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Holtby Holds the Fort In Caps 3-2 Win Over Montreal

Posted on 04 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).

Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.

So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.

However, it wasn’t easy.

After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.

The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.

The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.

Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.

In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.

Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.

When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.

This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.

As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.

This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.

Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.

Woof!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.

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Ovi Devils

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Caps Offense Reignites in 5-2 Win Over New Jersey

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.

The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.

For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.

During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.

At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.

#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.

Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.

For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.

Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.

With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.

Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.

With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.

Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.

Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…

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Caps Beat blues

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Caps Offense Stays Hot in 7-3 Win Over Blues

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period when St. Louis carried the play and the Caps erupted for six goals in the first 40 minutes to turn Thursday night’s affair in the Midwest into a laugher.

Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all lit the lamp for Washington as they buried the Blues, 7-3.

Believe it or not, this was not a good first 21 minutes for Washington. They were sloppy with the puck and Coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad was dominating them with an aggressive forecheck. The shot attempts in the first frame were 20-9 for the home squad and it was clear, after Monday’s defensive meltdown in the Steel City, that the Capitals were still clearly missing number one defensemen, John Carlson, on the back end.

The Holtbeast, who was chased in that mess of an officiating affair on Monday in Da Burgh, rebounded as he always does after a game in which he’s pulled to carry the Capitals through a very shaky first frame. The Blues put a lot of rubber on #70, but he did have a good look at most pucks and very few were from the prime scoring area.

At the other end, the Caps received Burakovsky’s 8th of the season on a shot Jake Allen (4 goals allowed on 10 shots) definitely wanted back. Then just 124 seconds later Tom Wilson made a great hit on the fore check and then Daniel Winnik made a sweet pass to Beagle in the slot and #83 buried it. Out went Allen and the Blues, who had carried the play in the first four minutes, started taking over again after those two Capitals goals. Carter Hutton came in for a couple of minutes, but then Hitchcock went back to Allen.

St. Louis looked like they were going to make a game of this one when Jaden Schwartz scored just 19 seconds into period two. Karl Alzner was tied up with Alex Steen in front and Holtby never saw the biscuit. Just over three minutes later, though, the Capitals top line had a great rush up the ice and Nicklas Backstrom fed Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) in the slot and with Allen thinking the puck was going to be moved to Alex Ovechkin (2 assists), #77 backhanded it home easily. From there it was all Caps the rest of the frame as the Blues seemed to come undone by their goaltending problems.

Connolly made it 4-1 on a breakaway as he blew by Carl “boat anchor” Gunnarsson and beat Allen top shelf to send #34 to the bench. 11 ticks later Kuznetsov made a nice play on the wall to force the Blues into a turnover and Jojo gobbled the puck up and fired it by Hutton and the rout was on.

Williams would then score on the power play to make it 6-1 with 26 and a half minutes still to play. Kuzy would get the final tally and make it 7-1 six minutes and 20 seconds in period three before the Blues scored two late garbage time goals.

The big key for Washington in this one was a recipe that has worked well for them in 2017: getting pucks and bodies to the net at the right times. The Caps scored six of their seven goals from in the prime scoring area. You will naturally have a higher shooting percentage when you are getting your looks from the difficult to get to parts of the rink. Ovechkin had two assists, but he was a huge factor on three of the Capitals tallies. St. Louis was keying on him, the Gr8 did have a hat trick in this barn last April, and that opened up lanes for other players, particularly Williams on the power play and Oshie’s goal that really took the wind from the Blues sails.

Washington continues to get great work from their third line of Connolly, Lars Eller, and Burakovsky. They were each +2. The fourth line also had a big early tally so the bottom six, which was great in Pittsburgh on Monday and has been playing well during this 10-0-1 run the Caps are on, is more than doing their share.

Bottom line, despite the shot attempts ending up 48-29 for the Blues, this game came down to one team getting to the prime scoring areas of the ice better than the other and one team having far superior goaltending. It was a victory the Capitals needed to erase the memory of the zebra aided loss to the Pens in OT on Monday. The win also came on the first half of the annual “Dad’s” trip and on Friday in Dallas, there will be a lot of laughs after this laugher of a contest.

The Caps are now 30-9-6 (66 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-10-4) by two points in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and the NHL standings. The Capitals plus 48 goal differential is also tops in the best pro sports league on Earth.

Notes: Steen and Schwartz each had three points for the Blues…the Caps got creamed on draws, 35-23, but Beagle was 9-7…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:12…Coach Barry Trotz had a huge lead so he just rolled the lines, which keeps guys fresher and reduces the chances of injury…Oshie, Brooks Orpik, and Kuznetsov were also +2 like the 3rd line….the Caps only took one penalty and killed it off. They were 1 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Stars in Dallas on Saturday at 8 pm.

