Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Opening Night: Caps vs. Bruins, October 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK… ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Opening Night of the 2009-2010 season, and the Washington Capitals – the only team with a winning record in the last two seasons in these parts (OK, OK… you DC United fans can just cool yer jets) – crack the seal on this season by visiting the Bruins of Beantown, the defending Eastern Conference regular season champions.

Of course, that sort of title is like being named the fifth Duke of Bumfuckinstein. There isn’t a lot of gravitas attached to it.

But here at Peerless Center, we take our prognostitorial duties with the utmost seriosity, and so we take a closer look at the Boston Bruins, a club that the Caps played close in four games last season. Here’s the tale of last year’s tape…

But that’s chewed food, spilt milk, yesterday’s news. It’s a new season and a fresh canvas on which we can produce a special painting. The Capitals are a favorite of many to advance far into the postseason, but the Bruins stand in their way in the fight to be “NHL Idol.” So who better to evaluate tonight’s opponent than the “King of Mean,” himself? Simon, thanks for stopping by on the glorious occasion.

“Well, it’s your pleasure, of course.”

Uh… right. Tonight’s opponent – the Boston Bruins – they start the year as the defending regular season first place finisher in the East. It’s a formidable unit, bringing back the defending Norris Trophy winner in Zdeno Chara, the defending Vezina Trophy winner in Tim Thomas, and some capable role players who could…

“I met someone the other night on the team who's 28 years old, and he hasn't worked a day since he left home because he's pursuing a dream he'll never, ever realize: He thinks he's a great hockey player. Actually, he's crap.”

Uh, yeah… well, let’s take a look at that Bruin lineup. Chara is the cornerstone of the defense, and the hockey world thinks highly of him…

“I’d tell him to shave off your beard and wear a dress. You would be a great female impersonator.”

I’m not sure that’s the smartest thing to say to almost seven feet of hurt, but I guess that’s your thing… what about Tim Thomas in goal? He returns after a superb season and the Vezina Trophy, what about…

“If his lifeguard duties were as good as his netminding, a lot of people would be drowning.”

Well, there is David Krejci, who doesn’t get nearly the ink his two more celebrated teammates get, but who is…

“…is a dairy farmer dressed as a woman.”

Yeesh… don’t you think that’s kind of harsh?

“If I said to most of the people who auditioned, 'Good job, awesome, well done,' it would have made me actually look and feel ridiculous. It's quite obvious most of the people who turned up for this audition were hopeless.”

Uh, it’s a hockey game, not an audition.

“You are a saucy little thing aren't you?”

Well, I’m not that type… what I mean is… let’s just get back to the game. The Bruins are one of those teams that works hard, has some skill, and is well coached, do you think…

“Bruins. Sharks. Panthers. The end of the animal trade would leave more time to trap or beat to death Stanley Cup wannabes.”

Well, just one last question, Simon. Who is your pick to win tonight’s ga—

“I don't think I can do this anymore.”

Well, if you have to go… That was rather uncomfortable, wasn’t it? And uncomfortable is what the Bruins have a talent for making their guests. Their 29-6-6 record at TD Garden was the best in the East last year. They closed with a rush, going 8-0-1 in their last nine home games to close the regular season.

And the Bruins achieved their lofty overall status last year the new fashioned way… with gaudy numbers:

Goals scored: 3.29 (2nd)
Goals for/1st – 2nd – 3rd period: 87 (1st) – 92 (2nd) – 88 (T-9th)
Goals against/1st – 2nd – 3rd period: 65 (T-8th) – 60 (2nd) – 61 (3rd)
Goals allowed: 2.32 (1st)
5-on-5 scoring ratio: 1.42 (1st)
Power play: 23.6% (4th)
Penalty killing: 82.4% (12th)
Winning % when scoring first: .723 (7th)
Winning % when trailing first: .543 (1st)
Winning % when leading after 1st period: .794 (9th)
Winning % when leading after 2nd period: .884 (10th)

What the Bruins perhaps didn’t expect, however, was having a 36-goal chunk of their offense removed. But that’s what happened when Phil Kessel was sent to Toronto for a first- and second-round pick in the 2010 draft, plus a first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Kessel had shown considerable improvement as a goal scorer, finishing the last three seasons with 11, 19, and 36 goals, respectively. Whether the Bruins will miss one-seventh of last year’s goal production remains to be seen.

