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Hey Barry, More Mike Green Please

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As improved as the Washington Capitals have been this season under Coach Barry Trotz, the Caps ability to play with a lead and close out games has remained quite a question mark. Witness Tuesday night’s despicable shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers.

In that game, the Capitals led, 4-2, with five minutes remaining. The Caps had dominated the game and appeared in good position to get a nice victory heading into the All Star Break.

But the coach shortened the bench, like Trotz has done on numerous occasions this season, in an attempt to put what he thought were his best defensive players on the ice in order to close out the game. Part of that strategy included not playing Mike Green (and his defensive partner) over the last the five minutes in regulation.

Green is the best skater, passer, and puck possession defensemen on the roster. So why was he not on the ice when it seems you’d want a guy like that out there?

In fact, #52 has “sat the pine” in each of the three previous games in which the Caps had a slim lead late, as evidenced by the data below:

1 shift for only 12 seconds in the last 6 minutes versus Philly (1-0 lead)

1 shift for 44 seconds in the last 7 minutes versus Colorado (2-1 lead)

0 shifts in last 5 minutes versus Detroit (3-1 lead)

In each of those three games the Capitals were heavily out shot late and just hung on to win. Trotz went to that well, not playing Green, again last night and failed miserably.

It’s often stated in sports “that the best defense is a good offense.”

Trotz has called Green the Caps “X-Factor” for a reason. When he’s on his game, and he’s pretty much mostly been that way all season, he can carry a team. Former Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t call him “The One Man Breakout” for nothing.

I can understand not wanting to put the 6th defensemen (Jack Hillen) on the ice late in games. But not playing Hillen doesn’t also mean you have to sit a player of Green’s calibre too.

Why not go to a five defensemen rotation late in games? After all, playing just four D for the last five minutes has to wear out the guys who are playing and decrease their probability of getting the puck out of the zone, right?

If Green’s on the ice, chances are greater that the puck will be in the offensive end of the rink. He’s faster than the other four D so isn’t he more likely to get to the dump-ins and loose pucks than Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner?

Green has four goals and 23 assists this season including a goal and 14 assists in his last 16 games.

Bottom line, the Capitals are a better team with Mike Green on the ice, it’s a part of the reason the club is getting the lead in so many games.

Sure he’s prone to a big turnover every now and then, or “The Big Mistake”, as our friends over at Japers Rink call it.

But to me the Big Mistake is not having Green on the ice late in games. Get him out there more often and the Caps should find it much easier to close out more victories.


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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2013-14 midpoint, the Washington Capitals were sitting at 20-15-6, good for 46 points. But boy were things coming apart at the seams in a downward trend that started in early December. During that stretch, one in which Coach Adam Oates used three starting goalies to pretty much wreck Braden Holtby’s game, the Caps grew further apart as a team with three players asking for trades (Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth). They were a squad that relied almost exclusively on their power play to win games and were very poor at even strength. In addition, in game 41, a loss at home to Carolina in overtime, they iced a defense of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Steve Oleksy. The Caps would go 18-15-8 the rest of the way looking like a totally lost team that would miss the post season and ultimately cost Oates and GM George McPhee their jobs. Over the course of the season, the Capitals used 14 different defensemen and four goalies (traded for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline). That version of the Capitals was a team in total chaos.

Fast forward to today, after 41 games the Capitals are 22-11-8 (52 points) and following a sluggish start, have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 games. Coach Barry Trotz has brought in a new system and a new attitude and GM Brian MacLellan added two quality players, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to a blue line that had been the team’s Achilles heel for several seasons. Trotz, who had coached the Predators since their first season, brought in an experienced coaching staff in Todd Reirden (defensemen), Lane Lambert (forwards), and Mitch Korn (goalies). All three have done a super job and Korn has allowed Holtby to get back to basics and return to the dominant level he was at in the spring of 2012 when the Caps narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference Finals. To date, they’ve used two goalies, with Holtby clearly the #1 net minder and carrying almost the entire load. On defense, they have quality and stability, they’ve only used seven different players on the back end. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made a point, following Saturday’s game, to comment on the vast difference in the Washington defense, stating “anytime you have [Mike] Green playing at number five you have a real good back end.” (h/t to CSN’s Chuck Gormley for the quote).

