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Ovi Flames tongue

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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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oshie Hat trick 2

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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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Caps Preds

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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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The Caps Must Put An End to Slow Starts

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they do that, they can definitely beat anyone.

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

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

THEIR FREAKING GRAVE!

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Connolly GWG Rags

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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Shatty

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Caps Go All In and Acquire Kevin Shattenkirk

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

After last season’s devastating playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, I wrote that the Capitals needed to upgrade their defensive depth. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan spoke afterwards about upgrading the bottom six forwards.

Guess what? By acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues along with former Caps goalie Phoenix Copley for Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, the Caps first round pick in 2017, and a conditional draft pick(s), he’s now done both!

Over this past summer, MacLellan acquired third line center Lars Eller for two second round picks from Montreal and he signed third line winger, Brett Connolly, as a free agent for just $850,000.

That is some incredible work to fix your remaining roster holes without giving up any current key players.

“We are excited to welcome Kevin to our organization,” said MacLellan on Monday night after the deal. “We felt it was important to acquire another defenseman to strengthen and add depth to our blue line. Kevin is a skilled, puck moving defenseman who we think will help our team at even strength and on the power play. In addition, we are also pleased to welcome Pheonix back to the organization. We feel his addition solidifies our goaltending tandem in Hershey.”

This team is now very deep across the board and could survive a significant injury to their blue line that they just couldn’t overcome last season when Karl Alzner was playing through a bad groin and Brooks Orpik was initially injured in Philadelphia and then suspended for three games against Pittsburgh.

Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden have a crew that can be downright dominating on the back end now that they boast three very good defensive pairs in Karl Alzner – John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk. Nate Schmidt becomes the 7th defensemen and Taylor Chorney the 8th.

Up front, they probably won’t have to worry about stopping both the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines only to get beat by the Nick Bonino led third line, like last season. Or if they face the Rangers, they have a better chance of containing the super fast and big Chris Kreider, who killed them in the 2015 playoffs and just a week ago Sunday beat Schmidt badly on a third period faceoff to score the game winning goal at Madison Square Garden. The Niskanen knee injury scare in Philadelphia last Wednesday night probably helped convince MacLellan that another right handed defenseman was definitely needed.

The forward lines, once Andre Burakovsky returns, will be:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky

Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson.

I imagine that Jakub Vrana will be called up to fill #65’s slot until he recovers from his hand injury. Of course, MacLellan could also make a move to add another forward.

In a campaign when so many Capitals are in need of new contracts for next season and there likely won’t be enough money to go around, not to mention the Las Vegas expansion draft is looming in June, there is no time to waste. Bottom line, this current team, which was already very good before this trade was made, is not going to be intact next season so the future is now. This move is an add without really losing any key piece. Given that Oshie played with Shattenkirk in St. Louis and Carlson and Orpik also were his blue line teammates on Team USA in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, there should be some familiarity there. Shattenkirk is immensely talented and should fit in well, once he learns the Capitals systems. He has a good shot and could easily be the guy feeding Ovechkin on the top power play unit, if that’s the route the coaches go.

That’s not to say that the Penguins, Rangers, Blue Jackets, or any other team, for that matter, won’t defeat the Capitals in the playoffs, because anything can happen in the post season. But the Caps have just pushed all of their chips into the center in an attempt to win their first Stanley Cup and this move gives them a lot more defensive depth.

That really increases their odds of achieving their ultimate goal.

Simply put, it’s Cup or Bust!

Notes: Shattenkirk is reportedly already on his way to New York and will suit up for Washington on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers…St. Louis took on 39% of Shattenkirk’s $4.25M salary to complete the trade, per Frank Seravelli of TSN.

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Kuzy Flyers

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A Caps Victory Over the Flyers is Always Special

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov tallied twice, Alex Ovechkin assisted on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and Braden Holtby made 33 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday on NBC Rivarly Night.

Ahhhhh, victory over the Flyers is always so extra special and nice!

The Broad Street Bullies are the Caps oldest rivals dating back to 1974-75, so long time Capitals fans always have a little extra “mojo” in their stride after a win over the despised Flyers, who often try to take hockey back to the Neanderthal Era.

