Monday, November 03, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, November 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps are back at it on this Election Day in the United States, and the Caps are casting their absentee hockey effort in Ottawa to take on the Senators. The Caps are coming off a grisly 5-0 loss in Buffalo on Saturday, and this opponent isn’t likely to be any easier…

“They’ll be as hard as the sod in west Texas in July.”

Why, it’s Dan Rather. Dan, you’re usually manning the anchor desk on election night. Shouldn’t you be covering the campaigns?

"Well, yeah, but like we used to say, if a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun."*

Makes you want to avoid French restaurants. But Dan, I didn’t know you were a hockey fan. Any special insight on this one between the Caps and the Senators?

“We need Billy Crystal to Analyze This.”

Well, there’s only the two of us tonight. What about the Caps? Most folks had them as a potential Stanley Cup contender this year, but they’ve stumbled a bit out of the gate. Your take?

"You know that old song, 'it's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely' for the Caps in most areas of the country. However, they had a slight hitch in their giddy up, but they corrected that."

You’re talking about the practice Coach Bruch Boudreau put them through on Sunday morning…

“You could say that like in southern states, he beat them like a rented mule.”

A lot of folks have pointed to the Caps taking a lot of penalties and some below par goaltending. Do you agree?

“You look at them and think they’re thinking, ‘"We don't know what to do. We don't know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon.’"

Do you think the Caps can turn things around?

"Let's see where it goes from here. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows."

A lot of the focus has been what’s going on down on the ice, but do you think the front office is thinking of pulling the trigger on a deal? George McPhee doesn’t often tip his hand, but do you think he’s working the phones?

"Is it like a swan, with every feather above the water settled, but under the water paddling like crazy?"

What about Ottawa…they’re last in the Northeast.

"This situation in Ottawa would give an aspirin a headache. No question now that the Senators are rapidly reaching the point where they’ve got their backs to the wall, their shirttails on fire and the bill collector's at the door."

The early season has a lot of prognosticators looking pretty bad…

"It's one reason so many of them drink a lot."

Well, that’s our cue to get to the game at hand. The Caps and the Senators come into this game as two of what might be identified as underachievers in the season’s young stages. Combined, the clubs are 9-9-3, with 62 goals scored, 63 alllowed. The term “mediocre” immediately springs to mind…

Ottawa’s problems are not in their special teams. Being top-ten in both power play and penalty killing would be, you would think in this new NHL, a sure-fire recipe for success. It’s just that the Senators have been such a gawd-awful team at even strength. Here is your fun stat as far as that goes. Ottawa has scored only five even strength goals in the first period in 11 games so far – three of them came in a single game (a 6-3 win against Phoenix on October 17th). That leaves two even strength goals scored in the first period in ten other games. Make you want to sneak into the Caps locker room before the game and write on the white board in big block letters…


If you’re looking at Ottawa on an individual basis, you’re tempted to think they should change their name from the “Senators” to the “Comedians.” Why, because they're just a one liner of a team (we kill us…). Here’s what we mean…

-- The top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson has combined to score a total of 15 of the 31 goals the team has scored.

-- They have combined for a total of 35 points. The rest of the team – 17 other skaters having dressed -- has 50.

And here is an indirect indicator of the dominance of the top line – Filip Kuba. Kuba has 12 points, tied with Spezza for second on the club. Of those 12 points, all are assists. Here is how they break down…

-- Eight of them are on goals scored by the top line (three Heatley goals, three Alfredsson goals, and two Spezza goals)

-- Eight of those assists are on the power play (three on goals by Alfredsson, two on goals by Heatley, one on a goal by Spezza).

The disappointments thus far from the Senators don’t take a lot of looking to find. Antoine Vermette was a player that might have been looked to for a big breakthrough season on the heels of his 24-goal year last year. Certainly the Senators thought so, giving him a two-year, $5.525 million contract (thus avoiding arbitration that might have resulted in a bigger payday). But while has been launching shots in an almost Ovechkinian fashion (38 in 11 games), Vermette has but has two goals to show for it. In 15 career games against Washington, Vermette is 2-2-4, -8, with a shorthanded goal.

Mike Fisher has had to deal with a groin injury that caused him to miss a couple of games in mid-October, but in the nine games he has played in, he has yet to register a point and is a minus-5. In 20 career games against the Caps, Fisher is 7-6-13, -5, with three power play goals, a shorthanded goal, and a game-winner.

In goal, one would think Alex Auld has taken over the top spot in the Senators’ nets. He brings a 3-2-1, 2.15, .931 record into the game, and perhaps more importantly for the short term, has been the goalie getting the call in the last four games for the Senators. Ominously enough for Caps fans, he’s allowed four, three, two, and one goal in those four games. Clearly, a shutout is in the offing (uh, that’s a joke, dear reader). He hasn’t been especially successful against the Caps, though. In six career games, he is 2-2-1, 2.57, .899, but he has authored a shutout (a 6-0 win while with Vancouver in 2003).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Anton Volchenkov

It isn’t often that a player with two points and a minus-4 in 11 games would get such attention, but Volchenkov has been something of a shot-blocking machine. Last year, despite missing 15 games, he finished second in the league. He led the league by a whopping 45 blocked shots the previous year. For a club that doesn’t have the top-notch goaltending you’d expect of a contender, this guy could be the goalie’s best friend on the ice and could serve to frustrate Caps looking to get pucks on net.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin returns in this game from a hiatus to help care for his ailing grandfather in Russia. He is also burdened with having gotten off to a slow start – tied for 189th in scoring at 2-3-5. But Ovechkin has made the Senators his personal scrimmage club, going 10-9-19, +6 in 12 career games. He’s had three power play goals, a shorthanded goal, two game-winners, and a four goal night in his brief career against Ottawa. If Ovechkin is going to shake his early season difficulties, this could be as good as any a team against which to do it.

Ottawa, as a club that was a perennial contender in this decade, seems to be extending their disappointing play that emerged in the second half of last season. The Caps, the hot finisher last spring and darling of the hockey punditocracy in the pre-season, hasn’t exactly electrified the league. Something has to give. The Senators have incentive here – they lost all four games to the Caps last year, giving up 22 goals in the process. But the flip side of that is that the Caps might have this club’s number in terms of exploiting its defense and goaltending.

Well, Dan, whaddya think…will the Caps’ll win tonight?

"No one is saying that Washington is not going to win this game, and if you had to bet the double-wide, you'd have to bet that they'd win."

We would too…

Caps 5 – Senators 3

Oh, and by the way...

Get out and vote!!!

* Based on actual Dan Ratherisms…swear to God.

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