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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

Posted on 31 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A night after getting totally whipped in Columbus, the Washington Capitals went into Detroit to take on the Red Wings.

Granted this isn’t the vintage Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008, but they still have a good hockey club and Detroit showed it by dominating the Capitals in puck possession (shot attempts were 81-54 for Detroit) and finally winning in a shootout, 4-3.

This game is 7-2 or worse if not for Michal Neuvirth (42 saves), who was absolutely outstanding throughout the night. Neuvy, who made several ten bell saves in regulation, stopped the first six shootout attempts but none of his teammates could dent Jimmy Howard in the gimmick and Patrick Eaves finally notched the game winner with a sweet glove high shot just inside the right post before Jay Beagle couldn’t convert in the 7th round.

Neuvirth, however, would have gotten the loss if not for a late push from the Caps that saw Alexander Ovechkin tie the game with seven seconds remaining after a nice feed from John Carlson (two assists). Joel Ward did a super job in front of the net on the tying tally.

Another Cap that had a good outing was Casey Wellman, who scored a huge goal to knot this one at two. Wellman took an excellent stretch pass from Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist), skated in on Howard and fired three shots before the last one finally hit the twine. Jason Chimera (1 goal, 1 assist) had a strong game along with Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Sadly, after Wellman’s great individual effort, John Erskine blew a tire in the offensive zone and that allowed Gustav Nyquist to beat a screened Neuvirth for what looked to be the game winning goal until the Gr8 late game magic.

Ovechkin now has 39 goals on the campaign and he rebounded after a poor outing in Columbus. The Caps worked harder against Detroit but they were outclassed by the Wings, which is a concern.

The Caps, without Green on the back end, had to rely heavily on Carlson (31:18 of ice time) and Alzner (23:19) on the blue line, and hope that Dmitry Orlov, Tyson Strachan, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick could hold the fort as the bottom four defenders. Unfortunately the Erskine & Carrick pair struggled and finished -2 on the night.

So an important five game road trip ends with the Capitals getting five points. The Caps are two points behind third place Carolina in the Metro Division and two points in back of the Wings, who own the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot currently. Washington now has four straight home games, including Super Bowl Sunday’s tilt against the Wings. Given that the Capitals are 13th in the conference, one would have to think they need to win at least three of the four contests on home ice this week before the Olympic break hits to stay in playoff contention.

They were fortunate to get a point in Motown on Friday night. They can thank Neuvirth for this one along with some late game heroics from Ovechkin.

Notes: The Wings played without star center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Johan Franzen while the Caps didn’t have Mike Green or Mikhail Grabovski, due to injuries. According to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Coach Adam Oates confirmed that Green is undergoing concussion protocol and in addition, Brooks Laich was shut down for the third period due to “tightness.” Finding healthy bodies to play continues to get tougher for Washington…five Washington forwards didn’t even ATTEMPT a shot tonight (Martin Erat, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Beagle, and Tom Wilson), that is not good at all.

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Ovechkin, Green Lead Caps Over Sabres

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Ovechkin, Green Lead Caps Over Sabres

Posted on 28 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin continues to do what he can to try to carry the Capitals into the playoffs and on Tuesday night in Buffalo he got some excellent help from defensemen Mike Green.

The Gr8 scored the first two Capitals goals, his 37th and 38th of the season, and then he assisted on the last two, including a great pass to Game Over Green for the winner in overtime.

It was a wild affair against a not so talented but gritty Buffalo squad and Washington prevailed, 5-4.

In my last blog, I made it clear that Ovechkin is still the most valuable player to his team in the NHL and this game once again made that case.

With the Capitals struggling mightily in their own end, it was on the offense to pull this game out. We all know that Alexander the Great is a pure goal scorer, but his passing skills are often overlooked and vastly underrated by those who aren’t paying close attention. How many other NHLers could have made the pass to Martin Erat late in period two on the power play that set up Troy Brouwer for Washington’s 4th goal? Not too many have the combination of power and finesse necessary to get that puck to sit on Erat’s stick through a maze of players so quickly.

Then, on the game winner, the Gr8 slides a perfect pass to Green, much like he did for Casey Wellman on Saturday, giving Sabres goalie Curtis Enroth no chance to stop Green’s shot and the Caps win.

The win moves Washington to 24-21-8 (56 points) and they are just a point out of a playoff spot after two straight victories. The Capitals have six games left before the Olympic break and the next three are against teams in front of them (Detroit twice and Columbus). The other three are the Islanders, Winnipeg, and New Jersey.  A good streak before the league shutdown seems imperative given the tough schedule facing the Capitals in March.

However, if they want to do well in this upcoming stretch, they have to do certain things much better. Defensively, the Capitals were far too loose in their own zone. Bad coverage, turnovers, and penalties led to four goals by an offensively challenged Buffalo club. We are 53 games into the season and these same mistakes continue to occur. If Washington wants to make the playoffs then they need to eliminate or seriously reduce the frequency of these miscues. The hockey department and coaches have to find an answer to these issues quickly if they want to make the post season.