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Caps Bury Flyers for 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 15 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals continue to put a beat down on their opponents.

Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves, 13 of which came in a sluggish Washington first period, and the Caps exploded for four tallies in the first seven minutes of period three to bury the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen each scored twice in the final stanza. The Caps took a lead just before the midpoint of this tilt when Michael Del Zotto turned the puck over while shorthanded in his own zone. Andre Burakovsky pounced on the loose biscuit and snapped it over Steve Mason to give Washington the only goal they’d really need.

The victory was the Caps ninth straight and in their last six games they’ve won by a combined score of 26-3. They still haven’t allowed an even strength goal since January 3rd.

Wow, this team is really rolling and it’s scary that they were able to win convincingly when not looking particularly strong or motivated until the 3rd period. Grubauer earned his shutout and first star with a super opening frame, but after that he only faced 11 shots. That’s some great team defense there.

For long time Capitals fans, there’s nothing like throttling a team you’ve battled fiercely since 1974 with numerous of those tilts involving some ugliness. But let’s face it, Philadelphia is not an elite team anymore like Pittsburgh or Chicago, and with the Penguins on the docket from the Igloo II on Monday night, this looked like a trap game for Washington.

Grubauer prevented any Flyers scoreboard momentum from occurring before Washington eventually kicked their offense into high gear and started making some AMAZING passes. First was Marcus Johansson’s “Kuzy type” behind the net feed to Williams on the second goal, then came Alex Ovechkin’s amazing rocket shot fake and dish to Niskanen for a layup, and after Mason flubbed a Niskanen point shot to make it 4-0, Nicklas “Eyes in the back of his head” Backstrom fed Williams behind his back without looking for the final tally. 

It was an awesome display of firepower and the Caps took advantage of the fact that the Flyers had played on Saturday afternoon. Philly had energy and threw a lot of rubber at Grubauer early, but once it became 2-0, you could see the fatigue and resignation set in for the orange and black.

The only bad news of the day was that John Carlson suffered a lower body injury and logged only 6:38 (he will travel to Pittsburgh, though). That put a big load on Niskanen on Sunday, but #2 excelled with the two goals while being +4 in a team leading 25:26 of ice time. The rest of the Caps blue line stepped up, as well, and Nate Schmidt received 3:10 of penalty killing time. With Alzner jailed late, even Dmitry Orlov received some work shorthanded (53 seconds). That’s good preparation against a very good Flyers power play for the postseason.

Once again the Caps penalty killing was a key to victory stopping all five Flyers man advantages. Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they have now gone nine straight contests having fewer power plays than their opponents. The last time they had more man advantage situations in a game than the opposition was on December 17th against Montreal.

Despite the less than fair treatment from the zebras, the Capitals have managed to take over the top spot in the NHL with a 29-9-5 record (63 points), although the Blue Jackets are 29-9-4 (62 points) and have a game in hand. The Caps have opened up a six point cushion on the Penguins and Rangers, but Pittsburgh has a game in hand. Clearly Monday night’s tilt at the Consol Energy Center will be a game that the Pens will be very much motivated to win, but the Capitals still have bitter memories from last May, so they should be focused, as well.

As Holtby mentioned to the media on Friday after the triumph over Chicago, this Caps team is very hard to beat when motivated. They should be against the Penguins on Monday, but even when they seem to have a bit of a case of the blahs, like they did for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Flyers, they are still awfully good, just ask the guys from Philly.

Notes: shots on goal were 24-22 for the Flyers and they also had more shot attempts, 56-48…the Caps continue to get goals from the paint and that’s a big reason why they’ve won nine straight. They have amped their compete level up and stopped playing almost exclusively on the perimeter…Orlov was second in ice time at 22:15, but Brooks Orpik logged 21:43 and Schmidt played 21:37…Williams, after a slow start, now has 14 goals on the season…the Caps took three high sticking minors, they need to correct that…Washington won the faceoff battle, 21-20. Evgeny Kuznetsov was 5-2…Ovechkin had seven hits…Chandler Stephenson was recalled from Hershey, but did not dress. He is expected to accompany the Caps on their three game road trip.

