I said… THE PEERLESS PROGNOSTICATOR IS ON THE AIR!!!
Get up you guys, we have a game to prognostify.
“mmph…smacksmacksmack… go away…”
Hey, just because you drowned your sorrows after that stinker last night in a bucket of that stuff you call “liquid orgasm” doesn’t mean you get to sleep in on game day.
Well, guess the cousins need to sleep this one off. Tonight the Caps complete the weekend back-to-backer by heading home to face the Philadelphia Flyers in a classic Patrick Division matchup. OK, that reference probably went right over the heads of you younger readers, but once upon a time, before the Twitternets and EyePhones and hockexting there were divisions named after people, not points on a compass. And the biggest, the baddest, the nastiest, and the rootin-est tootin-est division of them all was named for Lester “the Silver Fox” Patrick, one of the great builders of the game of hockey. The Patrick Division was first part of the Clarence Campbell Conference, and no, Clarence Campbell was not the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He was another great builder of the game of hockey (see, the league once paid homage to its great builders, now it gives you geography lessons).
But the Patrick Division was moved to the Prince of Wales Conference in 1981, and that’s where the Caps and Flyers rivalry really gets going. Oh, the wars these two teams fought…Rod Langway, Tim Kerr, Brad Marsh, Dave Christian, Scott Stevens, Brian Propp, Alan May, Craig Berube. Today, what? Danny Briere? How can you have a war with a guy named “Danny?”
Tonight’s game features two of the hottest teams in the league…sort of. While the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last ten, and the Caps are 8-1- in their last ten, both teams come to the ice tonight with the aftertaste of losing in their mouths. The Flyers have lost their last two, getting shutout by Montreal in the first of them, 3-0, then finishing on the wrong side of one of the oddest games of the year, an 8-7 loss on home ice to Tampa Bay, a game in which the Flyers gagged on two-goal leads three times. The Caps are coming off their worst game of the year, a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Both teams might be in an ornery mood tonight. As for the numbers, here is now they play out…
If there is one thing that jumps out from the numbers, it is that these teams are likely to take very different approaches to the contest. The Caps are among the most explosive offensive teams on home ice. Their 4.09 goals per game at home ranks third in the league. On the other side of the coin, the Flyers are allowing only 2.00 goals a game on the road, the third lowest total in the league.
That goals against performance begins with “Bobo the Goalie.” Sergei Bobrovsky has been quite a find for the Flyers. At this time last season Bobrovsky was manning the nets for his hometown Novokuznetsk Metallurg in the KHL in Russia, where he would post a 9-22-3 record. The Flyers saw something in him, though, signing him to a three-year entry level contract as a free agent last May. Maybe it was the 2.72 GAA and .919 save percentage he posted last season.
In any event, Bobrovsky leads all rookie goaltenders (minimum six games) in wins (11), goals against average (2.29), and save percentage (.925). Quite a start for the youngster. But here is the ominous part for Flyer fans. Bobrovsky has allowed seven goals on the last 32 shots he has faced, a ghastly .781 save percentage. Three goals came in Philadelphia’s 3-0 loss to Montreal last Tuesday, and four goals came on 11 shots in the 8-7 donnybrook against Tampa Bay on Thursday. He has played in 16 of the Flyers’ 20 games so far. Too much work, too soon for the rookie? If he plays tonight, we might get a hint, given the Caps’ ability to score at home.
And that brings us to the defense and perhaps the most important player in orange and black on the blue line. No, not Chris Pronger, but Kimmo Timonen. One of the more underrated defensemen in the game, Timonen leads the Flyers’ defensemen in ice time, points, and is their top penalty killer measured by ice time. There are competing forces with respect to Timonen and tonight’s game. On the one hand, he is often called upon to “shadow” Alex Ovechkin. That, however, is a mixed bag. In the three years Timonen has been with the Flyers before this season, Ovechkin is 10-6-16 in 11 regular season games against the Flyers, including five goals in three games last season. Ovechkin seems to have figured it out. And, Timonen has been on the ice for more goals against (26) than any other Flyer this season.
Among the forwards, Claude Giroux seems to be the new “It” guy. Playing in only his second full season with the Flyers, he is tied for the team lead goals and points, leads the teams in both power play and shorthanded goals (eight of his ten have come on special teams), and he is tied for the team lead in game-winning goals. In seven career games against the Caps he has a goal and an assist, but he is also a minus-5 (all of that coming last season in four games).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Philadelphia: Mike Richards
If you haven’t been noticing, the Flyers’ captain has been putting together quite a stretch of games. In his last 14 games he is 8-10-18, plus-6, which coincides nicely with a 10-3-1 team record after a 2-3-1 start. In 19 career games against the Caps, Richards is 5-11-16, plus-1, but he has been especially effective on the power play in that time, particularly as a set-up man (1-8-9). The thing is, though, even though he was 3-2-5 against the Caps last year, five of his six points came on the power play, and he was a minus-6 in the four games he played.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin has used the Flyers as one of his favorite chew toys recently. In the last six games in which he faced the Flyers, he is 7-5-12, plus-7, including five goals in three games last season. He has had points in each of those last six games. But Ovechkin is in the midst of one of the driest spells of goal scoring in his career. He has two over his last seven games and has only 14 shots on goal over his last six contests. Last night was the first time in five games that he skated for more than 20 minutes. He had three shots on goal, but two of those came in the third period with the outcome long having been decided.
1. Five-on-five. The Caps are a very good team at five on five. The Flyers are better. At the moment Philadelphia is scoring more than three goals at 5-on-5 for every two that their opponents score. Even in that lollapalooza of a game against Tampa Bay Thursday night, the Flyers outscored the Lightning, 7-5, at even strength.
2. First 20. The Caps have scored 13 goals in the first period so far this season, tied for 24th in the league. The Flyers have scored 24 – second in the league. What is worse, the Caps have allowed the fourth highest number of first period goals in the league. You do the math.
3. Second line scoring. If the Caps are having to reassemble an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line in games, chances are that the second line isn’t doing much to take the heat off the first line when Mike Knuble is skating in the spot Semin takes over. Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, and whoever is centering that line tonight (that we phrase it that way should leave Caps fans quaking in fear over the lack of options at that position this deep in the season) need to contribute. It would be nice to get Laich off the schneid. He has two goals in his last 15 games, both coming against the Rangers six games ago. (edit: seems Mike Knuble will be out for this game and perhaps a few more after taking that puck to the jaw last night...)
In the end, this is a tale of the irresistible force (the Caps ability to score at home) versus the immovable object (the Flyers allowing few goals on the road). Whichever team can impose its will on the pace and rhythm of the game is going to win, and that is very likely to be evident in the first 20 minutes. If the Caps have a lead going into the first intermission, the Flyers are not the sort of road team that scores enough to give hope of a comeback. But if the Flyers take a lead into that first intermission, chances are it is of the 1-0 or 2-1 variety, the sort of game much more to their liking, one in which they can use their defense to strangle the life out of an opponent in the last 40 minutes as they try to play catch-up.
Of course, you know which one we think will unfold…
Caps 5 – Flyers 3