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Kuzy Sabres

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Caps Roll Buffalo to Retake 1st Place in the Metro

Posted on 24 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After giving away Thursday night’s game in Florida to the Panthers, the Washington Capitals needed a victory very badly. On Saturday night at Capital One Arena the Washington stars came out to play as the Caps rolled the Buffalo Sabres, 5-1, getting two goals from Alexander Ovechkin and four points from Evgeny Kuznetsov (one goal, three assists). Andre Burakovsky had the game winning tally with a gorgeous end to end rush goal and Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves.

The triumph, combined with the Penguins loss to the Panthers on Saturday, puts Washington back in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-20-7 (77 points) record with 20 games remaining. The Pens have 19 games to play while second place Philadelphia is also at 76 points with 20 games left. This race is close now, but as we’ll discuss later in this blog, Pittsburgh made a huge trade that changes the landscape in the Eastern Conference.

Here are eight thoughts and analysis following a game the Capitals pretty much had to have against a struggling squad.

Second Fiddle – There’s an Alabama song that goes, “If you’re going to play in Texas, you have to have a fiddle in the band.” For the Washington Capitals, when Kuznetsov plays the second fiddle role well in support of top line center Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are a hard team to beat. Kuzy’s opening salvo was a superb individual effort that was only surpassed by Burkie’s second period beautiful lamp lighter. The talent that #92 has is insane and the question often becomes, which Kuzy is going to show up each night? When Kuznetsov is skating and playing the right way, like he did on Saturday with four shots on goal, the opposing defense is in big trouble.

Catch Me If You Can – The Penguins have been on a tear lately and Geno Malkin hit goal #36 on Saturday night while both teams were simultaneously playing. For #71, that’s something like 14 goals in his last 13 games as the Pens have been on fire despite their loss in the Sunshine State. Ovechkin must have been hearing the Malkin footsteps in the goal scoring race because Ovi was in beast mode against Buffalo. The Gr8 had 11 shots on net and his two third period markers pushed him up to 38 total tallies for the season. His 37th was a sweet top shelf cheese shot on the power play and then he closed out the scoring with a great deflection of a John Carlson blast in the final two minutes. Alex is arguably playing the best hockey of his career. His skating is outstanding – he could’ve scored on several other chances in which he used his speed to generate opportunities – and he’s playing well in all three zones.

He’s Going to 11– Burakovsky, after being benched again a few weeks ago, is finally playing like the guy who dominated game six against the Penguins last spring. He’s skating the best he has all year and he’s attacking the net. Over his last seven games he’s scored four goals and has two assists. Andre’s number, 65, adds to 11, and he’s reaching that level right now. Hopefully he can keep it up because he’s a difference maker when he plays this way, along with Lars Eller, because he gives Washington a third scoring line.

Solid as a Rock – Grubauer defeated the Sabres for the second straight time this week and he’s now won three games in a row. Over his last four appearances, that include a mop up third period in the Chicago debacle last Saturday night, he’s stopped 102 of 108 shots for a .944 save percentage. #31 is now 7-7-3 with a .919 save percentage this season. The Capitals are not in first place and are likely fighting for their playoff lives if they don’t have Philipp as their backup goaltender.

How Do You Like Them Apples? – Carlson, who was burnt badly on the game tying tally in Florida on Thursday night, continues to put up the points on the back end. He made a super pass to Ovi for his power play marker that broke this one open and then he made a smart play to fire the puck on net late allowing Ovechkin to notch a sweet deflection goal. John is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s having a monster year offensively. If the Caps are confident they can sign him long term, then the back end is set for many years to come. If not, General Manager Brian MacLellan needs to work the phones hard to get a top return for #74 before Monday’s 3 pm trading deadline. Carlson’s offense certainly dictates a huge payday, but his defensive zone, like many blue liners on Washington, has been very lax and inconsistent since the All Star Break. That needs to improve if the Caps want to make a serious playoff run this spring.

Southbound Again – On Saturday night, the Capitals played the right way, for the most part. They were shooting the puck and playing the north-south style they will need to employ to be successful from here on out. Washington had 36 shots on goal, including 16 in a third period that saw them start the frame up two pucks. Getting pucks and bodies to the cage is how you score in the playoffs and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew did that fairly well against a weak Buffalo squad that was without both Jack Eichel (injured) and Evander Kane (scratched in advance of a trade). There was no sitting back with the lead and as a result, they won going away after a really bad shift to start period three. The Sabres needed only 14 seconds to slice the Caps 2-0 lead in half. Backstrom and the top d-pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen each had defensive zone breakdowns that led to a sweet backhanded goal for Sam Reinhart. Other than that sequence and a really terrible offensive zone cross ice pass by T.J. Oshie in period three with a one goal lead, there was not a lot to be upset about for the Caps.  Washington, as a team, needs to ditch that cross ice crap at the offensive blue line. #77 was better on the puck in this affair, but he needs to start shooting more often. He has a great shot, but has been falling into a Harlem Globetrotters “pretty play” mentality too often, of late.

Landscape Change – On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed a very shady deal with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights to get center Derrick Brassard. Caps fans remember him from his days with the Rangers and the Blue Jackets. The Pens were hurt by the offseason losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen as third and fourth line centers, respectively, so this really improves their roster. PIT gave up defensemen Ian Cole (to Ottawa) and fourth line goon, Ryan Reaves (to Vegas) in a deal that sees former Capital GM George McPhee retain 40% of Brassard’s salary to prevent Derrick from going to Winnipeg and also to stick it to the franchise who fired him (and that firing should’ve been done a lot sooner). Pittsburgh also gave up their 2018 first round pick and top goalie prospect, Filip Gustavsson from Sweden. The add of Brassard clearly puts the Penguins as the front runner for their third straight Stanley Cup. For Washington to have a chance against the Pens, they’ll need to upgrade their defense by Monday’s deadline with a legit second pair blue liner to play with Carlson. A depth forward that can skate would help, as well.

Notes: Eller had an empty net goal to make it 4-1 with 2:12 remaining. That was Lars’ 14th goal of the season…shot attempts were 77-63 for Washington…the Caps were one for one on the power play and two for two on the penalty kill…the Capitals tied the faceoff battle at 31 apiece. Backstrom was 11-8 and Jay Beagle was 8-6. Ryan O’Reilly went 19-9 for the Sabres…Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 23:58 and 23:50, respectively. They are the Capitals best defensive pair, but that isn’t saying a whole lately as the blueline has been struggling since the All Star Break…Michal Kempny, who was on the ice for two goals against on Thursday, played 16:59. Christian Djoos had sixth defensemen minutes, with 15:03 of ice time, but he was +2…Madison Bowey and recently acquired from Montreal, Jakub Jerabek, were the scratches on defense…Jakub Vrana rode the pine on offense as Alex Chiasson went back into the lineup on the third line…the Caps are in Columbus on Monday and then come home to take on Ottawa on Tuesday. After that, the next tilt is the Stadium Series game against Toronto on Saturday night (8 pm) at the Naval Academy stadium in Annapolis. Auston Matthews will not play for the Leafs due to a shoulder injury.

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Caps Return to Form in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 19 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After their worst performance of the season on Saturday night in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals used a very strong first 40 minutes to build a 2-0 lead and then they overcame some poor play from their blue line in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in upstate New York.

The victory puts the Caps back in first place in the Metropolitan Division over idle Pittsburgh. Washington is now 34-18-7 (75 points) and they lead the Pens by a point plus they have two games in hand, which will be Tuesday’s home tilt against the NHL leading Tampa Bay Lightning and then in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Here are seven thoughts and analysis on where the Capitals stand after a 2-1-1 road trip, their longest of the season.

Boy, You’re Going to Carry That Weight – When the Caps bring the effort, they are usually a hard team to beat. On Saturday, they laid a big fat egg in a blowout, 7-1, loss to Chicago. It was the worst skating performance and game of the season and the captain, Alex Ovechkin, called himself out saying it was his worst outing as a Capital. He was right, but the whole team stunk and looked like they went out for a lot of Chitown pizza and beer with the dads on Friday night. Hey, over the course of 82 games, you are going to have clunkers and let’s not take anything away from Chicago, who still has some high powered players on their roster. The Blackhawks were a pissed off team after losing eight straight and they flat out rolled Washington, who offered a futile resistance in that affair. On Presidents Day, the Capitals were back to playing the right way and they deserved to win this game. When the team works and pulls on the rope in the right direction, they are one of the best in the NHL.

