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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After an off season of much needed major changes, the Washington Capitals are finally set to open training camp this Friday, September 19th at Kettler IcePlex.

Expectations for the 2014-15 Caps, who will host the 2015 Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park at 1 pm on January 1st, are extremely high after they spent big dollars to upgrade their defense and brought in an experienced NHL coach in Barry Trotz to work with new General Manager Brian MacLellan.

How much of an impact will those changes have on a team that missed the post season in 2013-14?

The impact will be significant and I’ll go so far as to say that a Metropolitan Division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is very much within their reach.

Here are seven items, in order of importance, on why to be optimistic about the Capitals chances this season.

1. Improved Defense. Last year it was painfully clear that the Capitals blue line was their biggest issue from a talent standpoint so MacLellan wisely went out and upgraded what has been the weakest part of this team for several years. Adding Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov gives the Caps three strong defensive pairs. This is easily the most talented blue line the Capitals have had since 1998. When you have a sub par defense, it is much harder to get the puck out of your own zone and also feed it to your offensive players so that they can generate scoring chances. Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington’s puck possession statistics had steadily declined over the last several seasons with management failing to address the blue line deficiencies. Expect to see the Capitals improve greatly in puck possession this season now that they have a legitimate defense. For more about the depth the Caps have compiled on defense and a summary on each player, check out Mike Vogel’s recent Dump ‘n Chase blog here.

2. Experienced Coach. To quote the great Jim Ignatowski from Taxi, “There’s no substitute for experience.” The Capitals badly needed a coaching change and they sorely needed someone who knows the league. Hiring Barry Trotz, who previously coached in Nashville since 1997, was a no brainer. Trotz cut his teeth in the coaching business with the Capitals back in Baltimore in the early 1990′s and was the Predators only bench boss until they decided to go a different direction this past off season. The Predators routinely spent well below the NHL salary cap yet Trotz was often able to get a less talented squad to bond together and overachieve. In 2011, they gave the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks all they could handle before bowing out in six games in round two.  Now Barry comes to Washington, a team that spends to the cap on personnel, and he has a crew of talented players that have struggled to bond and succeed. Getting players to work together is a Trotz specialty and Barry has already put that process in motion by appointing a leadership group to help foster communication between the coaches and the players, something that has not happened very well in DC the last several years. Leadership should not be all on the captain and alternates, it’s a group effort, and Trotz recognizes in order to win everyone has to be on the same page (As an example, this “leadership as a group” concept worked very well for Ken Hitchcock when he coached the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in 1999). Trotz’s ability to get the Caps to be “a team” is his most important task, but his knowledge of systems and the other coaches and personnel around the league will be a huge plus too. The Capitals hit a home run with this choice as coach, he was the best commodity on the market and looks to be a great fit.

3. Braden Holtby. The coaching change and revamped defense will arguably benefit #70 more than any other Caps player. He should face less shots on net because the Capitals will have the puck more thanks to a better defense and a new system. In addition, he will work with proven goalie coach Mitch Korn, who came over from Nashville with Trotz. Korn, who has helped Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne rise to the top of their games, should bring out the best in Holtby’s strengths. Also, the NHL has expanded the trapezoid by two feet on each side which will allow Holtby to play the puck more, something that he is good at and a skill that takes the heat off of the defensemen. Holtby has the ability to be a 3rd d-man, at times, so I expect Trotz to utilize that strength, something that former Coach Adam Oates failed to develop. I’d also expect the league to totally dump the trapezoid in the coming years. After all, they are trying to promote skill and allowing the goalies to play the puck fits in with that motto while also helping to reduce injuries on defensemen (perhaps we’d see fewer concussions?). Simply put, the Martin Brodeur rule needs to go.

4. Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 scored 51 goals last season but much has been made of his -35. Plus minus is a team statistic and let’s face it, with the thin blue line the Capitals had last season it is no surprise they gave up so many even strength goals. Ovechkin had 24 of his tallies on the power play last campaign so it might be tough for him to hit 51 overall given that opponents will likely key on him on the man advantage. But Alex only had 28 assists in 2013-14 for a total of 79 points. With the improved talent around him, I have to think Ovechkin gets at least 90 points in 2013-14. Alex and his line mates should spend less time in their own zone with the improved blue line and as mentioned above, they’ll get the puck in better position to head up the ice, as well. 100 points for the Gr8 in 2014-15 could very well happen.

