Saturday, December 18, 2010

Looking Ahead to Today's Bruins - Caps Game in Boston

Well two struggling teams go to Boston's TDNorth Garden to try and end their current slides. The Eastern Conference eighth place Boston Bruins who are 0-2-1 in their last three games host the struggling third place Washington Capitals who will be looking to end their current loosing streak at - "Lucky #7" and avoid dropping their eighth in a row. Oh how the mighty have fallen - of course maybe not if you listen to Vicktor Federov's interview over at Japer's Rink, or read pucksandbooks over at "On Frozen Blog".

Of course while reading both I didn't find either as interesting or as useful to read as Peerless' preview of the game. Thanks Peerless for a "Fair & Balanced" blog post and set of thoughts in, from a Caps Fan's perspective, "these troubled times." In that vein I'll try and add to the intelligent, non-xenophobic, discussion about today's game - just one of 82 games the Capitals will play this regular season. First let's take a look at the games within the games we'll be seeing or at least what will probably be the top five games within games:

1) Ovechkin vs. Chara: This game with a game always seems to be a good one to watch when these two teams meet. It's always amazing to me that despite what these sort of match-ups look like when the Caps play other teams, Chara is one guy who can and does at times make Ovechkin look small. In reality its always a great thing to watch - two big, or maybe that should be BIG, men with awesome skating skills and great physical presence on the ice, basically beating the he!! out of each other, for the most part well within the rules, for 33% or more of an entire hockey game. Today assuming Alex Semin doesn't play - and at this time he's listed as questionable, things will only be harder than usual for Ovechkin as with Semin out, Knuble slowed the full guard around his jaw, and the Bruins having the final line change since they are the home team, are all things that will make this key match-up even harder for Ovechkin to "win." - Go Ovie - as Bella Karolyi has been quoted saying "You can do it..." but it won't be easy.

2) Neuvirth vs. Thomas: A more classic match up given their styles might be either Neuvy vs. Rask or Varly vs. Thomas but in any case whenever you play the very defensively stingy Bruins, the goaltender match-up is one of the games within the game to watch. There's not much question that the Bruin's goaltenders will come up with one, two or three awesome saves that can and sometimes do change the direction of the momentum of the game. That always puts pressure on the opposing goalie to do the same. Today, I'm thinking Neuvy is up to that challenge but even if he does, there's no guarantee that will be enough to win this game. In fact it's almost guaranteed that it won't be.

I'm thinking that for the Capitals to win the game it will all come down to the next three "battles" so long as the top two end in what I think they will end in - draws or even if the Ovechkin and Neuvirth only win their battles by small margins. I'm not saying that Alex Ovechkin can't dictate the play of a hockey game and drive the team to victory - he can but against Boston with the match-ups they will put on him, the rice would be very high and the outcome still no more likely than 50/50. Nor am I saying that any NHL caliber goaltender cannot have an awesome game and "steal a victory" - and with 12 wins so far this season, I'd be willing to state I feel Neuvirth has demonstrated he is an NHL caliber goaltender. That said I don't think that will happen today precisely because both teams will come out ready to play and play committed ice hockey for the entire game. So that will mean that no single player will win or lose this game for either team. That leaves the next three games within a game to decide things.

3) Blue Line Corps vs. Blue Line Corps: This might be the hardest battle for the Caps to win today given their sick and injured report. Jeff Schultz is on IR. Both Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan have been ailing and are questionable for today's game. That leaves the Caps with: Mike Green, Tom Poti, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, and ????. Personally I'd love to see the ???? filled by Hannan and see him have the type of game we are all hoping for him to have since arriving here in DC from Colorado. That said even though they will both play Green still looks a little banged up and off pace and Poti still hasn't had his best game on since returning from his last injury. To compare well against the Bruins blue-liners, everyone will need to have their best game on and be ready for the inevitable physical battles with the rough and tumble Bruins forward lines the likes of which include the ever ready to battle Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

4) Second Line vs. Second Line: Another tough match-up for the Capitals today, given that Alexander Semin didn't make the trip and is apparently injured. The Capitals second line in practice yesterday was Laich-Perreault-Fehr/A.Gordon. This would be a really good game for Laich and Fehr to shake their recent ups and downs and have "up shifts" - preferably 17 or more "up shifts" throughout the game. It will also be a game where MP85 will need to skate full speed for every minute he is on the ice less the bigger Boston players latch onto him and use their size and physicality to neutralize his "Energize Bunny" style of play. Finally, my hope is that the second line that starts the game is Laich-Perreault-Fehr and not A. Gordon, nothing against A. Gordon, in fact I like him and the grit he brings to the game I just think the mix is better if Fehr is in the RW position as "the trigger man". I'd rather see Gordon get a Jersey on the third or fourth line for this game. Of course their opponents on the Boston side of the ledger don't care whether it's Fehr or A. Gordon, they will be working hard to play their game, their way either way and it's up to the Caps second line to not let that happen. I think this one (battle) will be determined by the answer to the question: "Who wants it more?"

5) Third & Fourth Lines vs. Each Other: What can we say about this match-up, the battle of the so called grinders will likely matter a lot in this game. In a game that is likely to be tightly played and low scoring, every goal is even more important than usual. Which of these seven guys play: Chimera, Johansson, Beagle, A. Gordon, Hendricks, Steckel, Bradley is almost a "don't care" to me. I like them all and I think they all have drive, grit and heart. Johansson is listed as questionable at this time so that might make the decision as to who doesn't play today straight-forward for Coach Boudreau. That said this could be the toughest game within a game for the Caps to win, Boston plays solid team hockey and now having gone 0-2-1 in their last three games, their depth players will be more determined than ever to not be outplayed by their opponents. However as we've seen so far this season, at least before this current bad karma streak started one thing that Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks and David Steckel do NOT lack is heart and the other is grit. I expect these guys as much as anybody will be battling in the tough areas in front of and around the net and that means they could indeed be: "the guys who put the puck into the net for the goal that wins the game that breaks the streak that has been putting a damper onto the season as the Capitals get ready to play their most hated rivals in the biggest (at least most heavily attended) of the 2010-2011 regular season..." or however HBO will spin/hype this if the GWG is the result of secondary scoring. Personally after his last post game quote that was basically "Loosing sucks." I'm rooting fro David Steckel, even though in the back of my mind I'm thinking it could be any of the others and if it were Beagle or A. Gordon that would be a nice story too.

So there you have it what did I tell you above? Summary: This will be a hard fought game and even at the game within a game level each battle is at best a toss-up. This should be a good one.


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