Well looking ahead to tonight's Caps - Ducks match-up at Honda Center in Anaheim there's some interesting contrasts. Both teams have solid records in their last 10 games; the Ducks are 6-2-2 and the Capitals are 7-1-2. However, both teams are in some ways searching for consistency. The Caps because of a spate of injuries of late, particularly to key players Alexander Semin; Sergei Federov and defenseman Shoanne Morrisonn. The Ducks, well because they have had spates of inconsistency of late. The Ducks, after starting the season strong, have lost 3 of their last 4 games including a 3-0 shutout, at home, to the Atlanta Thrashers, who are 2-5-2 on the road so far this season.
Tonight's match-ups pose some interesting challenges for the Caps. As of yesterday, it appeared Alexander Semin, though he is on this Western Conference road trip, will probably not play tonight. Further it's unclear as to who will play and who will sit on the Defense, as during Morrisonn's injury, Tyler Sloan certainly played well enough to justify consideration for a spot in a "rotation" and he has made the road trip. Also will Sergei Federov play tonight or wait until tomorrow night to return to the line-up? If Federov plays who will be the healthy scratch? After yesterday's practice, per Corey Masisak of the Washington Times, Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated Semin as doubtful, Federov as questionable, and Morrisonn as a game-time decision for tonight. Corey also indicated that the Coach had selected a goalie for tonight but that he didn't elaborate or share his decision with the Times Hockey Beat writer. Perhaps if the Times sprung to have their main hockey writer travel with the team for what could be the most important major road rip of the year with the team, the Caps coach might talk a little more to them and the readership might be a little better informed. Thankfully the Washington Post is sending their hockey beat writer to the West Coast today and he'll actually report some details from today's practice. Per Tarik El-Bashir, the Post's hockey writer, the lines and pairings in yesterdays practice at Honda Center were listed as:
Per Tarik those lines would change if Federov plays. My assumption based on those pairings and his performance in New Jersey, if Federov plays the healthy scratch is Nylander. Of course if the Caps are shopping Nyls on this road trip, I'll be wrong and the healthy scratch will likely be Gordon. Even if Nyls is the scratch will Laich or Feds be be second line pivot? Who knows, let's all just be glad the Capitals have this sort of depth and so many guys are turning things up a notch right now as far as the forward lines goal. What this means is that the Caps have lit the "red light" a total of 56 times in the 17 games (3.29 G/game) they've played so far this season, including 20 goals in the last 5 games (4.0 G/game). The Ducks have scored a total of 57 goals in 19 games so far this season (3.0 G/game), but only 13 in the last five games (2.60 G/game). However, the Caps are likely to be without their leading goal scorer, Alexander Semin, so they will again need a solid game from everyone on the forward lines like they got during the two games against New Jersey on Friday and Saturday. As for the comparisons, well right now the leading scorers for Anaheim are Center Ryan Gretzlef with 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points, Right Wing Corey Perry with 6 goals, 14 assists 20 points, and Right Wing Teemu Selanne with 9 goals, 9 assists and 18 points. After that the scoring drops back to defenseman Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin who each have 4 goals. However if the Ducks can shut down the Caps, the Caps might have trouble keeping them below 3 goals simply because their offense is so balanced. In any case when you look at the forward lines, even with Nylander in a slump and Semin and Federov out, the advantage in this area of the game goes to the Caps.
No details on the Defense pairings other than if Morrisonn plays, the pairings will change from what we've been seeing; whatever that means. Personally I hope that means Tyler Sloan plays. It could also mean that Tom Poti gets some rest, there were some reports that he played the last Saturday's game in New Jersey with bronchitis. If Poti and Morrisonn are both once again healthy my hope for the pairings tonight are:
Green - Schultz
Poti - Sloan
Morrisonn - Erskine.
If Poti needs the rest and Morrisonn is ready then I'm for:
Green - Schultz
Morrisonn - Sloan
Erskine - Jurcina.
as Defensive Pairs. I have a lot of faith in Sloan after watching him the past two games where he logged over 21:00 TOI in both games. He looked very solid in New Jersey, and the Devils are a similar team to Anaheim, though more physical. That said whoever the Caps put out on Defense will matchup against the Ducks' pairings of:
Pronger - Hedican
Niedermayer - Festerling
Huskins - Montador.
