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Preds beat Caps

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Grubauer’s Skate Fails in a 4-3 Loss to Nashville

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s a game of inches, and sometimes it’s a game of nuts and bolts, too” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following Washington’s 4-3 loss to Nashville on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.

Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer had a bolt come loose in the third period and that caused him to lose his skate blade on Roman Josi’s game tying tally 8:19 into period three. The equipment issue prevented him from pushing off and making that save. Then with 5:27 remaining, Viktor Arvidsson ripped a shot that #31 couldn’t handle and Ryan Johansen got just enough of the puck, which trickled over the goal line for the game winner. Some fans wanted Coach Trotz to challenge for goaltender interference on Johansen’s marker, but on replay there didn’t appear to be anything of the sort and #31 confirmed to me afterwards that there was no contact with him by anyone.

The victory for Nashville gave them the Central Division title, the first seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and the Presidents’ Trophy. For the Caps, this was pretty much a meaningless affair since they cannot change their playoff position. They’ve already clinched the Metropolitan Division title and will not top the point total of the Atlantic Division winner (Boston or Tampa). Therefore, they will face the 1st Wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.

The Washington Capitals celebrated Alexander Ovechkin’s 1,000th game before Thursday’s tilt against the Predators and the Gr8 delivered for the fans by notching his NHL leading 47th marker of the season. That goal, which was a far post top shelf peanut butter shot, came on the power play 4:29 into period two and tied the game up at one.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was the star of the show for Washington in this affair via his three points. He set up Ovi’s goal with a great pass and also scored twice himself. The first marker for #92, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead just over two minutes after they tied the game up, came on the power play when he tried to pass back door to Alexander the Great. Preds defensemen, Ryan Ellis, dove to the ice to try and block the pass, but in the process he knocked the puck into his own net. Kuzy’s second goal, an unassisted lamp lighter that gave Washington an early third period 3-2 lead, was set up by a superb one on one move that he topped off with a gorgeous backhander over Juuse Saros (29 saves). Kuznetsov is playing some incredible hockey and he now has 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 78 games played this season. He is the key to the Capitals on most nights.

Nicklas Backstrom added his 49th assist of the season on Evgeny’s first goal but his line, with Andre Burakovksy and T.J. Oshie didn’t have the best of nights. They controlled the puck, for stretches, but none of the three forwards had a single shot on net. There were a couple of times where they over passed the disc or made wrong decisions.

In the first 10 minutes, the Capitals made a lot of mistakes turning the puck over with errant drop or cross ice passes. That allowed the Preds to get the early lead. Once Washington got back to playing the right way, they took over the game for a lengthy amount of time. To start period two they had a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal, but couldn’t get a two puck lead. Saros was good, and when John Carlson (14 shots attempts, including eight on goal) couldn’t bury a great chance in tight, the game turned the visitor’s way.

The Caps would get the lead back in period three on Kuzy’s dazzling backhander, but a penalty on Matt Niskanen set up Josi’s tying marker. Johansen scored shortly after Filip Forsberg went around Dmitry Orlov, who hit the post while in all alone on Grubauer. The Predators got to the loose puck following that miss and an Ellis point shot was saved by #31, but bounced right to Arvidsson in the left wing circle. He fired on net and Johansen outworked Orlov to tap the biscuit home over the outstretched Caps goalie.

Overall, the Caps did numerous good things in this game. They matched the Predators speed and had lots of quality chances, but Saros was the difference. Afterwards Ovechkin said he was mostly pleased with the way the team played, but said next week the game changes. Ovi pointed out that there weren’t many hits in Thursday’s tilt because both teams are saving themselves for the playoffs.

As for Coach Trotz, he liked a lot about the game and felt that the team managed the puck better, especially in the middle frame. When asked about the team’s ability to play the right way, he noted that he allows his players to use their talents at the blue lines, but he demands that they make good decisions with the puck. After a shaky start on Thursday, the Caps did that, for the most part. If they adhere to the “get pucks on net or behind the opposing defenders” mantra in the post season, then this team can compete with anyone.

Notes: Nashville was two for two on the power play. The Caps were two for five, but the last one was a whole half of a second long because the game ended…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts; only four made it on net…shot attempts were 67-63 for the Caps…the Predators won the faceoff battle, 36-29. Oshie went 4-1…Tom Wilson had five of the Caps 24 hits. Ovi had 0 hits, which backs up what he said about saving himself for the playoffs…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:45. Osh Babe led all Capitals forwards with 22:49…Burakovsky broke his stick then was injured blocking a shot in period one. #65 returned to the game to play 12:54…Alex Chiasson started the game, but became ill and couldn’t finish after seven shifts and 4:10 of ice time…Cal Ripken attended the game and said he spoke to the Capitals before the contest…the Caps face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. It looks like the Capitals will play either New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Columbus in the first round of the playoffs since the Pens will likely finish second in the division.

