Tag Archive | "Brouwer"

Caps GM Brian MacLellan Completes Caps Top Two Lines by Landing TJ Oshie.

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MacLellan Strikes Again Landing Oshie in Trade with Blues

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As if Caps fans weren’t happy enough after last night’s signing of three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams, Washington GM Brian MacLellan struck again landing top six forward TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for third line forward Troy Brouwer, minor league goalie Phoenix Copley, and a third round pick in 2016.

Oshie will count $4.175M against the Capitals salary cap, which is just over $500K more than they were paying for Brouwer.

Wow! What a great move by the aggressive GM who in 13 months, along with head coach Barry Trotz, have changed the dynamic, culture, and roster of a team that was headed downhill under ex-GM George McPhee and former head coach Adam Oates.

MacLellan has now brought in two top four defensemen in Brooks Oprik and Matt Niskanen and two top six forwards in Oshie and Williams. That’s impressive given the salary cap limits MacLellan inherited from his predecessor.

It’s clear that both Williams and Oshie are excited to be members of the Capitals organization based on their conference calls with the media on Thursday. Williams indicated that his seven year old son told him a month ago “to go to Washington so he can play with Ovechkin, he’s the best.” Justin said that his son was all smiles when he woke up and heard the news. Both were thrilled to be playing with such skilled centers as Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What’s even more exciting is that for the first time since 2009 the Caps have a legit top two forward lines. Based on the media conference call held with MacLellan on Thursday, it appears those lines will be configured as follows:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – TJ Oshie

Andrei Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

That is an impressive top six. Is it October yet??!!

The Caps GM will now hopefully get deals done with Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. MacLellan indicated that he’s flexible on term with Holtby, who is clearly priority one. After #70, the Capitals need to lock Kuznetsov down. As for Johansson, well his leverage just got significantly weaker. While his regular season stats have benefitted from him playing in the top six, his playoff performances and pass-first mentality is something that isn’t worth breaking the bank for. MJ90 will now play on the third line with the Caps, but he still should see power play time, if he is resigned and kept (a trade is a clear possibility).

Brouwer’s move is also significant because it opens up the third line right wing slot for Tom Wilson, who the organization expects to improve considerably, especially since he has a complete off season and training camp to get ready (Wilson was injured last summer). Third line center is still an open hole and it appears unlikely that Eric Fehr will be back to fill it. Joel Ward’s tenure in DC is clearly over too.

There are still cheap options out in the free agent market for a third line center, such as Shawn Matthias, but that will have to wait until at least Holtby and Kuznetsov are inked.

Coach Trotz told the media today that the fifth, six, and seventh defensemen spots are wide open. Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney will be the favorites to snag those slots, but depending on how negotiations go over the next few weeks, there could be money left for MacLellan to add another defensemen, likely a legit 3rd pair right handed d-man.

Overall, the last 24 hours in Caps land have been electric. MacLellan has proven to be very aggressive and has backed up his words every time he’s talked about the areas he’d like to see the Capitals improve in terms of personnel. He’s been transparent and refreshing. The second year GM clearly gets that the Caps have to win now given how close this club came in 2015 and he’s done it without mortgaging the future.

Dare I say it again, is it October yet??!!

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Why did the Caps lose to the Rangers? Who will be back for 2015-16?

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Here’s Why the Caps Lost and How They Can Be Better in 2015-16

Posted on 17 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Last Wednesday, in a thrilling and razor close series, the Caps found a way to end their season in heartbreaking fashion once again. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round for the first time in team history, including two games at Madison Square Garden in overtime. They were a 101 seconds from the Eastern Conference Finals in game five and fell short.

There have been 40 years of Washington Capitals hockey and 0 Stanley Cups.

As they say, it is what it is.

You can call the series loss whatever you want, a choke, a collapse, a lack of clutch play, or an absence of a killer instinct, it doesn’t matter, at this point. The bottom line is the Capitals lost while the Rangers, who I’ve been asserting since January are the best team in hockey, move on to take on Tampa and likely the Western Conference champion following that.

Make no mistake about it, the Rangers were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, and they are working on proving it in the post season. They were resilient and stuck to their process, for the most part, and that allowed them to move on. I expect them to win the Stanley Cup in June.

The Caps were oh so close, though. How tight was this series? Here are some numbers to back that up:

13-12, Rangers, in goals (all games decided by a single goal).

236-223, Rangers, in shots on goal (1.86 per game).

458-438, Rangers, in shots attempted (2.86 per game).

232-220, Capitals, in hits (1.71 per game).

One stat that wasn’t close was face-offs, the Caps dominated those, 250-199 (55.7%), thanks primarily to Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle. Ironically, though, it was some key draws that ultimately did Washington in. Most notably the series winning sequence where Eric Fehr was beaten badly by Derek Stepan, which caused both Fehr and Andre Burakovsky to become confused defensively, allowing Stepan to sneak to the far post for a wide open rebound goal. Another key draw that the Capitals lost was the one with 3.6 seconds left in the opening frame in game six. Chris Kreider scored on a rebound with 0.3 seconds remaining to give New York a 2-0 lead that the Capitals ultimately could not overcome despite a furious and dominating rally.

Simply put, the Rangers, who had a major focus lapse at the end of game one, didn’t have as many “lack of focus” sequences as the Capitals did in the series, and that’s ultimately why they won. Washington struggled out of the gate in many first periods as well as in the third period in game six. Also, after a dominating first period in game seven, their best opening frame by a mile in the series, they took some terrible penalties to lose all of the momentum they had built up. Mike Green’s cross checking penalty on Dan Girardi was a classic lack of focus moment. It was a terrible decision at the wrong time, especially after two straight Capitals penalty kills, and it was a big factor in Washington not winning game seven.

