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Caps Roll Buffalo to Retake 1st Place in the Metro

Posted on 24 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After giving away Thursday night’s game in Florida to the Panthers, the Washington Capitals needed a victory very badly. On Saturday night at Capital One Arena the Washington stars came out to play as the Caps rolled the Buffalo Sabres, 5-1, getting two goals from Alexander Ovechkin and four points from Evgeny Kuznetsov (one goal, three assists). Andre Burakovsky had the game winning tally with a gorgeous end to end rush goal and Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves.

The triumph, combined with the Penguins loss to the Panthers on Saturday, puts Washington back in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-20-7 (77 points) record with 20 games remaining. The Pens have 19 games to play while second place Philadelphia is also at 76 points with 20 games left. This race is close now, but as we’ll discuss later in this blog, Pittsburgh made a huge trade that changes the landscape in the Eastern Conference.

Here are eight thoughts and analysis following a game the Capitals pretty much had to have against a struggling squad.

Second Fiddle – There’s an Alabama song that goes, “If you’re going to play in Texas, you have to have a fiddle in the band.” For the Washington Capitals, when Kuznetsov plays the second fiddle role well in support of top line center Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are a hard team to beat. Kuzy’s opening salvo was a superb individual effort that was only surpassed by Burkie’s second period beautiful lamp lighter. The talent that #92 has is insane and the question often becomes, which Kuzy is going to show up each night? When Kuznetsov is skating and playing the right way, like he did on Saturday with four shots on goal, the opposing defense is in big trouble.

Catch Me If You Can – The Penguins have been on a tear lately and Geno Malkin hit goal #36 on Saturday night while both teams were simultaneously playing. For #71, that’s something like 14 goals in his last 13 games as the Pens have been on fire despite their loss in the Sunshine State. Ovechkin must have been hearing the Malkin footsteps in the goal scoring race because Ovi was in beast mode against Buffalo. The Gr8 had 11 shots on net and his two third period markers pushed him up to 38 total tallies for the season. His 37th was a sweet top shelf cheese shot on the power play and then he closed out the scoring with a great deflection of a John Carlson blast in the final two minutes. Alex is arguably playing the best hockey of his career. His skating is outstanding – he could’ve scored on several other chances in which he used his speed to generate opportunities – and he’s playing well in all three zones.

He’s Going to 11– Burakovsky, after being benched again a few weeks ago, is finally playing like the guy who dominated game six against the Penguins last spring. He’s skating the best he has all year and he’s attacking the net. Over his last seven games he’s scored four goals and has two assists. Andre’s number, 65, adds to 11, and he’s reaching that level right now. Hopefully he can keep it up because he’s a difference maker when he plays this way, along with Lars Eller, because he gives Washington a third scoring line.

Solid as a Rock – Grubauer defeated the Sabres for the second straight time this week and he’s now won three games in a row. Over his last four appearances, that include a mop up third period in the Chicago debacle last Saturday night, he’s stopped 102 of 108 shots for a .944 save percentage. #31 is now 7-7-3 with a .919 save percentage this season. The Capitals are not in first place and are likely fighting for their playoff lives if they don’t have Philipp as their backup goaltender.

How Do You Like Them Apples? – Carlson, who was burnt badly on the game tying tally in Florida on Thursday night, continues to put up the points on the back end. He made a super pass to Ovi for his power play marker that broke this one open and then he made a smart play to fire the puck on net late allowing Ovechkin to notch a sweet deflection goal. John is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s having a monster year offensively. If the Caps are confident they can sign him long term, then the back end is set for many years to come. If not, General Manager Brian MacLellan needs to work the phones hard to get a top return for #74 before Monday’s 3 pm trading deadline. Carlson’s offense certainly dictates a huge payday, but his defensive zone, like many blue liners on Washington, has been very lax and inconsistent since the All Star Break. That needs to improve if the Caps want to make a serious playoff run this spring.

Southbound Again – On Saturday night, the Capitals played the right way, for the most part. They were shooting the puck and playing the north-south style they will need to employ to be successful from here on out. Washington had 36 shots on goal, including 16 in a third period that saw them start the frame up two pucks. Getting pucks and bodies to the cage is how you score in the playoffs and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew did that fairly well against a weak Buffalo squad that was without both Jack Eichel (injured) and Evander Kane (scratched in advance of a trade). There was no sitting back with the lead and as a result, they won going away after a really bad shift to start period three. The Sabres needed only 14 seconds to slice the Caps 2-0 lead in half. Backstrom and the top d-pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen each had defensive zone breakdowns that led to a sweet backhanded goal for Sam Reinhart. Other than that sequence and a really terrible offensive zone cross ice pass by T.J. Oshie in period three with a one goal lead, there was not a lot to be upset about for the Caps.  Washington, as a team, needs to ditch that cross ice crap at the offensive blue line. #77 was better on the puck in this affair, but he needs to start shooting more often. He has a great shot, but has been falling into a Harlem Globetrotters “pretty play” mentality too often, of late.

Landscape Change – On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed a very shady deal with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights to get center Derrick Brassard. Caps fans remember him from his days with the Rangers and the Blue Jackets. The Pens were hurt by the offseason losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen as third and fourth line centers, respectively, so this really improves their roster. PIT gave up defensemen Ian Cole (to Ottawa) and fourth line goon, Ryan Reaves (to Vegas) in a deal that sees former Capital GM George McPhee retain 40% of Brassard’s salary to prevent Derrick from going to Winnipeg and also to stick it to the franchise who fired him (and that firing should’ve been done a lot sooner). Pittsburgh also gave up their 2018 first round pick and top goalie prospect, Filip Gustavsson from Sweden. The add of Brassard clearly puts the Penguins as the front runner for their third straight Stanley Cup. For Washington to have a chance against the Pens, they’ll need to upgrade their defense by Monday’s deadline with a legit second pair blue liner to play with Carlson. A depth forward that can skate would help, as well.

Notes: Eller had an empty net goal to make it 4-1 with 2:12 remaining. That was Lars’ 14th goal of the season…shot attempts were 77-63 for Washington…the Caps were one for one on the power play and two for two on the penalty kill…the Capitals tied the faceoff battle at 31 apiece. Backstrom was 11-8 and Jay Beagle was 8-6. Ryan O’Reilly went 19-9 for the Sabres…Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 23:58 and 23:50, respectively. They are the Capitals best defensive pair, but that isn’t saying a whole lately as the blueline has been struggling since the All Star Break…Michal Kempny, who was on the ice for two goals against on Thursday, played 16:59. Christian Djoos had sixth defensemen minutes, with 15:03 of ice time, but he was +2…Madison Bowey and recently acquired from Montreal, Jakub Jerabek, were the scratches on defense…Jakub Vrana rode the pine on offense as Alex Chiasson went back into the lineup on the third line…the Caps are in Columbus on Monday and then come home to take on Ottawa on Tuesday. After that, the next tilt is the Stadium Series game against Toronto on Saturday night (8 pm) at the Naval Academy stadium in Annapolis. Auston Matthews will not play for the Leafs due to a shoulder injury.

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Caps Return to Form in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 19 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After their worst performance of the season on Saturday night in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals used a very strong first 40 minutes to build a 2-0 lead and then they overcame some poor play from their blue line in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in upstate New York.

The victory puts the Caps back in first place in the Metropolitan Division over idle Pittsburgh. Washington is now 34-18-7 (75 points) and they lead the Pens by a point plus they have two games in hand, which will be Tuesday’s home tilt against the NHL leading Tampa Bay Lightning and then in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Here are seven thoughts and analysis on where the Capitals stand after a 2-1-1 road trip, their longest of the season.

Boy, You’re Going to Carry That Weight – When the Caps bring the effort, they are usually a hard team to beat. On Saturday, they laid a big fat egg in a blowout, 7-1, loss to Chicago. It was the worst skating performance and game of the season and the captain, Alex Ovechkin, called himself out saying it was his worst outing as a Capital. He was right, but the whole team stunk and looked like they went out for a lot of Chitown pizza and beer with the dads on Friday night. Hey, over the course of 82 games, you are going to have clunkers and let’s not take anything away from Chicago, who still has some high powered players on their roster. The Blackhawks were a pissed off team after losing eight straight and they flat out rolled Washington, who offered a futile resistance in that affair. On Presidents Day, the Capitals were back to playing the right way and they deserved to win this game. When the team works and pulls on the rope in the right direction, they are one of the best in the NHL.

