Tag Archive | "flyers"

Matt Niskanen and Braden Holtby lead the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the despised Flyers.

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Matt Niskanen Goes All Bobby Orr in the Caps Win Over the Flyers

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen scored the game winner on an end to end, Bobby Orr-like rush in the third period and Braden Holtby was his usual self in net making 33 saves as the Capitals downed the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, on Super Bowl Sunday.

Aaahhhh, the sweet feeling of a victory over the Flyers is always so nice. The air is cleaner, the drinks are colder and go down smoother, and the food tastes so much better afterwards.

But this was not a pretty triumph for Washington. For 30+ minutes they were sloppy with their passes and looked a step slow as the Flyers won the majority of the loose puck battles.

Things appeared troubling for Washington when the Flyers, already on a power play, received a 53 second two man advantage with 8:40 remaining in the middle frame and the Caps down, 1-0. Washington made another mental blunder, as they had done most of the game in earning the too many dudes call. The Caps, however, would kill it off with Holtby, Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, and Niskanen doing some remarkable PK work.

Shortly thereafter the Capitals seemed to wake up from their pre Super Bowl kickoff slumber and Alexander Ovechkin did what the team had not really done all game, he went to the front of the net. As a result, after a face off loss and Flyers turnover, the Gr8 deflected home a smart Alzner shot for his 30th goal of the season. That seemed to wake up everyone in red, including the crowd, and moments later Dmitry Orlov scored after a fabulous deke and top shelf snipe to make it 2-1, as this one headed to the 3rd period.

The Capitals would kill off the fifth Filthy power play of the game early in the third period, but two easy failed clearing opportunities at the end of it led to a defensive zone faceoff that the Flyers promptly won and scored on. Holtby didn’t see the shot (Nick Schultz), like the first Philly bomb that made it 1-0 (Michael Del Zotto).

But from there the Caps seemed to get stronger and Niskanen, seeing a large gap up the middle of the ice skated his way in on Steve Mason (27 saves) with the Flyers forwards and defensemen acting like Moses had ordered a parting of the Red Sea. Nisky went in, put a slick move on Mason, and buried the biscuit.

Everyone was surprised with the goal, including Niskanen.

“I don’t have any moves, it was an accident,” said the humble Caps d-men to the media afterwards (h/t to NHL.COM’s Katie Brown)

“I think the whole building was surprised, it’s a highlight, 100 percent,” added the Caps captain, the Gr8, on the game winner (h/t to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times).

That goal, just 5:24 into the final frame would hold up as Washington played a better period than they had in the first 40 minutes. The Flyers final chance to tie the game came with 7.4 seconds remaining on an offensive zone faceoff, but unlike on the second Philly goal, T.J. Oshie won the draw to the corner to kill the clock. The Capitals then celebrated while Jakub Voracek took his losing frustrations out on the Flyers bench door.

Philadelphia, who are desperate for standings points, would leave Verizon Center with the equivalent of John Blutarksy’s grade point average, while the Caps improved to 38-9-4, which is good for a staggering 80 points. Wow!

It was also Holtby’s 33rd victory of the season and he really earned it. He was outstanding in net making big stop after big stop until his club finally came out of hibernation. He had a huge save on a 3 on 1 Flyers rush when it was 1-0 and his save on Mark Streit was solid positioning and a bit of luck as #32 failed to get good lumber on the shot.

Not getting good wood on shots was a common theme as the puck was bouncing everywhere on the Wizards ice, but it’s the same for both teams, so no excuses either way.

Back to Niskanen, though, the decision by the Penguins to let him go after they overpaid Kris Letang has been a blessing for the Capitals. He led the team in ice time once again, with 24:51, and he’s routinely matched up against the opponents’ top line, with Alzner. Recently, I asked an impartial NHL scout who he would take if he had the choice on Niskanen at $5.75M or Letang at $7.25M through 2020. Without hesitation, he stated Niskanen. I could not agree more. #2 is so solid in both ends and is such a team guy. He was a big reason the Capitals were able to keep winning hockey games while John Carlson was out for 12 contests.

Additionally, he’s a hero in these parts for helping the Capitals defeat the Flyers. Philadelphia is Washington’s biggest rival going back to 1974 when the Caps entered the NHL. Game after game truckloads of drunk Flyers fans would invade the Capital Centre in the Broad Street Bullies and beyond years and go home happy after defeating the Caps. There were almost always fights in the stands, too.

