Saturday, January 31, 2009

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 4 -- Red Wings 2

And that’s how they do that.

It was red, it was loud, and even for a chilly weekend afternoon in January, it had the whiff of a game played on a warm night in June. The Caps scored late and held off the Red Wings in March of the Penguins Penalized over the last 98 seconds to beat Detroit, 4-2. But Peerless, what did all mean?...

Figuring out a way to win. It’s one thing to come from a couple of goals down to beat a bottom dweller. It is another thing to take a game away from a team you’re tied with at the second intermission when that team is the defending Stanley Cup champion skating on your ice with the third highest number of road standings points in the league. Figuring out a way to win close, highly charged games against quality opponents is perhaps the last lesson a team has to learn to be a credible championship contender. And what fits hand in glove with that is…

Dealing with adversity I. Folks are going to remember Alex Ovechkin’s two goals to win, but what they might put aside (we’re betting the coaches don’t) is the fact that the Caps yet again gave up a power play goal – that’s ten games in a row and counting – and gave up seven power play opportunities (they’ve given up at least five in seven of their last eight games). You might argue that the last one is a technicality (Tom Poti took the penalty, but the Caps were already two men down from previous penalties), but the flip side of that is that the Caps took three penalties in the last 98 seconds of the game. That’s not playing with matches, it’s playing with a blowtorch. They fought through it in the end, which is a good thing (what isn’t a good thing is that these kinds of things are repeat offenses).

Dealing with adversity II. There isn’t a graceful way to say this – Alex Semin struggled (ok, that might be a bit “graceful”… you may call me a coward). We thought that if the Red Wings weren’t the opponent in this game, we would not have been surprised if Semin had been benched in the third period for his penultimate shift in the second period. From pulling up short with the puck at the Red Wing blue line when it looked as if he had a chance to press the matter – he seemed to pass up chances all afternoon – to his hooking penalty in the neutral zone (apparently, the experience in the Ottawa game had been forgotten). Detroit scored on the ensuing power play – a goal in the last minute of the period – but it didn’t cripple the Caps in terms of momentum the way it might have done with a younger, less experienced version of this team (say, two years ago, of even perhaps this time last year).

Dealing with adversity III. Detroit: 73 – Washington: 42. No, that’s not the halftime score of a Pistons/Wizards game, it is the shot attempts for the two teams today. That’s an indicator that the ice was tilted in Jose Theodore’s direction, but the Caps prevailed in spite of it. One had the feeling (well, I did at least) that the Caps would have these short bursts where they would threaten the Red Wings’ goal, but that Detroit won large blocks of time in terms of territorial play. They always seemed to have the puck. But hey, they count goals, not shot attempts.

It’s 60 minutes. That goes for players as well as teams. Alex Ovechkin took three shots in the first period. He would not so much as even attempt one for more than 35 minutes of playing time thereafter. Good thing there were still almost 13 minutes left to play when he did take his next shot. That one, and the next one he took, found the back of the net – the game winner and the insurance goal. That makes 18 third period goals (of his 33) for Ovechkin this year, a number that leads the league.

I’ve got rhythm. Well, I don’t, but Jose Theodore seems to have it. He’s gotten into a nice playing rhythm since “the yank.” He is 10-3-1, 2.03, .925 and has given up more than three goals only once in 13 games since that Ranger game when he was pulled after giving up three goals on five shots in less than 14 minutes. We’re a little surprised he didn’t get a star in this one, but it might be indicative of his being solid in goal to the point of being almost boring.

Defense, defense, defense. The Red Wings came from everywhere. 16 of 18 skaters had shots on goal; every skater except Tomas Kopecky (who did record a shot on goal) had at least two shot attempts. But, as the graphic below suggests, the Wings were pushed outside for many of those shots…

…and yes, it also shows that the Wings did miss having Tomas Holmstrom wreaking his own special havoc in front of the net. Another way to look at the job the Caps did… Pavel Datsyuk – one shot on goal. Marian Hossa – one shot on goal.

We’re thinking we need to see more from… Eric Fehr. He had five shots on goal, but he had a couple of great chances today that, frankly, he needs to bury. One shot – a slapper off a nice drop pass from Nicklas Backstrom – was the kind of shot a goal-scorer is going to nail. On another, off a great feed from Tomas Fleischmann, he just didn’t get very good wood (ok, composite) on the puck (we have a feeling the ice was not all that hot, and we cringe at the prospect of what it will be tomorrow for the Ottawa game). But it’s a good thing that Fehr is shooting the puck – five shots in less than ten minutes of ice time (we might suggest other wingers take a cue). Perhaps as in basketball, shooters need to shoot to get out of their slumps.

Nit picking. Yeah, that’s what it will be, but the Caps had what was an annoying result in faceoffs in one respect. They held Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula even in the circle (18 up, 18 down), but went 2-for-9 against Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Kopeckey, Johan Franzen and Kris Draper.

Angels with Dirty Faces. Yup, it’s the name of a James Cagney movie. It also could describe the Caps in an important respect this afternoon. Mike Green had a nice goal on a wrister coming on a delayed penalty when Nicklas Backstrom was hooked down in front (perhaps distracting goalie Ty Conklin on the Green shot), but the other three goals were scored from in front, going to the net – Viktor Kozlov deflecting a Milan Jurcina drive… Ovechkin barreling past a defenseman, feeling the puck through his legs and charging in on the Detroit net to score… Ovechkin again after a Nicklas Backstrom shot from in close was turned away, Ovechkin chipping the puck over Conklin from the doorstep. Oh, and by the way…that play never happens if Backstrom doesn’t win the face off to start the action. The point is that three goals came from in tight – the money area that the Caps are going to have to dominate come the spring.

At the end of the day, it was a very entertaining game… “thrilling,” in fact. Why would we use that adjective? Well, it wasn’t the up and down kind of stuff that gets fans roaring and coming out of their seats. Quite the opposite – there were stretches in the game in which we were stunned by just how quiet the arena was, mostly a product of wonder over whether the Caps could hold off the Red Wings on one of their keep-the-puck-in-your-end-for-the-whole-shift kind of displays. Then when the Caps cleared the puck or started a rush of their own, there was a palpable sense of relief followed by the kind of cheering that speaks…”score one, already, and get these guys off our backs.” The Caps did just that and grabbed (“stole” would imply a certain amount of luck, and we think this one was more a product of hard work) two points in a game that serves as a measuring stick for how far the Caps have come this year.

Great job, boys.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Red Wings, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is IN THE AIR!!!

Well, it’s been a few days.. days to get some practice in, to correct some problems, to use the tools of drills to engage in a little fix-up…


Well, if it isn’t the tool man, himself…Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to find you here, being a Detroit guy and all.

“It’s Tim ‘The Puck Man’ Taylor, now…”

Is that so…

“Oh-h-h-h yeah… when I’m out there with my Binford 6100 graphite composite hybrid monofilament sure-grip...argh-argh-arghhh…”

So you’re a big scorer in the Detroit amateur leagues, eh?

“No, I’m still married to Jill…”

Good one…so, you’re still a Red Wings fan, I assume?

“We’re there at every game…”


“Oh yeah. Me, the boys, Wilson, and even Heidi once in a while…

Once in a while?

“Yeah… every time she goes, the Jumbotron seems to get stuck on her and I have to go fix it.”


Well, the Red Wings are visiting Verizon Center in a matinee start, the first of back-to-back afternoon games on Fun Street this weekend. But the Red Wings, while still occupying the lofty standings status one might expect of a defending Stanley Cup champion and perennial contender, are doing it in a manner a little different than hockey fans might be accustomed to seeing. Here are the numbers…

What jumps out from the page here are the goals-against and penalty-killing numbers for the Red Wings. The 2.90 goals-against is a far cry from the 2.18 that the Red Wings posted last year (best in the league). And the 78.4 percent penalty kill is more than a little bit off the 84.0 percent number (8th overall) that the Wings posted last year.

