Monday, February 23, 2009

Like it, Lump it, Look at it...

“Like it or lump it, that’s what he does. Some people like it. Some people don’t. Personally, I don’t like it.”

Sidney Crosby doesn't seem to like the manner in which Alexander Ovechkin conducts himself on the ice (what is this, golf?). Maybe he might like to offer an opinion on some goal celebrations from years past...

…or perhaps he lacks an appreciation for the training one has to put in for their goal celebrations…

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Mardi Gras 2009, and the Caps are hoping they have a parade of goals as they host the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center. The Caps are coming off an emotional win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a national television audience, and…

“Eh, mon ami…gonna be a real fais do-do tonight, I guarantee…”

Well, it’s our old friend Thibodeau…what are you doing up here from Louisiana?

“Ah, I got tired of Mardi Gras parades, always throwing beads, hitting me in the head…boom!”

Yeah, yeah…I can see that. But hockey?

“Ah, cher… ‘ockey…ca c’est bon! And your Ovechkin, he must be Cajun, oui?”

Well, he was born in Moscow.

“He must have some Cajun spirit in ‘im. He play like cayenne taste – full of fire. And spicy like andouille. I see ‘im go up an’ down the ice, and I hear zydeco in my ‘ead. He really play with joie de vivre! I think his name ‘AUX-vechkin, n’est-ce pas?”

Could be, could be, but have you followed some of the other Caps?

“Certainement! We watched the game on Sunday…oh, that was a nice boucherie, cher.”

Yeah, they carved up the Pens like a prize pig, didn’t they?

“We like that Nicklas Backstrom…always leaving puck for others… lagniappe.”

I guess that’s one way to put it…a little extra for his teammates. He’s had a nice season so far. He’ll have to be sharp against these Flyers, though.

“Oh, the Flyers – no one likes them in Luzianne…”


“How do you like someone from a city that calls a ‘po’ boy’ a ‘frommage steak?’”

Good point. But cheese steaks and po’ boys aside, the Flyers come into this one winners of three of their last four and five of their last seven. It is a team that, statistically at least, looks a lot like their hosts for the evening…

If fans think that there was a fair amount of yapping going on between the Caps and the Penguins on Sunday, then maybe they should keep this one in mind to stick on their refrigerator doors before tonight’s game…

"They're starting to get some fans now, I guess. We can't buy all the tickets."

That was Jeff Carter, remarking on the dearth of Flyer fans in the building when the Caps hosted the Flyers on January 6th – a 2-1 Gimmick win for the Caps. We’re guessing there will have been a lot of Caps fans buying tickets for this one to see if the Caps can climb over the .500 mark in the all-time series against the Flyers in Washington (37-37-14).

The Flyers are one of those teams whose record looks rather impressive at first glance. They are 11-7-2 in the 2009 portion of the schedule. But of those 11 wins, only one – a 4-3 overtime win over Boston – was achieved against a team ahead of Philadelphia in the standings. Not that they’ve had a lot of such games. Overall, they are 1-1-1 against teams ahead of them in the standings in 2009 (a regulation loss to Boston and a Gimmick loss to the Caps completing the record).

They’ve managed some rather grisly losses on the way in 2009 as well – a pair of home losses to Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, a shutout (not shootout) loss to the Blues, Ottawa. But on the other hand, the Flyers are 5-2-1 in 2009 against teams currently in the playoff-eight of their respective conferences. They can get up for big games. This one would qualify.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, the Flyers come into this game stumbling a bit on the power play. Despite being fourth in the league overall on the power play (23.2 percent), they are only clicking at a 16.4 percent rate in 2009. They are 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) in their last five games.

They do, however, do something at which the Caps struggle – kill penalties. Overall, they’ve killed almost 83 percent of the shorthanded situations they’ve faced, and they’ve maintained that level of consistency in the 2009 portion of the year (82.7 percent), although they have allowed three power play goals in their last eight penalty killing situations.

Philly can pound a team on offense. Having five players with more than 20 goals will do that. Jeff “Ticketmaster” Carter still leads the club in goals and scoring, although his goal-scoring pace has slowed. Since January 1st, he has seven goals in 20 games to fall behind Alex Ovechkin in that area (Ovechkin has 18 goals in 22 games in 2009). He has only two goals – both in a 3-2 win over Atlanta – in February.

