Friday, February 08, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, February 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Game 56 of the season for the Capitals is as big a Game 56 as a Game 56 gets as the good guys DO NOT visit the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, NC, (like we said in version 1.0 of this entry), but host them at Verizon Center.

For those of you needing a recap, the Capitals have completed a 34-game march from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to the top of the Southeast Division and a three-seed in the conference standings. With a chance to wrest the top spot away from the Caps on Thursday, the Atlanta Thrashers canuckled under the superb goaltending of Roberto Luongo as Vancouver escaped Georgia with a 2-1 win.

So now, the Caps have a chance NOT to blow into Carolina (see above), but swirl around the Hurricanes, and LET THE HURRICANES limp back to the Piedmont like a weak breeze…down by three points.

But to do that, the Caps must beat a veteran, battle-tested group that has been able to withstand the fierce winds of adversity this year…to help us peer into the eye of the Hurricanes, we have with us some very famous…well, Hurricanes. We have with us Diane, the first billion dollar hurricane…Lenny, or “Ol’ Lefty, who wreaked havoc on Caribbean Islands from the west…Katrina, who spoiled the party in New Orleans.., and, of course, Wilma, the most powerful Atlantic storm recorded.

Lenny…let’s start with you. You came at those islands from a direction no one would associate with a hurricane. How do you liken that to what Carolina faces now, being in second place looking up at the Caps?

Lenny: “Well, it’s getting late in the season, just like when I strolled through the Caribbean in November 1999. And that time of year, you’re beat up, it’s been a long season, you have nicks and bruises and the odd wind shear. You have to have focus, determination, and a strong eye wall to make a difference at this time of the year. That’s the challenge for the Hurricanes, to make sure their effort doesn’t wane.”

Diane, the Hurricanes are dealing with some critical injuries at the moment – Justin Williams, Chad LaRose, Matt Cullen, Dennis Seidenberg…critical cogs that have missed, and in some cases will continue to miss, time with the club. Will the Hurricanes pull the trigger on a trade?

Diane: “Well, they could. They have a little bit of cap room to accommodate a deal, but wholesale changes don’t seem to be in the cards. The trouble is that with the injuries, they have a greater variety of needs. They might have been in the market for a defenseman, but now they might have to look at some forward help, too.”

In other words, the situation blows…

Diane: “Like a category-five storm over Jamaica.”

Katrina, you might be the most famous of our guests here. But the Hurricanes don’t seem to have that star wattage you see on other teams, especially for one not too far removed from a Stanley Cup.

Katrina: “Oh cher, these Hurricanes…there might not be a category-five player on the team, but they have a lot of category three and four guys – Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and of course, the storm surge himself, Rod Brind’Amour.”

Why “storm surge?”

Katrina: “He’s so strong in the face off circle and on defense, he’s as relentless as a storm surge heading up Mobile Bay.”

Wilma…you know powerful. No doubt you’ve been keeping up with the media attention surrounding Alex Ovechkin lately – his goal scoring, his taking over the points-scoring lead, his physical play.

Wilma: “I’ve seen more highlights of him on TV lately than I have Jim Cantore…”

It’s not surprising…but my question is, is Ovechkin the most powerful force of nature in the National Hockey League at the moment?

Wilma: “Oh, without a doubt. He’s relentless. He reminds me of…well, me marauding across the Yucatan in 2005. And hit?...what he does to defenders is like what I did to Naples, Florida.”

But hurricanes eventually weaken and blow themselves out…do you see this for Ovechkin?

“Yeah, maybe in about 15 years…”

Well, Caps fans will be hoping Ovechkin, Semin, Kozlov, Green, and the rest of the boys will keep the pressure on the Hurricanes, who are reeling a bit at the moment, having gone 4-7-0 in their last 11 games (two of the wins came in overtime). The particulars:

Record: 4-7-0
Goals for/against: 30/37
Power play: 6/45 (13.3 percent)
Penalty killing: (33/41 (80.5 percent)

Number of games giving up three shorthanded goals, including two on the same shift: one (against the Islanders on January 22nd, a 6-3 loss)

Carolina has spread what limited scoring they’ve had (for them) around. Fifteen different skates have at least one goal over the last 11 games. Eric Staal leads with four. Brind’Amour has been carrying more than his share of the load as well with 3-9-12 over these games.

Whether a combination of injuries and slumps, though, the Hurricanes have lacked for some secondary scoring. Ray Whitney has only one goal in this stretch, but does have six assists. Erik Cole is 1-3-4.

The Hurricanes have made one move – one that might strike some as a bit desperate. Left winger Sergei Samsonov, acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks last June, was a disaster in the Windy City (0-4-4, -7 in 23 games). He was waived a month ago and claimed by Carolina with the idea of adding some missing oomph to their offense. Well, maybe it hasn’t been an “oomph,” but he has added four goals and five assists in the 12 games in which he’s played.

With Carolina averaging only 2.7 goals a game over these last 11, it’s fallen to the goalies to pick up the slack. Tonight’s likely goaltender – Cam Ward – has all the decisions in this stretch (4-7-0), and is 3.20 and .888 to go along with it.

Carolina, though, struggles on special teams, especially the power play. Their 80.5 percent efficiency mark in the last 11 games is actually better than their league-worst 77.0 percent number in that category. The power play is competent (18.0 percent for the season, 12th in the league), but has been off the pace of late.

For a game in early February, this is as big as it gets. That’s what having four teams within two points of each other fighting for what is likely to be the only playoff spot coming out of the division will do.

A win does several things for the Caps:

- It maintains and expands their lead in the Southeast
- It preserves the “game in hand” they have on Carolina
- It would be their first three-game winning streak since winning four in a row, January 15-21.
- It would make for a decent weekend and a nice way to move into the game with the Rangers on Sunday.

There are the faintest hints at rumblings with the Caps, but the only rumbling that will be done tonight is that of the Caps storming up and down the ice to beat the Hurricanes…

Caps 5 – Hurricanes 3

...and honest, we are not abusers of prescription substances, much as a reading of the previous edition of this might suggest otherwise.