Monday, January 18, 2010

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps go for four-in-a-row this evening as the Detroit Red Wings come to town. And these are not your father’s (or even your last year’s) Red Wings. The wearers of the winged wheel have spent the first 48 games of the year stumbling about, much like the city they represent…

“Oh, so it’s ‘pile on Detroit day here, is it?”

It’d be the only piling on a Detroiter sees this year – we’ve seen the Lions play.

“Yeah, yeah… the Lions suck. Hey, here’s a bulletin… we know.”

Do you know that the Tigers (86-77 for 2009) and the Pistons (31-53 for calendar year 2009) suck, too?

“Hey, it’s not like the Nats or the Wizards have been vaccinated against ‘suckitis.’”

Or the Redskins.

“Or the Redskins.”

You can’t even lean on the Wolverines this year…5-7 this year after a 3-9 record last year.

“And how did those Terps do in football this year?”

Hey, at least the Terps have a basketball team that did good things last year…

“Uh…you heard of Michigan State, national finalist, four final fours in the decade?”

Well, we have a soccer team!


OK, but tell me, how do you know so much about Washington sports?

“Oh, I was born in Detroit and moved here.”


Michigan hasn’t had the best of times lately, and the Red Wings losing in the Stanley Cup finals last year probably didn’t help things, at least from a morale standpoint. But this year’s version of the Wings is a bit hard to figure out. They have had injuries (only three players have dressed for all 48 games the Red Wings have played thus far, and only 12 players have dressed for as many as 40 games).

Perhaps as a result of the injuries to such critical elements as Johan Franzen (45 games missed), Niklas Kronwall (27 games), Jason Williams (33 games), Valteri Filppula (26 games), Henrik Zetterberg (eight games), and Jonathan Ericsson (12 games), the Red Wings find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. What is most stunning about their performance to date is the utter collapse of their offense. Last year, the Red Wings finished the year averaging 3.52 goals/game. This year: 2.50. The overall numbers look like this…

If there is real change point in the season, it appears to have come just before Christmas when the Red Wings were shut out in Chicago by the Blackhawks, 3-0. That was the last time goalie Chris Osgood started a game. Since then, it’s been Jimmy Howard’s Red Wings. Given the injuries and the offensive drought (the Wings have scored only 25 goals in the 12 games since that 3-0 loss to Chicago), it really is Howard’s team. The rookie came into this season with a total of nine games of NHL experience (1-5-0, 2.76, .908). It would have been reasonable to expect that he would serve as a backup to Chris Osgood this year, perhaps taking over the reins for good next year. Instead, Howard is the number one goalie (for now), 6-3-3 in those 12 games since Osgood’s last decision (Osgood got 21 minutes of mop-up duty in a 6-0 loss to the Islanders last Tuesday), with a GAA of 1.89 and a save percentage of .944. The top rookie goaltender this year might wear red, but he doesn’t play for Washington. But here is your odd Jimmy Howard nugget. He has played in four games on a Tuesday this season, started two, and it is his worst day of the week, GAA (3.21) and save percentage-wise (.901).

Offensively, there is a cup half-full/cup half-empty quality to the Red Wings’ performance over the last dozen games. On the half-full side, they have goals from 15 different players. On the half-empty side, only three players have more than two goals. And if you were asked which Red Wing over the past dozen games led the team in goals, you’d probably be a while before settling on Darren Helm (5-1-6). Keeping with the half-full/half-empty theme, Helm got those five goals in a five game stretch from December 31st through January 9th. He is without a point in his last four games. In his first full season with the Red Wings this year, this will be his first meeting against the Caps (he did not play in the 3-2 Red Wings win over the Caps on October 10th).

The overall scoring leader for the Wings over the last dozen games is defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (2-10-12). Lidstrom is one of the three Red Wings playing in all 48 games this year. In fact, Lidstrom is one of the most durable players of his era. In 16 previous seasons (not including the abbreviated 1994-1995 season) Lidstrom has never played in fewer than 76 games, and 12 times he played in at least 80 games. At the moment, though, Lidstrom has points in his last three games (2-3-5), part of an odd pattern in which he has been three-on, three-off, and three-on again in registering points. Guess that means he draws a blank tonight.

Pavel Datsyuk is Detroit’s second leading scorer over the last dozen games (3-5-8). That he would be second with a total of eight points speaks to the trouble the Red Wings have had getting goals. It has been something of a year-long struggle for Datsyuk, although with players of his caliber, such things are relative. The fact is, however, that at 11-25-36 in 46 games, he is on a pace for his lowest goals and points total since his second season (2002-2003). His performance to date stands in stark relief to his last four seasons, over which he averaged 1.16 points-per-game. For the season he is averaging 0.78 points-per-game. In eight career games against Washington, Datsyuk is 4-10-14.

