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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

24-10-1.

That’s what it takes to go from 2-8-1 and last in the NHL to clinching the Southeast Division for the fifth time in the last six years.

Kudos to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for a run that, to me, is more remarkable than the one they made in 2007-08, although both have to be categorized as special.

Special. That is a key word tonight and that is how this 2013 Caps team should be described.

It takes a really special group to do what this hockey club did after a terrible start. They overcame some big time injuries and major doubts from the critics, many of whom chose to blast Ovechkin for all of Washington’s problems. They were buried many times this season. Yet they stuck together and proved that their General Manager George McPhee was absolutely right back in January and early February during the losing times when he said “I think we have a good team.”

Credit the GM for standing up for the club he assembled, credit the head coach for putting the team in winning situations, and most importantly, credit the players for staying together and not quitting on a season that had the makings of a disaster at several points.

It took resolve and hard work. This team continues to get better and better as the season progresses. Their captain once again looks like the two time MVP he was in 2008 and 2009, only this year he is a better player overall. His defensive skills have improved, look no further than the back check he made to cover teammate Mike Green after #52 got caught pinching at the Washington blue line in the first period of Tuesday night’s Southeast Division clinching victory. Ovechkin’s passing, often underrated, is as good as its ever been. He is seeing the ice extremely well and he has embraced the transition to right wing. Opposing defenses are on their heels against the Gr8 once again.

Nicklas Backstrom is arguably playing at his highest career level and what a story Marcus Johansson has been being the guy to round out a top line that has been as good as any other in the NHL over the last month? Add in a second unit of Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro, and Troy Brouwer and for the first time since 2008-09 the Caps are going into the post season with two legitimate scoring lines. Hard to believe that is possible given Brooks Laich’s injury but the Erat trade is exactly what Washington needed to compete in the post season.

Of course this team is not special without forwards like Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera finding ways to contribute. In this playoff clinching win, the bottom six forwards scored three of the four Capitals tallies when Winnipeg had Ondrej Pavelec in the cage.

If you really want to pinpoint where the turnaround came from, it isn’t hard to figure out. The defense was a train wreck early on as Mike Green, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen were injured for long periods of time forcing the team to rely on players who don’t really belong in the NHL anymore. Once Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson were able to put a solid defensive lineup on the ice, combined with the improved health of forwards Backstrom, Johansson, and Laich (for a 10 game stretch) then it became a challenge for opponents to match up with a club that could move the puck out of its zone quickly and up the ice where its skill could take over. Add in super goaltending from Braden Holtby and some great spot starts from Michal Neuvirth combined with the struggles of the rest of the division and what looked to be a season playing for a draft pick is now one where you can’t help but play “what if” as the Capitals prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This team right now is better than the ones that entered the post season the last three years. The 2013 crew is a special group because they never gave up and stuck together to make an improbable run to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They are a team that will be a tough out it in the playoffs and they have enormous potential to go deep in the postseason.

The question is, can they stay healthy and keep it going?

It’s a good question to ask, but for Tuesday night and the rest of the week, Caps fans should just enjoy this “special” team and not worry about the playoffs until Monday.

Notes: Ovechkin notched his league leading 31st goal into the empty net to seal the victory…Green and Karl Alzner were downright dominant in this contest. Green logged 24:27 and had an assist while King Karl played 23:33. The two Western Canadian boys compliment each other well on the ice…Washington won the faceoff battle 39-31 and outshot the Jets 41-27. Shot attempts were 72-48 in favor of Washington despite the Jets getting three power plays to just one for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey on Wednesday morning at 7:45am. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

Posted on 16 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps blew a four goal lead and had to win in overtime last Saturday night the question was would that third period collapse impact their confidence going forward?

On Tuesday night, versus a good Toronto team that was playing on the second half of back to back games, the Capitals answered that question with a resounding NO!

Washington came out with energy and effort and grabbed a 1-0 first period lead on another Jack Hillen goal. Then in the middle frame, their skating and power play took over as Martin Erat notched his 1st goal as a Capital moments after a Leafs penalty expired. Shortly thereafter Troy Brouwer scored on a pretty two on one with John Carlson and then the Gr8, Alexander Ovechkin, notched his NHL leading 28th goal on the power play to make it 4-0. The Leafs would add a 3rd period marker before Marcus Johansson would cash in on the power play, as well, to make it a 5-1 final for the Capitals eighth straight win.

