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Caps Build on Victory in Vancouver, Defeat Flames, 3-1

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

A night after playing the right way in Vancouver and dominating the Canucks in a 5-2 victory, the Washington Capitals were back at it in Calgary on Sunday night. Traveling in the wee hours of the morning, losing an hour of time (Pacific to Mountain time zone), and going into the higher elevation of the Rockies against a rested and red hot Flames team (winners of three straight) appeared to be a daunting task.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew passed the test with flying colors taking the play to Calgary for much of the night en route to a 3-1 triumph and improved their record to 5-2-1 on the season.

Washington made no lineup changes following Saturday’s win. Coach Trotz stated beforehand that he felt the guys who played against the Canucks deserved a sweater again because of how hard and how well they performed. On Sunday, it was more of the same as the Capitals moved their feet and won the majority of the loose puck battles.

It was that hard work that got the Caps on the board early, and to no surprise, it was Jay Beagle who battled behind the Flames net to find a wide open Brett Connolly in the slot, and #10 buried the biscuit for his first tally as a Washington Capital just 121 seconds into this contest. Zach Sanford was a big factor on the play by knocking the puck away from Calgary captain Mark Giordano on the goal line and as a result, he earned his first NHL point.

Just over five minutes later the Capitals would get the only other goal they’d need on the power play. Alex Ovechkin made a sweet pass to Marcus Johansson at the side of the net for an easy tap in. That two goal early burst continued a trend of strong first periods this season, something that was hard to come by in 2015-16 for Washington.

The Capitals would continue to work hard and carry the play, but Brian Elliott (26 saves) was really strong in net, something the Flames did not have last season, at all. Calgary would get a goal back later in the first period when rookie Matthew Tkachuk knocked Nate Schmidt to the ice in the right wing circle and that allowed Mikael Backlund to beat Braden Holtby (21 saves) from a bad angle. The Holtbeast likely wanted that shot back, since he was a little too deep in his cage, but the goal easily could have been waved off for interference by Tkachuk on Schmidt, however, that play is not reviewable.

Nonetheless, the Capitals were undeterred and kept taking pucks deep in the Flames zone and putting pressure on Elliott. The Calgary net minder would give the home team some hope heading into the final frame with his club only down a puck.

After a shaky first five minutes of period three, a tired Capitals crew fought through the fatigue and really throttled the Calgary rush through the neutral zone from then on out forcing the Flames to routinely dump the puck. Washington’s structure was very good and the Caps blue liners rarely had trouble getting the puck out to the forwards, who from the 10 minute mark on basically did whatever they could to get the biscuit on net or below the Calgary goal line. As a result, the Holtbeast didn’t have to make any huge saves down the stretch. It was textbook execution with a one goal lead.

With just over a minute remaining, the Flames finally pulled their goalie for the extra attacker on an offensive zone draw, but Beagle (two assists) and Johansson (two goals) forced Johnny Gaudreau into a turnover at the blue line and they went the other way on a two on one rush with the net empty. Beags feathered a sweet backhand pass to Jojo in the center of the ice and the Swedish forward, who has been superb in the first nine games, deposited the puck into the yawning cage to end the scoring.

This was not a pretty win, but it was a fundamentally sound one. The Capitals played the right way once again and limited their turnovers. They moved the puck out of their end with pace and precision and they made the Flames defensemen have to turn their backs to play the puck in their own zone. It was smart hockey with a lead and something Coach Trotz and his crew had to do given the circumstances of the back-to-back contests situation.

Holtby didn’t have to do anything spectacular in this one, but he did make some strong stops to preserve the lead. T.J. Oshie, Beagle, Sanford, and Johansson were all strong on the puck like they were in Vancouver and Evgeny Kuznetsov had one of his better games, as well. #92 didn’t shy away from contact and he limited his turnovers. He still has a ways to go to get out of the funk that started late last season, carried into the postseason, and now into October, but his last two outings have been encouraging.

Washington talked last season about playing fast, but in Edmonton they tried to do that without using their size and strength. Over this recent weekend, they did that and got back to a heavier hockey style that fits them. Playing fast and heavy are not mutually exclusive. You need both and the Caps showed on Saturday and Sunday how combining those elements can be extremely effective for themselves.

