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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After only eight days and four pre-season games, it’s too early to tangibly see the impact new Coach Barry Trotz is having on the Washington Capitals, but rest assured, “change” is occurring. In the fourth installment of an eight game exhibition set, the Caps knocked off the Boston Bruins, 5-4, on Troy Brouwer’s overtime marker. The win included two Alex Ovechkin power play goals.

Neither squad fielded their full regular season lineup in an entertaining tilt that saw Washington rally from a 4-2 deficit, something Trotz was very pleased about afterwards.

“One thing I liked about our team tonight, we had mud in our faces; sand kicked in our faces there. We were down by two goals. It’s easy to go, ‘Oh, it’s preseason. Let’s play this out.’ We didn’t do that. We stayed on it, we chipped away and we got ourselves… if this was a regular season win that would have been a real big win. Those are the learning things that we have to learn. Let’s make it easy on ourselves. If we don’t turn those pucks over, then we’ve got a chance to get points every night.”

Turnovers were certainly an issue for the Caps in the first two periods combined with some poor defensive coverage, at times. The new bench boss attributed the miscues to individual play and poor decisions, citing that it’s just a matter of not trying the low percentage play. Matt Niskanen had a bad giveaway on the Bruins second goal but overall, #2 was excellent on the blue line for Washington. He kept pucks in the offensive zone at the point on several occasions, including one on the game tying goal by Liam O’Brien. With Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green the Caps have a set of right handed d-men that arguably are as good as any other team in the NHL.

So how is the team adapting to Coach Trotz and what is different from previous regimes?

WNST chatted with Steve Olesky following the game to get his take on that.

WNST: What are your thoughts on the big transition and what can be done in just eight days, including four preseason games?

Oleksy: It’s hard, I think they’ve done a great job of taking the time through video and on-ice teaching us the systems, but with the number of guys that came into camp, the start of camp you’ve got three teams, it’s hard for everybody to get the reps they need to feel comfortable with the new systems. I think through the four exhibition games now, we’ve gotten stronger and more comfortable with the new systems.

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

Oleksy: I think one of the biggest changes is how aggressive we play and it’s more defensive minded, which I think in the long run is going to be really successful for us. Obviously everybody talks we have great offense and we’re going to get our chances and we’re going to score, but limiting their chances. As we do feel more comfortable with the systems I think we will cut those chances down even more.

WNST: As defensemen, what’s different? What strategy does Barry prefer you do in front of the net, front shots or box out?

Oleksy: He wants us fronting shots, which I think is going to play to our advantage as well. We’ve got a lot of fast guys up front and as defensemen, if we can step in front of a shot and knock it down and spring them with their speed that’s going to create chances. That’s a new change for us and then obviously taking care of the house, protecting the net and playing hard there will limit a lot of those rebound goals, those second and third chance goals that I think we’ve given up in the past.

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

Oleksy: It’s pretty similar, he wants us to feel comfortable. At this level, I think everybody thinks the game well enough to make hockey decisions. He puts that in our hands, which is nice, that way you are giving teams different looks and it’s not so robotic. I think that’s a good thing for us, especially with the skill there on the back end between guys like Niskanen, Green, Carlson and over on the left hand side with Alzner and Hillen. I think when you let those guys get creative I think they are going to create a lot of offense too.

What’s most interesting in those quotes from Oleksy is the “not so robotic” statement. Some thought that a guy like Trotz would come in and employ a rigid system that was not flexible, yet clearly he is adapting things to fit his talent. The Capitals have a lot of skill and Trotz realizes he has to maximize it.

So with just 12 days until the season opener on October 9th, the Capitals are evolving, but they have a lot of work left to do to make sure they come out of the gate quickly and put a terrible 2013-14 campaign behind them.

Notes: Brouwer had the game winner but Trotz noted he had heavy legs on Friday night. That was obvious as Evgeny Kuznetsov looked pretty good as second line center but with #20 being fatigued and Brooks Laich still trying to get his timing back, the line just didn’t work well for 40 minutes and Trotz took Laich off of the line and inserted Chris Conner…the Caps were 27-31 on faceoffs but outshot Boston 29-23. Total shot attempts were 55-45 in favor of the Caps.

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After an off season of much needed major changes, the Washington Capitals are finally set to open training camp this Friday, September 19th at Kettler IcePlex.

Expectations for the 2014-15 Caps, who will host the 2015 Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park at 1 pm on January 1st, are extremely high after they spent big dollars to upgrade their defense and brought in an experienced NHL coach in Barry Trotz to work with new General Manager Brian MacLellan.

How much of an impact will those changes have on a team that missed the post season in 2013-14?

The impact will be significant and I’ll go so far as to say that a Metropolitan Division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is very much within their reach.

Here are seven items, in order of importance, on why to be optimistic about the Capitals chances this season.

