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Ovechkin’s Three Apples Puts the Caps Back in First Place

Posted on 30 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It had been 11 games since the Washington Capitals came out and jumped on a team to tally the first two goals in the first period (December 6th vs. Chicago). On Saturday night the Caps did just that to take advantage of a Devils team that played on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win at Capital One Arena.

Alex Ovechkin (three apples), Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists), and John Carlson (goal, two assists) all had three points each as Washington received a very strong performance from their top line and top blue liner to improve their record to 24-13-3 (51 points) and put them back in first place in the Metropolitan Division by a point. New Jersey (22-1-6) has two games in hand.

Braden Holtby was super solid in net making 25 of 27 saves and the Capitals will close out December with a perfect eight wins in eight tries at Capital One Arena. There is no place like home for Coach Barry Trotz’ club and they have now won 15 of their last 17 in front of their very boisterous fan base.

Here are my thoughts and analysis of this win that came at the end of some brutal scheduling:

Schedule Craziness This was the third game in four nights for both teams and Washington also played back to back before the Christmas break. So that’s effectively five games in six possible nights for the Caps and despite a three game losing skid in there, they came out of it 2-1-2 (six points). So even with a bit of a rough patch with no practice time, Trotz and company managed to survive and reclaim 1st place heading into Tuesday’s tilt in Carolina.

Tom Wilson’s War This is a trick title to this bullet because based on it you’d think that number 43 was dropping the gloves to announce his presence with authority again. Nope, Willy is doing it with his stick. Just 2:26 into this affair, now third line Tom went to the net and finished off a beautiful pass from Christian Djoos with Brett Connolly parked at the top of the paint. Wilson slid in behind #10 and after the sweet feed from the rookie blue liner, he snapped it by Cory Schneider (30 saves). Wilson, who earlier in December seemed to help Ovi and Backy get out of their funks with his stint on the top line, was bumped down in Thursday’s rally over Boston to jump start Lars Eller and Connolly to get them motoring again. #43 did just that and he’s on pace to shatter his total for points in a season. Tom now has six goals and 12 assists in 36 games and he’s a staggering +11 this year. Wilson helped Lars Eller lead the team in shot attempt percentage on the night (15 for and six against, 71.43%).

Top Line Production After a rough first shift, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Devante Smith-Pelly line really got it going. Djoos was the recipient of a great passing play to make it 2-0 at 11:09 of period one when he dropped the puck to Ovi coming across the blue line and then kept going to the net. The Gr8 then fed Backstrom with a sweet diagonal feed and Nicky went cross ice to #29, who snuck the puck behind Schneider into the yawning cage for a layup. That one was prettier than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and it was the type of start the Caps needed against a tired opponent. The top line would also set up Matt Niskanen for another layup in the third frame, to make it 4-1 just 4:25 into that stanza. Nisky carried the puck across the offensive blue line and once again it was a drop pass to Ovechkin that was the key to the sequence. Ovi fed DSP with another gem and #25 went cross ice to #2 for the second tic-tac-toe tally of the night for a defensemen. The three forwards on the Caps top line had 23 of the 47 shot attempts from Caps centers or wingers. Ovi logged 20 minutes and had nine shot attempts (six on net), Backstrom played 19:48 and had four shot attempts, and DSP had 10 in 16:25 (but only four hit the net).

Blueline Hat Trick I mentioned the key Djoos and Niskanen tallies, but Carlson also scored for Washington to make it a trio of goals for Caps defensemen. This one came on a second period power play that generated several quality chances. Schneider made some big saves to keep it a 2-1 game, but Washington would not allow the Devils to clear and Backstrom fed a pinching in from the point #74 nicely and Johnny rocketed it by #35 to restore a Capitals two goal lead. That power play marker at 7:01 really took some life from the Devils and set the stage for a third period where Washington kept the hammer down. The Caps have now gotten a goal from their previously struggling power play in each of the last two tilts and it is looking better as there’s been crisper passing and more movement.

Two In, Two Out Coach Trotz made two interesting lineup changes on Saturday. He scratched Andre Burakovsky, who has been pretty much terrible since his great game in Dallas on December 19th, and he put Chandler Stephenson back in. #18 is fast and his speed is a good match for New Jersey. I don’t expect #65 to be out for more than a game as the organization really needs him if they want to go deep into the post season. The other change was to get an up and down Madison Bowey a view from the press box so he can course correct some of his recent turnover struggles. Inserted into his spot was Taylor Choreny, who had a relatively unimpressive 13:25 of action. #4 had no shot attempts, but he also had no official giveaways. He was on the ice for the Devils first tally and that was a result of one of his failed clears. I’d expect Bowey to be back in against the Canes on Tuesday.

Overall, this was a very tidy win for the Caps, who are really making home ice pay off for them. Coach Trotz gets the last change and the crowd definitely helps the energy level. For the first in time in over three weeks, they had more significantly more energy than their opponent in the early going and that fast start took a lot of hope from the Devils. Washington’s passing was much cleaner in this affair and that helped negate a New Jersey forecheck, as well as their speed. Djoos had a quality game, except for a turnover and poor coverage on Travis Zajac’s goal that made it 4-2 with 11 minutes left. Christian is definitely improving and that is another key to the Capitals potential post season success. #29 has the ability to step up with his speed and stop opposing rushes while creating offense the other way.

Notes: It was another post concussion quiet night from T.J. Oshie (+1), who logged only 12:10. The Osh Babe had one shot attempt (blocked) and it came after he passed up a great chance in the high slot…the Caps out shot attempted the Devils, 67-60…Carlson led the Caps in time on ice with 25:58. Dmitry Orlov continues to excel on the back end and he played 21:27, was +1, and had three hits…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-25. Jay Beagle was dominant, going 13-3. Backstrom (7-10) also had a couple of huge wins on draws in the last minute when the Devils pulled Schneider and it led to his empty net tally…the Caps gave former #90, Marcus Johansson, a warm reception in his first game back in DC and a nice video tribute to boot…with the win, Coach Trotz now sits fifth all time in NHL coaching victories with 737 (passed Lindy Ruff).

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Ovi Ducks

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Ten Caps Thoughts After Washington Surges to the Metropolitan Division Lead

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With the Capitals rallying to knock off the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s howitzer of a shot on Saturday night, here are 10 thoughts on the Caps after their sixth straight home victory.

Home Sweet Home – after dropping three of their first four on Capital One Arena ice this season, the Caps have won 13 of 15 at their barn and have used home cooking to take over sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 21-12-1 record (43 points). Washington is using the last change and a typically boisterous atmosphere to their advantage. The only bad thing about playing in DC has been the ice and it was just awful on Saturday night after an afternoon college hoops game. Brooks Orpik was being nice in his post first period interview with Smokin’ Al Koken when he said “the ice is terrible tonight.” Can’t that local college find their own gym to play in?

Quality Scoring Chances – There have been many Capitals games lately, especially on the road (see Boston), where they’ve lived off of their all world goalie, Braden Holtby. However, in the Ducks game, it was Washington who carried most of the play in the game taking what I charted as a 24-17 edge in scoring chances. The shot attempts for the game were 69-60 for the Capitals, including 68-60 at even strength. In five on five chances, the Caps had a plus nine advantage (67-58). The Caps have not been as dominant in the puck possession department as past years, primarily because they lost a few high end players and are breaking in some rookies at forward and defense. Going forward you’d like to see more domination from Washington in that department as the lineup is starting to solidify itself.

Puck Management – If there is one area where the Capitals really need to improve, it’s with their play with the puck in all three zones, but primarily in their own end and the neutral zone. Up front the Caps are doing a better job of eliminating the cross ice passes as they come into the offensive zone and they are playing more of a north-south game. On the back end they’ve been very careless with the biscuit in stretches lately. These turnovers, whether they are bad execution on a pass or a poor decision, like some of the defensive or neutral zone cross ice plays we still occasionally see, need to be brought to a minimum. Cleaning those up will lead to more speed through the neutral zone and more shot attempts and quality scoring chances.

