Monday, December 31, 2007

Spec from Ek on Ovechk...

We're surprised it took Eklund this long. Under the breathless headline, "Ovechkin Situation 'VERY TENSE' (emphasis his),"he writes...

"The Ovechkin deal that many felt was going to be signed in mid-January is looking very much in doubt according to several sources tonight."
And?...so what? Wait..let's let that one sit for a moment. Here is the money quote that makes Eklund hockey's version of comic relief...

"When getting rumours involving Russians go to the Russians..."
Really? You mean, like the Russians (the ones at Sports-Express) that leaked in late November that Ovechkin's signing of a $10.3 million-per-year deal was to be comsummated in the next few days?

Despite noting "several sources," Eklund notes only one, and not a published report at that; rather, an e-mail. But it was a "top" source...

...uh-huh. Eklund...and Russian sources. Where facts are accidents.

The credibility of the report aside, what makes January important? The Caps have six months to complete a deal. At the moment, to the extent they are "negotiating" with the player the Caps would be bidding against themselves. One hopes that the sides can come to an agreement soon, if only to end these silly (if entertaining, in their own perverse way) speculations, but it isn't as if Ovechkin is spending off days scoping real estate in Toronto or Detroit or Montreal.

The deal will happen when it happens.



Thanks to ThomasP518 on The Official for the heads-up.

Separation...

In football, coaches and players talk of "separation" -- the ability of a receiver to create space between himself and a defender. For our purposes, it is a function of the standings...to wit, the Southeast:

The Caps have 43 games remaining, 15 of them against divisional rivals. If they can get some separation from this tightly bunched pack in that last column, playoffs might not be a pipe-dream afterall.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In case you missed it...Brashear vs. Neil



...that's gonna leave a mark.

East is East, and West is West, but Stupidity Lost its Compass

Five and counting.

We can add the president of the Radek Bonk Fan Club, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch to the mix of "Trouble In DC" commentators. In this morning's Sun, he opines on the matter of an "insulting" offer to Ovechkin by GM George McPhee, attributed to "sources." Given the tight-lipped behavior of the Caps front office on, well...everything, we're guessing the source was the parking attendant at Ballston Common.

Meanwhile, out west, the attention is on Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who Bellicose Bruce says Calgary is having trouble signing.

At least Blowhard Bruce didn't actually pen the word "trade" with respect to either player. But if you're looking to entertain yourself with some wild-eyed trade possibilities, head here, and type in "Alexander Ovechkin" to see some deals worthy of the goofy speculation oozing its way across the Internet.

Your Three Stars for December 29th


Even Jagr is impressed.

A TWO-point night: Caps 8 - Senators 6


Well, that is one way to end a year...

If the Caps should ever relocate to Canada, they might be a favorite to win a Stanley Cup. They’re 3-0-0 above the border so far this year, defeating Toronto and now Ottawa twice by a combined score of 19-9. Tonight’s 8-6 barn-burner of a win gave the Caps a 7-3-3 record for the month of December and allowed them to crawl out of the Eastern Conference basement as 2007 ends.

You’d have to go quite a way to find anything truly bad to say about the game for the Caps, even the goaltending (which we’ll get to in a moment). So...what happened?

As best we can figure out, the Caps scored more goals in a game since hanging 12 on Florida on January 11, 2003 in a 12-2 win. You’d have to go back to November 13, 2001 to find a game involving the Caps in which more total goals were scored. Ottawa happened to be the opponent that night, too, beating the Caps 11-5. The Caps hadn’t scored as many as eight goals on the road since beating Tampa Bay, 8-2, on March 2, 1999. The last time they scored more on the road – February 13, 1993 in Los Angeles in a 10-3 win.

And we expect a lot of Caps will be slicing their legs and getting stitches if it has the same effect – coincidental though it might have been – on Alex Ovechkin. He had four goals on five shots, plus an assist to record both his first four-goal game and five-point game. His hat trick was his third as a Cap, all on the road.

But it wasn’t as if he was a one-man show, either...

Nicklas Backstrom was 1-2-3 for his second straight multi-point game and fourth in his last eight.

Alexander Semin was 1-2-3 as well and now has four goals in his last six games.

Michael Nylander, with two goals, had his first multi-goal game in this tenure as a Cap. It was his first multi-point game of December.

Mike Green had a pair of assists and was denied a goal by goalie Martin Gerber in what perhaps was his only good save of the night.

Some other observations...

Think the Senators didn’t miss Anton Volchenkov? They had only five blocked shots for the night. Volchenkov was averaging four a game.

Both teams had 49 attempted shots...Ottawa misfired on 27 of them (misses and blocks), the Caps only had 19 misfires.

The goalies’ combined save percentage – .745.

How many consecutive punches did Donald Brashear leave on Chris Neil’s melon...a dozen?

Viktor Kozlov is now 0-for-his-last-51 shots. That’d be like Derek Jeter going oh-for-June. We watch Kozlov these days and think upon a speech by Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”...

“You know what the difference is between hitting .250 and hitting .300? I got it figured out. Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks -- you get one extra flare a week -- just one -- a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail -- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!”
...Kozlov needs a gork in the worst way.

Each time the Senators crawled to within a goal in the third period (they did it three times), the Caps answered in short order. It took the Caps a combined 5:19 to respond to restore a two-goal cushion three times.

There is goaltending, and there is goal tending (as in standing around it, which is what the defense did for both teams much of the night). One could look at this game as a battle of goalies with their masks on backwards, but that isn’t entirely fair. Martin Gerber was more consistently bad in his effort than Olaf Kolzig was in his, although Kolzig might have had the most important gaffe of the night. Gerber played “Alphonse and Gaston” with Chris Phillips in the first minute to allow Alexander Semin an unimpeded path to the net for a wrap-around goal. He had decent looks at two of Ovechkin’s goals, and he flubbed covering the puck on the Backstrom goal. On the other hand, this would probably have been just another 5-2 game in the NHL season when Jason Spezza stole the puck four minutes into the third period, circled in the neutral zone, skated down the right side, and fired a puck long-side over Kolzig’s right pad to make it 5-3. The Caps just can’t give up a goal there with that much time on the clock. It opened the door back up for the Senators after the Caps had dominated for 40 minutes. Had the Caps lost this game, that goal would have been the key. But Kolzig was victimized by two deflections off the stick of Mike Fisher, gave up a shorthanded goal when Mike Green waved his stick at Fisher as if he was waving a white flag, and gave up another “shorthanded” goal on a penalty shot. He was as unlucky as he was bad.

Ponder this quote...

"It was definitely a ratings booster for the TV stations and I'm sure the fans got their money's worth, but I'm too old for these kind of games. It's going to force me to retire sooner than I want."
We hope Olaf Kolzig was smiling when he said that after the game.

Returning to the baseball analogy, this was one of those games where every pitch gets tattooed, where every shot goes in, somehow...off a stick, through the legs, over a pad, whatever. Last to score wins, and the Caps scored last. A coach might not like this kind of game, but in the end it isn’t how, it’s how many. And eight is more than six.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Senators, December 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!

This is a special emergency edition of The Prognosticator, and we’ve convened our crack panel of medicos to give us insight into the breaking…or, “slicing,” if you will…story on...