The first thing that comes to mind in looking at those numbers is to wonder if shots matter here. Well, not much it would seem. The Wings are giving up 28.1 shots a game at the moment (tied for 4th in the league), not a large drop-off from their 23.5 given up last year (1st overall). And on the penalty kill, the Wings are actually giving up fewer power plays per game (4.25) than they did last year (4.35).

The next place to look is goaltending, and here the Red Wings appear to have a problem on their hands. Chris Osgood, who came into the season firmly entrenched as the number one netminder, has a goals-against average that is more than one full goal per game worse than last year (3.29 versus 2.09). His save percentage is down significantly as well (.880 from .914). What that means is that he has had only 26 appearances in the Wings’ 48 games and has left an opportunity for backup Ty Conklin to record major minutes.

Conklin has appeared in 24 games, recording more wins (16 versus 14 for Osgood) with a much better GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.917). It’s not as if Conklin is new to this rescue-in-relief role. He more or less saved the Penguins’ season last year when he took over for an injured Marc-Andre Fleury (17-4-5 during Fleury’s absence). The result is that the Red Wings seem to be postponing a day of reckoning. Despite Conklin’s playing relatively well -- better than Osgood in fact -- he has more or less split time with Osgood in the month of January. Conklin has six appearances this month, Osgood has seven in 12 Detroit games in January (Osgood was pulled in favor of Conklin after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first period of the last game, a 4-2 loss to Dallas).

It’s a good thing, then, that the Red Wings are scoring at an amazing clip. They are first in the league in goals-per-game, but more than that, Detroit has 14 players in double digits in points, a dozen of them with more than 20 points. The Wings have seven players with more than ten goals, five of them with more than 15. A dozen players have at least one power play goal, seven of them with at least five.

And here is an odd number, but one that is entirely within the concept of Detroit’s philosophy of playing keep-away with the puck. Of the four skaters who have taken at least 350 faceoffs, none have lost a majority of their draws.

And another odd number, one that points to the depth of this team. No forward averages as much as 20 minutes of ice time per game. Coach Mike Babcock spreads it around.

Individually, the names at the top of the scoring list are familiar to even the most casual hockey fan – Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg. They’ve accounted for 60 of the 172 goals scored by the Wings, and collectively the average better than a point a game.

But there are a lot of teams with a top-trio of skaters – Ottawa has one, and they’re fighting to stay out of the lottery. The “undercard” on this team is what makes it impressive. Johan Franzen has 21 goals in 42 games, carrying over the big late season production he had last year. How big? In his last 74 games dating back to last season (including last year’s playoffs) he has 49 goals and has scored at least one goal in 38 of those games. He also leads the Red Wings in game-winning goals with six.

Jiri Hudler, whose size seemed to be a concern early in his career, is having a breakout season. His 17-22-39 scoring line has already yielded a career high in total goals and power play goals, and is only three points shy of his career high with 34 games left to play. However, Hudler is nursing a foot injury and might not play.

Daniel Cleary isn’t high on the list of goal scorers on this team, but three of his eight tallies have been game-winners (third on the team).

And then there is Tomas Holmstrom, who in a perverse sort of way might be the single irreplaceable cog in the Red Wing machine. While not necessarily the biggest player out there (6’, 203 pounds) he has developed a reputation for his backside being almost unremovable from the cage of a goalie’s mask. When he sets a screen in front, he might as well have a sign saying “WIDE LOAD” planted on the back of his shorts. It’s put him in a position to score 14 goals (sixth on the team), eight of them on the power play (tied for the top spot for Detroit). Trouble is, he (along with Zetterberg) is listed as "day-to-day" and is noted as out (as is Zetterberg) for this one. Caps goaltenders, rejoice!

On the blue line, the Wings are not only good, they’ve enjoyed continuity. Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Kiklas Kronwwall, Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja, and Brad Stuart all have played in at least 41 games, and five of them (Lebda being the exception) have played in at least 45 games. Five of them (Stuart being the exception here) have scored in double digits in points. Only Kronwall has a minus figure for the year, and the group has accounted for nine power play goals. Of the group, Stuart will not dress today, out of the lineup with an injury.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Marian Hossa

Hossa’s numbers are impressive – a rather symmetrical 24-24-48 this year in 48 games. But he has feasted on the Caps over the years. While he is averaged 0.92 points-per-game against the rest of the league over his career, he’s averaged 1.14 points-per-game (23-27-50) in 44 career games against Washington. He is 7-7-14 in his last dozen games this season, including five power play goals. He must be drooling at the prospect of setting up against the Caps’ penalty killers. The game could turn on whether the Caps can keep him off the board on the power play.

Washington: Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov is heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame on the body of work he authored as a Red Wing. Playing against them has been another matter. In 20 career games, he is 6-6-12, -20. He might be getting first line time in this one, based on what went on at practice yesterday. That would mean he’d get his chances adding to his point total, certainly. But scoring isn’t the problem, even if the Caps have scored more than three goals only three times in 11 games this month. Defending the other guys’ power play has been the more persistent problem, and Fedorov’s experience in that regard, noted well by Japers, might be the less visible, but more important, factor here.

These are two teams of a similar specie at different stages of development. The Red Wings have the Cups, score a lot, play keep-away with the puck, the travelling red road show, the guys giving them hometown discounts on contracts. The Caps aspire to Cups, score a lot, have shown flashes of being able to play keep-away, rock the red really well in their own house and have their own road crew, and will have some interesting contract matters down the road. This is a “measurement” game – how do the Caps measure up to a genuinely elite team, even if that elite team is banged up and coming in 0-3-1 in their last four games?

We think they’re measure quite well after a couple of days of fun and drills.

Caps 4 – Red Wings 3

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Januarys

Last year, on January 10th, Alex Ovechkin signed a contract with Washington that would pay him $124 million over 13 years. How did he respond to the added pressure? He went 7-4-11, +5 in his next half dozen games, and the Caps went 4-2-0.

Henrik Zetterberg signed a 12-year, $73 million contract on Wednesday that will keep him in Detroit for a while. How did he respond to the added pressure? He sat out a 4-2 loss to Dallas as a precautionary measure after his back tightened up in the Red Wings' previous game, a 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus.

OK, that's unfair. Truth is, we wouldn't mind if Zetterberg took all the time he needed to get back to 100 percent...even if it means missing tomorrow's game.

Taking Care of Business

Last night the New Jersey Devils leapfrogged the Washington Capitals into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 4-3 overtime win against the Boston Bruins in Boston. It was the Devils’ seventh straight win and a 60-minute example of how a team that doesn’t jump off the page, statistically, has cobbled together such a successful year despite losing a hall-of-fame goaltender to injury. How have they done it?

First…special teams opportunities. Jamie Langenbrunner opened the scoring for the Devils at the 15:01 mark with a shorthanded goal. Typical. The Devils do not often find themselves in shorthanded situations (they have the ninth fewest man-down situations in the league), and when they do, they are a threat to score. Langenbrunner’s was the seventh shorthanded tally of the year for New Jersey (tied for fifth most in the league).

What the Devils are good at on special teams is not beating themselves; they've allowed only two SH goals against in 168 power play opportunities. And, as reflected in the Langenbrunner goal, they have a talent for beating the opposition. They have seven shorthanded goals of their own in 192 man-advanatge situtations. Their ratio of power play goals allowed-to-shorthanded goals scored of 4.86 is fifth best in the league (by way of comparison, Washington’s ratio of 10.00 is tied for 15th).

Second…penalty killing. The Devils are not an especially proficient penalty killing group. After last night’s game, they are 11th in the league at 82.3 percent. But, they’ve also allowed the eighth fewest number of power play goals, a product of having the ninth fewest number of power plays allowed. Compare those numbers to Washington – fourth highest in total power plays allowed, second highest number of power play goals allowed.

Third…finding ways to win. There is perhaps no better number to look at as evidence of a team’s ability to find ways to win than looking at its record in one-goal games. New Jersey won a 4-3 overtime game last night. It put their record at 14-4-3 in one-goal games this year, good for third in the league in winning percentage (Washington is 13-5-4, good for 10th in the league).

