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Caps Dominate Kings, 5-0, on Super Bowl Sunday

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Los Angeles Kings had a five game winning streak as they came into the DMV on Sunday afternoon to face the Washington Capitals.

The key word there is HAD.

When it was all said and done, the only five that mattered were the five tallies the Caps deposited into the Kings net in a 5-0 rout.

To steal a line from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t mess with the bull…you’ll get the horns.”

Once again, the Capitals wasted little time in announcing their presence with authority. Andre Burakovsky battled strong on the right wing boards with two Kings and that allowed Brett Connolly to come out of the scrum with the biscuit and feed Lars Eller all alone in front of Peter Budaj. #20 then buried it off of the left post to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the contest.

Naturally, the Kings would push back after falling behind. Trevor Lewis hit the cross bar and then Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) made two outstanding stops on Dustin Brown on the doorstep. Not scoring on those chances would doom LA because late in the opening period the Capitals upped their lead.

Brooks Orpik made a great step up and steal in the defensive zone and he fed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in transition. As #44 was changing, Kuzy skated into the offensive zone while Los Angeles was undergoing a line change, as well. Two Kings then went to #92 on the left wing boards and that opened up Marcus Johansson in the slot. Jojo received a nice feed from Kuznetsov and he fired the biscuit on net right after Justin Williams cruised through the paint. #14’s net drive took Jake Muzzin there too, and #6 screened Budaj, who never saw Johansson’s shot go by him and into the twine.

Last season, the Capitals were not a fast starting team and that was something they wanted to improve on in 2016-17. This season, the Caps have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-23 in the opening frame, including 2-0 on Sunday.

That’s impressive stuff.

The other thing the Caps wanted to do more of this season was to increase their bottom six scoring. On Saturday in a victory over Montreal, they received two goals from their third and fourth lines. Eller’s first period tally wouldn’t be the only one on Sunday, as well. Karl Alzner made a superb play in the neutral zone to make a steal on Brayden McNabb. Tom Wilson gathered the disc after the #27 poke check and he went into the offensive zone on the right wing boards with speed. #43 recognized that Connolly was streaking in all alone and he gave him a sweet pass. #10, who was an outstanding offseason acquisition by General Manager Brian MacLellan, skated in and easily beat Budaj to make it 3-0 on his 10th goal of the season. How did Connolly get so open? Well, Kevin Gravel decided to change after getting hit hard in the offensive zone and he vacated the ice leaving LA short on the back end.

There were still 26 plus minutes to go in the contest, but this one was pretty much over. Los Angeles would get a good chance a few minutes later when Marian Gaborik had the puck all alone in front of Grubauer, but there was no denting #31 on this afternoon.

T.J. Oshie then made the third period pretty much worthless when he scored top shelf on a sweet feed from All Star Nicklas Backstrom with 3:36 left in period two. The “Osh Babe” shot was so perfect that it destroyed Budaj’s water bottle creating a perfect highlight clip that you’ll see a lot of over the next 24 hours. It also destroyed Budaj’s day, and the man who had two straight shutouts for Los Angeles heading into Super Bowl Sunday would not play the final stanza.

Justin Willliams added a late third period marker to close out the scoring, from guess where?

If you said the paint or the doorstep, you win!

Yes, the Caps got another in close goal when Jojo gathered in a Kings turnover on the left wing boards and fed Stick all alone in front of Jeff Zatkoff. Williams victimized his old teammates  for his 18th goal of the season and sent them off to Florida to face the Lightning on Tuesday after a thorough butt whipping at the hands of the best team in the NHL.

For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a manhandling by the Capitals on the scoreboard and in terms of quality chances. The Caps continue to do a great job of getting net presence and easy goals off of their fore check. They are rolling four lines and once again, every Washington forward unit had at least a point on a tally in this whitewash of the Kings.

As for shot attempts, they were one sided for Los Angeles, 80-35. Most of that is on the meaningless third period as well as a bunch of perimeter shots by the Kings that didn’t find their way to the cage because they were blocked (29 of them). Coach Barry Trotz’ team plays outstanding defense in their own zone; they rarely allow the opposition to penetrate into the prime scoring areas and that is why their five on five goal totals are so dominant. So if someone tries to point to the shot attempts as an area of concern for Washington on Sunday, just go all Willie Nelson and tell them to roll those numbers up and smoke ‘em.

The victory improves the Caps to 36-11-6 (78 points). They are seven points up on the Blue Jackets and Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, although both of those squads have two games in hand.

This Washington team is really good and definitely better than last year. The additions of Eller and Connolly are paying big dividends for the bottom six forwards and they are more experienced on the back end. Add in the way Kuznetsov is playing and it’s pick your poison playing the Capitals forward lines. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Notes: Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding in this game. Alzner was +3…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 29-23…Alex Ovechkin drew two penalties, had four shots on net and had an assist…the Capitals were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Kings went 0 for 4…Drew Doughty played 30:33 for the Kings and was even. Alec Martinez was -4, ouch!…every Capital except for Daniel Winnik earned a plus on Sunday, but that’s no knock on #26, who continues to play great hockey at even strength and on the PK….next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Tuesday.

