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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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Tough Weekend for Caps, But Not For Hershey

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.

The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.

In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.

Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.

Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).

The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.

Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.

Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.

It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.

Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.

On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.

Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.

Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2013-14 midpoint, the Washington Capitals were sitting at 20-15-6, good for 46 points. But boy were things coming apart at the seams in a downward trend that started in early December. During that stretch, one in which Coach Adam Oates used three starting goalies to pretty much wreck Braden Holtby’s game, the Caps grew further apart as a team with three players asking for trades (Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth). They were a squad that relied almost exclusively on their power play to win games and were very poor at even strength. In addition, in game 41, a loss at home to Carolina in overtime, they iced a defense of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Steve Oleksy. The Caps would go 18-15-8 the rest of the way looking like a totally lost team that would miss the post season and ultimately cost Oates and GM George McPhee their jobs. Over the course of the season, the Capitals used 14 different defensemen and four goalies (traded for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline). That version of the Capitals was a team in total chaos.

Fast forward to today, after 41 games the Capitals are 22-11-8 (52 points) and following a sluggish start, have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 games. Coach Barry Trotz has brought in a new system and a new attitude and GM Brian MacLellan added two quality players, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to a blue line that had been the team’s Achilles heel for several seasons. Trotz, who had coached the Predators since their first season, brought in an experienced coaching staff in Todd Reirden (defensemen), Lane Lambert (forwards), and Mitch Korn (goalies). All three have done a super job and Korn has allowed Holtby to get back to basics and return to the dominant level he was at in the spring of 2012 when the Caps narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference Finals. To date, they’ve used two goalies, with Holtby clearly the #1 net minder and carrying almost the entire load. On defense, they have quality and stability, they’ve only used seven different players on the back end. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made a point, following Saturday’s game, to comment on the vast difference in the Washington defense, stating “anytime you have [Mike] Green playing at number five you have a real good back end.” (h/t to CSN’s Chuck Gormley for the quote).

Things are looking very good for this Capitals team. The key word in that sentence being “team.” Center Nicklas Backstrom, who is having yet another superb season, talked on Sunday afternoon about how things are different than past years under Trotz.

“We’ve been talking a lot about before the season and during the season to stick together and work together and doing the right things. It’s real important that everyone is paying attention to small details like face off plays, what we’re doing before every draw, stuff like that, so I think a lot of guys are buying into that and we’re following the game plan. Maybe before we’ve been doing our own things, so that has helped us a lot, I think,” said #19 when asked about the culture change that Trotz is implementing with the Caps.

“They make each other accountable, they don’t accept just going through the motions. When you fight to just go through the motions, that’s not a good culture to have. We’re not doing that, we’re staying on task…I told the guys I didn’t like the way we were playing the last two games [before Detroit] and I told the guys [Saturday] morning that if we want to be the team we think we can be we’re going to get tested tonight. I didn’t like some of the red flags I saw those last two games, we still got points and we won games, but you have to be honest with yourself. There will be times where you lose games and I’ll be happy with the way we played, we just didn’t win the game. Even when you win, you have to be honest with yourself, did you deserve to win the game or did you luck out? I think we are pretty honest, we have good evaluations…so we recognize we have some work to do,” said Trotz when asked about the culture change and where the team is at.

After winning against the Red Wings, Trotz felt better about things but admitted they are still a work in progress.

“I was real happy in the third period with the way we managed the game. We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we didn’t give up anything, even on six on five they had a little bit, but it wasn’t chaos out there, it was controlled and we forced them to try to execute at an extremely high level and they didn’t get any free looks or anything like that. So we’re better, just in our structure, we recognize possession and we recognized when they weren’t attacking the interior. We stayed patient and when they tried to, we’ll just make one adjustment that we need to do better and if it happens next game we’ll be even more prepared. We try to learn from things that happen, experiences that can make ourselves better, instead of hey we just got lucky. We look for things every day,” said Trotz.

