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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

Posted on 17 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Facing a very good St. Louis Blues squad that had won the night before, the Washington Capitals came out on flying on Sunday evening getting two Alexander Ovechkin tallies and a sweet rebound goal from Mikhail Grabovski to grab a 3-0 first period lead and they rode that to an impressive 4-1 victory at the Verizon Center.

Braden Holtby made 46 saves on the night, many of which came AFTER the Caps grabbed a 4-1 lead on John Carlson’s 5th goal of the season (and in the month of November) at the midway point of this contest.

With the win the Capitals are now 12-8-1 and in FIRST PLACE in the new Metropolitan Division, taking a one point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a game in hand and come to town on NHL rivalry night on NBC on Wednesday (8 pm start).

Granted the Blues were tired from arriving at 3 am on Sunday morning, which is life in the NHL, but nonetheless, this was an impressive victory for the Caps who were the first team in the NHL to hold St. Louis under two goals all season. The Blues are a strong team and Washington showed that they are a club on a serious rise after a 1-4 start to the season.

There were lots of good play to go around in this one but it obviously started with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom. Do yourself a favor and go back and watch the Capitals goals on the night once again. Ovechkin’s rocket of a shot on the first goal was an absolute laser and his second was on a rebound in front of the net. Coach Adam Oates has been trying to get Alexander the Great to hang out in the low slot a little more to use his size and reach and it is paying off. That’s now a league leading (tied with the Blues Alexander Steen) 17 goals in just 19 games for Alex, WOW! As for Backstrom, his masterful passing helped set up both Ovechkin tallies as well as Carlson’s power play blast that effectively ended any chance the Blues had of getting back into the game. There are not enough words in the English dictionary to describe how great of a passer #19 is. The sneaky neutral zone touch pass he made to Ovechkin on the 1st goal was made to look so easy by the Swedish center, but it is a very difficult thing to do. The guy is playing at an extremely high level this season.

Oates moved Marcus Johansson back up with Ovechkin and Backstrom on Friday in Detroit in that comeback victory and it was absolutely the right thing to do. MJ90 works well in that role and he was struggling a bit at both ends as the 2nd line center. Moving Martin Erat down to the second LW spot and Brooks Laich to center again with Troy Brouwer is another good combination.

As for the third line of Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera, they continue to be a trailblazing group. Chimera used his speed to agitate a big Blues defensive crew all evening and #84 had a sweet tally banging home the rebound of Chimera’s shot out of the air for the third first period tally, which ended Jaroslav Halak’s night (3 goals on 6 shots). That trio is playing as well as any in the league. The Caps should send Toronto coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis some really nice holiday presents for buying that guy out, he’s been an outstanding addition for Washington.

On defense, it all starts again with Carlson and Karl Alzner. In my Saturday WNST story on Carlson, I stated my case for #74 to be on the Team USA Olympic team this February. Team USA assistant coach Peter Laviolette was in the house on Sunday scouting for Team USA (h/t @Jeff_Kryglik of WNST) and he had to take notice of how dominant Carlson is out there. He skates extremely well and has a very good stick. He used them effectively at both ends of the ice, with many of the PK clears coming from his blade. Alzner is a great partner for Carlson and they are the first duo out on all Caps penalty kills. Neither was on the ice when St. Louis got their lone marker with the man advantage in period two.

No victory is complete without good goaltending and Holtby was super, stopping any Blues early shots that could have given them momentum. St. Louis had the quantity of shots tonight but the quality ones were not in abundance, but when they had them, #70 was there to shut the door. Again, most of that quantity of shots did come after it was 4-1 (the result of score effects, as the hockey analytics community would call that scenario).

The Caps also received good performances from several others. Second defensive pair Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt played well again after a nice NHL debut together on Friday (they were paired in Hershey early on in the AHL with good success too). Michael Latta continues to be an added bonus to the Filip Forsberg trade doing the little things that a fourth line center needs to do, and even Tom Wilson let Ryan Reaves know that his cheap shot from behind on Backstrom would not be tolerated and #43 promptly leveled him to the Verizon Center ice.

It was a super win for Washington against a top hockey club on Sunday and they’ve earned first place in their division.

Next up, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday.

I can’t wait.

Notes: Mike Green missed his second consecutive game with a leg contusion but did skate this morning. There is a chance he could play on Wednesday but given the strong play of Strachan, there is no need to risk any further damage this early in the season. The Caps will need #52 big time the rest of the year and in the playoffs…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts (5 on net) and 4 hits to go with his 2 goals…Carlson had 25:01 of ice time to lead the Caps while Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo led all skaters at 25:57.

