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Ovechkin Leads the Offense as Holtby Shuts Out the Canucks

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, there was a lot to like about the Washington Capitals performance in a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center on Sunday night.

Alex Ovechkin, who had picked up his play in recent outings, scored a first period power play goal and then assisted on Justin Williams’ tally that made it 2-0 early in the third period to lead the offense.

Braden Holtby stopped all 20 shots he faced and he was aided by some stellar Caps penalty killing, which went a perfect five for five and only allowed one shot on net in ten minutes of shorthanded time.

For the night, the Capitals team defense was excellent and they took advantage of the fact that Vancouver was playing their 3rd game in four nights. As Coach Barry Trotz mentioned following the win, there is a lot of parity in this league, and sometimes the schedule helps decide the outcome.

Agreed, but you also have to take advantage of that situation and unlike the Islanders game back on December 1st, Washington made no mistake about getting on a club that you figured would be tired.

On the Caps first power play of the game, they scored, and it was set up, once again, by a great zone entry by Marcus Johansson. Jojo, who is one of the best in the league at carrying the puck into the offensive end on a power play, used his superior speed to get across the blue line and then he made a nice pass back to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky and John Carlson traded passes and then #74 slid the biscuit over to the Gr8 in his office and Ovechkin ripped it through Jacob Markstrom (26 saves).

That goal was huge and the Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, although it wasn’t the best of periods. They led in shot attempts, 20-17, but they were one for three with the man advantage and had as many giveaways as they did hits (four).

In the second frame, Washington really took over the contest, but couldn’t add to their lead. They outshot attempted the Canucks 23-9, which was amazing given that the Canucks had three full power plays in the period. The Caps four primary penalty killing forwards, Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson were just terrific as were the four primary PK d-men, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson. Add in the impenetrable Holtbeast and you have a recipe for an outstanding shorthanded unit.  The Capitals really carried the play over these 20 minutes, but a few times they were guilty of over passing.

Once the third period hit, you felt like Washington should really take over, given the Canucks fatigue situation, and they did. Five minutes into the final stanza, Ovechkin made a good rub out of the Canucks defensemen along the left wing boards and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to the get the puck to the point to Dmitry Orlov. #9 rifled a shot towards the net that was shoved aside by Markstrom, but the Gr8 was there to corral it. Ovi fed Kuznetsov, who was all alone in the slot with only the goalie to beat. The whole right side of the net looked open too, but Kuzy chose to pass back across the ice to Williams, who luckily rifled it by two diving Canucks defenders and behind a sliding to his left Markstrom to give the Caps a much needed two goal cushion.

It was another case of over passing and afterwards Williams noted that the whole building was surprised that #92 passed there. Coach Trotz joked in his post game presser that he’s never surprised anymore when guys on his club give up great shots for a pass to a teammate.

From there, the Canucks gave their final push and their best chance to get back in the game was when Andre Burakovsky took a careless high sticking penalty less than two minutes after the Williams tally. It was in the offensive zone and it was unnecessary. #65 should be buying the entire PK unit dinner because that lazy infraction could’ve put a tired team back in the game. But Wilson and company did their jobs and that set the stage for #43 to get his second goal of the season on an empty net marker with 52 seconds remaining. Wilson really deserved that goal because he was really going hard all night and was a big reason the Canucks got nada with the man advantage.

As for the five penalties, Coach Trotz didn’t like the number and said he’d much prefer only one or two. He noted that offensive zone penalties are typically a red flag for him, but that he’d go back and look at each of them on video. Of the five, the ones to be most concerned about were Burakovsky’s high stick and Orlov’s two neutral zone penalties. I can live with the Johansson ticky tack hooking call and there is nothing Jakub Vrana could really do on his interference penalty, the Vancouver player sold it well.

As for Vrana, well he had a strong game with four shots on goal and he also had two other great chances, but missed the net on each. The Vrana-Eller-Burakovsky unit showed signs of life on Sunday, but they couldn’t bury the biscuit, especially #65, who along with Winnik were the only forwards to not put the puck on Markstrom. Winnik, though, gets a pass because of his great PK work.

Overall, this was an excellent team effort and Coach Trotz made sure to praise the Backstrom line for shutting down the Sedin Twins, calling that hard work something that shouldn’t go under the radar.  He’s right and Backstrom certainly should be in the running for the Selke Trophy.

When you add it all up, it’s the fourth straight victory for Washington and another two points for the Capitals. They are now at 17-7-3 (37 points) and in crazy fashion, though, they are still in fifth in the division in points. They are just two behind the Penguins, Rangers, and red hot Flyers (39 each), and just one behind the scorching Blue Jackets. Yes, there are five teams within two points of each other in the best division in hockey, the Metropolitan Division!

