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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 18th goal of the season and Braden Holtby shuts out the Sabres in the Caps 8th straight victory.

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Holtby, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Chippy Sabres, 2-0.

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.

This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.

The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.

Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!

Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.

As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.

The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.

But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.

Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.

Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.

Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.

Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.

Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.

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One night after a big win over the Rangers, the Caps find a way to win their 6th straight in Raleigh.

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Beagle and Grubauer Help Caps Edge Carolina

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Good teams find ways to win when the odds are stacked against them.

On Monday night in Raleigh, the Caps faced a hot and rested Carolina team less than 24 hours after they earned a big emotional victory in Madison Square Garden against the archrival Rangers on Sunday night. There was no doubt this was going to be a struggle to come out on top and they’d definitely need some solid goaltending.

Philipp Grubauer provided just that with 31 saves and the Capitals received goals from their bottom six forwards to defeat a fast and pesky Hurricanes team, 2-1. Michael Latta scored in the first frame batting home the rebound of a strong Andre Burakovsky shot and then Jason Chimera deflected a John Carlson point shot past Cam Ward (19 saves) right after Jay Beagle won a faceoff in period two.

Washington would narrowly miss taking a 3-0 lead on a late second period power play and shortly after it expired in the third period, Carolina’s Kris Verteeg scored easily from the side of the net to cut the Washington lead in half.

The Canes would fire 13 shots on goal in the final stanza and they also had a late six on four when the zebras tried to take another game from the Caps by calling a very questionable too many men on the ice penalty on Washington when it looked like Nicklas Backstrom was about to hit the empty net. But the furious late Carolina rally was thwarted by some unbelievable sacrificing by the Caps on the penalty kill, including Beagle and Matt Niskanen sprawling out to block shots in the dying seconds. T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson also played big roles in that sequence. Oshie was clearly fighting a bad leg, but had a very strong game. The guy eats rocks for breakfast.

So the Caps finish a stretch of 11 games, where they played eight on the road, with a torrid 9-1-1 record. Yes, they were out possessed in several of the contests, even with score adjustments, but playing on the road wears a club out. Their best puck possession game was at home against Detroit on December 5th and it took a shootout for the Caps to win that one. The Caps were really good in the home Ottawa contest and Rangers road game (after the first 20 minutes in New York). Those possession stats are of the 5 on 5 variety and with the Capitals power play so hot and their PK excelling, it’s easy to see why they are coming out on top.

Washington is clearly wiped out from the travel and grueling play with every club they face seemingly bringing their A game, so they deserve this four day rest they are about to receive. Guys are banged up and need some time away.

After 33 games, in which they’ve played 17 at home, the Caps are 25-6-2 (52 points) overall and lead the Metropolitan division by nine points over the second place Islanders, with two games in hand. Washington will play six of their next eight games on the road, so the schedule remains tough before they play six of their last eight in January at the Verizon Center.

It was far from a pretty victory in Raleigh on Monday night, but the Capitals found a way to get two points and at this point, a win is a win is a win. They’ve now won six straight games and in their next contest they’ll face the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center on Saturday, December 26th at 7 pm.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, this blogger could use a rest too from the recent busy schedule, but when the Caps win, it’s a lot easier to pump these recaps with analysis out for you to read.

Cheers!

Notes: Shot attempts “officially” were 80-48 for Carolina, but I’d be curious to see what the Capitals themselves had for those totals as well as the quality scoring chances. Clearly Carolina had the better of those numbers, but I’m not sure the game was really that lopsided until the third period…the Caps were 26-17 on faceoffs and Beagle led the way at 14-4…Beagle was the game’s number one star and Grubauer was third star (Versteeg was number two)…Wilson led the Caps with four hits…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 24:57.

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You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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Down 3-0, the Caps ride their power play to overtake Tampa and win, 5-3.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Rally Caps Past Tampa, 5-3

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

It’s a really good thing the Verizon Center roof is secured tightly, otherwise it might have blown off as the Washington Capitals put on a furious rally from a 3-0 deficit, including four third period goals, to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning out of town, 5-3.

The comeback was fueled by outstanding offense from T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin, who both had two goals and two assists as the Capitals rode three power play tallies in four attempts to victory, including Marcus Johansson’s sweet game winning goal with 5:44 remaining. Ovechkin had 19 shot attempts, including nine shots on goal in this contest; those are some amazing numbers right there.

