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Caps Knock Off Jets in Preparation for Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 15 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Mike Green scored on a sweet, top shelf wrister in the shootout on Saturday night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Belleville, Ontario. This was the Caps pre-season opener and it was played in an Ontario Hockey League barn on Olympic sized ice.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on the opening contest in a slate of eight tune ups before the regular season starts on Tuesday, October 1st in Chicago:

- The first period was fast and furious! Washington carried the large majority of the play and the skill of the Caps really came out on the big ice. The Capitals had numerous scoring chances in a scoreless first frame but Winnipeg’s goaltender, Edward Pasquale, was the reason no red lights were turned on.

- Braden Holtby, outside of a second period turnover, was very aggressive and solid playing the puck. His stickhandling ability is a big advantage for the Caps and I expect Coach Adam Oates to make more use of it this season, especially since he has a full training camp to implement things.

- Speaking of Holtby, he made some good saves, but like many other NHL goalies, will have to adjust to the new net sizes. The Jets second tally came on a wraparound goal that is made easier by the changes made to the back of the cage (the shooting area in the front is still the same).

- 19 year old Tom Wilson is on a quest to make the Caps opening night roster and he did a lot of good things in this tilt. He continued to take the body but playing with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti, he was a force on the ice. He showed solid speed and had some chances to score. In addition, he set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Overall, #43 had a very positive first pre-season contest and he will challenge hard for a roster spot.

- Stanislav Galiev, Washington’s 3rd round choice in 2010, was involved in several quality scoring chances for Washington. The Russian winger, who didn’t tally in 17 games with Hershey last season and ended up playing 46 tilts in the ECHL with Reading, also scored a goal going to the net. #49 looks much improved and if he can play and contribute in Hershey this season, that would be a big step for his development.

- Alex Ovechkin took a nasty high stick that got lodged up under his visor in the opening frame, but after some stitches, the Gr8 returned to the game in the first frame and played his normal shift the rest of the night. Ovechkin continues to be a member of the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

- Washington’s power play was a mixed bag on the night. They failed to score on the four minute minor doled out after Ovechkin was mauled and had a four on three in overtime that they didn’t connect on, as well. However, they tied the game midway through the third period on a nifty passing play between Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer. #20 got the tally from his normal spot, in the slot and in the middle of the opposition’s penalty killing box configuration.

- As one would expect, after the high tempo first period, the pace started to slow and the lack of game conditioning brought on a sloppier brand of hockey.

- Pasquale was the reason this contest went to the extra frame and gimmick, but Philipp Grubauer certainly showed he still has NHL ability. #31 didn’t allow a Jet to score in the shootout and he earned the victory in a barn he used to play in regularly.

- While the Caps owned the Jets last season, it will be nice to not have to face Evander Kane on a regular basis. #9 is a Caps killer and he had two tallies on Saturday night. Kane is a stud at wing and if he ever gets some decent line mates, look out!

- Jack Hillen got Washington on the board with a quick shot from the left side and he was paired with Steven Oleksy on defense. The other d-pairs were Green with Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt with Connor Carrick. Schmidt wore #88 and is a free agent signed out of the University of Minnesota that played in Hershey last spring. He had a decent game and showed some serious potential.

On Monday night, the Capitals will take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. Per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Washington will field a lineup that will not include any players from Saturday’s game against Winnipeg. On Tuesday, the Capitals host the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins at the Baltimore Arena in the 2nd Annual Baltimore Hockey Classic. The last one was a great event except for the ice conditions, but that issue has been addressed and there should be some quality hockey played. Game time is 7pm in Charm City.

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Ovechkin Unable to Carry Caps Past 1st Round

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Ovechkin Unable to Carry Caps Past 1st Round

Posted on 14 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s no secret the Washington Capitals go as Alexander Ovechkin goes. The Gr8 carried the Caps on his back over the second half of a short lockout season to help them make the postseason, but the New York Rangers were able to shut him down in the playoffs, holding him to just a goal and an assist in seven games.

