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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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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After back to back dismal efforts against mediocore teams that saw the Caps fortuitously pull out three of a possible four points last weekend, Washington was back in action on Monday night against the number one team in the NHL: Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks, who came in with an eight game winning streak.

The Capitals played much harder in this one and actually had a 2-0 early lead, but defensive mistakes at critical times ultimately did them in once again, and they were defeated, 3-2, to drop their record to 19-14-4 heading into the Christmas break.

This was a very close game, as evidenced by the shot attempt totals, which were 57-54 in favor of the Ducks. Washington was much better than last weekend in the puck possession department but Anaheim did a superior job of getting their attempts on net, winning that battle 29-19. The Caps did a lot of good things in this game and both Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin hit iron in the third frame in what is a tough loss to a very good hockey team.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Devils I blogged that things needed to change and it was on Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee to figure out whether it was the players or the system that were causing the issues. Following tonight’s game, it appears to me that effort and also focus, on the part of the players, and not the system, is the major problem. Washington was motivated on Monday and brought a passion to get and own the puck. But the Ducks are a veteran and skilled team, and going against number one isn’t all about effort and passion, it’s about playing the right way and paying attention to detail.

That is where this Capitals team is falling down, attention to detail, especially in their own end. The Caps gave up the tying tally with just 27 seconds remaining in period two. Then they gave up the game winner with 5:36 left in regulation. Both goals were the result of poor reads that led to bad defensive zone coverage. Oates confirmed that after the game. On the game winner, the forwards all got caught too low on the back check allowing defenseman Hampus Lindholm to fire a shot through a maze of bodies past Philipp Grubauer. There was a lack of communication on the part of the Washington forwards on the ice and it resulted in a lot of space and time for the Ducks defenseman to shoot and score.

Anaheim’s second tally, however, is the one that is the most upsetting and disappointing. The five guys on the ice were out for a long shift and each one can shoulder their share of the blame. We won’t point out the names, but let’s just say there were a lot of contract dollars on the ice for the home club. The initial rush by Ben Lovejoy wasn’t played properly by the Capitals defensemen, who simply stopped moving his feet. But even still, Lovejoy was just looking to center the puck and if the other defenseman and the three forwards don’t puck watch and instead cover Anaheim players, there is no quality chance or goal. That did not happen as the Caps d-man went to the wrong post and the forwards allowed Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano to have a clear and uncovered path to the front of the cage. The result was an easy goal for Koivu that Grubauer had no chance on.

Simply put, it was a lack of effort at the end of a long shift and poor communication, as well. In his post game presser Oates said that communication should be going on at all times on the ice and he also said that at this point in the season, the reads and positioning should be automatic. It was not on the tying tally, as well as the game winner.

Those type of mistakes not only cost a squad points in the standings, but in the bigger picture, those are the type of errors that prevent a hockey team from being one of the better clubs in the league. Washington is in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference for this exact reason, they have too many breakdowns in their own end that are costing them hockey games.

Reading Oates’ answers, expression and demeanor afterwards, I got the feeling that he’s been pointing out these things over and over to his players. These aren’t hard hockey concepts but they require a mental toughness to continue to execute when you are tired or not in a position to score a goal. Everyone loves offense, but playing proper defense is the key to winning hockey games and a Stanley Cup. The Cup winner each season knows how to do the things that allow a club to transition from offense to defense. They play their positions well, they communicate on defense, and they focus even when they are tired at the end of a shift.

It’s the things you need to do to win hockey games and ultimately a championship.

Until this Caps team is ready to commit to that, they’ll do exactly what I said after Saturday’s loss to New Jersey: they will qualify for the playoffs and then find themselves out in either round one or two.

The talent is mostly there for the Caps to go where the players say they want to go, but saying it and then doing it requires a whole different level of focus and commitment.

Right now, I question that level of commitment from several of the players on this team.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-25…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while the Ducks went 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Brooks Laich returned to the lineup and played 13:23…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom had the two goals for Washington…next up, on Friday night at the Verizon Center, for the Caps is an improving Rangers team that has won two games in a row.

 

 

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 400th NHL goal on Friday night in the Caps huge 4-2 victory in Carolina. The Russian superstar became the 6th fastest (634 games, h/t Jeff Kryglik) to reach that number in NHL history.

Afterwards, the Gr8 knew exactly who to thank for the reaching the milestone on this night: rookie goalie Philip Grubauer.

The young German netminder, who Ovechkin termed the Caps “best player in the game,” was fantastic stopping 39 of 41 shots, many of the quality chance variety and it was his goaltending along with three Washington power play goals that gave the Caps a late 3-2 lead. With the Canes pulling goalie Cam Ward (25 saves), Nicklas Backstrom (4 assists) moved the puck off of the boards where the Gr8 could out race the Carolina defender and notch his first empty net tally of the season to seal this one for Washington. It was “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina,” as the great John Walton says, at that point.

