Well it is another day and it appears we have another Washington Capitals injury – go figure. As Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post reported last night and mentioned again this morning in his blog, defensemen Tom Poti seems to have injured his groin in last night’s game against Atlanta and is limping around on Thanksgiving Day. If true it would be Poti’s second groin injury of the season as he originally hurt it early on against Pittsburgh and missed five games, and that is a major concern because those injuries can take lots of time to heal properly (Perhaps our WNST medical blogger can do a segment on groin injuries?).
Anyways, the Caps are once again down to five healthy defensemen assuming Poti is out and Mike Green and John Erskine can’t go Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center. As a result Tarik is saying that Coach Bruce Boudreau had forward Brooks Laich working on defense in practice today (Laich played a few shifts on defense in Minnesota on Monday as well).
Back to the good news – last night’s game. Despite the fact it was against a tired Thrashers team it was a good win because the Caps had four new players in the line-up. As I mentioned in my previous blog Boudreau was very complimentary to those new guys and it was interesting to hear him comment that Chris Bourque “looks like he can play in this league…he is not intimidated.” This bodes well for Washington as they have now used 27 players this season and will likely need some goals from Bourque in the upcoming games if this ridiculous injury rate continues.
Another player who had a good game was goalie Jose Theodore whose stats don’t really match his production right now. Theodore only faced 18 shots last night giving up three goals and his record is now 7-4 this season. He did make some big saves at some big times last night including a huge stop on Thrashers forward Eric Perrin just 50 seconds into the game when the Atlanta forward broke in all alone on Theodore. That prevented Atlanta from getting any momentum and then a couple of minutes later Alex Ovechkin notched his first goal on the night. Also, with the game 4-2 early in the third period #60 made a nice save on Slava Kozlov and didn’t give up a rebound. On the next shift the Great #8 would spring Viktor Kozlov on a breakaway that led to the Caps fifth goal, which effectively ended the night for Atlanta.
“Those are saves that are game savers and that is what you want. Whether you win 8-6 or not those saves at those times are what makes winning goalies money guys. Whether he gives up two goals or six goals, if we are winning and he can makes saves like that at those times that is what you want with a money goalie,” said Boudreau on Theodore.
Some, however, will point to his .885 save percentage and criticize him for that. In fact, Tarik and I had a conversation about that after the game on Wednesday. To be fair, Tarik wasn’t overly critical of Jose, he just pointed out his stats and I said that this team plays a style that makes it tough to have a very good save percentage (although Brent Johnson has a .910 save percentage right now), especially with all of the injuries on defense. The Caps are an offensive, puck possession team that focuses primarily on scoring and at times can be a little loose in their own end (especially in front of their own net where they have a hard time moving the opposition forwards). This team, when totally healthy, has the potential to be similar to the high flying, high scoring Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s. That team played wide open hockey and had a great goaltender in Grant Fuhr. By the way, I looked up Fuhr’s save percentage for the 1983-84 through 1988-89 seasons and they were .883, .884, .890, .881, .881, and .875, respectively. Edmonton won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988.
As I have been telling you the Caps are focused on the salary cap, which they have been up against from the outset of the season. I had a chance to catch up with Caps GM George McPhee before Wednesday’s game and jokingly asked him if he was earning his honorary Math and Accounting Degrees with all of the injuries causing so much salary cap watching. George nodded and commented, “We go over it every day.” McPhee also confirmed that by using the Long Term Injury designator on a player you can replace that money while the player is out but once a player comes back all players count again. WashingtonCaps.com blogger Mike Vogel and I discussed this during last night’s warm-up and we were unsure if defensemen Karl Alzner will have to go back to Hershey when Chris Clark comes back from injury (and assuming no big salary, such as Michael Nylander’s, is traded away). Alzner was slated to count $1.7M against the cap due to some bonuses he could receive but, as Vogel pointed out to me, if those are based on games played he could conceivably only count around $1.4M. I’ll see what I can find out over the next several weeks but one thing is certain to anyone who saw last night’s game or have also seen Alzner in action, he can certainly play in the NHL right now.
Tomorrow night will be a tough game against Montreal, who I picked to be number one in the Eastern Conference in my preseason predictions (but I also said they were not going far in the playoffs). The Habs are in second place in their division at 12-5-4 and trail the Boston Bruins by four points. There is always pressure on the Canadiens from their local fans and media and when they are expected to do well the temperature gets turned up even more on the hockey team. The heat is definitely up on them these days from what I’ve heard on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) Radio and HNIC television, although it likely cooled a bit after Wednesday night’s 3-1 win in Motown against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings.
Montreal has a very good skating team but doesn’t have a lot of size. They added forward Alex Tanguay from the Calgary Flames in a draft day trade and also traded for Robert Lang from Chicago at the start of this season. Tough guy George Laraque was given extremely good money ($1.5M a year) to be an enforcer and he has been criticized as a guy who only wants to have the “spotlight” fight. It will be interesting to see if he and Donald Brashear go at it at the Verizon Center. Alexei Kovalev, who had a great last year, is off to a slow start with only five goals and 11 assists in 21 games this season. Montreal’s number one goaltender is Carey Price and he was the first goalie taken in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft (fifth overall).