles. Right now, it's not much consolation.

It wasn't supposed to be like this...

This morning, the Washington Capitals are 23rd in the league on the power play (14.6 percent). Since going 2-for-5 with the man advantage in their 7-1 win at Toronto on October 29th (and isn't that starting to look like this year's high-water mark?), they are 4-for-33 (12.1 percent).

Why? Well, there isn't a single factor to which you could point and say, "there, that's the reason." But an important consideration in the Caps' woes appears in James Mirtle's blog entry on power players. See if you can find it...