Despite the three goal margin this was not an easy triumph, and if not for an early video review, the Flyers are up 1-0. Holtby fumbled the rebound of a Radko “Stiff” Gudas shot just 21 seconds in and the puck squirted into the slot. Philadelphia then put the biscuit in the basket, but on replay, you could clearly see forward Dale Weise pushing the Holtbeast to his right, which took #70 out of position to stop the shot. That’s a no-no and the NHL officials called it correctly, no goal.

After what appeared to be another horror show start, the Capitals might have been looking at a three game losing streak (the Caps were terrible in weekend tilts in Detroit and New York in the opening frame), but they righted the ship quickly. Ovechkin, who didn’t get many shot attempts in this one, made a big hit on Brandon Manning, who was battling for the puck along the right wing boards with Oshie, and it jarred the puck loose to #77, who then fed Backstrom in a prime scoring position. #19 then wasted no time and fired it on net. The puck hit Gudas in the leg and deflected past Michal Neuvirth (25 saves) to give Washington the lead just 6:33 into the contest.

The Caps and Flyers would trade more chances in the opening frame, but then the opportunistic Capitals increased their lead to two pucks when Kuznetsov buried one top shelf on Neuvy on the power play with 3:32 left in period one. Washington would go to the dressing room up 2-0, but it certainly felt like a much closer game, with the Holtbeast once again being a difference maker in goal for the Caps.

The Flyers, who are battling for their playoff lives, then threw the kitchen sink at the Caps in the middle frame. At the 6:54 mark, they cut the deficit to 2-1 on a Brayden Schenn deflection after Gudas took out Matt Niskanen’s knee, with a little help from Wayne Simmonds from behind, in the right wing circle. #2 would leave the bench and head to the locker room for further evaluation. He returned and played a penalty killing shift late in the second period, but then the Caps announced he would be done for the night with a lower body injury that will be evaluated further on Thursday by team doctors. Uh oh, if Niskanen is out long term, then this is trouble for the Caps. GM Brian MacLellan smartly traded a conditional draft pick for right handed shooting Tom Gilbert from the Kings during the bye week for blue line depth, so the Capitals have some insurance there. However, if Nisky is going to be out long term, then BMac might need to swing a bigger deal by the NHL trade deadline (Wednesday, March 1st).

But injuries are a part of the game and the show must go on. In Niskanen’s absence, John Carlson stepped up and logged 27:37 of ice time and he was rock solid going +2 with nine shot attempts (five on net) and an assist. Dmitry Orlov (20:37) and Karl Alzner (25:40) also took on bigger roles and got the job done.

Speaking of getting the job done, the Washington fourth line of Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik didn’t score any points, but those guys, along with Lars Eller, killed off two penalties and wore down their opponents all evening. Winnik has been especially good in February at even strength and on the PK.

Still this was a one goal game until late in the second period and that’s when Washington’s quick strike capability came through, again. Taylor Chorney, who received a sweater for the first time since January, made a great breakout pass that sprung the second line on a three on two rush. Justin Williams entered the offensive zone with speed that backed the Flyers defense up and he made a sweet cross ice feed back to Kuznetsov coming down the left side of the ice. #92 then tried to hit Marcus Johansson going to the net on his right, but the puck fortuitously hit Gudas’ twig and went through the five hole of Neuvirth to make it 3-1 with 2:01 left in period two. That was a crusher of a goal to the Flyers.

In the third period, with just five defensemen, the Capitals then did a super job of managing the game. They kept the Flyers to the perimeter and rarely gave up quality chances. Ovechkin, who still needs to work on his defensive posture, took a bad slashing penalty on Gudas with 13:46 remaining, but the Capitals killed that off fairly easily.

Philadelphia had the puck quite a bit in the last 20 minutes, but again, they were not getting good looks, just perimeter shots. The Caps opportunistic offense then sealed the Flyers fate with a sweet goal from the top line. Ovechkin made a great rush with the puck out of the defensive zone and he fed cross ice to Nicklas Backstrom on the left wing side of the rink. #19 carried the puck across the offensive blue line and with the Gr8 streaking to the net, Nicky put it right on Ovi’s tape. Ovechkin then went to the backhand, then Neuvirth got his stick on the puck, but Oshie beat Manning to the puck in the paint and slammed it home.

