Posted on 30 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 17 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic
Last Wednesday, in a thrilling and razor close series, the Caps found a way to end their season in heartbreaking fashion once again. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round for the first time in team history, including two games at Madison Square Garden in overtime. They were a 101 seconds from the Eastern Conference Finals in game five and fell short.
There have been 40 years of Washington Capitals hockey and 0 Stanley Cups.
As they say, it is what it is.
You can call the series loss whatever you want, a choke, a collapse, a lack of clutch play, or an absence of a killer instinct, it doesn’t matter, at this point. The bottom line is the Capitals lost while the Rangers, who I’ve been asserting since January are the best team in hockey, move on to take on Tampa and likely the Western Conference champion following that.
Make no mistake about it, the Rangers were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, and they are working on proving it in the post season. They were resilient and stuck to their process, for the most part, and that allowed them to move on. I expect them to win the Stanley Cup in June.
The Caps were oh so close, though. How tight was this series? Here are some numbers to back that up:
13-12, Rangers, in goals (all games decided by a single goal).
236-223, Rangers, in shots on goal (1.86 per game).
458-438, Rangers, in shots attempted (2.86 per game).
232-220, Capitals, in hits (1.71 per game).
One stat that wasn’t close was face-offs, the Caps dominated those, 250-199 (55.7%), thanks primarily to Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle. Ironically, though, it was some key draws that ultimately did Washington in. Most notably the series winning sequence where Eric Fehr was beaten badly by Derek Stepan, which caused both Fehr and Andre Burakovsky to become confused defensively, allowing Stepan to sneak to the far post for a wide open rebound goal. Another key draw that the Capitals lost was the one with 3.6 seconds left in the opening frame in game six. Chris Kreider scored on a rebound with 0.3 seconds remaining to give New York a 2-0 lead that the Capitals ultimately could not overcome despite a furious and dominating rally.
Simply put, the Rangers, who had a major focus lapse at the end of game one, didn’t have as many “lack of focus” sequences as the Capitals did in the series, and that’s ultimately why they won. Washington struggled out of the gate in many first periods as well as in the third period in game six. Also, after a dominating first period in game seven, their best opening frame by a mile in the series, they took some terrible penalties to lose all of the momentum they had built up. Mike Green’s cross checking penalty on Dan Girardi was a classic lack of focus moment. It was a terrible decision at the wrong time, especially after two straight Capitals penalty kills, and it was a big factor in Washington not winning game seven.
Adding to the lack of focus issue was a putrid Washington power play. For the series the Caps were 1 for 15, while New York went 3 for 18. That’s a big factor in a super tight series. The Caps, who had the best power play in the NHL in the regular season, struggled with zone entries and when they were able to get set up, were far too predictable in their attempts to force Alexander Ovechkin the puck. The playoffs are all about adjustments. The Washington coaching staff did a nice job of making adjustments in the series at even strength, but they failed to change course on the power play. That was a mistake. They have used a set up where they put two guys in front of the opposing goalie and fire away from the point, but they failed to employ that strategy in the Rangers series.
In the opening round series win over the Islanders, the Capitals had success at getting pucks deep and hitting the New York defense with a relentless fore-check. Washington had a much harder time of that with the Rangers. The New York forwards are lightning fast, but their defense was an area that the Caps needed to exploit better with pressure and physicality. In game three, particularly in period two, the Rangers defensemen were petrified of Tom Wilson. “Willy” had his best game of the series and had the Rangers defense backing up from him. I’m surprised that the Capitals coaches didn’t try to use that tactic and advantage more often in the series. In addition, when New York did get the puck, the Capitals first forward too often flushed or chased the Rangers D-man behind the net causing an easy exit for New York on too many occasions. I didn’t think that was a wise strategy and I’m not sure if it was the coaches instructing the players to do that or the players choosing to do it on their own? Either way, it is best, especially with no red line, to shade the defensemen one way or the other and try to trap him before he exits the defensive zone. Washington did that well in their 5-2 regular season beat down of New York at Madison Square Garden, but they couldn’t repeat that fore-checking success in the playoffs against the Blueshirts.
Overall, the better team won the series. But in sports the better team doesn’t always win and the Capitals let an opportunity to close out the series and possibly win the Stanley Cup slip by.
It was a bitter defeat and it was as close as Washington has come to making the conference finals since 1998. Make no mistake about it, it stinks to lose, but the Capitals are once again a Stanley Cup contender after not being one since prior to the Montreal loss in 2010 (and you could argue that team had too many holes as well, especially at second line center and on defense).
So going forward there should be lots of optimism, but a busy summer of business and roster tweaking looms ahead for General Manager Brian MacLellan and Head Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals were a big and physical team, but they struggled against teams with speed. Adding team speed will need to be addressed with the off season moves.
Trotz and MacLellan have done a magnificent job of changing the culture to be much more team focused and the personnel moves to upgrade the blueline, something I called for along with a “team first” concept last May before either was hired, were spot on. Last summer’s decisions were validated with the strong regular season and playoff performance.
With John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen under contract this team has the foundation for a strong blueline for next season and beyond. Orpik had a fantastic season and brought a physical presence to the back end this club has not had since Brendan Witt left. #44 will be 35 years old in September, but the way he conditions and maintains himself, he’s a very young 35 and should be fine next year. Alzner, under the tutelage of Todd Reirden in Trotz’ system, had his best season as a pro.
