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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

Posted on 02 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a huge and emotional win in Filthadelphia on Friday night, the Caps were back at home to take on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. As one might expect, Washington had a bit of a letdown and didn’t play a very good game overall. However, thanks to a super performance from Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) and a dominating effort from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps somehow managed to get two points by beating the Cats, 3-2, in a shootout.

The victory, while pretty ugly, is an important one this early in the season. It moves the Capitals to 7-7 overall and they managed to win again without injured captain Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury).

The biggest problem for the Caps on this night was something they’ve struggled with most of the season: effort. Simply put, the Capitals are not skating hard enough throughout games. There is too much puck watching and gliding going on and as a result the other team is owning the puck more. In addition, by not skating well, the Caps have opened themselves up to taking more penalties. Florida had six power plays on the night and it wasn’t until they scored on a 4 on 3 with just over two minutes left that they were finally able to beat a Capitals PK unit that had killed 30+ straight man advantages situations. Washington’s penalty killing has been outstanding, but six minors is far too many and the last one was just a terrible retaliation move by Steve Oleksy so late in a one goal game. #61 has to learn you have to keep your head when points are on the line.

Washington’s power play also struggled without Ovechkin, going 0 for 3 on the night. Playing against a below average goalie in Scott Clemmensen the Caps should have simplified things and focused on getting pucks and bodies to the cage, instead there was far too much perimeter passing. The Caps were minus one on the evening in the special teams department and when you aren’t playing well, that is difficult to overcome.

But the Caps did do enough good things to prevail. Backstrom was by far the best player on the ice and he has such a good shot that he needs to keep using, even when the Gr8 returns to the lineup. Eric Fehr played well again with Martin Erat on that top unit. I also liked, despite only getting about six minutes of ice time, the way the fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti played. Latta earned his first NHL point with a sweet cross ice feed to John Carlson in the second period that Captain America buried with a nice shot. Carlson was also one of Washington’s better players, along with Karl Alzner.

The Caps red hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera struggled, primarily because those guys didn’t move their feet. Grabovski did have a nice goal in the shootout, along with Brooks Laich (scored despite fanning on his move) and Backstrom in the gimmick. Laich does not look himself on five on five right now. He’s been super on the PK but he hasn’t developed any chemistry with any linemates this season so far. Brooksie needs to get his legs churning too, I see too much hesitation from him, especially coming out of his own zone.

On the back end, Mike Green still isn’t playing near peak performance. He’s making far too many turnovers in his own end and in the neutral zone. Washington will need #52 performing at a high level when they play the better teams in the league.

On Saturday the Caps showed up and managed to just do enough to win against a weak Florida team. There was far too much lollygagging for my liking again, but a bit understandable given Friday night’s events. The team got the victory and now have a day off on Sunday to rest.

Coming up though, the schedule will get tougher so it’s important that the Caps get their effort up, especially on Tuesday against a New York Islanders club that gave them fits last season.

Notes: Shots were 33-23 in favor of Florida…Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-31…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:15. Green played 25:47…Fehr had four shots on net and led all forwards in that department.

 

 

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

Posted on 01 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, coming off two straight road losses, had the tough task of going into Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team without the services of injured captain Alexander Ovechkin.

For the first 15 minutes, things didn’t look too good for Washington as the Flyers came out strong, aided by two early power plays, but Braden Holtby (30 saves) made some big stops, including one that earned a much needed faceoff after Brooks Laich broke his stick while killing a penalty. Shortly after that save, the Caps would get a goal from Nicklas Backstrom and then add five more in the second period to take a 6-0 lead into the third frame.

Then, as predicted on twitter, Philadelphia brought out the Oggy Oglethorpe style for the 3rd period because all those knuckleheads from Broad Street know what to do when down four or more pucks in the third period is fight. Things got ugly with Steve Downie going after Aaron Volpatti, but #24 one punched him into a concussion. Then when Wayne Simmonds plowed over Martin Erat and rookie Tom Wilson fought #17 to protect his teammate, goon goalie Ray Emery skated the length of the ice to jump Braden Holtby. According to Chuck Gormley of CSN, Holtby said he didn’t want to fight so Emery told him to protect himself, and then he started hitting #70. Talk about embarrassing for the NHL and by the way, isn’t that assault?!

