Tag Archive | "Grubauer"

A Matt Niskanen shot leads to the third game winning Caps goal this week.

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Grubauer Leads the Caps to the Century Mark in Points

Posted on 05 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a tough loss to the despised New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals were set to play their fourth game in five nights in Beantown against a red hot Bruins club. To win, they would need effort from everyone on the roster and superb goaltending.

They received both of those.

Matt Niskanen’s rocket 2:36 into overtime beat Tuukka Rask (28 saves) as the Capitals rode some stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer (33 saves) to defeat Boston for the sixth straight time, 2-1.

This was one heck of a hockey game after the Capitals dominated the Rangers on Friday night, but lost due to some big mistakes. Washington had a good start on Saturday, however, it was one of those big mistakes that led to the opposition scoring first, once again. The Caps top line got caught out of position in their own zone and then an unfortunate bounce off of Nicklas Backstrom’s skate went Patrice Bergeron’s way and he deposited the biscuit into the cage just 7:11 into the game. Grubauer had no chance on that one.

Overall, though, it was a solid road period for the Caps and they were unlucky to trail, having outshot the Bruins, 9-7.

In the middle frame, things got very dicey, very quickly. The Bruins appeared to take a 2-0 lead on a rebound goal where the Capitals coverage broke down, but the Washington video coaches notified Coach Barry Trotz that they thought the play was offsides. Sure enough, Loui Eriksson’s skate was up in the air on zone entry and the goal was wiped out.

After surviving that, the next turning point occurred when Alex Ovechkin was given a questionable major for boarding by the overreacting Wes McCauley (the same referee who incorrectly whistled Tom Wilson for a match penalty against Ottawa earlier in the year). Brad Marchand earned a roughing call to negate the first two minutes of the major, but after Mike Richards, who was fabulous in this game, made a great steal and rush up the ice, Wilson was correctly called for interference. That gave the Bruins a five on three advantage for one minute and 49 seconds. Grubauer was spectacular in that sequence and he had some assists from the iron as the B’s hit a couple of posts.

Washington would ride the momentum from that big PK and Karl Alzner scored after carrying the puck deep in the offensive zone. #27 battled along the left wing boards and Ovechkin came in and snagged the biscuit. Ovi alertly spotted Backstrom in the far slot and then #19, with Alzner heading to the net, put one right on King Karl’s stick and he directed it home to tie things up.

The Caps gathered energy from that tying goal and kept pushing, but yet another mental mistake led to a too many dudes infraction. The Capitals penalty killing unit, which was a perfect five for five in 8:09 of shorthanded time, did the job.

As a result of all of the penalties, the Bruins had 20 shots on net in that middle frame, yet the game was still tied heading into the third period.

Normally the team playing the fourth game in five nights would be the one hanging on, but it was the other way around in this one as the Capitals carried the play with 10 shots on goal to just four for Boston. Each team had three minutes of power play time but neither could convert setting the stage for the OT.

In extra time, each club would generate three shots each, but then Marcus Johansson made a strong offensive zone entry and fed Andre Burakovsky just inside the blue line. Young Burra then made a nice cut across move and dropped the puck to Niskanen, who had just come off the bench on a change, and #2 just hammered it past Rask on overtime shot lucky number seven. It was the third time this week that a “Niscannon” blast led to the game winning goal (Oshie tipped his shot home in the win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Niskanen had the GWG against Toronto on Wednesday).

Wow, this was some great hockey game!

It was physical, Wilson fought Adam McQuaid in the first frame, and it was played at a high tempo, end to end pace. Coach Trotz’ crew worked hard all evening and afterwards he commended everyone’s “battle.” Battled was the right word because the Bruins love to play heavy hockey, as do the Caps. For some reason, Washington just seems to get the better of Boston ever since the 2012 playoff series victory. Normally it is Braden Holtby who terrorizes them, but on this night it was Grubauer who did the damage.

The victory improves the Capitals to the century mark in points at 48-13-4. They have an 18 point lead in the Metropolitan Division and are 15 points over the top clubs in the Western Conference. The NHL can just start engraving the Presidents’ Trophy now.

But that is not the hardware this club wants and their play over the weekend, despite losing to the Rags, is encouraging. They were emotionally involved in both hockey games after snoozing through many previous tilts. They still have some things to clean up, but overall the effort was back, and big credit for that goes to the newly cobbled fourth line of Richards, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik. Those guys have pretty much tilted the ice for Washington since they’ve been put together this week. You can’t underestimate what a difference having a line like that makes now and will add in the post season since Coach Trotz can put any of his four lines out on the ice against any opposition line because this club is so deep. General Manager Brian MacLellan, who fixed the blue line in the summer of 2014, and the top six forwards in the summer of 2015, has now, along with Coach Trotz, fixed the bottom six forwards since the beginning of the season with the Richards signing and Winnik trade.

On Sunday, the Capitals will fly to California (I’m going back to Cali, Cali…) for a very difficult three game stretch against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks, the top three clubs in the Pacific Division. It starts on Monday night at 10 against a Ducks squad that has won 11 games in a row to pull a Linda Rondstadter (Blue Bayou, h/t Gary McCord) on the Kings.

To beat these three left coast powerhouses the Capitals will need the type of effort they had against Boston while minimizing the big mistakes.

