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Osh Babe Burra NYI

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Caps Light the Lamp 7 Times in Brooklyn; Rout Islanders

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists), Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) each had three points as the Washington Capitals offense kicked it into high gear at the Barclay’s Center in a 7-3 rout of the fading New York Islanders. Philipp Grubauer was rock solid in the cage, once again, stopping 35 of 38 shots en route to his 11th victory of the season.

This was the Caps third consecutive “W” and their first streak of this length since early January. The win, combined with Pittsburgh’s triumph over the Canadiens in Montreal, keeps both teams tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 87 points. The Capitals are now 40-23-7 while the Pens are at 41-26-5, so Washington has two games in hand.

Below are several thoughts and analysis of a game that didn’t begin well for the good guys.

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn – New York is a notoriously fast starting squad, as evidenced by their 20-7-5 record coming into this tilt when tallying first. So when Washington started like they were still asleep and allowed the first goal just 2:19 into this affair via poor defensive zone coverage, it looked like this could be a long night. The Islanders were faced with the task of pretty much running the table to make the post season, so they were supposed to be the more desperate hockey team. Coach Doug Weight’s squad started that way, but the wheels started coming off of the bus when Lars Eller scored on a sweet pass from Jakub Vrana from behind the cage with Brett Connolly parked in front at 10:32 of period one. Just 57 seconds later, the Osh Babe notched his 13th tally of the season on a great feed from Andre Burakovsky on an odd man rush to totally erase New York’s fast start and really put the heat on the home squad.

Pressure – Down 2-1, Billy Joel’s classic song, Pressure, was appropriate for how the team that made no moves at the NHL trade deadline had to feel, at that point. The Islanders would take advantage of an Orlov pinch and Matt Niskanen’s failure to cut off the pass to Andrew Ladd on a two on one break to tie the game up just a minute later. New York lives off of the rush game and they are very good when they get odd man situations. Washington was not playing smart hockey up to that point, and they need to learn that turnovers at the offensive blue line against fast teams are a recipe for heading to the golf course in the spring. Playing the Islanders is good training, in that regard, for a possible playoff matchup with the Penguins. Against speedy clubs, it is imperative that the puck move north-south until it is deep in the offensive zone.

John Cougar’d – Rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, stopped 50 shots on Sunday night in an Islanders win over the Flames, so he was riding high coming into this affair. Against Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) and company, the walls would come tumbling down in a hurry. With the Gr8 parked at the top of the paint, Orlov scored short side from a severe angle to give the Caps a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. Just 3:22 into the middle frame, Burakovksy tipped home a Jakub Jerabek point shot with Oshie screening in front to make it 4-2. When Cal Clutterbuck took a stupid penalty for slashing Tom Wilson, who had run into Casey Cizikas earlier in the game, the Capitals went for the jugular on their only power play of the night. Backstrom batted home a puck Kuznetsov intended back door for Ovechkin, that was swatted into the slot by Gibson, to give Washington a three goal advantage. Young Gibson was pulled, for Jaroslav Halak, after allowing five goals on 12 shots. New York had 18 shots on goal, at that point in the game.

The Wall – Up 5-2 heading into the third period, the Caps smartly went all Pink Floyd and walled off the front of their net, which pretty much forced the Islanders to shoot from the perimeter over the last 20 minutes. The guys in blue would send 20 biscuits to the cage over the last 30 minutes of this contest, but they only tallied off of a faceoff win on a Ryan Pulock rocket with 3:27 remaining. The score before Pulock’s tally was 6-2 since John Carlson notched his 13th goal of the season from the slot after a sweet pass by Ovi from the left wing corner with 4:19 to go. Alexander the Great is known for his goal scoring, but he can sure pass the disc, too.

