Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Peerless Prognostos for Round One


Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

Why Boston will win

In both the parts and in the whole, Boston is ranked higher (read: ”is better”) – goals/game (ranked 2nd versus Montreal’s 13th), goals allowed/game (1st versus 21st), five-on-five (1st/17th), power play (4th/13th), penalty kill (ok, they’re tied at 11th), and of course…standings (1st/8th). They have seven individual players with at least 50 points, Montreal has three. They have seven players with at least 20 goals, Montreal has…three. The Bruins’ backup goalie – Manny Fernandez – has a better GAA and save percentage than does the Canadiens' starter (Carey Price, for now). It’s not, “why Boston will win,” but “will Montreal win a game?”

Why Montreal will win

It’s all too easy. Besides, the Canadiens have won the last three playoff series contested between these teams. And there is that 100th anniversary thing, too. OK, we’re reaching.

Who will win? Boston in three. OK, four.

Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Rangers (7)

We’ve covered this already…twice.

New Jersey Devils (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)

Why New Jersey will win

Martin Brodeur (well, the one to whom we have become accustomed, not the one who lost six in a row to close March and open April), an unrelenting devotion to a “system” of hockey, and the good sense not to employ a pig as a mascot.

Why Carolina will win

They’re hotter’n a barbecue in Joo-ly. They won their first four games in March and haven’t let up much since – 13-3-2 to close the year, and not a Gimmick win in the bunch (they did have two Gimmick losses). Six of the 13 wins were by at least three goals. They averaged 3.89 goals a game in the 18 games from March 1st onward.

Who will win? Carolina in six, even if “Old Marty” shows up.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

Why Pittsburgh will win.

The Evgeni Malkin who scored 113 points this year, the Dan Bylsma who coached ‘em up to a 18-3-4 record after he took over for Michel Therrien behind the Penguin bench, the Sergei Gonchar who had 19 points in 25 games (including five power play goals) after returning from a shoulder injury, the Chris Kunitz who was just the shot in the arm the Penguins needed.

Why Philadelphia will win

The Evgeni Malkin who finished last season’s playoffs so silently, the Dan Bylsma who has never coached so much as an AHL playoff game (let alone an NHL brand), the Sergei Gonchar who is prone to the inopportune turnover, the Chris Kunitz who is the third leading scorer for the Penguins with just 53 points for Anaheim and the Penguins. The Flyers are more of a known commodity – you know what you’ll get from night to night…balanced scoring, grit, a “won’t quit” attitude, and yes, even iffy goaltending. There are too many moving parts that are unknowns for Pittsburgh.

Who will win? Pittsburgh in seven, crushing the Flyers on the basis of the advantage the Flyers gave away in the regular season finale – home ice.


San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)

Why San Jose will win

All that stuff we said about Boston? It applies here, too.

Why Anaheim will win

They’re better than Montreal, especially in that their young goalie (Jonas Hiller) played a lot better than Montreal’s young goalie (Carey Price) this year.

Who will win? San Jose in six…we give the Ducks one game on Hiller’s stealing it, another on pride, but the Sharks are too deep, too talented, and too good.

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Why Detroit will win

It’s not the age, it’s the mileage. And the Red Wings have seen so much more over the miles than have the Blue Jackets, playing in the franchise’s first playoff series (nice way to start, eh boys?). Chris Osgood won’t steal a game as long as the Red Wings play this spring, but it’s even money that the Blue Jackets will get within a time zone of testing him with the defensive abilities the Red Wings can deploy against what is already an offense-challenged team.

Why Columbus will win

The Red Wings, last year notwithstanding, have a disturbing history of looking ahead and having it spank them. And, who’s to say Steve Mason can’t pitch four shutouts?

Who will win? Detroit in five…there are two shutouts in the season series between these teams, and Columbus doesn’t have either of them.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6)

Why Vancouver will win

Because maybe the Blues will just be happy to have made it, seeing as how they were seven games under .500 as late as January 13th. That, and the Canucks have Roberto Luongo, who somebody owes at least a series win to after he had a 1.77 GAA in last year’s playoffs and still only got to the second round.

Why St. Louis will win

Because Vancouver finished third only because Calgary didn’t win consecutive games after March 5th. The Canucks might be over-seeded relative to their abilities. The Blues also had the best finishing kick in the entire league (8-1-1 in their last ten games), and goalie Chris Mason finished with a rush (9-1-1, 2.09, .924).

Who will win? Vancouver in seven…it’ll be the battle of Luongo’s curious history of misfortune and Mason’s only having one unfortunate playoff series worth of experience (1-4, 3.45, .901 with Nashville in 2006).

Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5)

Why Chicago will win

They got their ship righted. After an 0-3-2 stretch in mid-March, they finished the year 9-2-1, including back-to-back wins over the Red Wings to close the season that might not have been the highest priority for the Wings (say, below “stay healthy”), but were probably a real confidence-booster for the young Blackhawks. And, they seem to have finally settled on a goalie – Nikolai Khabibulin. His career record against Calgary? 22-5-2, 2.06, .931.

Why Calgary will win

This will be the first playoff appearance for the Blackhawks since 2001-2002; the Flames have been in the last four years before this one. After a six game goal-less streak, Jarome Iginla finished up the regular season with four in his last seven games.

Who will win? Chicago in six…Calgary has been off for a while now – they were 9-12-3 from March 1st on, Miikka Kiprusoff lost six of his last nine decisions (and hasn’t had all that great a year anyway), and Iginla is minus-9 against the Blackhawks in four games this year…what’s up with that?

As always, don't use these picks for actual cash wagers, but do tip your wait staff...

Getting in touch with his inner Druce

Over on Japers Rink, there is the question that has to be asked of the Caps in this series, Who could be this year's John Druce? It's a fair question (The Peerless said in a moment of homophonic foreshadowing). We just think that the choices offered as an answer to the question -- Keith Aucoin, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley -- miss the obvious.

Let's go back for a moment to Druce and how it was that he was so unexpected a star in the 1990 playoffs. In 1990, Druce had just completed his second regular season with the Caps. His resume, as those playoffs began, included 93 regular season games, in which he was 16-10-26, and one playoff game, in which he did not register a point. In spite of the fact that Druce had once put up 22 goals in 49 games for Peterborough in Canadian juniors and 32 goals for the Binghamton Whalers in the AHL, you wouldn't have pegged the then 23-year old to end up finishing second in the 1990 playoffs in goals scored - he had 14 (in 15 games) to Edmonton's Craig Simpson's 16 (in 22 games).

So, if you're looking down the Caps' roster, and you want to find a young guy -- 23 or so -- who has shown some goal scoring potential in the past, who has had some experience with the Caps in the regular season, but not too much, and who hasn't yet had a lot of highlights in his budding career, who might you find to fill the bill?

Hmm...let's see...

Druce had 93 games experience heading into his star turn, this guy has 109.

Druce had 16 career goals to that point, this guy has 15.

Druce had one playoff game of experience, this guy has five games of playoff experience.

Druce went the Canadian juniors-AHL-NHL route, and so did this guy.

Druce was 23 years old, this guy is...23 years old.

If you're looking for a Cap for whom the stars are aligned to get in touch with his inner Druce, it just might be this guy...

Programming Note

JJ over at Tic Tac Toe Hockey is calling on all Caps fans to come up with a fight song. It is something desperately needed -- the meat between the slices of bread that are the horn-horn-horn and voice-voice-voice of the Caps sandwich of cheerleading. And, it being a contest, there is a prize involved.

So put on your thinking caps...there have to be some budding lyricists out there somewhere. Even if it's just "what I'd like to do to Sidney, is punch him in the kidney."

So, like JJ says... "Get on it!"

Top Ten Excuses President Obama Will Use Not to Attend a Caps Game

The Boss reports that he had the pleasure of meeting President Barack Obama at Georgetown University yesterday, and he took the opportunity to invite the Leader of the Free World to a Caps game.

As intriguing as the idea sounds (and one we've pondered as well), we're just not getting that "hockey guy" vibe with the President. We even suspect there are any number of excuses he could use to decline the invitation. We've compiled such a "top ten" list...

Top Ten Excuses Barack Obama Will Use Not to Attend a Caps Game...

10. Michelle doesn't have anything to wear

9. We couldn't find a dog sitter on such short notice

8. I have to stay home and figure out my 2010 NCAA brackets

7. That's the night Putin's sleeping over

6. Malia is allergic to hockey

5. It's on my to-do list...right after "fight two wars," "save the global economy," "provide health insurance to every American," "implement green energy policies," "get the American car industry back on its feet," "restore our banking system to health," and "pick up a bag of IAMS for Bo."

4. I don't need to go see Sean Avery...I have to deal with Rahm Emanuel every day.

3. The Presidential Limousine is in the shop and won't be out until Tuesday

2. You've sold out all your games, and the Secret Service guys couldn't get tickets.

...and the number one excuse Barack Obama will use not to attend a Caps game:

1. Sorry, but I have a strict rule about watching sports with no balls.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 1: Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We’re finally here. A clean sheet of ice, everybody starting off 0-0, and hope in the air in 16 cities across North America. You’ve read the blogs, you’ve perused the pundits on line. Everyone has weighed in with their take on round one as we head into tonight’s action.

Well, not quite everyone. We still haven’t heard from two of the sharpest hockey minds around. Cheerless? Fearless? You guys ready to make your picks?

"Who’s playin’?"

Cheerless, where have you been? Caps…Rangers…playoffs.