Another disturbing thing was the way Sabres Mike Weber took liberties with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. You simply can’t count on the referees, and especially when it is two clowns like Paul Devorski and Don VanMassenhoven, to protect your players. Once Weber gave that cheap shot to MJ90 someone on the Caps should’ve let him know physically that if that happened again he was going to be seeing stars for weeks. Where was John Erskine, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, or Troy Brouwer to make Weber pay for his cheap shot on Johansson? If Backstrom gets hurt by the late game elbow from Weber then their playoff chances go to 0!

Look, I am all for self discipline, but there are places and times to send a message in a hockey game and it was disappointing and alarming that Weber wasn’t made to pay for his hit on MJ90. By letting that go, they risked injury to other players. Unacceptable. Like or not, protecting your players is a part of the NHL game today.

Braden Holtby made some big stops in net in his second straight start. Yes, he gave up four tallies, but his defense left him out to dry too many times.

Overall, this was a sloppy effort but the Ovechkin and Green show carried the day.

Two points were pretty much a must in Buffalo and now Washington has back to back tilts with Columbus and Detroit on Thursday and Friday.

It’s nice that the offense is back, thanks primarily to the Gr8 and the Caps increasing willingness to crash the net, but if they want to be more consistent, they have to do a better job of protecting their own net.

Notes: Shots on goal were 35-27 for the Caps, but Buffalo dominated the 3rd period, 13-5. The Sabres played the night before so it was disappointing that the Caps were able to be outplayed in the 3rd period when they should’ve been the fresher squad…the Caps went 2 for 3 on the power play while Buffalo was 1 for 2…Green’s first goal, which came on a sweet wraparound, was the 100th of his NHL career…Martin Erat had two assists in one of his better games of the season…the Caps lost the face off battle, 36-28…shot attempts were 55-53, in favor of the Caps.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

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Ovechkin Return Spurs Caps to 5-0 Victory

Posted on 25 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Sidney Crosby may win the Hart Trophy this year for the great season he is having, but you will never get me to back down on the following statement:

Alexander Ovechkin is the “most valuable” player to his team in the NHL.

For proof of that, see Saturday’s Capitals 5-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.

Washington came in to Montreal as losers of 7 straight games and in a serious goal scoring drought. The Gr8 had missed the previous two games due to a lower body injury and until the third period in New Jersey, the Capitals looked like they couldn’t beat a college team without the services of their captain in those two tilts.

Everything seemed to change from the first shift Ovechkin took tonight, which included a big hit in the neutral zone. The Caps were moving their feet and fighting to the front of the Habs net. Despite not scoring, the Capitals held a 12-3 shot advantage in the opening frame and carried the majority of the play.

But they still had not scored and the way things had been going for this club, if Montreal gets on the board first, then who knows what would’ve happened?

Enter Ovechkin and a goal that only a few players on the planet could score early in period two. The Gr8 corralled the puck in the air below the goal line and in Tiger Woods like fashion juggled it on his stick and then snapped it by a stunned Carey Price. It was an off the charts goal in terms of pure skill, which comes from countless hours of practice. The tally was a game changer and the Capitals totally came to life after that marker.

John Erskine scored to make it 2-0 thanks to Brooks Laich going to the net and then Jay Beagle, who was great again on Saturday after being my player of the game in New Jersey on Friday, finished off a beautiful passing play from Tom Wilson and Mike Green. John Carlson then made it four goals on a delayed penalty call and that chased Price from the game in the middle stanza.

Ovechkin would then beautifully set up Casey Wellman in the third period for a sweet goal on a two on one break to make it 5-0 and the Habs would not dent Braden Holtby once in their 21 shots on net in this contest.

It was a dominating win and something this club badly needed.

The key was their ability to get to the front of the net and protect their own cage, something they’ve struggled mightily with this season. With NHL goalies so talented these days, the best way to score is to get bodies and pucks there. The Capitals did that with a vengeance on Saturday night. Washington also limited their turnovers which prevented odd man rushes against.

Basically it was a textbook victory and the Caps looked like a confident team after that first goal by the Gr8.

Ovechkin notched his 36th goal of the campaign and added his 15th assist as he easily earned the game’s number one star.

The losing streak is over and the large piano is off of the backs of the Capitals players.

It was only one win, but getting one win lately has seemed next to impossible for Washington.

Ovechkin’s return and play sparked his club tonight.

Most Valuable Player, in my book, hands down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Montreal 34-21 and it was 27-9 through two periods..the Habs won the faceoff battle, 36-25…the Caps were 0 for 8 on the power play but for all intensive purposes Ovechkin’s goal was a PPG as it went in right as the penalty expired…Montreal was 0 for 3 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps is the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. You can bet Ryan Miller will be in net so Washington must go to the cage with authority like they did on Saturday in order to get the biscuit by the great Michigan State alum.

 

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

Posted on 19 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For those following along on this blog and in my recent radio session with Drew Forrester on WNST, the fact that the Capitals have lost five in a row is not a surprise to you. On Friday they were whipped 5-1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and on Sunday night it was a 4-1 drubbing to the despised New York Rangers. Things are bad in Caps land, no doubt.

