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Is this the best Capitals team, on paper, ever?

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Caps Bury Islanders in Preseason Finale

Posted on 04 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals certainly made their preseason finale a good one.

Facing a New York Islanders team that was without John Tavares, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Jaroslav Halak the Caps had their fastest start of the seven game preseason slate scoring three times in the first 7:10. From there, the Caps used their deadly power play to bury the Islanders with three man advantage tallies en route to a 6-2 rout.

Yes, the Islanders were missing some key players, but the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik too. This game wasn’t even close, it was the men versus the boys and a deep team against a club that is in big trouble if any of the four players mentioned above get injured for any length of time.

Simply put, after a 5-0-2 preseason all of the hype and positive press the Caps received because of the offseason moves made by GM Brian MacLellan sure looks to be accurate.

I’ve watched this team since they began in 1974 and I can honestly say that this is the best Capitals team ever, on paper. Sure the 1985-86 and 1991-92 teams come close, but those clubs lacked goaltending and neither had a superstar of the magnitude of Alex Ovechkin, who had two more power play tallies on Sunday evening.

The additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams give this Capitals club a legit top six for the first time since perhaps 2008-09, the last year of Sergei Fedorov. Adding those two pieces shifts the other players into the proper spots in the lineup. I paid close attention to Williams and Oshie on Sunday and believe me; these two guys have significantly upgraded the forward group. Both have excellent offensive skills, but what also impressed me is their hockey IQ and drive to get the puck back once the Caps lose possession. Williams is so good at supporting the puck and being in the right place at the right time. His ability to read a play is uncanny. Oshie is so strong on the wall and having him in the middle of the power play, the spot where Troy Brouwer used to play, opens things up even more for the other players because TJ’s shot is so good teams have to slide down and cut off passes to him. Ovechkin certainly will continue to benefit from that.

In addition, goalie Braden Holtby (22 saves on 24 shots) commented afterwards on how much those two guys have helped the Caps off of the ice.

“Off the ice is pretty evident. In the locker room they fit in really well, easy guys to get along with. Very knowledgeable about the game and know how a team mentality works.”

Tom Wilson had another strong game with two assists as he attempts to solidify himself as the Capitals regular third line right wing. Washington will need his size to wear opponents out, particularly his ability to pound the opposing defense with his crushing checks. Wilson creates space on the ice for his teammates so it is imperative that he keeps developing his skill set and stays disciplined. He also gets under opponents skin and draws penalties. Coach Trotz does not need him playing the role of enforcer because he isn’t helping the team if he’s in the box for five minutes.

On defense, Matt Niskanen was back after missing Friday’s game due to the birth of his child and logged 22:00 of ice time. He and Karl Alzner were their usual steady self on the blueline. John Carlson played quite a bit with Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov was paired a good deal with Taylor Chorney. Orlov had an up and down game, but he just needs reps after missing 17 months of NHL action due to a wrist injury. Chorney is very solid and will see time as the seventh defensemen.

Overall, the team is in good shape health wise outside of Backstrom and Orpik’s injuries and Jay Beagle was nicked up with a lower body injury on Sunday. According to Coach Trotz, #83 could’ve returned but he was held out for precautionary reasons. Because of the depth that MacLellan has built up in just under 18 months, this club will be able to be patient with the Orpik and Backstrom injuries. That’s a luxury they have not had in recent years.

So now the real season begins on Saturday night against the Devils. Sure I’ve proclaimed this team the best Caps one ever to start a season, on paper, but the games are played on the ice. Coaching and execution will be key and staying healthy is likely the biggest thing to worry about.

It all shapes up to be a very good season and perhaps one that has a different end result than the first 40 years of franchise history.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Islanders, 18-11, and outscored New York, 5-1, through 40 minutes. The third period was more of a “let’s just end this and get to the regular season” type of stanza…the Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington won the face off battle, 29-22…final rosters to start the season are due on Tuesday afternoon and Coach Trotz noted afterwards that the club has pretty much made their final decisions.


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The Caps move to 4-0-2 in preseason with a 2-1 shootout victory over Boston.

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Ovechkin Scores as Caps Beat Boston

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout and Braden Holtby stopped both Bruins shooters to give the Caps a 2-1 victory on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Holtby, who came on after Philipp Grubauer played the first period (6 saves on 7 shots), did not allow a single goal in 23 shots over the 45 minutes he played.

The Caps had a very sloppy and listless first period, but as the game went on they got stronger with Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin piling up scoring chances. It took a slick Kuzya pass to the Gr8 late in regulation for the Caps to finally get a biscuit past a Bruins goalie. Tuukka Rask played the first 40 minutes for the Beantown Boys and was absolutely stellar thwarting breakaways and many other grade A chances. He was a perfect 15 for 15 in the cage. Jeremy Smith was excellent as well, but he had little chance on the Ovechkin game tying goal.

The Gr8 continues to have the best shot in the league since Ovi has a fast release and can fire the puck from many different angles. Simply put, he is one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play in the National Hockey League.

There was a lot to like in this game for Washington besides the Ovechkin line and Holtby. Justin Williams was superb and had several quality chances. He had eight shot attempts while Ovechkin had 10 and Kuznetsov had eight. That’s a nice distribution in the top six.

Washington went 0 for 5 on the power play, but they moved the puck well and generated some great chances without their PP QB, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), in the lineup. I’d like to see a little more traffic on the opposing goaltender.

The Caps penalty kill was a perfect 4 for 4. The biggest key to the Capitals improving in this category will be to minimize the number of infractions they take. One way to do that is to have the puck more often and adding the likes of Oshie and Williams should do that.

The defense looked decent without Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (wrist) in the lineup. Dmitry Orlov played well and appears to have locked up the #5D spot. Nate Schmidt had a bad giveaway on the lone Bruins goal (and John Carlson didn’t help him out by breaking up the ice early and leaving Loui Eriksson all alone in front of the net), but after that he was better. Orlov and Schmidt are both guys who can rush the puck up the ice which should help fill the void left by Mike Green’s departure. Orlov can also throw some sneaky good hits.

