Saturday, January 09, 2010

A TWO-point night: Caps 8 - Thrashers 1

OK, how bad does it get when you lose a game, 8-1 on your own ice?

-- The biggest cheer from the 15 fans left in the arena comes in the third period when the public address announcer comes on and says, “one minute…one minute remaining in the period."

-- The last three goals are scored by: a) a fourth liner, b) the second pair power play quarterback (who hadn’t had a goal in 72 games), and c) the new guy

-- You get one goal on 39 shots against the number three goalie in the Caps’ system

The Caps laid the wood to the Atlanta Thrashers tonight – early, often, and with authority – as they skated the Thrashers out of their own arena in the 8-1 win. It was as complete a game as the Caps have played this year. Why? Well, let’s take a look…

-- 16 skaters – sixteen! – had points (only John Erskine and Shaone Morrison failed to get at least one point, and Erskine skated only one shift in the third period).

-- Jeff Schultz, plus-5 and two assists, a team high 26-plus minutes, a team-high 3:09 of penalty killing time…and he doesn’t even get a star.

-- Mike Knuble had a pair of goals that had Kanoobie yipping for glee in that neither involved and actual shot type motion – a deflection and a redirect off a skate. Now that’s the Knuble we want to see!

-- 12 skaters finished in “plus” territory, eight of them plus-2 or better.

-- All those goals, and Mike Green was the only Cap skater who did not record at least one shot on goal.

-- Only six giveaways, and two of those were by goalie Michal Neuvirth.

-- The Caps were not only 2-for-3 on the power play, they were 2-for-3 on power play shots.

-- The Caps had 1:53 of total power play time tonight. Five seconds of that was the product of overlapping minors to Alex Ovechkin and Slava Kozlov. That was the only power play the Caps did not score on. Otherwise, they needed a total of 108 seconds to score two power play goals.

-- Oh, and of that 1:53 of power play time…Alex Ovechkin only got 33 seconds worth of it, another indicator of how early this one was over.

-- Spreading it around? First line (8-19-22): 3-1-4, plus-6… Second line (28-14-21): 2-3-5, plus-5… Third Line (25-9-16): 1-2-3, even… Fourth line (15-39-10): 1-2-3, plus-3.

Michal Neuvirth stopped 38 of 39 shots, but might have won the game for the Caps with his play in the first period when the Thrashers actually had the territorial advantage early. Ilya Kovalchuk had seven shots for the game for the Thrashers, six of them in the first period – all of them with the Caps nursing a 1-0 lead – and several of them top-notch scoring opportunities. If Neuvirth lets any of them in, it could have stemmed some of the Caps’ momentum.

Mike Knuble’s two goals make nine in double-digits for the Caps (they had nine for all of last season). Next up, Matt Bradley (seven).

Ilya Kovalchuk… seven shots, 11 shot attempts, 21 minutes of ice time… minus-3. He might take a discount to get OUT of Atlanta.

That’s fastest to 60 points in the history of the franchise (44 games), besting the 28-13-4 record the Caps had in the first 45 games of the 1985-1986 season.

And if you’re interested in that vile plus-minus statistic…

Now it’s on to Tampa, where the Lightning will meet the Caps with one day off after three straight days of hockey – the game on Friday that was suspended when the Devils' check for the light bill didn’t clear, the loss in Philadelphia tonight, and tomorrow’s resumption of the Devils game. It sets up well for the Caps, who will try to extend their 12-game winning streak against the Lightning. But tonight was one of those games you want to wrap with a bow and save it to watch again sometime.

Hey...We Have Mid-Season Award Picks, Too

Since everyone else is doing it, we’ll chip in with what are the ne plus ultra of mid-season trophy awards. So, let’s get to it…

Lady Byng Trophy: The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Contenders: Any player with: a) more than 40 points, and b) less than 10 penalty minutes.

The Winner: Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils

Why? Parise will be a contender for other awards – this year and in years to come – but he has 43 points (14th in the league), eight penalty minutes, and what’s more, he is plus-20.

