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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 Top Line & Wilson Deliver a Game 4 Victory

Posted on 19 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With their backs nearly up against the wall, the Washington Capitals came out in game four on Wednesday night with their best period of hockey of the post season to take a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes. Then they did what was necessary to win, 5-4, to even up this best of seven series with the young and pesky Toronto Maple Leafs at two games apiece. Game five is Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Like they did in game three, the Caps really came out flying and once again it was the top line leading the charge. Washington did a great job at getting pucks deep and to the net early and often. That led to an offensive zone faceoff and they cashed in with a T.J. Oshie tally at 2:58. Nicklas Backstrom fed the Osh Babe for a goal into a wide open cage after a smart point shot from Nate Schmidt came off of the backboards to #19, who won a battle in front.

On the faceoff right after the goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a partial breakaway and he just barely missed making it 2-0. But the third line, which saw Tom Wilson get added to it for this tilt, kept up the heat and Lars Eller drew a high stick on Toronto. The Caps power play then scored in just 36 seconds with Alex Ovechkin notching his 3rd goal in four games on a rocket of a shot. Backstrom forced a turnover on the right wing wall that ended up with Kevin Shattenkirk and Shatty set up the Gr8 perfectly for the one timer just 4:34 into this one to make it 2-0.

The prosperity didn’t last too long as Zach Hyman scored on a deflection in front at 5:16 and a track meet appeared to be on. With just over 13 minutes gone, the Leafs were pressuring and a shot trickled through Holtby and was rolling on edge heading for the goal line when Willy stretched out and knocked it away from the net, under Holtby and out of the crease. That was a major turning point because the Capitals Eller immediately got the puck from Dmitry Orlov thereafter and skated down the right wing boards. #20 then circled behind the net and when he got into the left wing circle he fired it on the cage. “Johnny on the spot” was #43 to the side of the goal and he deflected the puck home to make it 3-1.

Wilson would then add another huge tally on a two on one rush to make it 4-1 at 16:04. Brooks Orpik lifted a great high clear over the heavy Leafs forecheck to Andre Burakovsky and he gave Willy a great pass. Tom then looked like a 30 goal scorer the way he quickly elevated the biscuit over Frederik Andersen’s left pad and into the cage.

In the middle frame, the Leafs cut the margin to 4-2 on another deflected shot on a power play. Backstrom took a holding call and James Van Riemsdyk lasered one off of Orlov’s stick and past Holtby. From there the Capitals played a strong second period and appeared to be headed to period three with a safe 4-2 lead. They would maintain that two goal advantage, but Eller and Orpik both took undisciplined penalties within three seconds of each other and so the deadly Leafs power play would have 1:55 of two man advantage time to start the final frame.

The Caps managed to kill them both, thanks to some great goaltending by the Holtbeast and super individual battle victories by several players, including Matt Niskanen and John Carlson. Washington continued to press the attack after that and appeared to take a 5-2 lead at 8:11 on a Schmidt tally. Ovechkin was cross checked in front setting a screen while Jake Gardiner was tied up with Backstrom at the side of the net, outside of the crease. Andersen initiated contact with #19 with his glove and then Gardiner hit his own goalie in the head with his stick. Gardiner tried to take Backstrom into the crease, but Nicky put his arms straight up when shoved by #51 and Andersen moved to his right. The shot came in and went top corner, but bad zebra Chris Lee immediately waved it off for goalie interference. The Caps challenged and they still didn’t give Washington what should’ve been a goal, but that’s what happens when the inmates run the asylum and get to review the call themselves. It was pure rubbish and should’ve been a 5-2 game, at that point. It’s spin the wheel these days on goalie interference calls because there is NO consistency to the rulings.

That non goal would be a little costly as Auston Matthews then scored in front on the rebound off of a point shot that hit traffic on the way in and confused Holtby.  That marker came with eight minutes left and suddenly the Air Canada Centre was hopping. However, the Caps responded just 59 seconds later to restore a two puck lead.