In net, Braden Holtby stepped up and was dominant, again, as predicted here. Holtby is a restricted free agent and will be a priority to sign to a long term deal. He played 73 games, including 72 starts, winning 41 of them with nine shutouts. Ideally you’d prefer Holtby to play between 60 and 65 games, so Washington needs to figure out its’ backup goaltender situation in the offseason. Justin Peters is signed for another campaign, but he struggled in his nine starts and 12 appearances going 3-6-1 with just a .888 save percentage. Basically, he played like an AHLer. The other option would be to bring up Philipp Grubauer, who started game two against the Islanders and won, although he wasn’t real sharp in that tilt. Better play from the backup, who will likely see the cage on the latter half of back to back game situations, is necessary in order to not give away valuable standings points during the regular season.
The main priority, other than signing Holtby, for MacLellan and Trotz is to find a top line right wing. That position is the team’s biggest hole and a big factor in why the team isn’t moving on. There is no player on the current roster that can fill that gap, so that has to be the outside focus this summer via free agency or trade.
Second line center, well we won’t be talking about that issue any more. Evgeny Kuznetsov showed in the playoffs that he has that spot covered. What a super finish to his first full NHL season for the young 22 year old Russian! He is so good and strong with the puck and he has the ability to take over games as he did in game five against the Islanders and game six against the Rangers.
With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and now the emergence of Burakovsky, the Capitals have four legitimate top six forwards. Ovechkin had a monster season with 53 goals and 81 points. He swung his plus/minus from -35 to +10. A much improved blue line, a structured system, and hard work by the Gr8 led to a sensational turnaround. Big credit should be given to the Capitals coaching staff for properly developing young offensive minded forwards Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. Without their astute handling this team doesn’t get as far as it did. Trotz clearly knew what he was doing in bringing along these two kids in the manner in which it unfolded. Both are strong on the puck and improved immensely in their own zone from where they were in the season opener back in October. Right wing is the big issue now, as mentioned above.
As for Wilson, well the Capitals have to better utilize his talents. His hands and puck skills, as well as his skating, must improve. He has the potential to be at least a third line force or possibly a second liner, at some point. Opposing defensemen fear a guy like him and he can open up lots of space for his line mates. The coaches have to find a way to make him a bigger factor in 2015-16.
Making things tough on MacLellan this offseason will be the salary cap and the contracts he likely won’t be able to move in Troy Brouwer (0 playoff goals) and Brooks Laich (1 playoff goal). That is $8.1M tied up in two players who are bottom six forwards. Joel Ward, at $3M, had far better production than those two in the post season, but the 34 year old is headed to unrestricted free agency and will likely end up elsewhere for more money.
As for Marcus Johansson, he’s a restricted free agent who had a strong regular season, but disappeared too much in the Rangers series. Marcus is bumped off of the puck too easily in the playoffs and is not a threat to throttle opposing defensemen. I’m not sure where he fits in the team’s plans, but if the Caps keep him they can’t overpay him for his regular season statistics when he’s not producing in the playoffs.
When it comes to Jason Chimera, Coach Trotz stated in his final presser that he and #25 butted heads, at times, during the regular season. Chimera had a poor regular season, but in the playoffs he was a different guy. He gave the Rangers fits with his speed and tenacity. He’s under contract next year for $1.9M so he’ll likely be around. It would be nice if “Chimmer” brought the way he played in the post season on a consistent basis to next year’s regular season.
Beagle, Fehr, and Curtis Glencross are all unrestricted free agents so they’ll only return if the price and fit is right. Beagle is great on draws and on the penalty kill so he has a greater chance of being back. Fehr scored 19 goals and goes to the net well. His injury history will likely keep his price down and increase his chances of a return to Washington. He’s definitely a well liked player in the locker room. Glencross added speed, but he had the propensity to make the big mistake. His giveaway in overtime of game five was totally the wrong play. He needed to stride to the red line and dump the puck. If Laich had the advantage he thought he had, then gaining the red line and rimming it would have worked too, instead he opted for the high risk pass and Laich mistakenly changed when he should have headed back on defense. It was a costly lack of focus by both players there.
Speaking of next year’s regular season, making the playoffs is not going to be any easier. It wasn’t until the last week of the regular season that the Capitals clinched a spot in the dance since it took until game 80 to do that. You have to think the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils will find ways to be better next year, so Washington will have to work hard just to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.
The Caps were relatively healthy in 2014-15. You can attribute a part of that to luck, but the way the roster was handled and the ice time spread out properly, especially on the blue line, allowed the players to be fresher and not more susceptible to injuries. The coaching staff along with the training staff, led by Greg “Smitty” Smith, did an outstanding job of knowing when to push and back off of this team in terms of practice time, as well.
In terms of the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs in 2014-15, Green played a huge factor in the Caps just getting there. His ability to rush the puck and drive offensive pressure is something this team needed from the back end due to the lack of up front scoring. Unfortunately, #52 was not that same player in the Rangers series. In 14 post season tilts he had two assists and no goals. Against the Blueshirts he struggled to gets shots on goal and his two penalties in game seven were terrible. Green improved a ton defensively this season under Trotz, but under pressure in the biggest game of the season, he failed in key situations. I’ve always been a Green supporter, however, he’s an unrestricted free agent and I can’t see the Capitals spending big money on him when they have other more pressing needs in the top six at right wing. Someone will offer Green a big contract and he’ll have no choice but to take it. Washington will look to Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to fill the holes that will likely be vacated by Green and Tim Gleason. However, that is a big risk given Orlov and Schmidt’s injury history, not to mention that both players do not have the offensive talent of #52. MacLellan may need to add a defensemen in the summer, as well.
