The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as the Caps take to the road to hockey’s Mecca – Montreal – to visit the Canadiens at Bell Centre this evening.
"Shouldn’t you be out holiday shopping, cuz?"
Well, if it isn’t the cousins, Cheerless and Fearless…what are you boys doing in town?
“We’re here to try out…we heard the Caps are pluckin’ guys outta cubicles to dress for games, right Fearless?”
“That’s right, I even have my own equipment, too…”
Very nice…you a butterfly goalie, Fearless?
“No…more like ‘dung beetle.’”
“Don’t forget me, cuz…”
Uh, Cheerless?...that rig looks a little…old.
“Not old, cuz…’old school.’”
Have either of you boys actually played hockey before?
“Does tonsil hockey with Becky Sue Heffelberger behind the Dog-n-Suds count?”
Afraid not, Cheerless. How about you, Fearless?
“Are you kidding, I shut out Wayne Bretzky, Marc Tessier, AND Rex Ovechkin…in ONE GAME!"
Fearless, they play for the Stubby’s Bar team in the rec league, and Bretzky is missing three fingers on his left hand.
“Yeah, his wife sure was mad that night…but he shouldn’t have been schtuppin Stubby’s waitresses, either.”
Yeah, yeah…whatever. Do you guys really think you’re going to dress for the Caps and sit on the bench.
"No…we just wanted to try and meet Brooks Laich…"
"Yeah, he’s our hero…he’s better’n even Chuck Norris."
Well, the boys will just have to watch on TV, just like us, when the Caps take the ice tonight. And when they do, the team against which they’ll be skating will be looking to break their sleepwalk through their last ten games (5-2-3, both regulation losses coming to Southeast teams – Washington and Tampa Bay). Their overall numbers look like this...
If you’re looking for an early indicator in this one, you’ll probably get one. In the “irresistible force/immovable object” category, the Caps are third best in the league in first period goals this year (33). On the other hand, Montreal has allowed the sixth fewest number in the first period (19).
But if you’re looking for something subtle, look to the second period…Washington has scored only 26 goals in the middle frame this year (T-21st), while Montreal has allowed only 23 (tied for fifth fewest). If the Caps can do damage in the second, it could be a signal of a successful night.
If there is a striking number coming out of the Montreal side, it is that power play number. The same club that led the entire NHL in power play efficiency last year (24.1 percent, 2.3 points better than Philadelphia) is stuck in 28th place this year. And their home version of the game is even worse. Only three teams have scored fewer than the seven goals registered by the Habs, and they are 28th in home power play efficiency at 10.1 percent. They are two for 25 through six games on their current home stand (which ends with this game tonight).
If the Habs struggle on the power play, they don’t five-on-five. Of the 23 skaters who have dressed for Montreal this year, only three (including the irregular starter Georges Laraque) are in the minus category.
It is almost fitting that the struggles of the Montreal offense should be illustrated by having a defenseman – Andrei Markov – leading the team in scoring (5-19-24). Markov does bring a six game scoring streak into this game (3-5-8). That might make up for the likely absence of second-leading scorer Saku Koivu, who is day-to-day with a foot injury.
The Caps will renew acquaintances with Robert Lang (not that there are many Caps here who actually played with Lang when he was here…Boyd Gordon, Michael Nylander, and uh…uh…that might be it). But Lang is their top goal-getter – the only Canadien in double digits (10).
The Canadiens have had a few disappointments among their youngsters. The trio of Guillaume Latendresse, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Chris Higgins combined to go 69-63-129 last year. This year, they are a combined 13-17-30, which is a pace for 38-50-88.
In goal, Carey “Pantload” Price has missed a couple of games to the flu, leaving the chores to Jaroslav Halak. Halak has been hot and cold in his two relief starts, beating Calgary, 4-1, and dropping a decision to Tampa Bay, 3-1. Overall, he’s still hot and cold…well, perhaps somewhat better: 3-3-1, 2.42, .917. Against Washington, he is 2-1-0, 2.33, .908. He lost a 3-0 decision to the Caps on November 28th.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Alex Kovalev
Who else? After all, he’s garnered more than twice as many votes for the All Star Game as Alex Ovechkin. But it’s not exactly all-starish for him to have only five goal this year – none since November 1st. He’s on a pace for 15 goals, which would be the lowest total of his career for seasons in which he’s played at least 70 games. Against the Caps, he is 17-27-44, +4, with four power play goals and two game-winners in 57 career games.
Washington: Simeon Varlamov
This could be the night. It’s been a busy week for the young goalie. He beat Hartford at Giant Center last Saturday as the Hershey Bears won, 4-2, and took the loss in the game that broke the Bears’ 11-game winning streak – a 3-0 loss to San Antonio. Then he’s riding along on the highways and by-ways of Texas when he probably has someone tap him on the shoulder who says, “coach wants to see you.” Then he hops on a plane and rushes to a game already in progress because the starting goalie has come up lame, and his “backup” (who is playing a whole lot better) is playing hurt. All while another story is playing out that involves a former college goalie who works in the Caps offices who is taking warm-ups as the new back up. If he gets the start tonight – his first in the NHL in one of the most difficult arenas in the sport for a visitor to play in – it might be a comparative snap…Well, probably not.
This is one of those games (last night was one, too) where you might be tempted to tell the boys, “hey, just go out there and have fun – ride the wave.” It’s been quite a ride lately as the Caps have won four of five and six of their last nine. We’re in The Twilight Zone here, and we’d be remiss if the prognostication didn’t do it justice…
Caps 7 – Canadiens 1