Game Time: 6:00PM
Too Insider Washington: Japers' Rink
Everyone OK? Make it through another amateur hour known as St. Patrick's Day? I hope you avoided green beer. If you did consume it, I hope your hangover is horrible. Green beer? Come on. Have some respect. Get some water, coffee, or another beer and get ready for hockey again. This evening we welcome the clown college that is the Washington Capitals to the United Center. After being swept by the Lightning in last year's playoffs, there were plenty of calls for coach Bruce Boudreau's head but he kept his job over the summer. Starting the year the Capitals looked lifeless and despite a winning 12-9-1 record, Boudreau was axed following a 5-1 loss to a broken Sabres team. At the time the team was on a 3-6-1 streak and it seemed obvious the team had quit on their coach, perhaps most importantly, star and captain Alex Ovechkin was rumored to have major problems with Boudreau.
To replace Boudreau, the Capitals brought in former star and captain, Dale Hunter. The results have been... not great. Their record hasn't improved much with Hunter (24-20-5) and they've given up the Southeast division lead to Florida and sit right on the bubble in 8th place, just two points ahead of the surprising Jets. So Hunter's struggling and perhaps even still searching for a system (which is a scary thought for Caps fans). But it can't all be a coaching issue. After sinking his coach, captain Alex Ovechkin needed to step up and carry his weight and he's failed. After three straight 50-goal seasons, he's put up 32 last year and doesn't look to be getting much more this year as he's yet to crack 30 with 11 games remaining. While he's still always a threat, the flash and danger has mostly vanished. It used to be that any time he jumped over the boards there was a distinct change in the air and you felt that a highlight goal was waiting to happen. If the Capitals ever want to be an elite threat, they're going to need to get their captain back on their game.
Not helping the Caps is a concussion problem of their own to their top center. Nicklas Backstrom has missed the last 33 games with the brown brain though he appears to be close to returning maybe just in time for the post-season, if the Caps can get there. And as bad as things may seem, the Capitals aren't exactly done for the year. Their playoff position is far from secure but they're making a strong run to close out the year. Both teams tonight have identical 6-3-1 records in the last ten games.
Beyond the coaching and leadership issues, the Capitals are simply a mediocre team this year. They don't particularly do anything all that well, they're in the middle of the pack in most major statistics and they've got potentially damning issues with their goaltending. That sounds frighteningly familiar, doesn't it?
For the Blackhawks, there aren't many changes. Corey Crawford will get his second consecutive start after a particularly solid outing against Dallas. The team is still without a true #1 goalie but any type of solid run will obviously help either man's chances. Perhaps more important than which goalie starts is how the team in front of him plays. We should have long ago given up the hopes that either goalie is going to steal us a game.. it really hasn't happened this year. We've seen solid outings but it's not a trump card that the Hawks can depend on if the team in front is off. Lucky for us, we've seen some great games since the deadline and the Hawks are getting just a little bit of swagger back as the season winds down. Kane has stepped up with 9 points in 9 games and the defense is getting more out of Oduya than I think we imagined. Another solid outing from the whole team should mean two points tonight.
Let's Go Hawks