It would seem that if those 36 goals are to be made up, it will be done from within and by committee, as the Bruins did not make much of a splash in the off season player markets. Blake Wheeler finished his rookie year with 21 goals last year, suggesting that he could contribute to the deficit from the Kessel departure. But when moved from the left side to the right on the top line to take Kessel’s spot, he came up somewhat short and appears ticketed for the second line. He was held without a point in four games against the Caps last year.

David Krejci might be thought of as a contributor to that missing goal total, coming off his 22-goal season in his first full year with the Bruins. But Krejci made no appearances in any preseason games, coming off hip surgery. Krejci had a goal in four games against the Caps last year and was a minus-2.

Milan Lucic is coming off a season in which he more than doubled his rookie season goal total (from eight to 17). He is also one of the biggest hitters in the game, having registered 262 hits last year (tied for fourth in the league). Lucic had a goal in two games against the Caps last year and was a minus-1.

The straw that stirs the drink on offense, though, remains Marc Savard. In three seasons with Boston, Savard has averaged 21-67-88. Last year, he finished tied for ninth in league scoring (with Nicklas Backstrom). Against the Caps last year, Savard was 2-3-5 in four games and minus-1.

On the back line, the Bruins will be strong once more, led by Norris winner Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman. Those two logged a ton of minutes last year (Chara – 26:04, Wideman – 24:38). However, that time might be reduced with the addition of Derek Morris over the summer. Morris, who seemed to have a difficult time after being traded from Phoenix to the Rangers at the deadline, might flourish more in the more structured and defense-oriented system of coach Claude Julien.

Julien is another of the Bruins award winners, having carted home the Jack Adams Trophy as top coach of the 2008-2009 season. Julien took over a team two years ago that was coming off a 76-point season, having missed the playoffs. In two years since then, he has led them to 94- and 116-point finishes.

Finally, there is Tim Thomas, he of the unorthodox style in goal that somehow works. Thomas is the very epitome of the late bloomer. He didn’t play more than 30 games in an NHL season until 2005-2006, at the age of 31. In the last three years, he’s posted a 94-59-17 win-loss record, a 2.58 GAA, a .919 save percentage, and 11 shutouts. However, he’s had his struggles against the Caps in the last two seasons (2-2-1, 3.25, .902).

16 of the last 20 games in this series have been one-goal affairs (that includes a 3-3- tie in 2003-2004). The Caps’ record in those 16 games is 5-4-6-1. Only four times in those 16 games did the winning team score four or more goals. It figures that these two teams – very different in style (think “irresistible force meets immovable object”) would play their games close to the vest. And that’s what is going to happen tonight.

The only time the Caps visited Boston for the season’s opening night, they were beaten 4-3 to open the 1987-1988 season. Well, if you know this space, you know we’re thinking the Caps will return the favor, so for tonight’s game…

“I never want to hear that song again. I cannot stand it. I'm allergic to it.”

…oh, shut the $#@% up, you twit.

Caps 3 – Bruins 2


So, this being the season of prognostications, and we being a practioner of the prognostitorial arts, we thought we’d come up with ten silly wild-assed prognostications (hence the term, "SWAPs") for the Caps in this up coming season.

Number 10… The Capitals have never led the NHL in power play conversion success. Last year’s second-place finish to Detroit and their 25.2 percent success rate are franchise bests. This year, the Caps will lead the NHL in power play conversions at 27.7 percent.

Number 9… The Capitals have never had an undefeated month (five games played minimum). January 2000 is their best on record (11-1-2). This club will have an undefeated (in regulation) February.

Number 8… The Caps have never had a 100-power play goal season (in 1992-1993 they had 97). This year, that mark will be topped.

Number 7… Nicklas Backstrom will break the club record for consecutive games with an assists (nine, held by Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson)

Number 6… The Caps will set a franchise record for playoff goals scored, team (currently 54, by the 1988 squad)

Number 5… Quintin Laing will have a two-goal game. They will be his only two goals of the season.

Number 4… Matt Bradley will fight Donald Brashear. Bradley will win the bout when Brashear keels over in laughter at Bradley dropping his gloves.

Number 3… Michael Nylander will score a goal this year…against the Caps.

Number 2… Alex Ovechkin will carry home five trophies – Hart, Ross, Pearson, Richard, and…

…wait for it…

…Conn Smythe.

And the Number 1 prognostication for the Caps this season.

...Plan your parade route, kids, there’s hardware comin’ to town!