Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Stars, March 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s “hump game” – the middle game in the five game home stand on which the Capitals find themselves. And tonight’s opponent, the Dallas Stars, represent the last club in the Pacific Division that the Caps will see this year, unless they were to see one in the Stanley Cup finals. Dallas, as any Texan will tell you, is the crown jewel of Texas cities when it comes to sports teams – the Stars, the Cowboys, the Mavericks, the Rangers (well, the only real Rangers, anyway), the Brahmas (that’s a hockey team, folks)… Why, you’d think Dallas was the center of the known universe when it came to sports. Or so they might think in Texas.

Well podners, Dallas, Texas, is hardly unique. Why, it’s not even the only “Dallas.” There’s a Dallas in each and every time zone of the continental United States – there’s one in Georgia, one in North Carolina. There’s one in Wisconsin (not to be confused with the “town” of Dallas, Wisconsin), one in Iowa. There’s one in Colorado; there’s one in Oregon. Why, there’s even one in Pennsylvania (but then again, they have an Indiana, a Paris, and a Moscow, too).

There is a Dallas in Scotland (from which the Dallas in Texas gets its name), there is a Dallas in Australia. There is even a Dallas in Canada (actually, it’s a neighborhood in Kamloops, BC).

There is a Dallas Dhu whisky (once distilled near the aforementioned Dallas, Scotland)

There is even an asteroid named “Dallas.”

So if you get right down to it, Dallas just isn’t that special.

Tonight, the Capitals host the Stars to complete their tour of the Pacific Division. To date, the Caps are 3-2-0 against the Pacific, so this is a chance for the Caps to finish with their first winning record against the far westerners since the 2005-2006 season (3-2-0) and the most wins against it, well…ever.

To do so, the Caps will have to beat a team that is struggling lately. After going 6-2-1 going into the Olympic break, the Stars have stumbled coming out of it. Three games, three losses. And ugly losses they have been. In each one the Stars allowed at least five goals, and only against the Penguins in their last game did they manage to score more than one (outscored 17-5 overall). Add to that the fact that only four teams in the league have fewer road wins than do the Stars, and this makes for a difficult test for the visitors. The overall numbers look like this…

The Stars are led in scoring by Brad “Less than Zero” Richards. Yes, he has 69 points, tied for ninth in the league in scoring. True, he has 52 helpers, which ranks him fourth in the league in that department. But he is also a minus-17, which ranks him in a tie for 822nd (as in “eight-hundred-and-twenty-second”). It’s not as if this is entirely foreign territory for Richards, a player who has yet to finish on the plus side of the ledger since the lockout (minus-67 in his last 274 games). While he is 2-8-10 in his last nine games, he is also a minus-4 (minus-6 in his last three). The plus-minus might be an overrated and overabused statistic, but Richards’ has the highest goals against-on ice/60 minutes in the league among forwards (source: He also has the worst differential among forwards in the league (GAON/60-to-GAOFF/60). His reputation for skill on defense seems a bit overrated.

Mike Ribeiro missed 15 games in January and early February after being struck in the throat by the Rangers’ Chris Higgins on January 6th. Since returning on February 9th, he is 5-3-8, plus-3 in six games, with three power play goals. He’s had reasonably good success against Southeast Division teams in his career, with one notable exception. Against Atlanta, Carolina, Florida, and Tampa Bay he has a total of 17 goals in 64 career games (at least three against each of those teams). He has yet to find the back of the net in 15 career games against Washington.

Mike Modano is the grand old man of the Stars in this, his 20th season with the franchise, dating back to its days in Minnesota. His offense has been in decline for several years – his last point-a-game season was in 2002-2003 – but he does provide a veteran presence that could still be valuable to a team that is only six points out of a playoff spot. He is struggling of late, though; he is on a seven game streak without a point. But the Caps have been something of a tonic in his career. Only against Toronto has Modano scored more points among teams in the East than he has against the Caps (12-30-42 in 31 games).

13 defensemen in the NHL have at least ten goals. Tell us you knew that Stephane Robidas was one of them. He leads the blue liners in goals, assists, points, power play goals (as many as Mike Green – seven), shots, and ice time. The goals, assists, and points (10-24-34) all represent career highs for Robidas, who is in his ninth full season. And he’s been more disciplined that he has in recent years in this respect -- coming into this year he accumulated 314 penalty minutes in 304 games. This year, though, he has only 39 PIMs in 64 games. He is 2-2-4 in 15 career games against Washington.