5. Mike Green. Heading into the final year of his contract, Green is in great shape and happy to be a part of Trotz’s leadership group. #52 is a very talented player who can drive puck possession. Unfortunately, due to a lack of blue line depth the last several years, the Capitals coaching staff has struggled to find the right partner for him. It’s very possible Orpik could be the stay at home and physical player that Green needs to succeed at an elite level once again. This could be a big year for Green because he won’t have all of the pressure on him to carry the back end with the additions of Orpik and Niskanen.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov. “Kuzy” came over last spring and he had a lot of adjusting to do to play in the NHL yet he still managed nine points in 17 games. Judging by those last several games, he is an immense talent who likely will produce on one of the Capitals top two lines in 2014-15. The 22 year old has had the off season to prepare for a grueling 82 game grind but he knows what he is up against now because of last spring’s experience and he’ll be better because of it. Expect him to bigger, stronger, and more productive.

7. Brooks Laich. It’s hard to believe, but it hasn’t even been two years since Laich initially injured his groin during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. With the Caps eliminated from the post season last spring, #21 has had nearly six months to get healthy and initial reports are he is finally pain free and happy on the ice again. Laich is a heart and soul guy who is tough to play against. Brooks will fill a grinder role and be a fixture on the penalty kill. He’s also a guy who can work the front of the net on the second power play unit.

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Capitals yet they only missed the post season by a handful of points. They are playing in a division that is wide open and you can throw the entire Eastern Conference into that equation, as well.

Clearly the play of the defense along with how this team bonds together under the new coaching staff are the two biggest keys to the season.

The talent is there for the Caps, but now they need to show a sense of urgency and execute.

Notes: Orlov and Tom Wilson, who were both injured after the Caps season ended, could see action late in September…the Caps first preseason game is this Sunday, September 21st at 5pm at the Verizon Center against the Buffalo Sabres.

 

 

 

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Holtby, Brouwer, and Caps 3rd Line Crushes Canes

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

In a meaningless hockey game that had little intensity to it, the Washington Capitals smoked the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2, in Raleigh on Thursday night.

The Caps best line all season of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward notched three goals while Troy Brouwer added the two other markers off of sweet feeds from Marcus Johansson.

Braden Holtby was super in net again, stopping 36 of 38 shots. #70 had 0 chance on either of the goals against. Holtbeast has now won three games in a row and had the team gone with a more normal goaltending rotation all season and not tried to change Holtby’s game in the fall, they might have overcome their defensive deficiencies to make the post season.

But that’s water under the bridge, at this point. Holtby should be the Caps goaltender for a long time and he’s showing why with his play.

Basically, these final three games are a showcase of pride and a chance to improve one’s statistics. Brouwer now has 25 goals in 2013-14. The third line, however, has been bringing the effort all season and their numbers prove it. They play well as a unit and they seem to really enjoy the game. Let’s hope they can bring that production next season.

Looking at the raw numbers in this one you might think the Canes dominated as they won the face off battle 36-17 and out shot attempted the Caps, 73-41. Score effects likely explains a portion of that delta in the shots department.

With the victory the Capitals improve to 37-30-13 (87 points). But as you know, that won’t be good enough, even if they win their final two games, to make the post season.

On Friday the Caps will play at home against the Chicago Blackhawks and then close out their season on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center against Tampa.

Notes: The Caps went 0-1 on the power play and allowed a short handed tally….Tom Wilson played 14:43…Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov received the most ice time as a d-pair logging over 22 minutes.

 

 

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was only a few seasons ago that the Washington Capitals were considered Stanley Cup favorites.

They were a young team on the rise that just needed to make some improvements in the talent level on the ice and also in the leadership department. I wrote about those very things just three springs ago.

Unfortunately, the team did very little of what I suggested in that blog from May of 2011.

Three seasons later, they have missed the post season for the first time in seven years.

It’s not surprising to me. Just two games into the season I blogged that the defensive personnel was an area of concern. The weaknesses on defense ended up dooming this Capitals club. Washington used 14 different defensemen in 2013-14, many of which had little to no prior NHL experience. It was a big time gamble by GM George McPhee and it failed miserably. Add the poor personnel to the fact that the coaching staff didn’t properly address the talent weaknesses with system modifications, going so far as to try changing goalie Braden Holtby’s style, and you have the recipe for a bad season.

Simply put, this club needs big time changes off of the ice and on it. McPhee has had 17 years to try and win a Stanley Cup in Washington and he hasn’t done it. It’s time for some new blood in the GM slot. With a new GM comes a new coaching staff and that is needed as well. Sure Adam Oates didn’t have the talent he wanted, but his staff’s inability to adapt made things worse.

