Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Winter...Classic?

Seems the Penguins unveiled, unfurled, left in an alley in the dead of night (take your pick) their version of the Winter Classic jersey today.  It's a honey, a beaut, a real traffic stopper.

I was wondering though...

-- If they were going to try to stuff as many rings on it as possible, wouldn't you have thought they would settle on 87 rings, instead of five?

-- Speaking of rings, what, they cut open Evgeni Malkin and counted the rings to figure out this is his fifth year in the league?

-- Do they really think a dumpy penguin in a scarf doing his best imitation of the first moments of a Sidney Crosby dive is the best way to sell the game?

-- Just where did they find the late Justice Rehnquist's robe, anyway?

-- If you're doing pinstripes, don't they go up and down, not side to side?

-- Why do I have this recurring image of "every good boy does fine" running around in my head and a hankerin' to sit down at a piano and write a jingle?

-- It looks like what they might have had as bridesmaid dresses if "Diner" had been shot in Pittsburgh.

Sittin' at the end of the bar...


-- Even though Tampa Bay is tied for the league lead in standings points, only four teams have allowed more goals, none of them in the top eight of their respective conferences.

-- Are the Lightning this year's Capitals?  First in goals-per-game (3.56), 25th in goals allowed-per-game (3.33).

-- Buffalo and New Jersey have precisely zero home wins between them in 10 tries.

-- St. Louis... hasn't lost at home, hasn't won yet on the road.

-- New Jersey already has a minus-18 goal differential.  No other club has reached double digits yet.

-- Speaking of the Devils, they were perfect in their one power play opportunity on opening night.  Since then, 2-for-32 (6.3 percent).

-- Mike Comrie's ice time: 17:26... 15:11... 16:23... 14:00... 15:08... 12:21... 10:26... 12:15... 7:17.  No goals, four assists.  The latest in the continuing search for forwards not named "Crosby" or "Malkin" who can produce on a consistent basis for the Penguins?

-- Jason Arnott is on a pace to tie one of the most infamous records in the NHL.  Ten games in, a minus-10.  Keep that up, and Bill Mikkelson will be able to rest easier knowing that he can share the record for worst plus-minus in league history (minus-82).  Sore of like "50 goals in 50 games" but... different.

-- Not to pile on (ok, to pile on), but only one Devil who has played for more than two games this season is in "plus" territory (Travis Zajac, plus-2)

-- One might not have been surprised to find Boston tops in the league in lowest goals allowed-per-game, what with a Vezina Troophy winner back on his game.  Or St. Louis second, given the way Jaroslav Halak played last spring.  Or even Nashville and Florida being third and fourth, with their respective commitment to defense and having a goalie as good as Tomas Vokoun.  But look who are tied for fifth... the Washington Can't Find Their Own Zone With a Map and a Flashlight Capitals and the Montreal We Kept The Wrong Goalie Canadiens.

-- If you had the Dallas Stars as the most efficient 5-on-5 team in the league when the season started, go pick up your door prize in the lobby.

-- Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Ross Trophy winners both.  They do not have as many points combined (7-10-17) as Steven Stamkos (8-10-18).

-- Coming into this season Ovechkin had 91 power play goals in 396 games, one in just over every four games played.  So far... none in nine games.

-- Malkin doesn't have any, either.

Thanks for coming, drive safely.

Scenes from a hockey game...what fans really think

Click on each for special insight on just what fans are thinking as play goes on...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Wild, October 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps complete the back-to-back set of their three-game road trip tonight as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild for the only meeting of the season between these clubs. The Caps and the Wild are comparative strangers to one another. They have played one another only ten times (the Caps holding a 4-5-1 record against the Wild), making this the least frequently repeated rivalry between the Caps and any other NHL opponent. In fact, its frequency is now only tied with that between the Caps and such defunct franchises as the California Seals (3-6-1) and the Cleveland Barons (3-7-0).

So, to acquaint you with the opponent, in a manner of speaking, we bring you some fast facts about the “State of Hockey,” the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” – Minnesota:

• Minnesotan baseball commentator Halsey Hal was the first to say 'Holy Cow' during a baseball broadcast.

• The Mall of America in Bloomington is the size of 78 football fields --- 9.5 million square feet.

• Minnesota Inventions: Masking and Scotch tape, Wheaties cereal, Bisquick, HMOs, the bundt pan, Aveda beauty products, and Green Giant vegetables

• The original name of the settlement that became St. Paul was Pig's Eye. Named for the French-Canadian whiskey trader, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, who had led squatters to the settlement.