Things are looking very good for this Capitals team. The key word in that sentence being “team.” Center Nicklas Backstrom, who is having yet another superb season, talked on Sunday afternoon about how things are different than past years under Trotz.

“We’ve been talking a lot about before the season and during the season to stick together and work together and doing the right things. It’s real important that everyone is paying attention to small details like face off plays, what we’re doing before every draw, stuff like that, so I think a lot of guys are buying into that and we’re following the game plan. Maybe before we’ve been doing our own things, so that has helped us a lot, I think,” said #19 when asked about the culture change that Trotz is implementing with the Caps.

“They make each other accountable, they don’t accept just going through the motions. When you fight to just go through the motions, that’s not a good culture to have. We’re not doing that, we’re staying on task…I told the guys I didn’t like the way we were playing the last two games [before Detroit] and I told the guys [Saturday] morning that if we want to be the team we think we can be we’re going to get tested tonight. I didn’t like some of the red flags I saw those last two games, we still got points and we won games, but you have to be honest with yourself. There will be times where you lose games and I’ll be happy with the way we played, we just didn’t win the game. Even when you win, you have to be honest with yourself, did you deserve to win the game or did you luck out? I think we are pretty honest, we have good evaluations…so we recognize we have some work to do,” said Trotz when asked about the culture change and where the team is at.

After winning against the Red Wings, Trotz felt better about things but admitted they are still a work in progress.

“I was real happy in the third period with the way we managed the game. We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we didn’t give up anything, even on six on five they had a little bit, but it wasn’t chaos out there, it was controlled and we forced them to try to execute at an extremely high level and they didn’t get any free looks or anything like that. So we’re better, just in our structure, we recognize possession and we recognized when they weren’t attacking the interior. We stayed patient and when they tried to, we’ll just make one adjustment that we need to do better and if it happens next game we’ll be even more prepared. We try to learn from things that happen, experiences that can make ourselves better, instead of hey we just got lucky. We look for things every day,” said Trotz.

All of the changes have certainly helped the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff picture and right now, it looks like they will make the post season. But there are 41 games to go and the race is tight. While just making the playoffs is key, this club has a bigger goal, to compete for a Stanley Cup. To get to that phase, they have a lot of work to do.

So in the second half the key will be to sustain their focus so that they can improve. Even doing that, there are question marks. One thing to be concerned about is Holtby’s work load. The key will be for Justin Peters to assert himself as a viable back up option, especially with nine back to back tilts scheduled. If Peters can’t perform, then MacLellan will have to find someone who will fill that role, otherwise the Caps not only risk missing the playoffs, but having a very fatigued goalie in April and beyond.

The defense needs to stay healthy and certainly with the depth they have in the top five, Trotz has been able to increase the probability of that by spreading out the minutes. Another key to staying healthy, and winning, is cutting down on the number of penalties the team takes. There have been recent stretches where the parade to the box has cost them points. Finally, they have to stabilize their forward line combinations. We’ve seen a rotating door with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top unit and the latest project is having rookie Andre Burakovsky fill the right wing role after Tom Wilson and some others struggled. The second scoring line has also been woefully inconsistent. Recently it has shown signs of life with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer lighting the lamp more frequently. How that trio plays will be a factor in any possible deep playoff run. Simply put, the forward situation is concerning and it remains to be seen if the young players, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Wilson, can improve enough by April to make this club a contender. If it looks like that isn’t going to happen then MacLellan will have to make a move for a top six forward.

Most of all though, this club needs to continue the process and commitment they’ve built up over the first 41 games and Backstrom certainly brought that home with his thoughts on Sunday afternoon.

“I think that it’s about time that we realize how to play as a team and right now it looks good but we have a long way to go. We’re not done yet, it’s just halfway through the season. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’re not where we want to be yet, so we really need to be humble and make sure we work hard every day and every night,” finished Backstrom.


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Caps Keep Rolling with Win Over Florida

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Roberto Luongo has historically given the Washington Capitals fits, going 15-1 in his last 16 starts against the Caps.

So Sunday’s tilt with the Panthers at the Verizon Center, against a pesky Florida squad that is big and had previously taken the Capitals to two shootouts, loomed like a tough one coming off of the big Winter Classic victory on Thursday.