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

Posted on 13 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

“Every night is a grind.”

That was what Caps Coach Adam Oates had to say after his team rallied in the third period before winning in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s 14th goal of the season, 4-3, over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

As usual, the Washington bench boss is spot on.

Playing their fifth game in eight nights the Capitals had an up and down performance but grinded to get a much needed two points to push their record to 10-8-1. It wasn’t pretty as several players, including the Gr8 himself, struggled for much of the game. Mike Green and Marcus Johansson also had a rough go, but both found a way to make a play late in the contest that helped their team win. Green’s work on the boards with under two minutes left in regulation allowed Washington to tie the game on Mikhail Grabovski’s sixth goal of the season and MJ90 finally got his legs going and flew past a Columbus defender to set Ovechkin up for the OT winner.

It was a much needed victory after two defeats out West in two nights that included a lot of travel.

The travel played a role in this contest, the Caps played a solid first period carrying the scoring chance opportunities, but they couldn’t finish and as a result the first stanza ended, 0-0. As the game wore on, some players looked to be feeling the effects of the frequent flyer miles, however, one unit continued to carry the play: the third line of Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward. Those guys used their speed and gave the Blue Jackets fits all night. Oates was once again impressed with the unit, half jokingly calling them “the first line” in his post game presser. He also pointed out that he saw good chemistry between Ward and Chimera last spring and it has continued in the first quarter of this season.

As good as the third line was, there was no better player on the ice on Tuesday night than John Carlson. Hopefully someone from Team USA saw this one because #74 was flat out dominant against Columbus. He was winning every puck battle in every zone, he scored a big goal after a great feed from Martin Erat and he had the second assist on the game winner. Carlson logged 24:32 of ice time that was only bested by his d-partner Karl Alzner at 24:55. Oates praised Carlson’s game saying he’s been playing great hockey lately along with Alzner and reminded everyone that the duo is the first unit on the ice on every penalty kill.

Alzner, who rightfully gave himself credit for allowing Carlson to play more aggressive given his defensive style, said that Carlson getting his first goal 10 days ago against Florida allowed #74 to get his confidence going. King Karl pointed out that “Carlson can win games for us” and that he was a “huge, huge factor” in the victory. Carlson now has four goals in his last six games.

Braden Holtby earned the victory in this one stopping 24 of 27 pucks thrown his way. He can’t be faulted on any of the three goals. Two were one on one situations and the other was a deflection in front where #70 didn’t have much of a chance to see the biscuit. Holtby also took a skate to the top of his head after that goal and said he had to “shake the cobwebs out” afterwards. 

Braden is only 24 years old, but it is evident he is becoming a team leader, much like Olie Kolzig did when he was the Washington goalie. Following the game, Alzner pointed out that the bench was mad after Columbus took the lead and that allowed them to respond and come back. Holtby partially agreed with the “mental toughness” aspect of that, but also was quick to note that it took a couple of shifts before things turned around as Columbus had a three on one break right after the goal and had they scored there, this one would have been a loss. Holtby certainly isn’t afraid to hold his teammates accountable, and that is the mark of a leader. This team needs that given its tendency to forget about their own zone, at times.

Oates was clearly happy to get two points on this night, but he wasn’t thrilled about some of the mistakes his club made, particularly the third Columbus goal. Many will point to Green missing the puck as it took a Washington Wizards hop over his stick allowing Cam Atkinson to get a breakaway tally, however, the Hall of Fame coach was upset with the team’s decision making in the offensive zone. Nate Schmidt pinched down to take a shot and he didn’t hit the net, which was compounded by some of Washington’s forwards not being in position to help cover for #88. Oates said his team broke “one of their rules” in that situation. You can bet that will be addressed on Wednesday.

The coach also likely isn’t pleased with his power play, which went 0 for 3 and allowed a short handed goal. Luckily, though, the penalty was a perfect 3 for 3 and scored too.

The PK excellence is what you need to do to get two points when your big guns aren’t clicking for much of the night.

You have to find a way to grind it out, and that’s what the Caps did on Tuesday to get the victory.

