Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, January 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! . . .

Tonight, we get right back on the horse, put all those losses behind us, start from scratch, it’s 0-0, and . . .

“Hey, you don’t need macadamia nuts to fondle a donkey.”*

Well, isn’t this fortuitous . . . it’s TV’s favorite shrink, Dr. Phil himself – just in time to tackle the woes that have befallen our beloved Capitals. Doc, how are you doin’?

“It’s time to get real!”

o-o-o-o-o-kay, then. Doc, the Caps have been in the doldrums lately. What advice would you give to the boys?

“You don’t need sideburns to eat a bug.”

Ok, Ok, I can understand that . . . sort of. But they’ve really been listless in their own end. They can’t seem to keep the puck out of their own net. Can you shine a light on the problem?

“You don't need a 50-watt light bulb to dance like an idiot 'til yer toes fall off.”

I never thought of it that way . . . but the guys seem to have lacked the fire that characterized their early play. Even Donald Brashear getting into a few scrapes doesn’t seem to have lifted the team . . .

“You don't need bad manners to get all up in somebody's grill, yo.”

I see, I see. But they just don’t seem to want to do the dirty work they need to do to win games lately . . .

“You don't need stain-resistant pants to put some pep in your step.”

That sounds like pretty good advice. Maybe they’re too tight, gripping those sticks a little too hard, do you think they should lighten up a bit?

“You don't need Shemp to dare to be stupid.”

I see . . . and maybe a bit grittier on the ice?

“You don't need a bag of wolverines to shave a weasel.”

No, but it might help . . . So, Dr. Phil . . . any advice for this columnist?

“You don't need an open mind to find your inner moron.”

Uh-huh…OK, so let’s get to the game. Since the last time these clubs met eight days ago, their combined records are 1-5-0, Montreal securing the only win in their last game, against Tampa Bay this past Tuesday. The Canadiens had trouble finding the back of the net for a couple of games, netting only single goals against Florida and Tampa Bay before breaking out with a five-spot against the Lightning in the second half of a home-and-home.

Montreal is not an especially fearsome scoring club on the road. Their 2.63 goals per game average puts them in the bottom third in the league in that statistic and is more than three-quarters of a goal per game worse than their home scoring average. However, their road defense is formidable. They are among the top clubs in fewest goals allowed-per-game (2.47), and no club has given up fewer goals overall on the road. What’s more, they are a very effective penalty killing team on the road – they are fourth in fewest power play goals allowed (14) and lead the NHL in shorthanded goals scored on the road (6). Their power play is a two-edged sword. They are fourth in the NHL in power play conversion on the road (19.5 percent), but stand 26th in total road power play opportunities.

That they would have so many shorthanded goals on the road and covert a high percentage of their own road power plays, few that those opportunities might be, suggests a very opportunistic club against which the Caps almost need to play with their own “road game” mentality. Trying to be too cute or too showy for the benefit of the home crowd could spell trouble. And, they need to take advantage of their own opportunities, something they failed to do in the last meeting, when the Caps converted only one of eight power play chances, and that lone goal (their only one in a 4-1 loss) coming when the game was largely settled.

Montreal doesn’t give up much, and when they do, Cristobal Huet has been up to the task of cleaning up the mess. He’s fifth in the league in GAA among goalies having the majority of their club’s appearances, first in save percentage.

The Caps, on the other hand, have a lot of problems to sort out, but they can be lumped into two broad categories – they give up too many goals, and they don’t score enough. Well…duh. In this 1-7 slide, the Caps have 18 goals scored, 32 allowed. Not only are they losing, they’re falling out of games early. They’re getting outscored by almost two goals a game in this stretch, and in the seven losses they’ve been outscored in the first period, 17-4. In only one of those games did the Caps score first. Even if one takes away the six-goal onslaught by Buffalo in the first period of the December 26th contest, the Caps were outscored 11-3 in six losses. It’s a lot to expect any club to come back from the early holes they consistently dig themselves into, but the Caps have had the added problem of lacking any scoring rhythm. When they were getting production from the top line, no one else seemed to be contributing, and now that there is some sign of life from some of the more unusual scoring suspects, the top line (Alexander Ovechkin-Dainius Zubrus-Chris Clark) hasn’t had a goal in four games.

As for what the Caps might need, let’s leave that one to the good Doctor . . . Doc?

“Sometimes you just got to give yourself what you wish someone else would give you.”

A good swift kick in the ass?

“You got it.”

Caps 2 – Canadiens 1.

* Quotes courtesy of the good folks at Mangy Dog Productions
And, just like those folks, this is not associated with Dr. Phil.