SKATE ATTACK IN PITTSBURGH

At this hour, Alex Ovechkin lies near death…or maybe his night stand…a victim of a heinous attack by a skate in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. The attack came early in the third period of a contest between Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, when Penguin defenseman Kris Letang “accidentally” cut Ovechkin on the inside of his upper thigh with his skate. Since the brutal, unmeditated attack, an Ovechkin Watch has been underway in DC attended by several. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, where the Caps will play the Ottawa Senators this evening, Ovechkin’s wound is described as superficial. Let’s get our panel to comment on the situation…

Dr. Gregory House…you specialize in difficult diagnoses. What do you make of the description of the wound as “superficial?”

Dr. House: “Well, based on my experience, it’s wrong…if those ‘doctors’ – do they have them in Pittsburgh, or is it just some hillbilly voodoo – had an ounce of diagnostic skill, they’d ask dozens of questions, come up with a bushel of diagnoses, then figure it out…probably about an hour after they started. I’m thinking, ‘subdural hematoma.’”


OK…Dr. John Dorian…

“J.D.”

J.D., you’ve probably seen a lot of these kinds of wounds as a young attending physician…what do you make of it?

Dr. Dorian: “Me?...what do I know?...I just do voice over narration and screw up my personal relationships.”


Dr. Gil Grissom…you’re not an M.D., but this having all the earmarks of a crime scene, you might have some special insight…

Dr. Grissom: “I don’t think we can reach any conclusions as to the nature and severity of the wound unless we have some really disgusting graphics of the injury that get deep into the sinews and blood vessels and all that other goop that folks generally find sickening.”


Gentlemen…we’re still left with the question, what really happened to Alex Ovechkin? Was it merely an accidental skate blade? Was it a conspiracy of Penguins, evidenced by the delay in having any medical personnel attend to Ovechkin while his life was bleeding out of him? What was it?

[All]: “Groin injury!” (laughter)

Well, that seems as good a diagnosis as any, but there is the open question of whether Ovechkin will play this evening against Ottawa. Ovechkin says, “"Probably I play. After the morning skate tomorrow, we'll see."

Speaking of “we’ll see,” we’ll see which teams show up this evening on both sides. Caps fans will remember that the last time these clubs met, on November 8th, the Caps dealt the Senators a surprising…nay, “stunning”…4-1 beating at ScotiaBank Place. The game was noteworthy for several other things. First, the win ended an Ottawa eight-game winning streak. Second, it was the last time Viktor Kozlov scored a goal. Third, it was the occasion of Nicklas Backstrom’s first NHL goal. Finally, the Caps celebrated the win by immediately embarking on a five-game losing streak culminating with their coach getting fired.

It was a meaningful game.

Ottawa seems to think the game tonight is meaningful, if one reads between the lines of their comments…

Jason Spezza: "Whenever we lose to a team, anybody, we address it. Because you don't want to lose a second time in a row. We don't want any team to feel like they can beat us. So tomorrow is important."

Mike Fisher: "They kind of caught us a little bit overconfident, or we took them too lightly. But that's not going to happen again."

Well, the Senators might not take the Caps lightly this evening, but it isn’t as if the club doesn’t have distractions to contend with. Ray Emery was sent home from practice on Friday. An ailment was suspected – either Emery suffering from one, or the Senators suffering from what they feel is an inappropriate attitude. What might be telling is the commentary from team’s captain, Daniel Alfredsson:

"If he was our No. 1 goalie right now and we lived and died by him, then it would be a different story. We'd expect more from him at times. (Martin) Gerber is our goalie right and I think Ray's mission right now is if he wants to get back in, he's got to show the coaches he wants to do it. That's where we are at."

Martin Gerber’s their goalie right now?...If someone had said last year that a Senator – any Senator – would ever utter those words, they’d have been packed off to the loony bin. But there is Gerber, firmly established as the number one, with a 19-5-2 record, 2.32, .936. He’s won six of his last seven decisions, during which he’s improved on his season numbers – 6-1-0, 2.15, .932.

Gerber’s performance reflects his team’s. The Senators are almost as hot coming into this game as they were when they came into the November 8th meeting. They are 9-1-1 in their last 11. They’ve scored five or more goals five times. Here are the statistical particulars over that stretch:

Goals for/against: 47-25

Power Play: 8/39 (20.5 percent)

Penalty Killing: 39/46 (84.8 percent)

Players of note: Dany Heatley (9-8-17, +17), Jason Spezza (8-12-20, +16), Joe Corvo (+13, injured/day-to-day)

The Caps, meanwhile, are in a sense right back where they started from. On November 8th they were in the midst of a 1-5-1 stretch. At the moment, they are 1-1-3 in their last five games. Even since that evening, the Caps are 8-10-4…marking time in a way. Can they catch lightning (or at least, “Senators”) in a bottle again? Well, the boys are 4-2-0 in their last six meetings against Ottawa, outscoring them 19-14. What has been the key? You might think, “keeping the Senators off the power play.” Well, that would help – the Caps killed 25 of 28 shorthanded situations in those six games (89.3 percent). But the key is the Caps power play. They scored at least one power play goal in each of the four wins, and failed to do so in both of the losses 6-for-27 overall, 22.2 percent).

That’s why it will be important for Ovechkin to play this evening (11 power play goals for the season, 5-6-11 in nine career games against Ottawa) and for someone like Viktor Kozlov to make his presence felt (11-10-21 and five power play goals in 32 career games against the Senators). If the Caps can make the Senators play defense, it keeps guys like Spezza and Heatley from doing as much damage as they normally might do.

The Senators will be ready, and the Caps don’t really have much reason to fear this club, given their recent success (though a healthy respect is required). It will probably be a good game...better than some folks might expect. The Caps started 2007 poorly, with a 3-2 New Year’s Day loss to Phoenix. They will end the year much better…

Caps 4 – Senators 3


And, if you were thinking of getting Kris Letang a belated Christmas present, might we suggest the following…

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sittin' at the end of the bar...


Dateline: Ottawa. Drama in goal...Ray Emery sent home. Sick?...or Senators sick of "hissy fits?"

Who'd have thought that the highest ranking "Richards" among the league's scorers this late in the year would not be "Brad," but "Mike?" He's tied for 10th (with Alex Ovechkin) at 18-25-43, +8. He's been held off the scoresheet eight times in 35 games this year, is second in shorthanded goals (four) and has 11 multi-point games. He won't be 23 until February.

Speaking of "Brad"...-20. He's all alone down there. Well, maybe not. He has some company. Four of the bottom ten players in the league in plus/minus hail from Tampa Bay: Jan Hlavac (-14), Mathieu Darche (-15), Brad Luckowich (-16) and Richards..."Brad," not "Mike."

Dateline: Carolina. "'Canes might be in the market for a puck-moving defenseman." Somebody, please give Steve Eminger a home...yeah, like that's gonna happen.

Chicken...egg. Does Pascal Leclaire have seven shutouts because Columbus is second in the league in penalty-killing?...or is Columbus second in penalty killing because Leclaire is good enough to have seven shutouts?

Skip the 60-minute part...Edmonton (10-3) and Atlanta (8-1) lead the NHL in OT/SO records. Edmonton has six wins in regulation this year, Atlanta ten. Thank you, Gary Bettman.

Dateline: Chicago. Seems Blackhawks are a little thin on defense...does Eminger like deep-dish pizza?