Notes: The Caps outshot Columbus 34-27 and the attempts were 57-55 overall for the game…the Caps were crushed on face-offs, 36-22, but Michael Latta went 3 for 3 centering a fourth line that played just over five minutes but performed extremely well when they had their numbers called…Alzner discussed defensive zone positioning with me afterwards and noted that part of the issue with goals being scored on passes from behind their net was that he and Carlson were still learning when Johansson is going to chase or stay back. On Tuesday night, you could see that the trio was doing a better job of communicating and executing. Columbus didn’t sneak into any gaps for quick shots on passes from behind the net. MJ90 didn’t play center at all last spring so it’s been awhile since 27 & 74 have had to play D while #90 is playing the pivot spot, which explains some of the recent issues…next up for the Caps are the Red Wings in Motown on Friday night…six of the eleven NHL games on Tuesday were decided in OT or the shootout which shows just how close the league is and why every night is “a grind.”

 

 

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Effort Wasn’t Problem in Caps’ Road Trip Defeats

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Effort Wasn’t Problem in Caps’ Road Trip Defeats

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Through the first 14 games of the Washington Capitals season, effort was a problem on many of the nights when the Caps were on the wrong end of the score.

This past weekend, against two very good Western Conference clubs, the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, effort was not the problem. The Caps played hard both nights but lost both games, although the Coyotes defeat was in the gimmick. When the Capitals feel a challenge, they typically bring the effort. Make no mistake, the Capitals wanted to show that they could compete with the elite of the West on this past weekend’s road trip.

But they fell short, painfully squandering a two goal lead late in Arizona on Saturday night when they should have definitely had two points. In Colorado, they got down early on a goal that should not have counted then after tying the game, gave up a goal just 28 seconds later before eventually losing 4-1.

What were the major causes of defeat over the weekend? The power play, poor defensive zone play, and shoddy goaltending.

Let’s start with the power play. Washington has been deadly this season with the 5 on 4 man advantage and have won many games because of it. But on Saturday and Sunday, they had some golden opportunities on 5 on 3′s to tie the game or expand their lead and in Saturday’s loss to Phoenix, they failed to score on a two minute 4 on 3 in overtime. Statistically teams do better on 5 on 3 or 4 on 3 power plays, but the Caps are 0 for their last 11 with a two man advantage and their 4 on 3 power play isn’t clicking either.

It seems to me that what is working so well on 5 on 4 isn’t going to work in the other situations because of one reason: the passing lanes are different. When the opponent only has three players on the ice, they shrink down to a tight triangle making the lanes for cross ice passes that the Caps love so much in the 5 on 4 disappear. You simply can’t spread out the penalty kill the way Washington does so effectively five on four when the other team only has three skaters. So the solution seems to be for Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe to come up with a different configuration and practice it (Troy Brouwer was quoted after Saturday’s loss as saying the team doesn’t work on those situations a lot). My advice, go to a set up that puts a body or two in front of the net and blast away from the point. With the defense backing up in tight, the guys on top can come in closer and if you put traffic in front, the goalie has a tougher time of seeing the puck, and if you use big bodies like Brouwer or perhaps Tom Wilson, you have strong guys in front who can pot the rebounds. It isn’t fancy, like Washington’s 5 on 4 setup, but it’s likely the best way to score with a packed in defense.

As for the defensive zone, the Caps continue to have too many breakdowns. There are lots of turnovers and poor coverage. Yes, they are undermanned back there with Jack Hillen and John Erskine out with injuries but a quick check of many of the recent goals against has the John Carlson and Karl Alzner duo on the ice for several of them. Two of the goals against on Sunday in Colorado were on plays from behind the net where Washington was caught watching the puck carrier and didn’t pay attention to the gaps around them, which allowed the Avs players to find holes and get quick looks that Braden Holtby had no chance on. This has happened on far too many occasions this season. The forwards, on many of those goals, are just as guilty of puck watching. The Caps have to learn better positioning in their own end and pay attention to their surroundings. A guy with the puck behind the net is not a threat to score so why is everyone staring him down and not anticipating where he is going to pass the puck? The coaches need to work with the defense and forwards to correct this problem. Washington would be better off collapsing down and allowing a pass up the boards to the point rather than the ones that keep going into the low slot and ending up in the back of the Capitals net.

As for the goaltending, well it was great for a 10+ game stretch heading into last weekend. Michal Neuvirth needed to have the second Coyotes goal and Carlson screened him on the third one. #74 needed to either go down and block the shot there or move out of the way. That was a stoppable shot if #30 saw it sooner. As for Holtby, it was tough to blame him on the first three Avs goals and even Gabriel Landeskog’s tally was a breakaway after #92 went right around Alexander Ovechkin. Still, Braden probably should have had that one.

