Pregame #19: Washington Capitals vs. Phoenix Coyotes

Washington Capitals (10-7-1) at Phoenix Coyotes (10-5-3)
Verizon Center
Time:  7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Familiar Faces of Former Caps:  C Boyd Gordon (363 GP, 2003-11), Head Coach Dave Tippett (91 GP, 1990-92)
Our Bloguin Partner: Hipchecks

We’ll show you ice in the desert!

After a 7-1 shellacking on Saturday, the Washington Capitals are no longer leading the Southeast Division.  While people who follow the Capitals are calling the team’s recent slide rock bottom, those who have followed the team for the past 10 years know better.  It was during the 2003-04 season, when General Manager George McPhee had built the Capitals around high-priced free agents and a successful AHL coach named Bruce, that the Capitals hit rock bottom.  They eventually fired the coach and blew up the roster on the way to a last-place finish, bringing in a slew of draft picks and prospects to rebuild the team.  Ironically, many of those players and picks that made the Caps a winner are gone now, and the club that will take the ice tonight bears little resemblance to the team that came out of nowhere to win the Southeast Division in 2008. Only 8 players remain on the roster from the high point of this current team, the Game 6 win over the Penguins to put the Caps a game away from the 2009 Conference Finals.  Many of the players who have taken their spots are high-priced free agents, so it’s no surprise the Capitals have been playing like a disjointed group of individuals lately.  The talent is there, but if the players keep mailing in their performances, they’ll hit rock bottom soon enough. 

The Phoenix Coyotes are rolling right now.  They have won their last 4 games, are 5-0-1 in their last 6, and 8-1-1 in their last ten.  They are also 6-2-1 away from home on the season.  They have been playing like a team, getting strong defensive play, strong goaltending, and timely offense, not to mention great coaching.  The Capitals have the chance to match the Coyotes’ disciplined systems play and get back to basics.  The ‘Yotes are healthy and talented and should be a good, stiff opponent for the Caps to focus on to get their game back. 

On another note, the Phoenix Coyotes have a new assistant coach this season.  After a season out of the NHL, John Anderson was hired this summer by the ‘Yotes.   Anderson spent most of his pro coaching career in the Thrashers’ organization, where he won the 2008 Calder Cup and eventually rose to head coach of the big club in 2008.  Anderson was fired as Thrashers coach at the end of the 2009-10 season after 2 unsuccessful seasons, due in no small part to several losses to his best friend, Bruce Boudreau. It’s good to see one of hockey’s good guys get back into the game.  Congratulations, John!

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (groin) and RW Jay Beagle (head) are out.
-For the Coyotes, D Michal Rozsival (head) and C Daymond Langkow (undisclosed) are out. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Agent Smith:  The Coyotes raised a few eyebrows when they opted to replace All-Star netminder Ilya Bryzgalov with Tampa Bay’s backup goalie, Mike Smith.  Smith has more than ably filled in, starting out the season with a 9-3-3 record, a .936 save percentage, a 2.16 goals against average, and a shutout. The good news for the Capitals is the success they’ve had against him, routinely getting under his skin and peppering him with goals over the past few seasons.  Smith will have a chance to rectify his horrid numbers against the Caps tonight with a much better defensive team in front of him. 

Riverboat GamblerAfter Saturday night’s showing by the Caps’ defense, the Caps recalled 20-year old Dmitry Orlov from Hershey for Monday’s game. This move comes despite the Capitals having 6 healthy NHL defenders and absolutely no room under the salary cap.  Coach Boudreau and GM McPhee are hoping the Novokuznetsk native will bring the kind of mobility and offensive presence from the back end the Caps have been lacking in the absence of Mike Green.  Orlov is leading Bears defenders with 4 goals and 9 points in 15 games this season and has a reputation for being a “riverboat gambler,” taking risky offensive chances.  This must not seem like a great concern for the Caps management, as the defense has been horrid all around even when the defenders haven’t been taking chances. 

Miss me yet? (Part 2):  Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee made a business decision this Summer to let 27-year old unrestricted free agent center Boyd Gordon walk.  Citing the need for more offense from the 4th line center position, McPhee opted instead for 35-year old Jeff Halpern to play that role.  Now, 18 games into the season for both teams, Boyd Gordon has already matched his production from last season (3 goals, 9 points) in half the games, which is double the production from his replacement, (Halpern: 1 goal, 5 points).  Gordon also leads the team’s forwards in +/- (+7), blocked shots (31), and faceoff percentage (55.7%).  It seems his $1.35 million contract with the ‘Yotes was a shrewd one.