Overall, the fans have to be positive about the state of affairs despite a tough, stinging, and emotional loss that had many proclaiming “Same Old Caps” when it was said and done.
Hey, I get it. I’ve been watching this team since 1974 and I’ve seen the highs and mostly lows when it comes to the post season.
However, I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in five years. The team finally has a coach and GM duo that understands the importance of a blue line and a structure that leads to proper play. The core players are on board with the team concept and style of play. Backstrom stated that they are playing the right way for only the second time since he’s been with the Caps, with the other being the partial season that Dale Hunter coached the team. The way the Capitals played in 2014-15 during the regular season and the playoffs backs that premise up.
Now they need to take the next steps necessary to be good enough to get to the final and win. That starts with finding a top line right wing. In my book, that player is not in the organization right now, so it’s up to them to find one.
Washington made great strides in 2014-15 and because of the better talent level and improved system, they had the puck more than their opponents once again after a downward trend in that category.
But the future is now; there can be no sitting back and patting each other on the back after a second round exit. There is no pity in sports, especially hockey. Yes, the team had a good season, but there is lots of room for improvement from the game starts to protecting leads to putting clubs away when they’re on the ropes. It’s going to take commitment, effort, and focus from the coaches and the players.
In summary, Washington Capitals hockey is back after what was a train wreck situation just a year ago. Now it’s up to the leadership of the club, on and off the ice, to remain relentless until that donut hole next to Stanley Cup titles is finally gone.
Posted on 02 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic
After a big win in game one, the Washington Capitals needed to be prepared for a Rangers onslaught to start game two.
Just 38 seconds into the contest the Rangers buzzed the Caps net and Chris Kreider ultimately put the biscuit past Braden Holtby after a couple of rebounds. It was an ugly start and something Coach Barry Trotz was hoping to avoid in an unfriendly early start time.
After that though, the Capitals settled down and played decently getting a great look by Alex Ovechkin on Henrik Lundqvist and a couple of others before the referees took over. Zebras Dan O’Rourke and Dan O’Halloran would call three consecutive penalties on the Caps and New York would grab a 2-0 lead after period one.
What’s upsetting is that I predicted this in my blog after game 1 and on the radio on Friday morning on WNST. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, a noted whiner who has a history of getting his team to dive all over the ice to garner penalty calls, singled out Nicklas Backstrom’s clean hit on Dan Boyle in game one as dirty and for some reason, probably because insufferable NY Post writer Larry Brooks keeps writing about it, Ovechkin’s hit on Thomas Hickey from the Islanders series. Vigneault whined incessantly on Friday about a “standard” being set by the league on hits from behind.
Well, far be it for anyone to even fictitiously impact the NHL’s darlings, so naturally the calls were going to go the Rangers way in game two, early and often. The interference penalty on Karl Alzner in the neutral zone was an absolute joke, especially when the Rangers, who constantly interfered with the Penguins in round one, got away with a couple of those that were far worse than what Alzner supposedly did in the first eight minutes.
Shortly thereafter, “Goalie Injurer” Kreider put the Gr8 in a serious headlock in a post whistle scrum and was whistled for absolutely nothing. What a joke.
The Caps would kill off the Alzner phantom call, but then Carl Hagelin went down like he was hit by sniper fire behind the Capitals net when Joel Ward put his stick on him and power play number two arrived for New York. The Caps might have killed off their 18th straight power play of the playoffs if not for O’Halloran getting in the way of Troy Brouwer’s clear, which allowed Boyle to keep the puck in the zone and eventually score.
Tom Wilson would be called for charging Ryan McDonagh and that was actually a good call because #43 came up off of his skates before contact.
So that’s three calls for the Rangers when there should have been only one or possibly two and none for the Caps when there were at least three New York infractions.
But, when you play in New York and the media will make up whatever they can to support the crying coach in the paper, then the officials and the NHL are easily intimidated and end up against the Rangers opponents.
Starting in period two, the Capitals would dominate the majority of play. They stormed back furiously in that middle frame but only scored on a put back by Evgeny Kuznetsov after a good shot by Jason Chimera. The Caps fired 16 shots on the Rangers in that stanza, but somehow weren’t awarded a single power play.
In period three, Washington started strong and finally got their first power play when interference was called on Derrick Brassard, who instantly whined to the referees that it was a bad call. The Caps would get several good looks, but Lundqvist stood tall and then when the penalty expired the Capitals had a major defensive breakdown allowing Brassard to make it 3-1 from the doorstep.
Ovechkin would then score one of his highlight reel goals to make it 3-2. It’s interesting because the Gr8 was clearly tripped on the play and scored while falling to the ice. On replay, the referee closest to the play doesn’t even raise his arm to call the tripping infraction, so it’s a good thing the Gr8 scored because surely the Capitals would not have gotten a second straight power play.
Washington would press more in the final period, but then the Vigneault dive academy paid off again when Keith Yandle went down like he was shot from the blue seats when Brouwer’s stick hit him in the upper chest area. The intimidated zebras fell for it again calling high sticking while also failing to signal #93 for blatant embellishment. Sure Brouwer can be more careful with his stick, but that was nowhere close to being a penalty as the spear to the neck by Tanner Glass in game one on Holtby. Wasn’t a “standard” set on that play??!!