Despite being shorthanded five times, including three times in the final period, the Capitals carried the play for much of this contest and garnered a well earned 4-3 victory over the Panthers to improve to 20-11-7 (47 points).

The Capitals are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.

Alexander Ovechkin (goal and an assist) had another stellar game and it was his open ice collision with Luongo in the first period that eventually drove the net minder from the cage after forty minutes. Luongo gave up three goals but because his club also tallied three times, he wasn’t saddled with the loss. Al Montoya, who played the third period, gave up a goal on five shots to take the defeat.

Braden Holtby was in net for Washington, his 15th straight start, and he stopped 29 of 32 shots en route to his 18th victory (18-8-6). His save percentage on the season is at .920 and he continues to play well. About the only goal you could fault him on was the third Florida tally, by Nick Bjugstad, which came from down low and beat #70 top shelf in the closing minutes.

After a strong opening period that was scoreless, the Caps struck first on the PP with Ovechkin’s 19th tally of the season off of a sweet pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That first goal is so important this year since the Capitals are now 19-1-2 in that situation against a 1-10-5 record when the opponent gets on the board first. Despite the early lead, the Capitals would play keystone cops at the offensive blue line which led to a two on zero Cats rush. Somehow Holtby managed to stop the first two shots on that sequence, but his defensive help didn’t come quickly or properly enough and the third shot found the back of the twine. Just 85 seconds later Florida took the lead.

In the past, the Caps might have wilted, but not this more resilient bunch under Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals would storm back, thanks primarily to the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward to grab a 3-2 edge heading into period three. From there Ovechkin set up Andre Burakovsky for the fourth goal that ended up being the game winner.

Overall, the Capitals played well but they still have issues taking penalties. They were shorthanded for a total of 9:13 and as chronicled after the Winter Classic win, the number of infractions they are taking must decrease. Granted the call against Brooks Orpik that gave the Cats a 5 on 3 was downright ridiculous and Trotz called out Vincent Trocheck for diving on that play in his post game presser.

Florida is a big and physical team, but the Capitals outworked them on Sunday and that’s why they won the game and the Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, made that clear afterwards.

“We weren’t good enough. I mean, we battled back and found a way to come close there at the end, but not good enough. We didn’t play hard enough. They were more physical than we were tonight. They wanted the puck battles and that’s why we ended up losing the game at the end,” said Gallant.

Burakovsky, who is only 19 and played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, received his first start on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and he played well in 12:05 of even strength time. His skill, primarily his hands and shooting ability, is something sorely needed in that top line position and he delivered on Sunday. Trotz liked #65’s play and commended him afterwards.

“He was playing with two big stars, and he didn’t look intimidated. A couple times he shot the puck where sometimes you should make the extra pass, but he got the puck and he just made plays. I like that. Defensively he was pretty sound. We didn’t spend much time in our own end, but he was pretty sound in terms of his tracking and all that, so I was really happy for him. He’s such a great kid and he comes from a great family. He’s a really good hockey player…but I think in the scheme of things, looking at his whole career, he’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Trotz.

So the Capitals continue to keep finding ways to win hockey games and they get two days of practice at Kettler Ice Plex before facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday and then they finally play the Flyers, for the first time this season, on Thursday, in Philadelphia. Those are two tough games in a back to back situation and the Caps last loss was on the 2nd night of one of those in New York right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see if Trotz goes with Holtby in net twice or turns to Justin Peters for a start for the first time since November 29th.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle 43-29 with Backstrom going 18-8 from the dot…shot attempts favored the Caps, 63-60…the Panthers were 0 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 1 for 2 in only 3:16 of man advantage time. Yes, the Caps have been taking too many penalties lately, but some of the calls recently have been beyond bad. Bottom line, the officiating needs to improve too and they need to start penalizing the divers, like Trocheck, and not the players with integrity, such as Orpik.





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Mike Green Show Leads Caps in OT Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 18 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well they don’t call him “Game Over Greenie” for nothing.

After being on the ice for what the Columbus fans thought was the Blue Jackets winning goal with 4:25 remaining in regulation, Mike Green took the game over for Washington.

#52 went end to end on an amazing rush to set up Troy Brouwer for his skate tying goal with three minutes left in regulation.

