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Kuznetsov Dazzles in Caps 5-2 Victory over Vegas

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov put on a show notching four points, including three amazing setups for goals, two of which went to Alexander Ovechkin, and Braden Holtby was superb in net with 29 saves to lead the Capitals to a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. It was the teams’ first meeting since the Caps skated Lord Stanley’s Cup at T-Mobile Arena back in June.

The win, which followed a nice rally in Pittsburgh to steal a point last Thursday night and then five days off, moves the Capitals to 2-0-1 (five points) on the season. They will face the New Jersey Devils at The Rock on Thursday night at 7 pm.

What follows are the highlights and analysis of a typical October game where defense and hitting were optional, most of the time.

It was clear that Coach Gerard Gallant’s squad was fired up for this one and they fought mightily throughout the contest, but at the end of the night, they lost for the same reason they were defeated in the Cup Final – they simply don’t have the high end offensive talent that Washington possesses. General Manager George McPhee has put together a nice team that works hard and plays their system, but he does not have an Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, or Nicklas Backstrom in his lineup. But not many teams in the NHL have that either. The 2017-18 Stanley Cup Champions are a very talented bunch and they still have room to improve. As the Great Count Floyd would say, “That’s scary stuff, Kids!”

For the last couple of years, I rode Kuznetsov hard in my blogs because I knew that with his talent, he had the ability to take over hockey games, like we saw from him in the World Juniors shortly after he was drafted. Kuzy did just that this past spring and was a major reason the Capitals won the Cup. He moved into the superstar category with his play, leading the NHL in post season points (32). The Russian center has now moved into elite status with the way he’s dominating out on the rink this October. His two-way game continues to improve and because he’s been shooting the puck more often and scoring goals, additional passing lanes are opening up for him. Those two feeds to Ovechkin for goals were just sensational. He’s a joy to watch.

Ovechkin is now up to four goals in three games and is really skating well. Ovi is so clutch when the Caps need it and with seven shots on goal, he easily could’ve notched a hat trick on Wednesday. After re-inventing his game last season with more speed, the Gr8 has picked up right where he left off.

Brett Connolly has been called upon to take Tom Wilson’s spot during Willy’s suspension. On the Capitals first goal, which came on the power play, Conno makes a great hit in the corner to keep the puck alive. Brett doesn’t have #43’s size, but he can skate and isn’t afraid to put his body in on the wall. If he keeps playing like that, the loss of Wilson, which is big for Washington, is partially mitigated. Connolly had two assists in this affair.

Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give Nicky six points in three games. The Jakub Vrana-Backstrom-T.J. Oshie line makes the job of matchups for the opposing coach very difficult night in and night out.

Washington went two for four on the power play to continue its torrid start to the season (5 for 10). The Caps had some issues with generating speed out of their own zone on their first man advantage situation because Vegas was very aggressive with forechecking pressure, but once they figured that out and got things set up, the magic began. You won’t see two prettier passing plays than the goals by Kuznetsov and Backstrom.

Vegas has a lot of heart and they just kept coming in this game. Washington was quite sloppy, at times, especially in the second and third periods. The Golden Knights cut two goal leads to one puck twice and thought they had a third one to make it 4-3, but that marker was wiped out by a clear offside challenge by the Caps video brain trust (well done Stretch and Timmy!). The Caps need to be smarter with the lead, they were lazy in their own end on several occasions and in the neutral zone and offensive blue line they made some poor decisions with the biscuit. If the Holtbeast wasn’t so rock solid in net, and he also had some help from the iron, this game could’ve been tied in the final frame. Coach Todd Reirden will have some good video to show his squad what not to do with the lead in this one.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and Holtby showed, once again, why he’s one of the best in the NHL. #70 was dialed in and made some very difficult stops, especially on William Karlsson, look very routine. Holts will get Thursday off and without Philipp Grubauer in net anymore, it will be up to Pheonix Copley to show that he can be a viable backup when he makes his debut against the Devils. The Capitals need Copley to start 25 or so games so that the Holtbeast is well rested for the post season.

