Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Look Ahead to Tonight's Game In Buffalo and A Look Around the NHL This Morning

Tonight the Washington Capitals take on the Buffalo Sabres for the second time in five days. So far this season the Caps and Sabres have played twice and the season series is tied 1-1; both teams have won one game on their home ice. Buffalo beat Washington 5-0 on November 1st at HSBC Center, and Washington won last Friday night's game 3-2 at Verizon Center. Tonight, the Capitals will be looking to extend their current winning streak to 4 in a row, finish the month of December 11-3-0, and solidify their hold on second place in the Eastern Conference; the Sabres will be trying to start a winning streak with their second in a row, finish December above 0.500 with a record of 7-5-2, and solidify their hold on 8th place in the Eastern Conference.

Tonight's game in Buffalo, will likely be much like Friday night's game in Washington, a hard fought, closely played game between two solid, high octane, determined teams. It's likely both teams will have a few of the players who were injured and didn't play on Friday in the lineup tonight. Washington will have Mike Green and Jeff Schultz who returned to the lineup for Sunday's win over Toronto on the blueline once again; and it's likely that center Paul Gaustad will be back on the ice for Buffalo. Both team's sharpshooters, Russian born Alexander Ovechkin and Austrian-born Thomas Vanek will be on the ice looking to extend their scoring streaks against each others teams and drive their side to victory. Both men are currently tied for second among the league's leading goal scorers each with 25 tallies. Ovechkin has scored in five straight meetings with the Sabres, totaling six in that span - he did not play in the November 1st game between the two teams. The goaltending match up will likely be Jose Theodore, in his fourth straight start, versus Ryan Miller. Theodore will be looking to reverse his fortunes against the Sabres, he has struggled in Buffalo with a 1-7-0 record and a 3.58 goals-against average. That includes a 5-0 loss on Nov.1, when he allowed three first-period goals on his way to tying a season high. Miller who has been inconsistent at times this season is coming off a rocky game where he allowed the New York Islanders to score twice in the final 1:34 of regulation on Saturday, but stopped both shooters in the tiebreaker to salvage a 4-3 win for Buffalo. On the other hand until their last three four meetings, Miller and the Sabres have been a consist ant thorn in the Capitals sides in the recent past, especially at HSBC Center where they have won seven of the last nine at home against the Caps.

So don't expect the Sabres to make it easy for the Caps to achieve their first 11 victory month in 9 years. Per the Caps Website game preview the possible line combos and defensive pairings look like this.

Buffalo Forwards
41-MacArthur, 9-Roy, 21-Stafford
26-Vanek, 55-Hecht, 29-Pominville
20-Paille, 22-Mair, 12-Kotalik
76-Peters, 37-Ellis, 61-Afinogenov

Buffalo Defensemen
6-Sekera, 44-Spacek
5-Lydman, 10-Tallinder
27-Numminen, 34-Butler
30-Miller (starting), 40-Lalime

Washington Forwards
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Kozlov
21-Laich, 92-Nylander, 17-Clark
56-Bourque, 39-Steckel, 16-Fehr
33-Giroux, 15-Gordon, 10-Bradley

Washington Defensemen
55-Schultz, 52-Green
27-Alzner, 23-Jurcina
26-Morrisonn, 62-Collins
1-Johnson, 60-Theodore (starting)

Start Time: 7:00PM EST -
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Looking around the NHL as the first three months of the 2008-2009 season winds down it seems like the league's team's now fit into four or possibly five "strata". The top echelon consisting of six teams, though one could argue the "creme de la creme" is really the two top teams San Jose and Boston followed by the next four teams. After that their seem to be two tiers of 9 and 10 teams followed by those teams likely to vie for the lottery pick to see who gets the 2009 first draft pick. Basically things look like this:

Top Six Teams and their record over the last ten games

1) San Jose Sharks/6-1-3
2) Boston Bruins/9-1-0
3) Detroit Red Wings/6-3-1
4) Washington Capitals/8-2-0
5) New York Rangers/ 5-4-1
6) Chicago Blackhawks/9-0-1

Second "Nine"
7) Montreal Canadeans/5-3-2
8)Calgary Flames/6-1-3
9) Philadelphia Flyers/6-3-1
10) New Jersey Devils/6-3-1
11) Vancouver Canucks/5-4-1
12) Pittsburgh Penguins/4-6-0
13) Anaheim Ducks/5-4-1
14) Colorado Avalanche/7-3-0
15) Buffalo Sabres/5-3-2
16) Phoenix Coyotes/5-2-3

Third Ten:
17) Carolina Hurricanes/5-3-2
18) Edmonton Oilers/6-3-1
19) Nashville Predators/3-6-1
20) Florida Panthers/5-3-2
21) Minnesota Wild/2-7-1
22) Columbus Blue Jackets/5-4-1
23) Los Angeles Kings/4-4-2
24) Dallas Stars/6-3-1
25) Toronto Maple Leafs/5-5-0

Lowest Five:
26) Saint Louis Blues/2-8-0
27) Ottawa Senators/2-7-1
28) Tampa Bay Lightning/4-5-1
29) Atlanta Thrashers/3-6-1
30) New York Islanders/1-7-2.

Looking at this list and the recent last 10 game results a couple of obvious things jump out at you. First in the top six teams it's very possible that after a fast start, the New York Rangers could drop down to the "Second Nine Tier" and any one of the next four teams: Canadeans, Flames, Flyers or amazingly the Martin Brodeur-less New Jersey Devils could take their spot, if the Rangers don't turn things around quickly and any of those four teams get a little "hotter". Looking at the second nine, you have to ask yourself: "What's going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins? and "How about those Avs?" Looking at the third tier of ten teams Edmonton and Dallas are working hard to move up and play to their potential while Minnesota continues to underachieve while fighting off injuries. At the bottom tier, Tampa Bay, thanks in large part to Mike Smith and a renewed work ethic among its veteran lineup seems poised to make a move up the standings and play a spoiler to some.

Oh yeah and looking back again at those top six teams, doesn't the view look nice and "doncha' just gotta say":

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

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