Tag Archive | "backstrom"

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Backstrom, Grubauer Lead Caps Over Rangers

Posted on 28 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

So much of sports can be described as a “Game of Inches.”

On Friday night at the Verizon Center, that was definitely the case as the Washington Capitals received a late goal from Eric Fehr to defeat the New York Rangers, 3-2. Fehr’s tally, his 6th of the season, was on a snap shot down the right side after a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (1G, 1A). Immediately before that goal, which came in a four on four situation, Dan Girardi hit the far post behind Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) after a Washington giveaway. If that puck is an inch to the right, it’s a 3-2 Rangers lead. But that’s the way it goes, and remember on Monday, if Alex Ovechkin’s shot from the slot is an inch lower than the Caps tie the Ducks late in regulation. As they say, “That’s Hockey.”

This victory improves the Caps to 20-14-4 (44 points) and puts them six points ahead of the Rangers, who they will only face one more time again this season, at Madison Square Garden.

The biggest difference in this game tonight was between the pipes. Grubauer was excellent for the Caps while Cam Talbot gave up some questionable goals. I know Talbot has been hot, but Henrik Lundqvist owns the Caps, and for some reason Alain Vigneault chose to go more with recent form than historical stats in his net minding decision. I can tell you I was certainly thrilled to not see King Henrik manning the cage for New York, so one would think the Capitals players were happy too?

The shot attempts in this contest ended up 71-55 for New York, but it was a fairly even game when it comes to quality chances. The Rangers shot attempts in the opening frame were primarily from the perimeter and it was really only the second period where they dominated play, and most of that was when the Caps had either their 4th line on the ice or their 3rd defensive pair on the blue line.

In the final period, after the Rangers got a quick tying tally on Carl Hagelin’s shorthanded goal, the Capitals carried more of the play. Coach Adam Oates did a nice job of shifting the ice time to his top two defensive pairs and limited the 3rd pair to just three and a half minutes. The difference was clearly noticeable and with the Rangers short a defensemen due to Anton Stralman’s in game injury, the Capitals seemed to wear the Rangers out more in that final frame.

Another positive was that the Caps did a better job on the back check on Friday after misreading two situations on Monday and allowing the tying and winning goal to the Ducks. Oates said that his team was better, but he also said the Rangers are a different type of team than Anaheim, which indicated it was an easier chore for his club against New York. However, Karl Alzner told me that Oates showed some video clips on back checking and King Karl said that the breakdowns on Monday were more of an individual thing. Whatever the case, Washington did a much better job in defensive zone coverage when the Rangers came up the ice on the rush.

Alzner said the team has been working more on their “end zone.” #27 said that the key to a solid back check and defensive zone is that when the puck is in the offensive zone there is always a third guy high. Some coaches require their center to always be that third guy (this is how Bryan Murray ran things for the Caps in the mid 1980′s) but many just let each shift play itself out and have the third guy be a read by the forwards themselves. From what I can gather, Oates’ system looks to be a “read and react accordingly” on the back check. So any of the three forwards could be the first player back. One thing the team is working on, according to Alzner, is more than just the third guy coming back strong because he said the coaches have pointed out it usually has been the third or even the fourth guy on the opposition that have been getting the quality chances against Washington this year.

It’s encouraging to see the focus of the team on these things and there is no doubt that practice time helps the reads and the communication, which is vital, on the ice.

As for Backstrom, he continues to dominate and any smart hockey person will tell you just how good #19 is compared to others in the league. The media may not be all over him from a publicity standpoint, but those in the game know just how good the center is and he is arguably as important to the Caps as any other player. On Friday night, Backstrom, along with Grubauer, were the primary reasons the Capitals stopped their two game losing streak.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:38. Mike Green (1G) played 19:10…the Rangers wore their top three d out with Girardi logging 27:35, Ryan McDonagh getting a game leading 29:53 and Michael Del Zotto playing 24:37…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on the road on Sunday at 5pm.

 

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After back to back dismal efforts against mediocore teams that saw the Caps fortuitously pull out three of a possible four points last weekend, Washington was back in action on Monday night against the number one team in the NHL: Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks, who came in with an eight game winning streak.

The Capitals played much harder in this one and actually had a 2-0 early lead, but defensive mistakes at critical times ultimately did them in once again, and they were defeated, 3-2, to drop their record to 19-14-4 heading into the Christmas break.

This was a very close game, as evidenced by the shot attempt totals, which were 57-54 in favor of the Ducks. Washington was much better than last weekend in the puck possession department but Anaheim did a superior job of getting their attempts on net, winning that battle 29-19. The Caps did a lot of good things in this game and both Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin hit iron in the third frame in what is a tough loss to a very good hockey team.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Devils I blogged that things needed to change and it was on Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee to figure out whether it was the players or the system that were causing the issues. Following tonight’s game, it appears to me that effort and also focus, on the part of the players, and not the system, is the major problem. Washington was motivated on Monday and brought a passion to get and own the puck. But the Ducks are a veteran and skilled team, and going against number one isn’t all about effort and passion, it’s about playing the right way and paying attention to detail.