The Caps are now 24-17-2 for 50 points after an awful 2-8-1 start. GM George McPhee is making his “I believe we have a good team” statements from late January ring true. Washington’s lineup is very solid now with Erat returning to health and #10 had a strong game with a goal and an assist. He gives Coach Adam Oates a second scoring line. Johansson continues to progress this season and the first line continues to dominate on the ice, even despite the fact that Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless tonight. The third and fourth lines are doing their jobs as well as the Capitals out shot attempted their opponents, 65-47, in this affair. Sure the Leafs were tired, but the Caps worked them over pretty good after losing the first two times to Toronto earlier in the season when Washington wasn’t healthy and lacked confidence.

Confidence is so important in hockey and this club has it now. The whole squad seems to have bonded and Jason Chimera showed that by going after and fighting Jay McClement a few minutes after the Leaf boarded Nicklas Backstrom (which zebras Paul Devorski and Tim Kowal failed to call). It should also be noted that Ovechkin roughed up McClement immediately after the illegal hit by the Toronto player. This is a team that sticks together better than we’ve seen in recent years.

Goaltending is always a very important aspect to a team’s confidence. The tender who can make the saves when the game is scoreless is so key and Braden Holtby did that again on Tuesday night. #70 didn’t have to make a lot of saves early, but there were some tough and key ones he had to stop. That allowed the Capitals to eventually grab the lead, and that just adds to the confidence level. It is an iterative loop when it comes to confidence, whether it is going good or bad, and right now, Washington has it going in the right direction.

Notes: Technically the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play but Erat’s marker came right as the PP ended (so 3 for 6, in my book). The Leafs were 0 for 3 on the power play so Washington dominated the special teams battle in this one…Erat only logged 12:10 of ice time but his skating looked good on Tuesday so he is returning to full health…Mike Green had assists on the two official Caps PPGs and led the club in ice time with 22:42. That is a low leading total, which is due to the big lead, which allowed Oates to just roll his lines in the final frame…Mike Ribeiro picked up his 30th and 31st assists on the season…Joel Ward and Brooks Laich are still out injured…next up for the Caps are the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday followed by a date with the Habs in Montreal on Saturday night. Washington’s last three games are at home next week (WPG, OTT, and BOS).

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Caps Win on Green OT Tally After Losing 4 Goal Lead

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Caps Win on Green OT Tally After Losing 4 Goal Lead

Posted on 13 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Well that definitely applies to Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his club on Thursday night. The Caps found themselves down 14-0 in shots on goal and 1-0 on the scoreboard midway through the opening period at the Verizon Center before rallying with two tallies in the middle frame then adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds to defeat a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, 3-1.

The victory, their sixth in a row, pushes the Caps to 22-17-2 (46 points) and keeps them two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division race. It was a win against a struggling team that Washington had to have and they delivered.

It was far from pretty though. The Caps were slow out of the gate and even when their passion and energy picked up, they were just a fraction off nearly all night. But that effort level is what carried the day and more importantly, Holtby was awesome in net (43 saves).

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point but he had 15 shot attempts, including one in the second period that seemed to dent the post. The Gr8′s line was very strong but Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had only one shot attempt. Both Nicky and JoJo probably should start looking for their shot a little more because teams are going to be focusing on a red hot Ovechkin. Still, Backstrom had an assist and was once again really strong on the puck. His hard work on the boards at the Caps blueline at the end of the game, along with John Carlson, allowed Troy Brouwer (2 goals) to hit the empty net and put the nail biter away. Johansson was super backchecking and using his speed and he gutted through getting banged up early on in this one. He forced the puck to Ovechkin a little too much for my liking but he was still really solid in this contest.

Several others had excellent outings including the 4th line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Wojtek Wolski. Beagle set up a late charging Mike Green for the eventual game winner after Wolski made a super play on the offensive zone entry. I think Wolski earned himself some more minutes with his effort on Thursday night.

Mike Ribeiro, after a rough start, was also fairly dominant the last two frames as the second line center. He was playing agitated all night and his two way play was excellent. Brouwer, of course, had the two tallies to lead the offense. Aaron Volpatti played hard on that second line but he is offensively challenged.

But when it was all over, the man of the night was Holtby who made numerous quality saves and Carlson bailed him out on a puck lying in the crease early on. Holtbeast was a little erratic to start but he settled down quickly and won the game for Washington. It was nice to see the strong play in goal after teammate Michal Neuvirth had two straight super outings. Coach Adam Oates has to be really pleased with his goaltending tandem right now. Both guys are fierce competitors and the players recognize that.