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-31, but Backstrom went 13-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42 and he was superb…Niskanen (+2) returned from missing one game with an upper body injury. He played well and had an assist on the Wilson ENG, as did Winnik…final shot attempts were 58-41 for Washington, including 29-20 in SOG…Ovi had 12 shot attempts and five on net…Eller was 1-10 on faceoffs, ouch!…next up for the Caps are the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Johansson Rallies the Caps Past Buffalo in OT

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson blasted a slapper past Robin Lehner 2:38 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory to end their three game losing streak. It was fitting that Johansson, who also scored the game tying goal with 6:18 remaining, tallied the game winner because he’s been outstanding all season and now has 11 goals on the campaign.

The Caps other goal on this night came from their most determined player, Jay Beagle, who tallied his fifth of the season on a redirection of a great pass from Brooks Orpik in the middle frame. That tied the game at one.

Beagle, Johansson, and the injured T.J. Oshie have been the hardest working and best Capitals forwards this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, lately the word “hard working” has not been a part of the game plan for many of the players. Since Oshie went down with a shoulder injury against the Red Wings on Friday, November 18th, the Capitals have missed his energy and aggressiveness that typically rubs off on the other players. Oshie is the best on the team at winning one on one puck battles. His absence has showed as the team was 2-3-1 without #77 heading into Monday’s tilt with the Sabres.

Buffalo was missing three key defensemen in Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Josh Gorges, however, they came to play at the Verizon Center while the Capitals appeared to continue to take the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” mantra a little too seriously.

For several weeks, the Caps effort has been suspect and multiple forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson have been underperforming in terms of production. After losing to the Penguins last spring, Washington seemed to get caught up a little too much in being a speed team at the expense of an aspect of their game that makes them elite, heavy hockey.

The Capitals forecheck has been MIA for weeks and the lack of hitting from a big hockey club has been evident. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that heading into this contest I had enough of the soft and uninspired play. Unfortunately, for 40 minutes on Monday, that trend continued.

After the second period, in which the Capitals trailed, 2-1, former Capital and stellar Comcast analyst Alan May summed up the Caps last 20 minutes of play, one in which they were outshot, 16-7, in a perfect seven words: “out hustled, out muscled, and out shot.”

You could take that statement and apply it to many of the periods the Caps have played since Oshie went down (and there were duds, at times, before #77 was hurt, too). They were downright awful and so far away from what had made them successful that they were getting manhandled by a cellar dweller team that was missing three NHL caliber defensemen.

Luckily for Washington, they have an all world goalie in Braden Holtby (31 saves), who once again, much like last Saturday in Tampa, kept the Caps in it until they could get their “you know what” together.

Apparently Coach Trotz finally reached a boiling point, as well, and according to Comcast Caps reporter Jill Sorenson he lit into the team after that second frame. It was well deserved because this club was playing as soft as butter.

The coach also tinkered with his lines and also shuffled up his defensive pairings, something I have been calling on for several weeks. John Carlson was reunited with Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov was paired with Matt Niskanen. Suddenly there was some stability on the back end now that you had an offensive minded defensemen paired with a solid defender in his own end on each of the top two pairs.

The fixes on the back end certainly helped support the forwards, who began playing with passion and were finally taking the body. Washington was relentless from the 13:00 mark of the third period on and it was because they were skating, hitting, and forcing turnovers. Even Kuznetsov, who has been shying away from physical play quite a bit, put a strong hit on Justin Falk to help force a neutral zone turnover and keep the pressure on Buffalo near the midpoint of the period.

Naturally, the results started coming once they played the way that fits them best. Fortunately, though, the opponents were a depleted Sabres lineup and they were able to get away with a 40 minute absence. That type of effort, though, won’t cut it against the better teams in the league.

Look, you absolutely cannot play “balls to the wall” hard every night in an 82 game season that’s followed by up to two months of playoffs, but you can’t keep taking nights off in a very balanced league. Washington had gotten too lackluster with their performances and heading into Monday found themselves in fifth place in points in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, they have games in hand on many of the teams above them, but given the trend of not showing up and being committed, things were getting dicey. For 40 minutes on Monday, there was little sign that Washington was going to break out of their funk.

Luckily they did, so it is okay to be pleased with the way the Capitals played in the third period and overtime. It’s good to know, like we saw when they blew the doors off of the Penguins, 7-1, a few weeks ago, that they can amp their game up. However, there are still guys on this roster who are struggling, and to get out of it they’ll have to be more committed to the physical aspects of the game and win more of the one on one puck battles. If they do that more consistently, the wins and points will come in bunches.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:27…Johansson logged 20:00 and scored on his only two shots, the first of which was a power play deflection of a Carlson blast that was on net (#74 been struggling to do that for several games)…Alex Ovechkin played 21:57 and only had one shot on net. He hasn’t played well since the hat trick game against the Blues. Right before the Sabres made it 2-1, he was at fault on what would’ve been Buffalo’s 2nd goal when he failed to take a proper pass from Brooks Orpik on the boards. Luckily the Caps correctly challenged and won it since the Sabres were offside on their zone entry…Beagle led the Caps with six shots on goal in 17:24 of ice time, including 36 seconds on the 2nd power play unit…Wilson didn’t have a shot on net, but he made a great play on the PK late in the game when it was tied. #43 has been really good at killing penalties, but the Caps need him to be more physically involved at even strength…Brett Connolly was scratched, which was surprising to me given that he played great against Buffalo in the Caps last win before Monday and he had been getting lots of chances, plus he is a good physical fore checker…next up for the Caps are the Bruins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm (NBC Rivalry Night).