Cya Flyers!

Washington’s offense was back in this one because they were working hard to get to the net and also shooting the puck or putting it towards the cage. All four Caps goals came from the prime scoring area. The Capitals, as they had done consistently from New Year’s Eve until the start of their bye week, won the battle in terms of quality scoring chances. Sure the Flyers had puck possession for extended stretches of this tilt, but it was Washington who found a way to get the really golden opportunities and bury them. That’s the name of the game and it’s why the Caps shooting percentage had been so high. Also, their save percentage has been stellar because they prevent their opponents from getting lots of great scoring chances.

Overall, the Capitals looked more like the dominant team we saw in January and early February on Wednesday. They still have things to clean up in their game and the loss of Niskanen, if long term, will hurt and have to be mitigated. The bye week is done and the ugly first periods to the Red Wings and Rangers are hopefully but a memory now. Washington has a lot of work to do if they want to be the team they believe they can be, so the next six to seven weeks are important to set the table for the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoff battle, this victory over the Flyers gives them a 40-12-7 record (87 points) and they lead the Penguins by five points, the Blue Jackets by eight, and the Rangers by nine points in the Metropolitan Division with 23 games remaining (Columbus has a game in hand). Washington also leads the Minnesota Wild by three points in the Presidents’ Trophy race.

But that’s not the trophy the Capitals want so they have to continue to hone their game.

On Thursday, though, the air will smell cleaner, the food will taste better, and the drinks will go down smoother for Capitals fans because of this big win over their arch rivals from Filthy.

Notes: The Flyers creamed the Caps from the dot, 43-22…the Capitals blocked 23 shots (Alzner led the way with five)…Travis Boyd was recalled from Hershey as the 13th forward and was scratched with Nate Schmidt…the Caps play the super FAST Edmonton Oilers on Friday at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. The Oilers beat the Capitals handily in Alberta back in October…all eyes and ears will be on Niskanen’s status on Thursday.

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Oshie Green

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Oshie and Carlson Lead the Caps Over Detroit, 6-3

Posted on 09 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored two goals and added a big assist on John Carlson’s game winning tally to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The win was the Caps 11th straight at home and fifth overall. During this home winning streak they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-15 margin!

Oshie was +4 and it was his steal behind the Detroit net after Washington’s fourth line had a monster forechecking shift that allowed #77 to take the puck and feed Carlson for the winning blast just 4:15 into the final frame. T.J. is just so much fun to watch on the ice.

Pay the Man!

Seriously, could that trade with St. Louis have worked out any better for the Caps?

The correct answer is “Heck No!”

“Osh Babe,” as Alexander Ovechkin calls him, brings it every night and wins board battle after board battle. He has a great shot and he is such a good two-way forward. There is no other player in the entire Capitals organization that can do what he does and if somehow this franchise wins its first championship this spring, there’s no doubt he’ll pay a big role in that.

But let’s get back to Thursday’s victory over the Wings.

The Capitals came out of the gate like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973 forging a 9-1 shots on goal advantage. However, they only had a 1-0 lead thanks to the strong play of Wings goalie Peter Mrazek (25 saves). When Nate Schmidt and Anthony Mantha went off with matching minors 11:25 into the game, things suddenly changed. Four on four has not been a strength of the Capitals and the Wings took advantage of some poor defense by Dmitry Orlov and especially Ovechkin to knot the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom then took a boarding penalty and Andreas Anthanasiou notched his second tally of the night in less than three minutes to give Detroit the lead. Both tallies were top shelf on Braden Holtby.

But red hot Brett Connolly, after going hard into the boards and getting up gingerly, put home the rebound of a point shot by Karl Alzner from a bad angle for his 12th goal of the season to tie things up with 90 ticks left in period one. #10 was definitely in some pain after the collision, but he played the rest of the game and had his wheels rolling just fine. Connolly continues to play excellent hockey.

Unfortunately, the Capitals lost Andre Burakovsky to an apparent hand injury in the first period.  #65 went down to block a shot and took one in the right appendage and did not return. Let’s hope this injury is not serious because the third line of Lars Eller, Connolly, and Burakovsky has been downright dominant.

