Tag Archive | "Hendricks"

Ovechkin Notches 32nd Goal But Caps Lose in OT

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Ovechkin Notches 32nd Goal But Caps Lose in OT

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in overtime, in a game that meant nothing in terms of playoff seeding to the Caps but was ultra important for the Sens post season chances.

With one team being desperate while the other was hoping to win, but more importantly, not sustain any injuries, it was not a surprise that Ottawa was the club that had more net presence for the majority of the contest. With NHL goalies being as good as they are these days, it made sense that the Sens came out on top given their willingness to crash the crease.

Crash is the operative word there. The scrappy Senators, who are offensively challenged with number one forward Jason Spezza out due to a back injury, know that in order to score goals they have to get the puck to their star offensive defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson, and blast the biscuit away with traffic in front. They must try to get the opposing goalie off of his game by getting in his grill and initiating contact when they can. On Thursday night they were very good at doing that.

On the flip side, the Capitals knew this was coming and were prepared to do what they could to stand up for their goaltender, Michal Neuvirth. Unfortunately for Washington, their keeper protection tactics were not allowed on this night by referees Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock. Late in the first period in which the Caps carried the play and the scoring chances but only received one power play, Matt Hendricks was whistled for a very questionable roughing penalty while trying to protect Neuvy after one of his 41 saves on the evening. Hendricks shouldered Sens forward Erik Condra and he lost his balance and fell into the net. Nearly 100 times out of a 100, that is not a penalty, but Pollock and Peel felt otherwise.

Suddenly a precedence was set. Ottawa basically had the green light to poke or contact Neuvirth with the comfort of knowing they weren’t going to the box. Even Daniel Alfredsson, one of the cleanest players in the league, realized he could take some liberties so it seemed that whistle after whistle the Capitals were forced to push Ottawa players away from their net minder. Ottawa even had a goal disallowed for contacting Neuvirth before the puck went in (not sure why the Caps didn’t get a power play out of that considering there was physical contact with #30 by Ottawa?). Add in the fact that some ticky tack calls went against Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green after similar things were let go on the Senators in the first period and the frustration started building on the Washington side. The result was a five to one power play discrepancy and for the second time in three games against each other, Paul Maclean’s team scored the game winner on a late power play tally.

Afterwards both Karl Alzner and Ovechkin, who scored his league leading 32nd goal on a sweet move after a nifty pass from Marcus Johansson, admitted that getting called for penalties when they were trying to protect Neuvirth was frustrating. Even Coach Adam Oates, who fielded several questions about the players losing their cool and retaliating, smartly took the fifth when asked about the curious call on Hendricks that set the tone for the remaining 40 minutes.

But in the NHL you are going to have nights where the game is not called in your favor, although it seems that tends to be the norm these days for Washington, so you have to rise above the frustration and play to the whistle. However, what is pleasing is how this club sticks up for one another, especially their goaltender. The Caps players should take pride in that despite how Peel and Pollock called the contest. Sticking together is how they overcame adversity this season and won the Southeast division title.

In the end, the Caps lost a game tonight, but given that they didn’t have much to play for and mostly avoided going to the net to prevent getting hit with their own shots, it isn’t something to be too concerned about. Ottawa is a potential first round matchup now (they are currently in the 6th spot) and even though the Sens were 3-0 against the Caps, they all were close games. The Senators were a desperate club on Thursday and still had to get some help from the guys in the stripes to win the contest.

But Washington still has momentum and they continue to play as a team. There is one more game to go against Boston on Saturday night before the real season begins next week.

Notes: The Caps still could play any of Ottawa, Toronto, the Islanders, or the Rangers in the first round…the Capitals won the faceoff battle heavily, 41-28, with Hendricks going 6-0…Ottawa had more shot attempts, 68-43, but they had five power plays while Washington only had one.

 

 

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

24-10-1.

That’s what it takes to go from 2-8-1 and last in the NHL to clinching the Southeast Division for the fifth time in the last six years.