Down on the Farm: On Sunday evening, I took in the Hershey Bears-Binghamton Senators tilt before 9,996 fans at the Giant Center. The Bears have been struggling recently, but they broke a long losing streak with a 6-4 win over Lehigh Valley (Flyers AHL team) on Saturday night in Chocolatetown. Hershey got off on the wrong foot in the game against the Senators with Christian Djoos taking a careless early high sticking double minor. Binghamton would tally on the second half of that four minute infraction and in period two they would increase their lead to two goals. Hershey, who only had five shots on goal through 30 minutes, finally awoke from their slumber and started playing hockey. Chris Bourque, who was the best Bears forward in this tilt, drew a tripping penalty and Jakub Vrana buried a shot shortly thereafter to make it a 2-1 game. Then in the third period, Bourque scored on another power play to even things up and with Hershey surging to a 24-18 lead in shots on goal, things were looking up for the home squad. But then the Bears committed a terrible offensive zone turnover and Bingo went in on a two on none break and easily beat Vitek Vanecek. Hershey would continue to press the play, but then another Bears defensive zone breakdown led to an easy marker for Binghamton with three minutes left and they won, 4-2. Overall this was a poor effort by Troy Mann’s squad and the line of Paul Carey-Zach Sanford-Stan Galiev was a disappointment. Hershey looked flat and the blue line, which sorely misses Madison Bowey, was rather unimpressive. The Bears are now 19-10-7-2 on the campaign.

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Ovi 1000

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Alex Ovechkin Hits 1,000 Points in Caps 5-2 Win Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin came into Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins needing just one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

It didn’t take him long to get it.

Just 35 seconds into this tilt on NBC Rivalry Night, the Gr8 received a breakout pass from Nicklas Backstrom, after T.J. Oshie made a great defensive zone hit and steal, and he carried the biscuit into the slot and zipped it by Marc Andre-Fleury to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.

An already energized Verizon Center went nuts and when the Gr8 scored on a power play ROCKET at 8:06 of the second period, it was becoming clearer that Washington was going to win its seventh straight contest.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has really turned it on since we’ve started 2017, then fed Justin Williams for his 12th goal of the campaign on one of his patented behind the net passes just 4:31 into the final frame to make it 3-0.

At that point, the only thing that could thwart Washington was a parade to the penalty box and that began with a questionable call on Dmitry Orlov at 6:28 after it sure looked like Patrick Hornqvist should’ve been going off with him. This scrum resulted following a cheap swipe by Carl Hagelin on Braden Holtby (30 saves) after he had covered a puck.

The Penguins have a great power play and Evgeni Malkin scored to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh would push hard for another, but a Steven Oleksy knee on knee hit put him in the box for the second time in this one. Simply put, Oleksy is an AHLer and looked overmatched out there. Those hits weren’t intentional, he just isn’t fast enough to play at the top level.

On the ensuing power play, somehow the Caps messed up at their offensive blue line and Matt Cullen received a shorthanded breakaway, but the Holtbeast got a piece of the shot to calm things down. About 10 seconds later, Backstrom scored after another brilliant pass by Oshie to make it 4-1 with 6:49 remaining. Game pretty much over, well except for those guys in stripes, who just had to continue to make their mark in this one.

Oshie was jailed for his third minor penalty of the night and Sidney Crosby, who was held in check well by the Caps on Wednesday, fed Hornqvist perfectly on the door step for a tap in with 2:36 to go.

The Caps would keep the Penguins without any real chances from then on, though, and Lars Eller launched one off of the dome of Kris Letang and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Oshie, who missed Monday’s big win in Montreal, would notch three assists and Backstrom had a goal and three helpers. Holtby was outstanding again, but it was El Capitain, Ovechkin, who set the tone early in this one and staked his club to a two goal lead to make no doubt about whose night this was going to be.

Ovi only played 16:52, he’s being paced for the post season, but he had two goals, 11 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two hits. He even set up Backstrom when it was 2-0 for an open net shot, but the puck fluttered a bit on Nicky and he shot it high.

This was a vintage Ovechkin game and he rose to the occasion after Pierre McGuire threw all of Crosby and the Pens championships in the Gr8’s face in a pregame interview. Yes, Caps fans, it was another tough night of watching NBC and having to listen to some weird analysis, but when you come out on top over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it seems worth it.

Once again, the Capitals were on the short end of the stick in power plays for the seventh straight game, but they’ve won all seven. They have not had more power plays than their opponents since December 17th against Montreal. By the rulebook, those were penalties on the Caps, no argument there, but what is ridiculous is the continual lack of calls against their opponents. It’s not being called fairly and I still don’t know how the heck both referees missed Ian Cole’s butt end to the face of Marcus Johansson? I could point out at least a half dozen or more infractions committed by the Penguins that weren’t called, but the league will continue to do nothing about improving their officiating to make it more consistent. It’s like they are trained to officiate the score.

