Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Penguins, April 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And here we are at Game 41 on the road for the 2009-2010 season. And as fate would have it, the Caps will spend their last game on the road in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. The Caps will enter this game as the Presidents’ Trophy winner for the first time in their history. But the Presidents’ Trophy is but a stop on the road to a bigger prize – the Stanley Cup. How are these trophies different? Well, there is the history of the Stanley Cup and its travels, and then there is the history that might be added to that of the Presidents Cup after the Caps take possession of it…

The Stanley Cup… ended up on (not in) the Rideau Canal after it was drop-kicked into the canal by a member of the Ottawa Silver Seven in 1905.  Thank heavens the Canal was frozen over, or it might have sunk without a trace.

The Presidents’ Trophy… ends up on a street vendor’s table on 7th Street after it was left outside after a party at Bar Louie; no one will buy it, thinking it was a knock off like the clothes, handbags, and other items vendors were hawking.

The Stanley Cup… held for ransom after it was stolen from a photographer’s home where the Montreal Wanderers left it in 1907. No one seemed interested in getting it back to its rightful place, and it wound up back at the photographer’s house, where the lady of the house used it as a flower pot until sanity was returned.

The Presidents’ Trophy… is pilfered from Kettler Capitals Iceplex by a Caps fan who then put up for sale on eBay to pay for 2010-2011 season tickets. The minimum bid was not reached.

The Stanley Cup… left on the side of the road after Montreal Canadiens players had a flat tire and removed the Cup from the trunk to get the spare. When they got to a victory party, and it was time to drink from the Cup, the players realized what happened and went to retrieve the Cup. It was right where they left it.

The Presidents’ Trophy… becomes the model for the new “Presidents’ Gulp” 96-ounce soft drink at DC 7-11’s.

The Stanley Cup… served as the vessel in which a mortgage was burned. In 1940, New York Rangers management thought it would be a neat idea to burn the paid-off mortgage on Madison Square Garden in the Cup.

The President’s Trophy… ends up on Capitol Hill where Republicans burn in health care reform bill it. The fire is still ablaze as the 2010-2011 season ends.

The Stanley Cup… ended up on a runway with an exotic dancer at the Forum Inn, just across from Northlands Coliseum, after the Edmonton Oilers won the Cup in 1987.

The Presidents’ Trophy… goes out for a night on the town with Marion Barry.

The Stanley Cup… at least twice ended up in the bottom of a swimming pool. First in 1991, when a teammate of Mario Lemieux took the Cup on a dive to the bottom of Lemieux’ swimming pool. Then in 1993, when a few members of the Canadiens (Montrealers really have this thing about the Cup, it seems) took it to the bottom of Patrick Roy’s pool.

The Presidents’ Trophy… ends up in the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Well, speaking of wastewater, the Caps head to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins for the last time this season. The Penguins are not coming into this game on a hot streak – 3-2-2 in their last seven games, giving up as well as allowing 19 goals over that stretch. They have been decent, if not overpowering, on special teams, 5-for-26 on the power play (19.2 percent) and 23-for-26 (88.5 percent) on the penalty kill, although they have allowed a power play goal in each of their past three games. The overall numbers look like this…

The Caps won the first three games of the season series (two going to extra time), outscoring the Pens 14-10 (not including a shootout goal). The Caps outscored the Penguins 8-1 in the third period and overtime of those three games. Consider that the Penguins have lost only five games when leading after two periods this season (two of those in overtime, both against the Caps), and it speaks to a special talent the Caps have had against the Penguins that other teams have not shared – dominating the Penguins late.

Individually, the usual cast of characters will be reunited, but the key for these games might be (as it was in last year’s playoffs) down the roster. And that brings us to Tyler Kennedy, who is the Penguins’ answer to Matt Bradley. Both are crash-bang types of players. Both score modestly (9-13-22 for Bradley, 12-11-23 for Kennedy), although they seem to be clutch (Kennedy has four game-winners, as does Bradley). Kennedy has an assist in three games against the Caps this year and is 0-2-2 in nine career games against Washington.

Craig Adams will not be a stranger to Caps fans. He spent six-and-a-half seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before heading off to Chicago, and then to Pittsburgh. He doesn’t bring much in the way of offense (no goals this year in 78 games, in fact he has never scored a regular season goal for Pittsburgh in 87 total contests), but he has won Stanley Cups in both Carolina and Pittsburgh. In 37 career games against the Caps he has a goal and three assists (an assist in three games this year), but he isn’t there for points. He is there to give the team a dozen hard minutes a night (he is third on the team in hits). He is the only player in the NHL to have been born in Brunei. We’ll pause as you look that up on Google Earth.