Fourth…early pressure. The Devils idea of “early pressure” is not a high-flying offense. It is a suffocating defense. No team in the NHL has allowed fewer first period goals than the Devils – 27 (Washington has allowed the 20th fewest – 43), and that has contributed to the Devils having the second best winning percentage in the league when scoring first – 25-3-2/.821 (the Caps are fourth: 21-4-2/.778).

If you look at that team's numbers on a measure by measure basis, you might wonder how they sit fourth in the league in points. But look at them collectively, and you find it is a team that doesn’t beat itself and is opportunistic to boot. The Devils are a team that takes care of business.

The Capitals have more skill than that team, but find themselves looking up at the Devils this morning. The silver lining for the home team in looking at the Devils’ example is, if the Caps can find a way to stop beating their heads against a wall by beating themselves so often (too many power plays allowed being the biggest problem), they might be the most difficult team in the East to beat come the spring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"There's a lot of doubt about my future..."

Olaf Kolzig's season is over in Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg Times has the news from Tampa...
"Lightning backup Olie Kolzig will have surgery on Saturday to repair a ruptured distal biceps tendon in his left forearm. The surgery will be performed in Washington by orthopedist Ben Shaffer, a Capitals team physician who treated Kolzig when he played in Washington. Lightning head trainer Tommy Mulligan said Kolzig will be out three to four months. Unless Tampa Bay makes the playoffs, his season is over. It is unclear how this will affect the 17-year veteran's career. Kolzig spoke during Wednesday's practice and said he will not make any decisions about his future until the summer. He admitted, however, 'In my mind, there's a lot of doubt for my future as far as hockey goes.'"

If this is the end of Kolzig's NHL career, he has compiled an impressive body of work:

303 wins (301 with Washington, 21st in NHL history)

2.71 GAA/.906 save percentage

2.14 playoff GAA (16th all time)/.927 playoff save percentage

35 shutouts (tied for 37th in NHL history)

6 playoff shutouts

One hopes Kolzig can return from this to play another season and retire on his own terms, but this news -- and his comments -- is not good news in that regard.

A Tale of Two...Quotes

Consider these two quotes...
"No franchise in the league needs more help than the Islanders, the team that time has forgotten. And no city could do more with the spotlight [of a Rangers/Islanders Winter Classic] than New York. The biggest market could use some love once in a while, too."

"The {Phoenix] Coyotes operate under an onerous lease. But that's exactly what previous owner Steve Ellman signed on for in exchange for his land-grab in Glendale, which was exactly the wrong spot to build a new arena and everyone but everyone knew it. Ellman didn't care. He got his land. But now the NHL is supposed to bail out the franchise? Now the NHL is supposed to pump money into an organization that, somehow, is paying head coach Wayne Gretzky more than $5.5M this year and will pay Gretzky between $7-and-8M next season? Please."

Bet you're thinking these are unrelated comments from unrelated writers. Well, you'd be wrong. They would have been penned by the same hand -- the first on January 18th, the second only last weekend.

And yes, both come courtesy of New York's enthusiastic ambassador for...New York, the New York Post's own Larry Brooks.

Seems it's just fine for the league to put the 2010 Winter Classic outdoor game in New York for what is likely to be a deadly dull matchup between the Islanders and the Rangers just to save what looks to be a dying franchise on Long Island. It's just fine in Larry World (otherwise know as, "New York") for the league to forego ad revenue that a more attractive matchup might realize (and perhaps some potential additional ad buzz if the game is a hit). Brooks as much as acknowledges that a Caps/Penguins game -- the example he cited -- would generate higher ratings. But save Phoenix? Surely, you jest.

We're not of a mind to have the league pour money down a rat hole in the desert any more than we are for them to pour it into Long Island. Of course, we're not of a mind to actually commit to print this sort of chuckle, either...
"Tampa Bay management can deny, deny, deny in the best tradition of all sorts of scoundrels, but it is most certainly true that 2008 first-overall draft pick Steven Stamkos is available for trade, at least according to two franchises that have been in contact with the Lightning and have no reason to fib about it."

What's in that guy's morning coffee?

Thanks to Krazijoe on The Official for the latest Larryism.

A ONE-point night: Bruins 3 - Caps 2 (OT)

Boston 3 – Washington 2, overtime….

We do not think of this as a one-point game on a January night against the Bruins, but as Game 3 in a playoff series (the first two won by the Caps). These are teams that seem as likely as not to meet in the playoffs come the spring, and it’s as good a time as any to think in those terms.

That said, and after all the knashing of teeth about a “lucky bounce” (we think it might not have been so “lucky,” but we’ll get to that), the Caps lost game three because they couldn’t – yet again – kill penalties. Boston scored two of their three goals with the man advantage (on five opportunities). The Caps… 0-for-6. Game.

Let’s return to the first Bruin power play score at 14:12 of the second period. The Caps got to running around a bit (in the end, too much) in their own end. It starts with Patrice Bergeron diving to poke the puck and keep it in the offensive zone, but while he’s doing that, the Caps had their two forwards pointed – headed, it seemed – in the wrong direction… to exit the defensive zone.

Then, three Caps are pinned to the left side of the ice as Bergeron passes the puck across to Marc Savard at the edge of the right wing circle…

The Caps are left with two defenders – Boyd Gordon trying to get back into the play and Karl Alzner – in a nether land with Savard alone to shoot and Milan Lucic camped in front of Jose Theodore...

The result was predictable...

This makes nine consecutive games having allowed at least one power play goal. In that span, the Caps are 35-for-49 on the penalty kill – 71.4 percent. Just as alarming, that is seven times in the last eight games that the Caps have had at least five power plays to kill. The Caps are bad at penalty killing at the moment, and they’re getting lots of chances to demonstrate that lack of skill.

Almost lost in this was the pair of scares that the Caps got from the Alexes. Ovechkin suffered what was described as a “stinger” when he was checked by Zdeno Chara and fell awkwardly into the boards. Semin took a stick in the neck early in the third period from Chuck Kobasew but did return to play almost six minutes in the third period.

Way back in training camp, Michael Nylander, Tomas Fleischmann, and Chris Clark were matched on a line. There was some reason to think this could be a productive scoring line. Last night was the first time this season (49 games) the three combined on a scoring play, Nylander from Fleischmann and Clark.

Ovechkin suffering a stinger didn’t keep him from finishing with 16 shot attempts – or seven hits for that matter.

The Caps were credited with no giveaways… none. Every city seems to have its quirky scoring aspects. This must be Boston’s.

Nicklas Backstrom won seven of nine draws. Was somebody practicing over the break? Trouble is, that was his hooking penalty in the extra period that led to the final goal, and he otherwise had a pretty quiet game.

We’ve looked at that winning goal on replay a few times now, and we can’t help but think that when Shaone Morrisonn went down, David Krejci edged in with the purpose of trying to shoot the puck off of the defender. Sure, he might have been trying to thread a pass through to Marc Savard on the other side, but it sure had the look of Krejci gingerly shooting the puck with Morrisonn’s leg in mind.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before… outshoot the opponent 14-8 in the first period… other goalie plays well enough to keep his team in it… Caps can’t put the game away, carry only a one-goal lead into the intermission (and that coming on a goal with 21 seconds left). Outplaying a team as much as the Caps did (and have done with some regularity) early, and failing to put them away, only leads to bad results.

Michael Nylander played 16 minutes. That might not seem especially noteworthy, but it is only the second time since Christmas that he’s played more than 15 minutes (and no, he didn’t get any ice time in overtime).

The good news is that the Caps have earned five of a possible six points against the Bruins this season and have “won” the season series (The Bruins can earn only four points). But in the larger scheme of things, the series is now 2-1. But this was the first game in a treacherous 16-day span of seven games. Detroit comes to town on Saturday. That game is followed by contests against team that individually pose their own unique problems for the Caps. Relatively poor teams such as Ottawa or Los Angeles already have beaten the Caps this year, the Devils are hot, Florida has a very good defense, and the Rangers have Lundqvist.

And what makes this especially dangerous is that the Caps are depending on things that they probably can't sustain, things that in fact have shown some cracks -- winning every game at home (they've lost two of their last three) and keeping the other team from scoring any even strength goals (Boston scored one last night). The Caps simply have to find ways to kill penalties and to win on the road. If they don't...

