Thursday, February 04, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 6 - Rangers 5

Dirty Dozen, indeed.

It wasn’t what you might consider a close-fought game, although there was a fair amount of smackin’ around (61 hits combined). It wasn’t quite a track meet, but it was quite an exhibition of power play production (7-for-15 combined). What it was in the end was the Caps’ 12th straight win – a 6-5 victory over the New York Rangers. There were several stories tonight…

Alex Ovechkin recorded his 500th point on what is likely among the top-five highlight reel goals he has in his career. With the clock winding down in the second period and the Caps down by two, he carried the puck down the left side, then cut hard around defenseman Michal Roszival in the left wing faceoff circle as Roszival was desperately looking around at his skates to see where the puck went. Ovechkin couldn’t get both hands free to the shaft of his stick, so with his left hand he pushed the blade of his stick up and under the puck, lifting it over goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s left pad. The puck crawled all the way over Lundqvist and plopped down just inside the far post with nine seconds left in the period to give the Caps life going into the third period. Ovechkin finished the night 2-1-3 to take the NHL lead in goals (38) and points (80) to go with his league lead in plus-minus (plus-37).

Nicklas Backstrom had a monster game, finishing 1-4-5 for the third time in his career. And, he was clutch – he had points on each of the last three Caps goals, getting the game-winner himself in the sixth minute of the third period. His four assists – all primary assists – were provided to three different goal scorers (Mike Knuble, Tom Poti, and Ovechkin twice). Backstrom is now 9-14-23, plus-15 in his last 15 games.

Jose Theodore took a haymaker to his statistics, allowing five goals on 38 shots. But he was good when he had to be, spectacular late. His stop of a Marian Gaborik put-back with 13 seconds left preserved the slim one-goal lead and the streak. To the extent he was fishing pucks out of the back of the net earlier in the game, it was largely a product of the Rangers throwing everything but Stan Fischler’s typewriter at the front of the net on the power play and creating screens (the Rangers finished 4-for-6 on the power play).

Other stuff…

-- Color Kanoobie happy. Mike Knuble recorded his 13th goal in his last 15 games (seventh in his last five).

-- Tomas Fleischmann had a pretty quiet two-point night. But those assists were on the game-tying and game-winning goals.

-- 12 times in the last 11 games, the Caps have scored goals less than three minutes apart. They did it twice tonight (4:41 and 7:16 of the second period, 19:51 of the second and 59 seconds of the third period)

-- Boyd Gordon won eight of nine draws. That’s not surprising. He got a goal (his third in 23 games this year). That was something of a surprise.

-- Olli Jokinen… a goal, an assist, seven shots, three hits, and he won eight of 12 draws. He also took three minor penalties, two of which the Caps scored on.

-- Chris Drury is going to be one huge welt tonight. He blocked four shots, but two of them ripped chunks of flesh out of his hide, thanks to Ovechkin slappers.

-- Wade Redden was once an all-star caliber defenseman. Tonight he was getting Matt Gilroy minutes. What happened to Redden is one of hockey’s great mysteries.

-- If someone had said when Tom Poti was signed to the Caps that he would be the best all-around defenseman on the club before his tour was up, who would have taken that claim seriously? He’s making a case, certainly in the absence of Mike Green… he’s had one minus game since Christmas (plus-18 in 18 games), has three goals over that span (including one tonight) and 13 points. He has 14 straight games with more than 20 minutes of ice time, and tonight’s 26:36 was his second highest in a regulation game this year.

-- Was Henrik Lundqvist gassed at the end? He allowed one goal on the first 15 shots he faced, two on the next eight, three on the last nine.

-- The locker room guys will catch a break. Sean Avery didn’t do enough to work up a sweat. No need to get his jersey laundered.

-- The Rangers scored as many power play goals tonight (four) as they had in their previous 15 games. They hadn’t had that many in a game since going 5-for-10 against Toronto on December 29, 2007.

-- The five goals allowed by the Caps equaled the number they allowed in the previous four games, combined.

