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Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

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Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals closed out their 2013-14 season today with a 1-0 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a meaningless game. The Caps finish the season at 38-30-14 (90 points) and have failed to make the post season for the first time since 2006-07.

The failed season is unacceptable on numerous levels. Owner Ted Leonsis blogged over the weekend that the analysis of this club is “fair and deserved” and stated that they will not make any knee jerk reactions and conduct a thorough review before making any decisions.

Last Wednesday I blogged that the Caps need to move on from current GM George McPhee and Coach Adam Oates. I stand by those statements.

Both McPhee and Oates are good men that are very intelligent. There is no denying that. They’ve done many good things for the NHL and the Capitals organization.

My decision is not personal, they are both likeable people. But the bottom line is despite their intelligence they have failed to get the Caps to be in a position to do what they need to do: Compete for and Win a Stanley Cup.

This Capitals team, over the last three plus seasons has gotten further from lifting Lord Stanley. They are not contenders, as currently configured.

The defense is horribly thin with both Karl Alzner and Oates himself questioning the talent level this week. Putting together a quality defense has been McPhee’s achilles heel since he took over the job from David Poile in 1997. He has failed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals with two superstars, Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Ovechkin, primarily because of his inability to put together a strong blue line. Year after year stop gaps like Joel Kwiakowski, Jason Doig, Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan, Jack Hillen, etc. have been thrust into prominent roles when they simply weren’t qualified to be playing on a club that has Stanley Cup aspirations. This year’s defense was easily the worst since 2007-08 and the decision to rush a 19 year old Connor Carrick to the NHL was a disaster and hopefully hasn’t wrecked the future of a kid that has promise. Carrick should’ve been playing in Hershey all season but McPhee hamstrung himself with the salary cap by tying up too much of his money in forwards and forced an already weak defense to once again rot.

McPhee’s inability to get a second scoring line has been a problem for years. One of George’s best trades ever was acquiring Sergei Fedorov from Columbus at the 2008 deadline. #91 not only brought talent that allowed Coach Bruce Boudreau to have two legit scoring lines, but Fedorov also brought a wealth of experience and leadership to Washington’s locker room. He took pressure off of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin played his best hockey during that time. But once Fedorov left in 2009, partly to play with his brother but also because the failed Michael Nylander contract ate up the salary cap room that could have been used to entice Fedorov to stay, things began to unravel. Yes, the team had a great 2009-10 regular season but that team’s big holes were at 2nd line center and on defense. The Canadiens knew they only had to shut down one line to win and they did that. From there, things have gotten worse.

The declining talent is troubling and the Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg deal was an indication that this hockey department has lost its way. Whether Forsberg turns into a top six player or not is not what bothers me the most. What is troubling is that McPhee’s staff felt that Erat, who had struggled in 2012-13 and was clearly on the down side of his career, was worth a player that they had just lucked into in the first round at the previous draft. It made me start to wonder about the work ethic of the Caps hockey department when you see a move like that made.

Clearly not enough talent has been brought in to help Ovechkin and a lack of experienced leaders, something I blogged about back in the spring of 2011 that the Caps badly needed to add, has put an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny on the Gr8. Sure Ovechkin could improve defensively, but he’s been a reason this team is not a bottom five hockey club for the last three years. He is not the problem. The lack of talent in the top six forwards and on defense along with little support in the leadership department has done serious damage to Ovechkin and probably impacted his ability to enjoy hockey. McPhee and the organization have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

As for Oates, I give him full credit for reinvigorating the Gr8 over the last 14 months. An MVP season followed by an NHL leading 51 goals for Ovechkin was made possible by things Oates did, including changing the Caps power play and moving Ovechkin to right wing. Clearly Oates was given a not very perfect set of tools to work with, he inherited an unbalanced roster, but overall he did not come close to optimizing what he was given.

Oates may be a “genius” on technical hockey issues, as Alzner called him on Sunday, but coaching is more of an art and not a science. It’s nice to be armed with technical details, but to be a successful coach you have to get people to work together. As The Washington Post’s  Katie Carrera wrote last week, former Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior said he was forced out because Oates felt he knew goaltending better than a man who has successfully coached it for years, including turning Olie Kolzig into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.  The coaching staff’s decision to try and change Braden Holtby’s game was a disaster and led to an unneeded goaltending carousel that forced Michal Neuvirth out of town.

Being the smartest guy in the room is nice, but when it comes to being a successful leader, it isn’t about being smart. It’s about gathering input from the people around you, harnessing it, and using it to make the total greater than the sum of its parts. Oates failed to do that this season and the 2013-14 Caps were not a “team.”

You simply can’t have three players ask for trades in a season, that just shows organizational chaos and that falls on both the GM and the head coach. It was clear that both Oates and McPhee were not on the same page. Dustin Penner was brought in at the deadline and was misused. Several players were not properly deployed and a team that should be playing hockey on Wednesday finished 5th in its’ new division. The Caps went 12-15-3 against the Metropolitan Division in 2013-14 with many of the losses coming after December 27th. Overall they were 28-33 in games decided before the shootout. That is clearly not Stanley Cup contending calibre.

