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Ten Thoughts on the Penguins Before Round Two Begins

Posted on 25 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Following their first round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games, the task for the Washington Capitals gets significantly harder as they take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a second round series that starts at 7:30 pm on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

Here are ten thoughts on the Pens as we head into game one.

1. Pittsburgh had a ton of injuries this season, but they still managed to stay close to the Capitals in the standings until very late in the campaign. They are an extremely well coached team led by the best player in the league, Sidney Crosby. Coach Mike Sullivan’s club is playing well right now despite the fact that they are missing defenseman Kris Letang, forward Carl “Cap Killer” Hagelin, and goaltender Matt Murray due to injury. Letang is done for the season while Murray is not even skating, yet. Hagelin is a possibility to return, at some point, during this series.

2. The Pens scored 21 goals in five games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one. They notched them in so many different ways, too. Here’s the break down on those tallies: Eight from offensive zone pressure shifts, six power play markers (officially only five, but Evgeni Malkin’s goal in game two came just one second after a CBus penalty expired), four rush goals, one off of a face off, one as a result of a strong forecheck, and one empty net tally. Six power play goals jumps out there, the Capitals cannot afford to take careless penalties.

3. A big key to those goals is how decisive they are with the puck, they pass it quickly to open space and it leads to a lot of one timers. They were able to exploit a very young Blue Jackets defense and get Vezina Trophy candidate, Sergei Bobrovsky, moving around quite a bit, which made it easier to find open looks. Columbus never knew what hit them.

4. Another thing they like to do is use the long stretch pass out of their zone from a defenseman to the forwards. If the opponent makes a mistake in the neutral zone or has a bad line change, they typically exploit it. The Caps must be crisp in the neutral zone and make sure they get pucks deep into the Penguins zone, especially when they are changing players.

5. When it comes to getting pucks to the net, I’ve already mentioned how quickly they do that. What makes them even more dangerous is all of their forwards are skilled at crashing the cage. Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Nick Bonino, and Scott Wilson all had in close tallies in round one. Guentzel and Rust each had five goals in the five game series and most of them were from just outside the paint. Chris Kunitz is another player who specializes in dirty goals, but he was out due to injury in round one. He is expected to suit up for the series opener. Crosby is a wizard when he has the puck behind the opponents cage so it is imperative that Washington does a very good job in picking up Penguins forwards in front and around the net when #87 has the puck. The Blue Jackets failed in that area miserably.

6. Pittsburgh is missing Letang on the back end, and he was a work horse for the Pens against the Capitals last spring logging over 25 minutes a game. However, this season the team has learned to play without him since he’s been on the sidelines since February. As a result, they have three pairs of defenders that get pretty even ice time based on the Columbus series: Justin Schultz and Ian Cole, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley, and Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey.

7. The Penguins are very difficult to beat on their home ice. In fact, you have to go back to December 14, 2015 to find the last time the Capitals won in Pittsburgh. That’s six straight losses at the Igloo II, counting last spring’s playoffs.

8. With Murray injured in the game one warm-ups against Columbus, Marc-Andre Fleury was thrown into the battle in goal. It was literally baptism by fire in these 2017 Playoffs for the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion and his perfect 16 save performance in period one stabilized things for the Pens until they found their game. They then quickly demolished Columbus. If Coach John Tortorella’s squad gets a goal or two in that opening frame, is the series different? We’ll never know because Fleury was so good in net to start the series.

9. Washington did well containing the Crosby and Malkin lines last spring, but it was the Hagelin-Bonino-Phil Kessel third line that did them in. This go round, that line is not together due to the knee injury to #62. However, Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel are playing as well as ever. Malkin, who was battling an upper body injury in the playoffs last year, is at the peak of his game now and is very difficult to take off of the puck. Kessel is on his line, along with Rust and they’ve been on fire. The best way to stop Malkin is to prevent him from getting the biscuit. He’s in beast mode heading into round two and leads the NHL in playoff scoring.

10. The Caps have spent all kinds of time and effort since last May’s playoff loss to put themselves in position for a rematch. They’ve added Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Kevin Shattenkirk to their lineup to try and match the Penguins fast paced play. They are a year more experienced, which has proven to bode well for Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Evgeny Kuznetsov so far in this postseason. So now they’ve finally gotten to this point and have their chance to slay the dragon, once and for all. It will not be easy. The Penguins are the Defending Champs, and therefore, King of the Hill, until they are defeated. Last season’s series, which was razor close just like the movie Rocky, was essentially the Stanley Cup Finals in round two. Will this season’s series have a Rocky II type ending?

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Caps Keep Rolling in Beantown

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

On Saturday afternoon in Beantown, the Washington Capitals just kept on rolling, defeating the Boston Bruins, 3-1, with goals from Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Justin Williams. Philipp Grubauer received the start in the cage and he stopped 21 shots. #31 was excellent between the pipes, once again, to run his 2016-17 record to a very impressive 13-6-2.

For the Caps (55-18-8, 118 points), this was a meaningless game in terms of standings points. They’ve already won the Federal League, er, Presidents’ Trophy, and are just trying to figure out who they’ll play in round one, which will likely start at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Bruins are one of the teams they could face and if there was any hesitation from Washington on wanting to play them, the Caps could’ve tanked this affair to ensure that they wouldn’t face Brad Marchand and company.

Instead the Capitals dominated the Bruins like they’d gladly take on a team that they’ve now gone 9-0 against since Barry Trotz took over as Washington’s bench boss (h/t to Ben Raby). The Caps were physical early on and very structured defensively. Boston, who was missing their top scorer Marchand due to suspension (he speared a Bolt earlier in the week and was feeling shame in the press box for two games), had a hard time getting through Washington’s neutral zone and defense and most of their 48 shot attempts came from the perimeter, which made it difficult to put a biscuit by Grubauer.

On offense, the Capitals were sloppy at times, but when they fired the puck, they got it to the net to the tune of 32 shots on goal. Washington’s first tally, just 4:21 into the contest, came on a speedy three on two rush led by Jojo. Marcus carried the puck up the center of the ice and as he crossed the offensive blue line he worked a great give and go around Zdeno Chara with Justin Williams that culminated with Jojo beating Anton Khudobin on the backhand for his career high 24th marker.

Boston was already missing their best offensive blue liner, Torrey Krug, and things got worse for the Bruins defense when Brandon Carlo was injured on a play in the left wing corner. Carlo went back to gather in a loose puck with Alex Ovechkin in hot pursuit. Carlo was skating into the corner and with the Gr8 expecting him to turn to play the puck, he went to finish his check. However, #25 lost an edge and went down awkwardly right as Ovi was going to deliver the boom. Fortunately Ovechkin let up, but Carlo still crashed hard into the boards and had to leave the game. You could see Alex felt bad about it, he gave him the stick tap as Carlo was working his way up, but it was just a hockey play gone wrong. Washington led, 1-0, after 20 minutes and in shot attempts, it was 20-15 for the good guys.

