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Ovechkin, Caps Rout Predators, 5-2

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, if you play the right way, good things usually happen.

On Tuesday night, Washington played the right way for the first 30 minutes against Carolina but ended up losing, primarily on goaltending. On Saturday night, the Capitals once again came out the correct way, but this time they received the expected result, racing to an early 3-0 lead and cruising to a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Troy Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Eric Fehr all tallied in a much needed win that pushes the Caps record to 15-12-2 (32 points), good for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Going up and down the roster on Saturday night, every player contributed in this victory and Caps Coach Adam Oates has to be happy about that. His team did a nice job of getting pucks and bodies to the net and that allowed them to score more goals. Sure Nashville misses goalie Pekka Rinne, who is one of the league’s best, but Washington made it tough on backup Marek Mazanec with an increased net presence.

Defensemen Patrick Wey received his first NHL game tonight replacing Tyson Strachan, who was sent back to Hershey before hitting the 10 game limit that eventually would require #23 to clear waivers to go to Chocolatetown, and he acquitted himself well playing with Dmitry Orlov. Since #81 has gotten into the lineup the Capitals puck movement out of their own zone has been on the uptick (last three games). Every defensemen played well on Saturday. Schmidt notched his 1st NHL goal, Alzner scored his first ever tally at the Verizon Center, and Mike Green and John Carlson were dominant. #74 was +3 on the night. I’m not a big +/- stat guy, but that number was reflective of Carlson’s performance against Nashville. He is playing super and Preds GM David Poile, who doubles as Team USA GM, has to be pretty happy about having Carlson on the American Olympic team roster in Sochi in February.

Up front, Martin Erat (1 assist) had a productive night against his old team and he clicked as the center with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. Both of those wingers, #’s  25 and 42, have continued to make whomever their 3rd line mate is look good this season. As I said above, up and down the lineup there were strong performances. Tom Wilson continues to impress and at some point, he will deserve more ice time. Washington has a surplus of forwards and they’ve now used 12 defensemen this season. That is number one in the NHL. The defense, after Green, Carlson, and Alzner, is extremely inexperienced. Schmidt is playing super but it’s a long season and then comes the playoffs. Once everyone is healthy up front, and Brooks Laich doesn’t appear to be close to that right now, a trade to get a more experienced and top 4 D seems necessary.

Right now, what matters is playing properly and getting wins. This was a victory against a Western Conference team and in regulation. Washington played well and deserved the two points, now they go to New York on Sunday night to take on the despised New York Rangers. A victory there would be big for this team. If they play the same way they did tonight and get pucks and bodies to the net, the Caps will finally be able to dent Henrik Lundqvist, assuming he’s in net for the Blueshirts.

Notes: Lundqvist took the loss for the Rags against the Devils tonight so it’s not clear if the $59.5M man will start against Washington on Sunday. One would imagine that Oates comes back with Holtby at Madison Square Garden. Braden is great in Saturday night games and once again he produced a victory. It must be the Hockey Night in Canada influence that gets #70 to raise the bar on Saturday tilts…the Caps were 1-4 on the power play and Ovechkin now has 136 career PP goals, one behind the Capitals all time leader, Peter Bondra. The Gr8 has 22 goals in 27 games, a staggering pace…Wilson beat up Rich Clune after the Predator tried to change the momentum of the game. #43 is tough and is already in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom each had two assists…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-30.

 

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Fehr, Grabovski Help Caps End Losing Skid

Posted on 29 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In pro sports, talent is a nice thing to have, but effort is every bit as important. On Friday night against Montreal, the Caps started slowly again but fortunately Coach Adam Oates made some big in game adjustments, primarily going with players who were giving him maximum effort after a horrible first period by Washington.

The decisions paid off as the Capitals rallied to tie Montreal in the third period on Mikhail Grabovski’s goal after some great work by Eric Fehr (1 goal, 1 assist and a shootout tally) and then they won the game in the shootout, 3-2. The victory halts the Caps four game winless streak (0-3-1) and improves their record to 13-11-2, good for sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

This was the Caps sixth shootout win of the season against two losses in the gimmick.

So why did the Capitals finally win?

