Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, January 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After enduring a three-game losing streak, the Caps have righted themselves in their last pair – victories over Pittsburgh and Boston. But now they get to go on the road while folks party in D.C. over the inauguration of a new President. First up are the New York Islanders, a team that is less playing a hockey season than is serving a prison sentence…

“I wish I could tell you that the Islanders fought the good fight, and the other teams let them be. I wish I could tell you that - but last place is no fairy-tale world. They never said who did it, but we all knew. Things went on like that for awhile – last place life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, the Islanders would show up with fresh ways to lose a game. The other teams kept at them - sometimes they were able to fight 'em off, sometimes not. And that's how it went for the Islanders - that was their routine.”

Red? Red Redding? I thought you were in Mexico.


Say what?


Yeah, whatever… I guess you can sympathize with the Islanders these days. Must be tough to go play for a team in that position…

"The first night's the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in naked as the day you were born, skin burning and half blind from that delousing shit they throw on you, and when they give you that stupid blue and orange uniform with the goofy piping... and you sit in front of that locker... that's when you know it's for real. A whole career blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it."

I wonder if losing doesn’t get to be a habit. The Islanders have done a lot of it lately…

“That locker room is funny. First you hate it, then you get used to it. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on it. That's institutionalized losing.”

I could never get like that.

“They send you there for life – uh, a three-year contract – and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”

Well, at least the Caps are entertaining these days. Have you had a chance to see them since you came up from say-what-a-key-hole?

“Zihuatanejo…I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long winning streak whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it to the arena. I hope to see the Caps, and buy an overpriced beer. I hope the Caps are as good as they have been in my dreams. I hope.”

Well, if you get the feeling the Caps shouldn’t lose this game, you’re right…on paper. That the Caps are 33 points ahead of the Islanders in the standings is not a “Ripley’s: Believe It or Not” occurrence. The numbers suggest the chasm between the teams.

Let’s look at this another way – if the leading Islander… points is Mark Streit, with 33, he’d only be fourth on the Caps. goals is Bill Guerin, with 14, he’d only be fourth on the Caps. assists are Streit and Doug Weight, with 25, they’d only be third on the Caps. plus-minus is Andy Sutton, with +3, he’d only be tied for 11th on the Caps. Of course, Sutton is out after undergoing foot surgery. Among players who have played in at least 30 games, the leader is Richard Park at -3… he’d be tied for 26th on the Caps.

You getting the picture?

A long cold winter is settling in on Long Island. The Islanders have only won two games since Christmas, only three since Thanksgiving. Since beating Montreal in a shootout, 4-3, on the day before Thanksgiving, New York is 3-19-2. Exclusive of Gimmick goals, they have been outscored 93-56 in those 24 games. They have been held to fewer than three goals 14 times over that period. They’ve allowed more than four ten times.

In terms of stopping pucks, it has hardly mattered who has been in goal. Joey MacDonald is 2-14-2, Yann Danis is 0-4-0, and Rick DiPietro, who has been plagued by a series of injuries this year (knee, groin, knee again) is 1-1-0 in that 24-game slide. Wade Dublelewicz, who might have filled in as a backup, has managed to escape from Shawshan—uh, Long Island, having been claimed by Columbus on procedural waivers on Saturday. In Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, Danis suited up and took the decision, and Peter Mannino dressed as the Islander backup. We’re thinking an emergency call has gone out to Billy Smith for the Monday afternoon tilt against the Caps.

As noted above, Mark Streit leads the Islanders in scoring. It might at first glance seem a bit odd that a defenseman should lead the team in scoring, but his 33 points is fourth among the league’s defensemen. On the other hand, Bill Guerin’s 32 points ranks only 66th in the league among forwards, so the problem isn’t Streit.

If there is an Islander who has had even a hint of success lately, it would be Streit. He went from November 22nd through January 8th without suffering consecutive scoreless games (4-17-21 in 23 games). However, he is scoreless in his last three, although going scoreless against the Rangers, Bruins, and Devils – three of the better defensive teams in the league – is not altogether unheard of. Streit is 3-8-11, -1 in 13 career games against the Caps with a pair of power play goals and game winner. He is 1-3-4, +1 in two games this year.

