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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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Alex Ovechkin, the man who saved hockey in this area, reached a major milestone on Sunday night

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Ovi Hits 500 Goals in Fifth Fastest Time in NHL History

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull, and now there is Alex Ovechkin.

The Gr8 scored on the power play at 16:19 of the second period to notch his 500th career NHL goal and become the fifth faster player in NHL history to reach that plateau. Oveckhkin needed 801 games to achieve it, and he also added #501 in the third period.

But when the aforementioned players hit 500, they did it in a different era when games were higher scoring making it easier to achieve that amazing feat a bit quicker. Gretzky did it 575 games, Lemieux in 605, Bossy in 647, and Hull in 693.

Once the Gr8 notched his tally off of a nice feed from Jason Chimera (three assists), his teammates all poured off of the bench to congratulate him while the Verizon Center went absolutely nuts.

Having attended Capitals games since 1974, the year of their inception, I’d have to put Ovi’s 500th goal in the top five or no worse than top 10 great home game moments in Caps history. The Dale Hunter goal against the Flyers in 1988 is likely number one followed by the Fedorov series winning goal in 2009, Kuznetsov’s series winning tally last spring, and perhaps the Southeast Division clinching regular season win in 2008 over Florida. Sunday was a significant event in Washington hockey history and Ovechkin agreed.

“It is a special moment. It is nice to be in that category. It is really hard to score in this League right now system-wise… If you get to 30 goals, 35 goals, you’re lucky. Without my teammates help, without the system, how we play, it is very hard to do,” said the man who seemingly can get a shot directed on net from just about any position in the offensive zone.

As for the game itself, well it was a rout with Washington winning, 7-1. The Caps jumped off to a quick 2-0 start and they totally dominated Ottawa in that opening frame with a goal from Justin Williams after a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists). Then the Capitals received a power play and with the Sens shading towards Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie received a super pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and buried an easy one from the slot.

The Caps out shot attempted Ottawa, 22-13, in the first period. The second period started not as well as the Capitals were a bit sloppy and Mike Hoffman scored his 20th goal of the season after a Washington offensive zone turnover. The Senators had a good chance or two to tie things up, but Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) came through with some clutch stops. Zach Sill, returning from a two game suspension, would answer the Senators push, scoring his 1st goal of the season just two and half minutes later after a weird bounce in front of goalie Andrew Hammond (29 saves).

Washington then settled down and Dmitry Orlov ripped one home with Ovechkin screening in front to make it 4-1 before the game was halfway over. An Ottawa tripping penalty by Mark Stone then set the stage for Ovi’s milestone tally that pushed the lead to four goals.

With a 5-1 lead, the Capitals didn’t sit back and Tom Wilson and Ovechkin scored before the 10 minute mark of period three to increase the margin to 7-1. The last 10 minutes pretty much became glorified preseason hockey as Coach Trotz chose to spread the ice time around.

With the victory the Capitals improved to a staggering 32-7-3 (67 points) and lead the Dallas Stars by five points in the NHL standings, with two games in hand. In the Eastern Conference they are 11 points up on the Florida Panthers, who despite winning 12 straight hockey games, can barely gain any ground on Washington. In their division, the Caps are 18 points up on both the second place Rangers and Islanders. It’s amazing to think where their record could end up after 82 games, but Williams was having none of that talk after the contest.

“It’s not about winning 50 or 60 games this year, it’s about winning the last game this year.”

Coach Trotz’ crew continues to win hockey games despite playing so many times without their full lineup. John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle, and Mike Richards will hopefully all find themselves playing when things matter in the spring, but the bench boss noted that he jokingly told those guys that “they better not screw it up” when they get back in.

Seriously, though, this is a very good team and Washington has been able to develop some depth while key players have been out of the lineup. It is something that is not easy to do, but it’s been necessary for the Caps.

