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Tom Wilson Wild

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Tom Wilson’s Return Sparks the Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson was signed to a six year, $5.17M annual salary by the Washington Capitals this past off-season for a reason.

As T.J. Oshie tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, it was “Free Willy 3, The Rescue” for the Caps once Tom and the team found out that the neutral and independent arbitrator, Shyam Das, reduced Wilson’s 20 game suspension to just 14 overall. Unfortunately for the Capitals, 16 games have already passed, but Das, who cited George Parros’ incorrect math as the biggest reason for the reduction, did allow Top Line Tommy to recoup over $375K in salary by slicing the length of the punishment.

The Osh Babe was spot on that this was “The Rescue,” because a lifeless and blah Capitals hockey team that lost to Arizona, 4-1, on Sunday at Capital One Arena was turned into a group of energizer bunnies in a 5-2 thumping of the Minnesota Wild on their home rink.

Caps sensational play by play man, Joe Beninati, stated after the game that you could feel the buzz around the Capitals in the morning once the great news on Wilson came to light. Anyone on Twitter on Tuesday morning also felt the vibe. Suddenly the fan base was energized with their young leader coming back into the fold.

Speaking of the lineup, Coach Todd Reirden immediately went back to the three forward units that the Caps used in the Stanley Cup Final to defeat Vegas and suddenly Washington looked more like that club that defeated the Golden Knights in five games. Andre Burakovsky (one goal, one assist), Brett Connolly (one assist, +2), and Lars Eller (two assists) were flying from the get go and that gave Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau matchup issues because the Capitals finally had a deadly top nine on the ice, once again.

Eller would make a great play to set up Dmitry Orlov for his first goal of the season 6:33 into this tilt. Orly has been pretty inconsistent for most of the campaign, but in this affair, he was outstanding. Dima was skating and carrying the puck with confidence. After scoring the opening marker, he made a super pass to Wilson late in period one for a net crashing goal by Willy. That tally came with 28 seconds left in the first frame and put the Caps up, 2-0. Somehow, though, the clowns in stripes called Wilson for goalie interference after the puck went in, but it was Ryan Suter who shoved #43 into Devan Dubnyk (28 saves) and the Wild defensemen compounded the damage by hitting his own keeper in the head with his skate, knocking the goalie’s helmet off. It was just flat out horrible officiating by Kyle Rehman and Tom Chmielewksi, who did not have a good night. In fact, I think Chim Chim from the old Speed Racer cartoon could’ve done a better job than either of those two zebras.

Fortunately for the Caps, the officials didn’t matter despite giving Minnesota six power plays, because Washington played such a strong game. With Pheonix Copley (26 saves) in net, the Capitals had a committed defensive outing and allowed their goalie to see the opponents shots. They also blocked 20 attempts and cleared away five or so (according to the great Craig Laughlin) rebounds. Rebound control is the one area that #1 needs to keep improving on, but he used his positioning and size to thwart several Wild quality chances in this contest. Pheonix’s steady net minding, especially in period two when Minnesota had a bit of a push, prevented the Capitals from coughing up a multiple goal lead.

Once it was 3-1 heading into period three, Washington used its speed and talent to score two rush goals and put this one out of reach, at 5-1. Orlov notched his second goal of the night off of a great feed from Alex Ovechkin on a three on two. That easy finish was all set up by Wilson driving to the net and taking the Wild defensemen with him. Jakub Vrana made a dazzling play using his speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive end to feed Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot, who then put one on a tee for the Osh Babe to deposit the biscuit into the practically empty cage with Dubnyk out high expecting a shot from Backy. That goal with 10:12 to go pushed the lead to four pucks and from there it was just a question of how many power plays the Wild would get down the stretch (the correct answer is three).

The story of the night, however, was the intensity from Washington. The last time they played with passion that translated into winning the majority of the puck battles and solid back checking was opening night against Boston. Since that game way back on October 3rd, there has been a lack of a spark from this club. That all changed with the return of Wilson – as I tweeted before the game, every guy in that Capitals locker room loves Tom because of the energy and effort he brings to the room. He’s a battler on and off of the ice and he’ll protect his teammates at any cost. You simply can’t quantify what he means to the team, but all you had to do was watch Tuesday’s victory and you certainly can understand it.

It was definitely fun watching the Capitals play hockey again, and you’d be hard pressed to not give Wilson the majority of the credit for the amazing and quick turnaround.

Notes: Shots on goal were 27-14 for Washington after two periods and 33-28 for the game…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Minnesota was 1 for 6…Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 24:20. John Carlson (+3) logged 23:35 and Matt Niskanen played 22:47…Eller had the most ice time of any Caps forward with 19:23…the Wild only blocked nine shots to the Capitals 20…Washington won the face off battle, 30-29. Eller was 11-8…the Caps are in Winnipeg on Wednesday night at 8 pm EST and Braden Holtby will be in the cage.

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Caps Over Pens 2018

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Holtby Stones the Pens in a 2-1 Caps Triumph

Posted on 07 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Justice was served at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night.

American hero, T.J. Oshie, who was high sticked by Olli Maatta and required two stitches in period one (amazingly, the four zebras missed it so no penalty was called) and then was elbowed in the head by Evgeni Malkin in period three and had to enter concussion protocol for the second time in the game (Geno was properly thrown out of the contest for a head shot), scored from the slot with 74 seconds left to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oshie, who only played 13:51 on the evening due to his two locker room trips, was able to have a clean look for the game winner thanks to some great work by Alexander Ovechkin in front of the net, a super pass from John Carlson, and of course, a sensational overall sequence set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The game winning goal doesn’t happen though, if not for Braden Holtby’s stellar performance in net. The Holtbeast made 41 saves, some of the ten bell variety, and he won his first game since October 22nd. This was easily Braden’s best outing of the 2018-19 season and he rarely allowed any rebound chances. The Capitals, while giving up a lot of shots, did a solid job of keeping the Penguins on the perimeter most of the night. The only tally allowed was a power play marker by Sidney Crosby after Dmitry Orlov was stripped of the puck in the corner in the first frame (and some may say he was hooked).

Washington was outshot in every period and there were times when the Penguins were totally outworking the Caps, especially for the majority of the final stanza when Oshie was in the dressing room. The Osh Babe is a tireless worker and wins a lot of puck battles. One of the reasons the Capitals extended power play on the Malkin ejection was so bad was due to no #77 on the ice. Pittsburgh simply outhustled the guys in red during those nearly four minutes of man advantage time (the first minute plus was played at 4 on 4).

As for Malkin, what was he thinking? His team was on the power play and dominating the game, and then he decided to put himself above the team by taking a stupid penalty that just may get him suspended. You don’t see Crosby or Ovechkin making boneheaded plays like that, but perhaps the pressure of losing four in a row coming into this tilt was weighing on him? Whatever the case, the Penguins were really skating well when he derailed things with his stupidity. You have to think that his teammates aren’t happy with him for that selfish play.

As for the Capitals, they seemed to struggle with Oshie missing so much time plus Tom Wilson serving game 14 of his 20 tilt punishment. In addition, Brooks Orpik missed his fourth straight contest due to a lower body injury. Those three players are heart and soul guys for the Caps and when they aren’t out there, you notice it.

There were stretches where Coach Todd Reirden’s club brought it and they had a number of quality chances, but Casey DeSmith was pretty good, at times, while the Caps also missed the net or chose not to shoot on odd man rushes (paging Andre Burakovsky). Washington was only one for six on the power play, but that one was a key second period tally by Ovechkin from the Ovi spot after Nicklas Backstrom intercepted a poor Kris Letang clear, fed the puck point to point to Carlson, and then Johnny slid a sweet pass to the Gr8, who did what he does best: score big goals. Alex now has 12 goals in the first 14 games.

Overall, this was not a pretty game for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but the Caps are improving at covering the front of their net and there was more of a commitment defensively, like we saw against the Oilers on Monday night. So despite the 42 shots against, they did prevent rebound chances and allowed the Holtbeast to see the puck cleanly. Braden was clearly on in this one and he was the biggest reason the Capitals are now 7-4-3 (17 points) and in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

It’s only November though, there’s a long way to go, and there’s a very good chance that these two teams are meeting in April/May in the post season, once again.

