This time last year the Capitals had played 36 games and had a record of 14-18-4 (0.444 hockey); this year they have played 35 games and have a record of 21-11-3 (0.643 hockey). That's quite a nice change, eh?
By this time last year, the Caps had fired their coach Glen Hanlon and promoted the coach of their AHL affiliate, Bruce Boudreau from Hershey to the position of "Interim Coach" and through his first 15 NHL games, Boudreau was 7-5-3 and the "jury was till out though cautiously optimistic" on the new coach. This season, Boudreau is the prior season's Jack Adams Trophy winner, who just seemed to team up with his superstar to turn the team around and avoid what appeared to be near certain defeat, once again, at the hands of the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden and there are few if any doubts of his abilities to coach well at any level.
At this point last year the Capitals had almost played themselves into oblivion for the the season and needed to just about win every game to stay alive. After 36 games, the Caps had 30 points, 92 GF and 106 GA; they were 3 points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and were working hard to climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar. This season, after 35 games the Caps have 45 points, 113 GF, and 106 GA; they are 8 points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes leading the Southeast Division, and on pure straight points are tied for the third most points in the Eastern Conference. Further, despite constantly battling injuries to impact players, the Caps have and continue to be perennially ranked in the top 10 teams in the NHL Power Rankings.
This time last year, Caps fans were wondering aloud if they needed to get a new goaltender to even contend for a playoff spot. This year, Caps fans are wondering aloud if they need to get a new goaltender to contend for the Stanley Cup and preside over a deep run into the playoffs. Okay so maybe not everything is all that different, but it's not like changes haven't been made here as well. Further, Jose Theodore's last 40 minutes are cause for hope. Also yesterday they played a replay of the 2003 outdoor game between the Canadeans and the Oilers, if Theo can keep some of that magic up, the Caps will have the goalie they need between the pipes.
The Capitals are on track to a 105+ point regular season. However, they have some real challenges right now that continue on the injury front. The defense corps continues to miss Brian Pothier, who, thankfully, is once again skating with full gear, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine. Fortunately, Karl Alzner is maturing quickly; Milan Jurcina ha stepped up his play at least two notches; and Tyler Sloan has been nothing short of a wonderful surprise, as, Bryan Helmer also generally has been as well. Per Tarik, the Caps have recalled Simeon Varlamov, Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Gordon and Bryan Helmer today so it doesn't look like Coach Boudreau is counting on the short two day break to allow many of the regulars back into the lineup in time to face the Sabres on Friday. Given Varlamov's call-up it would appear the Brent Johnson's injury will keep him out of the line-up at least tomorrow, and Giroux and Andrew Gordon's call-up would seem to indicate Eric Fehr, Sergei Federov and Alexander Semin continue to be out as well.
The Buffalo Sabres come into tomorrow evening's match up with 37 points in 34 games - 97 GF and 98 GA - an overall record of 16-14-5 and a road record of 7-6-4. In their last meeting, earlier this season, Saturday November 1st, in Buffalo, the Sabres blanked the Caps and won the game 5-0. The Caps will surely be looking to even the regular season series 1-1 against Buffalo tomorrow night, who is 4-3-3 in their last 10 games compared to the Capitals more desirable 8-2-0 record. After tomorrow night's game, the Caps take on Toronto on Sunday before traveling to Buffalo, to take on the Sabres again on Tuesday night, December 30th, for their last game of 2008. After tomorrow's game with the Caps, the Sabres return home to take on the New York Islanders, the second of a back to back night pair of games.
These next three games will not be easy for the Capitals but they will be looking to try and finish out the month of December with a four game winning streak and an 11-3-0 record for the month. I'll be in section 103 Rockin' the Red tomorrow and hoping to see the second of that four game winning streak.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!