Thursday, January 31, 2008

A TWO point night...Caps 5 - Canadiens 4 (OT)

Two points…it doesn’t matter how you get them, just get them. And the Caps got two in a 5-4 overtime win after giving up a three-goal lead. Read the running commentary in the previous entry for the details. But let’s take a look at the final numbers…

- Alex Ovechkin: 4-1-5, +4, six shots, five hits, no giveaways...and a broken nose
- Nicklas Backstrom: 0-1-1, +4, and six takeaways…
Montreal as a team had only seven
- Viktor Kozlov: 1-2-3, +3

- Matt Bradley: five hits in less than 13 minutes, and he created a few chances for himself
Milan Jurcina: +2, four hits, three blocked shots
- Matt Pettinger did not take the ice for the last 11:33 of regulation and all of overtime

- Ditto for Steve Eminger…

- And Donald Brashear…

Other numbers of note…

Ovechkin is 29-18-47, +14 in his last 31 games
Backstrom is 8-25-33, +9 in his last 31 games
Kozlov is 7-9-16, +10 in his last 17 games

The guys who have to step it up in the absence of Nylander and Clark are doing just that...but the Caps need Shaone Morrisonn back to give Mike Green balance. The sooner, the better.

Sitting at the keyboard...a live blog

OK, well...since we can't attend the game in person tonight, we'll try this live blogging thing for the Caps-Habs contest...we apologize in advance for an utter lack of readability...

7:09...geez, van Massenhoeven?...we're doomed.

7:11...Ovechkin down...and was that a pin dropping I heard?...nice swipe, Alexei...

...and Morrisonn didn't make it out of the pre-game skate?...what's the over-under, President's Day?

7:14...Ovechkin lays out Begin...guess he's ok.

7:16...looks like the Caps want to pay the price a little more in crowding Huet...first Pettinger, then Steckel. Much shoving ensues...

7:19...shots -- Caps 6/Habs 0...Eminger got the seventh jumping into the hole on the weak side...nice save by Huet

7:22...ya think that was a pretty amazingly dumb roughing penalty Donald Brashear took?...

...nice chance to string together chances in the Caps' end.

7:33...Begin needs to take acting lessons. That was a half-hearted appeal on the delay-of-game.

...and so much for that...a pretty weak stick call on Semin

7:35....Ovechkin on a can't stop it, you can only hope he whiffs...1-0 Caps.

...and wasn't that a nice cross-ice feed from Jurcina

7:42...the Caps are almost playing this like a road game...denying the Canadiens much in terms of flow, playing very deliberately on offense...

-- end of the first...Caps denied Montreal the transition game that killed them on Tuesday, and when Montreal generated a little downhill momentum, Olaf Kolzig was there...after one, the leaders:

goals: Ovechkin (1)
assists: Jurcina (1)
shots: Steckel (2)
hits: Ovechkin (2)
blocked shots: Poti (2)
takeaways: Backstrom (3)
faceoffs: Gordon (5-2)

7:53...I'm going to go out on a limb and say Milan Jurcina really "caffeine's up" for games...geez, his interview with Al Koken needs to be stepped down a couple of speeds so I can figure out what he said...something about "blue lines," I think.

...Backstrom is oh-for-five in the circle so far... gets the feeling that the game is quietly moving toward Montreal..they're in that "lull a team to sleep" mode...

...uh, so much for that lull. Nice quick-hands tap-in by Kozlov from right in front of Huet. 2-0 Caps

8:12...Caps back to the power play...Koivu to the no benefit...

...and Ovechkin has a bloody beak, courtesy of Francois Bouillion.

8:26....this time it was Montreal caught napping...Ovechkin stepped past Andrei Markov to collect a nice chip pass from Kozlov and swat it past Huet...3-0 Caps

...and Montreal gets it right back on a weird ricochet off Alexander Semin's stick and onto Sergei Kastistsyn's blade who whipped the puck into a virtually empty net...3-1 Caps

8:30...Ovechkin's 2-1-3 tonight now has him tied with Daniel Alfredsson for the league scoring lead.

8:37...goal or no-goal. Montreal had a lot of chances, and this one will count, if the replays mean anything. Rebounds rear their ugly head once more in the Caps' end... 3-2 Caps.

8:40...OK, so now both Kastsitsyn's have scored. Hopefully, there isn't a third one lurking in the tunnel waiting to take the ice. And the way the Canadiens got those two goals -- the first less than a minute after the second Ovechkin (and third Caps') goal...the second with mere tenths of a second in the period. The third will be gut-check time for the home team.

8:45...the leaders after two...

goals: Ovechkin (2)
assists: five tied with one
shots: Green (5)
hits: Ovechkin (4)
blocked shots: Steckel (3)
takeaways: Backstrom (4)
faceoffs: Steckel (6-1)

9:00...Ovechkin is the only Cap playing with intensity at the moment...a whale of a hit and some back-and-forth with Mike Komisarek...

9:06...chess match going on...Canadiens trying to spring guys coming down the middle...

9:10...Montreal is starting to win the territorial game...too much time in the Caps' end...

9:17...Bradley with a nice accelerator to get in deep, but couldn't lift the puck over Huet's right pad.

9:18....HAT TRICK!!!...finally...Ovechkin's first home hatter, rifling the puck through the defenseman's legs and past a barely-flinching Huet...4-2 Caps

9:22...and the Caps give it right back by being lazy getting back...Kastsitsyn (one of them, anyway) slides the puck to Latendresse who stuffs it into an empty net. Green and Schultz just weren't in position to defend... 4-3 Caps can a guy 6'3" look like he comes out of nowhere for a save?...Kolzig saved the bacon for the moment on Plekanec.

9:30...and once more, they can't get the puck out of their own end...Kolzig loses track of the puck...Latendresse pokes the puck in from inside the crease with 32.6 seconds left...4-4

...overtime...a three-goal lead blown...goals scored by Montreal in the last minute of the period, twice...and but for Ovechkin, this really isn't a pleasant night for the Caps. As it is, they have one point, looking for the second one. But Montreal has the momentum...

9:36....bad offsides there...Fleischmann could see the play in front of him and didn't need to go in early...

9:40...FOURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!...Ovechkin gets his second four-goal game and ends it, taking two whacks from the top of the crease with not a Montreal defenseman in sight...Green the drive from the top of the zone, ricochet to Jeff Schultz, who sent it in front, where Ovechkin -- eventually -- hit the back of the net.

Caps 5 - Canadiens 4

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!...

And today’s subject, dear readers, is…”running up the score.”

It seems some folks in Caps Nation are a bit peeved at the behavior of the Montreal Canadiens at the conclusion of Tuesday?s 4-0 whitewash of the Caps. To wit, they believe that the home team was looking to pad their stats at the end by sending out their top line in the last minute when the score was 3-0, and the matter had been settled.

Well, the notion of “running it up” inspired us to ask some of the more famous “runner uppers” about their motivation in engaging in such behavior. We begin with George Halas, who didn’t “run” up the score…he sprinted up and down the field with it as his Chicago Bears drubbed the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the NFL championship game of 1940. Coach, welcome…

“Yeah, glad to be here…”

Coach, 73-0…did you think of that as “running up the score?”