Adding to the lack of focus issue was a putrid Washington power play. For the series the Caps were 1 for 15, while New York went 3 for 18. That’s a big factor in a super tight series. The Caps, who had the best power play in the NHL in the regular season, struggled with zone entries and when they were able to get set up, were far too predictable in their attempts to force Alexander Ovechkin the puck. The playoffs are all about adjustments. The Washington coaching staff did a nice job of making adjustments in the series at even strength, but they failed to change course on the power play. That was a mistake. They have used a set up where they put two guys in front of the opposing goalie and fire away from the point, but they failed to employ that strategy in the Rangers series.

In the opening round series win over the Islanders, the Capitals had success at getting pucks deep and hitting the New York defense with a relentless fore-check. Washington had a much harder time of that with the Rangers. The New York forwards are lightning fast, but their defense was an area that the Caps needed to exploit better with pressure and physicality. In game three, particularly in period two, the Rangers defensemen were petrified of Tom Wilson. “Willy” had his best game of the series and had the Rangers defense backing up from him. I’m surprised that the Capitals coaches didn’t try to use that tactic and advantage more often in the series. In addition, when New York did get the puck, the Capitals first forward too often flushed or chased the Rangers D-man behind the net causing an easy exit for New York on too many occasions. I didn’t think that was a wise strategy and I’m not sure if it was the coaches instructing the players to do that or the players choosing to do it on their own? Either way, it is best, especially with no red line, to shade the defensemen one way or the other and try to trap him before he exits the defensive zone. Washington did that well in their 5-2 regular season beat down of New York at Madison Square Garden, but they couldn’t repeat that fore-checking success in the playoffs against the Blueshirts.

Overall, the better team won the series. But in sports the better team doesn’t always win and the Capitals let an opportunity to close out the series and possibly win the Stanley Cup slip by.

It was a bitter defeat and it was as close as Washington has come to making the conference finals since 1998. Make no mistake about it, it stinks to lose, but the Capitals are once again a Stanley Cup contender after not being one since prior to the Montreal loss in 2010 (and you could argue that team had too many holes as well, especially at second line center and on defense).

So going forward there should be lots of optimism, but a busy summer of business and roster tweaking looms ahead for General Manager Brian MacLellan and Head Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals were a big and physical team, but they struggled against teams with speed. Adding team speed will need to be addressed with the off season moves.

Trotz and MacLellan have done a magnificent job of changing the culture to be much more team focused and the personnel moves to upgrade the blueline, something I called for along with a “team first” concept last May before either was hired, were spot on. Last summer’s decisions were validated with the strong regular season and playoff performance.

With John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen under contract this team has the foundation for a strong blueline for next season and beyond. Orpik had a fantastic season and brought a physical presence to the back end this club has not had since Brendan Witt left. #44 will be 35 years old in September, but the way he conditions and maintains himself, he’s a very young 35 and should be fine next year. Alzner, under the tutelage of Todd Reirden in Trotz’ system, had his best season as a pro.

In net, Braden Holtby stepped up and was dominant, again, as predicted here. Holtby is a restricted free agent and will be a priority to sign to a long term deal. He played 73 games, including 72 starts, winning 41 of them with nine shutouts. Ideally you’d prefer Holtby to play between 60 and 65 games, so Washington needs to figure out its’ backup goaltender situation in the offseason. Justin Peters is signed for another campaign, but he struggled in his nine starts and 12 appearances going 3-6-1 with just a .888 save percentage. Basically, he played like an AHLer. The other option would be to bring up Philipp Grubauer, who started game two against the Islanders and won, although he wasn’t real sharp in that tilt. Better play from the backup, who will likely see the cage on the latter half of back to back game situations, is necessary in order to not give away valuable standings points during the regular season.

The main priority, other than signing Holtby, for MacLellan and Trotz is to find a top line right wing. That position is the team’s biggest hole and a big factor in why the team isn’t moving on. There is no player on the current roster that can fill that gap, so that has to be the outside focus this summer via free agency or trade.

Second line center, well we won’t be talking about that issue any more. Evgeny Kuznetsov showed in the playoffs that he has that spot covered. What a super finish to his first full NHL season for the young 22 year old Russian! He is so good and strong with the puck and he has the ability to take over games as he did in game five against the Islanders and game six against the Rangers.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and now the emergence of Burakovsky, the Capitals have four legitimate top six forwards. Ovechkin had a monster season with 53 goals and 81 points. He swung his plus/minus from -35 to +10. A much improved blue line, a structured system, and hard work by the Gr8 led to a sensational turnaround. Big credit should be given to the Capitals coaching staff for properly developing young offensive minded forwards Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. Without their astute handling this team doesn’t get as far as it did. Trotz clearly knew what he was doing in bringing along these two kids in the manner in which it unfolded. Both are strong on the puck and improved immensely in their own zone from where they were in the season opener back in October. Right wing is the big issue now, as mentioned above.

As for Wilson, well the Capitals have to better utilize his talents. His hands and puck skills, as well as his skating, must improve. He has the potential to be at least a third line force or possibly a second liner, at some point. Opposing defensemen fear a guy like him and he can open up lots of space for his line mates. The coaches have to find a way to make him a bigger factor in 2015-16.

Making things tough on MacLellan this offseason will be the salary cap and the contracts he likely won’t be able to move in Troy Brouwer (0 playoff goals) and Brooks Laich (1 playoff goal). That is $8.1M tied up in two players who are bottom six forwards. Joel Ward, at $3M, had far better production than those two in the post season, but the 34 year old is headed to unrestricted free agency and will likely end up elsewhere for more money.

