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Backstrom’s OT Tally Propels the Caps Over Colorado

Posted on 17 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Despite not having Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie due to upper body injuries, the Washington Capitals went into Denver to take on the high flying Avalanche and came out victorious in overtime, 3-2. On a four on three power play, Nicklas Backstrom potted the game winner after Tom Wilson did a great job to win a board battle and get the puck to All Star Nicky in the middle of the ice inside the offensive blue line. From there, with one of the defensemen leaning towards Alexander Ovechkin, #19 played give and go with John Carlson and then sniped it top shelf past former Capital Philipp Grubauer to improve the Caps record to 9-7-3 (21 points).

What follows are 10 thoughts on the triumph in Colorado, as well as the state of the team after three very strong efforts in four nights on the road.

This was one heck of a win because not only did the Caps come out on top with three of their star players out of the lineup, they had to overcome more adversity with the officiating. Mark Joannette has historically been a terrible referee and on Friday night, there was no exception. He missed a blatant high stick by Mikko Rantanen on Dmitry Orlov with six minutes remaining that would’ve given the Capitals a four minute power play when they were up a puck. As luck would have it, Colin Wilson would tie the game up with just less than three minutes to go when a Washington power play lamp lighter could’ve closed the game out. To make matters worse, the game tying goal could have easily been called goalie interference on Matt Calvert for bumping Pheonix Copley in the crease on the initial shot. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden rightly challenged the play and was livid with Joannette, Ghislain Hebert, and the crew in Toronto for not overturning the call on the ice. That challenge though, did buy him some time to get his team refocused and recharged.

The Caps would get their third power play of the evening, all called by Hebert, when Devante Smith-Pelly hustled up the ice and drew an obvious hold on Ian Cole with 1:09 remaining. Washington didn’t score in regulation and with the power play sputtering at five on four lately, the four on three overtime configuration turned out to be a good thing. After the Caps won the faceoff, Carlson made a nice rush into the zone and then top line Tommy won the puck on the wall to set up the winning goal sequence.

Copley was excellent once again in the cage and any off season questions about the backup goalie situation sure look to be of little concern, at this point. Pheonix is a big man (6’ 4”) and takes up a lot of net. He’s doing a super job of stopping the first shot and his teammates are helping him with the rebounds that he’s allowing. After the Avalanche went up 1-0 on a blown defensive assignment by a forward just 68 seconds into the game, Copley stopped one of the top goal scorers in the league, Nathan MacKinnon, on a clean breakaway. If that shot goes in, it’s 2-0 and who knows what happens the rest of the night? That was a timely save right there and he made several of those on this road trip. In the three games in the Midwest he only allowed two pucks against in each contest, so he really stepped up in light of Holtby’s injury situation. Copley has now won four of his last five games.

Hockey is all about intensity, hard work, and attention to detail. For 16 games, the Capitals really didn’t have that on a consistent basis. In the three tilts on this road trip, however, the Caps have brought a steady effort. That effort has resulted in a more structured defensive posture. I don’t think there is any coincidence to the fact that this team, after playing one of the most listless games I’ve ever seen from them on Sunday evening against Arizona, found new energy with the return of Wilson from suspension. That guy brings it every night and is a true professional. Willy was super on Friday night with two assists in a team leading 24:24 of ice time (usually time on ice is led by one of the teams’ defensemen, so this is a pretty significant stat). Anyone who complains about the contract he received over the summer should be dismissed as a person who just doesn’t understand the NHL.

Smith-Pelly not only drew the penalty that led to the game winner, but he scored the first goal for Washington finishing off a pretty passing play between DSP, Chandler Stephenson, and Travis Boyd. Afterwards, Smith-Pelly was happy about drawing the key holding penalty because he wasn’t pleased about being on the ice for the Avalanche tying tally.

Ovechkin had a very good game (goal, 14 shot attempts, 7 SOG, two hits in 23:55) and if not for the zebra mistakes, he might’ve had the game winning goal late in period two. Reirden has had a tendency to put together a “load up” line late in frames and this was at least the second time it has worked. An Oshie goal occurred on the home stand in a similar situation and on Friday night, Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson delivered on the rush with 1:31 left in period two.

In the final frame, Washington went to their 1-2-2 neutral zone configuration and also walled off the front of their net. Colorado had only eight shots on goal and two of them came on the game tying sequence. This was a smart strategy given the fatigue level of the Caps and the speed that the Avalanche possesses. Colorado generates a lot of scoring opportunities on the rush and the Capitals did not let them do that in this affair.

This win at the Pepsi Center reminded me a bit of game six in Pittsburgh last spring because of the patched together lineup. All 20 healthy bodies available dressed (including Ilya Samsonov, who was summoned from Hershey to backup Copley) and Reirden did a very good job of avoiding bad matchups with Colorado having last change of personnel. In that huge victory over the Pens, the team stuck to their game plan to pull off an upset when on paper it didn’t seem possible. On Friday night, a win for Washington in their third tilt on the road in four nights with several stars out, plus Joannette in stripes, looked like a daunting task. But they found a way.

As for Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Holtby, they are all day to day. Kuzy was elbowed in the head by Brandon Tanev in period one on Wednesday and the Osh Babe was body slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey, after an initial clean hit, in the last two minutes in Winnipeg. Morrissey was fined the maximum amount allowed by the league for the interference and unsportsmanlike conduct, but not suspended. What stinks is that the officials, which included the incompetent Kyle Rehman, were looking right at the play and didn’t call a penalty. As a result, the Jets didn’t have to face a six on four situation and they easily hit the empty net when Oshie could barely skate after being WWE’d to the ice. It was very frustrating to see and you can bet that when Winnipeg comes to town on March 10th, Morrissey will have to answer for that dirty hit with his fists.

Overall though, this was a very successful trip to the Midwest of North America by the Capitals. They went 2-1 and played with a much better and consistent compete level. If they keep that up and get some of their injured stars back soon, they have the potential to put a nice little winning streak together.

Notes: Carlson (1 assist) led the defensemen in ice time with 24:03…Backstrom played 20:59…the Caps killed off both Avalanche power plays…the Capitals blocked 18 shots, led by Carlson’s five…the faceoff battle went to Colorado, 34-31, but it was 15-5 for the Avs after 20 minutes. Backstrom was 14-10…Washington’s next game is in Montreal on Monday night at 7:30 pm…Brooks Orpik is eligible to return from long term injured reserve on Wednesday night.

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Caps Breakdown Day News, Nuggets, and Analysis

Posted on 13 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held breakdown day on Wednesday afternoon and it was obviously the best one ever, given that this year’s session followed the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup victory. The players were clearly tired from two grueling months of hockey and then the post triumph celebrations, but were extremely happy.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the day at Kettler IcePlex:

Alexander Ovechkin, now clean cut thanks to his Gillette sponsorship, is a very happy man, and rightly so. The victory has clearly brought back the old Ovi that we saw when he was younger before some of the angry and hating national and even local media constantly crushed him forcing him to withdraw some of the best sides of his personality from public view. On Wednesday, the Gr8 answered questions for 30 minutes going above and beyond the call of duty. Ovi started by stating “I still can’t believe we won, I still can’t believe we did it. Right now we are realizing how special this win was.” He also added that “We lost some key guys last year, but all of the new guys played unbelievable.” Ovi noted that this was the best team he ever played on and whenever someone got hurt, felt bad, or were suspended, people stepped up. “It was a special group.” He also praised former General Manager George McPhee for “drafting half of the group” and ended with a very classy “Thanks George for what you did here.”

Nicklas Backstrom suffered two fractures in his right index finger in game five against Pittsburgh. He said he will not need surgery. Clearly Nicky was still hurting when he came back in the lineup after missing four games and to perform the way he did with that injury – shutting down the other team’s top center in each of the Tampa and Vegas series – is the stuff of legends. Backy will have his Cup celebration in his hometown in Sweden.

Brooks Orpik injured his hand in game two of the Columbus series and also had the tip of his right pinky finger detached when Erik Haula violently slashed him at the end of game two in the Stanley Cup final. Despite the injuries, Orpik played some of his best hockey in this postseason. When asked about the improvement in his skating this past season, Brooks noted that he is always tweaking his off season training regimen to seek improvement, but he also pointed out this was the first season in a few years where he did not have any ailments that impacted his wheels. Orpik told me he’d find out on Friday if he needed surgery on his hand.

