Friday, December 31, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- The Winter Classic: Caps vs. Penguins

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We are LIVE from high atop downtown Pittsburgh in eager anticipation of tomorrow’s Winter (because the calendar says it is) Classic.  It is currently a balmy 57 degrees, and the Caps are on the Heinz Field ice going through their last drills before the game tomorrow…

“And we’re stuck in the hotel…”

Quit your whining, Cheerless.  It’s worth noting that it is currently (2:30 pm on Friday) 58 degress in Dallas, Texas; 42 in Phoenix, Arizona!

“How would we know?...We’re stuck in the hotel.”

Geez, not you, too, Fearless… Enjoying the sandwich?

“Yes, I am…didn’t even have to order sides; they put ‘em right on the sandwich.  Clever.”

“Hey, how come he gets to go out and get lunch?”


"You too?!  You went to Primanti’s without me?"

Shut up, and eat your cookies!

“Can I have his, too?”

Yeah, sure…anything to shut you up.

“Hey, do they drop a ball at midnight here like they do at Times Square?”

No, I think they drop Joe Flacco into the Monongahela.

Well, it’s here.  217 days after word got out that the Caps and the Penguins would meet on New Year’s Day, we have only one more day to wait.  The teams have had their last practices, the alumni have had their game (a 5-5 tie that would have to qualify as an upset, given the loaded team the Penguins iced, although age is the great equalizer).  Now, we wait…until 8:00 pm Saturday.  An announcement was made earlier today on a delay to that time slot to give the predicted rain a chance to pass by and for the ice wizards to do their thing to make the Heinz Field ice surface as good as can be.

These teams went at it just eight days ago, so the statistical stuff hasn’t changed a lot from when we prognosticated that contest.  Not that some things haven’t changed…

-- “The Streak” is over.  Although Sidney Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist in the 3-2 Gimmick win over the Caps, the streak would come to an end at 25 games with the New York Islanders shutting him out in a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Pens.  If you had the Islanders shutting him down, give yourself a gold star.  Coming into the season Crosby was 18-43-61 in 31 career games against the Isles (his highest point total against any team in the NHL) and had an assist in the first meeting of the teams this season.

-- Alex Ovechkin had goals in each of his two games following the Penguins contest.  It might not seem like much, especially since the second of them was an empty-netter, but it marked the first time he had goals in consecutive games since potting pucks against Atlanta and Toronto on December 4th and 6th.  It was the fourth time this season he had goals in at least two consecutive games.

-- Evgeni Malkin has been held without a point in each of the three games following the game against Washington.  Maybe Ovechkin did knock him into next week in that game, and he skipped the rest of the one following the Caps game. 

-- We learned that Michal Neuvirth is not a very good goalie (well, according to certain Pittsburgh coaches).  That explains his stopping 25 of the last 26 shots he faced in the hockey portion of the Penguins game.  It doesn’t explain his not seeing the ice since… that would be Semyon Varlamov, who won both games since and stopped 58 of 60 shots.

-- The best penalty kill in the league stumbled, skating off only nine of 12 in the first two games after facing Washington before righting itself with a 3-for-3 against the Islanders.

-- The Caps’ PK went 9-for-9 in two games after the Pittsburgh game.  That makes 22-for-23 over their last six games (starting with a 0-for-0 against Boston).

-- The Caps’ power play is still struggling – 0-for-10 in two games since going 1-for-6 against the Penguins.  They are 3-for-45 over their last ten games.

-- Meanwhile, the Penguins were 1-for-9 on the power play in three games after leaving DC.  That’s 1-for-18 in their last five games.  Did you think these two teams would be a combined 4-for-their-last-63 on the power play coming into the WC?

-- The Caps are 2-0-0 since last week’s meeting; the Penguins are 1-1-1.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Mark Letestu

Mark Letestu has been centering what is referred to as the “Buzz Line” for the Penguins, joined by Chris Conner and Tyler Kennedy.  What he hasn’t been doing of late is, well, buzzing, at least on the score sheet.  After recording a pair of goals against Toronto on December 8th, Lestestu is 2-1-3 in his last nine games.  It might not be coincidental that the Penguins are 5-3-1 in those nine games following eleven straight wins.  It is the importance of secondary scoring, something that seems to have eluded the Penguins with Sidney Crosby having a hand in more than 50 percent of the Penguins’ total goals.  If Letestu – or any of his running mates – are getting on the score sheet, it will spell trouble for the Caps.

Washington:  Mike Green

One of the standing orders for the Penguins appears to be “Beat On Green.”  Every chance they have, Penguins have been and are likely to continue trying to intimidate Green through aggressive forechecking and enthusiastic hitting.  But Green gave as good as he got when these teams met last, recording eight hits in addition to notching a goal.  Green is 2-1-3, plus-2 in his last three games, starting with that game against Pittsburgh.  If he holds his own against the Penguin assault and gets on the score sheet, the visitors are likely to have a happy night.


.         1. Don’t look up.  It would be tempting to just spend time taking a peek around the stadium and getting caught up in the hoopla.  This is where the Penguins have an advantage.  A fair number of their players have been through one of these things before.  For the Caps, the more they can think of it as just another game and keep their gaze at ice level, the better off they will be.

2.      2. Do what you do like you’ve been doing.  The Caps have allowed 11 goals in regulation time over their past seven games.  Play that kind of defense, and the folks watching on TV might not be happy, but Caps fans will be.

3.      3. Remember, no lead is safe…for Pittsburgh.  Last year the Caps swept all four games against the Penguins and trailed in three of those games at some point.  In the first game this year the Penguins surrendered the lead twice before winning in the skills competition.  Falling behind isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

In the end, the Caps are 7-0-2 in the last nine regular season games against Pittsburgh.  In fact, they have not lost a “hockey” game in any of them, losing those two games via the Gimmick.  The Caps have done it primarily with offense (40 goals in those nine games, five times scoring at least five goals), but they’ve managed to employ passable defense, too, allowing three or fewer goals in eight of the nine games.  At the moment, the Caps have found ways to peel away Pittsburgh leads and to make the Penguins pay defensively.  Sounds like a plan.

Caps 5 – Penguins 3

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Ten Stories of 2010 -- Number 9: Eight Is Quite Enough

In 1975 the Washington Capitals lost 17 games in a row. The team had not lost as many as eight in a row since opening the 1990 portion of the 1989-1990 season with eight consecutive defeats. But starting with an innocent enough-looking 2-1 loss on the road in Dallas on December 2nd, the Caps would go on to match their longest losing streak in more than 20 years. You could pick nits and say that in the 2010 edition of “Eight is Enough” the Caps did earn two standing points by virtue of extra time losses to Toronto (a 5-4 loss in a shootout) and to Anaheim (a 2-1 overtime loss), but losses are losses, and single standings points are little consolation to fans, players, or management when the losses start piling up. It’s just bookkeeping.

And speaking of bookkeeping, here is the list of losses on the 2010 streak

At Dallas: 2-1
Atlanta: 3-1
Toronto: 5-4 (OT/SO)
Florida: 3-0
Colorado: 3-2
At NY Rangers: 7-0
Anaheim: 2-1 (OT)
At Boston: 3-2

Except for the implosion at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, the Caps did not play altogether poorly on defense. With that 7-0 loss Washington gave up an average of 3.38 goals per game. Absent that debacle, that number was 2.86 goals allowed per game. Not great, to be sure, but not the sort of number you would associate with a team on a long losing streak. If there was a defensive letdown, though, it was on the power play. Skating shorthanded the Caps killed off 18 of 26 penalties (69.2 percent) and allowed at least one power play goal in the first seven games of the streak. That they did not in the eighth game was a product of not facing a shorthanded situation in the 3-2 loss at Boston.

But even those numbers are deceptive. The Caps did not get very good goaltending. In the eight games Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth surrendered a total of 27 goals on 205 shots (a .868 save percentage). Even discarding the Ranger calamity, the goalies allowed 20 goals on 185 shots (a .892 save percentage – not very good).

What let the Caps down more than anything, though, was a team-wide offensive drought. In the eight games the Caps scored only 11 goals (1.38/game), four of them coming in the 5-4 shootout loss to Toronto on December 6th. The Caps were shut out twice (3-0 by Florida, 7-0 by the Rangers) and scored a single goal in three other games. Only once – in the 5-4 loss to Toronto – did the Caps score more than twice.

The usual word that might describe the Caps’ power play woes on the streak would be “anemic.” That doesn’t begin to capture the scope of the problem. The “power” play was 3-for-29 during the streak. And efficiency rating of 10.3 percent might be something lower than half what folks should expect from a power play unit featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin. But that was just the half of it. Scoring power play goals depends on your getting power plays, and the Caps managing only 29 man-advantage situations in eight games (3.6/game) didn’t give the guys much of a chance to shine, either.

But back to the “Young Guns” – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Semin. Individually, they were universally unproductive:

Ovechkin: 2-2-4, minus-4
Backstrom: 0-4-4, minus-5
Green: 0-1-1, minus-3 (six games)
Semin: 0-2-2, minus-1 (six games)

As a group, 2-9-11, minus-13 might be the bulls-eye in terms of the Caps’ inability to mount any offense to speak of in the eight games. That all four of them would hit a rut at the same time is one of those things that defy explanation in sports. We’re sure Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri had their slumps as part of “Murderers’ Row,” too.

