Tag Archive | "capitals"

Alex Ovechkin scores his 7th goal of the season to help lead the Caps over Boston.

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Ovechkin Goal Jump Starts Caps in 4-1 Win Over Boston

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After playing too loose, falling behind early, and ultimately losing, 5-2, to the Rangers on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals really hoped to have a strong start against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

They did not get one.

The Bruins repeatedly put pucks deep on Washington early and throttled the Capitals in their own end with a vicious forecheck over the first 10 minutes. Luckily for the Caps, goalie Braden Holtby (28 saves) was razor sharp and the Caps were able to keep things scoreless.

Shortly after the 12 minute mark though, Justin Williams turned a puck over in the neutral zone while shorthanded and that gave the Bruins a three on two rush that they converted off of a fluky bounce. Suddenly Boston had scored for the first time since the spring of 2014 on Holtby (the Caps shut the B’s out three times in 2014-15) and they had a 1-0 lead.

But that’s all the Bruins would get as the Caps made some adjustments to get the puck out of their own end and from there things started to go their way.

“We just started doing what we were supposed to do from the start, we were too slow. We weren’t getting close enough to their high guy for their shots. We know they like to play a triangle game. We weren’t winning the races to the pucks and then it seemed like we got our legs a little bit,” said defensemen Karl Alzner.

That they did and with four minutes left in the opening frame, the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Williams had a dominant offensive zone shift. Then the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie built off of that momentum and buried one with the Gr8 scoring a greasy goal in front. Ovechkin would take a couple of cross checks in the back and slide one past Tuukka Rask (27 saves) to tie the game up. The Tim Kerr/Dino Ciccarelli type of goal absolutely lifted the spirits of the Capitals and those in attendance at the Verizon Center.

“Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores those highlight reel goals all the time. We talk about this is a team [Boston] that has a good goaltender. Their physical [defensive] core and you got to go to those hard areas to score goals against them. When one of your top scorers is known for his one-on-one and great shot, goes to the hard areas and gets one of those grinder, blue paint goals, it’s great,” said Coach Barry Trotz about the turning point in the hockey game, Ovechkin’s seventh goal of the season.

The Caps took the lead just 4:10 into period two when Brooks Laich scored his 1st goal of the season by doing what Ovechkin had done earlier, going to the front of the net. Dmitry Orlov’s point blast hit Laich en route and got by Rask. Washington increased the lead to 3-1 on a five on three power play with Backstrom saucering a sweet pass to John Carlson for a one timer. It was Carlson’s third goal of the season to go with nine assists and the way the Capitals players rotated to confuse Boston was a nice, new power play wrinkle.

From there on in, the Capitals clamped things down and gave the Bruins pretty much nothing the rest of the way. The Caps improved to 6-0-0 this season when leading after two periods by playing a nearly flawless final stanza. They held Boston to just one quality shot, which is impressive.

“I was really happy with the way we handled the third… We understood that they [Boston] were going to come with their d [defense] getting active, and we just stayed to the game plan, and just making sure we were making them come 200 feet and being on the right side of pucks when they got jammed up, and we protected the slot,” added Coach Trotz on the third period success.

“I think we were responsible, we changed our system a little bit, I think maybe gave them a different look and threw a wrench in their plans and we just played smart with the puck,” added Alzner, who sealed this one with an empty net goal with 1:50 remaining to close it out at 4-1.

One thing the coaching staff did for the third period that really worked was a juggling of the lines. Coach Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky up with fellow Swedes, Backstrom and Johansson, and he bumped Williams over with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera. As a result, Boston was stymied getting only seven shots on the cage over the last 20 minutes. During the offseason Washington talked about developing a killer instinct and this third period performance was a big step in that direction.

Overall, this was an important bounce back victory after a disappointing result in New York on Tuesday. The Caps improved to 9-3 and matched the 1991-92 and 2011-12 teams for the best Washington starts to a season. That 91-92 squad I talk about often because I believe it was one of the Capitals all time best teams. The problem was the team that won the Cup in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were just a bit better, primarily due to their goaltending. Goaltending is a strength for the Caps these days and if they keep improving their overall play and stay healthy, this season should continue to be a fun and special one.