The optimists will point to some fancy stats, particularly the Caps 5v5 Close Fenwick percentage, and talk about how the Capitals puck possession statistics are at a season high. But that and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee these days. Washington is making far too many mistakes on the ice, to include the propensity to take terrible penalties.

They are like that NFL team that can pile up the yards on offense but turn the ball over several times a game, get flagged often, and have a weak defense. Yes, the Caps have the puck more than their opposition a lot lately, but when they lose it, the mishap is resulting in a biscuit in the back of their net far more often than the puck possession edge is leading to goals for them.

Outside of Alex Ovechkin and perhaps John Carlson, there aren’t many guys playing well right now on this club. The defense is a shambles as Washington just doesn’t have six legit NHL blue liners. After Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green, the quality takes a severe drop. Dmitry Orlov, who made the terrible turnover that started the loss to New York just 70 seconds into the game, is trying to do too much on a disastrous pairing with Green. Both 52 and 81 have the same styles but because Washington is so weak depth wise on defense, Coach Adam Oates is practically forced to play them together because the other options are far worse.

The goaltending has had its share of ups and downs and the latest casualty of a horse being ridden too hard and long appears to be Philipp Grubauer. The rookie goalie was bad on goals two and three against the Rangers and yanked for the second straight contest. He likely will be heading back to Hershey since logically the way to go right now is with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in goal. As for Neuvirth, with a limited goalie trade market, it makes little sense to just dump the young goalie because he wants out. Neuvy has played well in his two recent games so the smart move for the Caps is to just go with the duo they planned on having all season and then decide what to do in the off season. GM George McPhee likely can’t get a good enough return to make it worth his while to move Neuvirth. Goaltending is a precious commodity (see Edmonton and Philadelphia for examples of teams with weak net minding) so for the Caps to move a good goalie who has won a playoff series and has a salary cap friendly contract would be foolish.

As for the offense, it stinks after you get past the Gr8. Part of the problem is the defense is not good at getting the puck out of their own zone but this crew of forwards lacks chemistry and the intestinal fortitude to get the greasy goals needed to be a playoff team. They also don’t defend well either. There is an over abundance of right wings and a dearth of left wingers. Martin Erat, who asked to be traded back in November, took three minor penalties on Sunday in New York, one of which cost Green a goal. The 32 year old winger, who is on the downside of his career, is not helping his trade case, at this point.

Basically, it’s a train wreck for the Caps right now and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a home game on Tuesday against a speedy Ottawa team (2-0 vs. Caps this season) followed by five straight games on the road.

The embarrassing weekend has dropped the Capitals out of a playoff spot and if they don’t find a way to turn things around quickly, they will be in even worse shape heading into the Olympic break in early February.

Speaking of embarrassing, the NHL should have its’ tail between its’ legs after the events of Saturday night, which was “Hockey Day” in Canada.

Let’s start with the debacle in Detroit. The Los Angeles Kings had a 2-1 lead late in regulation when a Wings point shot deflected off of the stick of a Kings defensemen up in the air and hit the netting behind the goal some 20 feet up. The puck then proceeded to ricochet off of the netting and off of the back of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and in the cage for what the zebras called on the ice the tying goal. Kings D-man Drew Doughty immediately put his hand up to signal the puck went out of play but somehow all four officials MISSED the puck hitting the netting. Then a bigger issue comes into play. Because pucks off of the netting are not reviewable the league office in Toronto could not disallow the goal because it is not in the rule book. What a joke. If the league doesn’t immediately change that rule tomorrow then they are a disgrace. The shootout loss cost LA a critical point that could decide home ice advantage for them and the Wings got two points they desperately need, but did not deserve, in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Shame on you NHL for not having this scenario covered and double shame on the blind referees who missed this obvious call.

Now for the big embarrassment of the weekend, and those of you who follow the game will be not be surprised that Vancouver Coach John Tortorella was the main culprit. The stubborn and fiery coach, who has already worn out his welcome in Tampa and New York, is currently coaching a struggling Canucks team that just went 0-3 on a road trip. Flames coach Bob Hartley, the Canucks opponent on Saturday night, put a starting lineup together that was ultra tough. Calgary has been a bad team all year but their early season strong work ethic had recently waned. So Hartley rewarded a fourth line that had scored in the previous game with a start in Vancouver. So naturally, the man who seems to look for fights, Tortorella, overreacted and put his tough guys out on the ice to start the game. The result, as many have seen, was an instant line brawl right out of Slap Shot. It was a disgrace and an embarrassment to hockey. What made things even worse was Torts, after the first period was over, was caught on Hockey Night in Canada cameras trying to get at Hartley in the entrance to the Flames locker room. A major dust up occurred with Flames goalie coach and former Washington Capital Clint Malarchuk having to be restrained from going after Torts. Tortorella’s actions after the period was over are far worse than anything else because the game should never be played off of the ice. Torts crossed the line there and should be suspended for several games and fined heavily.

