GDB 68.0: NO BACKSTROM FOR FIRST TIME IN CAREER

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.

QUICK HITS

  • 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.

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT 

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. 

  • Horcsky

    Disagree with your assessment of Giroux last night Gregor. He was one of the few guys getting to the net, and he actually created at least one legitimate chance. How many forwards last night created no chances?

    Oiler fans and management are too focused on skating skills. That’s why we have had a bunch of speedy forwards with no hands and no hockey sense since the 90’s.

  • Spector’s “They’ll need a smoke and a blindfold” comment on your show yesterday was the funniest description of the Oilers playing overmatched squads I’ve ever heard. Same thought applies tonight I’m afraid.

  • Jason Gregor

    There is no doubt Chara knew the stansion was there, players spend most of their lives on ice rinks and the familiarity is like the back of their hand. I don’t belive he wanted to hurt Pacioretti to the degree he did. He has to finish the check and I would guess he feels confident he did the right thing in that respect, especially in a game with the emotion from the previous game, history between the teams and the current run to Lord Stanley. Chara’s not a bad guy, and Pacioretti didn’t deserve to get as hurt as he did. It is an unfortunate event.

  • Peterborough

    The Chara hit should be a suspension 5-6 games. He totally ment to drive him in. I’m sure he didn’t want to injure him like that; however, he did end up injuring him and has to be aware and protect players in vulnerable positions. If this was Avery on Stamkos it would be a life-time ban!

  • Any interest in a Live Chat here for the game tonight?

    *FlamesNation has been doing it for the last month. I bet there wouldn’t even be as many people as FN usually gets (20ish).

    **Challenge extended 😉

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Smids reaction after the hit was odd, hanging around to say you’re sorry, i didn’t mean it, was a little out of place. He would’ve been better off grabbing the first Flyer to come his way and let them think it was intentional.

    • DougWeightProblem

      I liked his reaction. It showed respect for the opposition and remorse for an obviously dirty play. With the current culture of buzzwords like “headshots” that convey disrespect to one’s opponent, it’s nice to see that Smid knew what he did was wrong, and was willing to accept what was coming to him.

      • Pilgor09

        Someone on Philly should have grabbed Smid and kicked the crap out of him. Who cared if he showed remorse, it was dangerous. Remember when Handzus nailed Hemsky from behind? It ended Hemsky’s season and not 1 Oiler even went over to talk to Handzus. Crap like that pisses me off, standup for your teammates.

        • Spydyr

          Running someone face first into the boards should cause teammates to stand up for each other.What I cannot stomach ,in todays game, is every big clean hit even in open ice requires someone to go after the hitter.What ever happened to clean hard hitting hockey. Keep your head up and your stick on the ice.

          • Pilgor09

            Yes I totally agree. That is my point though, someone on Philly should have anihilated Smid. That was a dirty fricken hit. Just because he looks like he didn’t mean to do it doesn’t mean he should get away with it. A hit like that could end someones carreer.

            But when people fight for clean hits, I find that part of the game to be stupid as well.

        • DougWeightProblem

          A Philly retort would have been a fair reaction as well, and I would hope Smid was expecting that. Standing up for your teammates is all well and good, but you have to stand up for yourself to, and that includes taking responsibility for what you do on the ice, both good and bad.

  • Spydyr

    OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The TSN panel will cut away…..seems Brian Burke was contemplating a bowel moment…….but it was only gas.More hot air coming out of the centre of the universe it seems.

  • Spydyr

    The NHL should stop trying to figure out intentions and just call it “dangerous play” and deal with it. Throwing a guy at the turnbuckle is always dangerous. If a player repeats the intent will be revealed. It was dangerous and should be out of the game, supend offenders, in this case Chara.

  • DoubleJ

    I”ve watched this hit over and over. Chara is leaning on him and then Chara straight arms him right into the glass. Because Chara has never been suspended and he’s a star in the nhl nothing happens.

    What a bunch of BS.

  • OilFan

    Not sugeesting what Chara was thinking but the initial contact was at the turnbuckle. He used his hands on the hit when the puck was no where near them. Every player knows where that spot on the ice , Chara was facing it. This makes the NHL look bad since it was a head shot. Even if this hit happend somewhere else on the ice it would be a head shot . Or am i missing something?

  • Jason Gregor

    UH OH….Oilers might get a win tonight…

    “Khabibulin got special permission to play with a Torspo model Russian language goal stick 2nite.”

    Courtesy of Jay Grossman…

    Who didn’t use a Torspo as a kid? They rocked. If it is like the round blue one they used to have, the Oilers will win for sure…

  • DoubleJ

    This is the worst D in nhl history? Seriously. Strudwick must have iced it four or five time already. Foster is a waste of space just horrible. Good lord it’s hard to watch this crap.

    Khabi and his lucky russian hockey stick are bringing the fans back to reality.