Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leaving Bear Tracks on the Leader Boards

Meanwhile, down in Hershey (where the Bears beat up on the Phantoms, 9-0 last night), the rookie scoring leaders are among the league leaders...

And as far as plus-minus goes, it looks like the Hershey roster...

You'd think that for a team with 17 wins in 23 games, the Bears also would be well-represented in the game-winning goal category. However, only Graham Mink cracked the top ten (eighth, with three), which shows that not only are the Bears winning, but they're spreading things around, too.

Nice month, all in all

So…what did we miss?

The Caps won two of three, scoring eight goals, giving up six. They keep doing that over the rest of the season, they finish with 106 points. We suspect most Caps fans will take that.

The Caps lost a road game. That’s four road losses in a row. No team in the East has more road losses in regulation. Only Florida has as many, and the two have at least two more road losses in regulation than any other Eastern Conference team. Keep that up, and the Caps won’t get to 106.

As for the Hershey Bearpitals – Graham Mink, Sami Lepisto, Karl Alzner, and Chris Bourque – it wasn’t a bad weekend…

…but at least one of this group was on the ice for five of the six goals scored against the Caps this weekend (Alzner 3; Lepisto and Bourque, one apiece). That giveaway number is a nasty one, though.

Alexander Ovechkin attemped 49 shots (19 shots on goal, 19 shots blocked, 11 missed shots). He had 63 shifts in the three games. That’s 0.78 shots/shift, which we’re going to guess led the league…probably by a lot. Some might view this as selfishness (Penguin fans, we’re looking at you), but given the state of the Caps’ health, we look at this as stepping up.

Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson stopped 71 of 77 shots in the three games. A combined save percentage of .922 will give the Caps chances to win in more games than not. And that's stepping up, too.

Is the NHL a frontrunner’s kind of league? Only one team (San Jose) has a winning record when trailing after two periods. The Caps have only won twice in eight such situations (they lost to Columbus in the one instance this weekend), but their .250 winning percentage is good for eighth in the league.

No team in the NHL has a worse goal differential on the road than Washington (-15). No team has allowed more power play goals against (17 in 14 games), which goes along with their having endured the most shorthanded situations (81). Their 55 total goals allowed on the road is six more than any other team (Nashville: 49). That’s bad enough, but there is another problem here…only two teams have given up more goals in the third period than Washington (Columbus and the Islanders). Yes, Detroit has given up 25, while the Caps have allowed 27, but the Caps are not Detroit…mainly because the Caps have also given up 27 in the first period, while the Red Wings have allowed only 15.

Here is the odd thing about the Caps’ penalty killing…79.0 percent at home, 79.0 percent on the road. The difference is in that the Caps have been shorthanded only 38 times in ten home games and those 81 times in 14 road games. It’s all part of a piece…sloppy, lack of energy, absence of focus. They have to become a better road team.

We’re not sure what to make of this one…the Caps have the third fewest fighting majors in the league (eight, behind Detroit and Florida). Three of them came in one game (opening night, a 7-4 loss to Atlanta). The Caps are 4-2-0 games when they recorded a fighting major (they lost another when they drew one, when Tyler Sloan drew a major without incurring one of his own in a 2-1 loss at Calgary).

The Caps finished November with an 8-5-2 mark. That is the first time they have finished a November over .500, and it marks their highest win total since getting nine in November in 1996. If you’re wondering about “best November,” that was in 1985-1986 (10-3-1). As for the years since that nine-win effort…

And if you’re looking ahead to December, that is the best month for the Caps in terms of team record-setting, both for wins (12) and points (26), both in 1984.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, November 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, when all through the house
Not a pot was yet stirring, not even the mousse;
The dishes were made in the kitchen with care,
In hopes that St. Gibletmas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of stuffing danced in their heads;
And mamma in her apron, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a late autumn nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The wind was rustling the freshly raked leaves,
Raking them again is one of my peeves.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature roasting pan, coming ever so near.

With a plump little turkey, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment they’ll be tasty drumsticks.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he gobbled, and gobbled, and called them by name.

"Now, Butterball! now, Free Range! now, White Meat and Dark!
We’ve got to be quiet, lest the dog bark!
To the top of the counter! Nestled tight in the pan!
I love turkey so, I’m really a fan!"

And then, in a twinkling, I knew in the fridge
Were treats for the morning (could I have just a smidge?)
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Through the kitchen door St. Gibletmas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in feathers, except for his beak,
He was here for a purpose and wouldn’t be meek.
A bundle of side dishes he had on his wing,
They smelled oh, so good, I just wanted to sing.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old bird,
And I laughed when I saw him, I’m just such a nerd;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the dishes; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his wing aside of his beak,
And giving a nod, to the oven he’d sneak.

He sprang to his pan, to his team gave a gobble,
And they took to the air with nary a wobble.
But I heard him exclaim, as I turned up the heat,
"Happy Thanksgiving to all, hey folks, let’s eat!!!"

While you’re pondering the possibilities of food, football, and fun on Turkey Day, there is the matter of the Caps and the Thrashers as the good guys return from a road trip. Let’s face it, the Thrashers should (and we do want to emphasize “should”) be just the recipe for some tasty home cookin’. This is not a particularly good hockey team, as the numbers suggest:

The Thrashers can, however, pose problems. Smacking the Caps around in a 7-4 opening night win is proof enough of that, although the Caps did wipe out a 3-1 first intermission disadvantage before giving up three goals in the third in the loss.

Since that first game, though, these teams have gone in different directions, and this is no more apparent than how they’ve started games. Since that opening night loss, the Caps have scored 23 first period goals in 20 games. Atlanta, on the other hand, has 13 first period goals in 19 games. But here is the odd part…flip the scenario and well… Atlanta has allowed only 15 goals in the first period since opening night, while the Caps have allowed 22. This suggests that the Caps have to get on top of the Thrashers from the drop of the puck, both as a means to put offensive pressure on the visitors and as a way to keep the Thrashers from taking advantage of early Caps weakness in allowing goals.

That three-goal win was another rarity of sorts for Atlanta. They have only two other three-goal wins this year,both on the road -- at Carolina on November 9th and last night against Toronto. Strangely enough, though, they have not had as many blow-out losses as one might expect. They have a total of only two three-plus-goal losses (7-0 to Philadelphia and 6-1 to New Jersey). The Caps, meanwhile, have five such losses, although of course none of those are at home, where the Caps have not yet lost in regulation.

The other side of the coin is that Atlanta has only two road wins in regulation (the aforementioned win in Carolina and last night’s 6-3 drubbing of Toronto) en route to a 3-5-2 road record.

Individually, the surprise is that Ilya Kovalchuk has only seven goals after 20 games (two in his last eight). At that pace he will end this season with the lowest goal total (29) since his rookie year (also 29, but in only 65 games). But if there is a team he can get back into a groove against, it is Washington. Kovalchuk is 20-25-45, +11, with six power play and three game-winning goals in 38 career games against the Caps.

The points lead is the province of Vyacheslav Kozlov (11-8-19). He’ll be coming in on something of a roll in going 9-6-15 in his last 11 games after a slow start. Kozlov is remarkably efficient as well, having found the back of the net on 33 percent of his shots.

Bryan Little has already surpassed his total scoring numbers from last year (6-10-16 in 48 games). He comes into tonight’s game at 9-9-18, tied with Kovalchuk for second on the team in scoring. Meanwhile, a below-the-radar guy to watch out for might be Jason Williams. Five of his six goals this year have been scored on the road.

On defense, the Thrashers have two noteworthy additions, one of which having at least a semblance of being worthy of the big contract he got as a free agent, the other struggling somewhat. Ron Hainsey signed a big five-year deal in the offseason, and while he has struggled a bit in being on ice for a substantial number of goals (like a lot of Thrashers), he does lead the scoring from the blue line. He had a goal an and assist in the opening night win over the Caps.

On the other side is Mathieu Schneider, although there are signs he’s turning a corner. He recorded one “plus” game in his first 11 as a Thrasher. However, he is plus 4 in his last four games, which is more in line of what was expected when he came to the Thrashers in trade for Ken Klee, Brad Larsen, and Chad Painchaud.