It starts with guys working hard and Fehr and Grabovski were two of the players who were at or near the top of the list in that department. Add Jay Beagle to that list too, as #83 got his first game since early in the season with Brooks Laich sitting out due to a lower body injury. Fehr and Grabovski helped Troy Brouwer have one of his better nights and #20 had several golden chances that he just couldn’t finish. The fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti provided sparks when they were on the ice, as well. On the back end, John Carlson was super again and Mike Green and Karl Alzner chipped in with strong efforts too.

In net, Braden Holtby (35 saves) received a surprise start when Michal Neuvirth stepped on a puck in warmups and injured himself. #30 will not travel with the team to Long Island tonight meaning Philip Grubauer or David Leggio will backup Holtby on Saturday. #70 was outstanding and his two stops on Andrei Markov in the 3rd period with the game 2-1 in favor of the Habs allowed his club to tie it and eventually win. It was two big saves at a critical moment, just what you need from your goalie. Holts stopped two of the four shootout attempts while Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Grabovski scored in the gimmick for the Caps.

The Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play, and that downward trend continues to be discouraging. They just aren’t getting enough pucks and bodies to the net. On the positive side, they killed off both of Montreal’s man advantage situations, primarily due to the stellar play of Holtby. By the way, this was easily the best officiated Capitals game of the season, so a hat tip to Kelly Sutherland and Mark Lemelin for a job well done. Any chance we can see more of you two guys?

Even with the better effort, the Caps struggled to win this one. There are still issues on defense and Alex Urbom, who along with Tyson Strachan allowed Daniel Breire to score an easy wraparound goal in the first period, was benched after that miscue and only played 2:15 forcing the other five defensemen to log a ton of time in a back to back game situation. Carlson played a beastly 31:10, Green logged 26:42, and Alzner was at 25:23. Even Nate Schmidt, who made the offensive blue line mistake that led to the second Montreal goal, played 23:00. Strachan only received 14:30 of time. It’s pretty clear that Urbom needs to sit and it will be interesting to see what Oates does tomorrow in Long Island. Does Dmitry Orlov finally get the call up and play or will Steve Oleksy get a game? Frankly, I’d like to see both #’s 61 & 81 in for Urbom and Strachan. Schmidt is also playing too much for my liking too but until a trade is made, the Caps don’t have a lot of options back there.

But at the end of the night, the Caps found a way to get two points and that is vital right now. Several players brought a better effort after a putrid first frame. Grabovksi, Brouwer, and Green were three guys who the Capitals needed to be much better after the Senators game and each was on Friday, especially #84, who really gelled with Fehr.

Players like Fehr and Beagle are hard working team guys who don’t rock the boat. You never heard either one whining while they were sitting out. I chatted with both of them multiple times during their lengthy scratch situations and just reminded them that their chance would come. It did, and it’s nice to see two good guys hang in there and get rewarded. They were a big reason the Caps ended their losing skid tonight, along with Holtby, Grabovski, and some others.

It’s a step in the right direction, but can Washington keep it going against a struggling Islanders team on Saturday?

For me, it all comes down to effort.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-54 in favor of Montreal. Most of the Habs advantage was in the first period…the Caps lost the face off battle, 36-33…Beagle played 12:32 and was 9-6 from the dot…video coach Brett Leonhardt became the back up goalie after Neuvy was injured.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Suffer Worst Loss of Season

Posted on 27 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

With two guys asking for trades this week (Martin Erat and Dmitry Orlov), things went from bad to worse on Thanksgiving Eve as the Capitals turned a 3-1 first period lead into a 6-4 defeat to Ottawa.

It was a terrible loss for Washington primarily due to a lack of focus and effort. There are also holes in the talent department on the back end too, but more on that later.

The Caps came out skating, something you must do against a very fast Senators club, and as a result, they had the lead and the momentum. Then Chris Neil, who is known for physical and dirty play, took a run at defensemen Nate Schmidt drawing an obvious penalty in the process. What happened next, was the start of the end for the Caps. Defensemen Tyson Strachan immediately went after Neil taking an instigator penalty, five for fighting, and a 10 minute misconduct to take the Caps off of a power play that could have put them up 4-1. It was a bad decision at the wrong time for a guy who really should be playing in Hershey.

