Thursday, February 08, 2007

And now, a preview from the past -- The Best of The Peerless

From "The Best of The Peerless" collection . . . something to get ready for Saturday night, a vignette from 2004 . . .

LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLET’S GET READY TO PROGNOSTICA-A-A-A-A-TE! We’re here at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of sport, for tonight’s fight card between the Washington Capitals, led by Ted “The Big Blogger” Leonsis and the New York Rangers, with their new acquisition, Jaromir “The Contract” Jagr.

These foes are evenly matched, bringing a stunning lack of defense and shaky goaltending to the fray, hoping that somehow, they can land enough haymakers into their opponent’s net to negate the distinct lack of defensical fortitude one needs to wear the champion’s belt . . . uh, hoist the Cup.

In the tale of the tape, the Rangers have the advantage in size, scoring, defense, payroll, and offensive fans. The Caps have the advantage in . . . uh . . . hmmm . . .

The teams and their principals are coming out . . . here’s Jagr, coming out last, wearing a blue jersey, red pants, and skates with yellow tasseled laces. He looks determined, his face a mask of stone (which must really, really be heavy). And here is Leonsis . . . adorned with a dark pin-stripe suit, white shirt, yellow tie, and tasseled loafers. What is the deal these days with fighters and tassels?

Leonsis and Jagr glare at one another across the ice. And the fans are getting into it, too. One fan is holding up a sign . . . “Hey, Ted . . . You Fight Better Than Your Team.” Well, at least he didn’t have anything referring to AOL on the sign (opening at 18.34 a share today, up 85 percent over its 52-week low).

The referee smooths his hair and brings the teams together at center ice . . . let’s listen in . . . “OK, boys, you know the rules . . . no punching on the break, no rabbit punches, keep your wallets in your pockets, and when the linesmen come in, immediately go to a neutral corner . . . now shake hands and put your sticks in.”

A comely lass skates out to hold up the round card, and we’re ready for the bout to begin . . . DING! Round One! . . . and the Rangers come out swinging . . . Eric Lindros wins the draw back to Brian Leetch, who sends the puck up to Jagr . . . Jagr curls into the zone and spies Martin Rucinsky on his left . . . Jagr sends a pass across to Rucinsky, who skates in and fires a jab at Olaf Kolzig . . . Kolzig blocks the jab, and the Caps head the other way . . . Brendan Witt starts the play up to Peter Bondra . . . Bondra skates through the center of the ring . . . uh, rink . . . he moves past Tom Poti and is cruising toward Mike Dunham . . . Bondra tries a hook around the net and score on a wrap-around, but Dunham fends off the blow . . . it’s up-and-down, rock-‘em, sock-‘em hockey . . . Kovalev on a drive . . . Lang with a wrister . . . Holik in front . . . Carter from the circle . . . oh, the haymakers being thrown . . . the crowd is in a frenzy . . . DING! . . . and we’re at the end of Round One!

First Intermission . . . Joining us in the prognosti-booth is former heavyweight champion George Foreman with his take . . . Champ, what did you think of Leonsis’ bout the other night . . .

“Well, Ted has great footwork for a man of his size . . . as a guy who enjoys cheeseburgers as much as Ted looks like he does, I know that’s something you don’t learn easily. But, I think he should have softened up the midsection with some body shots before going for the choke-and-throw move . . . that will come with experience, though. It wasn’t bad for his first bout of the season.”

DING! . . . Round Two . . . In contrast to the fast pace of the second period, the teams come out sizing each other up, looking for the counterpunch. It’s more like the undercard as Matthew Barnaby and Chris Simon are on the ice with Stephen Peat and Darcy Verot. The quartet circle one another with sneers on their faces and malice in their hearts (or else they must have had too many Nathan’s Famous with chili before the game). They eye each other warily . . . looking for an opportunity to drop the gloves . . . to send a mess- . . . wait! While that’s going on, Alexander Semin skates by and in alone on Mike Dunham . . . “alone,” you ask? But where is the Ranger defense? . . . they’re at the bench, arguing with Sather that “hey, if I don’t play defense, and I skate pretty, I should be getting at least six . . . seven million a year.” Dunham can only look like those poor befuddled fans at intermission playing that spin-around-the-stick game as Semin dekes, pulls it back, and wraps the puck around the dizzy, fallen goaltender . . .