Poking the Bear – You had to figure Ovi was going to have a bounce back contest after Saturday’s no show, but Rasmus Ristolainen didn’t do Buffalo any favors by hitting the Gr8 up high early in the affair. That hit clearly angered Ovechkin and he was a force all game in earning the number one star. It was heavy hockey from Alex, who had four hits, as he and Tom Wilson just pounded the Buffalo defense as often as they could. The Gr8 notched his NHL leading 35th tally of the season with a beautiful tip of a Christian Djoos point shot in period two to open the scoring. That goal was the result of a nice forecheck by Brett Connolly after he exited the box, and then some great wall work by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, shortly thereafter.

Winning at the Track – Had you played the trifecta of 74-77-92 you would’ve had the trio that was on the ice for all three Washington tallies. Oshie (one assist) especially had a very strong game and is rounding back into proper form as we head into the final seven weeks of the regular season. Kuznetsov, after some early weak shifts, started playing the correct way and had his best performance of the road trip. Kuzy had three shots on net and his play to seal the deal with his empty net tally was a super forecheck, something this team needs to do well to succeed. As for Carlson, well he was really good, too, but he was the only one of the trio to be on for a goal against. John left Evander Kane wide open with three ticks left to put a small dent in Philipp Grubauer’s (32 saves) sweet stat line.

How Long, To Sing This Song – In honor of U2’s great song, 40, the first two periods by the Capitals were a textbook road performance. They played a north-south style and were very hard on pucks. As a result, they won the vast majority of the individual battles. They were only up 2-0 on Ovi’s 35th and Carlson’s 11th of the season, but it could’ve been more if not for Chad Johnson (27 saves) in net for the Sabres. Through 40 minutes, the Caps had 43 shot attempts to just 25 for Buffalo and the quality scoring chances had to be even more lopsided. Washington just couldn’t finish on several opportunities, but if they play like that more often, they will be hard to defeat. Again, it started with the effort and then they made the right decisions with the puck in all zones. It was very impressive hockey and the reason they left Buffalo with two points.

Hold the Line – After the contest, Coach Barry Trotz told the media that he wanted his team to continue to play the same way they did in the first 40 minutes in the third period. After watching the final frame again, his team pretty much listened to him. The first 3:30 of period three was just like the first two periods; the Capitals were forechecking and generating scoring chances. Then Nicklas Backstrom took a bad slashing penalty two thirds away from the Caps own net and the Sabres got some life with a power play. Washington stabilized things after killing off that infraction and while they didn’t get shots on net, they had some very good sustained pressure on Buffalo afterwards. The Lars Eller line, with Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, had a strong offensive zone pressure shift just inside the eight minute remaining mark, but then the Sabres came out of their own zone three on three. Madison Bowey then stepped up and flat out whiffed on defense in the neutral zone and that allowed Buffalo to break into the Washington zone with speed. Eller was forced to cover for the rookie’s mishap and by the time everyone was back on defense, the coverage was out of whack with #22 skating alone in the slot. The Sabres Scott Wilson fired on net from the high slot and Kyle Okposo deflected it home to make it a 2-1 ballgame with 7:32 remaining. Grubauer never saw the shot, mostly because of Bowey, but also due to the Brooks Oprik-Okposo battle in front. Washington was able to hold the line down the stretch, but there were some more mistakes by Bowey and Djoos in pressure filled situations. So what the statistics will show to look like a “Washington sat back” narrative, and I was at first guilty of accusing the Capitals of that, too, was really caused by poor play from the youngsters, and some others, on the Caps blue line.

Upgrading the Backend – Bowey and Djoos both have bright futures for the Capitals, but to quote George Allen, “The Future is Now,” and Washington can’t afford to go into the playoffs with two rookie blue liners. Madison has talent and potential, but the league really locks down from January on and he’s struggled since the game has gotten faster and more intense. On Monday, the Capitals traded a conditional 3rd round draft pick to the Blackhawks for left handed defensemen Michal Kempny. The 27 year old blue liner, who will wear #6, is a decent skating and puck moving player that is best in his own end. Washington’s struggles on the back end have been mostly because of poor passes, so hopefully Kempny can improve that aspect of the Caps game. With this acquisition, it makes the most sense to send Bowey down to Hershey to play a lot of minutes and hone his craft for next season. Madison could also come up if there are multiple injuries on defense. Djoos would probably be best on a third pair with Orpik, if Kempny can play the four hole with Carlson. There is also a strong possibility that GM Brian MacLellan adds another defensemen before the February 26th NHL trade deadline. Bottom line, the Caps inconsistent play since January 1st is likely most traced to the issues on defense. Bowey and Djoos should be good long term players, but Washington needs to try and win this year, so it’s up to the GM to keep upgrading this current deficiency.

You Make Me Wanna Cry – When the Capitals were temporarily bumped out of 1st place on Sunday night, Caps Twitter practically melted down. It was maddening to see so many people declare that the season was over and that MacLellan should start tearing the team down. Granted this is the same crew that complains when they are in first place, too, stating that the division title doesn’t mean anything and all that counts is the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs are what matters, but to want to rebuild for the future with a top eight team in a wide open race is ridiculous. Fortunately, it’s just an expected over emotionally based reaction by many on social media, but it’s really ludicrous. The Caps are a team that could go deep in the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup should they continue to tweak the back end and play the right way. So for so many to lose their freaking minds is ridiculous, you make me wanna cry! [Cue the Godley & Cream].

Notes: Buffalo out shot the Caps, 17-6, in period three, including 31-12, in shot attempts. Again, I put that on the mistakes Washington made on defense, especially their young blue liners. When they make a mistake, it tends to lead to multiple chances for the opposition and causes a cumulative fatigue effect…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 35-33. Eller was 11-7…the Caps only had one power play while Buffalo had three. A weak interference call on Connolly shortened Washington’s only man advantage chance…Kuznetsov took a puck in the face, at one point, but came back to have a strong finish.

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Burkie Minny

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Ovechkin’s Four Points Leads the Caps Over Minnesota, 5-2

Posted on 16 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had several lapses in focus and effort in their two recent overtime losses, to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday and a terrible late collapse in Winnipeg to the Jets on Tuesday. The good news was they managed to get a point in each of those games; the bad news was they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in “The Peg” giving up a shorthanded tying goal with 14 seconds left and then losing in the extra frame.

Heading into Thursday’s tilt in Minnesota, a place where the Wild were 10-0-3 in their last 13 games and were carrying the best home record in the NHL, the Capitals effort and focus was not a problem.

Yes, they were ticked about losing two games in a row, but as predicted on Twitter (@EdFrankovic), I knew they would be ready to go in this affair against the Wild since it was tilt #1 with their Dads in attendance. Washington almost always plays well with their fathers in the barn; they were 12-5 on the Dads Trip heading into this one at the Xcel Energy Center.

After a brilliant team effort, there were no passengers from the guys in white, Washington rode their top line for four goals and Andre Burakovsky (1 goal, 1 assist) turned in his best game of the season in a 5-2 victory. Philipp Grubauer was given the start in net and he was really sharp, making some outstanding saves whenever the Wild threatened to get within a goal.

The triumph improves the Capitals to 33-17-7 (73 points) and they are three points up on second place Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have played two more games than Washington, who have 25 contests left to play before the post season.

Here are seven thoughts and analysis on this huge win.

Broken Record Ovechkin was outstanding again in this affair and he continued his mastery over Devan Dubnyk. The Gr8 notched four points with a goal and three helpers and he now has 1,100 points in his career. For the game Alex had 13 shot attempts (seven on net) and was +4 in 17:48. Ovi’s goal was the result of a great forecheck by Lars Eller and Burakovsky, but Alexander the Great also found a soft spot in the Wild defense. His shot is the best in the league, primarily because he gets it off quickly and hard from the toughest positions. Dubnyk thought he had that one, but it went five hole to give Washington a 2-0 lead just six minutes into period two. After the Wild cut it to 3-1 in period three, Ovi took a sweet feed from Wilson and fired it on net with just under five minutes to go. The Wild goalie, who was red hot coming into this match up, bobbled the hard shot and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) was there for the rebound tally. All season long Ovechkin has been the biggest reason this team is in first place, so he’s the MVP of the league in my book. I’ve said it so often, but it’s the truth and he now has 65 points (34 G, 31 A) in 57 games.

