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Undermanned Caps Turn in Strong Effort

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Undermanned Caps Turn in Strong Effort

Posted on 22 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

NBC decided to put the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on national television this Sunday afternoon ahead of the NFL Championship games and as usual, they got a dandy between two clubs that respect each other, but flat out can’t stand one another.

Sure there was no Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, or Jordan Staal due to injuries, but Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the top two picks in the 2004 NHL Entry draft, repsectively, put on an absolute show. Both had three points (1 goal, 2 assists) and finished plus three in the game, but it was Malkin who had the winner in overtime for Pittsburgh, in a 4-3 thriller.

Washington also played without center Marcus Johansson so coach Dale Hunter had to go to his first aid kit and bandage a lineup together. In the first period, it wasn’t working so well as the Pens raced out to a quick 2-0 lead prompting many of us on Twitter to surmise that it was going to be a long day for the Capitals.

But give Hunter credit once again for some great in game adjustments, the most important of which was putting Mathieu Perreault between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and those three were the guys who got the Caps back in it, and also the lead for about six minutes in the third period. The Gr8 and Semin are super talents, but in hockey, to win, you need good centers who can get skilled wingers the puck. Center has been the Caps biggest problem this year (and it could be argued it was the last two years as well) and that issue is significantly magnified while Backstrom is out of the lineup. Throw in an ill Johansson and you get the disaster that was the first period.

Hunter’s first intermission moves panned out but also the players reached down and grabbed their you know whats and competed. Let’s be honest, Washington can’t stand to lose to Pittsburgh so they were going to do whatever it took to try and win. And they almost pulled it off too. Michal Neuvirth (23 saves) was very good in net despite taking the defeat.

Laich would play 27:57 and he, Karl Alzner (24:09), and Jeff Halpern (11:39) put on a penalty killing clinic late in period two, with the score knotted at two, when the Penguins had a 51 second two man advantage. Pittsburgh would score once on the power play to open the scoring but Washington killed all four other Pens manpower advantage situations.

Alzner had a strong game playing with Dennis Wideman (26:49) but the duo of John Carlson and Roman Hamrlik had an up and down contest drawing the Malkin line. Those two were on the ice for three of the four goals against while being on for two Caps markers. Hamrlik was the one who caused most of the problems as Pittsburgh exposed his weaker skating ability. #44 had been playing better under Hunter’s new system, but I felt that today was his poorest game since the former Caps captain took over and it was his mistakes that allowed Malkin to set up the game tying goal and then win this one in overtime.

At the end of the day though, this was an encouraging contest for Washington after an unbloggable loss in Carolina on Friday (3-0). Several guys stepped up, most notably Perreault and Laich, to try and fill the gap up the middle of the ice that is so glaring right now. Perreault certainly earned himself some more ice time with this performance and his offensive skill seems to be the best fit with Ovechkin and Semin right now with Backstrom out. Even if Johansson comes back on Tuesday, I’d still keep 85 there because he is more gifted offensively and the two big guns need a center who can handle and pass the puck.

So the Caps will play one more game on Tuesday, at the Verizon Center, against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins before taking the rest of the week away from the rink for the All Star Break. If they can find a way to win or at least get a point against a very good Boston team that would be huge.

The Caps need some rest to heal up, but they are still battling despite being undermanned, so today’s point in Pittsburgh was well deserved.

Notes: John Erskine, Cody Eakin, Jay Beagle, and Joel Ward all played less than 10 minutes of ice time. Hunter likes to go with the guys who are getting it done as evidenced by the large variance in playing time down the lineup…Semin and Perreault each had two points. 28 was +3 while Perreault went +2…James Neal had two goals for the Pens, both assisted by Malkin.

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals hitting their season midpoint, it is time for my fifth annual Caps mid-season grades and analysis. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Capitals in 2011-12. This Caps squad that added goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik, and forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern during the summer, shot out of the gate 7-0 but an injury to Mike Green coupled with some poor defensive zone play and shaky goaltending sent the team reeling for several weeks. That swoon ultimately led to the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Enter new coach Dale Hunter, who changed the defensive system switching from zone to man to man, and the Caps became a team that was better at keeping the biscuit out of their own cage but saw the offense struggle early on while the team focused on a defense first mentality. In Hunter’s scheme, the offense is created from defense, primarily from transition. Over the last couple of weeks the team has executed those tactics much more effectively and the result has been victories in five of the last seven games. The goals against average, which was 3.32 in 22 games under Boudreau, has declined to 2.47 in 19 games with Hunter.

Washington heads into the season’s second half at 22-17-2 (46 points) which is good for 8th place in the Eastern Conference and 16th overall in the NHL. For comparison’s sake, at the halfway point last season, the Caps were 23-12-6 (52 points) but there were some obvious holes on the roster, with second line center being the biggest. On trade deadline day in 2011 GM George McPhee would make some super deals adding defensemen Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott and the Caps went on a tear to seize the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. However, both Arnott and Wideman were injured down the stretch and Washington couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, getting swept by the Bolts in four games. There were some who felt that McPhee needed to make a coaching change immediately after the second round loss to Tampa Bay but the GM said late this fall, just after switching to Hunter behind the bench just 22 games into the season, that he didn’t want all of the blame for the postseason failure to fall on Boudreau. But clearly Boudreau’s message was falling on deaf ears as a team that played super defense in the second half of 2010-11 became irresponsible in their own zone in the early part of this season.

The old adage, “Defense Wins Championships,” is spot on and Hunter has this team more focused in this area but there are still issues, especially when the club goes on the road. Washington is 15-5-1 at the Verizon Center but a terrible 7-12-1 away. If this Caps team is going to make a second half push to climb up the overall standings, then the road record must improve. The Capitals have not looked the same away from DC and their play in their own zone has been atrocious at times, case in point being this past Monday night in Los Angeles. From the defensemen to the centers to the wingers, the Caps must do a better job with their breakouts because they are making far too many giveaways that lead to more shots, chances, and zone time for their opponents. This Capitals team used to pride itself on being a puck possession crew but due to their own zone struggles, they end up wasting lots of time and energy just trying to get past the blue and red lines. That zaps energy and the ability to use their size and skill in the offensive zone.