• Minneapolis has more golfers per capita than any other city in the country.

• Minnesota has 90,000 miles of shoreline, more than California, Florida and Hawaii combined.

• Madison is the "Lutefisk capital of the United States".

• The stapler was invented in Spring Valley.

• The first practical water skis were invented in 1922 by Ralph W. Samuelson, who steam-bent 2 eight-foot-long pine boards into skis. He took his first ride behind a motorboat on a lake in Lake City.

• Rollerblades were the first commercially successful in-line Roller Skates. Minnesota students Scott and Brennan Olson invented them in 1980, when they were looking for a way to practice Hockey during the off-season. Their design was an ice hockey boot with 3 inline wheels instead of a blade.

• Alexander Anderson of Red Wing discovered the processes to puff wheat and rice giving us the indispensable rice cakes.

As for the Wild, this is the tenth season they have skated on Minnesota ice, and their history has not been kind to their fans. In nine seasons coming into this one the Wild have reached the playoffs only three times and advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once, reaching the conference finals in 2003.

This season the Wild is a most strange team. With a record of 3-3-2 entering this game they are among the also rans of the league, but the numbers they bring to this contest reveals a team of multiple personalities…

The first thing to notice is that the Wild power play is amazingly efficient. With an overall mark of 34.3 percent and a home power play mark of 43.5 percent, the Wild top the league in power play success. But here is what is especially relevant about this game and the Wild power play. Minnesota is 0-for-10 on their last ten man-advantage opportunities over the past eight periods of hockey dating back to theeir 4-2 win over Edmonton on October 21st.

The flip side of this is that Minnesota is not an especially adept on the penalty kill. Over those same ten periods of hockey they are a rather average 15-for-18 in shorthanded situations (83.3 percent). What’s more, the Wild have allowed fewer than five power plays to their opponent only once in eight games. They have the third highest number of minor penalties so far this season. You would have to think the Caps’ power play will get its chances.

While the Wild have the most efficient power play unit in the league at the moment (and 12 goals to show for it), they have been dreadful at even strength. No team in the NHL has fewer even strength goals so far than does Minnesota (11 in eight games). Six of those goals come off the sticks of only three players – Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Brodziak, and John Madden (no one’s idea of a Murderer’s Row of goal scorers) have two apiece.

One home-grown and one free agent are currently tied for the team lead in scoring for the Wild. Mikko Koivu was a sixth-overall pick of the Wild in 2001 and has made himself into one of the top two-way centers in the game. Except for the 2007-2008 season, when he missed 25 games to a knee injury, Koivu’s improvement on offense has been steady since his rookie season in 2005-2006. Last season he set career highs in goals (22), assists (49) and points (71). On the other side of the ledger he has been over 50 percent on faceoffs in each of the past four seasons (and currently), and he had seven shorthanded goals in the four seasons leading up to this one. He is also responsible with the puck, recording more takeaways than giveaways in three of the past four seasons (and currently). In four career games against Washington he is 0-2-2, minus-3.

Matt Cullen was signed by the Wild to a three-year/$10.5 million contract this past summer, giving Cullen an opportunity to return home (he was born in Virginia, Minnesota). He has been a reliable 40-45 point player over his 12-year career coming into this season, but he is off to a better than a point-a-game start (3-6-9 in eight games), a pleasant homecoming so far. He is certainly no stranger to the Caps, having played a total of 352 games in the Southeast Division over his career (Florida, Carolina). In 42 career games against the Caps he is 9-18-27, plus-1. After recording points in five of his first six games this season, he is scoreless in his last two contests.

But for the unpredictable bounces of a ping-pong ball, defenseman Cam Barker might have been a Washington Capital. He was the third overall pick of the 2004 draft, the slot that the Caps would likely have occupied had not that ping pong ball come up “Washington,” and the Caps won the rights to select Alex Ovechkin. His getting a foothold in the NHL has been a struggle. Drafted by Chicago with that number three pick in 2004, he did manage to see his first NHL action in the 2005-2006 season, but one game was all the look he got. He played in 35 games with the Blackhawks the following season and 45 the season after that. He has dealt with intermittent injuries, but the fact remains that Barker has appeared in as many as 70 games only once in his young career (last season, split between Chicago and Minnesota). He has faced the Caps only once in his career withough having recorded a point.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Niklas Backstrom

