Tag Archive | "Chimera"

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Ovechkin’s Best Game of Season Gets Oates His First Win

Posted on 27 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps to win consistently, they need above average games from their three star players.

On Sunday afternoon, Washington got exactly that from Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green.

Add some superb goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (22 saves) into the equation and it resulted in a 3-2 Caps victory over Buffalo, Washington’s first of the season in five tries. It also was Coach Adam Oates first head coaching victory at the NHL level.

This was a game the Caps absolutely had to have after an 0-3-1 start, especially with two road games this week in Ottawa and Toronto followed by home tilts on Friday with the despised Flyers and Super Bowl Sunday afternoon with the hated Penguins.

Fortunately they won it because the real Ovechkin showed up at the Verizon Center on Sunday. The Gr8 was skating hard, hitting (3 hits), and shooting the biscuit (5 shots on goal). He also scored the game winner on a perfect power play feed from Green, who continues to carry the Caps defense (27:58 of ice time). When Ovechkin plays like that, more often than not, the Capitals win.

Oates clearly saw a change in Ovechkin and Backstrom in this one because he reunited 19 and 8 six minutes into period two and more importantly, he put a physical Troy Brouwer along with them. In my opinion, those are the three best players at their respective positions on the team and to “load up” the first line seems to make the most sense.

Washington continued to get another strong game from Joel Ward. #42, who told me at the team’s first practice that he was finally healthy after hernia surgery, continues to work hard and go to the net. He is strong in the corners and is back skating like the dominant player he was in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators. Ward had a goal and assist in 15:23 of ice time, which included 1:45 of power play time. He certainly merits that man advantage time and deservers a spot on the second unit simply because he goes to the net where the garbage goals are scored.

The Caps also did their best job of the season of staying out of the penalty box. They only had to kill off two minors (and the call on Joey Crabb was borderline, at best) and they now are 9 for their last 10 on the PK.  On the power play, the Caps did get the winning tally with the man advantage and went 1 for 3. Washington still needs to get more traffic on the opposing goalie because perfect passing plays are not always going to be available like they executed on the game winner. If they get bodies and pucks to the net on a consistent basis they will improve on the 4 for 23 rate they have through five games.

Overall, it was a good victory for the Caps but they beat a team that was without their best player in Tomas Vanek. Washington has dug itself a little standings hole here early and with Tampa jumping out to a 4-1 start, the Capitals will need similar efforts every night to make a run for the division or get into the post season.

With Brooks Laich still out up front and Dmitry Orlov still sidelined on the back end, the Caps are missing two players that I expected a lot from this season. The team is already short top six forwards so Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green along with the goaltenders, have to be on their games each night for this team to contend.

They did that on Sunday, so the club can breathe a sigh of relief. However, the games continue to come fast and furious in this 48 tilt season so there is a very small margin of error going forward.

Notes: Oates showed defensive confidence in Backstrom and Ovechkin putting them on the ice in the last minute. Both did their job in their own end with #19 making a great play to get the puck to Ovechkin for what looked to be an easy open net, but somehow the Gr8 didn’t bury the biscuit on a play he typically scores on 99 times out of 100…Washington dominated from the dot, 33-20, and outshot the Sabres, 30-24…Jay Beagle was 12-3 on faceoffs…Jason Chimera had two assists in another solid game.

 

 

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Sloppy Play and Penalties Cost Caps in Season Opener

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is only one game, but the Washington Capitals were very sloppy, took too many penalties, and looked anything like a playoff team in their season opener, a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Adam Oates, when he watches this one on film, will not be a happy man as his club made far too many mistakes, especially in their own end. The defensive zone coverage, which had improved under Dale Hunter last season, was atrocious in this one giving a Lightning team with some series weapons, such as Martin St. Louis (3 points) and Steven Stamkos (2 points), too much room and too many quality chances. The Bolts skill took over when the Caps broke down and several ill advised penalties helped to doom Washington as well, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault’s lazy back to back trips that gave Tampa a five on three that they used to take the lead for good in the third period.

Braden Holtby, who shined in Hershey in December, did not have a good game getting beat up high several times. Granted he could probably sue his teammates for non support on mulitple goals. In addition, three of the goals against came on the power play as Washington was shorthanded seven times.

