Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's a TWO point night -- Caps vs. Lightning, October 24th

I love it when a good prognostication comes together…

Hey, it wasn’t an aesthetic masterpiece, but two points is two points. It was a night replete with what might be turning points, and efforts good and bad in a 5-3 Caps win…to wit:

-- David Steckel netted his first NHL goal in this, his 20th NHL game. It’s not as if he is unfamiliar with the back of the net; he had (note the use of the past tense…not “has”) 54 goals in 208 AHL games. It came off a nice feed from Alex Ovechkin that, had it been made by a player who wears ’87,’ would have been deemed among the five greatest passes since the invention of the rubber puck. As it was, it was nice. Steckel played well outside of his goal (on his only shot) – three hits, a split of 14 draws, and +2 in 14:36 of ice time. If he can play at that level on a semi-consistent basis, then it provides an option for…

-- Chris Clark…who seems to have no problem with the muscle memory involved in playing on the right side of Alexander Ovechkin. Clark had two goals and could have had at least two more as pucks skittered just wide of the post. The first goal was an example of Ovechkin creating space by carrying the puck and forcing the defense to collapse on him. As they did, Ovechkin left the puck in the vacated space in the middle of the offensive zone, where Clark picked it up and, having time to move the puck all the way across from his backhand to his forehand, snapped it over Marc Denis’ glove. The second goal was much more a grinder’s goal…Michael Nylander curled off in the left wing corner and sent a nifty back hand pass to Brian Pothier at the right point (who should be given some credit for working himself into a passing lane for Nylander). Pothier’s shot was stopped by Denis, but not cleanly – the puck ricocheted off Clark and into the net. It was a very nice night for the captain, which is more than can be said for the night had by…

-- Vincent Lecavalier…geez, it was brutal. His line was 0-0-0, -2, but on top of that he lost 11 of 17 draws and in a fit of frustration that must have made Lightning coach John Tortorella ecstatic, took a slashing, an instigator, a fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct because Shaone Morrisonn finished a check. Small consolation, but Vinnie probably won the fight. Trouble was, the Lightning were down two goals at the time, and when Martin St. Louis scored a few minutes later to make it 4-3, having Lecavalier in the locker room wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Caps in the late stages of the third period. But if you’re looking for odd stats…well, not really…look no further than…

-- Alex Ovechkin…yeah, he had a 1-2-3 night, but the number to notice is this one – “18.” That was the total of his shots on goal (6), the shots he took that were blocked (10!), and the shots he missed (2). It made up for a pretty grim night for…

-- Alexander Semin…sure, he was back after missing six games, but he played as if he was encased in rust, not merely a dusting he could shake off. He looked for all the world as if he was trying to handle the puck with a two-by-four, instead of a hockey stick, for all the success he was having in propelling it forward with any purpose. His numbers (0,0,0, -1, 5 SOG) don’t really tell the story of how difficult a time he had – his giveaway in the offensive zone on the power play led to a rush the other way for Tampa and a shorthanded goal. And speaking of that…

-- The power play still sucks…oh-for-four and a shortie allowed. And what’s worse, they look as if they don’t have a clue out there. They throw the puck around for what looks like the sheer joy of throwing the puck around. There is precious little purpose evident in what they are doing…and they’ve been practicing this stuff? What, blindfolded? But while that side of the special teams struggled, there was at least…

-- The penalty kill…three short-handed situations, three kills. And the key there is “three.” Except for two penalties taken 2:14 apart, resulting in more or less a four minute power play for the Lightning, the Caps played a very disciplined defensive game against an opponent with the tools to make opponents pay for lack of discipline. But, what Tampa is, if nothing else, is…

-- Opportunistic…the Caps made two bad errors – the Semin giveaway on a power play and Jason Ward sneaking behind Chris Clark on the weak side of a three-man play, then taking a pass from Brad Richards with no one to beat but Olaf Kolzig...he did. But the Caps had a pretty good defensive night, none better than…

-- yup, Boyd Gordon again…winner of 12 of 17 draws (better than 50 percent in all three zones), +1, and with no small role in the night of horrors that befell Lecavalier. He won’t win the Selke this year, but he sure looks like he’s got one in his future somewhere. But while some guys are in the middle of things, some are adjacent to them. Such was the case for…

-- Brian Pothier…don’t get us wrong, he didn’t have a bad game. But +4? Sure he had two assists – one of them being on the puck that bounced off Clark, the other a helper on Ovechkin’s empty netter. But he was given a run for his money by…

-- Jeff Schultz…+3? It was a pretty quiet +3, but he finally played a game that looked like some of the ones he had last year – simple and efficient. He even wound up and attempted a slap shot (it was blocked), and that is more than can be said for…

-- Tom Poti….who is supposed to take shots. He did take two…both were blocked. But attempts blocked count in this respect…

-- The Caps out-attempted Tampa Bay 57-45. That’s not bad against a team with the firepower of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards, and Prospal. And speaking of St. Louis and Richards…

-- 23:51 and 27:06, respectively…that’s not unusual ice time for defensemen, but for forwards? Tampa has to play Philly on Thursday…have a good soak, boys…you’ll need it. But on the other end of the ice time scale…

-- 2:12 isn’t terribly unusual for Donald Brashear (he had only two shifts all night), but 2:38 and three shifts for Tomas Fleischmann? No ice time in the last 33 minutes of the game? Didn’t take him long to go to the end of the bench, did it? And speaking of time…

-- After Washington scored at the 6:33 mark of the first period on their sixth shot, they had one more shot over the remaining 13:27 of the period. The Caps turned the tables in the third, allowing only two shots in the first 14:06 before St. Louis scored on the Lightning’s third shot of the period…Tampa Bay had only five shots on goal in that third period.

