NHL Playoff Predictions: No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
82 games later and the sprint is over. The marathon can now begin. In this, the first of my eight part series, we take an in-depth look at each seven-game series in the 2010 NHL Playoffs.
Storyline: A complete retooling and reshuffled deck sees Montreal in the same spot as the 2009 playoffs, and with major changes still facing the organization, they’ll have to try and tackle the league’s very best team, the Washington Capitals.
Offense: What can be said that hasn’t already been documented for the Caps’ offense? Washington ranked first in the NHL in goals scored with 318, 46 more than any other team. The Habs scored exactly 101 less goals, but in a seven game series, speed and depth are certain to be key.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are the first pair in 20 years to post 50 goals and 100 points respectively while playing on the same line for a season. The Caps also boast 12 goal scorers with at least 10 goals this season, including late acquisitions Jason Chimera and Eric Belanger. No player on the current main roster has a minus rating, helping to further establish Washington’s dominance.
Montreal, on the other hand, has battled turnover in both their front office and on-ice talent en route to a playoff berth. The patchwork quilt team seemed destined to perform well when it acquired Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammalleri, but Tomas Plekanec is the team’s most consistent player on the score sheet (and he’s a free agent come July 1).
Cammalleri was expected to dazzle, but fell to injury earlier this year. Since returning in March, Cammalleri hasn’t netted a single goal and has struggled to find his place. A healthy Montreal may be a dangerous Montreal, however, as only Plekanec played all 82 games amongst the team’s speedy forwards. Advantage: Washington
Defense: With both teams boasting a “shoot first” style of defense, it should come as no surprise that the team able to actually play their position will come out on top. Washington’s defenders almost entirely play more offense than defense, yet it works considering that none of them are having a particularly bad season.
Since we already know about the abilities of Mike Green and Tom Poti on the power play, it might behoove the Caps to focus on those who are more defense-minded, such as John Erskine and Jeff Schultz, the latter of whom lead the team in plus/minus this year.
Montreal’s defense is a more traditional compilation, with Andrei Markov and Marc-Andre Bergeron stepping into the puck-moving role while Hal Gill and Josh Gorges are expected to shoulder the bulk of the shot blocking load. Despite the Caps’ incredibly two-way strength, the name of this category is still defense, which could hurt them in the long run. Advantage: Push
Goaltending: Entering the playoffs, both Montreal and Washington have experimented with the men between the pipes all year long with limited success.
Jose Theodore hasn’t lost a game in regulation in over two months, and in what may be his third “comeback” season in the last ten years, he’s expected to get the nod for the Caps in the first round. Only one problem: Theodore’s exemplary play in the regular season lately has shown that he was once worthy of the Hart Trophy, but his perpetual implosions have cost his team a more successful playoff run in consecutive years.
If Jose isn’t up to snuff, Semyon Varlamov will get his second crack at the starting position. It is no secret that Varlamov’s best games were played in the 2009 playoffs, showing he can handle the pressure.
More surprising is who opposes Theodore/Varlamov on the other end, as Jaroslav Halak has usurped the throne handed down specifically for youngster Carey Price. Though off-season shenanigans with both tenders as free agents should be interesting, Halak is the go-to-guy for the now in Montreal. He was among the league’s best in most major goaltending categories and may shined in the Olympics for Slovakia’s surprise run. Advantage: Montreal
Key Players: In 4 games against the Montreal this year, Brooks Laich has 3 goals and 2 assists to lead the Caps. Conversely, Tomas Plekanec has 4 goals and 1 assist against Washington.
History: This is the first postseason meeting between the Habs and Caps. They split the season series at 2-2.
Outcome: Washington is just too strong and too fast to be stopped this early by the hot and cold Habs, and the match-up really doesn’t play to Montreal’s strengths. Capitals in 5.
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