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The Caps dominate Detroit but need the shootout to secure the victory.

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Ovechkin, Johansson Help the Caps Defeat Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There will be no Washington Capitals losing streak.

For the 7th time this season, the Caps came into a contest having been defeated in the previous tilt, most recently a 2-1 OT loss to Winnipeg on Saturday, and once again they came out victorious.

Washington played a very strong game in terms of puck possession and dominated the shot clock, 40-23 in shots on goal and 68-52 in shot attempts, but needed the gimmick to finally triumph over a very good Detroit Red Wings squad, 3-2.

Justin Williams opened the scoring just 43 seconds into this one putting home the rebound of a Evgeny Kuznetsov shot, but two defensive breakdowns allowed the Wings to take a 2-1 lead after 23 minutes of hockey. On the first Detroit tally, Washington made a turnover that ultimately resulted in an icing call on the Caps. That’s not normally too big of a deal, but Coach Barry Trotz was stuck with his 4th line and 3rd defensive pair on the ice against the Henrik Zetterberg line and #40 buried one on the doorstep after the Caps badly lost the defensive zone faceoff.

Early in period two, Joakim Andersson out maneuvered Dmitry Orlov behind the Capitals net and for some reason, the other defensemen, Taylor Chorney, chose to vacate the spot in front of Braden Holtby (21 saves) and go behind the cage, as well. That basic hockey “no-no” of having both defensemen behind the net cost Washington and allowed Tomas Jurco to score another easy goal all alone in front on the Holtbeast.

From that point on the Caps would really carry the play outshooting the Wings, 27-14, from the 3:16 mark of period two until the shootout. It was nearly 42 minutes of quality hockey by Washington against a team that is fast and prefers a more wide open transition game. The Caps, after nearly getting into that type of affair in the first 20+ minutes, really clamped down on turnovers and played a very smart and structured style the rest of the way.

Jimmy Howard (38 saves) was really strong in net for the Wings and it took an Alex Ovechkin power play marker (13th goal of the season) with 9:09 remaining to even this one up on the scoreboard. The Gr8 scored by going to the cage and getting a rebound that was created by a nice net drive move by Marcus Johansson.

Despite the Capitals pouring lots of shots on Howard and seemingly having the puck the entire third period, this one went to overtime where the Caps survived a two minute power play by Detroit. In the gimmick, T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov made brilliant moves to score, while Holtby stopped both Wings shooters.

The Caps now move to 19-5-2 (40 points) on the season and have retaken first place in the Metropolitan Division from the Rangers, once again. Washington has two games in hand, as well.

Overall, this was a really strong effort by the Caps in their only home game in a stretch of seven contests. Ovechkin was the number one star, but I thought Johansson was just as good with four shots on goal and two assists after missing the Winnipeg game. #90 was really flying on the ice and his speed provided a good matchup against Detroit. Afterwards Coach Trotz praised his top two lines for producing the excellent advantage the Caps had in shots.

Most players had strong outings, but with Brooks Orpik missing his 12th straight game, the top four defensemen are playing more minutes because Trotz is just not super confident in his 3rd pair. Chorney had a subpar game and only logged 11:16 of time while putting up a -2 performance. That’s not good. John Carlson played 27:45, Matt Niskanen 25:51, a banged up Karl Alzner chipped in 23:09 in his 401st straight game, and Nate Schmidt logged 21:48. Yes, this was an overtime contest, but you’d like to see the third defensive pair getting more ice time, but they just aren’t playing well enough to earn it, at this time.

So now it’s back on the road for the Caps. They head to Florida on their annual dad’s trip. They’ll face the Panthers on Thursday night and then the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday before looking for revenge against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday.

This Capitals team is very good and they keep finding ways to win. On this night, they were clearly the better team despite needing the full 65 minutes and the shootout to get the two points.

Notes: Ovechkin had eight shots on goal, 16 total shot attempts, and seven hits in 25:43 of ice time…Johansson played 19:40 after missing his first game in over 100 regular season tilts…Washington won the face off battle, 32-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 13-11…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while Detroit was 0 for 1…Michael Latta (-2) only played 6:33 and Andre Burakovsky (-1) logged just 6:45. #65 is really struggling to get going after putting up five points in his first six games. He’s got two points since then…Detroit is now 7-0-4 in their last 11 games and defensemen Mike Green played 23:38 and took one penalty in his first game at the Verizon Center as a Caps opponent.

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Braden Holtby, the NHL's 2nd star of the month for November, starts December off just as hot.

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Holtby Steals a Victory for the Caps at the Bell Centre

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

You’ll often hear hockey experts state the following: “goaltending is the great equalizer.”

