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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

Posted on 22 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

1-2-1.

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

That is unacceptable to Capitals fans, plain and simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a very well played hockey game, by both teams, the Washington Capitals won their fourth straight by besting the first place New York Islanders, 3-2, in the gimmick.

Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby (30 saves) and Chad Johnson (25 saves), had strong outings and it was the Islanders back up who made some big saves to keep his club in it in the middle frame.

Unlike the Penguins game on Tuesday, this was an extremely well officiated game and both teams only had one power play each. When Dave Jackson referees a contest, you usually get a good one, primarily because the players know what to expect and Jackson typically lets them decide the outcome. Kudos Dave and a hat tip to Steve Kozari, who fell in line and called one of his best games too.

With the limited power play time we were able to see two strong five on five teams duke it out. Washington had the edge for most of the contest and when Eric Fehr scored off of a sweet drop pass from Brooks Laich with 5:34 remaining it sure looked like the Capitals were going to win this one in regulation and pull to within three points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.

But then the Capitals coaching staff made some terrible player deployments and gifted New York a point by playing what football fans would call the prevent defense. From the 5:34 mark to the :48 time when Ryan Strome tied the game the Islanders had 14 straight shot attempts!

Yup, you got it, the Capitals didn’t fire a single biscuit towards the Isles cage. The main reason for that was some poor decisions by the coaches. Instead of playing Alexander Ovechkin’s line, he put out the possession black hole unit of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer the second shift after Fehr’s tally. That unit would get stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Somehow the Caps survived, but then Trotz chose not to use Ovechkin and Mike Green (was on for seven seconds) for the final three minutes until the Islanders scored. Ovechkin and Green are two of the top puck possession players on the Capitals roster, but for some reason the bench crew used others over them down the stretch. Even Jason Chimera logged 70 seconds in two shifts once it was 2-1 Caps instead of the Gr8 or Game Over Greenie. So that’s 0:00 ice time for Ovechkin and 0:07 of ice time for #52 once the Capitals led.

That’s unthinkable and I’ve blogged about the misuse of Green before, back in January, when the Caps get a lead.

My simple message to Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals coaches is this: Play your best players late in the game!

Going all defense is just that, you’ll be playing defense and just giving the other club more chances to tie things up. At least if you put your best players out there you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone and increasing your lead.

Oh well, that’s my rant on this victory, which should have come in regulation.

Still, it was a solid performance by the Caps, even though the Isles went with their backup goalie (but he was super) and are still missing Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski up front. With the two points the Capitals move to 33-17-10 (76 points). The Caps ended up going 2-0-2 against the Islanders this season while New York was 2-1-1 with their two victories coming in OT on 4 on 3 power plays. If these two teams meet in the post season, it should be a razor close series.

A win is a win is a win, and Caps fans, coaches and players will be happy with it, but let’s be honest, playing the prevent defense late in the game is a recipe for disaster that needs to be shredded by the coaching staff before the playoffs begin.

Washington will travel to Philadelphia through the snow to take on the Flyers at 12:30 on NBC on Sunday. The Flyers have been hot lately and have pulled within four points of a playoff spot (Boston is in 8th with 65 points) while the Caps are firmly entrenched in a spot for the Stanley Cup battle this spring. The Caps are 1-1-1 versus the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Notes: Shot attempts favored the Islanders 75-67, but that was because of the 14-0 late run that New York was given to tie the game…the Caps won the face off battle 38-34 but they lost three straight defensive zone key ones when New York had the goalie pulled…Matt Niskanen, who scored the Caps first goal, was the ice time leader with 25:37…Travis Hamonic, who opened the scoring, led the Isles in ice time with 25:17.

 

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since February 8th, the Nation’s Capital had their Dynamic Duo back in town at the Verizon Center, and boy did those two put on a hockey clinic.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and added an assist while Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals trounced the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1, on Thursday night.

Backstrom is now tied for the NHL lead in points (Patrick Kane) with 63 while leading the league in assists with 45. Ovechkin now has 38 goals to lead the NHL and he has 61 points, 3rd best in the NHL.

