Tag Archive | "Holtby"

Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s hockey game in Chicago, it looked like the men against the boys.

The Blackhawks were dominating the Capitals up and down the ice and they held a 2-0 lead, which could’ve been worse, if not for Braden Holtby (38 saves).

But somehow the Caps managed to fight through it and an Andre Burakovsky’s sweet top shelf goal on a Capitals 2 on 1 rush gave Washington life with just under five minutes left in period two. Washington would then tally two more times late in the second frame by getting bodies and pucks to the net to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

From there, Coach Barry Trotz elected to clamp things down and go into a defensive posture for the final 20 minutes against one of the best teams in the NHL. Trotz put Jay Beagle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and relied heavily on the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Despite the fact that Washington rarely possessed the biscuit in that third period, it worked. Chicago had very few quality chances over the last 20 minutes as Washington won a huge road game and improved to 5-5-3 overall (13 points). It was Laich’s first game back in the lineup since injuring his shoulder on October 18th versus Florida. The Caps are 4-0-2 with #21 in the lineup.

This was not a pretty win, but the Caps have been pretty lately and losing a lot. No, this is just what this team needed, a grinding, gritty victory against a super hockey team. They received a huge performance from their goaltender and they played excellent team defense once they got the lead.

As Mike Vogel, the Caps team beat writer, tweeted once it became 3-2, this was the 12th time in 13 games that the Capitals had led in a game this season. Recently they’ve fallen apart and lost after taking the lead in the middle frame. So to play the way they did defensively and close it out is huge. They didn’t make the big turnovers, instead opting to chip the puck out, and they kept the Hawks to the perimeter. Players were fighting for each other, blocking shots, and eliminating their man in the defensive zone from getting prime scoring chances.

They played the right way in their own zone once they had a lead against a stacked offensive club.

Sure it would have been nice to have some more offense in that final frame, but the way things have been going and the way Chicago is so stingy on defense, Trotz elected to go the smarter route in terms of winning the hockey game.

That decision paid off and Washington comes away with a very big victory and ends their five game losing streak.

More importantly, they won this game as a total team, and that should be something they can build upon going forward.

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-32 in favor of Chicago and the Blackhawks won 35 of 60 faceoffs…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 25:57. He and John Carlson were outstanding as a shut down defensive pair in this one against an elite club…the Caps are home against the suddenly surging Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Canes have won four straight games after an 0-6-2 start.

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The hockey gods are clearly testing the Washington Capitals.

Despite dominating a very hard working Calgary Flames team for nearly 55 minutes, the Caps found themselves in a tie game on a bizarre play I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Caps inception in 1974.

An errant Washington pass put the puck in the slot in front of Braden Holtby. Marcus Johansson, who was in perfect defensive position, did the smart thing and tried to quickly knock it out of harms way. In the process, the puck went off of Troy Brouwer’s skate and bounced back five feet or so into the net behind Holtby for the tying tally with 5:10 to go in regulation.

Are you kidding me?

After all of the hard work and effort the Capitals put into this contest surely they deserved better at that point, right?

They had played a text book 3rd period and all evening their puck support was excellent. Colossal defensive turnovers, like we’ve seen too much of recently, were not present in this game and the Caps generated lots of offensive zone time and chances.

Unfortunately the Caps struggled to bury many of those chances, totally missing the net on some that were of the grade A variety. That’s been a trend during their losing skid, which is now at five straight games (and they’ve lost six of their last seven). They did, however, manage to get a point in this loss when they were defeated, in overtime, 4-3.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was not upset at all, except for the outcome. His team had come to play hard and stick to the system and for the most part, they did.

The players were clearly frustrated afterwards with Matt Niskanen telling me that “losing sucks.” But he also knew that the team had played the game the right way on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin picked up two assists to seize the franchise all time points lead from Peter Bondra and he nearly set up the game winner late in regulation when he blocked a Dennis Wideman point shot, skated down the ice and found Nicklas Backstrom streaking towards the net. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) would take a nice cross ice pass from Ovechkin and feed Tom Wilson on the door step, but “Willy” was unable to lift the puck and Jonas Hiller (31 saves) made the stop of the game to send the tilt to OT.

Looking at the stats, Washington was dominant. They out shot attempted the Flames 68-48 and they won the face off battle 42-30 with Michael Latta going 13-6. It was a very strong effort.

