Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils Home-and-Home Two-fer

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a home and home two-fer prognosto for your hockey weekend against the New Jersey Devils. In fact, this is the first home-and-home of the fall season, and such occurrences can pose special difficulties for teams that host a team one night and who visit the same team the following night. So, with that in mind, we asked Miss Ettie Quette about the proper customs for hosting and attending hockey games with the same parties…

Miss Quette…the Caps are hosting the New Jersey Devils this evening. What is the proper attire for a Friday fete?

"Well, the traditional hockey jersey is so tired and worn for hockey games. The ‘in’ fashion this autumn for these events is something with a hint of piping on it. Perhaps piping from the shoulder to the accented waist…"

You mean, like the Reebok Edge Uniform System?


And what of refreshments? What does one serve at these parties? Wine?

"Oh, no…never wine, not for hockey celebrations. Gatorade. Or, if the host is feeling especially daring – PowerAde."

Are there any special accoutrements the smart host will pay attention to for such evenings?

"Well, you’ll want to have lots of tape on hand for sticks, to secure leggings, to wrap joints, that sort of thing."

The Caps will be hosting the event this evening. Is there anything that Coach Boudreau and the boys can do to make it a successful event?

"They should just be themselves. Alex Ovechkin is such an effervescent personality. He should be able to capture the moment and be the belle of the ball, so to speak. Alex Semin is more of that mysterious sort so many dinner guests find exotic and captivating. Matt Bradley can keep the men enthralled with talk about his taste in cars. It should be a memorable evening."

And tomorrow, the Caps will return the favor by visiting the Devils in Newark…


Any advice for the boys on what they might bring for their guests as a gift?

"A bad attitude."

Thanks, Miss Quette, I’m sure that with this advice, this home-and-home is sure to be the talk of the season…

This weekend, the Caps will be taking on the only team in the NHL that has not won a game when being outshot. If that isn’t an incentive to throw pucks at the Devils’ net, then not seeing the steely stare of Martin Brodeur coming back at them is another one. Kevin Weekes is a fine journeyman goalie, but he is not Brodeur. And against the Caps, it doesn’t get any better. Weekes is 2-14-1 in 18 career appearances against Washington (3.24, .892). He is 0-6-1 in his last seven appearances against the Caps (3.44, .850).

If you’re thinking “backup” (and given the home and home, this is a possibility), Scott Clemmensen is 1-1-0, 2.28, .933 in three career appearances against the Caps. As for the comparisons between the clubs (as of games through November 12)...

New Jersey has scored a total of 37 goals this year. Of that number, Zach Parise has 11. He’s been a model of consistency in that regard, scoring goals in ten of 15 games. Here is the odd part – his goalless streaks have come in twos (Oct. 13-16 and Nov. 3-5). He did not score in his last game, against the Rangers, so if the pattern holds he’ll be shutout on Friday but score on Saturday.

While Parise’s 11-6-17 scoring line is good for a tie for tenth in the league, the Devils are struggling to find offense elsewhere on their roster. Travis Zajac (2-9-11) is tied for 86th, and after that, you’d really be in the depths of the rankings to find another Devil (OK, Patrik Elias, tied for 130th). It is a team that has scored two or fewer goals in nine of 15 games, and in their last five have scored a total of only seven goals in going 1-4-0.

The struggles for the Devils on offense extend to their special teams as well. Their rank of 29th on the power play does not come by accident. No team has had fewer man-advantage opportunities (59), and no team has fewer power play goals (seven). They will come into the first game of the home-and-home 2-for-26 on the power play (7.7 percent) in their last five games.

Just to pile on here, New Jersey has scored only 10 goals of any sort in six road games. Three of those came in a 4-3 shootout win over the Caps on October 18th when the Devils scored a pair of third period goals to take a lead they could not hold. Zach Parise is the only Devil with more than one goal on the road (four). That they have allowed only 14 goals on the road has helped them salvage a 3-2-1 road record.

At home, Jersey has at least a resemblance to a productive hockey team on offense – 27 goals in nine games, again, led by Parise (seven). What the home scoring for the Devils suggests is quite a home/road disparity. Jamie Langenbrunner has three goals at home, none on the road, as does David Clarkson (who?). Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, and Jay Pandolfo have a pair at home, none on the road. But with the extra production at home, so have their goals allowed jumped – 25 in those nine games, 12 of which have been power play goals allowed.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: John Madden

Madden is not a big scorer. He has one point in his last five games. But if he doesn’t score a point, doesn’t take a shot, doesn’t set foot in the offensive zone, for that matter, he could be the most important man on the ice for the Devils in the absence of goalie Martin Brodeur. He will draw the big defensive assignments, and for a team that is at once offensively challenged, perhaps missing important defensemen (Paul Martin’s playing will be a game-time decision; Andy Greene is out), and without its hall-of-fame-in-waiting goaltender, defense will be especially important. That is Madden’s stock in trade. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, with the Alexes on one line and the Devils trying to match the Madden line with that pair, and whether the Caps will at some point split up the Alexes to see how that affects matchups.

Washington: Tomas Fleischmann

Fleischmann had a nice start to the season, going 4-2-6 in his first 11 games. But, he is scoreless in his last four and a minus-2. With so much attention being paid – and sure to be paid this weekend – to the BOSS line of Backstrom, Ovechkin and Semin, getting scoring from other places will be important. Fleischmann does not have a lot of career success against the Devils (1-0-1, -2 in nine career games), but there would be no time like the weekend to turn that around.