Then, on the opening shift in overtime, Greenie took the biscuit in the neutral zone and flew around Jack Johnson to set up a streaking Eric Fehr in the slot for the game winner just 42 seconds into the extra frame. It was another top notch pass that only a few NHL players can make and it allowed the Capitals to get a win after blowing an early 2-0 lead.

Wow. This was one exciting game that was filled with animosity and emotion, exactly what you want in an NHL tilt.

The Blue Jackets came in as winners of seven straight, but the Caps were entering the contest with a 4-0-2 mark in their last six.

Washington TOTALLY dominated the first period and led, 2-0, before an iffy call on Alex Ovechkin in period two put Columbus on the power play. The Blue Jackets scored there and then on another man advantage as the Caps seemed to forget that at even strength they were the better club. For the night, the Caps out shot attempted Columbus 67-41, and CBus had the extra power play too.

That second period was a crazy one with three fights and Washington losing their heads (see John Carlson’s high hit on Ryan Johansen). The Capitals need to learn that the referees really are mostly incompetent so they should just do their best to ignore them and play the game. Instead, Washington got frustrated and away from their game plan, which Columbus wanted since the Caps are the superior team.

That ploy by Todd Richards’ club nearly paid off as the home team in the ugly third jerseys took 3-2 and 4-3 leads in the third period. But Washington showed resilience and Green and company were determined not to lose. It was an impressive performance in a barn that is loud and has a crazy cannon. The Caps, just a year ago with a much weaker defense and a poor coach, were run out of Nationwide Arena twice in games that were not close at all.

So on Twitter (@EdFrankovic) today I called this game a benchmark one for Washington, like I labeled the Islander back to back tilts around Thanksgiving. The Capitals record in those three games is now 2-0-1 with two of those tilts on the road. In each case, the Capitals carried the play against an opponent that was playing well coming into the game.

This team, when it wants to work, is pretty darned good.

However, when they get complacent or lose their focus, like they did in period two tonight, they play very poorly.

Fortunately for Washington, they kept working, even after the lazy shift that gave Columbus the 4-3 lead.

Green and his teammates were relentless and they deserved the “W” for that effort, which included going to the net and rattling a super goalie in Sergie Bobrovsky (31 saves).

The Caps are now 15-10-6 and back in 3rd place in the Metropolitan division. More importantly, they are now 7-1-2 in the division. Washington is also 14-1-2 when scoring first.

A good start and a highlight reel finish by Green was the recipe for success on Thursday night.

Notes: Ovechkin was great but held without a point. He had 14 shot attempts (6 SOG), 3 hits, and was +2 in 22:03 of ice time…Michael Latta had one of his best games ever with two assists. He was physical all night…Karl Alzner had a goal and an assist in one of his better games this season…Green is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Capitals have really improved their blue line but it would not be as solid if they lost #52. Resigning Green needs to be a priority.


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Caps, Holtby Shut Down Devils in Road Win

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After Tuesday night’s Caps loss to Vancouver, the Capitals players talked about getting off to better starts in games. Two contests later, they are two for two when scoring first, and now are 11-1-1 this season when doing so (h/t @ThePeerless).

Braden Holtby was fabulous in net stopping 33 shots and Jay Beagle scored the game winner on a “Jari Kurri” type rush and finish to lead Washington to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in East Rutherford on Saturday night. The Caps are now 6-1-1 in the Metropolitan Division and are 12-10-4 overall (28 points), good for 3rd place in the division.

As predicted, this was a grind it out type of contest, with the team winning the individual puck battles and minimizing mistakes the likely victor. The Caps did that most of this game, outside of Karl Alzner getting walked by Danius Zubrus on the only Devils goal.

In the second frame, all four lines were contributing, which hasn’t happened much this season and that is when the Capitals broke a 1-1 tie to forge a 3-1 lead that they would nurse through the 3rd period until Brooks Laich’s empty netter sealed the deal.

After Beagle’s goal, both the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson and the new second line, based on even strengh utilization, of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward pinned the Devils in their own zone and that then allowed Marcus Johansson to draw a Devils penalty on the next shift. On the ensuing power play, Adam Henrique received a clean breakaway but Holtby stopped him cold. Washington then went down and received a sweet power play goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov with Laich providing some nice traffic in front. That sequence turned out to be the difference in the game.

