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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

Posted on 11 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Close only counts in hand grenades and horsehoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been that kind of season.

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

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for tonight, the Caps were victorious in Florida.

They can thank their top players for this one.

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

 

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Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

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Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 09 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played three games this week and allowed only three goals getting super net minding from Michal Neuvirth on Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to the Islanders and then Braden Holtby in a 4-2 victory on Thursday against Winnipeg and a shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in a 3-0 win.

In all three contests the goaltenders did their job and held the Capitals in the game. Unfortunately, Washington was only able to win two of those three contests.

Goaltending is not the major issue in Washington. Holtby, Neuvirth, and even Philip Grubauer have all played well for the Caps this season. If there is an issue on this team, it’s on inconsistent defensive zone play and up front, where scoring, outside of Alexander Ovechkin, has been tough to find.

But back to the goalies, and specifically, Holtby. The young netminder has been very good in his short career with Washington and #70 nearly carried his club to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. Last year, Braden had a tough game seven against the Rangers, but let’s be honest, the Capitals lost that series because they couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket, not due to the play of Holtby.

Fast forward to this season where Holtby came out of the gate playing well behind a very young and suspect defense. Then starting with a loss to Pittsburgh in late November, things kind of went off of the rails for the Saskatchewan native. There was talk of the coaching staff trying to change the way Holtby played with a focus on him not being so aggressive and his positioning being deeper in his cage. It was a big change for the goalie and he went into a tailspin. Suddenly longer range shots were getting by him and compounding the problem was a defense that gave up too many odd man rushes and often screened their goalie or deflected shots, making not playing the angles as much more of a liability.

But in some recent relief appearances and then the two games this week, #70 was back to his “original” self. After his third shutout of this season on Saturday, I asked Holtby what was going on and if the talk of changing his game was true.

“There’s been talk of it from the start of the year to try and change things. The last two games I’ve just played like what’s got me here. So Olie and I are really getting back to our basics and it’s working out,” said Holtby.

Clearly Holtby, in his response to me, was not comfortable with the different style. The coaches were trying to make adjustments, perhaps because the defense was so green, but they clearly weren’t working for a guy this team believes is their number one goalie long term. Basically, they traded away Semyon Varlamov, who just signed a five year $30M contract with Colorado and will be starting for Team Russia in next week’s Olympics, to give the cage to Holtby.

A coach’s job is to try and make a player perform at peak efficiency, but sometimes they can over think a situation. There aren’t many goalies that have the ability to play deep in their net and be successful like Henrik Lundqvist is able to do on a regular basis. In an interview on Sirius XM radio just this week, Calgary Flames Director of Amateur Scouting, Tod Button, stated what I just wrote about Lundqvist. Button basically said that Lundqvist is the exception to the rule when talking about what the Flames are doing with their young up and coming goalie, Joni Ortio. Button said that a lot of the European goalies play that “deeper in the net” style but in the NHL, the shooters are so good that they’ll eat you up, so you have to teach them to be more aggressive.

Holtby was always an aggressive goalie and the direction the Caps were going with him this year was to be less that way. It wasn’t working. But credit both Holtby and Olie Kolzig for working through this and getting #70 back to doing what is most comfortable for him. Based on the way Holtby played this week and has played in the past before the style changes, and given what Button stated (and it is a common thought around the league), letting Holtby be Holtby makes the most sense.

On Saturday, Holtby was the primary reason the Caps won. The Devils had 11 of the first 16 shots on goal and #70 made some big stops, including a two on one early on. I asked Braden what his toughest save of the night was and if it was that stop on the odd man rush. He said that was a good one but it wasn’t as difficult and you might think.

“Those look harder than they actually are if your d-man plays them right like they did and chooses to take away one, the shot or the pass. He chose the shot so I knew he was passing it, which makes it a lot easier on me,” stated Holtby on the sequence that led to a super left pad save.

Holtby did say that New Jersey did a good job of generating traffic and he did get some breaks. Patrick Elias had a golden chance in front in period two but somehow shot the puck wide.

