The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Caps have returned from a…well, disappointing road trip. After winning the first of the four-game trek over Florida, 2-1, and giving fans a glimmer of hope that they were righting their ship and setting sail for the top of the Southeast Division, they took on water, hit an iceberg, ran aground, were torpedoed, and finally… sank. They were beaten in each of their last three games, losing to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa (combined record when they played the Caps: 78-74-25) by a combined score of 12-3 and allowed Carolina goalie Justin Peters to record his first NHL shutout.
With a road record of 10-18-3, the Caps do not have this road thing down, so it’s time to bring in the pros. The guys who made “road trip” part of the American lexicon. First, Eric “Otter” Stratton, in your experience, what is the most important ingredient in a successful road trip?
Otter: Well, Peerless, I’d have to say it’s having a pledge who is dumb as a bag of rocks who has a car that can take some rough treatment. If you’re going on the road, you need to have a ride that lasts.
Donald “Boon” Schoenstein, what’s your take?
Boon: "Music. If you’re going to spend any time in a car with three other guys, you need something to listen to while your roadmates are emanating disgusting body odors. I prefer Otis Day and the Knights… He loves us!"
“Call me ‘Pinto.’”
OK, Pinto… When you’re on the road, what is the one thing you have to have with you?
Pinto: “A strong bladder!”
Good one… Uh, Kent Dorfman – I guess they still call you Flounder – what do you think of road trips in general?
Flounder: “Oh boy…is this GREAT!”
Well, maybe the Caps can take this kind of attitude on their next trip. But tonight, they host the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of a back-to-back weekend. And if any team needed a break, it’s…
Montreal. The Canadiens are on a road trip of their own after dropping a pair of games at home, scoring only one goal over the two contests. Montreal has had an odd road of sorts lately. Over their last seven games they are 3-3-1, the three wins coming on the road and the four losses suffered at home. Given the way the season has gone, it isn’t surprising. The Habs have the worst home record in the East, one of only two teams with a below .500 record in their own arena (they are 11-14-8). But on the road, Montreal has a rather respectable 13-13-2 record (the Caps would kill for that record right now).
In the meantime, the Canadiens have sunk to what for them is a new low – last place in the Eastern Conference. That is an unusual place for them. Since the NHL went to a three-division, two-conference format in 1998-1999 the Canadiens have finished last in their division only twice and have never finished last in the conference. Here is how the teams stack up heading into tonight’s game…
2. What Montreal takes, they often give back. They are a plus-14 (goals for/goals against) in the second period of games this season, but a minus-18 in the third period.
3. The Habs have played in only 28 road games this season. They also have allowed only nine power play goals in those games, lowest number in the league. They have allowed power play goals in two of their last four road games, though.
4. One reason Montreal has struggled – one-goal games. The Canadiens are tied for 28th in winning percentage in such games (with Columbus). Only Carolina is worse.
5. Goalie Carey Price is not the Canadiens’ problem, at least not lately. He has been the goalie of record in Montreal’s last nine games and over that span is 5-3-1, 2.18, .929, with two shutouts.
2. The Caps are on pace for their leading scorer to finish with 63 points. The last time they had a player lead the team with a lower total was in 2003-2004, when Jeff Halpern led the team with 46 points.
3. The Caps have the second most efficient power play at home in the NHL. A lot of good it has done them. Only three teams have had fewer power play chances at home than Washington (Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Minnesota).
4. Even though the Caps are on a pace to finish with only 86 standings points, they are still on a pace for 40 wins. If they accomplish that feat it will extend the franchise record to five consecutive 40-or-more win seasons.
5. Tomas Vokoun has played a total of 37:17 in his last two starts and has been pulled twice. Only twice this season has he played fewer total minutes in one start (25:29 in a 7-1 Toronto Maple Leafs win on November 19th and 20:00 in a 7-4 loss to Vancouver on October 29th).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: David Desharnais
This is something of a breakout season for David Desharnais. The diminutive (5’7”, 177) center is tied for second on the Canadiens in total scoring and leads the club in assists. He has been a pretty good player on the road this season, going 4-15-19 in 28 games. He has been hot of late, too. Until he was held off the score sheet in a 3-0 loss to Dallas in his last game, Desharnais had a six-game points streak, going 1-7-8, plus-2. He has not done much against the Capitals in his brief (110 total games) career against the Caps. In six games, he has one assist.
Washington: Alexander Semin
At the moment, this is really pretty simple. With Alex Ovechkin doubtful, and Nicklas Backstrom on injured reserve, Alexander Semin is now the Caps leading goal scorer and their top forward in assists. He produces, the Caps have a good chance to do good things. He doesn’t, they don’t. No pressure, eh?
1. Short Memories. The road trip is over…forget it. The Caps have had good success at home this season, even if their recent experience is not so pleasant. That’s over, too. The season starts tonight. Twenty-two games. This is number one, opening night.
2. Score first, or don’t. Only two teams in the league have a worse record than Montreal when scoring first (Columbus, Minnesota). The Habs also have that minus-18 in the third period staring them in the face. No team seems ever to be out of a game against Montreal. Keep pushing if adversity strikes.
3. It takes a village to prevent a goal. The Caps have relied on goaltending for a lot of their success this season. Lately it has broken down. But a big part of the problem, too, is poor play in their own zone. If you’re going to be a defense-first team… play defense. Help a goalie out.
In the end, the Caps really do need to treat this game more as if it was March 1st, an opportunity to wipe away what has been a poor February to date (3-7-1 so far in the month, only one win at home in four tries). This game and the one that follows – tomorrow in Toronto – are the last games to be played before the trading deadline next Monday. There are almost certainly guys tonight who will be playing their last game before home fans tonight. They should not make things any easier for George McPhee to move them.
Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2