Tag Archive | "Halak"

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Caps Blanked At Home by the Islanders, 3-0

Posted on 02 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are bad losses and then there are really bad losses.

Thursday night’s Capitals 3-0 defeat to the New York Islanders falls into the latter category.

New York was playing their third game in four nights and arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning, except for goalie Jarolsav Halak (38 saves), who was smartly sent in a day early since GM Garth Snow continues to carry three goalies.

So this should have been a game where the Caps could take advantage of a tired opponent and get two points, right?

Well, for 40 minutes, it looked like Washington was poised to do just that. The Caps carried much of the play through those first two periods and had four power play chances to just two for the Islanders. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew would build a 52-36 advantage in shot attempts, but the problem was that none of them got by Halak and into the cage.

Through 40 minutes, Justin Williams alone had six shots on goal and that didn’t count the one he came 1/10th of a second from scoring right as the first period horn sounded. #14 is playing some good hockey and getting more than his share of chances, but if you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary right now, you’ll see a picture of Mr. Crazy Hair.

During those first two frames New York did have several quality chances themselves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Cizikas in the middle period after he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. However, Braden Holtby (25 saves) would stop #53 and that was just one of many the Holtbeast made to keep his club even.

As the final period began, the prevailing thought was that the Caps would use the rest to their advantage while the Islanders would wilt from fatigued wheels.

That was not the case.

Just over three minutes into the final stanza, Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over at the offensive blue line giving Shane Prince a breakaway and he was the first to solve Holtby on this night.

Okay, no biggie, right? Orlov made a mistake and his partner wasn’t able to cover for him either, but it’s only one goal and there’s still nearly 17 minutes left.

Move on from it and get it back.

That’s where the game and this defensive pair once again went off of the rails. Nearly three and half minutes later, John Carlson went behind his net to play a puck and he backhanded it to Orlov to the left of Holtby below the goal line. Both Islanders forwards were coming at Dmitry on an aggressive forecheck. At that point, #9 had two options, eat the puck and take a hit and wait for reinforcements, or even better, he could wheel the puck hard around the boards and give the Capitals an odd man rush situation with two opponents trapped in the offensive zone. Instead Orlov panicked and chose the third option, which even five year old mite players know not to do; he tried a blind, backhanded pass up the middle of the ice, which was quickly gathered up by the Islanders. Following another great initial save by Holtby, New York potted the rebound to go up 2-0.

That mental mistake was the dagger for Washington on this night and Jason Chimera then threw salt in the wound going right around Nate Schmidt after an Ovechkin neutral zone turnover to close out the scoring.

It was a swift and stunning three goals in less than five minutes for the Islanders and they were able to win their third straight tilt, all in four nights.

Wait a minute; aren’t you supposed to run out of gas on that third game in four nights, like the Capitals did in Toronto last Saturday? Well, someone forgot to tell New York that because they never let down and kept skating while Washington mentally wilted over the last 20 minutes.

It was red flag city for the Capitals, who are now 2-3 without T.J. Oshie in the lineup (speaking of which, let’s lock #77 up long term, okay?). The power play was a disaster giving up multiple shorthanded chances and for the night it went 0 for 6 in 12 minutes of time! That’s downright awful. There is not enough movement, shots aren’t coming frequently or quick enough, and the right point shot is not getting through and opening things up for the flanks. Bottom line, had the power play clicked earlier then we likely aren’t all over Orlov for this one.

But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.

Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.

With the loss the Capitals fall to 13-7-2 and are now in fourth place in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Things are not good in Caps land right now, they are getting strong goaltending, but they aren’t burying enough of their chances and they are also not working hard enough or smart enough to generate some gritty goals. In addition, defensive breakdowns and bad chemistry, primarily with the Orlov-Carlson pairing, are allowing too many easy opportunities for the opponents.

This was a really bad loss on Thursday. No two ways about it.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Islanders 87-47…Washington won the faceoff battle, 29-28. Jay Beagle was 8-5…Orlov was benched after the second goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:41 and he had six shots on net, second only to Williams, who had seven…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts in 24:47, but only four made it on net. The Gr8 took the Caps only two penalties…Jakub Vrana made his NHL debut for the Caps and logged 10:10. He had four shots on net and looked more comfortable as the game went on…Andre Burakovsky had 0 shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.