The glass half empty folks will point to Mike Green’s -4 and Holtby allowing 4 goals on only 23 shots. I didn’t think either one of them played a bad game. Green was tripped on the first Calgary goal and interfered with in the neutral zone on the second, but the zebras chose not to call a Flames penalty. I’m not sure how Holtby could possibly have saved the 3rd goal? Finally, on the Flames game winner, Niskanen lost an edge in the neutral zone and that allowed Calgary to set the winning play up.

But the naysayers will likely be out in full force and as Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate..” and there will be many that pile on Green and Holtby.

Hopefully the players tune it out. In fact the whole team needs to do what they did after the third goal, show resolve and play harder. There was no moping or hanging of heads after that flukey third Flames goal, which is encouraging. Losing stinks and this team is probably wondering what they need to do to get a win.

To me, it’s pretty simple, just keep focusing on playing the right way and not try things out of your comfort zone, which they did too much of against Arizona on Sunday.

Trotz noted after the game that “usually the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Calgary has been working hard and Barry noted they are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Trotz felt that the Caps worked harder than Calgary on Tuesday night, but his club wasn’t rewarded.

That’s hockey. You hope during the course of 82 games that things will even out, especially if you are working hard and playing the right way.

So at this point all the Caps can do is keeping working harder within the framework of their system and as the main part of that songs says, just “Shake it Off.”

N0tes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:48. He and Karl Alzner had a very strong game. Wilson had an assist in 13:28 of ice time and was a physical presence. He did get juked badly by Mark Giordano, who is a top pair defensemen, on the Flames second goal…Joel Ward scored his sixth goal of the season on a 5 on 3 Caps power play in the middle frame. ..next up for the Caps are the Chicago Blackhawks in the windy city on Friday night. The Capitals then come home on Saturday against a Carolina squad that’s won three games in a row after a horrible start. The return of Eric Staal has helped get the Canes going.

 

 

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

Posted on 02 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Capitals lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, 4-3, their fourth loss in their last five games, to drop to 4-4-2 after 10 games.

If you go by the pulse on twitter from many Caps fans afterwards you’d think the sky is falling and the team is doomed.

I’ll admit this, I didn’t watch the Caps game in its entirety live, I had tickets to take my wife and kids to Frozen On Ice in Baltimore so I came home and watched the contest after the fact.

My first impression: how the heck did the Caps lose this one?

They out shot attempted the Bolts, 57-46, and more importantly, they had close to double the number of chances Tampa had.

Some of the pulse on twitter was to blame Braden Holtby.

Seriously? If not for some ten bell saves by #70 at crucial times, the Caps could’ve been down two pucks on several occasions.

Watching the four goals against closely, he was not the primary player at fault on ANY of them. The first goal was a defensive turnover that led to poor coverage. Note that noone is on Ryan Callahan as he deflects that shot home. On the second tally, the Caps blow coverage and the Tampa player has an empty net. The third goal was a deflection in front where the Caps defense fails to box out or at least tie up the stick of the Bolts forward. Finally, on the game winner, the Capitals cleanly lose a d-zone draw and the puck hits a Caps player on the way into the net.

That’s three deflections and an empty net goal. I counted at least six huge stops by Holtby in this game so blaming him is just wrong, in my book.

If there is anything to criticize, it is the Capitals inability to protect their own net well and they also have been prone to the deadly turnover in their own zone.

At the other end of the ice, Washington basically stormed the castle. If not for missed shots and some fortuitous saves by Ben Bishop, the Caps could’ve had AT LEAST six goals. They hit four posts in this one and missed the cage on some great open looks.

Bottom line is the Caps dominated this game and should’ve won. They lost because of bad PDO as ace analytics man Neil Greenberg would call it, or crummy puck luck, in layman’s terms.

This 2014-15 Capitals club is a way better puck possession team than those from the last several years, the statistics bear that out. Unfortunately they are struggling to finish their chances right now. But that should change and the number of critical turnovers will likely decrease. If there is something Coach Barry Trotz may want to rethink, it’s how the defense plays opposing forwards around their own net. The Capitals need to be stronger on the opponent there and not give them free reign to the cage for deflections or rebound chances. It’s harder to achieve in the modern NHL because of the rules, but it is doable.

Overall, they’ve been in every game but from a points standpoint are a .500 club. The schedule has been tough, Tampa has the most regulation or overtime wins in the conference and Detroit is rolling right now. The Caps carried the play against both of them this week, and lost.

