Caps Need a Win Badly
The Philadelphia Flyers manhandled the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of their best of seven Stanley Cup Playoff Series and now it is up to the Caps to come out and respond in Game 4 at the Wachovia Center on Broad Street on Thursday night. If the Caps do not win then they will trail three games to one and would be on the brink of elimination.
The Flyers have done a great job of containing Alexander Ovechkin thanks to Flyers defensemen Braydon Coburn, who seems to be in Ovechkin’s face on every shift. Coburn has been preventing Ovechkin from going around him or finding space to shoot the puck.
The biggest problem the Caps face on offense right now is their lack of desire to go to the net and pay the price for some cheap goals. Flyer goalie Martin Biron has been barely touched while Philadelphia has run rough shod over Caps goalie Cristobal Huet. The Flyers tactics have paid off and Huet has been assaulted throughout the first three games. His weak glove hand has also been exposed; something former Flames GM Craig Button was quick to point out on the NHL Network on Tuesday night. If I am coaching the Caps, it is time to switch to Olie Kolzig in net. Kolzig is bigger; more experienced, and has a better glove hand. Huet looks tired and could use a rest. I’ve seen goaltending changes work before, even if for just one game (who can forget Bob Sauve against the Caps in Game 5 of their series with the Devils in 1988?).
What would also help is if the Caps defensemen do a better job of clearing the net and making better passes in their own zone. Milan Jurcina’s flubbed pass up the middle led to the Flyers third goal on Tuesday night. I have no idea what he was trying to do on that play and that puck should have been going up the boards. Coach Bruce Boudreau has been seemingly forced to put Jurcina and John Erskine out on the ice every so often and this leads to big trouble for the Caps. The Flyers have taken advantage of this very weak defensive pairing. With Jeff Schultz re-inured Boudreau will likely have to re-insert Steve Eminger into the lineup and increase the number of minutes that go to Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, and Tom Poti. Boudreau should shorten the defensive bench because it is pretty much do or die time.
On offense Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom must start shooting the puck, especially on the power play. The Flyers know that these guys look to pass first which makes Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Green easier to defend. It is no wonder that the Caps power play is operating at a woeful 12.5% in this series. I’d insert Poti on the point and move Ovechkin in front of the net. Fedorov can man the point on the second unit. Viktor Kozlov remains a no show so far in these playoffs. With his size he should be going to the net every shift. The Caps have gotten unexpected goals from Donald Brashear, Dave Steckel, and Eric Fehr in this series while the top guys like Backstrom, Fedorov, Semin, and Kozlov have been unable to help fill the scoring void. Ovechkin can only do so much but if those guys can get going then the ice opens up for the Great #8.
The bottom line is Philadelphia seems to want it more than the Caps do right now. A loss on Thursday and the series could be over on Saturday at the Verizon Center. I’m switching my series pick to the Flyers in six games.
Overall it looks like the series in the Eastern Conference are fairly lopsided at this point while each one in the Western Conference is very close. Here is a quick look at each series:
Ottawa – Pittsburgh
As predicted the Pens swept the woeful and beaten up Senators in four games. By going from the Stanley Cup Finals to a first round exit this year, the ownership and fans in Ottawa cannot be happy. Senators defensemen Wade Redden, who is an unrestricted free agent, likely played his last game in Ottawa on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a very good Penguins team gets to rest up and get ready for round two. Pittsburgh looks like they could be tough to beat and goalie Marc Andre-Fleury had a .955 save percentage in the series.
Rangers – Devils
Well Martin Brodeur did not live up to my Game 4 predicted form so it looks like the Devils will soon be going to the golf course after a Rangers 4-3 win Wednesday night put New York up three games to one in this series. Hockey Night in Canada Radio Host Jeff Marek (Sirius 122) spoke on the air and in his blog about Rangers forward Sean Avery who, whether you like him or not, is entertaining. Avery pushes the envelope on the ice but is a competitor and as Marek wrote, is a fitting storyline in New York these days. Looks like the pest will be around for round two.
Bruins – Canadiens
Montreal rookie Goalie Carey Price stopped 27 shots on Tuesday night for Montreal to put the Canadiens up three games to one in this playoff series. Price is now 15-4 since GM Bob Gainey decided to go with Price and trade Huet to the Caps. Is Price the next Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden? Habs fans sure hope so. This series will end in Montreal on Thursday night as the Bruins are out of gas.
Wild – Avalanche
This has been a very physical and sometimes dirty series but Colorado torched the Wild 5-1 on Tuesday night to even this series at two games apiece. I’ve heard some analysts say the Wild are just too fast for Colorado but I still think the Avalanche prevail in seven games. Game 5 is Thursday in Minnesota.
After getting physically beaten up in Game 3 at the Saddledome the San Jose Sharks said enough is enough and came out and took it to the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of this series. Sharks Coach Ron Wilson started tough guy Jody Shelley and the physical Ryane Clowe along side center Joe Thornton to open the game on Tuesday night. After a shaky first period the Sharks started to take over the game and they held the Flames to only 10 shots on net for the game (lowest in an NHL playoff game since 1968). This extremely low total was helped by the fact that Calgary couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn missing the net or hitting the crossbar on good chances in the game (Daymond Langkow hit the crossbar instead of making it 3-1 Flames midway through the 3rd period). Despite their low shot total the Flames still led 2-1 with six minutes left only to see Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff give up a weak game tying goal to Jonathan Cheechoo deep in the right wing corner from a bad angle. The Flames then lost on Thronton’s screened tip in with just nine seconds left in regulation. Look for San Jose to win the next two games and end this series.
Red Wings – Predators
Don’t look now but Barry Trotz is doing the best coaching job of the playoffs so far as the Predators evened their series with Detroit tonight at two games apiece with a 3-2 win in Nashville. The Red Wings seem to bring out the best in Nashville. However, I see Detroit winning game five in Hockeytown on Friday night and taking this series.
Stars – Ducks
Dallas goalie Marty Turco continues to struggle at home in the playoffs and Chris Pronger played an outstanding game scoring two goals in staking the Ducks to a 4-0 lead through two periods in their Game 3 win on Tuesday night. Game 4 is Thursday night in Dallas and I think the Ducks are back and will even that series at two games apiece. The Ducks defense is very strong but they do miss checking line forward Rob Niedermayer who is suffering from concussion like symptoms. Ducks win the next three games and take this series in six games.