All hail the Holtbeast and the Osh Babe!

Notes: Carlson led all skaters in ice time with 28:17. JC74 had two assists and had a really strong game…Orlov, after a superb outing on Monday, regressed in 23:44 of time, but he did block six shots…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-28. Crosby was 17-8. Lars Eller went 7-3 to lead Washington…Ovechkin logged 24:32, had a goal, made a great play in front on the GWG, and eight shot attempts…All Star Backstrom drew a hook on Crosby that led to the Caps first power play goal…Kuznetsov logged 23:49 as Reirden rode his stars big time in this thrilling victory…next up for the Caps are the Blue Jackets in DC on Friday night.

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Carlson Vrana Canucks

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Caps Dominate Canucks in 5-2 Win; Ovechkin has 4 points

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“There were no passengers tonight.”

That was the game summing up phrase uttered by the Caps superb television analyst, Craig Laughlin, as the horn sounded on a dominant 5-2 victory for the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Vancouver on Monday night.

No truer words could be spoken; Locker hit the nail on the head as Washington played their second best game of the young season (opening night) to improve to 4-2-2 overall (10 points).

After a big save by Braden Holtby on the opening shift, the Capitals raced to a fast start in this one scoring on a John “Norris” Carlson goal just 2:02 into this affair. The tally came on a four on four sequence with Michal Kempny and Dominic Roussel off for roughing. The goal was set up by some great skating and then a sweet pass by Jakub Vrana. Vrana had already won the face off to start the four on four and that winning draw set up a quality chance for Dmitry Orlov.

Overall, the Caps played very well in the opening frame as the whole team skated and they were more physical than the other games so far this season. The shots on goal were 13-6 and the shot attempts came in at 24-10, all for the good guys. Carlson was absolutely the best player on the ice and he logged 8:59 of ice time in that period.

Washington’s fourth line had two really strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky laying a big hit on Troy Stecher. It was the Caps best first period since the home opener and the lead could’ve been multiple pucks.

Prosperity wouldn’t last too long as the start of the second period was very sloppy for the Caps. There were too many soft and fancy passes that were picked off very easily by Vancouver. The Canucks had eight of the first nine shots in the frame and finally scored 7:30 into the period when the Caps fourth line couldn’t clear the puck. A point shot by Troy Stecher hit Nic Dowd’s glove en route to the cage and went in. There was nothing Holtby could do on that one and if it wasn’t for some super saves by the Holtbeast this game would’ve been tied up sooner.

Shortly thereafter, T.J. Oshie drew his second penalty of the night by going to the net and taking a cross check from Erik Gudbranson. The Caps deadly power play scored on a Kuznetsov rocket when the Canucks overplayed Ovechkin and opened up all kinds of room for #92 on the left side of the ice. Kuzy’s laser to the short side of Anders Nilsson (28 saves) came just under two minutes after the Canucks had evened things up.

After that power play marker, the Caps started playing better again. The fourth line had two good shifts and then late in the frame, Nicklas Backstrom made a sweet move to get around a defender at the blue line, carried the puck in deep down the left wing and fired it on net. Oshie, who once again was crashing the cage, backhanded the biscuit on goal and it pin balled around in front and Johnny on the Spot, Ovi, had the puck go in off of his leg for his seventh marker of the season with just 26 seconds left in period two. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net!

Backstrom took a late penalty in period two and the Canucks cashed in just 20 seconds into the final stanza on a rebound goal to make it 3-2. Washington would respond by drawing two straight power plays. Matt Niskanen was blatantly interfered with by Alexander Edler on a Vancouver rush, but the Capitals couldn’t get the power play set up at all and failed to get a decent scoring chance. The Caps fourth line continued their solid night by drawing a trip (Stecher took down Dmitri Jaskin) and this time Coach Todd Rierden’s squad made Vancouver pay. Backstrom passed to Carlson at the top of the point and Carly fired towards the cage, but Markus Granlund blocked the shot and broke his stick in the process. The puck went right to Ovechkin. The Gr8 and Carly then played give and go with Alex rifling one by Nilsson to restore the two goal lead and notch his eighth goal in eight games. All Star Backstrom picked up his 600th career assist on the important tally.

From there the Capitals really looked like the club that locked down leads last post season and Oshie hit the empty net on a great feed from Ovechkin to close out the scoring. It was an unselfish play by the Gr8, who could’ve gone for the hat trick, but being the team guy he is, the smart play was the pass to the Osh Babe for the game clincher and he did just that.

This was as solid of a triumph as Washington has had since the 7-0 thumping of the Bruins on banner raising night. Everyone was moving their legs, with Vrana being the most impressive with his wheels. Burakovsky wasn’t far behind him and if #65 keeps playing like that by moving his skates and using his size to win puck battles, more ice time and the points will start coming his way. Up and down the lineup the Capitals battled in this one. Each line contributed and the defense was rock solid, especially Carlson, who played a game high 26:06. He is a special player, like Oshie, and I’m super happy that the Caps took my advice each of the last two off seasons to reward guys I repeatedly referred to with the moniker, “Pay the Man!”

When the totals were added up for the night, Ovechkin had four points (two goals and two assists), Carlson had a goal and two assists, and Backy had three helpers to reach 601 for his career. The Osh Babe also had a goal and an assist and seemed to win just about every puck battle he was involved in.

Simply put, this game was all about speed and effort. Washington had their legs going and they were using their size to dominate puck possession. To steal from Aerosmith, “The train kept a rolling all night long” and that’s why the Caps were victorious.

Now it’s on to Edmonton to take on Connor McDavid and the Oilers on Thursday night at 9:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

Notes: The Holtbeast was very good in net despite some minor rebound issues, at times. The Capitals were much better in coverage in front of their own cage and in the slot, outside of the first eight minutes of period two when it was turnover city…the Caps were 2 for 5 on the power play while Vancouver was 1 for 3…I thought officials Justin St. Pierre and Gord Dwyer were fabulous. The game was called consistently and properly…the fourth line had one bad shift all night and it resulted in a goal against, but when the coaches review the film, they’ll really like what they saw from that unit…the Caps lost the face off battle, 28-25, but Dowd went 5-2…shot attempts for the game were 55-35 for Washington.

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Niskanen GWOTG

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Caps Survive The Rangers on Niskanen’s OT Tally

Posted on 18 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen scored 2:18 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the young and determined New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The triumph snapped a two game losing streak for the Caps and improved their record on this young 2018-19 season to 3-2-1.

What follows are 11 thoughts on the Caps after their win over the Blueshirts.

This was not a pretty performance, at all, but the Capitals star players stepped up to get two points, once again. Evgeny Kuznetsov drew three defenders to himself to set up the game winning goal, Alex Ovechkin notched two power play goals, John Carlson had a goal and two helpers, All Star Nicklas Backstrom had two assists, and Braden Holtby made 29 saves. The Caps are top heavy, but these stars very often deliver the goods.

The Rangers skated hard on Wednesday after playing on Tuesday night at home against Colorado. Washington didn’t jump on rookie Coach David Quinn’s squad early and that allowed New York to hang around and nearly steal a win. The Capitals simply had more talent than the young Rangers and that was the difference.

Coach Todd Reirden noted in his post game presser that the Capitals had been working on their neutral zone play and face-offs since the loss to the Leafs on Saturday night. The Caps were 35-31 on draws and tallied twice off of wins at the dot. They did, however, give up a goal on a lost face-off. Winning draws is important, especially for a team that has high end skill with the puck.

One thing I really didn’t like was the defensive zone coverage by Washington. It was too loose and that forced the Holtbeast to make a lot of big saves on rebounds. It’s only October, so pond hockey and a lack of defense is obvious in many NHL games, but the Capitals proved last spring they know how to play in their own end when it matters. There’s no way the Caps are able to play with that type of intensity on the back end for 82 games and then the post season, but you’d like to see better efforts in coverage around the Washington net. Too many opponents have had room to roam free in the first six games.

Washington did clamp down once this game was tied with 9:35 remaining. After that power play goal, the Rangers did not register another shot on net over the last 11:53 of this affair. Meanwhile, the Capitals generated seven shots on goal, including Niskanen’s rebound winner.

