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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Johansson Rallies the Caps Past Buffalo in OT

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson blasted a slapper past Robin Lehner 2:38 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory to end their three game losing streak. It was fitting that Johansson, who also scored the game tying goal with 6:18 remaining, tallied the game winner because he’s been outstanding all season and now has 11 goals on the campaign.

The Caps other goal on this night came from their most determined player, Jay Beagle, who tallied his fifth of the season on a redirection of a great pass from Brooks Orpik in the middle frame. That tied the game at one.

Beagle, Johansson, and the injured T.J. Oshie have been the hardest working and best Capitals forwards this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, lately the word “hard working” has not been a part of the game plan for many of the players. Since Oshie went down with a shoulder injury against the Red Wings on Friday, November 18th, the Capitals have missed his energy and aggressiveness that typically rubs off on the other players. Oshie is the best on the team at winning one on one puck battles. His absence has showed as the team was 2-3-1 without #77 heading into Monday’s tilt with the Sabres.

Buffalo was missing three key defensemen in Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Josh Gorges, however, they came to play at the Verizon Center while the Capitals appeared to continue to take the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” mantra a little too seriously.

For several weeks, the Caps effort has been suspect and multiple forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson have been underperforming in terms of production. After losing to the Penguins last spring, Washington seemed to get caught up a little too much in being a speed team at the expense of an aspect of their game that makes them elite, heavy hockey.

The Capitals forecheck has been MIA for weeks and the lack of hitting from a big hockey club has been evident. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that heading into this contest I had enough of the soft and uninspired play. Unfortunately, for 40 minutes on Monday, that trend continued.

After the second period, in which the Capitals trailed, 2-1, former Capital and stellar Comcast analyst Alan May summed up the Caps last 20 minutes of play, one in which they were outshot, 16-7, in a perfect seven words: “out hustled, out muscled, and out shot.”

You could take that statement and apply it to many of the periods the Caps have played since Oshie went down (and there were duds, at times, before #77 was hurt, too). They were downright awful and so far away from what had made them successful that they were getting manhandled by a cellar dweller team that was missing three NHL caliber defensemen.

Luckily for Washington, they have an all world goalie in Braden Holtby (31 saves), who once again, much like last Saturday in Tampa, kept the Caps in it until they could get their “you know what” together.

Apparently Coach Trotz finally reached a boiling point, as well, and according to Comcast Caps reporter Jill Sorenson he lit into the team after that second frame. It was well deserved because this club was playing as soft as butter.

The coach also tinkered with his lines and also shuffled up his defensive pairings, something I have been calling on for several weeks. John Carlson was reunited with Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov was paired with Matt Niskanen. Suddenly there was some stability on the back end now that you had an offensive minded defensemen paired with a solid defender in his own end on each of the top two pairs.

The fixes on the back end certainly helped support the forwards, who began playing with passion and were finally taking the body. Washington was relentless from the 13:00 mark of the third period on and it was because they were skating, hitting, and forcing turnovers. Even Kuznetsov, who has been shying away from physical play quite a bit, put a strong hit on Justin Falk to help force a neutral zone turnover and keep the pressure on Buffalo near the midpoint of the period.

Naturally, the results started coming once they played the way that fits them best. Fortunately, though, the opponents were a depleted Sabres lineup and they were able to get away with a 40 minute absence. That type of effort, though, won’t cut it against the better teams in the league.

Look, you absolutely cannot play “balls to the wall” hard every night in an 82 game season that’s followed by up to two months of playoffs, but you can’t keep taking nights off in a very balanced league. Washington had gotten too lackluster with their performances and heading into Monday found themselves in fifth place in points in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, they have games in hand on many of the teams above them, but given the trend of not showing up and being committed, things were getting dicey. For 40 minutes on Monday, there was little sign that Washington was going to break out of their funk.

