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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey Barry, More Mike Green Please

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin 74th GWG Leads Caps Over Avs

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Caps Keep Rolling with Win Over Florida

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Roberto Luongo has historically given the Washington Capitals fits, going 15-1 in his last 16 starts against the Caps.

So Sunday’s tilt with the Panthers at the Verizon Center, against a pesky Florida squad that is big and had previously taken the Capitals to two shootouts, loomed like a tough one coming off of the big Winter Classic victory on Thursday.

Despite being shorthanded five times, including three times in the final period, the Capitals carried the play for much of this contest and garnered a well earned 4-3 victory over the Panthers to improve to 20-11-7 (47 points).

The Capitals are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.

Alexander Ovechkin (goal and an assist) had another stellar game and it was his open ice collision with Luongo in the first period that eventually drove the net minder from the cage after forty minutes. Luongo gave up three goals but because his club also tallied three times, he wasn’t saddled with the loss. Al Montoya, who played the third period, gave up a goal on five shots to take the defeat.

Braden Holtby was in net for Washington, his 15th straight start, and he stopped 29 of 32 shots en route to his 18th victory (18-8-6). His save percentage on the season is at .920 and he continues to play well. About the only goal you could fault him on was the third Florida tally, by Nick Bjugstad, which came from down low and beat #70 top shelf in the closing minutes.

After a strong opening period that was scoreless, the Caps struck first on the PP with Ovechkin’s 19th tally of the season off of a sweet pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That first goal is so important this year since the Capitals are now 19-1-2 in that situation against a 1-10-5 record when the opponent gets on the board first. Despite the early lead, the Capitals would play keystone cops at the offensive blue line which led to a two on zero Cats rush. Somehow Holtby managed to stop the first two shots on that sequence, but his defensive help didn’t come quickly or properly enough and the third shot found the back of the twine. Just 85 seconds later Florida took the lead.

In the past, the Caps might have wilted, but not this more resilient bunch under Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals would storm back, thanks primarily to the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward to grab a 3-2 edge heading into period three. From there Ovechkin set up Andre Burakovsky for the fourth goal that ended up being the game winner.

Overall, the Capitals played well but they still have issues taking penalties. They were shorthanded for a total of 9:13 and as chronicled after the Winter Classic win, the number of infractions they are taking must decrease. Granted the call against Brooks Orpik that gave the Cats a 5 on 3 was downright ridiculous and Trotz called out Vincent Trocheck for diving on that play in his post game presser.

Florida is a big and physical team, but the Capitals outworked them on Sunday and that’s why they won the game and the Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, made that clear afterwards.

“We weren’t good enough. I mean, we battled back and found a way to come close there at the end, but not good enough. We didn’t play hard enough. They were more physical than we were tonight. They wanted the puck battles and that’s why we ended up losing the game at the end,” said Gallant.

Burakovsky, who is only 19 and played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, received his first start on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and he played well in 12:05 of even strength time. His skill, primarily his hands and shooting ability, is something sorely needed in that top line position and he delivered on Sunday. Trotz liked #65’s play and commended him afterwards.

“He was playing with two big stars, and he didn’t look intimidated. A couple times he shot the puck where sometimes you should make the extra pass, but he got the puck and he just made plays. I like that. Defensively he was pretty sound. We didn’t spend much time in our own end, but he was pretty sound in terms of his tracking and all that, so I was really happy for him. He’s such a great kid and he comes from a great family. He’s a really good hockey player…but I think in the scheme of things, looking at his whole career, he’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Trotz.

So the Capitals continue to keep finding ways to win hockey games and they get two days of practice at Kettler Ice Plex before facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday and then they finally play the Flyers, for the first time this season, on Thursday, in Philadelphia. Those are two tough games in a back to back situation and the Caps last loss was on the 2nd night of one of those in New York right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see if Trotz goes with Holtby in net twice or turns to Justin Peters for a start for the first time since November 29th.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle 43-29 with Backstrom going 18-8 from the dot…shot attempts favored the Caps, 63-60…the Panthers were 0 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 1 for 2 in only 3:16 of man advantage time. Yes, the Caps have been taking too many penalties lately, but some of the calls recently have been beyond bad. Bottom line, the officiating needs to improve too and they need to start penalizing the divers, like Trocheck, and not the players with integrity, such as Orpik.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Win A Perfect Winter Classic

Posted on 01 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was smiling and beaming in the locker room following the Caps 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic and he had every right to be doing so.

