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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

Posted on 01 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s only one game, but a pattern seen in the Washington Capitals pre season continued again in the season opener in Chicago on Tuesday night: turnovers. The Caps did a lot of good things in a contest against a super Blackhawks team, including scoring three power play goals, but they were just too careless with the puck on too many occasions and it cost them at least a point in the Windy City.

Washington took a 4-3 lead early in the third period after two Mikhail Grabovski deflections (#84 had a hat trick plus an assist), but then a Connor Carrick offensive zone miscue led to the tying goal before another turnover in the defensive corner by the Caps allowed Johnny Oduya to score a deflected goal off of Braden Holtby’s glove. It was one #70 would like back and it was tough to see that one cost Washington the game after Holtby made several ten bell saves in period two to keep his club in it.

One thing is for sure, this Capitals team is going to be exciting to watch. Grabovski was all over the ice and his addition seems to mitigate the loss of center Mike Ribeiro to free agency. The Caps have several lines that can score and there were stretches where Washington tilted the ice in their favor. The power play, run by coach Adam Oates and Blaine Forsythe, was great up until late in the game when the Caps had a 5 on 3 but couldn’t convert. Grabovski played below the goal line on the first unit and he really helped open things up for the others. 

But the theme of the game, and what led to a 0 point night, was Washington’s struggles in their own zone. The Caps positioning was bad and they repeatedly failed with their clears. Carrick and Jack Hillen had a rough night as the 3rd defensive pair but several others on the back end gave the puck away too much. Eric Fehr did some nice things at center, but he had his struggles positioning wise when it came to playing defense. The good news is that can be corrected with more reps for #16 at the pivot. The team turnovers are correctable too, but as stated in Sunday night’s blog, the defense is a little shaky and is the weakness on this hockey team right now.

You can bet that Oates and company will adjust going forward. Also keep in mind that Washington won’t be playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions every night. Chicago has a great hockey team and the Caps were in position to win in the third period. That’s encouraging, but there is lots of work to be done for the Capitals to get where they want to be. The offense looks really good, but you have to be able to play in your own end. It will be a work in progress on the back end.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had 9 shots on net and netted a goal and an assist…rookie Tom Wilson only played 6:40 against a very quick Hawks club…Chicago was 1 for 4 on the power play but their first tally was just seconds after Fehr’s minor expired. The Caps were hoping to improve their PK this season but it got off to a rough start…Washington lost the faceoff battle 31-29 but they did win several in a row late when they had the five on three advantage (Backstrom won most of them)…the final score was 6-4. Marian Hossa was awarded a goal late when he was ruled to be tripped en route to the empty cage…the Capitals open their season at the Verizon Center on Thursday at 7 pm against the Calgary Flames.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction at 7:25 am on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On Sunday night, I blogged that the playoffs are all about adjustments. The Capitals were winning the series 2-0, at that point, and were dominating the play.

After two games in the Big Apple, the series with New York is now tied. Rangers coach John Tortorella made adjustments to his special teams’ units and with New York getting five extra power plays in the two games, it is no surprise everything is all knotted up heading into a crucial game five on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

The key words there are ”Verizon Center.”

Washington gets the last change and that gives Coach Adam Oates the ability to get the matchups he wants. In game four in New York, Tortorella put Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh out against Alex Ovechkin and the Caps top line repeatedly, and it worked.

As for the Caps power play, well they only received two of them while the Rags got four in game four. Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty late in period two, was cross checked after the Caps third goal but no call was made. But zebras will be zebras and you have to rise above them to win hockey games. 

On Washington’s man advantage the Rangers are selling out to not let Ovechkin and Mike Green beat them. With Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom not shooting the puck, it was difficult for the Capitals to score. Hopefully Oates makes some adjustments there to get the man advantage going again. To steal a Tortorella term, the power play was ”too stagnant” at Madison Square Garden.