That is where this Capitals team is falling down, attention to detail, especially in their own end. The Caps gave up the tying tally with just 27 seconds remaining in period two. Then they gave up the game winner with 5:36 left in regulation. Both goals were the result of poor reads that led to bad defensive zone coverage. Oates confirmed that after the game. On the game winner, the forwards all got caught too low on the back check allowing defenseman Hampus Lindholm to fire a shot through a maze of bodies past Philipp Grubauer. There was a lack of communication on the part of the Washington forwards on the ice and it resulted in a lot of space and time for the Ducks defenseman to shoot and score.

Anaheim’s second tally, however, is the one that is the most upsetting and disappointing. The five guys on the ice were out for a long shift and each one can shoulder their share of the blame. We won’t point out the names, but let’s just say there were a lot of contract dollars on the ice for the home club. The initial rush by Ben Lovejoy wasn’t played properly by the Capitals defensemen, who simply stopped moving his feet. But even still, Lovejoy was just looking to center the puck and if the other defenseman and the three forwards don’t puck watch and instead cover Anaheim players, there is no quality chance or goal. That did not happen as the Caps d-man went to the wrong post and the forwards allowed Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano to have a clear and uncovered path to the front of the cage. The result was an easy goal for Koivu that Grubauer had no chance on.

Simply put, it was a lack of effort at the end of a long shift and poor communication, as well. In his post game presser Oates said that communication should be going on at all times on the ice and he also said that at this point in the season, the reads and positioning should be automatic. It was not on the tying tally, as well as the game winner.

Those type of mistakes not only cost a squad points in the standings, but in the bigger picture, those are the type of errors that prevent a hockey team from being one of the better clubs in the league. Washington is in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference for this exact reason, they have too many breakdowns in their own end that are costing them hockey games.

Reading Oates’ answers, expression and demeanor afterwards, I got the feeling that he’s been pointing out these things over and over to his players. These aren’t hard hockey concepts but they require a mental toughness to continue to execute when you are tired or not in a position to score a goal. Everyone loves offense, but playing proper defense is the key to winning hockey games and a Stanley Cup. The Cup winner each season knows how to do the things that allow a club to transition from offense to defense. They play their positions well, they communicate on defense, and they focus even when they are tired at the end of a shift.

It’s the things you need to do to win hockey games and ultimately a championship.

Until this Caps team is ready to commit to that, they’ll do exactly what I said after Saturday’s loss to New Jersey: they will qualify for the playoffs and then find themselves out in either round one or two.

The talent is mostly there for the Caps to go where the players say they want to go, but saying it and then doing it requires a whole different level of focus and commitment.

Right now, I question that level of commitment from several of the players on this team.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-25…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while the Ducks went 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Brooks Laich returned to the lineup and played 13:23…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom had the two goals for Washington…next up, on Friday night at the Verizon Center, for the Caps is an improving Rangers team that has won two games in a row.

 

 

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 400th NHL goal on Friday night in the Caps huge 4-2 victory in Carolina. The Russian superstar became the 6th fastest (634 games, h/t Jeff Kryglik) to reach that number in NHL history.

Afterwards, the Gr8 knew exactly who to thank for the reaching the milestone on this night: rookie goalie Philip Grubauer.

The young German netminder, who Ovechkin termed the Caps “best player in the game,” was fantastic stopping 39 of 41 shots, many of the quality chance variety and it was his goaltending along with three Washington power play goals that gave the Caps a late 3-2 lead. With the Canes pulling goalie Cam Ward (25 saves), Nicklas Backstrom (4 assists) moved the puck off of the boards where the Gr8 could out race the Carolina defender and notch his first empty net tally of the season to seal this one for Washington. It was “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina,” as the great John Walton says, at that point.

The victory improves the Caps record to 19-13-3 (41 points), which gives them a five point cushion over the Flyers, who are in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The analysis of this one is pretty straightforward: Grubauer was the difference in this game like Justin Peters was the difference maker for Carolina just over two weeks ago when the Canes came in and stole a game in Washington. Tonight, for some reason, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller chose to go with Ward over Peters, who totally owned and frustrated the Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 3rd.

Muller also set up his penalty kill to take away Ovechkin and it totally backfired. Caps Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe adjusted to the tactic by putting a body in front of Ward and as a result, they notched the three extra man markers. Typically a team has two defenders in front of the net on the PK, making it harder for the offense to get bodies in front, but with the Canes shadowing Ovechkin, it was easy for the Caps to stand in front of or around Ward when they had the man advantage.