Bruce Boudreau remarked in an HBO 24/7 episode that the Chicago Blackhawks lost nine in a row last year on their way to the Cup. Not to pick nits, but the statement is not true. The Blackhawks did not lose more than three consecutive games last year, but they did have a stretch in March in which they lost seven of nine (2-5-2, including a 4-3 overtime loss to the Caps in which Chicago blew a 3-0 third period lead). So, the spirit of the comment had merit. Teams do hit bumps along the way. The Blackhawks had theirs; the previous Cup champ wasn’t even in the playoff mix half-way through the season.

On December 1st, the day before the streak started and a night on which the Caps won in St. Louis – historically a difficult place for them to win, Washington topped the league in standings points with 38 (on an 18-6-2 record). Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Detroit trailed, all with 34 points. In the Southeast Division, Tampa Bay was in second place with 31 points, Atlanta third with 29. All seemed well, a smooth road to what might be another Presidents Trophy in the future. Seventeen days later the Caps lost to the Boston Bruins, 3-2, for their eighth straight loss. They had fallen nine points behind Philadelphia, four behind Pittsburgh, and they now trailed both the Atlanta Thrashers and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division, resting seventh in the Eastern Conference and only two points ahead of Boston, the team that just beat them that night.

It might be the hard way to go – enduring a long bout of frustration – but it is not necessarily a signal that failure is a certainty in the playoffs. In fact, in a perverse way the streak might have been the growing pains to be endured by trying to incorporate a more defensively responsible character within their team framework. If so, it could yield big dividends down the road for the Caps. Nevertheless, for its incomprehensibility and maddening effect the streak had on players and fans alike, eight consecutive losses was quite enough and was one of the top ten stories in 2010.

Sittin' at the end of the bar... Classic Thoughts

Just some idle musings...

-- NHL Public Relations reports that an estimated 30,000 fans will make the trek from the DC area to Pittsburgh for the game.  Wonder if there will be a caravan of Caps fans heading up I-70 to the away game like in the movie, "Hoosiers?"  Yee-haw!!  Grand Slams at the Denny's in Breezewood!! 

-- The game is scheduled to start a 1:00, but there is a "window" allowing for the game to start as late as 8:00 in the event of inclement weather.  We wonder, will there be barges in the Allegheny River with kegs and cases of Iron City beer to tide fans over for the seven hour "window?"

-- Adam Gretz provides a handy little guide to Heinz Field, in which he notes that Heinz Field concourses in the upper deck can get cramped.  If it is raining, and people head for cover, will bodies be flying out of the upper deck of Heinz Field as space gets scarce and rivalries boil over?

-- The road team is 2-0-1 in these things.

-- Why is only Mario Lemieux' number featured in NHL's "by the numbers" feature?  Like there is a hockey fan on the planet who doesn't know what number Lemieux wore?  We wish Milan Novy was playing in the alumni game to say, "hey, '66?' Me too!"

-- When the second meeting of the season between these teams is in Pittsburgh, the Caps are 2-7-1 in their last ten tries.

-- Sidney Crosby's scoring streak ended at 25 games last night.  Folks are wondering if he will shave off the moustache, now that it's over.  Never mind that, will he retire that cup?

-- Wonder if Mathieu Perreault's face will get as much, uh, "face" time in the last installment of HBO's 24/7 series as Ben Lovejoy's did last night in Episode 3.  The way it kept swelling up during the hour, I thought by the end of the episode his face was going to be put in storage to be a float in the Macy's parade next year.

-- Wonder if the NHL has been talking to MLB for some pointers on how to handle rain delays?

-- If there is a rain delay, too bad they can't put a tarp on the ice and have players mimic the old Rick Dempsey Rain Delay Theater, complete with the hydroplaning dive into home plate.  We will avoid the obvious Sidney Crosby joke here.

-- One would normally think hot chocolate would be a big seller at things like this.  If it's in the 50's, can we get pina coladas?

-- When Alex Ovechkin was applying that eye-black before practice yesterday, was he giving his nemesis over on the Penguin side a little dig with the "moustache," or was he thinking it would spring him on a long scoring streak?

-- And what was up with John Carlson?  Was that an homage to the Nats' Bryce Harper, or did he just rent "Braveheart?"...

(Carlson photo by Cheryl Nichols/

Top Ten Stories of 2010 -- Number 10: Sold Out!

It was not that long ago that the Washington Capitals were the steaming piles of stuff that couldn’t draw flies. In the last season the Caps made the playoffs before the lockout – 2002-2003 – they ranked 18th among 30 teams in the NHL in attendance. As bad as it was, they were fewer than 800 fans a night from leading the Southeast Division in paid attendance.

It got worse, though. In 2003-2004 the Caps finished 25th in the league in attendance. After the lockout not even the debut of Alex Ovechkin could move the needle north. In 2005-2006 the Caps – perhaps a combination of fans aggravated by the lockout and low expectations for success – dropped further in the attendance rankings, losing more than 800 more fans per game (from 14,720 to 13,905) to finish ranked 28th in attendance. 2006-2007 was little better, up one in the rankings. 2007-2008 might have been another lackluster year at the gate, but the Caps put together a run unprecedented in team history to secure a playoff spot. The last four games of that season were sellouts.

Since then, things have been a lot different at Verizon Center. In 2008-2009 the Caps finished 13th in attendance and played to almost 97 percent capacity. Last season the Caps finished 11th in attendance and sold every seat. You might remember this date – March 3, 2009. That Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes was the last time the Capitals played to a less-than-sellout crowd (17,903). Since then and as this calendar year comes to an end, the Caps are in the midst of an 81-game sellout streak, regular season and playoffs (through last Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh). They are ninth in total average attendance – more than the Rangers, Penguins, and Kings, to name three teams – and one of 12 teams having played to at least 100 percent capacity so far this season – more than the Red Wings, Sabres, or Wild. With 20 home games left on this season’s schedule and the Caps heading for another playoff run, it would seem likely that the Caps will surpass 100-consecutive sellouts before the regular season concludes.

But that is a story for another day. We are left with a question, though, “Is Washington – finally – a hockey town?” Well, that’s what the marketing slogan says, but we are of the mind that the jury is still out on that one. Folks might be a little quick to assume that this is the case, the current conflation of a winning team and capacity crowds leading some to think, “ah, ‘hockeytown.’” What we don’t know is how much goodwill has been built up to provide the benefit of the doubt to the club should they slide in the standings or, heaven forbid, continue to disappoint in the spring. The Caps are not yet the Redskins in that regard, and we are not aware that anyone calls Washington a “football town.” With respect to the latter, Green Bay, Wisconsin, only became “Title Town” and a legendary football town after having actually won something. The same goes for Detroit and the nickname, “Hockeytown.” Attendance alone isn’t sufficient to start applying nicknames to cities. The Colorado Avalanche sold out 487 consecutive games from 1995 until early in the 2006-2007 season. Is Denver a “hockeytown?”

But we need to be fair about this, too, and that requires looking at things in context. If you were to play word association, and someone said, “hockeytown,” chances are that you would go through a lot of towns before settling on “Washington.” Hockey has been a tough sell here for the last 30-plus years. In 34 seasons leading up to the start of the sellout streak the Caps managed sellouts in more than half their home dates only twice, none since 1995-1996. They managed to sellout more than ten games only 11 times, and this was a team with built in rivalries such as those along I-95 with Philadelphia and the three New York teams as part of the old Patrick Division. And it is not as if the Capitals have never been a winner, at least as much as they have been lately. The Caps made the playoffs in 14 consecutive seasons from 1982-1983 through the 1995-1996 seasons. They averaged just over ten sellouts a season over that period.

The current administration deserves a lot of credit for making Verizon Center the “in” place to be in Washington sports at the moment, especially without the built-in rivalries of the old Patrick Division days. The combination of a winning team playing an up-tempo style, a game that lends itself to continuous action, a downtown arena with all the amenities, a media-savvy management group that appeals to the gadget-centered culture of the moment, and business horse sense has combined to make an available seat at Verizon Center for a Washington Capitals game among the rarest commodities in Washington sports.

And that is why today, one of the top-ten stories of the season is the Caps’ ascent to the top (well, next to the Redskins) of the local pyramid in attendance, every night a sellout, a sea of red, rocking downtown DC like no other local team seems capable of duplicating at the moment or for the immediate future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 39: Caps 3 - Canadiens 0

It isn’t the same.

Yeah, the Caps had this game circled on the calendar, the first opportunity to face the Montreal Canadiens after the Canadiens ended the Caps’ season last spring. But truth be told, a game in late December can’t make up for losing a Game 7 on home ice.

However, what it can do is provide one more brick in the wall that is becoming the Caps’ defense. Yes, dear reader, the Caps’ defense. It was rock-solid tonight, holding the Canadiens to 25 shots (only six in the third period, none in the last 7:55), snuffing out five power plays for Montreal, and giving goalie Semyon Varlamov good looks, for the most part, at the shots he was called upon to defend. In the end, Varlamov turned away all 25 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season, fourth of his career, and improved his season record to 6-4-1 as the Caps skated past Montreal, 3-0.