Dmitri Jaskin, acquired from the Blues via the waiver wire, played solidly on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly. Jaskin has size and goes to the net. That line had several scoring chances and looks like it could have some nice chemistry.

This was a nice win and the Capitals are hard to beat in a wide open game with all of the scoring punch they have. This type of hockey will be prevalent until the New Year, and then everyone will buckle down and start gearing up for playoff hockey. The bad news for the rest of the league is that Washington showed last spring that they can pretty much play any style and come out on top these days.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 38-36, but Dowd went 8-5…shot attempts were 68-51 for Vegas. Shots on goal were 31-29, also for the Golden Knights…Brooks Orpik was rammed hard into the glass by William Carrier late in period one. #44, who eats rocks for breakfast, didn’t play the rest of the period and went down the tunnel, but he did return for the last 40 minutes…John Carlson (two assists) led the Caps in ice time with 25:55…Michal Kempny returned from a concussion to make his regular season debut and logged 16:41. He did take two penalties, though.

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Caps Bury Boston in Greatest Opening Night in Team History

Posted on 04 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world

After 44 years of often times crushing defeats, the Washington Capitals players and fans were finally able to sing this legendary song together at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night in what was the greatest opening night in Caps history. The team was honored in a pregame ceremony that saw Alexander Ovechkin skate the Cup onto home ice to a thunderous ovation followed by an amazing video montage, and then the raising of the 2018 Stanley Cup Championship banner to the rafters.

To top it all off, the Capitals came out and buried the Boston Bruins, 7-0, to start the 2018-19 season in fine fashion.

Evgeny Kuznetsov notched two goals, Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, and Alex Ovechkin, T.J.Oshie, and John Carlson all had two points each while Braden Holtby stopped all 25 shots he faced in this affair. It was the 13th straight victory for the Caps over the B’s and more importantly, it gave Head Coach Todd Reirden his first NHL win in his debut as Washington’s bench boss.

This was a fun game and the fans, many of whom paid top dollar for tickets to attend this tilt, certainly received their money’s worth. The atmosphere was absolutely electric during the pregame ceremony and when Oshie scored just 24 seconds into the contest, it was apparent this was going to be Washington’s night. Kuznetsov followed that tally up just 83 seconds later on a power play goal right off of the face off and then the Caps exploded for three goals in the first seven and a half minutes of period two to put this one out of reach before the game’s midway point.

Below are my thoughts and analysis on the game and other impending Capitals issues:

Special Teams were a major key as the Caps went four for six on the power play and thwarted both of the Bruins man advantage situations. The Capitals are typically deadly with a manpower advantage and Boston certainly felt that in the season opener. Ovechkin and Carlson both tallied from the “Ovi spot” and Backstrom was just a magician on the ice dishing the biscuit around like he had the puck on a string. There is no doubt that if you take penalties against the Caps, you are going to pay the price. On the PK side of things, with Tom Wilson out 20 games due to suspension (more on that later), Devante Smith-Pelly stepped up and did a marvelous job while shorthanded and Reirden’s tactical change to add Kuzy to the mix paid off, as well. Evgeny logged 1:02 of penalty killing time and he helped the Caps to generate four shots on goal while down a skater, including a golden chance for Nathan Walker (Brooks Orpik had a nice pass on that sequence, too). The Caps penalty killing was somewhat of a weakness last season, but there is cause for optimism after game one, although they will face one of the best power plays in the league in the Penguins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh at 7 pm.

The Capitals played a really solid first period and big credit goes to the defense for moving the puck well out of their own end, which allowed the Caps to dominate possession. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who were both rookies last season, played superbly on Wednesday. Coach Reirden was especially pleased with Bowey, who was paired with Orpik, given that this was his first meaningful hockey game in a long time. Even with Michal Kempny out due to injury (concussion – but skated for 15 minutes on Wednesday morning), the blue line was really solid. Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Matt Niskanen were stellar.