As for Marcus Johansson, he’s a restricted free agent who had a strong regular season, but disappeared too much in the Rangers series. Marcus is bumped off of the puck too easily in the playoffs and is not a threat to throttle opposing defensemen. I’m not sure where he fits in the team’s plans, but if the Caps keep him they can’t overpay him for his regular season statistics when he’s not producing in the playoffs.

When it comes to Jason Chimera, Coach Trotz stated in his final presser that he and #25 butted heads, at times, during the regular season. Chimera had a poor regular season, but in the playoffs he was a different guy. He gave the Rangers fits with his speed and tenacity. He’s under contract next year for $1.9M so he’ll likely be around. It would be nice if “Chimmer” brought the way he played in the post season on a consistent basis to next year’s regular season.

Beagle, Fehr, and Curtis Glencross are all unrestricted free agents so they’ll only return if the price and fit is right. Beagle is great on draws and on the penalty kill so he has a greater chance of being back. Fehr scored 19 goals and goes to the net well. His injury history will likely keep his price down and increase his chances of a return to Washington. He’s definitely a well liked player in the locker room. Glencross added speed, but he had the propensity to make the big mistake. His giveaway in overtime of game five was totally the wrong play. He needed to stride to the red line and dump the puck. If Laich had the advantage he thought he had, then gaining the red line and rimming it would have worked too, instead he opted for the high risk pass and Laich mistakenly changed when he should have headed back on defense. It was a costly lack of focus by both players there.

Speaking of next year’s regular season, making the playoffs is not going to be any easier. It wasn’t until the last week of the regular season that the Capitals clinched a spot in the dance since it took until game 80 to do that. You have to think the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils will find ways to be better next year, so Washington will have to work hard just to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.

The Caps were relatively healthy in 2014-15. You can attribute a part of that to luck, but the way the roster was handled and the ice time spread out properly, especially on the blue line, allowed the players to be fresher and not more susceptible to injuries. The coaching staff along with the training staff, led by Greg “Smitty” Smith, did an outstanding job of knowing when to push and back off of this team in terms of practice time, as well.

In terms of the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs in 2014-15, Green played a huge factor in the Caps just getting there. His ability to rush the puck and drive offensive pressure is something this team needed from the back end due to the lack of up front scoring. Unfortunately, #52 was not that same player in the Rangers series. In 14 post season tilts he had two assists and no goals. Against the Blueshirts he struggled to gets shots on goal and his two penalties in game seven were terrible. Green improved a ton defensively this season under Trotz, but under pressure in the biggest game of the season, he failed in key situations. I’ve always been a Green supporter, however, he’s an unrestricted free agent and I can’t see the Capitals spending big money on him when they have other more pressing needs in the top six at right wing. Someone will offer Green a big contract and he’ll have no choice but to take it. Washington will look to Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to fill the holes that will likely be vacated by Green and Tim Gleason. However, that is a big risk given Orlov and Schmidt’s injury history, not to mention that both players do not have the offensive talent of #52. MacLellan may need to add a defensemen in the summer, as well.

Overall, the fans have to be positive about the state of affairs despite a tough, stinging, and emotional loss that had many proclaiming “Same Old Caps” when it was said and done.

Hey, I get it. I’ve been watching this team since 1974 and I’ve seen the highs and mostly lows when it comes to the post season.

However, I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in five years. The team finally has a coach and GM duo that understands the importance of a blue line and a structure that leads to proper play. The core players are on board with the team concept and style of play. Backstrom stated that they are playing the right way for only the second time since he’s been with the Caps, with the other being the partial season that Dale Hunter coached the team. The way the Capitals played in 2014-15 during the regular season and the playoffs backs that premise up.

Now they need to take the next steps necessary to be good enough to get to the final and win. That starts with finding a top line right wing. In my book, that player is not in the organization right now, so it’s up to them to find one.

Washington made great strides in 2014-15 and because of the better talent level and improved system, they had the puck more than their opponents once again after a downward trend in that category.

But the future is now; there can be no sitting back and patting each other on the back after a second round exit. There is no pity in sports, especially hockey. Yes, the team had a good season, but there is lots of room for improvement from the game starts to protecting leads to putting clubs away when they’re on the ropes. It’s going to take commitment, effort, and focus from the coaches and the players.

In summary, Washington Capitals hockey is back after what was a train wreck situation just a year ago. Now it’s up to the leadership of the club, on and off the ice, to remain relentless until that donut hole next to Stanley Cup titles is finally gone.

 

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On Monday night, I chatted with Andre Burakovsky for nearly five minutes. On Wednesday, he became a Caps hero.

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Did Andre Burakovsky Predict His Goals Before Game 4?

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Andre Burakovsky has certainly become more of a household name after his breakout two goal performance in game four of the Capitals-Rangers series that resulted in Washington’s 2-1 victory. The Caps now have a three games to one series lead. Before that outstanding display of talent, Burakovsky played a role in the game winning goal on Monday night. After the contest, a 1-0 victory in game three, I caught up with Andre and chatted about his game, the team, and the fans. Here’s what he had to say:

WNST: You look like you’re getting stronger and stronger on the puck. What’s the game like and how fast is it out there?

Burakovsky: It’s playoffs, it’s real fast, you need keep your head up all of the time, everyone is coming hard at you and finishing checks. Obviously everyone is skating the hardest they can out there. It’s going really fast and you need to be ready for every game.

WNST: The Rangers certainly have a lot of speed on their team but the Caps seem to have some guys like you, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson that can handle the puck along the boards and cycle it. Is that part of the Caps strategy?

Burakovsky: Yeah, for sure, the strength of our team is down in there so we have so much skill on our team we can cycle the puck down there and have a long shift on them. If we do that every game then they are going to get tired and then we take advantage of it.

WNST: The Caps had a couple of power plays. What were your thoughts on them?