Nowadays, the Flyers aren’t that good, but make no mistake about it, this is still a huge rivalry and many Filthadelphians were in attendance at the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Today, though, Caps fans can smile “broadly” as Ron Hextall’s team heads back up I-95 with a big donut hole of standings points.

Notes: Shot attempts were 68-57 for the Flyers, but the Caps won the even strength battle, 50-42, per hockeystats.ca…Philly was 0 for 5 on the power play while the Capitals were 0 for 2. Washington is in a 0 for 17 funk and it looked bad again on Sunday…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 35-32…Burakovsky didn’t score a goal, but he and Evgeny Kuznetsov assisted on the Orlov marker…Wayne Simmonds, who received a match penalty for a sucker punch on Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers on Saturday, was allowed to play by the league and he was -2…Niskanen led the Caps with seven shots on goal. Ovechkin had five…the Caps only had 19 hits to the Flyers 21. Washington didn’t get their brand of heavy hockey going until the second half of this game.

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The Caps start slow but do some good things in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers.

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Caps’ Home Winning Streak Snapped in Overtime at 12 Games

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Eight days off due to snowstorm Jonas caught up with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night as they saw their 12 game home winning streak go by the wayside in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was an uphill battle all game for the Caps, who fell behind 2-0 in the first frame on a power play goal and then a bad defensive zone turnover.

Washington would storm back in period two to tie the game on goals 55 seconds apart from Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom, off of great feeds from Nate Schmidt and T.J. Oshie, respectively, before the midpoint of the game. Then for several minutes it looked like the Caps were going to go ahead.

But a trip on Braden Holtby and then a missed goalie interference penalty by Sam Gagner occurred and the Flyers tallied for the second time just after a faceoff to take a 3-2 lead. Philly would get its fourth power play of the game to just one for the Caps, to that point, when #70 was incorrectly called for delay of game on a puck that clearly hit the glass. Holtby, a guy who very rarely complains, was definitely not happy with officials Dean Morton and Kevin Pollock throughout that entire sequence from when the tripping call occurred through the delay of game penalty. Again, it is RARE that Holtby gets upset with the zebras.

The Capitals would manage to kill that last penalty off and after Evgeny Kuznetsov was clearly tripped and there was no call early in period three, John Carlson, who returned to action after missing 12 straight contests, forced a turnover in the neutral zone and #92 beautifully set up Burakovsky for his second goal of the game to tie it up. The goal came with just 3:55 gone in the third period.

Philadelphia would get their fifth man advantage situation of the game on a questionable hook by Alex Ovechkin after Holtby made two dazzling saves, but luckily the Caps PK was good and kept this one tied. It was ultimately Washington who garnered the game’s final power play with just over two minutes remaining, but that looked as rusty as the Caps did in the first period. The game went to OT setting the stage for Jakub Voracek to win the game on the first shift of the extra period.

Given everything that occurred leading up to this tilt and the way it played out with the bad start and questionable calls and no calls, it’s pretty amazing that Washington managed to get a point out of this affair.

The bad news is the Caps lost Marcus Johansson to an upper body injury in period one and he didn’t return (played only 3:21). In addition, Dmitry Orlov took an inadvertent elbow from Ryan White to the head and left for a shift or so, before returning. Inadvertent or not, that’s a penalty, but it wasn’t called.

Worst news of all is that Ovechkin will not go to the All Star Game in Nashville this weekend as a result of a lower body injury, per a post game Caps press release. According to Coach Barry Trotz, he’s been battling this ailment since November. As a result, the Gr8 won’t play against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, February 2nd, per NHL rules. Well, at least they can’t miss calling that rule, unlike what we saw too often on Wednesday night. The Capitals seem fine with this and at 35-8-4 and 74 points, they have a huge standings lead and can start setting the deck to get their players healthy for the playoffs. Clearly, that is what they are doing with Ovechkin and you may see this with others down the stretch.

Overall, the Caps did some good things after not playing a real game for eight days. Carlson looked solid in 19:09 of action and was a +1. In addition, Burakovsky continues to play better and better and gain confidence. The Capitals will need him to keep producing down the stretch.

