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