Poking the Bear – You had to figure Ovi was going to have a bounce back contest after Saturday’s no show, but Rasmus Ristolainen didn’t do Buffalo any favors by hitting the Gr8 up high early in the affair. That hit clearly angered Ovechkin and he was a force all game in earning the number one star. It was heavy hockey from Alex, who had four hits, as he and Tom Wilson just pounded the Buffalo defense as often as they could. The Gr8 notched his NHL leading 35th tally of the season with a beautiful tip of a Christian Djoos point shot in period two to open the scoring. That goal was the result of a nice forecheck by Brett Connolly after he exited the box, and then some great wall work by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, shortly thereafter.

Winning at the Track – Had you played the trifecta of 74-77-92 you would’ve had the trio that was on the ice for all three Washington tallies. Oshie (one assist) especially had a very strong game and is rounding back into proper form as we head into the final seven weeks of the regular season. Kuznetsov, after some early weak shifts, started playing the correct way and had his best performance of the road trip. Kuzy had three shots on net and his play to seal the deal with his empty net tally was a super forecheck, something this team needs to do well to succeed. As for Carlson, well he was really good, too, but he was the only one of the trio to be on for a goal against. John left Evander Kane wide open with three ticks left to put a small dent in Philipp Grubauer’s (32 saves) sweet stat line.

How Long, To Sing This Song – In honor of U2’s great song, 40, the first two periods by the Capitals were a textbook road performance. They played a north-south style and were very hard on pucks. As a result, they won the vast majority of the individual battles. They were only up 2-0 on Ovi’s 35th and Carlson’s 11th of the season, but it could’ve been more if not for Chad Johnson (27 saves) in net for the Sabres. Through 40 minutes, the Caps had 43 shot attempts to just 25 for Buffalo and the quality scoring chances had to be even more lopsided. Washington just couldn’t finish on several opportunities, but if they play like that more often, they will be hard to defeat. Again, it started with the effort and then they made the right decisions with the puck in all zones. It was very impressive hockey and the reason they left Buffalo with two points.

Hold the Line – After the contest, Coach Barry Trotz told the media that he wanted his team to continue to play the same way they did in the first 40 minutes in the third period. After watching the final frame again, his team pretty much listened to him. The first 3:30 of period three was just like the first two periods; the Capitals were forechecking and generating scoring chances. Then Nicklas Backstrom took a bad slashing penalty two thirds away from the Caps own net and the Sabres got some life with a power play. Washington stabilized things after killing off that infraction and while they didn’t get shots on net, they had some very good sustained pressure on Buffalo afterwards. The Lars Eller line, with Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, had a strong offensive zone pressure shift just inside the eight minute remaining mark, but then the Sabres came out of their own zone three on three. Madison Bowey then stepped up and flat out whiffed on defense in the neutral zone and that allowed Buffalo to break into the Washington zone with speed. Eller was forced to cover for the rookie’s mishap and by the time everyone was back on defense, the coverage was out of whack with #22 skating alone in the slot. The Sabres Scott Wilson fired on net from the high slot and Kyle Okposo deflected it home to make it a 2-1 ballgame with 7:32 remaining. Grubauer never saw the shot, mostly because of Bowey, but also due to the Brooks Oprik-Okposo battle in front. Washington was able to hold the line down the stretch, but there were some more mistakes by Bowey and Djoos in pressure filled situations. So what the statistics will show to look like a “Washington sat back” narrative, and I was at first guilty of accusing the Capitals of that, too, was really caused by poor play from the youngsters, and some others, on the Caps blue line.

Upgrading the Backend – Bowey and Djoos both have bright futures for the Capitals, but to quote George Allen, “The Future is Now,” and Washington can’t afford to go into the playoffs with two rookie blue liners. Madison has talent and potential, but the league really locks down from January on and he’s struggled since the game has gotten faster and more intense. On Monday, the Capitals traded a conditional 3rd round draft pick to the Blackhawks for left handed defensemen Michal Kempny. The 27 year old blue liner, who will wear #6, is a decent skating and puck moving player that is best in his own end. Washington’s struggles on the back end have been mostly because of poor passes, so hopefully Kempny can improve that aspect of the Caps game. With this acquisition, it makes the most sense to send Bowey down to Hershey to play a lot of minutes and hone his craft for next season. Madison could also come up if there are multiple injuries on defense. Djoos would probably be best on a third pair with Orpik, if Kempny can play the four hole with Carlson. There is also a strong possibility that GM Brian MacLellan adds another defensemen before the February 26th NHL trade deadline. Bottom line, the Caps inconsistent play since January 1st is likely most traced to the issues on defense. Bowey and Djoos should be good long term players, but Washington needs to try and win this year, so it’s up to the GM to keep upgrading this current deficiency.

You Make Me Wanna Cry – When the Capitals were temporarily bumped out of 1st place on Sunday night, Caps Twitter practically melted down. It was maddening to see so many people declare that the season was over and that MacLellan should start tearing the team down. Granted this is the same crew that complains when they are in first place, too, stating that the division title doesn’t mean anything and all that counts is the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs are what matters, but to want to rebuild for the future with a top eight team in a wide open race is ridiculous. Fortunately, it’s just an expected over emotionally based reaction by many on social media, but it’s really ludicrous. The Caps are a team that could go deep in the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup should they continue to tweak the back end and play the right way. So for so many to lose their freaking minds is ridiculous, you make me wanna cry! [Cue the Godley & Cream].

Notes: Buffalo out shot the Caps, 17-6, in period three, including 31-12, in shot attempts. Again, I put that on the mistakes Washington made on defense, especially their young blue liners. When they make a mistake, it tends to lead to multiple chances for the opposition and causes a cumulative fatigue effect…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 35-33. Eller was 11-7…the Caps only had one power play while Buffalo had three. A weak interference call on Connolly shortened Washington’s only man advantage chance…Kuznetsov took a puck in the face, at one point, but came back to have a strong finish.

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Kuznetsov and Eller lead the Caps to a 4-2 Victory over Columbus

Posted on 10 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller each notched a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby made 35 saves to lead the Caps to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at Capital One Arena. The back to back wins over Coach John Tortorella’s squad improves Washington to 32-17-5 (69 points) and puts them 11 points ahead of the Blue Jackets with 28 games remaining. The Penguins, who were defeated in a shootout, 4-3, in Dallas late Friday, are in second place. Sidney Crosby and company are five points behind the Capitals and the Caps have two games in hand.

These two clubs met on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena and it was the Blue Jackets who dominated play in the game, but thanks to great goaltending from the Holtbeast and some timely scoring, the Caps escaped the state of Ohio as 3-2 winners.

On Friday, Columbus played a very desperate style, but they once again came up short. Washington, while getting outshot, 37-17, and outshot attempted, 79-50, played a much better game in their home barn.

The Caps first period was cleaner in terms of puck management and John Carlson scored just 5:09 into this affair on the doorstep following two super passes from Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. The Capitals carried the majority of the play in period one and they stretched the Blue Jackets out, which provided wider passing lanes for their zone exits. Coach Barry Trotz attributed the strong first period to his team “skating well.” The shot attempts were 21-20 for Columbus, but Washington had the scoring chance edge. Unfortunately for the Caps, Coach John Tortorella’s club tied the game up at the 6:28 mark when Tom Wilson’s intended pass to Carlson behind the Washington net hit an uneven spot in the left wing corner boards. The puck caromed into the slot and Pierre-Luc Dubois gobbled it up and quickly whipped it past Holtby.

Washington, however, seized some late momentum when Kuznetsov scored with two seconds left after coming out of the penalty box. Lars Eller and Tom Wilson killed the end of the Blue Jackets power play and then they rushed the puck into the Columbus zone. After the puck went below the goal line, Matt Niskanen fetched an errant clear on the right wing boards. Nisky fired it at the net, the disc hit Eller at the right post and then bounced far post where Kuzy was there to pot the rebound.

The Caps, however, could not keep the momentum as Artemi Panarin deflected home a Seth Jones point blast just 27 seconds into the middle frame. Jones, who led all skaters with 25:32 of ice time, was able to get the puck when Dmitry Orlov missed a breakout pass on the left wing boards. At that point, the contest could’ve gone either way, but Washington potted what would be the game winning tally when Jay Beagle outworked Jones in front of the net to notch his sixth goal of the season. This was one of those tallies generated by good ole fashioned hard work. After a sequence of puck cycling by the Caps fourth line, Devante Smith-Pelly took a feed from Orlov on the high left wing boards and he alertly fired the puck at the cage. The shot hit Chandler Stephenson en route to the net and Beags closed the deal on the rebound just 4:38 into period two.