Anyways, despite what Mike Milbury said after the game, the Capitals weren’t the only team trying their hardest out there. Washington was very sloppy tonight, but their back checking was outstanding and covered for several of their mistakes. When they didn’t have that support, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door. Braden is on fire and he continues to make the timely clutch save. If Cullen makes it 3-2, who knows what happens? That’s why you need a great goaltender, and Holtby is certainly that.

The win improves the Caps to 27-9-5 (59 points) and they take over 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the halfway point of the season, Washington is looking like a Cup contender and the recent uptick in the play of Kuznetsov has made them a much more dangerous team because the opponents can’t put all of their focus on Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie. Add in the strong recent play of the Brett Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky line and Washington looks much more daunting than last spring.

But there’s still 41 games left and we are three months from the playoffs, so it’s not worth getting too high over. January has certainly been encouraging for the Capitals, but to quote the great Phil Collins, “still it would seem we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”

Notes: The Pens won the shot attempt battle, 64-51, but I thought the Capitals had more of the quality scoring chances. Washington did a great job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter at even strength…Matt Niskanen was +3 and led the Caps in ice time at 23:11…John Carlson had two assists and five shots on net in 22:19…Orlov had an assist and was +2 in 20:18. Outside of getting beat one on one by Crosby in period one, he was really good…the Capitals cleaned up on draws, 43-26. Backstrom and Beagle were both 14-7…the Caps will face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 pm on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps End Streak

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Braden Holtby and the Caps End Columbus’ 16 Game Win Streak

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The streak is over while another one continues…

Braden Holtby, aka The Holtbeast, stopped 29 shots and the Washington Capitals went to the net with authority for the fourth straight game to bury Columbus, 5-0, and end the Blue Jackets winning streak at 16 games while increasing the Caps victory run to four.

#70, who was pulled after 20 minutes against the Leafs on Tuesday, was dynamite in this one and several of his best saves came in the opening frame. About the only mistake he made was an early big rebound that he left in the slot which Brandon Saad shot wide. For the rest of the game, it was downhill for the Blue Jackets.

Nate Schmidt, who was scratched for two games, came to play and around the five minute mark his point shot found Jay Beagle parked all alone in front of Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves). “Bob” made the first save, but Daniel Winnik made a great play to corral the rebound and put it behind the goaltender for a one goal Caps lead just 5:06 into this affair.

Just 20 seconds after that tally, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) would take a terrible offensive zone penalty and the NHL’s best power play, at 28.3%, was looking to even things up. But the Caps penalty killing has been stellar this year and the only shot on net that CBus got was a 45 footer from Saad.

Washington then put the Blue Jackets down by two goals for the first time all season, according to Joe Beninati, as John Carlson scored off of his skate going to the net after both Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson made nice passes.

Despite the Capitals lead, Columbus carried the play and led in shots on goal, 11-6, after one period, but the Holtbeast was the big difference.

From there, the Capitals took over the game. Schmidt, who looked recharged after sitting out, received a great pass from Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) in the right wing circle a third of the way through period two. Two Blue Jackets went to the ice to block #88’s initial shot, they both missed, and then they went sliding by as the rebound went right back to Schmidt. Nate then fired it again as a third Columbus defender tried to block the shot and that player ended up deflecting it past Bobrovsky to make it 3-0. I’ve talked often about not leaving your feet on defense and Columbus, who thrives on blocking shots, did just that and it cost them.

At that point, you could see the Columbus energy start to diminish and Washington’s just getting stronger. It takes a ton of effort to maintain a long winning streak and with their hopes of tying the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL record dying, you could see the stress of it starting to zap the Blue Jackets.

The Caps third line then ended all doubt as Lars Eller and Brett Connolly put on a great forecheck/backcheck combination and that forced a Blue Jackets turnover. Carlson gathered up the errant pass just inside the offensive blue line and fed Andre Burakovsky in the slot, who snapped the biscuit by Bob at 16:27 of period two. At that point, the game was pretty much over.

Burakovksy backed up his “it will be fun to end the streak” talk from the AM skate with that goal and he and his linemates continue to look like the answer Coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have been trying to find with that third unit for several years.

The last nail in the coffin was then added by Justin Williams just 5:36 into the third period when Kuznetsov won a puck battle on the left wing boards and fed #14 in the left wing corner. Williams skated in on Bobrovsky, and roofed it to make it 5-0. That prompted Columbus coach John Tortorella to take out his #1 goalie and insert Curtis McElhinney.