Coach Barry Trotz had initial new contract discussions with General Manager Brian MacLellan on Wednesday morning. The Stanley Cup winning coach says he wants to be back because he likes this group while also stating that the area and setup has been good for his family situation. When asked if the rest of the entire coaching staff would be back next year, he said that is unknown, at this time.

John “Big Game” Carlson has not had any contract talks with the Caps yet, but said he loves this team and would love to be back, but there are a lot of factors involved. He will be having his Stanley Cup celebration in the DC area (his wife is from the DMV). The Capitals have an advantage in negotiations since they can sign number 74 for eight years, while others can only offer seven campaigns. There is no doubt that “Big Game” is the number one offseason unrestricted free agent priority for MacLellan and the Caps. The salary cap number for 2018-19 will be out from the league on Monday, June 18th and the higher it goes, the better it is for Washington ($82M would be really nice). Backstrom, when asked about Carlson stated, “John Carlson just keeps getting better and better. It’s impressive. Hopefully he stays here.” I’ll say this now, just like I did about T.J. Oshie last year, Pay the Man! He’s a legitimate number one defenseman and easily in the top ten in the NHL, in my opinion. You don’t let stud blue liners like “Big Game” Carlson leave. Losing him would be close to the magnitude of the Scott Stevens departure back in 1990.

Defensemen Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov gave a lot of credit to assistant coach Todd Rierden for helping them improve their respective games. Kempny noted that he had little confidence when he came over in February in a trade from Chicago and that Rierden immediately helped him regain it. The Czech defensemen stated that he had some bad games in the postseason, but that Rierden was always there to give him some keys to turning things around in the next contest. Kempny, who was very vocal about coming back because the Caps have “a great group of players, coaches, and trainers,” is an unrestricted free agent and given that he played as the number four defensemen in the postseason, he’s high up on the contract pecking order for MacLellan and the Caps. He only has 103 games of NHL experience, so that could help keep his price lower (he made $900, 000 in 2017-18 and will get a decent raise). Orlov, who had his hand badly injured in the World Championships in the spring of 2014 and missed the entire first season of the Trotz era (2014-15), said he was unsure he’d ever be able to play again at a high level. Rierden has certainly helped Dima out, but I also give Orlov a ton of credit for constantly working and striving to be better. It’s amazing how far he’s come since the 2016 playoffs where he struggled against the Flyers and Penguins. He’s a quality blue liner that breaks the puck out of his own zone incredibly well.

Oshie said he hasn’t won much since he was younger, so this Stanley Cup victory has been very exciting. Courtesy of the great Tarik El-Bashir, T.J. said he was healthiest at the start of the Stanley Cup Final. He won’t require any procedures this offseason. The Osh Babe, who is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, told Tarik that “I didn’t even need Advil” as the SCF started.

Tom “Future Captain” Wilson noted that he played up and down the lineup this season, but said when he played 10 games straight with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, instead of just one or two, his game really took off. Willy talked at length about how close this team was (is), but credited former Cap Justin Williams for encouraging the team to have fun and said it helped loosen the team up and bond them. Top line Tommy says he’s loved his five years here, stated he’s always done whatever he can to help the team, but also said there will be an element of business this summer for him (he’s a restricted free agent). Like Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov and some others on this squad, it’s amazing how much they have improved in the four years this coaching staff has been in place. The players clearly get the majority of the credit, but you can’t discount the way the coaches have enabled these players to blossom.

On the netminding front, courtesy of Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, MacLellan said Philipp Grubauer wants to be a number one goaltender, but he’d like to keep both Grubi and Braden Holtby, be he’s going to explore a trade for Grubauer so he can do his thing. There is no doubt that the Capitals don’t win the Metropolitan Division without the stellar play of number 31 this past season. You need two good goalies in this day and age in the NHL to make it to the postseason. If Grubauer, who is a restricted free agent departs via trade, there could be a big dropoff to third string, Phoenix Copley. 2015 1st round pick Ilya Samsonov will be coming over to North America to play this fall, but he’ll need time in Hershey to become acclimated to the smaller rink. Bottom line, the best scenario for the Caps is to keep Grubauer, but potential salary cap room and a good trade return will likely be too hard to pass up. Goaltending coach Scott Murray and his staff, to include Olie Kolzig, will need to really get the other goalies in the system ready quickly should the German keeper move on.

Jay Beagle, when asked why the Caps won this year, pointed out that the Capitals “built their game all year and peaked at the right time. In past years we peaked in December and Janaury and then tried to hold onto it.” When questioned about Ovechkin not letting go of the Cup very much since they won, he stated that Ovi is invited to his Cup celebration, but he doubted the Gr8 would come to the Beagle farm. On Trotz, number 83 said “He’s always been a great coach since he’s been here, has brought in great people around him, and I feel like we have been the most prepared team in the league.” The unrestricted free agent, who has now won championships at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL level, hasn’t had any contract discussions yet and stated “obviously, I have to wait until the big guys get settled first” before receiving an offer. The hard working total team guy stated he could wait until after July 1st and that he’d leave things up to MacLellan. When I asked him if he’d leave if some team came along and threw money at him, said he’d have to see what was best for his family. The fourth line center who is great on faceoffs and the PK made $1.75M in each of the last three seasons.

As I wrote in my Cup winning blog, players such as Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky really upped their compete level, especially on the physical side of the house, and were important factors in the Caps playoff run. Burakovsky told El-Bashir that after three hand injuries over the past couple of years that he plans to have a conversation with CCM this summer about getting more substantial gloves. He told Tarik that two of the injuries could’ve been avoided with more protection. Washington will need each of these three guys to continue to progress, as they’ve done so far under Lane Lambert’s tutelage, if they are going to have a chance to repeat. Connolly, who for two years has confidently told me that the Caps have a very good team, summed up why this Championship ultimately happened for this squad.

“It was amazing, such a good group, such a committed group, such a highly skilled group. We really just came together at the right time, especially after that Pittsburgh series where we first really said we could win this. It’s such a big moment for all of us, we’re all just so happy that we could ultimately get this done for all of our fans, for our families, it was such a special moment.”

That quote from Connolly really summed up this team, who will forever be legends around this area, in a nutshell.

Notes: Matt Niskanen, when asked about all of the celebrations, said “It was great to see Brooks Orpik let his hair down.” So many players mentioned how business like number 44 is and that they don’t often get to see that side of one of the biggest leaders on the Caps…Alex Chiasson, who scored a huge goal to open the scoring in the game six triumph that closed out the Penguins, was hoping to come back to the Caps next season, especially given his close friendship that he has developed with Ovechkin, which apparently started from playing cards on the plane together…Beagle is leaving town on Thursday and noted it would be good to get back to reality…I’ll post a full transcript of my exclusive one on one session with Connolly out at WNST.NET on Thursday night…Backstrom, when asked about the team possibly breaking up, “It sucks, but when you look back on this 10, 15 years from now, we’ll always have this special group.”

Photo credit to Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press.

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Ovechkin and the Caps Must Be Better in Game Two

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals will take to the ice on Sunday night at 7:30 pm to try to even their best of seven series up with the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Thursday night, the Caps took three third period penalties and gifted the visitors the game. Several players were not very good in that affair, including Captain Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t register a point and looked slow and out of sorts, most of the evening.

On Sunday morning, the Gr8 told the assembled media that he has to be better and that his line needs to generate more chances at five on five (h/t Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post). Ovi had a remarkable regular season because his skating was much better than it’s arguably been in the past five years. Alex trimmed down and brought an element of speed back into his game and it led to 32 even strength goals, double his output in 2016-17 in those situations. In the series opener, he looked sluggish and David Savard did a very good job of neutralizing him most of the night. Simply put, this Capitals team isn’t going to go anywhere if Ovechkin is not playing well.