Luckily they did, so it is okay to be pleased with the way the Capitals played in the third period and overtime. It’s good to know, like we saw when they blew the doors off of the Penguins, 7-1, a few weeks ago, that they can amp their game up. However, there are still guys on this roster who are struggling, and to get out of it they’ll have to be more committed to the physical aspects of the game and win more of the one on one puck battles. If they do that more consistently, the wins and points will come in bunches.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:27…Johansson logged 20:00 and scored on his only two shots, the first of which was a power play deflection of a Carlson blast that was on net (#74 been struggling to do that for several games)…Alex Ovechkin played 21:57 and only had one shot on net. He hasn’t played well since the hat trick game against the Blues. Right before the Sabres made it 2-1, he was at fault on what would’ve been Buffalo’s 2nd goal when he failed to take a proper pass from Brooks Orpik on the boards. Luckily the Caps correctly challenged and won it since the Sabres were offside on their zone entry…Beagle led the Caps with six shots on goal in 17:24 of ice time, including 36 seconds on the 2nd power play unit…Wilson didn’t have a shot on net, but he made a great play on the PK late in the game when it was tied. #43 has been really good at killing penalties, but the Caps need him to be more physically involved at even strength…Brett Connolly was scratched, which was surprising to me given that he played great against Buffalo in the Caps last win before Monday and he had been getting lots of chances, plus he is a good physical fore checker…next up for the Caps are the Bruins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm (NBC Rivalry Night).

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Caps Blanked At Home by the Islanders, 3-0

Posted on 02 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are bad losses and then there are really bad losses.

Thursday night’s Capitals 3-0 defeat to the New York Islanders falls into the latter category.

New York was playing their third game in four nights and arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning, except for goalie Jarolsav Halak (38 saves), who was smartly sent in a day early since GM Garth Snow continues to carry three goalies.

So this should have been a game where the Caps could take advantage of a tired opponent and get two points, right?

Well, for 40 minutes, it looked like Washington was poised to do just that. The Caps carried much of the play through those first two periods and had four power play chances to just two for the Islanders. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew would build a 52-36 advantage in shot attempts, but the problem was that none of them got by Halak and into the cage.

Through 40 minutes, Justin Williams alone had six shots on goal and that didn’t count the one he came 1/10th of a second from scoring right as the first period horn sounded. #14 is playing some good hockey and getting more than his share of chances, but if you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary right now, you’ll see a picture of Mr. Crazy Hair.

During those first two frames New York did have several quality chances themselves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Cizikas in the middle period after he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. However, Braden Holtby (25 saves) would stop #53 and that was just one of many the Holtbeast made to keep his club even.

As the final period began, the prevailing thought was that the Caps would use the rest to their advantage while the Islanders would wilt from fatigued wheels.

That was not the case.

Just over three minutes into the final stanza, Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over at the offensive blue line giving Shane Prince a breakaway and he was the first to solve Holtby on this night.

Okay, no biggie, right? Orlov made a mistake and his partner wasn’t able to cover for him either, but it’s only one goal and there’s still nearly 17 minutes left.

Move on from it and get it back.

That’s where the game and this defensive pair once again went off of the rails. Nearly three and half minutes later, John Carlson went behind his net to play a puck and he backhanded it to Orlov to the left of Holtby below the goal line. Both Islanders forwards were coming at Dmitry on an aggressive forecheck. At that point, #9 had two options, eat the puck and take a hit and wait for reinforcements, or even better, he could wheel the puck hard around the boards and give the Capitals an odd man rush situation with two opponents trapped in the offensive zone. Instead Orlov panicked and chose the third option, which even five year old mite players know not to do; he tried a blind, backhanded pass up the middle of the ice, which was quickly gathered up by the Islanders. Following another great initial save by Holtby, New York potted the rebound to go up 2-0.

That mental mistake was the dagger for Washington on this night and Jason Chimera then threw salt in the wound going right around Nate Schmidt after an Ovechkin neutral zone turnover to close out the scoring.

It was a swift and stunning three goals in less than five minutes for the Islanders and they were able to win their third straight tilt, all in four nights.

Wait a minute; aren’t you supposed to run out of gas on that third game in four nights, like the Capitals did in Toronto last Saturday? Well, someone forgot to tell New York that because they never let down and kept skating while Washington mentally wilted over the last 20 minutes.

It was red flag city for the Capitals, who are now 2-3 without T.J. Oshie in the lineup (speaking of which, let’s lock #77 up long term, okay?). The power play was a disaster giving up multiple shorthanded chances and for the night it went 0 for 6 in 12 minutes of time! That’s downright awful. There is not enough movement, shots aren’t coming frequently or quick enough, and the right point shot is not getting through and opening things up for the flanks. Bottom line, had the power play clicked earlier then we likely aren’t all over Orlov for this one.

But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.

Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.

With the loss the Capitals fall to 13-7-2 and are now in fourth place in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Things are not good in Caps land right now, they are getting strong goaltending, but they aren’t burying enough of their chances and they are also not working hard enough or smart enough to generate some gritty goals. In addition, defensive breakdowns and bad chemistry, primarily with the Orlov-Carlson pairing, are allowing too many easy opportunities for the opponents.