Philipp Grubauer (seven saves) came on in relief of Braden Holtby (three goals allowed on 12 shots) with 10:54 remaining in the middle period and the Caps trailing by a trio of pucks. Holtby wasn’t bad, the Capitals had terrible breakdowns in front of him on each of the three Tampa tallies, and Coach Barry Trotz said his decision was more about the skaters and not the Holtbeast.

“I pulled Holtby because I was tired of Braden bailing the team out…he’s been our MVP,” said the Washington bench boss, who has guided the Caps to a 23-6-2 start (48 points) this season.

Coach Trotz was okay with Washington’s first period, where they outshot Tampa, 10-4, and out attempted the Bolts, 22-18, despite trailing 1-0. Ben Bishop was perfect in that opening frame and was the biggest reason the Caps were losing.

Then came an abysmal start to the middle frame by Washington. They were sloppy and letting the fast Tampa squad skate all over them. The Caps also made many mistakes, including some terrible mental ones. On the Bolts second goal, the Washington defender comes back and over skates his man after getting caught up ice, then he goes down and blocks #70’s view of the shot, which was buried by Andrej Sustr (1st of the season). On the third Tampa marker, the Caps won a faceoff and turned the puck over in the neutral zone right in front of the Capitals bench. That’s not disastrous, but for some reason, two of the forwards, including the right wing from the far side of the ice, decided to change. Bad, bad, bad hockey decision and it resulted in Steven Stamkos, the 2nd best shooter in the NHL (Ovechkin), burying one by Holtby from the slot in between the circles. Braden had no chance on that one since the Capitals boneheaded mistakes allowed #91 to have an easy lane to the net. Afterward, Coach Trotz commented on that particular sequence.

“That’s details and that angered me quite a bit,” stated the bench boss, who is fighting a cold, which he said prevented him from yelling during the game, and specifically at that moment.

The goalie change would wake the Capitals up and they finally got on the board with just over six minutes left in period two. Oshie drew Bishop out of his cage on the power play and made a ridiculous, no look pass to the Gr8, who quickly buried the biscuit.

That gave Washington life and after 40 minutes they trailed by two pucks, 3-1. Coach Trotz and Oshie afterwards both stated that the locker room, between the 2nd and 3rd periods, was positive and the team wanted to focus on playing a heavier game with more hits. Basically this tilt was a match up of speed vs. size and through the first two frames speed was killing. Shot attempts were 40-35 for the Bolts, including a dominating 22-13 in the second period.

Tampa had only really been using three lines most of the night, so when the Caps amped up their intensity and started taking the body in those last 20 minutes, the Bolts got tired and became unglued.

But all of that doesn’t happen if not for a huge save by Grubauer on Vladislav Namestnikov with just over seven minutes into period three. It was one of only seven he had to make in relief, but it was a great scoring chance, and if it goes in, it’s 4-1 and that’s your ballgame. But #31 came up big and immediately following the save, Oshie corralled the puck, skated down the right wing, and fired one over the shoulder of Bishop to electrify the Verizon Center.

Matt Niskanen then laid out J.T. Brown with a big hit, which was a little bit of a pay back for what Brown did to Nate Schmidt last Saturday in Tampa. That not only fired up the home crowd further, but Victor Hedman took an interference penalty.

That brought out the famed “Unleash the Fury” video montage and with the crowd buzzing, Ovechkin made a sweet curl and drag move around the Tampa defender and put one past Bishop to tie the contest up. Verizon Center was really rocking after that and the Capitals kept coming into the offensive zone like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. During that sequence, Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping penalty on Anton Stralman. Once again the power play made the Bolts pay with Ovechkin and Oshie making two sweet passes to set up Jojo for the one timer, which he buried from the lower right wing circle to make it 4-3.

The Caps would really lock things down from there and with less than a minute left, Ovechkin made a super play in his own zone with Bishop pulled allowing him to get the puck to Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Caps side of the red line. Nicky then fed Oshie, who hit the empty net from just outside the blue line to close this one out. Backstrom picked up his 600th career NHL point on that play.

Following the game, Oshie praised the environment in helping the Capitals win.

“Let’s get this out of the way right now, Unleash the Fury is hilarious…that’s the loudest it’s been in here all year.”