Those who try to say that Tortorella’s hand was forced aren’t going to get any agreement from me. If Torts had remained calm and thought his way through things he would have put out his 2nd or 3rd line to start the game. The line brawl would not have occurred and you can bet that the referees would have been watching closely at the Flames fourth unit and whistled any penalties had they come close to crossing the line. It was an avoidable situation for Tortorella but he was too busy being hard headed and trying to “man up” that he missed a chance to teach his team the right lesson about showing self discipline. Now he’s going to sit for awhile and his ability to get his club to show restraint seems to have been diminished greatly.

What an embarrassment for hockey from Tortorella, there is no other way to put it.

 

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

That quote could not be more true about the Washington Capitals performance against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Caps only allowed one goal, out shot their opponents (36-29), out shot attempted San Jose (69-59), only took one minor penalty, and generated numerous quality chances and more of them than the Sharks.

Yet somehow, the Capitals did not win against the Sharks and lost for the 17th time in 18 tries against San Jose since the turn of the century.

But this is what you call a good loss. Yes, the final was 2-1, in a shootout, but if Washington gives that type of effort, plays that type of game with that focus, and gets that kind of quality in game coaching, then the Caps are going to be a team that makes the playoffs and with some talent upgrades in a few spots, can do some damage in the spring in the post season.

As it stands now, the Caps are 22-16-8 (52 points) and tied for 2nd place with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals have a game in hand on Philly.

Now, after all of that, the next word out of my mouth is “Wow!”

That was some hockey game and if you were in the Verizon Center, you certainly got your money’s worth on this night. This was easily one of the best hockey game’s I have seen all season in the league. There was a great flow to the game with only 1 power play each. There was hitting, good hockey plays, a great fight, and some amazing skill.

Let’s start with the amazing skill. Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL leading 33rd goal from a bad angle on the left wing boards in the second frame to tie this contest up. The Gr8 had very little room, but he lasered a pass from Karl Alzner top shelf on Antti Niemi. How good was the goal? Well, Hall of Fame defensemen Mark Howe, who scouts for the Detroit Red Wings, put his hands about four inches apart to describe the small space Ovechkin had to put the puck to score and then stated that the only guys he thought he’s seen play that could have pulled that shot off were Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, and Mario Lemieux. That’s rarified air there.

Ovechkin was outstanding in this game with 10 shot attempts and a strong two way effort. His last power rush in overtime was breathtaking and he just shot the puck wide of the far post. Had that gone in, they’d still be looking for the roof of the Verizon Center.

The Capitals did several things right in this game. Since allowing a lot of odd man rushes in Tampa last Thursday, they’ve clamped down and cut those to a minimum. Caps defensemen John Carlson gave credit to the forwards for that turnaround. In Coach Adam Oates’ system, if the defensemen holds the offensive blue line than it is the responsibility of one of the forwards to kick it into gear and cover for him. That hadn’t been the case on several occasions this season. In addition, the Capitals forwards are doing a much better job of getting the puck fully into the zone and limiting turnovers as they cross the blue line.

Washington’s overall puck support and gap control was excellent in this tilt and that is why they had the majority of puck possession. Sure there were some mistakes, like the fancy play Dmitry Orlov made that led to the Sharks tally, but Oates stated that there are “at least 20 mistakes in every game.” The important thing there was #81 didn’t allow that first period miscue to thwart his game going forward. Orlov kept playing the way he needs to and he and Mike Green had a very good night receiving 22:38 and 25:11 of ice time, respectively.

As for the Caps top defensive pair, Alzner and Carlson, they had the difficult task of trying to shut down Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns. They passed the test with flying colors as #27 and #74 prevented the trio from getting a single point. Oates did a super job of using his last change to get his top pair against that line and you got the feeling that if Thornton had left the bench to go to the men’s room that Alzner would have followed him in. Jumbo Joe played 22:55 and Alzner, not coincidentally, logged 22:49. Carlson commented that playing Thornton and company is not fun because the line is so big, but Carlzner did their job and also were on the ice for the Ovechkin goal. Great game for those two excellent Capitals players.

Philipp Grubauer turned in a solid effort in goal that was made easier by the great team defense. There wasn’t really anything he could do on the Sharks goal, that came off a turnover while Washington was changing personnel. That allowed Tyler Kennedy to deflect home a Jason Demers point shot with traffic in front.

Overall, this was a very good Capitals performance and it was an enjoyable game to watch. The Caps didn’t get two points, but that’s the way it goes in the gimmick. The Sharks have won 7 of 8 in the shootout. Washington could use some PDO or puck luck, as statistician and fancy stat guru Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) would tell you.

But the key is the rolling 10 game average on Washington’s puck possession numbers has reached it’s highest point this season. The game is more than just 5 vs 5 puck possession, though. You have to limit penalties, minimize turnovers and play well on special teams. You also need good goaltending. The Capitals had most of those covered on Tuesday but just couldn’t finish off the Sharks, who are among the top teams in the NHL.

It was a good contest to measure where the Caps are right now. The way they played is encouraging, outside of a 10 minute lapse in period one that started with a rough shift by the Capitals 3rd defensive pair. Oates decision to switch Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich to start the 2nd period was a great coaching move and as a result, Washington carried much of the play in the final 45 minutes.

Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the Capitals and Oates was pleased in his post game presser.

“It was a good game. Good hockey game. I thought the whole team played very well. Hard fought game; great pace to it. Obviously, didn’t come through in the shootout, but it was a good hockey game.”

Now the Caps go into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night (8pm on NBCSN) to take on the first place Penguins, a team they have yet to defeat under Oates.

Will they be able to parlay their solid play Tuesday into another strong performance and a victory on Wednesday at Mellon Arena?

If they play like they did against San Jose, than they have a decent chance to do so against one of the NHL’s elite clubs.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth, playing his first game since late November, had every right to be upset after Karl Alzner’s stick deflected a Phil Kessel shot from a weak angle by him to give Toronto a 2-1 lead just 54 seconds into the third period.  But #30 didn’t sulk, and in more important fashion, Neuvy made a game changing save on Mason Raymond, who was wide open in the slot, just 65 ticks later. If Raymond’s shot goes in, the game is pretty much over as Washington would’ve gone down 3-1. But Neuvirth made a great glove save.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitals started to take the play after slightly being outplayed by the visitors, to that point. Nicklas Backstrom would tie it at the 4:36 mark after strong work in the offensive zone and then Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) made a great pass to Marcus Johansson, who then fed Joel Ward in the slot, and #42 buried the game winner just after David “Overpaid” Clarkson’s penalty expired.

Washington then closed out the final 8:09 of time and won their second straight contest in regulation to improve to 22-16-6 (50 points), which puts them in a second place tie with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.

With both teams having played the previous night, the first period had a sleepy feel to it and neither club dented the twine. But that changed in the middle frame and boy did the intensity pick up after Dion Phaneuf and John Erskine had a roughing match with the linesman sandwiched between them. #4 would end up getting the extra minor, a call that had Coach Adam Oates as mad as I’ve ever seen him on the bench. The Caps killed the extra minor and then Ovechkin scored his 32nd of the season after great work by Mike Green in the corner and a super pass by Mikhail Grabovski.

But, as usual, the Caps couldn’t stand prosperity and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk scored on the power play just 2:29 later. Then the intensity went to an even higher level, fueled by the Phaneuf-Erksine spat and likely also by a shaky hit from behind by Nazem Kadri on Alzner along the Caps bench. For some reason Toronto’s Carter Ashton then decided it would be a good idea to fight rookie Tom Wilson and talk about a bad plan, #43 pummeled the son of former NHLer, Brent.

That undercard bout would lead to the main event, Colton Orr vs. Erskine and Big John pounded Orr in a decisive victory. Unfortunately the fight wins didn’t translate into goals on the ice as the Leafs carried more of the play from then until the Kessel tally early in the third period.

But Neuvirth (32 saves) came through with the huge stop on Raymond when this game was in question and saved his club.

It was a big victory, granted it was over a struggling Leafs squad, but Washington needs wins now and Neuvy allowed his club to finally wake up and grab the contest.

So that is two strong goaltending performances in a row for the Caps. Philipp Grubauer was super in Tampa on Thursday and Neuvirth was excellent on Friday against Toronto. #30 still wants to be traded, but with a grueling stretch coming up, Oates is gonna need his keepers to play well.

What also helped Neuvirth tonight was the Caps clamped down in the neutral zone and avoided offensive zone turnovers. As a result the Leafs did not get any two on ones or breakaways. At best, they may have had one or two three on two’s. That is real progress for Washington, granted it was against a team that struggles to own the puck. The Capitals still allowed 34 shots on net and 66 attempts to the Leafs against 35 and 68 for the Caps, respectively, so they did not totally dominate puck possession.

Overall, it was a pretty even game but Neuvirth made some big stops when needed and the Capitals top players, Ovechkin and Backstrom, delivered down the stretch to help Washington eke out a victory.

Notes: Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and afterwards Oates blamed much of that on the Verizon Center ice, calling it “terrible tonight”…the Leafs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 39-34 and Toronto’s first goal came right after a defensive zone loss by Brooks Laich on the PK…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres at 3pm at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Ryan Miller made 49 saves last time these two teams met in Buffalo.

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, losers of their last four games, desperately needed a win on Thursday night in Tampa.

After blowing a 3-1 lead, Eric Fehr deflected home a Mike Green point shot with 51 seconds left to break a 3-3 tie and end the Capitals losing skid. It was a hard earned victory and the Caps move back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division at 21-16-6 (48 points).

There were a lot of things to like in this game, starting with the play of goalie Philipp Grubauer (33 saves). The young netminder made one of the best saves of the year in the final frame with Washington clinging to a 3-2 lead on a two on one Tampa rush. Grubauer went to the splits and somehow managed to deny what seemed to be a sure goal for the Bolts. Yes, the Caps would yield the tying goal after that, but if that one goes in, on a shorthanded rush mind you, Washington likely doesn’t recover. The young German goalie is playing extremely well and right now is the #1 guy. Now I would rest him on Friday night when the Caps take on the Leafs at the Verizon Center (7 pm) and give Braden Holtby a start after a long flight home from Florida, but then I’d go back with Grubauer on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres.

