Sunday, October 10, 2010

Preview: Senators @ Capitals

Ottawa Senators @ Washington Capitals

Washington: 1-1-0, 2 points; 54-15-13, 121 points, 1st in EC last season
Leading scorer last season: Alex Ovechkin, 50-59-109
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Probable starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin

Ottawa: 0-2-0,  points; 44-32-6, 94 points, 5th in East last season
Leading scorer last season: Daniel Alfredsson, 20-51-71
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.2%
Probable starting goalie:
Player to watch: C Jason Spezza

The Senators are one of the streakiest teams in the NHL. They have a decent group of forwards and defensemen, but their goalies adventure. As Down Goes Brown and Bloge Salming put it, "this exciting team features two young goalies, both of whom get to play in every game." Ouch.

Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin tend to light up Ottawa. Ovechkin is 16-14-30 in 20 games against the Sens, and Semin is 11-9-20 in 15 games. Both seemed to pick up their play to normal level against New Jersey, and they'll need to continue their play against Ottawa, which, by Fenwick%, is about as good as Washington. While Washington has better offense and, if you ask me, much better goaltending, it is conceivable that Washington's advantages don't come through because of poor play. It wouldn't be the first time.

Then again, with the way Boudreau used his lines against New Jersey--power versus power--I think there's less of a chance that happens. Line for line, the Capitals beat the Senators. With power versus power, they should have a stronger group of five players than Ottawa out on the ice for almost all even strength time.

(Regarding power vs power: It's conceivable John Maclean simply used Zajac against Backstrom and Boudreau didn't bother to switch, but with the last change, Boudreau didn't try and actively get Backstrom easier matchups. We can see from the top trio's +5 Zonestart that they were getting the toughest zonestarts of all Caps forwards, so Boudreau seemed to actually be trying power versus power. I wonder if he read my post the other day)

Even though the New Jersey game was only 1 game, the results are promising. The Capitals hung in there, caught a break or two, and kept with it until the Devils were forced to open up the game a bit (and be riskier). Ottawa isn't nearly as disciplined as New Jersey. They'll surrender both the rush and the cycle game.

Ottawa's real strength is in the forwards (relatively speaking, that is). With Alfredsson and Spezza, the Senators could have 2 90 point players this season. Fisher and Kovalev also provide some potential offensive punch. On a given night their group of forwards could abuse any given defense. Most nights, however, they don't. As long as the Capitals contain Ottawa's ability to attack off the rush, they should be fine. What's the best way to do that? Control the puck and be on the attack yourself.

Ottawa through two games has a -5 goal differential, 28th in the NHL. I don't see any reason for the Senators to suddenly break through against Washington. The one chance Ottawa really has is with special teams, but it would take a herculean effort in that regard for Ottawa to make up their deficit at evens. I guess when you have Sergei Gonchar playing 7 mins of PP per game with 4 more minutes shorthanded, things could go either way. Theoretically. Capitals 5, Senators 1.

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