The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
We’re here with some comments on last night’s game and a preview of tonight’s contest, when the Caps…
“Getting’ lazy, huh, cuz?”
Well, well… seems the cousins are back from Vancouver. How’d you like the Olympics, guys?
“Spectacular! A feast for the fan of competition.”
“Yeah, and the women were good lookin’, too.”
“Quite a change for you… they all had all their teeth.”
“Yeah, even the lady hockey players.”
Guys, what competition did you like most? Fearless?
“Curling… sort of like chess on ice, except you only have 40-pound rocks, instead of rooks and knights and such.”
Cheerless, how about you?
“Oh, yeah… gimme any sport where you get to strap a couple o’ planks on yer feet, and you get to shoot guns… I’m there.”
So you were really excited about that one, eh?
“You bet. But I have an idea to make it even better.”
“Oh, this oughtta be good.”
“Sure, my idea is for a “TRI-athlon.”
“Sure… you ski to a spot, chug a beer, take a shot… ski to a spot, chug a beer, take a shot.”
“Sounds like New Years at your place, cuz.”
“You’re just still mad ‘cuz you shot yerself in the foot last time.”
Guys? The game?
The Caps beat the Sabres last night, 3-1, in Buffalo in what could be an important game going forward. First, they beat Ryan Miller, no small feat. True, Miller is coming down off the high – and the disappointment – of leading the United States to a silver medal in hockey, losing in overtime to Team Canada for the gold, but Miller has been consistently superb and often brilliant all year. Last night he was in good form, just not quite good enough.
And a lot of not being quite good enough was a product of who was playing at the other end of the ice. Jose Theodore turned aside 23 of 24 shots to win and put his record at 11-0-2 in his last 13 appearances.
Then there is this. The Caps are the top scoring team in the league, but the flip side of that coin is that they have not been successful in low scoring contests this year. Going into last night’s game they were 8-11-5 in games where they scored three or fewer goals. Gutting out a 3-1 win is what folks in Caps Nation are going to want to see as the calendar moves toward the playoff phase of the season.
In a related vein, it was encouraging to see the Caps put the clamps on the Sabres in terms of both shots and goals allowed. The Caps had not held an opponent to a single goal since defeating Boston, 4-1, on February 2nd. But perhaps just as important, the 24 shots allowed was the lowest number since they allowed 19 to the Kings in Los Angeles on January 2nd. Having the time off to rest and to reacquaint themselves with their systems in practice bore fruit last night.
But the chore now is to put two of these together, and the Caps get their chance to do that tonight against the Lightning, when the boys return to Verizon Center ice. Tampa Bay comes into this game in a bit of disarray. After starting the month of February on a promising note – four straight wins, only five goals allowed – they lost their last three going into the Olympic break by a combined score of 15-10. Then, on Tuesday, they were pasted by the Flyers in their first game back after the break, 7-2.
Both of the goalies seem to be on a rough stretch. Antero Niittimaki, who took the loss on Tuesday, is 0-2-0 in his last three appearances, 6.92, .824. Mike Smith, who would appear to be the victim…uh, goalie for tonight’s game, has fared better statistically (barely), with a 3.42 GAA in his last five appearances and a .847 save percentage. He is 0-3-0 in those five appearances. Neither have played especially well against the Caps this year. Niittymaki has the only win for the Lightning this year, but gave up two goals in 33 minutes of work in getting it. It is his only appearance against the Caps this year. Smith is 0-2-0, 3.29, .896 in three appearances so far this year.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos
Stamkos is the one Lightning player who has been on fire, even in the midst of the four game losing streak. In those four games he is 4-5-9. He is also 3-2-5 in three games againt the Caps so far this year. That’s a lethal mix.
Washington: David Steckel
Yes, Caps fans know the drill. Steckel is a Tampa Bay terror – 6-5-11 in 13 games coming into this year. But he doesn’t have a point against the Lightning in three games this year. The key for Steckel is that he is 0-2-2 in his last 14 games since scoring his last goal, which came against Detroit on January 19th. It would be nice to get a little more pop out of him.
1. Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Tonight the Caps are likely to greet their new troops – Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, and Joe Corvo (Milan Jurcina is out for at least a month with a sports hernia). Integrating that many players into the lineup without the benefit of at least a full practice could be a chore. Hope these guys can learn on the fly. But hey, it’s hockey, right?... right?
2. PK be OK. The last two times time these teams met the Lighting were a combined 5-for-9 on the power play. It can’t be said that the Caps penalty killers had an epiphany as a result, either. Since the Lightning went 4-for-7 in a 7-4 win on January 12th, the Caps have skated off 64 of 80 shorthanded situations – 80.0 percent. That needs to improve.
3. Second 20. Washington has the second highest total of goals scored in the second period of any team this season. Tampa has allowed the fourth most goals in that frame. Look for the Caps to pull away by the 40-minute mark.
In the end, it’s a story of two different teams – one tuning themselves for the playoffs, the other fighting for their playoff lives (Tampa is two points out of eighth place). That’s a product of one team being that much better at both ends of the ice. Tonight, it will be a case of showing who belongs where in the Eastern Conference pecking order…
Caps 5 – Lightning 2