Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tonight: Caps vs. Sabres ... Continued Injury Challenges for the Caps

The Caps recalled Karl Alzner today and it appears they were capable of doing that since veteran forward Mike Knuble was placed on LTIR and returned John Carlson and Andrew Gordon to Hershey. Overall it appears that the Caps are still at least 6 men down for injured, though there is significant speculation that Milan Jurcina will return to the lineup tonight. However defensemen Tom Poti and Shoane Morrisonn out, as well as Forwards Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, Quintin Laing and Boyd Gordon.

Even injury riddled the Caps are still a formidable opponent capable of beating pretty much any team in the league if they play disciplined, solid hockey for a full sixty minutes. Unfortunately this season the Caps have had trouble doing just that. A situation that's pretty perplexing considering the Caps entered the season in what looked like very solid athletic shape. However, the spate of third period minor penalties seem to point otherwise. Why else besides conditioning would such a talented team take a lead into the third period only to then take minor penalties and put the games outcome in doubt rather then putting the game away. Also look at the 23 penalties taken in the third period from the last 11 games (the month of November), the Caps have been sent to the sin bin 4 times for hooking, 3 times for tripping, 3 times for interference, 3 times for boarding, 3 times for roughing (thank you Bill McCreary & Garry Buttmann for this new call at the next annual meeting I guess the NHL will explore the possibility of a new penalty - "hitting too hard"...), 2 times for high sticking, and once each for goalie interference, slashing, holding and cross checking. Those 23 penalties have been called on 13 different players, the most, 5 of the 23, have been called on Brendan Morrison. Morrison has otherwise been a really great pickup for the Capitals and is pretty much on track for a totally awesome comeback season. I don't have the stats handy but anecdotally I believe part of the reason the 34 year old center from Pitt Meadows, BC has been leading in this inauspicious category is because he is being put out there during a lot of these situations (third period, leading) as he is so good at protecting the puck. B-Mo is a 13th year pro so he really doesn't need anybody telling him that taking 5 third period penalties isn't a good way to close out a game. Actually when you look at the names of who has taken these penalties: B-Mo (5), Knuble (2), Sha-Mo (2) Erskine (2), Semin (2), Pothier (2) Steckel (2), Jurcina (1), Clark (1), Laich (1), Perreault (1) and Ovechkin (1), with the possible exception of Perreault, it's unlikely that any coaching or additional mention of it is necessary.

That said an average of 2.1 third period minor penalties per game is one of the really big Achilles heels in the Capitals game right now. Also during those ten games the Caps managed two penalty free third periods one during a -4 win over the Florida Panthers and the other during a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. That means the Caps had 3 or 4 minor penalties during the remaining 9 games, and during those games the Caps record has been 3-3-3 (0.500 hockey). Tonight the Caps play their fourth game in six nights when they meet the Sabres. The Sabres are coming off three days rest having met and lost to the Senators in Ottawa during their last game on Saturday night. So the Sabres come in to DC rested and hungry for victory. The Sabres are a good team and the Caps will need to ignore the distractions, the injuries, the aches, the pains and stay focused an play a disciplined game for all sixty minutes if they are to resume their winning ways tonight. If the Caps get frustrated because after out shooting the Sabres they still trail or haven't scored, they are just as likely to take a bad penalty in what should be a tight scoring game.

No predictions for tonight here, I'm just positive Zen energy and good thoughts.


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