Sunday, January 31, 2010

January by the numbers

It was quite a January for the Capitals… 13-2-0 for the month, franchise-tying winning streak, tops in the Eastern Conference. By the numbers, it was a spectacular month. Here is the team summary with a few notes thrown in…

And while the “sum” was something to behold, so were the “parts”…

And while we’re at it, this Caps team has been quick to the “tens” – 10 points, 20 points, etc. They are in a position to obliterate the franchise record for standings points. They are on a pace for 119, and here is now they are getting there (with the record for each fastest ten-point segment -- in games it took to reach it -- for comparison)…

Quite a month.

A TWO-point, TEN-straight afternoon: Caps 3 - Lightning 2

It was a perfect 10.

OK, maybe it wasn’t quote perfect, but if you win the game and tie a franchise all-time best for consecutive wins, you can be forgiven for passing over the warts. The Caps tied that franchise-best for consecutive wins this afternoon with their tenth straight win in a 3-2 win over the gritty Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center.

Give the Lightning their due. They did not come in with any intention of being extras in a set play that would see the Caps march resolutely to a record-tying performance. No, the Lightning tossed everything they had at the Caps, but in the end it came down to a goalie who many so-called “experts” view as a weak link standing tall and the captain taking things into his own hands late to secure the win.

It was a victory of persistence, both for Jose Theodore (whose persistence prevented what would be the tying goal in the first period) and for Alex Ovechkin (who had 11 of his 19 shot attempts blocked by Lightning defenders).

Other stuff…

-- In the ten game streak, this is the second time the Caps were held to three goals; they have averaged 4.7 per game in the streak.

-- It is only the third one-goal victory in the streak; the average margin of victory has been 2.6 goals.

-- Tampa Bay forwards had a total of 21 shots on goal. 11 of them (and both goals) came from the Stamkos-St. Louis-Downie line.

-- 9:33 in ice time, no fights. Zenon Konopka might have been the saddest man in the Lightning locker room after the game.

-- Ovechkin was 1-1-2 in earning the game’s first star. It was his 24th multi-point game in 47 total games played this season.

-- Alexander Semin had an assist to get a point in his ninth straight game. He is 6-10-16 over those nine games, but what’s more, he has points in 12 of his last 14 games and three game-winning goals in that run (11-12-23 in those 14 games).

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist (his 17th multi-point game this season) to make him 8-9-17, plus-12 in his last 13 games.

-- Maybe lost in this is that Tomas Fleischmann set a career high in points today with his pair of assists (17-22-39, eclipsing the 37 points he had last year). He is on a pace to top 60 points this season.

-- No Capital taking draws this afternoon finished on the minus-side of the ledger… except David Steckel (five for 11). It was only the second time in his last 20 games he finished on the minus side.

-- That was the 15th time in his last 16 appearances that Jose Theodore has allowed three of fewer goals. It just doesn’t have the same lyric quality, though, does it… “three-or-fewer.”

-- And for those haters who insist that the Caps cannot play defense, here is a number – 41. That was the total number of shot attempts the Lightning had this afternoon, a low number by contemporary NHL standards (the Caps had 66).

-- More for the haters… only 21 goals allowed in the ten-game streak.

-- And give a round of applause for Jose Theodore for his staying with this shot, falling backward to sweep the puck out of danger mid-way through the first period to keep the Caps up a goal...

-- Another quiet plus-2 for the ol’ dubble-nikkel. Jeff Schultz had a blank score sheet in 18 minutes of ice time except for one blocked shot.

-- Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist for the Lightning to extend his points streak to six games… but 1-for-9 on draws?

-- The Caps were 13-for-16 on draws in the defensive zone.

On February 18, 1984, when the Capitals defeated the Blues in St. Louis by a 4-2 score to win their tenth straight game, 15 of the 34 Caps who have dressed this season had not yet been born. “Windows” still referred to framed glass. The Macintosh was better known as an apple that you ate. Gasoline was about $1.20 a gallon. Craig Laughlin was in the midst of a 20-goal season.

It was a while ago.

But now the Caps have tied that record and look to set one for themselves on Tuesday in Boston. It will make for a stern test, but for now the Caps and their fans can enjoy this one, a fine end to a fine month.

"The juice in the GM job is deals..."

That quote comes from Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke at a press conference earlier today announcing the the first major trades of 2010.

We have admit to having something of a man-crush on Burke. His public persona might be gruff, supremely self-assured, maybe a bit too far toward the neanderthal end of the spectrum when it comes to the sort of talent toward which he gravitates, and perhaps at times something of a jerk, but as a manager of an organization, he is not boring and he gets results.

And today is why the Maple Leafs entrusted the keys to the franchise to Burke.

There seems to be a flurry of activity in Toronto today as the Leafs got a head start on the 2010-2011 season. Gone to the Calgary Flames are:

Niklas Hagman
Matt Stajan
Jamal Meyers
Ian White

The Leafs get:

Dion Phaneuf
Fredrik Sjostrom
Keith Aulie

First, the Leafs get younger -- Sjostrom is the oldest of the trio going to the Leafs at 26, three of the departing Leafs are older. They get arguably tougher, if only for the addition of Phaneuf (no surprise that Burke would go in that direction). They get the best player in the deal overall in Phaneuf (despite his troubles this year), and they get a good prospect in Aulie. The Leafs appear to add $317,000 in salary cap (annualized), according to James Mirtle.

The Flames are getting a couple of players who are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year (Hagman, Stajan) and an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent (White). For them, it could be a chance to change the mix (i.e., move Phaneuf) and get a cleaner slate on which to draw for next season.

And they weren't done. It is now being reported that the Leafs are sending Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. That is a cap saving of $2.0 million for the Leafs (annualized). And, with Giguere having one more year after this on his deal, the Leafs can have a more orderly transition to the Jonas Gustavsson era in goal, should it come to pass. For the Flames, they get the freedom that comes from this being the last year of Toskala's contract (a $4.0 million cap hit, annualized).

Toronto is probably out of the race for the playoffs this year -- making up 11 points and climbing over seven teams is a tall order with 26 games left -- but Burke has gotten a jump on his brother GM's on both the trading season and in getting his ducks (or Leafs) in a row for next year.

Guess this trumps that Penguins/Red Wings game as the story of the day, eh?

Here are clips from Burke's press conference from earlier today announcing the day's activity...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps go forth this afternoon to try to grab a piece of franchise history as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center, where…

“They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we call Verizon Center the Red Mile, because the stands are the color of the face of a raving lunatic.”

In other words…

“Caps fans...”

“…and taking the ice against the Caps these days is like hockey’s form of an execution.”

Interesting way to look at it. You look familiar…

“Edgecomb, Paul Edgecomb.”

And you would know about such things?

“When you’ve spent a lifetime close to a chair called ‘Old Sparky’ watching men ride the lightning, you learn about such things.”

Hey… “Old Sparky”… "ride the lightning"... fits right in with today’s game, doesn’t it?

“Figured all that out, huh? You’re almost as smart as Mr. Jingles.”

And so the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last team to defeat the Washington Capitals, walk the Red Mile this afternoon in an attempt to derail the rampaging beasts of the east, who will be out to set a franchise record for wins in a month. It won’t be easy, especially since the Lightning are likely to have the Caps’ full and undivided attention. Since the Lightning defeated the Caps in Tampa by a 7-4 score on January 12th, they are 4-3-1 in eight games. But while the Lightning do bring a winning record into this game in their last eight games, the competition against which they achieved that record was not quite top-notch. The schedule included a pair of games against Florida, Carolina, the Rangers, Toronto, Anaheim – not a top-eight team among them. Only Montreal and Atlanta were top-eight opponents in this recent run of games for the Lightning, and neither of those teams are exactly lighting things up these days. Oddly enough, perhaps, it was against the Canadiens that the Lightning had their most impressive recent win, a 3-0 shutout last Wednesday. In a way, the eight-game run is merely an extension of the season they’ve put together so far, reflected in these overall numbers:

In the eight games since the Lightning defeated the Caps, they have been outscored by their opponents by 22-17. Seven of the 17 goals the Lightning scored were on the power play (7-for-28/25.0 percent). But what the Lighting took, they gave away on special teams, allowing seven goals in 30 shorthanded situations (76.7 percent penalty killing).

Of the 17 goals scored by the Lightning in their last eight games, nine of them have been split evenly among Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis. These would be the three players for Tampa Bay who also have topped the 50-point mark this year. For Lecavalier, it is a solid run in what has become a solid, if unspectacular – for him – season (14-38-52 in 53 games). The Lightning center had a three-game streak without a point that ended with the first game of December, but since then has not had consecutive games without a point and has points in 19 of 27 games (9-22-31). He is 1-1-2 in two games against Washington this season.

If Lecavalier is having a solid year, then for Stamkos this season would appear to be his putting his stamp on the Lightning as the go-to guy. In only his second season, he has 28 goals, good enough to lead the Lightning and place seventh in the league. He is in the midst of a five-game points streak 3-4-7. He has a pair of goals and an assist in two games against the Caps this year.