All of the changes have certainly helped the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff picture and right now, it looks like they will make the post season. But there are 41 games to go and the race is tight. While just making the playoffs is key, this club has a bigger goal, to compete for a Stanley Cup. To get to that phase, they have a lot of work to do.

So in the second half the key will be to sustain their focus so that they can improve. Even doing that, there are question marks. One thing to be concerned about is Holtby’s work load. The key will be for Justin Peters to assert himself as a viable back up option, especially with nine back to back tilts scheduled. If Peters can’t perform, then MacLellan will have to find someone who will fill that role, otherwise the Caps not only risk missing the playoffs, but having a very fatigued goalie in April and beyond.

The defense needs to stay healthy and certainly with the depth they have in the top five, Trotz has been able to increase the probability of that by spreading out the minutes. Another key to staying healthy, and winning, is cutting down on the number of penalties the team takes. There have been recent stretches where the parade to the box has cost them points. Finally, they have to stabilize their forward line combinations. We’ve seen a rotating door with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top unit and the latest project is having rookie Andre Burakovsky fill the right wing role after Tom Wilson and some others struggled. The second scoring line has also been woefully inconsistent. Recently it has shown signs of life with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer lighting the lamp more frequently. How that trio plays will be a factor in any possible deep playoff run. Simply put, the forward situation is concerning and it remains to be seen if the young players, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Wilson, can improve enough by April to make this club a contender. If it looks like that isn’t going to happen then MacLellan will have to make a move for a top six forward.

Most of all though, this club needs to continue the process and commitment they’ve built up over the first 41 games and Backstrom certainly brought that home with his thoughts on Sunday afternoon.

“I think that it’s about time that we realize how to play as a team and right now it looks good but we have a long way to go. We’re not done yet, it’s just halfway through the season. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’re not where we want to be yet, so we really need to be humble and make sure we work hard every day and every night,” finished Backstrom.


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Holtby Shines in Caps 3-1 Win over Detroit

Posted on 10 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were facing the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night in their third game in four nights while the Wings hadn’t played since Wednesday. That’s a recipe for a tough game and likely a Caps loss, right?

Well, that was not the case on Saturday night as Washington jumped to an early lead on Troy Brouwer’s goal, expanded it to 2-0 on one of the prettiest 4 on 3 goals you’ll ever see, and closed out the victory with a strong third period to take a 3-1 decision, their fifth straight at the Verizon Center.

Braden Holtby stopped 26 of 27 shots, eight of which came in the last three minutes (five in last 1:03) when the Wings pulled their goalie, en route to his 12th win in the last 17 games. #70 is 12-1-4 over that stretch and continues to provide excellent goaltending.

Taking those late eight score effect shots out the Capitals held Detroit, one of the best teams in the league, to just 19 shots for the first 57 minutes. That’s impressive, as Matt Niskanen stated afterwards.

“I thought we were really, really hard and felt the puck tonight. Good structure. They like to come with the puck through the middle with speed, and I thought we did a good job with just keeping the entire game on the walls and making it that kind of game. Taking away their strengths of speed and puck possession, really clogging things up in the right areas. There weren’t a lot of shots for either side,” said Niskanen, who led the Caps in ice time at 22:21 but did have the giveaway that led to the Wings only tally.

Last time the Caps faced the Wings, in October, Washington jumped to a 3-1 lead and dominated puck possession. But they got careless when ahead and forced passes up the middle of the ice and critical turnovers led to a loss. That was early on before Coach Barry Trotz’ system started kicking in. Now the Capitals are playing their system and making the opponent work hard for chances. Detroit certainly didn’t get many good looks tonight and despite the shot totals, the Caps had the better scoring chances in the third period with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andrei Burakovsky not connecting on grade A opportunities.

“I think we play good with the lead. I don’t think we changed too much after we got it. I thought we kept playing hard and stuck to our game plan like we should,” said John Carlson, who had the finish on the Washington second goal. Carlson also turned 25 on Saturday so the goal and victory was a nice birthday present for him.