So the Caps didn’t play close to their best game on Thursday night, but they did what they had to do to get a victory. At this point, that is what matters most. The Southeast Division title is in their control with just seven games to go. You can’t ask for more than that.

Notes: Both clubs notched a power play goal in a contest that got chippier as the evening went on. The Caps won the season series, 4-1, over Carolina and won the last three games after trailing, 2-0, 2-0, and 1-0, respectively…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-31 with Backstrom going 13-8…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Caps & Ovechkin Stayin’ Alive After Shootout Win

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Caps & Ovechkin Stayin’ Alive After Shootout Win

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 3-1 Sabres going into the third period and the Washington Capitals season was basically on the line.

Sure they were carrying much of the play after a horrid first 20 minutes, but the way Jhonas Enroth (35 saves) was going it wasn’t looking good for the Caps

Even after Troy Brouwer scored on a shorthanded goal set up by Braden Holtby (yes, you read that correctly), the Caps were down a puck and had to pull their goalie in the last minute to try and tie the game. Fortunately Mike Green lasered one in with 40 seconds remaining and then Matt Hendricks and Alexander Ovechkin scored on the first two Caps shootout tries while the two Buffalo shooters failed to tally to give Washington a huge 4-3 comeback victory.

It was two points the Caps had to have and they found a way to get it against a bad Buffalo squad.

The win pulls Washington to within five points of Southeast Division leading Winnipeg (and the Caps have 2 games in hand) and they are now just two points in back of the 8th place New York Rangers, who continue to lose under dictator John Tortorella despite having a very talented roster.

With the trade deadline fast approaching on Wednesday, the Capitals players had a big chance to show their general manager that they still have a club that can make the post season with the three games in four nights that started on Saturday in Buffalo. A loss to one of the weaker clubs, the Sabres, would surely signal that George McPhee should get on the phone and start selling. Well, this win keeps the “add players to improve the team” option open to McPhee and they have a chance to increase the probability of that option on Sunday night when they take on the Flyers in Philadelphia at 6 pm.

There were lots of good things in this victory. Ovechkin was all over the ice and his stat line for the contest reads:

1 goal, 1 shootout goal, +1, 17 shots attempted (10 on goal), 3 hits, and two takeaways in 25:57 of ice time

It is pretty obvious that the Gr8, who notched his 17th tally of the season, is trying as hard as possible to carry his club out of its huge standings hole and into the post season. He has been playing extremely well since being reunited with Nicklas Backstrom a couple of weeks ago.

Holtby (20 saves and an assist) probably should have had the first tally by Christian Ehrhoff but the other two, by Ville Leino, were layups as Washington played poorly in their own end for stretches in the first two periods. #70 made some big stops to give his club a chance to come back and tie it and then he did his job, along with the post, in the shootout.

Overall, the effort was really there after a slow start, which might have been due to four days off. It was clear which club wanted it more at the end and as a result, the Capitals found a way to win.

The poor play in their own end, especially to start the game, must stop immediately. This is two straight games that the opponents are getting the lead goal because the Capitals are sleep walking in their zone. Remember what happened the last time the Caps went to Philadelphia? The Flyers scored on the very first shift and Washington had no chance and were smoked. A good start to correcting the defensive zone would be to sit Jeff Schultz and put Dmitry Orlov back in. #55 did not look good at all in his 11 plus minutes of action, which appeared to me to be a showcasing scenario. Washington needs to be prepared for the physical play they’ll get from the Flyers forwards.

So the Caps improve to 16-17-1 and will try for the third time this season to reach the .500 mark. The last two times they had bad starts and lost to the Islanders. Will things be different in the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday?

If the Caps players want to stay together and not be sold off at the deadline, they better find a way to get it done on Sunday.

But for Saturday night and into early Sunday morning the Capitals are still in the race. They were on the ropes but found a way to get it done in Buffalo.

So go ahead and crank up the Bee Gees after this one, because as sure as Barry Gibb and his brothers sang it back in the 1970′s, the Caps are living that theme tonight after a huge comeback against the Sabres.

“Feel the City Breakin’ and Everybody Shakin’ and we’re stayin’ Alive, stayin’ Alive”

Notes: The attempted shots were 66 to 41 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-29, which included a big win by Brouwer right before Green tied the game…Wojtek Wolski suited up and played only 8:23. The injury to Eric Fehr is hurting the lineup as #16 was playing well this season…Down a level, Philip Grubauer stopped 37 shots as Hershey rallied to defeat Providence, 3-2 on Satruday night. The Bears improve to 32-26-3-6 (73 points) and remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nine games left in the regular season.

