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Matt Niskanen and Braden Holtby lead the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the despised Flyers.

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Matt Niskanen Goes All Bobby Orr in the Caps Win Over the Flyers

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen scored the game winner on an end to end, Bobby Orr-like rush in the third period and Braden Holtby was his usual self in net making 33 saves as the Capitals downed the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, on Super Bowl Sunday.

Aaahhhh, the sweet feeling of a victory over the Flyers is always so nice. The air is cleaner, the drinks are colder and go down smoother, and the food tastes so much better afterwards.

But this was not a pretty triumph for Washington. For 30+ minutes they were sloppy with their passes and looked a step slow as the Flyers won the majority of the loose puck battles.

Things appeared troubling for Washington when the Flyers, already on a power play, received a 53 second two man advantage with 8:40 remaining in the middle frame and the Caps down, 1-0. Washington made another mental blunder, as they had done most of the game in earning the too many dudes call. The Caps, however, would kill it off with Holtby, Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, and Niskanen doing some remarkable PK work.

Shortly thereafter the Capitals seemed to wake up from their pre Super Bowl kickoff slumber and Alexander Ovechkin did what the team had not really done all game, he went to the front of the net. As a result, after a face off loss and Flyers turnover, the Gr8 deflected home a smart Alzner shot for his 30th goal of the season. That seemed to wake up everyone in red, including the crowd, and moments later Dmitry Orlov scored after a fabulous deke and top shelf snipe to make it 2-1, as this one headed to the 3rd period.

The Capitals would kill off the fifth Filthy power play of the game early in the third period, but two easy failed clearing opportunities at the end of it led to a defensive zone faceoff that the Flyers promptly won and scored on. Holtby didn’t see the shot (Nick Schultz), like the first Philly bomb that made it 1-0 (Michael Del Zotto).

But from there the Caps seemed to get stronger and Niskanen, seeing a large gap up the middle of the ice skated his way in on Steve Mason (27 saves) with the Flyers forwards and defensemen acting like Moses had ordered a parting of the Red Sea. Nisky went in, put a slick move on Mason, and buried the biscuit.

Everyone was surprised with the goal, including Niskanen.

“I don’t have any moves, it was an accident,” said the humble Caps d-men to the media afterwards (h/t to NHL.COM’s Katie Brown)

“I think the whole building was surprised, it’s a highlight, 100 percent,” added the Caps captain, the Gr8, on the game winner (h/t to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times).

That goal, just 5:24 into the final frame would hold up as Washington played a better period than they had in the first 40 minutes. The Flyers final chance to tie the game came with 7.4 seconds remaining on an offensive zone faceoff, but unlike on the second Philly goal, T.J. Oshie won the draw to the corner to kill the clock. The Capitals then celebrated while Jakub Voracek took his losing frustrations out on the Flyers bench door.

Philadelphia, who are desperate for standings points, would leave Verizon Center with the equivalent of John Blutarksy’s grade point average, while the Caps improved to 38-9-4, which is good for a staggering 80 points. Wow!

It was also Holtby’s 33rd victory of the season and he really earned it. He was outstanding in net making big stop after big stop until his club finally came out of hibernation. He had a huge save on a 3 on 1 Flyers rush when it was 1-0 and his save on Mark Streit was solid positioning and a bit of luck as #32 failed to get good lumber on the shot.

Not getting good wood on shots was a common theme as the puck was bouncing everywhere on the Wizards ice, but it’s the same for both teams, so no excuses either way.

Back to Niskanen, though, the decision by the Penguins to let him go after they overpaid Kris Letang has been a blessing for the Capitals. He led the team in ice time once again, with 24:51, and he’s routinely matched up against the opponents’ top line, with Alzner. Recently, I asked an impartial NHL scout who he would take if he had the choice on Niskanen at $5.75M or Letang at $7.25M through 2020. Without hesitation, he stated Niskanen. I could not agree more. #2 is so solid in both ends and is such a team guy. He was a big reason the Capitals were able to keep winning hockey games while John Carlson was out for 12 contests.