The Capitals, who are now 21-1-3 when scoring the first goal, continue to get better defensively and they also were successful because they only took two penalties in this tilt. Washington killed both of those shorthanded situations while tallying on the power play. As a result, Trotz was able to spread the ice time around and that was key in this third game in four nights.

“It’s much easier when you only have to kill a couple [of penalties]. It helps your overall team game, too. You don’t lose momentum or waste any energy killing extra penalties that you don’t have to. The couple that they did get, we had good structure and pressure at key moments and were able to get some clears and disrupt them if they wanted to do anything,” finished Niskanen.

So Washington is now 22-11-8 at the season’s halfway point, good for 52 points and fourth place in a tightly bunched at the top Metropolitan division. This club, despite a schedule that has been brutal at times (seven back to backs so far, five of which had the second contest on the road plus nine more back to backs to go), is much improved because of several reasons. In no particular order they are: a deep, quality blue line thanks to the additions of Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, better defensive play due to a better system and coaching, improved goaltending thanks to Holtby and goalie coach Mitch Korn, and a commitment to hockey and details that we haven’t seen from this team in recent years. That commitment, which Trotz called “culture change” in our WNST interview with him in early December, is becoming very evident.

“I’ll be coming into the room or I’ll be walking in and I am hearing the same things that I am going to say. You want the team to take ownership in every part of the game – managing the game, managing the preparation, managing their commitment, managing situations on the ice and taking ownership that way. I think they have been. There’s a lot of talk, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into every game, and I think you see it on the bench. There is no ‘What are we doing? What’s up?’ There’s none of that. We’ve got a plan for everything we do now,'” stated Trotz on the team’s focus, that I’m not sure we’ve ever seen from the Caps current core group of players.

Notes: The Caps face Colorado at home on Monday night before taking on the despised Flyers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday…the Caps lost the face off battle, 32-24. Eric Fehr was 2-13 from the dot making puck possession much more difficult to obtain…the Caps only had 17 shots on net but in the last 30 minutes they played well and fanned or missed the goal on some great chances…Wings goalie Jimmy Howard left the game with a groin injury just after Brouwer’s goal, just 1:53 into the hockey game. He was replaced by Petr Mrazek (12 saves on 14 shots).



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Caps Win A Perfect Winter Classic

Posted on 01 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was smiling and beaming in the locker room following the Caps 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic and he had every right to be doing so.

Leonsis, who fought long and hard for the outdoor game in the DC area, watched his club pull out a late victory over the best team in the NHL in the Blackhawks on an amazing stage.

The temperature was perfect, the ice was as good as it could be (kudos to Dan Craig of the NHL) and the venue, Nationals Park, was spectacularly laid out, including the replica of the Nation’s Capitol building with a copy of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pond out in front of it that led to the ice rink.

Washington’s star player, Alexander Ovechkin, had an outstanding game with a goal and an assist while goalie Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage again stopping 33 shots. Troy Brouwer scored the winner on the power play with just 12 seconds to go leading to a wild celebration and flying seat cushions at Nats Park.

The victory, the Caps 9th in a very difficult December schedule, moves them to 19-11-7 and back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington is now 18-1-2 when scoring first this season (they scored the first two tallies in this one).

It was a magical day for Washington and Leonsis, who believed that the greater Maryland and Virginia area could make a large hockey event work, and he was proven right.

Now for some analysis of this one.

Washington was extremely solid in periods one and three but they really struggled in the middle frame when they took three minor penalties. Two of those overlapped for 91 seconds so that meant the Caps had to survive a five on three situation against a talented Hawks team. Somehow the Capitals managed to do that, thanks to good goaltending, solid PK work, and over passing by Chicago. Afterwards Blackhawks coach Joel Quennville noted that when you don’t score on a five on three you often lose the game. He also wasn’t happy about his team’s lack of shots on goal during that situation. The two time Stanley Cup Champion was correct on both counts.

