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Kuznetsov Dazzles in Caps 5-2 Victory over Vegas

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov put on a show notching four points, including three amazing setups for goals, two of which went to Alexander Ovechkin, and Braden Holtby was superb in net with 29 saves to lead the Capitals to a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. It was the teams’ first meeting since the Caps skated Lord Stanley’s Cup at T-Mobile Arena back in June.

The win, which followed a nice rally in Pittsburgh to steal a point last Thursday night and then five days off, moves the Capitals to 2-0-1 (five points) on the season. They will face the New Jersey Devils at The Rock on Thursday night at 7 pm.

What follows are the highlights and analysis of a typical October game where defense and hitting were optional, most of the time.

It was clear that Coach Gerard Gallant’s squad was fired up for this one and they fought mightily throughout the contest, but at the end of the night, they lost for the same reason they were defeated in the Cup Final – they simply don’t have the high end offensive talent that Washington possesses. General Manager George McPhee has put together a nice team that works hard and plays their system, but he does not have an Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, or Nicklas Backstrom in his lineup. But not many teams in the NHL have that either. The 2017-18 Stanley Cup Champions are a very talented bunch and they still have room to improve. As the Great Count Floyd would say, “That’s scary stuff, Kids!”

For the last couple of years, I rode Kuznetsov hard in my blogs because I knew that with his talent, he had the ability to take over hockey games, like we saw from him in the World Juniors shortly after he was drafted. Kuzy did just that this past spring and was a major reason the Capitals won the Cup. He moved into the superstar category with his play, leading the NHL in post season points (32). The Russian center has now moved into elite status with the way he’s dominating out on the rink this October. His two-way game continues to improve and because he’s been shooting the puck more often and scoring goals, additional passing lanes are opening up for him. Those two feeds to Ovechkin for goals were just sensational. He’s a joy to watch.

Ovechkin is now up to four goals in three games and is really skating well. Ovi is so clutch when the Caps need it and with seven shots on goal, he easily could’ve notched a hat trick on Wednesday. After re-inventing his game last season with more speed, the Gr8 has picked up right where he left off.

Brett Connolly has been called upon to take Tom Wilson’s spot during Willy’s suspension. On the Capitals first goal, which came on the power play, Conno makes a great hit in the corner to keep the puck alive. Brett doesn’t have #43’s size, but he can skate and isn’t afraid to put his body in on the wall. If he keeps playing like that, the loss of Wilson, which is big for Washington, is partially mitigated. Connolly had two assists in this affair.

Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give Nicky six points in three games. The Jakub Vrana-Backstrom-T.J. Oshie line makes the job of matchups for the opposing coach very difficult night in and night out.

Washington went two for four on the power play to continue its torrid start to the season (5 for 10). The Caps had some issues with generating speed out of their own zone on their first man advantage situation because Vegas was very aggressive with forechecking pressure, but once they figured that out and got things set up, the magic began. You won’t see two prettier passing plays than the goals by Kuznetsov and Backstrom.

Vegas has a lot of heart and they just kept coming in this game. Washington was quite sloppy, at times, especially in the second and third periods. The Golden Knights cut two goal leads to one puck twice and thought they had a third one to make it 4-3, but that marker was wiped out by a clear offside challenge by the Caps video brain trust (well done Stretch and Timmy!). The Caps need to be smarter with the lead, they were lazy in their own end on several occasions and in the neutral zone and offensive blue line they made some poor decisions with the biscuit. If the Holtbeast wasn’t so rock solid in net, and he also had some help from the iron, this game could’ve been tied in the final frame. Coach Todd Reirden will have some good video to show his squad what not to do with the lead in this one.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and Holtby showed, once again, why he’s one of the best in the NHL. #70 was dialed in and made some very difficult stops, especially on William Karlsson, look very routine. Holts will get Thursday off and without Philipp Grubauer in net anymore, it will be up to Pheonix Copley to show that he can be a viable backup when he makes his debut against the Devils. The Capitals need Copley to start 25 or so games so that the Holtbeast is well rested for the post season.

Dmitri Jaskin, acquired from the Blues via the waiver wire, played solidly on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly. Jaskin has size and goes to the net. That line had several scoring chances and looks like it could have some nice chemistry.

This was a nice win and the Capitals are hard to beat in a wide open game with all of the scoring punch they have. This type of hockey will be prevalent until the New Year, and then everyone will buckle down and start gearing up for playoff hockey. The bad news for the rest of the league is that Washington showed last spring that they can pretty much play any style and come out on top these days.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 38-36, but Dowd went 8-5…shot attempts were 68-51 for Vegas. Shots on goal were 31-29, also for the Golden Knights…Brooks Orpik was rammed hard into the glass by William Carrier late in period one. #44, who eats rocks for breakfast, didn’t play the rest of the period and went down the tunnel, but he did return for the last 40 minutes…John Carlson (two assists) led the Caps in ice time with 25:55…Michal Kempny returned from a concussion to make his regular season debut and logged 16:41. He did take two penalties, though.