On the other hand, Mike Richards – tied with Carter for the team lead in overall scoring (60 points) – has had a good 2009 and a great February. Since January 1st, he is 8-13-21 in 17 games in 2009 and 5-5-10 in five February games, including a five-point effort against Buffalo last Thursday. Richards is quite the all-around player as well. He leads the Flyers in hits, leads all Flyer forwards in blocked shots, leads the team in takeaways, and wins the majority of his draws (50.2 percent).

If there is a surprise among the scorers, it might be Scott Hartnell. Since the start of the year, he is 7-8-15 in 20 games and is fourth on the team in overall scoring. He doesn’t lack for grit, either, ranking third in penalty minutes for the Flyers (103…compare that with 107 for Donald Brashear).

Then there is the curiosity that is Glen Metropolit. The former Capital is playing for his sixth NHL franchise (Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia) with stops in Finland and Switzerland along the way. He seems to have found a niche of sorts as the sort of gritty fourth liner the Flyers produce with some regularity. He also brings a bit of a scoring touch. He is not at the moment threatening his career scoring highs (14 goals split between Atlanta and St. Louis in 2006-2007, 22 assists in Boston last year), but he has chipped in here and there. He has two goals in his last three games and three in his last seven.

On defense, the Flyers aren’t likely to get a lot of goal-scoring from their defense, but they do have 85 assists from the blue line this year (the Caps have 80). They also seem to have a knack for matching up with the Caps. Kimmo Timonen would appear likely to draw the assignment of shadowing Alex Ovechkin to the greatest extent possible. But Timonen will have help. Braydon “No Zhitnik” Coburn brings size and attitude to his work, not to mention 22 points in 55 games (that would rank second among Caps defensemen). Guys the casual fan probably doesn’t follow much – Andrew Alberts and Ossi Vaananen -- rank one-two among the defensemen in hits.

But the controversy in Philadelphia, as it always seems to be when it concerns the Flyers, is in goal. Can Martin Biron be “The Man” to lead the Flyers to a championship? Can Antero Niittymaki duplicate the championship he won in Philadelphia with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate – the Phantoms – when he allowed only six goals in a four game sweep of the Chicago Wolves in the 2005 Calder Cup final?

Put us down for “not likely” on both counts.

Biron is one of those guys who can win games in clusters from time to time, but scare you to death (if you’re a Flyers fan) all the while he’s doing it. Need an example? Look no further than the three-game winning streak he put together against the Islanders, Rangers, and Sabres last week. He allowed one goal on 39 shots in a superb performance against the Islanders (kind of like Alex Rodriguez going 5-for-6 with eight RBIs against the Kazakhstan national baseball team), then allowed two on 37 shots in a 5-2 win over the Rangers. Four days later, he allowed three on 42 shots in a 6-3 win against the Sabres. See a pattern emerging?

No, he didn’t allow four against the Penguins in his next start. He allowed five (on 27 shots), but perhaps the last one shouldn’t count, as it was a product of Biron finding himself above the hash marks trying to defend a Pascal Dupuis break. The puck ended up on Sidney Crosby’s stick, and Biron could only hope for divine intervention to prevent the goal with an empty net in front of Crosby. Unfortunately for Biron, God was attending to other matters. Biron is 6-5-1, 2.82, .917 since January 1st, but he’s allowed fewer than three goals only twice in his last nine games and was yanked after allowing three in the first period of a 4-3 overtime win over Boston.

Niittymaki, on the other hand, has been rather successful in the games parceled out to him. He is 5-2-1, 2.16, .932 in 2009. Perhaps ominously, though, he’s allowed at least four goals in two of his last four appearances, although he has had a bout with the flu recently.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Simon Gagne

Gagne exploded out of the gate this season. He was 13-17-30, +15 in 20 games before Thanksgiving. Since then, he is 9-14-23, +8 in 34 games. However, in his last 13 games, he has a pair of four-game point streaks, the second one still active. Gagne is something of a Cap-killer as well. In 30 career games, he is 17-14-31 with four-game winners. In 11 games against Washington since the lockout, he is 8-5-13. On the power play he’s been 4-3-7, and all of his scoring in the last two years against the Caps has been with the man advantage (1-2-3 in four games).

