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Braden Holtby stops 36 of 37 shots while Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin provide the Caps offense in a 2-1, OT victory.

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Backstrom Ends Caps Long Drought in OT on Long Island

Posted on 22 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

With their backs nearly up against the wall in this playoff series, the Washington Capitals earned a gritty victory in game four on Long Island on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal 11:09 into overtime to even things up at two games apiece.

Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby stopped 36 of 37 shots to earn his first win of the series.

Simply put, the Capitals top players showed up in a critical game to end the franchise’s six game road playoff losing streak and also finally get a post season overtime victory at the Nassau Coliseum.

This was a physical game that New York dominated for most of 40 minutes before the Capitals finally started taking over in period three and then the overtime. Islanders defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky suffered an injury when he was cleanly hit by Tom Wilson in period two. The zebras didn’t see it that way and called #43 for charging while Thomas Hickey, who roughed up Wilson after the whistle, went unscathed and served no box time. Visnovsky would not return forcing New York to play the rest of the tilt with only five d-men.

Despite the poor call and the fact that the Islanders had the game’s first four power plays in those 40 minutes, the Capitals and Holtby weathered the storm. Brooks Orpik played the last 51+ minutes with a cut face after John Carlson inadvertently sliced him with his skate. Orpik, who eats rocks for breakfast, came back to play a strong game along with Carlson. Both players were +2 on the night.

The Caps had 66 shot attempts in this tilt and Ovechkin (18) and Backstrom (8) had a combined 26 of them. It was clear that neither one of those players wanted to go down 3-1 in the series. The Islanders generated 78 shot attempts but they had eight minutes of power play time to just two minutes for Washington. The Capitals penalty killing efforts were a huge reason why they were able to grind out this win.

So after a pretty lousy effort in game three at the raucous Nassau Coliseum, the Capitals found a way to play better and get a win on the road and regain home ice advantage.

After game two, Caps Coach Barry Trotz stated how important the Capitals fans are to his team’s energy level. Therefore, for game five, the Verizon Center should be rocking. For those who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic) you know of the ugly behavior displayed by some of the Islanders fans in games three and four. Orpik, who sustained a facial cut late in period one, was even pelted with a beer in the face after the Caps won on Tuesday night. There was a general lack of decorum shown by some New York fans in these two games on Long Island. Washington fans have a chance to show that they are not only louder, but classier on Thursday night. So Rock your Red, but be respectful of those in Islanders gear.

Regardless of the noise level, and I do expect it to be quite loud and help the Caps, Washington has to come out and dictate the pace of the game and not wait to counter punch any strong Islanders start. New York is very fast and has some serious skill and they are a tough opponent. However, if the Capitals bring their “A” game like they did in game two and in overtime in game four, they will be tough to beat.

Bottom line, it’s all about the effort and how badly the Capitals want to win.

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Caps Play Poorly to Lose Game 1

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not go as planned, at all, for the Washington Capitals as they fell to the New York Islanders, 4-1, at the Verizon Center.

You could sum this game up with the following sentence.

The Islanders played very well while the Capitals did not.

New York, led by John Tavares, looked confident and fast as they came out flying to dominate the first frame. Somehow the Caps were able to keep it 1-1 after 20 minutes but in period two, the Islanders scored directly off of a face off after a lazy icing was whistled on Washington. New York would add another goal just past the midway point and they played solid defense the rest of the way to win in relatively easy fashion.

The Caps struggled with their passing and breakouts all game. They tried to make the long stretch pass far too often and they were ultra sloppy in the neutral zone. Troy Brouwer’s turnover allowed Brock Nelson to skate in alone down the right wing side and he snapped a wrister by Braden Holtby short side for the opening tally. It was not a good goal allowed by #70.

Marcus Johansson tied the game with 57 seconds left in the first period after Brooks Laich outworked two Islanders in the corner and made a nice feed in the slot to a streaking #90. Jojo beat Jaroslav Halak (24 saves) five hole to whip the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy.

But on this night the Capitals could never get any sustained offense going. They repeatedly made poor passing decisions that led to turnovers allowing New York to excel in their transition game. This was one of the worst games Washington had all season in terms of breaking the puck out of their own zone. On Wednesday night they looked more like the 2013-14 Caps instead of the team that amassed 101 points in 2014-15.

Afterwards the message in the Caps room and from Coach Barry Trotz was consistent. The Islanders deserved part of the credit for winning while the Capitals played poorly and needed to be a lot better. Trotz said he was very disappointed in the performance of many on his team. The Washington bench boss pointed out that there weren’t many scoring chances for either team in this tilt. New York did a good job of clogging the middle of the ice in the neutral zone and in front of their own net. If the Caps want to win they need to get bodies and pucks through to try and rattle Halak, who had a far too easy night.

