Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, November 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, when all through the house
Not a pot was yet stirring, not even the mousse;
The dishes were made in the kitchen with care,
In hopes that St. Gibletmas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of stuffing danced in their heads;
And mamma in her apron, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a late autumn nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The wind was rustling the freshly raked leaves,
Raking them again is one of my peeves.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature roasting pan, coming ever so near.

With a plump little turkey, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment they’ll be tasty drumsticks.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he gobbled, and gobbled, and called them by name.

"Now, Butterball! now, Free Range! now, White Meat and Dark!
We’ve got to be quiet, lest the dog bark!
To the top of the counter! Nestled tight in the pan!
I love turkey so, I’m really a fan!"

And then, in a twinkling, I knew in the fridge
Were treats for the morning (could I have just a smidge?)
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Through the kitchen door St. Gibletmas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in feathers, except for his beak,
He was here for a purpose and wouldn’t be meek.
A bundle of side dishes he had on his wing,
They smelled oh, so good, I just wanted to sing.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old bird,
And I laughed when I saw him, I’m just such a nerd;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the dishes; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his wing aside of his beak,
And giving a nod, to the oven he’d sneak.

He sprang to his pan, to his team gave a gobble,
And they took to the air with nary a wobble.
But I heard him exclaim, as I turned up the heat,
"Happy Thanksgiving to all, hey folks, let’s eat!!!"

While you’re pondering the possibilities of food, football, and fun on Turkey Day, there is the matter of the Caps and the Thrashers as the good guys return from a road trip. Let’s face it, the Thrashers should (and we do want to emphasize “should”) be just the recipe for some tasty home cookin’. This is not a particularly good hockey team, as the numbers suggest:

The Thrashers can, however, pose problems. Smacking the Caps around in a 7-4 opening night win is proof enough of that, although the Caps did wipe out a 3-1 first intermission disadvantage before giving up three goals in the third in the loss.

Since that first game, though, these teams have gone in different directions, and this is no more apparent than how they’ve started games. Since that opening night loss, the Caps have scored 23 first period goals in 20 games. Atlanta, on the other hand, has 13 first period goals in 19 games. But here is the odd part…flip the scenario and well… Atlanta has allowed only 15 goals in the first period since opening night, while the Caps have allowed 22. This suggests that the Caps have to get on top of the Thrashers from the drop of the puck, both as a means to put offensive pressure on the visitors and as a way to keep the Thrashers from taking advantage of early Caps weakness in allowing goals.

That three-goal win was another rarity of sorts for Atlanta. They have only two other three-goal wins this year,both on the road -- at Carolina on November 9th and last night against Toronto. Strangely enough, though, they have not had as many blow-out losses as one might expect. They have a total of only two three-plus-goal losses (7-0 to Philadelphia and 6-1 to New Jersey). The Caps, meanwhile, have five such losses, although of course none of those are at home, where the Caps have not yet lost in regulation.

The other side of the coin is that Atlanta has only two road wins in regulation (the aforementioned win in Carolina and last night’s 6-3 drubbing of Toronto) en route to a 3-5-2 road record.

Individually, the surprise is that Ilya Kovalchuk has only seven goals after 20 games (two in his last eight). At that pace he will end this season with the lowest goal total (29) since his rookie year (also 29, but in only 65 games). But if there is a team he can get back into a groove against, it is Washington. Kovalchuk is 20-25-45, +11, with six power play and three game-winning goals in 38 career games against the Caps.

The points lead is the province of Vyacheslav Kozlov (11-8-19). He’ll be coming in on something of a roll in going 9-6-15 in his last 11 games after a slow start. Kozlov is remarkably efficient as well, having found the back of the net on 33 percent of his shots.

Bryan Little has already surpassed his total scoring numbers from last year (6-10-16 in 48 games). He comes into tonight’s game at 9-9-18, tied with Kovalchuk for second on the team in scoring. Meanwhile, a below-the-radar guy to watch out for might be Jason Williams. Five of his six goals this year have been scored on the road.

On defense, the Thrashers have two noteworthy additions, one of which having at least a semblance of being worthy of the big contract he got as a free agent, the other struggling somewhat. Ron Hainsey signed a big five-year deal in the offseason, and while he has struggled a bit in being on ice for a substantial number of goals (like a lot of Thrashers), he does lead the scoring from the blue line. He had a goal an and assist in the opening night win over the Caps.

On the other side is Mathieu Schneider, although there are signs he’s turning a corner. He recorded one “plus” game in his first 11 as a Thrasher. However, he is plus 4 in his last four games, which is more in line of what was expected when he came to the Thrashers in trade for Ken Klee, Brad Larsen, and Chad Painchaud.

It isn’t immediately clear who will man the nets for the Thrashers. Johan Hedberg got the call last night and got the win in the 6-3 decision over Toronto. The odd part of Hedberg’s performance this year is that he is the only Thrasher goaltender with a winning record (4-3-0) despite having the worst GAA (3.88) and save percentage (.884). It seems hedberg has been around forever and that he’s faced the Caps just about every other game. But he has only ten appearances in his career against Washington, going 6-2-2, 2.66, .911.

If Hedberg doesn’t get the call, it won’t be Kari Lehtonen in his place, Lehtonen being on injured reserve with a bad back. The Thrashers might turn to Ondrej Pavelec. He’s 2-2-0 in five appearances, but has a respectable 2.33 GAA and .913 save percentage. In his only appearance against the Caps, he allowed only one goal in winning the decision.

Here is your odd stat about the Thrashers. They are last – 30th – in the NHL in hits. Frankly, we find that more than a bit surprising.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Atlanta: Todd White

White looks a little like the treasurer of our senior class in high school. It hasn’t stopped him from taxing the Caps. After scoring one goal in his first dozen games against Washington, he has five goals in his last seven contests against the Caps. And last night, he broke a five game scoreless streak with a pair of goals against Toronto.

Washington: Jose Theodore/Brent Johnson

Whoever gets the nod in goal for the Caps, it will be important to keep the net clear to give the Caps a chance to reassert their home dominance and get off the three game losing streak they’re on. The Caps have given up a lot of first minute and/or first shot goals this year. Preventing those sorts of lapses will go a long way to ensuring that the Caps keep their unbeaten-in-regulation streak intact. All of that starts with the goalie. Johnson is 7-3-2, 2.49, .912 with two shutouts against Atlanta in his career, while Theodore is 11-4-0, 2.40, .916 in his career against the Thrashers. Nice numbers…too bad both had their troubles against Atlanta in the opener. It can’t – and shouldn’t – happen again.

The Caps are coming home with a limp. Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Chris Clark, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine…all are nursing injuries of varying severity. Wes Johnson might be calling for volunteers by the first intermission over the public address system. Even if he doesn’t, though, the Caps still have the horses to beat a team that will be playing the back-half of back-to-back road games. It might not be as pretty as it would otherwise be with a healthy team, but the Caps will find their turkey tasting pretty good on Thursday…

Caps 5 – Thrashers 2

Speaking of turkey, we’ll be off for a few days enjoying the holiday…see you on the weekend.

1 comment:

hooks said...

I was in Atlanta last week for the Pens game...Kovalchuk looks like a much different player, like he has more of a team mindset.

He was the Thrashers' most dangerous player, but a lot of the chances came as a playmaker. It was a side of him I'd never seen.

Oh and Pavelec is good. Real good. But the Thrashers just don't seem to have "it"-- whether it be the confidence to win consistently, the killer instinct, enough skill or bounces, they just don't have that indescrible "it" yet.