In the middle frame, things were tight checking and calm for the first 12 minutes or so, but Evgeny Kuznetsov took a lazy hooking penalty (Move Your Feet!) and that gave Boston some life. They would not score on the man advantage, but after Kuzy came out of the box he made a terrible own zone turnover that Colin Miller would deposit behind Grubauer on a rebound. Simply put, it was back to back bad shifts by #92 that allowed the game to be tied up, and he knows better than to make those two mistakes – they must cease starting on Thursday because he is critical to the Caps post season success.

Washington, however, would not be deterred by that tally. They amped up the pressure and scored the next three goals, but only two of them counted due to bad zebras. First, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom made two sensational passes to set Shattenkirk up in the slot for a sweet tally. That goal was just 56 ticks after the Bruins had tied the contest and it clearly deflated Boston. Shattenkirk would score again just 1:22 later, but the NHL reviewers in Toronto and the on ice zebras combined to call goalie interference on Williams, who was shoved partly into the Qdoba guy in net by his own player. That play was similar to the goal Dallas scored against the Caps to open the game back on March 6th where the reviewer ruled Brooks Orpik pushed the Stars player into Braden Holtby so the goal stood. In this case, a nowhere near as egregious infraction occurred, but they waved the tally off. Spin the wheel NHL, you continue to make no sense or have any consistency on these calls! Simply put, it’s a big joke the way these reviews and rulings go down.

Anyways, the next Capitals goal would have no chance of being reviewed and overturned. Washington won an offensive zone faceoff back to Nate Schmidt (+3) and he spotted Kuznetsov wide open on the right side of the slot. Kuzy took Schmidty’s great pass and slid the puck perpendicularly through a seam in the Bruins defense to Williams, who quickly buried it into a wide open cage for his career high 24th goal of the season. That was a thing of beauty with 50 seconds left in period two. The Caps still had the edge in shot attempts, 40-33, and 24-15 in shots on goal.

With Khudobin out of the game due to “not feeling well,” Tuukka Rask came in to play the final 20 minutes. After some heated earlier moments in this tilt, this last stanza was glorified preseason hockey with neither club wanting to risk any injuries. When the final horn sounded, the shot attempts ended up, 52-48, for the Caps and 32-21 in terms of shots on goal.

The Bruins were clearly missing their leading scorer in this one, but they still have some punch up front with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, David Pastrnak, and David Krejci. Washington did a great job at keeping Boston from the paint and at the other end, the Caps took advantage of a slow blue line to score some pretty goals. If the Capitals do get Boston, it is a good matchup from a pace of play perspective. Washington is faster than Butch Cassidy’s crew and the only downside would be the chippy after the whistle type of stuff Boston likes to get into. They are nowhere near as dirty as the Flyers, but I’d still prefer to not have to go to battle against those guys. The Caps would have a great chance at prevailing, but like last year’s first round matchup against those smelly guys from Filthy, it would likely come at a physical price.

The best news of all, however, was that Washington appeared to come out of the game unscathed in terms of injuries and will have one more regular season contest on Sunday at the Verizon Center, against Florida, before the post season begins. John Carlson, who has missed three straight games with a lower body injury, is supposed to suit up to shake off the rust.

The Caps will want to stay healthy and not get anyone suspended, so I expect a “friendly” game against Jaromir Jagr and company.

With Toronto defeating the Penguins, 5-3, on Saturday night, Washington will now face either Boston or Toronto in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Leafs earn at least a point on Sunday evening against Columbus, it’s the Caps vs. Boston.

Notes: The 3 pm scheduled puck drop did not occur until 3:28, thanks NBC (NOT!)…Brett Connolly missed the matinee due to illness, he did not even make the trip. Paul Carey took his place in the lineup and played well in 13:21 of ice time. His great skating ability was a big advantage against some cement laden skaters on the Bruins…the Caps were 0 for 4 on the power play, but two for two on the penalty kill…Shattenkirk was brilliant again in this one and led the Caps in time on ice with 22:54. That guy is good and getting better and better in Trotz’ system…the Caps are 19-0-0 against the Bruins when #19 gets a point (h/t to Rob Carlin of Comcast)…Jay Beagle was clipped by a careless Krejci high stick late in the game. A double minor was called…the Capitals are 10-1 in their last 11 games.

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Caps Move Closer to Home Ice for the Playoffs With Win in Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With three road wins in four tries on a season long five game trip, the Washington Capitals kept the hammer down in the Big Smoke on Tuesday night with a dominating 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves in the triumph and the Caps are now 53-18-8 (114 points). They are just a Capitals point gained or a point lost by the Pittsburgh Penguins during the last three games from clinching the Metropolitan Division title and their third Presidents’ Trophy.

With the Leafs playing in Buffalo on Monday night, it was imperative that Washington get up on Toronto to make a weary team expend a lot of energy playing catch up. The Caps game plan was pretty simple early and throughout the contest, get pucks deep on the Leafs D and forecheck them. Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) was really bringing the hammer on Coach Mike Babcock’s players and his four hits definitely opened up the ice for Washington while wearing out Toronto.

From the get go, the Capitals third line of Brett Connolly (two assists), Lars Eller (goal), and Andre Burakovsky (assist) were superior to any Toronto line they faced, which was predominantly the James Van Riemsdyk, Mitch Marner, and Tyler Bozak trio. Eller would break the ice for the Caps at 14:34 of period one when Burakovsky made a great play to negate an icing call and then the triumvirate cycled the puck beautifully until #65 found Eller in the slot and #20 buried it by Curtis McElhinney for his 12th goal of the season.

Washington would dominate that opening frame with a 13-3 lead in shots on goal and a 22-14 margin in shot attempts. Toronto had very few scoring chances on Grubauer because the Caps had the puck a lot and they defended the front of their own net very well.

Speaking of beautiful, that is a goal that really broke this game open, a bit. Eller drew a holding the stick call on Marner and that put the Caps on the man advantage 8:34 into period two. Boy did the Caps power play look daunting, too. With Nicklas Backstrom and Kevin Shattenkirk running the show at the half wall and top of the point, respectively, and the other three guys moving around well, the Leafs had no clue what to defend. It all broke down for Toronto when Ovechkin rotated to the top of the point and #22 went into Ovi’s office. With the Leafs so focused on the Gr8, the cross ice lane from Backstrom to Shattenkirk across the top of the circles was wide open. Backstrom’s feed to Shattenkirk was perfect and Kevin one-timed it home for his first goal as a Capital. That made it 2-0 at the game’s halfway point.

From there, Washington really played smart and forced Toronto to have to go into their own end and retrieve pucks often. While the Leafs closed the gap by one in shot attempts after two periods, to 41-34, the shots on goal were 26-13.

In the third period, the Caps didn’t sit back and they upped their lead to 3-0 when Nate Schmidt tallied off of a great feed from Connolly at 8:11. #88 was in the game because John Carlson was a late scratch due to a lower body injury (He is day to day and will not play against the Rangers on Wednesday night). Schmidty was excellent in this affair and he was paired for the first time in recent memory with Karl Alzner. They were the lowest pair in terms of time on ice, but with Coach Trotz playing the matchups against Babcock, Washington’s depth took over and those guys were +3, with two of those goals coming with the Eller line.