This was a really bad loss on Thursday. No two ways about it.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Islanders 87-47…Washington won the faceoff battle, 29-28. Jay Beagle was 8-5…Orlov was benched after the second goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:41 and he had six shots on net, second only to Williams, who had seven…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts in 24:47, but only four made it on net. The Gr8 took the Caps only two penalties…Jakub Vrana made his NHL debut for the Caps and logged 10:10. He had four shots on net and looked more comfortable as the game went on…Andre Burakovsky had 0 shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.

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Caps Destroy the Penguins, 7-1

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Motivation and effort were not an issue on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center as the Washington Capitals totally destroyed the Pittsburgh Penguins, 7-1. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and three assists while T.J. Oshie also scored twice and added two helpers to lead the Caps offense out of its recent slumber. Braden Holtby made 25 saves in net against the defending Stanley Cup Champions as Washington improved to 10-4-2.

There were so many positives to take out of this game, starting with the effort and passion. The Caps, who played in Columbus and lost in OT on Tuesday, then flew home afterwards while the Penguins rested in DC, were all over the ice for the full 60 minutes. They were skating, hitting, and putting pucks in the correct places on the rink. They played a north-south game that gave the Penguins fits and this one was over quickly.

Washington tallied three times in the first frame with Oshie opening the scoring shorthanded on a rebound goal after a Jay Beagle breakaway was stopped by Matt Murray. Backstrom then made it 2-0 with 2:30 left in period one on a goal similar to his marker in Columbus on Tuesday, a shot from the slot while using the defender as a screen. Then with eight seconds remaining and the Caps on a four on three advantage, Oshie buried the rebound of a John Carlson blast.

The Caps then gave Pittsburgh little hope of getting back in the game with a dominant second period. They outshot the Pens, 13-6, in those middle 20 minutes, but somehow only potted one puck (Dmitry Orlov’s first goal of the season on a three on two rush set up by Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) past Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury entered this affair late in period one when starter Murray was hit in the head twice by Evgeni Malkin and was forced to leave the contest.

What was most pleasing was the way the Capitals didn’t take their foot off of the gas in the third period. Washington came out flying and they kept the pressure on Pittsburgh. There was no sitting back like they did recently against Columbus and Chicago, or when they blew a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago. No, on this night, the Caps displayed a killer instinct that they’ve been talking about developing for years.

They stomped on the Penguins throats in this one with Justin Williams finally scoring just over five minutes into the last frame, albeit on a 5 on 3, and then Alex Ovechkin made it 6-0 on a sweet breakaway goal just after the 10 minute mark. Phil Kessel would break the Holtbeast shutout with 3:32 left when Orlov didn’t tie him up at the side of the net, but Backstrom erased that marker with a goal just 30 seconds later to close out the scoring.

It was a win the Capitals badly needed after scoring just five goals in their previous four games. They played with a purpose and got back to the things that make them successful; coming into the offensive zone with speed, getting pucks on net or below the goal line so they can use their size, and crashing the cage for rebounds. There was maximum effort and attention to detail. Gone from their game were the sloppy east-west passes they had been employing at the opponents blue line and it made a huge difference in the outcome. The Penguins defense repeatedly had to go back and get pucks deep in their own zone and the Caps took over that part of the ice, which is one of their strengths.

Bottom line on NBC Rivalry night, there was an ass-kicking that took place and the Capitals delivered it to their arch rivals on Wednesday evening.

So see ya Penguins and take your arrogant banner tweet home with you.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 45-35 and out shot attempted the Penguins, 68-46. That’s all about the effort as Washington totally manhandled Mike Sullivan’s club…in addition to his five points, Backstrom was 18-9 on face-offs.  Most of those draws came against Sidney Crosby, who went 8-18 and was a -3 on the evening. His biggest contribution in this affair was yelling at the referees…the Caps were rewarded for their effort with seven power plays and scored on two of them, a 4 on 3 and a 5 on 3. The only area you could complain about for the Capitals was the 5 on 4 man advantage which went 0 for 5 in this tilt and needs work…Ovechkin left the game briefly in period two after Kris Letang tripped him, but the Russian Machine that Never Breaks returned to get a breakaway tally and end his four game goalless streak in the third period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Ovechkin played 18:38…Letang led the Pens with 23:50, but he was -5 (on the ice for every Washington even strength goal)…final shots on goal were 39-26 in favor of the good guys.

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Lack of Offense Costs the Capitals Again, 2-1

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Cam Atkinson scored off of an offensive draw in overtime to defeat the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in Columbus. The loss was the Caps 3rd in their last four games and they are finding it hard to score goals. Washington’s record now stands at 9-4-2.

