October 30, 2014

Caps in Advance: Week 3

Is there any question the undefeated Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL at this moment?  No?  Good.  Washington outscored opponents 15-3 in three wins last week…opponents with a combined 13-6-1 record.

This week the Caps head out on an abbreviated western road trip against a pair of Northwest Division opponents. Washington’s next two games could not possibly be against two more different squads, as far as the 2010-11 season is concerned. The Vancouver Canucks finished first overall in the NHL in the regular season and came as close as possible to the Stanley Cup without winning it, losing to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Cup finals. Meanwhile, the Oilers finished dead last in the NHL, with a point total less than half that of their division foes.

It would be too much to say that this season has been a reversal of fortunes so far, but certainly the gap between the haves and the have-nots is closer. Vancouver is looking to improve from an uneven start, while Edmonton is hoping that their collection of young talent can finally produce wins consistently.

In the Washington room, the big question is whether the Caps can maintain their impressive momentum after a four-day layoff and facing two out-of-conference opponents.  The Oilers and Canucks are good hockey teams, but they’re no Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

Games this week:

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27TH @ EDMONTON OILERS
9:30pm, Rexall Place, Edmonton
TV: TSN, CSN-DC

Records:
Washington Capitals: 7-0-0
Edmonton Oilers: 3-2-2
Only meeting this season

Last year:
Capitals 48-23-11, 107 pts, 1st in Southeast, 1st in Eastern Conference
Oilers 25-45-12, 62 pts, 5th in Northwest Division, 15th in Western Conference

Ignore the 25 wins last season, ignore the last-place finish. Years of terrible hockey turned in to high draft choices, which are maturing into sweet fruit in Edmonton. On Thursday the Caps will face an Oilers lineup which includes forwards Sam Gagner (6th overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft), Jordan Eberle (22nd, 2008), Magnus Paajarvi (10th, 2009), Taylor Hall (1st, 2010), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st, 2011).

Nugent-Hopkins has been the most impressive of the young crew, scoring a hat trick in his third game while centering a line with Eberle and Hall. Thursday’s game could be the last one for Nugent-Hopkins in the NHL this season, if the Oilers choose to send him back to the WHL to keep him from accruing a season toward free agency.

Also performing well for the Oilers this season is “Captain Canada,” Ryan Smyth, a rich man’s Mike Knuble who was traded in June to the squad with which he played his first 12 NHL seasons. Even though he doesn’t have a ‘C’ or ‘A’ on his jersey Smyth is unquestionably one of the Oilers’ leaders, and he brings a physical game (23 penalty minutes) as well as a scoring touch around the net (2 goals, 2 assists in 7 games).

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 29TH @ VANCOUVER CANUCKS
10:00pm, Rogers Arena, Vancouver
TV: CBC, CSN-DC

Records:
Washington Capitals: 7-0-0
Vancouver Canucks: 4-3-1
Only meeting this season

Last year:
Canucks 54-19-9, 117 pts, 1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference

Vancouver was the best team in the NHL last season from start to finish. This year’s incarnation is essentially the same team, missing only stalwart defenseman Christian Erhoff and grinder Raffi Torres. All-Star netminder Roberto Luongo is the best goalie the Caps have faced so far this season (even if his postseason resume is less than stellar).

Washington’s third line of Chimera-Laich-Ward and top D pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be tasked with shutting down Vancouver’s first line of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows. Even if they succeed, a healthy Ryan Kesler is a significant offensive threat on the second line, as well as a top two-way forward.  Over the weekend, the Canucks acquired David Booth to skate alongside Kesler, and if the forward can pick up his game to previous levels, the Vancouver offense just got that much more potent.

Finally, Vancouver-Washington will reunite former teammates Tomas Vokoun and Keith Ballard, who played together for two seasons in Florida. It’s a good thing Ballard, a defenseman, will probably never go near Vokoun’s crease, or else we would see if the goalie ever forgave Ballard for this little love tap a few seasons ago.

Comments

  1. Scott Gater says:

    While I will give you that Edmonton isn’t close to their hay days of the 80’s, the western conference has produced much better hockey then the east for a few years now. Just because the folks at NHL HQ don’t let you see much of the west, don’t dismiss them so quickly. The Sedins, Kesler and crew are as much or more exciting then the flyers or pens.

    • Abram Fox says:

      Thanks for the comment, Scott! Trust me when I say I’m not sleeping on the Western Conference…I won my fantasy league last year on the strength of a roster including D. Sedin, Kesler, Luongo, and Erhoff, plus Corey Perry, Datsyuk, and a few others.

      What I meant by the closing sentence of my introduction, though, was that the Penguins and Flyers are Washington’s rivals, and there is lengthy, recent regular season and playoff history between the Caps and those franchises. Not so much with Edmonton and Vancouver, other than personal interest like Chimera and the Oilers, and Ward and the Canucks. Plus, neither of Washington’s next two opponents have been playing quite at the level of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia…close (and I’ll be curious to see the results of Canucks with Booth tonight and tomorrow), but Vancouver has a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover and the Oilers are still trying to figure out how to turn their insane raw talent into consistent results.

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