Injuries have been a factor in the struggles, Green has pretty much been out since the start of the year and as a result Dennis Wideman and John Carlson have had to take on more minutes. In addition, the absence of 52 exposed the lack of speed that Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine possess. The good news is that Hamrlik has turned his game around with the new man to man system under Hunter but the other two aren’t even getting a sweater with the recent recall of Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is clearly trying to find the right combination on the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised if McPhee adds a defensemen at the trade deadline. In addition, the second line center problem has risen to the spotlight again, especially with Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup the last three games due to the cheap shot to the head he took from Calgary’s Rene Bourque. Once again, I look for GMGM to address the center position, and possibly another forward slot at the trade deadline. The Capitals have two first round draft picks this year so the GM could decide to use one of them to upgrade the current roster.

To sum up the first half of the year, the coaching change was necessary but it clearly hasn’t solved all of the team’s issues and the personnel will need some upgrades by February 27th. Several players also need to execute better than they did in the first 41 games.

Speaking of players, it is time to move on to the individual grades, which are based on the expectations for each at the start of the season (after the opening night roster was announced). They also take in to account each individual’s yearly salary cap hit:

Top of the Class

Jason Chimera (A) – 14 goals and 7 assists put #25 on pace for a career high in offensive production. In addition, his offense has not come with a drop in defensive zone play as he is +6. Chimera has been excellent using his speed to get around opposing defenders to create offense or simply wear down the other team.

Karl Alzner (A) – The defensive defensemen is a +10 with much of his ice time coming against opposing number one forward lines. Sure there have been nights when #27 has had a rough matchup, but all year long he has been the club’s steadiest blueliner. Add in the fact that King Karl is getting more involved offensively, his 1 goal and 11 assists give him 12 points, the same total he had all last season, and he has really amped up his game in just his second full year in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom (A-) – Arguably the team’s MVP so far because he is so valuable on a team that is weak up center ice after #19. 42 points in 38 games for a team that has shifted to a defense first mentality is impressive. It is clear that Nicky got himself in supreme shape this past offseason and his strength on the puck is back this season. It is a shame that he is out right now, for who knows how long, due to Bourque’s reckless cheap shot.

Honor Society

Dennis Wideman (B) – with Green out #6 has been asked to be the team’s ice time leader on most nights. He has picked up the offensive slack notching eight goals and 21 assists, which helped put him in the all star game. Wideman overall though, is a -3, and that needs to improve. He has a tendency to overplay opponents in his own zone which breaks down the entire defensive system when it happens.

Tomas Vokoun (B) – 17-10 with a .915 save percentage are good numbers. He’s had some great games, the two victories over Pittsburgh spring immediately to mind, and some poor outings, such as the night against the Flyers when he couldn’t stop a beach ball. #29 was plagued by the bad goal a night blues for a while in the middle of the first half but he seems to be snapping out of it. For the Caps to get where they want to be he needs to be at the top of his game down the stretch and in the post season.

Jeff Halpern (B) – #15 is 217-148 from the faceoff dot (59.4%) and is the team’s best drawman. Slated to play on the 4th line, the Potomac native has worked himself up the depth chart with solid two way play. He has 3 goals and 8 helpers but is a +4.

Dmitry Orlov (B) – started the season in Hershey but because of the lack of mobility on the blue line, the 2009 2nd round pick was summoned to “The Show” and has acquitted himself so well that it is unlikely he goes back to the AHL. He has six assists, but is -3. He has great wheels and a surprising physical presence on the back end. If he can start hitting the net with his shot the Capitals offense would get a great boost.

Marcus Johansson (B-) – MJ90 has had an up and down first half but his numbers are decent: 9 goals and 15 assists. He is a -2 and surprisingly has had some rough nights in his own zone, something that was supposed to be a rarity for the normally solid defensive pivot. This kid will continue to get better and unfortunately he is forced to play center on one of the top two lines too often. In my book he is a third line center and would be one of the best in the NHL in that role, but he also has shown he can be a decent winger, with the right center (Backstrom).

John Carlson (B-) – #74 has been very inconsistent this season. At times he has been one of the best players on the ice and in other games he has looked lost in his own zone. The system change may have hurt him more than any other d-man because he is still learning how to take time and space away from opponents. Offensively though, he has been there with five goals and 17 assists. I’d like to see him get more power play time.

Cody Eakin (B-) – I didn’t expect the 2009 3rd round NHL pick to spend much time with the Caps this year but due to injuries, a friendly contract that allows him to go up and down without having to clear waivers, and his speed, he’s played in nearly half of the tilts. He has been most effective when using his speed to beat opponents and when he hasn’t done that he has looked overmatched and benched in some games, as a result. Personally I’d rather see him play 20+ minutes a night in the AHL to properly develop his game. He just isn’t physically big enough for the NHL, at this time.

Average Joe’s

Troy Brouwer (C+) – #20 has 11 goals and 20 points and has been a real solid net presence. He also has done a good job of being physical in the offensive zone.

Roman Hamrlik (C) – #44 really struggled under Boudreau and part of that was a lingering groin issue. However, with Hunter’s system he is in familiar territory and doesn’t look like he is skating in concrete, like he did early on.

John Erskine (C) – Started the season on IR due to a shoulder injury. Last year he was one of the best players in the first 41 games but when you can’t lift and work out in the offseason due to an injury it really sets you back. #4′s main role appears to be spot starts where his phyiscal presence is needed. His best games seem to always be against the Rangers.

Joel Ward (C) – Needs to score more than five goals in the second half. His skating is a little worrisome, not sure if he was out of shape or he had an injury but he doesn’t look as quick as he did in the 2011 playoffs when he was a Nashville Predator. His +5 rating saves him from a worse grade.