Again, what a joke, and at that point I started wondering if Oliver Stone was in the building making a movie on the Rangers.
The Caps would kill that off and not quit. For the last two minutes they put massive pressure on the Rangers, but somehow failed to get the equalizer.
New York was literally saved by the bell plus the officials, and has knotted this series up heading back to DC for games three and four.
Overall, the Caps have themselves to blame for the poor first few shifts, but Vigneault and the New York media really should take great joy in how they managed to intimidate the league and its’ officials to gain three opening frame power plays. For the game, it was four power plays to one for the Rangers. So chalk this victory up to the whine of the Rangers bench boss and the New York media.
It’s amazing Vigneault and the NY papers were allowed to get away with this given the numerous missed infractions on the Rangers in game one, to include Glass’ spearing of Holtby, Dominic Moore boarding Curtis Glencross from behind in period one (Vigneault conveniently left that one out of his “standard”), and Kreider sticking out his knee in an attempt to injure Holtby. But the NHL treats the Rangers like choir boys and gives them the “kid glove” treatment.
Frankly, it’s quite sickening, but with the league centered in New York, you can bet they’ll just keep on taking care of their “little darlings.”
So the Capitals will not only have to beat New York, but the guys in stripes too.
Notes: Shot attempts were 63-60 for New York, but they had three more power play opportunities. Shots on net were 35-32 for the Rangers…Ovechkin had 11 shots attempts, nine hits, and his goal in 19:49 of ice time…the Caps won the face off battle, 31-27. Brooks Laich went 5-1…no player on either team logged over 23 minutes. These are two clubs that play four lines and three defensive pairs nearly the entire game.
Posted on 22 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic
With their backs nearly up against the wall in this playoff series, the Washington Capitals earned a gritty victory in game four on Long Island on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal 11:09 into overtime to even things up at two games apiece.
Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby stopped 36 of 37 shots to earn his first win of the series.
Simply put, the Capitals top players showed up in a critical game to end the franchise’s six game road playoff losing streak and also finally get a post season overtime victory at the Nassau Coliseum.
This was a physical game that New York dominated for most of 40 minutes before the Capitals finally started taking over in period three and then the overtime. Islanders defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky suffered an injury when he was cleanly hit by Tom Wilson in period two. The zebras didn’t see it that way and called #43 for charging while Thomas Hickey, who roughed up Wilson after the whistle, went unscathed and served no box time. Visnovsky would not return forcing New York to play the rest of the tilt with only five d-men.
Despite the poor call and the fact that the Islanders had the game’s first four power plays in those 40 minutes, the Capitals and Holtby weathered the storm. Brooks Orpik played the last 51+ minutes with a cut face after John Carlson inadvertently sliced him with his skate. Orpik, who eats rocks for breakfast, came back to play a strong game along with Carlson. Both players were +2 on the night.
The Caps had 66 shot attempts in this tilt and Ovechkin (18) and Backstrom (8) had a combined 26 of them. It was clear that neither one of those players wanted to go down 3-1 in the series. The Islanders generated 78 shot attempts but they had eight minutes of power play time to just two minutes for Washington. The Capitals penalty killing efforts were a huge reason why they were able to grind out this win.
So after a pretty lousy effort in game three at the raucous Nassau Coliseum, the Capitals found a way to play better and get a win on the road and regain home ice advantage.
After game two, Caps Coach Barry Trotz stated how important the Capitals fans are to his team’s energy level. Therefore, for game five, the Verizon Center should be rocking. For those who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic) you know of the ugly behavior displayed by some of the Islanders fans in games three and four. Orpik, who sustained a facial cut late in period one, was even pelted with a beer in the face after the Caps won on Tuesday night. There was a general lack of decorum shown by some New York fans in these two games on Long Island. Washington fans have a chance to show that they are not only louder, but classier on Thursday night. So Rock your Red, but be respectful of those in Islanders gear.
Regardless of the noise level, and I do expect it to be quite loud and help the Caps, Washington has to come out and dictate the pace of the game and not wait to counter punch any strong Islanders start. New York is very fast and has some serious skill and they are a tough opponent. However, if the Capitals bring their “A” game like they did in game two and in overtime in game four, they will be tough to beat.
Bottom line, it’s all about the effort and how badly the Capitals want to win.
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Posted on 12 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic
It’s the greatest time of the year for hockey fans with the Stanley Cup Playoffs commencing this week.
Locally, after missing the post season a year ago and subsequently firing their General Manager and Head Coach, the Washington Capitals return to what will be a two month grind for two teams with a strong squad and major cause for optimism.
The Caps took second place in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and gained home ice against their first round opponent, the New York Islanders, who also had 101 points, by virtue of a 2-0-2 head to head record.
At this point, I’d expect many long time Capitals fans to “duck and cover” given Washington’s 1-5 all time playoffs series record against the guys in blue and orange. Sure the last time they met was in 1993, but when it comes to the playoffs, New York has pretty much owned the Caps, although nearly every series has been close.
This spring’s series promises to be another close affair, especially since these two clubs played three overtime games this season. I’ll have my series preview up on Monday night in plenty of time for Wednesday’s opener at the Verizon Center at 7 pm.
The previous six Caps-Isles series don’t really matter to any of these players, since it’s been 22+ years since they occurred. But for the Washington fans, they have to feel like the Capitals might finally be due to win, right?