Up front, the line of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal), and Fehr (2 goals) was outstanding generating 21 of the 57 shot attempts the Capitals had in this contest (Tampa had 58 shot attempts). On the three tallies that members of the line were involved in, they did a great job of getting traffic on the opposing net. Grabovski provided the screen on Fehr’s first tally off of a sweet pass from the Gr8. By the way, if you are one of those people who think Ovechkin is selfish with the puck and can’t pass, then I suggest you put down the dope you’re smoking and check yourself in to the next rehab center. Alex’s passing is underrated and he moved the biscuit extremely well, once again, in this one. It was his steal in the defensive zone, quick up ice rush, and good pass that set the whole winning goal sequence up.

I also liked the strong defensive play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. That duo is as solid as it gets and neither was on the ice for a goal against. Each picked up an assist and were +1 in 26:08 and 21:52 of ice time, respectively. Carlson’s volleyball swat of a Grubauer rebound in the third period likely saved a goal.

Washington’s power play was once again a thing of beauty and they continue to find different ways to score. Grabovski got the first PPG by going to the cage and then with the Bolts over playing Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson did his best Julius Erving imitation and stuffed one home late in the opening frame to make it 3-1. The Caps also killed off the only Lightning power play so the special teams were a big factor in the victory.

Now to the things I did not like, and some of them are disturbing trends.

First, and foremost, the Capitals are allowing FAR TOO MANY odd man rushes. Two of the three Bolts goals were off of them, a first period breakaway after Troy Brouwer made a bad pass with both Dmitry Orlov and Green in poor position and a two on one in the second period when John Erskine got caught too far up the ice. On that two on one, Connor Carrick did not do a good job of letting Grubauer know the pass was going to be cut off and as a result, B.J. Crombeen beat him short side for his first goal in over 50 games. Goalies need to know where the shots are coming from to stop them and the Caps defenders are doing a lousy job of helping that occur. Washington defenders are getting caught up ice too often and the other defender is too many times doing a lousy job of playing the odd man rush. Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson have got to get this team to first minimize the number of odd man breaks against, and then better prepare their defenders to play them when they do happen.

The line of Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer was not good. They only generated 10 shot attempts and were on the ice for two goals against, one of them the tying goal off of a defensive zone face off. Brouwer was the worst of the three with his awful turnover and then screening Grubauer on the tying goal. Either block the shot there or get out of the way. Overall, Washington’s forwards are not doing a good enough job of blocking shots this season and that needs to change. More often than not, they are screens instead of a goalie assistant in their own zone.

Erskine and whomever he is paired with continues to be a struggling duo. #4′s lack of speed is hurting him and he was woefully out of a position on the Crombeen tally.

Despite the things that still must be cleaned up, this team needed a victory and they got one against a very good Tampa team. Yes, the Bolts are without Steven Stamkos and they were just returning from a grueling road trip, but they are a quality hockey club so a win for the Caps, in regulation, is a good step in the right direction.

We’ll see if they can parlay that into a winning streak with the struggling Leafs and woeful Sabres coming to DC this weekend.

 

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the third time in three games, the Washington Capitals did a lot of good things, and lost for the third straight time.

On Thursday at the Verizon Center, the Caps scored three times in the first four minutes of period two but over the other 57+ minutes they mustered 0 goals. Washington threw 41 shots at the net to just 33 for Carolina, but once again mistakes cost them a hockey game.

The early miscues were bad penalties. After a sloppy line change led to a too many men on the ice infraction, Brooks Laich tried to decapitate Alex Semin and it put Carolina, who were being totally outplayed to that point, on a 5 on 3 advantage. Jeff Skinner, who would notch a hat trick in this one after a two goal performance here back on December 3rd, would beat Philipp Grubauer as the rookie goalie over committed and flopped to the ice.

After Alex Ovechkin scored his 31st goal of the season just 49 seconds into the middle frame, John Erskine got caught pinching at the offensive blue line and the Canes scored on a two on one. The shot was short side by Manny Malhotra and it sure looked like it was a stoppable one. Troy Brouwer and Steve Oleksy would tally just 52 seconds apart and the Capitals seemed to have righted the ship to take a 3-2 lead.

However just 40 seconds later, Grubauer, who was not very good in this one, gave up a bad rebound and when Martin Erat misplayed the puck in the slot Skinner was there to make Washington pay.

In overtime, the Capitals went for the gusto and Ovechkin’s bad pass to Dmitry Orlov resulted in a three on one break against Mike Green and #52 once again failed to cut off the pass and #53 got the hattie to end this one with a victory for Carolina.

So after 41 games the Capitals are 20-15-6 (46 points) and are clinging to second place in the Metropolitan Division over a streaking Flyers club who are playing in Colorado late Thursday night.

At this point, I certainly have more questions than answers about this hockey team.

First off, is this group of defensemen the right mix to keep this club in a playoff spot, and more importantly go anywhere in the spring if they do qualify? After John Carlson and Karl Alzner you’ve a got a pairing of Green and Orlov that have the puck a lot but are also prone to disastrous mistakes. As for the third duo, Oleksy and John Erskine have not been good. I put most of that on #4 who just doesn’t seem to have the wheels to handle Oates’ pressure the puck system.

