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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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Braden Holtby continues to own Saturday's. Caps hang on to win in Tampa, 2-1.

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Holtby Excels Again in Win Over Bolts

Posted on 12 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”- Barry Gibb

Braden Holtby has Saturday Night Fever.

In a game that was dominated in the third period by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with some assistance from referees Tim Peel and Francois “Send Him Back to Quebec” Charron, the Holtbeast saved 14 of 15 shots in the final frame to preserve a 2-1 victory for the Caps. Overall, Holtby made 35 saves and is 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts.

He’s practically unbeatable, at least in regulation, on Saturday nights and the Saskatchewan native clearly loves being in the spotlight when it’s Hockey Night in Canada.

For the season, Holtby is now 18-4-1 with a .930 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average.

If not for his play in recent weeks, the Caps don’t improve to 20-6-2 and claim first place in the Metropolitan Division, especially with Brooks Orpik out on the back end since early November with a lingering lower body injury.

Luckily, in Orpik’s absence, Nate Schmidt has really stepped up and filled in nicely in the top 4 on D. On Saturday, Schmidt was fabulous (+1 in 21:20 of ice time), despite getting jumped by JT Brown in the middle stanza and being forced to fight when Peel and Charron ignored the roughing penalty from Brown that started it all by the Caps net. Peel and Charron were especially bad the last 40 minutes by failing to give the Caps a power play over that duration despite numerous Tampa infractions, including a high stick by Brown on Tom Wilson and a few clutch and grab hooks on potential Washington scoring chances. I thought that those were supposed to be out of the game??!!

But the Caps didn’t help themselves in the final period, either. A team that had really been successful at putting games away when leading this season reverted to how they looked, at times, last year. They were not skating and they struggled to string passes together. That was unacceptable against a Bolts squad that was down to 10 forwards once Ondrej Palat left the contest with an injury. I’m sure Coach Barry Trotz will focus on that on Sunday, especially after Thursday night’s poor effort, 4-1, loss in Florida.

On the positive side, Jay Beagle played a strong game with his hustle and he chipped in a goal to open the scoring by going to the net and putting home the rebound of a Stan Galiev shot from the corner. Beagle also had a great cycling shift, along with Wilson, late in regulation that bought the Caps a good minute or so when the previous several shifts they were really on their heels in their own zone. That forced the Bolts to wait until later to pull their goalie, Ben Bishop (18 saves). Beagle is a total bargain at $1.75M a year for his hustle, hard work, face off skills, PK ability, and the occasional timely goals.

Wilson was excellent in this one too (including drawing a penalty after a clean hit on Mike “Total Stiff” Blunden) and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a sensational tally that made it 2-0. That sweet goal eventually became the game winner. The Caps hit some posts early, most notably Alex Ovechkin and Andre Burakosky, but they just didn’t get enough pucks to the net; the shots on goal were 36-20 and shot attempts were a lopsided 77-49. That’s not good, at all.

Holtby was great not only late, but early too, robbing Valteri Filppula (4 shots on goal) on a couple of occasions in the first frame.

This was not one of Washington’s better efforts and they owe the win to a few skaters who excelled, but primarily the Holtbeast. You could pretty much crank the legendary BeeGees “Stayin’ Alive” track the entire third period because that’s what the Caps did as they relied on the man between the pipes to grab a victory.

Yes, Holtby clearly has Saturday Night Fever and thanks to him, Washington won for the 8th straight time after they’ve lost a game this season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 24:28 of ice time…Justin Williams had five shots on goal, many of which were quality chances…Ovechkin (19:18) had an off night generating only six shot attempts and one on net…TJ Oshie led the Caps in hits with four…Washington was 0 for 2 with the man advantage while Tampa went 1 for 4…the Caps lost the face off battle, 38-32, but Beagle went 12-6…next up for the Capitals are the Penguins on Monday night at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday and replaced him with former New York Rangers assistant, Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh will be without top offensive defensemen Kris Letang, as well.

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Washington gets lethal with the man advantage in a convincing victory over Tampa.

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Caps Dominate Lightning in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals power play has been generating a lot of chances in recent games, but had failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. That all changed on Friday evening at the Verizon Center as the Caps man advantage caught fire going three for four allowing Washington to build a 4-0 in just over 45 minutes of hockey. From there the Capitals would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions.

As I blogged on Wednesday night, I expected the Capitals to be pumped up and focused for this contest and they were just that. Through 40 minutes they outshot the Bolts, 31-14, including 18 in the opening period, and thanks to two late second period tallies they opened up a 3-0 advantage. Seriously, it could’ve been five or six to nothing if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), who kept his club hanging around until the dam finally broke in the last two minutes of that middle stanza.

