Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, January 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s on the road – again – for the Caps, and as a public service, your ol’ Uncle Peerless is going to provide you with some travel tips, courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration, where every day is the Fourth of July.

First of all, the friendly folks at the TSA want make sure that your “screening experience” – and we are not making that term up, kids – ensures that “you move more quickly and efficiently through the security process.” To that end, you have to “dress the part.” TSA recommends that you “avoid wearing clothing, jewelry or other accessories that contain metal when traveling through the security checkpoints”, such as:

* Heavy jewelry (including pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, earrings, body piercings, cuff links, lanyards or bolo ties)… world junior championship gold medals probably fall under this category.
* Clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs… there is no mention of “fighting straps” on hockey jerseys
* Metal hair barrettes or other hair decoration… Is the “M-11 helmet” considered “hair decoration?”

Oops, helmets appear to be covered under “head coverings” (makes sense)…

“You are permitted to wear head coverings and religious garments during the screening process. You may be directed to additional screening if your headwear or clothing (religious or otherwise) is loose fitting or large enough to hide prohibited items.”

Is Sean Avery’s head considered a “prohibited item?” Well, it should be.

We also noted that TSA considers “sabers” a prohibited carry-on item. Ryan Miller must get very uncomfortable stowed in cargo for those trips out west.

And if you’re wondering, yes, hockey sticks are not allowed in carry-on luggage.


However they get there – airplane, train, car, rickshaw, skateboard, Segway (well, maybe not Mike Green) – the Caps are in Atlanta tonight to take on the Thrashers. Talk about teams headed in opposite directions. Since December 1st the Caps are 10-6-0; not great, perhaps, but compared to the Thrashers’ 5-11-3 record (which included a nine-game winless streak) it is positively glowing. The overall numbers look like this…

The Thrashers broke that nine-game winless streak in their last game, a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Rangers. It is worth noting that the Thrashers have not won a game in regulation since November 30th, a 4-3 win over Florida. What happened? Well, it boils down to these two general statements…

They stopped scoring goals.

They gave up a ton of goals.

Since December 1st the Thrashers have scored 50 goals in 19 games (not including Gimmicks). Ten of those goals were scored by Ilya Kovalchuk. That leaves 40 goals for 19 other skaters in 19 games. In those 19 games for Atlanta…

-- They scored two or fewer goals ten times.
-- They had 13 skaters scoring goals.
-- They had only three goals from defensemen.
-- The power play went 11-for-65 (16.9 percent).
-- They had two players who scored at a “20-goal” season pace – Kovalchuk (10 goals in 19 games) and Nik Antropov (nine in 17 games).
-- They have no goals from Todd White (who played in 18 of the 19 games); White has but three goals for the season, compared to 22 last year.
-- They have two goals from rookie Evander Kane (playing 18 of those 19 games), this after Kane registered eight in his first 24 games.

The dropoff in offense is matched only by some ghastly results at the other end of the ice. In the last 19 games for Atlanta…

-- They have allowed four or more goals 13 times.
-- They had a streak of six consecutive games of giving up at least four goals.
-- Penalty killers skated off only 50 of 66 shorthanded situations (75.8 percent).
-- In 57 periods of regulation hockey, they gave up two or more goals in 22 periods, three or more in six, and gave up five goals in the second period of a 5-2 loss to Toronto on December 7th.
-- They failed to achieve a save percentage of .900 in 15 games.

They have been, be kind, awful. What might be more amazing is that they won five games at all, although all of them were won in extra time, and three of them went to a Gimmick.

The big story for the Thrashers isn’t even on the ice. It is whether Ilya Kovachuk will hold out for an $11.36 million a year (add your own number of years here) deal to stay in Atlanta or be traded sometime over the next two months as a rental for picks, prospects, and/or players. After missing six games with a broken foot in November he is 16-21-37 in 29 games (25-22-47 in 37 games overall). Since single-handedly keeping the Thrashers in last Saturday’s game against the Islanders until they could lose in a Gimmick (he was 1-3-4 in a 5-5 game after regulation), he is scoreless in his last two games and in danger of setting a personal season high streak of three games if he fails to get a point tonight. It would also tie his season high streak of games without a goal (three). Given his history against the Caps though, it will be a tall order to keep Kovalchuk off the score sheet. In 43 career games against Washington he is 24-28-52, and he has a pair of goals in the only meeting in which he skated this year.

After two seasons in Buffalo lost to injury and ineffectivess, Maxim Afinogenov was given up for dead, so to speak, as an NHL-caliber player. The Thrashers signed the winger to a free-agent deal on the eve of the regular season, and at $800,000, one might have to consider him a bargain. He is second on the team in goals (15), third in assists (24), second in total scoring (39), tied for third in power play goals (three), and is fourth in ice time (17:58) among forwards. His 15 goals almost equals the total of his last two years in Buffalo combined (16) in fewer than half the games played. He has found the going a little more difficult lately – 4-10-14, minus-13 in 19 games since December 1st. Afinogenov is 11-11-22 in 32 career regular season games against Washington.