On the ensuing neutral zone faceoff, Lukas Sedlak was whistled for high sticking Nicklas Backstrom and that put Washington on the power play. The Caps couldn’t score with their first unit, but they connected on a rush with part of the second unit on the ice. Eller, T.J. Oshie (assist) and Alex Ovechkin had a three on two and with the Osh Babe going to the net far post, Eller caught Sergei Bobrovsky cheating a little to his right and #20 beat him short side at 6:06. That was six goals in just over 26 minutes of hockey, but that would be all of the red lights for this night.

With the Caps up two pucks, they focused on keeping the Blue Jackets to the perimeter, but in the last 10 minutes of period two, they were not very successful. Columbus had a number of good looks, especially on a late power play with Wilson in the box for tripping, but they were either stopped by the Holtbeast, missed the net, or blocked. Holtby was at his best during this stretch.

In the final stanza, the Capitals limited scoring opportunities for Columbus and they forced their opponents to have to settle for a lot of long range outside shots. The Caps team defense was solid and they didn’t allow the Blue Jackets to get any tipped or screened goals, something they live off of. Washington was outshot attempted 29-14 in period two and 29-16 in period three, but a lot of that is score effects, although winger Brett Connolly thought they needed to be attacking a bit more.

“I think we spent a little too much time in our own end in the third, I think you want to go at teams, but sometimes they push and you’ve just got to be in good position defensively. You try to get in front of pucks and Holts was good a couple of times there to make saves. I thought we were better tonight than in Columbus, a little more solid all around,” said the winger who has 13 goals this season.

Connolly is correct and afterwards Coach Trotz stated that there were “no passengers” on his bench for this one. Washington did skate well, especially early, and the top player in this tilt was Kuznetsov. When he is on, he is flat out dominant and that was the case on Friday. Linemates Vrana and Oshie also performed extremely well. Vrana employed his speed and he was engaged physically in his own end, something the Caps bench boss noted to the media afterwards.

Special teams provided an edge for the Caps, just like it did on Tuesday. Washington went one for four with the man advantage while the Capitals PK unit was a perfect three for three. The Caps generated five of their 17 shots on goal for the game on the power play. At one point in period two, the Capitals had four goals on “Bob” in 11 shots. Volume of shots isn’t something coach Trotz is overly concerned about; he’s more focused on quality shots. He was pleased with the goals and said any time you get four on [Bobrovsky] you should win.

This was a big triumph against a very desperate club that works hard, throws a lot of pucks on the net, and tries to generate ugly goals. The Capitals kept the Blue Jackets off of and out of the line of sight of Holtby. It was another victory that wasn’t pretty. There are no style points in the NHL, but the Caps were better than they were on Tuesday and they had to be to knock off a club that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had five shot attempts, but none were on net…Kuznetsov was the #1 star. He had two points, four shots on goal, and logged 20:16…Alex Chiasson took the scratched Andre Burakovsky’s spot on the third line. He played only 9:05…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 32-27. Beagle was 6-5…the Caps next game is against the Detroit Red Wings at 3:00 pm from Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon.

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Holtby Mutes the Cannon in a Caps 3-2 Victory

Posted on 07 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Columbus Blue Jackets are probably most known for the loud cannon that goes off after every goal they score in addition to another explosion at the end of the game, when they win, at Nationwide Arena.

On Tuesday night in the college hometown of the great Jack Nicklaus, Braden Holtby provided some sensational goaltending and Nicklas Backstrom tallied with 42 seconds left after a sweet feed from T.J. Oshie to prevent that freaking cannon from going off for the third time of the night. The 3-2 Washington triumph over Coach John Tortorella’s squad, which afterwards he called “a gut punch,” improves the Caps to 31-17-5 (67 points) and preserves their four point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated Vegas, 5-4, on Tuesday. The Capitals have two games in hand on Sidney Crosby and company.

Here are seven thoughts on this win, which improved the Capitals to 9-1-2 against Columbus in their last 12 meetings. The teams will meet again on Friday night at Capital One Arena.

Best Goalie in the NHL – Time and time again this year the Holtbeast has bailed the Caps out and won games for them, it’s a big reason, along with the outstanding play of Alexander Ovechkin, why Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division. I’d chronicle all of the big stops that #70 made in this affair, but to quote the great Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” The Caps have largely gone with a blue line of two rookies all season so the amount of high quality shots Braden has faced this year has increased drastically. Tuesday was more of the same, especially in periods one and two when the Capitals were terribly sloppy with the puck and allowed 28 shots on goal, including 17 in the middle frame. To hold Columbus to just two goals given the opportunities they had is incredible. The Holtbeat is now 27-10-2 on the season with a .915 save percentage. He’s the best goalie in the NHL, in my book.

MVP, MVP, MVP – The Gr8 turned in another superb performance on Tuesday with two assists, 12 shot attempts, and eight shots on goal. Sergei Bobrovsky absolutely robbed Ovi a couple of times, but Alex was able to still make a huge difference in this game with his passing and shooting. On Washington’s second goal, he takes a nice drop pass from Christian Djoos and feeds Tom Wilson all alone in the slot. Top line Tommy then makes a gorgeous move to beat Bob on the backhand for his seventh goal of the season. Then, with the game tied in the last minute, Ovechkin does what he does best; he fired the puck on net from the left wing boards. It was not a high scoring chance opportunity, but when you have a shot like Ovi’s, putting it on the cage is never a bad thing. The Gr8’s high smoker handcuffed Bobrovsky and the disc bounced to the goaltender’s right. There the Osh Babe won a very key puck battle and then fed Backstrom behind his back for his open net game winning tally. All night it was Ovechkin’s line, which smartly included Backstrom and Wilson for most of the evening, and Oshie in a couple of key spots, that was dominant. Alex was on for all three Capitals tallies and was a +2 in this affair. He was not on the ice for either Columbus marker. He now has 32 goals and 26 assists (58 points) in 53 games. Don’t let any clowns on the internet tell you he isn’t MVP material because they are just biased haters. Alex is the biggest reason why Washington leads the Metropolitan Division with 29 games to go.

Cleanup on Aisle Four! – Man oh man, what is with all of these turnovers in the Caps own end? I’m not sure what is going on, but the coaching staff has to do something to fix these issues whether it’s just poor execution or a scheme change is needed or a combination of both. The opponents are getting too many great chances and add in the fact that this team doesn’t handle the opposing rush very well plus they too often are caught puck watching on rebounds and you have a total mess in the defensive zone. On the first goal, Holtby makes the initial save, but the five Capitals players on the ice don’t cover anyone and the Blue Jackets pot the rebound through traffic. Perhaps Coach Barry Trotz should take these guys out on the basketball court and teach them how to box out on a rebound so that they can take those fundamentals to the ice? We’ve seen too many easy goals lately where there are Caps defenders right in the area to make a play to prevent a goal, but they don’t. This disturbing trend needs to stop and if not for Holtby we’d be talking about a bunch of goals against, after the 11 allowed in the previous two tilts, and a third straight loss.

Big Mac Victory – Five on five play is so important in hockey, but sometimes you need your special teams to win a game. After losing Friday’s tilt to the Pens because of three power play goals allowed, the Capitals rebounded with a perfect three for three on the penalty kill and one for one on the power play at Nationwide Arena. John Carlson’s laser through a Blue Jacket screen tied the game up in the first five minutes, but more importantly, the Caps killed off two Columbus power plays in the last 10 minutes, one of which would have given their opponents the lead. Brooks Orpik had a humongous block as the last CBus power play was expiring and that allowed the puck to go to the other end where Ovi, Oshie, and Backstrom worked their game winning goal magic. Washington’s special sauce in this win was the play of their penalty kill and power play units.

Clueless in Columbus – With one of the two linesmen having to bail out due to sickness, Dean Morton and Graham Skilliter had to call both penalties and monitor a blue line. I sure hope that is what they are using for their excuse for missing some key infractions on the Blue Jackets. In period two, Seth Jones got away with a blatant slash on Ovechkin’s right hand and even worse, just before the Columbus game tying goal late in period three, Devante Smith-Pelly’s stick was slashed in half by a CBus defender, but the zebras didn’t call a penalty. That was ridiculous and Morton should probably be working down at the local high end restaurant asking you how you’d like your steak cooked.