1. Improved Defense. Last year it was painfully clear that the Capitals blue line was their biggest issue from a talent standpoint so MacLellan wisely went out and upgraded what has been the weakest part of this team for several years. Adding Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov gives the Caps three strong defensive pairs. This is easily the most talented blue line the Capitals have had since 1998. When you have a sub par defense, it is much harder to get the puck out of your own zone and also feed it to your offensive players so that they can generate scoring chances. Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington’s puck possession statistics had steadily declined over the last several seasons with management failing to address the blue line deficiencies. Expect to see the Capitals improve greatly in puck possession this season now that they have a legitimate defense. For more about the depth the Caps have compiled on defense and a summary on each player, check out Mike Vogel’s recent Dump ‘n Chase blog here.

2. Experienced Coach. To quote the great Jim Ignatowski from Taxi, “There’s no substitute for experience.” The Capitals badly needed a coaching change and they sorely needed someone who knows the league. Hiring Barry Trotz, who previously coached in Nashville since 1997, was a no brainer. Trotz cut his teeth in the coaching business with the Capitals back in Baltimore in the early 1990′s and was the Predators only bench boss until they decided to go a different direction this past off season. The Predators routinely spent well below the NHL salary cap yet Trotz was often able to get a less talented squad to bond together and overachieve. In 2011, they gave the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks all they could handle before bowing out in six games in round two.  Now Barry comes to Washington, a team that spends to the cap on personnel, and he has a crew of talented players that have struggled to bond and succeed. Getting players to work together is a Trotz specialty and Barry has already put that process in motion by appointing a leadership group to help foster communication between the coaches and the players, something that has not happened very well in DC the last several years. Leadership should not be all on the captain and alternates, it’s a group effort, and Trotz recognizes in order to win everyone has to be on the same page (As an example, this “leadership as a group” concept worked very well for Ken Hitchcock when he coached the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in 1999). Trotz’s ability to get the Caps to be “a team” is his most important task, but his knowledge of systems and the other coaches and personnel around the league will be a huge plus too. The Capitals hit a home run with this choice as coach, he was the best commodity on the market and looks to be a great fit.

3. Braden Holtby. The coaching change and revamped defense will arguably benefit #70 more than any other Caps player. He should face less shots on net because the Capitals will have the puck more thanks to a better defense and a new system. In addition, he will work with proven goalie coach Mitch Korn, who came over from Nashville with Trotz. Korn, who has helped Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne rise to the top of their games, should bring out the best in Holtby’s strengths. Also, the NHL has expanded the trapezoid by two feet on each side which will allow Holtby to play the puck more, something that he is good at and a skill that takes the heat off of the defensemen. Holtby has the ability to be a 3rd d-man, at times, so I expect Trotz to utilize that strength, something that former Coach Adam Oates failed to develop. I’d also expect the league to totally dump the trapezoid in the coming years. After all, they are trying to promote skill and allowing the goalies to play the puck fits in with that motto while also helping to reduce injuries on defensemen (perhaps we’d see fewer concussions?). Simply put, the Martin Brodeur rule needs to go.

4. Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 scored 51 goals last season but much has been made of his -35. Plus minus is a team statistic and let’s face it, with the thin blue line the Capitals had last season it is no surprise they gave up so many even strength goals. Ovechkin had 24 of his tallies on the power play last campaign so it might be tough for him to hit 51 overall given that opponents will likely key on him on the man advantage. But Alex only had 28 assists in 2013-14 for a total of 79 points. With the improved talent around him, I have to think Ovechkin gets at least 90 points in 2013-14. Alex and his line mates should spend less time in their own zone with the improved blue line and as mentioned above, they’ll get the puck in better position to head up the ice, as well. 100 points for the Gr8 in 2014-15 could very well happen.

5. Mike Green. Heading into the final year of his contract, Green is in great shape and happy to be a part of Trotz’s leadership group. #52 is a very talented player who can drive puck possession. Unfortunately, due to a lack of blue line depth the last several years, the Capitals coaching staff has struggled to find the right partner for him. It’s very possible Orpik could be the stay at home and physical player that Green needs to succeed at an elite level once again. This could be a big year for Green because he won’t have all of the pressure on him to carry the back end with the additions of Orpik and Niskanen.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov. “Kuzy” came over last spring and he had a lot of adjusting to do to play in the NHL yet he still managed nine points in 17 games. Judging by those last several games, he is an immense talent who likely will produce on one of the Capitals top two lines in 2014-15. The 22 year old has had the off season to prepare for a grueling 82 game grind but he knows what he is up against now because of last spring’s experience and he’ll be better because of it. Expect him to bigger, stronger, and more productive.

7. Brooks Laich. It’s hard to believe, but it hasn’t even been two years since Laich initially injured his groin during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. With the Caps eliminated from the post season last spring, #21 has had nearly six months to get healthy and initial reports are he is finally pain free and happy on the ice again. Laich is a heart and soul guy who is tough to play against. Brooks will fill a grinder role and be a fixture on the penalty kill. He’s also a guy who can work the front of the net on the second power play unit.

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Capitals yet they only missed the post season by a handful of points. They are playing in a division that is wide open and you can throw the entire Eastern Conference into that equation, as well.