In addition, Washington had three players ask for trades this year. Those kind of things are major warning signs of an organization gone wrong.

On the ice, it’s pretty clear this team needs to be built around Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and John Carlson. Braden Holtby, who was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic camp last summer, would be my choice to be the #1 goalie. I still don’t understand why the club tried to change his game this season when he’d been so successful in the past?

Anyways, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are promising young players that you can add to the mix that should play a bigger role next season.

As for the rest, they are fair game.

Washington does have salary cap room heading into next season so they have some flexibility to address some of their major holes.

They need talent and leadership on and off of the ice.

Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick need to find the right person to lead this ship in the GM slot. Bringing someone in with Stanley Cup winning experience seems paramount.

Time is ticking on the careers of Ovechkin and Backstrom so the Caps can’t afford to swing and miss again this summer.

Stay tuned.

 

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Ovechkin Scores 50th Goal in Caps Win Over Blues

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Ovechkin Scores 50th Goal in Caps Win Over Blues

Posted on 09 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin became only the 11th player in NHL history to score 50 goals in five or more seasons on Tuesday night as the Capitals crushed one of the NHL’s elite, the St. Louis Blues, 4-1.

As good as the Gr8′s shot was to score that 50th marker and give Washington a 1-0 lead, his pass to Nicklas Backstrom that pretty much sealed this contest to make it 3-1, was probably better. It was a sweet move and pass to a streaking #19 in the slot at even strength and took any life the Blues had remaining with just 1:10 to go in the middle frame. Ovechkin would also had another assist on Backstrom’s second goal of the night just 16 seconds into the third period in the Capitals victory. For Ovechkin, it was a three point night and he now has 77 points in 75 games this season.

Backstrom’s two goals give him 17 for the season along with 60 assists for 77 points in 79 games. They are two of the top players in the NHL and their success goes hand in hand, for the most part.

Braden Holtby received his second straight start in net and he was dynamite, especially early on when the Blues dominated the play. Holtbeast stopped 28 of 29 shots in this contest. Overall the Caps were out shot attempted 80-32, but part of that disparity is score effects as the Capitals grabbed the lead midway through period two.

The Blues have what some consider to be a Stanley Cup contending squad, but the Caps were able to defeat them soundly twice this season. Holtby played a big role in those victories and Tuesday’s victory was the second straight for Holtby (he was great against the Islanders on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win).

The Caps were without the services of Mike Green and Jack Hillen on defense, so they iced Connor Carrick and Julien Brouillette as a third pair. Tyson Strachan received top four minutes with Dmitry Orlov and handled himself well. John Carlson continued his beast of a season notching two assists and logging 26:35 of ice time.

Up front, Mikhail Grabovski chipped in the game winning goal on a sweet shot from the left circle. All four of the Caps goals were on lasers and they were finally able to defeat Ryan Miller, who previously stopped 75 of 77 Capitals shots in two games this season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Despite the nice victory, the overall news of the night wasn’t great. Both Columbus and Detroit won their contests and the Caps “tragic number” is down to two points. Basically any combination of Columbus points gained or Caps points that adds to two gives the Jackets a playoff berth while the Capitals would head to the links.

At this point it is, what it is. Washington did not get it done enough times this season and find themselves very close to elimination.

But on Tuesday night in St. Louis they can take pride in the Gr8 hitting 50 goals and gaining a solid victory against a Stanley Cup contender.

Notes: St. Louis dominated the Caps from the dot going 42-16…Ovechkin was +1 in 16:37 of ice time…the other 5+ time 50 goal scorers in NHL history are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemiuex, Bobby Hull, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur, Pavel Bure, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, and Steve Yzerman…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday night.

 

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Caps Beaten by Beasts of the East

Posted on 29 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins are one heck of a hockey team.

The “Beasts of the East” are clearly the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this year and possibly the club with the best shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup given the easier route to the finals in the Eastern Conference. They don’t appear to have any weaknesses, and this is a club that lost top 4 defensemen Dennis Seidenberg earlier in the year to season ending injury. But they have lots of depth.

So with the Caps having to face a club that came in to Saturday’s matinee on a 13-0-1 streak one would think they would be ready to compete right out of the gate.

They weren’t.

They didn’t skate well.

Their passing was atrocious and they didn’t pay the price to win the one on one battles in the first 30 minutes.

If not for Braden Holtby’s goaltending, a 3-0 deficit could’ve been at least six or seven. #70 was really good in the crease, but his teammates didn’t help him out.