No truer words could be spoken about Thursday night’s Caps-Habs tilt in Montreal where Braden Holtby was stellar once again making 33 saves to lead Washington to a 3-2 win at the Bell Centre. At the other end of the rink, the Canadiens Mike Condon only stopped 16 of 19 shots and looked tired as the game went on to let his club down in a contest they very much should have won, if not for the Holtbeast.

Montreal was speedy and on the loose pucks all night, while the Capitals looked rusty, sloppy, and downright lazy, at times, in the first two plus periods, especially the middle frame. At one point, the shots on goal were 24-7 for the Habs before a late second period Caps flurry, which included T.J. Oshie’s first goal of the game that Condon misplayed off of his arm and into the cage. Oshie would also get the game winner deflecting home a Karl Alzner point shot with 11:43 remaining. T.J. now has eight goals on the season.

Washington opened the scoring at 2:26 after Holtby made a big early save and the Caps Brooks Laich worked hard on the boards and fed Tom Wilson with the puck in the slot. “Willy” fired it short side with a sweet wrister. Wilson continues to improve and he now has his only two goals this season in the last two games. #43 is doing a super job killing penalties and other parts of the 21 year olds game continue to develop. He is becoming more and more of a factor for Washington and that is very important. He’s a big body that can skate and hit and that is something many teams simply do not have.

Overall though, the Capitals did not play well. They turned the puck over repeatedly and much of that had to do with their positioning and effort. Their gaps between the forwards and the defensemen were too large making the passing lanes longer and tougher to navigate. In addition, they far too often tried diagonal and sometimes blind passes, which is a big no-no coming out of your own zone. Repeatedly, offensive zone shots were passed up for low percentage passes. That was disappointing given that the Caps caught a break facing Condon instead of 2014-15 Hart Trophy winner, Carey Price, who is out for six weeks with a knee injury. The Caps should have been shooting more and even with Oshie’s fluky up in the air and off of the goalies arm tally, Washington still didn’t realize that more pucks to the net were needed.

Overall the shot attempts were 73-43 for Montreal and shots on goal were 35-19. The Habs were far superior in this one in terms of chances and puck possession.

Fortunately Holtby was in the zone again and the only tallies he allowed were a Lars Eller stuff in front right after the Habs power play expired and a shorthanded breakaway goal by Brian Flynn. Max Pacioretty, the Habs captain and best forward, had nine shots on goal, many of them quality, but the Holtbeast had his number on this night.

On the positive side, the Capitals did play a super final seven plus minutes once again with a third period lead. They dominated that final portion and drew a power play with 1:53 remaining. That might have been trouble given that the Habs third period game tying tally came while the Caps were with the man advantage, but Coach Barry Trotz made sure to have two defensemen on the points and Washington outworked the Canadiens along the walls to close this one out. In fact, the only shot on goal Montreal had over the last 6:30 was an 81 footer from Pacioretty with 2:28 remaining. The Caps were like sharks in blood infested waters, they sensed they were on the verge of stealing a win and they did all of the right things down the stretch to close it out.

This was the Capitals sixth straight victory and Holtby’s career high eighth consecutive win. The Caps are now a stunning 18-5-1 and have retaken over first place in the Metropolitan Division. The New York Rangers also have 37 points, but the Caps have three games in hand and one more regulation or overtime win (ROW).

So in this streak, two of the victories have been total Holtby highway robberies, the Edmonton shutout on November 23rd and this one in hallowed Montreal on December 3rd. #70’s numbers over his eight game winning streak are amazing, a 1.88 goals against average and a .936 save percentage (h/t to Ben Raby). Those are some super figures and Holtby is clearly in the upper echelon of NHL goalies.

He won this game tonight and once again his teammates owe him dinner. Perhaps they oblige on Friday night in Winnipeg, where the Caps will take on the Jets on Saturday afternoon in a 3 pm matinee?

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had an assist on the game winning tally and was also on for the second Caps tally. However, he was one of the guilty parties on the Habs shorthanded game tying goal. Ovi only had 1 shot on goal and four overall shot attempts. That is way down for the Gr8…Montreal won the faceoff battle, 32-24. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 10-10…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:59. P.K. Subban led the Habs with 26:44…Brooks Orpik missed his 10th straight game with a lower body injury, although he has been skating and is along for this two game Canadian road trip.

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Braden Holtby wins on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada once again.

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Holtby Helps Caps Win Fifth Straight & Take Over 1st Place

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby owns Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, plain and simple.