“Hell, yeah, it was running up the score. If we played a fifth quarter, I’d have made sure we scored a hundred…”

You still seem perturbed.

“Look, thesaurus boy, that idiot of an owner the Redskins had thought he’d be brave and all by calling us crybabies and quitters when we lost to them, 7-3, a few weeks before the championship game. Well, we got the last laugh…it was so bad, they even ran out of footballs for us to kick extra points…made us run for conversions on the last two touchdowns. Haven’t heard much out of ol’ George Preston Marshall lately…”

Uh, Coach…he died in ’69. OK, so what about a different kind of “running up the score?”…For that, we have to ask Crazy Horse about the Battle of the Little Big Horn…uh, shouldn’t we be talking to Sitting Bull?

“Huh…’Sitting Bull’ is right. He just sat around in camp spreadin' the 'bull' around while Red Horse and I did all the dirty work in battle.”

About the battle…you really laid a whuppin’ on George Armstrong Custer didn’t you? (why are all these guys named, “George?”)…

“Yeah, thought we were just a bunch who wouldn’t put up a fight…even split up his forces. It’s about respect. You have to respect your opponent. And when he doesn’t, you just think enough is enough, and running up the score is the thing to do.”

Well, it’s an interesting take on “running up the score,” but it even shows itself in college football. Coach Barry Switzer, you were often accused of “running up the score” on much weaker opponents when you were at Oklahoma to boost your rankings in the polls. Did you pass late in games to pad your score?

“Ha-ha…they should know better…at Oklahoma we’d throw the ball to keep the score down.”

Speaking of football, what about you, Bill Belichick?...Your New England Patriots not only went 16-0 in the regular season this year, but you set an NFL record of scoring 589 points. More than a few coaches have suggested that you ran up the score in games…care to comment?


Well, that adds some needed and welcome clarity to the matter, and it is left to the Capitals to ponder whether the Canadiens did, in fact, look to pile up some garbage-time goals. What they will do about it tonight will be interesting to watch unfold.

Of relevance here is the fact that the Caps have lost nine games in regulation since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench. In the previous eight, the Caps record in games following those losses is 6-0-2, outscoring opponents 25-16. But here is the statistic that might have the greatest bearing on this game tonight. In games following regulation losses, the Caps have tightened the screws in penalty killing, skating off 25 of 27 shorthanded situations (92.6 percent). Given Montreal’s potent power play, this is the fault line upon which the game will be decided.

If you’re looking for more trends, you can look at the prognosto for Tuesday’s game…the same keys still apply. But tonight will have a happier result…

Caps 5 – Canadiens 3.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A no-point night...Canadiens 4 - Caps 0

tran·si·tion (trān-zĭsh'ən) n. Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another.

Tonight was an affirmation of the concept of transition, and the ability of the Montreal Canadiens to pass from one form (defense, short-handedness), state (generally passive), style (clogging the Caps’ passing lanes), or place (their own zone, the neutral zone) to another (stuffing the puck down the Caps’ throats on odd-man rushes) killed the Caps in a 4-0 loss for the visitors.

Plainly put, Montreal came ready to play, the Caps looked more like they were trying to iron out the kinks in training camp.

Statistically, the numbers of the game didn’t weigh heavily toward one club or the other, except where it mattered – on the scoreboard. The Caps fell victim to the very things they couldn’t afford…an inability to stay out of the box when in mattered (John Erskine’s first delay of game penalty led to the Canadiens’ first goal), an inability to keep Montreal from a fast start (down 3-0 after one period), and a failure to generate anything in the second period to keep things close going into the third period. The result was a game played on and settled in Montreal’s terms, and instead of a close Caps win, it was a four-goal Canadiens win.

It’d be hard to fault the goalie for this one, as Brent Johnson didn’t get much help on Montreal’s goals – two power play, a shorthanded, and an even-strength goal…the game wasn’t close enough for the empty netter, and there weren’t any penalty shots so the Canadiens couldn’t register a Lemieux.

Mark Streit one-timed a pass from Andrei Markov through a Chris Higgins screen of Johnson for goal number one (power play)…

Tomas Plekanec intercepted a pass from Tomas Fleischmann in the Montreal end as a Caps 5-on-3 was expiring (can we just decline those and be done with it?), split Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to join Sergei Kastsitsyn coming out of the box for a two-on-none break on Johnson. Kastsitsyn finished off a pass from Plekanec for goal number two (shorthanded)…

Steve Begin collected a puck behind the Caps net after it managed to elude Brent Johnson (who if he played it might have earned a minor penalty for playing the puck outside the trapezoid of despair) and rifled in to an onrushing Saku Koivu, who no Cap saw or marked as he stormed down the slot, for goal number three (even-strength).

Goal number four – a power play goal in the last minute of the contest by Alexei Kovalev – was window dressing. The competitive portion of the game essentially ended with the Kastsitsyn goal, with the nail driven into this coffin by Koivu late in the first period.

The Caps were flat. Montreal simply left the white jerseys bobbing like white-caps on a lake while they sped by, around, and through the Caps in transition. The shorthanded and even-strength goals were nothing more than a product of transition – the Canadiens rocketing out of their zone and down the ice while the Caps lagged behind.

Since the lockout, the Caps are 4-6-1 against Montreal. Of those six losses, four of them have come by at least three goals. One gets the feeling this just is not a team the Caps match up well against. Montreal has an unsettling ability to lull a team to sleep by just skating around (sort of like the dark shape of a shark beneath the waves), then taking advantage of what opportunity presents itself to use its transition game to attack in numbers. The Caps had no answer for that last night. They’d better have one tomorrow night.

That sort of problem doesn’t show up in the numbers. None stick out as being especially bad (well, there being no “plus” numbers does), but rather there was a team-wide problem. No player was worse than -1 (except Mike Green, who might need to re-think the idea of what position he plays…”defenseman”). 14 of 18 skaters registered shots on goal (the Caps had a total of 35; Tom Poti led with five); 13 of 18 skaters had hits (Alex Ovechkin had five). Ever Cap who took more than one draw won the majority of them or broke even (they were 32-of-55 overall).

The more impressive numbers, and those indicative of the superior effort, are on the Montreal side of the ledger. Mike Komisarek (who didn’t ear a star, but should have) had five hits and five blocked shots, most of it while going to war with Alex Ovechkin. Chris Higgins was credited with four hits and distracted Johnson on the Habs’ first goal. Alexei Kovalev had six shots to lead the Canadiens, but he was credited with four hits, too.

This wasn’t a fluke; Montreal was better. And it served as a wake-up call. The long hard slog from November through the all-star break is over. The intensity gets ramped up, and if it’s too early to think of this as the start of the playoff push, it isn’t too early to recognize it as potentially a make-or-break segment of the schedule. The Caps have fought long and hard, to their credit, to put themselves back in the hunt, and it is folly to think that they won’t lose games along the way as we head toward April. But once again, the idea now is, “don’t let one become two.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Get Well, Soon, Knucklehead!