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Caps Blanked At Home by the Islanders, 3-0

Posted on 02 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are bad losses and then there are really bad losses.

Thursday night’s Capitals 3-0 defeat to the New York Islanders falls into the latter category.

New York was playing their third game in four nights and arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning, except for goalie Jarolsav Halak (38 saves), who was smartly sent in a day early since GM Garth Snow continues to carry three goalies.

So this should have been a game where the Caps could take advantage of a tired opponent and get two points, right?

Well, for 40 minutes, it looked like Washington was poised to do just that. The Caps carried much of the play through those first two periods and had four power play chances to just two for the Islanders. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew would build a 52-36 advantage in shot attempts, but the problem was that none of them got by Halak and into the cage.

Through 40 minutes, Justin Williams alone had six shots on goal and that didn’t count the one he came 1/10th of a second from scoring right as the first period horn sounded. #14 is playing some good hockey and getting more than his share of chances, but if you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary right now, you’ll see a picture of Mr. Crazy Hair.

During those first two frames New York did have several quality chances themselves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Cizikas in the middle period after he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. However, Braden Holtby (25 saves) would stop #53 and that was just one of many the Holtbeast made to keep his club even.

As the final period began, the prevailing thought was that the Caps would use the rest to their advantage while the Islanders would wilt from fatigued wheels.

That was not the case.

Just over three minutes into the final stanza, Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over at the offensive blue line giving Shane Prince a breakaway and he was the first to solve Holtby on this night.

Okay, no biggie, right? Orlov made a mistake and his partner wasn’t able to cover for him either, but it’s only one goal and there’s still nearly 17 minutes left.

Move on from it and get it back.

That’s where the game and this defensive pair once again went off of the rails. Nearly three and half minutes later, John Carlson went behind his net to play a puck and he backhanded it to Orlov to the left of Holtby below the goal line. Both Islanders forwards were coming at Dmitry on an aggressive forecheck. At that point, #9 had two options, eat the puck and take a hit and wait for reinforcements, or even better, he could wheel the puck hard around the boards and give the Capitals an odd man rush situation with two opponents trapped in the offensive zone. Instead Orlov panicked and chose the third option, which even five year old mite players know not to do; he tried a blind, backhanded pass up the middle of the ice, which was quickly gathered up by the Islanders. Following another great initial save by Holtby, New York potted the rebound to go up 2-0.

That mental mistake was the dagger for Washington on this night and Jason Chimera then threw salt in the wound going right around Nate Schmidt after an Ovechkin neutral zone turnover to close out the scoring.

It was a swift and stunning three goals in less than five minutes for the Islanders and they were able to win their third straight tilt, all in four nights.

Wait a minute; aren’t you supposed to run out of gas on that third game in four nights, like the Capitals did in Toronto last Saturday? Well, someone forgot to tell New York that because they never let down and kept skating while Washington mentally wilted over the last 20 minutes.

It was red flag city for the Capitals, who are now 2-3 without T.J. Oshie in the lineup (speaking of which, let’s lock #77 up long term, okay?). The power play was a disaster giving up multiple shorthanded chances and for the night it went 0 for 6 in 12 minutes of time! That’s downright awful. There is not enough movement, shots aren’t coming frequently or quick enough, and the right point shot is not getting through and opening things up for the flanks. Bottom line, had the power play clicked earlier then we likely aren’t all over Orlov for this one.

But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.

Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.

With the loss the Capitals fall to 13-7-2 and are now in fourth place in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Things are not good in Caps land right now, they are getting strong goaltending, but they aren’t burying enough of their chances and they are also not working hard enough or smart enough to generate some gritty goals. In addition, defensive breakdowns and bad chemistry, primarily with the Orlov-Carlson pairing, are allowing too many easy opportunities for the opponents.

This was a really bad loss on Thursday. No two ways about it.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Islanders 87-47…Washington won the faceoff battle, 29-28. Jay Beagle was 8-5…Orlov was benched after the second goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:41 and he had six shots on net, second only to Williams, who had seven…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts in 24:47, but only four made it on net. The Gr8 took the Caps only two penalties…Jakub Vrana made his NHL debut for the Caps and logged 10:10. He had four shots on net and looked more comfortable as the game went on…Andre Burakovsky had 0 shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Blues

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his 16th career hat trick to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Gr8 scored his 10th, 11th, and 12th goals of the season in three different periods to once again prove that he’s the greatest goal scorer in the game today and among the best of all time.

