Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Sharks, December 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, here we are. Another year in the books. 2009… the International Year of Natural Fibres (we are not kidding). Frankly, 2009 could have used more fibre, it’s had quite the constipated feel to it. But we’ll leave that discussion to the folks on cable talk shows. We’re looking ahead to 2010, and with that in mind we have an exclusive. Joining us this evening is 2010 himself, the New Year’s baby. Welcome to the show, uh… what the… You’re the 2010 New Year’s baby?

“Yeah, what about it?”

You look, well… awful.

“#@$% you, pal. I took one look at what 2009 left me, and I’ve been on a bender ever since getting ready for this gig.”

What do you mean?

“Tiger Woods, the Yankees winning a World Series, the NHL naming the Flyers to play the Bruins in the Winter Classic…”

The Penguins winning a Stanley Cup.

“AGH!...The Penguins!! Don’t get me started.”

Hit a nerve have we?

“Look, it’s bad enough that Bettman’s Pets won the $#%*in’ thing, but you tell me, is this right?”

Well, it does look bad…

"Oh, and does THIS look like a place for a hockey party? "

"It ain't @#$*in' right... not a peanut shell or a bottle cap in sight. And what’s wrong with this picture?"

I don’t follow…

"Wine at a hockey party? What’s next, finger sandwiches? Oh, and will you tell me what’s up with this?"

Gotta admit, it seems to violate laws of nature.

“@#$%in’ ay, it does.”

You seem rather bitter for a year that hasn’t even started yet. Is there anything that can make it better?

“Well, there is one thing that can make 2010 right.”

And that would be…

“If this guy is hoisting the Cup…”

Well, until that day arrives there are many games to be played, and the Caps end 2009 playing one out on the left coast against the San Jose Sharks, a club that the Caps have already beaten once this year, but have not beaten in San Jose since Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe was tending goal for the Sharks in 1993. Since then, the Caps are 0-8-1 in nine visits to San Jose, having been outscored in the process by 33-17. They were pasted in last year’s visit by a score of 7-2, a game in which the Sharks led by 3-1 at the first intermission, 5-1 at the second, and generally made life in the Shark Tank miserable.

The Caps beat San Jose earlier this season at Verizon Center, a convincing 4-1 win that put the Caps back over .500 for the season, where they have remained ever since. In fact, starting with that game the Caps are on a 22-7-4 run that includes an 8-4-0 December. San Jose’s December has been interesting – a tale of two fortnights, so to speak. From December 1st through the 12th, the Sharks went 1-2-3, beating only Ottawa on the first day of the month before losing five in a row. Since then, though, the Sharks are 5-0-0 and haven’t allowed more than two goals in any of the wins. The overall numbers for the two teams look like this…

The Sharks boast the top scoring line in hockey when Coach Todd McLellan chooses to put them together. The line of Joe Thornton (10-44-54), Dany Heatley (23-21-44), and Patrick Marleau (25-16-41) represent three of the top 14 scorers in the league. Combined, the trio have accounted for:

-- 46 percent of San Jose’s 126 goals scored
-- 19 of the team’s 32 power play goals
-- four of the team’s six shorthanded goals
-- 11 of the Sharks’ 20 game-winning goals

Perhaps oddly enough, the trio has only two of the eight Gimmick goals the Sharks have (Joe Thornton being the one without such a goal). But this group has been hard on the Caps over their respective careers. Thornton is 11-19-30 in 27 career games, Heatley is 11-21-32 in 28 career games, and Marleau is 4-7-11 in 13 career games against Washington. However, none of them had a point in the 4-1 Caps win in October.

These guys aren’t the only ones who have made life difficult for the Caps over the years. Defenseman Dan Boyle, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has registered more assists and posted more points against the Caps than he has against any other NHL team (7-25-32 in 46 career games). Oh, he didn’t have a point in the first meeting of these teams in October, either.

But if you’re thinking that earlier meeting of the Caps and Sharks has any bearing on this game, especially when it concerns this quartet, consider this. In the current five game winning streak these four players are a combined 10-17-27, +18, scoring ten of the 18 goals the Sharks tallied in this run and figuring in at least one assist on two other goals.

Scoring isn’t all that the Sharks do well, though. Evgeni Nabokov is a top-ten goaltender overall in wins (21/T-4th), GAA (2.30/10th), save percentage (.925/5th), and shutouts (2/T-10th). He is also one of four goalies in the league who has played more than 2,000 minutes, putting him on a pace to have his second 4,000 minute season. He came into the season having never lost to the Caps, going 8-0-0, 1.98, .935 in eight career appearances. That unblemished record was ended with the 4-1 loss to Washington in October.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

San Jose: Rob Blake

The veteran defenseman has a higher points-per-game average against the Caps (0.96 PPG on 8-16-24 in 25 career games) than he has against any other NHL team. In last year’s 7-2 blowout on this ice sheet he had four assists. Make the guy play some defense.

Washington: Michal Neuvirth

Indications are that Neuvirth will get the call in goal against the Sharks. This is the rookie being thrown into the deep end of the shark tank, as it were. But really, saying “Michal Neuvirth” is code for the Caps rallying around him in terms of playing sound team defense. If Neuvirth can: a) avoid giving up the early goal, and b) stop all the shots he is supposed to stop, then the skaters have to do the rest and keep the Sharks from swimming too close.


1. One-two, one-two. Nabokov has been pulled from two games this year, and the common item in both is getting a 1-2 punch in. Against Los Angeles in a 6-4 loss on October 6th, Nabokov gave up two goals 56 seconds apart in the second period (his third and fourth of the game), after which he was pulled. In a 7-2 loss to Chicago on November 25th, he gave up goals 28 seconds apart in the second period (his second and third of the game). If the Caps get one, let’s see if they can get another right away.

2. One-two, one-two…two. Alex Ovechkin came into the 2009-2010 season never having scored a goal against the Sharks, the last team on the NHL list against which he had not scored a goal. Well, he got two in the 4-1 win in October. What’s more, he had 13 shots on goal in that contest. It will be harder to get the favorable sorts of matchups that lead to getting that many shots on goal, but it might take a similar effort for Ovechkin to add to his streak of four games with at least two points (and eight of his last 12).

3. 20 minutes of clean hockey. San Jose has lost only two games in regulation on home ice this season. In both, they were held off the scoreboard in the first 20 minutes. The Caps are tied for second in fewest first period goals allowed this year. Do the math.

The Caps have rid themselves of the burden of not having beaten Edmonton in seven straight games played in Alberta. And the Caps ended a 12-game losing streak (0-11-1) to the Sharks overall since beating them on 7th Street, 3-1, on February 20, 1999. Things change. The Caps have not lost consecutive games in regulation since dropping a pair back on October 8th and 10th. The tides are right for some sharkin’…

Caps 4 – Sharks 3

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