Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Penguins, October 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, it is the first chapter of Volume IV in the continuing drama, “Ovechkin vs. Crosby.” The Caps travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, and to get ready for the big game, we took a trip to the Mario Lemieux Memorial Home for Aged Penguins to see what brethren of the flightless foul thought about tonight’s contest…

Tennessee Tuxedo, you spent a lifetime trying to escape from the zoo, but you seem very much at home here.

“Well, Phineas J. Whoopee pays the rent, and the zoo closed long ago, so…”

About tonight’s game…the Penguins were Stanley Cup finalists last year, but lost a whole herd, flock, gaggle…what’s the right word here…

“How do I know? I’m a cartoon penguin…”

“Duhhhh…I think the word is ‘rookery,’ Tennuhsee…”

“Right you are, Chumley…what was the question?”

Will the Penguins repeat?

“The only thing they’ll be repeating this year is the herring and peanut butter sandwiches they have in the pregame meal.”

What’s that racket down the hall?

“Oh, that…that’s ‘The Penguin.’ He thinks he’s a mastermind criminal or something, but all he does is waddle around with an umbrella, quacking about some guy in tights named ‘Batman’...”

And they keep him locked up?

“Yeah…but Ray Shero was here the other day to see if he’d sign up to replace Jarkko Ruutu.”


“The Penguin insisted on wearing that stupid top hat on the ice…”

Say?...who’s that walking down the hall?...Opus?...Opus!


Did we catch you coming out of the shower?

“No, I always walk around with a shower cap and a towel…”

He’s grumpier than I would have imagined…

“He’s been in a snit ever since he lost the lead in ‘March of the Penguins’”

There seem to be a lot of bitter penguins here…but here’s Chilly Willy, who we remember as a cute little guy who was kind of quiet and shy…Chilly, what do you think of…

“f*** off…”

Well, I guess that the ill will might be a product of the off season the Penguins had, when they lost Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Ty Conklin, Georges Laraque, and Gary Roberts. That is almost a third of the players who dressed for the Penguins in the last game of the season, a 3-2 loss to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final (Georges Laraque has also departed). Add to that the fact that the Penguins are missing defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney to injury and that is more than a third of that final-game lineup needing to be replaced by new faces.

Those replacements start with Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko to nominally replace Hossa and Malone on the wings. Combined, Satan and Fedotenko (32-42-84) barely replace Hossa’s 2007-2008 production (29-37-66). Neither provide the grittier play of a Ryan Malone.

With Gonchar and Whitney on the shelf, attention will turn to youngsters Kris Letang and Alex Gologoski. Neither have lacked for ice time in the three games the Penguins have played thus far. Gologoski has averaged just over 18 minutes a night, and Letang leads all defensemen with 23:48 a game.

Replacing Ruutu’s annoying qualities will be Matt Cooke, who spent a few weeks in Washington last spring. He hasn’t gotten off to a great start (one assist and -2 in four games), but he’s not there to be a scorer, either.

If there is a surprise in here, it is that Tyler Kennedy leads the Penguins in scoring (2-1-3). Kennedy had a decent, if unremarkable, rookie season last year (10-9-19, +2, in 55 games), but is the only Penguin with more than one goal and has one of the two game-winners that the Penguins have.

But the Penguins still have that core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury. The three centers have not exploded out of the gate (a combined 1-6-7, +2), but that is as much a warning as anything else. Crosby is 7-12-19, +7 in 11 career games against Washington, Malkin is 4-8-12, +2 in eight games, and Staal is 3-1-4, +2 in eight games. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury has never lost to Washington – perfect in seven decisions – while posting a 1.98 GAA and .939 save percentage.

The Penguins still have the core down the middle, but they are thinner on the wings than last year and in ill-health on the blue line. It is a team that at the moment looks as if it is capable of much more inconsistency – a big night one night and going dormant the next. They have not yet had that big night, having failed to score more than three goals in regulation in any of their games thus far.

The Penguins are 10-1-1 against the Caps since the lockout (outscoring the Caps 50-34), 6-0-1 in one goal games, and 5-0-1 in Mellon Arena. However, the Caps currently lead the Penguins in scoring (4.33/game to 2.25/game), 5-on-5 goals ratio (1.33 to 0.60), and power play (26.7% to 12.5%). The Penguins lead the Caps in the defensive statistics (goals allowed, penalty kill, and faceoffs). It is perhaps equal parts the early stage of the season we’re in and the relative depth of these current rosters that the Caps are the more explosive team to date.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder…

Pittsburgh: Petr Sykora

After missing three games with a groin injury, Sykora returns to the lineup tonight. He had goals in each of the last two games against the Caps last year and is 7-14-21 in 34 career games against Washington.

Washington: Chris Clark

Clark missed three of the four games against the Penguins last year with his own groin problems, but he is 5-4-9 in 12 games against Pittsburgh in his career. He appears to be the replacement for injured Viktor Kozlov on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, so he should get opportunities to add to that total.

In the end, Washington this time around has too much depth for the depleted blue line corp for the Penguins to deal with. Fleury will be facing a ton of shots, and even if he is sharp, he can't stop them all...

Caps 5 - Penguins 3