Until Vyacheslav Kozlov finished the 2007-2008 season with only 17 goals, he had a string of 12 seasons out of 13 in which he scored goals at a 20-plus-per-season pace. When he slipped to 17 two years ago, it might have signaled the beginning of the end for the then 35-year old forward. But he rebounded to 26 goals last year giving hope to Thrasher fans that there would be a scoring complement to Kovalchuk. But this year he has eight goals in 43 games and only 11 assists to go with them. He is 4-2-6 in this 19 game slump the Thrashers are in. Perhaps more alarming, he has no goals in his last nine games and no points at all in his last eight. What he does do well, though, is get the Gimmick goal. He is 4-for-6 this year, and he is 27-for-46 over his career (58.7 percent shooting percentage). Kozlov is 18-22-40 in 54 career games against the Caps.

If a goal was scored by the Thrashers in the past six weeks, there was a good chance Tobias Enstrom was in on it. He hasn’t scored any of those goals in the past 19 games during which the Thrashers have slumped, but he has 15 assists over that time and authored a six game points streak along the way. Enstrom is a defenseman who always seems to be flying under the radar of a Zdeno Chara, a Mike Green, or a Chris Pronger, but he has been one of the bright lights for Atlanta this year and is very much an underrated commodity. He is fourth among all NHL defensemen in scoring, and on a team that has had a lot of difficulty keeping pucks out of its own net lately, his plus-6 is commendable. He is 2-10-12 in 16 career games against Washington.

OK, so who will it be in goal? Will it be “The Moose,” Johan Hedberg – 4-4-3 in this 19-game slump, 2.62, .907, or will it be “The Sieve,” Ondrej Pavelec – 1-7-0, 5.25., 860? It might be worth noting that in Pavelec’ only win he allowed five goals in a 6-5 overtime win against Dallas. He hasn’t allowed fewer than three goals in a game since he shut out the Red Wings on November 25th (the shock appears not to have worn off). He even allowed three goals in less than 11 minutes worth of work in a 6-4 loss to Boston in the game before Christmas. He has had his troubles against the Caps, too – 1-4-0, 3.90, .868, and he has lost his last four decisions.

Meanwhile, Hedberg has allowed more than three goals in “only” four of 13 appearances since December 1st (including two of his last three). He came into the first meeting of the clubs, on October 22nd, in relief of Pavelec and pitched shutout ball for 26:11 in a 5-4 loss. Otherwise, he is 9-3-2, 2.87 over his career against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Atlanta: Rich Peverley

Peverley has been a royal pain in the backside for the Caps since he was claimed off waivers by the Thrashers from Nashville in January 2009. He has played in six games against the Caps since and has a point in every game (2-4-6). However, he is only 3-6-9 in 19 games since December 1st. If Atlanta is going to win games, they have to get players like Peverley started to take pressure off of Kovalchuk.

Washington: Brendan Morrison

Morrison has had his own slump lately. In his last 14 games he is 1-1-2 and except for a three-game run in which he had a total of 12 shots on goal has had trouble getting anything on net (nine shots on goal in the other 11 games). He has, however, had success against the Thrashers. Morrison is 6-10-16 in 11 career games against Atlanta, including points in each game this season (1-1-2 in two games).


1. Remember the Hurricanes! OK, so it doesn’t have quite the juice of “Remember the Alamo!,” but the Caps should be mindful of taking a club having their troubles too lightly. Carolina came into Verizon Center a couple of weeks ago with their one road win and their league worst record and pasted the Caps, 6-3. Yes, Atlanta has had a devil of a time winning games of any sort recently, but they’re not dead, either.

2. Score early, score often. The Thrashers have allowed 42 first period goals this season, fourth most in the league. No team has scored more in the first frame than have the Caps – 51 goals. Do the math.

3. On your mark…get set… Since Bruce Boudreau took over the Caps, Washington is 9-3-1 against Atlanta. The common thread in the four losses is that the Caps failed to score in volume (a total of seven goals in the four games). Since John Anderson took over behind the Thrasher bench, the winner of every game has scored at least four goals. These haven’t been goalie duels. Atlanta has had trouble scoring goals lately (49 goals in 19 games since December 1st – 2.58/game), Washington hasn’t (60 goals in 16 games since December 1st – 3.75/game).

In the end, if the Caps don’t look at recent records, take the ice, and just take care of business, this should not be a competitive game. But there is the matter of the divisional rivalry of the teams, the personal rivalry of Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, and the coaching rivalry between friends Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson. No two teams in the division might take more joy at beating the other than the Caps and Thrashers. That said, this is likely to be a track meet, but Atlanta hasn’t had enough of the support scoring to take enough of the burden off of Kovalchuk to make Atlanta a favorite…

Caps 6 – Thrashers 3

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