The only question for the last 15 minutes was would the Holtbeast get a shutout? The zebras once again tried to help the Blue Jackets giving them a 76 second five on three with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in the sin bin. Washington, however, was fantastic on the kill with Holtby making three saves, including two in tight on Cam Atkinson. Tom Wilson, who had one of his best games of the season, then drew a tripping infraction on a two on one with Eller, who had just blocked a shot to spring it and any real scare was over with 5:30 remaining.

Columbus received one more power play, but the Holtbeast gobbled three shots up and he easily earned his number one star of the game award.

This was quite an effort from Washington and in arguably their two biggest games this season, home against the Penguins and on Thursday against the Blue Jackets, they have won by a combined 12-1. There is no doubt that this club, when focused and motivated, can play with any team in the NHL.

The bottom six forwards were outstanding in this affair and the Caps gap control was sensational all game. They throttled the Blue Jackets ability to generate quick scoring chances and after a rough first period, they dominated the boards and loose puck battles.

It was a huge victory to knock off the first place Blue Jackets, who had a very impressive 16 game run. Washington is now 24-9-5 (53 points) and is just five points behind Columbus, who have a game in hand.

For the Caps, this was an encouraging and dominating victory, especially from the second period until it was 5-0.

Everyone in hockey says that the NHL season really doesn’t begin until January.

So far in the first month of 2017 the Caps are 3-0.

Notes: Shots on goal were 29-27 for CBus and shot attempts were 51-50 for the Caps…Washington was a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, but were 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Carlson was the second star and Schmidt was the third star. Both were really good on the back end, as was Dmitry Orlov (22:42)…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:18…Williams now has 11 goals on the season, he’s on fire right now…Orpik and Schmidt were both +3…Kuznetsov had four shots on goal…Brandon Dubinsky was -4 for the Blue Jackets.

 

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Ovi over leafs

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Ovechkin’s OT Winner Completes Caps Comeback Victory Over Toronto

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

2016 NHL number one overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and his Toronto Maple Leafs steamed into the District on Tuesday night carrying a five game winning streak. The Leafs, who are eerily reminiscent of the 2006-07 Capitals, can really put the puck in the net, and they did.

Coach Mike Babcock’s team took advantage of several Washington mistakes and penalties, including a shaky call or two from the zebras, plus some missed calls on the Leafs, to race to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Matthews was brilliant with his play, especially his second assist of the night that really put the Caps behind the eight ball.

Remember though, that I mentioned that this Leafs club is like the 06-07 Caps? So that means they are weak on the blue line and have issues in their own zone. That proved to be the case on Tuesday night.

Washington, once they stopped being ushered to the sin bin, finally stabilized things and rallied to tie the game with two quick goals early in period three, which forced Babcock to use his timeout to settle his young squad. Tom Wilson then took a bad hooking penalty, but the Caps PK unit, which was uncharacteristically dented for two goals in six shorthanded situations on the night, killed this one off.

However, Matt Niskanen missed a takeaway in the neutral zone, then Mitch Marner got by Lars Eller to score on Philipp Grubauer on a breakaway with 8:52 remaining and the Leafs looked poised for their sixth straight victory.

But the Caps circled the wagons and stormed the net like crazy and finally tied it on John Carlson’s goal from the paint with 6:05 remaining after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 3 assists) set it all up with a behind the back pass after an initial breakaway. Justin Wiliams (1 goal, 2 assists) and Marcus Johansson (2 assists) were crashing the net, as well. In the last three games the Capitals have now scored 14 goals, and almost all of them have been due to net presence, which has been a point of emphasis since the 44 shot, one goal shootout loss to New Jersey last Thursday.

After the referees let some more clear infractions on the Leafs go, Matthews nearly won the game late on a dandy of a backhander that somehow hit Grubauer in the head and went over the net. What a player this kid from Arizona is now and will be in the future, wow!

Off to overtime the game went and Kuznetsov carried the puck in the offensive zone then took it around the net and passed to Carlson at the top of the right wing circle along the boards. The puck was tipped en route so #74 had to make a great play to keep it in, otherwise the Leafs are off to the races. The 2010 Team USA World Juniors hero then made a super cross ice pass to the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, and he made no mistake about burying it for his 18th goal of the season to give the Capitals a wild 6-5 victory.

Whew!

