Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, November 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, you can’t say after game 11 that there is a “must win” game in the 12th contest of the season, but there is no time like the present to say, “enough!” about this mediocre start of 5-4-2. And there is no better opponent to shout “enough!” at than the Carolina Hurricanes.

But first, it’s been a while since we dipped into the ol’ mailbag, so let’s take the pulse of Caps Nation.

Dear Peerless,

I didn’t mean it. Honest. It was past my bed time, and that Jaworski dope was going on and on an on with all that football-speak. Caps fans are the greatest. No, really, they are. All 17 of them.

Mr. Tony in DC

Dear Mr. Tony

Isn’t it about time you trade in your microfone for a fork at the early bird at Shoney’s? Or maybe take your act to dinner theatre in the Catskills?

Dear Peerless,

How d’ya like me now?

Ryan G. in Anaheim

Dear Ryan,

OK, ya got me there.

Dear Peerless,

Hey, wanna buy a goalie mask? Only 10 games of mileage. Give you a great deal on it…please?

MB30 in Newark

Dear MB30,

Sorry, I need my elbows to find my way onto the Metro in the morning.

Dear Peerless,

You know?...Maybe that Semin guy isn’t so wrong after all.

Six points in three games since Semin’s interview

Dear Six Points,

Maybe we can get Semin to talk about some of his teammates.

As for tonight’s game, the Hurricanes will come into this game with a 7-3-2 record, good for the top spot in the Southeast and the third spot in the Eastern Conference. The rest of the record for the visitors looks like this…

Goals for/game: 3.08 (7th)
Goals against/game: 2.92 (15th)
5-on-5: 1.11 (12th)
Power play: 10/58, 17.2% (17th)
Penalty Killing: 43/54, 79.6% (20th)
Winning % scoring first: 4-2-1, 571 (T-21st)
Winning % trailing first: 3-1-1, 600 (6th)

The odd thing about these numbers is that both teams have a better winning percentage when trailing first than when they score first (Washington: 3-2-1 versus 2-2-1). How they do it is probably due to different factors – Washington’s explosive offense (which hasn’t been especially explosive lately) and Carolina’s veteran mix and their balance.

Speaking of that balance, Carolina has no skater among the top 30 in goals (Eric Staal is tied for 32nd with five) or the top 40 in total scoring (Ray Whitney is tied for 15th with 11 points), yet is still 7th in the league in scoring-per-game.

Statistically, one might look at a so-so defense and special teams in the lower half of the league standings and wonder how the Hurricanes have compiled a 7-3-2 record. But they are one of those teams that do a lot of little, unheralded things well. They are a top-ten team in hits (8th), blocked shots (4th), takeaways (4th), and faceoffs (10th). They also don’t get penalized much (eighth fewest minor penalties taken and fourth fewest penalty minutes per game).

Perhaps typically of this team, they are led in scoring by the underrated and unheralded Ray Whitney. For a guy who gets precious little ink for his efforts, he is plenty effective. Since joining Carolina after the lockout, he’s put up 210 points in 222 games played. Almost half of those points (25-75-100) have been scored on the power play. He is 15-25-40, +4 in 46 career games against Washington.

The Hurricanes are also strong down the middle with Eric Staal and Rod Brind’Amour. Neither, though, has gotten off to a fast start. Staal has nine points in 12 games, but with three multi-point games aside has been rather quiet. He has also been somewhat undisciplined, having amassed an uncharacteristic 16 penalty minutes in his first nine games. He’s managed to stay out of the box, though, over the past three games. Never especially adept in the faceoff circle, he’s winning draws consistent with his career pace (44.5 percent).

Winning draws has never been a problem for Brind’Amour, and he’s among the league leaders again (2nd with 63.2 percent wins). He’s coming off a season in which he lost 70 games to a knee injury. While he has chipped in enough scoring to rank third on the team (4-4-8), one place where the after effects of his injury might be felt is in defense. The two-time Selke winner is a team worst minus-10. Only Atlanta’s Mathieu Schneider has a worse league-wide plus-minus mark (-11).

The defense for the Hurricanes resembles that of Buffalo in that there is no particular standout player among the defensemen. No Norris candidates here. But it is a balanced group, all of whom can chip in on the offensive end (with the exception, perhaps, of Josef Melichar). Niclas Wallin is at the other end of the plus-minus rankings, tied with the Rangers’ Nikolai Zherdev for the top spot in the league (plus-10). What the Hurricanes will have to contend with, though, is injuries on the blue line. Joni Pitkanen, Frantisek Kaberle, and David Tanabe are all on the shelf.

And that’s not all for the injuries. Justin Williams is out for the foreseeable future with an Achilles tendon injury. Matt Cullen is nursing a leg injury and is day-to-day. Brandon Sutter is still feeling the after effects of an ugly hit from Doug Weight that left him with a concussion. He’s listed as day-to-day. That is a lot of talent and experience on the shelf, which leaves things largely in the hands of…

Cam Ward. It’s perhaps a bit of a reach to call Ward an enigma, but it wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Since his Conn Smythe performance in the 2006 Stanley Cup tournament, he has been nothing short of…well, ok. 67-46-11 is a fine won-loss record in the two years after that performance, but that success doesn’t really owe itself to Ward’s performance. A 2.83 goals against average and .901 save percentage reflects his being ranked out of the top 30 in both years in both statisitics.

However, Ward has improved his numbers in the early going this season. With a 4-2-2 record, his 2.58 GAA ranks 11th in the league, and his .922 save percentage is ninth. What’s more, Ward has had more than his share of success at the expense of the Caps, carrying a 10-4-1, 2.56, .918 record against Washington into this game.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Sergei Samsonov

Samsonov went the first ten games of the year without a point, but he does have assists in each of his last two games. At 0-2-2, -5 through the first dozen games, the question is one of whether he is coming out of a slump (that he’ll be more the player that was 14-18-32 in 38 games with the Hurricanes last year), or if he’s returning to being the player who bombed in Montreal (9-17-26 in 63 games in 2006-2007) and Chicago (0-4-4 in 23 games last year).

Washington: Sergei Fedorov

Ten years ago, Fedorov signed a $38 million offer sheet with the Hurricanes. The Detroit Red Wings matched the offer, and Fedorov has taken it out on Carolina ever since. In 28 career games against Carolina, he is 10-22-32, +10, with six power play goals and three game winners. Maybe he just likes barbecue.

This is the first of a five-game stretch, four of which the Caps will play at home, that could put the Caps right back into the upper echelon of the standings. It’s one of those stretches that come April might be looked back upon with a “that’s where it all started” sort of memory, or it could be an “if only” regret. The Caps are 6-5-1 against the Hurricanes at home since the lockout. They’ll stay on the good side of .500…

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 3