Brick House – Grubauer made some big stops in this one, especially on a breakaway by Cizikas with six minutes left in period two when it was a three goal affair. If #53 scores there, the crowd gets into it and Weight’s crew perhaps feels like they can come back. The puck would roll on Cizikas, but #31 was non-committal in the net and gave the Islanders center really nothing to shoot at. As previously mentioned, New York threw a lot of rubber at the net, but Philipp was flashing his glove to make saves without any rebounds all evening. Simply put, he was mighty mighty in the goal just letting it all hang out. Every time the Islanders seemed to get some offensive zone pressure or momentum, Grubauer gloved the puck and held on for a face off. Slowing the pace down favored the Capitals and the German goalie, who has been excellent since November, knew that.

The Zoo – After three straight well officiated tilts, it was a return to the zoo with Eric Furlatt and Francis “Send Me Back to Quebec” Charron. This duo never really had a handle on this game and hooks and holds were allowed too often, especially on New York. The interference call on Niskanen was bogus as was Michal Kempny’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following an Islanders slash on Grubauer after the whistle had blown. Wilson was speared by Clutterbuck, but the men in stripes called it a slash. A five minute major was easily warranted in that situation. Willy was also called for roughing Clutterbuck late in period two, and it was an undisciplined play by #43, but that should’ve been an interference call. Fortunately for the Capitals, the poor officiating was really not much of a factor because they dominated the scoreboard.

Red Light District – New York is a very dangerous offensive team, but in their own end, they lack attention to detail and that resulted in seven Washington goals (the last was an Osh Babe empty netter to close out the scoring). Coach Trotz put Backstrom, Burakovsky, and Oshie back together for the first time in awhile and they were the best trio on the ice. The Caps need to play smart in their own end on Friday night in the rematch at Capital One Arena and when they have the puck, make sure they go north-south with it and take advantage of the Islanders defense. If they play the right way, they should be victorious. In Thursday night’s affair, the Caps were opportunistic, and that certainly brought back memories of Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in 48 hours.

“Roxanne…Put on the Red light…Roxanne…Put on the Red Light…Roxanne…”

Seven times the lamp went on for Washington on Thursday night.

Notes: Braden Holtby will get his first start in 10 days on Friday night…Christian Djoos is slated to return to the lineup and the question is will Brooks Orpik or Jerabek come out? It would probably be wise to give #44 a rest, especially against the fast Islanders, but that leaves the Caps a good penalty killer short on the back end…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 against a very good power play…shot attempts were 68-35, for New York, but a lot of that was score effects and long range shots. The Islanders had 20 shots on goal to just 10 for Washington once it was 5-2…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 32-30, but Backstrom was 8-5…the Capitals large lead allowed Coach Barry Trotz to balance out the ice time. Niskanen led the team with just 22:28. Connolly had a team low 8:18. Brett needs to shoot more, especially when he has the puck in the slot. He has a fast release, so he needs to employ that more often.

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Ovi Ducks

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Ten Caps Thoughts After Washington Surges to the Metropolitan Division Lead

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With the Capitals rallying to knock off the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s howitzer of a shot on Saturday night, here are 10 thoughts on the Caps after their sixth straight home victory.

Home Sweet Home – after dropping three of their first four on Capital One Arena ice this season, the Caps have won 13 of 15 at their barn and have used home cooking to take over sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 21-12-1 record (43 points). Washington is using the last change and a typically boisterous atmosphere to their advantage. The only bad thing about playing in DC has been the ice and it was just awful on Saturday night after an afternoon college hoops game. Brooks Orpik was being nice in his post first period interview with Smokin’ Al Koken when he said “the ice is terrible tonight.” Can’t that local college find their own gym to play in?

Quality Scoring Chances – There have been many Capitals games lately, especially on the road (see Boston), where they’ve lived off of their all world goalie, Braden Holtby. However, in the Ducks game, it was Washington who carried most of the play in the game taking what I charted as a 24-17 edge in scoring chances. The shot attempts for the game were 69-60 for the Capitals, including 68-60 at even strength. In five on five chances, the Caps had a plus nine advantage (67-58). The Caps have not been as dominant in the puck possession department as past years, primarily because they lost a few high end players and are breaking in some rookies at forward and defense. Going forward you’d like to see more domination from Washington in that department as the lineup is starting to solidify itself.

