Well, it’s here. Opening Night. The first game of the 2009-10 NHL season will feature the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals. The team with the East’s best record last year against one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. Browse any season preview and you will find some combination of the B’s and Caps in the top-3 of everyone’s East standings. It is not a stretch that the two teams playing the first official shift of the season could be playing each other again for the Wales trophy in late May. I am sure each team would prefer a less-intense opener to ease into the season, but there is also something to be said for jumping right into the fray.
Here at Boards and Blades, we will look at the season opener from both sides. This is the first “Face-Off” of the 2009-10 season. In this segment, I will debate the keys to the game with a fan of the Bruins’ opponent. If you are on this site and have allegiances to another of the Original 30, please contact me and we can bring you on board for a game (Oh, and thank you for reading.)
Let me introduce Capitals season ticket holder and Dmitri Kristich afficianado, Rock the Red. A friend of mine from college, he loves him some Capitals and can put words together coherently so he gets the nod. (Ed. Note: This is not a knock on Capitals fans, but on my friends in general) All kidding aside, he is one of the most intense hockey fans I know and it is a pleasure to have him contribute. Without further ado, let’s drop the puck…
(Note: We didn’t write these together so there is some overlap)
Why the Bruins Will Win the Game:
Boards and Blades:
1. Goaltending. The Bruins have known who would start this game since the moment they skated off the ice at the end of last year. Timmy Thomas won the Vezina Trophy last year and is one of the best goalies in the league. He is all over the place and in the right place at the same time. The Bruins’ defense knows what to expect of him and play accordingly. The Capitals are in flux here. It appears they want to play Simeon Varlamov, but are still giving Jose Theodore some run. Whoever is in net for the Caps is the second-best goalie in this game.
2. Depth. The Bruins have a third line that can score in addition to its defensive responsibilities. Will they have that opportunity against Ovechkin? Who knows, but the possibility is there. The Caps roll a more traditional third unit with mostly defensive responsibilities. The question will be if these guys can turn AHL scoring success into NHL points. Maybe by the end of the season, but not right now. Ironically, the loss of Chris Borque may hurt them here for the short term.
3. Home ice. The Bruins never open at home. The circus always sends thim out west for a long roadie to start the season. Tonight, they have the chance to make a statement at home and really carry on the love affair with the fans started last year. Expect lots of banging early.
Rock the Red: 1. Tim Thomas. Regardless of the overtime winner he let in against Alexander Semin from the neutral zone, one of the Bruins’ biggest advantages over the Caps lies in the unwanted Drew Carey. The Capitals have always had trouble with goalies of Thomas’ ilk — ones who are completely unpredictable and have no form (see: Hasek, Dominik). The Thominator’s superior flopping abilities throw the Caps’ sharp shooters off as they have no idea what part of the net is open or what his tendencies are going to be. This advantage over the Caps can be minimized if Bruce Boudreau goes with his far superior goalie and not his overpaid sieve. If Theodore starts in net, this is a matchup of one of the best starting goalies in the league vs. arguably the worst. If Varlamov gets the nod, this is a much more even matchup.
2. Team Defense. Do any of these names instill the kind of fear that a Zdeno Chara does into the hearts of opposing forwards? Shaone Morrisson, Milan Jurcina, John Erskine, Brian Pothier, Tom Poti, Tyler Sloan, walking pylon Jeff Schultz, even that Norris finalist stud Mike Green. Sure, some of these guys can lay the odd crunching hit (but never the biggest one of them all, the horrible Jeff Schultz), but none of them will make you pay for standing in front of the net, and there’s nothing this group of defensemen loves more than blown coverages and unmolested bodies in their own zone, especially for a group of supposedly puck-moving defensemen. From top to bottom, Boston’s defense is built to play a simple, sound, and solid hockey game. Nothing flashy, but all in all very effective. They will have to play an air-tight game to keep Washington’s top 6 off the board.
3. Milan Lucic and Boston’s Physical Play. Just ask Brian Pothier about this (not that he remembers), but Boston’s forecheck is vicious. They will hit you, they will hurt you, and they will make every defenseman pay for breaking the puck out. Jurcina and Erskine are big boys, they can handle it, but the other defensemen will get intimidated and cough the puck up. And when Lucic starts running around, the Caps have no answer for him. Letting Brashear, their only tough guy, go this offseason might come back to haunt them (but then again, seeing Glen Sather idiotically give him a 2-year contract for 1.5 million could be one of the worst moves of the offseason).