“They put a lot of traffic in front, though, they are right on top of me all night, so a couple of lucky bounces and fighting through screens,” said Holtby describing the challenge he faced with the Devils on Saturday.

Holtby was certainly the number one star, but the other goalie, Cory Schneider, was good too. It took a shot from Julien Brouillette through traffic to beat a goalie many felt, including me, should be on Team USA next week. The goal was the young defensemen’s first in the NHL and it was all the Caps needed, although Martin Erat (1st goal of the year) and Troy Brouwer added empty net tallies.

This was a win the Capitals had to have heading into the Olympic break. They trail the 3rd place Philadelphia Flyers by three points with 23 games to go. The Capitals won their first Metropolitan Division game in their last eight tries to keep pace. The schedule gets extremely tough in March so the Capitals had to get at least six of the eight points on this recent four game homestand. They did that, primarily due to good goaltending from Holtby and Neuvirth.

The Caps will need both, and especially Holtby, who Coach Adam Oates said would be the starter coming out of the Olympic break, to be on their respective games.

It looks like Holtby is back in top form and you can credit that to the mutual decision to allow him to go back to the style that’s made him most successful in his career.

Notes: Alex Oveckhin had an assist and was +2 in 20:48 of ice time…John Carlson led Washington in ice time with 25:11…the Caps killed off all three New Jersey power plays but went 0 for 4 in their man advantage situations. Oates blamed that lack of PP success on poor reads, although the bad ice surface, due to an early basketball game, was a factor also, in my opinion.

 

 

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

Posted on 06 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 40 minutes, things were looking bleak for the Washington Capitals. They were trailing the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, and were being outplayed and out shot, 30-18. A loss would surely do major damage to any playoff hopes they still had remaining.

Luckily for the Caps, Braden Holtby, who was a surprise starter after Michal Neuvirth came down with an illness, was excellent in the cage (34 saves) and kept Washington in it.

Then, in the final frame, Washington played one of its’ best 20 minutes of the season totally dominating the Jets on the shot clock, 12-6, and more importantly, 3-0 on the scoreboard to get a much needed 4-2 victory.

The win moves the Caps to 26-23-9 (61 points) and keeps them three points out of a playoff spot.

Tom Wilson, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the third period because the Capitals started moving their feet and going to the net. All four Washington tallies (Brouwer had the first one, as well) were from the Caps crashing the cage. That’s the way you have to score in the NHL because the goalies are so good.

The effort in the last period was excellent and makes you wonder why this team can’t do that more often despite some holes in the lineup?

Going into the game, the Caps called up rookie defensemen Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette to replace a demoted Tyson Strachan (sent to Hershey) and a struggling John Erskine. Both of those guys did okay in their almost 15 minutes of ice time together and finished +2. Brouillette made a nice play to set up Wilson’s goal with Wey getting an assist on the tally, too. Those two blue liners played a simple game.

Ovechkin’s tally was his 40th of the season after Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was decked in the crease. It was a gritty goal and was the game winner. The Gr8 had nine shot attempts and four hits in this tilt in 20:35 of ice time.

The first 40 minutes were maddening, though. On the first Jets goal, Karl Alzner misplayed John Carlson’s (25:26 of ice time) pass around the boards and Martin Erat was late in coverage on Bryan Little. That allowed Little to get credit for the tally after Holtby stopped the initial shot following a nice pass from Andrew Ladd. The goal actually went in off of Erat’s skate. The second goal, the only marker of the second period, was even worse as both Washington defensemen were in position with Marcus Johansson skating back as the third forward. For some reason, MJ90 failed to turn around and find the third Jet up the ice, Dustin Byfuglien, and #33 received a pass from Devon Setoguchi in the slot and buried it, top shelf. Johansson, who did have two assists including a sweet feed to Brouwer on the fourth goal, has to be more alert and bear down defensively on those plays. Overall, Washington was a victim of not moving their feet in those first two periods.