Puck Management – If there is one area where the Capitals really need to improve, it’s with their play with the puck in all three zones, but primarily in their own end and the neutral zone. Up front the Caps are doing a better job of eliminating the cross ice passes as they come into the offensive zone and they are playing more of a north-south game. On the back end they’ve been very careless with the biscuit in stretches lately. These turnovers, whether they are bad execution on a pass or a poor decision, like some of the defensive or neutral zone cross ice plays we still occasionally see, need to be brought to a minimum. Cleaning those up will lead to more speed through the neutral zone and more shot attempts and quality scoring chances.

Odd Man Rushes – the Capitals have done a pretty good job of limiting opponents odd man rushes during this stretch in December where they’ve won seven of eight games, but Anaheim had several on Saturday night. The first one led to Derek Grant’s sweet top shelf marker that made it 1-0 in period one. Dmitry Orlov was playing the system properly when he held the left wing boards in the offensive zone, but when the puck went by him it was a Ducks two on one where Grant held the biscuit and then beat Holtby with a great shot. That was not #9’s fault there, although some will place blame on him. It’s up to the third forward to read the play in the offensive zone, and in that case, Devante Smith-Pelly failed to realize that he was the player who needed to be up inside the offensive blue line to cut off a cross ice breakout pass if the puck changed hands. The coaches won’t like the poor execution on that play. Another odd man rush ensued when Lars Eller fell at the offensive blue line, likely due to the bad playing surface, and the Ducks had a two on one the other way. The veteran Orpik, however, played it perfectly and forced a lower quality shot that the Holtbeast (28 saves) easily snared and put of harm’s way. In the statistics department Orpik gets dinged with a shot attempt against (and the Corsi crowd loves to call #44 out on that stat), but the 37 year old, in a bad situation, made a heads up play to prevent a goal. Corsi is a nice stat, but it needs to be taken in context and should never be used as an end all be all analysis metric, it’s just one piece of the overall puzzle. Hockey is chaos theory and totally non-linear, so you can’t quantify what happens on pure mathematics alone (and I have a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University to back that up).

The Post Man Always Rings How Many Times? – the Ducks hit the post three times in the middle frame. The first was their power play goal after an Andre Burakovsky hooking fraction. This tally came directly off of the faceoff when Jakob Silverberg deflected Ryan Getzlaf’s point shot down and past Holtby. The puck hit the right pipe behind Braden and banked back in off of #70’s pads for a 2-0 lead. The second post was struck by Adam Henrique after he hooked Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal) and somehow got away with it at the defensive blue line. His backhander fortunately did not find the twine because the zebras clearly were sleeping. That stick to the midsection of #92 should be an AUTOMATIC call these days. Finally, the Ducks hit one more post that could have made it 3-0 in the second half of period two when Washington was struggling with their puck management.

John Blutarsky’s GPA – the zebras, Graham Skilliter and Ian Walsh, did Washington no favors in the man advantage department on Saturday night. They missed the Henrique hook on Kuznetsov that could’ve been disastrous and they also missed a trip by the Ducks on Tom Wilson in the middle frame when Washington was down two pucks. I also thought that Francois Beauchemin got away with a cross check on Jakub Vrana in period three with the game tied. #13 was about to split the Ducks D with his blazing speed, much like he did in Beantown on Thursday night on his goal, when #23 knocks him to the ground with two hands on his stick. That’s cross checking according to the rule book. You have to love the way Vrana is playing, he had a great assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but the zebras gave the Caps no power plays in this affair, for no good reason other than they might have a had an early post game dinner or plane to catch. It was a 0.0 Caps power play night.