On the down side, they gave up two tallies off of faceoffs and their power play was off. But you can attribute both of those issues to a lack of recent games. To be successful at each you need repetition, and Jonas certainly prevented that.

Losing to the Flyers always stinks, but this one doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The injuries are the concern and five days off will be good for Jojo, Ovi, Orlov, and a few others. However, once Tuesday hits, the grind really starts for Washington since they will play 35 games between February 2nd and April 9th in a stretch of 68 days. That’s a lot of hockey in a short period of time.

So rest up this weekend!

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-62 for the Flyers, but they had three more power plays…Faceoffs were 33-28 for Philadelphia. Mike Richards, who bumped up to 3rd line center with Jojo out, played 13:09 and went 9-7 from the dot. Kuznetsov was 9-5 and Claude Giroux was an astounding 24-8…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:17…despite the injury, Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts, six on goal, and five hits…Backstrom led the Caps with six hits…Karl Alzner set a team record by playing in his 423rd straight game.

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

Posted on 22 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

1-2-1.

That is the Capitals final 2014-15 record against the Philadelphia Flyers following Sunday’s 3-2 defeat in Filthy.

That is unacceptable to Capitals fans, plain and simple.

The good news is despite the lousy and very lackluster efforts the Caps exhibited versus their despised rivals from up I-95, Washington will return to the post season this spring while Claude Giroux and company will most likely start slapping Titleist’s around once the regular season ends.

Still, Sunday’s effort was terrible, especially the first period. Perhaps the fact that some crazy Flyers fan pulled the fire alarm at the team hotel at 1:30 am messed the Capitals up today and caused them to play a sleepy game? Or maybe the Flyers match up well with the Caps? Or perhaps the line up that Coach Barry Trotz iced today caused the team to be out of sync?

I’ll go with questions number one and number three from above.

The Flyers are not a good team and their defense is weak. The Capitals should cream these guys assuming they stay out of the box.

There’s one big problem from Sunday, the Caps took too many early penalties and as a result the Flyers scored their first two goals on the power play, the second of which was on a five on three, to take a 2-0 lead.

As for the Washington power play, well it stunk to high heaven on Sunday going 0 for 5 against the 28th ranked PK unit in the league.  Assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that group because too many pucks were being forced to Alex Ovechkin when there were other openings. The team also needs to learn to just simplify and shoot with traffic. The 6 on 4 at the end of the game was absolutely putrid.

It also helps if you have your line up in sync and the one Trotz put out there on Sunday smelled like the city they were playing in. Out was Andre Burakovsky and in went Michael Latta. A top line that dominated on Saturday against the Islanders until the coaches stopped playing them late in regulation was transformed into one that started with Jay Beagle on right wing, but he took a penalty on the opening shift. Marcus Johansson, who was subpar on line number two on Saturday, then moved to the top unit thereafter and didn’t play well there either.

In addition, Cameron Schilling was put in on the third defensive pairing while Jack Hillen was scratched. Trotz told the media afterwards that they are evaluating depth options on defense in preparation for next Monday’s trade deadline (March 2nd). So I’m okay with that one, but the Burakovsky move and subsequent domino effect is a head scratcher.

In the last seven games that #65 has played the Capitals are 7-0-0 and he is a +8, with no minus games. Burakovsky has been strong on the puck and has the high end talent to play with the highly skilled Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The analytics seem to support the value Burakovsky provides to the team’s puck possession statistics, as well. On the contrary, when Jason Chimera has been in the lineup the last six times the Caps are 3-3 and he is -2 with no plus games. Still, there we were late in the Flyers game down a goal and Chimera is out on the power play while Burakovsky is up eating nachos in the press box. In addition, Chimera had 1:27 of man advantage time while Eric Fehr received none. Makes little sense to me.

Thankfully there are only eight days until the trade deadline and then after that the Capitals hopefully finalize their roster and stop with this revolving door of a lineup. Washington needs to build some continuity and confidence over the last month plus of the season so they are ready for the playoffs in a wide open Eastern Conference.

On Sunday, they did nothing of the sort and Michael Del Zotto, who was key in the Rangers playoffs series wins over the Caps in 2012 and 2013, scored the game winner to send Washington with their tails between their legs on the train back to DC.

Trotz has done a lot of good things with this team in bringing them together, getting them to commit to the new system, getting Braden Holtby back on track, and solidifying the blue line, but when it comes to lineup choices and stability as well as late game decision making, that’s where he and his staff need to improve if the Capitals want to go deep in the post season.

