The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
We have now completed 1.22 percent of the National Hockey League’s 2013-2014 season, and we can come to some conclusions about the Washington Capitals. Well, by “we,” I mean our coaches panel. It is a renowned group of leaders, winners of titles, all...well, some. Let’s get their take on what we’ve seen from one game thus far…
You won the Indiana high school basketball championship in 1952, taking a small, seven-man team to the title. You were known as something of a disciplinarian, tough but fair.
Coach Dale: “First of all, let's be real friendly here, okay? My name is Norm. Secondly, your prognosticating days are over.”
Whoa, whoa…what brought that on.
Coach Dale: “gotcha”
Good one. Coach Dale…Norm… What would you say to the Caps as they get ready for their home opener against Calgary after last night’s 6-4 loss in Chicago?
Norman Dale: “I've seen you guys can shoot but there's more to the game than shooting. There's fundamentals and defense.”
You took a rag-tag team of wannabes and never-was…es, and took them to the playoffs in Cleveland. The Caps are a team that seems not to get a lot of respect. Then they lost their season opener. Do you have anything special to tell that team before they take the ice for the first time in front of their own fans?
Lou Brown: “All right people, we got 10 minutes 'till game time, let's all gather 'round. I'm not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I'd just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last…well, all the ones in Canada and Pittsburgh. The local press… all three of them who come out to cover us…seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give 'em all a nice big shitburger to eat!”
Caps fans woke up this morning, and being Caps fans are probably thinking that the season is already a goner. What do you say to them as they file into Verizon Center for the home opener?
Coach Biebe: “We're not beaten. I'm not beaten! We're in this game! Anybody here tired? Anybody fuckin' tired? Holts? Connor? Birdie, you with us? (uh…who’s “Birdie?”) Never mind... Good! They’re starting to breathe through their mouths. Their strides are getting shorter. Do not give these guys too much respect. They didn't pull a dog sled, did they? They didn't skate the river, did they? Forget about that fucking circus out there. That's still black ice. This is our pond!”
You’ve had to deal with young players afraid to make a mistake. There was plenty of that on Tuesday. Do you have any soothing words for players in those situations?
Jimmy Dugan: “I’d walk right up to them and say, ‘could you come here for a second? Which team do you play for?’ And they’d tell me they played for the Caps. And I’d say, ‘Well I was just wonderin' why you would go for the big hit there when we’re trying to get the next goal. You let the guy get behind you and we lost the lead because of you. Start using your head. That's the lump that's three feet above your ass!!’ He’d start to sniffle, and I’d say, ‘Are you crying? Are you crying?! ARE YOU CRYING?!?! There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN HOCKEY!’”
“ah ah ah… ‘Norm.’”
Norm… It’s a little early for scoreboard watching, but with the Caps in a division with some heated rivals that are thought to be pretty good, some of that is going to go on. What do you say to that kind of thinking?
Coach Dale: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners.”
Well, the Caps get a chance to be winners for the first time this evening when the Calgary Flames come to visit. The last time the Flames skated onto Verizon Center ice, the Caps skated off with a 3-1 win. The usual suspects figured in the scoring for the Caps – Alex Ovechkin had a power play goal and an assist. Nicklas Backstrom assisted on all three Capitals goals. Troy Brouwer added a goal, Marcus Johansson an assist. The win vaulted the Caps over Winnipeg into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But what was the lingering image of that night was this…
Rene Bourque was suspended for five games; Nicklas Backstrom missed 40 games. Bourque since moved on to the Montreal Canadiens, and the Calgary Flames come into this game a team in transition. That is a polite way of saying that they are not very good. Calgary finished 13th in the Western Conference last season, able to muster a winning streak as long as three games only once. That came in April, with the Flames’ fate long since decided.
The biggest addition to the club in 2013-2014 probably is not a player, which says a lot about the current state of the club. The biggest addition is most likely Brian Burke, hired as President of Hockey Operations by the club last month. He has his work cut out for him. The Flames had a respectable, if unspectacular offense last season (tied for 11th in scoring offense). Their defense and goaltending, though…ugh. With 3.27 goals per game allowed the Flames finished 28th in scoring defense. Worse, they did it while allowing only 29.4 shots per game (17th fewest). Their .889 team save percentage in goal was second-worst in the league. And that was with Miikka Kiprusoff, a 319-game winner in the NHL manning the nets for 24 games. Kiprusoff is gone, the goaltending duties left to Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo. It could be a long winter in Calgary.
Here is how the teams finished last season, numbers-wise…
1. This is said to be a “rebuilding” year for the Flames. However, the Flames roster has seven forwards who are age 30 or older, or will reach that age before the half-way mark of the season. Three defensemen are 30 or older, and their nominal number one goaltender (Joey MacDonald) is 33. If the Flames are “rebuilding,” chances are many of the pieces with which they will rebuild are not on this roster.
2. This is not likely to be a team that scares opponents physically, especially on defense. Shane O’Brien has his moments, but six of the eight roster defensemen are 200 pounds or lighter. If they choose to dress Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan, they can try intimidation, but to the extent they have to play within the rules it is something that can be exploited.