Odd Man Rushes – the Capitals have done a pretty good job of limiting opponents odd man rushes during this stretch in December where they’ve won seven of eight games, but Anaheim had several on Saturday night. The first one led to Derek Grant’s sweet top shelf marker that made it 1-0 in period one. Dmitry Orlov was playing the system properly when he held the left wing boards in the offensive zone, but when the puck went by him it was a Ducks two on one where Grant held the biscuit and then beat Holtby with a great shot. That was not #9’s fault there, although some will place blame on him. It’s up to the third forward to read the play in the offensive zone, and in that case, Devante Smith-Pelly failed to realize that he was the player who needed to be up inside the offensive blue line to cut off a cross ice breakout pass if the puck changed hands. The coaches won’t like the poor execution on that play. Another odd man rush ensued when Lars Eller fell at the offensive blue line, likely due to the bad playing surface, and the Ducks had a two on one the other way. The veteran Orpik, however, played it perfectly and forced a lower quality shot that the Holtbeast (28 saves) easily snared and put of harm’s way. In the statistics department Orpik gets dinged with a shot attempt against (and the Corsi crowd loves to call #44 out on that stat), but the 37 year old, in a bad situation, made a heads up play to prevent a goal. Corsi is a nice stat, but it needs to be taken in context and should never be used as an end all be all analysis metric, it’s just one piece of the overall puzzle. Hockey is chaos theory and totally non-linear, so you can’t quantify what happens on pure mathematics alone (and I have a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University to back that up).

The Post Man Always Rings How Many Times? – the Ducks hit the post three times in the middle frame. The first was their power play goal after an Andre Burakovsky hooking fraction. This tally came directly off of the faceoff when Jakob Silverberg deflected Ryan Getzlaf’s point shot down and past Holtby. The puck hit the right pipe behind Braden and banked back in off of #70’s pads for a 2-0 lead. The second post was struck by Adam Henrique after he hooked Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal) and somehow got away with it at the defensive blue line. His backhander fortunately did not find the twine because the zebras clearly were sleeping. That stick to the midsection of #92 should be an AUTOMATIC call these days. Finally, the Ducks hit one more post that could have made it 3-0 in the second half of period two when Washington was struggling with their puck management.

John Blutarsky’s GPA – the zebras, Graham Skilliter and Ian Walsh, did Washington no favors in the man advantage department on Saturday night. They missed the Henrique hook on Kuznetsov that could’ve been disastrous and they also missed a trip by the Ducks on Tom Wilson in the middle frame when Washington was down two pucks. I also thought that Francois Beauchemin got away with a cross check on Jakub Vrana in period three with the game tied. #13 was about to split the Ducks D with his blazing speed, much like he did in Beantown on Thursday night on his goal, when #23 knocks him to the ground with two hands on his stick. That’s cross checking according to the rule book. You have to love the way Vrana is playing, he had a great assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but the zebras gave the Caps no power plays in this affair, for no good reason other than they might have a had an early post game dinner or plane to catch. It was a 0.0 Caps power play night.

Top Line Domination – I didn’t like the play of the Capitals top line for most of this week, especially on the road in Brooklyn and in Boston. Washington managed to get a W against the Bruins thanks to Holtby and some timely goals from Vrana and Alex Chiasson. On Saturday, the dominant top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson was back. Those guys were racking up the quality shot totals in this affair and John Gibson (24 saves) did all he could in the first 30 minutes to hold that line at bay. Wilson also hit the post early in period one right before fighting Kevin Bieksa. The heavy Caps top unit was strong on the forecheck in this affair and it was that style that led to the goal that ignited the Capitals comeback early in the third period. Wilson picked off an errant Ducks clear in the right wing circle and he made a super cross ice pass to Ovi, who quickly fired the disc on net. Gibson made a super save but couldn’t handle the rebound. Backstrom was right there for it and he adeptly kicked the puck to his stick and fired it near post for his fourth goal in the last six games. Ovechkin then won the game in OT WAY late in his shift when he rushed the puck into the offensive zone and just fired away while two new Caps were coming on the ice. Gibson had a hard time picking that shot up because Brandon Montour put his stick in the shooting lane. The rifled blast struck iron, which erupted the Capital One Arena crowd and sent them home happy for the holidays.

Christmas Vacation – Washington’s nice run of home games comes to end now and the Caps will be in Dallas on Tuesday, Arizona on Friday, and then Rock Vegas on Saturday night when they take on the Golden Knights. The Caps have had a propensity to play like Cousin Eddie on the road and the Lone Star State has not been friendly to them in franchise history, although Washington won the famous “Dad’s trip pushups celebration” affair last January. The league will shut down for three days (December 24-26) and then the Capitals are right back at it on the road, in Madison Square Garden, against the Rangers on December 27th. The Caps have climbed the ladder in the Metropolitan Division with some quality hockey, but most of that has come at home. Can they keep their roll going out west this week?

Closing Thoughts – On Monday the Capitals will hold their final practice before heading out on the road and the big question will be whether T.J. Oshie participates. If the Osh Babe, who has been skating for over a week now since the Joe Thornton cheap shot to the head back on December 4th, can go, then a forward needs to come out of the lineup. #77 will slot in with Kuznetsov and Vrana bumping the surging Chiasson to the bottom six. I’d like to see more from Burakovsky, as would the coaches, so it’s likely they don’t break that unit up, just yet. That leaves someone on the fourth line as the healthy scratch, and based on Saturday’s game, I’d venture to say that Smith-Pelly will be the odd man out. DSP hasn’t been bad, but Oshie has to go back in and others have been too good to take out.

Notes – Dmitry Orlov continues to play outstanding on the back end and he logged 24:29 of ice time, had four hits, and was +2 against Anaheim…Wilson had an assist, a fight, four hits, four shots on goal, and was +2 in 19:58 on Saturday. He did not get an assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but he made the hit to jar the puck loose to Vrana and then he went to the net, which kept Gibson deep in his cage on #92’s goal. That tally really looked like an intended pass for Willy, which hit the D-man’s skate and went in short side. As Alan May will tell you, good things happen when you get bodies and pucks to the cage…the Gr8 now has 23 goals in 34 games (55 goals pace) and he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

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Holtby Bruins

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Chiasson Scores Twice as Holtby and the Caps beat the Bruins Again

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Chiasson scored two third period goals and Braden Holtby made 34 saves, many of them of the high quality variety, to give the Washington Capitals their 11th straight victory over the Boston Bruins, 5-3, at TD Garden in Beantown.

The win improves the Caps to 20-12-1 (41 points) and they remain tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus defeated the Islanders, 6-4, on Thursday night and they have a game in hand on Coach Barry Trotz’ crew.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of a sleepy game that the Capitals were fortunate to win:

Boston played on Wednesday night late in Detroit and won in overtime. They then had to fly home, fighting a snowstorm to get out of Michigan, before getting into their beds early Thursday morning. So the Caps naturally took advantage of a tired hockey team and ran them out of the rink, right? WRONG! The Bruins were actually the better team in this game, in my opinion. They worked hard in the one on one battles and it resulted in a 74-45 shot attempt differential. Sure, some of that is score effects with the Caps having the lead most of the last 40 minutes, but Washington had too many passengers in this game and they rode some hot plays at the right times.

Who was dialed in for the Capitals? Well, let’s start where we pretty much always start these days, with their goaltender, the Holtbeast. In the second period, the Caps were outshot, 13-3, and the Bruins were all over Washington, but after a Patrice Bergeron snipe on the power play tied the game early in period two, #70 held the fort until the Caps scored on a power play of their own. Holtby’s save percentage for the night was .919, but it should’ve been better had the Capitals not given up two goals in the last five minutes, including another power play tally by Bergeron late where it looked like David Krejci may have tied up Holtby’s stick. But that didn’t matter, Boston lost primarily because Braden kept the door shut for the first 56 minutes while the Caps dialed up a 4-1 lead.

Hot plays at the right time were the difference makers for the Caps. First, Jakub Vrana used his blazing speed to split the Boston defense to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 17:34 of period one. It was Jakub’s 10th goal of the season and he continues to shine since that healthy scratch back on November 16th. You really have to be impressed with how he’s played with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). He keeps going to the net like that and he’ll score a bunch of goals this season.