As good as Ovechkin was in this one, the biggest development in this tilt was the return of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy came to play on Wednesday and he was driving the net and shooting the puck. He played with confidence and that seemed to open up the ice for him. It was Kuznetsov’s great power play feed that allowed Ovi to score the game’s first goal and then he made it 3-1 for Washington by going to the net on a rush and banging home a sweet Dmitry Orlov feed in the third period. Part of the reason #92 was so open for that goal was because all of the Blues seemed to be focused on Ovechkin in the high slot.

Just 22 seconds after Kuznetsov’s third goal of the season, the Gr8 had a two on one rush and he buried the biscuit top shelf over the glove of Blues goalie Carter Hutton (21 saves) with 13:07 left in the contest. That completed the hat trick and a several minute delay ensued while the ice crew picked up the tons of hats that were thrown onto the ice.

Washington seemed poised to cruise to an easy win, but St. Louis scored on the power play and with the goalie pulled at 18:45 to make it 4-2. Then with just 28 ticks left, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game to pull the Blues within one. But the Caps won the ensuing face-off and Washington didn’t allow St. Louis any chances to tie it.

In addition to the superb play from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky put up two assists and seemed to finally get some deserved production in the points department. #65 has been playing “bigger” this season, but he hasn’t been in on a lot of goals lately as he and Kuznetsov have been in scoring slumps. Both broke out on Wednesday night against one of, if not the best, blue lines in the NHL. The 8-92-65 trio was +3 for Washington and Coach Barry Trotz has to be pleased to see that, especially with Nicklas Backstrom’s line playing well also.

The Blues played on Tuesday night in Boston and won 4-2, so the Capitals were catching a scheduling break taking on a sure to be tired squad. You can only play the games as they are lined up and Washington took advantage of it, holding St. Louis to only 21 shots in the game and just 10 in the first 40 minutes. Most of St. Louis’ chances came late in the game with the outcome already decided. Afterwards, Coach Trotz was happy with the victory, but not pleased about the way the contest finished up and he remarked that the team would be more focused on how to close out games when they have a lead.

This win comes after the referees gifted the Blue Jackets a late game victory over Washington on Sunday. That present for Columbus included a terrible high sticking call on Backstrom and then a missed hooking infraction on Cam Atkinson, who put his stick into the mid section of Tom Wilson to prevent a clear, right before the game winning power play tally with under two minutes remaining. It was a bad zebra sequence and it cost the Capitals at least a point in the standings.

But the Blues are not the boring Blue Jackets, so it was expected that Ovechkin and company would be motivated and ready for St. Louis. The Caps are a very good team when they are focused, as evidenced by the 7-1 rout of the Penguins last week, and on Wednesday they played with a purpose.

The Capitals were not as good as they were against Pittsburgh the week before, but they were very dominant, at times, and they took it to a solid St. Louis team.

Washington is now 12-5-2 (26 points) and they’ll take on the Buffalo Sabres at 5 pm on Friday at the Verizon Center. This will be one of those games where the Caps are likely to have a hard time getting up for the opposition.

Notes: The Gr8 only logged 15:29 of ice time. He had five shots on goal in eight attempts. Coach Trotz is clearly managing Ovi’s minutes to keep him healthy and fresh for the post season…the Caps won the face off battle, 29-27. Jay Beagle was 9-4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with a low total of 22:51. Coach Trotz continues to spread the minutes around the lineup…Lars Eller returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game and he logged 14:49…only T.J. Oshie is hurt now and he’s battling an upper body injury (week to week)…Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist in 15:53 and he had four shots on net…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play in 4:35 of advantage time while the Blues went 1 for 5 in 7:30…Braden Holtby made 18 saves for the Caps.

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Holtby Helps the Depleted Caps Blank Detroit, 1-0

Posted on 18 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 25 saves and Jay Beagle scored on a rebound with 5:11 left to break a scoreless tie as a depleted Washington Capitals squad knocked off the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky all suffered upper body injuries in the first period and did not return. Eller played one shift, Oshie three, and Burakovsky just seven, meaning that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had to go with just three lines for over 40 minutes of action. Oshie was clearly the biggest loss since he is the team’s number one right wing and is not replaceable in the organization. T.J. appeared to hurt his left shoulder on a neutral zone hit he was putting on Detroit’s Riley Sheahan. Oshie stuck his tongue out after the hit and then skated to the bench. He then went down the tunnel favoring his left arm. He, Eller, and Burakovsky will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but it sure looks like a call up or perhaps two from an injury riddled Hershey Bears team will be needed. Daniel Winnik, the lone forward scratch on Friday, will be back in the lineup on Sunday against Columbus, and there’s a chance we could see the NHL debut of Jakub Vrana? RW Christian Thomas, who had a strong preseason, LW Paul Carey (previous NHL experience), or center Chandler Stephenson (three assists on Friday for the Bears) are also possibilities to be in the show against John Tortorella’s squad at the Verizon Center (12:30 pm start), depending on the extent of the injuries.

