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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Ovi 1000

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Alex Ovechkin Hits 1,000 Points in Caps 5-2 Win Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin came into Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins needing just one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

It didn’t take him long to get it.

Just 35 seconds into this tilt on NBC Rivalry Night, the Gr8 received a breakout pass from Nicklas Backstrom, after T.J. Oshie made a great defensive zone hit and steal, and he carried the biscuit into the slot and zipped it by Marc Andre-Fleury to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.

An already energized Verizon Center went nuts and when the Gr8 scored on a power play ROCKET at 8:06 of the second period, it was becoming clearer that Washington was going to win its seventh straight contest.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has really turned it on since we’ve started 2017, then fed Justin Williams for his 12th goal of the campaign on one of his patented behind the net passes just 4:31 into the final frame to make it 3-0.

At that point, the only thing that could thwart Washington was a parade to the penalty box and that began with a questionable call on Dmitry Orlov at 6:28 after it sure looked like Patrick Hornqvist should’ve been going off with him. This scrum resulted following a cheap swipe by Carl Hagelin on Braden Holtby (30 saves) after he had covered a puck.

The Penguins have a great power play and Evgeni Malkin scored to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh would push hard for another, but a Steven Oleksy knee on knee hit put him in the box for the second time in this one. Simply put, Oleksy is an AHLer and looked overmatched out there. Those hits weren’t intentional, he just isn’t fast enough to play at the top level.

On the ensuing power play, somehow the Caps messed up at their offensive blue line and Matt Cullen received a shorthanded breakaway, but the Holtbeast got a piece of the shot to calm things down. About 10 seconds later, Backstrom scored after another brilliant pass by Oshie to make it 4-1 with 6:49 remaining. Game pretty much over, well except for those guys in stripes, who just had to continue to make their mark in this one.

Oshie was jailed for his third minor penalty of the night and Sidney Crosby, who was held in check well by the Caps on Wednesday, fed Hornqvist perfectly on the door step for a tap in with 2:36 to go.

The Caps would keep the Penguins without any real chances from then on, though, and Lars Eller launched one off of the dome of Kris Letang and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Oshie, who missed Monday’s big win in Montreal, would notch three assists and Backstrom had a goal and three helpers. Holtby was outstanding again, but it was El Capitain, Ovechkin, who set the tone early in this one and staked his club to a two goal lead to make no doubt about whose night this was going to be.

Ovi only played 16:52, he’s being paced for the post season, but he had two goals, 11 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two hits. He even set up Backstrom when it was 2-0 for an open net shot, but the puck fluttered a bit on Nicky and he shot it high.

This was a vintage Ovechkin game and he rose to the occasion after Pierre McGuire threw all of Crosby and the Pens championships in the Gr8’s face in a pregame interview. Yes, Caps fans, it was another tough night of watching NBC and having to listen to some weird analysis, but when you come out on top over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it seems worth it.

Once again, the Capitals were on the short end of the stick in power plays for the seventh straight game, but they’ve won all seven. They have not had more power plays than their opponents since December 17th against Montreal. By the rulebook, those were penalties on the Caps, no argument there, but what is ridiculous is the continual lack of calls against their opponents. It’s not being called fairly and I still don’t know how the heck both referees missed Ian Cole’s butt end to the face of Marcus Johansson? I could point out at least a half dozen or more infractions committed by the Penguins that weren’t called, but the league will continue to do nothing about improving their officiating to make it more consistent. It’s like they are trained to officiate the score.

Anyways, despite what Mike Milbury said after the game, the Capitals weren’t the only team trying their hardest out there. Washington was very sloppy tonight, but their back checking was outstanding and covered for several of their mistakes. When they didn’t have that support, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door. Braden is on fire and he continues to make the timely clutch save. If Cullen makes it 3-2, who knows what happens? That’s why you need a great goaltender, and Holtby is certainly that.

The win improves the Caps to 27-9-5 (59 points) and they take over 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the halfway point of the season, Washington is looking like a Cup contender and the recent uptick in the play of Kuznetsov has made them a much more dangerous team because the opponents can’t put all of their focus on Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie. Add in the strong recent play of the Brett Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky line and Washington looks much more daunting than last spring.

