Pregame #7: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Washington Capitals (6-0-0) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5-0-0)
Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), National: NHL Network (HD)
Games Remaining:
Mar 22, 2012 WSH@DET, 7:30 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  Gaoalie Coach Jim Bedard (73 GP 1977-79)
Former Red Wings:  RW Mike Knuble (62 GP, 1996-98)
Our Bloguin Partner:  Nightmare on Helm Street

Read about the Chrysler of the NHL!

Two undefeated teams enter, only one leaves.  The Red Wings are the only other team in the NHL without a loss, so the Caps can expect a good game.  The Wings may have lost D Brian Rafalski to retirement, but they still boast future Hall of Fame D Nicklas Lidstrom, all-star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and an excellent supporting cast of skaters that exceptionally difficult to play against.  Detroit suffered the same fate as the Capitals in last year’s playoffs, a far too early playoff exit in the second round despite an excellent team and coaching staff, and like the Capitals, they have come out of the gate hungry.  An exceptionally disciplined team, the Red Wings have scored the 2nd most goals per game (3.60), behind only DC, and have allowed the fewest (1.40).

The Washington Capitals set a new record with each win for the best start in franchise history.  If the Capitals win tonight, they will be 7-0 and well on their way to another division title. After some early rough patches in their play, the Capitals seem to have found a consistent winning formula and are firing on all cylinders.  New Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun will be in goal once again, putting his 5-0 record to the test.  He has posted a 1.95 GAA, a .939 save percentage, and 1 shutout in his first 5 games.  With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf, G Dany Sabourin should be on the bench again as backup for one more game.

Injury Report: Capitals’ D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) is out. G Michal Neuvirth (foot) is out, but could return by Thursday.  RW Jay Beagle is out indefinitely with what is likely a consussion; considering he missed a big chunk of time in 2008-09 with a major concussion, we probably won’t see Beagle for a while.
-For the Red Wings, RW Jan Mursak (ankle) and D Mike Commodore (back) are on injured reserve.

Three Things To Watch For:

Free Flowing Hockey:  This should be some of the best hockey you’ll see in the first half of the season.  The Red Wings average just 7.2 penalty minutes per game, best in the NHL, and the Caps are second at 8.2.  There is an exceptional amount of talent on both benches, not to mention a lot of hardware in the form of Norris, Selke, Hart, Lady Byng, Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Ted Lindsay, and Calder Trophy winners in this game, plus a Jack Adams winner behind the Capitals’ bench.  Be sure to record this one.

Ty me down:  Since Red Wings starting goalie Jimmy Howard is scheduled for a rest, #2 goalie Ty Conklin is expected to get the nod tonight, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be any easier.  Back for a second stint in Detroit after spending the last 2 years in St. Louis, Conklin posted a shutout in his first game this season. The 35-year old Alaska native has seen it all: besides playing college hockey in New Hampshire, spending the lockout playing in Germany and representing the United States in 3 World Championships, three of Conklin’s 201 career NHL games have been played outdoors.  He was the starting goalie in the 2003 Heritage Classic for Edmonton, the 2008 Winter Classic for the Penguins and the 2009 Winter Classic for the Red Wings.  He’s also played in two playoff games, one in the Conferene Final in ’09 and one in the Stanley Cup Final in ’06. There’s not much that can faze him, so expect an excellent performance from him tonight.

Super Swedes: Both the Red Wings and the Caps boast a very international line-ups and their players from Sweden are at the core of their success.  The Caps’ 2 Swedes are led by Nicklas Backstrom, who is leading the NHL with 7 assists, and his 8 points lead the Caps.  The Red Wings boast a half-dozen Swedes, led by 7-tinme Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and perennial all-star C Henrik Zetterberg, who had a point per game last season.  Look for these players to lead the way yet again.