Part of the reason the Capitals were able to hold off a talented power play was Washington’s “Honest Abe” player of the game, Brooks Orpik. When last seen on Monday night, #44 was writhing in pain on the ice in Long Island clutching his right knee. Somehow what looked to be a potentially season ending injury was only a minor tweak and Coach Barry Trotz was able to field his best left handed defensemen against Chicago. Not only did Orpik suit up, but he logged a Washington game leading 24:44 of ice time, including 5:43 of the 7:26 the Caps were shorthanded! You just can’t over state what Orpik has meant to this team and both Eric Fehr (breakaway goal) and Ovechkin called him a “warrior” afterwards.

When Orpik was handed the Abe Lincoln gear that goes with being named, by his teammates, the Honest Abe player of the game, in #44 style he provided a quick and simple speech that closed with “I thought everybody was fully committed, so let’s keep it going.”

Trotz noted that Orpik is a guy that doesn’t lead by talk, but by showing up every day and doing things properly. He’s been a great example for his teammates and he’s been an invaluable player on the back end.

“You can only admire what he does and brings to the group. He just makes everybody better. He doesn’t say a whole lot in the room, he says everything with how he plays and how he lives and his actions and his commitment to the game. So, it really is an important piece to what we’re trying to do here in Washington,” said Trotz on Orpik.

The down side is that the Caps had to kill off so many penalties, whether you agree with the officiating or not (and it was not a good day for the guys in stripes, especially the last two calls by Francois St. Laurent on Matt Niskanen and Jonathan Toews). Washington too frequently is chirping at the referees and taking bad penalties. John Carlson’s cross check to the face that put the Caps down two men was a retaliation and unnecessary one. Too often the Caps are losing their focus and some of the penalties are just not smart, like Jason Chimera’s holding infraction and Brouwer’s board in the first period that took the Capitals off of the power play. Despite the issues, Trotz did point out a positive that has come from these mental lapses.

“The thing that we have been really good at this year is, when we get off what I call the rails a little bit and we lose our focus, we’re able to get back and find ways to win.”

That was certainly true on New Year’s Day, but the players I spoke with afterwards, including Orpik, Niskanen and Mike Green (two assists) all said the team needs to limit the number of infractions.

“Yeah we talked about [penalties] before and obviously the 2nd period we took quite a few penalties…every team has a good power play these days…moving forward I think we have to be more disciplined. When you are down that much it taxes certain guys that are penalty killers…we got a lot of good guys that don’t kill penalties so that throws them off a bit and takes them out of their rhythm. There are a lot of things it has an effect on,” said Orpik on Washington’s penalty issues, which helped aid Chicago in out shot attempting the Caps, 26-11, in period two.

“Barry talked about discipline and we sort of needed to refocus. I think we got away from our focus. I think we had a good 1st [period] and once we got into that second period maybe we got caught up with the emotion and the energy of the building and then our focus changed to complaining about penalties and what not…We got to be a little more disciplined,” added Green (two assists in 14:59) on what the team discussed after period two.

Clearly the Capitals aren’t helping themselves with some of these bad penalties. Complaining to the referees, whether justified or not, will not help the cause. Simply put, the players have to focus on their game and let Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan deal with the officiating.

In the end though, this was a huge two points for the Capitals on a perfect day at Nationals Park and the large majority of the 42,832 that attended went home happy, much like Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

Notes: Power plays were 6 to 4 for Chicago and the overall shot attempts ended up 62-58 for the Blackhawks…the Caps lost the face off battle 42-36 but Nicklas Backstrom was 16-13…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers on Sunday at the Verizon Center at 3 pm.

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Ovechkin’s 12th of Season Propels Caps Over Islanders

Posted on 28 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Plain and simple, that was the Washington Capitals best game they’ve played all season.

The Caps outshot attempted New York, 70-60, dominated the face off battle, 34-21, received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (26 saves), finally scored at even strength, and their coach, Barry Trotz, made some outstanding pre and in game moves.

It was a very important in division win against a club that had won five in a row, in the Islanders.

So in two games, which I proclaimed were a measuring stick for Washington, they stood up very well taking three of four possible points to stay in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders did get two points in the first game thanks to referee Kyle Rehman’s Thanksgiving Eve gift, but if I’m New York, I feel like the Islanders are improved but the Caps are a different and still improving club, as well, and should be even better as the season progresses.

