Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, December 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, it’s rematch night in DC as the Caps host the New Jersey Devils, who eked out a 3-2 win in Newark last Friday. See’n how the Devils are moseyin’ on down below the Mason-Dixon line, we thought we’d offer up a heapin’ helpin’ of some southern – well, southern Canadian – hospitality, courtesy of the Blue Collar Hockey Boys…

Jeff…I understand you have some thoughts on hockey fans…

“If you don’t bother to black out a tooth when you dress up as a hockey player for Hallowe’en and just knock that sucker out…youu-u-u-u-u might be a hockey fan…”

“If the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word, “Bauer” is that you need a new pair of skates instead of the character on the TV show ‘24’…youu-u-u-u-u might be a hockey fan.”

And Larry the Skate Sharpener Guy, what do you have to say?...

“Shoot’r in.”

Uh…yeah. Bill, you have a theory on stupid hockey fans?...

“Well, I just hate stupid hockey fans. They should have to serve two minutes just for being stupid…like a fan penalty box. That way you wouldn't rely on them for any hockey smarts, would you? You wouldn't ask them anything. It would be like, ‘Excuse me...oops, never mind; I didn't see you in the penalty box’…I was at the game the other night, and a Cap had the puck down in the corner with his back to the play…and this fan with that neon orange nacho cheese dripping on his shirt yells out, “SHOOOOOOOOT!”…I’d just point at him and say, ‘two minutes for being stoopid.'"

Ron, you had to come in later then the other boys, is that right?

“Yeah, well…I got thrown out of a bar in Toronto. Now when I say I got thrown out of a bar, I don’t mean somebody asked me to leave, we walked to the door together, and I said ‘bye everybody, I gotta go’…six bouncers hurled me out of a sports bar like I was a hockey puck…for wearin’ a hat, and this guy real pissy goes, ‘take off the hat!’…I go, ‘what’s the deal,’ and he says, ‘I’ll tell you what the deal is, eh?...Montreal fans in the neighborhood wear hats, and we’re trying to keep them out of our bar.’ And I said, ‘oh really…the only way we can tell in Ottawa is if they have their hair cut like…yours.’…And he got all pissed. But he walked away, and I took the hat off, but an hour later I put the hat back on, and the guy came back over. Now, I’m between 185 and 195 centimeters tall, depending on which Tim Horton’s I’m leaving…but the guy comes over pokin’ two fingers in my shoulder saying, ‘you’re out of here.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so, Scooter’…and I was wrong…they hurled me out of that bar and squared off with me in the parking lot…well I backed down from the fight, because…I didn’t know how many of them it would have taken to kick may ass…but I knew how many they were going to use. Well, they called the police because we broke a chair on my way out, and I refused to pay for it…I refused to pay for it, because we broke it over my thigh. The cop showed up and said, ‘Sir, you are being charged with being drunk…in…pub-lick’…and I went ‘hey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey …I was drunk in a bar…they threw me into pub-lick…I don’t wanna be drunk in public, I want to be drunk in a bar, which is perfectly legal…arrest them. Well, they called in for my arrest record…ther-r-r-r-r-re’s some good news…satellites are linkin’ up in outer space…computer banks are kickin’ on…which brings me to this story…ten years ago, I was arrested for being drunk…in…pub-lick…there seems to be pattern here…on the drunk in public charge, the arresting officer – who I’d literally known all my life – this guy lived four doors down from me in a town with one midget hockey team…we’ve met. He asks me if I have any aliases…and I was just bein’ a smart ass and said, ‘yeah…they call me…’Back Bacon.’ I have twin boys, Dougie and Brendan…I call them ‘Bacon Bits.’”

Quite a story, Ron…

So, it’s the Devils again, and they are now on a ten-game points-earned streak, having lost last night, 1-0, in overtime to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Martin Brodeur played well in the “loss,” but the Jersey offense was borderline inept, which makes them once more ripe for the plucking. Since it’s only been a couple of days since the last game against these guys, you can go here for the breakdown. It really hasn’t changed much.

As for the Caps, fans got a rare glimpse of what this team is capable of in their 6-3 win over Atlanta on Saturday. One of the keys there was keeping the big guns for the other guys quiet – Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa combined for a pair of inconsequential assists. But what this team has lacked all year, that they got on Saturday, was scoring support from guys not named “Ovechkin.” Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, but the Caps had five goals and 12 points from the rest of the club. Matt Pettinger had his first goal in more than a month…Mike Green had a pair of goals (it is revealing as to the club’s performance when Green is tied for second on the club in goals scored). Even Jeff Schultz chipped in a goal. These guys don’t have to score every night – they won’t. But the Caps need to get some finish from the second and third line guys or the defensemen on a more regular basis than they have been.

This might be a good point to look at where the club is eight games into the Boudreau era (and let’s hope it’s an “era”)…

Record: 4-3-1

Goals for/against: 24/20

Power play: 6/32 (18.8%)

Penalty kill: 32/36 (88.9%)

It might not be a coincidence that Mike Green has four of his seven goals in the last eight games, either. In fact, six of the 24 goals scored have come from defensemen (Pothier and Schultz being the others.