In the past, while the team has been steadily eroding since the spring of 2009, the organization’s motto has been “we’re close” and when they’ve been bounced out in either the first or second round the excuses have ranged from “facing a hot goaltender” to “injuries.”

There are no excuses this year and this team is not close to being a Stanley Cup contender as configured currently. Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston all suffered far worse injury situations and made the postseason. The Penguins survived five of their six defensemen out of the lineup, at one point. Those clubs have built depth and they have tremendous leadership and quality coaching. Washington does not compare in those three categories.

In sports, you are either getting better or you are getting worse. The Caps clearly fit the latter right now.

In summary, it seems apparent that the Caps “thorough review” should lead to the same conclusion I’ve arrived at: both the GM and the coaching staff need to be changed going forward.

The Caps have some key pieces they can build around in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Holtby, but they need someone running the show that really knows the league and can reshape and balance the roster. The new GM can’t overvalue his current players like this regime has done on too many occasions. They need leadership on and off of the ice. Towards that end, Leonsis may want to consider requiring the hockey department to include not only a new GM but a new Director of Player Personnel that has Stanley Cup winning experience. Winning championships is not easy to do, so getting people that have won them before so that they can help teach the others in your organization how to do it seems like a no brainer to me.

They need people that know how to get managers and players to work together. They need a hockey department with a strong work ethic and an attention to detail. They need a coaching staff that gets the club to be a team.

It’s 39 years and counting without a Stanley Cup in Washington. I’ve been watching this club since 1974 and have pretty much seen it all. There’s a time to stand pat and let things run it’s course and there is a time for change. This club is not on the right path with the current management and coaching.

Time for a big change, because clearly the “status quo” method is not working.

 

 

 

 

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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

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Close Losses Don’t Cut It Anymore For The Caps

Posted on 11 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Close only counts in hand grenades and horsehoes.

That saying totally applies to the Washington Capitals predicament right now. The Caps did a lot of things correctly on Monday night but lost a tough one, 3-2, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a result, the Capitals fall to 30-26-10 and with 16 games remaining, their playoff hopes are dwindling.

Coach Adam Oates’ club out shot the Penguins, 33-20, and out shot attempted them, 69-45, in a contest that saw the Capitals dominate the puck possession after a shaky start.

The second period was played for large stretches in the Pittsburgh zone but Jeff Zatkoff (31 saves) had the answer for 16 of the 17 shots the Caps put on the cage in the middle frame. The Pens would only get six shots on net in period two, but one of them was the game winning goal by Chris Kunitz. #14 put home the biscuit after Jaroslav Halak (17 saves) gave up a huge rebound in the slot and beat Nicklas Backstrom to the puck to bury his 31st goal of the season. Defensemen Connor Carrick and Jack Hillen were also out of position on the play.

In addition to giving up that one to Kunitz, Washington allowed a Kunitz early marker when he went around Mike Green like he was an orange road cone just 46 seconds into the contest. Just over three minutes later, Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) put the Pens up, 2-1, when he scored on the power play. Pittsburgh received that man advantage as a result of a lazy penalty by Backstrom, who did a no-no by putting his stick into the hands of #87.

So the Pittsburgh goals were the result of two defensive zone breakdowns and a bad penalty. That has been the story of the Capitals season. They continue to make mistakes in their own end and they take far too many infractions of the lazy variety.

It’s a bad combination that is difficult to overcome no matter how much you possess the puck during the rest of the game.

The Caps played intense and harder hockey on Monday night, but they still aren’t playing smart hockey.

Former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld once said, “I don’t care how hard you work, you’ll never open a can of beans with a banana.”

It seems that when the Capitals do work hard, they often fall into that line of thought by making huge mental blunders to cost themselves’ hockey games.

They desperately needed a victory on Monday and played hard. But they shot themselves in the foot again with errors.

It’s been that kind of season.

Notes: The Caps will take on the Pens on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh in a rematch…Halak wasn’t that good in net on Monday so I expect to see Braden Holtby for Washington and Marc-Andre Fleury for the Pens…Evgeny Kuznetsov made his NHL debut and had two shots on goal in just over 10 minutes of action…the Caps lost the face off battle for the sixth consecutive game (30-22)…Oates is now 0-6 as the Caps bench boss versus the Penguins.

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Forget all of that Olympic hangover/depression talk, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are on fire.

The Gr8 scored the first two goals of the game, on the power play, to lead the Caps to an impressive victory over the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins are arguably the best team in the East so to win in Beantown carries a lot of weight and puts an exclamation point on Washington’s four game winning streak.

There were lots of good things in this triumph for Coach Adam Oates’ crew.

They killed off a two minute five on three power play in the first ten minutes thanks to some outstanding shorthanded work by John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, and most importantly, Braden Holtby. If the B’s score early on that two man advantage, then this game could have gone differently. Instead the Capitals buckled down and had what was likely their most important penalty kill of the season.

Holtby is back playing at the peak of his game and he’s won all four starts during this winning streak performing super solid in the cage. #70 stopped 36 shots in this one and he had no chance on the two goals allowed. Braden’s confidence is back and the team appears more confident in front of him, as a result.