Detroit has 28 wins...13 of them are by three-or-more goals.

Oh, about those ten Edmonton wins in the extra session?...all of them have come in the shootout. Only one team (Pittsburgh) has as many as half that total.

A one-point night: Penguins 4 - Caps 3 (OT)


Last night, the Caps finished up a back-to-back set of games with a 4-3 overtime loss that left them with three of four points in what is – and will be – a difficult week of hockey.

Please, let that sink in…three of four points in back to back games. The fourth point went to a club that the Caps might have to fight for an eight-seed in the spring, but seeing as how the club also lost its starting goaltender to injury, its top scorer for the last 15 minutes of regulation and the overtime, and still plays without its captain, losing in overtime to a team that had been rested since Sunday wasn’t the worst result one could imagine.

Caps fans no doubt will indulge their sense of drama about the whole thing – a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh in Mellon Arena in a game they led late – but in the larger scope of things, it was a point earned in the 38th game of the season. Pittsburgh fans will probably acknowledge it as an affirmation of a law of nature – that the Caps are fated to come up short always against the mighty black and gold – but they shouldn’t read too much into the game, either.

Let’s get the bad out of the way, first…

Much will be made of Olaf Kolzig perhaps tracking Sidney Crosby too aggressively on the last play, leaving the net all but empty for the Sergei Gonchar winner, but it never should have come to that…it was the sequence with just over two minutes to go in regulation that was the problem, and it is sort of what makes hockey, hockey. Brooks Laich lost a defensive zone draw to Eric Christensen in the dying seconds of a Penguin power play. The puck found its way to Darryl Sydor, who did what a defenseman is supposed to do in that situation – get the puck to the net. The shot was of a non-descript sort, at least until it struck Milan Jurcina on the way to the net. Unfortunately for Jurcina (and misfortune was a pretty good description of his game last night, he also deflected the Armstrong centering pass that ended up being an Armstrong goal), the puck didn’t get enough of him. The ever-so-slight redirection was enough to allow the puck to elude Kolzig for the game tying goal.

But even that should never have come to pass…Shaone Morrisonn taking a roughing penalty with less than five minutes in the game…against a top-ten home power play. The script writes itself after that.

But even that might not have mattered, but for a skate blade early in the third period. At that point of the game, the Caps were dominating the Penguins, not letting them out of their own end easily and putting a fair amount of pressure on Penguin goalie Ty Conklin. Then a skate blade took a piece out of Alex Ovechkin’s leg. He skated off uncomfortably from the Caps bench and would not return. Neither would the Caps’ dominating play. Although the Caps had a perfect record (10-0-0) when leading after two coming into this game, it was now a shaky proposition. And it was enough – Ovechkin’s absence, Morrisonn’s penalty, Laich’s faceoff loss, Jurcina’s deflection. The rest was just details.

As for the rest…

We realize that in any game Sidney Crosby finishes upright, he is going to be a favorite for one of the three stars, but for the life of me…the first star? The best player for either side last night was Evgeni Malkin. His scoresheet looks quiet, but he was in the middle of everything and gave a passable impression of Mario Lemieux when he carried the puck with a mix of stick-handling skill and an ability to ward off defenders with his size. The one thing Malkin doesn’t have (yet) that Lemieux did was the latter’s cold-eyed, almost shark-like character in finishing plays (in case Pens fans don’t get it, that’s a compliment).

Viktor Kozlov got an assist and was a +2, but that seems extraordinarily misleading. He is now without a goal in his last 22 games and has only three on the year. Last night, he gave the appearance of a fellow in the midst of a public skate. If there is one skater who really, really needs to pick up his game in the second half, it is Kozlov. It’s one thing for a player like Matt Pettinger to be thought of as disappointing for having only two goals all year, and one in his last 26. But Pettinger was envisioned as more a checking line contributor. Kozlov is a top-six forward with only 22 points in 38 games (he’s projecting to 6-41-47, a lower point total than either of the full years of the man he replaced to play with Ovechkin – Dainius Zubrus).

Pittsburgh isn’t going anywhere…not with that defense. There’s been speculation about whether Pens’ GM Ray Shero would seek a goalie in the wake of the injury to Marc-Andre Fleury. After looking at the sorry performance of the Penguin blueliners last night (that the Caps failed to exploit fully), it’s hard to envision that as a team that makes – let alone makes noise – in the playoffs. Pick an adjective to describe their handling of the puck – indifferent, lackadaisical, comedic…The exception was Kris Letang, who, for a somewhat undersized and inexperienced backliner, threw around his weight pretty well and played a generally solid game.

It’s getting to the point where some conclusions (and some kicks in the backside) might be made about the off-season moves. Here is a set of numbers…

10-52-62, -18

That is the combined goals-assists-points-plus/minus production of Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, and Tom Poti (who also combine for $10.9 million of cap hit). Nylander’s projection for the season (16-50-66) is looking a lot like his career 82-game averages (19-43-62), but he’s also projecting to a -33…yeesh. Ditto Kozlov, although his projection (6-41-47) skews toward assists more than his career average suggests (18-30-48). Poti’s projection (0-26-26) doesn’t meet his career 82-game standard (8-27-35). Is it the players?...or who rated the players? That’s what this season is, in part, about. Even though two of them – Nylander and Poti – had bouts with injury this year, all three need to be contributing more if the Caps are to compete.

Boyd Gordon was missed…it’s nice to have him back. 0-1-1, a blocked shot, a couple of hits, and 9-of-12 in the dot…too bad he didn’t take that draw against Christensen.

Ditto Nicklas Backstrom…not the missing him part, just nice to have him around…two assists, three takeaways, and 8-of-12 in the circle.

Donald Brashear had about the most productive 9:31 a grinder could have…four hits, a goal, three shots, and a fight. It was a full evening.

If Brent Johnson is going to be out 2-4 weeks with a sprained knee (and don’t be ranting on Brent…he gave up a goal on a 3-on-1 and another when he’d already apparently injured that knee), at least the Caps will catch a bit of a scheduling break. They have no more back-to-backs until January 23-24, when they have a home-and-home against Toronto. Kolzig had better be sharp, though.

The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last ten games. Only Ottawa, Buffalo, and Florida have earned more points in the Eastern Conference over that time. The Caps haven’t lost sight of eighth place (six points out). The injuries to Johnson and Ovechkin are worrisome, although the wound suffered by Ovechkin was described as “superficial.” It doesn’t get any easier for the Caps, as they face the conference-leading and 8-1-1 in their last ten games Ottawa Senators in their next two contests.

This was a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty game. The Caps earned a point in a difficult place to play on the second half of a back-to-back with their starting goalie and top scorer injured in the game. The Caps also surrendered a point when they could not hold a one-goal lead in the last minutes of the game and looked somewhat disoriented after the Ovechkin injury. Who’s right? The coach is…

"We get ahead and it's like hanging on and protecting a lead rather than trying to get more. We have chances to put the game away and we have to have the killer instinct. I don't know how you get it. I don't know if you're born with it, but somehow we have to find it."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR -- Caps vs. Penguins, December 27th




The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the Caps finish up their back-to-back tilts with a visit to The Confluence and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last night, the Caps played a team that has trouble on the road. Tampa Bay went into the game with a 3-12-1 record on the road and left DC 3-13-1 record. As for tonight’s opponents, Bettman’s Darlings are similar in different ways. They can’t win in their division. They are 4-10-1 in the Atlantic Division, 14-6-1 against everyone else, which is not a good sign for the visitors.

