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Ovie Game 5 Pens

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Ovechkin, Holtby, and Oshie Help Caps Force a Game 6

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

With their season on the line, the Washington Capitals received huge performances from their stars in a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Alex Ovechkin was an absolute beast in this contest with a goal and an assist, T.J. Oshie had the same, and Braden Holtby made 30 saves to force a game 6 at the Consol Energy Center on Tuesday at 8 pm.

Wow, what a hockey game!

Both teams left it all on the ice in this one and it was the battle of superb forechecks for the first 40 minutes. After a great start by the Caps, the Penguins put on a clinic with their 1-2-2 pressure forcing Washington into poor puck management and turnovers throughout the later half of the opening stanza. The shots on net were 12-4 for the Pens after 20 minutes, but shot attempts were 25-21 for Pittsburgh since the Capitals missed the net 10 times.

In the middle frame, the Caps did a better job of breaking out by swarming the puck and using the high glass or lob over the Penguins defense. That forced Pittsburgh to do more retreating and allowed the Capitals to carry the play. Washington out shot attempted the black and gold, 26-19, and took a 2-1 lead on Oshie’s rebound of another strong Ovechkin shot. Justin Williams then pounced on a Pens turnover and beat Matt Murray five hole to give the Caps their 1st two goal cushion of this series. The lead could’ve been extended more, but the Caps missed the net 12 additional times, including some great chances for Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom.

In the third period the Capitals played smart using a 1-3-1 type of setup in the neutral zone and, as a result, Pittsburgh had to dump the puck in way more than they wanted. The Caps continued to swarm the loose biscuit and that helped them win a lot of the battles against a speedier team.

Pittsburgh didn’t have many quality chances in that last frame as the Caps played with desperation.

Desperation is what the Caps will continue to feel, because a Penguins victory on Tuesday closes this series out.

Pittsburgh got Kris Letang (30:11 of ice time) back after a one game suspension and his play stepping up in the neutral zone was a big factor early.

The Caps, however, will get Brooks Orpik back on Tuesday after his three game suspension. His veteran leadership and presence should help stabilize a Washington back end that has made too many big mistakes in this series.

On Saturday night though, the Caps defensemen were very solid and the only goal allowed by Washington was while they were shorthanded.

The Capitals received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast, including back to back huge stops on Patrick Hornqvist (pad save) and Justin Schultz (glove save) late in period two. #70 was dialed in, like his teammates, and they’ll need to be in game six.

Pittsburgh still is in the driver’s seat in this series since the Caps have no margin for error. However, coming into game five, Pittsburgh was 8-0 lifetime against Washington in previous such occasions.

Washington will need to bring their best game if they want to have a chance at extending the series, once again.

Desperation, that’s what every Capitals player has to bring to every battle on every shift on Tuesday night.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 27:28. He was outstanding, along with Karl Alzner (25:02). John Carlson had an assist in 24:50. He was dominant, as well…final shot attempts were 69-58 for the Penguins, but that was due to 3rd period score effects…Tom Wilson only played 7:20, but he drew a key slashing penalty on Ian Cole that led to Oshie’s PPG. Willy also was super on the PK and late in regulation. The Caps were 2 for 5 with the man advantage while the Penguins went 1 for 2.

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Game Six Backy

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Caps Win the Series as Holtby Shuts Out the Flyers

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 26 saves behind another dominating 200 foot performance from the Capitals, who made the only goal of the game from Nicklas Backstrom stand up to extinguish the Flyers in game six, 1-0.

The Capitals will now move on to play the red hot and fast Pittsburgh Penguins later this week while the cheap shot artist Flyers will have all summer to hone their tactics on the golf course. It is always fun to knock off that team, which promotes Neanderthal-styled behavior and hockey on the ice, but more on them later.

Washington won this series with team defense by allowing only six goals in six games. The Holtbeast had two shutouts and only permitted five non empty net goals, one of which came off of his own teammate in game five. The Caps top three defensemen, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner, were absolutely fabulous in this series. They were physical and Carlson showed why he’s a top ten NHL blue liner, in my book, with his defensive skills and offensive ability. He was downright sensational for Coach Barry Trotz in the six game series victory. Alzner is playing the best hockey of his career and Niskanen is just so good at both ends of the rink. His hitting ability is vastly underrated.

Another big part of the Caps team defense was the way their forwards were back checking when the puck came out of the Washington zone. The forwards routinely hauled back and stole puck after puck from the Flyers in the neutral zone or forced Philly into turning it over at the offensive blue line because the Capitals defensemen were able to step up and make plays. It was text book coverage all over the ice and Filthy had few odd man rushes in the series, as a result. They also had a minimal amount of quality scoring chances and the Caps set a franchise record with this performance in terms of fewest goals allowed in a seven game series (previous mark was 7 vs. Ottawa in 1998). Washington will need to maintain that type of defensive play against the offensively minded Penguins.

Michal Neuvirth was the single reason the Flyers were able to extend this series to six games. He was stellar in net in only allowing two goals in three games, one on a rebound by T.J. Oshie in game four and the Backstrom marker on Sunday, which he had no chance on. Alex Ovechkin made a super play at the blue line to get the puck to Marcus Johansson (six points in six games) and Jojo made a perfect pass to Nicky, who buried the shot into the yawning cage for the game winner at 8:59 of the second period.

Johansson was a big bright spot and a huge reason why Washington was able to finally bury the Flyers. The Caps had strong contributions up and down the lineup, especially from the bottom six forwards. Mike Richards, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jojo, and Jay Beagle were all at or near the top of their respective games. Wilson was near perfect in game six and the Flyers were flat out afraid of him as the series went on. He opens up space on the ice for the Caps forwards. If he plays like that and stays out of the box, he is a real factor in the post season when the games are tight and hitting really matters.

If there was a down area in this series, it was the second line. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky had the puck quite a bit, but by the end of the series they looked tired and a bit timid, at times, as they were getting taken off of the puck too easily on the wall. Justin Williams was okay at even strength, save for his four penalty night in game five. This was a bad match up for that line against the physical Flyers, but I expect them to have more favorable results against the Penguins, and they’ll need to do so.

In game six, the Capitals wanted to be more disciplined, and they were. Unfortunately, a friendly fire high stick by a Flyers player on Ryan White was called a double minor on Backstrom just four minutes after the Flyers had killed off a five on three for the Caps early in the second period with the game scoreless. I’ll give the zebras some benefit of the doubt because it happened so fast, but the replay clearly showed it wasn’t Backstrom or any other Caps stick that hit White in the nose. Shouldn’t the officials be able to use replay there to get the call correct? I’m all for automatic review of high sticking calls in the post season, especially the double minor kind. So please fix this NHL!