Sure Muller did a nice job of exploiting the Capitals defense with stretch passes all night, but overall Oates won the coaching match up in this tilt.

Washington’s neutral and defensive zones were below average in this contest. The spacing between the two defenders was off most of the game. In addition, the gaps between the defensive pair and the forwards was too great, giving the speedy Canes too much time and space.

Luckily, Grubauer was outstanding and the Caps defense did do a great job of clearing any rebounds. In addition, Backstrom was super in this contest and he now leads the NHL in assists with 33. Not too shabby for the underrated Swede.

In hockey, it is nice to have highly skilled players who can score, the Caps have that in Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Washington was mostly outplayed, but the great equalizer, goaltending, was the game’s determining factor.

Grubauer was greater than Ward, which allowed Oates to be greater than Muller in Raleigh on Friday night.

Notes: Shot attempts were heavily in favor of the Canes, 86-42, OUCH!…Marcus Johansson, who had a super second period, got hurt in that frame and left with a lower body injury…Johansson, John Carlson, and Troy Brouwer had the Caps first 3 goals…the Caps went 3 for 4 on the power play while Carolina was only 1 for 5…Next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended or watched the Caps-Flyers contest today, you saw one wild hockey game.

After a strong start by the Capitals, Philadelphia rebounded to tie the game late in the first period, dominated the second frame, and scored two quick goals early in the third period to take a 4-1 advantage. The third of those four goals came from Sean Couturier from the corner and behind the goal line. He shot the puck off of Philipp Grubauer and into the cage for a goal that deflated the Caps and the crowd. Then when Jakub Voracek deflected a Michael Raffl shot home at 3:32 of the final frame (74 seconds after the third goal), it looked like the Flyers would avenge the 7-0 drubbing they took from the Capitals back on November 1st.

But not so fast with the 2013-14 Capitals, who had already come back four times after two periods to win contests this season. The Caps started getting pucks and bodies to the net and Mike Green’s goal with 8:40 left gave Washington life. After a failed power play, the Caps kept the pressure on and Dmitry Orlov lasered one by Steve Mason with 3:31 to go after a face off win and suddenly it was a one goal hockey game. The Verizon Center crowd went nuts and the Capitals kept on coming with wave after wave like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. With Grubauer pulled and the extra attacker on, Mason decided to try and play the puck behind his own net but he gave it right to Joel Ward. #42 then found a streaking Alex Ovechkin in the slot and the Gr8 doesn’t fail in the clutch, snapping one by Mason giving the Capitals their third goal in just under eight minutes to send the game to overtime.

The Caps would go on to win, 2-1, in the gimmick and improve to 18-12-3 (39 points), good for a four point lead over the third place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division.

Trying to make sense of this game, quite honestly, makes little sense. Green told me afterwards that the vast swings in play were simply typical momentum shifts you see in games. He said that there are real no answers for it. #52 is probably right.

Both the Caps and the Flyers wanted this game very badly and were giving all they had at various times. Washington did manage to get those last three goals by getting pucks to the point for shots with traffic. Green stated afterwards that the coaches and players noticed that Philly was sagging back and that the forwards were reminded that the defensemen were getting room to shoot. With big guns like Green, John Carlson, and Orlov on the point, it made sense for the Caps to “simplify” as Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) called it and get shots with traffic on Mason. Clearly it worked and the Flyers were likely guilty of thinking they had the game won when they were up 3 pucks.

With the Caps offensive skills, they are rarely out of a game these days.

Once the game goes to the skills exhibition, it’s anyone’s to win. However, Grubauer said that he watched video of the two previous shootouts this week and he learned some things from it. He said that his objective was not to commit and make the first move because it gives the shooter an advantage that they often capitalize on. Only world class forward Claude Giroux got one by the German goalie while Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the shootout. Grubauer made 24 saves plus the two shootout stops and is now 3-0-1. He made some great saves at other times during this contest, but would definitely like the second and third goals back. With the Caps going to Philadelphia on Tuesday for round three of the season series, I’d imagine that Braden Holtby gets the nod in the cage given his good record on Broad Street.

As for Ovechkin, he had a sweet pass to set up Johansson for the first goal on the power play and his tying tally was his 27th goal of the season. He had seven shots on net in 25:08 of ice time. He, Green, Johansson, and numerous others were way better than they’d been in Florida on Friday and that was a big reason the Caps came back. The Flyers let off the gas and appeared to run out of energy too. Perhaps they used up too much fuel when they seized the middle portion of the game?

Who knows? Like Green said, there are no easy answers for it.

One thing for sure, though, is this Capitals team has character and does not fold the tent when down. Five of their victories have now come from third period rallies and that is very impressive.