New Jersey had the puck most of the 3rd frame, but the Capitals did a super job of not allowing any odd man rushes and they kept the Devils mostly to the outside. There were some flurries of activity for the Devils, but Holtby was strong, once again.

This was a classic road victory as Washington kept their game very simple. The Caps limited neutral zone turnovers and they routinely got pucks in deep on the Devils to try to wear out an inexperienced defense and keep the puck away from a talented and experienced forward group.

Coach Barry Trotz rolled his forward lines most of the night, but on defense, he went heavily with the trio of John Carlson (25:22), Brooks Oprik (25:18) and Matt Niskanen (24:36). Karl Alzner, who scored Washington’s 1st goal after Wilson forced a turnover, logged 20:44 but the other two D, Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen, played only 11:15 and 9:35, respectively. This was an important game to win so Barry shortened his bench to give his club the best probability of doing that. It worked, as it did in Carolina on Thursday.

So the Caps have a little bit of momentum right now and their goalie, Holtby, is playing well. The team is making a better effort to get net presence and it is starting to pay off. They still don’t have a bonafide second line that can score when the Ovechkin line isn’t producing, but by relying less on the old second line (MJ90, Brouwer and either Kuznetsov or Andre Burakovsky) the Caps aren’t giving up untimely goals due to bad turnovers or missed defensive assignments.

Having Laich back has been a big plus since he helps Trotz better balance his lines, plus 21’s great work ethic rubs off on the rest of the squad. The team is a still a work in progress and as reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie earlier this week, GM Brian MacLellan is trying to improve the forward position via the trade market.

But for now, this is what Trotz has to work with and lately he’s been using an old tactic of shortening the bench to try and close out games. Holtby has also helped him do that successfully.

Now it is on to Tampa to try to avenge a tough 4-3 defeat they endured there back in November. The Bolts lead the Eastern Conference with 39 points so this will be another good barometer on where the Capitals stand.

Notes:  Face offs were even at 34-34….shot attempts were 66-42 in favor of NJ but they were close to +20 in the 3rd period alone, so that can be explained mostly by score effects…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play and they successfully killed off both Devils power plays…That bitter loss to Tampa last month came as a result of a critical Burakovsky missed defensive coverage in the slot in the last 10 minutes. Burakovsky was scratched in NJ and I don’t expect him to play in Tampa either. He really would be best served getting some games down in Hershey to learn the center position, and more importantly, how to play defense. He’s only 19 and after all, if guys like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf played close to 20 games in the AHL at the age of 20, why wouldn’t it be a bad thing for #65 to get some work down there and rebuild his confidence?


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Ovechkin’s 12th of Season Propels Caps Over Islanders

Posted on 28 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Plain and simple, that was the Washington Capitals best game they’ve played all season.

The Caps outshot attempted New York, 70-60, dominated the face off battle, 34-21, received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (26 saves), finally scored at even strength, and their coach, Barry Trotz, made some outstanding pre and in game moves.

It was a very important in division win against a club that had won five in a row, in the Islanders.

So in two games, which I proclaimed were a measuring stick for Washington, they stood up very well taking three of four possible points to stay in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders did get two points in the first game thanks to referee Kyle Rehman’s Thanksgiving Eve gift, but if I’m New York, I feel like the Islanders are improved but the Caps are a different and still improving club, as well, and should be even better as the season progresses.

Alex Ovechkin once again had the game winning goal, notching his 12th of the season after Tom Wilson made a great rush up the ice with the puck to get the Islanders moving backwards. The Gr8 used the New York D as a screen and rifled it by Chad Johnson, who more resembled OchoStinko tonight (22 saves on 26 shots).

Sure this victory would have been better had the Capitals beaten Jaroslav Halak, but you can only beat who the other team lines up against you. Johnson did have some quality saves, he had to because Washington had tons of excellent scoring chances, especially in periods two and three.

