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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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Game 4 Pens

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Caps Season On the Brink After Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Instead of losing a three games to one series lead this spring, the Washington Capitals will have to find a way to rally to win one.

Patrick Hornqvist’s goal just 2:36 in overtime off of a Mike Weber failed clear allowed the Penguins to seize a 3-2 victory in a thrilling contest and put them on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals with just one more victory over the Caps.

The Penguins, who were playing without top defensemen Kris Letang, put together a spirited effort and gave Washington big problems with their speed through the neutral zone in the first 30 minutes to take a 2-1 lead after Jay Beagle’s early marker made it 1-0 Capitals.

Pittsburgh was given pretty much no chance to win before the game by Mike Milbury on NBC, but they amped up their physical play and did a much better job of their zone exits in period one and for the first half of period two. Washington had too many struggles coming out of their own zone and they were on their heels for much of the first 30 minutes.

Braden Holtby (30 saves) made some big stops to keep it a 2-1 game and then the Caps started playing to their strengths, which was keeping the puck on the walls and cycling the smaller Pens. Justin Williams made a great play in the corner and he fed John Carlson for a brilliant tally with 3:41 to go in the middle frame to tie the game.

A nerve racking third period, in which the Penguins received the only power play, yielded no goals. The Caps did a great job of killing off a high sticking penalty by Karl Alzner on Sidney Crosby with 3:38 to go, allowing no shots on the Holtbeast.

In overtime, Mike Richards had a great chance to win it, but Matt Murray (34 saves) came up large once again setting the stage for the misplay by Weber and an easy marker for Hornqvist.

This was one tough way to lose again for Washington.

They didn’t play with the passion and sense of urgency we saw on Monday night when they dominated in a 3-2 loss, instead they looked nervous and out of sync too often for the first half of this game. That is certainly a surprise, given what was at stake and the loss of Letang for Pittsburgh.

So now the Caps get two days off to regroup and game five will be at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7:15 pm. Letang will be back in the lineup for the Pens while Brooks Oprik is still out another game. Washington needs to examine what they are doing well and doing poorly, then adjust accordingly. The Penguins clearly made the changes they needed after getting dominated, yet winning, in game three and it showed early on. That gave the Penguins the confidence to win without their best defensemen. A big part of that was their effort. They routinely out worked the Capitals in the first 30 minutes.

All four games so far have been one goal tilts, so the margin between victory and defeat has been ever so slight. Murray has been great in net for the Penguins and the Caps have had too many defensive gaffes to maintain momentum and pressure on Pittsburgh.

Simply put, the Capitals must come out on Saturday night and focus on one shift at a time and play each like it’s potentially their last game of the season. Thinking about winning three in a row puts you in the wrong mindset. They just have to play with the passion and energy they had on Monday night, but eliminate those glaring mistakes.

If they don’t, it’s golf time.

Notes: John Carlson logged a game high 30:15…the Caps won the shot attempts battle, 69-61…Alex Ovechkin had seven shots on goal in 21:16 of ice time…Daniel Winnik missed the remainder of period two after taking a high hit at the blue line from Evgeni Malkin. Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, via Twitter, thought charging should’ve been called on #71. Winnik did come back for some shifts in the 3rd period…Crosby left for some of the third period after an Ovechkin slash to #87’s hands, but returned…the Caps won the face off battle, 40-36. Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-6…the Penguins went 0 for 4 on the power play while the Caps went 0 for 2…the Caps were out hit, 47-41.

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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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Pens Win game 2

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Caps Gift Wrap Game Two for Pittsburgh

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals failed in their bid to preserve home ice advantage as Eric Fehr’s tip in with 4:28 remaining in regulation won game two for the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1, to tie up this best of seven series.

