The Washington Capitals have one of the best pure snipers in the world. They have a top class playmaking center, and a dazzling offensive defenseman. Their support players would put the top line of the Toronto Maple Leafs to shame. They have a duo of promising goalies and a couple of up and coming young studs on the blue line. And oh yeah, they have Alex Ovechkin. For some reason however, unknown to many hockey fans, the Capitals are dredging through the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference.
Through 51 games, the Caps have 63 points and are clinging to 5th in the East (just seven points ahead of a red hot 9th place Carolina). Ovie and company are an average 4-3-3 in their last 10 and can’t seem to reclaim the dominance they’ve enjoyed over the past few season. Much of the blame has been placed in two areas.
Firstly, Washington’s top guns are simply not matching expectations. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are on pace for 82, 73, and 62 points respectively. None are playing with the gusto shown in years past, and the club’s top point getters aren’t demonstrating the swagger that brought them the President’s trophy. Mike Knuble, who is usually a guaranteed 25-30 goal scorer, will have trouble cracking the 20 goal mark, and Mike Green is showing everyone why he wasn’t selected to Canada’s Olympic roster. Also taking some heat is head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau’s recent appearance on HBO’s Penguins Capitals 24/7, demonstrated his mastery of the English Language, but not much else. Boudreau showed few signs of a coach leading his team, and even fewer sign of being an effective motivator. Boudreau’s tenure in Washington may be coming to an end sooner rather than later if he can’t will his team to put up a few better performances.
The Habs enter into Washington for tonight’s contest with 6 wins and 2 overtime losses in its last 10 games, with a chance of creating a more comfortable buffer zone between a playoff birth and an early tee time. Montreal will be relying on the continual solid play of Tomas Plekanec (who has 4 points in his last 3 games) and the sudden reawakening of Andrei Kostitsyn and Scott Gomez. P.K. Subban will also have to continue his recent strong defensive play, as the loaded but slumbering Washington lineup could explode at any moment. The Habs will have to focus, as a whole, on a number of key areas if they hope to be successful tonight.
The Habs should pepper whichever goalie starts for the Caps tonight, which is almost impossible to predict due to Boudreau running a 2-3 goalie system. Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby have all been shaky at times this season, and the Habs should attempt to capitalize on any rust that may have accumulated over the all-star break. Also, tonight may be the night where the Habs can afford to play with some aggressively and edge in their game. Since the 26 game mark, the Capitals powerplay has been running under 10% efficiency. Also, the team shouldn’t rely too heavily on their own powerplay, as Washington’s PK is second only to Pittsburgh’s.
The Caps will be without the services of Tom Poti and Eric Fehr, while Alexander Semin, Blake Sloan and Neuvirth are all questionable. The Habs meanwhile are still missing Mike Cammalleri, along with Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges. Carey Price is expected to make the start.
Puck drop is at 7:30.