Saturday, December 08, 2007

First in war, first in peace...

…last in:



Record when giving up first goal

Home wins

One-goal losses

One goal wins

Wins when trailing after two periods

Losses when trailing after two periods


The National Hockey League

…could a season anticipated by so many with expectations as high as they were have started any worse? The Peerless thinks then new uniform should have been this:

The Newest Thrasher this guy, plucked off the waiver wire.

Guess he'd rather wear baby blue than puke yellow...

photo: AP

Did the Caps ask Santa for this Schedule?

OK, here is the rest of December for the Caps...

Atlanta (14-13-1)
New Jersey (16-10-2)
NY Rangers (15-12-2)
Buffalo (12-13-1)
at Tampa Bay (13-13-2)
at Detroit (20-6-2)
Montreal (14-10-4)
at NY Islanders (13-12-2)
Tampa Bay (13-13-2)
at Pittsburgh (14-12-2)
at Ottawa (18-7-3)

Counting each team only once, the combined record of opponents is 149-108-21. Every team but Buffalo is at least a .500 team. There are three division leaders and six top-eight teams in there. Ten conference games...

Let's say the Caps go 9-2 against these teams. They'd still be 18-19-2.

I think they'd rather have coal in their stockings than this schedule.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Another day, another game, another hot team…well, sorta.

Tonight, it’s the Atlanta Thrashers making an appearance at Verizon Center, riding on the wings of a four game points-earned streak – why is it everyone but the Caps has these streaks these days?

But first, we’re at the point now where the Caps are a pretty brittle hockey club…and not just in terms of the injuries to Chris Clark, Michael Nylander, and Boyd Gordon. The mental aspect of the game has to be wearing on them. So we’ve brought back our old friend, Dr. Phil to help the Caps sort out their…well, issues.

Dr. Phil, welcome.

“Glad to be here, Peerless, as always.”

Doc…what do you tell a team like this, one that is seeing their season slip away?

“You don't need to take a personal inventory to cha-cha-cha all night long.”

I see…and if there is anything this team doesn’t do enough of, it’s cha-cha-cha, not with being 28th in the NHL in goals-per-game. But what about the injuries…would you agree that they’ve played a role in the Caps’ record?

“You don't need phlebitis to blame it on anybody but yourself.”

You mean they have to just move on and look in the mirror and suck it up…

“You don't need macadamia nuts to blame it on anybody but yourself…”

Macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, whatever…you just have to grow a pair and play the game…but they’ve been unlucky, too…shots that won’t go in for them, shots that do seem to find their way in for the other guys…

“You don’t need a lucky rabbit’s foot to goof around and do squat.”

You mean, luck has nothing to do with it, that they’ve just “done squat” on their own? Well, what sort of motivation can you provide a club like this?

“You don't need endless supplies of avocados to drop and give me twenty.”

In other words, they need to dig deep within themselves to find that motivation…that even coach Boudreau’s getting on them won’t be enough?

“You don't need a nagging mother-in-law to think for yourself.”

I think I see your point…but the boys seem to understand, based on the quotes we’re reading from players in the post game reports…

“You don’t need a press release to raise the roof.”

Ah, less “talk,” more “do”…I get it. So where do they go from here, Dr. Phil?

“You don’t need a bag of wolverines to skin a gopher.”

Ah, but it would help if the boys played like a bag of wolverines…any last words?

"You don't need to watch my crappy show to . . . Dadgummit, I forgot."

Well, “win a hockey game comes to mind,” but thanks Dr. Phil, and we’ll see you again soon.

As for tonight’s game, like we said, Atlanta comes in on a four-game points-earned streak that has them within a point of the top-eight in the Eastern Conference. The four games constitute their “Best o’ the Big Apple” tour, having defeated the Rangers and Islanders (twice), and taking the Devils to a shootout. They’ve outscored their opponents, 13-7.

Unlike what the rest of the league seems to be doing, the Thrashers haven’t been doing it with special teams – at least on offense. They are 1-for-18 on the power play over their last four games (5.6 percent). They do make up for it, though, by holding their opponents to one goal in 19 shorthanded situations (94.7 percent penalty killing).

That man – Ilya Kovalchuk – is right in the thick of the scoring, as one might assume. He scored goals in each of the first three games of this streak and has goals in four of his last five games (23 for the season, tops in the league). For those of you keeping track, he’s on a pace to score 67 goals this year…it would be nice if he were paid attention to this evening. Marian Hossa also has three goals in the four game run, so he might be worth a look from time to time, too.

In goal, Kari Lehtonen would seem to be the sure call here, since Johan Hedberg manned the nets in the 4-2 win last night against the Rangers. Lehtonen has had success against Washington – 6-2-2, 2.55, .917. He was, however, the loser on opening night in his only decision this year against the Caps when the Caps won, 3-1.