Tough stretches happen and good teams work their way out of it and become great teams (see the 2000 Baltimore Ravens who went five weeks without a TD but ended up winning the Super Bowl). The Capitals have a lot of talent on their roster, some of it extremely young. But they have a super blue line and that is why you are seeing the strong puck possession numbers.

So to me, the key for Coach Trotz, Alex Ovechkin, and the rest of the team is to stay the course. Just because you lost four of five games don’t go crazy and make drastic changes. Keep the overall plan and make some minor tweaks.

If they do that and keep dominating possession, then the biscuit will start bouncing their way and the wins will come, in bunches.

I predicted this team would win the Metropolitan Division and I still believe in that, if they stick with the game plan and keep working hard to get better.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

We are 10 games in and this team has been right there in every tilt. That hasn’t been the case in the last few years.

It’s a long season and the best team in October rarely wins the Stanley Cup.

Patience everyone, patience!

Notes: The Caps are home against the Arizona Coyotes at 7 pm on Sunday night…Ovechkin had his first point in six games when Marcus Johansson buried the Gr8′s rebound in the first period…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they killed off both Tampa man advantage situations.

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Caps Give Game Away to Wings

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Caps Give Game Away to Wings

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did several good things on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

They dominated the Wings for nearly two periods and won the puck possession battle, out shot attempting Detroit, 58-42, overall.

But the Caps made some glaring mistakes, including some awful turnovers, and as a result they lost, 4-2, and now fall to 4-3-2 through nine games.

The stat of the night was the 10-3 deficit in the giveaway column and three of those 10 led to quality scoring chances and goals for the Wings.

Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson had the misplays that did the most damage, but give Detroit credit, especially on the 2nd and 3rd goals as the talented Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were instrumental in those markers. In addition, Datsyuk ended any chance of a Capitals comeback notching the fourth Detroit tally on the power play by taking advantage of Washington having Evgeny Kuzentsov out on the penalty kill (he got stuck on at the end of a 4 on 4 situation). Bottom line is Datsyuk and Zetterberg are elite NHL players and if you don’t play properly against them, they will defeat you.

Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the fifth straight game. That’s concerning and the Gr8 could help his cause by going to the front of the net and using his size and strength for some gritty type goals. Ovi did have 13 shot attempts, 7 of which were on net, so he had chances.

Still, the way the Caps are dominating puck possession is a good sign. The upgrades to the Caps blue line hasn’t gone unnoticed, at least by Wings Coach Mike Babcock.

“I didn’t think we were very good early. I thought they skated way better than us. [Washington] spent a lot of money in the off season to improve their back-end, and they’ve done that,” stated Babcock after the contest (it is believed that Detroit was in both the Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen sweepstakes, only to lose them to the Caps).

Burakovsky, who is only 19, made some super plays in spite of his mistake on Detroit’s second goal. He is big and plays fast. His speed and ability to carry the puck led to the Capitals second goal by Troy Brouwer, who buried a sweet no look pass from Carlson after Burakovsky had the entire Detroit crew chasing him.

Kuznetsov scored Washington’s first tally following a great breakout pass by Braden Holtby to Joel Ward. Kuzy is getting better each game with the North American rink. As for Holtby, he was hung out to dry a few times but Trotz would’ve liked to have seen him stop the winning tally. Holtby was super at moving the puck and #70 told me that there isn’t more emphasis on moving the puck from past regimes, however, he did say the team was more aware of that play and are on the same page. So that’s a good sign going forward because having a goalie that can play the puck so well is like having a third defensemen on the ice.

At the end of the night, the Capitals new look and style is being recognized by their opponents.

“In the first period, I thought, [Washington] took it to us there. They played a good period. They’re playing really hard, they’re playing a little different style than they’re used to playing. Before it was more wide open but you see that Trotz came in and really has them playing hard,” said Justin Abdelkader, who scored twice for Detroit.

Still, puck possession only takes you so far if you don’t finish your chances, and the Capitals missed several good looks. Jimmy Howard (25 saves) made some timely stops, as well. In addition, you cannot have the glaring mistakes that Washington has been making lately. The team has to play hard, but also smart.

The Caps are struggling right now, having dropped three of their last four games, but Trotz sees this as a chance to overcome some adversity and be better for it in the long run.

