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Caps Win Game 4

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Caps Lock Down Columbus, 4-1, to Even Up the Series

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson collected a total of seven points and Braden Holtby made 23 of 24 saves to give the Caps a 4-1 victory in game four of this best of seven series and send things back to DC knotted up at two games apiece. Game five is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

After winning in double overtime on a goal mouth scramble bounce in game three, the Caps continued their push to the front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net and it paid off with some big tallies. Wilson scored first just 6:16 into this affair. John Carlson and Chandler Stephenson broke out on Ian Cole on a two on one rush thanks to a super breakout pass by Alex Chiasson. Bob made the initial save on Carlson and Thomas Vanek managed to clear the rebound before Stephenson could deposit the loose change. The problem for the Blue Jackets was that the puck went right to Kuznetsov, who put one on a tee for a fresh off of the bench Wilson, and Top Line Tommy lasered the biscuit into the twine.

Another rebound marker, this one on the power play, by T.J. Oshie just before the midpoint of the game gave Washington a two goal cushion. Carlson made a super keep in at the blue line of a failed Cam Atkinson clear and that set the whole play in motion against a fatigued Columbus PK unit. Oshie wheeled the puck behind the net and to the right wing half wall to the great Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky fed #74 at the right point and he fired on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the biscuit bounced right to Ovi charging in from the left wing circle. The Gr8 shot, but Bob denied him. Kuznetsov poked at the puck, but Bob padded it up into the slot, where the Osh Babe quickly snapped it, with his amazing hands, into the goal.

In both games one and two, the Capitals had two goal leads, but they frittered each away with bad penalties, untimely offensive zone miscues that led to Blue Jacket rush goals, and some shaky goaltending. In game four, the Caps stayed disciplined, limited their offensive and neutral zone mistakes by getting pucks deep, and of course, the Holtbeast was a confident wall in the cage.

For the last 10 minutes of the second frame, the Caps played smart and made Columbus work for every inch. Washington took that 2-0 lead to the locker room after 40 minutes and they came right out in period three and played the same exact way. The Blue Jackets, who were working doubly hard to try and fight through the Capitals neutral zone trap and strong defensive blue line front, were being forced to go 200 feet to generate opportunities and fatigue started taking over.

The Caps extended their lead to three pucks just 2:49 into the final stanza. Wilson went flying through the neutral and offensive zones on the right wing boards with the puck and attempted to fire on Bob, as he should do in that situation. Willy’s shot was blocked and he and the Columbus player slid into the right wing corner with the puck. Kuzy alertly skated quickly in to retrieve the disc and he fed Ovechkin in the high slot. The Gr8 then quickly went backhand to forehand and sniped one below Sergei’s left pad to really stick a dagger in Columbus.

From there on out, the Blue Jackets tried everything they could to sneak a player behind the Washington defense and they also pinched on the walls trying to keep pucks in the offensive zone. Columbus’ only goal came off of a faceoff win, at 6:22 of period three, on a Boone Jenner deflection with tons of traffic in front. After that, the Caps exploited the Blue Jackets “cheat” for several scoring opportunities, most notably an Ovechkin breakaway that would have made it 4-1, but Bob robbed him glove side.

Over a minute after Columbus dispensed of their keeper with 3:29 remaining, Kuznetsov stole a puck in the neutral zone and hit the empty net with 2:19 left to end the scoring and even up the series.

This was one heck of a team effort by the Caps.

On Wednesday morning, I asked Coach Barry Trotz about how the team would shut down the Blue Jackets potent rush game and he stated that the key was getting numbers back and the forwards exhibiting strong back pressure on their opponents.

Boy did his team follow that game plan perfectly!

Time after time a Columbus player would appear to have some speed and a lane in the neutral zone only to be slowed by a wall of Caps defenders at the Washington blue line. Then a back checking forward would either stick lift the Columbus player to steal the puck or the Blue Jackets would force a pass into the middle of the ice where the Capitals would grab the disc and go the other way. This pattern went on for much of the third period and you could see the Blue Jackets were being forced to use the whole rink to generate opportunities, but it just wasn’t happening because of the defensive posture of Washington.

On the night, Columbus only had 24 shots on goal and failed to hit double digits in any period. When shots did get through, Holtby was dialed in and took away any hope of a victory for the home squad. The Holtbeast is now 16-4-2 as a starter against the Blue Jackets, lifetime.

A successful lineup adjustment that Coach Barry Trotz made from game three to game four was to put Stephenson back up with Backstrom and Oshie on the second unit while bumping Jakub Vrana down to line four. That move paid dividends once the Caps got the lead because #18 is a really strong two way player who can skate. Vrana is a very good skater, too, and in his limited time (6:41) he played well, but with Coach John Tortorella having the match up advantage, Trotzy had to counter with a strong two way line. By doing that, the Kuznetsov trio was able to win their match up and be the difference in the hockey game.

Overall, this was an outstanding performance and the best the Capitals have played in the post season this spring. They played a simple game and have now won six of their last seven road playoffs tilts dating back to last April. That is the good news, but the bad news is they have lost five of their last six playoff contests at home. The key to winning again wearing Red is to pretend it is a road contest and play a simple style. There is no need to be trying to impress the fans with fancy passes and pretty plays. This is the playoffs and dirty, gritty goals are what make the difference between winning and losing. The Washington fans will gladly trade pretty plays for a simple W this time of year.

On Thursday night, the Capitals played a textbook road game and left the state of Ohio with two victories, just as their captain said they would do before game 3.

Promise Delivered.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:29 and was outstanding. Nisky is playing the best hockey of his season. His defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, logged 24:10. #9 has made some mistakes in this series and has another gear he can get to, but his fellow blue liner has really stabilized things on the back end…Michal Kempny (18:14), Brooks Orpik (17:01) and Christian Djoos (12:36) all played well on defense…Washington, who got Jay Beagle back in game two after he was out due to an upper body injury, owned the face off circle going 36-20. Beags was a downright dominant, 14-3. Winning draw after draw forces the opposition, especially when trailing, to expend a lot of energy to try and get the puck back…the leader in ice time for the series, Seth Jones, played 26:22 minutes of action that included being hounded by a Caps player pretty much all night…Artemi Panarin, who was the best skater in the series in the first three games, was held in check in game four. He had only one shot on net, took two penalties, and was -1 in 20:56 of ice time…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while CBus went 0 for 3.

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Holtbeast Game 3

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The Holtbeast is Triumphant in Game 3 for the Caps

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the third straight game, there was overtime between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals, but this time, the contest went to double overtime. With the Caps staring at a potential three to zero hole in the series, Braden Holtby (33 saves) made several big stops, especially in the first extra session to extend the tilt. Washington came out with a lot of jump in the fifth stanza of hockey, outshooting CBus, 8-2, and they won the game on a rebound tally by Lars Eller after exactly 89 minutes of hockey. Brett Connolly, who had an earlier rebound goal that would have given the Caps a 2-0 second period lead wiped out due to offside, made the play by quickly firing a puck on Sergei Bobrovsky (42 saves) before “Bob” could get set. The puck pin balled into the twine behind the Blue Jackets keeper and the guys in white celebrated a clutch victory.

Whew, what a game!

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) on Tuesday afternoon stated that the Caps would come back to Washington for game five with the series knotted up. Thanks to the Holtbeast and a superb team effort, there is still a chance that could happen. Columbus, however, leads the series two games to one and they have home ice on Thursday night at 7:30.

There were a lot of things to like in this game for the Caps, who played without injured forward Andre Burakovsky (upper body injury). As the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway, used to tell me when I worked for the team back in the 80’s and 90’s, “It all starts from the goaltender and then works out to the defense and forwards.”

Truer words could never be spoken about the post season and Philipp Grubauer struggled in his first two outings giving up several goals to his glove side when the Caps were carrying the majority of the play. The Holtbeast came in for period three and overtime and ended up getting the loss in game two, but that tally was hard to pin on #70.

