The resurgent Caps come off a frustrating 5-2 loss to the Canadiens and travel to Nassau County's Veteran's Coliseum to take on the Islanders tonight. The Islanders are 3-6-0-1 so far during December but have played 0.500 Hockey their last six games and are coming off a 4-2 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh last night. The Islanders did a good job last night holding Pittsburgh's stars in check by all accounts. Rookie Blake Comeau has replaced Chris Simons' "grittiness" and tallied a goal and assist while the Islanders have juggled their lines to adjust for his 30 game suspension and sessions on anger management - shades of Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson come to mind. The Caps still sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference despite being 5-4-1 in their last ten and capturing 3 of 4 points on their last road trip (including a hard earned point at Joe Louis Arena). Comparatively the Caps are 3-2-0-1 in their last six (call it 0.550 hockey) and 5-3-0-1 so far in the month of December; they should give the Islanders a good run for their money and (hopefully) capture two points from Charles Wang's Islanders. For those of you who really follow the NHL their should be a really good friendly rivalry between the Caps and Islanders given the fact that like the Capitals the Islanders ownership comes from the High Technology sector. The Caps have the worst Home Ice Surface in the league and in my opinion the Islanders probably have the worst Home Arena overall in the league (IMHO).
Tonight's game will be the first time since the Capitals coaching change that the two Eastern Conference rivals play each other. The last time they met was October 18th in Washington and the Islanders won that contest 5-2; prior to that meeting the Caps beat the Islanders in Uniondale 2-1; so this seasons series between the two is tied at 1-1. Gabby's line and pairings for the game are likely to be:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Nylander, 25-Kozlov
43-Fleischmann, 19-Backstrom, 28-Semin
18-Pettinger, 21-Laich, 10-Bradley
87-Brashear, 39-Steckel, 53-Laing
No final word on who will start in goal - Olie Kolzig has yielded 3 or more goals in 8 of his last 10 outings but has a much better career record against the Islanders than Brent Johnson. From my perspective the Caps have two fairly solid net minders though some folks clearly disagree (see dmg's postings if you care to read well thought and considered criticisms of Olie the Goalie - I love the guy and think he is such a class act that I am rarely objective. In fact I like both the Caps net minders and think they are solid ambassadors of the game and their organizations on and off the ice. When Olie gets hot and the Caps go 8-2 in their next 10 I'm confident dmg will find other things to write about).
Looking at the likely match ups and last nights game between the Pens and the Isles, for the Caps to win, it's vital the Caps continue to spread the scoring around so the Islanders can't just shut down the first line, like they did last night in Pittsburgh, and win. I continue to feel the way to do that is to let Kozlov center an Ovechkin led first line with either Pettinger or Bradley on the opposite wing; have Nylander center line two with a resurgent Semin for firepower and have Backstrom on the third line between either Brashear and Bradley or Laing. Nicklas has clearly arrived and is a power on his own line between two big guys or with Ovie. I know I'm less qualified to make any of these statement s then the folsk who are making the decisions but I continue to feel that 5 on 5 Ovie and Nylander's styles are not very complimentary. On the defensive pairings and taking into account Pothier's injury selection of the sixth defenseman versus the Islanders is a hard call. As noted elsewhere, John Erskine has some pretty good stats versus the Islanders but it's also hard not to be rooting for Steve Emminger. One particular note is looking at the pairings, Coach Boudreau, clearly now has solid confidence in Jeff Schultz. I continue to root for number 55 but am not sure that paring him with Erskine is the thing to do versus the Islanders. The Islanders lines (all four seemingly with Comeau in for Simon) possess a fair amount of mobility and speed - Erskine is an old school stay at home, tough defenseman but as has regularly been noted by others fleet of foot he is not. Should Jeff Schultz find himself caught out of position or up ice, he will need to really hustle and have a little luck to get back to where he should be or else the Caps will be burned. Hopefully, Coach Boudreau is right and Jeff Schultz is now mature enough to adjust his tempo of play back to be more conservative in account of his new pairing.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!