RECORDS: Hawks 12-10-5 Capitals 16-11-1
PUCK DROP: 7pm
TV: NBCSN, because this is such a rivalry and all
HOLLYWOOD FOR UGLY PEOPLE: Japers Rink
In some ways, the Hawks will be looking across the ice at what they were just a year or two ago. Both of these teams are either somewhat or pretty hollowed out from the teams that sat upon the top of their respective conferences year after year. That’s how the NHL wants it. Well, they get it. But whereas the Hawks can at least look up at the banners and say it was worth it, all the Capitals have are the broken glasses, waded up tissues, and the sad ballads of shattered dreams. Both have the hangover and clean-up, only the Hawks had the party.
The Capitals are still in the muck of the Metro Division, where all of four points separates the top six teams. So you can’t say they’re out of it by any stretch. Yet looking beyond simply the record and the points, the foundation the Caps used to be built on appears to be heavy with mildew and rust. By surface measures, this team is middling. They’re 15th in goals per game, and 15th in goals-against per game. You can’t get any more “in the middle” than that.
But the underlying numbers will tell you this team is flying on the wings of fortune and the sun is coming up awfully big in the rearview. They are 25th in CF% and 27th in xGF%. They have the sixth-highest shooting percentage in the league. Now, a team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov is probably always going to carry a higher than average shooting percentage given the skills of those four. But they’ll need to shoot around 10% to outdo their horrible possession markers.
They’ll also always get plus goaltending, though Braden Holtby hasn’t been at Vezina-level of the past two years. His .919 overall is below the .925 and .922 of last year, and the real mystery is the three shorthanded goals he’s given up already. That doesn’t really affect the whole, it’s just kind of weird.
It’s not hard to see where the copper wiring has been stripped in this house, though. The bottom six, a strength the past two years, has been shorn of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, and in their place are some kids or experiments or simply hail-marys. Those six forwards are getting their heads handed to them on a nightly basis, forcing the top six to do pretty much all the work. Through Eller, Beagle, and Connolly the bottom two lines can occasionally land a haymaker, but spend most of their time on the ropes or staring at the lights.
The defense is kind of the same story. The lost Karl Alzner–who kind of sucks anyway–and secret weapon Nate Schmidt. To make up for that, coach Barry Trotz has apparently decided to let John Carlson skate all their minutes. Carlson is averaging 27 minutes a night, by far the most of his career, 4th most in the league, and nearly four minutes per night over his career average. And the thing is, he’s not doing that much with that time. He’s taking on top lines and the hardest assignments, but the best you can say for him is he’s playing them to a draw. Considering he’s anchored to Brooks “Seabrook This!” Orpik, that’s probably the best they can hope for. What the Caps need is more d-men who can clean up after that firefight, and right now it’s just Orlov and Niskanen. And they’re doing ok, though not exactly dominating. There are a couple kids in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey (yes, I’ve had many a “Madison Boweys” on trips to Wisconsin) on the third pairing. but Trotz would rather light his body hair on fire than play them in a meaningful situation or much at all. Djoos looks promising but he needs to be given the leash to bum-slay so they can get more out of anyone who’s not Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom.
Ah yes, Ovie. This team would be pissing up a rope without him. 20 goals already to lead the league. He was split up for a while from Backstrom as Trotz sought to spread out the scoring, but since reuniting they’ve been a terror as usual. And they’re doing this while dragging around Tom Wilson, so maybe we should just hand Ovie the Hart Trophy now simply for that. Wilson has skated most of the season with Backstrom and has two goals. Dear reader, raise your hand if you think you could manage two goals while skating with Backstrom.
This preview has already ran on a bit long, so I don’t know that I can give the bonkers Hawks’ lines the treatment they so deserve. We’ll do so in the Lineups page. Needless to say, none of them make goddamn sense. The highlight could be keeping Top Cat on the right side in order to keep Lance Bouma on the left. Or it could Toews centering Hayden and Hartman in a “Guess What This Line Does For A Dollar!” set up. I can’t decide.
But we all know this will last a period at most, and the Hawks will likely look like shit during it. Then Q will switch back to what it was before, and the players will have a look on their face of, “Why did we bother with that horseshit?” for about five minutes and then they’ll get to playing.
This is a cozy part of the schedule, as the Caps are no great shakes before home dates with the Sabres, Coyotes, and Panthers who all blow. That’s before the Hawks have to go to sudden juggernaut-bitch Winnipeg, so these eight points are pretty crucial before that and a six-game road trip that wraps around Christmas.
Game #28 Preview