In goal it would seem that Marty Turco would get the call (Kari Lehtonen got the start, and the decision, in a 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday). Turco is hanging onto the first page of the NHL stat rankings by his fingernails. His 2.75 GAA is 30th in the league, and his .910 save percentage is tied for 23rd (with Jose Theodore, it turns out). It represents some slippage for Turco from his best years, but those numbers are comparable with his post lockout numbers (2.49, .904). Against the Caps he is 3-0-1, 2.31 for his career.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Brenden Morrow

Morrow is pretty much the heart and soul of this team, the sort of player who plays a lot bigger than his 5’11”, 205 size would suggest. And he has the injuries over the years to prove it – groin, wrist, knee, and this year the dreaded “upper body injury” that had him out for four games. He has been limited to 199 of the past 310 games for the Stars, which makes one wonder if that 32 goal season he had in 2007-2008 was an aberration or another notch in his progress. He has had success against the Caps (5-8-13 in nine career games), although he hasn’t scored a goal since January 8th and has only one since December 16th.

Washington: Mike Green

Here is your fun Mike Green fact for this game. Over this season and last, Green is 4-4-8 in eight Monday games. On the other hand, he does not have a goal in two career games against the Stars (ok, it’s a small sample). Green might not be having quite the season he had last year, statistically, but he does still lead the league’s defensemen in goals, assists, and points, is tied for first in power play goals, and is tied for third in game-winners. Since New Years Day, Green has gone consecutive games without a point only once (January 23rd and 26th), and he did not have a point against the Rangers on Saturday. He is 6-19-25 in 21 games in the 2010 portion of the schedule.


1. Shoot, shoot again, and shoot some more. Marty Turco is a goalie who put up some excellent numbers in his career. Before the lockout he did not finish a year with a save percentage below .913, and he did not have a goals against average above 2.09. The thing is, he saw an average of only 22.6 shots a game in his career before the lockout. He sees more rubber these days (29.8 shots/game), and he isn’t as efficient or effective as a result.

2. Make it quick work. Dallas has surrendered the sixth most first period goals in the league and the fifth highest total of second period goals. It goes a long way toward explaining why only four teams – Atlanta, Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto – have gone into the second intermission trailing on the scoreboard more times. Add to that the fact that Dallas has the league’s 24th ranked road penalty killers, and this sets up well for Washington.

3. Put away the how-I-spent-my-break movies. The four Olympic skaters – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, and Nicklas Backstrom – have no goals among them since coming back from Vancouver. It’s nice to have the Scott Walkers and the Eric Belangers come in and chip in some goals, but these guys represent four of the top six goal scorers on the team. It would be nice to see them get back on track.

In the end, these are not your father’s Dallas Stars. It is not the club of old that could smother opponents with a suffocating system-driven defense. It is a middle-of-the-road club now with some significant problems on defense, mostly their penalty killing (although that 20th ranked 5-on-5 is a problem, too). This is a team that seems in some respects made to order for the Caps, but nothing should ever be taken for granted. Still, if the Caps show up and give an honest effort, Dallas is not in their weight class.

Caps 5 – Stars 2

In the Midst of a Season to Remember

Tonight, the Hershey Bears defeated the Adirondack Phantoms, 4-2, to win their 23rd consecutive game on home ice, a professional hockey record.  The win put the Bears ahead of the Muskegon Mohawks of the International Hockey League, who won 22 in a row in 1965-1966.  It is the latest record in a record-setting season for the Bears, but it probably will not be the last one they set.  There are a few ahead of them that are possible with 17 games left in the regular season...

Wins, season: 57, Binghamton Rangers, 1992-93 (Hershey has 49 with 17 games remaining)

Points, season: 124, Binghamton Rangers, 1992-93 (Hershey has 100 with 34 points yet available)

Fewest Losses (regulation), season: 13, Binghamton Rangers, 1992-93 (Hershey has 12)

Most Home Wins, season: 33, Fredericton Express, 1987-88; and Providence Bruins, 1998-99 (Hershey has 28 with seven home dates left)

Most Road Wins: 28, Providence Bruins, 2007-08 (Hershey has 21 with ten road games remaining)

Highest Points Percentage, season: .775, Binghamton Rangers, 1992-93 (Hershey is currently at .794)

Most Points Earned at Home, season: 68, Fredericton Express, 1987-88; and Providence Bruins, 1998-99 (Hershey currently has 58 with 14 points still available)

Most Points Earned on the Road, season: 59, Chicago Wolves, 2006-07; Providence Bruins, 2007-08 (Hershey has 42 with 20 points still available)

And there is still the big one sitting out there waiting for when the regular season ends... One for the big toe, the 11th Calder Cup in franchise history.