This had the makings of a classic trap game since it was Washington’s first home game after a cross country four game road trip.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed some good mental fortitude and showed up to play from the opening drop of the puck. The Caps tallied 14 minutes in on a John Carlson power play blast that looked to be deflected along the way. Then Ovechkin made an amazing play on the left wing to make it 2-0 with 1:25 to go in the opening frame.

Those two first period markers were ultra important because it brought the Verizon Center to life and the Caps were 18-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (h/t Mike Vogel). Winnipeg would get a fluky goal to cut it to 2-1 but then the Jets, who are the most penalized team in the NHL, did what they do best, started a parade to the penalty box to feel shame. Winnipeg took four penalties in a row and the Caps scored twice, both times with a delayed penalty being signaled. Backstrom made it 3-1 when he was simply trying to get the puck to the goalie to start a five on three (good things happen when you shoot) and then Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin fed #19 beautifully for the 4th goal with the Jets about to be whistled for too many dudes on the ice.

Troy Brouwer would add a shorthanded empty net goal with 6:27 remaining to seal the deal for Washington.

Braden Holtby was strong, when needed, in the cage again yielding only one tally on 20 shots. The Caps puck support was outstanding in this game and thus the Jets really didn’t get many good looks. They had the occasional strong cycle shift, but overall the Capitals kept the Jets speed and size in check. It was another impressive performance by the Caps in all zones.

“I thought we managed the game really well. In the third period, you’re up 4-1, you could easily forget detail, and you could forget a lot of stuff. We managed the game. We just kept playing, and it gets really frustrating for the other team. Everybody was doing their job, and when you’re doing your job and there’s no cheat in your game you get a lot done as a group of 20 every night,” said Trotz on a night his team once again maintained their focus.

With a near perfect night by the Caps over and done with, the Caps focus now moves to their last regular season meetings with the first place Islanders, the punks from Philly (Flyers), and the Penguins that will take place Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, respectively.

“It’s a fun, interesting division right now. Everyone seems to be playing pretty good. The only way to really make up any ground is to beat those teams that are right in front of us. It’s a massive challenge. We are excited about it. We haven’t seen them (the Islanders) in quite a while. It’s a big week for us. We need to string some winning streaks together, not just two or three, so it’s important,” said Karl Alzner, who is quietly having his best season as a Capital, on the upcoming slate of games.

The Capitals are certainly playing well. They are playing solid defense, getting good goaltending, and their checking line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward is stopping the opponents top line.

Most importantly, though, the Dynamic Duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom are playing at an ultra elite level and that is making Washington a very tough team to defeat.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shots on goal while Backstrom had five…shot attempt game totals were 62-59 in favor of the Jets… the Caps were 3 for 6 on the power play while Winnipeg was 0 for 3…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-27…Washington is now 32-17-10 (74 points)…Jason Chimera was scratched for the 2nd straight game.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Sizzles in Caps Win Over Ducks

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Ovechkin Sizzles in Caps Win Over Ducks

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a listless effort in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals had one more chance to impress their fathers on the clubs annual Dad’s trip.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin made sure the team didn’t hose it up.

The Gr8 took over Sunday’s contest scoring two goals and setting up Andre Burakovsky for two more as Washington won a big road game in Anaheim over the Ducks, 5-3.

Justin Peters overcame a shaky beginning to stop 30 shots and win his first start since November 8th. #35 made several big saves once this one got to 4-3 and it was nice to see the team play well in front of him.

Washington needed to find another gear against a big and fast Ducks team and they did that on Sunday.

In Los Angeles, Coach Barry Trotz did not go with the same lineup and player combinations that he employed in Washington’s 4-0 white washing of the Kings on February 3rd at the Verizon Center. Instead he inserted Steve Oleksy on defense and scratched Burakovsky, who had played a factor in the first Caps goal in their previous three wins. It was a curious set of 20 and for those of you who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic), you knew I was not happy that 65 was getting scratched versus LA. The 3-1 loss, which really wasn’t as close as the score indicates, likely left Caps fans in a foul mood.