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Washington jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead en route to a suffocating 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

You are not going to find a more complete road win than that one.

The Washington Capitals dominated the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, 4-1, with a suffocating victory against a speedy Isles club.

The Caps did an outstanding job of back checking and staying together in five man units which kept New York on the perimeter and away from the high danger areas all game. It was a stellar effort in which Washington continued to win the majority of the loose puck battles.

Braden Holtby stopped 34 of 35 shots, with the only tally against a snipe from between the circles while the Caps defender screened the Holtbeast. Other than that, #70 was perfect and he ran his record in his last 21 games to an astonishing 18-0-2. On this night, though, he didn’t have to steal the contest by himself because his teammates turned in one of their best performances of the season away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

On offense, the Capitals took advantage of a rusty Jaroslav Halak by throwing biscuits at the cage early and often (38 shots on goal total). Jason Chimera notched his 12th goal of the campaign just 5:45 into the contest after Marcus Johansson battled to grab the puck in the left wing corner. Jojo is having his best season as a Capital despite getting called for a neutral zone penalty in period one. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 15:45 after Karl Alzner alertly jumped on a puck in the defensive zone, made a great rush up the ice, and threaded a Nicklas Backstrom-esque pass backwards to the Gr8, who ripped it thru Halak and into the cage.

After the Islanders tallied early in period two, New York had a power play that they nearly scored on. The Caps would kill it off and shortly after the infraction expired, Backstrom hounded the Islanders defense behind New York’s cage, stole the puck, and then put one “on a tee” for Nate Schmidt, who got every bit of the shot that went through Halak again and into the twine. That made it 3-1 heading into period three.

In the final frame, coaches could record those 20 minutes and use it as an educational session on how to totally shut down an opponent with a two goal lead. The Islanders got NOTHING in that period as Washington carried the play and took away any chance New York had of getting a victory. The Caps were relentless in their puck pursuit.

When Isles Coach Jack Capuano pulled his netminder with over three minutes remaining the Caps did a super job of quickly getting the puck out, especially Ovechkin, and Backstrom (goal, assist, and +3) skated in and put the biscuit in the basket to close out the scoring.

All around the lineup the Capitals received excellent outings, especially from their defensemen. They were all impressive and Aaron Ness (12:34 of ice time) has really shown to be a super addition. #55 really skates well and is decisive with the puck. Matt Niskanen logged a team high 25:50 while Dmitry Orlov (22:50) turned in one of his best games of the season. #9 and Schmidt were super. This Caps defense is extremely mobile, but they can also play physical in the corners to win the puck battles. It’s hard to believe how well this team is playing on the back end with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out. As I blogged after Tuesday’s win over Boston, this injury situation is turning into a blessing in disguise because Ness has been a find and Taylor Chorney continues to get better and better. Kudos to Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden for the job they’ve done with this crop of blueliners.

Up front, I thought all four lines were good, but I was especially pleased with the top line. They had been in a bit of a funk recently, however, that was not the case in Brooklyn on Thursday. Ovechkin was back skating and shooting (497th career goal, 8 shots on net, 11 total shot attempts, and three hits) and all star Nicky was just outstanding with his two points and ability to win key draws. #19 was 12-7 from the dot and that forced the Islanders to do a lot of chasing just to try and get the puck back. By game’s end the Islanders looked totally out of gas while the Caps were still flying.

This victory pushes the Caps to a 30-7-3 (63 points) record and they lead the Islanders by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division. They remain first in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL standings.

All in all, this was just a stellar hockey game by a team that really seems to enjoy playing together. They stick up for one another and when they play the Trotz system, they are very, very difficult to beat.

Even with some big injuries to Carlson, Orpik, and Jay Beagle, the Capitals are finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, they won convincingly, and that has to be disconcerting to the rest of the league.

Simply put, to quote the great Count Floyd, the play of the Washington Capitals is “Scary Stuff, kids!”