“It’s a tough thing to do in this league because it such a good league, to win and develop players at the same time. The good thing is they are developing because they are shown the right way. It starts with leadership, and the group pulls the guys into the fight or practice habits. And it pays off in a lot of ways for us,” said Coach Trotz when asked about the development of blue liners like Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney, among others.

It has been a magical ride so far and Ovechkin’s fireworks just past the midpoint of the season were truly special. He is not only playing well individually, but he’s constantly a leader for his club on a daily basis.

“Knowingly or unknowingly, he improves everybody’s demeanor. Once you see Ovi, he’s got this smile on his face. He’s always happy to be around. He love scoring goals and it’s infectious. It carries on and he’s playing some great hockey,” finished Williams.

The Caps are having fun and they keep piling up the victories, however, there is only one goal for this Washington team this year, as Williams stated above, so stay tuned.

Notes: Nicklas Backstrom had three assists in just 16:09 of ice time…Burakovsky was injured on a hard shoulder to shoulder hit in the right wing corner in period two. He played just 34 seconds in period three and did not return. Coach Trotz said he’d know more about his status in the next day or so…Matt Niskanen played 9:30 in the first period, but thanks to the Caps big lead, he logged only 12:17 the remaining 40 minutes, which was important because he’s been overloaded in Carlson’s absence…Nate Schmidt led the Capitals in ice time with 22:21…Washington will not practice on Monday and will be back on the ice on Tuesday. Their next game is Thursday at the Verizon Center against Vancouver.

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There is nothing Alexander Ovechkin can't do when it comes to hockey.

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Ovechkin Scores 499 to Win It in Overtime for the Caps

Posted on 09 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s hard to see a hockey game end any more exciting than that one did.

Wow!

Alexander Ovechkin, after Braden Holtby made a big save on Rick Nash and Nate Schmidt followed it up with a game saving block of Derek Stepan’s empty net bid, took the puck in three on three overtime, went end-to-end down the left wing beating both Nash and Ryan McDonagh with blazing speed, and ripped the 499th goal of his career by King Henrik Lundqvist to give the Washington Capitals an amazing comeback 4-3 victory after they had surrendered a 2-0 third period lead.

Once again…Wow!

I’m practically out of breath after this amazing game.

Washington carried most of the play over New York for two periods and seemed to have things in control heading into the final frame. However the Caps looked a little lethargic and tired while the Rangers, off since Tuesday night, came storming back to seize the lead, 3-2, with three goals in less than 10 minutes of play. Washington made too many defensive zone mistakes during that stretch and with just over five minutes to go it looked like New York was headed to its fifth win in the last six games against the Capitals.

But this Caps team is just too proud, too determined, and too tight of a unit to allow their archrivals to stick it to them again in a dagger like fashion. The Capitals put on a furious assault on Lundqvist and nearly tied the game on an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit iron. During that stretch, with 3:50 to go, the Rangers did get a two on one break and Nash fed McDonagh for what looked like a layup, but he either shot it wide or the Holtbeast (23 saves) just got a piece of it as the biscuit slid wide.

Still, with less than 30 seconds left the Caps were on their last life, but Ovechkin did a great job to gather a puck in the left wing corner and instead of firing on net, he fed Matt Niskanen at the left point. #2 saw that there were several Blueshirts in his lane so he slid the disc over to Justin Williams. The super smart Williams saw all star Nicklas Backstrom in front of King Henrik and he fired a shot on net with #19 screening. Lundqvist made the first save, but he couldn’t corral what he couldn’t see, and then Nicky put the rebound home with just six seconds left!

The Caps bench went nuts and then overtime came. It was a wild three on three affair and the Rangers looked to win it off of an offensive zone faceoff, but Holtby made the huge stop on Nash in the slot and #88 made his magic stick block on game seven hero Stepan setting the stage for the Gr8.

Ovechkin, who definitely has a flair for the dramatic, made no mistake about this one and after scoring he slid on his knees and did a spin in front of the Washington bench as his teammates stood by ready to mug him in celebration. Schmidt and Holtby embraced, as well, and this close knit group clearly enjoyed getting a victory in amazing fashion when it looked like the curse of the Rangers might live on.

