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Braden Holtby goes 88 for 88 against the Bruins this season.

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Holtby Stones the Bruins Again in Caps Victory

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs this spring, they will likely have visions of Braden Holtby in their nightmares all summer long.

In a game the Beantown boys absolutely had to have, Holtbeast and the Capitals raced to an early 2-0 lead and ended up blanking the Bruins, 3-0.

That’s three Caps games against Boston this season and three shutouts for #70, who was a perfect 88 for 88 against Milan Lucic and company.

It was an impressive victory on home ice to guarantee that the Capitals will finish at least in third place in the Metropolitan Division and should the Penguins beat the Islanders on Friday night in Pittsburgh, then the Caps will clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start next week. If the Islanders do win against the Pens, the Caps could clinch second with a victory over the Rangers on Saturday afternoon.

Back to Wednesday’s night win, the line of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer was outstanding. The league’s greatest passer, #19, was dominant with two assists. Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist, +3), who was really good in Detroit in that road victory, was all over the ice on Wednesday and used his speed effectively against a “turtle-like” Bruins defense (they are sloooowwww). Johansson was also very strong on the walls and appears to be peaking his game at the right time. As for Brouwer (2 assists, +3), well he was physical and did a super job of going to the net.

The Backstrom line is carrying the play and with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 sweet assist) doing a strong job of centering Alex Ovechkin (10 shot attempts and 4 hits) and Joel Ward, it is much more difficult for opposing coaches to slow the Capitals offense.

The Capitals now sit at 45-25-11 (101 points) and are 11 points better than last season, with a game still remaining. I’ve blogged and talked on WNST all season long about the importance of the improved blue line plus Coach Barry Trotz’ system and those changes have paid dividends. In addition, this Capitals club has become a team and is a very tight nit group. Players rally around each other, as evidenced by Holtby and Mike Green racing over to Tom Wilson on Sunday in Motown when #43 put his head in front of a puck for his teammates. When you see players doing that for each other, you know you’ve got something special and this Capitals club has not been this close in years. Kudos to the players and coaches for developing and maintaining a real “team” atmosphere.

Now though, it’s almost time for the real season to begin and just getting back to the playoffs is not going to cut it for the players or anyone else in the organization, to include the fans. Washington must continue to stick to what they’ve been doing, playing solid team defense and winning the battles that lead to victories.

On Wednesday night, they strangled a desperate Bruins team in the final frame and only allowed five shots on goal. Their breakouts were superb and they kept the forecheck and pressure on Boston to deny them any chance at gaining momentum. They moved their feet and stayed out of the box. As a result, the Bruins had zero power plays (boy is Bruins coach Claude Julien going to whine about that!).

There was a lot to like in the Caps victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night. Best stat of all though has to be this one:

Holtby’s Goals Against Average (GAA) against Boston in 2014-15 is the same as John Blutarsky’s grade point average: ZERO POINT ZERO!!

Notes: Boston crushed the Caps at the dot thanks to the best faceoff man in the league, Patrice Bergeron. #37 went 22-9 as the Bruins won 39 of 63 faceoffs (62%)…John Carlson had a goal and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Johansson, Backstrom, and Brouwer all played over 19 minutes each…Stan Galiev made his NHL debut and played well in 9:56 of ice time…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play….Tuukka Rask remains 0 for the Verizon Center.

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Ovechkin Nets 50th Goal in Caps 4-2 Victory

Posted on 01 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL leading 50th tally and added an assist, Braden Holtby made 23 saves, and Mike Green had a goal, an assist and was +3 in a Washington Capitals 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win moves the Caps to 42-25-10 (94 points) with just five games to go and kept them three and six points ahead of the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, respectively, after both of those clubs won too. It was a much needed victory against a speedy and pesky Canes club that had drilled Washington, 3-0, in Raleigh on February 27th.

Brooks Laich, who had one of his best games of the season with a goal, six hits, and 1:40 worth of great penalty killing time, said the team had discussed that loss in their Tuesday morning meeting and noted that Carolina always plays the Caps tough. As a result, Laich said the team wanted to have a good start.

They did just that scoring on a deflected pass (Green’s goal) and then the Gr8 buried his biscuit at 11:12 after a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps carried the majority of the early play, but then in the second period they got away from their game and allowed Carolina to generate numerous odd man rushes. The Canes would tie things up on Eric Staal’s tap in just past the midway point of the game and things looked shaky for the Capitals.

But then the Caps upped their effort and scored twice in 82 seconds to grab a 4-2 lead that they held rather easily in period three.

In that final frame, Washington went to their strengths by forechecking hard and taking the body in an attempt to wear out the Canes players. It’s a recipe they used successfully in New York on Sunday. On Tuesday, after the “loose” middle frame, they refocused and shut the game down in the final period with their pressure.

