The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s Veterans Day here in Washington, and the Capitals are in the middle game of a three-game home set, taking on the New York Islanders. This being a holiday, when many offices have the day off, we might expect to see a number of groups taking advantage of the occasion to take in a hockey game. We met one such group in town to catch a hockey game…
Welcome to Washington. I understand you folks are from out of town to watch the game today, and you are…
Glad to meet you. And what group are you with?
“We’re from the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. In Scranton, Pennsylvania.”
Are you folks hockey fans?
“Not really… we have company tickets to Baby Pens games.”
That’s a shame, but you’re down here in force for a Capitals game. I would have thought you’d head out to Pittsburgh for a game.
“We’re closet Capitals fans. We can’t stand that Crosby kid.”
I can understand that.
“You know, on our way down here, I read some of your gameday stuff.”
“Well, I swallowed all your ideas. I'm going to digest them and see what comes out the other end.”
Well, Verizon Center has facilities for that sort of thing… I imagine your staff appreciates your bringing them down for an outing like this.
“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it's not like this, compulsive, need, to be liked. Like my need to be praised.”
Ok… I take it you’re doing pretty well in these tough times to be able to sponsor a trip for your staff.
“Yes, but what is the single most important thing for a company? Is it the building? Is it the stock? Is it the turnover? It's the people. The people. My proudest moment here wasn't when I increased profits by 17 percent, or cut expenditure without losing a single member of staff. No, no, no, no. It was a young Guatamalan guy, first job in the country, hardly spoke a word of English, but he came to me and he went ‘Mr. Scott, will you be the Godfather to my child? Wow. Wow. Didn't work out in the end. We had to let him go. He sucked. Sort of like Nylander.”
Hey! Nylander doesn't suck!
Well, what do you expect, they’re from Scranton. But the game they’re here to see will be the third installment of the four-game season series between the Caps and the Islanders. The teams have split the two games played to date, both of them going to overtime and both won by the road team. As if it needs saying at this point, the Islanders have outperformed expectations. At 6-6-5, they sit on the cusp of the top-eight in the Eastern Conference. Their numbers compare to the Caps as follows:
New York is 5-2-0 in their last seven games. In those seven games, 13 different players have the 22 goals scored by the Islanders, and 19 different players have points. While balance seems to have been the key, the Islanders have been led by the future and the past in this stretch. As for the future, John Tavares – last June’s top overall pick in the draft – is tied for the team lead in points in this 5-2-0 run (2-4-6, tied with Jeff Tambellini at 3-3-6). Tavares’ performance in these last seven games has catapulted him into a tie for the club lead in points (5-8-13, tied with Matt Moulsen at 7-6-13). If you are looking for a benchmark for Tavares’ performance so far, consider that he has 13 points in 17 games. Last year’s top draft pick phenom, Steven Stamkos, did not record his 13th point until his 32nd game.
As for the past, that would be Brendan Witt. For those of you not paying attention, Witt had a two-goal game, including the game-winner, against Edmonton on November 2nd. Those were goals 24 and 25 of Witt’s career, spanning 865 games. They broke a 92-game streak without a goal dating back to January 22, 2008, at Carolina. It was his first multi-goal game in the NHL and his first multi-point game since March 26, 2002, at Buffalo. He now has as many goals – two – as his more celebrated teammate on the blue line, Mark Streit. Why it is that the earth didn’t stop spinning on its axis as a result of this turn of events is a mystery.
Speaking of Streit, he is somewhat slow out of the box. After 17 games last year, on his way to a 16-40-56 season, he was 4-8-12. So far this season, he has only those two goals and five assists to go along with them. He has only one goal since opening night, but that one was the game-winner in the 4-3 overtime win over Washington on October 30th. In 13 career games against the Caps he is 3-6-9.
And now we ask, is the spell broken? In his first 21 career games against the Caps, Jon Sim had 11 goals and 19 points. He was “Jon Gretzky” against the Caps. But since joining the Islanders, Sim has but a single point – a goal – in five games against Washington. He has only one goal this season, back on October 10th against Boston.
You would expect that Dwayne Roloson would get the nod in goal for the Islanders. He is 6-2-2, 1.99, .921 against the Caps for his career and is 1-0-1 this year.
For the Caps it could be interesting in goal. Jose Theodore got both starts against Florida last weekend in a back-to-back series. He came into the season with a sparkling career record against the Islanders (14-9-1, 1.89, .936 and five shutouts). But in two appearances this year, he is 1-0-1, 2.96, .900. Semyon Varlamov has only two appearances in the Caps’ last eight games, but he might be saved for Friday’s game against Minnesota, the first of another back-to-back (the Caps play in New Jersey on Saturday).
1. Respect. Six of the last eight games between these teams have gone into extra time, including four of the last five. Let not let the Islanders’ record fool anyone. Even though New York has not won any of the last eight games in regulation, they do have three wins in those last eight games against the Caps. And, there is that 5-2-0 roll they’re on coming into this one.
2. Win the battle of attrition. The Caps are missing Alex Ovechkin. Boyd Gordon is still out with a back problem. Mike Green and Jeff Schultz are dinged up and are questionable. The Islanders will be missing Doug Weight (out 4-6 weeks with the always mysterious “upper body” injury) and Radek Martinek (out for the year with a knee injury). They also count Trent Hunter among the injured (although he might return for this one), and Kyle Okposo has been laid up with the H1N1 virus. You would think the Caps’ superior depth would be a factor – it had better be.
3. Milan Jurcina. That’s right, Milan Jurcina. He had, statistically, a difficult game against the Panthers last time out as he was on the ice for all four Florida goals in a 7-4 win. But Jurcina has more points against the Islanders in his career (13 games, 1-4-5) than he has against any other team. And that minus-4 against the Panthers was only his second "minus" game of the year.
This game has the potential of having a team letting itself get all fat and happy after pounding five goals past Scott Clemmensen in the last 20 minutes of a 7-4 win over Florida on Saturday. But tonight’s opponent – the Islanders – has allowed only 13 goals in their last seven games. And the Islanders have played the Caps tough, not just this year, but going back to the 2007-2008 season. Four of the last five games have been one-goal affairs, and the fifth featured an empty net goal by Nicklas Backstrom in a 5-3 win. Don’t expect an early end to the competitive portion of this one…
Caps 4 – Islanders 3