Fortunately this is just one game and the playoffs are all about adjustments by the players and the coaches. Game one was all New York and now it is on the Capitals to adjust. Will that include lineup changes? Perhaps. Michael Latta only played 5:16 and he lost the draw that led to the Islanders winning goal. Does Tom Wilson get back in or is he still recovering from the puck he took to the head in Detroit on April 5th? Does Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty at the end of periods two and three, come out for Andre Burakovsky? That’s to be determined.

There’s no need for the Capitals to panic, at this point. They played poorly and lost the series opener to give away home ice. But where the game is played doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s how you play the game. In the series opener the Islanders played extremely well and they deserved to win. The Caps, on the other hand, have a lot of work to do in order to come out on top in game two on Friday night. They need to pass the puck better and they need to win more of the one on one battles.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle handily, 39-23, but Latta lost that key second period draw to Tavares, who was fabulous in this game, that led to the winning goal…New York out shot the Caps 27-25 and out shot attempted them 65-55, primarily behind a 23-11 first period advantage…both teams were 0 for 2 on the power play…Matt Niskanen was on the ice for all four Islanders goals (the last was an empty net). Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were the only plus players for the Capitals (+1)…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:03. Orpik was second with 21:37…Alex Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including eight shots on net…Nicklas Backstrom was 14-6 on draws…Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr returned to the lineup after missing several games due to injury…Travis Hamonic missed the game for New York, but the Islanders defense played well. Johnny Boychuk led the team with 23:05 of ice time.

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Braden Holtby goes 88 for 88 against the Bruins this season.

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Holtby Stones the Bruins Again in Caps Victory

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs this spring, they will likely have visions of Braden Holtby in their nightmares all summer long.

In a game the Beantown boys absolutely had to have, Holtbeast and the Capitals raced to an early 2-0 lead and ended up blanking the Bruins, 3-0.

That’s three Caps games against Boston this season and three shutouts for #70, who was a perfect 88 for 88 against Milan Lucic and company.

It was an impressive victory on home ice to guarantee that the Capitals will finish at least in third place in the Metropolitan Division and should the Penguins beat the Islanders on Friday night in Pittsburgh, then the Caps will clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start next week. If the Islanders do win against the Pens, the Caps could clinch second with a victory over the Rangers on Saturday afternoon.

Back to Wednesday’s night win, the line of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer was outstanding. The league’s greatest passer, #19, was dominant with two assists. Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist, +3), who was really good in Detroit in that road victory, was all over the ice on Wednesday and used his speed effectively against a “turtle-like” Bruins defense (they are sloooowwww). Johansson was also very strong on the walls and appears to be peaking his game at the right time. As for Brouwer (2 assists, +3), well he was physical and did a super job of going to the net.

The Backstrom line is carrying the play and with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 sweet assist) doing a strong job of centering Alex Ovechkin (10 shot attempts and 4 hits) and Joel Ward, it is much more difficult for opposing coaches to slow the Capitals offense.

The Capitals now sit at 45-25-11 (101 points) and are 11 points better than last season, with a game still remaining. I’ve blogged and talked on WNST all season long about the importance of the improved blue line plus Coach Barry Trotz’ system and those changes have paid dividends. In addition, this Capitals club has become a team and is a very tight nit group. Players rally around each other, as evidenced by Holtby and Mike Green racing over to Tom Wilson on Sunday in Motown when #43 put his head in front of a puck for his teammates. When you see players doing that for each other, you know you’ve got something special and this Capitals club has not been this close in years. Kudos to the players and coaches for developing and maintaining a real “team” atmosphere.

Now though, it’s almost time for the real season to begin and just getting back to the playoffs is not going to cut it for the players or anyone else in the organization, to include the fans. Washington must continue to stick to what they’ve been doing, playing solid team defense and winning the battles that lead to victories.

On Wednesday night, they strangled a desperate Bruins team in the final frame and only allowed five shots on goal. Their breakouts were superb and they kept the forecheck and pressure on Boston to deny them any chance at gaining momentum. They moved their feet and stayed out of the box. As a result, the Bruins had zero power plays (boy is Bruins coach Claude Julien going to whine about that!).

There was a lot to like in the Caps victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night. Best stat of all though has to be this one:

Holtby’s Goals Against Average (GAA) against Boston in 2014-15 is the same as John Blutarsky’s grade point average: ZERO POINT ZERO!!

Notes: Boston crushed the Caps at the dot thanks to the best faceoff man in the league, Patrice Bergeron. #37 went 22-9 as the Bruins won 39 of 63 faceoffs (62%)…John Carlson had a goal and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Johansson, Backstrom, and Brouwer all played over 19 minutes each…Stan Galiev made his NHL debut and played well in 9:56 of ice time…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play….Tuukka Rask remains 0 for the Verizon Center.