Burakovsky carried the disc into the offensive zone and instead of getting it deep, mistakenly he turned into the middle just inside the blueline. The Leafs then knocked it away from him, but it bounced right to Backstrom, who was in stellar puck support position. Oshie alertly kept going towards the net on the play and #19 fed him the rubber. The Osh Babe buried it to make it 5-3.

Pay the Man!

Washington mostly played well from there on out, although they iced the puck a few too many times for my liking. One of those allowed the Leafs to cut it to 5-4 on a Tyler Bozak tally from the paint with 26 seconds left. Toronto got one more chance, then the horn sounded, and it’s now back to home ice for the Caps.

Whew, what a game!

The Caps rode their top guys in this one and they delivered. The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie line was downright dominant and the newly formed third line of Burakovsky-Eller-Wilson performed exceptionally, as well. Wilson (2 goals in 13:40) was just outstanding and he is playing the best hockey of his career against his home town team.

Toronto continues to do a great job of getting bodies and pucks to the net and they are getting good bounces. Washington did more of that in this one, too, and it paid off. Overall, the Capitals won the majority of the battles for 40 minutes and then the Leafs desperation took over in the final frame, at times.

The Capitals still need to be better in their breakouts when the Leafs are forechecking hard and the high lifter out of the zone is not a bad option (see the Caps fourth goal). Toronto has been doing that effectively, as well, in this very close series.

Owning the big moments has been a theme for Coach Barry Trotz and after not doing that with a 3-1 lead and a five on three power play in game three, they got some retribution by killing off the Leafs five on three to start period three. It was a huge shorthanded effort and it was done without some of their best PK guys. Orpik and Eller were in the box and Karl Alzner missed his second straight contest with an upper body injury.

After playing just over 15 minutes in game three, Coach Trotz said he needed to get Ovi more ice time in game four. The Gr8 logged 16:31, with only 36 seconds of it on the power play. There were a couple of times when the coach put the top line back out quickly after a previous shift, especially when the draw was in the offensive zone. That line is really going and I’d still like to see them play more because Toronto has no answer for them and that’s when the Capitals are dominating the game. It was Ovechkin’s line that had some of the few third period chances and they had the goal that should’ve made it 5-2. The best defense is a good offense, especially in this series, and it doesn’t appear that Toronto has an answer for Ovechkin and his linemates. So it’s imperative that the Capitals not sit those guys and sit back with a lead going forward.

Now, let’s discuss those guys in stripes. It was not a good night for them. In addition to fabricating the goalie interference call, they repeatedly let numerous Toronto holds and trips go throughout the tilt. Leo Komarov blatantly held Backstrom’s stick with the net empty late and it wasn’t called (yet Nicky was jailed for the same thing in period two). Outside of the no goal call, my biggest beef, though, is the way Coach Mike Babcock is just using the spineless zebras to gain more time for his club on icings by purposely putting the wrong players on the ice. He did this very effectively in overtime in game two, as well. From here on out in the series, if the Leafs don’t keep the right guys on the ice after an icing, it should be an automatic delay of game call against the Toronto bench. It’s a joke the way Babcock has been daring the referees to call him for doing that and they’ve backed down like chickens.

At the end of the night, the Caps played a strong game and won. They brought their best game of the series and can still improve on their performance. Toronto presses on all fronts and the Capitals have to make sure they are smart all 60 minutes by making quick and crisp breakouts and putting pucks and bodies to the net, like the Leafs are doing when they are in the Washington end.

After three games, Matthews said that the Leafs wanted it more and that’s why they were winning the series. Washington, however, showed their will in game four and grabbed back home ice advantage.

This is now a best of three affair.

