The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
We are coming to you live from Peerless Central, otherwise known as McMurdo Station. Well, not really, but it sure seems that way. Here in Loudoun County, Virginia, we have 29 inches of snow, and in Washington we are hoping that there will be a hockey game played against the Pittsburgh Penguins. NBC, the NoBody Cares network, really wants this game played, and so the Penguins are having to make the trek from Montreal, where they played – and lost – a game to the Canadiens yesterday afternoon, to Washington for a noon start today.
The Penguins’ trek apparently included a plane ride to Newark, and then a bus ride to Washington. Well, The Peerless has an exclusive from the bus driver, himself… meet Clark Griswold.
“It’s a pleasure.”
Now Clark, you had a bunch of guys on a bus fresh off a hard loss, having just taken a plane ride to Newark, of all places, then having to get on a bus for a God-knows how long of a ride to DC. How in heaven’s name do you handle a crowd like that?
“Well, I just tell ‘em, ‘hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody on the bus. Boat leaves in two minutes... or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?’”
You stopped to see a ball of twine?
“No, but hey, they’re from Pittsburgh – not the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you catch my drift.”
Did you have any problems along the way?
“Well, we did get pulled over by a Jersey trooper.”
"No… we had a problem at a rest stop. When the trooper pulled me over, he came up to the window. I said, ‘Hi officer, what's the problem?’ He said, ‘ Get out of the bus!’ He was pissed. When I asked if I was speeding, he cut me off – ‘Shut your mouth, sir!,’ he said. Then he went on -- 'You know, if I weren't in uniform, I'd split your skull with the butt of this revolver faster than you can say, 'police brutality!’ Then he pointed to the back of the bus. ‘Explain this, you son-of-a-bitch!’ he said.”
Oh my God...
“That’s what I said.”
What was it?
“Seems Guerin wouldn’t quit yappin’ about getting an instigator, a fighting, and a game for his kerfuffle with Ryan White, and the guys wanted to get some sleep on the bus ride, so they tied him up on the bumper, and… well, you know.”
Oh my God!
“Oh, he’s okay. Just nicked up a little, but hey… he’s a hockey player. They’re used to that.”
So, it took you quite a while to get here. Did it seem like you’d never find DC?
“For a while it was dicey, and the boys were getting antsy to find a place to get some sleep. But then I told them, ‘I think you're all f*cked in the head. We're ten hours from the f*cking arena, and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a bus ride. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much f*cking fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddam smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a hockey game. Praise hockey! Holy Sh*t!”
One for the books, I’d say.
And that might be what we’re seeing here – the “Great Hockey Game of Twenty-Ten.” The sort of game fans will tell their grandchildren about – “why, when I was your age, I shoveled 18-foot snow drifts out of my 500-foot driveway just so I could see Alex Ovechkin kick Sidney Crosby’s ass all the way back to Pittsburgh.” That sort of thing.
But as for the ass-kickin’, we’ll just have to wait and see about that. The Pens and the Caps are two very skilled teams, two very accomplished teams, but not two equally effective teams this season, as the overall numbers indicate…
Pittsburgh has, however, had some success after taking one in the chops back on January 21st, a 6-3 Caps win. Since then, the Pens are 4-2-0. But even here, they’ve been all over the place. They have a pair of 2-1 wins (one in a Gimmick), and they have a couple of wins where they’ve had some offense (4-2 over the Rangers, 5-4 over Buffalo). Then there are the stinkers – a 4-1 loss to Ottawa (ok, they were in the midst of a winning streak) and a 5-3 loss to Montreal.
The fact is, the Pens are a strange team. No team has been involved in more three-or-more goal games this season. Perhaps fittingly, they’ve split 26 of those games (13-13). Perhaps ominously, they are 2-5 in such games since the start of the year.
None of them, though, have come in the six games since the last time these teams met. The Pens have been outscored by the opposition 17-16 in that span. Here, again, there is the good and the bad for the Penguins. On the good side, they are getting points from the guys who have to get them. Sidney Crosby is 4-4-8, Evgeni Malkin is 2-6-8, and Sergei Gonchar is 1-4-5. But after that, the Penguins have as many as two goals from only two other players, one of whom is back at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Chris Conner, Pascal Dupuis is the other).
