Now that the calendar has turned, the usual heavy dose of brunch hockey games on national TV is set to begin, with this installment featuring the defending champs, and at present, the worst team in the NHL. How’s that for star power?
The Capitals enter this morning’s game fresh off a home loss to their hilariously departed coach Barry Trotz, who somehow has whatever that Islanders thing is in first place in an admittedly mediocre Metropolitan division if only by a point over the Jackets and Capitals. What Trotz is doing on the Island should be an additional indictment of whatever the fuck is going on around these parts, but that’s a discussion for another time. That loss is the Capitals fourth straight, all in regulation, and to the Blues, Jackets, and Preds, so they’ve been equal opportunity in losing to both bums and respectable teams.
Part of the cause of this skid has been the fact that the offense has abandoned the Capitals for the past handful of games. While Alex Ovechkin still leads the league with 33 goals, he only has 4 in his last 15 games, Timothy Leif only has 3 in his last 11, and Evgeny Kuznetsov only has one since the beginning of December. And while the Caps retained much of their Cup-winning forward depth, it’s tough for any team when the marquee players couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. At some point, the names have to be the names, no matter how nice of complimentary players Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana might be. Kuznetsov in particular, along with the might-never-put-it-together Andrei Burakovsky, have found themselves in Todd Rierden’s doghouse lately, and have been getting bottom six shifts. And with all this being said, the Capitals still are shooting over 10% at evens for the year, the 2nd best mark in the league. And while that number might be in the middle of a sharp regression currently, the top end talent, particularly that Ovechkin guy, should have this team be able to sustain a fairly high mark for a longer period of time than most teams.
On the blue line, the Michal Kempny remains an infuriating fixture on the Capitals’ top pairing opposite John Carlson, where the two have had nice chemistry since Kempny’s arrival at last year’s deadline, and still serves as a reminder as to why Joel Quenneville is no longer coaching the Blackhawks. The Caps’ second pairing of Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov take most of the top assignments and toughest zone starts despite both of them being puck movers on paper, and they’ve been getting their skulls caved in with only a 44 share in over 600 minutes together. Brooks Orpik, fresh off playing his 1000th game, still remains a fixture on the third pairing, pun fully intended.
In net, Braden Holtby has remained solid this year with a .912 overall and .927 at evens, though he’s seemingly alternated good and bad months to this point in the season, with a terrible October and December, but even amid the current slide is still sporting a .917 for January so far. Holtby’s numbers are down relative to his peak, Vezina caliber form, but that could be a function of a) mileage adding up, and b) goaltending being down across the board this year potentially as a result of the equipment changes. In either event, he’s as solid and proven an option as there is in the league right now.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they return from the New York metro area with their pants firmly piss-stained like a Times Square derelict, with regrettable showings against the Devils and Rangers, two teams that are almost equally as bad as the Hawks, but at least they’re kind of trying to be bad rather than maintaining a public desire to be competitive even as a season swirls around the toilet. Coach Vinny Del Colliton’s solution to this problem has been to jumble the lines once again, with Drake Caggiula somehow smashing face first into a spot on Toews’ wing opposite Garbage Dick on the top line at Saturday’s skate. This has left a second line of Strome centering Debrincat and Kahun, which is mildly interesting if not particularly enthralling. This has left Brandon Saad to dangle with David Kampf and the corpse of Marcus Kruger on a checking line that had flashes three months ago before this all became a complete exercise in futility. Artem Anisimov appears to getting closer and closer to disappearing from everyone’s lives soon as the fourth line center, where he can thud into things with John Hayden and the infuriatingly pointless Chris Kunitz.
In another brilliant move by Coach Gary Cherone, all indications from Saturday’s practice are that Henri Jokiharju will take a seat after having a rough go of it playing on his off side, on the road, with Brent Sbarro as his partner. The handling of Jokiharju since about the first month of the season has bordered on criminal, and when he’s inevitably demoted to “get more work” in Rockford while everyone is subjected to whatever delusions remain of the potential of Gustav Forsling, the screams coming from these offices will be audible. Slater Koekkoek should get another look, and pairing him with the wanderings of Swedish Andy Delmore should certainly give an accurate portrayal of what the Hawks have in him.
Collin Delia has been under siege and the wins haven’t been there, but he’s he hasn’t slowed down with a .929 overall and .930 at evens, but it’s a national TV game so Cam Ward could get the veteran deferral, as if scouts around the league don’t know that he blows and blows hard. Corey Crawford skated yesterday but not in the full team practice, and it’s any wonder why he’d come rushing back to this for any reason other than to be able to prove it to himself.
These morning hockey games are always a tough go for both teams even when one of them isn’t abject trash, so the quality of play on display today should be quite a thing. Given the Caps’ struggles, if they can’t get right against this completely structureless and undisciplined outfit in red, then they might need to seriously rethink some things during their bye. For the Hawks, the bye can’t come soon enough.
Game #50 Preview Suite