Saturday, January 06, 2007

Your OMMAA for December

Well, it’s that time again, time for The Peerless’ “Old Man’s Major Award Award.” This month’s OMMAA goes to a Cap who really outdid himself, a Cap who distinguished himself in ways heretofore unheard of this season, a Cap whose 0-1-1, -3 line means little in the larger scheme of things.

No, the winner for December had barely 100 minutes of ice time for the month but took 57 minutes in penalties, had seven fights (including bouts in three straight games), and was suspended for one game (his second suspension of the year).

The winner of the coveted OMMAA for December is none other than . . .

Donald Brashear

Display it proudly, Donald . . . just don't punch it.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, January 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Southeast Shootout time, once more, as the Caps return to divisional play to take on the Atlanta Thrashers, who this morning are not likely in a good mood. The Thrashers took a three-goal lead against the suddenly surprising Phoenix Coyotes early in the third period. The 4-1 lead should have ended the competitive portion of the contest. Well, it didn’t.

Phoenix scored a goal of its own a little over a minute later, then added goals by Shane Doan and Owen Nolan to tie things up before Yanic Perreault won it in overtime, 5-4.

After a five-game winning streak in late-December, Atlanta has gone on to stub their figurative toe in the last four, going 1-2-1. And the problem, as it usually is in such cases, is defense. The Thrashers have given up 16 goals in this short stretch; in their only win they gave up but two. Special teams have been a particular problem. Their inability to kill penalties effectively (72.7 percent of 22 chances) has been a problem matched by a power play that has converted on two of 16 chances (12.5 percent).

Atlanta had been among the more formidable road-scoring teams in the league but have dropped to tenth in per-game road scoring (2.87 goals/game). If there is one place the Thrashers struggle on the road – a point amplified in their last four games – it is on special teams. They are in the middle of the pack in goals scored (12th in goals with 17, 16th in conversions at 15.6 percent) but are dead last in the league in goals allowed (30) and 26th in penalty killing conversions (75.8 percent).

As usual, the Thrasher to look for is Jonathan Sim, Capital Killer (note: his contract -- $610,000 –- is up after this year . . . signing him might be the best thing the Caps can do for their defense, given that they see this guy eight times a year – short of trading a seventh round pick for Scott Niedermayer). Sim is 3-2-5, +1 in five games against the Caps this year, 11-6-17, +6 in 19 games for his career.

Oh yeah, the Thrashers have Marian Hossa, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk, too . . . they happen to be the numbers 2, 17, and 21 scorers in the league.

Kari Lehtonen should be returning to the nets tonight (Johan Hedberg played and took the loss last night), and that is not good news for the home team. His overall stats are not especially noteworthy – 2.79 GAA (21st), .912 (16th) – but he’s never lost to the Caps in regulation. He is 2-0-1 this year, 5-0-1 for his career.

Washington finished the first half 17-17-4, 41 points, which is better than where they were last year after 41 games (13-23-5, 31 points) and a lot better than two years ago (11-25-4-1, 27 points), but that 1-7-0 stretch to end the year (including New Year’s Day) left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The Caps won in their last time out, though – a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. And in doing so, they danced with what brung ‘em to a 15-10-7 record on December 16th – timely scoring (pairs of goals by Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin), solid goaltending, low-risk defenseman play, responsible play from the forwards, and a bit of luck (Saku Koivu taking a penalty to wash out the tying goal when the game was sill in doubt, for example).

That’s what it will take tonight. Atlanta has the firepower – and that Sim guy – to make things ugly for a club that doesn’t bring its “A” game, especially on defense. It will start in goal, where Olaf Kolzig should get the nod. The thing is, though, Kolzig’s record against this club is not as good as one might expect for having faced what has been a bad club for most of its existence. Kolzig is 0-2-1 against the Thrashers this year, 12-10-4-2 for his career. It’s not as if his statistics against the Thrashers (2.72, .906) are much different than his overall career stats (2.68, .907). The Caps have often played just good enough to lose in front of him.

If you’re looking for one Cap to have a good night tonight, it would be a guy who could use one, goal-scoring wise. Alexander Ovechkin is 4-4-8 in five games against the Thrashers this year, 9-13-22 in 13 games in his career. Ovechkin, who has slipped to third in the goal scoring race, hasn’t had a goal in his last five games, one game off his career high (twice last year).

Other Caps to watch would include Dainius Zubrus, who on the heels of his two-goal effort against Montreal comes into this game 4-4-8 in five games against Atlanta this year, Alexander Semin, who has four goals in eight career games against the Thrashers, and Chris Clark, who has five points in five games this year.

In this morning’s Washington Post article, Dainius Zubrus made the point that "If our point shot [on the power play] is a threat, that forces the other teams to come out to challenge it, and that opens things up down low. The other thing is we need to shoot when we have a chance. Sometimes our mentality is to make the perfect play and score into an empty net. Power-play goals are about rebounds or bounces." While that is true in light of the Caps power play problems recently (9-for-58, 15.5 percent in their last ten games),it hints at a related point. The Caps haven’t been much of a threat in terms of scoring from defensemen. This was especially true during the 1-7-0 stretch, when the Caps had a total of three goals from defensemen, one in the last seven games of that streak. However, the addition of Lawrence Nycholat has opened up things a bit. He has two goals in his last four games, and Brian Pothier chipped in with his first of the year in the one-goal loss to Phoenix on New Year’s Day.

The Caps broke the schneid against the Thrashers in their last contest, thanks to some late-game heroics from Alexander Ovechkin, who scored a hat trick and the game-winning overtime goal. The Caps appear to be emerging from their holiday nap, but this will be a test of whether they are ready to make a January push to be a contender, or if they are still marking time.

Caps 4 – Thrashers 3.