It certainly was loud and the Caps ability to find ways to win games when they are not playing their best continues to be encouraging. They were dominated badly during the middle portion of this game, but they regrouped and refocused, played to their strengths, and crushed Tampa down the stretch to win the season series, 3-0.

Now the Capitals will head to New York on Sunday night for a rematch with the Rangers, who drubbed Washington, 5-2, earlier in the season. The Rags have been struggling lately and with the Caps winning their fourth straight game, Washington is now six points ahead of New York (48-42) with three games in hand (New York was defeated, 5-2, in Winnipeg on Friday night) in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who were knocked out of the playoffs last season by the Blueshirts, will be extra focused for this one, but when Backstrom was asked about it, he provided a bit of the old Crash Davis “play them one game at a time, good Lord willing” type of answer.

“It’s going to be a good match up. Yeah, it will be fun, we lost against them last year, so we need a rematch here.”

#19 clearly didn’t want to give New York any bulletin board material and prefers to let the Caps game on the ice do the talking.

If Washington plays anything like they did in period three on Friday night, then there will be fireworks on 33rd street in Manhattan on Sunday.

Notes: the Caps outshot Tampa, 23-19, but overall shot attempts were 56-52 for the Bolts…Ovechkin now has 16 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Oshie has 12 goals and nine assists in 31 games. The Caps are undefeated when the American shootout whiz scores a goal…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 24-23…the Bolts went 0 for 3 on the power play.

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The Caps dominated the Senators, but a late erroneous penalty call gave Ottawa hope late.

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Caps Defeat Sens Despite Bad Call on Tom Wilson

Posted on 16 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals dominated the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, yet because of a late phantom major on Tom Wilson and some great goaltending from Andrew Hammond, the Caps had to escape a Sens charge in the last five minutes and hold on for a 2-1 victory.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves and Michael Latta, responding to a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh, added a goal and an assist in just 7:29 of ice time as Washington built a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes. The Holtbeast is now 12-0-1 in his last 13 games. His stats during the streak are a 1.67 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. Wow!

But on this night, Holtby wasn’t the biggest reason the Capitals won. Don’t get me wrong, #70 is in the zone and played a big factor, you always need strong goaltending, but Washington was superb in its’ ability to support each other on the ice to take away opposition space and they routinely won the loose puck battles. Their only real lulls came in the middle frame, but after it was 2-0.

In the third period, the Caps were outstanding thwarting the speedy Senators rush and holding them to just three shots on goal until just five minutes were remaining. But then with 4:40 to go, Wilson, who was back checking, made contact with Curtis Lazar and the small forward, who was bent over, had his head fly back and he appeared to suffer whiplash. It was a totally clean hit, but after Chris Neil body slammed #43 to the ice the referees, Wes McCauley and rookie Jon McIsaac, erroneously called Willy for a match penalty. They did give Neil two minutes, although he deserved more, and that gave Ottawa a three minute “score as often as needed” power play. The Sens would get a quick goal and seven total shots on goal during that power play, but the Caps held on for the win, not allowing a single Senators shot on Holtby over the last 1:40, when the penalty expired, to get their 22nd victory of the season.

Unfortunately, the Caps great effort will be overshadowed and tainted by this terrible call. Once the referees and the league see the replay they will admit the mistake and strip Wilson of the match penalty, which carries an automatic suspension and review. It’s too bad that the zebras missed this so badly at real speed and also couldn’t benefit from replay, in that instance.

Afterwards, the Caps made #43 available to the media and the 21 year old gave a thorough and intelligent explanation, as Alan May pointed out on Comcast in the post game show. Wilson noted that he was just doing what he was taught, to take away Lazar’s space, and that he wasn’t even trying to hit him. He noted that the major point of contact was at the hip and then his shoulder came in on Lazar. Bottom line, if you look at the play, Lazar was bent over with the puck, Wilson makes side contact with him, but nowhere near the head, and then the physics of the situation take over. Wilson is 6 foot four and 220 pounds and Lazar is six feet and 189 pounds. Add in the angle at which Lazar was skating and it’s no wonder he got whiplash.

In the post game on Comcast, Caps announcer Craig Laughlin stated “I think Tom Wilson is being targeted.” That is bang on and it’s a terrible “reputation” call. As I predicted after the 30 Thoughts column came out last month, the referees would read that stuff and be influenced. The way things have been terribly called against Big Tom since then certainly backs my premise up.