Ottawa received a spark from the play while the Caps seemed to get their boots filled with cement. The Senators would out shoot the Caps 19-3 in the second period tying the contest up and then they dominated Washington in the 3rd period to take a 4-3 lead on their third power play goal of the game. Ottawa was flat out too fast and determined for Washington and they repeatedly went to the net for screens and deflections while many of the Caps defenders failed to get position or tie up their sticks. It was absolutely terrible defense by the Capitals. A big part of that problem is the lack of talent on the back end. Strachan, Schmidt and Alex Urbom simply aren’t NHL players at this point in their careers. This is a big reason why the Caps are giving up lots of shots night after night (Ottawa had 40 on Wednesday) and the goaltending is starting to wear out. Braden Holtby started strong in this game but he faded giving up some goals he’d like to have back. But when your defense allows too many players in front of the net and can’t consistently close gaps on the ice, your goalies are going to get lit up eventually. You also can’t score when the other team has the puck.

Therefore, it is up to Coach Adam Oates, assistant Calle Johansson, and GM George McPhee to make some upgrades on the back end. Whether it is inserting Orlov, trying someone else from Hershey, or making a trade for some defensive help, something has got to give.

The Capitals are fortunately still sitting at 12-11-2 after this four game losing streak (0-3-1) thanks primarily to the outstanding play of Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson this season. Carlson was great again tonight throwing seven pucks on net and his individual effort at the blue line drew a penalty and then #74 tied the game with three minutes left on the ensuing face off. It’s too bad that Mike Green’s awful night (3 minor penalties and shoddy d-zone play) and Schmidt’s inability to close on a streaking Senators forward resulted in the winning goal just 64 seconds later. Green was pretty bad on Wednesday after two games where he seemed to be on the upswing. Bottom line is #52 needs a steady NHL partner to be most effective and he does not have that with this defensive crew make up right now.

There were several other passengers in this one up front. Troy Brouwer was -3 and he continues to struggle this season. Mikhail Grabovski had a poor showing as well.

As for the penalty kill, it’s dropping like a bag of wet cement lately. The Caps are losing too many face offs and they are allowing too much traffic on their goaltender. The Caps rely heavily on Karl Alzner and Carlson to kill penalties and when the team gets into penalty trouble, like it did on Wednesday, it severely impacts the Capitals ability to win the puck possession battle because their top duo spends much of their energy while shorthanded. It’s a bad situation right now with the lack of experience on the back end.

So on Thanksgiving Eve, a game that started so promising, turned into a disaster and the way Ottawa skated all over the Capitals was telling.

It was an ugly defeat from the lack of effort and focus along with a shortage of talent on defense.

Worst loss of the season for the Caps? Absolutely.

 

 

 

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Oates Frustrated After Caps Comeback Falls Short

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Adam Oates was notably upset after this one, and that is highly unusual.

The normally calm bench boss who does a great job of answering post game questions, win or lose, was frustrated and he said as much as he closed down his presser.

He was frustrated at his team, particularly some of the “veterans” who aren’t helping the younger guys.

My take is he was also frustrated with an officiating crew that somehow had the power plays five to two in favor of Montreal despite the fact that the Caps carried the large majority of the play for the last 44 minutes.

More importantly, he knew that all of the energy his club spent trying to come back from a 3-0 deficit was mostly wasted and could potentially hurt them for their game on Saturday night in Toronto. The Caps will face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada and they will not be getting in to the Big Smoke until early Saturday morning after having to clear customs.

The problem in Friday’s game was Washington came out sluggish, looking like the team that was dominated by Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and they dug themselves a 3-0 hole. Oates called the errors some of the same ones his team has been making over and over. There were wrong reads on passes (Alex Urbom’s pass to Mikhail Grabovski that led to the first goal), bad icing penalties which caused his club to give up a face-off goal due to bad coverage by some inexperienced defensemen (Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt), and poor penalty killing technique (Strachan and Urbom) that allowed the Habs to get a tap in goal from Daniel Briere, which was the eventual game winner.

The veterans Oates was likely upset with on the face off goal were the team’s first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. Those guys needed to be better with the puck in that situation and not get whistled for icing with a weaker defensive pairing on the ice.

