Sunday, February 01, 2009

A TWO-point afternoon: Caps 7 - Senators 4

It was a “Super” kind of Sunday as the Capitals bounced the Ottawa Senators out of town this afternoon, 7-4, at Verizon Center. What do we mean, “Super?” It’s a football thing…

“46 defense.” In 1985, that was the name bestowed upon the defensive scheme of the Chicago Bears, one characterized by unrelenting pressure as eight men stormed the line of scrimmage. The equivalent? It was the early forechecking of the Capitals as they forced three early turnovers in the first two minutes to set the tone. Even when Ottawa scored (on a shot from Daniel Alfredssson that Shaone Morrison appeared to screen Brent Johnson from seeing), the Caps forced Ottawa into five more turnovers over the next six minutes as prelude to a penalty taken by Dany Heatley at the 9:40 mark of the first period.

“Wildcat” offense. It made something of a comeback in the NFL this year – it is a direct snap formation where the center snaps the ball to a player that is not the quarterback. Here, it was Nicklas Backstrom “snapping” the faceoff back to Mike Green who found paydirt three seconds after the Heatley penalty.

“Halfback Option.” You’ve seen it before…quarterback pitches to the halfback on a sweep, the runner pulling up to loft a pass downfield, often for a score. Here, it was Backstrom, pitching the faceoff back to Green, who found Alex Ovechkin for the one-timer four seconds after Jarkko Ruutu took a minor penalty for general obnoxiousness.

“Field goal.” OK, “hat trick”…Alex Ovechkin’s seventh as a Cap and second this year.

“Field goal.” OK, that would be the three assists from Sergei Fedorov, tying his high in assists as a Cap.

“Long bomb.” That would be the deep downfield pass that hits the wide receiver in stride for a length of the field score. This afternoon, that was Green flipping the puck from the Caps’ defensive zone out over the Ottawa defenders and into space in the neutral zone, where Alexander Semin could collect it behind everyone at the Ottawa blue line, skate in alone, and roof a backhand over Alex Auld (in relief of Brian Elliot, who gave up four goals on 16 shots before being pulled – guess that was sort of like the QB getting concussed out of the game).

“Prevent defense.” That’s when a team gets out to a big lead and sits on it late, playing passively, hoping the clock will run out before the opposition can chew up yards and score points. Many (us included) see the only thing “prevent defense” preventing is a win. Although the Caps engaged in a fair amount of that in the third period after racing out to a 6-2 lead after two periods, the clock did run out before the Senators could get all of the four-goal deficit back.

"Battle in the trenches." That usually refers to a ton-and-a-half or more of football players mauling one another at the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Who wins that battle generally wins the game. Today, that was Boyd Gordon and Sergei Fedorov (far less than a ton-and-a-half of hockey player) winning eight of 12 defensive zone draws. For the day, they were a combined 17-for-29.

"70-chip." Any Redskin fan knows that one…the call in Super Bowl XVII that sprung John Riggins past the Miami Dolphins defense for a touchdown that gave the Redskins a lead they would not relinquish. Today, it was Eric Fehr diving inside of defenseman Chris Phillips as goalie Brian Elliott was turned the other way to chip home a loose puck just before ending up in the net himself.

“The Greatest Show on Turf.” That was the name given to the St. Louis Rams from 1999-2001. It was an offense characterized by speed, aggressiveness, and pinball machine-like scoring, especially in the home part of their schedule. The Caps are becoming the ‘Greatest Show on Ice.” The seven goals matches their high for the year – also on the first day of the month (January), against Tampa Bay. The Caps have been especially adept at abusing the Senator defense. In going 6-0-0 in the last six games against the Senators at Verizon Center, the Caps have scored 32 goals. Goalies are going to be coming up with mysterious groin pulls when a date with the Caps in Washington comes up on the Ottawa schedule.

"Cover two." You hear a lot of that in football games; it is a pass coverage scheme that puts responsibility on the safeties – the last guys back on defense – for covering half of the field in the deep defensive zone. For the Caps, that would be Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz. Yeah, we know, these two get a lot of grief from fans, but for the weekend, Schultz went plus-6 with five blocked shots, and Jurcina went plus-4 with seven hits and five blocked shots.

Seems the Caps play better football than the local football team. Of course, it helps that the team providing the opposition is as one-dimensional as it is. The Senators got a goal from Dany Heatley (gift wrapped by Tom Poti), two from Daniel Alfredsson… and almost nothing from anyone else. That’s been the Senators’ season.

And now, the Caps head to New Jersey, where they will try to end the Devils’ eight game winning streak. But to take a line from the late Herb Brooks, when he was talking to his 1980 U.S. Olympic Team about the Soviets… “someone’s gonna beat those guys.” The Devils’ last two wins both came in overtime. That streak looks like it’s coming to an end…


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, February 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is… on… the… zzzzzzzzzzz…

"Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? Then quit, you slimy bleeping walrus-looking piece of bleep! Get the bleep out of bed! Get the bleep down out of bed! NOW! MOVE IT! Or I'm going to rip your balls off, so you cannot contaminate the rest of the world! I will motivate you, Private Peerless, IF IT SHORT-bleeps EVERY CANNIBAL ON THE CONGO!"

