Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yuck - Hurricanes 3, Habs 2 OT; FLA 3, COL 0; Eagles 3, Redskins 10

Why Not Cap the Weekend Off With More Unpleasant Developments...Where I Come From Both Bad & Good Things Are Alleged to Come In Threes, Anyway.

Well to make a bad weekend worse, as far as the professional sports teams I follow go, today's scores were all negative for the teams I root for. Being from Philadelphia I'm an Eagles fan; yes, I know that's a weird combination Eagles & Capitals but those are my teams. So the easy one for most Capitals fans to take first. The Eagles' receivers lost the game for them - seven dropped passes that should have been caught and then failing to push back three more steps so you're in the end zone when time runs out are just inexcusable at the NFL level.

Now that's off my mind how about the bad set of circumstances for the Capitals this weekend. First the Caps loose 7-1 to the Flyers last night, then Carolina beats Montreal in overtime today, and Florida shuts out Colorado. So at the end of this evening while the Caps retain first place in the Southeast Division they are only 6 points ahead of Carolina, and they are only 7 points ahead of Florida - who have a game in hand on both the Caps and the Hurricanes. Also, don't look now but the Florida Panthers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games (after going 5-6-3 in the month of November). During the last 10 games the Panthers have outscored their opponents 23-20 and both Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson have each notched a shutout. Making Florida's recent run even more impressive are the facts that 6 of their last 10 games have been on the road including a 10 day/5 game in a row road trip from 12/8-12/18 AND the fact that four of the six wins were against Western Conference foes, 3 of which were on that road trip. Finally, lest we not forget this recent 10 game sure started with the Panthers beating the Capitals at Verizon Center on Tuesday, December 2nd. Clearly, the Caps can't afford to take the Panthers lightly the next time the two teams meet on Saturday, February 7th. Possibly by then the Panthers will have come back down to be the team many thought they were. However, it's just as possible that over the next 6 weeks the Panthers continue their new found ways and keep playing 0.700 plus hockey, like the Capitals did last season once they found their "mojo." The Panthers next six weeks schedule is decidedly easier with regard to travel and rest than it has been over the past seven weeks, so it is indeed possible that the real threat to the Caps for the Southeast Division Championship will come from Florida. The Carolina Hurricanes are 4-4-3 (0.550 hockey) in their last 10 games, including a 3-1 home victory against the Capitals at RBC Center on Pearl Harbor Day (12/7). On the season the Hurricanes have played 0.530 hockey and since opening the season with a 5-2-2 October have basically played 0.500 hockey or slightly below that level since. The one team they have dominated this season has been Montreal - they are 3-0-1, but in a quirk of NHL scheduling, they will not see the Canadeans again this regular season as for some reason they have played them four times already. Based on last years playoff teams as well as current team power rankings, discounting Montreal over the next 7 weeks, the Hurricane's schedule is slightly more arduous then it has been thus far this season.

Theoretically, the Capitals own schedule over the next 4 weeks should be easier then it has been. Of course that ignores several facts - first and foremost the injury situation, especially with the blue line corps; second 7 of the 16 games the Caps will play over the next 7 weeks are away games and it seems like any away game is posing a challenge for the Caps so far this season; finally the Caps have all to often played up or down to the level of their opponent so far this season and not had the killer instinct needed to put opponents away early of with finality. With any luck, Saturday's 7-1 loss to the Flyers will have shown the Caps the errors in their ways and that the time has come for them to use their size and really start to pack the low slot in a way that gets more scoring from the second, third and energy lines, even if Alexander Semin is out for a few weeks to get his back into shape. It'll also take a little luck with regard to the injury situation with the defense as once again Tom Poti has an injured groin and Mike Green is being asked to play what amounts to basically too many minutes. The luck would be the continued excellent play of two guys most Caps fans hadn't heard of before this season - Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins as well as the continued rapid maturation of Karl Alzner and the continued higher level play of Milan Jurcina. An on track recovery by Jeff Schultz wouldn't be a bad thing either. No one should rush the return of either Brian Pothier or John Erskine - concussions are not something to mess about with.

Next up the rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday Night. The Rangers are 0.639 on the season (22-12-2); though, after starting fast they are only 5-5-0in their last 10. The rangers have been tough in the Garden this year though and are 12-6-1, they have also gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 home games. Interestingly, during their last 10 home games, the Rangers have been outscored by their opponents 27-25. Given the motivation the Caps should have to make up for the lack of getting puck by Antero Niittymaki on Saturday, one might expect the Capitals to come out shooting again on Tuesday evening, but with even more grit.

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

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