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Calgary, 51-45, and out shot them, 29-22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 32-28. Kuznetsov was 2-12. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 9-5…Ovechkin only played 15:05 due to the minimal power play time and Coach Trotz spreading the ice time around in a back to back situation. The Caps were 1 for 2 in their 2:35 of man advantage situations…Washington’s penalty killing unit was a perfect two for two…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba at 8 pm on Tuesday.

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Johansson and Oshie Lead Caps Over Vancouver, 5-2

Posted on 30 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing the right way is so important in hockey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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

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

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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Ovie Game 5 Pens

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Ovechkin, Holtby, and Oshie Help Caps Force a Game 6

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

With their season on the line, the Washington Capitals received huge performances from their stars in a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Alex Ovechkin was an absolute beast in this contest with a goal and an assist, T.J. Oshie had the same, and Braden Holtby made 30 saves to force a game 6 at the Consol Energy Center on Tuesday at 8 pm.

Wow, what a hockey game!

Both teams left it all on the ice in this one and it was the battle of superb forechecks for the first 40 minutes. After a great start by the Caps, the Penguins put on a clinic with their 1-2-2 pressure forcing Washington into poor puck management and turnovers throughout the later half of the opening stanza. The shots on net were 12-4 for the Pens after 20 minutes, but shot attempts were 25-21 for Pittsburgh since the Capitals missed the net 10 times.

In the middle frame, the Caps did a better job of breaking out by swarming the puck and using the high glass or lob over the Penguins defense. That forced Pittsburgh to do more retreating and allowed the Capitals to carry the play. Washington out shot attempted the black and gold, 26-19, and took a 2-1 lead on Oshie’s rebound of another strong Ovechkin shot. Justin Williams then pounced on a Pens turnover and beat Matt Murray five hole to give the Caps their 1st two goal cushion of this series. The lead could’ve been extended more, but the Caps missed the net 12 additional times, including some great chances for Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom.

In the third period the Capitals played smart using a 1-3-1 type of setup in the neutral zone and, as a result, Pittsburgh had to dump the puck in way more than they wanted. The Caps continued to swarm the loose biscuit and that helped them win a lot of the battles against a speedier team.

Pittsburgh didn’t have many quality chances in that last frame as the Caps played with desperation.

Desperation is what the Caps will continue to feel, because a Penguins victory on Tuesday closes this series out.

Pittsburgh got Kris Letang (30:11 of ice time) back after a one game suspension and his play stepping up in the neutral zone was a big factor early.

The Caps, however, will get Brooks Orpik back on Tuesday after his three game suspension. His veteran leadership and presence should help stabilize a Washington back end that has made too many big mistakes in this series.

On Saturday night though, the Caps defensemen were very solid and the only goal allowed by Washington was while they were shorthanded.

The Capitals received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast, including back to back huge stops on Patrick Hornqvist (pad save) and Justin Schultz (glove save) late in period two. #70 was dialed in, like his teammates, and they’ll need to be in game six.

Pittsburgh still is in the driver’s seat in this series since the Caps have no margin for error. However, coming into game five, Pittsburgh was 8-0 lifetime against Washington in previous such occasions.

Washington will need to bring their best game if they want to have a chance at extending the series, once again.

Desperation, that’s what every Capitals player has to bring to every battle on every shift on Tuesday night.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 27:28. He was outstanding, along with Karl Alzner (25:02). John Carlson had an assist in 24:50. He was dominant, as well…final shot attempts were 69-58 for the Penguins, but that was due to 3rd period score effects…Tom Wilson only played 7:20, but he drew a key slashing penalty on Ian Cole that led to Oshie’s PPG. Willy also was super on the PK and late in regulation. The Caps were 2 for 5 with the man advantage while the Penguins went 1 for 2.

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Murray Game 3

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Hockey Gods and Mistakes Fail the Caps in Game Three Loss

Posted on 03 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Very much like in game five against the Flyers in round one, the Hockey Gods were not on the Capitals side on Monday night in game three in Pittsburgh.