Top Line Domination – I didn’t like the play of the Capitals top line for most of this week, especially on the road in Brooklyn and in Boston. Washington managed to get a W against the Bruins thanks to Holtby and some timely goals from Vrana and Alex Chiasson. On Saturday, the dominant top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson was back. Those guys were racking up the quality shot totals in this affair and John Gibson (24 saves) did all he could in the first 30 minutes to hold that line at bay. Wilson also hit the post early in period one right before fighting Kevin Bieksa. The heavy Caps top unit was strong on the forecheck in this affair and it was that style that led to the goal that ignited the Capitals comeback early in the third period. Wilson picked off an errant Ducks clear in the right wing circle and he made a super cross ice pass to Ovi, who quickly fired the disc on net. Gibson made a super save but couldn’t handle the rebound. Backstrom was right there for it and he adeptly kicked the puck to his stick and fired it near post for his fourth goal in the last six games. Ovechkin then won the game in OT WAY late in his shift when he rushed the puck into the offensive zone and just fired away while two new Caps were coming on the ice. Gibson had a hard time picking that shot up because Brandon Montour put his stick in the shooting lane. The rifled blast struck iron, which erupted the Capital One Arena crowd and sent them home happy for the holidays.

Christmas Vacation – Washington’s nice run of home games comes to end now and the Caps will be in Dallas on Tuesday, Arizona on Friday, and then Rock Vegas on Saturday night when they take on the Golden Knights. The Caps have had a propensity to play like Cousin Eddie on the road and the Lone Star State has not been friendly to them in franchise history, although Washington won the famous “Dad’s trip pushups celebration” affair last January. The league will shut down for three days (December 24-26) and then the Capitals are right back at it on the road, in Madison Square Garden, against the Rangers on December 27th. The Caps have climbed the ladder in the Metropolitan Division with some quality hockey, but most of that has come at home. Can they keep their roll going out west this week?

Closing Thoughts – On Monday the Capitals will hold their final practice before heading out on the road and the big question will be whether T.J. Oshie participates. If the Osh Babe, who has been skating for over a week now since the Joe Thornton cheap shot to the head back on December 4th, can go, then a forward needs to come out of the lineup. #77 will slot in with Kuznetsov and Vrana bumping the surging Chiasson to the bottom six. I’d like to see more from Burakovsky, as would the coaches, so it’s likely they don’t break that unit up, just yet. That leaves someone on the fourth line as the healthy scratch, and based on Saturday’s game, I’d venture to say that Smith-Pelly will be the odd man out. DSP hasn’t been bad, but Oshie has to go back in and others have been too good to take out.

Notes – Dmitry Orlov continues to play outstanding on the back end and he logged 24:29 of ice time, had four hits, and was +2 against Anaheim…Wilson had an assist, a fight, four hits, four shots on goal, and was +2 in 19:58 on Saturday. He did not get an assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but he made the hit to jar the puck loose to Vrana and then he went to the net, which kept Gibson deep in his cage on #92’s goal. That tally really looked like an intended pass for Willy, which hit the D-man’s skate and went in short side. As Alan May will tell you, good things happen when you get bodies and pucks to the cage…the Gr8 now has 23 goals in 34 games (55 goals pace) and he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

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Isles Beat Caps

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Caps Squander Lead and Lose to Islanders in Overtime

Posted on 05 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are good losses in sports and there are bad losses.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals suffered one of the bad variety yielding a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining and losing in overtime to the New York Islanders, 4-3.

The Caps kept their season long streak of not losing two games in a row in regulation alive, but for just the second time after a loss, they fell in overtime and are now 15-0-2 after a regulation defeat in 2015-16.

Washington has been in preseason-like mode in several games recently, due to the standings, but they played a decent first period and took the lead on Alex Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season thanks to a great screen in front by T.J. Oshie. The Caps had the puck a lot in that first frame, but they didn’t get enough rubber on rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, who was playing because starter Thomas Greiss manned the cage on Monday in a 5-2 win over Tampa. Jaroslav Halak is also out injured and third goalie, Jean-Francois Berube, is sick, so you’d think that Washington would want to rattle the youngster early? They failed to do so and Gibson got stronger as the game went on.

Period two was pretty bad hockey as Washington looked in “la-la” land repeatedly turning pucks over and let New York hang around to get the game tied after 40 minutes. Heading into this contest the Caps were 3-0 against the Islanders this season after defeating them in seven games in last spring’s first round. It was getting to the point where the Isles had to feel like beating the Caps might’ve been too tall a mountain to climb.