Still, despite the early ugliness, there were lots of good things that occurred. Perhaps it was because Montreal relaxed or maybe because Washington simply played better?

I’m going with the latter. It was clear that Mike Green, who returned after missing three games, was rusty in period one. Oates called him “shaky” in that period but after the first frame, suddenly the Caps were coming out of their zone much better. A lot of that has to do with #52’s ability to move the puck. John Carlson (two assists) continued to be his dominant self so Oates was back to having a strong right side defense and those two players were on the ice for a combined 45+ minutes. It’s no surprise to me that the Capitals are a much better club and have the puck more often when both Green and Carlson are in the lineup.

The Caps had a ton of scoring chances the last 40 minutes but this game was won by one person, Peter Budaj. The former Colorado goalie stopped both Aaron Volpatti and Backstrom on breakaways in the middle frame and he came up large on several other situations where the Capitals were putting on extreme pressure. Only two Ovechkin goals got by him, one that hit the leg of Josh Gorges and changed direction and the other on a Gr8 deflection of a Carlson blast. Ovechkin now has 19 goals in 21 games played this season.

In the NHL though, playing well doesn’t ensure you get any standing points and the Caps fall to 12-10-1 after this defeat. It stings because a strong final two stanzas is negated by a bad start, once again. It’s hard to determine why this team struggles out of the gate because they are a good skating team. Somehow they are too sloppy early and that seems to be a mental thing.

Still, despite the loss, the way Washington dominated the last two thirds of the game, except when they had to kill off some silly penalty calls (i.e, Brooks Laich hold, Martin Erat roughing), is encouraging. After being outshot heavily at even strength in the three games Green was out, the Caps found themselves dead even in even strength shots on goal at 21 each with the Habs. Shot attempts for the game were 66-57 in favor of Washington and that is pretty significant when you consider that Rob Martell and Dan O’Halloran gifted Montreal with three extra man advantage situations. How does that Peter Laviolette line about the refs and the Canadiens from 24/7 go again?!

But enough on that, the zebras make mistakes, as Ovechkin told me afterwards. The Gr8 stated it was okay and everyone makes mistakes, he just would have liked to have seen his club get a call late like it sure seemed they deserved.

But that’s hockey and sports, in general. Some nights you have to play good enough to overcome the opposition and the guys in the stripes.

The Caps nearly pulled that off, but a hot Habs goalie and a bad first 16 minutes were the recipe for defeat.

Notes: Carlson’s chances of making Team USA for the Olympics continues to go up. I chatted with Team USA scout and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell on Friday and he was lavish in his praise of #74. Judging by our conversation, if Waddell was picking the team, Carlson would be on it. But David Poile is the GM of Team USA so he has the final say. Still, the way Carlson is going, he seems like a lock to me…The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the house for this one and in typical #99 fashion, he signed lots of autographs while sitting in owner Ted Leonsis’ box…Washington dominated from the faceoff dot, 45-32. Backstrom was 14-7…the Caps second line of Laich, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer struggled for the first 40 minutes but they looked a little more cohesive in the third period. Erat played center and Laich moved to left wing. Those guys could really use a goal to get some confidence back.

 

 

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Effort Wasn’t Problem in Caps’ Road Trip Defeats

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Through the first 14 games of the Washington Capitals season, effort was a problem on many of the nights when the Caps were on the wrong end of the score.

This past weekend, against two very good Western Conference clubs, the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, effort was not the problem. The Caps played hard both nights but lost both games, although the Coyotes defeat was in the gimmick. When the Capitals feel a challenge, they typically bring the effort. Make no mistake, the Capitals wanted to show that they could compete with the elite of the West on this past weekend’s road trip.

But they fell short, painfully squandering a two goal lead late in Arizona on Saturday night when they should have definitely had two points. In Colorado, they got down early on a goal that should not have counted then after tying the game, gave up a goal just 28 seconds later before eventually losing 4-1.

What were the major causes of defeat over the weekend? The power play, poor defensive zone play, and shoddy goaltending.

Let’s start with the power play. Washington has been deadly this season with the 5 on 4 man advantage and have won many games because of it. But on Saturday and Sunday, they had some golden opportunities on 5 on 3’s to tie the game or expand their lead and in Saturday’s loss to Phoenix, they failed to score on a two minute 4 on 3 in overtime. Statistically teams do better on 5 on 3 or 4 on 3 power plays, but the Caps are 0 for their last 11 with a two man advantage and their 4 on 3 power play isn’t clicking either.