Notes: Nine of the Islanders 35 shots came on their two power plays…Washington signed two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards to a one year, $1M contract on Wednesday evening. Richards will wear the #10 he had in Los Angeles and will practice on Friday with the team. He has not played since April and won’t be in the lineup until he’s good and ready. Coach Trotz said Thursday that he’ll start as a center on the fourth line once he’s game capable. I really like this addition because he’s a guy who’s won at all levels and really provides depth to the bottom six forwards…the Caps outshot New York 38-35 and I imagine the quality chances were even more lopsided towards Washington’s end…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at 1 pm. This is the third and final visit for the Caps to the gaaahhhden (until the playoffs).

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Is this the best Capitals team, on paper, ever?

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Caps Bury Islanders in Preseason Finale

Posted on 04 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals certainly made their preseason finale a good one.

Facing a New York Islanders team that was without John Tavares, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Jaroslav Halak the Caps had their fastest start of the seven game preseason slate scoring three times in the first 7:10. From there, the Caps used their deadly power play to bury the Islanders with three man advantage tallies en route to a 6-2 rout.

Yes, the Islanders were missing some key players, but the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik too. This game wasn’t even close, it was the men versus the boys and a deep team against a club that is in big trouble if any of the four players mentioned above get injured for any length of time.

Simply put, after a 5-0-2 preseason all of the hype and positive press the Caps received because of the offseason moves made by GM Brian MacLellan sure looks to be accurate.

I’ve watched this team since they began in 1974 and I can honestly say that this is the best Capitals team ever, on paper. Sure the 1985-86 and 1991-92 teams come close, but those clubs lacked goaltending and neither had a superstar of the magnitude of Alex Ovechkin, who had two more power play tallies on Sunday evening.

The additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams give this Capitals club a legit top six for the first time since perhaps 2008-09, the last year of Sergei Fedorov. Adding those two pieces shifts the other players into the proper spots in the lineup. I paid close attention to Williams and Oshie on Sunday and believe me; these two guys have significantly upgraded the forward group. Both have excellent offensive skills, but what also impressed me is their hockey IQ and drive to get the puck back once the Caps lose possession. Williams is so good at supporting the puck and being in the right place at the right time. His ability to read a play is uncanny. Oshie is so strong on the wall and having him in the middle of the power play, the spot where Troy Brouwer used to play, opens things up even more for the other players because TJ’s shot is so good teams have to slide down and cut off passes to him. Ovechkin certainly will continue to benefit from that.

In addition, goalie Braden Holtby (22 saves on 24 shots) commented afterwards on how much those two guys have helped the Caps off of the ice.

“Off the ice is pretty evident. In the locker room they fit in really well, easy guys to get along with. Very knowledgeable about the game and know how a team mentality works.”

Tom Wilson had another strong game with two assists as he attempts to solidify himself as the Capitals regular third line right wing. Washington will need his size to wear opponents out, particularly his ability to pound the opposing defense with his crushing checks. Wilson creates space on the ice for his teammates so it is imperative that he keeps developing his skill set and stays disciplined. He also gets under opponents skin and draws penalties. Coach Trotz does not need him playing the role of enforcer because he isn’t helping the team if he’s in the box for five minutes.

On defense, Matt Niskanen was back after missing Friday’s game due to the birth of his child and logged 22:00 of ice time. He and Karl Alzner were their usual steady self on the blueline. John Carlson played quite a bit with Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov was paired a good deal with Taylor Chorney. Orlov had an up and down game, but he just needs reps after missing 17 months of NHL action due to a wrist injury. Chorney is very solid and will see time as the seventh defensemen.

Overall, the team is in good shape health wise outside of Backstrom and Orpik’s injuries and Jay Beagle was nicked up with a lower body injury on Sunday. According to Coach Trotz, #83 could’ve returned but he was held out for precautionary reasons. Because of the depth that MacLellan has built up in just under 18 months, this club will be able to be patient with the Orpik and Backstrom injuries. That’s a luxury they have not had in recent years.

So now the real season begins on Saturday night against the Devils. Sure I’ve proclaimed this team the best Caps one ever to start a season, on paper, but the games are played on the ice. Coaching and execution will be key and staying healthy is likely the biggest thing to worry about.