It isn’t immediately clear who will man the nets for the Thrashers. Johan Hedberg got the call last night and got the win in the 6-3 decision over Toronto. The odd part of Hedberg’s performance this year is that he is the only Thrasher goaltender with a winning record (4-3-0) despite having the worst GAA (3.88) and save percentage (.884). It seems hedberg has been around forever and that he’s faced the Caps just about every other game. But he has only ten appearances in his career against Washington, going 6-2-2, 2.66, .911.

If Hedberg doesn’t get the call, it won’t be Kari Lehtonen in his place, Lehtonen being on injured reserve with a bad back. The Thrashers might turn to Ondrej Pavelec. He’s 2-2-0 in five appearances, but has a respectable 2.33 GAA and .913 save percentage. In his only appearance against the Caps, he allowed only one goal in winning the decision.

Here is your odd stat about the Thrashers. They are last – 30th – in the NHL in hits. Frankly, we find that more than a bit surprising.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Atlanta: Todd White

White looks a little like the treasurer of our senior class in high school. It hasn’t stopped him from taxing the Caps. After scoring one goal in his first dozen games against Washington, he has five goals in his last seven contests against the Caps. And last night, he broke a five game scoreless streak with a pair of goals against Toronto.

Washington: Jose Theodore/Brent Johnson

Whoever gets the nod in goal for the Caps, it will be important to keep the net clear to give the Caps a chance to reassert their home dominance and get off the three game losing streak they’re on. The Caps have given up a lot of first minute and/or first shot goals this year. Preventing those sorts of lapses will go a long way to ensuring that the Caps keep their unbeaten-in-regulation streak intact. All of that starts with the goalie. Johnson is 7-3-2, 2.49, .912 with two shutouts against Atlanta in his career, while Theodore is 11-4-0, 2.40, .916 in his career against the Thrashers. Nice numbers…too bad both had their troubles against Atlanta in the opener. It can’t – and shouldn’t – happen again.

The Caps are coming home with a limp. Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Chris Clark, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine…all are nursing injuries of varying severity. Wes Johnson might be calling for volunteers by the first intermission over the public address system. Even if he doesn’t, though, the Caps still have the horses to beat a team that will be playing the back-half of back-to-back road games. It might not be as pretty as it would otherwise be with a healthy team, but the Caps will find their turkey tasting pretty good on Thursday…

Caps 5 – Thrashers 2

Speaking of turkey, we’ll be off for a few days enjoying the holiday…see you on the weekend.

The REAL Energizer Bunny

Seems the NHL has named an "official battery" of the league in Canada. It's the official battery of the NHLPA, too. As you might expect, Energizer Canada is the official sponsor. Why is this something you might expect?

Well, consider the mascot...

The Enervechkin Bunny....he keeps going and going and going...

Thanks to #1JohnnyFan on The Official for pointing the way.

Scouting Reports: Bouchard on Bouchard

"He's close to the type of player as me, but he's bigger, he's really good in front of the net, too, and he's got a better shot...he's a good goal scorer."

So says Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild forward, about his brother Francois Bouchard, Hershey Bear (and Capital prospect) forward.

The elder Bouchard added...

"To be honest, I think my brother's better, too."

The tale o' the tape: decide.

A Year in the Life

The Caps now have one full year’s worth of games in the books under Bruce Boudreau, and what an 82-games it has been. This is not a look at Boudreau’s record compared to that of any of his his predecessors. In a sense, it is a “State of the Caps” reflection. And what the Caps have become is a very good team. Here are the particulars over the last 82 games:

The team record is impressive enough, but some of the individual records are amazing. If you look at the Caps that have dressed this year and include the 61 games from last year, their 82-game totals look like this:

Some of the things that stand out…

- Yes, Alex Ovechkin can score, but +40?.

- Despite a slow start this year, Nicklas Backstrom is pretty much a point-a-game player…at 21.

- Mike Green looks more like the top offensive defenseman in the league, and that plus-24 doesn’t look bad, either.

- Tied with Green for third in goal scoring…Brooks Laich. Caps fans have made him something of a cult hero…but, bet there isn’t another fan base in the NHL that could pick him out of a lineup. Let’s keep it that way.

- Tom Poti’s plus-minus would have tied for his best season’s worth in his career.

- All of a sudden, Tomas Fleischmann looks like a contributing NHL player.

- Boyd Gordon and David Steckel – pretty much pigeon-holed as defensive/faceoff specialists – don’t need much of a push to get to being double-digit goal scorers, too.

- 17 players with double-digit point totals is pretty good balance.

- The 3.16 goals-per-game would have led the NHL last year.

- If Alexander Semin is healthy, he looks like a 40-goal kind of scorer.

- Were you thinking of Jeff Schultz as a 20-point defenseman?

- Keep in mind that Michael Nylander and Sergei Fedorov have fewer than half a season’s worth of games here. At their pace, the Caps might have a roster of six 50-point players…seven if Viktor Kozlov had found a spare point somewhere.

A winning streak here or a tough road trip there is one thing, but this is now a body of work. It shows the Caps to be a very good team – a contender, in fact. One might not call them a favorite right now, one need only look at the way they struggled against San Jose to see that. But there are 61 games left in this season to take the same kinds of steps they took last year. Last year, it was moving up from struggling also ran to playoff team. This year, it could be taking the leap from playoff contender to Cup contender. Some tweaking of the roster might be in order to get there (the Caps could use some more grit in their game, for example), but the pieces are largely in place.

A no-point night: Wild 4 - Caps 3

67.2 Minor Penalty – Player - A player shall be permitted to catch the puck out of the air but must immediately place it or knock it down to the ice. If he catches it and skates with it, either to avoid a check or to gain a territorial advantage over his opponent, a minor penalty shall be assessed for “closing his hand on the puck”.

A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who, while play is in progress, picks up the puck off the ice with his hand.

Every Caps fan watching this evening’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild will have this rule memorized by morning. A penalty that doesn’t get called twice in a month was called on the Caps twice in the space of 27 seconds in the third period, and it led to the Wild scoring the third of their four goals en route to the win (Marek Zidlicky was called for this earlier in the game for the Wild).

They were two penalties out of six called on the Caps, five of which were what we might refer to as “passive” penalties – the kind teams playing tired and hurt seem to take (for the record: two holding, a tripping, and the two “closing hand on the puck” calls).

The story in this one, as much as the loss, was the short bench the Caps used. In addition to Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Fedorov missing this one, the Caps had four players who skated fewer than ten shifts...

Boyd Gordon lasted five shifts (3:41). He had won five of six draws to that point. He apparently had back spasms.

Jeff Schultz skated three shifts (3:09) before leaving with what appears to be a broken finger. He had a pair of blocked shots.

Donald Brashear was on the ice for nine shifts – not unusual in the normal course of events.

Chris Clark skated eight shifts – only one in the third period (a total of 7:27) – and had a blank score sheet save for one hit. We keep thinking that there just has to be something not right with Clark, but whatever the case, he is having a devil of a time out there in what we suspect is about the most frustrating stretch of his career.

That left things up to Tom Poti to log almost 29 minutes on the blue line and Alex Ovechkin to skate almost 26 minutes. Even Brooks Laich and Milan Jurcina logged more than 20 minutes. For Laich it was only the third time he topped 20 minutes this year, and his 21:03 was the most time he’s spent on the ice so far. For Jurcina, his 21:25 was his top time-on-ice mark this year, 3:36 longer than his previous high.

And with all of that, if there is a silver lining in this one, it is that the Caps didn’t mail the last dozen minutes in the way they could have after the Wild took a 4-0 lead. Did the Wild sit back a bit and play an uncharacteristic prevent defense? Yes, they did. But the Caps took advantage, and one had to like the effort by Eric Fehr to outwork Kim Johnsson for the puck along the boards, Fehr’s effort to ward off Johnsson’s attempts to impede his progress down the wing, and his finding Matt Bradley coming down the middle for a goal. And there was Bradley sticking with it, taking a second whack at the puck while being upended by Nick Schultz in front of goalie Niklas Backstrom.

One also had to like the effort of Alex Ovechkin, despite wearing Wild defenders like a shawl for most of the night. Six shots (16 attempts), a goal, four hits, and three blocked shots (including one scary moment when he took a shot that looked like it hit him flush just above the boot of his skate) made for a very full evening. Frustrating as the Wild could be, he kept plugging.

It set a tone for the Caps in the last dozen minutes that allowed them to get the goal from Ovechkin, who treated the Wild fans to his signature move of skating down the wing, backing up the defenseman, then using him as a screen to snap a wrist shot past the late-reacting goalie. And finally, Nicklas Backstrom corralled a puck that deflected off a Wild player, then fired the puck past the other Backstrom before he could get to the near post.

In the end, though, it was a sour ending to a road trip that is thankfully over. And for this one, yours truly is going to take the blame. That’s right, the Caps lost this one because we picked that clutter-bucker Cal Clutterbuck as the Wild player to ponder. We thought he’d be a player to watch, mostly for his hitting. He didn’t disappoint in that regard, being credited with four hits in a little over ten minutes of ice time. What we didn’t think he’d do is score…and then he gets two goals, his first points in the NHL. Maybe we should have picked Marian Gaborik, instead.

The problem, though, is once more giving up a bunch of goals in a road game. Look, Minnesota has a fine system for keeping goals out of their own net, but they have shown almost no capacity to fill the net at the other end. Coming into this game they had scored as many as four goals in a game once in their previous 15 games. If the Caps could reduce their league worst 4.00 goals-against average on the road, this would be the team against which they could do it. You could say (and the guys on Versus covering the game did) that this was the fourth game for the Caps in six nights, but the Wild isn't a team that should be scoring four goals against the Caps.

The difficulties on the road impress us as a lack of maturity. Consider that the Caps have allowed only 15 goals in eight home games, yet have allowed 52 in 13 road games. What is killing them is taking penalties, and it did so again tonight. With the two power play goals allowed tonight, the Caps have given up a league-high 17 power play goals (tied with Nashville) away from Verizon Center. They’ve only allowed six in eight home games. It just seems as though it’s a reflection of a young team that loses focus, patience, and poise in some situations in hostile rinks, leading them to take untimely penalties, then failing to work things out in the two minutes they spend the man down. Tonight, four of the six minor penalties taken by the Caps were taken by defensemen, and with a group already depleted by the absence of Mike Green, and injuries to Jeff Schultz and later to John Erskine, it was just that much more to overcome.

At the other end, the Wild defensemen were effective at both ends. The last dozen minutes notwithstanding, they helped to constantly frustrate the Caps in entering the offensive zone. At the other end, they had a combined 12 shots and went 1-4-5, +1. The Caps blueliners had a total of four shots on goal and one assist.

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. The Caps are going to have to play better on the road than they have. Only four teams in the East have fewer road wins than do the Caps (four), and those teams occupy the bottom four spots in the Eastern Conference standings. And, their inability to stop opponents from scoring in these road games has now left the Caps with the second highest number of goals allowed in the Eastern Conference (only Toronto has allowed more road goals). The good news in this is that the Caps have played 13 road games, compared to eight at Verizon Center. But the Caps aren’t going to go 40-0-1 at home, either (much as we’re likely to prognosticate that result).

This is a good team that will only become a great one when they can be as difficult for opponents to play when they host the Caps as when they visit them at Verizon Center. The Caps are not yet that team. Just as the Caps had to grow in adversity last year to discover that they were a good team, perhaps the next 61 games will be as valuable a learning experience in terms of becoming road warriors.
This was the kind of game that will have us reaching to grab a cold one...
...that is, unless Chris Ciamaga is going to whistle us for closing our hand on a bottle.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And the Streak is Broken

The streak of prospect goalie scoring came to an end after two consecutive games in which Caps goaltending prospects notched a point. Michal Neuvirth could not keep the streak alive on Sunday for the South Carolina Stingrays.

He might have been the only Stingray without a point as South Carolina stomped the Mississippi Sea Wolves, 10-0, in North Charleston. Actually, 12 of the 16 skaters registered points, seven of them having multiple point nights. Maxime Lecroix and Travis Morin led the Stingrays with a 2-3-5, +4, and a 2-2-4, +4, night, respectively.

Neuvirth did get the shutout, though, turning aside all 36 shots he faced.

The Stingrays are now tied with the Florida Everblades for first (21 points) in the South Division of the American Conference.

Wild (and Wacky) Quotes...

We were perusing some of the Wild blogs and stopped at "Russo's Rants," a blog authored by Star-Tribune reporter Michael Russo. His latest had some interesting "Lemaire-isms..."

"You know when you get flurry of snow, you might get a [expletive] storm!"

"We’re getting chances that we should score and we don’t score. Now there’s one thing to do, is work harder. When this happens, it’s work harder. It’s not my grandma, it’s not my girlfriend, it’s me working harder! Period! It’s nothing else.”

"Our second periods have been bad, so we have to wake up there. We’ve got to stop to think that we’re home and we’ve got to play. OK?"

"Now we want to have the nice goals. We get the puck, we want to move outside to get the puck back, to make another play. And if he gets it, the other guy moves outside to get the puck to make another play. How many times we’ll try to move outside to get the puck and make another play? If goals are tough to get, we don’t want to make fancy plays. Go at the net. If we get those plays, you don’t say a word. But now, if we get a chance to shoot, … shoot.”

Any of this sound familiar, Caps fans?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Maybe it wasn't Melrose?

The season's first four-goal game goes to...

That's right, Dainius Zubrus tied a New Jersey Devils team record and set a personal best by scoring four in the Devils' 7-3 win over Tampa Bay today. Today's result puts it in the top ten goal-scoring months of his career.

The post-game Lightning analysis was short and succinct...

Coach Rick Tocchet..."Pretty bad effort...A dud."

Goalie Olaf Kolzig..."I definitely needed to be better" (he gave up five goals on 28 shots...his teammates had really good looks at them)

Martin St. Louis..."We take a huge step back...It's really disappointing." (St. Louis scored his 500th point as a Lightning player in this one)

And this on the day the Lightning debuted their third jerseys. They might want to make an alteration...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Wild, November 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the last game of a road trip, and it ends in the Twin Cities, where the weather is cold, and the temperature of a Wild game is even colder. But there is nothing that can pump some heat into the Xcel Energy Center like a dose of Ovechkin…

Who can turn the world on with his smile?
Who can take a nothing play, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it's you boy, and you should know it
With each deke and every little movement you show it

Goals are all around, no need to waste them
You can light the lamp, why don't you take them
You're gonna score goals after all
You're gonna score goals after all

How will you make it on your own?
This season’s awfully long, but this time you're not alone
But it's time you started scoring
It's time you let someone else do some assisting

Goals are all around, no need to waste them
You can light the lamp, why don't you take them
You're gonna score goals after all
You're gonna score goals after all

Folks, go get a dictionary. Now, look up the word, “boring.” You see this, don’t you…

OK, it’s not this year’s team portrait, but you get the point. Minnesota’s game plan is to suck the life out of the building and win games 2-1 in as ugly a manner as can be imagined. They do a very good job of it, as the numbers suggest…

In 18 games, the Wild have allowed more than two goals only five times, only twice in their last ten games. In November they have allowed only four power play goals (34-for-38 on the penalty kill). It isn’t so much that their penalty killing is expert, although it is, as much as it is they don’t have to use it much. No team has faced fewer shorthanded opportunities (70) than has Minnesota. It is even more pronounced at home, where the Wild have found themselves shorthanded only 29 times in nine games (3.22/game). Conversely, the Caps have the fifth highest number of such situations faced so far overall (104) and have been shorthanded 72 times in 12 road games (6.00/game). If there is a silver lining here for the Caps, it is in the perception that the Wild are the New Jersey Devils-lite. Well, the Caps are 3-for-11 against the Devils on the power play so far this year in three games – not many opportunities, but some success.

If the Wild don’t find themselves shorthanded very often, neither do they find themselves often having the man-advantage. They are 28th in total power plays so far (77 in 18 games), although they enjoy somewhat greater frequency on the power play at home (42 in nine games). Meanwhile, the Caps aren’t especially gifted when it comes to earning power plays overall (86 in 20 games – 21st in the league), but they are fifth in total power play opportunities on the road (54 in 12 games).

Individually, the Wild Style (now there's an oxymoron) is reflected most in the numbers put up by their version of Niklas Backstrom. The Helsinki, Finland, native ranks fourth in GAA (2.00) and save percentage (.932) having appeared in 17 of the 18 games the Wild have played. The odd part about Backstrom’s game thus far, though, is that for the first time in his three seasons in the NHL, his home record is worse than his road record. Not that it is bad, mind you -- he is 5-2-1, 2.11, .925 at Xcel Energy Center this year. Of additional note, he has not lost to an Eastern Conference opponent yet in regulation, going 5-0-1, 1.94, .929. In his only appearance against Washington, Backstrom allowed four goals on 26 shots in a 4-1 loss on trading deadline day last February.

If it isn’t Backstrom, it will be Josh Harding, who is 0-1-0 this year in two appearances (1.84, .927). He has never faced Washington.

The Wild are likely to be without Marian Gaborik for the 17th straight game as the forward rehabilitates a “lower body injury” (Gray’s Anatomy, NHL edition…”lower body”…”upper body”…that’s it).

Gaborik’s absence has meant that the offense, such as it is for the Wild, has been by committee. Mikko Koivu leads the team in total scoring (5-13-18, +5), while Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette lead the Wild in goal-scoring with six apiece. Brunette has something of a cottage industry in making the team that drafted him (7th round in 1993) pay. He is 8-5-13 in 18 games against the Caps.

If there is an odd aspect to the Wild attack, it is how the defense becomes a force on the power play. The Wild defenseman corps is 9-21-30 overall, but are 6-12-18 on the power play. That is six of the total of 16 power play goals coming from the blue line. There are three Wild defensemen who have had particular success against Washington on the power play. Marc-Andre Bergeron is 2-4-6 in five career games against the Caps, both of the goals coming on power plays. Kim Johnsson is 5-10-15 in 23 career games against Washington with four of those goals coming with the man advantage. Marek Zidlicky (seriously) is 3-1-4 in three career games against the Caps, all three goals coming on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Wild don’t have a lot of goals with the man advantage (those 16 rank 18th in the league), but they spread it around. Eight different players have scored at least one (the same number as for the Caps). Clearly, the ability of the Wild to activate their defense in the offensive zone – getting shots on goal and getting points in the process – will be something to watch.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Minnesota: Cal Clutterbuck

Not only does he have perhaps the best hockey name in the NHL, but Clutterbuck is the kind of player that could have Caps’ heads on a swivel. Clutterbuck is sixth among forwards in the NHL in total hits. What sets him apart is that he is doing this in far less ice time than the five forwards ahead of him (5:15 less than Milan Lucic, who has the lowest average ice time of those ahead of him). And, he does this with remarkable discipline. Clutterbuck has only one fighting major penalty this year and two minors. He’s not going to get a lot of time, and he almost certainly won’t score (he has no points this year). But he could be a factor in ways that won’t show up on the score sheet.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Sometimes, being the star isn’t fair. With Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov likely to be missing once more, the status of Mike Green downgraded to “out” for this game, and (as Tarik El-Bashir reports in The Post) a number of other players nursing nagging ailments, the burden will fall even more heavily on the guy every team game plans for, anyway. But then, that’s why he’s paid the big bucks, too. This is an opportunity for Ovechkin to strike a line through one more team against which he hasn’t scored a goal (having failed to do that against Los Angeles and San Jose) and to help end a losing streak before it gets started. Ovechkin is on a seven-game points streak (6-10-16, +4).

The Caps have never won on Wild ice. They have a total of three goals scored in going 0-3-1. Getting three goals against this team would be something of an achievement, given the style the Wild play, the health of the Caps, and the fact that the Wild have surrendered as many as three goals in a game only once in their last seven home games (a 3-2 loss to Vancouver on November 20th). But, let’s not forget where we are…that score sounds about right:

Caps 3 – Wild 2

Anything you can do...

So, Simeon Varlamov got his first point as a pro on Friday. Well, Daren Machesney apparently views this as a competition. The Hershey netminder recorded an assist -- as with Varlamov's, on the game-winning goal -- as the Bears defeated Bridgeport, 4-1, to regain the top spot in the East Division of the AHL last night. It was Machesney's first point of the year, his fifth as a member of the Bears.

Sami Lepisto had the game winner for the Bears, who added tallies by Keith Aucoin, Oskar Osala, and Graham Mink. Machesney stopped 17 of 18 shots in the win.

A NO-point night: Sharks 7 - Caps 2

…they’ll have their butts handed to them.

Sorry, we were just finishing the thought we started the last time we wrote a wrap-up, as in:

“[A game like that against the Kings] just shouldn’t happen again tomorrow night, because if it does…

And the San Jose Sharks did just that in treating the Caps like chum in a 7-2 win last night. We could talk about numbers and this and that and the other thing, but the one thing that fairly jumped at us was a graphic – the shot chart…

San Jose scored five goals from the doorstep. The Caps barely had five shots from the doorstep. That’s your game. It wasn’t so much that San Jose was willing to pay a price to get themselves into position to score those goals, the Caps simply didn’t offer much in the way of resistance. Brent Johnson, whose GAA (2.26 to 2.79) and save percentage (.928 to .910) took a beating in this game, might have fared better without teammates…fewer bodies to clog his view.

The Caps were guilty of a youthful exuberance…much heat, no light (as is red lights going on). California must have this thing about violence, as in seeing it where it doesn’t exist (like on TV or something). The Caps were credited with 49 hits. That’s a rather amazing number, made more so when you look at it at an individual level…Alex Ovechkin was credited with 10 – one every 2.5 shifts. Chris Clark (five on 16) and Matt Bradley (seven on 19) had about a hit every three shifts. Sergei Fedorov was credited with two in six shifts before retiring for the evening after 4:54 of ice time, an apparent reoccurrence of his ankle injury sitting him down.

Trouble was, none of that alleged physical play was taking place in front of Brent Johnson, where Sharks swam free to deflect point shots and knock in pucks.

Here is a subtle glimpse of the differences between the teams in this game. Defensemen for San Jose attempted 21 shots, 15 of them getting to Johnson. At the other end, Caps defensemen attempted a total of nine shots, only three making it to Sharks’ goalie Brian Boucher. Small wonder that the Sharks’ defensemen were 1-7-8 last night, and the Caps defensemen were 1-1-2. Think the Caps don’t miss Mike Green? The Sharks have multiple copies (though none as prolific as the healthy original).

The Caps were playing their third road game in four nights, the Sharks were resting in their own beds since returning home from a win over Nashville last Sunday. It showed. San Jose took nine minutes to shake out the cobwebs, then scored on their first, third, and fifth shots of the game, all of them from inside the faceoff circles. Game. The rest was for the stat sheet.

We could write about which Caps had good games, but the list would look something like this…


Get the picture? If, though, you’re thinking about Caps who weren’t bad, that list starts with Brent Johnson. How can a guy who gave up seven goals in 28 shots be said to have not had a bad game? With the way San Jose was skating in the slot and Johnson’s face, seven could have been 14. Pucks were changing direction in front of him more than a Caps fan trying to find a meter with time on it ten minutes before the opening face off.

We’re 20 games in, and we’ll have more to say about that another time, but there are some things coming into focus about this team. And nothing is clearer than when they are bad, they are awful. The Caps have lost six games in regulation. In four of those losses they gave up at least five goals (all of them on the road) and lost all of them by at least three goals. In three of those losses, the Caps gave up three goals in the first period. In each instance, we would consider the circumstances an intimidating environment -- opening night in the other guy’s rink (Atlanta, a 7-4 loss), a place where the Caps have had little success (at Buffalo, a 5-0 loss), and a rink where the home team hasn’t lost yet in regulation (San Jose, a 7-2 loss).

That is not a good sign. It suggests that for all the talent on this team, what they are lacking is the swagger that truly good teams have that allows them to go into a hostile rink and eat the other guys’ lunch in front of their fans. If the Caps are going to have long run this spring, they’d better develop that talent. Giving up four goals a game on the road – their mark this morning – isn’t going to end happily.

It won’t get easier for the Caps, as they travel on to Minnesota to end this road trip. They are 1-2-1 this morning on the trip, and a win in Minnesota would not make the trip a success, but it would make things more palatable as the club heads home for Thanksgiving. The Caps and Sharks are similarly skilled teams, but the Sharks imposed their will on the Caps once they got their legs under them. The Wild are similar in that they are all about imposing their will – a suffocating defensive system – on opponents. If the Caps can’t deal with that and turn the tables on the home team…

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bears Win...but that's not the story

The Hershey Bears beat archrival Philadelphia last night, 5-2, at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philly.

Kyle Wilson was the first star of the game with a pair of goals. But it was Simeon Varlamov assisting on the first of those Wilson goals -- the game-winning goal as it turned out -- to record his first point as a pro. He also stopped 30 of 32 Phantom shots to get the win in goal and push his record to 4-0-0 against Philadelphia.