“If we can pressure them and hem them in there for more than 10 seconds, 15 seconds it really slows down their game. Their D won’t join as much. Their center gets tired because he’s boxing guys out and has to work to get the puck back. It really sets our game up well. It fits our strength as a team well if we can grind there. When they do get the puck out, all they have energy for is to chip it out. Then we get a change and we’re coming right back at them with speed, that’s kind of our identity, I think,” said Matt Niskanen on how the Caps want to throttle the opposition.

Carolina, like the Rangers, have a lot of speed. So will the Capitals upcoming opponents, the Montreal Canadiens (Thursday) and the Senators (Saturday). Thwarting that speed starts by keeping the puck in the offensive zone and being responsible. Washington got away from that in the second period and if not for some good saves from Holtby, the Canes may have seized the lead. But once the Caps got back to a strong forecheck, and the line of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera was a big part of that, they achieved what Coach Barry Trotz calls “managing the game.”

“Good dumps, coming out clean out of your zone and then puck placement in the offensive zone. Then running proper routes. First guy has to go do a straight line, make contact, then the strong side winger down the wall and the offside winger looking for that D to D behind the net. If it is not there, coming across over their center men in the middle of the ice. If we execute properly there is nowhere for them to go. Jason, Eric, and I have been able to do that,” said Laich on the strategy of a proper forecheck, that the Caps have been executing well the last couple of games.

That line, newly cobbled together for the Rangers game, has certainly been successful and the Capitals have dominated when they up the effort and execute the plan Laich described.

Now the Caps go on the road for three games in four nights, with the last tilt coming on Sunday in Motown. Washington has not beaten Montreal all season, they’ve lost in a shootout and then in overtime, but have dominated puck possession in each of those contests. Canadiens goalie Carey Price is likely the only thing standing between Ovechkin and his fourth Hart Trophy, at this point.

But individual trophies are not what the Gr8 cares about, at this juncture in his career. It’s all about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps need three more wins to qualify without worrying about what their opponents are doing, so a strong road trip is paramount. Keeping up their effort and forecheck are the keys to victory on this upcoming trip.

Notes: Carolina out shot attempted the Caps 45-42. It was 11-7 in period three, but the Canes had the games only two power plays in that final frame…shots on goal in the 3rd period were 5-1 for Carolina…the Caps PK has been successful on its’ last 14 attempts…Washington won the face off battle, 29-24. Nicklas Backstrom was 9-5…Tim Gleason was +3 in 16:51 of ice time and had a strong effort against his former teammates…Ovechkin only played 15:13. That’s down due to the lack of power plays.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps Mistakes Costly in 3-1 Defeat to Rangers

Posted on 12 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, you’ll often hear coaches talk about bad losses and good losses.

On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz would not categorize the Caps 3-1 defeat to the New York Rangers as a bad loss.

Despite the post game reaction from numerous Caps fans on twitter, where it seemed several people were out on the ledge and ready to leap, I definitely agree with the Washington bench boss.

Sure the Rangers were playing their third game in four nights, but the Caps were missing two of their top five defensemen in Mike Green and Brooks Orpik and their top center, Nicklas Backstrom, was playing with a bad stomach bug that prevented him from skating for four days. So coming into this contest against the Blueshirts, who I believe are the best team in the NHL right now and will likely win the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents’ Trophy, I didn’t have a good feeling for the Caps given that Nate Schmidt was playing his first NHL game in over two months and Cameron Schilling was also in the starting lineup on defense.

The inexperience and lack of skill on the blueline is something we saw help wreck the Capitals post season appearance streak last spring and to be honest, the defensive lineup iced on Wednesday night was a bit reminiscent of last year’s club that routinely featured two or more AHL calibre players. As expected, the youth led to the Rangers first tally when Schmidt was beaten badly in the neutral zone. Then on the second New York marker, Tim Gleason, who was playing the off side for him, tried to go high glass on a dump out and the puck hit the stanchion and allowed the Rangers to get a quick three on two that J.T. Miller buried short side on Braden Holtby (28 saves).

The Caps would get a good bounce on Alexander Ovechkin’s power play tally in the opening frame and the Gr8 now has 45 goals on the season. The first period was pretty even, shot attempts favored the Caps 21-20, but the Rangers led because of the two costly Capital miscues.

Washington would open period two on a lengthy five on three (78 seconds) but the Caps couldn’t score. Cam Talbot, who was sensational in this contest, especially in period three, made a highway robbery glove save on Backstrom and that turned the game around, giving the Rangers a boost that they used to carry the play in the middle stanza. The Rangers would out shot attempt the Caps, 23-12, in period two.