With New York having played the night before, common wisdom had the Capitals coming out and jumping on the Islanders in the third period, and they did just that. Oshie scored his 26th goal of the season when he took a fanned Marcus Johansson pass and snapped it by Gibson just 75 seconds into the period. Ovechkin would then score his 47th goal of the season at the 6:56 mark finishing a three on one break from Oshie and Johansson.

Game over, right?

In the past with Washington, that normally would’ve been the case, but not tonight. The Islanders more than climbed that mountain storming back quickly with two goals in 1:45 as the Capitals went to sleep in their own end. Braden Holtby, who was on the cusp of tying Martin Brodeur’s win record, seemed to buckle a bit under that pressure and had a mistake of his own on each of the two New York comeback tallies. On the second Islanders goal, by Kyle Okposo, he totally misplayed the puck as it came out from behind the net and on the game tying tally, he probably should’ve had the shot, although Dmitry Orlov made another mistake by failing to clear Anders Lee from the front of the net, which allowed Lee to tip the biscuit by the Holtbeast.

From there the game ramped up and both teams had chances. Holtby made a great glove save on Anders Lee with about three minutes left. Evgeny Kuznetsov was in position to shoot one on one with Gibson late, but he chose to force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick attempt and another great scoring opportunity was squandered.

In the overtime, Kuznetsov (nine shots on goal) had a breakaway after a John Tavares turnover, but instead of using one of his great deke moves, he shot early, perhaps sensing the opposing defensemen closing in on his right, and Gibson denied him. Ovechkin then had a great chance in the slot, yet somehow the young goalie got the shaft of his stick on it and made the save.

That was all of the help the Islanders needed and Tavares made a great play to set up Thomas Hickey for the game winner and Washington’s domination over New York was gone, along with Holtby’s chance to tie Brodeur on Tuesday night.

That will now have to wait until Thursday night against Pittsburgh at the Verizon Center. The Pens are red hot and the Capitals are not. They are simply going through the motions for too many long stretches so who knows how that game will play out?

One now has to wonder, does this slight downturn matter given that this is glorified preseason right now? I’d like to say, no, it doesn’t. However, some bad habits have crept into Washington’s play.

It’s fair to ask if the Capitals will be able to flip the switch next Thursday in game one.

The good news in all of this is Caps players are not getting hurt and if this contest really mattered, Nicklas Backstrom would’ve suited up. He’s correctly being nursed back to 100% health. Washington is also not really employing their preferred style of heavy hockey right now, likely because these games, despite the talk of records for Holtby and trophies for Ovechkin, just don’t matter.

You have to be fully invested physically and emotionally to dominate and win hockey games. You can’t do it on skill alone. Right now, the Caps are not invested enough to do so, and that is why the mistakes are happening. They aren’t hitting like they will next week and that’s a big factor in why they don’t look dominating, at this juncture.

So in the grand scheme of things, this “bad loss” did prevent Holtby from getting the record, but it may not really matter if Washington stays healthy and then can turn on their brand of hockey in the post season.

We are just nine days away from that starting and it can’t come soon enough for the Capitals.

Notes: The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders and also means that Washington will likely face one of the Flyers, Red Wings, or Bruins in the first round. Boston lost in the shootout to Carolina on Tuesday so they are tied for 3rd place with Detroit in the Atlantic. The Wings have a game in hand…the Caps outshot the Islanders, 32-27, but New York had more shot attempts, 62-57…all three Capitals goals came from the top line. Ovechkin (two goals) and Johansson (three assists) were both +3 while Oshie (three points) was +2…Orlov and Andre Burakovsky were both -2. Orlov was on the ice for three Islanders goals and just one Caps tally (the first). He continues to have defensive zone lapses…Tavares had a goal and two assists and was the best player in the game.

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In a thrilling late night game in Cali, the Capitals emerge victorious in the shootout, 2-1.