The Holtbeast made 32 saves, 15 of which came in a Maple Leafs first period shooting gallery, and held the Caps in the game until they got their legs going over the last 40 minutes. Washington recieved even strength goals from bottom six forwards Jason Chimera (7th) and Tom Wilson (1st) before adding two power play tallies by Marcus Johansson (5th) and Justin Williams (7th) to defeat Toronto, 4-2. Johansson’s goal came without him using his stick for the second straight night and as I’ve often said, good things happen when you go to the front of the net.

This was a very strange game for the first 25+ minutes before Washington took over the contest. Pucks were bouncing everywhere on a bad sheet of Air Canada Centre ice and some terrible turnovers by both clubs led to a couple of tallies.

Once again, the Capitals dominated a third period with a lead. They were up two pucks going into the final frame and despite the fact that the Leafs had 14 shots on net to just eight for the Caps, the margin was never in jeopardy. Most of Toronto’s chances came from far out on the perimeter after tired rushes up the ice, while Washington put on a cycling clinic in the offensive zone holding the puck for long stretches at a time. Normally shot attempts are indicative of puck possession, but this third period was not the case, the Caps totally wore the Leafs out with their big forwards and stifling puck support from their defense. It was another really solid final frame to salt away a victory.

Playing on back to back nights, Coach Barry Trotz elected to go with his elite goalie for the first time this season in that situation. The decision, criticized by some on twitter, paid off royally. Holtby was outstanding and won for a personal best seventh straight time. The Caps have now won five in a row and with the Rangers going in the tank this week by losing three straight tilts, Washington has stormed past them and into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 17-5-1 (35 points). They are a point up on New York and they also have a game in hand.

The Caps power play continues to generate chances and the last two nights it has gone an astounding five for seven. Washington is 12-0 this season when they score a power play goal.

Overall, the Caps have to be extremely pleased with where they are at standings wise. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule, but my counter is you can only beat the teams that you’re slated to face by the league. This Washington club is very strong and still improving. I’m sure they’d like to clean up many of the turnovers they’ve had recently that have led to odd man rushes against.

This team is supremely talented and when they play the system, as coached, they are awfully tough to beat.

The Caps will now have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. They just finished a seven games in eleven nights stretch by going 6-1. Based on that, Coach Trotz may give the boys Monday off too since their next game is not until Thursday in Montreal. The Habs are really good and they drummed the Rangers, 5-1, last Wednesday despite losing goalie Carey Price to a knee injury in that contest. It’s doubtful last season’s Hart Trophy winner will face the Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-52 for Toronto. Most of the Leafs advantage came in the first period, plus their third period shots were almost predominantly from three point range…Alex Ovechkin had an assist and 10 shot attempts (only three on net) in 21:57 of ice time…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:29 and John Carlson (1 assist) logged 23:27…Toronto won the face off battle, 31-29. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-13…Be sure to tune in to WNST 1570 AM in Baltimore on Monday morning as Nestor Aparacio and I do our weekly Caps segment. Listen Live at WNST.NET.

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Braden Holtby continues his dominance over the Edmonton Oilers in a Caps, 1-0, victory

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Holtby’s Shutout Steals Two Points for the Caps

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s unbelievable. Honestly, we lose that game if he’s not in the net. If we have any other goalie in the league playing that game, then we don’t win that hockey game.” – Washington Forward Tom Wilson on Braden Holtby.

There aren’t many truer words spoken than those from Caps forward Tom Wilson following Braden Holtby’s stellar 33 save shutout victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center. The Holtbeast was downright incredible making several stops on odd man rushes and a glove save on Eric Gryba that will be shown all across hockey highlight shows this season.

Holtby’s heroics allowed the Caps to steal two points from the Oilers when Dmitry Orlov scored on a rocket of a shot with 6:32 remaining in regulation. The laser from #9 followed a series of hard working shifts by the Capitals, but it was fitting that the Washington fourth line of Brooks Laich (assist), Michael Latta, and Wilson (assist) were the plumbers who worked the wall and were able to get the biscuit in perfect position for the young Russian defensemen to tattoo the puck into the top right corner for his second goal in two games.

From there, the Caps really played well and had several chances to increase their lead, but either Anders Nilsson (29 saves) made the stop or the Capitals missed the net (which has been a problem in recent games). Edmonton pulled Nilsson late for the extra attacker, but Holtby made a couple of more quality stops on Taylor Hall (six shots on goal), in close, to seal the deal.

One of the few bright spots for Washington, other than their goaltender, was the Caps penalty killing unit. They went a perfect three for three on the night in 5:43 of PK time, including a four minute double minor situation that came as the result of a Nicklas Backstrom high stick. Often a team will gain momentum from a great job of thwarting back-to-back man advantage situations and score shortly thereafter, but that was not the case on this night.