On Sunday, Trotz switched things up again putting Burakovsky with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and placing Marcus Johansson on the third line with Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Brooks Laich, who has been struggling mightily, was dropped to the 4th line, and Tom Wilson was scratched. In addition, Jack Hillen was back on D playing with Mike Green. The results were excellent and it was what the Capitals needed to win on the road in the latter half of a back to back situation, something they hadn’t done all season.

The only black mark in this one was the second line of Jason Chimera, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer, who were -2. I’m not a fan of 25 in the top six, but those of you who read my blogs and follow me on twitter already know that.

So this victory pushes the Caps to 30-17-10 (70 points) with 25 games remaining. Washington has a 10 point lead on the Panthers, who are in the 9th playoff spot (the Cats have two games in hand). The Capitals are going to return to the playoffs this spring so these last 25 games now become about preparing for the post season and seeding. Right now, the Caps would face the 1st place New York Islanders in round one, but the Metropolitan Division race is ultra tight.

More important than seeding though, is finding the right lineup. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have both talked about adding a piece or two for the stretch run, and likely at forward. But given the Capitals salary cap situation and the high prices that will be on the market, that may be tough to pull off between now and the March 2nd NHL trade deadline. So the next best option would be for the Caps to maximize the skill sets of Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. These two kids have immense talent and should be strong performers in years to come. But the future is now, so Trotz needs to do what he can to get these guys battle tested. Burakovsky stepped up on Sunday and it was nice to see Trotz still using him with three minutes left in a two goal game.

As the great Jim Ignatowksi of Taxi lore once said, “There is no substitute for experience!”

So Trotz needs to heed that advice and get these kids that exposure and prepare them for April and beyond.

As for Ovechkin, well he is just carrying this team and turning in another MVP calibre season. The Gr8 leads the NHL in goals with 36 and now has 57 points in 57 games. He’s also +11 after being a -35 in 2013-14. He’s playing the best two way game of his career and that defensive zone improvement is leading to transition goals for the Caps, as evidenced by the fifth Washington tally. On Sunday, much like many other games this season, Ovechkin was unstoppable leaving Ducks captain Ryan “Crying” Getzlaf whining in his post game presser despite the dirty slash #15 put on the Gr8, not to mention Corey Perry’s two handed whack to Karl Alzner’s neck.

So now it time for the Caps to thank their dad’s and then fly back to Pittsburgh and take on Sidney Crosby and company. The Penguins will have both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Tuesday. Pittsburgh is playing some good hockey and they took the Blackhawks to a shootout on Sunday before falling to some wonderful feats of skill from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. Washington is 2-0 against the Pens this season and have beaten them 3-0 and 4-0, so Tuesday should be a doozy.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 31-25 with Backstrom going 10-6 (one of those wins led to Ovi’s first tally)…the Ducks were 0-4 with the man advantage while the Caps were 1 for 5…this is the 2nd time this season that Ovechkin has had four points in a game…Brooks Orpik picked up an assist, his 14th of the season and the Capitals are undefeated when he does that…Alzner had 5 hits in 18:55 of ice time. #27 has really been improving under this coaching staff.

 

 

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Evgeny Kuznetsov to deliver on the promise that so many hockey fans saw when he carried Team Russia on his back to win the 2012 Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships. Lately, that skill, ability, and desire to dominate has begun to show up on a more regular basis.

On Friday, against the team with the best record in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, #92 set up both Capitals goals with amazing passes and he also notched a marker in the shootout to lead his squad to a 3-2 win over Bruce Boudreau’s boys. It was a big win for Washington after playing in Ottawa on Thursday night and they improve to 28-15-10 (66 points). For the Capitals this was their third win in a row and they take on “you know who” on Sunday to try and gain a four game winning streak for the first time this season. But more on those punks from up I-95 in a few paragraphs.