Washington Post columnist and ESPN sports show host Michael Wilbon is reported to have suffered what is characterized as a "minor heart attack."

We don't subscribe to the idea of "minor" being attached to such an occurrence, and we wish Mike Wilbon well. As one of the best pure writers of his generation of sports journalists, in our opinion, we're sure he'll have a lot to say about this in his own entertaining style, and will be back on the column beat and daily PTI in short order.

Get well, soon, ya knucklehead.

The weird, the wacky, and the WTF?...

These were the top-linked stories at at noon today...At least the hockey story looks ike fun...

Twins push for last, best trade offers for Santana

T-Owe? Arbitrator reportedly rules for Eagles

Webber says returning to Warriors a 'done deal'

Kidd says it is time to 'move on' from Nets

Brady practices for Patriots Flu bug bites Giants

Source: Angelos yet to greenlight Bedard trade

Paul nearly triples up in big victory Melo still out

Barbaro's ashes to be interred at Churchill Downs

Selanne chooses return to Ducks over retirement

ECHL team to host 'Shred Rich Rodriguez' night

Santana hasn't been traded? Next thing you'll tell me, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!

The Eagles get their revenge on Terrell "We'll be opening an 'Abs-R-Us' in a driveway near you" Owens?

Brady's getting well, and the Giants are getting sick?...smells like another Belichick conspiracy to me...

Peter Angelos is screwing up the Orioles again (next big story..."Sun Rises in East!" at 11)

A horse's ashes are gong to be buried at a race track (there is a "horse's ash" line in here somewhere)

At least the Wheeling Nailers are giving their fans an "experience," even if it involves pictures of a coach in a different sport and an industrial-sized piece of office equipment (maybe they could have fans whack a Rich Rodriguez likeness with a hockey stick?)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in hockey, games will be played this evening. Check one out.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the business of the "second half" begins (only in sports could 32 games of an 82-game season be described as a "half"), and the Caps open it with another home-and-home, back-to-back pair of games, this time against the Montreal Canadiens. The most accomplished professional sports franchise in North American sports history….

“Yo, wait a minute, pal. Are youse forgettin’ the New York Frickin’ Yankees?”

And you are…

“Mickey, from Queens…and hey, whaddabout the 26 World Series titles and the 39 American League pennants?”

Well, you have a point…

“Point, me arse…what about the Boston Celtics, eh boy? 16 world championships …eight of them in a row. Beat that, Yankee boy.”

And you are?

“Mikey, from South Boston.”

Well, that was quite a string of titles…

“Oh, doncha know…the Green Bay Packers are the best pro team ever…nine NFL champsionships, three Super Bowl titles…and you fellas don’t have a championship trophy named for your head coach.”

Let me guess…you’re from Wisconsin.

“Pulaski…woodja like a sassage an’ some cheese ta go wit dat?”

Maybe later…now, about this “best sports team…”

“Sacre bleu!...why are we even having dis conversation? De Canadiens, dey are de best hockey team, de best sports team, from de best city in Nort America, eh?”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re from Montreal…

“Of course, you piece of limburger…and Les Canadiens, dey have de greatest history in all of sports…24 Stanley Cups, including one when dere wasn’t even a National Hockey League. Les Glorieux, with de bleu, blanc, et rouge and Guy LaFleur wit his ‘air flying behind him and Rocket Richard scoring goals and hitting every player…Henri, Howie, Serge, Larry…wearers of La Sainte-Flanelle, the greatest team ever.”

And don’t forget Ken…

“OK, even if he come from Toronto.”

Well, we’re not going to settle this, I can see, but we do have a game tonight…and Thursday is another of these home-and-home two-fers. Montreal comes out of the break as having been one of the hot teams going into it. The particulars:

Record: 9-2-2 in their last 13 games
Goals for/against: 50-34
Power Play: 15/59 (25.4 percent)
Penalty killing: 35/41 (85.4 percent)
Wins by 3+ goals: five
Losses by 3+ goals: one

The Canadiens are one of those teams that fly under the radar, which seems more than a bit odd for the most storied franchise in the history of the NHL. But the Canadiens – a team with the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference – aren’t often mentioned with Ottawa or the Atlantic Division team of the moment as the cream of the Eastern Conference elite.

Montreal’s success has been largely a product of its potent power play. The Canadiens are a rather average five-on-five team (18th in the league in five-on-five goal ratio), but their power play ranks second in the league (23.9 percent) and has only been more lethal in the 9-2-2 run up to the all-star break. In fact, the Canadiens don’t exactly provide an extraordinary scare in most other statistical rankings this year…

Penalty killing: 21st
Winning percentage:
- when scoring first: 12th
- when trailing first: 23rd
- when leading after one period: 8th
- when leading after two periods: 28th
- when outshooting opponents: 5th
- when outshot by opponents: 10th
- in one-goal games: 23rd
- in two-goal games: T-20th

The Canadiens are, however, third in the league in winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals. And, they are second in the league in scoring in the first period of games. Add to this that Montreal is 16-7-4 in games where they benefit from at least five power play opportunities and the keys to the game become clearer.

- Don’t let the Canadiens get off fast
- Stay out of the box
- At least keep the game close for the first two periods

This isn’t really a unique recipe, but Montreal relies on the power play and the offense it generates to bury opponents by large margins. Close games settled deep in the contest are another matter. And to date, the Caps lost the one multi-goal decision (5-2 on December 20th) and won the one-goal decision (5-4, in overtime, on January 5th).

For the Caps, a fast start out of the gate would be nice…don’t let Carolina breathe in that top spot…maybe take over the top spot by midnight tonight. The Caps are riding high of late with their own 10-3-1 record in their last 14 games to claw within a point of the division-leading Hurricanes. They haven’t blown many teams away in this run, but they are 5-1 in one-goal games in this stretch (including a pair of shootout wins, and an overtime win in Montreal). Eight times in these 14 games the Caps have scored more than three goals (7-1-0 in such games).

Here is your goofy stat for this game…more than half the goals scored by the Caps over the last 14 games have been scored by the Russian trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Viktor Kozlov (27 of 53 goals). The trio has 22 goals in 52 combined career games against Montreal.

We’re thinking it’s going to be a high-scoring game with both teams looking to inch up on the teams above them in their respective divisions. But in the end – well, you know how this goes…

Caps 6 – Canadiens 4

Monday, January 28, 2008

It's a Small World, After All

The Peerless doesn't know why, but that song just oozed into his head after seeing this pic...

Looks like some attendees from Pixar Animation Studios at some convention we don't want to think about.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My MVP...

Eric Staal won the car...Rick Nash had the hat trick...Alex Ovechkin stole the weekend. But my MVP?...

Manny Legace.

He was a joy to listen to when he was miked up for the All-Star game. His self-deprecating demeanor and "good sport" attitude about the whole thing was a shot in the arm this game needed.

Hole in One...Perfect Strike...and now...


