Tonight's Caps game against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be nationally televised on Versus. No doubt the talking heads will be disappointed in not being able to compare Crosby to Ovechkin for three hours. However, there will be a lot of exciting match ups to fixate on in any case.
How will Malkin stack up against Ovechkin and Semin? Who will play goal for the Caps - will it be Brent Johnson whose last outing in the Igloo saw him go down and out for several weeks in the first period or traditional #1 Olie Kolzig who is coming off several days rest? Will the Caps break a six game losing streak vs. the Penguins or will the Pens again find some way to thwart the surging Caps just as they did in the last meeting? Both teams are playing very well in spite of having several key players injured.
I was pleased to see the Pens put Sidney Crosby on IR - not because I don't like him but because I do. Now he might have the time to see that high ankle sprain heal to 100% before returning to the Pens lineup. One note to the Caps defense for tonight's game - in case you need any refresher in basics - Please Clear the Slot - ESPECIALLY the Low Slot - stats like THIS don't lie. Here's where the Caps got beat the on Saturday when they played the Panthers; and Thursday night by the Oilers. Notice anything? The last several games opponents have gotten the better of the Caps from that area of the Defensive zone that guys like Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina and John Erskine get paid to turn in to "No Man's Land". Clearing the slot has to become not just a priority but an imperative for the Caps, especially when Penalty Killing. I'm not suggesting getting tied up in the corners with foolish two and three on one checks that let guys roam free in the Caps zone. I'm suggesting what everyone who has played hockey from mites on ice knows - setup the box then collapse one awesome D-Man to the low slot to tie up the inevitable opposing forward whose camped out on the doorstep. Of course, in this era of Gary Bettman, lets turn in basketball and football scores era, the rules work against that, but frankly these stats show the more things change the more they stay the same. Just to make a point here's where the Pens scored from in their last game, which they won without Sid the Kid in the lineup. Jeff Taffe scored a wrister in the first period from? You guessed right if you said low slot in the first, Danny Sabourin made 31 saves to shutout the Canadiens and Evgeni Malkin iced it with an empty netter in the third period. The Pens showed no lack of confidence against the Habs on Saturday and killed 4 of 4 penalties though their own power play was 0 for 3 without Crosby.
If the Caps play the Pens with the same intensity they played them the last game between the two - a 4-3 OT loss for the Caps at the Igloo on 12/27/2007, the Caps should win. In that last game, the Pens needed 2 assists by Crosby on 25 shifts and 24:43 of ice time; along with an awesome OT goal by Sergi Gonchar and 22 solid saves including a couple of amazing ones by Alaskan born veteran Ty Conklin who has had an amazing season so far. The best part of tonight's game is that without continual banter comparing Ovie and Sid the Kid; the TV folks might talk about the bigger stories like the great play by both teams since Thanksgiving or maybe the coming of age of Evgeni Malkin and/or Mike Green or Alexander Semin. One thing for certain is that if this game is like the recent contests between these two team it'll be a good one. LETS GO CAPS!!!