Leonsis, who fought long and hard for the outdoor game in the DC area, watched his club pull out a late victory over the best team in the NHL in the Blackhawks on an amazing stage.

The temperature was perfect, the ice was as good as it could be (kudos to Dan Craig of the NHL) and the venue, Nationals Park, was spectacularly laid out, including the replica of the Nation’s Capitol building with a copy of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pond out in front of it that led to the ice rink.

Washington’s star player, Alexander Ovechkin, had an outstanding game with a goal and an assist while goalie Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage again stopping 33 shots. Troy Brouwer scored the winner on the power play with just 12 seconds to go leading to a wild celebration and flying seat cushions at Nats Park.

The victory, the Caps 9th in a very difficult December schedule, moves them to 19-11-7 and back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington is now 18-1-2 when scoring first this season (they scored the first two tallies in this one).

It was a magical day for Washington and Leonsis, who believed that the greater Maryland and Virginia area could make a large hockey event work, and he was proven right.

Now for some analysis of this one.

Washington was extremely solid in periods one and three but they really struggled in the middle frame when they took three minor penalties. Two of those overlapped for 91 seconds so that meant the Caps had to survive a five on three situation against a talented Hawks team. Somehow the Capitals managed to do that, thanks to good goaltending, solid PK work, and over passing by Chicago. Afterwards Blackhawks coach Joel Quennville noted that when you don’t score on a five on three you often lose the game. He also wasn’t happy about his team’s lack of shots on goal during that situation. The two time Stanley Cup Champion was correct on both counts.

Part of the reason the Capitals were able to hold off a talented power play was Washington’s “Honest Abe” player of the game, Brooks Orpik. When last seen on Monday night, #44 was writhing in pain on the ice in Long Island clutching his right knee. Somehow what looked to be a potentially season ending injury was only a minor tweak and Coach Barry Trotz was able to field his best left handed defensemen against Chicago. Not only did Orpik suit up, but he logged a Washington game leading 24:44 of ice time, including 5:43 of the 7:26 the Caps were shorthanded! You just can’t over state what Orpik has meant to this team and both Eric Fehr (breakaway goal) and Ovechkin called him a “warrior” afterwards.

When Orpik was handed the Abe Lincoln gear that goes with being named, by his teammates, the Honest Abe player of the game, in #44 style he provided a quick and simple speech that closed with “I thought everybody was fully committed, so let’s keep it going.”

Trotz noted that Orpik is a guy that doesn’t lead by talk, but by showing up every day and doing things properly. He’s been a great example for his teammates and he’s been an invaluable player on the back end.

“You can only admire what he does and brings to the group. He just makes everybody better. He doesn’t say a whole lot in the room, he says everything with how he plays and how he lives and his actions and his commitment to the game. So, it really is an important piece to what we’re trying to do here in Washington,” said Trotz on Orpik.

The down side is that the Caps had to kill off so many penalties, whether you agree with the officiating or not (and it was not a good day for the guys in stripes, especially the last two calls by Francois St. Laurent on Matt Niskanen and Jonathan Toews). Washington too frequently is chirping at the referees and taking bad penalties. John Carlson’s cross check to the face that put the Caps down two men was a retaliation and unnecessary one. Too often the Caps are losing their focus and some of the penalties are just not smart, like Jason Chimera’s holding infraction and Brouwer’s board in the first period that took the Capitals off of the power play. Despite the issues, Trotz did point out a positive that has come from these mental lapses.

“The thing that we have been really good at this year is, when we get off what I call the rails a little bit and we lose our focus, we’re able to get back and find ways to win.”