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Ovi Holts Chicago

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Ovechkin, Caps Keep Rolling in 6-2 Rout of Chicago

Posted on 07 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals continue to be on a serious roll.

The cuddly Ovi scored a goal and assisted on three others, center Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal in 22 games and added two helpers, and top line Tom Wilson was a human wrecking ball notching the first four point night (two goals, two assists) of his career in a 6-2 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks at Capital One Arena.

Braden Holtby did his part in this win, as well, stopping 37 of 39 shots, including all 16 he faced in a Hawks assault in the middle frame.

The victory increases the Caps record to 17-11-1 (35 points) and they are just a point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division heading into Friday’s big tilt at home against the New York Rangers.

Coach Barry Trotz’ club has now won six of their last seven games and are 12-0 when they score four or more goals this season.

Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis of Washington’s third straight victory.

There’s no better place to start than with the Gr8, he was simply fabulous with his all around play against Chicago. His pass to get Backstrom off of the schneid was dynamite and then his follow up rebound goal on Wilson’s breakaway was another example of Ovi’s improved physique and speed this season. When things got testy in period two, his hammered power play shot ricocheted off of J.F. Berube’s pads and right to Brett Connolly, who potted his third goal in three games to make it 4-1 and give Washington some much needed breathing room. Alex then really closed this one out with a great fore-check and pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot that Kuzy buried to make it 5-1 and end any potential for late game Blackhawks heroics. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 21 and he has 32 points in 29 games. Yeah, he’s washed up, haters.

Backstrom, despite his goalless streak, has still been playing well. Night after night Coach Trotz puts him out against the opposition’s top center and he delivers a strong two way game. Now that he’s back where he should be, with Ovechkin, because he’s the one who knows best how to get the Gr8 the puck, he’s starting to get his points again. Backy was in the right spot in the slot for the all important first goal of the game at 11:54. His offensive zone faceoff win just under three minutes later resulted in Wilson’s first goal, which made it 2-0. That was a weak tally allowed by starting goalie, Anton Forsberg. On Connolly’s goal, the whole play was made by #19 fighting for a loose puck in the slot and getting it over to the Gr8 for his howitzer.

There were some skeptics when Coach Trotz bumped Wilson up to the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but that move is paying off. Remember when the Caps first line used to be Ovi, Backy, and Troy Brouwer? Well Willy is filling the Brouwer role quite nicely, if not better. His steal set the first goal up. #43 is playing the best hockey of his career, right now, and he drew the penalty on Lance Bouma that led to the Connolly marker late in period two. This was after Bouma hurt Tom on a clean check where Willy had his arm extended and it got pinched on the boards in the defensive zone. Wilson went to the locker room and things looked ominous for the Caps with T.J. Oshie out due to Jumbo Joe’s cheap shot hit on Monday and Andre Burakovksy not likely back in the lineup until Friday.  Luckily Tom was okay and returned, looking no worse for the wear. Wilson is performing well because he’s shooting the puck and is an absolute beast on the fore-check. His PK skills are excellent and it was fitting that he closed the scoring out in this game with a shorthanded empty net tally. If Ryan Hartman wasn’t such a gutless coward, Willy would have had the Gordie on this night. Hartman’s late game despicable trip of Ovechkin, which could have caused a serious knee injury, really deserved an ass beating, but Ryan skated away.

Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana continue to play some excellent hockey on the second line, even without the Osh Babe on this night. Vrana is really using his speed to open up lanes and he’s been really solid in his own zone. He’s especially excelling with his pesky fore-checking that has been causing turnovers. Since the Calgary game, Kuzy has been insanely good and worthy of numerous fist bumps. He’s making the right plays all over the ice and his shoot versus pass decisions have been SPOT ON. #92 now has nine goals with seven of them coming in the last 10 games. When Washington gets the kind of one-two center play they are getting from Backstrom and Kuznetsov, they are hard to beat.

Goaltending is the strength of this Capitals team and both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are currently delivering the big save when the team needs it. It is scary how well the Holtbeast is playing right now and there’s a serious argument to be made that he’s playing better than the last two seasons. He made several big stops when things were really dicey and the game was still in doubt. Over his last five starts, Holtby is 4-1-0 with a .932 save percentage and has stopped 69 of the last 74 shots he’s faced (h/t to the Capitals excellent PR staff).