Screen shots from video.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 wanna be an all-star goalie?

One all-star weekend

Two all-star games

12 goalies

45 goals allowed (not including two empty netters or two shootout goals)

192 shots faced

combined .766 save percentage

Best performance...Mike Brodeur (AHL/Team Canada), 13 saves on 15 shots faced (6.00, .867)

Worst performance...Tyler Weiman (AHL/Team Canada), 8 saves on 15 shots (21.00, .563)

Fastest three goals/one team, NHL division: West All Stars -- 2:07 (Rick Nash, Milan Hejduk, Sheldon Souray against Henrik Lundqvist)

Fastest three goals/one team, AHL division: Planet USA -- 1:18 (Jeff Taffe, Ryan Potulny, Jonas Junland against Tyler Weiman)

Number of skaters that scored goals: 36 (of 74 total skaters)

Number of skaters with multiple-goal games: 8

Number of skaters with hat-tricks: 2

Number of skaters with at least one point: 54

Number of skaters without a shot on goal: 11

Number of forwards without a shot on goal: 2 (for the record, Mike Modano and Ryan Getzlaf, both for the West squad in the NHL all-star game)

The kind of weekend that could ruin a goalie's sleep for a month.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Bruins, January 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We’re back to start the second half of the season, figuratively speaking, and it gets off with a bang as the Capitals head to Beantown to take on the Boston Bruins.

“It’s a little known fact that the term ‘Beantown’ comes from the fact that back in the Revolutionary War, there were more people in Boston than in any other town in the Colonies, so ‘people’… ’human beings’… ’beans’… ’Beantown.’”

Cliff Claven…it’s been awhile since we saw you… and by the way, isn’t Boston called “Beantown” because back in the early days, a lot of folks in Boston baked beans soaked in molasses?

“Well, yeah, there was that too… but hey, how ‘bout those ‘B’s?..."

As you folks might say up here, “wicked good.”

“Hey, you hear the one about the fella who died, went to the pearly gates? St. Peter let him in. Sees a guy in a suit making a closing argument. Says, "Who's that?" St. Peter says, "Oh, that's God. Thinks he's Denny Crane."

Denny Crane…

“Denny Crane… cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs… boffo for Bruins.”

So, counselor, what do you think of the Bruins chances this year?

"Denny Crane thinks the Bruins are the class of the East… just look at the numbers…"

Very impressive, to say the least.

“Denny Crane is nothing if not impressive.”

“Uh, you know, it’s a little known fact that the last time the Bruins beat a team by 11 goals was against the Caps… it’s true, on December 14, 1974, the Bruins beat the Caps 12-1.”

Yeah, and the last time the Bruins gave up ten goals in a game was against the Caps – a 10-2 loss last March 3rd.

“Ah, but did you know that the last time an opponent had a four-goal game against the Bruins was back in 1999?”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me it was Michael Nylander…”

“Well, Denny…”

“Denny Crane!”

“Well, Denny Crane, you’d be right – December 4, 1999, when Nylander was with the Blackhawks.”

Uh, guys…this is all well and good, but could we move it along?

“Denny Crane needs a beer…”

Are you sure that’s a good idea?

“Well ya see, Peerless, it's like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers.”

“You should have been a lawyer, Cliff…”

“What, and give up the U.S. Postal Service?”

Well, while these two debate the medicinal benefits of beer, there is a game to be played. And the Caps take a 2-0 season series record into their first visit to Boston this year. It seems like just yesterday that these teams went at it. In fact, it was just ten days ago, so there really isn’t much to update in terms of what to look for from the Bruins from what we wrote on that gameday. But now the contest moves to Boston, where the Caps haven’t won a game in regulation since defeating the Bruins, 2-0, on December 2, 2000. Since then Washington is 1-6-3, plus two ties (they won an overtime 2-1 decision on April 10, 2006).

The Bruins come out of the All-Star break holding a ten-point advantage over the Caps and a game in hand. But perhaps the one thing to note about the Bruins is that they had something of a bad finish – in the context of their season overall – to the pre-All-Star Game portion of the season. The Bruins lost to Washington (a 2-1 decision on January 17th), then dropped a 5-4 Gimmick decision at home to the decimated St. Louis Blues two nights later. The Bruins finished up before the break with a 4-3 Gimmick win at Toronto. What that means is that since beating Pittsburgh on New Years Day, 4-1, Boston is a somewhat mortal 5-3-1 in January.

One wonders what’s up with Boston’s goaltending as the second half starts. Tim Thomas is the number one netminder, but the Bruins have recalled Tuukka Rask on an “emergency” basis. The word in Boston is that backup goaltender Manny Fernandez has “general soreness,” perhaps related to back issues he had earlier in the season. Of course, at this time of year, any roster change, especially when accompanied by the usual cryptic description of injury, gets the rumor juices flowing with respect to a possible trade.

Then there is the matter of Thomas. We thought Thomas should have been the All-Star Game MVP for his shutting the door on the Western Conference stars, holding them to one goal in the last 17:28 of regulation play and five minutes of overtime, then denying both attempts in the Gimmick portion of the show. But going into the break, Thomas allowed seven goals on 65 shots in his last two games. He took the ice in the last six games played by the Bruins going into the break (4-1-1, 1.95, .940). Given that he’s shouldered the load lately and spent the weekend in the All-Star hoopla, one wonders if Rask will get the start.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Michael Ryder

With Phil Kessel likely to be out for this one, Ryder will be the Bruins’ leading goal-scorer taking the ice (18). He had a nice little run going earlier in the month, going 3-2-5 in wins over Ottawa, Carolina, and Montreal. It is probably no coincidence that in those games the Bruins scored 14 of the 30 goals they’ve scored in ten games in January. Ryder has had success against the Caps in the past, especially on the power play – a consideration given the Caps’ unremarkable penalty killing. Ryder is 9-6-15, plus-2, in 17 career games against the Caps (five of the goals coming on the power play).

Washington: Michael Nylander

Nylander is currently 18th on the team in average ice time – 14:34 – a number that is about four and a half minutes lower than last year’s injury-abbreviated season and almost six minutes fewer than his last year with the Rangers. His 6.7 percent shooting percentage (four goals on 60 shots) is the worst of his career for seasons in which he’s played at least 20 games. We’re in the window of the calendar where a lot of discussion is going to focus on trades, and Nylander’s name will be mentioned often. He’s had a measure of success against Boston – 14-18-32, plus-18 in 36 career games. The Caps aren’t in a position to “showcase” a player the way a team falling out of contention might, but how he performs over the next month will determine interest and return. Having a good game against Boston would be a good place to start. Who knows, it could be the start of his playing himself back into major minutes on the team.

With 34 games left to play and ten points to make up, it seems unlikely that the Caps can catch Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But if they’re going to do it, they have to beat the Bruins in what amounts to a four-point game. The Caps are 9-3-1 against Northeast teams this year, 2-0 against Boston. We think it will go to 10-3-1 and 3-0…

Caps 3 – Boston 2


In 1950, Miles Davis released “Birth of the Cool,” perhaps the breakthrough work in the history of contemporary jazz.

This past weekend, the National Hockey League might finally have had its “Birth of the Cool” moment. We are not generally a fan of the all-star format, but there was one player who transcended the event. The combination of his skill, personality, quirky telegenic quality, flair for dramatic timing, and shrewd ability to connect with media combined to make Alex Ovechkin the very definition of “cool.”

It’s something Washington Capitals fans – and hockey fans in general – have suspected for some time. But this weekend he had a larger stage on which to perform, and perform is just what he did. Alex Kovalev won the MVP award, Evgeni Malkin had arguably the signature goal of the game. But sports fans got the full Ovechkin for the weekend – making himself available for every interview possible, dominating the skills competition portion of the weekend with his enlistment of props and a formerly hated rival, netting a goal and a pair of assists in the game itself, scoring the clincher in the shootout competition to determine the winner of the All-Star Game. Ovechkin is what fans will remember.

