Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pre-Cap: Capitals vs. Thrashers

SE Division Champs, Second in EC


Fourth in SE, 13th in EC

The wounds that were inflicted Sunday have had less than 48 hours to fester and sting a Thrashers team that outplayed the Caps for two periods. It was the classic case of giant-killer vs. giant, but ultimately the Thrashers were squashed by a third period explosion of offense from unlikely heroes in Michael Nylander and Eric Fehr.

If the Caps haven't learned their lesson about falling asleep on falling sub-.500 opponents yet, Tuesday night's game could be another startling wakeup call.

We mentioned in the last pre-cap that Bruce Boudreau would be the key to the game, and sure enough, it was his second-intermission adjustments that propelled the Caps to victory. Now it's time to see if the verbal lashing or guilt trip that likely occurred in the locker room has sunk in.

Consider this a must-win game yet again, not because it keeps distance on the Devils, but rather that it keeps pressure on the Devils -- pressure that could likely cause them to succumb to a team like Carolina on Saturday. A Devils loss and a Capitals win would mean the Caps would need one more regulation win to secure the second slot.

This game also features an interesting storyline in rookie goalie prospect Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov, who has impressed in his starts, could very well be playing for the role of backup goalie this postseason. Brent Johnson may be returning, but the Capitals are using this game as a final litmus test for the Russian goalie.

Varlamov isn't the only prospect who's trying to make the postseason roster. Keith Aucoin has five points in his past five games and has been a "sparkplug" of energy on the Caps' fourth line. Aucoin currently has Donald Brashear's line slot, and the decision will ultimately be made, scoring or brawn?

One final storyline to watch is the possible re-emergence of Michael Nylander. One game and one goal is not a trend, but Nylander's work with Laich and Fehr was exceptional. The game-tying goal and game-winner came from the Fehr-Nylander-Laich line. Nylander played one of his best games of the season and earned the hard hat for his efforts.

We touched on Nylander possibly being a factor in the postseason, and these final games could be a step forward in getting him in full stride (or pirouette) for postseason.

If it started now...
The Capitals would be facing the Montreal Canadiens. A Penguins and Flyers win clinches their playoff spots. Carolina has the tie breaker over Philly and could claim the fourth seed by the season's end.

Special Powers
The Capitals were the best power play in the league for a few days, but have fallen .2% below the Red Wings with a 25.3% conversion rate. The PK sits at 80.3%, 19th in the league, but better than the Devils, Hurricanes, and Red Wings.

Kaptain Kovalchuk
Ilya Kovalchuk remains the shining star on an Atlanta team that has struggled but proven itself against tough opponents. Kovalchuk had a goal in Sunday's game and has 90 points on the season. He's been a historic pain in the Caps rear with 50 points in 41 career games against the Caps (22-28).

For the 60 goal watchers out there...
Our prediction is moving on plan. Ovie did not score a goal in Sunday's contest, but mathematically he's due for one tonight, one against the Bolts and none against the Cats. If Ovie is to reach 60 this season, he must record two goals in two separate games and have one lone goal. You can dream up any other combination, but the likely way to reach 60 is via hat trick against either the Bolts or Thrashers.

The Best. Team. Ever. (Regular Season-wise)
The Capitals are four points away from becoming the best Capitals team in franchise history in terms of points.

Thrashers Blogs
Bird Watchers Anon.


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