Additionally, he’s a hero in these parts for helping the Capitals defeat the Flyers. Philadelphia is Washington’s biggest rival going back to 1974 when the Caps entered the NHL. Game after game truckloads of drunk Flyers fans would invade the Capital Centre in the Broad Street Bullies and beyond years and go home happy after defeating the Caps. There were almost always fights in the stands, too.

Nowadays, the Flyers aren’t that good, but make no mistake about it, this is still a huge rivalry and many Filthadelphians were in attendance at the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Today, though, Caps fans can smile “broadly” as Ron Hextall’s team heads back up I-95 with a big donut hole of standings points.

Notes: Shot attempts were 68-57 for the Flyers, but the Caps won the even strength battle, 50-42, per hockeystats.ca…Philly was 0 for 5 on the power play while the Capitals were 0 for 2. Washington is in a 0 for 17 funk and it looked bad again on Sunday…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 35-32…Burakovsky didn’t score a goal, but he and Evgeny Kuznetsov assisted on the Orlov marker…Wayne Simmonds, who received a match penalty for a sucker punch on Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers on Saturday, was allowed to play by the league and he was -2…Niskanen led the Caps with seven shots on goal. Ovechkin had five…the Caps only had 19 hits to the Flyers 21. Washington didn’t get their brand of heavy hockey going until the second half of this game.

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Alexander Ovechkin doesn't miss another opportunity at delivering in the clutch to help the Caps win again.

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Ovechkin Wins The Game Again for the Caps

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight contest, Alexander Ovechkin was the hero for the Capitals late, scoring the game winner in the shootout to give Washington a hard fought, 3-2, victory over a pesky New Jersey Devils team on Saturday afternoon at “The Rock.”

Another big hero in this contest was Paul Carey, who notched his 1st NHL goal to tie the game up at two with 5:53 to go after the Devils tallied twice in the third period to seize a 2-1 lead. All game, the Capitals fourth line of Michael Latta, Brooks Laich, and Carey played well. Laich drew an early penalty and Carey also put Washington on the power play when Jordin Tootoo interfered with him in the third period. The Caps, however, are currently in a 0 for 15 funk with the man advantage and squandered both of those opportunities. The problems with that unit includes all of the following: losing too many initial power play draws, poor zone entries that make setting up difficult (get well soon Marcus Johansson), too much fancy play, not enough net crashing, and a lack of shots being taken towards the net.

On the game tying goal, though, Carey and his linemates did what you have to do to score on a very well coached and strong defensive Devils team, go to the net. Carey parked himself in the slot and Matt Niskanen made a whale of a play with a pass off of Carey’s stick that #28 redirected home.

Washington’s first goal, again came on a crash the net sequence after Evgeny Kuznetsov tried one of his vintage behind the back passes as he’s skating behind the opponents cage. The biscuit bounced out to Justin Williams in the lower right slot and “Stick” put the puck towards the net. Cory Schneider (27 saves) made the initial stop, but “Johnny on the Spot,” Andre Burakovsky, was camped at the right post and batted it home to give the Caps a one goal lead in the middle frame that they would take to the third period. That is now six goals in five game for #65 and he’s up to 10 goals on the year (and 14 points in his last 15 games).

For two periods the Capitals gave New Jersey pretty much nothing in this tilt and the Devils only had 14 shots on net. But in the third, Mike Richards took a tripping penalty that New Jersey’s Joseph Bladisi, who was one of the better Devils in this one, tallied on from the doorstep. Less than six minutes later, an ill advised offensive zone pass by Washington led to an odd man rush for the Devils. When the Caps over back checked, Adam Henrique was all alone in the slot and he beat Braden Holtby (22 saves) with a wicked top shelf snipe.