The power play struck early, when it mattered. The Caps were two for six with the man advantage, but they scored on their second and third power plays to get a key lead on the road in a tough building. Boston was 23-6-2 in their barn coming into this game.

Perhaps most importantly, players other than the top line, Carlson, and Holtby stepped up, which is needed against the elite teams in the league. Joel Ward had the goal that made it 3-0 and it was his nice cross ice pass to Marcus Johansson that helped set up the second Ovechkin tally. Eric Fehr provided the dagger for the Capitals with a huge breakaway marker on Tuukka Rask midway through the third period. #16, who has been Oates’ first choice in shootouts this season, made it look easy on Rask, who is one of the best goalies in the world. Surprisingly, Rask still has yet to beat the Capitals, the only club in the Eastern Conference that he has not been able to best. He’s 0-3-3 now against Ovechkin and company (h/t to Adam Vingan).

Alzner and Erskine had supreme efforts on the back end. King Karl and Carlson faced a super top Boston line of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, and Milan Lucic and neutralized them. Erskine, who has looked close to done this season due to bad wheels, played his best game of the season, in my book.

Despite the huge win in an intense hockey game, there are still things the team needs to improve if they are going to make the post season. The Caps were out shot at even strength by a 30-16 margin, out attempted 67-44 on the shot board, and they were creamed from the face off dot, 38-25. Boston is one of the best teams in the league for a reason: they are great on face offs and they know how to own the puck. Patrice Bergeron, who is the best two way center in the NHL, scored a power play goal and went 14-7 on draws.

In addition, the Caps need to be smarter in key situations in games. With the Caps up 3-1 in the middle frame, Mike Green forced a cross ice pass in the offensive zone that led to the Bruins second goal. The play was a poor decision, especially since #52 had a Washington forward going to the net. Greenie has to think more clearly there and direct the biscuit at the cage. Finally, with the Caps up 4-2 and Boston having an empty net, Laich (who was fabulous in this contest) decided to try and force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick with about a minute left instead of hitting what looked to be an easy empty net goal. #21 was too unselfish there and should have gone for the goal to lock up the win. Ovechkin wouldn’t have been upset either because it was the Gr8′s strong defensive play that got the puck out of the defensive zone to begin with and he would’ve gotten an assist and a plus. Forget the stats though (and plus/minus is a stat that has some serious flaws), the Caps need wins and Boston still could’ve come back at that point (see game 7 of the playoffs against Toronto last spring).

Overall, this was a big victory for the Capitals and they were determined to beat a quality opponent. This club still has some holes on the back end and it still causes inconsistency.

However, the big guns look very motivated as we head down the stretch, especially Ovechkin (43 goals in 57 games this season), Nicklas Backstrom, Carlson, and Holtby. If the rest of the squad can hold their own, and that’s a big if given their defensive zone issues, then they should be able to climb into a playoff position.

That quest continues tomorrow in a huge contest against the Flyers at the Verizon Center at 12:30 pm. Currently, Philadelphia is a point ahead of the Caps in the Metropolitan Division. A regulation win on Sunday puts Washington back in sole position of third place, and a playoff spot.

Notes: Martin Erat and Mikhail Grabovski both did not play due to injury…Johansson, who notched his 30th assist of the season, returned to the lineup after missing the Florida game due to jet lag (caused by Visa issues)…Carlson logged 24:46 of ice time to lead Washington. He was outstanding in this contest once again.

 

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Tonight’s Caps-Panthers game pretty much summed up the Washington Capitals season to date:

The elite players did just enough for the Capitals to overcome some bad penalties and terrible play by their bottom two defensive pairs to beat a bad Florida Panthers squad, 5-4.

It’s plain and simple to me: the gap in talent between the high and low end players on the roster is exactly the reason why this club struggles to find consistency.

Alexander Ovechkin scored the game winning goal (41st of the season) off of a sweet feed from Brooks Laich with 4:17 to go. Earlier in the contest the Gr8 fed Laich for a one timer that made it 2-0. Both Ovechkin and Laich would have a goal and two helpers and their center, Nicklas Backstrom, also had a goal and two assists while being on the ice for all five Washington tallies. This was easily Laich’s best performance of the 2013-14 season.

John Carlson was an absolute BEAST on defense. Go back and watch the last 45 seconds again, if you get the chance. #74 almost single handily killed that Panthers 6 on 4. Carlson has really stepped up his game this year and he is in the ELITE category on defense. During the Olympics, an NHL scout from the Western Conference told me that only two defensemen on Team USA could play for Team Canada, Ryan Suter and Carlson. That is high and correct praise for the 2008 1st round pick. Carlson logged 24:33 and had two assists on Thursday night. Simply put, for the Caps to make the playoffs, Coach Adam Oates will likely have to put Carlson on the ice for 30 minutes a game unless George McPhee can make a trade to upgrade the bottom three defensemen, but more on that later.

Troy Brouwer had an excellent night chipping in two goals by doing what he and the other grinders on this club need to do more of for Washington to be successful: crash the net. #20 notched two power play markers with his strong presence in front. It’s not rocket science on what you need to do to achieve in this league, work hard and get to the front of the cage.