Meanwhile, Simon, Peat, Verot, and Barnaby are striking John L. Sullivan poses . . . seeing as how this is going on with new quintets ready to take the ensuing faceoff, both teams are whistled for too-many-men-on-the-ice . . . off the ice, The Big Blogger is enduring the chants of Ranger fans . . . “Let’s Go M-S-N clap clap clap-clap-clap . . . Let’s Go M-S-N clap clap clap-clap-clap” . . . seems to be a reference to certain business interests. Finally, when a Ranger fan wearing a home jersey and sporting MSN butterfly wings taunts TBB (The Big Blogger), he goes off, hurling AOL 9.0 Optimized CDs at him. The fan retaliates by beating TBB with his wings. They’re at it, tooth and nail . . . even the players on the ice are struck dumb by the spectacle. Finally, security pulls them apart, and TBB is in distress . . . “mah eye, Mick . . . mah eye . . . cut me, Mick.” Someone answering to the name of “Mick” picks up a CD and cuts the swollen eye. DING! . . . and we’re at the end of a very eventful Round Two.

Second Intermission . . . It looks like the Caps are ahead on the judges’ cards, Champ . . . what do you think so far?

“Well, as sure as I’m fat, old, slow, and bald, thing can change in the blink of an eye. You can’t tell what the outcome is going to be until it’s over. It’s like a cheeseburger . . . you wouldn’t decide whether it was good or not if you just had the meat . . . you need the bun, the tomatoes, the onions, the cheese, the pickles, the lettuce, the jalapenos, the mushrooms, the . . .

Thanks, Champ . .

“bacon, the ketchup, the mustard, the hot sauce, the zucchini, the raspberry jam, the spinach, the calamari, the almond paste, the truffles, the . . .

DING! . . . Round Three . . . The principals come out for the last round. It’s been a titanic struggle, on the ice and in the stands. The referee takes one last look at his coif in the reflection from the glass and heads to center ice for the faceoff to start the round. . . . The period starts in bizarre form as a stick flies out of a Ranger’s hands and whacks him in the teeth. While the chiclets are being collected, a penalty is called . . . Caps, four minutes for high sticking. WHAT?! Brendan Witt, Mike Grier, and Peter Bondra are all following the referee to the scorer’s table to plead that the Ranger whacked himself . . . all to no avail. TBB is restless in his seat . . . and then, a second penalty is shown on the board . . . unsportsmanlike conduct . . . a 5-on-3 advantage, and TBB is on the edge of his seat.

The Rangers start throwing head shots . . . a drive by Leetch . . . a deflection try by Lindros . . . a curl-and-drag to the net by Jagr . . . all stymied by Olaf Kolzig . . . until the whistle is blown, and . . . delay of game? The Caps’ bench is incensed . . . Glen Hanlon is standing on the bench, screaming at the ref . . . and another penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct is whistled. The fans are going crazy . . . it’s taking a squad of out-of-work Arthur Andersen accountants to tally up the damage in penalties for the Caps . . . the Rangers are putting all of their skillful wares on display . . . Lindros’ ruggedness . . . Leetch’s skating . . . Jagr’s stickhandling . . . Messier’s Cro Magnon orbital ridge . . . raining a hail of punches . . . uh, pucks down on Olaf Kolzig. A shot is turned into the corner . . . Jagr picks it up and throws a cross-ice pass in the direction of Petr Nedved, except Nedved is on the Rangers’ bench . . . the puck is picked up by Peter Bondra, and as one, the Rangers exclaim, “ACK, WE HAVE TO PLAY DEFENSE!” Bondra skates in on a clean break, not a Ranger in the same borough . . . Dunham can only sigh as the puck flies by (“oh gee, another night at the Garden . . . no defense”), and the Caps have a 2 goal lead.