But speaking of signs, we have a special guest with us who – in an exclusive Peerless Prognosticator interview – will dispel one of the great codebreaking stories of our time. We welcome Robert Langdon, professor of religious iconology and symbology at Harvard University and famous for his research into the “DaVinci Code.” Dr. Langdon, welcome.

“It’s a pleasure to be here.”

Let’s get right to it. You are prepared tonight to reverse perhaps your most famous contribution to symbology and religious studies.

“That’s correct. After conducting some painstaking research into the topic, it appears that we were entirely wrong about the ‘DaVinci Code.’”

That’s not all, is it?

“No, it’s not. It turns out that the entire story has nothing to do with Leonardo DaVinci, that in fact, the ‘code’ is rooted in hockey."

Hockey?

“Exactly…all that crap about DaVinci and Mary Magdalene…utter nonsense.”

And the Holy Grail?

“Well, we’ll get to that…you probably remember all that blather about an upside down V – which appears as a pyramid – is a stylized phallic symbol called the ‘blade’…"

Yes…

“Wrong!”

Well, what is it?

“It is a symbolic representation for hockey…it shows up everywhere..'DaHockey Code,' so to speak. Look here...



…the five hole…the foundation of the shooter…all come back to that shape. And then there is the perfect symmetry of hockey…the forehand and the backhand…"




Amazing…I noticed that you employed an image of Sidney Crosby in your example. Coincidence?

“Not at all. You will notice that Crosby wears the number ’87.’ The legend has it that this number was chosen to reflect his date of birth – August 7, 1987…8/7/87…but the meaning is much deeper than that…”

Doc, you’re scaring me here.

“No, really…add the numbers…8 + 7 = 15, the product of 3 and 5, the first odd prime numbers greater than 1…15 is also the sum of the first three odd prime numbers greater than 1 – 3, 5, and 7 -- a trinity. And compare that to the characters in the Son of God’s name – eleven characters. 3, 5, 7, 11…a prime sequence. Crosby leads to the Christ. They even have the same number of characters in their names…”

Security!

“No, wait…they even sound alike…Crosby…Christ. Only through him can you find Him! No, wait!...WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!!... THERE’S MORE!!!... PRAISE SIDNEY!!!”


OK, so what about the game? Well, hockey fans might remember – it having been pounded into their heads as if with a ball-peen hammer – that Sidney and the Crosbettes had a triumphal whirlwind tour of western Canada three weeks ago. They won all three games in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver; two of them via Bettman’s Gimmick (it bears noting that the object of attention was 0-3-3 and missed a penalty shot in that western swing).

But since that trip, the Penguins have stumbled. They are 3-4-0 in their seven games since returning the East coast, having been outscored 16-28. Special teams in these last seven games have been “special” in perhaps a definition not to the liking of Penguin fans. The power play is 5-for-33 (15.2 percent), while the penalty killers are struggling at 27-for-38 (71.1 percent), although they are 6-for-6 in their last two games.

As one would expect, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the key players here – 2-6-8, -3; and 3-2-5, -4, respectively, over the last seven. They’ll be a focus of attention. But there are two other players of note here for Caps fans to watch…Petr Sykora (not that one, the other one) is 5-14-19 in 31 career games against Washington. He might be an “under-the-radar” player in this game. Then there is Tyler Kennedy. A recent call-up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kennedy was 6-4-10, +2 in his first 19 games. But he’s hit a bit of a wall since going 1-2-3, +2, against the Islanders on December 15th. In four games since, he is without a point and is -1.

In goal, well, does it really matter? Neither Dany Sabourin nor Ty Conklin have made Pens fans forget Marc-Andre Fleury (injured). Over the last seven games, Sabourin is 1-4-0, 3.87, .866. Conklin is 2-0-0 (both wins coming against Boston), 3.72, .895. One would not expect a Penguin goalie to emerge among the top three stars of this game.

The Caps got off the three-game winless streak with a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. The game was significant for two reasons. First, it made the Caps 8-5-3 under Bruce Boudreau. If they can continue at that pace for the rest of the season, they would project to 85 points. In and of itself, that’s not saying a lot, since 92 points was the lowest among playoff contestants in the East last year. But Carolina, currently leading in the Southeast, is on an 88-point pace for the year. It isn’t as if anyone has run away and hidden in the division.

Which brings us to the second point of significance – the Caps are now above .500 in the Southeast (8-7-2) and have the second-best intradivisional record in the division (behind Atlanta). They are 5-1-1 in the Southeast under Boudreau.

We would be remiss if we didn’t include a “tale o’ the tape” for Crosby and Alex Ovechkin…

Points: Crosby 48/Ovechkin 42
Goals: Ovechkin 25/Crosby 16
Assists: Crosby 32/Ovechkin 17
Plus-Minus: Crosby +3/Ovechkin +1
Game-Winning goals: Ovechkin 3/Crosby 2
Power Play points: Crosby 20/Ovechkin 14
Power Play goals: Ovechkin 11/Crosby 4
Power Play assists: Crosby 16/Ovechkin 3
Hits: Ovechkin 99/Crosby 34
Takeaways: Ovechkin 36/Crosby 18
Giveaways: Crosby 27/Ovechkin 47
Blocked Shots: Ovechkin 25/Crosby 24

Both of these teams have 12 points in their last ten games, and neither (as of this morning) is a playoff team. The difference is that Pittsburgh owns this series in the Ovechkin/Crosby era – they are 8-1 over the last two-plus years, but that is a bit misleading. The Penguins are 5-0 in one goal games (including a shootout win) and have won the last three games by that margin. It is the story of the last decade in this series – the Caps are just good enough to lose close.

Brent Johnson is likely to get the start in goal for the Caps, and he has good numbers (if bad luck) against the Penguins – 2-4-0, 2.13, .902 in his career. He lost the only meeting of the clubs so far this year, 2-1. On the other side of the coin, Ovechkin has points in 20 of his last 22 games (16-10-26).

The Caps did their part last night to get this holiday week off to a good start. They’ll keep the good times rolling tonight…

Caps 5 – Penguins 3

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas



"...he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."
-- Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"

...see you in a few days.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A one-point night: Islanders 3 - Caps 2 (OT)


Well, it didn't go to a shootout...

Last night’s game between the Caps and the Islanders – a 3-2 overtime loss for the Caps – was a study in will and who could impose theirs on the other club. In the end, it was an Islander kind of game.

Ugly.

The Caps had two moments of the kind of style Bruce Boudreau has installed, and the Alexes scored goals. There are your Caps highlights. There are your highlights, period. The rest was a rather pugnacious affair, not as a penalty-filled affair, but more a contest of two clubs playing on the local, going from zone to zone and fighting for territory.

And that’s what the Caps more or less permitted. They didn’t press much in the early part of the game, looking more like they were on auto-pilot.

And here is your odd number for the evening…50:36.

That is how long it took Alex Ovechkin to register a shot on goal. For the game, the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – had a total of four shots. That’s what the Islanders do unless a club is more able to impose its will on them than the Caps were capable of last night.

Here is another reflection of the Islanders imposing their style on the game: 42-24. That was the difference in turnovers (giveaways yielded and takeaways made), the Caps having the “42.”