But somehow they managed to find another gear in the final 20 minutes and save their playoff push, for now. Falling five points back, at this point, might be too much to overcome. They still have a rough road ahead to climb back into a playoff spot, especially if they perform like they did on Tuesday against New York and in the first 40 minutes versus Winnipeg.

Bottom line, over the last 24 games the team needs to be much more consistent and skate like they did in the third period if they want to make it into a seventh straight post season.

Notes: Connor Carrick and Dmitry Orlov were paired together and played just under 20 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-24…Wilson played 8:07 and I’d love to see Coach Adam Oates get him out there on the struggling Caps power play. Washington was 0 for 4 with the man advantage and they could use Wilson’s size and hands to shake things up…the Caps only took one minor penalty, that is a huge step in the right direction given their recent propensity to end up in the sin bin…next up are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at 8pm at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

Posted on 02 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin, who shanked a one timer near the end of the first period that would’ve given the Capitals a 4-1 lead, made no mistake when given a second chance in overtime. The Gr8 took John Carlson’s perfect pass on a 4 on 3 power play and lasered it by Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to give Washington a 6-5, OT victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

The win improved the Caps to 25-22-9 (59 points) and puts them just a point out of a playoff spot.

This was one of those games that fans love and coaches mostly despise. There was lots of end to end action and numerous mistakes, which drives coaches nuts. But from a viewing perspective, it was exciting.

From a Caps angle, this game had several things to like.

First, the effort was superb from the outset. Washington, after getting thoroughly dominated in puck possession on Friday in Motown, owned the biscuit for the first half of this contest in racing to a 4-2 lead. The Capitals are scoring goals again because they are moving their feet and paying the price to get to the front of the opposition net. They are finally owning that portion of the ice and they are getting the gritty and greasy goals necessary to win. Joel Ward (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jason Chimera (1 goal, 2 assists) were the kings of that on Sunday.

Second, Washington’s forecheck generated turnovers and Martin Erat and Nicklas Backstrom’s pressure in the offensive zone directly led to a nice top shelf goal by Troy Brouwer that put the Capitals up 5-4 early in period three.

Third, the power play is clicking again and making life miserable for the opposition. The Wings tried to take Ovechkin away on the 5 on 4 and all Coach Adam Oates and company did was adjust and get two power play markers in what pretty much became 4 on 3 situations with the Gr8 blanketed. Ward tallied from the slot and John Carlson scored with a bomb from the point. Ovechkin’s game winner was on a real 4 on 3, so the Caps were 3 for 6 with the man advantage on Sunday.

Fourth, puck possession is easier to gain when you win the face off battle. Washington was 46-30 on draws and that forced Detroit to chase the Caps to try to get the biscuit for much of the game. Jay Beagle went 14-5 from the dot.

Finally, Michal Neuvirth, despite giving up five goals, was really good in net again. His pad save on Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists) with the game tied in the third period allowed the Caps to win this contest. Neuvy is in a groove and he told me afterwards he’s playing the best he has been all season. He feels comfortable and focused in the cage and he stated that the coaches have only made minor changes to his game, which allows him to play the way he’s always played.

So why did the Capitals do so many good things and still need overtime to win?

Well, let’s start with untimely penalties. Connor Carrick’s cross check in the opening frame turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-1 contest in just nine seconds. Worse though was Brouwer’s neutral zone slash with the score 4-2 late in period two. That is a killer infraction and one that gave Detroit new life when the Capitals were close to putting a stranglehold on this tilt. Brouwer has to be smarter in that situation as his penalty was selfish and lazy. I imagine Troy would be the first to tell you he hosed up there (and he did score a big goal in period three to help make up for it).

Next, the Caps defensive zone continues to have issues, particularly in coverage. After the game I asked Oates why they are giving up so many goals when it appears they have players in position to defend. The bench boss said it is simply a case of not winning the “one on one battles.” He’s right about that and it is a pattern we’ve seen too often this season. So is it a question of a lack of focus or an ability issue in their own end? My take is it is a combination of both, but I put more of it on the talent side as Washington’s defense is very inexeperienced after Carlson and Karl Alzner (Mike Green missed his second straight game due to injury).

