The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
We are back at Peerless Central, bringing you the best prognostications in the prognosticatorial galaxy, and today it’s…
…what’s with the mirror?
"You been gone, cuz, and we needed a substitute."
"Well, we got this one cheap…one owner. A queen, too!"
This isn’t going to end well, is it?
"And it even talks! Listen…’mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the greatest hockey team of all?'”
“The 1977 Canadiens.”
Shouldn’t you be using this for the Caps?
"Uh, we got some bugs to work out…"
And so do the Caps, who come into this afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Kings right where we left them when we went on a break…fifth in the Eastern Conference. At the moment our Cappies are the very definition of “treading water”… 2-2-2 in their last six contests and letting the four teams above them in the standings open up some space ahead of them. Not that we care, since the playoffs are the only thing that matters. Except HOW they get to the playoffs does matter, and we took a peek at that in our last scribble.
Today’s opponent – the Los Angeles Kings – serves to hold something of a mirror up to the Caps, at least in terms of the overall numbers, which look a lot like the Caps…
The two big differences between the Caps and the Kings as they head into the matinee affair are, first, the Kings are scrambling for their playoff lives. They are currently tenth in the West, three points behind the Calgary Flames but with three games in hand on the eighth place club. Second, the Kings are playing with the urgency of a team scrambling for their playoff lives (unlike a certain local team). Los Angeles is 5-0-2 in their last seven games, doing it with defense by outscoring their opponents by a combined 15-12 in those seven contests. Compare that to the Caps, who have outscored their opponents by a combined 11-8 in going 2-2-2 in their last six games. This game could be decided by a single goal…as in “1-0.”
The Kings do bring a certain goal-scoring balance to the ice in that they have five players with 15 or more goals. It’s just that they have not been doing it lately. Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, and Jarret Stoll each have at least 15 goals, but each has only one goal in the last five games. And, only once did two of these players record goals in the same game (Williams and Brown in a 4-3 shootout win over Calgary a week ago). The Caps offer an opportunity for any or all of them to get well by virtue of their individual success against the Caps over their respective careers. Kopitar is 4-2-6 in four career games against Washington, Williams is 13-17-30 in 37 career games, Brown is 1-3-4 in six games, Smyth is 6-8-14 in 17 career games, and Stoll is 0-4-4 in four career games. A total of 24 goals among these five players in 68 career games against the Caps suggests the possibility of a breakout.
On defense, Willie Mitchell is the one that got away. Mitchell was probably at the top of the wish list of defensemen for Caps fans in the off-season, but he signed a deal with the Kings. Mitchell has more or less met expectations, good and bad. On the bad side, Mitchell has had issues with durability. In four seasons with Vancouver leading up to this season he missed a total of 64 games. This year he has had two lengthy absences, missing 14 games in November and December with a broken wrist and missing another 11 games in December and January with a “lower body injury.” On the good side, though, he is 1-4-5 in the 29 games in which he has played and is a plus-5, third best among Kings defensemen. He is also third in total ice time per game, chewing up more than 21 minutes a night.
In goal, one would expect that Jonathan Quick get the call, his having taken the decision in eight of the last nine Kings’ games and the team having played only once in the past week. Perhaps it is because he plays out west or plays for a team that does not get a lot of attention, but Quick is certainly a talented goalie flying well under the media radar. His 24 wins rank seventh in the league, his goals against average of 2.13 is tied for third (with the Caps’ Semyon Varlamov), his .921 save percentage is tied for 12th, and he has five shutouts that is tied for third in he league. He has won both of his career decisions against the Caps.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Los Angeles: Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds is an intriguing player. Last season he recorded 16 goals and 40 points, building on his 9-14-23 rookie season the year before. He looked poised to make the next big jump. But he has been skating in place this season. In 52 games he is 9-8-17 and is a minus-5 (he was plus-22 last season). More alarming, he has one goal in 18 games since December 16th (1-1-2, minus-8). If the Kings are going to make that push they need to jump a couple of rungs on the standings ladder to make the playoffs, they will need Simmonds to produce more than he has the last six weeks. He does not have a point in three career games against Washington.
Washington: Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin suffered a hip injury in a 3-2 win over Florida on January 8th and missed 12 games. During his time on the shelf he signed a one-year, $6.7 million contract extension that raised a few eyebrows. Semin returned from his injury in the loss to San Jose last week and did not record a point, making it five straight games without a point and 15 straight without a goal for Semin (his last goal came on November 28th). The Caps have suffered problems on offense in general and on the power play in particular, both being areas that Semin can – and must – contribute if the Caps are to have any success this spring. He is certainly capable, having recorded three hat tricks so far this season. He has one goal in five career games against the Kings.
1. Kill, Kill, Kill. The Caps and Kings ranks very near one another in most categories (see the table above). The one area in which the Caps have a clear advantage is their penalty killing, ranking second in the league while the Kings rank 11th. If the Caps keep the Kings off the power play score sheet it puts less pressure on their own creaky power play to produce.
2. Wakey, Wakey… This is an early game, and the Caps don’t do early very well. They are dead last in the NHL in first period goals scored. Combine this with the fact that only three teams have allowed fewer first period goals than the Kings, and this is a recipe for a quiet first period for the home team. Someone say, “Starbucks?” “Red Bull?” “Kick ‘em in the ass???”
3. Shoot!...Intelligently. The Kings are 13-7-0 when outshot by opponents, the third best winning percentage in the league (.650). For the Caps this means don’t just shoot, shoot with a purpose.
In the end, these are teams that are largely mirror images of one another as far as the numbers go. But the Kings are the more desperate team, and the Caps haven’t played like a desperate team against teams that are either: a) from out west, or b) outside the playoff window. This could be a really ugly game, aesthetically speaking, with the Kings clawing for every inch and advantage, and the Caps sleepwalking their way around despite having superior top-end talent. A bounce here, a deflection there, a fluke somewhere along the way, and…well, you know.
Caps 2 – Kings 1