The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Caps go for four-in-a-row this evening as the Detroit Red Wings come to town. And these are not your father’s (or even your last year’s) Red Wings. The wearers of the winged wheel have spent the first 48 games of the year stumbling about, much like the city they represent…
“Oh, so it’s ‘pile on Detroit day here, is it?”
It’d be the only piling on a Detroiter sees this year – we’ve seen the Lions play.
“Yeah, yeah… the Lions suck. Hey, here’s a bulletin… we know.”
Do you know that the Tigers (86-77 for 2009) and the Pistons (31-53 for calendar year 2009) suck, too?
“Hey, it’s not like the Nats or the Wizards have been vaccinated against ‘suckitis.’”
Or the Redskins.
“Or the Redskins.”
You can’t even lean on the Wolverines this year…5-7 this year after a 3-9 record last year.
“And how did those Terps do in football this year?”
Hey, at least the Terps have a basketball team that did good things last year…
“Uh…you heard of Michigan State, national finalist, four final fours in the decade?”
Well, we have a soccer team!
OK, but tell me, how do you know so much about Washington sports?
“Oh, I was born in Detroit and moved here.”
Michigan hasn’t had the best of times lately, and the Red Wings losing in the Stanley Cup finals last year probably didn’t help things, at least from a morale standpoint. But this year’s version of the Wings is a bit hard to figure out. They have had injuries (only three players have dressed for all 48 games the Red Wings have played thus far, and only 12 players have dressed for as many as 40 games).
Perhaps as a result of the injuries to such critical elements as Johan Franzen (45 games missed), Niklas Kronwall (27 games), Jason Williams (33 games), Valteri Filppula (26 games), Henrik Zetterberg (eight games), and Jonathan Ericsson (12 games), the Red Wings find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. What is most stunning about their performance to date is the utter collapse of their offense. Last year, the Red Wings finished the year averaging 3.52 goals/game. This year: 2.50. The overall numbers look like this…
If there is real change point in the season, it appears to have come just before Christmas when the Red Wings were shut out in Chicago by the Blackhawks, 3-0. That was the last time goalie Chris Osgood started a game. Since then, it’s been Jimmy Howard’s Red Wings. Given the injuries and the offensive drought (the Wings have scored only 25 goals in the 12 games since that 3-0 loss to Chicago), it really is Howard’s team. The rookie came into this season with a total of nine games of NHL experience (1-5-0, 2.76, .908). It would have been reasonable to expect that he would serve as a backup to Chris Osgood this year, perhaps taking over the reins for good next year. Instead, Howard is the number one goalie (for now), 6-3-3 in those 12 games since Osgood’s last decision (Osgood got 21 minutes of mop-up duty in a 6-0 loss to the Islanders last Tuesday), with a GAA of 1.89 and a save percentage of .944. The top rookie goaltender this year might wear red, but he doesn’t play for Washington. But here is your odd Jimmy Howard nugget. He has played in four games on a Tuesday this season, started two, and it is his worst day of the week, GAA (3.21) and save percentage-wise (.901).
Offensively, there is a cup half-full/cup half-empty quality to the Red Wings’ performance over the last dozen games. On the half-full side, they have goals from 15 different players. On the half-empty side, only three players have more than two goals. And if you were asked which Red Wing over the past dozen games led the team in goals, you’d probably be a while before settling on Darren Helm (5-1-6). Keeping with the half-full/half-empty theme, Helm got those five goals in a five game stretch from December 31st through January 9th. He is without a point in his last four games. In his first full season with the Red Wings this year, this will be his first meeting against the Caps (he did not play in the 3-2 Red Wings win over the Caps on October 10th).
The overall scoring leader for the Wings over the last dozen games is defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (2-10-12). Lidstrom is one of the three Red Wings playing in all 48 games this year. In fact, Lidstrom is one of the most durable players of his era. In 16 previous seasons (not including the abbreviated 1994-1995 season) Lidstrom has never played in fewer than 76 games, and 12 times he played in at least 80 games. At the moment, though, Lidstrom has points in his last three games (2-3-5), part of an odd pattern in which he has been three-on, three-off, and three-on again in registering points. Guess that means he draws a blank tonight.