“When [things] are not coming easy, the thing is to keep guys focused on not trying to cheat and trying to look for the easy way out of things. You’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone and plow through it. If you can get everybody on the same page plowing through a bit of adversity, when you get through that adversity you become a better group,” finished Trotz.

It sounds simple, but looking for the quick fix is human nature, so it will be very important for this talented team to stay the course and pay extra attention to Coach Trotz so they can build on the good things they are doing and minimize the mistakes.

It’s a work in progress.

Notes: Detroit had a clear goal wiped out to start the game when the referees called a phantom interference penalty on Luke Glendening. That zebra miscue led to a very weird first period. Bottom line is the referees must be better. I’ve seen several games around the league this season where the officiating has been subpar…there were only 40 faceoffs in the contest and the teams split them. Burakovsky was 5-1 for Washington…Ovechkin, Brooks Orpik, and Nicklas Backstrom were all -2. Ovi and Backstrom were not on the same line until the 3rd period…Tom Wilson made his season debut and only played 8:14. His timing was noticeably and understandably off…next up for the Caps is the Lightning in Tampa on Saturday night.

 

 

 

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Ward & Orpik Lead Caps over Flames

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Ward & Orpik Lead Caps over Flames

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Those following this blog and listening to the frequent radio bits I’ve been doing recently with Nestor Aparacio know that I’m high on this year’s Capitals team because of two primary reasons: the addition of an experienced coach in Barry Trotz and the improved blue line.

After seven games, the Capitals are now 4-1-2 after a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday.

The reason they are off to such a great start: they are playing a structured system and they have the players on the back end to execute it.

Washington’s defensive crew was once again outstanding in the game against Calgary as the Caps dominated puck possession and kept the Flames on the perimeter for the majority of the evening.

Brooks Orpik was dynamite for the Capitals in this one doling out 10 hits and setting up the game winning goal with a super breakout pass. There are some in the fancy stats community that will put little stock in hits, citing that most of the time the club with more hits are the ones chasing the biscuit around and losing the puck possession battle. That was not the case in Calgary on Saturday, when Oprik took the body the result on several occasions was the Calgary player was removed from the puck and the Capitals went the other way in transition. Simply put, #44 brings a presence to the Capitals back end that they have not had in several years. His addition, and the super signing of Matt Niskanen, has allowed Trotz to spread the minutes out on defense (John Carlson led the club in ice time at a modest 22:52 against the Flames). That minimizes the ability of the opponents to get a matchup advantage at certain points in the game and it also allows the Capitals players to stay fresher. Mike Green is having a monster season in this system by playing roughly 20 minutes a game. #52 can play to his strengths and he was fabulous again on Saturday. You can add Karl Alzner to that list too, his feed to Nicklas Backstrom on the 3rd goal was a super stretch pass. #27 is playing his best hockey in years, as well.

Up front, Trotz tweaked his lines after the loss in Edmonton moving Eric Fehr back up with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. That line scored the Caps 3rd goal and the Gr8 drew the penalty that led to the game’s first goal, a Joel Ward power play marker. Ward, who was shifted down to the 4th line, had his best outing of 2014-15 with the two goals to earn the game’s number one star. Ward, who had the coverage mistake on the Oilers first goal on Wednesday, was back to moving his feet and winning the puck battles.

Andre Burakovsky didn’t have a point on Saturday, but he continues to play like he’s 25 and his line dominated in the possession department. This young man has been the most pleasant surprise of the young season. Evgeny Kuznetsov, flanked by Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera, also had a strong game and looks to be adjusting to the North American rink. If Washington can get some scoring coming from multiple lines they are going to be a hard team to beat in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference.

In net, Braden Holtby had his usual Saturday night special performance. He stopped 20 of 21 shots, with the biggest being a shorthanded breakaway late in regulation with the game at 3-1. That save effectively ended the Flames chances, which is what you want your goaltender to do, make the big save when you need it. Overall though, Braden benefitted from the strong defensive play from his teammates as Calgary was kept wide for many of their shot attempts.