And, the Islanders had more blocked shots (18) than the Caps registered on goal (16).

Even when things showed promise, they didn’t last. An example – Viktor Kozlov, who has been battling a goal slump going back to November 8th in Ottawa, registered three shots in the first 18:45. He didn’t have another for the rest of the game, although he did have assists on both Capitals’ goals.

In the end though, it came down to Rick DiPietro and Olaf Kolzig. Both goalies made some top notch saves, but DiPietro made all the saves he’s supposed to make, too (although with 16 shots faced, it wasn’t as if he faced a severe test). Kolzig – who gave up the overtime winner on a severe-angle shot from Richard Park – did not.

The three points the Caps earned on the road were given up in the last two games – a home game of the sort they need to win and an overtime game that probably shouldn’t have gone that far. It isn’t the way to go into the break (0-1-2), and there are hazards as the Caps come out of the break next week – last year the Caps lost all five games between Christmas and New Years (including two sets of back-to-back games) by a combined score of 21-10. The Caps will spend this year’s between-the-holidays week facing four clubs who can make goalies in a slump pay – Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Ottawa twice.

It will be a big week, made bigger by the points that got away this week.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Take a number...

Next in the NHL's hit parade of "Where is Alex Going?"...

Montreal.

Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette penned a somewhat delirious essay on the matter of how Alex Ovechkin could find himself in the bleu, blanc, et rouge next season. As these things go, it's a doozy. He doesn't mince words...

"...for the NHL to have a player like Ovechkin in a market like Washington is a crime. Night after night, Ovechkin plays to thousands of empty seats and in D.C., he always will."
Well, DC does have its problems with crime, but the only one we've seen lately with respect to Ovechkin might be his turns on a Segway.

Ovechkin apparently inspires escapes from reality, or at least fact checking...to wit:

"This year, he's earning a mere $1.3 million."
Nope...he's earning $3,834,000...below market, to be sure, but certainly not among the hockey working class.

"Ovechkin and Russian teammate Alexander Semin will be restricted free agents and Washington will be hard put to satisfy both..."
Uh, nope again. Alexander Semin signed an extension. $9.2 million for two years, starting next season.

Even the logic seems a bit tortured...

"All it will take is, oh, $120 million over 15 years and a slew of first-round picks..."
Earlier in the article, Todd makes the point that thoughts of an $8.7 million deal along the lines Sidney Crosby signed in Pittsburgh have given way (at least in the Ovechkin camp) to perhaps a $9-10 million/year deal. So why, then, would anyone think he's going to go below market ($8 million a year) to sign an offer sheet in Montreal? More to the point, if these are the terms -- less than that Crosbyesque deal, why would the Caps not match?

"If the Capitals are reasonably certain they're bound to lose Ovechkin, the Habs might be able to swing a multi-player deal, offering Washington any player on the roster not named Carey Price."

Again, earlier in the article, Todd compared Ovechkin to Rocket Richard -- he of the eight Stanley Cups, 544 goals, a Hart Trophy, and a place in the Hall of Fame...the kind of guy folks make movies about. Meanwhile, much as we love Carey Price, he hasn't done anything yet in the NHL, but maybe that's our reflexive fear of goaltenders with "Carey" in their name.

"In terms of sheer excitement, no one in the NHL is Ovechkin's equal."
Caps fans will agree with that...but the league has it's money down on another player.


We've had New York, Detroit, The Hockey News, and now Montreal weighing in on "where -- as long as it's not Washington -- will Alex Ovechkin play next year?" First, it was annoying, but now it's getting to be something of a parlor game in the making...

Boston...a combination of Cam Neely, Phil Esposito, and Bobby Orr...and he should play in an original six town instead of that dump down the Eastern Seaboard...

Chicago...Bobby Hull?...Denis Savard?...Stan Mikita?...pfft...besides, he already looks good in red, and the Blackhawks are another original six team...they could use the boost...and they'd probably pay him now that Bill Wirtz has departed. Well, maybe not.

Philadelphia...He might not be a Broad Street Bully, but he'd be a Broad Street Banger who could score goals by the bushel. Philly sells out every night (well, a lot) ...his style would fit right in to the city's image. And he could rub the Caps' faces in it four times a year.

Pittsburgh...Crosby...Ovechkin...parades ensue, and Gary Bettman doubles his dry cleaning bill from soiling himself in jubilation.

Toronto...loves the town, the town loves him, and the population can spell "Ovechkin."

Ottawa...just because it's Canada, and it's not Washington.

Hey, try it yourself...we're sure just about every other town in the league will be doing it soon, too.




* We have to thank our good friends over on the Penguins' official for pointing out this article. And, we appreciate their heartfelt concern over the Caps' and Ovechkin's future.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Islanders, December 22nd



Ho-ho-ho…The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

‘Tis the last game before the break, and the Caps can do no better than find themselves in last place in the East as they head into the holiday. However, a win tonight can be a nice note on which to end the first phase of the season. It also can keep them within shouting distance of eighth place, which is no small consolation given how the Caps started the year.

Tonight, the Caps visit the New York Islanders and one of the goofier tag lines hung around the neck of an NHL club this year…”We’re All Islanders.” The Peerless supposes that in the broadest sense of the term, they are correct, as all 30 teams in the NHL play on a land mass surrounded on all four points of the compass by water (although we generally call that, “North America”), but it really does sound sort of, well…goofy.

Nevertheless, the Islanders – a franchise managed by what is, on paper, a confederacy of dunces, is anything but. Although they find themselves in 12th place this morning, they could find themselves in the top eight by midnight, should they defeat the Caps. You wouldn’t know it to look at them…

They have no scorer in the top-75 (Mike Comrie is tied for 76th with 25 points)

They have no goal scorer in the top-70 (Josef Vasicek is tied for 72nd with 10)

They have no player in the top-150 in plus-minus (Vasicek and Sean Bergenheim are tied for 161st at +3)

They have no “minute-eater” (Radek Martinek leads the club in ice time with 22:10 – good for 60th in the league)

They have no particular power-play go-to guy (Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko are tied for 49th in power play goals with four apiece)

But they do other things well that don’t make SportsCenter highlights (that is, when ESPN is not confining itself to Sidney Crosby moments)…

Trent Hunter is third in the league in hits; Brendan Witt is 17th

Mike Sillinger is 15th among players taking at least 200 faceoffs (55.6 percent)

Brendan Witt is 9th in blocked shots (78)

In other words, when you play the Islanders, bring a lunch…it’s going to be a long day, and it’s not likely to be pretty.

However, the Caps might be catching the Islanders at the right time. Even with the Islanders’ 4-2 win in Pittsburgh last night, they are 3-7-1 in their last 11 games, having been outscored 22-33. They’ve scored two or fewer goals six times in this stretch and have been shut out twice.

On special teams, the “special” has been missing…the power play has scored seven times in 51 chances (13.7 percent), while the penalty killers have skated of 56 of 68 shorthanded situations (82.4 percent).

No Islander has more than three goals over these past 11 games, but they would be the ones that Caps fans should be watching out for:

Miroslav Satan: 3-4-7, -5 in his last 11 (42 games, 26-13-39, +4 career against Washington)

Mike Sillinger: 3-2-5, -4 (33 games, 6-11-17, -10)

Bill Guerin: 3-2-5, -1 (42 games, 22-7-29, -2…he has three goals in two games this year)

Rick DiPietro got the call last night in the win over Pittsburgh. You’d think that coming off the road, backup Wade Dubielewicz would get the start tonight. We wouldn’t bet on it. The Islanders will be off until Wednesday after tonight’s game, and DiPietro is 7-3-1, 1.99, .926, and two shutouts in his career against the Caps. Meanwhile, Dubielewicz has been in four games this year (one since November 3rd) and has no career decisions against the Caps.

For the Caps, 8-5-2 looks a lot better under the Bruce than does 7-6-2 heading into the break. The Caps have not lost consecutive games in regulation under Bruce Boudreau, and their having lost twice in a row under any flavor of loss in their last two games is the only such occurrence in December.

There are a few Caps who need to come out of a funk. Tarik El-Bashir covers one of them in this morning’s Post – Olaf Kolzig. But there are others.

Viktor Kozlov has no goals in his last 19 games (0-8-8, -1).

Tomas Fleischmann has one in his last 16 games (1-3-4, -5).

Michael Nylander has two goals in his last 16 games, although he’s been adding to his assist total (2-12-14, -11…ouch).

Matt Pettinger has one goal in his last 23 games (1-1-2, -11…ouch again)

Tom Poti has no goals as a Cap (0-11-11, -7 overall)

Alexander Semin has given signs of coming around, with goals in each of his last two games. Perhaps the former Islanders Kozlov and Poti will reverse their fortunes tonight.

That’s how we see it, anyway. So with that, we’ll leave you with some Christmas cheer...

Twas the night before Christmas, when all ‘round the rink
Not a creature was stirring, you could hear yourself think.
The stockings were hung by the lockers with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The Cappies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Stanley Cups danced in their heads.
With Gabby in warmups, and wearing a cap,
They’d just settled in for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the ice there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the tunnel I flew like a flash,
Knocked over some sticks and fell with a crash.

The lights in the arena on the new sheet of ice
Gave the lustre of mid-day, it was oh, very nice.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Michael! now, Viktor! now, Nicklas and Olie!
On, Alex! On, Greenie! on, Clarkie and Johnnie!
To the top of the glass! to the top of the stands!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As players that before the wild Hurricanes fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the slate
The prancing and pawing of each little skate.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the stairs St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like Don Cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the stairs he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Caps 3 – Islanders 2

Friday, December 21, 2007

A no point night: Canadiens 5 - Caps 2


Sometimes, that step backward covers more territory than those two steps you took forward. Such was the case last night when the Caps took a big step backward in losing to the Montreal Canadiens, 5-2.

It wasn’t so much that nothing went right…nothing went. Pick a topic…power play (1-for-4, but looking at times pretty ragged)…penalty killing (2-for-4, including giving up the back-breaker in the third)…goaltending (let’s face it, this is now a concern; Olaf Kolzig has given up three or more goals in seven of his last eight games and has a save percentage of .854 in that span)…defense (too much standing around near the crease)…offense (two goals on 37 shots…Cristobal Huet is not Ken Dryden, folks)…effort (the Caps looked like they were skating at three-quarter speed much of the night, and there is no way the Caps should be out-hit by this team, 24-18).

If ever there was a game lately where the Caps missed the absent Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon, it was this one. They just never looked as if they were into this game, and they looked bad both in their own end and in faceoff situations. There were times when one might of expected Bruce Boudreau to pull a “Norman Dale” (that’d be the coach in the movie “Hoosiers”) when he played the last minutes of a game a man short by choice…there were some Caps who deserved to sit.

The sequence of events at the end of the first and through the second periods knocked the Caps off their pegs – Tom Poti called for an iffy tripping penalty, then Montreal scoring on three of their next four shots (the power play from the Poti call and their first two shots of the second period to give the visitors a 3-1 lead). Until the Poti call, the Caps might not have been dominant, but they appeared to get the better of the play. After that sequence, which involved a lot of relative inactivity by both clubs, the only mystery was what the final score would be.

Giving up five goals to a club where almost half the total shots (21) come from two players (Mark Streit and Guillaume Latendresse, neither of whom will be confused with Alexander Ovechkin or Alexander Semin, combined for ten) isn’t just unusual, but absurd. It was a reflection of a generally poor night for the home team in the sort of game from which they have to get two points. Getting three on the road is good…getting one of them against the Red Wings was nice. Two points last night was necessary. And now, Brian Pothier will spend some time on the shelf with a broken thumb. There are Caps fans who will rejoice at such a turn, but Pothier is second among Caps defensemen in scoring, eats up almost 19 minutes a game, and leads the team in plus-minus. At this point, if one thinks John Erskine or Steve Eminger is an automatic upgrade in filling that position, well…we’d disagree.

Next up for the Caps, in the last game before the Christmas break, is the Islanders on the road. The Islanders are in the midst of some tough times, going 2-7-1 in their last ten, which makes that game of the “necessary” sort. We’ll see…

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Evil is not as evil does


As a Caps fan, we took notice of the league imposing a 30-game suspension on New York Islander forward Chris Simon, yesterday, for his use of his skate to stomp on Pittsburgh Penguin Jarkko Ruutu last weekend. It ranks as the longest suspension imposed on a player in 80 years. It is also worth noting that Simon also has the second longest suspension in that time (25 games).

In his time as a Capital, Simon could wreak havoc on opponents on the ice, but seemed a quiet and thoughtful sort off the ice -- a man who was striving to deal with demons of his youth and having success in doing so. And we can only take at his word the statement by Caps goaltender and former teammate Olaf Kolzig that, "[Simon is] a great teammate and a great person."

But as Kolzig also noted, "he has a switch that when he gets aggravated he doesn't realize what he's doing." That is something we don't believe a fan of the sport can really comprehend -- the split personality of a professional athlete that can allow him to be personable and approachable away from the field, court, or rink; yet possessed by other forces in competition that would produce such behavior as hitting an opponent with a stick (what got Simon 25 games last year) or stepping on him with his skate (the basis for the current suspension).

We haven't seen or read anything in watching Simon's career to suggest he is an evil person. It is just that he has succumed to doing evil things at times on the ice. 55 games worth of suspension in nine months suggests that Simon needs outside help to deal with this problem. He's left the team voluntarily to seek that counseling. But having been suspended a total of eight times in his career over a 13-year period for a total of 70 games -- seven of those instances for acts of violence on the ice -- the league needs to be sure that what help Simon receives will have an effect on his on-ice behavior. We don't think there is anyone who wouldn't wish Simon success in battling that problem.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Canadiens, December 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

‘Tis the holiday season and a time for families to get together to sing carols, exchange gifts, and talk hockey, and The Peerless is no exception. Our two cousins, Fearless and Cheerless are here to knaw on some drumsticks and talk about the Caps…

…Cheerless, Fearless, happy holidays.

Cheerless Prognosticator: “What are you so friggin’ happy about? The Caps are still in last place in the East.”

Fearless Prognosticator – “Geez, give it a rest… you sound like a message board poster.”

Do you guys get to watch the Caps much back at the prognostihomestead?

CP: “Sure…why do you think I’m cheerless?”

FP: “Geez, what Crosby crawled up your butt and died?”