Michal Neuvirth (C-) – #30 really struggled in the first part of the year before improving once Hunter took over. At one point Neuvy was the #1 goalie but he let in a couple of bad ones in Buffalo the day after Christmas and it’s pretty much been the Vokoun show ever since. 5-7-2 with an .886 save percentage are not good numbers at all, although he is over 90% since number 32 took over.

Brooks Laich (C-) – Another guy, because of the holes up the middle of the ice, gets forced to play out of position. I see #21 as a 2nd or 3rd line winger where he can use his size and drive to help the Caps break out of their zone. As a pivot he just doesn’t have the hands to be effective coming out of his own end. You’ll never get a bad effort from the fan favorite but at the dollars he’s making the Caps need more than a point every other game and a -7 rating. More production please Brooksie.

Alex Ovechkin (C-) – 17 goals, 16 assists, -8. We’ve seen good Ovie and bad Ovie this year. Most of the bad came under Boudreau but he has 0 points in the last three games after 9 in the previous 6. The good news is he was all over the ice against the Penguins hitting and creating chances on Wednesday night. That is the Ovechkin the Caps need to win games. If he doesn’t have it, the Capitals usually lose. The Gr8 needs to continue to improve in his own zone, if he bears down more the breakaways and odd man rushes will come in bunches each night.

Not Making the Grade

Alexander Semin (D) – Was super in the first five games before becoming a penalty machine and a scapegoat for Boudreau. Under the new regime he seems more energized and had six really good games in a row before getting injured in Columbus. If he can get healthy again he can be dominant in this system where he is, in my mind, the best winger at getting the puck out of the Washington zone. But only 10 goals in 37 games is not cutting it, the Capitals need more from this supremely talented player who is making $6.7M.

Matt Hendricks (D) – 1 goal in 37 games is not good for this fourth liner. If he plays like he did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night he’ll get more ice time and his production will improve. He has to play physical to be effective.

Mathieu Perreault (D) – 3 goals in 26 games is way under where I thought MP85 would be. He has not been the sparkplug that he had been in the past and perhaps his size is why he just isn’t going to be consistent at the NHL level?

Mike Knuble (D) – 3 goals in 41 games for the aging winger. #22 has definitely lost a step and that has cost him lots of ice time. Can he find the fountain of youth once again in the second half?

Whereabouts Unknown

Jeff Schultz (F) – Is this the same guy who was +50 just two years ago? #55 has lost foot speed and confidence. He looks clumsy and a step behind when he plays. I am not sure he is with this team much longer and at $2.75M against the salary cap he is an expensive scratch each night.

Incomplete: Mike Green, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, DJ King, and Tomas Kundratek

Management Grades

Bruce Boudreau (D) - The likeable Gabby eventually ran out of things to tell his club and they tuned him out. He and assistant coach Bob Woods couldn’t get the defense to be better and as a result it cost them their jobs.

Dale Hunter (B) – Dale brought in a radical system change with arguably some personnel that aren’t exact fits. But when you see the turnaround a guy like Hamrlik had and the goals against dropping so significantly, even with some shaky goaltending early in his regime, it was definitely the right thing to do tactically. The team is becoming a harder club to play against but they still lack some sandpaper type grit. He has definitely turned Semin around and Ovechkin is buying in too. His success rides on Vokoun, the play of 8 and 28, and the personnel tweaks he works with McPhee on to upgrade the roster by the end of February. Another Hunter strength is he is a man of few words so his message is easy to receive. He also stays on an even keel, which is good for the players as they don’t waste energy on emotional issues.

General Manager George McPhee (B) – It is hard for GM’s to do anything in the first half of a season but he did the one thing he had to do, switch coaches. Going forward until trade deadline day are critical times for McPhee. He has to find a way to get some better fits for what Hunter wants to do to be successful in the spring. His off season moves are looking better after a rough first 22 games, especially with Hamrlik’s improved play and the fact that Vokoun has stolen some wins. Still, he has that nagging second line center issue that he will have to address again by the end of February.

In final analysis, over the first half of the sesason there were nights when the Caps looked like they can play with anyone in the league, but on other occassions they were run out of the barn. Those games came mostly under Boudreau but Monday’s loss in Los Angeles was a bit of a scare. Hopefully fatigue was to blame for that one. Going forward this team has a lot of work to be done to get where they want to be. The execution needs to be markedly better and personnel moves will be needed if they want to compete with the likes of Boston. If that doesn’t happen then the ownership will likely take some drastic measures after the season is over. I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hunter’s Adjustments Propels Caps Comeback

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Hunter’s Adjustments Propels Caps Comeback

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps failed to score a first period goal on the road for the sixth straight game and after 40 minutes they trailed 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So much for using that start fast formula on the road that they’ve used lately at home that I blogged about last night, eh?!

But since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench this Washington Capitals squad has yet to quit in a game, regardless of the deficit and some lineup juggling by the Caps bench boss ignited a three goal in under three minutes explosion in the final frame. Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the first goal for the Caps, then lasered one by Steve Mason (22 saves) to make it 4-2 and Tomas Vokoun (35 saves) closed the door as the Capitals won their third straight game. It was a huge victory and moves the Caps to 20-15-2 overall. They are now just five points behind Southeast Division leading Florida. Washington has two games in hand.

After Columbus did a good job of shutting down Washington’s top line for 40 minutes, Hunter split them up putting Ovechkin with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer while Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin added Marcus Johansson on left wing. The move gave the Caps energy and took Columbus off of their game plan. On the back end, the defensemen became extremely active and Dennis Wideman (1 goal, 2 assists) turned in a super period paired with Roman Hamrlik. On Ovechkin’s nail in the coffin on the power play, Dmitry Orlov made an intelligent move carrying the puck down the left wing boards and behind the net drawing the defense to him before slipping a sweet pass to the Gr8 who buried it with authority. Make no mistake about this, Orlov continues to get better and deserves to be up with the big club the rest of the season.