As a result, the Caps lost four of the last five games of the series, including a 5-0 whitewashing on home ice in the series finale, and their season is over. Afterwards, Ovechkin told Slava Malamud of Soviet Express that he wasn’t close to 100%, which was no surprise to several of us who cover the team throughout the year. Apparently the injury occurred before the playoffs and it was made known to me that the Gr8 played through injuries much of the season. But that is hockey and injuries are no excuse for losing the series. Neither are the referees, as bad as they were in some of the games.

Where did the Caps fail to win this series? Well it started in game three when they put three pucks past Henrik Lundqvist, but due to penalty trouble and mostly shoddy defensive zone play, they lost 4-3. In game four, they played poorly in their own end again and it cost them despite getting three more goals on King Henrik.

After that, the Swedish goalie was extremely difficult to beat giving up two goals in game five in a Rangers overtime loss and then none over the last 120 minutes of the series. Lundqvist, who was playing so well that the Caps went into overpass mode, and the Capitals defensive miscues did Washington in.

The Caps won the faceoff battle in game seven, like they needed to, 38-26, and they outshot the Rangers pretty handidly (35-27 in shots on net and 79-47 in shot attempts). They even got off to a good start with coach Adam Oates calling it the best the team had in five games. But they failed to get a puck by Lundqvist and when Mike Green got caught in the offensive zone trying to score, the Rangers broke back 4 on 3. Jack Hillen then made a defensive mistake by going down to block fourth liner Aaron Asham’s shot and as a result, Braden Holtby didn’t get a good look at the slapper and it went in the net. That gave the Rangers momentum and when they pumped in two goals early in the second frame as a result of point shots that bounced around, it was all over. Holtby lost his confidence and you could see the wind come out of Washington’s sails.

It was another tough end to a Capitals season and they drop to 2-7 on home ice in game seven’s and 3-9 overall in the final game of best of seven series’.

This one stings but given where the team started, at 2-8-1, it is pretty amazing they made it this far. Ovechkin, Green, and Holtby, for the most part, carried this club to the postseason and a series lead, but they didn’t have enough to get over the hump. The Rangers played better defense and had excellent goaltending and that’s why they won.

Once again Caps fans will ponder the what ifs and in a couple of days we’ll be talking about next season, which will be here before we know it.

But being a Caps fan seems to always end with heartbreak in the spring and this year is no different.

Still, it could be worse on this night, you could be a Leafs fan.

Notes: Ovechkin told Malamud that he did what was needed to play from a medical standpoint…Green took the loss especially hard and had a tough time talking with the media but kudos to him and just about every other player for not dodging the loss and answering the difficult questions…after the series ending handshake the Capitals players, at centre ice, saluted the remaining fans thanking them for their support this season.

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Caps Fail to Win Game Three Again, Lead Series 2-1

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Caps Fail to Win Game Three Again, Lead Series 2-1

Posted on 06 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The game three playoff nightmares continue for the Caps franchise when taking a 2-0 series lead.

A sloppy effort from the Washington Capitals on Monday night cost them a chance to put the New York Rangers season on the brink and they have noone else to blame but themselves.

Braden Holtby sensed in the morning skate that his team wasn’t focused and he was right (see Steve Whyno’s blog on it). The Caps, after taking an early 1-0 lead, stopped skating and as a result, took far too many penalties. The Rangers had six man advantages before the game was half over and they scored once with the power play while another came right after Joel Ward’s careless high stick expired.

The Capitals still managed to have some good moments at five on five to keep this one even at two heading into the final frame but the penalty killing duty took its toll creating some fatigue and the Rangers scored two goals off of their forecheck, something they struggled to do in games one and two. In addition, Washington’s defensive zone coverage gave New York too much space and the Caps had far too many turnovers. Yes, the ice was bad at that dump of a venue, but it’s the same for both clubs.

Alexander Ovechkin drew a late penalty and the Caps had the final 1:54 to score to tie the game, but with the goalie pulled for a 6 on 4 Washington failed to get a shot on net. Mike Ribeiro had the puck much of the time and he didn’t do a good job of making the Rags pay for overplaying Ovechkin and Mike Green in that sequence.

