Game Preview: Showdown at the Madhouse on Madison

washington-capitals-chicago-blackhawks-preview

Time is ticking around the NHL as the Trade Deadline is near. On Monday afternoon, the deadline for deals will come and go. Cup contenders will be looking to strengthen their rosters for a long postseason run, while teams in rebuild look to gather more draft picks and top prospects.

The Washington Capitals are continuing to breeze through their historic season. With 45 wins in 60 games, they have already matched last season’s win total. With 22 games remaining, the Capitals road to the finish will not get any easier.

It is time for the Capitals to hit the road right before the NHL Trade Deadline for a brief 1-game trip. Who is on the slate for the Capitals? Just the defending Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks. Is this Sunday afternoon game a Stanley Cup Final preview? Let’s dive in to this matchup.

SERIES FLASHBACK
The Capitals and Blackhawks met twice back in 2014-15 and the Capitals won both games against the defending Champs. The Capitals hosted a memorable Winter Classic at Nationals Park on New Year’s Day and downed the Hawks 3-2 in that game.

SERIES MATCHUP
This is the second of two meetings between the Capitals and Blackhawks in 2015-16. The Capitals defeated the Blackhawks 4-1 back on October 15 in the District.

SIZING UP THE OPPONENT: CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The Blackhawks have only been in the Stanley Cup spotlight within the past decade. They have won 3 Cups in the last 6 years and are looking to go back to back.

So the Hawks have been busy this week leading up to the Deadline. First, they re-acquired Andrew Ladd from the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. On Friday, they followed it up by acquiring Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise from the Canadiens and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from the Kings.

Chicago has made a slew of moves in order to bolster their roster for another Cup run. They have traded away some high picks and prospects in order to go all the way. It is a bit risky, but the Blackhawks have drafted well and have done well in free agency over the years.

The Blackhawks are loaded at every position on the ice. Patrick Kane is leading the NHL points race by a mile and his linemate Artemi Panarin could win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Let’s not forget about “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews, who is one of the best centres in the NHL today. The defensive core has lost some of its depth, but it is still good. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are the veterans of this group and they are a very capable trio of defensemen. In net, Corey Crawford could be in the running for the Vezina Trophy this year as he is having a career season across the board.

To top off everything, Head Coach Joel Quenneville is one of the best NHL coaches in history. Coach Q has the wins, Cup Rings, and many numerous accolades. What has Coach Quenneville not accomplished?

WAVE TO THE GOOD GUYS: WASHINGTON CAPITALS

It was kind of an ugly game for the Capitals on Friday night against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild badly outplayed the Caps through the first half of the game, but the game never really got out of reach. Down 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Capitals managed to rally in the 3rd period as Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov scored goals in the 3rd period to seal the victory over a desperate Wild team.

The Capitals have developed some bad habits over recent weeks. They have allowed the first goal in 7 straight games and in 14 out of the last 17 games. Yikes! This should not be happening frequently down the stretch to the playoffs.

On Saturday, the Capitals waived veteran forward Brooks Laich. The 32-year old has spent the last 12 seasons with the Capitals. Laich has been playing on the Capitals 4th line for most of the season. He carries a hefty cap hit at $4.5 million for one more season. Laich has been injury prone in his career, and his production has fallen off dramatically.

With Brooks Laich on waivers, it opens up cap space for Jay Beagle to return. It sounds like Jay Beagle is very close to returning from his hand injury. In addition to Beagle returning, the Capitals could be on the verge of making another move. GM Brian MacLellan hinted that something else could be in the works earlier this week. The Capitals are probably looking for another depth forward who can kill penalties.
In addition to the news about Brooks Laich, the Capitals also announced that John Carlson underwent a procedure for his nagging lower-body injury. He is expected to miss the next 3 to 4 weeks with this injury. It is probably a good thing that the Capitals made a depth move for defensive help as they acquired Mike Weber from the Sabres earlier this week.

STANDINGS UPDATE

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NETWORK INFORMATION
Sunday February 28, 2016 – NBC; 12:30 PM ET

PROJECTED LINEUPS
capitals2Washington Capitals
Forwards:​
Ovechkin–Backstrom-Oshie
Burakovsky–Kuznetsov–Williams
Chimera–Johansson–Wilson
Laich–Richards–Galiev

Defensemen:​
Schmidt–Chorney
Alzner–Niskanen
Orlov–Orpik

Goaltenders:
Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

blackhawks2Chicago Blackhawks
Forwards:
Ladd–Toews–Shaw
Panarin–Anisimov–Kane
Desjardins–Teravainen–Fleischmann
Mashinter–Rasmussen–Panik

Defensemen:
Keith–Hjalmarsson
Gustafsson–Seabrook
van Riemsdyk–Rozsival

Goaltenders:
Corey Crawford
Scott Darling

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT
Capitals – Alex Ovechkin: The Great 8 leads the NHL in goals with 40. Does he have another 50-goal campaign in him? It sure looks like it. He has the hot hand right now. The Capitals Captain has 9 points in his last 5 games. Another career year is on the horizon for Alex as he leads his team into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now all that is left for him is winning the Stanley Cup.

Blackhawks – Patrick Kane: The 27-year old Buffalo, NY native is leading the NHL points race by a mile. Kane has registered 84 points in 63 games this year. If he does not get to the 100-point plateau, he will get very close to it. Kane is a 3-time Cup winner and a 5-time NHL All-Star. Kane is very crafty with the puck and loves to create magic. Kane has very slick hands and is virtually automatic in the shootouts. At a young age, he has already accomplished so much.

By George Foussekis

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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