This incorrect call came at a critical juncture and it was made worse when the referees mistakenly whistled Matt Niskanen for hooking Wayne Simmonds right off of the ensuing face off in front of Holtby. Watch the replay of that one again, that’s just good defense there.

Coach Trotz’ crew was suddenly down two men for infractions that weren’t committed by them, but credit the mental toughness of this Capitals team. They didn’t flinch one bit. They worked hard and killed off the four minutes, including two minutes of five on three by only allowing three shots on goal, which the Holtbeast turned away. Beagle, Carlson, Alzner, and Richards were just superb on those kills. Richards, as he has done repeatedly in this series, was so good at dropping down to cover the back door on Flyers power play opportunities. His stick prevented Jakub Voracek from giving the Flyers the lead on the five on three.

With momentum gained on that crucial kill, the Capitals scored just two and half minutes later to set the stage for the final frame, where the Caps just kept the Flyers to the outside to preserve the victory.

When the horn sounded, this was one sweet victory for the Capitals and their fans over their arch rivals since 1974. Washington now owns a 3-2 lifetime playoff series advantage on the Flyers (wins in 1984, 1988, and 2016; losses in 1989 and 2008).

After the Caps domination in game five in a 1-0 loss that allowed Philly to pull within 3-2 in the series, there were factions in the media and the fan base that immediately shifted into the “Here We Go Again” and “Caps are Going to Blow It Again” mode. The “Capitals are Cursed” mantra was thrown around far too much for my liking. I’m not surprised by it coming from some of the media, that’s their job to stir it up, but it was frustrating and disappointing to see so many fans fall blindly into it. To quote Bruce Springsteen, many in the fan base need to simply “Show a little faith.”

I’ve been steadfast all season in my belief that this team is different from past Capitals teams and they have shown that throughout the season. This is the best Caps team ever assembled and coached, period. Yet the first sign of trouble we had too many breaking their legs jumping off of the bandwagon.

Where’s the mental toughness?

Fortunately this Caps team has it and it is different. There are eight players who weren’t on this roster last season when they lost to the Rangers in May; Oshie, Williams, Richards, Winnik, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney, and Mike Weber (who was excellent in 8:48 of ice time in game six). Those players have helped upgrade the talent and closeness of this club. Williams and Richards bring a wealth of experience (five Stanley Cups), too. There will be bumps in the road and it is the teams that stick together that fight through tough stretches and prevail. Again, show a little faith fans.

Finally, let’s talk about what it means to beat the Flyers.

Forgive me for not heeding Tim McGraw’s advice to “Always be humble and kind” here, because when it comes to the Flyers, all bets are off. They are despised by many and unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Ravens fan base very much despises, Philadelphia is not respected, where the football team that is run by the Rooneys in Steeltown is respected. Flyers owner Ed Snider passed away right before this series began and the people who work for him have always pretty much been first class to me off of the ice from Joe Kadelec, Gene Hart, Bobby Taylor, Bobby Clarke, and Dave Brown on down, including Gene Prince, who used to run the Spectrum and Wells Fargo Center press boxes.

But on the ice is a different story. Snider preached physical hockey and that’s okay, as long as it is done between the whistles. In this series, the Flyers crossed the line too many times. Simmonds cross checked Ovechkin in the back of the knee in game two and Brayden Schenn did the same thing to Kuznetsov in game four, with both coming well AFTER THE WHISTLE. They were bush league moves along with the intent to injure hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellmare on Orlov in game three, simply because the Flyers were being sore losers. The Capitals may have actually benefited by not hitting the empty net at the end of game six because it would’ve given the sore loser Flyer players time to get in at least another cheap shot or two.

Speaking of bush league and being sore losers, it was just two and a half years ago when goalie Ray Emery raced across the ice and jumped Holtby then started pounding him in a game the Caps would end up winning 7-0. It was disgraceful, but the dinosaur like fans in Filthy loved it and a media member made a bozo move naming Emery the game’s third star. That’s typical Philadelphia Flyer mentality. They’ve been setting the game back for 40 years on the ice, so they’ll get no praise from me.

Look, the Flyers overachieved this year and have some good young players, but they are cement heads on the ice and that leads to their overall reputation. As Niskanen repeatedly told me in this series, “it’s in their DNA.” They’ll continue to be nothing but losers until they clean that stuff up and shame on the NHL for allowing  too much of it to happen far too often. It also leads to many of their fans acting like babies and idiots on occassion, witness game three’s bracelet throwing spree. Simply put, on the ice, that team is pretty much classless.

But good for Coach Trotz for praising the Flyers season in his post game presser, he is a classy man as is Caps GM, Brian MacLellan. Those two know what they are doing and have assembled a roster that will go up against the vaunted Penguins, who own a 7-1 all time series record against the Caps. But none of that matters and the last time these teams met in the playoffs was 2009.

Again, this Capitals team is different. It is a challenging match up and Washington will need to play their game properly to win the series. This club is mentally tough and I’m not guaranteeing a victory, but the fan base needs to show a little faith, in fact a lot of faith, and stick by them as they go up against Sidney Crosby and company.

Oh, and one more thing, see ya Flyers!

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Caps Flyers Game 3

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Caps Discipline Leads to 6-1 Rout of the Flyers

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals used a four goal third period to bury the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-1, on Monday night and put Philly’s season on notice. The Caps now have a three games to none lead in this best of seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 7 pm at the Wells Fargo Center.

Simply put, the Capitals embarrassed the Flyers.

In addition, the Flyers and their fans, who repeatedly threw bracelets onto the ice on Ed Snider night late in the third period, totally melted down embarrassing themselves and the NHL with their awful penalties and idiotic behavior. Frankly, they looked like a bunch of whining babies when it was all said and done.

With the crowd amped up, the game got off to a bad start for Washington as Michael Raffl put the rebound home of a Brandon Manning point shot just 57 seconds into the contest. Braden Holtby (31 saves) said afterwards that was a shot he wanted back, but following that, the Holtbeast shut the door on the Flyers.

Washington, though, answered quickly, less than four minutes after the Flyers early goal to really settle things down. 15 seconds after Wayne Simmonds took a holding infraction, John Carlson blasted a shot from the point and it hit Marcus Johansson on the way in to tie things up. The Caps would score on one of their two power plays in the opening frame while Philadelphia went 0 for 2 with their man advantage situations.