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Osh Babe SCF 4

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10 Thoughts on the Caps As They Try To Close Out Vegas

Posted on 05 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“All we need is one pin, Rodney”

That classic line from Ben Davidson to Rodney Dangerfield in that famed Miller Lite Commercial from way back in 1982 now applies to the Washington Capitals.

The Caps, who didn’t get much respect last summer or even in the early rounds of this spring’s playoffs, now have a chance to skate with the Stanley Cup with one more triumph in their best of seven series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Washington used a furious final 10 minutes of period one in game four to tally three times en route to a 4-0 lead after two periods and eventually a 6-2 victory.

Six different players lit the lamp for the Caps and now they head to Sin City for game five on Thursday night at 8 pm with a chance to take Lord Stanley.

What follows are 10 thoughts and analysis of a huge victory in front of another rowdy crowd at Capital One Arena.

I Got You Babe – The Caps had a very shaky first nine minutes with the Golden Knights missing some superb chances, including Reilly Smith misfiring from in tight when he appeared to have the left side of the cage available and then James Neal hitting the post on the power play with a yawning cage in front of him. After those misses, Vegas’ Colin Miller was called for a blatant trip of Lars Eller in the neutral zone at 9:22. Thirty-two seconds later, the Capitals fans were up and out of their seats when T.J. Oshie buried the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot off of Marc-Andre Fleury (17 saves). Oshie going to the net for the loose change was a common theme in this affair for Washington, who primarily won the game because of their net presence and stronger net front protection on defense. The Osh Babe, who some wanted to be let go as a free agent last June, now has eight goals in this postseason and is fourth on the team in points (21). T.J.’s two assists were critical ones, as well. His first helper came on the power play when he won a puck battle in front of the Vegas net that allowed Kuzy to set up John Carlson for the fourth Caps tally. In period three, after Nicklas Backstrom won a board battle in the neutral zone against two Golden Knights, Oshie skated in and dropped the puck to Backy with Miller closing in on him. T.J. made contact with Miller, who immediately bent over covering his face. Backstrom would skate in and feed Michal Kempny cross ice for a dagger four on four goal that made it 5-2 with 6:21 remaining. Vegas coach Gerard Gallant afterwards said Miller broke his nose and that Oshie should’ve been penalized. To me, it was just a hockey play and Miller hasn’t won over the zebras with his penalties and moments of embellishment, especially against #77, in this series. The Osh Babe was relentless in his pursuit of the puck in this tilt and earned the game’s number one star in 17:37 of ice time. Oshie was also cross checked badly by the reckless Brayden McNabb with 2:16 remaining, but was fine after the contest.

Magic Man – Following up on his number one star performance in game three, Evgeny Kuznetsov had another spectacular affair with four assists in 20:37 of ice time and was named the night’s second star. Kuzy had the primary assists on three of the first four Caps goals, the first by shooting and generating a juicy rebound and the other two with gorgeous feeds to Tom Wilson and Carlson, respectively. Number 92 logged 20:37 of ice time and leads the entire NHL in playoff points (31). He has 12 goals and 19 assists and is a big reason why the Caps are in the Final and leading. All season long I’ve talked and blogged about how important he is to this team and he’s taken his game to superstar status this post season.

Under the Radar – Backstrom quietly had three assists in this victory while and he his linemates neutralized the Vegas top trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Riley Smith. Nicky’s two way play and shut down ability really allows Coach Barry Trotz to get some advantageous matchups, especially at home. Number 19 has 22 points in 19 playoff games and continues to be outstanding despite a less than 100% right hand.

Commitment – Washington blocked 24 shots in game four and 20 of them came from Capital blue liners. Brooks Orpik led the way with six while Kempny had five, and Matt Niskanen had four. Two of the four Caps forward blocked shots came on one shift, with Brett Connolly (1 goal) getting in the way of two point blasts. The Capitals continue to get in the shooting lanes while allowing their goaltender to see the shots, so if they don’t block it, he can make the save. At the other end, the Golden Knights only had eight shot blocks.

Power Station – The Caps power play went 0 for 4 in game three, but on Monday night they exploded with a three for five outing, including scoring on their first two attempts to break the game open in the first forty minutes. The initial PP marker came on the rush (Oshie’s rebound goal) and then the second was a real back breaker for Vegas, Carlson’s blast from the Ovi spot. Credit special teams coach, Blaine Forsythe, for adjusting things up front. An Alex Ovechkin and Carlson swap opened up a huge passing lane since the Golden Knights had a forward come up way high at the point to try and limit the Gr8, and Kuznetsov exploited it.