While we’re on the defense, Chris Campoli deserves mention. Campoli is in his fourth season with the club and is eighth on the team in scoring (5-9-14). He is also the highest scorer among home-grown Islanders, which speaks to a rather barren developmental system. If you look at the seven players ahead of Campoli on the scoring list, only three of them are under 30 (Trent Hunter, Mike Comrie, and Andy Hilbert), while two are well past 35 (Bill Guerin, Doug Weight). There are some promising kids on the roster – Kyle Okposo (5-8-13 in 38 games) and Josh Bailey (1-10-11 in 31 games), but their time is down the road a bit.

Once more, the Caps can renew acquaintances with Jon Sim, who might as well be named “Gretzky” for his work against the Caps. Sim is 12-8-20, +7 in 23 career games with the Caps, 46-40-86, -37 in 324 career games against everyone else. He hasn’t had a lot of success this year, going 6-2-8, -13 in 38 games and a healthy scratch as often as not lately (seven times in the last 17 games). The only goal he’s had since Thanksgiving is, yes…you guessed it, against the Caps. We’re guessing he’ll get a jersey for this game.

And then there is Brendan Witt. OK, he doesn’t score; he didn’t in Washington. He’s only 0-3-3 in 33 games. Such are the totals for a “defensive” defenseman. But, uh… where’s the defense? He ranks dead last among NHL defensemen in plus-minus (-27) and he is only third among defensemen on his own team in hits (66), trailing Mark Streit and Freddy Mayer, neither of whom would normally be considered bruisers. He hasn’t even been especially ornery. His 38 penalty minutes leave him on a pace for 79, far below his career average of 132 PIMs per 82 games.

Right now, the Islanders don’t resemble an NHL roster as much as they do a shopping list. Guys like Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, perhaps even Brendan Witt will likely be moved down the road for picks and prospects. There just isn’t a lot of hope left in this season for the Islanders, except that which might come from a ping-pong ball drawing.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Bill Guerin

With two of the top six scorers on an offense-challenged team on injured reserve (Doug Weight, Andy Hilbert), the load falls to the captain. He’s had good success against the Caps over his career(23-11-34 in 46 games) and has been even more productive lately (4-4-8 in six games over this season and last). But on the other hand, Guerin has had only three goals in his last 18 games. If the former Guerin shows up, the Islanders have a chance. If the latter shows up, the competitive portion of the game might be over early.

Washington: Mike Green

Green has never scored a goal against the Islanders (0-3-3 in 11 career games), one of only two Eastern Conference teams he has failed to score on in his young career (Pittsburgh being the other). But he has a tendency so far this year to certain patterns in his scoring. He has had three occasions of scoring goals in consecutive games (and he has one in his last game, against Boston). He also has scored points in bunches – a six points in five games run to start the year, a ten points in six games stretch from November 10th through December 12th, a six points in four games streak from December 28th through January 3rd. He is at the moment in a six points in four games run. If he continues it, chance are the Caps will be successful in this one.

The Islanders have dropped two games to the Caps in two tries so far, but the second one – the only one on Long Island – was a 5-4 overtime affair that wasn’t settled until the last 11 seconds of the extra frame (Alex Ovechkin won it after Jon Sim – figures – tied it in regulation). The Caps can’t just toss their sticks on the ice and expect a win. On the other hand, there would be no excuse for losing to this team. We don’t think they will…

Caps 5 – Islanders 2

"N" Does Not Stand for "New York"

We've long ago become accustomed to Larry Brooks thinking that the world of hockey ends at the Hudson River, but in a column he penned today, he's really jumped the shark...
"Now that it has a hit on its hands, the NHL should whenever possible use the Winter Classic as a vehicle to help needy markets and franchises. Which is why next season's Winter Classic should be played in New York between the Islanders and Rangers..."

You read right...the Rangers and the Islanders. Teams with about as much buzz as a flat beer.

But hey, what did you expect? It's all about New York with Brooks. And he doesn't even try to paper it over...
"We understand. The rest of the country might yawn. The NHL wouldn't be able to crow about the ratings. NBC might not like it. This is all irrelevant, and most certainly the part about NBC, or at least until the network actually, you know, pays rights fees to the league. But a New York-New York Bowl would benefit the league's most important American market."

Guess it might have escaped notice that a game like this -- highlighting venues, teams, and star players -- might help the franchises of the NHL locally. If someone in one of those small markets Brooks sneers at sees this spectacle, perhaps that viewer might be more inclined to go to a game in his market or tune in a bit more often to his team.