In the middle frame, the Capitals took the lead at the 8:50 mark as Alex Ovechkin (two goals, one assist) slipped behind the Flyers defense and snapped a wicked shot just below the glove of Steve Mason (21 saves) and inside the far post to give Washington a lead it would not relinquish.

The Flyers did their best to try to tie it up, throwing their body around and pretty much tossing the kitchen sink at Holtby. Brooks Orpik took a vicious hit from Ryan White that resulted in an upper body injury and he did not return. From that point on in period two, Philadelphia was really all over the Caps. Somehow Washington managed to maintain their focus and Brayden Schenn took a stupid slashing penalty at the end of the frame that set the table for a big Caps final stanza.

What a period it was as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the ensuing power play when the Caps got a lucky break off of the back glass on a Justin Williams hard around that bounced right into the slot and on the stick of #92, which he deposited by Mason just 1:58 into the period. The Flyers and their fans were absolutely stunned. Sure it was a lucky bounce, but if Schenn doesn’t take the bad penalty, Kuznetsov is not all alone and in position for the easy marker.

But the Flyers would not learn from their mistakes and Radko Gudas took another bad penalty, tripping Kuznetsov in the offensive zone and Carlson made him pay with his third goal in three games with Williams setting a beautiful screen on Mason at the top of the crease. That made it 4-1 and the Flyers were pretty much done with the hockey part of their game.

It’s in the DNA of the Broad Street Bullies to get dirty and cheap when the game is heading into the out of reach category and right on cue, the Flyers went there. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hit Dmitry Orlov awkwardly from behind and earned a five minute major at the 12:17 mark. A scrum ensued and many Flyers fans lost it, at that point, littering the ice with the bracelets and causing a couple of delays. They were then warned by the referees, via the Flyers in house announcer, that if more objects were thrown on the ice then the home team would be penalized.

The Caps worked the puck around in the offensive zone for several minutes on the five minute major creating numerous chances before Ovechkin fired another dart past Mason to make it 5-1 with 5:02 remaining. Naturally, several more bracelets were tossed onto the rink and the referees assessed a bench minor to the Flyers for the fans insubordination. Those who threw the objects onto the ice basically acted like three year old kids. It was embarrassing for those fans who were behaving properly, and there was a good number of them. It also disrespected the game and was a black mark for the NHL. Simply put, the NHL cannot be happy with the behavior of the Flyers and their fans and that will do them no favors the rest of the series. Snider, if he were still with us, would be disgusted at the lack of respect for the game shown by numerous Flyers fans.

Jay Beagle then closed out the scoring after Matt Read took a slashing penalty and the Caps earned a five on three power play.

The final statistics for the third period included four Capitals goals, a shot attempts advantage of 33 to 15 and a 13-6 margin from the dot on draws. Up until that period, the Flyers had a 27-13 edge on faceoffs and 48-35 on shot attempts. The mostly young Philly team took themselves out of the contest with terrible decisions and penalties; it was not simply the result of one lucky bounce.

Overall, the Caps did a super job in this game of keeping the Flyers to the outside and either blocked shots or allowed Holtby to see the biscuit clearly. Coach Trotz stated that despite the offensive weapons his team has up front, his club is really built on defense.

Washington also won this contest by keeping their cool and destroying the Flyers on special teams. The Caps went 5-9 with the power play while Philly was 0-5.

“It’s tough, you want to retaliate, but you have to look at the bigger picture and know what we’re playing for here. Everyone takes hits to make plays, takes slashes, you have to take a lot of stuff if you want to get where you want to be,” said two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, who had six hits in 11:05 of ice time.

“It tests your patience, for sure, but the end goal is to win the game. We have to stick up for each other, stay together as a group, but especially when our power play is going like that, we’ll just turn it into a game like that and keep scoring goals,” added Matt Niskanen, who blocked five shots in a game high 26:48 on the blue line for Washington.

This was the first time in franchise history, in eight tries (h/t Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post), that the Caps have taken a 3-0 lead in a best of seven series, but in the locker room following the game, you’d be hard pressed to tell that Washington is on the verge of sweeping this opening round series. Basically, it looked like another night in Caps land during the regular season. There was no celebration or feeling of accomplishment, just a singular focus on the task at hand, which was to win a hockey game and then get one more on Wednesday.

“You want to win, that’s where the focus is, but they have a really good team. [Claude Giroux] is a great leader and Simmonds is a great leader, so you know they’re not going to lay down and die, so we have to play our best game. The toughest is to get that fourth win and we know they are going to come hard,” finished Richards.

Notes: Orlov, despite the nasty hit he took then crawling out from under the donnybrook that occurred while he was laying on the ice, came back and notched a power play assist. #9 eats rocks for breakfast and looked very solid and comfortable in 12:34 of ice time…Nate Schmidt, one assist, was excellent in 11:58 of playing time…with Orpik likely out for game 4, you can expect Mike Weber to get a sweater on Wednesday given that his game most closely resembles #44’s…Karl Alzner was fabulous on D in 22:52 of ice time.

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Holts Richards Flyers Game 2

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The Holtbeast Wins Game Two for the Caps

Posted on 17 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, great goaltenders find ways to carry their team to victory when they aren’t anywhere close to their best.

On Saturday night, against the Philadelphia Flyers in game two of this opening round best of seven series, Braden Holtby did just that for the Washington Capitals.

The Holtbeast stopped 41 out of 42 shots, including 19 in the opening frame, to lead the Caps to a 4-1 victory and allow Washington to head up I-95 on Monday night for game three with a two games to none series lead.

Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson scored on the power play and Washington’s penalty killing unit, which starts with Holtby, was stellar going a perfect four for four on the night in 4:58 of shorthanded time. 67 seconds of that time included a two man advantage for the Flyers in the opening frame, but the only biscuit that got by #70 was from Jakub Voracek in the middle frame after the Capitals were up 2-0. Usually the team that prevails in a five on three situation wins the hockey game, and that was the case on Saturday night at the Phone Booth.

The Caps knew the Flyers would be the more desperate team after Washington’s dominating game one victory and Philadelphia played like it. I’m not sure if the Capitals talked themselves into being outplayed, but they certainly were for many stretches of this one as the Flyers had their legs going to win the shot attempt battle, 80-48?

Quality scoring chances were much closer and according to War on Ice, the high danger quality chances were 13 apiece, and 9-4 for Washington over the last two periods (h/t to @ThePeerless).