The last goal for Washington was tallied by Tom Wilson on a breakaway. Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle made great plays inside the Caps defensive zone to get the puck out and then #26 flipped it high in the air over the Leafs defensemen and #43 flew in and beat McElhinney on the backhand. It was a well deserved goal for Wilson, who protected his goalies and teammates all night from some Toronto cheap stuff (Matt Martin’s push of Matt Niskanen into the net and Marner’s ice spray face wash of Grubauer).

The Leafs would get a very late PP goal from Marner to avoid being shut out.

Overall, this was a very solid game by the Capitals. Their defensive posture has really improved over the last two contests and what I really liked against Toronto was that I’m having a hard time remembering if the Leafs even had an odd man rush in this affair. Recently the Caps have been breaking down and giving those up en masse. That was not the case in the Big Smoke and as everyone knows, “Defense Wins Championships.”

The defense was certainly there on Tuesday night and the Capitals used their size and depth up front to dominate a Toronto team that is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. It was a confidence building win for Washington against a club they very well could face in the first round of the playoffs.

Notes: final shots on goal were 38-28 and shot attempts were 58-55 for the Caps…Eller and Connolly were both +2 and Burakovsky was +1. Eller drew two penalties…the only mistake that line really made all night was #65’s penalty with 2:15 remaining which ultimately cost Gruabuer the shutout…the Caps lost the face off battle, 30-28, but Eller was 8-4…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:34 and his partner, Dmitry Orlov logged 22:10…Schmidt played 14:11 while Alzner had 16:00 of time on ice…the Caps-Rangers game is at 8 pm on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel. It will likely be Braden Holtby against Henrik Lundqvist in net.

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Caps Hold On For a Big Win in Colorado

Posted on 30 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals raced out to a 4-1 lead just past the midpoint of Wednesday’s late game with Colorado and then hung on for the last 26 plus minutes to eke out a 5-3 victory at the Pepsi Center.

The Caps, who played in Minnesota the night before while the last place Avs rested, were sloppy in the opening frame, but managed to forge a 2-1 advantage. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, and Brett Connolly, who struggled against the Wild on Tuesday, were dominant on their first shift and #10 drew a penalty just 2:27 into the contest.

Alex Ovechkin and company were red hot on the man advantage, having gone three for four on Tuesday, so to get an early power play, was big for Coach Trotz’ crew. The first unit was unable to score, but the second unit fended off an Avalanche shorthanded rush and caught the cellar dwellers with a four on one rush of their own. Burakovsky made a sweet feed to Kuznetsov, and with Justin Williams driving to the net, #92 dropped one to John Carlson coming hard in the slot, and #74 buried it top shelf at the 4:00 mark of this game.

Washington was not sharp in the opening twenty, and as a result Colorado was generating speed coming through the neutral zone and getting scoring chances. One of those would go in at the 11:11 mark, but Jay Beagle restored the Capitals lead when he deflected home a sweet point shot from Kevin Shattenkirk just 37 seconds later. That was a good omen, because coming into the game the Caps were 10-0-0 this season when #83 scores a goal (h/t Adam Miller) and 33-1-5, all time.

Colorado had a 21-18 advantage in shot attempts after one period.

In the middle stanza, it was mostly all Capitals. Washington chucked the kitchen sink at Calvin Pickard (30 saves) and it took a deflection goal off of a Shattenkirk shot that first hit T.J. Oshie’s stick and then Marcus Johansson’s chest to get a biscuit by #31 on the power play. The Caps really had their legs going and when Jojo made a great rush down the left wing and fed Kuznetsov for an easy goal at 11:03 it looked like the rout was on.

Just a minute and 35 seconds later, Shattenkirk made another great pass, this time to Beagle in the slot, and #83 fired it quickly, but it hit the cross bar. While he was shooting he was cross checked badly in the rib section from behind by Matt Duchene, but no penalty was called as the zebras were once again officiating the score. That non call would prove costly and started to change the game.

The Avs would pull to within two goals 62 seconds later on a two on one rush. Matt Niskanen was hung out to dry and he tried to block the pass by leaving his feet, but he failed badly and Matt Nieto had a lay up tally. Coach Trotz’ squad kept the pressure on and nearly scored again, especially late in the period on a power play, but the Avs were saved by the bell. For those middle 20 minutes the Capitals outshot attempted the Avalanche, 27-9. It was pure domination, but Pickard made some big stops and had some luck to keep Colorado with a chance at getting even by game’s end.

In the third period, after an early flurry that saw Pickard flat out rob Williams, it was clear that the Capitals legs were growing weary. Just 4:29 into the frame, Nathan MacKinnon made a great rush up the ice and he went inside out on Dmitry Orlov and beat Philipp Grubauer (32 saves). An iffy cross checking call on Brooks Oprik, after #44 was felled much worse in the crease by a cross check just beforehand, gave the Avalanche a power play and they nearly tied it, but Gruabuer was strong. For the remainder of the game, #31 was super solid as the Caps literally hung on to their one goal lead. Finally, with Pickard on the bench for the extra attacker, Shattenkirk and then Tom Wilson made good defensive plays, and that allowed Eller to fire the puck from his own blueline into the vacant cage with 1:22 remaining.

Grubauer, who was really good in this one, made a few more big saves down the stretch and the Capitals gladly were ready to leave the Mile High City with two important standings points.

Shattenkirk was clearly the best player for Washington in this one. He logged a team high 21:22, had two assists, and was +2. He is really fitting in well, especially on the power play, where the Caps went two for three. That is five for seven over the course of these two back to back games and a huge reason why Washington won both tilts.

The Caps third line, after a rough outing in Minnesota and reduced ice time, stepped up in this game and played a big role in the win. I still would’ve liked to have seen them get a few more shifts, they only had 14 together, but if they keep playing like that and shooting the puck (they had 12 shot attempts) they will see their time on ice go up.

Overall, this was not a pretty victory, but the Caps did what they had to do to move to 110 points (51-17-8) and they take a five point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets and seven points on the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets have a game in hand, which they’ll play on Thursday, at Carolina. Washington will be in Arizona on Friday night before taking on Columbus at Nationwide Arena at 6 pm on Sunday.

Notes: The Avs dominated the third period and ended up winning the shot attempt battle, 63-57…the Caps were a perfect three for three on the penalty kill…Johansson and Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist…Washington’s top line, which carried the team on Tuesday in Minnesota, looked exhausted on Wednesday. Luckily lines two through four really stepped up to get the win…the faceoff battle was tied at 28. Nicklas Backstrom was 9-5.

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Ovi Wild Hat trick

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Ovechkin and Oshie Carry the Caps Over the Wild in OT

Posted on 29 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored 1:52 into overtime after a great feed from Marcus Johansson to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. The triumph starts the Caps off on the right foot on their five game, eight day road trip.

On the last Capitals extended road trip, to California just over two weeks ago, Coach Barry Trotz stated that Washington’s star players were repeatedly not their star players in three straight losses.

At the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, that would not be the case.

Washington’s first line and power play was simply on fire in this one. It all started in period one when Alex Ovechkin did a great job of fore checking and stole the biscuit from the Wild in the offensive zone. The Gr8 then fed Nicklas Backstrom behind him and #19 quickly fired on net. Devan Dubnyk (15 saves) made the initial stop but the Osh Babe was there for the rebound to make it 1-0.

