Sunday, February 11, 2007

Contributions Needed

The Caps season that looked so bright when the club beat Philadelphia on December 16th to go to 15-10-7 has come unraveled in an 8-16-1 stretch since that night. What happened? Here's a clue . . .

The quartet of Alex Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, Chris Clark, and Alexander Semin have scored a total of 45 goals in that span of 25 games. The rest of the club?


That's right, on any given night, the rest of the club can be counted on for one goal. One. Now, let's break it down among the forwards who have logged significant time:

Matt Pettinger: 24 games, 2-6-8, -12
Kris Beech: 18 games, 3-4-7, -6
Ben Clymer: 23 games, 4-6-10, -2
Boyd Gordon: 25 games, 1-7-8, -2
Brooks Laich: 25 games, 3-5-8, +4
Brian Sutherby: 24 games, 2-1-3, -6 (14 games without a point, and counting)
Donald Brashear: 23 games, 2-2-4, +1

17 goals in 162 man-games. The Caps are not a difficult team to figure out.

A "Best of The Peerless" Pre-Preview of the Lightning

Since we have a five day hiatus before the Caps take the ice against the Lightning, we bring you another in a series of "The Best of the Peerless," from November 2003 . . .

Welcome, fans of the fastest team sport on earth to another edition of The Peerless Prognosticator, this time brought to you by . . . the makers of NyQuil, who advise you never to take this medication when driving or watching hockey teams that play the trap.

Re”Cap” of Caps versus Wild . . . well, one in a row wasn’t bad while it lasted. The Caps started slow, played like a team that didn’t get to bed until 4 a.m., and let a team in ugly jerseys have its way with them. The bottom half of the forward lines played as if it would have brought a jail term to actually take a shot on goal. The defensemen didn’t play altogether badly, they played badly individually. Dwayne Roloson could have knitted a sweater for all the work he had manning the Wild net (“Wild” . . . now there is an ill-fitting name for a team, given their style, which makes Perry Como sound like a hard-rocker). Well, it’s on the road again, this time to the sunnier climes of Florida to take on the undefeated (did anyone think they’d be using this adjective in their lifetime right before the word) Lightning of Tampa Bay. Let’s get to the business of the prognostications . . .

Pre-Game . . . it’s Election Day in this great land of ours, and nowhere is this solemn day more celebrated than in the great state of Florida. The Lightning are sponsoring a special promotion . . . they’ll “recount” your ticket price in half if you come dressed as a chad. They’ve invited U.S. Representative (and former Florida Secretary of State) Katherine Harris to “certify” tonight’s attendance figures.

First Period . . . Well, what do we call it? Peter Bondra ($4.5 million), Robert Lang ($5.0 million), and Jaromir Jagr ($11.0 million) . . . the “Trump Line?” . . . worth a fortune, but a gamble every time they take the ice? The “Gates Line?” . . . the richest line in all the NHL? “The Showcase Line?” . . . since all of them are rumored to be up for sale? The “100 Line?” . . . since if you add their jersey numbers (12-20-68), they sum to 100? The “Minus Chris Simon Line?” . . . because combined they’re a -17 on the year?

Oops, while all this was going on, the “GDP of Trinidad and Tobago” Line was losing the draw to Tim Taylor, Al Borland, and Heidi (in the lineup replacing Dave Andreychuk and Ben Clymer). Taylor pulled the puck back to Dan Boyle who sent it into the Caps’ zone. Sergei Gonchar circled behind the net to collect the puck, prompting Taylor to signal Borland to go in on the forecheck . . . “I don’t think so, Tim.” Gonchar sent the puck ahead to Jagr, but the lovesick right winger was distracted by Heidi (hey, who wouldn’t be?) . . . Brad Luckowich intercepted the puck and snapped it past a startled Olaf Kolzig, and the Lighting were celebrating the early election returns.

This just in . . . with one percent of the pucks in, CBS is calling the game for . . . the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here is Dan Rather . . . “as certain as a tick on a duck in July, the Tampa Bay Lightning are projected the winner in the hotly disputed hockey game with the Washington Capitals.” Huh?

