Friday, April 03, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Sabres, April 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The last home stand of the regular season is half over, and the Caps have two wins to show for it. They will look to make it three in a row when the Buffalo Sabres come calling. And that means Lindy Ruff will be in town coaching the Sabres. Ruff is the longest tenured coach in the NHL, and his history with the Sabres dates back to the 1979-1980 season, when he broke in as a 19-year old and played 63 games for the Sabres.

How long ago is that? Well, as the curtain was rising in October of that 1979-1980 season….

- The US returned the Canal Zone to Panama

- Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit the White House

- The Quebec Nordiques’ Real Cloutier became only the second NHL player to record a hat trick in his first game.

- Allan McLeod Cormack and Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield won the Nobel Prize for medicine for developing the CAT scan.

- The Philadelphia Flyers started their NHL all-time best 35-game unbeaten streak.

- Wayne Gretzky scored his first NHL goal.

- “Monday Night Football” broadcast its first game from New York City (the Jets beat the Vikings, 14-7)

- Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

- Home Depot was four months old and was operating in four stores in Georgia.

- Bryan Trottier was the defending Hart Trophy winner. It would be the last time someone not named “Gretzky” won the trophy for the next eight seasons.

- Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque of Montreal were the defending Vezina Trophy winners

- Denis Potvin was the defending Norris Trophy winner.

- Bob Gainey was the defending Selke and Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

- Bobby Smith was the defending Calder Trophy winner.

- Bob MacMillan was the defending Lady Byng Trophy winner.

It's been awhile...

If the Caps made a habit of playing desperate teams in March, then they are playing a team on life support tonight. Being six points out of a playoff berth with six games to play qualifies for the NHL equivalent of last rites, and the Caps could administer them this evening. What is puzzling is how Buffalo got into this position given their numbers…


Part of the problem, it seems, is that Buffalo’s strength in past year – its scoring balance – has become something of a weakness. The Sabres have 18 players in double-digit scoring and could finish the season with 20, which would match their number from two seasons ago. But that 2006-2007 team, which led the league with 53 wins and 113 standings points, had two players topping 80 points – Daniel Briere (95) and Thomas Vanek (84). Maxim Afinogenov pitched in at better than a point per game pace, too.

This year’s Sabres might be balanced, but they seem to lack a go-to scorer. Vanek looked to be that guy early, scoring 25 goals in 37 games in the 2008 portion of the season. But since New Year’s Day, he has only 12 goals in 30 games. He had an especially difficult March with only three goals in 12 games. Perhaps April agrees with him a bit more – he had a pair of tallies in a 3-2 overtime loss to Atlanta in his first game of the month.

Derek Roy leads the club in scoring with 67 points, which has to be seen as something of a disappointment, given his scoring progression in his first four years (19, 46, 63, and 81 points). What’s more, his March wasn’t very special – 4-4-8, -9, in a dozen games.

Perhaps visiting Washington will be a tonic for these two. Vanek has three goals in three games against the Caps this year (6-5-11 in 15 career games), and Roy has a goal in three games against Washington (8-7-15 in 17 career games).

Dominic Moore was picked up at the trading deadline from Toronto, perhaps with an eye toward providing some secondary scoring. He was in the midst of his best offensive season – 12-29-41 in 63 games with the Maple Leafs – but he’s been more or less silent in Buffalo. In 12 games since the trade, he is 1-3-4. Buffalo is his fifth team in five NHL seasons. We’re betting he’s on a first name basis with moving van companies across North America.

Two years ago, in that 53-win season, the Sabres had seven defensemen with at least ten points, and all 10 of those who dressed that year finished the season even or better, led by Brian Campbell’s +28. This year, there is that balance – six defensemen have at least ten points – but the scoring is down significantly, and among those players who have played in at least 50 games, only Craig Rivet is in plus territory.

Clearly, this team isn’t the same since the departure of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, and Brian Campbell. That is 75 goals and 212 points from that 2006-2007 season not skating for the Sabres. But Ryan Miller is still there in goal. He’s even having a better year, statistically, than he did two years ago. His goals-against average is down (2.73 to 2.57), his save percentage is up (.911 to .918), and he has more shutouts (five versus three). What he hasn’t had is health. Two years ago, he played in 76 games. This year, he missed a month with an ankle injury in the middle of what should have been Buffalo’s push to the playoffs. He’s been fairly sharp since his return, though, going 2-0-1, 2.85, .911. He’s also been successful against the Caps – 8-3-0, 2.53, .910, with two shutouts. He is 1-1-0, 1.51, .949, with one shutout against the Caps this year.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Ryan Miller

Last week, CBC asked the question in an online story headline, “Is it too late for Miller to save Sabres?” At this point, that’s about what it comes down to. Buffalo has become a very average offensive team, and the defense has holes in it due to departures and age (five defensemen are past 30, and two are past 35). The Canadiens and Rangers aren’t playing so well in seventh and eighth place that they are impossible to catch at this stage, but the Sabres would almost have to win out to do it. And to do it, Miller has to be at his absolute best, starting tonight.

Washington: Michael Nylander

To be charitable, Nylander has had a difficult year. It is the classic case of a player with skill and talent who just doesn’t seem to fit in with what it is the Caps are trying to do. Nylander had a rough March – 1-2-3, -3, in eight games and sitting in the press box on some nights. April, if it is possible, started worse. In the first game this month, he was held off the score sheet and sat for the last 17:48 of the game after skating only eight minutes. He does have 28 points in 37 career games against the Sabres, though, and sometimes the day is darkest before the dawn. Let’s hope so…the Caps could use a productive Nylander going forward.

The Caps are in a position to make history – they are within six standings points of the franchise high for a season – in a season where a fair amount of history has already been made. But that is really secondary. The Caps are getting ready for the playoffs. Jose Theodore could get the baseball cap tonight in favor of Semyon Varlamov, and Coach Bruce Boudreau might be further inclined to test line combinations and defense pairings. It could make for a closer game than fans might like, but in the end, well…two points is two points.

Caps 3 – Sabres 2


1 comment:

this space for rent said...

I don't know on the ballcap, Peerless. I'd be inclined to run Theodore until the division is locked ... but then again, Buffalo would be a good test for Varlamov to see if we take him or Johnson in as a backup in the playoffs.

I can see both sides, and I'm kind of torn on that.

Buffalo's magic number is 7 (NYR) with six games to play.