Going to the net was so important to this win, like it normally is in hockey. Lars Eller had what looked to be an early goal less than two minutes into this tilt when he put home the rebound of a Christian Djoos shot, but it was correctly overturned because the Caps were offside on the zone entry. That’s the type of early goal you like to see and had the Capitals kept going to the net and getting pucks there early and more often, this one may have gone much more smoothly.

Still, it was the net drive that would eventually give Washington the breathing it room it needed down the stretch. After Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal off of a sweet Kuznetsov pass made it 2-1 in the middle frame, the Bruins really came hard at the Caps in period three. Holtby did his usual job to hold off the Bruins and then 7:52 into the final stanza, Djoos made another great play to beat the B’s defender and get the puck to the net. Parked in front was Chiasson and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Boston, who has to be sick and tired of losing to the Capitals, would not go away and they pressed the play and received a power play with 8:41 to go. Shortly after the faceoff, Chiasson blocked the point shot of Torrey Krug and then he pulled away from #47 on the shorthanded breakaway and buried the disc past Anton Khudobin (17 saves). The Bruins goalie had come into this one hot, having gone 7-1-2 this season with a .922 save percentage, but he had Capsitis, a disease that often impacts Boston goalies.

Boston cut it to 4-2 with 3:40 to go after some Washington turnovers, but then Ovechkin, who had an assist on Backstrom’s power play goal, received his 22nd goal of the season when his pass to Tom Wilson in the neutral zone did not connect and fortuitoulsy banked off of the boards and into the middle pocket at the other end to make it 5-2 with 1:29 to go. That NHL goal leading tally (he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa as of this post) ultimately ended any suspense on the final outcome. The Bruins would get that 3rd goal with 27 seconds left, though, after Eller took a bad cross checking penalty.

There wasn’t a lot of things to like in this one for the Caps. They did do a good job of keeping Boston on the perimeter, but they were still sloppy with their passes and they just didn’t seem to have their legs. Yes, this was their third game in four nights, so they have a slight excuse. I did like some of the shifts the fourth line had in this one, especially the effort they put in to draw the power play that set up Backstrom’s tally which gave Washington the lead it would never relinquish. Chandler Stephenson used his speed to go by Chalire McAvoy on the left wing boards and he was forced to hook #18. Washington’s fourth line is playing well and if T.J. Oshie comes back for Saturday’s game, I would not break this trio up; they are doing too much good on the ice.

Chiasson should not be scratched either considering that he had two goals in this one and he’s been good on the PK (the Caps gave up two power play goals in five tries, but #39 added a HUGE shorty). You aren’t scratching anyone on the top line, although they did not have a good game in Boston, both Ovechkin and Wilson just didn’t seem to have their speed going, at all. So that leaves someone on the third line to go out of the lineup if the Osh Babe is ready and based on what I saw on Thursday, Andre Burakovsky is my pick to sit. #65 was totally weak on the wall in this affair and lost board battle after board battle. He also is taking too long to get his shot off, once again. Kuznetsov fed him nicely in period one for an open net opportunity, but instead of a quick release that would have had half of the twine to hit, he pulled the puck back with his long drawn out release and the shot was blocked en route to Khudobin. Simply put, Burakovsky needs a reset after just four games back in the lineup. You would have thought 20 games out injured would do that, but so far, outside of a play or two here or there, he’s been MIA. I’m not trying to be mean to the guy, but this is big boy hockey and Andre needs to get it going, this team is counting on him and he’s not playing near his potential. Fortunately, guys like Vrana and Chiasson are stepping up to deliver big tallies while the organization waits for the $3 Million man to get untracked. Washington isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs without Burakovsky, so now is the time to get him refocused and playing like #13 is doing. Burakovsky needs to use his legs to open up lanes on the ice and he must find a way to release the puck quicker on his shots.

Overall though, the Caps have won three of their last four games despite some really ugly stretches where they turn the puck over or don’t move their feet. They are living off of their all world goalie and some timely offense. You’d like to see them dominate more of the play, but it’s hard to be really upset when they’ve won nine of their last 11 games. Boston had done that coming into Thursday’s game against Washington, but once again the Bruins lost to the red, white, and blue.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:20…Matt Niskanen was good in this game and he was +3 with two assists in 22:58. He and Dmitry Orlov (+2 in 21:33) continue to be a super top defensive pairing. Orlov does so many things well, even though he’s not piling up points…Chiasson now has six goals, he logged 12:49 in this affair…Vrana only received 9:09 of ice time. The Caps taking five penalties didn’t help his ability to get more opportunity…next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks at Capital One Arena at 8 pm on Saturday night. Corey Perry will not play for the Ducks due to injury…if Oshie practices on Friday, then there’s a good chance he will return against Anaheim. The Caps need his tenacity on the ice, they aren’t winning the board battles like they typically do when fireplug #77 is in the lineup.

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Willy Rags

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Tom Wilson’s Late Game Eruption Leads the Caps over the Rangers

Posted on 08 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored a goal just 14 seconds into the game and then tallied twice in the last four minutes to knock off the New York Rangers, 4-2, at Capital One Arena on Friday night.

The victory, the Caps seventh in their last eight games, was their fourth straight on a five game home stand against some very good hockey clubs. The triumph improves Washington to 18-11-1 (37 points) and they are now tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus has a game in hand (18-10-1), though.

Tom Wilson took over this hockey game late setting up the winning goal by Matt Niskanen and then adding an insurance marker at 18:28 after the Rangers had clawed their way back into this affair from a 2-0 hole. Nicklas Backstrom notched Washington’s second goal after a bad turnover by Michael Grabner midway through period two, beating Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves) with some top shelf cheese. For the night, the Caps top trio of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Willy (1 goal, 1 assist) were +3 and a major reason why they won the game. Ovi hit the post late on an empty net attempt, so it could’ve easily been plus four.

That line, which was dynamite against Chicago and has been since they were put together by Coach Barry Trotz, had 19 of the Caps 67 shot attempts. They are physical and relentless on the fore check. Wilson had six hits and as #19 stated in his television interview between periods, #43 opens up space on the ice for Ovi and Backy and they are using their talents to make the opposition pay.

Jay Beagle opened the scoring on the game’s very first shift after Chandler Stephenson knocked the puck away from former Capital Kevin Shattenkirk on the left wing boards in the offensive zone. Devante Smith-Pelly swooped in to grab the disc and then fed Beags streaking to the net in the right slot area. #83 smartly shot quickly and it beat Lundqvist.

Washington would continue to play well the remainder of opening frame and they fired 17 shots on King Henrik, who kept his club in this one. Braden Holtby (27 saves) also was very solid to start this tilt stopping all nine shots he faced, but at least a handful of them were really good opportunities.

In the second period, the Caps ran into turnover problems, once again. They continually made poor decisions coming out of their own end and in the neutral zone. Too often the puck was going east-west instead of north-south. The Capitals lucked out, though. They didn’t have much sustained pressure for the first 11 minutes of the stanza, but then Grabner’s turnover was an early Christmas gift for Backstrom and the Caps.

Washington looked like they might escape the first 40 minutes up two pucks, but then Niskanen was hesitant with the puck and it was stolen from him leading to an easy tally in the slot for Grabner with 57 seconds to go in period two. It was a really shaky period by the Caps, they were outshot, 13-8, and Backstrom was clearly not happy while doing his interview between the second and third periods.

Coach Trotz’s crew actually played a very strong game in the last 20 minutes, overall. Yes, there were more turnovers, but they were up 10-4 in shots on goal yet the game became tied when Jesper Fast scored on a pass from former Capital Paul Carey with 10:23 left. Carey outworked Madison Bowey for the puck behind Washington’s net and when Brooks Orpik didn’t cover Fast tightly, #17 received the puck from Carey and fired a shot through #44, who was screening his goaltender.

At that point, one had to figure the Capitals would sag and the Rangers would gain momentum and energy and find a way to win.

Give the Capitals credit, though, they didn’t turtle and they amped their game up with five more shots on net. Wilson was the difference maker using his speed and size to go around the Rags defense twice. Top line Tom now has five goals and 10 assists in 30 games.