Make no mistake about this, the Capitals are an infinitely better team than they were a season ago under the horrible Adam Oates experiment that was made worse by some terrible personnel moves by the departed George McPhee. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have done a super job of turning things around. Kudos to them for what they’ve done and the high expectations the fan base has are a result of their immediate success.

However, everyone can improve and there are still no Stanley Cup banners hanging from the Verizon Center ceiling. This team has the potential to make a run at the Cup but they have to properly use their assets. The coaching staff has done a lot of good things, but they can still be better. Hopefully they are learning what doesn’t work when leading, like shortening the bench and not playing Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, who are top puck possessors. In addition, icing the best possible lineup is something that can be improved upon, which means putting skill players like Burakovsky in the top six and slotting the bottom six guys where they belong.

1-2-1 against the Flyers. I don’t like it at all.

But Wednesday they have a chance to go 4-0 against the Penguins. Doing that would make the fan base feel a lot better about their despicable performance against the Flyers this season.

Still, it’s all about the playoffs and that’s where the coaches need to be focused and improve in the aforementioned areas.

Notes: The Caps fall to 33-18-10 and back to 4th place in the Metropolitan Division…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 23:46, but he and Backstrom were held pointless…Holtby made 25 saves and appeared to be interfered with on the game winning goal, but that was set up by a terrible Capitals line change that gave Del Zotto far too much room…shot attempts were even at 54 for this one but the Flyers had more on net, 28-23.

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Caps Smell Up the Joint in Loss to Flyers

Posted on 08 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

All season long I’ve praised the Washington Capitals from the coaching staff to the players, and rightly so.

They’ve done a lot of good things to turn what was a train wreck following the 2013-14 season into a year that should translate back into playoff hockey again in these parts.

Having said that, this team is going nowhere in the post season if Sunday is any indication of the way they will coach and play come April.

Starting with Coach Barry Trotz to his assistants to the players themselves, they were downright AWFUL on Sunday against the Flyers.

Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers, the most despised team in Washington Capitals history.

To top it off, they not only turned in their worst performance of the season against their arch rivals, they did it on Smokin’ Al Koken day, who has put in a stellar 30 years of covering this franchise.

UNACCEPTABLE.

It started with lousy lineup decisions, continued with lackluster play, and finished with poor in game adjustments and player deployments.

It was so bad and terrible that I don’t know where to start, but losing to those punks from up I-95 means more than just two points lost, in my book.

In addition, a chance to bury the Flyers for good and catch the Penguins in the standings went by the wayside.

So to Barry and the boys: You Really Stunk on Sunday!

Do you understand what this match up means to the fan base?

If so, you sure as heck didn’t play like it.

I’m still scratching my head.

Seriously, what was that lineup? I understand why Andre Burakovsky, who was playing extremely well on the second line, was scratched Friday (so goalie Philipp Grubauer could come up and start), but to sit him today and keep Jason Chimera on the second line was mind boggling. To top it off, Chimera received 4:06 of power play time while better players named Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr received hardly any. That’s just bad player deployment.

Chimera is exactly what he is, a bottom six forward. Burakovsky has the potential to be a star in this league and has been gradually improving. Given the lack of assets that will likely be available at the NHL trade deadline, now is the time to be developing #65, not sitting him while trying to showcase a guy who everyone in the league already knows is a bottom six forward.

Burakovsky helped set up both of the first goals for Washington in the Kings and Senators games, but what did that get him? Two straight scratches! What are these coaches thinking? Play the man!

There was ZERO reason to have both Chimera and Michael Latta in over Burakovsky, end of story.

As for the guys who dressed, they probably didn’t need to shower afterwards given the lack of effort. The Caps had only 14 shots on net and they had SIX power plays (the zebras seemed to be in the Caps corner for once, perhaps trying to help Smokin’ Al get his due on his day?). That shot total is just AWFUL.

It was clear that the Flyers were well prepared for the Caps. They blocked the typical zone entries on the power play and took away the usual passing lanes. The Caps coaching staff made no good in game adjustments. In addition to having Chimera on for too much PP time, they also had Tom Wilson on in the final stages of the game. So what did he do with the game still within reach? He took a stupid boarding penalty. #43 has been regressing lately so why are you playing him over Burakovsky, as well?