Connolly has really taken advantage of the opportunity to fill the Oshie role on the first power play unit. Brett is doing the right things on the ice and he’s getting rewarded for it. He’s moving his feet and finding the soft spots in the defensive coverage on the ice where goals can be scored, in the slot and around the net.

Matt Niskanen probably had his best game of the season. He and Dmitry Orlov are returning to last year’s form. Nisky was +4 with an assist. Orlov continues to lead the charge on successful Capitals break outs and his long flip pass to Wilson on the third goal was just outstanding. #9 is getting better and better and his defensive zone play features some sneaky good physical play.

The Caps have done a better job at lowering the number of penalties they have been taking. On Monday they were whistled for four shorthanded situations, but two of the calls were horrendous, the board on Wilson when Gustav Forsling turned his back as #43 was about to hit him clean from the side (even the NBC announcers hated that call) and then the interference call on Ovechkin, when he stayed in his lane and didn’t move one way or the other to impede Bouma. Somehow clueless Dan O’Halloran and Jon McIsaac thought otherwise.

One thing the Capitals still have to work on is their defensive zone clears and their propensity to make offensive zone turnovers. Devante Smith-Pelly had a very soft behind the back defensive zone giveaway that led to a two on none for Chicago, but Holtby bailed DSP out. Ovechkin had a late turnover that led to a Jonathan Toews breakaway goal, but John Carlson was also to blame there for not being more responsible up four goals. Finally, Lars Eller had a bad offensive zone turnover when it was 5-1. #20 went across the blue line on a one on three and with no help coming he peeled off and tried a crazy cross ice pass that was stolen. The right play was a shot or dump of the puck behind the net. Right after that turnover, Brooks Orpik was called for hooking. If Eller makes the correct decision, there is no Chicago power play. Overall the Capitals had 22 giveaways, that is far too many and the biggest reason they have spells where they get outplayed and out shot.

I really liked the way both rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos performed against a team with some high caliber players. There was one sequence where Djoos made a hit and a steal in his own end. We all know Christian is excellent in the offensive zone, but the key to his NHL tenure will be how much he improves defensively.

Overall though, this was a very impressive win with Oshie and Burakovsky out. Hopefully both will be back soon with #65 very likely for Friday’s tilt against the Blueshirts. Things are looking up for Washington, but it’s a tight division and the league is very balanced. They need to keep working hard and improving the little things in their game, especially the turnovers, if they want to move their way up the standings.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:47. Orpik was second with 22:19…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-30, but Backstrom went 14-11…shots on goal were 39-25, for Chicago. Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on goal…the Caps blocked 20 of the 68 shot attempts by the Blackhawks…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and Chicago was 0 for 4.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov has three helpers and Daniel Winnik tallies twice in a dominating Caps win over Nashville.

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Kuznetsov, Winnik Lead Caps to a 4-1 Win on Craig Laughlin Night

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Craig Laughlin night at the Verizon Center on Friday, it was fitting that a plumber notched two tallies for the Capitals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Daniel Winnik scored twice, the first of which came on another spectacular pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov (three assists) to tie the contest up at one after former Cap Filip Forsberg had given the Preds a second period lead on a power play. It was Winnik’s first two goals as a Capital after coming over on February 29th in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kuznetsov (three assists) was sensational in this game and it was another one of his vintage passes, this one behind his back, to T.J. Oshie on the goal line that #77 deposited over Carter Hutton at 12:22 of the middle frame to give Washington its’ first lead of the night.

With 18 ticks remaining in the second period, the Capitals really put Nashville behind the eight ball when Winnik scored his second tally of the night after a great rush and feed by Dmitry Orlov. The Caps then inserted the dagger on the Predators just 36 seconds into period three when, you guessed it, Kuznetsov stripped the puck from Ryan Johansen, who was horrible in this one, and fed Andre Burakovsky all alone in front of Hutton. #65 promptly roofed it for his 15th goal of the season to end the scoring.

Coming into this contest David Poile’s team was one of the hottest clubs in the NHL, going 11-1-5 over their last 17 games, including a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.

After arriving into the District around 2 am on Friday morning, the Capitals pretty much made sure that the Predators had no chance in this tilt.

Sure they scored the first goal early in period two, but the Predators were held to just four first period shots and zero quality chances. The Capitals turned in a strong first frame, but for the 14th time in the last 17 games they failed to grab the initial lead. Coach Barry Trotz is all about the process so he had to like that opening period even though it was scoreless.