The naysayers will complain about too many wins coming from shootouts or state that they are in a weak division, but this team has been in nearly every game this season. They are still figuring out the best way to play on the back end under Oates’ system and that has been complicated by a rotation of different personnel on defense. The coach told me after the game that he prefers that his defensemen move the puck within the first five feet once they get it, and that has to be an adjustment for guys like Green and Orlov, who like to carry the biscuit. Perhaps that is why #52 has been very up and down this season?

Former Coach Bruce Boudreau called Green the “One Man Breakout” and Orlov has that capability too. But if your head coach doesn’t prefer that style, one would have to think that would cause mistakes and an adjustment period? It’s something to continue to watch as the season progresses. Do the players adhere to Oates’ preferred method or is there a give and take between players and coaches to maximize some seriously strong defensive puck handling ability on the back end that the Caps could and probably should take advantage of? After all, what if Glen Sather told Paul Coffey he couldn’t skate with the puck more than five feet, how would that have worked out in Edmonton?

Oates is a smart hockey mind and I understand why he wants the puck moved up as quickly as possible. If a defensemen is coming with speed, he can pass the puck and then get it back from a player who is further up the ice. The puck moves faster than the players, at least that is the philosophy of the strategy, but if the forwards aren’t open or are being taken away by the opposition then the defensemen certainly have to adjust, right? It’s an interesting topic and I’m guessing that there have been many discussions on it between the head coach, assistant Calle Johansson, and some of the defensemen.

Whatever they end up doing, one thing is for sure: you can’t win hockey games with a bad defense. The Caps need to find a way to maximize the skills they have back there. Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing great hockey but the team needs Green and Orlov to play at a strong level too for Washington to be a puck possession dominating club.

Stay tuned.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play due to illness and that forced Oates to move Jay Beagle to center Troy Brouwer and Fehr while Michael Latta was recalled from Hershey and centered the fourth line. Nate Schmidt was sent to Chocolatetown to make room for #46, who ended up leaving the game early with a lower body injury. Latta did have a good scrap with Zac Rinaldo in period two. Steve Oleksy fought Wayne Simmonds early in period three, right before the third Philly goal…Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 33-28, but the Flyers won the shot attempt battle, 55-50…Washington was 40-29 from the dot, including some big offensive zone draw wins in the final 10 minutes…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 29:38.

 

 

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Grubauer Shines in Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps comeback win on Tuesday against Tampa, I blogged that Washington was lucky to win after a poor effort.

The next day I stated on twitter (@EdFrankovic) that I was more happy with the way they played against Carolina in a loss the previous week than in the victory over the Bolts and hoped that Adam Oates could get his team to play better heading into the weekend.

On Friday night in Florida, that did not happen. Washington was downright terrible through most of this game and if not for the goaltending of Philipp Grubauer and his 39 saves, some of which were of the ten bell variety, the Caps would have been smoked in regulation. But thanks to the performance of the young Caps goalie and a stupid and dirty penalty by Florida defensemen Erik Gudbranson on Eric Fehr, the Capitals scored two goals and managed to take this tilt to the 10th round of the shootout before losing.

The defeat drops the Caps to 17-12-3 heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Perhaps Washington was looking ahead to the Flyers game? After all, it is the first time these two teams will meet since the Ray Emery assault on Braden Holtby. In that win the Capitals beat the rear ends off of the Broad Street Knuckleheads, 7-0. So Sunday’s game is sure to a be a good one with lots of energy and intensity.

As for the game against the Cats, Washington had little energy or intensity after an early push that saw bad zebras Brad Watson and Jean Hebert disallow Mike Green’s goal due to mythical goalie interference and blow a quick whistle that cost Alex Ovechkin his 27th goal of the season. The referees were downright terrible in the opening frame and it took video review to get Joel Ward’s game tying tally late in period two to count, as well. In addition, several Caps players were not good to include Green, Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson. All three of those guys, who are counted on to produce, had nowhere near their “A” games in Sunrise.

On the positive side of things, Dmitry Orlov was outstanding with his play. He skated well and moved the puck out of the Caps zone superbly when he was on the ice. #81 had 20 minutes of ice time and looked like the top 4 defensemen that GM George McPhee has been hoping he’d be since he selected him in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft.

A few other guys played hard and well in this one, Fehr and Ward fall into that category.

But overall, this was a stinky performance and the team did not work hard at all. Maybe they overlooked the Panthers with Filthy coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday?

Right now, I don’t have the answers, but this effort after Tuesday’s weak one is a concerning mini trend.

In hockey, if you don’t bring the proper effort you will likely lose. The Caps have managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat the last two games and get three points when the effort hasn’t really been there consistently.

On Sunday, against the hated Flyers, there are no excuses for not bringing both intensity and effort.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 26:02…Ovechkin played 24:51 but only had three shot attempts (2 on goal)…the Caps were outshot 41-25, including 37-20 at even strength…Fehr went to the locker room after the dirty hit but returned for the third period and appeared to be okay. Gudbranson will get at least two games for that cheap head shot.

