Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, March 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, it is the Ottawa Senators making their last appearance on F Street this season, unless of course the Senators and Capitals should meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Caps are assured of their place in the Eastern Conference seedings, the Senators are still awaiting their fate. And getting there has been half the fun. What a roller-coaster ride it has been.

“Trust me… that ain’t no roller coaster.”

Let me guess, you’re a roller coaster expert.

“Yup, name’s ‘Bud’… been workin’ on roller coasters since before they rolled or coasted.”

I see… well, how does this Ottawa team compare to a roller coaster?

“Doesn’t. They don’t skate as fast… fastest one is the “Ring Racer” at the Nürburgring amusement park in Nürburg, Germany.”

You’re kidding…

“Nope, 135 miles an hour, last year. And don’t even think that Andy Sutton guy has anything on the Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey… biggest one of all, a 418 foot drop.”

You’ve been at this a long time…

“Don’t tell me about long… longest coaster is that Steel Dragon 2000 they got over in Nagashima Spa Land in Japan… 8,133 feet.”

More than 40 hockey rinks.

“If you say so.”

But the Senators have been up and down and up and down…

“Yeah, yeah, but the coasters with the most inversions? That’s what we call ‘em in roller coaster lingo. There’s the one in England – the “Colossus” in Surrey at Thorpe Park – and one in China in Chimelong Paradise in Guangzhou – ten apiece.”

I’m getting ill just thinking about it.

“Sort of like the way Edmonton Oiler fans feel these days?”

Good point.

Well, like we said, it has been quite a roller-coaster ride for the Senators. Starting on January 5th with a 4-1 loss to Boston, Ottawa has had streaks of…

- five losses, followed by
- 11 wins, followed by
- a brief interlude of sanity (4-4-1), followed by
- five losses, followed by
- four wins, and counting

For those of you following along at home, that is 19-14-1 over their last 34 games. Break the streaks down, and there is really no mystery how they happened. Five losses, outscored 22-5… 11 wins, outscoring the opposition 37-13… five losses, outscored 22-9… four wins, outscoring the opposition 11-4. Ottawa didn’t just win or lose in these streaks, they either pasted or were pasted by their opponents. In the 25 games that comprise the four streaks, Ottawa played in a grand total of five one-goal games (4-1-0 record).  Here is how the overall numbers break down...

One other thing they have been able to do in the winning streaks is absolutely slam the door on opponents with defense and goaltending. Ottawa has four shutouts in their last 29 games, and they allowed only one goal in six others. Only once in the 19 wins over their last 34 games did the Senators allow more than three goals.

And that starts with goalie Brian Elloitt, who is the only Senator goalie to win a game since Mike Brodeur got the Senators a pair of wins in consecutive starts in mid-January. Since then, Elliott is 17-6-0, 2.09, .928, with three shutouts. Elliott hasn’t necessarily been good as much as he’s been there against the Caps. In two appearances this year he is 2-0-0, 3.97, .846.

That sort of goaltending requires scoring, and the Senators have been the beneficiaries of balanced scoring in playing the Caps this season. In three games, ten Senators share 12 goals scored against the Caps, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips the only players with two.

That is the kind of balance that the Senators have had all season. Although Ottawa is 18th in total scoring, they have 20 skaters in double digits in points (by way of comparison, the Caps, who lead the league in scoring, have 17 such skaters).

The flip side of “balance” in this instance is that the Senators lack a top-end scorer. Daniel Alfredsson, with 64 points in 64 games, ranks 33rd in total scoring. Mike Fisher and Milan Michalek, with 22 goals apiece, are tied for 60th in the league in goal scoring. Unfortunately for the Senators, Michalek has been out of the lineup since sustaining a knee injury against Atlanta. This is not the team that could once boast three 90-point or better scorers (the 2005-2006 club that had Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza all with 90 points or better). This team lacks a standout scorer.

Injuries have hit the blue line as well. Filip Kuba, who leads the Senator defensemen in scoring, is questionable for tonight’s game with the dreaded “lower body” injury, while shot-blocker deluxe Anton Volchenkov is listed as “doubtful” with the always troubling “upper body” injury.

The absence of a pair of 20 minute a night defensemen will place added pressure on Andy Sutton, obtained from the Islanders at the trade deadline to provide shade to teammates on sunny days. It is hard to see what other benefit he has provided in the 12 games he has played for the Senators so far. In those 12 games he has recorded a single point, is minus-6, has been a minus player in seven of the 12 games he has played, and has taken seven minor penalties.

Sutton has been paired lately with Erik Karlsson, a 19-year old who seems to be finding his game lately. After going 0-2-2, minus-8 in his first nine games out of the Olympic break, he is 1-5-6, plus-3 in his last four games. Karlsson has dressed for only one of the three games against the Caps this year, playing 22:30 without a point and even in plus-minus.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jason Spezza

This has not been a memorable year for the 26-year old center. He lost 20 games to a torn MCL, and he is likely to finish this season with his lowest point total since his rookie season. However, he is 4-5-9, plus-6 in his last six games, including a hat trick against Dallas on March 20th. He has been something of an annoyance to the Caps, as well. In 22 career games he is 7-15-22, including a goal and two assists in two games this year. Spezza also performed a classy deed before a game against Calgary a few weeks ago, giving a young fan his stick after the glass he shattered on a shot in warm-ups landed on the fan. Of course, Senator fans might think the glass was the only thing he hit this year. He is 24th on the club in hits.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Southeast Division teams aside, Backstrom has more points against the Senators (5-9-14 in 11 games) than he does against any opponent except Pittsburgh (1-16-17 in 11 games). That includes a goal and two assists in three games against Ottawa this year. Backstrom has been almost a metronome in his consistency. He hasn’t gone consecutive games without a point since early January and has points in six of his last seven games (3-7-10). He has slowed down a bit in the goal-scoring department with three tallies in his last 15 games after getting 26 in his first 60 games. His next goal will be his 30th of the season and would give the Caps three 30-goal scorers for the second consecutive year.


1. Pay attention. The Caps seem to have had their attention wander to April, and we don’t mean filing their income tax returns. The club has had the look of one that just wants these last two weeks over with so they can get on with the playoffs. Ottawa still has things to play for – they have not yet sewn up a playoff spot, and there is the matter of seeding. They are a solid five-seed at the moment (six points behind fourth-place New Jersey, five ahead of sixth-place Philadelphia).

2. Slow and steady. Ottawa ranks 18th in the league in goals scored per game, but what they are capable of is getting stronger offensively as the game goes on. They have scored (by period), 59, 66, and 72 goals. The Senators have scored five third period goals against the Caps in three games this season.

3. Find the soft underbelly. With Kuba and Volchenkov likely out or at least rendered less than fully effective due to injury, the Caps need to press their replacements. Brian Lee has been recalled from Binghamton (his fourth such recall this season for a total of 21 games). The Senators could be vulnerable on the blue line.

In the end, the Caps are fighting a lack of clear focus. One could forgive such a sin against Calgary, who the Caps will not see again until next season. But against the Senators, who could be a playoff opponent at some point, a statement is in order. And that statement is that they are coming into the big dog’s yard.

Caps 5 – Senators 2

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