Back to Friday’s game, it was a physical affair from the get go. Burakovsky hit the post early and then the Capitals received a five minute power play when Danny DeKeyser received five minutes for boarding Tom Wilson at the 8:29 mark. Willy went awkwardly into the boards, but luckily avoided a head, neck or shoulder injury.

Without Oshie, the Caps power play at five on four continued to sputter and they really didn’t get many good looks over the first four plus minutes. Justin Williams took a hooking minor with just 30 seconds left in the major and that put the Wings on the man advantage. Washington would kill off that penalty, with the Holtbeast being the primary reason. Detroit would have three morer power plays on this night for a total of 7:02 of man advantage time, but Braden was a wall in net for the Caps.

The Caps, down three forwards, played a smart game the rest of the way by doing what assistant coach Lane Lambert asked of them, which was to get pucks deep and make the Red Wings do the work in their own zone. Washington did a nice job of forechecking and brought a strong effort, but Jimmy Howard was solid in the cage for Detroit and this game took on the “first goal wins” mantra.

Fortunately for the Capitals, they found a way to manufacture a goal. Zach Sanford and Wilson did some great work down low and forced a Detroit turnover. As a result of the strong forward work, Dmitry Orlov was able to slide up to the top of the left wing circle and he one timed a shot on Howard. Jay Beagle and Sanford were in front and the rebound fell prone in the slot where #83 pounced on it and put the biscuit in the basket. From there the Caps kept the Wings to the outside and any rubber that made its way through was snatched or thwarted by Holtby.

Marcus Johansson drew a late penalty and the Caps skated away with a gritty victory after their thrashing of the Pens on Wednesday night.

This was going to be a tough one for the Caps after an intense affair with the despised Penguins on Wednesday. A let down was a possibility, but give credit to the coaching staff and team leadership since there was none of that. The bad news was the injuries up front, but the rest of the crew stepped up and played a solid game. Detroit didn’t have a ton of chances, but there were a few grade “A” ones and the Holtbeast was a major reason the Capitals were able to scrape out a victory.

The victory improves the Caps to 11-4-2 and they are now just two points behind the first place Rangers, who lost to Columbus on Friday night, with a game in hand. Pittsburgh is also tied with Washington. The Blue Jackets, who defeated the Capitals on Tuesday, are just four points behind Alex Ovechkin and company and they have two games in hand. Somehow Coach Trotz’ club needs to find a way to get themselves up for that game and they’ll likely need to do it with a player or so from Chocolatetown in the lineup.

Notes: Shots on goal were 28-25 for the Caps, who also led in shot attempts, 56-48…Ovechkin had four shots on goal and nine shot attempts. He also had four hits…the Caps had 31 hits in this contest while Detroit had just 18. Sneaky Nicklas Backstrom led the way with five. Brett Connolly, who has been strong on the fore check when in the lineup, had four hits…Washington plays better when they are physical since they are a big team and can wear their opponents out more effectively…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 31-23, but Beagle was 11-7…Beagle logged a season high 20:01…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:29…former Capital Mike Green led all skaters with 26:10 of ice time.

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Caps Destroy the Penguins, 7-1

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Motivation and effort were not an issue on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center as the Washington Capitals totally destroyed the Pittsburgh Penguins, 7-1. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and three assists while T.J. Oshie also scored twice and added two helpers to lead the Caps offense out of its recent slumber. Braden Holtby made 25 saves in net against the defending Stanley Cup Champions as Washington improved to 10-4-2.

There were so many positives to take out of this game, starting with the effort and passion. The Caps, who played in Columbus and lost in OT on Tuesday, then flew home afterwards while the Penguins rested in DC, were all over the ice for the full 60 minutes. They were skating, hitting, and putting pucks in the correct places on the rink. They played a north-south game that gave the Penguins fits and this one was over quickly.

Washington tallied three times in the first frame with Oshie opening the scoring shorthanded on a rebound goal after a Jay Beagle breakaway was stopped by Matt Murray. Backstrom then made it 2-0 with 2:30 left in period one on a goal similar to his marker in Columbus on Tuesday, a shot from the slot while using the defender as a screen. Then with eight seconds remaining and the Caps on a four on three advantage, Oshie buried the rebound of a John Carlson blast.

The Caps then gave Pittsburgh little hope of getting back in the game with a dominant second period. They outshot the Pens, 13-6, in those middle 20 minutes, but somehow only potted one puck (Dmitry Orlov’s first goal of the season on a three on two rush set up by Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) past Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury entered this affair late in period one when starter Murray was hit in the head twice by Evgeni Malkin and was forced to leave the contest.

What was most pleasing was the way the Capitals didn’t take their foot off of the gas in the third period. Washington came out flying and they kept the pressure on Pittsburgh. There was no sitting back like they did recently against Columbus and Chicago, or when they blew a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago. No, on this night, the Caps displayed a killer instinct that they’ve been talking about developing for years.

