The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s a two-fer weekend as the Caps head to Boston to take on the Bruins in the front half of the back-to-back weekend fun. It is the last chance for the Caps to take a pound of flesh out of the Bruin hide, for the regular season anyway, and shave a couple of points off the nine-point lead Boston holds over Washington. To get some perspective on the mind of the Bruin and how an opponent might find an advantage, we’ve asked one of the most famous bears around to join us and offer us some insights…
Smokey Bear, you’ve been an icon in American culture for more than 60 years. You’ve seen a lot of bears come and go, and you might know better than anyone what we should look for. So, what do the Caps need to beware of this afternoon?
“Well, you can’t play with fire around the Bruins. They are fourth in the league on the power play overall and second in home power play conversions. They are six-for-20 in their last five games, three–for-six in their last two games, both played in front of the home fans.”
It is an impressive record. How do you address that if you are the visitors?
“The obvious thing is to stay out of the penalty box. The Caps have had trouble doing that, I see. In February, they have been shorthanded 66 times in 12 games – 5.5 times a game. If they do that against Boston, they’re going to get torched.”
Does Boston have a weakness?
“If you look at their team numbers, you’d have to say ‘no.’ They are top-five in everything except winning when they score first, but they still win more than 70 percent of the time in that situation…”
You sure do keep up with this stuff. But if the Caps win, they will achieve their second-highest number of wins in a month this year (nine), not bad for a short month. This is a big test, though. Is there any one thing the Caps can do to give themselves an advantage in this one, Smokey?
“I’m glad you asked…Have you read my ‘Wildfire Pledge?’”
Not since I was a cub.
“Cute…I get it…bear joke. Have I shown you my claws?”
“OK, well…we also have a ‘penalty killing pledge…”
I pledge to be smart whenever I go on the ice:
* To use caution and common sense before I might commit a penalty.
* To understand that any penalty I or my teammates take could result in a goal.
* To understand and practice proper guidelines of our system whenever I or my teammates take the ice to kill a penalty.
* To never, ever leave an opponent in the defensive zone unattended.
* To make sure any penalty that I or my teammates commit is properly and completely extinguished before moving on.
* To properly clear the puck on the penalty kill and not shoot it over the glass.
* To be aware of my surroundings and careful when playing defense during periods of penalty killing so I don’t put my team at a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
* To step in and defend my teammates when I see someone taking liberties with them.
Not bad, but let’s hope no one has to recite the pledge too often this afternoon. The Caps have had a problem staying out of the box in February, but they have been slightly less inclined to do the perp walk in road games – 21 times in four games (5.25 shorthanded situations per game). Here is the kicker, though – they are 19-for-21 on the PK in those road games (90.5 percent). The difficulty for the Caps is of the four opponents they faced in those road games, the highest ranked power play at home was that of New Jersey (16th). Tampa Bay (23rd), the Rangers (28th), and Florida (29th) are among the league’s bottom feeders in the measure. This will be different.
Another problem for the Caps in this one is the second intermission. Only Chicago (33) has taken a lead into the second intermission more times this year than have the Bruins (32). No team has more wins (29). Conversely, only two teams have trailed at the second intermission fewer times than have the Caps (San Jose, and Boston). But while the Caps are ninth in winning percentage in such situations, winning 18.8 percent of the time is not generally a reason for optimism.
Boston has assembled an impressive record on the basis of talent, sure. But they have also accomplished this as a product of health and balance. As to the former, the Bruins have dressed only 26 skaters this year. Seven players have dressed for every game (by way of comparison, the numbers for the Caps are 33 and 2, respectively). But the Bruins might be missing top scorer Marc Savard (who is one of those who has played in all 62 games this year) and top hitter Milan Lucic. Both have “upper body” injuries. Blake Wheeler, another player with 62 games under his belt, will likely be skating with a sore foot, thanks to a shot taken off the stick of Chris Pronger.
As for balance, try 18 players with at least ten points, 11 with at least 20. They have nine with at least a dozen goals and 16 players with at least one game-winning goal. They have 13 players with at least one power play goal and 11 players at plus-ten or better.
But it is a team that has struggled to score against Washington. In three games they have a total of five goals. Perhaps ominously for Boston, two of them were by Savard and one by Lucic – Shawn Thornton and David Krejci getting the others, Krejci’s actually being a deflection off of the skate of Shaone Morrison to give Boston a 3-2 overtime win the last time the teams met.
If one looks at the Bruins individually, there aren’t many players there who can be said to have had successful careers against the Capitals, assuming Savard is out (he is 9-35-44 in 34 career games against Washington). If there is one player to think about in that regard, it might be Michael Ryder. He is 9-6-15 in 17 games against the Caps, but the odd thing about that is that all of his scoring was done as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. He has been held without a point in the two games he’s played against Washington as a Bruin. In fact, the leading career scorer against the Caps for the Bruins dressing for this game (again, assuming Savard is out) will be defenseman Zdeno Chara – 5-14-19 in 39 career games.
Boston comes into the game having had a somewhat indifferent February. The Bruins are “only” 6-4-2 for the month, but they put up a half dozen goals in each of their last two games – a 6-1 win over Florida and a 6-0 whitewashing of Anaheim. It is worth noting that both of those teams are in the lower half of the goals-per-game rankings, so for the Bruins this will be a step up in weight class, too. That 11-goal differential in the last two games is the difference for the month as the Bruins have outscored opponents by 36-25 in 12 games. The 25 goals allowed is evidence that defense and goaltending has not been a problem for Boston. Time Thomas is 6-3-0 for the month and six times has allowed one or no goals (1.55 GAA, .943 save percentage). Manny Fernandez is 0-2-1 for the month, 3.22, .855.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Phil Kessel
Kessel has played in only one of the three games against the Caps this season, assisting on the only goal in a 3-1 loss in Washington in December. He hasn’t had a lot of success against the Caps (1-1-2 in nine career games), and he has been in a prolonged slump otherwise lately (2-4-6, -1 in 19 games in the 2009 portion in the season). He also is part of a rumor concerning a trade for Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger. An awful lot of stuff going on for a 21-year old.
Washington: Jose Theodore
This is more or less “game one” of a playoff series against the Bruins, and in the playoffs, success starts with the goaltender. Unfortunately, Theodore does not have an especially noteworthy record of accomplishment against the Bruins – 9-12-2-1, 2.53, .917. But here is the odd part of that record – since the lockout, Theodore is 3-0-1, 2.00, .924 against Boston. What he hasn’t had is a good February, or at least not a consistent one. Theodore is 5-3-1 for the month, 2.95, .904. He’s allowed more than three goals four times in 12 games and has done so against teams who shouldn’t have that kind of success – Colorado, the Rangers, and the Kings.
One would have to think this is going to be a low-scoring game and closely fought. Since the lockout, the teams have met 15 times. The Caps have a 5-4-6 record in those games. Including Gimmicks, 12 of them have been one-goal affairs (the Caps are 3-3-6 in those games), and only one of them has been settled by more than two goals (the 10-2 win over Boston last March). In only three of the 12 have there been more than a total of five goals scored. This year, none of the first three games in this series had more than five goals scored, and in that one it took an overtime to do it. We suspect this one won’t be any different. Any last words, Smokey?
“Uh, only YOU can prevent penalties.”
Caps 2 – Bruins 1