The victory improves the Caps record to 19-13-3 (41 points), which gives them a five point cushion over the Flyers, who are in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The analysis of this one is pretty straightforward: Grubauer was the difference in this game like Justin Peters was the difference maker for Carolina just over two weeks ago when the Canes came in and stole a game in Washington. Tonight, for some reason, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller chose to go with Ward over Peters, who totally owned and frustrated the Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 3rd.

Muller also set up his penalty kill to take away Ovechkin and it totally backfired. Caps Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe adjusted to the tactic by putting a body in front of Ward and as a result, they notched the three extra man markers. Typically a team has two defenders in front of the net on the PK, making it harder for the offense to get bodies in front, but with the Canes shadowing Ovechkin, it was easy for the Caps to stand in front of or around Ward when they had the man advantage.

Sure Muller did a nice job of exploiting the Capitals defense with stretch passes all night, but overall Oates won the coaching match up in this tilt.

Washington’s neutral and defensive zones were below average in this contest. The spacing between the two defenders was off most of the game. In addition, the gaps between the defensive pair and the forwards was too great, giving the speedy Canes too much time and space.

Luckily, Grubauer was outstanding and the Caps defense did do a great job of clearing any rebounds. In addition, Backstrom was super in this contest and he now leads the NHL in assists with 33. Not too shabby for the underrated Swede.

In hockey, it is nice to have highly skilled players who can score, the Caps have that in Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Washington was mostly outplayed, but the great equalizer, goaltending, was the game’s determining factor.

Grubauer was greater than Ward, which allowed Oates to be greater than Muller in Raleigh on Friday night.

Notes: Shot attempts were heavily in favor of the Canes, 86-42, OUCH!…Marcus Johansson, who had a super second period, got hurt in that frame and left with a lower body injury…Johansson, John Carlson, and Troy Brouwer had the Caps first 3 goals…the Caps went 3 for 4 on the power play while Carolina was only 1 for 5…Next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended or watched the Caps-Flyers contest today, you saw one wild hockey game.

After a strong start by the Capitals, Philadelphia rebounded to tie the game late in the first period, dominated the second frame, and scored two quick goals early in the third period to take a 4-1 advantage. The third of those four goals came from Sean Couturier from the corner and behind the goal line. He shot the puck off of Philipp Grubauer and into the cage for a goal that deflated the Caps and the crowd. Then when Jakub Voracek deflected a Michael Raffl shot home at 3:32 of the final frame (74 seconds after the third goal), it looked like the Flyers would avenge the 7-0 drubbing they took from the Capitals back on November 1st.

But not so fast with the 2013-14 Capitals, who had already come back four times after two periods to win contests this season. The Caps started getting pucks and bodies to the net and Mike Green’s goal with 8:40 left gave Washington life. After a failed power play, the Caps kept the pressure on and Dmitry Orlov lasered one by Steve Mason with 3:31 to go after a face off win and suddenly it was a one goal hockey game. The Verizon Center crowd went nuts and the Capitals kept on coming with wave after wave like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. With Grubauer pulled and the extra attacker on, Mason decided to try and play the puck behind his own net but he gave it right to Joel Ward. #42 then found a streaking Alex Ovechkin in the slot and the Gr8 doesn’t fail in the clutch, snapping one by Mason giving the Capitals their third goal in just under eight minutes to send the game to overtime.

The Caps would go on to win, 2-1, in the gimmick and improve to 18-12-3 (39 points), good for a four point lead over the third place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division.

Trying to make sense of this game, quite honestly, makes little sense. Green told me afterwards that the vast swings in play were simply typical momentum shifts you see in games. He said that there are real no answers for it. #52 is probably right.

Both the Caps and the Flyers wanted this game very badly and were giving all they had at various times. Washington did manage to get those last three goals by getting pucks to the point for shots with traffic. Green stated afterwards that the coaches and players noticed that Philly was sagging back and that the forwards were reminded that the defensemen were getting room to shoot. With big guns like Green, John Carlson, and Orlov on the point, it made sense for the Caps to “simplify” as Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) called it and get shots with traffic on Mason. Clearly it worked and the Flyers were likely guilty of thinking they had the game won when they were up 3 pucks.

With the Caps offensive skills, they are rarely out of a game these days.