I know I mentioned the standings above, but as I’ve pretty much done since Hunter took over, I have tried to ignore them because this club needed to drastically fix its’ play before it could start rising back to the top of the Eastern Conference. After 15 games in under the Capitals legend the team has totally improved on the backend and now that they have corrected that, the offense, as predicted by Hunter, is coming on. Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom have bought in defensively and they are really starting to reap big rewards for that. The Gr8 is on fire with four goals in his last two games and has nine points in his last six games. Semin’s goal that tied the game was a thing of beauty and he’s had six solid tilts in a row. Backstrom is the team’s MVP so far this season but he’s even gone to a higher level the last couple of weeks.

Another thing to be really encouraged about is the week Vokoun just had in goal. #29 came on in relief on Monday and stopped 16 of 17 shots then went 3-0 as a starter. Vokoun is making the big save at the right time. 14 seconds after Ovechkin tallied to cut it to 2-1, he made a huge stop on Mark Letestu on a quality chance in the slot. If Letestu scores there the game is over. Instead Orlov and Grant Clitsome go off for roughing shortly thereafter and the Capitals score twice on the four on four. I’ve said this so many times, but everything starts for a team in goal and Washington is finally getting some consistent netminding.

For those who watched the post game press conference with Hunter on Comcast, things looked exactly the same from old number 32 for the 15th time despite the dramatic comeback. It was hard to tell whether the team won or lost and Hunts always seems to be on such an even keel. Clearly his club is feeding off of his consistency behind the bench and his competitive drive is contagious.

Winning in Columbus is still no big feat, that Blue Jackets club is pretty bad. The Caps have a Calgary Flames team home on Tuesday before taking off to the west coast to take on some quality Western Conference talent in San Jose and Los Angeles. We’ll have an even better idea how far the team has come after those contests.

Happy New Year!

Notes: The Blue Jackets second goal should not have counted as referees Brad Meier and Francois St. Laurent missed an obvious interference penalty on Derek Dorsett in front of the Washington net. The Columbus pest shoved John Carlson to the ground with the puck on the boards but no call was made. Terrible work from the zebras…the Caps blocked 22 shots while the Blue Jackets only thwarted five. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson says if Washington blocks between 20 and 25 shots in a game that is a good sign…Hamrlik and Wideman were both +3. #44 looks so much better since returning from an early season groin injury. He is a smart player who is excelling in Hunter’s system…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-31. Jeff Halpern was 8-3…Jeff Schultz had an awful first period giveaway and only played 9:46…Cody Eakin’s recall did necessitate a player going on injured reserve as I mentioned last night, but instead of Mathieu Perreault, the team retroactively put Mike Green in that capacity to meet the 23 man roster limit.

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are starting to parlay a months worth of learning new coach Dale Hunter’s philosophy into winning hockey games.

On Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps used the formula that worked well against the New York Rangers in Wednesday’s victory once again versus the Sabres. Washington won 3-1 over Buffalo via a fast start that led to an early goal, solid goaltending, and scoring from their top line in transition. At times the team struggled to get the puck out of its’ own zone against a feisty Sabres crew, but the team persevered by playing decent defensive hockey and Tomas Vokoun (25 saves) made timely saves. More importantly, the Washington number one line of Alexander Ovechkin (two goals), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Alexander Semin (two assists) is heating up and when the stars start scoring goals, it makes winning much more achieveable.

Hunter spent much of his first 30 days on the job trying to find the right line combinations and he seems to have settled on a strategy that former Caps coach Terry Murray often used back in the early 9o’s by putting his best offensive players together on one line and then loading up another line with solid checkers to match against opponents top unit.

“They’re very good players and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together and we put a scoring line together. So it’s just that combination, I guess,” added Hunter on his current line combo strategy.

Former coach Bruce Boudreau would occassionally put 8-19-28 together but it became a crap shoot, because the trio had a habit of not carrying their weight defensively. Hunter seems to have those guys buying into using solid defense to set up their deadly skill that can really shine in transition. All three Washington tallies came on the rush against Buffalo and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (18 saves) had no chance on any of the goals. The passes that Semin and Backstrom made tonight were of the “Wow!” variety and with the Gr8 potting two goals, you can finally see confidence coming back and the pressure to produce releasing from those guys. Simply put, by playing well in their own end they are setting themselves up to be creative on the rush and the goals are starting to come. When that happens the game is a lot of fun and usually leads to a hot streak.

“We just have to play it simple. We made pretty plays by our simple plays. We just have to continue what we do right now. It’s nice when you make some pretty plays and when you score the goals. Especially when the team needs it. It’s pretty good,” said Ovechkin on why his line is starting to score multiple times a night.

When I watched the line closely the last two games, Backstrom is the first key to the defensive success. #19 is doing a good job of winning the one on one battles with the opponents center. The next critical thing is for the wingers to be in the right spots and make the correct play coming out of the zone. I was very impressed with Semin’s ability to do this on Friday night. He has the skill, but more importantly the patience and smarts on where to put the puck coming out of the zone to generate opportunities. Sometimes he chips it off of the boards allowing Ovechkin to slide over and get the puck and other times the defense becomes so aware of his skill that he simply waits for the opposing d-men to back off and then he either skates it out or finds a seam for a breakout pass. He was the best Capitals winger at getting the biscuit out of the Washington end in this one. As for Ovechkin, his defense is getting better but he is best suited to be the first guy out of the zone for the pass that gets the defense on its’ heels.

This was still no easy victory. The Sabres carried the play from the midpoint of the game until about seven minutes remained in regulation. Buffalo did what a lot of teams want to do to the Capitals, which is get the pucks deep and make the Washington defensemen and forwards chase. Much was made of Rangers coach John Tortorella’s “they don’t want to defend” remark the other night but what Torts was saying was the Caps have great skill up front and are very comfortable with the puck so you have to make them work to get it. Heck what top line in the entire NHL wants to play defense? Buffalo was pretty good getting the puck below the goal line but Washington countered by keeping the Sabres to the outside and the most important aspect of winning hockey, good goaltending, helped get the Caps the results they needed in their zone.

