The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It is Opening Night, the 36th in Washington Capitals history. The Caps carry a 19-14-2 record in home openers into this game against the New Jersey Devils. Some other tidbits about home openers…
Record at Capital Centre: 10-13-1
Record at Verizon Center: 9-1-1
Team most often faced: Philadelphia (six times)
Team most often beaten by Caps: Philadelphia, Carolina (twice each)
Team most often beating the Caps: Philadelphia (four times)
Most goals scored against opponent (game): seven (8-7 loss to NY Islanders, 1983)
Most goals allowed to opponent: eight (8-7 loss to NY Islanders, 1983)
Shutouts versus opponents: two (1-0 vs. Anaheim in 1998; 2-0 vs. Carolina in 2007)
Shutouts by opponents: None, the Caps have never been shutout in a home opener
Overtime decisions: two (8-7 loss to NY Islanders in 1983; 2-2 tie vs. Los Angeles in 1999)
Longest winning streak: eight games (current)
Longest losing streak: three (1984-1986, all losses coming against Philadelphia)
“You swallow the media guide, cuz?”
I kinda knew you guys would show up. And what are you carrying with you, Fearless?
Looks like you brought a whole department store.
“Well, Ted told us to.”
And what is that get up you have on, Cheerless?
“You remember them critters stompin’ back o’ my cabin last summer?"
Can’t even see your face in there, cuz.
“Did you really want to?”
Tonight the Caps try to get onto the winning track facing one of their most difficult opponents, the New Jersey Devils. Since the Caps achieved a level of respectability over the past three seasons, making the playoffs in each, they have posted a 5-3-4 mark against the Devils. But the Devils were 3-1-0 against the Caps last year, a few more pelts added to goalie Martin Brodeur’s take at the expense of the Caps over his career. The indomitable one has a regular season career record against the Caps of 36-13-4, with a 2.15 goals against average and six shutouts. He is 12-3-0 against the Caps since the lockout. If the Caps win tonight, they will have to earn it, even though he was not sharp in the Devils’ opener against Dallas (24 saves on 28 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss last night).
The Devils, a team long thought of as stifling on defense and boring on offense, will dress a bona-fide sniper to start the season for perhaps the first time in their history. After many twists and turns, Ilya Kovalchuk is, and will be for a long time, a Devil. Kovalchuk brings a career scoring line of 24-28-52 in 44 career games against the Caps into tonight’s game. Kovalchuk had a pair of assists in the Devils’ loss last night.
Kovalchuk will provide quite a complement on offense to Zach Parise, who continues to give indications that he has to be in the conversation of who are the best players in the game. Parise has been the Devils’ most lethal offensive weapon for the past four seasons, topping 30 goals in each of them (38 last season). He also can be very difficult to contend with on the power play, having averaged more than ten extra-man markers over those same four seasons. He is 5-9-14 in 20 career games against the Caps.
For a club long known for defense, the Devils will look very different in that regard this season. Last night, four defensemen took the ice for the first time in a Devils sweater – Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, Matt Taormina, and Alexander Urbom. Tallinder and Volchenkov were free agent acquisitions this past summer, and they bring almost 900 games of NHL regular season experience to the Devils’ blue line. With Andy Greene and Colin White, that makes almost 1,800 games worth of experience on the back line for New Jersey’s top-four.
Taormina is an interesting case. His history suggests more than a passing resemblance to former Devil Brian Rafalski. About the same size (Taormina is 5’10”, 185; Rafalski is 5’10”, 194), both had NCAA experiences (Rafalski at Wisconsin, Taormina at Providence), both were born in Michigan (Rafalski in Dearborn, Taormina in Warren), and neither was drafted. Rafalski averaged more than 20 minutes a night in the last six seasons he played in New Jersey; Taormina got off on the right foot in that regard, logging almost 22 minutes last night.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Travis Zajac
With the Devils being active in the free agent market this past summer and Kovalchuk finally being signed to a long-term, big money deal, there was speculation that the Devils might have to jettison some real talent. Zajac’s name came up from time to time as a possible sacrifice (perhaps more wishful thinking on the part of other teams than any real possibility of his being moved). But now, with a couple of big scorers he could be matched with in Kovalchuk or Parise, a different set of possibilities presents itself. Over the past two seasons he is 45-84-129, plus-55 in playing every game. He might put up bigger numbers than the 67-point career high he had last year. He got off on the right foot last night with a goal and an assist, and he brings a 3-9-12 career scoring line against the Caps into tonight’s game.
Washington: Michal Neuvirth
Neuvirth was okay last night, very good on occasion, especially given how much time Atlanta was spending in the Caps’ end of the ice. But he, like the rest of the club, did not look consistently sharp. Tonight he gets to play in the home opener. This is an unexpected turn of events, but it is part of the early season opportunity Neuvirth is getting, if not leapfrog Semyon Varlamov as the number one goaltender, then to keep himself in the conversation. He has one career appearance against the Devils, a 4-1 win last year in which he stopped 29 of 30 shots. In case you are wondering, he had allowed one goal to Ilya Kovalchuk in two games he has faced him.
1. Show up. The Caps we know didn’t appear in Philips Arena last night. Almost to a man they looked rather lethargic. The Caps have not lost consecutive games to start a season since 1996, and they haven’t lost a home opener since dropping a 4-1 decision to Los Angeles in 2000. A sleepy performance tonight is not on the program.
2. Shoot the puck…on net. An odd stat about Martin Brodeur. In games after January 1st last season in which he faced more than 30 shots he was 4-3-3. He still stops the puck (a .915 save percentage in those situations, versus .916 for the season), but his GAA was 3.01. That suggests that the Caps are going to have to find a way to negotiate pucks through a defense that has the shot blocking machine – Anton Volchenkov – getting in the way.
3. Give Neuvy a break. No, don’t sit him (although back-to-backs to start the season seem an iffy proposition), but don’t make him work so hard so early. Eleven shots faced in the first period is not an extraordinary load of work, but it seemed as if the ice sheet was only 100-feet long. The Thrashers spent almost all of the first 20 minutes in the Caps’ end. If they are allowing that kind of zone time tonight, Kovalchuk is going to make them pay.
In the end, last night might have been (one hopes) a bit of a wake up call. Every player and coach at one time or another says that you can’t just throw your sticks out onto the ice and expect to win. And every player and coach at one time or another watches as a team does just that. It seemed the Caps were guilty of that last night. There is really no excuse for it tonight. The last time this team wore red sweaters in a game that meant anything, they had a crushing disappointment. Tonight they take the first step in ridding themselves of that feeling.
If they show up…
Caps 3 – Devils 2