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Caps Bring Big Effort, Knock off Rangers, 5-2

Posted on 29 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Now that looked more like the Washington Capitals team we saw dominate opponents back in December and January.

After several games with an inconsistent effort and little to no sustained pressure in the offensive zone, the Caps overcame some early miscues and displayed a vicious forecheck that they rode to an impressive 5-2 victory in Madison Square Garden against arguably the best team in the NHL, the New York Rangers.

It was a huge victory in a tough building, but more importantly, the Capitals played hard and within their system, something they’ve struggled with for the past two months.

The Rangers are a fast team, maybe the swiftest in the NHL, so in order to defeat them, you have to get them back on their heels and not let them use their own zone and the neutral zone to generate speed. If you sit back on New York, you’ll find yourself in trouble quickly.

Washington took this contest over from about the middle of period two after Alexander Ovechkin’s two tallies kept the Capitals even. During the latter stages of the second frame the Caps forechecked with a vengeance and it rattled the New York defense. The Rangers would survive period two but in the third the Caps were all over them with excellent forward pressure. Eric Fehr picked off an errant New York pass at the blue line and Brooks Laich took the puck deep to feed Jason Chimera for a plumbers type of goal from the crease to give the Caps a 3-2 lead just 4:41 into the final period.

In recent times, the Caps have chosen to sit back once they grabbed a one goal final frame advantage, but not on Sunday. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew did not change their tactics and they were relentless on the Rangers defense and forced more turnovers, which ultimately led to Chimera tallying again from alone in the slot on a sweet move and backhand past Cam Talbot.

With a two goal lead and 12 plus minutes remaining, Washington did not take their foot of the gas as they kept up the offensive and neutral zone pressure and never allowed the Rangers to generate any offensive steam. It was a thing of beauty and something the Capitals hopefully learn from. They used their size and effort to frustrate an elite hockey club. It was an effort that this Caps team needs to bring every night if they want to do damage in the post season.

There was a lot to like in this contest. Washington’s penalty kill was outstanding thwarting all five Rangers power play opportunities, including one just 28 seconds into the game. Also, the Caps did not take any penalties in the third period, which allowed Coach Trotz to roll the lines and keep the pressure on New York. A big reason why they didn’t take any infractions in the third was because they were moving their feet and working hard. It sounds simple, but this Washington club gets into penalty trouble when they stop skating and take ridiculous stick penalties (see Joel Ward’s slash in period two).

As for the Caps power play, well it clicked when needed. With Washington down 2-1, Ovechkin buried his 49th tally of the season off of a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom with Ward tying up Dan Boyle in front and screening Talbot. That was a goal the Capitals absolutely needed from their special teams at that juncture. The power play had been a buzz kill in recent games, especially the failed five on three against Nashville on Saturday and it was a shorty that allowed the Devils to get back in the game on Thursday.

The outstanding performance improves the Caps to 41-25-10 (92 points) and pushes them closer to clinching a playoff berth with six games remaining (they are now six points up on 9th place Ottawa, who has a game in hand). It’s a win that they hopefully learn from, because the way they played is how they will have to execute down the stretch and in April if they want to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Washington proved Sunday they can play against the top squads when needed against a New York club that was 2-0 against the Caps this season. The key now for the Capitals is to consistently bring that type of effort and commitment to their system and structure game in and game out.

Notes: Brooks Oprik was +3 to lead the team in that department…John Carlson was +2 despite a bad giveaway that put New York on the board. #74 didn’t let that bug him and turned in a really strong performance after that unfortunate occurrence…Braden Holtby, who was yanked in the first period on Saturday, was strong in net stopping 23 of 25 shots…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 22:17. Tom Wilson, who had some super third period shifts, only played 9:25. All other skaters were between those totals since Trotz rolled the lines in the second half of a back to back situation…the Caps out shot New York 31-25 thanks to a 14-7 third period…shot attempts were 50-50…Fehr and Laich had two assists each as their line was stellar in period three…next up for the Capitals are the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Holtby Blanks Boston in Key Caps Victory

Posted on 15 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After Friday night’s debacle to the Dallas Stars, things were not good in Washington Capitals land. They lacked effort and intensity in arguably their worst performance of the season and were 1-3 on a five game home stand. Following the loss their head coach, Barry Trotz, told the team to “fix it.”

On Sunday night against the Boston Bruins, who had tied them with 82 standings points following their blanking of the Penguins on Saturday afternoon, the Caps gave one of their best efforts of the campaign. Braden Holtby, who was pulled in the loss on Friday, was superb in net stopping all 32 shots he faced and frustrated a chippy Beantown club en route to a 2-0 victory.