What I didn’t like were the four fights. Tom Wilson fought Kevan Miller twice, splitting the bouts. Wilson, who logged 1:37 of PK time in this game and didn’t look out of place, needs to be on the ice for Washington and not in the box. The only positive is he did fight a legit NHL D man. As for the Oshie-McQuaid fight, that was one that no one wanted to see. Oshie laid a clean hit on McQuaid behind the net and Torrey Krug took exception to it and started shoving #77. Then McQuaid came in from behind and the next thing you know TJ is in a fight where he’s in over his head. Coach Trotz gave him credit for standing up there, but as Comcast’s Alan May astutely pointed out afterwards in the post game show, either a teammate or a zebra needs to jump in there and save Oshie. Washington can’t have one of its’ star players fighting and potentially getting injured.

The slow starts are also something that plagued this team in last year’s playoffs and they need to correct that early on this season.

Overall, the best news was the Caps are just one game away from the regular season. Noone was injured and after Sunday’s 5 pm tilt with the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center, the regular season begins at home on Saturday, October 10th against the New Jersey Devils.

Notes: Derek Roy had a solid outing and appears to be a good bet to be a Capital in the home opener if he and the Caps can work out agreeable financial terms…Center Chandler Stephenson was decent, but at 21 years old, another season in Hershey makes the most sense for him…Carlson logged 30:05 to lead Caps defensemen while Ovechkin led the forwards with 23:39…the Caps out shot attempted Boston, 53-51, and won the face off battle, 33-31…Regulars who didn’t play on Friday that aren’t injured were Andrei Burakovsky, Jason Chimera,and Niskanen.

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The Caps dominate the Canes and win 2-0 in their preseason opener.

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Expectations High as Caps Win Preseason Opener

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Yes, it is only preseason, but thank goodness hockey is back!

Just over four months ago the Washington Capitals season came to a crushing halt in overtime against the New York Rangers, a series the Caps could have easily won. During the summer, Capitals 2nd year GM, Brian MacLellan, talked the talk and then walked the walk once again, upgrading his top six forwards like he stated he would by inking former Kings forward Justin Williams to a free agent contract and then trading Troy Brouwer, a 2nd round pick, and minor league goalie Phoenix Copley to St. Louis to acquire Team USA Olympic hero, TJ Oshie.

Needless to say expectations are high around here for the 2015-16 Capitals season, as they should be.

The Caps are in the second year of the Barry Trotz era and MacLellan has done his best to give the coach one of, if not the strongest roster in Capitals history.

The only downer of the off season have been the surgeries to first line center, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), and top left handed defensemen, Brooks Orpik (wrist). Orpik should be back by the start of the regular season on October 10th, while Backstrom is slated to return some time in the first 10 regular season games.

But the hockey season is a long, grueling marathon so it is best that these two take their time to get right because the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations are linked to both of them, as well as the overall health of the team.

Simply put, on paper this roster looks extremely strong and the coaching staff is excellent.

So with that background, the Caps opened training camp on Thursday and on Monday night they took on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center in preseason tilt number one of seven. Needless to say the opening period was anything but beautiful, as expected. The team looked sloppy and out of sync. The good news is $30+M man Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage thwarting all 11 shots he faced.

In the middle frame, the Capitals started to click and they fired 13 biscuits on Canes goalie Eddie Lack in the first 10 minutes. But Lack would stop all 22 shots he’d face in the opening two periods. Holtby could’ve spent the first 10 minutes of period two on twitter, since he only faced three shots and he exited just after the game’s midway point. Dan Ellis came on in relief and was a perfect 12 for 12, with a couple of dandy saves.

Overall, the Capitals really dominated the last 40 minutes and they finally broke through with two goals in period three. Tom Wilson, who is slated to play a bigger role this year, snapped a sweet shot by Drew Macintyre for the game winner and then rookie Stan Galiev (2010 3rd round pick) forced the Carolina defense into a turnover and Derek Roy, who MacLellan recently convinced to come to camp on a free agent tryout, scored to add the icing on the cake. Roy, who played the majority of his career as a top 6 six forward on the Buffalo Sabres, is 32, but looked very good. He had several quality scoring chances in 18:12 of ice time. It seems that if the Caps and Roy can agree on contract terms, there is a very good chance he’ll be wearing a Caps sweater on opening night against the New Jersey Devils. Roy can play center or wing and kills penalties, so he looks to be a nice fit and yet another shrewd move by MacLellan.

Alex Ovechkin had six shots on goal playing on a line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. After the opening period of rust was worked out, that line performed well. Roy was with Galiev and 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. All three had strong performances. Brooks Laich centered Wilson and Jason Chimera and they also carried the play when they were on the ice. Riley Barber, Carter Camper, and Sean Collins comprised the fourth line. On defense, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the top pairing and excelled. Dmitry Orlov had a nice first game back from a year plus wrist injury and played well. His defensive partner, Connor Carrick struggled though, taking three penalties. The third pair of Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness were a pleasant surprise. Djoos had an assist and was on the ice for both Capitals goals.

With the NHL moving to three on three overtime this season in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, each team will have three preseason contests in which, regardless of the final score, they try out the new format. The Caps and Canes did just that. Boy, was it fun to watch, despite the fact that Carolina scored on an odd man rush just 57 seconds into overtime to end the night. Kuznetsov had a two on one with Ovechkin and when his rocket of a shot missed the net, the Hurricanes went the other way and tic-tac-toe’d it into the net past Ellis.

In summary, it was a good night for the Caps to be on the ice. They were victorious, 2-0. On Tuesday, they face the Boston Bruins on the road and according to excellent Caps reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), there will be a fresh lineup playing in Beantown. So Williams will likely be making his Caps debut. The game is not televised and neither is Thursday’s tilt with the Montreal Canadiens at the Molson Centre.


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Hear how Caps prospects Madison Bowey, Jakub Vrana, and Riley Barber describe their game.