Holtby was outstanding and he had to be sharp from the get go as the Islanders really dominated the first five minutes. Washington only had one shot at the midway point of period one but then they took over. Before the game, Trotz switched up his lines moving Evgeny Kuznetsov up to the 2nd line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer while Andre Burakovsky moved down to the fourth line. Boy did that move pay off as Kuzy had a super game with a goal and an assist while MJ90 dominated the ice with a goal and an assist. Both played just under 16 minutes while Brouwer had an assist in just over 17 minutes. Washington needed that performance from their second line since it had gone six straight games without a goal. No doubt Kuznetsov deserves more playing time going forward. He still has some defensive issues, but Burakovsky is struggling more in the d-zone right now so 92 needs to remain there for at least the near future.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen had another stellar game pitching in three assists in 22:35 of ice time (team lead) and his hockey IQ is extremely high. Joel Ward’s empty net goal came because #2 was willing to take a hit as he threw the puck up the right wing boards to Ward. If Niskanen goes in soft at all on that play the Islanders likely come away with the biscuit. Just a smart and tough play by a very good defensemen there.

In addition to Trotz’ pre game line changes, he did a great job with the matchups late in period two once the Caps got the lead and especially in period three when the Capitals pulled away, for once. Barry likely learned from the two goals the Islanders scored late in period one when he got burned with Burakovsky on the ice against John Tavares on the first goal. #65 screened his own goalie and left one of the best pure goal scorers in the league all alone at the side of the net on that tally. The Islanders then tied it after Wilson mistakenly fought Matt Martin. Anders Lee scored shortly after the bout on a deflection in front when Karl Alzner failed to either block the point shot or tie up a New York forward in front.

But other than that, there wasn’t much to be unhappy about. Washington continued to do a better job of getting bodies to the front of the net so that bodes well for more goals going forward. It is very important to get points right now so that the Caps can make the playoffs and also move up in the division, but it’s even better when they play the right way and win.

On Friday, they played the right way and received a much earned 5-2 victory to improve to 10-8-4.

Notes: Burakovsky had the lowest ice time for the Caps (9:10), but he did score the first goal on the PP by going to the net and deflecting Niskanen’s shot home…the Caps got Brooks Laich back on Friday and they are now 5-0-2 with #21 in the lineup. His hard work rubs off on the rest of the team and he allows Trotz the ability to better balance the lines…the Caps play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at 7 pm on Hockey Night in Canada. I’d expect Justin Peters in net for Washington since Trotz and Mitch Korn won’t want to wear Holtby out.


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Ovechkin’s 2 Power Play Goals Not Enough in OT Loss

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 games of basically “working on their new system”, the Washington Capitals have a chance to get an idea on where they stand as a team in a home and home series with the red hot New York Islanders on Thanksgiving Eve and then on Friday.

Round 1, played in the Nassau Coliseum, went to the Isles, 3-2, in overtime when John Tavares scored on the power play. The OT loss drops the Caps to 9-8-4 after 21 games.

So, what did I really like about Wednesday’s game?

Let’s start with the Washington power play which went 2 for 2. Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) was an absolute magician with both of his assists that led to Alexander Ovechkin tallies (the Gr8 now has 11 goals in 21 games). Matt Niskanen’s feed to Ovi on the first goal was also a perfect tape to tape pass that allowed the Gr8 to laser one by Jaroslav Halak (25 saves).

The Caps, despite looking like they were going to get run out of the dump, er rink, in the first 10 minutes, steadied themselves and played their way back into this contest.

Braden Holtby (32 saves) was solid in net and kept Washington in it with some key saves.

Jay Beagle was 10-5 on face offs.

Washington earned a point and with Philadelphia, the Rangers, and the Hurricanes all losing in regulation, the Capitals moved back into third place in the Metropolitan division.

Now to the parts of the game that I didn’t like, at all.

First, this team needs to find a way to score a 5 on 5 goal. It’s been over two games without one now. The blame goes to the forwards who just aren’t playing well at all. The lines aren’t working, especially the second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer. They’ve gone six games without a goal and late in period three Coach Barry Trotz benched Burakovsky. To paraphrase the great golfer Greg Norman, “They should blow that line up!” In fact, none of the line combinations are really working. The first unit is winning the shot attempt battle, most of the time, but Tom Wilson is still too junior to be a first line right winger. #43 probably belongs on the third line at this stage of his career. Basically, the Caps are in a tough spot currently because Wilson, Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all young and talented players but none of them are really ready for top six forward minutes at this point in their careers. In the future they all could be in that category, but these kids are still very young and the NHL is a man’s league. Coach Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan need to figure something out and that might have to involve some forward trades to shake things up. This team needs to win now because Ovechkin is not getting any younger so BMac hopefully is working the phones.