St. Louis has been the picture of consistency for the better part of two months. Since enduring a four-game streak without a point that ended on December 4th, St. Louis has had points in 20 of 26 games (10-19-29). He has seven multi-point games in that run. In what might be a nod to Stamkos becoming the go-to guy, though, St. Louis is building his point total on the assist side of the ledger. He is on a pace to set a career high (65) in helpers (59 in 2006-2007). He is 1-2-3 in two games against Washington so far this season.

Which brings us to Steve Downie. The last time we saw the rambunctious forward against the Caps, he was trying to pick a fight with The Franchise, only to have Matt Bradley swoop in and do battle with Downie. A Lady Byng is certainly not in Downie’s future – he is closing in on a professional career high in penalty minutes this season (149, and counting, compared to 195 with four teams in two leagues last year) and has seven fights to his credit. But he is not devoid of productive benefits within the rules, either. His 26 points is sixth on the club, and his 11 goals is fifth. He does not have a point against the Caps in two games this year, but he does have 29 penalty minutes.

In the eight games since the Lightning topped the Caps, Tampa Bay has a grand total of one goal from a defenseman, that coming from Andrej Meszaros in a 5-2 loss to Florida on January 16th. This is perhaps worth noting since the Lightning defense has but one goal against the Caps among the seven they have in two games, that coming from Kurtis Foster in the 7-4 win on January 12th – the only goal he has this month. What the Tampa Bay defense might lack in scoring, they might make up for in taking penalties. Eight Lightning defensemen have more than 20 PIMs (only four Caps have more than 20).

In goal, Antero Niittymaki has the last ten decisions for the Lightning (5-4-1), but how he got there is a bit odd. He played only the last 33 minutes in getting credit for the 7-4 win over the Caps on January 12th. He played 40 minutes before getting pulled – allowing five goals on 18 shots – in a 5-2 loss to Florida on January 16th. He was yanked again after 40 minutes after allowing five goals on 20 shots in an 8-2 loss to the Rangers on January 19th. Niittymaki is capable of scaring up a superior effort (he has allowed only two goals in his last three appearances), but he is also capable of just being scary (he has been pulled in three of his last 12 appearances). The alternatives aren’t good, either – Mike Smith has lost all three career decisions to Washington with a 5.19 GAA and .832 save percentage.

The Peerless Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Ryan Malone

Malone is Tampa Bay’s second-leading goal scorer (21), but he has only two goals in his last 15 games. His providing that goal-scoring is essential to Tampa Bay’s success – he has 16 goals in 22 wins in which he participate this season. Last year he has some success against the Caps (2-2-4 in five games), but this year hasn’t registered a point in either game the teams have played. He is 5-9-14 in 22 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brian Pothier

With Mike Green getting a three-game vacation, courtesy of the fine folks of the National Hockey League, Pothier seems likely to pick up a little more ice time, especially on the power play, where he is second to Green in average ice time per game. With four goals this season, Pothier is on the brink of tying a career high (five). He has more goals (five) and points (16, in 29 games) against Tampa Bay than he has against any other NHL team.


1. It’s just a number. Ten follows nine, which follows eight. If one takes things one step at a time and focuses on the “one” at hand, then one might be less likely to think about the length of the winning streak. Think of it this way… it’s not a nine-game winning streak, it’s nine one-game winning streaks. This afternoon is just a chance to have another one-game winning streak.

2. Find the happy's the one lighted by a red light. Steve Downie and Zenon Konopka have 334 penalty minutes and 28 fights between them. Konopka has 21 fights this year by himself, including five in his last 11 games. If Tampa is going to try to neutralize the Caps firepower and sense of mission to atone for the 7-4 whuppin’ earlier this month, these two might try to do that by way of creating some mischief. The object of the exercise is to make the Lightning pay on the scoreboard for any such truculence.

3. More power. Only the Islanders and Maple Leafs have allowed more power play goals on the road than have the Lightning. Only Carolina has allowed more power play opportunities on the road. This is not a happy statistic if you are a Lightning fan.

In the end, it is hard to see a way through to how Tampa Bay wins this game. But then again, this is hockey, and the puck is a strange and fickle creature. By the book, this game isn’t competitive after the first period, even if the Lightning are somewhat respectable in their allowance of first period goals (44, tied for 16th fewest in the league). We just think that the combination of the way the Caps have played this month, plus what might be expected to be a desire to avenge the loss to the Lightning earlier this month will lead to the Caps restoring order to the Southeast Division universe…

Caps 6 – Lightning 2

Friday, January 29, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Panthers 1

You know, we would like to think we have a fair command of the English language, but frankly we are running out of adjectives.

Gritty, diligent, hard-working, explosive… we’ll think of some more. But for now, let’s just look at tonight’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers and apply some of these adjectives…

Gritty… The Caps knew coming in that this could be a bit of a slog. Tomas Vokoun came into the game as the hottest goaltender in the league – 7-3-2 for January, a 1.41 GAA, a .958 save percentage, and three shut outs. If the Caps were going to solve him, they were going to have to work for it, and that they did, getting two on Vokoun on 26 shots in the first two periods, then two on their first seven shots in the third to break the game open.

Diligent… crashing the net, the forwards getting back on defense (a few times it was Ovechkin covering the man heading to the net, instead of the second defenseman), winning battles along the walls, doing the little things was key to not giving the Panthers many chances.

Hard-working… Name a Cap who wasn’t. Even losing Mike Green to an injury 16:51 into the second period didn’t affect the level of effort.

Explosive… Florida scored its lone goal at the 4:22 mark of the second period. The Caps scored 25 seconds later (again, Wes Johnson barely got the name of the Panther goal scorer out of his mouth on the PA announcement). Then, two goals in less than three minutes early in the third. Consider, this was against a team that allowed fewer than two goals in four of its last five games and has given up more than three goals only once this month.

Other stuff…

-- Jeff Schultz completes the set. Every skater who took the ice tonight, except for Schultz, had at least one goal this month. Schultz drove one through a Brooks Laich screen to give the Caps an insurance goal.

-- Coulda-woulda-shoulda… Dominic Moore gets a breakaway in the first half minute of the game, rings the puck off the post. That could have played with goalie Michal Neuvirth’s head.

-- Kanoobie is one happy ugly goal rally mutt. Mike Knuble gets a goal from the door step and another on a wrister, sort of soup-to-nuts, Knuble style. That’s 11 goals in his last 12 games and two game-winners in his last three games. How does that signing look now?

-- The Caps had as many shots shorthanded (five) as the Panthers had on the power play.

-- Speaking of the man advantage, that’s eight straight games with a power play goal (11-for-29/37.9 percent) and have scored at least one in 12 of 14 games in January (17-for-49/34.7 percent).

-- The Caps went 5-for-5 on the PK… that’s 32-for-36 at home this month (88.9 percent).

-- Neuvirth (finally!), Knuble, and Backstrom got the game’s three stars, but here’s a doff of the prognostatorial cap to Brian Pothier, who we thought had a fine game. He moved the puck smartly, had a couple of blocked shots, had four hits, and his two giveaways were inconsequential (in fact, he was credited with a takeaway immediately after committing a giveaway).

-- If you want to quibble about Neuvirth’s rebounds early, go ahead. But since he was pulled from the game the last time these teams met, he is 3-0-0, 1.20, .963 in four appearances. He was 17-for-17 in the third period.

-- Florida isn’t going to last in contention until they can improve their productivity. 17 of 18 skaters managed at least a shot on goal tonight (36 in all). It was only the second time in ten games the Panthers could manage more than 30 shots on goal, for all the good it did them.

-- From our perch, the hit by Dmitry Kulikov on Mike Green was a clean hit, merely unfortunate circumstance that led their knees to collide. In fact, we were more worried that Green was concussed. It was just Green in a vulnerable position, and Kulikov executing a good open ice hit.

-- The evolution of the Caps as a complete hockey team continues. John Erskine finished the game with more ice time (17:43) than did Alex Ovechkin (17:27).

-- Here is another example. The Caps had five players with eight shots on the power play. Two years ago, if the Caps had eight shots on the power play, Ovechkin had six, and Mike Green probably had the other two. Nicklas Backstrom had three tonight (one goal)

-- Jeff Schultz is back on track – plus-5 in his last three games after a plus-1 tonight. But we thought he was struggling to get the puck out of the defensive zone, and we thought he could have moved the puck along the boards more assertively on a couple of occasions. Truth be told, Mike Green was having the same sorts of problems.

-- Are the coaches confident in the defense? The five defensemen who skated in the third all had between eight and ten shifts. There was no shortening of the bench.