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Holtby Holds the Fort In Caps 3-2 Win Over Montreal

Posted on 04 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).

Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.

So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.

However, it wasn’t easy.

After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.

The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.

The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.

Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.

In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.

Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.

When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.

This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.

As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.

This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.

Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.

Woof!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.

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Backstrom & Kuznetsov Lead the Caps Over Boston, 5-3

Posted on 01 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.

The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.

Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.

The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.

Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.

Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.

What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.

The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.

Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.

Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.

As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).

With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.

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Caps Offense Stays Hot in 7-3 Win Over Blues

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period when St. Louis carried the play and the Caps erupted for six goals in the first 40 minutes to turn Thursday night’s affair in the Midwest into a laugher.

Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all lit the lamp for Washington as they buried the Blues, 7-3.

Believe it or not, this was not a good first 21 minutes for Washington. They were sloppy with the puck and Coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad was dominating them with an aggressive forecheck. The shot attempts in the first frame were 20-9 for the home squad and it was clear, after Monday’s defensive meltdown in the Steel City, that the Capitals were still clearly missing number one defensemen, John Carlson, on the back end.

The Holtbeast, who was chased in that mess of an officiating affair on Monday in Da Burgh, rebounded as he always does after a game in which he’s pulled to carry the Capitals through a very shaky first frame. The Blues put a lot of rubber on #70, but he did have a good look at most pucks and very few were from the prime scoring area.

At the other end, the Caps received Burakovsky’s 8th of the season on a shot Jake Allen (4 goals allowed on 10 shots) definitely wanted back. Then just 124 seconds later Tom Wilson made a great hit on the fore check and then Daniel Winnik made a sweet pass to Beagle in the slot and #83 buried it. Out went Allen and the Blues, who had carried the play in the first four minutes, started taking over again after those two Capitals goals. Carter Hutton came in for a couple of minutes, but then Hitchcock went back to Allen.

St. Louis looked like they were going to make a game of this one when Jaden Schwartz scored just 19 seconds into period two. Karl Alzner was tied up with Alex Steen in front and Holtby never saw the biscuit. Just over three minutes later, though, the Capitals top line had a great rush up the ice and Nicklas Backstrom fed Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) in the slot and with Allen thinking the puck was going to be moved to Alex Ovechkin (2 assists), #77 backhanded it home easily. From there it was all Caps the rest of the frame as the Blues seemed to come undone by their goaltending problems.

Connolly made it 4-1 on a breakaway as he blew by Carl “boat anchor” Gunnarsson and beat Allen top shelf to send #34 to the bench. 11 ticks later Kuznetsov made a nice play on the wall to force the Blues into a turnover and Jojo gobbled the puck up and fired it by Hutton and the rout was on.

Williams would then score on the power play to make it 6-1 with 26 and a half minutes still to play. Kuzy would get the final tally and make it 7-1 six minutes and 20 seconds in period three before the Blues scored two late garbage time goals.

The big key for Washington in this one was a recipe that has worked well for them in 2017: getting pucks and bodies to the net at the right times. The Caps scored six of their seven goals from in the prime scoring area. You will naturally have a higher shooting percentage when you are getting your looks from the difficult to get to parts of the rink. Ovechkin had two assists, but he was a huge factor on three of the Capitals tallies. St. Louis was keying on him, the Gr8 did have a hat trick in this barn last April, and that opened up lanes for other players, particularly Williams on the power play and Oshie’s goal that really took the wind from the Blues sails.

Washington continues to get great work from their third line of Connolly, Lars Eller, and Burakovsky. They were each +2. The fourth line also had a big early tally so the bottom six, which was great in Pittsburgh on Monday and has been playing well during this 10-0-1 run the Caps are on, is more than doing their share.

Bottom line, despite the shot attempts ending up 48-29 for the Blues, this game came down to one team getting to the prime scoring areas of the ice better than the other and one team having far superior goaltending. It was a victory the Capitals needed to erase the memory of the zebra aided loss to the Pens in OT on Monday. The win also came on the first half of the annual “Dad’s” trip and on Friday in Dallas, there will be a lot of laughs after this laugher of a contest.

The Caps are now 30-9-6 (66 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-10-4) by two points in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and the NHL standings. The Capitals plus 48 goal differential is also tops in the best pro sports league on Earth.

Notes: Steen and Schwartz each had three points for the Blues…the Caps got creamed on draws, 35-23, but Beagle was 9-7…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:12…Coach Barry Trotz had a huge lead so he just rolled the lines, which keeps guys fresher and reduces the chances of injury…Oshie, Brooks Orpik, and Kuznetsov were also +2 like the 3rd line….the Caps only took one penalty and killed it off. They were 1 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Stars in Dallas on Saturday at 8 pm.