The biggest reason Washington lost on Thursday were the three bad penalties they took in period three that allowed Columbus to score two power play goals, evening the game up twice in the final frame of regulation. Discipline is paramount in the post season and the Caps didn’t have it that period. Once shorthanded, the Caps badly missed fourth line center, Jay Beagle, who is a penalty killing and faceoff specialist. It should be noted that the Capitals lost 17 of 21 defensive zone draws in game one.

On Sunday night, Beagle is back in the lineup as it’s been determined by the Caps medical staff that he’s sufficiently recovered from an upper body injury. Per the morning skate, the Washington lineup is as follows:

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Devante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson – Jay Beagle – Alex Chiasson

Defense

Michal Kempny – John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik – Jakub Jerabek

Goaltender

Philipp Grubauer

Braden Holtby (Backup)

There are several things to note above. The biggest are obviously the return of Beagle and the fact that Kempny, who was rammed from behind into the boards by Josh Anderson in period one and did not return, is back on defense (Kempny did fully practice on Saturday and has cuts on his face from the injury he suffered). The Capitals are very thin on the back end and need #6 in the lineup against a big and mobile Columbus forward group. Grubauer was deemed to have done enough to earn the net, once again, despite giving up a savable shot on the game winner and not stopping Seth Jones’ game tying power play tally, which was another marker that came over his glove hand.

Finally, the scratch of Jakub Vrana, who logged only 6:58 of ice time ignited the Caps Twitterverse, once again, on Sunday morning. Vrana did use his speed to draw a first period hooking penalty on Ian Cole and also set up what should have been the game winning goal before Burakovsky’s terrible tripping penalty negated it. However, the rookie who played in his first ever playoff game, made several mistakes that likely took him out of the lineup, in addition to the fact that he does not kill penalties and is not on either power play unit. On the Blue Jackets first tally, Vrana is positioned in the middle of the ice when Boone Jenner comes across the Caps blue line. #13 tries to stick check to get the biscuit from #38, but fails miserably and this leads to a two on one down low and an easy goal. Jakub has to either get the puck or the man there, he got neither. Then, before his great play to set up DSP, he made a terrible defensive zone turnover that allowed Cole to get a quality chance on Grubauer from just over 20 feet out. Fortunately for Vrana, Grubi made his biggest save of the night on that sequence. In overtime, Vrana had two shifts and on his second one, he gets beaten badly by one of Columbus’ smaller forwards, Pierre Luc-Dubois, on a board battle in the offensive zone. Cole picked up the puck after Jakub couldn’t hold it in the zone against Dubois and he fed Artemi Panarin, who went around Orlov on his offside and then roofed another tally over Grubauer’s glove hand for the win.

Sure, Vrana set up a goal and drew a penalty, but he contributed to the only two Blue Jackets even strength goals against. So when Coach Barry Trotz talked on Sunday morning about resetting #13 to clean up some things in his game, the plays described above are exactly what he’s talking about. As for the two guys who are in instead of Vrana, Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson, both must play a strong two way game against a hard working physical team. Connolly lost several one on one battles on Thursday, but none were as bad as the individual battles lost by Vrana. This is a “what have you done for me lately” time of year, so if Connolly and Chiasson want to stay in for game three, they need to play well.

This is a must win for Washington on Sunday night. They need everyone going in this tilt to even this series up. It all starts with Ovechkin up front and the defense doing a better job of getting pucks out of their own end. On Thursday, they did that well early, but once Kempny went out and they were forced to go with five defensemen, the mistakes started coming more often. Grubauer also needs to turn in a strong performance in net, he was solid, but was outplayed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who faced more rubber. The Caps would be wise to get more bodies to the front of the net on Sunday, “Bob” is most vulnerable when the puck is bouncing around him and Washington did little of that in game one.

 

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Undisciplined Penalties Cost the Caps Game One

Posted on 13 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

The Washington Capitals certainly did that on Thursday night taking three ill advised penalties in the third period to gift the Columbus Blue Jackets two power play goals. CBus would need both of those tallies to force overtime and from there Artemi Panarin went around Dmitry Orlov, who was playing on his off side, and roofed one past a crouching Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) to give Columbus a 4-3 victory 6:02 into overtime.

This was a bad opening game loss by the Caps, there are no two ways about it. They came out strong and took a 2-0 lead on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s two power play tallies, which they received due to a dirty and stupid hit from behind by Josh Anderson. The play ended Michal Kempny’s night when his head hit the glass forcefully causing #6 to bleed and then have to deal with concussion-like symptoms. It is a play that the league has been trying to get out of the game for 30 plus years, but there are still players who don’t back off on a hit when they can clearly see their opponents number. I’m also shocked at some of the out of town comments on Twitter from those who allegedly know the game. That hit was awful, just like Drew Doughty’s on William Carrier on Wednesday night in Vegas, there is no defending it. I’m sure the league will look into the play and with Kempny’s status up in the air for game two and beyond, Anderson could face more supplementary discipline.

Washington dominated that first period to generate the two puck lead and things seemed to be going their way with 2:23 of power play time left to start period two. The Caps, however, could not get anything going again with the man advantage and the Blue Jackets grabbed momentum. A weird and fortunate bounce for the visitors in the neutral zone then led to a two on one rush for Alex Wennberg and Boone Jenner. Niskanen was back, but it was Jenner’s pass that just eluded a hard charging Orlov and gave Wennberg a back door tap in 4:48 into period two. Suddenly Columbus had life and the Capitals struggled, but they eventually stabilized things to take a 2-1 lead into period three. Washington had a 25-16 edge in shots on goal after 40 minutes, but Columbus’ goalie held his team in the game.

Tom Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Andre Burakovsky all took terrible penalties in the final frame to help Washington fritter away a game they should’ve won. Willy was correctly boxed for charging, Kuznetsov was whistled for a retaliatory slashing infraction on Panarin, who escaped justice, and then the most egregious penalty of all came with 5:05 remaining in regulation. Burakovsky mistakenly chased Columbus all star defensemen Seth Jones behind his own net and tripped #3 nearly 200 feet from the opposing cage as he came out the other side. It was a stupid penalty to take with a one goal lead late in a playoff game. Columbus had also scored on Wilson’s penalty to tie the game up at two, just 1:31 into period three. In between the power play goals, Jakub Vrana made a great end to end rush to set up Devante Smith-Pelly for a beautiful far post tally that looked to be the game winner until Burakovsky made a low hockey IQ play that ultimately sent the tilt to the extra session.

This was a very weird game and Washington was not helped by having to go with just five defensemen once Kempny was rammed into the boards. Orlov (26:09), John Carlson (26:16), and Niskanen (25:02) played a lot of minutes and the whole defense looked exhausted in the extra session. The Caps had zero shots on net in that six plus minutes of hockey. Overall, there were several Capitals that didn’t play well and looked sluggish. You can put Alex Ovechkin (seven shot attempts in 23:25) and T.J. Oshie (two shot attempts in 19:41) in that category. The Gr8 did not have his legs in this one and his hands were off, as well. If Washington is going to come back and win this series, then they need a lot more from their captain.

In goal, Grubauer made some good saves, but Sergei Bobrovsky (27 saves) was better since he faced more quality chances. It is hard to fault #31 on the first three goals, perhaps he could’ve had his stick down on the second goal to stop the pass from Pierre Luc-Dubios to Thomas Vanek, but Brooks Orpik was badly boxed out in front after Niskanen was caught up way too high on the penalty kill to lead to a two on one down low. Grubauer’s biggest save came right before Vrana set up DSP for the third goal when #13 made a terrible defensive zone giveaway. On the game winner, it looked like Philipp went down too early in a crouch and that was how Panarin sealed the deal for Columbus.

In addition to the penalties, there were too many turnovers by Washington. In period three they tried numerous cross ice passes in the neutral zone when pucks should be going deep. The Caps also didn’t put enough traffic on Bob in this affair. That needs to change in game two. Speaking of changes, Braden Holtby is 14-4-2 with a .914 save percentage in 21 games against the Blue Jackets so I’d like to see him get the game two start on Sunday night at 7:30. Grubauer wasn’t the main reason the Capitals lost on Thursday night, but again, he has to make that save on Panarin.

