Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caps 6 Ducks 4; Looking Ahead To Tonight's Caps - Kings Game.

Last night was a two (2) point night for the Caps, who opened their first game of three in the "Golden State" with a win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. Yes indeed, the Caps and the Ducks played a pretty wild game from start to finish. The Caps power play looked good, especially when Mike Green WAS IN the it's make up; and generally when Michael Nylander WAS NOT. One item of concern, Mike Green left the game and didn't return after a monster, high hit from Chris Pronger late in the first period. Green seemed to lose his balance as Pronger checked him behind the goal and appeared to hit his right shoulder and head on the end boards. Green only played 7 shifts and 5:11 before leaving the game. He seemed to skate away from the hit fine but looking at the replays he really banged his hip on the boards. Hopefully it won't be too serious.

The game started with a flurry. In the first period the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the period. Then the Ducks responded and scored the next two before the period ended 3-2. Coming out of the gates, the Caps did something they had to do, make Anaheim pay for taking penalties. Washington scored on the first two powerplays the had. First at the 2:19 mark, Tomas Fleischmann tipped in a Mike Green slapshot from the point to open the scoring while the Caps had a man advantage with Brett Hedican in the box for hooking. Right after that at 2:59 Ryan Getzlaf was called for interference and the boys from DC "capitalized" another powerplay goal at 3:54 off the stick of Mike Green. The Capitals third goal was scored at even strength by Nicklas Backstrom who banged in a backhander at 7:13. Backstrom was totally setup by Vicktor Kozlov who displayed some "wicked sick" stickhandling through three Ducks and found Backtrom on the other side of the crease who beat Jonas Hiller for the third time of the night. After the Caps Third goal Ducks coach Randy Carlisle pulled Hiller and put in Jean Sebastian Giguere/ Just when it seemed the Caps might runaway with it the Ducks responded when Corey Perry emerged from traffic in front of the net and found linemate Bobby Ryan on the doorstep who got the puck past Washington goaltender Jose Theodore for an even strength score at 7:37. Then at 16:56 Ryan found Ryan Gretzlaf unencumbered in front of the net and he beat Theodroe to bring the Ducks within one at a score of 3-2. It looked like the Ducks might pull even before the period was over when at 18:53 John Erskine got his stick tangled up with Ryan Gretzlaf right in front of the referee and was whistled off for tripping, however the Caps killed off the man advantage until the period ended. Alexander Ovechkin had the secondary assist on every one of the Capitals 3 goals in the first period.

The second period started with the Ducks on the power play but the Caps killed it off. Then at 1:29 Rob Niedermayer was whistled off for slashing and the Caps powerplay once again made the Ducks pay. This time it was Alexander Ovechkin who nitched a "goal scorers" goal by capturing a bouncing puck and putting a wrist shot past J.S Giguere at the 2:43 mark. Right after Ovechkin's goal, on the next faceoff, Duck's "heaveyweight" George Parros squared off with Caps' "heaveyweight" Donald Brashear. Parros got his licks in early before "Brash" responded; overall as hockey fights go, I scored this one a draw. Then at 2:57 the Ducks tried to respond with some solid pressure but Jose Theodore robbed Bobby Ryan with a key save. At 6:06 Dave Steckel took an uncharachteristcally, well ..., dumb hooking penalty behind the Caps own net, but the Caps did a good job on the penalty kill. After that about a minute Steve Montador took a cheap shot, spearing Ovechkin after the play that went unnoticed, but was well caught by the TV cameras. The game continued to be intense with one more power play for each team that were successfully killed off until the 17:48 mark when at even strength, Matt Bradley made it 5-2 Caps. Bradley's was a solid "garbage goal" on a rebound from a Boyd Gordon shot that went off David Steckel's skate. During the next 1:30 or so after Bradley's goal, the Caps tried hard to take advantage of the chances the Ducks are gave them to no avail. Then during the final 35 seconds of the 2nd, the Ducks put on the pressure and Jose Theodore responded. First he made a good stop on Brendan Morrison (turn around slapper from about 20 feet) so that he and the Caps hold the Ducks off and went into the locker room with a three goal lead.

