Friday, December 26, 2008

Sizing Up Tonight's Opponent - the Buffalo Sabres

Tonight at Washington DC's Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals take on the Buffalo Sabres for the second time this NHL Regular Season. Buffalo won the last meeting on their home ice at HSBC Arena on November 1st, 5-0. Both teams have a number of players out with injuries, though the Capitals are clearly without the services of a greater number of "impact players." The Sabres are currently without four forwards in Pat Kaleta [head/neck], Paul Gaustad [upper body], Nathan Gerbe [upper body] and Tim Connolly [rib], as well as defenseman Craig Rivet [shoulder]. In the forward lines the Capitals are without the services of: Alexander Semin [lower back], and Sergei Federov [high ankle. On the blueline Brian Pothier has been out all season, additionally at this time it appears both Tom Poti and Mike Green are day to day; while John Erskine [concussion] and Jeff Schultz [broken finger] also continue to be out of the line up as is goaltender Brent Johnson [hip]. As far as impact, Nathan Gerbe is a rookie and over the entire last season the trio of Kaleta, Gaustad and Connolly totaled 20 goals and 81 total points; so far this season the group has 7 goals and 18 total points. That said, possibly in part because of the few games they've played (6 each) Tim Connolly and Nathan Gerbe have the second and third best CORSI numbers on the Sabres at present; and Connolly is #2 on the Sabres in Goals/60 and Points/60 with 1.69 and 2.53 respectively. Of course when you contrast the loss of their services to Semin, Federov, and Fehr there is no real comparison of the contribution and potential impact. Federov's CORSI number of 28.0 leads the Capitals, and his Goals/60 & Points/60 are 1.06 & 2.84 respectively. Semin is +17 on the season, his CORSI Rating is 13.8, and his Goals/60 & Points/60 are 2.76 & 4.83 respectively. All of that contrast is BEFORE you even look at the impact injuries are having on the Caps Defense, Special Teams and Goaltending. These are the things that will be making it hard for the Caps to keep their near flawless home ice record this season in tact. However, the Caps are still with some weapons and the games match-ups will be interesting.

Looking at the goalscorers for each team who will be in the lineup the top six for each team look like this:

Buffalo Washington
1) Thomas Vanek: 24 Goals/30 Pts. Alexander Ovechkin: 22 Goals/46 Pts.
2) Derek Roy: 11 Goals/30 Pts. Nicklas Backstrom: 10 Goals/37 Pts.
3) Jason Pomminville: 9 Goals/26 Pts. Viktor Kozlov: 8 Goals/22 Pts.
4) Clarke MacArthur: 9 Goals/18 Pts. Tomas Fleischmann: 12 Goals/19 Pts.
5) Drew Stafford: 8 Goals/17 Pts. Brooks Laich: 8 Goals/19 Pts.
6) Jarislav Spacek: 1 Goal/17 Pts. Michael Nylander: 3 Goals/17 Pts.

As you can see both teams still have pretty high octane offenses and each has one of the leagues top five sharpshooters in their lineup. During the last game between the two teams Thomas Vanek scored twice and was +2 on the night, while Alexander Ovechkin was in Russia for personal reasons and did not play. In looking at the first line comparison: Vanek-Hecht-Pominville vs. Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov goes marginally to Washington, unless Viktor Kozlov brings the A game he has had the past two outings in which case it goes more clearly to the Caps. Comparing the second lines: MacArthur-Roy-Stafford vs. Fleischmann-Laich-A. Gordon(?) and the advantage goes to the Sabres by a less than insignificant margin. Looking at the comparison of the grinders (third and energy lines) and right now you have to call it a tie or give a razor thin edge to the Capitals.

The big difference in the line ups tonight will be in the experience on the blue line. For the Capitals the line up will likely be the following three pairs: Milan Jurcina - Karl Alzner, Shoane Morrisonn - Sean Collins, and Tyler Sloan -Bryan Helmer; a very green crew, while Helmer at 36 is the "elder statesman" he only has 141 games of NHL experience, Morrison with 307 NHL games under his belt is the veteran of this group. For the Sabres the pairs will likely be: Toni Lyndman - Henrik Tallinder, Teppo Numminen - Chris Butler, and Jaroslav Spacek - Andrej Sekera; four veterans and two young players. The edge here has to be given to Buffalo.

Comparing the goaltending is virtually an impossible task. The goaltending for both teams has been inconsistent this season. Take the Sabres beating the Capitals 5-0 one night and loosing to the Blue Jackets 6-1 on another; the Capitals beating the Bruins 3-1 one night then beating both the Senators and the Canadeans while allowing them each only one goal, then being taken to overtime before beating the Islanders 5-4 in overtime and less than a week later loosing to the Flyers 7-1. The goaltending match-up will likely be Ryan Miller vs. Jose Theodore; call it a slight edge to Miller - he's lost the last two games in OT and he's probably due to get some breaks but if Theodore continues to play like he played the last 30 minutes of the Rangers game then it'll be all Caps.

Intangibles go to the Caps, they are near perfect at home with a record of 13-1-1, and 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. Also the Caps are confident and motivated after finding and playing their game in their come back victory in New York.

If your looking for a prediction about the games final score then you need to go to Peerless' blog. Here all you'll find is enthusiasm and encouragement. Here's to rooting for a two point night for the Capitals.

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

1 comment:

Michael Eason said...

Since OV has Vanek's goal numbers in his sights, it'd be good to shut him down tonight and narrow the margin.