Burakovsky: The puck was bouncing, but nothing you can do, it’s the same for both teams. I think we came out strong on the power play and we had a lot of good chances to score, but we couldn’t really bury it. We had good chances to score so it’s nice to have the power play working.

WNST: You had a good chance on the power play at the right side of the net. Did Lundqvist save it or did you miss the net?

Burakovsky: The D was kind of in the shooting lane so I just had a little bit over his shoulder to shoot on. It was kind of hard to get it right there but I just missed the net a little bit.

WNST: What were your thoughts on home ice tonight? You get last change for matchups, but also the crowd. What were the things you liked about being home tonight?

Burakovsky: It’s obviously great to be home all of the time. I think the crowd is really helping us, they’re doing an amazing job out there. I think we are getting a little extra energy every time they are supporting us. Like you said, last change is doing a huge difference. I love to be home, it’s great to be here.

WNST: What’s it like when you hear Unleash the Fury, all these clips, and Let’s Go Caps? Can you guys really hear that and feel that?

Burakovsky: Yeah, to be honest, I love Unleash the Fury. I think it’s a real cool video and the stands are just going nuts out there, they’re going crazy. I really love that one.

WNST: So what are you thinking you need to do get a goal here? You’ve had a lot of chances, you’re getting close. I know you’ve got a really good shot.

Burakovsky: Yeah, just going to keep working hard every game, try to get a couple of more shots on the net. I think I had 2 or 3 today, maybe get it up to 5 or 6. Create a little bit more chances, put the pucks in the net.

WNST: The Caps had the puck quite a bit in the 2nd period and there were times when you had the puck, on your line especially, and just couldn’t get pucks to the net. Is it looking for that extra pass too often, are guys in the lanes, or a combination?

Burakovsky: When we’re cycling down there we’re protecting the puck really good but I think the Rangers are doing a good job on D too. So it was hard to get to the net down there.

WNST: You were on for the winning goal and you, Troy Brouwer, and Jay Beagle had just a good, hard working goal. Is it kind of one of those where hard work pays off with a bit of a lucky bounce?

Burakovsky: Yeah, I think it was a good dump in and Brow did an amazing job to get first on the puck and get a little contact down there. I just found the puck and I saw Beags in the middle there and wide open so I just gave him the puck. He did a great job staying with the puck and took his own rebound and got a little bit of a lucky bounce on the D, but still it’s a huge goal.

WNST: What are some of the older guys who’ve been through this before telling you? What kind of advice are they giving to you?

Burakovsky: They’ve been talking a little bit about just play simple all the time. If you don’t have anything, just chip it out. That’s a good play too, you don’t have to always have to find tape to tape, it’s good to just chip it out too.

So, there you have it, the thoughts and focus of the 20 year old just 48 hours before he would become a game four hero. Andre was very humble and quietly confident during the interview, so it’s no surprise to me that he was able to have such a huge impact on game four and the series. He actually stated he was going to “put pucks in the net.”

On Monday night, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend four minutes and 30 seconds with him without anyone else around. On Wednesday night, after he etched his name forever in Caps history, I was unable to get close to him, at all!

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Braden Holtby records his 2nd career playoff shutout as the Caps take a 2-1 series lead.

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Holtby Stones the Rangers in Game 3

Posted on 05 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, they don’t call him “Holtbeast” for nothing.

On Monday night at the Verizon Center Braden Holtby was an absolute beast in net stopping all 30 shots he faced allowing Jay Beagle’s second period marker to stand up for a 1-0 Caps victory.

Washington now leads the best of seven series, 2-1, with game four on Wednesday at the Verizon Center (7:30 pm).

This was an exciting hockey game to watch. There was end to end action that had fans on the edge of their seats. New York played one of their better games of the post season and did a solid job of hemming the Capitals in their own end on several occasions, especially at the beginning of the first period and for good chunks of the third period.

On the flip side, the Caps had portions of this tilt where they carried the play, particularly in the middle frame. Through 40 minutes the shot attempt totals were 41-36 in favor of New York before the Rangers threw the kitchen sink at the Caps in the last 20 minutes, outshot attempting them, 28-13.

Many of those 28 shots were from the perimeter as the Capitals defense did an excellent job of clogging the shooting lanes and protecting the front of the net. Holtby faced only 10 shots on net despite the 28 attempts.

On the back end, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were absolutely fabulous in 25:56 and 21:00, respectively. I thought it was both players best game of the post season and they were dominant on the ice.

Home ice was huge in this contest for three primary reasons.

First, the Verizon Center crowd provided energy to the players. Andre Burakovsky told me afterwards that Unleash the Fury is his favorite part of the in game segments because it makes the fans go crazy and it provides the team with energy. Washington’s crowd was outstanding, once again.

Second, it allowed Coach Barry Trotz to get the on ice matchups he desired. All four Capitals lines skated fairly well and Tom Wilson, playing with Curtis Glencross and Brooks Laich, had his best playoff game ever. “Willy” was particularly strong on the wall and with the puck in period two.

Third, the Capitals players are able to place their stick down second on face offs and as a result, Washington went 40-18 on draws. Coach Trotz particularly noticed the face off wins and praised both Jay Beagle (10-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (15-5).

This was a more physical game for the Rangers and they doled out 31 hits, including six from Chris Kreider. New York is a talented and fast team so it was a bit surprising to see them play the more heavy style, at times, but this is the playoffs. Washington had 39 hits and it should have been 40. Wilson was whistled for boarding James Sheppard shortly after nearly the same type of hit was used by Rick Nash on Brooks Orpik and, of course, not called.