In summary, this game started great for Washington and then went downhill. The Caps made too many mistakes and once again found a way to lose a playoff game on home ice. That’s four of the last five home playoff games that they’ve dropped. If this team doesn’t play smarter, harder, and faster on Sunday night, this series could be over fast. The Blue Jackets work hard and Bobrovsky surely gained quite a bit of confidence in the victory.

Notes: The Caps are 10-7 all time when they lose game one…the Caps have lost home ice advantage. They failed to capitalize on the matchup advantage, but surely Kempny’s injury impacted that. Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that Christian Djoos would be the next man up on D if Michal can’t play…there is no practice on Friday…the Blue Jackets won the face-off battle, 33-27, but Nicklas Backstrom was 14-10…the Capitals were two for six on the power play in 11:00 of man advantage time while the Blue Jackets went two for four in 4:52 of power play time…Columbus had never led a playoff series until Thursday night’s victory…Jones led the Blue Jackets in ice time with 30:59. Cam Atkinson led all Columbus forwards with 25:10.

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Preds beat Caps

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Grubauer’s Skate Fails in a 4-3 Loss to Nashville

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s a game of inches, and sometimes it’s a game of nuts and bolts, too” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following Washington’s 4-3 loss to Nashville on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.

Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer had a bolt come loose in the third period and that caused him to lose his skate blade on Roman Josi’s game tying tally 8:19 into period three. The equipment issue prevented him from pushing off and making that save. Then with 5:27 remaining, Viktor Arvidsson ripped a shot that #31 couldn’t handle and Ryan Johansen got just enough of the puck, which trickled over the goal line for the game winner. Some fans wanted Coach Trotz to challenge for goaltender interference on Johansen’s marker, but on replay there didn’t appear to be anything of the sort and #31 confirmed to me afterwards that there was no contact with him by anyone.

The victory for Nashville gave them the Central Division title, the first seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and the Presidents’ Trophy. For the Caps, this was pretty much a meaningless affair since they cannot change their playoff position. They’ve already clinched the Metropolitan Division title and will not top the point total of the Atlantic Division winner (Boston or Tampa). Therefore, they will face the 1st Wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.

The Washington Capitals celebrated Alexander Ovechkin’s 1,000th game before Thursday’s tilt against the Predators and the Gr8 delivered for the fans by notching his NHL leading 47th marker of the season. That goal, which was a far post top shelf peanut butter shot, came on the power play 4:29 into period two and tied the game up at one.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was the star of the show for Washington in this affair via his three points. He set up Ovi’s goal with a great pass and also scored twice himself. The first marker for #92, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead just over two minutes after they tied the game up, came on the power play when he tried to pass back door to Alexander the Great. Preds defensemen, Ryan Ellis, dove to the ice to try and block the pass, but in the process he knocked the puck into his own net. Kuzy’s second goal, an unassisted lamp lighter that gave Washington an early third period 3-2 lead, was set up by a superb one on one move that he topped off with a gorgeous backhander over Juuse Saros (29 saves). Kuznetsov is playing some incredible hockey and he now has 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 78 games played this season. He is the key to the Capitals on most nights.

Nicklas Backstrom added his 49th assist of the season on Evgeny’s first goal but his line, with Andre Burakovksy and T.J. Oshie didn’t have the best of nights. They controlled the puck, for stretches, but none of the three forwards had a single shot on net. There were a couple of times where they over passed the disc or made wrong decisions.

In the first 10 minutes, the Capitals made a lot of mistakes turning the puck over with errant drop or cross ice passes. That allowed the Preds to get the early lead. Once Washington got back to playing the right way, they took over the game for a lengthy amount of time. To start period two they had a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal, but couldn’t get a two puck lead. Saros was good, and when John Carlson (14 shots attempts, including eight on goal) couldn’t bury a great chance in tight, the game turned the visitor’s way.

The Caps would get the lead back in period three on Kuzy’s dazzling backhander, but a penalty on Matt Niskanen set up Josi’s tying marker. Johansen scored shortly after Filip Forsberg went around Dmitry Orlov, who hit the post while in all alone on Grubauer. The Predators got to the loose puck following that miss and an Ellis point shot was saved by #31, but bounced right to Arvidsson in the left wing circle. He fired on net and Johansen outworked Orlov to tap the biscuit home over the outstretched Caps goalie.

Overall, the Caps did numerous good things in this game. They matched the Predators speed and had lots of quality chances, but Saros was the difference. Afterwards Ovechkin said he was mostly pleased with the way the team played, but said next week the game changes. Ovi pointed out that there weren’t many hits in Thursday’s tilt because both teams are saving themselves for the playoffs.

As for Coach Trotz, he liked a lot about the game and felt that the team managed the puck better, especially in the middle frame. When asked about the team’s ability to play the right way, he noted that he allows his players to use their talents at the blue lines, but he demands that they make good decisions with the puck. After a shaky start on Thursday, the Caps did that, for the most part. If they adhere to the “get pucks on net or behind the opposing defenders” mantra in the post season, then this team can compete with anyone.

Notes: Nashville was two for two on the power play. The Caps were two for five, but the last one was a whole half of a second long because the game ended…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts; only four made it on net…shot attempts were 67-63 for the Caps…the Predators won the faceoff battle, 36-29. Oshie went 4-1…Tom Wilson had five of the Caps 24 hits. Ovi had 0 hits, which backs up what he said about saving himself for the playoffs…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:45. Osh Babe led all Capitals forwards with 22:49…Burakovsky broke his stick then was injured blocking a shot in period one. #65 returned to the game to play 12:54…Alex Chiasson started the game, but became ill and couldn’t finish after seven shifts and 4:10 of ice time…Cal Ripken attended the game and said he spoke to the Capitals before the contest…the Caps face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. It looks like the Capitals will play either New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Columbus in the first round of the playoffs since the Pens will likely finish second in the division.

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Holtby Shuts the Door On The Blues in a Caps 4-2 Triumph

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The St. Louis Blues had everything to play for on Monday night at the Scottrade Center and the Washington Capitals had pretty much nothing to play for except trying to stay healthy and honing their game for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that start next week. The Caps also played in Pittsburgh on Sunday night while Coach Mike Yeo’s crew was idle. That sure sets up for a big victory for the home team, right?

Not exactly!

Braden Holtby turned in a gem of a performance in net stopping 34 of 36 shots to earn his 33rd victory of the season and Washington won, 4-2, on the banks of the Mighty Mississipp. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Chiasson, Andre Burakovsky, and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington while Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Berglund tallied for the Blues.

The Caps, who already clinched the Metropolitan Division on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, now sit at 48-25-7 (103 points) and they have two relatively meaningless games left at Capital One Arena against Nashville and New Jersey on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Let’s get right into the analysis of this one.

Medic! – The number one priority in Monday’s tilt was for Washington to come out of the game healthy. T.J. Oshie, who left Friday’s contest against the Hurricanes with 10 minutes to go in period three, but played a full 60 against the Pens on Sunday, was wisely scratched along with the injured Jay Beagle (upper body). That put Shane Gersich and Chiasson back in the lineup at forward. Things got very scary on the banged up list in period one. Devante Smith-Pelly went into the boards hard, but seemed to be okay. The entire Capitals Nation then nearly had a heart attack as the Gr8 lost an edge and appeared to jam his skate into the rear boards behind the Blues net. Alex stayed down for several seconds, but then skated to the bench. Ovi would not miss a shift; however, he had to keep trying out his leg during timeouts the rest of the opening frame. Tom Wilson was shaken up later in period one, too. Fortunately all of those guys would return on their next shift and finish the game. Willy even took a shot off of his leg as the horn sounded on this huge win. Thankfully, it appears that the Caps survived this contest without any major injuries, but they do take back some bumps and bruises that need to heal up in DC.

Quick Strike– The Blues took the lead on a Washington defensive breakdown in period one and carried that edge to the locker room after 20 minutes. The Caps, however, stormed the castle in the first eight minutes of period two putting up a three spot on Jake Allen (30 saves). Backstrom scored in front of the net after a nice feed from Brett Connolly, then just under two minutes later Jakub Jerabek sprung Chiasson on a breakaway at the offensive blue line with a beautiful long feed that split the St. Louis D. Alex skated in and roofed one on Allen. At 7:54, the lead was 3-1, Caps. Andre Burakovsky scored a gorgeous goal on the rush that was similar to Dmitry Orlov’s puck through his skates tally that he notched in Dallas back in December. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had the primary assist and Brooks Orpik picked up the second helper on the third tally. The trio of red lights stunned the Blues, who were suddenly in deep trouble.