Overall, the Capitals played a much tighter game than we’ve seen recently. As Caps reporter Mike Vogel pointed out beforehand, the Caps had allowed over 30 shots on goal in eight of their last 12 games. On Wednesday, it was only 27 against and as mentioned above, seven of those came on the incorrect Wilson major penalty power play. Washington was much more structured versus a speedy Ottawa team that typically gives them fits because of their skating ability. That was not the case in this one and the Capitals dominated the quality chances, including a big save by Hammond on Alex Ovechkin in the third period after the Gr8 went around two time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson like an orange road cone.

Washington is now 22-6-2 (46 points) and has a four point lead over the Rangers and five point lead over the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. They have two games in hand on both squads. They also lead the Eastern Conference by three points over the Montreal Canadiens and have two games in hand on the Habs, as well.

Next up are the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Friday night. Hopefully the NHL will see the error in the Wilson call and Willy will be able to play against a tough Bolts squad.

Notes: Coach Barry Trotz disagreed with the Wilson call following the contest, as well…Trotz and his staff did a really nice job of spreading the defensive minutes out on Wednesday. Matt Niskanen led the way with 23:53, but the lowest blue line total, for Taylor Chorney, was 14:46. That’s good stuff because the top two defensive pairs had been logging a lot of time lately at the expense of the third pairing and that can increase the chance of injury…John Carlson had the GWG after Latta’s neutral zone takeaway allowed Justin Williams to set up #74 with a sweet feed that Captain America buried…Andre Burakovsky only logged 7:33 but I thought he was strong on the puck and playing the way he needs to and I see a goal in his future very soon…the faceoff battle was even-steven at 26 apiece…the Caps had 25 shots on goal and were 0 for 2 with the power play. Ottawa was 1 for 3 with the man advantage…the Capitals wore their new third jerseys, which were the road uniforms they wore back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, and they looked fabulous!

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The Caps keep on rolling, knocking off the Pens in an exciting contest at the Consol Energy Center.

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Oshie & Holtby Help the Caps Slam the Pens, 4-1

Posted on 14 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie had a huge, clean neutral zone hit on Beau Bennett in the first period that knocked #19 from the game and then he added two third period insurance goals as the Capitals won, 4-1, at the Consol Energy Center behind 44 saves from Braden Holtby.

The Pens were fired up for this game, seeing as it was their first under new bench boss, Mike Sullivan, but Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had other plans rushing out to a quick two goal lead behind tallies from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Evgeni Malkin, on a sweet deflection, scored the only goal for Pittsburgh in the first frame, who traded defensemen Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley while this contest was going on (Scuderi actually took warm-ups, but did not play).

The Holtbeast was strong again, especially right at the start of the game when the Pens had some super chances in tight. Those saves allowed the Caps to get their legs and they stunned the Pens and their fans with two goals in the first eight minutes. From there on out the Penguins were forced to play catch-up, something they could not achieve.

This was an exciting and intense hockey game with lots of back and forth action. Pittsburgh was able to get their end to end style going, at times, particularly in the 2nd period. In the final frame, however, Washington did a better job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter and not giving up grade A chances, unlike Saturday night against Tampa where the Capitals literally hung on by their goaltender. Holtby was really good in this tilt, once again, but the Caps did a nice job of having their runs too. That was when they got the puck in deep on a weak Penguins defense and scored some in close tallies.

Oshie’s first goal to make it 3-1 with 11:10 remaining was as sweet of a wraparound tally as you’ll see all season and was the “killer instinct” type of marker that this team talks about getting in the third period. #77 was just superb in this one along with his center, Backstrom, and both had three points. Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal and eight shot attempts playing with those two, but was held pointless, although that line was on the ice for three Caps goals (one a late PP marker) and just one against.

Carlson was a beast with eight shots on net in a team leading 24:51 of ice time. He and Nate Schmidt (20:10 of ice time and seven blocked shots) were strong on the backend. The dynamic duo of Matt Niskanen (24:13 TOI, +2) and Karl Alzner (23:00 TOI) blocked a combined nine shots, as well. As a team, the Capitals blocked 24 total shots as they forced Pittsburgh to the perimeter on many occasions, especially down the stretch and Holtby had some easy glove saves. There were certainly some instances where the Pens were able to get in close, mostly earlier in the game, but Holtby closed the door.