Redemption Backstrom was a big factor when the Caps lost the late lead on Tuesday night. He had a lazy back check on the goal that made it 3-2 with just under six minutes left to give the Jets life. Then his bad backhanded pass to no one up the boards late in regulation combined with his inability to tie up his man in the slot, caused the tying goal. Hey, over the course of 82 games, especially in mid February when the playoffs are two months away, it’s easy to lose focus and not put out maximum effort. It happens.That was not a problem for Nicky in Minny with his dad in the rink. He and Ovechkin have been clicking together pretty much all season when assembled on the same line and they did it again against Bruce Boudreau’s squad. Fittingly, Bruce was the first one to put those two together to start the magic.

Wilson. Wilson. Willlllssssooonnn! Top line Tommy really got the team going in the second period with his early marker. As the great Alan May pointed out, the Caps went over eight minutes without a shot at the end of period one, but in the first minute of the middle frame #43 fired from the top of the left wing circle through the Wild defender and it eluded Dubnyk top shelf for a 1-0 lead. That really rattled the opposing goalie and got Washington going. It was Wilson’s eighth goal of the season, which set a career high, at the time. On the Caps fourth goal, Willy jumped up and went all Wilt Chamberlain to bat a puck down. The biscuit hit the Wild defender and Tom alertly snagged it and fed Ovi for his rocket that led to Backstrom’s rebound tally. Then, after Minnesota received a cheap call on Brooks Orpik and scored on the power play with 3:12 left, Wilson sealed the deal into the empty net for his new career high ninth marker of the campaign. With 25 games to go, you can bet that he’ll be in double figures before this year is out. Wilson, by the way, is a restricted free agent this summer. Cha-ching!

Grubi Dooby Doo! It was Grubi vs. Dubby on Thursday night and #31 was clearly the better keeper in this affair. Philipp has played well in many of his starts this season, although he probably still wants the game winning goal he allowed to Vegas back from two Sundays ago. In Minnesota, he was solid and very timely with some key saves, especially on the power play after the Wild made it 3-1. Most notable was a big stop and then strong push to his right to thwart an immediate rebound chance on a Wild power play. You could just feel a lot of wind come out of the sails of the Wild’s boat after that back to back sequence when the Caps were on the PK.

Ranger Dan Strikes Again I’ve never been a fan of Dan O’Halloran, especially since game two of the Caps 2015 second round playoff game against the Rangers where he gave New York three power plays in the first period to allow Henrik Lundqvist and company to steal that contest. In Thursday’s game, the Capitals carried much of the play, but somehow came out on the short end of the power play totals, five to two. Yes, one of the penalties was an automatic puck over the glass on Eller, but there were some big missed calls in the third period that nearly allowed the Wild to get back in the game. O’Halloran didn’t whistle a blatant cross check by Zack Parise on Dmitry Orlov after a net scramble when it was 3-1 and then when it was 4-1, Tyler Ennis elbowed Orpik right in the freaking mind, for all of you Slap Shot fans out there, and he didn’t call it. When #44 went after Ennis, it was Brooks who somehow ended up in the box when Washington should’ve been on at least a two minute power play for a clear head shot. Hopefully the Department of Player Safety takes a look at that and doles punishment out to Ennis, otherwise we should just call them Clowns ‘R Us from now on.

Return of Andre the Giant I’ve been very hard on Evgeny Kuznetsov this season for his inconsistent effort, but second in line in that department has been Burakovsky. Yes, he suffered a bad thumb injury that put him on the shelf for six weeks early on, but outside of a very good game in Dallas back in December, he’s been missing in action. With his dad, Robert (former NHLer), in the building for this one, #65 played by far his best game since game six of the Penguins series last spring. Andre was moving his feet and as I tweeted in the period two, he was skating with confidence. That confidence led to an all world end to end rush goal early in period three that gave the Caps a three puck lead. Taking passes from Grubauer and Brett Connolly, the 23 year old Swede with an NHL body and talent, skated behind his own net and then took off like a rocket down the ice. He pretty much went through the entire Minnesota team and wristed one over Dubnyk’s glove between the circles to stun their opponents. It was a sweet goal made by some strong defensive zone play and exceptionally powerful skating. If the Caps get Burakovsky going down the stretch that would really help them hold off the Penguins in the Metro division race. It’s good to see that type of game from Andre, now he needs to build off of that and really be a consistent difference maker like he was on Thursday.

Notes: The Dads Trip continues in the Windy City on Saturday night at 8:30. The Blackhawks have been struggling and after losing to the Ducks, 3-2, on Thursday, they are 12 points out of a playoff spot. Chicago still has Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith, but goalie Corey Crawford has been out injured and that has really hurt this squad…the Caps were out shot attempted, 57-49, but unlike the game in Winnipeg, they did not sit back with a two goal lead, they kept trying to score and as a result, despite O’Halloran’s incompetence, they were never really in big trouble of blowing the lead…John Carlson (+3) led the Capitals in ice time with 23:09…Taylor Chorney played his first game in over a month and logged 13:51. Madison Bowey was the defensive scratch while Alex Chiasson sat at forward. On the Dads Trip, everyone plays, so those two will be in the lineup against Chicago and the Holtbeast will be in the cage…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-29. Jay Beagle, who was shaken up by Dustin Byfuglien’s dirty two handed slash to the midsection on Tuesday, a move that prevented #83 from feeding Oshie for an easy empty net game clincher, was 10-6. I’ve never been a D-Buff fan and I hope Wilson or Orpik beats his brains in when the Jets come to town next month as payback for that crap he pulled on Beags.

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Ovi Old School

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A Detailed Look at the Caps After 45 Games

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Following Jay Beagle’s stunning game winning goal with just over a second left in Carolina on Friday night, the Washington Capitals players headed to Atlantis, Florida, the Caribbean, Colorado, and other mostly warmer destinations for five days of rest and recovery during the team’s now annual bye “week.”

The victory improved the Caps to 28-14-3 (59 points) and they will remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division until they take the ice again on Thursday, against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

With the downtime, I’ve put together some lengthy thoughts on a hockey team that has once again positioned itself near the top of the NHL standings and is among the league’s best squads.

Shortchanged It’s called the “bye week,” but the Caps are only getting five days between games while most other teams are getting a six or seven day gap. In addition, the Capitals went into the break playing back to back games and will come out of it in the same fashion facing the Devils on the road and then the Montreal Canadiens at home on Friday evening. The bye break was something the players clamored for in recent years so that they could get away during what is a very long season. The downside of this plan, however, combined with the three day Christmas shutdown and the All-Star Break is a schedule made up of numerous back to back tilts and many three games in four night scenarios. This leads to a poor product on several occasions and a case in point was Washington’s 3-1 loss to Carolina last Thursday when it appeared that many on the squad were already on the beach.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes The 2017 summer saw some very important key Capitals players depart due to the NHL expansion draft and the rising salary cap to include defensemen Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt plus forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik. How General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz would handle those personnel losses would hold the key to the 2017-18 season. The Capitals were 30-9-6 (66 points) after 45 games in 2016-17, so they have only seven points less than they were at this point in a Presidents’ Trophy winning campaign. Last year’s team was experienced, stacked and averaged 28.4 years old. This year’s club has relied on contributions from several rookies, to include defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos as well as forwards Jakub Vrana (10 goals) and Chandler Stephenson (10 points). The average age of the team has dropped to 28.0, which is a significant change considering that each returning player is a year older. Plugging those rookies into the vacated spots alone clearly could not fill the void left by so many quality players. Therefore, Coach Trotz and his staff had to shift to a “rely on the returning players” philosophy while bringing along the young bucks. Comparing ice times in 2017-18 versus 2016-17 shows a very telling picture.

Player 2017-18 Avg TOI 2016-17 Avg TOI Delta
John Carlson 26:09 22:42 +3:42
Matt Niskanen 22:27 22:10 +:17
Dmitry Orlov 23:16 19:32 +3:44
Brooks Orpik 20:42 17:47 +2:55
Alex Ovechkin 19:42 18:21 +1:21
Nicklas Backstrom 19:40 18:15 +1:25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 18:54 16:57 +1:57
T.J. Oshie 18:40 17:51 +:49
Lars Eller 15:20 13:54 +1:26
Tom Wilson 15:29 12:55 +2:34
Brett Connolly 11:35 10:41 +:54
Jay Beagle 12:39 13:37 -:58
Andre Burakovsky 13:35 13:15 +:20

 

In a nutshell, the coaching staff is playing their key players more than last season when they could just roll four lines and wear teams down. There are some major changes in average time on ice on the back end, especially for Carlson, Orlov, and Orpik. Carlson, who is a Norris Trophy candidate despite two rocky games before the bye week break, has been outstanding, especially considering Niskanen has missed 14 games and has played less than 100% healthy in multiple others. As I’ve blogged on several occasions and GM MacLellan noted to The Washington Post last week, the unsung hero on the back end has been Orlov. Number nine has turned into such a strong two way defensemen and he continues to get better. The upside is still there, too, as he probably would have more points if he got more power play time. The concern is Orpik is playing nearly three minutes more than last season simply because he has to while Djoos comes up to speed. Without Brooks to carry a large load in the first 30 games while the rookies were learning and Niskanen was out, this team may have been sunk. Lately though, #44 has shown some wear on his wheels, so a January schedule that sees a lot of breaks should help him out. The improved play of Djoos and Bowey also will be critical in the second half of the season. I fully expect the Caps to add a defensemen at the trade deadline in late February.