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Caps Win Streak Ends at Nine in OT Loss to Pens

Posted on 16 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin was tripped by Sidney Crosby in overtime without a call and shortly thereafter the Penguins crashed the crease to score, 8-7, and win a wild affair that ends the Capitals nine game winning streak.

The Caps led 3-0 early in the second period and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance to make it 4-0 on the power play, but Matt Murray somehow made a big save.

Then the play that changed the game occurred. Patrick Hornqvist, who is certainly not one of the cleaner players in the league, punched T.J. Oshie in the head in the left wing corner in the Caps end. After a Braden Holtby cover of the puck, a scrum broke out. Daniel Winnik and Hornqvist were sent to the box for roughing when Washington should have had a power play. Oshie went down the tunnel for evaluation, but would return.

That put the game at four on four, and with the Caps being in their third game in four nights against a more rested Penguins squad, Pittsburgh used their speed and some poor defensive zone play by the Capitals to make it 3-2.

Honestly, the Capitals were fortunate to be up 3-0, before then. The puck was bouncing their way while the Penguins had some tough luck on their chances. But the “puck luck” would totally swing the Pens way and they scored three more goals to go up, 5-3, and chase Braden Holtby in the middle frame.

At that point, you had to figure this one was over given how much hockey Washington had played recently, but Coach Barry Trotz’s crew battled back hard and tied it up at five when Brett Connolly tallied at even strength and then Lars Eller (2 goals, +3) scored shorthanded.

Another controversial play then occurred that went the home team’s way, once again. Hornqvist was crashing the net and fell over Winnik’s arm. He slid extra far into Philipp Grubauer and then whacked number 31’s pad while Evgeni Malking (3 goals) was notching what would ultimately be his hat trick tally. This sure looked like textbook goalie interference or at least incidental contact, and Trotz wisely challenged. But the NHL guys in Toronto wearing their Pens Stanley Cup t-shirts ruled “goal.” Guess you can’t fight city hall, eh?!

Pittsburgh would extend the lead to 7-5 in the final frame when Bryan Rust cross checked Karl Alzner from behind on the right wing boards and that allowed Conor Sheary to feed Crosby for what surely looked like the game clincher.

But credit the Caps, they fought back with a vengeance and Oshie backhanded the biscuit home to cut it to 7-6 with 10:31 to go on the power play. Eller would then tie it up on a rebound with 5:32 left and somehow this one was even up when Washington had looked dead and buried twice.

The game then went to overtime and the missed trip on Crosby led to the winning goal sequence.

Overall, this was a very good point for the Capitals. You can complain that they blew a 3-0 lead, but Washington was clearly running on fumes and showed resiliency to overcome the speedy Penguins and the atrocious work of Dan O’Halloran and Frederick L’Ecuyer. Fittingly, the Caps did have four power plays to just one for Pittsburgh, the first time in 10 games that has happened, and it was the first time in 10 games the Capitals have lost.

But it wasn’t the number of calls, it was the HUGE misses by the guys in stripes that mattered, but that’s hockey.

It hurts that the winning streak is over and the long stretch of not allowing an even strength goal went by the wayside, but as Coach Trotz often mentions, there are games on the schedule when you know you are at a big disadvantage and this was one of them. The Caps were on their third game in four nights while Pittsburgh was off on Sunday and recently had their bye week.

Still, the Capitals, who were missing John Carlson on the back end, had a lot of breakdowns in their game and I’ll attribute that to fatigue. The Penguins had numerous odd man rushes and you just can’t get into a track meet with them. Pittsburgh was missing Kris Letang, as well, so the Caps needed to play a simpler game of getting pucks deep and pounding a defense that really misses #58.

What is impressive, though, is the mental toughness and battle this Capitals team showed to rally from both two goal holes and force overtime. That standings point could be huge in the end and Washington went 2-0-2 in the regular season against the Pens. On home ice it was all Capitals and both games at the Igloo II were extra time affairs, so home ice will be important in the playoffs.

It sure looks like Washington, with the additions of Eller and Connolly (1 goal, +2), and the additional experience for guys like Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky (1 goal, 1 assist, +3), Dmitry Orlov, and Nate Schmidt have closed the gap on the Penguins. But there’s a long way to go and trades could still happen. I expect that Pens GM Jim Rutherford is not thrilled with his blue line and might try and make a move or two.

For Washington, now that they’ve stabilized the bottom six, it’s up to their top two lines to win the war in the spring over Pittsburgh. On Monday night, the Pens top six won the game. Ovechkin (two assists) was -4, Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal) went -3, and Kuznetsov (1 assist) was -2. It was Washington’s third and fourth lines that gave them a chance to win when they had the odds stacked against them, and they nearly pulled it off.

