Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Red Wings, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is IN THE AIR!!!

Well, it’s been a few days.. days to get some practice in, to correct some problems, to use the tools of drills to engage in a little fix-up…


Well, if it isn’t the tool man, himself…Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to find you here, being a Detroit guy and all.

“It’s Tim ‘The Puck Man’ Taylor, now…”

Is that so…

“Oh-h-h-h yeah… when I’m out there with my Binford 6100 graphite composite hybrid monofilament sure-grip...argh-argh-arghhh…”

So you’re a big scorer in the Detroit amateur leagues, eh?

“No, I’m still married to Jill…”

Good one…so, you’re still a Red Wings fan, I assume?

“We’re there at every game…”


“Oh yeah. Me, the boys, Wilson, and even Heidi once in a while…

Once in a while?

“Yeah… every time she goes, the Jumbotron seems to get stuck on her and I have to go fix it.”


Well, the Red Wings are visiting Verizon Center in a matinee start, the first of back-to-back afternoon games on Fun Street this weekend. But the Red Wings, while still occupying the lofty standings status one might expect of a defending Stanley Cup champion and perennial contender, are doing it in a manner a little different than hockey fans might be accustomed to seeing. Here are the numbers…

What jumps out from the page here are the goals-against and penalty-killing numbers for the Red Wings. The 2.90 goals-against is a far cry from the 2.18 that the Red Wings posted last year (best in the league). And the 78.4 percent penalty kill is more than a little bit off the 84.0 percent number (8th overall) that the Wings posted last year.

The first thing that comes to mind in looking at those numbers is to wonder if shots matter here. Well, not much it would seem. The Wings are giving up 28.1 shots a game at the moment (tied for 4th in the league), not a large drop-off from their 23.5 given up last year (1st overall). And on the penalty kill, the Wings are actually giving up fewer power plays per game (4.25) than they did last year (4.35).

The next place to look is goaltending, and here the Red Wings appear to have a problem on their hands. Chris Osgood, who came into the season firmly entrenched as the number one netminder, has a goals-against average that is more than one full goal per game worse than last year (3.29 versus 2.09). His save percentage is down significantly as well (.880 from .914). What that means is that he has had only 26 appearances in the Wings’ 48 games and has left an opportunity for backup Ty Conklin to record major minutes.

Conklin has appeared in 24 games, recording more wins (16 versus 14 for Osgood) with a much better GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.917). It’s not as if Conklin is new to this rescue-in-relief role. He more or less saved the Penguins’ season last year when he took over for an injured Marc-Andre Fleury (17-4-5 during Fleury’s absence). The result is that the Red Wings seem to be postponing a day of reckoning. Despite Conklin’s playing relatively well -- better than Osgood in fact -- he has more or less split time with Osgood in the month of January. Conklin has six appearances this month, Osgood has seven in 12 Detroit games in January (Osgood was pulled in favor of Conklin after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first period of the last game, a 4-2 loss to Dallas).

It’s a good thing, then, that the Red Wings are scoring at an amazing clip. They are first in the league in goals-per-game, but more than that, Detroit has 14 players in double digits in points, a dozen of them with more than 20 points. The Wings have seven players with more than ten goals, five of them with more than 15. A dozen players have at least one power play goal, seven of them with at least five.

And here is an odd number, but one that is entirely within the concept of Detroit’s philosophy of playing keep-away with the puck. Of the four skaters who have taken at least 350 faceoffs, none have lost a majority of their draws.

And another odd number, one that points to the depth of this team. No forward averages as much as 20 minutes of ice time per game. Coach Mike Babcock spreads it around.

Individually, the names at the top of the scoring list are familiar to even the most casual hockey fan – Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg. They’ve accounted for 60 of the 172 goals scored by the Wings, and collectively the average better than a point a game.

But there are a lot of teams with a top-trio of skaters – Ottawa has one, and they’re fighting to stay out of the lottery. The “undercard” on this team is what makes it impressive. Johan Franzen has 21 goals in 42 games, carrying over the big late season production he had last year. How big? In his last 74 games dating back to last season (including last year’s playoffs) he has 49 goals and has scored at least one goal in 38 of those games. He also leads the Red Wings in game-winning goals with six.

Jiri Hudler, whose size seemed to be a concern early in his career, is having a breakout season. His 17-22-39 scoring line has already yielded a career high in total goals and power play goals, and is only three points shy of his career high with 34 games left to play. However, Hudler is nursing a foot injury and might not play.

Daniel Cleary isn’t high on the list of goal scorers on this team, but three of his eight tallies have been game-winners (third on the team).

And then there is Tomas Holmstrom, who in a perverse sort of way might be the single irreplaceable cog in the Red Wing machine. While not necessarily the biggest player out there (6’, 203 pounds) he has developed a reputation for his backside being almost unremovable from the cage of a goalie’s mask. When he sets a screen in front, he might as well have a sign saying “WIDE LOAD” planted on the back of his shorts. It’s put him in a position to score 14 goals (sixth on the team), eight of them on the power play (tied for the top spot for Detroit). Trouble is, he (along with Zetterberg) is listed as "day-to-day" and is noted as out (as is Zetterberg) for this one. Caps goaltenders, rejoice!

On the blue line, the Wings are not only good, they’ve enjoyed continuity. Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Kiklas Kronwwall, Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja, and Brad Stuart all have played in at least 41 games, and five of them (Lebda being the exception) have played in at least 45 games. Five of them (Stuart being the exception here) have scored in double digits in points. Only Kronwall has a minus figure for the year, and the group has accounted for nine power play goals. Of the group, Stuart will not dress today, out of the lineup with an injury.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Marian Hossa

Hossa’s numbers are impressive – a rather symmetrical 24-24-48 this year in 48 games. But he has feasted on the Caps over the years. While he is averaged 0.92 points-per-game against the rest of the league over his career, he’s averaged 1.14 points-per-game (23-27-50) in 44 career games against Washington. He is 7-7-14 in his last dozen games this season, including five power play goals. He must be drooling at the prospect of setting up against the Caps’ penalty killers. The game could turn on whether the Caps can keep him off the board on the power play.

Washington: Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov is heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame on the body of work he authored as a Red Wing. Playing against them has been another matter. In 20 career games, he is 6-6-12, -20. He might be getting first line time in this one, based on what went on at practice yesterday. That would mean he’d get his chances adding to his point total, certainly. But scoring isn’t the problem, even if the Caps have scored more than three goals only three times in 11 games this month. Defending the other guys’ power play has been the more persistent problem, and Fedorov’s experience in that regard, noted well by Japers, might be the less visible, but more important, factor here.

These are two teams of a similar specie at different stages of development. The Red Wings have the Cups, score a lot, play keep-away with the puck, the travelling red road show, the guys giving them hometown discounts on contracts. The Caps aspire to Cups, score a lot, have shown flashes of being able to play keep-away, rock the red really well in their own house and have their own road crew, and will have some interesting contract matters down the road. This is a “measurement” game – how do the Caps measure up to a genuinely elite team, even if that elite team is banged up and coming in 0-3-1 in their last four games?

We think they’re measure quite well after a couple of days of fun and drills.

Caps 4 – Red Wings 3

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