“To be honest with you, five on three was my mistakes, I just missed the net. It’s kind of the moment you have to score. Especially when they give you a chance and they give you an opportunity to shoot so it was total blame on me,” said Ovechkin.

“When you don’t score off a five on three of that extent, that usually swings the momentum and then they got a few power plays that we killed off, but it took a little bit of steam out of our game,” added Matt Niskanen, who was outstanding for the Caps in 28:10 of ice time (led all players).

In the final frame, the Capitals threw the kitchen sink at Talbot, but he was a brick wall. #33, who has been superb in relief of an injured Henrik Lundqvist, was easily the game’s first star and he made numerous point blank saves. Trotz pointed out afterwards that the Caps had an 8-1 edge in quality chances in period three, but the only goal came for the Rangers when Tom Kreider picked off John Carlson’s cross ice pass and fed Martin “Caps Killer” St. Louis on a two on none break for the game closing tally. In that last 20 minutes, the Caps out shot attempted a fatigued Rangers club, 35-10.

Overall for the game, the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 68-53, but all that matters is the 3-1 final score. The Rangers are a very good team and they can roll four lines and three defensive pairs. That’s part of why they were able to go 3-0 in this tough three game in four nights stretch against the Blackhawks, Islanders, and Caps. The biggest reason they won on Wednesday was Talbot and the team’s ability to protect a one goal lead, something they’ve been strong at for several seasons.

“When they get the lead, they just put four guys close to the net and they block lots of shots. Again, it was not surprising at all. They are a pretty solid team, they know how to play, and they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year,” stated Ovechkin.

The Rangers have a very good team and could easily win the Stanley Cup, so losing a close game in which you out chanced your opponent is nothing to hang your head on. The Caps were shorthanded on the back end and one of their best forwards wasn’t right, yet they were in the game until the end and likely find a way to win against many other goalies. But they lost and now they have to watch out that they don’t drop to the second wild card spot with the Boston Bruins charging hard in the standings.

With the Rangers looking like a good bet to win the East, the Caps must avoid a first round match up with the Blueshirts, so they can’t afford to fall to the second wild card slot.

In the end, the Caps played hard but made too many mistakes to win and the Rangers net minder was the big difference. Losing is no fun, but Ovechkin summed things up pretty good afterwards.

“I think we play a good game, a couple of bounces cost us a victory or at least one point. It’s a situation when you have to just forget about it and move forward. But it’s kind of disappointing when you have that kind of chance to move closer to an opponent or a team who is in front of you,” finished the Gr8.

Certainly the Caps can’t be happy with losing, as every standings point matters, but they did do a lot of good things against the best team in hockey on Wednesday night.

Notes: Joel Ward assisted on the Ovechkin goal and he was one of the Caps best forwards in 18:25 of ice time…Trotz limited Backstrom to 18:38 due to his stomach virus…the Caps won the face off battle 38-29. Eric Fehr was 12-3…Jay Beagle was hit hard, but cleanly, by Dan Girardi in period two. #83 would return for a shift or so but then left the contest for the third period due to an upper body injury…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Blanking of Leafs

Posted on 01 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After three straight losses and several slow starts, the Washington Capitals needed to jump out to a quick lead on Sunday night.

NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin made sure his club would get an early cushion as he scored just 33 seconds into the contest. The Gr8 would make it 2-0 on a backhander in period two after a nice point shot from Brooks Orpik and then he added an assist on Marcus Johansson’s power play goal that increased the lead to 3-0. Joel Ward would hit the empty net and send a terrible Toronto Maple Leafs on its way out of the Verizon Center, 4-0 losers.

In goal, Braden Holtby was, to quote Billy Crystal, “Maaahhhvelous!” as he stopped 32 shots, with some quality ones to boot, en route to his seventh shutout of the season (and 30th win).

The Caps were not pretty in this victory, they still looked sloppy, at times, and weren’t totally in sync, but it was a step in the right direction after their play had really tailed off in the last week.

Tim Gleason, acquired on Saturday in a trade for Jack Hillen and a 4th round pick, made his Caps debut and was very solid in 18:34 of ice time. It’s only one game, but #6 looks like a significant upgrade on that 3rd pairing and it allows Mike Green to play more minutes. Coach Barry Trotz was able to spread his ice time around with the quality blue line and the 4-0 score helped too. Matt Niskanen was the Caps ice time leader and he only logged 20:25. Balancing ice time like that keeps players fresh and reduces the risk of injury.

Up front, well, after the first line, the Capitals still are struggling. Andre Burakovsky played up with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and #65 was the clear weak link. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has struggled recently, was bumped down to the fourth line, centering Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson, and they had an up and down night, but finished with a decent third period. Jason Chimera took Laich’s spot on the third line and #25, who could be being showcased for a potential trade, also received some early power play time. The second line was centered by Jay Beagle and featured Troy Brouwer and Johansson.