The Caps fourth line trio each played about seven minutes in this contest. That line took two of the four Capitals penalties, including Nathan Walker’s offensive zone holding infraction that led to the Rangers game tying tally. Walker is fast and pesky, but he has to be smarter in that situation and not take a penalty with a one goal lead in period three. Bad plays like that will put you out of the lineup quickly. All Walker had to do in that instance was to keep moving his feet and then he would not have had to hold Neal Pionk.

Don’t look now, but Ovi has six goals in six games already. The Gr8 is just a special player and his shot is so hard to stop. Even King Henrik Lundqvist was surprised at how quickly Ovechkin got off his shots against him.

The third line has had a lot of trouble this season, so it was good to see Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky have some good shifts, especially in the first 30 minutes. They were not as noticeable in the second half of the game, so that needs to be addressed. Burakovsky has looked a little slow and tentative in his six outings, although this was his best one yet, but that’s not saying much and #65 needs to start producing.

After the loss to the Leafs, there were many in the Canadian and National media talking about Toronto being a serious Cup contender. Yes, they are good with a top three center lineup of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri, but none of them have won a playoff series yet, so let’s stop focusing on the parade on Yonge Street. They are a talented team, but as we’ve seen with the Caps, it takes a major defensive commitment to get to the Promised Land. It remains to be seen if the Leafs have that in them. There is a big difference between October pond hockey and the playoff grind. Eller was right to point out to the media that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the gold standard and then things go from there for the Caps in ranking their opponents. The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Malkin era. Kadri has shown that he’s good at making some iffy hits and running his mouth.

Both teams went two for four on the power play. The two goals allowed by the Capitals came on deflections or crazy bounces with traffic in front. Again, the Caps must move their feet on defense better to prevent those type of goals.

Kuznetsov is great. He continues to play like he has the puck on a string and he is proving that he’s one of the best players in the NHL. His on ice awareness reminds me a lot of Wayne Gretzky.

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Connolly SCF

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Caps Championship Thoughts and More Breakdown Day Coverage

Posted on 14 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

It’s been exactly a week since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup and the vibe I’ve been getting around the DMV is that people are still basking in the afterglow of the victory and are dying for more information and news on the team. It’s pretty apparent that this group of players, coaches, training staff, and managers will be heroes, at least in this part of the country, for the rest of their lives. Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick have put their heart and soul, plus a lot of money, into this organization over the years and are finally being rewarded with a Championship.

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Coach Barry Trotz, and the others on this team have silenced the critics with this amazing season that included a Metropolitan Division title, when most people had them barely getting into the post season or not making it at all. Once game three of the Columbus series began, they went on an incredible 16-6 run in which they overcame a games deficit in all four rounds to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup. It was a remarkable display of grit, toughness, perseverance, and desire to do what had never been done by the franchise before.

There were many moments along the way where they seemed destined to fail, but somehow found a way to push through. Columbus hits the post in game three of the first overtime that would’ve given them a 3-0 series lead before Lars Eller’s magical goal off of a Brett Connolly shot. Tom Kuhnhackl hits the post in overtime of game six before Evgeny Kuznetsov takes that super pass from Ovechkin to finally slay the Penguins dragon. The Caps give up a two game series lead to Tampa with three straight losses, but shut out the Bolts over the final 159 minutes of the series to storm into the Cup Final. In game two of the Stanley Cup Final, with 1:59 remaining and a one goal lead, the Holtbeat makes “The Save” on Alex Tuch to prevent overtime and propel Washington to four straight wins and hockey’s ultimate prize.

It was clear that the tightness of this team provided the foundation that allowed them to rise up and seize the critical moments in the postseason that the Washington Capitals had never done before, in any era. It was legendary, that’s the best way for me to describe it and as each moment since has transpired, I am appreciating more and more what they’ve accomplished. Many in Caps Nation surely feel the same way. Thank you, 2018 Washington Capitals.

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Wednesday was breakdown day at Kettler IcePlex, as I chronicled yesterday in this blog, but as promised, below is the transcript of a one on one exclusive interview WNST was able to obtain with Connolly, who came to Washington in 2016 looking for an opportunity after stints with Tampa and Boston, and has completely seized it.

WNST: You’ve been telling me for two years since you’ve been here that you guys have a good team, but the way you guys played and came together, that was amazing.

Connolly:  Yeah, it was amazing, such a good group, such a committed group, such a highly skilled group. We really just came together at the right time, especially after that Pittsburgh series where we first really believed we could win this. It’s such a big moment for all of us, we’re all just so happy that we could ultimately get this done for all of our fans, for our families, it was such a special moment.

WNST: Coach Trotz told us when he came out to Baltimore that this team this year, whenever he asked someone to move around in the lineup, that he received no push back. That seems to really speak to the type of team you had this year?

Connolly: Yeah, I think you have to be playing the guys that are playing well, whether you’re a veteran guy or a rookie guy, it doesn’t matter. I think we were just cheering for whoever was in, whoever was getting more ice time that night. If a guy wasn’t playing well we’d pick him up, he’d ultimately change his game and they’d figure it out. It was just a good environment to be in, everyone was playing their best hockey at the right time of the year.

WNST: The way you, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky played in the playoffs, all three of you guys have always had high skill, but the way the three of you took the body, were in the proper position on the walls, it seemed like that was the biggest jump you guys made and was a big part of the team’s success. Would you agree with that?

Connolly: Yes, I think so. I think I got a little taste of [the playoffs] last year, I didn’t play a whole lot, there were a lot of other guys deserving of that chance and I just wasn’t, but I think I got a little confidence from that, just knowing what to expect. I think we all really just played solid, just did what was asked of us, we didn’t really care. I think overall a lot of our games got better throughout the playoffs. It was ultimately why a lot of us were successful and had good stats and helped the team win.

WNST: It seems like every time an obstacle was thrown at you guys, you overcame it. First one, game three against Columbus, you score a goal that would’ve made it 2-0, it comes back on an offside, but on the game winning goal in double overtime, you make a smart play by shooting quickly and the puck goes in off of Lars Eller for the team’s first win.

Connolly: Simple, but that’s the playoffs, really simple. I had a couple of those in the postseason, just need a break sometimes and I just tried to shoot it as quick as I could and as hard as I could. You know we were earning all of our breaks in the playoffs, we were working for each other and I think we legitimately deserved everything we got.

WNST: The last goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs, you didn’t score the goal, but it was your shot, with again Lars going to the net. This team did that the whole playoffs.

Connolly: Yeah, just the same thing. Lars was hungry all playoffs, he’s a guy that’s going to the net all of the time. He really, really elevated his game the whole playoffs. Really awesome to see, he really turned a lot of heads. Such a big moment for the city, for me, him, and Burkie, whoever was on the ice, at that point.

WNST: You’ve been here two years, I grew up here, I’ve been around this team for 44 years. I don’t know how much you realize what legends you guys are going to be around this area to finally bring a Cup here. This team was gone in 1982, but for the Save the Caps. Then in 2004 it is gone again if Ovi doesn’t comes along. You guys now go and win a Cup and have put it over the top.

Connolly: It’s pretty cool. We saw the support at the parade. People are on cloud nine and it’s amazing to see everybody so happy. It’s really cool to be a part of something like that. To put so many smiles on so many people’s faces. There’s been so much good support the last couple of years I’ve been here, but that parade was insane and it was something that I’ll never forget and a lot of guys will never forget.

WNST: What are you going to do with the Cup?

Connolly: I’m going to go home to British Columbia, Prince George, just take it around town. I don’t know what we’ll do, but just try to get as many people to see it as possible.

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Connolly is definitely one of the better interviews on the team and I’ve appreciated his insight since he joined the Caps last season. He has worked hard to improve and he’s made General Manager Brian MacLellan and his scouting staff look super smart for bringing him to town. Kudos, Brett.

