Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, January 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Didn’t we just do this?

Well, it will be the last time we do this before the all-star break, and the Caps have a chance to head into the break only six points behind Eastern Conference leading Boston. But it’s also a beginning here in the States with the inauguration of a new President, and we’re taking advantage of the day to get some insights on politics and hockey from a few of those who have taken the oath of office…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt…you took office in the midst of an economic downturn, so you’re familiar with despair. Can you tell us, is there any chance that any team in the Southeast can overtake the Caps in the second half?

“I saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished when I took the oath a second time…but when I see the rest of the Southeast, well…they just suck.”

Do you have any advice to give to Caps fans who might be anxious about the team’s chances to hold onto their lead?

“The only thing they have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, you called a nation to service in your inaugural address. Can you give any advice on service and teamwork to the boys as they close out the first half of the year?

“Ask not…what your teammate can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammate.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson, you talked about belief in your address. Last year, the Caps and their fans made one last big rush to the anthem of “Don’t Stop Believing.” Can Caps Nation do it again?

“We are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in Ovechkin and Backstrom and Theodore, and in our own Union. We believe that every Cap must someday hoist the Stanley Cup. And we believe in ourselves.”

Sound advice…but what is it with you guys? FDR…JFK…LBJ. Known by your first, middle, and last names. Called by your initials. What’s up with that?

Hey, don’t forget about me?... Alexander Mikhaylovich Ovechkin.

Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful, and besides the Constitution won’t let him serve. Caps fans would probably prefer he play the left wing for the local hockey team than run on the left wing of politics, anyway. In any case, he and the rest of the Caps will be skating the second of a back-to-back in Ottawa against the Senators.

As for the Senators, who are these guys?

We’re used to seeing the Senators piling up goals, to seeing Dany Heatley ripping shots off the left wing, to seeing Jason Spezza setting up Daniel Alfredsson for a score or two. This team, on the other hand, is having uncommon trouble scoring goals, as the numbers show…

Ottawa has had a rough time over the last six weeks. Since defeating Pittsburgh 3-2 on December 6th to get to .500, they are 5-11-3. They went a month – between December 13th and January 13th with winning only one game in regulation time (they added an overtime win to go 2-9-1). In that difficult 19-game stretch, the Senators had trouble scoring – 45 goals for a 2.37/game average – but not altogether different than the struggles they’ve had all year. However, they gave up goals with alarming regularity. They surrendered 67 goals (3.53/game) and allowed four or more ten times.

Part of the problem Ottawa had in that 19-game run was that they suffered an eight-game road trip in the middle of it on which they went 1-6-1. Since coming off that trip, they dropped a game to the Rangers but otherwise have shown signs of improvement of late, getting points in their last three games (2-0-1) and breaking out with 12 goals scored. Granted, the two wins were against Carolina and Atlanta of the Southeast – teams in the bottom third of the goals-against statistics—but progress has to start somewhere.

Part of the problem for Ottawa is that they are a one-line team, and that line isn’t even performing at a level to which fans have become accustomed. Consider Dany Heatley. In the three years following the lockout he averaged 101 points per 82 games. He currently has only 41 in 43 games – a 78-point pace. Jason Spezza spent three years scoring at a 105-point pace per 82 games. He has 37 points in 43 games – a 71-point pace. That he has a sore back -- he left practice on Monday -- makes things even worse. And Daniel Alfredsson, who was scoring at a 102-point pace per 82 games in the last three years, has 40 points – a 77-point pace.

After that, no forward has as many as 20 points for the Senators. No forward other than the big three have more than six goals. And it is not as if those other forwards are making up for their lack of offense with increased attention at the defensive end. Four forwards of that group are -10 or worse, while only two – Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan – are on the plus side of the ledger. The “Pizza Line” of Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson might deliver, but there haven’t been any additional toppings for the Senators in too many games this year.

Perhaps just as troubling for the Senators is the performance of key defensemen. Over the last three years, Chris Phillips is 14-49-63, +70. This year, he is currently 4-5-9, -19. He does appear to have stopped the bleeding in a way – he is 2-0-2, even, over his last nine contests. Anton Volchenkov has been out with a shoulder injury, missing ten of the last 11 games. But in the 31 games he has played, he is 2-1-3, -13. And, the thing for which he is perhaps most known – blocking shots – is down. Two years ago, he averaged 3.50 blocked shots per game. Last year that number was 3.12. This year it is 2.81. Injuries might have something to do with the decline, but Volchenkov has not been as effective.

No position is more of a mess with the Senators, though, than that of goaltender. Alex Auld started the year respectably, going 9-6-3 in his first 18 decisions. But he has been awful since a win at Pittsburgh on December 6th. Since then he is 0-5-2, 4.38, .866 and has only played in three games since Christmas. Martin Gerber couldn’t claim having even had a good start. He has failed to put together consecutive wins this season in going 4-9-1, 2.86, .899. He is in the midst of a two-week “conditioning” stint with Binghamton of the AHL. He’s allowed seven goals in two games with the junior Senators…it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be back in Ottawa.

That would seem to leave things in the hands of Brian Elliott, who until taking the reins on January 10th against the Rangers had appeared in one NHL game (a 3-1 win over Atlanta in October 2007). In four games since taking over the top spot in goal, he is 2-1-1, 2.22, .921.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jarkko Ruutu

Nope, he doesn’t have a particularly noteworthy career scoring line against the Caps – 1-2-3, +2 in 12 career games. He’s only 3-9-12 so far this year in 39 games. He’s played in every game this year in which he has been eligible to play. And that’s the rub – he’s served a pair of two-game suspensions – once for elbowing Montreal forward Maxim Lapierre in the head, the other for using the finger of Buffalo forward Andrew Peters for an hors d’oeuvre. He’s not in the lineup to contribute to the scoring totals, he’s there to set a tone. And that tone is the hockey equivalent of running fingernails down a blackboard.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

In his last ten games against the Senators, Ovechkin is 11-8-19, +7. And, while Ovechkin is a remarkably consistent point producer, he is very much like goal-scorers in that they seem to come in bunches. After going four games without finding the back of the net, he has four in his last three games. His history against the Senators, his being in the midst of what looks like one of those goal binges, and facing an inexperienced goalie could be the perfect storm for the Caps.

It might seem like cliché to say that one wants to go into a break on a high note, but it applies. A win would make the Caps 7-3-0 for the month, the last four in a row. Given that they’ll be coming out of the break to face Boston and Detroit, it would be nice to bank two more points. It says here that they will…

Caps 5 – Senators 3

1 comment:

Flying Cloud said...

This one worries me, regardless of the predicted outcome. It's not their top line, or the Biter. It's yesterday's game against a struggling opponent, in which some of us looked badly hung over at times. I fear these encounters with losing teams.