On Tuesday night, Braden gave up only two goals in 89:00 of action. The first, he’ll say he’d like back because it wasn’t a screened shot, but the goalie from Saskatchewan was forced to move to his left because the Washington defenders, to include the forwards, allowed another open lane for a diagonal pass that the Blue Jackets love to employ in the offensive zone. Artemi Panarin (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to create that alley way and Pierre Luc-Dubois rifled a perfect shot just under the bar. Columbus’ second goal came on a two on one after Ovechkin tried an east-west pass that Dmitry Orlov couldn’t handle cleanly in the offensive zone and then fumbled away. Cam Atkinson and Panarin compounded the blunder by executing the odd man rush beautifully. John Carlson failed on multiple occasions to block the pass and ultimately Panarin had an empty net to deposit the biscuit in and tie this affair up at two just 4:12 into the third period.

Goaltending is so important, and Bobrovksy has been stellar for Columbus. Washington had 45 shots on goal after firing 58 in game two, but it took two deflections and a two man advantage blast to dent him for three lamp lighters. The Caps are still working to get more bodies to the net, but in addition to Devante Smith-Pelly and Eller crashing the cage on the game winner, Tom Wilson notched his first playoff marker of 2018 with a sweet deflection of a Matt Niskanen laser from the point. That goal was all set up by some great corner work by the Gr8. If the Caps want to win on Thursday, they need to grind their way to the net to get traffic on “Bob” because he looks like he will stop everything he sees right now.

In the first two games, Columbus killed the Caps on the power play going four for eight. They repeatedly were able to make a cross ice pass from the high left wing circle side to the right side and beat Grubauer to his left up high. Niskanen stated after Sunday’s loss that “we have to fix our PK.” On Tuesday night, the Capitals penalty killing was much better and they kept their four man box tighter to not allow that pass, which when it’s successful forces the goalie to have to move laterally very quickly and make a tough save. In addition to good work by the four guys on the ice, the most important player on the PK is your goalie, and the Holtbeast was stellar. For the night, the Caps went four for four on the penalty kill.

Jakub Vrana was inserted into Burakovsky’s vacated slot on the second line and he played some strong hockey in 22:00 of ice time. #13 was engaged with the body, something he didn’t do well in game one, and he also used his speed to open up space. He, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie still have to get fully clicking, but Vrana drew both penalties just 67 seconds apart in the middle frame. That resulted in Carlson’s power play snipe that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead heading into period three. Backstrom made another of his awesome passes to set that tally up. Almost everyone thought he was going to Ovi at the top of the right point, but instead he went to the left point for #74, who buried it. Carlson now has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the post season.

Washington’s forwards did a better job, especially Connolly and Vrana, of using their body in one on one board battles than they’d done in the two games played at Capital One Arena. That’s something both need to continue doing so that they can wear down a very deep Blue Jackets defense, led by Seth Jones. The playoffs are a different game so that style doesn’t exactly fit Connolly and Vrana’s skill set, but in game three, they didn’t shy away from the physical requirements of playoff hockey.

Columbus has scored almost all of their goals this series on the power play or on the rush, so in addition to being disciplined, the Caps have to stick to a north-south brand of hockey. The east-west style that features cross ice passes at the offensive blue line or even deep in the zone have led to at least two Blue Jackets tallies. It’s imperative that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew resist the impulse to try those plays and opt more for pucks on net or behind the cage.

As I’ve stated on WNST quite often the last couple of weeks, goaltending is so important in the playoffs. The Capitals finally received a quality performance from their starter on Tuesday night and now they are back in the series. Still, they have their work cut out for them and with John Tortorella getting the match up choices in Ohio, the Caps will need another huge outing from the Holtbeast.

Notes:  The officiating in this game was sketchy, but that’s no surprise since it featured Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Kyle Rehman. I’m not sure how they missed the high stick by David Savard on Oshie in overtime? They also allowed Columbus to cover the puck in the corner without signaling for delay of game or closing the hand on the biscuit…the Blue Jackets received the only power play of the overtimes…Columbus won the faceoff battle, 43-37, but Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-8 and Jay Beagle was 9-6. Eller lost 14 of 19 draws while Backstrom split his 20 faceoffs…Trotz used all of his players, which may have been why Washington dominated the second OT. Alex Chiasson only logged 10:19, but Columbus had forwards Sonny Milano (5:55) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (8:09) barely see the ice. Christian Djoos made his NHL playoff debut taking a spot alongside Brooks Orpik (24:39) and acquitted himself very well in 17:17 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 37:17 and Orlov was close behind with 36:00…Jones played 35:09 to lead all Blue Jacket players while Atkinson (31:51) and Panarin (31:39) played a ton at forward for Tortorella.

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Ovi 49

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Can’t Get To 50 in a Caps Win

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin put on a show on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, but despite 18 shot attempts, the Gr8 notched only two goals in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to finish the season with 49 tallies. Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 26 shots, although there was some very loose defense by his club, at times, to earn the victory.

The Caps finish the season at 49-26-7 (105 points) and will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could start as early as Wednesday. Coach John Tortorella’s team rested several key players, such as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Sergei Bobrovsky in their season finale against the Predators in Nashville. It is pretty apparent that CBus much preferred facing the Caps than the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and now they have their wish.

As for the Devils, they fall to the second wild card spot and will face the winner of the Atlantic Division (either Boston or Tampa). New Jersey rested some key players on Saturday, as well; including star forward Taylor Hall and former Cap Marcus Johansson. The other Metropolitan Division matchup will be the battle of Pennsylvania.

Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Kempny, and Andre Burakovsky scored Washington’s other three goals, while rookie forward Shane Gersich notched his first ever NHL point, assisting on Kempny’s point blast that made it 3-1.

The following are my thoughts and analysis of the triumph on Fan Appreciation Night.

So Close – Ovi had a breakaway in period three that would have given him 50 for the season, but he shot high on Cory Schneider. The last 10 minutes or so were basically all about trying to get Alexander the Great his 50th tally, but with New Jersey covering him closely and not pulling their goalie, it was a tough task. Still, Alex got off some good shots and came oh so close to getting the big 5-0, once again, but Ovechkin still locked up his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy. Simply put, the Russian Machine is an amazing player that had the fans on the edge of their seats or standing. This was a meaningless hockey game for the Caps, but Ovi delivered for those in attendance. For the night, he logged 21:00, had eight shots on goal and was +1. For the campaign, Ovechkin had 355 shots on net and his shooting percentage was 13.8%, but that stat should really count all shot attempts, not just those on net. His 32 even strength goals at age 32 is remarkable. Ovechkin became just the second player since the 1967-68 expansion era to lead the NHL in goals at the age of 32 or older (Phil Esposito).

Pond Hockey – Since Washington clinched the Metro division in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Washington has played three meaningless affairs. The Caps have done some good things in those tilts, they’ve won 2 of 3, but the games have been nothing like we’ll see next week in the post season. These contests these past six days have been wide open with very little hitting (hits were 15 to 10 for Washington against New Jersey). It’s clear that the Capitals players were saving their bodies, and rightly so, for the grind that starts on Wednesday. The first period against New Jersey was really loose, but again, the game just didn’t matter.

Holtbeast – As mentioned in the opening paragraph, defense appeared optional, at times, on Saturday night. All three Devils goals were converted due to poor Washington coverage. Holtby had to make some tough stops in this affair and he looks ready for the post season. Whether Coach Barry Trotz and Goaltending Coach Scott Murray go with #70 or Philipp Grubauer in game one remains to be seen, but given Holtby’s record against Columbus, I’m thinking he’ll get the nod in the cage. Holtby went 34-16-4 behind a blue line that featured two rookies for the first 50 or so games.

Backy Got Back – Backstrom went 21 games without a goal during one stretch this season so it’s incredible that he finished with 21 tallies along with his 50 assists. #19 is such a good two way player and you know he’s going to bring it every night. Over the last eight games, he’s had two goals and 14 assists. Nicky logged 19:14 centering Burakovsky and Brett Connolly since the Osh Babe was given the night off to get closer to 100% health.

New Kid in Town – Kempny has been mostly paired with John Carlson since he came over at the trade deadline from Chicago for a draft choice. Against the Devils, #6 had his best game yet with a goal and a helper while going +4. Kempny brings speed and puck moving ability that was needed on the blue line. Michal has only 3 points in 22 games with the Caps and two of them came on Saturday night.