-- The win sets a record for wins in the month of January – the Caps are 12-2-0 this month, besting the previous record set in 2000 (11-1-2). The Caps can set a record for most wins in a month in franchise history with a win on Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

-- Alex Ovechkin is a plus-34 after going plus-2 tonight. That is a pace to finish at plus-55, which would be the highest plus-minus since Vladimir Konstantinov was plus-60 in 1995-1996. It would tie for the highest among forwards since Mario Lemieux was plus-55 in 1992-1993. The last time a forward finished higher than the pace Ovechkin is on was 1986-1987… some guy named “Gretzky” (plus-70). He is plus-15 in 14 games this month.

-- There are games when John Erskine scares us a little bit out there. Tonight was not one of those games. His compete level was excellent, hustling on a couple of occasions to keep icing calls from being washed out and winning several chases for the puck along the walls. It was a solid game in doing the gritty things.

-- We see Brooks Laich in interviews, and he is witty, charming, personable. But on the ice, he looks like one fellow you really don’t want to mess with.

-- Did you ever notice at Caps games that the ice is often tilted, that all the goals are scored at one end of the ice?. Lately, the folks in the west end of the arena aren’t getting much action in that regard. It’s all at the east end – the end at which the Caps shoot twice.

-- Oh, and meanwhile, up in Hershey… the Bears had their third straight game with at least eight goals, beating the Baby Pens, 8-6, in Wilkes-Barre. It was their fifth time in six games with at least seven goals (45 in all in those six games). Think those teams don’t like each other? There were two fights in the first 3:07 of the game, four in all, and there were three sets of coincidental roughing penalties. Shoot, goalie Braden Holtby was whistled for two roughing penalties. We’re going to see those two go at it on February 13th, and we can’t wait.

Here in DC, though, it was another multi-goal game for a Cap (what’s that, 437 this year?), two three-point games, ten players on the plus side of the ledger, 11 with hits… it was a good all-around game for the Caps against a team against whom they could have suffered a letdown. Now, they get a chance for revenge against the last team to beat them – the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Caps rather soundly in Tampa on January 12th, 7-4. We suspect the Lightning will have the Caps’ full attention. That is not good news if you’re a Lightning fan.

But first things, first… this was a fine effort all around, for the ninth straight time.


At today, Dan Rosen pens an essay titled, "Capitals' rampaging offense has been unstoppable."

"Rampaging" is one of those words that trip a nerve cell deep within our addled brain. And that nerve cell is linked to the memory of a line from a somewhat obscure movie about a woeful college football team playing through a year under suspension from the NCAA.

The movie is titled, "Necessary Roughness," and one of its characters is an old school coach with a gruff (but heart of gold) personality, played by Robert Loggia (whose picture you will find in Websters if you look up "gruff").

What the phrase "rampaging offense" triggered was the memory from the movie of a locker room speech that, if you set it to the Caps -- and how an opponent might deal with that "rampaging offense -- might go like this...


"Let us pray."

Washington Capitals... "rampaging beasts"

We kinda like the sound of that.

Bill Simmons... you're wrong. We qualify

Bill Simmons, who writes a blog for as “The Sports Guy,” penned a column today in which he takes on the issue of tortured professional sports franchises. His inspiration was the Minnesota Vikings’ overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints this past weekend that denied the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl.

Simmons is no stranger to the subject, and in fact might have an attachment to it that goes beyond what might be considered “healthy.” As he notes, he once wrote a column titled, “The 13 Levels of Losing,” which runs the gamut from “a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end” to “Game 6 of the 1986 World Series ... one of a kind ... maybe the most catastrophic sports loss of our lifetime.” Simmons admits to being a Red Sox fan, so his perspective might be tinged with bias.

But to the point… In today’s essay Simmons tries to quantify the ”Level 1” defeat:

(Guillotine + Stomach Punch) x (already tortured history) x (significance of the game itself) x (catchy moniker) = Level 1.

He then goes on to describe in detail the variables, those variables being:

1. You need at least a 35-year drought without a title.
2. That 35-year rule doesn't apply to relocations.
3. During that 35-plus years without a title, it's not enough to lose. You need to have your guts wrenched a few times.
4. Only teams in cold-weather cities are eligible for Level 1 unless the situation is so cruel/unusual/unforgiving that it's practically unprecedented.
5. You need to be just pessimistic enough to keep your guard up for a sucker punch but just optimistic enough to keep lowering your guard at the worst possible time.
6. Outsiders need to instinctively empathize during a Level 1 takedown.

This last one comes with something of a qualifier, and here its relevance to the Capitals becomes clear. Simmons notes that one factor that could affect the empathetic variable is

“…steady losing devoid of playoff nightmares (like the Lions or Saints). This clause unfortunately rules out fans of the following teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Lions, Houston Astros, Kansas City Chiefs, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Kings, Miami Dolphins, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Blues, Texas Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals (emphasis added).”

Bill, we don’t know just how much you follow the Washington Capitals, but in fact, the club has not had a history of “steady losing,” and in fact once had a 14-year string of making the NHL playoffs. Even when that streak was broken, the Caps did make the playoffs in four of ten years. Not consistent winning, certainly, but hardly “steady losing (like the Lions or Saints).”

In fact, the Capitals might be a sufficiently tortured fan base as to qualify as a “Level 1” item on the Simmons torture scale. Let’s look at the argument for the other five variables…

1. You need at least a 35-year drought without a title.

The Capitals are about to unveil a 35-year patch celebrating their 35 years as an NHL franchise. Number of titles won: zero. Number of times they played in the finals for a title: one.

2. That 35-year rule doesn't apply to relocations.

Unless you count the “Landover-to-DC” move, the Caps have never relocated. Not that it almost didn’t happen.

3. During that 35-plus years without a title, it's not enough to lose. You need to have your guts wrenched a few times.

Two words, “Pittsburgh Penguins.” OK, three more words, “New York Islanders.” Let’s look at the latter first. Before most Caps fans these days were alive (or had yet discovered hockey), the Islanders were the older brother making life utterly miserable for the Caps. The first time the Caps made the playoffs, it was against the Islanders in 1983. The Caps actually won a game but lost the best-of-five series, 3-1. In fact, the Islanders would be the team that eliminated the Caps in each of the first three occasions that Washington made the playoffs.

In 1986 the Caps finally turned the tables, but that was merely a crumb to torture Caps fans for what would take place the following year – the Easter Sunday game. That was the year—1987 – that the Islanders went well into Easter Sunday morning before Pat Lafontaine took a pass from behind the Caps net in the fourth overtime and –CLANG!- drove a stake into the heart of Caps Nation.

By the time the Islanders would eliminate the Caps one last time (in 1993), another team stepped up to become the Caps’ master of torture – the Pittsburgh Penguins. From 1991 through last season, the Penguins and Capitals played in eight playoff series. The Penguins have won seven of them. Three times the Caps lost after taking 3-1 leads in games, and on two other occasions they lost after taking 2-0 leads in games. On another occasion they clinched a series in overtime, on a Capitals turnover at their own blue line that resulted in a breakaway. Only in 2000 did the Penguins end the Caps’ misery quickly, but even that didn’t come without pain – that was the year that arena scheduling forced the series to play games 2 and 3 in Pittsburgh, even though the Caps had home ice advantage and should have had games 1 and 2 in Washington.

But last year’s playoff series might have been especially painful. The Caps took the regular season series from the Penguins (3-0-1) and then took a 2-0 lead in games. But the Caps then lost the next three to Pittsburgh, only to fight back to win game 6 in overtime on Penguin ice to force a game 7 in Washington. Then, early in that game 7 contest, all-world Alex Ovechkin had the puck on his stick and was in alone on Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway early in the contest. If Ovechkin scores there, the crowd gets into the game, and the guys start feeling good about themselves, well… But Ovechkin didn’t score, the Penguins buried the Caps under an avalanche of shots, and Pittsburgh walked out with a 6-2 win.

Oh, and we won’t even speak the name, “Esa Tikkanen.” I think Caps fans have had their guts wrenched a few times.

4. Only teams in cold-weather cities are eligible for Level 1 unless the situation is so cruel/unusual/unforgiving that it's practically unprecedented.

If Washington is considered part of the “mid-Atlantic region,” it is one they share with Pennsylvania, and thus might be considered a cold-weather city. It sure ain’t Miami.

5. You need to be just pessimistic enough to keep your guard up for a sucker punch but just optimistic enough to keep lowering your guard at the worst possible time.

There might not be any team, certainly in the NHL, with a fan base as convinced of the utter inevitability of losing as Caps fans… unless they go up 3-1 in a playoff series or play a game 7. Then Caps fans think, "well, maybe..." The Caps are 2-5 in game 7’s.

In creating his “formula for torture,” Simmons says that

“you need to have all of those things. The Norwood Game [when he missed a field goal against the New York Giants that would have made the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl champions] seems like a Level 1 loss in retrospect, but Bills fans weren't fully tortured yet. Only AFTER the agony of that defeat did they become Level 1 eligible. Same for Browns fans after The Drive paved the way for the Byner Fumble a year later. The key is 'fully tortured.' You can't be a little tortured or pretty much tortured. You have to be fully tortured."

