The Caps will play host for the last time in the 2005-06 season tonight when Atlanta comes calling. The Caps also have the chance to play spoiler and eliminate their Southeast Division rivals from playoff contention and lock up spots in the postseason for Tampa and Montreal with a win over the Thrash (though such a scenario would apparently not impact Lil' Jon's already-fulfilled Stanley Crunk dreams). And while the game has huge implications in the standings for Atlanta, it is utterly meaningless from that standpoint for the Caps, who are locked into 27th place in the League (meaning, per Mike Vogel, that they will have a "10.7% chance of winning the NHL's draft lottery, which will be held at noon on Thursday at the league offices in New York.").
So should we expect the home team to roll over and play dead? Does Ilya Kovalchuk own a legal stick (that is to say, I highly doubt it)? As has been the case for much of the season, what is at stake for the Caps (besides pride) is jobs and individual statistics. Regarding the latter, a handful of Caps have a chance to achieve significant milestones with just two games left. Matt Pettinger and Brian Willsie each has 18 goals on the season, and if they can each net a pair in the final two games, they'll give the team five 20-goal scorers - the same number the Ottawa Senators currently have. Other Caps (including Dainius Zubrus, Chris Clark and Ben Clymer) are looking to add to personal single-season bests in goals and/or points.
And then there's Alexander Ovechkin, who will be honored before tonight's game for his jaw-dropping achievements during this marvelous rookie campaign. Already only the second rookie ever to reach the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus in the same freshman season, Ovechkin stands just two goals behind Mike Bossy for the second-most goals ever scored by a rookie. With at least one goal in 28 of his last 48 games, four goals in seven games this season against Atlanta and five goals in seven games against Tuesday night's opponent, Tampa, AO certainly has a realistic shot at tying and perhaps passing Bossy. The 25 goals it would take to tie Teemu Selanne's rookie record of 76 is probably safely out of reach. Probably.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
- Bob McKenzie has put together his 2005-06 Rookie Dream Team. With these guys alone (to say nothing of the other young guns in the NHL), the League's future is in good hands... on the ice, at least.
- While more than half the NHL's teams head to the postseason, the Leafs will be hitting the links. Buffalo's Andrew Peters reminds them of that. Stupid? Of course. Unsportsmanlike? Of course. Funny? Of course.
- I didn't see the game, but reading about it I wonder if the Flyers were wearing these jerseys yesterday in their huge loss to New Jersey yesterday (thanks to Kukla's for the link).
- Hart: Patrik Elias (2 goals, including the game-winner, assist, +3 in win over Philly that keeps Jersey alive for the Atlantic Division title)
- Ross: Patrik Elias, Brad Lukowich (3 points each)
- Norris: Brad Lukowich (3 assists, +4)
- Vezina: Curtis Joseph (40-save shutout win)
- Richard: Chris Drury, Patrik Elias (2 goals each)
- Calder: Ryan Miller (31-save shutout win)
- Aiken: Robert Esche (Loss, 3 goals allowed on 12 shots against in just 22:24 before being yanked from a game with huge playoff-positioning ramifications)