So now the Caps have a tough game four against a New York team that has new life and momentum. Washington did a lot of things wrong on Monday and lost only by a goal. But they must be focused for this next tilt. They took their eye off of the ball in game three early on and it cost them a potential sweep of a team that they were dominating.

We’ve seen these bad momentum swings go against Washington before in the post season and they have never won a game three up 2-0 in a best of seven series. They had a glorious opportunity on Monday to finally do that and they blew it.

Now they need to get back to work and do the things that made them successful in the first two games and that starts with skating and attention to detail.

This series is there for the taking but on Monday they got into some bad habits they had early in the regular season. Those must cease immediately.

It will be a mental test for this club to avoid the bad waves that come with a sloppy game.

Guess we’ll find out what this club is made of on Wednesday?

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle 30-27 and out shot the Rags 31-30, but the scoreboard is what matters…Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson were on the ice for the game winner by Derek Stepan. The trio had chances to clear the zone but couldn’t get the biscuit past the strong Rangers pressure…the Caps goals were scored by Backstrom, Green, and Jay Beagle (Jack Hillen shot went off of 83 into the cage).

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

Posted on 16 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps blew a four goal lead and had to win in overtime last Saturday night the question was would that third period collapse impact their confidence going forward?

On Tuesday night, versus a good Toronto team that was playing on the second half of back to back games, the Capitals answered that question with a resounding NO!

Washington came out with energy and effort and grabbed a 1-0 first period lead on another Jack Hillen goal. Then in the middle frame, their skating and power play took over as Martin Erat notched his 1st goal as a Capital moments after a Leafs penalty expired. Shortly thereafter Troy Brouwer scored on a pretty two on one with John Carlson and then the Gr8, Alexander Ovechkin, notched his NHL leading 28th goal on the power play to make it 4-0. The Leafs would add a 3rd period marker before Marcus Johansson would cash in on the power play, as well, to make it a 5-1 final for the Capitals eighth straight win.

The Caps are now 24-17-2 for 50 points after an awful 2-8-1 start. GM George McPhee is making his “I believe we have a good team” statements from late January ring true. Washington’s lineup is very solid now with Erat returning to health and #10 had a strong game with a goal and an assist. He gives Coach Adam Oates a second scoring line. Johansson continues to progress this season and the first line continues to dominate on the ice, even despite the fact that Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless tonight. The third and fourth lines are doing their jobs as well as the Capitals out shot attempted their opponents, 65-47, in this affair. Sure the Leafs were tired, but the Caps worked them over pretty good after losing the first two times to Toronto earlier in the season when Washington wasn’t healthy and lacked confidence.

Confidence is so important in hockey and this club has it now. The whole squad seems to have bonded and Jason Chimera showed that by going after and fighting Jay McClement a few minutes after the Leaf boarded Nicklas Backstrom (which zebras Paul Devorski and Tim Kowal failed to call). It should also be noted that Ovechkin roughed up McClement immediately after the illegal hit by the Toronto player. This is a team that sticks together better than we’ve seen in recent years.

Goaltending is always a very important aspect to a team’s confidence. The tender who can make the saves when the game is scoreless is so key and Braden Holtby did that again on Tuesday night. #70 didn’t have to make a lot of saves early, but there were some tough and key ones he had to stop. That allowed the Capitals to eventually grab the lead, and that just adds to the confidence level. It is an iterative loop when it comes to confidence, whether it is going good or bad, and right now, Washington has it going in the right direction.

Notes: Technically the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play but Erat’s marker came right as the PP ended (so 3 for 6, in my book). The Leafs were 0 for 3 on the power play so Washington dominated the special teams battle in this one…Erat only logged 12:10 of ice time but his skating looked good on Tuesday so he is returning to full health…Mike Green had assists on the two official Caps PPGs and led the club in ice time with 22:42. That is a low leading total, which is due to the big lead, which allowed Oates to just roll his lines in the final frame…Mike Ribeiro picked up his 30th and 31st assists on the season…Joel Ward and Brooks Laich are still out injured…next up for the Caps are the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday followed by a date with the Habs in Montreal on Saturday night. Washington’s last three games are at home next week (WPG, OTT, and BOS).