Bottom line is this team is going to have to work super hard at both ends to overcome the defensive zone issues they have in order to climb their way into post season position. They also need to be more self disciplined by staying out of the box.

Last year the Capitals went on an amazing run down the stretch to make the playoffs by bringing a great effort each night and cutting down on penalties. That run came after a tough loss in Pittsburgh last March where the Caps played well and fell, 2-1. The Capitals fed off of the positives of that difficult loss. But this season, Chimera admitted that the loss to the Penguins on January 15th, a game in which the Caps carried the play, but lost, 4-3, took some time to recover from. Their efforts after that loss were not good for a few games until they turned the corner with a 5-0 win in Montreal.

Since Montreal (outside of the Columbus loss), Washington has improved offensively by getting more bodies and pucks to the net, so that is encouraging and they’ll need to keep that up in order to win their last three games against the Islanders, Jets, and Devils before the Olympic break.

All three tilts are at the Verizon Center and if the Capitals bring the effort they brought on Sunday, then they should be able to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference this week.

 

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Ovechkin, Green Lead Caps Over Sabres

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Ovechkin, Green Lead Caps Over Sabres

Posted on 28 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin continues to do what he can to try to carry the Capitals into the playoffs and on Tuesday night in Buffalo he got some excellent help from defensemen Mike Green.

The Gr8 scored the first two Capitals goals, his 37th and 38th of the season, and then he assisted on the last two, including a great pass to Game Over Green for the winner in overtime.

It was a wild affair against a not so talented but gritty Buffalo squad and Washington prevailed, 5-4.

In my last blog, I made it clear that Ovechkin is still the most valuable player to his team in the NHL and this game once again made that case.

With the Capitals struggling mightily in their own end, it was on the offense to pull this game out. We all know that Alexander the Great is a pure goal scorer, but his passing skills are often overlooked and vastly underrated by those who aren’t paying close attention. How many other NHLers could have made the pass to Martin Erat late in period two on the power play that set up Troy Brouwer for Washington’s 4th goal? Not too many have the combination of power and finesse necessary to get that puck to sit on Erat’s stick through a maze of players so quickly.

Then, on the game winner, the Gr8 slides a perfect pass to Green, much like he did for Casey Wellman on Saturday, giving Sabres goalie Curtis Enroth no chance to stop Green’s shot and the Caps win.

The win moves Washington to 24-21-8 (56 points) and they are just a point out of a playoff spot after two straight victories. The Capitals have six games left before the Olympic break and the next three are against teams in front of them (Detroit twice and Columbus). The other three are the Islanders, Winnipeg, and New Jersey.  A good streak before the league shutdown seems imperative given the tough schedule facing the Capitals in March.

However, if they want to do well in this upcoming stretch, they have to do certain things much better. Defensively, the Capitals were far too loose in their own zone. Bad coverage, turnovers, and penalties led to four goals by an offensively challenged Buffalo club. We are 53 games into the season and these same mistakes continue to occur. If Washington wants to make the playoffs then they need to eliminate or seriously reduce the frequency of these miscues. The hockey department and coaches have to find an answer to these issues quickly if they want to make the post season.

Another disturbing thing was the way Sabres Mike Weber took liberties with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. You simply can’t count on the referees, and especially when it is two clowns like Paul Devorski and Don VanMassenhoven, to protect your players. Once Weber gave that cheap shot to MJ90 someone on the Caps should’ve let him know physically that if that happened again he was going to be seeing stars for weeks. Where was John Erskine, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, or Troy Brouwer to make Weber pay for his cheap shot on Johansson? If Backstrom gets hurt by the late game elbow from Weber then their playoff chances go to 0!

Look, I am all for self discipline, but there are places and times to send a message in a hockey game and it was disappointing and alarming that Weber wasn’t made to pay for his hit on MJ90. By letting that go, they risked injury to other players. Unacceptable. Like or not, protecting your players is a part of the NHL game today.