Nicklas Backstrom added two helpers to take over the franchise all time assist lead and Alex Ovechkin, despite having no points, was on the ice and a factor in both Washington tallies. In addition to the Caps stars showing up, the lunch pail guys brought their game with a vengeance, including second year man Tom Wilson who was physical on the puck and had the Bruins going after him all night. In fact it was Willie’s big hit on Ryan Spooner that angered Brad “the Rat” Marchand, who promptly jumped #43 and took a two minute minor that should have been at least four minutes (bad zebras, once again).

John Carlson would laser a point shot by Tuukka Rask, who is now 0-4-2 in his career at the Verizon Center, on the resulting power play to give the Capitals a key 1-0 lead. Boston, who has been red hot lately, had scored the first goal in their last 11 contests.

The Caps would dominate the first two periods and Nate Schmidt would post the only other marker in the middle frame on a point blast that hit Greg Campbell and went in. It was a lucky bounce, but usually in sports the team that works harder gets the bounces. The Capitals were the harder working club on Sunday, something that was not the case in their previous two losses.

This game probably should’ve been over after 40 minutes but Rask was very good and kept his club alive for a potential third period push. Despite two power plays and pulling their goalie late, the Bruins just couldn’t get the biscuit past Holtby. Boston tried everything, including having Milan Lucic slash him and do whatever he could to rattle #70, but Holtbeast simply ignored #17 and stoned the Bruins attempts with solid positioning and a super glove hand. The Caps, who were missing Brooks Orpik on the blue line for the third straight tilt, did a good job of keeping the Bruins to the outside and only allowed nine shots on the cage in the final frame. For the night, the Capitals frustrated Boston by blocking 26 shot attempts.

This was a huge victory because Washington now moves back into the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference standings and they are seven points up on the streaking Ottawa Senators (11-1-1 in their last 13 games), who are in 9th place behind Boston. The Caps are just four and six points behind the Penguins and Islanders, respectively, in the Metropolitan Division. A victory on Monday night in Buffalo would get the Capitals even closer to those teams and more importantly, closer to clinching a playoff spot. The Caps have 12 games remaining so a win against the Sabres would put them at 86 points and 95 should be enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, just 48 hours after a dismal performance and the potential for doom and gloom, the Capitals went out and beat a strong Boston Bruins club in a heavy and physical contest. It was a super team performance backed by stellar goaltending from Holtby, who earned his 8th shutout of the season.

The club only earned two points for the victory, but this one seems bigger and sets the team up well to get to the playoff dance that they so badly want to make and then excel in.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Bruins 38-32 but Boston won the shot attempt battle, 70-63. The Bruins had four power plays to just one for the Caps, which doesn’t add up based on the Caps dominating much of the play. Unblocked shot attempts had the Caps up 53-44…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 36-27. Patrice Bergeron is the best draw man in the NHL and he went 18-7…Matt Niskanen led Washington in ice time with 25:00.

 

 

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Caps Mistakes Costly in 3-1 Defeat to Rangers

Posted on 12 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, you’ll often hear coaches talk about bad losses and good losses.

On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz would not categorize the Caps 3-1 defeat to the New York Rangers as a bad loss.

Despite the post game reaction from numerous Caps fans on twitter, where it seemed several people were out on the ledge and ready to leap, I definitely agree with the Washington bench boss.

Sure the Rangers were playing their third game in four nights, but the Caps were missing two of their top five defensemen in Mike Green and Brooks Orpik and their top center, Nicklas Backstrom, was playing with a bad stomach bug that prevented him from skating for four days. So coming into this contest against the Blueshirts, who I believe are the best team in the NHL right now and will likely win the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents’ Trophy, I didn’t have a good feeling for the Caps given that Nate Schmidt was playing his first NHL game in over two months and Cameron Schilling was also in the starting lineup on defense.

The inexperience and lack of skill on the blueline is something we saw help wreck the Capitals post season appearance streak last spring and to be honest, the defensive lineup iced on Wednesday night was a bit reminiscent of last year’s club that routinely featured two or more AHL calibre players. As expected, the youth led to the Rangers first tally when Schmidt was beaten badly in the neutral zone. Then on the second New York marker, Tim Gleason, who was playing the off side for him, tried to go high glass on a dump out and the puck hit the stanchion and allowed the Rangers to get a quick three on two that J.T. Miller buried short side on Braden Holtby (28 saves).

The Caps would get a good bounce on Alexander Ovechkin’s power play tally in the opening frame and the Gr8 now has 45 goals on the season. The first period was pretty even, shot attempts favored the Caps 21-20, but the Rangers led because of the two costly Capital miscues.