Oshie scored his first of the game off of a great stretch pass off of the boards by Carlson just 1:16 into period two to make it 3-2. #74, who had 10 shot attempts on the night (5 on goal), was super in this contest with two points and a +4 rating.

Washington would not be able to solve Mrazek again in period two so they had a one puck lead heading to the final 20 minutes despite a 25-12 shots on goal advantage and a 42-25 shot attempt edge.

The third frame started very sleepily for Washington and another defensive zone breakdown allowed Henrik Zetterberg to go in all alone on Braden Holtby (14 saves). The Holtbeast, who had an uneven night, held his ground and forced #40 to his backhand, but the Swede managed to lift one up over Holts’ glove, which got caught against the post, and into the cage just 1:25 into period three. Braden was not happy about that one, but Oshie and Carlson would play big roles in the next two goals, and then Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) would hit the empty net to close out the scoring.

Marcus Johansson had another superb effort and his goal after a great fore check by Justin Williams and cross crease pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their 1-0 lead 5:57 into the game. Jojo also made a nice pass to Backstrom, who then fed Oshie on the fifth goal, which was a power play marker that pretty much ended this contest with 5:42 remaining. Marcus now has 18 goals on the season.

Overall, this was a dominating offensive show by the Caps, but they were too loose in their own zone, at times, and they need to work on four on four play before the playoffs. If they aren’t better there, teams will try to take coincidental minors and put Washington in that situation. Remember, it was a four on four instance that allowed Pittsburgh to rally from a 3-0 deficit back in January in a 8-7 overtime loss for the Caps in Steel Town.

The Capitals are now 38-11-6 (82 points) after scoring five or more goals at home for the 10th straight time. They lead the Blue Jackets by 9 points and the Penguins will likely win in Colorado on Thursday night to move into second place, eight points behind Washington. Both of those teams have two games in hand. Coming up in the rear view mirror of Columbus, though, are the New York Rangers, who are now at 71 points. So things are going to be interesting down the stretch in the Metropolitan Division standings.

For the Caps though, it’s all about cleaning up their game and being healthy for the post season. The Burakovsky hand injury is a concern, right now. Fortunately, the Capitals only have Saturday’s game against Anaheim before they get their bye week and can rest up.

They’ve played a lot of hockey since Christmas and following that tilt with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, it’s a well needed five day shut down away from the rink.

Notes: Ovechkin played a season low 13:54 and only had two shot attempts (none on net). He didn’t look engaged in this contest, but he was good on Tuesday and the Caps will need him on Saturday…final shot attempts were 55-34 for the Caps (shots on goal were 31-17)…the Wings have the fewest regulation or overtime wins in the NHL (16)…Carlson led the Caps in TOI with 22:22…Alzner was +3 in 21:25…faceoffs were tied at 31 apiece. Jay Beagle went 12-8.

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Caps Canes Ovi Jojo

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Ovechkin Leads the Caps Over Carolina, 5-0

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center riding a three game winning streak. The Canes, who are fast and have historically given the Caps some trouble, fired the first six shots on net in the first five plus minutes of this contest.

That would be the high water mark of the night for them.

A sleepy Capitals start was erased at the 5:54 mark when Caps Captain Alexander Ovechkin put a big hit on defensemen Brett Pesce in the offensive zone. Basically, the Gr8 was letting his teammates know that the beginning of this tilt was not what he had in mind and it was time to get going.

The troops followed their Captain’s lead and ramped up their intensity. Shortly thereafter, Dmitry Orlov made a nice move in the offensive zone and drew a tripping infraction on Ron Hainsey. 85 seconds into the power play, Ovechkin once again set the tone for his club by scoring off the glove of Canes goalie Eddie Lack (23 saves) on a shot that was likely headed wide. The shot was so hard that the Carolina goalie swatted at it and changed the disc’s direction right into the twine. It was Ovi’s 26th goal on the season.

Just over three minutes later, red hot Brett Connolly made a super move in the slot to buy some time and a shooting lane to the cage and he roofed one short side on Lack to make it 2-0. It was #10’s 11th tally of the season, just one off of his career high.