Once the game goes to the skills exhibition, it’s anyone’s to win. However, Grubauer said that he watched video of the two previous shootouts this week and he learned some things from it. He said that his objective was not to commit and make the first move because it gives the shooter an advantage that they often capitalize on. Only world class forward Claude Giroux got one by the German goalie while Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the shootout. Grubauer made 24 saves plus the two shootout stops and is now 3-0-1. He made some great saves at other times during this contest, but would definitely like the second and third goals back. With the Caps going to Philadelphia on Tuesday for round three of the season series, I’d imagine that Braden Holtby gets the nod in the cage given his good record on Broad Street.

As for Ovechkin, he had a sweet pass to set up Johansson for the first goal on the power play and his tying tally was his 27th goal of the season. He had seven shots on net in 25:08 of ice time. He, Green, Johansson, and numerous others were way better than they’d been in Florida on Friday and that was a big reason the Caps came back. The Flyers let off the gas and appeared to run out of energy too. Perhaps they used up too much fuel when they seized the middle portion of the game?

Who knows? Like Green said, there are no easy answers for it.

One thing for sure, though, is this Capitals team has character and does not fold the tent when down. Five of their victories have now come from third period rallies and that is very impressive.

The naysayers will complain about too many wins coming from shootouts or state that they are in a weak division, but this team has been in nearly every game this season. They are still figuring out the best way to play on the back end under Oates’ system and that has been complicated by a rotation of different personnel on defense. The coach told me after the game that he prefers that his defensemen move the puck within the first five feet once they get it, and that has to be an adjustment for guys like Green and Orlov, who like to carry the biscuit. Perhaps that is why #52 has been very up and down this season?

Former Coach Bruce Boudreau called Green the “One Man Breakout” and Orlov has that capability too. But if your head coach doesn’t prefer that style, one would have to think that would cause mistakes and an adjustment period? It’s something to continue to watch as the season progresses. Do the players adhere to Oates’ preferred method or is there a give and take between players and coaches to maximize some seriously strong defensive puck handling ability on the back end that the Caps could and probably should take advantage of? After all, what if Glen Sather told Paul Coffey he couldn’t skate with the puck more than five feet, how would that have worked out in Edmonton?

Oates is a smart hockey mind and I understand why he wants the puck moved up as quickly as possible. If a defensemen is coming with speed, he can pass the puck and then get it back from a player who is further up the ice. The puck moves faster than the players, at least that is the philosophy of the strategy, but if the forwards aren’t open or are being taken away by the opposition then the defensemen certainly have to adjust, right? It’s an interesting topic and I’m guessing that there have been many discussions on it between the head coach, assistant Calle Johansson, and some of the defensemen.

Whatever they end up doing, one thing is for sure: you can’t win hockey games with a bad defense. The Caps need to find a way to maximize the skills they have back there. Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing great hockey but the team needs Green and Orlov to play at a strong level too for Washington to be a puck possession dominating club.

Stay tuned.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play due to illness and that forced Oates to move Jay Beagle to center Troy Brouwer and Fehr while Michael Latta was recalled from Hershey and centered the fourth line. Nate Schmidt was sent to Chocolatetown to make room for #46, who ended up leaving the game early with a lower body injury. Latta did have a good scrap with Zac Rinaldo in period two. Steve Oleksy fought Wayne Simmonds early in period three, right before the third Philly goal…Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 33-28, but the Flyers won the shot attempt battle, 55-50…Washington was 40-29 from the dot, including some big offensive zone draw wins in the final 10 minutes…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 29:38.

 

 

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Grubauer Shines in Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps comeback win on Tuesday against Tampa, I blogged that Washington was lucky to win after a poor effort.

The next day I stated on twitter (@EdFrankovic) that I was more happy with the way they played against Carolina in a loss the previous week than in the victory over the Bolts and hoped that Adam Oates could get his team to play better heading into the weekend.

On Friday night in Florida, that did not happen. Washington was downright terrible through most of this game and if not for the goaltending of Philipp Grubauer and his 39 saves, some of which were of the ten bell variety, the Caps would have been smoked in regulation. But thanks to the performance of the young Caps goalie and a stupid and dirty penalty by Florida defensemen Erik Gudbranson on Eric Fehr, the Capitals scored two goals and managed to take this tilt to the 10th round of the shootout before losing.

The defeat drops the Caps to 17-12-3 heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Perhaps Washington was looking ahead to the Flyers game? After all, it is the first time these two teams will meet since the Ray Emery assault on Braden Holtby. In that win the Capitals beat the rear ends off of the Broad Street Knuckleheads, 7-0. So Sunday’s game is sure to a be a good one with lots of energy and intensity.

As for the game against the Cats, Washington had little energy or intensity after an early push that saw bad zebras Brad Watson and Jean Hebert disallow Mike Green’s goal due to mythical goalie interference and blow a quick whistle that cost Alex Ovechkin his 27th goal of the season. The referees were downright terrible in the opening frame and it took video review to get Joel Ward’s game tying tally late in period two to count, as well. In addition, several Caps players were not good to include Green, Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson. All three of those guys, who are counted on to produce, had nowhere near their “A” games in Sunrise.