Washington threw 85 shot attempts at the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 47 of the 49 shots on goal while Pittsburgh was opportunistic on their chances (they only had 36 shot attempts), and lucky, to hold on for a 3-2 victory. The Pens now lead the best of seven series, two games to one.

This was one heck of a hockey game and an outstanding effort from the Capitals.

Unfortunately, they made some critical mistakes that caused the first three pucks to go into their net, none of which you can put on Braden Holtby (20 saves on 23 shots). On the first goal, a puck deflected high in the sky in the Washington zone and the Caps had a hard time finding it. That allowed Trevor Daley to get the puck and fire it on net. Patrick Hornqvist was alone in the high slot screening while Sidney Crosby was battling both Mike Richards and Matt Niskanen in front of the Holtbeast. Hornqvist makes a great tip and Holtby never sees it. Sure, it was a bit of a lucky bounce that got the Pens the puck, but the Caps coverage was terrible, particularly the left wing on the play, who should‘ve immediately moved to take Daley. If he does that, Daley likely doesn’t get the puck nor does he have such a great lane to move to the center of the ice and fire away.

On the second goal, yes, that’s a lucky bounce off of the back of Tom Kuhnhackl, but the Washington forward fails to cut off the Kris Letang stretch pass in the neutral zone and that gives Matt Cullen a lane to the net and creates a two on one.

That’s two good bounces for Pittsburgh, but let’s be honest, the Caps put themselves in position for the lucky bounces to burn them. They must clean that up the rest of this series.

On the third Penguins goal, in period two, the Washington defensemen makes a soft play in the corner and crazily fires the puck into the slot. Nick Bonino easily picks it off and Holtby does his best to delay him from scoring, but the Caps defender who turned the puck over then gets outmuscled by Carl Hagelin in front for what proved to be the winning goal.

The Caps were really carrying the play from the start of the game, but they were down three pucks because of BIG MISTAKES. Two goal holes are usually manageable, but the third one really was the dagger on this night. Not a good play at all by the Washington defensemen.

Murray continued to be stellar in net and a Caps furious rally, which started with Alex Ovechkin’s laser over the goalie’s shoulder at 8:02 of the final frame, nearly was completed. Justin Williams tallied with Holtby pulled with 55 ticks left and then Marcus Johansson nearly tied it in the dying seconds, but he shot wide after a brilliant set up from Ovechkin.

The Gr8 was an absolute beast in this one. He was the best skater on the ice. He had a goal, an assist, seven shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, and nine hits in 24:21 of ice time! Unbelievable!

Sadly, as Coach Barry Trotz will tell you, there is only one stat that matters though, the scoreboard, and it read 3-2, bad guys.

It was a disappointing loss for Washington in that they played well for large portions of this game. They had 58 hits to just 25 for the Penguins and they had the puck the entire game. They played with desperation and passion. In addition to cleaning up the mistakes, they need to maintain their discipline a bit more and their power play needs to convert. I’d like to see more shots coming from the middle of the ice with traffic with that unit.

Discipline is going to be paramount moving forward. With Brooks Orpik getting three games for his hit to the head on Olli Maatta after game two, there was a standard set by the league that those type of hits, late and to the head, would not be tolerated. A three game suspension is huge for the playoffs, but Orpik took it like a man and a team leader, while Coach Trotz agreed with a suspension, too. However, he did take issue with the length of it. Good cop, bad cop, that’s the way that has to play out, right?

Well, now the league has another issue to deal with on Tuesday. With the Pens up 2-0 late in the opening frame, Letang stupidly launches himself into Johansson’s head after the puck was long gone as #90 crosses the blue line. Jojo went down and a two minute penalty was called on #58. Marcus would leave the game and go through the concussion protocol, but somehow he wasn’t concussed and just had neck issues from the whiplash of the hit, which started at the chin area. It is a hit, like Oprik’s, that needs to be out of the game. I’d expect Letang to be suspended and the league will look like hypocrites if it is not the same or very close (two games) to the Orpik penalty of three tilts.