I really have to just laugh at this point when it comes to the NHL referees because their ability to be so inept at the wrong moment is impeccable. The third period and OT calls on Backstrom were ludicrous given the way the game had been called to that point, especially the holding the stick call in OT after the Islanders player flat out tripped #19. Holtby thought for sure the Caps were going on a power play so he headed to the bench. The call, which essentially gift wrapped New York a victory, was as bad as Starship’s song “We Built This City.” Coach Trotz, his staff, and many of the players were disgusted with the two Backstrom calls afterwards. Please get it together NHL referees because I am wearing out the hashtag #badzebras on twitter!

The shot attempts, if they are accurate, and I have my doubts about the NHL off ice officials on Long Island, were 71-44 in favor of the Isles. That’s not good. The Islanders did dominate much of the first period and because of the Capitals problems up front they did not generate enough shots. The Caps did try to get more net presence but they still look totally out of sync up front too often.

Backstrom was totally smoked on the face off on the Islanders second goal. This was the fourth time this season that he’s lost a defensive zone draw and the opponent has scored. It was the sixth time in 21 games that it has happened to Washington (credit to Adam Vingan for those two very significant statistics). That must stop! What is happening to the Caps is they are losing the draws cleanly and that is allowing the puck to go back to the point while the opponents forwards crash the net. The result has been the six goals on tips and screens. When taking a d-zone draw you have to focus on not losing the draw cleanly, you must at least tie your opponent up to give your forwards more time to get to the point men. The defensemen also have to do a better job of boxing out the opposing forwards on those plays. But it all starts with the center not getting beaten so easily on the draw.

The Caps penalty kill went only one for three. Granted one of the goals was off of a face off and the other was on the dope smoking call that led to the Islanders OT four on three. Still, you can’t give up two power play goals and expect to win. I especially didn’t like that Tavares deked Karl Alzner to the ground on the game winner. #27 has a tendency to go to the ice in those situations and that is the wrong play. He needs to stay upright there and if he does, it makes Holtby’s job a lot easier.

Finally, the Islanders 3rd jersey’s are awful. New York has a great home jersey that they should NEVER abandon. You would think that franchise would have learned from that Gordon’s Fisherman garb they wore back in the 1990’s that was so disgraceful and despised?!

So there you have it, the good and the bad after the first of two key games between the Caps and the Islanders.

Washington is home on Friday at 5 pm. This is another measuring stick game, in my opinion.

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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

If you want to make the playoffs and compete for a division title in the NHL, you need to win the games you are supposed to win.

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals were scheduled to play one of those games against an injury decimated Columbus Blue Jackets squad.

The Caps did just that getting two goals each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson and 24 saves from Braden Holtby en route to the club’s 3rd straight victory and just the second in regulation at home.

This one, however, was not pretty.

Washington played an outstanding first frame jumping all over Columbus and grabbing a 3-1 lead. In that opening period the Caps out worked the Blue Jackets getting strong plays from Troy Brouwer on Johansson’s first tally and neutral zone pressure that led to a beautiful Jay Beagle drop pass to Ovechkin for the third marker. The only blemish in those first 20 minutes was a face off goal that occurred after a bad icing by the Capitals. Had the Washington defender taken the single stride he had to get to the red line, there is not a defensive zone draw at all. Unfortunately, the Caps lost that one clean, and Holtby gave up another goal on a long shot that travels through a maze of bodies. Other than Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, there wasn’t much else to pick at in a period the Capitals totally dominated.

But then came the middle stanza where the Capitals looked nothing like the club from the first 20 minutes and Columbus amped their intensity and physical play up and found a way to crawl back into a contest they had no business being in. Holtby allowed a late goal on a shot he initially bobbled and later kicked in, but #70 did make some other strong saves in a period that saw the Blue Jackets out work the Caps.

The third period started the same as the second finished, and Washington was lucky Scott Hartnell hit the cross bar on a 2 on 0 rush after a bad neutral zone turnover by the Caps. For the next 12 minutes or so Columbus would dominate, but Holtby was excellent. Finally the Caps started working hard again and MJ90 took a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) and wrapped home the clincher.