The Caps are now 29-9-6 (64 points) and are still five points up on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand). They are two points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Coach John Tortorella’s team has two games in hand.

There’s a long way to go in this season (38 games) and being healthy in the spring is the most important thing, but the Capitals are certainly a strong team and losing on Monday night was a glass “half full” defeat, in my book.

Notes: Shot attempts were 67-52 for Pittsburgh…faceoffs were 33 apiece. Jay Beagle was 9-7…Alzner was -3 in 17:55. It was not one of his better games and leaving his feet on the second Penguins goal is something he can’t do there. Better to stay up and cut off the pass to the guy behind him…Crosby had a goal and three assists and was +3, but he was aided by the guys in stripes on his goal and then the overtime tally…counting the playoffs, the Caps have now lost six straight games in Pittsburgh, four of them after regulation.

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Caps Bury Flyers for 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 15 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals continue to put a beat down on their opponents.

Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves, 13 of which came in a sluggish Washington first period, and the Caps exploded for four tallies in the first seven minutes of period three to bury the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen each scored twice in the final stanza. The Caps took a lead just before the midpoint of this tilt when Michael Del Zotto turned the puck over while shorthanded in his own zone. Andre Burakovsky pounced on the loose biscuit and snapped it over Steve Mason to give Washington the only goal they’d really need.

The victory was the Caps ninth straight and in their last six games they’ve won by a combined score of 26-3. They still haven’t allowed an even strength goal since January 3rd.

Wow, this team is really rolling and it’s scary that they were able to win convincingly when not looking particularly strong or motivated until the 3rd period. Grubauer earned his shutout and first star with a super opening frame, but after that he only faced 11 shots. That’s some great team defense there.

For long time Capitals fans, there’s nothing like throttling a team you’ve battled fiercely since 1974 with numerous of those tilts involving some ugliness. But let’s face it, Philadelphia is not an elite team anymore like Pittsburgh or Chicago, and with the Penguins on the docket from the Igloo II on Monday night, this looked like a trap game for Washington.

Grubauer prevented any Flyers scoreboard momentum from occurring before Washington eventually kicked their offense into high gear and started making some AMAZING passes. First was Marcus Johansson’s “Kuzy type” behind the net feed to Williams on the second goal, then came Alex Ovechkin’s amazing rocket shot fake and dish to Niskanen for a layup, and after Mason flubbed a Niskanen point shot to make it 4-0, Nicklas “Eyes in the back of his head” Backstrom fed Williams behind his back without looking for the final tally. 

It was an awesome display of firepower and the Caps took advantage of the fact that the Flyers had played on Saturday afternoon. Philly had energy and threw a lot of rubber at Grubauer early, but once it became 2-0, you could see the fatigue and resignation set in for the orange and black.

The only bad news of the day was that John Carlson suffered a lower body injury and logged only 6:38 (he will travel to Pittsburgh, though). That put a big load on Niskanen on Sunday, but #2 excelled with the two goals while being +4 in a team leading 25:26 of ice time. The rest of the Caps blue line stepped up, as well, and Nate Schmidt received 3:10 of penalty killing time. With Alzner jailed late, even Dmitry Orlov received some work shorthanded (53 seconds). That’s good preparation against a very good Flyers power play for the postseason.

Once again the Caps penalty killing was a key to victory stopping all five Flyers man advantages. Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they have now gone nine straight contests having fewer power plays than their opponents. The last time they had more man advantage situations in a game than the opposition was on December 17th against Montreal.

Despite the less than fair treatment from the zebras, the Capitals have managed to take over the top spot in the NHL with a 29-9-5 record (63 points), although the Blue Jackets are 29-9-4 (62 points) and have a game in hand. The Caps have opened up a six point cushion on the Penguins and Rangers, but Pittsburgh has a game in hand. Clearly Monday night’s tilt at the Consol Energy Center will be a game that the Pens will be very much motivated to win, but the Capitals still have bitter memories from last May, so they should be focused, as well.

As Holtby mentioned to the media on Friday after the triumph over Chicago, this Caps team is very hard to beat when motivated. They should be against the Penguins on Monday, but even when they seem to have a bit of a case of the blahs, like they did for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Flyers, they are still awfully good, just ask the guys from Philly.

Notes: shots on goal were 24-22 for the Flyers and they also had more shot attempts, 56-48…the Caps continue to get goals from the paint and that’s a big reason why they’ve won nine straight. They have amped their compete level up and stopped playing almost exclusively on the perimeter…Orlov was second in ice time at 22:15, but Brooks Orpik logged 21:43 and Schmidt played 21:37…Williams, after a slow start, now has 14 goals on the season…the Caps took three high sticking minors, they need to correct that…Washington won the faceoff battle, 21-20. Evgeny Kuznetsov was 5-2…Ovechkin had seven hits…Chandler Stephenson was recalled from Hershey, but did not dress. He is expected to accompany the Caps on their three game road trip.