It is very difficult to win in the NHL when you are out power played seven to four and it would be difficult to try and blame the imbalance on the referees. Plain and simple, the Caps were lazy on too many occassions and deserved to be whistled for most of those infractions (the Jason Chimera call was bogus, though).

As I wrote in this blog on Friday night, in order for the Caps to be successful they need production from their big guns of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Green. I thought the Caps top line of 90-19-8 was downright terrible in this affair and if I had a vote I’d break that trio up immediately because there is a lack of net presence on that line.

Despite the ugly loss, there were some positives. First off, I thought Mike Ribeiro was excellent. #9 has a strong stick at both ends of the rink and his playmaking skills are a treat to watch. There is no doubt he makes the guys on his line better and Wojtek Wolski was rewarded with a goal tonight for getting on the ice with the former Dallas Star. If Wolski continues to go to the net he will score a lot of goals because Ribeiro is very good at getting the puck there.

In addition, Joel Ward looked like a completely different player than last season. Clearly the hernia surgery was a huge success because #42 was a force all night and he tallied twice by working hard and going to the net. Ward, Jason Chimera, and Jay Beagle were another solid line for Oates on Saturday night. On defense, the only player I thought who played up to par was Karl Alzner, the rest simply made too many mistakes in coverage in their own end.

Fortunately for Washington, this is only one loss and there are 47 more games to play. They have lots of room for improvement but if this team wants to make the postseason, they must get production from their top line. What we saw from them on Saturday night just doesn’t cut it, in my book.

Notes: The Caps next game and home opener is on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center…defensemen Jack Hillen was hit hard into the boards by Vincent Lecavalier in the second period and did not return. He only played 3:29 overall…defensemen Tom Poti played his first NHL game in over two years. He logged 13:20 and was a -2…the Capitals went 1 for 4 on the power play. They need to get more bodies in front of the opposing goaltender with the man advantage. Bolts goalie Anders Lindback was able to see the shots too well in this one.

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Ovechkin

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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Fast Start, Special Teams Propel Caps into Game 7

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Fast Start, Special Teams Propel Caps into Game 7

Posted on 10 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After losing game five in traumatic fashion and facing post season elimination, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start in game six on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center to stay alive in their best of seven series with the New York Rangers.

Boy did they get just what the doctor ordered.

All series I’ve been talking about the Capitals needing to use their speed to take advantage of a slooowww New York Rangers defense and right out of the gate the Caps did just that. Jason Chimera went flying by Anton Stralman and the Rangers d-man had to haul him down. Out trotted the Caps power play but instead of Alexander Ovechkin at the point, like he typically is, Coach Dale Hunter had Mike Green and Dennis Wideman manning the blue line with the Gr8 down low with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Talk about making the right move at the right time, Ovechkin alertly worked himself into the slot and found himself wide open. Super Swede #19 fed him beautifully and the Gr8 one timed it top right corner past Henrik Lundqvist only 88 seconds into the contest. Verizon Center erupted and Hunter said afterwards that every team plays better with a lead. He also talked about the changed power play configuration, which this team actually practiced before the playoffs began and have used a couple of times this post season, but not much, if at all, in this series.

“It’s just one of those changes we make. We thought that Ovi, with his big shot, could get a shot off. On the play, one of their players fell and really left an opening and a shot from there by Ovi doesn’t miss very often,” said Hunter.

The goal was doubly important because it came on the power play and when you score first and carry the special teams battle, you normally win the hockey game. On this night Washington would go 1 for 3 with the man advantage while killing off all five Blueshirts power plays (10 minutes worth).

Another big key to victory was the play of the Backstrom-Chimera-Alex Semin line. That unit gave the Rangers fits all evening and it was the strong play on the boards of #’s 19 and 28 that allowed the Capitals to get their first two goal lead since game two. Backstrom started it behind the net and then Semin made a strong move off of the wall shedding his Ranger defender. #28 found an open John Carlson on the far boards, who blasted one towards the net. Backstrom had come out to position himself in the prime scoring position and the puck hit him and bounced right to Chimera, who deposited it in the empty cage.