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Caps Blitz Jets Again Behind Ovechkin & Holtby

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Caps Blitz Jets Again Behind Ovechkin & Holtby

Posted on 22 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps smoked the Jets, 4-0, on Thursday night, I blogged that we’d know around 930pm if the Capitals were back in the Southeast Division race.

I was wrong, we actually knew an hour earlier as the Capitals destroyed Winnipeg, 6-1, on Friday night. The victory puts the Caps just five points in back of first place Winnipeg with a game in hand. In addition, Washington is just three points behind the 8th place New York Rangers with a Sunday date at 7pm looming with the Rags.

Everything has pretty much come together for Washington this week and as I mentioned after Thursday’s win, it starts with having a close to full lineup. The return of Brooks Laich has done wonders for the forward combinations and suddenly Coach Adam Oates has two lines that can put the biscuit in the basket. It was the second line that set the pace again scoring first as Laich buried one by Ondrej Pavelec off of a sweet feed from Mike Ribeiro. Then Ribeiro set up Troy Brouwer on a two on one to give Washington a 2-0 advantage.

In the middle frame Jay Beagle scored after a nice pass from Joel Ward to chase Pavelec and then the Gr8 greeted Al Montoya with a top shelf snapper that made it 4-0 and ended this one for all intensive purposes. In the third period, Mike Green scored with Laich doing a super job of screening in front and then Alexander Ovechkin tallied on the power play for his 2nd of the night and 15th of the season (now tied for 7th in NHL goal scoring) to round out the Caps markers.

Braden Holtby continued his stellar play and didn’t lose his shutout until late in the third period. #70 made some big stops early in the game when Winnipeg was playing hard and physical against Washington. The Jets also received the first four power plays of the game but Holtby didn’t allow any rubber to get past him.

So the Caps are now 14-16-1 with 17 games remaining. It is very clear that despite the loss to the Penguins on Tuesday, they picked up some confidence in that tough defeat. Pittsburgh has won 11 in a row and Washington nearly beat them in that game in the Steel City. Since then the Capitals have built on that confidence in the two white washes of Winnipeg. Confidence is so critical in hockey and the Caps clearly have that right now. Their more mobile defense with Green and Dmitry Orlov is getting to the puck quicker and getting it up to the forwards so that they can create more offense. The improved health has brought a lot of optimism this week.

The question now becomes, can they finally beat the Rangers, who have won both affairs this season? The Rags have the Caps number lately and John Tortorella’s crew has two talented top lines. New York has been struggling of late but you can bet they’ll be fired up for the Caps.

A win on Sunday in Madison Square Garden and things get really interesting. That is one tough place to play and the Capitals are due for some luck there after the game five disaster last spring.

Going in healthy in this third and final matchup between the two teams will certainly help.

But that game can wait until Sunday evening, Washington’s season was on the line coming to Manitoba and the Caps are leaving the province with a sweep of the Jets. Winnipeg and the MTS Centre are still trying to figure out what hit them and I’m not sure the Jets recover the rest of the regular season after getting their rears slapped around. The Capitals came in and showed Winnipeg who was boss, now Washington needs to continue to do that down the stretch to the rest of the teams they face.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-19. Laich was 9-4 on draws and as a result, Ribeiro only took one face-off, which is not #9′s strength…John Carlson had another really strong game logging a team high 22:37. No other Capital played over 20 minutes and none were under 10 minutes. Oates was able to just roll the lines which hopefully helps keep everyone fresh for the huge Sunday night contest.

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 minutes on Thursday night, with the Capitals trailing 2-0 to division leading Carolina, you can bet the season obituaries on the Caps 2013 season were in draft form just waiting to be published.

But Alexander Ovechkin, Michal Neuvirth, and the rest of the Washington Capitals had other plans.

Playing yet another game with just five defensemen due to a first period injury to Tomas Kundratek, Adam Oates’ team showed guts and stuck together for a huge win in Raleigh. Joey Crabb scored from in front in the middle frame to make it 2-1 before Ovechkin scored on the power play on a sweet Troy Brouwer feed to tie it up just over a minute into period three. With time ticking away, Ovechkin then took a great John Carlson pass to break in alone on Canes goalie Dan Ellis. The Gr8 beat the goalie but managed to hit the near post and then the puck laid on the goal line just inside the far post. Luckily Mike Ribeiro came charging home to push the puck barely across the line with the winning tally with 2:16 left in regulation.