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Caps Prospects Take the Ice at Development Camp

Posted on 07 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

With center Evgeny Kuznetsov successfully signed on Monday to a two year contract with a $3M annual average salary, the Washington Capitals brass turned their attention to this week’s Caps Development Camp. Over 35 of the organizations prospects were split into two groups and took part in drills on Tuesday afternoon at Kettler IcePlex.

The key word there is drills. The forwards and defensemen were separated on opposite ends of the ice on the two rinks and each spent time doing various hockey and skating drills. The forward drills were heavily focused on play off of the backboards, the corners, and into the slot where close in shots were practiced, including rebounds. These forward drills, run by Hershey coach Troy Mann, were very structured. On the defensive side of the ice, the blue liners worked on going D to D behind the net and shooting in different situations, including one timer’s off of D to D passes. In addition, keeping the puck in at the blue line and then handling the puck in the neutral zone and passing it to a forward after it exited the offensive zone were practiced.

Only one scrimmage is scheduled this week, for Saturday (Fan Fest), after just two were held the previous summer in the first year of the Coach Barry Trotz regime. In previous years the focus was more on scrimmages, with up to four or five of them occurring during camp.

From what I saw, it looks to me that the Trotz plan is a better one for development, especially since scrimmages can be difficult when players are in varying degrees of condition.

“It’s just the middle of the summer so it’s hard, a lot of guys haven’t been skating that much, so it’s tough…I think that playing games is a good thing, but I also like what they are doing here, teaching more and making sure you know what it’s going to take to get to the NHL. It’s definitely more teaching now, but that’s what you want as a young player,” said Riley Barber.

My focus at development camp was to get a look at some players that will likely play key roles in Hershey this fall and have the potential to be future NHLers. Specifically, the line of Chandler Stephenson (2012 3rd round), Jakub Vrana (2014 1st round), and Barber (2012 6th round) as well as defensemen Madison Bowey (2013 3rd round). In addition, I paid close attention to the play of goalie Vitek Vanecek (2014 2nd round).

Vanecek looked solid in net and he tracked the puck well. He isn’t big, he’s only 6’ 1”, so he relies on his positioning, athleticism, and quickness. The 21 year old Stephenson, who had five points in 10 AHL playoff games in his first season with Hershey, isn’t flashy, but he seems to be a well rounded player.

As for Bowey, Vrana, and Barber, I was able to catch up with them after practice and asked each to describe their game.

“I’d say a two way defensemen, first and foremost I like to take care of my own zone, that’s the key in this day and age. I try to help out offensively…I think my best aspect is probably breaking the puck out of the end, either using my speed or making that first pass…what I need to work on is being a little more physical in the defensive end and making sure I close on guys quicker than normally. I know that you really have to do that more here in the pros,” said Bowey, who averaged a point or more per game in both the regular season (60 points in 58 games) and playoffs (19 points in 19 games) this year for the Western Hockey League champions and Memorial Cup runner-up Kelowna Rockets.

“I think it’s offensive stuff, pretty good skater, I think I can make good goal scoring chances…it’s a smaller rink than Europe so you get more chances…you can shoot from everywhere, more goal chances…you can score from everywhere and at least you can have rebounds…it’s little details, like wall play [I can improve on], I can work on everything, of course, you can improve everything,” said Vrana, who has great hands and a sweet shot with a quick release. Vrana had five assists in three regular season tilts with Hershey and then followed that up with two goals and four assists in 10 games in his AHL playoff debut.

“Responsible in all three zones, but more of an offensive guy. I like to score goals, I like to get my feet moving, create chances and utilize my shot as much as I can. I think I have a good shot and can bury pucks. I think just bringing my speed, playmaking, and scoring goals [in Hershey] is what I would like to do…shot, playmaking, and speed…making plays and just getting pucks to the net,” said Barber, who can play either wing, and had 20 goals and 40 points in 38 games at Miami (Ohio) last season.

As for Stephenson, Vrana, and Barber, well they seemed to be put together on purpose and in drills looked like a potential scoring line in Hershey this fall.

“Those two guys are really good players, they’d be awesome to play with, we had some good chemistry out there, moving the puck pretty well, it was pretty exciting,” added Barber.

Clearly these players have a lot of work to put in and experience to gain before they are able to reach the NHL. However, the opportunity for them to succeed and move up on the depth chart is in their hands. Based on what I saw from the five players I’ve mentioned, the Caps and Hershey have some good young prospects in their system.

Notes: Both Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson have not agreed to contracts as of this posting and have filed for arbitration. In over 95% of these cases the players and their respective teams agree to a deal before the actual hearing. I expect that to happen with both, although if I had to pick one that might make it to arbitration, it would be Johansson…by splitting into two groups, the players are getting a lot of individual attention from the coaches. During the hockey drill portion of the practice, there was a ratio of one coach to two players…practices are open to the public at Kettler and as mentioned above, the only scrimmage will be held on Saturday morning, July 11th.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan Completes Caps Top Two Lines by Landing TJ Oshie.

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MacLellan Strikes Again Landing Oshie in Trade with Blues

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As if Caps fans weren’t happy enough after last night’s signing of three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams, Washington GM Brian MacLellan struck again landing top six forward TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for third line forward Troy Brouwer, minor league goalie Phoenix Copley, and a third round pick in 2016.

Oshie will count $4.175M against the Capitals salary cap, which is just over $500K more than they were paying for Brouwer.

Wow! What a great move by the aggressive GM who in 13 months, along with head coach Barry Trotz, have changed the dynamic, culture, and roster of a team that was headed downhill under ex-GM George McPhee and former head coach Adam Oates.

MacLellan has now brought in two top four defensemen in Brooks Oprik and Matt Niskanen and two top six forwards in Oshie and Williams. That’s impressive given the salary cap limits MacLellan inherited from his predecessor.