The good news is that a lot of these things are very correctable. The defense is in need of an upgrade at some point on the left side, but when some of the Caps top guys are making the mistakes, a trade isn’t going to help.

Overall the talent and effort is there for the Capitals right now, despite the hole on the left side of the defense. But this is the salary cap era and every team has a weakness area that needs to be addressed at some point.

Washington has enough talent and the effort has been consistent over the last couple of weeks. Now they have to execute better by playing smarter in key situations.

They’ll get a chance to turn it around against Columbus on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

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Holtby Shines Again as Caps Win in Shootout

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Holtby Shines Again as Caps Win in Shootout

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby is in the zone right now. The Washington net minder, who was unfairly assaulted last week by a lunatic Flyers goalie, stopped 33 shots and all three shootout attempts from a very good Minnesota Wild hockey club to allow his team to prevail, 3-2, in the gimmick, at the Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin notched a power play goal early on and Marcus Johansson tied it late after some hard work by Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich before Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone tally in the skills competition to push Washington’s record to 9-7.

The Capitals have a four game winning streak and now head out west to take on Phoenix and Colorado on Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively.

Call me a glass half full guy tonight. This wasn’t a pretty victory, but the Caps did work hard against a team that does the same. Minnesota doesn’t allow a lot of shots or chances so you have to be patient against them, especially since it seems all American defensemen Ryan Suter never leaves the ice (36:51 played on Thursday night). The shots on goal were 35-27 in favor of the Wild but a closer look at shot attempts had the Caps winning that battle, 57-51.

Both goalies were good and each team went 1 for 3 on the power play. So it is no surprise that this contest ended up in extra time. It was a fairly even battle but the Capitals prevailed because they are really good in shootouts under Coach Adam Oates (4-0 this season).

Ovechkin notched his 13th goal in 14 games, but to me, the skater who has been really instrumental during this streak is Backstrom. Nicky is dominating the play when he is on the ice. He is so strong on his skates and wins the large majority of board battles. His stick handling and passing are amazing and he’s shooting the puck more. His move around Suter late in the game, lifting the puck to create a lane to shoot from, was a thing of beauty and Josh Harding had to come up big to stop that one. Ovechkin is going to get his goals and he’ll get even more if Backstrom continues to play at the high level he’s playing right now. #19 doesn’t get the credit he deserves around the league, but I doubt he cares. From talking to him over the years I know he cares most about winning.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the last four wins is the Capitals goaltending. They’ve gotten four super starts in a row (three by Holtby and one from Neuvirth). Holtby made some huge stops late in regulation when the Wild were gifted with a power play (memo to Ian Walsh: what a garbage call on Erat!) that also gave them a hard to defend 4 on 3 in overtime for 61 seconds. There is no doubt in hockey that goaltending is the most important position and #70 delivered there.

The thing to like about this win, outside of super goaltending and the play of Backstrom, was the effort. Washington played hard but the other guys get paid too so it isn’t going to be all roses every night. This club kept grinding against a stingy team and found a way to tie it up late when Minnesota usually closes those types of games out.

On the flip side, the Caps still are turning the puck over too much and do have a tendency to puck watch and not cover their opponents in their own end at times. That needs to improve. The injuries to Jake Hillen and John Erskine have put the Caps in a bind on the left side of their defense. Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt are playing because of the injuries. I’ve liked Schmidt since his first preseason game in Baltimore but sometimes he’s in over his head in the NHL. He could use a year in the AHL to properly develop. But there are really no alternatives at this point until GM George McPhee makes a deal for a defensemen. Trades are best made when a team is going well and the Caps are certainly heading in that direction. They have a good forward in Eric Fehr sitting in the press box and Evgeny Kuznetsov likely slated to come over in the spring to play in the NHL, so McPhee has some strengths he can leverage to try and upgrade his defense, which sure seems needed if Washington wants to go deep in the post season. But it takes two to tango and there is plenty of time to make any necessary moves.

Tonight the Caps can thank Holtby and effort for a win against what appears to be a good Western Conference team. Next up are two that just may be even better.