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Ovechkin’s 4 Goals Rallies Caps Past Bolts in Shootout

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Ovechkin’s 4 Goals Rallies Caps Past Bolts in Shootout

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There is something about snow that tends to bring out the best in Alexander Ovechkin, so it’s no coincidence that one of his nicknames, besides the Gr8, is Snovechkin.

On Tuesday night, in a game the Capitals really had no business winning, Alex Snovechkin scored four goals, including the game tying tally with just 33 seconds left in regulation.

Washington would go on to win in the shootout, 6-5, and steal two points from a hard working and undermanned Tampa Bay Lightning club.

Ovechkin had the four markers and his center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and four helpers for a five point night. Those two guys, along with rookie Philip Grubauer in net and some good fortune, are the reason the Caps scraped out two points after trailing 3-0 early on.

The Caps looked nothing like the team that manhandled the Rangers on Sunday at the Garden as the Lightning, without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, came out flying while several Capitals coasted through their early shifts. Most notable was defensemen Mike Green who had the worst period I’ve ever seen #52 play. He took four minors, a 10 minute misconduct, and badly misplayed the two on one break that gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead and chased starter Braden Holtby. #70 wasn’t that bad, but clearly Adam Oates wanted to wake his sleep walking team up, at that point.

The move eventually helped and Ovechkin would get yet another goal this season off of a face off in the opening frame to give the Caps some life. Then when the Bolts Richard Panik took a major for boarding Karl Alzner late in period two, the Gr8 scored twice on the power play to send this one tied, at 4-4, to the third period.

At that point one would think the Caps would take over and win this one against a depleted Tampa squad, but the Bolts are well coached by John Cooper and they carried much of the play. They grabbed the lead when Martin St. Louis, who is one of the smallest but also one of the best players in the NHL, set up Ondrej Palat in the slot at 8:36 of the final period. St. Louis is a Caps killer and he had three points in this game. His work ethic is amazing and several Capitals could learn a lot from watching him.

Work ethic was something that was not there for many Capitals in this tilt. Washington was too fancy and made many bad passes. Martin Erat had a hat trick of giveaways, one of which led to a goal. It should have been three for three if not for Grubauer’s great goaltending on the other two occassions. The Capitals forwards did a mostly lousy job of helping out their defense in this game and Oates will have plenty of video to show of their mistakes.

But the good news is this Capitals team is resilient. They don’t quit and they keep scrapping. It really helps to have skill and talent and Ovechkin and Backstrom took over to save the day on a night when many Washington players just didn’t bring their better performances to the rink.

On Tuesday the Caps did just enough to win, they should be thankful that snowstorms, even an over hyped one like the area had today, brings out the best in their captain.

It was the Alexander Ovechkin show on Tuesday. That’s now 26 goals in 29 games this season. To quote the Gr8, that is “Sick, Unbelievable…”

Notes: Eric Fehr, who is playing super and brought his game on Tuesday, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the gimmick for the Caps…Grubauer got his 2nd NHL win in his 1st career NHL shootout…because the Caps were trailing the fourth line played sparingly and Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson played less than five minutes each…the Caps are now 17-12-2 (36 points)…John Carlson played an all worldly 34:48 in this one…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-22 and Backstrom was 15-7…Washington was 3 for 5 on the power play while Tampa went 2 for 5…Green was a lot better after his misconduct and had an assist. The referees were not the problem for him in the opening frame, it was his lack of skating and too much reliance on using his stick. Lazy hockey, plain and simple.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin, Caps Rout Predators, 5-2

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, if you play the right way, good things usually happen.

On Tuesday night, Washington played the right way for the first 30 minutes against Carolina but ended up losing, primarily on goaltending. On Saturday night, the Capitals once again came out the correct way, but this time they received the expected result, racing to an early 3-0 lead and cruising to a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Troy Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Eric Fehr all tallied in a much needed win that pushes the Caps record to 15-12-2 (32 points), good for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Going up and down the roster on Saturday night, every player contributed in this victory and Caps Coach Adam Oates has to be happy about that. His team did a nice job of getting pucks and bodies to the net and that allowed them to score more goals. Sure Nashville misses goalie Pekka Rinne, who is one of the league’s best, but Washington made it tough on backup Marek Mazanec with an increased net presence.

Defensemen Patrick Wey received his first NHL game tonight replacing Tyson Strachan, who was sent back to Hershey before hitting the 10 game limit that eventually would require #23 to clear waivers to go to Chocolatetown, and he acquitted himself well playing with Dmitry Orlov. Since #81 has gotten into the lineup the Capitals puck movement out of their own zone has been on the uptick (last three games). Every defensemen played well on Saturday. Schmidt notched his 1st NHL goal, Alzner scored his first ever tally at the Verizon Center, and Mike Green and John Carlson were dominant. #74 was +3 on the night. I’m not a big +/- stat guy, but that number was reflective of Carlson’s performance against Nashville. He is playing super and Preds GM David Poile, who doubles as Team USA GM, has to be pretty happy about having Carlson on the American Olympic team roster in Sochi in February.