The third period starts with Joe Benenati announcing that Mike Green would not return for the rest of the game due to the previously describe injury. Right as the period started Theodore came up big with a great save 33 seconds into the period to hold off Kris Kunitz and the Ducks. The Ducks tried hard to get something going before the 15:00 minute mark but Theodore, Tom Poti and the rest of the Caps team held them off until at 4:22 when Scott Niedermayer put a hook on Nicklas Backstrom and was whistled off for a 2:00 rest in the sin bin. The Caps put on good pressure for the first 1:30 of the penalty then the Ducks break it up. Right as Niedermayer exited the box the Ducks had a 3 on 2 breakaway but Jose Theodore stopped them again. Thing basically continued with good back and forth hockey until at 10:06, David Steckel scored on when J.S. Giguere gave out a rebound off a long range wrist shot by Milan Jurcina, the score then went to Caps 6, Ducks 2. Once again just when you thought the Caps might run away with the game the tied turned. At 10:33 Bobby Ryan came in and just dug and dug the puck from under Theodre's pad to bring the Ducks back to 6-3, all of 24 seconds later. Theodore looked pissed, he really wanted that one back. It sure seemed like somebody on the Defense should have gotten there to hold off Ryan after he banged under Theodore's pad the second time. Then at 11:23 Ovie was called for interference when he basically went over to "set a moving pick." On that one the penalty kill could hold up, so at 12:00 Teemu Selanne made the Caps pay when Ryan Getzlaf found him on the right side of the slot, uncovered, with a whole side of the net open. Score Caps 6 - Ducks 4. Caps coach Bruce "Gabby" Boudreau then called a time out, smart move Gabby. I guess he said let's all just hold on, be calm and get this game back under control. Though Anaheim tried to put things on a track and pull even the Caps held them off. The Ducks did increase the pressure on Theodore. That was until the 14:31 mark when it almost looks like they have an extra man on the ice, wait they did have 6 skaters and a goalie out there. Chalk up minor penalty number 8 of the night for the Ducks. The powerplay didn't really click on that one, it just seemed the vast majority of the time Michael Nylander was on the power play last night, it did NOT click. More back and forth, gritty hockey ensured until the 18:49 mark. At 18:49 two more minor penalties were assessed. Chris Pronger gets 2:00 for hooking; David Steckel gets 2:00 for slashing. The excitement continued until the game ended with teams playing 4 on 4; and Giguere on the bench. Before it was over Jose Theodore had to make 2 more solid saves; which he did. Sure seemed that even though he gave up 4 goals tonight on 25 shots, JT60 once again looked in control the entire game and came up big a couple of times when he needed to. Caps win in regulation 6-4 .
The three stars of the game:
3) Viktor Kozlov (1 assist, +1, 18:38 TOI, 21 shifts, 3 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeaway)
2) Bobby Ryan (2 goals, 1 assist, +2, 16:16 TOI, 22 shifts, 5 shots, 1 hit)
1) Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +1, 24:03 TOI, 6 shots, 2 hits).

Now, the Caps will play their second game in as many days in Southern California this evening. Tonight, they will take on the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. The Kings finished last season with the second worst record in the league. Like Tampa Bay they only captured 71 points however they had 32 wins to Tampa Bay's 31. While this year is another rebuilding year for LA, they are on track to finish the season with at least 10 more points then last year and they have the core of a good young team forming. Think the Washington Capitals two seasons ago. They cannot be taken lightly. In 17 games so far this season they've beaten Anaheim once, Carolina once, Saint Louis twice, Dallas twice, and they took Detroit to overtime. Overall their record is 7-8-2 and while they are a year or two and a couple of players away from where the Capitals are currently in terms of franchise development, they will give the Caps a "solid run for their money" and could win this one if the Caps let up at all. So how do the match-ups look?

Forward Lines:
The Kings are led by third year pro and 2005 1st round (11th overall) draft pick Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is the pivot between veteran LW Kyle Calder and 23 year old, 4th year pro RW Dustin Brown. Based on last night's game and assuming Alexander Semin is still not back to form with his upper body injury. This line will go against the Caps first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov. How do they compare? Well as we all know on the LW Ovechkin gets the advantage both for how he has been playing recently and because he is playing recently ON FIRE vs. Calder who has been COLD; and of course just the comparison both offensively and defensively. Calder, is an 8th year pro, whose best season ever was in Chicago in the 2005-2006 season when he played 79 games and had 26 goals, 59 points and was +/- -4. In OV's worst season, his sophomore slump in 2006-2007 he had 46 goals, 92 points and was -19 in 82 games. As all Caps fans know last year he was superhuman and over the past week he has been so once more. Kopitar had 32 goals, 77 points and was -15 in 82 games last season, however over the last three games he has been held without a point and so far this season he is +/- -5. Nicklas Backstrom has shaken off his training camp injury and slow start, has 10 points in the last 3 games and is +/- +11 for the season thus far. Last season, his third in the NHL, 24 year old Dustin Brown played 78 games, scored 33 goals and had a total of 60 points and a +/- rating of -13. This season, even though he hasn't scored a point in his last three games, he is on track for a similar season of productivity with an improved +/- rating. Viktor Kozlov is 33 years old and in his 13th NHL season. Last season he had his usual solid productive season - 16 goals, 54 points and a +/- rating of +28. He has been playing well lately and had a very good night last game as well. The first line match-up, even without Alexander Semin goes to Washington. The second line match-up is LA: Frolov-Stoll-Moller, Washington: Fleischmann-Laich-Fehr. Tomas Fleischmann vs. Alexander Frolov: The 24 year old Fleischmann is in his third NHL season; he is on track for a breakout 25+ goal season and has exhibited a complete two way game of late as well. The 26 year old Frolov is in his 5th NHL season and he is on track to match or better his 23 goal production of last season for the Kings. Brooks Laich vs. Jarret Stoll: The 25 year Laich is coming off a breakout year and has been showing that last year was no "fluke" of late. Twenty-six (26) year old Stoll, has apparently regained the form of 2005-2006 and is on track to better his best ever season; he is currently on pace to finish the year with 25 or more goals and is currently +5. Eric Fehr vs. Oscar Moller: For all intents and purposes this is a match-up of rookies, even though Fehr has already played a total of 55 NHL games over 4 seasons. Fehr is on track to have a solid season and at times during the first 17 games he has shown the skills that made him a first round draft pick (18th overall) in 2003. Moller a 19 year old Swede is already making an impact up front for LA, he has 4 goals, 4 assist and is +1 in 16 games played. The most interesting facet of the Fehr-Moller match-up to watch might be the size differential. Fehr is 6-4, 212# while Moller is 5-11, 179#. Even with these combinations the match-up is at best a draw; if Federov returns to center and Laich moves over to Right Wing, the Caps have a decided advantage. The third line match-ups of Steckel-Gordon-Bradley vs. Ivanans-Handzus-Simmonds is basically a draw or slight edge to the Caps. The fourth/energy line comparisons of Brashear-Nylander-Clark vs. O'Sullivan-Boyle-Harrold is interesting. If Nylander and Clark play to 2/3rds of their potential, even if O'Sullivan plays to his, these match ups should go hands down to the Capitals. However, for it all to come together Clark has to be the "trigger-man" and start scoring goals and that hasn't yet been the case this season. For LA the equation is simpler, O'Sullivan is the trigger-man on this line if it is to have one. Forward match ups go to Washington.

