Well, we’re back. After having our fill of plum pudding, Christmas goose, and a bowl (or twelve) of holiday cheer, we’re back to provide you with the very best in prognostications. While we were away, the Caps gobbled up another two points with a victory at Verizon Center over the New Jersey Devils on the heels of a win over the Buffalo Sabres, which no doubt means that the Caps will slip a few notches in the weekly power rankings among the expert media outlets. No matter – the Caps are winning to the tune of 10-3-0 since Thanksgiving and giving their fans hope that success will bloom in the spring…
I beg your pardon?
Scrooge, isn’t it? Well, you've never seen the like of me before, have you?
“Never, and I wish the pleasure had been indefinitely postponed.”
Shouldn’t you be as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world, and all that Victorian crap?
But you had those Christmas spirits visit and show you the error of your ways…
“Bah…that last Christmas spirit? He took me to the graveyard and pointed at a headstone that was supposed to have my name on it, and I fell whimpering that I’d honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year, that I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future, that I’d sponge away the writing on this stone...blah, blah, blah"
“Well, hey genius…it was winter. Snow? It turns out it wasn’t my name on the stone after all. The snow covered up what was really on the marker…”
“Yeah, I wasted all this time being nice and jolly, when I could have been…”
Coach of the Rangers?
Well, the Caps have certainly been spreading Christmas cheer among their fans with having torched two of the best goalies in the NHL – Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur – for nine goals in the two games on this holiday home stand. Tonight the Caps host the Carolina Hurricanes, fresh off stealing a standings point from the Philadelphia Flyers, coming back in the last 11 minutes of regulation, down 3-0, to tie the game and ultimately send it to a Gimmick, where they lost, 4-3. It was the third loss in a row for the Hurricanes after what was a reasonably decent start to the month for them (4-3-1).
At 4-5-2 for the month, the Hurricanes are still losing ground to, well, everyone as they stand in 30th place in the league standings. They're 30th in a lot of things...
But buried under the wreckage of the season there are elements that suggest that Carolina might be becoming competitive, if not yet a threat to make the playoffs. First, there is the matter of where they are getting their offense. They have been getting it from the guys who have to provide it…
Career vs. Washington: 38 games, 15-22-37
2009-2010 vs. Washington: two games, 1-2-3
Last five games: 1-2-3
Staal came into the month in the midst of what was becoming his most disappointing season – scoring-wise – since his rookie year when he was 11-20-31 in 81 games. He started the month 3-6-9 in 17 games. In 11 contests this month, though, Staal is 3-9-12 with four multi-point games. However, it wouldn’t be the 2009-2010 season for the Hurricanes without even some cloudiness in these December numbers. Staal started the month on a rush (3-7-10 in his first seven games in December), but he has been held without a point in three of his last four games (0-2-2).
Career vs. Washington: 15 games, 1-5-6
2009-2010 vs. Washington: two games, 0-0-0
Last five games: 0-2-2
Pitkanen has ten points for the month, all on assists and five of those on power plays (of nine power plays scored by Carolina). He’s been the minutes-eater for the Carolina blue line, four times logging more than 30 minutes in 11 games this month (averaging 29:15). The problem Pitkanen has mirrors that of his team. He is fourth among all defensemen in average ice time, but he is also 263rd (among 265 defensemen) in plus-minus for the year (minus-15). He is one of three Hurricane defensemen for the year with at least a minus-10 (Joe Corvo (minus-10) and Aaron Ward (minus-17) being the others).
Career vs. Washington: 54 games, 18-30-48
2009-2010 vs. Washington: two games, 0-0-0
Last five games: 0-1-1
Whitney is the club’s leading scorer for the season (10-14-24 in 36 games) and is the team’s third leading scorer for the month of December (4-5-9). But he, too, has cooled off after a hot start to the month (4-4-8 in the first six games of December). Whitney is the closest thing the Hurricanes have to a power play specialist (2-7-9 in power play scoring this season – the Caps have six players with at least ten points). Last year he was something of a Cap killer – 3-5-8 in six games, the most points he had against any opponent in the 2008-2009 season. He has yet to register a point against the Caps so far this year in two games.