But there’s still 41 games left and we are three months from the playoffs, so it’s not worth getting too high over. January has certainly been encouraging for the Capitals, but to quote the great Phil Collins, “still it would seem we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”

Notes: The Pens won the shot attempt battle, 64-51, but I thought the Capitals had more of the quality scoring chances. Washington did a great job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter at even strength…Matt Niskanen was +3 and led the Caps in ice time at 23:11…John Carlson had two assists and five shots on net in 22:19…Orlov had an assist and was +2 in 20:18. Outside of getting beat one on one by Crosby in period one, he was really good…the Capitals cleaned up on draws, 43-26. Backstrom and Beagle were both 14-7…the Caps will face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 pm on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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Nisky Isles

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Niskanen and Holtby Help Caps Win Their Fifth Straight

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen picked the right time to finally score his first goal of the season.

The Caps defensemen tallied to give the Caps an early third period 3-2 lead after some great board work by T.J. Oshie and then he closed the deal with 1:58 remaining in regulation on a power play with his second of the night and of the campaign.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves and several of them, which were all world stops, especially the two on Josh Bailey on the door step, occurred in the third period when it was 3-2. The Holtbeast, after Niskanen, was the biggest reason Washington won their fifth straight game and exited Brooklyn with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders.

This contest didn’t start so well for Washington. In net for New York was long time nemesis Jaroslav Halak (34 saves), who recently shut them out on December 1st at the Verizon Center, 3-0, with 38 stops. The Caps, who at times get caught up in a perimeter game, did quite a bit of that in a first period. Although they outshot the Islanders, 14-12, they trailed 1-0 when Anders Lee beat Holtby on a shot in the slot where John Carlson’s stick either caused a redirection or at least threw off the ability of Braden to track the shot. Overall, though, New York had the better of the play and their forecheck gave Washington problems in their own zone.

Period two was a totally different story. The Caps came out more determined to pin the Islanders back in their own end and their forechecking game was relentless. Time and time again Washington generated scoring chances on Halak, who did all he could to keep his team in the game. The Capitals were more physical than they’ve been in recent outings and the wear on the Islanders blue line became apparent as the game progressed.

The Caps got on the board when Lars Eller blocked a shot in his own zone and it sprung he and Brett Connolly on a two on one rush against a tired Nick Leddy. Connolly, who I’ve been wanting back in the lineup for quite awhile because of his forechecking skills and willingness to go to the net, went straight to the cage and tapped his stick on the ice signaling #20 to feed him the biscuit. Eller did just that and Connolly redirected it upstairs over Halak for his third goal of the season in 16 games, which is one more than the first time scratched Andre Burakovsky has put up in 26 games (and he has 0 goals in his last 25 tilts).

Jakub Vrana assisted on that marker and he also earned an assist on the second Caps goal, which came on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a nice rush behind the offensive net and fed #13 in the slot. Vrana, who has a quick and deadly shot, fired the puck at the cage and it apparently hit Justin Williams on the way in. It was Mr. Crazy Hair’s fourth goal in five games and his sixth of the season. Good things happen when you shoot and go to the net.

After a Kuznetsov giveaway and bad coverage by that Caps line, the Islanders tied it up on a Leddy shot that went through a lot of traffic. That was one of the few New York opportunities in that frame.

With the score tied 2-2, the Capitals came out and really took it to New York to get the lead on Niskanen’s early final frame tally and then midway through the period the Islanders fought back and had a great push, but the Holtbeast would not be beaten. Washington then was relentless on the puck after those five or six Holtby gems, and Daniel Winnik drew a late penalty to set up the Niskanen insurance tally.

Winnik was really flying again in this one and he, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson have formed a great fourth line. Eller, Vrana, and Connolly gave Coach Barry Trotz a strong outing as well and with Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie, and Marcus Johansson playing so solid at both ends, it was easy to see how the Caps led the game in shots on goal at 38-28 and in shot attempts, 67-52.

The Caps, over the last three games, have really started to play their game. When they forget about being fancy and shying away from the hard areas of the ice and focus on using their speed and size to get to the interior of their opponents, they are very hard to beat. Once guys started going to the net in the second period on, life got really difficult for Halak. To me, the key to the victory was the second frame where Washington was all over the Islanders and wore them down.