This could be, as if it's needed, the real "coming out" party for Alex Ovechkin as a player the league leans on to market its product. A showman with skill and wonder when the league is going to "get it."

And today, he'll be playing with Jason Spezza and Martin St. Louis. Hope Phillips Arena has a speed counter for goals.

Every Hockey Player Needs a Nickname

Hockey is famous for nicknames..."Turk," "Chicotoumi Cucumber," whatever. These days, nicknames are more a product of a player's last name. "Clark" becomes, "Clarkie"..."Ovechkin" becomes, "Ovie"..."Crosby" becomes...well, you get the idea.

But sometimes, a unique nickname is in order. Consider, if you will, Kris Beech...former first-round draft pick of the Capitals, later sent to Pittsburgh in the Jaromir Jagr Nashville...then to back to Washington...then to Columbus.

Well, young Mr. Beech has been "on the road," as they say...

January 10th, claimed off waivers by Vancouver from Columbus.

January 22nd, claimed off waivers by Washington from Vancouver.

January 26th, claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh from Washington.

Four cities and 4,590 miles in 16 days.

...we'll propose "Travelocity" as Beech's nickname.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Unbearable Lindrossiness of Being

There is a dense fog about at the moment...or maybe it's just The Peerless. Just are the effects after having found oneself in the midst of an automobile accident earlier today (deer were involved...don't ask). As you can see from the actual MRI taken this morning, we are fine...except for a persistent desire for doughnuts and a nap.

Don't know what this will do as far as the usual entries for the next couple of days...we'll probably end up writing more and making even less sense (as if that was possible). At least none of this will detract from my being able to watch the skills competition this evening and the All-Star Game tomorrow.

Or maybe it'll be just a dream...

"...Iginla and Datsyuk on the rush...Rick Nash coming late...a Nash...over to Iginla for the shot...OHHHHHHHHHHHH, what a save by The Peerless!!!"

Yeah...I need a second opinion...

Friday, January 25, 2008

When we get back...Southern Un-hospitality

Something to ponder...After the break, the Caps will have 32 games left. Of this number, 14 will be against teams in the Southeast Division as follows (records against, to date, in parentheses):

vs. Carolina (2-2-0): 2 home/2 away
vs. Tampa Bay (3-2-0): 1 home/2 away
vs. Atlanta (2-1-1): 2 home/2 away
vs. Florida (2-2-1): 1 home/2 away

That's 9-7-2 against the Southeast so far with six games left at home, eight on the road. The last seven games of the year are against Southeast Division clubs.

But here's the thing...the Caps are 6-1-1 against the Southeast since Thanksgiving. Florida is 4-3-0, Carolina is 4-3-1, Atlanta is 2-3-1, and Tampa Bay is 2-5-0 over that span in the division.

If the Caps can keep up the pressure on their divisional rivals in the heavily division-weighted schedule after the All-Star break, the playoffs might not be a pipe dream.

Sure, it's getting ahead of ourselves a bit, but think about what 20 (or more) of the 28 available points might mean...and what that last two weeks of the season might be like.

Revisiting a Benchmark

Last August, when pondering "benchmarks" and their usefulness to gauging the Caps' playoff hopes, we asked this about goaltending...

" is apparent that the Caps are going to have to get production from the backup goaltending position, if not have a backup who can assume the top job for significant stretches. Is Brent Johnson that backup?"

Well, look at this, then you tell me...

First 21 games:

Caps' record: 6-14-1 (13 points)
Johnson's record: 7 games, 1-4-1, 3.19, .894

Last 29 games:

Caps' record: 17-8-4 (38 points)
Johnson's record: 7 games, 5-1-0, 2.05, .926

It is plain that Johnson has not only been a dependable backup since Thanksgiving, he's been downright dazzling, for the most part, despite being injured for a part of this run. It is a significant development, since we also said last August...

"...unless Kolzig simply forgets how to strap on his pads (he should be a constant in the games he plays), Johnson is the key. Playoff aspirants can’t afford to give away games when the number one goaltender isn’t on the ice."

We took a look at backups for playoff teams last year and found that...

-- None of the ten goalies who played more than 20 games in this group (except for Marc Denis, who was demoted) had a below-.500 record.

-- None of the ten goalies who played more than 20 games (again, except Denis) had a goal-against of more than 3.00

-- Only two of the ten goalies in this group who played more than 20 games had a save percentage below .900 (Denis and Johan Hedberg)

Johnson has exceeded those benchmarks by far in the Caps strong run since late-November, and in fact has been there to pick up the club when Olaf Kolzig has occasionally had difficulty finding his "A" game. It has been an important ingredient in a point we were trying to make...

"...if a backup is going to be playing significant time, and the history of the past several years with the Caps indicates that he will, then he needs to provide a consistent (despite his still intermittent appearances) level of play. Johnson will need to improve on his numbers for the Caps to have realistic playoff aspirations. Part of that will be the improvement in the play around him – the Caps did upgrade at several positions and should see further development at others. Part of that will be Johnson improving, too. That could be the key to solid overall goaltending this year."

Johnson has improved on his numbers, and his continuing this strong play will be an important factor in the Caps stretch drive.

A TWO-point night!...Caps 2 - Maple Leafs 1

On November 22nd, the Caps were on a pace for 53 points for the season. With tonight’s 2-1 in over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps are on a pace for 84 points. But if you look at the Caps over the last 29 games, during which they have amassed a 17-8-4 record, keeping up that pace in the 32-game post All-Star break sprint to the finish would result in 93 points.

You’d have to think that 93 points would: a) win at least an eighth spot, or b) win them the Southeast Division outright, given the state of the other four teams in the division. The Caps stand at the all-star break one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes with two games in hand.

Tonight, the Caps ended the figurative “first half” of the season on a high-note in a low-down game. There wasn’t anything pretty about it, nothing that would commend it as an example of what the Nu-NHL strives to be. It was played zone-to-zone and along the boards with a singular lack of continuity or flow. What chances there were came out of nowhere and were few and far between, despite the 52 shots combined shots recorded by the two teams.

In other words, it was exactly the kind of game Toronto wanted to play…and they still lost.

Brooks Laich tipped a drive by Alex Ovechkin…Boyd Devereaux tipped a drive by Pavel Kubina…Viktor Kozlov cleaned up after another drive by Ovechkin with goalie Vesa Toskala far out of position to do anything about it.

That did it for the scoring. They were blips on an otherwise flatline of a game spent largely in pursuit of pucks in the corners and along the boards. Toronto did another efficient job of taking away the center of the ice, clogging passing lanes and leaving the Caps to dump, chase, and hit (the Caps had 22 hits). When Toronto managed to move the puck out of their own end, they dumped, chased, and hit, too (they had 18 hits).

Since this was more to Toronto’s liking in terms of style, they had -- for lack of a better term -- the “advantage” of play for the most part. They managed 32 shots on Caps’ goalie Brent Johnson, but except for the wacky deflection just under the crossbar by Devereaux, Johnson was more than equal to the task of keeping the net free of pucks. He did manage to make a few top-notch saves, particularly a glove save on Mats Sundin on a drive from the edge of the left wing circle in the third period.