A Near Gordie – It’s no secret that Top Line Tommy is having a great season. Reunited with Backstrom and Ovechkin, Wilson was once again a force on the ice. He scored a goal and beat up top line winger Josh Anderson. Anderson was pretty much invisible after that first period bout and he finished the game a -2. #43 continues to drive the play and bring a much needed physicality (five hits) to the Capitals offense. All Wilson needed on this night was an assist to get the Gordie Howe hat trick, but he fell short.

Add It Up – In summary, the Capitals pretty much stole two points on Tuesday night thanks to Holtby and some of their stars, to include the Gr8. They were outshot attempted 67-48 and shots on goal were 39-25. It’s been awhile since the Caps have played a complete game. There is lots of room for improvement and Andre Burakovksy (-1 in 6:34 of action, including no third period shifts) remains on a milk carton. Coach Trotz tried reuniting #65 with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly on the third line to get him going, but once again #65 brought the line down. His shot takes too long to get off and he skates with his head down, too often. Jones flattened him easily in the first period at the Caps offensive blue line on one instance. As we head into the February 26th trade deadline, GM Brian MacLellan has a tough decision to make on this player who just isn’t stepping up as needed. The organization gave him a two year, $6M bridge contract last summer but when I go all Violent Femmes and try to add it up, maybe it’s got something to do with luck, but he’s not giving the team the necessary production. Actually, it’s not luck, Andre just isn’t doing the things necessary to be successful and the sand in the hour glass could be running out on his time in Washington.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:17 and Oprik logged 22:56, including 4:38 of PK time. Jones led all skaters with 27:31 TOI…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26. Backstrom went 11-8.

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Caps Rally to Blast the Flyers, 5-3

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Chandler Stephenson scored twice in 47 seconds early in the middle frame to erase a two goal deficit and Braden Holtby made 27 saves to lead Washington to a 5-3 victory over the despised Flyers on Wednesday night. T.J. Oshie notched the game winning goal on the power play in the third period and the Caps improved to 30-15-5 (65 points). They lead second place Pittsburgh by six points and have two games in hand.

Fresh after the five day All Star Break, the Capitals first period could be summed up in three simple Dr. Seuss like terms: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

The team played slow and there were turnovers galore. Both Flyers tallies came on the rush and Philadelphia would have had another goal if not for a dandy glove save by #70. It was ugly hockey and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew continued their trend of starting poorly coming out of a long break.

From the beginning of the second period on, the game was mostly a different story, especially after Stephenson scored his third and fourth goals of the season. In the opening frame, the Caps were pass happy and unwilling to throw the puck on net against a career backup in Michal Neuvirth. Credit Lars Eller for changing that pattern and igniting the Caps offense. #20 outraced a Flyer to negate an icing and he then sent the puck into Neuvy’s pads from the goal line. The Czech goalie, who was coming off a stomach bug, fumbled the disc in his pads and “Johnny on the Spot” Stephenson banged the biscuit home to give his team some life. Madison Bowey caught the Flyers in a bad line change and sprung #18 for a breakaway with a super long feed. Chandler then beat the Philly netminder five hole, like a rented mule, to tie this one up just 3:01 into period two.

After that, the Flyers had a quick push back, especially with the Capitals being sloppy in their own zone on several occasions. Coach Dave Hakstol’s team should’ve had the lead if not for two great saves by Holtby in the slot after another terrible Washington turnover. The Holtbeast made the first save and then stretched out his left pad to stop goal scoring phenom, Claude Giroux, at the left post. It was, once again, clutch goaltending from the best net minder in the league.

Washington would get the next two goals on the power play, but the first tally was a not so frequent one from the second unit. Once again, it was Eller who made a smart play instead of trying to thread the needle across the high slot to Alex Ovechkin. Lars spotted Andre Burakovsky parked at the top of the crease and his pass to #65 was deflected home at 14:32 of period two. The Caps would press the play towards the end of the second stanza, but couldn’t convert again.

As expected, the Flyers came out storming the castle in period three and Washington, who must’ve been listening to Air Supply’s Greatest Hits during the intermission, were sleep skating and guilty of turning the puck over multiple times. Burakovsky had two bad giveaways that led to Philly chances, but the Holtbeast bailed him out.

Tom Wilson then drew a hooking call on rookie Nolan Patrick just past the four minute mark and the Caps top power play unit made the Flyers pay dearly. Washington worked the puck around the perimeter and then Evgeny Kuznetsov gave Oshie a sweet feed in his diamond spot between the Flyers penalty killers that T.J. buried past Neuvirth on a one timer to make it 4-2. It was a much needed goal for the Osh Babe, who notched his 12th of the season, because it was his first goal since tallying in Arizona back on December 22nd.

The Capitals refused to sit back after going up two pucks and they pressed the play. Ovechkin missed a wide open net on a one timer that would’ve made it a three goal margin, but that wasn’t troubling since shortly thereafter they earned more quality chances. They would eventually cash in when Christian Djoos took a sweet cross ice feed from Jay Beagle on an odd man rush and fired the puck on net. Devante Smith-Pelly was crashing the cage and the disc hit him and went into the twine to make it 5-2 with 10:54 remaining.

The Flyers would get a goal with 9:20 to go, but from there the Capitals clamped things down and gave Philadelphia very little chances. Holtby shut the door with the Caps doing a solid job of letting him see any remaining shots.

Overall, this was a big division victory after a really poor first frame. The Caps top line of Kuznetsov, Wilson, and Ovi were each a minus two in the game, but they did a lot of good things. Wilson drew an important penalty and they were physical. The key to the contest, though, was Eller showing the Capitals that firing the puck on a shaky goalie and then going for rebounds was the way to prevail. It’s simple hockey, but it works well in this league. Washington has some big bodies up front so it’s imperative that they use their size to get to the front of the cage and make life difficult on opposing keepers. That style, versus the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition the team tries to play too often, is one that wins playoff games and series.

At the other end of the ice, the club has plenty of work to do to clean up their zone exits and coverage as they work through a stretch of 15 games in 28 days. Fortunately on Rivalry Night on NBC their all world goalie bailed them out and held them in the contest until they found their legs.

As a result, my number one star for the tilt was once again the Holtbeast.

Notes: The Caps take on the Penguins in the Steel City on Friday night…Burakovsky had four giveaways…Matt Niskanen had a strong game, one of his best all season, and he led the Capitals in ice time with 24:03…the Capitals were 2 for 3 on the power play and 1 for 1 on the penalty kill…Alex Lyon replaced Neuvirth once this one went to a 5-2 margin in period three…the Caps lost the battle of the draws, 36-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-10…shots on goal were 30-25 for Philly, but shot attempts were 52-49 for Washington…the Caps were 0-1-1 against the Flyers coming into this affair…the win snapped a three game home losing streak…anytime the Capitals defeat their biggest rival since 1974-75 you can bet that the sun shines brighter, the air smells cleaner, and the food and drink taste much better. Enjoy your Thursday, Caps fans!

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Ovechkin Leads the Caps Past Florida, 4-2

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into the Thursday night’s game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals, losers of three straight contests, badly needed a victory.

Coming off of their bye week, they went 0-1-2 against the Devils, Canadiens, and Flyers while displaying some shoddy hockey in the process. Passes were off, the compete level was down from many players, and they didn’t even score a goal at even strength in their last two contests.

With two days of practice under their belts, the Caps hoped to get a win in the Sunshine State in their only contest in nine days due to the upcoming All Star break. They also wanted to play better.

Led by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal and 1 assist – the 500th assist of his career), Washington did just that en route to a 4-2 victory over the Cats.  The win extends the Capitals lead in the Metropolitan Division to six points (29-15-5) and the teams in second place are now the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets (57 points). The Caps and Blue Jackets both have two games in hand on the Pens.

Things didn’t start well for Coach Barry Trotz’ crew in this affair. Washington took three minor penalties in the first 10 minutes, but they managed to kill each of them with some outstanding efforts. Unfortunately, the Caps didn’t turn the momentum they earned on the PK into a lead. Less than a minute after the third successful penalty kill, Nicklas Backstrom made a horrible decision to try a soft pass back to Christian Djoos in the defensive zone. The brain fart by #19 put the puck right on Jamie McGinn’s stick and he fed Denis Malgin for an easy tally.

