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Caps Play Best Game in 4 Years

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Caps Play Best Game in 4 Years

Posted on 09 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Craig Laughlin called the Caps “Relentless” after Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That choice of words was extremely accurate as the Capitals routinely swarmed the puck and pinned a very good Bolts team in their own end on numerous occasions en route to a huge win on the road.

My take on that victory: It was the best game the Caps have played in about four years, considering the opponent.

Washington played Coach Barry Trotz’ system effectively, limiting turnovers and odd man rushes while playing fast and physical. It was an exciting game to watch and a style, that if the Caps can continue to master, will push them back up towards the elite teams in the league.

They also overcame a nine minute stretch in the second period where they had to kill off three straight minor penalties, two of which were very questionable calls. That’s six minutes of shorthanded time against one of the best pure goal scorers in the league in Steven Stamkos, yet the Caps PK unit was marvelous and goaltender Braden Holtby (33 saves) was outstanding.

This win gives the Caps a three for three road trip and Holtby was a staggering 3-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.

Another key to the Capitals great road trip: fast starts.

Alex Ovechkin (two goals) scored in the first minute of this one by crashing the net with Tom Wilson (1 assist) and the Caps seemed to feed off of that early success. In the first 10 minutes Washington could’ve been up at least two or three pucks but Ben Bishop (30 saves) was strong early before finally being overwhelmed by the Caps offensive attack. The Caps are now 12-1-1 when notching the first tally.

What I also really liked about this game was the Capitals did not make the extra pass just inside the offensive blue line, instead getting pucks and bodies towards the cage. The first, third, and fourth Washington goals were all about net presence and not over passing. Troy Brouwer’s game winner was a sweet shot off of an excellent feed by Marcus Johansson (two assists), but Evgeny Kuznetsov made the play at both ends by chipping the puck out in a perfect spot for MoJo and then driving to the net to free up a lane for Brouwer to roof one past Bishop. If Kuznetsov can continue to improve along with Brooks Laich staying healthy, then the entire forward lineup becomes more balanced for Washington.

So the Caps are red hot as they come home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night before playing the Bolts on Saturday. Home ice has been an issue for the Capitals this year. It will be up to them to find a way to come out fast, like they’ve done on the road this week, and get the Verizon Center crowd into the game early.

Notes: Washington is now 13-10-4 (30 points), good for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division…Brooks Orpik led the Capitals in ice time with 26:25. Trotz has been relying on #44 heavily during this recent run and his strong defensive play is paying off. Sure Stamkos beat him on the second goal, but overall, opponents are paying a much steeper price in the Washington end and it wears the other club out, eventually…the Caps won the face off battle, 27-22. Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) was 10-5 while Kuznetsov was 0-4…Mike Green did not make the trip to Tampa but reportedly is close to a return to the lineup for Washington, they need him back.

EVENT NOTE: Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Barry Trotz on Wednesday night at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair, MD. Come on out and show your love of the Caps and also support the fight against cancer. We’ll be swabbing people to help build the pool of potential bone marrow transplant donors.

 

 

 

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

Posted on 02 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Capitals lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, 4-3, their fourth loss in their last five games, to drop to 4-4-2 after 10 games.

If you go by the pulse on twitter from many Caps fans afterwards you’d think the sky is falling and the team is doomed.

I’ll admit this, I didn’t watch the Caps game in its entirety live, I had tickets to take my wife and kids to Frozen On Ice in Baltimore so I came home and watched the contest after the fact.

My first impression: how the heck did the Caps lose this one?

They out shot attempted the Bolts, 57-46, and more importantly, they had close to double the number of chances Tampa had.

Some of the pulse on twitter was to blame Braden Holtby.

Seriously? If not for some ten bell saves by #70 at crucial times, the Caps could’ve been down two pucks on several occasions.