The Capitals received two early power plays but they didn’t connect. They had some good chances but Nicklas Backstrom noted that the ice made things tough. Given the mid 80’s temperatures, it was no surprise that the sheet was not good. On the PK, the Caps were fantastic in only allowing three shots on net in two Blueshirts man advantage situations.

As for the referees, they were better calling each team for the two penalties. I didn’t like the way the boarding “no call then call” sequence went, but overall they let the players decide the game.

So the Capitals, behind the stellar goaltending of Holtby, now have a chance to take a 3-1 lead on the Rangers if they win on Wednesday.

Coach Trotz has not liked any of the first periods that the Caps have played in this series. With the Rangers facing the prospect of going down three games to one, you can bet they’ll be flying on Wednesday.

It’s up to the Caps to answer the bell and not provide the Rangers with any momentum.

Notes: Beagle scored his goal at 27:31 from below the goal line. He banked the puck off of Keith Yandle and Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves)…Alex Ovechkin had eight shots attempts and five hits…Niskanen blocked seven shots…Troy Brouwer was awarded the team’s Honest Abe award for his work that led to the only goal of the game.

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Braden Holtby goes 88 for 88 against the Bruins this season.

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Holtby Stones the Bruins Again in Caps Victory

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs this spring, they will likely have visions of Braden Holtby in their nightmares all summer long.

In a game the Beantown boys absolutely had to have, Holtbeast and the Capitals raced to an early 2-0 lead and ended up blanking the Bruins, 3-0.

That’s three Caps games against Boston this season and three shutouts for #70, who was a perfect 88 for 88 against Milan Lucic and company.

It was an impressive victory on home ice to guarantee that the Capitals will finish at least in third place in the Metropolitan Division and should the Penguins beat the Islanders on Friday night in Pittsburgh, then the Caps will clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start next week. If the Islanders do win against the Pens, the Caps could clinch second with a victory over the Rangers on Saturday afternoon.

Back to Wednesday’s night win, the line of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer was outstanding. The league’s greatest passer, #19, was dominant with two assists. Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist, +3), who was really good in Detroit in that road victory, was all over the ice on Wednesday and used his speed effectively against a “turtle-like” Bruins defense (they are sloooowwww). Johansson was also very strong on the walls and appears to be peaking his game at the right time. As for Brouwer (2 assists, +3), well he was physical and did a super job of going to the net.

The Backstrom line is carrying the play and with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 sweet assist) doing a strong job of centering Alex Ovechkin (10 shot attempts and 4 hits) and Joel Ward, it is much more difficult for opposing coaches to slow the Capitals offense.

The Capitals now sit at 45-25-11 (101 points) and are 11 points better than last season, with a game still remaining. I’ve blogged and talked on WNST all season long about the importance of the improved blue line plus Coach Barry Trotz’ system and those changes have paid dividends. In addition, this Capitals club has become a team and is a very tight nit group. Players rally around each other, as evidenced by Holtby and Mike Green racing over to Tom Wilson on Sunday in Motown when #43 put his head in front of a puck for his teammates. When you see players doing that for each other, you know you’ve got something special and this Capitals club has not been this close in years. Kudos to the players and coaches for developing and maintaining a real “team” atmosphere.

Now though, it’s almost time for the real season to begin and just getting back to the playoffs is not going to cut it for the players or anyone else in the organization, to include the fans. Washington must continue to stick to what they’ve been doing, playing solid team defense and winning the battles that lead to victories.

On Wednesday night, they strangled a desperate Bruins team in the final frame and only allowed five shots on goal. Their breakouts were superb and they kept the forecheck and pressure on Boston to deny them any chance at gaining momentum. They moved their feet and stayed out of the box. As a result, the Bruins had zero power plays (boy is Bruins coach Claude Julien going to whine about that!).

There was a lot to like in the Caps victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night. Best stat of all though has to be this one:

Holtby’s Goals Against Average (GAA) against Boston in 2014-15 is the same as John Blutarsky’s grade point average: ZERO POINT ZERO!!

Notes: Boston crushed the Caps at the dot thanks to the best faceoff man in the league, Patrice Bergeron. #37 went 22-9 as the Bruins won 39 of 63 faceoffs (62%)…John Carlson had a goal and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Johansson, Backstrom, and Brouwer all played over 19 minutes each…Stan Galiev made his NHL debut and played well in 9:56 of ice time…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play….Tuukka Rask remains 0 for the Verizon Center.

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a very well played hockey game, by both teams, the Washington Capitals won their fourth straight by besting the first place New York Islanders, 3-2, in the gimmick.

Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby (30 saves) and Chad Johnson (25 saves), had strong outings and it was the Islanders back up who made some big saves to keep his club in it in the middle frame.

Unlike the Penguins game on Tuesday, this was an extremely well officiated game and both teams only had one power play each. When Dave Jackson referees a contest, you usually get a good one, primarily because the players know what to expect and Jackson typically lets them decide the outcome. Kudos Dave and a hat tip to Steve Kozari, who fell in line and called one of his best games too.

With the limited power play time we were able to see two strong five on five teams duke it out. Washington had the edge for most of the contest and when Eric Fehr scored off of a sweet drop pass from Brooks Laich with 5:34 remaining it sure looked like the Capitals were going to win this one in regulation and pull to within three points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.

But then the Capitals coaching staff made some terrible player deployments and gifted New York a point by playing what football fans would call the prevent defense. From the 5:34 mark to the :48 time when Ryan Strome tied the game the Islanders had 14 straight shot attempts!