Bill, we’re fully tortured. It makes us that much more appreciative of how the Caps are playing these days. It’s been a glorious ride so far this season, one that might make Caps fans think that this – finally – is the year.


Prognosto Update!

Last September 30th, we posted “ten SWAPs” – ten silly wild-assed prognostications. OK, so… how are we doing?

Number 10… The Capitals have never led the NHL in power play conversion success. Last year’s second-place finish to Detroit and their 25.2 percent success rate are franchise bests. This year, the Caps will lead the NHL in power play conversions at 27.7 percent.

The Caps are currently at 26.1 percent, but since December 1st they are 30-for-99 (30.3 percent) in 26 games. That is a large enough sample to suggest that the 27.7 percent isn’t out of the question.

Number 9… The Capitals have never had an undefeated month (five games played minimum). January 2000 is their best on record (11-1-2). This club will have an undefeated (in regulation) February.

Given that the Caps are 11-2-0 in January, we might have a shot…

Number 8… The Caps have never had a 100-power play goal season (in 1992-1993 they had 97). This year, that mark will be topped.

With 53 power play goals in 53 games (tops in the league), this will be hard to achieve, not because of the Caps inefficiency (they lead the league in conversion rate), but comparative ineffectiveness (they are tied for 15th in total power play opportunities).

Number 7… Nicklas Backstrom will break the club record for consecutive games with an assists (nine, held by Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson).

Actually, we were pretty confident of this one going into the season. But Backstrom’s high this year so far is a five-game streak of helpers (January 7-15). With 29 games left there is time, but this might not be the year. We do think that eventually he will hold this record.

Number 6… The Caps will set a franchise record for playoff goals scored, team (currently 54, by the 1988 squad).

Talk to us in May.

Number 5… Quintin Laing will have a two-goal game. They will be his only two goals of the season.

We might be half right on this. Laing has two goals, but they came in separate games (November 1st against Columbus and November 7th against Florida).

Number 4… Matt Bradley will fight Donald Brashear. Bradley will win the bout when Brashear keels over in laughter at Bradley dropping his gloves.

Seeing as how: a) the Rangers don’t dress Brashear often, and b) the Rangers might want to get more firepower into the lineup for the two remaining contests these teams have with one another, this one isn’t looking likely (although they do play this coming Thursday, to let’s see).

Number 3… Michael Nylander will score a goal this year…against the Caps.

Not unless Jokerit is playing an exhibition against the Caps.

Number 2… Alex Ovechkin will carry home five trophies – Hart, Ross, Pearson, Richard, and…

…wait for it…

…Conn Smythe.

Hart?...maybe. Pearson?...could be. We like his chances for the Ross and Richard, given his production per game played. Conn Smythe?...we’re hopeful.

And the Number 1 prognostication for the Caps this season.

...Plan your parade route, kids, there’s hardware comin’ to town

They’d be hard to bet against the way they’re playing at the moment, but there is a long time until June.

That’s what Bears fans do...

John Walton of the Hershey Bears posted this request for help for a Bears fan who has been dealt an unfortunate blow. More to the story can be found here , here, and here. As John puts it at the end...

"You’ll be helping out a big Bears fan get back to the games he loves so much. We’ve got your back, Jason. That’s what Bears fans do."

edit: An update from John Walton...

"I've also gotten several notes from fans in D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia, asking what they can do if they're not coming to games and they are without a place to donate. For anyone that fits that description, drop me a note at and we'll make arrangements for you. My thanks to the D.C. blogging community for picking up this story from me and posting it so the folks that "Rock the Red" hear about Jason's story."

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And today we have a special treat. I don’t know how many readers of this space have sent me e-mails asking, “Peerless, how do you crank out these posts day after day after day…”


“after day after day after…”

Well, you get the point. The secret to grinding this stuff out is good scotch and lots of fiber. Just kidding. Actually, like many other blogs these days, we have a crack staff of professionals that make yours truly look good. And we thought it was long past time that you met them…

First we have our research interns. These young fellows spend countless hours poring over statistics, trends, models (and those young ladies really are troopers, too) to make sure that we have the latest, most up-to-date numbers to feed our readers’ insatiable hunger for… well, numbers.

Then there is our copy staff. They are a talented bunch, but sometimes they take their editing responsibilities a little too seriously. Just yesterday, one of them came up to me (well, up to about my knees) and said, “oompa loompa doompadee doo, I've got better subject for you. Oompa loompa doompadee dee, if you are wise you'll listen to me.” And you know, he was right. That post about the letter “P” before the Phoenix game really was lame.

Then there are the quality control guys. These are the guys who make sure that everything is spelled right, formatted correctly, and is generally pleasing to the eye. These guys came up with that thermometer idea, which come to think of it is the last idea they had.

And then there is our webmaster. We’d still be doing this on a typewriter but for this guy.

And it all comes together on a night like this, a well-oiled (thanks to that good scotch) machine, just like the Washington Capitals (just kidding, kids, we drink only fresh wholesome milk and eat green vegetables… are hops a vegetable?). And tonight, the well-oiled machine that is the Washington Capitals host the Florida Panthers on Fun Street.

Yes, the Caps have had a spectacular January (11-2-0). Yes, the Caps have pounded the opposition (62-32 in 13 games this month). Yes, the Caps have captured the imagination of a hockey-mad world.

But it isn’t as if the Panthers are the Washington Generals to the Caps’ Harlem Globetrotters here, either. Florida is 7-3-2 for the month and has outscored their opposition by 29-19 in 12 games. Florida hasn’t allowed more than two goals in their last seven games, since a 5-4 Gimmick loss to… well, to the Caps. It is one of only two games this month in which the Panthers have allowed more than two goals (the other a 3-2 loss at Toronto on January 5th). Here are the overall numbers...

The author of those stingy efforts lately is goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has every decision for the Panthers this month. He is probably the hottest goalie in the NHL with a 1.41 GAA for January, a .958 save percentage, and three shut outs. He hasn’t had nearly that level of success against the Caps this year, holding at the moment a 0-1-1 record (3.43, .885) against Washington. He allowed four goals in regulation, then allowed three goals in a six round skills competition in the 5-4 Gimmick loss two weeks ago.

The other side of that coin is that the Panthers are having a Devil (or a Wild) time trying to score goals. Whatever, they’re not exactly a Flame or Lightning on ice. They have only 29 goals in 12 games this month, and six of those came in the first game of the month, a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Compounding the problem is the loss of Nathan Horton who has been out since fracturing his leg in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Islanders a week ago. Horton, the Panthers’ leading scorer for the season, is expected to miss at least a month. Add to that the fact that David Booth hasn’t dressed since being concussed on a hit by the Flyers’ Mike Richards in a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on October 24th. The Panthers are hopeful that Booth will be able to return to the ice before the Olympic break, but his absence for this game just underscores the offensive void left in the Panther lineup.

That means that the scoring load falls to second leading scorer Stephen Weiss – no goals in his last six games and only one in his last 14. And to third leading scorer Steven Reinprecht – no goals in his last 11 games and only two in his last 20. And to fourth leading scorer Michael Frolik – no goals in his last seven games, one in his last 12.

See a pattern?

By comparison, Rostislav Olesz is on fire. He has five goals in his last nine games, but even here there is a problem. He hasn’t lit the lamp in his last five games.

Even on the blue line things have dried up. Bryan McCabe, who leads the Panthers’ defense in scoring, doesn’t have a point in his last seven games and has only an assist in his last 10. Dennis Seidenberg not only does not have a goal this month, he doesn’t have one since Hallowe'en. And it goes on – Jordan Leopold, no goals in his last 11 games. Keith Ballard, none in his last 12.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Cory Stillman

If Florida is going to win, you would have to think Stillman has to be on the score sheet. He is 12-23-35 in 40 career games against the Caps, including a goal and an assist in three games this year. And, he has four goals in his last seven games. If Stillman can’t find his way onto the score sheet, Vokoun might have to pitch a shutout to win, and that seems unlikely in the extreme given the Caps’ offensive production this month.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Chimera hasn’t had a lot of experience against the Panthers, but he has had success in his limited exposure. He is 3-1-4 in four career games against the Caps, including what was his first multi-point game as a Cap (1-1-2) in the 5-4 win on January 13th. He is 3-5-8, plus-5 in his last ten games with the Caps.


1. No napping. Florida is going to try to slow this game down to a walk. It will be the local, not the Acela, going from zone to zone. If the Caps fall into that trap (so to speak) and get caught napping, Florida might get the sneaky goal somewhere along the way to give Tomas Vokoun some much needed help.

2. Gatling Gun for Goals. Vokoun has faced 407 shots in 12 games this month (33.9 per game). He doesn’t seem to have suffered under the assault (3-1-2 in games in which he saw at least 35 shots in January). But the Caps have been rather efficient in scoring (14.2 percent shooting percentage for the month). If the Caps succeed at that rate and the Panthers allow the shots on goal they’ve allowed this month, it will be another “wings” night for the fans.