Have I said “Wow!” in this blog yet?

Wow!

That was some game and this team just keeps finding ways to get it done. Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play with a layup after a Dan Girardi givewaway to move to 498 career goals. Williams pushed the lead to a pair in the middle frame on a breakaway after a big Gr8 hit on McDonagh allowed Schmidt to get the puck and send #14 in all alone on the King. Williams pin balled it in on a diving Lundqvist and it looked like from there the Caps would cruise to another win.

But New York, who has really struggled since the season’s quarter pole, didn’t quit either, so give them credit for racing back into the game and grabbing the lead.

The Rangers, however, have to feel decimated after this one. They couldn’t hold a late lead and Washington increased their Metropolitan lead over them to 16 points at the season’s halfway mark. New York is now tied with their cross town rival, the Islanders, for second place (Caps have a game in hand on the Isles).

With Marcus Johansson out due to suspension (he is eligible to return Thursday against Vancouver) and Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson all injured, the Caps knew they needed big games from their top two lines on Saturday afternoon and they received just that. The Gr8 had two goals and was +2, Backstrom had his tally and was +2 while Williams notched a goal and assist (+1).

On the back end, Schmidt was the star with two assists and the big shot block in 21:20 of ice time, but Niskanen had a big assist on the game tying tally in 28:34 while Karl Alzner blocked seven shots, including one with his head in period two. King Karl eats rocks for breakfast.

Wow!

So now on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, the Ovechkin 500th goal watch is in full effect. The Caps, who just finished a stretch of six road contests in seven games, went 5-1-1 to put a stranglehold on their division. They will now have to play for the third time in four nights against Ottawa, but at least it will be at home, which should be rocking with the Gr8, the man who saved hockey in this area, on the cusp of another major milestone.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

Notes: The Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while New York went 0 for 3, but the Rangers tying goal came right after a Washington power play expired. The Capitals clearly missed Johansson’s ability to get clean zone entries with the man advantage which, at numerous times, made the PP look out of sync…several on the Caps bottom two lines had their struggles in this one in the last 20 minutes…Mike Richards skated on Friday but won’t play for awhile. He needs to get in hockey shape and a conditioning stint in Chocolatetown is not out of the question…Washington won the face off battle, 31-28, with Backstrom going a dominating, 15-7…see you for Ovie’s 500th on Sunday night, so be there or be square!

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Washington jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead en route to a suffocating 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

You are not going to find a more complete road win than that one.

The Washington Capitals dominated the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, 4-1, with a suffocating victory against a speedy Isles club.

The Caps did an outstanding job of back checking and staying together in five man units which kept New York on the perimeter and away from the high danger areas all game. It was a stellar effort in which Washington continued to win the majority of the loose puck battles.

Braden Holtby stopped 34 of 35 shots, with the only tally against a snipe from between the circles while the Caps defender screened the Holtbeast. Other than that, #70 was perfect and he ran his record in his last 21 games to an astonishing 18-0-2. On this night, though, he didn’t have to steal the contest by himself because his teammates turned in one of their best performances of the season away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

On offense, the Capitals took advantage of a rusty Jaroslav Halak by throwing biscuits at the cage early and often (38 shots on goal total). Jason Chimera notched his 12th goal of the campaign just 5:45 into the contest after Marcus Johansson battled to grab the puck in the left wing corner. Jojo is having his best season as a Capital despite getting called for a neutral zone penalty in period one. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 15:45 after Karl Alzner alertly jumped on a puck in the defensive zone, made a great rush up the ice, and threaded a Nicklas Backstrom-esque pass backwards to the Gr8, who ripped it thru Halak and into the cage.