It did not look good early, though. Twenty-three seconds into the game the Caps’ Matt Hendricks was whistled for a rather lame boarding penalty. The Caps killed off that shorthanded situation, but shortly found themselves a man short once more when John Carlson was sent off at 4:43 for high-sticking Benoit Pouliot. By the time that second penalty was killed off the Canadiens had opened up a 6-0 advantage in shots, but Varlamov kept the net empty.

Then it was Montreal’s turn to march to the penalty box, Alexandre Picard and Pouliot taking minors that the Caps failed to capitalize on, but that did serve to tenderize the Canadiens’ defense for what would take place about a minute after the second penalty expired. Jay Beagle tied up and out fought Picard for a loose puck behind the Canadiens’ net. It allowed Eric Fehr to jump in and fight off Maxim Lapierre and Yannick Weber to free the puck once more for Beagle. It was Beagle who circled out from behind the net to goalie Carey Price’s right, and as he did so it appeared as if Price was expecting Beagle (who had his back to Price) to lay off the puck to a teammate coming into the zone. But Beagle spun to his right and pitchforked a backhander over the right shoulder of a stunned Price, who barely moved as the puck flew by. It was Beagle’s second goal of the season, and as it turned out his second game-winner.

The Caps might have been satisfied to carry a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but in the period’s last minute another opportunity presented itself. Working his way through the neutral zone, Jason Chimera sent a puck ahead in search of Eric Fehr. The puck was a bit long for Fehr to reach, and it ended up on Montreal defenseman Hal Gill’s stick. Gill tried to send the puck off the side boards, but managed only to put it on Nicklas Backstrom’s stick. Backstrom stepped up and tried to send a pass to Mike Green. A Montreal skate appeared to alter the path of the puck ever so slightly, but not enough to keep it from the blade of Green’s stick. Green wristed the puck past Price on the short side, and the Caps had a two-goal lead at the intermission.

The defense took over from there, stifling every thrust Montreal tried to use to get back into the game. The coup de grace was applied by Alex Ovechkin with 32 seconds left, out racing Weber for a loose puck along the left wing boards in the neutral zone and planting the biscuit squarely in the middle of the net for the final 3-0 margin.

Other stuff…

-- It’s one thing to be young and immature at a difficult position. It’s another to be stupid. What P.K. Subban was thinking when he tried to step up on Jason Chimera will forever be a mystery. He not only used poor judgment in attempting the hit, he whiffed on it, taking himself out of the play and creating a void that Mike Green filled seconds later to convert the pass from Nicklas Backstrom for the Caps’ second goal. Couple that with what seemed like Subban’s incessant yapping and playing to the refs every time he was hit, and it made for a bad night for a defenseman who hasn’t been around the league long enough to adopt the prima donna attitude.

-- The disappointment tonight was the Caps getting eight power plays, getting 15 power play shots, and failing to record a power play goal in 14:27 of power play time.

-- Speaking of the power play, even though Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green each logged more than 11 minutes on the man advantage, it appeared as if Bruce Boudreau was making a concerted effort to spread things around. Nine different Caps recorded more than four minutes of power play ice time. Shoot, even Scott Hannan got 24 seconds worth.

-- Things were spread around even more on the penalty kill. Thirteen different skaters recorded at least one minute in shorthanded ice time.

-- Just as a matter of observation, we weren’t entirely sure if the Caps’ ability to keep the puck in the Montreal end was a product of solid puck possession or the fact that the Canadiens were awful in their own end with the puck. But for the fact that Montreal successfully resorted to their collapse in the middle defense that they used to great effect last spring, it could have been a much worse result for the visitors.

-- It’s hard to argue with a goalie getting the shutout as the number one star, but Beagle was certainly “1A.” He was all over the place in his limited ice time (9:52), often pinning Montreal puck carriers to their own wall on the forecheck.

-- Even though he did not get a goal, this might have been Nicklas Backstrom’s best game in almost a month. He looked patient again with the puck and seemed to be seeing the ice better.

-- 36-for-52 on faceoffs? A 69.2 percent winning percentage is hard to do against air. And the Caps did it where it counted – 8-for-11 in the defensive zone, 17-for-22 in the offensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom won 10 of 12, and David Steckel won 15 of 22. The flip side of that is that Scott Gomez took a donut on 12 draws…oh-fer-12.

-- All you Jeff Schultz haters out there, bet you missed having that steady, consistent kind of defense back there the past few games. Smart first pass, effective use of reach, patient angling players off the path on which they want to go. A major yawn. Sure, it was only 13 minutes and change worth, but not bad for a guy who was in a full wrist cast not too long ago with a broken thumb.

-- It is a measure of how balanced a team the Caps might be developing that David Steckel would lead the team in hits (four), Eric Fehr would lead in shots on goal (six, tied with Mike Green), and John Erskine would lead the team in blocked shots (four).

-- Speaking of Fehr, the Caps had 11 shots in the second period… Fehr had five of them in only 3:49 of ice time.

In the end, one can’t really say the Caps are “back” – the power play going 0-for-8 should put an end to that kind of talk. But they are getting there, and they look like a much more complete hockey team along the way. Montreal was a good test, a team certainly good enough to make the Caps pay if they lacked focus by looking ahead to Saturday. That the Caps successfully squeezed the life out of the Canadiens, much as they had it done to them last spring, is a sign that the Caps are one step further along in shedding the notion that they are a one-note, offense-only team. At 4-0-1 since their eight-game slide,they are righting the ship.  And if tonight's game was not the same, not "redemption" for playoff losses in the spring, it served as one more piece of preparation to ensure that this spring's result is much more pleasant.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, December 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the week between Christmas and New Years when folks are basking in the holiday glow and… what the heck is THAT, cuz?

"Uh, I decided to bask in my own glow."

Lemme guess…

"Yup, my own three wise men…"

Well, this is the last game indoors before the Caps head outside on Saturday, and it marks the first time that the Caps have faced the Montreal Canadiens since the Habs ended the Caps season on Verizon Center ice in Game 7 of last season’s opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Last spring the Caps managed to find the back of the net only three times on 134 shots in the last three games of the opening round playoff series against Montreal, and once more the Caps face a Canadiens team that can keep the puck out of the net. Only two teams have allowed fewer goals per game than have the Canadiens, and only one team has a more efficient penalty kill. The overall numbers look like this…

What the Caps will not face this time around is a goaltender wearing number “41.” Jaroslav Halak has taken his show to St. Louis, leaving the number one netminding chores to Carey Price. No goalie has more wins (going into last night’s play) than the 19 Price has. Among goalies having played in at least half of his team’s games, Price is fourth in goal against average (2.27) and fifth in save percentage (.923). He is also tied for third in shutouts with four. However, he’s hit a rough patch lately, going 2-5-0 in his last seven appearances (3.60 GAA, .870 save percentage). Why is he hitting this bump in the road? Well, as this article points out, Price is undertaking what for him is an unprecedented workload. Should he get the start tonight and finish the first period, he will hit the 2,000 minute mark. That would be the first time in his career he hit that minute mark this early in a season. Last season Price was 2-1-1 against the Caps, but his 3.39 goals against average and .899 save percentage suggest he can be solved.

The Canadiens have been enduring a problem Caps fans are familiar with over the last few weeks, an inability to put the puck in the net. Over the last eight games (2-6-0), Montreal scored a total of 18 goals (2.3/game), and only once – in a 4-3 win over Boston – did they record more than three. Like the Caps, the leading scorers haven’t been leading by scoring. Top point getter on the season Tomas Plekanec is 2-3-5 in the last eight games. Andrei Kostitsyn is 1-3-4. Brian Gionta is 3-0-3. Montreal has, however, gotten some reliable production from Michael Cammalleri and Scott Gomez lately. Cammalleri has points in ten of his last dozen games (5-7-12), while Gomez is 1-7-8 in his last six games.

On the back line the Canadiens will miss Andrei Markov, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Montreal does not lack for veteran leadership back there, though. Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, and Hal Gill have more than 3,000 regular season games’ worth of experience among them (3,032 to be precise). That would seem to be sufficient to provide a measure of stability in front of Carey Price.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban is ranks highly among rookie defensemen as the season heads to its half-way point. Subban ranks fourth in total scoring, first in power play goals (his only two goals of the season), first in shots on goal, fifth in total ice time, first in hits, fifth in blocked shots, third in takeaways. He also ranks first in another stat – penalty minutes. Of the 15 minor penalties he has taken, ten of them are of the “obstruction” sort – interference (three), hooking (two), and tripping (five). It suggests that while talented, he can be pressured into making mistakes that he has to make up for by going outside the rules.

Washington: Alexander Semin

The last time these teams met, Semin was launching 14 shots at goalie Jaroslav Halak. Eight of them reached Halak. None got past him. In fact, Semin fired 95 shot attempts at the Montreal net in last spring’s first round playoff series. Forty-four of them made it to the Canadiens’ net. None of them crossed the goal line. He comes into this game on another cold streak. Semin has no goals in his last ten games (on 26 shots) and is 0-5-5, plus-1 overall over that span. He does, however, have an assist in each of his last two games. The Caps seem to have put their December disaster behind them, but Semin hasn’t yet come out of his drought.