Philip Grubauer was recalled to face the Ducks after the Caps had to travel from the Great White North late last night. #31 was very solid in net and the team played well in front of him. Sure, the 2nd goal he allowed was weak, but overall Gru did what this squad needed, stop enough pucks so they could finally win a game without Braden Holtby in net. Grubauer has been excellent in Hershey this year playing lots of minutes and Coach Barry Trotz stated that he’ll head back there tonight. The rationale for waiting so long to give Gru a game appears to be that Washington is trying to save as many recalls as possible for after the trade deadline, at least that is what Trotzy alluded to after the game.

Anyways, the schedule gets better going forward for Washington and as Caps ace beat writer Mike Vogel pointed out, the Caps played two recent stretches of 7 games in 11 nights and went 4-2-1 in each set. That is some very good hockey there.

Speaking of good hockey, Troy Brouwer had another outstanding game making the diving keep in of the night to allow Kuznetsov to set up Jason Chimera for an easy 1st goal. Then #20′s screen in front on Ilya “Humongous” Bryzgalov allowed John Carlson to score what should’ve been the game winner in regulation.

But Corey Perry got a cheapie on Grubauer, he’s a great goal scorer so you expect #10 to get the bounces, and he did on that play (Grubauer needed to have the post covered better too). That forced overtime and then “the gimmick.”

The Caps were 1-4 in the shootout and the Ducks 7-4 coming in so, go figure, Washington won this one.

Overall, this was a slower than normal game as both teams showed the wear and tear of playing Thursday. Both were missing superstars as the Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf and the Capitals scratched Mike Green very late, presumably due to complications from the ugly knee-to-knee hit he took from Chris Phillips the night before. The referees didn’t call that one and they only whistled the clubs for three infractions on Friday, and you probably can guess who had fewer power plays (starts with C and rhymes with Saps).

Speaking of saps, the Philadelphia Flyers come to town on Sunday afternoon. The club formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is on a recent hot streak, going 6-3-1 over their last 10 tilts. Their best players are Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and both give the Capitals fits. Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers chief punk these days and Philadelphia may be looking for retribution after Matt Niskanen put Flyers forward Scott Laughton into March with a clean, open ice hit back on January 14th. It’s no secret that the Flyers are the Capitals longest and most despised rival so these games, no matter the records of the teams, always carry a little extra meaning. Most Caps fans, in a voice like Newman from Seinfeld lore, would say, “I deeespise the Flyers!” Who can forget those old brawls at the Capital Centre where the arena had to call in extra security to police all of the drunken fights in the stands? Ah, memories.

Anyways, this is a chance for Washington to really bury their long time rivals in the standings. Philly lost last time in Washington, 1-0, but the Capitals hung on for dear life in that one. You can bet there will be a buzz in the air on Sunday and hopefully there won’t be too much orange in the crowd. There’s a good chance they’ll be some scraps on the ice too, particularly since the Flyers tend to play dirty, especially when they are losing.

It should be a great game and it’s also a celebration on television for long time Caps announcer Smokin’ Al Koken. Smokin’ is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and I’ve known him since he came to town 30 years ago. Koken will spend a period in each of the different broadcasting roles on Sunday: play by play, analyst, and rink reporter. Al is a super guy and I know he’d like nothing more than for Washington to defeat their biggest rival on his special day.

Game time is 3 pm on Sunday, so go ahead and start your tailgating right away.

Notes: Washington dominated the shot attempt battle, 64-51…the Caps also out shot the Ducks, 34-25…Kuznetsov had two assists and was +2 in 18:30 of ice time…Niskanen played 28:51 to lead all players in ice time…Washington won the face off battle, 34-30. Eric Fehr went 9-3…Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have one of his better games but he notched the shootout winner…after starting 1-14-6, the Caps have now won two games in a row when allowing the first goal of the game…Andre Burakovsky was sent to Hershey due to the Grubauer recall since he is able to go down to the AHL without requiring waivers. #65 will return on Saturday and play on Sunday against the Flyers..Cam Schilling played on D for Green and was +1 in 13:42 of ice time.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were 1-14-6 this season in games played this season when the opponents score first.