At the other end of the ice, New York is pretty good at getting bodies and pucks to the net. There were certainly stretches where they did that and it was up to Holtby to save the Caps in those instances, and he did. But for most of the last 40 minutes, Washington did a very good job at limiting shots and quality chances.

The Capitals, with this victory, improve to 18-7-3 (39 points), and are now in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but only two points in back of the 1st place Penguins and Rangers. The Rags were beaten by Chicago, 2-1, at MSG on Tuesday evening. In third place are the Blue Jackets. Columbus won their seventh straight over Connor McDavid and company in Edmonton, 3-1, on Tuesday. It’s pretty clear the Metro is the best division in hockey this season.

Notes: The Caps will have a team build in New York on Wednesday and will then head to Raleigh for a Thursday practice and a rematch against the Hurricanes on Friday night (The Canes crushed the Caps, 5-1, back on November 12th in the Tar Heel State). Carolina put up eight goals in an 8-6 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday night…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:00. On his second goal, Coach Trotz smartly put two defensemen on the points (Carlson) on that late power play to protect the one goal cushion and Nisky’s blast to make it 4-2 made it look even smarter…faceoffs were tied at 32 apiece, but Beagle went 13-6…the Caps had 21 hits after only having eight against the Canucks on Sunday afternoon…Oshie had 0 points but was in front of the net on both Niskanen goals. Williams had great net presence on his goal and Niskanen’s last tally, too…Alex Ovechkin only had two shots on goal, but he did have four hits…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while New York was 0 for 2…Connolly only played 7:05, but he had two hits and the goal…I expect Burakovsky to sit again on Friday since #10 earned a jersey in Raleigh, once again, with his strong play.

 

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Osh Beags Buf

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Caps Play Textbook Road Game in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After Wednesday’s OT victory against the Boston Bruins, one in which the Capitals lost a three goal lead, Washington held a post game players only meeting to clear the air and get everyone on the same page.

It worked.

For the first time in several weeks, the Caps played a complete hockey game in a 4-1 victory in Buffalo that allowed the Capitals to sweep the Sabres, 3-0, this season.

Sure there were mistakes out there, the other team gets paid to play too, but Washington played a textbook road game. They were hustling and making smart decisions. They were also very positionally sound such that when someone made a mistake, there was a teammate there to make a play in support. After getting exposed by the Bruins badly after defensemen Matt Niskanen left the game on Wednesday in the first period, no one was hung out to dry against the Sabres on Friday night. In fact, they only gave up one odd man rush the entire night, a three on two late in period two.

Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) was stellar in net. He didn’t make any spectacular stops, but he was rock steady between the pipes, especially in the first 25 minutes when the game was scoreless. He and Braden Holtby have now formed the league’s best goalie tandem this season.

With Niskanen out of the lineup and day to day with an upper body injury, Taylor Chorney was put into action and paired with Nate Schmidt. Brooks Oprik and Dmitry Orlov linked up while John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the top duo. Those pairs provided balance and Orlov (2 assists in 16:52) had his best game of the season. He didn’t get out of position, he was tenacious on the puck, and he showed excellent hockey sense.

As for Carlson, well he was outstanding too and he finally broke his 25 game scoring drought with a key power play tally to make it 3-1 with 5:40 remaining and pretty much end this tilt. When Carlson and Orlov are paired with a partner who is strong defensively and knows how to support an offensive defensemen, they each are able to bring out the best side of their respective games.

The big key to this contest, once again, was getting the first goal. Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie, who are both great at winning the one on one puck battles, each won one along the offensive boards. As a result, they were able to get the puck to an open Nicklas Backstrom (two assists, +2) at the left point and he fired it back to Beagle in the left wing corner. When both Sabres defenders converged on #83, that left Oshie all alone streaking to the net and Beags put a behind the back pass right to #77 who went skate to stick with the puck and buried it top shelf at 6:43 of period two. Washington is now 14-3-2 this season when scoring first.