So with that in mind, here’s a recap of the previous six Caps-Islanders series with my take on each, since I was either viewing as a fan, covering it for the PG Post Sentinel, or working for the Capitals in my role as team statistician (1987-1997). I hope you enjoy a trip down memory lane, despite the five unhappy endings.
1982-83 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st Round): Islanders win series, 3-1.
This was the season the Capitals made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a marvelous first season under GM David Poile and the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway. Unfortunately the Caps ran into the best team in hockey that year as the Islanders would go on to win their 4th consecutive Stanley Cup. This was a total mismatch series, but Washington did win game two on Long Island, 4-2, as Bob Gould scored the game winner. That’s about all to remember about that series.
1983-84 Patrick Division Finals (2nd Round): Islanders win series, 4-1.
Washington won their first playoff series ever in the opening round literally punching the Philadelphia Flyers in the mouth in a three game series sweep. Bob Carpenter and Mike Gartner were terrific and each beat up a Sutter brother (Rich and Ron) in a Washington 5-1 triumph in game three. That brought them the aging but still four time Stanley Cup Champions in round two. The Caps came out strong in the series and won game one, 3-2, at Nassau Coliseum and had a great chance to win game two, only to lose in overtime, 5-4. With game 3 at the Capital Centre, a super Caps team played New York tight but the game and the series turned on a penalty call on Carpenter, who was sent to the box for illegal equipment, he had a hole in his glove! That was against the rules (Never, never..) and the Capitals, who were carrying the play, gave up a power play goal and didn’t recover. They lost, 3-1, in game three and were beaten soundly in games four and five. The Islanders would go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, but Wayne Gretzky and company took them out in five games to win their first Cup. That sent the Islanders dynasty, which received a shot in the arm with the arrival of rookie Pat Lafontaine in the spring, on its first step towards a decline that would eventually lead to a rebuild.
1984-85 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Islanders win series, 3-2.
This was the beginning of the Capitals penchant for blowing two game series leads. The Caps won two razor close tilts at the Capital Centre, in overtime, to take a 2-0 lead. Alan Haworth beat Billy Smith in game one and then Gartner came down the right wing and beat Kelly Hrudey early in the second OT of game two. The series moved to the Nassau Coliseum and after losing game three, 2-1, the Caps had a chance to tie game four late when the Islanders knocked the net off with the puck in the crease. Carpenter was given a penalty shot and he missed sending the series back to Landover. The Caps were super in game five that was officiated by Bryan Lewis, much to the chagrin of many unhappy Washington fans. This was the peak of the “clutch and grab” era and the Capitals felt that Lewis allowed the Isles to slow down a faster and younger Caps team with those tactics. However, the Capitals still dominated play and the shot totals, but Smith was in the zone in net. In fact, the Capitals could still be trying to get the tying tally on the crazy net minder and they probably still wouldn’t score. Smith stoned Washington as the Isles got two pucks past Pat Riggin to win, 2-1.
1985-86 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Washington wins series, 3-0.
This season is still one of the most painful for me to think about because it was really a year in which the Caps had a great chance to win the Cup. The two time defending champion Oilers would get knocked out in the second round by the Flames when Steve Smith put the puck in his own net in game seven and the Canadiens, riding a rookie goalie named Patrick Roy, would go on to defeat the Flames in the Finals. The Caps had a GREAT team that season. At the time they had a club record 107 regular season points (no three point games then!) and were really loaded from top to bottom with the biggest weakness being goaltending. Scott Stevens was a dominant defensemen in the league at the age of 22 and with Langway and future hall of famer Larry Murphy on the back end, the Caps were scary good. Unfortunately, the Capitals headed into that post season without one of their top offensive players, Bengt Gustafsson. Dennis Potvin had broken the leg of Gus on a dirty check in a game in March and #16 was out for the season. I think of that cheap shot every time I hear New York Rangers fans yell their favorite chant: “Potvin [stinks].” But even without Gus, the Caps were too much for the Islanders and the Capitals swept New York handily. Unfortunately bad Caps goaltending and John Vanbiesbrouck did in the Caps in round two. Again, that season end still really stings nearly 30 years later.
1986-87 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Islanders win series, 4-3.
Leave it to the Caps to be the first team to blow a 3-1 series lead in the new playoff format which was instituted that season. The NHL finally got smart and went away from the five game first round, which was four games in five nights, and moved to a seven game opening round series. Naturally, Washington raced out to a 3-1 series lead, in what still entailed a four game in five night format. The game four win came on the night when Larry Mize chipped in on Greg Norman to win the Green Jacket, I clearly remember watching his hole out from the Isles press room, but I digress.
For some reason, Caps Coach Bryan Murray chose to play Pete Peeters at home after Bob Mason had stoned the Islanders in games three and four in the Nassau Coliseum. Mason gave up one goal in those two games to stake Washington to that 3-1 series lead. Peeters would allow four pucks to the Islanders as they won game five at the Capital Centre and then Hrudey held on against a furious Caps late rally to win game six, 5-4. Hrudey and Mason would battle in the epic four overtime thriller at the Capital Centre in a game that extended into Easter Sunday. As a Caps statistician, I was keeping Islanders time on ice that night by hand (we didn’t have software to do the visitors ice time by computer yet) and after the second overtime Murray told me to stop keeping it, he said it didn’t matter anymore! Anyways, I remember Caps defensemen Greg Smith hitting the cross bar in the first overtime and then he ended up fracturing his knee cap in a later period to end his season. The Islanders would win on Lafontaine’s shot off of the post. Hrudey was the other big hero stopping 70+ shots. Mason was super, but Hrudey was better that night. Many new hockey fans were made around the country that evening and early morning as the game seemed to go on forever.