It was a must win and keeps the Capitals slim playoff hopes alive with 22 games to go. But the playoff talk and the discussion about buying or selling can wait for another time because tonight the Caps have something to be really pleased about and it isn’t about statistics or some tactical thing that took place on the ice. 

For those who follow Ovechkin on twitter, the captain posted a photo of him, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski and Nicklas Backstrom after a sushi dinner on Wednesday evening. The Gr8 noted that the crew was then taking in a movie afterwards. This team bonding was great to see because it is clear that these guys still like each other and can have some fun together despite all of the losing and external talk of their impending doom.

There is no doubt this has been a trying and tough season for the Caps organization and their fans. Things have gone nearly as bad as possible on many fronts. The result has been an “over the top” amount of criticism on Ovechkin. The Gr8 was once the league’s top player as he was the MVP in 2008 and 2009. When you get to the top in ANY profession it is extremely hard to stay there and after the honeymoon is over, like it or not, people start getting jealous and look to take shots at you. Likeable people and players suddenly are under the microscope 24/7 and things get very intense making it difficult to continue to be everyone’s darling. You make a little mistake and the dirty laundry crew is there ready to pounce. For the Gr8, this started in Vancouver in 2010 and has continued for three years. The toll it has taken on Ovechkin, who was such a jovial and carefree guy earlier in his career, has to be great, one would think.

It isn’t easy being #1 in your sport. Just ask golfers like David Duval, Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy. The sharks are circling everywhere. Being #1 destroyed Duval’s game and it takes a special mentality to hold onto to the top for a long time, as Woods displayed for many years. But to do that you almost have to shut people out and change your ways. Already McIlroy is starting to experience that, as the loveable Irishmen took massive heat for walking off of the course in Florida just a couple of weeks ago. In Oveckhin’s case, he had the #1 mantle for over two years, which is a remarkable feat. But unfortunately with that came the higher standards and when his team didn’t win a Stanley Cup, he took the brunt of the heat. It is the nature of sports.

So now is a critical stage for Ovechkin and his career. He can go one of two ways. He can internalize the criticism and drive himself crazy trying to prove the critics all wrong, which will likely lead to a decrease in production and total unhappiness, or he can try and forget about the pressure and the ambulance chasers and just go out and have fun and play the game.

On Wednesday night Ovechkin went out and had fun with his teammates at a restaurant and then a movie. The next night he played a super game and his team rallied for a big victory. That had to be fun for the Gr8 and his teammates.

Sure the Caps still are in a big hole in the standings and the playoffs are a bit of a long shot this season. But there is still time to generate plenty of positives from this season. Having fun and playing as a team might be more important than any statistics or tactical strategy, at this point. To me, that was the big thing to take away from Thursday’s victory in Carolina for Ovechkin and the Caps.

So Alex, what do you say to some sushi and a movie on Friday night with your teammates in Beantown?

Notes: Neuvirth had a big night stopping 36 shots…Backstrom and Ovechkin were reunited and the Gr8 had 6 shots on goal, two points (1G, 1A), and three hits…Steve Oleksy, in just his sixth NHL game, logged 27:55 to lead his club in ice time. Amazing stuff by #61…Kundratek only played 3:14…the Caps next game is Saturday afternoon at 1pm in Boston.

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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

Posted on 07 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Florida Panthers rolled into Washington DC and were promptly blown out of the Nation’s Capital again by a 7-1 score. The Cats have real poor goaltending right now and are experiencing injuries galore, so it was no surprise that the Capitals ran them out of the Verizon Center on Thursday night. It was 4-0 just over eight minutes into this one so it really wasn’t much of a contest, at all.

Simply put, the Capitals are a streaking team right now and are playing with confidence. This victory makes it eight wins in the last 11 games and improves their record to 10-11-1 overall. They are 6-0 against the Southeast Division over this run and they trail division leading Carolina by six points, but have a game in hand. There are 26 games left for Washington to play this season and they have really righted the ship after a 2-8-1 start.

This club is coming together under Adam Oates and I will once again blog about the plusses of his great hockey mind. Oates knows that the Caps have a critical stretch coming up starting Saturday where they will face the Islanders, then the Rangers on Sunday, followed by a home and home with Carolina on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A 2-1-1 or better stretch and the Caps can start thinking about playoff possibilities and becoming buyers before the NHL trade deadline set for April 3rd.