Bottom line, all of the coaches and the entire team should endure a massive bag skate tomorrow before they get ready to head for the West Coast.

They probably also should give the fans who attended the game and paid money to watch that garbage performance some kind of a future discount or some pay back for the bad hockey.

Being prepared and bringing it against a team that you despise is a prerequisite for a franchise that wants to win their division and go deep in the playoffs.

On Sunday, the Capitals showed us that they maybe aren’t the team we thought they were by losing to a bad hockey team in the Flyers.

It was ugly, pitiful hockey and coaching and they all should FEEL SHAME!

Notes: Flyers goalie Steve Mason was injured mid game and replaced by Ray Emery. The Caps failed to take advantage of that…Alex Ovechkin had the only Caps goal, on the PP, his 33rd of the season..the ice at the Verizon Center was worse than usual…Washington heads out west for three games in California and then a stop in Pittsburgh on the way back…Matt Niskanen fought and beat up Scott Laughton. The Flyer felt he needed some retribution for skating with his head down and getting his clock cleaned in the game on January 14th. It’s a stupid modern day hockey code that clean hits apparently have to be answered by a fight. It makes me sick, puke, blah…very much like today’s game.

 

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Tough Weekend for Caps, But Not For Hershey

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.

The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.

In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.

Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.

Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).

The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.

Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.

Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.

It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.

Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.

On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.

Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.

Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.

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Towson picks up Dayton transfer Gavrilovic

Posted on 12 May 2014 by WNST Staff

TOWSON ADDS DAYTON TRANSFER ALEX GAVRILOVIC
The 6-9 forward will be eligible to play immediately

TOWSON, Md. – Towson head men’s basketball coach Pat Skerry announced the addition of Alex Gavrilovic (Gahv-RIL-ah-vich), a transfer student-athlete who played on the University of Dayton’s Elite 8 team during the 2013-14 season. Gavrilovic, a 6-foot-9 forward, is set to graduate from Dayton and will be eligible for the Tigers during the 2014-15 season.

“We are very excited to add Alex to our program,” said Skerry. “He brings high level playing experience with him as he competed for an Elite Eight team while at Dayton and was part of the French National team. Alex has learned from great coaches in Archie Miller (Dayton), Dan Barto (IMG Academy) and Aime Toupane with the French National team. He’s a skilled and versatile front-court player, who will make an immediate impact on the court and provide veteran leadership in our locker room. Alex is a dedicated student-athlete who will fit in great with our program.”

In three seasons at Dayton, Gavrilovic played in 67 games and averaged 3.0 points and 1.9 rebounds. He saw action in 15 games last season when the Flyers reached the regional final of the NCAA tournament.

Gavrilovic, a native of Strasbourg, France, won a gold medal in 2010 with the French U-20 National Basketball Team at the European championships in Zadar, Croatia. He also attended the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida where he played against some of the best prep school and junior college competition in the country.

Gavrilovic joins a Towson program that is coming off consecutive winning seasons, including a 25-11 campaign in 2013-14. The graduate student will bolster a front line for Towson that loses two-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon to graduation but returns the remainder of its front-court contributors.

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Caps Trades Are Steps in Right Direction, But More Are Needed

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Caps General Manager George McPhee made some good moves on Tuesday acquiring LW Dustin Penner, RW Chris Brown, D Rotislav Klesla, and a 4th round pick while dealing out a 4th round pick and LW Martin Erat.

But is it enough to put this team in the playoffs come mid April?

Right now my answer, as it was after Sunday’s painful loss to Philadelphia, is still no.

Penner, a two time Stanley Cup winner (2007 Ducks and 2012 Kings), is a big left wing that can score. He brings a dimension to the left side of the lineup that the Capitals just don’t have right now. The 6′ 4″ power forward had 11 points in 20 games with Los Angeles during their Stanley Cup run in 2012 playing a top six role. He will be expected to play in a top six position with Washington down the stretch. Penner is an unrestricted free agent and currently makes $2M. The winger, who at times has been out of shape and not motivated, should be focused on proving himself since he needs a new contract come July 1st. Simply put, for a 4th round pick, this was a good trade and a no brainer despite the fact that he is not a fast skater.