For the record, the 10:45 sports report on WTOP radio proclaimed that Kris Beech netted the game-winner. We hope Viktor Kozlov does well in Hershey.

Hey, we all make mistakes.

As for the numbers and other stuff, there isn’t much in there that leaps off the sheet…

For Alex Ovechkin, it was a deuces-are-wild night…two assists, two points, two shots (two??), two shots blocked, two shots missed, two giveaways.

Nicklas Backstrom made it back to the scoresheet with an assist…he hasn’t been held scoreless in consecutive games in a month.

Tonight’s big bopper was Milan Jurcina – six hits, including one on Alex Steen in the first period that effectively ended his evening. Steen did not return after the first intermission. He also had four blocked shots to tie for the team lead (go ahead…guess the player with whom he was tied).

No Cap had a losing record in the circle. As a group, they won 33 of 53 draws (62.3 percent) and were led by Boyd Gordon (11-for-18) and David Steckel (10-for-16).

Heard on the 3WT post game…”Big Boo”…apparently, this is a nickname the studio guys have given to Bruce Boudreau. We don't think it's going to catch on.

The Peerless knarfed down three dogs, in case you were wondering.

As for the second period hot dog eating competition…no one should contemplate giving up their day job, and that includes the “Black Widow,” who looked for all the world as if she was struggling mightily to keep her “lunch” down. We already can’t wait for next season’s competition. Maybe they’ll have bloggers.

We miss not seeing Kerry Fraser’s coif-of-perfection-and-envy. Fraser in a helmet is like putting Saran Wrap around the Mona Lisa. He looks like one of the mites out there in that thing.

Brent Johnson’s 31 saves on 32 shots faced added fuel to the fire for a goaltender controversy. For a town that almost invented the term, “quarterback controversy” in football, it could make for an interesting situation.

Alexander Semin had no shots on goal. In case you were wondering, that’s only the fifth time in 31 games that’s happened.

It was “deuces-wild” for Mike Green, too…two shots, two shots blocked, two shots missed, two giveaways, two blocked shots.

Green also had 11 seconds of penalty killing time. That is almost twice as much as his average (six seconds/game).

Of the 18 skaters for Toronto, only Anton Stralman and Darryl Boyce were held without a shot on goal, and Boyce only played 3:20 (he left the ice in the second after catching a skate in a rut and didn’t return).

With this loss, the Maple Leafs lead the Eastern Conference in road losses in regulation (15).

Ovechkin scored two points and dropped from a tie for second to third in scoring...Daniel Alfredsson leap-frogged both Ovechkin and Vincent Lecavalier with a seven-point night in an 8-4 win over the Lightning.

The 23-22-5 record on this date is the best for the Caps since the 2002-2003 season (22-18-6-3), the last year they made the playoffs.

The 23 wins equals the total number of wins recorded in the 2003-2004 season.

And there you have it…the Caps are poised to make a run at a playoff spot in the second half. If they can get Chris Clark and Brian Pothier back, it’ll make the club that much stronger…and give Bruce Boudreau some more of those hard choices coaches are supposed to love.

Hang on, kids…it gets to be a wild ride from here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A no point night: Maple Leafs 3 - Caps 2

Entry from the Operating Manual of the Obvious under “season, regular:”

“You’re not going to win every game.”

That’s about the best way to put it after the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, a game in which the Caps gave every indication that they would snare at least a point after falling behind the Leafs.

But Mats Sundin put an end to that at both ends of the ice in the last 30 seconds, first by scoring the game-winner off a rebound of an Alex Steen shot that found the only hole it could, under sprawling goalie Olaf Kolzig’s right arm. Then, with Nik Antropov off for tripping in the last six seconds and the Caps skating six-on-four, Sundin “won” the faceoff in the Leafs’ zone by firing the puck between the points and out of the zone, killing the remaining time.

Before all that, it was a somewhat disjointed effort by the Caps with some iffy play at the most inopportune times. In a game where the home team had three goals, it could have been worse. The defense didn’t have an especially good game playing defense, as it seemed they were in poor position in too many instances (not the least of which was on the game winner when both defenseman had backed almost all the way to the top of the circles by the time Antropov, carrying the puck, reached the blue line) – there was too much free ice given to the Leafs to skate.

Milan Jurcina and John Erksine were the exceptions to the rule, making the Leafs
pay with some big hits. On the other hand, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green found themselves caught a little too far up in the defensive zone when the Caps could not clear, and Chad Kilger was left behind them to deflect a long drive by Anton Stralman past Kolzig for the game’s first goal. It was Morrisonn and Green victimized again in the second as Green lost his footing behind the Washington net, and the Caps found themselves trying to catch up on the play until Steen fired the puck past Kolzig.

For the Caps, the Alexes each netted a goal, Ovechkin pouncing on a puck at the edge of the right wing circle and snapping it past goalie Vesa Toskala, and Semin with a nifty deke and backhand past Toskala to tie the game late in the third. But it wasn’t enough on a night when Washington dominated the territorial aspect of the game, but played just poorly enough in their own end to let the Leafs escape with the extra point.

From the “woulda-coulda-shouda” file…a win would have drawn the Caps to within a point of Carolina for the top spot in the Southeast with three games in hand. So, this has to be filed under “lost opportunity.”

The guys who had been making some noise on the score sheet lately were pretty quiet. Nicklas Backstrom saw his three game scoring streak (1-8-9) come to an end, although he did win nine of 13 draws. Tomas Fleischmann, with points in four of his last six games (1-5-6) was held off the score sheet as well. Mike Green, with 14 points in his last ten games (6-8-14), was held scoreless and was -2 – his third “minus” game in his last four.

Tom Poti – usually a minutes eater – managed less than 20 minutes of ice time for the first time since New Year’s Day (when he was injured in a game against Ottawa), in part because he spent six minutes in the box on three minor penalties.

And while the Caps took four minors (Steve Eminger had the other) resulting in three power plays for the home team, the Caps killed all three man-disadvantage situations, the first time they’ve held a club without a power play goal in the last four games, and only the fourth time in the last 12 games.

The Caps’ power play was no better – oh-for-four (including that abbreviated six second power play to end the game) – ending a four-game streak with at least one power play goal.

Odd numbers…

Quintin Laing had more shots on goal (one) than blocked shots (none).

The Caps had 32 shots on goal, and Alex Ovechkin had eight of those, but only Tomas Fleischmann and Matt Pettinger were the only Caps not to register a shot on goal.

After Ovechkin and his eight shots, know who tied for second in shots?...Well, yeah, there was Alexander Semin with three, which you would expect. But there were Matt Bradley and Milan Jurcina, who you wouldn’t.

The Caps “out-attempted” the Leafs in shots, 64-46.

Shaone Morrison took only six shifts and 3:55 in the third period…Eminger took ten shifts and 5:55. We’re thinking Morrisonn’s foot was acting up…and Eminger was one of the defensemen out there (with Poti) on the game-winner.