It was not a pretty win and the Caps did not play well for roughly the first 50 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz did not like their will along the boards nor their compete level in the opening two periods. There were far too many odd man rushes against caused by mental mistakes, poor execution, and suspect positioning.

Wilson noted that the Caps weren’t doing the things that allow them to be successful for the first two plus periods of hockey.

“We weren’t playing very well, we weren’t getting pucks in. I think you saw the tilt in the ice a little bit at the end when we got desperate…it was by no means our best game,” said the 21 year old power forward.

Washington was able to stay in the game and find a way to win, once again. Their best frame was the third period when they out shot the Oilers, 15-10, in those 20 minutes. That’s been another nice development this season, strong and dominating third periods.

Overall, the Caps didn’t deserve two points on Monday night and yet they got them. Last Thursday they certainly deserved a win or at worst a point against the Dallas Stars and came up empty, but that’s the way the hockey gods work sometimes.

Everyone credited the Holtbeast for the victory, and rightly so. Coach Trotz summed up Holtby’s night perfectly afterwards.

“He absolutely deserved the shutout. He’s been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn’t anybody in the same universe as him.”

Again, no truer words could be spoken.

Notes: Holtby has won four straight games and is 12-4-0 this season with a 1.88 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. This was his second career shutout against Edmonton (last one on March 9, 2011)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:18…Coach Trotz noted afterwards that he hasn’t liked his teams consistency over the last eight or nine games…the Caps won the face off battle, 31-22. Backstrom was 14-7…Shot attempts for the game were 68-54 for the Oilers, but it was 25-18, Caps, in the 3rd period…Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on goal. He also led the team in hits with seven…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7 pm.

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The Caps score first for the first time in 10 games in their 7-3 victory over Colorado

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Caps Score Early and Often in 7-3 Victory

Posted on 21 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played well on Thursday night in a tough, 3-2, loss to the Dallas Stars, but they rebounded strongly with their best first period of the season in a 7-3 beat down of the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening.

The Caps needed this type of win, one in which they broke their nine game streak of not scoring first and one in which they raced out to a big lead. It was 4-0 after one period, but 4-2 after 40 minutes since Patrick Roy yanked Reto Berra for Calvin Pickard to start the middle frame. Pickard was superb early on and the Capitals were also guilty of not connecting fully on their shots and over passing the biscuit, which allowed the Avalanche to hang around.

But as they’ve done fairly consistently this season, the Caps put the hammer down in the third period and salted this one away with three goals against a single Colorado tally. The Avalanche only had seven shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and finished with 27 shots on net for the game.

This was a total team effort as evidenced by the fact that 14 of the 18 Washington players had points in this tilt, including three assists for Jason Chimera and a goal and two assists for Evgeny Kuznetsov. There were contributions from Caps players up and down the lineup. Alex Ovechkin notched his 10th goal of the season off of another amazing Nicklas Backstrom pass and also added an assist. T.J. Oshie had an assist on Karl Alzner’s goal to give the Capitals a full touchdown in this contest, but #77 could have had at least three goals on this night with all of the grade A chances he had.

Colorado is fast up front, but their defense is not very good and the Caps took advantage of that. All four lines looked solid and Tom Wilson was in the Avalanche players heads all evening. Unfortunately, due to some bad writing from the Great White North and some whining from opposing GM’s that have influenced the zebras, Willy wasn’t able to put the Caps on the power play via his two incidents when clearly his club should’ve received a man advantage. I’ve been a Jarome Iginla fan his whole career, but he played like a beaten thug on this night and somehow only incurred four PIMs. It might be time for the old man to finally hang it up.

Defensemen Nate Schmidt, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Alzner all scored goals on this night as the Washington blue line did a super job of getting shots to the goal and jumping up in the play when the time was right. Orlov’s goal that made it 6-2 was one in which he just totally blew by the Avalanche defense and alertly got his own rebound to end up with a practically vacant cage to deposit the puck into. GM Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz have to be pleased with where both Schmidt and Orlov are at through 19 games into the season. There are no more questions about the 3rd defensive pair and that’s with Brooks Oprik missing the last five games. If there is any nitpicking to do, it would be on the Caps ability to clear the front of their own net, especially on the PK. That’s an area that #44 specializes in. But it is more important for Orpik to get totally healthy; November games don’t matter a ton to a veteran D who will be a critical component of this team in the spring.

