Friday, April 06, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is on the last time -- Caps vs. Sabres, April 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is on the air . . .

One last time for this season, and for this, the last Capitals prognostication for the year, we’re glad to have a little help from The Chairman of the Board . . .

Its quarter to three,
There’s no one in the place ‘cept you and me
So set em up, Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know . . .

Last September, The Peerless would wager that few fans would have predicted a Caps run into the playoffs. It was a young, green, thin club coming off a 70-point year, with a bona-fide star, a battle tested veteran goaltender, and a lot of question marks and blanks to fill in.

. . . We’re drinking my friend
To the end of a brief episode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road . . .

The Caps – consistent with a long history of such things and icing a young, uncertain club – stumbled out of the gate. No, they didn’t stumble; they stumbled, tripped, stubbed a toe, skinned a knee, and whacked their collective head on the door frame to the season. They spent seven weeks and 23 games making Caps fans wonder if maybe Wizard tickets were a better idea. They were 8-9-6 on November 24th, having just lost to the Islanders to culminate a six-game winless streak.

. . . I know the routine
Put another nickel in that there machine
I’m feeling so bad
Won’t you make the music easy and sad . . .

Then, they won a game. And no ordinary win it was. In Tampa, Olaf Kolzig grabbed the club by the throat, put it on his back, and stopped 48 of 50 shots in a 5-2 win. It was the start of a run that saw the Caps win six of eight games (6-1-1), bringing them to a game at Verizon Center against the Flyers.

. . . I could tell you a lot
But you gotta to be true to your code
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road . . .

On December 16th, the Caps gave up the first goal to the Flyers, but roared back to beat them and beat them up. Alexander Ovechkin laid a hit on Peter Forsberg that left the forward – just returning after a troublesome foot injury – with a concussion. The Caps scored four unanswered goals on the way to a 4-1 win. But hidden among the highlights was the seed that would bloom ugly – seconds before Dainius Zubrus scored the tying goal late in the first period, defenseman John Erskine – who had played surprisingly well for the Caps to that point – took a shot off his foot. He would not return . . . for two months. It was the beginning of the end of the dream of playoffs . . .

. . . You’d never know it
But buddy I’m a kind of poet
And I’ve got a lot of things I wanna say
And if I’m gloomy, please listen to me
Till it’s all, all talked away . . .

The Caps would lose seven of their next eight games, ending with an ugly 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on New Year’s Day. A three game winning streak gave Caps fans hope that the ship could be righted, but it was just the Titanic positioning itself for its long, slow journey to the bottom.

. . . Well, that’s how it goes
And Joe I know you’re gettin’ anxious to close
So thanks for the cheer
I hope you didn’t mind
My bending your ear . . .

The Caps were revealed, first through injuries to the defense, then by illness, and ultimately through an injury to Kolzig, to be unready for a playoff run. The wood was too green, the shoulders too narrow yet to bear the weight of that kind of pressure and level of performance required. Since that high-water mark achieved at the expense of the Flyers last December, the Caps are 13-29-7. On the road, where games test a club’s mettle and grit, the Caps are 4-19-4.

Tomorrow, the club can take the smallest step forward from last year, which was itself a step ahead of the disastrous 2003-2004 season that saw the club finish with 59 points. That season did yield, however, Alex Ovechkin, and that is the base upon which the club goes forward. There were games and performances that offer fans the prospect of hope – so long as one doesn’t spend too much time gnashing one’s teeth over the scoreboard and the standings. We’ll take a look at that in the weeks ahead, but for now . . .

. . . But this torch that I found
Its gotta be drowned
Or it soon might explode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

Caps 5 – Sabres 3