Despite giving up the power play tally that occurred after a Taylor Chorney trip, Washington did not lose momentum in the second period. On Winnik’s first goal, which came right as the Preds penalty expired (Johansen), Braden Holtby (20 saves) made a great long feed to Kuznetsov to catch Nashville in a change. Kuznetsov then worked his magic to totally fake out the entire Nashville team and slide the biscuit through a seam to Winnik, who merely had to deposit it into the yawning cage. It was the Holtbeast’s first assist of the year and it sucked pretty much any life left out of the Predators, who thought they might be able to steal a game in which they were getting heavily outplayed, to that point.

The Caps onslaught would continue from there and it wasn’t until it was 4-1 that Nashville really got any type of consistent pressure. But by then it was just score effects and overall the Capitals held the Predators to just 21 shots on net.

Orlov was outstanding on the back end and in addition to his assist, he was +4 on this night. You could go up and down the Capitals lineup and cite contributions from nearly every player and even Tom Wilson, who had been struggling a bit lately, did a nice job of going to the net and causing traffic on Hutton.

Washington’s impressive victory pushes their record to an astounding 51-14-5 (107 points) and even if the Los Angeles Kings go 13-0 the rest of the way, the Caps would just need nine points in 12 games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Like I’ve said before, that’s a done deal.

This was two straight quality efforts by the Capitals and it was their first win by as many as three goals since January 19th against Columbus (h/t to Mike Vogel). Holtby earned his 43rd victory of the season and is now just five wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s all-time record. Washington also improved to 21-12-5 when allowing the first goal of the game. They are 30-2-0 when scoring first.

So now it is on to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to take on the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens are in a dogfight of their own to make the postseason and they’ll face the red hot and despised Flyers on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm. Here’s to hoping there’s a whole new rash of penalty minutes in that one!

For the Caps, though, the beat just keeps marching on. Washington took advantage of a team who played the night before by out skating them all evening.

It was a thorough whipping of Nashville by Coach Trotz’ crew and it came on a night where everyone was in a celebratory mood given that it was “Locker’s” silver anniversary. Ole #18 delivered once again with another excellent performance in the booth with his partner in crime, Joe Beninati.

Thanks for all of the great work, analysis, and laughs over the last 25 years, Craig!

Notes: Kuznetsov earned the game’s number one star. In addition to his three helpers in 17:30 of ice time, he went 13-5 from the dot as the Capitals won the face off battle, 34-24…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:21 while Roman Josi and Shea Weber both played over 27 minutes each for Nashville. Those numbers display the difference in depth between these two bluelines as the Caps next highest defenders in time on ice were Karl Alzner at 21:34 and Brooks Orpik at 20:22…Oshie and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal with five. The Gr8 had 13 shot attempts, but zero points…Oshie, who set a career high with his 22nd goal, led the Caps with five hits…the Caps have 28 victories at home this season.

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Marcus Johansson returns after missing 4 games to spark the Caps in a big win in Nashville.

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Johansson Return Plus Holtby Key a Caps Win in Smashville

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson returned after missing four games and boy did he deliver on Tuesday night in Nashville. Jojo was absolutely brilliant scoring the game winning goal, adding two helpers, and going +3 on the evening in a Capitals 5-3 victory over the Predators.

Washington once again had a slow start and Braden Holtby (23 saves) was the key early as the Preds fired 14 first period shots on goal. The Holtbeast was outstanding keeping his club afloat while they tried to find their legs. Thanks to a Jason Chimera tally, his 14th of the year, on a great feed from Tom Wilson after Willy forced a Predators neutral zone turnover, the Capitals led 1-0 after the first frame despite only getting six shots on Pekka Rinne (18 saves).

The Caps took three penalties in the opening frame and then after taking a 2-0 lead on Wilson’s fifth goal of the season after a sweet feed from Johansson on an odd man rush, Washington made some bad mental mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew took two consecutive too many dudes on the ice penalties, overlapping by four seconds. Some excellent penalty killing almost got the Caps out of those brain cramps, but Filip Forsberg (two goals) scored late on the last power play on a wicked top shelf snipe over Holtby’s glove that may have nicked John Carlson’s stick.

Through 40 minutes the Caps would lead, but they had yet to really play their best hockey.

In the third frame, Washington amped up their intensity and started winning more of the board battles and using their size to negate the Predators speed. Dmitry Orlov marvelously outworked a couple of Nashville skaters on the wall in the offensive zone and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Justin Williams in front of the cage and he batted the biscuit home to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.

Three minutes later the Capitals third line struck again as Jojo buried one into a vacant cage as Rinne furiously flopped back and forth in his net to stop Karl Alzner and then Williams (1 goal, 1 assist) before #90 made it 4-1 with 11:57 remaining.

