Friday, January 13, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 42: Lightning at Capitals, January 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play Game 2 of their four-game home stand on Friday, hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning. And we here at Peerless Central want to take a moment and put to rest, for once and for all, one of those things that took place in a game between these teams that might have been interpreted the wrong way by some people.

Let us go back to March 19, 2009. The Caps visited the Lightning that night, and it was a case of two teams going in quite different directions. The Caps were 44-22-6, on their way to a Southeast Division title and a three-seed in the playoffs. The Lightning were 23-32-15, good – if that is the word – for last place in the Southeast and 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

It was a potential milestone night for one Capital. Alex Ovechkin was on the brink of recording his third 50-goal season, having put up 49 markers going into this contest. And with 12:17 gone in the game, Ovechkin scored the game’s first goal, his 50th of the season. What he did next, though, aggravated many in the Tampa Bay Lightning community. After scoring the goal, he set his stick on the ice and pantomimed warming himself by the heat of his flaming stick.

There are those who think Ovechkin was hot-dogging it or rubbing it in to the Lightning and their fans. Well, we can tell you that this is patently untrue. In fact, Ovechkin was paying homage to the city in which he realized this achievement. For you see, “Tampa” is thought by some to mean “sticks of fire” in the language of the Calusa Native American tribe that once lived in the vicinity. And here was Alex Ovechkin, being respectful of his hosts, showing the Lightning and their fans that he had a deep and abiding respect for the history of the city he was visiting.

And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

As far as this game is concerned, the Lightning find themselves in much the same situation they found themselves on the night in March 2009 – buried in the Eastern Conference standings. The Lightning have not yet won a game in 2012, losing all four of the contests they played to date (0-4-1). It looked as if the Lightning might have been turning a corner by winning their last three games of 2011. But the Lightning have had much in the way of experience with streaks this season – three winning streaks of at least three games, three losing streaks of at least four games, including the one on which they currently find themselves (which reached five games on Thursday night). Here is how the Lightning find themselves compare to the Caps, numbers-wise (before Tampa Bay's game against Carolina on Thursday):

1. As Steven Stamkos goes, so go the Lightning. Stamkos has had a hand in 42.5 percent of the Lightning scoring so far this season (29 goals and 19 assists among the total of 113 goals scored). And, he has scored almost a third of all Tampa Bay goals over the last 13 games by himself (13 of 40).

2. The Lightning have not scored a power play goal on the road in more than a month (December 10th, in a 5-2 loss at Philadelphia). Since then, they are 0-for-20 in six road games.

3. In their last nine road games the Lightning have allowed power play goals in seven of them. They have allowed two power play goals in four of them. In those games, the Lightning penalty killers are 27-for-38 (71.1 percent).

4. Only one team in the league has a worse record than Tampa Bay when being outshot by their opponent (Carolina). Only one team in the league has a worse record when leading at the first intermission than Tampa Bay…that’s right, when leading at the first intermission (they are 4-3-1…it doesn’t happen often).

5. Vincent Levcavalier has provided, if unspectacular, at least consistent offense over the last five weeks. He has not had consecutive games without a point since December 8th. In his last 14 games he is 6-6-12.

1. The Caps have not allowed a power play goal at home under Dale Hunter. The last time the Caps allowed a power play goal at Verizon Center was in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on November 25th. Since then, they are 26-for-26 in ten games.

2. Over that same span of ten games at Verizon Center the Caps are 8-for-27 on the power play (29.6 percent), eight for their last 20 opportunities dating back to a four-power play-goal performance against Toronto on December 9th.

3. Alex Ovechkin has 26 goals in 43 games against Tampa Bay, but none (at least in the regular season) since a 1-3-4 performance against the Lightning last February 4th. OK, it’s only two games.

4. Washington is one of only five teams in the league with a perfect record this season when leading after two periods (13-0-0). They have not lost a game in regulation time when leading after two periods since the 2008-2009 season. Over the last two-plus seasons the Caps are 74-0-7 when leading after 40 minutes.

5. Washington has scored only 77 of their 118 goals this season at 5-on-5. The 65.2 percent 5-on-5 goals is the ninth lowest as a share of total goals scored. Of the eight teams in front of them, seven are currently among the playoff-eligibles in their respective conferences. Good teams have to get goals in different situations.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Dwayne Roloson

Dwayne Roloson came in relief of Mathieu Garon last night when Garon gave up three goals on eight shots in 15 minutes. The Lightning are playing the second of a back-to-back set, and Roloson is at an age where back-to-backs are not necessarily the best thing for his statistics. Not only that, he has been flat out awful for almost two months now. Since he stopped 33 of 34 shots against Pittsburgh in a 4-1 Lightning win on November 17th, Roloson is 0-5-1, 4.53, .854 in ten appearances. The Lightning don’t seem to trust Garon all that much lately, since Garon has been pulled three times his last seven appearances in favor of Roloson. Goaltending is a mess for the Lightning, and whether Roloson can find the magic he had last year grows more and more doubtful.

Washington: Brooks Laich

Offensively, Brooks Laich is in a funk. He is without a point and is minus-5 in his last eight games. More disturbing, some of that has come with Laich taking over in the middle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom out. If the Caps are going to cash in on the iffy Tampa Bay defense, Laich is going to have to put up some crooked numbers in this one.


1. For heaven’s sake, SHOOT already. Between Tampa Bay’s poor record when being outshot and the goaltending problems they are having, the Capitals have to take advantage by putting pucks on net. From anywhere, guys. Just get the puck to the net. Write… it… down.

2. No Marty Party. Martin St. Louis has been a thorn in the Caps’ sides ever since he showed up in Florida. But he has no goals in his last nine games. He is helping out, though, with ten assists in those nine games. Make him pay by making him play defense. He is minus-4 in those nine games, despite the ten points.

3. Press the D. The Lightning do not have the most fleet of foot defensemen – Pavel Kubina and Eric Brewer are more the hulking, crease-clearing types from another era, and Marc-Andre Bergeron, despite leading the team in plus-minus, is not generally thought of as being the most adept defender in his own end. Make these guys skate; pressure them when they have the puck.

In the end, there is knowing what to do (applying persistent pressure in the offensive zone on a team weak in defense and goaltending), and there is doing it. The Caps have scored more than four goals only once since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench. Only six times in 19 games have the Caps scored more than three goals in regulation time. This opponent is tailor-made to reverse that trend.

Capitals 5 – Lightning 2

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