Pay The Man 2 – Carlson earned his 68th point with his assist on Backstrom’s goal and he leads all NHL defensemen in points. He was also +4 and brought his plus/minus back to even steven. #74 is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s going to get paid well. There are reports the salary cap could go as high as $82 Million and if that’s the case, Washington has a better chance of keeping him. But that is a story for the summer and right now the Caps need John, who is a big game player, to perform well at both ends of the rink. Carly is an ice time eater and he plays in all situations. There aren’t many blue liners around the league that can do the things he does.

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with a career high 83 points in 79 games and he has really become a dominant player. Kuzy scored 27 goals this season and when he is unpredictable from a pass vs. shoot perspective, he is very difficult to stop. #92 went 11-7 in draws on Saturday in 19:19 of ice time. If he continues to take shots when he is in the high danger areas, especially between the circles, the Capitals will be a hard team to defeat. The dynamic Russian forward is really the key guy who must be on each night for the Caps to be successful in the post season.

Facing the Cannon – I’ll have more on the Blue Jackets as we move into the week, but this is going to be a very physical and tough matchup. Coach Tortorella’s team is a system squad that blocks shots and likes to throw pucks and bodies at the opposing team’s goalie. Washington’s blue line and forwards are really going to have to amp their game up to deal with all of the traffic they will try to apply on the Caps goalie. Every matchup is tough in the post season and as Coach Barry Trotz often states, the difference between two teams in the standings is often the result of one team having a bad week or short stretch. Columbus totaled just eight points less than the Caps. This is going to be a hard series and Assistant Coach Todd Reirden’s d-men will have to play well against some big guys such as Brandon Dubinsky and Foligno.

Closing Time – The triumph over the Devils slams the regular season book shut for a Caps team that many predicted would not win the division or even make the playoffs. That was not the case from this Capitals historian, blogger, and radio man. Despite the personnel losses, I still predicted a 100 to 105 point season. General Manager Brian MacLellan built this team up the middle of the ice with strong goaltending and Coach Trotz and his staff did a GREAT job of getting several players to really improve. Eight players had career years offensively and this team took first place despite having four rookies regularly in the lineup for the first 50 games. Tom Wilson had his best season as a pro and he’s now a first line beast. He will be a real key in the post season because he opens up space for the Caps up front.

Notes: The full playoff schedule will be announced on Sunday…T.J. Oshie, Jay Beagle, and Travis Boyd didn’t play on Saturday due to injury or illness…the Caps were 32-22 on draws. In addition to #92’s success, Backstrom was 9-7 and Lars Eller was 6-3…Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 23:48.

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Oshie Pens

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Caps Defeat the Pens, 3-1, to Clinch the Metro Division Title

Posted on 02 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin played in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday night and his teammates made it a special one for him defeating the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh, 3-1, to wrap up their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title. Philipp Grubauer made his first ever start against the Pens and he was outstanding making 36 saves. T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson scored for the Caps before Patrick Hornqvist tallied on a rebound with 3:45 remaining to end #31’s shutout bid.

The Caps final three games, at St. Louis on Monday night and then home against the Predators and Devils on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, are essentially meaningless from a standings perspective. Washington’s first round playoff opponent will be the first wildcard team and right now that situation is as clear as mud.

The triumph improves Coach Barry Trotz’ team to 47-25-7 (101 points), which is right in the 100 to 105 point range that I predicted before the season when many were losing their collective minds over General Manager Brian MacLellan’s offseason decisions. BMac knew what he was doing by focusing up the middle of the ice and the Capitals will now go into the post season for the fourth straight year in his tenure after the final disastrous season of the George McPhee era ended with Adam Oates as head coach back in 2014.

The following bullets are my thoughts and analysis on the win in Pittsburgh as we head into the final week of the NHL season (hey, it’s Masters week, too, so FORE!).

Stone Cold – There’s no doubt that the biggest reason the Penguins defeated the Caps in last season’s playoffs was due to the stellar play of Marc Andre-Fleury in net. On Sunday night, Grubauer took advantage of the start and seemed to really have the Penguins number. Granted the Pens played on Saturday night against Montreal, but Philipp was exceptional and earned the game’s number one star. Grubi stopped all 12 shots on goal the Penguins fired on their five power plays and he also got a nice break when Evgeni Malkin’s laser on a five on three advantage in period two hit iron. Luck is a part of the game and Washington had its share in this one. Crosby fanned on a shot in the third period that the German goaltender was able to glove. However, the Capitals had some great looks, too, that they didn’t get good wood on, including a couple of Ovechkin shots that he just couldn’t put up and over a prone Matt Murray (31 saves). The most important position in the post season is goalie and with Grubauer playing outstanding and Holtby rebounding into form, Washington has to feel strong about that spot for next week and beyond.

Starting Fast – The Capitals have not had many great starts this calendar year, but on Sunday on NBC Sports Channel, they came out well. Ovi nearly scored early in front, but Murray was able to stop it when Alex couldn’t get full control of the pass for one of his patented Gr8 shots. Washington kept pushing the pace though, and they gave the Pens a dose of their own medicine scoring on the rush. John Carlson got the puck up to Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps a three on two entering the offensive zone. Burkie then put a sweet pass on Oshie’s stick on the right wing side of the ice and the Osh Babe beat Murray five hole, like a rented mule, just 6:25 into the game. Getting the first goal was really important in this one because the Pens had played the night before and would need momentum plus the crowd for adrenaline. They would not receive that, pretty much all night.

Tactic Change – When Washington was in Pittsburgh on February 2nd, they found themselves in a track meet affair and lost, 7-4. Trying to play run and gun hockey with the Penguins is a recipe for disaster and the Caps proved it that night. This time, however, the Capitals made some adjustments to throttle the Pens rush game. Once they got ahead, instead of trying to chase the black and gold in the offensive zone, they backed out and clogged up the neutral zone passing lanes. It was a very 1990’s New Jersey Devils neutral zone trap style of hockey. As a result, the Pens were unable to utilize their stretch or flip passes once Coach Trotz’ team went into that configuration. The few odd man opportunities the Penguins received were the result of offensive zone turnovers. The Caps need to continue to clean those up, but they were certainly better structurally against Pittsburgh than they’ve been in the previous three 2017-18 regular season matchups.

Feeling Too Much Shame – If there was one thing to not like about Sunday’s game, it was the five penalties the Capitals took that put the Pens on man advantage situations. Pittsburgh has the best power play in the league and to gift them four of those opportunities was playing with fire. I didn’t like Chandler Stephenson’s hold, the too many men infraction, Matt Niskanen’s delay of game, and Ovechkin’s slash, they were unnecessary. The only penalty that occurred to negate a scoring chance was Tom Wilson’s on Malkin. #71 is a beast and he’s been on fire, so sometimes you have to break the rules to stop him. Fortunately Grubauer, Brooks Orpik (team high 5:57 of shorthanded time), Carlson, Niskanen, Lars Eller (4:04 of PK time) and the other forwards deployed while shorthanded did a great job. Hornqvist is an absolute force in front of the net and you need size to battle him to allow your goalies to see the shots. Orpik and Carlson had the lion share of that duty on Sunday.

Fly By Night – It’s no secret the highly skilled and talent Penguins love to RUSH the puck with their speed to create chances and as stated earlier, the Capitals throttled that primarily with a tactic change. In addition, however, they used the RUSH to their advantage, too. Washington’s second goal came eight seconds after a great penalty kill as Orlov skated up the middle of the ice and used the Pens defensemen as a screen. Dima shot from the slot and it beat Murray to make it 2-0 with 6:14 left in the middle frame. That goal seemed to really deflate the Penguins and their fans. It was a simple play by the Russian defensemen and the Caps continued to pour shots on Murray as they went up the ice once they had the lead. Too often the Capitals get into trouble by trying to be fancy at the offensive blue line, but on Sunday night they did what their coaches have asked of them, they put the puck on net or behind the opposing defensemen instead of trying to beat guys one on one. It was smart hockey, they generated 34 shots on net doing so, and the Penguins typically use that style as well as any team in the league. Hopefully Washington continues to play smart as they did on Sunday in the post season. The cross ice plays in April and beyond often end up getting you earlier tee times.