Washington would open period two on a lengthy five on three (78 seconds) but the Caps couldn’t score. Cam Talbot, who was sensational in this contest, especially in period three, made a highway robbery glove save on Backstrom and that turned the game around, giving the Rangers a boost that they used to carry the play in the middle stanza. The Rangers would out shot attempt the Caps, 23-12, in period two.

“To be honest with you, five on three was my mistakes, I just missed the net. It’s kind of the moment you have to score. Especially when they give you a chance and they give you an opportunity to shoot so it was total blame on me,” said Ovechkin.

“When you don’t score off a five on three of that extent, that usually swings the momentum and then they got a few power plays that we killed off, but it took a little bit of steam out of our game,” added Matt Niskanen, who was outstanding for the Caps in 28:10 of ice time (led all players).

In the final frame, the Capitals threw the kitchen sink at Talbot, but he was a brick wall. #33, who has been superb in relief of an injured Henrik Lundqvist, was easily the game’s first star and he made numerous point blank saves. Trotz pointed out afterwards that the Caps had an 8-1 edge in quality chances in period three, but the only goal came for the Rangers when Tom Kreider picked off John Carlson’s cross ice pass and fed Martin “Caps Killer” St. Louis on a two on none break for the game closing tally. In that last 20 minutes, the Caps out shot attempted a fatigued Rangers club, 35-10.

Overall for the game, the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 68-53, but all that matters is the 3-1 final score. The Rangers are a very good team and they can roll four lines and three defensive pairs. That’s part of why they were able to go 3-0 in this tough three game in four nights stretch against the Blackhawks, Islanders, and Caps. The biggest reason they won on Wednesday was Talbot and the team’s ability to protect a one goal lead, something they’ve been strong at for several seasons.

“When they get the lead, they just put four guys close to the net and they block lots of shots. Again, it was not surprising at all. They are a pretty solid team, they know how to play, and they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year,” stated Ovechkin.

The Rangers have a very good team and could easily win the Stanley Cup, so losing a close game in which you out chanced your opponent is nothing to hang your head on. The Caps were shorthanded on the back end and one of their best forwards wasn’t right, yet they were in the game until the end and likely find a way to win against many other goalies. But they lost and now they have to watch out that they don’t drop to the second wild card spot with the Boston Bruins charging hard in the standings.

With the Rangers looking like a good bet to win the East, the Caps must avoid a first round match up with the Blueshirts, so they can’t afford to fall to the second wild card slot.

In the end, the Caps played hard but made too many mistakes to win and the Rangers net minder was the big difference. Losing is no fun, but Ovechkin summed things up pretty good afterwards.

“I think we play a good game, a couple of bounces cost us a victory or at least one point. It’s a situation when you have to just forget about it and move forward. But it’s kind of disappointing when you have that kind of chance to move closer to an opponent or a team who is in front of you,” finished the Gr8.

Certainly the Caps can’t be happy with losing, as every standings point matters, but they did do a lot of good things against the best team in hockey on Wednesday night.

Notes: Joel Ward assisted on the Ovechkin goal and he was one of the Caps best forwards in 18:25 of ice time…Trotz limited Backstrom to 18:38 due to his stomach virus…the Caps won the face off battle 38-29. Eric Fehr was 12-3…Jay Beagle was hit hard, but cleanly, by Dan Girardi in period two. #83 would return for a shift or so but then left the contest for the third period due to an upper body injury…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Blanking of Leafs

Posted on 01 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After three straight losses and several slow starts, the Washington Capitals needed to jump out to a quick lead on Sunday night.

NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin made sure his club would get an early cushion as he scored just 33 seconds into the contest. The Gr8 would make it 2-0 on a backhander in period two after a nice point shot from Brooks Orpik and then he added an assist on Marcus Johansson’s power play goal that increased the lead to 3-0. Joel Ward would hit the empty net and send a terrible Toronto Maple Leafs on its way out of the Verizon Center, 4-0 losers.

In goal, Braden Holtby was, to quote Billy Crystal, “Maaahhhvelous!” as he stopped 32 shots, with some quality ones to boot, en route to his seventh shutout of the season (and 30th win).

The Caps were not pretty in this victory, they still looked sloppy, at times, and weren’t totally in sync, but it was a step in the right direction after their play had really tailed off in the last week.

Tim Gleason, acquired on Saturday in a trade for Jack Hillen and a 4th round pick, made his Caps debut and was very solid in 18:34 of ice time. It’s only one game, but #6 looks like a significant upgrade on that 3rd pairing and it allows Mike Green to play more minutes. Coach Barry Trotz was able to spread his ice time around with the quality blue line and the 4-0 score helped too. Matt Niskanen was the Caps ice time leader and he only logged 20:25. Balancing ice time like that keeps players fresh and reduces the risk of injury.