Speaking of the game-winner, it was Sundin's 544th goal of his career, tying him with Maurice Richard.

At least there was this...

“Don’t let one become two…”

That’s got to be the thought foremost in the minds of Caps Nation for the rest of the year. A win tonight stops the bleeding, and it would ensure that the Caps finish above .500 at the All-Star Break. Not a bad place to be, considering where the Caps were when we sat down to a turkey dinner last November.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oh Bloggers...

Click Here!

Tell them what they've won, Johnny!

- NHL on Versus hats
- Versus Hockey Puck Ice Cube Tray
- Versus Playoff Tracker Magnet Boards
- 2007 Playoffs Travel Mugs
- 2007 Versus All-star/Stanley Cup Jerseys

...a doff of the cap (not NHL on Versus) to James Mirtle for noting this.

The Charm?

Drafted....#7 overall in 1999 Pittsburgh in 2001 (with Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk, plus a lot of cash) for Jaromir Jagr and Frantisek Kucera Nashville in 2005 for a conditional draft pick Washington in 2006 with a first round draft pick for Brendan Witt an unrestricted free agent in 2007 by Columbus waivers in 2007 by Vancouver waivers in 2008 by...

Is the third time a Cap a charm for Kris Beech?...

...or the second time in Hershey?

* reported by Tarik El-Bashir on the Capital Insider bolg.


Alex Ovechkin:

Goals: 1st
Points: 5th
Hits: 6th (among all forwards)
Takeaways: 11th (all forwards)

Mike Green:

goals:1st (among all defensemen)
points: T-12th

Nicklas Backstrom:

Points: 2nd (among all rookies)
Assists: 2nd (among all rookies)
Takeaways: 1st (all rookie forwards)

Boyd Gordon:

Faceoffs: 6th (400-or-more draws)

David Steckel:

Faceoffs: 1st (rookies with 400-or-more draws)
Blocked Shots: 3rd (all rookie forwards)
Hits: 6th (all rookie forwards)
Takeaways: 3rd (all rookie forwards)

Brooks Laich:

Blocked Shots: 11th (all forwards)

Quintin Laing:

Blocked Shots/Game: 1st (all forwards, minimum 20 games)

The Leafs are Ready, really...they are...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- A Two-Fer: Caps vs. Maple Leafs

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a back-to-back two-fer with the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight and tomorrow night as the Caps seek to keep the fury unleashed and extend their four game winning streak. It gives The Peerless a chance to cover two games with one prognosto while celebrating “Wiener Week” in DC. And what better way to celebrate Wiener Week than to bring in an all-star line-up of foodies to lend their advice on the best way to enjoy America’s favorite processed meat product treat.

First, let’s hear from Rachael Ray…food show host, talk show host, donut spokesperson, and generally annoying personality, who has her own take on how to prepare the frankfurter…Rachael, welcome.

“Oh, it’s such a pleasure you must feel to have me here…”

Uh, sure, I suppose…now, for our readers out there looking to prepare their own heaven-on-a-bun, what do you recommend.

“Well, first you put some hot dogs, mustard, relish, bun, onions, a can of tuna, three lemons, a dozen eggs, and Emeril Lagasse in a bowl, because you have to make a point that you can carry everything in one bowl. Then, you add some ee-vee-oh-oh to a screamin’ hot grill and add your hot dogs. Then you grill ‘em, and put ‘em on a bun for a tasty sammy…dee-lish.”

What about the onions, mustard, tuna, lemons, Emeril, and all that?

“garbage bowl.”

OK…so how about you, Paula Deen…what’s your take on hot dogs?

“Way-ull…ah just add a great big ol’ pound o’ buh-derr to a pay-un…then ah gree-ull me up a whole mess o’ frank-fuh-derrs…add a beeg ol’ dollop o’ mayonnaise, an’ you gotcherseff a real southern hot dog treat.”

mmmm…I can just feel my arteries slamming shut. How about you, Alton Brown…are hot dogs “good eats?”

“You bet…but you have to be careful about cooking hot dogs to do it right. You don’t just toss a handful of wieners in a pot and boil ‘em. That would be simple and, well… efficient. You have to act like you’re in some chemistry lab…to 1500 ml of water in a non-reactive sauce pan, you add 26.435 g of kosher salt. Bring this to a boil, then add 454 g of hot dogs – by weight of course – and reduce the heat to simmer. Then…walk away…just walk away. Leave the pot to simmer for 8 minutes and 35 seconds, until the internal temperature of the hot dogs reach 170 degreees. No amount of stirring, mixing, jiggling, or even watching will cook the hot dogs more quickly. When the hot dogs are done, use tongs – never a fork – to remove them from the liquid and place on a paper towel to absorb any latent liquid. Insert the dogs into the buns you have baked – that’s a different show – and add your own condiments of joy…a cranberry chutney, or maybe a candied ginger relish. Now that’s…good eats.”

Sez you, pal. Sandra Lee…what about you…is there a “semi-homemade” perspective on this unique American treat?

“Hot dogs, schmot dogs…who cares, it’s all in the cocktail and the table-scape…the food might taste like cardboard, but we’ll feel happy, and at least this crap looks good on the hockey-take on my table-scape…maybe a pink ice theme for the ladies, or a blue ice theme for the gents…”

Well, at least the dogs will be only a buck at Verizon Center on Thursday night. As for the games, the Maple Leafs provide the kind of dangerous opposition that should have the Caps on their toes, a team that gives the appearance of being ripe for the plucking that is in the midst of what is referred to in the management literature as a “big honkin’ shake-up.”

Leafs general manager John Ferguson, Jr., was put out of his misery yesterday, being relieved of his duties in favor of Cliff Fletcher, who isn’t a long term solution, either. He has the dreaded term “interim” attached to his title, but at least he has a soft place to land. He will retain the title of “consultant” when some poor fool is found to accept the second most thankless job in hockey, that of “General Manager, Toronto Maple Leafs.”

The most thankless job in hockey is that of “Head Coach, Toronto Maple Leafs,” and the current incumbent -- Paul Maurice -- has presided over a club with diminishing returns of late. Team Turmoil is 4-8-0 in their last dozen games, a performance that has allowed them to settle into 14th place in the Eastern Conference (the Caps left the furniture behind so the blue and white can feel comfortable). And it isn’t a record that has been achieved by accident or bad luck:

Record: 4-8-0
Goals for/against: 26/46
Power Play: 9/49 (18.4 percent)
Penalty killing: 34/49 (69.4 percent)
Games scoring more than three goals: 1
Games allowing more than three goals: 6
Wins by multiple goal margins: 1
Losses by multiple goal margins: 5
Record in one goal games: 3-3

A dozen players account for the 26 goals the Leafs have scored over their last dozen games, but four -- Mats Sundin (4-6-10, -1), Jason Blake (4-5-9, even), Nik Antropov (3-1-4, -7), and Darcy Tucker (3-0-3, -4) -- account for 14 of those goals and five of the nine power play goals scored in the last dozen games.

