Tag Archive | "Beagle"

Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

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Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had a chance to pretty much end the season of the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night but they let a golden opportunity slip by in a 3-2 regulation loss in the second tilt of a five game road trip.

The loss, which wasted a superb goaltending effort from Tomas Vokoun (25 saves), ends the Caps four game winning streak. Winnipeg has now won the last two meetings against Washington and trail the Caps by just two points in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Buffalo Sabres are just a point in back of Winnipeg. All three teams have 11 games remaining.

The Caps, who not only fought a desperate Jets team in a raucous MTS Centre, also had to play against the referees as well. Mike Leggo and Kyle Rehman were downright inconsistent in this one and they also missed a blatant head shot by Mark Stuart on Marcus Johansson that would’ve given Washington a 5 on 3 power play. Stuart should get one of those Brendan Shanahan tapes made on his behalf this weekend. In addition, Keith Aucoin was high sticked and was bleeding late but only two minutes were called. Add in several other missed hooks and holds (see Winnipeg winning goal) on the Jets against Alex Ovechkin and others, some of which were whistled on Washington the other way, and you have to wonder what these guys in stripes are watching?

But even despite the bad zebras, the Caps still had their chances. With 2:22 to go they received the power play they needed but curiously the coaching staff put Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman on the points with the goalie pulled instead of moving the Gr8 down low and putting Mike Green at the blueline. It was a move that doesn’t make any sense unless Green is not 100%. Ovechkin has been getting his goals from in close lately and with him in front of the net it opens up room for other Capitals players. It was a key sequence in the game and the personnel decisions were not up to par there, plain and simple.

On the plus side, Washington’s penalty killing was specatcular, and it had to be with ECHL calibre referees bowing to every whine from the Manitoba faithful (boy are those fans annoying, but they certainly helped their team on Friday). Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Karl Alzner, along with Vokoun were outstanding during a 99 second sequence where the Jets had a 2-1 lead and a five on three power play. #83 blocked several shots and Vokoun flat out robbed Blake Wheeler at the side of the net. It was top notch penalty killing that unfortunately was wasted in the loss as the Jets went 0 for 5 on the power play.

In games like this one, where you have a chance to separate yourself from the teams chasing you in the standings, your top players need to produce. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin did not do that on Friday night. Yes, the Gr8 was clutched and grabbed most of the night but he is too predictable with the puck. When a mediocore defenseman like Grant Clitsome takes him out so easily on the boards it is clearly a sign that Ovechkin needs to find some new moves. In addition, the two-time NHL MVP’s free lancing style in his own zone cost the team a goal. With the game tied Ovechkin abandoned his man to chase the puck behind the net. At that point the entire d-zone coverage broke down and ultimately Ovechkin’s original man, Nik Antropov, potted the tally that put the Jets up 2-1 late in period two. Ovechkin has to work harder and be smarter in his own end. Semin only played 12:19 and was -2. That was one of his worst games since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench.

So there are three games left on this important road trip and the Caps have split the first two tilts. They had a great chance to put some spread between them and their pursuers, but they didn’t get the job done and now move on to take on the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night. That will be a tough test followed by a quick turnaround in Detroit on Monday. It is time for the stars to show up in the Windy City and Motown.

Notes: Johansson left for a portion of the contest after taking the hit from Stuart but did return. Stuart deserves three games for that hit, at least….Mike Knuble did not have a good game and his penalty late in period two was an awful decision and play…Beagle was outstanding playing 19:53 and winning 14 of 20 draws..the Jets are in town next week, so the Caps get another chance at putting the Winnipeg club away for the year.

 

 

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Hunter Getting It Done Despite Criticism

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Hunter Getting It Done Despite Criticism

Posted on 11 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

There were no two ways about Sunday’s Washington Capitals game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps had to win this contest with a five game road trip on the horizon. Brooks Laich continued to carry this club scoring a key shorthanded goal in the opening frame, Alexander Semin set up Mathieu Perreault for an early third period marker, and Michal Neuvirth stopped all 23 shots he faced en route to a 2-0 victory in his 100th NHL start.

It wasn’t flashy hockey, but it was team hockey as the Capitals did a super job of limiting Leafs odd man rushes and opportunities while generating puck possession and scoring chances for themselves. The victory moves Washington to 76 points with 13 games left and they trail the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers by a single point. More importantly, the eighth place Capitals open up a four point cushion on the ninth place Sabres and Jets.

The Caps played some very good hockey this week going 3-0-1 and if you want to know my theory on why things have turned around check out yesterday’s blog where I discuss, in detail, the lineup changes that Coach Dale Hunter recently has made up the middle of the ice. Those moves continued to pay off again today as both Laich and Jay Beagle played big roles in the victory. The more balanced lineup is producing solid defensive hockey, something Hunter demands, and it is also generating more puck possession.

In my estimation, Hunter has taken far too much unnecessary criticism, especially on twitter. There are those that say he is in over his head or doesn’t know what he is doing with the scratches or goalies, or even worse, that his system doesn’t work in the NHL. I even heard seen some people say that Hunter is just tanking it so that he can go back to juniors. Horse hockey, I say.

I’ve known Hunter since 1987 when he came to the Caps and he hates to lose as much as anybody. As I was leaving the Verizon Center long after last Tuesday’s OT loss to Carolina I ran into ole #32 in the hallway. I asked him if he was having fun, his response, “I don’t like losing.” We then proceeded to talk about the game for a couple of minutes pointing out both good and bad plays. I walked away from that conversation knowing what I already pretty much knew, Dale Hunter is as committed as ever to helping the Washington Capitals win.

Hunter knows hockey and he didn’t exactly inherit the Detroit Red Wings when he took over. Throw in an injury to the one player he could not afford to lose most, Nicklas Backstrom, and it is impressive that the bench boss has been able to keep the ship afloat given some of its’ issues. But as I chronicled yesterday, the coach is getting a handle on what he has to work with and with Laich and Beagle both totally healthy for the first time in his tenure he is employing a configuration that fits what he wants to do.

Simply put, this Capitals team CANNOT be the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers or even the 2009-10 Washington Capitals. Run and gun won’t work with Backstrom out and the other weaknesses up the middle of the ice. But they do have a slew of hard working guys, that cobbled together with skilled players like Alexander Ovechkin, Semin, Perreault, and Marcus Johansson will equate to wins if the right balance is found. It takes 20 guys working hard and together. Right now they appear to have that, the question is, can they keep it going? My answer is, yes, if they don’t sustain any more injuries, especially to Laich, who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. #21 has been outstanding since finally overcoming what looked to be a bad knee injury against Boston back in early February.

