Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Predators, March 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On the road again…just can’t wait to get on the road again.

OK, enough of that. The Caps are on the road in the first game of their longest absence from Verizon Center this year – six games – as they visit Sommet Center in Nashville to face the Predators. We managed to sit down with a couple of Predator season ticket holders to talk about what Caps fan might expect…Claude and Maude from Mt. Juliet. Hi folks, what has it been like following the Predators this year?

Maude: “What’s it been like?”

Yeah, has it bee like a roller coaster season, one of ups and downs? What analogy would you use?

Maude: “Analogy?...Claudie, why is he usin’ such big words?”

Claude: “Now, Maudie, they’re not big words if you break ‘em down into itty-bitty ones…take this one…first you have ‘ay-nal’…’ay-nal’…’a-nal.’ You know what that means. They you have ‘oh-gee’…’oh-gee’…sounds like something you’d say whilst you’re tryin’ to grab onto a hare-brained answer to somethin’ you don’t know…’ay-nal’…’oh-gee'…some story you’d grab outta yer butt.”

That’s about the best definition I ever heard for it…but folks, about the Predators. Being out west, in a manner of speaking, Caps fans might not know a lot about the team. What kind of year has it been?

Claude: “What kind of year has it been?...What kind of year has it been?...I’ll tell ya what kind of year it’s been, Mr. East Coast, high-fallutin’ come from a sorry, no-account, lame division like the Southeast hockey blogger, it’s been…”

Maude: “there, there, Claudie…you’ll have a spasm. You’ll have to excuse Claudie, he gets like this sometimes. You would too, if you were in the same division as the Red Wings. We were out of the division race by Thanksgiving. And we weren’t 6-14-1, either.”

But you’re still in the playoff hunt, aren’t you?

Claude: “Yeah, and if we were in the Southeast, we’d be thinkin’ about where to hang the banner for the division championship.”

You folks have been having some attendance woes that jeopardized the club’s staying in Nashville, but you’re doing better lately, isn’t that right?

Maude: “There he goes again with the big words…’jepperdized?’”

Claude: “He’s just sayin’ we weren’t drawin’ flies, and maybe the team would go to Hamilton or Winnipeg or Memphis.”

Maude: “I git it…well, we’ve actually had more than 17,000 for a game a few times…”

Claude: “Five times…”

Maude: “That’s right…five times.”

But you’re still struggling…28th in the league in attendance. You folks going to be able to keep your team?

Maude: “I sure hope so…I’d hate to have to start goin’ back to the ‘Grand Ol’ Opry’ again for a night out.”

Claude: “I just wish they’d move us into the Southeast Division.”

One last thing…do you folks all talk with an accent down here?

Claude: “No, actually, we just do it for you northern tourists. Isn’t that right, my wife?”

Maude: “indubitably…”

Well, there’s something you don’t ever expect…and speaking of that, there are probably a fair number of Caps fans who, after the Caps lost a pair of self-inflicted heartbreakers last weekend against Boston and Pittsburgh, thought the season was a wrap.

Well, as the Caps enter tonight’s play, they are two points behind Philadelphia for eighth place. But tonight the Caps face a team in a situation very much like their own. Nashville is in ninth place in the Western Conference, four points behind a trio of teams tied for sixth (Calgary, Vancouver, and Colorado). The Predators haven’t been helping themselves lately, lurching to either side of the road:

Record (last ten games): 4-6-0
Goals for/against: 27/34
Power play: 7/48 (14.6%)
Penalty killing: 46/53 (86.8%)
Record in one-goal games: 1-2-0
Games with more than three goals allowed: five

That last statistic is interesting. The Predators have been an all-or-nothing team on defense. Three times they’ve allowed six or more goals; four times they’ve allowed just one. If recent history is a guide, you’ll have a good idea where the Caps stand early. Five times the Predators have allowed at least one goal in the first period during these last ten games. In four of them, the opponent scored at least four goals for the game and won the contest.

So, that raises the question of how the goalies have performed. Dan Ellis has shouldered most of the load in the last ten games. The rookie is 4-4-0, 2.65, .919 in nine appearances.

Chris Mason is, perhaps, the more interesting case. In parts of three seasons, he played superbly in a relief role, giving the Predators the confidence to trade Tomas Vokoun to Florida at last summer’s draft for a 2nd round draft pick in 2007, a 1st round draft pick in 2008 and a conditional 2nd draft pick in either 2007 or 2008. Mason was signed to a two year deal last July. He hasn’t fulfilled expectations. 17-20-6, 2.94, .899 was not what was expected of a player who was 40-20-5 (with one tie) in parts of three seasons, with a 2.39 GAA and .922 save percentage. Here is one way to look at it. So far this season, Mason has played 2,527 minutes, 186 more than last year…about three games’ worth. But he’s given up 124 goals this year compared to 93 – 31 more goals in three extra games of time. He hasn’t had a good season. And in the last ten games, he’s made four appearances, giving up 14 goals (0-2-0, 5.02, .854).

If you’re looking at the skaters, you’d have to think first of Jason Arnott -- Nashville's leading scorer -- who has perhaps more experience against the Caps than do most Predators. He is 6-10-16, -1 in 21 games against the Caps. He’s 3-6-9 in the last ten games, but there is a -9 at the end of his line, too.

J.P. Dumont is 1-8-9, even, in 18 career games against Washington. He is 5-1-6 in over the last ten games, but he, too, has that -9 at the end of his line.

Alexander Radulov might have the most sheer talent among the forwards, but he’s had a rough time of late, at least in the goal-scoring department – 0-5-5…but at least he’s even over those ten games.

What Nashville has is a solid cadre of defensemen This seems hardly surprising, given that General Manager David Poile had similar success in Washington when he was GM for the Caps. Marek Zidlicky – a somewhat undersized blue liner (5’11”, 190) leads the defense in scoring 5-36-41. Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, and Greg De Vries provide more size and comprise a very solid unit. Makes one wonder, why as this team allowed 34 goals in its last 10 games, some of them blowouts?

Then there is Jordin Tootoo. If you look at the statistics, you might be lulled to sleep by the fact that Tootoo is ranked in a tie for 65th in penalty minutes (83 for the year). That’s somewhat deceptive. He achieves this while getting barely 10 minutes of ice time a night. He’s not out there to make anyone forget Wayne Gretzky…or Wayne Campbell, for that matter. He’s there to cause a ruckus and make sure that the opponents have their heads on a swivel. While his rise to the NHL is an interesting story, being the first Inuit to play in the league, he plays, to be charitable, to the edge of the rules. Fans of opponents that play the Predators frequently will no doubt have a stronger opinion. He’s had an interesting private life, too.

But hey, there’s hockey to be played and standings to climb. These are very similar teams in terms of results:

Goals/game: Caps 2.86/Preds 2.85
Goals against/game: Preds 2.80/Caps 2.86

How they get there, though, is quite different:

Power Play: Caps 19.7% (6th)/Preds 15.4% (27th)
Penalty killing: Preds 84.8% (3rd)/Caps 80.6% (25th)
Winning when scoring first: Preds .789 (5th)/Caps .649 (23rd)
Winning when trailing first: Caps .306 (10th)/Preds .171 (30th)
Winning when leading after 1st period: Preds .815 (4th)/Caps .680 (24th)

This is one of those games where the team that can impose its will early has a very large advantage. If the Caps can get off fast, Nashville is not a come-from-behind team. That’s how we see it, too…

Caps 4 – Predators 2

No comments: