Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, February 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful game
That’s played tonight on 7th Street
And “hockey” is its name.

The team had a long proud history,
But lately they’ve been lame.
Six skaters took the ice that night
For a three hour game, a three hour game.

The hitting started getting rough,
The visitors were tossed,
If they didn’t find a way to score some goals
The game would sure be lost, the game would sure be lost.

The team set ground on the shore of this uncharted hockey rink...

With Ted Nolan

The Captain too,

The millionaire...

...and his wife,

The movie star...

The defenseman and Miro Satan...

...Here on Fish Sticks' Isle.

So this is the tale of the Islanders,
They're here to meet their fate,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill skate.

The captain and the head coach too,
Will do their very best,
To make the Caps uncomfortable,
In this playoff seeding test.

No phone, no lights no Zamboni,
Not a single luxury,
Like Bossy, Smith, and Gillies,
As primitive as can be.

So join us here tonight my friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
From seven stranded castaways,
Here on "Fish Sticks’ Isle."

Tonight, the Caps have the opportunity of using one of the three games in hand they hold over the Carolina Hurricanes to inch closer to the top spot in the Southeast Division. It also represents a chance to leap-frog tonight’s opponent – the New York Islanders – into tenth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Bruins and Flyers (tied for the last two spots in the playoff seeding mix).

The Islanders are nothing, if not streaky. Starting on January 24th, they lost six consecutive games in regulation. Since then, however, they are 4-0-1, winning the last four in succession. It is a tale of two teams…

Goals for/against:

Six-game losing streak: 8/23
Five-game points streak: 19/14

Power play:

Six-game losing streak: 3/15 (20%)
Five-game points streak: 5/27 18.5%)

Penalty killing:

Six-game losing streak: 18/26 (69.2%)
Five-game points streak: 24/27 (88.9%)

Shots for/against-per game:

Six-game losing streak: 28.3/28.0
Five-game points streak: 29.2/23.6

There are several things to note here…the Islanders are a gritty (or chippy, depending on your point of view) team. They will take penalties. During the losing streak, they paid for those indiscretions with poor penalty killing. Such has not been the case during the points streak. They are going to the box as often, but they’ve kept the bleeding to a minimum on the scoreboard.

There is also the power play, not so much for its effectiveness, but its frequency – fewer than three a game in the losing streak, more than five a game in the points-earned streak. Almost doubling the frequency with which they enjoy the man advantage puts teams on their heels, unable to generate as much offense, and this is reflected in the shots against during each of the streaks.

The streaky nature of the Islanders’ recent performance is reflected in the results of their top scorers, as well:

Mike Comrie was 2-1-3, -6 during the losing streak, 2-4-6, -1 in the points-earned streak…
Bill Guerin: 0-1-1, -5/1-4-5, -2
Miroslav Satan: 0-2-2, -3/1-3-4, +2
Trent Hunter: 0-2-2, -2/1-3-4, +2
Ruslan Fedotenko: 0-2-2, -1/4-1-5, +1

Rick DiPietro hasn’t been immune from the streakiness in goal, either

Six-game losing streak: 0-5-0, 3.82, .864
Five-game points streak: 4-0-1, 2.78, .881

Much of his success in the points streak is in facing fewer shots, but he has stopped more of them, as well, resulting in allowing more than one goal less-per-game than during the losing streak. His play will be critical in the game tonight. Why?...

Although the Islanders come in on the heels of a five-game points streak, they do so as a beat-up squad. As Mike Vogel reports in the gameday, the visitors have eight players out or nursing injuries that could keep them out of tonight’s lineup. And, these are players of particular importance in a game against a team with as much skill among its top line forwards as the Caps. Andy Sutton and Brendan Witt are out, depriving the Islanders of a couple of big bodies to make the forwards uncomfortable. Jon Sim, who should be drawing a paycheck from the Caps while he’s out recuperating from a knee injury, has made a career playing against the Caps. Mike Sillinger, who owns a 56.3 percent faceoff winning percentage, won’t be there to battle David Steckel or Boyd Gordon, or perhaps take advantage of a relative weakness in Nicklas Backstrom’s game.

The Caps have more or less been marking time over the last two weeks with a 3-2-1 record. More to the point for tonight’s game, while the Caps started 2008 with a 7-1-0 record at home, they are 1-2-0 in their last three home games (the win coming in overtime against the Rangers on February 10th). With 12 of the last 22 games at home, the Caps have to dominate these games if they are to overtake Carolina.

If the Islanders are allowed to play this game on their terms, it will be a close-fought, often-chipppy, zone-to-zone game without a lot of scoring. Trouble for the Caps is, the three games so far have been played pretty much on the Islanders’ terms, the Islanders winning two of the three (one in overtime) and allowing only two goals to the Caps in each contest.

If the Caps play the game on their terms, it will mean getting an early lead (the Caps do not have a first period goal in any of the three games played to date), forcing the Islanders to open up their own game and give the Caps more room and opportunity.

The Islanders are on a roll, but they are not healthy. Neither are the Caps, with Chris Clark, Brian Pothier, and Michael Nylander out; and Tom Poti nursing an injury. One would like to think that it is a game where skill – that favoring the Caps – needs to take over. But this is a game where players like Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, Brook Laich, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley can make a difference by offsetting the Islanders style with some grit (and maybe a timely score) of their own…

Caps 3 – Islanders 2