Pay the Man!

After the Wild tied the game as a result of the Minnesota third line outworking the Caps third line in the middle frame, Washington scored two straight power play goals to take a 3-1 lead. Both of the tallies came from the Gr8 in his favorite spot, the left wing circle.

But the Wild, who would go 0 for 5 on the evening on the power play in 9:33 of extra man time, were carrying the play at even strength, primarily against the Caps bottom two lines. Martin Hanzal, who set up the first goal for Jason Pominville, crashed the net and put home the rebound of a Pominville shot to make it 3-2 with 4:47 left in period two.

In the third period, the Capitals were doing a decent job of keeping the Wild on the perimeter and when Evgeny Kuznetsov made a super move to go by two Minnesota defenders on a rush and draw a slashing call, the Washington top unit took the ice again with 7:39 remaining with a chance to give the Caps a two goal cushion.

It took all of eight seconds for them to do that and the Gr8 got the hat trick after Jojo made a great play in the right wing corner to get the puck to Backstrom. Nicky then slid a beautiful cross ice pass to Ovechkin and he made no mistake about abusing Dubnyk, once again. For the second straight year, Ovi notched a hat trick in this building and it looked like this one was pretty much over, right?

Not so fast. A Dmitry Orlov clear was missed by Lars Eller on the right wing boards and Jared Spurgeon fired the loose puck at the net. It looked to me that Pominville tipped it by Braden Holtby (26 saves) from right in front, but the puck may have hit #9 instead. Either way, it was 4-3 with 4:57 left and the Wild suddenly had a lot of life.

The Caps would prevent the Wild from getting more pressure for the next few shifts, especially the Caps top line, which nearly scored again to get the two goal cushion back. However, with Dubnyk pulled, the Wild tied the game with 26.6 seconds left when Eric Staal put home a shot from the back door that Holtby had no chance on. The goal was reviewed for offside from the Toronto situation room, but even though it appeared to be offside, the league was consistent in claiming that the puck was not touched before the tag up, as they have done in two other exact situations recently, the Chicago-Colorado game on Sunday, March 12th and the Wild-Blackhawks game in this same barn back in February.

Whether you liked the call or not, and it is open to interpretation, the bottom line is that the Capitals blew a two goal lead, primarily because their bottom six had a very bad night. The third line, in particular, was on the wrong side of things in this one. Eller was -4, Andre Burakovsky was -3, and Brett Connolly was -2. Not a good night for those guys, who only had three shot attempts from their line (all from #20). They usually carry the play, but Hanzal, Pominville, and Jason Zucker had their number on Tuesday night.

Overall, the Caps won because of their star players. Ovechkin had the three power play goals and an assist, Oshie had two goals, Johansson had four assists, and Backstrom had three helpers, as well. In addition, the Capitals received good goaltending from the Holtbeast despite the fact that he allowed four goals on 30 shots. #70 made several numerous big saves throughout this contest as Washington struggled at even strength.

For Holtby, this was his 40th win of the campaign for the 3rd straight season and he joins Martin Brodeur and Evgeny Nabokov as the only two other NHL goalies to achieve that feat. Well done, Braden!

The victory improves the Caps to 50-17-8 (108 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets by three points and the Pittsburgh Penguins by five points with seven games remaining. Home ice is very important for the playoffs, especially since Washington has won a club record 31 of 38 contests at the Verizon Center this season.

Recently the Capitals have struggled on the road, especially the botched California trip. Washington was clearly focused on getting off to a better start on this extended stint away from home and thanks to their star players they found a way to get a “W.” Special teams were the big difference maker in this one as the Caps went three for four on the power play and a perfect five for five on the PK. But at even strength, Washington was deficient, especially the Eller line. That will need to change if the rest of this trip is going to be successful.

Notes: Shot attempts were 51-35 for the Wild (SOG were 30-20)…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 33-18. That stat is a good reason why they were dominated in puck possession in this one…Zach Parise took a high stick in the face from Tom Wilson in the first period and didn’t return. #43 received a double minor and then he was bloodied in a fight with Chris Stewart later in the frame…Ovechkin now has 33 goals and the Osh Babe has 32. What a duo they are with Backstrom feeding them the biscuit. To quote the Great Count Floyd, “That’s scary stuff, kids!”…the Caps are right back at it on Wednesday night in Colorado against the Avalanche at 10 pm. Expect Philipp Grubauer to get his first start since March 11th (at Los Angeles).

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Caps Top Line Dominates in 5-3 Win Over Tampa

Posted on 18 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz had seen enough of the Caps mediocre recent play and called the game a “Must Win.”

His players delivered with a tremendous effort, and once again, the Capitals top players were their top players.

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) came out firing the biscuit on net and that opened things up for linemates Nicklas Backstrom (four assists) and T.J. Oshie (3 goals and 1 assist). Washington’s top trio was sensational and they had 23 of the Capitals 65 shot attempts in this affair. The Osh Babe notched his 27th, 28th, and 29th goals of the season to set a career high. He was fantastic and he is so good at both ends of the ice winning board battle after board battle.

Pay The Man!

Washington really came out flying in this one and scored a beauty of a power play goal just 3:44 in. Marcus Johansson, who only played 2:53 due to an illness, made a sweet feed to Oshie in the slot and he went top shelf to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy (30 saves). That last pass was just one of many excellent ones on that man advantage that went for 71 seconds. Kevin Shattenkirk made some super passes as did Backstrom. The Bolts, as most teams do, were looking for Ovi to get the puck for his patented one-timer and that opened up #77 right in front.

Oshie then made it 2-0 at the 11:44 mark after Backstrom sprung the Gr8 and Osh Babe on a two on one. With the Bolts defender thinking Ovechkin was going to shoot, Alex made a sweet feed right on Oshie’s tape and he fired it into an open net. It was a tremendous dish by an underrated passer. Much has been made of Oshie’s high shooting percentage this season, but when you keep getting looks like he’s receiving from two ELITE, future Hall of Fame linemates, your numbers are going to be sky high. So to all of those spreadsheet geeks, like that Sporting News guy who blathered on about Oshie (and Brett Connolly) being all luck yesterday, I say get your head out of your computer and watch the stinking game!

To quote a very funny movie from the 1980’s…

NERDS!!!!!

[Note: This blogger has a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, so I know all about statistics. This is a sporting event. Yes, you can post quantify things with numbers, but at the end of the day this is a game that requires high skill, effort, and intensity to be successful.]

Now let’s get back to your regularly scheduled programming.

The Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives so you know they weren’t going to shrivel up and go away. After an Oshie high sticking infraction, Nikita “All World” Kucherov buried one top shelf on Braden Holtby just 28 seconds into that power play. The puck hit Karl Alzner’s skate in the slot and ricocheted right to #86, who was well positioned, and he made no mistake about finishing the fortuitous bounce.

16 seconds later this game was all tied up. Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in his own zone, but to his defense, the Caps forward line had vacated the zone too quickly and gave him no help. Orlov and Matt Niskanen were then stuck facing a three on two and Alex Killorn made a great shot to beat the Holtbeast (26 saves).