Watching the four goals against closely, he was not the primary player at fault on ANY of them. The first goal was a defensive turnover that led to poor coverage. Note that noone is on Ryan Callahan as he deflects that shot home. On the second tally, the Caps blow coverage and the Tampa player has an empty net. The third goal was a deflection in front where the Caps defense fails to box out or at least tie up the stick of the Bolts forward. Finally, on the game winner, the Capitals cleanly lose a d-zone draw and the puck hits a Caps player on the way into the net.

That’s three deflections and an empty net goal. I counted at least six huge stops by Holtby in this game so blaming him is just wrong, in my book.

If there is anything to criticize, it is the Capitals inability to protect their own net well and they also have been prone to the deadly turnover in their own zone.

At the other end of the ice, Washington basically stormed the castle. If not for missed shots and some fortuitous saves by Ben Bishop, the Caps could’ve had AT LEAST six goals. They hit four posts in this one and missed the cage on some great open looks.

Bottom line is the Caps dominated this game and should’ve won. They lost because of bad PDO as ace analytics man Neil Greenberg would call it, or crummy puck luck, in layman’s terms.

This 2014-15 Capitals club is a way better puck possession team than those from the last several years, the statistics bear that out. Unfortunately they are struggling to finish their chances right now. But that should change and the number of critical turnovers will likely decrease. If there is something Coach Barry Trotz may want to rethink, it’s how the defense plays opposing forwards around their own net. The Capitals need to be stronger on the opponent there and not give them free reign to the cage for deflections or rebound chances. It’s harder to achieve in the modern NHL because of the rules, but it is doable.

Overall, they’ve been in every game but from a points standpoint are a .500 club. The schedule has been tough, Tampa has the most regulation or overtime wins in the conference and Detroit is rolling right now. The Caps carried the play against both of them this week, and lost.

Tough stretches happen and good teams work their way out of it and become great teams (see the 2000 Baltimore Ravens who went five weeks without a TD but ended up winning the Super Bowl). The Capitals have a lot of talent on their roster, some of it extremely young. But they have a super blue line and that is why you are seeing the strong puck possession numbers.

So to me, the key for Coach Trotz, Alex Ovechkin, and the rest of the team is to stay the course. Just because you lost four of five games don’t go crazy and make drastic changes. Keep the overall plan and make some minor tweaks.

If they do that and keep dominating possession, then the biscuit will start bouncing their way and the wins will come, in bunches.

I predicted this team would win the Metropolitan Division and I still believe in that, if they stick with the game plan and keep working hard to get better.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

We are 10 games in and this team has been right there in every tilt. That hasn’t been the case in the last few years.

It’s a long season and the best team in October rarely wins the Stanley Cup.

Patience everyone, patience!

Notes: The Caps are home against the Arizona Coyotes at 7 pm on Sunday night…Ovechkin had his first point in six games when Marcus Johansson buried the Gr8′s rebound in the first period…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they killed off both Tampa man advantage situations.

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There are times in a sports season when a team needs a certain player to come up big and help carry their club to victory on a given night.

With the Washington Capitals facing a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that had its back to the wall, Coach Adam Oates really needed goalie Michal Neuvirth, who hadn’t played a game since March 16th, to be that guy on Sunday evening.

Number 30 delivered and the Caps might have been three or more goals down if not for some great saves the Czech net minder made in the opening frame, which saw Washington trail only 1-0 despite being out quality chanced by a two to one ratio. Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, who scored that big overtime goal in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Caps in 2011 on Neuvirth that pretty much ended that series, was not able to beat Neuvy on this night and he had a couple of one on one chances in the first period. Simply put, #30 was the man on Sunday and was the game’s first star, in my book.

From Alexander Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom to John Carlson, they all praised the play of their goalie afterwards, for keeping Washington in the game until they could get their legs under them in the middle frame.

Hockey is a game that is so much based on good health and confidence. Right now, that combination is what has Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson firing on all cylinders. They are as dominant as any line in the NHL at this juncture and Ovechkin notched two goals, including the clinching empty netter, to tie Steven Stamkos for the league goal scoring lead at 25 tallies. Alex is playing outstanding and he seems as happy as I’ve seen him in years. I can’t help but think his life off of the ice, which includes a recent engagement, is a part of the picture, but the coaching of Oates and more importantly, the play of his linemates is making it easier for him.

