[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
Take one look at the standings, and you know that tonight's Caps/Flyers tilt is a big game. Think back to the Saturday before Christmas and you can add to the mix a healthy dose of pride - one team with a bit much of it and the other with theirs in tatters for the afternoon. And with memories of last April refusing to fade away, there's plenty of (ironically) vengeance in play as well.
But this is still a regular season hockey game. Two points (four if you're considering Conference seedings). Is it possible that Bruce Boudreau and his team are placing too much importance on one game in early January?
The Caps have beaten Boston and Montreal (twice), Jersey and the Rangers (
twice thrice), Pittsburgh and Buffalo (twice). In fact, they've beaten every team in the Eastern Conference at least once... except for Philly (and Florida, but they'll get theirs). If there's one demon left for this Caps team to exorcise, it lives in Philadelphia and slithers down to D.C. from time to time.
This game is important for the Caps' confidence, but perhaps more than that, by emphasizing the rivalry and the game itself, Boudreau has to be hoping to get a complete, sixty minute effort from his club, something he hasn't gotten every night in recent weeks, despite the sparkling 13-2-0 record over the past month and two days.
As for the game itself, the Flyers come in banged up (cry us a river), and are making their last stop on a six-game road trip that has swung them out west and seen them go 2-2-1 so far. The offense has dried up a little (scoring just ten goals in their last five games), but they're still near the top in goals per game and power play efficiency, despite going 1-for-15 so far on the current trip.
The goaltending matchup features two netminders who, on the surface, seem to be having pretty similar seasons so far. Take a look:
|2008 - Jose Theodore||23||1287||13||6||1||1||64||2.98||591||527||.892||1|
|2008 - Martin Biron||24||1406||13||7||4||1||71||3.03||697||626||.898||1|
But these two goalies appear headed in somewhat different directions, as Biron (in net for the Flyers because Antero Niittymaki - who was a wall the last time these teams met - is one of Philly's walking wounded) has given up fewer than three goals just once in 11 starts since November 21, while Theodore is 5-0-0/1.49/.943 since getting yanked at MSG two weeks ago. Biron lost starts in December to his backup, while Theodore earned back his starting role.
If ever there was a night to come out strong and score the first goal, this is it. Not only will it set the tone, but the two teams are a combined 35-4-6 when scoring first - surrender the game's first tally and you're asking for trouble. Don't think Bruce Boudreau doesn't know this; after all, it's one of the reasons he's preparing his team for it's biggest game of the year... until the next big one.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Georges Laraque, like all the cool kids, is blogging and, also like all the cool kids, knows that "The toughest guy in the East is Donald Brashear, hands down. He's the king and has been for years." (h/t AO).... Alex Ovechkin is "the most dynamic player in the game" and the MVP at the midpoint (here too).... Eggs? I don't get it.... As Scott points out, AO is good people (even if reading about him is sometimes painful).... Apparently losing to the Caps by "a mere goal" at Verizon Center is nearly cause for celebration (hey, it is "a pretty exciting building to play in").... Ilya Kovalchuk is Russia's Athlete of the Year. Right.... A handful of power rankings are out with the Caps up two to 4th at CBSSports.com, up one to 4th at The Hockey News, up one to 4th at ESPN.com, up nine to 5th at TSN.ca, and up one to 4th at SportingNews.com.... Alex Giroux was named AHL Player of the Week. Hopefully, he'll be in the running for that award every week for the rest of the season.... Joel Broda is "top talent."... "The injuries set in right after Washington selected him." Anyone want to throw a flag on that?... Happy 33rd birthday, Richard Zednik.... Ouch, baby. Very ouch.... Finally, today's Cap of the Day is another former Cap/former Flyer (and a great card).