The goal, just a second before the 11 minute mark, was crucial. After that Jeff Halpern, who replaced an injured Jay Beagle in the lineup, took a four minute high sticking penalty and Caps fans everywhere had to be thinking, following the Joel Ward infraction that cost Washington game five, “here we go again.” But the Capitals penalty killing, which started with great goaltending from Braden Holtby (30 saves), was superb and New York lost momentum when the four minutes were up.

In the final frame, the Caps played sound defensively. They counterattacked and had opportunities to score with Ovechkin having two good chances and setting up Johansson for another, but King Henrik (21 saves) stood tall. New York had another late surge and scored with the goalie pulled after a Caps lost face-off with 50 seconds remaining. The Rangers don’t quit, that is for sure, and that late game play is something Washington must improve on if they want to advance. Following that goal, though, the Capitals did win a few draws and Holtby didn’t have to make any big stops until the final horn sounded.

So it all comes down to a pivotal game seven on Saturday night at 730pm. The #1 seeded Rangers playing on home ice have to be the favorites. However, as I said before game seven in Boston, there can be an advantage to being the road team. The home team has distractions with ticket requests and extra pressure being the favored club while the visitors just show up and play a hockey game. It is a nice position for Washington to be in, but don’t get me wrong, there is pressure on this team to win this series as many players jobs are likely riding on it.

Historically, the Caps have stunk in game sevens (3-7), however, most of those (8 of the 10) have been on home ice. They won the last one in Boston on the road, but can they do it again and win on Broadway to finally make it to the Eastern Conference Finals?

We shall see, but it is vitally important that the core of this team, which is Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Semin, and Brooks Laich, find a way to break through in their fifth straight post-season.

Notes: Karl Alzner and Carlson did a great job against Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and either Carl Hagelin or Ryan Callahan on their defensive shifts. Alzner told me playing against those guys is “a lot of fun.” A battle on the boards ensues on every shift, it seems, and Alzner says that those guys are so skilled that you have to be sure you move the puck quickly or they can take it back fast…Matt Hendricks said that the Rangers like to come out of the cycle and get the puck into the slot. The Caps cut those attempts off most of the evening…Washington won the face-off battle 38-27 with Backstrom going 10-5…Richards, Callahan, and Gaborik all played over 22 minutes each…the Caps ice time distribution was much more balanced with Alzner leading the way with 23:13 and Carlson logging 22:00.

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

Posted on 01 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Remember all of those posts the Washington Capitals hit in game one in their series opening loss to the New York Rangers? Well, it was the Blueshirts who clanked the iron repeatedly on Monday night as the Caps stole a win in New York on Alexander Ovechkin’s third period power play goal. The Gr8′s wrister with Troy Brouwer providing traffic with 7:27 left in regulation was just what the doctor ordered for Washington in a 3-2 victory. The series shifts to DC on Wednesday for game three at 730 pm.

This game seemed to have more of a pace to it than the opening salvo. The Rangers dominated the opening 10 minutes before Washington settled down and in true Dale Hunter hockey fashion, the Capitals scored in transition after playing good defense. Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucion worked a masterful three on two and old man Knuble banged the puck home from the doorstep for the first marker.

Braden Holtby (26 saves) rebounded with a strong game after giving up some questionable goals on Saturday. Most notable was his save on Chris Kreider on a breakaway after the puck took a bounce on the Knicks ice over John Carlson’s stick at the offensive blue line. #70 made a huge save and Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Jason Chimera hustled at the other end to score after Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) came out to play the puck and turned it over. That goal made it 2-0 Caps in the first period but from there it was some wild hockey and nail biting time for Capitals fans.

New York scored their first goal in four on four play, something the Caps have struggled with recently. Brooks Laich made a bad decision to change with the puck still in the neutral zone and Michael Del Zotto took advantage. The Rangers defenseman alertly pushed the puck up and Marian Gaborik got it to Brad Richards for an easy two on one goal. The Rangers would tie it up in the third period on the power play, which set the stage for Ovechkin’s game winner.

