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Brooks Orpik is no wood man, and he proves it by scoring the game winning goal for the Caps.

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Orpik Leads the Caps Over the Devils

Posted on 20 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s not like a wood man.” – Evgeny Kuznetsov, on Brooks Orpik, from his article in The Players’ Tribune

No, Brooks Orpik is not a wood man. #44, just three contests back into the lineup after missing 40 games, helped set up the game tying goal and then scored the game winner through traffic on Cory Schneider (28 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 4-3, victory over a hard working Devils squad.

Orpik, who’s been paired with Russian defensemen Dmitry Orlov since he’s returned, took another awesome Kuznetsov feed and alertly fired it on net. With Alex Ovechkin and a host of Devils in front, Schneider never saw it and it hit him in the shoulder and into the top corner of the cage with 3:58 remaining.

From there the Capitals gave the Devils nothing. In fact, after the Devils took the lead with 8:56 left they had only four shot attempts (two on net) the rest of the way.

Washington was very streaky in this contest. In the first period they played the wrong way with careless cross ice turnovers that led to several New Jersey quality chances. Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that first frame and stated afterwards that the Capitals gave up eight or nine scoring chances, which was more than the Islanders had in the whole game on Thursday in Brooklyn.

Braden Holtby (21 saves) was strong early, stopping two Devils breakaways as well as the first six shots of the game, which all came from New Jersey. But #70 struggled a bit after that giving up questionable tallies on goals two and three. On both of the first Devils goals the Caps skaters looked like orange road cones and didn’t help their goaltender out. On the third one, it was from long range, but it might have deflected partially off of a Capitals stick. Still, Braden would tell you he must have those, especially in the last 10 minutes.

For the second straight contest the Capitals destroyed the opponent in terms of shots and possession in the middle frame. The Caps out shot the Devils 12-4 and scored the only goal, a Kuznetsov tally, after some great work by Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. Washington was physical and they were getting the pucks down below the goal line on New Jersey and that’s the heavy hockey style that Coach Trotz wants because the Caps are so good at that type of play. In fact, when they play that way, they are unbeatable.

With the score 2-2 heading into the third period, you’d think the Caps would continue that roll, and for the most part they did as New Jersey had only six shots on goal. When Holtby let in the softie, though, his teammates responded, to quote the great Nuke Laloosh, by “announcing their presence with authority” the remainder of the game. The heavy hockey style was amped up and Washington just manhandled a tired Devils club, who had lost to the Islanders at home the night before, over the last 8:56.

Orpik and Orlov were the stars on the backend as they continually made plays at the blueline and on the wall to keep pucks in the offensive zone. They were simply outstanding and earned their +4 individual totals on Saturday night.

Other Capitals were stellar, as well, including Ovechkin (38th goal and an assist), T.J. Oshie (17th goal), Kuznetsov (17th goal and 43rd assist), and Mike Richards. Yes, that’s fourth liner and 0 points in 14 games, Mike Richards. But there is more to the game than points and #10’s last two games have been his best. He’s winning key draws while controlling the play with his great stick and hockey sense. He’s also been very close to getting a point with his effort and strong positioning. This guy was a great pickup and he will keep getting better and the points will come, eventually. The organization has to be really happy with what they’ve seen from him so far, especially his “team first” mentality.

Orpik, or “Batya” as Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky call him, is another “team first” guy. He means so much to this club on the ice with his physical play, and he rocked several Devils players in this one, and off the ice with his leadership. Guys like Orpik, Richards, and Justin Williams are super leaders and respected voices in the room. They’ve won six Stanley Cups between them for a reason.

This victory gives the Capitals another three game winning streak and they are 43-10-4 overall (90 points). I don’t even look at the standings or reference them anymore because Washington is so far ahead of the league. They will win the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the Presidents’ Trophy. But who cares, right?

Every Capitals fan has heard this from other fan bases all season, and, at times, even from within the fan base, “The Caps have 0 Stanley Cups.”

Yes, we all get it. If Taylor Swift was a Caps fan (and who knows, she could be?), she’d probably respond with “Why you gotta be so mean?”

But, in reality, there is nothing anyone can do to shut them up right now. You can say this team is different, and I believe it is because of the quality acquisitions GM Brian MacLellan has made along with the outstanding coaching staff, led by Trotz. However, until they run the gauntlet in April, May, and June and deliver that silver beauty of a trophy, all you can do is just enjoy the show and focus on the process they are going through.

It’s all about building their game up to deliver when the good weather arrives. This team finally has the players to do it and the blue print is there from the best coaching staff this organization has ever had. Now they just need to stay healthy and be focused.