Stars in the City There is no doubt that the “Coach’s Robot,” the Gr8, and “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom are a big reason why this team is still one of the best in the league. Ovechkin was overweight and not in ideal shape in 2016-17 and it showed during the regular season and the playoffs. He had only 33 regular season goals, most of which came on the power play, and he was slower and more prone to injury. Alex took management’s direction and trained totally differently this past summer and the results are blatantly obvious. He’s faster than he’s been since perhaps 2010, which has allowed him to generate better quality chances. He’s had several breakaway tallies and is leading the NHL in goals at 28 in 45 games (a 51 goals pace). 20 of those goals are at even strength this season, compared to just 16 in 2016-17. Backstrom had 86 points in 2016-17 and he’s on pace for 17 fewer this campaign, but most of that drop-off came when Trotz had the Gr8 on a different line. That experiment was smartly shelved and since the two have been Peaches and Herb’d, aka Reunited, the team has gone on a tear. There is no one on the planet who knows how to play better with Ovi than Nicky. Kuznetsov is a super talent, but he is so reliant on having the puck while Backstrom is such a strong two way guy that gets the biscuit from the opposition and allows Alex to get the touches he needs to score goals.

Carpe Diem With the departure of key forwards, several younger Capitals have seized the day and opportunity in 2017-18. Kuznetsov is playing nearly two minutes more a game (more on him in a minute), but looking at the average ice times for Eller and Wilson are very revealing. Willy is logging 2:34 more a night and at six goals and 18 points in 41 games he should shatter his career highs. Wherever Coach Trotz has put #43 this season he has produced and the nice thing is it’s been in a top nine role, no more fourth line Tommy. Eller, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, has nine goals and 21 points in 44 games. He had 12 goals and 25 points in 81 total games in 2016-17. He’s playing 1:26 more a night and he’s become a better contributor, especially offensively, and that was sorely needed. The Washington third line, which was dominant last January when the Capitals were nearly unbeatable, has returned to play a big role in 2017-18. Eller and Connolly (10 goals) have been the staples there and there’s been a rotation of right wings to mostly include Oshie, Burakovsky, Vrana, and Wilson.

Not So Special In 2016-17 the Caps connected on 22.98% of their power plays and killed off 83.92% of their shorthanded situations. The league averages were 19.1% and 80.9%, respectively. In 2017-18, the power play has slowed to a 19.57% connection rate (NHL average is 19.4%) and is only thwarting 79.08% of their manpower disadvantages (NHL average is 80.6%). Simply put, the Capitals, unlike years past, have had to rely more on five on five goal differential to win games. This season they are +14 (91 to 77) in that category. There is lots of room for improvement on the special teams.

Dynamic Duo Looking at the team stats, the Caps have gone from outshooting opponents 30.4 to 27.8 per game in 2016-17 to being outshot 32.3 to 29 in 2017-18. That is a direct result of the change in personnel. Let’s be honest, the Capitals lost a lot of veteran players and are incorporating new blood into the squad. So why have they been able to still be successful? Well, outside of what has been mentioned already, the single biggest factor is the outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby (24 wins) and Philipp Grubauer (7 quality starts in 12 games). The team save percentage has dropped from .925 to .917, but it’s clear that the quality of shots against has gone up a bit. These two continue to make the big save for Washington at the key time and goalie is the most important position in hockey.

Delivering the Overpass There’s a famous Bill Engvall “Here’s Your Sign” joke about a truck getting stuck with the punch line being, “Nope, I was delivering that overpass and my truck flat ran out of gas…Here’s Your Sign!” Perhaps the organization should bring the legendary comedian in to hand out “Here’s Your Sign” awards for all of those times the Capitals have tried to make an extra pass when they are in the high danger scoring areas? Guilty party number one on that list is Kuznetsov. When #92 plays the right way, and he’s had some nice stretches of that, the Caps dominate. He ranks second on the team in goals (13) and when he carries a shoot first mentality he is deadly on the ice because the defense has no idea what he is going to do, pass or shoot. Too often, though, he is in Harlem Globetrotters fancy pants mode, and that is much easier to defend. He needs to cut back on the circling pattern where he takes himself out of the high danger scoring area and eventually turns the puck over. That issue has crept into others on this team, to include Oshie, who I’d like to see shoot more. This is a shoot first league and with the goaltending being so good, rebounds or shots from high danger areas with traffic are the best way to beat them. Do the Caps think they have to make the pretty play so often because they practice against two of the best goalies in the league regularly? That could be a factor, but if they just looked at their recent tallies, many of them are just shots from the middle of the ice with players going to the net or using a defender to screen his own keeper. It’s not rocket science and it’s one of the big reasons the Caps are down in the shots on net and shots attempted statistics. They have the puck often, but many times they possess it for awhile and never generate a shot. They need to dump that habit and the cross ice pass at the offensive blue line if they want to go deep into the post season.

Where’s the Six Million Dollar Man? If you had told me on October 1st that Burakovksy would only have three goals after the Caps have played 45 games, I would have said the Caps would not be in playoff position. Luckily, I would’ve been wrong. #65 has played only 21 games due to injuries and overall malaise, but the man who signed a two year deal for a total of $6M is a very key cog in the wheel if Washington wants to challenge for the Stanley Cup. If I was Andre, the first thing I’d do after getting home from the Bahamas would be to pull out the tape of game six against the Penguins last spring and watch it. That’s the way Andre needs to play to be successful, very physical on the opposing boards and puck so that he can score and generate goals. He can be that player if he puts his mind to it and works hard. A return to form by Burakovsky is a must from now until June.

In summary, even with the personnel losses from last season, the Capitals have still positioned themselves among the best teams in the league. Despite what some statistics, such as Corsi, try to tell you, this positive outcome is not just pure luck. As I’ve chronicled, there’s been a method to the team’s success, which also includes a unique ability, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins have done the last two seasons, to counter attack and be deadly on the rush. Speed is an important aspect of hockey and the Capitals have improved in that department. Their save percentage is slightly down, but their goalies have been stellar and they aren’t living off of a higher shooting percentage. They are connecting on 10.5% of their shots, just like they did last season. The league average is around 9%, but the Caps have high end talent, unlike a Corsi loved team like Carolina, who throw a lot of pucks on net from everywhere, but don’t have the Ovechkins, Kuznetsovs, Backstroms and Oshies of the world who have great shots. Looking at another favorite analytic stat, PDO, which measures shooting percentage plus save percentage at even strength, it shows the Caps were at 102.4 in 2016-17 and this season they have dropped to 101.6 (meaning they’ve been less lucky). I’ve stated this axiom in blogs and on the air on WNST many times; it’s great to look at statistics, but in the grand scheme of things, hockey is a game of high skill and talent, it is non-linear and is chaos theory. The Washington Capitals have high end talent and the organization has structured the team around that. Now the question is can they continue to improve down the stretch so that they can peak in the post season?

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Caps Win 10th Straight At Home in 3-1 Triumph Over Vancouver

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored three goals in a span of 10 minutes and Philipp Grubauer stopped 37 of 38 shots as the Caps reeled off their 10th straight victory at home to defeat the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.

Washington, who will face Carolina in a home and home matchup on Thursday and Friday, have just those two tilts to play before their five day “bye” break begins on Saturday. With the triumph over Vancouver, the Capitals improve to 27-13-3 (57 points) and they lead the Metropolitan Division by a season high four points over the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have played one more game. New Jersey is five points behind the Caps, but they have two games in hand.

The Canucks destroyed the Capitals back in October, 6-2, when Washington wasn’t playing good hockey and were missing some top players (Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom). Since then, though, the Caps have been one of the league’s best squads while Vancouver has turned into the doormat I and many others expected them to be this season. Coach Travis Green’s club is now 16-21-6 (38 points) and only the Arizona Coyotes have fewer points than the Canucks in the Western Conference.