Washington would build off of those two goals and generate several more chances in the late stages of period one and into the middle frame, but Lack started heating up. The Caps had numerous quality looks in period two, but they couldn’t get that key third goal. Carolina didn’t have a lot of opportunities, although they did generate a one on one chance for Sebastian Aho, but Braden Holtby (23 saves) shut the door.

Heading into the third period, the outcome was still slightly in doubt, but two Washington goals in 27 seconds changed that quickly. Connolly made a great steal in the neutral zone and on a three on two zone entry, the super smart hockey player picked the right direction with his pass. That was on the stick of Lars Eller, who was coming with speed down the left wing side of the ice. #20 wound up and fired a laser that beat Lack short side, top shelf, once again. It was the second goal of the night for the third line, which has absolutely been on fire since Christmas.

The second unit was not to be outdone, though, and some strong wall work by Justin Williams jarred the puck free on the right wing boards in the offensive zone. Marcus Johansson then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov cruising in the high slot and #92 put the biscuit in the basket to make it 4-0 just 6:37 into period three. It was Kuzy’s 12th goal of the season and it was revenge for a dirty Brock McGinn slash near the end of period one that initially injured Kuznetsov. Paybacks are hell, Brock.

The Caps would then score five or more goals at home for the ninth straight game when Jojo deposited the rebound of an Ovechkin power play shot into the open cage with 5:48 remaining. Ovi absolutely got every bit of the puck on that blast, which was off of a nice feed from Matt Niskanen, and Lack simply could not contain it, allowing the perfectly positioned Johansson to notch his 17th goal of the season. Good things happen when you go to the net.

This was a solid win for the Capitals against a team that is fighting for their playoff lives, but the Caps, once they got going, were simply too much for Carolina to handle. Coach Barry Trotz just rolls out line after solid line and it wears their opponents down. In the last nine games at the Verizon Center the Capitals have now outscored their opponents by a staggering 48-11!

The Holtbeast earned his 7th shutout of the season. He didn’t have a ton of work, but he was solid and didn’t give up a goal in the first five minutes when the Caps were still finding their legs. Between Holtby and Grubauer, the Caps are getting superb net minding night in and night out.

The win improves the Caps to 37-11-6 (80 points) and they lead the second place Blue Jackets by seven points and the third place Penguins by eight points, although both of those clubs have two games in hand. It’s not time to start quoting the Ron Howard B-movie classic “Eat My Dust” just yet, but a Metropolitan Division title is certainly there for the taking for the Capitals. Washington now has a +66 goal differential this season and they continue to crush their opponents in the first period (58-23).

As I stated on WNST on Tuesday morning and wrote on twitter (@EdFrankovic) before puck drop, motivation for the Caps in this game was something I was concerned about. They did start slow, but once Ovechkin laid a licking on Pesce, the team woke up and ultimately cruised to victory. It wasn’t a clean game for the Capitals, but they got the job done and didn’t really give Carolina many chances to crawl back into the contest.

This hockey team is really good, and believe it or not, they can actually get better.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-51 for the Caps…Washington was buried at the dot, 35-20. Eller was 8-6…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:10…Ovechkin had two points (50 for the season now) in just 17:18…Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt were each +3…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while the Canes went 0 for 3…next up for the Capitals are the Red Wings at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Thursday night.

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Connolly Kings

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Caps Dominate Kings, 5-0, on Super Bowl Sunday

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Los Angeles Kings had a five game winning streak as they came into the DMV on Sunday afternoon to face the Washington Capitals.

The key word there is HAD.

When it was all said and done, the only five that mattered were the five tallies the Caps deposited into the Kings net in a 5-0 rout.

To steal a line from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t mess with the bull…you’ll get the horns.”

Once again, the Capitals wasted little time in announcing their presence with authority. Andre Burakovsky battled strong on the right wing boards with two Kings and that allowed Brett Connolly to come out of the scrum with the biscuit and feed Lars Eller all alone in front of Peter Budaj. #20 then buried it off of the left post to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the contest.

Naturally, the Kings would push back after falling behind. Trevor Lewis hit the cross bar and then Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) made two outstanding stops on Dustin Brown on the doorstep. Not scoring on those chances would doom LA because late in the opening period the Capitals upped their lead.