Kudos to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for a run that, to me, is more remarkable than the one they made in 2007-08, although both have to be categorized as special.

Special. That is a key word tonight and that is how this 2013 Caps team should be described.

It takes a really special group to do what this hockey club did after a terrible start. They overcame some big time injuries and major doubts from the critics, many of whom chose to blast Ovechkin for all of Washington’s problems. They were buried many times this season. Yet they stuck together and proved that their General Manager George McPhee was absolutely right back in January and early February during the losing times when he said “I think we have a good team.”

Credit the GM for standing up for the club he assembled, credit the head coach for putting the team in winning situations, and most importantly, credit the players for staying together and not quitting on a season that had the makings of a disaster at several points.

It took resolve and hard work. This team continues to get better and better as the season progresses. Their captain once again looks like the two time MVP he was in 2008 and 2009, only this year he is a better player overall. His defensive skills have improved, look no further than the back check he made to cover teammate Mike Green after #52 got caught pinching at the Washington blue line in the first period of Tuesday night’s Southeast Division clinching victory. Ovechkin’s passing, often underrated, is as good as its ever been. He is seeing the ice extremely well and he has embraced the transition to right wing. Opposing defenses are on their heels against the Gr8 once again.

Nicklas Backstrom is arguably playing at his highest career level and what a story Marcus Johansson has been being the guy to round out a top line that has been as good as any other in the NHL over the last month? Add in a second unit of Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro, and Troy Brouwer and for the first time since 2008-09 the Caps are going into the post season with two legitimate scoring lines. Hard to believe that is possible given Brooks Laich’s injury but the Erat trade is exactly what Washington needed to compete in the post season.

Of course this team is not special without forwards like Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera finding ways to contribute. In this playoff clinching win, the bottom six forwards scored three of the four Capitals tallies when Winnipeg had Ondrej Pavelec in the cage.

If you really want to pinpoint where the turnaround came from, it isn’t hard to figure out. The defense was a train wreck early on as Mike Green, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen were injured for long periods of time forcing the team to rely on players who don’t really belong in the NHL anymore. Once Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson were able to put a solid defensive lineup on the ice, combined with the improved health of forwards Backstrom, Johansson, and Laich (for a 10 game stretch) then it became a challenge for opponents to match up with a club that could move the puck out of its zone quickly and up the ice where its skill could take over. Add in super goaltending from Braden Holtby and some great spot starts from Michal Neuvirth combined with the struggles of the rest of the division and what looked to be a season playing for a draft pick is now one where you can’t help but play “what if” as the Capitals prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This team right now is better than the ones that entered the post season the last three years. The 2013 crew is a special group because they never gave up and stuck together to make an improbable run to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They are a team that will be a tough out it in the playoffs and they have enormous potential to go deep in the postseason.

The question is, can they stay healthy and keep it going?

It’s a good question to ask, but for Tuesday night and the rest of the week, Caps fans should just enjoy this “special” team and not worry about the playoffs until Monday.

Notes: Ovechkin notched his league leading 31st goal into the empty net to seal the victory…Green and Karl Alzner were downright dominant in this contest. Green logged 24:27 and had an assist while King Karl played 23:33. The two Western Canadian boys compliment each other well on the ice…Washington won the faceoff battle 39-31 and outshot the Jets 41-27. Shot attempts were 72-48 in favor of Washington despite the Jets getting three power plays to just one for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey on Wednesday morning at 7:45am. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Well that definitely applies to Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his club on Thursday night. The Caps found themselves down 14-0 in shots on goal and 1-0 on the scoreboard midway through the opening period at the Verizon Center before rallying with two tallies in the middle frame then adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds to defeat a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, 3-1.

The victory, their sixth in a row, pushes the Caps to 22-17-2 (46 points) and keeps them two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division race. It was a win against a struggling team that Washington had to have and they delivered.