Down on the Farm: On Sunday evening, I took in the Hershey Bears-Binghamton Senators tilt before 9,996 fans at the Giant Center. The Bears have been struggling recently, but they broke a long losing streak with a 6-4 win over Lehigh Valley (Flyers AHL team) on Saturday night in Chocolatetown. Hershey got off on the wrong foot in the game against the Senators with Christian Djoos taking a careless early high sticking double minor. Binghamton would tally on the second half of that four minute infraction and in period two they would increase their lead to two goals. Hershey, who only had five shots on goal through 30 minutes, finally awoke from their slumber and started playing hockey. Chris Bourque, who was the best Bears forward in this tilt, drew a tripping penalty and Jakub Vrana buried a shot shortly thereafter to make it a 2-1 game. Then in the third period, Bourque scored on another power play to even things up and with Hershey surging to a 24-18 lead in shots on goal, things were looking up for the home squad. But then the Bears committed a terrible offensive zone turnover and Bingo went in on a two on none break and easily beat Vitek Vanecek. Hershey would continue to press the play, but then another Bears defensive zone breakdown led to an easy marker for Binghamton with three minutes left and they won, 4-2. Overall this was a poor effort by Troy Mann’s squad and the line of Paul Carey-Zach Sanford-Stan Galiev was a disappointment. Hershey looked flat and the blue line, which sorely misses Madison Bowey, was rather unimpressive. The Bears are now 19-10-7-2 on the campaign.

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Ovi 1000

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Alex Ovechkin Hits 1,000 Points in Caps 5-2 Win Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin came into Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins needing just one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

It didn’t take him long to get it.

Just 35 seconds into this tilt on NBC Rivalry Night, the Gr8 received a breakout pass from Nicklas Backstrom, after T.J. Oshie made a great defensive zone hit and steal, and he carried the biscuit into the slot and zipped it by Marc Andre-Fleury to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.

An already energized Verizon Center went nuts and when the Gr8 scored on a power play ROCKET at 8:06 of the second period, it was becoming clearer that Washington was going to win its seventh straight contest.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has really turned it on since we’ve started 2017, then fed Justin Williams for his 12th goal of the campaign on one of his patented behind the net passes just 4:31 into the final frame to make it 3-0.

At that point, the only thing that could thwart Washington was a parade to the penalty box and that began with a questionable call on Dmitry Orlov at 6:28 after it sure looked like Patrick Hornqvist should’ve been going off with him. This scrum resulted following a cheap swipe by Carl Hagelin on Braden Holtby (30 saves) after he had covered a puck.

The Penguins have a great power play and Evgeni Malkin scored to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh would push hard for another, but a Steven Oleksy knee on knee hit put him in the box for the second time in this one. Simply put, Oleksy is an AHLer and looked overmatched out there. Those hits weren’t intentional, he just isn’t fast enough to play at the top level.

On the ensuing power play, somehow the Caps messed up at their offensive blue line and Matt Cullen received a shorthanded breakaway, but the Holtbeast got a piece of the shot to calm things down. About 10 seconds later, Backstrom scored after another brilliant pass by Oshie to make it 4-1 with 6:49 remaining. Game pretty much over, well except for those guys in stripes, who just had to continue to make their mark in this one.

Oshie was jailed for his third minor penalty of the night and Sidney Crosby, who was held in check well by the Caps on Wednesday, fed Hornqvist perfectly on the door step for a tap in with 2:36 to go.

The Caps would keep the Penguins without any real chances from then on, though, and Lars Eller launched one off of the dome of Kris Letang and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Oshie, who missed Monday’s big win in Montreal, would notch three assists and Backstrom had a goal and three helpers. Holtby was outstanding again, but it was El Capitain, Ovechkin, who set the tone early in this one and staked his club to a two goal lead to make no doubt about whose night this was going to be.

Ovi only played 16:52, he’s being paced for the post season, but he had two goals, 11 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two hits. He even set up Backstrom when it was 2-0 for an open net shot, but the puck fluttered a bit on Nicky and he shot it high.

This was a vintage Ovechkin game and he rose to the occasion after Pierre McGuire threw all of Crosby and the Pens championships in the Gr8’s face in a pregame interview. Yes, Caps fans, it was another tough night of watching NBC and having to listen to some weird analysis, but when you come out on top over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it seems worth it.

Once again, the Capitals were on the short end of the stick in power plays for the seventh straight game, but they’ve won all seven. They have not had more power plays than their opponents since December 17th against Montreal. By the rulebook, those were penalties on the Caps, no argument there, but what is ridiculous is the continual lack of calls against their opponents. It’s not being called fairly and I still don’t know how the heck both referees missed Ian Cole’s butt end to the face of Marcus Johansson? I could point out at least a half dozen or more infractions committed by the Penguins that weren’t called, but the league will continue to do nothing about improving their officiating to make it more consistent. It’s like they are trained to officiate the score.