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

Posted on 10 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin have been on a roll of late, but apparently, all of those goals the Gr8 has scored and all of the wins the Caps have reeled off to seize the Southeast Division lead don’t matter to some of the hockey pundits in North America because they haven’t come against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

To them and anyone else who wants to listen, I have two things to say:

You can only beat the team that’s next on your schedule, and

On Tuesday night the Caps beat that next team on their schedule, and one of the top teams in the East at that, in the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, at the Bell Centre.

And guess what? Ovechkin scored again notching his league leading 26th tally of the season (although Steven Stamkos also scored his 26th on Tuesday) after a nifty move around Michael Ryder gave him space to snipe one past Carey Price in the slot. It was another of those “Wow” goals from the Gr8 and it came with his club trailing 1-0. It was a big goal by the captain and it lifted his team, who grabbed the lead shortly thereafter on an Eric Fehr tap in. Jack Hillen would add a third period goal with Ovechkin screening Price and then Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) held off a furious late push from the Canadiens for the victory.

The Habs don’t have a roster that you look at and fear, but they are awfully fast and they play well as a team. But the Caps are doing the same thing now and despite having three of the their top nine forwards out of the lineup, they are still finding ways to win. What impressed me tonight about Washington’s play was how good the spacing was between the forwards and the defensemen. This allowed the Caps to jump on Montreal’s errant passes and get the play going the other way.

Ovechkin and company are also doing a lot of the little things right. They are getting pucks and bodies to the net and that’s how you beat a very good goalie in Price. They also are blocking shots, which has to make former coach Dale Hunter proud. Even the Gr8 was throwing his body in front of pucks tonight.

Simply put, this club is coming together and gelling as a team. The top line continues to play extremely well and they are getting super goaltending. Neuvirth followed up a superb performance on Sunday with another gem. Washington looks confident on the ice and usually wins are what comes from that.

A win in Montreal was doubly huge because Winnipeg won at home so the Caps keep a two point lead on the Jets with eight games remaining. Winnipeg only has seven.

Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in a major freefall, at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

But that’s who the NHL says they must play, and Washington will gladly take a win against the Canes if they earn it.

Notes: Martin Erat skated late in the pregame warmup on Tuesday so that was encouraging. #10 was slammed into the boards and injured last Saturday night…Joel Ward is day to day after getting hurt blocking a shot on Sunday against Tampa…LW Brooks Laich did not make the trip to Montreal and was seeing a groin specialist on Tuesday…Montreal had 76 shot attempts to the Caps 46, but that and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee. Neuvirth was able to see almost all of the shots that came his way while Washington excelled at getting traffic in front of Price…Ovechkin had 8 hits…the Caps lost the faceoff battle pretty handily, 41-24.

Programming Note: I’ll be on talking Caps hockey with Nestor Aparacio on Wednesday morning at 7:50. Listen live via WNST.NET

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There are times in a sports season when a team needs a certain player to come up big and help carry their club to victory on a given night.

With the Washington Capitals facing a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that had its back to the wall, Coach Adam Oates really needed goalie Michal Neuvirth, who hadn’t played a game since March 16th, to be that guy on Sunday evening.

Number 30 delivered and the Caps might have been three or more goals down if not for some great saves the Czech net minder made in the opening frame, which saw Washington trail only 1-0 despite being out quality chanced by a two to one ratio. Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, who scored that big overtime goal in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Caps in 2011 on Neuvirth that pretty much ended that series, was not able to beat Neuvy on this night and he had a couple of one on one chances in the first period. Simply put, #30 was the man on Sunday and was the game’s first star, in my book.

From Alexander Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom to John Carlson, they all praised the play of their goalie afterwards, for keeping Washington in the game until they could get their legs under them in the middle frame.

Hockey is a game that is so much based on good health and confidence. Right now, that combination is what has Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson firing on all cylinders. They are as dominant as any line in the NHL at this juncture and Ovechkin notched two goals, including the clinching empty netter, to tie Steven Stamkos for the league goal scoring lead at 25 tallies. Alex is playing outstanding and he seems as happy as I’ve seen him in years. I can’t help but think his life off of the ice, which includes a recent engagement, is a part of the picture, but the coaching of Oates and more importantly, the play of his linemates is making it easier for him.