After the Islanders tallied early in period two, New York had a power play that they nearly scored on. The Caps would kill it off and shortly after the infraction expired, Backstrom hounded the Islanders defense behind New York’s cage, stole the puck, and then put one “on a tee” for Nate Schmidt, who got every bit of the shot that went through Halak again and into the twine. That made it 3-1 heading into period three.

In the final frame, coaches could record those 20 minutes and use it as an educational session on how to totally shut down an opponent with a two goal lead. The Islanders got NOTHING in that period as Washington carried the play and took away any chance New York had of getting a victory. The Caps were relentless in their puck pursuit.

When Isles Coach Jack Capuano pulled his netminder with over three minutes remaining the Caps did a super job of quickly getting the puck out, especially Ovechkin, and Backstrom (goal, assist, and +3) skated in and put the biscuit in the basket to close out the scoring.

All around the lineup the Capitals received excellent outings, especially from their defensemen. They were all impressive and Aaron Ness (12:34 of ice time) has really shown to be a super addition. #55 really skates well and is decisive with the puck. Matt Niskanen logged a team high 25:50 while Dmitry Orlov (22:50) turned in one of his best games of the season. #9 and Schmidt were super. This Caps defense is extremely mobile, but they can also play physical in the corners to win the puck battles. It’s hard to believe how well this team is playing on the back end with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out. As I blogged after Tuesday’s win over Boston, this injury situation is turning into a blessing in disguise because Ness has been a find and Taylor Chorney continues to get better and better. Kudos to Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden for the job they’ve done with this crop of blueliners.

Up front, I thought all four lines were good, but I was especially pleased with the top line. They had been in a bit of a funk recently, however, that was not the case in Brooklyn on Thursday. Ovechkin was back skating and shooting (497th career goal, 8 shots on net, 11 total shot attempts, and three hits) and all star Nicky was just outstanding with his two points and ability to win key draws. #19 was 12-7 from the dot and that forced the Islanders to do a lot of chasing just to try and get the puck back. By game’s end the Islanders looked totally out of gas while the Caps were still flying.

This victory pushes the Caps to a 30-7-3 (63 points) record and they lead the Islanders by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division. They remain first in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL standings.

All in all, this was just a stellar hockey game by a team that really seems to enjoy playing together. They stick up for one another and when they play the Trotz system, they are very, very difficult to beat.

Even with some big injuries to Carlson, Orpik, and Jay Beagle, the Capitals are finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, they won convincingly, and that has to be disconcerting to the rest of the league.

Simply put, to quote the great Count Floyd, the play of the Washington Capitals is “Scary Stuff, kids!”

Notes: Nine of the Islanders 35 shots came on their two power plays…Washington signed two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards to a one year, $1M contract on Wednesday evening. Richards will wear the #10 he had in Los Angeles and will practice on Friday with the team. He has not played since April and won’t be in the lineup until he’s good and ready. Coach Trotz said Thursday that he’ll start as a center on the fourth line once he’s game capable. I really like this addition because he’s a guy who’s won at all levels and really provides depth to the bottom six forwards…the Caps outshot New York 38-35 and I imagine the quality chances were even more lopsided towards Washington’s end…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at 1 pm. This is the third and final visit for the Caps to the gaaahhhden (until the playoffs).

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The Caps fight hard but get 0 power plays in a tough loss in Carolina

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Caps Winning Streak Ends at 9 in Carolina

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, I guess all good things have to come to an end.

In a contest in which the odds were heavily stacked against them, even before referees Steve Kozari and Mike Leggo put on their Canes colored glasses, the Washington Capitals, who were undermanned without Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik in the lineup, battled as hard as they could before falling in the third period to Carolina, 4-2.

Gone went their nine game winning streak. Ditto for their string of five consecutive road wins.

But their streak of never quitting continued. Sure, the way they fought back, once again, is a moral victory on New Year’s Eve. After all, they gave everything they had to rally and defeat the Sabres on Wednesday night without Nicklas Backstrom and Beagle in the third period plus Carlson, Orpik, and Michael Latta out for the entire contest. They then had to travel to Raleigh to face a rested Hurricanes team that has been playing well.

