Pregame #33: Washington Capitals vs. Anaheim Ducks

Washington Capitals (18-11-3) vs. Anaheim Ducks (16-13-4)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:00PM
TV:   Comcast SportsNet  (Game On!)
Radio: XM, 1500AM, 820AM
Don’t Forget To Watch HBO Tonight at 10pm for: 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic 
Friendly Faces of Former Capitals:  Josh Green, (2002-03), Randy Carlyle (Assistant Coach 2002-04)
Sons of Former Capitals:  Brendan Mikkelson, (Son of Bill Mikkelson, 1974-77)
The Enemy:
On The Duck Pond
Anaheim Calling

The Capitals are in the midst of a 6-game losing streak, the longest of the Boudreau-era, and something most of the team and its fans have become unaccustomed to.  Tonight marks a chance for redemption for the Capitals, who will be looking to get back on track after an especially ugly 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday night. 

The Capitals have recalled Andrew Gordon and Jay Beagle from Hershey ostensibly due to injury and illness concerns, but it could also be a statement to a struggling team that at least some players in the organization would be happy to play the system. 

Injury Report:  For the Capitals, defensemen Jeff Schultz is expected to be out until January with a broken thumb and Tyler Sloan remains on injured reserve with a groin injury.  Center Boyd Gordon will be out at least a week with an undisclosed lower-body injury.  Enforcer D.J. King is also on injured reserve.  TSN is listing Alex Semin, Mike Green, and Marcus Johansson as questionable with the flu. 

The Ducks will be without Jason Jaffray and Aaron Voros with long term injuries.  Finnish friends Teemu Selanne (groin) and Saku Koivu (flu) are questionable. 

Time to get the Zapper out.  Read on.

Three Keys For Success:  The theme here is “Getting back to basics.”

Attack the Crease:  The Capitals have been taking far too many shots from the outside with nobody in front.  Many goals in the NHL are scored from less then 10 feet away from the goal with traffic in front.  The Caps have the skill for fancy plays, but only if they keep opposing teams honest.  A net presence is crucial for scoring success in the NHL, and it can’t be up to three players to do it.  Caps besides Mathieu Perreault, Mike Knuble, and Matt Hendricks have to attack the goal.  It’s no secret why those three have 6 of the Caps’ 8 goals in the last 6 games, and Ovie has the other 2.  But when was Alex Ovechkin’s last goal off a rebound?  He can’t realisitically expect to break out of a scoring slump by keeping a safe distance from the goal at all times.  The same goes for every single forward on the team, espcially for the players who are counted on to be aggressive or contribute offense.  That means you, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr.  Look for call-ups Beagle and Gordon to follow in Perreault’s footsteps and crash the crease in an attempt to make the team on a more regular basis. 

Clear the Crease:  The Capitals have been allowing an alarming number of goals in the past several games.  This is in no small part to the injuries and instability of the defense corps and some miscommunication.  That’s to be expected.  That does not excuse the times players are left alone in front of the crease.  The responsibility of a defenseman is to play the man, not the puck.  He should box players out of the crease to allow his goalie a clear view of the shots, and as soon as the puck is within 10 feet of the crease, every opposing player near the goal should be on his butt.  This is not new, this has been taught to these defenseman since they were 5, whether by a coach or by Don Cherry on a TV broadcast.  How these players suddenly forget their jobs is beyond me, but it has to stop. 

There is no “I” in “TEAM”:  The Capitals have been a remarkably easy team to beat lately.  Not only do they make lazy line changes and leave opposing players all alone, but they also give up at the first sign of trouble.  Never mind playing a complete 60 minutes, they need to get to 30 first.  When the going gets tough, the Capitals’ skill players decide they can use a time machine and go back to juniors when they could do everything by themselves.  I know most people are too young to remember Greg Joly, but he was the Caps first ever draft pick, the next Bobby Orr.  The big difference?  Bobby Orr used his teammates, and Greg Joly crashed and burned trying to do everything himself, quite possibly the biggest draft flop in league history.  “Divide and conquer” ain’t new, boys.  Other teams know you’ll be puck hogs as soon as you fall behind, and that makes you much easier to defend.