It’s clear that both Williams and Oshie are excited to be members of the Capitals organization based on their conference calls with the media on Thursday. Williams indicated that his seven year old son told him a month ago “to go to Washington so he can play with Ovechkin, he’s the best.” Justin said that his son was all smiles when he woke up and heard the news. Both were thrilled to be playing with such skilled centers as Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What’s even more exciting is that for the first time since 2009 the Caps have a legit top two forward lines. Based on the media conference call held with MacLellan on Thursday, it appears those lines will be configured as follows:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – TJ Oshie

Andrei Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

That is an impressive top six. Is it October yet??!!

The Caps GM will now hopefully get deals done with Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. MacLellan indicated that he’s flexible on term with Holtby, who is clearly priority one. After #70, the Capitals need to lock Kuznetsov down. As for Johansson, well his leverage just got significantly weaker. While his regular season stats have benefitted from him playing in the top six, his playoff performances and pass-first mentality is something that isn’t worth breaking the bank for. MJ90 will now play on the third line with the Caps, but he still should see power play time, if he is resigned and kept (a trade is a clear possibility).

Brouwer’s move is also significant because it opens up the third line right wing slot for Tom Wilson, who the organization expects to improve considerably, especially since he has a complete off season and training camp to get ready (Wilson was injured last summer). Third line center is still an open hole and it appears unlikely that Eric Fehr will be back to fill it. Joel Ward’s tenure in DC is clearly over too.

There are still cheap options out in the free agent market for a third line center, such as Shawn Matthias, but that will have to wait until at least Holtby and Kuznetsov are inked.

Coach Trotz told the media today that the fifth, six, and seventh defensemen spots are wide open. Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney will be the favorites to snag those slots, but depending on how negotiations go over the next few weeks, there could be money left for MacLellan to add another defensemen, likely a legit 3rd pair right handed d-man.

Overall, the last 24 hours in Caps land have been electric. MacLellan has proven to be very aggressive and has backed up his words every time he’s talked about the areas he’d like to see the Capitals improve in terms of personnel. He’s been transparent and refreshing. The second year GM clearly gets that the Caps have to win now given how close this club came in 2015 and he’s done it without mortgaging the future.

Dare I say it again, is it October yet??!!

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Caps Make Surprising Free Agent Splash Inking 3 Time Stanley Cup Winner

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan stated that he thought that his team would be relatively quiet during free agency, and for good reason. The Caps still need to sign restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson and they were roughly $19M or so under the cap heading into this week.

While there were numerous deals that occurred during the early portion of NHL free agency, including the Penguins trading for Phil Kessel and Mike Green signing a three year, $18M deal with the Detroit Red Wings, MacLellan stayed true to his words throughout the majority of the day and didn’t make anything more than minor moves, re-signing restricted free agent forward Stan Galiev and depth defensemen Taylor Chorney for $700K.

In addition, on Tuesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets boldy traded for center Brandon Saad from Chicago, so some Metropolitan division teams appeared to be improving their forward cores.

With Joel Ward and Eric Fehr on the open market and unsigned, there was the thought that the Caps GM might be trying to bring both back to at least keep pace with some of the other teams in the division up front. It seemed that MacLellan’s patience was paying off in that regard with Ward and Fehr still available late on Wednesday night. Then lightning struck the Capitals, but in a good way.

Washington was able to ink 33 year old forward and three time Stanley Cup winner, Justin Williams, to a two year deal at $3.25M per season. The dollar amount and term are likely lower than what Ward will receive on the open market and the former King, Hurricane, and Flyer is a slightly younger player (Ward is 10 months older) with a wealth of championship experience.

Williams, who missed the post season this year with a tired Los Angeles team, is a smart player who has incredible possession numbers over the past five seasons. I watch a lot of Kings games and he is as intelligent and solid a player as they come. He can play anywhere from first line right wing to third line right wing giving the coaching staff a lot of flexibility with their lineup decisions.

While he isn’t speedy, he is very clutch, and his nickname, “Mr. Game 7,” is well earned, he’s 7-0 in those tilts (h/t @VogsCaps).

This move, combined with the promotion of Philip Grubauer to back up goalie, along with the projected improvement from Kuznetsov and Andrei Burakovsky (rookies last season), and the expected better season from Tom Wilson has the Caps positioned to be a strong contender in the Eastern Conference once again.

Sure the loss of Green will hurt some, but Washington is expecting Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to help fill the void on the blue line. You can also expect Matt Niskanen to step up on the offensive side of the puck now that he’ll get more power play opportunities that went to old number 52.

MacLellan still has work to do to get the three big RFA’s (70, 92, and 90) signed, and he has roughly $14.4M to achieve that (h/t to @AlexPrewitt and @GeneralFanager). It would be ideal if he can ink those three and also find a way to bring back Fehr, too, since he can play third line center as well as wing.

But a day that looked to be a sad one in Caps history with the departure of Green, who was always a class guy in the community, with the fans, and the media during his 10 year tenure, turned out to be much more positive with the surprise signing of Williams.

The game is always played and decided on the ice, but the Capitals organization and their fans should feel even better about their club with the addition of a proven winner, in Mr. Game 7. Williams should help a Caps franchise that has struggled to win those contests (4-10 in game 7s) throughout their 40 year history.

Notes: Caps development camp will be held at Kettler IcePlex next week (July 7-11). All four draft picks, including first round choice Ilya Samsonov from Russia (22nd overall), are expected to attend…MacLellan signed center and face-off/penalty killing specialist, Jay Beagle, to a three year deal at a cap hit of $1.75M per season on Monday.

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Why did the Caps lose to the Rangers? Who will be back for 2015-16?

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Here’s Why the Caps Lost and How They Can Be Better in 2015-16

Posted on 17 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Last Wednesday, in a thrilling and razor close series, the Caps found a way to end their season in heartbreaking fashion once again. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round for the first time in team history, including two games at Madison Square Garden in overtime. They were a 101 seconds from the Eastern Conference Finals in game five and fell short.

There have been 40 years of Washington Capitals hockey and 0 Stanley Cups.

As they say, it is what it is.