From there, the Capitals started to wake up, and when MacKenzie Weegar was boxed for holding, the Washington power play connected. The Gr8 made a super diagonal pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) at the far post and then Kuzy slid a sweet feed to Backstrom, who had his stick properly on the ice, which allowed him to bury the biscuit back door. That goal with 2:35 left in the opening frame seemed to relieve the pressure that was on Washington.

In the middle stanza, the Caps started to carry the play, but another defensive zone turnover led to a Florida tally. Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky made some very weak plays in their own end and the result was a back post tap in marker for Malgin at 6:40.

From that point on, this game was pretty much all Capitals. Ovechkin notched his 30th goal of the season tipping home a Brooks Orpik shot just 71 seconds after the Cats had taken the lead. Washington would storm the castle in the second period firing 17 shots on net, but it wasn’t until late in the frame that they finally forged ahead.

Top line Tom Wilson and Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the wall deep in the Florida end and when the disc came around the right wing boards, Kuznetsov gathered it and made a dandy of a move and pass to Wilson in the right wing circle. With Ovi in front of the net, Willy found John Carlson all alone in the slot and #74 buried the puck, top shelf.

Kuznetsov, who was fabulous in this tilt until getting injured in the third period with what is likely a groin injury, drew a penalty at the second period horn. That put the Caps on the power play again to start period three. Washington pounded the rock on Florida rookie goalie, Harri Sateri (42 saves), but it wasn’t until Brett Connolly scored on the rush with eight seconds left in the man advantage that they finally grabbed a two goal cushion. Burakovksy made a great play to set that one up and #10 shot quickly into the vacant left side of the cage for his 13th tally of the season.

The Caps had a chance to blow this one wide open when they received a two man advantage for a full two minutes at the 4:33 mark, but despite a ton of shots, they couldn’t score. They hit at least one post and Sateri made several big saves. Down the stretch the Capitals carried most of the play, pouring a total of 19 shots on net in the final frame. For the night, the shots on net tally were 46-34, for Washington.

Overall, the Capitals finally played a solid contest, their first since the win over Vancouver on Tuesday, January 9th. Braden Holtby (32 saves) was very good in net to earn his 25th win of the season and Ovechkin was the best player on the ice for Washington with #92 a close second. I’ve been very tough on Kuznetsov on Twitter, but that’s because I know he can play a lot better and he’s a key to the Caps dominating. On Thursday night, Kuzy was dominant, but unfortunately, he was injured late and if he’s out for an extended period of time, there’s a big hole up the middle of the ice. The All Star Break could not come at a better time since the Caps don’t play again until Wednesday, January 31st against the Flyers at Capital One Arena.

Notes: John Carlson had 10 shots on net and Ovechkin had eight. It’s good to see the Capitals shooting the puck and not overpassing. They were more of a north-south team in this affair and that’s how they must play to be effective. I didn’t like the soft defensive zone plays by the Backstrom line that led to the two Florida goals. Those type of mental lapses and lack of effort need to be cleaned up…the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play and a perfect four for four while shorthanded…the Caps were creamed, 37-27, at the dot. Backstrom went 8-6…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 24:54, Carlson was just three seconds behind the Gr8…Devante Smith-Pelly was the healthy scratch at forward…the All Star Game is in Tampa this weekend and the Caps will be represented by Coach Trotz, Ovechkin, and Holtby. The always fun skills competition takes place on Saturday night and on Sunday is the very exciting three on three tournament. Music will be provided by Kid Rock between the 1st and 2nd periods (games) on Sunday.

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A Detailed Look at the Caps After 45 Games

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Following Jay Beagle’s stunning game winning goal with just over a second left in Carolina on Friday night, the Washington Capitals players headed to Atlantis, Florida, the Caribbean, Colorado, and other mostly warmer destinations for five days of rest and recovery during the team’s now annual bye “week.”

The victory improved the Caps to 28-14-3 (59 points) and they will remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division until they take the ice again on Thursday, against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

With the downtime, I’ve put together some lengthy thoughts on a hockey team that has once again positioned itself near the top of the NHL standings and is among the league’s best squads.

Shortchanged It’s called the “bye week,” but the Caps are only getting five days between games while most other teams are getting a six or seven day gap. In addition, the Capitals went into the break playing back to back games and will come out of it in the same fashion facing the Devils on the road and then the Montreal Canadiens at home on Friday evening. The bye break was something the players clamored for in recent years so that they could get away during what is a very long season. The downside of this plan, however, combined with the three day Christmas shutdown and the All-Star Break is a schedule made up of numerous back to back tilts and many three games in four night scenarios. This leads to a poor product on several occasions and a case in point was Washington’s 3-1 loss to Carolina last Thursday when it appeared that many on the squad were already on the beach.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes The 2017 summer saw some very important key Capitals players depart due to the NHL expansion draft and the rising salary cap to include defensemen Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt plus forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik. How General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz would handle those personnel losses would hold the key to the 2017-18 season. The Capitals were 30-9-6 (66 points) after 45 games in 2016-17, so they have only seven points less than they were at this point in a Presidents’ Trophy winning campaign. Last year’s team was experienced, stacked and averaged 28.4 years old. This year’s club has relied on contributions from several rookies, to include defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos as well as forwards Jakub Vrana (10 goals) and Chandler Stephenson (10 points). The average age of the team has dropped to 28.0, which is a significant change considering that each returning player is a year older. Plugging those rookies into the vacated spots alone clearly could not fill the void left by so many quality players. Therefore, Coach Trotz and his staff had to shift to a “rely on the returning players” philosophy while bringing along the young bucks. Comparing ice times in 2017-18 versus 2016-17 shows a very telling picture.

Player 2017-18 Avg TOI 2016-17 Avg TOI Delta
John Carlson 26:09 22:42 +3:42
Matt Niskanen 22:27 22:10 +:17
Dmitry Orlov 23:16 19:32 +3:44
Brooks Orpik 20:42 17:47 +2:55
Alex Ovechkin 19:42 18:21 +1:21
Nicklas Backstrom 19:40 18:15 +1:25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 18:54 16:57 +1:57
T.J. Oshie 18:40 17:51 +:49
Lars Eller 15:20 13:54 +1:26
Tom Wilson 15:29 12:55 +2:34
Brett Connolly 11:35 10:41 +:54
Jay Beagle 12:39 13:37 -:58
Andre Burakovsky 13:35 13:15 +:20


In a nutshell, the coaching staff is playing their key players more than last season when they could just roll four lines and wear teams down. There are some major changes in average time on ice on the back end, especially for Carlson, Orlov, and Orpik. Carlson, who is a Norris Trophy candidate despite two rocky games before the bye week break, has been outstanding, especially considering Niskanen has missed 14 games and has played less than 100% healthy in multiple others. As I’ve blogged on several occasions and GM MacLellan noted to The Washington Post last week, the unsung hero on the back end has been Orlov. Number nine has turned into such a strong two way defensemen and he continues to get better. The upside is still there, too, as he probably would have more points if he got more power play time. The concern is Orpik is playing nearly three minutes more than last season simply because he has to while Djoos comes up to speed. Without Brooks to carry a large load in the first 30 games while the rookies were learning and Niskanen was out, this team may have been sunk. Lately though, #44 has shown some wear on his wheels, so a January schedule that sees a lot of breaks should help him out. The improved play of Djoos and Bowey also will be critical in the second half of the season. I fully expect the Caps to add a defensemen at the trade deadline in late February.

Stars in the City There is no doubt that the “Coach’s Robot,” the Gr8, and “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom are a big reason why this team is still one of the best in the league. Ovechkin was overweight and not in ideal shape in 2016-17 and it showed during the regular season and the playoffs. He had only 33 regular season goals, most of which came on the power play, and he was slower and more prone to injury. Alex took management’s direction and trained totally differently this past summer and the results are blatantly obvious. He’s faster than he’s been since perhaps 2010, which has allowed him to generate better quality chances. He’s had several breakaway tallies and is leading the NHL in goals at 28 in 45 games (a 51 goals pace). 20 of those goals are at even strength this season, compared to just 16 in 2016-17. Backstrom had 86 points in 2016-17 and he’s on pace for 17 fewer this campaign, but most of that drop-off came when Trotz had the Gr8 on a different line. That experiment was smartly shelved and since the two have been Peaches and Herb’d, aka Reunited, the team has gone on a tear. There is no one on the planet who knows how to play better with Ovi than Nicky. Kuznetsov is a super talent, but he is so reliant on having the puck while Backstrom is such a strong two way guy that gets the biscuit from the opposition and allows Alex to get the touches he needs to score goals.

