Friday, December 11, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps return home to catch up on holiday shopping and to play only their second home game of December, hosting the Island of Misfit Toys that is the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps return home (at least going into last night’s action) owners of the best record in the NHL, which is not necessarily a good thing if you consider the number of President’s Trophy winners that traded up to a Stanley Cup (seven in 23 seasons). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is the festive season of hope and…

“Cheesy Christmas presents.”

Well, yeah… and let me guess, you sell such things.

“C.J. Penney’s the name, and Christmas is my game. And I have just the thing for the discerning hockey fan this year.”

OK, we’ll play along.

“Well, who wouldn’t love to find this in their stocking?”

A hockey tie? Isn’t that a little cliché?

"But it’s in the Caps colors! OK, OK… now I know you can’t resist this…"

Chocolate hockey pucks.

"OK, maybe that’s more of an Easter kind of thing. Well, then a how about…"

A Mr. Potato head…

"Hey… But check out the logo… the Penguins. Caps fans will eat that up."

Like the pucks?

"OK…here’s a multi-tasker. You can give it on Christmas or wear it on New Year’s Eve."

Just add ice… clever.

“Alright, alright. How about something for the ‘coach’ in the family.”

Hmm… another multi-tasker, I see.

"And you can play this while celebrating…"

Has potential.

"OK, I didn’t want to do this, but you forced me to bring out the ultimate holiday hockey weapon…"


We’re not sure that these gift ideas will suit your fancy, but the Carolina Hurricanes coming to town might be the remedy for the Caps after enduring a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday. Just look at the numbers…

There are a lot of “30th’s” in there for the Hurricanes (although that 28th-ranked power play is one slot higher than Pittsburgh – go figure). What’s more, the Hurricanes have only one win on the road, that coming against that same Pittsburgh team, 3-2, last Monday (ironically, because Carolina could score a power play goal, and the Penguins could not).

But there lies a danger with the Hurricanes, though. Having lost to Buffalo on the road and about to head out on the road again for a four-game trip, this is something of a “gap” game that the Caps will try just as soon as not to get rid of, which leads to cutting corners. And the Hurricanes have won two of their past three (their first wins in regulation in consecutive games this season) since dropping a tight 3-2 decision to the Caps on November 30th.

If you just glance at the scoring tables, the Hurricanes have ten players who have double digits in total points, the Caps have 11. The similarity ends there. Carolina has only one player with as many as 20 points (Ray Whitney, 8-12-20), while the Caps have six, and they have three with at least 30.

Perhaps even a more stark difference – a reflection of the first and last positions of these teams in 5-on-five play – is the face that the Caps have 17 players on the “plus” side of the ledger, including six players with at least a plus-10 figure, while the Hurricanes have no players on the “plus” side of the ledger and six with at least a minus-10. Neat symmetry, that.

Who’s hot?

Joni Pitkanen has five assists in the three games since the Hurricanes met the Caps. That follows a 13-game run where he had only a pair of assists on his record. Pitkanen leads all NHL defensemen in time-on-ice per shift (1:00/shift), and he has logged more than 30 minutes of ice time four times this year, including two of his last four games. Pitkanen is 1-5-6 in 14 career games against Washington.

Eric Staal had a three game streak in which he had two assists in each snapped in the Hurricanes’ 4-2 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday. Still, six points in four games qualifies as hot, especially when it almost doubles Staal’s point total for the year (he is 3-10-13 in 20 games). He is 14-22-36 in 37 career games against the Caps, and he had – yes – two assists in the only meeting of the year between these teams, the game that started him on the three-game, six-assist run.

Who’s Not?

The joke here would be “everyone else,” and there is a kernel of truth in that. But we can start with Rod Brind’Amour. The Carolina captain was a healthy scratch for a 3-2 win over the Penguins, the first time he was a healthy scratch for a game since dinosaurs roamed the earth (actually, the first time in nine seasons). Brind’Amour, who is tied for 11th on the club is scoring (2-6-8 in 29 games), is dead last among 767 NHL players in plus-minus (minus-19). He finished 883rd among 884 players in that number last year. He qualifies as “not hot” here because in his last dozen games he is 0-1-1, minus-6, and he hasn’t logged as many as 15 minutes of ice time in his last nine games (three times in his last five games being given fewer than ten). He is 39-42-81 in 98 career games against Washington.

We might include Sergei Samsonov in this category, too. In his last dozen games he is 1-2-3, and he’s occupying a seat at the far end of the bench, too (two games with more than 15 minutes in his last ten to go with his two of fewer than ten minutes). He is 4-14-18 in 39 career games against the Caps.


1. Ward off a loss. Cam Ward returned to the ice on Wednesday after missing time with a lacerated leg, taking the loss in a 4-2 decision against New Jersey. He is 12-5-2 with a 2.54 GAA in 20 career games against the Caps, and considering the sort of year the Caps had last year, Ward was borderline spectacular against them – 2-1-1, 2.46, .927. His presence in the lineup alone makes this Hurricanes team very different than the ones the Caps defeated 12 days ago.

2. First things first. The Caps lead all of the NHL in first period goals scored (39). Carolina is tied for fourth most in first period goals allowed (29). The Caps are, in fact, +24 (goals scored/goals allowed) in the first period so far this year. Washington potted two in the first period in the first meeting of these teams, then held on for the 3-2 win. Two would be nice tonight, too…without the holding on part.

3. Show some Flash. Tomas Fleischmann has never scored a goal against the Hurricanes (0-2-2 in 19 career games). He had a mini-streak (3-2-5 in three games) ended against the Sabres on Wednesday. Here’s a chance to kill two birds with one puck – getting back on the scoring train and breaking the schneid against the Hurricanes.

Even with Ward, who may or may not be still shaking off cobwebs, the Caps are the vastly superior team. Like that matters. Jose Theodore, who will get the call tonight, it would seem, allowed a goal early (to Joe Corvo 4:35 into the contest) and allowed a goal late (in the last 16 seconds to Matt Cullen) in the first meeting. Even if Carolina scored ten goals in their last three games following the loss to the Caps, they are not an especially formidable offense. This one is up to Ward – and whether the Caps can find the rust spots.

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 1


Flying Cloud said...

Thanks for this, Peerless. I dread these games because it's so easy to take them for granted. Brind'amour's a bit creaky, so his ice time is probably about right for his age. He can still rally the troops, though.

Anonymous said...

Peerless, surely you know the whole Presidents Trophy Curse thing is a myth. Presidents trophy winners have the higher odds of winning the Cup than any seed below them.