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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

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

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

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

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

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

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

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

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

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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

Posted on 28 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been in existence for 39 years and they still have not won a Stanley Cup.

With their team spiraling further away from winning Lord Stanley, Caps Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick fired both General Manager George McPhee and Head Coach Adam Oates on Saturday.

Those moves were no surprise, especially if you read my blog from two weeks ago. The Capitals have a flawed and unbalanced roster that became even more exposed under some questionable coaching decisions this past season.

Simply put, these moves had to be made and Leonsis stated that the team needed new leadership and “a new set of eyes.”

The hiring of the next GM is critical to this franchise given that star players Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who are both signed to long term contracts, are in the prime seasons of their career. McPhee and company were unable to put a quality team around those two players and as a result much criticism has fallen on them, especially the Gr8.

Some who cover the NHL have already tweeted or blogged that this is Ovechkin’s fault. When you make the money he makes, have won the MVP three times, aren’t of North American descent, and haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet, those things will happen. It’s an easy narrative for those who choose to be lazy and biased.

But those who’ve studied and watched this Washington team since 2008 know the real story. Fancy stats clearly show that this team’s puck possession statistics have steadily declined since 2009, after Sergei Fedorov left for Russia. The decline is a function of an eroding roster, particularly on defense, and poor coaching/system changes. None of those roster or system decisions were made by Ovechkin.

Hall of Famer Rod Langway used to always tell me that hockey starts from the goalie to the defense and then to the forwards. If your defense routinely can’t get the puck out of your own end, how are the forwards going to produce with any consistency at even strength? Washington’s overall blue line crew has gotten worse over the past several seasons.

Bottom line, as I wrote two weeks ago, the Caps have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

For those who still want to put a vast amount of blame on him I pose the following question:

If I gave you the choice of any other forward in the NHL in place of Ovechkin for the last three seasons, would the Capitals have won a Stanley Cup or even made the Finals?

That’s right, you could have Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, etc. but you lose Ovechkin in that move. Do you think the Capitals win a Stanley Cup doing that?

No way, not with the rest of that roster.

Hockey is a team sport. So blaming Ovechkin for the team’s decline is absolutely incorrect.

Now that’s not saying that the Gr8 can’t improve his game. Every player can always get better. NBA great Larry Bird used to spend every summer working on new moves, so if Bird thought he needed to improve, every player certainly should be trying to do so, as well.

Fortunately for Caps fans, the ownership, despite making it clear that these moves weren’t done solely for Ovechkin, get that the Gr8 is a special player. When I asked both Leonsis and Patrick about the pressure and abuse that Ovechkin takes, Patrick was quick to defend him and point out the nature of the NHL.

“Alex Ovechkin is a great, great hockey player,” Patrick said. “I wish we had two of him, then we wouldn’t even be here today, probably. All he wants to do is win. People are saying, ‘Well, you’ve got Alex Ovechkin. How come you haven’t won a Cup?’ It does take a team. It takes 20 guys. How can you be unhappy with what Alex Ovechkin has accomplished and continues to accomplish in the National Hockey League?”

Patrick is bang on and that is why it is so crucial to get a GM that really understands how to build a team. The “new set of eyes” needs to help alleviate the pressure on its two stars by bringing in better players, particularly on the blue line, and by adding leaders with winning experience.

As the great Jim Ignatowski once said on Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”

That brings me to my next point. The trend in sports is to seek out the next “hot” assistant and give him the keys to the camper. We see it with GM positions and head coaching openings many times in pro sports.

Jim Benning of Boston is a name that is on the top of the “next GM” list for many NHL clubs, according to people I’ve spoken with around the league. There are other hot assistants out there too like Ron Hextall, Jason Botterill, and Tim Burke.

But would hiring another hockey person with no GM experience be the right move here?

Hmmm…..

Sometimes bringing in a person that has performed in that role previously is the better choice, even if they’ve been fired. After all, Joe Torre and Bill Belichick were both fired but went on to win multiple championships with their new teams. Simply put, there is something to be said for learning from past mistakes.

So shouldn’t names like Mike Gillis, Neil Smith, and Craig Button garner attention? All have been a GM before and both Smith and Button have Stanley Cup winning experience, Smith as GM of the Rangers in 1994 and Button as the Director of Player Personnel with Dallas in 1999.

To me, Button is an intriguing option. He has ties to the organization from his late father Jack, who played a prominent role in the drafting and development of personnel in Washington from 1979 to 1996. Craig worked closely for years with Bob Gainey and Doug Armstrong in Dallas taking a team that was built around young players Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and Richard Matvichuck and transformed it into a Stanley Cup Champion. He understands the microscope Ovechkin and Backstrom are under and he has a successful track record in dealing with that scenario.

In addition, he took a flailing Calgary Flames team and re-built the defense on a club that eventually went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. Then GM and Coach Darryl Sutter credited Craig for laying the groundwork for a squad that came ultra close to winning it all.

