Nicklas Backstrom will sit out for the first time in his NHL career tonight, ending a streak of 313 consecutive games, because of a thumb injury, but the Caps don’t expect him to be out long. This is a big break for the Oilers, who know what it feels like to lose an offensive star, but even without Backstrom the Capitals will be a formidable foe this evening.
The Capitals are a different team than what we’ve seen in the past.
They no longer play river hockey, and they are done exchanging chances at both ends with no regard to defence. The Capitals coudn’t win in the playoffs when Alex Ovechkin and crew only focused on playing offence. Bruce Boudreau re-vamped their style and the Caps are still one of the best teams in the league.
They have scored the fewest goals of the 16 current playoff bound teams, and are actually 23rd in goals scored in the entire league. The Oilers have only scored SIX fewer goals than the Caps. The big difference is their team defence. The Caps have allowed the 6th fewest goals in the league, and they’ve done that with two young goalies.
It has been reported that Ovechkin has sacrificed offensive production by playing better defence, but that isn’t exactly true. The "Great 8" isn’t leaving the zone early like he used to, but he is still producing five-on-five. Ovechkin is tied for 2nd, with Daniel Sedin, with 50 EV points and they are one back of league-leader Henrik Sedin.
Ovechkin’s production has dipped on the PP. Last year he had 36 PP points, and in 2009 he had 46 on the man advantage.
The Capitals are 24th with the man advantage, and Oveckin only has 19 PP points. D. Sedin has 34 and that’s why he is 15 points ahead of Ovechkin on the leader board. The Caps’ PP was first in 2010 and 2nd in 2009, and both times they were better than 25% on the PP. They are only at 15.8% right now, and if their PP gets hot in the playoffs, they will be hard to beat, because Ovechkin and crew have realized that you need to be strong in both ends to win in the playoffs.
TOUGH PLACE TO WIN
The Oilers haven’t had much success in the past two decades in Washington. They are 2-9-1 in America’s capital city since 1990, although the did pull out a 5-2 in 2009. The Oilers don’t have a lot of guys who have scored against WSH in their career. Shawn Horcoff has three goals v. the Capitals, while Jason Strudwick, Steve MacIntyre, Andrew Cogliano and Kurtis Foster each have one.
- Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start, and in his career he is 8-6-3 with a 2.12 GAA against Washington. He will need to be sharp to keep the Oilers in this one.
- I’ll point out the obvious, but the Oilers need to wake up in the first period. They have been outscored 71-45 in the first frame so far this year. They aren’t much better in the 2nd, 74-55, but they are even at 66-66 in the 3rd. We know they don’t have the skill or experience as most of the other teams, but their competitiveness needs to be higher early in games.
- Alex Giroux, who was recalled on an emergency basis, will get another game before Gilbert Brule returns. Giroux was decent against Colorado, but really struggled in Philly. He has great hands, but it is clear his footspeed is the reason he has never stuck in the NHL.
- Alex Plante struggled a bit in Philly, but I liked how the Oilers kept playing him. He needs to battle through the tough games, and hopefully he’ll improve by learning the hard way.
- The Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty hit is a hot topic today. The end result was horrific, but I’m not sure how people can suggest they know what Chara was thinking. If you look at where the initial contact occured, it doesn’t seem likely that at that point he is thinking about "turnbuckling" Pacioretty. You would have to have a pretty warped mind to be thinking about that when a guy is speeding down on you.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: After a brutal first period last night, the Oilers played quite well in Philly, and if they have any hope of upsetting the streaking Capitals they will need to be ready from the opening faceoff. The Oilers will play a better first period, but it still won’t be enough and the Caps win their sixth straight, 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The TSN panel will discuss everything but the Oiler/Capital game during the first intermission. They will focus on the Chara hit, and will most likely not even discuss the Ladislav Smid hit. (Which I don’t think was worthy of a suspension, but a hit that deserved a game misconduct.)
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Steve MacIntyre will bury his first of the season. He only scores against Calgary and Washington, and tonight he will pot his first of the year. MacIntyre’s goal will ignite a debate over which of the guys who-have-played-30-games-but-don’t-have-a-goal will score before the season ends. Tonight is Smid’s 64th game, while Strudwick and Liam Reddox will be in their 30th of the season and still looking for that elusive first goal.