Tag Archive | "Carrick"

The Caps fight hard but get 0 power plays in a tough loss in Carolina

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Caps Winning Streak Ends at 9 in Carolina

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, I guess all good things have to come to an end.

In a contest in which the odds were heavily stacked against them, even before referees Steve Kozari and Mike Leggo put on their Canes colored glasses, the Washington Capitals, who were undermanned without Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik in the lineup, battled as hard as they could before falling in the third period to Carolina, 4-2.

Gone went their nine game winning streak. Ditto for their string of five consecutive road wins.

But their streak of never quitting continued. Sure, the way they fought back, once again, is a moral victory on New Year’s Eve. After all, they gave everything they had to rally and defeat the Sabres on Wednesday night without Nicklas Backstrom and Beagle in the third period plus Carlson, Orpik, and Michael Latta out for the entire contest. They then had to travel to Raleigh to face a rested Hurricanes team that has been playing well.

But that’s hockey and there are no excuses.

Washington was dominated for stretches of this tilt and, at times, were their own worst enemy. Case in point, the Carolina third goal where Hershey call up Zach Sill inexplicably left sniper Jeff Skinner all alone in the slot for the game winning goal. That gave the Canes a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

However, the Caps did come out of this one with a lot of positives.

Let’s start with the pregame good news. Word is that Carlson should be back for Tuesday’s road game in Boston, so #74, who is in the top 10 to 15 defensemen in the league, should only miss a total of four games. Next, Backstrom, who scored the Capitals first goal on a whale of a snipe, was deemed healthy and looked good after suffering an upper body injury against the Sabres. Also, Latta, who stepped up for Justin Williams on Monday night and was injured fighting a circus clown, returned to the lineup and had some very strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Laich. Burakovsky, who scored on Wednesday to break a two month scoreless drought, logged 12:18, went +2, and was flying on the ice. That’s very encouraging and he will be very much needed come April and beyond. Remember when he dominated Caps-Rangers game four last spring? That’s what Coach Trotz and company need from this kid.

In addition, Alex Ovechkin notched his fourth goal in three games to move to 21 on the season and 496 in his career. The Gr8 came awfully close to tying this contest up late. In 20:05 of ice time Alexander the Great had 10 shot attempts, including six on net and four hits.

In goal, Philipp Grubauer almost singlehandedly gave the Caps a chance with a super effort making 33 saves, many of which were from the high danger zone. Coach Trotz should have no issue with giving Braden Holtby some rest over the remainder of the season given how well #31 is playing.

On the downside, the Caps have been piecing it together on the blue line with all of the injuries and that’s two games in a row where Coach Trotz has basically sat Connor Carrick and gone with just a five man rotation for the third period. Perhaps Aaron Ness, who was recalled from Hershey on Thursday, will get a sweater against the big Blue Jackets? That would make sense, and it in no way is a knock on the progress of Carrick. The young blue liner is only 21 and it really takes a player physically and mentally until 23 or 24 to thoroughly become a game in and game out NHL blue liner. Nate Schmidt is now 24 and is coming into his own, but two years ago, he was at a spot similar to where Carrick’s development is now.

In addition, the officiating was just downright pitiful. Carolina is one of the least penalized teams in the NHL, but you want to tell me they didn’t commit any infractions in this one while the Caps were called for three penalties? Sorry, but I’m going all Reg Dunlop, at this point.

WE ALL SAW IT WITH OUR OWN EYES!!!

Yes, the Jordan Staal trip on Evgeny Kuznetsov in the faceoff dot that allowed the Canes to get an odd man rush the other way that they scored the opening tally on. Also, the BLATANT interference on Tom Wilson that was not called with Grubauer pulled and the Caps storming the castle late. Willy had the lane to the puck to set up a chance to tie the game, but due to the non-call, the Hurricanes were able to get to the biscuit easily and hit the empty net to close this one out.

Those were two critical sequences where the zebras landed on the incorrect side of the play, as well as the Capitals, and were a major influence on the outcome. There is no denying that.

There were other missed calls, as well, most notably another Staal interference on Marcus Johansson in the third period. Basically, I started wondering if Kozari and Leggo were distant relatives of the Staal family. Maybe I’ll give Oliver Stone a call to check on that?

When it comes to the officiating on Thursday night, it’s pretty clear the prosecution (aka, me) rests its case, but with Gary Bettman and company as the judge and jury, we all know this poor performance will be swept under the rug. NFL officiating is bad, but at least they admit their mistakes, unlike the way the NHL tries to ignore the evidence in a Nixon administration-like fashion.

Oh well, I guess all NHL referees can’t be of the calibre of Dave Jackson, so the trend of poor officiating will continue, especially when it comes to plays involving Wilson. So thanks again, 30 Thoughts!

With the defeat, the Caps fall to 28-7-2 and still lead the Eastern Conference by 11 points over the New York Islanders. Washington is still a bit banged up and now head to Columbus to face a Blue Jackets team that just defeated the Dallas Stars, 6-3, on Tuesday night. They are coached by the insufferable John Tortorella and will play a hard, physical style. The Caps have a chance to keep another streak going on Saturday, they’ve gone 37 games without a two game losing streak, but now that one is in jeopardy with key guys still out.

But that’s hockey and all that matters is wins and losses, there are no excuses, so the Caps need to get back on the horse to prevail on Saturday night.

Notes: Did I mention the power plays were 3 to 0 for Carolina?…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-28. Williams was 2-0, but the Caps were 0 for 0 on draws on the power play…the shot attempts were 69-53 for the Canes, but they had seven shots on goal on their power plays alone while the Caps had, oh wait, I forgot they had no power plays, did I say that yet?…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:25 including 0:00 on the power play…the Caps had no power plays in this game.

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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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Tough Weekend for Caps, But Not For Hershey

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.

The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.

In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.

Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.

Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).

The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.

Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.

Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.

It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.

Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.

On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.

Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.

Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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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