Sunday, November 1, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/1/09

Two-time league MVP, Alex Ovechkin, is a colorful character.

Game #13 vs. Washington Capitals (Verizon Center) 5 p.m. EST

The Blue Jackets, just 1-4-1 in their last six games, are still trying to regain the intensity and focus that brought them a franchise-best starting record of 5-1. The Caps sit in first place in the Southeast Division with a record of 8-2-3. Led by goal-scoring machine Alex Ovechkin (pictured above), the Caps feature a prolific offense that will surely be looking to avenge last season's two notable losses that were due in large part to sterling performances by Jackets netminder Steve Mason.

First Line: Contain the First Line! I could copy the notes from several of the previous games in this section, but the Jackets obviously haven't been shutting down the top scoring lines very effectively. Kopitar, Iginla, Hemsky, etc., have all lit up the Jackets. Surely, Ovechkin has the skill to do so and has extra motivation after getting shut-out twice by Mason last year. The Caps first line has a combined 53 points and is +18. Wow. By comparison, the Jackets top line (Nash, Vermette, Juice) is +1. Whomever is on the ice with the Caps first line has to dig deep and skate with true defensive commitment.

Second Line: Build from Friday's performance. The Jackets played a style of hockey against the Penguins that reminded everyone how the team got to the playoffs and started this season in such a strong way. Aggressive forechecking, aggressive back-checking and "weighty" hockey in the corners were all evident on Friday. As such, the Jackets built a two-goal lead and were in many respects dominating the defending Stanley Cup champs. Mason was sharp and came up with big saves. It's become clear that this entire team plays with the same degree of confidence that Mason feels -- it's both a blessing and a curse for a team with an enormously talented netminder that is still young and developing.

Third Line: Five on Five. Remember when the Jackets had the worst power play in the league last year? It was painful, and ultimately limited the potential of the team, but the Jackets made the playoffs because of a commitment to playing so well in five-on-five situations. The minuses are really stacking up for players such as Tyutin, Brassard and Stralman (combined -19). Per the Second Line, if the team play as effectively at five-on-five that it did for the bulk of Friday's game, there are much better chances for a much-needed road win.

Fourth Line: Keep the puck deep and pressure Theodore. Theodore certainly has a respectable save percentage on the year (.915), but defense is not this team's strong suit. They have already surrended more than 40 shots in three games this year. Previous to Friday's loss to the lowly Islanders, the Caps won six in a row. However, four of those wins were by a 1-goal differential and the back-up Varlamov played in four of those wins. They are getting into "track meets," as Hitch would say, and while that style doesn't necessarily suit the Jackets - it is clear that they have deficiencies in the defensive zone. An aggressive forecheck could give this team a lot of problems and the Jackets are running four lines that all have opportunistic scorers on them.

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