You can’t do that when your playoff chances are on the line and especially not against a club as strong as Boston.

Washington’s line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward had their usual strong game and they scored late in period two after Mike Green, who was another bright spot, made a great rush up the ice. The Capitals then threw the kitchen sink at Bruins goalie Chad Johnson (31 saves) in the third period, but he was too good and then a terrible charging call on Alex Ovechkin took away any momentum the Caps had built to that stage.

The Bruins would score on that tally, and they scored on one other power play to go 2 for 4 on the game while Washington was 0 for 3.

Boston’s fast start and the special teams were essentially the difference in the game.

Make no mistake about it, the Bruins deserved to win this contest. They played better over the course of the 60 minutes.

But anyone who thinks that the officiating in this contest was decent is smoking some serious stuff. I’ve tried to give the zebras more of a break this season and for the most part, they’ve been better overall. However, the job that Tim Peel and Frederick L’Ecuyer did today in a critical game for Washington was disgraceful.

Of Boston’s four power plays, three were not even penalties. John Erskine’s delay of game hit the glass before exiting the rink (shown clearly on replay), Jason Chimera’s slashing call was a joke and at worst, Johnny Boychuk should’ve gone off with him if that stuff is going to be called. Finally, as mentioned above, the Ovechkin charge was an absolute mirage of a penalty.

In addition, during the Caps power play, right before the Ovechkin “charge” call, a clear trip on the Gr8 was missed that would’ve put Washington on a 5 on 3 advantage.

Simply put, Peel and L’Ecuyer should not get paid for their work today.

Also, why are some of these calls not reviewable by replay? The NFL has it and so does NCAA college basketball. Pucks going over the glass is an easily reviewable event!

But enough on the zebras and league policy, because complaining about those things is pretty much like talking to a brick wall.

This was an important game for Washington and they didn’t come out with the intensity they needed against a super Boston team.

Once again, make no mistake about it, the Bruins deserved the win.

The Caps do go 2-1-2 during a stretch that looked nearly impossible a few weeks ago, so they can take pride in this run against some of the NHL elite.

But now they need to get down to business and find ways to win down the stretch. They have eight games left and likely need 12 or 13 points to get in the post season dance.

Tomorrow night in Nashville against the Predators they desperately need a win.

Coming out with intensity from the opening draw, and getting pucks and bodies to the front of the opponents’ net like Caps Comcast analyst Alan May repeatedly calls for, would be a really good way to start.

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Caps Better Find Some Heart Fast, Or Its Golf Course Time

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Caps Better Find Some Heart Fast, Or Its Golf Course Time

Posted on 05 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had two games this week against the despised Philadelphia Flyers to try to turn their season around and move into a playoff position.

The final result of those two games: Flyers 4 points, Capitals 1 point.

After blowing a 4-2 lead and losing in OT on Sunday the Capitals went onto Broad Street on Wednesday and promptly laid a big colossal egg for 40 minutes. They were outskated, out hit, out coached, and outscored, 4-1, before staging a furious third period comeback that fell short, and they lost, 6-4.

The optimists will brag about the heart the team showed in coming back in the last frame.

I want to hear NONE of it.

This is the Flyers, the most hated team the Capitals have played since their inception in 1974. Playoff positioning was on the line against a team that plays as dirty as its’ smelly city.

And this is the effort you put out for a rabid fan base who has been supporting you with over 200+ straight sellouts?

This entire team, including the coaches, needs to look in the mirror after these two games and collectively figure out where each can improve to make this group of players better than the sum of its parts.

Right now, despite the obvious roster issues on defense, they are still underachieving.

It is unacceptable and it starts with effort.

You cannot play one period in a hockey game and expect to win. In the 6+ periods of this home and home the Capitals played hard in two of them, the first period on Sunday and the last on Wednesday. It wasn’t close to good enough against a mediocre, at best, Flyers club.

It is pitiful. There are too many mental mistakes along with the lack of effort.

It is maddening to watch and disappointing considering some of the high end talent on this club.

The entire crew should feel shame.

The overall effort stinks and there is not enough focus and that borders on being unprofessional.

A few more performances like this one and the only thing these guys will need to focus on for mid-April and beyond is tee times at their local country clubs.

The season is getting late and the Caps are on the outside looking in. It’s going to take some serious commitment from every guy on this team and the coaching staff to find a way to get on a run to make the post season.

The schedule is really tough, but with poor efforts and the lack of focus seen in the last two games, it doesn’t matter who you play, you will likely lose.