Yup, you got it, the Capitals didn’t fire a single biscuit towards the Isles cage. The main reason for that was some poor decisions by the coaches. Instead of playing Alexander Ovechkin’s line, he put out the possession black hole unit of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer the second shift after Fehr’s tally. That unit would get stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Somehow the Caps survived, but then Trotz chose not to use Ovechkin and Mike Green (was on for seven seconds) for the final three minutes until the Islanders scored. Ovechkin and Green are two of the top puck possession players on the Capitals roster, but for some reason the bench crew used others over them down the stretch. Even Jason Chimera logged 70 seconds in two shifts once it was 2-1 Caps instead of the Gr8 or Game Over Greenie. So that’s 0:00 ice time for Ovechkin and 0:07 of ice time for #52 once the Capitals led.

That’s unthinkable and I’ve blogged about the misuse of Green before, back in January, when the Caps get a lead.

My simple message to Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals coaches is this: Play your best players late in the game!

Going all defense is just that, you’ll be playing defense and just giving the other club more chances to tie things up. At least if you put your best players out there you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone and increasing your lead.

Oh well, that’s my rant on this victory, which should have come in regulation.

Still, it was a solid performance by the Caps, even though the Isles went with their backup goalie (but he was super) and are still missing Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski up front. With the two points the Capitals move to 33-17-10 (76 points). The Caps ended up going 2-0-2 against the Islanders this season while New York was 2-1-1 with their two victories coming in OT on 4 on 3 power plays. If these two teams meet in the post season, it should be a razor close series.

A win is a win is a win, and Caps fans, coaches and players will be happy with it, but let’s be honest, playing the prevent defense late in the game is a recipe for disaster that needs to be shredded by the coaching staff before the playoffs begin.

Washington will travel to Philadelphia through the snow to take on the Flyers at 12:30 on NBC on Sunday. The Flyers have been hot lately and have pulled within four points of a playoff spot (Boston is in 8th with 65 points) while the Caps are firmly entrenched in a spot for the Stanley Cup battle this spring. The Caps are 1-1-1 versus the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Notes: Shot attempts favored the Islanders 75-67, but that was because of the 14-0 late run that New York was given to tie the game…the Caps won the face off battle 38-34 but they lost three straight defensive zone key ones when New York had the goalie pulled…Matt Niskanen, who scored the Caps first goal, was the ice time leader with 25:37…Travis Hamonic, who opened the scoring, led the Isles in ice time with 25:17.

 

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since February 8th, the Nation’s Capital had their Dynamic Duo back in town at the Verizon Center, and boy did those two put on a hockey clinic.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and added an assist while Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals trounced the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1, on Thursday night.

Backstrom is now tied for the NHL lead in points (Patrick Kane) with 63 while leading the league in assists with 45. Ovechkin now has 38 goals to lead the NHL and he has 61 points, 3rd best in the NHL.

This had the makings of a classic trap game since it was Washington’s first home game after a cross country four game road trip.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed some good mental fortitude and showed up to play from the opening drop of the puck. The Caps tallied 14 minutes in on a John Carlson power play blast that looked to be deflected along the way. Then Ovechkin made an amazing play on the left wing to make it 2-0 with 1:25 to go in the opening frame.

Those two first period markers were ultra important because it brought the Verizon Center to life and the Caps were 18-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (h/t Mike Vogel). Winnipeg would get a fluky goal to cut it to 2-1 but then the Jets, who are the most penalized team in the NHL, did what they do best, started a parade to the penalty box to feel shame. Winnipeg took four penalties in a row and the Caps scored twice, both times with a delayed penalty being signaled. Backstrom made it 3-1 when he was simply trying to get the puck to the goalie to start a five on three (good things happen when you shoot) and then Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin fed #19 beautifully for the 4th goal with the Jets about to be whistled for too many dudes on the ice.

Troy Brouwer would add a shorthanded empty net goal with 6:27 remaining to seal the deal for Washington.

Braden Holtby was strong, when needed, in the cage again yielding only one tally on 20 shots. The Caps puck support was outstanding in this game and thus the Jets really didn’t get many good looks. They had the occasional strong cycle shift, but overall the Capitals kept the Jets speed and size in check. It was another impressive performance by the Caps in all zones.

“I thought we managed the game really well. In the third period, you’re up 4-1, you could easily forget detail, and you could forget a lot of stuff. We managed the game. We just kept playing, and it gets really frustrating for the other team. Everybody was doing their job, and when you’re doing your job and there’s no cheat in your game you get a lot done as a group of 20 every night,” said Trotz on a night his team once again maintained their focus.

With a near perfect night by the Caps over and done with, the Caps focus now moves to their last regular season meetings with the first place Islanders, the punks from Philly (Flyers), and the Penguins that will take place Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, respectively.

“It’s a fun, interesting division right now. Everyone seems to be playing pretty good. The only way to really make up any ground is to beat those teams that are right in front of us. It’s a massive challenge. We are excited about it. We haven’t seen them (the Islanders) in quite a while. It’s a big week for us. We need to string some winning streaks together, not just two or three, so it’s important,” said Karl Alzner, who is quietly having his best season as a Capital, on the upcoming slate of games.

The Capitals are certainly playing well. They are playing solid defense, getting good goaltending, and their checking line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward is stopping the opponents top line.

Most importantly, though, the Dynamic Duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom are playing at an ultra elite level and that is making Washington a very tough team to defeat.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shots on goal while Backstrom had five…shot attempt game totals were 62-59 in favor of the Jets… the Caps were 3 for 6 on the power play while Winnipeg was 0 for 3…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-27…Washington is now 32-17-10 (74 points)…Jason Chimera was scratched for the 2nd straight game.

 

 

 

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Ward Bangs Home Game-Winner in OT for Caps

Posted on 12 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that was far from pretty or well played, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-2 third period deficit to win on Joel Ward’s rebound tally off of a Mike Green shot in overtime. The goal, Ward’s first in over a month, gave the Caps a 5-4 victory over the Sharks in San Jose and improves the team to 29-16-10 (68 points).