This Capitals team, however, is quite resilient and even though their top line was struggling with the Travis Zajac unit of New Jersey, the team fought back with the fourth lines marker. Overall, the Capitals second line, led by Kuznetsov, was their best, dominating the Devils in the shot attempt department by about a dozen.

Williams did take a late tripping call with a minute to go and the Caps penalty killing unit delivered by first forcing overtime and then thwarting another 60 seconds of four on three play. After the teams were all even at four on four, New Jersey had a long shift in the OT and had the Capitals players dog tired. Luckily a thunderous Ovechkin hit on Jacob Josefson allowed Washington to get the puck out and send the game to the gimmick.

From there, T.J. Oshie scored five hole on Schneider, while only Reid Boucher beat the Holtbeast in three tries. That set the stage for the Gr8 to win the game with a nasty backhander after a slick motorcycle kick move that froze Schneider like he was targeted by Elsa.

The victory was Washington’s second in a row and they improved to 37-9-4 (78 points). This was a game in which the Capitals had to play greasy to get a win because the Devils are so strong defensively. Washington did just enough of that to earn Holtby his league leading 32nd victory of the season.

Now it’s back home to face the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at noon. The Capitals have had trouble defeating the Philly crew in the Barry Trotz era. The Flyers are rebuilding and have a young defense as well as a deadly power play run by Claude Giroux, so staying out of the box is paramount. The Flyers are fighting for their playoff lives and last time they were in noted Caps killer, Jakub Voracek, had two goals in a 4-3 Filthy win just before the all star break.

Bottom line here: it’s time for Trotz and company to just come out and bury the Flyers.

Notes: On Sunday, it’s very likely Holtby will get the call in net while the Flyers will probably go with Michal Neuvirth, who won his last start at the VC…Washington was 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 1 for 2…the Caps dominated at even strength, out shot attempting New Jersey, 48-29…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 30-26, which I mentioned was a problem on the power play. Laich went 3-1…Jason Chimera led the Caps with five hits while Ovi had four…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:04. Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and Nate Schmidt all logged over 23 minutes while the third pair of Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney each played just 12 minutes and change…Carey was called up, along with Connor Carrick, on Friday as Zach Sill was sent down to Hershey along with Aaron Ness. Coach Trotz stated that they wanted to see more of Carey, who was up for a short time earlier in the season…Coach Trotz credited assistant coach Blaine Forsythe for picking Ovechkin instead of Nicklas Backstrom in the shootout.

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The Caps start slow but do some good things in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers.

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Caps’ Home Winning Streak Snapped in Overtime at 12 Games

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Eight days off due to snowstorm Jonas caught up with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night as they saw their 12 game home winning streak go by the wayside in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was an uphill battle all game for the Caps, who fell behind 2-0 in the first frame on a power play goal and then a bad defensive zone turnover.

Washington would storm back in period two to tie the game on goals 55 seconds apart from Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom, off of great feeds from Nate Schmidt and T.J. Oshie, respectively, before the midpoint of the game. Then for several minutes it looked like the Caps were going to go ahead.

But a trip on Braden Holtby and then a missed goalie interference penalty by Sam Gagner occurred and the Flyers tallied for the second time just after a faceoff to take a 3-2 lead. Philly would get its fourth power play of the game to just one for the Caps, to that point, when #70 was incorrectly called for delay of game on a puck that clearly hit the glass. Holtby, a guy who very rarely complains, was definitely not happy with officials Dean Morton and Kevin Pollock throughout that entire sequence from when the tripping call occurred through the delay of game penalty. Again, it is RARE that Holtby gets upset with the zebras.

The Capitals would manage to kill that last penalty off and after Evgeny Kuznetsov was clearly tripped and there was no call early in period three, John Carlson, who returned to action after missing 12 straight contests, forced a turnover in the neutral zone and #92 beautifully set up Burakovsky for his second goal of the game to tie it up. The goal came with just 3:55 gone in the third period.

