Sunday, March 18, 2007

After-Math . . . Caps vs. Lightning

It’s a two point day!!

What was that about Alexes? The Peerless meant “Flashes” . . . Boyd “Flash” Gordon had a goal and an assist, Tomas “Flash” Fleischmann had two goals and two assists in a 7-1 romp over the Tampa Bay Lighting this afternoon. It was a flash of what might yet be to come as far as the Caps are concerned. Not that the Alexes were shutout, not both of them anyway. Alexander Semin had a natural hat trick in the second period (on his only three shots taken in the frame) to give him 37 goals for the year.

Key for the Caps was, as it was for the Toronto game Friday night, getting off early. The Caps opened the scoring at 5:31 of the first on a goal by Fleischmann. But there is something to be said for keeping teams from getting off early, and that is where the return of Olaf Kolzig has been important. Kolzig did not have to make any especially difficult saves in the first period, but he made them all. Seeing as how the Caps came into the game 29th in the league in winning percentage when giving up the first goal (.146), steady goaltending early is key. Kolzig, for those of you scoring at home, has stopped 100 of 104 shots since returning from his injury. Given his steadfastness in goal and the club’s play around him, it seems to validate this argument with respect to the value of his return.

While the attention focuses on Semin’s hat trick and Fleicshmann’s four-point game, the Caps had ten players register points in all – none of them named “Ovechkin.” Similar to the point we made after the Toronto game, if one would tell The Peerless that the Caps would score 12 goals in consecutive games, and Alex Ovechkin would have only one assist in the deluge, The Peerless would be looking for his copy of the Yellow Pages and finding a therapist for you.

On the other side of the ice, Tampa looked anything like a team trying to protect a four-point lead on the ninth-place club or one that could have closed to within two-points of the Southeast Division lead with a win. They looked rather ordinary, in fact. It wasn’t just goaltending, which was bad enough (The Peerless sat in his seat wondering in the second period if coach John Tortorella wanted to summon up Daren Puppa or Pat Jablonski from Lightning teams of the distant past – they couldn’t have fared worse than Johan Holmqvist, then Marc Denis, then Holmqvist again). Vincent Lecavalier spent his 60 minutes looking as if he was afraid he’d get his makeup smeared if he dared skate between the circles in the offensive zone. He was content to play along the boards for the duration of the contest. That he was -2 and won only 42 percent of his draws was hardly surprising. That he had one shot on goal in the last 55-plus minutes of the game was, that one being long after the matter had been settled.

The Peerless asked this question after the last time these clubs met, and it still is a matter that strikes your prognosticator as odd . . . how does the team captain skate a total of 5:45 for the game? That’s what Tim Taylor had for Tampa (he managed a -2 in his brief turns on the ice).

But let’s give some credit to the line of Gordon, Brooks Laich, and Chris Clark, too. They did a superb job at neutralizing the Lecavalier-Vaclav Prospal-Martin St. Louis line (10 total shots, no points). The Peerless does wonder, however…was Clark injured in the third period? He shows as having no shifts taken in the last eight minutes of the game. On top of Brian Sutherby’s compartment injury to his hand Friday night (he’s out for 7-10 days), that would be one more injury in a series that has crippled this club since the parade started among the defensemen in December.

You look at this club the last three games . . . six different players have the 15 goals scored (including two hat tricks), 16 different players have registered the total of 39 points. Alex Ovechkin has one point. When the “light over the head going on” moment is taking place, chances are you don’t see it. But maybe (said The Peerless, hopefully) that moment is at hand. Alexander Semin is 3-4-7 in his last three. Tomas Fleischmann is 3-2-5. Chris Clark is 3-1-4. Boyd Gordon is 2-2-4. The Caps will spend a lot of time on SportsCenter (ok, not ESPN . . . one of the Canadian outlets, perhaps) with Ovechkin scoring highlight goals – and they won’t win much. It will be what contributions the club gets from up and down the roster that will matter in the end. The last three games, fans have gotten a glimpse of just what that means.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, March 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! . . .

It’s Matinee Sunday for the Caps as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, and today’s theme is, “The Fine Line.” As in , the fine line that separates winning and losing in this league. And Tampa Bay seems to be on the wrong side of that line at the moment, courtesy of . . . the Washington Capitals?

Could be (although coincidence cannot be ruled out). Let’s look at Tampa, before and after the March 1 5-4 shootout win over the Caps:

- Before: they came in on a 17-4-2 run . . . after: 2-4-0

- Before: scored 72 goals (3.13/game) over those 23 games . . . after: scored 13 (2.17/game)

- Before: gave up 64 goals (2.78/game) . . . after: gave up 20 goals (3.33/game)

- Before: 21-for-82 on the power play (25.6%) . . . after: 4-for-22 (18.1%)

- Before: 68-for-84 penalty killing (80.1%) . . . after: 18-for-20 (90.0%..ok, there’s that one)

- Before: they did not lose a one-goal game in regulation (13-0-2) . . . after: they’ve lost their last two games by one goal in regulation

- Before: 9-2 in extra-time games (20 of 36 standings points earned that way) . . . after: 0-1 (one of four standings points earned)

- Vincent Lecavalier . . . Before: 18-13-31, -3 (1.35 PPG) . . . after 6-3-9, -4 (1.50 PPG)

- Martin St. Louis . . . Before: 12-20-32, +3 (1.39 PPG) . . . after: 0-5-5, -2 (0.83 PPG)

- Brad Richards . . . Before: 9-17-26, +1 (1.13 PPG) . . . after: 1-2-3, -1 (0.50 PPG)

For the Caps, it’s a chance once more to play spoiler, the Lightning coming into this contest only four points ahead of the ninth-place New York Islanders, with the Islanders holding a game in hand. Washington comes into this game on a two-game points earned streak, the first time they’ve done that since the last week of February. Today they will have the chance to do something they have done only once this calendar year – win consecutive games (January 4-6, over Montreal and Atlanta). The Caps haven’t won consecutive games in regulation since early December (a four-game streak, November 28 – December 6).

Something to watch for . . . “The Alex Effect.” One might expect that the Capitals are more likely to win games when one of the Alexes scores a goal, and in fact, this is true. When Alex Ovechkin scores, the Caps are 16-12-5 (9-22-8 when he does not). When Alexander Semin scores, the Caps are even more likely to win – 13-8-4 (12-26-9 when he does not). When both score, the Caps are 9-1-1, including wins in the last eight times this has occurred. The club against which the Caps’ have had little success in this regard? . . . Tampa: 1-2-1 when Ovechkin scores, 1-2-3 when Semin scores, 1-1-1 when both score.

So what does it all mean, Oh Peerless one? The Caps have won but one game against the Lightning this year. What happened in that game that did not happen in any of the others?

Boyd Gordon scored, and it is the only game in which no power play goals were scored.

Had enough of the numbers? Well, here’s the poop . . . the Caps are 1-3 in home matinees this year. Tampa’s won both of their away afternoon games. No matter, today is a bright sunny day (and hopefully one for Boyd Gordon).

Caps 4 – Lightning 3.