Notes: Washington lost handily in the faceoff department, 34-25…Wilson only played 6:30 but he was a huge factor in the tying goal helping Johansson get the puck and come out of the corner to score while Laich ran havoc in front of the cage…credit Schmidt for not getting down on himself after some tough shifts. The kid played 23:53 and is learning. He had some really good shifts too, so overall he’s been impressive. It is baptism by fire for him…by the way, the Flyers lost 3-0 tonight, boy do those goons stink!

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Ovechkin Scores Twice, Caps Rout Islanders

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Ovechkin Scores Twice, Caps Rout Islanders

Posted on 06 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Capitals lineup on Tuesday night after missing a pair of games and notched two power play goals and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers in another dominating performance, and Braden Holtby made 34 saves as the Caps smoked a good New York Islanders club, 6-2, at the Verizon Center.

Through 15 games, I’ve chronicled the lack of effort on certain nights from this Caps squad. On Tuesday evening, that was definitely not the case. Washington played by far their most complete hockey game of the young season and dominated a very fast Islanders team, routing them in the process. The Caps came out strong in the opening frame and even though they trailed after 20 minutes by a single tally (1-0), one felt that if they returned to play the second period like they did the first than the game would turn in their favor.

Boy, did it, as they scored five times in the middle stanza.

Washington was relentless in this contest doing “all of the little things” as Backstrom described it to me following the game. The Caps repeatedly won the loose puck battles. They came out of their zone with solid passes on the majority of the occasions, and they kept their feet moving. They played with passion and energy. It was refreshing and the results spoke for themselves. Coach Adam Oates afterwards perhaps gave the most telling remark when he said, “that looked like last year.” Last year, the Capitals won 15 of their last 18 games of the season playing with intensity, desperation, and passion. We saw the intensity and passion on Tuesday as Washington imposed their will on New York.

All four Capitals lines played well. The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Martin Erat unit set the tone and #10’s strong play along the boards and savvy decision making helped Washington get out of their own zone much easier. The fourth unit set up a goal for defensemen Alexander Urbom, with forward Tom Wilson getting his first NHL point via a beauty of a pass while sliding on his rear end. Wilson would also garner his first NHL goal on the power play late in the third period, for which he received a shaving crème pie in the face from Ovechkin following the contest. Speaking of the power play, it went from dangerous to deadly with the Gr8 back in the lineup. Ovechkin had two markers with the man advantage, one of which came as a result of a super feed from Marcus Johansson down low that gave Alex an empty cage to shoot at. Johansson himself chipped in a power play goal as well by going to the net and potting a rebound. Overall, the power play was 4 for 6!

The Caps penalty killing was really good, going 5 for 5, although the first Islander goal by John Tavares came just as Mikhail Grabovski’s minor penalty was expiring. Washington’s PK continues to allow the goalies to see the shots, which limits rebound chances. This is the best the Capitals have killed penalties in a few seasons, however, Oates would like to see the number of power plays allowed per game diminished. In the last two games they’ve had to kill off six and five opponent man advantage situations, respectively. That is just too many (although I thought the 3rd period tripping call on Urbom was completely bogus).

The victory, their third in a row, pushes the Caps to 8-7 overall and in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division. During the winning streak they’ve been getting excellent goaltending from both Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. As much fun as the 7-0 pounding of the Flyers was on Friday, this victory was far more impressive. The Islanders have one of the best lines in the league in Thomas Vanek-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo and even though that trio had the two tallies, they were outplayed by Washington. John Carlson, who started the Caps scoring by keeping a puck in at the offensive blue line and lasering one by Evgeni Nabokov (33 saves), played solid defense with partner Karl Alzner. That duo is back to routinely facing the opponent’s top trio and performing well.

So the Caps received a well-earned victory over a playoff likely Islanders team on Tuesday night by putting forth an excellent effort, something Holtby was questioning as recently as last week too. Backstrom believes that this victory is something the team can build on going forward. There is a lot of talent on this Capitals team, especially up front, as evidenced by the fact that Eric Fehr, who has been playing extremely well, was a healthy scratch on Tuesday with the Gr8 returning from injury.

When you combine talent with the effort the Capitals displayed on Tuesday, they are an awfully tough team to beat. Just ask the Islanders after this one.