Frank J. Selke Trophy: The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Contenders: Any forward with at least 40 points and a plus-12 or better, unless you’re a former winner, then you’re grandfathered in. Of course, any forward who might be unknown to the casual fan would be a contender, insofar as it demonstrates the voter’s vastly superior knowledge of hockey.

The Winner: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Why? OK, Toews doesn’t have 40 points, but the Blackhawks are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They are not doing it with goaltending. They are doing it because other teams don’t get many shots on goal (the Hawks have allowed the fewest per game in the league). Toews has been on the ice for only 18 of 90 goals scored against the Hawks this year, although he leads all Hawks forwards in average ice time.

Jack Adams Award: The Jack Adams Award is an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.

Contenders: Coaches who are doing “better than expected” or who have teams that have already clinched their division.

The winner: Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes

Why? Oh, let’s see… road kill franchise about to be scraped off the pavement and shipped to somewhere in Canada, playing in an arena where one could hit a five iron during a game and probably not hit another fan, previously coached by the games’ most legendary player (if not a Scotty Bowman behind the bench), with talent that can best be described as “middling.” And you have the fourth best record in the Western Conference. We have a winner.

Calder Trophy: The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Contenders: Rookies who have been named one of the NHL’s three stars of the night at least once, is a “surprise,” or is named “John Tavares.”

The Winner: Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Why? OK, he’s the sexy pick at the moment, but he deserves it, too. It’s harder to quantify statistics for defensemen than for forwards (which is why comparatively few defensemen win the award, sportwriters generally eschewing statistical analysis in favor of another trip to the buffet). But Myers leads all rookies in ice time (responsibility), is fourth in shot percentage (efficiency), is tied for second in plus-minus (effectiveness), is tied for eighth-fewest penalty minutes among rookies playing in at least 20 games (maturity), is tenth in hits (physicality), leads all rookies in blocked shots (fearlessness), and he’s even made one of two Gimmick goals (impishness). He gets the nod.

James Norris Memorial Trophy: The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

The Contenders: Nicklas Lidstrom and a bunch of other guys.

The Winner: Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Why? OK, for a long time the NHL would just look at the points rankings for defensemen and give it to the name at the top of the list. That sort of ended with the run of wins by Lidstrom. It continued with the win last year by Zdeno Chara. But look at the citation for the award…"the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position (emphasis added).” Green is the top offensive defenseman in the game. But here are some numbers for you to chew on, too, while you are reminded that Green skates a ton of minutes… Scott Niedermayer (selected as an Olympic team defenseman), on ice for 75 goals against; Dan Boyle (yes, an Olympian), on ice for 51 goals against; Shea Weber (another Olympian defenseman), on ice for 46 goals against; Duncan Keith (this year’s “smart” pick for the Norris), on ice for 44 goals against.

Mike Green – on ice for 44 goals against.

Vezina Trophy: The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs.

Contenders: Martin Brodeur and… uh… uh… we’ll think of some

The Winner: Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

Why? Well, there are the games played (37/tied for seventh), wins (25/second), GAA (2.04/third), save percentage (.935/first), the shutouts (5/tied for first). But then there is this, he leads all goalies in save percentage (20 games, minimum) while his team is shorthanded, no small consideration given that the Sabres are a middle-of-the-road offensive team. And no goalie has faced more shots with his team on the power play than Miller, and he has the best save percentage of such situations. He’s been tight as a drum when his team is skating off penalties, and he doesn’t allow the sloppy shorthanded goal. He gets the nod over Mr. Shutout Record Setter.

Lester B. Pearson Award: The Lester B. Pearson Award is presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.

