You'd think that a 5-7-0 team would have a lot of room for improvement after their first twelve games, especially one that made the kinds of significant additions the Capitals did in the offseason. In reality the Caps have for the most part outplayed their opposition and could be 9-3-0 (that three game stretch against the Isles, Rangers and Sabres should have resulted in three losses). That's not to blame the Capitals sub-par start entirely on bad luck, both in terms of injuries and on-ice bounces and bad calls. The team has still made bad plays at times, mainly turnovers and bad penalties. But the Capitals have lost three of their last four, while outplaying their opponents, and have been missing Tom Poti for all those games, Semin for almost all four and Clark for three. Those are hard losses to swallow. Especially when you see what happens when things go your way - a 7-1 win against the Leafs in Toronto. The Capitals need to realize that as a whole, as a team, they are playing well. They need to stop making costly mistakes, need to get a few bounces and need to bury their chances (Viktor Kozlov anyone?) and they will start winning if they play the way they have.
Tonight they'll need to do so against the revamped Philadelphia Flyers. Insert "I hope all our players survive the game clever and knowing reference to Randy Jones, Steve Downie and Jesse Boulrice here. I'll say this: given their track record thus far I would think about changing the 'Back With a Vengeance' introduction to the Flyers official website if I were working for them.
This is an important game for the Caps to win, both because of their ongoing struggles to pick up 'W''s and because they head out for three more on the road after this.
The Capitals are going to need to worry about the Flyers scoring depth. With Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul it's not like you can shut down one guy, or even one line, and expect to win. I expect two things from the Cpitals - (1) to see Morrisonn and Jurcina against Briere's line because Briere is the biggest threat and (2) to see the Capitals break up their checking line forwards again since there isn't just one line they'll need to shut down. That means we could see Boyd Gordon skating with Kozlov and Ovechkin again. The somewhat unlikely line had a good night in New York and if Kozlov had buried any of his eight shots they would have looked even better (as an aside, if Kozlov could bury even half of his great scoring chances he'd have seven or eight goals by this point, rather than the two he does).
I'd like to see the Caps run a true top line out there, give Ovechkin the chance to play with a great playmaker (Nylander), which would result in something like this:
Let's see the Flyer's less-than-stellar defense which will be missing Hatcher, Rathje and Jones stop that first line. If everyone's healthy I wouldn't advocate playing Nylander with Ovechkin - I'd want Clark and Kozlov with him and Nylander with Semin, but if you're missing two of your top six forwards, the lines are going to have to be shuffled a bit. Defense is Philly's weakness, especially tonight with the injuries/suspension. And Biron has been good but he really isn't that great. He's played six-plus seasons in the NHL with a .910 save percentage, the fact that he's at .940 this year doesn't mean anything other that he's been off to a good start and is due for a bad game. It might even be worse to face Antero Niittymaki who has got to feel like he has something to prove at this point.
Oh, if I were a betting man I would bet on Sutherby getting into a scrap tonight. He's frustrated that he's not playing he he's going to be playing a physical team. He's not a heavyweight like Brash but he's fought some big boys and looked like he wanted to go with Hollweg last night. Actually on that note can't we find a way to get Suts in the lineup on an everyday basis? I know he only plays left wing and center and not the right but wouldn't it be possible to put him on the left and Brash on the right on the fourth line? Suts is still viewed as a leader and is still an assistant captain and still a valuable third/fourth line grinder and agitator; I think he's better than Bradley or Fleischmann to have in the lineup.
Other Previews: washingtoncaps.com, PhiladelphiaFlyers.com