On the positive side of things, Dmitry Orlov was outstanding with his play. He skated well and moved the puck out of the Caps zone superbly when he was on the ice. #81 had 20 minutes of ice time and looked like the top 4 defensemen that GM George McPhee has been hoping he’d be since he selected him in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft.

A few other guys played hard and well in this one, Fehr and Ward fall into that category.

But overall, this was a stinky performance and the team did not work hard at all. Maybe they overlooked the Panthers with Filthy coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday?

Right now, I don’t have the answers, but this effort after Tuesday’s weak one is a concerning mini trend.

In hockey, if you don’t bring the proper effort you will likely lose. The Caps have managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat the last two games and get three points when the effort hasn’t really been there consistently.

On Sunday, against the hated Flyers, there are no excuses for not bringing both intensity and effort.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 26:02…Ovechkin played 24:51 but only had three shot attempts (2 on goal)…the Caps were outshot 41-25, including 37-20 at even strength…Fehr went to the locker room after the dirty hit but returned for the third period and appeared to be okay. Gudbranson will get at least two games for that cheap head shot.

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Ovechkin’s 4 Goals Rallies Caps Past Bolts in Shootout

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Ovechkin’s 4 Goals Rallies Caps Past Bolts in Shootout

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There is something about snow that tends to bring out the best in Alexander Ovechkin, so it’s no coincidence that one of his nicknames, besides the Gr8, is Snovechkin.

On Tuesday night, in a game the Capitals really had no business winning, Alex Snovechkin scored four goals, including the game tying tally with just 33 seconds left in regulation.

Washington would go on to win in the shootout, 6-5, and steal two points from a hard working and undermanned Tampa Bay Lightning club.

Ovechkin had the four markers and his center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and four helpers for a five point night. Those two guys, along with rookie Philip Grubauer in net and some good fortune, are the reason the Caps scraped out two points after trailing 3-0 early on.

The Caps looked nothing like the team that manhandled the Rangers on Sunday at the Garden as the Lightning, without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, came out flying while several Capitals coasted through their early shifts. Most notable was defensemen Mike Green who had the worst period I’ve ever seen #52 play. He took four minors, a 10 minute misconduct, and badly misplayed the two on one break that gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead and chased starter Braden Holtby. #70 wasn’t that bad, but clearly Adam Oates wanted to wake his sleep walking team up, at that point.

The move eventually helped and Ovechkin would get yet another goal this season off of a face off in the opening frame to give the Caps some life. Then when the Bolts Richard Panik took a major for boarding Karl Alzner late in period two, the Gr8 scored twice on the power play to send this one tied, at 4-4, to the third period.

At that point one would think the Caps would take over and win this one against a depleted Tampa squad, but the Bolts are well coached by John Cooper and they carried much of the play. They grabbed the lead when Martin St. Louis, who is one of the smallest but also one of the best players in the NHL, set up Ondrej Palat in the slot at 8:36 of the final period. St. Louis is a Caps killer and he had three points in this game. His work ethic is amazing and several Capitals could learn a lot from watching him.

Work ethic was something that was not there for many Capitals in this tilt. Washington was too fancy and made many bad passes. Martin Erat had a hat trick of giveaways, one of which led to a goal. It should have been three for three if not for Grubauer’s great goaltending on the other two occassions. The Capitals forwards did a mostly lousy job of helping out their defense in this game and Oates will have plenty of video to show of their mistakes.

But the good news is this Capitals team is resilient. They don’t quit and they keep scrapping. It really helps to have skill and talent and Ovechkin and Backstrom took over to save the day on a night when many Washington players just didn’t bring their better performances to the rink.

On Tuesday the Caps did just enough to win, they should be thankful that snowstorms, even an over hyped one like the area had today, brings out the best in their captain.

It was the Alexander Ovechkin show on Tuesday. That’s now 26 goals in 29 games this season. To quote the Gr8, that is “Sick, Unbelievable…”

Notes: Eric Fehr, who is playing super and brought his game on Tuesday, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the gimmick for the Caps…Grubauer got his 2nd NHL win in his 1st career NHL shootout…because the Caps were trailing the fourth line played sparingly and Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson played less than five minutes each…the Caps are now 17-12-2 (36 points)…John Carlson played an all worldly 34:48 in this one…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-22 and Backstrom was 15-7…Washington was 3 for 5 on the power play while Tampa went 2 for 5…Green was a lot better after his misconduct and had an assist. The referees were not the problem for him in the opening frame, it was his lack of skating and too much reliance on using his stick. Lazy hockey, plain and simple.

 

 

 

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