With the score 1-0, the Caps earned a second period power play and then they really put a stranglehold on this contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great late power play rush up the right wing boards squeezing by a Sabres defender en route. #92 then took the puck to the net instead of trying a drop pass or spinning away from any contact. As Kuzy did this, Jakub Vrana very smartly made a bee line for the paint. #13 stopped on the door step, something Comcast analyst Alan May pointed out is critical if you want to score goals, and he buried the great pass from Kuznetsov past Robin Lehner. It was Vrana’s first NHL goal and the game winning tally. Afterwards, he received a shaving cream pie in the face from Tom Wilson in celebration of his milestone.

If there was any gripe about the Capitals in this one, it came in the third period when they took three straight penalties. After holding the Sabres power play at bay on the first two, Kyle Okposo put a puck home from the doorstep with 7:57 to make this a one goal affair.

But as Oshie pointed out afterwards, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they immediately went on the forecheck, which is a real strength of this team when they put their mind and effort into it. As a result of that pressure, Brian Gionta took a bad interference penalty on Kuznetsov, which set the stage for Carlson’s first goal of the season.

Overall, the Caps effort was excellent across the board; there were mistakes, but because they were working as a unit, they minimized any damage, even when Buffalo was able to get a quality scoring chance. Grubauer was solid in net and the defense didn’t allow many second chances for the Sabres.

Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals have to be pleased with this Friday night performance.

Notes: The win moves the Caps record to 16-7-3 (35 points)…Alex Ovechkin didn’t have any points, but he had six shots on net and four hits. He was working hard on the ice and didn’t make any mistakes or take any penalties. If he keeps playing like that, then the goals will start coming again…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:40…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-24. Beagle was an astounding 16-4…Marcus Johansson scored his 12th goal of the season into the empty net after Oshie (1G, 1A) won another puck battle to spring Jojo for an easy marker…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play and both tallies came at key junctures in the game and provided Washington with a two goal cushion…Buffalo went 1 for 5 with the man advantage…Andre Burakovsky had one shot on goal in 9:58. He was good in the first two periods, but in the final frame he made some bad plays and looked timid with the puck…next up for the Caps are the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center at 5 pm on Sunday. Vancouver defeated the Lightning, 5-1, on Thursday and will visit Florida at 7 pm on Saturday and then take a late night flight to DC.

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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Caps Win in Overtime Thanks to the Holtbeast

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson’s rocket of a shot off of a Dmitry Orlov feed 2:20 into overtime allowed the Washington Capitals to knock off Jonathan Toews and company in the Windy city on Friday night, 3-2.

The Caps, who received two goals from Jay Beagle in the opening frame, including a shorthanded tally, led this game from 14:44 of the 1st period until 23 seconds left (nearly 45 minutes of action), when Marian Hossa tied it with Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a deflating goal for the Capitals, but they showed mental toughness once again and found a way to get a big two points.

Washington played well in stretches in this one, and they held Toews and Patrick Kane to a total of one shot on net. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the main reasons for that on the back end.

But Chicago had their share of chances due to their risk-reward style of play and in the first 30 minutes they could’ve potted several tallies, if not for the Holtbeast. Braden Holtby made 32 saves on the night and he was dialed in from the opening puck drop. He was easily the game’s number one star, in my book, and if not for his outstanding goaltending, the Caps likely lose.

As for Beagle, his line didn’t get a ton of ice time, he only logged 9:59, but #83, Zach Sanford and Daniel Winnik were relentless on the puck all game and that was because they were skating. Beagle’s first tally came shorthanded after Niskanen forced a neutral zone turnover, which got the puck to T.J. Oshie (1 assist, +2) on the left wing. Oshie and Beagle had a two on one rush and #77 made a gorgeous pass to Beags, who deposited it in the yawning cage with Crawford having no chance.

It was Beagle’s first ever shorthanded goal, but the Blackhawks would answer on that power play just 22 seconds later when Brian Campbell’s shot appeared to deflect off of a Capitals stick ever so slightly, which allowed it to get by Holtby.

Beagle’s next goal came at even strength. Daniel Winnik made a strong play to get Beags the puck in the offensive zone right wing circle and he alertly carried around the net. Sanford smartly went to the net and that not only drew a Blackhawks defender, but Crawford seemed sure that a pass was coming into the slot and that slight hesitation allowed Jay to stuff the puck in at the far post for a beauty of a wraparound marker.