1. Looking Ahead. It would be quite tempting to look past this game to what awaits in Pittsburgh on the weekend, and the Canadiens are the kind of team that can put the Caps to sleep if they are guilty of looking ahead. The Canadiens don’t light up the scoreboard, and even despite Price’s lackluster play in goal lately are the kind of team that can put the clamps on the opposition.

2. Play Your Game. Contrary to what some might think, this isn’t a “payback” game. That playoff series is long in the books, and the demon that haunted the Caps in it is now playing for St. Louis. It is just another game on the schedule, another opportunity to get two points, another opportunity to extend the points streak.

3. Step Up. The Caps could have as many as seven players out of the lineup tonight. It is another opportunity for players such as Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon to show coaches and management what they’ve got, a product of a deep and talented organization. Gordon doesn’t have a point in either game since notching his first NHL goal; Beagle doesn’t have one in either of his appearances since getting the game-winner against the Devils on December 21st.

In the end, these are two teams of similar records that have traveled different roads to get there. Washington, despite consciously trying to show it can play the close, low scoring game, remains an explosive offensive force. Montreal relies on defense and Carey Price for their success. Neither has had an especially memorable December – Montreal is 5-6-1 for the month, Washington is 4-6-3 and assured of having their first sub-.500 month under coach Bruce Boudreau.

This has the potential to be an aesthetically unappealing game, the sort that the Caps too often sleepwalk through. If they do that, Montreal will thank them and take their two points out of DC. We’re betting the Caps won’t, though, but you already knew that…

Caps 3 – Canadiens 2

Monday, December 27, 2010

Will Rain in Pittsburgh Rain on DC's Classic?

The weather forecast for January 1st in Pittsburgh is hardly the stuff of a winter postcard, nor does it harken back to frosty mornings on icy ponds.  It calls for a good chance of rain showers (in fact, a 20 percent chance of thundershowers according to and unseasonably warm temperatures for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  The forecast doesn't look a whole lot better for the fallback date of January 2nd, which calls for temperatures somewhat cooler but rain still in the forecast.

And this is Pittsburgh, generally considered a "cold weather" city for meteorological purposes.

If this year's Winter Classic succumbs to the elements, would it have an effect on any decision to hold the event in Washington in the future?  Well, DC does have a history of some warm New Year's Days...

The average high for the date since 2000 has been 49 degrees, including a record for the date set in 2005 (according to Weather Underground).  Precipitation has not been common, but when it arrives, it does so with authority.  Max wind speeds (as opposed to gusts) have also been a bit of a problem on the date.

Would this kind of history, coupled with a canceled Winter Classic in Pittsburgh this season (should it come to pass) put a Winter Classic in Washington in jeopardy?  We, of course, are in no position to say, but it would hardly seem to be the slam dunk it might have been before these January 1, 2011 weather forecasts came out. 

A TWO-point night -- Game 38: Caps 3 - Hurricanes 2

Slow and sure wins the race.

The Caps haven’t done “flashy” in some time, but they are finding ways to scratch out wins and points, tonight defeating the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, to make it 3-1-2 in their last six games and – temporarily, at least – retake the Southeast Division lead.

And if there was a symbol for how the Caps have been getting it done lately, it was Mathieu Perreault. The young Capitals forward skated five shifts in this game. The first ended on a penalty drawn by Brooks Laich on Eric Staal. On his fourth shift he had a takeaway that 14 seconds later he converted into his own goal.  That happened when he headed for the net while the puck was collected in the corner by Alexander Semin. Perreault beat a slow-reacting Eric Staal to the front of the net and swept the feed from Semin past goalie Cam Ward for the game’s first goal. On his next shift Perreault chased down the puck along the right wing boards in the Carolina zone, and as he turned to move the puck deep was plastered by defenseman Tim Gleason, his stick broken in half and his nose broken. Perreault went face down to the ice, his night ended. John Carlson captured the damage. The first thing that might come to mind is… “hope HBO got that.”

After Jussi Jokinen tied the game for the home team, David Steckel put the Caps ahead to stay on a play he started, being a nuisance to Joni Pitkanen as the latter was trying to pick up the puck at the Carolina blue line. Alex Ovechkin picked up what Jokinen left behind and skated in on Cam Ward. As Ovechkin tried to work his way around defenseman Jamie McBain the puck came free, but Steckel pounced on it and wristed in past Ward on the long side.

Ovechkin closed out the DC scoring, breaking his own eight-game streak without a goal by batting in a rebound of a Mike Green shot from low in the left wing faceoff circle. The look of relief on Ovechkin after the goal might be a signal that he can stop choking the life out of his stick and go on a run – just in time for a New Year’s Day game later this week.

Other stuff…

-- Ovechkin is 1-4-5, plus-3 in his last five games now. While he is not quite on fire, he seems to be emerging from his December doze in which he was 2-3-5, minus-1 in his first eight games of the month.

-- Since being embarrassed 7-0 at Madison Square Garden at the hands of the Rangers, the Caps have allowed a total of 12 goals in six games and have allowed more than two goals in a game only once in that span. In allowing only two tonight, the Caps have four straight games in allowing two or fewer.

-- And the Caps did it tonight with Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti on the bench, Schultz missing his eighth straight game tonight, Poti missing the game with what was listed as a “head” injury.

-- The Caps missing two blueliners meant that Mike Green had to skate almost 30 minutes (29:43), the 12th straight game in which he has topped 25 minutes of ice time. It was a productive night for Green, recording an assist on the game-winning goal, two shots on goal (on six attempts), two takeaways, and four blocked shots.

-- Now that Ovechkin is starting to reawaken, Nicklas Backstrom might be next. Nine shot attempts (two on goal) and a couple of pretty good looks that in better times he might have buried. But it seems he is making progress in getting his offensive game back on track.

-- There is a saying that it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Well, it might not be the number of power plays, but the shots on goal. Carolina had four power plays tonight, but the Hurricanes could manage only two shots on goal in the eight minutes of man-advantage time. If the Caps can keep that up, their penalty killing numbers should be just fine.  They have killed 18 of 20 penalties since the 7-0 loss to the Rangers.

-- The penalty killing might be fine lately because the Caps are getting good goaltending from each of their kid netminders. Semyon Varlamov got the call tonight when Michal Neuvirth came up injured before the contest. Varlamov turned away 33 of 25 shots, making it 55 saves on 59 shots in his last two games (.932) since allowing seven goals on 20 shots to the Rangers.

-- The Caps had only seven faceoffs in the Carolina end all night (18 in their own end). But they won six of them.

-- The “Young Guns” had 16 of the 30 shots on goal for the Caps and 36 of the 57 shot attempts.

-- Karl Alzner and John Carlson – four hits (Alzner), four blocked shots (Carlson). Neither was on ice for a goal against. They just get better together, it seems, with each game.

-- Give Cam Ward credit for keeping the ‘Canes in it. He faced – and turned away – nine shots in five minutes of Capitals power play time. He had little chance on either the Ovechkin or the Perreault goals.

-- Carolina was charged with 13 giveaways, the Caps with two, none in the last 45 minutes of the game.

-- Caps fans might not like reading this, but if Mathieu Perreault was four inches taller, that hit is probably just a shoulder to the chest that knocks him down. It was an unfortunate circumstance, but it wasn’t an especially dirty play by Tim Gleason. No more so than, say, a certain hit by one Russian forward on another Russian forward in a certain game played right before the break.

-- Something to think about as the Caps finish the night still second in the Southeast… Tampa Bay has played only 14 of its 36 games to date on home ice (the Caps have played 21 of 38 games on home ice). The Caps will have their work cut out for them in keeping their hold on the Southeast Division banner.

In the end, it was a good road game. It wasn’t flashy, just a meat and potatoes, take care of business sort of game in which the Caps took advantage of opportunities and clamped down on defense when they had to. Even when they had that hiccup in the third period – a goal in the first 30 seconds followed by two penalties in the first five minutes – the Caps took care of business. The Hurricanes had one shot on goal in the four minutes of power play time on those penalties, and that shot came with three seconds left on the second infraction. It was the sort of game of which you could say, “it’s not ‘how,’ it’s ‘how many.”

Wins, that is.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A ONE-point night -- Game 37: Penguins 3 - Caps 2 (OT/Gimmick)


If Brooks Laich could get just a little more elevation on his backhand off a semi-breakaway in the first minute, Marc-Andre Fleury’s night might have been less pleasant.

If the Caps could have gotten any of five shots on goal behind Fleury on a 4-on-3 power play provided them when Evgeni Malkin took a weak retaliatory penalty for having been decked by Alex Ovechkin moments earlier, what happened next might not have happened…

If John Carlson is a left-handed shot, maybe he can get his stick in the way of a Kris Letang pass that Sidney Crosby deflected behind Michal Neuvirth for the first goal eleven seconds after that power play ended.

If Nicklas Backstrom – standing all alone ten feet off the left post – can get the puck elevated over a sprawling Fleury on a 5-on-3 power play a little more than seven minutes into the first period…

And all that was before the game was eight minutes old. The Washington Capitals had their chances in last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but in the end – a long drawn out end, as it turned out – the Penguins skated off with a 3-2 win, courtesy of a Pascal Dupuis goal in the trick shot competition following a scoreless overtime.