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Braden Holtby Ends the Ducks’ 11 Game Winning Streak

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby allowed a goal to Ryan Getzlaf that he probably wanted back just one minute into the game on a delayed penalty call on Alex Ovechkin, but that was all the Ducks would get the rest of the night. Washington’s Andre Burakovsky tied the contest just 41 seconds into the third period and after overtime solved nothing, the Caps won in the shootout to halt Anaheim’s 11 game winning streak, 2-1.

Wow. Wow. Wow!

That was one incredible hockey game that was well worth staying up for!

It was physical; there were great end to end rushes, quality scoring chances, and some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink. John Gibson made 31 saves, robbing Justin Williams at least four times in this one, to carry the Ducks to the gimmick. Holtby held up his end of the bargain, as well, stopping 27 shots and he looked like early season Holtbeast. He made several huge stops, at key times, and he didn’t give up many rebounds. It was easily his best game since at least the all star break.

Williams, who was Comcast’s player of the game, did get an assist on the tying goal by Burakovsky. That second unit was all over the Ducks the entire evening and their only flaw was failing to pull the trigger when they had some great looks. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky were guilty of overpassing on several occasions.

Each team played well and it is easy to see why the Ducks had been on a tear. They are extremely good and play a style that is conducive to lower scoring games. They have speed and size, just like Washington, so this was really an even matchup.

Mike Richards and his linemates, Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle had another strong contest, especially in the third period when the Caps carried most of the play. #10 picked off a “D to D” pass with a minute to go and nearly won the game on a sweet backhander. Gibson, once again, kept his club in it.

The overtime saw the Caps carry the majority of the possession as they worked their three man cycle and overlap style very well. Matt Niskanen nearly won the game again for Washington with a sweet move to the net, but Gibson stopped his backhander in tight. The Capitals received a power play in OT when the Ducks were called for too many dudes, but just 16 seconds into that T.J. Oshie was called for closing his hand on the puck. Three on three continued without a decision, although the pace was frantic and heart pumping.

In the shootout, Holtby had two snazzy glove saves while Oshie made one of his sick head fake, then backhand roof job moves to give the Caps the edge early. Kuznetsov then had a chance to win the game, but despite beating Gibson, he shot wide. Corey Perry would deliver for Anaheim with a sweet backhand move of his own with the game on the line. Enter Nicklas Backstrom, who skated in calmly and coolly, faked going blocker side to open up the Ducks goaltender like a can of beans, and then #19 slid the puck on the ice between Gibson’s legs to silence the Honda Center. The Swedish assassin was quiet and deadly with his work and Washington earned another big victory against one of the NHL’s elite.

The exhilarating triumph improves the Caps to a 49-13-4 record, good for 102 points. That is just out of this world and even more impressive is that this was the Capitals fifth game in seven nights and they navigated that stretch at 4-1, including flying cross country on Sunday.

This group is clearly special and they once again shook off a rocky start to improve as the game went on. They were emotionally involved in the contest after the opening shift and they were winning many of the loose puck battles against a super hockey club.

There was just a ton to like about this victory, and perhaps, most importantly, was the way their goalie rallied after allowing an early goal to close the door with numerous ten bell saves.

Yes, the Holtbeast was back on the prowl on Monday night in a huge Capitals victory in Anaheim.

Notes: Burakovsky now has 23 points in his last 25 games…both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play in 6:16 of time. Washington’s PK was outstanding holding Anaheim to just 1 power play shot! The Caps man advantage efforts in regulation were superb and generated seven shots on goal, but Gibson was the difference…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 29-22, although Kuznetsov went 8-6…Ovechkin had 0 shots on goal through 40 minutes but had four in the third period and one great chance in overtime that was denied by Gibson…Williams also had five shots on net…Niskanen played 27:05 to lead all skaters…Mike Weber had eight hits for the Caps. Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov also had five each. The Ducks were credited with 43 hits to 33 for Washington…next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center at 10:30 on Wednesday night.