There were some end to end rushes after that for both teams, and Oshie nearly got his hat trick in the first frame, but he just missed the net.

The second period was more of a playoff type of style with both teams exhibiting tight checking and trying to limit odd man rushes. The Capitals were the better team at that and they carried the play. Tampa didn’t have a whole lot of good looks in that middle frame. Andre Burakovsky (seven shots on goal) was the big story in that stanza and he, Lars Eller, and Connolly were really flying like they were before #65 fractured his hand on February 9th. Burkie was really skating and firing the biscuit. He’s not 100% with that appendage yet, but once he gets there, look out! That triumvirate was a great compliment to the Washington top line and really kept the Bolts on their heels.

In the third period, the Caps really kept coming in waves at Tampa and just after a Bolts penalty expired, Burakovsky found Niskanen coming off of the bench and fed one that #2 blasted from just inside the blue line. Justin Williams was smartly parked in front and he tipped the shot home for his 20th goal of the season. That was a big tally to seize the lead at 3:14 and then just over two minutes later, on a delayed penalty (Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone), John Carlson “Ripken’d” one past #88 from the slot after a great feed from Ovechkin in the corner, who had just received a good pass from Backstrom, to generate a quality chance while the zebras had their right arms in the “hair,” as the great Denis Lemieux would say.

Those were two big goals that heavily involved the Caps defense, which played extremely well across the board in this game.

From there, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they kept the pressure on Tampa. The Lightning really didn’t have any quality scoring chances until finally getting one after pulling their goalie late. Kucherov, of course, scored off of a faceoff to make it 4-3 and put a little bit of a scare into this one.

But after a neutral zone draw, the Caps fought hard for the puck and Backstrom, naturally, made a great play to get the disc to Oshie between the red line and blue line and the Osh Babe lifted it over the Tampa defenders and into the empty cage for the 5-3 final score.

Hat Trick and Mission Accomplished for their bench boss!

The victory allowed the Caps to stay two points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won again on Saturday and still have a game in hand. Washington is now 46-17-8 for 100 points and to quote the late, great Reg Dunlop, “Peterborough lost tonight, so as of right now, we’re in the playoffs!”

Actually, it was the Islanders who lost Saturday to CBus, so the Capitals victory officially clinched a Washington playoff berth.

Playoffs?!! Playoffs?!! Are you talking Playoffs??!!

Yes, I am. The Caps are in, but what they really want now is home ice advantage for the post season. There are 11 games left to try and lock that up, but most important is to stay healthy and get their game peaking at the right time.

Saturday night was a big step in putting their overall play in the proper direction. They dominated this affair and the top line was a big reason for that.

Pay The Man!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 65-52…Burakovksy had 11 shot attempts, he was fabulous, and he tied Ovechkin with a team leading 7 shots on goal. Burkie played 15:12 and had the assist on the game winning goal…with Jojo leaving early, Coach Trotz had to re-distribute his forward ice time, but the top trio stepped up and grabbed the extra minutes, despite just two power plays. Oshie played 21:26, Ovi logged 21:07, and Backstrom was at 21:05…Connolly had a first period breakaway, but the puck rolled on him badly and he couldn’t get a shot off…Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time at a very low 22:02 because Washington has three extremely good defensive pairs that Assistant Coach Todd Rierden can simply rotate one after another…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play, but also scored on a delayed penalty. Tampa was 1 for 1 with the man advantage. Did I mention that that Kucherov guy is good?…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 15-10…The Caps next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the red hot Calgary Flames.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coach Barry Trotz will be joining WNST at Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Maryland on Monday night at 7 pm for a charity event. Nestor Aparacio will be your host (I’ll be there, too) and he’ll be leading the charge to get people to sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. So please come out to have some food and drinks, help a great cause to fight blood cancer, and listen to some great hockey talk from Washington’s bench boss, who happens to be a great person, as well.

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Bad Change Costs the Caps in OT Loss to Nashville

Posted on 17 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson scored on a two on one in overtime to send the Washington Capitals to their fifth loss in their last six games. The Predators received that two on one because Evgeny Kuznetzov changed when Nashville had the puck in the neutral zone, which is a no-no, according to Coach Barry Trotz.

“In the 3 on 3, if the other team possesses the puck, especially if they are standing in the neutral zone, you can’t change. They’re just waiting for you to go out of the box and passing it, so it’s an automatic two on one. We talk about that all of the time, so it’s not about the change, it’s the decision to change, that created the chance. When you have the puck, especially three on three, it’s all about possession and decisions, when you don’t have it, you have to be positionally sound and patient and you can’t make poor decisions.”

Once on the two on one, Arvidsson got off a shot that the Holtbeast wasn’t necessarily set on. Typically in those situations, the defensemen’s job is to take the pass and leave the shooter to the goalie. Holtby told me afterwards that he and John Carlson got their signals crossed, and they’ll work on that going forward.

This was “a quiet game” as Coach Trotz described it and I couldn’t agree more. The building was pretty dead, so Washington didn’t really get energy from the home crowd. The ice wasn’t very good either, but it’s the same for both teams.

The Capitals played a strong first period outshot attempting the Predators, 17-9, and they took the lead 11:41 into the contest when Lars Eller forced a turnover in the offensive zone. Jakub Vrana scooped up the mishap and fed Brett Connolly for his career high 15th goal of the season. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette screamed at the referees, wanting a trip on Eller, but on replay it was pretty clear that the Predators player made a poor decision to turn up the middle of the defensive zone and he flat out blew a tire on the wonky ice.

Alex Ovechkin and company would dominate that first frame, but they struggled to get to the paint and get that all important second marker. In period two, the Predators carried the shot attempt tallies, 22-11, but it seemed like puck possession was pretty even. The problem was that Washington was too fancy and over passing. On one instance, the top line made two nice passes to set up T.J. Oshie on the right wing side in close and #77 tried to make an extra pass instead of firing away on Pekka Rinne (22 saves). That was the theme of period two, the Caps cycling the puck and trying for the perfect play or turning the biscuit over and allowing a very good rush team in Nashville to go the other way.

You can’t drop pass or play fancy against the Predators and a Marcus Johansson turnover allowed the game to end up tied with just 1:04 left in the second frame. Jojo tried to feed Dmitry Orlov at the left point, but the puck was intercepted by Kevin Fiala and he went the other way on a rush. James Neal was the trailer on the play and Fiala dropped the puck to #18, who shot the puck off of #9’s stick and by the Holtbeast. That gave Nashville some momentum that they didn’t have for much of the game.

In the third period, the game was pretty even, but I thought the Caps had the better scoring chances. Again, Nashville protected the front of their net well, and Washington did too, on this night, so this one headed to overtime where the boys from Tennessee prevailed.

There were lots of positives for the Caps in this game. They only took one penalty that put them shorthanded and they killed that one off (second period). Oshie nearly scored shorthanded twice on his PK shift. The low penalty total allowed them to roll four lines for a majority of the night, with the third line getting short changed the most (yet they were the only line to score). On defense they were solid and on offense they possessed the puck quite a bit.