You can call the series loss whatever you want, a choke, a collapse, a lack of clutch play, or an absence of a killer instinct, it doesn’t matter, at this point. The bottom line is the Capitals lost while the Rangers, who I’ve been asserting since January are the best team in hockey, move on to take on Tampa and likely the Western Conference champion following that.

Make no mistake about it, the Rangers were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, and they are working on proving it in the post season. They were resilient and stuck to their process, for the most part, and that allowed them to move on. I expect them to win the Stanley Cup in June.

The Caps were oh so close, though. How tight was this series? Here are some numbers to back that up:

13-12, Rangers, in goals (all games decided by a single goal).

236-223, Rangers, in shots on goal (1.86 per game).

458-438, Rangers, in shots attempted (2.86 per game).

232-220, Capitals, in hits (1.71 per game).

One stat that wasn’t close was face-offs, the Caps dominated those, 250-199 (55.7%), thanks primarily to Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle. Ironically, though, it was some key draws that ultimately did Washington in. Most notably the series winning sequence where Eric Fehr was beaten badly by Derek Stepan, which caused both Fehr and Andre Burakovsky to become confused defensively, allowing Stepan to sneak to the far post for a wide open rebound goal. Another key draw that the Capitals lost was the one with 3.6 seconds left in the opening frame in game six. Chris Kreider scored on a rebound with 0.3 seconds remaining to give New York a 2-0 lead that the Capitals ultimately could not overcome despite a furious and dominating rally.

Simply put, the Rangers, who had a major focus lapse at the end of game one, didn’t have as many “lack of focus” sequences as the Capitals did in the series, and that’s ultimately why they won. Washington struggled out of the gate in many first periods as well as in the third period in game six. Also, after a dominating first period in game seven, their best opening frame by a mile in the series, they took some terrible penalties to lose all of the momentum they had built up. Mike Green’s cross checking penalty on Dan Girardi was a classic lack of focus moment. It was a terrible decision at the wrong time, especially after two straight Capitals penalty kills, and it was a big factor in Washington not winning game seven.

Adding to the lack of focus issue was a putrid Washington power play. For the series the Caps were 1 for 15, while New York went 3 for 18. That’s a big factor in a super tight series. The Caps, who had the best power play in the NHL in the regular season, struggled with zone entries and when they were able to get set up, were far too predictable in their attempts to force Alexander Ovechkin the puck. The playoffs are all about adjustments. The Washington coaching staff did a nice job of making adjustments in the series at even strength, but they failed to change course on the power play. That was a mistake. They have used a set up where they put two guys in front of the opposing goalie and fire away from the point, but they failed to employ that strategy in the Rangers series.

In the opening round series win over the Islanders, the Capitals had success at getting pucks deep and hitting the New York defense with a relentless fore-check. Washington had a much harder time of that with the Rangers. The New York forwards are lightning fast, but their defense was an area that the Caps needed to exploit better with pressure and physicality. In game three, particularly in period two, the Rangers defensemen were petrified of Tom Wilson. “Willy” had his best game of the series and had the Rangers defense backing up from him. I’m surprised that the Capitals coaches didn’t try to use that tactic and advantage more often in the series. In addition, when New York did get the puck, the Capitals first forward too often flushed or chased the Rangers D-man behind the net causing an easy exit for New York on too many occasions. I didn’t think that was a wise strategy and I’m not sure if it was the coaches instructing the players to do that or the players choosing to do it on their own? Either way, it is best, especially with no red line, to shade the defensemen one way or the other and try to trap him before he exits the defensive zone. Washington did that well in their 5-2 regular season beat down of New York at Madison Square Garden, but they couldn’t repeat that fore-checking success in the playoffs against the Blueshirts.

Overall, the better team won the series. But in sports the better team doesn’t always win and the Capitals let an opportunity to close out the series and possibly win the Stanley Cup slip by.

It was a bitter defeat and it was as close as Washington has come to making the conference finals since 1998. Make no mistake about it, it stinks to lose, but the Capitals are once again a Stanley Cup contender after not being one since prior to the Montreal loss in 2010 (and you could argue that team had too many holes as well, especially at second line center and on defense).

So going forward there should be lots of optimism, but a busy summer of business and roster tweaking looms ahead for General Manager Brian MacLellan and Head Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals were a big and physical team, but they struggled against teams with speed. Adding team speed will need to be addressed with the off season moves.

Trotz and MacLellan have done a magnificent job of changing the culture to be much more team focused and the personnel moves to upgrade the blueline, something I called for along with a “team first” concept last May before either was hired, were spot on. Last summer’s decisions were validated with the strong regular season and playoff performance.

With John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen under contract this team has the foundation for a strong blueline for next season and beyond. Orpik had a fantastic season and brought a physical presence to the back end this club has not had since Brendan Witt left. #44 will be 35 years old in September, but the way he conditions and maintains himself, he’s a very young 35 and should be fine next year. Alzner, under the tutelage of Todd Reirden in Trotz’ system, had his best season as a pro.

In net, Braden Holtby stepped up and was dominant, again, as predicted here. Holtby is a restricted free agent and will be a priority to sign to a long term deal. He played 73 games, including 72 starts, winning 41 of them with nine shutouts. Ideally you’d prefer Holtby to play between 60 and 65 games, so Washington needs to figure out its’ backup goaltender situation in the offseason. Justin Peters is signed for another campaign, but he struggled in his nine starts and 12 appearances going 3-6-1 with just a .888 save percentage. Basically, he played like an AHLer. The other option would be to bring up Philipp Grubauer, who started game two against the Islanders and won, although he wasn’t real sharp in that tilt. Better play from the backup, who will likely see the cage on the latter half of back to back game situations, is necessary in order to not give away valuable standings points during the regular season.

The main priority, other than signing Holtby, for MacLellan and Trotz is to find a top line right wing. That position is the team’s biggest hole and a big factor in why the team isn’t moving on. There is no player on the current roster that can fill that gap, so that has to be the outside focus this summer via free agency or trade.

