[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
The Caps and Isles, who will renew acquaintances for the 205th time tonight, last met just 11 days ago in the nation's capital. And while the game was close for forty minutes, the hosts blew it open in the third period and skated away with a 5-2 victory.
Since then, the Caps are 4-1 and have outscored their opponents 13-7. The Isles? Not so much - five straight losses, having been outscored 25-9 along the way (yes, you read that correctly).
The 'Ders now have given up more goals than any team in the League, are in the bottom five in goals per game (and still haven't scored more than four goals in a single game since October 11), and are absolutely abysmal five-on-five. Trap game for the Caps after two big wins? Nah - they could throw their website producer out there and win this one.
"But the Caps stink on the road," you say. Not really - they're 4-3-2 on the road against Eastern Conference teams, against whom they'll play 23 of their remaining 24 games away from home. The goal differential isn't where you'd want it to be (24 for, 28 agin), but the sample size is still way too small (and West-heavy) to call the Caps a "bad" road team.
This isn't to say that the Caps can't lose tonight. Of course they can ("On any given Tuesday..." or something). But if they do, something has gone horribly wrong, and nothing has gone horribly wrong (with the possible exception of Sami Lepisto's misadventures in Carolina) since the game before the Caps last played the Isles. The timing there is interesting in that after that previous loss to Florida, Bruce Boudreau publicly called out his team for the second time this year (the first being after the 5-0 loss to Buffalo), and the results have been similar - a 5-1-0 run this time and a 6-0-2 run last time. So I suppose the Caps might be due a stinker and a bag skate soon, but probably not tonight. Not against this team from the Island
of Misfit Toys.
One more thought about tonight's game - the Caps come into the game with the second-fewest fighting majors in the League, a goalie who has been run repeatedly in the past few games as he nurses a sore hip and a superstar who was taken advantage of a bit by this same Islander team a week-and-a-half ago. Is anyone going to be satisfied with Donald Brashear saying, "Games like that happen and it's going to happen because I can't be out there all the time doing what I do for [them]" if these trends continue (even if he does find the cheese)?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Great article on Karl Alzner over at NHL.com.... Simeon Varlamov is the latest in a long line of goaltenders to benefit from Finnish tutelage (which we actually talked about back in June). Sorry, Allan Muir - it looks like he might be good.... Braden Holtby, too.... Pierre LeBrun wonders who will win the Richard Trophy. Should we spoil it for him, or let him continue to believe it might be close?... A handful of new power rankings are out with the Caps up two to seventh at CBSSports.com, up seven to sixth at The Hockey News, up seven to fifth at SportingNews.com, and up two to (gulp) fourth at ESPN.com (even though they just beat the only Eastern Conference team ahead of them... must be BCS-related).... Cap of the Day: Sylvain Cote.... Oskar Osala continues to make an impression (h/t Capitals Insider... See? That's all it takes.)... Kip Brennan may be returning to Chocolatetown.... A couple of great reads on Stefan Della Rovere making the Canadian WJC team here and here.... On this date back in 1977, Bruce Boudreau scored the only NHL hat trick of his career for the Leafs in an 8-5 win over the North Stars in Minny (and probably looked like this while doing it).... On a sad (the reminder, at least), marginally Caps-related note, the truck driver who caused the crash that killed Jeff Halpern's mother and three other relatives three years ago was sentenced to 36 years in prison.... Finally, just in time for Thursday night's Caps game against the Blues, SB Nation welcomes St. Louis Game Time to the mix (trivia: who is the last player to play for the Caps after playing to the Blues and vice versa?).