Bring on the Capitals! Bring on the Capitals! Washington visits The Bell Centre in Montreal for a 7:30pm matchup against the Canadiens. This game represents the first of four contests between these squads this season. The recent strong play of the Habs, combined with the indelible memories of the stunning 2009 first-round playoff upset that saw the Habs eliminate Washington in seven games, gives me reason to be optimistic about 2 critical points for the home team. Granted, this author is speaking from his heart. Let us see what prediction results from a more in depth analysis of the tilt.
The Capitals come in ranked 8th in the Eastern Conference with 50 points accumulated in 44 games. Montreal sits in 12th position (42 points), 8 points out of a playoff spot with the visiting team holding a game in hand. The Capitals are coming off of a 3-0 shutout loss against the New York Islanders but have won 7 of their last 10 games. The Habs have won their previous match, a convincing 4-1 victory over the league-leading New York Rangers, but have a meagre 4-5-1 record over their last 10 engagements.
Here is how the teams compare:
You would think that Washington, given its perceived firepower, would clearly hold a significant edge here but the difference is not quite as extraordinary as anticipated. The visitors have scored 125 goals in 44 games compared to 116 pucks in the net by the Habs in 45 games. This translates into 2.82 goals per game for the Caps while Montreal scores 2.56 times per game. The shots-on-goal category is another interesting one to explore. Who knew that the anemic Habs manage nearly 2 more shots on goal per game than Ovechkin`s team? Naturally, this stat supports the notion that Washington converts more of its scoring opportunities into goals. The gap in scoring prowess here is, however, nowhere near overwhelming.
Neither team has a point getter in the top 10, nor in the top 15 in the NHL. Niklas Backstrom with 42 (13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games) points sits in 20th spot. Alex Ovechkin is the next highest ranking Capital with 35 points and this is good for 45th position. For the Canadiens squad, Erik Cole has 33 points and ranks 58th while Max Pacioretty`s 32 points places him 70th overall.
Former Head Coach Jacques Martin, and his succesor Randy Cunneyworth are known for their defense-first mindset. Blow a defensive assignment as Lars Eller did in the Montreal-Rangers game on Sunday and you just might be benched for an entire period. The message is clear: “being responsible in your own end and playing well away from the puck are more important than scoring goals”…”the best offense is a good defense”. Montreal has allowed 123 goals to the 127 that have been scored vs. Washington. The Habs, having allowed 1.5 shots against less than the Caps, have been scored on 2.60 times per game while the red light goes on against Washington 2.84 times in the same span.
“Les Boys“ have 2 defensemen in the top 11 NHL shot blockers. Josh Gorges in fact leads the entire league with 125 blocked shots while Hall Gill, in 11th place, has scarificed his body 98 times. The latter is sometimes considered to be an extra goaltender on the ice and is often seen kneeling or completely prostrate in an effort to keep the puck out. He may be slow and lacking in physicality despite his hulking stature, but his commitment is beyond question. Roman Hamrlik, an aging ex-Hab leads the shot blocking charge for his new team. He ranks 28th in the league with 81 blocked shots to his credit.
While Carey Price is not necessarily enjoying a repeat of the stellar season that he displayed last year, he remains a very capable goaltender and his desire to win is second- to-none on the Canadiens roster. He continues to earn his reputation as a workhorse having participated in 39 of his team`s 45 games. Only Craig Anderson (Ottawa), Pekka Rinne (Nashville) and Cam Ward (Carolina) have played in more contests than Price. I fully expect him to get the start despite backup Peter Budaj`s excellent performance in a 4-1 Canadiens victory against the Rangers on Sunday. Carey sports a 2.44 GAA good for 21st in the league and a .913SP which ranks him 24th. Neither stat is league-leading by any stretch of the imagination but given the lacklustre play of the team in front of him, the numbers are respectable.
Tomas Vokoun, an ex-Hab, acquired by Washington in the off-season, will likely defend the net for the Caps. His GAA at 2.52 is slightly higher than that of his Montreal counterpart. In contrast, the .918 SP that he has put together is a little bit of an improvement over the corresponding statistic for Price. Two excellent goaltenders facing one another…should be awesome to watch!
This will be a very interesting game considering that Washington boasts the 2nd most potent power play (24% success rate) while Montreal can brag about its 89.1% penalty killing effectiveness. Only the New Jersey Devils perform better than the Canadiens while killing penalties.
Montreal`s power-play woes are well known throughout the league. The team only scores 13.4% of the time with the man advantage. Only 5 teams have a less potent power play. Oddly enough, the small Habs roster ranks 3rd in power play opportunities. Unfortutnately, this knack for drawing penalties has not resulted in a significant goal scoring advantage for “le tricolore“. A few more timely power play goals up to now would have catapulted Montreal well above the 12th place dungeon they are trying to claw out of. Washington`s penalty killing ranks 24th in the league (81.3% success rate).
Random Things Of Note:
- Both teams have changed coaches mid-season. Bruce Boudreau was fired by the Capitals 22 games into the season. His stint in the unemployment line did not last very long. Less than 72 hours after the fact, he was assuming responsibilities as head coach of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Dale Hunter took over the reigns in Washington. In Montreal, Jacques Martin was terminated after 32 games. At that time the Canadiens were a mere two points out of a playoff position. The dismissal of Martin hardly had an immediate impact on the success of the Montreal franchise. Randy Cunneyworth was promoted to the head coaching job on an interim basis and the Habs have a 9-4 record with him at the helm. His ability to learn French will be considered a critical factor, perhaps more so than his record, in determing whether he keeps his job beyond the end of this season.
- Rene Bourque, newly acquired by the Habs, will be facing the Capitals and Niklas Backstrom after elbowing the latter in the head. Backstrom is currently out of the lineup with a concussion. The incident resulted in a 5 game suspension for Bourque who will likely be a marked man come game time.
GO HABS GO!!!