It all shapes up to be a very good season and perhaps one that has a different end result than the first 40 years of franchise history.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Islanders, 18-11, and outscored New York, 5-1, through 40 minutes. The third period was more of a “let’s just end this and get to the regular season” type of stanza…the Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington won the face off battle, 29-22…final rosters to start the season are due on Tuesday afternoon and Coach Trotz noted afterwards that the club has pretty much made their final decisions.

 

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The Caps chase Jaroslav Halak from the net in the third period to take a 3-2 series lead.

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Kuznetsov Carries Caps to Game Five Rout of Islanders

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a pivotal game five at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals 2010 1st round draft pick, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had his NHL coming out party. The young Russian, who is playing his first full year in North America, scored twice, added an assist, had seven shots on net, and was +3 to lead the Caps to a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders. The Caps lead the series, 3-2, with game 6 on Long Island on Saturday at 3 pm.

The Caps didn’t have a great start as the Islanders came out once again and played a physical style. Then when John Tavares wasn’t whistled for closing his hand on the puck on a play that led to Josh Bailey’s tally that made it 1-0, Capitals fans had to start wondering if the fix was in for a Rangers-Islanders series.

To the Caps players’ credit, they didn’t flinch. Washington applied massive pressure to the Islanders in the offensive zone and Kuznetsov scored his first marker of the night by batting the puck in the cage to tie the game up at the 9:08 mark, less than four minutes after New York had seized the early lead. It was a swing that would’ve made Hall of Famer Eddie Murray proud and a goal that energized the Caps and the Verizon Center crowd.

After one frame, this contest was pretty even with both team attempting 21 shots, but the Capitals had 10 on net to just eight for New York. In the middle period, the Capitals seemed to get stronger and their quality chances went up dramatically. The Islanders weren’t getting in the shooting lanes as much as earlier in the series and, as a result, the Caps poured 18 shots on goal. They would only score on Karl Alzner’s wide open net shot after Troy Brouwer did a super job of taking the puck from Halak at the right post, wheeling around the cage, and setting up #27 streaking in from the left point for an easy one.

Shortly thereafter Kuznetsov was called for a high stick, this after several obvious penalties on New York weren’t whistled by Chris Rooney and Frederick L’Ecuyer, but the Caps did an excellent job of killing it off. Alex Ovechkin was tripped at the 40:00 minute mark so Washington started period three on the power play.

The Caps had very good zone time on their power play to start the third period, but struggled to get shots on net, some of which were due to bad passing and other times the result of bouncing biscuits. But shortly after that penalty expired Jay Beagle made a great play to get the puck deep for the Caps and Washington pounced on a tired set of New York skaters. Brooks Laich would score from the slot to make it 3-1 and, at that point, you could see the shoulders of the Islanders start to slump.

The Caps then received another power play when Cal Clutterbuck lost his mind and started slashing Tim Gleason. The man advantage looked a little out of sync again, but they did have some prolonged zone time. As the penalty was expiring the Islanders gave the puck away in the neutral zone and Matt Niskanen hit Kuznetsov with the puck in stride at the offensive blue line. Kuzya went in all alone on Halak and beat him like a rented mule five hole with one of the prettiest moves you’ll see.

At that point the Verizon Center went nuts and the game was pretty much over. Jason Chimera would add an insurance goal and the Caps cruised to the win while Islander skaters Matt Martin and Clutterbuck were both given 10 minute misconducts for acting like babies.

In the end, it was a dominating finishing performance by Washington to turn a close tilt into a lopsided affair.

If I told you before game five that both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom would have no points and finish at -1, how many of you would have said the Caps would win, and in a rout? Probably no one!

But with New York so focused on hitting plus matching up their top line and top defensive pair of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk against the Capitals superstars it created a mismatch for the other lines and Kuznetsov and company took full advantage. There were lots of strong performances from lines two through four, including rookie Andre Burakovsky, who was very good in 14:09 of ice time. The young Swede had one of the key plays in the game when he skated a dangerous lying puck out of Washington’s end in period two with the Islanders buzzing and the game still tied. That very mature play by the 20 year old allowed the Capitals to score at the other end and to start to take over the contest. Simply put, Burakovsky was strong on the puck all night, was +2, and should never be scratched again. He has the skill, speed, and size necessary for the NHL game and he matches up well with New York.

In goal, Braden Holtby was super, stopping 22 of 23 shots to pick up his second victory of the playoffs.