Notes: All three Caps defensive pairs played well with Carlson and Brooks Orpik leading the way in time on ice with 25:20 and 22:19, respectively. It was a super game for both and Carlson rightfully earned the first star…Orlov and Nate Schmidt both were excellent after being the best D pair against the Rangers. They logged 14:52 and 15:21, respectively. Each skates well and moves the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. The Caps have to be very pleased at the level of play they are getting from that pair so early in the season…Washington outshot Boston, 31-29, but were outshot attempted, 63-53. The Caps blocked 19 shots and did a good job of keeping the Bruins on the perimeter; especially in period three…Boston won the face off battle, 39-29. David Krejci was 11-3 for the B’s while Kuznetsov went 6-14 for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Leafs are not good and are clearly one of the front runners in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.

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Washington finds a way to win against a pesky Blue Jackets squad, 2-1.

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Oshie & Williams Score in Caps Victory Over Columbus

Posted on 30 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

When you play against a John Tortorella coached squad, the game is rarely pretty. That was the case at the Verizon Center on Friday night as the Capitals managed to do enough to defeat a pesky Columbus club, 2-1.

Justin Williams scored the first goal in the latter half of period two for the Caps. Karl Alzner did a super job of pinching in from the point and that allowed Marcus Johansson to feed Williams above the right circle for a shot that Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t really see, thanks to a Nicklas Backstrom screen. The Caps buzzed the tower in the last 10 minutes of period two, but somehow “Bob” (28 saves) kept his club in it.

In the third period, Columbus found some legs for the early part of the stanza before the Caps started to take over possession-wise with their first and second lines. It would be the first line who would give Washington a cushion it would really need down the stretch. Braden Holtby (29 saves) used his great puck handling ability to lift one high off of the glass for a clear on the left wing boards and that sprung Alex Ovechkin on a three on one break with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. The Gr8 had a lane to the net, but instead of shooting he sent a beautiful pass that split the Columbus defense. The recipient of the pass, Backstrom, then teed it up perfectly for Oshie, who buried it under the cross bar with 8:01 left to make it 2-0.

The Blue Jackets would score at 14:45 in a goal mouth scramble that Coach Barry Trotz challenged. The Washington bench boss felt that Holtby was interfered with on the play. He was, and it was worse than what Jay Beagle was whistled for earlier in the season in the San Jose game, but go figure?

Fortunately, the Capitals clamped down and preserved the win to send Torts and company to a 2-9 record. Washington moves to 7-2 and will face the Panthers on Halloween night at 7 pm in Sunrise.

Backstrom, Williams, Ovechkin, Oshie, and Johansson had very strong games up front for the Caps. That second line was really the key to the victory. In addition, Matt Niskanen, Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov were very good on the back end. Alzner got hit and shaken up early in period two and then came back to play a monster game. King Karl and Niskanen were downright dominant as a pair. Schmidt, who saw his first game action since the San Jose loss, performed better and better as the game went on. He was skating well and making solid clears. His only weakness is his size, which makes it tough for him in goal mouth scrambles. But #88 was really good against Columbus.

On the downside, the Capitals third line, which had to face the Blue Jackets best line, struggled for most of the night. Tom Wilson took two penalties that were unnecessary. You can add Brooks Orpik’s delay of game infraction to that list. #44 needed to make a pass in a situation where he had time with the biscuit. Instead, Columbus received an early third period power play when down just a puck.

However ugly it was, and a good chunk of the game was sloppy hockey, especially the first 30 minutes, the Capitals did what they had to do to defeat a desperate team. Good teams find ways to win close games and so far the Caps have been fairly good at that. 7-2 is an excellent start and another win in the division is important. The Caps are now 3-1 against their Metropolitan foes.