That was certainly true on New Year’s Day, but the players I spoke with afterwards, including Orpik, Niskanen and Mike Green (two assists) all said the team needs to limit the number of infractions.

“Yeah we talked about [penalties] before and obviously the 2nd period we took quite a few penalties…every team has a good power play these days…moving forward I think we have to be more disciplined. When you are down that much it taxes certain guys that are penalty killers…we got a lot of good guys that don’t kill penalties so that throws them off a bit and takes them out of their rhythm. There are a lot of things it has an effect on,” said Orpik on Washington’s penalty issues, which helped aid Chicago in out shot attempting the Caps, 26-11, in period two.

“Barry talked about discipline and we sort of needed to refocus. I think we got away from our focus. I think we had a good 1st [period] and once we got into that second period maybe we got caught up with the emotion and the energy of the building and then our focus changed to complaining about penalties and what not…We got to be a little more disciplined,” added Green (two assists in 14:59) on what the team discussed after period two.

Clearly the Capitals aren’t helping themselves with some of these bad penalties. Complaining to the referees, whether justified or not, will not help the cause. Simply put, the players have to focus on their game and let Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan deal with the officiating.

In the end though, this was a huge two points for the Capitals on a perfect day at Nationals Park and the large majority of the 42,832 that attended went home happy, much like Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

Notes: Power plays were 6 to 4 for Chicago and the overall shot attempts ended up 62-58 for the Blackhawks…the Caps lost the face off battle 42-36 but Nicklas Backstrom was 16-13…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers on Sunday at the Verizon Center at 3 pm.

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Mike Green Show Leads Caps in OT Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 18 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well they don’t call him “Game Over Greenie” for nothing.

After being on the ice for what the Columbus fans thought was the Blue Jackets winning goal with 4:25 remaining in regulation, Mike Green took the game over for Washington.

#52 went end to end on an amazing rush to set up Troy Brouwer for his skate tying goal with three minutes left in regulation.

Then, on the opening shift in overtime, Greenie took the biscuit in the neutral zone and flew around Jack Johnson to set up a streaking Eric Fehr in the slot for the game winner just 42 seconds into the extra frame. It was another top notch pass that only a few NHL players can make and it allowed the Capitals to get a win after blowing an early 2-0 lead.

Wow. This was one exciting game that was filled with animosity and emotion, exactly what you want in an NHL tilt.

The Blue Jackets came in as winners of seven straight, but the Caps were entering the contest with a 4-0-2 mark in their last six.

Washington TOTALLY dominated the first period and led, 2-0, before an iffy call on Alex Ovechkin in period two put Columbus on the power play. The Blue Jackets scored there and then on another man advantage as the Caps seemed to forget that at even strength they were the better club. For the night, the Caps out shot attempted Columbus 67-41, and CBus had the extra power play too.

That second period was a crazy one with three fights and Washington losing their heads (see John Carlson’s high hit on Ryan Johansen). The Capitals need to learn that the referees really are mostly incompetent so they should just do their best to ignore them and play the game. Instead, Washington got frustrated and away from their game plan, which Columbus wanted since the Caps are the superior team.

That ploy by Todd Richards’ club nearly paid off as the home team in the ugly third jerseys took 3-2 and 4-3 leads in the third period. But Washington showed resilience and Green and company were determined not to lose. It was an impressive performance in a barn that is loud and has a crazy cannon. The Caps, just a year ago with a much weaker defense and a poor coach, were run out of Nationwide Arena twice in games that were not close at all.

So on Twitter (@EdFrankovic) today I called this game a benchmark one for Washington, like I labeled the Islander back to back tilts around Thanksgiving. The Capitals record in those three games is now 2-0-1 with two of those tilts on the road. In each case, the Capitals carried the play against an opponent that was playing well coming into the game.

This team, when it wants to work, is pretty darned good.

However, when they get complacent or lose their focus, like they did in period two tonight, they play very poorly.

Fortunately for Washington, they kept working, even after the lazy shift that gave Columbus the 4-3 lead.

