The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
We are LIVE from high atop downtown Pittsburgh in eager anticipation of tomorrow’s Winter (because the calendar says it is) Classic. It is currently a balmy 57 degrees, and the Caps are on the Heinz Field ice going through their last drills before the game tomorrow…
“And we’re stuck in the hotel…”
Quit your whining, Cheerless. It’s worth noting that it is currently (2:30 pm on Friday) 58 degress in Dallas, Texas; 42 in Phoenix, Arizona!
“How would we know?...We’re stuck in the hotel.”
Geez, not you, too, Fearless… Enjoying the sandwich?
“Yes, I am…didn’t even have to order sides; they put ‘em right on the sandwich. Clever.”
“Hey, how come he gets to go out and get lunch?”
"You too?! You went to Primanti’s without me?"
Shut up, and eat your cookies!
“Can I have his, too?”
Yeah, sure…anything to shut you up.
“Hey, do they drop a ball at midnight here like they do at Times Square?”
No, I think they drop Joe Flacco into the Monongahela.
Well, it’s here. 217 days after word got out that the Caps and the Penguins would meet on New Year’s Day, we have only one more day to wait. The teams have had their last practices, the alumni have had their game (a 5-5 tie that would have to qualify as an upset, given the loaded team the Penguins iced, although age is the great equalizer). Now, we wait…until 8:00 pm Saturday. An announcement was made earlier today on a delay to that time slot to give the predicted rain a chance to pass by and for the ice wizards to do their thing to make the Heinz Field ice surface as good as can be.
These teams went at it just eight days ago, so the statistical stuff hasn’t changed a lot from when we prognosticated that contest. Not that some things haven’t changed…
-- “The Streak” is over. Although Sidney Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist in the 3-2 Gimmick win over the Caps, the streak would come to an end at 25 games with the New York Islanders shutting him out in a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Pens. If you had the Islanders shutting him down, give yourself a gold star. Coming into the season Crosby was 18-43-61 in 31 career games against the Isles (his highest point total against any team in the NHL) and had an assist in the first meeting of the teams this season.
-- Alex Ovechkin had goals in each of his two games following the Penguins contest. It might not seem like much, especially since the second of them was an empty-netter, but it marked the first time he had goals in consecutive games since potting pucks against Atlanta and Toronto on December 4th and 6th. It was the fourth time this season he had goals in at least two consecutive games.
-- Evgeni Malkin has been held without a point in each of the three games following the game against Washington. Maybe Ovechkin did knock him into next week in that game, and he skipped the rest of the one following the Caps game.
-- We learned that Michal Neuvirth is not a very good goalie (well, according to certain Pittsburgh coaches). That explains his stopping 25 of the last 26 shots he faced in the hockey portion of the Penguins game. It doesn’t explain his not seeing the ice since… that would be Semyon Varlamov, who won both games since and stopped 58 of 60 shots.
-- The best penalty kill in the league stumbled, skating off only nine of 12 in the first two games after facing Washington before righting itself with a 3-for-3 against the Islanders.
-- The Caps’ PK went 9-for-9 in two games after the Pittsburgh game. That makes 22-for-23 over their last six games (starting with a 0-for-0 against Boston).
-- The Caps’ power play is still struggling – 0-for-10 in two games since going 1-for-6 against the Penguins. They are 3-for-45 over their last ten games.
-- Meanwhile, the Penguins were 1-for-9 on the power play in three games after leaving DC. That’s 1-for-18 in their last five games. Did you think these two teams would be a combined 4-for-their-last-63 on the power play coming into the WC?
-- The Caps are 2-0-0 since last week’s meeting; the Penguins are 1-1-1.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Pittsburgh: Mark Letestu
Mark Letestu has been centering what is referred to as the “Buzz Line” for the Penguins, joined by Chris Conner and Tyler Kennedy. What he hasn’t been doing of late is, well, buzzing, at least on the score sheet. After recording a pair of goals against Toronto on December 8th, Lestestu is 2-1-3 in his last nine games. It might not be coincidental that the Penguins are 5-3-1 in those nine games following eleven straight wins. It is the importance of secondary scoring, something that seems to have eluded the Penguins with Sidney Crosby having a hand in more than 50 percent of the Penguins’ total goals. If Letestu – or any of his running mates – are getting on the score sheet, it will spell trouble for the Caps.
Washington: Mike Green
One of the standing orders for the Penguins appears to be “Beat On Green.” Every chance they have, Penguins have been and are likely to continue trying to intimidate Green through aggressive forechecking and enthusiastic hitting. But Green gave as good as he got when these teams met last, recording eight hits in addition to notching a goal. Green is 2-1-3, plus-2 in his last three games, starting with that game against Pittsburgh. If he holds his own against the Penguin assault and gets on the score sheet, the visitors are likely to have a happy night.
. 1. Don’t look up. It would be tempting to just spend time taking a peek around the stadium and getting caught up in the hoopla. This is where the Penguins have an advantage. A fair number of their players have been through one of these things before. For the Caps, the more they can think of it as just another game and keep their gaze at ice level, the better off they will be.
2. 2. Do what you do like you’ve been doing. The Caps have allowed 11 goals in regulation time over their past seven games. Play that kind of defense, and the folks watching on TV might not be happy, but Caps fans will be.
3. 3. Remember, no lead is safe…for Pittsburgh. Last year the Caps swept all four games against the Penguins and trailed in three of those games at some point. In the first game this year the Penguins surrendered the lead twice before winning in the skills competition. Falling behind isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.
In the end, the Caps are 7-0-2 in the last nine regular season games against Pittsburgh. In fact, they have not lost a “hockey” game in any of them, losing those two games via the Gimmick. The Caps have done it primarily with offense (40 goals in those nine games, five times scoring at least five goals), but they’ve managed to employ passable defense, too, allowing three or fewer goals in eight of the nine games. At the moment, the Caps have found ways to peel away Pittsburgh leads and to make the Penguins pay defensively. Sounds like a plan.
Caps 5 – Penguins 3