As for the Erat deal, just moving his $4.5M salary cap hit this year and next season is a bonus. The Caps do take on Klesla’s salary with the latest CBA, even though he is going directly to Hershey. The 31 year old Czech defensemen, who has split time at the NHL and AHL level this season, carries a salary cap hit of $2.975M but is an unrestricted free agent after this campaign. Klesla, a former top 5 draft pick (#4 overall in 2000 NHL Entry Draft), has struggled of late and was not happy in Phoenix (he was on waivers in the fall). He does not have good wheels, so it appears that in order for McPhee to unload his problem child in Erat, he had to take on some baggage from another club.

Brown, 23, is an interesting prospect. He had 29 goals in his first season (68 games) in the AHL in 2012-13, but he only has 14 tallies in 51 games this year. The University of Michigan product also played for the US National Under 17 and 18 teams. He’s a 3rd line type, a big right winger who can skate in an organization that is loaded on that side.

So did the Capitals help themselves today?

Yes, it wasn’t hard to do when you get Penner for a mid round draft pick and you get out from under Erat’s remaining salary cap hits for this year and next. But there are still issues with this roster. There remains an overabundance of right wingers and some gaping holes on defense. The third pair is a big problem area now so McPhee needs to either land a top 4 defenseman to bump Dmitry Orlov down to the 3rd pair or upgrade so that Connor Carrick and John Erskine aren’t every game players.

To me, it makes sense to move one of your right wingers so that you can use salary cap dollars elsewhere to improve the defense. That would likely mean Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward would need to be dealt, which would bump Tom Wilson up into an expanded role. Moves to that effect would further balance the roster and also position the Capitals to make even more changes this summer to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Currently, they are a middle of the pack club hoping to climb into the playoffs and go a round or two. Let’s make no mistake about that, hockey is a business and making the playoffs has a huge impact financially. That’s why I believe McPhee, who reportedly is in the last year of his contract, is not done making moves and will do more before Wednesday’s 3 pm trade deadline.

This organization wants to badly make the playoffs. Money and likely jobs are on the line. We saw the desperation to make the post season last year when they traded Filip Forsberg for Erat and Michael Latta. It was a win now type of move that ultimately backfired. They were focused on the short term and wanted another body due to the uncertainty surrounding Brooks Laich’s injury. The truth is, they would have still been able to make the playoffs without Erat in a weak Southeast Division.

This spring, it is not as easy with the new division configuration. Somehow the Caps need to improve enough to pass either the Flyers or the Rangers, and Columbus too. Philadelphia dominated the Caps in some important puck possession statistics on Washington’s home ice last Sunday. Add in that the Capitals upcoming schedule is rated one of the hardest in the league and making the playoffs is going to be very tough.

So the Capitals improved their position today and helped their future, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to secure a playoff position.

That’s way I say to look for more moves from the Caps on Wednesday.

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

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended or watched the Caps-Flyers contest today, you saw one wild hockey game.

After a strong start by the Capitals, Philadelphia rebounded to tie the game late in the first period, dominated the second frame, and scored two quick goals early in the third period to take a 4-1 advantage. The third of those four goals came from Sean Couturier from the corner and behind the goal line. He shot the puck off of Philipp Grubauer and into the cage for a goal that deflated the Caps and the crowd. Then when Jakub Voracek deflected a Michael Raffl shot home at 3:32 of the final frame (74 seconds after the third goal), it looked like the Flyers would avenge the 7-0 drubbing they took from the Capitals back on November 1st.

But not so fast with the 2013-14 Capitals, who had already come back four times after two periods to win contests this season. The Caps started getting pucks and bodies to the net and Mike Green’s goal with 8:40 left gave Washington life. After a failed power play, the Caps kept the pressure on and Dmitry Orlov lasered one by Steve Mason with 3:31 to go after a face off win and suddenly it was a one goal hockey game. The Verizon Center crowd went nuts and the Capitals kept on coming with wave after wave like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. With Grubauer pulled and the extra attacker on, Mason decided to try and play the puck behind his own net but he gave it right to Joel Ward. #42 then found a streaking Alex Ovechkin in the slot and the Gr8 doesn’t fail in the clutch, snapping one by Mason giving the Capitals their third goal in just under eight minutes to send the game to overtime.

The Caps would go on to win, 2-1, in the gimmick and improve to 18-12-3 (39 points), good for a four point lead over the third place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division.