3. Familiarity Breeds Contempt. You could sew it on a sampler, but it applies here. The Caps are 4-0-0 against the Panthers so far this season, outscoring Florida 21-11 in the four games. It isn’t beyond imagining that the Caps might take the Panthers a bit lightly (see: “Tampa Bay,” January 12th, a 7-4 loss). Given that the Caps have scored 11 goals in the third period in the four games, it might be worth noting if they bearing down in the last 20 minutes.

In the end, the only thing that can beat the Caps here is themselves. J-S Giguere played spectacularly at times for Anaheim in Wednesday’s game against the Caps and still was lit up for three goals in 2:30 in the third period in a 5-1 loss. Tomas Vokoun might have to do better, given the offensive troubles his team has. The Caps have shown no particular inclination to see an end to this run they are on, and we’re thinking “chicken parts.”

Caps 5 – Panthers 2

Oh, I almost forgot the marketing team...

"Have fun storming the blogosphere..."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hockey at The Big House?

The Michigan Daily reports that a rematch of 2001's "Cold War" between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University could be in the offing...

"...the long-awaited “Cold War II” matchup, this time at Michigan Stadium, is expected to be officially announced “in the coming days,” according to an Athletic Department official, who wished to remain anonymous because an official announcement has yet to be made. With the two teams scheduled to meet next season on Dec. 10 and 11, the outdoor game is widely believed to take place on Dec. 11."
Having attended both of those fine institutions (ok, Michigan sucks), we're already circling that December date on the calendar.

Thanks to Forechecker for pointing the way to finding this.

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Ducks 1

It was over in the blink of an eye, like a fireball consuming everything around it.

For 40 minutes the Washington Capitals and the Anaheim Ducks traded shot-making dominance, the Caps opening the game outshooting the Ducks 14-3. Then the Ducks outshot the Caps 16-5 to knot the shots at 19 and the goals at one apiece. Then the Caps closed the second period outshooting the Ducks 16-6. The game was still tied at one apiece, goalies Michal Neuvirth and Jean-Sebastien Giguere keeping their teams in the match.

Then, in a space of 2:30, the competitive portion of the evening was over. Wes Johnson could barely get the names of the scorers out of his mouth when another goal was scored – three in all in that 2:30. Shaone Morrisonn banking a shot from out near the blue line off Steve Eminger for the first goal, Mike Knuble converting a pass from Alex Ovechkin – and a bouncing puck at that – to net the second one, and Alexander Semin finished the three-fer by taking a long feed from Brooks Laich behind the Anaheim defense and roofing a backhand past Giguere.

Just like that… 4-1.

All that was left were two things… one, whether the Caps would get their fans a free order of wings from a local establishment by getting the fifth goal (they did, on Semin’s second of the game)… two, whether Ducks coach Randy “Stuck in ‘ought-seven” Carlyle would have the Ducks goon it up after things got out of hand (they did).

Other stuff…

-- After Semin scored to make it 4-1, the Ducks finished up the game taking four roughing minors, a slashing minor, and a fighting major penalty. In 2006-2007, the rough stuff was a tool to tenderize teams so that the Ducks’ talent could take over. This was just some pathetic nonsense that was a twisted waving of the white flag.

-- Michal Neuvirth had 30 saves. On 15 of them he froze the puck for a faceoff. The Caps won nine of the resulting 15 faceoffs. A formula that works.

-- At least it works better than four giveaways, which is what Neuvirth had for the evening.

-- The Caps out-attempted Anaheim 81-59. A lot of that was Nicklas Backstrom, who is nearly impossible to: a) keep from getting a stick on a loose puck, and b) next to impossible to separate from the puck once he has it on his stick. Eight shot attempts and an assist for 19 tonight.

-- If fans get free wings for five goals, what might we get for 50 shots? The Caps finished with 49, every skater in a red sweater getting at least one, save for Jason Chimera.

-- Spreading things around, part one: 14 of 18 skaters for the Ducks were in minus territory.

-- Ryan Getzlaf… three minor penalties, minus-1, one shot on goal, lost ten of 17 draws. They coulda had Fehr!

-- Spreading things around, part two: four multi-point games tonight, including the second one by Shaone Morrisonn in four games.

-- Alex Ovechkin was credited with only two hits? There seemed to be a fair number of Ducks bouncing off him over the 60 minutes.

-- As lopsided as the final result was, this game might have been over early, but for 12 missed shots by the Caps in the first period.

-- Six Caps took draws tonight, six Caps had a winning record on their way to winning 41 of 68 (12 of 16 in the offensive end).

-- This win is the Caps’ 11th of the month, tying the franchise best for wins in January.

-- Starting with the Caps 2-0 win over Buffalo on the day before Thanksgiving, the Caps are 22-7-0 (and that includes a three-game losing streak). They’ve outscored opponents over that span by 120-73.

-- In those 22 wins, Jose Theodore has 11, Michal Neuvirth has seven, and Semyon Varlamov has four.

-- If we told you Eric Fehr led the Caps in power play shots, would you be surprised? Well, he did (four). He had six shots overall in 12 minutes of ice time, plus a double minor for roughing. Busy fellow.

-- Bobby Ryan is a pretty sturdily built young man. He was crumpled like an empty can of Schlitz by Alex Ovechkin near the Anaheim bench. Not quite like trying to practice your step-over wrestling moves on Mike Green, is it, eh Bobby?

-- Does Ovechkin’s goal count as his third straight empty-netter?

-- It’s good to be the Captain… Ovechkin is 8-15-23 since taking the “C,” and the Caps are 11-1-0.

-- It’s good to be the Captain’s buddy… Alexander Semin is 11-10-21 since Ovechkin became captain.

-- It’s good to be the Captain’s wingman… Mike Knuble has nine goals since Ovechkin became…oh, you get the point.

-- The Caps have five players at plus-20 or better. There are only 15 such players in the entire league (Vancouver has four of the rest).

-- Since Mike Green was informed that his services were not required by Team Canada, he is 3-10-13, plus-7 in 13 games (plus-9 in his last 11 games).

The last time the Caps won eight games in a row, Alex Ovechkin was three years old (March 1989). It’s been a while. And it’s been a while since the Caps were this good. And they are getting contributions from everywhere – five points in four games for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, a goal from John Erskine the other night for the first time in 109 games, a solid goaltending performance for Michal Neuvirth, who kept the Caps in this one until the guys could find the net with the fusillade they were unleashing on J-S Giguere. There is only one thing to do in the midst of all of this…

Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s another of those infernal back-to-backs that play havoc on our prognosticating, although it is a labor of love when the Caps come into the back half of this BtoB with a win under their belts, last night’s at the expense of the New York Islanders by a 7-2 score. Tonight it’s the Anaheim Ducks who visit Verizon Center, and the Ducks…

“I can help U with that if UR short on time.”

I beg your pardon?

“I can help U if UR short on time.”

And you would be…

“I.B. Twittering.”

Of course you are…

“I read #The Peerless a lot, and I’d B happy to help.”

OK, I’ll bite…

“2nite the #AnaheimDucks visit the Caps.”

OK, I get that part.

“#AnaheimDucks are 8-5-0 in January, 8-3-0 in last 11.”

What’s with the pound sign?

“It’s a #twittering thing; U wouldn’t understand.”

OK, go on…

“ANA has 3 players >40 points: #CoreyPerry, #RyanGetzlaf, #BobbyRyan”

“Dman #ScottNiedermayer is -16; worst of career.”


“Must make #GreenLife52 angry”

No doubt…

“#AnaheimDucks 5/60 on PP over last 18 games”

8.3 percent isn’t going to cut it against the Caps.

“#AnaheimDucks PK is 81.0% over same games.”

Not great…if it’s a special teams game, the Ducks could get roasted.

“very funny; have to put that under ‘#duckjokes’”

As you were… uh, “tweeting?”

“D #SteveEminger leads #AnaheimDucks D in shooting %”

He’s taken only 17 shots in 37 games. That’s what…

“2G for #SteveEminger”

Not exactly “MikeGreenesque”

“None of top6 D for #AnaheimDucks in scoring drafted by club”

Interesting tidbit…

“#JonasHiller has 1 appearance vs #Caps in career”

How’d he do?

“7 min, 6SOG, 3G, .500SV, 24.94GAA for #JonasHiller”

In other words…


But he played last night. What about J-S Giguere?

“Since #NHLlockout, 1-1-1, 2,41, .913 for #JSGiguere”

OK, so I’m guessing the Caps see Giguere tonight

“It’s been 2 wks since #JSGiguere was in lineup; no W’s since Dec 8”

I see… 0-3-1, 4.13, .863 since then… not good. So what are the keys?

“Keep up the PP production”

The Caps are 15-for-41 in January (36.6 percent), but they’re only averaging 3.4 opportunities per game for the month. More would be better.