There is no sugar coating this one, the Caps totally stunk for the first 40 minutes. They weren’t dominated because of the Penguins speed, as you might have thought, no, it was a function of a lousy work ethic and sloppy execution. Passes weren’t on the mark, especially at the Pittsburgh blue line, and that allowed the Pens to get to the loose pucks quicker and resulted in superior possession for the visitors through 40 minutes. Shot attempts were an astounding 63-25 after two periods and in the second frame, it was 38-13 for the black and gold.

That’s just pitiful.

Amazingly, the Capitals were only down a goal, thanks to Braden Holtby (33 saves), who was stellar in the cage once again. Additionally, the Caps penalty killing unit was excellent holding Pittsburgh to zero for five on the power play after 40 minutes. The problem there is that Washington took too many penalties, some of which were warranted, like Brooks Orpik’s interference on Olli Maatta just 4:13 into the game and the Caps bench minor for too many dudes. Orpik, who knocked Maatta from the contest with the head shot, will likely get a call from the league and may be suspended for game three, so Mike Weber needs to be ready. The other problem was that Maatta was looking like he was in over his head in game one so Washington took a Pens defensemen out of the lineup that they picked on miserably, and with success, in the series opener.

I was not a fan of the holding call on Taylor Chorney in the corner (looked like that should have fallen under the Brian Burke bear hug rule to me) and the goalie interference on Evgeny Kunzetsov that wiped out Nate Schmidt’s apparent goal was a complete joke. Afterwards, Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that call either, saying it was clearly incidental contact (Pens goalie Matt Murray (23 saves) uses his stick paddle to take Kuzy down) and that he would’ve been okay with no goal, but to put #92 in the box was not right, in his eyes. The coach is correct, but referee Dan O’Halloran is known to be one to put the Caps on lots of penalty killing situations in the playoffs (see game two against the Rangers last spring). How is he still reffing games while Dave Jackson is done for the playoffs?

Officiating aside, the Capitals were “getting embarrassed out there” as Justin Williams called it, for the first 40 minutes. There is no excuse to have such a terrible effort in a playoff game on home ice. Sure the Penguins were going to be more desperate down a game, but if you are a team that wants to win it all, you can’t have those types of lapses and gift away a game with a poor work ethic that leads to horrendous execution.

On the positive side, the Holtbeast was able to keep the Caps just a puck down and they finally started playing their game in the final frame. In the third period, Washington out shot attempted the Pens, 25-16, and they tied the game on one of their only two power plays when Marcus Johansson put home the rebound of a John Carlson point shot. That goal came just 4:08 into the period and the Capitals carried play for several minutes afterwards. Mike Richards seemingly had the game on his stick for the win with just over five minutes left after a great feed from behind the net by Jason Chimera, but somehow he missed wide. #10 wanted to smash his stick as he headed to the bench for a change, but he managed to hold it together. It was a big opportunity missed, then the Capitals had a turnover followed by a miscommunication in their own end that allowed Evgeni Malkin to scoop up the loose biscuit and fire it towards the net. Fehr got his stick on the puck before Orpik, and it went up over Holtby and in the corner of the net.

So now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh on Monday and Wednesday for games 3 and 4, respectively. The Caps have had too many bad periods so far in this series, four by my count, out of seven total. That’s not going to cut it, so this club needs to be the more aggressive team and dictate the play going forward. No more sitting back and trying to take punches before reacting. They need to get rid of the blue line turnovers and find ways to get pucks deep on the Pens. That should allow their fore check to start working, instead of vice versa. Pittsburgh won on Saturday because of the mistakes the Caps made, not because of the Penguins speed.

That is what is disappointing, the Capitals did this too themselves, and there is no excuse to be doing that at this juncture of the season.