You probably could not script a better game than this. Both teams brought their “A” game to this one. The stars – Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – made their presence known early, Crosby with that early goal and Ovechkin with a thundering hit on Evgeni Malkin. Marc-Andre Fleury had a sparkling game in goal, and Mike Green finally did what he does – score goals on the power play.

But ultimately it came down to a guy who was more or less along for the ride all game (plus-two despite taking one shot while playing on the top line and otherwise having no marks on his score sheet). Pascal Dupuis solved Michal Neuvirth in the seventh round of the Gimmick to make the Penguin fans happy.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps out-shot, out-attempted, out-hit, blocked a higher percentage of shots taken, and out special-teamed the Penguins (a power play and a shorthanded goal).  Small consolation.

-- Allowing five power plays to a team as dangerous as the Penguins might be trouble, but the Caps allowed only three power play shots, and they scored on the only shorthanded shot they took (Mike Knuble).

-- Someday, Alex Ovechkin will score again (he has two goals in his last 19 games, and last night made none in his last eight), but his current drought hasn’t been for lack of trying. He had 13 shot attempts, five on goal. But he had only one shot on goal in the third period, that coming in the period’s 17th minute.

-- If Sidney Crosby is half the Penguin offense, then you keep the puck away from him. Hard to do, but David Steckel did his part. He won eight of ten draws against Crosby on his way to a 13-for-17 night.

-- If Mike Green was a special object of affection for the Penguins (and they took every chance to plaster him to the boards), he stood up magnificently. Six shots, a power play goal, eight hits, five blocked shots, and a takeaway in more than 34 minutes of ice time (and he didn’t play in almost the first three minutes of the game). Even his hook on Evgeni Malkin that produced a penalty shot could be forgiven in the balance.

-- One more thing on Green…4:30 in shorthanded ice time (second to Scott Hannan). The Penguins didn’t get a power play goal. But Green doesn’t play defense…right?

-- Power play opportunities in the third period… Pittsburgh: 3, Washington: 0. Conspiracy theorists, go at it.

-- How intense was this game? Karl Alzner had four hits…Marcus Johansson had three. These aren’t guys one normally expects to have multiple-hit games.

-- And one last if… Mike Green stickhandling like Alexander Semin in deep, getting Fleury down, then tucking the puck under the goalie. Fleury covered the puck on the goal line. Was it over the line? We can never know – there is no camera angle under the glove. But that is how close games are in the NHL…wonder if HBO will pick that up.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Caps are 2-1-2 in their last five games, and only herculean efforts from goaltenders Tim Thomas and Fleury denied the Caps at least two additional points (three had they been able to defeat the Bruins). You cannot say that the Caps are entirely back – the top line just isn’t functioning like a top line lately. But the Caps have emerged from their eight-game funk a seemingly grittier team finding more ways to win (or earn points) than to have Nicklas Backstrom make pretty plays or Alex Ovechkin score goals.

The Penguins deserve credit. They were focused and opportunistic in their own right, but looking at the long view, there are no Gimmicks in the playoffs, and we are still left wondering if Crosby should eventually prove mortal, where is the support going to come from to pick up the slack? Crosby had a hand in both Penguin goals last night, but otherwise that line was almost silent. Malkin had a strong game – he showed on a few occasions why defensemen must have nightmares featuring him charging into the offensive zone on a rush. But otherwise the Penguins are a somewhat offensively challenged team.

What they are not is defensively challenged, and it is in this respect that they look a lot like their Cup winning team a couple of years ago. Everyone buys into their role at that end of the ice. The Caps are looking more like that sort of team. The defense blocked 12 shots and had 15 hits; not bad, considering that Tom Poti played only 3:34.

We thought that last night might be the first in an 11-game series between these teams this season. We saw nothing last night to change our minds on the matter. Buckle up…it’s going to be quite a ride.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

24/7...Becomes Eight: Penguins/Capitals -- Part II

“Previously, on ‘24/7’”…

Adversity makes for a much richer, much deeper narrative, and even in a two-minute recap of Episode 1 this is true. In comparing the Penguins and the Capitals, the only words spoken by a Penguin are those of Sidney Crosby who thinks out loud that he had not seen a run of wins like that the Penguins were enjoying at all in his time in the NHL. Meanwhile, Bruce Boudreau is laying into his team in the locker room (in what might be the tamest – least ‘f-bomb’ laden – portion of his intermission tirade), and Alex Ovechkin is picking himself up off the ice after a fight exhorting his team – “f***ing c’mon for f***’s sake!” – to no avail. Short, sweet – you know where the teams are jumping off from to start Episode 2.

Segment 1 – The Belly of the Beast

Opening the segment with a song made by a group named for a city (Boston) not represented by the game to be featured (Pittsburgh traveling to Philadelphia) was an interesting way to go, but the take away really comes in the first 30 seconds when Max Talbot says that he warns his Dad not to wear his jersey down there (in Philly)… “it’s pretty rough down there.” That might be as close as you will get to seeing a hockey player express trepidation.

But the things you learn in just a few moments, like the etiquette of fighting through the eyes of one not so experienced in it – in this case Sidney Crosby. One is left with the thought that there really might be a Marquis of Queensbury aspect to this whole notion of fighting in hockey – are we going to go?...yeah, we’re gonna go. Helmet, on or off?…whatever, your choice.

The game itself between the Flyers and Penguins leaves two images. The first is the fickleness of the hockey gods. Evgeni Malkin scores the two Penguin goals, but it is his penalty that leads to the game winning goal for the home team that would break the Penguins’ winning streak. The other image is as the horn sounds and the look on Sidney Crosby’s face, which is priceless. Utter disbelief that the streak is over. You can see it in his blank expression – “this isn’t right…”

Segment 2 – Best Left in the Rear View Mirror

That Mike Green is a quirky sort who seems to follow his own drummer and live at his own pace would hardly seem news… but a Vespa? And the cold weather get-up could only be explained as “Biker Geek.” You gotta love this guy. But that was merely prelude to the alternative to “F’n Bruce.” Meet “Caring Bruce,” counseling Matt Hendricks, who looks like a victim in the first minutes of a Law and Order episode, that “you don’t have to fight every game.” And then you learn about one of the things that motivates a player on the edge of the NHL – “comes down to having a job; making a career.” After that, you don’t pay much attention to what Hendricks says, only to his face – blood in his right eye, stitches on his right cheek, a welt under his eye where he thinks (thinks?) his face struck the ice after going down in a fight. After he scored a few goals in a training camp and was sent down to the minors anyway, a friend told him “you gotta fight; if you don’t do it, someone else will.” This is how players not named “Crosby” or “Ovechkin” often have to make a living. Leaving yourself with a face you don’t want to look at in a mirror.

Segment 3 – Not So Large, But In Charge

The cameras follow a Caps practice and Bruce Boudreau trying to get the guys feeling good about themselves again, then moves to Mike Green skating alone on the ice getting himself back in position to return to game action, but the thread here is General Manager George McPhee. This is the “long view” McPhee, the one whose eyes are not focused on the next game but the horizon. He understands that there are hills and valleys in a season and reveals his role in dealing with them, letting folks do their job, giving them space to do it, to “let them work their way out of it…and they will.”

Segment 4 – Stink

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t get the stink out of hockey pads without using every portable fan in the Three Rivers region. Who knew?

Segment 5 – Just Can’t Say It, Can Ya?

The opening with Penguin Coach Dan Bylsma and his staff – Tony Granato and Todd Reirden – left us with the impression that Bylsma is wound just a bit too tight. There is a fine line between being a perfectionist and dwelling on one game’s worth of mistakes. Bylsma’s body English suggested a man about to fly into a rage. Good thing they have those 1:00 game day skates for the staff.

The theme of that skate was the return to the ice of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, who was taking a few turns to prepare for the Winter Classic Alumni Game on December 31st. And Lemieux provides enough eye candy for Penguin fans to make the segment compelling. But we were still focused on Bylsma, a guy who was another one of those “on the edge” players in his career who still seems to burn (if not quite as brightly) with that intensity. He swears at himself for missing a scoring chance. But then, like a fan, he looks on wide-eyed as Lemieux moves in on net with the puck…”ohhh boy.” Bylsma might not betray any emotion on the bench in games, but he is in his own way a quite emotional coach.

Segment 6 – Standards

Hockey men are a prideful sort, and that often translates into an expression of defiance. For Bruce Boudreau “it doesn’t matter what they say upstairs” about his performance; he has his own standards, and – as he points out – he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. The message, we might be losing, but I’m not a loser, and we will start winning again.

Then in the locker room before a game against the Anaheim Ducks there is a throw away line that is actually a bit of foreshadowing. Brooks Laich, who has been struggling some of late, turns to Matt Bradley and says, “get me the puck.” This is the shooter in basketball who can’t shoot the ball into the lake and hit water, the pitcher in baseball who couldn’t find the strike zone with a map and a flashlight. But he’s done this before, and he’s been successful doing it. And it is Laich who gets the first goal. But there is that fickleness of the hockey gods swooping in, too, as Laich’s bid for a second goal – a shot that trickles through the pads of Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller – is swept off the goal line by Ryan Getzlaf. It would be the difference, Anaheim eventually getting an overtime goal for the win.

Segment 7 – And?