All-in-all, it was the kind of game that might signal a turning point. It wasn’t especially pretty, but the Caps scored more than three goals for the first time this year, and they ran their division record to 3-0-0. Good job, boys.

The $14 million experiment gone horribly wrong?

It's early, but our ol' pal, Larry Brooks raised a warning flag the other day on the chemistry between the immovable object (a certain right winger of familiarity to Caps fans) and the irresistable (in terms of Ranger check-writing) forces brought in to play with him...

"Manhattan, we've got a problem.

"Let's face it. Gomez has looked lost skating with Jagr the last two games, but what's even more troubling, Chris Drury also looked lost skating with Jagr the first five games of the season. Really, there hasn't been a single shift on which either center has appeared to be speaking the same hockey language as No. 68."

Brooks goes on to describe what Caps fans might recognize all too clearly...

As long as Jagr insists on playing the game his way - and obstinacy is a trait shared by every great player extant - then going with Gomez as his pivot is a dicey proposition. So too is reverting back to Drury. So what to do with the 2-4-1 Rangers who have scored two even-strength goals their last six games and pretty much will go as Jagr goes as long as he's here?

"As long as he's here?" Even to hint at such a thing as Jagr leaving is shocking from he who has been Jagr's biggest cheerleader, going back to when Jagr was on the trading block as a Penguin clearance item in 2001.

With more than $86 million invested in the two new centers -- $14 million of it this year -- and more than a little difficulty finding one of them to mesh with the "obstinate" right winger, might this be the last year Jagr plays on Broadway?...option or not?

The Peerless Prognsoticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, October 24th

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a hockey game
That started from this tropic port
To Washington they came.

The mate was a midget skating man,
The skipper loud and lame.
The skaters took the ice that night
For a three hour game, a three hour game.

The contest started getting rough,
The Lightning could not cope,
If not for the bad calls of the referees
The Bolts would have no hope…the Bolts would have no hope.

The Lightning took the ice that night to skate for just a while
With St. Louis...
The Skipper too,
The sieve in goal and I-can't-find-anything-to-rhyme-with "his wife,"
The big all-star...
The defensemen without their Dan,
Here on St. Louis’ Isle.

So this is the tale of Tampa Bay,
Just here for a short, short time,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill climb.

The midget and the Skipper too,
Will do their very best,
To make the Lightning comfortable,
In a Seventh Street skate-fest.

No goals, no saves, no two point night,
Not a single luxury,
Just like our friend Don Cherry,
As primative as can be.

So join us here tonight my friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
From twenty Lightning castways,
Here on "St. Louis’ Isle."

As for the Bolts, they're coming in with a two point lead on the Caps and a game in hand. Fortunately for Washington, Tampa Bay has not won either of their road games to date. And, while Tampa Bay has allowed only six goals in four home games, they've allowed ten in two road contests.

However, Tampa does have a formidable offense. Their 3.50 goals per game ranks fourth in the league, while their goals against -- 2.67 -- is a perhaps a surprising 13th, given the issues concerning their goaltending.

With respect to the goaltending, the Lightning have that comparatively low goals-against, but they've done it with a rather pedestrian save percentage -- .890. For the Caps, the mantra might be "more shots...more shots..."

If the Caps' power play is to emerge from its doldrums, it might be tonight. Tampa Bay sits 20th in the league at 79.2 percent in penalty killing. In two road games, they gave up no power play goals to Boston -- but that was because they faced no shorthanded situations -- and gave up three in eight chances to Florida.

Conversely, the Lighting power play has been somewhat frustrated so far. They're 11th overall at 20.7 percent, but they have converted only once in ten road opportunities.

This being a division game, and the Lightning hosting Philadelphia tomorrow, we're guessing Johan Holmqvist gets the start tonight in goal. It's not as if he has a great career record against the Caps -- 3-2, 3.79, .847 -- it's just that Marc Denis really hasn't fared any better (4-3-1, 3,71, .881). Since Holmqvist is the only Lightning goalie with a win this year (Denis has played in only a portion of one game), he seems likely to get the nod.

If you're looking for something tonight, look for Michael Nylander and Alexander Ovechkin on the power play. Nylander has 22 assists in 27 career games against the Lightning; Ovechkin hs nine goals in 16 career games against Tampa Bay. If those two are on the power play together, we might see some of that chemistry we're all so anxious to see.

This is one of those "four point" games -- a division game where the Caps can earn two points at the expense of a division rival who fails to cash in on those points. It will be an opportunity for special teams -- especially the power play -- to shake off the dust. That, and a couple of points from that third line, will be the difference...

Caps 5 -- Lightning 3