But the Caps players knew afterwards that this was not one of their quality performances. They looked slow on the puck for numerous stretches and their gap control suffered, at times. The first period saw the Flyers out shoot the Capitals, 19-5.

“Not exactly the way we wanted to start, I don’t think we were as bad as everyone is making it seem because of the shots, I mean I think they stuffed it into Holts’ paddle maybe 10 times in the first period. Obviously that was a mindset for them, wanting to get more shots, they did a good job of that and keeping zone time. I thought we could have done a better job of eliminating the second chances, but it may be a little bit skewed from just shots from everywhere. I think we did a better job in the second and third [periods], but we knew they were going to bring it and they did. It was a battle out there,” said Carlson, who scored the game’s first goal on the power play and also added an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s tally to close out the scoring.

The Flyers certainly emptied the tank with a strong effort. They were all over the Capitals for the first 30 to 35 minutes, but after two periods, it was 3-1 on the scoreboard. In the third period, Philadelphia pressed and the Caps had numerous rushes to close this one out, but it took until Backstrom’s marker with 2:13 remaining to secure the outcome.

“You know that team, they’re going to be pressing big time…I like that we weren’t selling out for those chances, we were just battling, battling, and then the puck squirts out and we won the race for it, stuff like that, we weren’t just getting lucky,” finished Carlson, who logged 23:11 on defense with seven blocked shots and two hits, including one in which he creamed Brayden Schenn after #10 tried to smash him.

Holtby was the difference in the game and Steve Mason let in a real softie from Jason Chimera, a deflected long pass near the center line that somehow alluded the Flyers net minder via the five hole to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

The Flyers goal came in four on four when Brooks Orpik played the man on a rush and Schenn reached around #44 and fed Jakub Vorachek for an in close goal. Washington didn’t do a good enough job of covering the opposition on that one.

But Ovechkin would answer about eight minutes later as he took a Backstrom feed and lasered one by Mason on the man advantage. Marcus Johansson (two assists) and T.J. Oshie made nice plays to help keep the puck alive in that sequence.

This was a big win for the Capitals despite not playing well.

“They played way better than we did, to be honest, if we didn’t have Holtby in net they would have probably been a lot to a little, early on. Holts stood on his head. We didn’t play well. We didn’t execute very well and we had timely goals on the power play,” said Mike Richards, who was +1 in 14:42 of ice time, including 2:30 of penalty killing duty.

On those four power plays, Philadelphia repeatedly tried to work the puck down low and then try a cross crease pass that normally would lead to a back door easy goal. Washington, however, had that covered according to Richards.

“The D did a good job with that actually because we try to pre scout them as much as you can and it’s hard because they’re trying different things. It’s nice to have good penalty killing, but it’s a lot nicer when you only have to do it two or three times a night,” added Richards, who had three hits, including a monster one on Nick Cousins in the neutral zone in the third period.

Following the contest, Coach Barry Trotz noted that despite the shot attempts and quality chance totals, there is only one stat that matters, the final score. Washington won that one, but they were not near their perfect or ideal game.

“They’re a desperate team and we didn’t match their desperation, to be honest. Now they’re in a bigger hole and they’re going to come more desperate at home, so if we don’t play a better game in Philadelphia in game three, we’re probably not going to have too much of a chance, so we have to play better, we know we can play better. That’s a good team over there with good players, they play hard, so we know we just have to be better,” finished Richards.

While I liked some parts of the Capitals game on Saturday night, on the whole, Richards is correct. Philadelphia wanted this game more and the Caps have to be better.

Luckily for Washington they have “The Holtbeast.”

Notes: the Caps won the face off battle, 33-29. Jay Beagle was 9-7…it was a physical game and Washington led in hits, 38-36. Ovechkin had seven of the 38…Washington was two for two with the man advantage in 1:16 of power play time…Johansson played extremely well and had two assists…Richards was super for the Capitals on Saturday night…Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time with 25:08. King Karl had an assist and three blocked shots…Shayne Gostisbehere led the Flyers in ice time with 22:54.

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Caps Win Game 1

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Holtby Blanks the Flyers in a Caps Dominating 2-0 Victory

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Any doubts about the Washington Capitals ability to ramp up their game for the playoffs were laid to rest on Thursday night at the Verizon Center as the Caps dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in a 2-0 victory in the series opener. Game two is Saturday night in Washington at 7 pm, once again.

Braden Holtby and the Capitals had to kill three first period penalties and in that frame the Holtbeast made 11 of his 19 total stops for the game, with a couple coming on quality scoring chances. He was challenging shooters and did a super job of gobbling up any loose pucks around his crease.

After that, the Flyers had a measly eight shots on goal in just 30 shot attempts, and limited scoring chances, while the Capitals got even stronger as the game went on. Washington had 53 of their 69 shot attempts after the opening stanza and 23 of their 31 shots on goal. If not for Steve Mason and the Caps missing the net on some chances, this one is a blow out.

“I thought we had a good, committed two-way game. We put pressure on them with the fore check. Got a lot of pucks back, I thought, generated a lot of shots from all kinds of angles. Good cycle game and guys were committed to coming back [on D]. When our forwards are back checking that well, we can hold the line and negate some of their rush game. Our breakouts were pretty good and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our zone,” stated defensemen Matt Niskanen.

John Carlson scored the game winning tally on the Caps third power play of the game at 16:21 of the middle frame. It was nothing fancy, just a simple blast from the point with traffic. Both T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom were in the slot and when the puck hit a Flyer defender, it skipped by Mason.

The final goal for the Caps came with 3:24 remaining. Marcus Johansson (two assists) stripped Flyers forward Jakub Voracek of the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the offensive right wing circle. From there Jojo hit the brakes and found Jay Beagle streaking down the slot. #83 said that he called for the puck and Marcus put it right on his tape. Beags then shot it far side by Mason and the VC went nuts knowing that game one was secured.

That goal came after the Capitals had squandered a four minute power play. Overall the Caps were 1 for 6 with the man advantage in 10:19 of time.

“I thought our power play was dangerous the first couple, lot of good looks. I thought we were pounding the pucks at the net and we had opportunities for tips and rebounds. Some of those from a distance can go in if you have traffic. They made a little bit of an adjustment on the four minute one on how their forwards play, which will happen in the series, so we’ll tweak things as we go,” said Niskanen, and it should be noted that the Carlson goal was from the point with bodies in front of Mason.