Add in the work ethic and desire of Beagle as well as players like Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, etc and suddenly you have a cohesive team. Semin was outstanding this weekend and if Ovechkin works hard and trends up then this team starts to have some serious potential, especially if they manage to get Backstrom back.

But those projections must wait for now. The Capitals have a five game road trip that starts on Tuesday on Long Island against an Islanders team that has taken 5 of 6 points from Washington this year. The Caps must be ready from opening puck drop if they want to continue to try and win their division, or at the very least separate themselves from those behind them in the playoff hunt.

Today they did that beating a tired Maple Leafs team that worked hard under new coach Randy Carlyle but just don’t have the horses up front with Joffrey Lupul out. But everyone has injuries and good teams and coaches find ways to overcome them. Hunter is doing his best to do that, but the road ahead is tough, and the momentum gained this week must carry over for his team to get its’ fifth straight playoff berth.

Notes: The Caps only had one power play but it did everything except score. Washington had several scoring chances and had the puck in the Leafs zone the entire two minutes…the Capitals, by scoring shorthanded, won the special teams battle for the second straight game…Johansson missed an empty net late in regulation. The puck rolled on him after a sweet feed from Perreault and his shot attempt from four feet away went wide. MJ90 wasn’t happy but he was in the right place to score. His play has trended up since Hunter moved him back to the wing where he can be more effective in man to man coverage…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 24-15. Laich was only 4-10 but Beagle won 5 of 6 draws…there were lots of solid games by a lot of players and noone played less than 10 minutes. Each of Washington’s six defensemen played near the top of their ability as mistakes on the back end were definitely minimized.

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Hunter’s Latest Lineup Paying Dividends

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Hunter’s Latest Lineup Paying Dividends

Posted on 10 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Given that the Washington Capitals have struggled on the road all season long, it appeared, on paper, that Saturday’s tilt at Boston against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins would be a loss for the Caps. But, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum or TD Garden, in this case. The Caps came up with one of their strongest performances of the season in a 4-3 victory over the B’s. It was a huge win for the Caps and it moves them within a point of first place Florida in the Southeast Division.

The Caps really came out flying and jumped to a 2-0 lead with some aggressive play. They then staved off two shaky penalty calls by Tim Peel and company and looked poised to exit the opening frame up a pair. But a bad icing by Troy Brouwer and a missed assignment on a faceoff with six seconds left led to a Milan Lucic goal. The question after that would be how the Capitals would respond to that late tally? When the Bruins tied the score on a breakaway by Brad Marchand that was caused by an Alexander Ovechkin giveaway while Dennis Wideman was heading to the bench on the long change, it looked like Boston had all of the momentum.

However, this Caps team seems to be getting mentally tougher and they responded with some outstanding hockey drawing three straight penalties. Jay Beagle would score off of a super feed from Alexander Semin just after the first man advantage situation expired and Brooks Laich re-directed home a Dennis Wideman feed on the third power play to make it 4-2 heading into the final frame. From there Washington did not give up any odd man rushes and forced the Bruins to shoot from the perimeter. After Mike Knuble missed an empty net that would have made it 5-2, Boston scored with 3:13 to go but Tomas Vokoun (30 saves), who was close to excellent in this one, slammed the door shut and the Caps left Beantown with two big points.

Dale Hunter’s crew has been playing better recently and is 2-0-1 in their last three games with the one loss coming to Carolina in overtime, a game in which they had 49 shots on goal. What has been the change that has turned things around? Is it an urgency to their game? Are they firing more pucks on net and battling to the cage? Are they playing desperate hockey? The answer to each of those questions is yes, for the most part, but that doesn’t explain it all.

To me, it is some recent lineup adjustments that has spurred this better play on. For the first time since Nicklas Backstrom went out with his concussion injury in early January, Hunter seems to be getting consistently solid play up the middle of the ice. The head coach moved Brooks Laich to center and Marcus Johansson to wing. In addition, Beagle’s role has been expanded and he is centering the third line. This configuration gives the Capitals bigger and stronger guys to fill the important low man role in Hunter’s man to man defensive system. Laich and Beagle are more solid on defense than the smaller Johansson, who can be moved out of position easier because of his lack of physical size. You still have Mathieu Perreault centering the second line but he is only playing 13 to 14 minutes. So instead of 35 plus minutes a game with a smaller center duo, Hunter now has Laich (21:48) and Beagle (18:10) playing above 35 minutes at the pivot. Huge difference at both ends of the ice, if you ask me.

The added bonus to this configuration is Johansson has played better this season as a winger and he doesn’t have so much pressure on him. It is a more balanced scheme. So why didn’t Hunter come up with this sooner, since it appears to be working so well? Well, Laich was playing a good bit of center shortly after Backstrom got hurt but then he injured his knee in the Boston game in early February. It took several weeks for #21 to get healthy and you can’t play the pivot position if your body isn’t right because the spot requires so much energy. As for Beagle, he missed 31 games due to a concussion and it’s taken him a couple of months since then to get in true hockey shape. He is a tireless worker and is finally back to the condition he was before he was knocked out by Arron Asham in October.

So it has taken time to develop, but Hunter’s best center configuration appears to have to include Laich and Beagle right now. Both are good defenders and among the hardest workers on the club. You can’t win in the NHL without centers and that was a big reason why the Capitals have struggled to find consistency since Backstrom went down. If Hunter sticks with Laich as top line pivot and #83 slotted in the third line position, and both stay healthy, then I think that gives Washington the best chance to do well over the last 14 games and win the Southeast Division. There may be some bad matchups along the way, but overall this lineup increases the Capitals win probability.

On Sunday at 5 pm the Caps are right back at it against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center. A win would put them at 76 points with 13 contests left on the docket, including a five game road trip that starts Tuesday on Long Island. Saturday’s victory over the Bruins was important, but a loss against the Leafs would pretty much waste what would be a very big weekend for this hockey team.

So they can’t afford a let down, there is too much at stake, plus the Caps have some tough games coming up away from home.

Notes: Roman Hamrlik and Knuble were back in the lineup for the suspended Mike Green and scratched Jeff Halpern. Both were solid in their 13:29 and 11:26 of ice time, respectively…Matt Hendricks and Semin had the other goals. Both played excellent games with #28 getting two points and being a +2…Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a nice job against a red hot Boston line of Lucic, David Krejci, and Tyler Seguin. Both Krejci and Seguin were held off of the scoresheet…Washington finally won the special teams battle for the first time since 2/17 going 1 for 3 on the PP while killing both Boston man advantage situations (thanks to @JapersRink for that info).