Notes: the 8 pm start was really an 8:30 one due to the delay for the NHL draft lottery, which was won by the Toronto Maple Leafs. So Auston Matthews, the kid from the desert, will be in the Big Smoke next season…the Caps dominated the Pens from the dot, 44-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 18-2…Kris Letang played 35:22 for Pittsburgh to lead all players, but it was his tripping infraction on Williams that set up the Caps power play goal…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:47, but he was on for both goals against, along with Orpik…the Caps did have several quality chances in this one, Chimera hit a post, and Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin (only 3 shots on goal) were both stopped in front by Murray, to name a few. The best quality chance was the Richards one, though, and that miss proved very costly…Dmitry Orlov, who played less than six minutes in game one, was scratched.

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Caps Flyers Game 3

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Caps Discipline Leads to 6-1 Rout of the Flyers

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals used a four goal third period to bury the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-1, on Monday night and put Philly’s season on notice. The Caps now have a three games to none lead in this best of seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 7 pm at the Wells Fargo Center.

Simply put, the Capitals embarrassed the Flyers.

In addition, the Flyers and their fans, who repeatedly threw bracelets onto the ice on Ed Snider night late in the third period, totally melted down embarrassing themselves and the NHL with their awful penalties and idiotic behavior. Frankly, they looked like a bunch of whining babies when it was all said and done.

With the crowd amped up, the game got off to a bad start for Washington as Michael Raffl put the rebound home of a Brandon Manning point shot just 57 seconds into the contest. Braden Holtby (31 saves) said afterwards that was a shot he wanted back, but following that, the Holtbeast shut the door on the Flyers.

Washington, though, answered quickly, less than four minutes after the Flyers early goal to really settle things down. 15 seconds after Wayne Simmonds took a holding infraction, John Carlson blasted a shot from the point and it hit Marcus Johansson on the way in to tie things up. The Caps would score on one of their two power plays in the opening frame while Philadelphia went 0 for 2 with their man advantage situations.

In the middle frame, the Capitals took the lead at the 8:50 mark as Alex Ovechkin (two goals, one assist) slipped behind the Flyers defense and snapped a wicked shot just below the glove of Steve Mason (21 saves) and inside the far post to give Washington a lead it would not relinquish.

The Flyers did their best to try to tie it up, throwing their body around and pretty much tossing the kitchen sink at Holtby. Brooks Orpik took a vicious hit from Ryan White that resulted in an upper body injury and he did not return. From that point on in period two, Philadelphia was really all over the Caps. Somehow Washington managed to maintain their focus and Brayden Schenn took a stupid slashing penalty at the end of the frame that set the table for a big Caps final stanza.

What a period it was as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the ensuing power play when the Caps got a lucky break off of the back glass on a Justin Williams hard around that bounced right into the slot and on the stick of #92, which he deposited by Mason just 1:58 into the period. The Flyers and their fans were absolutely stunned. Sure it was a lucky bounce, but if Schenn doesn’t take the bad penalty, Kuznetsov is not all alone and in position for the easy marker.

But the Flyers would not learn from their mistakes and Radko Gudas took another bad penalty, tripping Kuznetsov in the offensive zone and Carlson made him pay with his third goal in three games with Williams setting a beautiful screen on Mason at the top of the crease. That made it 4-1 and the Flyers were pretty much done with the hockey part of their game.

It’s in the DNA of the Broad Street Bullies to get dirty and cheap when the game is heading into the out of reach category and right on cue, the Flyers went there. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hit Dmitry Orlov awkwardly from behind and earned a five minute major at the 12:17 mark. A scrum ensued and many Flyers fans lost it, at that point, littering the ice with the bracelets and causing a couple of delays. They were then warned by the referees, via the Flyers in house announcer, that if more objects were thrown on the ice then the home team would be penalized.

The Caps worked the puck around in the offensive zone for several minutes on the five minute major creating numerous chances before Ovechkin fired another dart past Mason to make it 5-1 with 5:02 remaining. Naturally, several more bracelets were tossed onto the rink and the referees assessed a bench minor to the Flyers for the fans insubordination. Those who threw the objects onto the ice basically acted like three year old kids. It was embarrassing for those fans who were behaving properly, and there was a good number of them. It also disrespected the game and was a black mark for the NHL. Simply put, the NHL cannot be happy with the behavior of the Flyers and their fans and that will do them no favors the rest of the series. Snider, if he were still with us, would be disgusted at the lack of respect for the game shown by numerous Flyers fans.