In yesterday’s blog, I failed to mention that Kuznetsov’s injury from the Brayden McNabb hit in game two was to his left shoulder. Fortunately, Kuzy is a smaller version of the Russian Machine that Never Breaks and came back in game three to lead his team to victory with an outstanding performance. All season long, in this blog and in my radio sessions with WNST owner Nestor Aparacio, I showered number 92 with tough love. He is an immensely talented hockey player who I knew, if he took his game to another level and played the right way, would be such a key to the Capitals finally breaking through into the later rounds of the playoffs. Boy did he do just that, and more. Evgeny led all players in scoring in the playoffs and he delivered when the team really needed him to do so. He has moved himself from the very good category to the elite/superstar level with his postseason performance. He earned every bit of the $7.8M he received from the Caps this past season.

The Caps now have a short turnaround for training camp, which will start around September 10th or so. It’s already June 14th, so there will be less time to get ready. Jay Beagle, who has won championships at the ECHL, AHL, and now the NHL level did point out that the short time to get ready isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Beags said that in the three summers following his ECHL and two AHL triumphs, he was more motivated to train and that he didn’t have to work hard to prevent losing focus like he’s done when the team has been eliminated earlier in the spring. So it would appear that this summer the Caps players do have that going for them….which is nice.

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Caps Breakdown Day News, Nuggets, and Analysis

Posted on 13 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held breakdown day on Wednesday afternoon and it was obviously the best one ever, given that this year’s session followed the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup victory. The players were clearly tired from two grueling months of hockey and then the post triumph celebrations, but were extremely happy.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the day at Kettler IcePlex:

Alexander Ovechkin, now clean cut thanks to his Gillette sponsorship, is a very happy man, and rightly so. The victory has clearly brought back the old Ovi that we saw when he was younger before some of the angry and hating national and even local media constantly crushed him forcing him to withdraw some of the best sides of his personality from public view. On Wednesday, the Gr8 answered questions for 30 minutes going above and beyond the call of duty. Ovi started by stating “I still can’t believe we won, I still can’t believe we did it. Right now we are realizing how special this win was.” He also added that “We lost some key guys last year, but all of the new guys played unbelievable.” Ovi noted that this was the best team he ever played on and whenever someone got hurt, felt bad, or were suspended, people stepped up. “It was a special group.” He also praised former General Manager George McPhee for “drafting half of the group” and ended with a very classy “Thanks George for what you did here.”

Nicklas Backstrom suffered two fractures in his right index finger in game five against Pittsburgh. He said he will not need surgery. Clearly Nicky was still hurting when he came back in the lineup after missing four games and to perform the way he did with that injury – shutting down the other team’s top center in each of the Tampa and Vegas series – is the stuff of legends. Backy will have his Cup celebration in his hometown in Sweden.

Brooks Orpik injured his hand in game two of the Columbus series and also had the tip of his right pinky finger detached when Erik Haula violently slashed him at the end of game two in the Stanley Cup final. Despite the injuries, Orpik played some of his best hockey in this postseason. When asked about the improvement in his skating this past season, Brooks noted that he is always tweaking his off season training regimen to seek improvement, but he also pointed out this was the first season in a few years where he did not have any ailments that impacted his wheels. Orpik told me he’d find out on Friday if he needed surgery on his hand.

Coach Barry Trotz had initial new contract discussions with General Manager Brian MacLellan on Wednesday morning. The Stanley Cup winning coach says he wants to be back because he likes this group while also stating that the area and setup has been good for his family situation. When asked if the rest of the entire coaching staff would be back next year, he said that is unknown, at this time.

John “Big Game” Carlson has not had any contract talks with the Caps yet, but said he loves this team and would love to be back, but there are a lot of factors involved. He will be having his Stanley Cup celebration in the DC area (his wife is from the DMV). The Capitals have an advantage in negotiations since they can sign number 74 for eight years, while others can only offer seven campaigns. There is no doubt that “Big Game” is the number one offseason unrestricted free agent priority for MacLellan and the Caps. The salary cap number for 2018-19 will be out from the league on Monday, June 18th and the higher it goes, the better it is for Washington ($82M would be really nice). Backstrom, when asked about Carlson stated, “John Carlson just keeps getting better and better. It’s impressive. Hopefully he stays here.” I’ll say this now, just like I did about T.J. Oshie last year, Pay the Man! He’s a legitimate number one defenseman and easily in the top ten in the NHL, in my opinion. You don’t let stud blue liners like “Big Game” Carlson leave. Losing him would be close to the magnitude of the Scott Stevens departure back in 1990.

Defensemen Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov gave a lot of credit to assistant coach Todd Rierden for helping them improve their respective games. Kempny noted that he had little confidence when he came over in February in a trade from Chicago and that Rierden immediately helped him regain it. The Czech defensemen stated that he had some bad games in the postseason, but that Rierden was always there to give him some keys to turning things around in the next contest. Kempny, who was very vocal about coming back because the Caps have “a great group of players, coaches, and trainers,” is an unrestricted free agent and given that he played as the number four defensemen in the postseason, he’s high up on the contract pecking order for MacLellan and the Caps. He only has 103 games of NHL experience, so that could help keep his price lower (he made $900, 000 in 2017-18 and will get a decent raise). Orlov, who had his hand badly injured in the World Championships in the spring of 2014 and missed the entire first season of the Trotz era (2014-15), said he was unsure he’d ever be able to play again at a high level. Rierden has certainly helped Dima out, but I also give Orlov a ton of credit for constantly working and striving to be better. It’s amazing how far he’s come since the 2016 playoffs where he struggled against the Flyers and Penguins. He’s a quality blue liner that breaks the puck out of his own zone incredibly well.

Oshie said he hasn’t won much since he was younger, so this Stanley Cup victory has been very exciting. Courtesy of the great Tarik El-Bashir, T.J. said he was healthiest at the start of the Stanley Cup Final. He won’t require any procedures this offseason. The Osh Babe, who is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, told Tarik that “I didn’t even need Advil” as the SCF started.

Tom “Future Captain” Wilson noted that he played up and down the lineup this season, but said when he played 10 games straight with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, instead of just one or two, his game really took off. Willy talked at length about how close this team was (is), but credited former Cap Justin Williams for encouraging the team to have fun and said it helped loosen the team up and bond them. Top line Tommy says he’s loved his five years here, stated he’s always done whatever he can to help the team, but also said there will be an element of business this summer for him (he’s a restricted free agent). Like Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov and some others on this squad, it’s amazing how much they have improved in the four years this coaching staff has been in place. The players clearly get the majority of the credit, but you can’t discount the way the coaches have enabled these players to blossom.

On the netminding front, courtesy of Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, MacLellan said Philipp Grubauer wants to be a number one goaltender, but he’d like to keep both Grubi and Braden Holtby, be he’s going to explore a trade for Grubauer so he can do his thing. There is no doubt that the Capitals don’t win the Metropolitan Division without the stellar play of number 31 this past season. You need two good goalies in this day and age in the NHL to make it to the postseason. If Grubauer, who is a restricted free agent departs via trade, there could be a big dropoff to third string, Phoenix Copley. 2015 1st round pick Ilya Samsonov will be coming over to North America to play this fall, but he’ll need time in Hershey to become acclimated to the smaller rink. Bottom line, the best scenario for the Caps is to keep Grubauer, but potential salary cap room and a good trade return will likely be too hard to pass up. Goaltending coach Scott Murray and his staff, to include Olie Kolzig, will need to really get the other goalies in the system ready quickly should the German keeper move on.

Jay Beagle, when asked why the Caps won this year, pointed out that the Capitals “built their game all year and peaked at the right time. In past years we peaked in December and Janaury and then tried to hold onto it.” When questioned about Ovechkin not letting go of the Cup very much since they won, he stated that Ovi is invited to his Cup celebration, but he doubted the Gr8 would come to the Beagle farm. On Trotz, number 83 said “He’s always been a great coach since he’s been here, has brought in great people around him, and I feel like we have been the most prepared team in the league.” The unrestricted free agent, who has now won championships at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL level, hasn’t had any contract discussions yet and stated “obviously, I have to wait until the big guys get settled first” before receiving an offer. The hard working total team guy stated he could wait until after July 1st and that he’d leave things up to MacLellan. When I asked him if he’d leave if some team came along and threw money at him, said he’d have to see what was best for his family. The fourth line center who is great on faceoffs and the PK made $1.75M in each of the last three seasons.