He Own Da Blues – Holtby, after a rough February, has been working his game back into form and he was the vintage Holtbeast in this one. There were several strong saves with traffic in front of him and he flashed his sassy glove to snag pucks at the Blues on a few other occasions. #70 was dialed in and looked very confident in the cage. The win runs Braden’s record against St. Louis to a perfect seven and zero, lifetime! The Caps now have both of their goalies playing well and it could not come at a better time. When it comes to the Blues, the Holtbeast OWWWWNNNNSSS them!

Spinning Wheel Must Come Down – Last month I praised the work of Trevor Hanson when he officiated back to back Cap games in California. Paired with the horribly inconsistent Gord Dwyer, Hanson sunk to his partner’s level in this affair. All night the players had no idea what was or wasn’t a penalty. Evgeny Kuznetsov was held on the opening shift on a potential breakaway with no call and from there things just deteriorated. On the night the Blues had four power plays to just two for Washington, although the Capitals received a man advantage with 2:07 left that put St. Louis way behind the eight ball. Ovi finished the deal with 1:31 left with an empty net power play marker, which is his 46th goal of the season with two games remaining. I’ll give Hanson a pass on this one, but once the playoffs start next week the teams need to have some consistency from the zebras!

Getting to the Cage – Shots on goal for the game were 36-34 for St. Louis, but by Comcast’s tracking the quality chances were pretty close (they had it 14-13, Capitals, late in period three). What I liked about Washington’s opportunities was they were coming from in front of the net on Allen. If the Caps continue to put bodies and pucks to the blue paint area their probability of winning post season hockey games goes up dramatically. There were still some occasions where they over passed, a play by Kuzy between the circles late in period three when it was 3-2 sticks out, but the team is starting to play the right way with more shots and more pucks being put behind the opposing D. That’s a recipe the Penguins used to win back to back Stanley Cups.

Crucial Giveaways –Jerabek had the great outlet pass to Chiasson for his goal, but he made another terrible defensive zone pass that nearly led to a goal for the second straight night. In Pittsburgh, he turned the puck over up the middle in period three instead of feeding the biscuit up the boards to two wide open Caps. Sidney Crosby should’ve buried that one, but he didn’t get full power on it and Philipp Grubauer robbed him. #28, in period two with a one goal lead, somehow thought that a cross ice pass from Holtby’s right across the front of the net to the left wing boards was a good idea for a breakout attempt. It wasn’t and even my two mites know you don’t do that, never, never! Berglund picked the puck off, but fortunately Holtby made another big save. I like Jakub, but he’s got to manage the disc better in the defensive zone. Throw it up the boards or eat it below the goal line if you don’t have a sure fire breakout pass from deep in your own end.

Special PK – Orpik had another super night on the penalty kill logging 4:16 of the 7:57 that Washington was shorthanded. John Carlson was right behind him in that department with 3:39 of time. The Caps, after holding Pittsburgh to a zero for five night on Sunday on the power play, blanked the Blues in four tries and St. Louis only had four shots on goal in those instances. It was nice to see defensemen Michal Kempny contribute on those units, too, logging 3:06 of PK time. If #6 can effectively kill penalties, then that frees up the very offensively dangerous Orlov to play more at even strength.

Roadies – As Caps excellent beat writer, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) pointed out, the Capitals, with Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh, won their 20th game away from home for the fourth straight season. On Monday night, they improved to 21-15-5 to close out their road slate for the campaign. The only other Metropolitan Division team to win over half of their road games in 2017-18 is the New Jersey Devils.

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-29. Chandler Stephenson went 4-2…Ovi had nine shot attempts (5 on net) and was -2 in only 16:56 of ice time. He had some quality chances that he didn’t finish, but he did close this one out with the empty netter…Backstrom was the best skater on the ice for either team. He had three shots on goal and two points in 18:10 of action. His tally got Washington going in period two…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 22:58. Coach Barry Trotz did a good job of spreading the minutes around in a meaningless game. Nobody on the team played less than 10 minutes and not a single player went over 23 minutes.

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Caps Defeat the Pens, 3-1, to Clinch the Metro Division Title

Posted on 02 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin played in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday night and his teammates made it a special one for him defeating the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh, 3-1, to wrap up their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title. Philipp Grubauer made his first ever start against the Pens and he was outstanding making 36 saves. T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson scored for the Caps before Patrick Hornqvist tallied on a rebound with 3:45 remaining to end #31’s shutout bid.

The Caps final three games, at St. Louis on Monday night and then home against the Predators and Devils on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, are essentially meaningless from a standings perspective. Washington’s first round playoff opponent will be the first wildcard team and right now that situation is as clear as mud.

The triumph improves Coach Barry Trotz’ team to 47-25-7 (101 points), which is right in the 100 to 105 point range that I predicted before the season when many were losing their collective minds over General Manager Brian MacLellan’s offseason decisions. BMac knew what he was doing by focusing up the middle of the ice and the Capitals will now go into the post season for the fourth straight year in his tenure after the final disastrous season of the George McPhee era ended with Adam Oates as head coach back in 2014.

The following bullets are my thoughts and analysis on the win in Pittsburgh as we head into the final week of the NHL season (hey, it’s Masters week, too, so FORE!).

Stone Cold – There’s no doubt that the biggest reason the Penguins defeated the Caps in last season’s playoffs was due to the stellar play of Marc Andre-Fleury in net. On Sunday night, Grubauer took advantage of the start and seemed to really have the Penguins number. Granted the Pens played on Saturday night against Montreal, but Philipp was exceptional and earned the game’s number one star. Grubi stopped all 12 shots on goal the Penguins fired on their five power plays and he also got a nice break when Evgeni Malkin’s laser on a five on three advantage in period two hit iron. Luck is a part of the game and Washington had its share in this one. Crosby fanned on a shot in the third period that the German goaltender was able to glove. However, the Capitals had some great looks, too, that they didn’t get good wood on, including a couple of Ovechkin shots that he just couldn’t put up and over a prone Matt Murray (31 saves). The most important position in the post season is goalie and with Grubauer playing outstanding and Holtby rebounding into form, Washington has to feel strong about that spot for next week and beyond.

Starting Fast – The Capitals have not had many great starts this calendar year, but on Sunday on NBC Sports Channel, they came out well. Ovi nearly scored early in front, but Murray was able to stop it when Alex couldn’t get full control of the pass for one of his patented Gr8 shots. Washington kept pushing the pace though, and they gave the Pens a dose of their own medicine scoring on the rush. John Carlson got the puck up to Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps a three on two entering the offensive zone. Burkie then put a sweet pass on Oshie’s stick on the right wing side of the ice and the Osh Babe beat Murray five hole, like a rented mule, just 6:25 into the game. Getting the first goal was really important in this one because the Pens had played the night before and would need momentum plus the crowd for adrenaline. They would not receive that, pretty much all night.

Tactic Change – When Washington was in Pittsburgh on February 2nd, they found themselves in a track meet affair and lost, 7-4. Trying to play run and gun hockey with the Penguins is a recipe for disaster and the Caps proved it that night. This time, however, the Capitals made some adjustments to throttle the Pens rush game. Once they got ahead, instead of trying to chase the black and gold in the offensive zone, they backed out and clogged up the neutral zone passing lanes. It was a very 1990’s New Jersey Devils neutral zone trap style of hockey. As a result, the Pens were unable to utilize their stretch or flip passes once Coach Trotz’ team went into that configuration. The few odd man opportunities the Penguins received were the result of offensive zone turnovers. The Caps need to continue to clean those up, but they were certainly better structurally against Pittsburgh than they’ve been in the previous three 2017-18 regular season matchups.