Up front, Martin Erat (1 assist) had a productive night against his old team and he clicked as the center with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. Both of those wingers, #’s  25 and 42, have continued to make whomever their 3rd line mate is look good this season. As I said above, up and down the lineup there were strong performances. Tom Wilson continues to impress and at some point, he will deserve more ice time. Washington has a surplus of forwards and they’ve now used 12 defensemen this season. That is number one in the NHL. The defense, after Green, Carlson, and Alzner, is extremely inexperienced. Schmidt is playing super but it’s a long season and then comes the playoffs. Once everyone is healthy up front, and Brooks Laich doesn’t appear to be close to that right now, a trade to get a more experienced and top 4 D seems necessary.

Right now, what matters is playing properly and getting wins. This was a victory against a Western Conference team and in regulation. Washington played well and deserved the two points, now they go to New York on Sunday night to take on the despised New York Rangers. A victory there would be big for this team. If they play the same way they did tonight and get pucks and bodies to the net, the Caps will finally be able to dent Henrik Lundqvist, assuming he’s in net for the Blueshirts.

Notes: Lundqvist took the loss for the Rags against the Devils tonight so it’s not clear if the $59.5M man will start against Washington on Sunday. One would imagine that Oates comes back with Holtby at Madison Square Garden. Braden is great in Saturday night games and once again he produced a victory. It must be the Hockey Night in Canada influence that gets #70 to raise the bar on Saturday tilts…the Caps were 1-4 on the power play and Ovechkin now has 136 career PP goals, one behind the Capitals all time leader, Peter Bondra. The Gr8 has 22 goals in 27 games, a staggering pace…Wilson beat up Rich Clune after the Predator tried to change the momentum of the game. #43 is tough and is already in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom each had two assists…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-30.

 

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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

Posted on 30 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, what a finish, and I’m not talking about Auburn-Alabama.

The Washington Capitals, who could’ve put the game away in the second period by burying some golden opportunities, looked dead to rights after the Islanders took the lead with 1:51 left in the third period and then Mike Green was correctly whistled for an interference penalty just 41 clicks later.

But the Caps showed some serious resolve and mental toughness as Karl Alzner made a great pinch on the left wing boards to get the puck behind the net to Jason Chimera and then #25 hit a streaking Nicklas Backstrom in the slot and #19 one timed it by Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson with 49 ticks left in regulation for an unlikely shorthanded game tying tally.

The Capitals would then kill off those final 49 third period seconds of the Green infraction and then 50 more into overtime. Over a minute later, Alexander Ovechkin scored from the slot five hole on Nilsson after a nifty drop pass from Mikhail Grabovski and it gave Washington a huge two points on Long Island. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 21st goal and the 5th time he has scored in OT in his career to defeat the Islanders (h/t @ehornick). The victory improves Washington to 14-11-2 (30 points) and keeps them two points ahead of the third place New York Rangers.

Washington led 1-0 heading into the final frame thanks to a hard working goal by the Caps fourth line of Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti at 8:58 into period two. Erat got the puck into the slot where Wilson used his size and strength to get two shots on Nilsson before Volpatti slapped it home. After that goal the Caps had some golden opportunities to expand their lead but Backstrom and Green both missed the net from in close in the slot when all alone.

Those misses looked like they might haunt Washington after they gave up a shorthanded goal to Cal Clutterbuck at 3:59 of period three, who got a breakaway when Green let a puck get by him at the Islanders blue line. It was another dismal power play for the Caps in their only try of the night. When Vanek scored just inside the two minute mark after a goal mouth scramble that had Braden Holtby (37 saves) incensed, it sure looked like it would be a rough defeat in a game Washington deserved at least a point.

But Coach Adam Oates’ crew didn’t quit and Backstrom’s laser made up for his earlier miss. Ovechkin sealed the deal like a true assassin to provide a very huge win and give the Caps a two game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s tilt at the Verizon Center against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Defensemen Dmitry Orlov made his season debut on Saturday and was very solid in 13:41 of work. Hopefully 81′s agent wises up and rescinds his ridiculous trade demand. As for the other player demanding out, Erat played hard and assisted on the first tally but his offensive zone turnover helped lead to the Islanders shorthanded breakaway.

On defense, Alzner and John Carlson led the way again, playing 23:20 and 24:40, respectively. Overall, the Caps moved the puck much better with Orlov in for Alex Urbom on the back end. There are still improvements to be made, but Orlov looks more like an NHLer than some of the other guys who’ve been playing. He just needs to get some steady work now that he’s fully recovered from last year’s injuries. Dima wasn’t tentative at all tonight, like he was in preseason, so the time in the AHL definitely benefited him.