Game over, right?

Well, not so fast. The Predators, who only had five shots on goal in the third period, would get two markers just two minutes and eleven seconds apart to cut it to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. Both goals were on weird deflections in front of the Holtbeast.

But Trotz’ crew settled down and started playing smarter hockey by getting pucks in deep and forechecking with their heavy style. Nashville didn’t get many good looks and the Capitals had several shots at making it a two goal cushion again. With just under three minutes to go, the line of Wilson, Jojo, and Chimera then put on a cycling clinic and really took the Predators last bit of energy away. This forced Coach Peter Laviolette to keep his goalie in longer than he wanted and then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with the keeper pulled to put Washington on the power play.

After a Nashville clear, they pulled Rinne again, but the Caps worked the puck around and the Gr8 deposited it into the vacant cage for his 31st goal of the season to close this one out. That ended a long Capitals power play drought at 19.

Over those last eight minutes, the Predators had only four shot attempts, and two came after the Ovechkin empty net tally. None of the four shots made it on goal, either. Now that is the way to protect a one goal lead!

Andre Burakovsky, on his 21st birthday, extended his point scoring streak to eight consecutive games with his 14th assist of the season on the Williams goal that was totally set up by Orlov. #9 had a really strong third period when the Caps seized this contest.

But this night belonged to the third line, particularly Johansson, who has really made the Capitals extra dangerous with a unit that can skate, hit, check, and score. This allows Mike Richards to lead a fourth line that is effective as well, and should get even stronger once Jay Beagle returns. Overall, the Caps have lots of players they can shift around up front and be effective. That’s a nice luxury to have.

The win improves the Capitals record to 39-9-4 (82 points) and per Matt Williams of the Caps PR staff, Washington is the first team in NHL history to achieve 39 wins through 52 regular season games. Wow!

I’ve been saying since the summer this is the best Caps team ever, but we all know when they really have to prove it.

Notes: The Predators were 1 for 6 on the power play while Washington was 1 for 3…5v5 shot attempts favored the Caps, 41-36. It was 17-13, for the good guys in the final 20 minutes…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in time on ice with 26:11 and he was +2…the Capitals blocked 18 shots and won the faceoff battle, 35-29. Richards was 7-2 from the dot…next up for the Caps are the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. That will be the second game on a three tilt road trip before it ends Saturday in Dallas against the Stars.

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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 Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The days leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft generated a lot of hype for the extremely talented players slated to be taken at the top of the draft as well as for the possibility of some blockbuster trades given the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70M in 2013 to just over $64M in 2013-14. Well the first several selections lived up to the billing but as far as deals went, outside of the Cory Schneider to New Jersey trade for the 9th overall pick, there wasn’t much that was done to impact the rosters of many clubs.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, as expected, went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche, but surprisingly the Florida Panthers chose forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick and Tampa took winger Jonathan Drouin with the 3rd choice sending defensemen Seth Jones, who many had rated as the top player in the draft, to the Nashville Predators with the 4th pick. So former Capitals GM David Poile was the winner in this draft, in my opinion. Jones, who is big, can skate, and has offensive talents, gives the Preds another great right handed defensemen to go with the powerful Shea Weber down in Music City.

As for the the Caps, General Manager George McPhee stated that he tried hard to trade up into the top third of the first round but was unsuccessful. Thus Washington selected Austrian born/Swedish left winger Andre Burakovsky with the 23rd pick in the draft. The early line on the Swedish forward who reportedly has excellent offensive skills is mixed. TSN’s Bob MacKenzie listed him 24th on his board while Craig Button had Burakovsky as far down as 58th on his final list. McPhee and Director of Amatuer Scouting, Ross Mahoney, have not had a first round bust since Anton Gustafsson in 2008. Over the period of 2008-12, they’ve picked up John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson in the first round. Certainly one would hope that Burakovsky fits in with that last group but one scout I talked to, who called the 2012 1st round picks “home runs” for Washington, had him more in the Gustafsson camp. Guess we’ll find out over the next few years who is correct on that front? McPhee did state that he believes Burakovsky will take time to develop, so he is likely several years from the NHL, at this point.

In the second round, the Capitals took right handed shooting defensemen Madison Bowey from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League with the 53rd pick and then traded their 3rd (84), 4th (114), and 5th (127) round selections to move up to the 61st spot to take forward Zach Sanford from Derry, New Hampshire. Sanford will play in the USHL this year and then is currently committed to Boston College in 2014-15. Bottom line, the NHL draft is a crap shoot since you are choosing 17 and 18 year olds and many selections take years to develop.