Long periods of this game were either scoreless (first 36 minutes) or just a single goal (21 minutes) lead for the Caps and the Flyers only needed a shot to go in on a lucky bounce or a spare scoring chance to knot it. But Washington was very stingy and did a great job of limiting the Flyers speed and preventing them from getting many opportunities, especially at five on five.

Following a Tom Wilson hit on Andrew MacDonald with 6:51 left, Wayne Simmonds completely lost his head and negated a Philly power play and also took himself off of the rink for the game by fighting #43. The call on Wilson was two minutes for boarding. On replay, MacDonald turns when he sees “Freight Train” Willy coming at him and he takes the hit and embellishes a bit into the boards. Coach Trotz said this happens in the game now and he would prefer #43 not make that hit with a one goal lead in the last 10 minutes.

Flyers defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, also known as “Ghost,” then took a coincidental penalty with Andre Burakovsky and he came a bit unglued after the whistle.

A few minutes later, Voracek was pick-pocketed by Johansson and the Caps closed the deal.

At the final horn, after Brayden Schenn hit Alzner with an unnecessary check, the Flyers Ryan White then lost it. He went after Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle in a big scrum, but it was only White that earned a 10 minute misconduct. The Flyers have pretty much always been sore losers and get nasty when they are about to be defeated. On this night it was no different. But the Capitals didn’t bite and maintained their composure while Philadelphia’s squad melted down. Washington certainly seems to be in their heads after just game one.

“That’s historically part of the Flyers. They try to do things to change the momentum. So I thought we stayed fairly disciplined tonight, it was pretty good,” finished Niskanen, who led the Caps in ice time with 25:43.

The Minnesota native, who has made such a huge difference for the Capitals blue line, was spot on.

Overall, the Capitals played extremely well and dominated a Flyers team that spent a lot of energy just getting into the playoffs. In addition, forward Sean Couturier took a hit from Alex Ovechkin (11 shot attempts) in the 2nd period and didn’t return. After the contest he was declared out for the series with an A/C sprain of the shoulder. That is a huge loss for Philadelphia as #14 plays a strong two-way game.

Injuries are a part of sports and the hockey playoffs. Someone from the Flyers will try to step up and they’ll need even more out of Mason, who was darned good in game one, if they are to avoid a two game series hole.

Notes: Carlson logged 23:50, Brooks Orpik played 21:56, and Alzner had 22:19 of time on ice on defense for Washington. The third pair didn’t see a lot of ice (Dmitry Orlov, 11:18 and Nate Schmidt, 7:02) due to the the numerous power plays at both ends. Overall 18:19 of the 60 minutes were played with one team on the man advantage…the Flyers were 0 for 4 with the power play, but they won the face-off battle, 31-26. Oshie was 4-2…the Caps outhit the Flyers 29-26, but they had the puck most of the night, too. Washington was physical and played a “200 foot game,” as Coach Trotz likes to call it…shot attempts were 69-49 for the Caps.

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Ovi Playoffs

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Table Set for the Caps As They Begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Posted on 11 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“This is it…make no mistake where you are…This is it…your back’s to the counter…This is it…don’t be a fool anymore”Kenny Loggins

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin for the Caps on Thursday, April 14th at 7 pm from the Verizon Center against the Philadelphia Flyers.

They are finally here.

The Washington Capitals organization and their fans have been waiting for this day to come since Derek Stepan’s puck went past Braden Holtby into the back of the cage in overtime of game 7 last spring, on May 13th, 2015.

334 days ago, to be exact.

I remember the frustration, anger, and pain that came immediately afterwards. It’s a feeling long time Caps fans know far too well.

My first tweet immediately, once that shot went in, was simple and to the point.

“Why must the Capitals always lose this way?”

It was agonizing for all who are emotionally invested in this team, to include the players and the entire organization.

But as that night progressed and the group healing began on Twitter, we all really knew, that the despite the bitter loss, this team was extremely close to much bigger things. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and many others had taken their game to new levels under Coach Barry Trotz and his excellent coaching staff. GM Brian MacLellan had rebuilt the defense in the summer of 2014 to continue to help turn a ship around that began steering in the right direction with the hiring of Coach Trotz.

For once a crushing Capitals season ending didn’t feel like an end all be all, once the analytic side of everyone took over.

MacLellan, the very next day, then said what everyone was thinking.

“We need to improve our top six forwards group.”

It was as transparent and refreshing of a statement as you could hear from the man calling the personnel shots. But saying it and then completing it are two entirely different actions.

But Mac pulled it off, landing Justin “Stick” Williams in free agency and then getting T.J. Oshie in a blockbuster trade with the Blues.

They were brilliant moves in July of 2015.

After those additions I felt, and then blogged before the season began, that on paper, this was the best Caps team ever.

The Presidents’ Trophy winning 2015-16 regular season, where the Caps were NEVER defeated back to back in regulation contests, confirmed just that.

Along the way MacLellan and Trotz added to the deck bringing in two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, in another amazing move that stabilized the bottom six forwards and penalty killing unit.

Kuznetsov continued his rise towards the NHL’s elite. Tom Wilson improved his game as both Coach Trotz and GM MacLellan had stated they needed after the loss to the Rangers. The Caps would then develop such a great standings points lead that they were able to manage their roster and ice times down the stretch so that it could be as healthy as ever entering the most important season.

That time is now here.

The playoffs are a totally different animal. The space on the ice is limited and the game is extremely physical and fast.

You have to play through your opponent.

It’s a shift by shift, period by period, game by game, and series by series struggle.

You must stick together as a team and play smart.

Discipline is paramount and you have to remain focused on and off of the ice.

So now the table is set.

The past stings for the Capitals organization, but now they have a great chance to change all of that.

It’s all there for the taking.

This is it!

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Tom Wilson makes his last day as a 21 year old count with the game winning goal that gives the Caps the Presidents' Trophy

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Caps Clinch the Presidents’ Trophy in Win Over Columbus

Posted on 29 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson notched his first career game winner on the eve of his 22nd birthday and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals scored three times in the third period to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at the Verizon Center on Monday night.

AND THE CAPS HAVE WON THE FEDERAL LEAGUE!!!!

Well, not exactly, Slap Shot and hockey fans, but this victory improves Washington’s record to 54-16-5 and gives them 113 points on the season to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. It’s not the team’s ultimate goal, but nonetheless, it is a valuable piece of hardware, and more importantly, the Capitals are assured of home ice advantage in each round they play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There was a lot to like about this triumph on Monday night. The Caps scored the first goal, by Justin Williams, after John Carlson made a super play in the offensive zone to keep the puck until he could find an open teammate. #74 came from behind the net along the left wing boards and fed Nate Schmidt in the middle of the point just inside the blue line. The Minnesota native then faked a shot and fed the biscuit back to Carlson, who one timed it into Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads and right to “Stick,” about five feet back from the far post. The man with the crazy hair then promptly buried the puck into the yawning cage. Williams was outstanding again in this contest and he almost always seems to be in the right spot on the ice. His hockey sense is off of the charts.