Coming into this tilt, the Capitals were buried by the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Saturday night, 5-1. So Caps Coach Barry Trotz switched up his lines in an attempt to get the offense, which is struggling mightily, to come out of its slumber. The move did not work.

Sure, there was really no chemistry on the ice with the Washington forwards, however, Coach Trotz can keep shuffling his lines all he wants, but if the Washington players are going to keep playing the wrong way, it won’t matter.

Too often the Capitals players come up the ice and as soon as they are gaining the offensive zone blue line, they are trying to dish the biscuit in an east-west fashion instead of either firing the biscuit at the cage and going for rebounds or dumping the puck in a location that allows the wingers to beat the opponents blue liners to the puck. Washington is too fancy and making life far too easy for the other squad. Too often the passes are picked off and the Caps find themselves chasing the other way. Those turnovers are leading to easy routes to the Washington zone and the Capitals are forced to back up in their own end.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring in this one on a rush just after the game’s 35 minute mark on a smart offensive zone play. #19 received a good breakout pass from Brooks Orpik and he raced up the middle of the ice and forced the Columbus defenders to back up. Instead of trying to make a pass, Nicky fired the puck on net and it beat Sergei Bobrovsky glove side. Good things happen when you shoot the puck (Memo to the Caps players!!). That gave Washington a 1-0 lead, despite the fact that the Capitals were pretty much outskated for the first 30 minutes.

You’d think that goal, combined with the fact that the Caps sat back in Chicago and lost a one goal third period lead to the Blackhawks on Friday night would be motivation enough to work hard in the final frame and properly close out the Blue Jackets, right? Well, to quote the great Adam Sandler, “The price is wrong, Bob!”

Washington tried to play defense too much on Tuesday night and, as a result, the Blue Jackets kept coming into the zone with speed. That allowed 19 year old rookie sensation Zach Werenski to tie the game up with 6:58 remaining. The Caps immediately applied pressure the other way and appeared to take the lead on a Backstrom tally via a goal mouth scramble, but Columbus Coach John Tortorella alertly challenged the play, saying T.J. Oshie came into the zone offside, and he was correct.

The Blue Jackets then carried the remainder of regulation, except for a late quality shift from Jay Beagle, who nearly won the game with 10 seconds left on a shot in the slot. In OT, it only took 37 seconds for the Blue Jackets to win as Backstrom lost a defensive zone face off and “Bang” the puck was in the back of the net behind Philipp Grubauer (25 saves).

Grubauer was very good in this game and if not for him, the Caps probably trail early on. Most notably, he made some big saves on a second period Blue Jackets power play when the game was scoreless. Washington was solid on the penalty kill and that included Beagle, the team’s hardest worker, drawing a trip while shorthanded.

But the Capitals power play is in a funk, as well. Part of that is due to the lack of reps and you can’t blame the referees. The problem is Washington is not skating hard enough to draw penalties. In the last four games, the Caps have had 3, 0, 2, and 2 man advantage situations. You won’t get any rhythm that way and frankly, when they have a power play, the set up looks old and stale. There is no threat from the blue line right now and that is hurting the units. John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov need to shoot more when they are out there.

Coach Trotz keeps talking about “will over skill” and somehow the message is not hitting home with these players. Maybe they are pacing themselves for the playoffs or perhaps they aren’t motivated this early in the season? It is a long one, but if they don’t start putting out a better effort and start winning the loose puck battles again, they are going to get passed by other teams in the standings. Columbus is now just two points behind the Caps at 8-4-2, but they have a game in hand. The Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who the Capitals will face on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 7:30, are both already ahead of Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

Things are ugly for the Caps right now. They have a lot of talent and skill on this roster up front, but they aren’t working hard enough to take advantage of it.

On the blue line, the Carlson and Dmitry Orlov pair is not working. Both players like to rush the biscuit up the ice so each needs a more defensive partner to balance things out. I’d like to see either Karl Alzner or Brooks Orpik put with #74 to try and get him going. He has 0 goals in 15 games and I put part of that on breaking in a new defensive partner, who is not very good in his own end.

Simply put, the Capitals are not clicking. They look like an unmotivated and lazy hockey team at this juncture in the season.

Notes: the Caps were out shot attempted, 59-52. Shots on goal were 27-22 for the Blue Jackets…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-27. Beagle went 6-3…Alex Ovechkin paced the Caps with four shots on goal…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:29…Ovechkin was -2 and only played 14:12…Braden Holtby will start against the Penguins on Wednesday against the Defending Stanley Cup Champions.