Amidst the celebrating, the Caps are whistled for another delay-of-game penalty, and TBB is out of his seat. The Rangers are looking to land a combination to take advantage of what seems this forever 5-on-3. Jagr is at the right wing boards . . . he looks over the situation . . . he skates into the seam between Trent Whitfield and Brendan Witt and flicks his wrists . . . where’s the puck? He forgot to bring it with him! (must be in a New York state of mind). Mike Grier is heading the other way on another breakaway . . . Dunham is contemplating life as a color analyst for TSN Canada when Grier slides the puck into the twine . . . the Ranger fans, so thrilled a few moments ago, are booing loudly enough for people at LaGuardia Airport not to be able to hear planes taking off. The slapstick plays out as the clock winds down, and the blueshirts skulk off after being upset by the Caps, 3 - 0. The team skates off, pleased with its feisty performance, one mirrored by a certain owner, who still unhappy, confronts a referee outside the locker room . . .

. . . we can’t know what really went on, but I’d swear that I heard a legendary sportscaster’s voice exclaiming . . .


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Kings, February 8th

Hate playin’ the Flyers
They’re big and they’re dumb
And all the players play like donkeys
Let’s leave the Oilers to the eskimos
That town’s a little too far away
For you and me, you Caps fans

Rollin’ down . . . I-95
Headin’ to Verizon and we just can’t be late
Noreaster’ wind blowin’ cold from the north
And we was born to skate

Roll down the window, put down the top
Crank up Steve Kolbe, baby
Don’t let the goal scorin’ stop
We’re gonna skate until we just can’t skate anymore

From the parkway to the Beltway
From the west side to the east side
Everybody’s very happy
’cause the Caps are gonna win this time
Looks like another perfect day

We play L.A. (we love it)
We play L.A. (we love it)

Look at that statue
Looks like Willsie
Look at that bum over there, man
It’s Mike Cammalleri
Look at these goobers
These guys ain’t goin’ nowhere

Lead after one period (we love it)
Lead after two periods (we love it)
Lead after three periods (we love it)
Fun street! (we love it, we love it)

We’ll beat L.A.
We’ll beat L.A.
(we love it!)

Well, the Caps oughtta love it, but that’s what The Peerless said about Boston, too. The Kings are 2-8-2 in their last 12 games, and but for the grace of the Flyers would have the worst record in the NHL. They’ve been outscored in their last 12 games, 41-31, but even that is deceptive. That number includes a 7-0 pounding of Florida (a club the Caps can’t seem to beat . . . please take note) for one of their two wins.

Special teams have been a particular problem for the Kings. The power play has been anemic – 5-for-52 (9.6 percent). Given the Caps recent woes (2-for-25 in their last five games), power plays could be truly painful to watch. The Kings also have had problems keeping up for 60 minutes. They’ve held their own in the first period, outscored by only 13-12. But as the game wears on (10 goals for/14 against in the second period, 8 goals for/13 against in the third), they wilt. If there is one silver lining for the Kings in this woeful dozen games, it is that both wins have been on the road.

The Kings have scored first in seven of these last 12 games, and the first goal in six of them was scored by either Alexander Frolov or Mike Cammalleri. In fact, Frolov is 7-3-10, +3, in the last 12 games, while Cammalleri is 7-8-15, +5. Think those two should get some attention? The rest of the club combined has 17 goals in 12 games.

If the Kings have a “secret weapon” to use here, it is Sean Burke. The veteran goalie joined the club and started his season with a solid 43 minutes against Phoenix on January 20th (23 saves on 24 shots, no decision). Since then, Burke is 2-2-2 and has occasionally been outstanding in his performance. Overall, he has a 2.34 GAA and .930 save percentage.

Again, the Kings are a club the Caps – if they show up – should handle, well, handily. But that’s been the problem, hasn’t it? The Caps can scare up enough of an effort to slash the Sabres or blow over the Hurricanes, then they go toes up against teams with animal mascots (Panthers, Bruins, Coyotes).

Maybe that’s it! The Caps have some weird allergy to fur, metaphorically speaking. This being an club with an inanimate mascot, the win is all but assured . . . we think.

Caps 5 – Kings 3.