Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Roundup/Gamenight: Caps @ 'Canes

[AP Preview]

Just six days after Alex Semin's late heroics saved the Caps from falling six points behind the 'Canes in the Southeast Division, Washington heads to Raleigh tied for first place with a game in hand (note: first "game in hand" mention of the season). And while the Caps have enjoyed the comforts of home thus far this season (they're the only Eastern Conference team without a regulation loss in their own building), they've found the road to be considerably less friendly - their five points away from home are tied for the fewest in the East; they have scored 3.57 goals per game as hosts, but just 2.43 away from the VC and have allowed an average of just two goals against per game on their slushy sheet, but 3.71 on the road. Basically, the Caps have been The Stone Roses' eponymous debut album at home, and their brutal follow-up record on the road.

But with a bounce here or there, the story could be much different - three of the Caps' five road losses have been by a single goal, a trio of 2-1 decisions (the other two losses are never again to be spoken of).

So what does the team need to do to get over the hump and starting picking up some W's on the road? One big question revolves around the top line. The trio of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom (and, before he got injured, Sergei Fedorov) has produced five of the Caps' last eight even strength, non-empty net goals, but were singled out as being "too cute" on Monday night. Perhaps more importantly, the line's successes have come on a three-game homestand, where line matching was in Bruce Boudreau's favor. If they take this show on the road as is, however, they can expect a heavy diet of Rod Brind'Amour, Tim Gleason and Carolina's other top defensive players, raising the obvious question as to why you'd want to put your two best scorers on one line and rather than forcing Peter Laviolette to pick his poison? I'm on record as being against the regular use of an "Eggs" line (i.e. any line with both Alexes on it), especially on the road, but I have about as much influence on the Caps roster as I do on U.S. foreign policy ("Mr. President, that briefing you requested on the deportation of Sidney Crosby..."), so we'll see how the man in charge rolls.

The Caps would also help their chances at victory if they can get the power play going - they're stuck in a 1-for-16 (6.3%) rut with the extra man over their last five games, and lately have had incredible trouble entering the zone and/or establishing possession once there. It's a much larger problem than any one player, but there's one guy who got a big contract this summer because he makes the power play go, and it's been stuck in neutral for nearly a month. Put another way, how the hell can the season be 14 games old with Mike Green still looking for his first power play assist and Alex Ovechkin still looking for his first power play goal of the campaign?

For their part, the 'Canes are getting healthy (for them, at least), and having Matt Cullen as a second shut-down center should Gabby keep the Alexes paired isn't a bad option (to say nothing of how much he and Joni Pitkanen will help Carolina's power play). Expect to see Michael Leighton between the pipes for the 'Canes (the 27-year-old netminder has never faced the Caps), and Eric Staal flopping around on the ice like a fish on deck.

The bottom line on tonight is that it's never too early for a statement game, and after last week's win over Carolina, taking two points in Raleigh would certainly make a bold proclamation as to who this year's beast of the Southeast is. But no one's going to be too scared of a team that can't win on the road.

Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:

Matt Cooke on being a teammate of both AO and Sid the Kid.... Bear Tracks, Bear Tracks!... If you're wondering about Hershey's line combos, wonder no longer.... John Carlson: elite player (scroll about halfway down).

22 comments:

Tyler said...

If Sidney Crosby were to be deported, he'd fall down at the border and would get up begging for a tripping call.

The Peerless said...

If Sidney Crosby were to be deported, and he was stopped at the border, he'd cry "innerfeerence...innerfeerence"

b.orr4 said...

This game has all the makings of a blowout for the Canes. There's the revenge factor from last week's terrible loss, plus they've been stewing since Sunday when they were embarrassed by the Thrashers at home. Throw in the Caps awful road record and the return of a number of injured Canes and you see where it's heading. The one X factor is Ovechkin. Will that third period goal against Tampa be the one that gets him going? If he breaks out tonight, it might be enough to steal a win. That said, I'm not optimistic this is going to be a very enjoyable night.

NS said...

b.orr4 - lets not forget Cam Ward is NOT in net. thats huge...

b.orr4 said...

@ns: I assume you mean huge for the Canes. You think we have a goalie controversy, there's an even bigger one brewing down in Carolina between Ward and Leighton. Although jp is correct in that the Caps haven't faced Leighton in the regular season, we did see him at Verizon in the pre-season and the kid was lights out. If he plays well against the Caps tonight, Ward could be joining JT as backups formerly known as starters.

