Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Blue Jackets, February 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And today’s question is, what do the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers have in common?

Columbus, Ohio. That’s right, the Olentangy and the Scioto join downtown, just about where Washington Capitals will be taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets this evening in a rare contest against a Western Conference opponent. It is part of the Caps’ journey of discovery, as they try to navigate the rocks and shoals ahead of them on their adventure that will lead them to the playoffs. And who better to ask about the perils of such a journey than the man himself – he for whom this city by the Olentangy and Scioto is named…Christopher Columbus. Captain, welcome…it’s somewhat surprising to find you a hockey fan…

CC: “Well, it’s just water they play on, and any man of the sea will always find his way to water.”

Tonight the Jackets and their fans get a rare in-person look at Alex Ovechkin, who recently signed a big contract extension with the Caps. Any thoughts on that?

CC: “He who has gold makes and accomplishes whatever he wishes in the world and finally uses it to send souls to paradise.”

So, you think the Caps and their fans will see a Stanley Cup in their near future…but on the other hand, I understand you sided with the league during the lockout. You had some kind words regarding league commissioner Gary Bettman, encouraging the league to stand fast…

CC: “No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.”

Let’s talk about the Jackets for a moment...they had a four game winning streak in mid-January, but other than that they’ve been spending the last couple of months treading water. What seems to be the problem?

CC: “These people are very unskilled in arms ... with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished.”

Well, being 27th in the league in goals-per-game suggests they’re not exactly doing what they wish, anyway. Meanwhile, the Caps have hit a bit of a rough patch in their last ten games, going 2-3-0 in their last five games after a four game winning streak. The Jackets are 2-5-0 in their last seven. What do you say to a pair of struggling teams?

CC: “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”

That’s pretty good advice for any situation. This is only the second road game the Caps have played against a Western Conference opponent since Bruce Boudreau took over. Any thoughts on his performance behind the bench?...When you see him back there, what comes to mind?

CC: “I will command your fleet and discover for you new realms.”

Regarding the Caps, they’re out on the road for a short two-game road trip, but they’re important games. As something of a “road warrior” yourself, what advice can you give the boys as they skate on foreign ice tonight?

CC: “And the ice shall grant all men new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.”

Well, thanks to Christopher Columbus for those words of wisdom…for the Caps, it’s the front end of a two-game road trip, and they’ll be taking on a team in the Blue Jackets, the Caps will be facing a team in similar circumstances to their own. A tale of the tape:


Caps: 24-24-5 (53 points)
Jackets: 25-23-6 (56 points)

Conference Ranking:

Caps: 12th
Jackets: 11th

Points out of playoff position:

Caps: three
Jackets: three

Record, last ten games:

Caps: 6-4-0
Jackets: 5-5-0

Goals for/against:

Caps: 31/34
Jackets: 20/22

Power Play:

Caps: 9/40 (22.5%)
Jackets: 8/36 (22.2%)

Penalty killing:

Caps: 31/42 (73.8%)
Jackets: 39/44 (88.6%)

Twenty goals in ten games isn’t a recipe for success in the NHL, but the Blue Jackets have avoided a collapse because of sturdy defensive play, led by the NHL’s version of “Agent Zero” – goaltender Pascal Leclaire. The Blue Jacket netminder has eight shutouts this year in 37 games – a bad sign for the Caps, a team that has been shutout in two of their last three games. Leclaire has had eight decisions over the last ten games, going 5-3-0 in the process. He’s also put up a 2.34 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in the process. And yes, there is a shutout in there, a 1-0 decision over Chicago on January 24th.

What offense the Blue Jackets have been able to muster (get it?...”Blue Jackets?” …”muster?” …ok, it’s a Civil War thing) has been spread out. Twenty goals over the last ten games have been scored by 11 different players, four of them by Nikolai Zherdev. While Zherdev is 4-6-10 in these last ten games, he’s also a -7. Rick Nash has three of those goals (3-2-5, -4).

On the blue line, Rostaslav Klesla might be showing – finally – the considerable talent he has on defense. He has not put up big numbers on the offensive side of the ledger, but he is one of only four players with more than 40 games played on the plus side of the ledger. Those “games played” are as important as any statistic. Klesla has never played in more than 75 games in any season, but has dressed for all 54 Columbus contests this year. Coming into this season he missed 90 games over five full seasons due in large part to a variety of injuries – hip, foot, groin, hand, leg. His history is reminiscent of another physical defenseman who had hard time staying in the lineup – Mark Tinordi, who missed 112 games over five seasons with the Caps from 1994-95 to 1998-99.

For the Caps, it’s been alternating wins and losses over the last six games. Hopefully, that is merely a pause as the club re-energizes. The call-up of Eric Fehr yesterday is recognition that the Caps are at the moment too top-heavy a team in scoring. In those six games, during which the Caps have been shutout twice, Washington has 14 goals. Seven of them are from Alex Ovechkin, four from Viktor Kozlov. The new-found scoring from Kozlov is welcome, especially since the Caps have a total of three goals from other players – Tomas Fleischmann, Alexander Semin, and Brooks Laich with one apiece.

The Caps are getting little from the second line and nothing from the third or fourth lines in terms of scoring. Hence, stop the top line, the Caps don’t score. Fehr, who if nothing else has been a goal-scorer at every stop in his young career, will apparently man the right side of the top line, while Kozlov will move to the second line to perhaps provide a jolt of offense – or at least a reliable center who can take advantage of his wingers in ways neither Boyd Gordon nor Brooks Laich could accomplish.

This is probably as good a game as any for the Caps to try this experiment, or at least allow Fehr to get his skating legs under him at this level. Games later in the week against Philadelphia, Carolina, and the Rangers will provide stiffer, or at least more important tests.

It’s feast or famine with the Caps. Six times in the last ten they have scored at least five goals; twice they have been shut out. We think the jostling of the lines will be a shot in the arm, and the Caps will have a successful start to this short road trip…

Caps 3 – Blue Jackets 2

No comments: