Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year - A Look Ahead To Tonight's Caps-Bolts Game


Last night's result of note: IIHF Juniors - Canada 5, United States 4.

In case you didn't watch last night's IIHF showdown of sorts, it was an awesome game. The US zoomed out to a 3-0 lead before Canada came back and tied it up. The second period ended with Canada up 5-4; the third period was scoreless. Lot's of great play from folks on both teams. Of greatest notes relative to the players though for folks following the NHL prospects in general and Caps fans in particular were the following two items. Canada's John Tavares showed everyone watching why he should indeed be the #1 NHL draft pick in 2009 and Stefan Della Rovere showed Caps fans why he may turn up as being the best bargain in the 2008 NHL draft.

Today's NHL Games:

- This afternoon, the Winter Classic in Chicago: Blackhawks vs. Red Wings @ Wrigley Field
- Tonight: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Verizon Center
- Tonight: Pittsburgh vs. Boston @ Boston
- Tonight: Vancouver vs. Nashville @ Nashville.

The one folks reading this blog likely care most about is Caps vs. Lightning so that's the one that gets previewed. Besides, despite some thoughts to the contrary it's probably too early to be rooting for Pittsburgh over Boston and the only way to be rooting for either Chicago or Detroit would be if there was a way a game could conclude and neither team got a point. In the final game, you have to be for Nashville because, hey we want them to do well, and who needs/wants a team to move anyway? Maybe if Nashville started to get a home record like the Caps, Sharks or Boston have this season their attendance would improve. Now onto the key thoughts and items about tonight's game at "the Phone Booth."

First despite Jose Theodore winning his last four in a row, Brent Johnson will apparently start tonight. This is probably a good move by Coach Boudreau since as he told Tarik and others after this morning's skate: " Looking around the league this year you need both goaltenders....Very few teams have been able to run with one at all times so we have to keep our guys sharp." While Johnson and Theodore are both pretty healthy and playing well it makes sense to play them both, giving Johnson a little more rest over the next couple of weeks to allow his hip a little extra rest to further mend.

Virtually all the Caps skated at least a little today, except Sergei Federov. That said it appears the only change to the lineup of skaters from the team on the ice in Buffalo on Tuesday is that Karl Alzner will be back in the line-up and Tyler Sloan is probably headed back to Hershey.

Donald Brashear will be a game time decision apparently and Alexander Giroux and Chris Bourque are still here in DC and will apparently dress and take warm-ups as well. Odds makers are guessing Brashear won't play tonight but will likely return for Saturday's Rangers game and other optimists are also hoping that Alexander Semin will return to the lineup sometime next week, likely either for the January 6th home game against the Flyers or the games on Friday and Saturday against Columbus and Montreal.

Tom Poti, Brian Pothier and John Erskine all skated today, but there hasn't been any word or speculation otherwise on any timetables for their of Sergei Federov's return. The way the team is playing this all makes sense, the important thing is for the team to keep looking ahead and re-integrating the players into the "normal" lineup on a timetable that allows them to be healthy and set for a run to and through the playoffs after the All-Star Game on January 25th in Montreal.

As for tonight's opponents, Tampa Bay is 3-0-1 since the Christmas break. Their last game ended as a 2-1 shootout loss to a visiting Montreal Canadean team at Saint Pete Times Forum on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd. In addition to going 3-0-1 since Christmas, the Bolts beat the Penguins 3-0 in Pittsburgh on December 23rd and are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. Tonight's game is the second of six meetings between the two Southeast Division foes this regular season. The last time the two teams met was Monday, November 10th at Verizon Center; the Caps won that contest 4-2. That game was long-time Capitals netminder Olie Kolzig's first return to play against the team that drafted him into the NHL in 1989. The likely starting goaltender for the Bolts tonight will be Mike Smith, who has a 2.00 GAA in his last four games in regulation, including the shutout against Pittsburgh. Smith, a 26 year old in his third NHL season, will be playing in his 87th NHL games tonight, assuming he gets the nod, his career numbers are 35-36-0-11 with a save percentage of 0.912 and a GAA of 2.44. So far this season he's 8-12-0-9 with a GAA of 2.42 and a save percentage of 0.923.

Clearly both Smith and his Lightning Bolt teammates have raised their level of play since the two teams last met in November. Ryan Malone has 7 points (2 goals and 5 assists) in the last three games and the Bolts have scored a total of 12 goals while allowing only 9 goals against over the past 4 games. So since December 23rd the Lightning has scored an average of 3.00 goals/game while allowing and average of only 2.00 against. The Lightning players the Caps need to contain are primarily the two usual suspects plus a couple of guys: Martin Saint Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Recchi, Ryan Malone and Steve Stamkos. The Lighting need to be weary of probably all four of the Capitals lines, assuming they come out and play the type of hockey they have shown themselves capable of throughout the month of December. However, this won't be an easy game for the Capitals, as if any game on any night in the NHL can be taken for granted. The Caps will need to come out focused and determined. Against a team like Tampa Bay, getting the first goal is probably a key item. With a roster that includes six former Caps, including two who have been playing very well of late - Matt Pettinger and Steve Eminger - as well as former Capitals Team Captain, Jeff Halpren, and being division rivals who have met eight times over each of the past two regular seasons, these two teams know each other well.

My former wingman and I will be back together and Rockin' the Red in Section 103. Hope you are too. I'm looking for the Capitals to make it five in a row and stop the Bolts point streak at four. Besides, doesn't the prospect of hopefully making this guy look silly (well maybe the right term is sillier) sound good to you?

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

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