The middle frame saw both teams get some great chances, including Oshie on a breakaway, but he never got a shot off because Duncan Keith hooked his gloves, but the referees missed it. Justin Williams also had a one on one situation, but he was forced to his backhand and was denied nicely by Crawford. “Stick” is playing some good hockey and he’s getting quality chances, they just aren’t going in.

After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were even at 21 each, but you knew Chicago, who had won seven straight contests coming into this game, was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at the Capitals. They did generate 13 shots primarily as a result of Washington sitting back too much, especially over the last 10 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz had his team employing a 1-4 set up that was geared to throttle the Blackhawks ability to come flying into the offensive zone with speed. It worked, for the most part, but in the end, not trying enough to score at the other end caused a roll of the dice situation at the end of the game. I’d have much preferred that the Capitals were more aggressive on the fore check, which could’ve forced Chicago to play more in their own zone. Over those last 10 minutes, there was only one shift where the Capitals had any sustained pressure and offensive zone chances, and that came from the Beagle line with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, with the speed and pace of play in the NHL these days, you can’t sit back on a one goal lead like that too often and get away with it. The coaches need to adjust their strategy going forward since the best defense is a good offense.

With the victory, the Capitals improved to 9-3-1 on the season and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer goals (28 to 24). Washington is playing good defense, for the most part, but they haven’t really gotten the offense untracked. The power play is struggling, but in this contest, that unit never even received a chance to go on the ice since Chicago was not penalized, at all.

Overall though, a win against a quality opponent that’s won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010 is an impressive accomplishment. The Caps can thank Holtby for keeping them in a game they might’ve been blown out of had #70 not been so on his craft on Friday night.

Notes: Niskanen, who was outstanding in this game, logged 25:18 to lead all Caps in ice time. Keith played 27:00 for Chicago…Oshie fell down on the winning goal and the Blackhawks defender tripped over him. Chicago wanted a penalty, but the referees deemed it incidental contact, which it was…Chicago out shot attempted the Caps, 59-51…Carlson and Orlov were an adventure for several shifts. They allowed multiple odd man rushes and after a strong game against San Jose, #9 had an erratic and inconsistent contest…Taylor Chorney suited up for his first game of the season. He played 13:31 and handled himself well. Nate Schmidt was the scratch on the blue line and Brett Connolly was the odd man out up front…Johansson now has seven goals on the season (tied with Alex Ovechkin)…the Caps will travel to Raleigh overnight and take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Saturday. Expect Philipp Grubauer in net for Washington.

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Caps Rally To Defeat Florida, 4-2

Posted on 06 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the Florida Panthers, 4-2. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Lars Eller all scored in a span of less than five minutes midway through the final frame after Reilly Smith went around Matt Niskanen on a power play to give the Cats the lead just 2:32 into period three.

The come from behind victory improves the Caps to 8-2-1 on the season.

This game really should not have been close since the Capitals really dominated Florida in terms of shot attempts (64-46) and scoring chances. Washington missed the net on several good looks and Roberto Luongo (32 saves) was sensational in the middle frame when the Caps out shot the Panthers, 18-4. Most notably, Luongo made a sick glove save on a rebound attempt on the doorstep from Nicklas Backstrom after an Ovechkin shot.

Coach Barry Trotz’ crew played a so-so first period, but trailed when Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t tie up Jared McCann in front of the net just over five minutes into the game. McCann’s deflection got by Braden Holtby (22 saves) for his first tally of the season.

Washington would finally tie the game at 10:42 of the middle stanza when Ovechkin fed Oshie perfectly on a two on one break and #77 beat Bobby Lu with some nice top shelf cheese.

The turning point in the game came, however, with 13:19 left in regulation when the Holtbeast made a huge save on Shane Harper in the slot on a quality scoring chance. If Harper scores there, it’s a three to one tilt, but Braden showed why he’s one of the best goalies in the world and although he didn’t have a ton of work in this one, he made another clutch stop when his team needed it most.

From there, Ovi had his sensational deflection goal after he, Justin Williams, Backstrom, Nate Schmidt, and Brooks Orpik turned in a great hustle and cycle shift. Orpik and Williams both looked like they found the fountain of youth on that sequence and the Gr8 showed why he is the best goal scorer on the planet by finding space in front of Luongo, who was super hot up until that point.