Meanwhile, the brokerage firm of Bondra, Lang, and Jagr are seeking big returns on their investment in “puck-bellies.” Jagr curls into the zone, bringing that ugly schmutz of a defenseman Pavel Kubina with him . . . Jagr sends the puck back along the boards for Lang, who chips it over to Bondra, who winds and fires . . . and misses. Can’t anybody shoot this puck?! A question to ponder as the teams head off after one period, the Lightning up 1-0.

First Intermission . . . It’s the Fan Participation segment of the evening, and three Lightning fans are brought down to the ice to answer a hockey question . . . “Who is the all time leader in points scored in the National Hockey League?” A fan from St. Petersburg answers, “Warren Sapp.” Awwwww . . . close, but not the right answer. A fan from Bradenton answers, “Jeb Bush.” Hee-yeah . . . right. OK, last we have a fan from Clearwater who offers up . . . “Wayne Huizenga.” Hey, we have a winner! (Hey, he had the word “Wayne” in there, it’s close enough for these hockey-challenged boobs).

Second Period . . . The “National Debt Line” opens the period once more for the Caps. Tampa counters again with the “Tool Man-Borland-Heidi” line (all using the Binford 6000 Ultra-Max hockey stick . . . for what? . . . MORE POWER!! . . . argh-argh-argh). Lang backhands the puck to Jagr, who carries the mail down the right side. But, when Heidi flashes some skate, the puck dribbles off the end of his stick to Dan Boyle, who races the other way . . . Boyle skates through the Caps’ defense and is in alone on Olaf Kolzig, who to this point has been practicing his inflections in dropping “F-bombs!” . . . f-YOU! . . . uh, F- YOU!! . . . . um . . e-e-e-e-e-ff YOU! . . . Boyle is about to sneak the puck past the eloquent netminder when Kolzig spies him racing in . . . F-YOUUUUUU!!! as Kolzig makes the pad save to deny a glorious chance.

The “Spare Change Line” of Boyd Gordon, Brian Sutherby, and Stephen Peat jumps into the play and registers a shot on goal . . . ESPN reports this as breaking news on SportsCenter.

On NBC, Tom Brokaw breaks in to a heartwarming episode of Fear Factor for an update . . . “the race between the Tampa Bay Lah-ightning and the Washington Capitah-ls is too cl-ah-ose to cahl . . .” You interrupted a banquet of pigs brains and goose poop for that?!

Back to the action, the Monopoly Money Line of Bates Battaglia, Jeff Halpern, and Mike Grier are fighting off the thrusts of the Lecavalier line . . . Battaglia plants Frederik Modin right into Park Place, freeing the puck to be picked up by Mike Grier on a break . . . Grier separates himself from Jassen Cullimore and heads in alone on Nikolai Kh-h-h-h-abibulin (gotta cut back on the dairy) . . . he dekes left . . . dekes right . . . does the Hokey-Pokey . . . shakes it all about . . . and somewhere in this mess, the puck ends up in the back of the net! . . . hey, who cares, ‘cuz that’s what it’s all about!!

The period ends with more subplots and story twists than you can shake a palm tree at . . . will one of the “money” lines for the Caps be the heroes? Will any network call this election right? Will Brokaw ever get a speech coach? Will Jagr “score” with Heidi? The suspense is killing me! Lightning 1 - Caps 1.

Second Intermission . . . On ESPN, the NHL2Night crew is taking a turn into investigative journalism . . . “Barry Melrose: Dippity Do or Brylcreem?” Geraldo Rivera promises to get to the bottom of this story . . .

Third Period . . . Back and forth . . . CBS . . . NBC . . . CNN . . . ABC . . . FOX . . . they’re calling it for Tampa Bay . . . for Washington . . . for Tampa Bay . . . for Washington . . . the Caps are preparing a concession speech . . . Tampa is reported to be bowing out . . . the teams go back and forth. We might need the Supreme Court to intervene.

Finally, it’s up to the World Bank Line to extend a line of credit . . . Peter Bondra creates a turnover in the neutral zone and sends the puck across to Robert Lang . . . Jagr weaves behind Lang to pick up the puck . . . the Tool Man-Borland-Heidi line is backchecking . . . Heidi bats her eyes at Jagr, but a familiar voice slices through the crowd . . . “I love you, Jaromir!” . . . Andrea? . . . inspired by this unexpected turn of events, Jagr dispatches Heidi with a wave of his arm and turns in on Kh-h-h-h-abibulin, defenseless against the dekeitude about to be wrought upon him. Left, right, back, forth, up, down . . . a Curly woob-woob-woob for good measure, and the puck is in the back of the net.