So the Caps have now come out strong in three straight home games but in the two road games last weekend, they fell behind 3-0 and 4-0, respectively. On Saturday night in Columbus they have a chance to show that they can use this formula on the road and be successful. It is one thing to dominate at home and get early energy from the friendly fans, but going on the road and getting a lead is a much harder feat. If the Capitals want to climb up the standings and reclaim their “elite” status, they need to start doing that on Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

Notes: Ovechkin’s first goal, on the power play, was the result of a fortuitous bounce. The Gr8 was passing to a streaking Brooks Laich on the rush but the disc hit a Sabres defender and went by Miller. Good things happen when players put pucks and bodies to the cage…The coaches made a smart personnel change right before the game clinching third goal with 5:50 left in regulation. The Sabres were really on Washington for the better part of the final frame but right after one of his checking lines had a good shift to stem the tide, Dale had the top line on the ice for a neutral zone faceoff, originally with Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik. But then he pulled 44 off and trotted out Dmitry Orlov and #81 would use his great skating ability to get the puck out of Washington’s zone to Semin, who then made a behind the back through the legs pass to Backstrom, who hit a streaking Ovechkin for the nail in the coffin…the Laich, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward line with the Karl Alzner/John Carlson d-pairing did a lot of the matching up against Buffalo’s top unit of Tomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, and Jason Pominville in the second half of the game. It was a tough assignment and the Sabres had the puck for most of the time on ice, but they only managed one tally (Hecht from Vanek and Pominville in the second period)…Cody Eakin was in the building and officially recalled from Hershey after the tilt. It appears that one of the forwards is hurt and may go on injured reserve. My guess is it is Mathieu Perreault, who took a stick in the abdomen in Buffalo on Monday…It will be interesting to see who is in net for Washington in Columbus. Vokoun is hot but you don’t want to wear a guy out on back to back nights. In addition, Michal Neuvirth was really playing well before his bad first period on Monday that came after two days of no practice and a horror show travel day. My gut tells me that Neuvy gets the call on Saturday in Ohio…the Caps won the faceoff battle 33-27.

 

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Poor Start Dooms Caps Again

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Poor Start Dooms Caps Again

Posted on 26 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

If you don’t come out ready to play in pro sports, you will likely lose, and often times badly.

On Monday night in Buffalo the Washington Capitals simply weren’t ready to play. Roman Hamrlik put a puck over the glass on his backhand just nine seconds in to the contest and 42 ticks later the Sabres scored. Buffalo would tally three more times in the first 15 minutes to put the Caps behind the eight ball big time and Washington would eventually fall 4-2. It was a bad start after the team looked to have found some momentum when they rallied from a three goal hole on Friday night in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Devils.

The poor road beginnings have to be a bit of a concern, granted today’s contest was played under unique circumstances. Because of the holiday break the Caps had to fly in to Buffalo this morning which disrupts the normal game day process for Washington. The team looked slow in the opening frame and Michal Neuvirth looked nothing like the netminder who was playing so solidly under Dale Hunter until this one. #30 would give up three goals on six shots and he could take a lot of blame on the second and third tallies. Tomas Vokoun then came on and promptly yielded a power play goal but after that he played super (16 saves) and gave Washington a chance to hang around.

The Caps would get a late second period tally from Matt Hendricks and a third period power play goal from Alexander Ovechkin, but it was too little too late. The game was lost in the first period. Washington didn’t put bodies on Sabres in their own zone and they did a poor job at blocking shots. In fact, the Caps only blocked eight shots all game. Blame the odd travel day, blame the penalties, blame the goaltending, blame the referees (who were awful all game), but it doesn’t matter. The Capitals weren’t ready from the opening puck drop and that led to a bad loss.

They need to get tougher mentally and physically, because at times they are too easy a team to play against.

Coach Hunter can’t be happy about that, he was a guy who brought it every shift, and right now his team is having a hard time doing that early in games on the road.

Notes: Mathieu Perreault assisted on the Hendricks tally but he took his own stick to the upper body in the 3rd period and went to the hospital post game to get checked out (h/t @VogsCaps)…the Sabres won the faceoff battle handily, 31-22. Their 2nd goal came off a draw. Karl Alzner lost the puck and Neuvirth fanned on Matt Ellis’ backhander…the Caps had 26 hits but only two of them came from defensemen (Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson)…the Caps next game is against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 730 pm.

 

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Caps Embracing Hunter’s Defensive System

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Caps Embracing Hunter’s Defensive System

Posted on 23 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee made the coaching switch to Dale Hunter on November 28th he stated that his team was not responding anymore to Bruce Boudreau. Specifically, McPhee talked about how poor the Caps were playing defensively and the GM knew that if he didn’t do something, his club was going to have little chance of competing in the post season this spring.

Enter Caps legend Dale Hunter, who not only brought a new voice and an unrivaled work ethic to the locker room, but a different defensive approach. Out went total zone coverage in the Capitals end and newly installed was a system focused on taking away gaps with man to man coverage down low. For most fans, this might not seem like a big deal to be able to implement. After all, we watch college basketball and see teams switching from zone to man and back again, many times in the same contest. But hockey is a different game and despite what one might think intuitively, this new system that Hunter has put in is quite a change. It is not a true man to man, because you’ll never see a defensemen following a forward out to the blue line, which would make a team easy to attack, but once the matchups are established down low the defensemen and third forward stick with their man while they are below the faceoff dots.

On the surface this is a Caps team that is 5-5 under Hunter and to those who are quick to resort to knee jerk reactions you’ll hear that “This is the same team just with a different coach.” But a closer look at the numbers shows that statement to be woefully incorrect. Through 22 games under Boudreau the Caps allowed 73 goals or 3.32 a tilt while scoring 3.18 per game (70 goals). In the 10 games under Hunter, the Caps have given up only 24 goals or 2.4 per game while scoring 2.5 per game (25 goals). In those 10 games, on seven occassions they’ve given up two goals or less. Keep in mind that the two teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, the Canucks and the Bruins, were first and second, in goals allowed per game at 2.20 and 2.30, respectively. So those who like to throw around the old adage that “Defense Wins Championships” sure look to be right.