On paper, this looked like a mismatch, but the game started well for the visitors. Washington was sloppy with the puck giving the Canucks more shot opportunities. Grubauer didn’t have to make many big saves early, but a Devante Smith Pelly lazy offensive zone infraction put Vancouver on the power play. Coach Barry Trotz’ improving PK unit looked ready to kill it off, but when Chandler Stephenson jumped over the boards and battled for the puck before Tom Wilson could get to the bench, the Caps were boxed for too many dudes. That gave Vancouver a five on three and it was pretty much a five on two when Jay Beagle was hobbled after blocking a shot. The huge manpower difference for the Canucks resulted in a Daniel Sedin tip in of an Alex Edler point shot at 8:23.

With a 1-0 lead, Nikolay Goldobin nearly made it a two puck advantage, but Grubauer made a big save on #77 and then he hit the pipe with the rebound. It was one of those quality high danger stops at a key time that Washington has gotten a lot of this season from their stellar goaltending duo of #31 and Braden Holtby.

Just two minutes after that, John Carlson tied the game when he fired the puck on net from the right wing boards and it went five hole on Jacob Markstrom (33 saves). The big goalie was likely distracted by the net coming up in the air just beforehand along with Michael Del Zotto standing right in front of him messing with the cage. Green challenged the goal for goalie interference, but there was none of that and the tally stood.

Washington continued to press the play and less than three minutes later they took the lead when Madison Bowey gave Lars Eller a nice neutral zone feed. Eller then headed up the middle of the ice with speed and using the Vancouver defender as a screen, Lars shot from just inside the blue line and it beat the goalie, who was suffering from an obstructed view, top shelf. That goal, on a heck of a snipe, made it 2-1 with 2:08 left in the opening frame.

In the middle stanza, Washington was downright dominant controlling the puck for the majority of the period. Evgeny Kuznetsov increased the Capitals lead to 3-1 at the 4:57 mark when he took a feed from Niskanen just outside the offensive blue line and skated in with Erik Gudbranson charging towards him. Kuzy shot the puck and Markstrom batted the rebound in the air into the slot. Both Kuznetsov and Gudbranson swatted at the puck, but it was the stiff #44 who put it into his own net with his glove. The marker gives #92 13 goals for the season.

The Capitals were relentless in their pursuit of the puck and it was wave after wave of Washington players storming into the offensive end in period two, one in which the Caps have really struggled in this season. That was not the case on Tuesday and if not for a lot of over passing, this game should have gotten out of hand. Once again, the Capitals were trying for the perfect play, which was kind of silly considering the way they scored their first three goals, which were on pucks just directed at the net. As fun as it was to watch, the Caps skill and Harlem Globetrotters like play resulted in zero goals the remainder of the period. That was disappointing because Coach Trotz’ crew was really skating and working, but they again suffered from being too fancy.

The passing up of shots, especially from the high danger area of the ice, has to change if Washington wants to advance deep into the playoffs and reach their ultimate goal. This squad has a TON of skill and talent, but sometimes they out think themselves in trying to be too perfect and it allowed a crummy hockey team like Vancouver to stick around in this affair.

In the third period, the Canucks had 20 shots on net as they tried to come back, but 11 of those came in the last nine plus minutes and there weren’t many quality chances. Grubauer made some nice glove saves, but those were on shots he clearly had a great sight line on.

This was really a mismatch, but the Caps couldn’t finish. They often passed themselves out of a scoring chance or they waited too long to shoot and with Markstrom taking up so much cage with his size, they had trouble getting biscuits behind him. The NHL is a shoot first and shoot quick league, but the Caps seem to forget that, too often, and it takes away from their offense. Washington has the puck a lot, but based on shot attempts, you wouldn’t think so. The fact is this team is so focused on the perfect goal play that they decrease their chances of scoring. If they can get away from the extra cross ice pass in the offensive zone and focus on hard shots on net that either go in or produce rebounds, they will score even more.

Overall, this was a solid victory. Grubauer was very composed and poised in net. You never felt like he was going to give up a goal that would get Vancouver back in the contest. The Canucks didn’t have the puck a ton despite their 73-65 edge in shot attempts. Coach Green’s team often just throws the puck on net from everywhere, but the Capitals kept them on the perimeter quite a bit. On the flip side, the Caps got into the interior on offense, but they too often didn’t seize the right moment to fire on net. That’s why the scoreboard stayed close, despite the on ice domination that Washington displayed.

Notes: Jakub Vrana had a very active game with six shots on net. He was really moving his legs and opening up space on the ice…Brooks Oprik had a semi-breakaway in period three and was drilled by a Ben Hutton elbow to the head (no penalty was called) and sent flying to the ground. Smith-Pelly came in, immediately went after Hutton, and threw some good punches to let the Canuck know that the questionable hit was not well received by Washington. Orpik had a strong night going +1 in 20:49 and he had four shot attempts…Alex Ovechkin had six shot attempts and an assist in 19:25…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Vancouver was 1 for 3. I didn’t think Kevin Pollock and Kendrick Nicholson called a good game, they missed several infractions on the Canucks, but perhaps they were too busy focusing on offside since linesman Greg Devorski left after the first period due to an illness?…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 33-28. Kuznetsov was 10-6…Wilson was very impressive with six shots on goal and seven hits…Bowey had an assist in 14:44 and he was much cleaner with his puck management…T.J. Oshie had 0 shots on goal in 17:39. His hands seemed to be betraying him in this affair…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:16.

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Grubauer and Ovechkin Help End Caps Drought vs. San Jose

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The San Jose Sharks came into Capital One Arena for their annual meeting in the District with the Washington Capitals and, in recent years, you could steal a line from the classic movie, Spinal Tap, to characterize the way those matchups have gone for the Caps.

Shark Sandwich. S—t Sandwich.

San Jose goalie Martin Jones held a 4-0 lifetime record against the Caps and to top it all off, he had NEVER allowed a goal in the Washington barn.

On Monday night, everything changed.

After a sluggish start that saw the Sharks get seven of the games first eight shots, the Capitals started taking over. During that stretch they had nine of the last 10 shots on goal recorded in the opening period, including a beautiful tip in of a John Carlson shot by Devante Smith-Pelly that gave the Caps a 1-0 lead with 3:11 to go in the first frame. The goal ended Jones’ lengthy Capital One Arena shutout streak and seemed to provide the home team with some confidence.

In the middle stanza, the Caps came out strong and a sweet steal by Alexander Ovechkin on Brent Burns in his own end led to a breakaway for the Gr8. Alex would go in all alone on Jones and beat him with a backhander to make it 2-0 with 7:11 gone in period two. Shortly thereafter the Capitals nearly grabbed a three puck lead, but Carlson’s shot on a three on one rush hit metal. San Jose, as you’d expect, then became the more desperate team and put pressure on Washington in their end. The Caps would have a series of turnovers on consecutive shifts and that shoddy play resulted in a Timo Meier tally after a bad giveaway by Matt Niskanen.

The Caps then settled the ship and started playing well again, although Philipp Grubauer (24 saves) did make some very big stops at key junctures. Things were still dicey when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass, but the Capitals had a super penalty kill. Late in the PK, however, T.J. Oshie was injured when he threw the puck down the right wing offensive boards and while trying to finish his check, he made a hit and went down awkwardly. With the puck long gone, Jumbo Joe Thornton came in and with his fat rear crushed the Osh Babe’s head against the boards. #77 went down and then left the game for the night.

Washington received a power play shortly thereafter when Brenden Dillon took a high sticking minor. With Oshie in the locker room, Brett Connolly received the bump up to the first unit and he took advantage of the situation. Kuznetsov made a great play carrying the puck into the offensive zone and while taking a hit and falling to the ice, he managed to swing his stick with one hand and whack the puck to a wide open Ovechkin on the left wing boards. The Gr8 nicely used his skates to kick the puck to his stick and he spotted Connolly heading to the net ahead of the Sharks defenders. Ovi made a super backhand pass to #10 and he made a sweet move and buried the puck on the backhand to make it 3-1 (although the zebras didn’t immediately signal goal and then there was a five minute delay while San Jose challenged that the goal was a result of an offside zone entry).

In the third period, after the Caps failed to score on the power play they received when the Sharks unsuccessfully challenged the third goal, San Jose had some more great looks, but Grubauer shut the door.