It was far from pretty though. The Caps were slow out of the gate and even when their passion and energy picked up, they were just a fraction off nearly all night. But that effort level is what carried the day and more importantly, Holtby was awesome in net (43 saves).

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point but he had 15 shot attempts, including one in the second period that seemed to dent the post. The Gr8′s line was very strong but Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had only one shot attempt. Both Nicky and JoJo probably should start looking for their shot a little more because teams are going to be focusing on a red hot Ovechkin. Still, Backstrom had an assist and was once again really strong on the puck. His hard work on the boards at the Caps blueline at the end of the game, along with John Carlson, allowed Troy Brouwer (2 goals) to hit the empty net and put the nail biter away. Johansson was super backchecking and using his speed and he gutted through getting banged up early on in this one. He forced the puck to Ovechkin a little too much for my liking but he was still really solid in this contest.

Several others had excellent outings including the 4th line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Wojtek Wolski. Beagle set up a late charging Mike Green for the eventual game winner after Wolski made a super play on the offensive zone entry. I think Wolski earned himself some more minutes with his effort on Thursday night.

Mike Ribeiro, after a rough start, was also fairly dominant the last two frames as the second line center. He was playing agitated all night and his two way play was excellent. Brouwer, of course, had the two tallies to lead the offense. Aaron Volpatti played hard on that second line but he is offensively challenged.

But when it was all over, the man of the night was Holtby who made numerous quality saves and Carlson bailed him out on a puck lying in the crease early on. Holtbeast was a little erratic to start but he settled down quickly and won the game for Washington. It was nice to see the strong play in goal after teammate Michal Neuvirth had two straight super outings. Coach Adam Oates has to be really pleased with his goaltending tandem right now. Both guys are fierce competitors and the players recognize that.

So the Caps didn’t play close to their best game on Thursday night, but they did what they had to do to get a victory. At this point, that is what matters most. The Southeast Division title is in their control with just seven games to go. You can’t ask for more than that.

Notes: Both clubs notched a power play goal in a contest that got chippier as the evening went on. The Caps won the season series, 4-1, over Carolina and won the last three games after trailing, 2-0, 2-0, and 1-0, respectively…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-31 with Backstrom going 13-8…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, now that was an entertaining hockey game.

The Washington Capitals spotted the Boston Bruins three first period goals then roared back with two in the middle frame, the tying tally with 6:05 to go in regulation, before winning the game, 4-3, with Eric Fehr’s top shelf wrister just 37 seconds into overtime. It was a contest that saw exciting plays and odd man rushes at both sides of the rink. There also was lots of physical play and some huge saves at both ends. No doubt anyone who paid to watch it received their money’s worth.

In addition, it was a win the Caps needed to keep their Southeast Division title hopes alive and they have won seven of their last 10 games to improve their record to 9-11-1 (19 points). It also was their most impressive victory of the season because it came against the team that likely is the best and most complete club in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 14-3-3. They have four good lines, three solid defensive pairs, and a good goalie (Tuukka Rask). Just two springs ago they won the Stanley Cup and are serious contenders once again in 2013.

So to give a quality team like the Bruins a three spot in the opening frame and come back and win says a lot about the Caps and their progress since their 2-8-1 start. This club, weak in talent in some key areas, is starting to play some good and inspired hockey.

In my book, the credit for that goes to Coach Adam Oates.

In Tuesday night’s victory, Washington actually came out and played a decent first period despite the early hole on the scoreboard. They were working hard and generating chances with a ferocious forecheck. But their special teams let them down in the first 20 minutes yielding a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot and a power play marker. Many teams might have packed it in and some coaches might have yelled at their club and likely ended any chances of a comeback.

But Oates didn’t do that. The Caps I talked to after the game, Fehr (1G, 2A), Steve Oleksy (1A), and Braden Holtby (30 saves), all to a man said it was the coach’s message between periods that allowed the Capitals to stay focused on the task at hand.