They’ve dug themselves a deep hole with this awful two game set that they gave away to the armpit squad of the Metropolitan Division.

I’m disgusted.

I sure hope the players and coaches are too.

Now excuse me while I go find some Swami Baha records to listen to in an attempt to try and cheer myself up.

One with the universe…

Notes: Today the Caps traded Michal Neuvirth and yesterday’s acquisition, Rotislav Klesla, to Buffalo in exchange for goalie Jaroslav Halak… General Manager George McPhee was unable to swing a deal that made sense for defensive help…the best news with all of the trades over the last two days is that the Capitals now have $17+M of salary cap space available for 2014-15.

 

 

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Caps Gift Wrap One for the Despised Flyers

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Caps Gift Wrap One for the Despised Flyers

Posted on 02 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A day after getting a huge victory in Beantown, the Washington Capitals were just over 10 minutes away from a win on home ice against the despised Flyers to leap frog Philadelphia into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who played an outstanding first frame only to see Philly goalie Steve Mason keep his club in the game, had weathered an early third period Flyers storm and seemed to have everything calmed down and in hand. It was going to give them a five game winning streak and momentum heading into Wednesday’s rematch on Broad Street.

It all looked good for the guys in red, who appeared to be taking another step towards turning the corner on a very up and down hockey season.

But then the dark clouds came in and Dmitry Orlov, who played well for the first 2+ periods, lost his head and took a terribly stupid penalty on Brayden Schenn after the Flyer had cleanly checked him behind the net just seconds earlier. #81 charged and left his feet hitting #10 square in between the numbers and into the boards. It was as easy of a major boarding call as you will ever see and there will likely be a suspension tacked on this week. Orlov’s brain fart instantly turned the game, and possibly the Capitals season, on its head.

His selfish play, and he has a history of being just that (see his early season trade demand), put him in the box for five minutes leaving Coach Adam Oates with just five defensemen to try and stop a very good Flyers power play. Washington was able to only give up a single tally on that major, but the damage was done as Braden Holtby was the only reason Philly didn’t have 2 or 3 more on that sequence. The Caps were out of energy and had no burst when the major expired and it was Orlov again failing to do his job as Claude Giroux deflected home the biscuit with 65 seconds remaining after the Flyers pulled Mason for the extra attacker.

You know what happens next, Vinny Lecavalier scored off of Karl Alzner’s shin pad to win it in OT and the disliked team in orange and white left town with a stolen two points and more importantly, a two point lead on the Caps in the playoff race.

If you are a Caps fan, you are likely livid tonight. You are mostly ticked at Orlov but deep down you know this was bound to happen given the Capitals weaknesses on the blue line. Let’s face it, all season I’ve been blogging that the team would not be consistent until the defense was upgraded. It has not been and the trade deadline is 3pm this Wednesday.

Yes, the Caps received a point today, but this game was one they should have had two and the Flyers had none. They wasted an outstanding effort from Mike Green (3 assists) and superb goaltending from Holtby (31 saves). Joel Ward (assist, +3) was also excellent once again. There wasn’t a lot of good to point out after those three.

Washington’s power play was bad going 0 for 6 and gave up a shorthanded tally. The Caps second goal did come just seconds after Luke Schenn’s minor penalty expired, but overall the Flyers kicked the Capitals rears on special teams in this game. The Flyers were 2 for 4 with the man advantage. Adding in the shorty, that’s a +3 on special teams.

Alex Ovechkin was held pointless and the Flyers dominated shot attempt totals, 76-52. They also won 37 of 60 face offs.

Simply put, this Capitals club remains flawed. They have talent in certain places but the holes appear too much to overcome to pass the teams ahead of them in the playoff race. There continue to be mental and physical mistakes made by many of the same players. Oates continues to point that out and, at some point, you have to move the guys who aren’t getting it done.

This is where George McPhee comes in and its up to him to shake things up this week, but it won’t be easy. The trade market is over priced and making things more complicated is the Capitals difficult salary cap situation. Any dollars coming in have to be matched by dollars going out. That doesn’t put the team in a position of strength, at all.

But this is the situation they are in. They have made the playoffs six straight seasons.

If they want to make it seven years running, then they have to find a way to change certain parts of this roster because through 62 games in 2013-14 the guys currently here have not shown the ability to get this club over the hump.

Today’s loss was a microcosm of the teams struggles this season.

It just hurts worse because it was a gift wrapped victory to the despised Flyers.

 

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

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Memo To NHL: Ovechkin & Caps Look Motivated

Posted on 01 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Forget all of that Olympic hangover/depression talk, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are on fire.