Brooks Orpik made a great step up and steal in the defensive zone and he fed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in transition. As #44 was changing, Kuzy skated into the offensive zone while Los Angeles was undergoing a line change, as well. Two Kings then went to #92 on the left wing boards and that opened up Marcus Johansson in the slot. Jojo received a nice feed from Kuznetsov and he fired the biscuit on net right after Justin Williams cruised through the paint. #14’s net drive took Jake Muzzin there too, and #6 screened Budaj, who never saw Johansson’s shot go by him and into the twine.

Last season, the Capitals were not a fast starting team and that was something they wanted to improve on in 2016-17. This season, the Caps have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-23 in the opening frame, including 2-0 on Sunday.

That’s impressive stuff.

The other thing the Caps wanted to do more of this season was to increase their bottom six scoring. On Saturday in a victory over Montreal, they received two goals from their third and fourth lines. Eller’s first period tally wouldn’t be the only one on Sunday, as well. Karl Alzner made a superb play in the neutral zone to make a steal on Brayden McNabb. Tom Wilson gathered the disc after the #27 poke check and he went into the offensive zone on the right wing boards with speed. #43 recognized that Connolly was streaking in all alone and he gave him a sweet pass. #10, who was an outstanding offseason acquisition by General Manager Brian MacLellan, skated in and easily beat Budaj to make it 3-0 on his 10th goal of the season. How did Connolly get so open? Well, Kevin Gravel decided to change after getting hit hard in the offensive zone and he vacated the ice leaving LA short on the back end.

There were still 26 plus minutes to go in the contest, but this one was pretty much over. Los Angeles would get a good chance a few minutes later when Marian Gaborik had the puck all alone in front of Grubauer, but there was no denting #31 on this afternoon.

T.J. Oshie then made the third period pretty much worthless when he scored top shelf on a sweet feed from All Star Nicklas Backstrom with 3:36 left in period two. The “Osh Babe” shot was so perfect that it destroyed Budaj’s water bottle creating a perfect highlight clip that you’ll see a lot of over the next 24 hours. It also destroyed Budaj’s day, and the man who had two straight shutouts for Los Angeles heading into Super Bowl Sunday would not play the final stanza.

Justin Willliams added a late third period marker to close out the scoring, from guess where?

If you said the paint or the doorstep, you win!

Yes, the Caps got another in close goal when Jojo gathered in a Kings turnover on the left wing boards and fed Stick all alone in front of Jeff Zatkoff. Williams victimized his old teammates  for his 18th goal of the season and sent them off to Florida to face the Lightning on Tuesday after a thorough butt whipping at the hands of the best team in the NHL.

For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a manhandling by the Capitals on the scoreboard and in terms of quality chances. The Caps continue to do a great job of getting net presence and easy goals off of their fore check. They are rolling four lines and once again, every Washington forward unit had at least a point on a tally in this whitewash of the Kings.

As for shot attempts, they were one sided for Los Angeles, 80-35. Most of that is on the meaningless third period as well as a bunch of perimeter shots by the Kings that didn’t find their way to the cage because they were blocked (29 of them). Coach Barry Trotz’ team plays outstanding defense in their own zone; they rarely allow the opposition to penetrate into the prime scoring areas and that is why their five on five goal totals are so dominant. So if someone tries to point to the shot attempts as an area of concern for Washington on Sunday, just go all Willie Nelson and tell them to roll those numbers up and smoke ‘em.

The victory improves the Caps to 36-11-6 (78 points). They are seven points up on the Blue Jackets and Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, although both of those squads have two games in hand.

This Washington team is really good and definitely better than last year. The additions of Eller and Connolly are paying big dividends for the bottom six forwards and they are more experienced on the back end. Add in the way Kuznetsov is playing and it’s pick your poison playing the Capitals forward lines. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Notes: Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding in this game. Alzner was +3…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 29-23…Alex Ovechkin drew two penalties, had four shots on net and had an assist…the Capitals were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Kings went 0 for 4…Drew Doughty played 30:33 for the Kings and was even. Alec Martinez was -4, ouch!…every Capital except for Daniel Winnik earned a plus on Sunday, but that’s no knock on #26, who continues to play great hockey at even strength and on the PK….next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Tuesday.

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