Alex Ovechkin once again had the game winning goal, notching his 12th of the season after Tom Wilson made a great rush up the ice with the puck to get the Islanders moving backwards. The Gr8 used the New York D as a screen and rifled it by Chad Johnson, who more resembled OchoStinko tonight (22 saves on 26 shots).

Sure this victory would have been better had the Capitals beaten Jaroslav Halak, but you can only beat who the other team lines up against you. Johnson did have some quality saves, he had to because Washington had tons of excellent scoring chances, especially in periods two and three.

Holtby was outstanding and he had to be sharp from the get go as the Islanders really dominated the first five minutes. Washington only had one shot at the midway point of period one but then they took over. Before the game, Trotz switched up his lines moving Evgeny Kuznetsov up to the 2nd line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer while Andre Burakovsky moved down to the fourth line. Boy did that move pay off as Kuzy had a super game with a goal and an assist while MJ90 dominated the ice with a goal and an assist. Both played just under 16 minutes while Brouwer had an assist in just over 17 minutes. Washington needed that performance from their second line since it had gone six straight games without a goal. No doubt Kuznetsov deserves more playing time going forward. He still has some defensive issues, but Burakovsky is struggling more in the d-zone right now so 92 needs to remain there for at least the near future.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen had another stellar game pitching in three assists in 22:35 of ice time (team lead) and his hockey IQ is extremely high. Joel Ward’s empty net goal came because #2 was willing to take a hit as he threw the puck up the right wing boards to Ward. If Niskanen goes in soft at all on that play the Islanders likely come away with the biscuit. Just a smart and tough play by a very good defensemen there.

In addition to Trotz’ pre game line changes, he did a great job with the matchups late in period two once the Caps got the lead and especially in period three when the Capitals pulled away, for once. Barry likely learned from the two goals the Islanders scored late in period one when he got burned with Burakovsky on the ice against John Tavares on the first goal. #65 screened his own goalie and left one of the best pure goal scorers in the league all alone at the side of the net on that tally. The Islanders then tied it after Wilson mistakenly fought Matt Martin. Anders Lee scored shortly after the bout on a deflection in front when Karl Alzner failed to either block the point shot or tie up a New York forward in front.

But other than that, there wasn’t much to be unhappy about. Washington continued to do a better job of getting bodies to the front of the net so that bodes well for more goals going forward. It is very important to get points right now so that the Caps can make the playoffs and also move up in the division, but it’s even better when they play the right way and win.

On Friday, they played the right way and received a much earned 5-2 victory to improve to 10-8-4.

Notes: Burakovsky had the lowest ice time for the Caps (9:10), but he did score the first goal on the PP by going to the net and deflecting Niskanen’s shot home…the Caps got Brooks Laich back on Friday and they are now 5-0-2 with #21 in the lineup. His hard work rubs off on the rest of the team and he allows Trotz the ability to better balance the lines…the Caps play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at 7 pm on Hockey Night in Canada. I’d expect Justin Peters in net for Washington since Trotz and Mitch Korn won’t want to wear Holtby out.


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Ovechkin’s 2 Power Play Goals Not Enough in OT Loss

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 games of basically “working on their new system”, the Washington Capitals have a chance to get an idea on where they stand as a team in a home and home series with the red hot New York Islanders on Thanksgiving Eve and then on Friday.

Round 1, played in the Nassau Coliseum, went to the Isles, 3-2, in overtime when John Tavares scored on the power play. The OT loss drops the Caps to 9-8-4 after 21 games.

So, what did I really like about Wednesday’s game?

Let’s start with the Washington power play which went 2 for 2. Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) was an absolute magician with both of his assists that led to Alexander Ovechkin tallies (the Gr8 now has 11 goals in 21 games). Matt Niskanen’s feed to Ovi on the first goal was also a perfect tape to tape pass that allowed the Gr8 to laser one by Jaroslav Halak (25 saves).

