The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s “hump game” – the middle game in the five game home stand on which the Capitals find themselves. And tonight’s opponent, the Dallas Stars, represent the last club in the Pacific Division that the Caps will see this year, unless they were to see one in the Stanley Cup finals. Dallas, as any Texan will tell you, is the crown jewel of Texas cities when it comes to sports teams – the Stars, the Cowboys, the Mavericks, the Rangers (well, the only real Rangers, anyway), the Brahmas (that’s a hockey team, folks)… Why, you’d think Dallas was the center of the known universe when it came to sports. Or so they might think in Texas.
Well podners, Dallas, Texas, is hardly unique. Why, it’s not even the only “Dallas.” There’s a Dallas in each and every time zone of the continental United States – there’s one in Georgia, one in North Carolina. There’s one in Wisconsin (not to be confused with the “town” of Dallas, Wisconsin), one in Iowa. There’s one in Colorado; there’s one in Oregon. Why, there’s even one in Pennsylvania (but then again, they have an Indiana, a Paris, and a Moscow, too).
There is a Dallas in Scotland (from which the Dallas in Texas gets its name), there is a Dallas in Australia. There is even a Dallas in Canada (actually, it’s a neighborhood in Kamloops, BC).
There is a Dallas Dhu whisky (once distilled near the aforementioned Dallas, Scotland)
There is even an asteroid named “Dallas.”
So if you get right down to it, Dallas just isn’t that special.
Tonight, the Capitals host the Stars to complete their tour of the Pacific Division. To date, the Caps are 3-2-0 against the Pacific, so this is a chance for the Caps to finish with their first winning record against the far westerners since the 2005-2006 season (3-2-0) and the most wins against it, well…ever.
To do so, the Caps will have to beat a team that is struggling lately. After going 6-2-1 going into the Olympic break, the Stars have stumbled coming out of it. Three games, three losses. And ugly losses they have been. In each one the Stars allowed at least five goals, and only against the Penguins in their last game did they manage to score more than one (outscored 17-5 overall). Add to that the fact that only four teams in the league have fewer road wins than do the Stars, and this makes for a difficult test for the visitors. The overall numbers look like this…
The Stars are led in scoring by Brad “Less than Zero” Richards. Yes, he has 69 points, tied for ninth in the league in scoring. True, he has 52 helpers, which ranks him fourth in the league in that department. But he is also a minus-17, which ranks him in a tie for 822nd (as in “eight-hundred-and-twenty-second”). It’s not as if this is entirely foreign territory for Richards, a player who has yet to finish on the plus side of the ledger since the lockout (minus-67 in his last 274 games). While he is 2-8-10 in his last nine games, he is also a minus-4 (minus-6 in his last three). The plus-minus might be an overrated and overabused statistic, but Richards’ has the highest goals against-on ice/60 minutes in the league among forwards (source: behindthenet.ca). He also has the worst differential among forwards in the league (GAON/60-to-GAOFF/60). His reputation for skill on defense seems a bit overrated.
Mike Ribeiro missed 15 games in January and early February after being struck in the throat by the Rangers’ Chris Higgins on January 6th. Since returning on February 9th, he is 5-3-8, plus-3 in six games, with three power play goals. He’s had reasonably good success against Southeast Division teams in his career, with one notable exception. Against Atlanta, Carolina, Florida, and Tampa Bay he has a total of 17 goals in 64 career games (at least three against each of those teams). He has yet to find the back of the net in 15 career games against Washington.
Mike Modano is the grand old man of the Stars in this, his 20th season with the franchise, dating back to its days in Minnesota. His offense has been in decline for several years – his last point-a-game season was in 2002-2003 – but he does provide a veteran presence that could still be valuable to a team that is only six points out of a playoff spot. He is struggling of late, though; he is on a seven game streak without a point. But the Caps have been something of a tonic in his career. Only against Toronto has Modano scored more points among teams in the East than he has against the Caps (12-30-42 in 31 games).
13 defensemen in the NHL have at least ten goals. Tell us you knew that Stephane Robidas was one of them. He leads the blue liners in goals, assists, points, power play goals (as many as Mike Green – seven), shots, and ice time. The goals, assists, and points (10-24-34) all represent career highs for Robidas, who is in his ninth full season. And he’s been more disciplined that he has in recent years in this respect -- coming into this year he accumulated 314 penalty minutes in 304 games. This year, though, he has only 39 PIMs in 64 games. He is 2-2-4 in 15 career games against Washington.
In goal it would seem that Marty Turco would get the call (Kari Lehtonen got the start, and the decision, in a 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday). Turco is hanging onto the first page of the NHL stat rankings by his fingernails. His 2.75 GAA is 30th in the league, and his .910 save percentage is tied for 23rd (with Jose Theodore, it turns out). It represents some slippage for Turco from his best years, but those numbers are comparable with his post lockout numbers (2.49, .904). Against the Caps he is 3-0-1, 2.31 for his career.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Dallas: Brenden Morrow
Morrow is pretty much the heart and soul of this team, the sort of player who plays a lot bigger than his 5’11”, 205 size would suggest. And he has the injuries over the years to prove it – groin, wrist, knee, and this year the dreaded “upper body injury” that had him out for four games. He has been limited to 199 of the past 310 games for the Stars, which makes one wonder if that 32 goal season he had in 2007-2008 was an aberration or another notch in his progress. He has had success against the Caps (5-8-13 in nine career games), although he hasn’t scored a goal since January 8th and has only one since December 16th.
Washington: Mike Green
Here is your fun Mike Green fact for this game. Over this season and last, Green is 4-4-8 in eight Monday games. On the other hand, he does not have a goal in two career games against the Stars (ok, it’s a small sample). Green might not be having quite the season he had last year, statistically, but he does still lead the league’s defensemen in goals, assists, and points, is tied for first in power play goals, and is tied for third in game-winners. Since New Years Day, Green has gone consecutive games without a point only once (January 23rd and 26th), and he did not have a point against the Rangers on Saturday. He is 6-19-25 in 21 games in the 2010 portion of the schedule.
1. Shoot, shoot again, and shoot some more. Marty Turco is a goalie who put up some excellent numbers in his career. Before the lockout he did not finish a year with a save percentage below .913, and he did not have a goals against average above 2.09. The thing is, he saw an average of only 22.6 shots a game in his career before the lockout. He sees more rubber these days (29.8 shots/game), and he isn’t as efficient or effective as a result.
2. Make it quick work. Dallas has surrendered the sixth most first period goals in the league and the fifth highest total of second period goals. It goes a long way toward explaining why only four teams – Atlanta, Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto – have gone into the second intermission trailing on the scoreboard more times. Add to that the fact that Dallas has the league’s 24th ranked road penalty killers, and this sets up well for Washington.
3. Put away the how-I-spent-my-break movies. The four Olympic skaters – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, and Nicklas Backstrom – have no goals among them since coming back from Vancouver. It’s nice to have the Scott Walkers and the Eric Belangers come in and chip in some goals, but these guys represent four of the top six goal scorers on the team. It would be nice to see them get back on track.
In the end, these are not your father’s Dallas Stars. It is not the club of old that could smother opponents with a suffocating system-driven defense. It is a middle-of-the-road club now with some significant problems on defense, mostly their penalty killing (although that 20th ranked 5-on-5 is a problem, too). This is a team that seems in some respects made to order for the Caps, but nothing should ever be taken for granted. Still, if the Caps show up and give an honest effort, Dallas is not in their weight class.
Caps 5 – Stars 2