The Hall of Famer told the team that they did a lot of good things in the first period and to stick to their system. Oates’ troops did exactly that and Washington was able to chip away at the Bruins lead.

Much has been made of the Caps coaching system over the last 18 months. The popular and gregarious Bruce Boudreau did a lot of super things for the Caps but was let go in November of 2011. Bruce is a very good coach, as evidenced by what his Anaheim Ducks are doing so far this season, but his time had run its course in Washington. In came Dale Hunter and while he earned the players respect and nearly produced a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the organization didn’t like his defensive system. So all last spring the talk around the team was that owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee needed to hire a hybrid of the two coaches. One who had an aggressive system like Boudreau but also one who had a calm demeanor and would command respect, like Hunter.

Guess what? Oates is exactly a combination of the good of both Boudreau and Hunter. He REALLY knows hockey from a technical and tactical standpoint. But he also knows people and players too. He is calm and doesn’t get too high or low. When Washington was struggling early on he preached patience and adherence to the system. He cautioned it would take time but he was not afraid to point out individual or team shortcomings. He’s a straight shooter.

So when Oates came in to talk to the media after a thrilling victory, it was no surprise that he conducted his press conference in the same fashion as he did after a loss or during the early season struggles. He was honest, forthcoming, and it is clear he wasn’t too high about things even though his team is on a roll right now. He talked about continuing to work hard and about going over some of the things they were doing wrong that led to too many chances for Boston, which fortunately did not come back to haunt them on this night. He talked about players keeping their emotions in check. He talked about the thought process in deciding to keep Holtby in the game after allowing three early goals. Basically he said all of the things you’d expect from a good coach.

And that is what the Capitals have right now, a good hockey coach, who will only get better.

Management definitely needs to make some player moves to get this team back to the elite level, and making trades during a winning run certainly puts an organization in a stronger position to do that. So McPhee and Leonsis have that going for them, which is nice.

But one thing they don’t have to worry about is looking for a head coach again. The way this club works and reacts to their bench boss certainly justifies one thing for me:

They got the coaching decision absolutely right in choosing Adam Oates.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 36-32, primarily because Mike Ribeiro went 1-9 from the dot. However, the Caps second goal, scored by Tomas Kundratek, came directly off of a Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) win from the dot…Alex Ovechkin had a wild night with an assist, two penalties, 13 attempted shots, three takeaways, three hits, and two blocked shots in 23:19 of ice time. He also crashed into the Bruins goal three times. He was up and down the ice on both offense and defense and it was clear he was on a mission to get a Caps victory…Defensemen Roman Hamrlik was put on waivers on Tuesday…Mike Green (groin) and Troy Brouwer (illness) both missed the game…Oleksy played just over 10 minutes in his NHL debut and had an assist and was +2. He was paired with Tom Poti on defense.

 PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 AM at 7:45 am on Wednesday morning talking Caps hockey with Drew Forrester. Listen Live via WNST.NET

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Caps Lose A Battle But Win The War

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Caps Lose A Battle But Win The War

Posted on 02 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who has ever played hockey at any competitive level knows that it is a game of emotion and high intensity. It is especially true in the NHL where the difference in the talent level of teams are not that great.

Simply put, in the NHL if you don’t have energy and intensity and your opponent does, you are likely going to get creamed. For evidence of that, just take a look at Wednesday night’s Caps 4-1 loss to the Flyers.

On Saturday afternoon, the Capitals once again came out flat in the first period and were being outshot 13-3. The only reason the game was scoreless was because of goalie Braden Holtby, who was doing a good job of stopping the Winnipeg shots and not allowing rebounds. Caps fans watching the game had to wonder if this contest was going to be a total continuation of the Wednesday night drubbing in Philly.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or in this case on the ice. Winnipeg tough guy, Anthony Peluso, got into a bout with Capitals newly acquired forward Aaron Volpatti at the 17:50 mark of the opening frame. Volpatti, who was giving up three inches and 20 pounds, lost the fight fairly handily and the fans at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg were fired up.