Get your rest and your caffeine ready for the late night week ahead.

Notes: Niskanen, who was +2, led the Caps in ice time with 26:48…Ovechkin, despite the bogus major penalty, seemed more like himself in this one with nine shot attempts and five shots on goal. He and Zdeno Chara had their usual battle and #33 was called for roughing late in the game for trying to take Ovi’s head off. The Gr8 will face another one of his “buddies” on Monday in Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-26. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was fabulous despite scoring no goals on seven shots on net, was 8-4…Brooks Orpik logged 22:30 but was cut late in regulation on a clean hit by the Bruins. T.J. Oshie also got hit high early by Chara in this one and stayed in the game…given the “battle” of this contest, it’s safe to say that the Caps will be eating rocks for breakfast on Sunday morning before their all day flight to California.

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T.J. Oshie has three assists as the Capitals survive a scrappy Leafs squad, 3-2.

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Niskanen’s Blast Saves the Caps

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that had minimal style points, the Washington Capitals managed to play well in a few bursts and that was enough to defeat a rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs team that is all in for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. Matt Niskanen scored the game winner with the man advantage at 10:29 of the third period on a play very similar to T.J. Oshie’s game winning goal against the Penguins on Tuesday night. This time, however, the puck didn’t hit #77 or Marcus Johansson on the way in, but they provided excellent screens.

Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Lou Lamoriello were clearly playing to increase their odds of winning the lottery by sending many of their top players away before the NHL trade deadline. Coach Mike Babcock’s lineup, however, which included a cast of young players as well as Brooks Laich in his first game back since Sunday’s trade, was auditioning for future roles and they played hard the entire game.

Anyone who has ever played hockey knows it is a game of emotion and you can’t just show up and win. Washington tried that route, for most of the contest on Wednesday, while the Toronto youngsters and castoffs played their rears off. They were all over the Caps, who looked disinterested after Tuesday’s exciting victory over the despised Penguins. As a result, the Leafs erased a 2-0 Caps lead and tied this one up in the final frame before Niskanen won it.

Credit Babcock’s crew for not quitting and trying to make up what they clearly lack in talent, with effort.

For Washington, they started slow thanks to two delay of game penalties and another for cross checking in the opening frame before rattling off two goals in 28 seconds in the 19th minute. T.J. Oshie made the key takeaways on both goals. Taylor Chorney, whose wife gave birth to baby boy Turner on Monday, scored his 1st goal of the season on a nice drop pass from #77 to make it 1-0. Then with 1:17 to go in the period, Oshie forced Nazem Kadri into a turnover and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) provided the only style points of the game with as sweet of an aerial backhand saucer pass that you’ll ever see to Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 promptly deposited the puck into the net behind Jonathan Bernier (20 saves) for his NHL leading 41st goal of the season.

At that point it was 2-0 and with Washington receiving a late first period power play, you’d think this one was headed for a rout, right?

Not so fast. The Caps decided to take an overextended nap into period two and the Leafs scored at 1:37, which was just after the Capitals power play didn’t put this one away. From there Toronto played hard, winning loose puck after loose puck until they finally tied things up at 8:16 into the final frame.

The Leafs, however, are bad for a reason and Nikita Soshnikov took a terrible boarding penalty on Karl Alzner and the Caps vaunted power play made them pay for the stupid play.

Following the goal, the Capitals had several good shifts and had multiple chances to put this one away, including a Justin Williams chance in tight on Bernier. They failed to do so and a late Toronto push just came up short as Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) kept the puck out of the cage.

Washington was literally saved by the bell with the lackadaisical effort. Barry Trotz probably wished Mr. Richard Belding had been the bench boss, because he certainly was forced to try and coach a cast of players that looked like they wanted to be anywhere but the hockey rink on Wednesday night.

Fortunately, Oshie (three assists) and Niskanen played the hero roles of Zack Morris and AC Slater on this evening to get the Caps the 3-2 win and save a team that wants to win a Stanley Cup from the possibility of embarrassment in what could have been a loss to the worst team in the league.

In the end, a win is a win is a win. It was totally ugly, but the Capitals earned two points and their record of 47-12-4 (98 points) is as pretty as Kelly Kapowski (aka, Tiffany Amber-Thiesen) was on Saved by the Bell.

In summary, Wednesday’s game was not pretty and the Capitals were fortunate to win. It’s hard to evaluate any individual performance when the team is this collectively bad due to lack of motivation, so we won’t go there, except for praising Oshie, who does so many little things to help this Caps club continue to succeed.

Notes: The Caps were really good from the dot going 36-22. Backstrom was a monstrous 15-3 while Kadri was 3-16…Washington was 1-4 on the power play while the Leafs were 0-4, that was ultimately the difference in the game…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…the Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the New York Rangers. I’d imagine they will be motivated for that one?

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The Caps start slow, but finish strong in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh

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Caps Rally to Beat Pens Via Heavy Hockey

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It is not how you start, it is how you finish.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals came out sluggish and dug a 2-0 hole just 23:45 into this contest. The Caps were not skating at all and were not physically or mentally engaged in the game. As a result their gap control was terrible and the speedy Penguins took advantage of the space they were allowed on the ice.

