Thursday, October 7, 2010

Capitals Season and @ Thrashers Preview

As I write this I cannot sleep. I am restless, just waiting for a new chapter in my life to begin. Actually, for several new chapters to begin. In a few hours I'll be heading off to start my senior year of high school. On top of college applications and research, on top of writing daily season previews, on top of working on that Corsi post I've been doing, I'll have the added workload of homework--researching stocks, writing essays, and reading books.

I wrote that in the wee hours of August 26. In a few hours, the Capitals are also about to embark on a journey. It will be a marathon that they leave in the dust.

They will take to the ice at Philips Arena, looking to reaffirm their dominance over the Southeast division. It won't be easy. Steve Yzerman, officially general manager of Tampa Bay for less than four months, has already made impact moves that have improved the Lightning. The Thrashers have added pieces from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago, and coupled with another year of growth that will be a better team. Carolina will be icing one of the league's younger teams, and with their playoffs-almost-lottery-playoffs track record they will be competitive. Dale Tallon, who deserves a fair amount of credit for Chicago's success, has already started off well by having a strong draft, and Florida may be more competitive down the stretch. Its track record says it will hang around the playoff picture until the final month. This Southeast division is much more rebellious.

The Capitals have played over 3000 games, and yet have missed out on one very special occasion each and every game--raising a banner with a picture of a silver cup on it. It will be at least 98 games more. 98 games during which GMs around the league will tinker, will panic, will be dumb, will be intelligent, will be fired, will be hired, will try and build a team that can compete for the chance to raise that banner and touch that silver 30lb chalice.

It won't be easy. The owners are paying over $60 million each for this 1-in-30 lottery. At times, it will seem too short. Mistakes cannot always be remedied. Coaches lose their jobs at the blink of an eye. Fanbases will have dreams crushed by a snapping sticks.

But new fans will be born. Neighbors will stop bickering over their fence and concentrate on one thing--hope. Hope that dreams can be realized: not just dreams of twenty athletes who strap on skates and pads every day, but also of communities. Of cities. Dare I say, of countries. Sports is one of the most powerful uniting forces in the world. There was peace during World Cup matches. There was celebration during the Olympics. If you're reading this, chances are hockey could potentially make you go hug your worst enemy, propose to your girlfriend, or finally donate to Saves for Kids (or Mike Green's charity).

While April seems a long way from now, in April the season will have likely seemed too short. Let us pray that in June it will have seemed too long, and that yours truly will have a reason to high-tail it out of Georgia and back to Washington in time for the city's first championship parade since last millennium. 51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in EC. What happens in the playoffs is up to George McPhee and any trades, waiver-wire pickups, or signings he makes.

Washington Capitals @ Atlanta Thrashers

Washington: 0-0-0; 54-15-13, 121 points, 1st in EC last season
Leading scorer last season: Alex Ovechkin, 50-59-109
Fenwick% last season: 51.5%
Probable starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth
Player to watch: rookie C Marcus Johansson, making his NHL debut

Atlanta: 0-0-0; 35-34-13, 83 points, 10th in East last season
Leading scorer last season: Nik Antropov, 24-43-67
Fenwick% last season: 47.8%
Probable starting goalie: Chris Mason
Player to watch: D-turned-F-turned-D Dustin Byfuglien

When we last saw the Thrashers, they were doing quite well despite having traded Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils just prior to the Olympic break. The Thrashers have infamously added Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and Brent Sopel from Chicago via trade, and signed Chris Mason to be their starter in goal. With added growth from Zach Bogosian, Brian Little, Evander Kane, Niclas Bergfors, and others, Atlanta could contend for the playoffs.

Still, they're no match for Washington. The defending President's Trophy winners are returning almost their entire lineup, and even upgraded in a couple of areas. In a new season, anything can happen, but I don't think the offseason moves Atlanta made will make up the huge difference between the teams on paper.

I can't really write much here, as as of this writing the 2010-2011 NHL season has not yet commenced. Just don't be surprised if the Caps come out flat, or if they come out strong. This in many ways is still a team trying to find its identity. During this time, there will be growing pains. Better to have those now than later. Thrashers 3, Capitals 2 (OT).

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