As for Washington’s penalty kill, it has been made tougher thanks to the adjustments the Rangers have made. Brian Boyle reeked havoc in front of Braden Holtby on his power play shifts (2:30 of PP time) and it made a difference on the goal that came after Chimera’s 2nd period infraction. That penalty and tally was a killer because Washington had all of the momentum at that point having tied the game in the last 30 seconds of the middle frame on Troy Brouwer’s backhander.

But overall, the Caps were just too sloppy once again. Holtby started that with a turnover that gave the Rangers a gift goal, which eventually was the difference in the game. #70 made some big stops but he’d probably want that pass and the third goal back. As for the other two markers, well you can pin those on poor defensive zone coverage. That is something that was not an issue in games one and two but was a big factor in New York.

What is also an issue is the potential loss of forward Martin Erat. #10 was hurt on a weird sequence that ended up with he and Ovechkin getting called for penalties on the same play in the first period. It appeared to be a left arm injury and with him out for the rest of the game, Oates moved Eric Fehr up with Ribeiro and Brouwer. That bumped Joel Ward up with Mathieu Perreault and Chimera. That third line was Washington’s best all evening and it was #42′s best game of the post season.

So the series now becomes a best of three, in four nights, no less. The Caps get two at home but they need to get back to playing the way they did in the first two games. They played poorly in both New York tilts but still had a chance to tie them up before the buzzer sounded. It’s a close series and injuries play a role. Erat is out and who knows who else in the Caps lineup is not 100% since injuries are never discussed come post season?

Long time, and now even short time Caps fans have been here before and know the team’s history in the post season. Washington left town on Sunday night with all of the momentum in the series, but heading into Friday, the Rangers have it.

The last change and special teams adjustments are the key, in my book, for the Caps to win this series.

Notes: The Capitals were beaten badly on faceoffs, 34-19…with Hershey losing to Providence on Wednesday night their season is now over so some players will be recalled to Washington as “Black Aces.” If Erat is out for Friday it will be interesting to see if Aaron Volpatti plays or rookie Tom Wilson gets a sweater in a huge game.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on WNST’s morning show with Drew Forrester at 7:45am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Green Leads Caps over Bruins, Next Up: The Rangers

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Green Leads Caps over Bruins, Next Up: The Rangers

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Adam Oates made it pretty clear on Wednesday that he intended to play the last two regular season games to win to try and keep Washington’s second half of the season momentum going into to the postseason. The Capitals faced a desperate Ottawa club that needed two points to make the playoffs on Thursday but lost in overtime and on Saturday night, against a Bruins squad that needed a win to keep pace with the Montreal Canadiens in order to win the Northeast Division, they scored three power play goals to rally for a 3-2 victory in overtime, as well.

The win against Boston came against one of the East’s best teams and certainly makes Oates’ decision to not rest guys seem like the right choice. No Caps player came out of the game injured and Washington showed that they can handle a physical club, even when they really didn’t have anything to play for. It is very encouraging, especially since Washington will now face the physical New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, which will likely start on Tuesday at the Verizon Center (full schedule to be released on Sunday night at 11pm on the NHL Network).

Saturday night was a lesson to teams that if they take penalties, and the referees actually call them, then they are likely to pay the price. The Capitals have the NHL’s best power play and they went 3 for 5 on Saturday night. Mike Green bombed in two man advantage goals and then his shot on a 4 on 3 OT power play went off of Tuukka Rask’s chest and Eric Fehr backhanded it home from the top of the crease.

The win ended the Caps 48 game campaign at 27-18-3 for 57 points. Pretty impressive considering they were 2-8-1 (5 points) after 11 games.

It was a year that started very poorly and took a long time to get rolling. But a healthy lineup and the play of Alexander Ovechkin and Green was so key to the turnaround. The Gr8 didn’t add to his NHL leading goal total of 32, but he had two assists. Ovechkin locked up the Richard Trophy on Saturday night for his goal scoring title and #52′s two markers gives him the NHL goal scoring lead for defensemen, despite missing 13 games. As I said on WNST last week, Green is the “straw that stirs the drink” for the Capitals on the back end. When he is healthy, this is a totally different hockey team.