Just over two minutes later, Michael Matheson, who was unable to tie up Ovechkin on his game tying tally, was totally out worked by Oshie at the offensive blue line. T.J. once again won another puck battle and taking this one gave him a clear path to the cage with speed from the right wing wall. Luongo probably wished he was cracking his usual stellar jokes on Twitter, at that point, as Oshie again skated in and beat him top shelf. All Verizon Center fans should’ve received a free container of JIF after that beauty of a play and shot.

The Caps were not done crashing the cage, however, and Eller’s goal to seal the deal came when John Carlson’s blast was deflected down by #20 and he beat Luongo easily once the biscuit hit the ice. Bobby Lu was probably wondering where his support was in that situation because Tom Wilson was also parked all alone a few feet from Eller.

So that’s three key goals on hard work and smart hockey, which entails getting pucks and bodies to the cage. Through 11 games we’ve seen quite a few tallies like that by Washington and doing so has them living up to the “Will Over Skill” tee-shirts they all received in training camp this September.

Many of the goals they’ve been getting recently are very playoff-esque in their nature. The Caps aren’t winning just via pretty passing plays and one timers and that’s encouraging.

On the back end, the Schmidt-Oprik pair was very good and both players had their legs going. Orpik was +1 in 15:42 and earned the game’s third star.

This was a solid home win by the Capitals, who have now won five straight games. Florida was missing notorious Cap-killer, Jonathan Huberdeau, as well Nick Bjugstad. In addition, former fire sale Capital Jaromir Jagr left the contest after only five shifts. Hmmm, aren’t there NFL games tomorrow? Perhaps the old man hadn’t gotten his wagers in yet for Sunday’s tilts and decided he needed to do so, pronto??!!

In any event, Washington had superior talent to Florida on Saturday night and by continuing to work hard, they wore out the Panthers, who ultimately badly wilted over the last 15 minutes.

Notes: This was the first time all season that the Caps have trailed after the first period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:59. Ovechkin logged 19:28 as the Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play in 7:31 of time. They did have numerous good looks, though, the puck just wasn’t going in…Florida was 1 for 2 with the man advantage, so the Caps lost the special teams battle (-1), but still found a way to victory…Washington won the face-off battle, 37-30. Eller was 8-3…I thought that was the best game of the season for Williams, he was moving his feet and forcing turnovers…the Gr8 was +3…next up for the Capitals are the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center. The Sharks were 2-0 against Washington last season. It’s a good night to come out and see the Caps take on last season’s Western Conference champs, who still have “The Big Cheese,” Joel Ward, and avoid the stupid election coverage.

 

 

 

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Johansson and Oshie Lead Caps Over Vancouver, 5-2

Posted on 30 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing the right way is so important in hockey.

On Wednesday night in Edmonton, the Capitals tried to play the “easy game” against the high flying Oilers and they were run out of the new Rogers Place, 4-1. Several players were passengers in that contest and failed to exert the energy needed to defeat a team that is on a roll. Simply put, they were soft.

After two plus days of having that black cloud of a loss hang over their heads, the Caps came out on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday (and into Sunday on the east coast) and played their brand of hockey. They were getting pucks deep, using their size to win the one on one battles, and using all five players on the ice to put pucks and bodies at the Vancouver Canucks net. The result was a 5-2 win that was closer than it should have been due to some luck (or specifically bad luck for Washington).

Marcus Johansson (two goals, one assist) and TJ Oshie (goal and an assist) were the stars for the Capitals with Tom Wilson (goal) having his best game in a long time. Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) got the call in net and he was solid making several key stops when the Capitals had some breakdowns that led to odd man rushes. With the game 3-2 in the third period, Grubauer thwarted a couple of chances on a Canucks power play, and more importantly, he didn’t yield any big rebounds when the outcome was still in doubt over those final 20 minutes. He is now 2-0 on the season.

Washington has been off to a slow start in the special teams department and they had allowed a power play goal in five of the six games they’d played this season. On Saturday, the Canucks went 0 for 3 with the man advantage and they didn’t have many good looks until their third period opportunity. On the flip side, the Caps scored on their first power play when Vancouver overplayed John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin, which allowed Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie and Johansson to dominate down low and score when Jojo put home the rebound of T.J.’s shot that caught iron and fell prone in the crease.