Thornton then had to pay for his unnecessary hit on Oshie by taking on Tom Wilson. Willy won the bout quickly and easily with a punch to Jumbo Joe’s head that floored the big man. Both players received seven minutes in penalties, which was a good trade for the Caps. The Sharks started to get chippy after that and a teal parade to the penalty box ensued. Washington extended their lead to 4-1 when Jakub Vrana notched his eighth goal of the season from the doorstep after some excellent power play work by Wilson with 8:24 remaining.

The victory improves the Caps to 16-11-1 (33 points) and they are just two points out of first in a very tight Metropolitan Division that has the top five teams all within two points of each other.

Below are some thoughts and analysis on a huge Capitals win against a squad they defeated in regulation for just the second time in their last 26 meetings (h/t to Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) for that stat).

As they did on Saturday against Columbus, the Capitals rode the biggest strength of their team for this win, goaltending. Grubauer was just superb in this affair and he made many quality saves at key times.

Ovechkin was flying in this tilt and he could’ve easily had a hat trick. Ovi had seven shot attempts, but I recall at least four quality scoring chances. The goal he scored doesn’t happen last season. His offseason conditioning change continues to pay dividends, he is at least a step faster than in 2016-17 and he now leads the NHL in goals with 20 in just 28 games (59 goal pace). As Drew Doughty stated last week when the Kings snuck a win out over Washington, the Ovechkin line (Ovi-Nicklas Backstrom-Wilson) is so hard to play against. Burns found that out on Monday night and he was outworked by the big and skilled trio.

The Oshie injury is a major concern. It’s upper body and hopefully not a serious concussion. The Osh Babe, along with Kuznetsov and Vrana, have been a dynamite second line trio and they’ve dominated play. T.J. is so good at winning the one on one battles, so not having him in the lineup will be a blow to the Capitals. It’s not clear how long #77 will be out, but Andre Burakovsky is due back within the week, so that should help.

Several right wingers stepped up in this game with Oshie out. First was Connolly, who has scored in two straight games. He’s playing with confidence and looks more like the guy who potted 15 tallies last season. This is a very encouraging development. Wilson also is performing well and Coach Barry Trotz loved his effort to help set up Vrana’s power play marker. It was a dirty and gritty goal and the first one for the second power play unit all season. Perhaps Willy deserves more time on that second unit based on how well he played on Monday? I also liked Smith-Pelly’s game on Monday, it was one of his best, in just 10:34 of action.

While the Capitals came out victorious in this game, Coach Trotz said afterwards there are still things that need cleaning up in their play. There were numerous bad clears in their own zone and too many offensive zone cross ice passes for my liking. The Caps had 16 giveaways, four of them from Carlson.  If they can focus on getting pucks to the net or behind the net, they’ll be even more successful and find that holding leads are much easier. Washington out shot attempted the Sharks, 21-12, and, 12-9, in shots on goal, in the final frame. After getting out shot, 17-3, in the last 20 minutes against Columbus on Saturday the Capitals did a better job of handling this two goal lead. There are still better decisions to be made with the biscuit when they are in front, but Monday represented some serious progress.

Overall, the Caps have now won five of their last six games and they will face the Chicago Blackhawks at home on Wednesday night. Puck drop is at 8 pm. The game is on NBC Sports Channel.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:34, including 7:11 of power play time…the Caps were 2 for 6 with the man advantage while San Jose went 0-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-24. Kuznetsov was 11-4. Since the Calgary loss, he’s played very smart and solid hockey.

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Alex Ovechkin’s Spectacular Night On and Off the Ice Leads the Caps over Toronto

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were “Oh for” on the second half of back to back games this season, as in zero wins in four previous situations.

Alexander “Oh”vechkin made sure that streak ended on Saturday night in the Big Smoke.

The Gr8 potted two first period goals, one of which was an end to end highlight reel marker and the other was a puck pounded through Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney with John Daly like power off of a faceoff. Then Alex sealed the deal for the Caps with an empty net goal with nine seconds remaining to secure a 4-2 victory.

Ovechkin’s brilliance gives the Caps a nice three game winning streak heading into a stretch of four days off. Washington has now hit four games over .500 for the first time this season, with a mark of 14-10-1 (29 points).

This was the third straight solid effort by the Capitals and it was their third such game in four days, so there is no doubt they are a tired, but happy bunch.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an entertaining hockey game:

Ovechkin now leads the NHL in goals with 18 in 25 games (pace of 59 goals) and he has 13 even strength markers counting the empty net tally he notched on Saturday. I’ve mentioned this a few times in blogs and several times on Twitter, but there is no doubt that the change he made in off season training has changed his game for the better. Ovi is much faster on the ice and he has that burst that he used to display in his earlier days. His first goal was just a thing of beauty; great skating, super puck handling, and then unbelievable hands to fake the defensemen and goalie out with a laser of a shot that would’ve only been stopped if a piece of wood was covering the entire net. It was a “Wow!” moment and at that point, everyone in attendance had their money’s worth.

Ovechkin invited 13 year old cancer survivor, Alex Luey to the game on Saturday night, because the youngster stated that the Gr8 was his favorite player. Boy did Ovi make it special for his fan on this evening with a spectacular performance. Luey was so overcome with joy after the win that he cried and hugged his parents. Our good friend, Ian Oland, over at Russian Machine Never Breaks chronicled the story. Please read it, it’ll warm your heart, something we all need these days.

In honor of his three goals, Ovechkin gets another bullet point in this blog. He was fantastic in this affair and his line was great. Coach Barry Trotz even had faith in him at the end of the game defensively by putting him on the ice with a one goal lead in the waning seconds. Ovi made his bench boss look good as he got the “Hattie” as a result of some great work on the boards by Alex and his teammates. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Capitals are three wins and zero losses since Trotz reunited Ovechkin with long time center Nicklas Backstrom (two assists).

T.J. Oshie had a nice night, as well, with three assists. He had the big face off win on the Caps power play that led to the second goal, a howitzer from Ovechkin, and made a sweet outlet pass to Jakub Vrana for #13’s breakaway tally that gave Washington a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame. The Osh Babe was a dynamo all night, once again, and he constantly wins board battles and keeps pucks alive. He’s just a truly fantastic hockey player.

Speaking of fantastic, he didn’t get mentioned in the top three stars of the game (Ovechkin, Oshie, and Nikita Zaitsev), but in my book, after Ovi, the most outstanding player on the ice for the Capitals was defensemen Dmitry Orlov. Orlov had zero points tonight (+2), but he played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him have. He carried the Caps in their own zone and led the team in ice time at 26:25. He was physical (4 hits), great with his decision making, and just superb at breaking the puck out of the Capitals end. To top it all off, his play on the right wing boards, his offhand side, on the defensive zone faceoff before Ovi’s ENG was just sensational hard work and determination. Orlov fights off two Leafs there to get the puck to Oshie, who then got it down the ice where Osh Babe, Backy and Ovi could close the deal. I’m giving a standing ovation for the play of Orlov in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada, well done, Dmitry! Very Impressive!

With Philipp Grubauer getting the front end of the back to back situation for the first time this season, Braden Holtby was the starter in this tilt and the Holtbeast was a big factor in the victory, as well. Some of the most important things he did in period two, other than stopping the puck from going in the net, was to halt play at key times. On a couple of occasions in that middle frame, where the Capitals defense endures a long change, Holtby froze the puck after extended shifts instead of giving up a rebound. Those stoppages were important because it allowed Coach Trotz to get fresh legs on the ice, which was especially key in the back to back games situation. Down the stretch, when it looked like the Caps might fade and give up the three goal lead, the Holtbeast made some big stops, especially when the Leafs pulled their goalie.

Both the Capitals and Leafs played in the USA on Friday and had to travel to Toronto for Saturday’s game. The Leafs were at home and are a younger team, so going in, the edge had to be for the Maple Leafs in this affair. For forty minutes, it was mostly Caps and the older team was the one skating faster and getting the better scoring chances. Washington deserved that three goal lead.

In the first 10 plus minutes of the third period, the young legs of the Leafs appeared and they dominated that part of the game. Washington didn’t help themselves either with some poor decision making. Chandler Stephenson’s ill timed back pass to noone allowed Toronto to go down and cut the score to 3-2 with 13:51 remaining. Shortly thereafter Matt Niskanen carried the puck behind the Leafs net and then tried a low percentage pass to Oshie at the right point. #77 fortunately got his boot on the disc, otherwise it was an odd man rush the other way. When you are winning in the third period, you have to make the safe play, and putting the puck back behind the net if you don’t have a clear shot or pass is always the next best thing to do.

