Saturday, January 13, 2007

Geez, we really suck that bad out there?

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Happy Hockey Day!!!

It's "Hockey Day in Canada" . . . something that can, and should be celebrated by fans all over North America.

Montreal at Ottawa
Vancouver at Toronto
Edmonton at Calgary

Those are the headliners for the day's festivities, but there are 11 other contests today and tonight, including the return of the NHL on NBC. But celebrate this great sport in your own way . . .

-- Wear a helmet to the 7-11 when you get your morning coffee
-- Ask everyone you meet, "nice day, eh?"
-- Tell the wife and kids, "No oh-fense, but I'm going oot for a six-pack of Labatt's so I can watch 'Hockey Day in Canada'."
-- Throw open the window and shout to no one in particular, "Bobby GOOOOOOOOOOOOOULD!!!"

It's Hockey Day . . . have a great one!

The Peerless Prognsoticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, January 13th

Tipping point…

That is a term that refers to the point in time at which something unique becomes commonplace. Here, it refers to a hockey team that takes its place among those in the upper echelon that can skate into an opponent’s building – an inferior opponent in this case – and skate off with a win, and not have it considered extraordinary.

That’s when a team that has struggled can be thought of as having taken the next step toward competitiveness.

The Caps find themselves in that position tonight, where most of the factors would appear in their favor as they visit the Florida Panthers . . .

-- They have a four-point lead in the standings and two games in hand
-- They face a team that has won only two of 14 games within the division this year
-- They’ve won three of their last four; Florida is 1-2-2 in their last five
-- They’ve won the previous two contests this year by a combined 9-3 margin
-- Washington comes into the game with two hot players – Alexander Semin is 7-2-9 in his last four games, Alexander Ovechkin is 3-8-11 in his last five.
-- Washington is 8-8-4 on the road this year, a far cry from last year’s 13-23-5.
-- Florida will be facing a resurgent Capitals offense without one of their top defenders; Branislav Mezei is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury

A win would be neither unexpected, nor surprising.

Of course, there is an opponent – one that on their home ice requires respect. Florida has a hot player of their own. Olli Jokinen has five goals in his last two games, including a hat trick in the face of some kid from Nova Scotia (shown here in an earlier contest about to execute an inward one-and-half with a twist) last Wednesday. It constitutes an awakening from something of a season-long slumber for Jokinen, who managed 16 goals in his first 44 games. A respectable total, but not necessarily outstanding.

In Florida’s 1-2-2 stretch over their last five games, they’ve managed six goals from Jokinen and 11 from the rest of the club. What they’ve managed is balance (to put the best spin on it). Those 11 goals were scored by ten different players, Rostislav Olesz the only player with two. The problem has been more at the other end of the ice, where the Panthers have yielded 20 goals in their last five games, including six in 13 shots (one an empty netter) in a disaster of a third period in their last game, a 6-4 loss to Carolina.

Florida’s special teams in the last five games have been good and bad. The good? They’ve killed 20 of 23 shorthanded situations (87.0 percent) and had a shorthanded goal that allowed them to steal a point in Vancouver. The bad? Their power play was unremarkable at 17.7 percent. The key was that the Panthers found themselves shorthanded six more times than their opponents. Overall, though, the problems Florida is having are matters of even-strength play.

The oddest numbers in all of those compiled by Florida in the last five games involves their scoring by period. Of the 17 goals they’ve scored, 10 were scored in the third period. Of the 20 they’ve given up, 13 were given up in the third period (including those six by Carolina). Stay tuned . . . the third period could be very entertaining tonight, if fire wagon hockey is your thing.

Florida is the very picture of mediocrity on home ice, statistically . . . 14th in goals scored, 17th in goals against, 14th in power play conversions, 18th in penalty killing. However, they are 11-8-2 at home, 4-0-1 in their last five home contests.

This is a club that can rise up and bite a visitor right in the Koho.

On the other side of the ice, the Caps’ 3-1-0 run in their last four included outscoring their opponents 18-10. That five of those ten in the last game (against Tampa) was a reflection of uninspired defense and attention in their own zone, as well as an off-night from Olaf Kolzig in goal (one would expect Brent Johnson to get an opportunity this evening, especially in light of his 4-2-0, 1.65, .946 career record against Florida). What was especially odd – and reflective of the inattentiveness to their own end – was that the Tampa game was the only one in the last four in which the Caps did not yield a power play goal.

The Caps’ power play came to life in the last four – 5 for 19 (26.3 percent) – three of the goals coming from the stick of Alexander Semin. The Caps have at least one power play marker in each of the games in this 3-1-0 stretch.

If there are players to watch, The Peerless would pay some attention to . . .

-- Nathan Horton. He has only one goal and three points in his last seven games. Olli Jokinen has carried the mail for the Panthers lately and could use some help. Watch to see if Horton steps up.

-- Dainius Zubrus. He’s 11-12-23, +9 in his career against Florida and is 2-1-3 in his two games this year. The Alexes have borne the goal-scoring burden lately (10 of the 18 scored in the last four games), and Zubrus has only four in his last 23 games. But, he gave some indications of emerging from that slump with two against Montreal on January 4th.

The Caps can and should win here. That they will is of no surprise . . .

Caps 4 – Panthers 2