Critical Weekend for Caps
With the Carolina Hurricanes knocking off the Atlanta Thrsahers last night, 5-3, they widened their lead over the Washington Capitals by four points in the Southeast division (Carolina has played 3 more games than the Caps). This is a critical weekend for the Caps and Saturday’s 5pm contest in Raleigh is now looking more and more like a must win for Washington. Then on Sunday things get really difficult as the boys in Red, White, and Blue take on the red hot New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center at 3pm.
The Caps are having trouble scoring goals and Alexander Ovechkin is now pointless in his last three games and has been passed by Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the overall scoring lead. The good news for Washington is they continue to generate scoring chances however they just aren’t finishing them. Ovechkin hit the post four times himself in Wednesday’s loss to the New York Islanders. Washington dominated the game and the shot total, 30-19, against the Isles but couldn’t insert the dagger into NY after taking an early 2-0 lead. The Caps need to get some ugly goals right now to snap them out of their scoring drought so look for the forwards to really drive to the net hard in Raleigh on Saturday.
With the lack of goal scoring there is little margin for error for the Caps in net and Olie Kolzig cannot give up goals on shots from below the goal line like he did to Josef Vasicek on Wednesday night. You can expect Kolzig and Brent Johnson to split the goaltending duties this weekend.
The NHL General Manager meetings just concluded this week and apparently there is a concern about the overall lack of goal scoring in the league. The debate is whether to enlarge the nets or continue to limit the size of the goaltenders equipment (and enforce it as well). On Hockey Night in Canada radio on Sirius Channel 122 this week former NHL net-minders Kelly Hrudey and Chico Resch discussed the issue. Both agreed that enlarging the net was not a good idea and reducing goalie equipment was the way to go as long as safety of the goaltenders wasn’t comprised. Resch said he thinks that the added size of equipment is allowing goalies to simply stand in net and let the puck hit them. He says the days of great snap glove saves are long gone, except for Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Mikka Kiprusoff who still rely heavily on reflexes. Resch pointed out that there seems to be way too much padding for the goalies in the upper arm (bicep and tricep area). Both also noted that the league recognized that they are not doing a good enough job enforcing the equipment rules by failing to do consistent checking/testing of the goalie equipment.
The trade deadline is this Tuesday, February 26th at 3pm and the following teams are looking like they will be sellers (notable unrestricted free agents are listed):
Los Angeles Kings (Rob Blake, Ladislav Nagy, Brad Stuart, Scott Thornton, Brian Willsie)
Edmonton Oilers (Marty Reasoner, Geoff Sanderson)
Chicago Blackhawks (Martin Lapointe, Andrei Zyuzin, Yanic Perrault)
Tampa Bay Lightning (Dan Boyle, Vaclav Prospal, Chris Gratton, Jan Hlavac)
Toronto Maple Leafs (Mats Sundin)
Florida Panthers (Steve Montador, Jason Cullimore)
Columbus Blue Jackets (Adam Foote, Sergei Federov, David Vyborny, Michael Peca)
St. Louis Blues (Martin Rucinsky, Barret Jackman, Peter Cajanek, Bryce Salvador)
Everyone else looks to be buyers which will no doubt raise the cost of acquiring any players. In addition, here are some other names that have been rumored to possibly be moved:
Olli Jokinen (Florida – frustrated with the continual losing)
Patrick Marleau (San Jose – not getting along with coach Ron Wilson)
Brian Campbell (Buffalo – unrestricted free agent)
Marian Hossa (Atlanta – unrestricted free agent)
Just because a team makes a big deal at the deadline doesn’t necessarily translate into short term or even long term success. For instance, at last year’s trade deadline the Calgary Flames traded young forward Chuck Kobasew and steady defensemen Andrew Ference to Boston for unrestricted free agent defenseman Brad Stuart and third/fourth line forward Wayne Primeau. Kobasew is a restricted free agent after this season but he has scored 19 goals and is a plus seven this year while Ference is playing 22 minutes a game on defense. Stuart didn’t re-sign with Calgary in the off-season and Primeau has only played 22 games this season. The Flames lost in the first round of the playoffs to Detroit last year and currently are once again in 8th place in the western conference. Boston, on the other hand, missed the playoffs last year and are now currently sixth in the eastern conference. One year later that trade looks decidedly in Boston’s favor.
Oh by the way, the team that won the Stanley Cup last year, the Anaheim Ducks, made only one move at the trade deadline that season acquiring fourth line forward Brad May for goalie Michael Wall.
The Caps don’t appear to be big players at the deadline as they have a lot of young talent but I still think they need a big defenseman who will clear the front of the net. Foote of Columbus has a no trade clause but if GM George McPhee can get him for a second round pick or lower than he should do that deal. A forward like Thornton of LA would add depth and some toughness to the Caps lineup and he could probably be acquired for a low round draft pick. If he can’t get Foote or Thornton I still expect George to do something to bolster the defense and also add a forward to the mix as well by the trade deadline.