But that’s hockey and there are no excuses.

Washington was dominated for stretches of this tilt and, at times, were their own worst enemy. Case in point, the Carolina third goal where Hershey call up Zach Sill inexplicably left sniper Jeff Skinner all alone in the slot for the game winning goal. That gave the Canes a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

However, the Caps did come out of this one with a lot of positives.

Let’s start with the pregame good news. Word is that Carlson should be back for Tuesday’s road game in Boston, so #74, who is in the top 10 to 15 defensemen in the league, should only miss a total of four games. Next, Backstrom, who scored the Capitals first goal on a whale of a snipe, was deemed healthy and looked good after suffering an upper body injury against the Sabres. Also, Latta, who stepped up for Justin Williams on Monday night and was injured fighting a circus clown, returned to the lineup and had some very strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Laich. Burakovsky, who scored on Wednesday to break a two month scoreless drought, logged 12:18, went +2, and was flying on the ice. That’s very encouraging and he will be very much needed come April and beyond. Remember when he dominated Caps-Rangers game four last spring? That’s what Coach Trotz and company need from this kid.

In addition, Alex Ovechkin notched his fourth goal in three games to move to 21 on the season and 496 in his career. The Gr8 came awfully close to tying this contest up late. In 20:05 of ice time Alexander the Great had 10 shot attempts, including six on net and four hits.

In goal, Philipp Grubauer almost singlehandedly gave the Caps a chance with a super effort making 33 saves, many of which were from the high danger zone. Coach Trotz should have no issue with giving Braden Holtby some rest over the remainder of the season given how well #31 is playing.

On the downside, the Caps have been piecing it together on the blue line with all of the injuries and that’s two games in a row where Coach Trotz has basically sat Connor Carrick and gone with just a five man rotation for the third period. Perhaps Aaron Ness, who was recalled from Hershey on Thursday, will get a sweater against the big Blue Jackets? That would make sense, and it in no way is a knock on the progress of Carrick. The young blue liner is only 21 and it really takes a player physically and mentally until 23 or 24 to thoroughly become a game in and game out NHL blue liner. Nate Schmidt is now 24 and is coming into his own, but two years ago, he was at a spot similar to where Carrick’s development is now.

In addition, the officiating was just downright pitiful. Carolina is one of the least penalized teams in the NHL, but you want to tell me they didn’t commit any infractions in this one while the Caps were called for three penalties? Sorry, but I’m going all Reg Dunlop, at this point.

WE ALL SAW IT WITH OUR OWN EYES!!!

Yes, the Jordan Staal trip on Evgeny Kuznetsov in the faceoff dot that allowed the Canes to get an odd man rush the other way that they scored the opening tally on. Also, the BLATANT interference on Tom Wilson that was not called with Grubauer pulled and the Caps storming the castle late. Willy had the lane to the puck to set up a chance to tie the game, but due to the non-call, the Hurricanes were able to get to the biscuit easily and hit the empty net to close this one out.

Those were two critical sequences where the zebras landed on the incorrect side of the play, as well as the Capitals, and were a major influence on the outcome. There is no denying that.

There were other missed calls, as well, most notably another Staal interference on Marcus Johansson in the third period. Basically, I started wondering if Kozari and Leggo were distant relatives of the Staal family. Maybe I’ll give Oliver Stone a call to check on that?

When it comes to the officiating on Thursday night, it’s pretty clear the prosecution (aka, me) rests its case, but with Gary Bettman and company as the judge and jury, we all know this poor performance will be swept under the rug. NFL officiating is bad, but at least they admit their mistakes, unlike the way the NHL tries to ignore the evidence in a Nixon administration-like fashion.

Oh well, I guess all NHL referees can’t be of the calibre of Dave Jackson, so the trend of poor officiating will continue, especially when it comes to plays involving Wilson. So thanks again, 30 Thoughts!

