Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bruins vs. Caps: Stuff To Look Out For

Tonight there is a marquee matchup in both conferences: Boston (#1) vs Washington (#3) in the East, and Detroit (#2) vs. Calgary (#4) in the West. One gets the sense that all of these teams will wake up tomorrow with a slightly different sense of self, depending on how these games go. Fans with access to the NHL Center Ice broadcasts will be able to watch the landscape changing before their very eyes -- what a great time to be a hockey fan.

Washington is happy to host this game, because they are far better at the Verizon Center (10-1-1) than anywhere else (5-9-2). I am always suspicious of teams that play a completely different game in one building than they do elsewhere. I am also suspicious of any team which is leading its division with the 6th-best record in the conference. The Caps are a talented team, to be sure -- but they're also one of the streakiest in the league.

Things to watch for tonight:

To make things uncomplicated, you can just stare at Alex Ovechkin the whole time. Chances are, all the interesting stuff will involve him anyway.

This game will feature two of the East's three best power-play units. The Bruins penalty-kill is slightly uncertain, pending news on whether Stephane Yelle plays tonight. If not, Julien is apparently considering Phil Kessel to be PK material these days (the most unlikeliest of turns), which should be a huge red flag to the Caps defensemen to keep an eye out for shorthanded rushes. Meanwhile, the Caps are missing power-play stalwarts Mike Green (6 ppg from the blue line) and Alex Semin (6 of 27 points on the PP), and former Selke winner Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov is one of those great two-way players whose absence will be felt in every part of the game.

The Caps have a slew of other injured players, frankly too many to list or try to keep track of. Suffice it to say: they are playing with about half their normal quality players. The Bruins are still waiting on good news from Marco Sturm or Aaron Ward, whose replacements (Nokelainen and Lashoff, respectively) have been more or less silent.

RUMOR ALERT: Semin apparently took part in a closed morning skate and was upgraded to a game-time decision. Bruce Boudreau is a smart coach and might bring Semin in for limited action in this key game.

The goaltending matchup is slated to be Manny Fernandez vs. Brent Johnson. Manny's start confirms that we are back to a 1A/1B rotation, an extremely impressive feat on his part and a testament to Julien's fairmindedness in handling the Bruins' goalie (non)controversy this season. Johnson is one of those guys who you know is good, who can beat you any night, but you just don't think about when someone asks you to name the top 30 goalies in the league.

TIDBIT: Fernandez' 7-game winning streak is the longest for a Boston goalie since.... wait for it.... Jon Casey. Half the Bruins couldn't even walk when Casey was a B-list starter for the Bruins.

Things got a little heated last season, when these teams were in fierce contention for a playoff berth. Both lost in the first round, but took a big step toward legitimacy in the process. Both are still using each other as measuring sticks, but now from the other end of the playoff bracket. Expect this one to be feisty and fast-paced, and to make some waves in the power rankings.

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The Bastahd said...

Looks like Yelle will be playing according to the Globe.

Weird to think of Noke as Sturm's replacement but I suppose you are right. Thankfully, Kobasew came back just in time to make Sturm's absence more palatable. As for Lashoff... he may have been silent thus far but that can be a good thing for rookie D... means he isn't hurting us either!

Tom said...

Exactly, no news is usually good news with guys who are still getting their feet wet. Not everyone will step in smoothly like Hunwick.

Good to hear Yelle is back in the lineup. I guess his injury wasn't that bad after all.