They say the mark of a good team is when they can win when they don’t have their “A” game.

If so, the Capitals are a good team because they were very sloppy, particularly in their own zone, yet found a way to prevail. In addition, they did a poor job of allowing Braden Holtby (26 saves) to the see the puck, at times, and that alone allowed the Sharks to erase a 1-0 deficit and score twice in 22 seconds in period two, on shots from Brent Burns. Holtby himself, did not have a stellar outing, yielding the last two goals on shots he’d like to have back. Matt Niskanen, who has had a very good season, struggled on the back end, as well, but fortunately Green was superb and John Carlson overcame a rough start to dominate in the third period with a nice assist followed by a goal.

The hero of the night, however, was one Jay Beagle and #83 was a tireless worker once again. He scored the game’s opening marker by going to the cage, and Andre Burakovsky was a big factor on that one too by taking his man to the net (and the puck bounced to Beags off of the skate of the Shark covering #65). Beagle also tallied to tie this game up at three with 8:43 remaining when he took a long lead pass from Carlson and got some help from the linesmen, who knocked the San Jose d-man down, allowing Jay to go in one on one and school Antti Niemi.

After Carlson gave the Caps a 4-3 lead on a Sharks turnover, Washington returned the favor by promptly turning the biscuit over too. That allowed Jumbo Joe Thornton to tie things up at four with 5:31 to go. From there both teams played for their valuable standings point.

In overtime, the Caps scored on a 3 on 1 rush after former Capital Scott Hannan blew a tire in the neutral zone. The Sharks yelled at the zebras, but on replay it looks like the old and “Tin Man” like Hannan simply lost an edge. That’s hockey.

Overall, I’d give the Capitals a B- grade in this game. They weren’t sharp and looked lazy, at times, especially in period two when they were outscored 3-1. Washington’s second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer, and Jason Chimera was pretty bad on this night in terms of puck possession. Chimera just doesn’t belong in the top 6. Brouwer did get a power play goal tipping home an Alex Ovechkin pass in period two and he did TKO Brenden Dillon in a first period bout, so it wasn’t all bad for #20.

A win is a win is a win, and the Caps needed that after a poor game on Sunday against the Flyers.

There are no style points in the NHL, which was good on Wednesday night. Now it is on to LA to face the Kings on Saturday followed by the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday.

Notes: Shot attempts favored San Jose, 62-57…Ovechkin had six shots on goal…the Caps lost the face off battle, 30-23…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:41…Burns played 26:06 for the Sharks to lead all skaters in ice time.

 

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Evgeny Kuznetsov to deliver on the promise that so many hockey fans saw when he carried Team Russia on his back to win the 2012 Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships. Lately, that skill, ability, and desire to dominate has begun to show up on a more regular basis.

On Friday, against the team with the best record in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, #92 set up both Capitals goals with amazing passes and he also notched a marker in the shootout to lead his squad to a 3-2 win over Bruce Boudreau’s boys. It was a big win for Washington after playing in Ottawa on Thursday night and they improve to 28-15-10 (66 points). For the Capitals this was their third win in a row and they take on “you know who” on Sunday to try and gain a four game winning streak for the first time this season. But more on those punks from up I-95 in a few paragraphs.

Philip Grubauer was recalled to face the Ducks after the Caps had to travel from the Great White North late last night. #31 was very solid in net and the team played well in front of him. Sure, the 2nd goal he allowed was weak, but overall Gru did what this squad needed, stop enough pucks so they could finally win a game without Braden Holtby in net. Grubauer has been excellent in Hershey this year playing lots of minutes and Coach Barry Trotz stated that he’ll head back there tonight. The rationale for waiting so long to give Gru a game appears to be that Washington is trying to save as many recalls as possible for after the trade deadline, at least that is what Trotzy alluded to after the game.

Anyways, the schedule gets better going forward for Washington and as Caps ace beat writer Mike Vogel pointed out, the Caps played two recent stretches of 7 games in 11 nights and went 4-2-1 in each set. That is some very good hockey there.

Speaking of good hockey, Troy Brouwer had another outstanding game making the diving keep in of the night to allow Kuznetsov to set up Jason Chimera for an easy 1st goal. Then #20’s screen in front on Ilya “Humongous” Bryzgalov allowed John Carlson to score what should’ve been the game winner in regulation.

But Corey Perry got a cheapie on Grubauer, he’s a great goal scorer so you expect #10 to get the bounces, and he did on that play (Grubauer needed to have the post covered better too). That forced overtime and then “the gimmick.”

The Caps were 1-4 in the shootout and the Ducks 7-4 coming in so, go figure, Washington won this one.

Overall, this was a slower than normal game as both teams showed the wear and tear of playing Thursday. Both were missing superstars as the Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf and the Capitals scratched Mike Green very late, presumably due to complications from the ugly knee-to-knee hit he took from Chris Phillips the night before. The referees didn’t call that one and they only whistled the clubs for three infractions on Friday, and you probably can guess who had fewer power plays (starts with C and rhymes with Saps).

Speaking of saps, the Philadelphia Flyers come to town on Sunday afternoon. The club formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is on a recent hot streak, going 6-3-1 over their last 10 tilts. Their best players are Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and both give the Capitals fits. Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers chief punk these days and Philadelphia may be looking for retribution after Matt Niskanen put Flyers forward Scott Laughton into March with a clean, open ice hit back on January 14th. It’s no secret that the Flyers are the Capitals longest and most despised rival so these games, no matter the records of the teams, always carry a little extra meaning. Most Caps fans, in a voice like Newman from Seinfeld lore, would say, “I deeespise the Flyers!” Who can forget those old brawls at the Capital Centre where the arena had to call in extra security to police all of the drunken fights in the stands? Ah, memories.