Overall, the Caps did a lot of super things in this game. They played with the energy they need to bring to win for all 60 minutes, they just need to be smarter in their own zone and stay out of the box. The best way to retaliate to stupid or dirty plays by Pittsburgh, like the slash by Chris Kunitz to the chest of Justin Williams that had #14 in pain, is to stay composed, stick to the game plan and their structure, and put the biscuit in the basket.

Chasing for revenge is just wasted energy.

The Caps showed on Monday night that when they put their collective minds to it and bring the passion, they can dominate the game. They’ll absolutely have to bring that effort, with a stronger commitment to avoiding the big mistakes in their own end in game four, if they want to avoid a three to one games hole.

Notes: Game four is Wednesday at 8 pm from Pittsburgh; game five will be at 7:15 on Saturday night at the Verizon Center…Bryan Rust took a shot to the leg and played just 19 seconds…Letang logged 27:57 of ice time. He blocked five shots. Overall, the Pens blocked 19 Capitals shots…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:59. He had an assist and eight shots on net…Marc Andre-Fleury was the back up for Pittsburgh, so his concussion issues appear to be over.

 

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Game Six Backy

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Caps Win the Series as Holtby Shuts Out the Flyers

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 26 saves behind another dominating 200 foot performance from the Capitals, who made the only goal of the game from Nicklas Backstrom stand up to extinguish the Flyers in game six, 1-0.

The Capitals will now move on to play the red hot and fast Pittsburgh Penguins later this week while the cheap shot artist Flyers will have all summer to hone their tactics on the golf course. It is always fun to knock off that team, which promotes Neanderthal-styled behavior and hockey on the ice, but more on them later.

Washington won this series with team defense by allowing only six goals in six games. The Holtbeast had two shutouts and only permitted five non empty net goals, one of which came off of his own teammate in game five. The Caps top three defensemen, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner, were absolutely fabulous in this series. They were physical and Carlson showed why he’s a top ten NHL blue liner, in my book, with his defensive skills and offensive ability. He was downright sensational for Coach Barry Trotz in the six game series victory. Alzner is playing the best hockey of his career and Niskanen is just so good at both ends of the rink. His hitting ability is vastly underrated.

Another big part of the Caps team defense was the way their forwards were back checking when the puck came out of the Washington zone. The forwards routinely hauled back and stole puck after puck from the Flyers in the neutral zone or forced Philly into turning it over at the offensive blue line because the Capitals defensemen were able to step up and make plays. It was text book coverage all over the ice and Filthy had few odd man rushes in the series, as a result. They also had a minimal amount of quality scoring chances and the Caps set a franchise record with this performance in terms of fewest goals allowed in a seven game series (previous mark was 7 vs. Ottawa in 1998). Washington will need to maintain that type of defensive play against the offensively minded Penguins.

Michal Neuvirth was the single reason the Flyers were able to extend this series to six games. He was stellar in net in only allowing two goals in three games, one on a rebound by T.J. Oshie in game four and the Backstrom marker on Sunday, which he had no chance on. Alex Ovechkin made a super play at the blue line to get the puck to Marcus Johansson (six points in six games) and Jojo made a perfect pass to Nicky, who buried the shot into the yawning cage for the game winner at 8:59 of the second period.

Johansson was a big bright spot and a huge reason why Washington was able to finally bury the Flyers. The Caps had strong contributions up and down the lineup, especially from the bottom six forwards. Mike Richards, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jojo, and Jay Beagle were all at or near the top of their respective games. Wilson was near perfect in game six and the Flyers were flat out afraid of him as the series went on. He opens up space on the ice for the Caps forwards. If he plays like that and stays out of the box, he is a real factor in the post season when the games are tight and hitting really matters.

If there was a down area in this series, it was the second line. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky had the puck quite a bit, but by the end of the series they looked tired and a bit timid, at times, as they were getting taken off of the puck too easily on the wall. Justin Williams was okay at even strength, save for his four penalty night in game five. This was a bad match up for that line against the physical Flyers, but I expect them to have more favorable results against the Penguins, and they’ll need to do so.

