Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Sabres, December 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the first time since the first three games of the season, the Caps have a three-game winning streak. And it's not like they're beating a bunch of slugs - the wins were over Atlanta (a playoff team last year and playing much better than their 0-6-0 start), the Devils (who had been on a long points-earned streak), and the Rangers (who had yielded only one goal to the Caps in two games this year).

Speaking of slugs, the schedule doesn't get any easier tonight with a game against the "Buffa-slugs" themselves, the Buffalo Sabres.

"You know...Buffalo is the home of the 'buffalo wing.'"

Welcome to the show...would you please introduce yourself to our audience...

"My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue, but people call me 'Bubba.' Just like one of them ol' redneck boys. Can you believe that?"

People call me Peerless...Peerless Prognosticator. Didn't you used to dabble in shrimp?

"I don't know what 'dabble' means, but I gave up shrimp...they're too high in cholesterol. Anyway, like I was sayin', wings come from chickens, and chicken is the fruit of the barnyard. You can barbecue 'em, boil 'em, broil 'em, bake 'em, saute 'em..."

Yes, well...that's quite interesting, but as for the game, the Caps are hosting a Buffalo Sabres team that is not exactly in the place in the standings they have become accustomed to occupying the last couple of years. 14-14-1 and with 29 points – tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference with Atlanta – is not where the Sabres and their fans expected to be more than a third into the season.

"...Dey's uh, chicken wing-kabobs, chicken wing creole, chicken wing gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried..."

Yeah, yeah…they’re great. No, not the Sabres…since Buffalo was in town on November 26th – a 3-1 win for the visitors – the Sabres have slipped just a little bit more in the standings. In seven games since that win, the Sabres are 3-4-0. Their record includes posting eight goals in a game (an 8-1 win against Carolina) and yielding eight goals in a game (an 8-2 loss at Los Angeles).

Looking at the offense, it’s been feast or famine. 20 of the 27 goals Buffalo has scored over this stretch came in three games (they also have a 7-1 win at San Jose and a 5-3 win against the Islanders). That leaves seven goals scored in the other four games.

"…Dey's pineapple chicken wings, lemon chicken wings, coconut chicken wings, pepper chicken wings, chicken wings soup, chicken wings stew, chicken wings salad, chicken wings and potatoes, chicken wings burger, boneless chicken wings sandwich..."

Sounds real nice…which is not something that can be said for the Sabres’s special teams. Even though their power play is 7-for-27 over the last seven games (25.9 percent), they’ve actually given up more power play goals. Their 22-for-30 penalty killing (73.3 percent) has been a problem.

Consistent with Buffalo’s balance on offense, 15 skaters have registered the 27 goals. Ales Kotalik leads the way with five of those goals (5-1-6, -2). Thomas Vanek, who has struggled somewhat to live up to the big contract he signed in the wake of an offer sheet tendered by Edmonton and matched by Buffalo (9-10-19, +3 for the season), has contributed three goals (3-0-3, +5), as has Derek Roy (3-4-7, +8).

"…Dey's garlic chicken wings, teriyaki chicken wings, ginger chicken wings, szechuan chicken wings, cayenne chicken wings - dey's mah favorite..."

Jochen Hecht has found the Caps to be among his favorite opponents over his career. In 20 career contests, he is 7-9-16, +4. This year, he’s 2-2-4, +2 in two Buffalo wins against Washington. He’s second on the club this year in goals overall, with 10.

"...honey chicken wings, Jalapeno chicken wings, chicken wings with ranch sauce, chicken wings with blue cheese 'n' hot sauce - that's what them Buffalo folks like..."

What perhaps they haven’t liked is the inconsistency in the play of goaltender Ryan Miller. The former Hobey Baker winner has played in all seven games since appearing in Washington on November 26th. And except for his allowing three goals in his last outing – a win against the Islanders – he’s given up either one goal (twice) or four (four times)…nothing in between. His career stats against Washington are not extraordinary, compared to his overall career stats (2.72 career GAA/2.68 vs.Washington… .908 career SV/.907 vs. Washington), but he does have a 6-1-0 win-loss record. He’s won both starts this year against the Caps (2-0-0, 2.00, .930).

"...uh, chicken wings with barbecue sauce, Cajun chicken wings, smoked chicken wings, chipotle chicken wings, jerk chicken wings...that - that's about it."

And that’s about it for this look at the Sabres. For the Caps, it’s a chance to do something they haven’t done since the 1999-2000 season (March 11-19, 2000)…sweep a home stand of at least four games. In that season, they swept New Jersey, the Islanders, Caroilina, and Tampa Bay by a combined score of 17-9. The Caps have taken the first three games of this home set against Atlanta, New Jersey, and the Rangers by a combined score of 14-9.