He currently covers the NHL for the NHL Network and TSN but he also pays close attention to the junior ranks and publishes his own draft board each spring on TSN’s website. His knowledge of current pros and amateurs is extensive. With the Stars, he drafted both Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. As someone in the business recently told me, “He’s hard working, dedicated, and has an incredible passion for the game.”

Given his excellent people skills, I’d have to imagine he is on Leonsis and Patrick’s current list to interivew.

As for that process, Leonsis made it clear that they were not going to conduct a search where information is going to be made publicly available. Certainly details will get exposed as the media scouts out Kettler IcePlex, but the Caps are pretty good at keeping things secretive.

Leonsis stated this was going to be a thorough search while putting no timetable on its conclusion.

Given the importance of this decision, which I believe is the most critical one in franchise history, the owner and Team President must do what they need to do to make sure they get this GM selection correct.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, Halak Pace Caps Over Hawks

Posted on 11 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was game 81 of 82 and instead of gearing up for the playoffs, the Washington Capitals are playing out the string.

The good news is that Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and an assist each and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in a 4-0 blanking of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Before getting too excited over the win, take notice that the Hawks didn’t have their three best players in the lineup in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith.

Washington looked like the only club interested in participating in this tilt and they carried much of the play for two periods. The total shot attempts for the game were 64-55 in favor of Chicago, but the Blackhawks did most of their damage in the third period (17 shots on goal). Hitting was relatively non-existent and only 21 were credited in total for the night. Basically this was like another pre-season contest.

Jay Beagle took advantage of a depleted Chicago lineup and had his first ever NHL two goal game. #83 is a guy who never complains and brings his best effort every day to the organization, so it is great to see a lunch pail guy who is just happy to be able to contribute get two goals. Beagle has as good of an attitude as any player I’ve ever been around in my 39 years of following and covering the NHL.

Ovechkin scored his league leading 51st goal to open the scoring on the power play and Backstrom’s tally from a bad angle gave the tandem an even strength goal later on. On the evening the Caps were 1 for 3 with the man advantage while Washington killed off all three Chicago power plays.

The win moves the Caps to 38-30-13 with Sunday’s final game against Tampa looming. No doubt the Bolts will be resting any of their banged up players as they have a playoff series coming next week.

For the Caps, this is the last game in which this club, as configured, will be together.

Notes: The Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-17. Backstrom was 8-2…Marcus Johansson was injured in period two and did not return. He’s been ruled out of Sunday’s final game…Coach Adam Oates pretty much rolled the lines on Friday night so the ice time was evenly spread across the board.

 

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was only a few seasons ago that the Washington Capitals were considered Stanley Cup favorites.

They were a young team on the rise that just needed to make some improvements in the talent level on the ice and also in the leadership department. I wrote about those very things just three springs ago.

Unfortunately, the team did very little of what I suggested in that blog from May of 2011.

Three seasons later, they have missed the post season for the first time in seven years.

It’s not surprising to me. Just two games into the season I blogged that the defensive personnel was an area of concern. The weaknesses on defense ended up dooming this Capitals club. Washington used 14 different defensemen in 2013-14, many of which had little to no prior NHL experience. It was a big time gamble by GM George McPhee and it failed miserably. Add the poor personnel to the fact that the coaching staff didn’t properly address the talent weaknesses with system modifications, going so far as to try changing goalie Braden Holtby’s style, and you have the recipe for a bad season.

Simply put, this club needs big time changes off of the ice and on it. McPhee has had 17 years to try and win a Stanley Cup in Washington and he hasn’t done it. It’s time for some new blood in the GM slot. With a new GM comes a new coaching staff and that is needed as well. Sure Adam Oates didn’t have the talent he wanted, but his staff’s inability to adapt made things worse.

In addition, Washington had three players ask for trades this year. Those kind of things are major warning signs of an organization gone wrong.

On the ice, it’s pretty clear this team needs to be built around Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and John Carlson. Braden Holtby, who was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic camp last summer, would be my choice to be the #1 goalie. I still don’t understand why the club tried to change his game this season when he’d been so successful in the past?

Anyways, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are promising young players that you can add to the mix that should play a bigger role next season.

As for the rest, they are fair game.

Washington does have salary cap room heading into next season so they have some flexibility to address some of their major holes.

They need talent and leadership on and off of the ice.

Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick need to find the right person to lead this ship in the GM slot. Bringing someone in with Stanley Cup winning experience seems paramount.

Time is ticking on the careers of Ovechkin and Backstrom so the Caps can’t afford to swing and miss again this summer.

Stay tuned.

 

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Ovechkin Scores 50th Goal in Caps Win Over Blues

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Ovechkin Scores 50th Goal in Caps Win Over Blues

Posted on 09 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin became only the 11th player in NHL history to score 50 goals in five or more seasons on Tuesday night as the Capitals crushed one of the NHL’s elite, the St. Louis Blues, 4-1.

