The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Monday…back to work. Tonight, it’s a visit to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers, a team playing out the string, counting the days, watching the calendar instead of the box scores…
“A team that’s won five in a row.”
“That’s right, cuz. And I wouldn’t be talking the Thrashers down too much.”
They’re 30 points behind the Caps.
“Yeah, and we don’t remember that the Caps once played a team in the playoffs it finished 29 points in front of in the regular season…and lost?”
That was more than 20 years ago, cuz…doesn’t the statute of limitations apply?
“It never applies when a dose of reality is needed.”
But the Thrashers…
“…laid a seven-spot on the Caps already this year.”
"…they’ve played the Caps close in two other games."
OK, OK! You win, the Thrashers are the reincarnation of the 1978 Canadiens.
“Fine…by the way, how’d the Car-Wash go the other night? You get a lot of cars come in?”
Let’s get to the game. The Thrashers have, in fact, won five in a row, including three over Western Conference teams – Calgary, Colorado, and Edmonton, none of which were beaten by the Caps this year …a fact by itself that should cause Caps fans worry.
Comfort, though, might be found in the overall numbers, which paint an Edvard Munch portrait for Thrasher fans…
In those five straight wins, the Thrashers have outscored their opponents by 17-8. And, they’ve done it with balance. Ten players have scored those 17 goals, and 17 skaters have points.
Four players have at least five points in the games, led by Ilya Kovalchuk (1-5-6). Bryan Little (4-1-5), Todd White (2-3-5), and Vyacheslav Kozlov (1-4-5) are the others.
Kovalchuk is the Ferrari that has been running with sand in its gears for much of the season. In 53 games through February 6th, he was 21-29-50, -16. But in 15 games since then, he is 15-13-28, +7, and he has climbed to seventh in overall scoring in the league. For the season, he is 1-4-5, even, in three games against the Caps. For his career against Washington, he is 21-28-49, +12, in 40 career games. However, Kovalchuk aggravated the perilous “upper body injury” in a game against Edmonton last week and missed Saturday’s 4-3 Gimmick win over Buffalo. It isn’t certain whether he will play tonight or not.
Bryan Little and Todd White are a couple of guys who seem to hide in the weeds, and when you look up, they’ve pinned a goal and an assist on your goaltender. Little has been on something of a mini-run since mid-February. In his last 13 games, he is 8-5-13, +3, with a game-winning goal against Montreal on March 6th. He’s done his part against the Caps this year, too, posting a 2-3-5, plus-1 line in three games.
Meanwhile, White – the Thrashers’ second leading scorer – has been setting things up nicely for Atlanta while getting the occasional goal of his own. In his last 13 games, he is 5-11-16, +5. He, too, has found success against the Caps this year, going 2-4-6, even, in three games. Given his 7-12-19, +8 mark in 21 career games against the Caps, you’d think he’d merit some attention.
On defense, Zach Bogosian might have gotten a slow start to his rookie season, losing more than a month earlier in the year to a broken leg. But since returning to the lineup on New Year’s Eve, he is 5-6-11, +10 in 26 games. He’s also shown a propensity to shoot more in recent games, with 14 shots on goal in his last three games (two goals).
In goal, chances are the Caps will see Kari Lehtonen, who has improved his play of late. Since dropping a 4-3 decision to Florida to start the month, he is 4-0-0, 1.23, .960, with a pair of shutouts. Perhaps bad news for the Caps, he’s alternated shutouts and goals-allowed games. Since he gave up three in the win over Buffalo on Saturday, he’s on the “shutout” turn of his string. He is 9-6-2, 2.90, .914 and one shutout in 17 career games against Washington. However, over the last two seasons, he is 3-5-0, 3.38, .912 against the Caps.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Atlanta: Vyacheslav Kozlov
Slava Kozlov has had something of a odd season. He’s roughly on a pace to finish with 70 or so points, which would not be unusual for him (he’s topped that mark five times in his career, including two of the last three years). But he’s also on a pace to finish -20, which would be his worst career finish, no small feat considering he’s been -10 or worse in three of his last five years. Defense doesn’t appear to be his thing. He has perhaps no peer, though, in the Gimmick. For his career he is 22-of-38 (57.9 percent) in the trick show portion of the competition, including five-of-six this year. If it comes to that, it would seem the Caps would need at least two to win.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
It’s not “if,” it’s “when.” 50 goals, that is. And when would seem to be tonight. Ovechkin has abused Atlanta goaltenders as he has perhaps no other. In 27 career games against the Thrashers, he is 23-22-45. One of his three hat tricks this year is against the Thrashers, although that was at the expense of Ondrej Pavelec, not Kari Lehtonen. That’s ok…he has one against Lehtonen, too, turning the trick when he scored six seconds into overtime on December 15, 2006.
Don’t be looking at Atlanta’s overall record. Yes, they’ve had their troubles, and fundamentally this is not a very good hockey team. But they can put the puck in the net, and Lehtonen is capable of whipping up a superior performance. It is a team that is looking for its franchise-best sixth straight win. So, take them lightly at your peril, guys. In the battle of who is first to six – Atlanta’s winning streak overall or Washington’s road winning streak (they haven’t lost a road game in regulation since January 20th), guess who we like?
Caps 5 – Thrashers 2