(Photo from Yahoo)
First things first.... Brooks Laich is reportedly returning to the lineup tonight! The essential 2nd line forward was hit by a puck deflected off the crossbar from a shot by rookie defenseman John Carlson. Laich (#21) usually is on the second line with Brendan Morrison and Alexander Semin.... that'd be a first line on many teams. He has set career highs in points, assists, and goals this season, as well as having his first season with a plus/minus rating higher than zero. This 26 year old Canadian will hopefully be a feature on the Capitals roster for some time.
Now.... about the game.
The Atlanta Thrashers and the Washington Capitals face off for the fifth time, out of six meetings this season. The Caps have been dominant in this series, with their wins so far coming with scores of 5-4, 4-3, 8-1, and 5-2. This is the perfect game for the Capitals to break out of their recent slump, dropping three games in a row (to Carolina, Calgary, and Ottawa). Also, this would be a good time for Alexander Ovechkin to regain the NHL points and goals lead; he trails Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh by 1 goal and Henrik Sedin of Vancouver by 3 points.... he has scored 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) this season in four games against Atlanta.
Semyon Varlamov reportedly will be in net tonight vs the Thrashers. Varly's last appearance was Sunday, after Jose Theodore was pulled against Calgary after allowing 3 goals in a little over 10 minutes. I, personally, though Varlamov did fairly well, as one of the 2 goals he let in was a total fluke alley-oop shot that managed to go over his shoulder, untouched by anyone, into the net. Other than that, I felt he was strong, which is good. The Capitals might not be able to rely on Jose Theodore in the playoffs, and should he falter, Bruce Boudreau will probably be at relative ease knowing he has a very capable and confident goaltender waiting on the bench. Very few teams, if any, can say that heading into the postseason. The closest anyone comes is Montreal, with both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, and Boston, with Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas. Many teams, such as San Jose (Evgeni Nabokov, Thomas Griess) and Chicago (Antii Niemi, Christobal Huet) cannot say that they have two goaltenders than can win a playoff series. I would even say that the Capitals have three NHL level goaltenders, when you count Michal Neuvirth down in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, who was very good in place of an injured Varlamov.
While Laich will be back, some other players are still injured and will not play tonight. Just because they are not playing doesn't mean that they necessarily couldn't; Capitals Insider quotes Bruce Boudreau in saying "The guys aren't playing unless they're 100% healthy." Boudreau obviously wants all the players in top condition for the playoffs, and I agree with him. Thats where the games actually matter. So, tonight's injured players who are not playing are John Carlson (upper body injury), Brendan Morrison (groin strain), Scott Walker (knee), Quintin Laing (lower body injury), and Boyd Gordon (back). I'm guessing that Mathieu Perreault is still with the Capitals for tonight's game then.
Some things to thing about.....
- A really, really good performance by Varlamov in net would be helpful; it would increase his confidence, Boudreau's confidence in him, and the team's confidence would also be helped with a dominant performance.
- Laich is back, but many other parts of the lineup are still out. I'm thinking that tonight's top 2 lines go a little like this;
- 1st line: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble
- 2nd line- Laich-Belanger-Semin
- Basically, Semin gets put down on the second line, where he has been great with Laich all year. Knuble returns up top to pick up whatever garbage Ovechkin throws at the net that doesn't go in. Belanger moves up to the second line because Brendan Morrison is injured.
- Hopefully Ovechkin has a big game, he definitely would need one at the moment.
- I'm hoping Atlanta brings their "lose 4-1 to Carolina" game instead of their "win 4-0 over Carolina" game. One can hope.
Well, I hope everyone is excited for tonight's game. It starts at 7 PM in Verizon Center in DC. Enjoy!
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