Notes: Andre Burakovsky was having a decent game and then he got hit in the head by Oshie’s stick and barely played in the third period. Overall, he only logged 7:09 of ice time…Michael Latta, who was back in after missing six games, only played 3:55 and Brooks Laich just 7:28. The performance of the 3rd and 4th lines is a bit of a concern right now…the Caps out shot attempted Columbus, 55-50, but shots on net favored the Blue Jackets at 30-28…Face offs were pretty much even, with the Caps short by one win (29-28). Beagle was 9-7, Backstrom 8-7, but Laich was 1-4.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov dazzles as he leads the Caps to a 7-4 win at Edmonton

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Kuznetsov Five Point Night Carries Caps Past Oilers

Posted on 24 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuzentsov had his Capitals coming out party in last year’s playoff series against the New York Islanders. After notching six points in six games (all assists) so far this season, Kuzya had his regular season coming out party on Friday night on the speedy Rexall Place ice scoring a hat trick and adding two helpers for a five point night in a 7-4 Caps victory.

Wow!

Seriously, this kid looks scary good and his ability to carry the puck and make sensational one on one moves is incredible. In a game that typically the Caps would come out tired, since they played in Vancouver on Thursday night, the Washington TKO line (T.J. Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin) put the Caps on the board just 3:05 into the contest on a tic-tac-toe passing play.

That goal gave the Capitals energy and then they and Edmonton put on a 1980’s style track meet hockey clinic trading goals until Kuznetsov gathered an outlet pass from John Carlson (3 assists) and raced in on Anders Nilsson and absolutely abused him via the five hole, to make it 4-3 with 33+ minutes still to play.

Washington talked in the off season about developing a killer instinct and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed that on Friday night tallying two more times in succession, including Justin Williams first goal as a Capital, to make it 6-3 with just over eight minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Edmonton would cut it to 6-4 with 5:18 to go in the second period when Philipp Grubauer was off of the post and too deep in his net on a two on two rush. The Oilers goal was a softie off of the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

At that point an Oilers comeback seemed in the cards with a tired Caps team playing in front of their backup goalie. In the past, things might have gotten hairy, but not with this team. The Capitals did an outstanding job of clamping down Edmonton over the last 25 minutes, especially in period three when the Oilers only mustered five shots on goal. Connor McDavid (goal, assist) and company also had 3:51 of power play time and couldn’t really generate any quality scoring chances. It was as good of an implementation of protecting a two goal lead in the final frame as you’ll see by a team playing their sixth period in two nights.

Kuznetsov then sealed the deal, after Williams drew a neutral zone penalty, notching the hat trick on a laser from the right wing circle with 3:01 left and ensuring the Capitals would go three for three on their Western Canada road swing.

This was an impressive win and the Capitals are now 6-1 and in first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Caps are playing team hockey and getting contributions from many different players. Ovechkin’s five game goal scoring streak was snapped, but the Gr8 still had two assists. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and has seven points in four games since returning from off season hip surgery.

The team hockey aspect is very important. The Caps are playing the system their coaches have devised and making smart decisions. The deep roster has also allowed Coach Trotz to roll four lines and three defensive pairs and keep players fresh to better handle three games in four nights or back to back situations. Utilizing all 18 skaters is important in keeping the ice time more balanced and that should help lower the chance of injuries.

Now the Capitals will fly home in the early hours of Saturday morning and then enjoy a well deserved two days off. They played super and have earned a couple of days to be with their families and friends and get refreshed. When they return, they’ll face the despised Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 8 pm on NBC rivalry night.

For the next couple of days, though, Caps nation should sit back and enjoy this three for three road trip to Western Canada because it rarely happens.

I’ve called this Capitals team the best ever on paper several times this summer and so far through seven games they are backing me up. But it’s a long season and each player in that locker room would tell you there is still room for lots of improvement.

With the additions of Oshie and Williams and the blossoming of Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), though, you can’t help but be extremely positive about the potential of this Washington Capitals hockey team.