The only other Red Wing with as many as three goals over the last dozen games is Todd Bertuzzi (3-3-6). The former Islander-Canuck-Panther-Duck-Flame is on his second tour as a Red Wing (he played eight games in 2006-2007 for Detroit). This time around, Bertuzzi enters the game against the Caps as the Red Wings’ top active goal scorer for the season (team leader Tomas Holmstrom is out with a broken foot). But again, his leading the Red Wings for the moment with 13 goals (the Caps have six players with at least that number) reflects the offensive troubles they have been having. Something to note – Bertuzzi is the only Red Wing to score in overtime this year. He turned the trick twice – on consecutive nights against Anaheim and Nashville in mid-December. In 24 career games against the Caps, Bertuzzi is 6-9-15. What he doesn’t have, though, is a goal against Washington since March 23, 2003, when he was with Vancouver.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Valteri Filppula

Filppula was off to a decent start to the season (2-4-6) when he broke his wrist in the second period of Game 11 – a 6-5 Gimmick loss to Edmonton on October 29th. He also had a pair of assists in the October 10th 3-2 win over the Caps. He is a player with a lot of promise (the Wings committed $3 million in salary per year to him for the next three years), but so far this year is minus-6 and has been a plus player in only seven of 22 games – somewhat odd for a Red Wing. Given the presence of Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg on the roster, Filppula is a player who can fly under the radar. Letting him do so tonight would spell trouble for the Caps. Your odd Filppula stat – he has not scored a goal in any Red Wing win this season, but he has three goals in 12 losses for which he dressed.

Washington: Mike Knuble

The Red Wings have allowed an average of 33.8 shots per game in their last dozen games. This only makes the performance of Jimmy Howard in goal that much more impressive. It also speaks to the need to make sure that the Caps get pucks to the net where a player like Knuble can convert from within arm’s-length of the goal. Knuble has goals in four of his last six games (six in all), a stretch over which the Caps are 5-1-0. Do the math.


1. Time and space. If Detroit gets them, they can make an opponent’s night miserable. And there is often a chicken-and-the-egg quality to this. Teams give the Red Wings so much respect, they end up giving them space (too much) and time (too much) to weave their magic. Crowd ‘em, bloody their nose a little bit. Find out what flavor gum they’re chewing. Just don’t let them skate around as if they were Disney on Ice.

2. Take the Helm. The Red Wings’ chances of winning are enhanced quite a bit when Darren Helm scores a goal. The Wings are 6-0-1 when Helm lights the lamp. Of course, that goes hand-in-hand with his leading the team in goal scoring over the 6-3-3 run they are on. But still…

3. Your “Intermission,” should you decide to accept it… The Caps and Red Wings are a combined 38-0-6 when leading at the second intermission. If you had to pick which club would be more likely to come back from such a deficit, it would be Washington, given that they have the league’s second-best record when trailing after two periods (Detroit is 10th). But it wouldn’t be the way to bet.

In the end, the front-end of Stanley Cup Finalists Week is a difficult game to handicap. It would not be out of the realm of imagination to think the Caps might be peeking ahead to Pittsburgh on Thursday. On the other hand, the Red Wings are the sort of team that will get any team’s attention. These are two teams playing well and that will meet in one of those “irresistible force – immovable object” sorts of contests. Howard, despite his stellar numbers, has allowed one, two, and then three goals in his last three games. Do we hear “four?” Yes, we do…

Caps 4 – Red Wings 3

Scenes from a Practice

It's a holiday here in the States (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and the Caps held a practice before a near-SRO crowd at Kettler this morning. All seemed to be in good spirits -- what happens on the day after a win one supposes. Here are some images...

Dynamic Branding

This weekend, the Caps played two hockey games – wins on Friday and Sunday over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers. The events were duly reported in the Washington Post and in local television and radio outlets.

In the old days, that would have been it… move on to the next topic, the next game.

Not anymore. Tim Leone, beat writer for the Hershey Bears of the Patriot-News in Pennsylvania (hold that thought for a few moments) wrote two excellent articles yesterday, one titled, “Going Deep: Washington Capitals Out In Front of Media Revolution,” the other titled, “Web Site a Net Gain for Washington Capitals." As a set, they constituted an excellent look at the evolution of new media surrounding the Caps. And as if to make the point, much of that which Tim speaks was put on display in this weekend of two wins.

There were, of course, the newspaper, television, and radio reports. But the Caps themselves have spun off a production entity of their own – web site, full time reporting staff, video production operated by extremely talented staff. There were the blogs – two of the Caps’ “Holy Trinity” of bloggers – Japers’ Rink, On Frozen Blog, and Off Wing Opinion – posting clips and recaps, complete with locker room video and links to other sites reporting on the game. There were the dozens of “tweets” popping up on Twitter from bloggers, fans, and just folks who might have taken in the game. There were entries from a host of other blogs – some player-centric, others more general – providing as many different angles and perspectives on the games as any fan could ask for.