Carpe Diem With the departure of key forwards, several younger Capitals have seized the day and opportunity in 2017-18. Kuznetsov is playing nearly two minutes more a game (more on him in a minute), but looking at the average ice times for Eller and Wilson are very revealing. Willy is logging 2:34 more a night and at six goals and 18 points in 41 games he should shatter his career highs. Wherever Coach Trotz has put #43 this season he has produced and the nice thing is it’s been in a top nine role, no more fourth line Tommy. Eller, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, has nine goals and 21 points in 44 games. He had 12 goals and 25 points in 81 total games in 2016-17. He’s playing 1:26 more a night and he’s become a better contributor, especially offensively, and that was sorely needed. The Washington third line, which was dominant last January when the Capitals were nearly unbeatable, has returned to play a big role in 2017-18. Eller and Connolly (10 goals) have been the staples there and there’s been a rotation of right wings to mostly include Oshie, Burakovsky, Vrana, and Wilson.

Not So Special In 2016-17 the Caps connected on 22.98% of their power plays and killed off 83.92% of their shorthanded situations. The league averages were 19.1% and 80.9%, respectively. In 2017-18, the power play has slowed to a 19.57% connection rate (NHL average is 19.4%) and is only thwarting 79.08% of their manpower disadvantages (NHL average is 80.6%). Simply put, the Capitals, unlike years past, have had to rely more on five on five goal differential to win games. This season they are +14 (91 to 77) in that category. There is lots of room for improvement on the special teams.

Dynamic Duo Looking at the team stats, the Caps have gone from outshooting opponents 30.4 to 27.8 per game in 2016-17 to being outshot 32.3 to 29 in 2017-18. That is a direct result of the change in personnel. Let’s be honest, the Capitals lost a lot of veteran players and are incorporating new blood into the squad. So why have they been able to still be successful? Well, outside of what has been mentioned already, the single biggest factor is the outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby (24 wins) and Philipp Grubauer (7 quality starts in 12 games). The team save percentage has dropped from .925 to .917, but it’s clear that the quality of shots against has gone up a bit. These two continue to make the big save for Washington at the key time and goalie is the most important position in hockey.

Delivering the Overpass There’s a famous Bill Engvall “Here’s Your Sign” joke about a truck getting stuck with the punch line being, “Nope, I was delivering that overpass and my truck flat ran out of gas…Here’s Your Sign!” Perhaps the organization should bring the legendary comedian in to hand out “Here’s Your Sign” awards for all of those times the Capitals have tried to make an extra pass when they are in the high danger scoring areas? Guilty party number one on that list is Kuznetsov. When #92 plays the right way, and he’s had some nice stretches of that, the Caps dominate. He ranks second on the team in goals (13) and when he carries a shoot first mentality he is deadly on the ice because the defense has no idea what he is going to do, pass or shoot. Too often, though, he is in Harlem Globetrotters fancy pants mode, and that is much easier to defend. He needs to cut back on the circling pattern where he takes himself out of the high danger scoring area and eventually turns the puck over. That issue has crept into others on this team, to include Oshie, who I’d like to see shoot more. This is a shoot first league and with the goaltending being so good, rebounds or shots from high danger areas with traffic are the best way to beat them. Do the Caps think they have to make the pretty play so often because they practice against two of the best goalies in the league regularly? That could be a factor, but if they just looked at their recent tallies, many of them are just shots from the middle of the ice with players going to the net or using a defender to screen his own keeper. It’s not rocket science and it’s one of the big reasons the Caps are down in the shots on net and shots attempted statistics. They have the puck often, but many times they possess it for awhile and never generate a shot. They need to dump that habit and the cross ice pass at the offensive blue line if they want to go deep into the post season.

Where’s the Six Million Dollar Man? If you had told me on October 1st that Burakovksy would only have three goals after the Caps have played 45 games, I would have said the Caps would not be in playoff position. Luckily, I would’ve been wrong. #65 has played only 21 games due to injuries and overall malaise, but the man who signed a two year deal for a total of $6M is a very key cog in the wheel if Washington wants to challenge for the Stanley Cup. If I was Andre, the first thing I’d do after getting home from the Bahamas would be to pull out the tape of game six against the Penguins last spring and watch it. That’s the way Andre needs to play to be successful, very physical on the opposing boards and puck so that he can score and generate goals. He can be that player if he puts his mind to it and works hard. A return to form by Burakovsky is a must from now until June.

In summary, even with the personnel losses from last season, the Capitals have still positioned themselves among the best teams in the league. Despite what some statistics, such as Corsi, try to tell you, this positive outcome is not just pure luck. As I’ve chronicled, there’s been a method to the team’s success, which also includes a unique ability, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins have done the last two seasons, to counter attack and be deadly on the rush. Speed is an important aspect of hockey and the Capitals have improved in that department. Their save percentage is slightly down, but their goalies have been stellar and they aren’t living off of a higher shooting percentage. They are connecting on 10.5% of their shots, just like they did last season. The league average is around 9%, but the Caps have high end talent, unlike a Corsi loved team like Carolina, who throw a lot of pucks on net from everywhere, but don’t have the Ovechkins, Kuznetsovs, Backstroms and Oshies of the world who have great shots. Looking at another favorite analytic stat, PDO, which measures shooting percentage plus save percentage at even strength, it shows the Caps were at 102.4 in 2016-17 and this season they have dropped to 101.6 (meaning they’ve been less lucky). I’ve stated this axiom in blogs and on the air on WNST many times; it’s great to look at statistics, but in the grand scheme of things, hockey is a game of high skill and talent, it is non-linear and is chaos theory. The Washington Capitals have high end talent and the organization has structured the team around that. Now the question is can they continue to improve down the stretch so that they can peak in the post season?

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Seven Detailed Thoughts on The Caps After Another Win

Posted on 07 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

In the last few seasons under Coach Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals have typically not fared well after several days off. With the Caps having not played since Tuesday’s OT victory in Carolina, a Sunday tilt against the St. Louis Blues would appear to be trouble for Washington. Coach Mike Yeo’s squad, however, had lost on Saturday in Philadelphia and was coming in playing their third game in four days. Basically, the scheduling gods had this one as an even affair, although the Caps, based on rest and playing at home, certainly seemed to have an advantage.

As expected, an angry Blues team put out a great effort against the Capitals and this contest went to overtime before Nicklas Backstrom notched his 9th goal of the season, after a long and super feed from T.J. Oshie, to give the Caps a 4-3 win and improve their record to 26-13-3 (55 points) on the campaign. Washington now leads the Metropolitan Division by three points over second place New Jersey, but the Devils have a game in hand.

Here are seven thoughts on the Caps following this come from behind victory.

Rollercoaster Ride The final score was 4-3, shots on goal were, 34-33, for the Blues, and my quality shot tracking had the Caps out on top, 24-23, for the game. So this match up was pretty much evenly played the whole way, right? This is in no way a plug for Hertz, but NOT EXACTLY! Washington came out and forged a really strong first period to take a 1-0 lead and the quality shot totals, by my count, were 8-3 for the good guys. In the middle frame, the Blues stormed the castle feasting off of one Capitals turnover after another to grab a 2-1 lead. The Blues held a commanding 14-6 advantage in quality shots in period two. The last full 20 minutes were another complete reversal as the Capitals dominated play with an 18-8 shots on goal advantage and an 8-4 margin in quality shots. In overtime, both teams had two quality opportunities, but it was the Super Swede who closed the deal with a sweet top shelf snipe.

Old Man Ovi Alex Ovechkin is 32 years old and father time should be starting to set in, that’s what all of the data compiled by the stats crowd will tell you should be happening. Well here’s a special note to the spreadsheet geeks, to quote the great Sundance Kid, “You figured wrong, Butch.” The Gr8 continues to skate as well as he has since his mid 20’s and he was a force again on Sunday afternoon. Ovi’s power play wrister was deflected home by Brett Connolly in the opening frame to give the Caps their first marker and then with his squad really needing a goal, he delivered with a laser to the top shelf eight minutes into period three to tie this one at two. In 22:50 of ice time, Alex had seven shot attempts, but because of a weird bounce off of his back late in the game, he was a minus one. Ovechkin now has 27 goals and 18 assists to lead Washington in both goals and points (45) in 42 games. The man voted by the fans to captain the Metropolitan Division All Star team in just over two weeks, once again is tied for the NHL lead in goals with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa.