As for Braden Holtby, it’s hard to fault him on the four goals. When Carlson wasn’t on the ice it was like watching the Count Floyd show in Washington’s end: Scary Stuff! With the game tied, 4-4, the Panthers had a power play midway through period three and #70 was at his absolute best on that kill. He made two huge stops in tight to keep the Cats off of the board. His goaltending allowed Ovechkin and Laich to produce the late game heroics. It’s just a shame that Holtby has to keep playing behind a couple of pairs of d-men who look lost in their own end too often.

As for those defensemen, first Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green allowed the Panthers to overcome a 2-0 hole with defensive blunders and after the Caps went up 4-2 late in period two, they gave it back with some shoddy defensive zone play in the final frame. The Cats pulled to within 4-3 when John Erskine and Connor Carrick were abused by the Panthers power play. Just over a minute later, Karl Alzner got beat in the corner and Green couldn’t help him out in front, letting Brad Boyes tie it up at four with his second goal of the night. For much of the third period, the Caps defensive zone was a train wreck when Carlson wasn’t on the ice, and that is being nice.

At the end of the night, the Capitals earned a much needed two points against an inferior opponent. They have to keep winning if they want to make the playoffs. Right now they are on the outside looking in. They’ve won four of their last five but it hasn’t come against the top dogs in the NHL.

On Saturday they face one of those squads in the Boston Bruins. After that it is a home and home with the despised Flyers, who are ahead of the Caps in the standings. They’ll need more than the top line, the power play, Carlson, and Holtby playing well to beat those teams.

But for tonight, the Caps were victorious in Florida.

They can thank their top players for this one.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski returned from injury and was hurt again in the first period and didn’t return. The team labeled it a lower body injury…Washington won the face off battle, 33-28…Carrick and Erskine logged 17 and 18 minutes, respectively. The Caps were able to overcome them tonight but it will be much tougher against Boston. I’d like to see those two play under 15 minutes each, and closer to 12 to 13 minutes…Washington was 2 for 2 on the power play and killed 5 of 6 Cats man advantage situations. Six penalties is way too high, the team needs to clean that up.

 

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

Posted on 02 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin, who shanked a one timer near the end of the first period that would’ve given the Capitals a 4-1 lead, made no mistake when given a second chance in overtime. The Gr8 took John Carlson’s perfect pass on a 4 on 3 power play and lasered it by Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to give Washington a 6-5, OT victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

The win improved the Caps to 25-22-9 (59 points) and puts them just a point out of a playoff spot.

This was one of those games that fans love and coaches mostly despise. There was lots of end to end action and numerous mistakes, which drives coaches nuts. But from a viewing perspective, it was exciting.

From a Caps angle, this game had several things to like.

First, the effort was superb from the outset. Washington, after getting thoroughly dominated in puck possession on Friday in Motown, owned the biscuit for the first half of this contest in racing to a 4-2 lead. The Capitals are scoring goals again because they are moving their feet and paying the price to get to the front of the opposition net. They are finally owning that portion of the ice and they are getting the gritty and greasy goals necessary to win. Joel Ward (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jason Chimera (1 goal, 2 assists) were the kings of that on Sunday.

Second, Washington’s forecheck generated turnovers and Martin Erat and Nicklas Backstrom’s pressure in the offensive zone directly led to a nice top shelf goal by Troy Brouwer that put the Capitals up 5-4 early in period three.

Third, the power play is clicking again and making life miserable for the opposition. The Wings tried to take Ovechkin away on the 5 on 4 and all Coach Adam Oates and company did was adjust and get two power play markers in what pretty much became 4 on 3 situations with the Gr8 blanketed. Ward tallied from the slot and John Carlson scored with a bomb from the point. Ovechkin’s game winner was on a real 4 on 3, so the Caps were 3 for 6 with the man advantage on Sunday.

Fourth, puck possession is easier to gain when you win the face off battle. Washington was 46-30 on draws and that forced Detroit to chase the Caps to try to get the biscuit for much of the game. Jay Beagle went 14-5 from the dot.

Finally, Michal Neuvirth, despite giving up five goals, was really good in net again. His pad save on Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists) with the game tied in the third period allowed the Caps to win this contest. Neuvy is in a groove and he told me afterwards he’s playing the best he has been all season. He feels comfortable and focused in the cage and he stated that the coaches have only made minor changes to his game, which allows him to play the way he’s always played.

So why did the Capitals do so many good things and still need overtime to win?

Well, let’s start with untimely penalties. Connor Carrick’s cross check in the opening frame turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-1 contest in just nine seconds. Worse though was Brouwer’s neutral zone slash with the score 4-2 late in period two. That is a killer infraction and one that gave Detroit new life when the Capitals were close to putting a stranglehold on this tilt. Brouwer has to be smarter in that situation as his penalty was selfish and lazy. I imagine Troy would be the first to tell you he hosed up there (and he did score a big goal in period three to help make up for it).

Next, the Caps defensive zone continues to have issues, particularly in coverage. After the game I asked Oates why they are giving up so many goals when it appears they have players in position to defend. The bench boss said it is simply a case of not winning the “one on one battles.” He’s right about that and it is a pattern we’ve seen too often this season. So is it a question of a lack of focus or an ability issue in their own end? My take is it is a combination of both, but I put more of it on the talent side as Washington’s defense is very inexeperienced after Carlson and Karl Alzner (Mike Green missed his second straight game due to injury).