The Caps received excellent outings from some of their grinders, most notably Jay Beagle (1 assist and 4 hits in 18:16 of ice time) and Tom Wilson (drew a key late penalty and had eight hits in 17:57 of ice time). Both were +1 and did a super job of wearing out the Penguins, who seemed to fade a bit in the third period after the furious pace they set in the middle stanza.

At the other end, the Caps had their share of chances and it took some great shots to beat Marc Andre-Fleury (30 saves).

So the Caps get a big victory against a despised rival. This triumph comes at the end of a stretch of seven games, with six on the road, and they went 5-1-1 to improve their overall record to 21-6-2 (44 points). In the Metropolitan Division, they have a three point lead over the second place Islanders and a four point lead over the third place Rangers and have two games in hand over both squads. The Pens fall to 15-11-3 (33 points) and are 11 points back in fifth place (the Devils are in fourth).

Next up for the Caps are the very fast and skilled Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. The Sens defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 5-3, on Monday to improve to 16-10-5 (37 points), which puts them in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Notes: Shot attempts were 79-52 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps had 24 blocks. The official stats had Washington with only five missed shot attempts, so I question the validity of some of the Capitals totals (home cooking?)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 41-35. Jay Beagle was 11-7 while Evgeny Kuznetsov, who only played 13:41, was 4-12…power plays were 4 to 2 in favor of the Caps, although the last two came in the closing minutes…the Caps had a goal by Justin Williams correctly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie…Dave Jackson and Trevor Hanson called a very good game. Jackson is the best referee in the league because he lets the skaters play and the players seem to always know what type of contest they’ll get with him. I wish the league had more zebras like him.

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The Caps dominate Detroit but need the shootout to secure the victory.

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Ovechkin, Johansson Help the Caps Defeat Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There will be no Washington Capitals losing streak.

For the 7th time this season, the Caps came into a contest having been defeated in the previous tilt, most recently a 2-1 OT loss to Winnipeg on Saturday, and once again they came out victorious.

Washington played a very strong game in terms of puck possession and dominated the shot clock, 40-23 in shots on goal and 68-52 in shot attempts, but needed the gimmick to finally triumph over a very good Detroit Red Wings squad, 3-2.

Justin Williams opened the scoring just 43 seconds into this one putting home the rebound of a Evgeny Kuznetsov shot, but two defensive breakdowns allowed the Wings to take a 2-1 lead after 23 minutes of hockey. On the first Detroit tally, Washington made a turnover that ultimately resulted in an icing call on the Caps. That’s not normally too big of a deal, but Coach Barry Trotz was stuck with his 4th line and 3rd defensive pair on the ice against the Henrik Zetterberg line and #40 buried one on the doorstep after the Caps badly lost the defensive zone faceoff.

Early in period two, Joakim Andersson out maneuvered Dmitry Orlov behind the Capitals net and for some reason, the other defensemen, Taylor Chorney, chose to vacate the spot in front of Braden Holtby (21 saves) and go behind the cage, as well. That basic hockey “no-no” of having both defensemen behind the net cost Washington and allowed Tomas Jurco to score another easy goal all alone in front on the Holtbeast.

From that point on the Caps would really carry the play outshooting the Wings, 27-14, from the 3:16 mark of period two until the shootout. It was nearly 42 minutes of quality hockey by Washington against a team that is fast and prefers a more wide open transition game. The Caps, after nearly getting into that type of affair in the first 20+ minutes, really clamped down on turnovers and played a very smart and structured style the rest of the way.

Jimmy Howard (38 saves) was really strong in net for the Wings and it took an Alex Ovechkin power play marker (13th goal of the season) with 9:09 remaining to even this one up on the scoreboard. The Gr8 scored by going to the cage and getting a rebound that was created by a nice net drive move by Marcus Johansson.

Despite the Capitals pouring lots of shots on Howard and seemingly having the puck the entire third period, this one went to overtime where the Caps survived a two minute power play by Detroit. In the gimmick, T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov made brilliant moves to score, while Holtby stopped both Wings shooters.

The Caps now move to 19-5-2 (40 points) on the season and have retaken first place in the Metropolitan Division from the Rangers, once again. Washington has two games in hand, as well.