Little did they know though, the bout for Washington was just what the Caps needed to awaken them from a nearly four period slumber.

Whether the Caps rallied around their new teammate for standing up for them in a very tough situation or not, it was the shot of adrenaline the club badly needed.

From that point until Mike Ribeiro made it 3-0 with 15:44 left in regulation by banging home the rebound of an Alexander Ovechkin shot, the Caps dominated the Jets on all fronts outshooting them 18-7 and heavily carrying the play. Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer, and Ribeiro all scored during that 26 plus minute stretch and it was all Washington needed to gain a key victory.

Had the Caps lost this game, they would have been eight points in back of the Jets and Carolina in the Southesast Division race. Instead they sit six in back of the Canes but just four behind Winnipeg.

So in my book, Volpatti deserves some serious kudos for coming in and making a big difference in his first game wearing a Capitals sweater. The 27 year old Canadian who competed collegiately at Brown University only played 5:24 the entire contest and didn’t register a point, but his fight was the turning point in this hockey game.

Volpatti lost that battle, but his team ended up winning the war and Washington earned a victory that helps them stay in the Southeast Division race.

Notes: Washington is now 8-11-1 and their next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the Boston Bruins…Mike Green missed the game due to his lingering groin injury…Ovechkin had a very good game getting an assist, pumping four shots on net, shelling out two hits, and drawing a key four minute penalty on Mark Stuart with just over five minutes remaining. I don’t expect Mike Milbury or PJ Stock to let you know that, though…Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-28, and the Caps second goal came off of a Nicklas Backstrom offensive zone winning draw.

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Ovechkin Is Still The Most Exciting Player in the NHL When On

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Ovechkin Is Still The Most Exciting Player in the NHL When On

Posted on 23 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, that was one fun afternoon for the Washington Capitals and their fans.

In vintage 2008 form, Alexander Ovechkin took over Saturday’s matinee with the New Jersey Devils exploding for three goals and an assist in a 5-1 Caps victory. The Gr8 has been playing extremely hard over the last 13 games but until today’s tilt, he wasn’t getting the results on the scoresheet to correspond to that effort. That all changed in this one, perhaps having fiancee Maria Kirilenko in attendance for the first time all season brought him good luck?

Whatever the case, when Ovechkin is on, in my book he is still the most exciting and explosive player in the NHL. He may not be the MVP, like he was in 2008 and 2009, but when he is skating, shooting, and hitting he can still lift you right out of your seat. Or as the NHL Network’s Craig Button once said several years ago after attending a Caps game for free, “Where do I pay for the performance I just watched?!”

Certainly the fans in attendance got their money’s worth and more today, thanks to Ovechkin along with many of his teammates. It was easily the best game this struggling club has played all year and they finally knocked off a team in the top eight spots of the conference (now 1-8-1, h/t @SkyKerstein).

The Caps stayed out of the box yielding only three Devils power plays and a penalty shot. Two of those infractions were of the delay of game variety, something that Coach Adam Oates has to address going forward. But Washington scored shorthanded on Eric Fehr’s tally in the third period and the Caps power play clicked two of the three times it was on the ice. Anytime you go +3 in the special teams department, chances are pretty good you will win via a lopsided margin.

It was pretty much a complete performance and Braden Holtby had another superb game in the cage, including thwarting a Steve Bernier penalty shot in the middle frame. #70 is now 4-2 and has a .9255 save percentage in his last six games. As I said a week ago Friday on the air on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore in my session with Thyrl Nelson, host of the MobTown Sports Beat, I am a big believer in Holtby and his abilities.

Other standout performances on Saturday came from Matt Hendricks, whose pass to Ovechkin on his second goal was a thing of beauty and started the third period onslaught; Karl Alzner, who was superb at both ends of the rink; and Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom for the outstanding passes and center ice play.