Notes: Carlson was +3 in 21:49 of ice time and played his best game since his late season injury…Trotz rode Niskanen (25:38) and Orlov (23:31) on the back end. Shattenkirk (1 assist) only played 12:54. He took a hard hit in period three and seemed to be in some discomfort…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play while the Leafs went 1 for 4 in 5:08 of advantage time…shot attempts were 67-56 for Toronto. All of that margin, and then some, came after it was 4-1…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-29…the Leafs had 29 giveaways to the Caps nine. I’m not sure that stat is totally accurate (the Caps number seems low), but Washington did force a ton of first period turnovers with their strong forecheck and pressure…Gardiner played 25:38 for Toronto to lead their squad in time on ice.

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Willy GWG

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Wilson and Williams Lead Caps to 3-2 OT Victory in Game One

Posted on 14 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson picked a perfect time to score his first career NHL playoff goal. Willy batted down a poor clear up the boards by Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin with his glove and before Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen could get fully set, he fired the biscuit top shelf over the left shoulder of #31 as he went down into the butterfly position. The perfect shot gave the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 3-2, victory just 5:15 into overtime in the first game of their best of seven series.

The Caps are now up 1-0 and to quote the great Tom Hanks from Castaway.

Wilson! Wilson!!!! Wiiiilllllllllsssssooonnnnnn!!!

All season long the Capitals have had some issues when playing on more than a day’s rest and this game was no exception. Coach Barry Trotz did not like his teams first 30 minutes, at all, since Washington did not move their feet and they were extremely sloppy with their passes. It was bad hockey and as a result Toronto raced out to a 2-0 lead just 9:44 into the post season. Mitch Marner opened the scoring for the Leafs at 1:35 with a shot from the slot. Then with Nazem Kadri parked in the crease after cross checking Alex Ovechkin, Jake Gardiner’s shot from the slot went by Braden Holtby (35 saves). The zebras initially waved it off, but upon Coach Mike Babcock’s challenge they reversed the on ice call. Afterwards, the Holtbeast gave his take on how the Capitals should have handled that situation.

“I don’t know. I think that’s the right call. It’s more, in the future, us kind of pushing him out more, myself too, creating that goalie interference to create more space throughout the rest of the game. It’s kind of what you need to do when they are going to put a guy in the crease like that and wait for you to hit him. It was a common theme throughout the night so you look for patterns like that and we’re going to adjust next game.”

Speaking of patterns, for most of the first 30 minutes the Capitals were “playing slow,” as Nicklas Backstrom called it afterwards. Their passing was not crisp and they were not getting enough shots on net. Defensively, they were out of sync and the Leafs had 27 shots on goal just past the game’s halfway mark. It was not the type of hockey we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Washington, but Trotz pointed out “there was no panic.”

Kevin Shattenkirk, who had an assist and nine shots on net in this tilt, told me on Sunday that the team would have stretches in the post season where they would not play well, but the key was just to stay on an even keel. Coach Trotz’ crew did just that and fortunately Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, scored the first two goals for the Capitals to even things up. “Stick’s” first goal came just after a five on three power play ended. Shattenkirk was winding up to shoot, but as he did so his stick broke and the puck slid over to T.J. Oshie to the left of the net. Most players would shoot from that position, but Osh Babe saw #14 wide open in front of the net and he put the puck right on Stick’s tape for an easy marker. That goal, which came less than three minutes after the Leafs went up two pucks, settled the Caps down a bit, but they still couldn’t take control of the game.

In the middle frame, Washington went over eight minutes without a shot on net, mainly because they were trying too much for the perfect play and as a result they over passed themselves out of position. But on a rush up the ice late in period two, Evgeny Kuznetsov found Matt Niskanen alone in the slot and #2 fired the puck on net. As Nisky told me afterwards, it wasn’t a great shot, but Andersen didn’t know where it was and with the puck under him he got up. That allowed Williams, who alertly hit the brakes at the top of the crease, to poke it in past the Leafs net minder to even the game up with four minutes to go.

“It was kind of a weird one, I was playing the wing at first on the breakout and then I was the fourth guy on the rush, probably not much of a chance of that shot going in, but Stick was able to pounce on a loose rebound, so I was just the fourth guy in the middle there. I was able to find just enough ice, it was a nice play by Kuzy,” said Niskanen on how he got the puck to set up the rebound goal for Wiliams.