So when Kyle Turris broke a scoreless contest just past the midway point of period two to put Ottawa up 1-0, how many Caps fans turned off their televisions?

Well, hopefully it wasn’t many of you because shortly thereafter Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to tie it before Alexander Ovechkin did his best Cal Ripken impersonation by batting one home on the following shift to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

From there, Braden Holtby and the Capitals would shut the door and win their first game when allowing the first tally since November 7th (h/t to Adam Vingan).

This was a very solid road win by the Caps. They were a little sluggish at times over the first 30 minutes and they made things tough on themselves in period three by taking three straight penalties. But Holtby (25 saves) was there to make the stops and any rebounds were cleared by the defense, who had a very strong game, especially Brooks Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 22:32 of ice time). During those three key penalty kills at the beginning of the third frame, Ottawa did not get many quality chances.

Killing off six of seven minutes via penalties to start the final stanza is not usually a recipe for success, but after those kills, the Capitals took over the rest of the way. Over the last 10 minutes the Capitals carried the play by not sitting back and still attacking. In fact, I counted only 1 scoring chance for Ottawa after the 10:00 mark, a wide shot by Mika Zibanejad. Coach Barry Trotz did not shorten his bench on defense with the lead and that strategy paid off.

The Caps would pretty much seal the deal with this victory when Eric Fehr drew a late interference call on Milan Michalek and Ovechkin nearly had his 33rd goal of the season after a sweet feed from Marcus Johansson, but somehow the Gr8′s shot went high.

Trotz maintained the same top three lines as he rolled out in the win over Los Angeles and the first two lines were very impressive. Johansson was just fabulous with Ovechkin and Backstrom and his play on the right wing boards and subsequent pass to a streaking Jay Beagle set up the game winning goal by Ovechkin, who outbattled Erik Karlsson in front.

The second line was very good again and Andre Burakovsky was very noticeable, in a positive way. Once again, he won’t get an assist, but his strong play on the right wing boards set up the Kuznetsov tally. On that one, #65 got the puck to Tom Wilson who carried the biscuit behind the net and fed Orpik for a point blast. Sens goalie Robin Lehner couldn’t control the rebound and #92 deposited it into the empty net. Bottom line, if that second line of Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer can continue to contribute the sky is the limit for this Capitals team.

As for Holtby, well he set the tone for the game with a huge early stop on Bobby Ryan on a Senators three on one. #70 made several other big stops in the game that normal goalies don’t make, yet Braden is making them look so easy. It was another outstanding goaltending performance and it still makes me wonder what Adam Oates was smoking last season by trying to change his game and why former GM George McPhee had three goalies up most of the season and then traded for Jaroslav Halak at the deadline? Boy am I glad those two guys are gone.

So the Capitals get a strong win on the road against a fast Ottawa team that typically gives them fits. This was an impressive finish by Washington. They did not sit back and hang on, they kept the pressure up and as a result, they protected their one goal lead rather easily. The team moves to 27-15-10 (64 points) and are just three points behind the first place Islanders in a very tight Metropolitan Division race.

On Friday, they have a tough task at hand as they take on the NHL standings leading Anaheim Ducks at the Verizon Center. The Ducks smoked the Predators, 5-2, in Smashville on Thursday so both teams will not be rested for this tilt.

The big decision now for Trotz is to decide who to play in goal, Holtby or Justin Peters? With the Flyers in on Sunday afternoon, it seems to make sense to give Peters another shot, but then again, the way the Capitals played the last 10 minutes, Braden should be fairly rested if Trotz calls his number again.

Notes: Jason Chimera was reinserted into the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday and had a strong game (11:33 of ice time)…Wilson wasn’t very noticeable the first 30 minutes but he got involved physically and had a big assist on the game tying goal. It’s time for #43 to step his game up…Washington won the shot attempt battle, 59-50, despite the fact that Ottawa had four power plays to just one for the Caps…the Capitals won the face off battle, 25-20. Jay Beagle went 7-2…Mike Green was hit knee on knee in period one but didn’t miss a shift. Greenie had a super game and earned a stint in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Michael Latta and Aaron Volpatti were the forward scratches.