In game six, the Capitals wanted to be more disciplined, and they were. Unfortunately, a friendly fire high stick by a Flyers player on Ryan White was called a double minor on Backstrom just four minutes after the Flyers had killed off a five on three for the Caps early in the second period with the game scoreless. I’ll give the zebras some benefit of the doubt because it happened so fast, but the replay clearly showed it wasn’t Backstrom or any other Caps stick that hit White in the nose. Shouldn’t the officials be able to use replay there to get the call correct? I’m all for automatic review of high sticking calls in the post season, especially the double minor kind. So please fix this NHL!

This incorrect call came at a critical juncture and it was made worse when the referees mistakenly whistled Matt Niskanen for hooking Wayne Simmonds right off of the ensuing face off in front of Holtby. Watch the replay of that one again, that’s just good defense there.

Coach Trotz’ crew was suddenly down two men for infractions that weren’t committed by them, but credit the mental toughness of this Capitals team. They didn’t flinch one bit. They worked hard and killed off the four minutes, including two minutes of five on three by only allowing three shots on goal, which the Holtbeast turned away. Beagle, Carlson, Alzner, and Richards were just superb on those kills. Richards, as he has done repeatedly in this series, was so good at dropping down to cover the back door on Flyers power play opportunities. His stick prevented Jakub Voracek from giving the Flyers the lead on the five on three.

With momentum gained on that crucial kill, the Capitals scored just two and half minutes later to set the stage for the final frame, where the Caps just kept the Flyers to the outside to preserve the victory.

When the horn sounded, this was one sweet victory for the Capitals and their fans over their arch rivals since 1974. Washington now owns a 3-2 lifetime playoff series advantage on the Flyers (wins in 1984, 1988, and 2016; losses in 1989 and 2008).

After the Caps domination in game five in a 1-0 loss that allowed Philly to pull within 3-2 in the series, there were factions in the media and the fan base that immediately shifted into the “Here We Go Again” and “Caps are Going to Blow It Again” mode. The “Capitals are Cursed” mantra was thrown around far too much for my liking. I’m not surprised by it coming from some of the media, that’s their job to stir it up, but it was frustrating and disappointing to see so many fans fall blindly into it. To quote Bruce Springsteen, many in the fan base need to simply “Show a little faith.”

I’ve been steadfast all season in my belief that this team is different from past Capitals teams and they have shown that throughout the season. This is the best Caps team ever assembled and coached, period. Yet the first sign of trouble we had too many breaking their legs jumping off of the bandwagon.

Where’s the mental toughness?

Fortunately this Caps team has it and it is different. There are eight players who weren’t on this roster last season when they lost to the Rangers in May; Oshie, Williams, Richards, Winnik, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney, and Mike Weber (who was excellent in 8:48 of ice time in game six). Those players have helped upgrade the talent and closeness of this club. Williams and Richards bring a wealth of experience (five Stanley Cups), too. There will be bumps in the road and it is the teams that stick together that fight through tough stretches and prevail. Again, show a little faith fans.

Finally, let’s talk about what it means to beat the Flyers.

Forgive me for not heeding Tim McGraw’s advice to “Always be humble and kind” here, because when it comes to the Flyers, all bets are off. They are despised by many and unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Ravens fan base very much despises, Philadelphia is not respected, where the football team that is run by the Rooneys in Steeltown is respected. Flyers owner Ed Snider passed away right before this series began and the people who work for him have always pretty much been first class to me off of the ice from Joe Kadelec, Gene Hart, Bobby Taylor, Bobby Clarke, and Dave Brown on down, including Gene Prince, who used to run the Spectrum and Wells Fargo Center press boxes.

But on the ice is a different story. Snider preached physical hockey and that’s okay, as long as it is done between the whistles. In this series, the Flyers crossed the line too many times. Simmonds cross checked Ovechkin in the back of the knee in game two and Brayden Schenn did the same thing to Kuznetsov in game four, with both coming well AFTER THE WHISTLE. They were bush league moves along with the intent to injure hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellmare on Orlov in game three, simply because the Flyers were being sore losers. The Capitals may have actually benefited by not hitting the empty net at the end of game six because it would’ve given the sore loser Flyer players time to get in at least another cheap shot or two.