There were things to really like in this game, such as the Caps putting 40 shots on Lundqvist and Washington’s domination on faceoffs (34-20). The Capitals are successful when they are putting pucks and bodies to the cage, and they did both of those things well on Friday. Evgeny Kuznetsov had six shots on goal and his line with Jakub Vrana and Alex Chiasson played pretty well despite being on the ice for both Ranger tallies. Vrana is going to the net and using his speed and it’s great to see. Kuzy is shooting the puck and opening up the ice. #39 is just a fill in until T.J. Oshie, who was hurt Monday by Jumbo Joe Thornton,  can get back in the lineup, but that doesn’t sound imminent given that the Osh Babe is still not even skating.

Andre Burakovksy returned to the ice after missing 20 games with a fractured thumb playing on a line with Brett Conolly and Lars Eller. Burky played 14:08 and was clearly trying to shake off the rust, but Coach Trotz will need that trio going when Washington takes on the Islanders in New York on Monday night.

There are still things to clean up in the Capitals play, the turnovers need more attention, but when they put out the effort and move their feet, they dominate on the ice. They also don’t get into penalty trouble when they have the wheels going and on Friday, the Blueshirts only had three man advantage situations. Washington killed off all of them while the Rangers did the same to the Caps on their four power plays.

This game was decided at even strength and the Capitals, thanks to their top line and the Holtbeast, prevailed.

Notes: John Carlson once again led the Caps in ice time with 25:52. Niskanen was a close second at 24:04. Bowey (10:34) and Christian Djoos (9:21) only had a dozen and 11 shifts, respectively…Eller was 10-5 on face-offs…Tyler Graovac cleared waivers and was sent to Hershey, along with Travis Boyd, to make roster and salary cap room for Burakovsky…Carlson had seven shots on goal. He’s playing extremely well and with the NHL announcing that next season’s salary cap will increase to between $78M and $82M you can bet that General Manager Brian MacLellan will be working on a long term deal for the Caps best blue liner. The Caps are now five points up on the Rangers, but they have two games in hand…per NBCSW, the Capitals are 38-1-6 lifetime when Beagle scores a goal.

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Ovi Holts Chicago

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Ovechkin, Caps Keep Rolling in 6-2 Rout of Chicago

Posted on 07 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals continue to be on a serious roll.

The cuddly Ovi scored a goal and assisted on three others, center Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal in 22 games and added two helpers, and top line Tom Wilson was a human wrecking ball notching the first four point night (two goals, two assists) of his career in a 6-2 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks at Capital One Arena.

Braden Holtby did his part in this win, as well, stopping 37 of 39 shots, including all 16 he faced in a Hawks assault in the middle frame.

The victory increases the Caps record to 17-11-1 (35 points) and they are just a point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division heading into Friday’s big tilt at home against the New York Rangers.

Coach Barry Trotz’ club has now won six of their last seven games and are 12-0 when they score four or more goals this season.

Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis of Washington’s third straight victory.

There’s no better place to start than with the Gr8, he was simply fabulous with his all around play against Chicago. His pass to get Backstrom off of the schneid was dynamite and then his follow up rebound goal on Wilson’s breakaway was another example of Ovi’s improved physique and speed this season. When things got testy in period two, his hammered power play shot ricocheted off of J.F. Berube’s pads and right to Brett Connolly, who potted his third goal in three games to make it 4-1 and give Washington some much needed breathing room. Alex then really closed this one out with a great fore-check and pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot that Kuzy buried to make it 5-1 and end any potential for late game Blackhawks heroics. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 21 and he has 32 points in 29 games. Yeah, he’s washed up, haters.

Backstrom, despite his goalless streak, has still been playing well. Night after night Coach Trotz puts him out against the opposition’s top center and he delivers a strong two way game. Now that he’s back where he should be, with Ovechkin, because he’s the one who knows best how to get the Gr8 the puck, he’s starting to get his points again. Backy was in the right spot in the slot for the all important first goal of the game at 11:54. His offensive zone faceoff win just under three minutes later resulted in Wilson’s first goal, which made it 2-0. That was a weak tally allowed by starting goalie, Anton Forsberg. On Connolly’s goal, the whole play was made by #19 fighting for a loose puck in the slot and getting it over to the Gr8 for his howitzer.

There were some skeptics when Coach Trotz bumped Wilson up to the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but that move is paying off. Remember when the Caps first line used to be Ovi, Backy, and Troy Brouwer? Well Willy is filling the Brouwer role quite nicely, if not better. His steal set the first goal up. #43 is playing the best hockey of his career, right now, and he drew the penalty on Lance Bouma that led to the Connolly marker late in period two. This was after Bouma hurt Tom on a clean check where Willy had his arm extended and it got pinched on the boards in the defensive zone. Wilson went to the locker room and things looked ominous for the Caps with T.J. Oshie out due to Jumbo Joe’s cheap shot hit on Monday and Andre Burakovksy not likely back in the lineup until Friday.  Luckily Tom was okay and returned, looking no worse for the wear. Wilson is performing well because he’s shooting the puck and is an absolute beast on the fore-check. His PK skills are excellent and it was fitting that he closed the scoring out in this game with a shorthanded empty net tally. If Ryan Hartman wasn’t such a gutless coward, Willy would have had the Gordie on this night. Hartman’s late game despicable trip of Ovechkin, which could have caused a serious knee injury, really deserved an ass beating, but Ryan skated away.

Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana continue to play some excellent hockey on the second line, even without the Osh Babe on this night. Vrana is really using his speed to open up lanes and he’s been really solid in his own zone. He’s especially excelling with his pesky fore-checking that has been causing turnovers. Since the Calgary game, Kuzy has been insanely good and worthy of numerous fist bumps. He’s making the right plays all over the ice and his shoot versus pass decisions have been SPOT ON. #92 now has nine goals with seven of them coming in the last 10 games. When Washington gets the kind of one-two center play they are getting from Backstrom and Kuznetsov, they are hard to beat.

Goaltending is the strength of this Capitals team and both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are currently delivering the big save when the team needs it. It is scary how well the Holtbeast is playing right now and there’s a serious argument to be made that he’s playing better than the last two seasons. He made several big stops when things were really dicey and the game was still in doubt. Over his last five starts, Holtby is 4-1-0 with a .932 save percentage and has stopped 69 of the last 74 shots he’s faced (h/t to the Capitals excellent PR staff).

Connolly has really taken advantage of the opportunity to fill the Oshie role on the first power play unit. Brett is doing the right things on the ice and he’s getting rewarded for it. He’s moving his feet and finding the soft spots in the defensive coverage on the ice where goals can be scored, in the slot and around the net.

Matt Niskanen probably had his best game of the season. He and Dmitry Orlov are returning to last year’s form. Nisky was +4 with an assist. Orlov continues to lead the charge on successful Capitals break outs and his long flip pass to Wilson on the third goal was just outstanding. #9 is getting better and better and his defensive zone play features some sneaky good physical play.

The Caps have done a better job at lowering the number of penalties they have been taking. On Monday they were whistled for four shorthanded situations, but two of the calls were horrendous, the board on Wilson when Gustav Forsling turned his back as #43 was about to hit him clean from the side (even the NBC announcers hated that call) and then the interference call on Ovechkin, when he stayed in his lane and didn’t move one way or the other to impede Bouma. Somehow clueless Dan O’Halloran and Jon McIsaac thought otherwise.

One thing the Capitals still have to work on is their defensive zone clears and their propensity to make offensive zone turnovers. Devante Smith-Pelly had a very soft behind the back defensive zone giveaway that led to a two on none for Chicago, but Holtby bailed DSP out. Ovechkin had a late turnover that led to a Jonathan Toews breakaway goal, but John Carlson was also to blame there for not being more responsible up four goals. Finally, Lars Eller had a bad offensive zone turnover when it was 5-1. #20 went across the blue line on a one on three and with no help coming he peeled off and tried a crazy cross ice pass that was stolen. The right play was a shot or dump of the puck behind the net. Right after that turnover, Brooks Orpik was called for hooking. If Eller makes the correct decision, there is no Chicago power play. Overall the Capitals had 22 giveaways, that is far too many and the biggest reason they have spells where they get outplayed and out shot.