So the Caps are one win away from a second round date with the Rangers-Penguins series winner (likely New York). Game six will be in the raucous Nassau Coliseum, so it will be a tough task to close things out on the Island.

The key once again for the Capitals is to bring their strong effort and match the Islanders physical play. New York will come out hitting again in their barn and try to run the Caps out of the game early on to force a seventh tilt.

On Thursday night in game five, it was the Evgeny Kuznetsov show. Washington will need another excellent performance on Saturday to defeat a skilled Islanders squad and advance to round two for the first time since the spring of 2012.

Notes: Shot attempts were 67-60 for the Caps but when you look at the shots on net it was 41-23 for Washington. The Capitals did a good job of getting pucks through to Jaroslav Halak, who was pulled for the last 11 minutes yielding the way for former Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy made six saves. Halak allowed five goals on 35 shots on net…Mikhail Grabovski played his first game since February and was -1 in 15:38 of ice time…Nisakanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:46..Johnny Boychuk led the Islanders with 26:00 minutes and Nick Leddy logged 23:45 on the back end, as well…The Caps won the face off battle, 31-18. Backstrom was 11-3…Hits were 49 a piece. Brooks Orpik had six for the Caps while Boychuk had 10 trying to slow down Ovechkin…Ovi had only seven shot attempts in game five in 18:23 of work.

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Braden Holtby stops 36 of 37 shots while Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin provide the Caps offense in a 2-1, OT victory.

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Backstrom Ends Caps Long Drought in OT on Long Island

Posted on 22 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

With their backs nearly up against the wall in this playoff series, the Washington Capitals earned a gritty victory in game four on Long Island on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal 11:09 into overtime to even things up at two games apiece.

Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby stopped 36 of 37 shots to earn his first win of the series.

Simply put, the Capitals top players showed up in a critical game to end the franchise’s six game road playoff losing streak and also finally get a post season overtime victory at the Nassau Coliseum.

This was a physical game that New York dominated for most of 40 minutes before the Capitals finally started taking over in period three and then the overtime. Islanders defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky suffered an injury when he was cleanly hit by Tom Wilson in period two. The zebras didn’t see it that way and called #43 for charging while Thomas Hickey, who roughed up Wilson after the whistle, went unscathed and served no box time. Visnovsky would not return forcing New York to play the rest of the tilt with only five d-men.

Despite the poor call and the fact that the Islanders had the game’s first four power plays in those 40 minutes, the Capitals and Holtby weathered the storm. Brooks Orpik played the last 51+ minutes with a cut face after John Carlson inadvertently sliced him with his skate. Orpik, who eats rocks for breakfast, came back to play a strong game along with Carlson. Both players were +2 on the night.

The Caps had 66 shot attempts in this tilt and Ovechkin (18) and Backstrom (8) had a combined 26 of them. It was clear that neither one of those players wanted to go down 3-1 in the series. The Islanders generated 78 shot attempts but they had eight minutes of power play time to just two minutes for Washington. The Capitals penalty killing efforts were a huge reason why they were able to grind out this win.

So after a pretty lousy effort in game three at the raucous Nassau Coliseum, the Capitals found a way to play better and get a win on the road and regain home ice advantage.

After game two, Caps Coach Barry Trotz stated how important the Capitals fans are to his team’s energy level. Therefore, for game five, the Verizon Center should be rocking. For those who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic) you know of the ugly behavior displayed by some of the Islanders fans in games three and four. Orpik, who sustained a facial cut late in period one, was even pelted with a beer in the face after the Caps won on Tuesday night. There was a general lack of decorum shown by some New York fans in these two games on Long Island. Washington fans have a chance to show that they are not only louder, but classier on Thursday night. So Rock your Red, but be respectful of those in Islanders gear.

Regardless of the noise level, and I do expect it to be quite loud and help the Caps, Washington has to come out and dictate the pace of the game and not wait to counter punch any strong Islanders start. New York is very fast and has some serious skill and they are a tough opponent. However, if the Capitals bring their “A” game like they did in game two and in overtime in game four, they will be tough to beat.

Bottom line, it’s all about the effort and how badly the Capitals want to win.