On the negative side of the ledger, the Capitals didn’t shoot the puck enough or make things tough for Rinne, especially in the second period. It was too much perimeter hockey and not enough jam. Coach Trotz gave credit to Laviolette’s crew, but he also faulted his own squad.

“They collapse pretty hard and I didn’t think we had the mindset of shooting the puck and getting to the net as much as we needed to.”

Overall, this was a pretty tight checking game. Nashville is fighting for their playoff position, so they played a classic road game. They stay structured in their own end and hoped for turnovers and counter attacks. They were fortunate to get two such opportunities that they were able to light the lamp on, and as a result they got the extra point and leave town sweeping the Caps in their two game season series.

For Washington, at 45-17-8 (98 points), they still lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over the Blue Jackets, who knocked off the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, and three points over the Penguins, who were idle. Both teams have a game in hand on the Caps, so this race is ultra tight.

If the Capitals want to win the Metropolitan Division and get home ice for the playoffs, they need to get back to what makes them successful, putting bodies and pucks to the opposing teams net. They didn’t do enough of that on Thursday night and that is why they lost.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shot attempts (3 on net). He is moving his legs better, but he is taking a beat too long to shoot the puck. If he can get back to his quick release, he’ll start scoring more often…Connolly, who had the only goal, only received 8:25 of ice time. I’d like to see that line get more ice time, especially when Andre Burakovsky returns, which could be very soon (likely next week)…final shot attempts were 44-42, for Washington…Tom Wilson pounded Austin Watson in a fight 7:29 into period three after #43 put a clean hit on Mattias Ekholm. I don’t understand why clean hits result in fights these days, but maybe I’m too old school, I don’t know?…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida on Saturday night. The Bolts, who got trounced, 5-0, on Thursday night in Toronto, are fighting for their playoff lives, so the Capitals better be prepared to match the intensity of Coach Jon Cooper’s squad or they’ll be run out of the Sunshine State.

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Ovechkin and Backstrom Lead the Caps Over the Wild

Posted on 14 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored a huge power play goal and helped set up Washington’s first tally while Nicklas Backstrom added three assists as the Caps defeated the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. The victory breaks the Caps four game losing streak and puts them back in sole possession of first place in the NHL at 45-17-7 (97 points).

Well that was more like it!

The Caps top guys were their top guys on this night, unlike the 0-3 California trip we would all like to forget.

The Capitals were skating hard and competing. They constantly won the loose puck battles and they did a great job of going to the net. This looked like the team that lit the scoreboard up like a pinball machine from December 31st to February 11th.

This affair didn’t start real well for the Caps, though. The Wild had several early scoring chances as Washington was trying to get back on east coast time, but Braden Holtby (30 saves) was outstanding in the net to keep this one scoreless. The Capitals then started getting their legs going to play with pace and they gradually took over the contest. Late in the first period, Ovechkin made a great tape to tape breakout pass to spring Backstrom in the neutral zone and #19 carried it into the Wild end. T.J. Oshie made a nice nudge of the puck back to #19 in the right wing corner and Nicky then took the puck around the net and tried to hit a flying and charging Gr8 in the slot. The pass nicked Ovi, but Nate Schmidt was properly placed in the middle of the ice and he gathered in the loose biscuit and fired it at Devan Dubnyk (36 saves). The puck, which looked to be going wide, hit Eric Staal and went in. That goal came with just 11.7 seconds left in the frame.

In the middle stanza, Washington really played well, but Dubnyk kept his club in it for the first 14+ minutes. However, an obvious Mikael Granlund high stick on John Carlson (two assists) negated a Wild power play and put the game at four on four for 48 seconds. There was no sale for either team in that scenario, but then the Capitals had their 72 second man advantage. Ovechkin had a great look late in the power play and missed the net, but right as Granlund was coming out of the box, the Gr8 took another nice feed from Carlson and put “a muffin” by Dubnyk to give Washington a 2-0 cushion.

The Caps weren’t done in that period, however. Ryan Suter, who whined all night, took a very clear slash on Ovechkin at 16:46. Washington’s power play then scored on the rush with Backstrom carrying the puck across the blue line and then feeding a streaking Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot. #92 beat Dubnyk with a sweet shot upstairs.

To quote the great Will Ferrell, “Come on, we’re all going streaking!”

That made it 3-0 and all was feeling right in the world with Ovi finally scoring a goal and the Capitals dominating play.

Things then got amped up at the end of period two when Ryan White first took a run at Tom Wilson and then a nasty one on Brooks Orpik behind the Caps net. There was no penalty called on White, but Wilson, remembering that it was the dirty White who concussed #44 in last spring’s game three in Philadelphia, dropped the gloves and beat the stuffing out of him. Wilson earned 17 minutes in penalties, including the instigator minor and an automatic 10 minute misconduct, but the Capitals looked possessed on that penalty kill and then at even strength at the end of period two and nearly made it 4-0.

It’s too bad they didn’t because just 37 seconds into period three a weird bounce on the boards allowed the Wild to score. Washington then took a parade of penalties that started with a Brett Connolly interference. I wasn’t a fan of that call, but then Backstrom had to hook Eric “Cap Killer” Staal when he had a clear lane to the net and that gave the Wild a five on three. The Capitals would survive that event, but right as #10 was coming back on the ice, Staal put the biscuit in the basket to make it 3-2 with 15:23 remaining. Uh oh!

Things got even hairier when Justin Williams, who had eight shots on goal in this game, was whistled for hooking. It was another call I didn’t like because it sure looked like the Wild player was hit by sniper fire. It was total embellishment and Minnesota did a lot of that on this night. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Bruce Boudreau had brought in Greg Louganis as a diving consultant at some point this season. All evening long a Capital would touch a Wild player and too often they’d fall to the ice. Either they are unbelievably soft or they think the zebras are so clueless that they’ll call anything. A combination of both is likely true, if you ask me.

Anyways, Washington was relentless with their pressure on that penalty kill and the Wild didn’t even get a shot on the Holtbeast. Once the Caps were done with the parade to the box (Minnesota had seven power plays), they took over the remaining 13 minutes and really never gave the Wild a chance to tie it.

In fact, the intense forechecking and pressure Washington was exhibiting led to an insurance tally with 5:41 to go. Minnesota cleared their zone and tried to change, but Dmitry Orlov alertly caught them and fired a quick pass up to Jay Beagle just outside the offensive blue line. Beagle skated in down the left wing with Daniel Winnik flanked to his right on a two on one and when the Wild defender chose to cut the pass off, #83 wristed one top shelf to end any potential drama.

This was a much needed win for the Capitals and the way it went down was also big. The Caps were playing with fire and intensity, something we didn’t see on the left coast. Ovechkin, who showed signs of breaking out of his winter hibernation in California with 15 shot attempts in LA and then eight more in Anaheim, had a goal, an assist, and four hits in 18:11 of work. Backstrom was flat out dominant at center and on the backend, the defense, which was missing Kevin Shattenkirk due to a two game suspension, was very active in the play, which helped get the offense back on track. This was Carlson’s best game in a long time and Karl Alzner had a really good outing, too. Matt Niskanen and Orlov were excellent, as well. In fact, 11 of the 40 shots on goal came from Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov. Add in Schmidt’s goal and it was a big night for the blue line.