I really liked the way both rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos performed against a team with some high caliber players. There was one sequence where Djoos made a hit and a steal in his own end. We all know Christian is excellent in the offensive zone, but the key to his NHL tenure will be how much he improves defensively.

Overall though, this was a very impressive win with Oshie and Burakovsky out. Hopefully both will be back soon with #65 very likely for Friday’s tilt against the Blueshirts. Things are looking up for Washington, but it’s a tight division and the league is very balanced. They need to keep working hard and improving the little things in their game, especially the turnovers, if they want to move their way up the standings.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:47. Orpik was second with 22:19…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-30, but Backstrom went 14-11…shots on goal were 39-25, for Chicago. Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on goal…the Caps blocked 20 of the 68 shot attempts by the Blackhawks…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and Chicago was 0 for 4.

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Grubauer and Ovechkin Help End Caps Drought vs. San Jose

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The San Jose Sharks came into Capital One Arena for their annual meeting in the District with the Washington Capitals and, in recent years, you could steal a line from the classic movie, Spinal Tap, to characterize the way those matchups have gone for the Caps.

Shark Sandwich. S—t Sandwich.

San Jose goalie Martin Jones held a 4-0 lifetime record against the Caps and to top it all off, he had NEVER allowed a goal in the Washington barn.

On Monday night, everything changed.

After a sluggish start that saw the Sharks get seven of the games first eight shots, the Capitals started taking over. During that stretch they had nine of the last 10 shots on goal recorded in the opening period, including a beautiful tip in of a John Carlson shot by Devante Smith-Pelly that gave the Caps a 1-0 lead with 3:11 to go in the first frame. The goal ended Jones’ lengthy Capital One Arena shutout streak and seemed to provide the home team with some confidence.

In the middle stanza, the Caps came out strong and a sweet steal by Alexander Ovechkin on Brent Burns in his own end led to a breakaway for the Gr8. Alex would go in all alone on Jones and beat him with a backhander to make it 2-0 with 7:11 gone in period two. Shortly thereafter the Capitals nearly grabbed a three puck lead, but Carlson’s shot on a three on one rush hit metal. San Jose, as you’d expect, then became the more desperate team and put pressure on Washington in their end. The Caps would have a series of turnovers on consecutive shifts and that shoddy play resulted in a Timo Meier tally after a bad giveaway by Matt Niskanen.

The Caps then settled the ship and started playing well again, although Philipp Grubauer (24 saves) did make some very big stops at key junctures. Things were still dicey when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass, but the Capitals had a super penalty kill. Late in the PK, however, T.J. Oshie was injured when he threw the puck down the right wing offensive boards and while trying to finish his check, he made a hit and went down awkwardly. With the puck long gone, Jumbo Joe Thornton came in and with his fat rear crushed the Osh Babe’s head against the boards. #77 went down and then left the game for the night.

Washington received a power play shortly thereafter when Brenden Dillon took a high sticking minor. With Oshie in the locker room, Brett Connolly received the bump up to the first unit and he took advantage of the situation. Kuznetsov made a great play carrying the puck into the offensive zone and while taking a hit and falling to the ice, he managed to swing his stick with one hand and whack the puck to a wide open Ovechkin on the left wing boards. The Gr8 nicely used his skates to kick the puck to his stick and he spotted Connolly heading to the net ahead of the Sharks defenders. Ovi made a super backhand pass to #10 and he made a sweet move and buried the puck on the backhand to make it 3-1 (although the zebras didn’t immediately signal goal and then there was a five minute delay while San Jose challenged that the goal was a result of an offside zone entry).

In the third period, after the Caps failed to score on the power play they received when the Sharks unsuccessfully challenged the third goal, San Jose had some more great looks, but Grubauer shut the door.

Thornton then had to pay for his unnecessary hit on Oshie by taking on Tom Wilson. Willy won the bout quickly and easily with a punch to Jumbo Joe’s head that floored the big man. Both players received seven minutes in penalties, which was a good trade for the Caps. The Sharks started to get chippy after that and a teal parade to the penalty box ensued. Washington extended their lead to 4-1 when Jakub Vrana notched his eighth goal of the season from the doorstep after some excellent power play work by Wilson with 8:24 remaining.

The victory improves the Caps to 16-11-1 (33 points) and they are just two points out of first in a very tight Metropolitan Division that has the top five teams all within two points of each other.

Below are some thoughts and analysis on a huge Capitals win against a squad they defeated in regulation for just the second time in their last 26 meetings (h/t to Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) for that stat).

As they did on Saturday against Columbus, the Capitals rode the biggest strength of their team for this win, goaltending. Grubauer was just superb in this affair and he made many quality saves at key times.

Ovechkin was flying in this tilt and he could’ve easily had a hat trick. Ovi had seven shot attempts, but I recall at least four quality scoring chances. The goal he scored doesn’t happen last season. His offseason conditioning change continues to pay dividends, he is at least a step faster than in 2016-17 and he now leads the NHL in goals with 20 in just 28 games (59 goal pace). As Drew Doughty stated last week when the Kings snuck a win out over Washington, the Ovechkin line (Ovi-Nicklas Backstrom-Wilson) is so hard to play against. Burns found that out on Monday night and he was outworked by the big and skilled trio.

The Oshie injury is a major concern. It’s upper body and hopefully not a serious concussion. The Osh Babe, along with Kuznetsov and Vrana, have been a dynamite second line trio and they’ve dominated play. T.J. is so good at winning the one on one battles, so not having him in the lineup will be a blow to the Capitals. It’s not clear how long #77 will be out, but Andre Burakovsky is due back within the week, so that should help.

Several right wingers stepped up in this game with Oshie out. First was Connolly, who has scored in two straight games. He’s playing with confidence and looks more like the guy who potted 15 tallies last season. This is a very encouraging development. Wilson also is performing well and Coach Barry Trotz loved his effort to help set up Vrana’s power play marker. It was a dirty and gritty goal and the first one for the second power play unit all season. Perhaps Willy deserves more time on that second unit based on how well he played on Monday? I also liked Smith-Pelly’s game on Monday, it was one of his best, in just 10:34 of action.

While the Capitals came out victorious in this game, Coach Trotz said afterwards there are still things that need cleaning up in their play. There were numerous bad clears in their own zone and too many offensive zone cross ice passes for my liking. The Caps had 16 giveaways, four of them from Carlson.  If they can focus on getting pucks to the net or behind the net, they’ll be even more successful and find that holding leads are much easier. Washington out shot attempted the Sharks, 21-12, and, 12-9, in shots on goal, in the final frame. After getting out shot, 17-3, in the last 20 minutes against Columbus on Saturday the Capitals did a better job of handling this two goal lead. There are still better decisions to be made with the biscuit when they are in front, but Monday represented some serious progress.

Overall, the Caps have now won five of their last six games and they will face the Chicago Blackhawks at home on Wednesday night. Puck drop is at 8 pm. The game is on NBC Sports Channel.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:34, including 7:11 of power play time…the Caps were 2 for 6 with the man advantage while San Jose went 0-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-24. Kuznetsov was 11-4. Since the Calgary loss, he’s played very smart and solid hockey.

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Holtby and Kuznetsov Help Caps Squeak by Columbus

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Jeff Spicoli: Woah, you’re gonna flunk me?

Mr. Hand: Don’t worry Spicoli. You’ll probably squeak by.

On Saturday night against the young and hard working Columbus Blue Jackets, the Washington Capitals played a Jeff Spicoli-like hockey game. They squeaked by with two points, primarily due to their all world goaltender, Braden Holtby.

The Caps stormed out of the gate, against a CBus squad that had played and won the night before, thanks to some great forechecking and smart hockey. Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson scored two markers from the slot before the game was 130 seconds old and it looked as if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was going to lay a woodshed beating on the Blue Jackets.

That would not be the case.