Backstrom, after a shoulder injury in 2010, a nasty concussion in 2011, and some type of neck injury in December of 2012 did not reach 100% health again until several games into this lockout shortened campaign but Oates told the media after the game that for the last month and a half he is playing outstanding. Nicky doesn’t get the accolades that the Gr8 gets, and let’s be honest, Ovi is a rock star, but he is as important to the Capitals hockey team as Ovechkin is. In past years I’ve talked about how strong Backstrom is on his skates and he has that back again this year. He is winning a large majority of the one on one battles on the boards and as a result he is dominating play.

As for Johansson, Oates acknowledges that the young Swede has the hardest role on that line. He has to feel the pressure to get the puck to the two superstars and yet he’s playing as well as he ever has. His confidence is sky high right now. If he can work on taking his shot more often, that would help keep the opposing defenders and goalie more honest, which would open things up even greater for the entire line.

Washington really played well as a team from the second period on and their strong play in their own end led to numerous odd man rushes in this contest. In fact the winning tally by Joel Ward came on a 3 on 2 rush and #42 beat Bolts goalie Ben Bishop short side because the goaltender was cheating to his left thinking pass. It was a big goal and seemed to deflate the Bolts.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game up, also took some wind out of Tampa’s sails and it was a downright rocket. I am not sure I’ve seen a slap shot that hard in a game in a long time. To quote Crash Davis from Bull Durham, “Well, he really hit the <bleep> out of that one!” #74 is playing some good hockey paired with Jack Hillen (two assists).

Another player so key to the Capitals success, and they’ve now won four in a row and have a two point lead on Winnipeg in the Southeast Division, is Mike Green. #52 is the club’s number one defensemen and although he had 0 points in the game, he was outstanding at both ends of the rink. Mike’s health is good and as a result, he is very confident on the ice and playing as well as he has in his career. Another thing that helps out Green is the play of his partner, Karl Alzner. King Karl is hard to notice but all you have to do is look at Stamkos’ stat line tonight: three shots on net, 0 points, and -1. #27′s job was to shut down the league’s other premier goal scorer and he did it. Green and Alzner are the team’s top defensive pair and both logged over over 23 minutes at even strength to lead all players in that department. Overall Green played 26:37 while Alzner logged 25:34.

Unfortunately, as good as Ward was tonight in scoring the game winner and adding a helper, plus making a great back check to thwart a tying goal in period three, #42 had to leave the game after blocking a shot late in the contest. With Brooks Laich down for the count and slated to see a specialist on Tuesday plus Martin Erat still out day to day after being cheap shotted by Erik Gudbranson on Saturday, the Caps are likely going to be down three wingers when they face Montreal at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. Just when the Caps were finally getting healthy, the injury bug has struck again over the last three tilts, but that’s hockey.

Still, the team is on a roll and if the top line and defensive pair keep playing at the elite level while the goalies and other skaters do their respective jobs, then the Southeast Division is the Caps to seize. There are nine games to go, with six at the Verizon Center. After a very rough start and numerous injuries, their first goal, a division title, is very much there for the taking.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Braden Holtby have all been carrying this team in recent weeks, as they need to be doing. But on Sunday night, Washington needed a big game from their other goalie, and Michal Neuvirth more than delivered as the catalyst in a critical victory over Tampa.

It was a game that wasn’t built up to be ultra important by Washington, but had Tampa been victorious, the whole Southeast Division race dynamic changes. Neuvirth would not let that happen on Sunday and so the Caps continue to control how this playoff race will play out.

Kudos, Michal.

Notes: Tampa is now eight points in back of the Caps. They have 10 games left, including another at the Verizon Center on Saturday…Backstrom was also dominant from the dot tonight going 13-7. The Caps won the face off battle, 35-32…Washington out shot Tampa 38-30 and shot attempts were 60-56 in favor of the Caps.

 

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