But everything changed on the shift after the Peter Hornqvist tally, as Coach Barry Trotz shuffled the deck and put Mike Richards out with Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera to try and generate some much needed energy. Boy did it pay off as those guys were all over Pittsburgh and with #43 creating havoc in front, Richards notched his second goal of the season with a shot that Pens goalie Matthew Murray (34 saves) never saw just 39 seconds after it was 2-0. Afterwards, Richards said the goal belonged to Wilson, because he thought Willy tipped it, but regardless of that, the Caps were back in the game and they came to life with a vengeance.

For the final 35+ minutes this was mostly heavy hockey by the Caps. They were slow out of the gates due to no practice on Monday and it looked even worse with the Pens having played on Monday in a 6-0 rout of Arizona. In typical fashion, the Capitals started tilting the ice with their physical play and later in the period Justin Williams came down the left wing, kept his feet moving, and wrapped a puck around the right wing side of the Pens cage. Evgeny Kuznetsov had alertly positioned himself in front of the net and he whacked the biscuit home to tie the game up, with 3:57 left in period two, and totally ignited the Verizon Center crowd.

From there the Caps continued to pressure Pittsburgh. As expected, with the Pens having played the night before and Washington possessing a deeper and more physical team, the Capitals carried the play in the last 20 minutes and would win the game on the power play.

Evgeni Malkin high sticked T.J. Oshie in the neutral zone and that set up the #1 ranked unit in the league for a man advantage with 7:15 remaining. Pittsburgh, according to Matt Niskanen, became focused on shadowing Alex Ovechkin, and that allowed Nicklas Backstrom to feed #2 for three straight blasts from the point with traffic in front. As they say, the third time is a charm, and Niskanen’s rocket found the back of the cage. Following the game, the unselfish defensemen stated that Oshie had tipped the puck and deserved the goal.

So that’s two goals for Washington in which the official goal scorer said it wasn’t his goal. That’s a team that plays for each other and one that only cares about one thing, winning. This club has great team chemistry.

Winning is what they did as they held Sidney Crosby (1 assist) to no shots on goal and improved to 46-12-4 (96 points). With 20 games remaining they have yet to lose back to back tilts in regulation and the rest of the league remains in their dust.

As for Oshie, well he is one tough son of a gun. He took a knee on knee hit from Crosby and had to leave for a couple of shifts, he was trucked in the neutral zone by Ovechkin, and he also got clipped up high by Malkin to set up the winning power play sequence. You’d think a guy that was banged up that physically in this contest would spend the rest of the night staying on the perimeter, right? No, not Oshie, he was right there in front, doing what is necessary, to score or at least help score the game winning goal. Simply put, Oshie eats rocks for breakfast.

Wilson was outstanding in this contest and he was a big reason the game changed. #43 was flying around and scaring Penguins players while staying in control. He was simply unmanageable by the Pittsburgh defense for the final 35+ minutes.

All three Capitals goals were scored in front via hard work plays to get the puck to the prime scoring area while other teammates worked hard to battle in front to make the job for Murray, who played very well, extremely difficult.

When the Penguins did get a chance late, and Carl Hagelin had a golden opportunity with 33 seconds left, Braden Holtby (28 saves) came up with a big and sassy glove save to deny one of Washington’s biggest rivals. The Holtbeast now has 40 wins this season and is closing in on Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories in a regular season.

Bottom line, though, this Caps team, that is still missing John Carlson, is deep and can wear their opponents down and agonizingly take hockey games from you.

They are a force to be reckoned with when they are focused.

The Penguins learned that, once again, on Tuesday night.

Notes: Mike Weber made his Caps debut and logged 12:24 on defense, paired mostly with Nate Schmidt. He blocked a team leading five shots…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time, at 24:26…Washington won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 11-9…the Caps had 32 hits to just 19 for the Pens…Washington outshot the Pens 37-30. Shot attempts were 64-58 for the Penguins. Washington dug a big first period hole in shot attempts with their poor play…the Caps will face Brooks Laich and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Philipp Grubauer will be in net. Daniel Winnik, who was acquired in the Laich trade, arrived in town on Tuesday and should be in the lineup on the fourth line against the Leafs.

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Two of the NHL's best battle it out on Tuesday Night at the Verizon Center in a Caps 3-1 victory over LA.

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Grubauer Stellar in Caps Victory Over the Kings

Posted on 17 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a matchup of two of the NHL’s heavyweights, the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings put on quite a bout on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

The Caps Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner with 2:02 left in regulation when former King, Justin Williams, fed #92 on the left post for a tap in after LA goalie, Jonathan Quick (29 saves), was cut off by his own teammate, Kevin Gravel in the crease.

Jason Chimera then added an empty net tally with nine seconds remaining to make it 3-1.

This was a hard fought victory for Washington. After a decent opening 10 minutes they chose to play the “easy game” for the next 25 minutes and as a result, found themselves trailing, 1-0, on an Anze Kopitar shorthanded marker with 3:17 left in period one. Caps Coach Barry Trotz noted that his club, like they did in Dallas in the second period on Saturday, was playing too much of an “east-west” game. Once again the Capitals were attempting high risk, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks in deep and paying the physical price to score. Too often it was a one in and one out sequence in the Washington offensive zone. They weren’t working hard to support the puck and that allowed the Kings to dominate the shot totals and scoring chances.