It seems to me that what is working so well on 5 on 4 isn’t going to work in the other situations because of one reason: the passing lanes are different. When the opponent only has three players on the ice, they shrink down to a tight triangle making the lanes for cross ice passes that the Caps love so much in the 5 on 4 disappear. You simply can’t spread out the penalty kill the way Washington does so effectively five on four when the other team only has three skaters. So the solution seems to be for Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe to come up with a different configuration and practice it (Troy Brouwer was quoted after Saturday’s loss as saying the team doesn’t work on those situations a lot). My advice, go to a set up that puts a body or two in front of the net and blast away from the point. With the defense backing up in tight, the guys on top can come in closer and if you put traffic in front, the goalie has a tougher time of seeing the puck, and if you use big bodies like Brouwer or perhaps Tom Wilson, you have strong guys in front who can pot the rebounds. It isn’t fancy, like Washington’s 5 on 4 setup, but it’s likely the best way to score with a packed in defense.

As for the defensive zone, the Caps continue to have too many breakdowns. There are lots of turnovers and poor coverage. Yes, they are undermanned back there with Jack Hillen and John Erskine out with injuries but a quick check of many of the recent goals against has the John Carlson and Karl Alzner duo on the ice for several of them. Two of the goals against on Sunday in Colorado were on plays from behind the net where Washington was caught watching the puck carrier and didn’t pay attention to the gaps around them, which allowed the Avs players to find holes and get quick looks that Braden Holtby had no chance on. This has happened on far too many occasions this season. The forwards, on many of those goals, are just as guilty of puck watching. The Caps have to learn better positioning in their own end and pay attention to their surroundings. A guy with the puck behind the net is not a threat to score so why is everyone staring him down and not anticipating where he is going to pass the puck? The coaches need to work with the defense and forwards to correct this problem. Washington would be better off collapsing down and allowing a pass up the boards to the point rather than the ones that keep going into the low slot and ending up in the back of the Capitals net.

As for the goaltending, well it was great for a 10+ game stretch heading into last weekend. Michal Neuvirth needed to have the second Coyotes goal and Carlson screened him on the third one. #74 needed to either go down and block the shot there or move out of the way. That was a stoppable shot if #30 saw it sooner. As for Holtby, it was tough to blame him on the first three Avs goals and even Gabriel Landeskog’s tally was a breakaway after #92 went right around Alexander Ovechkin. Still, Braden probably should have had that one.

The good news is that a lot of these things are very correctable. The defense is in need of an upgrade at some point on the left side, but when some of the Caps top guys are making the mistakes, a trade isn’t going to help.

Overall the talent and effort is there for the Capitals right now, despite the hole on the left side of the defense. But this is the salary cap era and every team has a weakness area that needs to be addressed at some point.

Washington has enough talent and the effort has been consistent over the last couple of weeks. Now they have to execute better by playing smarter in key situations.

They’ll get a chance to turn it around against Columbus on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are both red hot right now.

The Gr8 notched a goal and an assist and Holtby stoned (30 saves) the Oilers until two minutes remaining in regulation as the Capitals played a strong road to knock off Edmonton, 4-1, on Thursday night.

The victory moves the Capitals to 5-5 on the season and into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a win against a weak club, but the Oilers came out hard in the first frame and once Washington seized the lead on Ovechkin’s NHL leading 10th goal of the season, they gradually took over and eventually put a stranglehold on the contest.

Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had a brutal first shift but after that they were the story of this tilt. They dominated at all ends of the ice playing easily their best defensive game of the young season. Ovie and company used strong play in their own zone to ramp up their transition game and by the third period the Oilers were out of gas. The Gr8’s goal once again came directly off of a faceoff and that’s at least three goals in that fashion for Ovechkin this season. Ovie now has 15 points in 10 games.

Outside of the top line, the Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski units had quality outings, as well. Grabovski, playing with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, have turned into a really good third line and Grabo’s sneaky steal led to Chimera’s tally that made it 4-0. Laich’s line is particularly solid in their own end, something this club definitely needs given some of the inexperience on the back end.