Up front, Coach Trotz benched Andre Burakovsky (one point in last 11 games), bumped Justin Williams up to the second line, and inserted Stan Galiev on the 3rd line. Galiev did not look out of place and certainly earned a sweater for Monday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Burakovsky needs to watch the film of the Caps win over the Flyers last Thursday and play more like he did that night. Against Filthy, he was strong on the boards and was not shying away from contact, in fact, he was initiating it and Philly couldn’t move him off of the play. The Flyers three penalties that night were all drawn by Burakovsky. We’ll see if he’s back against the Connor McDavid-less Oilers, but I’m not sure who would come out if he goes back in?

So the Caps now sit at 13-5-1 and have 27 points. They trail the first place Rangers by five points and lead the third place Penguins by three points. Washington has a game in hand on both clubs.

Still, it’s a long season and the key is for the Capitals to keep improving, especially in their own zone, which is where you win and lose playoff games.

Notes: Shot attempts were 62-46 for Washington. The Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play while they gave up a goal to the Avs in their only shorthanded situation…the Capitals buried Colorado at the dot, 39-21. Michael Latta, who drew a penalty after a clean hit in the 3rd period, was 8-1 while Jay Beagle went 10-4…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:38…the Caps had 32 shots on goal while Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 shots. One of them was a huge save early in period three with the score, 4-2…Ovechkin, who set the Russian goal scoring record at 484 in Thursday’s defeat to Dallas, only needed 7:15 into this contest to get to goal number 485.

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Braden Holtby turns in a stellar goaltending performance in the Caps huge win in Detroit.

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Holtby Shines as Kuznetsov Scores in OT for a Caps Victory in Motown

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals struggled at even strength for good portions of the first 40 minutes, but they turned on the jets in the third period and then in overtime to win, 2-1, in Motown on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal.

So that’s five losses this year for the Caps (including one in OT last Friday night) and five wins in the games immediately following the defeat. As I blogged last Thursday night, that’s the mark of a good team.

Why were the Caps able to pull this one out? First, their goaltender, Braden Holtby, was outstanding for 40 minutes stopping 19 of 20 shots, including three of them on two Detroit breakaways (Darren Helm got a rebound attempt on his one on one with #70). Holtby gave up an early tally to rookie sensation Dylan Larkin, but that was a tough stop considering the Caps defensemen, Taylor Chorney, put his stick in the shooting lane right as the young American was firing the biscuit. That was a big distraction for the Holtbeast. But Braden would shut the door the rest of the way, including a sweep stop in period two with the puck heading for a go ahead Red Wings goal.

On the flip side, Peter Mrazek, who stopped all 36 shots in Detroit against the Caps on November 11th, was a brick wall once again. It took a super set up by Matt Niskanen on the power play to Justin Williams to get the rubber by the Czech goalie to even the game at one.

Washington would have four first period power plays, scoring only once. They then received two more in the third period, but they couldn’t convert despite some good looks on the last one. Overall, the man advantage was 1 for 6 and is struggling to bury its chances. Detroit had two power plays, but the Caps denied both.

Niskanen, next to the goalies, was the player of the game, in my book. He logged 23:51 and had two assists. He was all over the ice at both ends and nearly set up Karl Alzner, who also had another excellent outing, with the game winner moments before Kuznetsov closed the deal for Washington.

That’s two OT game winning goals now for the young Russian and afterward Holtby told Pierre McGuire that he thought Kuznetsov was the Caps best player in the playoffs last spring. Clearly #92 continues to improve. He centered Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky and like many of his teammates, struggled for the first two frames, but really clicked in the third period. Burakovsky was really good in those last 20 minutes and he set up Johansson for a wide open shot in the slot, however, MJ90 missed the net when it looked like the puck rolled on him.

Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal in the opening stanza and then one after that, so he still sits on career goal #483. The Gr8 will be happy with the win, which is more important than a record that is inevitable.

Washington is now 12-4-1 overall and will take on the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Stars are super fast and have been sitting in their hotel rooms eating Bon Bons on Wednesday while the Caps will have to fly home late before facing a club that is off to a 15-4 start after missing the playoffs last season. The biggest difference for the Stars has been their goaltending. They didn’t get much of that last year, but this season the teams’ save percentage is over 91%.

This was a big win for Washington as they really stormed the castle down the stretch without needing any magic pills from Miracle Max. It was a simple formula, they moved their legs and won puck battle after puck battle against the Wings. If not for Mrazek and some narrow misses, this one was a Caps win in regulation after Holtby held the fort for 40 minutes.

Notes: The Caps outshot Detroit, 27-26. That’s 15 games in a row for Washington holding a team under 30 shots and the club record is 20 straight, set in 1984-85 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel)…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 29-27. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-6 and Kuznetsov was 2-10…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:45, 7:16 of which came on the power play, and he had five shots on goal.

 

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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The dynamic duo, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, find a way to get the Caps another victory.