Fortunately for Washington, Philipp Grubauer (39 saves) was the great equalizer. For 35 minutes he kept the Caps in the game until they got their brand of heavy hockey going. Chimera noted that the team didn’t make any adjustments to spur the comeback, they just started moving their feet and putting bodies on opposing players to win the loose puck battles. Simply put, the Capitals returned to what makes them so successful, heavy hockey. The Kings are a big team with the likes of Milan Lucic, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Jeff Carter, and others, but the Caps are big too with skaters such as Tom Wilson, Chimera, Alex Ovechkin, and Brooks Orpik.

The Capitals roster is also deep, and with the return of Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 16:43) they were able to roll their three defensive pairs while Los Angeles relied heavily on its top four blue liners, especially their top pair of Drew Doughty (1 assist in 31:29) and Jake Muzzin (28:49).

Through 40 minutes, Doughty and Muzzin were both over 20 and 18 minutes respectively while Coach Trotz’ top defensemen, John Carlson, was just over 15 minutes. Similarly, Washington was rolling its four lines and that allowed the Capitals to dominate the first nine minutes of period three. The Kings didn’t have a shot on net during that span and it took some super saves from Quick to hold the fort for the visitors. Andre Burakovsky, who scored the Capitals first tally by going to the net and deflecting home a Dmitry Orlov point shot with under a minute left in period two, had a great chance on a two on one rush, but somehow #32 got his shoulder on a shot targeted for the top shelf.

Not to be outdone, Grubauer made a few point blank saves in the slot area to keep the game tied before Williams and Kuznetsov found a way to give the Caps the lead and eventually the win.

It was a super intense contest and credit the Kings for bringing their “A” game against Washington, but the Caps are just so deep and continue to take early punches then find ways to win hockey games. They aren’t always doing it the way their coach would like, especially the recent second period swoons, but the way they are carrying the final frame is a testament to their depth. When you are deep and can play a physical style that wears opponents out, it leads to strong finishes. On this night, the Caps certainly finished strong to beat one of the league’s best squads (and recent two time Stanley Cup Champions).

Going forward, the recent return of Carlson and then Orpik on Tuesday night on the back end will be a huge advantage. Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:40, but the lowest defensemen total was for Nate Schmidt with 13:27. That’s shows a fairly proper spread of blue line minutes and will pay off over the next two months when the Capitals will be playing a lot of hockey. When both Carlson and Oprik were out, Niskanen was routinely playing up in the 27 to 28 minute range, and that is just too much over the long haul. Coach Trotz noted that those guys, Niskanen and Karl Alzner, made it seem like the team wasn’t missing Carlson and Orpik because those two played so well. Trotz also stated that there is an upcoming stretch where they’ll play six games in nine days with the last one involving a cross country trek to Anaheim, so having the ability to spread the minutes is huge for his club.

Orpik, when asked afterwards if it makes a difference, noted the advantage this Capitals team has with a big standings lead and the depth on the blue line.

“I think so for sure, last week playing in Minnesota you see a guy like Ryan Suter plays almost 35 minutes. Over an 82 game season and hopefully playoffs, I don’t care how good of shape you are in, that just takes its toll on you. Especially tonight, there’s two to three minutes left and you see we got our fourth line out there. Coach trusts them in a tight game, that’s what you need. You can’t just wear your guys out down the stretch, especially with how physical the games get.”

Managing the minutes will be important, but should the Capitals take guys out of the lineup down the stretch to prepare for the playoffs?

“I think it’s a fine line too, you’re kind of in a similar situation to Pittsburgh when I was there. A few years we had big leads and sometimes we started resting some guys and taking them out of the lineup and that doesn’t really work so well. I think maybe backing off of the minutes on some guys you can do to keep everybody going, keep the rhythm going. Every year, if you look at that team which battles to get the last playoff spot has success. They have to play hard that last month and just roll that right into the playoffs. It’s not a league where you can say ‘ok, we’re going to turn the switch on now’ after four for five guys resting for a week or so. But definitely minutes wise you can be a bit smarter and back off guys,” finished Orpik, who Coach Trotz said played well in his return to the lineup after missing 40 games. He noted Oprik’s excellent passes and said that he and Dmitry Orlov were the second best defensive pair against the Kings.

The ice time management will be something to watch as the Caps, now 41-10-4 (86 points), play their remaining 27 contests.

Washington continued its season long streak of following up a regulation loss with either a non-regulation loss or a victory. On Tuesday, it was another W as they rode their back up goalie, Grubauer, for as long as they could until the team found a way to score a pair of greasy, going to the net type of goals that you must get to beat a super club like the Los Angeles Kings.

Notes: LA won the face-off battle, 33-25. No Caps player won more than half of their draws. Jeff Carter was 13-3 for the Kings…Doughty had an assist on the Kings goal when he thwarted a Marcus Johansson pass intended for Ovechkin in the slot. If the pass goes through, it’s an easy goal for the Gr8. That’s a big reason why Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL, he can play at both ends of the rink at an elite level…each team had 33 hits, it was a “heavy affair.” Niskanen had six to lead the Caps while Brown had five for LA…Ovechkin had 15 shot attempts, including 10 on goal in 19:29 of work…next up for the Capitals are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night. The Caps are 2-0 against New York this season.

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The Caps play a terrible 2nd period that ultimately dooms them in Dallas.

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Caps Third Period Rally Falls Short Against Dallas

Posted on 13 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.