Last Line of Defense – This was far from the Caps best game overall as they gave up many high danger scoring chances, something they did a better job of limiting in game three. Fortunately for the Capitals, they blocked several shots and more importantly, Braden Holtby (28 saves) was once again dialed in. The Holtbeast continues to be the key for Washington in these playoffs with stellar goaltending, something you must have to win a Championship.

Be Good Johnny – “Big Game” Carlson continued his incredible season with a laser of a goal in 25:07 of team and game leading ice time. Carly took two penalties in the first half of the game, but was a force defensively with his positioning and most importantly, his zone clears. When the stakes get high, this guy always seems to up his game to another level. He has five goals and 14 assists in the 2018 post season. Pay the Man!

Land of Opportunity – Both teams had scoring chances in this game, but it’s been the Capitals who have made the most of their opportunities, after Vegas did so in game one, by getting to the front of the net and notching in close tallies on Fleury. Washington, after getting the lead, has taken advantage of the Vegas blue line pinching in the offensive zone to generate odd man rushes. Ovechkin had a pair of two on ones when the Capitals had a lead, but was too unselfish and forced a pass when the shot was there. In game five, the Gr8 needs to think shoot first, because he has the best one in the league and if Fleury makes the save, there’s a good chance a rebound will occur.

Road Warriors – The Caps are 9-3 on the road in the playoffs and a big reason is their ability to play the right way. Washington doesn’t get fancy and employs more of a north-south style away from Capital One Arena. Part of the Capitals poor first nine minutes on Monday was their inability to get pucks deep; there were too many east-west passes in the neutral zone. The Capitals are at their best when they have the lead and play that 1-1-3 formation that forces their opponents to really gamble to beat it. In game five, limiting turnovers, keeping Vegas on the perimeter, and crashing the net is the formula for success. This game is the first ever in Washington hockey history where they can win the Cup. As Coach Trotz stated after game four, he’s excited because the Caps still haven’t played their best game in this series yet. I concur, they have another level they can get to and it starts with good puck management.

“All we need is one win”

Notes – Washington lost the face off battle, 33-31, but the second Caps goal came off of a faceoff where Ovi put a nice stick lift check on Deryk Engelland to jar the puck free and start the cycle play…Jay Beagle went 8-7 to lead the Caps while Karlsson was 10-4 for Vegas…the Golden Knights had 39 hits to 29 for the Capitals. Orpik led Washington with six and Wilson had four…Shea Theodore led Vegas in ice time with 23:36…the end of the game turned into a mess when the Golden Knights lost their composure. McNabb hit Oshie with a bit of a cheap shot and then Ryan Reaves tried to go after several Caps, including Orpik, before being tossed by referees Chris Rooney and Kelly Sutherland. Engelland and Oshie were also given late misconducts…in a classy move, Caps radio play by play man, John Walton, brought back long time Caps broadcaster (1974-1997), Ron Weber, to call the game’s first period. Afterwards I caught up with JW and congratulated him on the move. John responded by stating that “Ron was a plus three!”

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VGK Finals

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Caps Will Face A Strong and Confident Vegas Squad in the Stanley Cup Final

Posted on 27 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in 20 years the Washington Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. The last time they managed to win three rounds, in 1998, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings, who would win their second straight title with a loaded team. In those days, there wasn’t an NHL salary cap, so many of the bigger market franchises were able to stack their rosters up with talent by spending more money. Go back and take a look at that Red Wings roster, coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman, and you’ll see the names of many Hall of Fame players such as Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Larry Murphy.

In 2018, outspending other teams by wide margins is no longer the case with the salary cap in place along with last season’s NHL expansion draft. Former Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who knew he would be getting a good player from all 30 teams, did a marvelous job of assembling a roster that is big and fast. Not many picked the Vegas Golden Knights to make the playoffs, but they bonded together after the tragedy at the country music festival last October outside Mandalay Bay, rode goalie Marc Andre-Fleury to some early wins when they were outplayed, and then found a lot of confidence along the way en route to the Pacific Division title.

This Golden Knights squad is no fluke and their accomplishments should be celebrated, because they earned it defeating the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets in just 15 playoff games. Coach Gerard Gallant and his staff have done a masterful job of getting each player to buy in and play a north-south style of hockey with speed and size. Heading into the season, there were no star players on this roster, other than the three time Stanley Cup Champion goaltender, and each player arrived with a hunger to be a regular player and make a mark in this league. Boy did this squad stick to the script, turning a “Land of Misfit Toys” type group into the Western Conference Champions.