Columbus outworked Washington over the last 15 minutes of the opening frame, but couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (32 saves) despite several quality chances. Coach John Tortorella’s squad carried that momentum into the middle frame and cut the deficit to one after a brutal Capitals turnover gave Artemi Panarin an easy back door tally. The Blue Jackets kept churning and the Caps kept giving the puck away, but #70 held the fort.

At about the game’s midpoint, the guys in red starting playing again and they nearly extended their lead. They looked poised to do that when they received a power play with less than five minutes to go in period two. After a face off win, John Carlson (two assists) blasted one from the point that may have been tipped by T.J. Oshie, but it hit the post. Columbus then went the other way and Mike Foligno was robbed by Holtby in a one on one sequence. Soon thereafter, Oshie made a poor pass to Nicklas Backstrom in his own end and Brandon Dubinsky gathered in the loose change and fed Matt Calvert in the slot. Calvert quickly deposited it by a screened Holtby with 3:32 left before the second intermission.

Suddenly the game was tied and Columbus had all of the momentum. Dmitry Orlov then drew a blatant holding call on Boone Jenner with 48 ticks left in period two. Washington needed just all of 10 seconds to regain the lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great read and steal of a Columbus pass behind their net after a Jackets face off win and fed Backstrom on the right wing half wall. #19 moved it to #74 at the top of the point, who slid it to Alex Ovechkin in his office, and the Gr8 beat Sergei Bobrovsky (19 saves) short side for a key goal. That marker was Ovi’s 19th of the season (tied for the league lead with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa).

The Caps came out in period three and put the early pedal to the medal. Oshie had a nice zone entry and after stopping inside the blue line, he fed a charging Kuznetsov coming into the offensive zone. Carlson jumped up in the play and was heading to the net. Somehow #92 got the puck to Carlson and he tapped it back to Kuzy, who then put it into the vacant cage to make it 4-2 with 18:52 left in the contest.

With Columbus having played on Friday and then traveling to DC, one would think they’d be tired and go away, right? Not so fast. Coach Tortorella’s crew kept coming in waves into the Caps end, but somehow Braden made some amazing stops, including an all world glove save on Cam Atkinson, and then he got a great goal line clear from Jay Beagle to preserve a 4-3 victory.

The win improves Washington’s record to 15-11-1 (31 points) and puts them just four points in back of first place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an important Caps victory.

The Holtbeast was the reason Washington won this game, plain and simple. The Capitals, while scoring four goals, were largely inept with the puck in this affair. It was turnover city in their own end and Oshie, Backstrom, Orlov, and Ovechkin were all guilty of terrible giveaways. Ovechkin (cross ice from his own end) and Oshie had especially bad ones in period three that need cleaning up going forward. For most of the game, the Caps were soft on their breakouts and the weak bump backs to the defensemen or soft chips from the winger to the center of the ice were time after time stolen by a young, hungry, well coached, and talented Columbus team. For some reason, the Capitals didn’t adjust and it resulted in numerous quality chances for the Blue Jackets. In the final frame it was all CBus as they outshot the Caps, 17-3. Tortorella’s well conditioned and youthful squad looked like the more rested club despite the actual schedule. Washington continually made poor decisions with the puck as they came across the blue line and they are lucky that Holtby flat out saved their asses.

That start, though, was totally awesome. Coach Trotz juggled his bottom six and it paid off. Connolly, who had been scratched for two games, was put back in. Tyler Graovac was sent to the press box and Nathan Walker, who only played seven games all season, was lost to Edmonton for minimal cash via the waiver wire (the Caps hoped to sneak him through to Hershey to get some playing time). Lars Eller, who had been struggling, was put with Connolly and Chandler Stephenson on the third line and they got the ball rolling early. Orlov made his best play of the night, a nice carry in to the offensive zone, enabling the Caps to set up a cycle situation. Eller received the puck on the right wing boards from Brooks Orpik and #20 found Connolly alone in the slot. With Stephenson in front of Bob, #10 one timed the biscuit home. It was a goal very reminiscent of Connolly’s tallies last season. This game was easily Brett’s best of the 2017-18 campaign. Gone were the lunging and reaching plays he’d been making most of the year and instead he was moving his feet and using his body to win puck battles. If he keeps that up, he will be successful like he was in 2016-17.

Washington’s second goal was just another case of getting pucks and bodies to the net. Matt Niskanen made a nice pinch in on the right wing boards and he fired a hard, low shot on Bobrovsky that bounced into the slot. Chiasson gathered the rebound in the high danger area and whipped it by #72 at the 2:06 mark. Those two goals were textbook smart hockey. Good things happen when you shoot and had Washington stuck to that recipe, it might have been “Just a walk in the park, Kazansky,” but the Caps reverted to bad form shortly afterwards.

On the good side, Kuznetsov continues to play well. He was Coach Trotz’s best forward in this one and since the Calgary game that’s been the case, consistently. Kuzy is not over passing and he’s shooting the puck. He’s now up to nine goals and his line, with Jakub Vrana and Oshie, is playing well. The Osh Babe needs to start shooting more, though. #13 has been using his speed to get to the net and open up lanes for his line mates. Jakub and Kuzy are a major reason the Caps have won four of their last five games. Orpik (assist, +2 in 22:40) was the Capitals best blue liner in this one, although Carlson had a good game, as well.

Many others on this club were flat out inconsistent on Saturday night. Niskanen, who has been mostly struggling all season, primarily due to missing 13 games with a hand injury, still does not look 100% healthy on the ice and the Capitals need their best blue liner from last season back in top form. Hopefully whatever is ailing him is taken care of here in the short term.

Washington has to lose the cross ice passes, especially when up two pucks in the third period. Aside from the many defensive zone blunders, there were too many times that the Capitals tried that fancy pass inside the offensive blue line instead of putting the puck on or behind the net. It was just bad hockey and you rarely see Columbus make those mistakes. They are a very impressive team and, at this point, I have to make them the favorites to win the Metro division because they are structured and play hard. Columbus certainly deserved a better fate on Saturday, but goaltending was the difference.

On Monday night the Caps will take on the San Jose Sharks, a team who routinely whips their butts. If the Caps play like they did on Saturday against Columbus, it will be another blowout by the guys in teal and black. Holtby can’t keep nearly single handedly winning games for the Caps, this team has to get back to consistently playing the right way, like they did in the three affairs sandwiched around Thanksgiving.

Sneaking by may have cut it for Spicoli at Ridgemont High and for the Caps on Saturday night against Columbus, but that method is a long term recipe for failure.

Coach Trotz’s crew needs to say “Aloha” to the turnovers and poor decisions and get back to playing hard, intelligent hockey.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 37-23. Beagle, who lifted Panarin’s stick to stave off the tying goal, was 10-2. Backstrom was 13-8…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55, but Carlson logged 24:42…Madison Bowey, who struggled in Thursday’s bad loss to the Kings, only played 10:21. Rookie Christian Djoos only received 12:41 of time. It’s a learning process for both young blue liners…Stephenson was rocked by a Seth Jones hit in period one. He played in the first 40 minutes, but left before the 3rd period with an upper body injury and is day to day…Ovechkin and Backstrom were both -2…once again, Holtby’s glove save on Cam Atkinson late in the game was unbelievable. Braden made a ton of Ten Bell saves in this affair. All hail the Holtbeast!

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Alex Ovechkin’s Spectacular Night On and Off the Ice Leads the Caps over Toronto

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were “Oh for” on the second half of back to back games this season, as in zero wins in four previous situations.

Alexander “Oh”vechkin made sure that streak ended on Saturday night in the Big Smoke.

The Gr8 potted two first period goals, one of which was an end to end highlight reel marker and the other was a puck pounded through Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney with John Daly like power off of a faceoff. Then Alex sealed the deal for the Caps with an empty net goal with nine seconds remaining to secure a 4-2 victory.

Ovechkin’s brilliance gives the Caps a nice three game winning streak heading into a stretch of four days off. Washington has now hit four games over .500 for the first time this season, with a mark of 14-10-1 (29 points).