Backstrom, after a shoulder injury in 2010, a nasty concussion in 2011, and some type of neck injury in December of 2012 did not reach 100% health again until several games into this lockout shortened campaign but Oates told the media after the game that for the last month and a half he is playing outstanding. Nicky doesn’t get the accolades that the Gr8 gets, and let’s be honest, Ovi is a rock star, but he is as important to the Capitals hockey team as Ovechkin is. In past years I’ve talked about how strong Backstrom is on his skates and he has that back again this year. He is winning a large majority of the one on one battles on the boards and as a result he is dominating play.

As for Johansson, Oates acknowledges that the young Swede has the hardest role on that line. He has to feel the pressure to get the puck to the two superstars and yet he’s playing as well as he ever has. His confidence is sky high right now. If he can work on taking his shot more often, that would help keep the opposing defenders and goalie more honest, which would open things up even greater for the entire line.

Washington really played well as a team from the second period on and their strong play in their own end led to numerous odd man rushes in this contest. In fact the winning tally by Joel Ward came on a 3 on 2 rush and #42 beat Bolts goalie Ben Bishop short side because the goaltender was cheating to his left thinking pass. It was a big goal and seemed to deflate the Bolts.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game up, also took some wind out of Tampa’s sails and it was a downright rocket. I am not sure I’ve seen a slap shot that hard in a game in a long time. To quote Crash Davis from Bull Durham, “Well, he really hit the <bleep> out of that one!” #74 is playing some good hockey paired with Jack Hillen (two assists).

Another player so key to the Capitals success, and they’ve now won four in a row and have a two point lead on Winnipeg in the Southeast Division, is Mike Green. #52 is the club’s number one defensemen and although he had 0 points in the game, he was outstanding at both ends of the rink. Mike’s health is good and as a result, he is very confident on the ice and playing as well as he has in his career. Another thing that helps out Green is the play of his partner, Karl Alzner. King Karl is hard to notice but all you have to do is look at Stamkos’ stat line tonight: three shots on net, 0 points, and -1. #27′s job was to shut down the league’s other premier goal scorer and he did it. Green and Alzner are the team’s top defensive pair and both logged over over 23 minutes at even strength to lead all players in that department. Overall Green played 26:37 while Alzner logged 25:34.

Unfortunately, as good as Ward was tonight in scoring the game winner and adding a helper, plus making a great back check to thwart a tying goal in period three, #42 had to leave the game after blocking a shot late in the contest. With Brooks Laich down for the count and slated to see a specialist on Tuesday plus Martin Erat still out day to day after being cheap shotted by Erik Gudbranson on Saturday, the Caps are likely going to be down three wingers when they face Montreal at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. Just when the Caps were finally getting healthy, the injury bug has struck again over the last three tilts, but that’s hockey.

Still, the team is on a roll and if the top line and defensive pair keep playing at the elite level while the goalies and other skaters do their respective jobs, then the Southeast Division is the Caps to seize. There are nine games to go, with six at the Verizon Center. After a very rough start and numerous injuries, their first goal, a division title, is very much there for the taking.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Braden Holtby have all been carrying this team in recent weeks, as they need to be doing. But on Sunday night, Washington needed a big game from their other goalie, and Michal Neuvirth more than delivered as the catalyst in a critical victory over Tampa.

It was a game that wasn’t built up to be ultra important by Washington, but had Tampa been victorious, the whole Southeast Division race dynamic changes. Neuvirth would not let that happen on Sunday and so the Caps continue to control how this playoff race will play out.

Kudos, Michal.

Notes: Tampa is now eight points in back of the Caps. They have 10 games left, including another at the Verizon Center on Saturday…Backstrom was also dominant from the dot tonight going 13-7. The Caps won the face off battle, 35-32…Washington out shot Tampa 38-30 and shot attempts were 60-56 in favor of the Caps.

