Caps Face Hurricanes plus Hershey/NHL News

November 06, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Caps Host Hurricanes

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals will finally play a division opponent for the first time since the season opener in Atlanta when they host the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently lead the Southeast Division with 16 points in 12 games (the Caps have 12 points in 11 games going 5-4-2 so far).

Last week I talked about the optimism that the Caps organization should be feeling after the first nine games of the season given some of the adversity they had faced to that point. After a 1-1-1 stretch in which the team has only scored one goal total in the last two games, plus the fact that the team hasn’t scored more than one goal in four of the last six games, there has to be some concern about the recent lack of offense. Even the return of Alexander Ovechkin to the lineup on Tuesday night in Ottawa after a two game absence wasn’t enough for the Caps.

The Caps typically play their best when they are going north and south in transition and are able to use their team speed. Lately it seems that Washington has not been able to get this type of game going and I’m sure some of it falls on the Caps (see a lack of effort at times or poor execution) and some of it can be attributed to other teams changing the way they play Washington by trying to limit their space and ability to move the puck up the ice quickly (can you say trap?).

However, the Hurricanes have not exactly been defensive stalwarts this season having given up 36 goals in 12 games and allowed over 30 shots in a game in eight of the 12 games they’ve played this year. Therefore, I would expect the Caps to be able to generate some scoring chances on Thursday night. Whether they can put them past Michael Leighton or Cam Ward of Carolina remains to be seen.

On the defensive side of the ice the Caps gave up a season high 44 shots to the Senators on Tuesday night and fortunately goalie Brent Johnson was outstanding and managed to hold the fort long enough for Washington to get a point in an overtime loss. The Caps were shorthanded five times, including almost two minutes in which they were down two men, but managed to kill off all five of those penalties so they should be pleased with the penalty killing efforts. In hockey, if you give up 44 shots in a game on a consistent basis you will most likely lose those games so Washington must tighten up. Overall the effort on Tuesday in Ottawa was better but it is still not at the level needed to win hockey games. This game on Thursday night against a division rival is an important one and has the potential for Washington to regain some confidence and start some momentum. Johnson’s play on Tuesday has earned him the start in net on Thursday against Carolina.

Hershey Bears News

I have some big news on the future coverage of the Caps farm team, the Hershey Bears, going forward. Starting next week readers of this blog will find a new weekly section on the Bears that will be written by John Walton, the Senior Manager of Communications for Hershey. I am delighted to be able to bring hockey fans some insight on how the Caps prospects are progressing in their quest to reach the NHL from a credible source who will be watching each Bears game. As many of you already know, Hershey has a very good team with several potential future Caps, including defensemen Karl Alzner, playing in the AHL this year. I hope to get to some Bears games myself this year but barring that at least we will get some good info on the team on a weekly basis. Look for the Bears updates to appear in my upcoming Tuesday hockey blogs.

NHL News

Big loss for the New Jersey Devils finding out that goalie Martin Brodeur is out for three to four months due to elbow surgery. This is a major blow to that team and I think they will be hard pressed to make the playoffs despite the fact that former backup and now starting goalie Kevin Weekes stopped 24 of 27 Tampa Bay Lightning shots to prevail, 4-3, in a shootout Wednesday night.

The San Jose Sharks lead the overall NHL standings at this point with 22 points going 11-2 to start the season. New coach Todd McLellan has energized this team and forward Patrick Marleau is off to a very good start now that he is free from the wrath of former coach Ron Wilson. Marleau leads the team with six goals and seven assists in the 13 games they’ve played. The Sharks are getting scoring from multiple lines and have six players with 10 or more points. San Jose is 7-0 at home so far this season.