They stomped on the Penguins throats in this one with Justin Williams finally scoring just over five minutes into the last frame, albeit on a 5 on 3, and then Alex Ovechkin made it 6-0 on a sweet breakaway goal just after the 10 minute mark. Phil Kessel would break the Holtbeast shutout with 3:32 left when Orlov didn’t tie him up at the side of the net, but Backstrom erased that marker with a goal just 30 seconds later to close out the scoring.

It was a win the Capitals badly needed after scoring just five goals in their previous four games. They played with a purpose and got back to the things that make them successful; coming into the offensive zone with speed, getting pucks on net or below the goal line so they can use their size, and crashing the cage for rebounds. There was maximum effort and attention to detail. Gone from their game were the sloppy east-west passes they had been employing at the opponents blue line and it made a huge difference in the outcome. The Penguins defense repeatedly had to go back and get pucks deep in their own zone and the Caps took over that part of the ice, which is one of their strengths.

Bottom line on NBC Rivalry night, there was an ass-kicking that took place and the Capitals delivered it to their arch rivals on Wednesday evening.

So see ya Penguins and take your arrogant banner tweet home with you.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 45-35 and out shot attempted the Penguins, 68-46. That’s all about the effort as Washington totally manhandled Mike Sullivan’s club…in addition to his five points, Backstrom was 18-9 on face-offs.  Most of those draws came against Sidney Crosby, who went 8-18 and was a -3 on the evening. His biggest contribution in this affair was yelling at the referees…the Caps were rewarded for their effort with seven power plays and scored on two of them, a 4 on 3 and a 5 on 3. The only area you could complain about for the Capitals was the 5 on 4 man advantage which went 0 for 5 in this tilt and needs work…Ovechkin left the game briefly in period two after Kris Letang tripped him, but the Russian Machine that Never Breaks returned to get a breakaway tally and end his four game goalless streak in the third period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Ovechkin played 18:38…Letang led the Pens with 23:50, but he was -5 (on the ice for every Washington even strength goal)…final shots on goal were 39-26 in favor of the good guys.

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Lack of Offense Costs the Capitals Again, 2-1

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Cam Atkinson scored off of an offensive draw in overtime to defeat the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in Columbus. The loss was the Caps 3rd in their last four games and they are finding it hard to score goals. Washington’s record now stands at 9-4-2.

Coming into this tilt, the Capitals were buried by the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Saturday night, 5-1. So Caps Coach Barry Trotz switched up his lines in an attempt to get the offense, which is struggling mightily, to come out of its slumber. The move did not work.

Sure, there was really no chemistry on the ice with the Washington forwards, however, Coach Trotz can keep shuffling his lines all he wants, but if the Washington players are going to keep playing the wrong way, it won’t matter.

Too often the Capitals players come up the ice and as soon as they are gaining the offensive zone blue line, they are trying to dish the biscuit in an east-west fashion instead of either firing the biscuit at the cage and going for rebounds or dumping the puck in a location that allows the wingers to beat the opponents blue liners to the puck. Washington is too fancy and making life far too easy for the other squad. Too often the passes are picked off and the Caps find themselves chasing the other way. Those turnovers are leading to easy routes to the Washington zone and the Capitals are forced to back up in their own end.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring in this one on a rush just after the game’s 35 minute mark on a smart offensive zone play. #19 received a good breakout pass from Brooks Orpik and he raced up the middle of the ice and forced the Columbus defenders to back up. Instead of trying to make a pass, Nicky fired the puck on net and it beat Sergei Bobrovsky glove side. Good things happen when you shoot the puck (Memo to the Caps players!!). That gave Washington a 1-0 lead, despite the fact that the Capitals were pretty much outskated for the first 30 minutes.

You’d think that goal, combined with the fact that the Caps sat back in Chicago and lost a one goal third period lead to the Blackhawks on Friday night would be motivation enough to work hard in the final frame and properly close out the Blue Jackets, right? Well, to quote the great Adam Sandler, “The price is wrong, Bob!”

Washington tried to play defense too much on Tuesday night and, as a result, the Blue Jackets kept coming into the zone with speed. That allowed 19 year old rookie sensation Zach Werenski to tie the game up with 6:58 remaining. The Caps immediately applied pressure the other way and appeared to take the lead on a Backstrom tally via a goal mouth scramble, but Columbus Coach John Tortorella alertly challenged the play, saying T.J. Oshie came into the zone offside, and he was correct.

The Blue Jackets then carried the remainder of regulation, except for a late quality shift from Jay Beagle, who nearly won the game with 10 seconds left on a shot in the slot. In OT, it only took 37 seconds for the Blue Jackets to win as Backstrom lost a defensive zone face off and “Bang” the puck was in the back of the net behind Philipp Grubauer (25 saves).

Grubauer was very good in this game and if not for him, the Caps probably trail early on. Most notably, he made some big saves on a second period Blue Jackets power play when the game was scoreless. Washington was solid on the penalty kill and that included Beagle, the team’s hardest worker, drawing a trip while shorthanded.