What a change we’ve seen in Vrana in just eight days! After coming out of his healthy scratch in Colorado to the third line, where he performed well, #13 was promoted to the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Oshie for Wednesday’s tilt with Ottawa. Boy has this line clicked and Vrana notched his seventh goal of the campaign on a breakaway where he just blew by the Leafs defender like he was an orange road cone. With Andre Burakovsky still out another three weeks or so following hand surgery, the Capitals really needed Vrana to come alive and he’s finally doing that. His progress over the last week or so has been extremely encouraging.

Overall, things are really starting to become clearer about this hockey team. The biggest key is getting both Kuznetsov and Backstrom to play well and that’s been the case since Coach Trotz went all Reg Dunlop again and shuffled up the lines. The Capitals have talent, but they have to have a work ethic that is strong to succeed in this very balanced league. Over the last three games they’ve brought the energy and determination to win so many one on one battles. Their puck support has been excellent, as well. That strong work ethic leads to fewer penalties and on Saturday they only took one, which was very important given the back-to-back games situation. Sure they’ll be patches where they look tired, like Saturday’s first 10 minutes of the third period, but that will happen over the course of the season. The key is how the team fights through those stretches. On Saturday night, they came out on top of a very good and young Toronto team.

The Capitals are certainly moving in the right direction and this short break is much needed to recharge the batteries so that they can take advantage of an upcoming five game home stand that includes important Metropolitan Division match ups with the Blue Jackets and the Rangers.

Notes: Niskanen logged 24:14 while John Carlson played 22:38. Nisky was good in the first two periods, but he had some bad passes in the third. He’s clearly still getting his timing back from being out for 13 games…the Leafs won the face off battle, 34-25…the Caps had 37 hits. Brooks Orpik led the team with six…the Leafs outshot the Caps, 29-21. Ovechkin had four shots on goal…the Leafs outshot attempted the Capitals, 56-43…the Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play and a perfect one for one on the PK…Washington’s next game is Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at Capital One Arena.

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Ovi TB

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Grubauer Stops Tampa to Earn his 1st Victory of 2017-18

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who follows my blogs or twitter feed (@EdFrankovic), which is all about hockey, knows that I’ve been staunch in defending the talent level of the Washington Capitals despite their recent off season personnel losses due to expansion and the salary cap. My main question, however, so far in this 2017-18 season, has been about their work ethic and attention to detail.

On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators, much like their recent wins over the Penguins and Wild, the Capitals brought the effort and focus and succeeded with a big victory.

The latest question, though, is would they be able to duplicate that type of great effort in their next game against a very good opponent?

Friday evening against the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps proved that they could do just that. Washington gave up an early power play tally just 82 seconds into the contest after a very weak and bogus hooking call on Brooks Orpik. Yanni Gourde should probably be nominated for an Academy award after his dive gave his club a man advantage opportunity. The best player in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov, shot the puck on the ensuing power play and it bounced off of the pants of Vladislav Nemestnikov and past Philipp Grubauer for an early lead for the Bolts.

At that point, you had to wonder how the Capitals would react. Grubaeur, whose 26th birthday is on Saturday, had yet to win a game this season despite some strong efforts, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa back on October 9th. In many of those affairs, which were the latter of half of back to back contests, the team in front of him had little energy and didn’t provide much offensive support.

But this game was a different circumstance and Washington was undeterred after the early Bolts tally and brought a maximum effort for the full 60 minutes. The result was a very impressive 3-1 win over Tampa and gave Grubi his first triumph of the season. Grubauer made several quality stops in this tilt and his teammates played like there was no way they were going to let Tampa take this contest.

Simply put, it was great hockey by the Capitals and shows that when they decide to work and stick to the system, they can play with anyone in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin (15th goal), Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle (empty net) all scored for Washington in this game, one in which the Capitals never let up and dominated the majority of the play. The Caps outshot the Bolts, 38-26, and they had a lot of quality scoring chances. After it was 1-0, the Capitals generated several great opportunities to tie the game, but as has been their issue for several years now, they over passed the puck and failed to capitalize on those chances. T.J. Oshie had a couple of golden opportunities, but the Osh Babe uncharacteristically passed when he should’ve shot.

The Caps finally evened things up with 1:24 remaining in the opening frame when they converted on a three on two rush. The great Nicklas Backstrom carried the puck up the middle of the ice and he dished it to his right as they crossed the offensive blue line. Tom Wilson received that pass and with #19 heading straight to the net, the passing lane to Ovechkin opened up and Willy put it perfectly on the Gr8’s stick. Ovi then made no mistake about depositing the puck into the cage.

Washington would keep pressing the play getting the better of the scoring chances, but Tampa had their share, as well, only to be thwarted by Grubauer.

What happened next was karma for the hard work displayed by all 18 Caps skaters in this contest. Dmitry Orlov spotted Smith-Pelly open up the middle of the ice and he fed #25 just before the Tampa blue line. Smith-Pelly carried the puck into the offensive zone and quickly dished it to his left to Beagle. DSP then made a bee line to the front of the net and the very smart Beagle shot the biscuit. The puck hit Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevksiy in the pads and bounced right to Johnny on the spot, Smith-Pelly, for a sweet rebound goal with 5:24 to go in the middle frame. It was simple and solid hockey and it was exactly what the Capitals needed to seize the lead against a very good Tampa squad.

In the third period, Washington kept the pressure up and didn’t sit back. They finally were able to clinch the victory when Beagle hit the empty net with 2:08 remaining.

This hard earned victory improved the Caps record to 13-10-1 (27 points) and they’ll head to the Big Smoke on Saturday for a date at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It wasn’t a fancy or pretty win, but it was a very good one as the Caps worked hard for 60 minutes and didn’t let Tampa seize any real momentum. Sure the Bolts scored first, but Washington played great hockey and deserved this victory, the Capitals second one in a row and their third in four games.

Now they have to head to Toronto to try and sweep their first set of back to back games this season. If they put in the effort they displayed on Friday evening, they should finally get the job done.

Notes: Grubauer stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced…Braden Holtby will get the start on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada…the Caps destroyed Tampa at the dot going 40-18. Beagle was 14-3…Tampa had the shot attempt advantage at 68-64…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts, including nine on net. He now has 15 goals in 24 games (51 goal pace). He looks much more comfortable playing with Backstrom (cue Reunited by Peaches and Herb)…Matt Niskanen played his best game of the season logging a team leading 24:30 and he was a +3…Lars Eller had five shots on goal and was 9-2 in draws…Tampa was 1 for 3 on the power play while the Capitals went 0 for 3.

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Caps over Devils Burkie

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Burakovsky’s Bout Spurs the Caps to a 5-2 Win in New Jersey

Posted on 13 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

That was the message the New Jersey Devils received from the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the Prudential Center.

Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and three helpers, T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist, Alex Ovechkin had his league leading 9th goal of the season and a gorgeous assist on Backstrom’s tally, and Evgeny Kuznetzov had two assists in a 5-2 Capitals victory that improved their record to 3-1-1 (7 points) and put them in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves in the cage in a solid performance and overall Washington played their most complete game of the season.

Tom Wilson returned from a bogus George Parros imposed four game suspension to bring physicality and energy to the lineup and that jump started the third line allowing the Washington stars to take over the contest. Jakub Vrana tipped in a shot from Devante Smith-Pelly late in period two for a critical tally that made it 3-1, which was big because the Caps needed some strong contributions from their bottom six forwards (Vrana is in the top six, but DSP is on the fourth line).

Perhaps the biggest development of the night, though, was Andre Burakovsky’s first fight that came 2:33 into the final frame with the Capitals clinging to a one goal lead. Blake Coleman dangerously took out Dmitry Orlov’s legs and sent him slamming hard into the boards. A penalty was being called, but #65 wasn’t about to just walk away without letting Coleman know he crossed the line. Burkie dropped his mitts and went after the bigger Devil and lost the fight, although he didn’t take any hard shots to the head. Instantly the Capitals bench stood up and applauded the “good ole fashioned guts” from Andre “Killer” Burakovsky. It was a moment of team toughness and togetherness that this club displayed and you can bet that Andre will get a lot of “ataboys” from his teammates on the way to Philadelphia for Saturday night’s tilt against the despised Flyers.

Shortly after the Burakovsky bout, Lars Eller took a high stick to the face and that’s when Osh Babe, Ovi, Backy, and Kuzy made sure that young Andre’s first NHL fight wouldn’t go for naught. The Caps scored two pretty power play goals on the double minor to salt this one away.

Then it was payback time.