Good and bad, again – the power play, a problem all year for the Penguins, is 4-for-19 over the last six games (21.1 percent). But it is 2-for-13 in the last five (15.4 percent).
Of particular concern for the Penguins might be goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is not having a very good 2010 so far. Since the start of the new year he is 6-5-0, 3.04, .908. Five times in 12 appearances he has allowed at least four goals, and he has been pulled twice, including yesterday in Montreal (perhaps to give him a head start in getting ready for this game, seeing as how the score was 4-2 for Montreal when he was relieved).
If Crosby, Maklin, and Gonchar are getting things done lately, and the Penguins still have only 16 goals in six games, then you might think there are problems down the roster. Well, one problem is that Chris Kunitz – who spends a lot of time on Crosby’s left wing – has been out since January 3rd, recouperating from abdominal surgery. He could return against the Caps today.
The guy on Crosby’s right – Bill Guerin – is 5-3-8 in 16 games since the start of the year, but he has only a goal (no assists) in the six games since the Pens met the Caps. Ruslan Fedotenko hasn’t scored a goal since netting the game-winner in a 5-2 win over Atlanta on January 5th. He has a couple of assists since the January 21st meeting with Washington, but he’s a minus-4 in those six games, too. Pascal Dupuis is 4-6-10 in 16 games since the start of the year and is 2-2-4 in the last six (plus-6 in that span). He’s playing respectably, which is a compliment as far as the secondary scoring for the Pens is concerned at the moment.
The problem often cited with respect to the Penguins is a lack of punch on the wing. Bill Guerin is the only winger with more than 15 goals (the Caps have four wingers with more than 15), so this argument has some merit. But what the Penguins do get is contributions from the defense. Six defensemen have at least ten points (that would be all of them who have played in at least 40 games). As a group, they do not have outsized goal totals (combined the Penguin defense has 24 goals), but they do contribute helpers – four blueliners have more than 15 assists (the Caps have two – Mike Green and Tom Poti).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal
Staal is probably the best third-line center in the game. And at not yet 22 years of age, he is the youngest player ever to appear in 300 NHL games. He has struggled some with scoring lately (1-1-2 in his last eight games), but the key here is his defense. He’s going to have to play hard and well against the Caps big guns for the Penguins to improve their chances of winning. In 13 career games against the Caps he is 1-3-4, minus-3. However, he is 0-0-0, minus-5 in his last five games against Washington.
Washington: Mike Green
He was our player to ponder the last time these teams met, then he didn’t play. But the same argument applies, so we’ll just restate it…
Green has never scored a goal against the Penguins, regular season or playoffs. But that’s not why he is a player to ponder here. In last year’s playoff series against the Penguins, Green was harassed constantly by Penguin forwards on the forecheck. It played a role in the Penguins’ ability to hammer the Caps with shots on goal. He should expect to suffer similar abuse tonight to the extent the Penguins can apply it. If he handles it well, the ice gets tilted more in the Caps’ favor, and the Caps are the superior offensive team.
1. Fast out of the gate, Part 1. It’s one thing to fall behind a goal against Boston, the Rangers, or Atlanta (as the Caps have done the last three games). Those teams are not especially gifted offensively. This is a move up in weight class. The Penguins, despite their troubles lately, have to be taken seriously as an offensively gifted team every time out. Falling behind could have, excuse the pun, a “snowball” effect.
2. Fast out of the gate, Part 2. OK, you’re facing a team that played yesterday and had to endure what had to be an uncomfortable bus ride that gets them to the next city sometime early the following morning. Think pressing them early might be a good idea to take their legs away?
3. Set the alarm clock. In three day games this year, the Young Guns are a combined 5-6-11 (Mike Green missed one of them). They are the guys who need to step up in this one for that "fast out of the gate" thing.
In the end, you’d have to think the Caps have a considerable advantage here. A full day off between games, sleeping in their own beds, playing in their own arena – against a team that played yesterday, had a difficult travel itinerary, and will get some sleep at a hotel. But the Penguins aren’t champs for nothing. They can handle adversity, and they – like 13 teams before them – will be motivated. Still, the Caps are coming in hot, and the Penguins are coming in… not.
Caps 5 – Penguins 3