Saturday, March 14, 2009

Looking Ahead to Tonight's Caps vs. Hurricanes Game

Are you ready to "Rock the Red?" I am. I'll be Rockin' the Red from the reclining settee here in Bristow tonight. Tonight is a pretty important game for the Capitals, tonight they get to make it three in a row for the first time in the month of March, with a solid regulation win, they'd take the record for March to 3-3-1 (0.500). They'll also reach the 92 point plateau in the standings, just two shy of the mark they reached last season. With a win they'd be 14 points and 7 games up on the Hurricanes who are currently in second place in the Southeast Division with just 12 games remaining in the regular season. Depending on the4 outcome of tonight's Devils - Canadiens game the Caps may or may not recapture second place in the Eastern Conference, however New Jersey still has two games in hand on the Capitals.
Tonight's match up will be interesting. The regular season series between the two teams is tied at 2-2-0; Carolina definitely "needs" the win more than the Capitals in their push for the playoffs. If you believe Mirtle, it'll take 93 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. To reach 93 points, Carolina needs to close out the remaining 12 games of their season 7-4-1. Carolina doesn't have the explosive set of forwards the Caps have but they do have a balanced attack. They've used their balanced attack, solid goaltending by Cam Ward and have played disciplined hockey to take the last two meetings they've had with the Capitals. The two teams will play twice over the next 7 days and both are hoping to make a clear statement to the other team as to "Who's the Boss" in the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes have dropped their last two outings after going 18-12-0 between January 1 and that game in Chicago on March 11th to play their way into the battle for the post season. Interestingly after their last meeting at Verizon Center on March 3rd where Carolina handed the Capitals a 5-2 loss, it's entirely possible that even though the 'Canes need this game more, the Capitals may actually WANT it more. Add to that the fact tonight's game will be in front of a sellout crowd and the last home game before a five game road trip and it's clear both teams will likely bring their A games and play hard for both points tonight. That said, the Caps are coming into the game off a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on Thursday night and the Hurricanes are coming in off a 3-2 loss at Dallas on Thursday night. Both teams should be rested so give a slight edge to the Capitals on intangibles after all they are the home team. The only intangible I can't even begin to try and quantify is the return of Erik Cole and as Peerless points out that's a big item that could sway things either way.
When you look at the Forwards, the Caps have an explosive offense that has been pretty sedate in their last two games and it's easy to say they have a clear edge here. However closer examination shows the Hurricanes, with their balanced scoring attack, should and do match up well against the Capitals. The Caps have 6 forwards with more than 30 points; the Hurricanes have 7 forwards with 30 or more points. The Hurricanes have four forwards with 20 or more goals and another 4 with ten or more tallies. The Capitals have two forwards with twenty or more goals and another 5 with ten or more goals on the season. However, the Hurricanes don't have anybody on their depth chart with the possible exception of Eric Staal who can light it up like Alexander Ovechkin or Alexander Semin. A slight edge in this department goes to the Capitals, even with Sergei Federov likely to be sitting this game out. Who knows maybe Michael Nylander might even take this opportunity to remind the fans at Verizon why it is he is making $5M a year; though the way those sort of things have been going lately it's more likely that either Tomas Fleaischmann or Eric Fehr will "kick it up a notch" and light the lamp again or Kieth Aucoin will get his 6th career NHL goal and demonstrate to Carolina why they should have held on to him last season.

Defensive matchups you say well the Caps have Mike Green +23, with 23 goals and 35 assist in 56 games played; the Hurricanes have Joe Corvo -2 with 13 goals and 17 assists in 70 games played. The Hurricanes Defense Corps may be the only one in the NHL without a Canadian in the top six and their +/- and Corsi ratings are relatively unspectacular. If Tom Poti were in the lineup you'd have to give the edge to the Capitals but Poti still injured, call this a draw on the statistics right now. However, the last two game the Capitals have tightened their defense up and as if they don't have a let down after the big win in Philly on Thursday night they could actually turn this game for the Capitals. That might be what the Caps need if the Hurricanes play a stifling, frustrating 4-1 trap tonight.

The goaltending for both teams has been solid of late. In his last 6 games, Cam Ward has posted an 2.00 GAA ,and he has posted a save percentage of 0.950 in his last three outings. Jose Theodore has been outstanding in his last two games with a GAA of 0.98 and a save percentage of 0.969 in his last two games. In the four games he's played in March since being pulled against Florida on March 1st, Theodore has a 2.00 GAA and with his performance of late his season save % has risen to 0.902, which is in line with his NHL career average of 0.908. All things considered, this is another area where you have to call the category a draw, as long as the Capitals don't have a let down tonight after the win over the Flyers.

Forecast for tonight's final score: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 2.
Why/How? Because even though there is no statistical basis for a two goal game between these two teams tonight, there wasn't any basis for a three goal game between them on March 3rd -0 the reason tonight is because it's payback time. What better way to pay the Hurricanes back for March 3rd and those tough years between 2004 and last January then to deny them any points at a time when they need them most? I can't think of any. Let's all hope: 1) there's no let down from Thursday and 2) the Caps decide it's time to start winning at home again. Tonight should be a good game.


No comments: