Thursday will mark the fifth time the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals face off this season. The Internets are awash with intelligent analyses and strong opinions, and we were feeling left out. So we got the RMNB team together and pounded a bunch of latte macchiatos with guarana infusions.
All we could come up with is five smart points that will characterize the series and then a handful of jokes. Pity us and read on.
1. Secondary Scoring
Contrary to popular belief, having the best player in the world doesn’t necessarily mean playoff success or anything. I mean, the Caps can pretty much score at will, but that doesn’t mean we should be too bold – like, cause a “my goalie is better than your goalie” scandal. No, the only thing this Caps fan DOES guarantee is that eventually the second and third lines will have to score because the D-pairing of Spacek and Hamrlik put something on Ovechkin that Ajax can’t take off.
Japers’ Rink considers the individual match-up between Ovechkin and Markov to be key, and while it is true that Markov has played against the stiffest of MTL’s competition, consider the evidence from this season:
The Caps top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble-Green-Schultz has one (1!) goal at even strength when Spacek and Hamrlik are on the ice. One. Goal. And that was a Backstrom tally February 10, 2010 when the Capitals lost to Montreal in OT 6-5.
Or how about during the game November 28, 2009 when Spacek and Hamrlik combined for 11 blocked shots of the night: 7 of those Ovechkin’s. You might be saying, “Well, yea, but Ovechkin scored that night!” True, but it was against the D-pairing of Spacek and Mara.
With Spacek and Hamrlik guarding him on the ice during even strength, Ovechkin has been held to 2 Assists in 4 games. And one of those assists is a secondary – not exactly Great 8 numbers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the combo of Spacek and Hamrlik have been able to shut down the top line of the Caps. They have also consistently played against the top opponents for the Canadiens and have a Goals Against of around 2.4 when they are on the ice, versus MTL GA average of 2.72.
Luckily for us Caps fans we have second and third lines that can light the lamp. While Montreal has their top defensive duo guarding the top line, it has let Fehr, Fleischmann, Semin and Laich pad their stats.
Vs. MTL this year:
Yeah, these Hab Bashers sure make scoring a lot easier. I just wish they would make it easier to accept the fact that someday this as-yet-unidentified playoff beard fungus will reach my heart and end me.
2. A Well-tuned Russian Machine
Alex Ovechkin has been slumping since the Olympics, but now he’s on an uptick. Maybe this isn’t a revelatory analysis, but keep an eye out for the Great Eight. As stated above, the Habs have managed to shut Ovie’s out so far, but we expect this to end lickety split.
Ovechkin also brought his personal trainer over from Russia about two weeks ago; he’ll be here through the end of the season. His parents told me that he’s been tailoring his workouts so that he’ll be at peak condition at the end of this week, for the playoffs, and that this explained his recent scoring slump more than any concerns about being tentative.
Consider for a moment what Alex Ovechkin performing at peak levels would look like. Once you’ve changed your underpants, we’ll continue.
I expect we’ll see a lot more action like this epic goal against Hamerlik.
3. Jose Freakin’ Theodore
Who’s got a .922 save percentage since March and a slamming playoff beard? THIS GUY. José Nicholas Roosevelt Théodore (my girlfriend calls him “Hosay Teddy”) is playing some of the best hockey of his life, and he’s had the good taste to do it in a Caps uniform.
Jose Theodore was the best goalie, nay player, in the NHL in the ’01-’02 season. Can’t remember what team he was playing with at the time though. Since March, Jose has been only .01 off his career best season average. (.931). He’s had multiple 40+ save games and earned the adoration of the red legion. If goalie drama dominated the first three months of the season, every moment since then Jose has just plain dominated. The “I just work here” moment feels like forever ago.
The good folks at Le Centre Bell might have some boos in store for the Capitals premier netminder, but it won’t phase Theo. His lightning fast glove hand is complemented by an iron-clad, analog hockey brain. Rain pucks, Habs. Jose’s got your number.
4. The Slumpy, Dumpy Habs
The Canadiens’ nickname is the Habs, short for Les Habitants. Given the small number of francophones in our demographic, we’d like to offer another nickname: The ‘Nads.
The ‘Nads have had a rough go of it lately. Winning only three of their final 11 games, Montreal plummeted from sixth to eighth place and needed at least a point in its final game to clinch a playoff berth. By the way, can we agree to stop saying “clinch a berth?” It sounds gross– a wet and sticky maneuver you would need tongs to perform and then shower after.
‘Nads’ Home win percentage? 48%. On the road? 46%. And yet despite these stats, we get quotes like this, from Marc-Andre Bergeron:
I know there are people who are saying we won’t last long in the playoffs, but I really am confident we can win this.
Quixotic confidence, right there. Hey, did any other players say anything stupid?
It’s not as though we were up against Brodeur or Miller. They don’t have a dominant goalie.
Yikes. Silly, Tomas Plekanec. He clearly didn’t read this article… which we’re still writing so that would be impossible. Whatever. The Caps should be glad that this sub-.500 team continues talking smack, so that they may be hoisted by their own petard that much more. Meanwhile, Washington maintains subdued confidence. Comeuppance will come quick indeed for the ‘Nads, unless it’s from Mike Knuble, in which case it’ll be a wee bit slower. But it’s still coming.
5. The April Curse
Was anyone not glued to the TV set last spring? In addition to the finale of Battlestar Galactica, we were treated to thirteen epic hockey games and one not-so-epic game. The Capitals fought like hell to reach the third round, but they hit a wall. By the third period of the Disaster Game, it was ugly. The full list of injuries was not disclosed, but we know Mike Green had a bad shoulder, Ovechkin had a bad foot, someone had a broken bone in his hand, a couple people had the flu, and Donald Brashear had a bad case of suspendititis.
In December we worried that the Caps might be plagued by injuries all season. Fortunes turned in the following weeks, but the final dozen or so games it seems like we might be seeing a resurgence. H.H. Brooks Laich took a puck to the dome. Boyd Gordon‘s 80-year old back started acting up again. Mike Green might have had a sprained wrist. 20-year old Captain America John Carlson got banged up a bit. Since then, Nick Backstrom had a 24-hour bug, and Jose Theodore gets a nasty whack in the arm that sent him off the ice.
Hockey gods, hear our prayer. If the Caps must lose, let it at least be a good game. A battle well fought between healthy teams is what we deserve. If I have to see a grim-faced Mike Green gingerly wiping his flop sweat away while nursing a separated shoulder and H1N1 again, I’m gonna flip out. Thanks for your time, 99.
Puck drops around 7 PM Thursday night.