 

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, & Holtby Lead Caps To Win in Big Apple

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, & Holtby Lead Caps To Win in Big Apple

Posted on 24 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caution: Objects in your rear view mirror are larger than they appear!

That line is from an old Far Side cartoon and pictured in that comic is a car mirror with a huge eye ball in it.

Well Southeast Division teams Winnipeg and Carolina, that  huge eye ball encompassing your rear view mirror is now none other than Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

The Caps, behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who each had a goal, an assist, and a shootout goal, along with the goaltending of Braden Holtby (30 saves), knocked off the Rangers in a contest that went to the gimmick, 3-2, on Sunday night in Madison Square Garden.

It was a gigantic victory for Washington against a team that, on paper, appears to be Stanley Cup Contenders and it improves the Capitals record to 15-16-1.

What is more impressive is that this was three straight victories, on the road, in four nights for the Capitals. The Rangers were the more rested team yet Washington was able to jump out to a quick start, blow a 2-0 lead, and then hold serve until they could win it in the shootout. It was a gutsy Caps victory and getting the extra point is so critical to their playoff hopes right now. New York moves into 8th place but Washington is just two points behind.

The key for the Capitals, though, is the Southeast Division. Now that the club is healthy, they have a good chance to win the division if they can stay away from an injury to one of their top six forwards and their current defensive crew. That is a big if, but this team seems to be really bonding now that one of their leaders, Brooks Laich, has returned. The work ethic has been there in all four games since #21 came back and getting Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, and even Jack Hillen healthy on defense has made a world of difference.

The Caps did a lot of things well on Sunday but two things they must improve on is their five on three power play and they can’t give up so many odd man rushes. Washington had nearly two minutes to take the lead early in period two with two Rags in the box but the Capitals overpassed the puck and when they shot, it was the wrong selection. Personally, I’d prefer Green out there on the point on the 5 on 3. So far this year the team is one for six in five on three situations while their opponents are a strong six for eight. The Rangers scored quickly on their two man advantage in period one to tie the game.

As for the odd man rushes, it was Green who got caught on the boards in the offensive zone that allowed Aaron Asham to score on a two on one and the Rangers had several other quality looks off of odd man breaks. Marian Gaborik had a second period breakaway but Holtby made his best save of the game to steady things for Washington at a critical time. The Rangers score there and this likely ends up a loss.

But despite some of the areas that need to be cleaned up, the big positive is the way this team is finally playing. Their puck movement and support is much better and they appear to be having fun again. Ovechkin is on a tear and now has 16 goals and 15 assists in the 32 games. In an 82 game season he is at a 41 goal pace (he had 38 goals in 78 games last season). So much for all of that over the hill garbage we’ve been hearing from guys like Mike Milbury. The Gr8 is producing at a better rate lately because Coach Adam Oates now has two lines that are a threat to score, making it tougher for opposing defensive men and coaches to focus totally on Ovechkin.

Hockey is a team game, it can’t be won by individuals and that is what is happening with the Caps right now. They finally have a healthy roster and they are playing together. They dug themselves a huge standings hole with the bad start but this 3-1 road trip that began with a tough loss in Pittsburgh appears to be huge cause for optimism.

Their next seven games are very critical with one against Carolina and the other six against teams sitting 10th to 15th in the Eastern Conference (h/t Corey Masisak). Washington has a solid lineup now, some momentum, and they are playing like a team.

They must take advantage of this upcoming stretch and put themselves into playoff position.

But for now, the teams above them should be awfully concerned when checking their rear view mirrors.

Notes: The Caps were outshot 32-24 but the attempted shots favored Washington at 65-55. The Rangers block a lot of shots…New York won the faceoff battle 27-25…John Carlson led the game in ice time with 26:26 and it was a super road trip for #74. He is playing at a high level for the Caps right now…Holtby’s stickhandling was a big factor in Washington’s ability to get out of their zone cleanly on a number of occassions. That skill is an underrated one and is a big help to the team’s defense…the Capitals can get to .500 with a victory at the Verizon Center on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. The Isles smoked the Caps, 5-2, on the Island back on March 9th.

 

 

 

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