The Caps, despite looking like they were going to get run out of the dump, er rink, in the first 10 minutes, steadied themselves and played their way back into this contest.

Braden Holtby (32 saves) was solid in net and kept Washington in it with some key saves.

Jay Beagle was 10-5 on face offs.

Washington earned a point and with Philadelphia, the Rangers, and the Hurricanes all losing in regulation, the Capitals moved back into third place in the Metropolitan division.

Now to the parts of the game that I didn’t like, at all.

First, this team needs to find a way to score a 5 on 5 goal. It’s been over two games without one now. The blame goes to the forwards who just aren’t playing well at all. The lines aren’t working, especially the second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer. They’ve gone six games without a goal and late in period three Coach Barry Trotz benched Burakovsky. To paraphrase the great golfer Greg Norman, “They should blow that line up!” In fact, none of the line combinations are really working. The first unit is winning the shot attempt battle, most of the time, but Tom Wilson is still too junior to be a first line right winger. #43 probably belongs on the third line at this stage of his career. Basically, the Caps are in a tough spot currently because Wilson, Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all young and talented players but none of them are really ready for top six forward minutes at this point in their careers. In the future they all could be in that category, but these kids are still very young and the NHL is a man’s league. Coach Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan need to figure something out and that might have to involve some forward trades to shake things up. This team needs to win now because Ovechkin is not getting any younger so BMac hopefully is working the phones.

I really have to just laugh at this point when it comes to the NHL referees because their ability to be so inept at the wrong moment is impeccable. The third period and OT calls on Backstrom were ludicrous given the way the game had been called to that point, especially the holding the stick call in OT after the Islanders player flat out tripped #19. Holtby thought for sure the Caps were going on a power play so he headed to the bench. The call, which essentially gift wrapped New York a victory, was as bad as Starship’s song “We Built This City.” Coach Trotz, his staff, and many of the players were disgusted with the two Backstrom calls afterwards. Please get it together NHL referees because I am wearing out the hashtag #badzebras on twitter!

The shot attempts, if they are accurate, and I have my doubts about the NHL off ice officials on Long Island, were 71-44 in favor of the Isles. That’s not good. The Islanders did dominate much of the first period and because of the Capitals problems up front they did not generate enough shots. The Caps did try to get more net presence but they still look totally out of sync up front too often.

Backstrom was totally smoked on the face off on the Islanders second goal. This was the fourth time this season that he’s lost a defensive zone draw and the opponent has scored. It was the sixth time in 21 games that it has happened to Washington (credit to Adam Vingan for those two very significant statistics). That must stop! What is happening to the Caps is they are losing the draws cleanly and that is allowing the puck to go back to the point while the opponents forwards crash the net. The result has been the six goals on tips and screens. When taking a d-zone draw you have to focus on not losing the draw cleanly, you must at least tie your opponent up to give your forwards more time to get to the point men. The defensemen also have to do a better job of boxing out the opposing forwards on those plays. But it all starts with the center not getting beaten so easily on the draw.

The Caps penalty kill went only one for three. Granted one of the goals was off of a face off and the other was on the dope smoking call that led to the Islanders OT four on three. Still, you can’t give up two power play goals and expect to win. I especially didn’t like that Tavares deked Karl Alzner to the ground on the game winner. #27 has a tendency to go to the ice in those situations and that is the wrong play. He needs to stay upright there and if he does, it makes Holtby’s job a lot easier.

Finally, the Islanders 3rd jersey’s are awful. New York has a great home jersey that they should NEVER abandon. You would think that franchise would have learned from that Gordon’s Fisherman garb they wore back in the 1990’s that was so disgraceful and despised?!

So there you have it, the good and the bad after the first of two key games between the Caps and the Islanders.

Washington is home on Friday at 5 pm. This is another measuring stick game, in my opinion.

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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

If you want to make the playoffs and compete for a division title in the NHL, you need to win the games you are supposed to win.

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals were scheduled to play one of those games against an injury decimated Columbus Blue Jackets squad.