Defensive Pairings:

Let's assume it's Green/Schultz vs. O'Donnell/Doughty; though as noted by Tarik; Green was wearing a shoulder sling last night after the Ducks game. Rookie Drew Doughty is on track to have a super season and could be part of the discussion for the Calder but even at his current pace he isn't on track to have 1/4 of Mike Green's production, "Game Over" is on track for 28 goals and 38 Assists, and is currently +11. Jeff Schultz finished last season with 72 GP, 5 goals, 13 assists and +12. He is currently +5 and on track for 28 assists. Sean O'Donnell is in his 13th NHL season, last year in Anaheim he played 82 games, had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +9. This year O'Donnell is on track for 19 assists and is currently +3. This match up goes to the Capitals, but for it to go the way of the stats Schultz has to stand up more physically to the Kings' bigger forwards. This game could be a good night to give Tom Poti some rest so let's assume this match up is Morrisonn/Sloan vs. Quincy/Greene. Assuming Shaone Morrisonn is recovered and gets back to form, no one else in this foursome has the consistency that he showed for solid +/- performance on the other side's pairing. That said even as good as Tyler Sloan has been with his production of 1 goal and 1 assist in 8GP; no one else in this group is even close to on pace with Kyle Quincey with the ability to chip in on the offense. Quincey is on pace for 11 goals and 33 assists. Matt Greene appears to be a solid, stay at home defenseman in the making; however, he is the reason the Caps might have the ability to give Poti a night off. Give a slight edge in this match-up to the Kings if Coach Boudreau give Tom Poti a needed night off; though these pairings are probably all wrong and Poti will play and Green will sit out the Kings game. Erskine-Jurcina vs. Gauthier/Preissing: Since coming to LA from Ottawa as an UFA after the 2006-2007 season, Tom Preissing has not approached the form that made him a 7 goal, 31 assist, +40 performer as a Senator. Though he has 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games, he is -7 to date, and 5 of his 6 points to date are on the Power Play. The oft maligned Milan Jurcina with one goal and -3 in 13 games to date compares fairly well to Preissing at a salary of ~$1.9M less. Thirty two (32) year old Denis Gauthier is in his 9th NHL season. Last year he played the entire season in the AHL for the Philadelphia Phantoms. His last "full" NHL season was 2006-2007 when he played 43 games for the Flyers, that year he had 4 assists and was -11. So far this season he has played 17 games, has 1 assist and is -7. Twenty eight (28) year old John Erskine is arguably having the best season of his career so far this year. Erskine, who played 51 games last year for the Caps and had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +1, is on track to play 80 games this year. He currently has 2 assists and is +3 in 15 games and looks stronger with each passing night. Advantage on this pairing goes clearly to the Capitals. Overall the defensive pairings comparison goes to the Capitals.

Goaltending: The Kings have 26 year old Swede Erik Ersberg who has played 9 games so far this season is 4-3-1 and has a GAA of 1.96 and a SV% of 0.910 and 28 year old Jason LaBarbera who is 3-5-1 in 10 games played with a GAA of 3.o1 and a SV% of 0.884. Based on last night's results and starter the Caps are likely to start Brent Johnson; though Jose Theodore played well. My guess is that Theodore will p;ay against the San Jose Sharks later this week unless Johnnie has a great game, like a shut out Slight edge in the goaltending category to the Capitals.

Intangibles go to the Kings as the Capitals are on a long road trip and played last night, where as the Kings are coming off three days rest and will be playing in front of a home ice crowd.

Overall prediction: Caps 4, Kings 2 in regulation.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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