Simply put, the Capitals were competing and they moved up and down the ice in a well structured five man unit. I loved the team’s intensity and also Wilson sticking up for Orpik, those type of things send a strong message to anyone trying to play dirty and it was clear this team is together.

This win was a very big response to a bad and unfocused road trip.

Washington certainly looked focused and dialed in on Tuesday. All is right in Caps land, once again.

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:38 and Carlson was right behind him at 24:05…the shot attempts favored the Capitals, 67-54…Zach Parise was held without a shot on goal in 18:17 of ice time. He’s one of the best players, if not the best, for Minnesota…the Caps third line didn’t have a shot on net, but they only played together for just over six minutes due to all of the penalties…the Caps host the Nashville Predators on Thursday at 7 pm and Shattenkirk will return to the lineup…TJ Luxmore and Jon McIsaac were your clueless and very inconsistent zebras on Tuesday night (some would also call them incompetent, and they wouldn’t be wrong).

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The Caps Must Put An End to Slow Starts

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Through 65 games the Washington Capitals have the best record in the National Hockey League at 44-14-7 (95 points).

Virtually every form of online power rankings, whether it’s ESPN.COM, NHL.COM, or TSN.CA, has the Caps in the top spot in the league.

Reading the national press clippings after the acquisition of defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, it’s pretty clear that most hockey experts believe the Capitals have the best team in the league and they have their greatest chance to finally win a Stanley Cup.

In terms of the best team in the league, well there is a certain club in the state of Pennsylvania that is still the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, so until the Capitals or someone else beats them, the Penguins continue to lay claim to the best team in the league title, in my book.

However, the experts are right that this is the Caps best chance ever to win a championship. I’ve been watching this franchise since 1974-75 and have seen some very good hockey teams that have put themselves in the Cup conversation, such as the 1985-86, 1991-92, 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2015-16 squads. They were all very good, yet they failed to bring home Lord Stanley.

Not one of those rosters was as talented and as deep as this current team. General Manager Brian MacLellan has done an absolutely amazing job of building a serious Cup contender from where he started from just three years ago. There are no holes after the Shattenkirk, Lars Eller, and Brett Connolly acquisitions that have occurred since last May’s loss to the Penguins. Coach Barry Trotz has changed the culture in the organization, for the better, and in his three seasons as Caps bench boss, the team has the best regular season record in the NHL.

Simply put, they have the talent and the coaching to put themselves in position to get the job done.

But all of that will amount to no more than a hill of beans in the spring if they don’t immediately address a big issue that has seriously crept back into their game, once again: SLOW STARTS!

From December 31st to February 11th, the Capitals went on a tear, jumping on their opponents early and often and in the process they scored five or more goals at the Verizon Center in 11 straight games, which tied an NHL record with the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. It was almost routine to see the Caps come out and score a goal in the first 10 minutes and put their opponents on their heels quickly. The way they played during that stretch reminded me of how Pittsburgh played from January 1st, 2016 until Sidney Crosby ultimately lifted his second Stanley Cup last June. They came out fast and they made their opponents feel uncomfortable instantly. Coach Trotz was then able to roll all four lines and all three defensive pairs to wear out the opposition; much like Mike Sullivan did last season. There was no “chasing the game” from Washington. They were playing the right way.

Since the bye week, however, Washington is a pedestrian 5-3-1 (11 points), but in only two of those games (at Nashville and vs. Edmonton) did they have a first 20 minutes that compared to what we saw before everyone took off for the beaches or the mountains for five days on February 12th. Basically, the Capitals have not been very close to the club we saw in the first 56 games. This post bye week team has been too lackadaisical in their efforts and their performances are eerily reminiscent of what we saw in the last couple of months of the 2015-16 regular season. That’s very concerning to me, we all know how last season ended, and I’d like to think the Caps players feel the same way.

On Monday night against the speedy Dallas Stars, the slow starts reached a boiling point. The Stars scored just 1:48 into the contest and would build a three goal lead by the six minute mark of period two. Sure the referees missed blatant goaltender interference on the first tally, but when you come out like you’ve been listening to “I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow for hours before the game and let a team that has very slim playoff hopes skate all over you, you are putting yourselves at the mercy of the zebras. If the Caps come out strong, the goalie interference never happens and Coach Trotz doesn’t have to use his challenge before the contest is two minutes old. Washington has no one to blame but themselves for the sleep walking they did early on to end up so far behind the eight ball and as a result, they were the ones “chasing the game.”

After last season’s devastating loss to the Penguins, the club talked about having better starts to games and also developing a killer instinct. This was a very valid point, especially given that in games 2, 3, and 6 of the Pittsburgh series the Capitals got off to horrendous starts and found themselves expending massive energy to rally before losing each of those contests, and ultimately the series. The slow starts and lack of killer instinct also goes back to the Rangers series in the spring of May 2015 (see Game 6 and losing a 3-1 series lead).

Those teams had some holes, no doubt, and MacLellan has filled them, but the Capitals have reverted in the last three weeks with a subpar effort to the start of games. After the loss to Dallas, Coach Trotz said the fix to the problem has to come from “the room.”

To paraphrase Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men, “You’re doggone right it does!”

This starts with the team’s leadership, specifically Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brooks Orpik. All three of those players were guilty of terrible starts on Monday night and that’s just not acceptable. In fact, since the bye week, each game I find myself wondering, outside of T.J. Oshie, who in the top six is going to show up consistently (“Osh Babe” and the bottom six pretty much bring the effort every game).

Ovechkin told the media recently that it’s time to stop talking about winning the Cup and do something about it this spring. Well, this is when #8 needs to start stepping up and getting this team ready to play and rolling for the playoffs. He also needs to improve on his defensive zone play, because it’s slipped, once again. In hockey, offense comes from good defense, and he can certainly perform much better in his own zone than we’ve seen lately. His back checking has greatly improved over the last three seasons, but once he’s pinned in the defensive area, he’s struggled, especially this year. With his skill set, that can easily be changed with more effort, focus, and attention to detail. In fact, every player on this team should be looking at where they can get better, if they want to win the Cup.

There are 17 games left and just over a month before the hardest round of the playoffs to win, the first one, will commence. There is no finding your game once the post season starts. You need to be clicking and heading into that first week with momentum. Again, see Pittsburgh last season.

The Capitals, right now, don’t have any momentum, they’ve lost it on the beach, skiing, and doing other off-ice activities since February 11th. During their recent three game homestand, they scored a total of five goals. Oshie told me after the loss to Dallas that some nights the puck just doesn’t bounce your way and he also pointed out that it seemed like for a stretch this season, before the bye week, everything was going in. He’s correct that luck is a factor, but in sports, you mostly make your own fortune. The Capitals were scoring so many goals in January and early February because they were working hard to get pucks and bodies to the net via the quality scoring areas. They haven’t been working hard enough or very efficiently since the bye week to regain their offensive prowess. Oshie is the exception to that, all you have to do is look at his goal on Monday night, and I’ll give Ovechkin credit there for creating chaos in front of Caps killer Kari Lehtonen. Backstrom’s goal came from right in front, too, so the team can learn from the film of the Stars tilt to see what they need to do to start lighting the lamp again. To me it all starts with effort and attention to detail, the problem was it came too late on Monday night, nearly 30 minutes into the game.

