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.