That brings us to goaltender Cam Ward. In his first four games back in goal after missing a month with a lacerated leg, Ward showed signs of rust. He was 1-2-1, 4.00, .878. In four games since, even with getting pulled 9:32 into a 5-1 loss to Montreal after allowing three goals on seven shots, Ward is 1-2-1, 3.10, .903. He might not be “Ward-sharp,” but he is moving forward. He is 12-5-3, 2.61, with three shutouts in his career against the Caps, but he dropped his only decision against Washington this year, a 4-3 overtime loss on December 11th.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Jussi Jokinen
Jokinen is tied for the team lead in goals for December (four), getting half of them in a furious comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Flyers on Saturday (a game the Hurricanes would lose in a Gimmick, 4-3). He is the only Hurricane with more than one game-winning goal this year. If this game should go to a Gimmick, he will be the player to watch. Jokinen is tied for second in the league in Gimmick goals (four) and is 26-for-48 in the Gimmick for his career.
Washington: Jose Theodore
Theodore was not feeling too jolly when Michal Neuvirth was named the starter for the Saturday contest against New Jersey, snapping the blade of his stick as he came off the ice during a practice and announcing that “I just work here” when asked about the situation. Well, he is the likely starter this evening, and he has a pretty good record against the Hurricanes over his career (15-11-3, 2.65, .909, four shutouts). He has two victories over Carolina this year. With the Caps on a bit of a roll, winning three in a row with Neuvirth in goal after Theodore lost a 3-2 decision in Vancouver, eyes will be on him to see if he can get a firm hold on the number one netminder job. He’s had a tough job doing that, showing the unnerving lack of consistency that has been the major complaint about his play. So far this year he has not won more than two decision in a row (although he’s won two in a row four times); he has not lost consecutive games in regulation since losses to the Rangers and Red Wings on October 8th and 10th. Seeing as how he lost his last decision in regulation, this should be a win.
1. They’re 30th, they’re not dead. For almost 50 minutes on Saturday night, Carolina looked old, small, and slow. They were either unable or disinclined to create any traffic in front of former teammate-turned-Flyer Michael Leighton in goal. They looked like the worst team in the league. But down 3-0 with 11 minutes left, the Hurricanes finally solved the traffic problem and pumped three goals through Leighton (as part of 15 total shots on goal in those last 11 minutes). Of note, all three goals came from within ten feet.
2. More power. The Caps are 12-for-44 on the power play for December (27.3 percent). But 7-for-18 of that came in the first two games of December. Since then, Washington is 5-for-26 (19.2 percent). That’s not bad, but they have failed to register a power play goal in five of their last eight games. Carolina is served up as a remedy (26th in the league in penalty killing) for whatever might ail the Caps’ power play.
3. Find something to Laich. Brooks Laich doesn’t have a goal since December 5th, against Philadelphia. He is 1-4-5 in 11 games for the month. He doesn’t have a point in either game against Carolina this year. And, he’s struggled a bit at home – 5-6-11, minus-5 at Verizon Center, compared to 5-11-16, plus-6 on the road. He’s one of those guys – a net crasher with some touch – that will be very important down the road. It would be nice to get him started down that road with a point or two.
The moral of this story is that there is no team – not even the 30th-ranked team in the league – against which a team, even as skilled as the Caps, can just throw their sticks on the ice and expect to win. Taking any team for granted is a recipe for failure, and having bested two fine goaltenders in Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur in their last two games, the Caps might be in the dismal position of tempting fate against a lesser opponent by putting forth a “B” effort.
If the Caps avoid the post-Christmas let-down, this game should be over at the first intermission. Oh, wait…there is that last 11 minutes to worry about. Strike that. Put forth 60 minutes, and the Caps will add two points to their season standings total and post their top month for wins this season (nine).
Caps 5 – Hurricanes 2