Notes: Wilson played 10:05 and in addition to the goal and an assist, he had 12 PIMs. Matt Carkner, who is one of the toughest players in the league, gave #43 a couple of cheap shots near the end of the game to try and entice Wilson to go for the “Gordie Howe” hat trick. The 19 year old rookie declined to fight garnering praise from his head coach, who termed his decision a “smart play.” Wilson knew who Carkner was and didn’t lose his temper. He showed maturity with his level headed demeanor, and more importantly to me, he showed that he is doing the preparation necessary to get ready for games at the NHL level…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 36-38…Shot attempts were 66-60 in favor of Washington…next up for the Caps are the red hot Minnesota Wild at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Wild have star defensemen Ryan Suter and are being led in scoring by forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

Posted on 02 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a huge and emotional win in Filthadelphia on Friday night, the Caps were back at home to take on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. As one might expect, Washington had a bit of a letdown and didn’t play a very good game overall. However, thanks to a super performance from Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) and a dominating effort from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps somehow managed to get two points by beating the Cats, 3-2, in a shootout.

The victory, while pretty ugly, is an important one this early in the season. It moves the Capitals to 7-7 overall and they managed to win again without injured captain Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury).

The biggest problem for the Caps on this night was something they’ve struggled with most of the season: effort. Simply put, the Capitals are not skating hard enough throughout games. There is too much puck watching and gliding going on and as a result the other team is owning the puck more. In addition, by not skating well, the Caps have opened themselves up to taking more penalties. Florida had six power plays on the night and it wasn’t until they scored on a 4 on 3 with just over two minutes left that they were finally able to beat a Capitals PK unit that had killed 30+ straight man advantages situations. Washington’s penalty killing has been outstanding, but six minors is far too many and the last one was just a terrible retaliation move by Steve Oleksy so late in a one goal game. #61 has to learn you have to keep your head when points are on the line.

Washington’s power play also struggled without Ovechkin, going 0 for 3 on the night. Playing against a below average goalie in Scott Clemmensen the Caps should have simplified things and focused on getting pucks and bodies to the cage, instead there was far too much perimeter passing. The Caps were minus one on the evening in the special teams department and when you aren’t playing well, that is difficult to overcome.

But the Caps did do enough good things to prevail. Backstrom was by far the best player on the ice and he has such a good shot that he needs to keep using, even when the Gr8 returns to the lineup. Eric Fehr played well again with Martin Erat on that top unit. I also liked, despite only getting about six minutes of ice time, the way the fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti played. Latta earned his first NHL point with a sweet cross ice feed to John Carlson in the second period that Captain America buried with a nice shot. Carlson was also one of Washington’s better players, along with Karl Alzner.

The Caps red hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera struggled, primarily because those guys didn’t move their feet. Grabovski did have a nice goal in the shootout, along with Brooks Laich (scored despite fanning on his move) and Backstrom in the gimmick. Laich does not look himself on five on five right now. He’s been super on the PK but he hasn’t developed any chemistry with any linemates this season so far. Brooksie needs to get his legs churning too, I see too much hesitation from him, especially coming out of his own zone.

On the back end, Mike Green still isn’t playing near peak performance. He’s making far too many turnovers in his own end and in the neutral zone. Washington will need #52 performing at a high level when they play the better teams in the league.

On Saturday the Caps showed up and managed to just do enough to win against a weak Florida team. There was far too much lollygagging for my liking again, but a bit understandable given Friday night’s events. The team got the victory and now have a day off on Sunday to rest.

Coming up though, the schedule will get tougher so it’s important that the Caps get their effort up, especially on Tuesday against a New York Islanders club that gave them fits last season.

Notes: Shots were 33-23 in favor of Florida…Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-31…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:15. Green played 25:47…Fehr had four shots on net and led all forwards in that department.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are both red hot right now.

The Gr8 notched a goal and an assist and Holtby stoned (30 saves) the Oilers until two minutes remaining in regulation as the Capitals played a strong road to knock off Edmonton, 4-1, on Thursday night.

The victory moves the Capitals to 5-5 on the season and into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a win against a weak club, but the Oilers came out hard in the first frame and once Washington seized the lead on Ovechkin’s NHL leading 10th goal of the season, they gradually took over and eventually put a stranglehold on the contest.

Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had a brutal first shift but after that they were the story of this tilt. They dominated at all ends of the ice playing easily their best defensive game of the young season. Ovie and company used strong play in their own zone to ramp up their transition game and by the third period the Oilers were out of gas. The Gr8′s goal once again came directly off of a faceoff and that’s at least three goals in that fashion for Ovechkin this season. Ovie now has 15 points in 10 games.