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Caps Play Poorly to Lose Game 1

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not go as planned, at all, for the Washington Capitals as they fell to the New York Islanders, 4-1, at the Verizon Center.

You could sum this game up with the following sentence.

The Islanders played very well while the Capitals did not.

New York, led by John Tavares, looked confident and fast as they came out flying to dominate the first frame. Somehow the Caps were able to keep it 1-1 after 20 minutes but in period two, the Islanders scored directly off of a face off after a lazy icing was whistled on Washington. New York would add another goal just past the midway point and they played solid defense the rest of the way to win in relatively easy fashion.

The Caps struggled with their passing and breakouts all game. They tried to make the long stretch pass far too often and they were ultra sloppy in the neutral zone. Troy Brouwer’s turnover allowed Brock Nelson to skate in alone down the right wing side and he snapped a wrister by Braden Holtby short side for the opening tally. It was not a good goal allowed by #70.

Marcus Johansson tied the game with 57 seconds left in the first period after Brooks Laich outworked two Islanders in the corner and made a nice feed in the slot to a streaking #90. Jojo beat Jaroslav Halak (24 saves) five hole to whip the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy.

But on this night the Capitals could never get any sustained offense going. They repeatedly made poor passing decisions that led to turnovers allowing New York to excel in their transition game. This was one of the worst games Washington had all season in terms of breaking the puck out of their own zone. On Wednesday night they looked more like the 2013-14 Caps instead of the team that amassed 101 points in 2014-15.

Afterwards the message in the Caps room and from Coach Barry Trotz was consistent. The Islanders deserved part of the credit for winning while the Capitals played poorly and needed to be a lot better. Trotz said he was very disappointed in the performance of many on his team. The Washington bench boss pointed out that there weren’t many scoring chances for either team in this tilt. New York did a good job of clogging the middle of the ice in the neutral zone and in front of their own net. If the Caps want to win they need to get bodies and pucks through to try and rattle Halak, who had a far too easy night.

Fortunately this is just one game and the playoffs are all about adjustments by the players and the coaches. Game one was all New York and now it is on the Capitals to adjust. Will that include lineup changes? Perhaps. Michael Latta only played 5:16 and he lost the draw that led to the Islanders winning goal. Does Tom Wilson get back in or is he still recovering from the puck he took to the head in Detroit on April 5th? Does Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty at the end of periods two and three, come out for Andre Burakovsky? That’s to be determined.

There’s no need for the Capitals to panic, at this point. They played poorly and lost the series opener to give away home ice. But where the game is played doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s how you play the game. In the series opener the Islanders played extremely well and they deserved to win. The Caps, on the other hand, have a lot of work to do in order to come out on top in game two on Friday night. They need to pass the puck better and they need to win more of the one on one battles.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle handily, 39-23, but Latta lost that key second period draw to Tavares, who was fabulous in this game, that led to the winning goal…New York out shot the Caps 27-25 and out shot attempted them 65-55, primarily behind a 23-11 first period advantage…both teams were 0 for 2 on the power play…Matt Niskanen was on the ice for all four Islanders goals (the last was an empty net). Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were the only plus players for the Capitals (+1)…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:03. Orpik was second with 21:37…Alex Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including eight shots on net…Nicklas Backstrom was 14-6 on draws…Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr returned to the lineup after missing several games due to injury…Travis Hamonic missed the game for New York, but the Islanders defense played well. Johnny Boychuk led the team with 23:05 of ice time.

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin’s 12th of Season Propels Caps Over Islanders

Posted on 28 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Plain and simple, that was the Washington Capitals best game they’ve played all season.

The Caps outshot attempted New York, 70-60, dominated the face off battle, 34-21, received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (26 saves), finally scored at even strength, and their coach, Barry Trotz, made some outstanding pre and in game moves.

It was a very important in division win against a club that had won five in a row, in the Islanders.

So in two games, which I proclaimed were a measuring stick for Washington, they stood up very well taking three of four possible points to stay in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders did get two points in the first game thanks to referee Kyle Rehman’s Thanksgiving Eve gift, but if I’m New York, I feel like the Islanders are improved but the Caps are a different and still improving club, as well, and should be even better as the season progresses.

