The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Caps are back at it after a three games in four nights run that left them with three more wins, six more standings points, and a whopping 14-point lead over the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division. So, things get easier, right?
Tonight’s opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, have already beaten the Caps this year, and they did it rather rudely – 5-2 (although the last two for Los Angeles were of the empty net variety).
"Peerless, you need to spruce up your adjectivory descriptivations."
Well, if it isn’t Don King. Don, you’ve got to be a Kings fan, right?
"The thought of lending my rooting interest to the Los Angeles Kings violates my finely honified sense of egalitarianism and fair-mindedosity."
In other words, you’re not a hockey fan.
"That would be a less erudite and intellectualistic way of stating the facts."
Don, Don…this game was made for you…all the fights and all.
"Peerless, the sport of hockey is but a pale imagification of the sport of the squared circle. "
Are you saying guys like Donald Brashear or Jared Boll wouldn’t measure up if they stepped into the ring?
"Oh, quite the contrary my pronostificasizing colleague. They are wasting their prodigious pugilistic talents by skating on ice and carrying sticks."
They should be…
"Yes, managed by me, the poohbah of promotion, the master of marketing, the hero of hype, the…"
OK, OK, we get it; now let’s get to the game…
The Kings are something of an enigma. If you look at their numbers…
…you wonder how it is they are sitting 12th in the West (although they are only six points out of a playoff spot). They struggle some on offense, but they are a respectable defensive team (one with considerable potential, in fact). They have decent special teams.
But one thing does come skipping off the page. If they give up the first goal, they’re toast. The Kings are tied for the worst winning percentage in the league when giving up the first goal. But even there, Los Angeles is an odd sort of team. They’ve only fallen behind first in 21 of 49 games. That doesn’t look like the profile of a team that is limping along in 12th place in the Western Conference.
"….the Prince of Pomp, the Marshall of Media…"
OK, Don, we get it.
The Kings also have an odd record in looking at “goal games.” The Kings are a team that earns points in the close ones – they are 9-6-7 in one-goal games. They are also a team that does well in blowouts – they are 10-6 in games decided by at least three goals. But if they are in a two-goal game? 2-7.
And, as befits a team with a 21-21-7 record, they can’t find any traction as far as consistency goes, either. The Kings are 5-4-1 in their last ten games, but that stretch includes a four game losing streak (one of them coming in a shootout), and a three game winning streak. Even going back to when the Kings beat the Caps a week before Thanksgiving, they are 13-13-5 in 31 games since.
This is a strange team to try to figure out.
What the Kings do seem to have is a few underperformers among their skaters. Off of a 22-31-53 year last year, one might have thought Patrick O’Sullivan would take the next step in his progress. He rather seems stuck in place at the moment: 11-16-27, which is slightly behind the pace he set for himself last year. What’s worse, he is only 2-2-4, -5, in his last 14 games. He has one goal in two career games against the Caps, that one coming in the November game.
Anze Kopitar has a different set of issues. He is behind his scoring pace of last year, but more than that, he has been a progressively worse plus-minus player in his almost three seasons (-12 in his rookie year, -15 last year, and currently on a pace for -17 this year). Part of that is that he is playing on a team that has struggled, but his is the worst such mark on this team for players dressing for more than 20 games. Offensively, the decline in his production appears to be a function of somewhat weak output on the power play. Last year, he led the team in power play scoring (12-22-34). This year, he’s on a pace to go 5-20-25.
Otherwise the Kings have players who are filling their roles, within their career contexts of numbers – guys like Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll are having years that are roughly consistent with their recent past. But if guys like Kopitar or O’Sullivan can’t find the next gear in their games, this will be a team that struggles for consistency on offense.
As for the defense, all you need to know is this – their ice time leader is a kid who just turned 19. Drew Doughty (a second overall pick in last June’s draft) has played well, very well in fact. But he probably shouldn’t be, at this stage of his career, taking on all those minutes. Next in line is Kyle Quincey, a 23-year old former member of the Red Wings, who until this year hadn’t played more than six games in a season. Now, he’s logging almost 22 minutes a night. Matt Greene is 25 and getting more than 20 minutes of ice time a night (fourth on the team). The Kings do employ Sean O’Donnell – a player with almost 1,000 games of NHL experience, but he seems ticketed for trade to a contender in a few weeks.
In goal, the task apparently falls to Jonathan Quick. What happened to Erik Ersberg, you say? The goalie who held the Caps to two goals (on 21 shots) in November? Well, since then, he’s been rather inconsistent. He is 3-4-2 in 11 appearances since that win. But for every 33 save in 34 shot performance he’s had (against Minnesota on December 13th), there is a three-goals-on-seven-shots performance (against Tampa Bay on January 12th. Ersberg hasn’t appeared in a game since January 17th, a product perhaps of what has been reported as a "lower body injury."
So, what about Quick? He’s 8-6-0, 2.36. .919, with three shutouts in 16 appearances. He is 4-1-0 in his last five games, 2.61, .917, including a shutout of Ottawa in his last outing on Tuesday.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick/Erik Ersberg
We’re thinking Quick will get the call, but it might not matter. Verizon Center has been a house of horrors for visiting goalies this year. The Caps have scored 3.52 goals/game at home in 25 games. After winning nine in arrow at home, the Caps lost a pair, but now are on a three game home winning streak in which they’ve scored 13 goals against Boston, Detroit, and Ottawa. And, as was the case with Brian Elliott and Ottawa on Sunday, the Caps have now seen Ersberg. If he gets the start, he might find (as Elliott did) that things don’t go quite as swimmingly against the Caps as they did at home. As for Quick, he has that shutout against Ottawa in his last start, but before that gave up 11 goals in three games and has not yet faced the Caps. As if that’s not enough, there is the matter of Alex Ovechkin looking for his 200th career goal. Good luck, kids.
Washington: Brooks Laich
Laich scored a goal, his first of 2009, by getting to the front of the net. He had six shots on goal in the game against the Devils, his highest shot total since January 19th against the Islanders. Only one of those shots was from outside of 13 feet. When Laich is working in his office at the corner of Goalie and Crease, good things happen. Crowding a young goalie with a crowd roaring sounds like a plan.
This is the middle game of a five-game road trip for the Kings. According to the Pasadena Star-News, this trip is a bonding exercise for the Kings. Well, the Caps might be looking to exact a measure of revenge on the visitors and not allow them to bond so much as “spot weld” them to their end of the ice.
Caps 5 – Kings 2
"…the Admiral of Advertising, the Commodore of Communication…"
Turn out the lights when you’re done, Don.