So now it is on to Vancouver for a Sunday night date with the Canucks for the Caps. A win in BC would give the Capitals a nice 2-1 road trip. Back to back games are tough, especially given the long flight from Calgary to Vancouver in the early hours of Sunday morning, but because Trotz is able to spread the ice time around, the Capitals should have no major excuses in terms of fatigue.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Flames, 52-46…Washington won the faceoff battle, 30-28..the Caps had 30 hits to 25 for Calgary…the penalty called on Orpik near the end of the 2nd period was ridiculous. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Paul Devorski did not have one of their better nights.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Barry Trotz frequently calls the NHL a “Shoot First” league.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, his players took his advice and were rewarded with six biscuits in the basket in what became a 6-2 rout of the previously undefeated New Jersey Devils (3-1). Alex Ovechkin, Chris Brown, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, and Andre Burakovsky all notched goals and Braden Holtby was outstanding stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Seriously, if Holtby is not dead on his game in the first frame, this contest could have easily gone differently. The only two markers #70 allowed were through traffic and he routinely made the big save in the first 30 minutes until the Capitals wore out the oldest team in the league over the last half of the game. Holtby’s arm save on Jaromir Jagr was highlight reel material and it came with the game tied at two (special thanks to my friends at Russian Machine Never Breaks for the picture of that save). Jagr was in total disbelief after that stop.

After being out shot attempted 29-13 in period one, the Capitals turned the tables on New Jersey going 43-27 over the last two frames. Washington is well on their way to being a puck possession team again, especially if they keep heeding the wisdom of Trotz.

Johansson, who has been known mostly as a passer since he came into the league in 2010, unleashed a filthy snap shot by Cory Schneider in the middle frame to notch the game winner. In the past, MJ90 may have tried to make a move or looked to dish the puck, but instead, under the prodding of his coach, he is firing away. Good things happen when you shoot.

Positive things also happen from winning the board battles and the Capitals are doing much better there this season. Brooks Laich’s hard work on the wall allowed Johansson to receive the puck in a prime scoring position. It’s the little things that win hockey games and this club is doing more of that so far.

So the Caps are now 2-0-2 with the only two losses coming in the gimmick. They trail the New York Islanders (4-0) by two points in the Metropolitan Division.

But it is too early to be checking the standings. It’s a time to build on an early strong work ethic and continue to listen to an experienced coach who has this Capitals team playing as a unit unlike we’ve seen in several seasons. A strong blue line is making a huge difference and the Caps now are a team that can break the puck out of their own end smoothly and generate quick offense. Sure, there are still moments where they get hemmed in, like we saw in the first frame, but they are learning that if they keep playing the system they will eventually win out.

Things are looking up and the vibe around the team and players is so much more positive than it has been in several years.

The key now is to keep working hard and stay the course.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 21:23. That’s a low total and it is a product of the depth on defense and the fact that the Capitals pulled away in the 3rd period…12 Caps had points in this one…Andre Burakovsky scored his 2nd goal of the season in the 3rd period with an amazing wrist shot and Chris Brown’s goal in the first frame was a laser over the shoulder of Schneider…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7pm.

 

 

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-0 first period deficit to force a 5-5 tie before ultimately losing in the gimmick to one of the best teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks. It was a thrilling game in which Alexander Ovechkin was the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. After three tilts the Capitals are 1-0-2, losing both games in the shootout, and the Gr8 has four goals and an assist over that span.

If you’ve watched the first three games of the Washington Capitals season, then you’ve seen the night and day difference in this hockey club from Caps teams in recent years. The blue line depth is something this organization has not seen in the Ovechkin era and Coach Barry Trotz has the personnel playing to their strengths and easily allowing elite players like the Gr8 and Mike Green to buy in, something that numerous people in the hockey media questioned prior to the season. Ovechkin went down to block a shot in the first period, added another block later on, had 14 shot attempts (including 8 on Antti Niemi), and five hits to go with his offensive output. He was more than worth the price of admission on Tuesday night.

After Ovechkin, in the game against the Sharks, the next best player on the rink was Green. #52 was absolutely fabulous with a goal, an assist, and it was his pass to Jason Chimera down the left wing boards that sprung #25 allowing him to draw a key penalty that led to Ovechkin’s goal that brought this one to 5-4 with just under six minutes left. Green would then feed Troy Brouwer less than two minutes later down the left wing boards for the game tying tally prompting the Verizon Center to erupt.

Simply put, if Green continues to play like he’s done in his first two games this Capitals club is going to be very, very good.

Why do I see Green continuing to play at the top of his game?

First, he’s being afforded the freedom to play to his strengths, which is carrying the puck and creating offense and space for his teammates.

