Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, March 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the fourth of a five-game home stand for the Caps, and tonight’s contestant is a familiar one to Caps fans. The Carolina Hurricanes visit Verizon Center for the fourth meeting of the clubs this season and the last one to be held in Washington. So far, the Caps are 2-1 against the ‘Canes, but they dropped the last meeting between the clubs – 6-3 – last December 28th. Speaking of Carolina, we’ll bet you didn’t know…

North Carolina is the birth place of Pepsi-Cola. That’s right. Pepsi, like Coca-Cola, was first made in a southern state (Coke in Georgia). And, like Coke, Pepsi was first made by a druggist (James Pemberton in Columbus, Georgia; Caleb Bradham in New Bern, North Carolina). Lots of sick folk in the south apparently in need of caffeinated drinks made from nuts that frow on evergreen trees in African rain forests, I guess.

North Carolina is the birthplace of Krispy Kreme doughnuts (we’ll pause as you give thanks…). Yup, the first KK store opened in Winston-Salem, NC, in 1933. We’ve been getting fatter ever since.

The Hardee’s fast food chain got its start there, too (we’ve noticed that food franchises like those selling fruit smoothies aren’t started in these parts). There really is a “Hardee” – Wilbur Hardee (of course… it had to be a “Wilbur”) in Greenville started things up in 1960.

Of course, food needs spice, and North Carolina is the home – we are not making this up – of “Texas Pete” hot sauce. “Texas Pete” was picked as its name over “Mexican Joe.” We’re not making that part up, either.

And if you’re thinking Milwaukee is the beer capital of the United States?... nope. Asheville, North Carolina. It has the largest number of breweries, per capita, in the country. Why, I could go for a “Weeping Radish” right now…

While we’re putting a head on that, tonight the Caps host the Carolina Hurricanes, a team they haven’t seen since the Hurricanes embarrassed the Caps on Verizon Center ice, 6-3, on December 28th. The Hurricanes, while they haven’t had as strong a run as the Caps since (20-4-3), have climbed back to respectability from a rough start. The Hurricanes are 17-9-0 since that win and have climbed to within eight points of a playoff spot.

The eight-point deficit Carolina has to make up might be too daunting with 17 games left to play, but the way the Hurricanes are playing puts them squarely in the role of spoiler for those teams that are on the playoff bubble. And the Hurricanes can be more than an annoyance to a divisional foe such as the Caps. The overall numbers for the two clubs look like this…

But what has distinguished the Hurricanes in the last 26 games since beating the Caps is their defense. In those games, Carolina allowed an average of 2.19 goals-per-game. You would think that such a record would be a reflection on goalie Cam Ward, but he has been out with an upper body injury since he took loss in a 4-1 decision against Calgary on February 3rd. Since then, it has been goaltender-by-committee with Manny Legace and Justin Peters.

Losing Ward could have been the last nail in the coffin of the Hurricanes’ season, inasmuch as he was 9-5-0, 2.02, .929 in January before stumbling in his two February starts before going out. Legace is 5-0-0, 1.59, .941 in five appearances since Ward’s departure. Peters has been right behind him – 3-1-0, 1.76, .943. Those four games for Peters represent his first four games in the NHL. He was the sixth goaltender selected in the 2004 entry draft (38th overall)

While the goaltending has been superb, credit needs to be given to the skaters, too. In nine games since Ward left the lineup, the Hurricanes have allowed an average of only 28.8 shots per game. That would rank them with the seventh fewest shots-per-game if sustained over the entire season (by way of comparison, the Caps have allowed 32.4 shots-per-game over their last nine games).

Offense hasn’t been scarce for the Hurricanes since last facing the Caps, either. Their average of 3.19 goals-per-game over that span would rank them fourth in the league in scoring if carried over the course of the season. Part of that is the performance of Eric Staal. He was 2-3-5 in that last meeting between these teams, which was the springboard for him going 12-14-26 in 24 games since. However, he might be suffering the same post-Olympic letdown that a number of other Olympians are suffering. He is 0-2-2 since returning, and he hasn’t had a goal in eight games dating back to February 5th.