Anyways, this is a chance for Washington to really bury their long time rivals in the standings. Philly lost last time in Washington, 1-0, but the Capitals hung on for dear life in that one. You can bet there will be a buzz in the air on Sunday and hopefully there won’t be too much orange in the crowd. There’s a good chance they’ll be some scraps on the ice too, particularly since the Flyers tend to play dirty, especially when they are losing.

It should be a great game and it’s also a celebration on television for long time Caps announcer Smokin’ Al Koken. Smokin’ is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and I’ve known him since he came to town 30 years ago. Koken will spend a period in each of the different broadcasting roles on Sunday: play by play, analyst, and rink reporter. Al is a super guy and I know he’d like nothing more than for Washington to defeat their biggest rival on his special day.

Game time is 3 pm on Sunday, so go ahead and start your tailgating right away.

Notes: Washington dominated the shot attempt battle, 64-51…the Caps also out shot the Ducks, 34-25…Kuznetsov had two assists and was +2 in 18:30 of ice time…Niskanen played 28:51 to lead all players in ice time…Washington won the face off battle, 34-30. Eric Fehr went 9-3…Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have one of his better games but he notched the shootout winner…after starting 1-14-6, the Caps have now won two games in a row when allowing the first goal of the game…Andre Burakovsky was sent to Hershey due to the Grubauer recall since he is able to go down to the AHL without requiring waivers. #65 will return on Saturday and play on Sunday against the Flyers..Cam Schilling played on D for Green and was +1 in 13:42 of ice time.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were 1-14-6 this season in games played this season when the opponents score first.

So when Kyle Turris broke a scoreless contest just past the midway point of period two to put Ottawa up 1-0, how many Caps fans turned off their televisions?

Well, hopefully it wasn’t many of you because shortly thereafter Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to tie it before Alexander Ovechkin did his best Cal Ripken impersonation by batting one home on the following shift to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

From there, Braden Holtby and the Capitals would shut the door and win their first game when allowing the first tally since November 7th (h/t to Adam Vingan).

This was a very solid road win by the Caps. They were a little sluggish at times over the first 30 minutes and they made things tough on themselves in period three by taking three straight penalties. But Holtby (25 saves) was there to make the stops and any rebounds were cleared by the defense, who had a very strong game, especially Brooks Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 22:32 of ice time). During those three key penalty kills at the beginning of the third frame, Ottawa did not get many quality chances.

Killing off six of seven minutes via penalties to start the final stanza is not usually a recipe for success, but after those kills, the Capitals took over the rest of the way. Over the last 10 minutes the Capitals carried the play by not sitting back and still attacking. In fact, I counted only 1 scoring chance for Ottawa after the 10:00 mark, a wide shot by Mika Zibanejad. Coach Barry Trotz did not shorten his bench on defense with the lead and that strategy paid off.

The Caps would pretty much seal the deal with this victory when Eric Fehr drew a late interference call on Milan Michalek and Ovechkin nearly had his 33rd goal of the season after a sweet feed from Marcus Johansson, but somehow the Gr8’s shot went high.

Trotz maintained the same top three lines as he rolled out in the win over Los Angeles and the first two lines were very impressive. Johansson was just fabulous with Ovechkin and Backstrom and his play on the right wing boards and subsequent pass to a streaking Jay Beagle set up the game winning goal by Ovechkin, who outbattled Erik Karlsson in front.

The second line was very good again and Andre Burakovsky was very noticeable, in a positive way. Once again, he won’t get an assist, but his strong play on the right wing boards set up the Kuznetsov tally. On that one, #65 got the puck to Tom Wilson who carried the biscuit behind the net and fed Orpik for a point blast. Sens goalie Robin Lehner couldn’t control the rebound and #92 deposited it into the empty net. Bottom line, if that second line of Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer can continue to contribute the sky is the limit for this Capitals team.

As for Holtby, well he set the tone for the game with a huge early stop on Bobby Ryan on a Senators three on one. #70 made several other big stops in the game that normal goalies don’t make, yet Braden is making them look so easy. It was another outstanding goaltending performance and it still makes me wonder what Adam Oates was smoking last season by trying to change his game and why former GM George McPhee had three goalies up most of the season and then traded for Jaroslav Halak at the deadline? Boy am I glad those two guys are gone.

So the Capitals get a strong win on the road against a fast Ottawa team that typically gives them fits. This was an impressive finish by Washington. They did not sit back and hang on, they kept the pressure up and as a result, they protected their one goal lead rather easily. The team moves to 27-15-10 (64 points) and are just three points behind the first place Islanders in a very tight Metropolitan Division race.

On Friday, they have a tough task at hand as they take on the NHL standings leading Anaheim Ducks at the Verizon Center. The Ducks smoked the Predators, 5-2, in Smashville on Thursday so both teams will not be rested for this tilt.

The big decision now for Trotz is to decide who to play in goal, Holtby or Justin Peters? With the Flyers in on Sunday afternoon, it seems to make sense to give Peters another shot, but then again, the way the Capitals played the last 10 minutes, Braden should be fairly rested if Trotz calls his number again.

Notes: Jason Chimera was reinserted into the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday and had a strong game (11:33 of ice time)…Wilson wasn’t very noticeable the first 30 minutes but he got involved physically and had a big assist on the game tying goal. It’s time for #43 to step his game up…Washington won the shot attempt battle, 59-50, despite the fact that Ottawa had four power plays to just one for the Caps…the Capitals won the face off battle, 25-20. Jay Beagle went 7-2…Mike Green was hit knee on knee in period one but didn’t miss a shift. Greenie had a super game and earned a stint in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Michael Latta and Aaron Volpatti were the forward scratches.

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