Up front, well, after the first line, the Capitals still are struggling. Andre Burakovsky played up with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and #65 was the clear weak link. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has struggled recently, was bumped down to the fourth line, centering Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson, and they had an up and down night, but finished with a decent third period. Jason Chimera took Laich’s spot on the third line and #25, who could be being showcased for a potential trade, also received some early power play time. The second line was centered by Jay Beagle and featured Troy Brouwer and Johansson.

In addition to the players that suited up on Sunday night, General Manager Brian MacLellan traded 2nd and 3rd round picks to Calgary and acquired Curtis Glencross. Glencross, who will wear #22, is 32 years old and is a fast skater. He’s not a top six forward but he’s an upgrade over some of the other Caps bottom six forwards. With the log jam on those two lines, one has to wonder if the Caps GM is still working on a bigger deal to acquire a top six forward by the 3 pm deadline?

We’ll find out about that soon enough, but the whole team will have to be happy when that time passes since it’s been clear to me that the deadline has been a distraction to this club. They have not appeared focused and many have lacked energy, which is a clear byproduct of worrying about what the future holds.

So after this victory over the disastrous Leafs, the Caps are now 34-20-10 (78 points). With 18 games left, a .500 finish easily puts them in the playoffs. So therefore, the focus in the last 18 games has to be to get some continuity going with the forward lines. The defense is set and Holtby is playing the best hockey of his career. Trotz will also look to rest players and the team needs to focus on the matchup they desire for the first round, or perhaps more importantly, one they don’t want.

To me, the match up they don’t want is the New York Rangers, who acquired defensemen Keith Yandle on Sunday in exchange for d-man John Moore, a prospect, and some draft picks. It’s clear the Rags are all in and the Capitals play them three times over the next six weeks. New York has great speed and that’s been something the Caps have had trouble handling. Adding Glencross certainly helps and Gleason has good wheels, as well as size, too. But the Rangers have Henrik Lunqvist and two really strong lines, assuming Rick Nash is healthy for the post season, so they could be the toughest out in the East.

Plenty of time to worry about that though, the Caps need to get back to finding their game, and that starts with working hard and moving their feet so they can work up and down the ice in a five man unit. The team has lost that over the last couple of weeks and need to get back to that in order to peak their game in April and May.

Notes: Ovechkin now leads the NHL in scoring with 41 goals and 65 points….the Gr8 was named the NHL’s 3rd star for the month of February and he’s now started March out with a bang…shot attempts were 63-60 for the Leafs, but they were trailing a lot and the blind zebras gave Toronto four power plays to Washington’s two. I didn’t think the officiating was consistent at all on Sunday but Washington was good enough and the Leafs were bad enough that it just didn’t matter…Toronto won the face off battle, 32-31…next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at 7 pm. Will Washington silence the cannon in a building they’ve struggled in for several years?

 

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a very well played hockey game, by both teams, the Washington Capitals won their fourth straight by besting the first place New York Islanders, 3-2, in the gimmick.

Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby (30 saves) and Chad Johnson (25 saves), had strong outings and it was the Islanders back up who made some big saves to keep his club in it in the middle frame.

Unlike the Penguins game on Tuesday, this was an extremely well officiated game and both teams only had one power play each. When Dave Jackson referees a contest, you usually get a good one, primarily because the players know what to expect and Jackson typically lets them decide the outcome. Kudos Dave and a hat tip to Steve Kozari, who fell in line and called one of his best games too.

With the limited power play time we were able to see two strong five on five teams duke it out. Washington had the edge for most of the contest and when Eric Fehr scored off of a sweet drop pass from Brooks Laich with 5:34 remaining it sure looked like the Capitals were going to win this one in regulation and pull to within three points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.

But then the Capitals coaching staff made some terrible player deployments and gifted New York a point by playing what football fans would call the prevent defense. From the 5:34 mark to the :48 time when Ryan Strome tied the game the Islanders had 14 straight shot attempts!

Yup, you got it, the Capitals didn’t fire a single biscuit towards the Isles cage. The main reason for that was some poor decisions by the coaches. Instead of playing Alexander Ovechkin’s line, he put out the possession black hole unit of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer the second shift after Fehr’s tally. That unit would get stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Somehow the Caps survived, but then Trotz chose not to use Ovechkin and Mike Green (was on for seven seconds) for the final three minutes until the Islanders scored. Ovechkin and Green are two of the top puck possession players on the Capitals roster, but for some reason the bench crew used others over them down the stretch. Even Jason Chimera logged 70 seconds in two shifts once it was 2-1 Caps instead of the Gr8 or Game Over Greenie. So that’s 0:00 ice time for Ovechkin and 0:07 of ice time for #52 once the Capitals led.

