Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, November 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, Caps fans, here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, and we’re finding it a little hard to be thankful, at least hockey-wise.

But fear not…we have with us one of the great hockey minds of the modern era to help us navigate our way through these discouraging times. Let’s sit down with…Dr. Seuss.
Doc, welcome…we’re very happy to have you here to answer a few questions for us…

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Well, first, to what do you attribute this disappointing start by the Caps?

“I'm sorry to say so but, sadly it's true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.”

So, you see this as a matter of injuries…do you think they can recover from this slow start? Do you think they have to look at things with a little more urgency?

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

They had that fine start to the season – the three-game opening winning streak. What was different then, compared to now?

“When they played they really played. And when they worked they really worked.”

Some fans think that the Caps need to be a little nastier in their play, that they are letting teams take too many liberties with them. What do you think their attitude should be when opponents start getting chippy?

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

It’s a long way to get into the top eight…the old cliché has it that teams in that position need to take them one at a time. How do you keep a sense of optimism in that situation?

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”

Coach Glen Hanlon is having a tough time of his own right now…what would you say to him?

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go.”

Strategy-wise, the club seems a bit lost. They have a lot of skill, but they’re not really displaying it much…what would you change?

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

If you could step into the locker room and give the boys some encouragement, what would you tell them?

“Will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

Well, Doc…you’ve given all of us a lot to think about. As for the game, the Caps host another divisional rival – the Atlanta Thrashers – which presents both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is, of course, the chance to earn two points at the expense of a team in their division. The problem is that while the Caps won their first three divisional games this season, they are winless in their last six games against Southeast Division rivals (0-5-1). So it is with more than a little trepidation that we look at what Atlanta brings to the table.

It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Thrashers. In the first – an 0-6-0 start that got head coach Bob Hartley a pink slip – the Thrashers made up for inconsistent offense with a ghastly defense. They were shut out twice, scored more than two goals just once, and were 2-for-26 (7.7 percent) on the power play. On the other side, they didn’t hold any opponent to fewer than three goals, gave up an average of more than 34 shots a game, and allowed 10 power play goals in 35 shorthanded situations (71.4 percent penalty killing). They did not happen about their record by accident.

Since then…

The Thrashers are 10-4-0, they’ve scored 47 goals in those 14 games – scoring more than three goals six times – and their power play is succeeding at a 18.5 percent rate. Defensively, they still are a work in progress, but in their recent 6-1-0 stretch they have held opponents to two goals or fewer four times. With respect to the latter, the result is in large part a product of surprisingly effective play out of Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg in goal, getting playing time as Kari Lehtonen, who only returned to practice with the club this past Sunday after suffering a groin injury against the Rangers last month, has been on the shelf.

Pavelec won the first three games of this seven-game stretch (including a 31-save effort against the Caps in a 2-1 overtime win) before tumbling a bit and giving up five goals in a 5-3 loss to Carolina. Hedberg stepped in and won the last three, stopping 67 of 72 shots in the process and recording a shutout of the Hurricanes.

On the offensive side of the ledger, if there a term more descriptive than “hot” to describe Ilya Kovalchuk?

...blistering?....scorching?...sizzling?...blazing? He has 11 goals in his last eight games. That’s a pace for a 113-goal season, which if memory serves would be a record. But it’s not as if Marian Hossa isn’t in his rear-view mirror, either. Hossa has seven goals in those same eight games. Lurking in the weeds is Todd White, who is 3-5-8 in his last seven games, himself.

Atlanta’s recipe for their recent success has been simple. The goalies keep the club in games long enough for Kovalchuk and Hossa to find the back of the net – those two have 18 of the Thrashers last 29 goals.

Fortunately…well, maybe…the Caps’ problems haven’t been as much on defense as they have on offense. But Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin aren’t exactly chopped herring in the goal-scoring department themselves. For the Thrashers, it’ll be six of one, half a dozen of the other in terms of who gets the start in goal, if Lehtonen’s return is delayed any further. Hedberg has the advantage of familiarity with and a decent enough record against the Caps, but Pavelec played extremely well in what was his only career appearance against Washington.

Half a dozen…hmm…

It’ll be an entertaining game, with ups and downs and subplots and scary moments, but it’ll provide some interesting conversation around the Thanksgiving tables of Caps fans. Y’all can talk about the hat trick for Ovechkin when you’re passing the candied yams…

Caps 6 – Thrashers 4

…and with that, we’re probably going to be away for a few days doing some holiday festivizing of our own. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving, Caps Nation.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, either...

Kate McGovern over at Off Wing Opinion caught the Caps' season in a single image...