The Leafs are thin on the blue line with injuries to Bryan McCabe and Carlo Colaiacovo. Youngsters Ian White and Anton Stralman have had to log replacement minutes, and the -15 in a combined 69 games this year speaks to the effectiveness of that.

Looking for a goalie? Toronto is…or perhaps should be. If you look up the word, “hideous,” in the dictionary, chances are you’ll find a picture of Andrew Raycroft. 2-8-4, 3.94, .874. He’s not making anyone forget Johnny Bower. More like, “bow-wow.” Vesa Toskala would appear to be the one to get the call tonight…maybe tomorrow, too…but he was pretty grim in his only appearance against the Caps this year…four goals on 13 shots in 14 minutes of play. On offense, you’d be hard pressed to do better against air. But Toskala does have a winning record this year (16-13-4), and that is at least something to hang hopes on for Leafs fans.

Toronto is one of those teams that can be dangerous to a team like the Caps, themselves a team with not enough talent to get by on talent alone (as Herb Brooks might say). We’ve made a point of noting Alex Ovechkin’s amazing consistency in his young career, but the Leafs' captain – Mats Sundin – is the gold standard of consistency over his career. 1,295 points in 1,280 games – 1.01 points per game – and his points per game by season break down like this:

1990-91: 0.74
1991-92: 0.95
1992-93: 1.43
1993-94: 1.01
1994-95: 1.00
1995-96: 1.09
1996-97: 1.15
1997-98: 0.90
1998-99: 1.01
1999-00: 1.00
2000-01: 0.90
2001-02: 0.98
2002-03: 0.96
2003-04: 0.93
2005-06: 1.11
2006-07: 1.01
2007-08: 1.06

He’s been a consistent performer and a fierce competitor for going on 17 seasons, and he can carry a club in a game or for a stretch of games. He’s the subject of considerable speculation as to his possible trade, but for the moment he is a Maple Leaf, and he will be the focus of attention.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, Sundin does not have a lot of consistent support around him, and it isn’t likely he can outscore the Caps in this back-to-back. If the Caps attend to business and don’t spend too much time reading their own press and blogispraise, they can and should sweep this back-to-back. Besides, they like playing in Canada, and they’re finally above .500 at home…

Wed.: Caps 4 – Leafs 3
Thurs: Caps 5 – Leafs 2

Monday, January 21, 2008

A TWO point night!!!...Caps 6 - Penguins 5 (OT/SO)

Well, if nothing else, it was entertaining. The Caps survived a two-goal night from Evgeni Malkin and a rare 5-on-3 power play in overtime, capitalizing on shootout goals by Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-5 in a shootout.

And in its own way, it probably signaled what the Eastern Conference is going to look like going forward – if not this year, then in the years to come. These two teams are emerging as potentially the class of the East. It’s easier to see with the Penguins, as they are a more developed team at the moment. Even without Sidney Crosby, they are a loaded club in terms of youthful talent (they are third in the league in points among players younger than 25 years old). But one can start to see it with the Capitals in the play of Alex Ovechkin (no surprise there), Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom (who is a point-a-game player the last two months). The Caps are second in the league in points among the under-25 crowd.

Tonight, though, it was a battle of the Russians early as Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin traded haymakers and hits. First Ovechkin assisting on a goal by Viktor Kozlov, sending a screamer at goalie Dany Sabourin that rebounded to Kozlov for the quick deposit. Then Malkin…then Ovechkin…then Malkin…then Ovechkin. Ovechkin took an open ice run at Malkin to deliver one of his trademark hits, and Malkin shrugged him off and into the end boards as if Ovechkin was merely a nuisance. It was like watching Balboa and Creed trading head shots in Rocky II.

But the difference in this one was defense…yes, defense. And with apologies to Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and even Nicklas Backstrom with his second straight four-assist night, the MVP tonight was Quintin Laing. With the Capitals trying to kill off a 5-on-3 Penguin advantage in the overtime, Laing blocked consecutive drives by Malkin to keep the Caps’ hearts beating. Without those plays and the inspiration they provided late in that overtime, this game might not go to a shootout.

And let’s hear it for the “other Russian.” Malkin?...Gonchar?...Ovechkin?...Semin?


Viktor Kozlov had two goals for the Caps tonight, his second straight contest with a pair of markers, and he’s 4-2-6 in his last four games. With Michael Nylander on the shelf for the rest of this season, it is nice to see Kozlov stepping up like this.

Has Nicklas Backstrom reached a comfort level? Four assists…eight in his last two games…14 in his last 11. He has closed to within five points of rookie scoring leader Patrick Kane.

There were lots of numbers that deserve mention. For the Penguins…

Ryan Malone – who takes a fair amount of grief in Penguin Nation – managed a three-point night (goal, two assists) and logged more than 24 minutes. He’s one of those guys who absolutely has to step up for the Penguins in the absence of Sidney Crosby, especially on the road, where teams will get more favorable matchups against Malkin, if the Penguins are going to continue competing for a playoff spot.

Sergei Gonchar was a 30-minute man for the Penguins and had a three-point night of his own. Oddly, though, he did not register a single shot on goal (he had three attempts blocked).

Seven Penguins took draws tonight, and only one had a winning percentage. Tim Brent (no, not Tim Brant, the DC sportscaster…) won three of five draws. As a group, the Penguins were rather brutal…they won only 28 of 68 draws (41.2 percent).

Malkin had seven of the 15 total shots for Pittsburgh. He had nine of the 28 total attempts. Only one other Penguin had more than one shot recorded (Maxime Talbot).

The Penguins had 24 hits…Georges Laraque did not have any of them in 10:31.

And for the Caps…

There was Tomas Fleischmann having another solid game. 1-1-2 (scoring on his only shot taken) and creating a number of opportunities in his almost-14 minutes of play.

Matt Pettinger had one assist, and it was a subtle beauty. Taking the puck from Backstrom, Pettinger backed off to give himself space to find Kozlov at the edge of the right wing circle for the Caps’ fifth goal to tie the game. It looked a lot like Backstrom…

The Caps beat two teams in the shootout in the last week that had a combined win-loss record of 17-4 before being beaten by the Caps.

The Caps had 24 hits…Donald Brashear had five of them in 8:32.

Alex Ovechkin has been held without a point in only three of his last 33 games (29-17-46, +8).

Ovechkin had 11 shots and 16 total attempts, but there was Alexander Semin with three shots and nine attempts, himself.

All told, the Russians went 6-6-12, +2 and had 23 shots on goal, not to mention two of the shootout goals*

As big as the four assists were, so might have been Backstrom winning 12 of 19 draws. It’s been a weakness in his game (one of the few), and this was welcome.

Backstrom, Boyd Gordon, and David Steckel were a combined 32-14 on draws (69.6 percent).

So there it was…ten goals on 45 shots…three goaltenders…five-for-ten on power plays. If you like offense, this was the game to watch over the first 60 minutes. But in the extra skating session, it was defense…the Caps’ ability to sacrifice and kill a 77-second two-man disadvantage that was the difference between getting one point and giving themselves a chance for two. And if that point comes in handy in April, y’all better be thinking of Quintin Laing.