As I wrote in my Cup winning blog, players such as Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky really upped their compete level, especially on the physical side of the house, and were important factors in the Caps playoff run. Burakovsky told El-Bashir that after three hand injuries over the past couple of years that he plans to have a conversation with CCM this summer about getting more substantial gloves. He told Tarik that two of the injuries could’ve been avoided with more protection. Washington will need each of these three guys to continue to progress, as they’ve done so far under Lane Lambert’s tutelage, if they are going to have a chance to repeat. Connolly, who for two years has confidently told me that the Caps have a very good team, summed up why this Championship ultimately happened for this squad.

“It was amazing, such a good group, such a committed group, such a highly skilled group. We really just came together at the right time, especially after that Pittsburgh series where we first really said we could win this. It’s such a big moment for all of us, we’re all just so happy that we could ultimately get this done for all of our fans, for our families, it was such a special moment.”

That quote from Connolly really summed up this team, who will forever be legends around this area, in a nutshell.

Notes: Matt Niskanen, when asked about all of the celebrations, said “It was great to see Brooks Orpik let his hair down.” So many players mentioned how business like number 44 is and that they don’t often get to see that side of one of the biggest leaders on the Caps…Alex Chiasson, who scored a huge goal to open the scoring in the game six triumph that closed out the Penguins, was hoping to come back to the Caps next season, especially given his close friendship that he has developed with Ovechkin, which apparently started from playing cards on the plane together…Beagle is leaving town on Thursday and noted it would be good to get back to reality…I’ll post a full transcript of my exclusive one on one session with Connolly out at WNST.NET on Thursday night…Backstrom, when asked about the team possibly breaking up, “It sucks, but when you look back on this 10, 15 years from now, we’ll always have this special group.”

Photo credit to Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press.

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Caps win Cup

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Caps End 44-Year Drought With Stanley Cup Win

Posted on 08 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have won the Stanley Cup!!!

Pardon my French, but 44 years of futility is freaking over!

There will be no more doubting Conn Smythe Trophy Award winner Alexander Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom or Braden Holtby or General Manager Brian MacLellan or Coach Barry Trotz or Brooks Orpik and on and on down the list of Washington Capitals players, coaches, and managers. This is truly an incredible group of people who bonded together and showed that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They have made a long suffering fan base very proud and the Baltimore-Washington area will NEVER EVER forget this cast of champions!

As for the Stanley Cup clinching game itself, WOW!

The Caps jumped out to 1-0 and 2-1 leads, saw Vegas tie the game on a tally that sure looked like goalie interference and then surge ahead very late in period two with a power play goal. The Golden Knights had a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes in a very hotly contested physical affair and had their eyes on sending things back to Capital One Arena down just three games to two.

Previous Washington teams might’ve folded, at that point, and started contemplating that game six in DC on Sunday night, but not the 2018 Washington Capitals. This club came out with a passion in period three and fought tooth and nail to get the equalizer, which came from an incredible individual effort by Devante Smith-Pelly to notch his 7th goal of the postseason after Orpik made an outstanding keep in at the offensive blue line to set the tally up. That marker came with 10:08 remaining and the Caps kept the hammer down.

With 7:37 to go, Luca Sbisa turned the puck over to Andre Burakovsky behind his own net and Burkie fed Brett Connolly alone in the slot. Conno fired on net and the puck squeezed through Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and Lars Eller, who applied the fore check pressure to set up the turnover after a smart dump in by Michal Kempny, grabbed the disc and deposited it into the cage for what would be the first ever Stanley Cup clinching goal for the Capitals and his seventh of the post season, as well.

Imagine that, sevens were wild in the third period, in Vegas??!!

Washington had 13 of the first 18 shots on goal in period three to storm the castle and take a 4-3 lead.

From there, the Capitals went into their 1-1-3 defensive posture and really didn’t give Vegas any quality chances, despite six Golden Knights shots on goal. Any attempts that made it through were gobbled up by Holtby (28 saves), who kept this a one goal game early in period three by gloving a top shelf wrister from David Perron in the slot. It was a big stop and nearly as important as “The Save” in game two, because if the Caps go down two pucks there, then a game six would very likely have occurred.

Backstrom (1 assist) had a chance to end the series with an empty net tally with under a minute to go, but somehow missed the cage invoking memories of Esa Tikkanen not scoring in game two of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final. But Nicky’s teammates wouldn’t allow the miss to bite the team in the rear and the Caps killed off the remainder of the clock and celebrated wildly when it was over, led by their very emotional captain.

This team won the Cup because it learned to play defense better than any other Capitals squad in the Ovechkin era. Washington listened to the coaching staff and walled off the front of their net regularly in the post season. They received outstanding goaltending from the Holtbeast, who along with Evgeny Kuznetsov (32 playoff points), could’ve won the Conn Smythe Trophy, based on their on ice production.

But the Gr8 (power play goal, his NHL leading 15th tally of the 2018 playoffs) definitely deserved the MVP trophy for his incredible leadership. Who can forget the Ovechkin line, “We’re going to Columbus to win two games and bring this series tied back to DC” in the first round? Time after time he scored the big goal (first goal in game 7 in Tampa) or made a great back check and pass to win a series (Pittsburgh, game 6) or blocked a shot and dove to clear a puck at an important juncture (SCF game two). Ovi led by example on and off of the ice. He made it clear before game five that the team shouldn’t be talking about celebrations or any of the stuff that comes with winning because they hadn’t won anything yet. Simply put, all playoffs long, Alex talked the talk and then backed it up by walking the walk.

Seeing his emotions as he was given the Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman was incredible, then watching him skate around with Lord Stanley and pass it to Backstrom is a memory that Capitals fans will remember forever. Two players who former General Manager George McPhee drafted and built the franchise around finally made it to the promised land after 11 years of failures.

As Ovi and Nicky will tell you, this wasn’t about them, though, this was about a team that picked each other up through injuries, suspensions, mistakes, adversity, and questionable officiating along the way. You can go up and down the lineup and point to contributions each player made.

  • Kuznetsov dominated with his skating and became a superstar this spring. He took his game to a whole new level and backed up the big contract he received last summer.
  • T. J. Oshie did just about everything you could ask for from scoring big goals (see game six vs. Tampa), winning the vast majority of board battles, and playing great defense to close out games. The Caps don’t win the Cup without the Osh Babe. There’s a reason I blogged and tweeted “Pay the Man” throughout 2016-17.
  • Tom Wilson evolved into a complete player this campaign and “Top Line Willy” was just a wrecking ball and force all post season. He’s built for the playoffs.
  • John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmity Orlov, and trade deadline bargain Kempny played a lot of minutes on the blue line in four grueling series. “Big Game” Carlson showed how a number one defensemen should perform in the playoffs and I’ll say this again about him, “Pay the Man!” Niskanen was so solid and took the heat for he and Orlov’s rough game five in Tampa. That’s leadership, right there, and it took the pressure off of Dmitry, allowing Dima to get back on track quickly in game six.
  • Orpik was a team leading +17 in the post season and “Batya” had the key game winning goal in game two that turned the Stanley Cup Final around. For all of the grief the Corsi crew gives him, he thrived in the post season on defense, the PK, and he even chipped in offensively with five points.
  • Eller stepped up, especially when Backstrom broke his hand. He played second and third line center doing whatever was asked of him. The Capitals also don’t win the Cup without “Tiger.”
  • Jay Beagle was a beast on faceoffs all post season and a dominant force in all three zones. Nobody works harder than “Beags.”
  • Connolly (6 goals, 3 assists in the playoffs) was a totally different player from the guy who was scratched in the 2017 postseason by using his speed, great shot, and more importantly, his body to win puck and board battles.
  • Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky used their skill and speed to score or set up huge goals. Vrana had the critical game winner in game five against the Pens and Andre notched two huge breakaway tallies in game seven to defeat the Bolts. Those two guys learned to win board battles by adding a physical element to their game and that was critical to the team’s success. They became excellent playoff style hockey players, something this squad badly needed after the off season losses of forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson to the top six.
  • Chandler Stephenson (7 playoff points) played up and down the lineup and used his superior speed to set up goals and make opposing defensemen lose confidence. He was also a key cog on the penalty kill.
  • Smith-Pelly notched big goal after big goal, with his game going to an incredible level in the Cup Final after a rough game one.
  • Christian Djoos took advantage of the downtime down the regular season stretch he endured due to Jakub Jerabek’s strong play to jump back in against Columbus in game three and become part of a quality third pair duo with Orpik.
  • Even forwards such as Alex Chiasson (goal in game six against Pittsburgh), Nathan Walker (assist in game six against Pittsburgh), and Travis Boyd contributed when the injury bug and suspension to Wilson hit against the Pens.