Alex Ovechkin (12th), Jason Chimera (6th), and T.J. Oshie (6th) notched power play goals for the Caps and Marcus Johansson (4th) had the only even strength marker on a John Carlson (two assists) pass that banked off of his skate and into the cage. Good things happen when you go to the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had another fabulous tilt with two assists, including a brilliant feed to Chimera for the second goal that really seemed to deflate Tampa. Chimera himself had a super assist on the Caps opening tally spotting the Gr8 open in the slot with the man advantage and Ovi buried it far post, top shelf at 7:09 of the opening period. That’s now four games in a row where the Caps have scored first, after nine straight yielding the game’s first marker, and they’ve won every single one of those contests.

Braden Holtby was strong in net, especially down the stretch when the Lightning put 17 of their 20 third period shots on the Holtbeast after it was 4-0. Holtby made a huge stop on Steven Stamkos with the Bolts on the power play and the game 4-2 late in the third period. Overall, Braden stopped 32 shots and improved to 14-4 on the season. He has now tied his career high winning streak at six games.

For nearly 50 minutes, this was arguably the best Washington has played all season. Every line was contributing and Andre Burakovsky, despite no points, had one of his better efforts carrying the biscuit and battling on the boards when he was on the ice with Chimera and Jay Beagle.

The Caps kept a speedy Bolts team at bay with constant puck pressure and when Washington had possession, they supported the play well making it hard for Tampa to get their excellent transition game going. Coach Barry Trotz had to be extremely pleased with the way his club dominated the Lightning until late in the third period.

With the win, the Capitals improve to 16-5-1 (33 points) and trail the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by just a single point, since New York lost to Boston on Friday afternoon. The Caps have a game in hand. Both teams are in action on Saturday with the Rags hosting the Flyers in the afternoon while Washington travels to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. Earlier this month, the Leafs gave the Caps all they could handle at the Verizon Center and it took Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with one second left to tie the game and then Ovechkin’s goal in the shootout to earn a victory. Mike Babcock’s club did not play on Friday so they will be rested for the Capitals. I’d expect Philipp Grubauer to get the call in net for Washington.

Notes: Ovechkin logged 23:00 of ice time and had 11 shot attempts (6 SOG) and five hits…Oshie’s goal was a brilliant top shelf marker on the rush to make it 4-0, but he also led the Caps in hits with eight. One of those was a bone crushing smash of Victor Hedman on the back boards…the Caps outshot attempted Tampa 62-56, but most of the Bolts damage came after the game was over at 4-0…Washington won the face off battle, 41-33. Kuznetsov went 10-4…the Caps lost the first game of this five game home stand to Dallas, but then knocked off Colorado, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Tampa in succession to go 4-1. They are now 10-3-1 at the Verizon Center this season…This was Coach Trotz’ 1,300th NHL game. Only nine other coaches in NHL history have reached that milestone. Kudos Trotzy!

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin’s 4 Goals Rallies Caps Past Bolts in Shootout

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There is something about snow that tends to bring out the best in Alexander Ovechkin, so it’s no coincidence that one of his nicknames, besides the Gr8, is Snovechkin.

On Tuesday night, in a game the Capitals really had no business winning, Alex Snovechkin scored four goals, including the game tying tally with just 33 seconds left in regulation.

Washington would go on to win in the shootout, 6-5, and steal two points from a hard working and undermanned Tampa Bay Lightning club.

Ovechkin had the four markers and his center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and four helpers for a five point night. Those two guys, along with rookie Philip Grubauer in net and some good fortune, are the reason the Caps scraped out two points after trailing 3-0 early on.

The Caps looked nothing like the team that manhandled the Rangers on Sunday at the Garden as the Lightning, without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, came out flying while several Capitals coasted through their early shifts. Most notable was defensemen Mike Green who had the worst period I’ve ever seen #52 play. He took four minors, a 10 minute misconduct, and badly misplayed the two on one break that gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead and chased starter Braden Holtby. #70 wasn’t that bad, but clearly Adam Oates wanted to wake his sleep walking team up, at that point.

The move eventually helped and Ovechkin would get yet another goal this season off of a face off in the opening frame to give the Caps some life. Then when the Bolts Richard Panik took a major for boarding Karl Alzner late in period two, the Gr8 scored twice on the power play to send this one tied, at 4-4, to the third period.

At that point one would think the Caps would take over and win this one against a depleted Tampa squad, but the Bolts are well coached by John Cooper and they carried much of the play. They grabbed the lead when Martin St. Louis, who is one of the smallest but also one of the best players in the NHL, set up Ondrej Palat in the slot at 8:36 of the final period. St. Louis is a Caps killer and he had three points in this game. His work ethic is amazing and several Capitals could learn a lot from watching him.