Second, what is the plan on goaltending? Coach Adam Oates has used three different goalies this season with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer sharing much of the load over long stretches. #31 is starting to show the signs of fatigue that Holtby was displaying after he was ridden hard by the bench boss for two plus months. Both seem to be NHL calibre goalies, but the way one is being ridden into the ground while the other sits seems to be a plan that needs rethinking. Grubauer was not as good in Ottawa and got worse on Thursday at the Verizon Center. Michal Neuvirth wants out and at this point, if they could get a legitimate third pair defensemen for him, then I’d do that deal.

Finally, is this the right mix of forwards once everyone is fully healthy? Up front the Caps go long stretches without scoring. Ovechkin is getting his shots and scoring goals but there isn’t a lot of balance after that. To top it off, the forwards have been very prone to big mistakes in their own end too. Washington’s inability to play well from their goal line out isn’t all on the defense. The forwards have struggled mightily with back checking (see Canes third goal tonight) and it is hurting the Caps ability to prevent odd man breaks and quality scoring chances.

To sum it all up, what we’ve seen in 41 games is pretty much what this team appears to be made of. They have great stretches and then make horrible mistakes on some of the simplest facets of the game. Their record displays what they basically are, a mediocre hockey team. In Oates’ post game pressers he frequently refers to “the same mistakes being made over and over.” That needs fixing.

The mediocrity can’t be good enough for anyone in the Capitals organization, at this stage.

So what should they do?

With three guys requesting trades and an abundance of players in certain areas (right wing, goalie, and offensive defensemen) and major weaknesses in other areas (left wing and solid skating two way defensemen), it appears that the only way to improve this club and make them a post season threat is via the trade route. You’ve got to give up something decent to get something in return. There is nothing wrong with trading a top player from a position of strength to get a top player to fill a position of weakness. Jack Johnson from LA to Columbus for Jeff Carter in 2012 comes to mind quickly. That move was the final piece of the puzzle to a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup run. It was the culmination of several aggressive moves by Kings GM Dean Lombardi and those changes turned a middle of the pack club into a Stanley Cup winner.

Yes, that team had Jonathan Quick in net and were good defensively, but that was primarily due to Lombardi getting the right mix of players via excellent asset management.

Your move(s) Mr. McPhee.

Notes: Shot attemps were 72-58 in favor of the Caps despite the Canes holding a 4 to 1 edge in power plays…the Caps were 41-33 from the face off dot…Ovechkin was hauled down by Justin Faulk early in the middle frame and awarded a penalty shot but the Gr8 fumbled the puck on the way in.

 

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Caps Lose in Shootout to Ryan Miller

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had 50 shots on net and only allowed 17 to the Buffalo Sabres, yet they lost, 2-1 in a six round shootout.

The Caps out shot attempted Buffalo, 78-39! So much for FancyStats, right?! That’s been the way things have gone this year for the Caps, they’ve won games where they were totally outplayed and they’ve also had some losses when they’ve dominated.

On Sunday night, there was one major reason they lost: Ryan Miller.

You remember that guy right? The one that nearly carried Team USA to a gold medal in Vancouver in the 2010 Olympics? Yes, that guy, who despite a weak supporting cast, continues to keep the Sabres in many hockey games. Well, the man who I think deserves to start the 2014 Olympics in Sochi in February, stole a game for Buffalo once again.

Washington did a ton of good things in this contest. The line of Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer were downright dominant and it was Brouwer who scored the lone goal on a one timer after a sweet pass from Grabovski. After the contest, Coach Adam Oates called this tilt, “the best he’s ever seen Brouwer play.” That’s high praise for a player who has played 93 games, including playoffs, for the second year bench boss.

Philipp Grubauer didn’t face a lot of rubber but his save on Matt Moulson was outstanding along with some others that the Caps absolutely had to have because Miller was so good.

Alex Ovechkin had 12, count ‘em, 12 shots on net!

When you do the things Washington does, you usually win the hockey game. Oates was pleased with his team and said he wasn’t unhappy about losing.

From my vantage point, it’s hard to be upset too. Miller was that good in this one.

Now would I like to see some guys be better or replaced by upgrades? Yes. The Washington 3rd defensive pair of John Erskine and Steve Oleksy is struggling and most of that falls on #4, who just isn’t keeping up. His skating has been a step off and the one goal against the Caps came because he didn’t cut off Drew Stafford’s move to the cage. As a result, Buffalo got a deflection goal to take a 1-0 lead, which was a deflator due to the Capitals dominance to that point.

In addition, that pair, combined with the fourth line, had a terrible shift midway through the 3rd period that gave the home squad momentum for a few shifts, something they did not have all game to that point. Aaron Volpatti is struggling with his puck skills and that is hurting what should be a decent fourth line with the always hustling Jay Beagle and rookie Tom Wilson. But with 24 unable to really handle a pass most of the time, it’s like those guys are playing 4 on 5 on many shifts. That needs to be corrected.

