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Handling Bigger Ice Key for Team USA in 2014 Olympics

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Handling Bigger Ice Key for Team USA in 2014 Olympics

Posted on 27 August 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On day two of Team USA orientation camp at Kettler IcePlex this afternoon General Manager David Poile didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the biggest challenge his squad faces heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s all about how his squad performs on the bigger ice surface.

“We know what the challenges are here, we haven’t had any success in Europe on the big ice. The United States hasn’t won any medals in the last two Olympics played on the big ice,” stated the long time NHL GM.

Yes, Team USA won silver in Vancouver in 2010 and also in Salt Lake City back in 2002, but both of those tournaments were played on NHL sized rinks. The Olympic surface is wider, which changes several aspects on how the game is played.

“Angles and spacing really [is the difference]. More so the angles are quicker to adjust, it’s more of a read. At the NHL level you are approximated to the boards so you can use it as a gauge. Here, if you rely on that you are out of position pretty quickly. The one good thing is the zones are all a little different sizes but the paint is always in the same spot. I think that’s a key thing for everyone to understand and realize that from a spacing issue to try to use the faceoff circles and dots because they are actually in the same position as an NHL rink, almost,” said Kings winger Dustin Brown.

In 2010, Team USA used its ability to be physical to its advantage but with more room, taking the body is not as easy and is not as much of a factor.

“There’s more to being physical than the big hits. It’s rubbing guys out, grinding guys out. There’s still opportunities for the big hit, you just have to be patient and let it come to you. You can’t be running out of position because it’s just that much further you have to go to get back,” added Brown.

Most of the players seemed comfortable with going to the bigger rink size and some, like Carolina defensemen Justin Faulk, didn’t think the change was going to be real difficult.

“It’s probably easier going from big ice for smaller ice. You get more room. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve done it many times personally. Everyone in here has played on big ice at some point. Obviously it’s a little bit different game and style,” stated Faulk.

Several other players acknowledged the ice surface challenge but it was clear that Poile, who has been in hockey long before every one of Team USA’s players was born, believes that addressing the rink size issue is paramount to his clubs success.

“The challenge for us is we’ve never had any success on European soil. We owe it to ourselves to to go over every facet of what we’ve done in the past on it. We’ve talked to former players and coaches and the thing that comes up constantly is you have to have speed. I don’t think we’ll need that truculence element as much. It’s just an adjustment and making the players aware of the differences in the ice size and making sure. You don’t want it to be the excuse. The fact that we’ve won two silver medals in North America and got nothing in Europe – I can’t accept that. These are good players, they’re smart players, they’re skilled players. It’s different – yes. Ok, so let’s go figure it out…it could be coaching, it could be systems, it could be the players that we take over there,” concluded Poile.

As for the roster make up itself, there were 48 players invited to the orientation camp and this is the deepest pool of talent Team USA has ever had. The team appears strongest in net where the club has the likes of Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, and John Gibson. Up front they are led by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, and Bobby Ryan while on defense Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson are the logical leaders. Poile indicated that this would be the toughest team these players would ever have to make and he stated that about half of the spots are likely already locked up based on the performances of some in the 2010 Olympics.

“As we’ve told the players, the body of work they’ve had in their career to this point is important but what they do in October, November, and December will be the deciding factor. I favor the guys from 2010, not only because of the success they had but how they’ve matured as hockey players. The age group we have right now is excellent. At times we thought we were too young in 2010 but now, four years later, we are bang on at the right age.”

It is apparent that the roster decisions are going to be extremely tough and many players will suffer the disappointment of missing out on representing their country, but Poile relishes that process.

“This is going to be the toughest decisions that I have to make, but I want it to be tough…We want the hard decisions, we’ve never really had in USA hockey to make that many hard decisions because we’ve never really had the depth and quality we presently have, so bring it on.”

Notes: The Caps were represented at the orientation camp by defensemen John Carlson, who scored the Gold Medal winning goal for Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships…Poile called Kettler “as good as any facility I’ve ever seen”…Erik Johnson was very critical of his game with Colorado last year and made it clear he needs to be more consistent…the Team USA jerseys were unveiled by the players to a sold out Kettler IcePlex. NHL Network televised the event.

 

 

 

 

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

All season long the Capitals have ridden Alexander Ovechkin’s offense and Braden Holtby’s goaltending. So it was no surprise that with the New York Rangers up 1-0 in the second period despite being outplayed, that a Holtby save on a Carl Hagelin breakaway and then a Gr8 power play tally on the rebound of a Mike Green point shot, helped even things up for Washington. From there the Caps killed off a critical five on three Rangers power play and riding the boisterous Verizon Center crowd, the Caps got a sweet goal from Marcus Johansson on a breakaway after a pretty feed from Steve Oleksy and then a tally from Jason Chimera with Mathieu Perreault running traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist just 46 seconds later.

That second period sequence would pretty much end up deciding this contest and the Capitals were victorious, 3-1, and lead the best of seven game series, 1-0. Game two is Saturday at 12:30 pm at the Verizon Center (NBC telecast).

There was a lot to like in this win:

  • Holtby (35 saves) was very good and despite giving up a fluky first goal to Carl Hagelin, he buckled down and shut the door on New York. #70 was excellent with his rebound control and he looked poised in the cage.
  • The Caps won the special teams battle as they went 1 for 5 with the man advantage while killing all four Ranger power plays.
  • Washington received solid efforts from all four lines with the third unit of Perreault, Chimera, and Eric Fehr being big difference makers
  • Coach Adam Oates’ crew did a good job of moving the puck out of their own zone to thwart, for the most part, a very strong New York forecheck. Karl Alzner pointed out that the Rangers clog the boards so it was important for Washington to not turn the puck over to their waiting opponents and overall the Caps were successful doing that.
  • Caps fans were extremely loud and helped provide the team with energy. Troy Brouwer mentioned that at least three times in his post game media scrum and was very appreciative of the home crowd.

On the flip side, here are some of the things Oates will want to see improved for game two:

  • Washington allowed too many odd man rushes. Hagelin’s breakaway, had he converted, would’ve made it 2-0. In addition, a Johansson giveaway led to a New York two on one in period three but the Rangers somehow hit the crossbar and didn’t score. There were some other poor passes that led to Rags chances that need to be avoided going forward.
  • Green took some big hits from Mats Zuccarello late in the game. Washington does not want #52 getting run and they did well at this until the end of the game. Green (1 assist, 26:38 of ice time) is so critical to this team and there is no doubt the Rangers are targeting him.

Overall it was a physical game and the Caps held up extremely well. They battled against a gritty club but used their skill and desire to gain the victory. The Caps went hard to the net and were rewarded. There were several post whistle scrums and Brouwer made a point to praise the NHL officials for communicating with the players. #20 said the refs talked to the players, let them know where the line was, and backed it up with calls when the line was crossed. Troy noted that in the playoffs that everything is a battle and the referees did a good job of not overreacting to the scrums. Brouwer also praised his teammates for not getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and taking unnecessary penalties.

The keys for Washington going forward, first and foremost, is to realize this is just a single game and be ready to battle again on Saturday and beyond. The Rangers are a team that scraps, like their head coach, so it will be hard to take their will completely. Oates talked about holding serve at home and if the Caps clean up some of the turnovers and minimize odd man rush issues, then they should carry the play again.

Notes: The Rangers rely heavily on their key players. D man Dan Girardi logged 29:00 and the Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan line saw a lot of minutes…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-30. Backstrom went 14-11…Ovechkin had five shots on net and five hits…Rangers forward Rick Nash logged 23:04.

 

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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