Monday, November 17, 2008

Caps Will Be Tested

There was a time when a trip out west was a way for Eastern Conference teams center themselves and get back their winning ways. Those were the days of weak California teams and all the trip was good for was to break away for a couple of days from the harsh cold of north. Maybe get a tan, visit the beach. Those days are long gone.

Anaheim is next on the calendar for the Capitals, and they are no push overs (even if they dropped the "Mighty" from their name). The Ducks have won 10 of their last 15 games and play a grueling, physical game. Choir boy Chris Pronger is not going to just let Alex Semin or Alex Ovechkin have all the ice they want. The Caps will have to use their size to their advantage.

Then after a good beating from the Ducks, the Caps face an up and coming Los Angeles Kings. A young team with plenty of talent. They are starting to put it slowly all together. Unlike the Ducks, the Kings can match the Caps' play with quick talented forwards in Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. The Caps may consider it a spa day compared to their next competitor, San Jose.

The Sharks are the hottest team in the NHL right now. They lead the league in points (31) and have a power play that can turn your lights out. In San Jose's last two games against the Flames and Wild, the Sharks scored four power play goals in each game. The Caps will have to work on playing nice. With players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau playing to their potential, it maybe be asking a lot for the Caps to pluck two points from the shark tank.

If that wasn't enough, they end their western swing with a stop in the Twin Cities to take on the Minnesota Wild. A team that is 10-4-1, the Wild have one of the best starts to the season. And they play exceptionally well at home. Backstrom has been a force; no, not Nicklas, rather Niklas. The Wild has also only lost once in regulation at home.

If the Caps can come out of this western swing with 4 points, I would be happy. But it could be possible that they could come away with only 2, or less. While the Caps play at home has made the Verizon Center an uncomfortable place to play for both opponents and groins, on the road the Caps are a humble 3-4-2.

The Caps can not afford to take bad penalties against any of these teams (i.e. Milan Jurcina bone head delay of game clearings or too many men on the ice calls that always seem to come back to bite the Caps in the butt). Anaheim (11th), San Jose (6th) and Minnesota (3rd) are all ranked in the top eleven in the NHL when it comes to the man advantage. Los Angeles is (18th). The Caps rank 18th in the league on the penalty kill.

This is also not a place to have problems with your power play either. The Caps will face three teams that are in the top eleven in the league concerning their penalty kill skills. L.A. is fourth in the league, San Jose is 11th and Minnesota is ranked first (although, they did let in 4 pp goals against the Sharks).

NHL Notes:

The League has decided it's going to crack down on head shots in the NHL. Of course this news comes too late for Brian Potheir, this should help crack down on concussions through out the league. As the game has gotten faster, it has become much more dangerous to avoid injury on a clean hit, let alone some one that is out head hunting. Hopefully this isn't all just talk.

Brian Burke has resigned his post in Anaheim in a peaceful exchange of power in the general manager position. This leaves Burke open to persue (or just tease Leaf fans) the open position in Toronto. Burke has already been reigned in as GM for the USA Hockey team in 2010 Vancouver games.

Darryl Sydor is a Star again. Traded from Pittsburgh for Philippe Boucher. Truthfully, this is a head scratcher. Sydor was a big part of that blue line for the Penguins' run to the finals. You think you would want to keep that stability there. But then again, I am no GM.

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