Green and his teammates were relentless and they deserved the “W” for that effort, which included going to the net and rattling a super goalie in Sergie Bobrovsky (31 saves).

The Caps are now 15-10-6 and back in 3rd place in the Metropolitan division. More importantly, they are now 7-1-2 in the division. Washington is also 14-1-2 when scoring first.

A good start and a highlight reel finish by Green was the recipe for success on Thursday night.

Notes: Ovechkin was great but held without a point. He had 14 shot attempts (6 SOG), 3 hits, and was +2 in 22:03 of ice time…Michael Latta had one of his best games ever with two assists. He was physical all night…Karl Alzner had a goal and an assist in one of his better games this season…Green is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Capitals have really improved their blue line but it would not be as solid if they lost #52. Resigning Green needs to be a priority.

 

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The hockey gods are clearly testing the Washington Capitals.

Despite dominating a very hard working Calgary Flames team for nearly 55 minutes, the Caps found themselves in a tie game on a bizarre play I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Caps inception in 1974.

An errant Washington pass put the puck in the slot in front of Braden Holtby. Marcus Johansson, who was in perfect defensive position, did the smart thing and tried to quickly knock it out of harms way. In the process, the puck went off of Troy Brouwer’s skate and bounced back five feet or so into the net behind Holtby for the tying tally with 5:10 to go in regulation.

Are you kidding me?

After all of the hard work and effort the Capitals put into this contest surely they deserved better at that point, right?

They had played a text book 3rd period and all evening their puck support was excellent. Colossal defensive turnovers, like we’ve seen too much of recently, were not present in this game and the Caps generated lots of offensive zone time and chances.

Unfortunately the Caps struggled to bury many of those chances, totally missing the net on some that were of the grade A variety. That’s been a trend during their losing skid, which is now at five straight games (and they’ve lost six of their last seven). They did, however, manage to get a point in this loss when they were defeated, in overtime, 4-3.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was not upset at all, except for the outcome. His team had come to play hard and stick to the system and for the most part, they did.

The players were clearly frustrated afterwards with Matt Niskanen telling me that “losing sucks.” But he also knew that the team had played the game the right way on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin picked up two assists to seize the franchise all time points lead from Peter Bondra and he nearly set up the game winner late in regulation when he blocked a Dennis Wideman point shot, skated down the ice and found Nicklas Backstrom streaking towards the net. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) would take a nice cross ice pass from Ovechkin and feed Tom Wilson on the door step, but “Willy” was unable to lift the puck and Jonas Hiller (31 saves) made the stop of the game to send the tilt to OT.

Looking at the stats, Washington was dominant. They out shot attempted the Flames 68-48 and they won the face off battle 42-30 with Michael Latta going 13-6. It was a very strong effort.

The glass half empty folks will point to Mike Green’s -4 and Holtby allowing 4 goals on only 23 shots. I didn’t think either one of them played a bad game. Green was tripped on the first Calgary goal and interfered with in the neutral zone on the second, but the zebras chose not to call a Flames penalty. I’m not sure how Holtby could possibly have saved the 3rd goal? Finally, on the Flames game winner, Niskanen lost an edge in the neutral zone and that allowed Calgary to set the winning play up.

But the naysayers will likely be out in full force and as Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate..” and there will be many that pile on Green and Holtby.

Hopefully the players tune it out. In fact the whole team needs to do what they did after the third goal, show resolve and play harder. There was no moping or hanging of heads after that flukey third Flames goal, which is encouraging. Losing stinks and this team is probably wondering what they need to do to get a win.

To me, it’s pretty simple, just keep focusing on playing the right way and not try things out of your comfort zone, which they did too much of against Arizona on Sunday.

Trotz noted after the game that “usually the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Calgary has been working hard and Barry noted they are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Trotz felt that the Caps worked harder than Calgary on Tuesday night, but his club wasn’t rewarded.

That’s hockey. You hope during the course of 82 games that things will even out, especially if you are working hard and playing the right way.

So at this point all the Caps can do is keeping working harder within the framework of their system and as the main part of that songs says, just “Shake it Off.”