Drew said...

Nice Stone Roses reference. I thought I was reading a Vogs column for a second there.

As for tonight, I have confidence the Caps will get some production from the top line. Carolina's ice will be better than it was at VC last week, and we managed just fine.

Anonymous said...

As for tonight,also, I have confidence that they will get another production from Brent Johnson if he's again the goaltender.
2 goals fr Ovie tonight and fr Semin

CapsKremlin said...

If Sidney Crosby were deported he'd want to go to China. Because they give golds there for diving, not minor penalties.

jason said...

Since it's relevant for tonight's game, I must voice my agreement with all the comments on the Capitals Insider page that Fehr should play in Clark's place tonight. Fehr needs ice time. He will be good if the team develops him (had a nice goal last game), and Clark is looking lost out there.

Shaggy said...

The Canes are 3-3 at home - not exactly blowing anyone away. I tell you, I wonder about the heart of that team. I think their exquisite failure to make the playoffs is still eating at them, just like the SE division crown hangover has plagued the Caps (and obviously Ovie and Backstrom).

this space for rent said...

3-1 Caps at the end of the first. Very nice first period with the exception of penalties, which positively SUCK. Let's just hope they keep it going; this is the crux-point of the game. Do they keep it going or do they go soft on a lead. If they keep it going, we should be okay. If they start going soft, we're in trouble.

jason said...

Caps have been very good so far. (4-1 at the moment). Johnson's apparent groin injury is alarming (and hopefully minor) but Jose has filled in well so far.

Also, thrilled to see Semin get selfish on a 2-on-1 break with Backstrom. Semin turned it over, but nearly scored. I'll take that turnover over the hot potato routine.

Ogre said...

Leighton is trash. Every time I have watched him, he gives up garbage goal after garbage goal. "Controversy" my ass.

this space for rent said...

5-1 with a little under two minutes to play. Yeah, it's a blowout all right....

jason said...

The Caps may have taken a lot of bad penalties, but man that 8-19-28 line was unstoppable tonight. The checking lines were also humming along out there. I really like the way the team kept the pressure up in the 3rd - reminded me of the playoff push last year.

And, I don't want to say it too loud, but Theodore did a really nice job in relief.

Hazardous said...

I lol'd reading these comments AFTER the game. Was I the only one not worried about the terrible ass hurricanes?

Ovechkin seems to have snapped out of it... Maybe backstrom's late tally will have done the same...
And holy mother of god Semin was a man on fire out there.

This is the team we expected to see all season. Hopefully they'll stay that way.

(And let's be serious, most of those penalties weren't really penalties, but attempts at evening up the game)

DMG said...

(And let's be serious, most of those penalties weren't really penalties, but attempts at evening up the game)

Prior to the Capitals third goal there were two penalties called on the Caps, one of which was automatic (puck over the glass).

After the Capitals third goal there were ten penalties called; five on Carolina and five on Washington.

wittcap79 said...

Veni, vidi, vici...bitches

b.orr4 said...

This is why I never bet on games. I couldn't be happier to be completely wrong on this one. A full 60 minute game and JT pitches a shutout (at least for 40 minutes). Can you say first place?

Hazardous said...

@DMG: If you noticed, a lot of the calls on us were when the game was still within reach, when Carolina could've put in a power play tally (and they did with 1, and we threw it right back to them so naturally a second is in order, right?) and gotten back in the game. Most of the calls against Carolina came late in the game after it was obviously out of reach and frustration lead them to do dumb shit.


The difference is carolina earned a lot of theirs. I spotted one obvious make-up call. I'm sick of seeing someone tap someone with the blade of their stick and get called for "hooking." But pretend we don't get screwed on penalties all the damn time if it makes you feel better.

Ogre said...

Frankly, with the rules as they are, if you're crashing the net, and you feel a stick, you are free to fall over and cream the opponent's goalie. That was NOT a hook on Erskine. It was a dive and a goalie interference. But with this "hooking" bullshit, it's going against defensemen. You aren't allowed to play defense on players who don't have the puck anymore. The game is turning into a "guard the lanes basketball" style than the traditional hockey roots, and frankly, I'm getting sick of that.

bigonetimer said...

Someone else who had a very strong game last night was Brash. Though credited with only one SOG, he had at least 3-4 hits and was making some plays out there last night that no typical NHL goon makes. He has the best hands, not just for fighting, of any tough guy in the league.