Caps fans might also remember defenseman Mark Eaton, although the memories might be of more recent vintage. Last year, Eaton scored the only four goals in his playoff career, the last two of them coming against the Caps in their seven game series. His next goal this year will tie a career high, but don’t be thinking of him as Pittsburgh’s answer to Mike Green – his career high in goals is four. He is not there for offense, either. You might think of him as roughly analogous to Jeff Schultz. He doesn’t have Schultz’ size, but he is a sturdily-enough built defender at 6’2’, 204. But despite that size he has a total of 22 hits on the season, last among defensemen on the team (20 games minimum) and 218th among 294 defensemen in the league. It does not make him an ineffective defender, any more than the lack of big hit numbers makes one of Schultz, as Eaton is a plus-4 on the season (not that plus-minus means anything, but we thought we would toss that out there).

Marc-Andre Fleury is the goaltender of record in the Penguins’ last 11 decisions, so we expect he will get the call tonight. In this 3-2-2 run on which the Penguins find themselves, Fleury has a GAA of 2.63 and a save percentage of .901. He lost to the Caps in both games in which he appeared, both in extra time. His numbers are not exemplary in those two games – 3.76, .879. Over the last two seasons, Fleury’s numbers against the Caps have been rather ghastly – 1-3-2, 4.38, .868. But that’s regular season. He had a GAA of 3.03 in last year’s playoff series against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin

Malkin has not registered a goal against the Caps this season. That’s not to say he’s been ineffective, he has five assists in two games. And Malkin, who has slipped a notch overall from last year’s performance, might be rounding into playoff shape…sort of. Starting with a game against Vancouver on January 16th, Malkin is 12-17-29 in 22 games. That works out to a 45-70-115 pace over 82 games. But he is also a minus-12 over that span, minus-45 pace. Not sure what to make of this, except that what Malkin taketh, he at least seems to be around when it is given away.

Washington: Mike Green

Did you know that Mike Green has never scored a regular season goal against Pittsburgh? Fifteen career games, and he has seven assists, but no goals. Didn’t score on the Penguins in last year’s playoffs, either. Green’s game has matured a lot since last year, especially on the defensive side of the ice. Discussion of Green as a Norris Trophy candidate need not have the conjunction “but” included in the sentence. But (rats!) it would be nice to have him break the schneid against this team, just to send a bit of a message that there are other things to worry about than Alex Ovechkin.


1. Big Three. The Caps have made the third period of games a miserable time for the Penguins this year. The fact is, it is not unrepresentative of the performance of these teams. The Caps have outscored the Pens, 106-75 in third periods this season, and the Caps trail only Vancouver in the number of wins secured when trailing at the second intermission this year. But don’t get a big head over that. The Penguins are tied with the Caps in wins when trailing after two. Play hard those last 20.

2. Don’t let refs get into your head. You, dear Caps fan, probably think that the Penguins lead the league in power play opportunities and get an even larger helping on man-advantages at home. Wrong and wrong. The Penguins and Caps, joined at the hip as they are, have precisely the same number of total power play opportunities this year (305), which is only good for a tie for sixth in the league. The Pens have 152 power play opportunities at home, the Caps have had that many on the road (neat how that works out). Pittsburgh even gets whistled for penalties at home (with 150 such times, that is tied for sixth most in the league). But in three games so far this year, the Penguins have enjoyed a 15-7 advantage in power plays. Play smart, boys.

3. You’re second, so you try harder. No, not a rental car ad, but the second line. Crosby and Ovechkin are at the points of their respective careers where their performances are largely standoffs in these affairs. It could very well be the second lines where this one is won and lost. Malkin has all those points recently, but is on the ice for a lot of goals, too. Alexander Semin has nine goals in 17 career games against the Pens (including one in three games this year). Whoever wins this battle of lines might tell the tale.

In the end, the Caps are playing to send a message, and the Penguins are playing for pride and seeding (tied with, but losing the tiebreaker with, New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead). These games always have a playoff air these days, and this one, coming so close to the playoffs, will be no exception. Mellon Arena holds no particular advantage for the Penguins in this series recently, and the Caps will add to that misery.

Caps 4 – Penguins 3

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