The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.

Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.

It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.

Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.

Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.

The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.

Are you kidding me?

We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.

“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.

Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.

For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.

The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.

Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.

That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.

In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.

Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.

Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup  for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.

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Washington's power play goes 0 for 8 in a loss to the hot Florida Panthers.

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Ovechkin-Less Caps Fall to the Panthers

Posted on 02 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have the best power play in the National Hockey League, but on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, it was the single biggest reason they lost to the Florida Panthers, 5-2, in a game they dominated at even strength.

Coming out of the NHL All Star break the Caps looked strong early on putting lots of shots towards the Florida net, but either Al Montoya (36 saves) stopped the puck or Washington missed the net. Starting at 5:51 of that opening frame, the Panthers would take five penalties to three for the Capitals. That set up a special teams battle and a club that is typically excellent on those occasions was flat out awful in this one. The Caps, without Alexander Ovechkin, who was suspended by the clowns in New York who run the league because he took an All Star Game off due to injury, squandered two five on three opportunities by taking bad offensive zone penalties. Those infractions were both of the lazy and not moving your feet variety.

Just past the 10 minute mark of period one, the Caps turned the puck over in the offensive zone and Jaromir Jagr outworked Brooks Laich for the biscuit in the Washington defensive zone. The long haired freaky person then fed Jonathan Huberdeau, who was parked in the slot between Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov, for an easy one in front of Philipp Grubauer (14 saves).

That goal was the first deflator as Washington had carried the play up to that point, but due to Montoya, some missed quality chances, and a bad back check and defensive zone coverage they trailed, 1-0.

Just over four minutes later, the Panthers would quickly cash in on their five on three power play in easy fashion. It took all of 14 seconds for Nick Bjugstad and Huberdeau to feed Alexsander Barkov for a simple back door goal to make it 2-0.

After 20 minutes, there was still some hope for Washington, but then Grubauer gave up the softest goal allowed by a Caps net minder all season on a bad angle, short side shot to Vincent Trocheck. That made it 3-0 and the air totally came out of the Capitals and the Verizon Center.

Washington would continue to get shots and man advantages, but at the end of 40 minutes, they had eight power plays and no goals. They clearly missed their captain as T.J. Oshie assumed the Ovi position and struggled, failing to get his shot off quickly. Simply put, #77 in that spot was a bad fit.

Huberdeau, who was easily the best player in the game, made it 4-0 on the power play with 4:50 to go in period two to pretty much decide the outcome of this tilt.

The Caps did get two quick early goals in period three with Evgeny Kuznetsov setting up both markers (Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky), but they could get no closer. They have now lost two straight games for the just the second time this season (h/t to the Caps Mike Vogel), but each time one of those losses has been after regulation has ended.

Florida certainly has had the Caps number these last two games. They are big and do a good job of keeping the Capitals on the perimeter. If Washington is to face them in the playoffs, it would have to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, because I don’t see the Cats finishing lower than third in the Atlantic Division. Florida is just too good and with stud 19 year old defensemen Aaron Ekblad in the lineup they’ve won 16 straight games. If Ovechkin had played, the Capitals likely score with the man advantage early and this is probably a different game, but that’s hockey.

Overall for the Caps, there were things to like in this one. They dominated possession outshooting the Panthers 65-30 in shot attempts and 38-19 in shots on goal. But the Capitals have to do a better job of being more physical in front of the Cats goalie. They didn’t get bodies there enough to disrupt Montoya, who was in the zone against Washington, once again.

Andre Burakovsky had another strong outing and he had 10 shots on goal. He easily could have had more than 1 tally.

So the Caps fall to 35-9-4 and will face the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Ovechkin will be back and Braden Holtby will get the net. Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson, who was hurt in the Flyers game when suffering an upper body injury, did not practice on Monday so he is doubtful for the Isles game. Jojo is really needed back to fill that third line center role and help carry the puck in on the second power play unit.

But injuries are a part of the game and the Caps need to stop this two game slide and get going. They will now play nearly every other night over the next 68 days so there are no more “we were rusty” excuses.

The grind has begun and the Capitals need to find their rhythm again.

Notes: Brooks Orpik skated on Tuesday and announced that his bone injury, which forced him to stay off of the ice for 8 weeks, is healed up and now he just needs to get in hockey condition. You can expect #44 back in 7 to 14 days…Jay Beagle has been skating and is about two weeks away with his hand injury…John Carlson looked good in his second game back logging 24:17 of ice time…Matt Niskanen, who struggled with the puck and had four shots blocked, led the Caps in ice time with 28:07…Chorney (-1) left the game with the flu and only played 4:34…Washington won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 14-10…the Caps only had 25 hits in the game (just 5 in the first period, although they had six minutes of power play time)…final special teams totals: Caps 0-8 on the PP in 12:00 and Florida 2-4 in 2:57. There’s your game, folks!

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The Caps widen their lead in the Metropolitan Division to an astounding 17 points with a 5-2 win over New York.

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Caps Williams Pots Hat Trick in Win over the Blueshirts

Posted on 17 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

When this Washington Capitals team is focused, boy they sure are good!

After the top two lines and several defensemen took Saturday night in Buffalo off (a non-spirited 4-1 defeat to the Sabres), the Caps had everybody geared up and revving against their archrivals, the New York Rangers, on Sunday evening at the Verizon Center.

