The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Caps return home from their day trip to Nashville last Saturday to take on the Boston Bruins in a home-and-home set – tonight at Verizon Center and Thursday in Beantown. The Bruins might still be getting their legs under them after opening the season with a pair of games in Prague, CZ, splitting the pair of contests with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Bruins topped the New Jersey Devils last Saturday by a 4-1 margin in their first game on this side of the ocean this season, bringing their record to 2-1-0. Their visit to Verizon Center tonight will end the extended road trip for the Bruins before they open the home portion of their season against the Caps at TD Garden on Thursday.
Of more immediate concern to the Caps is the rash of injuries to their defensemen. Tom Poti, Mike Green, and John Carlson are all nursing injuries to various locations on their bodies (to the extent variety can be defined as “upper” body and “lower” body). In fact, even this level of disclosure is tantamount to revealing state secrets. You wonder what the secret is in talking about…
“Excuse me, sir, but I think you should avoid this subject.”
Oh? And why is that?
“I am not at liberty to say, sir.”
Why are you staring at me like that?
Let me guess, you’re CIA, right?
You’re very good at this stony silence thing.
“Part of the job, sir…”
But you look familiar.
“I look like a lot of people, sir.”
No, that’s not it… I GOT IT!!!
OK, so it’s not “national” security, but the Caps are nothing if not tight-lipped about the slightest hangnail in the locker room. So, it remains to be seen just who will dress for the Caps tonight. The team they will face, though, in the first two games this week is one that was among the best defensive teams in the league last year, but one that also had trouble scoring goals against air, as the numbers from last season reveal…
One of the problems last year’s Bruins had was icing a healthy team on a night-to-night basis. They dressed 33 skaters over the course of last season, but the key is that they had only 13 players dress for at least 60 games. And the missing included some very important cogs in the machine – Milan Lucic missed 32 games, Mark Stuart missed 26 games, Andrew Ference missed 31 games, and of course, Marc Savard missed 41 games.
Savard’s was the most serious injury (concussion and its aftermath) and the one that still has lingering effects. He remains out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms. He has been working out on a stationary bike and was working out with low-impact weights, but there appears no firm timetable on when he will return. That absence ripples through the entire squad in that he has averaged more than a point a game in his 279 games as a Bruin. Of more immediate import, the Bruins will be missing a player who has 48 points in 37 career games against Washington.
The absence of Savard places more pressure on Patrice Bergeron (0-0-3, even, in three games so far), who came back from a severe concussion himself, sustained early in the 2007-2008 season and which caused him to miss the last 72 games of that season. Bergeron seems, if not quite all the way back to his 70-point seasons in the first two years after the lockout, then getting closer to that level of production. Since returning to the lineup, he posted 39 points in 64 games two years ago and was 19-33-52 in 73 games last season. The Bruins had enough faith in his talent and health to sign him to a three-year/$15 million contract extension earlier this month. In 18 career games against Washington he is 5-12-17. According to the Bruins’ media guide, he thinks the best thing about Boston is having a park in the middle of the city. Geez, Washington has a park in the middle of the city, too.
Mark Recchi (0-2-2, plus-3 in three games) was a rookie and was one of three 20-year olds on the 1988-1989 version of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The other two 20-year olds on that team were Zarley Zalapski and Rob Brown. Zalapski and Brown have been out of the NHL for ten years, but Recchi is still going in this, his 22nd season. He is in his third season in Boston (his seventh club, no including those for which he played more than once), having come to the Bruins from Tampa Bay late in the 2008-2009 season. In 102 games for the Bruins he has 28 goals and 61 points, and he seems far from the given-up-for-dead player who struggled with both Atlanta and Tampa Bay a few years ago. Recchi has been a real Cap killer through all of his NHL stops. He has scored more goals against the Caps (47) than he has against any other NHL team, and only the Islanders have been victimized by Recchi for more points.