Alex Ovechkin once again had the game winning goal, notching his 12th of the season after Tom Wilson made a great rush up the ice with the puck to get the Islanders moving backwards. The Gr8 used the New York D as a screen and rifled it by Chad Johnson, who more resembled OchoStinko tonight (22 saves on 26 shots).

Sure this victory would have been better had the Capitals beaten Jaroslav Halak, but you can only beat who the other team lines up against you. Johnson did have some quality saves, he had to because Washington had tons of excellent scoring chances, especially in periods two and three.

Holtby was outstanding and he had to be sharp from the get go as the Islanders really dominated the first five minutes. Washington only had one shot at the midway point of period one but then they took over. Before the game, Trotz switched up his lines moving Evgeny Kuznetsov up to the 2nd line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer while Andre Burakovsky moved down to the fourth line. Boy did that move pay off as Kuzy had a super game with a goal and an assist while MJ90 dominated the ice with a goal and an assist. Both played just under 16 minutes while Brouwer had an assist in just over 17 minutes. Washington needed that performance from their second line since it had gone six straight games without a goal. No doubt Kuznetsov deserves more playing time going forward. He still has some defensive issues, but Burakovsky is struggling more in the d-zone right now so 92 needs to remain there for at least the near future.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen had another stellar game pitching in three assists in 22:35 of ice time (team lead) and his hockey IQ is extremely high. Joel Ward’s empty net goal came because #2 was willing to take a hit as he threw the puck up the right wing boards to Ward. If Niskanen goes in soft at all on that play the Islanders likely come away with the biscuit. Just a smart and tough play by a very good defensemen there.

In addition to Trotz’ pre game line changes, he did a great job with the matchups late in period two once the Caps got the lead and especially in period three when the Capitals pulled away, for once. Barry likely learned from the two goals the Islanders scored late in period one when he got burned with Burakovsky on the ice against John Tavares on the first goal. #65 screened his own goalie and left one of the best pure goal scorers in the league all alone at the side of the net on that tally. The Islanders then tied it after Wilson mistakenly fought Matt Martin. Anders Lee scored shortly after the bout on a deflection in front when Karl Alzner failed to either block the point shot or tie up a New York forward in front.

But other than that, there wasn’t much to be unhappy about. Washington continued to do a better job of getting bodies to the front of the net so that bodes well for more goals going forward. It is very important to get points right now so that the Caps can make the playoffs and also move up in the division, but it’s even better when they play the right way and win.

On Friday, they played the right way and received a much earned 5-2 victory to improve to 10-8-4.

Notes: Burakovsky had the lowest ice time for the Caps (9:10), but he did score the first goal on the PP by going to the net and deflecting Niskanen’s shot home…the Caps got Brooks Laich back on Friday and they are now 5-0-2 with #21 in the lineup. His hard work rubs off on the rest of the team and he allows Trotz the ability to better balance the lines…the Caps play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at 7 pm on Hockey Night in Canada. I’d expect Justin Peters in net for Washington since Trotz and Mitch Korn won’t want to wear Holtby out.

 

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Ovechkin’s 2 Power Play Goals Not Enough in OT Loss

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 games of basically “working on their new system”, the Washington Capitals have a chance to get an idea on where they stand as a team in a home and home series with the red hot New York Islanders on Thanksgiving Eve and then on Friday.

Round 1, played in the Nassau Coliseum, went to the Isles, 3-2, in overtime when John Tavares scored on the power play. The OT loss drops the Caps to 9-8-4 after 21 games.

So, what did I really like about Wednesday’s game?

Let’s start with the Washington power play which went 2 for 2. Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) was an absolute magician with both of his assists that led to Alexander Ovechkin tallies (the Gr8 now has 11 goals in 21 games). Matt Niskanen’s feed to Ovi on the first goal was also a perfect tape to tape pass that allowed the Gr8 to laser one by Jaroslav Halak (25 saves).

The Caps, despite looking like they were going to get run out of the dump, er rink, in the first 10 minutes, steadied themselves and played their way back into this contest.

Braden Holtby (32 saves) was solid in net and kept Washington in it with some key saves.

Jay Beagle was 10-5 on face offs.

Washington earned a point and with Philadelphia, the Rangers, and the Hurricanes all losing in regulation, the Capitals moved back into third place in the Metropolitan division.