Overall, this was a really strong effort by the Caps in their only home game in a stretch of seven contests. Ovechkin was the number one star, but I thought Johansson was just as good with four shots on goal and two assists after missing the Winnipeg game. #90 was really flying on the ice and his speed provided a good matchup against Detroit. Afterwards Coach Trotz praised his top two lines for producing the excellent advantage the Caps had in shots.

Most players had strong outings, but with Brooks Orpik missing his 12th straight game, the top four defensemen are playing more minutes because Trotz is just not super confident in his 3rd pair. Chorney had a subpar game and only logged 11:16 of time while putting up a -2 performance. That’s not good. John Carlson played 27:45, Matt Niskanen 25:51, a banged up Karl Alzner chipped in 23:09 in his 401st straight game, and Nate Schmidt logged 21:48. Yes, this was an overtime contest, but you’d like to see the third defensive pair getting more ice time, but they just aren’t playing well enough to earn it, at this time.

So now it’s back on the road for the Caps. They head to Florida on their annual dad’s trip. They’ll face the Panthers on Thursday night and then the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday before looking for revenge against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday.

This Capitals team is very good and they keep finding ways to win. On this night, they were clearly the better team despite needing the full 65 minutes and the shootout to get the two points.

Notes: Ovechkin had eight shots on goal, 16 total shot attempts, and seven hits in 25:43 of ice time…Johansson played 19:40 after missing his first game in over 100 regular season tilts…Washington won the face off battle, 32-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 13-11…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while Detroit was 0 for 1…Michael Latta (-2) only played 6:33 and Andre Burakovsky (-1) logged just 6:45. #65 is really struggling to get going after putting up five points in his first six games. He’s got two points since then…Detroit is now 7-0-4 in their last 11 games and defensemen Mike Green played 23:38 and took one penalty in his first game at the Verizon Center as a Caps opponent.

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Braden Holtby wins on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada once again.

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Holtby Helps Caps Win Fifth Straight & Take Over 1st Place

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby owns Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, plain and simple.

The Holtbeast made 32 saves, 15 of which came in a Maple Leafs first period shooting gallery, and held the Caps in the game until they got their legs going over the last 40 minutes. Washington recieved even strength goals from bottom six forwards Jason Chimera (7th) and Tom Wilson (1st) before adding two power play tallies by Marcus Johansson (5th) and Justin Williams (7th) to defeat Toronto, 4-2. Johansson’s goal came without him using his stick for the second straight night and as I’ve often said, good things happen when you go to the front of the net.

This was a very strange game for the first 25+ minutes before Washington took over the contest. Pucks were bouncing everywhere on a bad sheet of Air Canada Centre ice and some terrible turnovers by both clubs led to a couple of tallies.

Once again, the Capitals dominated a third period with a lead. They were up two pucks going into the final frame and despite the fact that the Leafs had 14 shots on net to just eight for the Caps, the margin was never in jeopardy. Most of Toronto’s chances came from far out on the perimeter after tired rushes up the ice, while Washington put on a cycling clinic in the offensive zone holding the puck for long stretches at a time. Normally shot attempts are indicative of puck possession, but this third period was not the case, the Caps totally wore the Leafs out with their big forwards and stifling puck support from their defense. It was another really solid final frame to salt away a victory.

Playing on back to back nights, Coach Barry Trotz elected to go with his elite goalie for the first time this season in that situation. The decision, criticized by some on twitter, paid off royally. Holtby was outstanding and won for a personal best seventh straight time. The Caps have now won five in a row and with the Rangers going in the tank this week by losing three straight tilts, Washington has stormed past them and into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 17-5-1 (35 points). They are a point up on New York and they also have a game in hand.

The Caps power play continues to generate chances and the last two nights it has gone an astounding five for seven. Washington is 12-0 this season when they score a power play goal.

Overall, the Caps have to be extremely pleased with where they are at standings wise. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule, but my counter is you can only beat the teams that you’re slated to face by the league. This Washington club is very strong and still improving. I’m sure they’d like to clean up many of the turnovers they’ve had recently that have led to odd man rushes against.

This team is supremely talented and when they play the system, as coached, they are awfully tough to beat.

