Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Get Well, Soon, Knucklehead!

Washington Post columnist and ESPN sports show host Michael Wilbon is reported to have suffered what is characterized as a "minor heart attack."

We don't subscribe to the idea of "minor" being attached to such an occurrence, and we wish Mike Wilbon well. As one of the best pure writers of his generation of sports journalists, in our opinion, we're sure he'll have a lot to say about this in his own entertaining style, and will be back on the column beat and daily PTI in short order.

Get well, soon, ya knucklehead.

The weird, the wacky, and the WTF?...

These were the top-linked stories at espn.com at noon today...At least the hockey story looks ike fun...

Twins push for last, best trade offers for Santana

T-Owe? Arbitrator reportedly rules for Eagles

Webber says returning to Warriors a 'done deal'

Kidd says it is time to 'move on' from Nets

Brady practices for Patriots Flu bug bites Giants

Source: Angelos yet to greenlight Bedard trade

Paul nearly triples up in big victory Melo still out

Barbaro's ashes to be interred at Churchill Downs

Selanne chooses return to Ducks over retirement

ECHL team to host 'Shred Rich Rodriguez' night

Santana hasn't been traded? Next thing you'll tell me, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!

The Eagles get their revenge on Terrell "We'll be opening an 'Abs-R-Us' in a driveway near you" Owens?

Brady's getting well, and the Giants are getting sick?...smells like another Belichick conspiracy to me...

Peter Angelos is screwing up the Orioles again (next big story..."Sun Rises in East!"...film at 11)

A horse's ashes are gong to be buried at a race track (there is a "horse's ash" line in here somewhere)

At least the Wheeling Nailers are giving their fans an "experience," even if it involves pictures of a coach in a different sport and an industrial-sized piece of office equipment (maybe they could have fans whack a Rich Rodriguez likeness with a hockey stick?)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in hockey, games will be played this evening. Check one out.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the business of the "second half" begins (only in sports could 32 games of an 82-game season be described as a "half"), and the Caps open it with another home-and-home, back-to-back pair of games, this time against the Montreal Canadiens. The most accomplished professional sports franchise in North American sports history….

“Yo, wait a minute, pal. Are youse forgettin’ the New York Frickin’ Yankees?”

And you are…

“Mickey, from Queens…and hey, whaddabout the 26 World Series titles and the 39 American League pennants?”

Well, you have a point…

“Point, me arse…what about the Boston Celtics, eh boy? 16 world championships …eight of them in a row. Beat that, Yankee boy.”

And you are?

“Mikey, from South Boston.”

Well, that was quite a string of titles…

“Oh, doncha know…the Green Bay Packers are the best pro team ever…nine NFL champsionships, three Super Bowl titles…and you fellas don’t have a championship trophy named for your head coach.”

Let me guess…you’re from Wisconsin.

“Pulaski…woodja like a sassage an’ some cheese ta go wit dat?”

Maybe later…now, about this “best sports team…”

“Sacre bleu!...why are we even having dis conversation? De Canadiens, dey are de best hockey team, de best sports team, from de best city in Nort America, eh?”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re from Montreal…

“Of course, you piece of limburger…and Les Canadiens, dey have de greatest history in all of sports…24 Stanley Cups, including one when dere wasn’t even a National Hockey League. Les Glorieux, with de bleu, blanc, et rouge and Guy LaFleur wit his ‘air flying behind him and Rocket Richard scoring goals and hitting every player…Henri, Howie, Serge, Larry…wearers of La Sainte-Flanelle, the greatest team ever.”

And don’t forget Ken…

“OK, even if he come from Toronto.”

Well, we’re not going to settle this, I can see, but we do have a game tonight…and Thursday is another of these home-and-home two-fers. Montreal comes out of the break as having been one of the hot teams going into it. The particulars:

Record: 9-2-2 in their last 13 games
Goals for/against: 50-34
Power Play: 15/59 (25.4 percent)
Penalty killing: 35/41 (85.4 percent)
Wins by 3+ goals: five
Losses by 3+ goals: one

The Canadiens are one of those teams that fly under the radar, which seems more than a bit odd for the most storied franchise in the history of the NHL. But the Canadiens – a team with the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference – aren’t often mentioned with Ottawa or the Atlantic Division team of the moment as the cream of the Eastern Conference elite.

Montreal’s success has been largely a product of its potent power play. The Canadiens are a rather average five-on-five team (18th in the league in five-on-five goal ratio), but their power play ranks second in the league (23.9 percent) and has only been more lethal in the 9-2-2 run up to the all-star break. In fact, the Canadiens don’t exactly provide an extraordinary scare in most other statistical rankings this year…

Penalty killing: 21st
Winning percentage:
- when scoring first: 12th
- when trailing first: 23rd
- when leading after one period: 8th
- when leading after two periods: 28th
- when outshooting opponents: 5th
- when outshot by opponents: 10th
- in one-goal games: 23rd
- in two-goal games: T-20th

The Canadiens are, however, third in the league in winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals. And, they are second in the league in scoring in the first period of games. Add to this that Montreal is 16-7-4 in games where they benefit from at least five power play opportunities and the keys to the game become clearer.

- Don’t let the Canadiens get off fast
- Stay out of the box
- At least keep the game close for the first two periods

This isn’t really a unique recipe, but Montreal relies on the power play and the offense it generates to bury opponents by large margins. Close games settled deep in the contest are another matter. And to date, the Caps lost the one multi-goal decision (5-2 on December 20th) and won the one-goal decision (5-4, in overtime, on January 5th).

For the Caps, a fast start out of the gate would be nice…don’t let Carolina breathe in that top spot…maybe take over the top spot by midnight tonight. The Caps are riding high of late with their own 10-3-1 record in their last 14 games to claw within a point of the division-leading Hurricanes. They haven’t blown many teams away in this run, but they are 5-1 in one-goal games in this stretch (including a pair of shootout wins, and an overtime win in Montreal). Eight times in these 14 games the Caps have scored more than three goals (7-1-0 in such games).

Here is your goofy stat for this game…more than half the goals scored by the Caps over the last 14 games have been scored by the Russian trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Viktor Kozlov (27 of 53 goals). The trio has 22 goals in 52 combined career games against Montreal.

We’re thinking it’s going to be a high-scoring game with both teams looking to inch up on the teams above them in their respective divisions. But in the end – well, you know how this goes…

Caps 6 – Canadiens 4