Clearly the play of the defense along with how this team bonds together under the new coaching staff are the two biggest keys to the season.

The talent is there for the Caps, but now they need to show a sense of urgency and execute.

Notes: Orlov and Tom Wilson, who were both injured after the Caps season ended, could see action late in September…the Caps first preseason game is this Sunday, September 21st at 5pm at the Verizon Center against the Buffalo Sabres.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings

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Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings

Posted on 26 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The definition of pure entertainment?

Yes, that would be the Washington Capitals-Los Angeles Kings game from the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

Wow, what a great hockey game!

The Caps raced out to a 2-0 and 3-1 lead on the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions only to see the Kings rally with three straight goals to take a 4-3 advantage before Evgeny Kuznetsov potted the rebound of an Alexander Ovechkin shot for his 1st NHL goal to tie the game with 42 seconds left.

A thrilling back and forth overtime period was played before the contest was ultimately decided in the shootout, where Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was just too good once again.

So the Caps lose for the second time in two games in less than a week to the Kings in the gimmick. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but as Karl Alzner told me after the game, “we are [ticked] off that we didn’t win this game.”

Alzner is right, the Capitals could’ve gotten two points, especially up 3-1 heading into the final period. But Los Angeles is one heck of a hockey team and the Capitals, who lost their #1 center Nicklas Backstrom to an upper body injury early in period two after he was hit late by Drew Doughty, should be okay with the late rally to salvage a point. They could’ve have easily been beaten in regulation save for the late heroics by Kuznetsov while shorthanded, which was set up by Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) and Eric Fehr.

The Caps not only lost Backstrom to what Coach Adam Oates said is not a concussion, but Troy Brouwer missed time during the contest as well as Chris Brown, who returned to set up Dustin Penner’s first goal as a Capital late in period two with some impressive grit and hard work. In addition, Ovechkin and Jack Hillen collided in overtime and #38 was down for several minutes before ultimately leaving the bench area under his own power.

The four injuries are a concern, especially the one to Backstrom. Fortunately the Caps don’t play again until Saturday afternoon so they have some time to heal.

Back to the tough loss, which puts the Capitals record at 34-27-12 (80 points) with nine games left to play. Washington received some stellar performances in this one, especially from their captain who had two power play markers before the game was eight minutes old. The Gr8, playing with Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson, had another solid game and was even for the night.The captain’s play on the tying goal was one in which the Gr8 seemed to decide that there was no way his club was going to be held pointless after battling all night against a top NHL club.

In addition, Mike Green was fantastic in 24:46 of ice time. He had six shots on net and played one of his best defensive games of the season. If the Caps are somehow going to make the post season, they need the #52 that played on Tuesday in every single game down the stretch.

Alzner was fabulous, as well, on the back end. King Karl had the very difficult task of going up against Anze Kopitar, one of the best players in the NHL, and he held #11 off of the score sheet. #27 had a nice solid hit on Kopitar in the middle frame and was positionally sound and used the body effectively.

Brown, Penner, and Tom Wilson did a nice job on the fourth line and they chipped in a goal. The three big bodies were a force on the ice.

The concerning thing was that the Capitals were mostly outplayed by Los Angeles, who had won a night earlier in Philadelphia. The Kings dominated puck possession and had 75 shot attempts to just 43 for the Caps. LA is one quality hockey team and their captain, Dustin Brown, was outstanding for Coach Darryl Sutter. Brown’s hit and strip of the puck on Dmitry Orlov to start period two allowed him to draw a trip on Joel Ward. The Kings scored on the ensuing power play and he also put his club up 4-3 in the third period.

GM Dean Lombardi’s crew are Stanley Cup contenders, especially after the GM practically stole Marian Gaborik from Columbus. Gaborik, who scored the third Kings goal on a sweet top shelf shot, brings a dimension to the roster that Los Angeles previously just didn’t have, a left handed pure goal scorer.

For the first time in several games, the Capitals had defensive issues. Patrick Wey had a rough night and his cross ice giveaway led to LA’s fourth goal. Still, #56 is an up and coming player and the Caps are 5-0-2 with him in the lineup. He has helped stabilize Orlov’s game, although #81 had a rough night as well.

As for the goaltending, Jaroslav Halak was a mixed bag. Oates said that #41 would want the second goal back, in which he fumbled a point shot and left a juicy rebound that LA potted. However, Halak made some super saves down the stretch and in overtime to keep the game close or tied. Then, in the gimmick, Halak couldn’t stop any Kings shooter. Clearly the shootout is not Halak’s favorite event.

When it was all said and done, the Caps earned a critical point to keep themselves in a dog fight for the final two Eastern Conference playoffs spots with Detroit, Columbus, Toronto, and even New Jersey. There is not a lot of room for error with nine games left.

The Caps absolutely have to have a healthy Backstrom if they are going to go at least 6-2-1 down the stretch and qualify for the playoffs. They also have to get super performances from their captain, Green, Alzner, and several others if they are going to beat Boston and the other teams on the schedule.