Jay Beagle then closed out the scoring after Matt Read took a slashing penalty and the Caps earned a five on three power play.

The final statistics for the third period included four Capitals goals, a shot attempts advantage of 33 to 15 and a 13-6 margin from the dot on draws. Up until that period, the Flyers had a 27-13 edge on faceoffs and 48-35 on shot attempts. The mostly young Philly team took themselves out of the contest with terrible decisions and penalties; it was not simply the result of one lucky bounce.

Overall, the Caps did a super job in this game of keeping the Flyers to the outside and either blocked shots or allowed Holtby to see the biscuit clearly. Coach Trotz stated that despite the offensive weapons his team has up front, his club is really built on defense.

Washington also won this contest by keeping their cool and destroying the Flyers on special teams. The Caps went 5-9 with the power play while Philly was 0-5.

“It’s tough, you want to retaliate, but you have to look at the bigger picture and know what we’re playing for here. Everyone takes hits to make plays, takes slashes, you have to take a lot of stuff if you want to get where you want to be,” said two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, who had six hits in 11:05 of ice time.

“It tests your patience, for sure, but the end goal is to win the game. We have to stick up for each other, stay together as a group, but especially when our power play is going like that, we’ll just turn it into a game like that and keep scoring goals,” added Matt Niskanen, who blocked five shots in a game high 26:48 on the blue line for Washington.

This was the first time in franchise history, in eight tries (h/t Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post), that the Caps have taken a 3-0 lead in a best of seven series, but in the locker room following the game, you’d be hard pressed to tell that Washington is on the verge of sweeping this opening round series. Basically, it looked like another night in Caps land during the regular season. There was no celebration or feeling of accomplishment, just a singular focus on the task at hand, which was to win a hockey game and then get one more on Wednesday.

“You want to win, that’s where the focus is, but they have a really good team. [Claude Giroux] is a great leader and Simmonds is a great leader, so you know they’re not going to lay down and die, so we have to play our best game. The toughest is to get that fourth win and we know they are going to come hard,” finished Richards.

Notes: Orlov, despite the nasty hit he took then crawling out from under the donnybrook that occurred while he was laying on the ice, came back and notched a power play assist. #9 eats rocks for breakfast and looked very solid and comfortable in 12:34 of ice time…Nate Schmidt, one assist, was excellent in 11:58 of playing time…with Orpik likely out for game 4, you can expect Mike Weber to get a sweater on Wednesday given that his game most closely resembles #44’s…Karl Alzner was fabulous on D in 22:52 of ice time.

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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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Ovi Blues

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Ovechkin and Holtby Hit Big Milestones in Caps Victory Over the Blues

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored three times to reach the 50 goal plateau for the third straight season and the seventh time in his career, Nicklas Backstrom added three assists to hit 50 helpers on the campaign, and Justin Chimera scored his 20th goal of the season in a Capitals 5-1 rout over the St. Louis Blues.

Most importantly, Braden Holtby notched his 48th victory of the season with 19 saves and this triumph ties him with Martin Brodeur for the most wins ever in an NHL season. The Holtbeast gave up an early goal to Vladimir Tarasenko just 75 seconds into this tilt, but the Blues were shut down the rest of the way.

“We are happy for him. He deserved it and he’s the beat goalie in the league right now,” said Captain Oveckhin afterwards, who is heating up nicely for the first round of the NHL playoffs, which will start against the Philadelphia Flyers this week (likely Thursday).

Wow, this was one dominating performance by the Caps!

After two periods they led 4-1 and had a 26 to 10 shots on goal advantage. For the game, shots on goal were 36-20 and shot attempts were 60-41 for the Caps.