Philadelphia would get their fifth man advantage situation of the game on a questionable hook by Alex Ovechkin after Holtby made two dazzling saves, but luckily the Caps PK was good and kept this one tied. It was ultimately Washington who garnered the game’s final power play with just over two minutes remaining, but that looked as rusty as the Caps did in the first period. The game went to OT setting the stage for Jakub Voracek to win the game on the first shift of the extra period.

Given everything that occurred leading up to this tilt and the way it played out with the bad start and questionable calls and no calls, it’s pretty amazing that Washington managed to get a point out of this affair.

The bad news is the Caps lost Marcus Johansson to an upper body injury in period one and he didn’t return (played only 3:21). In addition, Dmitry Orlov took an inadvertent elbow from Ryan White to the head and left for a shift or so, before returning. Inadvertent or not, that’s a penalty, but it wasn’t called.

Worst news of all is that Ovechkin will not go to the All Star Game in Nashville this weekend as a result of a lower body injury, per a post game Caps press release. According to Coach Barry Trotz, he’s been battling this ailment since November. As a result, the Gr8 won’t play against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, February 2nd, per NHL rules. Well, at least they can’t miss calling that rule, unlike what we saw too often on Wednesday night. The Capitals seem fine with this and at 35-8-4 and 74 points, they have a huge standings lead and can start setting the deck to get their players healthy for the playoffs. Clearly, that is what they are doing with Ovechkin and you may see this with others down the stretch.

Overall, the Caps did some good things after not playing a real game for eight days. Carlson looked solid in 19:09 of action and was a +1. In addition, Burakovsky continues to play better and better and gain confidence. The Capitals will need him to keep producing down the stretch.

On the down side, they gave up two tallies off of faceoffs and their power play was off. But you can attribute both of those issues to a lack of recent games. To be successful at each you need repetition, and Jonas certainly prevented that.

Losing to the Flyers always stinks, but this one doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The injuries are the concern and five days off will be good for Jojo, Ovi, Orlov, and a few others. However, once Tuesday hits, the grind really starts for Washington since they will play 35 games between February 2nd and April 9th in a stretch of 68 days. That’s a lot of hockey in a short period of time.

So rest up this weekend!

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-62 for the Flyers, but they had three more power plays…Faceoffs were 33-28 for Philadelphia. Mike Richards, who bumped up to 3rd line center with Jojo out, played 13:09 and went 9-7 from the dot. Kuznetsov was 9-5 and Claude Giroux was an astounding 24-8…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:17…despite the injury, Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts, six on goal, and five hits…Backstrom led the Caps with six hits…Karl Alzner set a team record by playing in his 423rd straight game.

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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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Washington jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead en route to a suffocating 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

You are not going to find a more complete road win than that one.

The Washington Capitals dominated the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, 4-1, with a suffocating victory against a speedy Isles club.

The Caps did an outstanding job of back checking and staying together in five man units which kept New York on the perimeter and away from the high danger areas all game. It was a stellar effort in which Washington continued to win the majority of the loose puck battles.

Braden Holtby stopped 34 of 35 shots, with the only tally against a snipe from between the circles while the Caps defender screened the Holtbeast. Other than that, #70 was perfect and he ran his record in his last 21 games to an astonishing 18-0-2. On this night, though, he didn’t have to steal the contest by himself because his teammates turned in one of their best performances of the season away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

On offense, the Capitals took advantage of a rusty Jaroslav Halak by throwing biscuits at the cage early and often (38 shots on goal total). Jason Chimera notched his 12th goal of the campaign just 5:45 into the contest after Marcus Johansson battled to grab the puck in the left wing corner. Jojo is having his best season as a Capital despite getting called for a neutral zone penalty in period one. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 15:45 after Karl Alzner alertly jumped on a puck in the defensive zone, made a great rush up the ice, and threaded a Nicklas Backstrom-esque pass backwards to the Gr8, who ripped it thru Halak and into the cage.