Congrats to Varlamov on his first point in North America.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Sharks, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Do you know the way to San Jose? Sorry, that was a Dionne Warwick reference for those too young to have remembered that 1968 hit. And speaking of oldies, the Caps’ visit to San Jose this evening will offer them a chance to do something they have not done since October 30, 1993…beat the Sharks in California. What was happening on and around that date, you ask? Well…

- Vincent Price, legendary star of horror flicks, had just died (no confirmation that he came back as a bat or a zombie, or Dr. Phibes).

- David Letterman was in his first season with CBS.

- “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” had just made its TV debut on FOX.

- “The Iron Chef” – a cooking show pitting two chefs against one another in a stadium format – debuted on Fuji TV (Japan).

- Canada had just completed its federal elections, and Jean Chretien led the Liberal Party to a trouncing of the Progressive Conservative Party, the latter ending up with an historic low of two seats.

- “Dreamlover,” by Mariah Carey, was topping the charts. No, I don’t remember it, either.

- The NBA played its first preseason game overseas – Orlando defeated Atlanta, 120-95, in Wembley Arena, London.

- Al Gore and Ross Perot agreed to debate on “Larry King Live” on the subject of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

- The Toronto Maple Leafs lost a game after a 10-0 start to the 1993-1994 season.

- Martin Fettman, America’s first veterinarian in space, performed the first animal dissection (what other kind would there have been?) in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

- The Redskins were preparing for a Monday Night Football contest against the Buffalo Bills, one that they would lose, 24-10. And don’t tell us that you know Reggie Brooks led the ‘Skins with 117 yards rushing.

- Oh, and the Dow was at 3680.59…take some comfort in that.

As for comfort, the Caps are likely to enjoy little of it tonight against the Sharks, who have the best home record in the NHL – 10-0-1. Looking at the numbers for the two clubs, this has all the look of a daunting task for the Caps:

The home and road goals and goals allowed numbers are added to indicate just how large the apparent advantage is for the Sharks in this one. For the Caps, this is an especially dangerous game in that not only is San Jose extremely effective at home on offense, but the Caps have allowed more than four goals in five of their 11 road games to date.

So far this season, San Jose has defined the term “relentless” on offense. They are ranked in the top five in scoring, by period, for each period (5th in first period scoring, 2nd in the second, and 4th in the third). On the other hand, the Caps lead the NHL in first period goals scored (24 total), but have tailed off in scoring in the other two period (20 in the second, 18 in the third). That won’t do tonight, especially when one looks to see that the Sharks have the best record in the NHL when scored upon first.

Individually, the Sharks won’t scare people quite as much…until you see their balance. Ten players have posted double digit in points. But that isn’t what is most impressive. 14 of the Sharks’ 16 wins have come in regulation or overtime. 12 different players have game-winning goals.

San Jose is led in scoring by Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau with 22 points apiece. Setoguchi has already surpassed his rookie scoring numbers (11-6-17) with his 11-11-22 line, and he has done it in fewer than half as many games (20, compared to 44 last year). He is coming into this game as a hot commodity, having gone 4-4-8 in his last four games. He has been Ovechkin-like in his approach to offense – he leads the Sharks in shots, including having taken 10 shots on goal in scoring a pair of goals against Nashville on Veterans Day.

Marleau is enjoying something of a resurgence. Coming off a 34-52-86 year in 2005-2006, Marleau saw his goals, assists, and points drop in each of the next two years, going 19-29-48 last year, with a disappointing -19 to go along with it. He’s 9-13-22, +7 so far this year and is tied with Milan Mihalek for the team lead in game winning goals (two). He also leads the team in shorthanded goals (two).

What this means is that Joe Thornton – the big scorer who has been something of the poster child for disappointment for this franchise since his trade from Boston – doesn’t have to shoulder the load or the burden of expectations. He is “only” scoring at a point a game pace, which, if he was to finish the season that way, would be the first such finish on his part since the 2003-2004 season. But it’s hard to argue with success, and Thornton’s reincarnation as something of a “point guard” dishing out assists (16 of his 20 points are helpers) has certainly been met with success on a team-wide scale.

The Sharks are also getting big scoring contributions from the blue line. Combined, the group is 11-49-60, +22 (by comparison, the Caps’ defensemen are 11-24-35, +16). We imagine that Dan Boyle has a smile on his face that lasts all day long, even when he sleeps. Having been freed of the horror show that is the Tampa Bay Lightning, he is tied for the lead among defenseman in scoring (his 6-10-16 is tied with Christian Erhoff’s 2-14-16).

In goal, Evgeni Nabokov suffered a leg injury on the final attempt in a 5-4 Gimmick win over St. Louis on November 6th. However, Brian Boucher stepped right in and went 4-1-1, 2.49, .913 – more than respectable for a backup pushed into emergency service. One can’t help but hope, though, that Boucher is in the nets again tonight, for the last time he faced the Caps, this happened…

If Boucher isn’t given the call, Nabokov appears to be ready to return. If anything, Nabokov has been relatively mediocre in goal. He has 10 wins in 12 decisions, but his 2.72 GAA is 19th in the league, and his .891 save percentage is 32nd. Much of that might be a product of a poor four-game stretch Nabokov had in October in which he was 2-2-0, giving up 18 goals on 101 shots. Otherwise, he’s allowed more than three goals only once – that last game in which he appeared in, against St. Louis.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Joe Pavelski

Lost in all the discussion of the prolific San Jose offense are the contributions of a player like Pavelski, who does chip in offense (7-9-16 in 20 games), but who also is something of a jack-of-all trades. He has three power play goals, a shorthanded goal, has won more than half of his faceoffs (51.4 percent, and has the team lead in draws taken), and leads all Shark forwards in blocked shots. Guys like Thornton, Boyle, Marleau, and Setoguchi are going to be noted on the telecast tonight. You probably won’t be hearing as much Pavelski’s name…and that might be a signal that the Sharks are doing well, because he’s attending to the little things that win games.

Washington: Chris Clark

Clark has struggled mightily so far. He has only two assists, is a minus-4. He hasn’t had much, if any success against the Sharks in his career, either – two assists in 14 games and a minus-6. We’re taking the contrarian view here that Clark could be the ‘X’ factor in this game for the Caps. We’re digging here, but on a western road trip early in the season a couple of years ago, Clark chipped in a couple of points, including a first minute goal that got the Caps off and running against Colorado in a 5-3 win. The year before that he had a couple of assists in an Ovechkin hat trick against Anaheim on another western swing. We might be reaching, but it comes down to this…he’s due.

The Sharks are a team that can win big, or they can win tight. They have the best record in one goal games in the league (7-1-1), and only Chicago has more three-or-more goal wins. If there is a signal here for the Caps, it is that the Sharks have had four one-goal games out of their last seven (posting a record of 3-0-1). It calls to mind the late Herb Brooks, who drilled into his 1980 Olympic hockey team a message concerning the “invincible” Russians…”someone’s gonna beat those guys.” The Sharks aren’t the Russians – the only native Russian on the roster (Alexei Semenov) isn’t likely to play – but they are undefeated at home in regulation, and someone’s gonna beat those guys. It’ll be the Caps…

Caps 3 – Sharks 2

Friday, November 21, 2008

Top Ten Signs Michael Nylander is About to be Traded

Lots of rumors about Nylander going to the Blackhawks. Well, your ol' pal Peerless has the intel on the top ten signs that a deal is imminent...

10. He comes into the locker room with football shoulder pads, announcing, "look, I'm the city of the big shoulders."

9. He asks how "da bearss" are doing against Bridgeport

8. When asked about his favorite SNL sketch, he doesn't miss a beat... "The Super Fans"

7. He sings "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the second intermission

6. When Washington beats San Jose, he goes back to the clubhouse screaming, "CAPS WIN! CAPS WIN! CU...UH, CAPS WIN!"

5. He starts talking about how much he likes "sassages" with his morning breakfast

4. Someone discovers he has Cristobal Huet on speed dial on his cell phone.

3. He's seen in front of his locker reading the latest Roger Ebert movie review in the Sun Times

2. A teammate overhears him ordering ahead for a Lou Malnati's deep dish

And the number one sign Michael Nylander is about to be traded...

1. Eklund DOESN'T post about it!

Melrose on coaching, broadcasting...