What a hockey game. It was a crazy one and the Caps turned in one of their worst defensive first periods all season. They only gave up eight shots, but too many were of the high quality variety and the Capitals defenders were too intent on trying to go to the ice to block shots when they have an all world goalie behind them in Braden Holtby. This made things difficult for the Holtbeast and he didn’t have his best stuff either, so Coach Barry Trotz pulled him after 20 minutes. I put the yanking mostly on the shoddy play by Washington in their own end, though. That needs to be cleaned up before Thursday’s big game against Columbus, but we’ll get to that one in a few paragraphs.

Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 1 assist) was fantastic in this game on the blue line and as Alan May mentioned on Comcast in the post game, he is at his best when he’s in the offensive zone and going forward. His rocket tied the game at four and his first period power play blast hit Williams on the way in to give the Caps an initial early lead in this contest, one that they would not regain until Ovi buried the game winner.

As for the penalties, the Caps took too many, yet the Leafs were doing several similar things, but referees Chris Lee and Chris Schlenker chose not to call it evenly. Particularly bad was a sequence when Nazem Kadri cross checked Ovechkin hard and then Ovi roughed #43 back. While that was going on Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner punched the Gr8 in the back of the head. It was a cheap shot, but somehow he avoided jail time and Ovechkin received a double minor for roughing. Ridiculous! Over the last the three games the Capitals have now been shorthanded 19 times and have received just seven power plays, that’s ludicrous! Where’s Oliver Stone when you really need him?

Overall, this was a big comeback win for the Caps because they haven’t really had a game where they were able to go all out offensively to rally. They were fortunate that this young Leafs team is fairly clueless too often in their own zone, but give President Mike Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello time to get some defensemen and this Toronto team could be a contender in a few years.

The victory is the Capitals third straight and they improve to 23-9-5 (51 points). They are in fourth place in the Metropolitan division; however, they are just two points behind the Rangers and have three games in hand. In first place though, are those Blue Jackets who have now won 16 games in a row! They are 27-5-4 and are one win away from tying the NHL record for victories in succession, which was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.

Next up for Columbus are the Caps at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets defeated Washington in both games earlier this season, once in overtime and the other time on a zebra aided late power play goal at the Verizon Center on November 20th. So Coach Trotz’ crew should be very motivated to stop this streak by John Tortorella’s squad.

The Blue Jackets have a bunch of guys having career years and they are very physical and structured. Nick Foligno is a notorious Cap killer and he scored his 13th goal of the season in a 3-1 CBus win over Edmonton on Tuesday night. They don’t have the pure skill of the Leafs, but they are extremely hard on the puck and are getting great play from their blue line as well as their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. Washington will have to be much better in all phases of the game if they want to defeat a Columbus team that has all of the confidence in the world right now. This will be a good test for the Caps, who are doing a much better job at going to the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies over the last three tilts. They’ll need to do a lot of that to get the puck by Bob.

Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-28. Jay Beagle was 9-5…T.J. Oshie scored his 12th goal of the season and continues to bring his A game each night. Pay the man!…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:59…Andre Burakovsky had no points, but he played hard on the puck and it was his net presence that allowed Orlov to tie the game at four early in period three.

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Carlson Bolts

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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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Team Win in Raleigh

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Oshie, Ovi, and Grubauer Help Caps Overcome Canes

Posted on 16 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored the game tying goal on a deflection and then he and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout to give Philipp Gruabuer a much deserved 4-3 victory over a speedy, pesky, and well coached Carolina Hurricanes club in Raleigh.

The beer will taste good for the Caps and their fans after this one.

Washington played FAR from their “A” game and they received no help from the referees in a come from behind win. As stellar Comcast analyst and former Capitals #16, Alan May, stated afterwards, sometimes the guys in stripes do too much homework before the game on who has how many penalty minutes on the season and they end up calling the game in a biased fashion. That certainly appeared to be the case on Friday night.

But that’s what makes this triumph for Washington more special. They played a lousy first period, mostly because they hadn’t skated in two days and because they had zero intensity, and trailed 1-0. It could’ve been worse, if not for Grubauer (27 saves), who kept them in it. They were getting pushed around a little physically in the first 20 minutes and somewhere after they killed an early second period penalty, they started playing with snarl and anger. As Justin Williams stated after that middle frame, the Caps played with more intensity.

One guy who had intensity from the opening puck drop was the captain, Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 was doing what he does best, shoot the puck often and he was really moving his legs. On the second of the Caps only two power plays in the contest in period two, Ovi made a great back check that allowed John Carlson to set up Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) the other way on an odd man rush. With Ovechkin trailing the play with speed and #19 with the puck, Cam Ward was in big trouble, and the best goal scorer on the planet made no mistake about it, burying the biscuit to even this contest up after a sweet back pass from Nicky.