They have star players now, and it starts up front with their top line of William Karlsson (43 goals), Jonathan Marchessault (27 goals), and Riley Smith. Both Karlsson and Marchessault have had career years and moved into the star category this season. Those two have 14 of the 43 goals that Vegas has scored this post season and Smith also has added two tallies to go with his 14 assists. They are a formidable top line and the Capitals have to be careful not make mistakes against them because they will burn Washington with odd man rushes using their speed. The Caps need to continue to play a north-south style and avoid offensive zone blue line cross ice passes against the whole Golden Knights squad, but especially this top line. I look for Coach Barry Trotz to try and get Nicklas Backstrom’s line, with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana and the Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen blue line duo out against the Marchessault trio, which averages right around 20 minutes a game in time on ice, as much as possible in this series.

Vegas’ second line at the end of the Winnipeg series was centered by the speedy Erik Haula and flanked by former Nashville Predator James Neal, and the big and superfast Alex Tuch. That trio has combined for 13 goals this post season. This line is downright scary in terms of speed and Tuch and Neal bring a lot of grit, too. They are great on the fore check and Neal is a supremely talented offensive player that knows how to go to the net. There are times, depending on the matchups, where Tuch gets moved to the third line and David Perron, who missed four playoff games due to injury, plays on the second unit. Either way, this is a line that you better not go to sleep on when they are on the ice.

Former Capital Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter are mainstays on the third line and complete the top nine for Vegas. Eakin is a very fast player, but is not big, while Carpenter, at six feet one, plays with size and is strong on the boards. It will be interesting to see if Gallant puts this line against the Caps top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson or he tries to match the Neal-Haula-Tuch unit against Ovi and company.

Rounding out Vegas’ forwards are Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and former Red Wing, Tomas Tatar. Tatar has had pass success against Washington, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him promoted back into the lineup versus the Caps. Bellemare, a former Flyer, is a prototypical fourth line player that is strong on the puck and does a great job of killing penalties. Reaves is a big force and a protector, so the key for the Caps is to not have Wilson get engaged with the big man who scored the game winner that put Vegas into the Stanley Cup Final. Will Carrier, who has been out injured and practiced on Sunday in a non-contact jersey, could be back in later in the series to provide physical play on the fourth line, as well. The Capitals need Willy on the ice in this series and not in the penalty box.

On the back end, the Golden Knights are led by former Caps defensemen, Nate Schmidt. Schmidty is a popular guy who skates extremely well and moves the puck out of his zone quickly. He also has a strong shot and leads Vegas in average ice time in the playoffs (24:53 per contest). Number 88 is often on the ice with former Los Angeles King Brayden McNabb (average of 22:02 per game in the playoffs). Their second defensive pair is the physical former Penguin and Flame, Deryk Engelland, and Shea Theodore. Engelland fits the Brooks Orpik mold for Vegas in that he’s physical and is a penalty killing specialist. The blue line is strong for the Western Conference Champions as evidenced by a third duo of Colin Miller and Luca Sbisa. Sbisa is a very good puck mover, while the six foot one Miller brings size and a big shot on the power play.

In net, the Capitals will try to defeat Fleury for the first time in the post season. Number 29 has given up lots of tallies to the Caps in the past, but when the chips are on the line, he’s 2-0 in game sevens allowing only two goals. He’s the single biggest reason that the 2016-17 Presidents’ Trophy Winning Washington Capitals squad lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pens in round two. Fleury has been on fire in goal as Vegas has rolled through these playoffs and he clearly has taken his performance to a new level under former Capitals goalie coach, Dave Prior.

On special teams, the Golden Knights are a super penalty killing team (82.5% in the post season) and can burn you with shorthanded goals, if you aren’t careful. Karlsson is especially dangerous there. On the power play (17.6%) they rely a lot on shots from the top of the point with net presence. Both Schmidt and Miller have cannons and guys like Neal and Smith are strong at tipping pucks or potting rebounds. You also have to really watch Marchessault and Karlsson because they can pass the puck and have been successful finding that cross box seam play that has hurt the Capitals this postseason. Washington’s penalty killing crew is only at 75.4% in this playoff run, so the Caps must be better there to have a chance to win this series.

Vegas comes into this series as the favorites given their success that has led to supreme confidence, home ice advantage (only lost once at T-Mobile Arena this spring), and the fact that they are healthier and more rested than the Caps, who have played four more games. As has been the case in the past two Capitals series, having the lead by the game’s midway point will be crucial to the winner of each contest as both teams have very good goalies and a strong defensive posture that makes coming back from a deficit very difficult.

The outcome could go either way and one thing is for sure, one of these franchises is going to win their first Stanley Cup!

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