1992-93 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st Round): Islanders win series, 4-2
The Islanders made the post season after missing the two previous years and were led back that season by 23 year old Pierre Turgeon, who scored an astounding 132 points, including 58 goals. He was their best player and certainly played well in the series. After the Caps won game one, 3-1, in dominating fashion, New York would win the next three games in extra time, with two of the goals coming in double overtime. In game two at the Capital Centre, Brian Mullen tallied at 34:50, then in games three and four it was Ray Ferraro, at 4:46 and 25:40 to give the Islanders a 3-1 series lead. The Caps blew 3-1 leads in the third period in both of those tilts. In one of those two games on Long Island, the Caps would have been up by a bigger margin, but Terry Gregson mistakenly wiped out a Capitals goal calling goalie interference on Todd Krygier when replays showed Glenn Healy was hit by the stick of his own player. It was bad zebras that night, but mostly bad goaltending in the series for Washington as Rick Tabarcci was terrible when the pressure came on in the third period. Dale Hunter and Al Iafrate carried the Caps in this series, especially in game five. Iafrate would score six goals in the series, but Don Beaupre was terrible in game six on Long Island and the series ended when Turgeon scored late. I was working the computer that night and I can still vividly recall Capitals statistician lead Mike Herr telling me “goal,” with a slight pause and then the words “and a cheap shot by Hunts.” We all remember that one and Dale would be suspended for the first 20 games of the 1993-94 season because of that move that separated Turgeon’s shoulder. On our way out of the Nassau Coliseum, which was my last visit to that barn, our Capitals team buses were pelted with rocks. On the plane ride home, a bewildered Iafrate wandered up to talk to me and said, “Hey Eddie, how did we lose that series?” I just shook my head.
So there you have it, a little history lesson on the Capitals-Islanders playoff series. It’s 5-1 in favor of New York. So are the Capitals finally due to win one?
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Posted on 15 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic
After Friday night’s debacle to the Dallas Stars, things were not good in Washington Capitals land. They lacked effort and intensity in arguably their worst performance of the season and were 1-3 on a five game home stand. Following the loss their head coach, Barry Trotz, told the team to “fix it.”
On Sunday night against the Boston Bruins, who had tied them with 82 standings points following their blanking of the Penguins on Saturday afternoon, the Caps gave one of their best efforts of the campaign. Braden Holtby, who was pulled in the loss on Friday, was superb in net stopping all 32 shots he faced and frustrated a chippy Beantown club en route to a 2-0 victory.
Nicklas Backstrom added two helpers to take over the franchise all time assist lead and Alex Ovechkin, despite having no points, was on the ice and a factor in both Washington tallies. In addition to the Caps stars showing up, the lunch pail guys brought their game with a vengeance, including second year man Tom Wilson who was physical on the puck and had the Bruins going after him all night. In fact it was Willie’s big hit on Ryan Spooner that angered Brad “the Rat” Marchand, who promptly jumped #43 and took a two minute minor that should have been at least four minutes (bad zebras, once again).
John Carlson would laser a point shot by Tuukka Rask, who is now 0-4-2 in his career at the Verizon Center, on the resulting power play to give the Capitals a key 1-0 lead. Boston, who has been red hot lately, had scored the first goal in their last 11 contests.
The Caps would dominate the first two periods and Nate Schmidt would post the only other marker in the middle frame on a point blast that hit Greg Campbell and went in. It was a lucky bounce, but usually in sports the team that works harder gets the bounces. The Capitals were the harder working club on Sunday, something that was not the case in their previous two losses.
This game probably should’ve been over after 40 minutes but Rask was very good and kept his club alive for a potential third period push. Despite two power plays and pulling their goalie late, the Bruins just couldn’t get the biscuit past Holtby. Boston tried everything, including having Milan Lucic slash him and do whatever he could to rattle #70, but Holtbeast simply ignored #17 and stoned the Bruins attempts with solid positioning and a super glove hand. The Caps, who were missing Brooks Orpik on the blue line for the third straight tilt, did a good job of keeping the Bruins to the outside and only allowed nine shots on the cage in the final frame. For the night, the Capitals frustrated Boston by blocking 26 shot attempts.
This was a huge victory because Washington now moves back into the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference standings and they are seven points up on the streaking Ottawa Senators (11-1-1 in their last 13 games), who are in 9th place behind Boston. The Caps are just four and six points behind the Penguins and Islanders, respectively, in the Metropolitan Division. A victory on Monday night in Buffalo would get the Capitals even closer to those teams and more importantly, closer to clinching a playoff spot. The Caps have 12 games remaining so a win against the Sabres would put them at 86 points and 95 should be enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So, just 48 hours after a dismal performance and the potential for doom and gloom, the Capitals went out and beat a strong Boston Bruins club in a heavy and physical contest. It was a super team performance backed by stellar goaltending from Holtby, who earned his 8th shutout of the season.
The club only earned two points for the victory, but this one seems bigger and sets the team up well to get to the playoff dance that they so badly want to make and then excel in.
