Looking ahead towards this evening’s match up between the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes leads to some interesting comparisons. The game is important for both teams. But, before we review the upcoming game matchups this tidbit I found especially worthy of an ear to ear grin from Greg Kanner: “Jagr watch - 62 games, 53 points. (He needs 84 points and a 2nd round playoff appearance for his option to get picked up and that means the Caps must pay a portion. It’s looking good for us right now to finally get that jackass off our books!)”
Now onto a review of the summary matchups for Saturday’s game.
MOTIVATION: The Hurricanes lead the Southeast Division coming into the game, having captured 67 points in 64 games played (0.523 hockey) and are on track to finish the season with 86 - 88 points. The Caps come into the game with 63 points in 61 games played (2nd in the Southeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference). After accounting for the 3 games the Caps have in hand, the two teams are in a virtual dead heat for the Division Lead and even though after the game the Hurricanes would still be two points ahead of the Caps if the Caps win, the Caps would clearly be well within the possibility of reaching the playoffs as a Division Winner. Extrapolating the Caps overall season point capture percentage they are on track to finish with 85 points; however the Caps performance since Thanksgiving Day is 22-12-6 (0.625 Hockey). Extrapolate that performance forward through the remaining 21 games the Caps have to play and they are on track to finish with 88 points and be the likely SE division winner. Of course hockey games are played on the ice not within the confines of statistical analysis so there is a long way to go for both teams and, as they say “anything could happen”. The key point here is both teams know they are locked in a battle for what will likely be the only playoff berth gained by a Southeast Division team, so call overall team motivation equal – extremely high on both sides, but equal all the same.
Looking at each teams offensive fire power the Caps likely lineup will be similar to the game versus the Islanders:
Line 1: Ovechkin (A) – Backstrom – Fleischmann
Line 2: Pettinger – Kozlov – Semin
Line 3: Laing – Steckel – Bradley
Line 4: Brashear (A) – Laich – Gordon
Other potential forwards who could play: Eric Fehr;
Forwards out with injuries: Chris Clark (C); Michael Nylander,
The Hurricane’s likely lines will be:
Line 1: Staal – Whitney - Cole
Line 2: Cullen – Ladd - Samsonov
Line 3: Aucoin – Walker - Bayda
Line 4: Letowski – Brookbank - Conboy
Other potential forwards who could play: Patrick Eaves
Key Forwards out with injuries: Rod Brind’Amor (C)
Give a slight edge to Carolina on this aspect of the game from a statistical perspective because of a) secondary scoring and b) the many Caps with very negative +/- numbers that leads to suspicions about back-checking and defensive play. Things/players to watch – for the Caps: a) Alexander Semin –“ He’s so hot right now, just like Hansel” and a recent analytical based posting by James Mirtle was pretty unflattering towards the defensive aspect of “the other Alex’s” game. b) Alexander Ovechkin – Look for the great eight to break out of his mini-slump if Cam Ward has the slightest chink in his armor, Ovechkin usually plays well against Carolina and he hit the posts three times last game and his buddy Malkin passed him for the points lead. c) Backstrom and Fleischmann: the Backstrom-Whitney match-up is one to watch as the Caps rookie pushes hard to see the playoffs and a possible Calder Trophy in his first NHL season; and the Fleischmann-Cole match-up is another key one in this game to watch. d) The Caps need to stay out of the penalty box or have their PK unit (18th in the league) play well as 28% of the Hurricanes’ goals are from the power play. The comparison of each team’s right wings in this game is where you really see the impact of Chris Clark’s injury to the Caps lineup. Players/things to watch for the ‘Canes: a) Erik Cole – He just seems stoked for the game and has the intensity factor up. b) Ray Whitney – the ‘Canes leading scorer needs to come up big to match pace with the Caps high octane offense. c) Continued solid “secondary scoring” from Williams, Samsonov, Walker and Cullen. And d) Patrick Eaves if he plays.
The Defensive match-up looks like this:
Caps Likely Defensive Lineup:
1) Green – Morrisonn
2) Poti – Jurcina
3) Erskine – Emminger
Possibly: Sami Lepesti
Notable Injuries: Brian Pothier
‘Canes Likely Defensive Lineup:
1) Hedican - Gleason
2) Wesley – Corvo
3) Kaberle – Wallin
Again here you’d have to give a very slight edge to the Hurricanes assuming Joe Corvo keeps on pace for the season now that he’s been picked up by Carolina. Otherwise the edge would go to the Caps. Like on Offense the game is very evenly matched here as well. One of the most interesting things to watch here will be the Mike Green – Joe Corvo comparative play. If Green has a game like he did against the ‘Canes like he did on November 24th when the Caps beat the Canes 5-2 at Verizon Center in DC this aspect of the game becomes “even stevens” from an analysis perspective. So too if Tom Poti has a better than average game while the Hurricanes blue liners play average or subpar. On the ‘Canes side things to watch are: a) Joe Corvo and Bret Hedican’s play which (along with Goalie Cam Ward’s play) anchors the Carolina defensive fortunes. b) Frantisek Kaberle and Nicklas Wallin’s play which on off nights provides ample solid scoring chances for talented young forwards the likes of which include names like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin. All in all this is a very slight edge to Carolina especially when you factor in intangibles like the adrenalin gained by playing at home in front of what will likely be a Standing Room Only (SRO) crowd.
Goaltending for the Caps: Olaf Kolzig; For the Hurricanes: Cam Ward. Again the statistical edge goes to Carolina and Cam Ward who also has been playing very well recently and seems focused on bringing his team back to the playoffs and in fact deep into the playoffs. If Ward plays like he did the last game between these two teams when he stopped 33 of 34 shots and the Canes beat the Caps 2-1 or like he did when the Canes shut the Caps out 5-0 on November 5th it’ll likely be a long night for Caps fans. Olie Kolzig though “has his nights” like he did against the Hurricanes on 11/24 when he stopped 35 of 37 shots (Caps win 5-2) and way back in October when he shut the Hurricane’s out 2-0 and he stopped 23 of 23. Even though in two of the five games so far this year the winning team has scored 5 goals when you look at the series so far, and the Canes lead 3-2, and analyze each game since these teams are so evenly matched in the end – the hot goalie won it for his team basically ever time.
Off ice intangibles: Give this one a slight edge to the Caps. While the Hurricanes will be playing at home in front of an SRO crowd and they have the edge with experience. The Caps have the following off ice intangibles in their favor: a) youthful exuberance – go out skate your game, score goals and have a lot of fun – basically a play hard and win boys attitude. b) A coach who doesn’t say quit or let his players do so either and who really seems to know how to motivate and get the most out of his team. c) A veteran goalie with something to prove tonight. And d) the knowledge that the game probably means slightly more for the Caps then the Canes.
Prediction: Caps win 4-2 on one of Olie Kolzig's best nights this season; goals scored by Semin (1); Green (1) and Ovechkin (2). Backstrom has 3 assists and both Green and Semin have great +/- nights and send James Mirtle videos of each great defensive play they make this evening. Okay probably not so much a solid conclusion based on the analysis above but that is why they play the games on the ice. LETS GO CAPS!