Washington’s lead would not last long (1:36) as Dmitry Orlov, for the second straight contest, made a terrible giveaway into three Columbus players and Cam Atkinson snapped one by Holtby. Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz called that turnover “a pizza that ended up in the back of our net.” It was clear the bench boss was not happy about the mistake and he said he doesn’t have any patience with those types of miscues. It should be noted that #9 did not receive a single shift over the last 7:21 of period two, clearly as a result of his defensive mistakes piling up recently. Those types of plays can kill a team in the post season, so Orlov has some serious cleaning up to do in his own end.

The second period was pretty much a snooze fest as both teams looked like they were in preseason form, but Washington was better, outshooting the Jackets, 8-4.

In the final frame, the Caps showed why they have dominated that period all season long putting on relentless offensive pressure. Washington fired 18 shots on goal to just six for Columbus. Wilson scored his game winner at the 3:46 mark when the Caps had a three on two rush that was made even easier when a Blue Jacket defender broke his stick. Both Daniel Winnik and Mike Richards assisted on the play and Willy did a super job of going to the net, being patient, and burying the rebound that Richards created with his own net drive. Afterwards, Coach Trotz commented on where #43 is at in terms of his progression.

“I think there’s growth in Tom’s game, he’s turned out to be a pretty good penalty killer for us, he’s got an increased role and ice time, the offensive part of the game is slowly coming. That’s probably the next thing we’ll have to check off and move forward with. His maturity, his dealing with the referees is coming around. Before last year, he’d get a call and the arms are up and he’s in the referees face and trying to show him up. I think that part of the maturity of his game, he’s dealing with the referees much better. He does have a little bit of a target on his back as a reputation and it’s going to take him awhile. He is playing a cleaner type of game.”

The winning tally has to do wonders for Wilson’s confidence and I don’t know about you, but I’ll cut him some slack if he’s dancing around his room cranking Taylor Swift’s “22” after his big marker on Monday night.

Following the Wilson tally, the game would stay a one goal affair until Brandon Dubinsky took a goalie interference penalty by crashing into Holtby. It was nice to finally see the zebras call this type of infraction and the Capitals made John Tortorella’s squad pay immediately as T.J. Oshie tipped home a Matt Niskanen point blast for his 24th goal of the season just eight seconds into the Washington’s fifth man advantage of the evening. Nicklas Backstrom would add an empty net marker with 2:25 remaining to close out the scoring.

The Holtbeast earned his 46th victory of the season and is now just two wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s NHL all time single season record. Braden had a relatively easy night, except for Dubinsky slamming into him, but it was nice to see the referees finally call that, and it was also good seeing Brooks Orpik take exception to the infraction and shoving Dubinsky into the net in retaliation. It was one of those, “Stay the bleep off of my goaltender” moves that make a goalie feel good to have that player in his corner.

“No, I didn’t see anything at all. I just remember getting hit, somehow,” started the Holtbeast when I asked him about Orpik’s reaction.

At that point I then described what #44 did to Dubinsky and Braden certainly liked what he heard.

“That’s not surprising from Brooks, he’s a leader, a great teammate, and always sticking up for guys. I’ll have to thank him for that,” added the man who is now 46-9-4 this season.

There were lots of other strong performances in this tilt as Washington tightened up in their own end as the contest progressed. Karl Alzner was fabulous in this affair and was +2 in 21:48. #27 was around the puck all night and won a large majority of the one on one battles he was involved in. His defensive partner, Niskanen (two assists), was also +2 in 25:14 of work. Carlson (1 assist), in just his 3rd game back after missing a dozen due to injury, continued to look really strong on his skates in 21:10 of work.

So now it is on to Philadelphia for an 8pm grudge match with the despised Flyers on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel’s rivalry night. It warmed my heart afterwards hearing Coach Trotz get excited discussing the upcoming contest with the boys from Filthy. He stated that he and the club were really pumped up to face the Flyers, especially given that General Manager Ron Hextall’s crew is fighting for their playoff lives. The team formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is 7-2-2 in their last 11 games and is playing their best hockey now, so this will be a very good test for Washington. The rivalry with the Flyers goes back to 1974 and I don’t have to tell any of my loyal followers what a win against those guys always means given my long history of being around and working for the Capitals franchise.

Notes: Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while the Blue Jackets went 0 for 3…Columbus did not have the injured Brandon Saad in the lineup…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-27. Oshie was 4-0 on draws…Jason Chimera and Niskanen led the Capitals with five shots on goal apiece…Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal and was +2 in 17:06 of action…the Caps are 33-2-0 when scoring first this season.

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Braden Holtby stops 28 shots and Alex Ovechkin scores his 43rd goal in another Caps victory

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Caps Jump All Over Sens Early in 4-2 Win

Posted on 22 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals jumped all over the Ottawa Senators scoring three times in the first 15 minutes and then played solid defensively the rest of the way to earn a 4-2 road victory.

By doing so, they clinched the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 52-15-5 (109 points). They are just five points away, with 10 games remaining, from locking up their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history (2009-10).

The Caps came out flying in this one and tallied just 2:32 into the contest as the fourth line forced a turnover along the right wing wall. Tom Wilson, who had his best game in several weeks, collected the Sens mistake and fed Mike Richards all alone in front of the net. #10 then made a nice move to his left and managed to push the puck past Craig Anderson (18 saves) to give Washington its first opening frame marker in 20 days.

Alex Ovechkin would then notch his league leading 43rd goal of the season on the power play at 12:22. Marcus Johansson made a super pass from below the goal line to a charging to the cage Gr8, and Ovi made no mistake about the finish. Nearly two and a half minutes later Nicklas Backstrom would complete a beautiful passing play with Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle to make it 3-0.

In the last five minutes of that opening period, the Caps would kill off a 63 second five on three power play to maintain their three goal lead. They are now 20-0-0 when leading after the first 20 minutes.

From there, Ottawa had the puck a lot, but they didn’t really get many quality chances. Washington wasn’t yielding odd man rushes and they kept the fast, but smallish Senators on the perimeter most of the night. Chris Wideman did score just past the game’s midpoint on a long range shot that Braden Holtby (28 saves) missed after Karl Alzner tried to snag it with his glove. That allowed the Sens to close to 3-1, but they only had 19 shots on goal through two periods, while Washington generated just 12. The Caps were guilty of passing up some good looks and also missing the net on several decent chances.