In a shaky first period, in which Braden Holtby (20 saves) kept the Capitals close, Washington tied things up on Alexander Ovechkin’s 27th goal of the season on a power play. Seven minutes and eighteen seconds into the middle stanza, Marcus Johansson then tapped home a power play layup off of a sweet Nicklas Backstrom feed after T.J. Oshie did a nice job of drawing the Rangers defender to him to create the passing lane. Justin Williams would then score his first goal of the game to make it 3-1 deflecting a Taylor Chorney blast after Andre Burakovsky set it up with some nice moves and a good pass.

The Caps then stormed the castle on the Rangers for several shifts in a row, but somehow couldn’t get that 4th marker past Antti Raanta (19 saves) to gain a three goal cushion. Noted Capital-killer Chris Kreider then scored from in front late in period two and suddenly everyone got extra nervous as Holtby exited the game due to dehydration with it 3-2, Capitals.

But this Caps roster is very deep, including in net, and Philipp Grubauer came in to make two late second period stops and then he thwarted all nine shots on goal in period three. Washington stymied New York and won, 5-2, as Williams added a layup off of an amazing passing play with Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) just 4:51 into the final frame. “Stick” then banked one into the empty net off of a Rags skate to end the official scoring with 1:51 left.

The Rangers appeared to make it 5-3 on a power play goal, but the play was challenged by Caps Coach Barry Trotz and correctly overturned due to New York entering the zone offside. All that did was allow Holtby to keep the victory he deserved for his stellar first period. Grubauer did his part too, though.

Now comes the fun part of this blog, the game analysis as well as the Caps record.

Let’s start with their overall record. It’s now 34-8-3 for a staggering 71 points and a 17 point lead over the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division and 18 points over the third place Blueshirts. They have won 12 straight games at the Verizon Center, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. They lead the Eastern Conference by 14 points and own a seven point cushion over the Blackhawks for the best record in the NHL, they also have two games in hand on Chicago.

As for the analysis, the first part is simple. This team is really good, especially when they come to play and use their size, skill, and speed. They have three strong lines and with the addition of Mike Richards, now have a fourth line that can hang with opponents better lines, as evidenced by their play on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Richards, who was excellent in his debut at the First Niagara Center and the Caps first star in my book on Saturday, was really good again on Sunday. He nearly scored in the first period and it took a great stick save by Raanta to prevent that. Against the Rangers, he had 11:47 of ice time, including 3:00 of penalty killing time, was 14-6 on draws, and tied for the team lead in hits. And guess what? He’s just going to get better as he gets his hands and legs all the way back to NHL speed. To quote Count Floyd once again, “That’s Scary Stuff, Kids!”

Oshie was just an under the radar terror on the New York defense all night. He drove the Rags D-men crazy with his relentless skating and active stick on the walls. He won so many loose puck battles and even though he had no points in a very high 23:21 of ice time, he was a huge factor on both of the Caps first two goals. This guy is one heck of a hockey player and he’s a perfect fit for Ovechkin and Backstrom.

On the back end, Dmitry Orlov (1 assist) responded well after he was pretty bad against the Sabres. His ability to skate the puck out and use his adept ability to avoid the forecheck was huge against the Rangers.

Overall, the Caps really carried the play most of the last 40 minutes after New York had the edge in the first frame. The shot attempts may have favored the Blueshirts, but I thought the Capitals had the better of the quality scoring chances and deserved to win this game.

This is three wins in a row now on New York and the season series is at that number Caps fans hate in the playoffs, 3-1.

I’ve been saying all season this is the best Washington hockey team ever assembled and so far they are proving it. But it won’t matter until the spring, regardless of what I say.

However, I like the way this team is able to rebound from losses and I especially love the way they keep improving their game. The breakouts and passing are becoming cleaner and they know when to play the body and put pressure on opposing defensemen. Sure they’ll have nights like Buffalo over the last 37 games where they just don’t seem to be invested in the game, but you can bet it will be against the lesser opponents.

This team is awfully hard to beat when they are motivated. They proved that on Sunday at the Verizon Center against the despised Rangers.

Notes: Holtby has had dehydration issues in the past and Coach Trotz noted that the Holtbeast has been working with Gatorade to get things figured out. Credit #70 for not putting his team in jeopardy by staying in a contest he wasn’t 100% able to continue in. That’s unselfish and putting the team first…the Caps still don’t have John Carlson or Brooks Orpik on the backend. They could use Orpik’s size and Carlson’s overall everything because Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt have been logging a lot of minutes. Luckily Coach Trotz held #2 to just 25:16 on Sunday evening…Washington won the faceoff battle, 42-29, mostly thanks to Richards…the Caps are now 4-0 in their fabulous third jerseys. I love those things, it reminds me of my days working for the team in the 80’s and 90’s…next up are John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday at 7 pm in that building with that freaking cannon.

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Alex Ovechkin, the man who saved hockey in this area, reached a major milestone on Sunday night

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Ovi Hits 500 Goals in Fifth Fastest Time in NHL History

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull, and now there is Alex Ovechkin.

The Gr8 scored on the power play at 16:19 of the second period to notch his 500th career NHL goal and become the fifth faster player in NHL history to reach that plateau. Oveckhkin needed 801 games to achieve it, and he also added #501 in the third period.