Bad Blood – Nobody likes to lose, but the Penguins got downright dirty at the end of this one. Hornqvist slashed Carlson and Orpik in frustration and the latter infraction earned him a late penalty that all but ended this contest. Malkin then went totally mental and interfered with Oshie in the neutral zone and sent his stick flying into the Caps bench. The Osh Babe took exception and got into it with Geno. With the linesman trying to send Malkin to the showers, #71 then went crazy trying to go after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). I’m sure #92 was giving him the business in their native Russian tongue, too. It was pretty clear the Pens were trying to set the tone for the next time these two teams could meet, which would likely be in round two. Even Mark “Hot Plate” Recchi found himself heading to the locker room early when the zebras kicked him out of the game for verbal abuse. It was a bad look for Mike Sullivan’s team and he’s no choir boy either.

The End – Officially, the game ended after the Penguins late hissy fit, but when Wilson deflected Niskanen’s shot past Murray just 23 seconds into period three to increase the score to 3-0, this game was pretty much over. Again, putting pucks at or towards the net with bodies going there is the way you win big hockey games. If Washington employs that style more often, the end of this season could be something special.

Notes: Jay Beagle suffered an upper body injury in period one and didn’t return. He only played 3:22 and Coach Trotz stated afterwards he’s probably not playing against the Blues…I’d like to see Oshie and Orpik get the night off, too. Those guys play a hard style so they need to be physically ready for next week. Both have missed games recently due to minor injuries, so it would be best to get both healthy…shot attempts were 59-57 for the Pens, but their edge primarily came from the power play. Washington was very good at five on five…both teams went 0 for 5 on the power play…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:58. Kris Letang played the most for Pittsburgh with 25:08…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 35-34, which wasn’t bad since Beagle was done in period one. Eller was 9-6 while Sidney Crosby went 16-9 for the home team…Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps in hits with seven. He also logged 2:41 of shorthanded time with Beags out of the game…Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, including four on net, and four hits in 22:47 of ice time…Hits were 33-30 for the Caps.

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Kuzy Rags

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Kuznetsov’s Magic Gives the Caps a 3-2 OT Win Over the Rangers

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winning goal 38 seconds into overtime after Lars Eller had tied this tilt up with 1:05 remaining in regulation to give the Caps a hard fought, 3-2, triumph over Henrik Lundqvist and the young and fast New York Rangers. Braden Holtby returned to the cage after missing several games due to a minor injury and stopped 35 of 37 shots to earn his 32nd victory of the season.

The rally, after the Rangers took the lead on Ryan Spooner’s goal with 9:25 left, pushes the Capitals record to 46-24-7 (99 points) and they just need four more points to clinch their third straight Metropolitan Division title.

The following are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals ninth win in their last 10 games.

Doing the Bird – From the opening shift, Kuzy was flying in this tilt. The Rangers are a very good skating team, but all night #92 was moving around the ice with speed and precision. It took some big stops by Lundqvist (30 saves) to keep this game tied, especially in the second period when the Caps dominated the majority of the frame. Evgeny worked hard on the boards, too, and his wall work helped set up Eller’s game tying goal. That’s now 77 points in 74 games for the Russian center. The winning goal was a thing of brilliance. The Capitals caught a break with the puck hitting the linesmen in the neutral zone and Kuzy grabbed it and went the other way with Alex Ovechkin to his right. With all three guys in white expecting a pass to Ovechkin, Evgeny skated back out towards the blue line, circled, turned on the jets as he headed towards the net, and then fired a laser just inside the far post to end this affair. What a game by Kuznetsov and when he plays like that, Washington is hard to defeat. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa.

Givin’ the Dog a Bone – Over the last several weeks, T.J. Oshie has looked a lot more like himself. He’s started scoring goals and putting up points, but his hustle and ability to win the loose puck and board battles is likely his best attribute. On Wednesday night against the Rags, #77 was everywhere with his will and determination. After the Rangers took a first period lead on a power play goal, a neutral zone steal by the Osh Babe, following a great step up by defensemen Brooks Orpik, led to a rush goal by Andre Burakovsky with 33 seconds left in the opening frame. Oshie corralled the puck in the neutral zone and skated down the left wing boards. He immediately noticed that he had a three on two so he alertly zipped the puck to Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) in the middle of the ice. Nicky probably should’ve shot, but he quickly passed to Burkie to his right and #65 got enough of the shot to beat King Henrik. Oshie’s tenacity and ability to dog puck after puck and come up with them is a major reason why this team had to bring him back if they wanted to contend for a Stanley Cup this season and beyond.

Boxed Too Often – The Rangers had 37 shots on net because the Capitals took five penalties. You can argue about one or two of them, and Steve Kozari and Ghislain Hebert aren’t exactly your top zebras, but the Michal Kempny four minute high stick and Jay Beagle hold were absolutely the correct calls. On those five power plays New York generated a whopping 14 shots on goal and one tally. Believe it or not, the Capitals actually did some good penalty killing work, especially Tom Wilson, who on numerous occasions, dropped down to gather in a rebound and skate the biscuit out of harm’s way. Willy logged 16:39 of ice time and 3:18 of it was on the PK. Orpik (6:28) and Matt Niskanen (6:42) were the top blue liners Coach Barry Trotz deployed to hold a very good New York power play, at bay, for the most part. Washington must stay out of the box in the postseason, especially against the Penguins and Flyers, who have deadly man advantage units.

Meet the Rookie – Nathan Gersich made his Capitals debut on Wednesday night and he handled himself quite well in 8:52 of action with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts. #63 was a puck magnet out there and he gives the Caps another forward they can throw into the mix for the bottom six. Gersich isn’t big, but he’s a good skater. In the post season things get clamped down fairly well so as impressive as he was in his first game, let’s not get carried away. He played on adrenaline in his first NHL game and that’s hard to maintain. Still, there is a lot of promise shown by this kid and that bodes well for him going forward into next season.

Return of the Holtbeast – Holtby was very good in this contest, as was his counterpart at the other end. #70 looked solid in net, despite having to cover for several defensive zone breakdowns by his teammates. Washington was too nonchalant with the puck in period one when New York fired 18 shots on goal. If not for Braden, the Caps could’ve been in a big hole after 20 minutes. He stopped 13 of 14 power play shots and the one that beat him took a fortuitous bounce. Holts was hung out to dry on the second Rangers goal. John Carlson passed up a great shot opportunity in the slot due to Lundqvistitis and New York pounced on the puck and went the other way. Kempny turned the wrong way while trying to cut off the pass on a two on one and that allowed Spooner to skate in all alone. The forward acquired in the Rick Nash trade with Boston, sniped one by Braden that he’ll likely say he should’ve had, even though it was a very high quality chance. With Philipp Grubauer now nursing a “tweak,” the Caps needed the Holtbeast to rise again and play well. He did just that on Rivalry Night.

Ovi Denied – Ovechkin had a slow start to this affair, much like the Caps. He had trouble handling the puck and getting off his lethal shot in period one, but in the middle frame he got it cranked up. With the score 1-1 in period two, the Gr8 hit the far post on the power play denying him of his 46th goal and preventing Washington from getting a lead on the young Rangers. For the game, Alex had 13 shot attempts in 20:22 of ice time. Only five of them were on goal, however. Ovi had zero points, but he did manage to be +2 since he was on the ice for the game tying and winning tallies. Alexander the Great will need five goals in his last five games to hit the Big 5-0.

A New York Minute – This was a pretty even game and it looked like the hungry Rangers were going to steal it and upset the Capitals apple cart. To quote the great Don Henley, however, “In a New York minute, everything changed.” Washington caught a break when Eller came on just before the Holtbeast left the ice as the Caps were dispensing of their keeper. The zebras chose not to penalize the Caps there and then after winning a neutral zone draw they got the puck in deep and Kuznetsov’s hard work allowed Backy to find Eller on the doorstep and tie things up late. Then less than a minute into overtime, Kuzy worked his magic to give the Capitals two more standings points. New York played hard and they are fast, but they also received stellar goaltending from Lundqvist, who always seems to give Washington fits. Wednesday was no exception and there were multiple occasions where the Caps allowed #30 to get into their heads and as a result, they passed up some good looks. There is nothing wrong with a shot, had Carlson done that midway through the 3rd period, the game stays tied. That’s a good lesson to learn for the post season.

