Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, March 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our Capitals dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility,
But when the blast of hockey blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger . . .

OK, enough of that Henry V crap. The Caps go a’traveling in the back half of their back-to-back games to Uniondale, NY, to take on the New York Islanders. Having just played the Islanders last Saturday, there really isn’t much to update in terms of the Islanders’ recent statistics (so we’ll refer you back to what we said last week), only to say that since that 6-2 thrashing of the Caps the Isles have lost both games they’ve played since – both being 2-1 results against the Rangers (one of which was a shootout loss).

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect:
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a gall├Ęd rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Oh, that reminds me . . . it’ll be another chance to renew acquaintances with the master of the menacing glare, Brendan Witt. The Islanders are a feisty bunch, as you can see from this exclusive video:

The Islanders are fifth in the NHL in total shorthanded situations and 22nd in penalty killing. Guys…that’s a clue. Think maybe you can get your power play untracked?

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height! On, on, you noble Capitals,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,
Fathers that like so many Alexanders
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.

The Islanders will bring a 60-minute effort . . . if the Caps fail to match it, then is will be a long evening. Given the circumstances – the second of a back-to-back, on the road, that will be a test of character.

Dishonor not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you!
Be copy now to men of grosser blood
And teach them how to war! And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in Canada (and Russia and America
And Czech and Slovakia), show us here
The mettle of your pasture. Let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not,
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

Gotta suck it up, boys. That’s part of learning how to win in this league. The Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot (three points ahead of the ninth-place Rangers this morning), so they won’t go easily.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Teddy! The Capitals and Saint George!'

Caps 4 – Islanders 3.

And Now . . . Your Science Meets Hockey Moment

The Peerless appreciates the elegance of a simple scientific experiment, so we bring you this laboratory moment . . .

Kinda looks like the Caps forwards (pick any line you want) running around the offensive zone these days.

After-Math -- Caps vs. Hurricanes

No points, Caps fans…

“Hard Knocks, School of”

That’s where the Caps are enrolled now as they get some very hands-on lessons in what it takes to win in the National Hockey League. Last night the boys extended their exercise in offensive futility to 131:47 in a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, sinking to 0-4-2 in their last six games overall and 0-4-3 in their last seven home games.

Again, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Caps had some difficulty on defense (more than the score might indicate), Carolina failing to find the back of several open nets over the course of the evening as they successfully broke the Caps down in deep on occasion. But the Caps competed for just about all of the 60 minutes.

The difference, as one might expect between a Stanley Cup champion and a team merely aspiring to playing in a playoff round, is skill. But more than that, it is experience. The top line for the Hurricanes – Rod Brind’Amour, Ray Whitney, and Justin Williams – has 2,492 regular season games worth of experience among them. The 18 skaters the Caps iced last night have 3,840 (and Donald Brashear has 832 of that). Ten Caps have fewer than two full seasons worth of experience, four of them less than one full year. A kid who is still learning where to place his fingers to play chords on a guitar isn’t going to play like Jimi Hendrix . . . not for a while at least.

Hidden in the rubble of this game are a few nuggets of good play:

- This was the fourth time in five games that the Caps have held the opposition without a power play goal. They’ve killed the last 14 shorthanded situations in which they’ve found themselves, and 30 of the last 34 (88.2 percent).

- Alexander Semin is trying to find a balance between keeping the puck all to himself and looking for the open player. Offensively, he was the best of the Caps last night (although when you don’t score any goals, that qualifies as faint praise).

- Jeff Schultz accomplished what is one of the most difficult things to do in the NHL – knock Rod Brind’Amour off his feet. Mike Green made Eric Staal pay for a trip to the crease by planting the forward flat on his back.

- Brent Johnson displayed the same acrobatic success he showed in the closing weeks of last season. 42 saves on 44 shots (.955 save percentage). It goes without saying, he deserved better.

But for the time being, look at that image above. That’s the Caps – the donut offense. Nothing in the middle. Last night was primarily “Jiri Novotny Night” as far as auditions go for centering the Alexes (Kris Beech and Brian Sutherby also got a shift or two). Novotny played earnestly, if not effectively. He’s still feeling his way, both in his new surroundings as a Cap and just in terms of ice time (68 total games of experience). Here’s another way to look at the center situation for the Caps. Seven players who are natural centers still in the Caps’ organization (i.e., discounting the contributions of Dainius Zubrus) have taken the ice for the Caps this year: Kris Beech, Brian Sutherby, Jiri Novotny, Brooks Laich, Jakub Klepis, Alexandre Giroux, and Boyd Gordon. Combined, they have 275 games played and are 27-56-83 . . .

27-56-83 . . . that’s Daniel Briere (27-52-79) in 66 games.

No amount of complaining about the Caps’ condition is going to bake this cake any faster. Guys like Novotny need to get games under their belts, and the product of that part of the lesson book is frustrating nights like these, when one bounce, one deflection, one seeing-eye puck could have been the difference between a win and a loss.