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Caps Win in Overtime Thanks to the Holtbeast

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson’s rocket of a shot off of a Dmitry Orlov feed 2:20 into overtime allowed the Washington Capitals to knock off Jonathan Toews and company in the Windy city on Friday night, 3-2.

The Caps, who received two goals from Jay Beagle in the opening frame, including a shorthanded tally, led this game from 14:44 of the 1st period until 23 seconds left (nearly 45 minutes of action), when Marian Hossa tied it with Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a deflating goal for the Capitals, but they showed mental toughness once again and found a way to get a big two points.

Washington played well in stretches in this one, and they held Toews and Patrick Kane to a total of one shot on net. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the main reasons for that on the back end.

But Chicago had their share of chances due to their risk-reward style of play and in the first 30 minutes they could’ve potted several tallies, if not for the Holtbeast. Braden Holtby made 32 saves on the night and he was dialed in from the opening puck drop. He was easily the game’s number one star, in my book, and if not for his outstanding goaltending, the Caps likely lose.

As for Beagle, his line didn’t get a ton of ice time, he only logged 9:59, but #83, Zach Sanford and Daniel Winnik were relentless on the puck all game and that was because they were skating. Beagle’s first tally came shorthanded after Niskanen forced a neutral zone turnover, which got the puck to T.J. Oshie (1 assist, +2) on the left wing. Oshie and Beagle had a two on one rush and #77 made a gorgeous pass to Beags, who deposited it in the yawning cage with Crawford having no chance.

It was Beagle’s first ever shorthanded goal, but the Blackhawks would answer on that power play just 22 seconds later when Brian Campbell’s shot appeared to deflect off of a Capitals stick ever so slightly, which allowed it to get by Holtby.

Beagle’s next goal came at even strength. Daniel Winnik made a strong play to get Beags the puck in the offensive zone right wing circle and he alertly carried around the net. Sanford smartly went to the net and that not only drew a Blackhawks defender, but Crawford seemed sure that a pass was coming into the slot and that slight hesitation allowed Jay to stuff the puck in at the far post for a beauty of a wraparound marker.

The middle frame saw both teams get some great chances, including Oshie on a breakaway, but he never got a shot off because Duncan Keith hooked his gloves, but the referees missed it. Justin Williams also had a one on one situation, but he was forced to his backhand and was denied nicely by Crawford. “Stick” is playing some good hockey and he’s getting quality chances, they just aren’t going in.

After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were even at 21 each, but you knew Chicago, who had won seven straight contests coming into this game, was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at the Capitals. They did generate 13 shots primarily as a result of Washington sitting back too much, especially over the last 10 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz had his team employing a 1-4 set up that was geared to throttle the Blackhawks ability to come flying into the offensive zone with speed. It worked, for the most part, but in the end, not trying enough to score at the other end caused a roll of the dice situation at the end of the game. I’d have much preferred that the Capitals were more aggressive on the fore check, which could’ve forced Chicago to play more in their own zone. Over those last 10 minutes, there was only one shift where the Capitals had any sustained pressure and offensive zone chances, and that came from the Beagle line with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, with the speed and pace of play in the NHL these days, you can’t sit back on a one goal lead like that too often and get away with it. The coaches need to adjust their strategy going forward since the best defense is a good offense.

With the victory, the Capitals improved to 9-3-1 on the season and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer goals (28 to 24). Washington is playing good defense, for the most part, but they haven’t really gotten the offense untracked. The power play is struggling, but in this contest, that unit never even received a chance to go on the ice since Chicago was not penalized, at all.

Overall though, a win against a quality opponent that’s won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010 is an impressive accomplishment. The Caps can thank Holtby for keeping them in a game they might’ve been blown out of had #70 not been so on his craft on Friday night.

Notes: Niskanen, who was outstanding in this game, logged 25:18 to lead all Caps in ice time. Keith played 27:00 for Chicago…Oshie fell down on the winning goal and the Blackhawks defender tripped over him. Chicago wanted a penalty, but the referees deemed it incidental contact, which it was…Chicago out shot attempted the Caps, 59-51…Carlson and Orlov were an adventure for several shifts. They allowed multiple odd man rushes and after a strong game against San Jose, #9 had an erratic and inconsistent contest…Taylor Chorney suited up for his first game of the season. He played 13:31 and handled himself well. Nate Schmidt was the scratch on the blue line and Brett Connolly was the odd man out up front…Johansson now has seven goals on the season (tied with Alex Ovechkin)…the Caps will travel to Raleigh overnight and take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Saturday. Expect Philipp Grubauer in net for Washington.