 

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Handling Bigger Ice Key for Team USA in 2014 Olympics

Posted on 27 August 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On day two of Team USA orientation camp at Kettler IcePlex this afternoon General Manager David Poile didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the biggest challenge his squad faces heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s all about how his squad performs on the bigger ice surface.

“We know what the challenges are here, we haven’t had any success in Europe on the big ice. The United States hasn’t won any medals in the last two Olympics played on the big ice,” stated the long time NHL GM.

Yes, Team USA won silver in Vancouver in 2010 and also in Salt Lake City back in 2002, but both of those tournaments were played on NHL sized rinks. The Olympic surface is wider, which changes several aspects on how the game is played.

“Angles and spacing really [is the difference]. More so the angles are quicker to adjust, it’s more of a read. At the NHL level you are approximated to the boards so you can use it as a gauge. Here, if you rely on that you are out of position pretty quickly. The one good thing is the zones are all a little different sizes but the paint is always in the same spot. I think that’s a key thing for everyone to understand and realize that from a spacing issue to try to use the faceoff circles and dots because they are actually in the same position as an NHL rink, almost,” said Kings winger Dustin Brown.

In 2010, Team USA used its ability to be physical to its advantage but with more room, taking the body is not as easy and is not as much of a factor.

“There’s more to being physical than the big hits. It’s rubbing guys out, grinding guys out. There’s still opportunities for the big hit, you just have to be patient and let it come to you. You can’t be running out of position because it’s just that much further you have to go to get back,” added Brown.

Most of the players seemed comfortable with going to the bigger rink size and some, like Carolina defensemen Justin Faulk, didn’t think the change was going to be real difficult.

“It’s probably easier going from big ice for smaller ice. You get more room. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve done it many times personally. Everyone in here has played on big ice at some point. Obviously it’s a little bit different game and style,” stated Faulk.

Several other players acknowledged the ice surface challenge but it was clear that Poile, who has been in hockey long before every one of Team USA’s players was born, believes that addressing the rink size issue is paramount to his clubs success.

“The challenge for us is we’ve never had any success on European soil. We owe it to ourselves to to go over every facet of what we’ve done in the past on it. We’ve talked to former players and coaches and the thing that comes up constantly is you have to have speed. I don’t think we’ll need that truculence element as much. It’s just an adjustment and making the players aware of the differences in the ice size and making sure. You don’t want it to be the excuse. The fact that we’ve won two silver medals in North America and got nothing in Europe – I can’t accept that. These are good players, they’re smart players, they’re skilled players. It’s different – yes. Ok, so let’s go figure it out…it could be coaching, it could be systems, it could be the players that we take over there,” concluded Poile.

As for the roster make up itself, there were 48 players invited to the orientation camp and this is the deepest pool of talent Team USA has ever had. The team appears strongest in net where the club has the likes of Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, and John Gibson. Up front they are led by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, and Bobby Ryan while on defense Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson are the logical leaders. Poile indicated that this would be the toughest team these players would ever have to make and he stated that about half of the spots are likely already locked up based on the performances of some in the 2010 Olympics.

“As we’ve told the players, the body of work they’ve had in their career to this point is important but what they do in October, November, and December will be the deciding factor. I favor the guys from 2010, not only because of the success they had but how they’ve matured as hockey players. The age group we have right now is excellent. At times we thought we were too young in 2010 but now, four years later, we are bang on at the right age.”

It is apparent that the roster decisions are going to be extremely tough and many players will suffer the disappointment of missing out on representing their country, but Poile relishes that process.

“This is going to be the toughest decisions that I have to make, but I want it to be tough…We want the hard decisions, we’ve never really had in USA hockey to make that many hard decisions because we’ve never really had the depth and quality we presently have, so bring it on.”

Notes: The Caps were represented at the orientation camp by defensemen John Carlson, who scored the Gold Medal winning goal for Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships…Poile called Kettler “as good as any facility I’ve ever seen”…Erik Johnson was very critical of his game with Colorado last year and made it clear he needs to be more consistent…the Team USA jerseys were unveiled by the players to a sold out Kettler IcePlex. NHL Network televised the event.

 

 

 

 

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