Still, this one was all about Ovechkin and his explosive performance. The Gr8 took over this contest like he did so many times from 2008 to 2010 when Washington was dominating the Eastern Conference. The Caps, who don’t have nearly the talent on their roster now as they did during that period, will need a lot more of these type of outputs to turn this 6-10-1 season into a “2008-like” magical run.

But that is a topic for another day. So for the rest of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday just enjoy the victory and rewatch the highlights of the Gr8 show, because games and individual performances like the one Ovechkin displayed today are what makes watching sports a special experience.

Notes: Mike Green missed his 3rd straight game due to a groin injury. Tom Poti took his place in the lineup…Washington won the faceoff battle 36-25, the 6th straight game the Caps have done that. Coach Adam Oates was arguably the best faceoff man ever so his influence appears to be rubbing off on the center ice men…the Caps next play on Tuesday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes before visiting the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.

 

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Improving Caps Win 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did a lot of things right and several things wrong on Thursday night but the bottom line was the Caps got a much needed and deserved victory in Tampa by the score of 4-3.

Eric Fehr potted two tallies and Mathieu Perreault had three assists as Coach Adam Oates third line, that also includes Joel Ward, was the primary reason the Caps were victorious.

Jay Beagle had the eventual game winner to make it 4-1 with 12:31 to go but if you watched the entire game, you knew it was not going to be an easy finish against a very talented Lightning club. The Caps continue to have their struggles in their own zone with poor coverage and turnovers. The last eight plus minutes basically turned into “The Count Floyd Show” as the team survived one scary shift after another en route to a nailbiting win.

Beagle won some big draws late and Braden Holtby, who made several huge stops in this one but also had a breakdown or two himself, held strong at the finish.

It was a game the Caps had to have to stay in the playoff race and they worked hard to win it. The effort has certainly amped up here during this three game winning streak and Washington also did a good job of not taking bad penalties in this one. The Capitals only went to the sin bin twice and thwarted both Tampa power plays.

On offense, Washington has 15 goals in three games. The power play looks great and clicked early on its only try and that goal by Troy Brouwer on a pretty passing play set the tone. With the Caps going 8 for their last 15 with the man advantage the Bolts knew they could not afford to take penalties. They did take some infractions but fortunately for them, zebras Frederic L’Ecuyer and Steve Kozari were pretty much letting things go in this one.

When Oates took over it was believed that Washington’s offense would return and it certainly has in the last week. The Caps had a lot of sustained pressure and poured 39 shots on Mathieu Garon. In this streak they are getting the biscuit deep and using the cycle game to generate chances. They are also crashing the net much more. Tonight they won the game with three of the four goals coming from their bottom two lines.

What is concerning is the Caps defensive zone play. There are times when Washington just doesn’t look like they know what they are doing in their own end. Oates must address this to keep this streak going because Holtby certainly bailed the team out several times in the first 50 minutes of this one.

Fortunately the head coach has two days to work on the defensive zone because one thing their next opponent, the New York Rangers, will do on Sunday is test Washington in their own end with hard work and a strong cycle game.

But that is for tomorrow and Saturday, on Thursday the Caps got a Florida sweep to move to 5-8-1. They still have issues on the defensive side and their top two lines could use some personnel upgrades. A Brooks Laich return soon would be an upgrade over Wojtek Wolski, for sure. It would also be nice if GM George McPhee could make a move while the team is winning to get another top six winger because playing Jason Chimera and/or Matt Hendricks with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin isn’t a long term recipe for success.

One thing is becoming clear though, Oates is a smart hockey guy and he has this team’s attention.