Notes: Grubauer stopped 19 of 23 shots in his first action of the season. The fourth goal is the one he’d most want back…Carlson now leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 10 points. He logged 25:34 of ice time to lead all skaters for both teams…the Caps won the face off battle, 32-30, and Backstrom was 13-7 after a 2-15 night in Vancouver…Chandler Stephenson only played 6:18 and was -2… special teams were a big plus for the Caps. Washington was 2 for 4 on the power play and killed off five of six Edmonton advantage situations.

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The Caps destroy Calgary in the second period scoring three goals, en route to a 6-2 victory at the Saddledome.

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Caps Click on All Cylinders in Rout of Flames

Posted on 21 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If you stayed up late on Tuesday night to watch the best pro sports squad in the Maryland-Washington-Virginia area, then you were treated to a total Washington Capitals team effort as they dismantled the Calgary Flames, 6-2 at the Saddledome.

After giving up the first goal in the opening frame, the Caps had to kill off two penalties shortly thereafter. At an important juncture in the game, Washington’s PK unit was stellar, barely allowing any Calgary chances. The Flames then tried to get physical on the Capitals, a style Calgary likes to play, but it backfired against a heavy and highly skilled Washington team.

Evgeny Kuznetsov deftly stripped Dennis Wideman of the puck and then made a behind the back, no look pass to Andre Burakovsky, who buried it past a stunned Karri Ramo (14 saves on 18 shots). That tied the game up with 3:58 left in the first period. The first 20 minutes ended tied with both teams having their share of opportunities.

The Caps then dominated over the last 40 minutes. The Flames have struggled with goaltending all season and Alex Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) took advantage of a bad rebound on his initial shot and backhanded the biscuit into the basket to give Washington a 2-1 lead just 30 seconds into the middle stanza. For the next several minutes the Caps stormed the castle without a goal, but then Brooks Orpik did a super job of keeping a puck in at the offensive zone. That allowed John Carlson to corral it on the right wing boards and #74 swung it to Justin Williams (two assists) behind the net. Williams, who is as smart as they come in the NHL, fed a wide open Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) in the slot and #19 buried it.

Less than a minute later T.J. Oshie went to the front of the net and pushed Doug Hamilton out of the way to finish a Kuznetsov feed and make it 4-1. The rout was on and Ramo was pulled for Jonas Hiller, at that point.

The Flames pushed hard early in the third period by activating their defense and Mark Giordano made it 4-2 just 3:09 into the final frame. Then the Caps burnt Calgary on an odd man rush with Jason Chimera beating Hiller high to the far post and it was pretty much game over. Backstrom would add a nice backhand goal on the rush after Williams made a great indirect pass to Nicky off of the boards to close out the scoring.

Overall, this was a complete game by the Capitals. They used their size and skill to throttle the Flames at every opportunity and it was the men against the boys in the second period. Kuznetsov dazzled generating three assists and Burakovsky had his best performance of the season. You could go up and down the lineup and cite the contributions from every single player in this contest, the Caps were that good and supported the puck so well that Calgary had no chance from the second period on.

Coach Barry Trotz will have a lot to like in this victory and to dominate in their first road game of the season is encouraging. The Caps are now 4-1 and head to Vancouver for a Thursday night tilt (10 pm), which has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. The Canucks, specifically Radim Vrbata and the Sedin twins, seem to always give the Capitals fits. They also have Ryan Miller in net, another player who seems to bring out his best against Ovechkin and company.

This will be another early test for a Washington Capitals squad that looked strong on paper heading into the season and has backed that up with its play on the ice through five games.

Notes: Ovechkin has six points in four games. He had 11 shot attempts (seven on net) in 17:35 of ice time…Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov had their best outing of the season. Both played over 15 minutes and were +2 and +3, respectively…Orpik had six hits and an assist in 19:36 of time…the Caps outshot the Flames, 30-19…Johnny Gaudreau had two assists for the Flames. #13 was Calgary’s best player on Tuesday.

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Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and two assists in his return to the Caps lineup on Saturday night.

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Nicklas Backstrom Shines in His Caps Season Debut

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For those who routinely watch the Washington Capitals, they know just how good Nicklas Backstrom is at hockey. Just in case anyone forgot, Nicky took care of that quickly on Saturday night as he scored a goal and set up two others in his season debut, a 4-1 Caps victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Backstrom’s performance in his first game back even impressed his head coach.

