Saturday, November 28, 2009

Caps vs. Canadeans Tonight at Le Centre Bell ... A Lookahead and A Review of the Season To Date

Tonight in Montreal the Capitals (aka the Red, White and Blue) take on Les Candeans (Le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge) in the second of four regular season games and the Caps first visit to Montreal this season. The two teams met just eight days ago in DC with the Canadeans handing the Caps a 3-2 Loss at home in Verizon Center; how's that for motivation, Caps fans?

The story of tonight's game is both teams are coming into it pretty banged up. The Caps still have 6 players from the opening night roster who are doubtful, and they are still carrying Michael Nylander on the payroll. The Caps injury list currently reads as follows per Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post: 1) Alexander Semin, 2) Tom Poti, 3) Mike Knuble, 4) Shoane Morrisonn, 5) Boyd Gordon, and 6) Quintin Laing (over $8M of Salary Cap though with the rules and various people on LTIR the Caps are working quite hard to stay under the Cap). Add to the above Michael Nylander ($5.5M of salary, $4.875M of Cap hit) who isn't playing because the Caps are trying to deal him and Tyler Sloan who has returned to Calgary due the death of a close family member and you have eight players who were either potential opening night or were on the opening night roster out just 8 weeks into the season. Thankfully for us Washington fans, the Capitals are quite deep as has been noted around the league and despite the injuries that have plagued them most of this month, they are still 6-3-3 (0.625) for November.

The Habs have their share of players out as well. The injured or suspended Canadeans who won't be playing in tonight's contest consist of: Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez (possible return to the lineup tonight), Matt D'Agostini, Georges Laroque (suspended), Andrei Markov, BenoƮt Pouliot (recent pickup from Minnesota, possible but has yet to play a game for Montreal), Andrei Kostitsin (skating but listed as unlikely) and Jaroslav Spacek (who may return to the lineup tonight). In fact per Habs Inside Out, Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin has said he will use seven defencemen and 11 forwards because of the lack of healthy bodies.

This season so far for the Capitals has been a little up and down. The Caps opened the season with an 8-2-3 record and 19 points in October (0.731) and so far for November they are 6-3-3 (0.625). That's 14-5-6 on the season for 34 points and technically they lead the Eastern Conference though Pittsburgh also has 34 points, since the Caps have a game in hand on the Penguins. For the season the Caps are playing 0.680 hockey, that's on pace for a 111 point season, and even their more recent pace of 0.625 is on pace for 103 points. In their last game against the Sabres the Caps showed that even with this spate of injuries if they play disciplined hockey and within the abilities of the players available on the ice, on any given night, they can skate with and beat any other team in the NHL. As the injuries heal the results should also improve. However, as we've all seen as well this season, there are no "gimme" games in the new, improved, salary capped NHL. It continues to be a good season to be a Capitals fan but boy wouldn't $4.875M of salary cap space be nice if the Capitals can find a way to get it before the trade deadline, heck if he continues to play like he did against the Sabres, even keeping enough Cap Space to keep Karl Alzner up here in DC would be pretty nice too...

The rumour is that Semyon Valramov will again get the nod and start tonight, Varly has been quite hot lately and of course notched his first NHL shutout last game against the Sabres. It's also likely that Carey Price will again be in the nets for Montreal tonight, Price has been hot of late though he did apparently look human in the Hab's last game, a loss at Pittsburgh. The last time these two teams met, the Habs did a good job of keeping Alexander Ovechkin bottled up, expect Canadeans coach Jaques Martin to use the home ice advantage of last change to again do the same. However, I also expect the Capitals to play a more disciplined game, one like they played their last game against the Sabres when they used the 1-4 to hobble a speedy Buffalo team, especially if all the potential returnees to the Habs lineup appear on the ice in Montreal tonight. It's entirely possible that tonight's game ould be a goaltender's duel, if it is, expect the difference to be - - - Alexander Ovechkin, Chris Clark and Brooks Laich. The Habs kept Ovechkin off the board last game, if they can do it again and Carey Price stays pretty hot, tonight will be tough going for the Caps unless the Caps star responds and gets some drive to the net from Clark and Laich to keep some pressure on the Habs goalie.

It should be a fun game to watch. I'll be Rockin' the Red from the comfort of my den in Bristow, VA. How about y'all?

After musing, my prediction is Caps 4 - Canadeans 2. GWG - Brooks Laich.


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