Guys, guys…let’s try to keep in the spirit of the holiday. We’ve got Montreal coming to Verizon Center tonight…you guys know anything about them?

CP: “I know they’re from Canada.”

FP: “You should work for ESPN.”

CP: “They have a better record than the Caps?”

No in their last ten games they don’t. In fact, the Canadiens have been stumbling about, managing only a 4-4-2 record in their last ten games.

CP: “Yeah, but they’re 10-5-1 on the road, Mr. Blogger.”

That’s true, and they’ve been fine on the road in their last ten, too, going 3-1-0, including wins over the Flyers and the Bruins. But some chinks are showing in the Habs’ armor lately. The team stat that jumps out at you is the Montreal power play. They are second overall on the power play this year (23.9 percent) and tops in road power play efficiency (27.6 percent). In their last ten games, the Canadiens have slipped to 7-for-43 (16.3 percent) overall, but they are 5-for-19 on the road (26.3 percent).

CP: “You’re giving me a headache.”

Is he always like this?

FP: “Only when he’s awake.”

Well, the Caps had better be awake on the penalty kill, because Montreal spreads things around. 11 different players have scored power play goals, led by Alex Kovalev with nine.

CP: “Is he still in the league?”

It does seem like he’s been around forever, but he leads the club in goals and total points, in addition to his nine power play goals. He’s got a lot of help…six players have at least ten power play points (by way of comparison, the Caps have two).

CP: “It’s not looking good, cousin.”

Well, there are two things that work in favor of the Caps concerning the Montreal power play. First, despite the efficiency they’ve enjoyed, they’re only 13th overall in road power play chances. Second, the Caps have killed 88.4 percent of their shorthanded situations over their last ten games. What’s more, the Caps have done this while shorthanded 43 times. Minimizing those chances have been important.

FP: "Dontcha just love it when he’s going on about those numbers?"

CP: "Yeah, a regular ‘beautiful mind’…"

As for the Caps, no team in the Eastern Conference has fewer home wins (six, tied with Montreal). But they are 4-2-1 on home ice since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench. They’ve outscored the opposition 24-20, and their penalty killing has been especially effective (25-for-27; 92.6 percent). Eleven different Caps have scored those 24 goals on home ice, led by Alex Ovechkin (six) and Mike Green (four).

But what they might have to contend with is the Bear killer, himself, Carey Price. Caps fans might remember that Price was the netminder for the Hamilton Bulldogs during their 4-1 Calder Cup final series win over the Hershey Bears last spring. After appearing in only two regular season games after being moved up from Tri-City in the WHL, he went 15-6 to lead the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup. Thus far this year the rookie has fine numbers: 9-6-2, 2.72, .915. And, he has a link to the Caps as well. During the lockout in 2004-2005, Price was mentored by Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig at Tri-City. That the two could be battling one another in this contest is one of the interesting subplots.

CP: "Oooh…drama."

If Cristobal Huet plays – and he’s just back after sitting out a few games with a groin injury – he has some pretty good career numbers against the Caps: 4-2-0, 2.54, .912.

CP: "Didn’t you say something about a drumstick?..."

OK, OK! Anything to shut you up…but first, the mentor will defeat the mentee..

CP: "Is that really a word?"

Yes, for heaven’s sake...like we said, the mentor will defeat the mentee, and the Caps will inch just a little closer to the top-eight.

Caps 4 – Canadiens 1

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another "Shop Ovechkin" Moment

OK, this is past nuts. First it was Larry Brooks...then it was Ted Kulfan.

Now, it's Mike Brophy over at The Hockey News opining on the matter of Alex Ovechkin and whether or not he should be moved.

Brophy frames his argument with a question...

But what if Ovechkin doesn’t want to play in Washington any longer? What if the young superstar tells the Caps he’d prefer to play someplace a little more cosmopolitan than Washington? You know, it could happen.

Uh, Mike? With the possible exception of New York City, there might not be a more "cosmopolitan" city in North America than Washington. If you want to make the argument that there might be more "hockey-centric" cities, be my guest. There are probably scores of them.

He dips his toe into the waters of a trade discussion by suggesting that, "Caps GM George McPhee should, at the very least, explore the possibility of trading the 22-year-old sniper." But that is something of a red herring. He gets right to the point soon...

Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team. There are no guarantees re-signing Ovechkin will make the Capitals a successful franchise.

It always comes down to that...Washington. It isn't enough of a hockey locale to suit the likes of Brooks, Kulfan, and now Brophy. There is a fair amount of window dressing in the form of dredging up the Lindros-for-the-world trade between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Quebec Nordiques that led (so the argument goes) to Stanley Cups for Colorado (after their move out of Canada) and "squat" for the Flyers. And, if Wayne Gretzky could be traded, anyone could. But the argument seems to boil down in some manner, shape, or form to "Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin." We won't mention too loudly that the Nordiques also had a guy named "Sakic" who came in a deal wholly separate from the Lindros caper (Caps fans will certainly remember the particulars), not to mention some goalie that came from Montreal..."Roy," I believe his name was.

Hey, here's a thought. Pittsburgh is sitting two games over .500...they have a goalie on the shelf who was playing rather inconsistently (not to mention hasn't won anything of note in the playoffs as a pro at any level), and have a rather pedestrian defense. Think they ought to be sending out feelers for Sidney Crosby?

Larry...Ted...Mike. The NHL is a 30-team league. It isn't just New York, Detroit, and Canada, much as the TV types would wish it so. There are the Carolina's, Tampa Bay's, Calgary's, and Edmonton's that can and do reach a Stanley Cup final from time to time...even Washington has done it. So, please, stop trying to move Alex Ovechkin. And maybe look past Ovechkin when assessing the prospects of the Capitals...a couple of Calder Cup final teams in the AHL that have graduated the likes of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz...the emergence of a Nicklas Backstrom...guys like Karl Alzner waiting in the wings to join young guys like Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon. The prospects for this franchise might not be as bleak -- with an Alex Ovechkin -- as your opinion suggests.

Respect...

Perhaps Detroit wasn't expecting this kind of effort from a team it had a 21-point lead on in the league standings, but they paid their respects afterward...

"They got the puck going out of their zone in a hurry. I thought they played well; I was impressed. I really was. I thought it was a hard battle for us. There's not any teams that keep us off kilter all night long like they did tonight..."

-- Head Coach Mike Babcock


"They have a real good future, both of them. They're real mature for their age and they'll be big stars for a long time."

-- Henrik Zetterberg, speaking of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom


"He loves hockey and that's a fantastic thing. It's always great when superstars love the game because to me, that's contagious -- the enthusiasm -- and people like to watch people who love (playing) hockey. It reminds me of Pavel [Datsyuk] in that way. There's a stigma, a little bit that Russian guys don't [love the game]. Yet, both of them have a riot playing the game."

-- Babcock, on Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk



...thanks to the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News for the highlights.

A one-point night: Red Wings 4 - Caps 3 (OT/SO)

Step back…take a breath…and think of this number…

25

Those were the combined number of home wins for the Caps’ opponents on this abbreviated two-game road trip. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings ranked third and first in the league, respectively, in that category. And the Caps won three of four possible points in those hostile environments. It makes last night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Red Wings a little bit more palatable when looked at in the larger perspective.