“A guy who hasn’t played any exhibition games and comes into the National Hockey League, in a fast game, against a fast team, and he looks like he didn’t miss a beat – we realize how good he is….it looked pretty easy for him,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following the win.

Saturday’s game really was as one-sided as it gets in terms of scoring chances. Washington was all over a Carolina club that played on Friday night and if not for Cam Ward, it could’ve easily been five or six to nothing after two periods. Amazingly the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion goalie stopped 26 of 27 Capitals shots through forty minutes and Washington was forced to sweat this one out a bit in the final frame.

T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin all scored against Carolina with the last three coming in the third period. The Caps first and third goals were on the power play, the only two opportunities they received all evening. Carolina had four power plays, including a 38 second two man advantage in the middle stanza, but Washington killed that sequence off. As is often the case, a team that fails to score on a two man advantage usually loses the hockey game.

With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals moved Andre Burakovsky down to the fourth line. The 20 year old forward had struggled a bit at center in the first three games and with Marcus Johansson playing so well, #65 was the odd top six forward out. As I blogged after Thursday night’s win, the key will be for Burakovsky to just keep working hard and keep his confidence level up. He will be a big part of this team this season and the Caps will need him in the playoffs, when things really matter.

As for Johansson, well he was dynamite despite being held without a point. MJ90 has been doing a great job of going to the net and creating screens and the Caps don’t score goals two and three without “Jojo” doing just that. Marcus also had some quality scoring attempts in the game, but Ward was very strong on this night.

Oshie now has two power play goals and he is a huge upgrade over Troy Brouwer as the man in the middle with the man advantage. Eventually teams will have to shift more attention to him, which will open things up for Ovechkin and the others. Speaking of Ovechkin, he now has three goals in three games and he, Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were really good as a first unit, once again. Backstrom, Johansson, and Justin Williams formed a potent second line. Basically, trying to stop the Caps is going to be a lot harder this season now that GM Brian MacLellan has upgraded the skill on the top two lines.

On defense, the top two pairs were solid, but the third defensive pair is still working through things. Dmitry Orlov only logged 13:36 and Taylor Chorney played 15:31. Against an Auston Matthews sweepstakes team like Carolina, you’d like to see that pairing get more ice time, but until they earn it, Coach Trotz can’t risk victories for the team in order to develop that new duo.

Overall though, the Capitals look like a really strong team. Their three wins have come against hockey teams that played the night before, but you can only face the opponents as they are scheduled. Now at 3-1 after four home games, they head out to Western Canada for a three games in four nights road swing that starts on Tuesday night in Calgary (9 pm on CSN). This will be a good measuring stick to see how improved they are, last season the Caps went 1-2 on this trip with the lone victory against the Flames.

Notes: Braden Holtby made 18 saves. He had a scary moment in the middle period when the Canes had a two man advantage and his helmet was knocked off. Somehow the officials took several seconds to blow what should’ve been an immediate whistle and luckily a shot on net went over a covered up Holtby…Carlson led the Caps in ice time once again, at 23:26…Oshie now has two goals and two assists in the four games…the Caps outshot Carolina 34-19, Oshie led the Caps with six shots on goal…Brooks Orpik had five hits while Ovechkin had four…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-29.

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Ed Frankovic previews Caps-Sharks preseason game

Posted on 13 October 2015 by WNST Staff

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Dan Rosen previews the 2015 NHL season

Posted on 07 October 2015 by WNST Staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ed Frankovic previews Capitals 2015 season

Posted on 30 September 2015 by WNST Staff

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Why did the Caps lose to the Rangers? Who will be back for 2015-16?

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Here’s Why the Caps Lost and How They Can Be Better in 2015-16

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.

 

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The Rangers start fast and get a trio of 1st period power plays to win game two.

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Poor Start, Rangers Intimidation of Officials Dooms Caps in Game Two

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.

They weren’t.

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.

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