With the defeat, the Caps fall to 28-7-2 and still lead the Eastern Conference by 11 points over the New York Islanders. Washington is still a bit banged up and now head to Columbus to face a Blue Jackets team that just defeated the Dallas Stars, 6-3, on Tuesday night. They are coached by the insufferable John Tortorella and will play a hard, physical style. The Caps have a chance to keep another streak going on Saturday, they’ve gone 37 games without a two game losing streak, but now that one is in jeopardy with key guys still out.

But that’s hockey and all that matters is wins and losses, there are no excuses, so the Caps need to get back on the horse to prevail on Saturday night.

Notes: Did I mention the power plays were 3 to 0 for Carolina?…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-28. Williams was 2-0, but the Caps were 0 for 0 on draws on the power play…the shot attempts were 69-53 for the Canes, but they had seven shots on goal on their power plays alone while the Caps had, oh wait, I forgot they had no power plays, did I say that yet?…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:25 including 0:00 on the power play…the Caps had no power plays in this game.

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 18th goal of the season and Braden Holtby shuts out the Sabres in the Caps 8th straight victory.

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Holtby, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Chippy Sabres, 2-0.

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.

This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.

The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.

Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!

Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.

As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.

The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.

But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.

Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.

Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.

Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.

Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.

Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.

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You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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Down 3-0, the Caps ride their power play to overtake Tampa and win, 5-3.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Rally Caps Past Tampa, 5-3

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

It’s a really good thing the Verizon Center roof is secured tightly, otherwise it might have blown off as the Washington Capitals put on a furious rally from a 3-0 deficit, including four third period goals, to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning out of town, 5-3.

The comeback was fueled by outstanding offense from T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin, who both had two goals and two assists as the Capitals rode three power play tallies in four attempts to victory, including Marcus Johansson’s sweet game winning goal with 5:44 remaining. Ovechkin had 19 shot attempts, including nine shots on goal in this contest; those are some amazing numbers right there.

Philipp Grubauer (seven saves) came on in relief of Braden Holtby (three goals allowed on 12 shots) with 10:54 remaining in the middle period and the Caps trailing by a trio of pucks. Holtby wasn’t bad, the Capitals had terrible breakdowns in front of him on each of the three Tampa tallies, and Coach Barry Trotz said his decision was more about the skaters and not the Holtbeast.

“I pulled Holtby because I was tired of Braden bailing the team out…he’s been our MVP,” said the Washington bench boss, who has guided the Caps to a 23-6-2 start (48 points) this season.

Coach Trotz was okay with Washington’s first period, where they outshot Tampa, 10-4, and out attempted the Bolts, 22-18, despite trailing 1-0. Ben Bishop was perfect in that opening frame and was the biggest reason the Caps were losing.

Then came an abysmal start to the middle frame by Washington. They were sloppy and letting the fast Tampa squad skate all over them. The Caps also made many mistakes, including some terrible mental ones. On the Bolts second goal, the Washington defender comes back and over skates his man after getting caught up ice, then he goes down and blocks #70’s view of the shot, which was buried by Andrej Sustr (1st of the season). On the third Tampa marker, the Caps won a faceoff and turned the puck over in the neutral zone right in front of the Capitals bench. That’s not disastrous, but for some reason, two of the forwards, including the right wing from the far side of the ice, decided to change. Bad, bad, bad hockey decision and it resulted in Steven Stamkos, the 2nd best shooter in the NHL (Ovechkin), burying one by Holtby from the slot in between the circles. Braden had no chance on that one since the Capitals boneheaded mistakes allowed #91 to have an easy lane to the net. Afterward, Coach Trotz commented on that particular sequence.

“That’s details and that angered me quite a bit,” stated the bench boss, who is fighting a cold, which he said prevented him from yelling during the game, and specifically at that moment.

