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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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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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Sloppy Play and Penalties Cost Caps in Season Opener

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is only one game, but the Washington Capitals were very sloppy, took too many penalties, and looked anything like a playoff team in their season opener, a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Adam Oates, when he watches this one on film, will not be a happy man as his club made far too many mistakes, especially in their own end. The defensive zone coverage, which had improved under Dale Hunter last season, was atrocious in this one giving a Lightning team with some series weapons, such as Martin St. Louis (3 points) and Steven Stamkos (2 points), too much room and too many quality chances. The Bolts skill took over when the Caps broke down and several ill advised penalties helped to doom Washington as well, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault’s lazy back to back trips that gave Tampa a five on three that they used to take the lead for good in the third period.

Braden Holtby, who shined in Hershey in December, did not have a good game getting beat up high several times. Granted he could probably sue his teammates for non support on mulitple goals. In addition, three of the goals against came on the power play as Washington was shorthanded seven times.

It is very difficult to win in the NHL when you are out power played seven to four and it would be difficult to try and blame the imbalance on the referees. Plain and simple, the Caps were lazy on too many occassions and deserved to be whistled for most of those infractions (the Jason Chimera call was bogus, though).

As I wrote in this blog on Friday night, in order for the Caps to be successful they need production from their big guns of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Green. I thought the Caps top line of 90-19-8 was downright terrible in this affair and if I had a vote I’d break that trio up immediately because there is a lack of net presence on that line.

Despite the ugly loss, there were some positives. First off, I thought Mike Ribeiro was excellent. #9 has a strong stick at both ends of the rink and his playmaking skills are a treat to watch. There is no doubt he makes the guys on his line better and Wojtek Wolski was rewarded with a goal tonight for getting on the ice with the former Dallas Star. If Wolski continues to go to the net he will score a lot of goals because Ribeiro is very good at getting the puck there.

In addition, Joel Ward looked like a completely different player than last season. Clearly the hernia surgery was a huge success because #42 was a force all night and he tallied twice by working hard and going to the net. Ward, Jason Chimera, and Jay Beagle were another solid line for Oates on Saturday night. On defense, the only player I thought who played up to par was Karl Alzner, the rest simply made too many mistakes in coverage in their own end.

Fortunately for Washington, this is only one loss and there are 47 more games to play. They have lots of room for improvement but if this team wants to make the postseason, they must get production from their top line. What we saw from them on Saturday night just doesn’t cut it, in my book.

Notes: The Caps next game and home opener is on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center…defensemen Jack Hillen was hit hard into the boards by Vincent Lecavalier in the second period and did not return. He only played 3:29 overall…defensemen Tom Poti played his first NHL game in over two years. He logged 13:20 and was a -2…the Capitals went 1 for 4 on the power play. They need to get more bodies in front of the opposing goaltender with the man advantage. Bolts goalie Anders Lindback was able to see the shots too well in this one.

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Ovechkin

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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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