“3 is key”

If Anaheim gets three goals, they win. They are 8-0-0 when scoring at least three in January, 0-5-0 when they don’t.

“Pedal 2 the metal”

Someday, the streak is going to end, but “someday” doesn’t have to be today. The Caps have defeated contenders (Detroit, Pittsburgh), pretenders (Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia), and bottom enders (Toronto, the Islanders). No reason why they can’t keep this going…

Caps 4 – Ducks 2

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 7 - Islanders 2

OK… so a team gets taken to extra time three times in their first three tries against an opponent. You might think that the fourth time around the game would be played close, especially when played on the opponent’s ice, right?

What does it say when the Caps enter such a scenario and score four times on their first 12 shots on their way to a 7-2 win? And they do it without Alex Ovechkin registering as much as a single point.

The Caps made it seven in a row with the win over the New York Islanders, and in doing so now have outscored their opponents, 35-17 (5.0 – 2.4) over that span. If it was a Broadway play called, “Young Guns,” it was a night for the understudies. For example…

Tomas Fleischmann stood in for Nicklas Backstrom, getting a pair of primary assists.

Jason Chimera stood in for Alex Ovechkin, using the defenseman as a screen in ripping a shot past goalie Rick DiPietro and finishing 1-1-2, plus-3.

John Erskine stood in for Mike Green, pinching down on the weak side, taking a pass from Eric Fehr and snapping the puck into the back of the net for his first goal in 109 games.

OK, Alexander Semin took the stage playing himself in getting a pair of goals (12 points in his last six games).

Other stuff…

-- The official score sheet says that Mike Knuble’s goal came from nine feet. Even Kanoobie knew it was from more like nine inches.

-- Six two-point nights: Erskine, Brendan Morrison, Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Chimera, and Semin. Can you say, “secondary scoring?”

-- The flip side of that… Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Green had a combined total of one point (Backstrom, an assist).

-- Scoring by line… first line: 1-1-2… second line: 3-2-5… third line: 2-4-6.

-- One dark spot… Jose Theodore was described by Coach Bruce Boudreau as “day-to-day” with a “lower body injury.” Braden Holtby on the Route 15 express? If he is called up, we wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the start against Florida on Friday, given that an afternoon game on Sunday follows.

-- The Caps outscored the Islanders 6-1 at even strength. That’ll help the 5-on-5 ratio.

-- That second goal by Alexander Semin… there is no one in the league with better hands with the puck on his stick than Semin. No one.

-- Speaking of Semin, was he the focus of defensemen Mark Streit and Bruno Gervais when Brooks Laich stepped between both and roofed the puck past DiPietro for the last goal? It was as if both defensemen were standing there waiting for Laich to slide the puck back to Semin.

-- For the Caps, 15 players had takeaways, 15 players had giveaways… local scoring rules?

-- Ovechkin’s nine-game points streak is over, but it didn’t go quietly… ten shots, one of them striking defenseman Jack Hillen in the face. Hillen did go off under his own power, but was taken to a hospital for evaluation. Helluva way to get credit for a blocked shot.

-- The Caps scored two goals in 2:26 after the Hillen injury, both of them from “inside the paint” (Knuble, Semin).

-- The curse of Jon Sim is history. One goal in seven games as an Islander… no points tonight and a minus-4.

-- No Islander had more shots in total than defenseman Mark Streit had on the power play (five), so we know where the power play goes through on the Islanders.

-- The Caps have now scored at least four goals in ten of their last 11 games (56 goals in all in posting a 10-1-0 record).

The Islanders are not an elite team, but neither are they chumps. This is a team that played the Caps hard in three games, taking them to extra time in each, and they were 7-3-0 for January coming into this game. That the Caps could overwhelm them early (4-1 after one period) and keep the pedal to the floor in a 7-2 win speaks to just how well the club is playing right now. The Caps probably haven’t played this well for this sustained length of time since the playoff push to close the 2007-2008 regular season, and these last 11 games might be the best run of offense by a Caps team in memory (given the change in eras and state of the current game). They aren’t beating teams, they are pounding them (five wins of three or more games in their last ten wins).

They now head home to take on Anaheim, who lost to Atlanta tonight, 2-1. That will be another test for the Caps, given the Ducks’ physical style and their own 8-3-0 record in their last 11 games. Anaheim also brings in the factor of desperation as they are trying to close the gap between themselves and eighth-place Detroit in the West. It’s another test for the good guys… who said January was boring?

Kovalchuk Trade, You Say? Well, We Have Our Own Silly Ideas About It

We’re not yet a month into the new year, and trade rumors are among the hot topics being discussed around the NHL.

OK, rumors about where Ilya Kovalchuk is headed. There are rumblings that the Capitals might be in the hunt for the prolific winger, and since we have as uninformed a perspective on this as those who originally promulgated and continue to promulgate such rumors, we thought we would scribble a few dozen lines about it.

First, let us just say that we don’t have much use for rental of high end players. Since there is only one Stanley Cup to be had, the numbers argue that it is not all that likely that such an investment in trade is going to result in a Stanley Cup. Then there is what a team has to give up to get such an asset back. The risk is that in going all in on such a trade, you have to move a considerable amount of your future in terms of picks or prospects. Although as we’ll see, this doesn’t usually end up being the case, either.

Which leads us to the question, just what might it take to pry Ilya Kovalchuk away from the Thrashers? That kind of analysis is difficult, given the many moving parts in such a deal (mostly in terms of other teams that will be competing for his services). But perhaps there is something in history that provides a clue.

Swapping out an elite player is not common in the NHL, but it does happen. Kovalchuk’s situation is perhaps unique (and we will get to that), but not so much that it precludes a deal. What, then, is there in the history of trades involving elite talent since the lockout -- deadline and otherwise (plus another we will re-live) -- to suggest what sort of price the Capitals might have to pony up to obtain the services of Ilya Kovalchuk? Here goes, most recent first…

Trade 1: June 27, 2009 – The Calgary Flames obtained Jay Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers for Jordan Leopold and a third round draft pick in 2009.

The formula: Trade rights to negotiate with an impending unrestricted free agent for a reduction in salary cap (Leopold and Bouwmeester play the same position, but Leopold has a $4.93 million lower cap hit this year).

This is not a trade deadline deal, but it does involve a player on whom the clock was ticking with respect to a deal. Florida was facing the loss of Bouwmeester with no return in a matter of days, this coming as a result of having competed for (unsuccessfully) a playoff spot that previous spring. Trading Bouwmeester at the deadline would have put the Panthers in a weaker position to compete for a playoff spot. The return, given the pressure to make a deal here, might seem a bit thin, especially since Leopold is himself an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year (he was an impending free agent himself last summer and signed a one-year deal with Florida). Is there a winner here? Well, Bouwmeester is on a pace to finish with his lowest goals and points totals since his second season (2003-2004: 2-18-20), although he does lead Calgary defensemen in ice time and plus-minus. Leopold looks to be on a pace for points that is consistent with his career averages thus far. The question then is whether Florida re-signs him or trades him at the deadline. If Leopold isn’t traded and leaves as an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Panthers’ return on this trade is a third round draft pick (they selected Josh Birkholz).

Trade 2: September 12, 2009 – The San Jose Sharks acquired Dany Heatley and a 5th round draft pick from the Ottawa Senators for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a 2nd round draft pick.

The formula: Established players (both with more than 300 games of NHL experience at the time of the trade) and a mid-round pick. What Ottawa got was a “safe” return in Michalek (three consecutive 20-plus goal seasons) and a “gamble” in Cheechoo (whose goal scoring had dropped from 56 to 12 in three seasons). Heatley more or less got what he was reported to have wanted – a move to San Jose.

This was neither a trading deadline deal, a free-agent eve deal, nor even a rental. Heatley had a contract that encumbers $7.5 million of cap room through the 2013-2014 season. But this was an instance of a player who publicly wanted to move, putting pressure on the Senators to make a deal. The return for the Senators in this deal was for two players who combined did not have the career goals or points Heatley had at the time of the trade in about 250 more career games than Heatley had. It seems to have worked out for Ottawa so far – addition by subtraction, if you will. The Senators are in fifth place in the East so far this season, a year after finishing a disappointing 11th in the conference. As for the Sharks, this trade can’t be evaluated until the Sharks’ body of work is complete for this year. So far, Heatley is putting up numbers one is accustomed to seeing over his career (30-26-56 in 53 games and points in 15 of his last 18 games through January 23rd). But this is the regular season, and Sharks putting up numbers – as a team and individually – in the regular season isn’t exactly unusual.

Trade 3: March 4, 2009 -- The Calgary Flames acquired Olli Jokinen and a 2009 3rd round draft pick from the Phoenix Coyotes for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust, and a conditional 2009 or 2010 1st round draft pick.