New York is a team that in recent years has given the Caps trouble because of their speed and a struggling Islanders club gave it all they had tonight, making it difficult for the Caps to put them away. Then it sure looked like Washington had handed the game to New York before Backstrom, Oveckhin, and company snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

There are no style points in the NHL, two points is two points.

But the way the Caps came back and showed mental resolve makes this victory feel like more than two points.

Time will tell if this kind of come back victory is one that propels Washington to improved play and a long winning streak, but for tonight, I’ll just leave you with a classic line from Baltimore broadcasting legend Chuck Thompson.

Ain’t The Beer Cold!

 

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Ovechkin Tallies Again, But Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight night, the Washington Capitals ran into a hot goalie and lost a hockey game.

The good news, was that on Saturday evening, the Caps picked up a point since it took the shootout for the Toronto Maple Leafs to defeat Washington, 2-1.

There were lots of good things for the Caps in this one. They dominated the game and the shot totals, 50-28 in shots on goal and 101-54 in shot attempts. That’s some serious puck possession there, primarily because they played better getting out of their own zone. Alex Ovechkin scored late in regulation off a beautiful Mike Green sand wedge to tie this one after it looked like David Clarkson’s power play deflection tally might be the only one to hold up.

It was a very entertaining hockey game and James Reimer was the difference. Given that the Caps played the night before and didn’t get into the Big Smoke until the wee early hours of Saturday morning, Coach Adam Oates must be pleased with the effort he received. Oates inserted Eric Fehr into the lineup and took out 32 year old Martin Erat to add energy in a tough back to back situation. The move worked as Brooks Laich, moving down to center Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, had his best game of the season and the second line of Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer were strong too.

Grabovski though, had a scary moment catching Clarkson’s skate to the face after Joffrey Lupul used his stick to take Grabovski down to spring a Leafs 4 on 2 rush near the end of period two. Grabovski needed more than 20 stitches to close two cuts and is fortunate to not have lost his eye. I’m not sure what the referees were doing there, but the move by Lupul to take 84 down was clearly either any of hooking, high sticking or interference?

Fehr would score first in the shootout and it looked like Washington might get the win, but then James Van Riemsdyk tallied and Nicklas Backstrom’s attempt to win the game on his 26th birthday failed. Lupul, a big time Capitals killer (see game 7 in 2008), beat Braden Holtby and Troy Brouwer didn’t convert as Washington dropped to 5-2 in the gimmick this season. Overall the Caps are now 12-10-2 on the season, good for 26 points and second place in a tightening Metropolitan Division (the Rangers and Flyers both won again).

Ovechkin now has 20 goals in 22 games, so don’t tell me Oates can’t coach. The bench boss has turned the Gr8 back into the purest goal scorer in the NHL again.

As mentioned above, the biggest reason for the Washington domination was the play on the back end. Green had a really strong game and John Carlson was flat out dominant once again proving that he not only should make Team USA for the Sochi Olympic Games, but he just might be the best right handed defensemen on the team the way he is playing. Even more encouraging was the performance of Nate Schmidt. I’ve liked #88 since his first game in Baltimore back in September, but he probably would’ve have been best having a season in the AHL to hone his craft. Tonight though, Schmidt was outstanding with his decision making, stepping up in the neutral zone when necessary, and it culminated in his best game of the season. He’s playing due to injuries, but the rookie is doing all he can to help the team. Give credit to assistant coach Calle Johansson too, after Carlson, Green, and Karl Alzner, the other guys playing defense aren’t household NHL players but somehow Calle had these guys playing above their skill level on Saturday.

If there are some things not to like about this loss that featured a great team effort, it is probably the power play going 0 for 3 on the night (10 shots on goal) along with Washington’s inability to get a lot of traffic on Reimer. The Leafs were not going to let Ovechkin score with the man advantage and Brouwer and Ward didn’t capitalize on their opportunities. Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will need to adjust that unit again to get more traffic. Carlson had several point blasts but Reimer saw nearly all of them cleanly. One other thing to dislike were the face off totals. Toronto won that battle handily, 39-24.

So the Caps end up a back to back weekend against the Habs and Leafs going 0-1-1 despite carrying the play in five of the six periods. Peter Budaj and Reimer were the difference makers and the Capitals inability to get traffic and rebounds didn’t help the cause. That’s an area to work on going forward.

Still, the fact that Washington’s puck possession numbers were much better the last two nights is encouraging. I credit a lot of that to getting #52 back in the lineup. Green doesn’t get paid $6M+ per season for nothing. With Green and Carlson playing the right side for over 80% of the game, Washington is a different team than when they are only with one of them. In addition, the other defenders amped up their game and minimized their mistakes.