The loss is a tough one to swallow and was disappointing to the Caps and their fans.

But having said that, from a pure hockey and entertainment standpoint, last night’s contest between the Caps and the Kings is a reason why hockey is the greatest sport on earth.

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle, 34-29. Backstrom was 7-4 before leaving after only 8:10 of ice time…Brouwer had two assists…Doughty played 29:38 for the Kings. He is the best defensemen in the NHL, in my book and Quick is the best goalie…Kuznetsov and Fehr were stopped in the shootout while both Kopitar and Jeff Carter tallied for LA in the gimmick…the Kings went 1 for 3 on the power play while the Caps were 2 for 4. The PP was nowhere near as good once Backstrom was injured, which is no surprise.

 

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Ovechkin, Halak Help Caps Take 1st in Cali

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Ovechkin, Halak Help Caps Take 1st in Cali

Posted on 19 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

With games against Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose this week, all of which are Stanley Cup contenders, the Washington Capitals are pretty much “running the Gauntlet” in an attempt to keep their post season hopes alive.

On Tuesday night at the Honda Center, they received a 43 save performance from Jarolsav Halak and Alex Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season in the third period on the power play to win, 3-2.

It was a huge victory to start off this road trip.

Halak was clearly the story as he thwarted numerous Ducks quality chances, but let’s give some credit to the Capitals defensemen, as well, for protecting their keeper and clearing any rebounds. John Carlson and Karl Alzner were outstanding on the backend and Patrick Wey, who was recalled and replaced Connor Carrick (healthy scratch) in the lineup, played a strong 16:28 to push his record with the Capitals this year to 4-0.

Washington didn’t carry the play for much of the game, in fact, they were out attempted in shots, 79-54. The Ducks won the puck possession and they also had six power plays. Officially they went 0 for 6 but Mathieu Perreault’s tally early in period three came a second after a Jay Beagle minor expired. Beagle took three penalties on the night. Yes, some of the calls were questionable, but Washington is fortunate the Ducks power play is in a major funk. It also helped that Cam Fowler was out with a lower body injury for Anaheim.

The Caps scored on their first two power plays and went 2 for 3 to basically win this one via special teams. The power play is a joy to watch as the puck movement is excellent with the threat to score coming from all over the ice. Troy Brouwer scored the first power play goal after a nice Ovechkin pass to Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) led to #19 firing the biscuit on net. Marcus Johansson was in front screening Jonas Hiller and #90 managed to put one off of the goalie and #20 slammed the rebound home.

MJ90 was very good in this game with Beagle and Ovechkin. He skated well and is generating scoring chances and goals by going to the net.

Speaking of going to the net, that is how the Caps took an early 1-0 lead. Joel Ward put in the rebound of a Jason Chimera shot from the doorstep. Ward, Chimera, and Fehr continue to be a dominant line for Coach Adam Oates.

Overall, though, the Ducks showed why they are a tough team to play. They had the puck for long stretches of time but they lacked finishing ability in this one. Corey Perry was pretty much a no show for Anaheim.

The Caps still continue to have their defensive miscues and the first Ducks goal was the result of a bad neutral zone turnover and a poor decision to change the forwards after that miscue. As a result the Ducks received a three on two break and Ben Lovejoy scored from the top of the right circle just 59 seconds after the Caps jumped out to a 1-0 lead. For the next several minutes Anaheim would dominate the action but Halak was like the Berlin Wall.

Somehow the Caps managed to scrape out a win. They still make some silly mistakes but they are starting to find ways to win games. This victory was their third in a row and improves them to 33-27-10 (76 points). With 12 games left, you’d have to think that the Caps need nine more victories to make the post season. The schedule is extremely tough and Anaheim is a good team, but the Caps pulled it out on Tuesday to start “The Gauntlet.”

Next up are the Kings on Thursday.

Notes: Anaheim won the face off battle, 37-35. Backstrom was 15-10…Ovechkin only played 15:30 and a good reason for that was that the Capitals had to kill six penalties…the Caps successfully thwarted a 1:50 two man advantage for the Ducks in the opening frame.

 

 

 

 

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For over 40 minutes on Saturday night, it sure looked like the Washington Capitals were headed for a fourth straight loss and about to sustain a serious blow to their playoff chances.

The Caps looked listless for the third straight contest and couldn’t find a way to get a goal, extending their scoreless streak to over 100 minutes. Making things worse was they were playing a strong defensive team in Phoenix with one of the top goalies in the NHL in Mike Smith.

But suddenly, a team that wasn’t working very hard to overcome some lineup holes, started doing the little things right, like getting pucks and bodies to the net.

Karl Alzner scored a seeing eye goal from the blueline that only finds the back of the cage because Troy Brouwer and Jay Beagle went to the front of the net and took their defenders with them. Keith Yandle managed to screen his own keeper with 10:15 to go and suddenly the Caps and the Verizon Center had life for the first time since before Dmitry Orlov’s awful hit last Sunday.

Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich then outworked the Coyotes down low and #25 found Brooksie all alone in front of the cage and he put it by Smith to tie things up just 32 seconds later.

The Caps instantly became a new team. Orlov then drew a penalty to put Washington on the power play and when Troy Brouwer potted the rebound of a great Nicklas Backstrom shot, the Capitals grabbed a 3-2 lead.

Then, instead of sitting back, Washington became an even more energized squad and dominated the last five minutes of regulation to salt away a huge victory.

Jaroslav Halak notched 31 saves to earn his first victory in his Caps debut and he can thank referee Tim Peel for a quick whistle that disallowed a Phoenix goal in period one. But that’s the breaks of the game, a Backstrom shot that appeared to be a goal last Sunday against Philly didn’t count and hurt Washington in that one, so it looks like things eventually evened up.

Halak was shaky early on and probably wanted at least one of the two goals back, but his save on Antoine Vermette in the third period on a one on one was absolutely a must and a key reason why the Capitals were able to overcome the two goal deficit. I’ve been saying all season long that goaltending is not the major issue for the Caps and I stand by it. Halak was good, but defensive mistakes and lapses in focus continue to plague this Washington club and is the primary reason they are on the outside looking in at the postseason, right now.

But that’s a story for another day, the Capitals are alive and still in the hunt after a huge rally over a good Phoenix team.

They started skating and doing the simple things and were rewarded.

The question now is can they keep this energy level up on Monday when they start a critical home and home with the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Washington gained some much needed positive vibes and confidence tonight that they need to carry into Monday’s tilt.

They will also likely get newly signed Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 Caps 1st round draft choice) in the lineup for the game against the Pens. “Kuzy” will wear #92 and likely skate on the second line. He arrived in DC today and signed his entry level contract (two years) with the Capitals this afternoon. He will burn up that first year in less than 20 games and then will have another season left, but General Manager George McPhee called that aspect of the deal, “worth it.”

It’s hard to argue that because the Caps need skilled offensive players and Kuznetsov (just 21 years old), who carried the Russian squad to World Juniors Gold in 2011, has the potential to really improve the offense. But coming to North America and playing on the smaller rinks will be an adjustment. He is not “a savior” for the Caps season, but make no mistake about it, this club needs forward help with Laich playing through serious pain and Mikhail Grabovski still on the shelf due to a wonky ankle.

The road is not easy for the Caps as they have the hardest schedule in the NHL in their remaining 17 games, but rallying tonight and inking Kuzentsov at least gives them a fighting chance to pull off a seventh straight playoffs appearance.

Notes: Washington once again lost the face off battle for the fifth straight contest, 33-26. Losing draws makes it very difficult to win the puck possession battle. The Capitals will need to improve in this area if they are going to get on a run and make the playoffs…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:50 and he had an assist on the game winning tally.

 

 

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Forget all of that Olympic hangover/depression talk, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are on fire.

The Gr8 scored the first two goals of the game, on the power play, to lead the Caps to an impressive victory over the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins are arguably the best team in the East so to win in Beantown carries a lot of weight and puts an exclamation point on Washington’s four game winning streak.

There were lots of good things in this triumph for Coach Adam Oates’ crew.

They killed off a two minute five on three power play in the first ten minutes thanks to some outstanding shorthanded work by John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, and most importantly, Braden Holtby. If the B’s score early on that two man advantage, then this game could have gone differently. Instead the Capitals buckled down and had what was likely their most important penalty kill of the season.

Holtby is back playing at the peak of his game and he’s won all four starts during this winning streak performing super solid in the cage. #70 stopped 36 shots in this one and he had no chance on the two goals allowed. Braden’s confidence is back and the team appears more confident in front of him, as a result.

The power play struck early, when it mattered. The Caps were two for six with the man advantage, but they scored on their second and third power plays to get a key lead on the road in a tough building. Boston was 23-6-2 in their barn coming into this game.

Perhaps most importantly, players other than the top line, Carlson, and Holtby stepped up, which is needed against the elite teams in the league. Joel Ward had the goal that made it 3-0 and it was his nice cross ice pass to Marcus Johansson that helped set up the second Ovechkin tally. Eric Fehr provided the dagger for the Capitals with a huge breakaway marker on Tuukka Rask midway through the third period. #16, who has been Oates’ first choice in shootouts this season, made it look easy on Rask, who is one of the best goalies in the world. Surprisingly, Rask still has yet to beat the Capitals, the only club in the Eastern Conference that he has not been able to best. He’s 0-3-3 now against Ovechkin and company (h/t to Adam Vingan).

Alzner and Erskine had supreme efforts on the back end. King Karl and Carlson faced a super top Boston line of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, and Milan Lucic and neutralized them. Erskine, who has looked close to done this season due to bad wheels, played his best game of the season, in my book.

Despite the huge win in an intense hockey game, there are still things the team needs to improve if they are going to make the post season. The Caps were out shot at even strength by a 30-16 margin, out attempted 67-44 on the shot board, and they were creamed from the face off dot, 38-25. Boston is one of the best teams in the league for a reason: they are great on face offs and they know how to own the puck. Patrice Bergeron, who is the best two way center in the NHL, scored a power play goal and went 14-7 on draws.

