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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Caps Pound Flyers in Preparation for Season Opener

Posted on 27 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The revamped Philadelphia Flyers came to the Verizon Center on Friday night to take on a Washington Capitals team that didn’t dress four of its’ top five defensemen. In a preseason tilt filled with numerous fights, the Caps smoked the Flyers, 6-3, to run their September record to 4-0-3 as they head into Saturday’s exhibition season finale in Chicago. The season then opens on Tuesday, October 1st with Washington taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, again in the Windy City.

Here are some thoughts and observations on the Caps last home tune-up:

- Alex Ovechkin notched two sweet power play goals from the slot. The first was a laser off of a nice feed from Connor Carrick (3 assists) and the second came on a rebound that was aided by Ray Emery’s mishandling of the puck. The Gr8 looks to be in great form for the regular season but in between he’ll depart on Friday night for Greece where he’ll be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch for the Sochi games after it is lit in Olympia. Ovechkin will return to DC on Sunday night and will practice on Monday before the season opener.

- There is not much more Tom Wilson can do to show he belongs on the team. He scored another goal going to the net (sweet pass by Mikhail Grabovski), got into a fight with Brayden Schenn and he beat the young Flyer to a pulp, drew a penalty that led to Ovie’s 2nd PPG, and doled out several hits. The 19 year old is an NHLer now and brings an added dimension of size and toughness to a Capitals team that will need it in the new Metropolitan Division. Some Flyers, to include Scott Hartnell, got knocked off of their game mentally by Wilson in Friday’s contest.

- Eric Fehr tallied two more times to run his preseason goal total to five. #16 looks great and the hope is that he can stay healthy for a full season to see what he can do. Washington is loaded at right wing with Ovechkin, Wilson, Fehr, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward.

- With Mike Green, John Carlson, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen all resting on Friday night, Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee got a chance to look at several players vying for the 6th and 7th defensemen spots on the roster. Noone really stood out among the three guys with the best chance to get those slots in Steve Oleksy, Tyson Strachan, and Dmitry Orlov. Each had some solid plays, especially in the opening frame when the Caps jumped to a 2-0 lead. But when the Flyers scored three straight in the middle stanza to tie the game up, each of the three had their share of mistakes. Carrick probably had the best game on D other than Karl Alzner, but with two right handed offensive guys already on the squad in Green and Carlson, it doesn’t make sense to keep Carrick up. Michal Cajkovski did once again show off his heavy left handed shot on the blue line but he needs more seasoning. Right now, the odds seem to favor Oleksy and Strachan to get the last two D spots while Orlov goes down to Hershey to play lots of minutes and get his confidence back.

- Michal Neuvirth had a good night in net stopping 32 of 35 shots. His stick handling is improved and that will be important in the regular season. Both goalies will play lots of games but Braden Holtby is the clear #1 now. Holtby’s ability to move the puck really helps the defense and adds another dimension from the back line.

 - Playing goalie in Philadelphia might be the toughest position in the NHL and Emery may not be the answer the Flyers are hoping for in goal. The net minder already had one problematic stint in the city of Brotherly Love and he looked weak on Friday night. Is Steve Mason the guy for the job in Philly? One thing Peter Laviolette should be concerned about is the fact that his team has struggled in the preseason and they also couldn’t beat a Caps team that didn’t dress many of their top D. Yes the Flyers inked Vinny Lecavlier this summer but there are still lots of holes on that Philly team. Claude Giroux is still a super player, though, and will have to carry that club.

So we are just four days from the regular season opener and the Caps roster is still up in the air. McPhee and Oates have a lot of work to do over the next 48+ hours to finalize things and the decisions are not easy, especially when the salary cap gets factored in. Washington has 14 NHL forwards, so do they keep them all and only 7 defensemen? Or do they go 13 forwards and 8 defensemen or possibly just 13 and 7 to be one spot under the 23 man limit? We’ll find out very soon.

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Caps Knock Off Jets in Preparation for Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 15 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Mike Green scored on a sweet, top shelf wrister in the shootout on Saturday night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Belleville, Ontario. This was the Caps pre-season opener and it was played in an Ontario Hockey League barn on Olympic sized ice.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on the opening contest in a slate of eight tune ups before the regular season starts on Tuesday, October 1st in Chicago:

- The first period was fast and furious! Washington carried the large majority of the play and the skill of the Caps really came out on the big ice. The Capitals had numerous scoring chances in a scoreless first frame but Winnipeg’s goaltender, Edward Pasquale, was the reason no red lights were turned on.

- Braden Holtby, outside of a second period turnover, was very aggressive and solid playing the puck. His stickhandling ability is a big advantage for the Caps and I expect Coach Adam Oates to make more use of it this season, especially since he has a full training camp to implement things.

- Speaking of Holtby, he made some good saves, but like many other NHL goalies, will have to adjust to the new net sizes. The Jets second tally came on a wraparound goal that is made easier by the changes made to the back of the cage (the shooting area in the front is still the same).

- 19 year old Tom Wilson is on a quest to make the Caps opening night roster and he did a lot of good things in this tilt. He continued to take the body but playing with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti, he was a force on the ice. He showed solid speed and had some chances to score. In addition, he set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Overall, #43 had a very positive first pre-season contest and he will challenge hard for a roster spot.

- Stanislav Galiev, Washington’s 3rd round choice in 2010, was involved in several quality scoring chances for Washington. The Russian winger, who didn’t tally in 17 games with Hershey last season and ended up playing 46 tilts in the ECHL with Reading, also scored a goal going to the net. #49 looks much improved and if he can play and contribute in Hershey this season, that would be a big step for his development.

- Alex Ovechkin took a nasty high stick that got lodged up under his visor in the opening frame, but after some stitches, the Gr8 returned to the game in the first frame and played his normal shift the rest of the night. Ovechkin continues to be a member of the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

- Washington’s power play was a mixed bag on the night. They failed to score on the four minute minor doled out after Ovechkin was mauled and had a four on three in overtime that they didn’t connect on, as well. However, they tied the game midway through the third period on a nifty passing play between Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer. #20 got the tally from his normal spot, in the slot and in the middle of the opposition’s penalty killing box configuration.

- As one would expect, after the high tempo first period, the pace started to slow and the lack of game conditioning brought on a sloppier brand of hockey.

- Pasquale was the reason this contest went to the extra frame and gimmick, but Philipp Grubauer certainly showed he still has NHL ability. #31 didn’t allow a Jet to score in the shootout and he earned the victory in a barn he used to play in regularly.

- While the Caps owned the Jets last season, it will be nice to not have to face Evander Kane on a regular basis. #9 is a Caps killer and he had two tallies on Saturday night. Kane is a stud at wing and if he ever gets some decent line mates, look out!

- Jack Hillen got Washington on the board with a quick shot from the left side and he was paired with Steven Oleksy on defense. The other d-pairs were Green with Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt with Connor Carrick. Schmidt wore #88 and is a free agent signed out of the University of Minnesota that played in Hershey last spring. He had a decent game and showed some serious potential.

On Monday night, the Capitals will take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. Per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Washington will field a lineup that will not include any players from Saturday’s game against Winnipeg. On Tuesday, the Capitals host the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins at the Baltimore Arena in the 2nd Annual Baltimore Hockey Classic. The last one was a great event except for the ice conditions, but that issue has been addressed and there should be some quality hockey played. Game time is 7pm in Charm City.

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