Notes: Washington’s next game is at home against the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving Eve…assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Leydig, worked his 2,000th NHL game on Saturday night. Woody has been with the Caps since the 80′s and is one of those guys that just shows up and does his job every night. He’s a well known “good guy” around the league.

 

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Oates Frustrated After Caps Comeback Falls Short

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Adam Oates was notably upset after this one, and that is highly unusual.

The normally calm bench boss who does a great job of answering post game questions, win or lose, was frustrated and he said as much as he closed down his presser.

He was frustrated at his team, particularly some of the “veterans” who aren’t helping the younger guys.

My take is he was also frustrated with an officiating crew that somehow had the power plays five to two in favor of Montreal despite the fact that the Caps carried the large majority of the play for the last 44 minutes.

More importantly, he knew that all of the energy his club spent trying to come back from a 3-0 deficit was mostly wasted and could potentially hurt them for their game on Saturday night in Toronto. The Caps will face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada and they will not be getting in to the Big Smoke until early Saturday morning after having to clear customs.

The problem in Friday’s game was Washington came out sluggish, looking like the team that was dominated by Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and they dug themselves a 3-0 hole. Oates called the errors some of the same ones his team has been making over and over. There were wrong reads on passes (Alex Urbom’s pass to Mikhail Grabovski that led to the first goal), bad icing penalties which caused his club to give up a face-off goal due to bad coverage by some inexperienced defensemen (Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt), and poor penalty killing technique (Strachan and Urbom) that allowed the Habs to get a tap in goal from Daniel Briere, which was the eventual game winner.

The veterans Oates was likely upset with on the face off goal were the team’s first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. Those guys needed to be better with the puck in that situation and not get whistled for icing with a weaker defensive pairing on the ice.

Still, despite the early ugliness, there were lots of good things that occurred. Perhaps it was because Montreal relaxed or maybe because Washington simply played better?

I’m going with the latter. It was clear that Mike Green, who returned after missing three games, was rusty in period one. Oates called him “shaky” in that period but after the first frame, suddenly the Caps were coming out of their zone much better. A lot of that has to do with #52′s ability to move the puck. John Carlson (two assists) continued to be his dominant self so Oates was back to having a strong right side defense and those two players were on the ice for a combined 45+ minutes. It’s no surprise to me that the Capitals are a much better club and have the puck more often when both Green and Carlson are in the lineup.

The Caps had a ton of scoring chances the last 40 minutes but this game was won by one person, Peter Budaj. The former Colorado goalie stopped both Aaron Volpatti and Backstrom on breakaways in the middle frame and he came up large on several other situations where the Capitals were putting on extreme pressure. Only two Ovechkin goals got by him, one that hit the leg of Josh Gorges and changed direction and the other on a Gr8 deflection of a Carlson blast. Ovechkin now has 19 goals in 21 games played this season.

In the NHL though, playing well doesn’t ensure you get any standing points and the Caps fall to 12-10-1 after this defeat. It stings because a strong final two stanzas is negated by a bad start, once again. It’s hard to determine why this team struggles out of the gate because they are a good skating team. Somehow they are too sloppy early and that seems to be a mental thing.

Still, despite the loss, the way Washington dominated the last two thirds of the game, except when they had to kill off some silly penalty calls (i.e, Brooks Laich hold, Martin Erat roughing), is encouraging. After being outshot heavily at even strength in the three games Green was out, the Caps found themselves dead even in even strength shots on goal at 21 each with the Habs. Shot attempts for the game were 66-57 in favor of Washington and that is pretty significant when you consider that Rob Martell and Dan O’Halloran gifted Montreal with three extra man advantage situations. How does that Peter Laviolette line about the refs and the Canadiens from 24/7 go again?!

But enough on that, the zebras make mistakes, as Ovechkin told me afterwards. The Gr8 stated it was okay and everyone makes mistakes, he just would have liked to have seen his club get a call late like it sure seemed they deserved.

But that’s hockey and sports, in general. Some nights you have to play good enough to overcome the opposition and the guys in the stripes.

The Caps nearly pulled that off, but a hot Habs goalie and a bad first 16 minutes were the recipe for defeat.

Notes: Carlson’s chances of making Team USA for the Olympics continues to go up. I chatted with Team USA scout and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell on Friday and he was lavish in his praise of #74. Judging by our conversation, if Waddell was picking the team, Carlson would be on it. But David Poile is the GM of Team USA so he has the final say. Still, the way Carlson is going, he seems like a lock to me…The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the house for this one and in typical #99 fashion, he signed lots of autographs while sitting in owner Ted Leonsis’ box…Washington dominated from the faceoff dot, 45-32. Backstrom was 14-7…the Caps second line of Laich, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer struggled for the first 40 minutes but they looked a little more cohesive in the third period. Erat played center and Laich moved to left wing. Those guys could really use a goal to get some confidence back.

 

 

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