Shortly after that, the zebras went penalty happy against the Caps again and suddenly Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found themselves down two men for 38 seconds. However, Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and Karl Alzner plus Grubauer did an outstanding job killing that situation off. You know what they say, what happens on a two man advantage usually decides the outcome, and once the Capitals got back to even strength they took the lead. Matt Niskanen (two assists) pinched down on an offensive zone faceoff and he kept the puck in deep and fed it to Kuznetsov behind the net. With Ovechkin streaking down the slot and drawing the attention of the Carolina defenders, #92 found Justin Williams alone by Ward’s right side of the cage and #14 buried it for his seventh goal of the season. Mr. Crazy Hair, who worked his rear off all game, like most nights, has a hot hand right now.

The Caps would continue to play well in the middle stanza, but they unfortunately made a couple of mistakes in the offensive and defensive zone on one instance and that allowed Justin Faulk to get a one on one chance with Grubauer and the American defenseman made no mistake about scoring.

Heading to the third period it was anyone’s game and Carolina received another early power play and scored just eight seconds into it on a deflection that #31 never saw. The Canes kept pressing and they received an additional gift power play when a complete garbage penalty was called on Ovechkin for tripping in the neutral zone. That one was completely laughable.

But credit the Caps, they killed off the sixth man advantage of the night for the home club and then the last nine plus minutes they were relentless in an attempt to tie up the game and then try for the victory.

Their hard work and determination paid off when #77 tipped home the point shot of Dmitry Orlov with 6:04 remaining. As they’ve done a lot of recently, the Capitals scored because they had guys going to the net and they got the puck in that direction at the right time. That’s how you score on good goalies like Ward and Jaroslav Halak, you make them have a hard time seeing the puck because usually if they see it, they will stop it.

In the overtime, the Caps had some good chances and the Canes had five shots on net, but Grubauer, who kept Washington in this one until they found their legs, was not to be dented again. He stopped the first shooter in the gimmick and the second hit the pipe while Oshie and Kuznetsov used moves that May termed “just doesn’t seem fair” to win the game.

Again, this was not a pretty or dominating win.

However, it was a big one because the Capitals had to dig deep to find intensity and some anger and channel it the right way. They weren’t happy with some of the stuff Carolina was pulling and the whole team and bench were pretty ticked off at Tom Kowal and Evgeny Romasko, the clowns on ice for the night, yet they put all of that energy into their game and grinded out a win. It was a victory that required grit and mental toughness and the Caps certainly displayed that in this win in the Tar Heel State against a club that gives them fits.

Washington has now won six in a row and are 19-7-3 (41 points) for the season. They’ll take on the Canadiens at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm in a game that will be featured on Hockey Night in Canada in the Great White North. You can bet that Rush guitarist and die hard Montreal fan, Alex Lifeson, will be watching. The Habs were defeated, 4-2, by the San Jose Sharks on Friday night and all world goalie Carey Price was pulled just 26:44 into the game after yielding four tallies on 18 shots. So will he get the cage for Montreal on Saturday against Braden Holtby or will Al Montoya, who owned the Caps with Florida last season, get the net? That’s TBD.

But Washington will deal with that later on Saturday night.

For the rest of Friday night and into early Saturday, I’ll steal from the late, great Chuck Thompson, “Ain’t the Beer Cold!”

Notes: Shots on goal were 30-26 for Carolina, but it was 24-23 Washington, at even strength…the Caps were beaten 33-25 from the dot…the Capitals had 24 hits to just 18 for the Canes. Washington, as May also stated, is at their best when they use their size to their advantage and hit…Ovechkin logged 19:41 and had six shots on goal in 13 total shot attempts…Oshie had four shots on goal in 20:21 of ice time, he was fabulous once again; sign the man long term!

 

 

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Nisky Isles

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Niskanen and Holtby Help Caps Win Their Fifth Straight

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen picked the right time to finally score his first goal of the season.

The Caps defensemen tallied to give the Caps an early third period 3-2 lead after some great board work by T.J. Oshie and then he closed the deal with 1:58 remaining in regulation on a power play with his second of the night and of the campaign.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves and several of them, which were all world stops, especially the two on Josh Bailey on the door step, occurred in the third period when it was 3-2. The Holtbeast, after Niskanen, was the biggest reason Washington won their fifth straight game and exited Brooklyn with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders.