When the Caps get an early lead, they are so deadly because of their depth. Oshie reiterated on Monday night that “depth” is the strength of this team. When you have 20 guys all pulling on the rope and four lines and three defensive pairs that can play, it makes the other team work extra hard and take chances to rally from behind. That opens up the ice for scoring chances for the Capitals, and they were burying them to the tune of nearly five pucks a night during that January to mid-February stretch. It was not pure luck, it was the result of playing the right way.

This is a tremendous opportunity that this Capitals team has this spring to win a championship. Teams like this, on paper, don’t come around very often and to hear the players talk, they are a very close knit group, as well. We’ve heard from the players and MacLellan that the chemistry is right with this crew.

It’s time to build on that and dial everything in on hockey for the next three plus months, starting with this upcoming three game road trip to California that starts Thursday in San Jose. 10 players need new contracts after this campaign, so they can’t fall back on MacLellan filling roster holes in the offseason or relying on throwing out catch phrases like “fixing the slow starts” or “finding a killer instinct” for next year to buy themselves time. The future is now. This team will never be the same or as stacked as it is now. Talk is cheap and I can’t help but think that these guys don’t want to endure another painful playoff disappointment and the doom and gloom of another breakdown day without a Stanley Cup.

Connolly told me back in December that if this club works on its habits, they can get to where they want to go. They did that in January and early February and were extremely successful, but the BAD habits have crept back in.

So to each and every player on this team, I have one thing to say if they want to become legends and deliver the Capitals their first Championship: IT IS TIME TO WORK AND BE 100% COMMITTED AND FOCUSED ON HOCKEY.

That way they will be playing the proper way and have the right habits come April 12th or whenever game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is officially scheduled.

If they do that, they can definitely beat anyone.

If they don’t, then to paraphrase the late great Herb Brooks.

They’ll take this wasted season to their freaking grave.

THEIR FREAKING GRAVE!

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The Holtbeast Leads the Caps Over the Flyers

Posted on 04 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play 3:25 in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The win was the Caps 15th straight at home and even more satisfying is that it puts the Broad Street Bullies even closer to the golf course once the regular season ends on April 9th.

So hockey fans have that going for them….which is nice.

What a screen by T.J. Oshie on the game winner! Pay the Man!

The “Osh Babe” returned after missing four games due to an upper body injury suffered from the black and orange dirt bags in Filthy 10 days ago. #77 was pretty good and was robbed just before #19’s game winner on a tremendous save by Steve Mason (22 saves), who was fabulous in this contest.

However, the Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby, goes to 11.

The Holtbeast had a superior outing stopping 30 pucks and made several HUUUUGGGEEE saves, to quote some guy who now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Simply put, he’s the best goalie on the planet these days and if #70 continues to perform like that, then you’d have to think Washington is going to be a very difficult out in April, May, and hopefully June. He’s now 19-0-2 in his last 21 decisions. That’s mind boggling!

This game had some ebbs and flows to it and in the first part of period two, it looked like the Capitals were going to take over. They outshot the Flyers, 9-1, but Mason was very good and Washington missed some golden chances by not hitting the cage. But I’ll give the Flyers credit, they hung in there and thanks to two power plays a period, they stayed with Washington and forced a scoreless first 40 minutes. The last part of period two was mostly Philly.

In the final frame, an Alex Ovechkin offensive zone turnover led to a Flyers odd man rush that Sean Couturier finished with a sweet deflection by Holtby with just 1:19 gone. The Caps first line has had too many loose moments lately and I really didn’t like Ovi’s game, for the most part, despite his four hits and assist on the game winning tally.

But that’s when the Capitals most improved player in 2016-17 , Dmitry Orlov, stepped up to tie the game just 81 seconds later. #9 gathered in a puck in the neutral zone and chipped it to himself near the red line. That allowed the Russian defenseman, who is making a big difference on the back end, to fly into the offensive zone and just rocket one past Mason into the top corner. The Flyers goalie was likely screened a bit by his own blueliner, but, wow, what a shot by Orlov!

After Orlov tied the game, the Flyers had their two man advantage opportunities which came on questionable calls. The Caps also received a power play on an iffy call. The power plays were six to four for the bad guys, but I thought the really bad guys were the ones in stripes. They just really didn’t have a handle on this tilt and looked to be thinking about their post game plans. It was lazy officiating allowing the players to get away with embellishment and if they don’t clean that up, then hockey becomes one step closer to the worst sport on Earth to watch, soccer.

In overtime, the Capitals didn’t have the puck for the first two minutes, but after Michael Del Zotto was caught deep, Kevin Shattenkirk took the biscuit the other way on a rush and “Del Zaster,” as some New York Ranger fans used to call him when he played for the Blueshirts, was nailed for holding. That set the stage for Mason’s big save on Oshie before the whistle, and then Backstrom’s winner, that was assisted by Shattenkirk, who earned his first point as a Cap. Nice job, Kevin.

Overall, this was an inconsistent outing by the Capitals and their third line only played 10 shifts together, resulting in just 6:04 of ice time for Brett Connolly. That is just too low and I blame that predominantly on the fact that 19:05 of this affair was played on special teams. That works in the Flyers favor because they have a great power play, although they went 0 for 6 on Saturday night. Washington is best when the game is five on five and they can roll all four lines and wear down their opponents. They could not do that against the Flyers because of all of the penalties. Blame the zebras or blame the Caps for those, but Coach Barry Trotz is at his best when he can play all four units and work to get the line matchups he desires.

One guy who did have a big game and continues to get under the Flyers skin is Tom Wilson. Willy had five shot attempts and NINE hits in 12:59 of ice time. He also had a huge shot block that likely saved a goal. #43 loves to play the Flyers and it shows. He was Comcast’s player of the game.

With the Blue Jackets and Rangers both losing in regulation on Saturday, Washington’s Metropolitan Division lead is now nine points over Pittsburgh and Columbus (both teams have a game in hand). The Rags trail by 11 points and the Caps have a game in hand on Alain Vigneault’s club.

Everyone knows that next to finally winning a Stanley Cup, I enjoy nothing more than beating the Flyers. Let’s face it, they’ve been setting hockey back to the Dark Ages since the Capitals entered the league in 1974-75. They play chippy hockey and they are sore losers when they are getting beat. I don’t like them, at all. I’ll give them credit though on Saturday night. They played hard and they did everything they could to try and get a desperately needed two points.

But they only got one, so they should probably start thinking about contacting their local Titleist representative to get a jump on their off-season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:53…Shot attempts were 58-52 for Philadelphia…the Caps were 31-25 on draws and Backstrom was 11-4…Justin Williams defended a Flyers cheap shot on Shattenkirk just 1:55 into this contest and got into it with Nick Cousins. It should have been coincidental penalties, but the zebras started their bad trend early by giving #14 a double minor to just a single minor for Cousins…the Caps next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center against the Dallas Stars at 7 pm. After that Washington is going back to Cali. They’ll play San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim starting on Thursday night, March 9th.

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