The Caps will now have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. They just finished a seven games in eleven nights stretch by going 6-1. Based on that, Coach Trotz may give the boys Monday off too since their next game is not until Thursday in Montreal. The Habs are really good and they drummed the Rangers, 5-1, last Wednesday despite losing goalie Carey Price to a knee injury in that contest. It’s doubtful last season’s Hart Trophy winner will face the Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-52 for Toronto. Most of the Leafs advantage came in the first period, plus their third period shots were almost predominantly from three point range…Alex Ovechkin had an assist and 10 shot attempts (only three on net) in 21:57 of ice time…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:29 and John Carlson (1 assist) logged 23:27…Toronto won the face off battle, 31-29. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-13…Be sure to tune in to WNST 1570 AM in Baltimore on Monday morning as Nestor Aparacio and I do our weekly Caps segment. Listen Live at WNST.NET.

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Washington gets lethal with the man advantage in a convincing victory over Tampa.

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Caps Dominate Lightning in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals power play has been generating a lot of chances in recent games, but had failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. That all changed on Friday evening at the Verizon Center as the Caps man advantage caught fire going three for four allowing Washington to build a 4-0 in just over 45 minutes of hockey. From there the Capitals would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions.

As I blogged on Wednesday night, I expected the Capitals to be pumped up and focused for this contest and they were just that. Through 40 minutes they outshot the Bolts, 31-14, including 18 in the opening period, and thanks to two late second period tallies they opened up a 3-0 advantage. Seriously, it could’ve been five or six to nothing if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), who kept his club hanging around until the dam finally broke in the last two minutes of that middle stanza.

Alex Ovechkin (12th), Jason Chimera (6th), and T.J. Oshie (6th) notched power play goals for the Caps and Marcus Johansson (4th) had the only even strength marker on a John Carlson (two assists) pass that banked off of his skate and into the cage. Good things happen when you go to the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had another fabulous tilt with two assists, including a brilliant feed to Chimera for the second goal that really seemed to deflate Tampa. Chimera himself had a super assist on the Caps opening tally spotting the Gr8 open in the slot with the man advantage and Ovi buried it far post, top shelf at 7:09 of the opening period. That’s now four games in a row where the Caps have scored first, after nine straight yielding the game’s first marker, and they’ve won every single one of those contests.

Braden Holtby was strong in net, especially down the stretch when the Lightning put 17 of their 20 third period shots on the Holtbeast after it was 4-0. Holtby made a huge stop on Steven Stamkos with the Bolts on the power play and the game 4-2 late in the third period. Overall, Braden stopped 32 shots and improved to 14-4 on the season. He has now tied his career high winning streak at six games.

For nearly 50 minutes, this was arguably the best Washington has played all season. Every line was contributing and Andre Burakovsky, despite no points, had one of his better efforts carrying the biscuit and battling on the boards when he was on the ice with Chimera and Jay Beagle.

The Caps kept a speedy Bolts team at bay with constant puck pressure and when Washington had possession, they supported the play well making it hard for Tampa to get their excellent transition game going. Coach Barry Trotz had to be extremely pleased with the way his club dominated the Lightning until late in the third period.

With the win, the Capitals improve to 16-5-1 (33 points) and trail the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by just a single point, since New York lost to Boston on Friday afternoon. The Caps have a game in hand. Both teams are in action on Saturday with the Rags hosting the Flyers in the afternoon while Washington travels to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. Earlier this month, the Leafs gave the Caps all they could handle at the Verizon Center and it took Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with one second left to tie the game and then Ovechkin’s goal in the shootout to earn a victory. Mike Babcock’s club did not play on Friday so they will be rested for the Capitals. I’d expect Philipp Grubauer to get the call in net for Washington.

Notes: Ovechkin logged 23:00 of ice time and had 11 shot attempts (6 SOG) and five hits…Oshie’s goal was a brilliant top shelf marker on the rush to make it 4-0, but he also led the Caps in hits with eight. One of those was a bone crushing smash of Victor Hedman on the back boards…the Caps outshot attempted Tampa 62-56, but most of the Bolts damage came after the game was over at 4-0…Washington won the face off battle, 41-33. Kuznetsov went 10-4…the Caps lost the first game of this five game home stand to Dallas, but then knocked off Colorado, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Tampa in succession to go 4-1. They are now 10-3-1 at the Verizon Center this season…This was Coach Trotz’ 1,300th NHL game. Only nine other coaches in NHL history have reached that milestone. Kudos Trotzy!

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