Contenders: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, [enter third name here]

The Winner: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Why? “Outstanding” covers a lot of ground. It could be raw, unvarnished statistical superiority. It could be literally “standing out” from among your peers. In either case, Ovechkin has a compelling case. First, to take care of the atmospherics, he is both the one player who can draw fans out of their seats in any arena in which he plays every time he touches the puck, and he is becoming the face of the game – not in the Pre-Scandal Tiger Woods “I drive a solid, responsible Buick” sort of endorsement lineup, but as a guy who will do anything (and with an understanding of proper product placement) to sell the game and those products he endorses as one of the elite players in the league. Statistically, he is on an 82-game scoring pace that would challenge or easily surpass his previous career highs – goals (63 versus 65 in 2007-2008), assists (61; previous high 54, twice); points (124/112); plus-minus (plus-52/plus-28), hits (239/243), and he is on a pace to have the best turnover ratio of takeaways to giveaways of his career (0.85, not altogether bad for a forward who has the puck so much – compare it to, say, Sidney Crosby, whose ratio is 0.63). If Ovechkin was the standard as the best player into the league coming into the season, and his performance is eclipsing that, well…

Hart Memorial Trophy: The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.

The Contenders: See “Pearson Award,” above

The Winner: Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

Why? Read the citation… “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” It doesn’t say “skater” or “player who doesn’t wear big pads and a mask,” it says simply, “player.” And “most valuable” doesn’t necessarily mean “best.” If that was the case, we would have no reason for a Pearson Award. Miller gets the nod here, because let’s face it, if the Sabres are relying on Patrick Lalime and Jhonas Enroth in goal, the Sabres are flirting with lottery territory. The man has one one-goal loss in regulation this year, and the Sabres are tied for the fourth fewest three-or-more goal losses in the league this year. He keeps his team in games, and he wins the close ones. No team would be more seriously affected by their most valuable player’s absence than would the Sabres with Miller’s.

Not now, kids... the CAPS are on!

From the club...

The Washington Capitals are partnering with American Media Services Interactive to launch “Capitals Radio,” a customized audio-on-demand player on “Capitals Radio” will play Capitals’ podcasts and other digital streaming content. Click here to listen to the Capitals Radio player.

The custom audio-on-demand player will give fans access to high-quality streaming music featuring Capitals’ arena favorites, music from the locker room featuring artists and songs selected by Capitals players. Fans will also have the opportunity to search channels, artists and genres, Capitals archived press conferences, post-game commentary and other audio highlights throughout the season. Fans that have recorded their own songs can share them with the Caps community by uploading their music through the player either by just clicking on the fan band link or going to

The player is the first of its kind in the Eastern Conference and second in the National Hockey League.

Back to the future, I tell ya!

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, January 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s on the road – again – for the Caps, and as a public service, your ol’ Uncle Peerless is going to provide you with some travel tips, courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration, where every day is the Fourth of July.

First of all, the friendly folks at the TSA want make sure that your “screening experience” – and we are not making that term up, kids – ensures that “you move more quickly and efficiently through the security process.” To that end, you have to “dress the part.” TSA recommends that you “avoid wearing clothing, jewelry or other accessories that contain metal when traveling through the security checkpoints”, such as:

* Heavy jewelry (including pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, earrings, body piercings, cuff links, lanyards or bolo ties)… world junior championship gold medals probably fall under this category.
* Clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs… there is no mention of “fighting straps” on hockey jerseys
* Metal hair barrettes or other hair decoration… Is the “M-11 helmet” considered “hair decoration?”

Oops, helmets appear to be covered under “head coverings” (makes sense)…

“You are permitted to wear head coverings and religious garments during the screening process. You may be directed to additional screening if your headwear or clothing (religious or otherwise) is loose fitting or large enough to hide prohibited items.”

Is Sean Avery’s head considered a “prohibited item?” Well, it should be.

We also noted that TSA considers “sabers” a prohibited carry-on item. Ryan Miller must get very uncomfortable stowed in cargo for those trips out west.

And if you’re wondering, yes, hockey sticks are not allowed in carry-on luggage.


However they get there – airplane, train, car, rickshaw, skateboard, Segway (well, maybe not Mike Green) – the Caps are in Atlanta tonight to take on the Thrashers. Talk about teams headed in opposite directions. Since December 1st the Caps are 10-6-0; not great, perhaps, but compared to the Thrashers’ 5-11-3 record (which included a nine-game winless streak) it is positively glowing. The overall numbers look like this…

The Thrashers broke that nine-game winless streak in their last game, a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Rangers. It is worth noting that the Thrashers have not won a game in regulation since November 30th, a 4-3 win over Florida. What happened? Well, it boils down to these two general statements…

They stopped scoring goals.