It is almost cliché at this point to remark that perhaps no athlete on the planet looks like they’re having as much fun doing what they do than Ovechkin. But more than that, he serves as the ultimate example of being comfortable living in the skin of the supremely talented athlete. This might be the biggest difference between Ovechkin and his chief competitor for “best hockey player on earth,” Sidney Crosby. Crosby, who has been touted as the greatest player since Gretzky since childhood, seems to have slipped – through no fault of his own – into a sort of athletic “nerdishness” as counterpoint to Ovechkin’s “cool.” Where Ovechkin seems to be having a blast just being “Ovechkin,” Crosby almost looks uncomfortable being “Crosby” at times, as if the suit doesn’t quite fit right. Crosby’s absence from the on-ice portion of the weekend’s festivities also conspired to permit Ovechkin to crash through the window of opportunity presented by having the stage more or less to himself in this player-versus-player competition.

And, as if channeling the music in the Davis album – one noted for the brevity of the individual pieces – Ovechkin works his magic in the short 60-second bursts of his shifts on ice or in the interviews that accompany his visits to rinks across North America. In a way, every game is an album comprised of the individual pieces of his memorable, bring-the-fans-out-of-their-seats shifts.

An opportunity has been presented to the National Hockey League. There is a web site – The Science of the Time/The Science of Cool. Its director, Carl Rohde, defines “cool” as “nothing that's painfully hip…Cool for us is that something must be attractive and inspiring, with future growth potential." What exemplifies that definition of “cool” more than Alex Ovechkin?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Well...The All-Star Game is in the books

Tooth cleaning…

Doing my taxes…

Scrubbing grout…

Question?...What is as exciting as watching the NHL All-Star Game?

What a farce. Why even bother? Guys skating at three-quarters speed, trick shots, goalies who make deer-in-headlights look like steely-eyed monsters. We’re sure the guys had fun out there, but that was just about unwatchable. 22 goals? Goalies did more fishing out of the back of the net than you’ll see on "Sports Fishing Magazine" on Versus. It had the look of a picnic softball game with guys chatting with their counterparts on the ice, blue-line hanging, cheating out of the zone, and all the other sorts of things that would drive a coach nuts. Even the Versus announcers – Mike Emrick and Brian Engblom – more or less mailed it in, engaging as much in conversational voice-overs as in describing the play. Are we being a party-pooper? OK, maybe. Guess you had to be there.

But what’s wrong with this picture?

OK, not to single out Tomas Kaberle (although we’ll have more to say about him in a bit), but this was what passed for defense all night. Guys waving sticks as skaters were going by. It looked like Bingo Night at Creaky Pines Rest Home with all the old folks and their canes.

Some odditites…

Fitting… He sucks at Gimmicks (0-for-3 this year, 3-for 19 over the last three years), so it figures Alex Ovechkin would score the winner on a Gimmick.

Being There… if they film a remake of the movie, Vincent Lecavalier will star. No goals, no assists, missed on a Gimmick, plus-four. He had a good look at a lot of stuff.

Overrated… Ryan Getzlaf was the only forward without a point for the West. OK, he’s not overrated, but maybe he should holster his remarks about others and their all-star performances.

Two… the number of shots Ovechkin took. That matches the fewest shots on goal he’s had in a game this season (Carolina, November 6th).

For the record… there was one hit – Keith Tkachuk on Alex Kovalev at 14:11 of the second period. Oddly enough, it came only 36 seconds after Kovalev scored the second of his two goals. It was the closest this game looked to a real hockey game.

The “Riley Cote Award,” given to the player with the least amount of ice time (Cote has averaged 4:03 in 34 games this year) goes to Zach Parise – 13:39.

The “Just Happy to Be Here Trophy” goes to Thomas Vanek. One shot (he’s tied for third in goals scored), no points, minus-3 in 16 minutes and change.

The West had 89 shot attempts in 65 minutes. There are nights when both teams in a game won’t record that many. Should goalies have hazard pay written into their contracts for these games?

If there was an award for efficiency, Eric Staal might have won it… one shot, one goal… two faceoffs taken, two faceoffs won. That was pretty much his night.

Tomas Kaberle isn’t going to put this on in the scrapbook. Yes, he had two assists, but he was also a minus-3 and was not only the only skater for the East without a shot on goal, he was the only skater for either team not to have attempted a shot. Shoot, Christine Simpson had two shots blocked.

True or false, Stephane Robidas was an all-star. Just testing. Be honest, could you name five defensemen in this game without looking at the program?

Here is the obligatory Sidney Crosby picture… behold the Crosbyliciousness:

19 different skaters scored goals. Prom night doesn’t have that much scoring going on.

19 different skaters had assists. This game qualified for tax deductions under the category, “charitable contributions.”

Thanks, everyone. Drive safely. We’ll be here all week – try the veal!

It's Alex's World...

...we just get to watch.

"He's such an entertainer, and he's so good for the League. When you see a guy like that do what he did, that's why he's the face of the NHL. I don't think you're going to remember any move that he did, but you will remember what he did."

-- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

"(Martin) St. Louis might have had the best moves, but Ovechkin put on the best show."

-- Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils

"He might have set the bar again."

-- Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

photos: Getty Images

A Night in Hershey: Bears 2 - Monarchs 1

52 weeks ago tonight, The Peerless was anticipating a trip to Hershey to see the Bears take on the Binghamton Senators. Unfortunately, earlier in the day, we lost a skirmish with a truck that left us with a concussion and two injured legs. We didn’t make it to Hershey that night.

Well, the Irish in us makes for a stubborn streak, so on the last Saturday in January… again, we tried this… again. We made it to Hershey this time to see the Bears take on the Manchester Monarchs on “Washington Capitals Night.” The Bears defeated the Monarchs, 2-1, in front of a sellout crowd at Giant Center, many of whom stayed afterward for the auctioning of Capitals jerseys worn by the Bears for the occasion.

It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of games, perhaps due to the fact that the Bears had a rip-roaring battle against arch-rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the previous night (the Bears lost, 4-3, in a Gimmick). The Bears, looking smart in the red jerseys, did manage to have the better of the play in the opening period. However, the Bears couldn’t solve Manchester goalie Jonathan Bernier until the Monarchs took a pair of minor penalties 30 seconds apart before the five-minute mark of the frame. With the Bears on a 5-on-3 power play, the Bears managed to spread the defense thinly, with Sami Lepisto finding Alexandre Giroux deep in the right wing faceoff circle. Giroux wasted no time sending the puck across to Keith Aucoin, and with Bernier unable to get from post to post in time, Aucoin flicked the puck past the goalie from a tough angle deep in the left wing circle.

It was all the Bears could manage in the first period, though, despite outshooting the Monarchs, 14-8. Manchester, despite giving up the goal while two men down, did a superb job of foiling the Bears’ exits from their own zone, using an effective forecheck to force the Bears to pass the puck into a waiting Monarch defense clogging the neutral zone and preventing any skating momentum.

The second period was a mirror image of the first, with the Monarchs carrying the play to the Bears. It was a thoroughly dominating opening of the middle period by Manchester, as the Monarchs outshot the Bears 11-1 in the first 6:19, the eleventh shot being a goal – also scored on a 5-on-3 power play – by Alec Martinez. It was a slick bit of footwork that enabled Martinez to even get the shot on goal. The play started with the puck squirting out from a group of players in front of Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth. As the puck was about to go through Martinez’ legs, he used his right foot to kick the puck to the blade of his stick, then snapped the puck off his forehand past Neuvirth, who was still sprawled in the crease.

The third period looked grim for the Bears at the outset as they looked very lethargic, reaching with their sticks to defend instead of moving their feet. Manchester wasn’t able to take advantage, though, but they managed to bottle up the Bears' offense quite effectively. The Bears did not get a shot on goal in the first 9:26 of the period. But their first shot was a doozy. Keith Aucoin did some good work against the left wing boards in the defensive end, getting the puck free to Sami Lepisto. The defenseman then sent a pass down the middle to Alexandre Giroux breaking toward the Manchester net. With a defenseman draped all over him, Giroux used his body to shield the puck and carried it in on his backhand. At the right hash mark, Giroux flicked the puck toward the net, and with Bernier having overplayed Giroux to protect the post, the puck slid just past his right skate along the ice and into the net for the goal giving the Bears their final lead.