But when the aforementioned players hit 500, they did it in a different era when games were higher scoring making it easier to achieve that amazing feat a bit quicker. Gretzky did it 575 games, Lemieux in 605, Bossy in 647, and Hull in 693.

Once the Gr8 notched his tally off of a nice feed from Jason Chimera (three assists), his teammates all poured off of the bench to congratulate him while the Verizon Center went absolutely nuts.

Having attended Capitals games since 1974, the year of their inception, I’d have to put Ovi’s 500th goal in the top five or no worse than top 10 great home game moments in Caps history. The Dale Hunter goal against the Flyers in 1988 is likely number one followed by the Fedorov series winning goal in 2009, Kuznetsov’s series winning tally last spring, and perhaps the Southeast Division clinching regular season win in 2008 over Florida. Sunday was a significant event in Washington hockey history and Ovechkin agreed.

“It is a special moment. It is nice to be in that category. It is really hard to score in this League right now system-wise… If you get to 30 goals, 35 goals, you’re lucky. Without my teammates help, without the system, how we play, it is very hard to do,” said the man who seemingly can get a shot directed on net from just about any position in the offensive zone.

As for the game itself, well it was a rout with Washington winning, 7-1. The Caps jumped off to a quick 2-0 start and they totally dominated Ottawa in that opening frame with a goal from Justin Williams after a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists). Then the Capitals received a power play and with the Sens shading towards Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie received a super pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and buried an easy one from the slot.

The Caps out shot attempted Ottawa, 22-13, in the first period. The second period started not as well as the Capitals were a bit sloppy and Mike Hoffman scored his 20th goal of the season after a Washington offensive zone turnover. The Senators had a good chance or two to tie things up, but Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) came through with some clutch stops. Zach Sill, returning from a two game suspension, would answer the Senators push, scoring his 1st goal of the season just two and half minutes later after a weird bounce in front of goalie Andrew Hammond (29 saves).

Washington then settled down and Dmitry Orlov ripped one home with Ovechkin screening in front to make it 4-1 before the game was halfway over. An Ottawa tripping penalty by Mark Stone then set the stage for Ovi’s milestone tally that pushed the lead to four goals.

With a 5-1 lead, the Capitals didn’t sit back and Tom Wilson and Ovechkin scored before the 10 minute mark of period three to increase the margin to 7-1. The last 10 minutes pretty much became glorified preseason hockey as Coach Trotz chose to spread the ice time around.

With the victory the Capitals improved to a staggering 32-7-3 (67 points) and lead the Dallas Stars by five points in the NHL standings, with two games in hand. In the Eastern Conference they are 11 points up on the Florida Panthers, who despite winning 12 straight hockey games, can barely gain any ground on Washington. In their division, the Caps are 18 points up on both the second place Rangers and Islanders. It’s amazing to think where their record could end up after 82 games, but Williams was having none of that talk after the contest.

“It’s not about winning 50 or 60 games this year, it’s about winning the last game this year.”

Coach Trotz’ crew continues to win hockey games despite playing so many times without their full lineup. John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle, and Mike Richards will hopefully all find themselves playing when things matter in the spring, but the bench boss noted that he jokingly told those guys that “they better not screw it up” when they get back in.

Seriously, though, this is a very good team and Washington has been able to develop some depth while key players have been out of the lineup. It is something that is not easy to do, but it’s been necessary for the Caps.

“It’s a tough thing to do in this league because it such a good league, to win and develop players at the same time. The good thing is they are developing because they are shown the right way. It starts with leadership, and the group pulls the guys into the fight or practice habits. And it pays off in a lot of ways for us,” said Coach Trotz when asked about the development of blue liners like Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney, among others.

It has been a magical ride so far and Ovechkin’s fireworks just past the midpoint of the season were truly special. He is not only playing well individually, but he’s constantly a leader for his club on a daily basis.

“Knowingly or unknowingly, he improves everybody’s demeanor. Once you see Ovi, he’s got this smile on his face. He’s always happy to be around. He love scoring goals and it’s infectious. It carries on and he’s playing some great hockey,” finished Williams.

The Caps are having fun and they keep piling up the victories, however, there is only one goal for this Washington team this year, as Williams stated above, so stay tuned.

Notes: Nicklas Backstrom had three assists in just 16:09 of ice time…Burakovsky was injured on a hard shoulder to shoulder hit in the right wing corner in period two. He played just 34 seconds in period three and did not return. Coach Trotz said he’d know more about his status in the next day or so…Matt Niskanen played 9:30 in the first period, but thanks to the Caps big lead, he logged only 12:17 the remaining 40 minutes, which was important because he’s been overloaded in Carlson’s absence…Nate Schmidt led the Capitals in ice time with 22:21…Washington will not practice on Monday and will be back on the ice on Tuesday. Their next game is Thursday at the Verizon Center against Vancouver.

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The Caps fight hard but get 0 power plays in a tough loss in Carolina

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Caps Winning Streak Ends at 9 in Carolina

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, I guess all good things have to come to an end.

In a contest in which the odds were heavily stacked against them, even before referees Steve Kozari and Mike Leggo put on their Canes colored glasses, the Washington Capitals, who were undermanned without Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik in the lineup, battled as hard as they could before falling in the third period to Carolina, 4-2.