They gave up a ton of goals.

Since December 1st the Thrashers have scored 50 goals in 19 games (not including Gimmicks). Ten of those goals were scored by Ilya Kovalchuk. That leaves 40 goals for 19 other skaters in 19 games. In those 19 games for Atlanta…

-- They scored two or fewer goals ten times.
-- They had 13 skaters scoring goals.
-- They had only three goals from defensemen.
-- The power play went 11-for-65 (16.9 percent).
-- They had two players who scored at a “20-goal” season pace – Kovalchuk (10 goals in 19 games) and Nik Antropov (nine in 17 games).
-- They have no goals from Todd White (who played in 18 of the 19 games); White has but three goals for the season, compared to 22 last year.
-- They have two goals from rookie Evander Kane (playing 18 of those 19 games), this after Kane registered eight in his first 24 games.

The dropoff in offense is matched only by some ghastly results at the other end of the ice. In the last 19 games for Atlanta…

-- They have allowed four or more goals 13 times.
-- They had a streak of six consecutive games of giving up at least four goals.
-- Penalty killers skated off only 50 of 66 shorthanded situations (75.8 percent).
-- In 57 periods of regulation hockey, they gave up two or more goals in 22 periods, three or more in six, and gave up five goals in the second period of a 5-2 loss to Toronto on December 7th.
-- They failed to achieve a save percentage of .900 in 15 games.

They have been, be kind, awful. What might be more amazing is that they won five games at all, although all of them were won in extra time, and three of them went to a Gimmick.

The big story for the Thrashers isn’t even on the ice. It is whether Ilya Kovachuk will hold out for an $11.36 million a year (add your own number of years here) deal to stay in Atlanta or be traded sometime over the next two months as a rental for picks, prospects, and/or players. After missing six games with a broken foot in November he is 16-21-37 in 29 games (25-22-47 in 37 games overall). Since single-handedly keeping the Thrashers in last Saturday’s game against the Islanders until they could lose in a Gimmick (he was 1-3-4 in a 5-5 game after regulation), he is scoreless in his last two games and in danger of setting a personal season high streak of three games if he fails to get a point tonight. It would also tie his season high streak of games without a goal (three). Given his history against the Caps though, it will be a tall order to keep Kovalchuk off the score sheet. In 43 career games against Washington he is 24-28-52, and he has a pair of goals in the only meeting in which he skated this year.

After two seasons in Buffalo lost to injury and ineffectivess, Maxim Afinogenov was given up for dead, so to speak, as an NHL-caliber player. The Thrashers signed the winger to a free-agent deal on the eve of the regular season, and at $800,000, one might have to consider him a bargain. He is second on the team in goals (15), third in assists (24), second in total scoring (39), tied for third in power play goals (three), and is fourth in ice time (17:58) among forwards. His 15 goals almost equals the total of his last two years in Buffalo combined (16) in fewer than half the games played. He has found the going a little more difficult lately – 4-10-14, minus-13 in 19 games since December 1st. Afinogenov is 11-11-22 in 32 career regular season games against Washington.

Until Vyacheslav Kozlov finished the 2007-2008 season with only 17 goals, he had a string of 12 seasons out of 13 in which he scored goals at a 20-plus-per-season pace. When he slipped to 17 two years ago, it might have signaled the beginning of the end for the then 35-year old forward. But he rebounded to 26 goals last year giving hope to Thrasher fans that there would be a scoring complement to Kovalchuk. But this year he has eight goals in 43 games and only 11 assists to go with them. He is 4-2-6 in this 19 game slump the Thrashers are in. Perhaps more alarming, he has no goals in his last nine games and no points at all in his last eight. What he does do well, though, is get the Gimmick goal. He is 4-for-6 this year, and he is 27-for-46 over his career (58.7 percent shooting percentage). Kozlov is 18-22-40 in 54 career games against the Caps.