Boston has a reputation for playing a grinding, physical style of play. In the current version of the Bruins, the embodiment of that style might be reflected in Milan Lucic. The trouble is that Lucic dressed for only 50 games last season as a result of finger and ankle injuries. Assuming he is healthy (and a pair of goals and an assist in three games suggests he’s fine), he is quite a load for the opposition to deal with, a player who will have other players heads on a swivel. But given the Bruins’ troubles on offense last year, Boston needs him to produce at something at or above the 17-25-42 level of production he had in 72 games in the 2008-2009 season. He has not had a great deal of success against the Caps on the offensive end – 1-3-4 in 10 career games against Washington.
In goal, the Bruins might have seen a changing of the guard last season. Tim Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2009, suffered hip trouble and a lack of production that resulted in his splitting time over the season with youngster Tuukka Rask (Thomas starting 43 games, Rask the rest), but yielding the number one job late in the season and for the playoffs. However, tables might be turning at the start of this season. Rask started the season opener against Phoenix in Prague and allowed four goals on 36 shots in a 5-2 loss. Thomas was given the call for the last two games, allowing a single goal on 61 shots in wins over Phoenix (3-0) and New Jersey (4-1). Thomas has a 10-4-2 lifetime record against the Caps, but in his last eight appearances against Washington he is 2-4-2, 3.75, .885. Rask has faced the Caps once, losing a 3-2 overtime decision on April 5th last season.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Zdeno Chara
Really, who else? With Alex Ovechkin hovering near the top of the league scoring rankings (tied for fifth in goals, tied for tenth in assists, tied for third in points), having registered a point in all five games to date this season, and having figured in the game-winning goal in all four Caps wins (two goals, two primary assists), Chara’s ability to nullify Ovechkin will figure prominently in the Bruins’ chances to win one or both of these games. It is worth noting that Ovechkin has scored points in nine of his last ten regular season games, the only time having been shutout coming at the hands of Boston in last season’s finale. It also bears noting that Chara did not play in that game. The last time these two met, Ovechkin recorded a pair of assists and managed six shots on goal in a 3-2 Caps win.
Washington: Mike Knuble
Former Bruin Mike Knuble had a goal and an assist in the first two games for the Caps this season but has gone without a point in the last three contests. Knuble has not had a four-game streak without a point so far as a Cap. Kanoobie is not concerned just yet, but there is a noticeable lack of vigor in his yapping. Boston might be the tonic for him. Last year he was 3-1-4 against his former club, and for his career he is 9-8-17 against the Bruins.
1. OK on the PK. The Caps are a perfect 21-for-21 on the penalty kill so far. On the other hand, only the Calgary Flames have fewer power play goals than the single tally Boston has. The Bruins have come up empty on their last seven tries with the man advantage. Not having Savard severly hampers the Bruins in this area, but if Boston can get a goal or two on the power play, it will be gravy against a team that has played well a man short.
2. First Things First. Boston is the only club yet to score a first period goal in a game this season. The Caps really aren’t much better, having scored only three first period goals in five games. Which team can reverse this trend will have a considerable advantage.
3. The Land of the Giants. Boston has four defensemen tipping the scales at 210 pounds or more. The Caps have one of the biggest teams in the league and have eight forwards at 210 pounds or more. It will be a dogfight in close with the likes of Knuble, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, and Matt Hendricks fight for space among the Bruin defenders. Add in the 200-pound Brooks Laich, who does a fair amount of his work from in close, and it could be that the games will be decided by who wins the battle 15 feet from the Bruin net.
In the end, this is the story of the irresistible force (the Caps) and the immoveable object (the Bruin defense). Last season the irresistible force had the best of it, the Caps taking the season series with a 3-0-1 record and outscoring the Bruins 14-7 (not including Gimmicks). And the convergence of the force and object is where Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara meet. In the three games in which the two met last year, Ovechkin was 3-3-6, plus-4. If he enjoys that kind of success against Chara and the Bruins this week, it could be – should be – another good one for the Caps.
Tuesday: Caps 4 – Bruins 2
Thursday: Caps 3 – Bruins 1