It was quite a game, reminiscent of the goal-fests of the 1980’s. And that was the problem for the Rangers. Give them their due, they came out snarling and pressing and intent on ending the Caps’ winning streak. They crowded the net, they converted chances. But the Rangers do not have the depth of skill the Caps have. The Caps managed to keep Marian Gaborik off the board, and that was the difference in the end. The Caps’ big guns scored – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble. The Rangers’, well… big gun… didn’t.

And now the Caps come home. They will be taking on a team that is in upheaval, but that sort of thing can focus the mind, too. The Thrashers will be dangerous tomorrow, another team that will have its sights set on ending the streak.

Get some sleep on the plane ride home guys, you earned it.


This just in... it's going to snow tomorrow.

You might have heard. In fact, there are reports that starting sometime around midday tomorrow, Washington could be in for a storm of such proportions as to have never been seen since... well, December (if that was "Snowpocalypse," is this going to be "Snowmageddon?").

Still, that storm locked down the three major area airports for a time until they could find the keys to the snow plows and get their runways cleared.

And therein lies a concern for Caps fans this weekend. Friday the team will host the Atlanta Thrashers, and we imagine that game will go off without a hitch. It might be sparsely attended, as Caps fans stay home, shovels in one hand, Topper Shutt on Twitter on their iPhones in the other. But the game should be played (the Thrashers might be stuck here until May, but that's another issue).

There are folks, though, who seem to think that the game scheduled for noon on Sunday could be a problem. The Caps are scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a game to be broadcast nationally by the Nothing but Red Wings, Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins Broadcasting Company. If the snow lasts, as some forecasts indicate, well into Saturday night (or even Sunday morning), it could put the game in jeopardy.

Or so the argument goes.

To that, we say, "have you forgotten who leads the plucky band of Penguins?" We can see a couple of scenarios playing out...

Imagine the Penguin flight departing Montreal after their game on Saturday. Radar indicate that the entire eastern seaboard is bathed in white, the snow piling up at an inch or more an hour. Surely, the plane cannot reach Washington...

Ah, but He rises from his seat, strides purposefully to the front of the cabin and exclaims...

"Behold His mighty hand!"

"It's a miracle! It's a miracle!"

"The wind opens the snow! Crosby opens the clouds with the blast of his lips."

"He leads them through the midst of the blizzard. His will be done."

"He opens the snow drifts before them…"

Shouts of "Amen!" ensue...

Or, we can imagine the Penguins are at the departure lounge at Trudeau Airport... a scratchy holographic message is discovered in an equipment bag...

"Captain Ka-rosbi…years ago, you served my people in the Stanley Cup playoffs; now we beg you to help us in our struggle to get through the snow to Washington. I regret that I am unable to present my request to you in person; but my airplane is stuck at the gate and I'm afraid my mission to bring you to Washington has failed. I've placed information vital to the survival of NBC's Sunday programming schedule into this equipment bag... under Guerin's sock, I think. You must see our team safely delivered to Washington. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Sidni-wan Ka-rosbi; you're our only hope."

Or perhaps the Penguins are sitting in the locker room after the game against the Canadiens. The reports out of Washington are grim -- two feet of snow, and still falling. The guys are muttering about the end of hockey for the weekend... Then, The Kid stands up...

"None of you have to go. We can all just sit here in this locker room, wait for this big snow storm to pass through, kill everything and everybody we know, or at least cancel the hockey game. The National Broadcasting Company and the NHL just asked us to save the world... uh, I mean the Sunday game. Anybody wanna say no?"

Gonch: "Five years. Haven't turned you down once. Not about to start now. I'm there. "

Billy Guerin: "Guess I can't let you go up there alone."

Orpik: "I'm with you. "

Fleury: "Man, this is - this is historic. Guys, this is, like, deep blue hero stuff! Of course I'm in."

Letang: "While I don't share his enthusiasm, you know me. Beam me up, Scotty!"

The Kid: "You all right, Max?"

Max: "I-I don't, I-I don't... Whatever you think."

The Kid: [to Geno] "How about you?"

Geno: "I'm in."

The Kid: "All right then. We go."

Letang: "I don't mean to be the materialistic weasel of this group, but do you think we'll get hazard pay or maybe an extra standing point out of this?"