Notes: The Caps outshot the Bruins 38-32 but Boston won the shot attempt battle, 70-63. The Bruins had four power plays to just one for the Caps, which doesn’t add up based on the Caps dominating much of the play. Unblocked shot attempts had the Caps up 53-44…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 36-27. Patrice Bergeron is the best draw man in the NHL and he went 18-7…Matt Niskanen led Washington in ice time with 25:00.
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Posted on 22 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic
That is the Capitals final 2014-15 record against the Philadelphia Flyers following Sunday’s 3-2 defeat in Filthy.
That is unacceptable to Capitals fans, plain and simple.
The good news is despite the lousy and very lackluster efforts the Caps exhibited versus their despised rivals from up I-95, Washington will return to the post season this spring while Claude Giroux and company will most likely start slapping Titleist’s around once the regular season ends.
Still, Sunday’s effort was terrible, especially the first period. Perhaps the fact that some crazy Flyers fan pulled the fire alarm at the team hotel at 1:30 am messed the Capitals up today and caused them to play a sleepy game? Or maybe the Flyers match up well with the Caps? Or perhaps the line up that Coach Barry Trotz iced today caused the team to be out of sync?
I’ll go with questions number one and number three from above.
The Flyers are not a good team and their defense is weak. The Capitals should cream these guys assuming they stay out of the box.
There’s one big problem from Sunday, the Caps took too many early penalties and as a result the Flyers scored their first two goals on the power play, the second of which was on a five on three, to take a 2-0 lead.
As for the Washington power play, well it stunk to high heaven on Sunday going 0 for 5 against the 28th ranked PK unit in the league. Assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that group because too many pucks were being forced to Alex Ovechkin when there were other openings. The team also needs to learn to just simplify and shoot with traffic. The 6 on 4 at the end of the game was absolutely putrid.
It also helps if you have your line up in sync and the one Trotz put out there on Sunday smelled like the city they were playing in. Out was Andre Burakovsky and in went Michael Latta. A top line that dominated on Saturday against the Islanders until the coaches stopped playing them late in regulation was transformed into one that started with Jay Beagle on right wing, but he took a penalty on the opening shift. Marcus Johansson, who was subpar on line number two on Saturday, then moved to the top unit thereafter and didn’t play well there either.
In addition, Cameron Schilling was put in on the third defensive pairing while Jack Hillen was scratched. Trotz told the media afterwards that they are evaluating depth options on defense in preparation for next Monday’s trade deadline (March 2nd). So I’m okay with that one, but the Burakovsky move and subsequent domino effect is a head scratcher.
In the last seven games that #65 has played the Capitals are 7-0-0 and he is a +8, with no minus games. Burakovsky has been strong on the puck and has the high end talent to play with the highly skilled Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The analytics seem to support the value Burakovsky provides to the team’s puck possession statistics, as well. On the contrary, when Jason Chimera has been in the lineup the last six times the Caps are 3-3 and he is -2 with no plus games. Still, there we were late in the Flyers game down a goal and Chimera is out on the power play while Burakovsky is up eating nachos in the press box. In addition, Chimera had 1:27 of man advantage time while Eric Fehr received none. Makes little sense to me.
Thankfully there are only eight days until the trade deadline and then after that the Capitals hopefully finalize their roster and stop with this revolving door of a lineup. Washington needs to build some continuity and confidence over the last month plus of the season so they are ready for the playoffs in a wide open Eastern Conference.
On Sunday, they did nothing of the sort and Michael Del Zotto, who was key in the Rangers playoffs series wins over the Caps in 2012 and 2013, scored the game winner to send Washington with their tails between their legs on the train back to DC.
Trotz has done a lot of good things with this team in bringing them together, getting them to commit to the new system, getting Braden Holtby back on track, and solidifying the blue line, but when it comes to lineup choices and stability as well as late game decision making, that’s where he and his staff need to improve if the Capitals want to go deep in the post season.
Make no mistake about this, the Capitals are an infinitely better team than they were a season ago under the horrible Adam Oates experiment that was made worse by some terrible personnel moves by the departed George McPhee. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have done a super job of turning things around. Kudos to them for what they’ve done and the high expectations the fan base has are a result of their immediate success.
However, everyone can improve and there are still no Stanley Cup banners hanging from the Verizon Center ceiling. This team has the potential to make a run at the Cup but they have to properly use their assets. The coaching staff has done a lot of good things, but they can still be better. Hopefully they are learning what doesn’t work when leading, like shortening the bench and not playing Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, who are top puck possessors. In addition, icing the best possible lineup is something that can be improved upon, which means putting skill players like Burakovsky in the top six and slotting the bottom six guys where they belong.
1-2-1 against the Flyers. I don’t like it at all.
But Wednesday they have a chance to go 4-0 against the Penguins. Doing that would make the fan base feel a lot better about their despicable performance against the Flyers this season.
Still, it’s all about the playoffs and that’s where the coaches need to be focused and improve in the aforementioned areas.
Notes: The Caps fall to 33-18-10 and back to 4th place in the Metropolitan Division…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 23:46, but he and Backstrom were held pointless…Holtby made 25 saves and appeared to be interfered with on the game winning goal, but that was set up by a terrible Capitals line change that gave Del Zotto far too much room…shot attempts were even at 54 for this one but the Flyers had more on net, 28-23.
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Posted on 21 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic
As improved as the Washington Capitals have been this season under Coach Barry Trotz, the Caps ability to play with a lead and close out games has remained quite a question mark. Witness Tuesday night’s despicable shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers.