Bottom line is this team is going to have to work super hard at both ends to overcome the defensive zone issues they have in order to climb their way into post season position. They also need to be more self disciplined by staying out of the box.

Last year the Capitals went on an amazing run down the stretch to make the playoffs by bringing a great effort each night and cutting down on penalties. That run came after a tough loss in Pittsburgh last March where the Caps played well and fell, 2-1. The Capitals fed off of the positives of that difficult loss. But this season, Chimera admitted that the loss to the Penguins on January 15th, a game in which the Caps carried the play, but lost, 4-3, took some time to recover from. Their efforts after that loss were not good for a few games until they turned the corner with a 5-0 win in Montreal.

Since Montreal (outside of the Columbus loss), Washington has improved offensively by getting more bodies and pucks to the net, so that is encouraging and they’ll need to keep that up in order to win their last three games against the Islanders, Jets, and Devils before the Olympic break.

All three tilts are at the Verizon Center and if the Capitals bring the effort they brought on Sunday, then they should be able to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference this week.

 

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

Posted on 31 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A night after getting totally whipped in Columbus, the Washington Capitals went into Detroit to take on the Red Wings.

Granted this isn’t the vintage Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008, but they still have a good hockey club and Detroit showed it by dominating the Capitals in puck possession (shot attempts were 81-54 for Detroit) and finally winning in a shootout, 4-3.

This game is 7-2 or worse if not for Michal Neuvirth (42 saves), who was absolutely outstanding throughout the night. Neuvy, who made several ten bell saves in regulation, stopped the first six shootout attempts but none of his teammates could dent Jimmy Howard in the gimmick and Patrick Eaves finally notched the game winner with a sweet glove high shot just inside the right post before Jay Beagle couldn’t convert in the 7th round.

Neuvirth, however, would have gotten the loss if not for a late push from the Caps that saw Alexander Ovechkin tie the game with seven seconds remaining after a nice feed from John Carlson (two assists). Joel Ward did a super job in front of the net on the tying tally.

Another Cap that had a good outing was Casey Wellman, who scored a huge goal to knot this one at two. Wellman took an excellent stretch pass from Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist), skated in on Howard and fired three shots before the last one finally hit the twine. Jason Chimera (1 goal, 1 assist) had a strong game along with Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Sadly, after Wellman’s great individual effort, John Erskine blew a tire in the offensive zone and that allowed Gustav Nyquist to beat a screened Neuvirth for what looked to be the game winning goal until the Gr8 late game magic.

Ovechkin now has 39 goals on the campaign and he rebounded after a poor outing in Columbus. The Caps worked harder against Detroit but they were outclassed by the Wings, which is a concern.

The Caps, without Green on the back end, had to rely heavily on Carlson (31:18 of ice time) and Alzner (23:19) on the blue line, and hope that Dmitry Orlov, Tyson Strachan, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick could hold the fort as the bottom four defenders. Unfortunately the Erskine & Carrick pair struggled and finished -2 on the night.

So an important five game road trip ends with the Capitals getting five points. The Caps are two points behind third place Carolina in the Metro Division and two points in back of the Wings, who own the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot currently. Washington now has four straight home games, including Super Bowl Sunday’s tilt against the Wings. Given that the Capitals are 13th in the conference, one would have to think they need to win at least three of the four contests on home ice this week before the Olympic break hits to stay in playoff contention.

They were fortunate to get a point in Motown on Friday night. They can thank Neuvirth for this one along with some late game heroics from Ovechkin.

Notes: The Wings played without star center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Johan Franzen while the Caps didn’t have Mike Green or Mikhail Grabovski, due to injuries. According to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Coach Adam Oates confirmed that Green is undergoing concussion protocol and in addition, Brooks Laich was shut down for the third period due to “tightness.” Finding healthy bodies to play continues to get tougher for Washington…five Washington forwards didn’t even ATTEMPT a shot tonight (Martin Erat, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Beagle, and Tom Wilson), that is not good at all.

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

That quote could not be more true about the Washington Capitals performance against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Caps only allowed one goal, out shot their opponents (36-29), out shot attempted San Jose (69-59), only took one minor penalty, and generated numerous quality chances and more of them than the Sharks.

Yet somehow, the Capitals did not win against the Sharks and lost for the 17th time in 18 tries against San Jose since the turn of the century.

But this is what you call a good loss. Yes, the final was 2-1, in a shootout, but if Washington gives that type of effort, plays that type of game with that focus, and gets that kind of quality in game coaching, then the Caps are going to be a team that makes the playoffs and with some talent upgrades in a few spots, can do some damage in the spring in the post season.

As it stands now, the Caps are 22-16-8 (52 points) and tied for 2nd place with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals have a game in hand on Philly.

Now, after all of that, the next word out of my mouth is “Wow!”

That was some hockey game and if you were in the Verizon Center, you certainly got your money’s worth on this night. This was easily one of the best hockey game’s I have seen all season in the league. There was a great flow to the game with only 1 power play each. There was hitting, good hockey plays, a great fight, and some amazing skill.

