Friday, January 01, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Kings, January 2nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a new year and a clean slate for all of us. For the Capitals, they get to make their first marks on the slate this afternoon (note: 4:00 PM Eastern start time) against the Los Angeles Kings in beautiful Los Angeles, the City of Angels…

“Dat iss not de fool name uff da city…”


“Ja…und dat iss not de fool name uff Los Angeles.”

You don’t say?

“El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de la Porciuncula.”

I must say, your Spanish is impeccable.

“Rosetta Stone.”

Too bad they don’t have one of those for English.

“Fery vunny. Zere are many udder vacts about Los Angeles you might not be avair uff.”

Zuch… I mean, such as?

“Frrrrench Dip vuss infented in Los Angeles.”

They invented Nicolas Sarkozy?

“Ferry vunny…oh, und did you know dat de first Hollyvood production company opened in an abandoned tavern in de city?”

It would explain a lot…

“Und ze first parking meter vuss in Los Angeles.”

I’m betting it’s still broken.

“You are a real comedian…you zhould vurk at The Laugh Factory.”

Oh, that’s ok… I’d hate to interrupt your act.

Well, this is the first act of 2010, and the Caps are in Los Angeles hoping to make opening night a successful one. The Caps come into this one with a record of 19-9-1-4 in “first games” of the new year (not counting the late start in 1994-1995) and winners of their last two by a combined score of 13-7. Only twice have the Caps played the Kings in the year’s first game, splitting two decisions – an 8-3 win in 1979 and a 7-4 loss in 1990.

What these two teams reflect is the difference between the Eastern and Western conferences. The Caps, with 55 points, sit third in the East. The Kings, meanwhile, are sitting in the eighth spot in the West, only two points ahead of the Dallas Stars. But the Kings are a formidable club in their own right, having earned 49 standings points at their half-way point of the season. It says something that the 3rd and 10th place teams in the West are separated by a mere six points. The overall numbers of these two teams fall out as follows:

The Kings come into this one in a bit of a slump, having lost five of their last seven games. Six of those seven games were played on the road, which made the Kings the NHL’s road warriors at this point in the season. No team has played more games away from home than have the Kings (24).

In those last seven games the Kings have not suffered from poor defense – they allowed only 18 goals in going 2-5-0. What they have had is a lack of offense. In only their most recent game – a 5-2 win over Minnesota that broke a four-game losing streak -- did the Kings score more than three goals.

Brad Richardson (2-4-6) and Michal Handzus (2-4-6) are the leading scorers for the Kings in this seven-game slide. You might be forgiven for not knowing who Brad Richardson is, as this is his fifth season in the NHL and only his second in which he has dressed for more than half his team’s games. It might be a measure of the difficulties the Kings have had on offense that one of their leading scorers in these last seven games is the Kings’ 13th leading scorer for the season. He has appeared twice against the Caps and has not yet recorded a point.

Handzus, on the other hand, is not unknown to Caps fans. In his 11 seasons in the NHL he spent three of them skating for the Philadelphia Flyers – his only stop in the Eastern Conference among the five teams for which he has played. He is also 2-4-6 in this seven game run and is 2-3-5 in his last four. Fun fact: His nickname is “Zeus.” Guess it has to be. In 20 career games against Washington he is 6-7-13.

Alexander Frolov leads the Kings in goals in their 2-5-0 stretch (three). Although he is 3-2-5 in these games, it took a 2-1-3 effort against the Wild in his most recent game to pull him up to 4-2-6 in his last 11 games. A player of immense individual skill, he hasn’t yet put things together. It looked as if he might after a 35-goal campaign in 2006-2007 and again after last year’s 32-goal season, but since the lockout Frolov has averaged 30-38-68 per-82 games. Good, but it would seem he should be doing more. He has seven goals in his last 28 games. He has had some success against the Caps, though, going 4-6-10 in seven career games.

The mystery for the Kings is what is going on with Anze Kopitar. Before Thanksgiving, Kopitar was playing as if he would be the player to end Alex Ovechkin’s consecutive run on Hart Trophy wins. In 25 games before Thanksgiving, Kopitar was 14-19-33, plus-6 in 25 games. Since? It’s another story, altogether. In 16 games since, he is 2-4-6, minus-4. Those two goals are all he’s had since Veterans Day. What Kopitar has had, though, is success against the Caps. Last year he was 3-1-4 in two wins over Washington, and he is 4-1-5 in four career games against the Capitals.

The Kings feature two defensemen who will be making appearances in the Olympic Games in February. Jack Johnson was named yesterday to Team USA, while Drew Doughty was named to Team Canada on Wednesday. Neither have reached their 23rd birthday, but they serve as the Kings’ defensive cornerstones and should do so for the next decade or more. The pair are a combined 13-30-42 so far this year, with Doughty’s 9-18-27 in 41 games putting him in a tie for sixth in scoring among NHL defensemen.

In goal, Jonathan Quick has appeared in 37 of the Kings’ 41 games and would seem to be the one to get the nod for this one. The sturdily built Quick (6’1”, 223, more like an outside linebacker) is another Olympian on the Kings roster, the Connecticut native having been named as the third goaltender for Team USA. In this 2-5-0 run by the Kings, he has played well enough to be better than 2-4-0, but his 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage can’t be described as “sparkling.” Quick has faced the Caps once in his career, taking a 5-4 decision last season in Washington.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Dustin Brown

Last year’s Kings’ MVP is a feisty sort who is likely to draw checking responsibility against the likes of Alex Ovechkin. He has the capacity to frustrate and get under the skin of opponents. He is also the big hitter on this team – 143, third in the league. In last year’s series, he not only made life difficult for the Caps in the Kings’ end, he chipped in a goal and three assists in the two games, the goal being the game-winner in the Kings’ 5-2 win in Washington on November 20th. He is 1-3-4 in five career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Semin has one goal in his last eight games and three in his last 12. He has not had a lot of success against the Western Conference – 14-12-26 in 42 games over the last three seasons and so far in this one. Watch for how much he contributes on the power play. He is 3-7-10 on the power play in wins this year, but he has only one power play goal since Veterans Day.


1. Olympi-drama. Drew Doughty is going to Vancouver for Team Canada, Mike Green is not. Green has more goals, more assists, more points, a better plus-minus, logs more ice time, has more blocked shots, has a better takeaway-to-giveaway ratio. The question here is, will Green use this as motivation to bear down and focus on the game at hand, or will he play outside himself in a more individual attempt to outshine Doughty?

2. Three is not the charm. The Caps have not lost three consecutive games in regulation this year and in fact have not done so since March 1-5 last year. The Caps will get a scheduling break after this with 11 of their next 18 games at home, but with Buffalo now having caught the Caps in the standings and Pittsburgh breathing down their necks with Boston not far behind, stopping the bleeding is important here.

3. Keep the box empty. Los Angeles has had fewer power play opportunities on home ice than any team in the league (54 in 17 games). The Caps have allowed a respectable 85 power plays on the road in 22 games (15th most in the league). If the Caps can keep the Kings from adding to that home ice power play total, their superior 5-on-5 play should put them over the top.

The Kings are one of those teams it is easy to underrate. They aren’t seen much back east, and they’ve had some difficult seasons in recent years. But they have come along nicely in the fashion you’d like to do it, building from the goal on out. The Caps have alternated wins and losses in their last four trips to Los Angeles. Having lost on their last trip…

Caps 4 – Kings 2

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