Caps in Sunshine State
The Washington Capitals will play in Tampa on Saturday night at 730pm and then have a fast turnaround on Sunday at 5pm when they have to play red hot Florida, who have won three straight games since losing to Washington last Saturday night (Florida is only 9 points back of the Caps in the Southeast Division). According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Caps forward Alexander Semin will return from his one game absence (due to an undisclosed injury) on Saturday night.
I watched the Tampa-Toronto game Thursday night and Martin St. Louis had one of his better games this season (1 goal, 3 assists). If you happened to check out Dump and Chase by WashingtonCaps.com Mike Vogel today, you read that he and Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt took in the game. Mike, who does a great job of covering the Caps, noted that the Lightning are 8-6-1 in their last 15 games so if the Caps think this game is going to be a pushover then in the words of Judas Priest “You’ve got another thing coming.” In net for the Lightning will be goalie Mike McKenna who is 2-1-1 with a .918 save percentage since being signed to his first NHL contract on February 3rd and being brought up from Norfolk of the AHL. McKenna was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 6th round in 2002 and is finally in “The Show.”
According to Tarik, there is a chance that Caps rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth could make his NHL debut in Tampa. Also, recently acquired defenseman Staffan Kronwall is very likely to play. It will be interesting to see who Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau decides to sit on defense. My guess is Milan Jurcina will be the odd man out. You can bet that the Caps will have their hands full with the line of St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Vinnie Prospal (who always seems to play well against Washington).
Japers Rink (www.japersrink.com) reports that the Caps are 9-12-1-1 in the Sunshine State since the lockout. I don’t have a good feeling about these two games.
As for all of that Jay Bouwmeester trade talk that hockey fans have been hearing about this season, well it might be time to start forgetting about that because after the Panthers 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers on Friday, Florida now has 64 points and is five points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. I really like Florida’s defense (I wrote this back in December after they beat the Caps at the Verizon Center) and they are finding ways to score (plus they get superb goaltending from Tomas Vokoun). Rookie NHL coach Peter DeBoer is doing an outstanding job and he is lobbying hard for Florida GM Jacques Martin to keep #4 in the Sunshine State, if he can. Bouwmeester is on record as saying he doesn’t like playing in Florida and wants to go to more of a hockey hot bed. Since he is a free agent after this season Florida could get burned by keeping him after the trade deadline and then losing him to unrestricted free agency while getting nothing in return. I guess the Panthers organization is hoping that a playoff appearance may entice the former 2002 1st round pick (3rd overall) to stay. Btw, Buffalo’s 6-5 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks tonight ties them with the Panthers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into Friday’s game in Colorado, the Montreal Canadiens were 2-9 in their last 11 games. Goalie Carey Price has been struggling big time and is feeling the wrath of the local Canadian media who are expecting Les Habitants to win the Stanley Cup in their 100th season. I don’t see that happening and this team is not handling the pressure at all and playing below expectations. Alex Kovalev, who had a great season last year and would have been an MVP candidate had it not been for that #8 guy that plays in DC, has been horrible for most of this season. The loss of Robert Lang to an achilles tendon injury hasn’t helped and forward Alex Tanguay has been in and out of the line-up. Their power play has been brutal and really misses defensemen Mark Streit, who signed with the Islanders last summer. The Canadiens are at the Verizon Center this Wednesday for their last regular season meeting with Washington. The Caps are 2-1 against the Habs this year losing only in the dying seconds in Montreal on January 10th.
So much has been made of the fact that the Penguins traded a first round pick and three young players for Marian Hossa at last year’s trade deadline. There are some who say that Pittsburgh lost out overall on that trade when Hossa bolted to Detroit last summer. Hockey Night in Canada Radio analyst Craig Simpson, my second favorite co-host with Jeff Marek behind Kelly Hrudey, who is hands down the best on HNIC Radio, doesn’t think so and his biggest reason for that is the financial windfall that the Hossa addition brought to Pittsburgh last season. Simpson estimates that the run to the Stanley Cup Finals added $15-$20M to the bottom line last year. Financial gain, especially in these tough economic times, can help a franchise solidify things (and Pittsburgh has had past well documented financial trouble). Add in the fact that I don’t think that the Pens really gave up much in Eric Christensen, Corey Armstrong, and Angelo Esposito (one NHL scout I talked to called all of them marginal players, at best) and I don’t see how this trade was bad for Pittsburgh. That is a little food for thought for those GM’s who are thinking of taking a chance on an unrestricted free agent at the deadline (factor in the playoff money for the franchise).
Speaking of the trade deadline, it is hard to tell who will be buyers and who will be sellers, at this point in time. Guaranteed sellers are the New York Islanders, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ottawa Senators, and the Atlanta Thrashers. I think you’ll be able to add the Colorado Avalanche to that list shortly. Islanders forward Doug Weight was likely going to be on the move come March 4th but that is now out the window as he is on the shelf six weeks due to a knee injury. The other viable tradeable guys on New York are forwards Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie plus defensemen Brendan Witt (who I think is too slow for the new NHL). Simpson, who played on some of those great Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup teams, talked about Guerin and how he wasn’t able to help San Jose last spring and pointed out that some of these older players, who are on teams that have been out of the playoff race for awhile, may not have it in themselves to get in shape and make the transition to those teams that have been playing at a high level all season. I thought this was an interesting point and Simpson also mentioned that come February 1 he and his teammates used to do something extra every day going forward to help prepare them for the long grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.