So what did the old #77 do when his team got up by four pucks early? He started resting some of his key players. Check the ice times out, Karl Alzner played just under 18 minutes and John Carlson didn’t even hit the 17 minute mark. Both of those guys have been logging 22 plus minutes lately. In addition, the bench boss was able to roll his forward lines the rest of the contest as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro were also in the 16 to 17 minute range, below their season averages by quite a bit. The Gr8 still managed to get a goal and two assists with the limited ice time.

Braden Holtby made 29 saves, some of the key variety, but you can expect him to go back to back this weekend the way he is going. Only a late defensive breakdown cost #70 a fourth shutout this season. Holtby is in a groove and seems to know where the shots are coming from as Washington is playing their system well. His ability to play the puck also aids the Caps breakout and takes pressure off of their defensemen. Oates watched how New Jersey used Martin Brodeur’s stickhandling prowess and now he is using Holtby’s similar skills to his advantage.

The Caps can enjoy this win for the night but they won’t face crummy goaltending on Long Island on Saturday where they’ll likely go up against Evgeny Nabokov. Then they probably face “King Henrik” Lundqvist at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Both of those guys are huge upgrades over what they shot against on Thursday.

So it’s a good thing Oates got an early lead and alertly planned accordingly, because the Caps will need to be firing on all cylinders for a tough weekend set with the teams from the Big Apple.

Notes: Wojtek Wolski had his second straight quality game after his benching last Saturday in Winnipeg. #17 had a goal and two assists. He is winning the one on one battles, as evidenced by Washington’s second goal where he won the puck on the backboards and came out in front of the cage and jammed the biscuit home…Steve Oleksy played his 2nd NHL game and led the team with 22+ minutes of ice time. The 27 year old D-man had two assists, as well…Troy Brouwer returned after missing Tuesday’s tilt vs Boston due to illness and had two assists in 16:29 of action.

 

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Caps Lose A Battle But Win The War

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Caps Lose A Battle But Win The War

Posted on 02 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who has ever played hockey at any competitive level knows that it is a game of emotion and high intensity. It is especially true in the NHL where the difference in the talent level of teams are not that great.

Simply put, in the NHL if you don’t have energy and intensity and your opponent does, you are likely going to get creamed. For evidence of that, just take a look at Wednesday night’s Caps 4-1 loss to the Flyers.

On Saturday afternoon, the Capitals once again came out flat in the first period and were being outshot 13-3. The only reason the game was scoreless was because of goalie Braden Holtby, who was doing a good job of stopping the Winnipeg shots and not allowing rebounds. Caps fans watching the game had to wonder if this contest was going to be a total continuation of the Wednesday night drubbing in Philly.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or in this case on the ice. Winnipeg tough guy, Anthony Peluso, got into a bout with Capitals newly acquired forward Aaron Volpatti at the 17:50 mark of the opening frame. Volpatti, who was giving up three inches and 20 pounds, lost the fight fairly handily and the fans at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg were fired up.

Little did they know though, the bout for Washington was just what the Caps needed to awaken them from a nearly four period slumber.

Whether the Caps rallied around their new teammate for standing up for them in a very tough situation or not, it was the shot of adrenaline the club badly needed.

From that point until Mike Ribeiro made it 3-0 with 15:44 left in regulation by banging home the rebound of an Alexander Ovechkin shot, the Caps dominated the Jets on all fronts outshooting them 18-7 and heavily carrying the play. Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer, and Ribeiro all scored during that 26 plus minute stretch and it was all Washington needed to gain a key victory.

Had the Caps lost this game, they would have been eight points in back of the Jets and Carolina in the Southesast Division race. Instead they sit six in back of the Canes but just four behind Winnipeg.

So in my book, Volpatti deserves some serious kudos for coming in and making a big difference in his first game wearing a Capitals sweater. The 27 year old Canadian who competed collegiately at Brown University only played 5:24 the entire contest and didn’t register a point, but his fight was the turning point in this hockey game.

Volpatti lost that battle, but his team ended up winning the war and Washington earned a victory that helps them stay in the Southeast Division race.

Notes: Washington is now 8-11-1 and their next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the Boston Bruins…Mike Green missed the game due to his lingering groin injury…Ovechkin had a very good game getting an assist, pumping four shots on net, shelling out two hits, and drawing a key four minute penalty on Mark Stuart with just over five minutes remaining. I don’t expect Mike Milbury or PJ Stock to let you know that, though…Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-28, and the Caps second goal came off of a Nicklas Backstrom offensive zone winning draw.

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