Basically, this series is pretty much dead even after two games. Rangers Coach John Tortorella had the last change for two games so Dale Hunter played it ultra conservatively and went mostly with his checkers, especially when leading. As a result, Ovechkin only played 13:36 and Alex Semin logged just 12:26 while grinders like Jay Beagle and Brouwer played 19:58 and 18:48, respectively. At the other end, Tortorella is pretty much going with three forward lines as four dressed Rangers played less than five minutes each (Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp, John Mitchell, and Artem Anisimov). This should be an advantage for Washington, especially as the series goes longer because the Caps have a more balanced lineup and the players should be more fresh.

Perhaps the best news of the night, though, was that the power play finally got untracked. They still have Ovechkin on the point but the Gr8 did make an adjustment, as former Caps PR director Nate Ewell pointed out. Alex went with a high wrister on the game winner instead of a slapper and Lundqvist struggled with it, especially with #20 battling with a Rangers defensemen right in front of him. If the Caps are going to win this series, special teams will need to be a difference maker. The Rangers play physical and they pounded Mike Green in the first period. That physical play though leads to penalties so a potent power play is really needed.

Looking at the three Capitals goals, they were all from in tight or with traffic. That is the only way to beat King Henrik. On Washington’s end, Holtby didn’t have much of a chance on either Rangers tally. They came as a result of Washington miscues.

So what do the Caps have to do to win Wednesday night? First thing is they need to play within themselves. They can’t go back to Harlem Globetrotters hockey with fancy drop passes a plenty in an effort to put on a show. They need to stick to this boring, grind it out style and take advantage of chances when they can. They need to get the pucks deep and wear out a not as deep New York roster. Finally, they have to get bodies and pucks to the net, otherwise Lundqvist will win the game.

Hunter now has the last change for two contests and can get the matchups he wants. The question is will the Capitals be able to execute in those matchups?

Smart, defensive hockey wins in the post season. Can the Capitals keep that up?

Notes: Another super game from John Carlson and Karl Alzner who led the team in ice time logging over 23 minutes each…Green played 8:31 in period one but finished with only 18:14 total. It made sense for Hunter to cut back his minutes because the Rangers were running him because 52 was ending up in too many tough situations with the puck…Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup for John Erskine and played 17:12..the face-off battle was even steven at 34 wins a piece.

 

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, there are bad breaks and there are mistakes. Both of those went against the Washington Capitals on Saturday in New York and as a result the Caps fell, 3-1, to the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game two is on Monday Night from Madison Square Garden at 730 pm.

The disappointing thing in this game is the Capitals did a lot of good things and easily could have won. They hit at least three pipes and they held the Rangers to only 14 shots on goal. Normally when you hold an opponent to so few shots, you should win, but more on that in a moment. Washington only generated 18 shots on goal themselves but they missed the net or hit iron on several occassions. Alex Oveckhin missed the net on a golden chance in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom clanked the post twice, and Alex Semin hit the cross bar. Clearly Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves) had a golden horseshoe shoved away in the right place for this one. The Caps only goal was a thing of beauty, as Brooks Laich set up Jason Chimera for a sweet one timer by King Henrik with four seconds left in period two to knot the game heading into the final frame.

The Caps also did a good job of drawing penalties until the referees, Steve Kozari and Kevin Pollock, decided that tripping wasn’t going to be called on the Blueshirts over the last 30 minutes of the game. Blatant haul downs by the Rags on Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin were ignored. But that is what I expect from those two and you can’t blame this loss on the zebras, as bad as they were, at times. There was no way the power plays should have been four to four but Rangers Coach John Tortorella will probably still complain anyways about the refs, because that is what he does. Let him complain about that and the media too (which he did after the game), I hope it wears his team out emotionally.

So where did the Caps lose this one? Let’s start with beef #1, the power play. Special teams are so important in the post season and when you get four advantage situations in a scoreless game you need to capitalize on them. The Capitals did not on Saturday, including a 33 second five on three in the middle frame. I am going to sound like a broken record here, but there were not enough shots from the point with traffic in front or bodies around the net for rebounds. I don’t like the fact that Johansson had 3:18 of power play time while Laich only logged 2:09 and Mike Green had 2:18. Finesse does not work in the post season, grit does, so get Laich out there, move Ovechkin down low, and put Green or John Carlson on the point. Ovechkin had only 1 shot on goal in 21:03 of game time so clearly he is NOT needed on the point for the power play. If Washington wants to win this series, they need to take advantage of the dumb penalties an overly physical Rangers team will take.