When I was a youngster, the term “multi-media” was born. It conjured up images of a film projector or a slide show with a sound accompaniment. The term has come to mean something else these days, but frankly it simply doesn’t capture the integrated, multivariate character of entities and methods employed these days to cover in such comprehensive ways the Washington Capitals (even though the term enjoys its own menu on the Caps’ web site).

Rather than “multi-media,” which implies more than one, yet separate, what we see now is more “integrated media.” Or more to the point, given that the whole object of the exercise is to focus on the Capitals – the games they play, the stories they live, the personalities who represent the “red” – the more precise term might be “dynamic branding.”

The Boss describes it (albeit in a slightly different context – alluding to the speed of the game) better than we could…

“…based on new viewer habits created by the web on TV (MTV anyone?); in video games; with iPods; with iPhones; with Avatar-like next generation films being produced; with third screens everywhere; with Google telling you on every search that they searched the web and found 1 million listings in 1.3 seconds; in a Web 2.0 world - what sports do you think are best positioned for the new generation of consumers? The “fast” ones or the “slow” ones? The ones that reward a viewer’s investment of time with fast paced action or with commercials? This is my bet: Younger viewers like multimedia, speed and pace and action.”

Hockey – and the Caps, who are in the vanguard of this evolution, unburdened by any need to adhere to old rules of media coverage – has carved out this new concept of coverage. An in house production; a confederation of dedicated bloggers (each with their own unique perspective on players and performance); social media such as Facebook and Twitter that provide the glue to connect fans, bloggers, and the team; player sites such as or that give fans more direct links to player favorites. And (this is where we come back to the start of all this – the articles by Tim Leone), this extends vertically downward, with no disrespect intended to all the fine folks in Hershey, to the Hershey Bears organization. The Bears are an integral part of the narrative of youngsters being brought into the Capitals community, seen growing through the ranks, and graduating to the show. They are a part of us, a part of the larger “community” that is the Washington Capitals organization. It is all a part of a piece, the dynamic branding of the Washington Capitals.

It hasn’t come without a price, though. “Traditional” media, primarily newspapers, have been left at the gate in this development. Some might call this “progress.” From a perspective of pure technological methodology, that is demonstrably true. Newspapers and electronic media are still (despite their own forays into blogging and social networks) in a calendar/deadline paradigm. Editions are published daily, programs are aired according to schedule. That simple isn’t compatible with the world described by Ted Leonsis in that quote above. About that there can be no further debate.

But, part of the price for taking away the “filter” of newspapers and electronic media is objectivity. If the club controls the message, then that’s what you get – the club’s message. If bloggers – who get into this endeavor out of their love of the sport and their devotion to the club – replaces the product of beat reporting, then what you risk are products that might be more favorable to the club than their performance would allow (as much as we and our colleagues try, sincerely, to be objective about the Caps). If tweets, Facebook “walls,” and message boards fill the gap in traditional reporting, then what you risk is a less well-researched point of view that comes with the more deliberate methods of reporting.

News cycles these days are not measured in days as much as hours, and with instruments such as Twitter perhaps in minutes. The fault line on which traditional and new media seem to be grinding is conflict between what the “consumer” wants – faster, edgier, more appealing to the senses – and what fundamental purposes an independent media serves – getting it right, being objective, serving as a check and a balance against parties with vested interests in outcomes.

We aren’t arguing that “dynamic branding” is bad, neither are we arguing that it is good. What it is, is unstoppable. This is the genie unleashed by technology – teams such as the Caps can produce and market their own stories directly to consumers. Bloggers such as ourselves can scribble, after a fashion, at our keyboards and instantly publish our products. Fans can tweet, post, podcast to their ever-loving heart’s content on any subject they can imagine concerning the Caps (although an unsettling number of them seem to focus on how much Jeff Schultz sucks).

What we might be surrendering is objectivity. There are those who adhere to the notion that there is “wisdom in crowds.” Don’t count us among them, at least not unconditionally. It is a short distance from “crowd” to “mob” (in the literal meaning of the term – a loosely organized group). The good part, at least in our minds, is that evolution tends to sort out these things efficiently. And in that respect, we think that the dynamic branding that is replacing (and has in large part already replaced) traditional coverage of teams such as the Washington Capitals will sort out its issues of consumer friendliness and objectivity. You might be getting a glimpse of that already with such aggregated “blogging” sites as SBNation.

In any case, we are all right smack in the middle of a paradigm shift – a change in the fundamental model of events and how those events and the personalities central to them are covered. It might be bumpy, but it won’t be boring.