Caps Preview: Week 9
December is here, and a new month means the Caps can forget (or at least learn from) their decline in November. October was full of promise and win totals that didn’t reflect the Caps’ strong possession numbers, but the following month was a different story. November held a 6-7-1 record for the team, one that can’t be attributed to unlucky bounces and shoddy goaltending. Something needs to change, and the Caps have three opportunities this week to get things rolling.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography
12/2 vs. Vancouver
Power play: 18.4%
Penalty kill: 84.2%
Between thousands of miles and two different conferences, plenty separates the Caps and Canucks. Yet they had similar offseasons–hirings and firings of GMs and coaches, and roster shakeups at the center positions. Both teams missed the playoffs last season, but the Canucks have rebounded spectacularly on paper.
They lead the Pacific Division, surpassing the likes of the Ducks, Flames (yeah, you read that correctly), Kings, and Sharks respectively. And the Coyotes and Oilers, but you knew that already. So what makes the Canucks successful/what do the Caps need to watch for? Save for their most recent game, a lackluster 5-3 loss to the Red Wings, the Canucks have been playing solid hockey. New coach Willie Desjardins resurrected their offense from the hands of John Tortorella, while keeping up their hallmark stalwart defense. This shows in their eighth-ranked penalty kill, though they average 2.71 goals-against per game. The Canucks don’t excel in one particular area, but the sum of all parts makes for success. Whether this is sustainable is another issue, and one the Caps shouldn’t be worrying about.
However, they should remember that the Western Conference plays a faster, grittier game. The Caps were easily outpaced by the Canucks in their first meeting of the season, a 4-2 loss in Vancouver. Deploying a successful checking line is key to a win, and this might require Trotz to shake up combinations, particularly to maximize the abilities of certain players…and minimize the offensive abilities of the opposition, Sedins included.
12/4 at Carolina
Power play: 22.1%
Penalty kill: 83.1%
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Hurricanes are really bad this season. At the time of writing, they’ve got a 7-13-3 record (17 points) and are serious contenders in the McEichel race. Despite this, the Hurricanes have their promising moments. October was a truly bad month but they rebounded the following month. A quick look at the above stats, out of context, might have you thinking that the ‘Canes are a fairly solid team, especially in the Eastern Conference. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The ‘Canes can’t sustain any success they have, and for every flash of brilliance, they seem hellbent on reversing it.
The Hurricanes’ recent home-and-home with the Penguins shows that the Canes can stay with one of the NHL’s top teams–on paper, anyway. They outshot the Pens in their first contest and came away with a 4-2 win, before being narrowly outshot at home and dropping the game 3-2. Eric Staal, Riley Nash, and Justin Faulk are tied for the team lead in points (15 apiece.) Meanwhile, our old friend Alex Semin is struggling mightily. Goaltending is also a huge weakness for the Hurricanes: starting goalie Cam Ward has a save percentage of of .907, while backup Anton Khudobin barely has his head above water at .900. The Hurricanes don’t allow a ton of shots, either–this isn’t a Holtby situation like last year.
Of the three games the Caps play this week, this might be the hardest one to predict. And giving away points to a division rival–even if they’re not a playoff contender–is the worst possible outcome.
12/6 at New Jersey
Power play: 20.6%
Penalty kill: 74.7%
The Caps have already played the Devils twice this season. The first matchup was a 6-2 blowout in the Caps’ favor; the second, an unbelievably boring 1-0 win for the Devils. The Devils aren’t a particularly good team, and they currently sit fifth in the Metro (right behind the Caps.) Their special teams and puck possession numbers are pedestrian. The same can be said of their PDO. All in all, the Devils are a very average team. Their division rival status should give the Caps additional incentive to steal two points.
Jaromir Jagr, Mike Cammalleri, and Adam Henrique provide the Devils with scoring punch. Cory Schneider’s solid numbers don’t reflect the insane workload he’s seen thus far. The Devils, however, are looking to end their four-game losing skid. They’ve got two opportunities, both on the road, to secure a win before playing the Caps Saturday night. The Devils face Pittsburgh and Toronto respectively, and the outcomes of each game will give the Caps a better idea of what to expect.
Playing a simple game will suit the Caps best. They employed this approach in their first meeting of the season and won 6-2, with five of their six goals scored coming at even strength. Winning faceoffs, scoring at 5v5, aggressive forechecking, stability in the crease–the Caps can definitely afford to tighten up in these areas against the Devils. Puck luck obviously doesn’t hurt, either.