Why the Capitals Will Win the Game:
Rock the Red:
1. Power Play. At times, this unit gets too cute with its passes and doesn’t get enough traffic in front of the net. Other times, it looks like it can score at will. With the addition of Mike Knuble in the offseason, the Caps have addressed this issue and will gets tons of grit to stand on top of the crease and tap in rebounds off Ovechkin and Green bullets from the point. Look for the Caps to improve on their already impressive powerplay stats and make teams pay for their penalties. Depending on how the refs call the game, the Bruins’ physicality could be construed as dirty play, and the Caps might get a lot of powerplays out of it.
2. Team Speed. Losing Phil Kessel will not only hurt the Bruins in the goal department, but also in its overall speed. They really do not have much in the way of speed to keep up with Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin. Look for them to try to keep the pace of the play high while the Bruins will try to slow it down.
3. This is a team that is fully capable of coming back from any deficit, and I fully expect the Bruins to come out flying and have the Caps on their heels by the first intermission. No team overcame more 3rd period deficits to get a point than the Caps last year, highlighted by a game in MSG when they overcame a 4-0 lead in the 3rd period to win 5-4 in overtime on a goal by former Bruin Shaone Morrisson of all people. So don’t count these Caps out no matter what the score is in this game.
Boards and Blades:
1. Alexander Ovechkin. The two-time Hart Trophy winner is only 24 years old and may only just be entering his prime. He is the most exciting player and hockey and is on the short list for most exciting athlete in sports. He can control a game at will and seems to thrive on that feeling. He has one speed – ridiculous. Always on the go and always looking to get the puck on net (as evidenced by leading the league in shots the last FOUR years), he is dangerous as soon as he enters the offensive zone.
2. Offensive defensemen. Mike Green had a serious case for the Norris last year, with one of the best offensive seasons by a defenseman ever. He scored 31 goals – 18 of which came on the man advantage. He is almost like a fourth forward at times out there and is never afraid to jump in the play. On a team with as much forward skill as the Caps, it is hard enough marking the three guys you are suppossed to. When a fourth sharpshooter joins the attack, good luck. In addition to Green, there is the often-underwhelming Tom Poti. Maybe I still remember his dazzling offense at B.U., but I feel like he should be a better point producer than he has been. He is still someone to watch and is effective on the PP.
3. A New Weapon. The body parked in Boston’s slot area tonight will look familiar. Mike Knuble was a reliable goal-scorer for the Bruins in the early 2000s. Now, he rides shotgun with Ovie, adding a component to Washington’s offense that has been missing. The Caps spent more time on the perimeter than an undersized point guard in 2009 and now have a big body to park in front of the net to draw attention away from Alex, Backstrom and Semin.
The Pabst Blue Ribbon Key Matchup
Boards and Blades: Keep an eye on Milan Lucic vs. the Caps’ D, mainly Mike Green. With Brashear gone, there is no real equal to Lucic’s game wearing red. This will allow him to run around a bit and force the issue. His role on the first line is to remove defenders from the puck in the offensive zone. Can players like Green and Poti make quick decisions and start the play before Looch gets to them? A few turnovers caused by Milan could give the Bruins an insurmountable lead.
Rock the Red: Ovi vs. Chara. This is quite honestly my favorite matchup to watch in all of sports, besides Federer/Nadal, Tiger vs. his putter, and Vick vs. his dogs (too soon?) It’s pure art watching the two best people in the entire world at what they do go at it toe-to-toe. Usually the winner of this battle wins the game.
Boards and Blades: A strong first period from the Bruins is too much for Alex the Gr8 to overcome. Boston opens the season with a 4-2 win. Bergeron, Wideman, Recchi and Bitz score for Boston. Ovie and Knuble score for the Caps. Claude Julien wins the bald competition between the coaches while Bruce Boudreau is named portliest.
Rock the Red: Like I said, this Caps team is completely different when Varlamov is backstopping them. It all depends on who Bruce puts in net on Thursday. If it’s Theodore, I foresee a 4-3 Bruins victory. With Varly in net, the Caps will steal one on the road, 4-3, in overtime.
What are your thoughts? Big Bruins ‘W’ to start the season or do the Caps steal an important road win? Any chance someone on the Caps steps up and drops the mitts with Thornton or Lucic? Does Ray Bourque bring the caserole Mrs. 77 was planning to serve Chris tonight before he was waived?