Who: Washington Capitals (1-3-0)
When: Tonight, 7:00PM EST
Where: Verizon Center (Washington Capitals tickets)
The Dangermen: There should be at least one familiar name to all of you and just about anyone who plays the Captials. It’s no surprise that after winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP for the third time last year, Alex Ovechkin has come out swinging in the 2013-14 season. He’s tied for the league lead in points with seven through four games and looks just as dynamic as ever.
Anyone who’s watched him play knows his game: he’s a dynamic skater who can turn on the jets at any moment and possesses one of the game’s most lethal one-timers. He scores goals in bunches and loves doing it. Defense? Eh, but who needs that anyways? Ovechkin is a threat from anywhere on the ice at any time and he scores ridiculous goals. So now matter how well the defense plays tonight, Ovechkin is likely to be a threat regardless.
Next to him is the woefully underrated Nicklas Backstrom. The young Swede has five points already this year and has been one of the better playmakers the NHL has offer for the last couple of seasons. But when you play in the shadow of the “Great 8″, people tend to not notice your contributions so much. He’s also a much more complete player than Ovechkin, taking faceoffs (obviously) and showing at least a habit of trying to play defense. He’s not likely to beat you with a goal of his own but he’ll thread a pass through everyone that will land on a teammates’ stick.
Then there’s newcomer Mikhail Grabovski. He’s always been a pretty decent player but he’s played very well so far so he must be picturing that he’s playing a Randy Carlyle-led team each night. He was in a top-six role with Toronto before before being converted to a shutdown center so he’ll be versatile for the Caps. Right now, they’re looking at him to score and he’s doing that better than anyone not name “Ovechkin”. His three goals is as many as the rest of the team, save Ovechkin, has combined.
Behind them, there’s lots of speed, a little grit, and almost no production. This team is struggling for obvious reasons and the scoresheet is hiding the fact that they can’t score outside of two or three guys. They’ll need to get more balanced and get better defensive play from the forwards if they want to start racking up the wins.
The Defenders: On the whole, this is a young, unproven group. But one familiar face is back and doing what he does best.
Mike Green was never known as the stoutest of defensemen but he’s always been able to rack up the points. This year, he’s off to a great start with four assists in his first four games. His big issue is staying healthy; it’s a rarity that he sees a whole season and usually has a nagging groin/hamstring type issue that doesn’t completely derail his season but definitely hinders it. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be challenging Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most points by a defenseman.
Behind that, it’s a ton of youth and mostly unknowns. The duo of John Carlson and Karl Alzner are obvious talents but have yet to put it all together to become complete defensemen. They’ll need to play much better than they have in the first four games of the season, but the blame isn’t entirely on them. The defense and goaltending combined have not been good.
The group is rounded out by Connor Carrick, an under-sized defenseman, John Erskine, a big, physical defender who isn’t much more than that, and youngsters Jack Hillen and Alexander Urbom. This group is in the bottom half of the league in shots against per game and goals against per game. They’ll need to tighten things up if they want to get things right.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: It’s the same story as always: platoon time in Washington. For the most part, it’s been Braden Holtby so far but the Avalanche will be seeing backup Michal Neuvirth, who came on in relief of Holtby, stopping 27 of 28 shots as the team came back for its only win.
The story for him is the same as it’s been the last couple of seasons: he’s a solid butterfly goaltender with obvious talent but he’s inconsistent and has a tendency to let soft goals past him. Those can be deflating and have shown to be just that for this Caps team. This group has a reputation to let those goals crush them.
Neuvirth does have the talent to turn in a stellar performance once in awhile and that’s what he’s going to be asked to do here. If Holtby doesn’t get his act together, though, he might be asked to take over the starting gig. Then it’ll get interesting.
How the Avs match up: The Avs possess the kind of team that can get into the heads of the Captials. Fast, aggressive, and hungry, they could find themselves frustrating the Caps early and often. If the Caps are forced into mistakes, the Avalanche have three strong lines that can capitalize.
The one area things could get dicey is if the Avalanche can’t stay out of the box. The Caps naturally possess one of the best power plays in the game (over 35% success rate) and could really hurt Colorado if they get too lax, despite the fact that they have the best penalty kill in the league. Should be interesting.
Key Matchup: Avs top-rated penalty kill vs the Caps power play.
Cower in fear if: There is a line to the Avalanche penalty box.
The Caps defense isn’t responding to the pressure from the Avs forwards.
Neuvirth play well enough to steal one.
Laugh maniacally if: Varly plays his balls off (this is going to be here from now on).
Ovechkin is kept relatively in check.
The forwards are constantly in the face of the Caps defenders and turnovers happen in abundance.
Silly predictions: The Avs forwards are going to wear out the Caps defense; Varly isn’t quite as invincible as he’s been; Neuvirth lets in at least one crippling, soft goal; Duchene goes off for a multi-goal game.
Final: 4-2 Avalanche
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