The Caps, if not yet quite firing on all cylinders, are starting to get the kinds of performances they need from the big players in their lineup. If they can start to get some secondary scoring from the like of a Flesichmann or a Michael Nylander, this becomes a very difficult team to beat. In that respect, they are catching the Devils at their most vulnerable – New Jersey is a pretty beat up team right now, and they will be starting a goalie in at least one of these games (Weekes) who has had little career success against the Caps. We see that as the makings of a good weekend…

Caps 4 – Devils 1 (Friday)

Caps 3 – Devils 2 (Saturday)

Geez...will they be joined at the hip until death?

...bizarre, ain't it?

Man Bites Dog!

Semin is on a pace for +93, Ovechkin for +64, and Green on a pace for +55.

We're not suggesting they'll finish there, but yeah, tell us you had THAT prediction when the season started.

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Hurricanes 1

And the points keep coming…

That could apply to the Caps, who have won four in a row to take sole possession of the top spot in the Southeast Division, or to the boys on the BOSS line – Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin – who combined for a 4-8-12, +12 night in thoroughly demolishing the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1.

Alexander Semin led the way with his first five point night as a Cap, as he had a hand in all of the visitors’ scoring (2-3-5). With that explosion, Semin took over the league lead in goals (13), points (27), plus-minus (+17), and is in a tie for most game-winning goals (3). After 15 games, Semin has put together quite a start. How impressive is it?...

-- Semin now has nine multi-point games. Last year, he had seven…total.

-- He has been held off the score sheet only twice in 15 games. Last year, he was scoreless in ten of the first 15 games he played.

-- Last year, after his first 15 games, he was 2-3-5, -7. He is now 13-14-27, +17.

-- He is on a pace to go 71-76-147, +93.


Semin was hardly alone last night, though. His linemates – Ovechkin and Backstrom – had fine nights of their own. Ovechkin had a three-point night (1-2-3) and was plus-4, while Nicklas Backstrom had a four-point night with his first goal of the year (1-3-4) and was also plus-4.

Getting Ovechkin and Backstrom into a scoring rhythm was especially encouraging as they – with Semin – can keep teams honest in having to cheat toward their own end of the ice to defend rather than look for breakouts the other way. Almost as impressive as the scoring, none of the three were charged with a giveaway – they were smart, as well as effective, with the puck. Some other things of note…

-- Speaking of giveaways, only one skater was charged with a giveaway (John Erskine). We don’t know if that was strange scoring (Carolina was credited with 20 takeaways), but the Caps generally seemed to play a lot smarter with the puck than in some other games we’ve seen this year.

-- Let’s not forget the other plus-4 in the group. Mike Green had a fine night, too…1-1-2, plus-4, and five shots on goal.

-- Is Eric Staal now number three in the Staal Family Rankings? Missing open nets twice in an early flurry is not how the franchise center is supposed to perform. Going minus-2 and losing 11 of 15 faceoffs didn’t help the Hurricane cause, either.

-- Folks got a glimpse of what Jose Theodore can be for this team. No, not an emergency injury relief backup…a guy who can keep the Caps in games and give his team a chance to do what it can do at the other end of the ice. True, Theodore had a lead, and he didn’t have to stand on his head for the last two periods. But he was fine in relief of the injured Brent Johnson. He was solid, made the saves, and didn’t allow any cheap goals that could have let the Hurricanes back into the game.

-- We noted in the prognosto that if the Hurricane defense was fully engaged in the offense, it could be a difficult game for the Caps. Well, they had one point – Joni Pitkanen earning an assist on the Scott Walker goal. Otherwise, the Hurricane defense had eight shots (six others blocked and three misses).

-- We wonder…when Shaone Morrisonn comes back, is he going to resume his role as Mike Green’s partner? Jeff Schultz is 0-1-1, plus-6, in three games since Morrisonn went out (he was +4 last night).

-- OK, Cam Ward gave up five goals to Atlanta…Michael Leighton gave up five goals to the Caps. Who’s next for Peter Laviolette?...Daniel Manzato?

-- The Caps were 13 of 19 on draws in the offensive zone, making sure that they could keep offensive pressure on the Hurricanes (conversely, Brandon Sutter by himself was one of eight in the defensive zone for the Hurricanes). They were also 12 of 21 in the defensive zone (David Steckel took 12 of those draws, winning seven).

-- His knee might still be bothering him, but it really would be nice to get Viktor Kozlov off the schneid…he is without a point in his last five games (longer than any scoreless streak he had last year). But he might be close. Four shots last night gave him 11 in his last three games (he had only ten in seven games up to that point).

-- They say a lead-off walk in baseball always comes back to haunt you. We’re thinking the same thing about delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass. It’s a dinky little penalty that always seems to bite the team that does it in the butt. Last night, Milan Jurcina got caught, and Scott Walker scored his goal five seconds later.

It was a fine all-around night for the Caps. While all the scoring came from the young guns (5-9-14, +16, for Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green), the rest of the team chipped in a solid effort at keep the Hurricanes – who often pile up goals in home games against the Caps – from ever getting going.

While it’s tempting to put that 2-3-1 stretch (both wins coming in extra time) out of our minds, it should serve as a reminder that no club can just pull on their sweaters and get a win. Last night, the Caps out-skated, out-hustled, and out-talented the Hurricanes in announcing that their being at the top of the heap in the Southeast is no fluke, and it isn’t likely to end soon…so long as they put in the effort.

That will be put to the test in a home-and-home with New Jersey this weekend, and with a western road trip to follow. But for now, that was quite a game. Well done, boys.