Notes: The Caps will face Carolina on Friday at Capital One Arena before traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Sunday night. A Washington win against the Canes along with the Pens only getting two points total against the Devils and Canadiens, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, would render Sunday’s affair meaningless from a seeding standpoint for the Capitals…the Caps have now won seven games in a row at home…Washington won the face off battle, 33-29. Kuzy was 11-5…Burakovsky scored his 10th goal of the season and led the Caps with three hits…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:03. Oshie and Backstrom were the forward leaders in that department with 21:02…Eller’s goal was his 18th of this year and it’s a career high for him…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Come on out to Michael’s Café in Timonium on Thursday night as WNST will be hosting Caps Coach Barry Trotz for several hours of hockey talk starting at 7:30 pm. Nestor Aparacio and yours truly will be talking hockey and other stories with the bench boss who is close to winning his third straight Metropolitan Division title. You can meet the coach, get his autograph and also get swabbed for the Bone Marrow Registry to help in the fight against cancer.

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Ovi Rags Rooks

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Ovechkin and Grubauer lead the Caps Over the Rangers

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

It had been over three weeks since the Washington Capitals came out and dominated a first period. Specifically, the outdoor game at the Naval Academy was the last time the Caps did that racing to a 3-1 lead en route to a 5-2 triumph over the Leafs on March 3rd.

On Monday night, the shaky start streak ended as the Capitals blitzed the rebuilding and young New York Rangers with four tallies in the first 17 minutes and then they closed things down for a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden. The victory, the team’s fourth consecutive and the eighth in the last nine games, improves the Caps record to 45-24-7 (97 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by five points with six games remaining. Washington needs just three points now to clinch a playoff spot.

The Rangers and Capitals will meet again on Wednesday at 8 pm at Capital One Arena, but before that contest commences, below are my thoughts and analysis on Monday’s tilt.

Hart to Hart – Alexander Ovechkin has already won three Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. A case could easily be made for him winning his fourth this season, too, but Alex is more focused on another trophy that he doesn’t have yet. The Gr8 came out with that look in his eye in this affair and he made a super play at the offensive blue line to help set up Matt Niskanen’s goal that made it 2-0 just 5:13 into the game. After the Rangers took their first penalty of the night, Ovi then notched his 45th goal of the season from his office after a super feed from John Carlson to increase the lead to three pucks before the game was even nine minutes old. On the evening, Alex had nine shots attempts, including eight on net. If not for some great glove work by goalie Ondrej Pavelec (26 stops on 27 shots), who came on in relief for Alexandar Georgiev (3 saves in 6 shots) after Ovechkin’s goal, Alex would not still need five goals in six games to hit 50 for the season. Ovi played 17:41 and now has 83 points this season. He was named the game’s number one star. MVP! MVP! MVP!

Dynamic Duo – When Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom play well, the Caps typically win. That was once again the case on Monday night. Nicky got the offense rolling with a sweet pass as he crossed the offensive blue line, when surrounded by four Ranger players, to a streaking T.J. Oshie on the right wing. The Osh Babe, who said he didn’t touch Jakub Jerabek’s shot on Saturday night and as a result had the tally taken away, rifled one just inside the far post past Georgiev for a 1-0 lead just 2:50 into the game. This was #77’s 5th goal in his last seven games and his 17th of the season. Announcer Joe Micheletti commented on NBC that the Osh Babe recently changed sticks to one with more of a stiff shaft to help his accuracy and it seems to be paying off. Back to the centers, Backstrom had the primary helper on Oshie’s tally and the second apple on Ovi’s game winning goal. As for Kuzy, he made a great pass to Niskanen for his goal and also scored a shorthanded tally when Dmitry Orlov made an alert defensive zone flip up of the puck that Alex Chiasson corralled in the offensive zone and then fed to #92 trailing the play for a layup. That’s now 75 points on the season for Kuzy and Backy is up to 63 points. Backstrom and Kuznetsov logged 19:02 and 17:36 of ice time, respectively, so that’s nearly 37 minutes of game time that the opponents have to match up against elite center ice men. About the only thing I didn’t like from Kuznetsov in this one was his lacrosse shot attempt when it was 4-0. That’s a bit of a hot dog play that can humiliate your opponents and the Rangers certainly woke up after that circus type move. Kuzy is supremely talented enough to pull that shot off, but the Capitals likely go up 5-0 if he just makes the simple pass to Backstrom waiting on the door step. The coaching staff will hopefully turn that Harlem Globetrotters unnecessary hockey into a learning opportunity for #92. Coach Barry Trotz should also probably paraphrase the old bench boss, Lou Brown, for the Indians in Major League and say, “Nice try Kuzy, but don’t ever $%@$ing do that again!”

Career Year – Philipp Grubauer manned the pipes for Washington and he notched his 14th victory of the season making 28 saves on 30 shots. #31 was stellar, once again, and he is playing with a lot of confidence. There were too many quality stops to name, but he also received a bit of a break late when Vladislav Namestnikov missed an open net in period three after the Rags had cut the deficit in half. Grubauer was out challenging there following another defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. Grubauer is now 14-9-3 with a .923 save percentage. The restricted free agent is having a monster year and with Braden Holtby ailing, but finally able to back up again on Monday, he has taken advantage of an opening and ran with it. You need multiple good goalies in this league, as evidenced by the Penguins last two Stanley Cup runs, and it is quite fortuitous that Vegas GM George McPhee opted to not take Philipp in the expansion draft. Without his play this season, the Capitals are likely struggling to make the playoffs. Goaltending is the most important position in hockey and the performances by the Holtbeast from October until the end of January and then Grubauer since February have put the Capitals just eight points away from clinching their third straight division title.

Push Back – In hockey, many fans assume that one team should totally dominate all 60 minutes, but this is the best league in the world and the vast majority of the time, that doesn’t happen, even when one team on paper looks far inferior to the other. The Rangers are rebuilding and are looking at many of their young players, including Lias Andersson, who scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Making it even more special for Lias was having his parents in attendance. The Capitals pretty much ended any chance the Rangers could win his debut with a blitzkreig of an opening 20 minutes. However, New York has players that are fighting for jobs for next season and they get paid to play, too, so you knew they’d have a push back, especially when Washington seemed to ease up a bit and get a little cocky with their decision making. New York scored two thirds of the way into period two and then in the first five minutes of the final stanza, but that was all they would get. In the second period the Rangers outshot the Caps, 16-10.

Special Sauce – Washington’s power play went 1 for 3 and generated seven shots on net, but more importantly, they were a perfect four for four on the penalty kill and also tallied shorthanded (Kuznetsov). New York only generated four shots on goal on those four man advantage situations. When Brooks Orpik was boxed for interference with 3:40 remaining, the Rangers had a chance to cut the margin to a single tally and give themselves some hope of forcing overtime. Even when pulling the goalie halfway through the power play, the Blueshirts were throttled by the Caps and really never had a good look at scoring. John Carlson, who probably wasn’t happy with himself on the two Rangers goals, was rock solid while shorthanded and had multiple good clears to close the win out for Washington.

No Sit Back – Despite the rocky second period, Washington played a very strong third period. The Rangers did score, but overall the Caps didn’t sit back and they tried to increase their lead while not risking giving up any odd man rushes, which is the right strategy. As a result, they outshot New York, 8-7, over the last 20 minutes. Washington is at its best when getting pucks towards the net or behind it with a lead. In addition, they kept the Rangers to the perimeter when defending, for the most part, and that was why they were able to earn another key two points after their super fast start.

Notes: Goalie Pheonix Copley was sent to Hershey with Holtby healthy enough to back up. The way Grubauer is going, especially against the Rangers, I’d imagine he plays again on Wednesday in the rematch…Orpik led the Capitals in hits with five and Tom Wilson had three. I’d like to see the Capitals play with more physicality on Wednesday. Too many forwards are going in for pucks by reaching. They need to put their shoulder into the scrums and win the puck battles more often…the Caps outshot the Rangers, 32-30, but shot attempts were 62-47, for New York. A lot of that is score effects…Orlov was superb on Monday and led the Caps in ice time with 24:39. Niskanen, who scored his seventh goal of the season top shelf with a beautiful shot and supreme patience, logged 22:49. That defensive pair was excellent…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-26. Chandler Stephenson went 5-0.

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Carlson Beats Stars

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Carlson’s Late Tally Gives the Caps a 4-3 Win Over Dallas

Posted on 21 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson rifled a puck past Kari Lehtonen with 4:59 remaining in regulation to give the Washington Capitals a huge 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Alexander Ovechkin scored his league leading 44th goal in the middle frame and Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 pucks in the triumph.