Washington: Donald Brashear

When the Flyers meet the Caps, often the game is settled on the basis of tone – who sets it? That’s sort of the way things go no matter who the Flyers play. And how do they set that tone? Well, the Flyers are second in the league in fighting majors, averaging better than one a game. They have two players – Arron Asham and Riley Cote – ranked in the top ten in fighting majors. Chances are, there will be some sort of fistic encounter some time during the evening, and that is likely to involve Brashear. But that’s not the curiosity here. Since joining the Caps, Brashear has ten goals in 212 games. He has two in ten against the Flyers (plus one in seven playoff games last spring). If you’re looking for a thunderbolt, it might come from Brashear’s fist, but it also might come from the blade of his stick.

This is as good a matchup as one could want for Mardi Gras – a night of indulgence, so to speak, against a hated rival. So, what do you think, Thibodeau? See a Caps win in this one?

“Ah, cher, like we say on Mardi Gras, ‘laissez les bon temps rouler!’

Caps 4 – Flyers 3

"We feel 100 percent responsible..."

That was Scott Gomez, commenting on the firing of Tom Renney as head coach of the New York Rangers. It was inevitable, I guess. Since compiling a 10-2-1 record in October, the Rangers went 7-6-1 in November, 6-5-1 in December, 6-5-1 again in January, and finally 2-5-3 in February before Renney was relieved of his duties. Assistant Perry Pearn was also dismissed.

Here’s a coach who managed to guide the Rangers to a 128-83-35 record heading into this year. He led the Rangers to 40-plus wins in three consecutive years – the first time that had happened in Manhattan since the 1970’s.

And now, he doesn’t know how to win.

It doesn’t seem as if Renney is the problem. The Rangers have been a team that hasn’t seen a problem a checkbook and a working pen couldn’t solve for years. Need a center? Hey, get two! Scott Gomez and Chris Drury -- $14.4 million in cap hit. They’ve combined for fewer points than Evgeni Malkin and are a combined minus-20. Need a defenseman? Hey, get two! Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin -- $$8.6 million in cap hit. There’s another combined minus-20. Need forwards? Hey, get two! Nikolai Zherdev (acquired in trade) and Markus Naslund -- $6.5 million in cap hit. Zherdev has had 11 points in 2009 (four in his last 11 games), and Naslund has nine points in 2009 and is minus-14 for the year by himself.

Now, it appears to be up to John Tortorella to turn things around, who if nothing else will provide fodder for the New York tabloids (assuming the Rangers can work out something with the Lightning). The Rangers will probably get a boost from the change – it often happens that way. But the problem doesn’t appear to be the coach here, any more than it was the coach in Pittsburgh a week ago. The Rangers are a team built quite literally on the basis of a Gimmick. They lead the league with nine shootout wins. But even there, it was starting to fall apart – they were 1-3 in Gimmicks in 2009.

The fact of the matter is that the Rangers just aren’t that good of a team, personnel-wise. They are less of a team than they were last year, which is saying something, since last year’s version included the renowned “leave it all on the ice” player – Jaromir Jagr.

Scott Gomez mouthed the right words – “as players, we feel 100 percent responsible.” Well, the players are a part of it. They certainly haven’t been keeping up their end of the deal. But 100 percent? 50 percent? Nope, the lion’s share of this debacle can be placed at the feet of the architect of this collection of underperformers.

He might be in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder, but Glen Sather sure isn’t there for what he’s built in New York.

A Tale of Two Eras

A tale of two eras.

In one, we find the family sitting in the living room, Junior and Princess sitting at Father’s knee as he leans back in his easy chair. Mother is on the sofa, the very picture of the suburban homemaker. Their favorite television show is coming on, and the music is cueing up – “Seems Like Old Times.” They spend the next 90 minutes (shows ran long in those days) watching Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, enjoying the talents of the likes of Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Connie Francis, and Steve Lawrence.

It was the picture of wholesome, earnest, entertaining, black-and-white television from the medium’s Golden Age.

It is a memory of time gone by.

It is Sidney Crosby.

In the other, we have You Tube, Twitter, phone-cams, and films you can “snag.” It is the 30-second burst. The bite. The pop. Everyone is a producer, and their moment lasts as long as it takes the eye to blink. We move on to the next burst…the next bite…the next pop. We enjoy performers who have “buzz.” But we’re always looking for the next one…bigger, sassier, eccentric, unique. The one who can get us to ask, “What will he do next?” is the one we’ll come back to. The one who we can’t miss because, well, we’ll miss something grand and as yet unseen…we won’t miss.

It is the picture of attention spans measured in seconds, of the outlandish, of red – the color of passion.

It’s looking forward.

It is Alex Ovechkin.