Let’s start with the amazing skill. Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL leading 33rd goal from a bad angle on the left wing boards in the second frame to tie this contest up. The Gr8 had very little room, but he lasered a pass from Karl Alzner top shelf on Antti Niemi. How good was the goal? Well, Hall of Fame defensemen Mark Howe, who scouts for the Detroit Red Wings, put his hands about four inches apart to describe the small space Ovechkin had to put the puck to score and then stated that the only guys he thought he’s seen play that could have pulled that shot off were Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, and Mario Lemieux. That’s rarified air there.

Ovechkin was outstanding in this game with 10 shot attempts and a strong two way effort. His last power rush in overtime was breathtaking and he just shot the puck wide of the far post. Had that gone in, they’d still be looking for the roof of the Verizon Center.

The Capitals did several things right in this game. Since allowing a lot of odd man rushes in Tampa last Thursday, they’ve clamped down and cut those to a minimum. Caps defensemen John Carlson gave credit to the forwards for that turnaround. In Coach Adam Oates’ system, if the defensemen holds the offensive blue line than it is the responsibility of one of the forwards to kick it into gear and cover for him. That hadn’t been the case on several occasions this season. In addition, the Capitals forwards are doing a much better job of getting the puck fully into the zone and limiting turnovers as they cross the blue line.

Washington’s overall puck support and gap control was excellent in this tilt and that is why they had the majority of puck possession. Sure there were some mistakes, like the fancy play Dmitry Orlov made that led to the Sharks tally, but Oates stated that there are “at least 20 mistakes in every game.” The important thing there was #81 didn’t allow that first period miscue to thwart his game going forward. Orlov kept playing the way he needs to and he and Mike Green had a very good night receiving 22:38 and 25:11 of ice time, respectively.

As for the Caps top defensive pair, Alzner and Carlson, they had the difficult task of trying to shut down Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns. They passed the test with flying colors as #27 and #74 prevented the trio from getting a single point. Oates did a super job of using his last change to get his top pair against that line and you got the feeling that if Thornton had left the bench to go to the men’s room that Alzner would have followed him in. Jumbo Joe played 22:55 and Alzner, not coincidentally, logged 22:49. Carlson commented that playing Thornton and company is not fun because the line is so big, but Carlzner did their job and also were on the ice for the Ovechkin goal. Great game for those two excellent Capitals players.

Philipp Grubauer turned in a solid effort in goal that was made easier by the great team defense. There wasn’t really anything he could do on the Sharks goal, that came off a turnover while Washington was changing personnel. That allowed Tyler Kennedy to deflect home a Jason Demers point shot with traffic in front.

Overall, this was a very good Capitals performance and it was an enjoyable game to watch. The Caps didn’t get two points, but that’s the way it goes in the gimmick. The Sharks have won 7 of 8 in the shootout. Washington could use some PDO or puck luck, as statistician and fancy stat guru Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) would tell you.

But the key is the rolling 10 game average on Washington’s puck possession numbers has reached it’s highest point this season. The game is more than just 5 vs 5 puck possession, though. You have to limit penalties, minimize turnovers and play well on special teams. You also need good goaltending. The Capitals had most of those covered on Tuesday but just couldn’t finish off the Sharks, who are among the top teams in the NHL.

It was a good contest to measure where the Caps are right now. The way they played is encouraging, outside of a 10 minute lapse in period one that started with a rough shift by the Capitals 3rd defensive pair. Oates decision to switch Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich to start the 2nd period was a great coaching move and as a result, Washington carried much of the play in the final 45 minutes.

Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the Capitals and Oates was pleased in his post game presser.

“It was a good game. Good hockey game. I thought the whole team played very well. Hard fought game; great pace to it. Obviously, didn’t come through in the shootout, but it was a good hockey game.”

Now the Caps go into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night (8pm on NBCSN) to take on the first place Penguins, a team they have yet to defeat under Oates.

Will they be able to parlay their solid play Tuesday into another strong performance and a victory on Wednesday at Mellon Arena?

If they play like they did against San Jose, than they have a decent chance to do so against one of the NHL’s elite clubs.

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, losers of their last four games, desperately needed a win on Thursday night in Tampa.

After blowing a 3-1 lead, Eric Fehr deflected home a Mike Green point shot with 51 seconds left to break a 3-3 tie and end the Capitals losing skid. It was a hard earned victory and the Caps move back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division at 21-16-6 (48 points).

There were a lot of things to like in this game, starting with the play of goalie Philipp Grubauer (33 saves). The young netminder made one of the best saves of the year in the final frame with Washington clinging to a 3-2 lead on a two on one Tampa rush. Grubauer went to the splits and somehow managed to deny what seemed to be a sure goal for the Bolts. Yes, the Caps would yield the tying goal after that, but if that one goes in, on a shorthanded rush mind you, Washington likely doesn’t recover. The young German goalie is playing extremely well and right now is the #1 guy. Now I would rest him on Friday night when the Caps take on the Leafs at the Verizon Center (7 pm) and give Braden Holtby a start after a long flight home from Florida, but then I’d go back with Grubauer on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres.