But in Larry World, the only franchise that needs help is the Islanders. Never mind that the franchise has been run into the ground by management that might be charitably described as "strange." Or that the team has finished dead last in attendance in two of the last three seasons, and seems destined to finish there once more. Or that the team -- 1-8-1 in their last ten games and dead last in the league standings (nine points behind 29th place Atlanta) -- seems to be in a hellbent rush to draft John Tavares or Victor Hedman.

One game on a winter's day in January, whether it is in the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Central Park, or Brooks' living room isn't going to rescue a moribund franchise, not given the deeper structural problems it faces -- inept management, an old facility, lack of talent with the parent club, a lack of depth in their farm system. Giving a slot in this game to the Islanders looks an awful lot like rewarding bad behavior. And when the game is over, the folks who stand in charge of the wreckage that is the Islanders will still be there.

The National Football League can afford the occasional (or even the frequent) dull Super Bowl game because it is the biggest event on the North American athletic calendar. The NHL doesn't have nearly so much good will banked with fans to afford a "Stinker in the Bronx" that a Rangers-Islanders game might provide.

Larry, the "N" in "NHL" doesn't stand for "New York." doesn't.

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

There isn’t anything magical about 46 games, but this being a Sunday, we thought we’d take a look at the Caps and where some of the young folk are compared to a similar point last year…

Remarkable, isn’t it? All five players are at or ahead of their scoring pace of last year. Only Mike Green is behind his goal-scoring mark (and that is undoubtedly a product of having missed 13 games this year), and only Tomas Fleischmann is behind his assist mark. What is even more impressive is the turnaround in plus-minus, a reversal of +53 for this quintet.

In the little things make a difference department – turnover ratio. Defensemen, by and large, aren’t going to win the turnover battle in the NHL (the ratio of takeaways to giveaways). The nature of their position argues against it. In fact, of the top 30 defensemen in takeaways, only 11 have a positive takeaway-to-giveaway ratio. However, of the 11 defensemen to have played for the Caps this year, only one – Bryan Helmer – has a positive number here. The Caps have three defensemen – Mike Green (2nd), Karl Alzner (T-23rd), and Milan Jurcina (T-23rd) in the top 30 in giveaways. Time on ice plays a role – Green and Alzner average more than 20 minutes a game – but these three players have a total of 46 takeaways and 117 giveaways.

In these hard economic times, it bears noting the economy with which certain Caps score. Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann are among the top dozen players in the league in shooting percentage. Semin is 10th (18 goals on 88 shots – 20.5 percent), while Fleischmann sits 12th (15 goals on 77 shots – 19.5 percent). Coach Bruce Boudreau remarked after last night’s game that he’d like to see Semin shoot more. Sounds like a good idea.

We made a point in the postgame last night that Nicklas Backstrom has gone 17 consecutive games without winning a majority of his faceoffs. He’s 95-for-244 over that span (38.9 percent). But still, for the season he’s still at 45.3 percent (not bad considering this recent stretch) and ahead of the Hart Trophy favorite in Pittsburgh (Evgeni Malkin, still nominally a center, is at 42.2 percent).

Much is made about Alex Ovechkin and shots on goal. His 291 is almost 100 more than the second place player in the league (Jeff Carter—198). But Ovechkin has also missed 118 shots. That would be more than the total number of shots of the player second on the team (Mike Green – 110).

Speaking of Ovechkin, his 54 PIMs this year is a career high. And speaking of career highs, he’s on a pace to shatter his career high in hits (220, set last year). He’s on a pace for 264.

The Capitals are the only team in the NHL with three players in the top-20 in power play goals scored – Mike Green (10 – T-6th), Alex Ovechkin (8 – T-11th), Nicklas Backstrom (8 – T-11th).

Against the seven other teams in this morning’s top eight in the Eastern Conference, the Caps are 11-4-2 and have not lost more than one game in regulation to any of them. They have outscored that group 47-45 (not including Gimmicks). They are 6-1-2 in one-goal games against that group. Overall, the Caps are 23-6-3 against Eastern Conference teams.

The Best of The Peerless

It's Sunday, and we're rewinding back to 2003 -- November, in fact, when the Caps were bad and getting worse. They had just dropped a 3-2 decision to the Kings in Los Angeles to drop to 3-11-1, and were prepared to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. We penned this in honor of a day in the life of a Cap...

Welcome, one and . . . well, one . . . to another edition of The Peerless Prognostication, this time brought to you by . . . Off Track Betting . . . where you have a better chance of winning than do the Caps these days.

