By Doug Johnson
It’s here, and there’s no use chirping at the other squad at this point. Except to say…we dare not say anything at the moment, actually. Other than the CSN-Chicago lady we ran into who told us how f*%#@ing cold Chicago is, we’re just not going there. That, and our contributor today actually likes DC, and so now we’re feeling like jerks to whizz all over Chicago…which is, in the end, a great city.
Caps faithful have read bucket-fulls of analysis of why the Caps will win this. Jen Lute Costella has a modified view. And this, coming from a fancy-stats analyst who writes at Thecommittedindian.com. Her Hawks-Eye view:
The Hawks are clearly a team that’s got it together. How do you account for their consistently solid play, avoiding streaks?
Every team has a little streakiness in them, but at least this season for the Blackhawks, they’ve managed to avoid having any extended periods of trouble. When some guys have had some bad luck getting goals, others were still shooting around their normal shooting percentage so it evens things out a bit. I think the consistency is also the result of well-coached and -practiced systems. The players, no matter how often they are in the lineup, know the systems well since they have been the same for quite a while.
I would say that Toews’ greatest strength is his leadership (and great play) while Ovechkin, when he’s on, is just dazzling on the ice. Compare the two C men.
Any team in the league would be lucky to have Toews or Ovechkin. They are very different players, but both have shown themselves to be elite players. Toews plays center so he is expected to carry a heavy load defensively when the team is breaking out of the zone, while Ovechkin, as a wing, is supposed to be ready to head into the offensive zone with the puck. Both do their jobs very well. Ovechkin’s scoring ability is really something to behold. His shot, his release, his ability to suddenly appear in the perfect spot to score are some of the things that make him one of the most dominant scorers in the NHL.
Toews is a more well rounded player, but again, as a center that is to be expected. Toews plays in all situations for Chicago. He’s so dangerous near the blue line, because he reads plays really well and steals the puck for a breakaway on the regular, even in shorthanded situations. Stories of Toews staying late to practice tipping in shots because he missed one in a game are pretty typical so he certainly leads by example.
Every team likes to strike first, but some teams are better than others digging themselves out of the hole. Speculate what it might mean when either team scores first.
The conditions will throw a big spin on the scoring in this game since we aren’t sure exactly what to expect from the ice. If there is a big glare from the sun, we could certainly see a lot of goals. Playing with a lead has not been the Caps strong suit this season, but it is certainly preferable to getting behind early. If the Blackhawks are trailing in a game, they tend to put their foot on the gas like nobody’s business and shoot the lights out. Lots of people believe in momentum from first goals. I tend to think momentum is fleeting, so while it would certainly be nice to get the first goal, I don’t think it will necessarily be a big determining factor in this game.
Currently it looks like no-one is better at PK than the Hawks. What’s the secret sauce?
I’m not sure I’m allowed to give you all the secret ingredients, but I can give a little insight. The penalty killers for the Blackhawks include a few of the best two-way forwards in the league so that certainly doesn’t hurt. The coaches do a great job of deploying players on the PK as well. More offensively gifted players like Toews, Hossa, Saad, and Seabrook are used for all of the neutral and offensive zone faceoffs to maximize their chances to score despite being a man down.
They also take some defensive zone faceoffs but the larger share of those go to penalty killing ace Marcus Kruger and his crew. Niklas Hjalmarsson is a shot-blocking, zone-clearing machine in human form so this also helps the penalty kill’s effectiveness. Finally, they are very patient and disciplined. They don’t often panic and make big mistakes that lead to goals.
Overall, what’s your game, what’s ours, and who comes out the better?
The Blackhawks suppress shots very well and have some dynamic players. The offense starts with the breakout passes from the defensemen making Chicago particularly fast in transition. Corey Crawford is still working out the kinks since coming off of injury but overall this season he has played very well.
The Capitals have made some big changes to their systems since Barry Trotz arrived. They are much better at suppressing shots than they once were. They’ve had some runs of odd luck this season, but I really think they are a better team than their record suggests. Obviously, they have some big hitters and Ovechkin is a big threat. The power play is a great friend to the Caps so if they can get Chicago in some penalty trouble, that could pay off.
I think Chicago is the better team overall, but the Caps have some really good players and improving systems that will make them a better team than last season.
City to city, what does Chicago do better than Washington DC?
I lived most of my life just outside of Chicago in Northwest Indiana. I now live about an hour west of DC. I’ve visited DC many times because my sister lived there for years. It’s a terrific city that I always enjoy spending time in. Chicago will always feel more like home to me of course so I’m probably biased. Both cities have great food from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. DC has the edge in terms of museums, because I think 90% of the district is made up of them. DC has the edge in number of politicians per square inch but I think it’s likely a draw between the two in terms of imprisoned politicians.
The goalies will be the key for this game. If it is really sunny, Crawford and Holtby will be dealing with some wicked glare and blind spots. If that’s the case, I would think it ends up a high scoring affair. Whichever team wins, I think it will be a very fun experience. I can’t wait to be there.
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