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Ovechkin Bails Out the Caps in Overtime

Posted on 03 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On a night when they blew a three goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals really needed their captain and best player to step up and win the game.

Alexander Ovechkin did just that with a rocket of a top shelf shot on the power play with 1:39 left in overtime to give the Capitals a victory and much relief.

The Gr8 notched two goals and an assist in this one while his career long center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and two helpers. They were the best players on the ice for Washington along with T.J. Oshie, who played on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky.

The Caps took awhile to get their legs going in this one, but once they did late in period one, they dominated throughout the second period and led 3-0 after 40 minutes. After only four first frame shots on goal, Washington was all over the Jets firing 18 pucks at Michael Hutchinson (28 saves) in the middle stanza. Winnipeg was pretty fortunate to only be down by that much, at that point.

In the third period, the Capitals received an early power play after Justin Williams failed to convert on a breakaway (Evgeny Kuznetsov was hooked on the play trying to make it a two on none rush) and then the horror show began. Washington lazily carried the puck out of their own end and tried a low percentage backhanded pass across the center of the ice that the Jets picked off. They would skate in and Braden Holtby (24 saves) tried to come out and play the puck, but it bounced off of him and then he and John Carlson collided giving Winnipeg a gift shorthanded tally. It was an ugly, train wreck of a goal and that is being positive about the play.

That marker gave the Jets life and they started skating while the Caps delved into a reach fest. Winnipeg continually kept coming at the Caps and just over three minutes after they made it 3-1, they pulled within a goal.

Dustin Byfuglien picked off a bad Dmitry Orlov clear in the neutral zone and went flying into the offensive zone. Orlov, who is not the best skater, tried to match D-Buff’s speed and mistakenly went with him around the back of the net, but a good step behind #33 and with his stick in terrible position. Simply put, he was in no man’s land and it showed his continual lack of defensive zone awareness and ability. What he should have done was hit the brakes at the side of the net, let Byfuglien go alone behind the cage, and yelled “switch” to his defensive partner, Carlson. However, because he got himself out of position, Carlson and the forwards felt forced to turn towards the puck carrier and vacate the slot. That’s a no-no, but given Orlov’s inability to play his end correctly, it threw everything out of whack. Adam Lowry found himself standing all alone in the slot and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Winnipeg then found another gear while the Caps looked in shock and the Jets tied it up with over eight minutes remaining after another shot from the slot where the Capitals defense was lost. Carlson and Nate Schmidt were the victims and that was three straight tallies where #74 was on the ice. Carlson is struggling a bit, and I put a lot of that on being paired with the wrong type of player. John likes to join the rush, but to do that he needs a strong defensive partner. It might be time for Coach Barry Trotz to switch up the defensive pairs and put him back with Karl Alzner or Brooks Oprik because Orlov’s erratic play is hurting both of their games.

Another problem area is the power play. At five on four they are not clicking and the first four resulted in zero goals for and a shortie allowed. That’s unacceptable. The units are too stationary and the point shots with traffic are not coming near often enough.

Luckily for the Capitals, the overtime power play was a four on three and they had more ice to work with, which allowed for Ovechkin to do what he does best, score goals from his office.

The win pushes the Caps overall record to 7-2-1, which is 15 points and on pace for 123 for the season, but it’s early. This team is really strong up front and when they move their feet and use their size, we see their awesomeness, as we did in period two. However, when they stop skating the problems mount, especially with the issues on the back end. Their top three of Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Carlson are typically really good, but as mentioned earlier, #74 needs a steady partner in his own zone so he can play more to his strengths. That’s not happening here in the early going.

Sure the Capitals were tired after traveling all over the place since Friday night and playing four games in six nights, but they have to be better at locking down a lead. That’s two games in a row where they allowed a non playoff squad like the Jets to come back and tie a game when down multiple pucks in the final frame.

Washington is winning, but it’s all about the process, and the type of glaring mistakes we’ve seen in their own end, at times, won’t cut it in the post season.