After the Islanders tallied early in period two, New York had a power play that they nearly scored on. The Caps would kill it off and shortly after the infraction expired, Backstrom hounded the Islanders defense behind New York’s cage, stole the puck, and then put one “on a tee” for Nate Schmidt, who got every bit of the shot that went through Halak again and into the twine. That made it 3-1 heading into period three.

In the final frame, coaches could record those 20 minutes and use it as an educational session on how to totally shut down an opponent with a two goal lead. The Islanders got NOTHING in that period as Washington carried the play and took away any chance New York had of getting a victory. The Caps were relentless in their puck pursuit.

When Isles Coach Jack Capuano pulled his netminder with over three minutes remaining the Caps did a super job of quickly getting the puck out, especially Ovechkin, and Backstrom (goal, assist, and +3) skated in and put the biscuit in the basket to close out the scoring.

All around the lineup the Capitals received excellent outings, especially from their defensemen. They were all impressive and Aaron Ness (12:34 of ice time) has really shown to be a super addition. #55 really skates well and is decisive with the puck. Matt Niskanen logged a team high 25:50 while Dmitry Orlov (22:50) turned in one of his best games of the season. #9 and Schmidt were super. This Caps defense is extremely mobile, but they can also play physical in the corners to win the puck battles. It’s hard to believe how well this team is playing on the back end with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out. As I blogged after Tuesday’s win over Boston, this injury situation is turning into a blessing in disguise because Ness has been a find and Taylor Chorney continues to get better and better. Kudos to Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden for the job they’ve done with this crop of blueliners.

Up front, I thought all four lines were good, but I was especially pleased with the top line. They had been in a bit of a funk recently, however, that was not the case in Brooklyn on Thursday. Ovechkin was back skating and shooting (497th career goal, 8 shots on net, 11 total shot attempts, and three hits) and all star Nicky was just outstanding with his two points and ability to win key draws. #19 was 12-7 from the dot and that forced the Islanders to do a lot of chasing just to try and get the puck back. By game’s end the Islanders looked totally out of gas while the Caps were still flying.

This victory pushes the Caps to a 30-7-3 (63 points) record and they lead the Islanders by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division. They remain first in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL standings.

All in all, this was just a stellar hockey game by a team that really seems to enjoy playing together. They stick up for one another and when they play the Trotz system, they are very, very difficult to beat.

Even with some big injuries to Carlson, Orpik, and Jay Beagle, the Capitals are finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, they won convincingly, and that has to be disconcerting to the rest of the league.

Simply put, to quote the great Count Floyd, the play of the Washington Capitals is “Scary Stuff, kids!”

Notes: Nine of the Islanders 35 shots came on their two power plays…Washington signed two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards to a one year, $1M contract on Wednesday evening. Richards will wear the #10 he had in Los Angeles and will practice on Friday with the team. He has not played since April and won’t be in the lineup until he’s good and ready. Coach Trotz said Thursday that he’ll start as a center on the fourth line once he’s game capable. I really like this addition because he’s a guy who’s won at all levels and really provides depth to the bottom six forwards…the Caps outshot New York 38-35 and I imagine the quality chances were even more lopsided towards Washington’s end…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at 1 pm. This is the third and final visit for the Caps to the gaaahhhden (until the playoffs).

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Braden Holtby defeats Boston once again as Evgeny Kuznetsov turns in another stellar performance.

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Kuznetsov Dazzles as Holtby Stops the Bruins

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Who own da Bruins?

Braden Holtby owwwwnnnnssss the Bruins.

The Holtbeast stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a big one on Zdeno Chara late in the game, to preserve a 3-2 victory for a banged up Capitals team at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins, who are also dealing with an injury to star forward David Krejci and a suspension to knucklehead Brad Marchand, put on a strong third period push after falling behind, 3-1, but it wasn’t enough.

