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Caps Lack of Early Intensity Costing Them Games

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Caps Lack of Early Intensity Costing Them Games

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

“There used to be a time when teams would come in here and we’d score three goals in the first period and nobody wanted to come in here.” – Brooks Laich

That’s a very telling quote right there and it explains a good portion of why the Washington Capitals are currently sitting at 10-10-4 and in 4th place in the Metropolitan Division after a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. Sure the game summary will show that the Capitals allowed three power play goals, so naturally the thing to point at is the penalty kill issues. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a very leaky unit right now, but to me, the problem is bigger than just penalty killing – it’s the way the Capitals are playing the game, especially early on.

Looking at the shot attempt totals for the game, it appears rosy for the Capitals since they won the overall battle, 70-56.

But let’s look at those shot attempts by period:

1st period: Caps 15, Canucks 21

2nd period: Caps 28, Canucks 22

3rd period: Caps 27, Canucks 13

In addition, the first two penalties of the game, in the second period, were against Washington. Troy Brouwer took an unnecessary offensive zone penalty for holding and Jay Beagle was called for hooking in the defensive zone after a series of Capitals mistakes. Both of those infractions, less than three minutes apart in the middle of period two, led to Canucks power play goals and a 3-1 edge for the visitors.

At that point, Washington finally showed some sense of urgency and dominated the rest of the contest. Suddenly pucks and bodies were going to the net, instead of the turnovers that were seen in the early part of the game, where the Capitals routinely attempted East-West passes instead of the North-South variety. The Caps only had 15 shot attempts in period one because they made it too easy for Vancouver and when they had the potential for shots, they tried to make the extra pass or fancy play.

A look at the Capitals giveaways by periods yields six in the first frame, none in the second, and three in the third period. One of those six in the first frame led to 4th liner Derek Dorsett’s goal.

Simply put, this team is killing itself with lousy starts and those are putting the club behind the eight ball in games. If they don’t change things soon, their chances of making the playoffs will drop considerably.

What is especially troubling is the Capitals home record of 5-5-4. That’s atrocious for a building that is routinely sold out. Washington’s terrible play has basically turned the Verizon Center into a library for the first 10 minutes of most games and that’s on the players, both Laich and Braden Holtby made that abundantly clear after Tuesday’s loss.

“That’s not the fans fault. We need to find something to make them get loud in the first 10 minutes…we know this building can be very hard to play in if we create that energy at the start of games,” said Holtby (28 saves).

Energy, that’s a great word. Anyone who has ever laced up the skates knows that hockey is an intense game that requires enormous energy. The Capitals can’t seem to find that coming out of the gate. They sit back and let the opponents dictate the game and a “sense of urgency” often doesn’t kick in until they are trailing. On Tuesday, that is what happened once again. Vancouver is a super hockey club, they are now 17-7-1 and in first place in the Western Conference, but the Caps dominated play once they ramped up their intensity.

Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that he has the players as prepared as he possibly can, John Carlson backed that up in his interview with the media after the game, as well. Trotz made it clear that the “sense of urgency” needs to come from the room. Whatever they are doing now, isn’t working. Whether they need to be more boisterous or cut out pre-game soccer or find some better tunes, Laich was very blunt that things need to change quickly.

“Whatever it is, as individuals you have to get yourself up for the games, you’ve got to get intense. Maybe manufacture some intensity in warmups before the game starts. You can’t wait until the puck drops and then try to get yourself into it. Certainly our first periods used to be better,” added Laich.

Washington is playing “the easy game” early on in contests. On rushes up the ice they are trying too often for the perfect play and it’s leading to turnovers that opponents are turning into odd man rushes. Trotz continues to call the NHL a “shoot first” league, but too many times, and especially on the second line, the extra pass is being made and then intercepted.

The Caps are just making it too comfortable for the opposition to come into Washington and play where fast starts used to get the Red clad fans rocking and intimidating the opponent.

“It makes the other team shrink down a bit and possibly come out of their game plan. The games that we have had success in, we have had one or two goal leads in the first period. Stats are overwhelming, I think, for the team that scores first. Whatever it is, we need to figure it out. You can’t play from behind all the time, especially not against good hockey teams. You just can’t play from behind and expect to win in the long term,” finished Laich on the importance of fast starts and the first goal.

Nail meet Hammer.

It’s time for the Capitals players to be prepared to play the game the right way, with intensity, starting with the opening face off.

Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game due to an upper body injury…the Caps won the face off battle, 32-29…Carlson had two goals and an assist in 22:28 of ice time. He was a big reason the Capitals were in the game after the miserable start…next up for Washington is the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday at 7 pm.

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Will Home Ice Hold up for Caps & Ovechkin in Game 7?

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Will Home Ice Hold up for Caps & Ovechkin in Game 7?

Posted on 12 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals earned the number three seed in the Eastern Conference by winning the Southeast Division and they get the opportunity to make it pay off with a victory in game seven on Monday night at the Verizon Center against the New York Rangers at 8pm (CSN).

The Rangers won a tightly contested game six, 1-0, on Sunday afternoon that has many Capitals players, fans, and even Comcast’s Alan May fuming over the power play imbalance so far in this series. The Blueshirts have benefitted in the three games in New York with 15 power plays to just 5 for the Capitals and it is 26-14, overall in the series. In game six, it was five to zero!

Anyone who watched that game clearly saw the zebra mistakes from the missed elbow and cross check from Ryan Callahan to Michael Del Zotto’s late hit on Mathieu Perreault to Derek Dorsett’s dirty and suspendable slew foot on Mike Green. Fortunately for Washington, the Rangers didn’t score in their 9:16 of advantage time but that is a ton of time where the Caps can’t get their offensive guys on the ice and it also adds extra fatigue to the squad. Simply put, the officiating has not been fair in this series and the league and the NHL supervisor working this series, Rod Pasma, needs to make sure things are called more evenly on Monday.

As for the game itself, the difference was a goal that went in off of the Capitals defense in a middle frame that New York mostly carried. But how much of that domination was due to the fact that the Caps had to kill three minor penalties in period one?

Both goalies, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist, were superb with King Henrik finding a way to shut the Caps out. His save on John Carlson at the end of the game typified how fantastic he was in game six.

So the series shifts back to the Verizon Center where the Capitals crowd has been outstanding and a big factor in the first three tilts. They have provided energy for the Caps and the team will need that again to close out a scrappy Rangers team that has gotten the breaks in this matchup. In addition, Coach Adam Oates will have the last change and Washington forwards will get to put their stick down second on faceoffs. In the last three games the home team has won the draws, 34-19, 42-30, and 27-18, respectively. Winning the faceoff means you have the puck and don’t have to waste energy chasing to get it. It is such an important part of a hockey game.

Also, the Capitals need to get some goals from its’ top line. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson have been generating good chances, the Gr8 had five shots on net in game six after nine in game five, but they just haven’t finished. How they produce on Monday night will likely be the difference in the series. Ovechkin doesn’t have a point in the last four games, but he has been razor close to doing so in the last two tilts.

The Caps also could use a quality officiated game for once, as well.

It’s a game seven versus the Rangers, but unlike last season, the Caps are playing this one at the Verizon Center. Will that be the difference?

 

 

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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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