As good as the Gr8′s shot was to score that 50th marker and give Washington a 1-0 lead, his pass to Nicklas Backstrom that pretty much sealed this contest to make it 3-1, was probably better. It was a sweet move and pass to a streaking #19 in the slot at even strength and took any life the Blues had remaining with just 1:10 to go in the middle frame. Ovechkin would also had another assist on Backstrom’s second goal of the night just 16 seconds into the third period in the Capitals victory. For Ovechkin, it was a three point night and he now has 77 points in 75 games this season.

Backstrom’s two goals give him 17 for the season along with 60 assists for 77 points in 79 games. They are two of the top players in the NHL and their success goes hand in hand, for the most part.

Braden Holtby received his second straight start in net and he was dynamite, especially early on when the Blues dominated the play. Holtbeast stopped 28 of 29 shots in this contest. Overall the Caps were out shot attempted 80-32, but part of that disparity is score effects as the Capitals grabbed the lead midway through period two.

The Blues have what some consider to be a Stanley Cup contending squad, but the Caps were able to defeat them soundly twice this season. Holtby played a big role in those victories and Tuesday’s victory was the second straight for Holtby (he was great against the Islanders on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win).

The Caps were without the services of Mike Green and Jack Hillen on defense, so they iced Connor Carrick and Julien Brouillette as a third pair. Tyson Strachan received top four minutes with Dmitry Orlov and handled himself well. John Carlson continued his beast of a season notching two assists and logging 26:35 of ice time.

Up front, Mikhail Grabovski chipped in the game winning goal on a sweet shot from the left circle. All four of the Caps goals were on lasers and they were finally able to defeat Ryan Miller, who previously stopped 75 of 77 Capitals shots in two games this season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Despite the nice victory, the overall news of the night wasn’t great. Both Columbus and Detroit won their contests and the Caps “tragic number” is down to two points. Basically any combination of Columbus points gained or Caps points that adds to two gives the Jackets a playoff berth while the Capitals would head to the links.

At this point it is, what it is. Washington did not get it done enough times this season and find themselves very close to elimination.

But on Tuesday night in St. Louis they can take pride in the Gr8 hitting 50 goals and gaining a solid victory against a Stanley Cup contender.

Notes: St. Louis dominated the Caps from the dot going 42-16…Ovechkin was +1 in 16:37 of ice time…the other 5+ time 50 goal scorers in NHL history are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemiuex, Bobby Hull, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur, Pavel Bure, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, and Steve Yzerman…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday night.

 

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Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings

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Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings

Posted on 26 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The definition of pure entertainment?

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

Wow, what a great hockey game!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

Posted on 11 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Close only counts in hand grenades and horsehoes.

That saying totally applies to the Washington Capitals predicament right now. The Caps did a lot of things correctly on Monday night but lost a tough one, 3-2, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a result, the Capitals fall to 30-26-10 and with 16 games remaining, their playoff hopes are dwindling.

Coach Adam Oates’ club out shot the Penguins, 33-20, and out shot attempted them, 69-45, in a contest that saw the Capitals dominate the puck possession after a shaky start.

The second period was played for large stretches in the Pittsburgh zone but Jeff Zatkoff (31 saves) had the answer for 16 of the 17 shots the Caps put on the cage in the middle frame. The Pens would only get six shots on net in period two, but one of them was the game winning goal by Chris Kunitz. #14 put home the biscuit after Jaroslav Halak (17 saves) gave up a huge rebound in the slot and beat Nicklas Backstrom to the puck to bury his 31st goal of the season. Defensemen Connor Carrick and Jack Hillen were also out of position on the play.

In addition to giving up that one to Kunitz, Washington allowed a Kunitz early marker when he went around Mike Green like he was an orange road cone just 46 seconds into the contest. Just over three minutes later, Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) put the Pens up, 2-1, when he scored on the power play. Pittsburgh received that man advantage as a result of a lazy penalty by Backstrom, who did a no-no by putting his stick into the hands of #87.

So the Pittsburgh goals were the result of two defensive zone breakdowns and a bad penalty. That has been the story of the Capitals season. They continue to make mistakes in their own end and they take far too many infractions of the lazy variety.

It’s a bad combination that is difficult to overcome no matter how much you possess the puck during the rest of the game.

The Caps played intense and harder hockey on Monday night, but they still aren’t playing smart hockey.

Former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld once said, “I don’t care how hard you work, you’ll never open a can of beans with a banana.”

It seems that when the Capitals do work hard, they often fall into that line of thought by making huge mental blunders to cost themselves’ hockey games.

They desperately needed a victory on Monday and played hard. But they shot themselves in the foot again with errors.

It’s been that kind of season.

Notes: The Caps will take on the Pens on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh in a rematch…Halak wasn’t that good in net on Monday so I expect to see Braden Holtby for Washington and Marc-Andre Fleury for the Pens…Evgeny Kuznetsov made his NHL debut and had two shots on goal in just over 10 minutes of action…the Caps lost the face off battle for the sixth consecutive game (30-22)…Oates is now 0-6 as the Caps bench boss versus the Penguins.

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for tonight, the Caps were victorious in Florida.

They can thank their top players for this one.

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

 

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