The goalie change would wake the Capitals up and they finally got on the board with just over six minutes left in period two. Oshie drew Bishop out of his cage on the power play and made a ridiculous, no look pass to the Gr8, who quickly buried the biscuit.

That gave Washington life and after 40 minutes they trailed by two pucks, 3-1. Coach Trotz and Oshie afterwards both stated that the locker room, between the 2nd and 3rd periods, was positive and the team wanted to focus on playing a heavier game with more hits. Basically this tilt was a match up of speed vs. size and through the first two frames speed was killing. Shot attempts were 40-35 for the Bolts, including a dominating 22-13 in the second period.

Tampa had only really been using three lines most of the night, so when the Caps amped up their intensity and started taking the body in those last 20 minutes, the Bolts got tired and became unglued.

But all of that doesn’t happen if not for a huge save by Grubauer on Vladislav Namestnikov with just over seven minutes into period three. It was one of only seven he had to make in relief, but it was a great scoring chance, and if it goes in, it’s 4-1 and that’s your ballgame. But #31 came up big and immediately following the save, Oshie corralled the puck, skated down the right wing, and fired one over the shoulder of Bishop to electrify the Verizon Center.

Matt Niskanen then laid out J.T. Brown with a big hit, which was a little bit of a pay back for what Brown did to Nate Schmidt last Saturday in Tampa. That not only fired up the home crowd further, but Victor Hedman took an interference penalty.

That brought out the famed “Unleash the Fury” video montage and with the crowd buzzing, Ovechkin made a sweet curl and drag move around the Tampa defender and put one past Bishop to tie the contest up. Verizon Center was really rocking after that and the Capitals kept coming into the offensive zone like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. During that sequence, Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping penalty on Anton Stralman. Once again the power play made the Bolts pay with Ovechkin and Oshie making two sweet passes to set up Jojo for the one timer, which he buried from the lower right wing circle to make it 4-3.

The Caps would really lock things down from there and with less than a minute left, Ovechkin made a super play in his own zone with Bishop pulled allowing him to get the puck to Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Caps side of the red line. Nicky then fed Oshie, who hit the empty net from just outside the blue line to close this one out. Backstrom picked up his 600th career NHL point on that play.

Following the game, Oshie praised the environment in helping the Capitals win.

“Let’s get this out of the way right now, Unleash the Fury is hilarious…that’s the loudest it’s been in here all year.”

It certainly was loud and the Caps ability to find ways to win games when they are not playing their best continues to be encouraging. They were dominated badly during the middle portion of this game, but they regrouped and refocused, played to their strengths, and crushed Tampa down the stretch to win the season series, 3-0.

Now the Capitals will head to New York on Sunday night for a rematch with the Rangers, who drubbed Washington, 5-2, earlier in the season. The Rags have been struggling lately and with the Caps winning their fourth straight game, Washington is now six points ahead of New York (48-42) with three games in hand (New York was defeated, 5-2, in Winnipeg on Friday night) in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who were knocked out of the playoffs last season by the Blueshirts, will be extra focused for this one, but when Backstrom was asked about it, he provided a bit of the old Crash Davis “play them one game at a time, good Lord willing” type of answer.

“It’s going to be a good match up. Yeah, it will be fun, we lost against them last year, so we need a rematch here.”

#19 clearly didn’t want to give New York any bulletin board material and prefers to let the Caps game on the ice do the talking.

If Washington plays anything like they did in period three on Friday night, then there will be fireworks on 33rd street in Manhattan on Sunday.

Notes: the Caps outshot Tampa, 23-19, but overall shot attempts were 56-52 for the Bolts…Ovechkin now has 16 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Oshie has 12 goals and nine assists in 31 games. The Caps are undefeated when the American shootout whiz scores a goal…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 24-23…the Bolts went 0 for 3 on the power play.

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The Caps keep on rolling, knocking off the Pens in an exciting contest at the Consol Energy Center.