The Gr8 scored the first two goals of the game, on the power play, to lead the Caps to an impressive victory over the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins are arguably the best team in the East so to win in Beantown carries a lot of weight and puts an exclamation point on Washington’s four game winning streak.

There were lots of good things in this triumph for Coach Adam Oates’ crew.

They killed off a two minute five on three power play in the first ten minutes thanks to some outstanding shorthanded work by John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, and most importantly, Braden Holtby. If the B’s score early on that two man advantage, then this game could have gone differently. Instead the Capitals buckled down and had what was likely their most important penalty kill of the season.

Holtby is back playing at the peak of his game and he’s won all four starts during this winning streak performing super solid in the cage. #70 stopped 36 shots in this one and he had no chance on the two goals allowed. Braden’s confidence is back and the team appears more confident in front of him, as a result.

The power play struck early, when it mattered. The Caps were two for six with the man advantage, but they scored on their second and third power plays to get a key lead on the road in a tough building. Boston was 23-6-2 in their barn coming into this game.

Perhaps most importantly, players other than the top line, Carlson, and Holtby stepped up, which is needed against the elite teams in the league. Joel Ward had the goal that made it 3-0 and it was his nice cross ice pass to Marcus Johansson that helped set up the second Ovechkin tally. Eric Fehr provided the dagger for the Capitals with a huge breakaway marker on Tuukka Rask midway through the third period. #16, who has been Oates’ first choice in shootouts this season, made it look easy on Rask, who is one of the best goalies in the world. Surprisingly, Rask still has yet to beat the Capitals, the only club in the Eastern Conference that he has not been able to best. He’s 0-3-3 now against Ovechkin and company (h/t to Adam Vingan).

Alzner and Erskine had supreme efforts on the back end. King Karl and Carlson faced a super top Boston line of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, and Milan Lucic and neutralized them. Erskine, who has looked close to done this season due to bad wheels, played his best game of the season, in my book.

Despite the huge win in an intense hockey game, there are still things the team needs to improve if they are going to make the post season. The Caps were out shot at even strength by a 30-16 margin, out attempted 67-44 on the shot board, and they were creamed from the face off dot, 38-25. Boston is one of the best teams in the league for a reason: they are great on face offs and they know how to own the puck. Patrice Bergeron, who is the best two way center in the NHL, scored a power play goal and went 14-7 on draws.

In addition, the Caps need to be smarter in key situations in games. With the Caps up 3-1 in the middle frame, Mike Green forced a cross ice pass in the offensive zone that led to the Bruins second goal. The play was a poor decision, especially since #52 had a Washington forward going to the net. Greenie has to think more clearly there and direct the biscuit at the cage. Finally, with the Caps up 4-2 and Boston having an empty net, Laich (who was fabulous in this contest) decided to try and force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick with about a minute left instead of hitting what looked to be an easy empty net goal. #21 was too unselfish there and should have gone for the goal to lock up the win. Ovechkin wouldn’t have been upset either because it was the Gr8′s strong defensive play that got the puck out of the defensive zone to begin with and he would’ve gotten an assist and a plus. Forget the stats though (and plus/minus is a stat that has some serious flaws), the Caps need wins and Boston still could’ve come back at that point (see game 7 of the playoffs against Toronto last spring).

Overall, this was a big victory for the Capitals and they were determined to beat a quality opponent. This club still has some holes on the back end and it still causes inconsistency.

However, the big guns look very motivated as we head down the stretch, especially Ovechkin (43 goals in 57 games this season), Nicklas Backstrom, Carlson, and Holtby. If the rest of the squad can hold their own, and that’s a big if given their defensive zone issues, then they should be able to climb into a playoff position.

That quest continues tomorrow in a huge contest against the Flyers at the Verizon Center at 12:30 pm. Currently, Philadelphia is a point ahead of the Caps in the Metropolitan Division. A regulation win on Sunday puts Washington back in sole position of third place, and a playoff spot.

Notes: Martin Erat and Mikhail Grabovski both did not play due to injury…Johansson, who notched his 30th assist of the season, returned to the lineup after missing the Florida game due to jet lag (caused by Visa issues)…Carlson logged 24:46 of ice time to lead Washington. He was outstanding in this contest once again.

 

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal Wins It For Caps

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Tonight’s Caps-Panthers game pretty much summed up the Washington Capitals season to date:

The elite players did just enough for the Capitals to overcome some bad penalties and terrible play by their bottom two defensive pairs to beat a bad Florida Panthers squad, 5-4.