Notes: Hat tip to referees Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley on their job of officiating this one. It’s among the best zebra performances I’ve seen all season…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 0 for 1…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:33, but Oprik had 21:02…Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were -3 in this one. It was not one of their better nights, but those two, like Holtby, have carried this club on many other occasions, so they get a pass…Kuznetsov was +3…Nate Schmidt was the low blueliner in terms of ice time, but he still played 15:02. Great balance of ice time on the backend again by Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden…the Devils won the face off battle, 29-24…Tom Wilson, who was also very good in this game, had eight hits while Orpik had five…Ovechkin had six shots on net, almost all from in close, which is a good thing. Schneider robbed him a couple of times…next up are the pesky Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center.

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Caps win in OT, 3-2. The Islanders still cannot beat the Capitals.

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Ovechkin Scores Twice in Caps OT Win Over New York

Posted on 18 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Justin Williams blasted a shot from the blue line after a sweet feed from John Carlson and with Nicklas Backstrom in front, the biscuit found the back of the net to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

The goal was credited to the man nicknamed “Stick,” but it very likely hit #19’s stick on the way in based on the replay angles I saw.

Either way you cut it, it was a Caps win and despite the fact that it was only by a goal in overtime, make no mistake about it, this was a dominant Washington performance.

The Capitals out shot the Islanders 35-22 and out shot attempted New York, 60-49. They also drew five power plays to just two for New York. But Isles goalie Thomas Greiss along with some crooked Caps shooting were the reasons this one went to overtime.

After an even first period in which John Tavares scored short side on Braden Holtby (20 saves), Coach Barry Trotz’ crew completely manhandled New York in the middle frame outscoring them, 2-0, and out shooting them, 14-4. Alex Ovechkin scored goal number 36 of the season on an empty cage when Evgeny Kuznetsov made another of his patented sweet passes from behind the net. It was a thing of beauty. On his next shift the Gr8 took a stellar drop pass from Backstrom and lasered it by Greiss, using #19 as a partial screen. That goal, Ovechkin’s NHL leading 37th, came just 87 seconds after his first marker.

From there the Caps totally carried the play and had numerous chances to score. Karl Alzner missed what would’ve been the third goal on a sweet feed from Matt Niskanen late in period two. In period three, New York struggled mightily to get out of their own end because the Caps were relentless with their forecheck. Somehow Greiss kept his club in it when they had no business hanging around and then a costly late turnover and a lucky bounce allowed Frans Neilsen to tie things up with 1:44 remaining.

It looked like New York might steal one on a goal that in the past would’ve deflated the Capitals, but not this Caps squad. Washington totally dominated the overtime. It took a non-call on an Islanders tripping infraction on Kuznetsov, that gave them a two on one rush, for New York to get their only overtime shot on goal. Ovechkin hit the iron in the overtime before Carlson, Williams, and Backstrom delivered the game winner.

There was a lot to like in this one. All four lines were going and just prior to puck drop the coaching staff juggled the top two units putting Ovechkin with Kuznetsov and Williams while having Backstrom center T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky. Every line had their chances in this game and I thought Mike Richards played his best game of his short Caps career. All 12 forwards were going and Tom Wilson did his usual stellar job of living inside the heads of the Islander players. All night long New York seemed to want to get after #43 instead of playing hockey.

Washington’s only power play marker came after knucklehead Cal Clutterbuck took one of the stupidest penalties I’ve seen by leaping into Dmitry Orlov. #15 is just not a good player and he cost his team badly there as Ovechkin scored what probably should’ve been the game winner with him in the box feeling shame.

Defensively the Caps were mostly solid. The speedy Islanders live to generate chances off of the rush and they had a few of them, Tavares’ goal came on the rush, but it’s a shot Holtby would tell you he wants back. Nate Schmidt would likely tell you he can’t allow #91 to have that much room, either.

But overall, this was just a superb effort and if not for some bad luck, they win in regulation. You will have games like that, especially in the playoffs, but the really good teams find ways to overcome it.

In the past, Capitals teams didn’t almost always find ways to win when they endured several bad bounces, but this club is different, as evidenced by their 42-10-4 record (88 points). Per Matt Williams of the Capitals public relations staff, those 88 points in 56 games are the most points of any NHL team since the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (hey Flyers fans, you have something to cheer about, LOL!).

Washington is now 3-0 against New York this season and they’ve dominated both contests at the Barclays Center. The Islanders had won four in a row at home and Greiss has been super hot. He was again on Thursday night, so credit him for getting the Isles a point, because with Jaroslav Halak in goal, this one is at least 5-2 for the Capitals.

The Capitals wanted this game and they were not to be denied despite some bad breaks.

In the end, though, the Islanders still cannot beat the Caps!