Jagr plunges the dagger into the Lightning with an empty netter, leading FOX to call the election for George Bush and Dan Rather on CBS to talk about how it don’t rain in west Texas when the cows come home. The reunited lovebirds renew acquaintances, Tampa fans head off muttering to themselves, “Red-skins suck . . . Red-skins suck . . .” . . . and The Peerless heads off to console a rejected Heidi . . . 3 - 1, Caps.

The Morning After -- Caps vs. Rangers

No points tonight, Caps fans.


That’s the word that comes to mind thinking about the Caps’ 5-2 loss to the Rangers last night. And there was a lot to be frustrated about . . . a basketball game earlier that day left the ice resembling a gravel parking lot more than a smooth sheet of ice with the pucks bouncing all over the place . . . there was the now-required damage to a pane of glass . . . there was the return to the 90’s refereeing (what was that about obstruction calls being, well, called?) . . . there was the sick feeling as Alex Ovechkin skated in alone on Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway that there was no way he was going to score (he didn’t, as the puck rolled up the blade of his stick as he attempted a backhand) . . . there was Sean Avery . . . and there was the sinking feeling that this was it, that with the Caps being 8 points out of a playoff spot with 25 games to go and five teams to climb over, that this was the last meaningful game fans would see at Verizon Center this year.

The Caps now go on the road to play a Lightning team desperately hanging onto the eighth-place spot, a streaking Penguins team (14-2-3), and a solid Montreal club. The word coming to mind with respect to the Caps’ chances is, “bleak.”

Frankly, there was no excuse for this one. The Rangers came into Washington on the heels of a 5-0 whitewash of the Lightning, but they did play the previous night and had to travel. Still, the Caps ended up outshot in the first period 6-0 to start the game, 11-1 by the time the Rangers scored the first goal of the game 11:18 in, and 16-6 for the period. The Caps allowed the Rangers to set the tone and dictate the terms of competition pretty much the entire game.

Outwardly, this had the whiff of a “playoff” game for the Caps. Glen Hanlon shortened his bench drastically – four forwards (including Brian Sutherby) had less than ten minutes of playing time. Eric Fehr had one shift in the last 30 minutes. Matt Bradley – two shifts in the last 26 minutes . . . Donald Brashear – one shift in the last 28 minutes (although he did spend five of that in the box for pummeling Colton Orr) . . . Sutherby – two shifts in the last 23 minutes. Both teams trapped more than Jeremiah Johnson.

What this game came down to was experience and passing ability, the Rangers being on the long end of both. The Rangers arguably lost the stat sheet in many respects (hits, faceoffs, takeaways, blocked shots), but they won in one important respect – shots. Much of that was a product of having a club with accomplished passers – Michael Nylander, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka – able to find lanes in the trapping Caps defense to get an open shot. By comparison, the Caps once more had a difficult time getting the puck out of their own end, and even when they did could not find open teammates for shots. There was a lot of empty cycling behind the Rangers’ net. Both Caps goals, it should be pointed out, were the product the mysterious "notch" . . . perhaps the result of the afternoon basketball game – odd bounces off boards assembled under time pressure . . . or perhaps the product of an elaborate fix perpetrated by the Caps (Larry Brooks saves some of the best whining in recent history for this problem, not to mention coach Tom Renney, who sounded like the coach of the losing team in the post-game) that resulted in goals by Alexander Ovechkin and Chris Clark. Neither goal was the result of an actual pass to a player.

The Caps did play a decent game on defense, the final score serving to obscure that point. The Rangers had only one 5-on-5 goal (Straka’s second of the night 6:09 into the third period). But the Caps gave the Rangers a bit too much time and space to make plays, and ultimately it broke them down. There is a fine line between giving a skilled opponent enough respect and giving them too much. That Nylander, Jagr, and Straka had a total of six points among them tonight suggests the Caps were on the wrong side of that line, and that is a problem only experience will solve. So fans . . .