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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Hey Barry, More Mike Green Please

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Hey Barry, More Mike Green Please

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As improved as the Washington Capitals have been this season under Coach Barry Trotz, the Caps ability to play with a lead and close out games has remained quite a question mark. Witness Tuesday night’s despicable shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers.

In that game, the Capitals led, 4-2, with five minutes remaining. The Caps had dominated the game and appeared in good position to get a nice victory heading into the All Star Break.

But the coach shortened the bench, like Trotz has done on numerous occasions this season, in an attempt to put what he thought were his best defensive players on the ice in order to close out the game. Part of that strategy included not playing Mike Green (and his defensive partner) over the last the five minutes in regulation.

Green is the best skater, passer, and puck possession defensemen on the roster. So why was he not on the ice when it seems you’d want a guy like that out there?

In fact, #52 has “sat the pine” in each of the three previous games in which the Caps had a slim lead late, as evidenced by the data below:

1 shift for only 12 seconds in the last 6 minutes versus Philly (1-0 lead)

1 shift for 44 seconds in the last 7 minutes versus Colorado (2-1 lead)

0 shifts in last 5 minutes versus Detroit (3-1 lead)

In each of those three games the Capitals were heavily out shot late and just hung on to win. Trotz went to that well, not playing Green, again last night and failed miserably.

It’s often stated in sports “that the best defense is a good offense.”

Trotz has called Green the Caps “X-Factor” for a reason. When he’s on his game, and he’s pretty much mostly been that way all season, he can carry a team. Former Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t call him “The One Man Breakout” for nothing.

I can understand not wanting to put the 6th defensemen (Jack Hillen) on the ice late in games. But not playing Hillen doesn’t also mean you have to sit a player of Green’s calibre too.

Why not go to a five defensemen rotation late in games? After all, playing just four D for the last five minutes has to wear out the guys who are playing and decrease their probability of getting the puck out of the zone, right?

If Green’s on the ice, chances are greater that the puck will be in the offensive end of the rink. He’s faster than the other four D so isn’t he more likely to get to the dump-ins and loose pucks than Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner?

Green has four goals and 23 assists this season including a goal and 14 assists in his last 16 games.

Bottom line, the Capitals are a better team with Mike Green on the ice, it’s a part of the reason the club is getting the lead in so many games.

Sure he’s prone to a big turnover every now and then, or “The Big Mistake”, as our friends over at Japers Rink call it.

But to me the Big Mistake is not having Green on the ice late in games. Get him out there more often and the Caps should find it much easier to close out more victories.

 

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Ovechkin 74th GWG Leads Caps Over Avs

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Ovechkin 74th GWG Leads Caps Over Avs

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were the better team on Monday night at the Verizon Center earning a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, plain and simple.

This game really should not have been this close, but former Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov was outstanding, along with the posts around him, for two periods to keep a game that should’ve been 5-1 in favor of Washington to just 2-1 after 40 minutes. Colorado would finally show up for the 3rd period throwing 18 pucks at Braden Holtby (31 saves), but most were from the perimeter and #70 continued his hot run to preserve the victory for the Capitals.

Washington improves to 23-11-8 (54 points) and have closed to within three points of the Metropolitan Division leading Islanders, who face the red hot New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. If the Rangers win again in regulation and the Penguins don’t win against Minnesota, then the entire Metro, from 1st to 4th, will be separated by just three points (Pittsburgh has 56 points). Bottom line, this race is ultra close and all four teams could win the banner come April.

Back to Monday’s win over Patrick Roy’s Avs, Washington was flat out dominant for 40 minutes out shooting Colorado, 32-14. Somehow, primarily due to Varly and his goal posts, this game was tied after the Avs scored on a power play midway through period two. But Varlamov ended up causing his team’s demise by taking a stupid shot at Tom Wilson and the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, buried the game winning goal on the power play with just over two minutes left in the middle frame. That goal was set up by hard work on the boards from Marcus Johansson and then two pretty backhanded passes from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.

