RECORDS: Caps 8-3-1 Hawks 10-3-1
PUCK DROP: 7:30pm
EVEN-STRENGTH CF%: Caps – 54.5% (2nd) Hawks – 50.2% (10th)
POWER PLAY: Caps – 13.2% (24th) Hawks – 18.6% (13th)
PENALTY KILL: Caps – 81.8% (15th) Hawks – Gettin’ there!
TRENDS: Backstrom has eight points in eight career games against the Hawks…Burakovsky’s 59.7 CF% (adjusted) is 10th best among all forwards
With the Hawks winning games but not exactly playing well, we said this week would be something of a marker, whoever meaningful that is in November. Tonight will be the first time in a long while they’ll see a good team that is also currently playing well, as the Blues right now couldn’t score at a rave with a five pound bag of exstasy and all the pacifires in the world. The Caps have no such problems.
The Caps sit third in what is turning into a powerhouse Metropolitan division, behind the for-real Penguins and the probably-mirage Rangers. They’ve been just about everything you came to know last year, save the plus special teams. They’re as deep a forward crop as you’re going to find, with four lines of competent forwards and their un-house-trained pet Tom Wilson. The defense goes 1-6 as well, or at least 1-5 before coming to a halt at Brooks Orpik (actually, nothing comes to a halt when faced with Brooks Orpik). They have the reigning Vezina winner in Braden Holtby, who the might try and not play into exhaustion this year for once. So far, everything is pretty much hummin’, comin’ at ya, because you know they had to get ya.
You might get a whiff of added desperation to the Caps season this year, because this is probably the last swing they’ll get with this particular group. Oshie, Williams, and Alzner are unrestricted at the end of the season, and Orlov, Burakovsky, and Kuznetsov are restricted. Some combination of the three or all of them could be due for huge raises, forcing some of the unrestricted out the door. And Ted Leonsis is too busy bitching about how the city won’t pay his bills for him to pay everyone anyway.
If there’s one thing the Caps haven’t got going yet it’s their power play, as you heard Becca talk about in our Q&A this morning. But eventually, Ovechkin starts burying shots from the circle, no one’s stopped him in 10 years, and that opens up other things.
Whereas last year it was Kuznetsov who was the new hotness on the scene, this year it looks to be Andre Burakovsky. He has every chance to become the prototypical power forward if he wants to, and he’s loitering on their third line at the moment. He’s killing everyone in the underlying numbers, and if his shooting percentage catches up he might blow past last year’s 17 goals. They also added Lars Eller, a more than serviceable two-way center that Michel Therrien tried his best to ruin in Montreal, as is his way. He’s probably never going to live up to his 1st round pick status but he can do a lot to help a team win, and the Caps should benefit from his feeling of freedom now on their third line.
For the Hawks, it would appear Artem Anisimov is going to miss out with whatever is bothering him. It doesn’t sound serious as he’s in contention to return Sunday, but it will see Marcus Kruger rise up to play with Hossa and Panarin. This happens about once a year either through injury or Q putting too much sugar in his coffee (too much sugar tonight in his tea). It’s always an odd choice. Kruger and Hossa obviously a form a fine defensive unit, but Kruger’s game doesn’t mesh on the other end. But they want to keep Schmaltz on the top line’s wing, and we want to see more of that, so solutions are thin after that. Vinnie Heinze returns to the lineup and to the pivot, which we haven’t seen much of this season. We’ll see if it helps him be on the puck more, which was the problem in his first thwack at regular playing time.
Should be an interesting one. The Caps are having success where the Hawks don’t at even strength, i.e. they’re a strong possession team that is even better at giving up few good scoring chances. The Hawks haven’t really been either so far this season. At best you could say they’ve been middling. And even if the Hawks turn that over tonight, the Caps come with a goalie to make it not matter, just like the Hawks do.
One game in November don’t mean much, but it’s at least a different kind of test tonight.