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:37. Orlov was the low blue liner in terms of TOI at 13:25, but keep in mind the Capitals had 7:11 of power play time and #9 only received 30 seconds in those situations…Washington dominated from the dot, 36-27. Richards was 8-4…Ovechkin had 16 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal. Williams and Jason Chimera had four shots on goal, each…Brooks Orpik played 16:45 and looked good with his strong physical play. He was credited with two hits and three blocked shots…Wilson led the Caps in hits with six…Washington was 1 for 5 on the power play, including not scoring on a lengthy five on three (57 seconds) in period two. The Islanders were 0 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Capitals are the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

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Alex Ovechkin takes over the NHL's Goal Scoring Lead with his hat trick.

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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Wild

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored three times, Nicklas Backstrom added three assists, and Braden Holtby made 33 saves as the Washington Capitals overcame a chippy Minnesota Wild team and some questionable officiating to earn a 4-3 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Gr8 was dynamite in this contest scoring three times in the middle frame and generating 15 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal in 19:47 of action. All three tallies were the result of Ovechkin going to the net, and the second marker came on the power play, which was important given the recent slump from that unit (0 for 19 before the Ovi Empty Net PPG in Nashville). Washington’s power play looked like its old self on that second goal.

Backstrom is just a wizard on the ice. His play to keep the puck in on the third Gr8 marker was incredible (the Wild unsuccessfully challenged it too), and then he finished it off with some great wall work. The line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie was excellent and between the three of them, they had 16 of the Capitals 33 shots on goal.

Holtby gave up two late goals after it was 3-1 and then 4-2, the first of which came on a power play that the Wild received when Justin Williams was called for cross checking right after Andre Burakovsky was flattened with a dirty hit from behind. Mike Leggo and Frederick “Ship him back to Quebec” L’Ecuyer failed to whistle the infraction against the Wild. They called a curious contest on Thursday, but once again Washington was too good for the opponents and the bad zebras. Both referees also missed a dirty butt end by Mikael Granlund to the face of Evgeny Kuznetsov after the second Minnesota goal on the neutral zone draw. #92 left the game and did not return, so his status for Saturday’s game in Dallas is up in the air.

The last Wild tally came with four seconds left after Jason Chimera had made it 4-2 with an empty net marker with just 52 ticks remaining. That tally, Chimmer’s 15th of the season, was set up by great work from John Carlson in the corner and then Tom Wilson, who worked the puck out of the zone to spring the speedy #25.

Carlson had his best game since returning from injury getting an assist and going +2 in 23:46 of ice time. He looked like his old self in this one and helped get the power play to finally score with a keeper in place. His hard shot went off of the back wall right to Ovechkin on the 2nd goal. He had his legs back and was really physical and strong on the puck in the corners.

Ovechkin now has 34 goals and leads Chicago’s Patrick Kane by one in the Rocket Richard race. Holtby is now 27-1-3 in his last 32 starts and has 35 wins on the season.

Wins are the important thing there, as both co-MVP’s and the others on this club only care about the “W’s.” Ovechkin has enough individual trophies, and at this point, he only wants that big silver one they give out in June. But make no mistake about it, this club still relies on him to lead the way when it comes to turning on red lights.

Overall, the Caps played a very solid road game and when things looked to go off of the rails with some Minnesota dirty play and shaky zebra influence, Washington maintained their composure to hold off a desperate Wild team. Holtby made some big saves and Backstrom cleared a puck from the door step late in regulation en route to another Capitals victory.

The Caps record is now an out of this world 40-9-4 (84 points) and they close out their three game road trip in Big D on Saturday night. Per CSN’s Chuck Gormley, the Caps are 0-6-1 against the Stars since 2008, OUCH! Washington has a chance to finally knock off a very fast Dallas squad, but they’ll need a really strong and disciplined game (stay out of the box!) plus good gap control to combat the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on their home turf.

Notes: Mike Richards, who was nicked up in the Nashville game, suited up and logged 11:03 on his 31st birthday…the Caps were destroyed on draws, 46-22, but Backstrom was 12-9…Zach Parise had three assists for the Wild…Minnesota out shot the Caps 36-33 and it was 72-56 overall in shot attempts…both teams were 1 for 5 on the power play…Karl Alzner was +2 in 22:07 of ice time. He had a strong game.

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

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

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone was surprised with the goal, including Niskanen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovechkin Wins The Game Again for the Caps

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps’ Home Winning Streak Snapped in Overtime at 12 Games

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So rest up this weekend!

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

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

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kuznetsov Dazzles as Holtby Stops the Bruins

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Who own da Bruins?

Braden Holtby owwwwnnnnssss the Bruins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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