Outside of the top line, the Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski units had quality outings, as well. Grabovski, playing with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, have turned into a really good third line and Grabo’s sneaky steal led to Chimera’s tally that made it 4-0. Laich’s line is particularly solid in their own end, something this club definitely needs given some of the inexperience on the back end.

More encouraging was that the Caps achieved this dominating victory without having to rely on their power play. All four Caps goals came at even strength. After some shaky first period moments, Washington played better in their own zone and did a decent job of positioning, communicating, and moving their feet. There still are lapses and Mike Green was beat a couple of times simply because he wasn’t skating. Coach Adam Oates also won’t like the lone Edmonton tally, which was the result of poor coverage and positioning by Washington’s fourth line along with Steve Oleksy and John Erskine on defense.

Overall though, this was a good win and the team is moving in the right direction. They’ve won three straight and the energy and passion is back in their game after the Rangers thoroughly outworked them last Wednesday. The club still must keep working on their own zone play. If they keep getting better there, than look out, because this Capitals team has a ton of offensive talent.

Notes: The Caps next play in Calgary on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada (10 pm EST)…Edmonton dominated from the dot, 32-21, but the Capitals did score a big goal off of a draw…Johansson had two assists…Green led the Caps in ice time at 22:40. Aaron Volpatti was the low man but he had 10:01, so Oates was able to spread the time out with the lead.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals got a much needed 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center to push their overall record to 2-4. This was a game the Caps had to have to get things turned around in the right direction after three defeats in a row. Alexander Ovechkin notched the game winner scoring his sixth goal of the season and he added his third assist of the young campaign too, which gives him nine points in six contests.

Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots, many of which were key when this tilt was close for the first 30 minutes, and delivered the best goaltending game of the year for Washington. When a team is struggling, like the Caps have been in the early going, you need a goalie to step up and turn in a top notch performance, Holtbeast did just that on Monday night and he was a major reason the Capitals won the game.

The offense rose from the dead in this one against a weak Oilers team as Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward all got their first tallies of the season, with Ward’s and Brouwer’s both coming on the power play. The Caps were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and were also 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. When you win the special teams battle by a +2 margin, you often win the game.

Still there are issues that need to be worked out. Edmonton really carried the play in the first period using their speed to put Washington back on their heels. The Caps seemed a step slow and they also were not moving the puck well at all. Too many passes were going east-west and in players skates. In addition, the Caps were not moving their feet and were caught reaching with their sticks in compromising positions. The Oilers were able to strike first after a neutral zone turnover and some poor coverage by the first line, once again. Down 1-0 and having trailed for most of the season, the Caps were in a sticky spot.

Fortunately, Steve Oleksy was skating well on the ice and paired with Nate Schmidt, they were arguably the best Caps d-pair in this affair. Shortly after Edmonton tallied, Oleksy alertly jumped on an Oiler turnover in the offensive zone and fed Laich for the game tying goal and that play seemed to get the giant piano off of the Capitals back. The team suddenly found their legs and started to exert more pressure on the Oilers defense.

With the Caps skating well in the middle frame, the Oilers got into penalty trouble and Washington sandwiched two man advantage tallies around Ovechkin’s sweet goal in the slot with Nicklas Backstrom screening (3 assists) goalie Jason Labarbera (16 saves). Marcus Johansson had his best shift of the game to help set that one up with some hard work on the boards and earned his 100th NHL career point in the process.

Coach Adam Oates and his team should feel some relief after getting this victory without having to sweat too much at the end. The offense came alive and that seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Washington. Anyone who has ever played hockey, at any level, but especially in the NHL, will tell you that confidence is the most important part of a team’s game. The Caps seemed to finally get some confidence on the ice on Monday. The passing still needs to be crisper and the players have to realize that keeping their wheels moving is so important to their success. When they go back and watch the tape of this one, that should be evident.

Next up is an important affair against the Rangers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm on the NBC Sports Network. The Caps need to start winning Eastern Conference games and especially those in their own division at home. They also would like to get some payback for losing to the Rags in the playoffs last spring.

Notes: Shot attempts were 48-45 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-26…Oates was able to spread the ice time around with the 3 goal third period lead. John Carlson led the team in ice time at 21:35 while Tom Wilson was the lowest at 8:02. Martin Erat had 11:50 and played well…Schmidt was very solid in 19:13 of ice time on the back end. #88 skates well and continues to improve.