The win improves Washington’s record to 42-24-7 (91 points) and puts them four points clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost to the Islanders on Tuesday, for first place in the Metropolitan Division with nine games remaining in the regular season. Columbus has tied the Pens in points at 87 by virtue of their 5-3 defeat of the Rangers, but Coach John Tortorella’s streaking squad only has eight games left to play.

For the Caps, this was their first triumph over the Stars in DC since November 30, 2006 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel). In addition, Lehtonen had pretty much owned the Capitals in his career coming into this tilt with a 18-6-3 record and a .921 save percentage in 27 career appearances (thanks again, @VogsCaps).

On a snowy and icy night in DC, Washington finally turned the tables on the Stars.

How did they do it?

First off, at even strength, the Capitals outplayed Dallas and out shot them, 26-18. The Caps were missing star center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the second straight game due to an upper body injury, but they still generated the majority of the chances. T.J. Oshie scored his 16th goal of the season, and his fourth tally in his last four games, on a rebound to tie this affair at one early in period two. Just over a minute later, Matt Niskanen notched his sixth marker of the year on a point shot that hit a Dallas stick on the way in. Brett Connolly provided some good traffic in the high slot on that one.

Next, with the game tied at two just past the midpoint of the contest, Oshie won a faceoff cleanly back to Carlson, who then put the disc on a tee for the Gr8 and he rocketed the biscuit by Lehtonen (28 saves) on the power play to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Around those three Washington tallies, the Stars scored a trio of goals. The first two were directly attributable to Capitals penalties. Nicklas Backstrom took a bad offensive zone tripping infraction that led to Tyler Seguin’s 39th of the season in the first frame and then just five seconds after Michal Kempny came out of the box following an offensive blue line interference penalty, Alexander Radulov tipped home a John Klingberg shot from the point to tie the game at two.

After Ovechkin’s laser to reclaim the lead on the power play, the Gr8 nearly had his 45th of the season after a fine play by top line Tom Wilson. Willy fired on net, got his own rebound, went around the cage, and fed a wide open Ovi at the top of the paint, but Alex was unable to lift the puck past Lehtonen. That inability to finish would prove costly when Jamie Benn skated past Dmitry Orlov to beat Holtby with 1:45 left in the middle frame. Benn never sees that one on one rush, where he had initial speed on his side, if Lars Eller makes a smarter play in the neutral zone and gets the puck deep. Instead #20 tried a play that will be a recipe for death in the playoffs, he slowed down and tried to cut to the middle of the ice before the offensive blue line and Benn stripped him clean like he was working the streets as a pick-pocket specialist back in the day on the south side of Chicago.

With the game tied at three heading into period three, things were very tight and the Stars really needed this one to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. The Capitals, however, are in a tight race of their own and they more than matched the Stars desperation and found a way to nudge ahead in a four on four situation. Brooks Orpik, who missed Sunday’s debacle in Filthy against the Flyers along with #92, returned to the lineup after a lower body injury and brought the physicality needed on the back end to keep the paint clear for the Holtbeast. While doing that job in the final frame, Radek Faska thought it would be cute if he poked at #70 after he covered the puck. The man called “Batya” (father) by his teammates then put Radek in a headlock as the duo wrestled to the ice. Both were sent to the box for two minutes to feel shame. This put the game in a four on four speed situation with 6:12 remaining.

73 seconds later, Coach Barry Trotz’ team took the lead for the final time shortly after Carlson smartly fired the puck on net from center ice to start the goal sequence. Rookie blue liner Christian Djoos won a race to the puck in the left wing corner and fed Eller for a great chance in front. Lars hit the post and then had another shot blocked. Ovechkin won a battle, then Eller passed the disc back to #74 at the right point and with Ovi causing havoc in front of Lehtonen, Carlson’s shot hit the twine for the game winning goal.

Overall, this was a solid victory for the Capitals. They made some bad decisions with the puck, at times, and the four power plays they allowed before the game was 30 minutes old is something that can’t happen in April and beyond. However, they played well, especially at even strength, to outwork and earn two very important points against a team that had everything to lose. Washington overcame their early penalty problems and finally found a way to knock off the team from the Lone Star State in the Nation’s Capital. This contest didn’t set up well for the Caps, especially with Kuzy out, but they found a way to get it done and the Metropolitan Division title is within their grasp as we head into the home stretch.

Notes: Kuznetsov skated on Monday and is traveling to Detroit (Thursday), Montreal (Saturday), and Madison Square Garden (vs. Rangers on Monday) for the Caps upcoming three game road trip…the Caps have won five of their last six games. The loss to Philadelphia on Sunday was a real poor effort and with #44 out of the lineup, the Flyers crashed the cage relentlessly with no fear of real retaliation. The Caps have won five in a row with Orpik in the lineup (but, Corsi!)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 35-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4…shots on goal were 32-27 for the Caps. The Stars had eight shots on goal on their four power plays…Wilson was dominant in this one and he really hit Dallas’ D all night (9 total hits!). #43 is skating well and he was back to carrying the play after having a few tough games after suffering a broken nose in California. Willy had six shots on net in 21:06 of ice time…Ovi had eight shot attempts and a goal and two assists in 22:13. He now has 81 points on the season (44 goals, 37 assists).  12 of Washington’s 32 shots came from their two power forwards, Ovi and Willy…Holtby looked good in net. He made some key saves when the game was in doubt, especially when Dallas had the man advantage due to bad penalties by the Caps.

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Ovi Oshie Islanders

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Caps Bury the Hapless Islanders, 6-3; Kuznetsov Injured

Posted on 16 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby returned to the Caps net for the first time in 10 days and Washington received a good game from the Holtbeast while putting up a six spot on the scoreboard to roll the hapless and undignified New York Islanders, 6-3, at Capital One Arena on Friday night. The triumph was the Caps fourth straight victory.

Alex Chiasson announced his presence with authority in this tilt with a goal and two assists and his linemate, Jakub Vrana (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to generate two Caps tallies, as well.

T.J. Oshie scored his third goal in two nights to get Washington on the board. His deflection of an Alex Ovechkin shot (1 assist) on the power play late in period one broke a scoreless tie and gave the Caps an early lead.

The Islanders tied the game up on a power play marker 5:30 into period two, but then the game changed when Ross Johnston went all Oggy Oglethorpe and instigated a fight with Tom Wilson. 11 seconds later, the cheap and whiny Cal Clutterbuck took an interference penalty to put the Caps on a five on three power play. Nicklas Backstrom converted his 19th goal of the season, banging home the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot.

This affair stayed close until late in period two when Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) made a nice zone entry pass to Matt Niskanen, who smartly fired on net from the right wing circle and then skated behind the cage while Chiasson went to the net. Chiasson attempted to put a rebound on goal, but he chunked it left. At that point Nisky was coming from behind the cage and he gathered up the missed shot, skated into the left wing circle, and fired on net. With #39 screening Jaroslav Halak (25 saves), the puck hit the twine to make it 3-1 with 2:05 remaining in the middle frame.

Washington nearly scored again, and then Kuznetsov broke through the swiss cheese New York defense with five seconds left and took a vicious slash to his left wrist from Thomas Hickey. Kuzy then crashed into the back boards and would leave the game after staying down for several minutes. It seemed obvious that he injured his left arm and/or hand and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, per Coach Barry Trotz. The injury did not look good and if Kuzy is out long term, Hickey will be forever compared to the dirty Denis Potvin, who broke Bengt Gustafsson’s leg and put him out for the season with a dirty check in March of 1986 when Washington was a bonafide Cup contender that spring.

Vrana and Chiasson then made New York pay for Hickey’s dirty slash with a goal 1:46 into period three that came with one tick left on the man advantage. #13 went around the Islanders defender and made a bee line for the net. Halak stopped the initial shot, but the rebound was laying at the top of the crease and Chiasson was there to deposit the loose change. It was a dagger of a goal and a playoff hockey type of tally.

At the 10:56 mark, Jakub used his speed again and he notched his 13th goal of the season with a sweet top shelf shot to make it 5-1 and pretty much put this one out of reach.