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Oshie & Holtby Help the Caps Slam the Pens, 4-1

Posted on 14 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie had a huge, clean neutral zone hit on Beau Bennett in the first period that knocked #19 from the game and then he added two third period insurance goals as the Capitals won, 4-1, at the Consol Energy Center behind 44 saves from Braden Holtby.

The Pens were fired up for this game, seeing as it was their first under new bench boss, Mike Sullivan, but Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had other plans rushing out to a quick two goal lead behind tallies from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Evgeni Malkin, on a sweet deflection, scored the only goal for Pittsburgh in the first frame, who traded defensemen Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley while this contest was going on (Scuderi actually took warm-ups, but did not play).

The Holtbeast was strong again, especially right at the start of the game when the Pens had some super chances in tight. Those saves allowed the Caps to get their legs and they stunned the Pens and their fans with two goals in the first eight minutes. From there on out the Penguins were forced to play catch-up, something they could not achieve.

This was an exciting and intense hockey game with lots of back and forth action. Pittsburgh was able to get their end to end style going, at times, particularly in the 2nd period. In the final frame, however, Washington did a better job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter and not giving up grade A chances, unlike Saturday night against Tampa where the Capitals literally hung on by their goaltender. Holtby was really good in this tilt, once again, but the Caps did a nice job of having their runs too. That was when they got the puck in deep on a weak Penguins defense and scored some in close tallies.

Oshie’s first goal to make it 3-1 with 11:10 remaining was as sweet of a wraparound tally as you’ll see all season and was the “killer instinct” type of marker that this team talks about getting in the third period. #77 was just superb in this one along with his center, Backstrom, and both had three points. Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal and eight shot attempts playing with those two, but was held pointless, although that line was on the ice for three Caps goals (one a late PP marker) and just one against.

Carlson was a beast with eight shots on net in a team leading 24:51 of ice time. He and Nate Schmidt (20:10 of ice time and seven blocked shots) were strong on the backend. The dynamic duo of Matt Niskanen (24:13 TOI, +2) and Karl Alzner (23:00 TOI) blocked a combined nine shots, as well. As a team, the Capitals blocked 24 total shots as they forced Pittsburgh to the perimeter on many occasions, especially down the stretch and Holtby had some easy glove saves. There were certainly some instances where the Pens were able to get in close, mostly earlier in the game, but Holtby closed the door.

The Caps received excellent outings from some of their grinders, most notably Jay Beagle (1 assist and 4 hits in 18:16 of ice time) and Tom Wilson (drew a key late penalty and had eight hits in 17:57 of ice time). Both were +1 and did a super job of wearing out the Penguins, who seemed to fade a bit in the third period after the furious pace they set in the middle stanza.

At the other end, the Caps had their share of chances and it took some great shots to beat Marc Andre-Fleury (30 saves).

So the Caps get a big victory against a despised rival. This triumph comes at the end of a stretch of seven games, with six on the road, and they went 5-1-1 to improve their overall record to 21-6-2 (44 points). In the Metropolitan Division, they have a three point lead over the second place Islanders and a four point lead over the third place Rangers and have two games in hand over both squads. The Pens fall to 15-11-3 (33 points) and are 11 points back in fifth place (the Devils are in fourth).

Next up for the Caps are the very fast and skilled Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. The Sens defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 5-3, on Monday to improve to 16-10-5 (37 points), which puts them in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Notes: Shot attempts were 79-52 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps had 24 blocks. The official stats had Washington with only five missed shot attempts, so I question the validity of some of the Capitals totals (home cooking?)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 41-35. Jay Beagle was 11-7 while Evgeny Kuznetsov, who only played 13:41, was 4-12…power plays were 4 to 2 in favor of the Caps, although the last two came in the closing minutes…the Caps had a goal by Justin Williams correctly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie…Dave Jackson and Trevor Hanson called a very good game. Jackson is the best referee in the league because he lets the skaters play and the players seem to always know what type of contest they’ll get with him. I wish the league had more zebras like him.

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