This is a team that has struggled at times this year on defense and penalty killing. The Thrashers are 29th in goals-per-game allowed, and they are 28th in penalty killing, even after their 18-for-19 run.

There are two things a team cannot do against Atlanta, based on their performance so far this year. First, they cannot let Atlanta get to the first intermission with a lead. They are 6-0-0 when leading after one period (the Caps have not allowed the Thrashers a first intermission lead in going 1-1-1).

Second, they cannot allow the Thrashers to record more shots, but here lies one of the stranger statistics in the NHL this year. The Thrashers have out-shot their opponents only twice this year in 28 games, winning both games (the Caps have out-shot the Thrashers in each of the three games played).

For the Caps, it’s a divisional game and a chance to…well, what that is we’re not sure. The Caps find themselves this morning on a pace to reach 59 points for the season – right where they were in 2003-2004 when this struggle started. So any thought of playoffs – or of any game past the one in front of them – seems rather pointless for the time being.

With that in mind, this is an opponent the Caps have seen at their worst (the 3-1 opening night win started the Thrashers on their 0-6-0 start that got Bob Hartley relieved of his coaching duties), their best (a 5-1 loss to Atlanta was the fourth of a four-game wining streak for Atlanta just before Thanksgiving), and in the middle (a 2-1 overtime loss to the Thrashers). There aren’t any mysteries here…make Atlanta pay when they are a man short…don’t get into shorthanded situations…and keep a close watch on Ilya Kovalchuk.

This one is going to extra time, and Matt Pettinger – that’s right, Matt Pettinger – is going to score a goal.

Caps 4 – Thrashers 3

A no point night...Devils 3 - Caps 2

“The Capitals did…manage to make it interesting at the end for the 16,265 in attendance.”

That will be the quote – from this morning’s story by Tarik El-Bashir in the Washington Post – that will come back to haunt the Caps this season, one that sank just a little further into the void with last night’s 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Newark.

The quote has meaning on several levels...

First, last night’s loss was the tenth one-goal loss of the year (regulation and overtime) – most in the NHL.

Second, it was once more a reflection of the Caps’ ineffectiveness in close games – their 3-8-2 record in one-goal games is worst in the NHL (this has ominous overtones for this evening that we’ll note later).

Third, this is the sixth time in a one-goal loss where the Caps found themselves two-goals down in the third period. They scored that one goal to, well…”make it interesting,” but not another one to make it even.

The Caps found themselves not quite good enough in just about everything…

They came out with less jump than the Devils to start the game. One might have expected the Devils to come out hard – they were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak and were honoring defenseman Scott Stevens last night – but to come out with the appearance of no energy…that just wasn’t what one would have expected after having a five-day break.

The Caps just didn’t have the “will and the want,” as head coach Bruce Boudreau put it after the game…

-- The Devils out-hit the Caps, 18-11

-- The Devils won the turnover battle, 9-12.

-- The Devils blew the Caps away in the faceoff circle, winning 33 of 53 draws (62.3 percent)…John Madden and Patrik Elias were a combined 24-9 (72.7 percent).

-- The Devils were 1-for-5 on the power play, the Caps 0-for-4

-- Dainius Zubrus renewed acquaintances with his old club by scoring the power play goal by picking up the garbage of a shot stopped by Kolzig (imagine that, an ugly goal…), then planted Alexander Ovechkin into the side boards, leaving Ovechkin a little worse for wear.

-- Brian Pothier’s fair imitation of Sergei Gochar, throwing the puck up the middle where Vitaly Vishnevski intercepted it and then slipped a backhand past Olaf Kolzig for the first goal, one that Kolzig would seem to want back…

-- And in what was the whole game wrapped into a five second sequence, Sheldon Brookbank took a shot that Kolzig stopped, but Tom Poti could not handle Travis Zajac at the top of the crease…Zajac outfought Poti, Kolzig could not turn the shot away, and the goal – the eventual winner – found its way into the net.

At least they managed to avoid allowing a second period goal...

OK, let’s get the obligatory rationalizations out of the way. The Caps were missing Chris Clark, Michael Nylander, and Boyd Gordon…they were playing a team on a hot streak…they had to wait as the Devils had their ceremony for Scott Stevens…they had some rust from a five-day layoff…they were playing a team that leads a division in which four of the teams have at least 30 points and are in the top-eight playoff mix…


Individually and collectively, there were just enough miscues, mistakes, and errors in judgment to allow the Caps to be close, but not close enough…New Jersey was ripe for the plucking, and the Caps let them off the hook with an uninspired effort, certainly one that betrayed any notion that this is a desperate team looking to get on a streak of any kind.

The Caps played just well enough to make it interesting, and that has been the story of their season. One goal short in more than half their losses…

Oh, by the way….Atlanta – tonight’s opponent – has the best record in one-goal games in the NHL (7-1-1).