Feeling Too Much Shame – If there was one thing to not like about Sunday’s game, it was the five penalties the Capitals took that put the Pens on man advantage situations. Pittsburgh has the best power play in the league and to gift them four of those opportunities was playing with fire. I didn’t like Chandler Stephenson’s hold, the too many men infraction, Matt Niskanen’s delay of game, and Ovechkin’s slash, they were unnecessary. The only penalty that occurred to negate a scoring chance was Tom Wilson’s on Malkin. #71 is a beast and he’s been on fire, so sometimes you have to break the rules to stop him. Fortunately Grubauer, Brooks Orpik (team high 5:57 of shorthanded time), Carlson, Niskanen, Lars Eller (4:04 of PK time) and the other forwards deployed while shorthanded did a great job. Hornqvist is an absolute force in front of the net and you need size to battle him to allow your goalies to see the shots. Orpik and Carlson had the lion share of that duty on Sunday.

Fly By Night – It’s no secret the highly skilled and talent Penguins love to RUSH the puck with their speed to create chances and as stated earlier, the Capitals throttled that primarily with a tactic change. In addition, however, they used the RUSH to their advantage, too. Washington’s second goal came eight seconds after a great penalty kill as Orlov skated up the middle of the ice and used the Pens defensemen as a screen. Dima shot from the slot and it beat Murray to make it 2-0 with 6:14 left in the middle frame. That goal seemed to really deflate the Penguins and their fans. It was a simple play by the Russian defensemen and the Caps continued to pour shots on Murray as they went up the ice once they had the lead. Too often the Capitals get into trouble by trying to be fancy at the offensive blue line, but on Sunday night they did what their coaches have asked of them, they put the puck on net or behind the opposing defensemen instead of trying to beat guys one on one. It was smart hockey, they generated 34 shots on net doing so, and the Penguins typically use that style as well as any team in the league. Hopefully Washington continues to play smart as they did on Sunday in the post season. The cross ice plays in April and beyond often end up getting you earlier tee times.

Bad Blood – Nobody likes to lose, but the Penguins got downright dirty at the end of this one. Hornqvist slashed Carlson and Orpik in frustration and the latter infraction earned him a late penalty that all but ended this contest. Malkin then went totally mental and interfered with Oshie in the neutral zone and sent his stick flying into the Caps bench. The Osh Babe took exception and got into it with Geno. With the linesman trying to send Malkin to the showers, #71 then went crazy trying to go after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). I’m sure #92 was giving him the business in their native Russian tongue, too. It was pretty clear the Pens were trying to set the tone for the next time these two teams could meet, which would likely be in round two. Even Mark “Hot Plate” Recchi found himself heading to the locker room early when the zebras kicked him out of the game for verbal abuse. It was a bad look for Mike Sullivan’s team and he’s no choir boy either.

The End – Officially, the game ended after the Penguins late hissy fit, but when Wilson deflected Niskanen’s shot past Murray just 23 seconds into period three to increase the score to 3-0, this game was pretty much over. Again, putting pucks at or towards the net with bodies going there is the way you win big hockey games. If Washington employs that style more often, the end of this season could be something special.

Notes: Jay Beagle suffered an upper body injury in period one and didn’t return. He only played 3:22 and Coach Trotz stated afterwards he’s probably not playing against the Blues…I’d like to see Oshie and Orpik get the night off, too. Those guys play a hard style so they need to be physically ready for next week. Both have missed games recently due to minor injuries, so it would be best to get both healthy…shot attempts were 59-57 for the Pens, but their edge primarily came from the power play. Washington was very good at five on five…both teams went 0 for 5 on the power play…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:58. Kris Letang played the most for Pittsburgh with 25:08…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 35-34, which wasn’t bad since Beagle was done in period one. Eller was 9-6 while Sidney Crosby went 16-9 for the home team…Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps in hits with seven. He also logged 2:41 of shorthanded time with Beags out of the game…Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, including four on net, and four hits in 22:47 of ice time…Hits were 33-30 for the Caps.

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Ovechkin and Grubauer lead the Caps Over the Rangers

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

It had been over three weeks since the Washington Capitals came out and dominated a first period. Specifically, the outdoor game at the Naval Academy was the last time the Caps did that racing to a 3-1 lead en route to a 5-2 triumph over the Leafs on March 3rd.

On Monday night, the shaky start streak ended as the Capitals blitzed the rebuilding and young New York Rangers with four tallies in the first 17 minutes and then they closed things down for a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden. The victory, the team’s fourth consecutive and the eighth in the last nine games, improves the Caps record to 45-24-7 (97 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by five points with six games remaining. Washington needs just three points now to clinch a playoff spot.

The Rangers and Capitals will meet again on Wednesday at 8 pm at Capital One Arena, but before that contest commences, below are my thoughts and analysis on Monday’s tilt.

Hart to Hart – Alexander Ovechkin has already won three Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. A case could easily be made for him winning his fourth this season, too, but Alex is more focused on another trophy that he doesn’t have yet. The Gr8 came out with that look in his eye in this affair and he made a super play at the offensive blue line to help set up Matt Niskanen’s goal that made it 2-0 just 5:13 into the game. After the Rangers took their first penalty of the night, Ovi then notched his 45th goal of the season from his office after a super feed from John Carlson to increase the lead to three pucks before the game was even nine minutes old. On the evening, Alex had nine shots attempts, including eight on net. If not for some great glove work by goalie Ondrej Pavelec (26 stops on 27 shots), who came on in relief for Alexandar Georgiev (3 saves in 6 shots) after Ovechkin’s goal, Alex would not still need five goals in six games to hit 50 for the season. Ovi played 17:41 and now has 83 points this season. He was named the game’s number one star. MVP! MVP! MVP!

Dynamic Duo – When Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom play well, the Caps typically win. That was once again the case on Monday night. Nicky got the offense rolling with a sweet pass as he crossed the offensive blue line, when surrounded by four Ranger players, to a streaking T.J. Oshie on the right wing. The Osh Babe, who said he didn’t touch Jakub Jerabek’s shot on Saturday night and as a result had the tally taken away, rifled one just inside the far post past Georgiev for a 1-0 lead just 2:50 into the game. This was #77’s 5th goal in his last seven games and his 17th of the season. Announcer Joe Micheletti commented on NBC that the Osh Babe recently changed sticks to one with more of a stiff shaft to help his accuracy and it seems to be paying off. Back to the centers, Backstrom had the primary helper on Oshie’s tally and the second apple on Ovi’s game winning goal. As for Kuzy, he made a great pass to Niskanen for his goal and also scored a shorthanded tally when Dmitry Orlov made an alert defensive zone flip up of the puck that Alex Chiasson corralled in the offensive zone and then fed to #92 trailing the play for a layup. That’s now 75 points on the season for Kuzy and Backy is up to 63 points. Backstrom and Kuznetsov logged 19:02 and 17:36 of ice time, respectively, so that’s nearly 37 minutes of game time that the opponents have to match up against elite center ice men. About the only thing I didn’t like from Kuznetsov in this one was his lacrosse shot attempt when it was 4-0. That’s a bit of a hot dog play that can humiliate your opponents and the Rangers certainly woke up after that circus type move. Kuzy is supremely talented enough to pull that shot off, but the Capitals likely go up 5-0 if he just makes the simple pass to Backstrom waiting on the door step. The coaching staff will hopefully turn that Harlem Globetrotters unnecessary hockey into a learning opportunity for #92. Coach Barry Trotz should also probably paraphrase the old bench boss, Lou Brown, for the Indians in Major League and say, “Nice try Kuzy, but don’t ever $%@$ing do that again!”

Career Year – Philipp Grubauer manned the pipes for Washington and he notched his 14th victory of the season making 28 saves on 30 shots. #31 was stellar, once again, and he is playing with a lot of confidence. There were too many quality stops to name, but he also received a bit of a break late when Vladislav Namestnikov missed an open net in period three after the Rags had cut the deficit in half. Grubauer was out challenging there following another defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. Grubauer is now 14-9-3 with a .923 save percentage. The restricted free agent is having a monster year and with Braden Holtby ailing, but finally able to back up again on Monday, he has taken advantage of an opening and ran with it. You need multiple good goalies in this league, as evidenced by the Penguins last two Stanley Cup runs, and it is quite fortuitous that Vegas GM George McPhee opted to not take Philipp in the expansion draft. Without his play this season, the Capitals are likely struggling to make the playoffs. Goaltending is the most important position in hockey and the performances by the Holtbeast from October until the end of January and then Grubauer since February have put the Capitals just eight points away from clinching their third straight division title.