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Ovechkin Ties Fedorov in Caps 3-2 Shootout Victory

Posted on 07 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored three times, yet only one counted as an official goal, but the third was the game winning shootout tally on a sweet move by the Gr8 to give Washington a 3-2 victory over the Leafs.

After an apparent late game tying and record breaking tally (Ovechkin had earlier tied Sergei Fedorov for most goals as a Russian NHLer at 483 in the second period), the zebras, who called good goal on the ice, took out the iPad the NHL bought from Target, watched several replays, and ruled no goal on a coach’s challenge because Justin Williams nicked Reimer when pushed into the crease by a Leafs defender. This happened a good second or two before the Leafs goalie was able to get set and the Gr8 roofed a backhander over his shoulder.

At that point, it looked like the Leafs were going to go home with a 2-1 victory. They had worked hard in this contest and killed off a minute long Caps five on three in the third period. They then scored on their own power play with 10:33 left, which was set up by a garbage sequence by the zebras where Tom Wilson received four minutes when he deserved only two for roughing and Nazem Kadri only got two minutes when he deserved four for hooking and holding.

But the Caps, who out shot attempted the Leafs, 61-44, despite having multiple sequences where they were outworked on the boards, finally won some puck battles with the goalie pulled and tied the game with one second left on Nicklas Backstrom’s side of the cage tally. All six Caps on the ice contributed. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great soccer play to keep the puck in the zone on the right wing boards, then Justin Williams and Backstrom worked hard on those boards to get the puck into the slot. John Carlson kept it in and fed T.J. Oshie on the left wing boards. Oshie fed Williams in the left wing corner and #14 fired it across the cage and it appeared to hit Ovechkin or the skate of the Toronto defender in front, before hitting #19 in the chest. Backstrom didn’t get all of the shot, but he was finally able to get the second biscuit of the game by James Reimer (29 saves), who was super for Toronto in net in this game.

In the shootout, both Oshie and Kuznetsov hit the post before Reimer stopped Backstrom. Braden Holtby, who gave up a soft first tally to Toronto on the short side, was spectacular stopping all four Leafs, including a stretched pad save on Kadri to seal the deal after Ovechkin’s forehand roof job.

It was a win that you could say the Caps may or may not have deserved, I think they did, and they now move to 10-3 and tie the best start in franchise history, once again, with the 1991-92 Capitals team.

As for the Leafs, well everyone, including me, thought the Caps would have an easy time with a squad that doesn’t have much talent and is bound for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. It seemed the Capitals players thought that way too for much of the game. But shame on all of us, especially the players, because a Mike Babcock coached team is never going to just show up and roll over. He’s a super coach and he had his team ready to play on no rest and he made the adjustments necessary to nearly steal a victory.

But the Caps have to learn from this one too, they simply didn’t work hard enough in the trenches and allowed a game against a vastly inferior opponent nearly be decided by the referees. You just can’t do that because as the data shows, the calls will typically go against Washington when it comes to goalie interference.

Speaking of goalie interference and replay, the Caps are now one for and three against in this young season. Like the NFL and receptions, I have no Earthly idea what is and isn’t goalie interference. Add the delay the replay causes to the games and I’m ready to throw those cheap iPads from Target out in the street and just go with the original on ice judgement calls. Hey, everyone is human. I’m perfectly fine with having replay for something definitive like offsides, pucks across the goal line, and in the netting, but when it comes to goalie interference, it makes little sense, there’s just too much interpretation involved. The NHL is not helping their referees with this system and it slows the game to a crawl. Get rid of it!

As for the Caps, they can blame their power play for not being able to salt this one away earlier. Washington was one for six with the extra skater (or two) and their zone entries and ability to support the puck handler was atrocious. They also made terrible decisions. It was ugly and their only success was on a play where Ovechkin went to the net and scored on the door step via a sweet backhander. It was a goal scorer’s goal and a simple one. Washington went to the net and got pucks there on that play. They simply did not do enough of that on the power play in this contest, it was far too motionless and fancy. That needs to change going forward.

Despite all of the issues, good teams find ways to win games and this club did it once again. They are a good team. They have 69 more games remaining and they should continue to get better. Right now it’s about getting points and securing a playoff spot. A 10-3 start puts you in great position to do that.

Notes: Ovi had eight shots on goal and 13 overall shot attempts in 23:35 of ice time. He was the well deserved #1 star of the game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist in 23:12 and earned the second star…the Caps won the face off battle, 34-22. Jay Beagle was 11-6 and Kuznetsov was 9-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:12. He had another strong game with Brooks Orpik, who only played 17:53 due to all of the power plays and the fact that the Caps trailed for good portions of the game…next up for the Caps are the Detroit Red Wings in Motown on Tuesday at 7:30 pm. Former Caps defensemen Mike Green will not play due to injury [Sunday Update: Green is playing against the Stars and picked up a power play assist in the first period. He is now expected to face the Caps, assuming he doesn’t get re-injured.]