Following the contest Coach Barry Trotz was pleased and noted that his club played a 200 foot game. The bench boss was spot on as Washington was more engaged physically and emotionally than they’ve been in recent weeks. They were taking the body, getting pucks deep in the offensive zone, and they weren’t cheating positionally. You’d be hard pressed to find any odd man rushes for the Blues in this one.

What’s also interesting about this win is that the Caps had pretty much nothing to play for except individual milestones while the Blues still had the Central Division title at stake. As a result of the defeat, Ken Hitchcock’s squad will face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round while the first place Dallas Stars will take on the sinking Minnesota Wild. That’s quite a difference!

TJ Oshie played his first game back in St. Louis after last summer’s trade. He received a standing ovation from the fans and he was fabulous as the top line right wing playing with the Gr8 and Backstrom. That first unit, which was victimized by the Blues to open the scoring, came back with a vengeance. Oshie had just one assist, but he played a big factor in all three of Ovechkin’s goals with strong board work, defensive back checking that led to a big steal, and great net drive. #77 had 11 shot attempts and five shots on goal. He narrowly missed scoring on several occasions.

John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were paired on defense together and they were dynamite. Both were +3 and Carlson had a goal and an assist. Carlson’s goal was a thing of beauty as Tom Wilson fed a sweet pass to #74 that he backhanded home from the slot. That defensive pair was outstanding and physical. Carlson looks great and his skating and play is back to where it was before he was injured on December 26th.

For Chimera, this is his second 20 goal season (2011-12). It’s amazing how far he has come since December of 2014 when he was a healthy scratch. Right before last spring’s playoffs he finally bought into what Caoch Trotz was selling and at age 36 (he’ll be 37 on May 2nd) he looks as good as ever. Big credit to “Chimmer” for rethinking things and taking his play to another level under this coaching staff.

Mike Weber received a sweater for the first time in weeks and he played well paired with Dmitry Orlov. Weber’s physical style looks to be a good fit for playoff hockey and with the big and chippy Flyers up in round one, you could see him in the lineup.

Perhaps the only bad news of the evening was that Jay Beagle took a shot to his left ankle from Tarasenko and had to leave the game. He will be evaluated on Sunday and is considered day-to-day according to the Capitals PR staff.

With the victory the Caps move to the 120 point mark at 56-17-8 with just one game remaining. Perhaps most impressive of all is the Caps will go the ENTIRE NHL season without losing back to back games in regulation. The last team to do that was the Montreal Canadiens in 1976-77 (h/t to Ben Raby). Oh by the way, that club won the Stanley Cup. Just saying!

The regular season finale will be at the Verizon Center on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks. It would be a meaningless game for both teams since the Ducks cannot win the Pacific Division if the Kings are victorious on Saturday night over Winnipeg.

Given that the game likely will not be a factor in the standings, will Coach Trotz start Holtby to try and set the victory record? After all, the Holtbeast did have a fairly light workload on Saturday. Following Thursday’s loss, Coach Trotz stated that Holtby and Philipp Grubauer would both play this weekend. It remains to be seen if that decision is re-addressed given how well Saturday night played out for Washington.

In summary, the Caps were outstanding and look ready for the playoffs. They just need to get through Sunday’s tilt without suffering any more injuries.

Then it is bring on the Flyers!

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:51…Ovechkin locked up the “Rocket” Richard trophy with his 50th goal of the season…Holtby should win the Vezina Trophy…Wilson was +2 in 13:42 and played his best game in weeks. He had 0 PIMs…the Caps won the face off battle, 30-25. Mike Richards was 13-6…Richards, who had another strong game, played 3rd line center with Marcus Johansson and Chimera. That unit looked great…Richards and Orpik led the Capitals in hits with four each…the game against the Ducks on Sunday night at the Verizon Center is the makeup from the originally scheduled tilt on January 22nd that was wiped out due to Jonas. Puck drop is at 7:30. It will be Justin Williams’ 1,000 NHL game.