I spent a good part of my summer watching reruns of the Capitals Stanley Cup run and the thing that really stood out to me was the commitment level of the players, especially the forwards, to maintain their gap control through the neutral and defensive zones on the back check. The game winning goal against Pittsburgh was the result of that type of effort since it was Kuznetsov who knocked the puck off of Sidney Crosby’s stick before he went in and scored on a breakaway to send Washington to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the season opener, the gap control and commitment to back checking/pressure was still there. There were lots of sensational plays in this contest, but to me the one that stood out the most was DSP hustling and getting his stick in the passing lane on a potential golden chance for the Bruins. This came late in the second period with the score 6-0! Coach Reirden smiled when asked about that play and said everyone on the bench really noticed it. He also stated that this team is accountable and really plays for each other. In the post season the Capitals moved their feet and had a focus on taking the body, but there is no way to keep that style of physical play going through all 82 games and then the post season. However, you can continue to move your feet when you don’t have the puck and if you do that well, you are in position to steal or intercept the disc night after night and keep your opponents off of the score sheet. In game one, the Capitals skated hard on the back check and as a result, they dominated the game taking away time and space from some top notch players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and even though the Caps grabbed a two puck lead early, the Holtbeast was still needed. His best save of the night was on Bergeron, who was in all alone on #70, in period one. Boston didn’t get a ton of quality shots because of the great play in front of Holtby, but Braden did have a few ten bell saves in this tilt. He simply owns the Bruins and it was his first regular season shutout since 2016-17. The Holtbeast did have two shutouts in the playoffs, games six and seven against Tampa in the Eastern Conference Final. Game six was arguably the best playoff game I’ve ever seen Washington play.

With Kempny out due to injury and Wilson suspended on Wednesday for the first 20 games (eligible to return on November 21st), there were available spots in the lineup for new players. The aforementioned Bowey stepped up on the blue line and Nathan Walker and Nic Dowd received sweaters up front. Dowd filled the fourth line center role vacated by Jay Beagle (signed by Vancouver for four years at $3M per season) and scored a sweet backhanded tally in the high slot to make it 4-0 at the 6:13 mark of period two. DSP made a nice keep in at the point as Washington played their aggressive fore checking system perfectly on that goal scoring instance.

Willy, who will likely appeal the length of the suspension, is going to be missed because of his physical presence and talent. He’s helped make the top line with Ovi and Kuzy one of the best in the league. He is also a great penalty killer and gets in the collective heads of the Capitals opponents. He is a major plus to the Caps over 99% of the time, but hits like the one against St. Louis that led to the suspension need to be taken out of his game. As a result of his absence, the Capitals will have to play more of a finesse and high skill style early on, but the good news is the first half of the NHL season is nowhere near as physical as it is after January 1st, so if he was going to be out, this is the period where his loss should work best. As Backstrom said afterwards, the team needs Wilson, but it is also an opportunity for other players, such as Walker and Brett Connolly, to show that they can step up and minimize the impact of #43’s absence.

In summary, this was about as perfect of an opening night as you could get for the Capitals organization. The fans were energized from the time they walked into the arena and the players fed off of that energy with a quick start. Hearing We Are The Champions on the jumbotron and from the fans was special, and Backstrom summed it up best when he noted, “It was an amazing feeling, I want to experience that again.”

Cue the Osh Babe and the fans with the “Back to Back” chant.

Notes: Shot attempts were 64-53 for the Caps. Shots on goal were 37-25, Washington…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:06. Djoos logged 17:23 as #74’s partner at even strength. Niskanen (21:48) and Orlov (22:00) were a dominant duo in this game…the Caps were a putrid 19-41 from the dot, but one of the wins resulted in Kuznetsov’s first goal. Face offs are an area that will need improvement going forward. Beagle is no longer around to take the key defensive zone draws…Tuukka Rask has still never won at Capital One Arena…Marchand jumped Eller with just over six minutes left because he was being a baby and didn’t like Tiger’s celebration after his goal that made it 7-0. Lars was cut when Marchand ripped off #20’s helmet. Eller also never took off his gloves but still received the fighting major. I imagine Wilson took note of Marchand’s pest-like sequence and will file it away for reference for future games against Boston.

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