Washington then received a late power play when Matt Martin was jailed for cross checking, but the Leafs were aggressive on the PK and only gave up one good look, to Shattenkirk. After two periods the Leafs had a 46-44 edge in shot attempts, including 28-25 in shots on goal.

In the third period, the Caps depth started to take over and the ice tilted Washington’s way, but Toronto still had some good chances. Coach Trotz’ crew had a 24-12 advantage in shot attempts and a 13-7 margin in shots on goal. It was much better hockey, but the Leafs still did a good job at jamming the walls on the Caps breakout forcing Washington to make a difficult zone exit or simply dump the puck in the air over the Leafs D.

In the overtime, the Capitals dominated with their depth and eventually it was Washington’s fourth line that got the game winner. With the Caps top trio not having a real quality game, it was imperative that a goal come from the bottom six, and Wilson delivered.

Overall, the Caps have to be really happy that their second line kept them in the game early on. Williams is known for his leadership and his ability to score big goals. He did just that in this one by paying the price and going to the net.

“He knows what time of year it is. You can see he goes to where you score goals. He’s so good at board battles and making little plays that move the game along, but he knows where the money’s at and that’s in the crease, so he goes there and really got us going tonight, for sure,” stated Niskanen on #14.

“Big time plays out of Justin Williams, he’s no stranger to them and he was someone who we really rallied around tonight,” added Shattenkirk.

Goaltending, on both sides, was very good in this game. Holtby had some rebound issues early, but as the game went on, he shut the door and made several big stops. Andersen was under siege a great deal as time progressed and the Caps ended up with 44 shots on goal. He made many saves, and Shattenkirk praised him when asked afterwards.

“He was [very good], and I think my biggest mistake was I was taking too long to shoot. I was allowing him to set on me and really just take away all of the angles. I have to be a little bit quicker with how I’m shooting the puck. I’m happy that I was putting myself in the right positioning to get those chances,” started #22.

As for the lack of shots in that eight plus minute stretch in the middle frame, Shattenkirk had an answer for it, as well.

“They did a good job of boxing out and sometimes we were just waiting for guys to get to the net and when we do that, it’s hard, because he’s a big goalie and when he sets himself he’s hard to score on from outside the tight areas.”

So the message going forward is for the Caps to shoot the puck quicker. Wilson proved that method will work with his game winning tally.

The Capitals took a while to find their rhythm on Thursday night after three days off against a talented and speedy Leafs squad, but now they get back to a game every other day schedule, one that has worked well for them this season. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that this contest was a wake up call and finished with the following:

“I’m sure you’ll see a much different team next game.”

Notes: Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:22. Niskanen logged 24:36…The Leafs rode their top four D hard. Gardiner played 26:27, Matt Hunwick logged 26:04, Morgan Reilly was in at 24:24, and Roman Polak had 23:52. Connor Carrick and Marincin, the third pair, were right around 14 minutes…Washington’s third line had 17 shifts together for a total of 10:39 of ice time. Like most of the team, they were at their best in the third period…the Caps lost the face off battle, 38-33. Kuznetsov was 8-2, but Lars Eller was 3-11…game two is at the Verizon Center on Saturday at 7 pm.

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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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Holtby Slams the Door on the Blue Jackets in Caps 3-2 Victory

Posted on 02 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 35 saves and the Washington Capitals received second period goals from T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, and Matt Niskanen to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2 at Nationwide Arena on Sunday Night.

The Caps victory improves their record to 52-18-8 (112 points) and it pretty much ends any chance Columbus has of winning the Metropolitan Division. They are now six points behind with four games remaining and the Pittsburgh Penguins moved into second place, five points back, with their win over Carolina on Sunday. The Pens also have just four games remaining.