The Capitals, however, would have some late penalty troubles and that allowed New York to get two power play markers to make it 5-3 with just under four minutes remaining. The Holtbeast then had to make a huge pressure save on Matt Barzal on a breakaway with just over three minutes left. If that goes in, the Islanders might have forced OT, however, #70 looked like his old self and made the save appear routine. That, and several other timely stops by Braden had to help Holtby’s confidence. Lars Eller then hit the empty net to seal the deal with 1:58 to go.

This win improves the Capitals record to 41-23-7 (89 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by two points with a game in hand in the Metropolitan Division. The bad news, though, is the status of Kuznetsov. If this injury is serious, it could lead into the first round (or more) of the playoffs and also prevent Washington from winning the regular season division title. The Caps are built up the middle of the ice with Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Eller so a loss to one of those guys is a game changer.

Defensively, Washington was pretty loose, at times. Part of that is the way the Islanders play. New York is very unstructured and they cheat to try and generate odd man rushes and power plays. The Caps, at times, were a little greedy and that allowed some chances the other way. All three goals for the visitors on Friday came on the power play.

The Capitals offense is starting to click and they tallied 13 times in two nights. None of those goals came from Ovechkin, who has carried this team offensively through 69 contests. Oshie is starting to heat up, as are other players such as Burakovsky and Vrana. The key though, is the play of the centers. Backstrom has been in beast mode since the Sharks game and Kuzy has been flying, as well. So all eyes will be on the medical report from Trotz this weekend, which probably won’t come until 3 pm on Sunday, since the Caps are off on Saturday.

One player who did have a really strong defensive game was Brooks Orpik. #44 had 20:04 of ice time (third highest in terms of the Caps blue liners), three shot attempts, four hits, and was +2. He also logged 5:25 of penalty killing time and was not on for ANY of the Islanders three power play goals. That’s three really quality performances for the grisly veteran in his last four outings.

As for New York, despite Coach Doug Weight exclaiming to the media that his team played hard for two nights, the bottom line is his squad gave up 13 goals and can start putting in their tee time reservations for April. They are an undisciplined club in so many facets of the game and super star John Tavares was a real no show for most of the 120 minutes of action. Clutterbuck remains a gutless punk who helped the Caps take the lead in both affairs with stupid penalties. Winning didn’t seem to be at the forefront of New York’s collective brains on Friday night, it seemed to be more of a desire to hurt some of the Capitals key players. They are a sorry bunch and an organization in disarray.

Washington is done with the Islanders now for the season and New York is done, for all practical purposes in the 2017-18 season. Next up for the Capitals are the despised 3rd place Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon at 5 pm from Filthy arena. The Caps are eight points up on Coach Dave Hakstol’s squad, but they could very well be without their second-best center in Kuznetsov for the upcoming tilt.

Notes: The Islanders were 3 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 3 for 8…shots on goal were 31-26 for the Caps and shot attempts were 60-57 for Washington…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 36-30. Eller was 9-4 and Jay Beagle went 5-1…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts, but only three were on net…Clutterbuck left in the second period and didn’t return. He played only 6:50…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 22:19. Ovi logged 22:06 and John Carlson (1 assist) was next with 21:52.

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Osh Babe Burra NYI

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Caps Light the Lamp 7 Times in Brooklyn; Rout Islanders

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists), Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) each had three points as the Washington Capitals offense kicked it into high gear at the Barclay’s Center in a 7-3 rout of the fading New York Islanders. Philipp Grubauer was rock solid in the cage, once again, stopping 35 of 38 shots en route to his 11th victory of the season.

This was the Caps third consecutive “W” and their first streak of this length since early January. The win, combined with Pittsburgh’s triumph over the Canadiens in Montreal, keeps both teams tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 87 points. The Capitals are now 40-23-7 while the Pens are at 41-26-5, so Washington has two games in hand.

Below are several thoughts and analysis of a game that didn’t begin well for the good guys.

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn – New York is a notoriously fast starting squad, as evidenced by their 20-7-5 record coming into this tilt when tallying first. So when Washington started like they were still asleep and allowed the first goal just 2:19 into this affair via poor defensive zone coverage, it looked like this could be a long night. The Islanders were faced with the task of pretty much running the table to make the post season, so they were supposed to be the more desperate hockey team. Coach Doug Weight’s squad started that way, but the wheels started coming off of the bus when Lars Eller scored on a sweet pass from Jakub Vrana from behind the cage with Brett Connolly parked in front at 10:32 of period one. Just 57 seconds later, the Osh Babe notched his 13th tally of the season on a great feed from Andre Burakovsky on an odd man rush to totally erase New York’s fast start and really put the heat on the home squad.

Pressure – Down 2-1, Billy Joel’s classic song, Pressure, was appropriate for how the team that made no moves at the NHL trade deadline had to feel, at that point. The Islanders would take advantage of an Orlov pinch and Matt Niskanen’s failure to cut off the pass to Andrew Ladd on a two on one break to tie the game up just a minute later. New York lives off of the rush game and they are very good when they get odd man situations. Washington was not playing smart hockey up to that point, and they need to learn that turnovers at the offensive blue line against fast teams are a recipe for heading to the golf course in the spring. Playing the Islanders is good training, in that regard, for a possible playoff matchup with the Penguins. Against speedy clubs, it is imperative that the puck move north-south until it is deep in the offensive zone.

John Cougar’d – Rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, stopped 50 shots on Sunday night in an Islanders win over the Flames, so he was riding high coming into this affair. Against Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) and company, the walls would come tumbling down in a hurry. With the Gr8 parked at the top of the paint, Orlov scored short side from a severe angle to give the Caps a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. Just 3:22 into the middle frame, Burakovksy tipped home a Jakub Jerabek point shot with Oshie screening in front to make it 4-2. When Cal Clutterbuck took a stupid penalty for slashing Tom Wilson, who had run into Casey Cizikas earlier in the game, the Capitals went for the jugular on their only power play of the night. Backstrom batted home a puck Kuznetsov intended back door for Ovechkin, that was swatted into the slot by Gibson, to give Washington a three goal advantage. Young Gibson was pulled, for Jaroslav Halak, after allowing five goals on 12 shots. New York had 18 shots on goal, at that point in the game.

The Wall – Up 5-2 heading into the third period, the Caps smartly went all Pink Floyd and walled off the front of their net, which pretty much forced the Islanders to shoot from the perimeter over the last 20 minutes. The guys in blue would send 20 biscuits to the cage over the last 30 minutes of this contest, but they only tallied off of a faceoff win on a Ryan Pulock rocket with 3:27 remaining. The score before Pulock’s tally was 6-2 since John Carlson notched his 13th goal of the season from the slot after a sweet pass by Ovi from the left wing corner with 4:19 to go. Alexander the Great is known for his goal scoring, but he can sure pass the disc, too.

Brick House – Grubauer made some big stops in this one, especially on a breakaway by Cizikas with six minutes left in period two when it was a three goal affair. If #53 scores there, the crowd gets into it and Weight’s crew perhaps feels like they can come back. The puck would roll on Cizikas, but #31 was non-committal in the net and gave the Islanders center really nothing to shoot at. As previously mentioned, New York threw a lot of rubber at the net, but Philipp was flashing his glove to make saves without any rebounds all evening. Simply put, he was mighty mighty in the goal just letting it all hang out. Every time the Islanders seemed to get some offensive zone pressure or momentum, Grubauer gloved the puck and held on for a face off. Slowing the pace down favored the Capitals and the German goalie, who has been excellent since November, knew that.

The Zoo – After three straight well officiated tilts, it was a return to the zoo with Eric Furlatt and Francis “Send Me Back to Quebec” Charron. This duo never really had a handle on this game and hooks and holds were allowed too often, especially on New York. The interference call on Niskanen was bogus as was Michal Kempny’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following an Islanders slash on Grubauer after the whistle had blown. Wilson was speared by Clutterbuck, but the men in stripes called it a slash. A five minute major was easily warranted in that situation. Willy was also called for roughing Clutterbuck late in period two, and it was an undisciplined play by #43, but that should’ve been an interference call. Fortunately for the Capitals, the poor officiating was really not much of a factor because they dominated the scoreboard.