 

 

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps spotted the young and rebuilding Calgary Flames 3-0 and 4-1 leads on Thursday night in Washington’s home opener at the Verizon Center, but thanks to three points from Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) the Capitals were able to rally and defeat their opponents, 5-4, in a shootout. As in Tuesday’s contest against Chicago, there was lots of good and bad to Washington’s play, but the most important thing is that the Caps were able to even their record at 1-1 and gain two standings points.

So what went right for the Capitals on Thursday night?

First, their power play continues to scorch the opposition. Ovechkin and company were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) scored the game tying tally with 5:50 remaining after a super feed from Mikhail Grabovski. Last year the Caps were first in the NHL with the power play at 26.8%. In two games, they are 5 for 9 for a 55.6% success rate. That is amazing, but when you watch this team work with the puck in five on four situations it is a thing of beauty and that is why the results are so good. The Caps are extremely difficult to defend and Grabovski has actually been an upgrade over a very good Mike Ribeiro on the first unit so far.

Second, Oates’ decision to switch goaltenders in the first period paid off. Braden Holtby (3 goals on 11 shots) wasn’t getting much support in front of him so at 16:22 of the first frame Michal Neuvirth came in and he stopped 27 of 28 shots as well as two shootout attempts in the gimmick. Neuvy’s only blemish was on his giveaway behind the net that led to Lance Bouma’s tally that made it 4-1 Calgary 29:05 into the contest.

Finally, the Capitals generated a lot of chances and despite giving up four goals, the Flames Karri Ramo played solidly in net (4 goals on 39 shots).

So what went wrong and why?

After too many turnovers in Chicago on Tuesday and some coverage lapses against a super Blackhawks team, one would hope that the Caps would be able to shut down a much less talented Calgary forward group. That did not come close to happening. Time after time the Flames came into Washington’s zone with speed and they created lanes to the net that made goaltending difficult. In the overtime Calgary carried the four on four play as Washington struggled to move the Flames off of the puck in their own zone.

The early season struggles on defense is a bit of a concern and the injury to Jack Hillen isn’t going to help. Hillen was rammed into the left wing boards by Bouma on a hit that looked a little late and too low. #38 went to the ice in pain and was helped off. It was reported afterwards that he suffered a lower body injury and was at the hospital. We’ll know more tomorrow but it looks to be a long term injury which will necessitate the need for a call up. A left handed defensemen is needed and Nate Schmidt is in the mix for the potential call up. Based on NHL experience, Dmitry Orlov seems like a logical choice but #81 continues to struggle with his game after suffering a concussion last December.

As for the poor defensive performance, Oates felt that the Capitals came out flat after an emotionally charged game on Tuesday in the Windy City. As a result, the Flames got a couple of early goals and that juiced their energy. Calgary was really flying, at times, and the Caps had some trouble keeping up. Brooks Laich thought Washington was outworked in the first period. Karl Alzner was not happy with the performance on defense and stated that the team could not win consistently giving up four or more goals. Alzner said that Calgary is quick and they did have more jump early. He mentioned that he spoke with some of the Flames prior to the game and they had a hard working training camp, which helped their conditioning. In addition, King Karl says that the Capitals D may be focusing too much on getting the puck up the ice quickly and it is leading to turnovers and poor positioning. Alzner stated that rather than trying for the fast outlet pass that the defense consider the option of just chipping it out off of the glass when the pass completion percentage is not great.

Overall, the Flames generated far too many scoring chances and Neuvirth had to make some tough stops in the third period and overtime to give his team a chance to get the victory. The offense did their part to cover up some shoddy play in Washington’s end. Through two games defense is the major area of concern, but there are 80 more contests to go and as stated after Tuesday’s loss, this is a work in progress on the back end.

The intensity and focus was not there for Washington for stretches of play, but the Capitals did manage to earn a much needed two points.

Notes: Marcus Johansson had three assists…Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box. He logged 17:26 of ice time on defense…Tom Wilson pounded Bouma in a fight after the Flame took out Hillen. Wilson only played 5:52 but he was effective in that time with a couple of shots on goal and a pair of hits…Martin Erat only played 6:30 and is probably not a happy camper…the Eric Fehr line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) logged about six minutes more at even strength than the Erat, Wilson, and Jay Beagle unit…Mike Green had an assist in 31:01 of ice time (led all players in TOI)…the Caps claimed defensemen Alexander Urbom off waivers from the Devils and sent center Michael Latta to Hershey to make room for the left handed defensive defensemen from Sweden…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena on Saturday night at 8pm.

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