Up front, the line of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal), and Fehr (2 goals) was outstanding generating 21 of the 57 shot attempts the Capitals had in this contest (Tampa had 58 shot attempts). On the three tallies that members of the line were involved in, they did a great job of getting traffic on the opposing net. Grabovski provided the screen on Fehr’s first tally off of a sweet pass from the Gr8. By the way, if you are one of those people who think Ovechkin is selfish with the puck and can’t pass, then I suggest you put down the dope you’re smoking and check yourself in to the next rehab center. Alex’s passing is underrated and he moved the biscuit extremely well, once again, in this one. It was his steal in the defensive zone, quick up ice rush, and good pass that set the whole winning goal sequence up.

I also liked the strong defensive play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. That duo is as solid as it gets and neither was on the ice for a goal against. Each picked up an assist and were +1 in 26:08 and 21:52 of ice time, respectively. Carlson’s volleyball swat of a Grubauer rebound in the third period likely saved a goal.

Washington’s power play was once again a thing of beauty and they continue to find different ways to score. Grabovski got the first PPG by going to the cage and then with the Bolts over playing Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson did his best Julius Erving imitation and stuffed one home late in the opening frame to make it 3-1. The Caps also killed off the only Lightning power play so the special teams were a big factor in the victory.

Now to the things I did not like, and some of them are disturbing trends.

First, and foremost, the Capitals are allowing FAR TOO MANY odd man rushes. Two of the three Bolts goals were off of them, a first period breakaway after Troy Brouwer made a bad pass with both Dmitry Orlov and Green in poor position and a two on one in the second period when John Erskine got caught too far up the ice. On that two on one, Connor Carrick did not do a good job of letting Grubauer know the pass was going to be cut off and as a result, B.J. Crombeen beat him short side for his first goal in over 50 games. Goalies need to know where the shots are coming from to stop them and the Caps defenders are doing a lousy job of helping that occur. Washington defenders are getting caught up ice too often and the other defender is too many times doing a lousy job of playing the odd man rush. Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson have got to get this team to first minimize the number of odd man breaks against, and then better prepare their defenders to play them when they do happen.

The line of Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer was not good. They only generated 10 shot attempts and were on the ice for two goals against, one of them the tying goal off of a defensive zone face off. Brouwer was the worst of the three with his awful turnover and then screening Grubauer on the tying goal. Either block the shot there or get out of the way. Overall, Washington’s forwards are not doing a good enough job of blocking shots this season and that needs to change. More often than not, they are screens instead of a goalie assistant in their own zone.

Erskine and whomever he is paired with continues to be a struggling duo. #4′s lack of speed is hurting him and he was woefully out of a position on the Crombeen tally.

Despite the things that still must be cleaned up, this team needed a victory and they got one against a very good Tampa team. Yes, the Bolts are without Steven Stamkos and they were just returning from a grueling road trip, but they are a quality hockey club so a win for the Caps, in regulation, is a good step in the right direction.

We’ll see if they can parlay that into a winning streak with the struggling Leafs and woeful Sabres coming to DC this weekend.

 

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps spotted the young and rebuilding Calgary Flames 3-0 and 4-1 leads on Thursday night in Washington’s home opener at the Verizon Center, but thanks to three points from Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) the Capitals were able to rally and defeat their opponents, 5-4, in a shootout. As in Tuesday’s contest against Chicago, there was lots of good and bad to Washington’s play, but the most important thing is that the Caps were able to even their record at 1-1 and gain two standings points.

So what went right for the Capitals on Thursday night?

First, their power play continues to scorch the opposition. Ovechkin and company were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) scored the game tying tally with 5:50 remaining after a super feed from Mikhail Grabovski. Last year the Caps were first in the NHL with the power play at 26.8%. In two games, they are 5 for 9 for a 55.6% success rate. That is amazing, but when you watch this team work with the puck in five on four situations it is a thing of beauty and that is why the results are so good. The Caps are extremely difficult to defend and Grabovski has actually been an upgrade over a very good Mike Ribeiro on the first unit so far.

Second, Oates’ decision to switch goaltenders in the first period paid off. Braden Holtby (3 goals on 11 shots) wasn’t getting much support in front of him so at 16:22 of the first frame Michal Neuvirth came in and he stopped 27 of 28 shots as well as two shootout attempts in the gimmick. Neuvy’s only blemish was on his giveaway behind the net that led to Lance Bouma’s tally that made it 4-1 Calgary 29:05 into the contest.

Finally, the Capitals generated a lot of chances and despite giving up four goals, the Flames Karri Ramo played solidly in net (4 goals on 39 shots).

So what went wrong and why?

After too many turnovers in Chicago on Tuesday and some coverage lapses against a super Blackhawks team, one would hope that the Caps would be able to shut down a much less talented Calgary forward group. That did not come close to happening. Time after time the Flames came into Washington’s zone with speed and they created lanes to the net that made goaltending difficult. In the overtime Calgary carried the four on four play as Washington struggled to move the Flames off of the puck in their own zone.