The Hall of Fame bench boss has this hockey club playing hard and improving, despite some big holes in the lineup.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-29. That is a very important stat on the road. Beagle was 8-3 from the dot, Perreault won six of eight draws, while Nicklas Backstrom was 13-10…Karl Alzner had his best game of the season and logged 26:12 to lead the Caps in ice time…John Erskine was excellent again and played a whopping 23:42 on the blue line…Ribeiro and Ovechkin were both -2 on the night but I thought #9 was good. He made some super two way plays and his wingers just aren’t finishing right now. The Gr8 had defensive zone issues but he was better on D on his very last shift at the end of the game. His positioning and posture appear to be his biggest problems in his own end.

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Any Way You Slice It, The Caps Defeating the Flyers Is Always Fun

Posted on 02 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals early season struggles have been well chronicled, but on Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps gave their fans an evening to forget about the string of six losses in seven games by defeating the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2.

For two teams that are usually near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, this was an unusual affair as the loser would likely reside in the basement of the conference at the end of the night. That “cellar dwellar” title goes to the Flyers after Braden Holtby played an excellent game in net making 29 saves and center Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had his best effort of this lockout shortened season.

Believe it or not, we are at the 1/6th point of a 48 tilt campaign. The Caps are still 2-5-1 and have a lot of work ahead of them, but I thought they did some good things in the victory over the Flyers.

To steal a line from the movie “What About Bob?”, Washington managed to do some ”baby stepping” on Friday.

There was progress in the penalty department as the Caps only allowed three power plays despite taking another delay of game penalty. Washington killed off all three of those Philadelphia Flyers power plays. In their two wins they have only had to survive two shorthanded situations (vs Buffalo) and the three on Friday. Stay out of the box and not allow a power play goal and your chances of winning go up dramatically, much like not turning the ball over in football generally leads to victories.

In addition, there seemed to be more cohesion with the lines as Coach Adam Oates put Alexander Ovechkin with Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolksi together with Backstrom centering Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson on the second line. That left a good checking unit in Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Joel Ward. Ovechkin had seven shots on goal, his highest total of the season, and he had more jump than usual. However, he and his linemates will be called on the carpet for the total lack of defensive assistance they provided to Mike Green and Karl Alzner on the first Flyers tally. Defensive zone is still an issue for this team, one that I am sure Oates will continue to address and tweak going forward. You can’t win if you are bad in your own zone and Washington has plenty of room for improvement there.

One of the areas I was most confident in this team coming into the season was goaltending. Holtby was outstanding in this one after Michael Neuvirth had given the Caps a chance to win the previous four games. Both Holtby and Neuvy are the type of goalies you want to have in this short compact season: young and ultra competitive. Also, they both have a short memory, which is very important at the NHL level.

Washington’s power play still continues to sputter (o for 5 vs. Flyers), mostly due to their inability to get the puck in the zone to set up. Oates attributed that to “bad reads” on Friday night. I’d still like to see more bodies and pucks to the net with the man advantage. For me, Brooks Laich can’t get back soon enough to join the second line and bump Johansson down to the fourth unit or even out of the lineup. Plus #21 is a super net presence in man advantage situations and his penalty killing is outstanding. With Laich skating on Friday morning, it appears we are getting closer to getting a key piece back into Washington’s forward lineup.

Another problem with the power play is faceoffs. Right now the Caps are losing those opening man advantage draws and that wastes a good 15 seconds right off of the bat. It also allows the defense to set up. Philadelphia was 40-29 from the dot against Washington on Friday, with Ribeiro going a terrible 5-12. The Caps centers have to be better at draws going forward.

On the backend, John Erskine has played very well and is getting the fourth highest D-man minutes. However, his elbow to the head of Wayne Simmonds will likely draw some Brendan Shanahan reaction in the form of a fine and possibly a suspension. It would be nice if Dmitry Orlov was ready to go but that won’t happen yet, although it appears he practiced late this week in Hershey and is inching closer to a return. Getting Orlov back and playing at the NHL level would help the Caps defense and also strengthen the second power play unit (a left handed point shot is definitely needed).

Summing up this one, the Capitals did some good things and got a victory on Friday night. They needed one of those very badly. What makes it even sweeter is it came against the Flyers, who along with the Penguins, are the most disliked teams the Caps compete against.