3. This will be a chance for Capitals fans to renew acquaintances with head coach Bob Hartley, known to fans as the one-time coach of the Atlanta Thrashers (oh yeah, he has a Stanley Cup from coaching in Colorado, too). In four-plus seasons in Atlanta, ending with his firing in 2007-2008, he was 136-118-13 (ties)-24 in 291 games.
4. If Mike Cammalleri cannot go tonight (he has a hand injury), the Flames will ice a team that only two ten-goal scorers last season: Jiri Hudler (10) and Curtis Glencross (15). They would have only five players who managed 20 or more points (Hudler, Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, and Dennis Wideman).
5. If Joey MacDonald is the number one goalie for the Flames, it will be a stiff test for the seven-year veteran. He has only 122 regular season games of experience over that span and has played in at least half his team’s games only once (49 games with the New York Islanders in 2008-2009). Since that 2008-2009 season with the Islanders, MacDonald has played for three teams (Toronto, Detroit, and Calgary), and has a record of 22-23-5, 2.65, .907, with one shutout in 56 appearances. He is 0-2-1, 4.25, .898 in three career appearances against Washington.
1. The hat trick by Mikhail Grabovski was the first by a Capital in a season opener in franchise history. The closest a Cap came to doing this was Alexander Semin, who recorded a hat trick in the team’s home opener (game 2 of the season) against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 7, 2006, and Mike Gartner, who scored in the Caps' home opener (game 2 of the season) against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 10, 1987.
2. The goal scored by Alex Ovechkin in the opener was his first in a season-opening game since he had two against the Boston Bruins in the opening game of the 2009-2010 season. That happened to be his last 50-goal season.
3. Season openers do not seem to agree with Braden Holtby. In his last three season openers, including Tuesday night’s game in Chicago (two with Washington, one with Hershey last season), Holtby is 0-3-0, 5.07, .850. This would be his first appearance against Calgary, should he get the start.
4. We don’t want to make too much of this, only one game having been played, but the Caps are last among six teams having started their season in 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio (0.25). They do lead the league in power play conversions, though (50.0 percent).
5. Nicklas Backstrom has 24 assists in his last 24 regular season games, including the two he had against Chicago on Tuesday.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Calgary: Mark Giordano
If you were wondering who is the successor to Jarome Iginla as captain of the Calgary Flames, it is defenseman Mark Giordano, the first captain not named “Iginla” since 2003 (Craig Conroy and Bob Boughner, who were co-captains, if you were wondering). Among returning defensemen Giordano logged the most shorthanded ice time per game last year for the Flames (2:43), making him the guy who could bear the heaviest burden of making sure the Capitals do not get too comfortable setting up their lethal power play. He cannot be ignored at the other end, though. Three seasons ago he was 8-35-43 for the Flames.
Washington: Mikhail Grabovski
The difference between a youngster and a veteran is what they do in the game after they light up the scoreboard. That will be an especially interesting thing to watch as Mikhail Grabovski makes his debut in front of a Verizon Center crowd tonight. Grabovski recorded a hat trick in his first game as a Capital, and one might think the temptation is to try to repeat the feat for the home folks. But one thing that might temper the fans’ expectations is that Grabovski was rather mortal at even strength (one goal scored, on ice for one goal against). He is 4-2-6, minus-1 in eight career games against the Flames.
1. Don’t underestimate what makes the Flames “special.” Calgary had their problems at five-on-five last season, but they were pretty good on special teams, finishing sixth in both power play and penalty killing. Given the Caps’ own sputtering start at five-on-five, they cannot make assumptions about the Flames’ lack of proficiency in special teams.
2. Move your feet. The Caps looked a bit flatfooted at times when Chicago was pushing their offense through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone on Tuesday. Calgary does not have Chicago’s depth of talent, but give any NHL team openings like those the Caps allowed at times in game one, and it could be unpleasant.
3. 3-by-3 need to play 5-by-5. “Five-by-five” is a phrase that dates back to the days of analog communications. It is a description of the quality of communications, this being the best possible score. The Caps are thought to have issues in terms of the drop-off of quality from their top three defensemen to their bottom three, but against Chicago there was enough concern to go around. It looked at times that the defense was missing on their communications. This has to improve, especially if there is that drop-off in talent on the bottom half of the blue line.
In the end…
The Caps should make quick work of the Flames. Calgary is not a good defensive team, they have serious holes among their forwards and defense, their goaltending is iffy at best. They are not a playoff team, and their best assets are more of the trading variety, likely to be moved in late winter, than they will be contributors to a Flames’ playoff run. On the other hand, Washington was within a bounce of sending their season opener to overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions on their rink. We do not see the Caps getting worse along the way.
Washington has too many weapons on offense, a sturdier defense (even with their bottom-three issues) and much better goaltending. And, they have been successful in these home openers, going 6-1-0 over their last seven (outscoring their opponents 30-14 in the process). If they can keep from getting caught up in the whole “opening night” thing and avoid thinking merely throwing their sticks out there constitutes “effort,” it should be another successful start to the home portion of the schedule.
Capitals 5 – Flames 2