Anyways, despite what Mike Milbury said after the game, the Capitals weren’t the only team trying their hardest out there. Washington was very sloppy tonight, but their back checking was outstanding and covered for several of their mistakes. When they didn’t have that support, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door. Braden is on fire and he continues to make the timely clutch save. If Cullen makes it 3-2, who knows what happens? That’s why you need a great goaltender, and Holtby is certainly that.

The win improves the Caps to 27-9-5 (59 points) and they take over 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the halfway point of the season, Washington is looking like a Cup contender and the recent uptick in the play of Kuznetsov has made them a much more dangerous team because the opponents can’t put all of their focus on Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie. Add in the strong recent play of the Brett Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky line and Washington looks much more daunting than last spring.

But there’s still 41 games left and we are three months from the playoffs, so it’s not worth getting too high over. January has certainly been encouraging for the Capitals, but to quote the great Phil Collins, “still it would seem we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”

Notes: The Pens won the shot attempt battle, 64-51, but I thought the Capitals had more of the quality scoring chances. Washington did a great job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter at even strength…Matt Niskanen was +3 and led the Caps in ice time at 23:11…John Carlson had two assists and five shots on net in 22:19…Orlov had an assist and was +2 in 20:18. Outside of getting beat one on one by Crosby in period one, he was really good…the Capitals cleaned up on draws, 43-26. Backstrom and Beagle were both 14-7…the Caps will face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 pm on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Kuzy Habs

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby Lead Caps Over Montreal, 4-1

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner just 54 seconds after Montreal tied the game up, then set up Brent Connolly’s 5th tally of the season to make it a two goal cushion, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves as the Washington Capitals played arguably their best road game of the campaign to knock off the Habs, 4-1, at the Bell Centre.

For the Gr8, he now stands at 999 career points and he has a date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday night in an attempt at hitting four digits.

Before that big tilt takes place, however, the Caps can enjoy their flight home from Quebec after taking two games in the Great White North, a 1-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday in which the Holtbeast stole the show, and then Monday night’s dominating victory over a bit depleted Canadiens squad. These two triumphs increase the Capitals current winning streak to six games and they are now 26-9-5 (57 points) overall.

The Habs were without key players Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, Andrew Shaw, and David Desharnais, but Washington was missing its top right winner, T.J. Oshie, who was injured thanks to one clean and one non-clean hit from Dion Phaneuf on Saturday in Canada’s capital city. Oshie did skate on Monday morning, so there’s a chance he could return for the Pens game on Rivalry night on NBC this Wednesday at 8 pm.

The Capitals were skating well in this contest against a speedy Montreal club that makes it very hard to get to the front of the net to disrupt all world goalie, Carey Price. Early on it was a chess match with both teams having good chances, but the Caps got on the board first when Karl Alzner made a strong pinch in the left wing corner and with the Gr8 covering the point, the puck went back to Ovi. Alex fired a hard, low shot on net and with Connolly screening in the high slot, Price (35 saves) could not control the rebound and all star Nicklas Backstrom backhanded the puck home at 11:03 of period one.

This game would then go back and forth for the next 35 plus minutes with Washington having the edge in quality scoring chances. The Caps, however, got into penalty trouble in the final frame and after Lars Eller took a bad neutral zone infraction trying to impede a Montreal rush, Tomas Plekanec scored with just one tick left on the man advantage via a goal mouth scramble. Holtby was contacted slightly by Paul Byron, but even more so by Brooks Orpik, who knocked over the Holtbeast while trying to clear out Byron. Coach Barry Trotz challenged for goalie interference, but the goal stood.

At that point the Bell Centre was hopping and a Caps team that had carried most of the play to that point, was at a critical juncture.

Enter Kuznetsov, who received a pass from Ovechkin in the neutral zone, worked his way strongly around Max Pacioretty to gain the offensive zone, then undressed Jeff Petry with a sweet outside in move, and finally chipped the puck by a stunned Price to give the Capitals a massive answer on the scoreboard after the Habs seemed to have all of the momentum. That goal, with 11:48 remaining, was like a shot of adrenaline to Washington and on Kuzy’s next shift, he took advantage of a Price miscue with the puck by his own net and fed Connolly in the slot to make it 3-1 with nine minutes remaining.

Washington’s penalty kill would thwart the fourth Montreal power play of the night and then #92 drew a hooking infraction on his fellow Russian countryman, Alexander Radulov, with 3:56 to go. At that point the only thing that could get the Habs some life would be a shorthanded tally, but there would be none of that.