If a goal was scored by the Thrashers in the past six weeks, there was a good chance Tobias Enstrom was in on it. He hasn’t scored any of those goals in the past 19 games during which the Thrashers have slumped, but he has 15 assists over that time and authored a six game points streak along the way. Enstrom is a defenseman who always seems to be flying under the radar of a Zdeno Chara, a Mike Green, or a Chris Pronger, but he has been one of the bright lights for Atlanta this year and is very much an underrated commodity. He is fourth among all NHL defensemen in scoring, and on a team that has had a lot of difficulty keeping pucks out of its own net lately, his plus-6 is commendable. He is 2-10-12 in 16 career games against Washington.

OK, so who will it be in goal? Will it be “The Moose,” Johan Hedberg – 4-4-3 in this 19-game slump, 2.62, .907, or will it be “The Sieve,” Ondrej Pavelec – 1-7-0, 5.25., 860? It might be worth noting that in Pavelec’ only win he allowed five goals in a 6-5 overtime win against Dallas. He hasn’t allowed fewer than three goals in a game since he shut out the Red Wings on November 25th (the shock appears not to have worn off). He even allowed three goals in less than 11 minutes worth of work in a 6-4 loss to Boston in the game before Christmas. He has had his troubles against the Caps, too – 1-4-0, 3.90, .868, and he has lost his last four decisions.

Meanwhile, Hedberg has allowed more than three goals in “only” four of 13 appearances since December 1st (including two of his last three). He came into the first meeting of the clubs, on October 22nd, in relief of Pavelec and pitched shutout ball for 26:11 in a 5-4 loss. Otherwise, he is 9-3-2, 2.87 over his career against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Atlanta: Rich Peverley

Peverley has been a royal pain in the backside for the Caps since he was claimed off waivers by the Thrashers from Nashville in January 2009. He has played in six games against the Caps since and has a point in every game (2-4-6). However, he is only 3-6-9 in 19 games since December 1st. If Atlanta is going to win games, they have to get players like Peverley started to take pressure off of Kovalchuk.

Washington: Brendan Morrison

Morrison has had his own slump lately. In his last 14 games he is 1-1-2 and except for a three-game run in which he had a total of 12 shots on goal has had trouble getting anything on net (nine shots on goal in the other 11 games). He has, however, had success against the Thrashers. Morrison is 6-10-16 in 11 career games against Atlanta, including points in each game this season (1-1-2 in two games).


1. Remember the Hurricanes! OK, so it doesn’t have quite the juice of “Remember the Alamo!,” but the Caps should be mindful of taking a club having their troubles too lightly. Carolina came into Verizon Center a couple of weeks ago with their one road win and their league worst record and pasted the Caps, 6-3. Yes, Atlanta has had a devil of a time winning games of any sort recently, but they’re not dead, either.

2. Score early, score often. The Thrashers have allowed 42 first period goals this season, fourth most in the league. No team has scored more in the first frame than have the Caps – 51 goals. Do the math.

3. On your mark…get set… Since Bruce Boudreau took over the Caps, Washington is 9-3-1 against Atlanta. The common thread in the four losses is that the Caps failed to score in volume (a total of seven goals in the four games). Since John Anderson took over behind the Thrasher bench, the winner of every game has scored at least four goals. These haven’t been goalie duels. Atlanta has had trouble scoring goals lately (49 goals in 19 games since December 1st – 2.58/game), Washington hasn’t (60 goals in 16 games since December 1st – 3.75/game).

In the end, if the Caps don’t look at recent records, take the ice, and just take care of business, this should not be a competitive game. But there is the matter of the divisional rivalry of the teams, the personal rivalry of Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, and the coaching rivalry between friends Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson. No two teams in the division might take more joy at beating the other than the Caps and Thrashers. That said, this is likely to be a track meet, but Atlanta hasn’t had enough of the support scoring to take enough of the burden off of Kovalchuk to make Atlanta a favorite…

Caps 6 – Thrashers 3