Again, this was a game the Capitals were supposed to win, and they did that. They improve to 7-5-3 (17 points) and will next face the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

On the positive side, it was good to see the Caps not give up a goal in the third period and it was nice that they finally scored to get a two goal cushion back. The Caps haven’t been able to close teams out until the buzzer since early in the season victories over the Devils and Bruins. Holtby, like he did on Friday in Chicago, clamped down when he had to, plus he caught a break on Hartnell’s cross bar shot. Johansson continues to be a major positive playing with Brouwer and Burakovsky too. MJ90 now has eight goals in just 15 games and he’s shooting more and getting to the cage more often. He’s clearly benefitting from the Barry Trotz regime so far.

On the down side, this team still has prolonged stretches where they are very sloppy and to me that’s a work ethic issue. This Caps team has lots of talent but it is almost like they get too proud of themselves at times and forget you have to consistently move your feet to be successful. When Washington works hard, they win the puck battles and dominate with their superior talent. They still haven’t figured out yet how to keep that up more consistently.

So on Tuesday the Caps got another win, but to me, there’s still lots of room for improvement and I’ll continue to call this team a work in progress. But that’s okay when there are still 67 games to play.

Notes: Columbus won the shot attempt battle, 59-56. The Caps dominated the first period but then it was mostly Blue Jackets over the final 40 minutes. Some of that is score effects but most of it is on Washington’s work ethic…the Caps dominated from the dot, 41-25, but they once again allowed a face off goal against. Coaches despise that!..Karl Alzner had two super blocked shots on the Blue Jackets third period power play when the score was 3-2…referees Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari called a very good game, about the only gripe you could have with them was the missed slash by David Savard on Brouwer in period two. Dirty play there by the Blue Jacket.


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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s hockey game in Chicago, it looked like the men against the boys.

The Blackhawks were dominating the Capitals up and down the ice and they held a 2-0 lead, which could’ve been worse, if not for Braden Holtby (38 saves).

But somehow the Caps managed to fight through it and an Andre Burakovsky’s sweet top shelf goal on a Capitals 2 on 1 rush gave Washington life with just under five minutes left in period two. Washington would then tally two more times late in the second frame by getting bodies and pucks to the net to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

From there, Coach Barry Trotz elected to clamp things down and go into a defensive posture for the final 20 minutes against one of the best teams in the NHL. Trotz put Jay Beagle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and relied heavily on the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Despite the fact that Washington rarely possessed the biscuit in that third period, it worked. Chicago had very few quality chances over the last 20 minutes as Washington won a huge road game and improved to 5-5-3 overall (13 points). It was Laich’s first game back in the lineup since injuring his shoulder on October 18th versus Florida. The Caps are 4-0-2 with #21 in the lineup.

This was not a pretty win, but the Caps have been pretty lately and losing a lot. No, this is just what this team needed, a grinding, gritty victory against a super hockey team. They received a huge performance from their goaltender and they played excellent team defense once they got the lead.

As Mike Vogel, the Caps team beat writer, tweeted once it became 3-2, this was the 12th time in 13 games that the Capitals had led in a game this season. Recently they’ve fallen apart and lost after taking the lead in the middle frame. So to play the way they did defensively and close it out is huge. They didn’t make the big turnovers, instead opting to chip the puck out, and they kept the Hawks to the perimeter. Players were fighting for each other, blocking shots, and eliminating their man in the defensive zone from getting prime scoring chances.

They played the right way in their own zone once they had a lead against a stacked offensive club.

Sure it would have been nice to have some more offense in that final frame, but the way things have been going and the way Chicago is so stingy on defense, Trotz elected to go the smarter route in terms of winning the hockey game.

That decision paid off and Washington comes away with a very big victory and ends their five game losing streak.

More importantly, they won this game as a total team, and that should be something they can build upon going forward.

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-32 in favor of Chicago and the Blackhawks won 35 of 60 faceoffs…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 25:57. He and John Carlson were outstanding as a shut down defensive pair in this one against an elite club…the Caps are home against the suddenly surging Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Canes have won four straight games after an 0-6-2 start.

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

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

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

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

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

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

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

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

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

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