RECORDS: Capitals 5-2-2 Hawks 2-2-1
PUCK DROP: 6pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago/NHLN Outside the 606
WHAT A BUNCH OF CLOWNS: Japers Rink
The Hawks come in to their first game of the year on a positive base, though perhaps a touch lucky to have their second win of two. So the Hawks have a chance for their first “winning streak” of the season. The challenge is that to get to there, they’ll have to go through one of the hotter teams in the league.
The Washington Capitals come in with the second-highest point-total in the East, tied with the Penguins atop the Metro which has been their apartment for the past few seasons. Their two regulation losses have come against the Predators and Avalanche, who have been a problem for America so far on the nascent season. And they’re doing it a little differently so far than they have.
In the past, at least the last couple seasons, the Caps were not a great team when measured metrically. But they’re finishing talent would always outshoot what the chances and attempts said they should have, because when you have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and some nifty bottom-sixers that’s a thing you can do. They didn’t give up too much while not being exactly defensively iron curtain, but just enough to let their array of snipers to outdo whatever they did surrender.
This year, they’re controlling play much more so far, ranking fourth in team Corsi-percentage and expected goal-percentage. Which has left them sixth in goal for, because again, they have finishers everywhere. But Barry Trotz’s ways haven’t completely disappeared, as the Caps remain one of the better defensive teams around in terms of attempts and chances against. It’s been a promising start for a team that becomes an afterthought simply because they’ve been around so long you get a little sick of them or take them as a given so consistently they just fade into the background. But it’s been a decade now where anyone trying to get out of the Metro or NASCAR Division before that had to go through DC. Still looks that way now.
The concern for the Caps so far is that Braden Holtby has been awful, and once again the Capitals are thinking about turning their eyes to a younger model. Where it was once Phillip Grubauer, it’s now Ilya Samsonov. He’s been very good in his first month in the NHL, and with Holtby a free agent after this season, you can bet there are more than a few hopes in the Caps front office that Samsonov proves he can be a cheaper, younger starter going forward. Of course, we won’t know that until April, where Grubauer faltered for the Caps a couple years ago and kept Holtby around.
The big story tonight for the Hawks is whether or not Kirby Dach is going to make his debut. It would seem silly to call him up and then just have him sit in the pressbox, but we’ve seen that before. Dach was skating as a top line winger with Jonathan Toews yesterday, as a totally charming, bright, and handsome (and available!) writer suggested just a couple days ago. Given the success David Kampf has had between Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik, and that Dylan Strome belongs far less on a wing, it seems the best answer. It would be the softest landing as well, and Toews and DeBrincat could use a little more dash than Drake Caggiula can provide. Then again, Caligula is the only puck winner there, and Toews might not be able to that any more. Could we see Dach with Caggiula and Toews with Top Cat sliding down to the second line with Kane and Strome? Even talking about it is kind of exciting. It could be new toy night, and what we really want is Dach just to flash what he can be this season. It won’t all be pretty, but let’s see if there’s a diamond here.
As for the rest, Corey Crawford will take the net as he and Lehner are going to split the starts over this busy stretch you’d have to think, at least until one gets hot or one turns into stone. It’s how they drew it up.
The Hawks were scorched at least in the first period by the Jackets, who are a team that’s consistently been able to use their speed against the Hawks’ lack of it. The Caps certainly can play in the straight lines through the neutral zone that the Hawks can’t handle when their defense gets squared up. Kampf can take the Backstrom assignment, but the thing with the Caps is they still feature Kuznetsov behind that. If we’re going to get excited about what the Hawks can do this season, they have to prove not only that they can survive against teams that can do that thanks to goaltending, but can actively handle it and give as good as they get. It’s been a while since that happened. Tonight’s another test.