Thursday, January 03, 2008

Since Thanksgiving...

Ponder the following set of numbers...

11-18-29, +15
12-17-29, +8

12-12-24, -4
5-17-22, +6
5-17-22, +5
6-14-20, +2
7-9-16, +3

These would be the scoring/plus-minus totals for the league's top six scorers overall among centers in the games they've played since Thanksgiving...and Nicklas Backstrom.*

Backstrom, if you've been reading other blogs, was named NHL Rookie of the Month for December 2007.

Add to that Alex Ovechkin's being named NHL 1st Star for the week for the week ending December 30th, and it wasn't a bad week for two guys whose combined ages don't equal a Chris Chelios.

* In order: Jason Spezza, Pavel Datsyuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Mats Sundin.

Rumor has it...

...Coach has a secret formula to get Alexander Semin ("tailbone" injury) into the lineup tonight...

It can't hurt...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!...Caps vs. Bruins, January 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!

And tonight, the Caps head to Beantown...the Hub...home to the Sawx and Hah-vuhd Yahd. And perhaps more watering holes, per capita, than any city in the U.S. (Ok, Milwaukee has more, but Boston’s up there). The Peerless is not beyond imbibing from time to time of hoppy goodness, so we’re going to stop by one of the city’s fine establishments and get some local “flavor” for tonight’s contest. Boston being one of the great sports towns in the U.S., we’re bound to find some Bruin fans to give us the low-down on the home team...

Hey gents...”Peerless” is the name, and I’m here from DC for the Bruins-Caps game...and you are...

[all]: “NORM!”

Norm: “heh-heh...I’m pretty much a regular here...well, a constant actually. And this is my buddy, Cliff.”

Cliff: “glad to welcome a fellow hockey fan to Beantown...ya know, it’s a little known fact that the term ‘washington capitals’ is an anagram for ‘a satanic thing plows...”

Norm: “Cliffy, that’s another term for Gary Bettman...Peerless, you guys are doing pretty well, and we really have to thank you guys for handing Ottawa a couple of beat downs.”

It’s been a pretty good month and change, actually...8-3-3 in the last 14 games. But now the Caps have a couple of road games coming up, and they haven’t had much success against the Bruins lately.

Cliff: “yeah, 0-0-4 last year, three of them in shootouts. Did you know that the shootout was first used in the Punic Wars?’s a fact...yeah, and long before you had nicknames in hockey, the Carthaginians were using them...uh, ‘Hanno the Great,’ ‘Hasdrubal the Handsome’..."

Norm: “ok, more for you. Every time he has too many, he starts blathering about the Romans and the Carthaginians.”

Well, what about the Bruins and the Caps...seems like the Caps have a “Curse of the Jurcino” working against them.

Norm: “hey, Jurcina played for the Bruins in the first two of those games last year...”

OK, well, it sounded kind of ‘Boston-y.’ Speaking of which, the Bruins are having a hard time lately, aren’t they.

Cliff: “1-5-1 in their last seven games. It’s not as bad as their 1-10-1 run to finish last year, but it’s been bad..."

It’s not been a special teams problem, so far as I can figure out.

Cliff: “Right you are, Peerless. Our Beantowners have a 20.7 percent power play in those last seven games, and their penalty killing isn’t so bad either…84.8 percent."

What’s been the problem?

Norm: “We suck at even strength. Overall, the B’s have been outscored 17-26, but at even strength?...9-20.”

Cliff: “Geez, we have almost as many special team goals – six power play and two shorties – as we do even strength goals…but it’s also a little known fact that our goalie – Tim Thomas – has never lost a game to the Caps in regulation.”

Is that so?

Cliff: “Oh, absolutely. He’s 7-0-1, 2.04, .933 in eight career games. And of course, ‘Tim Thomas’ spelled differently is “Tom hams it.”

I don’t get it…

Cliff: “Well, I don’t either, but it sounded good.”

Guys, the B’s seem to have the Caps’ number, especially in the extra session. Why do you think that’s so?

Norm: “Who knows?...They’re 5-1 in overtime and shootout games the last two years against the Caps."

Cliff: “Well, I have a theory on that…it has to do with the frequency of sunspots and the…”

Norm: “Cliff…Cliff…let me buy you a beer…”

Cliff: “psst…Peerless…works every time…”

Well, the Caps will be trying to avoid the extra session, to be sure. As noted, the Bruins won all four games last year in extra time, winning three of them via Bettman’s Gimmick. Phil Kessel had the winner in two of those shootouts, quite a turn from his in-game performance where he is just 1-0-1 in four career contests against the Caps. The real Cap-killer here is Marc Savard, who is 6-32-38, +10 in 27 career games against Washington. That +10 is pretty significant, since he is -85 for his career against the rest of the league.

Another Bruin to watch is one who will be on the ice when the Caps are on the power play or if Alex Ovechkin is taking a shift. P.J. Axelsson is one of those guys…

Cliff: “Uh, Peerless, it’s a little known fact that ‘P.J.’ are initials for ‘pretty juiced,’ which is a description of how he plays…”

Norm: "Uh, Cliff…it stands for ‘Per-Johan’…"

Cliff: “yeah, well…that, too.”

As we were saying, Axelsson could be a key for the Bruins as they try to shut down what has been a high-octane Caps offense lately (47 goals in their last dozen games). The good part of that for the Caps is that Alex Ovechkin, despite going 10-7-17 over those dozen games, has had a hand in “only” 36.2 percent of the Caps scoring, compared to 44.6 percent for the season. The club is spreading things around more, and this has contributed to the 7-2-3 record in those dozen games.

Ovechkin also can expect to wear a wrap called “Zdeno Chara” around his shoulders for much of the evening, and Chara has had success against the Caps – 2-10-12, +12 in 33 career games. He’s also on a pace (48 points) to eclipse his best season scoring mark (43 points, in each of the last two years).

If Coach Bruce Boudreau is to make good on his suggestion that Frederic Cassivi will get the start on Saturday in his hometown of Montreal (OK, Sorel is his hometown, but it's close), then Olaf Kolzig gets the start tonight. Kolzig has had his struggles with the Bruins, going 7-8-5-4, 2.86, .912 in 28 career games.

For Cassivi to get that start, Kolzig must play well, or at least the Caps must win. Well, we prognosticate a Cassivi sighting in Montreal on Saturday, and it won’t involve the wearing of a baseball cap…

Caps 4 – Bruins 2

Cliff: “It’s a little known fact that baseball caps actually started as hockey caps…yeah, it’s true…and that’s where we get the term, ‘hiccup’…they were called ‘hockcaps’ in Canada, and when a player ‘hiccupped’ on the bench and his cap fell off, another player – because all those Canadians speak with an accent – would pick it up and hand it to him and say, ‘ere’s yer hiccup,’ because he couldn’t say ‘hockcap.’”

Norm: "Cliff…have another beer."

Cliff: “Told ya…it works every time.”