It’s plain and simple to me: the gap in talent between the high and low end players on the roster is exactly the reason why this club struggles to find consistency.

Alexander Ovechkin scored the game winning goal (41st of the season) off of a sweet feed from Brooks Laich with 4:17 to go. Earlier in the contest the Gr8 fed Laich for a one timer that made it 2-0. Both Ovechkin and Laich would have a goal and two helpers and their center, Nicklas Backstrom, also had a goal and two assists while being on the ice for all five Washington tallies. This was easily Laich’s best performance of the 2013-14 season.

John Carlson was an absolute BEAST on defense. Go back and watch the last 45 seconds again, if you get the chance. #74 almost single handily killed that Panthers 6 on 4. Carlson has really stepped up his game this year and he is in the ELITE category on defense. During the Olympics, an NHL scout from the Western Conference told me that only two defensemen on Team USA could play for Team Canada, Ryan Suter and Carlson. That is high and correct praise for the 2008 1st round pick. Carlson logged 24:33 and had two assists on Thursday night. Simply put, for the Caps to make the playoffs, Coach Adam Oates will likely have to put Carlson on the ice for 30 minutes a game unless George McPhee can make a trade to upgrade the bottom three defensemen, but more on that later.

Troy Brouwer had an excellent night chipping in two goals by doing what he and the other grinders on this club need to do more of for Washington to be successful: crash the net. #20 notched two power play markers with his strong presence in front. It’s not rocket science on what you need to do to achieve in this league, work hard and get to the front of the cage.

As for Braden Holtby, it’s hard to fault him on the four goals. When Carlson wasn’t on the ice it was like watching the Count Floyd show in Washington’s end: Scary Stuff! With the game tied, 4-4, the Panthers had a power play midway through period three and #70 was at his absolute best on that kill. He made two huge stops in tight to keep the Cats off of the board. His goaltending allowed Ovechkin and Laich to produce the late game heroics. It’s just a shame that Holtby has to keep playing behind a couple of pairs of d-men who look lost in their own end too often.

As for those defensemen, first Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green allowed the Panthers to overcome a 2-0 hole with defensive blunders and after the Caps went up 4-2 late in period two, they gave it back with some shoddy defensive zone play in the final frame. The Cats pulled to within 4-3 when John Erskine and Connor Carrick were abused by the Panthers power play. Just over a minute later, Karl Alzner got beat in the corner and Green couldn’t help him out in front, letting Brad Boyes tie it up at four with his second goal of the night. For much of the third period, the Caps defensive zone was a train wreck when Carlson wasn’t on the ice, and that is being nice.

At the end of the night, the Capitals earned a much needed two points against an inferior opponent. They have to keep winning if they want to make the playoffs. Right now they are on the outside looking in. They’ve won four of their last five but it hasn’t come against the top dogs in the NHL.

On Saturday they face one of those squads in the Boston Bruins. After that it is a home and home with the despised Flyers, who are ahead of the Caps in the standings. They’ll need more than the top line, the power play, Carlson, and Holtby playing well to beat those teams.

But for tonight, the Caps were victorious in Florida.

They can thank their top players for this one.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski returned from injury and was hurt again in the first period and didn’t return. The team labeled it a lower body injury…Washington won the face off battle, 33-28…Carrick and Erskine logged 17 and 18 minutes, respectively. The Caps were able to overcome them tonight but it will be much tougher against Boston. I’d like to see those two play under 15 minutes each, and closer to 12 to 13 minutes…Washington was 2 for 2 on the power play and killed 5 of 6 Cats man advantage situations. Six penalties is way too high, the team needs to clean that up.

 

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Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

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Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 09 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played three games this week and allowed only three goals getting super net minding from Michal Neuvirth on Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to the Islanders and then Braden Holtby in a 4-2 victory on Thursday against Winnipeg and a shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in a 3-0 win.

In all three contests the goaltenders did their job and held the Capitals in the game. Unfortunately, Washington was only able to win two of those three contests.

Goaltending is not the major issue in Washington. Holtby, Neuvirth, and even Philip Grubauer have all played well for the Caps this season. If there is an issue on this team, it’s on inconsistent defensive zone play and up front, where scoring, outside of Alexander Ovechkin, has been tough to find.

But back to the goalies, and specifically, Holtby. The young netminder has been very good in his short career with Washington and #70 nearly carried his club to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. Last year, Braden had a tough game seven against the Rangers, but let’s be honest, the Capitals lost that series because they couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket, not due to the play of Holtby.