Push Back – In hockey, many fans assume that one team should totally dominate all 60 minutes, but this is the best league in the world and the vast majority of the time, that doesn’t happen, even when one team on paper looks far inferior to the other. The Rangers are rebuilding and are looking at many of their young players, including Lias Andersson, who scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Making it even more special for Lias was having his parents in attendance. The Capitals pretty much ended any chance the Rangers could win his debut with a blitzkreig of an opening 20 minutes. However, New York has players that are fighting for jobs for next season and they get paid to play, too, so you knew they’d have a push back, especially when Washington seemed to ease up a bit and get a little cocky with their decision making. New York scored two thirds of the way into period two and then in the first five minutes of the final stanza, but that was all they would get. In the second period the Rangers outshot the Caps, 16-10.

Special Sauce – Washington’s power play went 1 for 3 and generated seven shots on net, but more importantly, they were a perfect four for four on the penalty kill and also tallied shorthanded (Kuznetsov). New York only generated four shots on goal on those four man advantage situations. When Brooks Orpik was boxed for interference with 3:40 remaining, the Rangers had a chance to cut the margin to a single tally and give themselves some hope of forcing overtime. Even when pulling the goalie halfway through the power play, the Blueshirts were throttled by the Caps and really never had a good look at scoring. John Carlson, who probably wasn’t happy with himself on the two Rangers goals, was rock solid while shorthanded and had multiple good clears to close the win out for Washington.

No Sit Back – Despite the rocky second period, Washington played a very strong third period. The Rangers did score, but overall the Caps didn’t sit back and they tried to increase their lead while not risking giving up any odd man rushes, which is the right strategy. As a result, they outshot New York, 8-7, over the last 20 minutes. Washington is at its best when getting pucks towards the net or behind it with a lead. In addition, they kept the Rangers to the perimeter when defending, for the most part, and that was why they were able to earn another key two points after their super fast start.

Notes: Goalie Pheonix Copley was sent to Hershey with Holtby healthy enough to back up. The way Grubauer is going, especially against the Rangers, I’d imagine he plays again on Wednesday in the rematch…Orpik led the Capitals in hits with five and Tom Wilson had three. I’d like to see the Capitals play with more physicality on Wednesday. Too many forwards are going in for pucks by reaching. They need to put their shoulder into the scrums and win the puck battles more often…the Caps outshot the Rangers, 32-30, but shot attempts were 62-47, for New York. A lot of that is score effects…Orlov was superb on Monday and led the Caps in ice time with 24:39. Niskanen, who scored his seventh goal of the season top shelf with a beautiful shot and supreme patience, logged 22:49. That defensive pair was excellent…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-26. Chandler Stephenson went 5-0.

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Caps Light the Lamp 7 Times in Brooklyn; Rout Islanders

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists), Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) each had three points as the Washington Capitals offense kicked it into high gear at the Barclay’s Center in a 7-3 rout of the fading New York Islanders. Philipp Grubauer was rock solid in the cage, once again, stopping 35 of 38 shots en route to his 11th victory of the season.

This was the Caps third consecutive “W” and their first streak of this length since early January. The win, combined with Pittsburgh’s triumph over the Canadiens in Montreal, keeps both teams tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 87 points. The Capitals are now 40-23-7 while the Pens are at 41-26-5, so Washington has two games in hand.

Below are several thoughts and analysis of a game that didn’t begin well for the good guys.

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn – New York is a notoriously fast starting squad, as evidenced by their 20-7-5 record coming into this tilt when tallying first. So when Washington started like they were still asleep and allowed the first goal just 2:19 into this affair via poor defensive zone coverage, it looked like this could be a long night. The Islanders were faced with the task of pretty much running the table to make the post season, so they were supposed to be the more desperate hockey team. Coach Doug Weight’s squad started that way, but the wheels started coming off of the bus when Lars Eller scored on a sweet pass from Jakub Vrana from behind the cage with Brett Connolly parked in front at 10:32 of period one. Just 57 seconds later, the Osh Babe notched his 13th tally of the season on a great feed from Andre Burakovsky on an odd man rush to totally erase New York’s fast start and really put the heat on the home squad.

Pressure – Down 2-1, Billy Joel’s classic song, Pressure, was appropriate for how the team that made no moves at the NHL trade deadline had to feel, at that point. The Islanders would take advantage of an Orlov pinch and Matt Niskanen’s failure to cut off the pass to Andrew Ladd on a two on one break to tie the game up just a minute later. New York lives off of the rush game and they are very good when they get odd man situations. Washington was not playing smart hockey up to that point, and they need to learn that turnovers at the offensive blue line against fast teams are a recipe for heading to the golf course in the spring. Playing the Islanders is good training, in that regard, for a possible playoff matchup with the Penguins. Against speedy clubs, it is imperative that the puck move north-south until it is deep in the offensive zone.

John Cougar’d – Rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, stopped 50 shots on Sunday night in an Islanders win over the Flames, so he was riding high coming into this affair. Against Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) and company, the walls would come tumbling down in a hurry. With the Gr8 parked at the top of the paint, Orlov scored short side from a severe angle to give the Caps a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. Just 3:22 into the middle frame, Burakovksy tipped home a Jakub Jerabek point shot with Oshie screening in front to make it 4-2. When Cal Clutterbuck took a stupid penalty for slashing Tom Wilson, who had run into Casey Cizikas earlier in the game, the Capitals went for the jugular on their only power play of the night. Backstrom batted home a puck Kuznetsov intended back door for Ovechkin, that was swatted into the slot by Gibson, to give Washington a three goal advantage. Young Gibson was pulled, for Jaroslav Halak, after allowing five goals on 12 shots. New York had 18 shots on goal, at that point in the game.

The Wall – Up 5-2 heading into the third period, the Caps smartly went all Pink Floyd and walled off the front of their net, which pretty much forced the Islanders to shoot from the perimeter over the last 20 minutes. The guys in blue would send 20 biscuits to the cage over the last 30 minutes of this contest, but they only tallied off of a faceoff win on a Ryan Pulock rocket with 3:27 remaining. The score before Pulock’s tally was 6-2 since John Carlson notched his 13th goal of the season from the slot after a sweet pass by Ovi from the left wing corner with 4:19 to go. Alexander the Great is known for his goal scoring, but he can sure pass the disc, too.

Brick House – Grubauer made some big stops in this one, especially on a breakaway by Cizikas with six minutes left in period two when it was a three goal affair. If #53 scores there, the crowd gets into it and Weight’s crew perhaps feels like they can come back. The puck would roll on Cizikas, but #31 was non-committal in the net and gave the Islanders center really nothing to shoot at. As previously mentioned, New York threw a lot of rubber at the net, but Philipp was flashing his glove to make saves without any rebounds all evening. Simply put, he was mighty mighty in the goal just letting it all hang out. Every time the Islanders seemed to get some offensive zone pressure or momentum, Grubauer gloved the puck and held on for a face off. Slowing the pace down favored the Capitals and the German goalie, who has been excellent since November, knew that.

The Zoo – After three straight well officiated tilts, it was a return to the zoo with Eric Furlatt and Francis “Send Me Back to Quebec” Charron. This duo never really had a handle on this game and hooks and holds were allowed too often, especially on New York. The interference call on Niskanen was bogus as was Michal Kempny’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following an Islanders slash on Grubauer after the whistle had blown. Wilson was speared by Clutterbuck, but the men in stripes called it a slash. A five minute major was easily warranted in that situation. Willy was also called for roughing Clutterbuck late in period two, and it was an undisciplined play by #43, but that should’ve been an interference call. Fortunately for the Capitals, the poor officiating was really not much of a factor because they dominated the scoreboard.

Red Light District – New York is a very dangerous offensive team, but in their own end, they lack attention to detail and that resulted in seven Washington goals (the last was an Osh Babe empty netter to close out the scoring). Coach Trotz put Backstrom, Burakovsky, and Oshie back together for the first time in awhile and they were the best trio on the ice. The Caps need to play smart in their own end on Friday night in the rematch at Capital One Arena and when they have the puck, make sure they go north-south with it and take advantage of the Islanders defense. If they play the right way, they should be victorious. In Thursday night’s affair, the Caps were opportunistic, and that certainly brought back memories of Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in 48 hours.