In Wednesday's St. Petersburg Times, Damian Cristodero wrote about former Lightning coach Barry Melrose and his alleged clashes with owners over players' ice time. Fine...that sort of thing is always an interesting read, but we have no idea how true it is.

However, we were taken by a quote later in the article from Melrose on another subject. Cristodero writes...

"Melrose predicted he "quickly" will be back in broadcasting. He also said his coaching days are over. 'It was perfect,' he said. 'My last game (Thursday) was against the Red Wings, the organization I started with. I think God was trying to tell me something.'"

Perfect? Detroit spotted Tampa Bay two goals before storming back with four of their own (three in the third period) to beat Tampa, 4-3.

Sometimes, God doesn't speak in mysterious ways. He just says, "get out!"

A NO-point night: Kings 5 - Caps 2

They just never got started.

Three shots in the first, six in the second. The Caps just never put enough early pressure on the Los Angeles Kings to remind them of which team had the 25 points and which team had the 16 points as the teams took the ice. The result is that the Kings got a lead, added to it, then padded it with a couple of late empty netters in beating the Caps, 5-2, last night in Los Angeles.

It was a night when things finally caught up with the Caps – the back-half of a back-to-back (following a game in which the Caps might have been tenderized for the Kings a bit by the Anaheim Ducks); the injuries that had piled up to Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Shaone Morrisonn (who returned last night), and Mike Green; a long run of success by the top line that finally fell a bit to earth (a combined -11 for the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov line).

It happens. So here are some observations…

The guys the Caps had to watch closely – Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Patrick O’Sullivan – were the ones who did them in. They were the ones who gave the Kings the lead, broke the ensuing tie, and scored the game-winner. Brown added four hits, all of which might have been at the expense of Alex Ovechkin.

Maybe it’s a scoring thing, but 34 hits credited to the Kings? Only three skaters failed to record one. We can understand that might have been a strategy to employ against a team that had played the previous night against a physical opponent, but…34 hits? John Zeiler (you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t have him on your fantasy team – he was making his season debut last night) was credited with five in just over seven minutes of play. There are linebackers in the NFL who don’t get that many hits in a game.

How odd was the scoring on hits?...Michael Nylander was credited with one. That makes three for the year, if you’re counting.

Speaking of Doughty, we don’t get to see this guy a lot, given that he plays most of his games so late for us east-coasters. But if last night was representative of his play, he gets our quarter-pole nod for Calder Trophy favorite.

It isn’t often that the Caps get out-attempted on shots, especially against a team like the Kings that isn’t especially prolific to begin with. But the Caps were out-attempted, 67-55 last night, another indication that their legs just didn’t make the trip from Anaheim.

The power play bugaboo hit the Caps again…five opportunities, five shots (three of them by Ovechkin). Last night they had 11 shots (three goals) on seven opportunities.

The Caps had 12 blocked shots, certainly not a particularly high (or low) number…but Tyler Sloan had six of them.

The Caps took three shots in the first period…all by Alex Ovechkin from an average distance of 49 feet. Second period? Six shots (none from Ovechkin this time) from an average distance of 29 feet. Perhaps not coincidentally, the goal was scored on the shot taken closest to the net (Nicklas Backstrom on a deflection from nine feet). Sure, the Kings came into the game having allowed the fewest shots on goal in the league, but the Caps didn’t do a lot early to keep the Kings from imposing their will, either.

If there was one Cap who did look to be working hard and giving the effort, it was Brooks Laich, who scored a goal, but more importantly was terrific in helping kill off a 5-on-3 power play, getting two blocked shots for his effort.

Unlike most of their recent history, this Kings team has the look of one that could be very good in a couple of years. They skate, work hard, play solid defense, and they have a young core. They are somewhat offensively challenged, but they look as though they have some promise in that area, too. Erik Ensberg wasn’t tested much, especially early, which can be hard on a young goalie in terms of focus. But he played a solid game backstopping the Kings, too. This will be a team to be reckoned with in years to come.

For the Caps, they might have been a bit weary from the contest against the Ducks, and they might have been peeking ahead a bit to the big game against the Sharks on Saturday. Whatever the case, they just didn’t show up with their usual high-tempo game, and the Kings took the initiative. Bruce Boudreau seemed to strike the right tone in describing the effort in his post game comments…

"I just think they were more emotionally into the game than we were at the beginning, and that's the part that's unacceptable. We weren't up to our standards by any stretch of the imagination. And once you let a team get on a roll like that, it's tough to stop them. They were taking away time and space and just working hard. It's that simple. But when you can't get a shot on goal even-strength, that means your team's not working hard enough."

That’s not a blistering attack on his team, but it is a fair statement of what took place. Again, it happens. It just shouldn’t happen again tomorrow night, because if it does…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Kings, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE (yawn..) AIR!!!

After a stirring 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps get right back to it tonight against the 7-8-2 Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings come in rested, not having played since being shut out by Anaheim, 2-0, last Sunday. From the looks of things, the Kings needed it. The loss to Anaheim was their second straight after peeling off four straight wins. Overall this season, the Kings are a club that hasn’t struggled as much as some might have expected, and that is due to contributions from the defense and timely goaltending, as the numbers suggest…

Record: 7-8-2
Standing: 4th in Pacific/T-12th in West
Goals-per-game: 2.41 (27th)
Goals allowed-per-game: 2.59 (T-8th)
5-on-5: 0.79 (T-25th)
Power play: 16.7% (T-17th)
Penalty killing: 86.1% (3rd)
Winning-pct/scoring first: 6-2-0/.750 (T-6th)
Winning-pct/trailing first: 1-6-2/.111 (28th)

What’s noteworthy about those numbers is that for a team predicted to struggle this year, they’ve hung around in games. They’ve scored first in eight of 17 games and have fared well when doing so. But, their record when trailing first is a reflection of an offense that hasn’t done a lot this year. And, they’ve struggled more lately – only once in their last ten games have the Kings scored more than three goals (a 5-3 win against St. Louis on November 8th). By way of comparison, the Caps have scored more than three goals five times in their last ten games.

Individually, the Kings are led in scoring by Anze Kopitar who, for someone playing in one of the world’s great media markets, is a comparative unknown. Perhaps contributing to his anonymity is his lack of goal-scoring. Following a 32-goal season last year, he has only two so far this year. If Kings fans are looking for a ray of hope here, both goals were scored at home.

The goal-scoring chores have so far been the responsibility of Dustin Brown (6-5-11, -2) and Jarret Stoll (6-2-8). Brown is a particularly interesting case and must be considered perhaps the most dangerous offensive weapon the Kings have. In three seasons, he’s gone from 14 to 17 to 33 goals – a handsome progression of improvement. His six so far puts him on a pace for 29.

A big surprise for the Kings is how Drew Doughty – the defenseman selected second overall in last June’s entry draft – has stepped right in and made significant contributions. In addition to his 2-4-6 scoring line, which ties him with Tom Preissing for the team lead among defensemen, he is a team best plus-6 and leads the team in ice time (22:48).

Speaking of defensemen, here is your odd Kings stat…the blueliners have scored, as a group, seven goals. Of that number, three are game winners (two by Kyle Quincey, one by Doughty).

In goal, Erik Ensberg has started seven straight games and performed quite well – 4-2-1, 1.98, .914. His overall goal-against average of 1.96 ranks fourth in the league. Given the hiatus since the last Kings game, one would expect former Caps bench boss Terry Murray to ride the hot goalie for this one.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Patrick O’Sullivan

The talented forward has not (yet?) blossomed into the sort of forward the Kings might have expected when taking him in the 2003 draft. This year, he started well but has struggled recently. After starting the year 3-3-6, +7 in his first six games, he is 0-1-1, -3 in ten games since. The Kings are a team that struggles on offense, perhaps due in part to the lack of production from O’Sullivan, from whom contributions are expected. Given how the Caps are scoring these days, getting something more than two goals is a requirement for the Kings if they are to compete in this game. And to do that, they need O’Sullivan to get off the schneid.

Washington: Tom Poti

If Mike Green’s shoulder won’t allow him to go, Poti is going to assume more of the burden on offense, both at even strength and on the power play. Poti is already third on the team in ice time (21:27) and second to Green among defensemen. The Caps woke up from a power play funk in last night’s win over Anaheim. If they are to continue that, Poti could be a key ingredient tonight.