In order for the Capitals to be truly successful in Hunter’s coaching scheme, the players obviously have to buy into it, understand it, and then execute it. It is focused on taking away any gaps the opposition might have in the Washington zone and by being aggressive on a body it has the capability to create more offense via quick transitions.

“It’s not that much different than what I was playing in Montreal. Now that Huntsy is here we are more desperate and it is more man on man in our defensive zone. He’s looking for good defense creating good offense. From my experience it’s a good thing because everybody works hard in the defensive zone,” said 20 year NHL veteran Roman Hamrlik, who was on the 2010 Canadiens team that knocked off both the Capitals and Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

For others, like Karl Alzner and Mathieu Perreault, the approach Hunter has implemented is definitely different for them.

“It’s been a pretty big change, it’s tough to go from zone to man on man because you always go back to that zone coverage. When you don’t know where your man is you just kind of wait back and sometimes you lose that guy and if one person loses them then you can get in trouble. In the Colorado game, I thought Colorado did a good job of cycling and picking us and when you get picked it is tough. So it’s a different system to learn but I think once you get it it is really hard for teams to win against you. You have to make sure you battle hard and that is what Huntsy really likes is that guys being accountable and making sure they do their job. If everyone is doing their job I don’t think there is a better system than that,” started Alzner on the change, “I’ve played bits and pieces of it before, but never full out on man on man and so for me, still, I sometimes I forget off faceoffs to follow my guy and I just kind of just stay in front of the net. Which, if you’re gonna be out of position, be out of position in front of the net. But sometimes you forget about it but you have to just keep reminding yourself what to do.”

“For a centermen it’s quite a difference because once you get your man you have to stay with him instead of just being in good position and keeping an eye on your guy. You gotta be right on him. It took a few games to get used to but I think now guys are getting the system pretty good. Whoever is first back goes, so everybody has to be able to play down low. For me I’d rather always be down low but the guys I play with Hendy, Knubs, or Beags, those are all guys that can play down low, so it is no big deal. Whoever gets there first, just go down low and then we fill in the wing spot,” said Perreault on how it works in the defensive end.

One of the most important things in any team sport is communication. Hamrlik and Alzner both think that Hunter’s system puts a premium on talking on the ice.

“It’s all about communication and reading the play. You can just stay with your man or you can switch with the forward, you call switch and the forward takes the high guy. It’s simple but it’s all about communication. Talking is a big help,”  said Hamrlik on the importance of communication in the new scheme.

“It’s tons, you have to be talking the entire time, which is good though because you want to be talking, even if we’re playing zone, and I think this way it just forces you to do it a little bit more or else you are going to get scored on. So it’s good, it just helps everybody out and even when we do turn the puck over we are so used to talking and calling switches and stuff then you are going to be so used to calling for the puck and letting guys know who is open and then we are going to get out of the zone like last game,” added Alzner when asked if there is an increase in communication with Hunter’s system.

Clearly the players understand it and are buying into the new plan but the execution takes some time, which is a reason why Washington’s offense slowed down initially due to the increased focus on defense. Tuesday’s game against Nashville seemed to be an encouraging sign as the Caps dominated early on and created scoring chances off of their defense.

“It’s getting better, I don’t think it is going to change overnight, but it’s getting much better. There are still lots of things we can work on out on the ice to get better every day as a team. I think the defensive zone is much better. It’s all about communication, have good position, don’t lose too many battles, one on one in the corner. Trust, let’s say I play with [Dennis] Wideman then I have to trust that he is going to do his job or the goalie’s gonna stop the puck, stuff like that,” said Hamrlik when asked how far along the team is at executing the defensive system.

The execution will come with practice and repitition, especially if the players think it will work. With the goals against improving so rapidly, it looks like the players have bought in. But going forward teams will start having film to digest of the Caps playing the new system and will devise ways to try to defeat it. Will it still be effective?

“Yeah, it is good, there are some teams that are good at playing against it and then there are some teams that don’t really know what to do against it. I think you have to know who you are playing against and you can always play versions of the man on man, but personally I think it is pretty tough to play against,” finished Alzner.

It’s only been 10 games and despite the fact that the Caps are only .500 under Hunter, you can see a progression on the ice, especially on defense. The number of odd man rushes against is way down and there aren’t any more questions about effort. In this system, if you aren’t working hard you will be exposed pretty quickly and everyone will be able to see who made the mistake, because this style is predicated on winning the one on one battles. So far the Capitals have embraced Hunter’s system and if they keep that up, the desired results, lots of victories, will come.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps Pathetic in Loss to Sabres

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Caps Pathetic in Loss to Sabres

Posted on 26 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres were missing nine regulars and had a lineup that more resembled the Rochester Americans, their AHL team, as they faced the Washington Capitals at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night. Sounds like a recipe for an easy Caps win, right? Well in the words of the great Sundance Kid: “You figured wrong, Butch.” Tomas Vokoun had a terrible game in net and Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik (both -3) continued to struggle on the back end and the Sabres worked harder than Washington to blow out the Caps, 5-1. The loss drops the Capitals to 12-9-1 overall after a 7-0 start.

This was a Sabres team that got blitzed by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, 5-1, so you knew Lindy’s Ruff’s club would come out hard but Bruce Boudreau’s crew didn’t respond. The work ethic was downright awful and the Sabres seemed to win every loose puck battle. Last Saturday night, after the Toronto Maple Leafs blasted the Capitals with a depleted lineup, I blogged that Caps GM George McPhee, Boudreau, and Alexander Ovechkin needed to have a “clear the air” meeting to turn this ship around. I have no idea if they had that session or not, but after two solid efforts at home on Monday and Wednesday they have once again gone the other way with two straight weak outings and this looks like a rudderless outfit.