“I think he doesn’t limit you, you obviously have to play within the system but he wants you to create and do the things you do well as a player and he encourages that,” said Green when asked about Trotz allowing creativity in contrast to the “five foot rule” that Adam Oates preferred the past two seasons.

Second, he’s in a system that will bring out the best in his defensive side of the ice.

“I feel good, the system and the way we play is very detailed and yet very easy to play. Although there is a lot of thinking, it’s great for the defensemen what they’re asking of us, and I feel very comfortable. There’s a plan for every situation on the ice and it’s just a matter of executing,” added Green.

Third, with the addition of Matt Niskanen, along with 2014 Team USA Olympian John Carlson, the Capitals are loaded on the right side of the blue line. Therefore, Game Over Greenie doesn’t have to log all of the hard minutes like he’s had to do in the past. Green only played 22:08 of the 65 minutes, but because of that, he was super fresh down the stretch and he was a major difference maker in the Capitals comeback.

“It’s great, I felt like I played a lot, I’m not sure how much, but I still had my legs at the end of the game, even in overtime, so when in the past maybe you’re playing a little bit more and there is more responsibility on yourself, but there’s three guys that can play, so it’s great,” said Green about the ability of the team to spread the ice time on defense.

Overall, Green looks to be as happy as I’ve seen him in several years thanks to the deep blue line that GM Brian MacLellan has assembled for 2014-15.

“Absolutely, the depth we have is incredible. It’s just a matter of being consistent every night,” finished Green.

Consistency is always an issue in hockey. The Capitals had some problems there on Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Braden Holtby, who had thwarted 52 of 53 shots in the first two games, was unable to come up with a big save after some Capitals turnovers and was replaced by Justin Peters. Peters allowed two goals on 16 shots but he yielded juicy rebounds on both tallies against him. In addition, there were missed passes and mistakes by different players. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who overall had a strong game (1 assist), missed a breakout pass from Brooks Orpik that was right on his stick and that directly led to John Scott’s tally that made it 3-0. Those mistakes should get cleaned up over time, especially ones by younger players like Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (1 assist).

Still, you have to be pleased with the way this team held together mentally and didn’t pack it in when it was 3-0, 4-1, and even 5-3 early in period three. The club is talented and believes in the system they are playing which aids their ability to rally.

So it’s three games in and the Capitals have yet to be defeated prior to the gimmick. The four points in the three games have all come against 2013-14 playoff teams so it’s fair to say Washington is off to a fast start.

This club has a lot of skill and a talented blue line. The depth on defense is something this organization has lacked in recent years and is a major reason why I see the team continuing to improve.

Notes: Despite Carlson (two assists) having a rough first 50+ minutes, #74 didn’t let that bother him and he was pretty much a one man penalty killing unit at the end of regulation and early in overtime as Washington survived a Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) high stick…the Caps were smoked at the dot, 13-5, in the first frame but rallied to finish 32-33 for the night…shot attempts were 71-56 in favor of the Capitals, who dominated puck possession for much of the last 55 minutes…Niskanen led the Capitals and Sharks in ice time with 26:47 and he was superb at both ends of the rink…the Caps next game is Thursday night at 7 pm against the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Should Win the Metro This Year

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Caps Should Win the Metro This Year

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Thursday night the Washington Capitals open up their regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at 7 pm at the Verizon Center celebrating 40 years as a franchise. As a nine year old kid who didn’t know a whole lot about hockey, my father, who had a sports radio show on WLMD at the time, started taking me to Caps games that first season. Boy were the Capitals bad and there were many nights when simply icing the puck could be considered a good play. To me, it’s fitting that the Caps are opening this 40 year anniversary season against Montreal, a team that thoroughly dominated the Capitals in the 1970′s. But Montreal, who had the great Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden, manhandled everyone back then winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.

Fast forward to 2014 and that nine year old kid is now a nearly 50 year old man who has watched this Capitals franchise go through it’s peaks and valleys. There were the seemingly hopeless 70′s followed by Stanley Cup aspirations in the 80′s and 90′s before things came crashing down in the early 2000′s. But then along came Alexander Ovechkin in 2005 and things started to turn around so much so that the term “Stanley Cup contender” was uttered by Capitals hockey fans once again in 2008 through 2010.