Since the Caps are doing so well, we have a sparkle in our eye, and a song in our prognosticatorial heart…so we’ll leave it with a song (with our apologies to Randy Newman)…

Hate New York City
It's cold and it's damp
And all the Rangers looks like donkeys
Let's leave Chicago to the Blackhawks
That team's a little bit too ragged
For you and me you Caps fans

Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
With a big nasty redhead at my side
Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north
And we as born to ride

Jump over the boards, skate down the ice
Put on the intro baby
It’s all so very nice
We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more

From our blue line to their goal line
From the end boards to the corners
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the goals are coming all the time
Looks like another perfect day

We’ll beat L.A. (We’ll beat ‘em!)
We’ll beat L.A. (We’ll beat ‘em!!)

Look at that goalie
Look at those D’s
Look at that bum over there, man
We’ll score on him with ease
Look at these Caps
There ain't nothin' like 'em nowhere

Alex Ovechkin (We love him)
Nicklas Backstrom (We love him)
Donald Brashear (We love him)
John-ny (We love him, we love him)

We’ll beat L.A. (We’ll beat ‘em!)
We’ll beat L.A. (We’ll beat ‘em!!...We’ll beat ‘em!!)

Beat ‘em, indeed…

Caps 4 – Kings 2

A TWO-point night: Caps 6 - Ducks 4

“Thanks, Coach.”

It’s one thing to shutout the Los Angeles Kings, a team that is 27th in the league in goals-per-game, but when Randy Carlyle rewarded goalie Jonas Hiller with another start after such an effort, he might not have been doing the youngster any favors. Hiller moved up in weight class and promptly wilted, giving up three goals on seven shots in less than six minutes as the Caps made it eight in a row without a loss in regulation with a 6-4 win over Anaheim last night.

What we saw (with one eye open as the game went past midnight)…

Alex Ovechkin went 1-3-4 last night to add another game to his blazing streak (6-11-17, +15 in his last seven games). He is now 8-14-22, +18 after 16 games. In his first 16 games last year, he was 10-8-18, +4.

Brian Sutherby played 4:35 last night. His score sheet line?...
...yup, that’s it.

The win came at a price. Mike Green flew awkwardly into the boards after being hit by Chris Pronger, injuring his shoulder. He did not return after that first period hit.

Getting the Young Guns on the score sheet is one thing (Ovechkin, Green, and Nicklas Backstrom were a combined 3-4-7, +2), but the Caps had goals from Tomas Fleischmann, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley, and had points from a total of 12 players.

The three power play goals was a first this year and the most the Caps have had in a game since netting four in a 10-2 win against Boston on March 3rd last season.

The watchword was “simple”…as in, “"We just tried to play simple. This is our key. We sometimes try to be too fancy. Tonight, we just shoot the puck, control the puck and get some traffic to the net. You see the result." So said Alex Ovechkin, anyway. The Caps had eight power plays, of which they converted three into goals. Just as important, they had 11 shots on those power plays coming from eight different players.

John Erskine…19 minutes, plus-1, a hit, a takeaway, and he was not on the ice for any Ducks’ goals. No, he’s not facing the top scoring lines (Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf combined to go 3-5-8), but he’s not making bad mistakes out there that lead to other players getting on the scoreboard and making things even more difficult for the Caps and their goaltenders.

Matt Bradley…a goal (the game winner), three hits, a couple of takeaways. He made us look pretty good out there.

After Ovechkin’s goal, you knew it was coming…Brashear…Parros. The Caps withstood that bit of mischief to score the next two goals. Good teams do that.

Good teams don’t let the other guys get a whiff of comeback when getting out to a 6-2 lead, though.

It’s going to be hard to sit, let alone send down, Tyler Sloan once Shaone Morrisonn is healthy. 20 minutes, a hit, three blocked shots. He was on the ice only for Anaheim’s last goal, on a power play (and that wasn’t the brightest interference penalty taken by Ovechkin that led to it). Only Tom Poti had more penalty killing time among defensemen (6:11) than Sloan’s 4:51.

That was a career high five shots on goal for David Steckel. Add in a goal, an assist, a takeaway, and winning three of five draws, and it was a pretty good night.

“One gets the feeling he’s going to be very, very good, or very, very bad.” So we said of Jean-Sebastien Giguere before the game...he resembled more the latter than the former. Too many rebounds. He got off lucky giving up only three goals.

All in all, a very good game for the offense and the power play in particular, a somewhat indifferent game on defense and in goal. The Caps needed to do a better job of standing on the Duck’s throats and not letting them up with those two goals in less than 90 seconds in the third period to give them a breath of life. But they held on against a difficult team that had been playing pretty well of late. A nice start to the western trip. Well done, boys.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sittin' at the end of the bar

If you go to and take a look at the All-Star voting this morning, you’ll see that Montreal Canadiens occupy all six Eastern Conference starting positions, five of them by more than twice as many votes as their nearest non-Canadien pursuers. Seems the fans of Hab Nation have figured out a way to game the system. Oh, it might have been “corrected” by the slow-footed folks at, but we’re reminded of a time honored tradition in sports, captured in the oft-quoted statement, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

Did Habs fans cheat? Did they play dirty? Shoot, we’ll bet somewhere, Dale Hunter is smiling.


Steve Eminger is now the sixth leading scorer for the Lightning and the top scorer among their defensemen.

Did we just see the sun stop in the sky?


In case you weren’t paying attention in all the Geno-love these days, his fellow Pennsylvanian, Simon Gagne, is making quite a comeback for the Flyers…tied for fourth in scoring (22 points) and goals (11), tops in short-handed goals (four), fifth in shooting percentage, and plus-8.


Who is Devin Setoguchi, and how did he get to be tied for fourth (with Gagne) in scoring?


Alex Ovechkin’s slump might be over, but whatever he had, it seems Ilya Kovalchuk has it. The Thrasher forward has only one multi-goal game this year (he had eight last year, total, and three by this time last year) and trails both Vyatcheslav Kozlov and Brian Little (Brian Little?) on his own team. He’s a streaky sort, so something might break pretty soon for this guy.


One wonders…Do Minnesota Wild players play a “system” even in the boudoir? Geez, they could make whoopee boring. That game against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night…the NHL had better have a deal with Versus to burn all evidence of that game having been played. Those weren’t blue uniforms the Penguins were wearing, that was the color of their skin from the energy being taken out of their game. It worked, though, so $#@& you, Peerless!


Jay Bouwmeester…0-6-6, -8, 24 PIMS. He’s on a pace for his lowest scoring total from the blue line (on a points-per-game basis) since his second year, the highest PIMS total of his career (he’s currently tied for 11th in minor penalties taken), and is on his way to his worst plus-minus as a pro. We don’t know if he’s costing himself money in the long run, but about that return Florida is going to get at the trading deadline for him?...That might be another story.


The Ducks might be anxious to have Alexander Semin sitting in the press box tonight. You really don’t want this guy coming into your building. In eight road games this year, he is 5-10-15, +7. Among players playing at least five road games, Semin has the second best points-per-game average (if you had Lee Stempniak as number one, would you pick my Powerball numbers for me?).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Ducks, November 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

I found out long ago
It's a long way down the holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road

It’s off to Anaheim for a tilt with the Mighty Ducks, and since we don’t get out here too much, we thought we’d take advantage of the tips and tricks learned by that holiday road warrior, himself…Clark Griswold. Clark, thanks for having us along. Are you anxious to get a chance to see Alex Ovechkin and the Caps?…

“Well, it’s like I told my wife, ‘It's living history, Ellen. But if you'd rather see your cousins...personally I'd rather see a pile of mud than Eddie.’”

The Caps are playing the first game of a western road trip. They’ve been very good at home, but they’ve struggled on the road. You’re an experienced road-tripper, Clark. What do you tell the boys?

“The old west was dirty. Everything isn't like home. If everything were like home, there would be no reason for leaving home. Right, Rusty?”

It’s “Peerless.”


Clark, I know you’re something of a hockey fan, and you know that the season is no “vacation,” so to speak, but you also know it’s not all grim faces and such. What do you tell the boys in an effort to balance the two?

“I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much f**king fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're a**holes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to get a Cup. Praise the Stanley Cup!”

Well, the Caps have been "zip-a-dee-doo-dah-ing” at home, but now they’re touring the west hoping to add to the pile of wins they’ve been stacking up lately.