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Holtby Pens

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Caps Rally But Fall in OT to the Penguins

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After trailing 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the game’s midpoint, the Washington Capitals rallied with three goals to send game #80 to overtime before falling, 4-3.

Braden Holtby made 31 saves, including several big ones when it was 3-1 in the third period, and those stops allowed the Caps to come back and nearly win. Marcus Johansson notched two goals and then Andre Burakovsky nicely deflected home a John Carlson (two assists) pass with 6:24 remaining to even things up.

From there both teams had chances to win it before Pittsburgh received a breakaway with a minute remaining in the three on three session to close the deal.

The bad news of the evening was that the Holtbeast failed once again to tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL single season wins record. Holtby is 47-9-7 this season and he’ll get one more shot this weekend to tie Marty, but he won’t break it since Philipp Grubauer will also play once.

Other than that, this game meant diddly to the Capitals and they played like it for long stretches. As I wrote after the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, hockey is a game that requires a physical and emotional investment. Coach Barry Trotz prefers Washington employ a style of heavy hockey that emphasizes going through your opponent. For the first four months or so of this season, the Capitals did just that and that is how they pretty much wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day.

Since then, with their standings position solidified, the Caps have been more about staying in shape and avoiding injury. So far, it has worked.

Thursday’s game resembled one of those week 17 NFL games where clubs who have their playoff seeding wrapped up are just trying to get through the contest unscathed. That’s been the Capitals for several weeks. Playing heavy hockey and going through your opponent comes with a risk, and that is injury. The Capitals have been so far ahead in the regular season that it is just not worth that risk, at this juncture.

So we have only two more of these glorified preseason games to go, on Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday at home against the Ducks. Those two teams have division titles to play for while the Caps only have individual achievements left to motivate them.

Let’s be honest, that’s of more importance to the fans than the Capitals themselves. Talking with the players after Thursday’s contest you could just sense that they are extremely tired of where they are at right now, which is playing for nothing. They want to be in the playoffs, which won’t start until Thursday the 14th. I’ll reference the great Tom Petty with one of his lyrics to sum up the current state of the Caps, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

There are many who are concerned about the Capitals recent uneven play, but Alexander Ovechkin was asked about the Capitals string of losses afterwards and if he was worried. His simple one word answer says all you need to know, “No.”

Anyone who watches a lot of hockey and was subjected to the contest on Thursday night knows that game looked nothing like how things will play out starting next week. Too many players had time on the ice without an opponent hitting them or being in their grill.  We could go through the tape of the contest and I could point out dozens of instances where a Capitals player chose not to throw a hit or be more involved because frankly, these games don’t matter. The last thing anyone wants to do is be injured with the post season just a week away.

While this game had minimal hitting, there was some chippiness to it because these teams frankly don’t like each other, and both fan bases despise each other, as well. They are second on my list, after the Flyers. It’s never fun to lose to either of those Pennsyltucky squads and with this triumph the Penguins won the season series with the Caps, 3-2. All that will get them is bragging rights, though, because if these two teams each win their first round playoff series, then they’ll meet in round two and Washington will have home ice.

Hopefully the Caps will be healthy too, and not exposing themselves to potential injuries now will end up paying off next week and beyond.

Keep the faith.

Notes: Tom Wilson hit Nick Bonino from behind and earned a five minute boarding major in period two. It was an unnecessary play and he was benched, other than in penalty killing situations, for the rest of the contest. He finished with just 5:50 of ice time…both teams were 0 for 4 on the power play, but the Pens had 9:25 of time to just 6:25 for Washington…shot attempts favored the Penguins, 56-52…Ovechkin had five hits and 10 shot attempts, including six on net in 22:03 of playing time…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in time on ice at 27:37. Kris Letang played 30:44 for the Penguins. How much will he have left in the tank for the post season with all of the minutes he’s been logging?

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