Speaking of Green and being physical, as predicted in this blog last night the Rags would hit #52 and the other Caps ad nauseum early on to try and set a tone and get the Capitals to back down. It wouldn’t have worked very well had the power play been effective, and I still think the Caps responded okay to that early rough play. It is more than past time for the coaches to fix the power play, though. Also, Green did not have a good game at all and I labeled him as the key to the series. He was outmuscled by Artem Anisimov on the first goal and his brain cramp decision to attempt to change allowed Chris Kreider to get a semi breakaway and score the winning tally.

Braden Holtby (11 saves) gave up some goals he probably would want back but he wasn’t that bad. On the first marker he got caught trying to poke check Anisimov, on the second he got beat with a good but not impossible to stop shot, and the third he gave up five hole. But all three of them were the results of defensive mistakes, especially the second goal where the Caps coverage was horrible. In particular Chimera looked confused and then Dennis Wideman didn’t commit quick enough for Holtby to know whether Brad Richards was going to pass or shoot. As a result #19 had an open five hole to fire at and a skilled player like that is not going to miss.

As for the Washington skill players, they did not deliver on Saturday. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green all need to be performing for the Caps to get where they want to go. There are no injury excuses, this team is as healthy as it has been all season. Those four guys need to step up and get it done. Ovechkin must be better and he needs to more effectively use his talent to get by a slooooowwww Rangers defense. He isn’t playing Zdeno Chara anymore so 1 shot on net in 21 minutes is INEXCUSABLE.

Overall, the entire team needs to be willing to pay more of a price to score goals. If Lundqvist sees the shot, he is likely going to stop it. Washington needs to get more pucks and more bodies to the net. It is that simple.

Regular season point totals are hooey, especially given the injuries Washington had during the season, so I don’t want to hear the Rangers are supposed to win because of that. The Caps have the team their GM wants playing this time of year so they need to produce.

This is a very winnable series, but the Capitals have to play the right way. They didn’t do that consistently in game one, but the contest was on the road so the adage that a big advantage isn’t gained in a series until a team loses a game on home ice rings true this evening. New York had to win today and they did given their history of getting beaten by the Capitals in the post season two of the last three years  (yeah, I said that “crap” John and I hope you are reading too).

But the Caps should have won today.  Had they played smarter and more consistently they would have.

Will Monday be different?

Notes: John Erskine played only 8:17 as the Caps sixth defensemen. Cutting back his minutes messed up the rotation in the third period and as a result, it was Wideman and Karl Alzner on defense on the third goal…the Rangers dressed seven defensemen but stiffs Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger didn’t even combine to play 10 minutes total…fourth liner Mike Rupp took a bad penalty and played just 5:26…Tortorella basically relied on five defensemen and three lines so the Caps need to extend this series out because his top guys will eventually wear down playing so much.

 

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

On Saturday afternoon at 3 pm the Washington Capitals will embark on a critical game one of their second round playoff series from Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts, coached by the fiery John Tortorella, are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after a super regular season while the Caps are coming in as underdogs for the second straight series despite upsetting the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in round one.

For Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin this will be their third venture into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So far they are 0-2. Last season they knocked off the Rags in five games before getting swept quickly by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Given that Washington has knocked off the Rangers two of the last three post seasons one has to wonder if perhaps the Capitals have the Rangers number? Maybe, but this is a different Rangers team.

Last spring they faced the Caps without an injured Ryan Callahan and then in the offseason they added a significant piece in center Brad Richards. Washington won that series in 2011 without Dennis Wideman (who had a so-so series, at best, against Boston) so the Rangers aren’t the only ones with a different roster for this matchup. New York is improved but I still think their defense is slow and they benefit a ton from Henrik Lundqvist bailing them out. Washington needs, like they did against Boston, to use their superior speed in the Caps forward to Rangers defense matchup. Guys like Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera will play a key role once again.