Re”Cap” of Caps versus Kings . . . well, that sure was a royal pain, wasn’t it (thought we’d get started with humor, because if you can’t laugh at yourselves, you can laugh at the score)? Once more, the boys got the starting time mixed up, thinking that the game started at 8:45 instead of 7:00. There was little good to be gained, which (like Coach Cassidy’s advice to just recycle the stories about the Sharks game) was just like the Sharks game. Tonight, it is an easier (which is not the same thing these days as “easy”) foe, the Hurricanes of Carolina . . . so what’s in store? Only The Peerless knows . . .

Game Day . . . so, what does a player on a team with a losing record do on game days. The Peerless peers into the peephole to find out . . .

7:00 . . . alarm goes off . . . hit snooze button

7:10 . . . snooze alarm goes off . . . hit button again

7:20 . . . snooze alarm goes off . . . throw clock against wall

8:45 . . . wake up, curse the Gods that you’re still in Washington

8:50 . . . take care of personal hygiene and grooming matters

9:10 . . . breakfast and the news paper . . . read Post sports section front page article on train wreck that is Caps . . . throw bowl of Cap’n Crunch against wall . . . note to self: should have cleaned up bowl thrown at wall yesterday, things are starting to pile up.

9:30 . . . get in car to drive to pre-game skate

9:31 . . . realize you forgot keys . . . head back to house

9:32 . . . oops . . . locked self out

9:33 . . . punch up number of locksmith on cell phone . . . realize battery has run down

9:34 . . . go next door to neighbor to ask if you can use phone . . . scamper away when neighbor shouts, “Honey, call the police, there’s a man with a weird accent at the door; I think he’s a terrorist”

9:40 . . . find pay phone, realize you don’t have spare change to make call

9:45 . . . ask passerby if he has 35 cents for a phone call . . . what luck, he’s a hockey fan! . . . “Uh, aren’t you the one who makes $11 million a year?” What awful luck, a knowledgeable hockey fan (not a BoD member, apparently).

9:50 . . . scour local 7-11 parking lot for lost change . . . find 35 cents . . . a Canadian dime, two nickels, and five pennies . . . go inside to ask for a quarter and dime for a call . . . cashier can’t understand your accent, you can’t understand his . . . cashier activates silent alarm, thinking you’re a robber.

10:00 . . . police arrive, sort out the facts, charge you with robbery (“I’ve seen you play . . . you SHOULD be arrested for stealing money”) . . . oh, hot dog, another hockey fan.

10:20 . . . arrive at local precinct, get booked and taken to holding . . . allowed one phone call (YIPPEE!! . . . FI-nally) . . . busy signal at Piney Orchard.

10:30 . . . call Ted . . . assistant says he’s in a meeting, although you can hear him in the background

11:15 . . . Ted arrives . . . seems he had a change of heart . . . “don’t get all blubbery . . . it’s coming out of your paycheck.”

1:00 . . . Ted pulls into MCI Center to drop you off . . . “aren’t we going to have lunch?” . . . “Don’t push yer luck . . .”

1:20 . . . arrive in locker room . . . you’re the first one there . . . spend next hour writing letter to old girl friend

2:20 . . . Can’t think of anything past “Dear Andrea . . .”

2:30 . . . Coaches arrive, wonder what you’re doing here . . . “you missed the morning skate” . . . “locked myself out of house, got taken to jail” . . . “geez, you’ll make up any story these days . . . it’s still gonna cost ya a fine . . .”

3:00 . . . Players begin to arrive . . . “hey, what are you doing here so early?” . . . “forgot keys to car, locked myself out of house, got arrested” . . . “He trying that story on you too?”

3:30 . . . stretching (no, not the truth)

4:00 . . . work on sticks, catch a few glimpses of news story of suspected terrorist in Severn Park masquerading as a hockey player.

5:00 . . . work on stationary bike . . . “should get one of these . . . can’t lose keys”

5:45 . . . Start to get dressed . . . “why doesn’t anyone like me here?”

6:00 . . . “the rose goes in the front, big guy”

6:30 . . . head out for pre-game warm up

6:31 . . . head back to locker room after pre-game warm up

7:00 - 9:30 . . . skates some, sits some, scores a goal, gets an assist . . . Caps win 3-2.

9:45 . . . the pen you were using to write that letter to your ex broke, ink all over your clothes . . .

9:50 . . . oh, geez, what else can go wrong . . .

9:55 . . . “George wants to see you in the coaches’ office

10:00 . . . “You’ve been traded . . .” . . . “to New York??” . . . “Nashville”