Going back to the trade front, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Washington wants to upgrade the left side of its defense. Specifically, they need a left handed shooting d-man to play with John Carlson on the second d-pair. In addition, with center Mike Ribeiro slated to test the free agent waters, the Caps will likely need to add a number two center once again. There was hope that perhaps one or both of those voids could be filled with trades in New Jersey but despite the buildup, there were no big deals for top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen at Sunday’s draft. But there are still four more full days until free agency begins on Friday, July 5th.

The biggest news of the weekend was Tampa Bay using its’ compliance buyout on 1998 1st overall pick Vinny Lecavalier. Naturally there is interest galore in the 2004 Stanley Cup winning center and he’d be a nice fit in Washington. But he’d be great for a lot of teams. McPhee noted that Adam Oates met with Lecavlier, facilitated by the fact that Oates was an assistant with the Bolts back in 2009-10, and that the Caps coach thinks highly of him. At the end of the day though, this is likely to come down to money and Washington just might not have enough salary cap room to land Lecavalier.

The next two weeks will do a lot towards shaping the Capitals roster for 2013-14. The GM has not decided if he will use a compliance buyout or not, routinely scratched Jeff Schultz is slated to count $2.75M against the Capitals salary cap, but he says he has ownership’s support to use that mechanism, if necessary. McPhee still has to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson but the only questions there are pretty much the dollars. It will be interesting to see what the GM does to fill what look to be two holes heading into a season in which they move into an extremely competitive new division. Is Dmitry Orlov ready to be an NHL second pair defensemen? The Devils improved themselves by adding Schneider in goal while the Flyers have lost Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere to costly compliance buyouts. In addition, Philly signed 35 year old defensemen Mark Streit to a long term deal for four years at $21M. So Paul Holmgren and company continue to do some crazy things and don’t appear to be any better, at this point.

But there are a couple of more weeks where the big action still looks to take place via trades and free agency, so stay tuned!

Notes: The Caps will hold development camp at Kettler Iceplex from July 8-13…Team USA will holds its Olympic orientation camp at Kettler as well from August 25-29 in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games that will be played in Sochi, Russia. Poile is USA’s GM while the Penguins Dan Bylsma will coach the squad. This is a big deal for the area to host this type of event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester talking NHL and Caps draft at 7:25 am Monday morning.

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McPhee Takes Big Risk With Erat for Forsberg Trade

Posted on 03 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For all of those people in Caps land who say that George McPhee is not a risk taker, you have no case after today.

The Capitals GM basically went all in on his current team and perhaps his job today, by moving top prospect, Filip Forsberg (1st round pick in 2012), to Nashville in return for 31 year old winger Martin Erat and minor league center, Michael Latta. After the Caps picked up five points in three road games combined with the collapse of the Winnipeg Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of them in the Southeast Division, it became pretty clear that McPhee’s team has a great chance to win the division, grab the number three seed in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps get a favorable matchup in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It is a move that could net his owner millions of dollars in playoff revenues which would likely get McPhee and his staff not only a playoff bonus, but a contract extension (it is believed McPhee is in the final year of his current contract). As I’ve blogged recently, most fans focus on the “winning a championship” aspect of sports and are only emotionally invested in those teams. But for those in the game, it is their livelihood and as a result, the short term survival route is often the one chosen over what might appear to be the smarter long term plan.

That is what happened here today with the Caps. Washington needs to make the playoffs from a business and personal standpoint for those involved with the club and therefore, McPhee was going to do whatever he was allowed to do to increase the probability his team makes the postseason. If he doesn’t make the playoffs, there is a very good chance he would no longer be the General Manager of the Washington Capitals next season.

From a strictly hockey standpoint, this trade appears to favor the Nashville Predators. Forsberg is believed to be a potential long term top six forward in the NHL. He was the third forward drafted in the first round last season (11th pick overall) and many felt the Caps hit a “home run” when the Swedish right wing fell to Washington when a run on defensemen occurred at the top of the draft. This player could turn out to be an elite one based on input from people I’ve talked to around the league. Of course, the Caps, having drafted and watched him play quite a bit this season, likely know the ins and outs of the young player that other teams may not know about. In addition, the Capitals also have two talented young forwards already in their system in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick, 16th overall). With Alexander Ovechkin signed long term and Troy Brouwer inked for three more years, the Caps clearly had an abundance of right wings so perhaps in order to get a top six left wing they felt that Forsberg was the best asset to move in order to acquire Erat? After all, you do have to give up something to get something decent in return.

