Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Rangers, December 23rd

Boy, the way Ovechkin played
Goals that made the hit parade.
Fans like us we had it made,
Those were the days.

And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man like Dale Hunter again.

Didn't need no Bettman state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old Zambon' ran great.
Those were the days.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Hockey in New York tonight, and we had an opportunity to take a trip to seven-oh-four Houser Street in the Queens to talk to a real New York hockey fan, Archie Bunker. Arch, thanks for sharing some time with us. You’ve been a hockey fan for quite a long time, haven’t you?

“Ever since Richard E. Nixon was in the White House.”

And you’ve been a Rangers’ fan all this time?

“That’s right…through thick and thin…mostly thin.”

And in all that time, who was your favorite Ranger?

“Uh, well, I’d have to say ‘Lone’”

That was a TV character, Arch…

“What’re you, a meathead?”

No, I’m just sayin’…how about hockey these days, Arch. You find this style of hockey after the lockout entertaining?

“I hate entertainment. Entertainment is a thing of the past, now we got television.”

So, you’re not a fan of this kind of hockey…I take it you’re not fond of the Commissioner, then?

“Let me tell you something, sonny boy…he’s just the man hockey needs. God himself made Gary E. Bettman commissioner.”

Wait a second, Arch. Are you saying that Bettman rules because of divine right?

“It's a damn sight better than your divine left.”

Back to the Rangers…they’re in first place right now in the Atlantic Division. What do you think their chances are to make it all the way and win a Stanley Cup.

“I have two words to say to that…blpblp! blpblp!”

Well, that won’t describe the Rangers, as they come into this game on top of the Atlantic Division and on a 4-2-0 run in their last half dozen games. Their numbers, though, don’t suggest the sort of dominance you might expect of a club with 22 wins in 36 games…

The odd part of the Rangers 4-2-0 run in those last half dozen games is that three of the wins came in extra time (two in overtime, one in a Gimmick). It is one more odd stretch in an odd season – of the 22 wins the Rangers have, 10 have come in extra time (two in overtime and eight in The Gimmick, which leads the league).

What that suggests is rock-solid goaltending, and that’s just what the Rangers have had this season. Henrik Lundqvist. A finalist for the Vezina Trophy in each of his three years in the league, Lundqvist has been good, if not spectacular, in regulation and over time. Overall, he is 11-9-2 in those situations, 2.50 GAA (tied for 15th in the league), .914 save percentage (tied for 18th). But in The Gimmick, he really shines. He is 7-1 and has stopped 21 of 24 attempts. No goalie has more wins, and no goalie facing more than 10 attempts has a better save percentage (.857). His season numbers overall are consistent with those he’s had against the Caps for his career – 7-3-1, 2.47, .914. He took the loss in a 3-1 decision at Verizon Center on November 8th in the only meeting of the clubs so far this year.

The last time we looked at the Rangers, Nikolai Zherdev was leading the Rangers in scoring. Well, he still is at 12-20-32. Since he faced the Caps on November 8th, Zherdev is 7-11-18, -4, in 19 games. He can be an explosive scorer, his nine multi-point games this year serving as evidence of that, including a four-point game against the Devils (1-3-4) on December 12th. He does not have a point in three career games against the Caps.

If Zherdev is continuing his almost point-a-game pace, Markus Naslund has struggled some. While still the second leading scorer on the team (12-13-25), he is only 3-2-5 in nine games in December and is without a point in his last three games. Naslund has had some success against Washington in the past, going 5-12-17, +3, in 21 career games against the Caps.

If the Rangers have an issue, it is that $13.6 million worth of defensemen pretty much suck. Wade Redden ($6.5 million of that total) has been a lot less than advertised. He’s had a particular problem lately – since facing the Caps on November 8th, he is 0-9-9, -7 in 18 games. The trouble is, though, Redden is the least of the problem among this group of defensemen. Michal Rozsival ($5.0 million) is 2-0-2, -7 in his last nine games, while Dmitri Kalinin ($2.1 million) is scoreless and minus-6 in his last eight games, and his -16 overall is better than only three players in the entire league in plus-minus.

The Rangers have exactly one win in regulation in the last month (six other wins in extra time), that against Anaheim a week ago. You’d have to think the object of the exercise for the visitors is to have the game go 65 minutes and “Leave it to Lundqvist.”

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Marc Staal

Staal might be the best of the clan this year. He is the only Ranger defenseman on the plus-side of the ledger for the season and has been as steady as there is on the Ranger blue line lately. His ice time has started to reflect his performance and responsibility – he leads the Rangers’ defense in both even strength and penalty killing ice time per game. Given the struggles of the big money blue liners, he could draw the straw in trying to nullify the Caps’ top line and Alex Ovechkin. Lundqvist is certainly goaltender enough to compete against that group, but having Staal on top of his game wouldn’t hurt the Ranger cause.

Washington: Brooks Laich

If Lundqvist sees the puck, he will stop it. That’s about as given as there is in this game. That means it will be important to crowd him and look for rebounds. And that’s where Laich comes in. He has three goals in his last five games and is almost on a pace to match last year’s career high of 21 goals. If he can manage to swat in a rebound (or two), this is likely to be a good night for the visitors.

The Caps have not won at Madison Square Garden since the lockout. On the other hand, all of that record was compiled under former coach Glen Hanlon. Bruce Boudreau has not lost to the Rangers (all three games at Verizon Center, two of them in overtime). Something will give tonight…we have a suspicion you know which team we think will give…

Caps 3 – Rangers 2

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