Speaking of bush league and being sore losers, it was just two and a half years ago when goalie Ray Emery raced across the ice and jumped Holtby then started pounding him in a game the Caps would end up winning 7-0. It was disgraceful, but the dinosaur like fans in Filthy loved it and a media member made a bozo move naming Emery the game’s third star. That’s typical Philadelphia Flyer mentality. They’ve been setting the game back for 40 years on the ice, so they’ll get no praise from me.

Look, the Flyers overachieved this year and have some good young players, but they are cement heads on the ice and that leads to their overall reputation. As Niskanen repeatedly told me in this series, “it’s in their DNA.” They’ll continue to be nothing but losers until they clean that stuff up and shame on the NHL for allowing  too much of it to happen far too often. It also leads to many of their fans acting like babies and idiots on occassion, witness game three’s bracelet throwing spree. Simply put, on the ice, that team is pretty much classless.

But good for Coach Trotz for praising the Flyers season in his post game presser, he is a classy man as is Caps GM, Brian MacLellan. Those two know what they are doing and have assembled a roster that will go up against the vaunted Penguins, who own a 7-1 all time series record against the Caps. But none of that matters and the last time these teams met in the playoffs was 2009.

Again, this Capitals team is different. It is a challenging match up and Washington will need to play their game properly to win the series. This club is mentally tough and I’m not guaranteeing a victory, but the fan base needs to show a little faith, in fact a lot of faith, and stick by them as they go up against Sidney Crosby and company.

Oh, and one more thing, see ya Flyers!

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Holts Richards Flyers Game 2

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The Holtbeast Wins Game Two for the Caps

Posted on 17 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, great goaltenders find ways to carry their team to victory when they aren’t anywhere close to their best.

On Saturday night, against the Philadelphia Flyers in game two of this opening round best of seven series, Braden Holtby did just that for the Washington Capitals.

The Holtbeast stopped 41 out of 42 shots, including 19 in the opening frame, to lead the Caps to a 4-1 victory and allow Washington to head up I-95 on Monday night for game three with a two games to none series lead.

Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson scored on the power play and Washington’s penalty killing unit, which starts with Holtby, was stellar going a perfect four for four on the night in 4:58 of shorthanded time. 67 seconds of that time included a two man advantage for the Flyers in the opening frame, but the only biscuit that got by #70 was from Jakub Voracek in the middle frame after the Capitals were up 2-0. Usually the team that prevails in a five on three situation wins the hockey game, and that was the case on Saturday night at the Phone Booth.

The Caps knew the Flyers would be the more desperate team after Washington’s dominating game one victory and Philadelphia played like it. I’m not sure if the Capitals talked themselves into being outplayed, but they certainly were for many stretches of this one as the Flyers had their legs going to win the shot attempt battle, 80-48?

Quality scoring chances were much closer and according to War on Ice, the high danger quality chances were 13 apiece, and 9-4 for Washington over the last two periods (h/t to @ThePeerless).

But the Caps players knew afterwards that this was not one of their quality performances. They looked slow on the puck for numerous stretches and their gap control suffered, at times. The first period saw the Flyers out shoot the Capitals, 19-5.

“Not exactly the way we wanted to start, I don’t think we were as bad as everyone is making it seem because of the shots, I mean I think they stuffed it into Holts’ paddle maybe 10 times in the first period. Obviously that was a mindset for them, wanting to get more shots, they did a good job of that and keeping zone time. I thought we could have done a better job of eliminating the second chances, but it may be a little bit skewed from just shots from everywhere. I think we did a better job in the second and third [periods], but we knew they were going to bring it and they did. It was a battle out there,” said Carlson, who scored the game’s first goal on the power play and also added an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s tally to close out the scoring.

The Flyers certainly emptied the tank with a strong effort. They were all over the Capitals for the first 30 to 35 minutes, but after two periods, it was 3-1 on the scoreboard. In the third period, Philadelphia pressed and the Caps had numerous rushes to close this one out, but it took until Backstrom’s marker with 2:13 remaining to secure the outcome.