When it comes to matchups, whatever forward-defensive combination coach Dale Hunter uses must contain Marian Gaborik and Richards. If those New York skill guys get on a roll then that spells trouble for Washington. You can bet that Jay Beagle, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson will factor into Hunter’s defensive matchups. As for Ovechkin, he had a rough series against the Bruins because he was facing Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL. The Rangers will likely put Dan Girardi and Mark Staal up against the Gr8. But Ovechkin should be able to overcome Girardi better than he did the Boston duo of Chara and Seidenberg. Ovechkin needs to avoid trying too much one on one or trying to skate through the whole team. His best bet to score is to go to the net in this series. The Rangers defense doesn’t have the ability to move him down low so the Gr8 needs to drive to the cage as much as possible with the puck.

Braden Holtby comes off of a super round one performance and if he doesn’t try to do much and just plays his game, he should be fine. His puckhandling skills help prevented his defensemen from getting run regularly in round one and you can bet Tortorella will be instructing his forwards to pound the Washington defense, especially Green. To me, #52 is a major key to this series. If #52 continues to play well paired with Roman Hamrllik then that gives Hunter two really good defensive pairs to put on the ice (with 27-74) . The Rangers will try to run Green and he needs to be smart about how he plays going into the corners and on the rush. A good series from “Game Over Greenie” likely means the Caps will advance.

If Washington can find a way to win this series, then it signals that Ovechkin and company have finally turned the corner by buying into Hunter’s playoff style.

If not, then many players could be on their way out of town because it would be five straight post seasons without a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

My prediction: The Caps kick the door in to get to the Final Four with a series victory in six games. Road warriors, baby, road warriors.

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

Posted on 02 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when the Washington Capitals had a chance to put themselves on the brink of making the post season, they found a way to mess it up. After tying the game on a late Jason Chimera tally, the Caps lost a defensive zone faceoff and allowed Bolts sniper Steven Stamkos to score on a rebound from the doorstep with 1:03 remaining for the game winner. Stamkos would add his league leading 58th goal into an empty net to make it 4-2.

It was an opportunity blown for the Caps, who now have to sit back and root for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday before taking on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. If the Buffalo Sabres win tomorrow, they tie the Capitals in the standings with two games remaining, but the Caps own the tiebreaker (more regulation or overtime wins).

This was another sloppy game and it started slowly for the Capitals. Part of that was their inconsistent play but another reason was the officiating tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Frederick L’Ecuyer. Those two zebras gave Tampa two early power plays while missing some obvious infractions committed by the Bolts. It would go that way most of the night despite Washington carrying the play. Tampa received four power plays to just two for Washington and there were some questionable non-icing calls that went against the Caps late in regulation. They might as well have put Buffalo Sabres or Florida Panthers jerseys on the referees tonight because they were anything but objective.

But the Caps did not play well enough to win despite the bad officiating. They made key mistakes at the wrong time. Mathieu Perreault made a great pass to set up the first Caps goal by Alexander Semin (goal, assist), but he then made a terrible giveaway in his own zone shortly after Mike Green was robbed by Dwayne Roloson (31 saves) with a dandy glove save that would have made it 2-0, Washington. Perreault’s horrible turnover forced Dmitry Orlov to take a penalty and then Teddy Purcell scored on the power play to tie it up. 25 ticks later the Bolts scored again.

Chimera’s late goal (3:17 left) off of a rebound of a Semin shot after Green skated through the Tampa defense seemed to be the type of marker that would propel the Capitals to a victory, or at least a point. But Jay Beagle lost the draw to Stamkos with 1:15 to go and #91 provided the dagger. It was another late loss for Washington and if they miss the playoffs they have a whole slew of these contests to go back and revisit from 2011-12.

So now the Caps will have to sit and wait until Thursday to play again, with the hope that Buffalo loses on Tuesday against the Leafs or on Thursday in Philadelphia. Otherwise they’ll need a win vs the Panthers and a victory against the Rangers on Saturday to be sure to qualify for the post season (assuming the Sabres win in Boston on Saturday too).

