Breaking Down the Caps-Habs Matchup

Is this the year of Ovechkin?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    WASHINGTON - JANUARY 05: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens makes a save against Matt Bradley #10 of the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on January 5, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

    If 2009 was the year of Sid the Kid, 2010 very well may be Alex Ovechkin's time.

    All signs point to yes. The Capitals dominated the regular season, capturing the Presidents' Trophy by recording 121 points, eight more than anyone else in the league. They scored 318 goals, a whopping 46 more than anyone else. They placed two of the top four scorers in the league, and also had the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL.

    But the regular season is nothing but a tune-up for the grueling Stanley Cup playoffs. The hardware and accolades are nice, but many Presidents' Trophy-winning teams have bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. The teams that make it to the final series for a chance to win the Cup somehow find ways to play complete games. The flashy offensive numbers are nice, but to win it all you have to figure things out in your own end of the ice, too.

    And the Capitals think they've done that. We'll find out starting Thursday night at the Phone Booth when the Caps kick off another long playoff run against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens.

    Let's break down the series and see how the games will play out...

    Offense

    Is there any debate here? As noted above, the Caps are stacked. Five players scored 25 goals or more in the regular season, including that guy named Ovechkin. The Canadiens, on the other hand, had three. But top goal scorer Brian Gionta and his 28 tallies only would have placed him fifth on the Caps' squad.

    Gionta is speedy quick and isn't afraid to go to the net, but he's also, shall we say ... diminutive? We shall. But Gionta's not alone. All we're saying is that when you look at the Canadiens' roster, Smurf Village shows up an awful lot in the "birthplace" category.

    Gionta is listed as 5 feet 7. Mike Cammalleri is 5-9. Scott Gomez is a generous 5-11, as is Tomas Plekanec.

    This group does not strike fear into the heart of Gargamel, let alone opposing teams in the NHL. But what they lack in size they make up for in speed. They have a ton of it. And that could cause problems for the Caps' defense...

    Defense

    So how will the Caps' match up against the speedy quick Habs' offense?

    One thing they'll have to watch out for is a quick transition. That can be tough for a group of defensemen who like to pinch and try to keep as much pressure in the offensive zone as possible. One well-placed clear off the side boards could set a few Smurfs free on a 2-on-1 the other direction.

    The quickness also could cause problems for the slower-footed d-men. The Habs' skill players don't spend much time in front of the opposing team's net. They'd rather dart in and out of the crease, tempting defensemen to chase them and get out of position. They'll often place a big grinder like Benoit Pouliot or Travis Moen in the crease and let him take up space so the Smurfs can dance with the puck.

    In the end, it's all more annoyance than anything else. The Canadiens aren't going to score a whole lot of goals. The Caps' d-men just have to make sure they don't chance and get caught out of position and all will be well.

    The Canadiens' defensemen, however, will have to come up with a plan to stop Ovechkin and Co.

    Good luck with that.

    And if they do find a way to even slow down the offensive juggernaut that is the Capitals, bottle it and sell it to the rest of the league. The money made could turn around Canada's economy. Free double-doubles for everyone!

    Look for Andrei Markov to be on the ice as often as possible against his Olympic teammate Ovechkin. Markov has the speed and skating ability to keep up with Ovie.

    Goaltending

    The Capitals went into last year's playoffs with a tough choice to make between Jose Theodore and a kid named Simeon Varlamov.

    A year has passed, and two things have changed. One: Simeon is now spelled Semyon. Two: There's no real question who the team's No. 1 netminder is heading into the postseason.

    The Caps will ride Theodore as long as they can, and hope they can score enough goals to make up for any lapses Jose might have in a seven-game series.

    Make no mistake, Theodore earned the No. 1 job this season. Varlamov still may be the future, but until he learns not to drop his glove hand he's not getting that title back.

    The Canadiens, on the other hand, had a similar question mark in goal headed into this season. All signs pointed to Carey Price as the next great Montreal goalie. But a funny thing happened en route to his inevitable Patrick Roy comparisons -- Jaroslav Halak actually outplayed him.

    No matter how many times the Habs tried to give the starting job to Price, Halak always seemed to earn it back. His performance in the Olympics also didn't hurt his cause.

    Granted, all of this doesn't mean that we won't see Varlamov or Price in this series. And a smart man would bet good money that Price will replace Halak at least once early on in this series. It just means that there's no real goalie controversy on our hands as we head into the series.

    So...

    That's a quick breakdown of the teams. So who's gonna win?

    We'll have the series predictions tomorrow, so stay tuned...