This was the third straight solid effort by the Capitals and it was their third such game in four days, so there is no doubt they are a tired, but happy bunch.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an entertaining hockey game:

Ovechkin now leads the NHL in goals with 18 in 25 games (pace of 59 goals) and he has 13 even strength markers counting the empty net tally he notched on Saturday. I’ve mentioned this a few times in blogs and several times on Twitter, but there is no doubt that the change he made in off season training has changed his game for the better. Ovi is much faster on the ice and he has that burst that he used to display in his earlier days. His first goal was just a thing of beauty; great skating, super puck handling, and then unbelievable hands to fake the defensemen and goalie out with a laser of a shot that would’ve only been stopped if a piece of wood was covering the entire net. It was a “Wow!” moment and at that point, everyone in attendance had their money’s worth.

Ovechkin invited 13 year old cancer survivor, Alex Luey to the game on Saturday night, because the youngster stated that the Gr8 was his favorite player. Boy did Ovi make it special for his fan on this evening with a spectacular performance. Luey was so overcome with joy after the win that he cried and hugged his parents. Our good friend, Ian Oland, over at Russian Machine Never Breaks chronicled the story. Please read it, it’ll warm your heart, something we all need these days.

In honor of his three goals, Ovechkin gets another bullet point in this blog. He was fantastic in this affair and his line was great. Coach Barry Trotz even had faith in him at the end of the game defensively by putting him on the ice with a one goal lead in the waning seconds. Ovi made his bench boss look good as he got the “Hattie” as a result of some great work on the boards by Alex and his teammates. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Capitals are three wins and zero losses since Trotz reunited Ovechkin with long time center Nicklas Backstrom (two assists).

T.J. Oshie had a nice night, as well, with three assists. He had the big face off win on the Caps power play that led to the second goal, a howitzer from Ovechkin, and made a sweet outlet pass to Jakub Vrana for #13’s breakaway tally that gave Washington a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame. The Osh Babe was a dynamo all night, once again, and he constantly wins board battles and keeps pucks alive. He’s just a truly fantastic hockey player.

Speaking of fantastic, he didn’t get mentioned in the top three stars of the game (Ovechkin, Oshie, and Nikita Zaitsev), but in my book, after Ovi, the most outstanding player on the ice for the Capitals was defensemen Dmitry Orlov. Orlov had zero points tonight (+2), but he played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him have. He carried the Caps in their own zone and led the team in ice time at 26:25. He was physical (4 hits), great with his decision making, and just superb at breaking the puck out of the Capitals end. To top it all off, his play on the right wing boards, his offhand side, on the defensive zone faceoff before Ovi’s ENG was just sensational hard work and determination. Orlov fights off two Leafs there to get the puck to Oshie, who then got it down the ice where Osh Babe, Backy and Ovi could close the deal. I’m giving a standing ovation for the play of Orlov in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada, well done, Dmitry! Very Impressive!

With Philipp Grubauer getting the front end of the back to back situation for the first time this season, Braden Holtby was the starter in this tilt and the Holtbeast was a big factor in the victory, as well. Some of the most important things he did in period two, other than stopping the puck from going in the net, was to halt play at key times. On a couple of occasions in that middle frame, where the Capitals defense endures a long change, Holtby froze the puck after extended shifts instead of giving up a rebound. Those stoppages were important because it allowed Coach Trotz to get fresh legs on the ice, which was especially key in the back to back games situation. Down the stretch, when it looked like the Caps might fade and give up the three goal lead, the Holtbeast made some big stops, especially when the Leafs pulled their goalie.

Both the Capitals and Leafs played in the USA on Friday and had to travel to Toronto for Saturday’s game. The Leafs were at home and are a younger team, so going in, the edge had to be for the Maple Leafs in this affair. For forty minutes, it was mostly Caps and the older team was the one skating faster and getting the better scoring chances. Washington deserved that three goal lead.

In the first 10 plus minutes of the third period, the young legs of the Leafs appeared and they dominated that part of the game. Washington didn’t help themselves either with some poor decision making. Chandler Stephenson’s ill timed back pass to noone allowed Toronto to go down and cut the score to 3-2 with 13:51 remaining. Shortly thereafter Matt Niskanen carried the puck behind the Leafs net and then tried a low percentage pass to Oshie at the right point. #77 fortunately got his boot on the disc, otherwise it was an odd man rush the other way. When you are winning in the third period, you have to make the safe play, and putting the puck back behind the net if you don’t have a clear shot or pass is always the next best thing to do.

What a change we’ve seen in Vrana in just eight days! After coming out of his healthy scratch in Colorado to the third line, where he performed well, #13 was promoted to the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Oshie for Wednesday’s tilt with Ottawa. Boy has this line clicked and Vrana notched his seventh goal of the campaign on a breakaway where he just blew by the Leafs defender like he was an orange road cone. With Andre Burakovsky still out another three weeks or so following hand surgery, the Capitals really needed Vrana to come alive and he’s finally doing that. His progress over the last week or so has been extremely encouraging.

Overall, things are really starting to become clearer about this hockey team. The biggest key is getting both Kuznetsov and Backstrom to play well and that’s been the case since Coach Trotz went all Reg Dunlop again and shuffled up the lines. The Capitals have talent, but they have to have a work ethic that is strong to succeed in this very balanced league. Over the last three games they’ve brought the energy and determination to win so many one on one battles. Their puck support has been excellent, as well. That strong work ethic leads to fewer penalties and on Saturday they only took one, which was very important given the back-to-back games situation. Sure they’ll be patches where they look tired, like Saturday’s first 10 minutes of the third period, but that will happen over the course of the season. The key is how the team fights through those stretches. On Saturday night, they came out on top of a very good and young Toronto team.

The Capitals are certainly moving in the right direction and this short break is much needed to recharge the batteries so that they can take advantage of an upcoming five game home stand that includes important Metropolitan Division match ups with the Blue Jackets and the Rangers.

Notes: Niskanen logged 24:14 while John Carlson played 22:38. Nisky was good in the first two periods, but he had some bad passes in the third. He’s clearly still getting his timing back from being out for 13 games…the Leafs won the face off battle, 34-25…the Caps had 37 hits. Brooks Orpik led the team with six…the Leafs outshot the Caps, 29-21. Ovechkin had four shots on goal…the Leafs outshot attempted the Capitals, 56-43…the Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play and a perfect one for one on the PK…Washington’s next game is Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at Capital One Arena.

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Grubauer Stops Tampa to Earn his 1st Victory of 2017-18

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who follows my blogs or twitter feed (@EdFrankovic), which is all about hockey, knows that I’ve been staunch in defending the talent level of the Washington Capitals despite their recent off season personnel losses due to expansion and the salary cap. My main question, however, so far in this 2017-18 season, has been about their work ethic and attention to detail.

On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators, much like their recent wins over the Penguins and Wild, the Capitals brought the effort and focus and succeeded with a big victory.

The latest question, though, is would they be able to duplicate that type of great effort in their next game against a very good opponent?

Friday evening against the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps proved that they could do just that. Washington gave up an early power play tally just 82 seconds into the contest after a very weak and bogus hooking call on Brooks Orpik. Yanni Gourde should probably be nominated for an Academy award after his dive gave his club a man advantage opportunity. The best player in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov, shot the puck on the ensuing power play and it bounced off of the pants of Vladislav Nemestnikov and past Philipp Grubauer for an early lead for the Bolts.

At that point, you had to wonder how the Capitals would react. Grubaeur, whose 26th birthday is on Saturday, had yet to win a game this season despite some strong efforts, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa back on October 9th. In many of those affairs, which were the latter of half of back to back contests, the team in front of him had little energy and didn’t provide much offensive support.

But this game was a different circumstance and Washington was undeterred after the early Bolts tally and brought a maximum effort for the full 60 minutes. The result was a very impressive 3-1 win over Tampa and gave Grubi his first triumph of the season. Grubauer made several quality stops in this tilt and his teammates played like there was no way they were going to let Tampa take this contest.