That brings us to Erat, the return on Forsberg (for all intensive purposes Latta is pretty much an AHLer). The speedy and shifty left wing has not had a good year (21 points in 36 games) on a Preds club that struggles to score and it was no secret that Erat had requested to be moved. The question is can he become energized again and produce at a higher level like he did in his previous seasons with Nashville? Washington is banking on that with him likely sliding into the top line left wing spot with Ovechkin on right wing and Nicklas Backstrom at center. Who wouldn’t be energized by playing with those guys?

This trade, unlike some other deadline deals, was not a rental move by McPhee. While they gave up Forsberg, they get Erat under contract for this season and the next two after that at $4.5M against the salary cap. As expected, center Mike Ribeiro was not dealt and he will test free agency in the summer and likely find a higher bidder, so the Caps had to hedge against going down another top six forward.

The question is did McPhee get enough in return for Forsberg in Erat? Based on what I saw in other trades and people I’ve talked to in and around the league, Washington paid a big price for the lefthanded shooting winger.

But the price may not matter, especially if Erat starts scoring playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom and the Capitals win the Southeast Division. In that case no matter what happens with Forsberg long term, it is a success for Leonsis and McPhee. However, if the Caps miss the playoffs while Forsberg turns out to be an elite player down the road, this trade will be pointed to and ridiculed for many years by Capitals fans and those around the game. It would become worse than Jorgen Pettersson for Doug Jarvis, and that would be saying something.

McPhee took a big risk today, no matter how you slice it. But he had no choice since the Caps have to make the playoffs. Standing pat was an even worse option given the lack of depth and the need for a top six forward.

So the general manager did what he had to do individually and for his team. McPhee put himself out there and now his club needs to deliver for him. The Southeast Division and a nice playoff matchup is there for the taking. Adding Erat should be enough to put the Capitals over the top. But if it doesn’t, then you can bet changes will be coming.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Morning Reaction at 745am talking Caps and the NHL trade deadline. Listen Live via WNST.NET

 

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Olie Kolzig Talks Holtby & Lockout, Plus an Iafrate at Caps Development Camp

Posted on 10 July 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are holding development camp this week at Kettler IcePlex and on day two of a six day slate that ends this Saturday, another scrimmage transpired. There wasn’t a whole lot of excitement to the game in terms of pretty plays, but there certainly was a big physical aspect to the contest with 2012 first round draft pick (16th overall) Tom Wilson and free agent rookie Max Iafrate (son of former Capital “Big Al”) leading the way in the hits department. In the skill department, 2010 third round pick Stan Galiev certainly stood out as did 2012 1st round draft pick (11th overall) Filip Forsberg. Neither scored in a 2-1 game, but Galiev fired several shots while Forsberg displayed good skating ability and size.

Afterwards, the media had a chance to talk with assistant goaltending coach Olie Kolzig on a number of topics and “Olie the Goalie” was quite forthcoming. Kolzig joined the coaching ranks with the Caps just last spring and at the time he stated his role would be to help develop goalies in the Capitals system that weren’t at the NHL level. That plan came to fruition as Olie said that most of his time this past season was spent with Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.

“It was very impressive, just because Braden was inconsistent at the beginning of the year and I think one of the things he had to work on was his consistency. So going into the playoffs, we knew he had the talent, obviously, at the time the team needed him to play well, he played well. When he goes into Detroit and Philadelphia and gets three out of four points that speaks volumes about his character. Guys loved playing for him. So going into the playoffs one of the biggest questions was consistency and he was rock solid from game one right to game seven against the Rangers. He knows he can do it now, and I think he’s really excited about starting in September,” said Kolzig when I asked him to assess Holtby’s season.

“I didn’t hande the puck nearly like Braden did. I think, especially with Adam [Oates] coming  from Jersey and having Marty Brodeur handle the puck the way he did, he saw the benefits of having a goalie handle the puck like that and I think he is going to utilize Braden a lot more. It definitely helps on defense, you don’t get hit as much, you are able to break out of your own zone a lot quicker, and the odd time you’ll catch teams by surprise when they are making changes and lead to a lot more scoring chances,” finished Kolzig on how he expects the Caps new bench boss to use Holtby’s stick handling abilities.

In case you haven’t noticed, the pace of free agent signings by NHL teams has slowed to a crawl the last several days. A weak crop doesn’t help that, but I also believe that the current labor situation is impacting what clubs are willing to do without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. I am hearing that the NHL could have a lockout that lasts until Thanksgiving weekend, which could conceivably wipe out close to a quarter of the season. Nobody wants to see that but with Donald Fehr in the mix as the head of the NHLPA, all outcomes are possible. Kolzig, who saw an entire season get wiped out in 2004-05, was clearly in the camp that a lockout would be very bad for all parties involved.