In the third period, Washington managed the game extremely well giving Ottawa no quality chances until late in the game when the Senators pulled Anderson. After referees Steve Kozari and Trevor Hanson missed an obvious closing the hand on the puck infraction on Zack Smith, Mika Zibanejad banked one in off of Holtby to make it a one goal affair with 1:33 to go.

But Richards, who was dynamite in this contest, Backstrom, and Beagle worked their tails off to keep Ottawa out of the offensive zone and then T.J. Oshie notched his 23rd goal of the season when he outraced Erik Karlsson to the biscuit and deposited it into the empty net to halt the Capitals three game road losing streak.

This was the 44th victory of the season for the Holtbeast and he’s just four wins shy of tying Martin Broduer’s NHL record.

Washington’s victory was important because they kept their season long streak alive of not losing in regulation in back to back situations. They are now 14-0-1 after a loss. That last defeat, to the Pens by a 6-2 margin, caused several Caps fans to lose their collective minds on Twitter on Sunday night. It was maddening to see the doom and gloom and first round loss predictions flowing for a team that has lost just 15 games all season in regulation. Yes, you heard that correctly, the Capitals have lost only 15 times in regulation all season. That’s amazing!

So I’m sure the local hospitals were all full on Sunday evening and Monday morning to deal with all of those from the Debbie Downer crew who broke their legs jumping off of the bandwagon following the meaningless defeat to Pittsburgh.

Hey, bad games happen, especially when the other club is fighting for their playoff lives and you are just going through the motions. The Capitals really haven’t had much to play for in a month or so because they have been just so darned good since the start of the season. Hockey is an intense emotional game and if you aren’t invested in the game, it’s hard to play at your peak. The Caps have not played at their peak consistently in awhile, but that doesn’t surprise me given the large standings lead and the length of the regular season.

I’ve been telling everyone since last summer that this is the best Caps team ever. I still 100% believe that, and oh by the way, they’ve been playing without their best defensemen, John Carlson, for most of the second half of the season. But words are just that, and this team will have to back me up in the post season with 16 W’s.

We are still three weeks away from the playoffs, so the Caps will continue to play pretty much meaningless affairs and the main goal will be to stay fresh and avoid injuries.

This stretch is like a second pre-season for the Capitals, but hopefully in the end, their regular season dominance will pay off in April and beyond.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:22. Alzner played 22:55 and Brooks Oprik logged 22:20…Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky only played 12:17 and 11:09, respectively, as Coach Trotz played the third line of Jojo, Chimera, and Beagle quite a bit. That line was very good in this contest…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-30, but Beags went 8-3 and Backstrom was 10-7…Karlsson played a game high 31:54 for Ottawa, that is just too many minutes and it is indicative of the lack of depth on the Senators roster…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils at the Rock on Friday night at 7:00.

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A Matt Niskanen shot leads to the third game winning Caps goal this week.

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Grubauer Leads the Caps to the Century Mark in Points

Posted on 05 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a tough loss to the despised New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals were set to play their fourth game in five nights in Beantown against a red hot Bruins club. To win, they would need effort from everyone on the roster and superb goaltending.

They received both of those.

Matt Niskanen’s rocket 2:36 into overtime beat Tuukka Rask (28 saves) as the Capitals rode some stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer (33 saves) to defeat Boston for the sixth straight time, 2-1.

This was one heck of a hockey game after the Capitals dominated the Rangers on Friday night, but lost due to some big mistakes. Washington had a good start on Saturday, however, it was one of those big mistakes that led to the opposition scoring first, once again. The Caps top line got caught out of position in their own zone and then an unfortunate bounce off of Nicklas Backstrom’s skate went Patrice Bergeron’s way and he deposited the biscuit into the cage just 7:11 into the game. Grubauer had no chance on that one.

Overall, though, it was a solid road period for the Caps and they were unlucky to trail, having outshot the Bruins, 9-7.

In the middle frame, things got very dicey, very quickly. The Bruins appeared to take a 2-0 lead on a rebound goal where the Capitals coverage broke down, but the Washington video coaches notified Coach Barry Trotz that they thought the play was offsides. Sure enough, Loui Eriksson’s skate was up in the air on zone entry and the goal was wiped out.

After surviving that, the next turning point occurred when Alex Ovechkin was given a questionable major for boarding by the overreacting Wes McCauley (the same referee who incorrectly whistled Tom Wilson for a match penalty against Ottawa earlier in the year). Brad Marchand earned a roughing call to negate the first two minutes of the major, but after Mike Richards, who was fabulous in this game, made a great steal and rush up the ice, Wilson was correctly called for interference. That gave the Bruins a five on three advantage for one minute and 49 seconds. Grubauer was spectacular in that sequence and he had some assists from the iron as the B’s hit a couple of posts.

Washington would ride the momentum from that big PK and Karl Alzner scored after carrying the puck deep in the offensive zone. #27 battled along the left wing boards and Ovechkin came in and snagged the biscuit. Ovi alertly spotted Backstrom in the far slot and then #19, with Alzner heading to the net, put one right on King Karl’s stick and he directed it home to tie things up.

The Caps gathered energy from that tying goal and kept pushing, but yet another mental mistake led to a too many dudes infraction. The Capitals penalty killing unit, which was a perfect five for five in 8:09 of shorthanded time, did the job.

As a result of all of the penalties, the Bruins had 20 shots on net in that middle frame, yet the game was still tied heading into the third period.

Normally the team playing the fourth game in five nights would be the one hanging on, but it was the other way around in this one as the Capitals carried the play with 10 shots on goal to just four for Boston. Each team had three minutes of power play time but neither could convert setting the stage for the OT.

In extra time, each club would generate three shots each, but then Marcus Johansson made a strong offensive zone entry and fed Andre Burakovsky just inside the blue line. Young Burra then made a nice cut across move and dropped the puck to Niskanen, who had just come off the bench on a change, and #2 just hammered it past Rask on overtime shot lucky number seven. It was the third time this week that a “Niscannon” blast led to the game winning goal (Oshie tipped his shot home in the win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Niskanen had the GWG against Toronto on Wednesday).

Wow, this was some great hockey game!