The Caps did just that getting two goals each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson and 24 saves from Braden Holtby en route to the club’s 3rd straight victory and just the second in regulation at home.

This one, however, was not pretty.

Washington played an outstanding first frame jumping all over Columbus and grabbing a 3-1 lead. In that opening period the Caps out worked the Blue Jackets getting strong plays from Troy Brouwer on Johansson’s first tally and neutral zone pressure that led to a beautiful Jay Beagle drop pass to Ovechkin for the third marker. The only blemish in those first 20 minutes was a face off goal that occurred after a bad icing by the Capitals. Had the Washington defender taken the single stride he had to get to the red line, there is not a defensive zone draw at all. Unfortunately, the Caps lost that one clean, and Holtby gave up another goal on a long shot that travels through a maze of bodies. Other than Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, there wasn’t much else to pick at in a period the Capitals totally dominated.

But then came the middle stanza where the Capitals looked nothing like the club from the first 20 minutes and Columbus amped their intensity and physical play up and found a way to crawl back into a contest they had no business being in. Holtby allowed a late goal on a shot he initially bobbled and later kicked in, but #70 did make some other strong saves in a period that saw the Blue Jackets out work the Caps.

The third period started the same as the second finished, and Washington was lucky Scott Hartnell hit the cross bar on a 2 on 0 rush after a bad neutral zone turnover by the Caps. For the next 12 minutes or so Columbus would dominate, but Holtby was excellent. Finally the Caps started working hard again and MJ90 took a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) and wrapped home the clincher.

Again, this was a game the Capitals were supposed to win, and they did that. They improve to 7-5-3 (17 points) and will next face the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

On the positive side, it was good to see the Caps not give up a goal in the third period and it was nice that they finally scored to get a two goal cushion back. The Caps haven’t been able to close teams out until the buzzer since early in the season victories over the Devils and Bruins. Holtby, like he did on Friday in Chicago, clamped down when he had to, plus he caught a break on Hartnell’s cross bar shot. Johansson continues to be a major positive playing with Brouwer and Burakovsky too. MJ90 now has eight goals in just 15 games and he’s shooting more and getting to the cage more often. He’s clearly benefitting from the Barry Trotz regime so far.

On the down side, this team still has prolonged stretches where they are very sloppy and to me that’s a work ethic issue. This Caps team has lots of talent but it is almost like they get too proud of themselves at times and forget you have to consistently move your feet to be successful. When Washington works hard, they win the puck battles and dominate with their superior talent. They still haven’t figured out yet how to keep that up more consistently.

So on Tuesday the Caps got another win, but to me, there’s still lots of room for improvement and I’ll continue to call this team a work in progress. But that’s okay when there are still 67 games to play.

Notes: Columbus won the shot attempt battle, 59-56. The Caps dominated the first period but then it was mostly Blue Jackets over the final 40 minutes. Some of that is score effects but most of it is on Washington’s work ethic…the Caps dominated from the dot, 41-25, but they once again allowed a face off goal against. Coaches despise that!..Karl Alzner had two super blocked shots on the Blue Jackets third period power play when the score was 3-2…referees Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari called a very good game, about the only gripe you could have with them was the missed slash by David Savard on Brouwer in period two. Dirty play there by the Blue Jacket.


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Holtby, Brouwer, and Caps 3rd Line Crushes Canes

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

In a meaningless hockey game that had little intensity to it, the Washington Capitals smoked the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2, in Raleigh on Thursday night.

The Caps best line all season of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward notched three goals while Troy Brouwer added the two other markers off of sweet feeds from Marcus Johansson.

Braden Holtby was super in net again, stopping 36 of 38 shots. #70 had 0 chance on either of the goals against. Holtbeast has now won three games in a row and had the team gone with a more normal goaltending rotation all season and not tried to change Holtby’s game in the fall, they might have overcome their defensive deficiencies to make the post season.

But that’s water under the bridge, at this point. Holtby should be the Caps goaltender for a long time and he’s showing why with his play.