* Ovechkin, Kozlov, Semin, Malkin, Gonchar

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Penguins, January 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It is Game 3 of the annual series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins…between the red-white-and-blue and the black-and-some-shade-of-gold…between Alexander the Great and Sidney Cros…


So sad, no Sid. The Penguin Prodigy was injured in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning last Friday night, sustaining what is diagnosed as a “high ankle sprain.” The injury received more press than the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and has, The Peerless has learned, triggered Congressional hearings on the subject…

The Chairman…”The hearing will come to order…today we are investigating a possible criminal matter, what is perhaps a conspiracy of monstrous proportions. Last Friday, we suffered a critical blow to our homeland when Sidney Crosby was felled in a contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. On behalf of the American people, I assure you that we will get to the bottom of the matter. Our first witness is Mr. Jim Garrison, formerly of the office of the District Attorney of Orleans Parrish, Louisiana…welcome, Mr. Garrison.”

Mr. Garrison: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

The Chairman: “Mr. Garrison, you have been sworn, so let us proceed. I understand you have an important piece of film to show us…”

Mr. Garrison: “That is correct, Mr. Chairman…we have been provided a film shot by Mr. Abraham Zapruder, of Dallas, Texas, who happened to be visiting Pittsburgh on business.

"So what really happened that day? Let's just for a moment speculate, shall we? We have the Wanvig goal at 4:34…then, they don't shoot him – uh, check him -- coming up center ice, which is the easiest shot for a single shooter in the Book Depository – uh, single defender -- but they wait till he gets to the killing zone between three Lightning. Crosby makes the final turn toward the offensive zone, slowing down to some 11 miles per hour. The first check is misses completely... Frame 161, Crosby tries to slow down.

"Frame 193 - the second check hits Crosby in the arm from the front.

"Frame 225 - Crosby emerging from the check. He obviously has been hit, trying to lean into the play.

"Frame 238... This is the key shot that proves two checkers from the rear. This is 1.6 seconds after the third check, and we know no single checker can throw three hits in that time. A fan at the glass yells out, 'My God, they're going to kill us all.'

"The fifth and fatal shot - frame 313 - takes Crosby to the ice from the front...This is the key shot. Watch it again. Crosby's ankle is going back to his left. Hit from the front and right. Totally inconsistent with the check at the blue line. Again... back and to the left…back and to the left... back and to the left."

The Chairman: "Mr. Garrison, that is compelling evidence of a conspiracy against Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the National Hockey League, and all the freedoms and blessings we hold dear in this country. But why?...why, Mr. Garrison? Who is behind this heinous act?"

Mr. Garrison: "Well, isn't it obvious, Mr. Chairman?"

The Chairman: "Nothing is ever obvious to Congress, Mr. Garrison."

Mr. Garrison: "Mr. Chairman, there is only one party who could benefit, who -- by the very nature of the victim and the crime -- could further their interests. Mr. Chairman, I give you the mastermind of this fiendish act..."

Well, conspiracy nuts aside, there is a game to play tonight, and for the Penguins it will be what they hope is a coming out party for their Russian -- Evgeni Malkin -- against the Caps' Russian -- Alexander Ovechkin.

The attention to be fixed on Malkin will not be the only change for the Penguins in this matchup, as they have recalled three farmhands from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the contest. This is in response to injuries to Colby Armstrong (hip) and Adam Hall (groin).

The Penguins, though, are the hottest team in the NHL at the moment, holding the best record in the Eastern Conference since Thanksgiving and a 10-1-1 record in their last dozen games. The particulars:

Record: 10-1-1
Goals for/against: 35-16
Power Play: 8/47 (17.0 percent)
Penalty killing: 34/38 (89.5 percent)

Although the loss of Crosby is and will be keenly felt, the story of the last dozen games is those 16 goals. Only twice have the Penguins allowed as many as three goals, and they have three shutouts in the process.

And that brings us to Ty Conklin. The 31-year old netminder came into this season with a 30-24-4-3 record in 76 career games, but he found himself manning the nets in Wilkes-Barre for the Baby Pens until Marc-Andre Fleury was injured (a high ankle sprain…still think there’s no conspiracy?). In this 12-game run, Conklin is 9-1-1, 1.43, .957 in what looks for all the world like the pay off in a deal with the Devil (or, “The Devil”…the one who wears #30).

The attention on Evgeni Malkin might be a new twist, but his performance lately merits the focus. In the last dozen games, Malkin is 11-3-14, +10, with a couple of hat tricks thrown in. That Malkin has almost a third of the Penguins’ goals in the last dozen games is important, but what might be equally important are the goals in these dozen that are not likely to be in the lineup – Colby Armstrong and Sidney Crosby have a total of seven of the 35 goals the Penguins have in this stretch.

But the most important player for the Penguins might not be Conklin or Malkin, but Jordan Staal. It is hardly a stretch to think of Malkin as a top-line center. He’d probably be the top line center on 25 clubs in the NHL. But now, it might fall to Jordan Staal to take Malkin’s place as the trusty sidekick to the top gun. Last year, Staal had 29 goals and was a +16…right now he’s on a pace to score nine goals with a -16. That’s what one might characterize as a “sophomore slump.” One of the things missing from his game is shorthanded goals. He had seven last year (leading the league in that measure), none so far this year.

These are the two of the best teams in the East since Thanksgiving – the Penguins are first in points, the Caps third since then. Both teams are contending with injuries – Crosby and Fleury the noteworthy ones for Pittsburgh; Chris Clark, Brian Pothier, and Michael Nylander for the Caps.

We’re going to get a measure of the younger guys on both clubs – these being two of the younger and deeper clubs in the NHL with respect to up and coming prospects. Staal, Kris Letang, Malkin, Ryan Whitney, and Tyler Kennedy lead the youth corps for the Penguins. The Alexes, Mike Green, Boyd Gordon, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann from the under-25 brigade for the Caps.

The Caps are hot in their last dozen games as well: 8-2-2, with three wins over Ottawa, and they’ve scored at least four goals in seven of their last nine games. And in that span, Alexander Ovechkin has done his countryman Malkin one better, with 12 goals (12-7-19, +8). Alexander Semin completes the Russian double with 7-3-10, -4. The combined 19-10-29, +4, with three game-winning goals contends with the 13-9-22, +15, and two game-winners of the Malkin/Sergei Gonchar Russian duo.

We like the Alexes in this one in the contest between a couple of teams a couple of players short…

Caps 4 – Penguins 3

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Caps Fans...The Only Power Ranking You'll Ever Need

You read those power rankings?...the one's that always seem to have the Caps 25th...26th...or worse?

Well, since Thanksgiving, the Caps certainly haven't played like a team in the lower third of the league...

Yeah, Mike Green's hot...we know that, but...

Since turning 20 years old on November 23rd, Nicklas Backstrom is 8-19-27, +5 in 26 games.

His four-point game last night was his first as a Cap. He gives no indication it will be his last. And now, he has climbed to second place in the rookie scoring race...