Usually a team, when struggling, gets a strong effort from its’ captain but Ovechkin was -4 tonight and had only two shots on net. He was lazy in the defensive zone and he didn’t appear to break a sweat. His performance was downright pitiful and if there is still a rift between him and Boudreau or other players on the team, then shame on the organization for not dealing with it and correcting the issue.

As for Boudreau, I don’t know what has happened to him. He used to be great with his strategy but lately he’s become gun shy and is not using his talent properly. With the Sabres down players it seemed like the tactic for Washington would be to press the play and open the game up, but that was not the case, as the four time Southeast Division Champion coach explained after the contest. When asked about the lack of Caps forecheck, he said “The plan was to make it a 2-1 or 1-0 game because we’ve been so poor defensively.” Wrong answer in my book, when you have guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you have to be aggressive and get a lead, even with the problems the club is having on the back end.

Even with the bad effort, if Vokoun (23 saves) doesn’t give up a terrible third goal right after Jason Chimera scored his ninth goal of the season on a beauty of a penalty shot, then Washington might have come back. But on a Sabres three on two Zack Kassian got his first NHL goal when he beat #29 five hole. It was a shot that could not go in and it came after he failed to glove a high blast that led to the 2nd Buffalo tally in period one. On the fourth Sabres goal, Adam Luke scored on what was pretty much a one on five coming out of the corner and Vokoun didn’t have good position on that one either. The team is not playing well in their own end but they are also not getting consistent goaltending from Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth right now.

I could sit here and blog more about player X or how a particular play was executed improperly, but at this point, it has gone far beyond that. This team has lost its’ confidence, is clearly mentally weak, and is not playing hard. Hockey is an emotional game and if you don’t bring it with you when you come onto to the ice you will lose every time. Right now the Capitals look like a team that is not having fun and is lacking all emotion. There is too much talent on this team for it to play so poorly, even without Mike Green. The excuses need to stop and someone needs to step up and be a leader to get this untracked.

Notes: McPhee was in Hershey for the Bears game on Washington Capitals night so he didn’t see this debacle live…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-26…Karl Alzner and Chimera were the best Caps, not many others had a good game…Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and gave up another shorthanded goal..the Caps next game is Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center.

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:

- When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.

- After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.

“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.

- Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.

“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.

- As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.

“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.

- Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.

- In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.

Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Jason Chimera tapped home a great Dennis Wideman feed 1:52 into overtime for his second marker of the night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thanksgiving eve. Chimera, who’s season high for goals is 17 when he was with Columbus (2005-06), now has eight in just 20 games (h/t John Walton). The hard working, up tempo victory for the Caps is their second straight win and improves their record to 12-7-1. They are 8-1-1 at home this season.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps 116th straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Oh, where to begin?! There were so many players that performed well on Wednesday that there is no doubt that this was one of the best team efforts of the season. The Caps were moving their feet and pressing the pace all 60+ minutes. It was a fast game and the Capitals showcased their speed. Their puck support and positioning was outstanding, for the most part. The team clearly built on the things they did right on Monday night and they used their size to wear down the Jets. The Caps were credited with 35 hits compared to 27 for Winnipeg and they outshot them 37-25 on the night.

“[The Capitals] played with a lot more emotion. They got energized by scoring early. They got energized by the crowd. They got energized by physical hits. They played hard and they played with some emotion to the game and it showed,” said Winnipeg Coach Claude Noel after the contest.

- Alexander Semin (1 goal, +2) was put in the press box on Monday night and he responded with arguably his best game of the season. He did not take a penalty and skated hard on every shift. He also scored the first goal after a super backhanded feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 5 shots on goal, 4 hits). John Carlson also should get credit there for a super long break out pass. It actually looked like #28 was having fun in this game and he appeared confident on the ice. He gets a chance to build on this strong performance on Friday, against a New York Rangers team he has historically owned.

“I think he was in the game today. He used his size [and] his skill. You can see how he was a little bit hungry today, ” said Ovechkin on the effort of his Russian teammate.

- In the post lockout NHL I maintain that there is no substitute for speed. Solid skating allows a team to gap up and support the puck, and Washington was very good at this in this game. Up front the Caps have several who are fleet afoot to include Chimera, Marcus Johansson (1 assist), and Cody Eakin but it is on the blue line where they have struggled recently without Mike Green. Since Dmitry Orlov has been called up from Hershey for the last two games, that has started to change. #81 is an outstanding skater and he was even better in his second NHL game. He had the hit of the night, a great hip check on Blake Wheeler, and he also got his first NHL assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal that made it 3-2. After 11 minutes and change against Phoenix, the young Russian blue liner received 14:31 of ice time and he was +1. The future looks really bright for the 2009 2nd round choice, who will make his share of mistakes, but his presence and speed has resulted in far more good than bad in the two games he’s been up in “The Show.”

- Jeff Schultz is a lightning rod for criticism from Caps fans and he has struggled quite a bit recently, however, the last two games he has upped his play and his breakup of a Winnipeg two on one tonight in OT directly led to the winning goal. #55 has had two straight solid outings. He only had 13:28 of ice time, but he was a +1.

- Washington’s penalty kill played a huge role in the victory as they successfully killed off an 80 second five on three penalty in the middle frame. Schultz, Brooks Laich, and Matt Hendricks did some great work, that included a long stretch where #21 didn’t have a stick. But Tomas Vokoun (22 saves) made some big stops during that time, including one on Nik Antropov in tight, to preserve the Caps one goal lead at the time.

“Big turning point in the game. I thought. You know it got the crowd really engaged in the game and it got the bench really up. They did a great job out there. [Assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and [Bob Woods] Woody do the video with them. [Explaining] what to do and [what] the [visiting] team’s tendencies [are], but it’s something you can’t practice because it is all about blocking shots and the last thing you want your team in practice to do is break an ankle or something blocking shots,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the importance of that successful shorthanded situation.

