The Capitals are the best and most dangerous team in the league right now. They are a perfect 7-0, they are averaging almost a goal per game more than any other team with 30 goals in seven games, and they’ve only given up two goals a game, which is 6th lowest in the league. Their PP is clicking at a ridiculous rate of 29.6%, and the only area of their game that isn’t excellent is their PK. They’ve given up four goals on 22 chances for a below-average 81.4%
The Caps haven’t played since Saturday when they spanked Detroit 7-1. Going into that game the Wings were the only other undefeated team in the league, and the Caps crushed them. The Oilers will need to be at their best tonight to keep up, but their young trio has made an impression.
Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "I think they should send him down before tonight’s game," he laughed. It is clear the Caps are aware of him and his linemates, but they aren’t worried yet.
Yesterday when Alex Ovechkin was asked about the Oilers’ young guns he knew that Nugent-Hopkins had scored a hat trick, although he couldn’t remember his name right away, and he said he’d met Taylor Hall, but it’s not like he has been studying their early season success. He didn’t know how to say Paajarvi (although few of us do), but he had an inkling of who they were.
I’m not surprised he didn’t know all their stats or early-season accomplishments. The last time the Caps were in town I was lucky enough to secure the only one-on-one interview with him. I met him in the lobby of the Sutton Place and chatted for 20 minutes. At the end of the interview I asked him which other young players he enjoys watching, "I don’t watch other players. I only worry about Alexandre Ovechkin."
He didn’t say it an arrogant way, but it was clear he is highly competitive and wants to be the best. With all the hype surrounding Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle you can expect Ovechkin to be flying tonight. Nugent-Hopkins admitted he is excited to face one of the league’s best, and while he’ll try to look at him like just another play he did sheepishly admit, "It’s pretty damn cool."
Why wouldn’t it be cool. Two years ago he was probably playing NHL 09 and pretending he was Ovechkin or another one of the league’s superstars.
For the past decade when the schedule came out Oiler fans would look forward to appearances at Rexall by Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jaromir Jagr and others, but now I sense Oiler fans will head to the rink excited to see Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Of course you’ll still want to see the aformentioned stars, but I feel the excitement to watch your own young guns will match that exhuberance.
Ryan Whitney is out week-to-week with a bummed knee, and Theo Peckham will take his spot in the lineup. Peckham will play with Corey Potter as Renney doesn’t want to disrupt two pairings. Gilbert and Smid will see as much of Ovechkin/Backstrom as possible, but the other pairings will likely see them for the odd shift.
Renney said he has no plans right now to call up a D-man for tomorrow’s tilt in Colorado. He hinted on Tuesday that they might contemplate not playing Sutton in back-to-back games, but as of this morning it looks like they will go with these six D-men. It is still possible they could fly Jeff Petry into Denver tomorrow if they wish.
As for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Renney only had this to say, "He’s going on the trip. We’ll see what happens." If anyone believes the kid won’t play tomorrow then they haven’t been paying attention. However, I don’t understand why the Oilers can’t just announce he is staying. What will it hurt?
Today in Florida during practice, head coach Kevin Dineen announced that Erik Gudbranson was staying and the team cheered. I guess Renney could do that after tonight, but I’m not sure why all the secrecy. It is clear the kid deserves to be here, so why not just end the speculation?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I expect a high-flying game. The Capitals have lots of depth, and they have lots of size in their lineup. Khabibulin will keep it close, but the Caps win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ovechkin will rip a snap shot top-shelf on the PP, while RNH will maintain his point-a-game pace. After the game someone will actually ask Renney if the kid is staying. Renney pissed that his team lost, will roll his eyes and say, "he is making the trip." Tomorrow afternoon a diehard Oiler fan will tweet from outside Pepsi arena in Colorado that RNH is in the lineup, and he’ll be trending in Edmonton within moments.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ladislav Smid told me he had a hockey dream last night, but didn’t want to specify what it was. It sounded like he dreamt he scored. I’m a firm believer that dreams can come true, and I expect he will score a goal, just not tonight. Instead of scoring a goal, he will end up in a scuffle with Alex Semin. Semin, the worst puncher in the history of the game (see below) will hit Smid square in the face, but he won’t budge. They will get roughing penalties, and while sitting in the box Smid will be pumped that he took a direct shot and didn’t flinch. He’ll go on to be +1 while playing against the Ovechkin line all night. That will feel almost as satisfying as scoring a goal.