In addition to the players that suited up on Sunday night, General Manager Brian MacLellan traded 2nd and 3rd round picks to Calgary and acquired Curtis Glencross. Glencross, who will wear #22, is 32 years old and is a fast skater. He’s not a top six forward but he’s an upgrade over some of the other Caps bottom six forwards. With the log jam on those two lines, one has to wonder if the Caps GM is still working on a bigger deal to acquire a top six forward by the 3 pm deadline?

We’ll find out about that soon enough, but the whole team will have to be happy when that time passes since it’s been clear to me that the deadline has been a distraction to this club. They have not appeared focused and many have lacked energy, which is a clear byproduct of worrying about what the future holds.

So after this victory over the disastrous Leafs, the Caps are now 34-20-10 (78 points). With 18 games left, a .500 finish easily puts them in the playoffs. So therefore, the focus in the last 18 games has to be to get some continuity going with the forward lines. The defense is set and Holtby is playing the best hockey of his career. Trotz will also look to rest players and the team needs to focus on the matchup they desire for the first round, or perhaps more importantly, one they don’t want.

To me, the match up they don’t want is the New York Rangers, who acquired defensemen Keith Yandle on Sunday in exchange for d-man John Moore, a prospect, and some draft picks. It’s clear the Rags are all in and the Capitals play them three times over the next six weeks. New York has great speed and that’s been something the Caps have had trouble handling. Adding Glencross certainly helps and Gleason has good wheels, as well as size, too. But the Rangers have Henrik Lunqvist and two really strong lines, assuming Rick Nash is healthy for the post season, so they could be the toughest out in the East.

Plenty of time to worry about that though, the Caps need to get back to finding their game, and that starts with working hard and moving their feet so they can work up and down the ice in a five man unit. The team has lost that over the last couple of weeks and need to get back to that in order to peak their game in April and May.

Notes: Ovechkin now leads the NHL in scoring with 41 goals and 65 points….the Gr8 was named the NHL’s 3rd star for the month of February and he’s now started March out with a bang…shot attempts were 63-60 for the Leafs, but they were trailing a lot and the blind zebras gave Toronto four power plays to Washington’s two. I didn’t think the officiating was consistent at all on Sunday but Washington was good enough and the Leafs were bad enough that it just didn’t matter…Toronto won the face off battle, 32-31…next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at 7 pm. Will Washington silence the cannon in a building they’ve struggled in for several years?

 

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Caps Add Gleason to Defense

Posted on 28 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

With just about 48 hours to go until Monday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline, the Washington Capitals have made their first move adding defensemen Tim Gleason in exchange for Jack Hillen and a 4th round draft choice (2015).

Gleason, who logged 17:07 in a 3-0 Carolina Hurricanes victory over the Caps on Friday night, will play on the third defensive pair with Mike Green and make his debut with Washington against the Leafs on Sunday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center. The American born left handed shooting defensemen is 32 years old and represented the USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver where he played with current Cap, Brooks Orpik.

The man who will wear #6 with the Capitals is a decent skater who plays with a physical edge. At six feet and 217 pounds he is bigger than Hillen and can also play on the penalty kill, which frees up Green from that duty in the event that either Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, or Matt Niskanen are in the penalty box.

On the analytic side, Gleason has an overall SAT%, which measures shot attempts or puck possession, of 48.87% which is toward the lower end for the Canes. His game Close SAT% is not good either, at 44.36%, however his game Tied SAT% was in the top 10 on Carolina at 53.24% which was only 0.16% behind Andrej Sekera. Sekera was traded to the Kings for a first round pick earlier this week.

As for Hillen, well he was one of the lowest Caps in terms of puck possession with an SAT% of 47.44 on a team that has carried play most of the year. In addition, he was paired with Green, who the statistics show typically improves the SAT% of his defensive partners.

Bottom line, Gleason is an upgrade at the sixth defensemen slot over Hillen because of his size and ability to play on the penalty kill. With Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt still recovering from injuries, Gleason will have a chance to solidfy his position with #52 on defense.

As for other moves, there are still just under two days until Monday’s deadline and it is widely known that the Capitals are looking for help up front at forward. The top six group has not performed well, especially this week, with first line right wing unsettled as well as an inconsistent second line. I’d expect GM Brian MacLellan to do whatever he can to make a move or two to improve Washington’s chances of advancing deep in the post season and possibly competing for the Stanley Cup in a wide open Eastern Conference.

To keep up with the action and my take on the Caps as things occur, please follow me on twitter via @EdFrankovic.

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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

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

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

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

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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