Yes, this was a special crew of players because of how they united and after two very shaky games against Columbus, bought in to what the outstanding coaching staff was selling to go on a remarkable run. Washington was 16-6 beginning with game three of the first round. The switch to Holtbeast was a game or two late for me, but perhaps it was meant to be so that the rest of the club could finally understand the way they needed to play to have the ultimate success?

Yes, it’s true, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are really Stanley Cup Champions!!

When is the parade??!!

Addendum

The ride was absolutely amazing and for me, this championship is extra special. As a nine year old boy in 1974, my father was in the sports journalism business at WLMD in Laurel and dragged me time and time again to Capital Centre to watch a terrible expansion team play a sport that quickly got my attention. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school in 1983 that the Capitals finally made the playoffs thanks to David Poile, Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, and Bryan Murray. That’s when hockey became my favorite sport. From there I covered the team for the PG Post-Sentinel for a few years, meeting current WNST owner Nestor Aparacio in the process. That press box stint led to a Capitals team statistician position with Dr. Mike Herr and several other great people for 11 years. From 1986 to 1997 I traveled to games in Philly and everywhere in the playoffs with the team enjoying really great times while learning so much about hockey from great players such as Langway and Dale Hunter, and hockey personnel Jack Button, although I learned even more from his son, Tod. But there were so many heartbreaks along the way and several times it was to the Penguins, who won five Stanley Cups, defeating the Caps each time. In 2007, Nestor reached out to me and told me he was starting a WNST website and he wanted me to blog on it, doing whatever I wanted since I was someone he trusted and had inside access given my time with the Caps. Naturally I’ve turned that into this Caps blog and regular radio show sessions with Nestor. We’ve chronicled the highs and even more heartbreak since 2008 during the Ovechkin era. I was able to be on the ice in Hershey when Carlson, Beagle, and Holtby won the Calder Cup in 2010 (thanks John Walton!). But in 2014, I had seen enough of a bad culture and the lack of a cohesive team that led to me calling for the firing of Coach Adam Oates and GM McPhee, and the hiring of Trotz. Three years of crushing playoff defeats followed in the Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan era, but on July 3, 2017, I penned a “Caps are still a contender blog” despite the fact that many had written the GM, coach, and players off. Thankfully the GM, the coaches, and the guys on the ice delivered in a way that many hockey fans around this area will appreciate for the rest of their lives. I know I will, but most of all, I really appreciate my father, Ed, who will turn 80 on July 7th, for introducing me to the Capitals and the sport of hockey. Exchanging texts with him after the Capitals won the Cup was a very special moment for me and many of the people who reached out to me afterwards are great people that I’ve met along the way watching, working, covering, and just being around this great sport. I’ve made so many lifelong and life changing friends and people through hockey. I’d need numerous blogs to list all of them, you know who you are! I owe all of it to my father, so thanks Dad! I know you predicted back in 1974 that the Caps would sell out every game some day and they’d win a Stanley Cup. You are now correct on both counts!

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Ovi Game 7

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Ovechkin, Burakovsky, and Holtby Shine in Caps Game 7 Triumph Over Tampa

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final!

Let me say that again.

Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final!

Ovi rifled a slap shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy just 1:02 into the contest off of a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky added two goals while in all alone on the Bolts goalie in the middle frame, Nicklas Backstrom hit the empty net with under four minutes remaining, and most importantly, Braden Holtby was an absolute wall in net making 29 saves in a Capitals 4-0 victory in game seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Caps, who won the first two and last two games of this Eastern Conference Final series that went the distance, will now face former General Manager George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, which will start on Monday night at 8 pm EDT from Rock Vegas.

This was a total team effort against the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and if not for the Holtbeast, the Caps aren’t up 1-0 when Burakovsky finally gave Washington a two puck margin. Holtby was outstanding in net by making the first save all evening and his teammates did a great job of clearing the rebounds. His biggest stop of the night was the Alex Killorn breakaway in period two where Holts got his blocker on the shot. There were numerous other big saves and after getting no shutouts all season, Braden came up huge with back to back blankings of the Bolts in games six and seven to hand his club the series victory and the Prince of Wales Trophy.

As has been the case all series long, getting the lead was so important in this tilt, so for the Caps to strike early really had to help their confidence given their past game seven scoring droughts, including a 2-0 season ending loss to Pittsburgh in 2017. The Caps earned a power play shortly thereafter and nearly made it 2-0, but the Bolts held them off and then the home team started to carry the play. Tampa pretty much threw the kitchen sink at the Caps in the first 30 minutes, but the Holtbeast and the Washington team defense didn’t break.

The Capitals were hanging on near the midway point of period two, but with Tampa really pressing, the Caps speed took over. Tom Wilson won a board battle in the neutral zone to get the puck to Lars Eller on the wall and #20, playing smartly with the lead, just fired the puck in a north-south manner into the Bolts zone. The disc hit Dan Girardi in the chest falling to #5’s skates, but Burkie swooped in to grab the loose biscuit and flew in on Vasilevskiy. Andre beat the Russian goalie with a gem of a shot over the right pad and just below the blocker at the 8:59 mark.

Andre was not done, though. With the Lightning really gambling to cut the margin to one, John Carlson banked a beautiful pass off of the boards from inside the Caps defensive zone to a streaking Burakovsky in the neutral zone. With the Bolts changing personnel, #65 skated in alone and beat the Bolts goaltender five hole to make it 3-0 with 3:29 to go in period two.

That tally clearly deflated Tampa and the Capitals were really able to clog the neutral zone, wall off the front of their net, and play for counter attacks from there on out. The Caps were so good on defense in the third period, that the Bolts were not able to get a single shot on net until 10:56 remained and that came on a point blast by Victor Hedman after a Tampa offensive zone face off win.

As was the case in Monday night’s game six dominant victory, the Capitals, once they had the multiple goal lead, were relentless on the puck and won numerous individual battles. Tampa did get a power play early in period three when Matt Niskanen was called for high sticking Nikita Kucherov, but the Caps penalty killing unit didn’t allow a single shot on goal.

What was most impressive about that PK was that Brooks Orpik was still in the locker room being tended to after Cedric Paquette boarded him late in period two. Somehow the zebras did not call a penalty there, which was ridiculous. So in the final frame, with a three goal lead, the Capitals were missing two of their top PK blue liners, yet they totally outworked the Bolts and easily killed the infraction off.

All season long, this crew has banded together to handle adversity and prove the critics wrong. Many said before the season they wouldn’t make the playoffs, and they won the Metropolitan Division title. Then several TSN experts had Columbus defeating them in round one and after going down 2-0 in games and facing a potential 3-0 hole in double OT of game three, they roared back with four straight wins to advance to face Pittsburgh in round two. Surely they would lose for the third straight year to the two-time defending Champions, right? At least that was the prevailing thought from the experts. But with Wilson suspended for three games and Backstrom dealing with a fractured hand he suffered early in game five, the Caps managed to defeat the Pens in game six with a lineup of five rookies and finally put to rest the Penguin demons.

That still wasn’t good enough and nearly all of the national media picked Tampa to defeat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final, especially with all of those ex-Rangers in their lineup. After a fast start on the road, the Caps sputtered at home and the ghosts of Washington playoff pasts seemed to be making an appearance. But this team said “no way, it ain’t happening again” and they turned in their best game, arguably ever, in the postseason with a 3-0 blanking of the Bolts on Monday night to force game seven.