Braden Holtby made some big stops in net in his second straight start. Yes, he gave up four tallies, but his defense left him out to dry too many times.

Overall, this was a sloppy effort but the Ovechkin and Green show carried the day.

Two points were pretty much a must in Buffalo and now Washington has back to back tilts with Columbus and Detroit on Thursday and Friday.

It’s nice that the offense is back, thanks primarily to the Gr8 and the Caps increasing willingness to crash the net, but if they want to be more consistent, they have to do a better job of protecting their own net.

Notes: Shots on goal were 35-27 for the Caps, but Buffalo dominated the 3rd period, 13-5. The Sabres played the night before so it was disappointing that the Caps were able to be outplayed in the 3rd period when they should’ve been the fresher squad…the Caps went 2 for 3 on the power play while Buffalo was 1 for 2…Green’s first goal, which came on a sweet wraparound, was the 100th of his NHL career…Martin Erat had two assists in one of his better games of the season…the Caps lost the face off battle, 36-28…shot attempts were 55-53, in favor of the Caps.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

Posted on 25 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Sidney Crosby may win the Hart Trophy this year for the great season he is having, but you will never get me to back down on the following statement:

Alexander Ovechkin is the “most valuable” player to his team in the NHL.

For proof of that, see Saturday’s Capitals 5-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.

Washington came in to Montreal as losers of 7 straight games and in a serious goal scoring drought. The Gr8 had missed the previous two games due to a lower body injury and until the third period in New Jersey, the Capitals looked like they couldn’t beat a college team without the services of their captain in those two tilts.

Everything seemed to change from the first shift Ovechkin took tonight, which included a big hit in the neutral zone. The Caps were moving their feet and fighting to the front of the Habs net. Despite not scoring, the Capitals held a 12-3 shot advantage in the opening frame and carried the majority of the play.

But they still had not scored and the way things had been going for this club, if Montreal gets on the board first, then who knows what would’ve happened?

Enter Ovechkin and a goal that only a few players on the planet could score early in period two. The Gr8 corralled the puck in the air below the goal line and in Tiger Woods like fashion juggled it on his stick and then snapped it by a stunned Carey Price. It was an off the charts goal in terms of pure skill, which comes from countless hours of practice. The tally was a game changer and the Capitals totally came to life after that marker.

John Erskine scored to make it 2-0 thanks to Brooks Laich going to the net and then Jay Beagle, who was great again on Saturday after being my player of the game in New Jersey on Friday, finished off a beautiful passing play from Tom Wilson and Mike Green. John Carlson then made it four goals on a delayed penalty call and that chased Price from the game in the middle stanza.

Ovechkin would then beautifully set up Casey Wellman in the third period for a sweet goal on a two on one break to make it 5-0 and the Habs would not dent Braden Holtby once in their 21 shots on net in this contest.

It was a dominating win and something this club badly needed.

The key was their ability to get to the front of the net and protect their own cage, something they’ve struggled mightily with this season. With NHL goalies so talented these days, the best way to score is to get bodies and pucks there. The Capitals did that with a vengeance on Saturday night. Washington also limited their turnovers which prevented odd man rushes against.

Basically it was a textbook victory and the Caps looked like a confident team after that first goal by the Gr8.

Ovechkin notched his 36th goal of the campaign and added his 15th assist as he easily earned the game’s number one star.

The losing streak is over and the large piano is off of the backs of the Capitals players.

It was only one win, but getting one win lately has seemed next to impossible for Washington.

Ovechkin’s return and play sparked his club tonight.

Most Valuable Player, in my book, hands down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Montreal 34-21 and it was 27-9 through two periods..the Habs won the faceoff battle, 36-25…the Caps were 0 for 8 on the power play but for all intensive purposes Ovechkin’s goal was a PPG as it went in right as the penalty expired…Montreal was 0 for 3 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps is the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. You can bet Ryan Miller will be in net so Washington must go to the cage with authority like they did on Saturday in order to get the biscuit by the great Michigan State alum.

 

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, losers of their last four games, desperately needed a win on Thursday night in Tampa.