Looking at the paring matchups and assuming the first pairing for the Caps is Green - Schultz things shape up like this. Green/Schultz have a combined +/- of +16, though you need to temper that with Schultz's mediocre Corsi rating. Pronger/Hedican have a combined +/- of +4. Green/Schultz a combined 6 goals, 12 assists. Pronger/Hedican 5 goals, 10 assists. Green/Schultz a total of 18 PIM (1:03 per game) ; Pronger/Hedican 28 PIM (1:28). Give this matchup to the Caps if Green AND Schultz bring their "A" games and only if Green looks before he rushes and Schultz plays more physically than he has in the last two entire seasons. The next pairing comparisonn has to be Poti-Sloan or Morrisonn vs. Niedermayer - Festerling or McIver. Okay breaking it down Poti vs Niedermayer; what can you say Poti is having a good year but is probably a little slowed right now getting over bronchitis and Niedermayer is the better player even though right now Poti is +/- +5 and Niedermayer is -2. Both have 2 goals. If the other guy for the Capitals is Morrisonn give them a slight edge for experience over either McIver or Festerling. If it's Sloan call the match-up a draw though I like Sloan in the matchup since he's +/- +2 and has a goal and an assist in 9 games and only 2 PIM. Comparing him statistically to either Festerling (1 Game played so far and NO STATISTICS) or McIver (10 Games Played, +1, 1 assist and 21 PIM) you'd have to like the 27 year old undrafted rookie from Calgary. Call this matchup a draw if Poti is healthy and plays well but otherwise give a slight edge to the Ducks. Call the next matchup Erskine/Jurcina vs. Huskins/Montador and here's how it looks. Erskine/Jurcina are currently a combined +/- 0 while Huskins/Montador are a combined +11; additionally Huskins finished last season playing 76 regular season games with 4 goals 15 assists and was +23. Montador played 73 games last season for the Florida Panthers and had 8 goals and 15 assists and was +1 for the year. In the 2007-2008 regular season, Erskine played 51 regular season games, had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +1; Jurcina played 75 games, had 1 goal and 8 assists and was +4 for the year. This pairing matchup goes decidedly to the Ducks. Overall give the Defensive matchups to the Ducks.
Goaltending matchups: Ducks: Jean-Sebastian Giguere - on the season 15 games played, GAA 3.12; save percentage = 0.90. Last 3 games GAA=4.51; Save percentage = 0.851. Jonas Hiller - on the season 6 games played, GAA 2.18; Save Percentage = 0.92. Last 2 games GAA= 0.62, save percentage = 0.976. Capitals: either Jose Theodore or Brent Johnson. Theodore on the season so far: 11 games played, GAA=3.11, SV%0.890; last 3 games GAA=2.20, SV%=0.924. Johnson on the season: 8 games played, GAA=2.20, SV%=0.906; last 3 games GAA=1.72, SV%=0.949. Theodore will probably get the start for the Caps given his familiarity with the Ducks and his career record of a SV% of 0.917 and a GAA of 2.72 in 10 games, AND his solid play the past three games. Even if, the hot rookie, Hiller is in goal for the Ducks, this category goes to the Capitals regardless of which of their two hot goaltenders are in the net.
Intangibles: Slight edge to Anaheim. The Caps have been off for three days and skating in Anaheim since yesterday. They are 5-1-2 so far in November. However, they are still pretty "dinged up." The Ducks will be playing at home and are 4-2-1 so far in November but 1-2-1 in their last 4. They shutout the LA Kings last game in front of a good crowd, and will likely draw 17,000+ fans to tonight's game. Assuming rookie Jonas Hiller is in goal for the Ducks, the crowd should be firmly behind their team and that will give them a little more spring in their step, as will facing the #1 and #2 NHL Stars of the Week.
Expect a physical game but if it starts to open up and be faster pace the Caps advantages up front and with the skating ability of the first D pairing give them more of an edge. Prognostication: Caps 3, Ducks 2 in regulation.
For my part, I'll be Rockin' the Red and watching the game in my den in Bristow, VA.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!