Anyways, that’s what some of the boltheads in Philadelphia like to see and the Flyers fans finally started cheering for something because they still think it is 1975.   But the joke is on the the Flyers and their entire organization. They are so bad that they still couldn’t get a puck by Holtby, even after Emery kept hitting #70 while a terrible referee stood there and just allowed it to happen (Emery and Francois St. Laurent should both be suspended after that incident). This is not the publicity the league needs but the Flyers are so mismanaged by Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren that this is what happens when a team made up of goons and thugs can’t play the game.

Now back to the contest, the Caps would go on to win, 7-0. Joel Ward notched a hat trick, Jason Chimera had a goal and three helpers, Mikhail Grabovski had three assists, and Nick Backstrom had two goals plus one assist in an offensive onslaught by Washington. The second frame was by far the Caps best period all season as they took their intensity to the level it needs to be at regularly for the team to be successful.

Even better, the Capitals stuck together when things got physical in the 3rd period and responded as necessary. Luckily Holtby appears to be okay because he’s Washington’s best goalie. Holtby is also in the  “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

Overall it was a win for a team that badly needed one, and it came in convincing fashion. The Caps weathered the early storm and started playing with energy. The passing was much improved, especially coming out of their own zone, which is encouraging. Several players had big nights and Eric Fehr  (2 assists) really stepped up taking Ovechkin’s spot on the top line with Backstrom and Erat (2 assists).

The key for the Caps now is to build on this win. Washington has been looking for a spark to get them going this season.

Perhaps kicking the Flyers rears on the ice will finally do that?

Notes: Ovechkin could play on Saturday against Florida and will likely be a morning decision…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-31…Emery received 29 minutes in penalties for his buffoonery…one of the Flyers media members voted Emery as the 3rd star of the game, seriously…former Caps forward Craig Berube is the current coach of Philadelphia and the Flyers could be on their 3rd bench boss this season real soon.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are both red hot right now.

The Gr8 notched a goal and an assist and Holtby stoned (30 saves) the Oilers until two minutes remaining in regulation as the Capitals played a strong road to knock off Edmonton, 4-1, on Thursday night.

The victory moves the Capitals to 5-5 on the season and into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a win against a weak club, but the Oilers came out hard in the first frame and once Washington seized the lead on Ovechkin’s NHL leading 10th goal of the season, they gradually took over and eventually put a stranglehold on the contest.

Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had a brutal first shift but after that they were the story of this tilt. They dominated at all ends of the ice playing easily their best defensive game of the young season. Ovie and company used strong play in their own zone to ramp up their transition game and by the third period the Oilers were out of gas. The Gr8′s goal once again came directly off of a faceoff and that’s at least three goals in that fashion for Ovechkin this season. Ovie now has 15 points in 10 games.

Outside of the top line, the Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski units had quality outings, as well. Grabovski, playing with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, have turned into a really good third line and Grabo’s sneaky steal led to Chimera’s tally that made it 4-0. Laich’s line is particularly solid in their own end, something this club definitely needs given some of the inexperience on the back end.

More encouraging was that the Caps achieved this dominating victory without having to rely on their power play. All four Caps goals came at even strength. After some shaky first period moments, Washington played better in their own zone and did a decent job of positioning, communicating, and moving their feet. There still are lapses and Mike Green was beat a couple of times simply because he wasn’t skating. Coach Adam Oates also won’t like the lone Edmonton tally, which was the result of poor coverage and positioning by Washington’s fourth line along with Steve Oleksy and John Erskine on defense.

Overall though, this was a good win and the team is moving in the right direction. They’ve won three straight and the energy and passion is back in their game after the Rangers thoroughly outworked them last Wednesday. The club still must keep working on their own zone play. If they keep getting better there, than look out, because this Capitals team has a ton of offensive talent.

Notes: The Caps next play in Calgary on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada (10 pm EST)…Edmonton dominated from the dot, 32-21, but the Capitals did score a big goal off of a draw…Johansson had two assists…Green led the Caps in ice time at 22:40. Aaron Volpatti was the low man but he had 10:01, so Oates was able to spread the time out with the lead.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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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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