Speaking of different, the games get that way now. Penalties are typically called at a lower rate and the physical play amps up. I’d bet every dollar I have that Rags Coach John Tortorella is trying to find a way to get some clean shots on Green to disrupt Washington’s attack. Therefore it will be key that Oates continues to make sure Green doesn’t take the big hits like has happened in previous seasons. Clearly the ability of Braden Holtby (34 saves) to play the puck helps minimize that and defensive partner Karl Alzner has done a good job of handling more of the corner play to prevent Green from getting run.

It will be a very difficult series as these clubs face each other in the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons.

I’ll have more on the matchup on Sunday and Monday night, but the fact that the Capitals were able to win again, despite having little to play for, tells me that this team is ready for the postseason.

And they have momentum.

Notes: Washington killed off both Boston power plays on the evening…shot attempts were even at 65 each but the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-25…Mike Ribeiro had two assists in a solid game. His only major blemish was losing a defensive zone faceoff that led to Milan Lucic’s goal to open the scoring…the Caps signed goalie Michal Neuvirth to a two year contract extension on Saturday morning ($2.4M in 2013-14 and $2.6M in 2014-15)…the Capitals announced that the 2013 Baltimore Hockey Classic will be played at 1st Mariner Arena on Wednesday, September 17th against the Boston Bruins.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

Posted on 10 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin have been on a roll of late, but apparently, all of those goals the Gr8 has scored and all of the wins the Caps have reeled off to seize the Southeast Division lead don’t matter to some of the hockey pundits in North America because they haven’t come against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

To them and anyone else who wants to listen, I have two things to say:

You can only beat the team that’s next on your schedule, and

On Tuesday night the Caps beat that next team on their schedule, and one of the top teams in the East at that, in the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, at the Bell Centre.

And guess what? Ovechkin scored again notching his league leading 26th tally of the season (although Steven Stamkos also scored his 26th on Tuesday) after a nifty move around Michael Ryder gave him space to snipe one past Carey Price in the slot. It was another of those “Wow” goals from the Gr8 and it came with his club trailing 1-0. It was a big goal by the captain and it lifted his team, who grabbed the lead shortly thereafter on an Eric Fehr tap in. Jack Hillen would add a third period goal with Ovechkin screening Price and then Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) held off a furious late push from the Canadiens for the victory.

The Habs don’t have a roster that you look at and fear, but they are awfully fast and they play well as a team. But the Caps are doing the same thing now and despite having three of the their top nine forwards out of the lineup, they are still finding ways to win. What impressed me tonight about Washington’s play was how good the spacing was between the forwards and the defensemen. This allowed the Caps to jump on Montreal’s errant passes and get the play going the other way.

Ovechkin and company are also doing a lot of the little things right. They are getting pucks and bodies to the net and that’s how you beat a very good goalie in Price. They also are blocking shots, which has to make former coach Dale Hunter proud. Even the Gr8 was throwing his body in front of pucks tonight.

Simply put, this club is coming together and gelling as a team. The top line continues to play extremely well and they are getting super goaltending. Neuvirth followed up a superb performance on Sunday with another gem. Washington looks confident on the ice and usually wins are what comes from that.

A win in Montreal was doubly huge because Winnipeg won at home so the Caps keep a two point lead on the Jets with eight games remaining. Winnipeg only has seven.

Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in a major freefall, at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

But that’s who the NHL says they must play, and Washington will gladly take a win against the Canes if they earn it.

Notes: Martin Erat skated late in the pregame warmup on Tuesday so that was encouraging. #10 was slammed into the boards and injured last Saturday night…Joel Ward is day to day after getting hurt blocking a shot on Sunday against Tampa…LW Brooks Laich did not make the trip to Montreal and was seeing a groin specialist on Tuesday…Montreal had 76 shot attempts to the Caps 46, but that and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee. Neuvirth was able to see almost all of the shots that came his way while Washington excelled at getting traffic in front of Price…Ovechkin had 8 hits…the Caps lost the faceoff battle pretty handily, 41-24.