After playing the worst first period of the season and getting blown out in Arizona on Friday (6-3), Coach Trotz’ club came ready to play in this affair. Washington’s Justin Williams had several good chances to score, but Sergei Bobrovsky (27 saves) was excellent early on. Both Holtby and “Bob” were on their craft in the scoreless opening frame.

In the middle stanza the Caps took over quickly. Nicklas Backstrom made a great cross ice outlet pass to Oshie on the right wing boards that #77 skated after while Alex Ovechkin was flying down the center of the ice. It looked like Oshie, after corralling the loose biscuit, was going to pass the puck, but with the Gr8 smartly going to the net, Oshie was able to skate into the slot and lift a backhander past Bobrovsky at 1:12. Ovi creating havoc in front was certainly a big factor in Oshie’s 33rd tally of the season.

Pay the Man!

Just 1:44 later the Caps increased their cushion to two. Kevin Shattenkirk fed Lars Eller in the neutral zone and the third line center carried the puck down the right boards and eventually tracked towards going behind the net. #20 then did his best Evgeny Kuznetsov imitation to spin around and pass back to Burakovsky in the right wing circle. Andre then buried his 12th goal of the season top shelf and into a very tiny window with an incredibly skillful shot.

The Capitals would continue to keep the heat on Columbus and Burakovsky, the game’s official number one star, set up Matt Niskanen all alone on Bobrovsky with a sensational pass on a two on one rush. The American defenseman skated in and quickly beat Bob to the far post for a 3-0 lead with 10:05 gone in period two.

From there things opened up since Columbus had to gamble to try and get back in the game. Washington certainly gave them their share of chances as they were caught out of position on multiple occasions, which led to several Blue Jacket odd man rushes. Fortunately the Holtbeast was dialed in and he kept it 3-0 after 40 minutes.

In the final frame, the Caps played fairly solid to preserve their three goal lead, but then at 9:22 Karl Alzner got caught in the offensive zone and Jack Johnson skated up the ice and around John Carlson and Tom Wilson to get a clean look against Holtby. #7 made no mistake about it and suddenly we had a game.

Things then became physical and heated. Josh Anderson took a run at Ovechkin at a whistle and then he hit the Gr8 in the head with a punch when everyone came to together at the Columbus blue line. It was clearly a John Tortorella type cheap shot tactic to try and bait the Caps into at least a four on four situation, but when it was all said and done, Anderson received four minutes for roughing, while Ovi only was whistled for a single minor for roughing. Wilson and Kyle Quincey also were sent to the sin bin and the Capitals received a power play with 8:39 remaining. Somehow the fact that Bobrovsky left the crease area to join the donnybrook wasn’t penalized.

Washington had a chance to close this one out, but they failed and sure enough, the Blue Jackets cut the lead to one on a Quincey point shot that Holtby didn’t see cleanly with Sam Gagner and Backstrom directly in front of him. That tally came with 4:27 left. Columbus would pull “Bob” for the extra attacker and they very nearly tied it up at the horn, but the Holtbeast stoned Seth Jones on the doorstep with three ticks left.

Whew!

This was a highly intense hockey game and provides a sneak preview of how things will go next week when the playoffs begin on April 12th. The contest was very physical and there were many post whistle scrums. It will be important for the Caps to keep their discipline because given their inability to play well at four on four this season, there is no doubt in my mind that opponents will try and bait them into penalties that could create that situation.

There were several positives that came out of this win. First off, the Holtbeast was outstanding and he outplayed Bobrovsky. Washington needs #70 to be at the top of his game if they want to make it out of the Metropolitan Division playoffs (rounds one and two). Second, despite playing only 13 shifts and just over eight minutes and 20 seconds of even strength time together, the 3rd line was very good. There is no doubt that when Burakovsky, Eller, and Brett Connolly are playing their game that the Capitals are extremely tough to match up against. Third, from a standings and home ice perspective, the Caps need just three more points (either Washington points gained or Pittsburgh points missed) to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy (Chicago has 107 points and only 3 games left). Given the way Washington plays so well at home and the fact that Coach Trotz can dictate the matchups in four of the seven tilts in each series, home ice is big from a strategic standpoint.