Now to the parts of the game that I didn’t like, at all.

First, this team needs to find a way to score a 5 on 5 goal. It’s been over two games without one now. The blame goes to the forwards who just aren’t playing well at all. The lines aren’t working, especially the second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer. They’ve gone six games without a goal and late in period three Coach Barry Trotz benched Burakovsky. To paraphrase the great golfer Greg Norman, “They should blow that line up!” In fact, none of the line combinations are really working. The first unit is winning the shot attempt battle, most of the time, but Tom Wilson is still too junior to be a first line right winger. #43 probably belongs on the third line at this stage of his career. Basically, the Caps are in a tough spot currently because Wilson, Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all young and talented players but none of them are really ready for top six forward minutes at this point in their careers. In the future they all could be in that category, but these kids are still very young and the NHL is a man’s league. Coach Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan need to figure something out and that might have to involve some forward trades to shake things up. This team needs to win now because Ovechkin is not getting any younger so BMac hopefully is working the phones.

I really have to just laugh at this point when it comes to the NHL referees because their ability to be so inept at the wrong moment is impeccable. The third period and OT calls on Backstrom were ludicrous given the way the game had been called to that point, especially the holding the stick call in OT after the Islanders player flat out tripped #19. Holtby thought for sure the Caps were going on a power play so he headed to the bench. The call, which essentially gift wrapped New York a victory, was as bad as Starship’s song “We Built This City.” Coach Trotz, his staff, and many of the players were disgusted with the two Backstrom calls afterwards. Please get it together NHL referees because I am wearing out the hashtag #badzebras on twitter!

The shot attempts, if they are accurate, and I have my doubts about the NHL off ice officials on Long Island, were 71-44 in favor of the Isles. That’s not good. The Islanders did dominate much of the first period and because of the Capitals problems up front they did not generate enough shots. The Caps did try to get more net presence but they still look totally out of sync up front too often.

Backstrom was totally smoked on the face off on the Islanders second goal. This was the fourth time this season that he’s lost a defensive zone draw and the opponent has scored. It was the sixth time in 21 games that it has happened to Washington (credit to Adam Vingan for those two very significant statistics). That must stop! What is happening to the Caps is they are losing the draws cleanly and that is allowing the puck to go back to the point while the opponents forwards crash the net. The result has been the six goals on tips and screens. When taking a d-zone draw you have to focus on not losing the draw cleanly, you must at least tie your opponent up to give your forwards more time to get to the point men. The defensemen also have to do a better job of boxing out the opposing forwards on those plays. But it all starts with the center not getting beaten so easily on the draw.

The Caps penalty kill went only one for three. Granted one of the goals was off of a face off and the other was on the dope smoking call that led to the Islanders OT four on three. Still, you can’t give up two power play goals and expect to win. I especially didn’t like that Tavares deked Karl Alzner to the ground on the game winner. #27 has a tendency to go to the ice in those situations and that is the wrong play. He needs to stay upright there and if he does, it makes Holtby’s job a lot easier.

Finally, the Islanders 3rd jersey’s are awful. New York has a great home jersey that they should NEVER abandon. You would think that franchise would have learned from that Gordon’s Fisherman garb they wore back in the 1990’s that was so disgraceful and despised?!

So there you have it, the good and the bad after the first of two key games between the Caps and the Islanders.

Washington is home on Friday at 5 pm. This is another measuring stick game, in my opinion.

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Capitals trade G Halak to Islanders for draft pick

Posted on 01 May 2014 by WNST Staff

ARLINGTON, VA. – The Washington Capitals have acquired a fourth-round draft pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft from the New York Islanders in exchange for the rights to goaltender Jaroslav Halak, assistant general manager Brian MacLellan announced today. The fourth-round selection was acquired by New York from Chicago.

Halak, 28, posted a 29-13-7 record with five shutouts, a 2.25 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 52 games with Washington and St. Louis this season. The Bratislava, Slovakia, native was acquired by the Capitals from Buffalo with a third-round choice in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Michal Neuvirth and Rostislav Klesla on March 5, 2014. Halak has registered a 144-85-29 record in his career with 30 shutouts, a 2.38 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

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