In addition, the Caps need to be smarter in key situations in games. With the Caps up 3-1 in the middle frame, Mike Green forced a cross ice pass in the offensive zone that led to the Bruins second goal. The play was a poor decision, especially since #52 had a Washington forward going to the net. Greenie has to think more clearly there and direct the biscuit at the cage. Finally, with the Caps up 4-2 and Boston having an empty net, Laich (who was fabulous in this contest) decided to try and force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick with about a minute left instead of hitting what looked to be an easy empty net goal. #21 was too unselfish there and should have gone for the goal to lock up the win. Ovechkin wouldn’t have been upset either because it was the Gr8′s strong defensive play that got the puck out of the defensive zone to begin with and he would’ve gotten an assist and a plus. Forget the stats though (and plus/minus is a stat that has some serious flaws), the Caps need wins and Boston still could’ve come back at that point (see game 7 of the playoffs against Toronto last spring).

Overall, this was a big victory for the Capitals and they were determined to beat a quality opponent. This club still has some holes on the back end and it still causes inconsistency.

However, the big guns look very motivated as we head down the stretch, especially Ovechkin (43 goals in 57 games this season), Nicklas Backstrom, Carlson, and Holtby. If the rest of the squad can hold their own, and that’s a big if given their defensive zone issues, then they should be able to climb into a playoff position.

That quest continues tomorrow in a huge contest against the Flyers at the Verizon Center at 12:30 pm. Currently, Philadelphia is a point ahead of the Caps in the Metropolitan Division. A regulation win on Sunday puts Washington back in sole position of third place, and a playoff spot.

Notes: Martin Erat and Mikhail Grabovski both did not play due to injury…Johansson, who notched his 30th assist of the season, returned to the lineup after missing the Florida game due to jet lag (caused by Visa issues)…Carlson logged 24:46 of ice time to lead Washington. He was outstanding in this contest once again.

 

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Tonight’s Caps-Panthers game pretty much summed up the Washington Capitals season to date:

The elite players did just enough for the Capitals to overcome some bad penalties and terrible play by their bottom two defensive pairs to beat a bad Florida Panthers squad, 5-4.

It’s plain and simple to me: the gap in talent between the high and low end players on the roster is exactly the reason why this club struggles to find consistency.

Alexander Ovechkin scored the game winning goal (41st of the season) off of a sweet feed from Brooks Laich with 4:17 to go. Earlier in the contest the Gr8 fed Laich for a one timer that made it 2-0. Both Ovechkin and Laich would have a goal and two helpers and their center, Nicklas Backstrom, also had a goal and two assists while being on the ice for all five Washington tallies. This was easily Laich’s best performance of the 2013-14 season.

John Carlson was an absolute BEAST on defense. Go back and watch the last 45 seconds again, if you get the chance. #74 almost single handily killed that Panthers 6 on 4. Carlson has really stepped up his game this year and he is in the ELITE category on defense. During the Olympics, an NHL scout from the Western Conference told me that only two defensemen on Team USA could play for Team Canada, Ryan Suter and Carlson. That is high and correct praise for the 2008 1st round pick. Carlson logged 24:33 and had two assists on Thursday night. Simply put, for the Caps to make the playoffs, Coach Adam Oates will likely have to put Carlson on the ice for 30 minutes a game unless George McPhee can make a trade to upgrade the bottom three defensemen, but more on that later.

Troy Brouwer had an excellent night chipping in two goals by doing what he and the other grinders on this club need to do more of for Washington to be successful: crash the net. #20 notched two power play markers with his strong presence in front. It’s not rocket science on what you need to do to achieve in this league, work hard and get to the front of the cage.

As for Braden Holtby, it’s hard to fault him on the four goals. When Carlson wasn’t on the ice it was like watching the Count Floyd show in Washington’s end: Scary Stuff! With the game tied, 4-4, the Panthers had a power play midway through period three and #70 was at his absolute best on that kill. He made two huge stops in tight to keep the Cats off of the board. His goaltending allowed Ovechkin and Laich to produce the late game heroics. It’s just a shame that Holtby has to keep playing behind a couple of pairs of d-men who look lost in their own end too often.

As for those defensemen, first Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green allowed the Panthers to overcome a 2-0 hole with defensive blunders and after the Caps went up 4-2 late in period two, they gave it back with some shoddy defensive zone play in the final frame. The Cats pulled to within 4-3 when John Erskine and Connor Carrick were abused by the Panthers power play. Just over a minute later, Karl Alzner got beat in the corner and Green couldn’t help him out in front, letting Brad Boyes tie it up at four with his second goal of the night. For much of the third period, the Caps defensive zone was a train wreck when Carlson wasn’t on the ice, and that is being nice.

At the end of the night, the Capitals earned a much needed two points against an inferior opponent. They have to keep winning if they want to make the playoffs. Right now they are on the outside looking in. They’ve won four of their last five but it hasn’t come against the top dogs in the NHL.