Washington has a lot of work to do to get better and climb back into the top eight slots in the East. If they keep working hard, playing smart, and sticking together, they have a chance to win consistently. But they don’t have much room for error.

Still, any way you slice it, a win over the Flyers is always good, no matter what the records are coming into the affair.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday.

Notes: John Carlson made a great poke check to spring Backstrom for the Caps first goal that tied the game at one. #19 beat Ilya Bryzgalov on the back hand on a breakaway as Philly got caught in a line change…Matt Hendricks and Flyers goon Zac Rinaldo were both ejected for the dropping the mits on a faceoff before the puck was officially in play. That is an automatic game misconduct…Wolski and Brouwer had the Caps other goals.

 

 

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Oates Needs to Figure Things Out Fast

Posted on 22 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

0-2 is no time to panic in a normal hockey season and even in a 48 game campaign, there is no need for the Capitals to do that after losing their home opener to the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2.

However, they don’t exactly have a month or so to get things together since every loss and missed opportunity is magnified in this lockout shortened season.

On the ice, this team has not adjusted well to their new coach and they look a step slow on the ice.

Is it because they are out of game shape?

Are they thinking instead of reacting instinctively like you need to do when playing hockey?

Why is the penalty killing so bad (allowed five goals on opponents first nine tries)?

I could go on listing more, but you get the message, right now there are more questions than answers about this Capitals squad.

Coach Adam Oates is still learning his personnel and trying to implement his system so things couldn’t possibly go smoothly right out of the gate given a really short training camp and no real exhibition games, right?

Naturally, the answer to that is yes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t impose a new system and philosophy on a hockey team and get them to hit close to optimal performance immediately. So we have to give Oates and his staff a pass, at this point, and hope he can find the answers quickly.

Already he seems to have realized that playing Marcus Johansson on the top line and first power play unit is a mistake as MJ90 only received one third period shift. As I blogged after Saturday’s loss, Ovechkin and Backstrom need someone who can go to the net for them. Crashing the crease is not a Johansson specialty nor is he going to be an asset down low in the corners getting the puck out to 19 and 8. I much prefer a bigger guy with those two and wouldn’t mind seeing either Troy Brouwer there or even Eric Fehr, who has had past success playing on that line.

In addition to top line personnel changes, here’s to hoping the Alexander Ovechkin on the penalty kill idea is jettisoned as well. I am a big fan of the Gr8 but to waste his time trying to have him do something he is just not cut out for, playing defense when a man down, doesn’t make sense. Having Ovechkin rest while the Caps are shorthanded seems more logical. Defense is not Ovechkin’s strength, so why put him out there in those situations?

There are still 46 games left and there were some encouraging things in the 3rd period of Tuesday night’s loss (Caps outshot the Jets 17-6 and outscored them 1-0) so hopefully the team can build off of a decent period going forward. But how much of that improved Caps play was the result of Winnipeg hitting the wall after three games in four nights?

We can add that one to the question list as well, however, the bottom line is this team is playing very poor hockey right now.

Therefore, Oates needs to figure this mess out fast before the shortened season gets away from Washington too quickly.

Notes: The Caps have three games in four nights starting Thursday at home vs Montreal before facing the Devils in New Jersey on Friday and then the Sabres at home on Sunday…Braden Holtby allowed 4 goals on 34 shots. He was hung out to dry quite a bit, but on the first Jets goal, which went off of John Carlson’s skate, he overplayed the pass. It was a fluky and weak goal that Washington didn’t need after taking an early 1-0 lead…Mike Green played 27:35 to lead all Caps in ice time…Matt Hendricks had a goal and two fights. I thought he and Jay Beagle were the best Caps on the ice on Tuesday…this team could really use a healthy Brooks Laich but there is still no definitive time table for his return to the lineup.

 

 

 

 

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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