...and thus, Snowmageddon is averted.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Rangers, February 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

“I’m Shaquille O’Neal…”

“…and I’m Ben Stein.”

And you guys aren’t letting me get connected this morning…

What with some “issues” with respect to our internet provider this morning, we have a somewhat abbreviated prognosto. Let’s get to the guts of it…

The Rangers suck.

That’s not merely a cheer for Caps fans at Verizon Center, it’s a statement of fact regarding the Rangers and their performance recently. To wit, since the start of the new calendar year…

- They are 6-8-3
- They have scored 37 goals in 17 games (2.18/game). Take away the 14 they scored in consecutive games against Montreal and Tampa Bay in the middle of January, and that’s 23 goals in 15 games.
- Four of the goals came from players no longer with the Rangers (Ales Kotalik, Christopher Higgins)
- They are 5-for-63 on the power play (7.9 percent); they are without a power play goal in their last seven games.
- They have been held to one or no goals nine times in 17 games.
- They have been shutout four times.

There are two players who absolutely have to perform for the Rangers for them to have even a chance to win these days…

Marian Gaborik. He has eight of the Rangers’ 37 goals since January 1st. Of the six wins the Rangers have this month, he has goals in three of them. About those eight goals since January 1st – by themselves they would rank fifth on the team for the season (not including Gaborik). 20 of his goals this year have come in the Rangers’ 25 wins. And against the Caps he has a pair of two-goal games this year. It would probably be wise to pay attention.

Henrik Lundqvist. If Gaborik has to score, Lundqvist has to keep teams from scoring, and oh, has he been doing that lately. He has had 13 appearances so far since January 1st, and in 10 of them he allowed two or fewer goals. He had a stretch in late January where he allowed 12 goals in three games, but that might be explained away as his suffering the onset of the flu that would end up keeping him out of the last two games of January. Lundqvist returned to the ice on Tuesday and held the Los Angeles Kings to two goals. Trouble is, only Gaborik could get a goal – the Rangers lost, 2-1. He is 1-1-0 against the Caps so far this season (3.03, .887).

The Rangers could use some support. Brandon Dubinsky, for example. He is the third-leading point scorer for the Blueshirts this season, and that in only 44 games. He has four goals since January 1st, two of them game-winners. But he has never recorded a goal in the regular season against the Caps in nine games (he does have four assists).

Then there is Sean Avery. In his first tour with the Rangers, his 23 goals in 80 games and 212 penalty minutes made him the darling bad boy of Manhattan. Then he ended up in Dallas. Well, that didn’t work, so back to Manhattan he came. Unfortunately – for the Rangers – he has only six goals in 52 games this season, only two of them since Thanksgiving. Once a “bad boy,” now he’s merely obnoxious. He has an assist in one game against the Caps this season.

If there is a weakness for the Rangers – other than their inability to find the back of the net with a map and a flashlight – it is their defense. More column inches have been devoted to Wade Redden and Michal Roszival by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks than have been devoted to two World Wars. None of that commentary has been complimentary. Michael Del Zotto is a defenseman with considerable promise, and he showed that early on by going 4-8-12, plus-4 in his first dozen games this year, his first in the NHL. But reality does set in with young guys, and since Thanksgiving he is 1-7-8, minus-18 in 34 games.

For the Caps, this is a big stage, and Alex Ovechkin seems to like a big stage, be it Toronto, Montreal, or the Big Apple. He has four goals in his last five games at Madison Square Garden. And, although he has ten goals since being named Captain, he has only one multi-goal game since December 19th.

In the end, the Rangers can’t score (Olli Jokinen is not the answer to that problem), and Lundqvist has to come up big after flying home from the left coast, having played a game just after coming back from the flu.

If Gaborik doesn’t score and Lundqvist doesn’t come up big (both of which have to occur for the Rangers to win these days, it seems), they have little chance. And if the Caps can get off to a good start, perhaps a couple of early goals, the crowd will be in full-throated “FIRE SATHER” roar right quick. A couple of early goals, an Ovechkin multi-goal game, and an angry crowd.

Sounds like a plan.

Caps 5 – Rangers 2