Gone went their nine game winning streak. Ditto for their string of five consecutive road wins.

But their streak of never quitting continued. Sure, the way they fought back, once again, is a moral victory on New Year’s Eve. After all, they gave everything they had to rally and defeat the Sabres on Wednesday night without Nicklas Backstrom and Beagle in the third period plus Carlson, Orpik, and Michael Latta out for the entire contest. They then had to travel to Raleigh to face a rested Hurricanes team that has been playing well.

But that’s hockey and there are no excuses.

Washington was dominated for stretches of this tilt and, at times, were their own worst enemy. Case in point, the Carolina third goal where Hershey call up Zach Sill inexplicably left sniper Jeff Skinner all alone in the slot for the game winning goal. That gave the Canes a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

However, the Caps did come out of this one with a lot of positives.

Let’s start with the pregame good news. Word is that Carlson should be back for Tuesday’s road game in Boston, so #74, who is in the top 10 to 15 defensemen in the league, should only miss a total of four games. Next, Backstrom, who scored the Capitals first goal on a whale of a snipe, was deemed healthy and looked good after suffering an upper body injury against the Sabres. Also, Latta, who stepped up for Justin Williams on Monday night and was injured fighting a circus clown, returned to the lineup and had some very strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Laich. Burakovsky, who scored on Wednesday to break a two month scoreless drought, logged 12:18, went +2, and was flying on the ice. That’s very encouraging and he will be very much needed come April and beyond. Remember when he dominated Caps-Rangers game four last spring? That’s what Coach Trotz and company need from this kid.

In addition, Alex Ovechkin notched his fourth goal in three games to move to 21 on the season and 496 in his career. The Gr8 came awfully close to tying this contest up late. In 20:05 of ice time Alexander the Great had 10 shot attempts, including six on net and four hits.

In goal, Philipp Grubauer almost singlehandedly gave the Caps a chance with a super effort making 33 saves, many of which were from the high danger zone. Coach Trotz should have no issue with giving Braden Holtby some rest over the remainder of the season given how well #31 is playing.

On the downside, the Caps have been piecing it together on the blue line with all of the injuries and that’s two games in a row where Coach Trotz has basically sat Connor Carrick and gone with just a five man rotation for the third period. Perhaps Aaron Ness, who was recalled from Hershey on Thursday, will get a sweater against the big Blue Jackets? That would make sense, and it in no way is a knock on the progress of Carrick. The young blue liner is only 21 and it really takes a player physically and mentally until 23 or 24 to thoroughly become a game in and game out NHL blue liner. Nate Schmidt is now 24 and is coming into his own, but two years ago, he was at a spot similar to where Carrick’s development is now.

In addition, the officiating was just downright pitiful. Carolina is one of the least penalized teams in the NHL, but you want to tell me they didn’t commit any infractions in this one while the Caps were called for three penalties? Sorry, but I’m going all Reg Dunlop, at this point.

WE ALL SAW IT WITH OUR OWN EYES!!!

Yes, the Jordan Staal trip on Evgeny Kuznetsov in the faceoff dot that allowed the Canes to get an odd man rush the other way that they scored the opening tally on. Also, the BLATANT interference on Tom Wilson that was not called with Grubauer pulled and the Caps storming the castle late. Willy had the lane to the puck to set up a chance to tie the game, but due to the non-call, the Hurricanes were able to get to the biscuit easily and hit the empty net to close this one out.

Those were two critical sequences where the zebras landed on the incorrect side of the play, as well as the Capitals, and were a major influence on the outcome. There is no denying that.

There were other missed calls, as well, most notably another Staal interference on Marcus Johansson in the third period. Basically, I started wondering if Kozari and Leggo were distant relatives of the Staal family. Maybe I’ll give Oliver Stone a call to check on that?

When it comes to the officiating on Thursday night, it’s pretty clear the prosecution (aka, me) rests its case, but with Gary Bettman and company as the judge and jury, we all know this poor performance will be swept under the rug. NFL officiating is bad, but at least they admit their mistakes, unlike the way the NHL tries to ignore the evidence in a Nixon administration-like fashion.

Oh well, I guess all NHL referees can’t be of the calibre of Dave Jackson, so the trend of poor officiating will continue, especially when it comes to plays involving Wilson. So thanks again, 30 Thoughts!

With the defeat, the Caps fall to 28-7-2 and still lead the Eastern Conference by 11 points over the New York Islanders. Washington is still a bit banged up and now head to Columbus to face a Blue Jackets team that just defeated the Dallas Stars, 6-3, on Tuesday night. They are coached by the insufferable John Tortorella and will play a hard, physical style. The Caps have a chance to keep another streak going on Saturday, they’ve gone 37 games without a two game losing streak, but now that one is in jeopardy with key guys still out.

But that’s hockey and all that matters is wins and losses, there are no excuses, so the Caps need to get back on the horse to prevail on Saturday night.

Notes: Did I mention the power plays were 3 to 0 for Carolina?…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-28. Williams was 2-0, but the Caps were 0 for 0 on draws on the power play…the shot attempts were 69-53 for the Canes, but they had seven shots on goal on their power plays alone while the Caps had, oh wait, I forgot they had no power plays, did I say that yet?…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:25 including 0:00 on the power play…the Caps had no power plays in this game.

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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