Pavel Datsyuk is Detroit’s second leading scorer over the last dozen games (3-5-8). That he would be second with a total of eight points speaks to the trouble the Red Wings have had getting goals. It has been something of a year-long struggle for Datsyuk, although with players of his caliber, such things are relative. The fact is, however, that at 11-25-36 in 46 games, he is on a pace for his lowest goals and points total since his second season (2002-2003). His performance to date stands in stark relief to his last four seasons, over which he averaged 1.16 points-per-game. For the season he is averaging 0.78 points-per-game. In eight career games against Washington, Datsyuk is 4-10-14.
The only other Red Wing with as many as three goals over the last dozen games is Todd Bertuzzi (3-3-6). The former Islander-Canuck-Panther-Duck-Flame is on his second tour as a Red Wing (he played eight games in 2006-2007 for Detroit). This time around, Bertuzzi enters the game against the Caps as the Red Wings’ top active goal scorer for the season (team leader Tomas Holmstrom is out with a broken foot). But again, his leading the Red Wings for the moment with 13 goals (the Caps have six players with at least that number) reflects the offensive troubles they have been having. Something to note – Bertuzzi is the only Red Wing to score in overtime this year. He turned the trick twice – on consecutive nights against Anaheim and Nashville in mid-December. In 24 career games against the Caps, Bertuzzi is 6-9-15. What he doesn’t have, though, is a goal against Washington since March 23, 2003, when he was with Vancouver.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Valteri Filppula
Filppula was off to a decent start to the season (2-4-6) when he broke his wrist in the second period of Game 11 – a 6-5 Gimmick loss to Edmonton on October 29th. He also had a pair of assists in the October 10th 3-2 win over the Caps. He is a player with a lot of promise (the Wings committed $3 million in salary per year to him for the next three years), but so far this year is minus-6 and has been a plus player in only seven of 22 games – somewhat odd for a Red Wing. Given the presence of Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg on the roster, Filppula is a player who can fly under the radar. Letting him do so tonight would spell trouble for the Caps. Your odd Filppula stat – he has not scored a goal in any Red Wing win this season, but he has three goals in 12 losses for which he dressed.
Washington: Mike Knuble
The Red Wings have allowed an average of 33.8 shots per game in their last dozen games. This only makes the performance of Jimmy Howard in goal that much more impressive. It also speaks to the need to make sure that the Caps get pucks to the net where a player like Knuble can convert from within arm’s-length of the goal. Knuble has goals in four of his last six games (six in all), a stretch over which the Caps are 5-1-0. Do the math.
1. Time and space. If Detroit gets them, they can make an opponent’s night miserable. And there is often a chicken-and-the-egg quality to this. Teams give the Red Wings so much respect, they end up giving them space (too much) and time (too much) to weave their magic. Crowd ‘em, bloody their nose a little bit. Find out what flavor gum they’re chewing. Just don’t let them skate around as if they were Disney on Ice.
2. Take the Helm. The Red Wings’ chances of winning are enhanced quite a bit when Darren Helm scores a goal. The Wings are 6-0-1 when Helm lights the lamp. Of course, that goes hand-in-hand with his leading the team in goal scoring over the 6-3-3 run they are on. But still…
3. Your “Intermission,” should you decide to accept it… The Caps and Red Wings are a combined 38-0-6 when leading at the second intermission. If you had to pick which club would be more likely to come back from such a deficit, it would be Washington, given that they have the league’s second-best record when trailing after two periods (Detroit is 10th). But it wouldn’t be the way to bet.
In the end, the front-end of Stanley Cup Finalists Week is a difficult game to handicap. It would not be out of the realm of imagination to think the Caps might be peeking ahead to Pittsburgh on Thursday. On the other hand, the Red Wings are the sort of team that will get any team’s attention. These are two teams playing well and that will meet in one of those “irresistible force – immovable object” sorts of contests. Howard, despite his stellar numbers, has allowed one, two, and then three goals in his last three games. Do we hear “four?” Yes, we do…
Caps 4 – Red Wings 3