That 4-3-1 record might not look like much, but it is a 92-point pace over an 82-game season. That’s little consolation at the moment, since the Caps are the last team to ten wins, but it is an improvement. For the Caps to take the next step, though, some other folks are going to have to step up, too. On that note, now that Matt Pettinger has ended his 16-game streak without a goal, folks might be looking at Viktor Kozlov (13 games) and Tomas Fleischmann (11 games) to warm up and light the lamp. This is not to say that this pair has played poorly of late – both had an assist against Atlanta on Saturday and were a combined +3 – but getting some contributions in goal scoring from these guys and others will take the pressure off Alex Ovechkin..while it’s nice that Ovechkin has 21 goals, his having 30 percent of the team’s total is not.

It probably won’t take a lot of goals to win tonight’s game – this is likely to be a low scoring affair. The question is whether Marty Brodeur gets another start the day after an overtime loss, or if Kevin Weekes gets the nod for the Devils. No matter, the Caps – except for the stinker against these Devils on Friday – have looked better of late.

Caps 2 – Devils 1.

A TWO point night: Caps 6 - Thrashers 3

The beer is a little colder, the air a little crisper, and the wings will be a little tastier…thanks to the Caps running roughshod over the Atlanta Thrashers last night, 6-3.

It started as “Kids Club Night” with clowns, carcicaturist, and prizes…and it ended as “Wings Night” as the Caps scored the magic six goals to give each of their fans a pound of wings from a local establishment.

As for the Caps, they extracted their own pound of flesh, taking out the frustrations of the last month – not to mention the wrath of head coach Bruce Boudreau – on the hapless Thrashers.

It was so complete a “thrashing”…so to speak…that even when the Caps missed, it left a mark. Alexander Semin snapped off a shot from in close that ripped the mask from the head of Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen, leaving the dazed netminder looking around for parts and waiting several minutes for repairs.

As for the scoring, there are a few “keywords” to describe the effort. The first is “efficiency.” The Caps scored six goals on only 27 shots, although they unloaded a total of 58 attempts on Atlanta.

Second, there is “pairs.” The Caps twice scored a pair of goals within about a minute of each other. The first goal of the game was scored 8:12 into the first, when Nicklas Backstrom intercepted a ghastly up-the-middle pass from Brian Pothier Niclas Havelid just inside the Thrasher line and snapped the puck over Lehtonen’s glove to open the scoring. Precisely one minute later, Alexander Semin tried a backhand wrap-around. Lehtonen made the stop, but a weak clear by Ken Klee came out to the top of the left wing circle where Jeff Schultz fired the puck past the statuesque (no, really, he never moved) Klee -- pictured at left -- who served to screen Lehtonen, who never saw the puck sail past him into the net. There was also the pair of goals netted by Mike Green, tying him for second on the club (7).

The other pair came in the second period, following a 5-on-3 power play goal by Atlanta’s Todd White. Tom Poti sent the puck wide left of the Thrasher goal – right in redirectable territory, and Alex Ovechkin did just that, blading the puck behind Lehtonen for the Caps’ answer to the Atlanta goal. 69 seconds later, Tomas Fleischmann walked around the net and found Mike Green pinching in – probably something those two had clicked on in Hershey a few times. Green took the pass and snapped the puck past Lehtonen, and the competitive portion of the evening was pretty much over.

Third, there is “whew!” As in…”finally!” Matt Pettinger went the entire month of November without so much as a point (0-0-0, -9). He last scored a goal on October 29th against Toronto, his only goal of the year. Last night, though, he swooped in behind an Ovechkin shot repelled by Lehtonen and put the garbage in the disposal with a backhand sweep.

Fourth, there is “three,” as in “point night.” Nicklas Backstrom had his second three-point night of the year with a goal and two assists. He is 2-7-9, +3 over his last eight games and has risen to third in rookie scoring.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Cap who had a bad game last night. Plusses abound (12 skaters were on that side of the ledger), and the fun was spread around – five players with the six goals and ten players registering points. Nine skaters had hits, eight had blocked shots. They held Ilya Kovachuk to a cosmetic assist on the Thrashers’ second goal, when the game had already been decided. Ditto, Marian Hossa, who they also held to one shot on goal. It enable the Caps to exploit a sluggish Thrasher blue line group that seemed to have more interest in throwing ill-timed hits (Garnet Exelby, five hits) than defending (Garnet Exelby, -4).

A word, too, about Olaf Kolzig. If you look at the stat sheet, Kolzig had 23 saves on 26 shots – a pretty ordinary line. But he stopped 20 of the first 21 Atlanta shots, some of those saves of the game-saving variety…eight minutes in with the game still scoreless, he stopped Jim Slater at the doorstep off a centering feed from Pascal the first minute of the second period, after Mike Green mistakenly though an icing call was coming, Kolzig stopped a Kovalchuk drive off a pass from Hossa, who had taken the puck from Green…three minutes into the second stopping a bang-bang try off the sticks of Steve McCarthy and Dupuis…a skate save on a redirect that could have brought the Thrashers back within a goal late in the second. It was the kind of solid night the club needed – making the saves he had to make and stealing a few along the way as well.

It was a complete reversal from the game they played collectively the previous night in Newark. The Caps have looked over long stretches of this season like a team than needed someone to kick ass and take names. Bruce Boudreau has done just that – calling out players publicly (fingering Brian Pothier and sitting him is one thing – even if Pothier hadn’t been a healthy scratch in his entire time here – but calling out the iconic Olaf Kolzig…that’s a different animal) and chewing them out in the relative privacy of practice. This night, at least, the players responded.