Saturday, October 28, 2017

Saturday storylines: Is it too early for a must-win?

It’s another busy Saturday night on the NHL schedule, one highlighted by some big stars out west and some big-time desperation in the east. We’ll also take an early look ahead to the deadline and draft lottery, and a look back to a time in the distant past when the Penguins had the best player in the world and won two straight Cups. The more things change…

HNIC Game of the Night: Capitals at Oilers

It’s been a week of marquee matchups for the slumping Oilers. After visiting Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Tuesday and beating Jamie Benn and the Stars on Thursday, they welcome the Capitals tonight in what will be the fourth head-to-head matchup between Connor McDavid and Alexander Ovechkin.

(I mean, it’s a centre and a winger, so it’s not really a head-to-head matchup. But the NHL has enough trouble with the whole marketing-its-stars thing, and McDavid vs. Backstrom doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, so let’s go with it.)

Seeing Crosby and Ovechkin in the same week is an interesting glimpse into what the future could hold for McDavid. On the one hand, you have Crosby, the can’t-miss prospect who went out and won just about everything a player could possibly win, including three Stanley Cups (and counting). That might not be McDavid’s best-case scenario, since he’s one of the few players who seems like he has a shot at actually surpassing Crosby’s accomplishments, but it’s close.

Then there’s Ovechkin, the can’t-miss prospect who went out and won just about everything a player could possibly win… except for those Stanley Cups. That’s hardly his fault alone, and it’s hard to blame a guy who may go down in history as the greatest era-adjusted goal scorer ever. But if you’re an Oilers fan, seeing Ovechkin and the Capitals show up can serve as an uneasy reminder that lucking into a generational star – even one who lives up to all the hype – doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a championship.

When the schedule first came out, we may have also circled this matchup as a possible Stanley Cup preview, although it doesn’t look much like one right now. The Capitals have just two regulation wins on the year, and one of those came against the Canadiens so it barely counts. The Oilers have been about as bad; Thursday’s win was their first in regulation since opening night. The two teams have come at their slow start from opposite angles; the Caps can score but can’t keep the puck out of their net, while the Oilers have had decent goaltending from Cam Talbot but are shooting under six per cent as a team.

There is good news buried in those numbers for both teams. The Oilers have too much offensive talent to keep struggling like this for long, so the puck should start going in soon enough. And even with a depleted blue line, the Caps aren’t likely to go from the Jennings Trophy to a 3.00+ goals-against in one year. Braden Holtby had been fine until the Canucks game; it’s backup Philipp Grubauer who’s dragging down the numbers, so one way or another this is unlikely to be a long-term problem. Both teams should be OK. It’s just a question of when, and how much ground they’ll have to make up.

Maybe the rebound comes tonight for one of them. Either way, it should be a fun game between two teams with plenty of talent, lousy penalty killing, and just enough notches in the early-season loss column to create a sense of urgency.

Speaking of which…

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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