At this point in the episode, we’re starting to think HBO is running out of Penguin narratives. They start with a brief look at backup goalie Brent Johnson, a former Cap with his fourth club, once a starter in the NHL (with St. Louis) but now a guy who might get 20 appearances or, if things go badly for Marc-Andre Fleury, 30 games. It might have been a more interesting segment to look at the guy whose apparel regularly features a baseball cap instead of a mask, but after cutting to some first period highlights of a game between the Penguins and Rangers, cuts to a look at Jordan Staal’s progress in returning from injury.

The star of the segment isn’t even a Penguin, it is referee Stephen Walkom, who directs traffic when Arron Asham and Sean Avery drop their gloves. Telling players and linesmen to “let ‘em go” and to “give ‘em room,” then moving the net away to keep either fighter from stumbling over it, Walkom takes command of the scene as you might find a law enforcement officer directing traffic around an accident scene, which we guess it is, sort of.

Segment 8 – “Adversity’s a good teacher.”

That’s how the segment opens, with George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau sitting down to talk about the Anaheim loss, but for the players it’s Christmas – a delivery of new hockey equipment, including a brief glimpse of Ovechkin’s new “Gr8” skates and for Jason Chimera a delivery of two left gloves (the hockey equivalent of coal in the stocking?).

Segment 9 – Simple Pleasures

This is the fork in the road point of the series that HBO has to resolve somewhere down the line. To this point we have seen some bland quotes from Sidney Crosby and a surprisingly sparse look at Alex Ovechkin. But with this segment we get a peek into a minor injury Ovechkin is nursing (hamstring), and in fact he seems like a talking version of a too-highly tuned (and temperamental) sports car. Matt Hendricks is walking around the locker room with a face than looks like it was beat with a tire iron, and Ovechkin is groaning during a massage to get the kinks out of his hamstring. But then he is shown at home, where Mom is making stuffed cabbage for lunch. We were wondering though what that sludge was in the glass next to his plate that looked like a glass of peanut butter mixed with turkey gravy. Dad oversees the packing, and Mom gives her boy a kiss goodbye as he heads off to Boston. Hardly the image of the “rock star” that is often offered for public consumption. It is the most revealing piece in the series so far. Even as a Caps fan, we hope we see one similarly revealing for Sidney Crosby.

Segment 10 – Where’s the Dryer?

We see Ovechkin at home, followed by… Dan Bylsma? He is shooting pucks with his son in the family’s basement (where it also looks as if an old Bylsma jersey hangs) and has his “hockey dad” moment when he asks his son if he meant to check another player in a game when he learns of the episode. Unlike the wound-too-tight Bylsma seen earlier, this one is well grounded, with work being work and home being home.

And that leads to the “cute” portion of the show with Craig Adams and his three-year old son Rhys going down the hall of the Penguin offices identifying players in the portraits lining the corridor. The good part is when Rhys identifies “Craig.” “You mean ‘Daddy?’” The “awww” moment.

Segment 10 – Let Matt Be Matt

Interlude… Matt Cooke had to be featured at some point doing something untoward, but in this case it was in the visiting locker room when he cuts former teammate Paul Bissonette’s skate laces. Clever.

Segment 11 – A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

And that picture is of Bruce Boudreau riding in the first row of the bus from the airport in Boston, snoozing while a voice over captures a pundit opining that the Caps look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Subtle enough for ya? The gabosphere searches for new words and phrases to describe the Caps descent into the nether regions of the standings, and the Caps – Bruce Boudreau and George McPhee in particular – just go about their business. And the boys just go about theirs, having a good time at a team dinner and stuffing the remains of a lobster into the jacket pocket of Matt Bradley. If these guys were so uptight, Bradley might have beaten Mike Knuble into a puddle of goo in his chair next to him.

Bradley saved that for the ice and Bruin Adam McQuaid (although he lost the fight), but it was Knuble who took over the narrative after the Caps fell behind 3-0 at the second intermission. Knuble, who otherwise seems a pleasant fellow who mows the grass and takes the kids to hockey practice, got his ogre on in the locker room…”today it is three-zero, and it will not be one of these f***ing laughers again…it will not turn into a f***ing five-zero, seven-zero f***ing laugher…” The Caps get two back in the third, but lose. But maybe it’s the battle you lose to win the war. If it is, this is why a 30-something like Mike Knuble is important to this team and why a locker room rant, not a moment on the ice, might be the turning point.

Segment 12 – The Path Less Traveled Is Routine

Please don’t tell me this is what will pass for getting an in-depth look at Sidney Crosby. He doesn’t pass the visitors’ locker room, he eats a PB&J sandwich, and he wears the same cup he appears to have broken in when he was in pee-wee.

Segment 13 – Digging Deep

Maybe every team has a game award icon. For the Penguins it is a shovel, once belonging to a long-time arena employee and that is bestowed upon the team’s hardest worker after a win. The previous winner – Marc-Andre Fleury – awards the shovel to Evgeni Malkin for his five-point night against Phoenix, and we learn that Malkin’s English isn’t that bad.

Segment 14 – Finally

Bruce is still searching for a key to unlock the cabinet than holds all the wins, and tonight’s is reminding the Caps that Chicago lost nine in a row last year on their way to the Cup. He happens to be wrong (the Blackhawks did not lose more than three games in a row last season, although they did have a stretch in which they lost seven of nine games), but who cares?

At first, it really was a case of “who cares,” as the Caps fell behind again, 2-0, after one period to the Ottawa Senators. But Bruce had one more inspirational quote in him, one that will take its place with those of Rockne, Lombardi, Bowman…

“Now let’s get out of our fuckin’ funk and fuckin’ go and do it right now.”

Applause in the locker room ensues, the Caps score three goals in less than seven minutes of the second period, and then they squeeze the life out of the Senators to end the streak at eight with a 3-2 win. At that point you got a look at just how long the streak was. The Caps have their own tradition after wins, the awarding of the “hard hat” to the player of the game. The last time the Caps awarded the hat, it went to D.J. King, who had an assist in a 4-1 win over St. Louis (King’s former club) on December 1st. He awarded the hard hat to Mathieu Perreault for his two-goal effort, including the game-winner. And all that was left was to blast “(It’s Time To) Beat Dat Beat” at ear-splitting levels in the locker room. Some might have looked at the scene and thought it a bit much, or perhaps playing for the cameras, but it just seemed like a relief. The kids – Karl Alzner, John Carlson – were in the mood, while a couple of the older guys like Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble sat at their lockers with bemused looks on their faces.

As Bruce might say, “it’s about f’n time!”

All in all, if Episode 1 was more “Penguin’centric,” this one obviously spent more time plumbing the depths of the Caps. Not just the angst that comes from a winning streak, but the pride of guys like Boudreau and McPhee, who clearly hate losing and care not a whit for folks who question their hockey smarts. Guys like Matt Hendricks, looking for that edge that will give him a foothold on an NHL roster spot, even if it means fighting outside of his weight class. The Mike Knuble folks would never see if not for this production, who might have unleashed the most effective rant in this club’s history.

Perhaps it is having seen this episode through the eyes of a Caps fan, but the comparison between the treatment of the Caps and that of the Penguins was the difference between steak and cotton candy. I find that a bit disappointing. I’m not interested in propaganda; I’d like to get a better look at the Penguins, too. Maybe they’ll go on a long losing streak leading up to the Winter Classic, and we can get that kind of look.

Here’s hoping.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Penguins, December 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, here we are. Game 1 of what could be, before the season draws to a close, an 11-game series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s enough to give you goose bumps, and that’s without the HBO series shoved into the middle of it. The Peerless has learned that HBO settled on the “24/7” concept for the run up to the Winter Classic after considering a number of other tried and true formats. HBO was prepared to bring several series names out of retirement to serve as the theme. We have some notes from the executive meetings…

Memo to HBO Corporate

Suggested segment working title: The Sopranos: Pittsburgh Edition

Star player shows his grittier side by working on the speed bag…of opposing player. Boris Valabik perhaps available on loan from AHL to reprise role.

Memo to HBO Programming

Suggested segment theme: American Splendor

Follows the saga of prospect born in Massachusetts, raised in New Jersey, goes to play in Canadian juniors, but then sticks dagger into Team Canada in junior championships with overtime gold medal winning goal. Too unbelieveable?

Memo to HBO Programming

Suggested segment theme: Barbarians at the Gate

In depth look at the history of Matt Cooke, Deryk Engelland, and Eric Godard, and their unique approach to sportsmanship. Added commentary on Lady Byng Trophy chances.

Memo to Vice President/Programming

Subject: Band of Brothers/Coming through the Ranks

Follows Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Gordon, and Jay Beagle from their winning a Calder Cup in 2010 as teammates to their joining the Caps in the fall.

Memo to HBO Sports

Subject: Last of the Blonde Bombshells

In depth look at Jordan Staal…concept in development

Memo to HBO Programming

Subject: True Blood

Follows Capital Matt Bradley in his role as a grinder and as “energy” player who will drop the gloves. Issue to be resolved – Bradley has reputation as a bleeder, could be disturbing for new viewers, although hockey fans will likely love it.

Memo to HBO Sports

Suggested segment: Deadwood

Focus on Penguin Mike Comrie, signed to low cost contract with promise of playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, plays 16 games, records no goals (update: Comrie may need hip surgery).