 

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

Posted on 07 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

To win in sports, you not only have to work hard, but you also have to play smart.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals had the first part of the above equation firing 49 shots on goal on Carolina goalie Cam Ward (46 saves). However, they failed several times to make the correct decision on “hockey plays” and lost, 4-3, in overtime to the Hurricanes. It was the Caps third straight defeat, in a game they sorely needed, and they stay in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Winnipeg Jets, with 16 games remaining.

Coach Dale Hunter was brought in last November primarily to try and get the Capitals to play better defensively. Hunter instituted a system that was designed to allow fewer odd man rushes against. For the most part it has worked, but on this night, it didn’t matter what system the team was playing because the team had key mental breakdowns in crucial situations.

  • On the third Canes goal Dennis Wideman, with defensive partner Mike Green already up by the opponents cage, chose to take a Baltimore Oriole like swing at a bouncing puck at the Carolina blue line instead of backing up. Naturally #6 missed like the O’s normally do and Brandon Sutter went in on a breakaway to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead just 105 seconds into the third period
  • Then after the Caps rallied to tie the game on a beautiful passing play between Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson with just under three minutes remaining, Wideman in overtime decided to go after another less than 50-50 puck in the offensive zone. He was once again unsuccessful and as a result the Canes had a two on one break to score the game winner when Green didn’t play it correctly and allowed the puck carrier to make a pass for an easy shot.
  • You can add to the list a complete defensive zone coverage breakdown that occurred just 40 seconds after the Caps took a 2-0 lead. Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer both got caught watching the puck carrier and Jirl Tlusty received a pass from Jerome Samson for a tap in goal.
  • Less than four minutes after that, Alexander Ovechkin tried too much one on one play in the offensive zone and turned the puck over. The Canes would go the other way and score when Green lost Chad Larose at the side of the net. It was another goal Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) had no chance on. Had the Gr8 simply passed the puck to an open point man, the Capitals likely would have kept possession of the puck in that sequence and Carolina doesn’t take advantage of a bad Caps turnover. Again, another mental mistake.

This pattern is what I call “boneheaded” hockey. What makes it more troubling is it is coming from players who have been in the league quite a bit. Some will try and blame Hunter for this but at this stage the players should know better. Case in point, with the Caps up 1-0 early in period two, rookie defensemen Dmitry Orlov had to make a split second decision on a puck in the offensive zone. #81 correctly chose to back up instead of gambling and seconds later Washington got the puck back and Orlov’s shot was put home by Jay Beagle. Smart hockey there by a rookie, so if he has it down don’t tell me the coaches aren’t teaching it. The mental mistakes are on the players and they have to decrease them drastically if Washington wants to claw its’ way into the playoffs.

This loss puts the Caps 1-2-1 with one game left on this five game homestand. Washington needed a minimum of six points on this stay at the Verizon Center and even with a win over Tampa on Thursday night, they will only get five points. That is not going to be an easy task as the Bolts have been rolling thanks to the play of Steven Stamkos (48 goals). The Capitals may catch a break though, as Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon was injured in a 7-3 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Tampa’s weakness all season long has been goaltending.

So the Caps have a chance to expose an opponents weakness to obtain a key win on Thursday night. But Washington has weaknesses too and one big one right now is bad decision making. It is time for the boneheaded hockey to stop if the Caps want to have any chance of participating in the post season this spring.

Notes:  The Caps were buried from the face-off dot, 44-27, by Carolina…Ovechkin had 20:04 of ice time and five shots on net but he was held pointless for the third straight game…Orlov was slew footed by Jeff Skinner but the zebras missed it and in the melee that ensued, #81 pushed the linesman and received a 10 minute conduct. During that stretch Hunter only had five d-men and with Green and Wideman paired together the Sutter breakaway occurred. 6 and 52 were also on the ice together for the Canes game winner. Those two don’t seem to make smart decisions when paired together so hopefully Hunter avoids that d-pairing in the future…Keith Aucoin had an assist in 5:25 of action…Mike Knuble was scratched…Eric Staal (1 assist) extended his point streak to 12 games but overall Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a very good job of holding #12 in check.

 

 

 

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

Posted on 20 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Monday night in Carolina appeared to be a must win for the Caps as the team tries to stay in the battle for the Southeast Division title and a playoff spot. With Mike Green set to play his second game after returning in Tampa on Saturday night there certainly was cause for optimism.

Boy did that go out the window quickly!

Roman Hamrlik took a stupid elbowing penalty then Tomas Vokoun gave up a huge rebound goal just 3:41 into the contest. 88 seconds later Marcus Johansson made a horrible turnover at the Caps blue line and the puck ended up in the back of Washington’s net. Dale Hunter yanked Vokoun in favor of Michal Neuvirth but the team continued to struggle with only #30 keeping it close as long as he could.

Then when Alexander Ovechkin turned the puck over in the offensive zone the Hurricanes received another odd man rush and they buried it with just 30 seconds left in the opening frame. Things would get worse in period two when Washington received a power play as Johansson made another gaffe by blindly throwing the puck to Dennis Wideman at the point and Eric Staal collected the biscuit to score on a breakaway. Game over.

It was about as ugly as it could get in this one as the Caps repeatedly turned the puck over in their own end and looked totally out of snyc. They could not defend an odd man rush successfully and when they received them they struggled to get quality chances. Simply put, this team is falling apart when they need to be winning games in a tight playoff race.

For over two years the team has struggled up the middle of the ice since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2008-09 season. In 2010 and 2011 they brought in Eric Belanger and Jason Arnott, respectively, at the trade deadline to try and fill that hole. Last season the Arnott acquisition showed how much of a difference adding that component makes as the Capitals caught fire down the stretch to grab the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately last year’s #44 injured his knee and his effectiveness tailed off as the post season progressed.

Last summer GM George McPhee made several moves that looked very positive towards helping Washington get over the playoff hump. However, he was unable to land a second line center putting the pressure on Brooks Laich and Johansson to produce behind Nicklas Backstrom. With Backstrom now missing his 21st straight game due to a concussion, the gap up the middle of the ice is getting nearly impossible to overcome. Laich’s recent knee injury only magnified that deficiency as #21 is unable to center one of the top two lines while banged up. It is a major reason why the Capitals have not won two straight games in over a month.

So what does McPhee and Coach Dale Hunter do now? The NHL trade deadline is just a week away (Monday, February 27th at 3 pm). Hunter can only shuffle lines so much and Vokoun, who was playing very well coming into this tilt, can only bail out the club so often. Just a week ago McPhee said he felt that if Backstrom could come back this season that he thinks the team is a Stanley Cup contender. Their play on the ice says otherwise. However, if he could get a decent center in a trade, say a guy like Derick Brassard from Columbus, would that be enough to allow the Caps to sneak into the post season either via a division title or by passing a team like Toronto?