Simply put, it was great hockey by the Capitals and shows that when they decide to work and stick to the system, they can play with anyone in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin (15th goal), Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle (empty net) all scored for Washington in this game, one in which the Capitals never let up and dominated the majority of the play. The Caps outshot the Bolts, 38-26, and they had a lot of quality scoring chances. After it was 1-0, the Capitals generated several great opportunities to tie the game, but as has been their issue for several years now, they over passed the puck and failed to capitalize on those chances. T.J. Oshie had a couple of golden opportunities, but the Osh Babe uncharacteristically passed when he should’ve shot.

The Caps finally evened things up with 1:24 remaining in the opening frame when they converted on a three on two rush. The great Nicklas Backstrom carried the puck up the middle of the ice and he dished it to his right as they crossed the offensive blue line. Tom Wilson received that pass and with #19 heading straight to the net, the passing lane to Ovechkin opened up and Willy put it perfectly on the Gr8’s stick. Ovi then made no mistake about depositing the puck into the cage.

Washington would keep pressing the play getting the better of the scoring chances, but Tampa had their share, as well, only to be thwarted by Grubauer.

What happened next was karma for the hard work displayed by all 18 Caps skaters in this contest. Dmitry Orlov spotted Smith-Pelly open up the middle of the ice and he fed #25 just before the Tampa blue line. Smith-Pelly carried the puck into the offensive zone and quickly dished it to his left to Beagle. DSP then made a bee line to the front of the net and the very smart Beagle shot the biscuit. The puck hit Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevksiy in the pads and bounced right to Johnny on the spot, Smith-Pelly, for a sweet rebound goal with 5:24 to go in the middle frame. It was simple and solid hockey and it was exactly what the Capitals needed to seize the lead against a very good Tampa squad.

In the third period, Washington kept the pressure up and didn’t sit back. They finally were able to clinch the victory when Beagle hit the empty net with 2:08 remaining.

This hard earned victory improved the Caps record to 13-10-1 (27 points) and they’ll head to the Big Smoke on Saturday for a date at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It wasn’t a fancy or pretty win, but it was a very good one as the Caps worked hard for 60 minutes and didn’t let Tampa seize any real momentum. Sure the Bolts scored first, but Washington played great hockey and deserved this victory, the Capitals second one in a row and their third in four games.

Now they have to head to Toronto to try and sweep their first set of back to back games this season. If they put in the effort they displayed on Friday evening, they should finally get the job done.

Notes: Grubauer stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced…Braden Holtby will get the start on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada…the Caps destroyed Tampa at the dot going 40-18. Beagle was 14-3…Tampa had the shot attempt advantage at 68-64…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts, including nine on net. He now has 15 goals in 24 games (51 goal pace). He looks much more comfortable playing with Backstrom (cue Reunited by Peaches and Herb)…Matt Niskanen played his best game of the season logging a team leading 24:30 and he was a +3…Lars Eller had five shots on goal and was 9-2 in draws…Tampa was 1 for 3 on the power play while the Capitals went 0 for 3.

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Vrana Sens

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Caps Amp Up Their Effort Level in 5-2 Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 23 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Coming into Wednesday’s Thanksgiving Eve contest against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals had lost three of their last four games.

Why had they been losing?

Well, it’s not rocket science; they just weren’t working hard enough to be victorious.

In a nutshell, they were playing lazy hockey which led to bad penalties and in Monday’s loss to the Flames, the poor play resulted effectively in three power play goals against in a 4-1 defeat.

Simply put, it was a bad scene and Caps fans had to wonder which Washington team was going to show up against Erik Karlsson and company. Would it be the team that dominated the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night or the soft and seemingly out to lunch club that lost by a combined 16-6 to Nashville, Colorado, and Calgary?

In attempt to get things going offensively, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz made some big changes to his forward lineup after declaring before the game that there would be no moves up front. Most notably, he reunited Nicklas Backstrom with Alex Ovechkin and he put Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been very inconsistent with his effort level from game to game, with a surging Jakub Vrana and the always hawking the puck, T.J. Oshie. Tom Wilson was promoted to the Backstrom line while Devante Smith-Pelly, who had a terrible giveaway that turned the Calgary game for the worse, was sent to the bottom six.

Coach Trotz pretty much pulled a Reg Dunlop by saying one thing and then doing another. To quote Slap Shot, Barry pulled the old “mind <bleep>.” Ottawa was preparing for one thing and the Caps showed up with a different plan.

The moves worked wonders, but most importantly, the Capitals brought their lunch pails to this affair and worked hard on every shift. Players were going in strong on the puck on the boards and battling. There was very little reaching and as a result, they didn’t take a single penalty until late in period two.

On offense, the personnel changes clicked and Washington raced out to a 4-0 lead by the game’s midpoint and then cruised to a 5-2 win. The Caps are now 12-10-1 (25 points) and continue to occupy the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Things are very tight standings wise and it will likely remain that way all season with so much parity in the league as a result of expansion and a slower salary cap escalation in 2017-18.

That’s why the work ethic is so important.

Washington’s most consistent hard worker is none other than the Osh Babe himself and T.J. had another stellar game on Wednesday night.  Oshie kept the puck inside the offensive blue line with great hustle and hands on the Caps first goal sequence beating two Senators in the process. Oshie gathered in the biscuit and fed Kuznetsov for a quality chance at the left post. Kuzy smartly shot, but Craig Anderson made a pad save, however, Vrana was there for the loose change and he deposited the disc into the cage to make it 1-0 just over 15 minutes into the game.

The Caps then extended their lead to two pucks with just five seconds left in the opening frame. Brooks Orpik made a huge defensive zone hit to separate the Ottawa player from the puck. That allowed Backstrom to gather in the biscuit in the corner and he made a sweet long zone exit pass to Alex Chiasson up the right side of the ice. Ovechkin then beat Codi Ceci down the rink and received an excellent feed from #39 to spring him on a breakaway. The Gr8 beat Anderson upstairs for a huge tally very late in the period. Ovechkin trained differently this past summer, focusing more on speed, and that goal proved that his off-season change is paying dividends. As I blogged after the Minnesota win, Alex is definitely faster this season. That goal does not happen last year.

In the middle frame, pesky Alex Burrows took a tripping penalty and Washington’s power play made the Senators pay. The Caps worked the puck around and John Carlson fired on net with both Oshie and Backstrom in front of the goal. Carlson’s shot hit Anderson in the pads and bounced into the slot. The Osh Babe beat four Senators to the disc and fed it back to Kuznetsov, who fired a laser just inside the far post to make it 3-0 at 7:41. Just over two minutes later Vrana scored his second goal of the night on a rush shot where he caught Anderson cheating and leaning to his left, which allowed #13 to beat the goalie high short side.

That was pretty much the game there and despite having to kill off a 76 second two man advantage late in period two, the outcome was never in doubt. After the Senators made it 4-2 late in period three, Chiasson closed out the scoring with a lengthy backhand shot into the empty cage with 91 seconds remaining and clinch this one for the good guys.

Overall, this was a much needed triumph for the Caps. They got big performances out of Kuznetsov (1 goal, two assists) and Backstrom, their top two centers. It’s no secret that when those two guys are good, the team typically wins, and vice versa. It is also good to see the progression from Vrana, who has gone from a healthy scratch against the Avs just six days ago to a productive spot in the top six of the forward lineup. The Vrana-Kuznetsov-Oshie line is a new combination, but it works well with #13’s speed and Oshie’s on the puck tenacity. Simply put, Oshie makes any line he’s on better.

Putting Ovi and Backy back together seemed to get #19 going, too. I’ve been calling for these two superstars to be put on the same line again and Coach Trotz delivered by reuniting the duo. They were superb on Wednesday night.

This was a stabilizing victory for Washington and they did it the Smith Barney way, they earned it!

Now they need to consistently bring the energy.

Notes: the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the PK…Braden Holtby was rock solid in net (29 saves). His biggest and most important stop was on a tip by Jean-Gabriel Pageau when the game was scoreless. The Holtbeast continues to make the hard saves look routine…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:19. Dmitry Orlov played an outstanding 22:00 minutes and Orpik was dynamite in 21:54…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 30-24. Lars Eller went 10-2…next up for the Caps is the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday at 5 pm at Capital One Arena. The Bolts are the best team in the NHL right now.

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