Memo to Vice President/Programming

Subject: Segment Theme – “Six Feet Under”

Looks at chances of Penguins winning Stanley Cup in 2011.

Good thing we got the 24/7 series, eh? Well, there will likely be some footage from tonight’s game showing up in Episode 3 of the four-part series as the Penguins visit the Caps. And the Penguins will be coming into this game as one of the hottest teams in the league. Their having lost two straight games to end a 12-game winning streak notwithstanding (they stopped that slide with a 6-1 win over Phoenix on Monday), the Penguins have won 13 of their last 15 games (before last night’s action). And if you think it was all a product of Sidney Crosby running away with the scoring race, you’d be wrong. If anything, the Penguins have done it with defense. In those 15 games the Penguins outscored their opponents 51-27. Allowing 1.80 goals per game over almost a fifth of the season qualifies as excellent defense. Overall, the numbers look like this…

The stingy defense might be what Penguin fans were hoping for, if not expecting, when the club went out last summer and signed free agents Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Each has done his part in the defensive end. In this 15-game run Martin is 2-3-5, plus-7, and he has logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in 14 of those 15 games. Meanwhile, Michalek is 0-3-3, plus-1, and has topped 20 minutes of ice time in 12 of those games. Neither is an especially productive offensive defenseman, but that role has been assumed comfortably by Kris Letang, who is second in the league in scoring among defensemen (6-23-29) and is a plus-18, also second among the league’s defensemen. If anything, though, Letang has slowed down a bit. Over his last six games he has a goal and a pair of assists (he was 1-1-2 in the Monday win over Phoenix).

Through 34 games the Penguins scored 108 goals. Sidney Crosby had a hand in 57 of them (27-30-57, points on 52.8 percent of the team’s goals). At the moment, the Hart Trophy is a one horse race, and that horse wears “87.” The question is whether he can keep up that sort of pace for another 48 games, because if he cannot, it is an open question where the scoring is going to come from. Only one other Penguin has as more than eight goals (Evgeni Malkin with 13), and no other Penguin has more than 30 points. Crosby shows no sign of slowing down, though. On the 15-game run he is 15-14-29 (he has a hand in 57 percent of the goals scored) with four multi-goal games and two hat tricks.

Malkin could be the key to providing Crosby with some scoring relief. Since he won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer in 2009 he has 107 points in 96 games, a very fine number, but not one that one would expect from a player who was considered at worst the second best player in the league two seasons ago. He might be lifting his game to a higher level, though. He is 5-3-8 in his last three games, including a five-point game against Phoenix on Monday.

The knock on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has never been his talent, it has been his consistency. Even though he is a Cup-winning goalie and has a 40-win season on his resume, he has had stretches when he allows too many soft goals in too many critical situations. He started the season in much the same way. In his first 12 decisions this season he was 5-6-1, 2.95, .883. Since then, though, he is 10-1-0, 1.54, .948, and only once in those 11 decisions has he allowed more than two goals.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Pascal Dupuis

As folks tuning into the first installment of HBO’s 24/7 series learned last week, Dupuis skates on Sidney Crosby’s line. Frankly, 15 points in 33 games as a winger on that line is alarming. Even on this 15-game run he has not produced much (2-4-6). Dupuis is not alone; the Penguins do not have a winger with more than 20 points. That kind of production, with the implication that entirely too much of the Penguins’ fortune relies on the good fortune (not to mention good health) of Sidney Crosby is playing with fire. Guys like Dupuis have to produce more.

Washington: Brooks Laich

The story is that Laich was not answering his phone this past week in fear of hearing he had been traded. That seems highly unlikely. Guys with his pattern of improvement (21, 23, and 25 goals the last three years) with a $2.1 million cap hit might be considered a bargain. But he has struggled of late (1-3-4 in his last ten games). It would be nice if Laich could channel the player who was 2-4-6 in four games against the Pens two years ago (not the one who did not have a point in three games last year). Laich, like Dupuis for the Penguins, is not alone. He and his secondary scoring cohort – Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera – need to produce to ensure that the two game mini-streak the Caps are nurturing grows into something more.


1. First things first. The Caps and Penguins have similar goals scored records in the second period (43 and 42, respectively) and third period (36 and 31) this season. The Penguins, however, have 33 first period goals so far while the Caps have 24. What is worse, the Penguins are plus-12 in goals scored/goals allowed in the first period, the Caps are minus-9. If this pattern holds up, it will not be a pleasant evening. This will the the Penguins’ third game in four days, the last two being back-to-backs. It is the Caps who need to have that fast start and make a tired Pens team play catch up.

2. More Power. The Penguins have allowed only six power play goals on the road all season (only Montreal has allowed fewer), but they have allowed one in each of their last three road games. The Caps are 2-for-26 on the power play at home this month. Maybe the Penguins are that good on the penalty kill, but the Caps are certainly better than 7.7 percent on the power play.

3. No-go for Go-Go. Sidney Crosby has 27 goals, but it is defenseman Alex Goligoski who leads the team in game winners (four). Crosby might get his goal (or maybe two), but the Caps can’t let others beat them, especially on the power play (where Goligoski has two game winners).

In the end, these are two teams that are likely to be circling one another all season, just as they have been the past two seasons. Wins and losses now are nice for bragging rights, but for both teams it is a matter of doing things the right way within their respective systems and making sure that good habits are maintained. It might turn on habits. Over the last two seasons Marc-Andre Fleury’s regular season record against Washington is 1-3-2, 4.57, .861. It would be nice to see that habit continue.

Caps 4 - Penguins 2

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 36: Caps 5 - Devils 1

It wasn’t their best game of the season. It probably wasn’t even their best game of the month. But the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils was one of the more satisfying of the season. The Caps avenged a 5-0 loss the last time the teams met, won their second consecutive game, won in a convincing fashion, and they did so as part of a team effort.

It might have been one of those look-ahead games, what with the Penguins coming to town on Thursday, but the Capitals displayed enough focus (certainly more than they have in any home game this month) to dominate a depleted and less-skilled Devils team.

Other stuff…

-- Five different Caps scored the five goals, none of them by the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

-- 12 different players recorded points, only one of them coming from the top line (Ovechkin, an assist).

-- The Hershey Bears were ably represented on the score sheet. Andrew Gordon notched his first NHL goal and added an assist. Jay Beagle had a goal of his own. 2010 graduate John Carlson had a goal and an assist.

-- At the other end of the ice Michal Neuvirth (another 2010 graduate of Hershey) stopped 35 of 36 shots, but what was key was stopping 26 of 27 in the first two periods. In his last three appearances he has now allowed three, two, and one goals.

-- The Caps can be – or at least used to be – flashy, but the first two goals were as basic as it gets. Marcus Johansson made the play by tapping a fifth gear to catch up to the puck along the left wing boards. While Johansson was putting himself in position to make a play, Andrew Gordon drove the middle. Johansson blew past defenseman Mark Fayne to collect the puck, and Gordon beat Patrik Elias back to get position in front of goalie Martin Brodeur. Johansson sent the puck across, Gordon tapped it in, and the Caps were off and running. The second was just a matter of a player getting into position and keeping his stick on the ice. David Steckel picked up a loose puck and circled around the right wing corner boards. As he was coming to the Devils’ net, he slid the puck out to Jay Beagle at the top of the crease. The puck was laid right onto the blade of Beagle’s stick, and all that was left to do was for Beagle to wrist the puck past Brodeur.

-- That second goal was also a product of some poor judgment by Devil defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who went for the big hit on Matt Bradley as the puck was coming down the right wing boards. Bradley took a hit for the team and eased the puck ahead where Steckel picked it up to start the play that led to the score. Beagle settled into the void in the zone that might have been defended by Volchenkov, who was left high in the zone after going for the hit.

-- Only two Caps did not finish on the plus side of the ledger (Mike Green and Scott Hannan); only two Devils didn’t finish on the minus side, indicative of the fact that the Devils are an awful 5-on-5 hockey team at the moment. The Devils were outscored 5-0 at 5-on-5.

-- As if to mock the Devils at 5-on-5, the visitors had just killed their fourth and fifth shorthanded situations of the game, part of a two-fer in which they killed the 3-on-5 and 4-on-5 portions of a Caps power play. But seven seconds later after the last penalty expired, Brooks Laich sent the puck cross-ice to Tom Poti who wristed a harmless enough looking shot at the Devils’ net…except it really wasn’t a shot as much as a pass to Mike Knuble, who was one of two Caps (Mathieu Perreault the other) all alone in front of Martin Brodeur. Before Henrik Tallinder could appear in the frame, Knuble laid the blade of his stick open and redirected the puck past Brodeur for the fifth goal – the fifth even strength goal – for the Caps.

-- Of the goal scorers… John Carlson (two points), age 20. Andrew Gordon (two points), age 25. Jay Beagle (game-winning goal), age 25. The Caps are, let us remember, still a rather young team.