This contest didn’t start so well for Washington. In net for New York was long time nemesis Jaroslav Halak (34 saves), who recently shut them out on December 1st at the Verizon Center, 3-0, with 38 stops. The Caps, who at times get caught up in a perimeter game, did quite a bit of that in a first period. Although they outshot the Islanders, 14-12, they trailed 1-0 when Anders Lee beat Holtby on a shot in the slot where John Carlson’s stick either caused a redirection or at least threw off the ability of Braden to track the shot. Overall, though, New York had the better of the play and their forecheck gave Washington problems in their own zone.

Period two was a totally different story. The Caps came out more determined to pin the Islanders back in their own end and their forechecking game was relentless. Time and time again Washington generated scoring chances on Halak, who did all he could to keep his team in the game. The Capitals were more physical than they’ve been in recent outings and the wear on the Islanders blue line became apparent as the game progressed.

The Caps got on the board when Lars Eller blocked a shot in his own zone and it sprung he and Brett Connolly on a two on one rush against a tired Nick Leddy. Connolly, who I’ve been wanting back in the lineup for quite awhile because of his forechecking skills and willingness to go to the net, went straight to the cage and tapped his stick on the ice signaling #20 to feed him the biscuit. Eller did just that and Connolly redirected it upstairs over Halak for his third goal of the season in 16 games, which is one more than the first time scratched Andre Burakovsky has put up in 26 games (and he has 0 goals in his last 25 tilts).

Jakub Vrana assisted on that marker and he also earned an assist on the second Caps goal, which came on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a nice rush behind the offensive net and fed #13 in the slot. Vrana, who has a quick and deadly shot, fired the puck at the cage and it apparently hit Justin Williams on the way in. It was Mr. Crazy Hair’s fourth goal in five games and his sixth of the season. Good things happen when you shoot and go to the net.

After a Kuznetsov giveaway and bad coverage by that Caps line, the Islanders tied it up on a Leddy shot that went through a lot of traffic. That was one of the few New York opportunities in that frame.

With the score tied 2-2, the Capitals came out and really took it to New York to get the lead on Niskanen’s early final frame tally and then midway through the period the Islanders fought back and had a great push, but the Holtbeast would not be beaten. Washington then was relentless on the puck after those five or six Holtby gems, and Daniel Winnik drew a late penalty to set up the Niskanen insurance tally.

Winnik was really flying again in this one and he, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson have formed a great fourth line. Eller, Vrana, and Connolly gave Coach Barry Trotz a strong outing as well and with Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie, and Marcus Johansson playing so solid at both ends, it was easy to see how the Caps led the game in shots on goal at 38-28 and in shot attempts, 67-52.

The Caps, over the last three games, have really started to play their game. When they forget about being fancy and shying away from the hard areas of the ice and focus on using their speed and size to get to the interior of their opponents, they are very hard to beat. Once guys started going to the net in the second period on, life got really difficult for Halak. To me, the key to the victory was the second frame where Washington was all over the Islanders and wore them down.

At the other end of the ice, New York is pretty good at getting bodies and pucks to the net. There were certainly stretches where they did that and it was up to Holtby to save the Caps in those instances, and he did. But for most of the last 40 minutes, Washington did a very good job at limiting shots and quality chances.

The Capitals, with this victory, improve to 18-7-3 (39 points), and are now in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but only two points in back of the 1st place Penguins and Rangers. The Rags were beaten by Chicago, 2-1, at MSG on Tuesday evening. In third place are the Blue Jackets. Columbus won their seventh straight over Connor McDavid and company in Edmonton, 3-1, on Tuesday. It’s pretty clear the Metro is the best division in hockey this season.

Notes: The Caps will have a team build in New York on Wednesday and will then head to Raleigh for a Thursday practice and a rematch against the Hurricanes on Friday night (The Canes crushed the Caps, 5-1, back on November 12th in the Tar Heel State). Carolina put up eight goals in an 8-6 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday night…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:00. On his second goal, Coach Trotz smartly put two defensemen on the points (Carlson) on that late power play to protect the one goal cushion and Nisky’s blast to make it 4-2 made it look even smarter…faceoffs were tied at 32 apiece, but Beagle went 13-6…the Caps had 21 hits after only having eight against the Canucks on Sunday afternoon…Oshie had 0 points but was in front of the net on both Niskanen goals. Williams had great net presence on his goal and Niskanen’s last tally, too…Alex Ovechkin only had two shots on goal, but he did have four hits…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while New York was 0 for 2…Connolly only played 7:05, but he had two hits and the goal…I expect Burakovsky to sit again on Friday since #10 earned a jersey in Raleigh, once again, with his strong play.

 

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