After blowing a 3-1 lead, Eric Fehr deflected home a Mike Green point shot with 51 seconds left to break a 3-3 tie and end the Capitals losing skid. It was a hard earned victory and the Caps move back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division at 21-16-6 (48 points).

There were a lot of things to like in this game, starting with the play of goalie Philipp Grubauer (33 saves). The young netminder made one of the best saves of the year in the final frame with Washington clinging to a 3-2 lead on a two on one Tampa rush. Grubauer went to the splits and somehow managed to deny what seemed to be a sure goal for the Bolts. Yes, the Caps would yield the tying goal after that, but if that one goes in, on a shorthanded rush mind you, Washington likely doesn’t recover. The young German goalie is playing extremely well and right now is the #1 guy. Now I would rest him on Friday night when the Caps take on the Leafs at the Verizon Center (7 pm) and give Braden Holtby a start after a long flight home from Florida, but then I’d go back with Grubauer on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres.

Up front, the line of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal), and Fehr (2 goals) was outstanding generating 21 of the 57 shot attempts the Capitals had in this contest (Tampa had 58 shot attempts). On the three tallies that members of the line were involved in, they did a great job of getting traffic on the opposing net. Grabovski provided the screen on Fehr’s first tally off of a sweet pass from the Gr8. By the way, if you are one of those people who think Ovechkin is selfish with the puck and can’t pass, then I suggest you put down the dope you’re smoking and check yourself in to the next rehab center. Alex’s passing is underrated and he moved the biscuit extremely well, once again, in this one. It was his steal in the defensive zone, quick up ice rush, and good pass that set the whole winning goal sequence up.

I also liked the strong defensive play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. That duo is as solid as it gets and neither was on the ice for a goal against. Each picked up an assist and were +1 in 26:08 and 21:52 of ice time, respectively. Carlson’s volleyball swat of a Grubauer rebound in the third period likely saved a goal.

Washington’s power play was once again a thing of beauty and they continue to find different ways to score. Grabovski got the first PPG by going to the cage and then with the Bolts over playing Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson did his best Julius Erving imitation and stuffed one home late in the opening frame to make it 3-1. The Caps also killed off the only Lightning power play so the special teams were a big factor in the victory.

Now to the things I did not like, and some of them are disturbing trends.

First, and foremost, the Capitals are allowing FAR TOO MANY odd man rushes. Two of the three Bolts goals were off of them, a first period breakaway after Troy Brouwer made a bad pass with both Dmitry Orlov and Green in poor position and a two on one in the second period when John Erskine got caught too far up the ice. On that two on one, Connor Carrick did not do a good job of letting Grubauer know the pass was going to be cut off and as a result, B.J. Crombeen beat him short side for his first goal in over 50 games. Goalies need to know where the shots are coming from to stop them and the Caps defenders are doing a lousy job of helping that occur. Washington defenders are getting caught up ice too often and the other defender is too many times doing a lousy job of playing the odd man rush. Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson have got to get this team to first minimize the number of odd man breaks against, and then better prepare their defenders to play them when they do happen.

The line of Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer was not good. They only generated 10 shot attempts and were on the ice for two goals against, one of them the tying goal off of a defensive zone face off. Brouwer was the worst of the three with his awful turnover and then screening Grubauer on the tying goal. Either block the shot there or get out of the way. Overall, Washington’s forwards are not doing a good enough job of blocking shots this season and that needs to change. More often than not, they are screens instead of a goalie assistant in their own zone.

Erskine and whomever he is paired with continues to be a struggling duo. #4’s lack of speed is hurting him and he was woefully out of a position on the Crombeen tally.

Despite the things that still must be cleaned up, this team needed a victory and they got one against a very good Tampa team. Yes, the Bolts are without Steven Stamkos and they were just returning from a grueling road trip, but they are a quality hockey club so a win for the Caps, in regulation, is a good step in the right direction.

We’ll see if they can parlay that into a winning streak with the struggling Leafs and woeful Sabres coming to DC this weekend.

 

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