That wasn’t all for the fireworks, though. Less than 90 seconds after Giroux’ goal, Joe Piskula tried to reverse the momentum in favor of the Monarchs, getting into a tussle with the Bears’ Jay Beagle. The two went at it in the Monarchs’ zone, but the fight ended abruptly when Beagle landed a thunderous overhand right, squarely on the nose of Piskula. It was as if someone had shot a balloon filled with red dye, as blood spilled onto the ice and left a trail behind Piskula as he skated to the Manchester bench to go to the locker room for repairs. It took more than five minutes for crew and officials to clean the ice and make it ready for play again.

After that, it was a struggle for both teams to mount anything resembling an attack, but the Bears had only to protect a lead. They made it interesting late as Keith Aucoin was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But the Bears killed that off, as well as the man-advantage the Monarchs had in the last 90 seconds after Bernier skated to the bench for the extra attacker. The Bears skated off the final seconds with Monarchs chasing the puck carrier, and the team hopped over the boards to congratulate Michal Neuvirth for his 29-save win.

Some other stuff…

Chris Bourque didn’t get a jersey tonight after taking a major penalty at an inopportune time last night against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (the Penguins took advantage to score twice on the extended man advantage). There was more than a little cheering when the scratch was announced.

Neuvirth looked solid in goal. He didn’t have to make as many quality saves as did Jonathan Bernier, but he was very calm in the crease when the puck was pinballing around on several occasions. There were virtually no rebounds.

An odd sight…Keith Aucoin (5’9”, 187) being defended by Brian Boyle (6’7”, 250). Give it to Aucoin, though. He was one Bear who worked hard in the corners and along the boards.

We’re wondering if the length of the season and the heavy workload of weekend games isn’t starting to take a toll on the likes of rookies Oskar Osala, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. For the most part, they looked a step slow tonight, although Osala had a couple of excellent shifts in the third period forechecking in the Monarchs’ zone and clogging passing lanes to prevent breakouts.

Andrew Gordon took a shot right off the kneecap in the third period. He was on the ice for a few seconds as play continued in the Bears’ zone, but he managed to get himself upright and into the play, eventually clearing the puck out of the zone. He missed only a shift or two.

Greg Amadio was another one who took some abuse over and above the strict call of duty. He was kneed along the boards near the Bears’ bench on one occasion, then nearly had his head snapped off by Kevin Westgarth in front of the Bears’ net (Westgarth took a roughing penalty for his trouble).

Westgarth and Kip Brennan got into it in the first period. Brennan looked to have landed quite a few uppercuts.

The post game auction was quite something. The jerseys worn by the four Bear players heading to the AHL All-Star Game went first. Alexandre Giroux’ jersey went for a whopping $2,500 (candy sales must be good in that part of the world). We were hearing bids for jerseys passing the $1,500 mark.

It was a good way for the Bears to enter the break, earning a win in what Coach Bob Woods said in the postgame interview was a "playoff atmosphere." We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If you have an opportunity to take in a game at Giant Center, it’s a great facility and a great time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Peace in our time

From Slava Malamud of Sport-Express, by way of Capital Insider.

Next up...peace in the Middle East.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Old Guy Moment

I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

Jeremy Roenick was born on January 17, 1970 (a belated happy birthday...). How long ago is that? That date was the one-year anniversary of the release of "Yellow Submarine" by The Beatles.

Rob Blake was born on December 10, 1969. How long ago was that? That Apollo moon landing mission that Tom Hanks made a movie of hadn't been launched yet.

Claude Lemieux was born on July 16, 1965. Barry Sanders, the former running back of the Detroit Lions who gained more than 15,000 yards rushing over his career would be born on this date... three years later.

What's the point? Well, the San Jose Sharks (hence the "Ancient Mariner" reference above) sit atop the NHL standings points rankings and have had these three ancients skating on a team that has dressed 11 players who are 25 or younger.

Given the Caps rather youthful core, it makes one wonder if a graybeard will be added to the club as the trading deadline nears. There are 11 players who have dressed this season for NHL games who were born prior to 1970. Sergei Fedorov is one of them. Of the other ten, not all have actually played games this month, but they include...

Chris Chelios
Claude Lemieux
Mark Recchi
Teppo Numminen (although he just had facial surgery)
Brendan Shanahan
Mathieu Schneider
Rob Blake (he's also recovering from a facial injury)

Chelios isn't going anywhere. Neither, we suppose, are Lemieux, Shanahan, or Blake. That leaves Recchi, Numminen, and Schneider. Do you think...


Sittin' at the end of the bar...

From our "did you know (Young Guns Category)?" file...

Did you know that Bruce Boudreau is 67-32-10 in his first 109 games? Not bad for a guy who took over little more than an expansion team (with a lot of young, but green talent, to be sure). Just by way of comparison, Scotty Bowman was 49-35-25 in his first 109 games, taking over an expansion franchise in St. Louis.

Yeah, yeah, Bowman went to the Stanley Cup finals in those first two years in St. Louis, but that was when the "original six" were in one division (and they were divisions back then), and all the expansion teams were in the other. OK, he's not a "young gun," but hey, we're just sayin'...


Did you know that in his 291-game career, Alex Ovechkin is 194-175-369? As for players to whom he has been compared in style over roughly comparable stretches to start their NHL careers...

- Maurice Richard (first six seasons): 275 games, 187-123-301
- Mark Messier (first four seasons): 302 games, 133-157-290
- Gordie Howe (first five seasons): 298 games, 113-144-257

Different eras? Absolutely, but it's safe to say his name can be mentioned in the same sentence as the others.


Now, here's the odd one. Did you know that in this, his third full season with the Caps, Mike Green is 33-71-104 in 209 career games? Well, let's compare that to the three season totals of another defenseman...

174 games, 45-91-136

True, Green trails this player in all the scoring categories as an "offensive" defenseman, but it isn't that unfavorable a comparison... to Bobby Orr. OK, in Orr's fourth season he would have the first of five consecutive 100-plus point seasons. We're going to go out on a limb here and say that Green doesn't have a 100-point season in his future. But he still could become the premier offensive defenseman of this era.


Did you know that in 130 career games and in his second season, Nicklas Backstrom has 91 assists? Now, compare that to the top five all-time career assist leaders (centers only) in their first two seasons...

Ron Francis -- 138 games, 102 assists
Mark Messier -- 147 games, 61 assists
Adam Oates -- 114 games, 43 assists
Steve Yzerman -- 160 games, 107 assists
Marcel Dionne -- 155 games, 99 assists

We're thinking that at his current rate Backstrom will finish this year with around 115 career assists, which certainly would put him in this company. OK, OK... we didn't list Wayne Gretzky. Well, he lives on a different planet. Sue me.


Did you know that Alexander Semin has 92 goals in his first 222 career games in this, his fourth season? Well, compared to the top-five career goal-scorers among wingers in comparable volumes of career games...

Gordie Howe -- 228 games, 70 goals (over parts of four seasons)
Brett Hull -- 228 games, 146 goals (over parts of four seasons)
Mike Gartner -- 237 games, 119 goals (three)
Luc Robitaille -- 237 games, 144 goals (three)
Brendan Shanahan -- 206 games, 59 goals (three)

...he compares pretty favorably, especially considering that Gartner and Robitaille began their careers in a high-scoring era.

A few years does not a career make, even for players (or a coach) off to such fine starts as these. But fine starts they've had. Just something to tide us over this All-Star week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Duds

OK, so the referees are debuting new uniforms at the All Star Game. They were described by Keith Leach, Director of NHL Merchandising, Reebok, thusly...

"Aesthetically, the design of the 2009 NHL All-Star Eastern and Western Conference uniforms is a deliberate break from traditional hockey uniform patterning and symbolizes the revolutionary advances the sport has made in both technology and popularity. The asymmetric cut lines are meant to create visual motion in the uniform, which is both a literal reference to the speed of the game and symbolic reference to its evolution into the future. The officials' jerseys will enhance the way the referees and linesmen follow the action on the ice without fear that their microphones will become entangled."

