Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Wild, November 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the last game of a road trip, and it ends in the Twin Cities, where the weather is cold, and the temperature of a Wild game is even colder. But there is nothing that can pump some heat into the Xcel Energy Center like a dose of Ovechkin…

Who can turn the world on with his smile?
Who can take a nothing play, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it's you boy, and you should know it
With each deke and every little movement you show it

Goals are all around, no need to waste them
You can light the lamp, why don't you take them
You're gonna score goals after all
You're gonna score goals after all

How will you make it on your own?
This season’s awfully long, but this time you're not alone
But it's time you started scoring
It's time you let someone else do some assisting

Goals are all around, no need to waste them
You can light the lamp, why don't you take them
You're gonna score goals after all
You're gonna score goals after all

Folks, go get a dictionary. Now, look up the word, “boring.” You see this, don’t you…

OK, it’s not this year’s team portrait, but you get the point. Minnesota’s game plan is to suck the life out of the building and win games 2-1 in as ugly a manner as can be imagined. They do a very good job of it, as the numbers suggest…

In 18 games, the Wild have allowed more than two goals only five times, only twice in their last ten games. In November they have allowed only four power play goals (34-for-38 on the penalty kill). It isn’t so much that their penalty killing is expert, although it is, as much as it is they don’t have to use it much. No team has faced fewer shorthanded opportunities (70) than has Minnesota. It is even more pronounced at home, where the Wild have found themselves shorthanded only 29 times in nine games (3.22/game). Conversely, the Caps have the fifth highest number of such situations faced so far overall (104) and have been shorthanded 72 times in 12 road games (6.00/game). If there is a silver lining here for the Caps, it is in the perception that the Wild are the New Jersey Devils-lite. Well, the Caps are 3-for-11 against the Devils on the power play so far this year in three games – not many opportunities, but some success.

If the Wild don’t find themselves shorthanded very often, neither do they find themselves often having the man-advantage. They are 28th in total power plays so far (77 in 18 games), although they enjoy somewhat greater frequency on the power play at home (42 in nine games). Meanwhile, the Caps aren’t especially gifted when it comes to earning power plays overall (86 in 20 games – 21st in the league), but they are fifth in total power play opportunities on the road (54 in 12 games).

Individually, the Wild Style (now there's an oxymoron) is reflected most in the numbers put up by their version of Niklas Backstrom. The Helsinki, Finland, native ranks fourth in GAA (2.00) and save percentage (.932) having appeared in 17 of the 18 games the Wild have played. The odd part about Backstrom’s game thus far, though, is that for the first time in his three seasons in the NHL, his home record is worse than his road record. Not that it is bad, mind you -- he is 5-2-1, 2.11, .925 at Xcel Energy Center this year. Of additional note, he has not lost to an Eastern Conference opponent yet in regulation, going 5-0-1, 1.94, .929. In his only appearance against Washington, Backstrom allowed four goals on 26 shots in a 4-1 loss on trading deadline day last February.

If it isn’t Backstrom, it will be Josh Harding, who is 0-1-0 this year in two appearances (1.84, .927). He has never faced Washington.

The Wild are likely to be without Marian Gaborik for the 17th straight game as the forward rehabilitates a “lower body injury” (Gray’s Anatomy, NHL edition…”lower body”…”upper body”…that’s it).

Gaborik’s absence has meant that the offense, such as it is for the Wild, has been by committee. Mikko Koivu leads the team in total scoring (5-13-18, +5), while Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette lead the Wild in goal-scoring with six apiece. Brunette has something of a cottage industry in making the team that drafted him (7th round in 1993) pay. He is 8-5-13 in 18 games against the Caps.

If there is an odd aspect to the Wild attack, it is how the defense becomes a force on the power play. The Wild defenseman corps is 9-21-30 overall, but are 6-12-18 on the power play. That is six of the total of 16 power play goals coming from the blue line. There are three Wild defensemen who have had particular success against Washington on the power play. Marc-Andre Bergeron is 2-4-6 in five career games against the Caps, both of the goals coming on power plays. Kim Johnsson is 5-10-15 in 23 career games against Washington with four of those goals coming with the man advantage. Marek Zidlicky (seriously) is 3-1-4 in three career games against the Caps, all three goals coming on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Wild don’t have a lot of goals with the man advantage (those 16 rank 18th in the league), but they spread it around. Eight different players have scored at least one (the same number as for the Caps). Clearly, the ability of the Wild to activate their defense in the offensive zone – getting shots on goal and getting points in the process – will be something to watch.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Minnesota: Cal Clutterbuck

Not only does he have perhaps the best hockey name in the NHL, but Clutterbuck is the kind of player that could have Caps’ heads on a swivel. Clutterbuck is sixth among forwards in the NHL in total hits. What sets him apart is that he is doing this in far less ice time than the five forwards ahead of him (5:15 less than Milan Lucic, who has the lowest average ice time of those ahead of him). And, he does this with remarkable discipline. Clutterbuck has only one fighting major penalty this year and two minors. He’s not going to get a lot of time, and he almost certainly won’t score (he has no points this year). But he could be a factor in ways that won’t show up on the score sheet.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Sometimes, being the star isn’t fair. With Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov likely to be missing once more, the status of Mike Green downgraded to “out” for this game, and (as Tarik El-Bashir reports in The Post) a number of other players nursing nagging ailments, the burden will fall even more heavily on the guy every team game plans for, anyway. But then, that’s why he’s paid the big bucks, too. This is an opportunity for Ovechkin to strike a line through one more team against which he hasn’t scored a goal (having failed to do that against Los Angeles and San Jose) and to help end a losing streak before it gets started. Ovechkin is on a seven-game points streak (6-10-16, +4).

The Caps have never won on Wild ice. They have a total of three goals scored in going 0-3-1. Getting three goals against this team would be something of an achievement, given the style the Wild play, the health of the Caps, and the fact that the Wild have surrendered as many as three goals in a game only once in their last seven home games (a 3-2 loss to Vancouver on November 20th). But, let’s not forget where we are…that score sounds about right:

Caps 3 – Wild 2


Ms. Conduct said...

Good analysis. Looking forward to this game tonight since I rarely get to watch the Caps.

dbfreudber said...

Dammit Peerless, Clutterbuck has 2 goals so far. I blame you and only you.

dbfreudber said...

I meant that as a bit of a joke... although... come on.

Joe said...

Keeping an eye on Clutterbuck was an eerie premonition. Minus the part about how he nearly certainly wouldn't score.