Finally, it was important for the Caps to win a low scoring game to remind them of how to close out a win in one of those tilts that we should see quite a bit of in the spring. It wasn’t a textbook “protect a lead” performance, but being able to hold off a very desperate team in their own building was big for Holtby and the entire Capitals club. Their defensive posture took a major step in the right direction after some shaky efforts on a road trip that saw them allow 13 goals in the first three games, including nine tallies to the two worst teams in the NHL. Defense wins championship and holding Tortorella’s crew to two tallies has to build confidence.

Confidence is such an important part of hockey and Washington needs to have that going into the post season.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-20. Jay Beagle was 10-6 while Kuznetsov went 9-3…shots on goal were 24-20, Caps, after 40 minutes, but ended up, 37-30, for Columbus. Shot attempts were 68-46 for CBus. A lot of that is score effects, but the Capitals have to learn to get more pressure and chances on their opponents when they are leading the game without abandoning their defensive structure…both teams were 0 for 2 on the power play…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 23:41…the Caps next game, and final one on this five game, eight day road trip, is in Toronto on Tuesday night.

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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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Ovechkin and Holtby Carry the Caps Over the Flames, 4-2

Posted on 21 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and two assists, and Braden Holtby made 29 saves to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

Kevin Shattenkirk added two assists and Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) also tallied for the Caps.

In short, Coach Barry Trotz’ star players shined on Tuesday night and that’s why Washington won.

But it wasn’t pretty and there are things that definitely need cleaning up.

The Caps came out fast in the first frame with the fourth line having a monster early shift, but Daniel Winnik’s shot in the slot hit the shaft of the stick of Flames goalie, Brian Elliott, and went over the net. Just 6:47 in, though, the Capitals would take the lead. Lars Eller forced Johnny Gaudreau to have to slow down in the neutral zone and then Andre Burakovsky flew in and picked the pocket of Johnny Hockey and went the other way. #65 then fed Kuznetsov streaking to the net all alone and Kuzy slid the puck inside the far post for an early marker.

The Caps prosperity, however, didn’t last long. At 10:06 Sean Monahan finished off a sublime feed from Gaudreau on a two on one break. Shattenkirk was doing his job pinching in on the boards on the right wing wall, but the Flames got control and went the other way. Winnik came charging back, but he and Brooks Oprik seemed to get their signals crossed and Monahan had an easy lane to the cage to get a back door goal.

The rest of the first frame was really sloppy by the Caps, but Calgary, who came in with a 12-1 record in their last 13 games, had several mishaps, as well.

In the second period, Washington really seemed to find their game, although there were some tense moments. Midway through the period, Michael Stone took a hooking penalty on Justin Williams, who was crashing the net. On the ensuing power play, a pass to Oshie in the slot was defended well and the Flames went the other way on a two on one break. Shattenkirk left his feet trying to break up the pass, and he missed badly. Mikael Backlund went in on Holtby and instead of shooting he passed across the crease to Michael Frolik, who appeared to have an open net. Somehow Braden stuck out his pad and made an incredible save to keep the game tied. If Calgary scores there, who knows what happens the rest of the way?

The Caps were clearly energized by the humongous stop and really played as well as I’ve seen them play this season in the last eight and half minutes of period two. They were skating and shooting the puck like crazy. Elliott was playing very well, but on the Washington second tally he had no chance. Backstrom, after taking a pass from Dmitry Orlov at the point on the right wing half wall, slid a diagonal pass to Ovi in the left wing circle. The Gr8 then passed it to the Osh Babe on the doorstep and he directed it home, top shelf. The goal was Oshie’s 30th of the season and the way Ovechkin described it after the game was perfect, “Ka-ching!” (h/t @jjregancsn of Comcast).

