Friday, May 01, 2009

Round II: Caps vs. Penguin Scum Preview

Series J: Washington Capitals (54-35; 108 points; 1st Southeast Division, 2nd Eastern Conference, 4th Overall) vs. Pittsburgh Penguin Scum (49-39; 99 points; 2nd Atlantic Division, 4th Eastern Conference, 8th Overall):

Well Gentlemen, hide the women and children and gird your lions, the second round matchup everybody (except for Don Koharski and Paul Devorski) were salivating is finally here, one year later. It is A.O. and the Washington Capitals against Canadian Diving Team Captain, Lowblow Secondary Assist Cindy Crobsy and the Pittsburgh Penguin Scum. The NHL gave its hype machine an extra day to build this series up which plays into the hands of the Caps as it gives the Penguin Scum extra rest they wouldn’t have normally gotten. In case you haven’t seen it, the folks over at IllegalCurve.com send us to an article where we see that long layoffs are a factor as the playoffs progress. Advantage Capitals.

Also good news is that there is no rivalry here; well, at least if you listen to the Penguin Scum fans. The fact that dump of a building up in Pittsburgh (men have to urinate in a trough. Folks, we’d rather use your stereotypical gas station restroom than relieve ourselves in a trough) won’t be buzzing for Games 3, 4, and 6 will actually play against the Caps. The Caps have had trouble this season on the road when the crowd is dead. Look at their games in Madison Square Garden in the First Round; MSG is known as one of the more livelier places to play hockey and the Caps posted a 2-1 record and really should have been 3-0. The people that do show up to that dump in Pittsburgh over the past couple of years have taken to supporting the visiting team by matching their jersey color. We figure that’s because while there are a ton of Pittsburgh fans and people from Pittsburgh all over the country, nobody actually lives there. The town was originally a steel town until that industry went under. Pittsburgh then tried to transform itself into a Junior New York by enticing various banking and financial companies to set up shop in the city. (We’ve seen how well THAT’S turned out for everybody.) So playing on the road looks to be a wash for the Caps, something neither good nor bad.

The schedule is a bit of a concern as it seems that the NHL is once again looking the other way when it comes Pittsburgh and their cultural events. No, we're not talking about the city booking a mullet growing convention or a Camaro IROC-Z show, we're talking about a Yanni Concert at Mellon Arena. This of course is shades of the infamous "Burn The Floor" fiasco in 2000 which cost the Caps their traditional home ice advantage setup (the event was then canceled due to low interest. Imagine that, low interest in a Latin Dance Festival in Pittsburgh...). While the NHL isn't straying from the 2-2-1-1-1 setup this time; they have setup a three games in four nights, four games in six nights if the series goes the distance. Now both teams have to deal with the back-to-back Games 4 and 5 though the Penguin Scum will be playing Game 5 on the road. Sleeping in your own bed matters. Both teams are relatively the same average age so if there's any advantage with this, it just barely lies with the Caps though we are tired of seeing the Mellon Arena schedule wreaking havoc on our series with the Penguin Scum.

Also in the Caps favor is the continuing unknown quantity of Simeon "the Saviour" Varlamov. The Penguin Scum have never faced him before and it will take them some time to figure him out. The Caps are going against Marc-Andre Fleury who has shown a propensity to giving up odd goals at the worst possible time for his teams. The Caps have and can beat this guy. While we admit we are not sold on "Simeon the Saviour", we are just as wary of Fleury. We don’t think this series will be decided on goaltending alone, it could be if one either plays out of his mind or falls completely apart.

Defensively, we’ll find out just how good the Caps really are now that they aren’t playing the Rangers anymore. Remember how we questioned who to stop in First Round? Well there’s no shortage of good answers here. You‘ve got Evgeni Malkin-Lindros along with Lowblow Cindy and their rotating random running mates. But the guy the Caps should key on is the one the organization knows the best, Sergei Gonchar. The Caps will need to get the puck in deep on his corner every time and hit him every time he gets the puck in his corner. The book on Gonchar is well known, hit him and he goes away. He can withstand the pressure initially but over the course of a long series, he’ll start turning pucks over in his own zone and give the Caps all kinds of chances on Fleury. Gonchar also keys their Power Play. If he’s not on his game, the Caps can shutdown the Penguin Scum Power Play much easier.

You should already know that the Caps are just 1-6 All-Time against the Penguin Scum in the playoffs. In the 42 Playoff games the Caps are 16-25 overall, 9-12 at home, and 7-14 in that dump up there. And now that we’ve fulfilled our obligation to tell you these stats, forget about them. The last time the Caps and Penguin Scum met in the playoffs was 2001. This Caps team is entirely different than the Caps teams that played the Penguin Scum from 1991 to 2001. When the Caps pulled off the upset in 1994, it was spurred by a two goal game by Joe Reekie in Game 3. The Caps have much more offensive firepower now than they did then. A.O. has Alexander "Slappy" Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green running alongside him. Sergei (#3) Fedorov may have lost a step but still finds a way to score goals in clutch moments. Viktor Kozlov has been showing some promise this spring with his contract about to expire. If those guys get their points and the rest of the team chips in a goal or two, the Caps should be fine. Gone are the days when the Caps would look to Adam Oates or Dale Hunter trying in vain to get Peter Bondra free or turn Todd Krygier into a sniper. Simply put, the Caps can match the Penguin Scum’s firepower. We wouldn’t be too surprised to see some high scoring games in this Series.

So folks, this series is going to come down to what most of the playoff series do at this point and that is breaks and bounces. Who will get them and who won’t. The Caps got some bad breaks at the start of the first round but got things turned around in time to win it. Falling behind 3-1 wouldn’t be a good idea now. The Caps are long overdue in the karma department and as long as they show up (which was a big problem in Game 7 against the Rangers) there won’t be a single game where they’ll be out of it at the end unless the breaks and bounces or something else goes against them. What scares the most about the Caps is the lack of maturity. We’re not sure that they can handle this type of series where everything under the sun is going to be put under a microscope. Boudreau was right, this is going to be a circus from start to finish and why wouldn’t the biggest jokes in the NHL end up winning it? Penguin Scum in six. We have a feeling it is what Gary Bettman and his NHL Hype Machine wants and far be it from us to prevent that.

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