The formula: A couple of mid-20’s guys, one a competent role player (Lombardi might be thought of as a reliable 50-point-a-year or so forward), the other filling a specific physical role. The draft pick that Calgary acquired in this trade was packaged with other assets to obtain Jay Bowmeester from Florida.

At the time of the trade, Jokinen was in the midst of a 21-21-42 season in Calgary. This was a disappointment given that he had 30-plus goals in four of the previous five seasons in Florida and was in his prime (31 years old). The price for Jokinen reflected his somewhat diminished star. Matthew Lombardi was a solid, if expendable, 26-year old forward with (at the time) almost 350 games of NHL experience who might be expected contribute 15-20 goals and perhaps 45-50 points on a full-season basis. Brandon Prust, a 2004 third-round draft pick of Calgary in his first full season with the Flames, had missed 31 games in that 2008-2009 season with a broken jaw. Oddly enough, he’s back in Calgary this season. What he is, is more a pugilist (14 fights this season, for example) than a top-six (or top-nine) forward).

Trade 4: February 26, 2008 -- The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired F Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers for F Colby Armstrong, F Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a 2008 1st round draft pick.

The formula: Pick and prospects for a player.

Hossa is perhaps the single biggest trading deadline piece to be moved in this decade, coincidentally from Atlanta. At the time of the trade he had come off a 100-point season to post a 26-30-56 line in 60 games with the Thrashers. He had six consecutive 30-plus goal seasons and was on his way toward a seventh (he wouldn’t make it, getting only three in 12 games with the Penguins).

The return was essentially for role players and hope. Christensen had bounced between Pittsburgh and the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club for a couple of years, having played 143 games with the parent club at the time of the trade (33-33-66). Armstrong was in similar circumstances, having made the cross-state trip between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre for a couple of seasons, having played 181 games with Ptitsburgh at the time of the trade (37-61-98). The hope was in the form of Angelo Esposito, once considered a potential first-overall draft pick, but whose prospects sank as the 2007 draft approached, and a first round draft pick that could perhaps replenish the Thrasher loss in time with a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman. This ended up being something of a roman candle of a trade – one providing the brief fireworks of a Stanley Cup finals appearance for Hossa, but that ended up coming to a muddled end. Chirstensen was later sent to Anaheim, then moved to the Rangers, and has yet to play 50 games in a season. Armstrong has not yet topped his 40-point rookie season (in 47 games, playing much of the time alongside Sidney Crosby). Esposito is stuck in the Thrashers’ farm system and shows little sign of approaching the potential he had before the 2007 draft. The draft pick – Daultan Leveille – is a sophomore at Michigan State where he is the team’s fourth leading scorer.

Trade 5: February 27, 2007 -- The New York Islanders acquired F Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers for F Robert Nilsson, F Ryan O'Marra and a 1st round pick in 2007 (D Alex Plante).

The formula: More picks and prospects for a player.

Smyth was arguably the prize of the 2007 trading deadline, more perhaps for his leadership and intangibles as for his production. 31-year old at the time, he was in the midst of a 31-22-53 season (in 53 games) with the Oilers when the call came to pack his bags. It was his second straight 30-goal season, but what he might have been better known for was for being “Captain Canada,” a product of having been named multiple times as captain of Team Canada in international competitions.

The price at the time looked rather steep. Nilsson was a former first round pick (15th overall in 2003) who was wrapping up his first year on Long Island (53 games, 6-14-20). O’Marra was another former first round pick (15th overall in 2005). Then there was another first round pick to come, the 2007 pick that was used to select Alex Plante (yes, 15th overall). In retrospect, though, it is another of those trades that hasn’t left a lasting footprint. Smyth’s Islanders did get to the playoffs, but the stay was short (a five-game loss to Buffalo). He then went to Colorado and is now in Los Angeles. Nilsson – now 25 – has yet to produce at a level one might expect of a 15th overall pick (17 points and a minus-18 in 35 games for the Oilers this year). O’Marra saw his first NHL action this year (one assist in three games). Plante is spending his first year as a pro in Springfield of the AHL.

Trade 6: February 25, 2007: Atlanta obtained Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis for Glen Metropolit, Atlanta's 1st round draft pick in the 2007 entry draft (later traded to Calgary - Calgary selected Mikael Backlund) 3rd round pick in the 2007 entry draft (Brett Sonne), and Atlanta's 1st round draft pick in the 2008 entry draft (later traded back to Atlanta - Atlanta selected Zach Bogosian) and 2nd round pick in the 2008 entry draft (Philip McRae).

The formula: Picks – lots of ‘em – for a player.

Was Atlanta desperate? The Thrashers had not reached the playoffs in any of their first six seasons in the league. They were in a dogfight with Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division title (with its automatic top-three berth) and a couple of other teams lurking at the edge of the playoffs. After the trade, the Thrashers finished the season 12-5-1 to capture the top spot in the Southeast. Tkachuk was 7-8-15 in 18 games with Atlanta, but the Thrashers were then swept in four games by the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Tkachuk had a goal and two assists in the four games. It was a brief marriage – Tkachuk was traded back to St. Louis the following June on the eve of the beginning of the unrestricted free agent signing period. Atlanta obtained the 2008 first-rounder they surrendered in the original deal and drafted Zach Bogosian with the pick.

Atlanta got eight weeks of Keith Tkachuk’s services for Glen Metropolit, Brett Sonne (currently with Peoria in the AHL), Philip McRae (currently with Plymouth in the OHL), and a pick that was parlayed into Ian Cole (currently at Notre Dame in the NCAA). If you think making the playoffs for this franchise was worth a roll of the dice, then this trade might have been worth it. But the return is iffy in the longer term.

Trade 7: July 11, 2001 – The Washington Capitals acquired Jaromir Jagr and Frantisek Kucera from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, Ross Lupaschuk and future considerations.

The formula: Dump disgruntled player with huge contract you can’t afford for anything you can get.

This was not a deadline deal, although it might have seemed that way to the Penguins, who had a disgruntled asset to whom they owed a lot of money on the upcoming year of his contract, and not the sort of cash flow that was compatible with such obligations. It was the classic player-in-his-prime-for-prospects formula (with a heapin’ helpin’ of contract dump thrown in). Jagr was the consensus pick at the time as the best player in the game, and the Caps had a trio of second round picks who projected at the time as solid, if not elite, NHL players. At the time of the trade, Kris Beech had played in only four games with the Caps (no points), neither Sivek nor Lupaschuk had yet played a professional game at any level in North America. The only player in that deal who remotely fulfilled his promise was Frantisek Kucera, who played in 56 games for the Caps in what would be his last NHL season (1-13-14, plus-7).

To say the trade did not work out for either team is understatement on steroids. Jagr spent two-plus years in Washington that was replete with misery – for him and for Caps fans – before being shipped to the Rangers. Sivek and Lupaschuk spent a grand total of 41 games in the NHL for their careers combined (it seems unlikely either will add to their total). Beech found himself deep on the Penguins’ depth chart, and except for a 79-game season in the year after the trade, could not play himself higher on that depth chart. After three years in Pittsburgh (with stays in the AHL), he bounced around – Nashville, Washington (again), Columbus, Vancouver, and finally Pittsburgh (again).

This might not be a comprehensive look at deadline deals and trades for high-end talent, but it does seem representative of the deals involving high end talent since the lockout (with a look back at that Caps experience thrown in). Is there anything we can divine from this in consideration of a possible Ilya Kovalchuk trade and the sort of return the Caps might have to send to Atlanta if this came to pass? Well, Atlanta has been both a buyer (of Keith Tkachuk) and a seller (Marian Hossa) at the deadline since the lockout, and there might be clues in those deals of what they value.

The Thrashers received prospects in return for Marian Hossa, not picks. There is presumably less risk here, because you have seen players already drafted at a further stage of maturity. If anything, this is idea of valuing prospects more than picks is reinforced in the earlier deal in which they were a buyer, giving up four draft picks (including two firsts) for Keith Tkachuk.

Ilya Kovalchuk, if traded, will be the most elite talent to be moved at the trading deadline since the lockout. He is unique in this regard in that he is a franchise player who is on the block. A player in his prime with five consecutive 40-plus goal seasons (with this one appearing to be a lock for a sixth) being made available doesn’t happen often. If there is a knock on Kovalchuk, it has been that he plays a 125-foot game, not spending much time or effort in the defensive zone. But even here he is improving, adding to his value (after seven straight “minus” seasons to start his career, he is in plus territory this year).

But the risk is that Kovalchuk will be – like Hossa and Tkachuk in Atlanta’s previous deals – a pure rental, departing the team to which he is traded when the unrestricted free agent signing period opens in July. This, plus the experience of other high-end talent deals described here and the limited number of teams that might be in a position assume his current contract under the salary cap for the rest of this season, suggests that for all the hoopla over the past several months (and that surely will increase until such time as he is traded) the return will not be as high as is being forecast.