Often – too often this year – we’ve noted points that the Caps have squandered. Well, last night they stole one. On paper – our prognostications notwithstanding – the Caps probably shouldn’t have been within three goals of the Red Wings, given their talent and ten-game points-earned streak. The Red Wings got to add a win to that streak, but it didn’t come easily, taking Bettman’s Gimmick to get it. In the hockey portion of the evening, the Caps played the Red Wings as even-steven as it gets, the teams splitting six goals, 60 shots, and 16 total turnovers right down the middle.

And, Alex Ovechkin had the game on his stick in the overtime when he took a nice feed from Mike Green and skated in alone on Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek. Ovechkin couldn’t nudge the biscuit across the line, though, and the decision was left to Bettman’s Gimmick.

Which brings us to the one discouraging word you’ll read here…Olaf Kolzig hasn’t been a very good shootout goaltender. In the hockey portion of the competition, he’s been dependable, superb at times. But in the three years of Bettman’s Gimmick, he’s stopped 44 of 75 shots (.587 save percentage). In the last two years, it’s 15 of 31 (.484). We’re sure there are theories – big goalies are at a disadvantage, shooters know the holes, blah-blah-blah…but shootouts have been a problem – scoring in them and defending them.

That said, Kolzig kept the Caps in it when the Red Wings were threatening on a couple of occasions to take command. His save in the last two minutes of the second period at the end of an almost-two-on-one with Jiri Hudler just stepping onto the ice in time to feed Tomas Kopecky in deep was highlight-reel quality. And one might keep in mind that the Red Wings hadn’t lost in regulation on Joe Louis Arena ice in eight consecutive games, averaging 4.1 goals a game in the process and notching five goals in three of the last four. All things considered, Kolzig had a solid game.

As for the rest of the numbers, there isn’t much to pick from that give hints of advantage one way or another – the teams were that even. A couple of them do stick out…

-- The Caps had no takeaways…none.


-- Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 8:22 of the Caps’ total of 11:22 in power play time. That might not be especially unusual, but his 17:46 in even strength time was almost two-and-a-half minutes more than any other forward.


-- Quintin Laing led the team in hits with four. He hasn’t been just a guy to fill a sweater in his call-up from Hershey. He’s contributed the gritty sort of stuff – hits, blocked shots – that a club needs as much as scoring.


-- The Caps had only four giveaways – half the number the Red Wings had. Without that kind of discipline with the puck, this game probably doesn’t go to overtime.


-- David Steckel shook off some sub-par performances in the circle, winning 13 of 16 draws (81.3 percent). This game being even as it was, though, Johan Franzen had similar results for the Red Wings (12-of-15).

Losing isn’t fun, even if it comes as the result of a gimmick. But three points in the two road games is another brick in what the Caps have built over the last three weeks. Now 7-4-2 in their last 13 and 5-2-1 in December, the club might not be putting together a long unbeaten streak, but they are on a run of some solid hockey coming against good competition (the last seven games have been against playoff teams from last year).

We said at the top of the year that the Caps would likely struggle early, but be a much better team late. We didn’t think they’d struggle so much as to find themselves last in the league and playing for a new coach, but the team they are right now is looking more and more like the team we thought they’d be developing into. There is much more road to travel – 48 games worth – but Caps fans ought to be rather pleased with this team, right now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

You might have had this team...

Meet your ex-Caps serving time in the NHL this season...



75 goals would rank 28th in the NHL this year.

And yeah, the thought of a Brunette-Lang-Jagr line does wonders for me, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Red Wings, December 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Tonight, the Caps get to measure themselves and their recent good fortune against the gold standard (regular season version) of the NHL – the Detroit Red Wings. It is the kind of challenge that requires a warrior attitude, and we have the pleasure of having with us three famous warriors, each of whom faced great odds against success…gentlemen, introductions…

“I am William Wallace.”

William Wallace is seven feet tall!

“Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds. And if HE were here, he'd consume the Red Wings with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.”

Haggis does that to a person…














“My name is Gladiator…”

No, really?

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Hey, this is just a hockey blog, pal. And you, sir?

“I am Spartacus!”

OK, so, now that we have the introductions, what advice would you give to the Caps tonight as they make their way into the Colisseum…er, Joe Louis Arena?

“It is like I told my fellow slaves on the floor of Joe Louis…er, the Colisseum, ‘Whatever comes out of these gates, we've got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? If we stay together we survive.’ If the Caps stay together, they win.”

“I’d tell the boys the same thing I told my fellow Scotsmen on the field of battle…’I see a whole army of my country men, here, in defiance of tyranny. You've come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?...fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!’…well, two points, anyway.”

“I am Spartacus!”

OK…let’s get to it…how does a team like the Caps beat a team like the Red Wings?

“Well, it’s not unlike what we faced a while ago in Scotland…In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland - starving and outnumbered - charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom. They need to fight like warrior-poets.”

“I knew a man once who said, ‘Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.’"

You ever seen a hockey player smile, Maximus?

“I am Spartacus!”

Uh…yeah. So what do you think of the Caps’ chances tonight?...hey guys, this isn’t funny…stop laughing, will ya?...I mean it!

Well, this isn’t a laughing matter. The Red Wings are good…good in that regular season way that makes everyone think they are the best team since, well, the last Red Wings team that put up gaudy statistics in the regular season…statistics like these:

Wins: 23 (1st in the league)

Points: 49 (1st)

Goals-per-game: 3.41 (2nd)

Goals-against-per-game: 2.19 (1st)

5-on-5 goal ratio: 1.62 (1st)

Power Play: 23.3% (T-3rd)

Penalty Killing: 86.6% (6th)

Faceoff Wins: 54.8% (1st)

The Red Wings have only two players who have played more than ten games who are on the minus side of the ledger this year (the Caps have only three such players on the plus side). But here is an odd one. No team has given up more shorthanded goals than the Red Wings.

And, if that’s not enough, the Red Wings are riding a ten game points-earned streak (8-0-2). They’ve outscored their opponents, 38-18, and they’ve scored at least five goals in a game four times. Their power play has hummed along at a 27.3 percent clip (12-for-44), while the penalty killers have rubbed out 50 of 53 shorthanded situations (94.3 percent). And if the Caps aspire to be a puck-possession squad, the Red Wings are perhaps the best example of such a specie. One indicator…in this ten-game points-earned streak, the Red Wings have outshot their opponents 367-242. Outshooting opponents by more than a dozen shots a game is no small factor in the Red Wings’ success

If Tampa Bay was a test of the Caps as a road team against a club with a sterling home record, this is the dissertation defense. Detroit is 14-2-1 at home this year; they haven’t lost a game in regulation at The Joe in a month (November 17, to Chicago, 5-3).

As they have for much of the year, Pavel Datsyuk (9-8-17, +5) and Henrik Zetterberg (7-6-13, +4) are leading the way in the ten-game points-earned streak.

But here is your obscure nugget of information to take with you. The last Southeast team to defeat the Red Wings on Detroit ice was…drum roll, please…the Washington Capitals.

On November 24, 2003.

A lot of that is the weird scheduling the NHL employs, but it is what it is. And what it is, is a golden opportunity to make a statement, that the 7-4-1 run the Caps are on is no fluke, that they can compete – and win – on Hockeytown ice.

Caps 5 – Red Wings 4

…although it occurs to The Peerless…each of those three warriors we were talking to were killed by their enemies.