Friday, October 10, 2008
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Opening Night: Caps at Thrashers
The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It has been 171 days since we uttered those words, and it is once more a thrill to start the day with them. We are LIVE from Peerless Center, where we will bring you the only prognostications you’ll ever need as we lift the curtain on the 2008-2009 season. We will bring you the best in prognosticatory analysis from our army of analysts. So let’s get to it…
Tonight, the Caps inaugurate their quest for Lord Stanley's Cup with a visit to Philips Arena in Atlanta to take on the Thrashers, whose slogan this year is “Become One in Blueland.” Last year, the Thrashers became 14th in the Eastern Conference with a 34-40-9 record, good for 76 points. They did not come by their misfortune by accident…
Goals scored: 2.52/game (T-22nd)
Goals allowed: 3.24/game (T-29th)
5-on-5 scoring ratio: 0.74 (30th)
Power play: 16.5% (23rd)
Penalty killing: 78.8% (27th)
Winning % when scoring first: .588 (27th)
Winning % when trailing first: .292 (18th)
Winning % when leading after 1st period: .700 (22nd)
Winning % when leading after 2nd period: .727 (29th)
It was a team effort. But that was then and this is now, so let’s go to our crack team of analysts for some insights, or at least give me time to hit the head…
John Biebe, former captain for legendary Mystery, Alaska…Philips should be rockin’ tonight, this being the home opener for the Thrashers and their exciting superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk. What’s the feeling down there today, John…
“This is not a hockey town…”
Well, John, folks don’t hold out much hope for the Thrashers this year…if you’re new coach John Anderson, what do you tell the boys on opening night against the Caps?
“You tell them, ‘don’t give these guys too much respect…they didn’t pull a dog sled, did they?...they didn’t skate the river, did they? Forget that f***ing circus out there, that’s still black ice, this is our pond! This is our pond!!’”
Thanks, John…we’ll be talking to you a lot this season, we hope. Denis Lemieux, after your career with the Charlestown Chiefs, you had a brief stint here in Atlanta in the Federal league, how do you think the fans will be, tonight?
“…my allergy to those f***ing fans has returned. I’m tired of it! Puke! Blah! All the time, puke!”
You’re a goalie, you’re supposed to be like that. We’ll try to get back to Denis when he’s feeling a little better. Let’s go to our studio analysts, the boys from Pardon the Interruption, Tony and Mike…guys, we don’t have “five good minutes” to spare, but can you give us “one good minute?”
“For hockey?...what are you, a dope?”
“Call us when basketball season starts, knucklehead.”
Well, OK then. Jim Carr…you’ve been in the booth covering the Charlestown Chiefs for decades, and you’ve seen some tough young players come up. Any thoughts about this rookie defenseman for the Thrashers – Zach Bogosian?
“Oh, this young man will have a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him, well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle.”
Isn’t that a description of Ogie Oglethorpe?
“Ogie…Zach…same goofy name.”
Let’s wrap things up by spending a minute with Donnie Shulzhoffer, who is to hockey analysis what we are to prognostications…Donnie, what are the Thrashers’ chances this year? Any hope?
“I hate to say it, they’re done like dinner.”
How can you say that before they’ve even taken the ice?
“This is hockey, OK? It's not rocket surgery.”
Well, most folks do, in fact, think the Thrashers are “done like dinner.” In fact, you can think of tonight as Day One in the Ilya Kovachuk Countdown Watch. Kovalchuk, who will be the only reason to go watch the Thrashers this year, might have two years left on his current contract, but there isn’t much likelihood that the Thrashers will climb to the “competitive” rung on the NHL standings ladder in the time he has left. Kovalchuk might end up with a season that looks a lot like the one Peter Bondra had for the Caps in 1994-1995, when the Capitals’ winger went 34-9-43 in 47 games. A 43-12-55 season isn’t entirely a fantasy. The Thrashers return one player who had more than 14 goals last year – Vyacheslav Kozlov – but that was an 11-goal drop in production, and Kozlov is 36 years old. Consider the Thrashers’ top line for this evening – Kovalchuk, Todd White, and Jason Williams. Combined, last year, they were 79-81-160. That pales compared to the Caps’ top line – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Viktor Kozlov – which was 95-140-235 last year. But after that, what is there for the Thrashers? Is a second line that is likely to include Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen going to scare anyone? Probably not, unless the Penguins have traded Sidney Crosby to Atlanta to join his former teammates.
What will keep Atlanta in games gong enough for Kovalchuk to evade defenses to perform his magic is Atlanta’s own defense. But, it is either too young or too incomplete to raise this club competitive. Zach Bogosian (11-51-61 at Peterborough last year in Canadian juniors, good enough to get him picked 3rd overall in last June’s draft) will be a good one. Toby Enstrom had a fine rookie year last year (5-33-38, -5, although he faltered late). After that, Ron Hainsey looks somewhat overpaid (he stood out on a bad Columbus team…it doesn’t make him a top-four type on a contending team). Mathieu Schneider brings a lot of experience, but is also 39 years old. He might be asked to do more than he can handle on a team whose defense will be pressured night-in and night-out.
In goal, the Thrashers are in a bit of turmoil. Ondrej Pavelec, who some thought could supplant starter Kari “Groin of Tissue” Lehtonen sooner, rather than later, threw a tantrum at being demoted to Chicago in favor of Johan Hedberg in the role of backup. Pavelec, who claims to have been told by the organization he would get a fair shot to make the NHL team during training camp, decided yesterday to report to the Wolves. But that still leaves Lehtonen, a goaltender of superior talent, but who missed 35 games in 2005-2006 with a groin injury and missed another 16 games last year with a similar injury. He’s a guy who seems always to be one split away from IR. Against the Caps, who are likely to come at the Thrashers in waves, this is a real possibility.
On paper, this is a game that should be decided before the second intermission. But, teams – even bad ones – can muster fine efforts on nights when hopes are high. Opening night is such a night, and the Thrashers could mount a formidable challenge. Besides, these are still two teams that don’t much like each other (although many of the principals in those ill-feelings, guys like Andy Sutton and Olaf Kolzig, dress for other teams these days). Nevertheless, this is the first game on a quest for the Caps, a death march for the Thrashers.
Caps 5 – Thrashers 2.