Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps at Panthers, January 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Ahhhhhhh… Florida. Beats waking up to snow and cancelled airline flights, eh?

“Well, there is a dense fog advisory for south Florida this morning.”

Well, look who it is. Tim Fantore, weather personality extraordinaire. Giving anyone any hockey game weather forecasts lately?

“Hey, it’s not an exact science, you know.”

Yeah, and neither is astrology.

“We have a better record.”

Barely. So, are we going to be able to get home after we play these two games in Florida?

“As a modified continental polar high pressure system moves from the central plains into the southeast states late Wednesday into Thursday...a more pronounced push of cold air advection…”


“Yeah, it refers to the transport of some property of the atmosphere or ocean, such as heat, humidity or salinity..”

You’re sure about that?

“That’s what Wikipedia says.”

You’re sure it’s not some new cholesterol drug or ED treatment?

“Well, maybe.”

Guess that fog is rolling in right on time.

The Caps finish up a home-and-home series with the Florida Panthers tonight, fresh off a 3-2 win against the Panthers on Saturday night. We covered a lot of this then, but the new wrinkle is that in getting that win on Saturday, the Caps clawed their way all the way back from their 0-6-2 losing skid. They are now 6-0-2 in their last eight games. Here is how the overall numbers look for the Caps and the Panthers:

In those last eight games the Caps outscored their opponents 22-11, and only four times did they allow more than one goal in a game, none with more than two allowed. It is the longest streak of allowing two or fewer goals per game since the Caps allowed two or fewer over a nine-game stretch from January 9-31, 1998. Caps fans might remember that as a Stanley Cup finals season.

Over this eight game stretch the Caps have had very balanced scoring. Ten players have shared in the 22 goals, only Eric Fehr with as many as four (although five players have at least three). The Caps have 19 different players sharing in the points parade, led by Fehr (seven) and Alex Ovechkin (seven). The leading scorers in this run are:

Eric Fehr: 4-3-7
Alex Ovechkin: 3-4-7
Mike Green: 3-3-6
Mike Knuble: 3-2-5
Mathieu Perreault: 3-1-4
Nicklas Backstrom: 0-4-4

Special teams remain a matter of good news and bad news. The good news is that over the eight-game points streak the Caps have killed off 33 of 34 shorthanded situations (97.1 percent) and have not allowed a power play goal in their last six games. The bad news is that the power play continues to operate at low wattage. In the eight games Washington is 4-for-35 (11.4 percent) and has had only eight opportunities over the last three games, converting two, at least giving fans hope that the Caps are emerging from the power play darkness in terms of its efficiency.

If someone was to tell you that John Erskine had more points than 161 other defensemen who have dressed for games so far this year, would you believe it? Well, as they say, "look it up."  Erskine is third among Caps defensemen in scoring, has already set a career best in goals (three) and is tied for his best season in points (nine) in just 38 games.

If Semyon Varlamov gets the call in goal – what would be his sixth consecutive start – he would be going into it 4-0-1 in five straight appearances with a 1.19 goals against average, a .962 save percentage, and one shutout. Varlamov has had, thus far, a rather amazing season. He allowed seven goals on 20 shots in a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on December 12th. Absent that melt down, he is 8-3-2, 1.73, .941, with two shutouts.

Michal Neuvirth has not been quite as outstanding, but after going winless in six straight appearances from November 19th through December 18th is 2-0-1 in his last three appearances with a 1.65 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. He has had his own “meltdown” of sorts, that run of six games without a win. Absent that stretch, he is 14-3-1, 2.40, .918, with one shutout.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Tomas Vokoun

Vokoun did not get the call in the first of this home-and-home series, but he’s just about a lock to get the nod in this contest. Vokoun has been very, very good or not so very, very good lately. In his last seven appearances, when he wasn’t shutting teams out (twice) he was allowing three or more goals and getting pulled twice. What he has faced is more rubber than a Goodyear Tire and Auto store – more than 38 shots per 60 minutes played over those seven games.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Last season Laich had 12 power play goals. So far this season he has four. All of them have come on the road, however. He just doesn’t happen to have one in any of his last 16 games. Laich came into the season with more points against the Panthers than he had against any other NHL opponent (7-11-18 in 34 games).


1. Focus. When the final horn blows on this game the Caps will head to Tampa Bay, then return home to face the Vancouver Canucks. There is the temptation to look past this game, and a slow start stemming from that kind of lack of focus – as appeared to be the case in Saturday’s game – could cause this game to end differently, as the Panthers are a much more effective team offensively at home.

2. Opportunity. The Caps rank dead last in the NHL in power play opportunities on the road. Part of that is the fact that no team has played fewer road games than the Caps, but getting barely three power play chances a game on the road is not much opportunity to unleash the power play fury.

3. Good Start. Washington is minus-8 in the first period this season (27 goals scored, 35 goals allowed); Florida is plus-9 (38 and 29). The Caps would like to get out of the first period with that kind of thing turned around.

In the end, this is a game the Caps should win on paper, but it is one of those land mine games that can be troublesome. Add in the fact that the Panthers will try to muck things up as much as possible, and the seeds are planted for a frustrating evening. Fighting through it and paying attention for 60 minutes will be the things to watch for. Of course, we see just that happening.

Caps 3 – Panthers 1

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