That set the stage for Wednesday and the Caps 4-11 record in game seven tilts was littered all over the television channels, newspapers, and social media. But this band of brothers ignored that stat and stuck to their system to grind out a win and move on to the Stanley Cup Final, Washington’s second ever appearance in that affair and the first time since 1998.

It was another outstanding effort from the players, who adhered to the great game plan that the coaches gave them. Washington has learned, perhaps from past playoff defeats, that north-south hockey is what gets it done in the post season and they are executing that style well in the spring of 2018.

This was a huge victory, but there is still one series left to go. Vegas is a big and fast team and now they will face yet another long time nemesis, goalie Marc Andre-Fleury, who was the single biggest reason that Presidents’ Trophy winning squad lost in seven games to the Penguins in 2017.

However, we’ll have plenty of time to analyze the Stanley Cup Final before Monday, which should be a super match up.

On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, however, enjoy this series triumph because the team earned it and the fans have been waiting, some very patiently and others sometimes too impatiently, for Ovi, Backy, and company to finally break through. This is arguably not their best team on paper, but the game is played on the ice, so given their accomplishments to date, you can certainly say that this 2018 Capitals squad is their best team ever, but there is still hockey to play this spring.

So to close on this glorious night for the Washington Capitals, I’ll quote the great movie Major League, because there’s only one thing left for the Caps to do now,

“Win the whole f—in’ thing!”

Notes: Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:40. Big game player Carlson logged 25:06 and was +3 with a huge assist. Hedman played a game high 28:05 for the Bolts…Game six hero Devante Smith-Pelly laid out to block a shot in period one and took it in the upper back/neck area. He only played 8:24 for the night, including one shift in period three…shot attempts were 60-38 for Tampa…Eller led the Capitals with five shots on goal. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov had four shots on net. The Caps had 23 shots on goal in the game…Washington was 0 for 1 on the power play while the Lightning were 0 for 2. The referees didn’t do the Capitals many favors in this series…the Capitals won the face off battle, 26-24. Jay Beagle went 6-4.

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O Halloran Ovi

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Caps Overcome Adversity in 6-2 Rout of Tampa

Posted on 14 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals reeled off five unanswered goals to erase a 2-1 first period deficit to knock off the
Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in game two of the Eastern Conference Final and the Caps will head home to the DMV with a 2-0 series lead.

Tom Wilson put the Capitals on the board just 28 seconds into this affair by tipping home a Matt Niskanen point blast. Washington came out fast and furious when the Bolts were supposed to be the more desperate team and they had some chances to increase their lead. On a rush to the Tampa net at the 6:48 mark, Wilson skated hard to the cage hoping for a back door pass, was hooked by Chris Kunitz and then spun around by Ryan McDonagh and crashed into goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and the goal frame. Referee Dan O’Halloran, who the Capitals were 0-6 lifetime as a zebra in the playoffs coming into this affair, ignored the Kunitz hook and McDonagh contact and instead called Willy for goalie interference. Tampa needed all of 20 seconds to tie it up on a Brayden Point shot.

Sure, that call on Wilson could’ve gone either way, and there are valid arguments on both sides, but then something happened that should never occur in a playoff game of this magnitude. Victor Hedman was hit in the face by a puck and T.J. Oshie, who put his stick up to try and get the biscuit, but never came close to contacting Hedman’s upper body, was boxed for a phantom high sticking penalty. How does that happen with two referees and two linesmen? Surely one of them had to see it was not high sticking? Anyways, that was a bad call, for sure, and Steven Stamkos scored back door late in that power play to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead at 10:22 that they certainly didn’t deserve.

At that point, it was really important how the Capitals players and coaches would react. Would they lose their minds and get caught up in the incompetent O’Halloran officiating or would they remain calm, stick to their game plan, and focus on getting even on the scoreboard?

Judging by the last 49 plus minutes, it was clearly the latter. Even in the final nine minutes of period one, the Capitals pushed the play and had several scoring chances drawing extensive praise from Mike Milbury on NBC and then Keith Jones and Eddie Olczyk between periods. Olczyk even disagreed with the call on Wilson, pointing out the missed hook on Kunitz on a scoring chance.

The Caps would not tie it up in period one, but the tone was set and early in period two they got even. John Carlson stole an errant Tampa pass and sprung Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle on a three on one rush. Chiasson fed DSP and Devante was able to one time home a puck that didn’t really settle on the ice for him. The biscuit hit the far post and went in behind Vasilevskiy to really give Washington a huge goal and momentum.

The remainder of the period was tense back and forth and the Caps were getting the better of the chances, but #88 was playing fairly well in the cage. At 15:48 of period two, Michal Kempny took an unnecessary interference penalty so the Tampa power play, which had scored three of the Bolts four goals in the series, had a chance to give the home squad the lead. Washington, however, would easily kill of the infraction and they immediately started pressing the Tampa defense again.

With just over a minute left in period two, Oshie went in on a fore check and forced Anton Stralman to turn the puck over. The speedy Jakub Vrana pounced on the loose disc and alertly fed a camped in front Lars Eller on the doorstep and #20 put the biscuit in the basket for a 3-2 Caps lead with 62 seconds to go in the middle frame. Speed kills, and Tampa was supposed to be the faster team, but a fresh Andre Burakovsky put massive pressure on the fore check on the Bolts and Vasilevskiy stuck his skate out and tripped #65 with 10 seconds remaining. Once again, the Capitals won a big offensive zone faceoff as Eller beat Tyler Johnson drawing the puck to Alex Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) on the left wing boards. Ovi quickly wheeled it around the back boards to Evgeny Kuznetsov and with Eller crashing the cage, Kuzy fired on net from just above the goal line. The Bolts keeper was intent on stopping that pass to Lars, but Evgeny put a lot of mustard on it and it banked in off of his pads and into the cage for a 4-2 Washington lead with just three seconds left.

That last minute, like the last 10 seconds of period one on Friday night in game one, was a huge lift to the Caps and a major deflator for Tampa. However, there were still 20 minutes left and given how the Bolts responded with a strong third period in game one, the Capitals had to be careful and concerned.

It was Washington, however, that carried the even strength play in period three and just 3:34 into the final stanza they increased their lead to three pucks. Wilson made a great chip out past a pinching Braydon Coburn on the Bolts left wing boards getting the disc to Kuzy, who immediately recognized he had a two on one with Alexander the Great. When Stralman left his feet early to try and cut off the pass to Ovi, Kuzy skated in closer and slid the puck to Ovechkin backdoor. The Gr8 made no mistake about burying the super feed over Vasilevskiy’s outstretched pad.

At that point, only a Capitals turnover or penalty would allow Tampa to get back in the game and Kempny made another poor decision at 6:55 with a high cross check on Cedric Paquette in front of Braden Holtby. Washington, however, would do another stellar job on the PK and the Bolts found themselves constantly struggling to get through the maze of players the Caps had stacked in the neutral zone and on their own blue line. Time and time again the Bolts would rush up the ice and be swarmed by guys in white at the blue line. The result was lots of turnovers when Tampa didn’t dump the puck in. At 12:57, Washington would get yet another odd man rush and Eller fed a flying Brett Connolly in the high slot where #10 one timed it past the Bolts goaltender to make it 6-2. One of Connolly’s big strengths is his ability to get off a shot very quickly and his tally bit the hand that once fed him in Tampa.

This was a huge victory and in the series the Capitals are dominating the Bolts at even strength. Washington’s speedy forwards that include Burakovsky, Vrana, Kuzentsov, Eller, Chandler Stephenson, and Connolly are really forcing the Tampa defense into poor positioning and mistakes. In the series, the Caps have outscored the Lightning, 8-1, when the manpower is even.

The Caps are playing good defense and blocking a lot of shots, plus anything that gets through to Holtby (35 saves) is pretty much being stopped. Most of Tampa’s looks are coming from the perimeter while Washington is getting into the high danger scoring areas more often. Simply put, the Capitals have looked faster and fresher and getting both Burakovsky and Wilson back plus the emergence of Vrana and Stephenson have changed the offensive dynamic for Coach Barry Trotz. Nicklas Backstrom has yet to play in this series due to his injured right hand, but with Kuzy and Eller stepping up and then Stephenson centering a very good third line with Burkie and Connolly, this Caps team has a dangerous top nine. Everyone knew about the firepower of Ovechkin and Oshie, but the Capitals have pretty much everyone on those first three lines clicking on all cylinders. Add in some fourth line goals (Beagle in game one and DSP in game two) and it’s easy to see why the Caps are up in this series.