Geez, Sarge…it’s early, and we had a prognosto yesterday…

"Today... is Christmas! There will be a magic show at 12 hundred thirty hours at Verizon Center! Alex Ovechkin will show you about how the free world will conquer the Ottawa Senators with the aid of God and a few Capitals! God has a hard-on for Capitals because they kill everything they see! He plays His games, they play theirs! To show their appreciation for so much power, they keep the standings packed with fresh losers! God was here before the Capitals! So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Capitals blogosphere! Do you understand?"

Sure, Sarge…whatever…

"Oh that's right, Private Peerless, don't make any bleeping effort to get to the keyboard of your bleeping computer. If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now, wouldn't he?"


"What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn't Mommy and Daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?"

Ok, ok…I’m up…

"You little scumbag! I got your name! I got your ass! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will learn by the numbers. I will teach you! Now get up! Get on your feet! You had best unbleep yourself or I will unscrew your head and bleep down your neck!"

Sir, Yes sir!

"Private Peerless, why did you join my beloved Blogosphere Corps?"

Sir, to BLOG, sir!

"So you're a blogger?"

Sir, yes sir!

"Then let me see your blog face!"

"That’s good Private Peerless…but don’t ever “bleep” out my lines again."

Sir, yes SIR!

OK, we’re up and ready… and we sure hope the Caps are, because it’s another 12:35 start, this time against the Ottawa Senators, a team that the Caps will face for the last time this year. And that might be a good thing, because the Senators have won two of the three games played so far (one in overtime). How they’ve managed to do that is a mystery, because frankly, their numbers suck on toast…

One looks at those numbers, and it becomes evident rather quickly how to beat that team – STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX! Maybe we should get Sergeant Hartman to convey that message… Anyway, no team in the NHL has scored fewer 5-on-5 goals – 64 in 47 games – than have the Senators. By way of comparison, the Caps have scored 96 such goals (8th in the league). That, in a nutshell, is the key to the game… keep It 5-on-5.

Need a reminder?...

First game against Ottawa…no power play goals allowed… 2-1 overtime loss (hey, it was a point earned)

Second game… no power play goals allowed… a 5-1 win for the Caps.

Last game, a 3-2 win for Ottawa… three power play goals allowed.

Get the point?

Ottawa is probably thrilled to have January behind them. The Senators went 4-6-2 for the month and scored more than three goals only three times (for which they had only a 1-1-1 record). They were shutout twice and held to a single goal on three other occasions.

At this point in the show, we’d be extolling the performances of the ‘Big Three” top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daneil Alfredsson. Well, not this time. Of the 29 goals scored by the Senators for the month of January, the three combined for 10 goals (Heatley getting half of them). In fact, in the 12 games for the month, Heatley was 5-4-9, Spezza was 2-7-9, and Alfredsson was 3-8-11. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they aren’t the sort of point-or-better a game that one usually sees from this trio.

If anything, the rest of the Ottawa roster has had a balanced, if not necessarily prolific, scoring profile. Mike Fisher had four goals in January, Chris Kelly had three, as did Brendan Bell. Antoine Vermette and Chris Phillips had a pair. It just wasn’t enough to keep the Senators from sinking in the standings.

Ottawa has had to depend on an unconventional – for them – source of success… defense and goaltending. The Senators gave up 36 goals in 12 games in January, but that is a bit deceptive. 17 of those goals came in the first four games of the month, when Alex Auld and Martin Gerber were still fighting to see who could win the blue ribbon of suckitude. Brian Elliott took over on January 10th and promptly lost to the Rangers, but giving up only two goals in the process (the Senators, perhaps predictably, were shut out). For the month, Elliott was 4-2-1, 2.27, .918, including a 3-2 win over the Caps. Auld got the start in the Senators’ last game – a 1-0 shutout against Columbus – while Gerber is in Binghamton pondering an uncertain future.

The trouble that an Ottawa goaltender might face though, lies directly in front of him. Chris Phillips is (still) on the way to perhaps the worst season of his career. He hasn’t been a “minus” player since the 1998-1999 season – his second, when he was -5 in 34 games. Today, he will skate onto the ice at -21. If there is a silver lining, it might be that he was “only” minus-2 for the month of January.

Anton Volchenkov is another player struggling with being on the ice for more goals against than goals for. He is -12 in 34 games this year. He was plus-1 for the month, but played in only four games. He did not dress for the last game against the Caps, but should bring his shot-blocking expertise to this one this afternoon.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Brian Elliott

OK, the Caps have seen him now. This will be the first team that Elliott has faced a second time this season, and he’s getting the chance in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd. Also of note here, Elliott has only played in two road games among the seven he’s started. Not that he’s done poorly – a 3-2 win over Atlanta and a 3-1 win over St. Louis. Now, he jumps up several weight classes in competition.

Washington: Eric Fehr

Fehr had several excellent chances to score yesterday and didn’t. It’s getting to be the time in his career where he shows he was that big goal-scorer he was in junior and in the AHL. He doesn’t have to net 20 goals in the last 32 games to make that point, but he hasn’t had one since December 4th against the Islanders – a span of 14 games. We’re guessing he’ll get chances today, given the state of the opposition and the likelihood that they focus on other Capitals.

Washington has struggled offensively in day games this year – seven goals scored in three contests (they’ve allowed ten). It’s somewhat odd, too, given that the Caps lead the entire NHL in shots taken per game in the daylight. Hopefully, they got their “day legs” under them yesterday against the Red Wings and can avoid the “sleepiness” that Alex Ovechkin talked about after yesterday’s win. Will they?

Hey, do you read this stuff?

Caps 5 – Senators 2