Trying to make sense of this game, quite honestly, makes little sense. Green told me afterwards that the vast swings in play were simply typical momentum shifts you see in games. He said that there are real no answers for it. #52 is probably right.

Both the Caps and the Flyers wanted this game very badly and were giving all they had at various times. Washington did manage to get those last three goals by getting pucks to the point for shots with traffic. Green stated afterwards that the coaches and players noticed that Philly was sagging back and that the forwards were reminded that the defensemen were getting room to shoot. With big guns like Green, John Carlson, and Orlov on the point, it made sense for the Caps to “simplify” as Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) called it and get shots with traffic on Mason. Clearly it worked and the Flyers were likely guilty of thinking they had the game won when they were up 3 pucks.

With the Caps offensive skills, they are rarely out of a game these days.

Once the game goes to the skills exhibition, it’s anyone’s to win. However, Grubauer said that he watched video of the two previous shootouts this week and he learned some things from it. He said that his objective was not to commit and make the first move because it gives the shooter an advantage that they often capitalize on. Only world class forward Claude Giroux got one by the German goalie while Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the shootout. Grubauer made 24 saves plus the two shootout stops and is now 3-0-1. He made some great saves at other times during this contest, but would definitely like the second and third goals back. With the Caps going to Philadelphia on Tuesday for round three of the season series, I’d imagine that Braden Holtby gets the nod in the cage given his good record on Broad Street.

As for Ovechkin, he had a sweet pass to set up Johansson for the first goal on the power play and his tying tally was his 27th goal of the season. He had seven shots on net in 25:08 of ice time. He, Green, Johansson, and numerous others were way better than they’d been in Florida on Friday and that was a big reason the Caps came back. The Flyers let off the gas and appeared to run out of energy too. Perhaps they used up too much fuel when they seized the middle portion of the game?

Who knows? Like Green said, there are no easy answers for it.

One thing for sure, though, is this Capitals team has character and does not fold the tent when down. Five of their victories have now come from third period rallies and that is very impressive.

The naysayers will complain about too many wins coming from shootouts or state that they are in a weak division, but this team has been in nearly every game this season. They are still figuring out the best way to play on the back end under Oates’ system and that has been complicated by a rotation of different personnel on defense. The coach told me after the game that he prefers that his defensemen move the puck within the first five feet once they get it, and that has to be an adjustment for guys like Green and Orlov, who like to carry the biscuit. Perhaps that is why #52 has been very up and down this season?

Former Coach Bruce Boudreau called Green the “One Man Breakout” and Orlov has that capability too. But if your head coach doesn’t prefer that style, one would have to think that would cause mistakes and an adjustment period? It’s something to continue to watch as the season progresses. Do the players adhere to Oates’ preferred method or is there a give and take between players and coaches to maximize some seriously strong defensive puck handling ability on the back end that the Caps could and probably should take advantage of? After all, what if Glen Sather told Paul Coffey he couldn’t skate with the puck more than five feet, how would that have worked out in Edmonton?

Oates is a smart hockey mind and I understand why he wants the puck moved up as quickly as possible. If a defensemen is coming with speed, he can pass the puck and then get it back from a player who is further up the ice. The puck moves faster than the players, at least that is the philosophy of the strategy, but if the forwards aren’t open or are being taken away by the opposition then the defensemen certainly have to adjust, right? It’s an interesting topic and I’m guessing that there have been many discussions on it between the head coach, assistant Calle Johansson, and some of the defensemen.

Whatever they end up doing, one thing is for sure: you can’t win hockey games with a bad defense. The Caps need to find a way to maximize the skills they have back there. Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing great hockey but the team needs Green and Orlov to play at a strong level too for Washington to be a puck possession dominating club.

Stay tuned.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play due to illness and that forced Oates to move Jay Beagle to center Troy Brouwer and Fehr while Michael Latta was recalled from Hershey and centered the fourth line. Nate Schmidt was sent to Chocolatetown to make room for #46, who ended up leaving the game early with a lower body injury. Latta did have a good scrap with Zac Rinaldo in period two. Steve Oleksy fought Wayne Simmonds early in period three, right before the third Philly goal…Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 33-28, but the Flyers won the shot attempt battle, 55-50…Washington was 40-29 from the dot, including some big offensive zone draw wins in the final 10 minutes…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 29:38.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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