Second line center, well we won’t be talking about that issue any more. Evgeny Kuznetsov showed in the playoffs that he has that spot covered. What a super finish to his first full NHL season for the young 22 year old Russian! He is so good and strong with the puck and he has the ability to take over games as he did in game five against the Islanders and game six against the Rangers.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and now the emergence of Burakovsky, the Capitals have four legitimate top six forwards. Ovechkin had a monster season with 53 goals and 81 points. He swung his plus/minus from -35 to +10. A much improved blue line, a structured system, and hard work by the Gr8 led to a sensational turnaround. Big credit should be given to the Capitals coaching staff for properly developing young offensive minded forwards Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. Without their astute handling this team doesn’t get as far as it did. Trotz clearly knew what he was doing in bringing along these two kids in the manner in which it unfolded. Both are strong on the puck and improved immensely in their own zone from where they were in the season opener back in October. Right wing is the big issue now, as mentioned above.

As for Wilson, well the Capitals have to better utilize his talents. His hands and puck skills, as well as his skating, must improve. He has the potential to be at least a third line force or possibly a second liner, at some point. Opposing defensemen fear a guy like him and he can open up lots of space for his line mates. The coaches have to find a way to make him a bigger factor in 2015-16.

Making things tough on MacLellan this offseason will be the salary cap and the contracts he likely won’t be able to move in Troy Brouwer (0 playoff goals) and Brooks Laich (1 playoff goal). That is $8.1M tied up in two players who are bottom six forwards. Joel Ward, at $3M, had far better production than those two in the post season, but the 34 year old is headed to unrestricted free agency and will likely end up elsewhere for more money.

As for Marcus Johansson, he’s a restricted free agent who had a strong regular season, but disappeared too much in the Rangers series. Marcus is bumped off of the puck too easily in the playoffs and is not a threat to throttle opposing defensemen. I’m not sure where he fits in the team’s plans, but if the Caps keep him they can’t overpay him for his regular season statistics when he’s not producing in the playoffs.

When it comes to Jason Chimera, Coach Trotz stated in his final presser that he and #25 butted heads, at times, during the regular season. Chimera had a poor regular season, but in the playoffs he was a different guy. He gave the Rangers fits with his speed and tenacity. He’s under contract next year for $1.9M so he’ll likely be around. It would be nice if “Chimmer” brought the way he played in the post season on a consistent basis to next year’s regular season.

Beagle, Fehr, and Curtis Glencross are all unrestricted free agents so they’ll only return if the price and fit is right. Beagle is great on draws and on the penalty kill so he has a greater chance of being back. Fehr scored 19 goals and goes to the net well. His injury history will likely keep his price down and increase his chances of a return to Washington. He’s definitely a well liked player in the locker room. Glencross added speed, but he had the propensity to make the big mistake. His giveaway in overtime of game five was totally the wrong play. He needed to stride to the red line and dump the puck. If Laich had the advantage he thought he had, then gaining the red line and rimming it would have worked too, instead he opted for the high risk pass and Laich mistakenly changed when he should have headed back on defense. It was a costly lack of focus by both players there.

Speaking of next year’s regular season, making the playoffs is not going to be any easier. It wasn’t until the last week of the regular season that the Capitals clinched a spot in the dance since it took until game 80 to do that. You have to think the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils will find ways to be better next year, so Washington will have to work hard just to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.

The Caps were relatively healthy in 2014-15. You can attribute a part of that to luck, but the way the roster was handled and the ice time spread out properly, especially on the blue line, allowed the players to be fresher and not more susceptible to injuries. The coaching staff along with the training staff, led by Greg “Smitty” Smith, did an outstanding job of knowing when to push and back off of this team in terms of practice time, as well.

In terms of the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs in 2014-15, Green played a huge factor in the Caps just getting there. His ability to rush the puck and drive offensive pressure is something this team needed from the back end due to the lack of up front scoring. Unfortunately, #52 was not that same player in the Rangers series. In 14 post season tilts he had two assists and no goals. Against the Blueshirts he struggled to gets shots on goal and his two penalties in game seven were terrible. Green improved a ton defensively this season under Trotz, but under pressure in the biggest game of the season, he failed in key situations. I’ve always been a Green supporter, however, he’s an unrestricted free agent and I can’t see the Capitals spending big money on him when they have other more pressing needs in the top six at right wing. Someone will offer Green a big contract and he’ll have no choice but to take it. Washington will look to Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to fill the holes that will likely be vacated by Green and Tim Gleason. However, that is a big risk given Orlov and Schmidt’s injury history, not to mention that both players do not have the offensive talent of #52. MacLellan may need to add a defensemen in the summer, as well.

Overall, the fans have to be positive about the state of affairs despite a tough, stinging, and emotional loss that had many proclaiming “Same Old Caps” when it was said and done.

Hey, I get it. I’ve been watching this team since 1974 and I’ve seen the highs and mostly lows when it comes to the post season.

However, I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in five years. The team finally has a coach and GM duo that understands the importance of a blue line and a structure that leads to proper play. The core players are on board with the team concept and style of play. Backstrom stated that they are playing the right way for only the second time since he’s been with the Caps, with the other being the partial season that Dale Hunter coached the team. The way the Capitals played in 2014-15 during the regular season and the playoffs backs that premise up.

Now they need to take the next steps necessary to be good enough to get to the final and win. That starts with finding a top line right wing. In my book, that player is not in the organization right now, so it’s up to them to find one.

Washington made great strides in 2014-15 and because of the better talent level and improved system, they had the puck more than their opponents once again after a downward trend in that category.

But the future is now; there can be no sitting back and patting each other on the back after a second round exit. There is no pity in sports, especially hockey. Yes, the team had a good season, but there is lots of room for improvement from the game starts to protecting leads to putting clubs away when they’re on the ropes. It’s going to take commitment, effort, and focus from the coaches and the players.

In summary, Washington Capitals hockey is back after what was a train wreck situation just a year ago. Now it’s up to the leadership of the club, on and off the ice, to remain relentless until that donut hole next to Stanley Cup titles is finally gone.


