Monday, April 02, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, April 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

79 down . . . way down. Three to go.

The Caps play their last home weeknight tilt tonight, hosting the Florida Panthers, and given the Caps’ travails lately, it doesn’t . . .

“Excuse me, son…”

Coach Rockne? And the rest of the esteemed panel . . . what brings you gentlemen here?

“It's up to us to show them what we've got. Let's get down to business and carry the mail.”

I can see that, Coach Rockne, but there are only three games left. How much mail is left in the bag?

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”

“That’s right Vince…like I told my guys, ‘Don't worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.’”

Well, Coach Madden, that’s all well and good, but what do you do with the wagon when it’s loaded at this point in the season?

“I’ll take that one, John . . . be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

“Well said, Coach Wooden . . . there is no need for me continuing unless I'm able to improve.”

These are good ideas, but what do you make of the Caps and their post-game meeting and abuse of electronic equipment after the last game?

“Show me a good and gracious loser and I'll show you a failure.”

“That’s right, Coach Rockne . . . The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.”

So, Coach Madden, you don’t see anything wrong in the locker room with such an outburst?....

“Son, hockey is like football, a game that requires the constant conjuring of animosity.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth, Vince . . . how ‘bout you, Casey?”

“Well, you gotta lose 'em some of the time. When you do, lose 'em right.”

If the Caps are going to lose, then they’d better be going about it right, building the habits of character that will be rewarded when their skill and experience catch up. Tonight, they get a chance to do that against the Panthers in their last meeting of the year. And, the Caps get to drive a stake into what is left of the Panthers’ playoff hopes – a small reward for having gone 0-3-2 in the last five meetings between the clubs this year.

Here is your odd stat of the game . . . the Caps are 8-1-3 (that’s three ties, back when hockey was hockey) against Florida, all time, in the clubs’ last meeting of the year.

Hey, why mess with history . . .

Caps 4 – Panthers 3

Pass the Pepto, The Peerless is Going to be Ill

As a Caps fan, I wanted to retch.

As a hockey fan, I found it eight shades of creepy.

Read this, dear Caps fan, but do not do it on a full stomach.

Such blind hero worship in an eight-year old is understandable – in its own way even laudable as a standard for the youngster to emulate. But in a “journalist” who represents “The Worldwide Leader in Sports?”

Some of the fingernails John Buccigross dragged down a chalkboard . . .

“This season's story has unquestionably been what is happening in Pittsburgh

“…ESPN The Magazine has put Ron Artest on the cover of its magazine this year and not Crosby. Sports Illustrated has put Chad Johnson -- CHAD JOHNSON! -- on its cover, but can't seem to find time to chronicle the best story in sports from the past 12 months. You have to wonder if people who cover sports really like sports anymore.”

The best story in sports from the past 12 months? A franchise that was dead last in the NHL in attendance just a few seasons ago, one which – in a sports-mad town such as Pittsburgh – couldn’t prevail upon politicos to come to agreement over a financing deal for a new arena for more than a year, and one that is fueled by draft picks realized from some of the worst hockey played in North America in a decade and a goofy lottery system that made it the NHL equivalent of a Powerball winner . . . this is “the best story in sports from the past 12 months?” Hey, maybe Ron Howard can direct, "Cinderella Team."

Crosby will also likely win league MVP. The Penguins went from the worst team in the East to a 100-point team. Crosby is not the only reason for the team's success, but everything in Pittsburgh starts in his fire-filled belly of competitiveness.”

“Fire-filled belly of competitiveness?” . . . yeesh. The Peerless hasn’t seen such tortured alliteration since he took creative writing in seventh grade.

“Penguins coach Michel Therrien is also the runaway coach of the year. From last to almost first?! Coaching teenagers?! You really can't overestimate or overemphasize what is happening in Pittsburgh this season.”

Really?....runaway coach of the year? Sorry, but when the season started the Penguins weren’t thought to be contenders, but they weren’t thought to be the standing joke among NHL franchises that the Islanders were, either. The Peerless isn’t a fan of that club, and injuries at the worst possible time have eliminated all but the dimmest chance that they make the playoffs, but one might argue that Ted Nolan has done more with less under more difficult circumstances than has a coach sitting on five top-five draft picks, a top-ten career goal scorer among active players, and one of the top scoring defensemen of the last decade, or at least enough to keep Therrien from being Secretariat to the rest of the field's Twice a Prince.

Lou, Lou, Lou...

“They're playing like an ordinary team, but I remember that was the case two seasons ago”

Coach Claude Julien said that. Not yesterday in reference to his New Jersey Devils, but in November 2005 about an opponent while coaching the Montreal Canadiens.

Funny how things like that can come back to bite you, and this morning a big wet bite was taken out of the coach’s backside by Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who called not to say “hang in there,” but to serve Julien his pink slip.

New Jersey has been playing like an ordinary team this past month, posting a 6-6-2 record in March after a 10-3-0 record in February. Worse, while the Devils had an 11-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of February, they found themselves looking up – 100 points to 101 – to the Penguins as the month of April began.

For a team with such a high standard of performance as the Devils, it was an ominous sign, one supposes, indicating that the club wasn’t as finely tuned for the playoffs as Lamoriello would have liked.

It isn’t as if Lamoriello hasn’t done this before. In 2000 he fired coach Robbie Ftorek with four games left in the regular season, replacing him with Larry Robinson. The Devils went on to win the Cup. In January 2002 he fired Larry Robinson, less than a year after coming within a victory of winning consecutive Stanley Cups. Robinson would be brought back after the lockout for another tour upon the illness of Pat Burns, but resigned in December 2005 over health issues. Lamoriello took the reins for the last 50 games of the season, taking the club into the second round of the playoffs.

While the previous two coaching changes – those of Burns and Robinson – were born out of medical necessity, there is something unsettling about this change. Lamoriello’s body of work is virtually without peer among active general managers. Four appearances in the last 11 Stanley Cup finals – with three victories to show for them – and perennial rankings among Cup favorites certify his talent at building a winning tradition.

But this has the whiff of something different. Lamoriello hamstrung his club badly by straining his salary cap position to start the year. While he was able to squirm out from under the crushing contracts of Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny – a potential $7.1 million cap hit to his club – thus allowing him to re-sign the likes of Brian Gionta and others, the Devils have spent much of the year still brushing the tops of their helmets against the cap. While teams like Pittsburgh were adding a Gary Roberts and the Rangers a pest such as Sean Avery and a defenseman such as Paul Mara, the Devils were left with no flexibility at the trading deadline, making a pair of relatively inconsequential deals to move players for mid-round draft picks.

In the March results, the writing might have been on the wall that this crop of Devils had maxed out its potential, and that it was largely running on the fumes of what Martin Brodeur could provide. And he was 6-6-2 with uncharacteristic 2.92 GAA and .895 save percentage numbers.

It is Lamoriello’s team, and in a perverse sense there is nobility in his taking the controls. Claude Julien is unemployed this evening, but it hardly seems his fault. The seeds of this firing were sown last summer with the team Lamoriello bequeathed to his coach.