-- Nothing captured the relative arcs of these teams as much as the third goal for Washington. John Carlson wins a battle for the puck in the corner and pushes it out of the defensive zone. Jason Chimera picks up the puck, leaving Mark Fayne – one of 12 defensemen the Devils have used this year and playing in only his 13th NHL game – hooking Chimera in an effort to hang on for dear life. All Fayne managed to do was earn a delayed penalty (and likely a penalty shot) for his effort as Chimera steamed in on Martin Brodeur. In another season on another night, Brodeur might have foiled Chimera’s effort, but Brodeur went down early, and Chimera roofed the puck over him to give the Caps an insurance goal. The Devils…not hard enough on the puck in the offensive zone; too slow, beat up, and young on the blueline; and perhaps seeing the end in sight for a legendary goalie.

-- Alex Ovechkin has not scored a power play goal at Verizon Center this season. Tonight, he did not record a shot on any of the five Caps power plays. It is not a signature start to the season, scoring wise.  Even his assists look funky. He gets the puck poked off his stick while trying to drag it through the defenseman’s legs, John Carlson steps in behind it and leans into a shot that beats Brodeur over his shoulder. Or maybe Marty lost it in the crowd again.

-- Much has been made of Ovechkin’s various woes, but it’s not as if Nicklas Backstrom has been scorching the score sheet, either. After being blanked on the score sheet tonight, Backstrom has now gone ten games without a goal and is 0-4-4, minus-3 in those ten contests. He had three shots on goal tonight, all of them on the power play.

-- If David Clarkson leads the Devils in shots (six) and has twice as many as Patrik Elias (one) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two), combined, it comes as little surprise that the Devils have not won many games. Clarkson had as many even strength shots as Elias, Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus, combined (five).

In the end, this is what strong teams do to the weak. They get on them, get over them, and stand on their throats. Earlier this month, a 4-1 third period lead might not have been safe. But even when the game was 1-1 one had the feeling the Caps were dominating, the Devils being next to impotent at even strength. The dark cloud on this sunny scene is the top line being disengaged to the point of being almost invisible in this game. Ovechkin had four hits, but one shot on goal (he had six misses, a couple of which Brodeur would not have stopped had they been of better aim and another that went through Brodeur’s legs and out the far side past the post). Backstrom had no even strength shots on goal. Alexander Semin spent time alternately playing hockey and auditioning for the Washington Ballet. Mike Green still looks to be only about 80 percent.

That situation needs to improve, because the Caps will step up several weight classes in opponent come Thursday, hosting a team that has won 13 of 15 games and has allowed more than three goals only three times in that 15-game span. They are going to need all hands on deck. Guess we’ll find out if the Caps have shaken their December slumber. For tonight, though, they did look a lot like the Caps of last season.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One in a row! Nature has returned to its righteous state, the sun seems brighter, the air fresher, the beer colder. Right?

Hell no! We’re Caps fans!! Caps fans live their days in a constant state of dread, in fear that the Caps not only will lose – that’s a given – but will do so in the most embarrassing and ignominious way possible.


Yeah, cuz…ignominious. Means discreditable.



“Oh, like when you write blogs like this?”

Funny. But anyway, for you Caps fans, your ol’ Doc Peerless has just the thing. Tired of losing? Thinking this will be just another winter of despair? Sick of enduring the barbs of friends, coworkers, and Penguin fans?

That’s right, “Fukitol!”

When you’ve seen the Caps blow a 3-1 third period lead to lose to a crummy team in a shootout….


When another Cap has gone down to a “lower body injury” and will miss the next eight weeks…


When a defenseman gets caught up ice doing spin-o-ramas and the other guys end up on a three-on-one that ends with a goalie in a pretzel in the back of his own net with the puck under him…


When you’re trudging out of Verizon Center at the end of a bad night…


And it works for hockey players, too. If you find you can’t get to your locker because there are eight cameras counting your nose hairs for the benefit of a TV viewing public…


If the local radio stations only talk about you as the punch line of a joke…


If this week’s HBO theme is Evgeni Malkin getting five points, not your ending a long losing streak…


If fans turn on you like a junkyard dog at the first sign of trouble…


That’s right, Caps and Caps fans, if everything and everyone around you think this season will be just like the others, ending in sadness and unfulfilled promise; if every word you hear on TV or read in print says, “you suck!”; if every shred of commentary you see is an answer to the question, “what’s wrong with the Caps?” Then take a big ol’ honking “FUKITOL” pill, and just show ‘em what’s what.

And the first opportunity to do that and make this a winning “streak” comes tonight against the New Jersey Devils, who pasted the Caps 5-0 back on November 22nd in what would be goalie Braden Holtby’s last appearance before being returned to Hershey.

That big win hardly seems to have been a tonic for the Devils, who are 3-8-0 since that win. Two of those wins came via the Gimmick. The Devils are redefining the term “suck” right before our eyes (the new over-the-counter item “Suckitol” has not yet been approved for sale). Here are the overall numbers for the woeful Devils…

This team can kill penalties, but otherwise all they have been able to do is kill their own playoff chances…oh, and beat the Caps (need a “Fukitol,” cuz?). Since they did beat the Caps four weeks ago, the Devils have been outscored 31-15. Fifteen goals in 11 games. Only six of those goals have come at even strength. An even strength goal every other game? The depth of their offensive problems are difficult to contemplate…

-- No Devil is on a pace for as many as 60 points (Patrik Elias: 57).
-- No Devil is on a pace for as many as 25 goals (Jason Arnott: 23)
-- No Devil is on a pace to record more than ten power play goals (Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk: 10)
-- Nine Devils are worse than a minus-10; two are on a pace to finish worse than a minus-50 (Kovalchuk, Andy Greene: minus-54)
-- Only three Devils have more than five goals (Elias, Kovalchuk, Arnott); only one has more than five even strength goals (Arnott: 7)

You will note that Jason Arnott is featured prominently as a leader in Devils scoring, such as it is. He is currently their leading goal scorer. But he has only one goal in his last 11 games (that would be one since he had a pair against the Caps on November 22nd).

But there are signs of life amid the wreckage. Patrik Elias leads the club in points, and he is 3-5-8 in his last eight games. It is worth noting that all three goals he has were scored on the power play. Meanwhile, Ilya Kovachuk – second in goals and points for the Devils – is 4-4-8 in his last seven games and has a five-game points streak coming into this game. Three of those four goals he has were scored on the power play.

Special teams is where the Devils have been able to survive, if not flourish. Over the past seven games they are 9-for-26 on the power play (34.6 percent), while killing off 21 of 23 shorthanded situations (91.3 percent). That plus-7 on special teams means that the Devils are otherwise a minus-19. This is a brutal team (and not in the good sense of the word) at even strength.

The Devils do not have a defenseman on the plus side of the ledger, and the only one who is “even” has played in only four games and is on injured reserve (Mark Fraser). Andy Greene is dead last in the NHL in plus-minus (actually tied with teammate Ilya Kovalchuk at minus-21), and the veteran they picked up via free agency, Henrik Tallinder, is minus-17 (751st among 756 skaters). Tallinder has had two “plus” games since Halloween (20 games), and Greene has had four such games over the same period. These two happen to be the only two defensemen having played in all 32 games so far for the Devils, a team that already has employed 12 defensemen to try to stop the bleeding.

In goal, Marty’s back. Martin Brodeur has appeared in the last five games for New Jersey, going 1-4, 3.18, .892, and one shutout. The combination of New Jersey’s lost season and Brodeur’s uneven play (when not injured) has sparked some talk of Brodeur perhaps being moved, which would qualify as an earthquake in the history of this franchise.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

New Jersey: Martin Brodeur

Even last year, when the Caps were piling up points and scoring goals as if every night was an arcade game, Brodeur was 3-1-0, 2.45, .923 against Washington. This is entirely consistent with his career success against the Caps (he is 36-14-4, 2.21, .911, with six shutouts against the Caps). But he was toasted for five goals on 20 shots and was pulled after 40 minutes in the first meeting of these teams this season (the Caps’ home opener). It could be a measure of the direction of the two parties – the Caps and Brodeur – how Brodeur fares tonight against a team that has had trouble scoring and against which he has generally fared well.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

With Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr doubtful, two players who can (at least in theory) put the puck in the net will not likely be available. That puts more pressure on the Captain to end a skid that has seen him register only two goals in his last 17 games. In fact, since going 1-2-3, plus-4 against Tampa Bay on Veterans Day, Ovechkin is 3-12-15, even, in 19 games (a 13-52-65 scoring pace). Ovechkin recorded one of his two multi-goal games of the season against Brodeur and the Devils in the first meeting of the clubs this season. He needs to step up in a similar fashion in this one.


1. 5-on-5. The Caps are not the best 5-on-5 club in the league like they were last season, but the Devils are allowing more than twice as many goals as they are scoring at 5-on-5, easily the worst such record in the league. The Caps have to win this battle.

2. Limit Devil Advantages. The only way the Devils can seem to score these days is on the power play. The Caps have done a reasonable job limiting opponents’ power play opportunities lately. Do that tonight, and the Devils shouldn’t be lighting the lamp often.

3. Fukitol! Losing streak? Fukitol. Got a win last time out? Fukitol! Folks think it won’t last? Fukitol! Just go out and take your Fukitol and play the game.

In the end, this is not a competitive game, but we’ve said this before. Still, the Devils are uncommonly bad, and having won the last meeting of these teams has not transformed them into the Devils of old. This game is likely to turn on whether Marty can conjure up his inner Cap-killer. If he can’t, it will be a short, happy evening for the locals.

Caps 5 – Devils 1