Monday, October 11, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, October 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps righted the ship for the moment in the form of a 7-2 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday (would ‘twere that they had thrashed the Thrashers in their opener on Friday).  And now they get the Ottawa Senators in the first battle of nation’s capitals this season.  It will be a chance for the Caps to build on the success of Saturday’s contest in which they tied a franchise best for goals scored in a home opener.  Hopefully, the Caps can build on that success without the extracurriculars of the sort that provided the Devils’ Pierre-Luc Leblond an unpaid vacation that…

“Makes him the worst…person…in the wor-r-r-r-r-r-r-rld!”

Guess I should have seen this coming.  Living in Washington, a game pitting the representatives of the nation’s capitals against one another, political cities both… we get talk show host Heath Golbermann.  And where there is a Golbermann, there is a…

“sniff sniff…sob sob…”

Benn Gleck.  Why the tears, Benn?

“That game Saturday was just…a beautiful thing to… watch

Absolutely.  Well guys, the Caps are taking on the Senators, and… oh God, he’s got his blackboard…

“Did you know that ‘Sidney Crosby’ is an acronym for ‘icy nerdy boss,’ which pretty much describes him.”

No, I didn’t know that.

“And he’s worst…person…in the wor-r-r-r-r-r-r-rld!”

“And if you just twist these words around just a little bit, you get ‘icy nerdy sobs,’ which is what he DOES on the ice… coincidence?”

“What do you expect for the worst…person…in the wor-r-r-r-r-r-r-rld?!”

"And here is the heart of the conspiracy, proof of how deep in the bowels of the NHL offices a plan was hatched to place Crosby in Pittsburgh… if you rearrange the letters in ‘Sidney Crosby’ thus… you get ‘scored by yins’… and ‘yins’ as we all know, is Pittsburgh slang for ‘you all.’  He had to go to Pittsburgh as part of Gary Bettman’s grand plan to turn the NHL into a radical Penguinist regime.”

“Gary Bettman…the worst person in the wor-r-r-r-r-r-r-rld!”

Uh, guys?  I’m sure we can agree on that, but what does that have to do with anything?  Oh, I forgot… that’s sort of what you guys do, but the Caps?  The Senators? 

That is the object of the exercise this evening as the Senators visit Verizon Center.  Ottawa will be looking for their first win of the season, having dropped decisions to Buffalo (2-1) and Toronto (5-1).  The Senators hope that moving south will warm up their offense, which has been limited to goals by Chris Kelly and Jason Spezza in 120 minutes of play so far.  It is not altogether surprising given how the Senators finished last season:

If the Senators’ “big three” scorers can be thought to be Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Alex Kovalev, none of them have exploded out of the gate just yet.  They are a combined 1-1-2, minus-4.  This is a threesome that could come back to scoring health against the Caps.  Alfredsson is 32-28-60 in 50 games against the Caps, Kovalev is 19-30-49 in 62 career games, and Spezza is 9-17-26 lifetime against the Caps in 23 games. 

Last year these three were a combined 6-10-16 against the Caps (each of them dressed for three games).  But they were also a combined minus-8.  And that gets to a problem the Caps had with the Senators last season.  Of the 17 goals Ottawa scored in the season series, six came on the power play (in 12 opportunities).  Ottawa won three of the four contests in last year’s season series, and in all of them they scored at least one power play goal (6-for-9 in the wins).  In their lone loss, they were held without a power play goal in three tries.  If the Caps’ penalty killing has improved with a new-found aggressiveness in attacking  penalty killers, it could get its first stiff test of the season against this club.

Ottawa will be tested, too, and in a manner that could cause problems, given Washington’s prolific offense.  The top two defensemen the Senators will dress – Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips – have skated a combined 1,858 NHL regular season games between them.  But the other four – Brian Lee, Chris Campoli, Matt Carkner, and Erik Karlsson – have a combined 553 games of experience, and Campoli has 322 of those. 

Much of this defense is very young, and it misses the departed Anton Volchenkov in an important respect.  Last season Volchenkov was seventh in the league among defensemen in blocked shots, despite missing 18 games.  So far, the Senators have a total of 18 blocked shots in two games, only half of those by defensemen.  In those two games they allowed 74 shots on goal (getting only 44 themselves).

That is putting a lot of pressure on goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who has a decent save percentage in two games (.905), but it means he has allowed seven goals on those 74 shots (a 3.53 GAA, good – if that can be the word for it -- for 32nd in the league).  Should he get the start tonight, he brings something less than a successful career record against the Caps to Verizon Center.  He is 0-2-0, 2.89, .903 in three career appearances against Washington.  He was in net for Ottawa’s only loss to the Caps last year, a 5-2 decision.  Perhaps Brian Elliott will get the call.  He has never lost to the Caps (4-0-0 in five appearances), but he’s accomplished this while posting a goals-against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .850).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jarkko Ruutu

We’re betting none of you reading this would have thought that the Caps and the Senators would rank in the top five in fights in the first week of the season.  But that is where these teams reside at the moment.  One of the players who sets a certain tone that could fester into a fight-fest is Jarkko Ruutu, a player who has a talent for agitation and, in the eyes of some (ok, lots), dirty play.  He hasn’t been involved in any of the Senators three bouts so far.  In fact, he hasn’t been involved in a fight against the Caps since 2006 (against Brooks Laich) and has only two of his career 34 bouts against the Caps.  But if there is a scrum, you can bet he’ll be somewhere in the middle of it (before he runs away).

Washington:  Michal Neuvirth

We pick him again because this will likely be his third game in four nights.  Last season he played on three consecutive nights on one occasion for Hershey in the regular season (coming in relief in the middle game), going 2-1.  However, he allowed only four goals on 66 shots (.939 save percentage) in the three games.  He played three games in four nights in the playoffs once (against Manchester), and went 1-2, but allowed only six goals on 93 shots (.936 save percentage).


1.  No letdowns.  If the Caps played “up” to their opponent on Saturday, they can’t afford to play “down” (again) to their opponent tonight.  The Ottawa offense might have been dormant in its first two games, but it has a history – with Alfredsson, Spezza, and Kovalev – of making some noise against the Caps.

2.  Four, no more.  In two games the Caps have surrendered only seven power play opportunities to their opponents.  Given the success the Senators had last year in piercing the Caps’ penalty kill, it would behoove the home team to avoid testing the notion of a revamped penalty killing unit too often.

3.  Fast out of the gate.  Ottawa has been outscored 3-0 in the first period of their two games so far.  The Caps also have been outscored in the first period of their two games (3-2).  Getting fast out of the gate means on defense as much as on offense.  If they play as sleepy a first period as they did against both Atlanta and New Jersey, it could allow the Senators to feel entirely too good about themselves.

In the end, the Senators are a club that probably overachieved last year in finishing fifth with 94 points.  They slumped at the end, going 8-9-2 in March and April, scoring 2.4 goals a game in the process.  They have two goals in two games so far and are 0-for-9 on their power play.  Unlike the Senator teams of the early 2000’s they are a club that has struggled to find consistent offense.  Sergei Gonchar was brought in to help alleviate that problem, especially on the power play.  But his presence tonight might not offset the departure of Anton Volchenkov, who could be counted on to shadow Alex Ovechkin around the ice (Ovechkin had one goal in four games against the Senators last season, that one coming in the Caps’ only win).  And the rest of the defense around him and Chris Phillips is likely to be too green to offset the pressure the Caps can apply.

Caps 5 – Senators 2

1 comment:

Hooks Orpik said...

The star of games that he doesn't even play in...