That’s unthinkable and I’ve blogged about the misuse of Green before, back in January, when the Caps get a lead.

My simple message to Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals coaches is this: Play your best players late in the game!

Going all defense is just that, you’ll be playing defense and just giving the other club more chances to tie things up. At least if you put your best players out there you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone and increasing your lead.

Oh well, that’s my rant on this victory, which should have come in regulation.

Still, it was a solid performance by the Caps, even though the Isles went with their backup goalie (but he was super) and are still missing Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski up front. With the two points the Capitals move to 33-17-10 (76 points). The Caps ended up going 2-0-2 against the Islanders this season while New York was 2-1-1 with their two victories coming in OT on 4 on 3 power plays. If these two teams meet in the post season, it should be a razor close series.

A win is a win is a win, and Caps fans, coaches and players will be happy with it, but let’s be honest, playing the prevent defense late in the game is a recipe for disaster that needs to be shredded by the coaching staff before the playoffs begin.

Washington will travel to Philadelphia through the snow to take on the Flyers at 12:30 on NBC on Sunday. The Flyers have been hot lately and have pulled within four points of a playoff spot (Boston is in 8th with 65 points) while the Caps are firmly entrenched in a spot for the Stanley Cup battle this spring. The Caps are 1-1-1 versus the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Notes: Shot attempts favored the Islanders 75-67, but that was because of the 14-0 late run that New York was given to tie the game…the Caps won the face off battle 38-34 but they lost three straight defensive zone key ones when New York had the goalie pulled…Matt Niskanen, who scored the Caps first goal, was the ice time leader with 25:37…Travis Hamonic, who opened the scoring, led the Isles in ice time with 25:17.

 

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since February 8th, the Nation’s Capital had their Dynamic Duo back in town at the Verizon Center, and boy did those two put on a hockey clinic.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and added an assist while Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals trounced the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1, on Thursday night.

Backstrom is now tied for the NHL lead in points (Patrick Kane) with 63 while leading the league in assists with 45. Ovechkin now has 38 goals to lead the NHL and he has 61 points, 3rd best in the NHL.

This had the makings of a classic trap game since it was Washington’s first home game after a cross country four game road trip.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed some good mental fortitude and showed up to play from the opening drop of the puck. The Caps tallied 14 minutes in on a John Carlson power play blast that looked to be deflected along the way. Then Ovechkin made an amazing play on the left wing to make it 2-0 with 1:25 to go in the opening frame.

Those two first period markers were ultra important because it brought the Verizon Center to life and the Caps were 18-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (h/t Mike Vogel). Winnipeg would get a fluky goal to cut it to 2-1 but then the Jets, who are the most penalized team in the NHL, did what they do best, started a parade to the penalty box to feel shame. Winnipeg took four penalties in a row and the Caps scored twice, both times with a delayed penalty being signaled. Backstrom made it 3-1 when he was simply trying to get the puck to the goalie to start a five on three (good things happen when you shoot) and then Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin fed #19 beautifully for the 4th goal with the Jets about to be whistled for too many dudes on the ice.

Troy Brouwer would add a shorthanded empty net goal with 6:27 remaining to seal the deal for Washington.

Braden Holtby was strong, when needed, in the cage again yielding only one tally on 20 shots. The Caps puck support was outstanding in this game and thus the Jets really didn’t get many good looks. They had the occasional strong cycle shift, but overall the Capitals kept the Jets speed and size in check. It was another impressive performance by the Caps in all zones.

“I thought we managed the game really well. In the third period, you’re up 4-1, you could easily forget detail, and you could forget a lot of stuff. We managed the game. We just kept playing, and it gets really frustrating for the other team. Everybody was doing their job, and when you’re doing your job and there’s no cheat in your game you get a lot done as a group of 20 every night,” said Trotz on a night his team once again maintained their focus.

With a near perfect night by the Caps over and done with, the Caps focus now moves to their last regular season meetings with the first place Islanders, the punks from Philly (Flyers), and the Penguins that will take place Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, respectively.

“It’s a fun, interesting division right now. Everyone seems to be playing pretty good. The only way to really make up any ground is to beat those teams that are right in front of us. It’s a massive challenge. We are excited about it. We haven’t seen them (the Islanders) in quite a while. It’s a big week for us. We need to string some winning streaks together, not just two or three, so it’s important,” said Karl Alzner, who is quietly having his best season as a Capital, on the upcoming slate of games.

The Capitals are certainly playing well. They are playing solid defense, getting good goaltending, and their checking line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward is stopping the opponents top line.