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Some major gaffes prevent the Capitals from wrapping up the series, now they must win Game 7.

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Big Mistakes, Poor Power Play Costs Caps in Game 6

Posted on 11 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There were too many “big” mistakes, plain and simple.

Add to that a power play that goes 0 for 4, including a poorly executed one with 2:54 left, and it all adds up to a 3-1 series lead lost, and a game seven on Wednesday night between the Capitals and the Rangers.

What an opportunity lost on Sunday night. Home ice was there for the Caps to hold serve and they squandered it with a terrible start and end to period one.

Then, after a dominant second period where the Capitals would outshoot the Rangers, 18-4, they gave up an early third period goal to make it 3-1. Just over three minutes later it was 4-1 when Curtis Glencross lost Dan Boyle in the defensive zone and #22 shot one by a screened Braden Holtby (24 saves).

In the past, most Capitals teams would’ve gone in the tank and packed it in for game seven.

Not this Caps team coached by Barry Trotz, though. Washington put on a furious rally and closed to within a goal with 9:27 remaining only to see New York find a way to hang on.

The Caps dominated most of the final forty minutes after a first period that saw New York carry the shot attempt totals by 32-26. The Rangers, like they’ve done all series in the opening 20 minutes, had the better of the quality chances.

Chris Kreider scored both goals after Capitals mistakes. On the first goal Washington had a couple of early good chances but the puck came out of the offensive zone and Kreider got position on Matt Niskanen. The big forward scored on a backhand on his team’s first shot. Niskanen needed to haul the Ranger down there, plain and simple.

Then to end the period, the unthinkable happened. After a questionable roughing call on Troy Brower, the Caps lost the defensive zone face off with 3.6 seconds remaining and Kreider scored with 0.3 of a second on the clock after the puck bounced off of John Carlson’s skate right to #20. That’s unacceptable to allow a goal there.

But the Capitals battled back and outplayed the Rangers in period two, but only scored on Jason Chimera’s rebound tally just 28 seconds into the middle frame.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 points) and Joel Ward (3 points) would score during the third period rally that fell short. For the 4th consecutive game in this series, both Alex Ovechkin (12 shot attempts) and Nicklas Backstrom (4 shot attempts) were held pointless.

Rick Nash scored his 1st goal of the series 54 seconds into period three. The Capitals made several defensive zone mistakes on that goal, with Niskanen’s giveaway the biggest. However, afterwards Trotz felt that the linesmen missed an obvious icing call on New York. The Rangers player shot the puck in the zone six feet behind the red line but somehow icing was washed out?

The Caps, however, did not lose this one due to the referees, in fact, blaming them would be ridiculous. Washington had four power plays and only generated five shots on net. That’s terrible! It might be time to make some personnel changes as the Rangers did a super job of not allowing the Capitals to get in the zone and set up. With so few power plays available in the playoffs, it makes sense to load up your top unit with your best offensive players in order to score. Towards that end, I’d drop John Carlson and Marcus Johansson off of that unit and insert Mike Green and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

So now we have a game seven on Wednesday night. The Capitals certainly did a lot of good things on Sunday night. They outshot attempted the Rangers, 96-55, including 70-23 over the last 40 minutes. Part of that was the score effects, but the biggest difference was the Caps played with a sense of purpose and pressured the Rangers defense with more physical play and hard work.

That pressure the Rangers in their own end recipe is one that Coach Trotz needs to employ more on Wednesday. Sure it opens you up to some odd man rushes, but if the Caps play the system correctly, the third forward should be in position to prevent those.

Washington certainly played some of their best hockey of the series and ended up losing. You can put that on defensive lapses and a poor power play.

As Trotz stated afterwards, the pressure is equally on both teams. The Rangers have the best record in the NHL and are very speedy and talented so they’re expected to win. Washington has an immensely talented squad too and had a 3-1 series lead.

At this point, the two days off actually help the Capitals in this one because they spent a lot of energy trying to come back. Washington would love to have home ice, but that’s gone now. The Garden will be rocking and most people will be picking the Rangers to win.

But it is one game, winner take all, and the Caps have the luxury of not worrying about tickets and distractions, like the Rangers players will endure.

Washington just has to show up and play a hockey game on Wednesday.

If they can play with the ferocity they did in periods two and three and not make so many costly mistakes, they could win the game.

They’ll also need their stars, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby to deliver top performances.

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20 year old Andre Burakovsky takes center stage with two goals in less than five minutes.

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Burakovsky, Holtby Help Caps Take 3-1 Series Lead

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After picking up an assist on Monday night’s game winning goal in game 3, rookie Andre Burakovsky took it to another level on Wednesday night scoring both Washington goals to give the Caps a come from behind 2-1 victory, and more importantly help them take a 3-1 series lead.

Young Burra was the game’s number one star, but Braden Holtby was right behind the 20 year old stopping 28 of 29 shots, including a penalty shot by Carl Hagelin in the third period to earn the second star.

At the other end of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist played stellar saving 28 of 30 shots to get the game’s third star. He also received some help from the post in period three when Joel Ward came very close to making it 3-1 after a good point shot from Brooks Orpik.

The Rangers came out flying in the opening frame, as they’ve done all series, and outshot attempted the Caps, 26-14. When it came to shots on goal, though, it was only 13-8. Coach Barry Trotz commented on his team’s start afterwards stating, “I liked our 1st period better…we didn’t get anything, but they didn’t get anything either.”

Trotz was correct and in the middle frame the Caps were the better team, but they fell behind first by allowing a Rangers rush that Derrick Brassard finished. It was another stretch pass that New York likes to use because of its’ speed and it worked on this play. It also clicked again in the third period when Hagelin broke free and Mike Green had no choice but to hook him leading to Holtby’s penalty shot glove save.