Notes: The Caps were excellent on the penalty kill, going for two for two. Oshie and Jay Beagle are excelling in those roles and the Holtbeast made some strong saves while shorthanded, as well…the Caps outshot attempted Winnipeg, 65-53 and won the faceoff battle, 35-25…Ovi had eight shots on goal…Kuznetsov was 10-5 on draws, which is a good sign…Orpik led the Caps with five hits…Eller made a great hit to set up the Oshie goal that made it 2-0 and Ovechkin’s hit helped set up his first goal, that made it 3-0. Washington needs to keep using its size to create turnovers in the offensive zone…next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

 

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Holtby Delivers for the Caps in Winnipeg

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their third game in four nights in Western Canada, the weary Washington Capitals relied heavily on some timely scoring plays and their goaltender, Braden Holtby, to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2. It was the Caps third straight victory to finish their four game road trip after an opening loss in Edmonton last Wednesday. The win improves their overall record to 6-2-1 (13 points).

The Caps likely lose this game if not for the Holtbeast, who stopped 43 shots. Washington scored the game’s first two goals. Karl Alzner notched his 2nd marker of the season with a sweet shot from the top of the slot after Brett Connolly made a great hit in the corner to force a Winnipeg turnover. After #10’s super forecheck, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) alertly grabbed the biscuit and swung it to Marcus “Red Hot” Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist), who then found Alzner all alone. King Karl put it precisely in the right top corner to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 19:16 gone in period one.

Washington would double their lead in the middle frame, again as a result of a forced turnover. Johansson stripped the Jets of the puck in the neutral zone and fed Kuznetsov, who streaked down the left wing boards. Tom Wilson smartly made a bee line for the left side of the net and all of the Jets defenders went towards him thinking that Kuzy was going to try one of his patented no look, behind the back passes. To quote the great Ron White, “They were wrong!” and Kuzy carried around the cage and fed an all alone Jojo in the slot. #90 buried it at 8:15 of the middle stanza for his 6th goal of the season and his team leading 11th point.

From there the game went back and forth with the Jets firing a lot of pucks from the outside. Holtby did have to make a huge save on one sequence after Dmitry Orlov was beaten (again) on defense and then T.J. Oshie somehow played second goalie to keep the disc from crossing the red line. After that the Caps did a good job of holding the Jets to perimeter shots through 40 minutes.

But in the final stanza, the Capitals legs grew fatigued and they started reaching instead of moving their feet to play defense. The Caps were still up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go and per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) the team was 71-1-6 under Coach Barry Trotz when leading at that point in the game.

Things were looking good; especially after Oshie hustled to draw a trip and take the Jets off of a power play. Shortly thereafter though, Nate Schmidt got outmuscled in a four on four situation and Alzner went down to block a pass putting himself out of position for a Jets rebound and the subsequent goal at the 13:04 mark.

No problem still, right? Well, not so fast. Washington was fading and when Brooks Orpik missed a hit on the right wing boards and John Carlson made a bad decision to try and hit Joel Armia, the puck was passed easily to Adam Lowry all alone in front of Holtby. He then deked the pride of Saskatchewan to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket to tie the game up with 2:25 left.

At that point, overtime seemed imminent, but Washington forced an offensive zone draw and Coach Trotz had Jay Beagle take the faceoff. Beags won the draw back to Carlson and then fought his way towards the net. Carlson’s point shot found #83 in front and he backhanded it past Connor Hellebucyk for the win with just 30 ticks remaining.

It was a huge goal and the first of the season for the Regal Beagle.

This was not one of the Capitals better performances, but that’s to be expected given the travel and schedule. They needed a top game from their all world goalie and they received it. In addition, there are several guys who are in the groove offensively, such as Oshie, Johansson, Beagle, and Kuznetsov and the Caps rode them to victory.

The line of Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Wilson has been really strong as has been the Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Oshie unit. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams continue to try and find chemistry, but given how well the other three lines, to include Beagle, Connolly, and Zach Sanford are playing, Coach Trotz likely needs to let those stars work their way through it.

On defense, the Alzner and Matt Niskanen pair has been excellent. Carlson and Orlov have not been a duo you can wager your cash on so far this season and I put most of that on #9. He’s still deficient too often in his own zone. Orpik and Schmidt form a decent third pair since #88 is good at rushing the puck and #44 is sound defensively, but both made mistakes on the Jets goals in this one. Simply put, one has to think that GM Brian MacLellan is looking at potential defensemen to bring in in the event that things don’t improve on the back end.

Let’s be honest, this team has a strong group of 13 forwards with the additions of Eller, Connolly, and Sanford, but the defense, which let them down when suspensions and injuries hit last spring is still a big question mark.

On Tuesday night in Winnipeg, however, the Caps were fortunate to have one of the game’s best goalies deliver them the two points.

Long live the Holtbeast!