Most importantly, though, the Dynamic Duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom are playing at an ultra elite level and that is making Washington a very tough team to defeat.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shots on goal while Backstrom had five…shot attempt game totals were 62-59 in favor of the Jets… the Caps were 3 for 6 on the power play while Winnipeg was 0 for 3…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-27…Washington is now 32-17-10 (74 points)…Jason Chimera was scratched for the 2nd straight game.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Sizzles in Caps Win Over Ducks

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a listless effort in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals had one more chance to impress their fathers on the clubs annual Dad’s trip.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin made sure the team didn’t hose it up.

The Gr8 took over Sunday’s contest scoring two goals and setting up Andre Burakovsky for two more as Washington won a big road game in Anaheim over the Ducks, 5-3.

Justin Peters overcame a shaky beginning to stop 30 shots and win his first start since November 8th. #35 made several big saves once this one got to 4-3 and it was nice to see the team play well in front of him.

Washington needed to find another gear against a big and fast Ducks team and they did that on Sunday.

In Los Angeles, Coach Barry Trotz did not go with the same lineup and player combinations that he employed in Washington’s 4-0 white washing of the Kings on February 3rd at the Verizon Center. Instead he inserted Steve Oleksy on defense and scratched Burakovsky, who had played a factor in the first Caps goal in their previous three wins. It was a curious set of 20 and for those of you who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic), you knew I was not happy that 65 was getting scratched versus LA. The 3-1 loss, which really wasn’t as close as the score indicates, likely left Caps fans in a foul mood.

On Sunday, Trotz switched things up again putting Burakovsky with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and placing Marcus Johansson on the third line with Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Brooks Laich, who has been struggling mightily, was dropped to the 4th line, and Tom Wilson was scratched. In addition, Jack Hillen was back on D playing with Mike Green. The results were excellent and it was what the Capitals needed to win on the road in the latter half of a back to back situation, something they hadn’t done all season.

The only black mark in this one was the second line of Jason Chimera, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer, who were -2. I’m not a fan of 25 in the top six, but those of you who read my blogs and follow me on twitter already know that.

So this victory pushes the Caps to 30-17-10 (70 points) with 25 games remaining. Washington has a 10 point lead on the Panthers, who are in the 9th playoff spot (the Cats have two games in hand). The Capitals are going to return to the playoffs this spring so these last 25 games now become about preparing for the post season and seeding. Right now, the Caps would face the 1st place New York Islanders in round one, but the Metropolitan Division race is ultra tight.

More important than seeding though, is finding the right lineup. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have both talked about adding a piece or two for the stretch run, and likely at forward. But given the Capitals salary cap situation and the high prices that will be on the market, that may be tough to pull off between now and the March 2nd NHL trade deadline. So the next best option would be for the Caps to maximize the skill sets of Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. These two kids have immense talent and should be strong performers in years to come. But the future is now, so Trotz needs to do what he can to get these guys battle tested. Burakovsky stepped up on Sunday and it was nice to see Trotz still using him with three minutes left in a two goal game.

As the great Jim Ignatowksi of Taxi lore once said, “There is no substitute for experience!”

So Trotz needs to heed that advice and get these kids that exposure and prepare them for April and beyond.

As for Ovechkin, well he is just carrying this team and turning in another MVP calibre season. The Gr8 leads the NHL in goals with 36 and now has 57 points in 57 games. He’s also +11 after being a -35 in 2013-14. He’s playing the best two way game of his career and that defensive zone improvement is leading to transition goals for the Caps, as evidenced by the fifth Washington tally. On Sunday, much like many other games this season, Ovechkin was unstoppable leaving Ducks captain Ryan “Crying” Getzlaf whining in his post game presser despite the dirty slash #15 put on the Gr8, not to mention Corey Perry’s two handed whack to Karl Alzner’s neck.

So now it time for the Caps to thank their dad’s and then fly back to Pittsburgh and take on Sidney Crosby and company. The Penguins will have both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Tuesday. Pittsburgh is playing some good hockey and they took the Blackhawks to a shootout on Sunday before falling to some wonderful feats of skill from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. Washington is 2-0 against the Pens this season and have beaten them 3-0 and 4-0, so Tuesday should be a doozy.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 31-25 with Backstrom going 10-6 (one of those wins led to Ovi’s first tally)…the Ducks were 0-4 with the man advantage while the Caps were 1 for 5…this is the 2nd time this season that Ovechkin has had four points in a game…Brooks Orpik picked up an assist, his 14th of the season and the Capitals are undefeated when he does that…Alzner had 5 hits in 18:55 of ice time. #27 has really been improving under this coaching staff.

 

 

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