That is a question that McPhee will have to think long and hard about the next six plus days. He has two number one draft picks and a second rounder in what is reportedly a very good draft this June. Does he move any of them for a forward to try and win this season? After all he has 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov pretty much ready to play in the NHL next season. Kuzy looks to be a bonafide top six forward, but is he a center?

Much of what McPhee does also hinges on the prospects of Backstrom getting healthy because without him, let’s face it, this team can’t go deep in the playoffs, even if the GM adds another center.

One thing is for certain, the Caps were horrible on Monday night and they had no confidence on the ice the entire game. If the Capitals next three games before the trade deadline (at Ottawa, home against Montreal, and at Toronto) go anything like they did in Carolina, then the GM should probably start playing for next season.

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals hitting their season midpoint, it is time for my fifth annual Caps mid-season grades and analysis. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Capitals in 2011-12. This Caps squad that added goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik, and forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern during the summer, shot out of the gate 7-0 but an injury to Mike Green coupled with some poor defensive zone play and shaky goaltending sent the team reeling for several weeks. That swoon ultimately led to the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Enter new coach Dale Hunter, who changed the defensive system switching from zone to man to man, and the Caps became a team that was better at keeping the biscuit out of their own cage but saw the offense struggle early on while the team focused on a defense first mentality. In Hunter’s scheme, the offense is created from defense, primarily from transition. Over the last couple of weeks the team has executed those tactics much more effectively and the result has been victories in five of the last seven games. The goals against average, which was 3.32 in 22 games under Boudreau, has declined to 2.47 in 19 games with Hunter.

Washington heads into the season’s second half at 22-17-2 (46 points) which is good for 8th place in the Eastern Conference and 16th overall in the NHL. For comparison’s sake, at the halfway point last season, the Caps were 23-12-6 (52 points) but there were some obvious holes on the roster, with second line center being the biggest. On trade deadline day in 2011 GM George McPhee would make some super deals adding defensemen Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott and the Caps went on a tear to seize the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. However, both Arnott and Wideman were injured down the stretch and Washington couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, getting swept by the Bolts in four games. There were some who felt that McPhee needed to make a coaching change immediately after the second round loss to Tampa Bay but the GM said late this fall, just after switching to Hunter behind the bench just 22 games into the season, that he didn’t want all of the blame for the postseason failure to fall on Boudreau. But clearly Boudreau’s message was falling on deaf ears as a team that played super defense in the second half of 2010-11 became irresponsible in their own zone in the early part of this season.

The old adage, “Defense Wins Championships,” is spot on and Hunter has this team more focused in this area but there are still issues, especially when the club goes on the road. Washington is 15-5-1 at the Verizon Center but a terrible 7-12-1 away. If this Caps team is going to make a second half push to climb up the overall standings, then the road record must improve. The Capitals have not looked the same away from DC and their play in their own zone has been atrocious at times, case in point being this past Monday night in Los Angeles. From the defensemen to the centers to the wingers, the Caps must do a better job with their breakouts because they are making far too many giveaways that lead to more shots, chances, and zone time for their opponents. This Capitals team used to pride itself on being a puck possession crew but due to their own zone struggles, they end up wasting lots of time and energy just trying to get past the blue and red lines. That zaps energy and the ability to use their size and skill in the offensive zone.

Injuries have been a factor in the struggles, Green has pretty much been out since the start of the year and as a result Dennis Wideman and John Carlson have had to take on more minutes. In addition, the absence of 52 exposed the lack of speed that Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine possess. The good news is that Hamrlik has turned his game around with the new man to man system under Hunter but the other two aren’t even getting a sweater with the recent recall of Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is clearly trying to find the right combination on the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised if McPhee adds a defensemen at the trade deadline. In addition, the second line center problem has risen to the spotlight again, especially with Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup the last three games due to the cheap shot to the head he took from Calgary’s Rene Bourque. Once again, I look for GMGM to address the center position, and possibly another forward slot at the trade deadline. The Capitals have two first round draft picks this year so the GM could decide to use one of them to upgrade the current roster.

To sum up the first half of the year, the coaching change was necessary but it clearly hasn’t solved all of the team’s issues and the personnel will need some upgrades by February 27th. Several players also need to execute better than they did in the first 41 games.

Speaking of players, it is time to move on to the individual grades, which are based on the expectations for each at the start of the season (after the opening night roster was announced). They also take in to account each individual’s yearly salary cap hit:

Top of the Class

Jason Chimera (A) – 14 goals and 7 assists put #25 on pace for a career high in offensive production. In addition, his offense has not come with a drop in defensive zone play as he is +6. Chimera has been excellent using his speed to get around opposing defenders to create offense or simply wear down the other team.

Karl Alzner (A) – The defensive defensemen is a +10 with much of his ice time coming against opposing number one forward lines. Sure there have been nights when #27 has had a rough matchup, but all year long he has been the club’s steadiest blueliner. Add in the fact that King Karl is getting more involved offensively, his 1 goal and 11 assists give him 12 points, the same total he had all last season, and he has really amped up his game in just his second full year in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom (A-) – Arguably the team’s MVP so far because he is so valuable on a team that is weak up center ice after #19. 42 points in 38 games for a team that has shifted to a defense first mentality is impressive. It is clear that Nicky got himself in supreme shape this past offseason and his strength on the puck is back this season. It is a shame that he is out right now, for who knows how long, due to Bourque’s reckless cheap shot.

Honor Society

Dennis Wideman (B) – with Green out #6 has been asked to be the team’s ice time leader on most nights. He has picked up the offensive slack notching eight goals and 21 assists, which helped put him in the all star game. Wideman overall though, is a -3, and that needs to improve. He has a tendency to overplay opponents in his own zone which breaks down the entire defensive system when it happens.

Tomas Vokoun (B) – 17-10 with a .915 save percentage are good numbers. He’s had some great games, the two victories over Pittsburgh spring immediately to mind, and some poor outings, such as the night against the Flyers when he couldn’t stop a beach ball. #29 was plagued by the bad goal a night blues for a while in the middle of the first half but he seems to be snapping out of it. For the Caps to get where they want to be he needs to be at the top of his game down the stretch and in the post season.

Jeff Halpern (B) – #15 is 217-148 from the faceoff dot (59.4%) and is the team’s best drawman. Slated to play on the 4th line, the Potomac native has worked himself up the depth chart with solid two way play. He has 3 goals and 8 helpers but is a +4.

Dmitry Orlov (B) – started the season in Hershey but because of the lack of mobility on the blue line, the 2009 2nd round pick was summoned to “The Show” and has acquitted himself so well that it is unlikely he goes back to the AHL. He has six assists, but is -3. He has great wheels and a surprising physical presence on the back end. If he can start hitting the net with his shot the Capitals offense would get a great boost.

