Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, November 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps, proud holders of a one-in-a-row winning streak, take on the Tampa Bay Lighting in what promises to be a hard-fought contest played before a crowd of dozens at Verizon Center this evening. After disposing in shocking fashion the Ottawa Senators, 4-1, last Thursday, the Caps are set on making it two in a row. As the esteemed baseball manager, Lou Brown, once put it…”it has happened before.”

But today, we’re going to lift the tent flap on the prognosticator’s craft and let you, dear reader, get a peek at what goes into these gamely – if not gamey – prognostications…

First, we consult the ancient oracle, the fortune cookie…let’s see what we have…

-- crack --

“Please someone at work by remaining calm and impartial”

Hmm…sounds to me like something a referee might benefit from. And it’s a good thing, too. Tampa Bay is eighth in the league in power play success, converting 20.9 percent of their opportunities. Fortunately for the Caps, though, they don’t seem to get many opportunities…they are tied for 22nd in total power play chances, and their road power play is sputtering along at 13.3 percent (also 22nd).

OK…so what does our fortune teller have to say…let’s ask the wise oracle about what the Caps might do tonight…

Will the Caps score at least one goal?


Will the caps score at least two goals?

"…without a doubt"

Will the Caps score at least three goals?

"…it is best to wait and see"

Hmm…Will the Caps score at least four goals?

"…the outlook is good"

OK…will the Caps score at least five goals?

"…be careful, signs are ominous."

Let’s leave it at that…next on our journey of the occult prognosticatorial arts is a tarot reading…hmm, what question shall we ask…

Can the Caps reverse their recent fortunes by putting together a winning streak?

The middle card of the three fates says…”Reversal of a difficult situation. Gradual improvement. Encouraging news.”

Hey, this is what’s coming up…honest! Let’s try one for one of the players…from the I Ching…

Will Alex Ovechkin score a hat trick?

“Like the notes that come down from a bird on the wing, to descend is better than to ascend. There will, in this way, be great good fortune.”

So, if he comes flying down the wing, descending on the hapless Lightning goalie…well, you can take it from there, folks.

The fact is, even with the Caps winning on Thursday, they are in 15th place in the Eastern Conference. There isn’t a 16th place available. That being the case, tonight’s opponent might be just the tonic to put together a “streak.” Both teams have struggled recently (both are 3-6-1 in their last ten games), but for very different reasons. Tampa Bay has scored 28 goals in those ten games, which isn’t awful. They’ve given up 36, which pretty much is. Meanwhile, the Caps have allowed 26 goals, which isn’t awful. But they’ve scored 25, which…well, you get the point.

For the Lighting there are, of course, the big three of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards. $19.9 million of cap space had better be producing, but for these three, it’s something of a mixed bag. In the last ten games, they are a combined 11-24-35, which isn’t awful…in fact, it’s pretty good. But they are also a combined -20, which…yeah, is awful.

But to this “big three” might be added Vaclav Prospal. He leads the Lightning in goals, with ten (and is 3-6-9 in his last ten games), and unlike his vastly higher-paid counterparts (Prospal is earning $1.9 million this year), he’s on the plus side of the ledger in his last ten at +1.

If there has been a surprise, if not a change in pattern, it is Shane O’Brien. He has four goals in the last ten games (a pair of two-goal efforts) to tie for second highest on the team in this stretch. But the defenseman is also a -7 over those same ten games.

Tampa Bay is a team that has struggled mightily at even strength lately. While outscoring opponents 8-7 on the power play over the last ten games, they have been outscored 29-19 at even strength (they also have a short-handed goal thrown in).

Goaltending, which has been and is likely to remain an issue with the Lightning this year, has improved in the last two games as Johan Holmqvist has given up only a single marker after three rather ghastly games in which he allowed 14 goals on 78 shots (.821 save percentage). One wonders which Holmqvist will show up tonight, assuming (as we do) that he will get the nod.

The Caps aren’t even in sight of the edge of the woods, let alone out of them. But a 4-1 win in Ottawa was swell to see. Even though Tampa Bay has two straight wins (including their first road win of the year – in Carolina) after going 0-5-1 in their previous six, this is as good a club as any for the Caps to cobble together a winning streak against. Like the Caps, they won their first three games of the season, then struggled before righting themselves earlier in the week. They have defense and goaltending concerns (top defenseman Dan Boyle has had some additional work done on his injured left wrist), and the Caps could use another breakout offensive game to build confidence.

So, we’ll return to our prognosti-tools one last time and consult the magic 8-ball…

Caps 4 – Lightning 2