- On the down side, Vokoun looked shaky at times and he was out of position on the third goal. He also caught a break when Evander Kane hit the crossbar shortly after the Jets tied the game at three. On the Jets first goal, Ovechkin made a bad decision to chase the puck in the neutral zone when Roman Hamrlik was already there and that led to a two on one break that Andrew Ladd buried. Winnipeg’s second marker came from a d-zone giveaway and then a fortuitous bounce that gave Kyle Wellwood an open net. In that instance Vokoun was a little overly aggressive going down on the original shot.

“It’s been tough with all kinds of rebounds going right to their [Winnipeg] sticks. They made a nice play on their first goal, two-on-one. The second goal, it goes right to their guy and he puts it in an empty net and before you know it they have two goals and have barely touched the puck. Those are tough games for goalies. We battled hard all game,” commented the Czech net minder on his evening.

- At the end of the night though, this was an even better victory for Washington than Monday’s against the Coyotes. The work ethic was there for the second straight game and the team was able to keep up a feverish pace for the entire contest. They still have some things to clean up, especially in their own zone with coverage, but overall they are definitely getting better and a big part of that is the skating, which leads to hits that wear an opponent down and puck support which creates turnovers and transition.

Notes: Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 4-2 lead but his goal was washed out when the zebras ruled that Hendricks had incidental contact with Ondrej Pavelec (33 saves)…Kane has been a Caps killer over the last 7 contests between these two teams but tonight he was held in check. #9 went -1 in 18:49 of ice time with only two shots on net. Washington did a great job of shutting him down…Joel Ward was scratched for missing a team meeting (see Accountability)…Mike Green is still out injured and has not practiced with the team since going down 12 days ago…the Caps won the faceoff battle 31-26 with Jeff Halpern winning seven of his nine draws…Troy Brouwer had 10 hits…Zach Bogosian hit Eakin in the head in the second period with a hard shot up high. #4 made the hit with his arm tucked in but it looked like a head shot to me…the Capitals were 0 for 3 on the power play…Johansson’s hustle was a big factor in the OT winner as he beat a Winnipeg player to the biscuit, which cleared the way for Wideman (team leading 26:10 of ice time) to have an open lane in the slot.

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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Winnipeg Jets scored three goals in the second period to turn a close hockey game into a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Manitoba on Thursday night. Alexander Semin tallied for the Caps just 3:53 into the game but Evander Kane, who is a Capitals killer, scored twice to start the party for the Jets. The Caps are now 10-6-1 and have lost three straight games.

Here are the lowlights and analysis from the Capitals first game this season against the former Atlanta Thrashers:

- The problems for Washington start on the blue line. The Capitals are 8-0 with Mike Green in the lineup and now 2-6-1 with the Calgary native out injured. #52 is the Caps best d-man and he is excellent at breaking the puck out of Washington’s end. With him missing the Caps have to rely more on Dennis Wideman and John Carlson to move the puck. Karl Alzner is a good first pass guy but not a puck rusher, but he has been the best Capitals d-man lately. Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine, and Jeff Schultz are subpar skaters and their lack of speed is getting exposed by other teams. Tonight Kane had all kinds of room and dominated, like he did against Washington last season when the Thrashers won all three games against the Capitals that were played in Atlanta.

- On the first Jets goal, Carlson had the puck in the left wing corner and instead of making an easy pass behind the net to his partner at the time (Wideman) for a simple break out, he sent the biscuit to Marcus Johansson in the slot. MJ90 had Bryan Little right on him and the Swede fumbled the puck. Then as he was tripped to the ice he mistakenly fired the disc up the boards where several Jets were waiting. Winnipeg then had a clear lane to the cage and Kane scored easily.

- Goal two resulted from Joel Ward over handling the puck in the corner and turning it over. However, Kane wasn’t in a great position to score and had a bad angle but somehow his high shot beat Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) short side. #30 should’ve had that one and he went down way too soon. It was a terrible time to let in a softie.

- The Caps then got into penalty trouble but somehow they managed to get a two on zero shorthanded break with Brooks Laich and Jeff Halpern skating in on Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves). In that situation the puck has to go on net but somehow #21 shot high and the Jets went the other way with the biscuit. Blake Wheeler then went past Hamrlik like he was an orange road cone and when Schultz was too slow to get back to help, #26 slammed it home. Neuvirth wasn’t good on that one either. Erskine then got into a fight with Chris Thorburn but 13 seconds later Hamrlik took another penalty. Winnipeg scored on a goal mouth scramble as Schultz managed to cover noone to pretty much end this one.

- Washington did have a chance shortly thereafter to try and get back in the game when they had over a minute of 5 on 3 time. But their power play, which was a putrid 0 for 5 on the night, overpassed the puck. The Caps talked earlier in the season about simplifying their manpower advantage situations by looking to move the puck to the point and then firing it with traffic in front, but recently they have gotten away from that and the poor results speak for themselves. The Caps penalty kill also regressed allowing two goals in five attempts.

- Semin’s goal was a nice one, but it should not have counted because Washington was offside. #28 played hard early but then he took a bad penalty in the middle frame when he said something to the zebras after he felt an infraction should have been called on Winnipeg. From there on out his work ethic tailed off big time.

- In closing, after a strong effort on Tuesday night for 55 minutes in Nashville, this team has disintegrated. Washington is making poor decisions on the ice and they are playing with no confidence. The third period pretty much turned into a glorified scrimmage and some of the Capitals seemed to lose their drive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau needs to do something to get this team going pronto. The only defensemen who is playing up to his capabilities right now is Alzner and the forwards aren’t doing their jobs either. I expect a major re-shuffling of the lines and blue line pairs for Saturday night’s game in Toronto.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 35-26 with Nicklas Backstrom going 15-8…Carlson led the team in ice time logging 25:06…Erskine only played 10:58…the Caps are now 1-4-1 in their last six games.

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