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-48 for Winnipeg and shots on goal were 45-27…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:50…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, but only three made it on net…the Caps did dominate from the dot and that was key in the victory, going 37-28. Beagle and Backstrom were both 10-5…Connolly led the Capitals in hits with four and he was one of the best Washington players in this one…the Caps and Winnipeg will play again in their final meeting of the season on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Ovechkin and Oshie Help Caps Blank the Avs, 3-0

Posted on 18 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin made no mistake about who the best player on the ice was on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Gr8 scored the game winning power play goal in the first period off of a nice Dmitry Orlov feed and assisted on T.J. Oshie’s second tally of the night late in the third period to close out a 3-0 Caps victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

The Caps improved to 2-0-1 on this young season and they’ve taken over first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Ovi was everywhere in this one with nine shot attempts, five of which were on net, three takeaways, two hits, and a whole new rash of penalty minutes (three minors). His goal and assist were his first points of the season and his line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov had 15 of the 40 shots on goal the Capitals would throw at Semyon Varlamov in this tilt. If not for Varly, it would’ve been more of a blowout.

Oshie (two goals) led the Caps with six shots on net and he was downright dominant on the boards and in front of the net. His first goal was a power play marker in the slot that came off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s power play looked really strong against Colorado going two for five and improving it on the season from John Blutarsky’s grade point average (0.0) to 15.3% (2 for 13) overall. Special teams were strong in this one for the Caps since they also blanked the Avalanche on all three of their shorthanded situations.

The Caps have now played 185 minutes of hockey and have allowed exactly one even strength goal and just three overall. With Braden Holtby, who was honored in the pregame for his 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winning season with his adorable family present, sitting this one out to prepare for Florida on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday, Philipp Grubauer received the call between the pipes and he posted his first NHL shutout. Grubauer didn’t have to make too many big saves, but he made them when they counted and stopped all 18 biscuits he faced. Yes, you read that correctly, the Avalanche only had 18 shots on goal.

Part of that was the fact that Colorado did the Capitals a huge favor by knocking off the Penguins on Monday night in overtime and then coming in tired for this game. The other factor was Washington’s dominant skating and effort. The Caps were simply all over the Avs from the opening puck drop, outshooting them 20-5 in period one, and never really gave Colorado a chance to win the game.

The closest opportunity they had to get in the game was late in period two when Nathan MacKinnon had a wide open cage, but missed the net when the puck rolled on him. Had the 2012 #1 NHL pick scored there, it would’ve been a 2-1 affair, but he misfired and the Capitals once again gave up minimal chances in the final frame to provide Grubauer with likely the easiest shutout he’ll ever have.

Going up and down the lineup, it was hard to find a Washington player that did not perform well. Orlov had a highlight reel hit on Avs superstar Matt Duchene and played a strong two way game. His shot is a real asset to the offense. Brett Connolly received his first sweater of the season and had some quality scoring chances. Overall, #10 had four shots on goal and four hits in 11:47 of ice time. He fit nicely on the line with Justin Williams and Lars Eller. Tom Wilson, playing with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle, had a quality game and he got under the skin of future NHL Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla, and coerced #12 to take an instigator penalty in the middle stanza. That infraction was costly for the Avs since Oshie notched Washington’s second tally of the night on the ensuing power play.

On defense, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen each played over 22 minutes while Orlov and Karl Alzner were right around 19 minutes. Brooks Orpik, who was +1 and very solid on the back end, logged 16:29 while Nate Schmidt saw just under 13 minutes of action. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden have been able to rotate their defensemen fairly well in the three games this season, which should help keep everyone fresh and healthy.

Simply put, this was a complete effort and strong performance from the Caps. In the three games they’ve played, they have looked very good and have started quickly in all of them. Faster starts and a killer instinct were things this team wanted to work on this campaign and so far, so good. Their only blemish was losing in the skills competition in Pittsburgh, and those things are coin flips.

On Tuesday night, the special teams were back clicking and Washington was doing a nice job of putting pucks on the net with traffic. Those types of things add up to lots of victories.

Most importantly on this evening, the Captain came to play and he was downright dominant. The Gr8 showed that when he’s focused, he’s the best goal scorer this game has ever seen.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-36 for the Caps, that’s pure domination…Marcus Johansson had two power play assists…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-27, Backstrom went 13-4 and Beagle was 6-3…no Capital played less than 10 minutes and none played over 24 minutes, that’s balance…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42…the Avs were 2-0 coming into this game…Washington is in Florida on Thursday at 7:30 pm and home against the Rags at 7 pm on Saturday night.

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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