Now, how many of you channeled Charlie Brown's teacher as you were reading that?...

"wah wah-wah-wah-wah...wah-wah... wah-wah-wah... wah... wah-wah... wah-wah-wah-wah."

Cut the runway crap and get to the important questions...

"Is it slimming? (Don Koharski)

"Any pockets for tubes of hair mousse?" (Kerry Fraser)

"What, no Bruin logo?" (Chris Rooney)

"Will I suck in this uniform, too?" (Chris Ciamaga)

"Will the asymmetric cut lines clash with my cheesy mustache?" (Bill McCreary)

"Yeah, what he said... (Don VanMassenhoven)

"Will people stop telling me how much they loved me in 'A Few Good Men?'" (Kevin Pollock)

"Piping! Where's the piping?!" (Gary Bettman)

"Guys are going to start losing their penalty killing jobs if they don't start getting with the program.."

That's what Bruce Boudreau had to say about the penalty killing for the Caps after the team gave up three in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators last night. Small wonder - that's eight straight games giving up at least one power play goal.

32 for 44 over that span -- 72.7 percent.

16 Caps have been on the ice for at least one power play goal against over the last eight games.

Four Caps have been on the ice for at least five of the 12 -- Karl Alzner (eight), David Steckel (seven), Brooks Laich (five), and Jeff Schultz (five). Steckel (healthy scratch against the Islanders) and Schultz (two games missed with an injured finger) have missed time in this stretch. Schultz, though, has been on the ice for all of his five power play goals against in the last four games -- on ice for five of the last six power play goals scored against the Caps.

All four of the players mentioned have been on the ice for at least one 5-on-3 power play goal scored against; Laich has been on for two of them.

In terms of goals allowed-per-minutes played on the penalty kill, Steckel has had the worst number, on ice for one power play goal for every 4:10. Schultz isn't far behind (4:18), nor is Alzner (4:35). Laich has been on for a power play goal against approximately every six minutes of penalty killing ice time.

Is it their fault? Penalty killing is as much a team effort as anything in hockey, but the fact remains that bad things have happened -- often -- when these four have been on the ice in that role. But we're not sure which is worse, the high numbers these four have or the fact that 16 different skaters have been on the ice for at least one power play goal against in the last eight games.

The coach is right...""If the [penalty kill] doesn't start getting better, [they're] not going nowhere."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A NO-point night: Senators 3 - Caps 2

When you play for a point, you often get none, and that’s what happened tonight as the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision to the Ottawa Senators.

Three times in less than three minutes late in the third period the Caps took icing calls, and you could sense a momentum shift after the Caps had controlled play for the second period and a good portion of the third. Then, Alexander Semin proved rather conclusively that two wrongs don’t make a right. First, he gave the puck away in the offensive zone, and then he compounded the error by taking a ill-timed swipe at Daniel Alfredsson, tripping the Senator and earning a trip to the penalty box.

As if trying to pile the bad karma onto the Capitals all at once, Brendan Bell fired a shot from the right wing faceoff circle that Karl Alzner blocked late in the ensuing power play. Unfortunately, Alzner blocked it right back onto the blade of Bell’s stick and Bell, in what was more reflex than shot, snapped the puck past Jose Theodore for the winner. The goal came with only five seconds left on Semin’s penalty – an important consideration.

Why? Because the Senators scored all their goals on the power play. In fact, that’s the only way teams have scored on the Caps lately. Since Ryan Whitney scored at even strength for the Penguins in a 6-3 Caps win on January 14th, the Caps have gone 198:34, and counting, without allowing an even-strength goal.

The flip side of that is that the 3-for-6 penalty killing performance tonight leaves the Caps having killed off only 32 of their last 44 shorthanded situations (72.7 percent) over their last eight games.

Speaking of even strength, Alex Ovechkin has a total of four even strength points in 2009, only one in his last eight games.

Here is the interesting number for the night – 13. Both teams had 13 shots on the power play. Ottawa scored on three of theirs, the Caps scored on none of theirs.

Alex Ovechkin had only one shot in the third period. Alexander Semin…one. Mike Green…none. Only eleven skaters for the Caps registered any shots in this game. Draw your own conclusions on the chances the Caps were going to get that third goal.

Jose Theodore deserved better. He gets a player shoved into him by his own defenseman to put him off balance on the first goal, has another goal scored when a puck goes off a teammate, then allows the last goal when a blocked shot ends up on the only place it could do damage – right back on the original shooter’s stick.

OK, we get that Tomas Fleischmann isn’t going to have the kind of inky scoresheet that comes with hits, blocked shots and that sort of thing. In fact, except for an assist, his scoresheet is absolutely blank – no shot attempts, no hits, no takeaways, no giveaways, no blocked shots, nothing in 12:40. Now…explain how Chris Clark’s scoresheet looks exactly the same (including the assist).

Donald Brashear looked at times like he was shot out of a cannon. Three hits, a takeaway, and a lot of pestering of Senators in his 9:53. If the Caps had won (as in, had they showed up in the third period), he’d have been a shoe-in for the hard hat.

We wonder…have services been scheduled to pay our respects to Jarkko Ruutu after Mike Green bludgeoned him at the bench in the first period? Where do we send flowers? Oh, you say Ruutu was up and perky on the bench right after? That maybe he “embellished” things a bit?....nooooooo.

Mike Green had seven shots on goal for the game. The rest of the defense?

Ottawa had 22 blocked shots. The Caps had four. Who was paying the price out there?

Tell me that if before the game, if someone had said that the Big Three for the Senators would be held to two points (both goals by Dany Heatley) and go a combined minus-5, you’d have concluded that the Caps would lose this game.

It was an odd game. The forwards didn’t do much in terms of playing defense, and the defense didn’t generate much by way of offense. It was a game wrapped around a game. The game in the middle was the one in which the Caps generated 19 shots, two goals, held the Senators to three shots, and didn’t take any penalties. In other words, the game we were expecting.

The game wrapped around that one was the Caps marching to the penalty box (three minor penalties taken in each of the first and third periods), giving up three power play goals, not getting any power plays of their own in the third period (not that they were forcing the action to draw penalties), and getting only 12 shots on net in the first and last period combined while the Senators launched 31 on net.

The Caps escaped with a win yesterday because the Islanders lack talent. They didn’t escape this one because the Senators, despite their record, do have some talent. Both were opponents the Caps should have dispatched in a straightforward fashion. They didn’t and it reveals an inconvenient truth. The Caps are a team of considerable talent, but they also have a “too pretty” look about them too often, a team that doesn’t handle adversity well, whether back to back games (they are 3-5-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this year) or in killing off penalties in critical situations. With a difficult four-game stretch coming out of the All Star break – Boston, Detroit, Ottawa, and New Jersey – it can’t be an anxiety-free week ahead, even for a team with 30 wins.

"I thought it was a little overrated..."

No, that's not Alexander Semin opining on the latest performance of Sidney Crosby, it was Ryan Getzlaf, remarking on the dribble-spin-whack (whiff) move of Alex Ovechkin in the skills competition at last year's All Star Game.

It's all part of the pre-game trash-talk we suppose, but really...if this is the state of the art of trash-talk in the NHL, well, we hear better at grade school recess.

"I was a little...overrated? Only in hockey could such a thing be polite.

I mean, could you imagine Muhammad Ali saying of George Foreman, "I think his punch is a little overrated?" No, he went and crafted a sonnet of trash talk...

“For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale,
I done handcuffed lightning, and put thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad. I have murdered a rock,
I’ve injured a stone, and hospitalized a brick.
I’m so bad, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man, I can run through a hurricane and not get wet.
When George Foreman meets me, he’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.”

And there was Mike Tyson on the matter of Lennox Lewis, tilting more to the graphic horror imagery with a religious twist...