“Four” seems to be a number that pops up from time to time in this review, and that’s what we see the Caps putting up…

Caps 4 – Sabres 2

Edit…I erred in a previous version of this, noting a four-game home stand sweep in January 2000…and it made for such nice copy, too, with the big finish it heralded for that year. Rats…sorry about that.

2004's defensemen

Remember back in 2004? The Caps were on the clock to start the draft, and the arena was abuzz with the prospect of hearing Alexander Ovechkin's name announced as the top overall pick.

Well, for Caps fans, it might not be that the announcement of Ovechkin as the top pick was the big story (it was, but permit us some hyperbolic latitude).

Mike Green was selected with the 29th overall pick in that draft. Here are the defensemen selected ahead of him:

3. Cam Barker (Chicago)
9. Ladislav Smid (Anaheim)
10. Boris Valabik (Atlanta)
12. A.J. Thelen (Minnesota)
23. Andrej Meszaros (Ottawa)
27. Jeff Schultz (Washington)
28. Mark Fistric (Dallas)

Think Green was a bargain at 29?

Sometimes, even New York gets it right -- Attendance in Washington and a lost opportunity

In this morning's "Slap Shot" blog in the New York Times*, Lynn Zinser states the following...

"The most sobering part of Wednesday night’s Rangers-Capitals game had nothing to do with the game — a 5-4 overtime victory by Washington, which was wildly entertaining unless you are a big fan of goalies — but the lack of people watching in Washington’s Verizon Center.

"The team announced the attendance at 12,553, which is laughable. There were entire empty sections. Any camera shot that caught the sections behind the nets showed swaths of empty seats. The team handed out bright red mullet wigs to fans in honor of ’80s night and I am guessing they have plenty left in backstage cartons.

"This is sad (the attendance, not the wigs) because Washington has one of the jewels of the N.H.L. in forward Alex Ovechkin, who is worth the price of admission alone. He scores. He skates like crazy. He lays checks on people like Rangers enforcer Colton Orr. He has 22 goals this season and is mesmerizing any time he is on the ice.

"Yes, the Capitals had a horrible start and axed their coach, Glen Hanlon. But they have rebounded, won four of their last five and have a terribly fun team to watch. In the N.H.L., this is unusual. Highly unusual. Perhaps Washington fans will figure that out this season."

It's past time to just say this..."sports fans" in Washington are squandering one of the great, and fleeting opportunities that come around rarely in sports -- the opportunity to see a legendary individual performer in the making just as his career is taking off.

Alexander Ovechkin is underrated by the NHL, to be sure (certainly with respect to coverage compared to one of the youngsters in Pittsburgh). But one could plausibly make the case that Washington has not seen this level of talent in his sport in the last half century of professional sports in this city. Our apologies to fans of the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas, but while he is a superb player and an engaging personality, he is not in the class of Alexander Ovechkin when it comes to dominating his peers. This year, his peer group is more or less Sidney Crosby and...well, that's it. And Ovechkin has something for everyone -- supreme open-ice skill, the ability to generate bone-rattling hits that Redskins' defensive coach Gregg Williams must envy, and an exuberance that shines on and off the ice.

While the Washington Redskins are, and probably always will be a social force of nature here, it would be hard to identify an individual player on any of their teams -- including their Super Bowl champions -- who measure up to Ovechkin in terms of their domination of the league in which they played. For fans of such as Darrell Green or John Riggins or Art Monk...they too were excellent players -- Hall of Fame worthy, to be sure -- but none (at least in our opinion) rose to the level that Ovechkin currently occupies.

No professional baseball player in Washington over the past half century was or is within shouting distance of Ovechkin's level of play, and we do not believe such fine players from Washington's basketball past such as Wes Unseld or Elvin Hayes had the ability to bring fans out of their seats each time they held the ball in the manner Ovechkin can when he takes the puck on a rush.

Washington, you are missing something very special -- as unique a player as has ever played in this city. A professional sports career is among the most fleeting, and a star's best years are only a portion of that. Ovechkin has not yet reached his peak or his prime. That, by itself, makes his accomplishments thus far in his career all the more astonishing. That more people have not availed themselves of one of the most spellbinding young talents in the history of his sport is the tragedy of an opportunity wasted, of Washington "not figuring it out."

* Thanks to GeorgeSpigott on The Official for the heads up.

South-least Division?

Through 30 games or so, you might think so.

Only one team is in the playoff-eight, Carolina.

And even they are "minus-2" in goal differential.


You must walk, before you can run, grasshopper...

Two quotes to remember

"We had defensemen caught out for 2-minute shifts because we couldn't get out of our own end."