Marcus Johansson (B-) – MJ90 has had an up and down first half but his numbers are decent: 9 goals and 15 assists. He is a -2 and surprisingly has had some rough nights in his own zone, something that was supposed to be a rarity for the normally solid defensive pivot. This kid will continue to get better and unfortunately he is forced to play center on one of the top two lines too often. In my book he is a third line center and would be one of the best in the NHL in that role, but he also has shown he can be a decent winger, with the right center (Backstrom).

John Carlson (B-) – #74 has been very inconsistent this season. At times he has been one of the best players on the ice and in other games he has looked lost in his own zone. The system change may have hurt him more than any other d-man because he is still learning how to take time and space away from opponents. Offensively though, he has been there with five goals and 17 assists. I’d like to see him get more power play time.

Cody Eakin (B-) – I didn’t expect the 2009 3rd round NHL pick to spend much time with the Caps this year but due to injuries, a friendly contract that allows him to go up and down without having to clear waivers, and his speed, he’s played in nearly half of the tilts. He has been most effective when using his speed to beat opponents and when he hasn’t done that he has looked overmatched and benched in some games, as a result. Personally I’d rather see him play 20+ minutes a night in the AHL to properly develop his game. He just isn’t physically big enough for the NHL, at this time.

Average Joe’s

Troy Brouwer (C+) – #20 has 11 goals and 20 points and has been a real solid net presence. He also has done a good job of being physical in the offensive zone.

Roman Hamrlik (C) – #44 really struggled under Boudreau and part of that was a lingering groin issue. However, with Hunter’s system he is in familiar territory and doesn’t look like he is skating in concrete, like he did early on.

John Erskine (C) – Started the season on IR due to a shoulder injury. Last year he was one of the best players in the first 41 games but when you can’t lift and work out in the offseason due to an injury it really sets you back. #4′s main role appears to be spot starts where his phyiscal presence is needed. His best games seem to always be against the Rangers.

Joel Ward (C) – Needs to score more than five goals in the second half. His skating is a little worrisome, not sure if he was out of shape or he had an injury but he doesn’t look as quick as he did in the 2011 playoffs when he was a Nashville Predator. His +5 rating saves him from a worse grade.

Michal Neuvirth (C-) – #30 really struggled in the first part of the year before improving once Hunter took over. At one point Neuvy was the #1 goalie but he let in a couple of bad ones in Buffalo the day after Christmas and it’s pretty much been the Vokoun show ever since. 5-7-2 with an .886 save percentage are not good numbers at all, although he is over 90% since number 32 took over.

Brooks Laich (C-) – Another guy, because of the holes up the middle of the ice, gets forced to play out of position. I see #21 as a 2nd or 3rd line winger where he can use his size and drive to help the Caps break out of their zone. As a pivot he just doesn’t have the hands to be effective coming out of his own end. You’ll never get a bad effort from the fan favorite but at the dollars he’s making the Caps need more than a point every other game and a -7 rating. More production please Brooksie.

Alex Ovechkin (C-) – 17 goals, 16 assists, -8. We’ve seen good Ovie and bad Ovie this year. Most of the bad came under Boudreau but he has 0 points in the last three games after 9 in the previous 6. The good news is he was all over the ice against the Penguins hitting and creating chances on Wednesday night. That is the Ovechkin the Caps need to win games. If he doesn’t have it, the Capitals usually lose. The Gr8 needs to continue to improve in his own zone, if he bears down more the breakaways and odd man rushes will come in bunches each night.

Not Making the Grade

Alexander Semin (D) – Was super in the first five games before becoming a penalty machine and a scapegoat for Boudreau. Under the new regime he seems more energized and had six really good games in a row before getting injured in Columbus. If he can get healthy again he can be dominant in this system where he is, in my mind, the best winger at getting the puck out of the Washington zone. But only 10 goals in 37 games is not cutting it, the Capitals need more from this supremely talented player who is making $6.7M.

Matt Hendricks (D) – 1 goal in 37 games is not good for this fourth liner. If he plays like he did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night he’ll get more ice time and his production will improve. He has to play physical to be effective.

Mathieu Perreault (D) – 3 goals in 26 games is way under where I thought MP85 would be. He has not been the sparkplug that he had been in the past and perhaps his size is why he just isn’t going to be consistent at the NHL level?

Mike Knuble (D) – 3 goals in 41 games for the aging winger. #22 has definitely lost a step and that has cost him lots of ice time. Can he find the fountain of youth once again in the second half?

Whereabouts Unknown

Jeff Schultz (F) – Is this the same guy who was +50 just two years ago? #55 has lost foot speed and confidence. He looks clumsy and a step behind when he plays. I am not sure he is with this team much longer and at $2.75M against the salary cap he is an expensive scratch each night.

Incomplete: Mike Green, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, DJ King, and Tomas Kundratek

Management Grades

Bruce Boudreau (D) - The likeable Gabby eventually ran out of things to tell his club and they tuned him out. He and assistant coach Bob Woods couldn’t get the defense to be better and as a result it cost them their jobs.

Dale Hunter (B) – Dale brought in a radical system change with arguably some personnel that aren’t exact fits. But when you see the turnaround a guy like Hamrlik had and the goals against dropping so significantly, even with some shaky goaltending early in his regime, it was definitely the right thing to do tactically. The team is becoming a harder club to play against but they still lack some sandpaper type grit. He has definitely turned Semin around and Ovechkin is buying in too. His success rides on Vokoun, the play of 8 and 28, and the personnel tweaks he works with McPhee on to upgrade the roster by the end of February. Another Hunter strength is he is a man of few words so his message is easy to receive. He also stays on an even keel, which is good for the players as they don’t waste energy on emotional issues.

General Manager George McPhee (B) – It is hard for GM’s to do anything in the first half of a season but he did the one thing he had to do, switch coaches. Going forward until trade deadline day are critical times for McPhee. He has to find a way to get some better fits for what Hunter wants to do to be successful in the spring. His off season moves are looking better after a rough first 22 games, especially with Hamrlik’s improved play and the fact that Vokoun has stolen some wins. Still, he has that nagging second line center issue that he will have to address again by the end of February.

In final analysis, over the first half of the sesason there were nights when the Caps looked like they can play with anyone in the league, but on other occassions they were run out of the barn. Those games came mostly under Boudreau but Monday’s loss in Los Angeles was a bit of a scare. Hopefully fatigue was to blame for that one. Going forward this team has a lot of work to be done to get where they want to be. The execution needs to be markedly better and personnel moves will be needed if they want to compete with the likes of Boston. If that doesn’t happen then the ownership will likely take some drastic measures after the season is over. I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are starting to parlay a months worth of learning new coach Dale Hunter’s philosophy into winning hockey games.

On Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps used the formula that worked well against the New York Rangers in Wednesday’s victory once again versus the Sabres. Washington won 3-1 over Buffalo via a fast start that led to an early goal, solid goaltending, and scoring from their top line in transition. At times the team struggled to get the puck out of its’ own zone against a feisty Sabres crew, but the team persevered by playing decent defensive hockey and Tomas Vokoun (25 saves) made timely saves. More importantly, the Washington number one line of Alexander Ovechkin (two goals), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Alexander Semin (two assists) is heating up and when the stars start scoring goals, it makes winning much more achieveable.

Hunter spent much of his first 30 days on the job trying to find the right line combinations and he seems to have settled on a strategy that former Caps coach Terry Murray often used back in the early 9o’s by putting his best offensive players together on one line and then loading up another line with solid checkers to match against opponents top unit.

“They’re very good players and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together and we put a scoring line together. So it’s just that combination, I guess,” added Hunter on his current line combo strategy.

Former coach Bruce Boudreau would occassionally put 8-19-28 together but it became a crap shoot, because the trio had a habit of not carrying their weight defensively. Hunter seems to have those guys buying into using solid defense to set up their deadly skill that can really shine in transition. All three Washington tallies came on the rush against Buffalo and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (18 saves) had no chance on any of the goals. The passes that Semin and Backstrom made tonight were of the “Wow!” variety and with the Gr8 potting two goals, you can finally see confidence coming back and the pressure to produce releasing from those guys. Simply put, by playing well in their own end they are setting themselves up to be creative on the rush and the goals are starting to come. When that happens the game is a lot of fun and usually leads to a hot streak.

“We just have to play it simple. We made pretty plays by our simple plays. We just have to continue what we do right now. It’s nice when you make some pretty plays and when you score the goals. Especially when the team needs it. It’s pretty good,” said Ovechkin on why his line is starting to score multiple times a night.

When I watched the line closely the last two games, Backstrom is the first key to the defensive success. #19 is doing a good job of winning the one on one battles with the opponents center. The next critical thing is for the wingers to be in the right spots and make the correct play coming out of the zone. I was very impressed with Semin’s ability to do this on Friday night. He has the skill, but more importantly the patience and smarts on where to put the puck coming out of the zone to generate opportunities. Sometimes he chips it off of the boards allowing Ovechkin to slide over and get the puck and other times the defense becomes so aware of his skill that he simply waits for the opposing d-men to back off and then he either skates it out or finds a seam for a breakout pass. He was the best Capitals winger at getting the biscuit out of the Washington end in this one. As for Ovechkin, his defense is getting better but he is best suited to be the first guy out of the zone for the pass that gets the defense on its’ heels.

This was still no easy victory. The Sabres carried the play from the midpoint of the game until about seven minutes remained in regulation. Buffalo did what a lot of teams want to do to the Capitals, which is get the pucks deep and make the Washington defensemen and forwards chase. Much was made of Rangers coach John Tortorella’s “they don’t want to defend” remark the other night but what Torts was saying was the Caps have great skill up front and are very comfortable with the puck so you have to make them work to get it. Heck what top line in the entire NHL wants to play defense? Buffalo was pretty good getting the puck below the goal line but Washington countered by keeping the Sabres to the outside and the most important aspect of winning hockey, good goaltending, helped get the Caps the results they needed in their zone.

So the Caps have now come out strong in three straight home games but in the two road games last weekend, they fell behind 3-0 and 4-0, respectively. On Saturday night in Columbus they have a chance to show that they can use this formula on the road and be successful. It is one thing to dominate at home and get early energy from the friendly fans, but going on the road and getting a lead is a much harder feat. If the Capitals want to climb up the standings and reclaim their “elite” status, they need to start doing that on Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

Notes: Ovechkin’s first goal, on the power play, was the result of a fortuitous bounce. The Gr8 was passing to a streaking Brooks Laich on the rush but the disc hit a Sabres defender and went by Miller. Good things happen when players put pucks and bodies to the cage…The coaches made a smart personnel change right before the game clinching third goal with 5:50 left in regulation. The Sabres were really on Washington for the better part of the final frame but right after one of his checking lines had a good shift to stem the tide, Dale had the top line on the ice for a neutral zone faceoff, originally with Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik. But then he pulled 44 off and trotted out Dmitry Orlov and #81 would use his great skating ability to get the puck out of Washington’s zone to Semin, who then made a behind the back through the legs pass to Backstrom, who hit a streaking Ovechkin for the nail in the coffin…the Laich, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward line with the Karl Alzner/John Carlson d-pairing did a lot of the matching up against Buffalo’s top unit of Tomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, and Jason Pominville in the second half of the game. It was a tough assignment and the Sabres had the puck for most of the time on ice, but they only managed one tally (Hecht from Vanek and Pominville in the second period)…Cody Eakin was in the building and officially recalled from Hershey after the tilt. It appears that one of the forwards is hurt and may go on injured reserve. My guess is it is Mathieu Perreault, who took a stick in the abdomen in Buffalo on Monday…It will be interesting to see who is in net for Washington in Columbus. Vokoun is hot but you don’t want to wear a guy out on back to back nights. In addition, Michal Neuvirth was really playing well before his bad first period on Monday that came after two days of no practice and a horror show travel day. My gut tells me that Neuvy gets the call on Saturday in Ohio…the Caps won the faceoff battle 33-27.

 

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Caps Off to Best Start Ever

Posted on 18 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came in to Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers with a perfect 4-0 record, but they had yet to really play a complete 60 minutes this season. You can cross that off of the list now as the Caps came out and forechecked the Panthers to death in a very solid and dominating 3-0 victory. Washington got an early power play goal from Marcus Johansson, then Alexander Semin rifled one by Jacob Markstrom (29 saves) just 1:49 into the final period, and Jason Chimera hit the empty net to close this one out with 44 seconds left. Tomas Vokoun won his fourth straight game making 20 saves for his first shut out as a Capital. This is the first time in Washington Capitals history that the team has started 5-0.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a victory over a team that had pummeled the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-4, with 5 power play goals,  just one night earlier:

- The Panthers had to fly in late Monday night from Florida but that is how the sports schedule works out sometimes. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and his team knew this and jumped all over the Cats early on. Florida didn’t have a shot on goal until after the 10 minute mark of the first period as Washington continuously got pucks deep and used their size to cycle the puck on a soft Panthers defense to generate numerous scoring opportunities. The Caps could have had at least three or four goals in the opening stanza but they either fired wide or the Swede, making his first NHL start, denied them with his large frame.