More encouraging was that the Caps achieved this dominating victory without having to rely on their power play. All four Caps goals came at even strength. After some shaky first period moments, Washington played better in their own zone and did a decent job of positioning, communicating, and moving their feet. There still are lapses and Mike Green was beat a couple of times simply because he wasn’t skating. Coach Adam Oates also won’t like the lone Edmonton tally, which was the result of poor coverage and positioning by Washington’s fourth line along with Steve Oleksy and John Erskine on defense.

Overall though, this was a good win and the team is moving in the right direction. They’ve won three straight and the energy and passion is back in their game after the Rangers thoroughly outworked them last Wednesday. The club still must keep working on their own zone play. If they keep getting better there, than look out, because this Capitals team has a ton of offensive talent.

Notes: The Caps next play in Calgary on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada (10 pm EST)…Edmonton dominated from the dot, 32-21, but the Capitals did score a big goal off of a draw…Johansson had two assists…Green led the Caps in ice time at 22:40. Aaron Volpatti was the low man but he had 10:01, so Oates was able to spread the time out with the lead.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals got a much needed 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center to push their overall record to 2-4. This was a game the Caps had to have to get things turned around in the right direction after three defeats in a row. Alexander Ovechkin notched the game winner scoring his sixth goal of the season and he added his third assist of the young campaign too, which gives him nine points in six contests.

Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots, many of which were key when this tilt was close for the first 30 minutes, and delivered the best goaltending game of the year for Washington. When a team is struggling, like the Caps have been in the early going, you need a goalie to step up and turn in a top notch performance, Holtbeast did just that on Monday night and he was a major reason the Capitals won the game.

The offense rose from the dead in this one against a weak Oilers team as Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward all got their first tallies of the season, with Ward’s and Brouwer’s both coming on the power play. The Caps were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and were also 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. When you win the special teams battle by a +2 margin, you often win the game.

Still there are issues that need to be worked out. Edmonton really carried the play in the first period using their speed to put Washington back on their heels. The Caps seemed a step slow and they also were not moving the puck well at all. Too many passes were going east-west and in players skates. In addition, the Caps were not moving their feet and were caught reaching with their sticks in compromising positions. The Oilers were able to strike first after a neutral zone turnover and some poor coverage by the first line, once again. Down 1-0 and having trailed for most of the season, the Caps were in a sticky spot.

Fortunately, Steve Oleksy was skating well on the ice and paired with Nate Schmidt, they were arguably the best Caps d-pair in this affair. Shortly after Edmonton tallied, Oleksy alertly jumped on an Oiler turnover in the offensive zone and fed Laich for the game tying goal and that play seemed to get the giant piano off of the Capitals back. The team suddenly found their legs and started to exert more pressure on the Oilers defense.

With the Caps skating well in the middle frame, the Oilers got into penalty trouble and Washington sandwiched two man advantage tallies around Ovechkin’s sweet goal in the slot with Nicklas Backstrom screening (3 assists) goalie Jason Labarbera (16 saves). Marcus Johansson had his best shift of the game to help set that one up with some hard work on the boards and earned his 100th NHL career point in the process.

Coach Adam Oates and his team should feel some relief after getting this victory without having to sweat too much at the end. The offense came alive and that seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Washington. Anyone who has ever played hockey, at any level, but especially in the NHL, will tell you that confidence is the most important part of a team’s game. The Caps seemed to finally get some confidence on the ice on Monday. The passing still needs to be crisper and the players have to realize that keeping their wheels moving is so important to their success. When they go back and watch the tape of this one, that should be evident.

Next up is an important affair against the Rangers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm on the NBC Sports Network. The Caps need to start winning Eastern Conference games and especially those in their own division at home. They also would like to get some payback for losing to the Rags in the playoffs last spring.

Notes: Shot attempts were 48-45 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-26…Oates was able to spread the ice time around with the 3 goal third period lead. John Carlson led the team in ice time at 21:35 while Tom Wilson was the lowest at 8:02. Martin Erat had 11:50 and played well…Schmidt was very solid in 19:13 of ice time on the back end. #88 skates well and continues to improve.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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