Coach Trotz went for the dagger putting out the regular number one power play unit and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) fed Ovi at the top of the left circle and the Gr8 rifled it by Price just 32 seconds into the man advantage. Game over.

Wow, this was some hockey game and it is easy to see why Price and Holtby were two of the three goalies for Team Canada this past fall in the World Cup of Hockey. Holtby, who on Monday was named the NHL’s third star of the week, was outstanding once again. In his last three games he’s allowed just one goal on 82 shots! The Holtbeast is now 7-0-1 lifetime at the hallowed Bell Centre (h/t to Caps beat writer, Mike Vogel).

For the night, the Caps outshot Montreal, 39-23, and deserved this victory. They did a better job of getting bodies in front of Price, unlike the 2-1 loss they suffered to the Habs at the Verizon Center on December 17th where Coach Michel Therien’s club sealed off the front of the net extremely well.

The Caps are now 5-0 in January and Kuznetsov looks like the player who made the NHL All Star team last season. He is moving more into the tougher areas of the ice and Petry was likely fooled so badly because he thought #92 was going to do his usual peel to the wing and look for a pass play. Instead, Evgeny went hard to the net and he’s been doing that, along with shooting the biscuit, more frequently during this winning streak. As a result, the points are piling up for him and the wins are too, for the Caps. This is the Kuznetsov the Capitals will need in the spring if they are going to win the Stanley Cup.

Now he just needs to keep the train rolling…

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Notes: shot attempts were 68-62 for the Caps…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play while the Habs went 1 for 4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:06…Coach Trotz spreads his ice time around because of the deep Washington roster, although Liam O’Brien, who made his 2016-17 debut, only played 6:08…Tom Wilson, who was hurt blocking a shot on Saturday, played 10:22 and that allowed Coach Trotz to hold Paul Carey, who had been recalled earlier in the day from Hershey, out of the contest…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-27…Alzner blocked six shots…Wilson and Connolly each had three hits doing a super job on the forecheck… Connolly took Oshie’s spot on the top line and he played very well…Nate Schmidt played just 13:59, but was outstanding at breaking the puck up the ice with speed on the back end, especially in the first period when the Capitals set the tone.

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Chorney scores

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Chorney and Alzner Tally as Caps top the Sens, 2-1

Posted on 02 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals followed up their 6-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, which was one of their better efforts in recent weeks, with another strong outing against the speedy Senators on Sunday night at the Phone Booth.

Ottawa, who currently sit in 2nd place in the Atlantic Divisions and were in DC resting while the Caps came back from New Jersey early Saturday evening, brought a tenacious energy and gave the Capitals all they could handle.

Washington, however, after trailing 1-0 on a Kyle Turris goal at 12:41 of the second period, found a way to claw back and pull out a 2-1 victory behind 23 saves from Braden Holtby.

It was far from easy and the Caps had to overcome some penalties, but their stellar PK, which went nine for nine on Saturday at The Rock, was four for four at the Verizon Center on Sunday night, including killing off a full two minute five on three advantage midway through the final frame. Brooks Oprik (1 assist) was jailed on a questionable tripping call on Bobby Ryan along the right wing boards and then Evgeny Kuznetsov compounded the situation with a pretty clear slash during the delayed penalty sequence. The Senators power play, which has some serious firepower, including Norris Trophy winning defensemen Erik Karlsson, was held in check by some great work by Jay Beagle and Nicklas Backstrom up front and superb defensive play from Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Taylor Chorney down low. Beagle was out there for 1:28 of the two minutes and continues to do whatever it takes to win, including sacrificing his body to block three Senators shots. Last, but not least, if not for a big save by the Holtbeast on Mike Hoffman, this game likely heads to overtime.

The penalty killing also played a huge role in the Caps tying this game up late in period two. Ottawa received their second man advantage of the contest when Backstrom was whistled for holding. With the score 1-0 and the Senators really pushing the play, it was a critical juncture for the Capitals. But the unit coached by Lane Lambert was aggressive and outstanding and Justin Williams received a breakaway right after the penalty to #19 expired. “Stick” went in alone on Mike Condon (26 saves) and was denied, but Mr. Hustle, T.J. Oshie, came in and collected the rebound. #77 then skated around the back of the net and spotted King Karl coming down the left wing boards. Oshie then placed it perfectly on a tee for Alzner to blast the biscuit into the cage with 20 seconds left in period two.

It was a huge momentum swing for the Capitals and they built on it early in the third period when Chorney scored his first goal of the season on a point shot that Condon never saw, thanks to a superb screen by Tom Wilson. Beagle was also in front as the Caps continued to put an emphasis on getting traffic on the opposing goaltender, like they did so successfully in Saturday’s blowout triumph over the Devils.

