The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s the “to-back” part of the “back-to-back” weekend as the Caps head across the state of Florida to take on the Florida Panthers. It will be a tougher test for the Caps, as last night’s opponent – the Tampa Bay Lightning – were treated more or less like hamburger…
“Zey treated ze Tempah leck em-behr-gehr…”
Oh spit, not THIS guy…Inspector Clousseau, what brings you to Miami?
“I em a fenn of ze Benthehrrs.”
You are a fan of the Panthers?
“00-else woode Ah be a van uhv?…”
How did you become a fan of the Benth…uh, Panthers?
“Ah du nutt know, but Ah emm ungree…Ah wood leck to buy eh am-behr-gehrnn.”
You mean “hamburger?”
“Ah wood leck to by a demm-behr-genn…”
Sean Bergenheim plays for the Islanders. The Caps are playing the Panthers…
And this will be a jump up in weight class for the Capitals, because the Panthers just won’t go away. Florida has climbed to seventh in the Eastern Conference, and they hold a game in hand on both teams ahead of them – Montreal and the New York Rangers – both only two points ahead of the Panthers. While an 11-point lead in the division might look safe, Washington needs to send a message to the upstarts that there is room for only one big dog in the Southeast, and it wears a red jersey (no, not with a weather symbol on it). But it will be a challenging task, as the numbers suggest:
These teams met just eight days ago – a 3-1 win for the Capitals – and since then, Florida has gone merrily along, winning the three games leading up to this contest. It’s part of a longer 12-3-3 run that Florida is on in the 2009 portion of the season in which…
-- They have allowed more than three goals only four times in18 games.
-- They have scored more than four goals six times.
-- They have not lost consecutive games of any sort (regulation, overtime, Gimmick).
-- They have not allowed more than three goals in consecutive games.
-- They are 7-1-2 at home.
-- They have not allowed more than one power play goal in any of the 18 games.
Those are the good parts. Now, here is the concern – the Panthers started the 2009 portion of the season going 13-for-52 on the power play (25.0 percent). However, they’ve put up a goose egg in their last 16 chances over five games. That has coincided with getting fewer chances – 4.33 a game in the first 12 games since New Year’s Day, 3.20 a game in their last six.
As we noted eight days ago, the Panthers have balance. They have 16 players with double-digit point totals, 12 of them with more than 20 points. What the Panthers also have had is a bit of luck, health-wise. They’ve dressed 28 skaters and two goalies this year. Six of those skaters have dressed for fewer than five games, so the Panthers can be said to have fielded largely the same squad for most of the year.
It might not be a group that will be entirely whole for long, though. Talk of whether defenseman Jay Bouwmeester stays or goes is this year’s “make-work-for-hockey-pundits” industry. The play of the Panthers and that of Bouwmeester have not made the decision an easy one for GM Jacques Martin. It seems a virtual certainty that whatever the Panthers do, Bouwmeester will test the free agent waters at the end of the year, making his departure from South Florida as much of a virtual certainty in any case.
But in the meantime, the 25-year old is 12-18-30, +8 so far this year. But after recording a “Half Green” (goals in four consecutive games), ending on January 17th, he is 2-2-4 in his last 11 games. That might be the first indication that the waiting and wondering is having an effect, although Bouwmeester is still a plus-4 over that period and has logged less than 25 minutes of ice time only once. He’s been solid, if unspectacular in his career against the Caps (4-12-16, even, in 34 career games).
It is interesting to note that of the top-15 Panther scorers, 14 of them are “plus” players (Nathan Horton being the exception). The scoring list is topped by Stephen Weiss, and he’s been making a habit of helping out with all the assists he’s been dishing out. In his last nine games Weiss has seven assists to go with a pair of goals. He has only nine goals on the year, but he has seven in 27 career games against the Caps.
The Panther of greatest concern to the Caps, though, might be second-leading scorer David Booth. The Detroit native leads the Panthers in goals (20). But after getting eight in the first 13 games Florida played after Christmas, Booth has been kept off the goal-scoring sheet in his last six games.
Richard Zednik is what passes for “hot” on the Panthers at the moment. In his last five games, the former Cap is 4-2-6, +6, with two game-winning goals to his credit. What he hasn’t been is particularly successful against the Caps – 5-8-13, -1 in 24 career games against his old team.
Since Craig Anderson won a 4-3 overtime decision in Toronto on February 3rd, Tomas Vokoun has gotten the call. In those five games, Vokoun is 4-1-0 (his only loss coming to the Caps eight days ago), 1.78, .949, with a shutout of Carolina. He’s allowed two or fewer goals in four of those games. He’s also played well against the Caps, even if his record of 6-7-0 lifetime doesn’t reflect it. He’s posted a 2.16 GAA and .934 save percentage in 13 career games against Washington.
Anderson has played only once since January 17th – the 4-3 win over Toronto – and only four times in 2009. It’s good bet he’ll keep his 1-3-0 career record against the Caps (2.76, .904) under a baseball cap for this one.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Florida: Cory Stillman
Stillman has missed 16 games this year, but since returning to the lineup on December 14th, he is 6-18-24 in 26 games. He has points in seven of his last nine games (1-10-11). He’s also been something of a thorn in the side of the Caps in his career – 11-21-32 in 34 career games. Stillman has been something of the equivalent of a rabbit’s foot for Southeast Division teams. He’s been a member of Stanley Cup champions in both Tampa Bay and Carolina. Florida is his third Southeast team.
Washington: Sergei Fedorov
In what is likely to be a most closely fought, tightly checked game than last night’s contest in Tampa, Fedorov is the guy who has the experience to be patient and to do the little things – set plays up, take faceoffs, be responsible in his own end, kill penalties – that are important in games such as this. He also has 11 goals in 21 career games against the Panthers. Even if he doesn’t show up on the scoring register, his contributions could be important.
The Panthers are a team that other clubs probably hate to play. They are defense-oriented, don’t play much in the way of exchanging scoring chances (although their offense is probably underrated), they get very good goaltending on a nightly basis. Add to that the fact that Florida has won five games in a row at home, four of them by one goal (including a Gimmick). They’ve also won three in a row overall. It’s a club that plays their style and sticks to it – rather effectively at the moment. What the Panthers have not done this year is win four in a row. By midnight, this will still be true.
Caps 3 – Panthers 2