Programming Note: I’ll be on talking Caps hockey with Nestor Aparacio on Wednesday morning at 7:50. Listen live via WNST.NET

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, now that was an entertaining hockey game.

The Washington Capitals spotted the Boston Bruins three first period goals then roared back with two in the middle frame, the tying tally with 6:05 to go in regulation, before winning the game, 4-3, with Eric Fehr’s top shelf wrister just 37 seconds into overtime. It was a contest that saw exciting plays and odd man rushes at both sides of the rink. There also was lots of physical play and some huge saves at both ends. No doubt anyone who paid to watch it received their money’s worth.

In addition, it was a win the Caps needed to keep their Southeast Division title hopes alive and they have won seven of their last 10 games to improve their record to 9-11-1 (19 points). It also was their most impressive victory of the season because it came against the team that likely is the best and most complete club in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 14-3-3. They have four good lines, three solid defensive pairs, and a good goalie (Tuukka Rask). Just two springs ago they won the Stanley Cup and are serious contenders once again in 2013.

So to give a quality team like the Bruins a three spot in the opening frame and come back and win says a lot about the Caps and their progress since their 2-8-1 start. This club, weak in talent in some key areas, is starting to play some good and inspired hockey.

In my book, the credit for that goes to Coach Adam Oates.

In Tuesday night’s victory, Washington actually came out and played a decent first period despite the early hole on the scoreboard. They were working hard and generating chances with a ferocious forecheck. But their special teams let them down in the first 20 minutes yielding a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot and a power play marker. Many teams might have packed it in and some coaches might have yelled at their club and likely ended any chances of a comeback.

But Oates didn’t do that. The Caps I talked to after the game, Fehr (1G, 2A), Steve Oleksy (1A), and Braden Holtby (30 saves), all to a man said it was the coach’s message between periods that allowed the Capitals to stay focused on the task at hand.

The Hall of Famer told the team that they did a lot of good things in the first period and to stick to their system. Oates’ troops did exactly that and Washington was able to chip away at the Bruins lead.

Much has been made of the Caps coaching system over the last 18 months. The popular and gregarious Bruce Boudreau did a lot of super things for the Caps but was let go in November of 2011. Bruce is a very good coach, as evidenced by what his Anaheim Ducks are doing so far this season, but his time had run its course in Washington. In came Dale Hunter and while he earned the players respect and nearly produced a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the organization didn’t like his defensive system. So all last spring the talk around the team was that owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee needed to hire a hybrid of the two coaches. One who had an aggressive system like Boudreau but also one who had a calm demeanor and would command respect, like Hunter.

Guess what? Oates is exactly a combination of the good of both Boudreau and Hunter. He REALLY knows hockey from a technical and tactical standpoint. But he also knows people and players too. He is calm and doesn’t get too high or low. When Washington was struggling early on he preached patience and adherence to the system. He cautioned it would take time but he was not afraid to point out individual or team shortcomings. He’s a straight shooter.

So when Oates came in to talk to the media after a thrilling victory, it was no surprise that he conducted his press conference in the same fashion as he did after a loss or during the early season struggles. He was honest, forthcoming, and it is clear he wasn’t too high about things even though his team is on a roll right now. He talked about continuing to work hard and about going over some of the things they were doing wrong that led to too many chances for Boston, which fortunately did not come back to haunt them on this night. He talked about players keeping their emotions in check. He talked about the thought process in deciding to keep Holtby in the game after allowing three early goals. Basically he said all of the things you’d expect from a good coach.

And that is what the Capitals have right now, a good hockey coach, who will only get better.

Management definitely needs to make some player moves to get this team back to the elite level, and making trades during a winning run certainly puts an organization in a stronger position to do that. So McPhee and Leonsis have that going for them, which is nice.