Career Year Again for Conno? Connolly notched his ninth goal of the season on the aforementioned tip in and he’s now on pace for 18 tallies, after scoring 15 in 2016-17, which earned him a new two year deal at an annual average of $1.5 M. After a slow and injury riddled start, #10 is really amping up his play and this outing was his best of the season. Brett was all over the puck all game and he had five shots on net and seven overall attempts in 14:43. He led the Capitals in shot attempt percentage with 20 shots for and just five against when he was on the ice (80%). Playing with Lars Eller all game, plus Oshie from the middle of the second period on, the Washington third line was dominant. Connolly is no longer awkwardly reaching for pucks on the ice and he’s using his body to win the one on one battles. In addition, he has a very fast shot release and he goes to the high danger areas well to set himself up for quality chances. If #10 keeps doing that and shooting the biscuit, the goals will just keep coming.

Return of the Osh Babe It was pretty clear that the four days of no games did wonders for #77 (two assists). T.J. looked like his old self in this affair and he was dogging pucks like crazy. He didn’t score a goal, but he was a key factor in three of the Capitals four lamp lighters. On the Caps second goal, Ovechkin scored just three seconds into the power play. That doesn’t happen if Osh doesn’t win the draw cleanly to Backstrom, who quickly fed John Carlson (two assists in 26:30) at the point before #74 perfectly fed the Gr8 for his howitzer. Oshie started the game with Backstrom and Ovechkin, but then he was shifted to the Eller line after the Capitals looked worse than a really bad Mites team for the first eight minutes of period two. Oshie’s shot on net that Carter Hutton (29 saves) struggled with, led to Eller’s rebound tally that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead with just under 10 minutes left in regulation. Then, of course, the Osh Babe made a super long feed to Nicky on the game winning tally.

Second Period Woes What the heck was that to start period two for Washington? The Blues had the first eight quality chances of the frame and they all came in the first seven minutes. St. Louis scored twice during that stretch and it could’ve been more if not for Braden Holtby (31 saves). There were too many poor passes and bad decisions by the Capitals in their own end. Madison Bowey (1 assist) had another awful up the middle attempt and the rookie needs to stop making that same mistake, but even Matt Niskanen tried and failed on a similar play, and you know he knows better, right? I’m not sure what is happening to the Caps from period one to two this season, but it’s been a horror show on many occassions. They have too many turnovers and with the long change they end up getting hemmed in their own zone and on the ice for extra long stretches. This is a problem they must fix over the second half of the season. Perhaps they need to get some new tunes in the locker room because they’ve been coming out for period two like they’ve been listening to Air Supply and Barry Manilow records during the intermission?

Timely Saves Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Holtby made some really key saves at very important times in this hockey game. You’re probably reading this thinking “No S—t Sherlock!” and you’d be right. The Holtbeast is so dialed in this season and let’s hope he keeps that up in the playoffs. The Blues could’ve won this game a few times, most notably, late in period two when #70 stopped Vladimir Sobotka with the Blues up a puck; a dynamite save on Magnus Paajarvi with just under two minutes to go in regulation and the game tied; and then a super stop on Patrick Berglund in overtime. Braden may not have the sexy save percentage he had the last three seasons, but he’s now 24-8 this year behind a much younger defense and team. The Holtbeast is the Capitals MVP through 42 games.

Well Isn’t That Special SNL’s church lady was definitely on the side of the Capitals in this affair. Washington was two for four on the man advantage while the Blues were one for two on their power plays. The most important penalty kill, though, came in the middle frame when St. Louis had a 2-1 lead and Evgeny Kuznetsov was in the sin bin for another lazy penalty. During that shorthanded situation, the Caps were just outstanding yielding no shots on goal or any quality chances. After that huge PK, the Capitals really took over the game.

Overall, this was a very up and down contest for the Caps. They were really strong in the first and third periods, but were a train wreck for most of the middle stanza. Their puck management still has moments where it is prone to disaster. However, the resolve of this club is amazing and they continue to find ways to win and different players have stepped up to help the team stay hot. On Sunday, the play of Connolly helped make the difference against a quality Blues team. The Caps have now reeled off nine straight victories at home. Their next two tilts are at Capital One Arena, as well (Vancouver on Tuesday and Carolina on Thursday).

Notes: Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup after two games (healthy scratch) and did some good things in 10:52. His biggest problem, though, is his long shot release and it’s preventing him from scoring goals. The Caps need more from #65 so he has to find a way to more quickly shoot the puck, much like Connolly has been doing…Niskanen returned after missing the Carolina game due to an upper body injury and played 24:19…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 36-26, but Jay Beagle went 9-5…Barry Trotz will be coaching the Metropolitan Division players at the All Star Game in Tampa since the Caps owned 1st place at the halfway mark.

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Ovechkin’s Late Heroics Leads to Caps Win in Raleigh

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby once again teamed up to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for the Washington Capitals. In a game in which the Caps treated the puck like a hot potato and turned it over more times than a Cleveland Browns quarterback, Ovi and the Holtbeast (34 saves) made just enough plays to rally Washington to a thrilling 5-4 overtime win in Raleigh.

With the triumph, the Capitals are 25-13-3 (53 points) at the season’s halfway point and are in first place in the Metropolitan Division. They won’t play again until Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

Without further adieu, here are my thoughts and analysis on a huge two points for Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Ripken-like Dedication Ovi and Holtby were certainly the major reasons the Caps won, but #1 center Nicklas Backstrom, who missed the morning skate due to feeling sick, gutted it out and suited up in a key contest. It was #19 who positioned himself properly to make the intercept and feed on Ovechkin’s game tying tally. Backstrom also had the only assist on Alex’s game winner. Per Caps analyst Alan May, since Coach Trotz put 8 and 19 back together the Capitals are 13-3-2. In those 18 games, Ovechkin has 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) and the Super Swede has five goals and 13 assists (18 points).

Trench Warfare Everyone knows the Caps have a deadly attack led by stars Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetzov, but it was the role players from the trenches who really stepped it up to help Washington win a game they were very sloppy in. The Caps first goal was something that has to make you smile because it was just simple hockey. Chandler Stephenson carried the puck up the left wing boards and free agent Alex Chiasson smartly went hard to the net with his stick down and put home #18’s pass behind Cam Ward after John Carlson had gifted the Hurricanes the game’s first tally on an unfortunate flubbed pass. Devante Smith-Pelly, another low cost offseason free agent acquisition like Chiasson, then scored a sweet goal to make it 2-1 Caps when he fired from the right wing circle with most people on the ice thinking he’d force a pass to Ovi to his right. Good things happen when you play simple and shoot and those two goals were key for the Capitals in a first period where they were getting out played and out shot (13-7).

Stud on the Backend Dmitry Orlov continues to play fabulously on the blue line for Washington. With Matt Niskanen out day-to-day with another injury, #9 had to step up for the Caps in this affair and Dima did just that. In the middle frame with Carolina buzzing the tower but the Holtbeast holding things at bay, Orlov skated up the ice with speed and fired on Ward (21 saves). The rocket hit the goalie in the blocker, then came off of the backboards to Cam’s right, and like Moses Malone tracking a basketball off of the glass, Orlov skated through the Canes D and deposited his own rebound into the cage to make it 3-1 just shy of the game’s midpoint. For the night, Dmitry played 21:13, blocked three shots and was +2.

Turnover City The Capitals, who had two straight days of practice, were extremely sloppy with the puck in this affair! Zone clears were often off of the mark and there were some really lousy passes in the Caps own end with Carolina getting many grade A chances as a result. When Madison Bowey was stripped of the biscuit by Sebastion Aho in the corner to generate Teuvo Teravainen’s weird goal with just under 13 minutes left, one had to think this would be a loss for the guys in white given the way they had unceremoniously handled the biscuit in this tilt. Clearly not having Niskanen hurt the team on the back end, but that’s no excuse for the squad to execute so poorly.

