Monday, February 23, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Mardi Gras 2009, and the Caps are hoping they have a parade of goals as they host the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center. The Caps are coming off an emotional win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a national television audience, and…

“Eh, mon ami…gonna be a real fais do-do tonight, I guarantee…”

Well, it’s our old friend Thibodeau…what are you doing up here from Louisiana?

“Ah, I got tired of Mardi Gras parades, always throwing beads, hitting me in the head…boom!”

Yeah, yeah…I can see that. But hockey?

“Ah, cher… ‘ockey…ca c’est bon! And your Ovechkin, he must be Cajun, oui?”

Well, he was born in Moscow.

“He must have some Cajun spirit in ‘im. He play like cayenne taste – full of fire. And spicy like andouille. I see ‘im go up an’ down the ice, and I hear zydeco in my ‘ead. He really play with joie de vivre! I think his name ‘AUX-vechkin, n’est-ce pas?”

Could be, could be, but have you followed some of the other Caps?

“Certainement! We watched the game on Sunday…oh, that was a nice boucherie, cher.”

Yeah, they carved up the Pens like a prize pig, didn’t they?

“We like that Nicklas Backstrom…always leaving puck for others… lagniappe.”

I guess that’s one way to put it…a little extra for his teammates. He’s had a nice season so far. He’ll have to be sharp against these Flyers, though.

“Oh, the Flyers – no one likes them in Luzianne…”


“How do you like someone from a city that calls a ‘po’ boy’ a ‘frommage steak?’”

Good point. But cheese steaks and po’ boys aside, the Flyers come into this one winners of three of their last four and five of their last seven. It is a team that, statistically at least, looks a lot like their hosts for the evening…

If fans think that there was a fair amount of yapping going on between the Caps and the Penguins on Sunday, then maybe they should keep this one in mind to stick on their refrigerator doors before tonight’s game…

"They're starting to get some fans now, I guess. We can't buy all the tickets."

That was Jeff Carter, remarking on the dearth of Flyer fans in the building when the Caps hosted the Flyers on January 6th – a 2-1 Gimmick win for the Caps. We’re guessing there will have been a lot of Caps fans buying tickets for this one to see if the Caps can climb over the .500 mark in the all-time series against the Flyers in Washington (37-37-14).

The Flyers are one of those teams whose record looks rather impressive at first glance. They are 11-7-2 in the 2009 portion of the schedule. But of those 11 wins, only one – a 4-3 overtime win over Boston – was achieved against a team ahead of Philadelphia in the standings. Not that they’ve had a lot of such games. Overall, they are 1-1-1 against teams ahead of them in the standings in 2009 (a regulation loss to Boston and a Gimmick loss to the Caps completing the record).

They’ve managed some rather grisly losses on the way in 2009 as well – a pair of home losses to Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, a shutout (not shootout) loss to the Blues, Ottawa. But on the other hand, the Flyers are 5-2-1 in 2009 against teams currently in the playoff-eight of their respective conferences. They can get up for big games. This one would qualify.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, the Flyers come into this game stumbling a bit on the power play. Despite being fourth in the league overall on the power play (23.2 percent), they are only clicking at a 16.4 percent rate in 2009. They are 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) in their last five games.

They do, however, do something at which the Caps struggle – kill penalties. Overall, they’ve killed almost 83 percent of the shorthanded situations they’ve faced, and they’ve maintained that level of consistency in the 2009 portion of the year (82.7 percent), although they have allowed three power play goals in their last eight penalty killing situations.

Philly can pound a team on offense. Having five players with more than 20 goals will do that. Jeff “Ticketmaster” Carter still leads the club in goals and scoring, although his goal-scoring pace has slowed. Since January 1st, he has seven goals in 20 games to fall behind Alex Ovechkin in that area (Ovechkin has 18 goals in 22 games in 2009). He has only two goals – both in a 3-2 win over Atlanta – in February.

On the other hand, Mike Richards – tied with Carter for the team lead in overall scoring (60 points) – has had a good 2009 and a great February. Since January 1st, he is 8-13-21 in 17 games in 2009 and 5-5-10 in five February games, including a five-point effort against Buffalo last Thursday. Richards is quite the all-around player as well. He leads the Flyers in hits, leads all Flyer forwards in blocked shots, leads the team in takeaways, and wins the majority of his draws (50.2 percent).

If there is a surprise among the scorers, it might be Scott Hartnell. Since the start of the year, he is 7-8-15 in 20 games and is fourth on the team in overall scoring. He doesn’t lack for grit, either, ranking third in penalty minutes for the Flyers (103…compare that with 107 for Donald Brashear).