Special teams aside, the first 40 minutes, and especially the middle frame, saw complete domination by the Caps. The Caps were getting the puck in the offensive zone cleanly and carrying it down towards the goal line. When the Canucks collapsed, the Capitals forwards were finding the points for shots while they crashed the net. It was simple, but very effective hockey.

After two periods, shot attempts were 45-31 and shots on goal were 26-19 in favor of Washington and Comcast had the scoring chances as 16-9. Somehow, though, a 2-1 first period lead was only 3-2 after two stanzas. Jacob Markstrom (30 saves) played fairly well in net for the Canucks and he also received a break when a Capitals goal was waved off in the second period due to goaltender contact in the crease by Backstrom.

But the Caps were not going to be denied by the bad breaks or numerous unfinished scoring chances. They kept playing the same way all evening, for the most part, and they grinded out a win. In the end the Capitals outshot Vancouver, 35-25, and the shot attempts were 62-44 for the Caps. Sure the Canucks played on Friday night and they’ve been struggling, but Washington totally outworked them and deserved the win.

The victory didn’t come easy and each goal was the result of proper structure and hard work. It was the type of victory they needed and Coach Barry Trotz will be very pleased with it.

To quote that old Smith Barney commercial, the Capitals captured these two points the old fashioned way, “They Earned It.”

Notes: The Caps are now 4-2-1 on the season and they’ll travel to Calgary overnight to take on the Flames on Sunday night at 9:30. Braden Holtby will be between the pipes…the Caps won the face off battle, 37-32. Justin Williams was 6-0. Ovechkin, who had four shots on goal, was only credited with three hits but he was physical all over the rink all night…Coach Trotz did his best Reg Dunlop imitation and shuffled his lines for this game to try and get more offense and it worked. Ovi and Nicky played with Williams, Oshie was on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (one assist) had a great game centering Jojo and Wilson…Dmitry Orlov rebounded from a poor outing in Alberta to log 19:17 of ice time. He was much more defensively sound in this contest…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:27…Daniel Winnik was scratched, but he’ll likely be in the lineup against the Flames. I’d expect Zach Sanford or Brett Connolly, who were both minus one and played under eight minutes, to be in the press box…the Caps were one for two with the man advantage…Oshie’s tally at 17:33 made it 4-2 and then Karl Alzner banked one in from long distance in four on four action with Markstrom pulled to end the scoring.

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ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 26:  John Carlson poses after being named a candidate for the 2014 USA Hockey Olympic Team at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex on August 26, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Bluelines of the 8 Squads

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is back!

The NHL managed World Cup of Hockey officially begins on Saturday, September 17 and will run for two weeks. It will include eight teams — Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, Team Finland, Team North America, Team Russia, Team Sweden and Team USA — and feature more than 170 of the best players in the NHL. All tournament games will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

As expected, the 2015-16 Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals have numerous players participating, including Alex Ovechkin (Russia Captain), Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden), Braden Holtby (Canada), John Carlson (USA), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Russia), T.J. Oshie (USA), Matt Niskanen (USA), Dmitry Orlov (Russia), and Philipp Grubauer (Europe).

Pre-tournament games, which will all be televised on ESPN’s network, will be played in the following cities: Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City; Prague; Gothenburg; Helsinki; and St. Petersburg. The first three pre-tourney games are on Thursday, September 8th starting with Team Russia vs. Team Czech Republic in St. Petersburg at 12:30 pm on ESPN3, so you can tune in and watch the Gr8 already. Team USA plays its first pre-tourney game against Canada this Friday, September 9th in Columbus at 7 pm on ESPNU.

The Verizon Center will host two games next week, both at 7 pm. On Tuesday, Team USA will face Team Finland and on Wednesday, Team Sweden will take on Team Europe. Tickets are available.

The tournament will be grouped into two divisions of four teams, as follows:

Group A: USA, Canada, Czech Republic, and Europe

Group B: Sweden, Russia, Finland, and North America.