Ovechkin now has 22 goals on the season and he’ll head to another NHL All Star game next week.

Sunday afternoon out at Kettler was an optional skate for the Capitals but the fourth line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson (along with Michael Latta) all worked with assistant coach Lane Lambert on wall play and scoring from in front of the net. It turns out that session would really pay off as Washington’s first goal came off of a face off. Mike Green fed Wilson in the high slot for a shot that #43 put on the net. Chimera then deflected it and Beagle out worked the Avs defender at the far post and backhanded the biscuit by Varlamov. Beagle has 12 points this season, all in Capitals wins (h/t @JapersRink for that super stat). Officially, the Caps are 11-0-0 when Beagle gets a point (h/t to Caps PR team). Hard work pays off, and Beagle is certainly a guy who brings the effort every night.

The Caps won their sixth straight at home and are now 22-1-3 when tallying first. It was a solid victory against a fast Colorado team that likes to score off of the rush. With the Avs only goal coming on the power play, you can correctly say that Coach Barry Trotz’ club stuck to their game plan to get a big two points.

Now Washington gets a chance for some revenge on the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday at 8 pm at the Verizon Center. Flyers goalie Steve Mason is out injured so they’ll face either Ray Emery or Rob Zepp, who made 21 saves in his second NHL win in as many starts on Monday night when Philly throttled Tampa, 7-3.

Notes: Ovechkin’s game winning goal was his franchise leading 74th. Peter Bondra is now in 2nd place with 73…the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 79-56. The Avs closed a huge gap with their third period push…Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to improve and he had four shots on goal and four other attempts in one of his best games of the season…the Caps won the face off battle, 37-29…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 24:47. John Carlson logged 24:42…defensemen Nate Schmidt suffered a fractured bone in a stint down in Hershey on Sunday night and will miss 6-8 weeks…goalie Justin Peters was recalled after playing two games for the Bears this past weekend. He had a shutout in Albany on Friday, then made 31 saves in a tough loss (allowed 3 goals) on Sunday…expect Peters to play Saturday in Dallas after Washington faces the Predators in Nashville on Friday night.

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2013-14 midpoint, the Washington Capitals were sitting at 20-15-6, good for 46 points. But boy were things coming apart at the seams in a downward trend that started in early December. During that stretch, one in which Coach Adam Oates used three starting goalies to pretty much wreck Braden Holtby’s game, the Caps grew further apart as a team with three players asking for trades (Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth). They were a squad that relied almost exclusively on their power play to win games and were very poor at even strength. In addition, in game 41, a loss at home to Carolina in overtime, they iced a defense of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Steve Oleksy. The Caps would go 18-15-8 the rest of the way looking like a totally lost team that would miss the post season and ultimately cost Oates and GM George McPhee their jobs. Over the course of the season, the Capitals used 14 different defensemen and four goalies (traded for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline). That version of the Capitals was a team in total chaos.

Fast forward to today, after 41 games the Capitals are 22-11-8 (52 points) and following a sluggish start, have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 games. Coach Barry Trotz has brought in a new system and a new attitude and GM Brian MacLellan added two quality players, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to a blue line that had been the team’s Achilles heel for several seasons. Trotz, who had coached the Predators since their first season, brought in an experienced coaching staff in Todd Reirden (defensemen), Lane Lambert (forwards), and Mitch Korn (goalies). All three have done a super job and Korn has allowed Holtby to get back to basics and return to the dominant level he was at in the spring of 2012 when the Caps narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference Finals. To date, they’ve used two goalies, with Holtby clearly the #1 net minder and carrying almost the entire load. On defense, they have quality and stability, they’ve only used seven different players on the back end. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made a point, following Saturday’s game, to comment on the vast difference in the Washington defense, stating “anytime you have [Mike] Green playing at number five you have a real good back end.” (h/t to CSN’s Chuck Gormley for the quote).