Then there is the curiosity that is Glen Metropolit. The former Capital is playing for his sixth NHL franchise (Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia) with stops in Finland and Switzerland along the way. He seems to have found a niche of sorts as the sort of gritty fourth liner the Flyers produce with some regularity. He also brings a bit of a scoring touch. He is not at the moment threatening his career scoring highs (14 goals split between Atlanta and St. Louis in 2006-2007, 22 assists in Boston last year), but he has chipped in here and there. He has two goals in his last three games and three in his last seven.

On defense, the Flyers aren’t likely to get a lot of goal-scoring from their defense, but they do have 85 assists from the blue line this year (the Caps have 80). They also seem to have a knack for matching up with the Caps. Kimmo Timonen would appear likely to draw the assignment of shadowing Alex Ovechkin to the greatest extent possible. But Timonen will have help. Braydon “No Zhitnik” Coburn brings size and attitude to his work, not to mention 22 points in 55 games (that would rank second among Caps defensemen). Guys the casual fan probably doesn’t follow much – Andrew Alberts and Ossi Vaananen -- rank one-two among the defensemen in hits.

But the controversy in Philadelphia, as it always seems to be when it concerns the Flyers, is in goal. Can Martin Biron be “The Man” to lead the Flyers to a championship? Can Antero Niittymaki duplicate the championship he won in Philadelphia with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate – the Phantoms – when he allowed only six goals in a four game sweep of the Chicago Wolves in the 2005 Calder Cup final?

Put us down for “not likely” on both counts.

Biron is one of those guys who can win games in clusters from time to time, but scare you to death (if you’re a Flyers fan) all the while he’s doing it. Need an example? Look no further than the three-game winning streak he put together against the Islanders, Rangers, and Sabres last week. He allowed one goal on 39 shots in a superb performance against the Islanders (kind of like Alex Rodriguez going 5-for-6 with eight RBIs against the Kazakhstan national baseball team), then allowed two on 37 shots in a 5-2 win over the Rangers. Four days later, he allowed three on 42 shots in a 6-3 win against the Sabres. See a pattern emerging?

No, he didn’t allow four against the Penguins in his next start. He allowed five (on 27 shots), but perhaps the last one shouldn’t count, as it was a product of Biron finding himself above the hash marks trying to defend a Pascal Dupuis break. The puck ended up on Sidney Crosby’s stick, and Biron could only hope for divine intervention to prevent the goal with an empty net in front of Crosby. Unfortunately for Biron, God was attending to other matters. Biron is 6-5-1, 2.82, .917 since January 1st, but he’s allowed fewer than three goals only twice in his last nine games and was yanked after allowing three in the first period of a 4-3 overtime win over Boston.

Niittymaki, on the other hand, has been rather successful in the games parceled out to him. He is 5-2-1, 2.16, .932 in 2009. Perhaps ominously, though, he’s allowed at least four goals in two of his last four appearances, although he has had a bout with the flu recently.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Simon Gagne

Gagne exploded out of the gate this season. He was 13-17-30, +15 in 20 games before Thanksgiving. Since then, he is 9-14-23, +8 in 34 games. However, in his last 13 games, he has a pair of four-game point streaks, the second one still active. Gagne is something of a Cap-killer as well. In 30 career games, he is 17-14-31 with four-game winners. In 11 games against Washington since the lockout, he is 8-5-13. On the power play he’s been 4-3-7, and all of his scoring in the last two years against the Caps has been with the man advantage (1-2-3 in four games).

Washington: Donald Brashear

When the Flyers meet the Caps, often the game is settled on the basis of tone – who sets it? That’s sort of the way things go no matter who the Flyers play. And how do they set that tone? Well, the Flyers are second in the league in fighting majors, averaging better than one a game. They have two players – Arron Asham and Riley Cote – ranked in the top ten in fighting majors. Chances are, there will be some sort of fistic encounter some time during the evening, and that is likely to involve Brashear. But that’s not the curiosity here. Since joining the Caps, Brashear has ten goals in 212 games. He has two in ten against the Flyers (plus one in seven playoff games last spring). If you’re looking for a thunderbolt, it might come from Brashear’s fist, but it also might come from the blade of his stick.

This is as good a matchup as one could want for Mardi Gras – a night of indulgence, so to speak, against a hated rival. So, what do you think, Thibodeau? See a Caps win in this one?

“Ah, cher, like we say on Mardi Gras, ‘laissez les bon temps rouler!’

Caps 4 – Flyers 3

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