On Saturday they face one of those squads in the Boston Bruins. After that it is a home and home with the despised Flyers, who are ahead of the Caps in the standings. They’ll need more than the top line, the power play, Carlson, and Holtby playing well to beat those teams.

But for tonight, the Caps were victorious in Florida.

They can thank their top players for this one.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski returned from injury and was hurt again in the first period and didn’t return. The team labeled it a lower body injury…Washington won the face off battle, 33-28…Carrick and Erskine logged 17 and 18 minutes, respectively. The Caps were able to overcome them tonight but it will be much tougher against Boston. I’d like to see those two play under 15 minutes each, and closer to 12 to 13 minutes…Washington was 2 for 2 on the power play and killed 5 of 6 Cats man advantage situations. Six penalties is way too high, the team needs to clean that up.

 

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

Posted on 06 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 40 minutes, things were looking bleak for the Washington Capitals. They were trailing the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, and were being outplayed and out shot, 30-18. A loss would surely do major damage to any playoff hopes they still had remaining.

Luckily for the Caps, Braden Holtby, who was a surprise starter after Michal Neuvirth came down with an illness, was excellent in the cage (34 saves) and kept Washington in it.

Then, in the final frame, Washington played one of its’ best 20 minutes of the season totally dominating the Jets on the shot clock, 12-6, and more importantly, 3-0 on the scoreboard to get a much needed 4-2 victory.

The win moves the Caps to 26-23-9 (61 points) and keeps them three points out of a playoff spot.

Tom Wilson, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the third period because the Capitals started moving their feet and going to the net. All four Washington tallies (Brouwer had the first one, as well) were from the Caps crashing the cage. That’s the way you have to score in the NHL because the goalies are so good.

The effort in the last period was excellent and makes you wonder why this team can’t do that more often despite some holes in the lineup?

Going into the game, the Caps called up rookie defensemen Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette to replace a demoted Tyson Strachan (sent to Hershey) and a struggling John Erskine. Both of those guys did okay in their almost 15 minutes of ice time together and finished +2. Brouillette made a nice play to set up Wilson’s goal with Wey getting an assist on the tally, too. Those two blue liners played a simple game.

Ovechkin’s tally was his 40th of the season after Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was decked in the crease. It was a gritty goal and was the game winner. The Gr8 had nine shot attempts and four hits in this tilt in 20:35 of ice time.

The first 40 minutes were maddening, though. On the first Jets goal, Karl Alzner misplayed John Carlson’s (25:26 of ice time) pass around the boards and Martin Erat was late in coverage on Bryan Little. That allowed Little to get credit for the tally after Holtby stopped the initial shot following a nice pass from Andrew Ladd. The goal actually went in off of Erat’s skate. The second goal, the only marker of the second period, was even worse as both Washington defensemen were in position with Marcus Johansson skating back as the third forward. For some reason, MJ90 failed to turn around and find the third Jet up the ice, Dustin Byfuglien, and #33 received a pass from Devon Setoguchi in the slot and buried it, top shelf. Johansson, who did have two assists including a sweet feed to Brouwer on the fourth goal, has to be more alert and bear down defensively on those plays. Overall, Washington was a victim of not moving their feet in those first two periods.

But somehow they managed to find another gear in the final 20 minutes and save their playoff push, for now. Falling five points back, at this point, might be too much to overcome. They still have a rough road ahead to climb back into a playoff spot, especially if they perform like they did on Tuesday against New York and in the first 40 minutes versus Winnipeg.

Bottom line, over the last 24 games the team needs to be much more consistent and skate like they did in the third period if they want to make it into a seventh straight post season.

Notes: Connor Carrick and Dmitry Orlov were paired together and played just under 20 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-24…Wilson played 8:07 and I’d love to see Coach Adam Oates get him out there on the struggling Caps power play. Washington was 0 for 4 with the man advantage and they could use Wilson’s size and hands to shake things up…the Caps only took one minor penalty, that is a huge step in the right direction given their recent propensity to end up in the sin bin…next up are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at 8pm at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

Posted on 31 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A night after getting totally whipped in Columbus, the Washington Capitals went into Detroit to take on the Red Wings.

Granted this isn’t the vintage Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008, but they still have a good hockey club and Detroit showed it by dominating the Capitals in puck possession (shot attempts were 81-54 for Detroit) and finally winning in a shootout, 4-3.

This game is 7-2 or worse if not for Michal Neuvirth (42 saves), who was absolutely outstanding throughout the night. Neuvy, who made several ten bell saves in regulation, stopped the first six shootout attempts but none of his teammates could dent Jimmy Howard in the gimmick and Patrick Eaves finally notched the game winner with a sweet glove high shot just inside the right post before Jay Beagle couldn’t convert in the 7th round.

Neuvirth, however, would have gotten the loss if not for a late push from the Caps that saw Alexander Ovechkin tie the game with seven seconds remaining after a nice feed from John Carlson (two assists). Joel Ward did a super job in front of the net on the tying tally.