Things are looking very good for this Capitals team. The key word in that sentence being “team.” Center Nicklas Backstrom, who is having yet another superb season, talked on Sunday afternoon about how things are different than past years under Trotz.

“We’ve been talking a lot about before the season and during the season to stick together and work together and doing the right things. It’s real important that everyone is paying attention to small details like face off plays, what we’re doing before every draw, stuff like that, so I think a lot of guys are buying into that and we’re following the game plan. Maybe before we’ve been doing our own things, so that has helped us a lot, I think,” said #19 when asked about the culture change that Trotz is implementing with the Caps.

“They make each other accountable, they don’t accept just going through the motions. When you fight to just go through the motions, that’s not a good culture to have. We’re not doing that, we’re staying on task…I told the guys I didn’t like the way we were playing the last two games [before Detroit] and I told the guys [Saturday] morning that if we want to be the team we think we can be we’re going to get tested tonight. I didn’t like some of the red flags I saw those last two games, we still got points and we won games, but you have to be honest with yourself. There will be times where you lose games and I’ll be happy with the way we played, we just didn’t win the game. Even when you win, you have to be honest with yourself, did you deserve to win the game or did you luck out? I think we are pretty honest, we have good evaluations…so we recognize we have some work to do,” said Trotz when asked about the culture change and where the team is at.

After winning against the Red Wings, Trotz felt better about things but admitted they are still a work in progress.

“I was real happy in the third period with the way we managed the game. We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we didn’t give up anything, even on six on five they had a little bit, but it wasn’t chaos out there, it was controlled and we forced them to try to execute at an extremely high level and they didn’t get any free looks or anything like that. So we’re better, just in our structure, we recognize possession and we recognized when they weren’t attacking the interior. We stayed patient and when they tried to, we’ll just make one adjustment that we need to do better and if it happens next game we’ll be even more prepared. We try to learn from things that happen, experiences that can make ourselves better, instead of hey we just got lucky. We look for things every day,” said Trotz.

All of the changes have certainly helped the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff picture and right now, it looks like they will make the post season. But there are 41 games to go and the race is tight. While just making the playoffs is key, this club has a bigger goal, to compete for a Stanley Cup. To get to that phase, they have a lot of work to do.

So in the second half the key will be to sustain their focus so that they can improve. Even doing that, there are question marks. One thing to be concerned about is Holtby’s work load. The key will be for Justin Peters to assert himself as a viable back up option, especially with nine back to back tilts scheduled. If Peters can’t perform, then MacLellan will have to find someone who will fill that role, otherwise the Caps not only risk missing the playoffs, but having a very fatigued goalie in April and beyond.

The defense needs to stay healthy and certainly with the depth they have in the top five, Trotz has been able to increase the probability of that by spreading out the minutes. Another key to staying healthy, and winning, is cutting down on the number of penalties the team takes. There have been recent stretches where the parade to the box has cost them points. Finally, they have to stabilize their forward line combinations. We’ve seen a rotating door with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top unit and the latest project is having rookie Andre Burakovsky fill the right wing role after Tom Wilson and some others struggled. The second scoring line has also been woefully inconsistent. Recently it has shown signs of life with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer lighting the lamp more frequently. How that trio plays will be a factor in any possible deep playoff run. Simply put, the forward situation is concerning and it remains to be seen if the young players, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Wilson, can improve enough by April to make this club a contender. If it looks like that isn’t going to happen then MacLellan will have to make a move for a top six forward.

Most of all though, this club needs to continue the process and commitment they’ve built up over the first 41 games and Backstrom certainly brought that home with his thoughts on Sunday afternoon.

“I think that it’s about time that we realize how to play as a team and right now it looks good but we have a long way to go. We’re not done yet, it’s just halfway through the season. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’re not where we want to be yet, so we really need to be humble and make sure we work hard every day and every night,” finished Backstrom.

 

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