With no time to wallow on what was a less than inspired showing in Filthadelphia last night, the Hawks take their travelling referendum on rape culture to the nation’s Capital to…well…play the Capitals.
Despite annually losing to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 7 games, somehow the Capitals have once again made themselves a favorite coming out of the East. Because the acquisition of noted playoff juggernaut Timothy Leif Oshie is what is finally going to put the Caps in the conversation for the chalice. They also signed improbably Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams, who actually does have some legitimate playoff pedigree to go along with being the apple of every armchair statistician’s eye, but with him turning 34 last week and never exactly being known for creating offense out of thin air, there are serious questions as to how much he can actually contribute.
Of course, when a team boasts the most dominant goal scorer of the era in Alex Ovechkin, a slight slide from known aging contributors at a value price is something that people can live with. Ovechkin, who missed the Caps’ last game, a 5-0 blanking at the hands of October Champions the San Jose Sharks with a personal matter, is still coming off his third consecutive Rocket Richard trophy, and will in all likelihood score his 500th this season, only his 11th.
However with #1 center Niklas Backstrom only now resuming skating at practice, Ovechkin’s goal scoring pace might not be as break-neck as it has been in the past. In his stead the neckless Barry Trotz has had to do some center shifting, which includes moving the capable-but-not-quite-top-line talent of Maxim Kuznetsov inbetween Oveckin and Timothy Leif, and minor league call up Chandler Stephenson drawing in tonight on the Caps’ fourth line, which also boasts the handsome but now tremendously overpaid Brooks Laich.
The Caps’ blue line lost longtime pace-pusher Mike Green to free agency, in part because they were quite pleased with their investment in Matt Niskanen last summer. Niskanen has been on the plus side of the possession ledger his entire career, with a solid 51.4% share last year in an expanded role while dragging Brooks Orpik’s dead ass around, which he’ll do again tonight. The real talent among the Washington defensemen lies in their second pairing however, where John Carlson and Karl Alzner have done the bulk of the heavy lifting for seemingly years now, yet they are only 25 and 27 respectively and should be entering their primes. Perhaps it’s assumed they’re older because they both have names like WWII veterans downing Hamm’s at the local VFW.
But perhaps the biggest reason that the Caps have turned heads among the prognosticators has been the emergence of Braden Holtby. Who proved not only to be a capable number #1 goalie with a .923 overall save percentage, but was able to do so in a staggering 73 regular season appearances. And at age 26, he’s still well within the protracted arc of goaltender effectiveness (health permitting), and was summarily rewarded with a five year, $6.1 million per contract that kicks in next season. It was roundly heralded as a steal, despite the fact that Corey Crawford’s numbers stack right up with Holtby and was paid in the same year after, yet his is an albatross.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, with no morning skate today it’s difficult to guess what the lineup combinations might be, but the tail end of last night’s game would in all likelihood indicate a demotion of Ryan Garbutt back to the bottom six, potentially in favor of Viktor Tikhonov, much to the delight of the Fifth Feather. About the only thing that’s garaunteed is that Scott Darling will get the net tonight and that Niklas Hjalmarsson is going to see a lot of Alex Ovechkin.
While Barry Trotz brought more responsibility to the Capitals after the calamity that was Adam Oates, he showed last year that he can still let Ovi do what he does best rather than blunting it as Dale Hunter did. And another disorganized display from the Hawks will end up with an even more lopsided score than even getting blanked and losing by three.