It was physical, Wilson fought Adam McQuaid in the first frame, and it was played at a high tempo, end to end pace. Coach Trotz’ crew worked hard all evening and afterwards he commended everyone’s “battle.” Battled was the right word because the Bruins love to play heavy hockey, as do the Caps. For some reason, Washington just seems to get the better of Boston ever since the 2012 playoff series victory. Normally it is Braden Holtby who terrorizes them, but on this night it was Grubauer who did the damage.

The victory improves the Capitals to the century mark in points at 48-13-4. They have an 18 point lead in the Metropolitan Division and are 15 points over the top clubs in the Western Conference. The NHL can just start engraving the Presidents’ Trophy now.

But that is not the hardware this club wants and their play over the weekend, despite losing to the Rags, is encouraging. They were emotionally involved in both hockey games after snoozing through many previous tilts. They still have some things to clean up, but overall the effort was back, and big credit for that goes to the newly cobbled fourth line of Richards, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik. Those guys have pretty much tilted the ice for Washington since they’ve been put together this week. You can’t underestimate what a difference having a line like that makes now and will add in the post season since Coach Trotz can put any of his four lines out on the ice against any opposition line because this club is so deep. General Manager Brian MacLellan, who fixed the blue line in the summer of 2014, and the top six forwards in the summer of 2015, has now, along with Coach Trotz, fixed the bottom six forwards since the beginning of the season with the Richards signing and Winnik trade.

On Sunday, the Capitals will fly to California (I’m going back to Cali, Cali…) for a very difficult three game stretch against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks, the top three clubs in the Pacific Division. It starts on Monday night at 10 against a Ducks squad that has won 11 games in a row to pull a Linda Rondstadter (Blue Bayou, h/t Gary McCord) on the Kings.

To beat these three left coast powerhouses the Capitals will need the type of effort they had against Boston while minimizing the big mistakes.

Get your rest and your caffeine ready for the late night week ahead.

Notes: Niskanen, who was +2, led the Caps in ice time with 26:48…Ovechkin, despite the bogus major penalty, seemed more like himself in this one with nine shot attempts and five shots on goal. He and Zdeno Chara had their usual battle and #33 was called for roughing late in the game for trying to take Ovi’s head off. The Gr8 will face another one of his “buddies” on Monday in Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-26. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was fabulous despite scoring no goals on seven shots on net, was 8-4…Brooks Orpik logged 22:30 but was cut late in regulation on a clean hit by the Bruins. T.J. Oshie also got hit high early by Chara in this one and stayed in the game…given the “battle” of this contest, it’s safe to say that the Caps will be eating rocks for breakfast on Sunday morning before their all day flight to California.

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T.J. Oshie has three assists as the Capitals survive a scrappy Leafs squad, 3-2.

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Niskanen’s Blast Saves the Caps

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that had minimal style points, the Washington Capitals managed to play well in a few bursts and that was enough to defeat a rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs team that is all in for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. Matt Niskanen scored the game winner with the man advantage at 10:29 of the third period on a play very similar to T.J. Oshie’s game winning goal against the Penguins on Tuesday night. This time, however, the puck didn’t hit #77 or Marcus Johansson on the way in, but they provided excellent screens.

Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Lou Lamoriello were clearly playing to increase their odds of winning the lottery by sending many of their top players away before the NHL trade deadline. Coach Mike Babcock’s lineup, however, which included a cast of young players as well as Brooks Laich in his first game back since Sunday’s trade, was auditioning for future roles and they played hard the entire game.

Anyone who has ever played hockey knows it is a game of emotion and you can’t just show up and win. Washington tried that route, for most of the contest on Wednesday, while the Toronto youngsters and castoffs played their rears off. They were all over the Caps, who looked disinterested after Tuesday’s exciting victory over the despised Penguins. As a result, the Leafs erased a 2-0 Caps lead and tied this one up in the final frame before Niskanen won it.

Credit Babcock’s crew for not quitting and trying to make up what they clearly lack in talent, with effort.

For Washington, they started slow thanks to two delay of game penalties and another for cross checking in the opening frame before rattling off two goals in 28 seconds in the 19th minute. T.J. Oshie made the key takeaways on both goals. Taylor Chorney, whose wife gave birth to baby boy Turner on Monday, scored his 1st goal of the season on a nice drop pass from #77 to make it 1-0. Then with 1:17 to go in the period, Oshie forced Nazem Kadri into a turnover and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) provided the only style points of the game with as sweet of an aerial backhand saucer pass that you’ll ever see to Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 promptly deposited the puck into the net behind Jonathan Bernier (20 saves) for his NHL leading 41st goal of the season.

At that point it was 2-0 and with Washington receiving a late first period power play, you’d think this one was headed for a rout, right?

Not so fast. The Caps decided to take an overextended nap into period two and the Leafs scored at 1:37, which was just after the Capitals power play didn’t put this one away. From there Toronto played hard, winning loose puck after loose puck until they finally tied things up at 8:16 into the final frame.

The Leafs, however, are bad for a reason and Nikita Soshnikov took a terrible boarding penalty on Karl Alzner and the Caps vaunted power play made them pay for the stupid play.

Following the goal, the Capitals had several good shifts and had multiple chances to put this one away, including a Justin Williams chance in tight on Bernier. They failed to do so and a late Toronto push just came up short as Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) kept the puck out of the cage.

Washington was literally saved by the bell with the lackadaisical effort. Barry Trotz probably wished Mr. Richard Belding had been the bench boss, because he certainly was forced to try and coach a cast of players that looked like they wanted to be anywhere but the hockey rink on Wednesday night.

Fortunately, Oshie (three assists) and Niskanen played the hero roles of Zack Morris and AC Slater on this evening to get the Caps the 3-2 win and save a team that wants to win a Stanley Cup from the possibility of embarrassment in what could have been a loss to the worst team in the league.

In the end, a win is a win is a win. It was totally ugly, but the Capitals earned two points and their record of 47-12-4 (98 points) is as pretty as Kelly Kapowski (aka, Tiffany Amber-Thiesen) was on Saved by the Bell.

In summary, Wednesday’s game was not pretty and the Capitals were fortunate to win. It’s hard to evaluate any individual performance when the team is this collectively bad due to lack of motivation, so we won’t go there, except for praising Oshie, who does so many little things to help this Caps club continue to succeed.

Notes: The Caps were really good from the dot going 36-22. Backstrom was a monstrous 15-3 while Kadri was 3-16…Washington was 1-4 on the power play while the Leafs were 0-4, that was ultimately the difference in the game…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…the Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the New York Rangers. I’d imagine they will be motivated for that one?

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