Notes: The Washington coaching staff has got to get the power play going. Right now it is just terrible. There is too much passing at the top and not enough shots with traffic. Why not move Alexander Ovechkin down low or at least on the half wall again?…Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer were all -2. The Caps need those guys scoring if they are going to win their last two games…Michal Neuvirth (26 saves) was in goal and he was outplayed by Roloson. He needed to stop the Purcell shot. The other two were the result of long shots with traffic…speaking of traffic, the Capitals need to get more of that in front of the other clubs goalie. Washington makes it too easy on opposing netminders too often.

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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

Posted on 25 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

As I walked out of the Verizon Center on Friday night after the Caps gave up a 3-0 lead to lose to Winnipeg in overtime, there were a lot of non-believers in this Capitals team with just seven games remaining in the season. Personally, I wasn’t even close to being on the ledge following the defeat and felt that Washington just ran into some bad luck (see Mike Knuble missing one from the doorstep), faced great goaltending early on, and had bad execution playing on an empty tank due to back to back games.

Sunday night, the Capitals certainly helped confirm my thoughts as they received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (28 saves) in the opening frame, then dominated the Minnesota Wild en route to a 3-0 victory. The win, which featured a lot of excellent plays by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist in 26:19 of ice time), puts them back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres, who come to town for Tuesday night’s HUGE tilt at the Verizon Center. Both clubs have 84 points but the Caps hold the tiebreaker due to more regulation and overtime victories (36 to 30). The Caps are also just two points behind seventh place Ottawa and with Florida losing at home in the shootout to the Islanders, they are just three points in back of the Southeast Division leading Panthers (FLA has a game in hand).

I still could be wrong about this team, but the way Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are playing, the Capitals seem to be trending up. The Gr8 now has 36 goals when 35 once looked to be a pipe dream. On Friday, many criticized Hunter for having the team hang back and for sitting Keith Aucion and Jeff Halpern in the third period. I did not think the Caps purposely sat back, they just couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone to sustain any forecheck or offense. It was bad execution and Winnipeg was really clicking. Those of you who read what I wrote after Friday’s game though, did notice that I did call for the Gr8 and Semin to get more ice time. On Sunday, Hunter delivered that and the Gr8 double shifted most of the contest as ole number 32 went with just 11 forwards. Ovechkin made that decision look very smart. His hustle to slide and break up a Wild two on one shorthanded break after Dennis Wideman lost sight of the puck at the offensive blue line in the middle frame was a turning point in the game.

Semin continues to play well despite taking more than his fair share of criticism. He now has 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) and is +14 in 47 games since December 9th (shortly after Hunter took over as coach). He has helped Jason Chimera hit a career high in goals (19) and Mathieu Perreault likely isn’t in the NHL right now without #28. The Russian forward was all over the ice at both ends today and had 16:40 of ice time. He has been battling a lower body ailment but is fighting through it. I still would like to see him get more minutes but given Washington’s weaknesses up the middle of the ice, that might not happen until Nicklas Backstrom comes back (which could be soon).

Holtby certainly has taken advantage of an opportunity and was 2-0-1 allowing just four goals in 185 minutes of hockey this week. His ability to play the puck really helps his defensive crew, which has some slower guys back there. It is hard to see #70 not face Ryan Miller on Tuesday in likely the biggest regular season game for Washington since the season finale in 2008.

So the Capitals got a must win when they needed it and they continue to control their own destiny in their quest for the playoffs. Tuesday’s game is huge and then they have five more contests after that. Some of their poorer finishes recently (see Detroit and Winnipeg) have come in the second half of back to back tilts. Fortunately for Washington, they are done with those this season. That will allow Hunter to rely more heavily on his big guns like Ovechkin and Semin, and both need to continue to play at an elite level for this club to be successful.

Notes: Marcus Johansson (1 assist, +1, in 14:32 of action) rebounded from a bad contest on Friday with a strong one today. MJ90′s decision to not drop pass when coming across the blue line earlier in the shift helped lead to Ovechkin’s goal. Washington got the puck deep, sustained pressure, then took advantage of a Wild turnover in the neutral zone to put this game away…Hunter dressed seven defensemen (Wideman, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Jeff Schultz, and Roman Hamrlik) with Schultz, Orlov, and Carlson all playing less than 12 minutes…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 30-23, but Perreault went 7-3…Perreault also had the 2nd Caps goal off of a nice feed from Troy Brouwer after Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the power play.