Basically, these final three games are a showcase of pride and a chance to improve one’s statistics. Brouwer now has 25 goals in 2013-14. The third line, however, has been bringing the effort all season and their numbers prove it. They play well as a unit and they seem to really enjoy the game. Let’s hope they can bring that production next season.

Looking at the raw numbers in this one you might think the Canes dominated as they won the face off battle 36-17 and out shot attempted the Caps, 73-41. Score effects likely explains a portion of that delta in the shots department.

With the victory the Capitals improve to 37-30-13 (87 points). But as you know, that won’t be good enough, even if they win their final two games, to make the post season.

On Friday the Caps will play at home against the Chicago Blackhawks and then close out their season on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center against Tampa.

Notes: The Caps went 0-1 on the power play and allowed a short handed tally….Tom Wilson played 14:43…Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov received the most ice time as a d-pair logging over 22 minutes.



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Caps Beaten by Beasts of the East

Posted on 29 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins are one heck of a hockey team.

The “Beasts of the East” are clearly the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this year and possibly the club with the best shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup given the easier route to the finals in the Eastern Conference. They don’t appear to have any weaknesses, and this is a club that lost top 4 defensemen Dennis Seidenberg earlier in the year to season ending injury. But they have lots of depth.

So with the Caps having to face a club that came in to Saturday’s matinee on a 13-0-1 streak one would think they would be ready to compete right out of the gate.

They weren’t.

They didn’t skate well.

Their passing was atrocious and they didn’t pay the price to win the one on one battles in the first 30 minutes.

If not for Braden Holtby’s goaltending, a 3-0 deficit could’ve been at least six or seven. #70 was really good in the crease, but his teammates didn’t help him out.

You can’t do that when your playoff chances are on the line and especially not against a club as strong as Boston.

Washington’s line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward had their usual strong game and they scored late in period two after Mike Green, who was another bright spot, made a great rush up the ice. The Capitals then threw the kitchen sink at Bruins goalie Chad Johnson (31 saves) in the third period, but he was too good and then a terrible charging call on Alex Ovechkin took away any momentum the Caps had built to that stage.

The Bruins would score on that tally, and they scored on one other power play to go 2 for 4 on the game while Washington was 0 for 3.

Boston’s fast start and the special teams were essentially the difference in the game.

Make no mistake about it, the Bruins deserved to win this contest. They played better over the course of the 60 minutes.

But anyone who thinks that the officiating in this contest was decent is smoking some serious stuff. I’ve tried to give the zebras more of a break this season and for the most part, they’ve been better overall. However, the job that Tim Peel and Frederick L’Ecuyer did today in a critical game for Washington was disgraceful.

Of Boston’s four power plays, three were not even penalties. John Erskine’s delay of game hit the glass before exiting the rink (shown clearly on replay), Jason Chimera’s slashing call was a joke and at worst, Johnny Boychuk should’ve gone off with him if that stuff is going to be called. Finally, as mentioned above, the Ovechkin charge was an absolute mirage of a penalty.

In addition, during the Caps power play, right before the Ovechkin “charge” call, a clear trip on the Gr8 was missed that would’ve put Washington on a 5 on 3 advantage.

Simply put, Peel and L’Ecuyer should not get paid for their work today.

Also, why are some of these calls not reviewable by replay? The NFL has it and so does NCAA college basketball. Pucks going over the glass is an easily reviewable event!

But enough on the zebras and league policy, because complaining about those things is pretty much like talking to a brick wall.

This was an important game for Washington and they didn’t come out with the intensity they needed against a super Boston team.

Once again, make no mistake about it, the Bruins deserved the win.

The Caps do go 2-1-2 during a stretch that looked nearly impossible a few weeks ago, so they can take pride in this run against some of the NHL elite.

But now they need to get down to business and find ways to win down the stretch. They have eight games left and likely need 12 or 13 points to get in the post season dance.

Tomorrow night in Nashville against the Predators they desperately need a win.

Coming out with intensity from the opening draw, and getting pucks and bodies to the front of the opponents’ net like Caps Comcast analyst Alan May repeatedly calls for, would be a really good way to start.

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