What does that mean for the Caps? Well first, forget any Kovalchuk for Semin nonsense. We would bet a shiny nickel right now that the Thrashers are not going to be getting back anything resembling established elite talent (especially a gifted offesnive player such as Semin, who would be an unrestricted free agent next summer). We are going to surmise that the return for Kovalchuk in the end will be a first round draft pick and two, perhaps three prospects (none of which will be the highest available from the trading partner for Atlanta). Such a trade might look like this…

Ilya Kovalchuk and a third round draft pick

- for -

Washington’s first round pick in the 2010 entry draft, Oskar Osala, Mathieu Perreault, and Dmitri Orlov.

But frankly, we don’t see Kovalchuk wearing a Capitals sweater, in March or in the future. We see him as a Thrasher for the next ten years.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, January 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps take to the road again this evening for a visit to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum where they will take on the New York Islanders. The Caps are having a fine January, so good in fact that the club could set a franchise best month for wins if they win three of their last four games this month (their current best is 11-1-2 in January 2000). At 9-2-0 for January, the Caps are keeping pace with the Hershey Bears (10-1-0) and South Carolina Stingrays (6-2-2) in putting together a 25-5-2 month for the family of Capitals teams.

But first, the Caps must deal with the Islanders, a team they have played three times already this season. The first three games went to extra time, two of which ended in Caps’ favor – a 3-2 overtime win on October 24th on Long Island and a 5-4 Gimmick win in Washington on Veterans Day. The Caps lost a 4-3 overtime decision to the Islanders on October 30th. So now, it’s off to Long Island once more, where…

“Did you know that if you purchased a ticket that says 'Partially Obstructed View' on the face, then you should expect that your seat(s) will not have full view of the event and / or stage.”

Excuse me?

“Yeah, if you purchased an Islanders ticket that says 'Partially Obstructed View' on the face, then you should expect that your seat(s) will not have full view of the event and / or stage.”


“Says so right on the Nassau Coliseum website. Just thought you’d want to know. Oh, and there is no re-entry to the venue – all exits are final.”


“Oh, yeah, if you leave the arena, your exit is final.”


“That’s what the web site says… guess that’s why attendance is 29th in the league. Once folks see a game, they can’t ever come back.”

That’s pretty severe.

“But it’s easy to get out. The oval shape building comes equipped with sixty-seven pairs of existing doors, which can disperse a capacity crowd of 16,000 in seven to eight minutes. We can’t vouch for that, though.”

Why not?

“We haven’t been at capacity since Mike Bossy was here.”

But you’ve probably had capacity events there, since then, haven’t you?

“Well, we’re not so lucky in that regard… Nassau Coliseum holds the distinction of being the next facility Elvis Presley was scheduled to play on August 22, 1977 before his un-timely death a week earlier.”


“Yeah, and it probably wasn’t much fun for Elvis, either. It’s not all bad, though… Nassau Coliseum has won a number of top awards for arenas, including ‘Arena of the Year’ in 1995.”

Isn’t that the year there was a lockout in the NHL?

“Yeah… thank you for noticing. But it is an engineering marvel… Ten steel trusses, each 323 feet long and 25 feet deep, make the column-free interior possible, while 32 exterior concrete columns support the roof.”

Uh, pardon me, but why then are there obstructed view seats?

“Oh, that’d be the folks trying to get out blocking the view of folks who haven’t left their seats yet.”

You seem to have a rather cynical view of the Coliseum. Are you hoping the Islanders will move to another home?

“Well, yeah, you could say that.”

What’s your name, sir?

“Uh, I’d rather not say.”

I understand...

Well, for the time being Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum remains the home of the Islanders, and they’ve had some success at home, compiling a 14-9-2 record – a record better than perhaps their overall numbers would suggest…

Looking at those numbers, one might wonder how – considering that the Islanders are in the lowest third of the rankings in just about every measure – they could be a point out of a playoff spot (going into last night’s play).

Here’s a hint… the Islanders have earned 30 of their 54 points by dragging games past 60 minutes. No team in the NHL has more extra time wins than do the Islanders (11). Their record in regulation (12-21) is rather grim by comparison. The Islanders are 7-3-0 for January, though (4-0 in extra time), so they can’t be taken for granted.

OK, so they don’t rank highly in any statistical category, they struggle in regulation time decisions, but they do have an ability to squeeze out points by getting past 60 minutes. How? Well, one way to that result might be the balance the Islanders have. They certainly don’t have a player who will strike fear into the hearts of opponents with their offensive production, but they do have 17 players in double digits in points. Only three of them have more than 30 – Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, and rookie John Tavares. This trio also has 10 of the 17 game-winning goals the Islanders have this season.

Okposo (11-24-35) is 5-3-8 for January and had a six-game points streak earlier this month. He knows his place, too – on the ice. In his last 28 games, Okposo has incurred only two minor penalties. He does have a knack for rising to the occasion – his first NHL goal was scored against New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, and he has more goals against the Devils (five) than he has against any other team. Against the Caps he is 3-1-4 in four career games.

Moulson leads the Islanders in goal-scoring (19) and is 4-2-6 for the month, including two game-winning goals (against Detroit on January 12th and against New Jersey on January 18th). He is another player who seems to know that his value is on the ice. He hasn’t been whistled for a penalty in any of his last 21 games. His career output against the Caps consists of the goal in three games he has played so far this season.

Tavares has had his struggles lately. Since putting together a modest three game scoring streak in early December (4-1-5), he is 2-3-5 in his last 20 games. Four of those points (1-3-4) have come in the last seven games. It’s not an avalanche of scoring, but he has shown signs of picking up his scoring pace. He has not found the back of the net in three games against Washington, but he has chipped in a pair of assists.

The Islanders are rather banged up on the blue line. Radek Martinek (knee) and Brendan Witt (calf) are out. It means more minutes for guys like Jack Hillen (20:57 in average TOI) and Andrew MacDonald (18:02), a defensive pair with a combined 45 games of NHL experience coming into this year. Hillen has displayed a scoring touch from the blue line lately. In his last seven games he is 1-5-6. He has yet to record a point in five games against the Caps, however.

MacDonald, who came into this season with only three games of NHL experience, has averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time a night this month. He has not yet skated a game against the Caps.

With Witt out, this is not an especially big defense the Islanders have, with the exception of Andy Sutton, who could return to action tonight after serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis last week. It would be a welcome return for the Islanders. Not only would his 245 pounds be some welcome size on the blue line, he has scored more points against the Caps than he has against any other NHL opponent (8-8-16 in 36 career games).

In goal, this could be the first appearance by Rick DiPietro against the Caps since leading the Islanders to a 3-2 Gimmick win on February 20, 2008. He finally returned to the lineup after dealing with a variety of ailments that limited him to five appearances last season and none this year until stepping between the pipes on January 8th. In four games since his return he split four decisions with a 2.22 GAA and .917 save percentage, along with a shutout of the Devils on January 18th. He is 9-3-1, 1.98 in 16 career appearances against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Josh Bailey

With the Caps scoring as much as they have lately, a team is going to keep up only by getting some secondary support. Bailey is fifth on the club in scoring (12-13-25), but he had been on a nice run with a seven-game scoring streak (4-8-12) from December 29th through January 12th. Since then he is 1-0-1 in five games. The Islanders are likely to need him to re-light the fire to be successful in this one. He does not have a point in four career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom does not have an assist in any of his last four games, his longest such streak since a four-game streak this time last year. He ended that streak by putting up six helpers in his next four games. Last year, Backstrom was 2-3-5, plus-3 in four games against New York, but this year he is 0-2-2, minus-5 in three games. He was on the ice for five of the 11 goals the Islanders have scored in the season series so far.


1. 1-2-3, score. In the six-game winning streak the Caps are riding, they have scored goals in 16 of 18 periods. They have 12 goals in the third period of those games, evidence of a willingness to keep their foot on the pedal. The Islanders do not have the depth of skill or talent the Caps have, but their record is evidence of a hard-work ethic that they use to make up such deficits. The Caps have to match that effort.

2. The Big Finish. In this six-game winning streak the Caps have outscored opponents by 12-3 in the third period. It is worth noting that in the Islanders’ last six games, the four wins they have were characterized by allowing only one third period goal. Given that these teams have played three games very close to the vest, the Caps need to impose their will in the third period.

3. Power play, plugged in. In those four wins the Islanders have in their last six games, they were 10-for-10 on the penalty kill. The Caps are 8-for-20 on the power play in their six-game winning streak. The Caps have had success against the Islanders’ penalty killers this year (4-for-13 – 30.8 percent – on the power play).

In the end, the formula for a win in this one for the Caps might look like this… a close-fought game for two periods, then converting a power play in the third period to put things away. Certainly the Caps would want to avoid extra time with this team, given that the Islanders are more successful there than in regulation time this year. The Islanders play enough of a “clog-the-lanes” sort of game to keep this from being a shootout (neither team has scored more than four goals in regulation this year in three games). So think of it as maybe a power play tally in the third and an empty netter…

Caps 3 – Islanders 1