“Lennox Lewis, I’m coming for you.… My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable. And I’m just ferocious. I want your heart; I wanna eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”

Basketball players, even retired ones, can summon up trashier trash talk than this. Consider Charles Barkley, who before submitting to a match race against NBA referee Dick Bavetta said of his opponent:

"I have nothing against old people; I want to be one myself one day."

Barkley backed it up -- he won the race.

Even the not-so-well-known in basketball can dish it out. Some years ago, New York Knick Larry Johnson heard some unflattering remarks sent the Knicks way by Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen. Johnson bided his time and a couple of months later replied in true trash-smackiest fashion after his club defeated Pippen's in a game...

''He needs to shut his mouth now. All he needs to do is to give the ball to 23. That's his best play right there. 'Here, 23. Bail us out.' He needs to shut his mouth.''

"23," of course, was Michael Jordan. Pippen was one of the "Jordanettes." And Jordan, himself, was the gold standard of trash-talking.

Even in baseball, the ultimate trash talk is something you do or say that you immediately back up. Such was the case on a fall day in 1932 when Babe Ruth stepped to the plate in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs (perhaps the last team on the planet that should have ever or ever should engage in the practice) rode Ruth unmercifully from the bench. Ruth, as legend has it, was giving back as good as he got. But with the count reaching two-and-two, Ruth gestured outward toward the field. Whether he was lifting a finger to indicate he had one more strike, or if he was pointing to center field to warn the Cub bench of where the next pitch would be deposited, Ruth's mighty swat to the deepest part of center field would forever be remembers as the "Called Shot" and might be the definitive example of "trash talk" in North American sports history.

Mr. Getzlaf, you have some work to do.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, January 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Didn’t we just do this?

Well, it will be the last time we do this before the all-star break, and the Caps have a chance to head into the break only six points behind Eastern Conference leading Boston. But it’s also a beginning here in the States with the inauguration of a new President, and we’re taking advantage of the day to get some insights on politics and hockey from a few of those who have taken the oath of office…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt…you took office in the midst of an economic downturn, so you’re familiar with despair. Can you tell us, is there any chance that any team in the Southeast can overtake the Caps in the second half?

“I saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished when I took the oath a second time…but when I see the rest of the Southeast, well…they just suck.”

Do you have any advice to give to Caps fans who might be anxious about the team’s chances to hold onto their lead?

“The only thing they have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, you called a nation to service in your inaugural address. Can you give any advice on service and teamwork to the boys as they close out the first half of the year?

“Ask not…what your teammate can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammate.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson, you talked about belief in your address. Last year, the Caps and their fans made one last big rush to the anthem of “Don’t Stop Believing.” Can Caps Nation do it again?

“We are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in Ovechkin and Backstrom and Theodore, and in our own Union. We believe that every Cap must someday hoist the Stanley Cup. And we believe in ourselves.”

Sound advice…but what is it with you guys? FDR…JFK…LBJ. Known by your first, middle, and last names. Called by your initials. What’s up with that?

Hey, don’t forget about me?... Alexander Mikhaylovich Ovechkin.

Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful, and besides the Constitution won’t let him serve. Caps fans would probably prefer he play the left wing for the local hockey team than run on the left wing of politics, anyway. In any case, he and the rest of the Caps will be skating the second of a back-to-back in Ottawa against the Senators.

As for the Senators, who are these guys?

We’re used to seeing the Senators piling up goals, to seeing Dany Heatley ripping shots off the left wing, to seeing Jason Spezza setting up Daniel Alfredsson for a score or two. This team, on the other hand, is having uncommon trouble scoring goals, as the numbers show…

Ottawa has had a rough time over the last six weeks. Since defeating Pittsburgh 3-2 on December 6th to get to .500, they are 5-11-3. They went a month – between December 13th and January 13th with winning only one game in regulation time (they added an overtime win to go 2-9-1). In that difficult 19-game stretch, the Senators had trouble scoring – 45 goals for a 2.37/game average – but not altogether different than the struggles they’ve had all year. However, they gave up goals with alarming regularity. They surrendered 67 goals (3.53/game) and allowed four or more ten times.

Part of the problem Ottawa had in that 19-game run was that they suffered an eight-game road trip in the middle of it on which they went 1-6-1. Since coming off that trip, they dropped a game to the Rangers but otherwise have shown signs of improvement of late, getting points in their last three games (2-0-1) and breaking out with 12 goals scored. Granted, the two wins were against Carolina and Atlanta of the Southeast – teams in the bottom third of the goals-against statistics—but progress has to start somewhere.

Part of the problem for Ottawa is that they are a one-line team, and that line isn’t even performing at a level to which fans have become accustomed. Consider Dany Heatley. In the three years following the lockout he averaged 101 points per 82 games. He currently has only 41 in 43 games – a 78-point pace. Jason Spezza spent three years scoring at a 105-point pace per 82 games. He has 37 points in 43 games – a 71-point pace. That he has a sore back -- he left practice on Monday -- makes things even worse. And Daniel Alfredsson, who was scoring at a 102-point pace per 82 games in the last three years, has 40 points – a 77-point pace.

After that, no forward has as many as 20 points for the Senators. No forward other than the big three have more than six goals. And it is not as if those other forwards are making up for their lack of offense with increased attention at the defensive end. Four forwards of that group are -10 or worse, while only two – Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan – are on the plus side of the ledger. The “Pizza Line” of Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson might deliver, but there haven’t been any additional toppings for the Senators in too many games this year.

Perhaps just as troubling for the Senators is the performance of key defensemen. Over the last three years, Chris Phillips is 14-49-63, +70. This year, he is currently 4-5-9, -19. He does appear to have stopped the bleeding in a way – he is 2-0-2, even, over his last nine contests. Anton Volchenkov has been out with a shoulder injury, missing ten of the last 11 games. But in the 31 games he has played, he is 2-1-3, -13. And, the thing for which he is perhaps most known – blocking shots – is down. Two years ago, he averaged 3.50 blocked shots per game. Last year that number was 3.12. This year it is 2.81. Injuries might have something to do with the decline, but Volchenkov has not been as effective.

No position is more of a mess with the Senators, though, than that of goaltender. Alex Auld started the year respectably, going 9-6-3 in his first 18 decisions. But he has been awful since a win at Pittsburgh on December 6th. Since then he is 0-5-2, 4.38, .866 and has only played in three games since Christmas. Martin Gerber couldn’t claim having even had a good start. He has failed to put together consecutive wins this season in going 4-9-1, 2.86, .899. He is in the midst of a two-week “conditioning” stint with Binghamton of the AHL. He’s allowed seven goals in two games with the junior Senators…it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be back in Ottawa.

That would seem to leave things in the hands of Brian Elliott, who until taking the reins on January 10th against the Rangers had appeared in one NHL game (a 3-1 win over Atlanta in October 2007). In four games since taking over the top spot in goal, he is 2-1-1, 2.22, .921.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jarkko Ruutu

Nope, he doesn’t have a particularly noteworthy career scoring line against the Caps – 1-2-3, +2 in 12 career games. He’s only 3-9-12 so far this year in 39 games. He’s played in every game this year in which he has been eligible to play. And that’s the rub – he’s served a pair of two-game suspensions – once for elbowing Montreal forward Maxim Lapierre in the head, the other for using the finger of Buffalo forward Andrew Peters for an hors d’oeuvre. He’s not in the lineup to contribute to the scoring totals, he’s there to set a tone. And that tone is the hockey equivalent of running fingernails down a blackboard.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

In his last ten games against the Senators, Ovechkin is 11-8-19, +7. And, while Ovechkin is a remarkably consistent point producer, he is very much like goal-scorers in that they seem to come in bunches. After going four games without finding the back of the net, he has four in his last three games. His history against the Senators, his being in the midst of what looks like one of those goal binges, and facing an inexperienced goalie could be the perfect storm for the Caps.

It might seem like cliché to say that one wants to go into a break on a high note, but it applies. A win would make the Caps 7-3-0 for the month, the last four in a row. Given that they’ll be coming out of the break to face Boston and Detroit, it would be nice to bank two more points. It says here that they will…

Caps 5 – Senators 3