Caps to Face Ottawa on Friday
On Friday night the Caps will go against one of the best lines in the NHL when they face the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center. Forwards Dany Heatley (28 points in 26 games), Daniel Alfredsson (25 points in 25 games), and Jason Spezza (22 points in 26 games) are a potent trio and the Capitals defense and goaltending will need to be on their game to stop a very streaky Ottawa team. On paper, the Senators appear to be a one win, one loss type of team with a 10-11-5 overall record but if you look at their season in snapshots you see that after a 2-2 start they lost four games in a row, won four of five, lost six games in a row, then won four of five again, and have now lost two in a row. Despite their great first line, Ottawa has struggled to put the puck in the net and are last in the NHL with only 63 goals.
Goaltending was one of the great unknowns for Coach Craig Hartsburg’s team coming into this season but prior to Wednesday night’s 2-0 loss to Chicago, goalie Alex Auld had started 11 games in a row. Auld, who was signed to backup Martin Gerber, has seized the number one job and is 9-6-4 with a sizzling .924 save percentage. I expect Auld to face the Caps on Friday night.
Washington defensemen Mike Green could return on Friday night and it is possible that forward Sergei Fedorov could be back this weekend as well (the Caps travel to Montreal on Saturday night). The return of Alexander Semin and Tom Poti on Wednesday was a huge lift for Washington and apparently Semin and Poti came out of the game okay, although since Poti has injured his groin twice this season, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is likely to be extra cautious with his veteran defensemen and he wisely gave #3 the day off from practice on Thursday.
Special Note: The Capitals are teaming up with Comcast SportsNet, Elliot in the Morning and the Marine Corps Reserve to host their ninth annual Toys for Tots campaign when they host Ottawa tonight at the Verizon Center. Fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to the F Street entrance of Verizon Center where players’ wives and girlfriends will be assisting Marines in collecting toys prior to the game. The first 2,000 fans that bring a toy will receive a free poster featuring Capitals forward and toy drive spokesman Alex Ovechkin.
The Caps lead in the Southeast Division is now five points after Carolina blew a 5-1 third period lead and lost, 6-5, in a shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The Canes are banged up badly on defense and only Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen had significant NHL experience as the other four defensemen had all played 21 or fewer career NHL games. I caught the third period of this tilt and the Flyers were flying while the Canes seemed to lose their legs plus their focus and confidence.
Carolina goalie Michael Leighton did not look like the guy who shut the Caps down on Sunday night so it will be interesting to see how Carolina reacts to this meltdown. New/old Carolina Coach Paul Maurice did not look too happy as is team filed to the dressing room following the third period collapse. Let’s also give credit to the Flyers who always seem to go the net hard with grinding guys like Scott Hartnell (hat trick against Carolina), Scottie Upshall, and Mike Knuble. Add in some serious skill with forwards Simon Gagne (15 goals) and Jeff Carter (20 goals) plus a great skilled and gritty leader in Mike Richards (11 goals, 20 assists) and you have a potent offense. The Flyers goaltending is their question mark as long as they go with Antero Niittymaki and Martin Biron.
Olie “The Goalie” Kolzig turned in a gem tonight at the Montreal Forum leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-1 win over the Candiens. Kolzig stopped 31 shots and was the game’s number two star. This was only Tampa’s second win in 12 games since Coach Barry Melrose was fired. Melrose and co-owner (and former Flyer and Hershey Bear) Len Barrie have taken this feud public with Melrose stating that he was being told what players to play and he naturally refused while Barrie says that he gave Melrose five or six ideas on how to fix things with the locker room and the ESPN hockey analyst refused to implement any of them. As I predicted in my Eastern Conference preview blog I just don’t see Tampa doing well anytime soon because of the lack of direction in this organziation. Recently they placed forward Radim Vrbata, who they signed for 3 years at $3M a season just this summer, on waivers so Vrbata could head back to the Czech republic to play. Tampa is currently tied with the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders for last place in the Eastern Conference with 22 points.
After getting shutdown by goalie Scott Clemmensen and the New Jersey Devils on Wednseday night the Pittsburgh Penguins came back with a vengeance on Thursday and took things out on the Islanders with a 9-2 victory. Both Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis had hat tricks for the Pens who trail the Atlantic Division leading New York Rangers by four points but Pittsburgh has two games in hand. Philadelphia is four points back of New York as well but has three games in hand.