Once it was 1-0 Rangers, the Capitals took over for most of period two, outshot attempting New York, 22-16. Burakovsky’s first goal came as a result of forechecking pressure that led to a turnover by Chris Kreider. The young Swede moved to the center of the slot and with Mark Staal diving to the ice and putting himself out of position, Burakovsky ripped one by Lundqvist.

Shortly thereafter, #65 nearly gave the Caps the lead when he was all alone in front after a great pass from John Carlson, but Lundqvist somehow got his shoulder on the shot. But Burakovsky would make no doubt about things just 24 seconds into period three as he stole the puck at the offensive blue line and went in alone on King Henrik and beat him with a sweet backhander.

At that point the Verizon Center went nuts. The Caps would have some intermittent pressure, but most of the last 19 minutes were spent in the Washington end as the Rangers tried everything to score. They had a penalty shot and also started a post whistle melee that, to no one’s surprise, didn’t lead to a Caps power play. In fact, the Caps ended up losing Tom Wilson to a misconduct for 10 minutes because he pulled down Keith Yandle after #93 hit Willy in the back of the head a couple of times. Coach Trotz said afterwards that referee Brad Watson came over to tell him why only Wilson received the misconduct, but Trotz said he couldn’t make out what “Wats” said because it was just too loud in the Verizon Center.

Loud it was and the Capitals crowd did another super job of giving the Washington players extra energy down the stretch to close the victory out. The Caps did another good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter and Holtby only had to stop nine shots on net out of 24 shot attempts in the last 20 minutes. For the game, the Capitals blocked 25 shots, including a huge one from Karl Alzner in the last two minutes.

This was superb goaltending and great team defense once again by the Capitals.

It’s also another victory where someone other than Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom stepped up to be the offensive hero.

So now it’s on to game five on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The fourth victory is always the hardest to obtain so the Caps have their work cut out for them against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. New York was down three games to one to Pittsburgh in the second round last year before rallying, so this series is far from done.

The Caps will need to weather the storm in the opening frame and stick to their system to try and grind out another hard fought victory like they did in games three and four at the Verizon Center.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 38-29. Backstrom was 16-10…Ovechkin only had seven shot attempts but five of them were on goal…the Caps out hit the Rangers, 37-31…Washington had 25 blocked shots to just seven for the Rangers. Orpik blocked a team high six…The Caps played with only 3 defensemen for about a minute in period three in a four on four situation. Gleason and Green were in the box after the big melee and then Orpik was called for holding, but he took Brassard off with him (slashing). Orpik stated that the even up call was correct.

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Braden Holtby records his 2nd career playoff shutout as the Caps take a 2-1 series lead.

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Holtby Stones the Rangers in Game 3

Posted on 05 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, they don’t call him “Holtbeast” for nothing.

On Monday night at the Verizon Center Braden Holtby was an absolute beast in net stopping all 30 shots he faced allowing Jay Beagle’s second period marker to stand up for a 1-0 Caps victory.

Washington now leads the best of seven series, 2-1, with game four on Wednesday at the Verizon Center (7:30 pm).

This was an exciting hockey game to watch. There was end to end action that had fans on the edge of their seats. New York played one of their better games of the post season and did a solid job of hemming the Capitals in their own end on several occasions, especially at the beginning of the first period and for good chunks of the third period.

On the flip side, the Caps had portions of this tilt where they carried the play, particularly in the middle frame. Through 40 minutes the shot attempt totals were 41-36 in favor of New York before the Rangers threw the kitchen sink at the Caps in the last 20 minutes, outshot attempting them, 28-13.

Many of those 28 shots were from the perimeter as the Capitals defense did an excellent job of clogging the shooting lanes and protecting the front of the net. Holtby faced only 10 shots on net despite the 28 attempts.

On the back end, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were absolutely fabulous in 25:56 and 21:00, respectively. I thought it was both players best game of the post season and they were dominant on the ice.

Home ice was huge in this contest for three primary reasons.

First, the Verizon Center crowd provided energy to the players. Andre Burakovsky told me afterwards that Unleash the Fury is his favorite part of the in game segments because it makes the fans go crazy and it provides the team with energy. Washington’s crowd was outstanding, once again.

Second, it allowed Coach Barry Trotz to get the on ice matchups he desired. All four Capitals lines skated fairly well and Tom Wilson, playing with Curtis Glencross and Brooks Laich, had his best playoff game ever. “Willy” was particularly strong on the wall and with the puck in period two.

Third, the Capitals players are able to place their stick down second on face offs and as a result, Washington went 40-18 on draws. Coach Trotz particularly noticed the face off wins and praised both Jay Beagle (10-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (15-5).

This was a more physical game for the Rangers and they doled out 31 hits, including six from Chris Kreider. New York is a talented and fast team so it was a bit surprising to see them play the more heavy style, at times, but this is the playoffs. Washington had 39 hits and it should have been 40. Wilson was whistled for boarding James Sheppard shortly after nearly the same type of hit was used by Rick Nash on Brooks Orpik and, of course, not called.

The Capitals received two early power plays but they didn’t connect. They had some good chances but Nicklas Backstrom noted that the ice made things tough. Given the mid 80’s temperatures, it was no surprise that the sheet was not good. On the PK, the Caps were fantastic in only allowing three shots on net in two Blueshirts man advantage situations.

As for the referees, they were better calling each team for the two penalties. I didn’t like the way the boarding “no call then call” sequence went, but overall they let the players decide the game.

So the Capitals, behind the stellar goaltending of Holtby, now have a chance to take a 3-1 lead on the Rangers if they win on Wednesday.

Coach Trotz has not liked any of the first periods that the Caps have played in this series. With the Rangers facing the prospect of going down three games to one, you can bet they’ll be flying on Wednesday.

It’s up to the Caps to answer the bell and not provide the Rangers with any momentum.

Notes: Beagle scored his goal at 27:31 from below the goal line. He banked the puck off of Keith Yandle and Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves)…Alex Ovechkin had eight shots attempts and five hits…Niskanen blocked seven shots…Troy Brouwer was awarded the team’s Honest Abe award for his work that led to the only goal of the game.

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