“I think we tried to do that. They were tired. They played two very emotional games against their cross town rival and had to fly here so we thought this was the perfect advantage for us in the scheduling. I’m sure probably somewhere down the road it will reverse itself. We got a break and if you don’t take advantage of the breaks, shame on us,” said Boudreau on how the NHL slate helped his team on Tuesday.

- It was encouraging to see the Capitals simplify their game and not get caught up in to trying to make the perfect cross ice pass. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer played smart hockey and were physical on a not so big Panthers defensive unit. Washington seems to play their best hockey when they play as a team and don’t get fancy. Their work ethic was outstanding on Tuesday and the score was much closer than the game actually was because at no point did I ever feel like Florida had a chance to win this contest.

“The first two lines got pucks deep, so that really helped. When we get in trouble we try to play too skilled. When we get pucks deep, it’s hard to contain big bodies like Ovi (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin), Knubs (Capitals forward Mike Knuble) and Semin (Capitals forward Alexander Semin),” said Chimera on why the Caps were so dominant.

“We were getting it and getting it deep and moving it. I thought for the first time this year we could have had 7 or 8. We were missing nets and their goalie played pretty good. I thought it was a well rounded effort by us,” added Boudreau on the victory.

- Vokoun only had to face two shots in the first period but in the next two stanzas he stopped nine each. There were times when he had to make a solid save to bail out a poor defensive play but overall his team was solid in front of him, which allowed him to challenge shooters. The 35 year old on a $1.5M one year deal, since a shaky opening 60 minutes against Tampa, has been everything the Capitals have needed in goal and more.

“He’s pretty solid and when we did have breakdowns he was there to help us out. That is what you need,” commented Boudreau on his net minder.

- Special teams are so important in NHL games and on this evening the Caps were perfect in that department. They only took two penalties, both on Roman Hamrlik (although I thought the first one was a bogus call), and they stymied a highly skilled and dangerous Cats power play. Washington swarmed the puck and took away any space the Panthers had and on both occassions, they weren’t able to get much of a sniff of the net. The only power play the Caps received was quite effective as Johansson buried the biscuit after some solid zone time. The key to that power play was the work of Ovechkin in the slot, who was flanked by MJ90 and Backstrom with Mike Green and Dennis Wideman at the points. When all three Panthers converged on Ovie, Johansson had a lane to the cage and he slid the puck under Markstrom less than five minutes into the contest. Those who’ve followed this blog know that I much prefer Ovechkin down low (slot or half wall) on a 5 on 4 power play because he can use his size in front for screens or in getting to rebounds. With so many good shots on the point now, to include Green, Wideman, Hamrlik, and John Carlson, it makes much more sense for the Gr8 to be down low. I am okay with Ovechkin getting point time in 5 on 3 or even 4 on 3 situations because in those instances there will be more open lanes for his powerful shot to get through. But overall, putting Alexander the Great down low will likely lead to more power play goals for the Caps and Johansson’s marker tonight drives that point home.

- In summary, this was a total team effort, granted it was against a tired club. But the Panthers have some talent, although they appear low on grit. Just about every Washington player had a good game, but Green was superb despite getting slashed in the lower body region by Jay Garrison at the end of the second period. Semin was excellent as well and he’s been the best forward on the top two lines this season. Backstrom is off to a nice start too and #19 looks to be regaining the form he had in 2009-10. It’s only been five games, but the Caps have 10 points. Boudreau, however, knows you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October and he talked about that after the victory.

“When it comes to April and May I’m not going to be able to sit here and say, ‘Hey we were 5-0, we got that record, isn’t that great.’ It is not going to hold a lot of weight. It is nice, but it is just the process of getting where we want to get. Right now we’re looking toward an opponent like Philadelphia who is 4-0-1,” finished Boudreau, noting that the Capitals next game is the hated Flyers on Thursday night in Philly. That will be a can’t miss contest.

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle 24-22 but Jeff Halpern was 8-1. MJ90 was a dismal 1-6 from the dot…Matt Hendricks had a game leading six hits…Semin was +2 and had 4 shots on goal in 16:03 of ice time…Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup and played 9:53 (even, 0 points)…Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie as Michal Neuvirth continues to struggle with a lower body injury…Jay Beagle is not practicing right now and DJ King was the other scratch at forward.

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Caps Beat Pens Thanks to Vokoun

Posted on 13 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee signed Tomas Vokoun last July, there was a lot of talk about the Caps getting a goalie who could flat out steal games. Well on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, that is exactly what happened as Vokoun made 39 saves to lead the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime victory. Defensemen Dennis Wideman netted the game winner on Washington’s only power play of the contest after Penguins forward James Neal had tied this one up at two on the power play with 3:45 left in regulation.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that saw the Penguins dominate most of the contest:

- Michal Neuvirth likely would have had this start given his recent success against the Pens, but when he came down with a lower body injury that forced the Caps to recall Braden Holtby from Hershey today and give Vokoun the chance to get wins in consecutive starts. The 35 year old Czech delivered, building on his great OT and shootout performance in Monday’s 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay. Vokoun didn’t have to be spectacular but he was very solid and didn’t give the Penguins many second chances. If the Caps can improve their play in their own end, and they were pretty bad tonight, just think how good this goalie could be for this team?

- Evgeni Malkin had an outstanding game for Pittsburgh. His two cross ice seam passes set up James Neal’s two tallies. One of the reasons #71 was able to make those plays is because the Washington players were not playing positionally sound or smart in their own end. On the first goal, both Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson chase the puck carrier leaving the back side open. In the first three games we’ve seen opponents exploit the Capitals habit of over chasing and/or watching the puck carrier. The Capitals have to learn to play better without the puck in their own zone and clog the passing lanes and not over commit. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will be showing lots of video on Friday to try and correct these d-zone breakdowns.

- The Capitals players have talked about being the team with the better work ethic in every game. Tonight they were soundly defeated in that category. The Penguins out shot the Caps 12-3 in the first period and 18-3 in the third. It was only in the middle frame that the Capitals had the upper hand, outshooting Pittsburgh, 11-9. I am not sure why the Capitals were so flat early on but one of the reasons for the third period letdown was the Arron Asham-Jay Beagle fight. Beagle had just coincidentally knocked off the helmet of Kris Letang, which would earn him a roughing penalty, and Asham took exception calling on #83 to fight. Beagle, who is definitely not a fighter, but as he told me on media day last Thursday knows he will need to do so at times, was floored with a couple of rights and went to the ice bleeding. He had to be helped off of the rink afterwards but that didn’t stop Asham from making a couple of classless gestures. Asham admitted after the game that he got caught up in the moment, but still, to celebrate after knocking out a non-fighter was totally uncalled for. The fight clearly negatively impacted the Capitals, who had played 25 decent minutes of hockey in a row, since they struggled mightily the rest of the way until overtime.