-- Rangers' head coach Tom Renney after the Caps' 5-4 overtime win

"They're a team that creates shots from everywhere."

-- Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist, explaining how the Caps managed to outshoot the Rangers 18-7 in the first period and 35-23 for the game.

Hmm...perhaps the coaching change has made a difference.

A TWO point night: Caps 5 - Rangers 4 (OT)

The Peerless thinks the Rangers and Capitals are still exchanging shots, saves, and goals in the hallway under the stands at Verizon Center.

It was that kind of night.

In a game of “last to score wins,” the Caps got the last score – a goal by Mike Green with 1:19 left in overtime – to give the Caps an improbable 5-4 win over the New York Rangers.

Let’s get right to it…

Watching Donald Brashear in the pre-game warm-up* gave The Peerless a hankerin’ for a Wendy’s double with cheese, pickles, onions, and ketchup. We’re not going to say that too loudly on remembering that Brashear pounded the Rangers’ Colton Orr to the ice in the game’s third minute.

How many folks thought the Caps were toast after Marty Straka buried a cross-ice feed from uber-mullet Jaromir Jagr to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first period?

The Peerless has one word…Motzko!

The Verizon Center ice should have gotten the third star. Brendan Shanahan blew a tire on that mess, leading to Mike Green’s game-winner. Then again, the Caps had a goal waved off when the puck hit a snow bank on the goal line behind Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist, giving the Rangers the extra split second to sweep the puck away before it could completely cross the goal line.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he looked rather ordinary tonight, but then again, he’s been doing that lately. After 18 straight games without allowing more than three goals, he’s now done it three times in his last four games. Tonight’s five goals tied his worst goals-against for the season (Atlanta, October 18).

Is it me, or did Jagr look old out there? We don’t think we’ve seen him pushed off the puck that many times in a month’s worth of games.

And don’t think it didn’t have anything to do with Shaone Morrisonn, either. He seems to save some of his best games for those in which he competes against Jagr. Morrisonn was a +3 tonight.

It was another goal for Paul Coffey Jeff Schultz – that’s three in three games – but he was out there for every Ranger goal, including one by Scott Gomez on which he had no business giving Gomez a free pass down the middle to the net.

Joe Motzko might have scored the first goal, but without Donald Brashear throwing Daniel Girardi off the puck in the deep left wing corner, it doesn’t happen.

The second one was all Motzko, though, with that little dipsy-do around Brandon Dubinsky and that snapper past Lundqvist's glove.

What did you think of Lundqvist’s heel-of-the-skate-from-behind-his-head save, while on his stomach, on David Steckel?

...and what about Lundqvist pulling a Bill Ranford and taking an Ovechkin drive right in the safe deposit box...eeeeeyouch!

Monday, it was a two-point night for John Erskine…tonight a two-point night for Donald Brashear. We know we’ve been harping about other guys stepping up, but this – and Jeff Schultz’ Al MacInnis impersonation the last three games…that’s not exactly what we were expecting.

That was the first time this year the Rangers scored at least four goals in a game and lost. It was the first time this year the Caps gave up at least four goals and won.

Nicklas Backstrom might have a reputation as a quiet guy, but he sure looked to be yapping at the ref on his way to the penalty box after being whistled for a holding penalty in the second period. How do you say “in your ear” in Swedish?

Um…did Chris Drury dress tonight?

Mike Green is starting to get that “bring the fans to the edge of their seats” look when he’s weaving up ice on a rush. Has he come a long way in a year, and perhaps no one has benefited more from the coaching change…that “Unleash the Fury” video they play during a break in action? might say it applies to Green’s game.

The Peerless always has had a soft spot for Brendan Shanahan, and we’ll give you an example of why. Shanahan was trailing Ovechkin down the left side, and Ovechkin was about to collect the puck in the corner. He was in a potentially vulnerable position. Lesser players would have taken advantage of that opportunity, perhaps causing injury. But Shanahan used his positional leverage on the play, kept his hand on Ovechkin’s back, and merely finished his check to allow a Ranger to pick up the puck behind the Ranger net...Shanahan is one of the toughest SOB’s in the league who will take crap from no one. But that is the kind of professional play – respect for an opponent – that makes him a solid citizen on the ice, too. We just wish it could have been someone like Sean Avery blowing a tire to allow Brooks Laich and Mike Green to take off on the winning rush.

OK…here’s a question. What will Larry Brooks whine about in tomorrow morning’s New York Post:

- The bad ice?
- The sparse crowd (12,553 announced) that doesn’t deserve an Alex Ovechkin?
- The officiating, for allowing Jagr to be checked?

Don’t look now, but the Caps are only six points out of a playoff spot…The Peerless said, “don’t look!”

* Courtesy of CapsChick at "A View from the Cheap Seats"