While most people outside the Beltway don't think Washington stands much of a chance against Sidney Crosby and company on such a big stage, here are three keys to the Capitals coming away the Winter Classic victors on New Year's Day:
Use Carlzner to Neutralize Crosby. When Sid the Kid is on the ice, the Penguins average 4.62 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, and he accounts for nearly 90 percent of it. When Crosby is off the ice, the Penguins average 1.92 goals per 60, so it doesn't take a genius to know that if the Caps can shut him down, they should be able to walk away with the win. Matching up the defensive tandem of Karl Alzner and John Carlson versus Crosby's line would be the logical choice: They have played against the toughest competition Caps' opponents have to offer while allowing a stingy 1.74 goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time as a defensive pair.
Keep the Semin-Perreault-Laich line intact. If Matthieu Perreault is ready to go after suffering a broken nose during the win over Carolina, then Coach Bruce Boudreau should keep him on the second line with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich. At even strength, this combination has been the Caps' best on all fronts: Three out of every four scoring chances go in Washington's favor with this trio on the ice and a third of those convert to goals -- with no goals against.
Name Neuvy the starter. Semyon Varlamov has won two straight, including a shutout versus Montreal, but Michal Neuvirth has been more consistent over three periods than Varlamov, who has seen a dramatic dropoff in scoring chance save percentage as the game wears on - and that includes throwing out Varly's clunker against the Rangers, when he gave up seven goals against.
|Period||Neuvirth Scoring chance save %||Varlamov Scoring chance save %||Varlamov Scoring chance save % w/o NYR game|
Plus, Pittsburgh is tied for the NHL lead in power-play opportunities, averaging more than four per game. Neuvy has both a better scoring chance save percentage and conventional save percentage when on the penalty kill than the young Russian netminder.
|On Penalty Kill||Neuvirth||Varlamov||Varlamov w/o NYR game|
|Scoring Chance Sv%||0.824||0.795||0.811|
So there you have it: Neutralize Crosby with Carlson/Alzner, let Perreault continue the magic with Semin and Laich and put Neuvy between the pipes.
My prediction: Caps win in regulation, 3-2; Brooks Laich with the game winner.
Happy New Year, everyone!