The star for the Caps on this night was, you guessed it, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian wizard set up Andre Burakovsky for a sweet top shelf marker in period one and then when the Capitals finally abandoned forcing the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, the slick stickhandling Kuzya skated in from the right wing circle and snapped one by Tuukka Rask to make it, 2-0. Rask, who probably desires a contract clause that prohibits him from playing against the Capitals, had a strong outing (26 saves) and kept his club in it through two periods.

The Caps were dominant, leading the shots on goal, 23-14, in those opening frames and their only big hiccup in the first 40 minutes was a bad coverage situation that allowed Lou Eriksson to cut the lead in half on a play that Holtby had no chance on.

Marcus Johansson, who was great centering Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera despite missing some time in the middle frame, had the game winner by going to the cage and putting home a rocket of a shot by Dmitry Orlov that hit the pipe and ricocheted in front with just over nine minutes remaining. Jojo only played 12:12, but that new line that Coach Barry Trotz put together in Columbus since Jay Beagle is out for six weeks looks really good.

Burakovsky has also taken advantage of the lineup change playing with Kuznetsov and “Mr. Stick” Justin Williams. That trio was super and Washington received stellar performances from their second and third units. Kuznetsov and Williams were both around 20 minutes of ice time and Burakovsky played 16:56 in one of his best games of the season. That’s important because the Capitals really need him to gain confidence in time for the playoffs.

As for the first unit, well they are in a bit of a funk right now, and it was an ill timed giveaway after it was 3-1 that led to a Matt Niskanen (27:19 TOI) penalty with 8:47 remaining. That bad shift and infraction just 32 sections after the Caps grabbed a two goal cushion proved costly when Patrice Bergeron tallied on the rush with 8:08 remaining.

But Washington would do a good job of not giving up any real quality chances down the stretch and despite the fact that the Caps looked a little gassed once again, they held on, with some solid netminding from #70 to boot.

With their top defensive pair out in John Carlson (day to day) and Brooks Orpik (week to week), Orlov (20:06) and Nate Schmidt (18:43) have really stepped up and done a nice job as the second duo. The third pair of Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were solid on Tuesday, as well. Coach Trotz didn’t have to hide anyone on the blue line with Ness logging 12:55 and Chorney at 15:46. Those are decent ice times for a third pairing and the injuries have helped Washington develop some back side depth.

The victory halts a two game losing streak, although the second was in the gimmick so the Caps received a point, and pushes their overall record to an NHL leading 29-7-3 (61 points). They have a 12 point lead over the second place Islanders and a 13 point lead over the third place Rangers, in the Metropolitan Division. Those two teams are their next two opponents in New York on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Washington has a game in hand on each team, as well.

It seems unlikely that #74 will be in the lineup on Thursday, and the Capitals have no need to rush him back with the lead they have overall in the standings (including a nine point cushion over the red hot Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference, who have won 10 in a row and lead the Atlantic Division). The Islanders recently lost top pair defensemen Johnny Boychuk for 4 to 6 weeks so they have no injury sympathy for the Caps. New York will be fired up for this one, given it is the first meeting since Washington defeated the Isles in game seven of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, this contest will take place in Brooklyn since the Islanders moved out of Nassau Coliseum over the summer.

As you recall, it was Kuznetsov who scored the series winner in dazzling fashion to send the Islanders to the links last April. On Tuesday in Beantown, #92 was the main reason the Capitals won once again, giving Holtby his 25th victory of the season.

Notes: Ovechkin had only six shot attempts, including two on net. He’s looked sluggish the last few games, but fortunately the Capitals have a deep lineup and can still win when he’s not scoring…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 27-26, and Jojo went 6-4…Wilson left for a bit in the middle period when Johansson was out too, but he still played 13:42. It was when those two were out that the 4th line gave up the Bruins first tally with some poor back checking and coverage…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Boston went 1 for 4…Zach Sill had five hits in 7:57, one of them was a missed boarding penalty, though…Stan Galiev only played 5:42 and was -1.

