October 8 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap pre-game podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Live Pre-Game show at 5:45, both on washingtoncaps.com
New York Rangers (2-1)
Washington Capitals (2-0-1)
Washington takes on a second straight Atlantic Division foe on Thursday night when the New York Rangers make their first visit of the season to Verizon Center.
The Caps suffered a 6-5 overtime loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, losing a lead late in the third and settling for a single point. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov had a tough night against the Flyers, giving up four second-period tallies before yielding to veteran Jose Theodore.
Theodore is expected to get his second start of the season and his first on home ice on Thursday against the Rangers.
The Blueshirts are a familiar foe for the Capitals. The two teams went head-to-head twice in the preseason and went through a seven-game playoff series last spring, although the Rangers have endured a great deal of roster turnover since that playoff battle.
“I think so,” replies Caps right wing Matt Bradley when asked whether his team’s recent games with the Rangers will be of value when New York comes to town on Thursday. “Bruce talked about it today. There are really no secrets between our two teams. We both know each other very well. It’s a matter of which team wants it more [Thursday] night, because we’re pretty evenly matched. There are no hidden secrets that they have or we have against them.”
Washington had some discipline issues in Tuesday’s game, taking 10 minor penalties (one was negated by a Flyers goal on a delayed penalty) and surrendering three power play goals to Philadelphia. The Caps know they were fortunate to come away with a point on a night in which they spent so much time in the penalty box.
“The way the refs call it these days,” begins Bradley. “if you have your stick anywhere near someone’s hands they are going to call it. If you grab somebody with your free hand, they are going to call it. You can say that some of the penalties aren’t warranted, but we all know that’s how they are going to call it and there is really no excuse for doing it.
“There is no gray area there. If you put your stick on someone or you grab someone, it’s going to be a penalty no matter if you do anything or not. So I really don’t think that’s an excuse. It’s just us being undisciplined. You are not going to win too many games with 10 penalties.”
Washington has had no difficulty scoring thus far in the young season. It has tallied at least four goals in three straight games to start the 2009-10 campaign.
Dating back to the end of 2008-09, the Capitals have now scored four or more goals in 10 straight games, going 7-1-2 in those 10 contests. That is a remarkable record for that stretch, because the Caps have allowed a stunning total of 35 goals – an average of 3.5 per game – during the same span. Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the league’s most porous defensive team over the 82-game regular season. The Leafs allowed an average of 3.49 goals per game last season.
The Capitals are currently carrying eight defensemen, a number that makes it difficult for each member of the octet to receive regular duty. Despite winning the first two games of the season, Boudreau tweaked the blueline a bit for the Philly game, inserting Jeff Schultz for his first action of the season in place of Brian Pothier. Schultz was fine in limited duty on Tuesday, but the newly formed duo of Tom Poti and John Erskine struggled. Poti and Erskine were on the ice for five of Philly’s six goals on the night.
Boudreau did not fault the positioning of the tandem.
“They might have been in proper position, but they had a great seat for watching,” says the Caps coach. “In the end, that’s what they were doing. They were watching everything. Together, they had a rough game [Tuesday] night. They were on for five goals against.”
Washington reassigned forward Boyd Kane to AHL Hershey on Wednesday. With Eric Fehr not quite ready for game action, the Caps have need for a winger to replace Kane. And defenseman Tyler Sloan might turn out to be the guy to fill the bill.
“We might try him on left wing tomorrow,” says Boudreau of Sloan. “It’s a thought that’s bandied about that until [Eric] Fehr and [Tomas] Fleischmann are ready, to get people [into the lineup] is to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.”
That position on the seven defensemen/eleven forwards issue is a radical departure from Boudreau’s stance on the same issue just seven days ago. Prior to the team’s season opener against Boston, Boudreau was asked about the possibility of using seven defensemen and 11 forwards, as a means of keeping his blueliners active and relatively happy.
“I don’t like it,” he said flatly. “I just don’t like it.”
A week later there has been a bit of an about face, and some elaboration, too.
“Alex [Ovechkin] takes up so much ice time that sometimes the fourth line guy doesn’t get as much as he deserves,” says Boudreau. “And especially if there are a lot of penalties like there were [in Philadelphia Tuesday] night. Boyd [Kane] only got five minutes of ice time. And Sloan has played left wing for me before in Hershey and he did quite well. He wasn’t Tomas Fleischmann handling the puck or Alex but he did quite and adequate job because he’s a good skater and a smart person.”
It may be worth noting that both the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins won Stanley Cups while skating frequently with 11 forwards and seven defensemen during their respective playoff runs.
After dropping its season opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday, the Rangers have recorded successive victories over Ottawa and New Jersey.
New York’s rookie defensive duo of Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy have scored three of the team’s 10 goals to date, accounting for all of the Blueshirts’ blueline scoring on the young season.
Despite averaging just 13:31 in ice time in the team’s three games, the 19-year-old Del Zotto has scored two goals and has added an assist. One of his goals and his helper have come on the power play, where he is averaging 4:39 per game, second on the team and tops among Rangers blueliners.
Del Zotto, who played his junior hockey for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, was New York’s first choice (20th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He victimized future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur of the Devils for a goal on Monday night, becoming the youngest player ever to score against the veteran New Jersey netminder. Del Zotto joins Blue Jackets’ blueliner Rostislav Klesla as just the second teen-aged defenseman ever to light the lamp behind Brodeur.