Another Cap that had a good outing was Casey Wellman, who scored a huge goal to knot this one at two. Wellman took an excellent stretch pass from Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist), skated in on Howard and fired three shots before the last one finally hit the twine. Jason Chimera (1 goal, 1 assist) had a strong game along with Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Sadly, after Wellman’s great individual effort, John Erskine blew a tire in the offensive zone and that allowed Gustav Nyquist to beat a screened Neuvirth for what looked to be the game winning goal until the Gr8 late game magic.

Ovechkin now has 39 goals on the campaign and he rebounded after a poor outing in Columbus. The Caps worked harder against Detroit but they were outclassed by the Wings, which is a concern.

The Caps, without Green on the back end, had to rely heavily on Carlson (31:18 of ice time) and Alzner (23:19) on the blue line, and hope that Dmitry Orlov, Tyson Strachan, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick could hold the fort as the bottom four defenders. Unfortunately the Erskine & Carrick pair struggled and finished -2 on the night.

So an important five game road trip ends with the Capitals getting five points. The Caps are two points behind third place Carolina in the Metro Division and two points in back of the Wings, who own the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot currently. Washington now has four straight home games, including Super Bowl Sunday’s tilt against the Wings. Given that the Capitals are 13th in the conference, one would have to think they need to win at least three of the four contests on home ice this week before the Olympic break hits to stay in playoff contention.

They were fortunate to get a point in Motown on Friday night. They can thank Neuvirth for this one along with some late game heroics from Ovechkin.

Notes: The Wings played without star center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Johan Franzen while the Caps didn’t have Mike Green or Mikhail Grabovski, due to injuries. According to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Coach Adam Oates confirmed that Green is undergoing concussion protocol and in addition, Brooks Laich was shut down for the third period due to “tightness.” Finding healthy bodies to play continues to get tougher for Washington…five Washington forwards didn’t even ATTEMPT a shot tonight (Martin Erat, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Beagle, and Tom Wilson), that is not good at all.

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

Posted on 25 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Sidney Crosby may win the Hart Trophy this year for the great season he is having, but you will never get me to back down on the following statement:

Alexander Ovechkin is the “most valuable” player to his team in the NHL.

For proof of that, see Saturday’s Capitals 5-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.

Washington came in to Montreal as losers of 7 straight games and in a serious goal scoring drought. The Gr8 had missed the previous two games due to a lower body injury and until the third period in New Jersey, the Capitals looked like they couldn’t beat a college team without the services of their captain in those two tilts.

Everything seemed to change from the first shift Ovechkin took tonight, which included a big hit in the neutral zone. The Caps were moving their feet and fighting to the front of the Habs net. Despite not scoring, the Capitals held a 12-3 shot advantage in the opening frame and carried the majority of the play.

But they still had not scored and the way things had been going for this club, if Montreal gets on the board first, then who knows what would’ve happened?

Enter Ovechkin and a goal that only a few players on the planet could score early in period two. The Gr8 corralled the puck in the air below the goal line and in Tiger Woods like fashion juggled it on his stick and then snapped it by a stunned Carey Price. It was an off the charts goal in terms of pure skill, which comes from countless hours of practice. The tally was a game changer and the Capitals totally came to life after that marker.

John Erskine scored to make it 2-0 thanks to Brooks Laich going to the net and then Jay Beagle, who was great again on Saturday after being my player of the game in New Jersey on Friday, finished off a beautiful passing play from Tom Wilson and Mike Green. John Carlson then made it four goals on a delayed penalty call and that chased Price from the game in the middle stanza.

Ovechkin would then beautifully set up Casey Wellman in the third period for a sweet goal on a two on one break to make it 5-0 and the Habs would not dent Braden Holtby once in their 21 shots on net in this contest.

It was a dominating win and something this club badly needed.

The key was their ability to get to the front of the net and protect their own cage, something they’ve struggled mightily with this season. With NHL goalies so talented these days, the best way to score is to get bodies and pucks there. The Capitals did that with a vengeance on Saturday night. Washington also limited their turnovers which prevented odd man rushes against.

Basically it was a textbook victory and the Caps looked like a confident team after that first goal by the Gr8.

Ovechkin notched his 36th goal of the campaign and added his 15th assist as he easily earned the game’s number one star.

The losing streak is over and the large piano is off of the backs of the Capitals players.

It was only one win, but getting one win lately has seemed next to impossible for Washington.

Ovechkin’s return and play sparked his club tonight.

Most Valuable Player, in my book, hands down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Montreal 34-21 and it was 27-9 through two periods..the Habs won the faceoff battle, 36-25…the Caps were 0 for 8 on the power play but for all intensive purposes Ovechkin’s goal was a PPG as it went in right as the penalty expired…Montreal was 0 for 3 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps is the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. You can bet Ryan Miller will be in net so Washington must go to the cage with authority like they did on Saturday in order to get the biscuit by the great Michigan State alum.

 

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