“Roxanne…Put on the Red light…Roxanne…Put on the Red Light…Roxanne…”

Seven times the lamp went on for Washington on Thursday night.

Notes: Braden Holtby will get his first start in 10 days on Friday night…Christian Djoos is slated to return to the lineup and the question is will Brooks Orpik or Jerabek come out? It would probably be wise to give #44 a rest, especially against the fast Islanders, but that leaves the Caps a good penalty killer short on the back end…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 against a very good power play…shot attempts were 68-35, for New York, but a lot of that was score effects and long range shots. The Islanders had 20 shots on goal to just 10 for Washington once it was 5-2…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 32-30, but Backstrom was 8-5…the Capitals large lead allowed Coach Barry Trotz to balance out the ice time. Niskanen led the team with just 22:28. Connolly had a team low 8:18. Brett needs to shoot more, especially when he has the puck in the slot. He has a fast release, so he needs to employ that more often.

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Ovi 600

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Ovechkin Hits 600 Career Goals in Caps Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

With his wife in the building along with budding young super star, Patrick Laine, who had tied him for the NHL lead with 40 tallies coming into Monday’s night contest, Alexander Ovechkin took his game to another level notching his 599th and 600th career goals before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway in overtime to give Washington a 3-2 triumph over the very good and very fast Winnipeg Jets.

Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 10th win of the season thanks in part to Chandler Stevenson’s diving break up of a two on one Winnipeg rush to set up Kuzy’s winning marker with 49 seconds left in overtime.

Wow! What a hockey game!

Below are my thoughts and analysis on this thrilling affair at Capital One Arena:

Back in 1st Place, Baby! – Washington’s win improves their record to 39-23-7 (85 points) and they leapfrog the Penguins back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens with 13 contests remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Capitals opened up a four point lead on the Flyers, who lost to Vegas on Monday night and have also played one more game than Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Nobody Does It Better – He isn’t a Russian spy, no, he’s a Russian goal scoring machine. Granted I never saw Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull play back in the day, but I’ve been watching hockey since the early 70’s and given the way the game is played now and the quality of goaltending, Ovechkin is, for my money, the greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen. He has a sensational shot that he can get off in so many different ways. His first of the night was a low snapper from the point that found its way through Tyler Myers, T.J. Oshie and then Connor Hellebuyck (40 saves) and into the net for a five on three power play marker to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Then, after Nikolaj Ehlers tied the game just 58 seconds later by stealing a poor back pass by Lars Eller, the Gr8 became the 4th fastest player in NHL history to score 600 goals when he tallied 3:53 into period two (only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have reached the 600 mark faster). Matt Niskanen made a great keep in on the left wing boards and he fed Kuznetsov in front just outside the right post. Kuzy shot, but the puck bounced to Tom Wilson in the slot. Willy fired the puck on net and Hellebuyck stopped it, but he couldn’t control the rebound. Ovi came in strong on the left post side and then whacked at it twice over a falling Dustin Byfuglien and finally, on his third try, he lifted the biscuit into the basket over a sprawling Hellebuyck to spark bedlam in the arena. It was clear from the outset of this game that Alex was on a mission to get 600 and help his team earn two critical standings points. His stat line for the night is monstrous: two goals, 15 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, five hits and 0 turnovers in 23:07 of ice time. With that, it’s time to cue the Carly Simon.

”Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best…”

Pivot Patrol – Once again, the Capitals received super play from their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist). Backstrom had six shots on goal, a takeaway, and was 10-8 in faceoffs in 20:58 of ice time while Kuzy had four shots on net, two takeaways in 23:13 of time. It was #92 who once again centered Ovi and Willy while Backy was the pivot man for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Eller had a rough first period with his poor back pass in a four on four situation that led to Ehlers goal, but Coach Trotz received a strong game from Jay Beagle, who was 13-4 on draws logging 10:02. After losing to the Jets in OT on February 13th, the Washington bench boss made a smart adjustment by having #83 take the opening draw in the extra session and he won it cleanly back to John Carlson. From there Kuzy took the puck up the middle of the ice and drew a slash from Bryan Little that put the Caps on a 4 on 3 power play just 19 seconds into overtime. Washington would not convert despite some great looks, especially Oshie’s rebound attempt in front that somehow Hellebuyck got his glove on. When #19 and #92 are engaged, the Capitals are very hard to beat.

Jet! – It’s no surprise that Winnipeg is a Cup contender out west with the speed and talent they have in their lineup. Adding Paul Stastny at the trade deadline to go with a crew of amazing forwards that includes Laine, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and the currently injured Mark Schiefele really puts them in the elite of the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators and the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. With Hellebuyck playing well in net, and he was the main reason the Caps didn’t win in regulation, they have a legitimate chance to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Speaking of the kid, Laine, the young man was outdone by the his boyhood hero, the Gr8, but he did get his 41st goal of the season in the third period after a terrible set of turnovers by Washington in their own zone following a sequence where Ovechkin decided to pass up a great shot opportunity that could’ve given him the hat trick and his team a two goal lead. Winnipeg is very talented and as I said in the opening salvo, a very fast squad. I seem to always get that great Paul McCartney tune in my head when I see the Jets fly up and down the milky ice these days.

All the Right Moves – The Caps had 43 shots on net and 73 shot attempts to 28 and 62, respectively, for the Jets. Washington built on the way they played in San Jose by getting more pucks and bodies to the net. It’s simple hockey and there were fewer occasions where I muttered to myself or tweeted “so and so should’ve shot the puck” in this affair. On defense, the Caps held one of the best offensive teams in the league to under 30 shots on goal and that’s now five straight games they have done so. As I wrote after Saturday’s win, Washington needs to play this style of hockey to do well in the post season. More shots directed towards the net and solid team defense. With the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek the blue line has been stabilized. Carlson seems to gel well with Kempny, who excels at breakout passes and Brooks Orpik turned in his second high quality performance in a row paired with Jerabek, who also is adept at getting the puck out of the Caps end quickly. Orpik logged 18:43, including a tied for the team high 3:54 on the PK (Niskanen). #44 was a big factor in Winnipeg going 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The team defense improvements are allowing Grubauer to see the shots and #31 is so dialed in right now that you can see Washington’s confidence in their own end building. GM Brian MacLellan’s low cost additions on the blue line have started to really work with time. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be very good players in this league, but they are still rookies and realistically, the Caps aren’t going to go deep in the post season with two very green players on the blue line. While Kempny and Jerabek don’t have a lot of NHL experience, both have played at least eight seasons professionally, something Alan May astutely pointed out in the Caps pregame show.

Good Day at the Zoo – I’ll admit that Jean Hebert and Dean Morton aren’t my favorite zebras, but I have to tip my hat to them for a job well done in a very fast paced hockey game. All seven penalties called in this affair were spot on and it took guts for Hebert to blow the whistle on Little in overtime, but he clearly got Kuznetsov on the glove and deserved to go to the box and feel shame. The referee duo set the tone early that stick infractions and trips were not going to be allowed and they stuck to that mantra. Any stick put on an opponent in the glove area was correctly whistled in this one. They allowed physical contact to take place and they were consistent. You can’t ask for more than that and that’s three games in a row where I’ve felt that the guys in stripes were spot on, well done zebras!

Notes: The Caps will be in action on Thursday in Brooklyn before coming home to face the Islanders at Capital One Arena on Friday in a back to back set. I’d expect Grubauer to start in New York while Braden Holtby gets back in the cage on Friday at home…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:14…Byfuglien logged 30:56 for Winnipeg…Devante Smith-Pelly had six hits to lead Washington in that department…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play. They failed to score in OT and they also took themselves off of it right after Ovi scored his 1st goal when Oshie was called for slashing. Shortly thereafter Eller made his mistake in the 4 on 4 and the game was tied…Ovi has 600 goals and 509 assists in 1,109 games. He’s a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody does it better…

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