Saturday, October 11, 2008

Last Night and Looking Ahead - Tonight's Home Opener vs. Chicago;

Local Caps fans get their first firsthand look at the 2008-2009 NHL regular season Caps roster at Verizon Center on Saturday , when the Caps take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Those who watched last night's 7-4 loss to the Thrashers in the season opener in Atlanta. What happened last night, well not much that you want to see again if you're a Caps fan. That said, even with the intermittent , tentative play of the Caps were it not for a good night by Atlanta Goalie Kari Lehtonen, the game could have just as easily ended regulation play in a 7-7 tie. Truth be told, last night when the Caps were dominant, they were really dominant; unfortunately that was only about 1/2 the game - the first 10 minutes of the first period and the majority of the second period. Also, unfortunately for Caps fans during much of those 30 minutes when the Caps were "clicking" so was Lehtonen. Also unfortunately for the Caps, starting Goaltender Jose Theodore and the Caps defense didn't click much at all last night during the 29:30 time he spent in the net. When Theodore was pulled 9:30 into the second period, the Caps trailed the Bluebirds 4-2. While only one of the first three goals scored on Theodore was one he probably would have wanted back, the fourth goal a powerplay tally by Atlanta's Vyacheslav Kozlov, was basically a "softie". Following that score, Coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout and backup Brent Johnson took over in the net. For the remainder of the second period Johnson and the Caps seemed to turn things around and the second stanza ended in a 4-4 tie. However, after the second intermission, the Thrashers returned to the ice and initially matched the Caps tempo and then ultimately exceeded it winning the final period 3-0. Lehtonen's play in the third period was flawless save the play that resulted in Alexander Ovechkin's unsuccessful penalty shot attempt at the 4:01 mark of the period.

While there were few highspot's last night in the Atlanta game there were a few. Mike Green had two power play goals in a span of less than a minute, also grabbed an assist for a three point game, logged 23:31 of ice time and was +/- even on the night. Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov also had good games. Semin had a goal, two assists for a three point night, was +1 ove 18:15 TOI and saved at least one goal last night. Federov had an assist, was even +/- in 16:44 of ice time and looked like the Hall of Famer he will be during his 2:48 of powerplay and 2:57 of penalty kill play. In fact, the only Caps who were on the positive side of the +/- ledger last night were Semin and Defenseman Shoane Morrisonn at +1; Erskine, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Green and Federov were even. John Erskine played a good game and looked considerably more mobile then he has earlier in his career. The Poti - Erskine pairing seems to work fairly well. The Caps outshot Atlanta 43 - 31, which means Lehtonen's save percentage was 90.7% while Theodore & Johnson combined for a save percentage of a woeful 77.4%. Johnson's actual save percentage on the night was 78.6% while Theodore's was 76.5%. So Neither Johnson nor Theodore had anywhere near their best nights, but two other issues were Goalie - Defense communications; and the play of the defense, all of Atlanta's goals were basically scored down low and five of the seven were scored from the low slot.

For Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who logged 23:02 of ice time, had six shots, 1 hit, but was held to no points, the night had to be a disappointment; especially in light of his usual production against the Thrashers. That said, it seemed that the Great Eight was and is trying to make some adjustments to his game which in the long run should benefit the team overall, and ensure his future career is longer and just as productive as the beginning of it has been. The adjustment, Ovie seemed to be trying to make was looking to dish the puck off to the open man when he finds himself double-teamed rather then tucking in, bulling through the two or more opponents as he crosses the blueline and unleashing a wicked shot. Given these are often Ovie's lowest percentage shots, the team's overall productivity ought to improve as the season progresses, the passes and timing gets crisper, and the overall team execution improves.

Last night the officiating was tight, there were a total of twenty two penalties called including six fighting majors (three fights). Hopefully the officiating will loosen up a little and the referees will let guys play, many of the minor calls seemed questionable.

Looking ahead to tonight's home opener against the Chicago Blackhawk's, Caps fans can only hope the Washington team that dominated the first 10 minutes of the Thrashers game is present all night long. Like the Washington Capitals, the Blackhawks are a young, talented, energetic team, the average age of their first line is 23.33 years old. Like Caps first line center Nicklas Backstrom, their first line center is 20 year old Jonathan Toews. Toews is the Team Captain. The average age of the Blackhawks second line is also, young at 23.00 years old and includes 19 year old 2007-2008 Calder Cup (Rookie of the Year) winner, Left Wing Patrick Kane. In fact, the Blackhawks only have one forward on their current depth chart over thirty (30) years old - 4th line right wing, Craig Adams, who split last season between Carolina and Chicago, playing the last 35 games of the season with Chicago.

The heralded "match up" of the night will probably be Backstrom vs. Toews or Theodore vs. Huet. At their last meeting, March 19, 2008 in Chicago, the Blackhawks roughed up Olie Kolzig and the Caps for a 5-0 victory. That game turned out to be Kolzig's last for the Caps and Christobel Huet, who is now the Blackhawk's starter started in net for the Caps and played very well as the Caps made their run to the Southeastern Division Championship. The last time the Caps faced Huet in a regular season matchup, he wore the Montreal Canadeans' uniform and the Caps beat the Habs while Alex Ovechkin scored four goals on Huet, despite suffering a broken nose. Before playing the last two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, current Caps starter Jose Theodore played for Montreal and lost his job to Huet. The point of all these sagas - there's lots of grist to get both teams and these central figures "up" for tonight's game. So far this season Washington and Chicago are both 0-1-0. The Blackhawks dropped their regular season opener to the New York Rangers 4-2 last night. Theodore, who will likely be in net again, is 4-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average versus the Blackhawks. Washington has lost three straight against Chicago since a 4-0 road win on Feb. 15, 2004. The Capitals are 0-1-1 against the Blackhawks at home since a 3-1 win on April 9, 2002. Also, for Chicago, former starter Nikolai Khabibulin may get a start in this game, having gone 8-5-0 with three ties and a 2.00 goals-against average in 20 games versus Washington. Huet is 6-2-1 with a 2.45 GAA in nine games versus the Capitals and looked less than stellar last night against New York.

Predictions (owing to blatant "homerism"): Washington 6, Atlanta 2.
Ovechkin 4 Goals as well as a Gordie Howe "hat trick" especially if Huet is in the net for Chicago. Huet thinks about what could have been all the way back to the windy city on the charter home. Theodore, another 90+% save percentage night. Okay, the Huet comment is petty and childish but hey, you don't like "me/us" why should we like you anymore, Christobel? I'm rooting for the guys who are here because they wanted to be here and many Caps fans will still be wondering and worried about Theodore, I'd like that to be able to end tonight.

Me and my formerly usual "wingman" will be in our seats at Section 103, Rockin' The Red and celebrating the raising of the 2007-2008 Southeast Division Championship banner to the rafters.

Can't wait till 7:00 PM EDT tonight.


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