The early season struggles on defense is a bit of a concern and the injury to Jack Hillen isn’t going to help. Hillen was rammed into the left wing boards by Bouma on a hit that looked a little late and too low. #38 went to the ice in pain and was helped off. It was reported afterwards that he suffered a lower body injury and was at the hospital. We’ll know more tomorrow but it looks to be a long term injury which will necessitate the need for a call up. A left handed defensemen is needed and Nate Schmidt is in the mix for the potential call up. Based on NHL experience, Dmitry Orlov seems like a logical choice but #81 continues to struggle with his game after suffering a concussion last December.

As for the poor defensive performance, Oates felt that the Capitals came out flat after an emotionally charged game on Tuesday in the Windy City. As a result, the Flames got a couple of early goals and that juiced their energy. Calgary was really flying, at times, and the Caps had some trouble keeping up. Brooks Laich thought Washington was outworked in the first period. Karl Alzner was not happy with the performance on defense and stated that the team could not win consistently giving up four or more goals. Alzner said that Calgary is quick and they did have more jump early. He mentioned that he spoke with some of the Flames prior to the game and they had a hard working training camp, which helped their conditioning. In addition, King Karl says that the Capitals D may be focusing too much on getting the puck up the ice quickly and it is leading to turnovers and poor positioning. Alzner stated that rather than trying for the fast outlet pass that the defense consider the option of just chipping it out off of the glass when the pass completion percentage is not great.

Overall, the Flames generated far too many scoring chances and Neuvirth had to make some tough stops in the third period and overtime to give his team a chance to get the victory. The offense did their part to cover up some shoddy play in Washington’s end. Through two games defense is the major area of concern, but there are 80 more contests to go and as stated after Tuesday’s loss, this is a work in progress on the back end.

The intensity and focus was not there for Washington for stretches of play, but the Capitals did manage to earn a much needed two points.

Notes: Marcus Johansson had three assists…Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box. He logged 17:26 of ice time on defense…Tom Wilson pounded Bouma in a fight after the Flame took out Hillen. Wilson only played 5:52 but he was effective in that time with a couple of shots on goal and a pair of hits…Martin Erat only played 6:30 and is probably not a happy camper…the Eric Fehr line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) logged about six minutes more at even strength than the Erat, Wilson, and Jay Beagle unit…Mike Green had an assist in 31:01 of ice time (led all players in TOI)…the Caps claimed defensemen Alexander Urbom off waivers from the Devils and sent center Michael Latta to Hershey to make room for the left handed defensive defensemen from Sweden…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena on Saturday night at 8pm.

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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

Posted on 01 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s only one game, but a pattern seen in the Washington Capitals pre season continued again in the season opener in Chicago on Tuesday night: turnovers. The Caps did a lot of good things in a contest against a super Blackhawks team, including scoring three power play goals, but they were just too careless with the puck on too many occasions and it cost them at least a point in the Windy City.

Washington took a 4-3 lead early in the third period after two Mikhail Grabovski deflections (#84 had a hat trick plus an assist), but then a Connor Carrick offensive zone miscue led to the tying goal before another turnover in the defensive corner by the Caps allowed Johnny Oduya to score a deflected goal off of Braden Holtby’s glove. It was one #70 would like back and it was tough to see that one cost Washington the game after Holtby made several ten bell saves in period two to keep his club in it.

One thing is for sure, this Capitals team is going to be exciting to watch. Grabovski was all over the ice and his addition seems to mitigate the loss of center Mike Ribeiro to free agency. The Caps have several lines that can score and there were stretches where Washington tilted the ice in their favor. The power play, run by coach Adam Oates and Blaine Forsythe, was great up until late in the game when the Caps had a 5 on 3 but couldn’t convert. Grabovski played below the goal line on the first unit and he really helped open things up for the others. 

But the theme of the game, and what led to a 0 point night, was Washington’s struggles in their own zone. The Caps positioning was bad and they repeatedly failed with their clears. Carrick and Jack Hillen had a rough night as the 3rd defensive pair but several others on the back end gave the puck away too much. Eric Fehr did some nice things at center, but he had his struggles positioning wise when it came to playing defense. The good news is that can be corrected with more reps for #16 at the pivot. The team turnovers are correctable too, but as stated in Sunday night’s blog, the defense is a little shaky and is the weakness on this hockey team right now.

You can bet that Oates and company will adjust going forward. Also keep in mind that Washington won’t be playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions every night. Chicago has a great hockey team and the Caps were in position to win in the third period. That’s encouraging, but there is lots of work to be done for the Capitals to get where they want to be. The offense looks really good, but you have to be able to play in your own end. It will be a work in progress on the back end.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had 9 shots on net and netted a goal and an assist…rookie Tom Wilson only played 6:40 against a very quick Hawks club…Chicago was 1 for 4 on the power play but their first tally was just seconds after Fehr’s minor expired. The Caps were hoping to improve their PK this season but it got off to a rough start…Washington lost the faceoff battle 31-29 but they did win several in a row late when they had the five on three advantage (Backstrom won most of them)…the final score was 6-4. Marian Hossa was awarded a goal late when he was ruled to be tripped en route to the empty cage…the Capitals open their season at the Verizon Center on Thursday at 7 pm against the Calgary Flames.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction at 7:25 am on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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