N0tes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:48. He and Karl Alzner had a very strong game. Wilson had an assist in 13:28 of ice time and was a physical presence. He did get juked badly by Mark Giordano, who is a top pair defensemen, on the Flames second goal…Joel Ward scored his sixth goal of the season on a 5 on 3 Caps power play in the middle frame. ..next up for the Caps are the Chicago Blackhawks in the windy city on Friday night. The Capitals then come home on Saturday against a Carolina squad that’s won three games in a row after a horrible start. The return of Eric Staal has helped get the Canes going.

 

 

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Ward & Orpik Lead Caps over Flames

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Those following this blog and listening to the frequent radio bits I’ve been doing recently with Nestor Aparacio know that I’m high on this year’s Capitals team because of two primary reasons: the addition of an experienced coach in Barry Trotz and the improved blue line.

After seven games, the Capitals are now 4-1-2 after a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday.

The reason they are off to such a great start: they are playing a structured system and they have the players on the back end to execute it.

Washington’s defensive crew was once again outstanding in the game against Calgary as the Caps dominated puck possession and kept the Flames on the perimeter for the majority of the evening.

Brooks Orpik was dynamite for the Capitals in this one doling out 10 hits and setting up the game winning goal with a super breakout pass. There are some in the fancy stats community that will put little stock in hits, citing that most of the time the club with more hits are the ones chasing the biscuit around and losing the puck possession battle. That was not the case in Calgary on Saturday, when Oprik took the body the result on several occasions was the Calgary player was removed from the puck and the Capitals went the other way in transition. Simply put, #44 brings a presence to the Capitals back end that they have not had in several years. His addition, and the super signing of Matt Niskanen, has allowed Trotz to spread the minutes out on defense (John Carlson led the club in ice time at a modest 22:52 against the Flames). That minimizes the ability of the opponents to get a matchup advantage at certain points in the game and it also allows the Capitals players to stay fresher. Mike Green is having a monster season in this system by playing roughly 20 minutes a game. #52 can play to his strengths and he was fabulous again on Saturday. You can add Karl Alzner to that list too, his feed to Nicklas Backstrom on the 3rd goal was a super stretch pass. #27 is playing his best hockey in years, as well.

Up front, Trotz tweaked his lines after the loss in Edmonton moving Eric Fehr back up with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. That line scored the Caps 3rd goal and the Gr8 drew the penalty that led to the game’s first goal, a Joel Ward power play marker. Ward, who was shifted down to the 4th line, had his best outing of 2014-15 with the two goals to earn the game’s number one star. Ward, who had the coverage mistake on the Oilers first goal on Wednesday, was back to moving his feet and winning the puck battles.

Andre Burakovsky didn’t have a point on Saturday, but he continues to play like he’s 25 and his line dominated in the possession department. This young man has been the most pleasant surprise of the young season. Evgeny Kuznetsov, flanked by Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera, also had a strong game and looks to be adjusting to the North American rink. If Washington can get some scoring coming from multiple lines they are going to be a hard team to beat in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference.

In net, Braden Holtby had his usual Saturday night special performance. He stopped 20 of 21 shots, with the biggest being a shorthanded breakaway late in regulation with the game at 3-1. That save effectively ended the Flames chances, which is what you want your goaltender to do, make the big save when you need it. Overall though, Braden benefitted from the strong defensive play from his teammates as Calgary was kept wide for many of their shot attempts.

So now it is on to Vancouver for a Sunday night date with the Canucks for the Caps. A win in BC would give the Capitals a nice 2-1 road trip. Back to back games are tough, especially given the long flight from Calgary to Vancouver in the early hours of Sunday morning, but because Trotz is able to spread the ice time around, the Capitals should have no major excuses in terms of fatigue.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Flames, 52-46…Washington won the faceoff battle, 30-28..the Caps had 30 hits to 25 for Calgary…the penalty called on Orpik near the end of the 2nd period was ridiculous. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Paul Devorski did not have one of their better nights.

 

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