Work ethic was something that was not there for many Capitals in this tilt. Washington was too fancy and made many bad passes. Martin Erat had a hat trick of giveaways, one of which led to a goal. It should have been three for three if not for Grubauer’s great goaltending on the other two occassions. The Capitals forwards did a mostly lousy job of helping out their defense in this game and Oates will have plenty of video to show of their mistakes.

But the good news is this Capitals team is resilient. They don’t quit and they keep scrapping. It really helps to have skill and talent and Ovechkin and Backstrom took over to save the day on a night when many Washington players just didn’t bring their better performances to the rink.

On Tuesday the Caps did just enough to win, they should be thankful that snowstorms, even an over hyped one like the area had today, brings out the best in their captain.

It was the Alexander Ovechkin show on Tuesday. That’s now 26 goals in 29 games this season. To quote the Gr8, that is “Sick, Unbelievable…”

Notes: Eric Fehr, who is playing super and brought his game on Tuesday, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the gimmick for the Caps…Grubauer got his 2nd NHL win in his 1st career NHL shootout…because the Caps were trailing the fourth line played sparingly and Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson played less than five minutes each…the Caps are now 17-12-2 (36 points)…John Carlson played an all worldly 34:48 in this one…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-22 and Backstrom was 15-7…Washington was 3 for 5 on the power play while Tampa went 2 for 5…Green was a lot better after his misconduct and had an assist. The referees were not the problem for him in the opening frame, it was his lack of skating and too much reliance on using his stick. Lazy hockey, plain and simple.

 

 

 

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Caps Win on Green OT Tally After Losing 4 Goal Lead

Posted on 13 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The most important thing happened for the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Mike Green lasered one in on the power play in overtime to give the Caps a 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay and now they lead the Southeast Division by four points over Winnipeg with just six games to go.

It was two much needed points but what looked to be a laugher in the second frame with Washington up 5-1, turned into a horror show as Tampa rallied to tie the game with three third period tallies. But Adam Oates’ team can breathe a big sigh of relief after this one thanks to Marcus Johansson drawing a key penatly in the extra session followed by Green’s game winner.

Speaking of Oates, he has a ton of video, good and bad, to show his club the next time they reconvene at Kettler IcePlex (either Sunday or Monday).

The good was the Caps offensive zone passing, which led to some very pretty goals over the first 26 minutes of this contest. Tampa isn’t exactly known for defense and goaltending but the Capitals were playing well and with confidence. Alexander Ovechkin pumped in his league leading 27th tally and also added an assist. Mathieu Perreault’s line scored twice on pretty passing plays in the middle frame with both Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera finishing via tap-ins. Even the fourth line got on the score sheet as Jay Beagle fed defensemen Jack Hillen for a goal while Aaron Volpatti did a super job of going to the net to create traffic. Troy Brouwer notched the first marker on the power play on a sweet feed from Mike Ribeiro.

However, the bad is what the team seemed to be focusing on after the game and that could turn out to be a positive. Washington’s defensive zone was horrible over the last 30 minutes and it primarily had to do with players not moving their feet. When you stop skating suddenly the other team is quicker to the puck and massive open ice appears for the opponent. The high slot was vacated by Washington defenders nearly the entire third period while the wingers were caught down low too often. This made it easy for the Bolts to get point shots with traffic. It was a recipe for disaster and Braden Holtby fortunately made some big saves late otherwise the Caps would have lost. This wasn’t really about X’s and O’s in the final frame, it was all about effort and the lack of skating. That’s easily correctable.

Two points are two points though, and this victory gives the Caps seven wins in a row. They are a hot hockey club and hopefully they don’t lose any confidence from the blown lead and realize this was an effort problem, not a lack of skill or system problem.

If they focus on the effort issue and maintain their confidence level, they’ll be all right going forward.

Notes: Volpatti went down injured after blocking a third period shot and didn’t return…Martin Erat played his first game since being injured last Saturday in Florida. #10 had 15:11 of ice time…the Caps won the faceoff battle 39-29 but were outshot 40-38 and the shot attempts were 67-57 for Tampa….the Caps power play went 2 for 5 while the Bolts were 0 for 2 with the man advantage…Washington held Steven Stamkos without a goal, he trails Ovechkin by one in the goal scoring race…Martin St. Louis, a Cap killer, had two goals for Tampa…the Capitals next five games are against Canadian teams (home vs TOR on Tuesday, then at OTT on Thur, and at MTL on Sat, before coming home to face WPG and OTT the following week). The last game of the year is home against the Bruins on Saturday, April 27th. Only Winnipeg isn’t in playoff position right now but they are playing well so this final stretch is going to be tough for Washington…congratulations to former Capitals assistant Coach Keith Allain on winning the NCAA Hockey Championship as the head coach at Yale.

 

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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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