“I don’t want to see, and nobody wants to see a lockout, especially with the momentum the NHL has gained over the last few years. But you understand why and it’s the not so fun part of sports, but I suspect that both sides understand the NHL has grown so much the last few years and they don’t want to slow any momentum down or give any kind of negative outlook towards the NHL so they are going to obviously try to get [a deal] done. If for whatever reason it doesn’t get done by September 15th, then I would assume they’ll get something done in a short amount of time so we don’t see what happened in 2004,” started Kolzig on the potential lockout that could occur when the current CBA expires in September.

“It was awful, that was awful. I don’t think our union was prepared for how tough a stance the owners were taking on the lockout and they didn’t play. We didn’t really have a plan B…it was one season and money that I’ll never make back, that was the peak of my career…it was just an ugly situation and I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen again,” finished Kolzig on the NHL labor situation.

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He was known as “Big Al” to his teammates and you will still see Caps fans with jerseys at games with the name IAFRATE  and number 34 on the back. Al Iafrate was a very popular defensemen and even though he only spent just over three years with Washington, much of that time resulted in some of the best hockey of his career. Al was known as a big defensemen with a bigger shot. He held the NHL hardest shot record for 16 years until Zdeno Chara finally broke it in 2009 using new technology.  Al’s son, Max, who turned 18 on March 28th of this year, is attending Caps development camp after not being drafted a couple of weeks back in Pittsburgh. The 6′ 2″ right hand shooting defensemen, who was actually born in Baltimore, certainly throws hip checks like his father and seems to play the game with flair too. The media had a chance to catch up with the current Kitchener Ranger this afternoon and here is a partial transcript of the interview:

WNST: Did you have offers to go to other camps?

Iafrate: I think this was my first one, so I took it. My agent just told me right after the draft if you wanted Washington and I said yes.

WNST: So I noticed several hip checks out there. Your dad was a pretty good hip checker, did you get any technique from him?

Iafrate: Yeah, and my mentor in Kitchener, Ryan Murphy, is really good at hip checks , we both do it a lot during games, and we’ve kind of perfected it, almost, we are looking to do it more.

WNST: How would you describe your game?

Iafrate: I mean last year I came in to Kitchener being traded from Plymouth, they made me like a defense first defensemen. In Plymouth I was trying to be more offensive but they had Ryan Murphy there [in Kitchener] so I don’t think they need me to be offensive, the guy puts up 80 points a year, so just defense first, and this year, if Murph makes the pros I’ll step up and start playing power play and make more offensive contributions.

WNST: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far from the coaches on things they like and things they want you to work on?

Iafrate: Probably just keep it simple. I like to rush the puck and sometimes you make it more hard on yourself than it is, but I like to play exciting. It’s not that fun just sitting around.

WNST: What are your plans for the upcoming season at Kitchener and what kind of team are you going to have?

Iafrate: Last year I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be contenders for the [OHL] championship and we went to the Western Conference Finals. This year, we still have a great team, it will be the same team from last year, but even more experienced.

WNST: Have you seen video of your dad from his playing days?

Iafrate: Yeah, I watch him on You Tube, I’ve seen some Olympic videos of him, it is pretty cool to watch a little bit.

WNST: What hospital were you born in in Baltimore?

Iafrate: I don’t know. I just know shortly thereafter we moved to Boston. [Note: Al Iafrate was traded to the Bruins for Joe Juneau a week before Max was born.]

WNST: Does your dad still listen to the heavy metal bands? [Note: Iafrate was a big Grand Funk Railroad fan as well as Metallica and Van Halen back in his playing days. He also hosted a radio show in Annapolis that aired, for a short while, on 103.1, the Underground, when he was with the Caps.]

Iafrate: There’s really no good rock n’ roll bands anymore. He got into rap, so when I was little he showed me a lot of rap.

Clearly in Max’s case, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. In terms of personality and demeanor, he is very much like his father, the question now is, can he play hockey at the level his father did?

Notes: The Caps Development Camp has three more scrimmages slated for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for those that want to trek down to Kettler and see some free hockey…Oates still has not named any assistant coaches…I spotted former Capital Jeff Halpern at Kettler on Tuesday evening. On Monday, Halpern signed a one year deal to play with the New York Rangers this upcoming season…both Caleb Hebert and Greg Burke were banged up in today’s scrimmage.

 

 

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