But one thing they don’t have to worry about is looking for a head coach again. The way this club works and reacts to their bench boss certainly justifies one thing for me:

They got the coaching decision absolutely right in choosing Adam Oates.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 36-32, primarily because Mike Ribeiro went 1-9 from the dot. However, the Caps second goal, scored by Tomas Kundratek, came directly off of a Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) win from the dot…Alex Ovechkin had a wild night with an assist, two penalties, 13 attempted shots, three takeaways, three hits, and two blocked shots in 23:19 of ice time. He also crashed into the Bruins goal three times. He was up and down the ice on both offense and defense and it was clear he was on a mission to get a Caps victory…Defensemen Roman Hamrlik was put on waivers on Tuesday…Mike Green (groin) and Troy Brouwer (illness) both missed the game…Oleksy played just over 10 minutes in his NHL debut and had an assist and was +2. He was paired with Tom Poti on defense.

 PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 AM at 7:45 am on Wednesday morning talking Caps hockey with Drew Forrester. Listen Live via WNST.NET

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

Posted on 26 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played their second consecutive quality hockey game on Tuesday in a 3-0 white washing of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Braden Holtby’s 33 saves and Nicklas Backstrom’s goal and assist paved the way for a solid victory after Alexander Ovechkin put on that great show on Saturday against the Devils.

Coach Adam Oates’ club is exhibiting some serious signs of being a much better hockey team than we saw in the early part of this season and their shot output over the last two contests certainly indicates that. Washington has dominated both of these last two matchups.

So the question now becomes, have the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff race?

At 7-10-1 the answer would often be a solid “no.” But then again, the Caps play in the Southleast, er, Southeast Division. At 15 points, Washington is only four points out of the division lead, which would yield a third seed in the post season.

The Caps are now 5-2 in their last seven games and the way Holtby is playing in net and the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom have kicked their games up to the elite level certainly gives Washington and their fans cause for optimism.

Backstrom clearly was the best skater on the ice in this one and owned the puck and his opponent most of the evening. Ovechkin (1 assist) didn’t have any shots on goal but the Gr8 had three takeaways, four hits, and some superb passes that should’ve had resulted in more Capitals goals if only there were additional finishers on this club. John Carlson (1G, 1A) is playing his best hockey of the season and was a force on the ice, as well.

In net, Holtby is in a major groove and his two top stops were while the Caps were on the power play. The first was on an Alex Semin breakaway early in a scoreless game and then on Eric Staal on an odd man rush in the third period. If either of those chances go in, the game might have gone differently. But #70 is playing large in net and looks ultra confident in the cage.

Simply put, if those four players are playing near the top of their respective games, the Capitals are going to be in every contest. That is what has been happening over this seven game stretch. Add in Mike Green returning to the lineup after missing three tilts due to a groin injury and it appears that things are finally heading in the right direction for the Caps.

The question is, can they keep this up? Teams will look to take away Ovechkin and Backstrom along with Mike Ribeiro. Those three players are the heart of the Washington offense. It will be up to players like Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera to convert on the great setups they are getting from 9, 19, and 8. What would make things even better is if the Caps could get Brooks Laich back in the lineup in the near future.

So are the Caps back in the playoff race? Given the current standings, you’d have to say yes.

But tough games in Philadelphia on Wednesday, then in Winnipeg on Saturday before coming home to face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday loom large. How this team does in these three upcoming contests will go a long way towards answering things for the Capitals management.

A 2-1 or better mark certainly has to make owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee seriously think about finding a way to add a finisher or two to the forward crew to give this club a chance to take the division and try and make some post season headway. However, if they drop two of three in regulation then the pendulum swings back to the longer term where finishing near the bottom of the standings will very likely yield a prize prospect.

It’s a fine line for this hockey team right now, but there is no doubt they are back in the playoff race with 30 games to go.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle for the first time in seven games, 31-29…Green played 21:54 in his first game back and looked fairly good, although there were some tentative moments along the walls, which is to be expected…the Caps were 2-2 on the penalty kill and 1-4 with the power play. Their third goal came 28 seconds after a Canes penalty expired but it was the PP pressure that resulted in the tally as Carolina never recovered territorially after the initial two minutes were up.

 

 

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