But the Capitals power play is in a funk, as well. Part of that is due to the lack of reps and you can’t blame the referees. The problem is Washington is not skating hard enough to draw penalties. In the last four games, the Caps have had 3, 0, 2, and 2 man advantage situations. You won’t get any rhythm that way and frankly, when they have a power play, the set up looks old and stale. There is no threat from the blue line right now and that is hurting the units. John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov need to shoot more when they are out there.

Coach Trotz keeps talking about “will over skill” and somehow the message is not hitting home with these players. Maybe they are pacing themselves for the playoffs or perhaps they aren’t motivated this early in the season? It is a long one, but if they don’t start putting out a better effort and start winning the loose puck battles again, they are going to get passed by other teams in the standings. Columbus is now just two points behind the Caps at 8-4-2, but they have a game in hand. The Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who the Capitals will face on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 7:30, are both already ahead of Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

Things are ugly for the Caps right now. They have a lot of talent and skill on this roster up front, but they aren’t working hard enough to take advantage of it.

On the blue line, the Carlson and Dmitry Orlov pair is not working. Both players like to rush the biscuit up the ice so each needs a more defensive partner to balance things out. I’d like to see either Karl Alzner or Brooks Orpik put with #74 to try and get him going. He has 0 goals in 15 games and I put part of that on breaking in a new defensive partner, who is not very good in his own end.

Simply put, the Capitals are not clicking. They look like an unmotivated and lazy hockey team at this juncture in the season.

Notes: the Caps were out shot attempted, 59-52. Shots on goal were 27-22 for the Blue Jackets…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-27. Beagle went 6-3…Alex Ovechkin paced the Caps with four shots on goal…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:29…Ovechkin was -2 and only played 14:12…Braden Holtby will start against the Penguins on Wednesday against the Defending Stanley Cup Champions.

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Caps Win in Overtime Thanks to the Holtbeast

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson’s rocket of a shot off of a Dmitry Orlov feed 2:20 into overtime allowed the Washington Capitals to knock off Jonathan Toews and company in the Windy city on Friday night, 3-2.

The Caps, who received two goals from Jay Beagle in the opening frame, including a shorthanded tally, led this game from 14:44 of the 1st period until 23 seconds left (nearly 45 minutes of action), when Marian Hossa tied it with Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a deflating goal for the Capitals, but they showed mental toughness once again and found a way to get a big two points.

Washington played well in stretches in this one, and they held Toews and Patrick Kane to a total of one shot on net. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the main reasons for that on the back end.

But Chicago had their share of chances due to their risk-reward style of play and in the first 30 minutes they could’ve potted several tallies, if not for the Holtbeast. Braden Holtby made 32 saves on the night and he was dialed in from the opening puck drop. He was easily the game’s number one star, in my book, and if not for his outstanding goaltending, the Caps likely lose.

As for Beagle, his line didn’t get a ton of ice time, he only logged 9:59, but #83, Zach Sanford and Daniel Winnik were relentless on the puck all game and that was because they were skating. Beagle’s first tally came shorthanded after Niskanen forced a neutral zone turnover, which got the puck to T.J. Oshie (1 assist, +2) on the left wing. Oshie and Beagle had a two on one rush and #77 made a gorgeous pass to Beags, who deposited it in the yawning cage with Crawford having no chance.

It was Beagle’s first ever shorthanded goal, but the Blackhawks would answer on that power play just 22 seconds later when Brian Campbell’s shot appeared to deflect off of a Capitals stick ever so slightly, which allowed it to get by Holtby.

Beagle’s next goal came at even strength. Daniel Winnik made a strong play to get Beags the puck in the offensive zone right wing circle and he alertly carried around the net. Sanford smartly went to the net and that not only drew a Blackhawks defender, but Crawford seemed sure that a pass was coming into the slot and that slight hesitation allowed Jay to stuff the puck in at the far post for a beauty of a wraparound marker.

The middle frame saw both teams get some great chances, including Oshie on a breakaway, but he never got a shot off because Duncan Keith hooked his gloves, but the referees missed it. Justin Williams also had a one on one situation, but he was forced to his backhand and was denied nicely by Crawford. “Stick” is playing some good hockey and he’s getting quality chances, they just aren’t going in.

After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were even at 21 each, but you knew Chicago, who had won seven straight contests coming into this game, was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at the Capitals. They did generate 13 shots primarily as a result of Washington sitting back too much, especially over the last 10 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz had his team employing a 1-4 set up that was geared to throttle the Blackhawks ability to come flying into the offensive zone with speed. It worked, for the most part, but in the end, not trying enough to score at the other end caused a roll of the dice situation at the end of the game. I’d have much preferred that the Capitals were more aggressive on the fore check, which could’ve forced Chicago to play more in their own zone. Over those last 10 minutes, there was only one shift where the Capitals had any sustained pressure and offensive zone chances, and that came from the Beagle line with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, with the speed and pace of play in the NHL these days, you can’t sit back on a one goal lead like that too often and get away with it. The coaches need to adjust their strategy going forward since the best defense is a good offense.

