Though the Circus Trip is now a thing of the past, the Black Wednesday/Black Friday two-fer for the Hawks still remains, and the past to years things have been set out east rather than in California. And the earlier start time is probably better for all involved on one of the biggest drinking nights of the calendar year, but given the state of things with the Hawks, that probably won’t stop anyone reading this from getting after it and ending up at White Castle/Burrito House/Bacci’s Pizza by 9:30, not that anyone here would know anything about that.
Speaking of getting rip shit drunk, the defending champion Washington Capitals (yes, that’s a thing that has to be said now), have predictably started off a little tepid even in a Metropolitan Division that no one seems particularly interested in winning. The Flyers keep tripping over their own dicks, the Penguins might finally be out of gas and Matt Murray might be a fraud, the Hurricanes can’t finish, and the Jackets are still coached by John Tortorella. So at 10-7-3, the Caps can probably just float through things until deadline reinforcements arrive, a tactic that should sound familiar here.
Not helping things are a couple of key injuries among the forwards, as playoff dynamo Evgeny Kuznetsov and american hero Timothy Leif are both out injured, forcing Top 6 capable but not for very long players like Lars Eller and Brett Connolly into elevated roles. Of course, the human equivalent of a thrown a rock covered in shit Tom Wilson has returned from his suspension for trying to decapitate someone for the eleventy billionth time, and slotted right back into his usual space opposite Ovechkin, with Nick Backstrom in the middle due to Kuznetsov’s absence. And lest anyone be concerned, Ovi is still doing Ovi things at 33 years old with no rest and hungover, scoring 15 goals in 20 games so far, good for second in the league. It’s the Caps’ bottom six who have suffered the most because of the injuries up top, as moving depth scoring guys like Eller and Connolly up out of necessity has resulted in two lines of guys who just run around and throw themselves into things face-first such as Devante Smith-Pelley and Dmitrij Jaskin. Among the 6 likely skaters in those two units tonight, they have 7 goals between all of them, making the Caps extremely top heavy for the time being.
On defense, Brooks Orpik is going to be sent to the glue factory (or get arthroscopic knee surgery, same diff), but other than that they remain relatively healthy now that Quenneville’s Bane, Michal Kempny has returned from a concussion alongside the now generationally wealthy John Carlsson. As a pairing the two have a 52 share, but Kempny looks tenative once again coming back from brown brain. The second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen features two guys who desperately want to jump into the play so naturally they’ve been getting their crotches stomped on the possession ledger with a 43 share in nearly 250 minutes of even strength time together. Christian Djoos is supposed to bum slay from the third pairing but with Madison Bowey they’ve been taking on water as well, and neither has been producing enough offense to cancel that out a bit.
In net tonight will be Braden Holtby, who has ceded time recently to something called Pheonix Copley, who strangely isn’t a physical therapy facility in the western suburbs. Copley had started the Caps’ last 4 games due to some sub-standard play from Holtby to end October and start November. But Copley got the hook against the Habs on Monday after allowing 4 goals on 18 shots in just shy of 22 minutes of action, and Holtby backstopped a comeback win. Holtby’s .906 is in line with his precipitous dropoff of last year (a .907), but his even strength mark of .927 is in line with his previously exemplary play. It’s the 13 goals on 48 power play shots (good for a glistening .729) with the Caps on the PK that’s torpedoed his numbers. Any number of factors can lead to spikes in either direction regarding PK save percentages, but a number that low figures to come up eventually.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, much like the Curse of Philadelphia, the Hawks simply do not win in Washington. The Hawks have not won in Washington since January 10th of 2006, Ovechkin’s rookie year, and haven’t won in regulation since March of 2004, a season in which the Caps were bad enough to be able to draft Ovechkin. Reports from practice are that Brandon Manning, Suckbag Johnson, and Chris Kunitz are tonight’s scratches, which means the lineup should look similar to what it did on Sunday against Minnesota, and that includes Corey Crawford remaining in net as he’s been rounding into form.
Both of these teams are extremely top heavy as presently configured, so it’s going to be a matter of which team can get its top line out against the other’s bum defensive pairings, and there are many to choose from on both sides. Holtby and Crawford have always played similar games to similar numbers, but if Holtby’s struggles on the PK continue, it might finally be an opportunity for a long dysfunctional Hawks power play to eat. It is Thanksgiving after all. Let’s go Hawks.
Game #22 Preview Suite