In Anaheim, the local hockey team might have discarded the word “mighty” from their name, but not from their play. The Ducks started the year poorly, losing their first four and five of their first six, but have since gone 9-2-2, averaging 3.3 goals a game in the process, while giving up 2.8 goals. Their overall performance looks like this...

While the Ducks have been scoring and allowing goals at a somewhat brisk pace, one thing about their game remains a constant. The Ducks that led the NHL with 17.8 penalty minutes a game in their Stanley Cup-winning year of 2006-2007 don’t lead the league in PIMS thus far, but their 19.5 penalty minutes a game is still good for fourth in the league. Their 20 fighting majors is tied with Vancouver for the league lead. In fact, the Ducks might as well practice at the Kronk Gym (if it wasn’t in Detroit) as at Anaheim ICE. Nine different players have fighting majors, led by George “Did You Like Me As An Extra in ‘The Magnificent Seven’” Parros, who has five.

As far as actual hockey type skills are concerned, Washington has its “Young Guns,” but Anaheim has its Dynamic Duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The two have combined for 13 goals and 29 assists to take the top two spots in the Ducks’ scoring ranking. Getzlaf got off to a rough start, going 0-1-1, -5 in his first six games, but he is 7-14-21, +9 in his last dozen contests. He had a five points game (0-5-5) against Detroit on October 29th. He hasn’t had much experience against the Caps, notching an assist in two games against Washington.

Perry started as slowly as did Getzlaf, also going 0-1-1 in his first six games (with a minus-4 to go along with it), but is 6-13-19, +9 in his last 13 games. He had a five-point game of his own (1-4-5) against Vancouver on Hallowe’en. In his two games against Washington, he has one goal (what, are he and Getzlaf joined at the hip?...ok, maybe they are).

Teemu Selanne, who (contrary to urban legend) did not skate along Wayne Gretzstone for the Bedrock Neanderthals of the Pangaea Hockey League, is still contributing at age 38. He leads the team with nine goals, which also ranks in the top dozen in the league. Having played in the Western Conference for his entire career, he doesn’t get many looks at the Caps, but he’s made the most of his opportunities. In 21 career games, he is 17-16-33, +22.

The former Cap angle is covered by Brian Sutherby, who is the sixth-ranked scorer on this team (3-3-6). He’s also second in plus-minus (+6) and tied for third in fighting majors (three). All this for 7:21 a game in ice time (only Brad May and George Parros have less). This will be his first matchup against his former team.

On defense, the Ducks have a solid group led by Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, and Francois Beauchemin (who is on injured reserve and is out for the rest of the year), who have combined to go 10-19-29. But the Caps might be renewing acquaintances with an old adversary, too. Bret Hedican, who played for ten seasons in the Southeast Division with the Panthers and the Hurricanes, could be playing in his 999th career game tonight. 50 of those have been against the Caps, in which he is 3-7-10, -6.

In goal, chances are that the Caps will see Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has spun off into a ditch in his last three games. After winning six consecutive decisions in seven appearances (his no-decision being one in which he was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots against Vancouver), he is 0-2-1, 4.51, .851, in his last three and was pulled against Dallas after once more allowing four goals on 13 shots. In fact, the six winning decisions in a row is somewhat misleading. Giguere has allowed four goals in each of five games out of his last ten, displaying an inconsistency that has crept into his game this year. In 15 appearances, he has two shutouts, but he also has allowed at least four goals eight times. It is little wonder that his overall numbers – 3.21 GAA and .905 save percentage – rank in the lower half of the NHL rankings. He has had success in his limited experience against the Caps, though – 3-1-0-1, 1.39, .951, with two shutouts. One gets the feeling he’s going to be very, very good, or very, very bad.

If it isn’t Giguere and his inconsistency, it might be Jonas Hiller and his comparative lack of experience. Hiller is 3-1-1, 2.18, .926 and a shutout in six appearances this year. He was 10-7-1, 2.06, .927 in 23 appearances last year, so he’s at least mastered the job of being an effective backup. If Giguere continues his ups and downs, Hiller might be getting more responsibility. He has never faced the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Samuel Pahlsson

In 2006-2007, Pahlsson anchored what we thought was a benchmark “in your face” line. Last year he missed 26 games to a sports hernia. He’s apparently healthy again, and he could be called upon to help shut down the hottest Caps – the numbers one and two stars in the NHL last week, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. It will be a tall order.

Washington: Matt Bradley

Anaheim relies on physical intimidation as a part of their strategy. That is something not limited to fighting heavyweights, but is something that pervades their roster. That could make the contributions of a player such as Bradley important, not so much for dropping the gloves, but for standing firm against the style the Ducks choose to play. Washington has a lot of skill guys who do not, as a rule, relish contact. It would be expected that the Ducks will test this early and often. Bradley is a guy who can help even the odds.

This is as clear a contrast in styles as one is likely to see – Anaheim’s in-your-face, bare-knuckled approach versus the Caps attacking with waves of skill and speed. It will be important for the Caps not to fall behind. Anaheim is undefeated in seven games in which they have carried a lead into the final period. If the Caps can withstand the figurative (or literal) punch in the nose they’ll get early and post a goal or two, this will be a much easier task, especially against the inconsistent Giguere. It’s like the song in the movie…

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Take a ride on the West Coast kick…

Caps 5 – Ducks 3

Monday: Young Guns and an Old Coach

Tomorrow night, the Caps will visit the Anaheim Ducks in the midst of a 5-0-2 streak that has seen them leap to the head of the Southeast Division and the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Over those seven games, the Caps have scored 24 goals and allowed 14. The Young Guns – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green – have been the key parts on offense in crafting that streak:

Ovechkin: 5-8-13, +13
Semin: 5-6-11, +11
Backstrom: 2-10-12, +11
Green: 2-4-6, +10

But lost in all that is the 14 goals allowed in seven games. Jose Theodore is 1-0-1, 2.20, .924 in his three appearances in this streak. Good as that is, Brent Johnson has been lights (as in “red” lights) out – 4-0-1, 1.82, .949. And one could conclude it really has been goaltending, too, as the Johnson/Theodore tandem have had to face a somewhat higher number of shots per game in this streak (33.7) than they did in the previous ten games (27.2).

It is a case of what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Caps were returning home on heels of what had been to that point a dismal November -- 1-6-1, scoring only 12 goals while allowing 24. The Young Guns were very much young, but not gunning so much:

Ovechkin: 5-1-6, even
Semin: did not play (injured)
Backstrom: 1-3-4, -1
Green: 0-1-1, -4

Then there were the 24 goals allowed in those eight games. Olaf Kolzig was 1-5-0 over that stretch, 3.05, .898. Johnson was backing him up and was 0-1-1, 2.64, .905. It wasn’t a matter of poor goaltending as much as it was mediocre. 24 goals in eight games is not great defense, but it isn’t a catastrophe, either. But getting shutout twice in those eight games, and scoring more than two goals only once (the only win) made life difficult for Kolzig and Johnson on a night-in, night-out basis.

When the Caps returned home a year ago tomorrow night, they would lose to Florida 4-3, seeing a furious third period rally fall short. But in the midst of falling to a record of 2-6-0 at home in that game, fans began voicing their displeasure in the second period by chanting, “Fire Han-lon” – a reference to head coach Glen Hanlon – as the Panthers were building a 4-1 lead.

Hanlon probably deserved better. He drew a bad hand when he took over as the Caps’ coach after 28 games of the 2003-2004 season. It was a team that had been bloated by payroll, demoralized by performance, and looking for purpose as the team was in the throes of a transition to a youth-centered rebuild.

Hanlon would be relieved of his duties after the second game of that late-November home stand last year, a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The rest is a fond memory for Caps fans. But as we’re getting along toward Thanksgiving week, it might pay to heed some lessons and give some thanks. First, thanks to Glen Hanlon, for if he wasn’t the right guy to bring the Caps all the way home, he was the right guy to get them started. That shouldn’t be forgotten. And the lesson is perhaps that just as fortunes can turn for the better in short order, so can they turn in the other direction as quickly. The Caps have shown themselves to be a very good team, not just the best of the lot in a weak division. But there is much work to be done by those precocious youngsters putting up those gaudy numbers this month…and all their teammates.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just because...'s funny. Makes me think of Charlie Brown on the ol' pitcher's mound when he has his wardrobe knocked off by a line drive through the middle.

photos: AP, Getty Images