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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The Caps score first for the first time in 10 games in their 7-3 victory over Colorado

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Caps Score Early and Often in 7-3 Victory

Posted on 21 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played well on Thursday night in a tough, 3-2, loss to the Dallas Stars, but they rebounded strongly with their best first period of the season in a 7-3 beat down of the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening.

The Caps needed this type of win, one in which they broke their nine game streak of not scoring first and one in which they raced out to a big lead. It was 4-0 after one period, but 4-2 after 40 minutes since Patrick Roy yanked Reto Berra for Calvin Pickard to start the middle frame. Pickard was superb early on and the Capitals were also guilty of not connecting fully on their shots and over passing the biscuit, which allowed the Avalanche to hang around.

But as they’ve done fairly consistently this season, the Caps put the hammer down in the third period and salted this one away with three goals against a single Colorado tally. The Avalanche only had seven shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and finished with 27 shots on net for the game.

This was a total team effort as evidenced by the fact that 14 of the 18 Washington players had points in this tilt, including three assists for Jason Chimera and a goal and two assists for Evgeny Kuznetsov. There were contributions from Caps players up and down the lineup. Alex Ovechkin notched his 10th goal of the season off of another amazing Nicklas Backstrom pass and also added an assist. T.J. Oshie had an assist on Karl Alzner’s goal to give the Capitals a full touchdown in this contest, but #77 could have had at least three goals on this night with all of the grade A chances he had.

Colorado is fast up front, but their defense is not very good and the Caps took advantage of that. All four lines looked solid and Tom Wilson was in the Avalanche players heads all evening. Unfortunately, due to some bad writing from the Great White North and some whining from opposing GM’s that have influenced the zebras, Willy wasn’t able to put the Caps on the power play via his two incidents when clearly his club should’ve received a man advantage. I’ve been a Jarome Iginla fan his whole career, but he played like a beaten thug on this night and somehow only incurred four PIMs. It might be time for the old man to finally hang it up.

Defensemen Nate Schmidt, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Alzner all scored goals on this night as the Washington blue line did a super job of getting shots to the goal and jumping up in the play when the time was right. Orlov’s goal that made it 6-2 was one in which he just totally blew by the Avalanche defense and alertly got his own rebound to end up with a practically vacant cage to deposit the puck into. GM Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz have to be pleased with where both Schmidt and Orlov are at through 19 games into the season. There are no more questions about the 3rd defensive pair and that’s with Brooks Oprik missing the last five games. If there is any nitpicking to do, it would be on the Caps ability to clear the front of their own net, especially on the PK. That’s an area that #44 specializes in. But it is more important for Orpik to get totally healthy; November games don’t matter a ton to a veteran D who will be a critical component of this team in the spring.

Up front, Coach Trotz benched Andre Burakovsky (one point in last 11 games), bumped Justin Williams up to the second line, and inserted Stan Galiev on the 3rd line. Galiev did not look out of place and certainly earned a sweater for Monday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Burakovsky needs to watch the film of the Caps win over the Flyers last Thursday and play more like he did that night. Against Filthy, he was strong on the boards and was not shying away from contact, in fact, he was initiating it and Philly couldn’t move him off of the play. The Flyers three penalties that night were all drawn by Burakovsky. We’ll see if he’s back against the Connor McDavid-less Oilers, but I’m not sure who would come out if he goes back in?

So the Caps now sit at 13-5-1 and have 27 points. They trail the first place Rangers by five points and lead the third place Penguins by three points. Washington has a game in hand on both clubs.

Still, it’s a long season and the key is for the Capitals to keep improving, especially in their own zone, which is where you win and lose playoff games.