“You know that team, they’re going to be pressing big time…I like that we weren’t selling out for those chances, we were just battling, battling, and then the puck squirts out and we won the race for it, stuff like that, we weren’t just getting lucky,” finished Carlson, who logged 23:11 on defense with seven blocked shots and two hits, including one in which he creamed Brayden Schenn after #10 tried to smash him.

Holtby was the difference in the game and Steve Mason let in a real softie from Jason Chimera, a deflected long pass near the center line that somehow alluded the Flyers net minder via the five hole to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

The Flyers goal came in four on four when Brooks Orpik played the man on a rush and Schenn reached around #44 and fed Jakub Vorachek for an in close goal. Washington didn’t do a good enough job of covering the opposition on that one.

But Ovechkin would answer about eight minutes later as he took a Backstrom feed and lasered one by Mason on the man advantage. Marcus Johansson (two assists) and T.J. Oshie made nice plays to help keep the puck alive in that sequence.

This was a big win for the Capitals despite not playing well.

“They played way better than we did, to be honest, if we didn’t have Holtby in net they would have probably been a lot to a little, early on. Holts stood on his head. We didn’t play well. We didn’t execute very well and we had timely goals on the power play,” said Mike Richards, who was +1 in 14:42 of ice time, including 2:30 of penalty killing duty.

On those four power plays, Philadelphia repeatedly tried to work the puck down low and then try a cross crease pass that normally would lead to a back door easy goal. Washington, however, had that covered according to Richards.

“The D did a good job with that actually because we try to pre scout them as much as you can and it’s hard because they’re trying different things. It’s nice to have good penalty killing, but it’s a lot nicer when you only have to do it two or three times a night,” added Richards, who had three hits, including a monster one on Nick Cousins in the neutral zone in the third period.

Following the contest, Coach Barry Trotz noted that despite the shot attempts and quality chance totals, there is only one stat that matters, the final score. Washington won that one, but they were not near their perfect or ideal game.

“They’re a desperate team and we didn’t match their desperation, to be honest. Now they’re in a bigger hole and they’re going to come more desperate at home, so if we don’t play a better game in Philadelphia in game three, we’re probably not going to have too much of a chance, so we have to play better, we know we can play better. That’s a good team over there with good players, they play hard, so we know we just have to be better,” finished Richards.

While I liked some parts of the Capitals game on Saturday night, on the whole, Richards is correct. Philadelphia wanted this game more and the Caps have to be better.

Luckily for Washington they have “The Holtbeast.”

Notes: the Caps won the face off battle, 33-29. Jay Beagle was 9-7…it was a physical game and Washington led in hits, 38-36. Ovechkin had seven of the 38…Washington was two for two with the man advantage in 1:16 of power play time…Johansson played extremely well and had two assists…Richards was super for the Capitals on Saturday night…Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time with 25:08. King Karl had an assist and three blocked shots…Shayne Gostisbehere led the Flyers in ice time with 22:54.

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Caps Win Game 1

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Holtby Blanks the Flyers in a Caps Dominating 2-0 Victory

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Any doubts about the Washington Capitals ability to ramp up their game for the playoffs were laid to rest on Thursday night at the Verizon Center as the Caps dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in a 2-0 victory in the series opener. Game two is Saturday night in Washington at 7 pm, once again.

Braden Holtby and the Capitals had to kill three first period penalties and in that frame the Holtbeast made 11 of his 19 total stops for the game, with a couple coming on quality scoring chances. He was challenging shooters and did a super job of gobbling up any loose pucks around his crease.

After that, the Flyers had a measly eight shots on goal in just 30 shot attempts, and limited scoring chances, while the Capitals got even stronger as the game went on. Washington had 53 of their 69 shot attempts after the opening stanza and 23 of their 31 shots on goal. If not for Steve Mason and the Caps missing the net on some chances, this one is a blow out.

“I thought we had a good, committed two-way game. We put pressure on them with the fore check. Got a lot of pucks back, I thought, generated a lot of shots from all kinds of angles. Good cycle game and guys were committed to coming back [on D]. When our forwards are back checking that well, we can hold the line and negate some of their rush game. Our breakouts were pretty good and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our zone,” stated defensemen Matt Niskanen.