"Oh, I thought you were talkin’ about the draft lottery. How ‘bout them Islanders? I got ‘em takin’ Blake Griffin with that first pick. He’s just the forward they need."

"Cuz, he’s a basketball player."

"So? It’s the Islanders we’re talkin’ about."

Guys?...The game tonight? Who are the keys to the game…Fearless?

"I’m looking at Scott Gomez. In each of the last four years, he’s averaged at least a point a game in the playoffs. And in his last 30 playoff games, he has 13 goals. If the Rangers can get that kind of production out of him, they have a pretty good chance in this series."


"Markus Naslund. Since March 1st, he’s only got seven points – four goals, three assists – and he had to get a point in each of his last three games to finish with that many. He had a couple of pretty good playoff runs with Vancouver, but last year he had only five points in 12 games. They’re not payin’ him four million bucks to be Chad LaRose."

What about the defense? We’re reading a lot about Marc Staal and Dan Girardi against Alex Ovechkin. Fearless, you think that will benefit the Rangers?

“I’m more interested in who the Rangers match against the Laich-Fedorov-Semin line. Guess we’re going to find out if Derek Morris is all that.”

“Hey, cuz…did you know Dan Girardi is -14? Worst on the team?”

“Cheerless, Colton Orr is -15.”

“Yeah, like he’s getting a sweater.”

“He’s played in all 82 games this year.”


“It just seems like he hasn’t because he only gets six-and-a-half minutes a game. 532 minutes for the year.”

“About a game and a half’s worth for Mike Green.”

Guys? What about the coaches. John Tortorella has a Stanley Cup on his resume.

"Yeah, and he’s also 8-14 in the other three years he’s been in the playoffs. I’m not seeing anyone named 'Lecavalier' wearing a blue jersey."

“Or ‘St. Louis.’”

“Do they make Ranger jersey’s in toddler sizes?”

OK, OK. How about the goalies? The Rangers have the clear edge here, right?

"You know? For all the talk about Jose Theodore being this and that and the 2009 equivalent of Michel Belhumeur, he did win 32 games in 57 appearances this year. And, he has a better career playoff save percentage than the other guy (.914 to .907)."

"You’re reachin’ cuz…Henrik Lundqvist had a pretty brutal rookie playoff experience, but he’s been solid the last two years."

"Yeah, and he’s still barely got a better save percentage compared to Theodore’s career number (.917 - .914)."

"Well cuz, here are a couple o’ lines about the goalies against playoff teams in the East for you…

Goalie 1: 14-3-4, 2.61, .912
Goalie 2: 15-14-1, 2.90, .903

…Which is which? "

Cheerless, for a drooling idiot, you're not bad with numbers.

"Thanks, cuz....HEY!"

OK, guys...There’s still that whole “can the Rangers stop Ovechkin” thing…well, can they?

"That might not be the Russian for the Rangers to be concerned about. You have to figure that Ovechkin is going to get his points somehow. But the wild card might be Sergei Fedorov. He played in only one game against the Rangers this year, but he is 10-25-35, +21, in 27 career games against New York."

"Hey cuz…the Russians seem to like playing the Rangers. Ovechkin, Semin, Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov have 101 career games among them, and they are 33-58-91, +25 against the Rangers with six game winners, eight power play goals, and four shorties."

OK guys, who do you have? Fearless?

"The Caps score more, their goalie has been better against top-flight competition this year, they’re deeper. They win."


"Shoot, cuz, even I can’t get all depressed about this one. They have the best player. They probably have the best four skaters in this series – Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Mike ‘Goal a Game’ Green (he’s got three in three games against the Rangers this year)."

There are two parallel schools of thought about this series among those who think the Rangers will win. First, Jose Theodore is a slug. The fact is, he has been at times this year, but not generally against the better teams, like those he’ll face in the playoffs. The other is that the Rangers have so utterly transformed themselves – picking up Nik Antropov, Derek Morris, and Sean Avery on the ice and John Tortorella behind the bench – that the Rangers are a much more formidable team. Well, gee…if those players were so sure fire all stars, how is it they got traded? And as a side bar, does this word association cause you to blow a gasket?...”Nik Antropov” … “saviour.”

We think the pundits have relied on something of a herd mentality in evaluating the goalies. This “inconsistency” meme that has dogged Theodore needs to be evaluated in terms of how he’s actually played against talented teams. And his record is better than Lundqvist’s this year against those teams – better GAA, better save percentage, and most important, better win-loss record.

The Rangers could win this series. Stranger things have happened (the 2002-2003 Red Wings – a 110 point team – were swept out of the first round by Anaheim, for example). But the Caps have the best player (like Cheerless said, probably the best four skaters), they have a goalie getting less credit than he merits, and frankly we think they have the better coach.

On paper, this isn’t a close series. It won’t be on the ice, either. And it starts tonight…

Caps 4 – Rangers 2