Ovi and company weren’t done, though. With 20 seconds left in the period, the Gr8 split the Calgary defesnse and drew a penalty. It took the Caps just 17 ticks to make it a two goal cushion as Shattenkirk’s shot hit Elliott and then knuckleballed behind him and slid towards the net. It looked like Backstrom nudged the puck before it crossed the line, but as of this posting just before midnight, the goal remained #22’s. (UPDATE: On Wednesday morning the goal has been changed by the NHL to be Backstrom from Shattenkirk and Oshie, so Ovechkin lost one of his two original assists).

In that middle period, the Capitals were downright dominant and that was the result of the top line just carrying the play. Coach Trotz put those guys on the ice quite a bit and the Flames had no answer.

So given how well the Caps locked down Saturday’s win in Tampa, this 3rd frame was going to be a “Walk in the park, Kazansky” right? Well, not so fast.

Calgary wasn’t going to lie down and for some reason Washington decided to revert to some very bad habits; drop passes and back passes in the offensive zone with a two goal lead instead of getting pucks on net or deep in the offensive zone. It was bad hockey and if they do stuff like that against the Penguins in the playoffs, they will likely lose. The Caps would still carry the two goal cushion into the final five minutes, but they kept trading end to end rush situations and that allowed Troy Brouwer to finish off a nice passing play with 4:56 remaining to make this a one goal game. What was even worse was just a dozen seconds later, this game was nearly tied! Mark Giordano somehow ended up with a clear lane to Holtby on a two on one break, but the Holtbeast made a huge save to preserve the lead.

Just 20 seconds later, Calgary sealed their fate when they took a delay of game penalty. Coach Trotz gambled on his top guys and kept Ovi on the left point and it paid off. The Capitals worked the puck around well tiring out the Flames defenders and when Shattenkirk faked a shot inside the blue line and fed the Gr8 nicely in the left circle, Ovechkin went top shelf to close this one out with 2:51 left in regulation.

It was fitting that Ovi got that goal because he was fantastic in this affair. His legs have been coming around in recent weeks and on this night, he played his best game of the season. He was dominant and creating all kinds of chances and havoc for Calgary. Backstrom and Oshie were superb, too and it was nice to see Shattenkirk have a big outing.

As Coach Trotz told Nestor Aparacio and I at our WNST puck talk at Greenmount Station in Hampstead on Monday night, this trade has been a big transition for #22. The Blues play a more passive system where the defense sits back further from the forwards. In Washington’s structure, however, Trotz wants the defense up in the play with good gap control and support to the centers and wingers. That’s caused quite an adjustment for Shattenkirk, but he’s starting to feel more comfortable.

Overall, this was a good win against a very hot team, and I can sum up each period for the Caps with one word:

First period – sloppy

Second period – dominant

Third period – careless

The win was important though, because the Penguins also won so they are just a point behind the Caps (47-17-8, 102 points) with 10 games to go. Columbus is two points back and their game in hand is against the Leafs on Wednesday night. The Blue Jackets then come to DC on Thursday for a first place showdown.

I still don’t like the way the Capitals played in the 3rd period and parts of the first frame. Coach Trotz also noted on Monday night at the WNST event that the Caps are first in the league in puck possession, but 16th in shots. There’s the smoking gun on over passing and some bad decision making, at times, in the offensive zone. That needs to change if Washington wants to win in the postseason.

They were fortunate that they were really playing at the top of their game in period two and also that the Holtbeast was in Vezina form in key situations. The stars made enough plays to provide a W, but that final frame leaves more to be desired in respect to Washington’s overall game.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 62-60 for the Caps. It was 52-35 after 40 minutes, so Calgary had a 25-10 advantage in the last 20 minutes. That stinks…Washington gave up far too many odd man rushes in this contest…Shots on goal were 40-31 for the Capitals…Ovechkin had 13 shot attemps, 11 of them were on goal. He was dynamite on Tuesday…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 22:21… the Caps lost the face off battle, 27-25, but Eller was 9-4.

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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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