In that game, the Capitals led, 4-2, with five minutes remaining. The Caps had dominated the game and appeared in good position to get a nice victory heading into the All Star Break.
But the coach shortened the bench, like Trotz has done on numerous occasions this season, in an attempt to put what he thought were his best defensive players on the ice in order to close out the game. Part of that strategy included not playing Mike Green (and his defensive partner) over the last the five minutes in regulation.
Green is the best skater, passer, and puck possession defensemen on the roster. So why was he not on the ice when it seems you’d want a guy like that out there?
In fact, #52 has “sat the pine” in each of the three previous games in which the Caps had a slim lead late, as evidenced by the data below:
1 shift for only 12 seconds in the last 6 minutes versus Philly (1-0 lead)
1 shift for 44 seconds in the last 7 minutes versus Colorado (2-1 lead)
0 shifts in last 5 minutes versus Detroit (3-1 lead)
In each of those three games the Capitals were heavily out shot late and just hung on to win. Trotz went to that well, not playing Green, again last night and failed miserably.
It’s often stated in sports “that the best defense is a good offense.”
Trotz has called Green the Caps “X-Factor” for a reason. When he’s on his game, and he’s pretty much mostly been that way all season, he can carry a team. Former Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t call him “The One Man Breakout” for nothing.
I can understand not wanting to put the 6th defensemen (Jack Hillen) on the ice late in games. But not playing Hillen doesn’t also mean you have to sit a player of Green’s calibre too.
Why not go to a five defensemen rotation late in games? After all, playing just four D for the last five minutes has to wear out the guys who are playing and decrease their probability of getting the puck out of the zone, right?
If Green’s on the ice, chances are greater that the puck will be in the offensive end of the rink. He’s faster than the other four D so isn’t he more likely to get to the dump-ins and loose pucks than Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner?
Green has four goals and 23 assists this season including a goal and 14 assists in his last 16 games.
Bottom line, the Capitals are a better team with Mike Green on the ice, it’s a part of the reason the club is getting the lead in so many games.
Sure he’s prone to a big turnover every now and then, or “The Big Mistake”, as our friends over at Japers Rink call it.
But to me the Big Mistake is not having Green on the ice late in games. Get him out there more often and the Caps should find it much easier to close out more victories.
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Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic
After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.
The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.
In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.
Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.
Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).
The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.
Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.
Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.
It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.
Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.
On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.
Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.
Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.
Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.
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Posted on 07 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic
Wednesday night in the “Big Smoke” the Washington Capitals did a lot of things correct against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They scored the first goal to move to 20-1-2 when doing that this season.
They received stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby (31 saves).
They shot the puck extremely well, scoring “peanut butter style” (aka, top shelf) three times and tallying another time off of the far post.
They got traffic on Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.
They received two goals from their second scoring line (Marcus Johansson had both tallies) and three from their third line (Eric Fehr had two and Brooks Laich had the other).
And, they STAYED out of the penalty box (the Leafs only had two power play chances).
All of those things added up to a 6-2 white washing of a struggling Toronto team.
The victory moves the Caps to 21-11-7 (49 points) and just four points behind the second place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division (the Caps have a game in hand too).
Washington did not play a perfect game, they struggled a little bit in the first period with getting pucks on the net, but once they got their legs going in period two, the Leafs really were no match for them. The Capitals certainly received some bounces in this game, but make no mistake about it, they were the better team despite losing the shot attempt battle, 59-53.
The difference in the contest was primarily defensive zone coverage. Washington’s was very good and the Leafs may have had shots on goal, but not a lot of quality ones. On the flip side, Toronto was atrocious on defense and time after time the Capitals received lots of space and open looks and when you provide that to a club as skilled as the Caps, you are going to get burned badly.
With Washington having to travel and play in Philadelphia on Thursday night (and clear customs too), a lopsided victory was important and it allowed Coach Barry Trotz to spread the ice time around (the lack of special teams play helped too). John Carlson, who was outstanding in this one going +3 with two helpers, led the Capitals in ice time with 24:13. The only player under 10 minutes was Tom Wilson, who logged only 6:46 and didn’t play after it looked like he hit his head doling out a check in the middle frame.
Wilson did come back and sit on the bench in period three (h/t @alexprewitt of The Washington Post), but his potential injury was likely the only real negative of the night.
So the Capitals are now 11-1-3 in their last 15 games. They are no doubt getting superb goaltending. Their only regulation loss in this run was on a back to back event in New York just before Christmas. On Thursday they will seek to win their first game all season on the latter half of a back to back sequence, when the second game is played on the road (0-4 so far this year in those situations). The question is does Trotz go with Holtby or finally play Justin Peters, who hasn’t seen the net since November 29th? Given that the Caps face the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and have a busy upcoming schedule (7 games in 11 days), my money is on finally seeing #35 in the cage.
Notes: Washington lost the face off battle, 36-23…Ovechkin notched an empty net goal that was made possible by another super effort by Jay Beagle on the boards and a good cross ice feed from Nicklas Backstrom…Vincent “the diver” Trocheck of Florida, who went down from apparent sniper fire near Brooks Orpik on Sunday, was fined $2,000 by the NHL on Tuesday. That lack of integrity move by Trocheck gave the Panthers a 5 on 3 late in the game, that Washington fortunately killed off. It’s nice to see the NHL crack down on that “soccer like” move by Trocheck. The NHL doesn’t need that type of garbage.
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