Notes: Shot attempts were 62-46 for Washington. The Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play while they gave up a goal to the Avs in their only shorthanded situation…the Capitals buried Colorado at the dot, 39-21. Michael Latta, who drew a penalty after a clean hit in the 3rd period, was 8-1 while Jay Beagle went 10-4…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:38…the Caps had 32 shots on goal while Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 shots. One of them was a huge save early in period three with the score, 4-2…Ovechkin, who set the Russian goal scoring record at 484 in Thursday’s defeat to Dallas, only needed 7:15 into this contest to get to goal number 485.

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Braden Holtby turns in a stellar goaltending performance in the Caps huge win in Detroit.

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Holtby Shines as Kuznetsov Scores in OT for a Caps Victory in Motown

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals struggled at even strength for good portions of the first 40 minutes, but they turned on the jets in the third period and then in overtime to win, 2-1, in Motown on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal.

So that’s five losses this year for the Caps (including one in OT last Friday night) and five wins in the games immediately following the defeat. As I blogged last Thursday night, that’s the mark of a good team.

Why were the Caps able to pull this one out? First, their goaltender, Braden Holtby, was outstanding for 40 minutes stopping 19 of 20 shots, including three of them on two Detroit breakaways (Darren Helm got a rebound attempt on his one on one with #70). Holtby gave up an early tally to rookie sensation Dylan Larkin, but that was a tough stop considering the Caps defensemen, Taylor Chorney, put his stick in the shooting lane right as the young American was firing the biscuit. That was a big distraction for the Holtbeast. But Braden would shut the door the rest of the way, including a sweep stop in period two with the puck heading for a go ahead Red Wings goal.

On the flip side, Peter Mrazek, who stopped all 36 shots in Detroit against the Caps on November 11th, was a brick wall once again. It took a super set up by Matt Niskanen on the power play to Justin Williams to get the rubber by the Czech goalie to even the game at one.

Washington would have four first period power plays, scoring only once. They then received two more in the third period, but they couldn’t convert despite some good looks on the last one. Overall, the man advantage was 1 for 6 and is struggling to bury its chances. Detroit had two power plays, but the Caps denied both.

Niskanen, next to the goalies, was the player of the game, in my book. He logged 23:51 and had two assists. He was all over the ice at both ends and nearly set up Karl Alzner, who also had another excellent outing, with the game winner moments before Kuznetsov closed the deal for Washington.

That’s two OT game winning goals now for the young Russian and afterward Holtby told Pierre McGuire that he thought Kuznetsov was the Caps best player in the playoffs last spring. Clearly #92 continues to improve. He centered Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky and like many of his teammates, struggled for the first two frames, but really clicked in the third period. Burakovsky was really good in those last 20 minutes and he set up Johansson for a wide open shot in the slot, however, MJ90 missed the net when it looked like the puck rolled on him.

Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal in the opening stanza and then one after that, so he still sits on career goal #483. The Gr8 will be happy with the win, which is more important than a record that is inevitable.

Washington is now 12-4-1 overall and will take on the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Stars are super fast and have been sitting in their hotel rooms eating Bon Bons on Wednesday while the Caps will have to fly home late before facing a club that is off to a 15-4 start after missing the playoffs last season. The biggest difference for the Stars has been their goaltending. They didn’t get much of that last year, but this season the teams’ save percentage is over 91%.

This was a big win for Washington as they really stormed the castle down the stretch without needing any magic pills from Miracle Max. It was a simple formula, they moved their legs and won puck battle after puck battle against the Wings. If not for Mrazek and some narrow misses, this one was a Caps win in regulation after Holtby held the fort for 40 minutes.

Notes: The Caps outshot Detroit, 27-26. That’s 15 games in a row for Washington holding a team under 30 shots and the club record is 20 straight, set in 1984-85 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel)…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 29-27. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-6 and Kuznetsov was 2-10…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:45, 7:16 of which came on the power play, and he had five shots on goal.

 

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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