Caps fans, not to mention Alex Ovechkin, might harbor the hope that the joy will be so much sweeter for having endured the struggles. Right now, it's not much consolation.

It wasn't supposed to be like this...

This morning, the Washington Capitals are 23rd in the league on the power play (14.6 percent). Since going 2-for-5 with the man advantage in their 7-1 win at Toronto on October 29th (and isn't that starting to look like this year's high-water mark?), they are 4-for-33 (12.1 percent).

Why? Well, there isn't a single factor to which you could point and say, "there, that's the reason." But an important consideration in the Caps' woes appears in James Mirtle's blog entry on power players. See if you can find it...

Zero, Zip, Nada...No Points Tonight: Panthers 4 - Caps 3

Well…it wasn’t Brian Sutherby.

The Caps dealt the 25-year old forward earlier in the day to the Anaheim Ducks for a second round pick in the 2009 draft – a move accompanying the return of Alexander Semin from the injured reserve list.

Neither move shook the Caps from the nosedive they have taken since opening the year with three wins. The Florida Panthers were the latest to find rejuvenation in the healing waters of Verizon Center, beating the Caps, 4-3. The loss sent the Caps to a 2-6-0 record on home ice and 3-13-1 since that opening three-fer.

It was just another case of guys counted on to provide results not getting any. To wit…

-- Matt Pettinger had his ninth straight game without a point. It’s starting to show in his ice time. In his last six games, he’s taken 28-23-19-19-17-19 shifts. Tonight…12:37 in ice time. He took five shifts totaling barely three minutes in the third period.

-- Boyd Gordon extended his own goalless streak to nine games (he has one assist in that stretch). He skated less than did Pettinger – 18 shifts for 10:19. He had two shifts in the third totaling 35 seconds, both times to take a faceoff.

-- John Erskine is in the lineup to provide a physical presence. He was credited with one hit. Of course, he only had 6:31 worth of ice time, himself.

-- The defense, in general, simply permitted Florida too much freedom in front of the Capital net. The failure to compete in front of Kolzig could be credited with leading to the first three of the Panthers’ goals – a redirect by David Booth on the first goal, an inability to clear the crease – creating enough chaos in front of Kolzig to permit Kamil Kreps to swoop in unchecked to whack home the second goal, and Richard Zednik walking past Tom Poti to charge the net and create a chance for Olli Jokinen to finish. About the only two guys on defense who had a decent game were Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina. Jurcina, of course, didn’t dress.

There were three themes tonight…first, the short bench. Five skaters had fewer than a dozen minutes, and Tom Poti had more than 30 himself. Brian Pothier, who shouldn’t be getting more than 20 on the best of nights, had more than 25. Alex Ovechkin also had more than 25, and we’re guessing the game plan didn’t call for Alexander Semin to be getting more than 18 in his first game back after a long hiatus.

The second theme was the lack of coordination…this has become a difficult team to watch. How a team with this much talent (on paper) can look like plow horses on offense is one of the great mysteries of this season so far. They look like an uncoordinated bunch of plodders. What offense Alex Ovechkin is able to generate is just that – offense he generates. There is an absence of deft passing that leads to a chance. And it is a club that treats the front of the net as if it was plutonium. There are few ugly goals in the Caps’ body of work this year.

But one of them came during the usual third act of a Caps game this year – the desperate minutes of the third period that allows the team to climb to within a goal, but no further. Chris Clark’s goal with 6:25 to play in the third was as close as one comes to an “ugly” goal for the Caps, sweeping in a loose puck from the top of the crease.

It’s past getting old. It’s become routine, and that’s a really bad sign. There are those who might look at injuries, a bad bounce here or there, or bad ice, or a goaltender having a good night. But this club doesn’t do the things it needs to do at either end – keeping their own crease clear or crashing the other team’s crease – to fight through their problems. They seem to want to do things with “skill,” but they aren’t succeeding at that kind of game, either. And there is no clearer example of that failure than what the Caps have done on 5-on-3 power plays. They butchered another one tonight, before they dug themselves into a big hole. We don’t care if they’re playing on gravel, there is too much talent here to be this inept at this phase of the game, and it’s killing them.

And, with Florida winning this game upon scoring first, it marked the 11th time in 12 games that the Caps have lost when yielding the first goal. It is the worst such record in the league.

When a club like Florida – one that has struggled on the road (2-8-1 coming into this game) and does not have the talent the Caps have – looks like the more purposeful and accomplished team, there is a big, big problem.

That playoff meter over there has been stuck in the low teens for quite a while now – the Caps being 1-7-1 in their last eight games. It’s hard to scare up much in terms of optimism in the cold light of that record. It puts one in the mind of using this...