- Alexander Ovechkin, after a subpar opening two games, made a difference in this one. He deflected in Green’s point shot early in the third period to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead and he drew the only penalty officially called on the Penguins in the game. That came in overtime when he faked Jordan Staal out of his jock in the neutral zone and #11 tripped the Gr8. On the 4 on 3 power play Green hit the right pipe but on the ensuing rush Wideman took a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and buried it past former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson (16 saves).

- When you are outworked, you normally will find yourself on the short end of the stick in total number of power plays. The Penguins received five while Washington only had one, although I do think the Pens got away with a few things, especially some goalie interference by Chris Kunitz. In addition, Tyler Kennedy did hit Backstrom in the head in the third period, similiar to the Beagle shot on Letang, although #19′s lid stayed on so maybe it didn’t look so bad to the blurry eyed zebras? (Note: the referees initially waved off Ovechkin’s goal, they thought it hit the cross bar). It is hard to argue about the calls against the Caps, they were of the lazy or not too smart variety. Brooks Laich’s cross check on Malkin came after a failed clear. What made that situation even worse was that Green already had lost his stick so what the Caps should’ve done was ice the puck.  Instead they got running around and eventually found themselves shorthanded. The last penalty though, on Troy Brouwer, might have been the worst. The Caps were up a goal and he needlessly hauled down a Pens player in the neutral zone. That one ended up allowing Neal to tie the game. Brouwer did make a nice play on Ovechkin’s goal, he was in front of Johnson battling with Zbynek Michalek providing traffic.

- In summary, the Caps were fortunate to win this contest and move to 3-0. Washington has been playing with fire by going to extra time in each tilt and they have had some very poor play in their own zone. The good news though, is they are getting balanced production in their lineup and Boudreau is not having to put his big guns out on the ice for extended minutes. Green has already seen a reduction in his ice time and that should only keep him fresher and hopefully injury free.

Notes: Steve Whyno of The Washington Times tweeted that Asham had 83 career NHL fights while this was Beagle’s first…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 26-23 but Jeff Halpern went 6-2…Mike Knuble scored the Caps first goal by crashing the net hard…Karl Alzner had another strong game and picked up his third assist of the season…the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby, although he has been cleared for contact effective today, and defensemen Brooks Orpik…Washington is now 11-0-2 in their last 13 regular season games against Pittsburgh (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7 THE FAN)…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Caps Look For Some Revenge Versus Bolts

Posted on 09 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After Saturday night’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals will take the ice on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center against the team that swept them in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Naturally, some revenge will be at the forefront of the Capitals players minds but this is a new season, and only the regular season at that, so you can only take so much from winning game two of an 82 tilt season, if the Caps do prevail.

Since training camp opened Capitals players and management have talked about their work ethic and the need to ”bring it every night,” something they have not done consistently in the past. The acquisitions of skaters Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, and Roman Hamrlik has certainly helped with that so this is a different Washington club than last May, when the Bolts seemed to take advantage of every Caps miscue en route to wins in four close contests. On Saturday versus the Canes the Capitals work ethic was very good but they made several mistakes in their positioning and it nearly cost them the game. Assistant coach for video, Blaine Forsythe, was likely a very busy guy after last night’s game and today going over the errors with head coach Bruce Boudreau and the players. I don’t think energy or effort will be a problem on Monday night given the opponent but the key for Washington will be to play within their system and themselves.

Tampa, who missed making the Stanley Cup Finals by a game, has many of their key players returning in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Roloson, however, are really starting to get up there in age so it remains to be seen how they handle another long season. I expect #26 to pass with flying colors but I have doubts about their goaltender and team captain. One of the players who absolutely killed the Caps last spring was the speedy Sean Bergenheim, but he was a free agent this past summer and took big money to play for the Florida Panthers. Bergenheim was part of a crew of bottom six forwards who made a difference in the series against the Caps, while Washington’s third and fourth lines struggled.

Caps General Manager George McPhee has rebuilt the third and fourth lines in the offseason and much has been made of the Ward, Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera unit. That crew was very good against Carolina but if the fourth line comes out right after that unit and continually lays an egg, then any momentum Laich and company generates is wasted. For one game, the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Halpern held up their end of the bargain in their roughly nine minutes of time on ice together. On media day last Thursday, I had a chance to catch up with Beagle and get his take on the new fourth line and what they are looking to accomplish each game.

“Personally I’m excited to help this team win every night and create energy out there and chip in where I can. In a couple of preseason games me and Hendy and Halpy were saying as that fourth line when we need a big goal in the third, I think we can do it. It’s going to be a gritty, grindy goal and that’s the kind we’re going to have to make and produce. It’s just an exciting time and to be playing with those two guys is awesome. They’re extremely good to play with, talk a lot, and just make the game easy on you. For me personally, they always say we’re not looking for you to put in a lot of goals and a lot of points but when you can it’s a big help for the team. I want to chip in and score some goals this year. I want to make a mark on this team and be a power forward. I got to get more physical and be more physical, fight when I have to, and just try and be an all around player,” said Beagle about what could very well be his first full season in the NHL after playing the last half of 2010-11 season with the Caps.

Vokoun should make his Caps debut against the Lightning on Monday night. Michal Neuvirth was a main reason Washington was able to find a way to win on Saturday but Boudreau prefers to rotate goalies this early in the season. The 35 year old Czech is still learning the Capitals system and given how many mistakes the Caps made in their own end on Saturday night, I expect it to take time for #29 to gel with his teammates and become the dominant netminder he is expected to be. Beagle provided insight into how that transition has been going for Vokoun with his new teammates.

“It’s been really good, he’s looked great in his preseason games and in practice. Every day he’s looking stronger and with the d-core that we have, we got a vocal d-core that talks a lot. As forwards we got to take pride in talking a lot too. If you talk you make the game that much easier, especially in the d-zone if you know where everyone is and if you can share the puck and get the puck out of the zone. Tomas has been doing great, he’s a great goalie, I know even just coming down and shooting on him, [there's] not many holes on him. He’s a very strong goalie in the net and he’s only going to make our team stronger,” finished #83 on the difference Vokoun can make for Washington.

Notes: According to Caps beat writer Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Marcus Johansson will center the second line with Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer while Mathieu Perreault will be a healthy scratch (Monday Morning UPDATE: Carrera is now reporting Perreault is in the lineup. MJ90 status is unknown)… Caps beat writer Steve Whyno of The Washington Times reported that Semin will not be suspended for his hit at the end of regulation on Saturday…the Caps have announced that 400 tickets still remain for Monday night’s game. It appears that Washington is making a big effort to make single game tickets available each contest giving that season tickets are sold out for the season.

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