Finally, I did not like the officiating at all in this one. Rob Martell and Wes McCauley missed some flagrant infractions committed by the Sabres. Henrik Tallinder caught Mike Green with a high stick in the first frame that should’ve been a double minor and Tyler Ennis freight trained Dmitry Orlov up high on the boards in period three in what should’ve been a charge and head shot. That easily could’ve been a five minute major but nothing was called at all. Washington dominated the game totally but only received two power plays to none for Buffalo. But zebras are gonna be zebras!

At the end of the night, this was the Ryan Miller show. The Caps played well and lost, but at least it was in the gimmick and they fall to 20-14-5 (45 points). They are still in 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division as we approach the NHL season mid point. If they play like they did on Sunday evening, they will win way more hockey games than they lose.

Notes: The Caps are in Ottawa on Monday night to take on a Senators team that beat them, 6-4, at the Verizon Center, earlier in the season…Washington was 33-31 on draws…Steve Ott, the cheap shot artist, scored the only goal in the shootout in the sixth round…Oates was able to spread the ice time around quite a bit with the minimal power plays. That should help tomorrow in Ottawa in the back to back situation. John Carlson led the team in ice time again, with 24:12. Green logged 23:43.

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Backstrom, Grubauer Lead Caps Over Rangers

Posted on 28 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

So much of sports can be described as a “Game of Inches.”

On Friday night at the Verizon Center, that was definitely the case as the Washington Capitals received a late goal from Eric Fehr to defeat the New York Rangers, 3-2. Fehr’s tally, his 6th of the season, was on a snap shot down the right side after a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (1G, 1A). Immediately before that goal, which came in a four on four situation, Dan Girardi hit the far post behind Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) after a Washington giveaway. If that puck is an inch to the right, it’s a 3-2 Rangers lead. But that’s the way it goes, and remember on Monday, if Alex Ovechkin’s shot from the slot is an inch lower than the Caps tie the Ducks late in regulation. As they say, “That’s Hockey.”

This victory improves the Caps to 20-14-4 (44 points) and puts them six points ahead of the Rangers, who they will only face one more time again this season, at Madison Square Garden.

The biggest difference in this game tonight was between the pipes. Grubauer was excellent for the Caps while Cam Talbot gave up some questionable goals. I know Talbot has been hot, but Henrik Lundqvist owns the Caps, and for some reason Alain Vigneault chose to go more with recent form than historical stats in his net minding decision. I can tell you I was certainly thrilled to not see King Henrik manning the cage for New York, so one would think the Capitals players were happy too?

The shot attempts in this contest ended up 71-55 for New York, but it was a fairly even game when it comes to quality chances. The Rangers shot attempts in the opening frame were primarily from the perimeter and it was really only the second period where they dominated play, and most of that was when the Caps had either their 4th line on the ice or their 3rd defensive pair on the blue line.

In the final period, after the Rangers got a quick tying tally on Carl Hagelin’s shorthanded goal, the Capitals carried more of the play. Coach Adam Oates did a nice job of shifting the ice time to his top two defensive pairs and limited the 3rd pair to just three and a half minutes. The difference was clearly noticeable and with the Rangers short a defensemen due to Anton Stralman’s in game injury, the Capitals seemed to wear the Rangers out more in that final frame.

Another positive was that the Caps did a better job on the back check on Friday after misreading two situations on Monday and allowing the tying and winning goal to the Ducks. Oates said that his team was better, but he also said the Rangers are a different type of team than Anaheim, which indicated it was an easier chore for his club against New York. However, Karl Alzner told me that Oates showed some video clips on back checking and King Karl said that the breakdowns on Monday were more of an individual thing. Whatever the case, Washington did a much better job in defensive zone coverage when the Rangers came up the ice on the rush.

Alzner said the team has been working more on their “end zone.” #27 said that the key to a solid back check and defensive zone is that when the puck is in the offensive zone there is always a third guy high. Some coaches require their center to always be that third guy (this is how Bryan Murray ran things for the Caps in the mid 1980′s) but many just let each shift play itself out and have the third guy be a read by the forwards themselves. From what I can gather, Oates’ system looks to be a “read and react accordingly” on the back check. So any of the three forwards could be the first player back. One thing the team is working on, according to Alzner, is more than just the third guy coming back strong because he said the coaches have pointed out it usually has been the third or even the fourth guy on the opposition that have been getting the quality chances against Washington this year.

It’s encouraging to see the focus of the team on these things and there is no doubt that practice time helps the reads and the communication, which is vital, on the ice.

As for Backstrom, he continues to dominate and any smart hockey person will tell you just how good #19 is compared to others in the league. The media may not be all over him from a publicity standpoint, but those in the game know just how good the center is and he is arguably as important to the Caps as any other player. On Friday night, Backstrom, along with Grubauer, were the primary reasons the Capitals stopped their two game losing streak.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:38. Mike Green (1G) played 19:10…the Rangers wore their top three d out with Girardi logging 27:35, Ryan McDonagh getting a game leading 29:53 and Michael Del Zotto playing 24:37…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on the road on Sunday at 5pm.

 

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