With 7:29 remaining, Coleman manned up and fought Wilson. Blake was whipped so badly that “Rag Doll” by Aerosmith would’ve been a fitting song to pipe through the public address system at that moment. Simply put, Willy let it be known that Coleman wasn’t walking out of the arena nearly injuring Orlov and beating up on the previously undefeated prize pupil, Burakovsky.

This is the kind of stuff that brings an already tight team even closer together. You can see that this Caps club is in it for each other. Everyone around the league and even many in town are already writing these guys off and foolishly trying to tie the local DC baseball teams post season failures to this hockey franchise. It’s pathetic, if you ask me. Baseball has nothing to do with hockey, period.

Anyone who really knows hockey sees the immense talent on this team despite the off season subtractions due to the salary cap. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie are all top NHL players. Combined they have 37 points in just five games. To quote a famous movie from the mid-90’s, yes, “37!” These guys are good and they are still a work in progress with Vrana as a new piece in the top six and Burakovsky moving up as well for the departed Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. Many are convinced that Oshie can’t score 33 goals again this year because of his high 2016-17 shooting percentage, but as I pointed out all summer, that shooting percentage didn’t including shots that missed the net. Oshie gets a lot of in close chances because of the guys he’s playing with and with the Gr8 on absolute fire, he’s getting more room and hitting the corners with his attempts so far. He’s notched five goals in five games, which is amazing, but when Alexander the Great already has nine, yes nine goals, it’s easy to overlook #77’s production. Last year I often wrote, “Pay the Man!” Boy am I glad the man got paid. Thanks Brian MacLellan.

Getting Wilson back reignited the third line and Brett Connolly and Eller had one of their best games of the season. When you have at least three lines going, it makes it very difficult for the opponents to match up. The Caps needed a presence from the bottom six forwards and they delivered on Friday.

On defense, things got tough with Matt Niskanen exiting the game on what appeared to be a missed slashing call by the inconsistent zebras. It was the second critical missed opponent slash in two tilts. On Wednesday night the referees failed to call a Carter Rowney slash on Kuznetsov on a rush late in that contest that would’ve given Washington a power play and a chance to tie the game.

Nisky will be reevaluated tomorrow, according to Coach Barry Trotz. That slash, with the Caps shorthanded, allowed the Devils to score on the power play and get within one goal with 3:32 to go in period two.

After Smith-Pelly’s key goal made it 3-1, things got close again in the first minute of period three when Kyle Palmieri took a great pass from Damon Severson and split Christian Djoos and Orlov for a breakaway marker.

When Orlov got dumped into the boards and stayed down on the next shift, things were looking bad for Washington, but then “Killer” Burkakovsky stepped in and took one for the team and the Capitals star players made sure to make the Devils pay the price on the scoreboard the rest of the way.

This was a feel good victory against a division opponent that was 3-0 and had just defeated the talented Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the week.

Impressive messages were sent this night by the Capitals on the scoreboard, with their fists, and with their hearts.

On to the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Notes: Given the Capitals salary cap situation, if Niskanen can’t play on Saturday night in Filthy, it’s likely that Taylor Chorney will get a sweater because calling up Madison Bowey, a deserving right handed shooting blue liner, would require someone else to be sent to Hershey, unless #2 has to go on long term injury (which would be a bad scene)…the Caps were for 3 for 5 on the power play while New Jersey went 1 for 4…John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 27:26.  Niskanen only played 12:18 before exiting the contest so the other four guys played extra minutes than in a normal situation. Brooks Orpik logged 22:04, Orlov 21:12, Djoos 16:47 and Aaron Ness played 13:38…shot attempts were 52-46 in favor of the Caps…New Jersey won the faceoff battle, 39-27.  Jay Beagle went 8-5…Backstrom got hit with a puck in warmups and then notched four points…expect Philipp Grubauer to get the start in net against the Flyers on Saturday night.

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nathan-walker

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12 Caps Thoughts After Four Preseason Games

Posted on 24 September 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals completing four of their seven preseason tilts, I’ve written 12 thoughts on the Caps as we head into the final week of games that don’t count in the standings.

  1. Following Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center), Coach Barry Trotz lamented about the team’s lack of even strength offense pointing out that his club has only one even strength tally in four contests (Devante Smith-Pelly’s game winner in Montreal on Wednesday night).
  2. The reason for the scoring problems are numerous, but first and foremost, has to be the instability on the back end. Puck possession begins with a defense that can get the biscuit out of its own end efficiently. Washington has two defensive openings and the coaching staff and General Manager Brian MacLellan are taking a look at several players, most of which have little to no NHL experience, for those slots. As a result, there has been a lot of turnovers and ragged positional play from the Washington blueline, thus far.
  3. The Caps have talked about promoting from within their organization and building a team with more speed. Having watched Nathan Walker play in both of his 2017-18 “auditions,” I think it’s safe to say this 23 year old, who has spent his last four seasons in Hershey, will be making “The Show” this fall. Walker’s speed opens up the ice for his teammates and creates scoring chances. His likely center, Jay Beagle, told the media on Saturday night that #79 is great with the puck and brings a lot of energy and grit to the hockey team.
  4. Also in the promoting from within department, the other pretty close to a lock to make the roster up front is 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. So far #13 has a goal and an assist in three games and he’s had several quality scoring chances.
  5. Washington’s goaltending has been very solid in the preseason led by Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Both have high save percentages and they’ve looked sharp. They’re getting a lot of action because of the Caps issues in the puck possession department. Grubauer played the last 40 minutes on Saturday against Carolina and he was decent, but he did lose the third goal, by Julien Gauthier, because he struggled to pick the puck up as it left Gauthier’s long stick. As a result, Carolina received a high, short side lamplighter that pretty much ended this affair at the 2:35 mark of period three.
  6. Tyler Graovac, who was acquired this spring from the Minnesota Wild for the Caps 2018 5th round pick, was the best player on the ice in Friday’s contest against St. Louis. #91 is six foot five and can really skate. He is vying for one of the last forward spots on the roster with Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, and Alex Chiasson.
  7. Speaking of Chiasson, he had a power play goal in Saturday’s defeat to the Canes. On that tally, all five Capitals touched the disc before Chiasson deposited it into the cage from the “Oshie” spot in the slot in front of the opposing goaltender. #39 isn’t the fastest skater, but he has scored 50 goals in 320 NHL games, including 12 tallies in 81 tilts last season for the Calgary Flames. There is a very good chance that Chiasson makes the opening night roster.
  8. For the past two seasons forward Marcus Johansson, who is now with the New Jersey Devils, has been the primary forward to carry the puck into the opposing zone on the Capitals first power play unit. Now that slot belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov and I don’t think you’ll see any drop off at all in quality zone entries. Through the first four games of this preseason #92 has been the best Cap and his skating has been stellar.
  9. There was lots of talk in the offseason that Alex Ovechkin had lost weight and was going to play faster. On the first day of training camp, the Gr8 stated that he did not lose weight, although his official roster weight is now 235 versus 239 that was listed last season. Ovi talked about training differently to get faster. It’s only been two preseason games, but so far, I’m not seeing the results of that training change. Perhaps Alex is just easing into the season? No cause for concern yet, but Washington is going to need him to be going full tilt from the get go in 2017-18.
  10. On the backend, the battle for the last two spots is fierce. Christian Djoos has been mentioned in that conversation quite a bit and on Saturday night against the Canes, he showed off his offensive talents. On one shift in the second period he displayed his ability to move around at the offensive blue line and even rush the net when given the opportunity. He did just that and ended up drawing a penalty. On the downside, though, his defensive zone needs work. On the Canes game winning goal, Djoos was outmuscled behind his own cage by Marcus Kruger and that one on one battle loss proved very costly. Djoos’ primary competition for one of the blue line spots is Aaron Ness, Madison Bowey, and Tyler Lewington.
  11. Travis Boyd, who is a bit of a long shot to make the opening night roster, drew two penalties on Saturday against Carolina. #72 will likely end up in Hershey to start the season, but I’m pretty sure he will get some NHL game action at some point in 2017-18.
  12. Tom Wilson didn’t play on Saturday night due to a two game suspension he received for interfering with the Blues Robert Thomas. #43 hit the Blues center along the boards a second or so after the puck was gone. Thomas really had no way to defend himself and “Willy” made the mistake of focusing too much on the man instead of the puck. This is Wilson’s first NHL suspension, although he’s been fined several times.

The Caps next preseason game is on Wednesday at 7:00 pm in DC against the New Jersey Devils.

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