Second Line Struggles Kuznetsov had one of the worst games I’ve seen him play. Not only did he fail to attempt a single shot, he took two lazy penalties, the first of which allowed Carolina to get back in the game at 3-2 on the power play. Then he was abused by Jeff Skinner in his own end on the sequence that led to Elias Lindholm’s tying tally just 5:40 into the third period. #92 is back to a pass first mentality and his play has dropped off sharply, as a result. In addition, he is playing a Land O’Lakes style when defending, soft as butter. He’s not moving his feet and putting his shoulder into his opponent to strip him of the puck. As for Oshie, well he just hasn’t looked right since coming back from the Joe Thornton cheap shot. He’s still making some good stick checks on the wall, but his timing seems a half of a second off. The Osh Babe needs to get his head clear and start shooting more. Jakub Vrana had three giveaways, but he did use his speed to draw a penalty late in period two. That was pretty much the only good shift that unit had all night. They were terrible and it might be time to break that trio up and give Andre Burakovsky, who was scratched for the second straight contest, a shot to play some top six minutes.

Stars Shine Bright At the end of the day, it was the Holtbeast who made some huge stops to give Washington any chance at all of getting to the Ovechkin magic show. Carolina had 72 shot attempts to just 46 for the Capitals and many of the 38 the Canes put on net were high danger ones, including a Justin Williams chance late in the game from the slot after a terrible turnover. Holtby also made a big save late in regulation with the Hurricanes on the power play. As for Ovi, well he just seems to find another gear at important times. On his game winning goal he was on the ice for 91 seconds yet he somehow found the energy to come into the offensive zone like a locomotive and back off the Carolina defender enough to laser one by Ward. I’ve said this many times this season, but Ovechkin’s dedication to getting in better shape and playing faster in the offseason is a big reason why Washington is in first place at the season’s midpoint. Ovi now has 26 goals in 41 games. Finally, Carlson, despite the bad early turnover, was a rock star on the back end logging 30:51 due to the Niskanen injury. The guy is playing some great hockey and should get some Norris Trophy attention.

Overall, this was a win that Washington likely didn’t deserve, Carolina was better for the majority of the game, but the scoreboard is all that matters and when you have the greatest goal scorer ever on your team and an all world goalie, you can find ways to come out on top when you probably should have lost. That was the case on Tuesday night in the Tar Heel state.

All hail Ovi and the Holtbeast!

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle, 30-27, Kuzy was a dismal 2-8, but Backstrom was 10-9…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play and killed off three of four Carolina power plays. All four penalties the Capitals took were bad and were not to disrupt a scoring chance, just lazy and/or poor decisions. It’s not often you win when losing the special teams battle and have so many defensive zone mistakes…Christian Djoos played 17:41 and was +1. His skating ability was big against a fast Canes squad…Taylor Chorney received 13:28 of time and was +1. It was one of his better outings.

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Ovechkin’s Three Apples Puts the Caps Back in First Place

Posted on 30 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It had been 11 games since the Washington Capitals came out and jumped on a team to tally the first two goals in the first period (December 6th vs. Chicago). On Saturday night the Caps did just that to take advantage of a Devils team that played on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win at Capital One Arena.

Alex Ovechkin (three apples), Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists), and John Carlson (goal, two assists) all had three points each as Washington received a very strong performance from their top line and top blue liner to improve their record to 24-13-3 (51 points) and put them back in first place in the Metropolitan Division by a point. New Jersey (22-1-6) has two games in hand.

Braden Holtby was super solid in net making 25 of 27 saves and the Capitals will close out December with a perfect eight wins in eight tries at Capital One Arena. There is no place like home for Coach Barry Trotz’ club and they have now won 15 of their last 17 in front of their very boisterous fan base.

Here are my thoughts and analysis of this win that came at the end of some brutal scheduling:

Schedule Craziness This was the third game in four nights for both teams and Washington also played back to back before the Christmas break. So that’s effectively five games in six possible nights for the Caps and despite a three game losing skid in there, they came out of it 2-1-2 (six points). So even with a bit of a rough patch with no practice time, Trotz and company managed to survive and reclaim 1st place heading into Tuesday’s tilt in Carolina.

Tom Wilson’s War This is a trick title to this bullet because based on it you’d think that number 43 was dropping the gloves to announce his presence with authority again. Nope, Willy is doing it with his stick. Just 2:26 into this affair, now third line Tom went to the net and finished off a beautiful pass from Christian Djoos with Brett Connolly parked at the top of the paint. Wilson slid in behind #10 and after the sweet feed from the rookie blue liner, he snapped it by Cory Schneider (30 saves). Wilson, who earlier in December seemed to help Ovi and Backy get out of their funks with his stint on the top line, was bumped down in Thursday’s rally over Boston to jump start Lars Eller and Connolly to get them motoring again. #43 did just that and he’s on pace to shatter his total for points in a season. Tom now has six goals and 12 assists in 36 games and he’s a staggering +11 this year. Wilson helped Lars Eller lead the team in shot attempt percentage on the night (15 for and six against, 71.43%).

Top Line Production After a rough first shift, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Devante Smith-Pelly line really got it going. Djoos was the recipient of a great passing play to make it 2-0 at 11:09 of period one when he dropped the puck to Ovi coming across the blue line and then kept going to the net. The Gr8 then fed Backstrom with a sweet diagonal feed and Nicky went cross ice to #29, who snuck the puck behind Schneider into the yawning cage for a layup. That one was prettier than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and it was the type of start the Caps needed against a tired opponent. The top line would also set up Matt Niskanen for another layup in the third frame, to make it 4-1 just 4:25 into that stanza. Nisky carried the puck across the offensive blue line and once again it was a drop pass to Ovechkin that was the key to the sequence. Ovi fed DSP with another gem and #25 went cross ice to #2 for the second tic-tac-toe tally of the night for a defensemen. The three forwards on the Caps top line had 23 of the 47 shot attempts from Caps centers or wingers. Ovi logged 20 minutes and had nine shot attempts (six on net), Backstrom played 19:48 and had four shot attempts, and DSP had 10 in 16:25 (but only four hit the net).

Blueline Hat Trick I mentioned the key Djoos and Niskanen tallies, but Carlson also scored for Washington to make it a trio of goals for Caps defensemen. This one came on a second period power play that generated several quality chances. Schneider made some big saves to keep it a 2-1 game, but Washington would not allow the Devils to clear and Backstrom fed a pinching in from the point #74 nicely and Johnny rocketed it by #35 to restore a Capitals two goal lead. That power play marker at 7:01 really took some life from the Devils and set the stage for a third period where Washington kept the hammer down. The Caps have now gotten a goal from their previously struggling power play in each of the last two tilts and it is looking better as there’s been crisper passing and more movement.

Two In, Two Out Coach Trotz made two interesting lineup changes on Saturday. He scratched Andre Burakovsky, who has been pretty much terrible since his great game in Dallas on December 19th, and he put Chandler Stephenson back in. #18 is fast and his speed is a good match for New Jersey. I don’t expect #65 to be out for more than a game as the organization really needs him if they want to go deep into the post season. The other change was to get an up and down Madison Bowey a view from the press box so he can course correct some of his recent turnover struggles. Inserted into his spot was Taylor Choreny, who had a relatively unimpressive 13:25 of action. #4 had no shot attempts, but he also had no official giveaways. He was on the ice for the Devils first tally and that was a result of one of his failed clears. I’d expect Bowey to be back in against the Canes on Tuesday.

Overall, this was a very tidy win for the Caps, who are really making home ice pay off for them. Coach Trotz gets the last change and the crowd definitely helps the energy level. For the first in time in over three weeks, they had more significantly more energy than their opponent in the early going and that fast start took a lot of hope from the Devils. Washington’s passing was much cleaner in this affair and that helped negate a New Jersey forecheck, as well as their speed. Djoos had a quality game, except for a turnover and poor coverage on Travis Zajac’s goal that made it 4-2 with 11 minutes left. Christian is definitely improving and that is another key to the Capitals potential post season success. #29 has the ability to step up with his speed and stop opposing rushes while creating offense the other way.

Notes: It was another post concussion quiet night from T.J. Oshie (+1), who logged only 12:10. The Osh Babe had one shot attempt (blocked) and it came after he passed up a great chance in the high slot…the Caps out shot attempted the Devils, 67-60…Carlson led the Caps in time on ice with 25:58. Dmitry Orlov continues to excel on the back end and he played 21:27, was +1, and had three hits…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-25. Jay Beagle was dominant, going 13-3. Backstrom (7-10) also had a couple of huge wins on draws in the last minute when the Devils pulled Schneider and it led to his empty net tally…the Caps gave former #90, Marcus Johansson, a warm reception in his first game back in DC and a nice video tribute to boot…with the win, Coach Trotz now sits fifth all time in NHL coaching victories with 737 (passed Lindy Ruff).

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