On the back end, all six defensemen are doing a great job of making solid breakout passes. There have been some hiccups, most notably a turnover by Niskanen that led to Johnson hitting the post when the game was tied in period two, but overall the pass out of the zone is allowing Washington to move into the Tampa end with speed and put a not so fast D that includes Dan Girardi, Coburn, and McDonagh on their heels. Dmitry Orlov has been sensational with his ability to turn defense into offense for the Capitals.

Add in some clutch goaltending and you can see why this series is at two games to nil.

But the series is not over until one team gets to four wins and Washington must stick to the script at home and play the same way they’ve done in amassing a 7-1 road record in this 2018 post season. The Caps can’t try to impress their fans with over passing and fancy plays. They must adhere to a game plan that is hard on the puck, swarms the Bolts in all zones, and is focused on north-south hockey. The cross ice passes, especially at the offensive blue line, are the ones Washington must keep out of their arsenal because the Bolts feast on odd man rushes. Finally, staying out of the box is paramount. O’Halloran and Brad Meier had a poor first period and it was nearly costly for the Caps. Even strength play has been good for the Capitals so far in this series, so it’s to their advantage to keep it that way.

Notes: Carlson had two assists and led the Caps in ice time with 25:01. Niskanen logged 23:10 and Orlov played 22:44…the Caps were one for three on the power play while Tampa went two for four…the face off edge went to the Lightning, 36-28, but the Capitals won that huge draw late in period two on the power play. Beagle was 11-7 and Eller went 10-9 from the dot…Orpik and Wilson each had six hits while Ovechkin had five…game three is Tuesday at 8 pm from Capital One Arena.

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Kempny Game 1

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Caps Dominate First 40 Minutes in a Game One Victory

Posted on 12 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the Washington Capitals started a series on the road. The Caps played a textbook first 40 minutes racing out to a 4-0 lead and then closed out a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Friday night.

The Caps, who many experts have picked to lose this series, withstood an opening three minutes of pressure from the Bolts before they flipped the script and carried the play for the rest of the first two frames. Washington played fast and structured as they swarmed the puck and prevented the speedy Lightning from getting much time or space. Michal Kempny put the Capitals on the board at 7:28 on a point shot that went through a maze of players, including Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, and past Andrei Vasilevskiy glove side.

After the goal, the team that is now 6-1 on the road in these 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, kept their foot down trying to increase their margin, but couldn’t convert. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining in period one, some wild stuff ensued. Matt Niskanen failed to get off a shot in the offensive zone and the Bolts sprung Nikita Kucherov one on one on Dmitry Orlov. The very talented Kucherov would score by outmuscling #9 and then tapping the puck by Holtby, but the linesmen immediately waved it off noting the very obvious six skaters in blue on the ice. Washington received a power play for the too many men infraction with eight seconds remaining and the Gr8 lasered one by Vasilevskiy with Lars Eller providing some traffic high in the slot just two ticks later. The whole sequence was set up by a big faceoff win by T.J. Oshie, who got the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), and Kuzy quickly fed Ovechkin (one goal, one assist) for his rocket.

Washington outshot the Lightning, nine to two, in period one and in period two, they kept bringing it, outshooting the Bolts, 16-8. Just 2:40 into the frame, Jay Beagle put the rebound of a flubbed Brett Connolly shot past #88 to make it 3-0. Orlov made a nice play at the right point to set the quality chance up. Kucherov took a bad roughing penalty at 6:01 and 41 seconds later Tampa was down four pucks. Kuznetsov received a pass from Eller in the left wing corner and he rotated the puck to John Carlson at the top of the point. Carly slid one over to Ovi in his office for a one timer, but Alex didn’t get all of it and it “muffined” its way toward the net where Oshie (two assists) poked at it before Lars finally put the rebound home.

All four of the Capitals goals, which came in the first 26:42 of this affair, occurred with bodies in front and that’s a smart way to beat Vasileskiy, who was pulled for Louis Domingue for the third period. Washington did a lot of things correctly building the lead and only had a few shifts where they found themselves caught in a rush game with the Bolts. Up and down the ice is definitely the way Tampa wants to play and the Capitals settled down late in the middle frame to prevent Coach Jon Cooper’s squad from getting any momentum.

In the final stanza, the Bolts had some push and after a bad defensive zone shift, Alex Chiasson took a penalty to prevent a scoring chance in front of the net at 3:23. 22 seconds later it was 4-1 as Washington got caught puck chasing on the penalty kill and that allowed Kucherov to thread a pass through the outstretched Capitals PK box right to Steven Stamkos in his office for an easy back door marker. The Lightning seemed to come to life after that goal and when Chiasson lost his head and took an undisciplined roughing penalty on Kucherov by the Tampa bench at 8:59, the Bolts had a big chance to cut the margin to two.

This time, however, the Capitals had a super penalty kill and afterwards were pretty much in full control with nine minutes to go. Tampa kept pushing the pace, but Washington was doing a good job of clogging the neutral zone and preventing their opponents from getting set up in the offensive zone with a blue line wall and great back checking by the forwards. At that point, only an offensive zone mistake or a penalty would allow the home team to cut into the margin, and unfortunately for the Caps, the former occurred. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Kempny was a little too greedy inside the offensive blue line and then he lost his footing giving Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat a two on one rush on Carlson with speed. Ovechkin tried to hustle back, but Palat beat Holtby short side with a sweet shot while #74 went down to block the pass. Suddenly, with 6:57 to go in regulation, this was a two goal game.

The contest appeared to still be in doubt, much to the delight of NBC’s Doc Emrick, but the Capitals stabilized themselves, got their legs moving, and then clamped things down. Washington had several good shifts that forced the Bolts to defend and it wasn’t until the dying seconds that Tampa was able to get another shot on goal. NBC’s Mike Milbury was effusive in his praise of how the Caps turned their effort up when they really needed to do so down the stretch.

For the Capitals, this was their first opening game triumph in three playoff series this spring and with Tampa feeling good about their chances coming in it was important for them to do so. Washington jumped on the Bolts with their speedy lineup that included the return of both Andre Burakovksy and Wilson. Willy had three shots on net in 15:09 and Burkie looked very strong on the puck in 14:02 of action. Nicklas Backstrom missed his second straight playoff tilt due to an injured right hand, but he did skate and stickhandle some on Thursday before the Caps departed for the Sunshine State. Coach Barry Trotz stated after the morning skate that Nicky is still day to day. Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana logged 14:28 and 13:19, respectively, and used their skating ability to wear out a Tampa defense that has some slower defensemen. Vrana had five shots on net and really gave the Bolts defenders headaches.

Simply put, the way Washington played in periods one and two is how they have to perform to win this series. They have to continually be hard on the puck and committed to protecting their defensive zone against a very fast, up front, Tampa squad. Again, the Bolts, much like the Penguins, want a rush game where chances get traded at each end. The Caps would be wise to make sure they pressure the Lightning in their own zone, but also keep the third forward high in order to prevent odd man rushes against. Traffic and net presence was also a big factor in the victory and that must continue.

In round two, the Bolts were blown out of game one by Boston and then won the next four games to take that series rather quickly. Tampa will be looking to leverage that same recipe in game two on Sunday. Washington has the talent to skate with the Atlantic Division winners, but they have to be smart and play the right way, like they did in grabbing a big early lead in game one.

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:48. Carlson logged 21:55…Eller played 20:35 to lead all Washington forwards in ice time…Bolts defensemen Victor Hedman led all players with 27:49, but he had no shots on goal…Domingue stopped all seven shots he faced in the final frame and some of them were on odd man rushes as the Caps were effective at generating some great counter attacks with the lead…Washington won the face off battle, 27-23. Beagle was 9-2 and Oshie was 3-0…Brooks Orpik had five of the Capitals 15 hits…game two is Sunday night at 8 pm.

 

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