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 7th goal of the season to help lead the Caps over Boston.

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Ovechkin Goal Jump Starts Caps in 4-1 Win Over Boston

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After playing too loose, falling behind early, and ultimately losing, 5-2, to the Rangers on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals really hoped to have a strong start against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

They did not get one.

The Bruins repeatedly put pucks deep on Washington early and throttled the Capitals in their own end with a vicious forecheck over the first 10 minutes. Luckily for the Caps, goalie Braden Holtby (28 saves) was razor sharp and the Caps were able to keep things scoreless.

Shortly after the 12 minute mark though, Justin Williams turned a puck over in the neutral zone while shorthanded and that gave the Bruins a three on two rush that they converted off of a fluky bounce. Suddenly Boston had scored for the first time since the spring of 2014 on Holtby (the Caps shut the B’s out three times in 2014-15) and they had a 1-0 lead.

But that’s all the Bruins would get as the Caps made some adjustments to get the puck out of their own end and from there things started to go their way.

“We just started doing what we were supposed to do from the start, we were too slow. We weren’t getting close enough to their high guy for their shots. We know they like to play a triangle game. We weren’t winning the races to the pucks and then it seemed like we got our legs a little bit,” said defensemen Karl Alzner.

That they did and with four minutes left in the opening frame, the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Williams had a dominant offensive zone shift. Then the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie built off of that momentum and buried one with the Gr8 scoring a greasy goal in front. Ovechkin would take a couple of cross checks in the back and slide one past Tuukka Rask (27 saves) to tie the game up. The Tim Kerr/Dino Ciccarelli type of goal absolutely lifted the spirits of the Capitals and those in attendance at the Verizon Center.

“Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores those highlight reel goals all the time. We talk about this is a team [Boston] that has a good goaltender. Their physical [defensive] core and you got to go to those hard areas to score goals against them. When one of your top scorers is known for his one-on-one and great shot, goes to the hard areas and gets one of those grinder, blue paint goals, it’s great,” said Coach Barry Trotz about the turning point in the hockey game, Ovechkin’s seventh goal of the season.

The Caps took the lead just 4:10 into period two when Brooks Laich scored his 1st goal of the season by doing what Ovechkin had done earlier, going to the front of the net. Dmitry Orlov’s point blast hit Laich en route and got by Rask. Washington increased the lead to 3-1 on a five on three power play with Backstrom saucering a sweet pass to John Carlson for a one timer. It was Carlson’s third goal of the season to go with nine assists and the way the Capitals players rotated to confuse Boston was a nice, new power play wrinkle.

From there on in, the Capitals clamped things down and gave the Bruins pretty much nothing the rest of the way. The Caps improved to 6-0-0 this season when leading after two periods by playing a nearly flawless final stanza. They held Boston to just one quality shot, which is impressive.

“I was really happy with the way we handled the third… We understood that they [Boston] were going to come with their d [defense] getting active, and we just stayed to the game plan, and just making sure we were making them come 200 feet and being on the right side of pucks when they got jammed up, and we protected the slot,” added Coach Trotz on the third period success.

“I think we were responsible, we changed our system a little bit, I think maybe gave them a different look and threw a wrench in their plans and we just played smart with the puck,” added Alzner, who sealed this one with an empty net goal with 1:50 remaining to close it out at 4-1.

One thing the coaching staff did for the third period that really worked was a juggling of the lines. Coach Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky up with fellow Swedes, Backstrom and Johansson, and he bumped Williams over with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera. As a result, Boston was stymied getting only seven shots on the cage over the last 20 minutes. During the offseason Washington talked about developing a killer instinct and this third period performance was a big step in that direction.

Overall, this was an important bounce back victory after a disappointing result in New York on Tuesday. The Caps improved to 9-3 and matched the 1991-92 and 2011-12 teams for the best Washington starts to a season. That 91-92 squad I talk about often because I believe it was one of the Capitals all time best teams. The problem was the team that won the Cup in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were just a bit better, primarily due to their goaltending. Goaltending is a strength for the Caps these days and if they keep improving their overall play and stay healthy, this season should continue to be a fun and special one.