Red Light District – New York is a very dangerous offensive team, but in their own end, they lack attention to detail and that resulted in seven Washington goals (the last was an Osh Babe empty netter to close out the scoring). Coach Trotz put Backstrom, Burakovsky, and Oshie back together for the first time in awhile and they were the best trio on the ice. The Caps need to play smart in their own end on Friday night in the rematch at Capital One Arena and when they have the puck, make sure they go north-south with it and take advantage of the Islanders defense. If they play the right way, they should be victorious. In Thursday night’s affair, the Caps were opportunistic, and that certainly brought back memories of Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in 48 hours.

“Roxanne…Put on the Red light…Roxanne…Put on the Red Light…Roxanne…”

Seven times the lamp went on for Washington on Thursday night.

Notes: Braden Holtby will get his first start in 10 days on Friday night…Christian Djoos is slated to return to the lineup and the question is will Brooks Orpik or Jerabek come out? It would probably be wise to give #44 a rest, especially against the fast Islanders, but that leaves the Caps a good penalty killer short on the back end…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 against a very good power play…shot attempts were 68-35, for New York, but a lot of that was score effects and long range shots. The Islanders had 20 shots on goal to just 10 for Washington once it was 5-2…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 32-30, but Backstrom was 8-5…the Capitals large lead allowed Coach Barry Trotz to balance out the ice time. Niskanen led the team with just 22:28. Connolly had a team low 8:18. Brett needs to shoot more, especially when he has the puck in the slot. He has a fast release, so he needs to employ that more often.

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Ovi 600

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Ovechkin Hits 600 Career Goals in Caps Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

With his wife in the building along with budding young super star, Patrick Laine, who had tied him for the NHL lead with 40 tallies coming into Monday’s night contest, Alexander Ovechkin took his game to another level notching his 599th and 600th career goals before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway in overtime to give Washington a 3-2 triumph over the very good and very fast Winnipeg Jets.

Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 10th win of the season thanks in part to Chandler Stevenson’s diving break up of a two on one Winnipeg rush to set up Kuzy’s winning marker with 49 seconds left in overtime.

Wow! What a hockey game!

Below are my thoughts and analysis on this thrilling affair at Capital One Arena:

Back in 1st Place, Baby! – Washington’s win improves their record to 39-23-7 (85 points) and they leapfrog the Penguins back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens with 13 contests remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Capitals opened up a four point lead on the Flyers, who lost to Vegas on Monday night and have also played one more game than Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Nobody Does It Better – He isn’t a Russian spy, no, he’s a Russian goal scoring machine. Granted I never saw Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull play back in the day, but I’ve been watching hockey since the early 70’s and given the way the game is played now and the quality of goaltending, Ovechkin is, for my money, the greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen. He has a sensational shot that he can get off in so many different ways. His first of the night was a low snapper from the point that found its way through Tyler Myers, T.J. Oshie and then Connor Hellebuyck (40 saves) and into the net for a five on three power play marker to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Then, after Nikolaj Ehlers tied the game just 58 seconds later by stealing a poor back pass by Lars Eller, the Gr8 became the 4th fastest player in NHL history to score 600 goals when he tallied 3:53 into period two (only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have reached the 600 mark faster). Matt Niskanen made a great keep in on the left wing boards and he fed Kuznetsov in front just outside the right post. Kuzy shot, but the puck bounced to Tom Wilson in the slot. Willy fired the puck on net and Hellebuyck stopped it, but he couldn’t control the rebound. Ovi came in strong on the left post side and then whacked at it twice over a falling Dustin Byfuglien and finally, on his third try, he lifted the biscuit into the basket over a sprawling Hellebuyck to spark bedlam in the arena. It was clear from the outset of this game that Alex was on a mission to get 600 and help his team earn two critical standings points. His stat line for the night is monstrous: two goals, 15 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, five hits and 0 turnovers in 23:07 of ice time. With that, it’s time to cue the Carly Simon.

”Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best…”

Pivot Patrol – Once again, the Capitals received super play from their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist). Backstrom had six shots on goal, a takeaway, and was 10-8 in faceoffs in 20:58 of ice time while Kuzy had four shots on net, two takeaways in 23:13 of time. It was #92 who once again centered Ovi and Willy while Backy was the pivot man for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Eller had a rough first period with his poor back pass in a four on four situation that led to Ehlers goal, but Coach Trotz received a strong game from Jay Beagle, who was 13-4 on draws logging 10:02. After losing to the Jets in OT on February 13th, the Washington bench boss made a smart adjustment by having #83 take the opening draw in the extra session and he won it cleanly back to John Carlson. From there Kuzy took the puck up the middle of the ice and drew a slash from Bryan Little that put the Caps on a 4 on 3 power play just 19 seconds into overtime. Washington would not convert despite some great looks, especially Oshie’s rebound attempt in front that somehow Hellebuyck got his glove on. When #19 and #92 are engaged, the Capitals are very hard to beat.

Jet! – It’s no surprise that Winnipeg is a Cup contender out west with the speed and talent they have in their lineup. Adding Paul Stastny at the trade deadline to go with a crew of amazing forwards that includes Laine, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and the currently injured Mark Schiefele really puts them in the elite of the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators and the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. With Hellebuyck playing well in net, and he was the main reason the Caps didn’t win in regulation, they have a legitimate chance to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Speaking of the kid, Laine, the young man was outdone by the his boyhood hero, the Gr8, but he did get his 41st goal of the season in the third period after a terrible set of turnovers by Washington in their own zone following a sequence where Ovechkin decided to pass up a great shot opportunity that could’ve given him the hat trick and his team a two goal lead. Winnipeg is very talented and as I said in the opening salvo, a very fast squad. I seem to always get that great Paul McCartney tune in my head when I see the Jets fly up and down the milky ice these days.

All the Right Moves – The Caps had 43 shots on net and 73 shot attempts to 28 and 62, respectively, for the Jets. Washington built on the way they played in San Jose by getting more pucks and bodies to the net. It’s simple hockey and there were fewer occasions where I muttered to myself or tweeted “so and so should’ve shot the puck” in this affair. On defense, the Caps held one of the best offensive teams in the league to under 30 shots on goal and that’s now five straight games they have done so. As I wrote after Saturday’s win, Washington needs to play this style of hockey to do well in the post season. More shots directed towards the net and solid team defense. With the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek the blue line has been stabilized. Carlson seems to gel well with Kempny, who excels at breakout passes and Brooks Orpik turned in his second high quality performance in a row paired with Jerabek, who also is adept at getting the puck out of the Caps end quickly. Orpik logged 18:43, including a tied for the team high 3:54 on the PK (Niskanen). #44 was a big factor in Winnipeg going 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The team defense improvements are allowing Grubauer to see the shots and #31 is so dialed in right now that you can see Washington’s confidence in their own end building. GM Brian MacLellan’s low cost additions on the blue line have started to really work with time. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be very good players in this league, but they are still rookies and realistically, the Caps aren’t going to go deep in the post season with two very green players on the blue line. While Kempny and Jerabek don’t have a lot of NHL experience, both have played at least eight seasons professionally, something Alan May astutely pointed out in the Caps pregame show.

Good Day at the Zoo – I’ll admit that Jean Hebert and Dean Morton aren’t my favorite zebras, but I have to tip my hat to them for a job well done in a very fast paced hockey game. All seven penalties called in this affair were spot on and it took guts for Hebert to blow the whistle on Little in overtime, but he clearly got Kuznetsov on the glove and deserved to go to the box and feel shame. The referee duo set the tone early that stick infractions and trips were not going to be allowed and they stuck to that mantra. Any stick put on an opponent in the glove area was correctly whistled in this one. They allowed physical contact to take place and they were consistent. You can’t ask for more than that and that’s three games in a row where I’ve felt that the guys in stripes were spot on, well done zebras!

Notes: The Caps will be in action on Thursday in Brooklyn before coming home to face the Islanders at Capital One Arena on Friday in a back to back set. I’d expect Grubauer to start in New York while Braden Holtby gets back in the cage on Friday at home…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:14…Byfuglien logged 30:56 for Winnipeg…Devante Smith-Pelly had six hits to lead Washington in that department…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play. They failed to score in OT and they also took themselves off of it right after Ovi scored his 1st goal when Oshie was called for slashing. Shortly thereafter Eller made his mistake in the 4 on 4 and the game was tied…Ovi has 600 goals and 509 assists in 1,109 games. He’s a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody does it better…

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