Ottawa, coached by former Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher, plays a 1-3-1 scheme that forces opponents to focus on putting pucks behind the Senators defenders or risk turnovers and odd man rushes against. Washington was fairly disciplined on Sunday night and pretty much took what was given to them. The Capitals received another excellent outing from the third line of Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky. Since being recently scratched for three games, Burakovsky has returned to the lineup with a vengeance and has looked like a completely different player. Gone is the hesitation and poor decision making from his game. He is playing faster and bigger and paying the price to make the right play. On one sequence in period one he had the puck in the neutral zone in front of the Ottawa bench and two Senators were closing in on him. Instead of peeling off or making the soft play and turning the puck over, #65 knew he was going to get hit and he put the puck in along the right wing boards before getting crunched. That play led to a Washington scoring chance and is an example of competing the right way. Coach Trotz was certainly pleased with how “Burky” handled that situation and the way he’s upped his game since returning to the lineup.

After the contest, Connolly spoke about the way his line is going.

“It’s fun…I feel like when me and Lars played together [earlier in the year] we were good. It’s just one of those things and I think now we are solidifying a little bit of an identity there with me and Burky. I think we’ve been good every night and tonight I thought we were good again, we had some chances. We’re playing good defensively, playing for each other, so if we can keep doing that we’re going to get some goals, we’re going to help out defensively, there’s no question we’re getting chances every night, we’ll have one game where if we keep playing the way we’re playing we’ll break out and go from there, but it’s fun.”

With the third line looking like a keeper and the solid play of the fourth line of Wilson, Beagle, and Daniel Winnik, it’s up to the Caps top two lines to carry this club over the top. On Sunday, the first line of Backstrom, Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin was good despite not scoring any goals. The Gr8 drew a key late penalty on the Senators when he outhustled the Ottawa defensemen and that forced Mark Stone to hold him as he was getting a scoring chance. Washington would not score on the ensuing power play, but they took a valuable two minutes off of the clock.

As for the second line of Marcus Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Williams, they were okay. Kuzy did have three shots on goal, but there were some other instances where he should have put the puck to the net and instead tried a low risk pass that caused issues. On one occasion in the third period, he incorrectly chose not to throw the puck on goal while at the side of the net and his attempted pass then missed the Washington point man. If Holtby doesn’t alertly come out to play the puck there, Ottawa has a breakaway. #92, who has only four goals in his last 68 games, has to stop being so pass focused. This is a shoot first league and if he wants the ice to open up for him again, he has to fire more often and also go to the more populated areas of the ice instead of peeling away from traffic and slipping into the softer areas of the rink. Coach Barry Trotz needs him to get back to producing goals and if he doesn’t do that, Washington’s chances of going far in the playoffs greatly diminish. There are still 46 games remaining, but it would be nice if Kuznetsov started playing the right way, more often.

With the victory, the Caps improve to 22-9-5 (49 points) and they will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night at 7 pm. The Leafs beat them badly on a difficult travel weekend for Washington back in November. That was the night the Holtbeast voiced his displeasure with his squads effort following the defeat.

On Sunday night, just like Saturday afternoon, the Capitals effort couldn’t be questioned and they found a way to get two big victories and four standings points. They played the right way over the weekend, and as a result they were successful. Now they need to carry that process going forward.

“I wasn’t here last year, but I think it was really easy for the guys here last year. This year we’re getting teams best games every night, they’re not going to let up on us based on the big year we had last year and the players we have here. We just have to find our game at the right time of the year, we have to keep working on things, it’s not going to be perfect every night, and we’re going to lose some games, for sure, its hockey, it’s a weird sport. But we’ll correct some things, we’ve got some good leaders in here, it just comes down to habits with this team. I think if we can find our habits, we can be a winning team. I think that’s the one thing we need is to have our habits every night, we have to be doing the little things, we can’t be turning away from pucks, we’ve got to come back to our own end, play in our own end, play hard for Holts, if we can do that we can be fine, but that’s what we’ve got to focus on, our habits,” summarized Connolly on the key to success for Washington.

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-21. Beagle noted that the Senators had a lot of righty centers so that made things tough for the Capitals, who have three left handed pivot men…shot attempts were 63-57 for Ottawa. The Caps blocked 23 shots with a committed effort. Beagle, Winnik, and Alzner led the team with three blocks each. Connolly noted “We’re getting a lot of big blocks from those guys” on the PK…Orpik led the Caps with seven hits, including burying Curtis Lazar in the second period…Ottawa’s fourth line barely played. Chris Neil logged 6:35, Lazar played just 5:57, and Casey Bailey only saw 4:41 of ice time. One would have to think the fact that the Caps roll four lines helped them in the final frame when they played their best period…Chorney played 13:45 and in addition to his goal, made a super play in period one where he broke up a Senators four on two rush with a great stand up at the Capitals blue line…Eller led the Caps with four shots on goal…the Caps forechecked well and also didn’t get frustrated with the way the game was called, which was a big reason they won.

 

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Carlson Bolts

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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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