Notes: All three Caps defensive pairs played well with Carlson and Brooks Orpik leading the way in time on ice with 25:20 and 22:19, respectively. It was a super game for both and Carlson rightfully earned the first star…Orlov and Nate Schmidt both were excellent after being the best D pair against the Rangers. They logged 14:52 and 15:21, respectively. Each skates well and moves the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. The Caps have to be very pleased at the level of play they are getting from that pair so early in the season…Washington outshot Boston, 31-29, but were outshot attempted, 63-53. The Caps blocked 19 shots and did a good job of keeping the Bruins on the perimeter; especially in period three…Boston won the face off battle, 39-29. David Krejci was 11-3 for the B’s while Kuznetsov went 6-14 for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Leafs are not good and are clearly one of the front runners in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.

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Philipp Grubauer makes 26 saves to give the Capitals a chance to win the game in overtime.

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Grubauer Leads Caps in OT Victory Over Florida

Posted on 31 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:44 into overtime and the Capitals rode the stellar goaltending of back up Philipp Grubauer to snatch a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise.

For the first time in 10 games this NHL season, the Caps found themselves in the extra session. With the rules modified in the off season to make the game three on three, vice four on four, it would be interesting to see how Coach Barry Trotz would play things. So instead of being immediately aggressive, Trotz started with two defensemen, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and forward Nicklas Backstrom. That strategy paid off for the first shift before the Caps skill took over and the winning tally occurred with Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov on the ice. On that game winner Kuzya adeptly broke to the net after both Florida defenders thought he’d drop the puck to the Gr8. #92 beat Cats goalie Al Montoya (25 saves) down low and Washington will now leave town on Monday afternoon, after a day off on the beach on Sunday, with a record of 8-2.

Let’s be honest, if this was last season and Justin Peters is in net, the Caps lose this game.

Grubauer (26 saves) was that good and if he doesn’t make several key stops throughout the game, including a breakaway in the second period when it was 1-0, Florida, the Caps lose in regulation. The German goalie was excellent against the Panthers and the Washington players have to feel really good to know that they can play that poorly and sloppily in stretches and still sneak out a victory.

It was far from a pretty win and the Panthers size and tenacity frustrated Washington most of the night. The Caps struggled to break out of their own zone effectively, often making poor decisions and bad passes. The best break outs were on skate outs, and Orlov was one of the better ones at doing that (RIP Adam Oates and his “get rid of the puck in five feet” mandate). It was so ugly that early in the second period, after Grubauer saved the Caps bacon once again, Coach Barry Trotz chewed his team a new one on the bench.

The Capitals would be better, at times, after that, but there were several guys who just didn’t have it on this night.

One player who brought his game in the third period and overtime was Ovechkin. The Gr8 was one of the few Capitals who was winning board battles and moving his feet. Ovi set up Jay Beagle’s game tying tally and his mere presence opened up a lane for Kuznetsov on the winning goal.

Beagle, despite two offensive zone penalties, was good too and earned extra ice time. In fact, it was Kuznetsov who saw his time cut in the third frame for #83. If not for Beagle, Ovechkin, and of course, Grubauer, Kuzya doesn’t get the chance to redeem himself for one of his poorer performances of the season, up until that point. But as they say, there is no substitute for skill, especially with the new regular season overtime rules!

Overall, the Caps went two and one this week despite playing very uneven hockey. But the mark of a good team is one that finds a way to win when it doesn’t have anywhere close to its “A” game. The Capitals brought their “C” game on Saturday, but thanks to Grubauer, they were able to endure and win in overtime.

After practice in Florida on Monday, it’s on to New York for a rematch with the Rangers. I’m sure the players haven’t forgotten the game seven overtime loss last spring. Washington had a series of bad clears and icings in that overtime which led to Derek Stepan’s series winner. Bad clears have crept back in to Washington’s game lately, hopefully they get that corrected in time for Tuesday, otherwise a New York team that is off to a 7-2-2 start will run the Capitals out of Madison Square Garden.

Notes: As bad as the Caps were on their breakouts, the Panthers only had 19 of their 27 shots on net at even strength (the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill allowing eight SOG). Washington turned the puck over a lot, but they did do a good job of limiting Panthers opportunities, especially rebounds. Brooks Orpik and the Caps blue liners were able to clear away any loose pucks around Grubauer. Most importantly, #31 didn’t allow many of those. He was razor sharp…the Caps out shot attempted the Cats, 48-44. 92 shot attempts in a game is not a lot and it shows how sloppy both teams were…the Capitals won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 13-9… John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 28:19 and Orpik was second with 24:37… Brooks Laich, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson all played less than 10 minutes…Orlov only logged 12:50 and Nate Schmidt played 10:39 as the third defensive pair. Basically, Coach Trotz rode three lines and two defensive pairs for most of this contest.

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