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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Ovechkin Sparks Caps Comeback Win in Carolina

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Ovechkin Sparks Caps Comeback Win in Carolina

Posted on 02 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 2-0 Carolina and they were totally dominating the Capitals as the game moved late into the first period.

<Cue the Jaws music>

Then Alexander Ovechkin took a sweet drop pass from Nicklas Backstrom and buried the biscuit top shelf, far side for a huge goal for the Capitals with just 39 seconds left in the frame.

It was a game changing and perhaps season changing tally as the Gr8′s club kicked it into high gear in the middle period scoring four times while allowing just one puck to take a 5-3 lead, which they would close out in the third period. They knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes for the second straight time in Raleigh after trailing by two goals and they move two points up on the Canes. In addition, they are now just two points out of the Southeast Division lead as the Winnipeg Jets lost to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Washington has two games in hand on the Jets, although Carolina has a game in hand on the Caps. The Capitals also hit .500 for the first time all season and their record stands at 17-17-2.

Just a week ago, after a terrible home loss to the Islanders, I blogged that the Caps had three options at tomorrow’s trade deadline:

1. Stand Pat

2. Become Buyers

3. Sell and build for the future

I can tell you that option three is totally out the window now after Washington grabbed five points in three road games while the teams in front of them in the Southeast Division went into full collapse mode. Add to the fact that clubs like Calgary, Buffalo, and Dallas have gone into total sell mode and there is just no way Washington can get in the bottom three or five in the standings and make tanking the season for a high draft choice worth it.

Simply put, General Manager George McPhee needs to try and add a top six forward to this club if they want to really increase their playoff chances. As I also wrote last week, hockey is a business and there is lots of playoff money and hockey department bonuses on the line. So everyone wants to get into the dance, especially owner Ted Leonsis who generates millions in revenue off of a playoff appearance. Factor in that a Southeast Division title yields the third seed and a likely date with either Toronto or Ottawa while avoiding the Pittsburgh Penguins until the Eastern Conference Finals and the motto has to be:

Southeast Division Title or Bust!

The question is who to buy after big names like Jarome Iginla (Penguins) and Jaromir Jagr (Bruins) went off the market in trades. Add in guys like Derek Roy (Vancouver) and Ryane Clowe (Rangers) to the already moved ledger and the rental pickings to improve a club are pretty slim. But there are teams that have players under contract for another year that might make sense. Why not kick the tires in Calgary and see if Jay Feaster might be interested in moving left handed shooting Mike Cammalleri? The Flames forward is a sniper who would fit nicely with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom but he comes with a 2013-14 price tag of $6M. But if you can move some salary back to Calgary in the deal it would make sense. Let’s be honest, Mike Ribeiro is not going to be dealt tomorrow now and he will likely hit the open market come July 1st. But he earned that and Washington will probably lose him so they will be down another top 6 forward. So why not add one for this year and next year on Wednesday, if you can?

Anyways, Wednesday’s deadline day, which ends at 3pm, shapes up to be interesting for the Caps.

But back to Tuesday’s big win. Mike Green (2 goals) was just outstanding in this game at both ends of the rink. He not only scored but he moved the puck well on the back end and his 3rd period penalty kill shifts were downright dominant. If #52 stays healthy, this is a totally different hockey team.

In addition, Backstrom was sensational with four assists and even Marcus Johansson played one of the best contests of his young career and had two helpers by playing solid positionally and using his stick and speed to generate counter attacks.

Last of all, let’s not forget Braden Holtby (31 saves), who continues to make the big save when Washington needs it. The Caps defense continues to be very loose in stretches and Holtbeast wouldn’t allow Carolina to get too far ahead early and he didn’t give up a momentum changing tally once the Capitals seized control.

It was a huge victory and it all turned on the Gr8′s first tally. Ovechkin then poured in what became the eventual game winner and he now has 20 goals and 37 points in 36 games. He has points in nine straight games and goals in eight of them. The Gr8, Backstrom, and Holtby are carrying this hockey club and Ovechkin is once again quieting his critics.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one thought that I’ve tweeted many times in recent weeks on twitter after Ovechkin goals:

Where’s Milbury?! Hahahahahaha

Notes: The Caps next game is against the Islanders on Thursday at home. New York is 2-0 against Washington this year and their team speed gives the Capitals fits…Carolina won the shot attempt tally 65-43 and the face-off battle, 34-32, but they gave up too many odd man rushes and their goaltending is subpar…John Erskine finally returned to the lineup and logged 13:32 on defense. Jeff Schultz was scratched while both Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were sent to Hershey…Michal Neuvirth was healthy enough to back up Holtby (Philip Grubauer was sent back to Hershey on Monday)…Finally, in honor of Caps radio play by play man John Walton’s birthday on Tuesday, ”Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina!”

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