“No-C’” Niklas would seem likely to get the call tonight. He has appeared in seven of the eight games played by the Wild to date (3-2-2, 2.25, .926). He has been on a roll. In his last three games he is 2-0-1, 1.95 .938, and he has allowed only one goal at even strength. His magic number thus far is “two.” In the seven games in which he allowed two or fewer goals he is 3-0-2, while going 0-2-0 when allowing three or more. OK, so it’s a small sample. And speaking of small samples, he has appeared in only two games against the Caps in his career, posting a record of 1-1-0, 3.50, .870.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

“Hi-C” Nicklas potted two goals last night (giving him three on the year), breaking a three-game streak in which he failed to register a point. The two goals represented his first two goals of the season scored in regulation time, his first two-goal game of the season, and his first two-goal game (regular season) since getting a pair against Atlanta last April 9th. Keep in mind that last season – one in which Backstrom scored 33 goals – he didn’t get his third goal of the season until Game 11 (part of a four-point night against the Flyers on October 27, 2009). That night set him off on an eight-game run in which he went 2-9-11, plus-4. In three career games against the Wild, Backstrom is 1-0-1.


1. Kill, Kill, Kill. The Caps have killed off 36 of 40 shorthanded situations so far. The Wild have scored on 12 of 35 power play opportunities. If the Caps can keep that number at “12” when the final horn sounds, it should be a good night. But the Wild get contributions from everywhere on the man advantage. Eight different players have at least one power play goal. All of the penalty killers will be tested, so short shifts seem to be the rule here. And, that “kill, kill, kill” theme can’t turn into “kill, kill, kill, kill another, kill one more, kill again, what the $#@% is going on here?” Keep it to three or fewer.

2. Traffic. Niklas “No-C” Backstrom is in a zone at the moment. One cannot let such a goalie get too comfortable right off the opening face off. It’s not so much getting shots on him early as much as it is getting shots he can’t see, or at least shots where he has to contend with bodies crossing his field of vision. Don’t make it easier on him than it needs to be.

3. Change Lanes. Alex Ovechkin had four goals in his first four game. He has none in his last five (and only two points). He hasn’t gone this long without a goal since going six games without one in the three games immediately before and the three games immediately after the Olympic break last season. Teams seem to have figured him out for the moment. The sorts of goals he might have scored more frequently last season – skating down the left side and firing the puck through a defenseman or cutting to the inside and getting goalies to move across the crease – aren’t finding their mark lately. Changing things up might be in order here. Every magician needs to introduce a new trick to the act occasionally.

In the end, this game would seem likely to turn on how often the Caps go to the penalty box. If the number climbs north of four, it will not be a good sign for the Caps, even if the Wild power play has dimmed some in the last few games. At the other end, the first line looked better last night in the 3-0 win over Carolina. Not quite all there, yet, but getting Backstrom off the schneid and Knuble back in the points column was a good sign. Ovechkin likes a stage, and a national television audience might be the ticket to get him rolling once more. Last night was a very efficient road win. Crisp, simple, and smart. It would be a good recipe for tonight, too.

Caps 3 – Wild 2

A TWO-point night -- Game 9: Caps 3 - Hurricanes 0

"I thought that was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from the fourth line, the penalty killing, the goaltender was great – everybody did a good job."

That was what Coach Bruce Boudreau had to say of the Capitals’ effort last night as Washington shutout the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0.

Michal Neuvirth stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first NHL shutout, and Nicklas Backstrom recorded a pair of goals to break a personal three game pointless streak. But the tone for the evening was probably set by the fourth line of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley. The trio accounted for ten of the 19 hits the Caps recorded, did not turnover the puck in their combined 49 minutes of ice time, won 15 of 23 faceoffs among them, and most important, scored the first goal of the game.

It was a controversial goal, a play that started with Hendricks controlling the puck along the left wing boards. He laid the puck over to John Erskine at the top of the Hurricanes’ zone, where Erskine fired it deep to the left of goalie Cam Ward. Steckel tied up Jamie McBain, preventing him from controlling the puck, which eventually made its way back to Erskine at the left point. The defenseman shot the puck toward the net, where Steckel was getting tangled with Ward. Lying on his side from above the crease, Steckel hooked the puck back to Hendricks, who snapped it into the vacant net, Ward unable to recover in time to defend the shot. Goalie interference? Coach Paul Maurice thought so

"I don't think it's a goal. I didn't agree with the call at all. I didn't agree with his interpretation. It's incidental contact, but I'm not looking for a penalty. I don't think there was an attempt to run Cam. That's how the rule reads, that's how I interpreted it and I think he got it wrong."