The top two teams in each group will advance and then play a single elimination semi-final round before the World Cup is decided in a best of three series. This should be an exciting way to break into the NHL season!

Over the next week, I’ll provide you with my analysis of the teams and I’ll start with my rankings by squad in terms of their defensive corps, starting from the worst to the best.

Eighth – Team Czech Republic:  Zbenyk Michalek (AZ), Radko Gudas (PHI), Michal Kempny (CHI), Jakub Nackladal (Free Agent), Michal Jordan (Free Agent), Andrej Sustr (TB), and Roman Polak (TOR). Woah, not much there on the blueline, so it’s easy to see why this is the weakest group of seven in the tournament. If only this was basketball and they had “THE” Michael Jordan.

Seventh – Team Finland:  Jyrki Jokipakka (CGY), Olli Maatta (PIT), Esa Lindell (DAL), Sami Lepisto (Free Agent), Ville Pokka (CHI), Sami Vatanen (ANA), and Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF). Vatanen has the potential to be a star in the league, but after that, I don’t see anything here that will scare the likes of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin over the next several weeks.

Sixth – Team Russia: Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), Dmitry Orlov (WAS), Nikita Zaitsev (TOR), Alexey Marchenko (DET), Alexei Emelin (MON), Andrei Markov (MON), and Nikita Nesterov (TB). There are some good young players here on this defensive roster, but outside of Markov and Emelin, there isn’t a ton of big game experience. This will definitely be the weakest part of Team Russia and if they don’t advance to the semi-finals, this position will likely be the main reason why they won’t win on the world stage, once again.

Fifth – Team Europe: Andrej Sekera (EDM), Luca Sbisa (VAN), Mark Streit (PHI), Christian Ehrhoff (Free Agent), Zdeno Chara (BOS), Dennis Seidenberg (Free Agent), and Roman Josi (NAS). This crew has several players that are long in the tooth, but that brings experience. Josi is the best player of the group and his stock in the NHL is rising quickly.

Fourth – Team North America: Seth Jones (CMB), Colton Parakyo (STL), Aaron Ekblad (FLA), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Ryan Murray (CMB), Morgan Reilly (TOR), and Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). Lots of upcoming talent here, but they are certainly inexperienced. That’s to be expected for a team that is comprised of players aged 23 and under. Ekblad is a stud on the back end and “Ghost” carried the Flyers to the playoffs last spring. Jones is a future star, too.

Third – Team Sweden: Niklas Hjalmmarsson (CHI), Anton Stralman (TB), Mattias Ekholm (NAS), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI), Hampus Lindholm (ANA), Erik Karlsson (OTT), and Victor Hedman (TB). Outstanding crew of defensemen here led by Hedman and Karlsson and it was hard to put them third, but the other two teams are just slightly better as a whole. Karlsson has the Norris Trophy notoriety, but if you ask me, Hedman might be as good as any defensemen in the NHL outside of Drew Doughty. The guy is just awesome on the back end and plays a lot of minutes.

Second – Team USA: Matt Niskanen (WAS), John Carlson (WAS), Jack Johnson (CMB), Ryan Suter (MIN), Ryan McDonagh (NYR), Dennis Byfuglien (WPG), and Erik Johnson (COL). There isn’t a “Wow!” factor with this crew, but each one of these blue liners is very good and experienced. Carlson is a top dozen defensemen in the NHL, in my book, but he doesn’t get a lot of publicity. He continues to get better and better and will be on the top pairing with either Suter or McDonagh.

First – Team Canada: Jay Bouwmeester (STL), Shea Weber (MON), Jake Muzzin (LA), Drew Doughty (LA), Alex Pietrangelo (STL), Marc-Edouard Vlassic (SJ), and Brent Burns (SJ). TONS of ability and experience here led by the best defensemen in the NHL in Doughty. This blue line is ultra deep and keep in mind they left Kris Letang of Pittsburgh and P.K. Subban of Nashville off of the squad. I probably would have had both of them on the team, but GM Doug Armstrong and Coach Mike Babcock are calling the shots for this tournament. Bottom line, Canada is loaded on defense (and at other positions too!) and they easily could put another group of seven together that wouldn’t be too far behind Sweden and the USA.

On Thursday night, I’ll rank the goaltenders for each team.

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