While Staal has become the face of the franchise and has had a good 2010 portion of the season, the leading scorer for the Hurricanes is Jussi Jokinen, who has put together a nice set of numbers since the last time these teams met. Since that meeting, Jokinen is 15-13-28 in 26 games and has three game-winning goals in that span. In fact, the 15 goals have come in his last 19 games, and he has not gone consecutive games without a goal in that span. In 11 career games against the Caps, Jokinen is 3-5-8. This year he is 1-3-4 in three games.

Ray Whitney is still with the Hurricanes. You probably would have made a tidy pile of money had you bet that on March 2nd. Whitney, who was the subject of so many trade rumors he had his own index on CNBC, was not moved to a contender. Whether it disappointed him or not that he wasn’t moved, his production since the trade deadline hasn’t been there – 0-0-0 in three games after a six-game points streak leading up to the trading deadline. If there is a team against which he might come out of that funk, it is Washington. There is no team in the NHL against which he has more points (18-31-49 in 55 games).

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Carolina: Brian Pothier

Since being traded to Carolina, Pothier had seen a jump in his ice time. In three games he hasn’t played less than 22:17 (he topped that mark only twice in 41 games with the Caps). He has been called upon to skate more on special teams than was the case in Washington – more than three minutes a game on the penalty kill after getting barely a half-minute a game with the Caps this year and almost four minutes a game on the power play after getting a minute and change per game with Washington. He has a bigger role with this team, so he is going to get all the opportunity to make the Caps wish they never made the trade for…

Washington: Joe Corvo

Corvo has been called upon to skate more than 20 minutes in each of his three games with the Caps since the trade. And while his 1:59 in average power play time doesn’t put much of a dent in Mike Green’s lead in average power play ice time (5:03), it is second on the team among defensemen. He has provided, and will continue to provide, some relief for Green on that score. But perhaps more important, Corvo led the Hurricanes in penalty killing ice time before the trade (4:38). He is not getting a lot in that role (1:35) so far, but one would expect that as he becomes more acclimated to the Caps’ systems, he will see that total increase. Hopefully, it will be accompanied by an improvement in the Caps’ overall penalty killing performance.


1. Score first. There is no other indicator that has a greater bearing on this game, at least as far as the Hurricanes are concerned, and here is why. Carolina has 27 wins this year. 22 of them came in games in which they scored first. With 81.5 percent of their wins achieved in that fashion, only Philadelphia has a higher percentage of wins (85.3) achieved while scoring first.

2. Be special. The Caps have had mixed success against the Hurricanes this year when it comes to special teams, but not in the way you might think. In three games, the Caps are 2-for-13 on the power play (15.4 percent), while allowing the same number of power play goals in the same number of attempts on the penalty kill. Since the Caps have a considerable advantage in 5-on-5 play, you might think that they could cope with not getting a lot of power play success here. But penalty killing has been a problem – 68.9 percent in 11 games since February 1st. That has to change, or it will make this a difficult evening for the Caps.

3. Mo’ Momentum. And that speaks to the play of Jose Theodore. He was the victim of the Hurricanes' onslaught at the end of December, allowing five goals on 25 shots (Carolina also had an empty-netter). Since then he is 13-1-2, 2.46, .926, and one shutout. Theodore hasn’t had especially noteworthy numbers against Carolina this year – 2-1-0, 3.33, .881 – but he is on top of his game right now.

In the end, the Hurricanes are not a team to be taken lightly. On a wins-losses basis alone, they are 17-9-0 since the last time the teams met, the Caps are 20-7-0. In getting to that record, the Hurricanes haven’t been flukes, either. Along the way, they defeated Chicago, Ottawa (twice, by identical 4-1 scores), Buffalo (twice, also by identical 4-3 scores), and New Jersey. There hasn’t been a lot of distance between these teams in performance over the past couple of months. But the Caps have dominated the Southeast Division to the tune of 14-2-0 this year. All other things equal, they are still the big dog on the block. It might be closer than Caps fans would expect, but the Caps will get to 99 points…

Caps 4 – Hurricanes 3

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