 

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Ovechkin Steps Up in Motown

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Ovechkin Steps Up in Motown

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when the Washington Capitals appeared to be in big trouble in the race for the playoffs, their star players finally put together a huge effort as the Caps went into Motown and stunned the Detroit Red Wings, 5-3, behind 30 saves from Braden Holtby. This Wings team set an NHL record for consecutive home victories this season (23 games) and they’d only lost on home ice in regulation four times in 2011-12.

But Alexander Ovechkin (two goals) and company had no need for history on this night and a huge first period, one in which the Caps outscored Detroit 3-0, resulted in one of the biggest victories of the season for Washington. The win keeps them in eighth place, just two points ahead of a streaking Buffalo Sabres team and four points ahead of 10th place Winnipeg. The Caps also pull within three points of the Southeast Divison leading Florida Panthers, who are in Philadelphia tomorrow night to take on the Flyers. It is hard to believe, but Capitals fans will be cheering for Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, and company on Tuesday night.

After a terrible first period in Chicago on Sunday night, this Capitals team looked totally different in Detroit. Washington came out skating and they drew a couple of early penalties. Ovechkin scored twice with the man advantage by moving into prime scoring position. On the first tally, Marcus Johansson gave him a sweet feed in the slot and the Gr8 went upper left top shelf. Mike Knuble then scored following a great breakout pass from Mike Green that led to some sweet passing between Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera before Papa Knoobs buried the biscuit setting the stage for Ovie’s 32nd goal of the season. Ovechkin fired the puck from the top of the slot but he alertly, like a basketball player, followed up his shot and went to the net for the rebound. Brooks Laich kept it alive and the Gr8 banged home the puck to give the Caps a huge early cushion.

From there it was hang onto to your seats as the inevitable Wings full court press was due to come. In the second frame they cut it to 3-1 but then Keith Aucoin buried one in front after some super work by Alexander Semin and Roman Hamrlik on the boards. When Todd Bertuzzi made it 4-2 just 36 seconds in to period three, the Wings assault ramped up even more. Dan Cleary scored after a Knuble giveaway with just over seven minutes left but Holtby closed the door and Chimera hit the empty net for the final marker.

It was an impressive victory and many players turned in solid efforts. The Caps need Ovechkin to carry them down the stretch and he did it on this night. Laich, after a subpar outing in Chicago, was excellent as 1st line center and when the Gr8 has someone playing well at the pivot position for him he can be lethal. Semin had two assists and put in his best game in weeks while Green finally looked totally comfortable on the ice. He was making great breakout passes, ended up with an assist, and was +2 in 22:52. All four of those guys, Ovechkin, Laich, Semin, and Green have to be good in the last nine games for the Capitals to make the playoffs.

Holtby got the call with Tomas Vokoun nursing a creaky groin and Michal Neuvirth having played the night before. #70 had the tough task of going against a team that creates traffic in front of the opposing goaltender better than any other club in the NHL, so kudos to Braden for staying strong in his crease and playing a big role in the Caps win. Goaltending is ultra important in hockey and Holtby delivered that on Monday night.

So the Caps come home late tonight to their own beds but will practice at least once at Kettler IcePlex before going to Philadelphia for a date with the Flyers on Thursday night. This five game road trip, that looked to possibly be a disaster after Sunday’s blowout in the Windy City, is now 2-2. They have a chance to make it a huge success on Broad Street on Thursday, but Philly is playing well, so a victory there won’t be easy.

But for tonight, the Capitals did the improbable, knocking off one of the best teams in the NHL in their own building. Good things happen when you crash the net and the Capitals stars delivered on a night when they were sorely needed.

Notes: The Caps defensive pair of Jeff Schultz and John Carlson were on the ice for all three Detroit goals. #55 did not play well while Hamrlik (+2) did, so we’ll probably see Dmitry Orlov back in for Sarge on Thursday in Philly…Chimera’s empty net goal came on the power play so Washington was 3 for 4 on the evening while the Wings went 1 for 3…Joel Ward was scratched and Jeff Halpern returned to the lineup. Halpern was 3-2 on face-offs but the Wings won 32 of the 56 total draws.

 

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