A TWO-point night: Caps 2 - Rangers 0

Spartan: (spär' tn): sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere.

Tonight, the Capitals were spartan in their approach to dealing with the New York Rangers, and hammered out a 2-0 win to give the home team its 13th consecutive win on home ice, extending their franchise record.

Eric Fehr got his 17th goal of the year for the Caps on a power play, and Eric Belanger got his first for the Caps to give goalie Jose Theodore all the cushion he would need to record his first shutout of the season and 29th of his career.

-- The two goal night ended a 23-game streak in which the Caps scored at least three goals. Over that streak the Caps scored 109 goals, an average of 4.74 goals a game.

-- Think Eric Fehr doesn’t hear footsteps behind him? Never mind the power play goal he scored, look at the play he made about five minutes into the game when starting flatfooted as the puck exited the Capitals’ zone, he outraced Matt Gilroy and Wade Redden to the puck and broke in on goalie Alex Auld. He didn’t get the goal, but that’s the kind of hustle having so many forwards competing at the back end of the lines will inspire.

-- And then there is this. Fehr’s 17th goal of the year scored tonight would have him tied for second on the Rangers. For the Caps, it leaves him seventh on the club. But the amazing thing is that Fehr is doing this – 17 goals in 54 games – while getting only an average of 12 minutes a night.

-- Since getting a hat trick against the Penguins on February 7th, Alex Ovechkin has now gone six games without a goal. It is his longest streak since a nine-game streak in 2008-2009 (October 13-November 8). That’s 31 shots and counting, if you’re keeping score. He’s not shy about trying to break out, though; he had 12 shot attempts tonight.

-- And for the first line as a whole, 21 shot attempts (the Caps as a team had 50) and no goals. They didn’t lack for volume.

-- With their 44th win, the Caps have now tied their sixth highest win total in franchise history (44-24-12-2 in 1999-2000).

-- From the “anything you can do, I can do better” file, the Hershey Bears shutout the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins tonight, 4-0 for their 48th win of the season (putting the current edition of the Bears in a tie for fourth highest win total in franchise history).

-- The Caps had a rough night in the own end in this respect – they won only two of 12 draws not taken by David Steckel, and Jason Chimera (a winger) won one of those.

-- Sometimes, there is a story within the story. Here is the fourth line’s night (David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Scott Walker) – no points (in fact, only one shot attempt), but four hits, two takeaways, and no turnovers. Little things matter in low-scoring games.

-- John Carlson… a shot, two hits, a takeaway, and two blocked shots in 14 minutes. Solid game. It’s going to be tough to send him back to Hershey.

-- On the other side, Wade Redden… former All-Star, gobbling up $6.5 million in cap space… 11:50 in ice time. And there was everyone’s favorite pest, Sean Avery, getting even less (11:15).  Aren't these guys players that the Rangers are supposed to be depending on other than as filler and obnoxiousness?

-- In the 2010 portion of the season, Jose Theodore is 13-1-2, 2.46, .926, with one shutout. Before we get too enthralled, in last year’s first 16 decisions of 2009, Theodore was 10-4-2, 2.40, .915.

-- Brooks Laich… no shot attempts, lost all five draws, but he did have a nice assist on Eric Belanger’s goal. Superman finds a way, even when his cape is wrinkled.

-- With ten home games remaining, the Caps are now within five of the franchise record for home wins (30, set in 1985-1986).

The Rangers just weren’t going to engage the Caps in an up-and-down track meet tonight, and Alex Auld had a good night in net for New York. That meant a grind-it-out sort of effort was necessary, and the Caps supplied exactly that. It was the second consecutive game they scored three or fewer goals in a game and won, a good sign as the regular season winds down. And with the shutout, the Caps have allowed eight goals in their last four games – another good sign.

Next up will be Dallas, victims of having given up 11 goals in the two games they played since the Olympic break. If might be an opportunity for some Caps to get back on track offensively, but if they keep putting out defensive efforts like this, they will be able to weather the slumps that come to every shooter sooner of later.