Fast forward to this season where Holtby came out of the gate playing well behind a very young and suspect defense. Then starting with a loss to Pittsburgh in late November, things kind of went off of the rails for the Saskatchewan native. There was talk of the coaching staff trying to change the way Holtby played with a focus on him not being so aggressive and his positioning being deeper in his cage. It was a big change for the goalie and he went into a tailspin. Suddenly longer range shots were getting by him and compounding the problem was a defense that gave up too many odd man rushes and often screened their goalie or deflected shots, making not playing the angles as much more of a liability.

But in some recent relief appearances and then the two games this week, #70 was back to his “original” self. After his third shutout of this season on Saturday, I asked Holtby what was going on and if the talk of changing his game was true.

“There’s been talk of it from the start of the year to try and change things. The last two games I’ve just played like what’s got me here. So Olie and I are really getting back to our basics and it’s working out,” said Holtby.

Clearly Holtby, in his response to me, was not comfortable with the different style. The coaches were trying to make adjustments, perhaps because the defense was so green, but they clearly weren’t working for a guy this team believes is their number one goalie long term. Basically, they traded away Semyon Varlamov, who just signed a five year $30M contract with Colorado and will be starting for Team Russia in next week’s Olympics, to give the cage to Holtby.

A coach’s job is to try and make a player perform at peak efficiency, but sometimes they can over think a situation. There aren’t many goalies that have the ability to play deep in their net and be successful like Henrik Lundqvist is able to do on a regular basis. In an interview on Sirius XM radio just this week, Calgary Flames Director of Amateur Scouting, Tod Button, stated what I just wrote about Lundqvist. Button basically said that Lundqvist is the exception to the rule when talking about what the Flames are doing with their young up and coming goalie, Joni Ortio. Button said that a lot of the European goalies play that “deeper in the net” style but in the NHL, the shooters are so good that they’ll eat you up, so you have to teach them to be more aggressive.

Holtby was always an aggressive goalie and the direction the Caps were going with him this year was to be less that way. It wasn’t working. But credit both Holtby and Olie Kolzig for working through this and getting #70 back to doing what is most comfortable for him. Based on the way Holtby played this week and has played in the past before the style changes, and given what Button stated (and it is a common thought around the league), letting Holtby be Holtby makes the most sense.

On Saturday, Holtby was the primary reason the Caps won. The Devils had 11 of the first 16 shots on goal and #70 made some big stops, including a two on one early on. I asked Braden what his toughest save of the night was and if it was that stop on the odd man rush. He said that was a good one but it wasn’t as difficult and you might think.

“Those look harder than they actually are if your d-man plays them right like they did and chooses to take away one, the shot or the pass. He chose the shot so I knew he was passing it, which makes it a lot easier on me,” stated Holtby on the sequence that led to a super left pad save.

Holtby did say that New Jersey did a good job of generating traffic and he did get some breaks. Patrick Elias had a golden chance in front in period two but somehow shot the puck wide.

“They put a lot of traffic in front, though, they are right on top of me all night, so a couple of lucky bounces and fighting through screens,” said Holtby describing the challenge he faced with the Devils on Saturday.

Holtby was certainly the number one star, but the other goalie, Cory Schneider, was good too. It took a shot from Julien Brouillette through traffic to beat a goalie many felt, including me, should be on Team USA next week. The goal was the young defensemen’s first in the NHL and it was all the Caps needed, although Martin Erat (1st goal of the year) and Troy Brouwer added empty net tallies.

This was a win the Capitals had to have heading into the Olympic break. They trail the 3rd place Philadelphia Flyers by three points with 23 games to go. The Capitals won their first Metropolitan Division game in their last eight tries to keep pace. The schedule gets extremely tough in March so the Capitals had to get at least six of the eight points on this recent four game homestand. They did that, primarily due to good goaltending from Holtby and Neuvirth.

The Caps will need both, and especially Holtby, who Coach Adam Oates said would be the starter coming out of the Olympic break, to be on their respective games.

It looks like Holtby is back in top form and you can credit that to the mutual decision to allow him to go back to the style that’s made him most successful in his career.

Notes: Alex Oveckhin had an assist and was +2 in 20:48 of ice time…John Carlson led Washington in ice time with 25:11…the Caps killed off all three New Jersey power plays but went 0 for 4 in their man advantage situations. Oates blamed that lack of PP success on poor reads, although the bad ice surface, due to an early basketball game, was a factor also, in my opinion.

 

 

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