John Carlson scored the game winning tally on the Caps third power play of the game at 16:21 of the middle frame. It was nothing fancy, just a simple blast from the point with traffic. Both T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom were in the slot and when the puck hit a Flyer defender, it skipped by Mason.

The final goal for the Caps came with 3:24 remaining. Marcus Johansson (two assists) stripped Flyers forward Jakub Voracek of the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the offensive right wing circle. From there Jojo hit the brakes and found Jay Beagle streaking down the slot. #83 said that he called for the puck and Marcus put it right on his tape. Beags then shot it far side by Mason and the VC went nuts knowing that game one was secured.

That goal came after the Capitals had squandered a four minute power play. Overall the Caps were 1 for 6 with the man advantage in 10:19 of time.

“I thought our power play was dangerous the first couple, lot of good looks. I thought we were pounding the pucks at the net and we had opportunities for tips and rebounds. Some of those from a distance can go in if you have traffic. They made a little bit of an adjustment on the four minute one on how their forwards play, which will happen in the series, so we’ll tweak things as we go,” said Niskanen, and it should be noted that the Carlson goal was from the point with bodies in front of Mason.

Long periods of this game were either scoreless (first 36 minutes) or just a single goal (21 minutes) lead for the Caps and the Flyers only needed a shot to go in on a lucky bounce or a spare scoring chance to knot it. But Washington was very stingy and did a great job of limiting the Flyers speed and preventing them from getting many opportunities, especially at five on five.

Following a Tom Wilson hit on Andrew MacDonald with 6:51 left, Wayne Simmonds completely lost his head and negated a Philly power play and also took himself off of the rink for the game by fighting #43. The call on Wilson was two minutes for boarding. On replay, MacDonald turns when he sees “Freight Train” Willy coming at him and he takes the hit and embellishes a bit into the boards. Coach Trotz said this happens in the game now and he would prefer #43 not make that hit with a one goal lead in the last 10 minutes.

Flyers defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, also known as “Ghost,” then took a coincidental penalty with Andre Burakovsky and he came a bit unglued after the whistle.

A few minutes later, Voracek was pick-pocketed by Johansson and the Caps closed the deal.

At the final horn, after Brayden Schenn hit Alzner with an unnecessary check, the Flyers Ryan White then lost it. He went after Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle in a big scrum, but it was only White that earned a 10 minute misconduct. The Flyers have pretty much always been sore losers and get nasty when they are about to be defeated. On this night it was no different. But the Capitals didn’t bite and maintained their composure while Philadelphia’s squad melted down. Washington certainly seems to be in their heads after just game one.

“That’s historically part of the Flyers. They try to do things to change the momentum. So I thought we stayed fairly disciplined tonight, it was pretty good,” finished Niskanen, who led the Caps in ice time with 25:43.

The Minnesota native, who has made such a huge difference for the Capitals blue line, was spot on.

Overall, the Capitals played extremely well and dominated a Flyers team that spent a lot of energy just getting into the playoffs. In addition, forward Sean Couturier took a hit from Alex Ovechkin (11 shot attempts) in the 2nd period and didn’t return. After the contest he was declared out for the series with an A/C sprain of the shoulder. That is a huge loss for Philadelphia as #14 plays a strong two-way game.

Injuries are a part of sports and the hockey playoffs. Someone from the Flyers will try to step up and they’ll need even more out of Mason, who was darned good in game one, if they are to avoid a two game series hole.

Notes: Carlson logged 23:50, Brooks Orpik played 21:56, and Alzner had 22:19 of time on ice on defense for Washington. The third pair didn’t see a lot of ice (Dmitry Orlov, 11:18 and Nate Schmidt, 7:02) due to the the numerous power plays at both ends. Overall 18:19 of the 60 minutes were played with one team on the man advantage…the Flyers were 0 for 4 with the power play, but they won the face-off battle, 31-26. Oshie was 4-2…the Caps outhit the Flyers 29-26, but they had the puck most of the night, too. Washington was physical and played a “200 foot game,” as Coach Trotz likes to call it…shot attempts were 69-49 for the Caps.

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