However, the failings of the previous GM to address a decaying blue line and his inability to bring in an experienced coach led to major changes after four straight seasons of mediocre hockey, at best. Clearly a new direction was sorely needed.

Enter new coach Barry Trotz, who cut his teeth in the Caps organization in the early 90′s, plus promoted GM Brian MacLellan and 2014-15 takes on a whole new outlook. It is one that I’m very optimistic about for several reasons, as outlined in this blog two weeks ago.

The saying that “Defense Wins Championship” is thrown around for a reason and simply put, the Caps haven’t had the talent nor the will or wherewithal to play defense for a long time. It was a side of the ice that this franchise, which has a proud history of great blue liners from Rod Langway to Scott Stevens to Kevin Hatcher, neglected terribly during the George McPhee era. But those days are over and with MacLellan and Trotz running the ship, you can bet that things will be different this year.

They’ve brought in top four defensive talent in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to go with Trotz’ ability to devise systems to minimize the amount of times the red light goes on behind it’s goaltender. Floating and gliding in the defensive zone should be a thing of the past in Washington. Those great Caps teams from the 80′s and 90′s that featured super blue lines didn’t lose due to defense, it was often the result of a weak offensive punch and/or subpar goaltending.

With Ovechkin, the Caps will always have a player who can put the biscuit in the basket and pre-season has shown us that there is some serious talent developing to help him in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The 2010 and 2013 first round picks, respectively, are highly skilled players that should blossom into top six forwards. How quickly that happens will help determine how successful the Capitals are in 2014-15.

Nicklas Backstrom returns for his 8th season and he is an outstanding center that doesn’t get the credit he deserves from the media around the league. Ask Trotz about Backstrom and he almost becomes like a kid in a candy store. #19 is a super two way player that should take another step forward under this new regime.

So what should we expect from the Caps this year and what did we learn from the eight pre-season games?

Let’s start with the pre-season. Niskanen showed exactly why the Capitals opened up the bank to sign him. He’s a strong two way defensemen who knows when to pinch at the point and also when to take the body in the defensive zone. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with him and think he’ll have a monster season. Burakovsky was the surprise of camp for how quickly he’s adapted to the pro game. He is big, is an excellent skater, and has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. If this kid is coached properly and has the right attitude the sky is the limit for him. As for Kuznetsov, he took some heat in pre-season but I liked the way he stood up against the big and physical teams like Boston and Philly. Kuzy is not easy to move off of the puck. The key for #92 will be learning how to play in his own zone, but that’s something this whole team needs to improve on. I’ve seen signs of this team being better away from the puck under Trotz and I’m hopeful that we’ll see more progression in that department right away. In years past, the Caps lack of ability to play away from the puck is a big factor in why they’ve been in the bottom half of the league in puck possession.

Other things that stood out in pre-season were fourth liners Chris Brown and Liam O’Brien. These two guys are big and have some offensive skill, which is what you need from your fourth line. Last season the Capitals did not have a good fourth unit but that should change in 2014-15. On the disappointing end of things, I did not like that Mike Green was injured again. #52 took a huge hit behind the net in the 3rd period against Boston and hasn’t played since that tilt. Green is now in his ninth pro season and if he keeps taking hits like that he’ll end up spending long stretches of time on injured reserve. Assistant coach Todd Rierden and Trotz need to get #52 to learn how to avoid those crushing blows. If they can do that, the Capitals will have a daunting right side of their blue line in Niskanen, Green, and John Carlson.

So how will the Capitals do in 2014-15?

I’m predicting a Metropolitan Division title. The additions on defense, combined with the young offensive skill and new coach should make the Capitals a lot better. Pittsburgh and the Rangers have lost players and gotten worse this summer while Columbus could very well be derailed by the Ryan Johansen holdout that was finally resolved on Tuesday. The Flyers overachieved last season and I’m not buying on the Islanders. I do think the Devils will be better than people think but Carolina is very likely to finish in 8th place.

But just because the Caps have upgraded their talent significantly and they have a new bench boss doesn’t mean they will win the division. This club has to learn to become a team and work hard. They need to be accountable and focused. That has been missing for several years.

The division and a super season are there for the taking for the Caps, but they need to be dedicated to their craft and show a sense of urgency.

To quote George Allen: “The Future is Now.”

Your move Ovechkin and company.

 

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Holtby, Brouwer, and Caps 3rd Line Crushes Canes

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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