Well, here is what Rule 69.1 has to say about it…

“Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.”

Steckel and Ward were outside the crease, so the first condition does not apply. As for the second condition, the contact was not intentional or deliberate (Maurice acknowledges that). The remaining question was whether Steckel made a “ reasonable effort” to avoid contact. Well, on that one, where you stand depends upon where you sit. Specifically, whether you think Steckel crossed Ward’s path, or if Ward came out from his crease into Steckel’s path as he was skating across the top of the crease. Hurricane fans will think the former, Caps fans the latter. The referee saw it as the latter, apparently.

Backstrom got off his personal schneid by snapping in a rebound of a Mike Knuble drive from the right side, itself the product of something too rarely seen this season so far – the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Knuble, and Backstrom breaking through the neutral zone cleanly and in control of the puck. Backstrom added an empty net goal in the last 90 seconds to seal the win and give the Caps their sixth win of the season.

All that was left was to ensure that Neuvirth, who played a spectacular game in that he rarely had to be spectacular, such was the quality of his play, earned his first NHL shutout.

Other stuff…

-- With his two assists Mike Knuble had his first two point game on the road since recording a pair of goals against St. Louis last February 13th. The feat was not lost on Kanoobie, who was his old annoyingly yapping self.

-- The Caps played a textbook road game in this sense. Six hits in the game’s first eight seconds (well, that’s the way the official play-by-play recorded it), and Carolina had only two shots on goal in the first four minutes. The Hurricanes would get only eight shots on goal in the first period. If you’re objective is to stop a team playing in its home opener from generating any momentum right off the bat, the Caps succeeded.

-- For the moment, the official NHL scoresheet has Alex Ovechkin having skated only 8:18 last night. It also has him with no shifts skated in the first period. Funny, but the play-by-play has him all over the place. A hit, two shots on goal, and a blocked shot (and that doesn’t include the hits on him in the period). Well, hey…it was opening night for the scorer, too.

-- Hendricks, Steckel, and Bradley each has 16-plus minutes. Do you call them the “Sweet 16 Line” now? OK, maybe not.

-- You can tell Rod Brind’Amour does not play for the Hurricanes any longer in this sense. The Caps obliterated Carolina in the faceoff circle. Steckel was 13-for-17, Backstrom 11-for-17, and even Tomas Fleischmann was 8-for-11. But for a 6-for-16 night by Mathieu Perreault it would have been a landslide.

-- Bizarro World… John Erskine: 27:53 in ice time. Tyler Sloan: 27:52 in ice time. No other Cap was credited (and the operative word there is “credited”) with as many as 17 minutes of ice time.

-- No Cap was credited with more than 11 shifts, which…let’s see, means that Erskine and Sloan averaged almost three minutes per shift? So, how were the beer sales in the scorer’s booth last night?

-- Eric Staal had a difficult night. No points, minus-2, a penalty, eight missed shots.  One of the shots he did have ended up in the glove of Neuvirth on what might have been Neuvirth's best save of the season.

-- Of the 70 faceoffs last night, only eight took place in the Caps’ offensive zone. Only 13 were in the Carolina offensive zone. Not sure what to make of that, given the scoring…uh, anomalies.

-- Mike Green didn’t have any first period shifts, either. At least on the score sheet. In fact, 18 skaters took a total of 14 shifts in the first period, at least according to the score sheet.

-- Seven different Caps recorded points, 11 of them were on the plus-side of the ledger. Not flashy, but a solid effort up and down the roster.

-- The final result will show the Caps winning, 3-0, and that Cam Ward stopped 30 of 32 shots. Ward probably deserved better. He was sprawled on the ice for one goal and left too juicy a rebound for the other. But otherwise he was excellent. Oh, and so were the posts behind him, seeing how they were able to turn shots away rather they deflect them inward to the goal.

-- Hendricks wins the Old Country Buffet award for sampling the entire menu. A goal, three shots, one shot blocked, a missed shot, four hits, a takeaway, a blocked shot, five draws taken. The only thing he didn’t have was a giveaway.

In the end it was the kind of solid performance – a real meat and potatoes road win – that the Caps had not put together until last night. From the goaltender out, guys played responsibly and opportunistically. Neuvirth and Backstrom earned stars for the game, but you could have given a “golden lunch pail” to the fourth line. It wasn’t the Fourth of July sort of offensive fireworks kind of game that fans enjoy and that make opposing goalies wake in the middle of the night in cold sweats. It was more a “Labor Day” sort of result. Well earned from a night of consistent hard work.