They say that misery loves company, and while you know precisely how miserable the Caps have been on most nights this fall, you may not have noticed that they're only two points behind the Panthers (with two games in hand) in the Southeast standings. How's that for company?
The Kitties actually have a very good power play (welcome "Brian Rafalski-lite" Cory Murphy to the, um, rivalry) and a good penalty kill, but have been absolutely brutal five-on-five. Overall, the Cats are scoring just .12 goals per game more than the Caps and surrendering .28 goals per game more than the boys from D.C. Florida has lost four straight entering Thursday night's game (including a heart-breaker to Atlanta on Tuesday) and have the same 3-6-1 record over their last ten games as the Caps do over their last ten.
On the personnel front, old buddy Richard Zednik has a half-dozen goals in 15 games (which would be good enough for second-most on the Caps), Olli Jokinen is Olli Jokinen and Tomas Vokoun has yet to prove to be the South Beach Savior in between the pipes (7-9-0, 3.13, .913). But when it comes to the Panthers, it's always the Stumpels, Weisses and Sims that seem to kill the Caps, so be on the lookout for - I dunno - David Booth tonight. [Note: for a more in-depth and not-yet-totally-outdated refresher on the Cats, check out my preseason preview over at FanHouse]
For their part, the Caps should get a shot in the arm with the return of Chris Clark . Forget about his skill and potential on the first line for a second (hard to do, I know) - it's his leadership that has been most sorely missed and will be a welcome addition to the Caps lineup. And if you're playing "Guess Which Viktor Kozlov Shows Up Tonight" at home, flip a coin as the third-highest scorer in Panther history returns to Florida, a team against whom he has eight points in 13 career games but was held scoreless against in four games last year as an Islander.
On the road to the playoffs (or at least to respectability), you've gotta beat the teams you've gotta beat, and for both the Caps and the Panthers, tonight's opponent is one of those teams. The loser will find themselves in the Southeast cellar. The winner... well, they'll still have some pretty miserable company nearby.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Rink Reader Jan asked me for an Eric Fehr update a week-and-a-half ago and, with my apologies for letting it slip through the cracks, Tarik provided one yesterday.... For a Pens fan's take on yesterday's Caps practice, check out frequent commentor Hooks Orpik's blog. Seriously.
- Hart: Vincent Lecavalier (3G, including the game-winner, 2A, +5, 5 SOG, 4 takeaways, 0 giveaways)
- Ross: Vincent Lecavalier (5 points)
- Norris: Paul Ranger (G, A, +3, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots)
- Vezina: Mathieu Garon (29-save shutout shootout win)
- Richard: Vincent Lecavalier (3G)
- Calder: Devin Setoguchi (G, game-clinching shootout goal, +1, 4 SOG, 2 blocked shots)
- Aiken: Cory Stillman (0 points, -4)
I think Zed may be out with the flu?
Also, Tarik should have asked GMGM about Hanlon's status in today's State of the Team piece. You can't do that particular story about a badly underachieving team without asking that (fair) question. Corey sort of asked it, but not exactly.
Prediction: we lose 2-3, the 2nd of our goals coming late in the 3rd period.
i hope i'm wrong, though.
Since you mention him, Cory Murphy left the Panthers last game with a shoulder injury; I don't think he is expected to play tonight.
And that backhanded breakaway goal of Vinny's last night was a keeper. One of the best of the year.
If the Caps screw this up...
Something tells me the Caps will lose tonight, in the process giving one of Florida's players his first career hat trick.
Tarik's article, "Millions and Millions of Problems," does a great job of codifying what's been said thus far about this season's performance, minus the calls for Hanlon's and GMGM's heads.
Clark says a winning season is still doable, Kolzig says the Caps need to put together some winning streaks (and improve special teams play), GMGM blames injuries, and Hanlon has been "caught off guard."
1) The Fehr (non)update says nothing more than what was known 3 months ago.
2) Tarik/others can ask GMGM about hanlon's status, but whats the point. he's not going to EVER say anything provacative/informative. (Does he ever?)
3) No surprise that the Panthers are little better than last year. In our preseason predictions we noted that Vokoun is NOT the saviour some made him out to be. In fact we wrote that he's no upgrade from what they recieved from Eddie Belfour last season.
4) That said, they do possess decent talent up front, have one of the better(unknown) defensemen in the league in Jay Bouwmeester and can beat anyone on any given night
Irony: When Fauxes types that a newspaper report tells us "nothing more than what was known 3 months ago."
(In a related story, anyone can beat anyone on a given night.)
I have to say, after reading the "Millions..." article, the other shoe could drop soon unless the Caps come out of their funk in the next game or two. It's getting to that quarter-mark of the season where GMs have seen enough to feel like moves can be made without seeming hasty. Hanlon isn't helping himself by calling the lack of scoring "mystifying". We all know that Semin and Clark provide offense, but considering the three big forward additions (Nylander, Kozlov and Backstrom) there should be ice time and talent to hold down the fort until they return. It might also help not to expect Clark to approach his goal totals of last year. But if Hanlon can't see what's wrong, and he sees what's happening in practices and morning skates, etc., McPhee is going to be forced to remove him and get someone in there who can at least provide a plan.
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