With the victory, the Capitals improved to 9-3-1 on the season and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer goals (28 to 24). Washington is playing good defense, for the most part, but they haven’t really gotten the offense untracked. The power play is struggling, but in this contest, that unit never even received a chance to go on the ice since Chicago was not penalized, at all.

Overall though, a win against a quality opponent that’s won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010 is an impressive accomplishment. The Caps can thank Holtby for keeping them in a game they might’ve been blown out of had #70 not been so on his craft on Friday night.

Notes: Niskanen, who was outstanding in this game, logged 25:18 to lead all Caps in ice time. Keith played 27:00 for Chicago…Oshie fell down on the winning goal and the Blackhawks defender tripped over him. Chicago wanted a penalty, but the referees deemed it incidental contact, which it was…Chicago out shot attempted the Caps, 59-51…Carlson and Orlov were an adventure for several shifts. They allowed multiple odd man rushes and after a strong game against San Jose, #9 had an erratic and inconsistent contest…Taylor Chorney suited up for his first game of the season. He played 13:31 and handled himself well. Nate Schmidt was the scratch on the blue line and Brett Connolly was the odd man out up front…Johansson now has seven goals on the season (tied with Alex Ovechkin)…the Caps will travel to Raleigh overnight and take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Saturday. Expect Philipp Grubauer in net for Washington.

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Sharks Defeat the Caps Once Again

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, sometimes the pucks just don’t go your way, especially when playing a team that seems to have your number.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals played hard, and well for stretches, but ultimately the bounces went against them and the mistakes they made resulted in Sharks tallies, where the errors San Jose committed somehow didn’t result in the Caps lighting the lamp.

The finally tally was 3-0, San Jose, with the last Sharks goal coming into an empty net. Washington is now 8-3-1 on the season.

Simply put, that’s hockey. The Sharks, who swept the Capitals last season in the regular season and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Penguins, are an extremely good team. Their blue line, anchored by Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic, is arguably as good as any in the NHL.

San Jose, losers of three straight games, including getting blown out by the Penguins in their own barn last Saturday, were the more desperate team in this game and as a result they were able to get to the Caps net a little bit better than Washington did, and that ultimately decided this contest.

On the Capitals side, they knew San Jose would make a push and for the first 30 minutes or so, Washington matched them. Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin had some great chances to put the Caps ahead, but on one instance for the Gr8, the puck rolled off of his stick when he was one on one with Martin Jones (24 saves) in front of the net.

Shot attempts were 14-13 for the Sharks after one frame and the game was still on the verge of going either way late in period two when T.J. Oshie made a turnover in the defensive zone corner. After that miscue, San Jose worked the puck around to the middle of the point and Vlasic fired a shot towards Braden Holtby. On the way towards the net, Joel Ward and Karl Alzner were tied up in the slot and the biscuit glanced off of King Karl and changed direction on the Holtbeast and into the net with 7:37 left in the middle frame.

Just over five minutes later, the Capitals lost an offensive zone draw and on the way back into their own zone both Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky found themselves on the same side of the ice, which was bad because it left Burns all alone at his right point position. Logan Couture fed the bearded #88, who skated in and fired a shot through traffic that appeared to hit a Capital and go past Holtby (20 saves). Afterwards, Caps Coach Barry Trotz blamed the blown coverage on a lack of communication and said it would be something the team would review.

Washington would really do everything they could to come back in the final frame. They had at least 10 scoring chances in that period, but they either shot wide or Jones was able to make the save. For the game, the Caps would out shot attempt the Sharks, 63-44, including 29-11 in the third period, but as Coach Trotz often says, the only thing that matters is the scoreboard.

He’s right, but overall, you can’t feel negative about this defeat, and the players made available to the media afterwards, to include John Carlson, Alzner, Williams, and Holtby, all were disappointed, but didn’t see the game as a negative.

The scoreboard is what counts in the standings on Tuesday night, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s all about the process for Washington. They did a lot of good things in this loss to a team that seems to own them. Sure there are things to clean up, like better communication in their own end and finding ways to get more pucks and bodies to the net, but overall, this was not a bad loss, especially against a quality opponent like San Jose.

Notes: The Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play. They had some good looks, but couldn’t finish. Part of that was the terrible condition of the Verizon Center ice. Pucks were bouncing all over the place…Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-23. Nicklas Backstrom was 11-5…Carlson logged 23:35 to lead the Caps in ice time, but Matt Niskanen was only three seconds lower at 23:32…Ovechkin played 21:12…Dmitry Orlov logged 19:05 and had one of his better games. He was more solid in his own end and he had two shots on net. The team needs points out of him, but most importantly, they need consistency on defense as well as with his ability to break the puck out of Washington’s end cleanly. He did just that against San Jose…next up for the Caps are the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday night at 8:30 pm.

 

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